In a few short weeks I will line up for the start of a 3.8km swim in my first Ironman at Busselton, WA.
What a journey. It was only a couple of years ago that I was the lane one special project for Tri Alliance coach Suz McCarthy as I struggled to swim one 25m length at the Valley pool. In fact, I only made it half way before stopping for a breath or three.
My first 400m time trial several months later took about 18 minutes. Thanks to expert advice since from Suz, head coach Mark Turner, Brad Jones, Tim Osborne and John Agik, I have got that down to under 9 minutes and actually managed the 800m time trial in 18 minutes this week.
Moral of that story: there is hope for everyone. Be it the slow swimmer, cyclist or runner. A bit of hard work with the squad can take you to amazing places and times you never thought possible.
I even swam in the filthy Hudson River in the New York City OD triathlon in 2011, when two swimmers drowned. A record time for me (ok it was tide assisted) but it just goes to show that anything is possible. The patience of the coaches has been amazing and their tips invaluable.
For example, I had a real mental meltdown at the recent Ironman camp this month and struggled in two swims at Noosa main beach. Mark and Suz conspired to get me out into the water again and it was a masterstroke by them, leaving camp confident again about being in the deep blue. A 3km swim at Redcliffe a week later was relatively easy and gives me real hope for December 9.
I first met Mark and Suz in 2009 through their connections with the Brisbane Run Squad and the free public coaching sessions for The Sunday Mail Bridge to Brisbane participants. Mark convinced me to give triathlons a go with the then Brisbane Triathlon Squad.
The first tri was exactly two years ago at Raby Bay in October 2010. I did Noosa OD two weeks later and took the extreme scenic route on that swim. But I was hooked. My swims have never been fast, but I get there. In fact, I amuse squad colleagues to this day about my races where I do the run leg quicker than the swim. Read Mooloolaba 2012 … 44 minutes and 41 minutes.
Running has always been my major motivation, the long distance stuff in particular, although there was some friendly advice early on from Mark about needing to decide if I was a triathlete or a marathon runner.
I had run a 3:04 marathon in my 20s and was now trotting out three or four a year between 3:30 and 3:40. At least Mark got me to trim that back to one or two races. His expert coaching, and that of BRS head coach Renae Jones, has got me back to the three-o zone for the 42.2km distance at the ripe old age of 50. A sub three-hour marathon is just around the corner after a five-minute pb 1:22 at the Gold Coast half marathon in July.
Again: age is no barrier to running faster and further. The TAQ sessions on Tuesday have been the boost to me getting times down spectacularly with pb’s in all distances this year. The competition and commaraderie with the young guns has been hugely beneficial. Anyone can do it. Just don’t give up or accept limitations.
The cycling has been up and down. A big down in August 2011 after a crash left me with a broken collarbone, arm, wrist, nerve damage in the left hand, and cracks to bones around the left eye. The wind trainer became my best friend. I was on it a week after the crash, one armed and dangerous.
I was determined a crash would not defeat me and now the confidence on the bike is back and culminated in a very quick 90km leg in the Cairns half ironman in June.
My lack of love for the water and my desire to run led me to have a go at duathlons. Ideal combination in my eyes: run, bike, run (and no swim). I knew it didn’t carry the same respect as the three disciplines but the chance to represent Australia and race overseas was tempting.
So there I was with a small but united band of Aussies in the small French town of Nancy, about two hours north east of Paris, with the best Europeans and Americans competing in the Duathlon World Championships last month. It was a fantastic experience, a five minute pb for the 10-40-5 km distance and 25th in my age group.
It was inspiring to watch Australia win gold in the women’s elite race on the day before and motivation to do well on the Sunday. The support from spectators and fellow athletes was great. My advice: if you get the chance to race for your country, be it triathlon or duathlon, give it a go. It will always be one of my career highlights.
Another was being chosen as the Tri Alliance Qld inaugural male athlete ambassador on launch night. It is a real honour to be recognised by coaches and colleagues alike. I am looking forward to fulfilling the role to the best of my ability over the coming season.
It has given me the chance to hook up with our amazing sponsors. I have become a firm favorite of Mizuno shoes very quickly and love the lightweight feel. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The same with the team at Shoes Feet Gear. A run analysis with the boys at their Paddington store pointed out some valuable hints on how to improve my style, efficiency and running form. They guaranteed it would make run faster, smoother and better for many years to come. Signs are good already.
And there is huge help on the way for my swimming: a Rocket Science wetsuit. Now if only I can convince triathlon officials to make wetsuits compulsory at every event, then I can see a new found love of the water.
Two years into my triathlon life, I am loving every second. I crave the intense training, the knowledge and support of the coaches, and the incredible friendships I have made with dozens and dozens of people. It has been an amazing journey so far but only really just started.
Bring on Ironman WA. It will be the toughest challenge yet, but one to be conquered. All the best to everyone starting out in the sport and those with countless years of experience.