A Time To Return

Transitions resident “ex-has been” talks about the journey from has-been to ex-has been, and what happens when the mojo returns before the body is ready.

a time to return

I wrote the paragraphs below about 2 years ago, once I finally decided I was going to compete in another triathlon, after more than 18 years away from sport. I should probably have finished the story then, but luckily I got distracted by my training, and put the keyboard away. I think it would have been a better story if I had written it all at the time, but I was just putting words on paper, never meaning to show anybody, so I suppose it just faded from importance.

I did do that triathlon, a Half Ironman, and pretty well covered all my goals at the time. Unfortunately two months later I damaged my Achilles, and with a series of injuries after that, lost most of the gains I had made in the final 6 months. I’m finally getting started again, with an Ironman or 2 (or more accurately 3) in my sights, and happened to notice this file tucked away on my laptop. I thought it was probably time to finish it.

In their mid-forties, a lot of men are accused of going through a “Mid Life Crisis”, or trying to live a second childhood. I think my wife has assumed I am going down that path at the moment. Maybe I am, but I prefer to think of it as looking for the next thing to do after having completed all those “Responsible” things a husband/father needs to do to set up his family. I had finished my Engineering Degree, used it to get a good office job, built a nice house & got the kids through their first few years of school, & into high school. What better “new” thing to try, than something you know you can do well, and you know you will enjoy.

In what seemed a previous life, I had had what most would consider a successful “age-grouper” career as a triathlete. That’s where all my problems started. My last race was at Kona in 1990. In a period of three weeks I had achieved all my childhood & Triathlon dreams. I competed in Florida at the World Championships in an Australian Team. It may not have been a “baggy green” but it was still the stuff of childhood dreams. Then three weeks later I was “racing” at Kona. Note I said racing. To many people the achievement is in completing an event like Hawaii. Unfortunately, to the remainder, myself included, just to complete something is not enough. I gave it everything. Needless to say, after coming home my body told me to take a short rest.

Well here we are, nearly 19 years later, and I am still looking for that next event to do after Kona. My short rest lasted 17 years, and another 18 months on I am still yet to race.

Why am I writing this you may ask? There are two reasons. The first is that it has been bottled up inside of me for too long, and I need to get it out. The second, and perhaps the most important to others out there is that the sport of Triathlon (and probably sport in general) is too important to sit out waiting for the right moment to come back.

Prior to 1990, I spent 10 years competing in every multisport event, fun run, bike race, swimming carnival, squash, touch, cricket, and I can’t remember what other event I could get my name down on. I also did very well in most of them. Since 1990 I have competed in but one corporate swimming carnival. For 12 years that was because I was not interested. For the next 6, it was because I physically wasn’t capable (100kg here I come). Most frighteningly though, for the past 12 months, it is because I’m scared of not winning.”

About 12 months ago, I decided that I wasn’t the type of person that could let themselves reach 100kg. Milestones mean a lot to me, and that was one I was not going to reach. I was still doing a little bit of riding, commuting to work, but it was doing nothing to keep my weight down. I think once you know how to ride properly you have to do twice as much as anybody else just to get any fitness benefit out of it. I decided I would start to run a couple of days a week with one of the guys at work. Looking back at it I think we were stretching the definition of running a bit, but that’s what we liked to call it anyway. We ran 5 to 6km a couple of times a week along the bike path beside the Brisbane River.

Anybody out there who has been a top level athlete in their younger days will understand the problems I had at this stage. My body wanted to run at six minute kilometres, but my mind said I should do four minutes. One injury followed another, until I finally controlled my ego & slowed it down. From there it was a gradual improvement, bringing my speed down under 5 minutes, and my distance up to 10km. I started to run away from that workmate, and promptly found a faster one.

It was about this time I started thinking about a triathlon comeback. Like any “Hasbeen”, I was full of grand plans. I wouldn’t go out & find an “Enticer” or Sprint Distance race as a come-back event. No, I would chase out a Half Ironman. Late in 2008, I decided I would do the Gold Coast Half Ironman in October 2009.”

Well, that was all a couple of years ago. I competed in the Gold Coast Half, and came in 5th in the 45-49yr age group out of 105 starters. I went 4hr 40min, which I was happy with on the training I was able to do. I went away from that race keen to do better, which I suppose was the only real reaction some-one like me could have. If I had won my age group, that reaction would not have changed. I suppose you’d call me the competitive type. My friends always joked that I wouldn’t bet on flies climbing up a wall; I would get up there & race them.

After the taste of that race, I started running harder. I started putting more effort into the bike training. I was still taking chunks out of my swim times. For the next couple of months thing were going better than I thought possible. Then I went too far, too fast. I started doing 1km running repetitions at speeds I was doing in my twenties.

Well, 17 months later, I’m running for the first time since then without Achilles pain. My cycling is back to commuting, and I’ve swum four times in the last six months. I was having this horrible dream that my 2nd last Triathlon ever would be Kona in 1990. I didn’t know how I was going to get the motivation to come back yet again, after the disappointment of breaking down when I was going so well.

Then a couple of months ago a friend from work completed Challenge Cairns. I followed his progress throughout the day on the Internet tracker, and actually cheered when I saw his final time sneak in 25sec under the 10:15 mark he’d set himself. If you’re ever after motivation to get back involved in the sport, this tracker is the ultimate tool.

I now have a goal firmly in my sights again and am not going to wind up on the scrap heap I was heading for. I’m still scared of losing, so you won’t see me out there till I’m flying once more, but I am training again, and I’ve decided I have 3 good Ironman races left in me. One to remember what “pain & suffering” is all about; one to qualify; then in what may again be my final race (though I really doubt it this time), a trip to Kona to show “THAT ISLAND” that no matter what it throws at me, even if it takes me two decades to get over it, you can’t keep a triathlete down for ever.

Stay tuned for more……