It’s November 2013, and a conversation goes something like this…
Rog:Jacques, don’t you wanna do Impi with me in April? Hoff:How far is it? Rog:It’s a 10-12km trail run with 18 obstacles in it Hoff:Ja, that would be fun, but if I do Impi with you then you must do a triathlon with me. Rog: Uhm *gets shocked look on face* But I can’t swim! Hoff:I’ll teach you Rog:Uhm…Ok
That little conversation would be the beginning of a journey that would drastically change parts of my life as I knew it.
Hoff is Jacques Hoffman, a dear friend of mine. We share many common interests across a wide spectrum, one of them being sports and fitness. He had been running for a while, but has often been plagued with injuries when he ramps up to any sort of distance running. Hence for him to run a 12km by April, I would also have to take on an equally daunting challenge. He was a lifeguard for 6 years (hence the nickname THE HOFF), and is a teacher now, and therefore was prepared to take on the challenge of teaching me to swim.
I, on the other hand, was a running fanatic. My race times were consistently improving lately, and I was training for my first full marathon. But the thought of doing a triathlon scared the living daylights out of me, for one reason and one reason only…it involved SWIMMING, and swimming in a body of open water. And although I had tried to learn to swim many times in my life, I could just never get it right. I couldn’t even swim a length in a 25m pool. The shortest triathlon distance was a 500m swim.
Roggie was afraid, very afraid.
But from there on out, I would became Jacques’ running coach, and he became my swimming coach. So, we scanned Google, and asked around on Twitter, and eventually settled on training towards the Land Rover N1 City sprint triathlon on 3 May 2014 – a 500m swim: 12km bike: 4km run.
The training had begun. We went to Goodwood public pool one summer’s afternoon in December and Hoff had a look at what I could do. I was atrocious. I could move a few metres in the water, but I would hardly call that swimming. I will spare you the finer details of that session, but at least it was a start , the first step in the journey of a thousand miles.
Hoff gave me pointers, tips, pulling and kicking drills, left me to my own devices and went on holiday touring the UK for a few weeks. I was determined that by the time he got back, I had to show a massive improvement. And I did. By the time he watched me swim again (which happened to be on the day of my marathon), he was very happy with my improvement. HOORAY!! *happy dance*
Although my technique was improving, I still struggled a lot with the swim fitness and building up distance. Swim fitness really is a totally different ballgame. You cannot rely on running fitness as a base AT ALL, even though they are both cardio activities. All those people who were telling me how quickly one builds up swim fitness, who were they talking about? Why wasn’t I experiencing the same? Was I a freak or what? Maybe it’s just the way my body reacts. After all, I took longer than my peers to build up decent running speeds as well. When I got to the stage of being able to do 50m continuously in a 25m pool, Jacques one day suggested that we go to the Bellville pool and get in some 50m lengths instead of training at the gym’s pool. That afternoon’s session ended up being almost completely about my mental conditioning and overcoming my irrational fears than about actual physical training.
I swam in the left-most lane, in order to have the safety of the wall nearby if needed. But the wall only goes halfway, because after that the 5m deep diving section is there, and there is no barrier at all between the lanes and the diving section.
My fear and nervousness would not let me swim past the walled section. I kept getting to almost that point and then swimming back to the wall. Mentally I couldn’t go past the 25m. When Jacques asked me why I kept doing that, I couldn’t answer. He eventually jumped in and when I did it again, swam to me, grabbed and pulled me back before I reached the wall and threw me into the lane and shouted “SWIM!”
I screamed: What the hell are you doing?? Are you crazy I’m gonna drown! And he said: No. Just swim! You can do it.
Then I had no choice. I simply had to swim and make my way all the way to the other side of the pool and complete the 50m lap. And then I swam back to the other side again. Going past the diving pool, I could see the bottom of the 5m section clearly though my goggles. It was scary. A 50m length is in fact longer than swimming 2 x 25m lengths because pushing off the wall after the 25m gives you that extra glide where you actually aren’t swimming for up to a body length. I felt really accomplished by the end of that afternoon.
The next day when I went to do my laps at the gym’s pool, the 25m felt so short. Like jeez, am I at the wall already?? 🙂
Once the excitement was over, and my overanalytical brain started working again, I panicked again about the triathlon. For months I had been changing my mind back and forth at almost every swim session. What was I thinking to agree to this? Plus it’s now 5 weeks before the triathlon and I can just about do 50m, how am I going to do 500m? I discussed it with Jacques and he did give me an option to bail out of 3 May and rather work towards a triathlon later in the year if I wanted to. He assured me that it was still possible to be ready if I worked really hard, but whatever I decide he would support the decision. I really, really appreciated that. If I went ahead with it, it would be my free decision, and not because I was forced to or bound by our agreement. I spoke to Fadeelah also about this quite often, and every time she encouraged me not to stop, and to go for it. That I had come too far to give up on this now, and that my progress since when we started has been phenomenal. Yes I know, I know, I have the most awesome family and friends right? Don’t get too jealous now 😉
I slept on the decision for a few days. I made the decision to go for it and still do it. In a way, I could not see myself not doing it and giving up. Even though one could say that I am still going to do it in a few months’, I could not convince myself that it wasn’t the equivalent of bailing. And I knew I would regret that forever. It would make me a hypocrite. My story in the Empowered book is about never giving up. I feared that if I didn’t do this, I could NEVER again get on a stage and tell people to never give up. Although I was given a choice, inevitably I had no choice.
I went full steam ahead with training. I trained twice a day if I had to, brick sessions had to be conquered. I gained a whole new level of respect for triathletes. Even though this was a mini-distance, it still requires training in all 3 disciplines, and that takes a lot of time and energy, and fuel! (my food budget had to increase as well, lol) I tried different training combinations, and found that swimming 8 days straight would leave me completely drained, that optimal was being in the pool every 2nd day and mixing up running, spinning and gym work in between. I was put through my paces a few times by my friend, Rafiqua, as well. She was a kick-ass synchronised swimmer in her school days, and she taught me how to tumble turn. Fadeelah and Quaseem took me cycling out on the road for a decent longish cycle, which was one of the few times I cycled outdoors besides at Moonlightmass. Fadeelah and some of my other running friends that are cyclists helped me change from slicks to MTB tyres one evening at a social, and they taught me how to theoretically use a bomb in case of a puncture.
The next big obstacle for me would be my first open water swim. So 3 weeks before the event we went to Silvermine Dam to get some swimming in. We didn’t know the distance across the dam at the time but found out afterwards that it’s about 100m. Jacques wasn’t planning to swim, but ended up doing so anyway for one width so that I can feel more at ease. The 2nd one I did alone. By this time I had learned to scull, which a technique similar to floating where you roll onto your back and move yourself slowly with your hands as paddles. It’s used to rest in between freestyling. In the dam, besides not being able to stand at all and not having the safety of a pool wall, you also cannot see ANYTHING through your goggles. The water is a caramel black, like the colour of Coke. So you can’t even see your own hand as it passes a few cm in front of your goggles during the stroke. It’s a feeling almost like swimming blind, and it feels very claustrophobic. Finishing that was a confidence-booster for me, and the sculling made me at ease that I can break the 500m swim up into however many smaller pieces that is needed. Hoff was also happy after this that at least he now knows that I can handle myself in the open water.
In the last 2 weeks before the event, I now just wanted the day to come already. I was still nervous about the swim, but I wanted it to be over. I got even more concerned when the wetsuit that I was going to hire didn’t materialise. Some time during this period, I achieved being able to swim 100m continuously in the pool, which is 4 x 25m laps. This was another big achievement for me.
We went to Phisantekraal farm 2 days before the event, to have a quick test swim in the dam. The swim was a disaster for me. I couldn’t even do 200m. Eeeekkkk!! The claustrophobia of not being able to see anything overwhelmed me, and I started almost hyperventilating, I forgot to breathe properly. It was as if it was the first time all over again, and Silvermine was a distant memory. When I got out of the dam, I was so lightheaded that I could hardly stand. My head was spinning and my legs felt like jelly. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Ok maybe I slept for an hour or so, I woke up terrified.
When Jacques found out about my awful night, he assured me not to worry and that he would be next to me the entire time. That somehow made me feel better. Once again, I just had to get my head right and do what I know. Positive self-talk was imperative. Roggie, you’ve walked over a bed of 300 degree red hot coals. You broke an arrow with your throat. SURELY you can do THIS!!
Race day came. I had gotten a good enough night’s sleep, got ready, read my Mommy-note again and headed off with Abdurahmaan to the triathlon. He would play the supporter-cum-photographer role for his Tietie that day 🙂
We got to the farm, found Jacques, did a final tyre pressure check and pump, racked my bike, prepared transition, got my tag, went to feel the water temperature and then…the wait.
There was a bit of drama, as it was so misty that morning that they almost cancelled the race for safety reasons. We couldn’t even see the buoys in the water from the start. Thankfully the race wasn’t cancelled, but it did start 2 hours late. The time spent waiting around actually relaxed me a bit, and when the mist cleared the sun came out, which made the air a tiny bit warmer than the chilliness of 2 hours before. Both of us would do the swim without wetsuits, so any extra heat was very welcome.
Eventually our wave start time came. I jumped in and started swimming towards the first buoy. Quite soon I lagged towards the back of the pack. It seemed like forever to get to that first turn. Then the turn came. And the swim to the 2nd buoy, and the next turn back to the shore. I had to push through the fatigue, remember to breathe correctly and consistently, scull when I had to, breaststroke a bit at times and then back to freestyle. All the time I heard Jacques’ voice next to me, offering words of encouragement as well as guidance (I mean actual guidance, because at times I swam skew and went a bit off course, lol) It must have been really tough for him to swim so slowly to stay with me. I was the very last person out of the water. It took me 22 minutes to swim the 500m, but when I got out of that water I was ecstatic. The rest of the race was merely a formality.
I swam 500m in a dam. OMG!!!
Off to the swim-bike transition, T1, then the bike leg. The bike leg was not easy at all. The first part was quite hilly, although not too technical. The route was very thorny though. In the 2nd half Jacques got a puncture, so we used the bomb to inflate the tyre, but soon after he got another, and another.
One by one we saw people bailing on the bike route because of punctures.
We had already decided we would not bail, no matter what, even if we had to walk part of the MTB route with our bikes. And, well, that is exactly what we ended up doing. Both Jacques’ tyres were completely flat so he pushed his bike for 5km, and I stayed with him. I got punctures as well, but the slime in my wheels made it last and the wheels didn’t go flat until I was done cycling. The plan to pass people on the bike route did not go as well, so we ended up last at T2, the bike-run transition as well. The marshalls shortened the run for us (I think because they wanted to get off the course already, lol) so we ended up not doing the full 4km run. But we finished, and we got the medal, got the t-shirt and sommer put on the t-shirt immediately 🙂
In hindsight, I am glad that the awful swim in the dam 2 days before happened. I didn’t have any such issues in the actual swim on the triathlon, and if I hadn’t done the test swim then that would have happened on the day and I would not have been able to finish successfully. Also, it was a blessing in disguise that the wetsuit did not work out. Now I know that I can do it, and if I had worn a wetsuit I still would not know if I could do it on my own steam, or if the suit was a crutch (the wetsuit makes you a lot more buoyant in the water)
Although the race was filled with drama and we had so many punctures, and came last, it was loads of fun! I loved it. I will definitely be doing more triathlons. I feel like I am 2 totally different people on either side of that race. I guess that is the nature of tackling something new. Once you conquer it, you know you can do it. And that might sound intuitive and obvious, but practically it is a different story. No matter how hard you train or how ready you think you are, and how ready someone else thinks you are, you never really know until you do it.
So…whatever it is that you dream of doing… JUST DO IT!
Jacques, my friend, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for choosing me as the person that you’d do your first triathlon with. I never dreamed that I would be able to do a triathlon, but I can honestly say that there is nobody in this world that I would rather have done it with. You were right when you said patience is your middle name. I can vouch that you’re a great teacher, and I hope I didn’t drive you as nuts as the kids at school do. You rocked as part of our team on Impi Challenge, and I’m so proud of you for what you have become as a runner.
To everyone else that was part of my 6 month journey… to my family, my friends, my training partners, my trainers, my colleagues, my advisors. THANK YOU!! Every little piece of advice, words of encouragement, words of comfort, Whatsapp conversation, enquiries about my training, tweet, Facebook comment, shared training session of any form… I appreciate every single one of it, because they were all part of my rollercoaster journey to get here.
And to the athletes on social media whom I associate with (on Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram), you might not even read this, you may not even know how you affect me, but you inspire me every single day. You inspire me more than the famous elite athletes whom we see on TV and hear about on the news, because you are the people who prove that ordinary people can do extraordinary, phenomenal things. Your training and your results inspire me equally. When the tiredness hits, and the sacrifices need to kick in, I know that although I might be doing this alone most of the time, I am not the only one doing it. There are others who are also out running at the crack of dawn, also squeezing in a 40 lap swim before work or at lunchtime, also rushing off to an evening spinning class when the weariness of a hard day at the office shouts at you and begs you to just go home and crawl into bed. We are all athletes and we feed off each other’s energy.