Staggering up the Sani

12 Weeks to My First Sprint Triathlon


The SSISA in Newlands, Cape Town, is not only known for the sports science experts working there, but also for the successful novice sporting programmes they offer. One such programme, 12 Weeks to Your First Sprint Triathlon, caught the eye of novice triathlete Val Philippou, who is currently in training for this great goal.

The Tri-Fit Programme is aimed at first-time triathletes who would like to complete a sprint distance triathlon (800m swim, 20km bike, 5km run). Entrants undergo a comprehensive set of fitness and health assessments as well as a dietary workshop, and they are required to do two evening sessions a week at SSISA and one weekend session. In addition, they need to do five to seven sessions on their own, following a scientifically designed programme. On completion of the course, the entire group participates in a mini triathlon hosted by the SSISA. We asked Val about her experience of the training.

Tell us about yourself.
I am 43 years old and live in Pinelands in Cape Town. I have a son, Alexander, whom I am pathetically passionate about. He is a third year student at UCT. On the work front, I am a shareholder in two businesses in Cape Town.

What inspired you to tackle your first triathlon?
I had done the Healthy Weight Course at the SSISA as well as the Intermediate Course last year. I started in May and could not imagine running around the block, never mind 10km. I got dizzy in my first class and had to put my head between my knees. So embarrassing! Then late last year I saw the billboard in the gym for this Tri-Fit course. For me it was the idea of getting fitter rather than some long-term ‘yearning’ to do a triathlon.

Have you competed in any sporting events before?
I have done a 5km fun run and the 10km Gun Run.

Is there any part of the triathlon that you are nervous about?
Yes! Up until a month ago I had never ridden a bicycle. At the bike shop I was offered bikes that are worth more than small cars and much to the salesman’s horror I kept asking for the cheapest bike. I walked out of the shop the proud owner of a mountain bike, the cheapest one in the store.

On my first ride I managed to stay on the bike after much terror and near hysteria, with Alex shouting, “Pedal, Mom, pedal!” When we were told at the SSISA that we were going out on the road, I was panic-stricken. I made a complete fool of myself, hyperventilated all the way due to absolute fear. Kim Woolrich (our trainer) very kindly stayed with me – she is an angel. Two of my fellow triathlete ‘wannabees’ asked me how the ride was when I got back and I just burst into tears!

You have to do some of the training sessions on your own. How do you fit it into your schedule?
With the other courses at SSISA I got into the habit of early morning training. It is a fantastic start to the day and I feel really strange if I miss it.

What do you like most about the group training sessions with the SSISA?
It is great to identify with people who have a similar fitness perspective. Also, the experts and trainers are young, energetic and inspirational. They really know the world of fitness. I know that my Tri-Fit programme is personalised to suit my current level of fitness and my lifestyle. I have no doubt that if I stick to what I am told, come 1 May I will have no problem doing the sprint triathlon. I may be forced to run next to my bike, but I will finish it no matter what!

What are you most looking forward to about your first triathlon?
For me it is about achieving the level of fitness required to complete the triathlon. It is exciting pushing and testing myself. One of my friends likened this to a midlife crisis; well, at least I have not dyed my hair purple and bought a sports car!

What would you like to achieve in your first triathlon?
To finish – not necessarily first, but most definitely not last, either!

What are your sporting goals after you reach your goal?
It will all come down to whether or not I can get to a point of feeling comfortable and relaxed on a bicycle. What I don’t want to do is lose all the fitness that I am going to build up, so I will have to either do another one or find something equally as challenging.

Any words of advice for anyone wanting to take on a specific goal, but who might be afraid to do so?
Stop talking, thinking or procrastinating and just jump in! Exercise and being physically fit changes everything!