I’m walking towards the swim start. My wet suit is round my waist just waiting for the final zip to be done up.
My heart is racing. My head is too. “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I can’t.”
The tears are rolling down my face in sheer terror and self doubt.
And there’s the start line.
My phone buzzes. A tweet.
Deep breath. Ok. One step at a time.
Wet suit on. Cap and goggles on.
“Excuse me, can you zip me in please”
I look up. And there they are. My friends. Waving and smiling.
“Right ladies – big smile for the camera!”
“Ok. Can you swim to the start line please”
And I’m away….
How did I get there?
After 8 months of injury, I get the all clear. After lots of people telling me I should try a triathlon because I swim, cycle and run, I find out Liverpool Tri is a closed road bike Tri (quite rare and after a couple of falls off the bike I’m very nervy!) I sign up in a whirlwind of ‘wahoo I’m not injured anymore!’
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the long time out injured results in a recovery injury.
Fast forward 3 months and I’m running. Biking a bit – still wobbly and slowly. And loving the open water swimming – even managing a placing at an event.
Two weeks before the event, I get an email asking if I’d like to be a ‘This Girl Can’ ambassador as I’m taking part in the female only wave they’re sponsoring. (In case You’ve not heard of this, it’s a UK based campaign using real women to encourage women to get active in any way that makes them happy, regardless of ability). I think ‘why not?’ And say yes!
I’m selected and invited to attend a briefing the day before at registration to answer my questions about the event as a beginner. I’m also given a Tech t-shirt to wear if I’d like.
The briefing did lots to settle my nerves. Phew!
Chris was with me as he’d offered his services as a Tri-maker for the Sunday, and I took the organisers advice to rack my bike up and have a look round transition. And take some daft pictures too.
I got home and checked my kit. (We’ll gloss over the forgotten run kit bag and only one insole packed!)
The next morning, Chris left at stupid o’clock to go and man transition and do some impressive pointing.
I followed shortly afterwards. My wave was starting at 12:15, but transition was closing at 8:30. So I decided to go in, get set up and go and watch the different bits of the event – particularly swim exit. As transition was inside, to minimise the slippy floor problem of thousands of dripping swimmers, the rules were that your wetsuit had to be off and bagged before entering the hall. In the briefing on Saturday this led to one lady declaring ‘I’m glad you said that, I wasn’t planning on wearing anything under my wetsuit!’
I bumped into the lovely Leeny off Twitter (we always find each other at races in Liverpool!) and also caught sight of Jason Bradbury filming for Channel 4 (highlights on Saturday 27th 7am – autographs available at Walsall parkrun from 9am for a small fee).
I spent most of the morning at the finish line, cheering and enjoying the atmosphere. Chatting with other supporters and bumping into to Tour of Merseyside and Twitter friends.
At 11:30, I got into the bottom half of my wetsuit. And the panic arrived. By now, Glover should have been there (my awesome friend who was coming to cheer me on and, I hoped, calm me down!). I messaged him, and he was running late, so I began my walk to swim start, in a mental mess.
But as you know from the intro, he made it as did my Shabbasister Lozza (best surprise ever!) and I got into the water, knowing no matter what, I wasn’t alone.
The swim began. I deliberately started at the back as I’m not used to mass starts, and gradually just found my pace, and a rhythm and swam. Occasionally a jelly fish bobbed by, and I could see coloured swim caps all around me.
Before I knew it, I was out the water and bagging my wetsuit. And then into transition.
It was slippy, so I walked it, and thanks to Chris, super marshal, he cleared the path and snapped me coming through.
Transition. Remember. Helmet on first. Then number. Then every thing else. Eat. Drink. Go.
Out on the bike. And the overtaking began. 10k of ‘zooooooom’ as the fast boys over took. And the fast girls. And the slow boys. And the slow girls. And the granny with the shopping basket.
But there were my cheering squad!
Now. Let’s do that again.
But not quite.
Whereas on the first lap I was surrounded by overtaking and people going back the other way, now there were no other cyclists in sight.
I pass a marshal point. The radio buzzes. “Can you check if this cyclist is last please?”
A motorbike engine revs. “I’ll ride behind in case I need to sweep her up.”
No. Please no. Please tell me I’m not going to get cut off. Please tell me I’m not going to get asked to remove myself from the course – because the elites are about to come through and it’ll be dangerous for me to carry on. No. No. No.
Here come the tears.
And then he was gone. I carried on. And I’m not sure how.
My confidence, shaky to begin with was gone.
I can’t do this.
I’m going to stop.
What will I tell the children though?
It’s one thing to to be asked to stop because I could be putting myself or other riders at risk. It’s another to quit.
Do I want my daughter and son to think that if things get difficult that the right thing to do is give up?
Or do I want them to know that they can do anything they want if they work hard and believe things are possible?
Ok. I can do this. My goal was to finish.
At the turn around point I can see at least 2 riders behind me, so I get a grip. No sign of the sweeper. Let’s do this!
Back into the city and there are my biggest fans again.
Back into transition. Remember, rack bike before you take the helmet off. There’s Chris. “Ok?” “Knackered, but yes.”
“SARAH!” “What?” “Turn your number round!” Oops. Swish and I’m off.
Or am I?
My legs feel like led. I’m pretty sure my feet aren’t coming off the floor.
Just keep moving. It’s only 5k. Just a parkrun and that’s it. You’re done.
“GO ON TUCKSHOP!”
My cheerleaders working hard again. Although I might have sworn at them. (Sorry!)
The run route is quite nice, weaving in and out of the waterfront. Although, by now, pedestrians are drifting across the route as its deserted apart from me. I might have shouted at some of them.
Mile 2. Legs are feeling better. I have a laugh with the people on the drinks station and keep plodding on.
The elites are now out on the bike, I run past two riders being treated on the floor – nothing serious, but a bit of blood and they’d obviously got too close to each other.
Mile 3. The elite youth are starting to lap me on the run route. They are utterly amazing to watch. It was a privelege to be overtaken by kids out there being the best they can be.
Legs feeling even better (looking back afterwards, mile 3 was my fastest mile and I negative split the whole run!)
And there was the finish.
And there was Glover and Lozza screaming and cheering me home.
And as I cross the line, I hear my name over the loud speaker, and the MC talking about me and This Girl Can. And all I can think is:
“I did it. I did it. I’m done.”
And I was across the line and a volunteer puts her arm round me and congratulates me and I burst into tears.
I get my medal, and make my way outside.
A figure runs towards me.
My son. Hugging me sobbing, garbling something about me going to the Olympics and how proud he was, and refusing to let me go. And there was my mum, dad and daughter all hugging me and smiling.
My parents and children had made it in time to see me finish. And I was so glad it toughed it out.
I found Chris and Glover and Lozza (eventually!) and we went off to celebrate and cool off
Will I do anther Tri?
Right now, I doubt it. My bike needs more work than I think I can commit to, or want to at the moment. I’ll continue to commute to work and ride for pleasure, but the pressure of a bike event isn’t for me.
Also – people who do Olympic, half iron and full iron triathlons – I salute you and am in awe of what you do – you are incredible.
Swimming has always been part of my life and running is where my heart lies.
I think I’ll look into aquathon (splash and dashes) and I’ll always love road racing and open water events.
I could not be prouder of what I achieved and I’m happy with my over all result.
Someone has to come last, and on this occasion it was me. But I did not quit.
If you take anything from my story – it’s this:
This Girl Can.
And This Girl Did.
And That Girl over there?
You can too.