I’ve heard there are only two difficult “Things” in triathlon. Getting to the start line, and getting to the finish line.
This is just one of the words of wisdom I’ve gleaned from one of my training buddies, Haydon. I don’t know if it’s one of his own, or whether he pinched it from some other guru of the sport.
It doesn’t matter too much. To me, it’s always had a real element of truth in it. But it never had so much truth for me than during the journey that was Mooloolaba Triathlon 2004.
The start line part oneMy Mooloolaba program started with all worlds of pain. I skipped the first session because my half-grown-out wisdom tooth had swelled overnight – again – and was causing nothing short of agony.
With Mooloolaba looming I went to the dentist to seek professional advice (and then to demand that he take it out regardless of the prognosis!).
The extraction didn’t happen until around seven weeks before the event. Until then I felt kinda lousy half the time due to the infection (which had apparently been there for some time...) All in all, the situation wasn’t overly conducive to long term training. I persevered, training mainly at recovery level – doing no more than maintaining whatever base I had.
Post surgery, I had an averse reaction to the anti-biotics and didn’t train for a further ten days. I realised that by the time I got back to training it would be just 5 weeks to the race. Swimming wasn’t a problem, but I wouldn’t have ridden 40ks, nor run 10ks, for over a month.
In consultation with my coach I decided that the only logical way to tackle Mooloolaba was to take a time goal out of the equation. I’d had a bad race there last year and was determined that if it wasn’t going to be any more rewarding – or at least more pleasant – that I’d rather not do it. So we decided that my goal for Mooloolaba was to enjoy the experience, and finish the race feeling good.
Just finishing was going to be a challenge… could it possibly be enjoyable?
My next 10k run, two weeks after that, left me devastated. It took me FOREVER and I felt TERRIBLE. I couldn’t help myself, I literally sobbed to my coach about how slow I was, about how I couldn’t possibly consider doing Mooloolaba, not only that, but I should give up triathlon altogether.
Luckily, this isn’t the first time this has happened, and my coach knew how to handle my tantrum without any hesitation whatsoever.
“Lyndell, take off your watch. You’re not wearing it any more.”
It shut me up for one. But when I’d processed what he’d said, the protest started.
“You what? Why not? What the hell is that going to do for me!!!”
“Lyndell, you think too much and you worry too much about your time. We’ve already decided that you’re doing this race to enjoy it. So you’re not wearing your watch. You don’t need it. You can take the computer off your bike too.”
I knew that my current state wouldn’t help me cut a deal so I dried my eyes and started negotiating. In the end we agreed that it was only until after Mooloolaba, and he let me keep the computer on my bike. The rest of the race (and my training until then) would be by feel – not even a heart rate monitor (there’s a watch in one of them too).
So, poorly prepared and without any tangible goal, I was on the way to the start line.
The start line part twoI woke on race day to the sounds of running water. I thought it was the bathroom tap running – and figured it must be Tina’s way of getting us up. After all, you can’t listen to running water without needing to go to the toilet. And, well, you can’t do that in bed.
While neither of them had been in training for months, Tina and Paul had valiantly agreed to make the pilgrimage to Mooloolaba for the race. They installed themselves into the “team manager” role for our group, consisting of four triathletes, two of whom were debutantes at this distance. Paul had taken the role quite seriously initially, talking the two newbies through how to cope with the dreadful surf conditions first thing on Saturday morning. He followed this with about six cans of Bundy & Coke by lunchtime and handed the reins over to Tina. I’m not sure what exactly Tina did but between the two of them I felt I’d had exactly the perfect leadup for someone racing for enjoyment – plenty of laughs, plenty of support, and as little stress as possible.
So on race day, to the sound of running water, I got up and went to the toilet. When I got to the bathroom I found there weren’t any taps on. I finally realised, when I went out to the main part of the unit, that the running water was in fact rain. Bucketing down. Over an angry looking surf.
The four athletes looked out at the rain with our hearts in our mouths and our hopes shattered. The surf had been high all week, but with many reports from locals that the surf would drop overnight, I think we all held high hopes that it would be true. Instead we’d woken to not only a non-diminished surf – but wet conditions to top it off.
We set about getting ready, trying our best to boost each others spirits. “It’s easing” we kept saying to each other. “There’s a gap in the cloud cover.” It nearly worked but I got my real inspiration when my phone rang and it was one of my training partners.
“Lyndell. It’s Annette.”
“Where are you?”
“In the unit. Where are you?”
“At transition. (pause) It’s raining.”
“What do I do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will they cancel it?”
“Are you going to do it?”
After just a moment’s hesitation, my reply was definite. “I didn’t come here to lie in bed and watch Video Hits. Yeah I’m going to do it.”
“We’ll be down in a minute.”
This was the conversation that, in the end, got me to the starting line. I realised that I most certainly did NOT get this far to bail on race day.
By the time we got to transition on Brisbane Road, there were even blue patches in the sky… but it continued to sprinkle, lightly, and not so lightly, as we walked along the beach to the start.
The finish lineSo there I stood on the Start Line at last. One “Thing” down, the second “Thing” to go.
My stomach was in knots and my heart was in my mouth. How could I possibly enjoy this? The sky was grey, the rain, though not heavy, wasn’t letting up, and the ocean looked like it was being swished around in a giant washing machine.
Tina knows me well enough to know I’m not really worth talking to just before a race. I generally like to contemplate things by myself. So though they were few, the words she chose were good ones, and I felt somewhat calm as I took my place at the back my start group.
I caught a glimpse of Lisa amongst my wave and smiled to myself. Lisa was doing her first Olympic Distance at this race and, like me, was really just wanting to get to the finish line.
“It’s OK Lyndell” she’d been saying for weeks. “We’ve got three hours and 45 minutes before they stop the clock. We’ll be right.”
And with that thought the hooter sounded and down into the water I jogged. In a moment, the last remaining morsels of my pessimism dissolved.
The exhilaration of plunging headlong into the surf just can not be beaten. It’s cleansing. You can’t help but feel engulfed in the power of its motion. You can truly let your cares be absolved.
It’s awesome – in the true sense of the word.
I would like to say that the water wasn’t as bad as it looked, but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t easy to get past the break but I didn’t let it worry me, I just enjoyed the moment.
They had changed the course this year to have it run parallel to the main beach at Mooloolaba, and as I swam along I could see other swimmers up ahead of me having no choice but to swim up and down what looked like gigantic waves – waves that would later crash to the shore. Initial panic at what lay ahead eased when I realised that at that moment I was probably swimming up and down waves that in all likelihood looked exactly the same as the ones I was watching. I felt kind of chuffed at what I’d already accomplished only five minutes into this race.
It was no picnic getting into the beach, I got flung around in one wave and ended up facing back out to sea. I wasn’t the only one and I made a quick joke to the lady that had popped up beside me, similarly disoriented, and then concentrated on getting out of there as quickly as possible!
It’s quite a long run to transition at Mooloolaba, particularly after a swim like that. The stairs up past the “loo with a view” are slippery and steep but I didn’t notice – I heard Sue-Ellen yell some encouragement me, before being deafened by my coach. I’m surprised Greg wasn’t hoarse after yelling my name the moment he saw me, and continuing until I was out of earshot.
So down to the carpark on Brisbane Rd, gingerly in the wet conditions, I found my bike quickly and headed out for the cycle. All I can remember about my transition is telling myself over and over to stay calm. I was somewhat apprehensive about racing in these conditions – I’ve never raced in the wet before, and if I’m really honest with myself, have to admit that I generally avoid training in the rain too. I needn’t have worried too much, but the time I got too far into the cycle the sun broke through and the road dried up fairly quickly.
I hadn’t gotten too far when I was passed by some of the guys in the squad. Haydon and Glen passed me somewhere near the first turn on the motorway, and even though it was a fleeting glance at their behinds as they flew past me, they were the first “friendly fire” I’d had in the race so far. Needless to say, hearing them call my name was extremely comforting.
Although it was only my second time racing at Mooloolaba, I think I can already safely say that I’m not a fan of that cycle course. It’s just so boring. Most of it’s on the Sunshine Motorway, which is a highway at the arse end of the Sunshine Coast. I know I’m racing and I shouldn’t care about the scenery but when the headwind set in I started looking for something to take my mind off how little fun I was having. I realised pretty quickly that the scenery wasn’t going to be it.
Strangely enough, even though I’d convinced my coach to let me keep my trip computer, I couldn’t make myself go as hard as I normally would have. I kept telling myself the headwind was slowing me down but the reality is that I didn’t have the desire to hurt as much as I have in other races.
Hold on a minute… it was working. I was achieving my goal. I really was just letting myself enjoying the race…
Finally, I headed in along Buderim Avenue, left on to the Esplanade for a small detour they added into the course this year. To the sounds of Tina and Paul’s party whistles. And that voice!
“Come on Lyndell Murray.”
I smiled all the way back down the hill to transition, thinking how nice it would be if I could keep smiling all the way to the finish line.
I always felt that the run was going to be the hardest leg of the race – it was this leg that caused me the most pain last year, it’s always my least favourite and this time was definitely the one I felt least prepared for. By this stage though, the sun was shining brightly… and thanks to Tina I already had a smile on my dial!
I had hardly left transition – approaching the Mooloolaba Hill for the first time – when Bryn ran towards me like a man possessed. Flying down towards the finish line. I screamed out at him and offered my hand for a high five.
Bryn has often remarked to me that while it’s great to have the cheering and verbal encouragement from the sidelines, there’s just something about the touch you get from a high five that gives you something else entirely. It seemed like he didn’t need it but I reminded myself that it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster. From the pace he was setting he was probably hurting bad!
Towards the top of the hill was Andy, armed with a cow bell (and a voice surprisingly nearly as effective as Tina’s!). And as I crested the hill there was Tina and Paul with their party blowers, and my Dad.
I think it took a lot of guts for Dad to show up again this year. He was beside himself with worry last Mooloolaba (and not without reason, I had a terrible race and more to the point I LOOKED like I’d had a terrible race). He hadn’t been to any of my races since – and I think the only reason he came this time is that he had another engagement on the Coast that weekend and probably felt he couldn’t NOT come.
I could tell he wasn’t worried this time though because he gave me cheek every time I went past.
“Hurry up Lyndell!”.
I settled into a steady rhythm, keeping myself occupied by looking out for my friends and giving them a yell or high-five as we passed. I played tag with Siobhan, an old training buddy, throughout the 10ks. We exchanged the lead probably half a dozen times – until the last trip up the Mooloolaba Hill. I decided, not being a strong runner, that just keeping Siobhan in my sights would be a good goal, and also keep my pace steady for the ascent. I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I passed her halfway up, and held her off right to the top.
I decided I was invincible and tore down the hill for the last time imagining I was running as fast as Bryn was. (Fat chance!)
Almost at the bottom Michelle Mewing roared from the sidelines at the top of her voice, “Lyndell, you’re smiling… you mustn’t be running hard enough!!!!”
I laughed and gave her a wave. She wasn’t to know that that’s entirely what this race was all about. The fact that I was smiling with less than a K to the finish line meant that I’d achieved my goal in the best possible way. I’d made it to the start line, and not only did I make it to the finish line, but I’d somehow managed to enjoy every moment of the 51.5ks between.
At the time I wasn’t really sure how I’d managed to push aside all the things that usually enter my head when I’m doing a triathlon.
(As much as it pains me Greg, I probably really do have to admit that a part of it was not wearing a watch.)
But I think the main thing was the realisation that I’d never get those moments back. That moment on the start line – a blur of fear, excitement, apprehension and expectation – and that moment of sheer exhilaration on the finish line.
Those two moments – those “Two Things” – are what we focus on all the time. Getting to the start line, and getting to the finish line.
But what about the moments in between?
We want those moments to be over as quickly as possible – the sooner we get to the finish line, the better the race we’ve run.
But those moments are no less powerful, and they’re no less memorable. And you’re no more likely to get them back as any other moment.
They deserve to be enjoyed sometimes too.
Thank you to:
Sue and Lisa, my training partners. I was SO stoked that you waited for me at the finish line. (Good practice for Yeppoon, Sue!)
Greg, my coach. Bet you’re glad you didn’t have to wait quite as long as last year. (You should be, I am!)
Phil. Thanks for the pat on the bum during the run. ☺