I’ve recently chalked up three years since I moved with my young family from our home of over 15 years in Brisbane to the relative calm of Toowoomba.

In the years I had been living in Brisbane there would not have been many weeks when I wasn’t out on the Brisbane River or the coastal water ways of Bribie Island and the Sunshine Coast a couple of times paddling my 18ft Racing Sea Kayak. While not a competitive racer, those regular 2– 3 hour paddles with a bit of chop from the passing CityCats or downwind with a building swell and wind at my back would leave me feeling physically tired but mentally exhilarated. Another guy I paddled with used to tell me how much he enjoyed watching me regularly bite off more than I could chew and then chewing like mad to get through it. He wasn’t far from the truth.

The thing I always loved about sea kayaking was the self-reliance. You work out very quickly that trying to have a break in a narrow kayak sitting in one spot of rough water without paddling forward usually ends up in a cold swim. It didn’t matter how tired I was or how far from land, the only way I was getting back was by continuing to put that paddle back in the water one stroke at a time.

In the first two years after I moved to Toowoomba I tried to keep the passion for sea kayaking alive by paddling on the local dams when I could and the occasional 5 hour return trip to the coast on the weekend when time allowed. By April last year, the combination of general family commitments making it harder to justify a whole day to get to the coast and with dwindling dam water levels, I finally reached the point where paddling in circles in muddy dams meant that it was time to find another activity a bit more suitable to the inland Toowoomba lifestyle.

While discussing my frustration about the lack of water, a colleague told me about the local Triathlon club and suggested we should have a crack at one of the beginner events at the end of the year. I’d done a bit of road cycling but had never really been a runner or swum more than a few hundred metres at a time. Ready to try anything at that point I agreed to give it a go. After a couple of weeks of Parkrun and a few extra K’s on the bike, I had a go at some of the winter Duathlon (run, bike, run) events held by the Toowoomba Tri Club. Before I knew it I had met some really encouraging people and found myself hooked on not only one but three sports rolled together.

Those same people put me in touch with a great Tri coach and swim coach and then the hard work really began. Pre-dawn swim squad sessions, stroke correction lessons, stationary bike sets, hill runs and weekend ride/run “brick” sessions became the norm. What kept me going during those harder early morning training sessions were the words the coach would repeat along the lines of “you want to stop but you don’t need to stop” and “get comfortable feeling uncomfortable”.

After 3 months of 4am starts and weekends of “brick” sessions (so named because your legs feel like bricks afterwards) I realised that the teaser event I initially had in mind was no longer going to be enough. The short course Teaser Tri at Highfields ended up being just a training run and I signed up for my first Olympic Distance Triathlon in Kingscliff in December 2017.

I’d set myself 2 goals for the Kingy Tri: 1. Finish the event in under 3 hours.  2. Don’t throw up (in that order of priority). Simple enough.

Come race morning as I checked my bike into Transition for the first time I was feeling fit and confident from weeks of training but the scale of just finishing a 1500m swim, 40 Km Bike and 10 Km run as a total newbie was still extremely daunting. As I marshalled for the start of the swim with a few hundred seriously fit athletes and another 20 pro Triathletes out the front, those feelings of biting off more than I could chew from my sea kayaking days came flooding back.

Once the horn went off, the first 10 minutes were like nothing I had ever experienced with a crazy combination of adrenalin, the shock of cold water and being surrounded on all sides by thrashing and kicking feet. In those few minutes trying not to panic I found myself thinking just how inadequate others repeatedly informing you about what to expect still hadn’t prepared me for the intensity of what was actually going on all around me. Much to my relief and after the initial shock subsided, the pack thinned out I found a place where I could follow the feet of those better swimmers, settle into my own rhythm and get on with the race plan I’d practiced in training.

While not exactly an endurance event for those that have done a few Triathlons, for me there were definite times towards the end of the run where the previous 2 hours of going hard had left me feeling tired. The muscles in my legs were burning, sweat starting to sting my eyes and the increasing heat wasn’t exactly helping. I really wanted to be heading into the finish but instead I was turning for the second 5km run leg. I found myself focusing on just breathing and channelling those calm words from my coach “you want to stop but you don’t need to stop”. I remembered those times I had found myself in rough water in my kayak where I needed to put one paddle stroke in after the next to get me back to shore. Those words and images were enough to keep me going.

I finished my first Olympic distance Tri in a bit over 2 ½ hours which while is in no means fast, it was immensely satisfying given I was going to be happy just to complete it in under 3 hours without losing breakfast. In the months since I have increased my training again and can’t wait to put down a faster time when I return to Kingscliff in March 2018 and some half Ironman events later this year.

While the above is just a reflection on my experience of taking on a new sport, during those long solo training rides I keep thinking on the parallels of my own experience of starting out in Triathlon and other aspects of my work and what my client’s go through in those difficult family law matters.

  1. Things in life change. Sometimes you initiate it and sometimes it seems to happen on its own whether you intended it to or not. Just because something has previously left you feeling great does not mean it will always stay that way. While time can help you decide, there is not a lot of point being in a sea kayak if you are not near the sea.
  2. When you have a new challenge ahead of you, spend a bit of extra money on the professionals that are recommended to you and follow their advice. They may not be the cheapest but if you want an efficient outcome their expertise can help you use your energy more efficiently and get you a far better result than you set out to achieve by going it alone. Their words come from experience and will help you the most when you are struggling.
  3. When you are doing something big that is new and unfamiliar, even the best preparation and guidance won’t be enough to truly prepare you for the reality of doing it yourself. Do your best to know what to expect safe in the knowledge it won’t be enough. When the intensity hits, roll with it and push through the initial shock so that when things settle you can get into your rhythm and maintain it until the end.
  4. You want to stop but you don’t need to stop. At times during the process you will doubt yourself and what your professional guides have told you along the way. You will be a long way into it but still not at the end where you so desperately want to be. When it hurts and you want to give up focus on those calm words and know that you have met challenges before. Even that single next step that keeps you moving forward is getting you closer to where you want to go and you will get there.