*Note: It’s very difficult to sum up such an overwhelming experience in a blog post. There were amazing encounters and conversations, incredible highs and lows, and some memorable thoughts throughout that day. I’ll be sharing a few of those thoughts along with the corresponding circumstances. The references to time are made in accordance with my perception of time at the given moment.
Saturday – 8:30PM: I’m laying in bed, much earlier than I’m used to, and the alarm is set for 3:30am (with a back-up alarm at 3:45, of course!). I lay there, full of anticipation, thinking to myself, “Let me just visualise tomorrow’s race till I fall asleep.”
I see myself going through the swim course smoothly, get on the bike for … gulp … a smooth 180km ride. There’s going to be a marathon after that?! What if I get a flat tire? Am I going to be able to this this? Damn, this isn’t going well. Let me think more positively… what if I actually make it?!
That visualisation session was clearly a really bad idea. At that point, I could hear my heart thumping loudly, as if it was inside the pillow, beating faster and faster. I had a feeling it was going to be one of those sleepless nights. Later, I began thinking about my family and friends who supported me along this experience, and how grateful I am to have them in my life. I thanked God for having the opportunity to be able to something like this and started feeling really grateful. And that was the last thing I remember. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
(Race-Day) 3:29AM: My eyes open, and I slowly stretch out my arms, laying comfortably on my back, as I start to smile, just laying there thinking, “today is the day”. I turn over to the window and can’t see anything outside. I turn back to the bedside table and reach for my phone as the alarm starts to ring… this day couldn’t have started any better.
5:45AM: I just came back up on the beach after warming up in the sea. Sun-light is slowly breaking into the sky, but it’s still quite dark. Hundreds of people are gathering around the start area. “Wow.”
Around 6:15AM: I’m well into the swim, and with every breath I see large silhouettes transforming into mountains and greenery. It’s absolutely breath-taking. I take a peak forward to make sure I’m swimming in a straight line, and keep pushing. “What a beautiful day.”
Around 7:00AM: On my way back to the beach, I swim over stunning coral reefs with colourful fish, seemingly within the reach of my arm. “Sub7an Allah”. I’m pondering on how amazing the world we live in is, as I accidentally kick a fellow competitor’s head. (Whoops, sorry!)
30 minutes into the bicycle stint: I’m at the southern tip of the island, and start heading north along the eastern coast. The experience still feels surreal. The streets are very quiet and the scenery is overwhelming, and I’m soaking it all in.
About 2 hours into the bicycle stint: Battling against the cool southern coastal winds for a while now, I’m starting to feel a slight headache. Overcast is covering the sun completely, and I’m beginning to feel desperate for some sunlight to warm me up.
A few kilometres later: The road takes a turn westward, and luckily I’m not working against the wind anymore. Headache is feeling a bit worse and the road is starting to ascend. A few athletes are calling it quits already, and I think – just for a moment – of how much longer I have to go. (That wasn’t a good idea & I resorted to focusing on some mental exercises to recover.)
About an hour later: The road is still inclining, rather steeply now, as I get closer closer to the summit. The sun is shining brightly now, and its really, really hot! (In hindsight, I take that back, overcast was definitely better.)
Shortly afterwards: Speeding effortlessly through the winding down-hill roads, I feel like I’m re-born. My mental and physical condition feels so much better. The hard-part of the bike course is now behind me. (Or at least, that’s what I thought!)
130km into the bike ride: I look at my GPS watch to check how much distance I’ve covered so far, and I’m laughing. “I’ve never biked for more than 120km before”, I thought. Positive vibes are keeping me going.
140km: The bike’s saddle has become my worst enemy. My butt is completely numb and in pain. Every 5 minutes or so I have to lift my butt off the seat while peddling to get the blood flowing. “I can’t wait to get this over with.”
150km: **** @!#$ (*@&#^@*@(#&^^!!!
160km: *Restricted: Parental Guidance Suggested* (For access to full uncensored version you can subscribe to the blog and send me an email.)
170km: I know I’m almost there, almost going to get off this saddle, and that thought is keeping me going.
Transition 2: As my bare-feet slip out of the bike shoes and make contact with the ground, my toes send electric jolts up my legs. That feeling is absolutely nothing when compared to the joy that came upon dismounting the bike.
As I’m starting to run, my legs have that so-called spaghetti feeling. (Who cares! Anything.. Anything but that saddle!) Within a kilometre later my legs started coming back to life.
10km into the run: I’m feeling amazing. My pace is strong and consistent, and I feel happy to finally be in my domain. I absolutely love running. “I’m almost 100% sure that I’m going to make it.”
Around 20km into the run: It’s getting darker, and cooler, however, it feels like my legs are starting to eat themselves inside out. Its a strange feeling I’ve never felt before. “Is this what reaching the limit feels like?” Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about making it… Once again, I began thinking of my dear family and friends. “I’m so lucky to be able to do something like this. il7mdillah!”
26km: I’m at an aid station, where I stop briefly to eat half a banana and some granola bars, and within seconds gulping down the banana, the table along with the volunteers in front of me slowly began swaying to the left, then swaying back to right. A volunteer grabbed my shoulders, exclaiming, “Are you okay?!”.
I nod almost instinctively, and think to myself, “no matter what, I have to keep moving”. I know that if I stop once more I might not be able to keep going. I took the two granola bars to go.
As I continue running, I can’t help but notice how, once again, the streets are very quiet. All I can hear is the rhythmic beats of shoes (not so gracefully) making contact with the ground. Crickets are chirping loudly. It feels like there are hundreds and hundreds of crickets. I shift my gaze towards the starry sky, and, magically, a shooting star drifts across. I live for moments like these.
The last 10km were tough, really tough. The most physically gruelling challenge of my life. I’ll leave my thoughts here to your imagination.