I am stronger than my fears

When I signed up for AVIVA 70.3 Ironman, my life changed


I am stronger than my fears
by Sheri Baghaie

There are so many things in life that scare me. I am extremely afraid of heights, not a fan of diving, and also dislike small tight places. There are few more on my list that I won’t share but amongst them are also the fear of swimming in the ocean and speed. You might ask yourself how did I pick Triathlon as my favorite sport if I am afraid of swimming in the open water and speed. Well, I didn’t pick the sport. It picked me :o)

Many years back a coworker mentioned his son-in-law was doing an Ironman event. At that time the word "Ironman" to me was the ultimate! You have to be extremely fit and athletic to be able to do such a thing, I thought. I remember while he was talking about his son-in-law I was picturing myself doing a triathlon. At that time I was only a gym goer and a sport enthusiast, nothing more, but picturing myself doing it gave me a very good feeling!

When I started doing triathlons few years ago, I never dreamed of participating in an Ironman event simply because of my fears. I can swim forever in the pool, but put me in the ocean with all the fish plus the entire unknown under the water and I panic. I still do! Every single open water swim is a challenge for me even up till now.  My second fear, speed, also causes me problem since riding downhill can be as fast as 55-60k per hour.  Now you know the biggest challenge of doing a triathlon for me was going to be fighting my fears. Also this concludes that the only part of triathlon that I don't fear is the run. :o)

I have done plenty of short distance tri-events within the last few years of living in the Philippines and my answer to everyone who asked if I was going to do a long distance race was always "never". I told my husband who has been encouraging me to do an Ironman distance for the past 2 years that there is no reason for me to put myself through so much pain when I don’t have to, but deep inside I knew my fears are holding me back. Deep inside I was a coward and no one knew it except me!

When I signed up for AVIVA 70.3 Ironman about a month ago my life changed, for worse that is! From the moment that I signed up I started panicking. How was I going to do it? What was I thinking? Going to another country to do a 70.3 miles competition for what? And why?

You can ask my family how nervous and stressed I've been within the last few weeks since I committing to the race. Few times I decided to cancel and just forget about the whole thing, but I couldn’t give into my fears. Every time I imagined myself swimming for 1.9 kilometer in the ocean, my face got hot and my heart started pounding. The best was when I injured my ankle! Now I had a reason why I shouldn’t do it, then I remembered all the talks with my kids when I try to motivate them always telling them not to give up easy; don’t let little problems stop you from who you want to be... How am I going to be a good example if I gave up myself?

So I fought the negative thoughts and tried to imagine myself at the finish line with my family cheering me and that’s how I ended up in Singapore on March 21st to do my first Ironman event!

Here is a diary of the two days, the day before and the race day, to remind myself and you all that there is always an END to every painful situation and that’s a good thing since life is not always a smooth ride. Sometimes you swim in the waves to survive and sometimes you go downhill fast, but you climb up again, no matter how hard the climb is!

Saturday March 20th, 2010

10 AM and we're at the Bike shop somewhere in China town. It’s raining, no actually it’s pouring in Singapore and we are getting the bikes ready for the race. We also had to buy ourselves rain jackets since we didn’t bring any with us and might need one for tomorrow.

Noon: Still at the bike shop

I am getting nervous. I have started praying for the rain to stop. Meanwhile, my husband is getting on my nerves for being so happy and cheerful. He is so excited about the race and can’t wait to do it, while I am miserable and just wanted to be Monday already!

2 PM: at the event’s site

Got our race packets, but had to stand in line for 20 minutes to get into the Transition area to turn in the bikes. Bikes are staying here tonight. Still raining...

4 PM: at the restaurant

Eating lunch at some nice Italian restaurant, carbohydrates! My husband still driving me mad. Could he stop being so happy about this whole thing? And please stop raining, God please!

7 PM: at the hotel

Getting our bags ready for tomorrow. Going through my list: Helmet, check, Hammer gel, check, Glasses, check... Why is my bag so heavy? And by the way, God finally heard my prayers. It stopped raining. Now time to pray for a nice day tomorrow.

10PM: trying to sleep

I need to sleep, but I can’t. My daughter is back to our room with us since she is not feeling well. She has a slight fever and can’t sleep.

11PM: Lights off. Good night.

Sunday March 21st, at 1 AM

The sound of my phone wakes me up. It’s my son. His text:  Mom can I stay longer at the party? Pls? My text: Ok, only another half hour. The texting continues till 2:30 AM till he is finally home.

4:45 AM: ALARM!!! Time to get up

6 AM: At the transition area setting up my things, time to review my transition in my head.

7:10 AM: First Wave, elite and physically challenged athletes

Standing at the start line with 140 other girls in their hot pink swim caps. Someone mentions jelly fish and I try to act like I didn’t hear her. What’s this sound of drumming that I can hear? Oh, it’s my heart beat!

7:12 AM: Second Wave, Women, 1.9k swim

I let the better swimmers go first. The water is murky with very little visibility. I tell myself that’s a good thing. At least I don’t see what’s around or beneath me. I can hear Dory in the back ground singing "Just keep swimming, keep swimming". There are bunch of us, slow swimmers, so I don’t feel alone. The two rectangular swim loops looked very simple from outside, but inside the water it is hard to locate the buoys. I just follow the pink caps and hope that they know where they are going.  Before I know it I'm done with the first loop. I run out of the water, through the marked area and back on the sand for the second round.

By the time I reach the first buoy I check my watch and it’s 29 min. into our swim. If I keep the same pace I should be out of the water in another 20 minutes. Exactly the time that I was hoping for. That’s when I hear some noise behind me. Oh, S--t!!!!! The men are here! I totally forgot. Well, there were 1400 participants total in the race today and when you subtract the 140 girls and some 50-60 elite from it, there are about 1100 wild men in the water. The Ocean is very big as you know, but not big enough for these men. I was attacked, kicked, and slapped while I was going at my own slow pace. Few times I stopped, held on to the buoy and just watched them. Well, thanks to the men (it’s always their fault :o) I ended up with 57 minutes for my swim time. But still, nothing could make me stop smiling when I left the water. I was so proud of myself. Who cares about that extra 7 minutes. I run through the shower and head toward the Transition area.

T1 Time to ride 90k

I knew there are so many girls ahead of me and while I was taking my sweet time getting ready for my bike leg, few more passes me. No worries, it’s a long race, I thought.

The bike leg included three 30 kilometer loops. The race booklet calls that a nice, fast and mostly flat ride. Sorry guys, but that was not flat at all. One overpass after another that we had to climb.  I kept a good speed on the bike and felt pretty strong. Passing one girl after another I started feeling really good about this whole Ironman thing. May be I should do more of these, I thought. It’s not as bad as I thought. On my third loop, I was feeling just magnificent! Passing a bunch of riders on the last two steep climbs was enough to make me feel really cocky. Wow! I am good!

My bike time was a respectable (for my own pace of course) of 3:28. That includes the two stops for the water exchange.

T2 Time to run 21k

OK, I admit it. I am a bit girly when it comes to this kind of stuff. I couldn’t run with the top that was already stained with orange Gatorade during the ride. That won’t look good in the finish line picture :o) so I decide to change clothes thinking there are so many girls going to do the same. I guess I was the girliest of all the 140!!!! I felt really good starting the run in a clean dry shirt and shorts. My nice comfy feel didn’t last long as I started running and realizing how hot it was. While on the bike you don’t feel too hot, but running at noon in the hot and humid Singapore weather, that’s a different story.

About 4 kilometers into the run I decided that I suck at this sport. I was exhausted. It was just extremely hot and no matter what I did I couldn’t go faster than 7.5min per kilometer pace. I thought walking might help. I am not sure if it helped or not since I started even slower than before. What happened from bike to run is unknown to me, but I was a strong woman on the bike and a weak soul on the run. All the people that I had passed on the bike started passing me on the run.  By the time I see the 7 kilometer sign I was dead. I had another 14k to go... How?

From here on it was just a mental game. Me against myself. During the next 14 kilometers I pictured everything from finishing to quitting. It was then that I decided that I am retiring from the sport!!!!  I think I walked about 5 kilometers when I saw one of the physically challenged guys on his running wheelchair. He was exhausted. I could see the pain in his face.  Well, you guessed it right! That did it for me. I was a healthy individual who was lucky enough to be here, on my own two healthy legs, running the course. I made up my mind right then and there. I am going to finish this race running. I started running at that point. Very slow of course, but definitely faster than walking. I decided not to stop except for water.  I stopped at every water station to pour a bottle on my head and drink as much as I could. I also finished 2 bags of Sport beans and a banana in between. Good news was I had no cramps. Bad news was my shoes were so soaking wet that I could feel the blisters forming from the wet socks rubbing against my feet.

I ran the next 10-11 kilometers to the finish line. It took me 3:02 to run the 21k. That’s about 40 minutes longer than what I had planned and trained for, but heck, I was simply glad that I made it. Going through the finish line was not the best part of my race. The best part was the fact that I won the war between me and my fears.

Am I still afraid of open water swim and speed? You bet I am, but not scared enough to stop myself from doing them. And for those of you who are wondering, NO, I am not retiring from the sport. I have another race (Olympic distance) on May 1st as this is how I exist, pushing my own limits...


I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek

You must be so proud of yourself. Congratulations!

by I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek on

I loved reading this. Be sure to get plenty of rest. 


Iranman must be extremely difficult! I admire your drive!

by obama on

Best of luck Iranwoman!