What a great day.
A couple of weeks ago at the January retreat, Andrea mentioned that she had entered two WLS teams into a small triathlon the next weekend, but sadly the person who was doing the bike leg for one of the teams had just pulled out. Andrea was clearly disappointed. Before engaging my brain I asked how far was the ride? She said 6-7km and it will be flat (she lied). So before I had time to engage my brain and ask questions, I opened my mouth and said I would do the bike ride… Doh!
Triathlon’s are pretty much responsible for me becoming a Bariatric Nurse Specialist (I was no speedster, even at my fittest) therefore it kinda makes sense why I volunteered without thinking things through. I understood not having a cyclist meant other two committed team members would miss out on the buzzy opportunity of completing and experiencing crossing the finish line.
There was one small problem though, I hadn’t actually ridden a bike in over a year and certainly not done any real distance in well over five years (I had sold my road bike three years ago). However I had just committed myself to doing an event in a week’s time, on a borrowed bike! So that afternoon during a lull in my kitchen duties I borrowed David’s mountain bike and went for a ride. The seven km I rode were not flash, they were in fact pretty grim - I failed to make it up the hill next to the retreat.
I had a week to prepare. I started to worry.
By Friday I knew it was actually 16km not six and at the Blue Lake in Rotorua to boot. Due to other arduous events at the Blue Lake I am familiar with the terrain. Despite what Andrea said it was NOT going to be flat. So, with a fluttering in my chest and a small concrete block in my stomach I rocked up with David and Andrea on race day, a mere week later. I met my two team mates, Gill and Raeleen. I then began to observe the multiple very fit ‘flash Harry’ types striding about with their serious level bike technology and quickly became consumed with my own performance anxiety.
What transpired was so incredibly different and humbling to anything I had imagined or considered.
It is said that no experience is wasted, and often what we fear the most becomes our greatest triumph. As I stood waiting for Raeleen to finish her part and watching those flash Harry types come out of the water with their full complement of support and deep knowledge they could do this thing, it occurred to me just how far Raeleen had come to be at the start, let alone finish. Her part in our team effort suddenly took on a whole different meaning for me. I realised that I had at no point in this last week given thanks or gratitude to my ability to simply rock up and do this. I had been busy getting hung up in my own self talk and limiting beliefs. As she came out of the water at the back of the pack (she had warned me she was likely to be last) I was overcome with emotion and awe at her commitment, persistence and sheer courage to show up and be Raeleen. I started to blub.
With those tears still fresh, I hopped on David’s mountain bike, knowing our team was likely to be last. Not because of Raeleen but because I didn’t have the legs or technology to pull back any time or distance. Weirdly though I didn’t give a rat’s; previously this knowledge would have filled me with absolute horror, but not on this day. Being part of this team meant something really important had shifted. Instead I decided to enjoy the ride, do the best I could with what I had. As I whizzed down the hill being passed by folk who were lapping me on their second circuit of the two -ap course, I found myself being grateful for the opportunity to be out there, to experience the sun, the bush, the lake and the ability to feel the joy of moving my body. At previous events in the same space of riding downhill toward a big climb I had always been full of self-doubt, comparison and fear of failure. Not on this ride.
About a third of the way up the hill I decided to stop panicking and panting and use my yoga breathing instead (I hadn’t discovered yoga yet during my triathlon days) and to concentrate on simply being present. Again, weirdly the hills took care of themselves and by the time I came around for the second lap I knew what to expect and I just got on with it. There was nothing I could do other than what I was doing, peddle, breathe and keep on going. So, when I took a tiny breather at the crest of the big hill, all by myself or so I thought! Tailend Charlie caught up with me. Tailend Charlie is the person in every race that signals the last competitor, it’s a safety thing as well as helping with race organisation. I felt no shame (I so would have in days past). In fact, I was proud of what we were doing, I told him all about what it is we do with surgery, etc, told him about Raeleen and he too shed a wee tear.
Once I got back into transition, had a drink and waited to cheer Gill our runner, over the finish line, I knew I had come a complete circle! From my first tentative triathlon through all the hard work and grind of Ironman, back to the sheer joy of being out there and being thankful to my body for all I have asked it to do. I learnt that no matter where you are on the journey you get the choice in how you approach it, as Raeleen’s t-shirt say’s “DEAD LAST is greater than DID NOT FINISH which trumps DID NOT START. The smile on Gill's face as she completed her first ever event will continue to be a source of joy to me.
So, if you are keen to face some fears. Seriously think about next year - I know I will be there.
Kate Berridge - Facilitator at FOHL retreats