Teena Gates Face

4th July 2016

“I used to be 23 stone and never thought I would be able to do a triathlon”

Writer Teena Gates has fought huge battles with her weight and, having teetered on the brink once more, she discovered a saving grace in triathlon. Along with Irish weatherman Deric Hartigan and nine fellow newcomers, she’s competing in ten triathlons for ten charities as part of the Aropec-sponsored #TRI10 team. Here she tells Aropec her story...

I used to be 23 stone and never thought I would be able to do a triathlon. I always thought it was for these super-human, elite athletes who cycled on these sci-fi bikes – not for someone like me. But then when Deric Hartigan, who’s a weatherman in Ireland, suggested I give it a go, I got caught up in all the excitement and, before I knew it, I’d signed up to do ten triathlons in a year.

While I did lose 12 stone, I was starting to put weight back on so the triathlon challenge came at just the right time. Deric’s idea for Tri10 was for ten newbies to do ten triathlons for ten local charities, so it was win-win-win.

I began with a starter triathlon which was something like a 250m swim, 13k bike and then 4k run and I managed that. I did another starter, and a couple of longer sprint distances. Then to try and get to the next level I did an Olympic distance relay with two of my Tri10 team-mates Máire and Jayne. I did the swimming leg and it was one of the greatest things I’ve done.

Completing the 1.5k swim is a memory that will get me through all the training. It was at Hell of the West in County Clare and it was a really tough swim, but it was one of those days when you get in the water and everything feels right. It was a beautiful moment when I felt strong, I fought with the water and nothing compares to that feeling of strength. That’s the reward for all the days when you’re running in the rain. If I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I’d make millions!

I’d been swimming all year in the Irish Sea, so the rougher the better for me. The water was throwing me every which way, but the rougher it got, the happier I was. It was also such a beautiful place to be – in that open water around County Clare. As you set out the sun is just rising over the pristine waters with these huge big white waves crashing around you, and then when you turn around you’re heading towards the beach and these beautiful, colourful houses on the shore.

I may have dreaded a triathlon, but I’ve never regretted one. When I thought about what I’d agreed to do I did wonder what I’d done. It was the run that worried me, I knew I could do a 3k or 5k – I’d jogged or trotted my way around park runs – but could I get up to 10k? I didn’t know.

At my first proper triathlon I planned to save energy on the bike. I was going to swim hard, rest a bit on the bike and hold back energy for the run. But I felt so good on the bike, I just went for it. Then when I started to run my legs were wobbling all over the place and I couldn’t feel my feet. The only thing that made me run was the vanity because the cameras were filming us! Once I got around the corner, I had to walk for a bit, but nobody minds that.

I was only three minutes behind Deric on one swim and I did think ‘wouldn’t it be fun if I beat him at something?’. I thought, ‘Deric is such a wonderful muscled young man, and I’m only three minutes away…’ He’s always so encouraging, always making sure we go to training and he’s such a firecracker of a personality who’s permanently smiling – you just feel attracted to his energy.

I have the mindset of a racehorse and the body of a mule. That’s what my friends say, they can’t believe this 5ft-nothing, overweight women can be competitive. I take it as a compliment. I am stubborn though and do possibly have delusional ideas of my own speed.

An Excel spreadsheet helps me balance work and training. I’m a writer by trade so I work at home and have some flexibility but you do need to weave everything around training a bit, so my wall planner helps a lot too! I think training is all about consistency, better to go to the gym twice in the week and swim on Sunday, than do three sessions in one day and nothing for the rest of the week.

I don’t feel like a triathlete, but I’ve done five now, so I guess I am. I’ve not felt so good in years, I feel so young and energetic. I turned 50 last October and I said I was going to celebrate for a year and I’m doing that with triathlon. I started training for triathlon before Christmas and I’ve no intention of stopping.

You don’t need excessive amounts of gear. Certainly not when you’re starting out, you can borrow wetsuits and don’t need a space-age bike, you just need running shoes, a swimsuit, and that’s about it. I asked around friends for anything I really needed and you’d be surprised how much old kit people have lying around.

Complete the distance before you race. You do have to train! It’s not about running hours on end, I often do about 40 minutes three times a week. But make sure you’ve completed the distances for each part of the race, particularly if you’ve got a sea swim.

We’re raising money for ten local charities. We have a fundraising page here and the charities all correspond to where the race is being held. So, for example, we raced By Hook or By Crook in Waterford and raised funds for Waterford Marine Search & Rescue.

The TRI10 team is made up of six lads and four girls with curvier versions of both racing. But even some of the fit lads who to the gym are learning new skills. When I started I felt I was the one who had the most to prove, I thought I was going to the worst in the team, but those ideas went out the window as soon as I actually began. It’s not about that, it’s about you. It’s about the progress you make, beating your own PBs, and also about the friendships you make while doing it. Looking forward, I just can’t see myself not carrying on. In fact, I don’t think I can see myself carrying on and not being in the top 10 at some point! Ha ha! There that’s delusion again!

To find out more about #TRI10, click here.