By Patricia Miller, SuperintendentFort Sumner Municipal Schools I decided in January of 2009 that I wanted to celebrate reaching my goal weight by doing a triathlon. I decided that completing a triathlon would be the perfect celebration of reaching my goal and losing 83% of my excess body weight by dropping 230 pounds. As I am fond of telling folks, “I’ve lost an overweight, adult male, and I am not filing a police report!”
I got my bike, some books, and started researching and training. I also lost the last of the weight to get to my goal of 175 pounds. At the time I was not a super good trainee, but I could do the weekend warrior bit really well and it seems to work for me. To prep for the triathlon I marked out a 10.5 mile route and called it my "sprint" bike route so I could work on speed. Once a week I go for a distance ride, and that is now up to 24 miles. I have a bike helmet, bike gear, a computer on my bike; I am SOOOOO tricked out with the right tools. I also had to work on the running portion for the triathlon, so I began walking three miles and trying to get my speed up. I gradually started adding in a little jogging, but I had to be careful because me knees are pretty arthritic and I didn't want to give up my new-found relief from knee pain.
Okay, there is also the swim portion. I signed up a for a swimming lesson and found out that I am not a bad swimmer, but that I needed practice. Well, I live in a town with no pool and therefore the weakest area is the one that got NO attention for the last three months.
In triathlon training you also practice what is called a "brick". This is where you do two of the three events back-to-back. I did the bike to walk a couple of times and knew I could do that, but I also knew that it took me 2 hours and 10 minutes to do it and that seemed too long to me.
Race Day! Jay Benson Triathlon , Albuquerque, NM
I was so excited that I could barely sleep that night. I packed and repacked my transition bag so many times since I was afraid I would forget something. I kept thinking I'd forgotten my bike shoes or my helmet. I went to the car twice to make sure that I had my license, registration and proof of insurance (required to enter the air force base). I was CRAZY. I woke up early and went to get some breakfast. I wanted a whole grain pancake and two poached eggs, so I went to IHOP. I then went back to the hotel to get dressed in my triathlon suit and check out of the hotel. I was sure I knew where the Gibson gate was, but ended up losing 20 minutes and then there was still a long line. I finally got to the right place, got my gear, and then headed to the transition area. The folks at the entrance said, "Oh, the transition area is closed." I guess the look of shock, sorrow, and dismay moved them because I didn't have to say a word and they just said, "Go ahead and go to the back." I said thank you and moved gratefully into the area. I set up my stuff and tried to find out where the bathroom was. Along the way I found the person with the black marker. They put my race number in black marker on my upper left arm and my age on my left calf. In triathlons, you are the age you turn in that calendar year, so I am 50 in triathlon years. This is how they track the age of racehorses, so I like the symmetry of being an athlete aged like a racehorse.
I found the bathroom line, waited to potty, and then went back to wait for my wave to head out. There were three waves. The first were the men, second were the woman, and my wave consisted of the Athenas (women over 150 pounds), the Clydsdales (men over 200) and the teams (where only one person was doing one part and others were doing the other parts). I think they should start with the old, slow heavy folks first. I chatted with a few of the other folks waiting for our heat, and then we took off. I jogged past the cheering crowd, made the turn and then began walking. I'd had a 20 oz bottle of water before the race and carried one with me. Hydration is a hard thing for me since I had gastric by-pass surgery in 2007.
I alternated jogging and walking with more walking than jogging. I was NOT the last one in my heat to get through the three mile run. As I came into the transition area, I went across a timing mat. You wear a special timing chip on your left ankle with your number on it too. The announcer calls out your name, "Patricia Miller has just entered the transition area, let's cheer her on!" Of course the women in the second wave are already finished with the run and are back from the 12 mile bike ride, and are headed to the pool. Not me, I am just getting out for the brisk 12 mile bike ride. The bike is my favorite part of the triathlon and I've got two 20 oz bottles on the bike. One has plain water and the other has one scoop of EAS protein powder. About three miles into the ride, fairly level, I thought I was not going to make it. My legs felt like lead. I had one packet of Hammer Gel. It is a complex carbohydrate gel that is made from fruit puree and vitamins. There are 90 calories, 20 grams of carbs, but only 2 of sugar, so I thought I would give it a shot. Amazing. It was great and exactly what I needed.
The next part of the bike was what the experienced folks call "rollers". I call them Mount Everest and Mount McKinley. I pedaled fast and furious and in my hardest gear down the hills to build up as much momentum on the uphill side. There was a point on each mountain (I know they were really only hills) where I was in the lowest gear and I was barely upright. I just kept chanting in time with the bike strokes, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That would get me up the hill and when it was time to get into the big gears and go as fast as I could downhill. I did pass a couple of people early on the bike, but they passed me at the end. Twelve miles seemed like such a long ride - especially after a three mile walk/jog.
I get back to the transition area and manage to unclip my bike shoes from the pedals and NOT fall off the bike. I park my bike back at my area and start stripping off shoes, socks, helmet, race belt, my modesty skirt and extra shirt so I am truly just in my two piece triathlon suit. I grab my goggles and swim cap and head toward the pool. I have no idea where the pool is, but the nice lady told me where to go. I am almost the last one in so people are already headed home and putting their stuff away, but there is a still great crowd cheering for me, the late Patricia Miller.
Into the pool! My first thought is, "I am cool." My second is, "I am going to drown." I can barely move. I try every stroke known to man and I am barely moving. I keep thinking that it is only eight laps, so I finally got into a rhythm and staggered to the edge of the pool, climbed the ladder, and then across the timing mat. There was still at least one person in the pool as I went back out to the transition area. The announcer once again cheered me on and the crowd was very nice.
As I packed up and walked my gear back to the car, sipping an AchievONE, I began to cry. I would never have imagined this could be done, by me, and now it happened. I am a triathlete now. There is no going back. Not only am I a triathlete, I am going to do more triathlons. I think this is going to be a new way of life. I am 50 years old in triathlon years, I've lost 230 pounds, and I think I am an athlete - even if I weigh 175. This is an amazing, awesome, experience. I wanted a shower, but no way to do that so I drove to Walmart in Edgewood and took in a change of clothes and some stuff to change in the bathroom. I washed my face, applied lipstick and mascara, deodorant, and put some hair gel in my hair. I squatted on the floor to try to dry my hair because even a triathlete has to have mascara, lipstick and fluffy hair! I am not sure what the other bathroom patrons thought, but I was running on endorphins and I was FINE. You asked for pictures, so I made the clerk at the Motel 6 take my picture before the triathlon. Over the rest of 2009, I completed five triathlons, ultimately setting my personal best for the season by being 3rd from the last finisher at the Patriot Tri in Rio Rancho. During the winter months, I continued to train, and recruited school staff and community members into a “fitness posse” that meets weekdays at 5:30 AM to run, walk, and lift weights. This summer the school principals, Doreen Winn and Scott McMath, and I organized and hosted the inaugural Billy the Kid Triathlon held at Sumner Lake State Park. A third of the racers were first time triathlon participants. Friends from Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and now Fort Sumner are doing triathlons because they believe my message that ANYONE can do a triathlon. I frequently tell people, “If I can do it, I know you can, and I will show you how.” I share my passion for lifelong fitness with others in a way that makes joining in fun because I know the pain and difficulty of living in a body that weighed 405 pounds, and I rejoice daily in my new ability to be an athlete.
So far this year I’ve participated in five triathlons and I have five more scheduled, as well as a half marathon and a duathlon. One thing that makes me smile broadly is that so far this season I’ve not been last in any triathlon and my time in each race has been better than the last. My mid-range goal is to do a half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) within the next two years and a full Ironman distance race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) within five years. When I finish my Ironman distance race, I plan on getting an Ironman tattoo!
You can read more about my triathlon experiences in the notes section of my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/patricia.d.miller .Patricia D. Miller, NBCT