How you define yourself is the most important influence on what you can achieve and how far you will go. A few months ago I was added to the South African chapter of Fatties in the back (not sure that actual name) on Facebook. I left it 3 times. Apparently there are such groups across the world. After the 3rd time I messaged the organiser to stop it. While I appreciated the gesture and know very well how much encouragement is needed out there, love having Lane 6 memories with my transition tjommmies progress is important. There a very fine line that needs to be treaded here. Staying attached to being a “fatty in the back” is not how I see myself. Never have, never will. I think at some point it was a novelty but when I wanted to go farther the weight of being the slowest athlete and being defined by it became unbearable.
In 2015, approaching Ironman I took my environment in my own hands. And started training by myself on the fringes of my tri group. I didn’t want to have a role anymore. I didn’t want to be the person that gets patted on the back, chapperunned on time trials and races, given unsolicited advice, I didn’t want to see the pity in the eyes at the end of rides and races. I wanted to accept where I was without the shame of just not being good enough. I was where was. My pace was my pace. My weight was my weight. And I was going to do my absolute best with what I had.
During the 8 weeks to Ironman I rediscovered myself. I accepted where I was. Not one day during that period was there a comparison of being too slow. Every day I worked. Every bike ride I did according to my program instructions. I crawled into bed every night tired but strong. What I regained during that 8 weeks and the months since then have made me even stronger. During the off season I entered a few weightlifting meets. The experience added to my ability to stand alone, get quiet inside myself and execute.
Two days ago I did Jailbreak Max, a daunting long course race at the end of the calender year but also the last before the long haul to Ironman. I forego doing any of the smaller tris in the start of the season so I had to get out there. During the months training before I spent much time in the paincave by myself. I didn’t talk about it much as there was really nothing to say. I knew it was going to be a hard day out and that was that. At the start of the season I didn’t wear my watch, I didn’t want to know my pace, I didn’t want to be preoccupied with that this time around. I just wanted to work and guage my effort on honesty.
And that’s how I approached Jailbreak Max. After the race I thought: “Damn what a shitty experience, we shan’t being doing that again”. But it’s been 2 days. My resting heart rate is low, just a few muscles still aching I think I’m certainly entering it again next year. Go heart or go home!
I started my day sleepy, Leo picked me up at 4.30am. I was packed and ready. I ate my porridge in the car as we lightly chatted all the way to Brandvlei. The nerves hadn’t taken hold of me yet. Entering the prison finding a spot to park ticked that over. Leo unloaded me, my bike and my stuff and went to park the car in the boendoes. I put my earphones in, loaded my arms with bags, bucket and bike to transition to rack. Music loud, in and by myself, carefully laying out what I needed for the day. Then the Tri-Yoda tapped on my shoulder, teased me about something as is customary. Was calming to see him there also about to take on this race and looked forward to see him course throughout the day. Dieter’s (Tri-yoda) been a friend since the start of triathlon. Few people spoke to me the first few months but this motormouth was always chirping something or telling a story. From early on I started listening when he speaks, some wisdom always escapes through the kak praat.
Bike racked, I went to find Leo. This time the ritual included a warm up run with some surges. I was a tad annoyed at my hamstring. Our new outside pool at squad doesn’t have steps so I had to hoist myself out and pulled it 2 days before the race. So it was tender as I did my little run before donning the wetsuit. Then time started rolling faster, within what felt like mere minutes race briefing at the water’s edge was announced and I wasn’t zipped up yet. Vernon from Sailfish SA appeared and started helping without me even asking. Phew!
I made my way down over the gravel and listened to race briefing, checking where the buoys are and the details of the rest of the race. I kept my eyes closed by this time. Feeling nerves is okay but every openwater swim till then it has translated to shortening my swim stroke and I was gonna keep control of those emotions come what may. When I opened my eyes after a half a minute I sighted a human in beautiful blue and yellow with a tinge of ginger. The SupaCoach at the water’s edge. A hug and whisper of well wishes and the puzzle was complete and I was ready to go.
I paddled out to the bouy for the wetstart. The announcer said 30 seconds to go and I realized I’m right infront and thought: ‘Poplap you better get out the way of these racing snakes’. I’m not scared of being swum over or knocked but it would not be pleasant so as the whistle went I swam a tad skew to clear the way. They were off and I set off. It was one of my best openwater swims under race conditions. Most have been survival driven, with stroke shortage, getting tired, silent panic (my superpower….urghh) etc. This time I kept my threshold, didn’t get tired, stayed positive. Took longer than I wanted and it was a sprint to last buoy as I over power on the stroke still. Next while I want to work on gliding, I have lots of power and strength in my shoulders but I apply it ungracefully in the water.
Wading out of the water (hearing the shouting from the hele Wingman crew), I wanted to get the wetsuit half down by the time I exit the water. I don’t want anymore uniboob photos of my swim exit on the internet. Plus I hear it helps with faster transition.
Transition. With Leo on the other side of the fench. Last year that’s exactly where we were chatting getting ready for the bike eyeing the water for Esther before setting off for her to come catch us. Esther aced non-wetsuit swim this year, such a rockstar!
I ate and put all my food in my tri-suit pockets. What a pleasure to not have to wonder where on my person I can stash my eats. Being a busty girl tri-tops are like straight-jackets so I’ve been racing in t-shirts and then store fuel in my boobs. They are ample but can take only so many Racefood bars. So my first race in my awesome new pink tri-suit was magic! Even on the run my boobs didn’t move AT ALL. That’s a brand win for shizzle!
My bike was lovely, I would have liked my heart rate a little lower but I didn’t over bike like my recent cycle tour. I felt human and strong when I got off the bike in the knick of time. There was no one at dismount. A lady came over and started the line I know so well: “I’m sorry to inform you but I’m going to have to end your…..”
Oh helllllllll no! I asked her where the marshall was, told her what time I came in, when I came out the swim. Told her to go inform him, while I put on my running shoes, I’ll be right over. I changed and by then the deciding marshall was there, I think he took one look at my determined face and said: Go run! (Inside I thought: Guh, you better!)
I knew it was late in the day but cut-off for the race is at least 2h45 minutes away and everyone needs to calm the hell down. I started my run as Jenny Nel won the Max and I though it quite fitting. I saw the blue and yellow people of my tribe but they didn’t see me, I tried to see the SupaCoach to show him I’m on the run but couldn’t locate the beard. Then I assume someone saw me and shouted my name with a few cheers trailing behind as I gave them thumbs up and slogged my tight ass onto the run course.
“Oi! What a bad idea!” I thought for the first bit. This is shite! Then I saw Marna with her big smile, we high 5’d. On and on. When I saw Adri I shouted: ”Can someone please just hold me this isn’t very nice”. We supahugged and she called me crazy and I was off again. Tried running, yoh, it hurt. At about 3km a young man came up behind and said to me: “I saw you walking and I thought I’m going to talk to this lady”. His name is Scott from ATC, said I looked fresh and that maybe we must run a bit, so we did. Then powerwalk a bit, all the while chatting. At the water point he said he’s gonna be on his way. I was so appreciative of that, set the tone and then I was on my own. I started counting to 100, then walk counting to 20 then 100 again. Worked like magic to get all the thoughts and feelings out of my head.
At some point I saw a Blu Smooth logo and it was Diets, been wondering where he was. When he saw me his grin was large (I knew he was as proud to see me on the run as I was). He did however shout: “Bennii as jou snot rockets op jou skoene val hardloop jy te stadig, ek gaan later jou skoene check”. Good friends keep you grounded. Doos! J
I fuelled when I need and looked forward to every water station for sponges and 2 sachets. Over and over. I so badly wanted to run my new found speed but the legs were a mess and wanted nothing more so I just kept going. Over and over. I was super proud of myself for getting onto the run course, got teary for a second and then tucked it away again. At the end of the first loop Leo was there and I said I’m going to keep going till its run cut off time not a minute before. That’ll mean a 2h30 long run after bike, a solid training session in the very least.
Turned and set off again. Over and over. Then there were just a few stragglers left on course. The odd part is by this time I knew full well that I was the very last person on course and somewhere in the delirium I thought: I might tri forever and ever. This is hard, but there is no fucking way I am quitting!
Starting the 2nd loop was harder and I got slower, stuff was hurting and time started catching up as I stopped and stretched on and off. There was 45 minutes to race cut off time of day and I wasn’t gonna get the 3rd loop done. A marshall drove past and I said I’ll just finish the 2nd loop. She said could I jump in then and there, I said: “I want to finish the 2nd loop I’ll meet you down there”.
So I walked the rest of the way to where Leo was, got my other lastic and called it a day. What looks like struggling to others is overcoming to the person doing it. I may not be the fasest runner, I may not be the fastest swimmer but my mental game and my bike stubbornness are becoming my strengths.
I’ve redefined who I am as a triathlete. People around us process things different. The weakness in my struggle some view as a weakness in my character. But that’s got nothing to do with me, it’s their life view. Achievement isn’t just calculated being on top and beating others, it just means your achievement is hinged on external circumstances.
My achievement is hinged on me, what’s in my heart and my spirit. I can’t wait to see where it takes me next! My body isn’t as excited at the prospect but what’s new!