In college, I watched the Hawaii Ironman on Wide World of Sports and thought, “This looks intriguing. I want to do that.” I went out and bought an Ironman Triathlon Timex watch because I had no earthly idea how else to go about achieving this goal. That was the end of my triathlon training for 20+ years. Note: purchasing the gear isn’t always enough.
Work, marriage, life and kids derailed me for awhile. But then wo summers ago, a friend of mine told me that she was competing in a local triathlon (The Hope Triathlon in Hope, ME – a sprint). I live about a half mile off the bike route and decided to go out and cheer her on as she cranked up a fairly nasty hill. It was great! I really enjoyed watching all these people (a surprising number that I knew) really challenging themselves. My friend said that she thought I would do the triathlon the next year. I was thinking, “Yeah – not going to happen. I don’t run, I haven’t ridden my bike in years and while I can swim, it’s not in a straight line and it is S.L.O.W.”
Last year came and went and I started running with a friend. She started me off slow (run until you can’t, walk until you can run again, repeat) and I competed in my first 5K. I wasn’t dead last – but I was close - but I finished. I kept running that summer and through the fall. Let me clear something up right now, some may confuse my running with fast walking – I am REALLY slow. I know I am slow. I know I will always be slow. But I kept running.
In April of 2009, I found out that the Hope Triathlon was going to be in the middle of July. Now that I could run, I didn’t have any excuses so I decided I would give it a try. I found a plan online and started training. Swimming was okay. The first few times were bad, but once I figured out how many laps = the swim distance for the race, I just made myself swim that distance, plus a couple of extra just in case. Biking was fine. I rode my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles in seven days 13 years ago and I still had a little muscle memory.
I started training on my mountain bike because it was available. I had been using it to ride with the kids around the neighborhood. After the first month of riding on the big knobby tires at a really slow rate, I decided to get my road bike out of the rafters in the garage and get it fixed up. It was really dusty but it had gotten me the length of the state of California, so it had a warm spot in my heart. At the mechanics, they said it needed to be gutted. Everything was so old, dusty and worn that it all needed to be replaced. Two weeks and $500 later, I had my old/new bike back.
I went on my first training ride with the bike and dropped the chain three times. I hadn’t dropped the chain the entire time I was training for the California ride so this was completely unexpected. Maybe it is just that much hillier here than where I trained before? I kept riding and kept dropping the chain. I took the bike back to the mechanics, they adjusted it, I took it home, rode it a couple of times and then the chain jumping started again. I took it back to the mechanics three times including once the week before the race.
During all of the bicycle drama, I was swimming at the pool. I convinced myself about two weeks before the race that I “needed” to try an OWS - open water swim. I went out to the pond where the race took place, dove in, stroked out about 10 strokes, got a bunch of water in my lungs, couldn’t touch the bottom and PANICKED. It took everything I had to get back to shore. How am I going to do this on race day? A good friend suggested getting back out the next day, swimming around the edges (which was such good advice, I still follow it) and just put my feet down when I panic. The Wednesday before the Saturday race, the buoys were up, so I made myself swim the route. I could do it. Wow. Who knew?
On the day of the race, much to my extreme frustration and disappointment halfway through the bike, my chain jumped off again and got wrapped so tightly around my crank that I couldn’t finish. DNF. After all that training I couldn’t even finish the race...and was ready.
I took a week off and brooded. I had really enjoyed all of the training. For the first time in my life, I was training for a specific result (finish a triathlon), which gave a focus to my workouts I had never had before. I could see the reason to run hills, to ride hills, to do drills at the pool. And I liked it! I didn’t want to just leave that feeling because I had kind of achieved my goal (not really). It just felt half done.
So I decided to try another one. I chose one within reasonable driving distance and during the summer of 2009 I started training again. I took my bike to a different bike shop (I really had lost all confidence in the first shop), they adjusted and put on a “thumb” which will help keep the chain on the rings. I started riding the Hope Tri bike route as my training loop. I started running 5Ks and 10Ks each week. I kept swimming (very slowly).
Once I signed up for the second triathlon I realized that I had enjoyed the training so much that I didn’t want to stop after finishing a single triathlon. I wanted to see how far I could go. I know I am not a natural athlete. I know I am older than most of the other competitors. I know I will never be on the podium. But I will have started and finished something that a lot of people never tried. This brings me to the actual day I became a triathlete.
I tossed and turned all night until about a half hour before the alarm went off. I woke up, packed up the car, grabbed a bagel and an apple for the drive and started out. I got to the race site, unloaded my bike and picked up my packet. Wow! They give you all sorts of cool stuff in the bag. And I got a t-shirt! The race didn’t start until 11am as to account for the tides in the area – we were swimming at low tide.
I got my bike checked in, got marked and found my rack. Note: lotion doesn't make the marker ink stick too well. I then started laying out my transition area and chatting with the other women set up near me (they had grouped the racks by age group). I walked down to the water a couple of times, walked the start of the run once and then ate my bagel and babbled to the people around me.
At 10:30 we all decided to get our wetsuits on. Nothing is quite as entertaining as watching a bunch of people trying to get wetsuits on. There were four waves for the swim - first for young men and relays, second for older men, third for young women and the fourth for us older women. I heard the race announcements and walked down to the beach for the start. The green caps (young men and relays) headed out to the water and they were off! Good god...I'm going to have to swim soon! I saw my mother-in-law and brother-in-law (how they picked me out of a bunch of yellow-capped black neoprene women, I will never know), got a quick hug and it was time.
Let's just say I'm not good at the swim and I know where to focus my training this winter. It was rougher than I anticipated and I freaked out a bit as we were heading out - lots of water in my mouth, and very murky water had me swimming with my head out of the water the entire swim, which is not how I swim usually. I kept thinking, "Don't change anything for race day," but I couldn't get my head into the water without panicking...something to work on.
I came out of the water and starting unzipping my wetsuit and pulling my cap and goggles into the sleeve like I had practiced. I saw my mother-in-law taking my picture as I exited the water - that will be a nice shot. I then ran up the beach and straight to the rack, pulled off the wetsuit and kept thinking, "Come on, move it!" I put the helmet and sunglasses on, used some water to rinse off my feet and shoved them without socks into the shoes. I unracked my bike and ran out of the gate to the mount area, stopped at mount area, clipped in and I was off.
This was a great bike course for me. I have been training on a lot of hills and this course was so nice and flat. I felt great getting on the bike, getting my heart rate down and I just pedaled. I forgot to start my watch at the beginning of the race so I had no idea where I was time-wise, and then my bike computer wouldn't get going either and I didn't want to waste time trying to figure it out - I was going completely blind. I had no idea how far along the route I was, or how fast I was going, so I just went with how I felt - and I felt REALLY good. I passed a lot of people and never got passed which made me feel a little better from the SLOW swim. When I passed a 17 year old I really felt good. I drank steadily throughout the bike because the course was so nice and flat, I felt like I had the confidence to get some fluids in. I had a gel right at the end of the bike, came to the turn-off for transition and there was my family and friends all cheering. I blew them a kiss and headed down the dirt road to the dismount line.
Note: Don't try to rack your bike differently than you racked it all the other times, it doesn't work. Go with what you know. I got the helmet and shoes off, rolled the socks on, pulled my running shoes on and grabbed a quick drink. I realized that if I didn't pee, I would be thinking about it the entire run, so I stopped quickly at the port-a-potty and headed out. My mother-in-law was right at the transition gate and my family was up at the top of the road - it was great!
I started off at what felt like a slow pace and decided I wasn't going to walk for the entire route. I pushed my way through and while this time I was passed by a couple of people, I definitely passed more than those that passed me which was quite a surprise to me because I didn't think I was that good of a runner. I ran out to the two mile marker and realized I only had a little more than a mile left and I got pretty jazzed. I had decided earlier that when I saw the three mile marker I would put on the gas and go as fast as I could to the finish line. I saw the three mile marker and realized there was no more gas, so I just concentrated on keeping my pace. I am pretty happy that I left it all on the course.
As I was running though the final gate I realized I was really satisfied with the entire experience. Not being able to finish my first triathlon gave me the focus and drive to get back out and continue training. Finding the second triathlon gave me the desire to find other races that I want to participate in. Now, my long term goals are doing mostly Olympic distance triathlons (1/2 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 10K run) next summer, then half Ironmans (1 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 1/2 marathon run) in the summer of 2011 followed by an Ironman in 2012. If I can make it from the couch to a sprint, I know I can make it through an Ironman. I know I won’t be the fastest, but I know I will finish.
Triathlon, cooking, reading and being with my friends and family.