First published in the Australian.
As the borders cautiously re-open between Australia and New Zealand I recall my most rewarding triathlon, Challenge Wanaka, promoted as the most scenic half ironman in the world. As a “challenge” event, it’s not, as the race directors reminded us at the briefing, “a cricket match, but an alpine environment and participants should expect it to be tough!” Regardless, I had fallen in love with Wanaka a few years earlier and set this as a goal. When I rather naively showed the entry form to my physio he tried hard not to raise his eyebrows, smiled gently and replied “Well, that’s quite a challenge!” At the time I couldn’t run 5km without pain, I had just started swimming – in a heated pool – and I struggled to ride 40km around the river.
But four years later, aged 56 and having never travelled solo before, I flew to New Zealand to participate in the event. I was excited, but also apprehensive, already way out of my comfort zone, and as I drove from Queenstown over the Crown Range, the weather turned, and my confidence plummeted with the temperature.
By the time I had checked into my accommodation and assembled my bike it was pelting down and each streak of lightening slashed any remaining optimism. A 60-minute easy spin on the bike was out of the question, and for the first time in 12 weeks I did not follow my training program. I could only hope that the conditions would have improved for the practise swim at 7am the next day.
Thankfully, the rain had eased by the morning although the wind was still strong, the sky gloomy and the lake appeared ominous and nothing like I remembered. I was anxious, teary and seriously wondering what the heck I was doing there.
Everyone else seemed fitter, stronger and more experienced than me. They all appeared so calm while we waited on the shore while the event organisers assessed the conditions and positioned the buoys. I just wanted to be home, swimming in the warm safe pool with my friends. As I struggled to stay composed, I thought of an e-mail from a wise young friend who reminded me that “the good stuff only happens when you are outside of your comfort zone” and to “drink it in as these things don’t happen all that often in life.”
I pulled my thermal cap over my ears, secured my goggles, reminded myself why I had come and tentatively walked into the lake at the rear of the pack and began to swim. Although I needed to roll onto my back a couple of times to settle my nerves, breathe and look at the last of the snow on the mountains around me, I successfully negotiated the swim course and even smiled at a large brown trout swimming idly beneath me. I existed the water with relief, waved at the lake and started to believe again that I could do this.