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  • Writer's pictureThe Useless Runner

Fighting your demons

Demon [noun] ~ /ˈdiː.mən/

"A negative feeling that causes you to worry or behave badly."

When I jumped in the River Thames at 7:10 in the morning on June 16 2019 for my first ever Olympic Triathlon race, I froze.

I did not know what was happening to me, I did not realize what was going on, I could not breathe. All I remember was having a really bad cold water shock, and looking everywhere wanting to leave the water.

-I panicked, to my core.-

My friend was next to me in the water as the buzzer went off for the wave start. I do not remember much about what happened between then and reaching the 1K mark by the bridge where the turnaround was, and he eventually had to leave me behind as the last 500 Metres were up the river stream and the current kept pushing us back.

I was scared, I did not know what to do.

As soon as this panic started, my friend did not leave my side for 1 Kilometer. He kept asking me to focus on his voice, to calm down and breathe, to focus on my swim one stroke at the time. I did nothing.

I tried to slowly swim breaststroke and let the current take me downstream. Then the buzzer went off again for the next wave right behind us.

Suddenly I had another 30 people swimming past me, elbows flying, water everywhere, it was mayham.

I distinctively remember two things: An old lady swimming past me, she was in control and had a solid flow in her swim, and a kayak lifeguard coming over and asking if we were OK, to what my friend replied: 'We are fine'.

I started to think 'What the fuck am I doing here?'. I wanted to come out of the water, I yelled at my friend, but he was having none of it, he kept me in check, he continued to ask me to relax and calm down. I slowly let the current take me down until we reached the turning point, where my friend had to swim faster upstream, he could not wait, the current was strong enough to make you work hard for it.

As I turned around, I had to ask for help from a kayak right there. I asked him to please pull me to the side so I could grab one of the boat docks on the side of the river. What happened after this can never be described as swimming. I was more like survival, literally.

I tried to swim. The fear was gone, but my body had used so much energy during that first Kilometre that I was exhausted. I could not swim more than 5 or 6 strokes without getting bad cramps in my legs. My calves were contracted and my hamstrings were hurting. My elbows hurt, and my goggles were letting water in everywhere.

I was angry, I was desperate to get out of the water. More than anything, I was frustrated. I had done a few swims in open water at the lake, and managed to get over the initial fear of swimming outdoors. I felt confident enough to tackle the race. Little did I know how unprepared I was. That helpless feeling of nothingness as the race started, and my friend doing the best he could for as long as he could to keep me in the water and try to calm me down. If it wasn't for him I would have never finished that race, that is the honest truth.

As I grabbed anything and everything I could to make it upstream and finish the 'swim', my desperation turned more and more into anger. My body felt shut, my muscles were not responding to my brain. All I could think about was quitting this crazy idea of being a Triathlete. In my head the thought kept lingering.

'Who in the name of god goes through all this shit'

I pushed and got out of the water, it was crazy all around me. Everybody running and getting out of their wetsuits, swimming caps and goggles on the ground, and the adrenaline rush which just kept pushing me to go to T1 as fast as possible.

As I reached transition my friend was still waiting by the bike exit to make sure I got out OK. That is the kind of friend he is. He was there, looking after me, making sure I was safe. He gave me a shout, I gave him the thumbs up, and off he went.

The bike was not that bad. It was raining really hard and I had to push a lot of watts trying to catch up with my friend but I was not able to.

I met him back at T2 as we got ready for the run. At that point I was in full racing mode, I felt good, strong and I wanted to run and get it done. I finally felt like I owned the race, and not the other way around.

I managed a 1:06 in the 10K run, which back then was a decent time for me. My friend was already at the finish line, and handed me a flag to carry over the finish line. It felt good and I was proud to have done something like this.

I also managed to slip after the finish line and twisted my shoulder. I was fine once I got up. Things you learn, I guess.

After the race we celebrated, and met with other friends who also raced on the day but a shorter distance (Mr. F. and Mr. J.). We had a BBQ and some beer. It was an amazing time and I am happy we got to spend it together doing the sport we loved (I do love it).

I never told this story to anyone as I am telling it to you now. I have mentioned bits and pieces about how I felt, and what happened in the water, but never to the extend I am writing about it today. Only my friend who was there with me knows everything about what happened that day. It also showed me the incredible person that he is (which I already knew). Someone who selflessly stayed with me as long as possible and even afterwards stayed back to make sure I was fine. He is a top lad.

It is somehow threapeutic to write about this, because after that race I realized I was not alone. Lots of people have experienced this and still experience it to this day, and it helps to talk about it in many differnet ways:

To share experiences.

To know what can be done to overcome this hurdle.

To succeed doing what you love (not just in sport, but in life).

A few weeks after the race I got in touch with an open water swimming coach, and had an induction session at the lake. I understood clearly all the things I did wrong, and how to face the music when it comes to open water swimming. I learned how to properly enter the water, and how to properly swim, and most importantly: How to properly breathe.

I was 3 months away from my first Ironman 70.3 race, with an open water swim in the sea. I wasn't ready.

I don't think that ever in my life I have focused so much on overcoming something so well that I left nothing to chance. I applied myself week in and week out to swim properly. I raced a couple of sprints at the lake to get myself involved with the pressure of a mass start.

I swam.

I breathed.

I focused.

I faced winds and choppy water.

I got elbows and legs all over my back and legs.

~ I fought my demons. ~

I am grateful to the sport that I love for giving me so many challenges, because without them I would not be telling you this story today. Those challenges make you strong, they shape you and the way you face life.

Don't let these challenges take you down. Face them, accept them, and work on ways to overcome them. Ask for help, never be afraid of that.

You see, this is not just about sport. These lessons are applied everyday. From the moment you wake up at stupid o'clock to workout and make breakfast for your kids. From the time you go for a run late at night, or you take your kid out for a bike ride. These teachings carry forward, in your family and friends, forever.

And as for that race?. We have a pending dance. We will do it again, and I will do my upmost best to own it from the get go. I earned that first medal, and I will treasure it forever as it was the day I had to find the strenght deep in my core to do something that completely took me out of my comfort zone, and face fears I never thought I had in me. That medal taught me I had much to improve.

Don't be afraid. Fight your demons. Burn them to the ground, and enjoy the journey.

Thanks for reading.

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