Health

Choose your own adventure: My triathlon challenge

Nine months ago, I decided I would like to train and compete in a triathlon. And in a couple weeks, I will stand trembling at the start of my first triathlon: ready to swim 1500 metres, cycle forty kilometres, and end with a ten kilometre run to the finish line. If you've been following my journey so far, you'll know that I am a) an amateur b) the mother of four young children and c) have never attempted anything like this in my entire life. So maybe you're wondering: Why a triathlon?

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Nine months ago, I decided I would like to train and compete in a triathlon. And in a couple weeks, I will stand trembling at the start of my first triathlon: ready to swim 1500 metres, cycle forty kilometres, and end with a ten kilometre run to the finish line. If you’ve been following my journey so far, you’ll know that I am a) an amateur b) the mother of four young children and c) have never attempted anything like this in my entire life.

So maybe you’re wondering: Why a triathlon?

I’ve been a fan of athletic achievement since childhood. The Olympics are my favourite reality show. But my own athletic accomplishments have been of the theoretical variety: wishful thinking as I stand on the sidelines and watch the real athletes stream past.

As a child, I ran everywhere for pure pleasure. But in adolescence, I lost my speed and lightness. In high school, I ran cross country without bothering to train regularly. Race day was torture: my starts were optimistically paced, leading to painful kilometres, some wimpy walking, and a final desperate sprint for the back half of the pack (my signature move; not recommended).

In my twenties, my husband and I enjoyed riding our mountain bikes off-road, and I jogged occasionally, but never found an exercise routine that stuck. And then the children arrived, and if I discovered an hour to myself, it wasn’t spent exercising. My arms were strong from holding babies and I could push a laden stroller through banks of snow: I was as fit as I could be, under the circumstances.

But circumstances change. My baby can walk home on his own from nursery school and the older children grow ever more independent. There is time, again, for me to be me. And this post-baby-me wants to complete a triathlon.

Maybe it was the excitement of watching Canadian Simon Whitfield capture silver in the 2008 summer Olympics in a gut-wrenching display of athletic grit.

Maybe it goes all the way back to the summer I met my husband, when we spent a week in Corner Brook, Nfld, which happened to coincide with the running of the Corner Brook Triathlon: we watched in awe as athletes churned their way across a lake, cycled up steep hills, and ran their hearts out across the finish line. Their achievements seemed heroic. And, yet, they were ordinary people, many of them: amateur athletes.

Maybe it’s the variety of skills required: swim, cycle, run! Maybe it’s precisely because it will be difficult, yet doesn’t seem impossible. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen ordinary people cross the finish line.

And maybe I’ll never know exactly why a triathlon is my chosen goal. But it is. The picture that keeps me training hard, and with excitement and hope, is this: I’m imagining myself churning around a lake, cycling hills, and running my heart out across the finish line. 

Who knows? Maybe this is a roundabout journey to recapture the joy I felt as a child who ran everywhere.