SHE BARES IT ALL: My first triathlon

SHE BARES IT ALL: My first triathlon

a column by national rower and Olympian Aisyah Gala

I promised myself that when I completed my first triathlon race, I’ll write a detailed account of the experience only because I want to look back at it 10 years down the road to see how it all began. It is always good to remind yourself how far you have come. 

But if you just want to know what I’ve learnt from the whole experience, here’s my reflection on it:

Like every other race that you train for and participate in, it is the journey that eventually matters more than the race itself. The training for my first triathlon took one month, the race itself lasted for one and a half hours. 

I only decided on joining the Tri-Factor Triathlon at the end of June. At that point in time, I have never done a single lap session in the pool in my life, I was not able to complete a 25m lap without resting and I have not cycled on the road since my accident where I dislocated my shoulder in February. I have also not stepped into the open sea since I broke my nose in Sydney in 2013. Here are some photos of my injuries, because why not?

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Ok, so I was worried that I was not able to compete the swimming leg, but when the news appeared that I was going to be part of it, I knew that there was no turning back.

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I signed up for the sprint distance which was a 750m swim, 18km bike and 5km run. I did not have a target as it was my first race so my aim was to complete it as fast as I can. Since my weakness was the swim, I decided to give more attention to it. I was swimming at least three times a week. In week one, I managed to swim 250m using the freestyle technique without stopping. With the help of some YouTube videos, I learnt that the way to be able to do long-distance swims is to relax. In week two, I completed 500m without stopping. In week three, I lost count of the number of laps I was doing and later found out on my watch that I had swam 1250m non-stop. 

I was pretty confident with my swimming ability until I signed up for the open water swim clinic which was compulsory for all first-timers in the race. It was the first time in my life having to swim amongst other humans. I have to admit it was scary because there were just limbs everywhere and there is the current you have to battle with too.

Unlike swimming in the pool, everyone wants to take the shortest route so when we turn around the buoys, the human congestion can be quite a scene. Arms rubbing against me, feet inches away from my face, people grabbing onto me- it was almost like a war scene. Everyone wants to survive. However, despite how much I am scaring you about open water swims, I highly encourage you to go for one in a group before you participate in your first triathlon race so it will give you an idea of what it will feel like during the race. That way, you would not be caught off guard with the madness of the situation. 

I finished the race in 1 hour 32 minutes. My slowest leg was the swim, but managed to make up for it on the bike and run. To me, the hardest part of the race was the run. It was hot, I was extremely tired and I did question myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?”

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I looked at the race bibs of some of the participants around me which indicated that they were doing the Olympic distance, which is double of the distances I was doing. So on the 5km run, the Olympic distance triathletes were doing a 10km run and secretly, I felt lucky that I only had to do half of what they were doing. When you are in that state, you will take any form of motivation to keep you going- such as looking at how much the Olympic distance people were suffering, that was my motivation. 

Yes, the race, no matter how short or long, is hard. You are going to suffer. You are going to be in pain at some point. But that is why you put in the hours and hours of training before the race so that you know what suffering feels like and get used to it. If you do not enjoy pushing your body to the limits, I suggest you not to pick up the sport. It is definitely not a sport for the faint-hearted. But if you want to challenge yourself to see how fit you can get, sign up for your first triathlon. I definitely did not regret signing up for mine.

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After the race, I went traveling and for the first time in my life, I was more confident in the open sea and had plenty of swims in some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. If not for the experience I have gained from the triathlon, I would not have been able to fully experience the beauty of these waters. I can finally say that I have overcome my fear of swimming in the sea. Life begins on the other side of fear!

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