I want to die at a hundred years old, after screaming down an Alpine descent on a bicycle at 120 km/h. A slow death is not for me. I don’t do anything slow, not even breathe. I do everything at a fast speed.
Although these words could well have come from me, they were written by Lance Armstrong in 2001. Earlier this year the legendary cyclist was stripped of all seven Tour de France titles after confessing to the use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.
Unlike Lance my sporting achievements have been drug free, but, like Lance, I have to admit that I am a speed addict. At 18 I passed my driving test. Before the laminate on the license had a chance to cool I was heading south out of Sweden and into Europe on a brand new Kawasaki 1000cc. With 150 horse power between my legs and traveling at speeds of up to 250km/h I was soon in Spain. Having run out of road I turned the bike around and sped back up north. This became something I would do each summer. I soon upgraded to a super fast Ducati 916 and can still taste the thrill of racing Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s along some of the fastest highways in southern Europe.
The rush of endorphins and adrenaline that comes with driving powerful bikes gave me a huge kick. However, a few too many crashes taught me that an addiction to fast bikes can all too often lead to a short life. An accident that left me with whiplash for life, along with the birth of our son Percy four years ago, persuaded me to give up my last bike and I have since settled for slightly less risky activities.
That is not to say that I have lost my love for speed. Recently I have become hooked on a new sport that requires me to push myself as fast as I can go – the Triathlon. On 23 June I completed the Bali International Triathlon and ended up on 21st place out of 187 competitors in the Sprint Distance (500m swim, 20km bike & 5km run). This incredible personal achievement began less than four months ago when I went out and bought my first tri-bike. Soon after this I took my very first private swimming lesson in an attempt to learn how to front crawl… from scratch.
I still can’t quite believe that I have just managed to complete the running, swimming and cycling that is required during a triathlon. In fact, if I had been asked what sports made up a triathlon at the beginning of this year, I probably would have struggled to give an answer. Then, on 2 February, my good friend Henrik Ahlqvist posted up a picture of his new Cervelo tri-bike on Facebook along with the statement that he was going to complete an Iron Man.
Well, I thought, if Henrik can do it, then so can I. After a bit of research into the ideal bike for a beginner I walked out of Saigon Cykles in Ho Chi Minh City on 3 March with my own TREK bike. Even though this is the biggest financial investment I have ever made in my personal fitness I knew that if I put the cash on the table I was going to have to take my training seriously. It was a sort of mental point of no return, so I did it. Two weeks later I signed myself up for the Bali International Triathlon, and that was it, I was completely committed.
That was the easy bit. Now I had to learn how to cycle properly and, worst of all, overcome my fear of swimming in open water. Learning to front crawl is one thing, but being able to do it in a vast ocean is something quite different.
My early swimming lessons did not go as well as I’d hoped they would. Although my coach Stephan Laporte was endlessly patient and supportive of my efforts I left Vietnam on 26 April still unable to front crawl 25 metres!
If I had not bought the bike and signed up for the Bali triathlon there is a strong chance that I would have used leaving Vietnam and moving to a new home in Indonesia as an excuse to give it all up. To make sure this didn’t happen I did something that has helped me stay focused in the past – I told my friends and family I was going to do it. Letting them down on this promise was not an option for me. I was going to have to go through with the race now. Like it or not.
A couple of days after moving my family to Jakarta I found a new swimming coach. Jez quickly helped me to complete my very first 50 metres crawl and even kindly agreed to come with me to the West Java coast to accompany me on my first ever 500m ocean swim. Jez swam with a surfboard so I knew I had a safety net if I should panic.
This swim was a bit more successful than my previous attempt to conquer the ocean. In May I took my wife Sofi to Bali to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. The beach was glorious and the sea looked inviting. This was a good opportunity to test out a bit of solitary sea swimming.
SEVEN minutes I lasted before sprinting out of the shallows and swearing I would never go back in! Although I admit that its scares the hell out of me not to be able to feel the bottom, not knowing just how deep the sea is, and not knowing what animals are lurking in the depths eyeing me up as a potential meal; it is the lack of visibility that really gets me. Not being able to see more than a few feet under the water panics me more than anything.
It was when reading my friend Henrik’s blog about his triathlon in Sweden that I got an idea how I could conquer this fear. He had completed the swimming section of the race in the pitch black water of a lake. I thought that if I could practice in water where I had no visibility it might make it easier when I got into the limited visibility of the ocean.
In the few weeks leading up to the Bali triathlon my swimming routine took place in a pool, at night, with all the lights off. Although I had a few surprise encounters with the steps and the sides of the pool, I quickly got used to swimming in the dark. Goethe once wrote that: Everything is hard before it gets easy – and after mastering my fear of swimming in the pitch black, the sea leg of the Bali triathlon was a breeze. I was amazed to find that I did not panic at all!
It is important that we continue to overcome our fears. This helps us to grow our self confidence and with this our level of happiness. I have found that a strong sense of self discipline has helped me to overcome some of my fears. Last year I conquered my fear of speaking in public and this year it has been my fear of swimming in open water. However, I realise that we all need to continue challenging ourselves so that we do not let our fears control us. A major mistake many of us make that means we do not have control of our lives is not taking that very first step. I took the first step to conquering my first triathlon by signing up and making my registration official. By doing so, I put pressure on myself to see the job through.
I have now signed myself up for several more races. Each will stretch me more than the last. Next up is the Oland Marathon on 27 July, then the Kalmar Mini Triathlon on 14 August and following that the MetaMan Triathlon in Bintan on 31 August. Although the schedule is tight the feeling I get from pushing myself faster is as addictive now as it was when I was riding a Ducati through Europe. I need to achieve bigger goals because this in turn increases my self confidence and happiness.
I am continuing to push myself as hard as I can with the swimming, biking and running needed for the triathlon. I currently have a yet another wonderful swimming coach, Fernando Vega Delgado, who is helping me perfect my front crawl. I am very happy to be able to say that I am still living my life in the fast lane.