Don’t ask me why, but three days ago I did a triathlon. Some of you who have been here for a while may remember that I did one this time last year too. No, I’m not insane… totally. Last year I trained for my triathlon. I did an open water swim before hand and visited my local pool at least four times in preparation. I did it with my friend Ross and we had a great time that we remember fondly with the most epic photo of us crossing the finish line together that we each have a copy of framed in our houses.
On the back of last year’s excitement, when registration opened earlier this year to do it again we decided to do it, this time signing up a new recruit in the shape of Ross’ girlfriend Sophie, who wanted to get in on some of the fun. (We omitted to tell her that the lake smelt like goose shit and everyone weed into their wetsuits to warm up when they got into the water).
But as the weeks and then months past, I didn’t go swimming. I find it to be a big faff and I had put this triathlon in a box of things that were happening ‘ages away’ (you know the box, it’s full of things like the date your car needs a service, Christmas and weddings of relatives that you don’t really want to go to). A few weeks ago I did my first half marathon, which although I’m so incredibly proud of, kind of fucked me up. I’ve had a pain in my hip and a really bad knee since then and so, truthfully, I had quietly gone about hatching a well laid out plan to pull out of the tri. First I told my mum that it hurt too much to run (which was true), then I told my boyfriend that I would see how I went and then I subtly dropped the fact that I was toying with the idea of quitting to my friend Soph, who I had planned to do it with. By the Friday I was not going to do it. I had pulled out. I didn’t have anything to prove, I told myself. I’m fit enough. I did it last year. I ran a half marathon last month. I can always try again next time. Sophie won’t mind, she can do it with Ross. No one will miss me. No one will judge me. That’s what I said, over and over again. To myself, and to anyone else that asked. I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO PROVE.
But then on Saturday morning, the morning of the tri, I woke up and just knew that I would be doing a triathlon that day. My excuses and justifications were falling on my own deaf ears and I knew I had to do it. For two main reasons. One, I’d kick myself for ages if I pulled out. I’d hate watching everyone doing it, I’d feel like a total loser and would be so angry with myself for not at least giving it a go. (That’s FOMO for you). Two, I’d made a promise to Sophie that we would do it together, she would pull me through the swim if I would pull her through the run. I couldn’t bring myself to let her down on the day and so, true to my word, I pulled my tri suit on. (Which, if I’m honest, due to it’s tightness, showed in excruciating detail. how much more unfit I was this year compared with last…).
Anyway, I ate my breakfast, packed up a bag and, with as little preparation as is probably possible, we headed to the event. After a quick nervous wee, a couple of nervous cigarettes and a huge battle with my wetsuit which hadn’t been out of the cupboard since last year, we made our way down to the lake. It was here that it hit me for the first time that I was about to go swimming for the first time since this day last year, and I panicked. Whereas last year Ross and I had entered the water with excitement, this year I freaked, I was nervous and scared. Getting in the water it was freezing and I felt my chest getting tighter and tighter. Thankfully Ross and Sophie stayed nearby and my friend Sally, a superstar athlete who does this kind of stuff all the time talked me round. As the whistle went I started swimming, slowly, very very slowly. I was too afraid to put my head under the water and was all to aware that the more I swam the harder it seemed, it was taking a crazy long time to do and no matter how hard I worked, the finish line just didn’t seem to be getting any closer. (Not helped by the fact that my goggles were so steamed up I couldn’t see my arms, let alone something 750m away). Ross, Sophie and Sally all stayed nearby though and with their constant encouragements I somehow made it out of the water.
Ross and Sophie ran ahead and Sally and I made our way up the bank to the first transition area. Exhausted, I got myself totally stuck in my wetsuit (might have been funny last year but this year it just got me stressed) and couldn’t think of anything worse than a 20k bike ride. Nevertheless I was raised to adhere to the ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ rule of thumb so I persevered. Ross and Sophie had gone by this point but thankfully Sally stayed with me (and I do mean thankfully otherwise I would 100% still be sitting in that transition now trying to remember how to do up my bike helmet!) and we did the cycle. Not entirely in keeping with the competitive nature of the event we kept things light and chatted the whole way round, stopping occasionally to let me drink some water (because no, I still can’t confidently take my hands of the handlebars) and even got told off for ‘drafting’ at one point – funny when you realise *quite* how little that would have helped our pitiful time away.
And then, thankfully, we were onto the run. This is something that, despite my left leg totally hating me at the moment, I don’t mind doing at all and, following Sally, who has done about 100 marathons in her life (and even had the Guiness Book of World Records for doing the fastest marathon dressed as a piece of fruit), I ran the 6k. I finished in 2 hours 7 minutes, slower than last year but at least it was done. I found the rest of my team, Ross and Sophie who had come in a couple of minutes before me, Alex had actually won his category (oh to be superhuman eh?), my mum who had beaten last year’s time and the other fab people who we had done it with.
And although it was hard, really really really hard, I am so pleased that I did it. It wasn’t the same as last year, it wasn’t as fun and it wasn’t as easy and I hadn’t done anything like any training for it but despite that, I’m so happy that I did it. As it turns out Sophie didn’t need me at all, but for my own brain and confidence, doing it for myself was very important. Yes it would have been easier if I had trained, yes it would have been more fun if I was fit enough to keep up with my friends, no it won’t go down in my book of all time favourite days but at least I did it. I have something to be SO proud of, I proved to myself once again that I am capable of so much more than I thought.
If there is anything that I have learned over the last few years of saying yes to ridiculously difficult sporting challenges, it is this: life is very easy in your comfort zone. Spending your Saturday morning like a normal person, nursing a hangover and drinking coffee is great and important and lovely and sometimes it is enough. But it’s easy. Sometimes too easy. Spending your Saturday morning up to your eyeballs in geese shit isn’t easy, it isn’t fun and when you compare it to the aforementioned coffee morning, it’s not nearly as tempting, but it’s so much more satisfying, so much more interesting, so much more fulfilling. I’m not a natural athlete, I don’t love training that much, I don’t love doing things that makes my body hurt, but I do love the feeling that comes with it. The sense of achievement, the endorphins, they’re things that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Pushing yourself to breaking point doesn’t sound like much fun, I grant you, but it’s what keeps you alive, keeps you fresh and proud.
For me, these events have nothing to with my fitness and everything to do with the challenge. Em of five years ago would have done anything for an easy life and would have purposefully avoided challenges at every opportunity, but this Em, me now, lives for them. Having pride in yourself is an amazing thing and to have earned it? Well that’s just unreal.