What’s in a word?

Below is a guest blog written by coached athlete Judith Ormston. Jude has been coached by Tri Training Harder since 2014 and has spent a number of weeks at Tri Training Harder's training base in the Algarve over the past few years.

My triathlon journey began in 2014. As someone who ran a bit, cycled a bit and had recently taken up swimming again, it seemed like an obvious challenge.

I entered two triathlons that year: the London Triathlon and the Brownlee Tri at Harewood House - both at Sprint distance. When I first entered, I made my partner Karl promise not to tell anyone at all. Which probably seems a bit strange, but I was worried that people would think it ridiculous and laugh at the idea. I was also terrified I would fail, in which case, I didn’t want anyone else to know about it! After all, I am in my mid-40s, overweight and had been the unsporty kid at school - the one who was always picked last for any team games; the one who walked the cross-country course. Surely the last person who could possibly do a triathlon..? But do it I did - the London Triathlon went far better than I expected and the Brownlee Tri was so much tougher! As I finished that one, I told Karl ‘that is my limit’.

Eyeing up doing the Castle Triathlon series in 2015, we decided some coaching would be a good idea and joined up with Tri Training Harder at the end of 2014. 

Jude racing in the London Triathlon

Around that time, there was a word that I started to struggle with. That word was ‘triathlete’. I found it hard not to wince when the word was used to describe me - I mean, sure I’d done a couple of triathlons, but that didn’t mean I could call myself a triathlete? After all - I didn’t look anything like the triathletes I saw on TV or in magazine articles. I didn’t even look much like most of the people I met on the Tri Training Harder

training camps

in Portugal. I felt that calling myself a triathlete was somehow fake or fraudulent. It just couldn’t be a word that described me…

In 2015, I completed all 5 of the Castle Triathlon series at ‘Sprint Plus’ distance (800m swim; 40k bike; 8k run) and well as London Triathlon Sprint again - and there were some tough, dark moments to overcome to do so. I struggled with the Open Water swim: hyperventilating my way through Lough Cutra & Chomondeley, pre-race nerves turning to dread before I even entered the water. At Castle Howard, I cried in T2 as I was so exhausted from the hilly bike and my back & hips hurt so much that I couldn’t see how on earth I was going to complete a hilly 8k run. In Chantilly, the easiest course by far, I was recovering from a bout of gastro-enteritis the week before. I realised about half-way through the swim that I was not anything close to race-fit - the run that day was the hardest thing I have ever done and I remember crying again as I passed the turn off to the finish-chute after the first run lap to head out again for the second lap. I wanted to stop and give up so badly and couldn’t quite believe that I was actually heading back out. But I didn’t give up at any of them and completed the series in a very muddy Hever in September 2015.

At the end of 2015, I was beginning to feel more confident that I could complete the events I entered. I had completed 8 triathlons and pushed my limits way beyond where I’d been just a year before, at the Brownlee Tri. But I still wasn’t really comfortable with being called a triathlete 

2016 saw me push my limits further. I’ve always struggled with anxieties, so to take on my demons with open water swimming and conquer the hyperventilation I’d struggled with, I swam in the London Docks throughout the winter in 2015/6. No triathlon swim would ever be as cold or dark as that! I also entered and completed my first 10k swim (Dock2Dock at the Royal London Docks). No triathlon swim would ever be a long as that! I completed my first Olympic distance at the London Triathlon (which was so much fun!) and then my first half-iron distance with the Castle Triathlon Hever Gauntlet – a long hard, slog of a day, but felt so proud of myself when I finished (or at least once I’d recovered a bit!)

Relieved and elated, Jude finishing her first half IRONMAN

distance at Castle Triathlon Hever Gauntlet

Somewhere along the way, I realised that being a triathlete isn’t about being the slimmest, strongest or fastest - it is about a state of mind. I had discovered a tenacity (or as Coach Alan would have it, a bloody-mindedness) within myself that for 40 years of my life, I’d never really quite known was there. I mean, I always knew I could be stubborn - but I’d been taught to consider that a fault. I had never realised there was a positive side to it, that even when 95% of me wanted to stop, there was a 5% piece of me that would just refuse to quit.

Jude and her husband Karl at the London Triathlon showing what it takes to become a "Triathlete"

I am now embarking on my 4th triathlon season and I’ll be pushing my limits again. I don’t know whether, come the evening of Sunday 20th August in Copenhagen, I’ll be able to call myself an IRONMAN. So much could happen between now and then, or even on the day itself. But there is now one thing I am now completely sure of:

I am a triathlete.

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