Saturday 31st May, 1400, I’m sitting listening to the race briefing for the 70.3 Ironman Triathlon in Rapperswil, Switzerland. As the rules of cycling are being explained for the race and videos of the areas to be wary of are shown, that unsettling feeling of insecurity tries to take hold and I realise the enormity of the task I have taken on. I suppress it and focus on the positive feelings I have and go for enjoying the atmosphere and appreciating all the different people and body types there are around me and feed off their calmness.
The Captain and I set our transition areas and feeling more confident set off home to our hotel in Zurich.
We rise at 0400 on Sunday 1st June. Eat a delicious breakfast of eggs, bread and marmite and catch the 0539 train from our local station that takes us all the way to Rapperswil.
The train soon becomes packed with participants and spectators, giving it a relaxed but happy buzz.
We check our transition areas and then head in to don our wetsuits for the first part of the race, our wave is leaving at 0800 and the nerves were starting to appear.
Once clad in rubber, we head to the warm up area in the harbour. I feel good, it feels exactly like when I swam at Shepperton open water lake. I’m not daunted by the distance or the amount of people, yet.
We line up on the pier then swim to the start point, all the while with a countdown being blared out, the gun goes off, we begin.
I suddenly forget how to swim, I can’t breathe, I can’t put my head in the water and I can’t seem to calm down. I try lying on my back for a bit and it works but as soon as I try to do front crawl all my energy goes. I keep looking at the buoy I have to swim to and it overwhelms me.
I then try to break the distance down in my head, I tell myself to swim to the boats on my left. I make it past the first one, now onto the second. An Asian lady seems to be struggling so I ask if she is ok, she comments that this is her first race and I tell her its mine, she’s then off doing front crawl while I’m still trying to find my breath.
I stop at the second boat and they make me get in to calm down, the people on the boat were so friendly, I take 5 then give it another go, my friends on the boat say they believe I can do it, I feel good.
Within minutes I can’t breathe again. I have never felt like this. I don’t know what to do.
I swim to the next boat, have a little stop with them and then head onto the next sanctuary of safety, all the while weary of the time as I need to complete the 1.9km swim in under 1 hour and 10 mins.
I get to my next boat and realise I have only done 700m in about half an hour. I start silently crying as I realise completing the first part of this race is slipping away from me as I have no idea how to overcome how I feel in the water.
I wait on the boat for a while and a guy is brought over with bad cramp, he’s crying too.
At about 0900 a speed boat comes over to collect us, we spend a bit of time on the lake picking up a few more people, all the guys they are pulling out say they are struggling to breathe. The more I talk to them I realise they have all done this race at least once before but never felt like this, I feel a little happier.
One gentlemen is 74 and had only just recovered from bronchitis last week, he has done this race every year since it began over 8 years ago. I feel an instant admiration for him and then sadness as he tells me he has decided this is his last race. His mind is willing but his body is not anymore. I know that at some point I will be there too. I hope before then I am as courageous as he is and at least start the last race I choose to do.
We get onto land and are transported back to the start, I gather the bag I am meant to collect once I have finished and head for the showers where I wallow in self pity and the ‘what if’ and ‘should have’ moments.
I spot my bike in the transition area all on its own, I also spy another bike, it must belong to the Asian lady.
I then man up and head towards the bike course to support the Captain who is still out there and completes the 70.3 in 6 hours 38 minutes. She has incredible determination and mental capacity.
The next 5 hours on my own were just what I needed. In this time I looked over how I felt and why and how to move on and what the learning is from this.
Part of me didn’t want to be positive as I was gutted I didn’t finish, but I also knew there was a reason why I didn’t.
Deep down I knew I had attacked this with an air of complacency, supported by doing so well in the Madrid marathon with barely any running training.
My brother sent me a message that summed it all up perfectly:
‘See this as a major learning curve and use it to really peak out training sessions. You had to get out of the water to better yourself, otherwise you would have finished and thought you were better than you are. Now you know there is work to do. You will come back stronger.’
The 70.3 is an incredible distance for a triathlon, the people crossing the line had put so much training in that they looked as if they could do it again, I knew I would not be looking like this if I had crossed that line.
I do still 100% believe that mentality is what will get you anywhere along with visualisation. However a certain amount of knowledge and practise are also required when competing in any arena.
That arena could be anything, from a rugby pitch to an interview.
You never go unprepared into these battles but I had been unprepared going into this triathlon.
I initially struggled to accept this as I have been able to overcome anything by using a positive mindset, however when looking back I always had some form of experience that assisted in the victory.
Experience is what I was lacking in this situation and is what I need to gain in order to succeed.
The plan now is to begin with sprint triathlons, nail that swim and then compete in another 70.3 distance triathlon next year.
As a good friend said, ‘Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.’
I’ve had my time to cry, now to pick up that wetsuit again and conquer this.
I received amazing words of encouragement before this race, and the words after hit home even more when I finally let people know I didn’t finish.
I realise it is rare to have so many beautiful people in my life, whether the contact is face to face or over some form of social media.
During this weekend I have cried more from people’s compassion and belief than I did over not finishing. Thank you.
Time to start dancing a different dance.