June 12, 2014 9.10 am This story is over 118 months old

My gruelling and rewarding triathlon experience

All for charity: “I’m rarely satisfied with my achievements on a sporting level, always wanting to be faster, but this time it wasn’t about the time,” writes Lincoln UTC Principal Rona Mackenzie.

They say that time flies when you are having fun. Apparently my ‘fun’ is my job and I can certainly confirm that the time is absolutely flying by.

It seems like only yesterday we were half way through our descent from Everest Base Camp when I decided I needed a new challenge. That seems to be what happens in my life… I set myself a challenge and just as I am about to achieve it I decide I need another one… and another one… and so the cycle continues.

This time the challenge was set, in my mind, to ensure that I made time each day to train, putting aside some ‘me’ time. It is so easy to become absorbed by work and forget to take part in the things that make you happy, healthy and sociable.

So I decided I needed a new type of challenge and plumped for a triathlon with the added twist of an open water swim. The setting would be the Serpentine in Hyde Park, a longer swim distance than I am used to and a good ride and run to add to the fun. That’s nothing for some people, but as a pretty average swimmer with a healthy fear of things that move about in dark, deep water and might nibble me, it was a big enough challenge.

To keep me focused and prevent me from running scared – or should I say, swimming scared, I decided I should raise lots of money for charity. After all, if I was going to risk being munched, the least people could do was donate to a charity for my discomfort!

The training began. It went like most training programmes do, up and down like a roller coaster. There were good weeks and bad weeks, a few aches and pains along the way which I put down to old age; even the odd week where work did get in the way of training. But always, in the back of mind, was that sponsorship money – I couldn’t let my sponsors or Marie Curie down. There was work to be done and pounds to put into their bank account. That was my motivation.

I wrote last month about the joys of learning to swim in open water. It’s become a bit of a love-hate relationships, some weeks I love it and others I feel like I’m trapped in an over-tight, compressive wet suit and might drown! A little bit of an exaggeration, but as the race day drew closer I felt more confident in the water and on the run: it was the bike ride that was going to be the real challenge. Well, two out of three wouldn’t be so bad!

The race weekend arrived. I drove myself down to London as I had far too much kit to carry on the train. The Friday afternoon was spent ferrying bags and bikes across London from the car park to the hotel: I was exhausted by bedtime! On Saturday the professionals took to the water to show us how it is done – their effortless strokes in the water, immense speed on the bike and light-footedness in the run was both awe-inspiring and a little bit frightening. If I wasn’t daunted before, I certainly was then! By Saturday night my pedometer suggested that I had walked over 40km since I had arrived in London and I was rather tired and increasingly nervous. Would I be able to do it?

Race day arrived and, with my husband working overseas, I was buoyed by parent and parent-in-law power who provided lots of support. Before the race I had a helpful lesson in breathing deeply (and seemingly I am rubbish at doing it properly!), lots of words of encouragement and a really nice peanut energy bar!

I lined up for the swim, dangling my legs over the side of the pontoon, and I felt positively sick. Eighty swimmers were sat alongside me and as the stewards hurriedly moved us into the water, the klaxon went off in a squawk. I didn’t have time to think as the thrash of arms and legs began… a wayward swimmer deciding to swim across the top of me, bopping me on the head with his heavy legs and feet and giving me quite a shock.

I seemingly lost my nerve – and my stroke – and the 750m felt like an eternity of slow swimming and dirt sieving. It disappointed me that there were times in the water where all I wanted to do was get out. If someone had offered to ‘beam me up Scotty’ I would have been overjoyed but in my mind was the charity, my sponsors, and the need for me to ‘man up’ and get my head down and swim. And so I did.

It was with some delight that I eventually emerged from the water. Rushed removal of a wetsuit is an interesting experience and, although I was concerned I might need a few weeks, it seemed to come off with ease – and before I knew it, I was on the bike. Oh, how I love my little bike – with people all around me, I got into a rhythm really quickly and my competitive nature kicked into action.

I raced around the Hyde Park roads, enjoying the tight turns and the immense pleasure when I overtook a bloke! My supporters had positioned themselves at the mid-way point, giving them eight cheering and photo opportunities. Their commentary as I rode passed was hilarious… I think they spent lots of time cheering for other people in Marie Curie vests and then when they finally spotted me, frantically juggled their cameras as they clapped and cheered all at once!

I’m pleased to say that the run went as well as the bike and before I knew it I was running up the blue finish matting, going under the timing clock and collecting my medal and finisher’s goodies. There were lots of tired athletes, delighted in their achievements and congratulating one another on their physical and fund raising successes.

Triathlons are great places for camaraderie, with people of all ages, shapes and fitness levels coming together to compete with themselves and their personal bests or their fund raising targets. As we had photos taken, collected equipment and munched on post-race goodies, I felt a real sense of achievement.

I’m rarely satisfied with my achievements on a sporting level, always wanting to be faster, but this time it wasn’t about the time – it as all about the charity. Just over £1,300 landed into the bank account of Marie Curie, thanks to my wonderful friends and their generosity. Every stroke and step was worth it, knowing that we will all contribute to making a difference for someone who needs support from Marie Curie. Thank you to you all.

What next? Well, as I was heading around the run I was busy deciding what challenge I should tackle next. As 2015 is the year of my 40th I will embark on 40 challenges and I’m currently compiling the list, talking to charities and getting ready for the biggest challenges I will have ever tackled. If you have any suggestions, please do send them my way!

Dr. Rona Mackenzie is Principal of Lincoln University Technical College (UTC). She has a strong background in education, having worked in six local authorities during her career, and is passionate about providing an education that meet the needs of young people and their community industries. She is a keen sportswoman and mountaineer, recently trekking to Everest Base Camp, and has an interest in photography.