As the Triathlon NSW Club Championships roll into Forster, we ask one intrepid triathlon newbie: “The exhaustion, the tears, the anxiety… was it worth it?”

Let me start by saying I’m no athlete. My husband Nick however was a professional cyclist and started as a triathlete when he was just 12 years old. So I felt I had a bit of catching up to do, to launch myself in my first triathlon.

After Nick’s pro career he dived back to his younger passion of triathlons, so our kids - and me - joined him in this journey.

Yes I can ride a bike and I can run (not fast at 6 minutes/km) but the swim component was my biggest fear.

I decided to set a goal and to do a Half Ironman in Cairns and my girlfriend Janette joined me in this challenge. We had 4 months to get in top shape. Nick set our training plan and we stuck to it, week by week.

With 3 sessions a day I can honestly say I’ve never been so tired in my whole life!

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Getting closer to race day I was beginning to feel fit and almost had my head around the idea that I could accomplish this challenge.

Swimming was my biggest fear so Nick asked champion triathlete Jenny Alcorn to train me in the pool. I dreaded pool time. Swimming is all about technique but where do I start as a 48 year old? But I persevered and slowly could complete my swim sessions, 2-3km. After each session I would reward myself with a squeezy python from the pool canteen.

Some days I wanted to give up but I kept thinking of what it would feel like after the race and how proud I would be of myself…so I kept going. And it was good I had Janette training with me because I reckoned if she can do this then so can I. Afterall, a little bit of competition is a good motivator.

Every training session was different, it all depended on what Nick had planned. The bike was my best leg however one Sunday was not a good day. It was after a gruelling effort in the cane fields and I was busted. I came home and threw my bike down and told Nick to sell it… as I was over it. I went for shower and headed out to go shopping and I came home to see my bike outside on the road with a For Sale sign. I had a good laugh, got my bike and put it back in the garage for tomorrow’s session.

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Equipment

The bike

Moving from a road bike to a triathlon bike is whole other thing. Nick spent hours videoing me on the bike to get my position perfect. I needed to be comfortable and he needed to feel comfortable that I didn’t look ridiculous as a first timer, LOL!

The wet suit

Of course I bought the best one. Nick got me to practice many times. I wore it in the lake because I hated the thought of being in open water... it’s terrifying. But I also hated the thought of my wetsuit choking me to death in the middle of the lake. So we practiced in the pool to reduce my anxiety. Eventually my confidence levels increased, with the help of a lot of lube and breathing exercises to stop the panic attacks. Phew!

The running shoes

You need two pairs, one for training and the other for race day, and the race day pair are lighter on the feet. But you have to do a few prior runs in them to avoid blisters on the big day. I was thinking if I make 23 km after the 125 km ride I won’t be feeling my feet! And I thought my biggest worry would be my ticker.

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A few days out from the big day, I was beginning to feel confident that I was going to finish this event. I was feeling fit!

I hadn’t had time to think about race day nerves because I was too tired after my sessions and I only concentrated on finishing my weekly training sessions.

The day we flew into Cairns, it was raining, windy and overcast. This wasn’t in our plan, the weather conditions were supposed to be sunshine and still open water.

Nick likes to look over the course to do his orientation. Cruising the course gives you some familiarity and a bit of confidence too.

The swim leg had been changed to the main beach outside Cairns… also not in the plan. When we went to the beach and saw the ocean my stomach fell out: waves were crashing, no visibility and it was cold. I turned to Nick and said “I don’t think I can do this”, he told me not to be stupid and I’ll be ok.

We checked in our bikes, got our kit and settled into the hotel with Nick organizing: pinning my numbers, going over my race day plan and what I needed to do.

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Race Day

The weather was worse than the day before, I was ghostly pale and my stomach had so many butterflies I thought I was going to throw up.

Breakfast was coffee and a banana then I started stretching, toilet, got dressed, toilet, triple checked my equipment, numbers securely on my arm and calf, toilet again. Sipping water and mentally going through my race plan I wrote on my hand: Be calm. Stay strong. Enjoy it.

We got to the beach, it was still pitch dark at 5.30am. My main goal was to get through the swim then my real race will kick in. I gave Nick a long look of despair and asked him “Am I ready, is there anything else I should’ve done?” He replied with “No, you did everything, just enjoy the race.”

He left for his start wave I walked to mine, I looked around to see everyone else, their faces were filled with excitement and fear. I realized on race day everyone is feeling the same and asking the same questions. As I slid into my wetsuit I gave myself a final pep talk: Swim your own pace, breathe and get back to the beach to start your race.

The gun went off, I was in the water and before I knew it I was feeling sand under my feet again as I ran out of the sea, completed! I did it…now I’m safe and on my way to my bike.

I was smiling from ear to ear riding through the cane fields, it was freezing but I was so happy with myself after finishing the dreaded swim leg. My hands were shaking and frozen, I dropped my food gels half way on the ride. But there was no way I was stopping to pick them up, I was on a mission to make up the time I lost on my swim.

On that bike leg into Cairns I felt like I gave everything on the 90km ride, I was so pleased with myself then I suddenly remembered I’ve still got to run a half marathon.

Another pep talk to myself (OK, last transition) I was thinking of what Nick told me: just enjoy and don’t stuff around in transition.

All good so far, about 6km into the running leg I started to grab lollies, cups of cola and a couple of food gels from the support tables …I didn’t want to go hunger flat.

Having the crowd around and music blaring is such a motivator, and strangers cheering you to keep going is the biggest motivator of all.

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The finish line! When you see the red carpet and hear the legendary Pete Murray’s voice on the microphone you know your day of battle is coming to an end. It has to be proudest moment of myself I’ve ever experienced (apart from giving birth to my 4 kids!).

For our half ironman Janette and I reached our goal: we both made it under 6 hours.

And Nick did the full ironman in 70.3 minutes. He won his age group and came 8th overall.

It was an accomplishment I thought I’d never be able to complete. The exhaustion, the tears, the anxiety… yes, it was all worth it!

That’s my experience on my first big race. Remember to just enjoy the day!

Belinda

Yes, it was all worth it!
Belinda Gates (Sails Luxury Apartments, Forster)
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