I woke up realizing that I’m writing a blog yet I’ve not yet been honest about my biggest life changing experience – an experience that has molded this very blog into what it is today. So here I go. Here’s the story on how I went from a coach yelling from pool deck to competing for a podium just 12 months later at the 2017 ITU Cross-Triathlon World Championships.
Growing up I’d always envied triathletes. I’d always been inspired by their work ethic, their sacrifice and above all, their passion for not one but three sports. And despite my abnormal levels of envy, I never felt I was capable of such a feat, convincing myself that the act of juggling one sport with a social life was hard enough and three would just be suicidal.
However, this envy led me to a pool deck and an opportunity to shadow South Africa’s most renowned triathlon swim coach as he stood yelling sets to a pool full of professional triathletes. In my humble eyes, I had made it. Story over.
Not quite. A bunch as passionate as this would not allow for a young coach such as myself to wonder into their training sessions without convincing me to compete in an event of my own. Within an hour after our cold winters 6AM session had finished, I was on Bike Hub, advertising my dusty mountain bike to exchange for a road bike.
With the long list of equipment that falls under the term ‘triathlon’ now sorted, I actually had to act like a triathlete and start training for the upcoming summer racing season. Coming from a motocross background, cycling was the easy part. Luckily I had always enjoyed running too and had recently come off a sub-20 PB at my local ParkRun. Swimming was a different story – a survival act more then a workout.
After three months of training I was getting a little antsy to try out my new level of fitness and entered a sprint race consisting of a 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run. I came second. Yeah, I was just as surprised. I guess I was actually half decent at this swim, bike, run thing. Next up was the XTERRA cross-triathlon series. A three round series starting in the North West province and ending with the opening round of the world championship series which doubled as the South African Cross-Tri Champs in the beautiful Cape. Competing in SA Champs was a dream, a top 5 seamed surreal, a spot on the South African team to compete in the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships later in the year seamed impossible.
With the first round being just a little over an hour from home, I decided to loan dad’s mountain bike and give it a bash. If I did well enough to motivate a R3 000 flight to Cape Town, then I’d make the trip to SA Champs to test the water before a big push in 2018. Just over three and a half of the most painful and physically demanding hours of my life, I crossed the finish line, completely and utterly exhausted. Yet surprisingly feeling the most self-fulfilled I’d ever felt. At this point, results didn’t matter. I didn’t think I had done well in anyways after having to walk up the final climb on the run, I was just happy to have survived such a brutal course. Another 2nd. Guess I’m going to Cape Town!
I had exactly 4 weeks to prepare for SA Champs. That would take me to a total of 4 months of triathlon training – and somehow I believed I could finish within the top 5. Those 4 weeks flew by as fast as the flight to Cape Town and before I could think about the decision I had made, I was standing on the shoreline of Grabouw dam as the top professional triathletes were called to their starting positions one-by-one. The gun fired and I was one of thousands amungst the washing machine of triathletes trying to swim their way to a World Champs qualifying spot. A horrific swim even by my low standards had me exiting the water buried with weekend warriors. Despite the bike being my strongest leg, the KM’s of technical single track had me as a carriage among a long stretched spandex train, so I attached the climbs and passed where I could, but took in the beauty of Grabouw’s trails for the remaining three quarters of the ride. Onto the run and into the mountains, a 8km uphill drag before a quick decent and a beach sprint to take you into the finishers shoot. I’d finished my first SA Champs event. Quick onto the massage bed and refreshing the results on my phone even quicker, I awaited the news. 4th place. One above the goal, one below the podium.
It wasn’t until the 24th of April, 2 months after SA Champs and 4 months before World Champs that I got the email from Triathlon South Africa stating that I had been selected to represent South Africa at the 2017 ITU Multisport World Championships taking place in Penticton. Shit! That’s soon. And where’s Penticton?
The next day, being the sport scientist that I am, I sat down and devised a plan that would have me in the best physical condition of my life in just four months. Slightly insane, but totally doable.
The next three months flew by in a blur with the only pauses for a flat white between training clients and training myself, but not once did I regret my decision. A month and a half out from Worlds I boarded a plane and headed north for a friends wedding. Already in the northern hemisphere, it worked out to be cheaper for me to set up base in Mexico as I counted down the day’s to Worlds. In the height of summer and temperature’s averaging over 40 degrees celsius, the motivation to get to all three (sometimes four) sessions in a day became hard. Energy literally dripped from my skin every second of the day (and night). My limited supply of equipment wore quicker then expected as the sea salt ate at my goggles, the soles of my shoes melted on the scorching roads and the unforgiving trails beat up my bike. But I made a commitment to myself, to my family and to my friends and I wasn’t backing down now.
Twelve months to the day from my first ever triathlon training session, I was boarding a plane and heading to a tiny town hidden in the mountains of Canada for my first ever triathlon World Champs. No matter how good of a fortune teller you are, I would never have believed you if you’d told me this is where triathlon would have taken me. I was living in a dream.
Weirdly, as the days got closer and the ceremonies began, my nervous never worsened. I’m not sure if this is because they had been maxed out since the day of receiving my letter of invitation from Triathlon South Africa or if it was because I was just ready to have this milestone complete. When race day arrived so did a wave of calm. An indescribable feeling where my mind was at peace with the suffering that my body was about to endure. And that’s exactly what it did. It suffered. Hard. But the good kind of suffering. That kind that is so rare, but so enjoyable. The kind where you are so excited to see where your limit is, to discover just how far the human body can go. It still gives me goosebumps just thinking of it.
I raced my heart out that day. Not for my country. Not for my family. I raced my heart out for me. It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever endured in my life. One in which I will forever cherish.
I came fourth that day.
The most rewarding part about this journey was not the fact that I placed fourth in the world after just twelve months of triathlon. It’s not that I got to represent my country on a global stage. It’s not that I got to live out my dream of traveling the world for sport. It was the self journey that I went on over those twelve months.
Over those twelve months I sacrificed a lot. I struggled financially. I lost people whom I thought I never would along the way. But I gained so much more. I gained the ability to define hard work. I learnt how to be strong, both physically and psychologically. I identified what I want to do in this world. Best part of it all is that I’ve only just scraped the surface in understanding what the human body is truly capable of…
So for anyone dabbing in the idea of trying triathlon, do it! It changed my life and it’ll change yours too.