‘It can be a bit of a washing machine at the start, so just find your space and race your own race’, a triathlon friend said to me. I am at the starting line: wetsuit on, goggles on (fog, of course), surrounded by fellow athletes, there are people everywhere! Am on the right side of the starting group, a bit towards the back. I feel good, fit and energetic, and I know that the swim is my strongest discipline. Since it is my first triathlon, my motto is to ‘have fun and finish!’.
The starting point
The starting signal is given (didn’t hear it) and the crowd starts to move into the shallow water. I see others walking or jogging in the water and I do the same. Until the water is at my hips and I dive in to start to swim. I see arms and legs and foam everywhere, in front of me, to my sides, people touching my legs, they are everywhere! I accidentally kick people (sorry!) and they kick me or hit me with their arms. ‘What the f…!’ I breathe at every stroke now and feel I am starting to panic. I try to swim away from the crowd and keep my eye on the safety jetski, there to provide assistance when needed. ‘
What is going on with me?’ I remember thinking, ‘I am a good swimmer, but am not moving forward at all.’ Then I realise that my breathing is completely out of control, and so is my heart-rate. I am at the verge of raising my hand to get the jetski to come for me. ‘Why on earth am I doing this, this does not fall under the category of fun in my book!’ My mind is playing games with me, trying to make me stop and get out of the water. Then I remember the other part of my aim for this first triathlon: ‘finish!’. I want to know how the complete triathlon goes: the transitions, the bike, the run, the finish. It is not about competing with the others, it is about competing with myself. About learning how this triathlon thing works. That word: ’finish’, keeps me going, somehow.
I then turn-over, lie on my back and drift in the sea for a bit, looking at the sky. ‘A washing machine? It felt more like being caught in a fish-tank full of piranhas!’ ‘Exhale’ the coach had said, so I put one hand on my heart and start to exhale and take a few deep breaths. And slowly but surely the breathing returns back to normal. Am at the back of the pack now, less people around me, flip over again and start to swim: one two three four, breathe. Before I know it, I am taking over people again until I reach land. I am dizzy but ok.
The real triathlon
Now, a few days later, I know a bit more. As good as a swimmer I may be and as much as we have practised in the pool, nothing can prepare you for the real experience. It is something else. This is not just a physical activity, I had no muscle aches or pains and was feeling fit and good.
It is also not just about the mind: I somehow knew what to expect and we had prepared for this as best as we could during our training sessions. I knew where I would position myself and also knew that swimming is one of my stronger skills. Despite somehow knowing what to expect, my mind managed to play tricks on me.
It was some panic deep inside me that surfaced and hit me there in the Mediterranean sea for a good few minutes. It washed over me like a wave, and took my breathe away. My mind supporting my body by telling me that indeed a triathlon is a crazy thing to do and lots of other stories that cannot be repeated here. And then, in a split-second, it was there. I turn on my back, look at the beautiful blue sky and float for a bit. Something from deep inside, from a calm and beautiful place inside me, surfaced. Something from somewhere inside me, a place that is capable of influencing my brain and making my body do what it was intending to do there: ‘have fun and finish’.
Being in that space made me calm down my breath, turn-over again and get into my regular swimming rhythm, thoroughly enjoying the swim until reaching land.
The race makes you stronger
From that same space comes a desire to do this again and to become better at it, stronger on all fronts: physically, mentally and lastly to become a stronger, more knowledgeable version of myself.
You don’t know what a washing machine in the sea is and how you will react to it, until you’ve been in one.
I want to thank the organisation for an unforgettable fantastic event, for the:
- Great materials prior to the event to read and the clarity of all the information
- Reception at Nissi beach and seeing the smiling welcoming faces of the team and of fellow athletes and support crew
- All the useful stuff that was in the envelope
- Last minute support requirements being fulfilled on the spot
- Clear (and with a good sense of humour) briefing on Saturday afternoon (and that also in two languages!)
- Flags, signposts, little shops and marking of the area
- Neat and tidy transition area
- Fellowship of other athletes never met before
- Safety jetski’s on the water
- An amazingly beautiful cycling route
- Friendly police people on the road
- Marshals smiling and guiding every athlete along the way
- Smiling people giving water on the way
- Unknown people applauding and encouraging along the way
- Camera-men on their quad-bikes catching great moments
- Live-streams for those that were not physically present
- Smiles and the immediate receiving of the medal at the finish
- Fresh fruit and drinks
- Very inclusive award ceremony
- T-shirt as a token of participation
- For giving me a feeling of accomplishment and for my sore calves 🙂