Inspired by Simon Whitfield, I trained for and completed a triathlon—a major milestone on my journey to fitness
How timely, yet ironic, that I completed my first triathlon just a week before Simon Whitfield would race in his last Olympics.
For years I’ve admired Whitfield and a slew of other elite triathletes who have dominated the International Triathlon Union (ITU) circuit with unwavering determination, physical ability and mental force.
Whitfield raced for several years in my hometown of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, when the city was on the ITU World Cup circuit, until about 2006.
One year, I sat as a lifeguarding admiring the triathletes as they swam in the days leading up to the race. You could sense their seriousness as soon as they dove in the pool and each stroke was immaculate.
It was then, on an orange plastic chair, that I decided that one day I would be a triathlete too. Until then, I had not taken physical activity seriously. But something on that day made me set higher goals for myself — and I have been constantly working to improve myself in every aspect of life since then.
Over the next eight years I slowly started getting in shape, instead of getting embarrassed about how out-of-shape I was. I ran a half-marathon, took up yoga, bought a bike and learned healthy eating habits. With university, moving around and the jugs of beer that go along with early adulthood, I lost weight and gained some back — but never forgot the pledge to myself to complete a triathlon.
This past January I decided this was the year. I called on a friend of mine, Adelle Pike, to start training for an Olympic-length race (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10 km run). Around mid-May with a new job and all life had to offer, we decided to scale back our training to the sprint length (500m swim, 20 km bike, 5km run).
The day I made that decision was one off the toughest moments of my life. I felt that I was letting myself down by scaling back my training — in the Olympic year, none the less. I wanted so desperately to BE Simon Whitfield and do the “whole” race.
Then I remembered advice from a past Running Room instructor who said: “In sport the words ‘only’ and ‘just’ should never be used.” There is no such thing, she said, as “only” running five kilometers, or “just” doing the sprint triathlon. Every kilometer counts, every workout counts, every minute is a minute you are improving yourself.
Still, I was fearful each day we trained that I would fail. I kept thinking: “Can I do this? Maybe I should hold off until next year? Maybe I should lose 20 lbs first?”
But each day Adelle and I pushed each other. Some days we swam, some days we biked, others we ran or jogged, and often we took days off to rest. We kept things real and realistic.
Whenever I would have a moment of doubt throughout my training I remembered a quote I once read in a news article describing Whitfield before the 2008 Olympics.
It said: “There is no rest for the wickedly ambitious.”
On July 29, 2012 I ran under the blow-up finish line arch at the Corner Brook community triathlon. Recovering from a chest infection and a battle with the hot sun, I proudly came last place in my group at a time of at 1:51:00.
A week after my race, Canadian Olympian Paula Findley finished in last place (52nd) in the women’s triathlon London, after a year-long battle with a hip injury.
A few days later, Canada’s flag bearer Simon Whitfield fell off his bike in the men’s event, and could not finish his last of four Olympic races.
It goes to show whether you are an amateur or a pro, everyone is entitled to moments of doubt. But the important thing is to bounce back from your doubt–to take back your goals and make them your own.
While my triathlon racing career has just begun, I want to wish Whitfield well as his is winding down.
Most of all I want to say thank-you for inspiring all the first-timers, like me, to get off the lifeguard chair and across the finish line.