It’s been two years and 10 months, since my last real triathlon – Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See-Kaprun. My fourth middle distance race – not the hardest I’ve done although it certainly wasn’t easy either, but it was the most beautiful. It was supposed to be the race I could really excel in and put in some serious effort. But the build up wasn’t great.
I lost some valuable red blood cells over a long period of time during that year which made getting out of bed in the morning extremely difficult, let alone any training – even with the amount of steaks I ate, Guinness I drink (for iron of course), or gels I took it was a struggle to be able to prepare properly. Prior to that, my house was broken into and my bike was stolen, so until somebody kindly lent me theirs to ride (which I’m still grateful for), the build up was terrible.
So let’s recap what went wrong during that race…
The swim was average. After a cock-up by the organisers, about 1,000 swimmers were swimming a short 1.2 mile course all at once. I managed to elbow my way through and channel my anger into preparations for the bike, where I nailed some of the blokes who swam over me – that was a good feeling.
My bike split was incredible up until around 14 miles to go and the lower back pain really set in. For the last loop around Kaprun I couldn’t get into time trial position any longer, because I stupidly set it up in 10 mile TT position, instead of 56 mile TT position (the former being more aerodynamic but less comfortable). I had to sit up which meant I lost speed, and due to the pain, eventually my mind.
‘Just a half marathon to do’.
Somebody told me before I left for Austria: “Remember, you can ALWAYS dig deeper”. And as I started that run trying to stride out the pain thinking: “How deep does this bloody pit go?”
Trot trot trotting around, I removed the sponges from my tri-suit in the final aid station at mile 12, at this point quite delirious and thinking: “One mile and you’re home.” On the way out, I got a tap on the shoulder, and then a red cross on my number…
DISQUALIFIED. For littering.
Rage. But my body remained still – entirely emotionally and physically drained, I couldn’t fight any longer.
Could this sport get any worse for me?
I shuffled on to the finish line wondering why it had been so long since I had a race which actually went well, and wondering whether I would ever have a time when things went my way, and I could achieve what I know I can do.
In the final few meters, instead of feeling elated to have people calling out my name, a years’ worth of tears rained from my face which I couldn’t control what-so-ever. My body and mind gave in and I fell to the ground in a sweaty, salty pile of failed triathlete, and wanted it to open up and swallow me.
As it turned out, the next day my results were posted and the DQ was revoked, but that didn’t make it any better.
Triathlon was my escape, but now I needed an escape from triathlon. This was the start of my ‘long break’.
Nobody wants to read just another melancholic account of triathlon, so to make this actually interesting I’ve spiced it up and weaved in some good, and bad music. Click on the links and take your pick on which is which and how many you recognise….
Things went from bad to worse in 2016 I felt the [good] moments slip away, like I was losing my religion. I had a series of set backs from physical injury and having my first ambulance trip, to having a lot of misery business and blue Mondays. Which is water under the bridge now.
So I put myself on the bench that year, and decided to pursue other things and relieve the bad blood. When 2017 arrived, I came to the conclusion that for me to go back to it, I needed to really want it. I needed to be focused, inspired and excited, and until that moment came, I had to dance on my own for a while and denied myself triathlons for another year, but I never stopped thinking about [it].
I put on a tri-suit one day, earlier this year and went for a run. It felt like putting on the same jeans I’d worn when I discovered the sport, like a real hero. For 12 miles I reminisced about the moments I missed and thanked the memories: the suffering because you’re giving 100 percent, the feeling of running off the bike knowing you’ve just got to hold on for a little longer, and having people shout your name giving you such a boost.
The sport gives you hell when it takes over your life – the way you think, feel, and the things you have to sacrifice for it, but on the bright side the elation of crossing the finish line makes you realise you’ve achieved something special.
I saw a mountain at my gate, which I really did see more and more each day. It was the start of the challenge to crawl back to what I once loved, but dumped so much negativity on. I wanted to rekindle the joy and try and capture that top percentile of performance to see what I can really do. The club birthday triathlon was coming up, so I decided to make it my first event on the comeback calendar.
Nervous and excited, I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing. But I couldn’t wallow in self-pity any longer, and deep down I was itching to do something. In the end, it’s just a club triathlon, small scale bit of fun with some friends on a Friday night – nobody else cares how well or awful I do. And I had to remember to just let it go and remove the pressure from myself.
I was number one… which usually means defending champion, something I’ve never had and likely to never have again, so I milked it for as long as possible, of course.
I came second, and very nearly won the bloody thing (from the female field). But I was reeled in on the run by an Ironman-in-training and someone who is naturally a better runner, so kudos to her for catching me, and congratulations on winning!
My swim was great, I was the only lunatic without a wetsuit, but it meant I flew onto my bicycle, hammered the bike course and set myself quite a lead. Frightened of being over taken I pushed hard, and just had to try hold on for the run, which I just managed to do.
I was on top of my mountain by the end of it. I felt liberated, happy and for once, and actually proud of myself like I’d learned to fly. It was only a small scale club triathlon, where plenty of people would’ve beaten me down the results list had they been racing, but it felt like there was some positivity coming back after getting over the first hurdle and I found the best in [myself].