Life before triathlon

 

We don’t enter into this world with a blueprint on what makes us tick. Biological we might need the same things to grow and develop but psychologically different things impact each of us differently. Some of us are lucky enough to find those golden nuggets of passions early on in life that boost our wellbeing and give motivation to achieve and develop. For others it takes some time before they find that thing that makes them go ‘oh this is it’. For me it turns out, quite surprisingly, it is triathlon. 

 

I often wonder what I did before I started getting interested in exercise. Of course I know what I did; I worked, I picked up overtime, I went out drinking with friends; the usual. But now, when I think of the achievements and experiences I’ve had over the last few years from going up Snowdon a fair few times just for fun, passing a kayaking course, getting into open water swimming, being terrible at trying out wakeboarding and most recently crossing the finish line at Croyde Ocean Triathlon, rated by 220 Triathlon as the 5th hardest short course triathlons in the world. I wonder what was I doing with my life? 

 

Croyde Beach (image credit: Croyde Ocean Triathlon)

My journey into the world of triathlon and being a beginner triathlete was similar to most people who enter the sport well into their adulthood. At 29 I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I was 30, at the top of that list was to complete a Triathlon. This determination that I could cross a finish line came from listening to a podcast with Ironman Pro Renee Kiley, who before starting Triathlon was by her own description an overweight pack-a-day-smoker. Over a short space of time Kiley went from watching from the sidelines to pro triathlete. Maybe then I wasn’t too old or unfit to start and filled with Kiley induced inspiration, I signed up for the 2020 Norwich Triathlon. With google as my coach I downloaded free training plans and brought a cheap second hand road bike that had been collecting dust in a garage. I was all set (I thought). 

 

Coronavirus (need I say more?). Like most people 2020 is now a strange blur that I look back on with a puzzled expression wondering ‘did that really happen?!’. The sprint distance triathlon was cancelled and with work demands increasing and dwindling motivation I went back to ‘from Monday I’ll start training properly’ style thinking. 

 

During the pandemic, my partner and I decided to up sticks. We had planned to go travelling for a year (originally planned to start in 2021) but not knowing how the pandemic was going to pan out, we decided that we would move somewhere new in the country. Spend time starting up our own businesses and exploring the UK whilst we were waiting for the world to recover and open up again. With a new chapter starting motivation sparked again. This time I signed up for Croyde Ocean Triathlon, an olympic distance race in Devon. Got back in touch with my trusty sidekick google and started working out regularly. 

 

New to triathlon? Get . A . Coach. 

 

I moved to Cornwall about 6 weeks before race day, Croyde is a sea swim and with zero experience swimming any real distance at sea I knew I would need some help. A phone call and a few short weeks later I was part of a tri club, had a coach (a real life one not google), a turbo and had completed my first real sea swim. 

 

Having a coach opened my eyes to just how much goes into training for this sport and made me realise despite my best efforts, how little I really knew about what goes into training for this sport. The progress I’ve made since having a coach is progress 29 year old me would have only day dreamed about. I feel stronger, I’m getting faster and most importantly I feel motivated and driven to keep going forward. You get what you put into training, but I’m certain that I wouldn’t be here writing about my new-found love of triathlon if it wasn’t for my coach. 

 

Waiting on the beach to start Croyde Ocean, I had a mix of emotions. Mainly it was excitement, for all the training sessions, the podcasts I’d listened to and youtube videos watched I was finally going to find out; do I actually like triathlon? Can I really do it? Alongside this excitement,  was the voice of uncertainty. With every step closer to the start line it told me I didn’t belong here. Step. You’re not going to make it past the wave break. Step. WHY did you think this was a good idea. GO

 

Post-race-tired-face

The next 4 hours of my life was gruelling, hard, and breaking at times. I lost my goggles in the first 10 seconds of the 1500m sea swim, it poured with rain for almost the whole 38km bike section and I genuinely thought my legs were going to stop working during the 12km run (which I walked most of). Yet, I enjoyed every last second of it. I’ve never been so tired or battered but as soon as I crossed the finish line I knew this wasn’t going to be a one time race. I was hooked, not only on the outcome of completing a race but the whole process of training and pushing myself that comes along with it. 

 

 

Triathlon and wellbeing 

 

As a mental health nurse, I know movement is good for the mind. I know that getting out into nature improves a person’s sense of wellbeing and that regular exercise increases natural endorphins which boost mood and helps protect against common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

 

What I didn’t know is how much I needed it. 

 

I’m not saying that before I was depressed, anxious or experiencing symptoms of an underlying mental health issue and now I’m not. What I’m saying is that my overall wellbeing, motivation, drive to achieve and make a success of myself has been directly influenced by triathlon training. It has shown me that I can achieve things that I previously thought were off the cards. 

 

The 3 key things that triathlon has taught me:

 

  • Accountability 

When you have a coach that can tell by your heart rate if you’ve eased off to a walking pace on running sessions, you know there’s no shadows you can lurk in to avoid putting in the effort! This sense of accountability can roll into any area of life once you put your mind to it, like a new found muscle you keep strengthening your ability to get sh*t done, no matter how hard it is at the time. 

 

  • Drive 

Pushing forward isn’t always fun. It can be hard, relentless, even disappointing at times but even the smallest amount of improvement is still going in the right direction.  

 

  • Motivation 

You have to be motivated to enjoy triathlon, if not why would you think that swimming, cycling and then running all in one go was a good idea?! This motivation to achieve things I didn’t think possible hasn’t just been limited to triathlon, it’s helped me move forward with my own business. Take risks and put myself out there to fail but wake up each morning keen to try and work one step closer. 

 

 

Times have changed since I sat on my sofa writing a list of aspirations, with the seemingly impossible challenge of completing a triathlon before I was 30 at the top. Now at 31, I’m carving out my identity as a beginner triathlete with a drive to support experienced and newbie triathletes alike to improve their wellbeing

 

Would I have guessed that this was the path I’d end up on? Definitely not, but it’s going to be interesting seeing where it takes me and what I can achieve by applying lessons from triathlon into everyday life.