I'm So Tired
Sometimes, I don’t know why I do these things to myself. My level of fitness is not something to write home about. I exercise mostly because my 32 year old body would rebel on me if I didn’t try at least. I don’t know why I signed up for it, I wasn’t exactly looking to kill myself with training. And yet now, looking back all the way to November (when I did sign up for it), it seems like a total shot in the dark.
I wasn’t raised to be sporty — sure I had a lot of energy and I tried out for gymnastics and ballet and liked to dance, but nothing was ever consistent in my life. I took swimming lessons as a kid, taught myself to bike in our garage, but apart from running wild in our garden in the summers or mandatory physical education, actual physical activity was not my jam. I was more the amble in an airconditioned mall or sit in front of the TV kind of kid.
But ever since I moved to Singapore four and a half years ago now, I thought I would be idiotic to not take advantage of the environment that is pro-exercise. Things that I told myself I couldn’t do in Manila (because you can’t run outdoors — it’s not safe or there was too much pollution), I didn’t have any of those excuses here.
So I started with the running, 5K, 10K, 21K — until my knees gave out last year, when I got diagnosed with ulcers in both cartilage in my knees. That scared me. I still wanted to do something, but I knew I shouldn’t (without proper physical therapy and care) run my knees ragged.
And that’s why I signed up for this discovery sprint triathlon. Yes, it sounds just as short as that. Basically a 250m swim followed by a 12km cycle and ending with a 2.5km run. The run, I knew I could do — not quickly but I could. I’ve done almost 10x that. But the swim and the cycle? That would be another story.
For one thing, I had only ever swum in a pool and not 250m straight without taking breaks. The triathlon would be in the open water aka the ‘beaches’ of Singapore where I had never been before. I get tired halfway through the pool.
For another thing, I didn’t own a bike. Sure, I could ride a rented mobike but a road bike where your feet can’t touch the ground when you’re on it and had proper gears and breaks and you had to wear a helmet and have lights and all that jazz? That sounded expensive as hell.
But I had time. So at the start of the year, I signed up for a swimming class. A proper adult one where I could learn total Immersion with the end goal of doing 250m straight without being tired or panicking or anything. Every Monday, I would leave work on time and take a car to a rooftop pool near my house and learn to properly swim with other adults. I learned that my recovery arm was bad, i was over-rotating and basically every other thing I could do wrong.
Four lessons in, I passed the first level but I wasn’t confident enough to do the stroke I’d learned (plus they hadn’t taught us how to breathe yet). But I’d have to park that fear for a bit because it was already February and the aquathlon was nearing and the duathlon was in March and I have yet to own a bike, much more train on one.
And so in the beginning of February, after much heehawing and poor research and begging friends who knew more about bikes than I did, I was lucky enough to find a really really really affordable brand new back that got stuck in a store’s backroom. And buying the bare essentials, a helmet and those shorts because lord knows I wasn’t going to sit on that bike, I started to cycle.
Thankfully my roommates all biked and were kind enough to take me with them, I started practicing the cycle. It was tough to mount and dismount a bike and figure out the gears and be confident enough to not get run over by cars, but I had a long way to go. A very long way.
And so we swim
I still wasn’t confident in my swim. On the day of the aquathlon, I trekked to Sentosa at too early an hour for me on a Sunday morning, got my arm stamped and stood at the starting line with 40+ other women who were here for the first time. And I was scared to bits. Why did I do this? Did I know enough total immersion to do the freestyle? No, ok, let’s do the breast stroke then. I don’t like salt water. I couldn’t see the ‘floor’ of the ocean and the 250m seemed like a very long way to go.
Don’t get tired and don’t stop.
But I went for it. And just took my time. Telling myself: Keep on swimming. Don’t get tired and don’t stop. And so with the aquathlon under my belt — I wast the last out of the water for my category and only the second to the last to finish the entire thing (and that was only because I saw someone right before me and decided to make a run for it despite my tiredness) and a jelly fish sting to show for it on my waist and in my legs, I focused on surviving the duathlon.
And then we cycle
I felt a bit more confident having survived the aquathlon. I could cycle. Would it be fast? No, but I would finish. And now, more people had found out about my bike ownership and were willing to slow down their rides so I could catch up. And for that I was grateful. I still wasn’t confident enough to cycle alone, but now I had lights and I had a support system and people to ask bike-related questions to because I literally didn’t know how to do anything apart from spin those wheels.
Getting to the duathlon venue was a challenge in itself. I had to do a practice ride to the venue cause I honestly thought it was at the park near my house only to realise the week of the event that it was halfway to the city. We mapped out the longest ever route that wouldn’t require much road traffic and we practiced at night without the beating sun.
On the day of the duathlon, I had already clocked more kilometers getting there than the entire duathlon would be. But I was more confident than before. There would be no swimming and all I had to do was run 1.5km, cycle then run the same amount again. I could do a 3km run right? Yes.
Or not really. After biking at a pretty decent speed — but still slow enough that the children’s category of elite 7 year olds were all cycling past me and yelling ‘on your right’ — as I transitioned to put the bike back and finish the last leg of the run, I felt my legs turn to jello. This was going to be the longest 1.5km run ever. And I felt it every single step of the way.
When I finished that one, I thought I couldn’t do anything else, but then I realised, I still had to cycle home. Luckily, I found another route that would be half the distance of the way there but it would involve a bit more traffic. Fear went away and exhaustion and the desire to get home took over. After a shower, I slept. I would have more than a month in between to train for all three legs.
And on to the final leg
It’s interesting because in between the duathlon and the triathlon, I went on a holiday and with the wonderfully chilly weather, I told myself I would jog as much as I could as ‘training’ — I knew I couldn’t swim there or cycle because I wasn’t going to travel with my bike but run, I did. I ran uphill and downhill in Edinburgh and around a lake in Bergen and through the English countryside — all of which are not the weather conditions Singapore would have for me but in my head, it would be good enough.
I finished my swimming lessons and passed the second level and thought, ok, I can do this better this time around. I had cycled up to 40km in one ride under my belt. I was sort of ready, right? But the night before the final triathlon, I was nervous and scared. Maybe I can chicken out now. Maybe I won’t even wake up to get to the venue (the park near my house). Maybe I’d fall sick.
And yet, I made it to the starting line anyway on a Sunday morning. It was pretty late in the day and the sun was shining and the friends I met along the way were all there in our trisuits with our bright pink swimming caps, all looking at each other, laughing nervously. Why did we sign up again? I stood in the back with the girls who finished right before me in the aquathlon. See you girls out there, we all said to each other. It was a chill group.
And as everyone rushed to the water, I slowly walked in, tentatively testing out how it would be. And like fake muscle memory, because this was after all the second time I’d be doing this, my older fears of the salt and being unable to see the bottom sort of disappeared. I tried the total immersion technique to middling results but I did it for 90% of the swim. I still couldn’t see the bottom of the sea, and I couldn’t see ahead of me. But when I’d stop to gain my bearings to turn the corner, I’d find myself far from the buoys. That means I’d need to swim back in. But when I swam back in, I would get kicked (lightly) and then I’d swim back out.
Over and over, this repeated, being unable to see properly and having my sole focus on the technique so I wouldn’t get tired and telling myself constantly to breathe and relax was all my mind could take. And shockingly, at the last turn, my feet could feel the ground underneath my feet, it was getting shallower and shallower. Until I stood up and got out of the water.
I wasn’t last either. But there was still so much to go.
Walking to the transition area — I couldn’t bring myself to even jog, I put on my socks, my fitbit and my shoes. I wiped my sweat and realised I didn’t have my water bottle with me. I put on my helmet and transitioned out. 12km was manageable. I’ve cycled in this park, I knew half of the route, I could do this. Twice (the route was 6km long, so I really had to do it twice).
I still had children and adults whizzing by me, but that was ok. My crotch didn’t hurt anymore — or maybe it was numb already and was used to the bike seat. But my legs just had to keep spinning. More kids whiz by me. I slow down at turns and finished one lap. Repeated things again and finished the second lap.
I didn’t know what my position was at this point but when I returned my back to the transition there were still empty slots. A good sign, perhaps.
And onto the last leg. a 2.5km run.
Except, I was running on empty. I still didn’t have my water bottle (it was back home, in the freezer, forgotten in the morning rush) and it was nearing 12 noon. I just wanted to finish. I could see other folks walking. There is no shame in walking. I love walking. I support walking. But I told myself that my goal was not to stop and not to walk and to finish. No matter how long it took me.
And so I did the slowest jog of my life. I reached one water station and gulped down to glasses of water, went up the longest small uphill climb and back down to drink more water. I really just wanted to get into bed. But I was almost there. You know the spectators that cheer you on? They’re sweet. Words of encouragement are really kind. So thank you to all those random strangers that just told me to keep on going.
And finally free
And as I crossed the finish line of the longest 1 hour, 12 minutes, 37.23 seconds of my life, I really just wanted to cry — except I couldn’t because there was water to expend.
Looking at the results breakdown, my swim had improved vastly from the first time around. 4 and a half minutes faster. My cycle was 5 minutes faster and my run was in between my 2 other runs at 21 minutes. Nowhere near any record breaking levels but great personal timings for myself.
My shoes were muddy and I was grossly sticky. My eyes were itchy from the salty everything and I still had to get home. It was nice to see colleagues who had signed up for the relay versions of the sprint triathlon — triple the distance but divided among teammates.
And it made me feel slightly proud of myself that a year ago, I was just supporting friends who had signed up for this event. And now, a year later, I had finished one myself. But I was definitely in a daze. I just wanted food, water and sleep.
I still can’t believe I did it. I still don’t know why I really signed up to begin with. Proving to myself I could? Maybe. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do it again, but I can say I’ve ticked that off the list. Maybe one day, on a whim, I’ll sign up again. But really, maybe not. We shall see.