Amanda Pruissen – EL70.3 Race report

IronMan 70.3 has been a bucket list item for several years.  It has always been that elusive dream – the one that I kept putting on the back burner, because of all the reasons I gave myself why I could not do it.  In 2019, I decided 2020 would be the year for me to finally get that monkey off my back. 

I joined Team Tissink after a discussion with a friend.  I was petrified at first because I am not what you would consider an athlete.  I am not fast – I could probably speed walk faster than I could jog.  I was not a strong swimmer – in fact I only started swimming in May of 2019.  The bike is what really made my heart heavy and light.  I find it the most challenging of the 3 disciplines, but also the most rewarding.  It really is my happy place, even though it does tend to break my heart on most occasions.

I am an incredibly anxious person naturally and find that having a programme with exactly what I need to be doing to be what works best for me.  The one thing that has been imprinted into my brain from my sessions is that consistency will take you further than anything else ever will.  It’s not enough to simply have talent, what you do day in and day out is what will speak the loudest on race day.  I made a promise to myself there and then, that if I could not be the fastest athlete on the field, then I was going to focus on being the most disciplined athlete (I use the term loosely) I could be.  It meant sacrificing a lot of personal time BUT self-sacrifice lead to me being the best version of myself I could be. 

Squad training has had the biggest impact on my life – it has made me so much better, not only physically but mentally too.  These sessions are soul food especially in a sport that can be so time consuming.  At these sessions, for those that like to be put through their paces, there is a chance for you to swim, bike and run against the racing snakes.  Even though that will never be me, it is always a thing of beauty to watch.  These sessions are also quality time with the coaches, where they look at your form, they pick up your little nuances and work with you to make sure that you become stronger and more efficient.  It is never about becoming something that you don’t want to be, it is always about making you the BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF!  The things I love about these sessions is that they often come with a lot of love, hugs, camaraderie, friendship and a huge sense of family.  For anyone that makes it to these sessions on a regular basis, you will know exactly what I mean.  Your successes are celebrated, and your pain is shared. 

Leading up to 70.3 I competed in the 5150 which had me in tears, although a baby in comparison to the main event, this was by far one of the most challenging things that I had ever done.  When I crossed that finish line and got my medal, I don’t think there is anything that made me prouder.  However, it also gave me pause, because I really could not imagine how I was possibly going to be strong enough to participate in a 70.3 event.  The 5150 was brutal.  It was a scorching hot day, the beasterly Easterly was blowing and I just could not fathom how I would manage to cross the finish line in East London.

The training started ramping up in December and the anxiety of the cycling began to grow.  We would do more hill repeats, some big gear hill training and spend long hours in the saddle in anticipation of the big event.  I had absolute faith in the training, but I had zero faith in my ability to execute. Hills were not my friend.  I struggled on the training rides.  I was consistent… Consistently slow.  Again, I reminded myself of my mantra, “You may not be the fastest, but you can be the most disciplined and consistent” and that is again what I did.

I spent many hours talking to Mischelle and Natalie about my fears of not making the bike cut off time.  It became such a real fear for me.  I was convinced that even if race day conditions were perfect, I was destined for failure.  I am not a hill climber.  Why had I entered a race that is notorious for its hills?  On both the bike and the swim.  I reminded myself of a quote that I had read which said “Failing is NOT failure” and took pride in the fact that whatever may be on race day – I have worked hard, I have done all I can and it was now time to put the training into practice.

Race day arrived – with insane wind, because of course I love a challenge (no sarcasm here).  I woke up feeling excited and a little bit nervous.  The nerves managed to stay under control, until I saw Natalie and then the waterworks started.  The last bit of advice was to get as far to the front of the swim as we could so that when the wind picked up, we should be out the water already.  I took that advice to heart, and I am so glad that I did.  I found the swim to be quite soothing.  I managed to just enjoy the silence and quiet that the water provides.  My swim was a few minutes slower than I would have liked, I had calculated that I needed to bank a minimum of 30 minutes in the swim to make the bike.  I managed to save about 20 minutes.  I headed off on the bike course feeling cool, calm and collected – until I hit the N2 and started the Hemingways climb.  The ride out took me 2 hours and 39 minutes – I had wanted to do it in about 2 hours 20.  The wind however, decided it really wanted to test boundaries and limits on this day.  In fact, it is the windiest 70.3 on record for this event.  The real panic started setting in, because at that point it was give up or give it everything. 

The one thing about me that is true, is that I would rather die than quit, and race day was no exception.  I took in all the pieces of advice I had received from our coaches and just focused on pushing home as fast as I could.  By the time I got to the top of Buffalo Park Drive, I knew I had made it.  I cannot explain that feeling of absolute joy.  Everything I had worked so hard for seemed to be within sight.  I made my way to the dismount line and at that point discovered I had pushed perhaps a little too hard because I could not uncleat.  My legs were jelly.  I fell over and the referee came over to assist me.  I took a minute to gather myself got up and then went to transition to change shoes and begin the last portion of my race.

The run was everything I ever dreamed of in terms of support and love – and pain.   I started off feeling strong.  As I headed off towards John Bailie Road and the dreaded Bunkers Hill, I made a deal with myself.  I decided I had to jog the flats and downs and then I would allow myself to walk the hills.  This seemed doable to me and that was my focus for the entire 21.1 kilometres.  The wind on the run was as painful as on the bike, especially as you headed back towards the finish line along the beach front.  I did not feel like I was moving forward at some points.   I just put my head down and focused on one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.  As I made my way towards the finish on my second loop, I started hearing people shouting for me – my entire Team Tissink family had gone to the athlete’s village and stood cheering me on.  I cannot explain the gratitude and elation I felt at seeing all those beautiful faces next to me pushing me to cross that finish line. I crossed over the finish line and heard the familiar words “You rock star” and there was Natalie ready with a hug and of course some words of praise and love.

This day is something that I would do over and over and over again in a heartbeat, the pain is long since forgotten, the joy of having that medal outweighs any discomfort I could have felt on that day.  I think that the one thing I take from this experience is that it does not matter where you come from, what your weight or perceived hurdles and obstacles are – if you stick to the programme and commit to each and every training session, Team Tissink will get you to the end line.  It wasn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.  I am reminded of a quote by Denzel Washington “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship” and that is certainly true in this sport.  We train hard so that we can race comfortably and although it was a long day on the road for me on Sunday, I was so well prepared for it.  I cannot say enough about this special team that I belong to and I know that there is absolutely no way that I could have gotten across the finish line – let alone off the bike – without their knowledge, patience and skill!  As for my teammates, there are not enough superlatives to adequately say what you mean to me.  Team Tissink is a family and for me the perfect place to me call home on this triathlon journey.

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