Meet Backstroke Faye – Inspiring First Time Triathlete

 Meet Faye. A year ago, she was afraid of the water, and could not swim.  She did not let that hold her back from completing her first Triathlon. She got the coaching she needed, put in the work and conquered her fear of water since childhood. She actually swam the course backstroke. Faye has shown that determination, and triathlete spirit. Congrats to Faye, and read her inspiring report below. 
I had a blast! The event took place on Sunday and it was a sprint triathlon which entailed a 800m pool swim, a 10 mile bike ride and then a 5km run.  I’d chosen this particular event because it’s local to me but mainly because the swim was in the pool – this was because when I signed up for this event I was unable to swim.  I’ve always hated swimming – my mother insisted it was the best form of exercise and since it was an essential survival technique, I should just get on with it. But I never did – I was always terrified of drowning and crucially, I never learned to float or to tread water.  My husband tried again with me on holiday many years later – after some frantic flapping and splashing, we gave up and I retired to the beach while he swam on himself! Once I’d signed up for the triathlon I then visited my local pool and purchased a block of adult-only swimming lessons.  My first lesson was conducted in the kid’s pool but before long, I’d graduated to the ‘big pool’ where my coach helped me learn how to float and to tread water.  Before long, I was managing a front crawl (of sorts) and finally completed my first ever length of the pool!
That was in January and after that I also learned the back stroke.  As I progressed it quickly became apparent that I was much better at back stroke than at front crawl – I could go faster in back stroke and I could also last much longer without becoming tired.  Front crawl seems to completely exhaust me and so I focused on improving my back stroke and decided to use that for my tri.  The rest of my training was picked up in April or May, once I felt there was a chance I could actually make the swim!  I started running once a week and cycling once a week, which complemented my two swims per week.  After a while, I started to build in a mini brick session, running for a couple of kilometres after my bike session, and before long I was building on lengthening the run.  By June I found myself doing the appropriate bike and run distances on my brick session.  It was once I realised that my brick sessions were the competition distances and I could swim 800m that I suddenly began to feel it was possible.  Perhaps it’d come together quite late in the day for me but I knew I was capable of it and I also noticed that after my brick sessions, I wasn’t destroyed.  I’d do some stretches, have an egg sandwich and a load of water, and then hop in the shower and continue my day.
Tapering was tricky as I didn’t really know how much to do and I wanted to keep myself fresh, so I didn’t do much at all in my last week.  On race day I was a bag of nerves, my subconscious had tortured me in my sleep with nightmares about the swim but I tried my best to talk myself out of it.  The weather was completely perfect – we’re by the seaside so the wind off the water can be a real bug bear but it was really calm, and it was also dry with patchy sun.  Perfect.  I was the first person into my lane and nervously told the lane counter that as this was my first time, having just learned to swim, I was going to have to try my best to stay away from the other competitors.  I’d never swum in a lane with anyone so I didn’t know how it was going to work.  She explained the etiquette that if I felt a tap on my feet twice, then I was to give way to the swimmer behind.  The pool is salt water and it’s heated so it was actually really pleasant to get into.
I did a little bit of warming up and then it was competition time. I headed off in my backstroke and did my best to keep away from others but I felt someone on my toes pretty quickly and stopped to let her past.  I started off counting my laps but lost track and six and so had to wait for the lap counter to let me know when I had two laps remaining. I was, by that point, the last person in the pool.  The lady counting my laps ran apparently round the poolside crowd and told them all I’d just learned to swim for this event and so as I was finishing, a huge cheer went up and I could hear people yelling my name and applauding.  It was an amazing feeling and gave me the biggest smile.  I left the pool feeling like it’d taken forever but delighted that I’d made it with few issues.  As I hopped on my bike and rode of, firmly last, I tried to find my rhythm.  The course was mainly quite flat but with some undulations and the odd hill.  I definitely felt faster and more comfortable on the return leg of the bike segment and as I had my Garmin on, I knew I was making reasonable time (well, reasonable for me!).
As I came into transition I fluffed jumping off my bike, catching my toe on my cross bar and falling over! Fortunately I fell onto the timer chip mats and so got away with light grazing only. I dumped my bike and helmet, grabbed my water bottle and legged it!  Again, I knew I was still last but my only aim was to finish, I had no times in mind.  As I headed towards the half way point on the run, three other competitors passed me on their way to the finish line.  As I rounded the half way mark I wondered if I’d be able to catch any of them.  I kept my pace, using my Garmin to keep me steady, and soon found myself on the heels of one of those people that had run past me.  I decided to take him and upped my pace slightly, keeping it level after I’d passed to be sure that he stayed behind me. I could see the other two competitors ahead of me but couldn’t see that I’d reach them.  However, before long, I found myself behind first one and then the next. That last person that I’d passed was one of the people who’d been in my lane at the pool and she yelled her encouragement as I ran passed.  We cheered each other on and I kept going, safe in the knowledge I wasn’t going to finish last.  As I crossed the finish line, I actually felt reasonably fresh and after a short sit down on a nearby wall, I had my breath back and felt fine!
I got the finishing times yesterday – I had estimated that I might take 1hr 45 mins.  Turns out I managed less.  That swim that seemed to take forever and that I had thought was about 40 mins was 27 minutes!  I can’t believe that, given that I did back stroke and stopped several times to let people past! My bike segment came in at 40 minutes and I finished my run in 25 minutes.  I’m very pleased with that 5km time – don’t think I’ve ever run that fast before and certainly not after 40 mins of cycling and 27 mins of swimming!!!
So there you have it – from non-swimming to first time triathlete.  I’m hooked!  I’m now planning how to improve my front crawl, I will focus on that alone now, and having just had a little promotion at work, I think I may be able to afford to get a road bike (I completed the tri on my hybrid).
Here’s to the next one!

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