Since 2017, John Wachira, a manager at a Mombasa-based steel company, has participated in seven triathlons.
He started doing the multi-sport endurance race that typically combines swimming, cycling and running at a go, out of boredom.
“When I reached 40, I realised that I was not engaged in any outdoor activity. My job is 8am to 5pm. I have a family. My work entails sitting at a computer. I like outdoors but I did not know what I could do outdoors apart from walking or sitting in the park,” he says.
“I asked myself ‘what can I do to get more active as I grow older? How can I get healthier? How can I lose a bit of the weight I had gained over the years and do it in an exciting manner?”
Then he came across a poster for a triathlon. Apart from the occasional gym, leisure cycling and participation in marathons, John had not been an ardent fitness enthusiast.
“I did not know what a triathlon entailed. I thought it was going to be easy. I showed up on the triathlon day but I did not finish the race. Two years down the line, I have done seven races and finished,” he says.
To complete the sprint distance triathlons, John swims for 750 metres, cycles for 20 kilometres and runs for five kilometres.
For his first race, he used YouTube and books to guide his training sessions. He is especially a fan of triathletes explaining their progress from their time as beginners to seasoned triathletes.
Afterwards, he sought a trainer to help him increase and build his strokes. He also joined a community of cyclers to help him have power and be aerodynamic.
Even after years of getting better in the races and gaining endurance, he experiences jitters on the days leading up to the triathlon, so much that he sometimes loses his appetite.
“But one of the memorable things is coming out of the water and seeing my daughter there clapping and saying ‘Go Daddy! Go daddy! Go Daddy!’” he says.
The popularity of triathlons has surged among Kenyans who want a new challenge. To most, they are more about personal goals than competition.
John says the sport is more about endurance than anything, meaning that it attracts a diverse group of people in terms of age, gender and even health status.
“There is also that feeling of camaraderie. There are people cheering you on to move from one level to the next, it is amazing. Without that, you can easily quit,” he says.
Being a gruelling sport participants have quit. However, John says even if he has asked himself why he is torturing himself, the huge sense of accomplishment after completing the triathlon keeps him going. The races have helped him lose weight that he had struggled to shed for years.
“Now I am nearly like a preacher for triathlons. They help you realise that you are capable of doing almost everything because you extend your limits. You also gain more confidence,” he says.
He acknowledges that there are some down sides. For instance, training sufficiently for the three races means he has less time to spend with family and friends.
The sport is also expensive because of the cost of special foods, sportswear, bicycles as well as trips and accommodation to the competitions.
Despite all, the triathlons have given him a new passion.
“I became happier. I got a new pursuit. I smile more. Of importance, it gives me mental clarity. I am more efficient than before. It has actually made me a better performer in different tasks. It has improved my aptitude,” he says.