When was the last time you felt uncomfortable? I don’t mean the weather is too hot, my shoes are rubbing, I’ve overeaten, kind of discomfort. I’m referring to the “oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’ve put myself in this agonizing situation” kind of unease.
As humans, we naturally like to keep our existence comfortable. It is generally only on occasion that we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone. While we’d rather keep our mental status quo simple and pleasurable, it is when we challenge ourselves that personal growth occurs.
As my 60th birthday was looming, I wanted to mark the occasion by doing something significant. Skydiving came to mind, but I felt that would only require a brief moment of courage. I wanted to be committed and disciplined over some time. I needed to be challenged mentally and physically during the lead-up to something I would later look back on with pride.
I discovered a short course triathlon event was being held in 10 weeks at Victor Harbor, a town forty-five minutes away from my home in Adelaide, South Australia. It would consist of a 150-meter swim, an 8-kilometer bike ride, and a 1.5-kilometer run. Now here’s my challenge, I thought, as I hadn’t done any exercise of note for some time.
As I hit submit on the online registration, I reflected that I had never seen a triathlon, let alone participated in one!
How I Approached The Event
Thankfully another triathlon event was being held the following week at West Lakes, a suburb near my home, so I went to watch and learn. I took note as the contestants completed their swim, then transitioned onto their bicycles, and finally into the final running stage.
From there, I reached out to a personal trainer who set up a training plan via an app on my smartphone. She scheduled workouts four times a week that consisted of weight training, running, cycling, and swimming. Although I was incredibly unfit, running and cycling were familiar to me, but swimming was a different story. While I could swim ok, I had never swum any more than 25 meters, which was fifty years ago at school.
I purchased a new bicycle, a swimsuit, and a second-hand tri-suit, a thin wetsuit to wear when swimming, which I hoped would assist me with buoyancy.
The Commitment And Discipline Of Training
I started the run and cycle training in my neighborhood. I live on the coast, where there’s an endless run/cycle path overlooking the sea, so keeping to my schedule was easy in such beautiful surroundings. As my fitness improved, I sometimes rode 12 kilometers to work, again on a safe cycle path.
Swimming was to be the thorn in my side. I went to my local indoor pool once but felt like a fish out of water, so I opted to practice swimming in the tidal, saltwater river near home. If I swam in the right direction when the tide was coming in or going out, this swimming caper became easy!
I stayed committed to the training, and even though I avoided swimming, I never lost sight of my goal. I was determined to participate in a short course triathlon for the first time at 60.
After ten weeks, the day of the event arrived. My partner and I stayed at a hotel in Victor Harbor the night before and familiarized ourselves with the course layout. The swim element would take place in an inland lagoon, so although I wasn’t confident in my ability, I wouldn’t need to worry about waves or tides. The bike ride was on an open country road and included steep hills. But what goes up has to come down. The course for the 1.5-kilometer run was on streets in a residential area.
The Reality Of Participating — What Worked And What Didn’t
After a restless sleep, I woke to a calm, overcast morning feeling a mix of nerves and excitement. We drove to the course and I hung my bicycle on the rack in the transition area. I took time to carefully lay out the things I’d need after the swim to prepare for the bike ride. With my towel, helmet, shoes, socks, and water bottle neatly placed under my bike, I took off my tracksuit and put my thin wetsuit on over my swimsuit, ready for the first leg of the short course triathlon.
I chatted with other participants to calm my nerves as we lined up, ready for the swim start. We all strode into the depths when the starting gun sounded and started swimming. Everything was going well initially. I was stroking ok and doing my best not to be kicked by swimmers in front, but then fatigue set in. I’d been advised to let some water into the tri-suit before setting off. Unfortunately, it was advice I stupidly hadn’t heeded. I found the wetsuit was too buoyant and forced my back to arch in an uncomfortable position, and I tired quickly.
I tried every swimming stroke known to man (except butterfly) to propel myself to the finish line at the shore. From there, my jelly legs eventually carried me to the transition area for the bike phase.
As I pedaled away for the 8-kilometer ride, the encouraging cheers of my partner remained with me as I forced myself to keep going up the seemingly never-ending hill in front of me. He was there when I returned, while I put my bike back in the rack, took off my helmet, and set off for the run. His cheers were heard as my red face and aching legs eventually crossed the finish line. I had done it!
The Surprisingly Good Feels
As I sat in the car on the way home, I was overcome with an immense feeling of pride as I reflected on the enormity of what I’d done. I knew I had looked the total amateur that I was, and I certainly didn’t break any time records. Still, my discipline and commitment to the cause were worthy of a gold medal. When the results were eventually posted online, I learned I was the oldest woman in the field and the second oldest competitor. My heart beamed.
The Bad Bits That I Would Do Differently Next Time
Would I do it again? I don’t know. I would definitely need to train more in swimming and make better use of the wetsuit. The swimming element of the short-course triathlon was incredibly taxing and put me most out of my comfort zone. It was my “oh my gosh, why have I put myself in this agonizing situation” moment. However, despite my diminutive frame, my open mind grew, in theory, that day.
Tips For Someone Looking To Do Something Similar
The physical and mental benefits of doing something like this are incredible. If you are looking for a similar challenge, I would recommend you:
- Choose something achievable
- Keep your eye on the end goal
- Let others know what you’re doing — it helps keep you accountable
- Have at least one support person
- Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination
- Wallow shamelessly in self-pride when you’ve done it