If anyone had said to me that before I reach my big Four Oh, I would have completed a triathlon, I would have divorced myself from the friendship immediately with a heartfelt laugh!  And yet, today I’m writing this blog having completed two triathlons and one of them being Ironman 70.3 Durban.

Prior to joining Trifactri, my only goal was to fit in my clothes (comfortably) and to look good by the time the big Four Oh arrived.  Each day I would go to the gym and essentially plod along (can one truly do anything properly without a coach? Nope).  A fellow running friend of mine asked if I wanted to join him for training sessions as he is training for Ironman 70.3 East London.  Having nothing to lose and frankly there is never anything wrong with running behind a man who has killer legs for motivation, I agreed and unbeknown to me, the triathlon journey began. 

One Saturday we agreed to run with our usual Saturday running group, then spin and end off the morning with a swim.  As I make my way down to the pool and not quite sure what to expect, I meet my now dearest friend and fellow training partner, Kirsty Standing.   I manage for the first time in over 15 years to do 600m.  When I got out I sincerely thanked God I didn’t drown.  During the entire December, we spent every morning and afternoon training.  It was exhilarating, my legs got skinnier and my butt tighter and I was feeling alive.  Each training session ending with a cappuccino.  A habit I never thought would become an addiction which it now has.

After a long training session one afternoon, Kirsty asks me:  “So what are you training for?”  My only answer was to fit into my clothes.  The look on her face was an indication that perhaps it’s time I start focussing on something meaningful with all the training I was doing.  It’s sometimes easy to forget that there is still so much that can be conquered and life doesn’t end when you get to your late 30’s.  

January 2017 rolls around and it dawns on me that my big Four Oh is just 9 months away and the only goal achieved is having enrolled to start my LLB but still nothing on the sporting front.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Kirsty informs me that she is doing hill repeats with Trifactri and I should join in.  I have the pleasure of meeting a small crowd of Trifactri members namely Lucie, Werner, Johan, Richard, Jono and Karl.  Afterwards, we all went for coffee and everyone is talking about East London and their training plans and what they’ve entered for.  I’m embarrassed that I still haven’t entered any races of any nature.  I’m quiet.

East London comes and goes…
With East London behind everyone, it becomes apparent that MiWay Ultra is the next race to take part in. My interest is peaked when I hear it’s a sprint and the short distance it is.  So I pull the proverbial plaster off and enter.  It’s done, I’ve paid and there is no backing out of this one.  The build up to Sun City and this being my very first triathlon, has me extremely excited and nervous at the same time.  Have I put in enough laps in the pool?  Is swimming in open water that bad?  What happens if I drown (I never knew you couldn’t drown in a wetsuit)?  Can I do this?  Yes Therena you can!  You can do anything!  Who would have thought at my age I would be doing my first triathlon, not me I tell you! Having chatted to the Trifactri clan at coffee, they’re all like, don’t worry you’ll be fine.  

Sun City is here and the tension is high not knowing what to expect. My son is doubtful but trusts that his mom has got this.  I called my friend Melissa Cook a few days prior and chatted to her extensively about what to do and not to do, extremely helpful and sound advice.  Bless her soul for her patience with me but I’d picked Kirsty’s brain mercilessly and Google’d just about every YouTube video about transitions, getting in and out of a wet suit and how to combat fears of open water swimming (I didn’t have a fear that I knew of – just yet!).  Eventually it just came down to:  1. Flap your arms continuously to ensure you don’t drown.  2. Pedal as if you stole the bike and 3. Run as if you’re chasing a chocolate cake. 

And the race begins …
The siren goes and the sprint has started.  About 30m into the swim I hit flat out panic to the point where I’m like, when I get out here I’m selling everything I’ve acquired for this sport and will stick to running, the one discipline I’m truly good at and my feet are firmly on the ground.  Needless to say I remind myself how far I have come and giving up now is just not an option, so I take a deep breath, tell myself to suck it up and I breast stroke the entire 600m.   When my feet touch the ground and I’m out, the relief on my son’s face is priceless, his mom made it!  Karl and Werner just needed pom-poms because their cheering certainly put a smile on my face.  I nailed the cycle and aced the run.  I cried when I crossed the finish line from pure disbelief for having just completed my first triathlon.  Finish time 01:50:23. Not bad for a first timer.  

So what’s next on the bucket list?

Having listened to the chatter and opinions of East London (my next triathlon and first 70.3– the future plan), I decide nope I’m not going to wait until then, Durban is around the corner and why not.  One Saturday evening after a glass of wine (Dutch courage), I enter Ironman 70.3 Durban!  I let Kirsty know and the excitement is overwhelming.  I start laughing at myself for the sheer bullishness I have to take this on, but hey it’s paid for.  It’s done! Ya gotta do this chick!

I wake up the next day realising that I cannot take on Durban without the proper coaching and guidance. God Bless Kirsty for that which she had taught me, but she has her own goals and program and that needs to be her focus!  Seeing what Trifactri has done for everyone around me and chatting to Richard, I join Trifactri and I meet my coach Jessica Dignon! Nothing makes you feel old than when your coach, doctor and dentist are younger than you are, lol!  But hey, she has the experience and I don’t.  I’ve only been at this for 6 months and with 6 weeks to go until Durban, my training program commences and I become part of the Trifactri family.


A small part of the Trifactri family

Each day of training is taken on with gusto and drive with the mindset of someone who should be aiming for podium (go big or go home as they say).  I’m going to nail Durban and it’s going to be spectacular.

The week before Durban it dawns on me that I have never swam in the open ocean.  Nerves set in but more so I am permanently nauseous.  Am I going to be able to do this?  Sure, having been assured by my voice of reason Richard that I cannot drown in a wetsuit, all will be just fine.  

All part of the IM 70.3 experience with my partner in crime…… Kirst Far right: on the mile long bike rack

Saturday morning in Durban arrives and I’m a ball of nerves for this sea swim.   Not having slept properly the night before due to nerves, Jess asks if I’m okay.  I tell her I don’t know what to expect nor am I sure I can do this.  Lance appears next to me and offers to swim with me, I feel silly but grateful at the same time.  Lance tells me to listen to him when going in and to dive when he says so.  We go in and I make it to the other side of the breakers.  It looked like I had swallowed a coat hanger I could not stop smiling, I also bounced up from the wetsuit and salt water and suddenly all the fears I’d cooked up in my head disappear.  I made it and tomorrow will be just fine.  Neil Kinsley catches up with me in the water and checks that I’m okay.  I give him the thumbs up.  Now we have to get out, what do I do?  Luckily Jess meets up with me and helps guide me out of the sea.  I feel as though I had conquered the world.

It’s race day, I’m up before the birds even know it’s the next day and I’m eating and packing for the long day ahead and also ensuring that my son knows what to do and where to be whilst I’m racing. 
I fetch Kirsty and we lock and load our bikes and check tyres etc.  We are good to go.  
I start making my way down the beach when I suddenly panic as I hadn’t told my son I love him and I’ll see him in a bit.
Lucie calmly takes my hands and reminds me that my son knows I love him and this is now about me. –  I need to focus on me.
That calmed me down and suddenly I see Ronin behind Lucie and I mouth to him I love him and blow a kiss.  Relieved, I seed myself at the back of the 40 mins and I’m praying the entire time that God please keep me safe.
The amount of spectators is phenomenal and I realise what a blessing it is for me to be able to stand amongst professional triathletes young and old.  I am in awe.  I hadn’t even reached the start when they announce over the speakers that the first swimmers are out of the water already, talk about pressure.  Before long I’m in the front and off I go.  I get in the water and I can see the ocean floor and all is well, until I get to the first buoy.  When I look up, it suddenly dawned on me how far 1.9km is in the ocean.  I am panicked and I start to hyperventilate.  In no time I have just about every safety marshal around me.  The lifeguard jumps in and asks can he pull me out?  I insist that I need to just breathe and he must leave me alone.  Next to me is a safety lifeguard on a paddle board who very politely offers to stay with me.  I accept the offer and he introduces himself as Dylan.  All I knew was I had a guardian angel paddling next to me.  A small comfort when you’re a small being in such a glorious ocean.

Our strategy was to follow my coach Jess’s advice and to focus on each buoy as a goal.  I breast stroked, back stroked and crawled, but heck I was going to make it!  Jess’s advice repeating like a parrot in my head, each buoy is a goal.  This was Dylan and my strategy the entire time all the while thinking that my son is waiting for me and I cannot give up at all, I cannot disappoint myself and I need to soldier on.  There were a few moments where I was getting gatvol, but giving up is just not who I am.  As I was doing back stroke, Dylan put his paddle board “between” me and the buoy’s and instructed me that each time my right hand hits his paddle board, I must shimmy to the left.  I finally get to the last red buoy to go into shore and I’m elated, I’m going to make it, I’m almost in tears.  When I thought we were close enough, I asked Dylan whether I could stand.  He tells me to hold onto the board and he happily jumps into the sea and comes up again telling me to keep swimming.  I continue to breast stroke and I can see my son on the beach waiting.  Dylan again tells me to hold on, jumps in and pops up and says 10 meters to go then I can stand.  I finally put my feet down and walk the rest of the way out.  I turn around and thank Dylan profusely for being such a blessing and I wish him only the best.  Did I mention I was the 4th last person in the ocean and I looked like a drowned rat but with the biggest smile on my face for having made it!  I managed to get out with 4 minutes to spare before cut-off!  But I made it so who cares!

At T1 I’m the only soul there so every assistant in sight was helping me get out of the wetsuit and getting geared up for the cycle.  Do you know what’s sad, when you don’t even have to look for your bike as it’s pretty much the only one left hanging on the rack, can’t help but laugh when I think about it now!  I grab my bike and off I go!  As I’m cycling, I can’t stop smiling for having made it out the ocean and realising that I actually stand a chance of finishing this race.  I cycle my heart out.  On two occasions, I stop on the side of the road, eat and drink something and carry on.  I see Kirsty, we holler to each other in passing and I cycle on.  

On my way back and at the turn, I’m am just about the only person on the road.  No marshal in sight to direct me, I take the first off ramp and make my way to T2.  I see my son and he is only too happy to see me back in one piece.  I get into my running gear, get lathered up with sunblock and remind myself of Matt Cook’s wise words at the last track session; “Your slowest first km is your fastest last km!”  I run out at 8mpkm just about walking but goodness I didn’t have the energy to bolt the run.  I catch up to Neil and the two of us are talking a hind leg off a donkey until Neil went into the finish. After having run the required laps and lapping a few friends, I see the finish line.  500 Meters from the finish, I am elated!  I start crying, I’ve made it.  I did 70.3 Ironman.  I cross the finish line in 07:33:23 and the tears are flowing freely!  I am greeted by a bear hug from my son.  I get my medal and my t-shirt.  I am a 70.3 Finisher.  
I am on a high, but smashed.  My body is aching and all I want to do is sleep.  We make our way home and I am in bed before 8pm.

On Tuesday I receive an email from Ironman informing me that I have a DSQ as I didn’t do the cycle loop.  
​Does this get me down, nope, I have the medal, the t-shirt and even more motivation to return next year and do it all over again for a PB.  The PB, doing the loop, lol!  But all jokes aside, I will most certainly do 70.3 Durban again and I will do it in under 7 hours.

Now onto the next bucket list goal …

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