Adventure Coaching Blog

My First Triathalon: Being an expert beginner

With only one kilometer of the run remaining it dawned on me.  I was on the final leg of my first triathalon and all of a sudden I realised what all the effort was about.  The rush of realisation made me grin from ear to ear and then I started laughing....

Rewind a month:  I decided that it was time to try something new.  Something where I would be a beginner.

A good friend was doing the local Kapiti Womens Triathalon so I decided to join her.  Now let's be clear, I am a completely rubbish swimmer, the bike would be fine, but I really have not done much running as I thought it was not "my thing".

The moment of real commitment came when I pressed the button saying "Pay Now" on the online form.  I had paid my money so I was definitely going to do it!  The first lesson was to actually commit, not just talk about it.  In this case, the commitment meant being willing to be a complete beginner.  Not knowing what to do, asking questions and actually listening rather than assuming.  Easier said than done.

Training for the sea swim was challenging.  I swallowed alot of sea water, thrashed about and kept getting water in my ears.  After alot of hopping around on one leg shaking my head and colliding with fixed objects I decided that a swim cap was probably a good idea.  That and a decent pair of goggles.

The hardest part was learning to become a beginner

After a lot of effort trying to figure things out for myself I was making no progress.  Thoughts like "how hard can this be? it's just swimming"  were really not helping.  I decided to admit I was a beginner and get help (a bigger step than I like to admit).

I didn't realise how much help was available until I went along to one of the free training sessions.  The trainer was incredibly helpful and gave excellent advice.  I noticed that she had a small group of people who worked with her regularly and who seemed to be of hugely mixed abilities, however they exuded confidence and most of all they seemed to be having a great time.

During a sea swim trial we were encouraged to self select into one of 3 groups:
  • Group A: Those swimmers who felt OK out in the sea
  • Group B: Those who were a bit scared
  • Group C: Scared "Shitless" (some of whom were already making a dash for the toilets).
It was wonderful for the "shitless" group of us to band together, own our fears and thrash about together in the waves, under the close surveillance of the life-guards.  The high pitched laughter of beginners who are "in it together" was an excellent foil for our previously hidden fears.  When we reached the beach we were told that we had 'graduated' to Group B.  We congratulated ourselves by heading to the local cafe and inhaling steaming coffee and large slabs of cake and regaling each other with "tales of the deep".  The lesson is join with other beginners and a great coach (and of course reward yourself with cake).

Event Day

Finally the day of the event dawned.  I was ready, my gear packed and breakfast eaten hours ahead of time.

I was down on the beach with my cap and goggles ready for action.  I had opted to wear a pink cap rather than the standard blue cap.  The pink cap was to alert lifeguards to keep a special watch.. it was a pink beacon of beginner status in the sea of blue cap competence.  However, us pink people were owning our status and high-fiving our fears.

My game plan was to stay at the back of the pack out of the way of other faster swimmers.  However, the photos prove that there I was at the front, racing into the waves at the start gun :)  So much for that plan.

As I got out into the deep water I was trying to stay calm but my heart-rate was sky high and the neurons were sending out a mayday message to my brain.  Fight or flight was triggered and despite my best attempts I was beginning to panic.  As instructed, I put my arm straight up in the air to signal for help.  However, with one arm raised I quickly sunk and after fighting back to the surface I saw through blurry goggles that I had attracted no additional help.

Through this whole process my mind remained clear, but my brain and heart-rate were on their own panic mission.  I decided to swim towards the fuzzy outline of the rescue boat.  As I got closer it dawned on me that I was actually OK.  Panic was not the end, and in fact I began to feel somewhat euphoric that I had survived.  I could find my breath and was doing an easy breast-stroke that I could maintain.  I crawled forward as another wave of blue caps swept past with their powerful strokes.

A lifetime later (actually 15 minutes) I turned toward land and swam to the beach.  The exquisite sensation of sand between my toes was met by clapping and cheering from the supporters on the beach.  Hurrah! the worst was over... or so I thought...

Beware of assumptions

I raced through the first transition and managed to get on my bike.  Now I was back in my comfort zone and assumed that I would make up time.  I did zoom past a large number of the 'blue caps' and was looking like I would crush the section when I heard a "thunk" and my back wheel slewed sideways.  I had a puncture.

Incredible, I had cycled the 700 kilometres in the Tour of New Zealand without a puncture and after only 7 kilometres in the triathalon I had one.  Agghhhh.  After some help by the roadside team and quite a bit of huffing and puffing from me I was back on my bike.  I was now not just fast but also furious!  I zoomed through the rest of the cycle, flew through the second transition and ran faster than I have ever run before.

And that furious runner was on track to make up for lost time when she had a revelation.  I was rounding one of the final bends when I saw two women ahead of me walking.   As I ran past I heard her read out a text she had just received:  "I have tears running down my face cos I'm so proud of what u have achieved".

It was then that I realised that my first triathlon was not about getting the best time, having the fastest swim or crushing it on the bike.  It was about fully being a beginner.  Making mistakes, learning, and in particular joining with other courageous beginners.  It was then that I began to smile... and then laugh.  At myself and at the situation.  It was GREAT to be a beginner.

Liana and I at the finish - we did it!In the classic book "The Discoverers", Daniel Boorstin reveals that the biggest barrier to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. 

In commenting on this the great climber and adventurer Jim Collins notes that:
"The best discoverers are not the smartest or the most talented, but those who either are - or have the discipline to remain - expert beginners in their field.  They see more clearly the way the world really works because they are less burdened with "knowledge" of what they are supposed to see."

Here's to becoming an expert beginner!  And joining with others in the fabulous journey.

Posted by Sarah Wilson on 5th March, 2014 | Comments | Permalink
Tags: First Triathalon; Attitude

A year ago today...

Where were you a year ago?  What were you doing?  

Was there something memorable last year that makes you smile now as you think of it.  An image may flash across your mind of the people, place and events?

It's a year ago exactly since the Cook to Cook team paddled the final few strokes to the beach at Titahi Bay.  It was the completion of an incredible journey through New Zealand's heartland.  Firstly climbing Mount Cook - NZ's highest peak - then cycling 740 kilometers to the top of the South Island and finally kayaking across the wild Cook Strait.

I'll never forget arriving on that beach in the double kayak with Luke Wilson to the sound of cheering and whistling from people on the beach with TV cameras rolling.  Later, as we threw champagne over ourselves and our friends it was with sheer delight and the relief of a massive adventure completed.

Moments of pure joy are to be savoured
It is great to look back and remember moments of inspiration, excitement, or laughter.

This year I want to focus on the joy of the journey - the moments before, during and after our adventures that bring us a genuine sense of pleasure and fun.  Sometimes life can get way too serious, so it is time to lighten up and PLAY!!

And let's share some of those moments.  

Pop a comment below as you think of an adventure memory that brings a smile to your face - or has you grinning from ear to ear!!

Posted by Sarah Wilson on 21st January, 2014 | Comments | Permalink
Tags: Adventure, inspiration, fun

A kea (NZ Mountain parrot) in the morning light

Sarah with Mt French behind

French Ridge Hut. A great place to contemplate.

Mount Aspiring

Take a look at this inspirational video from Tony

 (don't tell anyone but it made me cry).


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