How I got into Triathlons (plus my Shepparton 70.3 race report)

Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell.

Before I get into my 2016 Shepparton 70.3 race report I would like to share with you how I got into triathlons

***warning*** It’s a long read but if you are a ‘back-of-the pack’ finisher like I am, you may be able to resonate with some of my journey to date…

Here goes nothing (or everything)…

In Feb 2015 I knew for sure that I had to do something about my health. At 46 years of age, I could feel my body deteriorating and I needed to make a call – either do something about it, or start to get to know all the medical professionals in Bendigo intimately.

Like a lot of people, I’d tried time and time again to lose weight and failed miserably each time. So I figured if I started running, then my body would feel like crap if I hadn’t fuelled it properly.

A close friend of mine who runs a gym gave me the secret – it’s what you put in your mouth far more than the exercise you do. I moved gradually to a Low Carb High Fat diet – which was suited to my body type. I have an addictive nature to carbs, which has led to metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, and I wasn’t happy that my brain wasn’t as clear as what it had been previously. It was a slow but inevitable deterioration.

I had to learn to run again. Seriously. I had no running gear, and rubbish shoes. But I had a friend who was very encouraging and helped me start, and a partner who was supportive. (He didn’t think it would last, but didn’t tell me that at the time.) I even found it hard to get running gear that fitted. Frustratingly I thought, “well they want the bigger ladies to lose weight but what the hell are we supposed to wear?” I notice this has now changed with lots more options now available.

I got properly fitted for running shoes for the first time in my life, and the staff at Athletes Foot treated me like an athlete, rather than the very overweight very slow jogger that I felt like. This level of respect was very important to give me confidence to continue. I was running 5km within 5 weeks and I did my first event – the 8km at the Mother’s Day event in Bendigo in 2015. Already I was doing things harder than what was available. I just needed to push myself. And as I ate correctly, I found it easier to run. My mind was clearing – and that was a really important thing for me. I was a better person to deal with and live with too as a result.

I found this great group at the “back of the pack” that were very encouraging. I ticked off my first 12km run a few weeks later, and then thought of what else I could do? Stupid, hard goals, that really I had no business doing. I ran my first half marathon in 2hr53 at Shepparton, which was a pivotal moment. By this time I had a coach on board, and found a doctor who was totally supportive of what I was doing.

My coach had me cross training with swimming and bike riding, so I entered the sprint distance at Challenge Shepparton – my first triathlon in 25 years. And I loved it. I’d had some contact with the Challenge staff via private messages on social media and they were super encouraging in getting me to step it up in 2016. No way I said! No way I can do that! During the next 12 months I had the odd bit of contact with them, and I cannot say enough good things about them.

Meanwhile I joined the Echuca Moama Tri Club – again who were totally supportive.

It’s always been a thing of mine – if you want to improve in anything, surround yourself with people who are better than you and learn from them.

Two more half marathons were completed in 2015. By this stage I’d knocked about 20kgs off. Still remained addicted to carbs, and still fighting it off. Learning that although a lot fitter, the carbs would kill any event that I did. Yeah learned the hard way. I spent the summer doing as many triathlons as possible. The club ran training events each Wednesday night, and then there were a heap of Sunday events during early 2016. These again helped me keep on track with what I was eating, and I learned a lot about battling nerves, managing starts etc.

I could see my times starting to improve, but had not done anything in terms of long distance events. The furthest distance I ticked off was 700/20/5 - there just didn’t seem to be anything near me that was between that and a 70.3. The season finished, and I then spent the next few months focusing on my running, which was my weakest leg by far. I had never been a runner. Hated it in fact. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that there was at least 12 months of running involved until I didn’t hate it. But the kgs were coming off. I experimented with bringing carbs back in, but the weight quickly came on again, and the performance dropped. Against my coach’s advice, I completed 7 marathons in 4 months. That was a whole new world for me, and I loved it. And hated it. But loved it. I’ll never be a star. I’ll struggle to do one under 5 hours. But I can just keep going. I even did a 50km ultra, and at one point did 3 marathons in 15 days.

By this stage I had entered Challenge Shepparton 70.3

THE LEAD UP TO CHALLENGE SHEPPARTON 70.3

I got back into the pool in August (probably should have been earlier), and the weather was mostly awful over winter, so didn’t even look at the bike (another major mistake).

It’s a bloody hard way to start the tri season with a 70.3, particularly when you’re biggest event prior to that was nothing even close. I thought seriously about dropping back to the sprint distance, but Challenge Shepp published an article about me, and I talked about the event a lot – knowing if I committed publicly it would hurt like hell to drop down.

4 weeks before the event I was getting married, so naturally getting that organised drastically cut into my training time and it was frustrating for me to see my training mojo disappear. Heck, what was I doing! I’d set up to do a half marathon in Italy when on my honeymoon, so I could keep my eating on track and at least get some training in. As it turned out, I was advised by my new Italian running buddies of an event the week after that we could slot into our honeymoon plans. The bemused husband was ok with that, and later declared, “We need to plan our future holidays around your half marathons.” He’s a keeper.

Post-honeymoon, anxiety about Shepparton 70.3 started to creep in. My eating had gone very much off track in Italy, which resulted in me putting on weight and my swim and bike training had fallen off the radar. To top it all off, a chest cold and G.I. issues emerged 2 weeks out from race day.

RACE DAY – SWIM LEG

My plan was to pace myself over the day and to avoid the urge to go hard. As it turned out, the swim leg was the most pleasant of the day, and when I look back at my stats, would have been half decent if I could swim in a straight line! The water was warm, and generally speaking the behaviour of most of the competitors was excellent and respectful. I kept to the outside of the field for the most part to avoid flailing arms and accidental kicks. I focused on my stroke, and had no problem completing the distance.

BIKE LEG

I had a great transition (getting out of a wetsuit quickly is never easy). Everything felt good for the first 8-10km and I was able to pass some people. My bike shop had lent me some good rims which made a difference. But then the wind picked up. Oh boy. It was annoying. And it was boring. Oh how it was boring. And tough. And cold. And did I mention the wind. And then it started raining. It rained for 50km of the 90km. The ambo crews were waiting at the turn around point with gurneys already out. Hmmm… I guess they were predicting falls. I tried to be as consistent as possible on the bike, but could see my average speed dropping back, and mentally I was not doing well.

How the heck do you then get off your bike and do a half marathon? Well by the end of the bike my fingers were frozen and I couldn’t change gear. I couldn’t get my helmet off. Someone had parked their bike in my slot in transition (although I was mentally pedantic enough to remember their race number!). Sigh. And my feet had fallen asleep with pins and needs by the 30km on the bike, and did not get feeling back until the 6km mark in the run.

RUN LEG

At last the run! At least I would have contact with people again, and that I did. And their support made a real difference. The rain and wind continued unabated for 19km of the 21km. I felt sorry for the volunteers who were waiting for hours in this weather, but who were so wonderful and supportive. I had to get volunteers to open the snack bars for me at aid stations as my fingers wouldn’t work. By this stage I had to eat. I’d used up a lot of energy in the previous 2 legs plus what I’d lost to shivering. For the most part I was drinking water (although in Italian half marathons they serve sweet hot tea at aid stations, which I think would have been most welcome at Shepparton given the horrible weather! Note: they also serve croissants and focaccia etc at the end). It truly was a mental battle. Having done the marathons over the year, I knew I would be able to battle through. I had lots of support over the run, and the 3 loop course was great. Club members yelled out at me to keep going. The husband found me. Slowest half marathon time ever for me.

THE FINISH LINE

Crossing the line was great, and each of us even at the back of the pack, was given a champion’s welcome. I kept it together until Liz from Challenge Shepp, who had been the one to first start encouraging me 12 months ago to do this event came up to me. That was an amazing moment and meant the world to me. Nope never doing that again. I had plans to do up to 5 of these over summer. That idea was scrapped when I started the run leg.

7hr11mins. Yeah I wanted better, but honestly I hadn’t done the bike work and didn’t deserve a better time. I’ve also handed back the bike rims that my friends at the Bicycle Centre Bendigo lent me. I explained to them – I don’t deserve them until I’ve put the work in on the bike. If I could have changed anything in my training, it would be the bike. Those crappy days in winter when I said, no way am I training in this – yeah, those are the days I should have been training. Time to put on my big girl panties and head out.

POST-EVENT THOUGHTS

Will I be back? You betcha. The bike work starts this week. I need to work out how to survive the bike boredom. And I’ll be back in the pool as soon as the chaffing from the wetsuit heals. Right now, it’s too painful to have any water touch it.

At this stage I’m not sure of when I’ll do my next 70.3. There are a few on offer over the season. I’m not good in hot weather, so will definitely do last minute entries based on the forecast with a focus on events that have shady run legs if possible.

And you know what, I’m still probably going to be the slowest triathlete in my club again this season. I’m going to call it as it is, no platitudes necessary really. It is what it is. But I’ve done a 70.3 now. And I’m going to do another. And maybe more.

Oh look, there’s a full IM on the horizon. Not this season though. Let me knock of 10 marathons next year and I’ll see where I’m up to then.

And for goodness sake girl, stop eating left over wedding cake!

#RaceRecap #703 #ChallengeShepparton #RaceReport

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