By Dennis Flores
June 23rd 2013 Sunday, 4:00am. This is it, the day of my first attempt to get into the sport of triathlon. It will be the culmination of a long process of training, nutrition and understanding from family whom I have selfishly deprived of their time with me. After my regular morning routine, I double checked my bike, wetsuit and a deep tray with at least 30 items for the race, which I have prepared the day before. Next was to place them in the vehicle and wait for the support team.
5:00am. Close friends and founding members of Sulong Triathlon Group, Peter, Norman and Dan accompanied me to St. Malo Provincial Park, the site of the event. We would be joined by another member, Mervin, who came with his whole family. Later on, my wife Joanna, daughters Jackie and Mandy, and friend Anita, would also be there to support me.
6:05am. We arrived at the site and I proceeded to register. I quickly scouted the venue and familiarised myself with the transition points. While waiting for the meeting, orientation and race proper, I talked to a few triathlete friends and established new friendships with fellow racers. This was also a good opportunity to share past experiences and get advice from the veterans.
7:25am. The mandatory race meeting for all athletes started. We were given course instructions and briefed on rules and regulations. Afterwards, I tested the water temperature and warmed up for the swim. I did 2 tests until I felt comfortable with the water and wetsuit.
8:45am. 15 minutes before race time, my family and Peter expressed their well wishes. I felt surprisingly calm and focused on what’s next to come. My plan was to let all the eager swimmers go ahead and for me to stay behind and start from the most strategic point.
9:00am. As the horn signalled the swim start, 80 percent of the competitors ran and jostled for position, 18 percent swam cautiously and I was one of the 2 percent who walked into the water and started a deliberate front crawl and felt really good after a few strokes.
9:05am. A few meters into the swim, I was cheerfully telling myself “I can do this, what I’ve been visualising all along is really happening.” Then suddenly, I felt that I was sinking, I felt that wasn’t moving forward at all! I tried to calm myself down and swam on my back. In a state of surrender, I turned around and wanted to hail the rescue and support kayak. All the months of training down the drain. At that moment, I heard a commanding voice, “Dennis, you are going too fast, you are hyperventilating, go vertical and fix yourself!” It was Wanda Mathers, a triathlon coach whom I’ve met a few months ago. She gave me instructions, kicked my behind and pushed my legs to propel me for a few meters while constantly telling me to relax. After a few minutes I lost sight of her and was on my way to a more relaxed swim. I have never felt so calm after that frightening panic attack.
9:30am. I was met on the beach by cheers, the loudest of which were my family’s and friends’. “Go Dennis, you can catch up, you’re good on the bike!” Joanna encouraged. My swim to bike transition went as planned. I’m was off to the discipline that I’m most comfortable with.
10:20am. What transpired in 45 minutes seemed to be 5, that’s how smooth my bike ride was. Bike to run transition also went as swift. My legs felt good during the first few strides, then seemingly transformed into lead, I could barely lift them. I brisk walked for a few meters and tried to find a runner with a comfortable pace and draft. From that time onwards, I didn’t stop running and even increased my pace leading to the finish line.
10:43am. To finish my first triathlon is one of the best things that could ever happen to me. After 8 months of training, I’ve done it! Now to find Wanda and thank her.
It was a grand time at the finish line to see and thank friends and family and tell them about the incredible journey that just happened. It was time to relax, rehydrate and recover. It was time to enjoy the festivities of the record turnout event. It was time to give Wanda a hug and tell her that if it weren’t for her, I could have become a spectator 10 minutes into the race. The following were her words which I will never forget, “Dennis, you did it, always remember, you are a good athlete.”
With the help of family and friends, I believe I am.