This past year has been a revelation for me.
On the brink of a mid-life crisis (50th birthday approaching), I was looking for a life-changing experience. Last year in June, at about 280 pounds, I was desperate. I bid on a one month gift certificate for Platoon Fitness which is an outdoor fitness program 12 months of the year. It’s like a boot camp of sorts, They took one look at me and knew they had their work cut out for them.It was really, really, really hard but I felt I had no choice. Once a week, they also have a swim program that concentrates on fitness swimming. I squeezed into a bathing suit, and joined the swimmers for coffee following the workout. I was meeting a whole new group of people - mostly positive, self-challenging and uplifting. While on vacation, I went with my sister to a spin class. It was lots of fun and I found that I could keep up. I said, “Maybe I should look into buying a bike?” Off I went to buy an inexpensive hybrid. For someone who hadn’t ridden a bike in at least a zillion years, it was a whole new experience with a real learning curve. Then I met someone who had done a sprint triathlon. I thought there was only the Ironman! This sounded interesting. I could swim and bike and run. Not well, but I could do them. While searching, I found Beginnertriathlete.com. What a revelation! Where else can you find incredible information, amazing support and a shoulder to cry on (like when I had not one, but two flat tires on my 2nd tri, begged to finish, and had to be escorted by motorcycles after they opened the road)? You were, and continue to be, there for me and I hope my newbie experiences have helped others. During this past year, I’ve found that there are secrets “out there” - hidden fitness secrets and tips. Secret #1 - There are regular people out there with jobs, families and social lives who do triathlons! There are fat people (I lost about 70 lbs-ish but still over 200), skinny people, young people, old people, short people, tall people and those of every race, creed and color. Many don't know about tris but hey are attainable for many and fun and challenging for most. They are a variety of lengths, skill levels and terrain. I would bet 99.9% of everyone has never heard of anything but the Ironman. Secret #2 - There are non-runners by the gazillions doing marathons and other races. Many of the charity fundraising groups regularly use the Walk-Run method as highlighted by John Galloway and others. They run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute or run 9 walk 2 (and various combinations thereof). Some just walk the whole thing. Take a look at some of the times at races like the New York City Marathon. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Of course, there are some races that have cut-off times, but don’t choose those if you’re not such a great runner. Secret #3 - Wearing those silly bike clothes doesn’t mean you’re fast! For years I’ve seen those colorful race jerseys and ridiculous-looking (but necessary) bike shorts and I always thought that anyone in those clothes and on those bikes were racers. Au contraire! They are just the practical clothes for the sport. Bike clubs even have slow people. There are people of all abilities in bike clubs, most of whom are happy to help you improve. Plus, several bike clubs have rides for the rotationally challenged among us. Secret #4 - There are slow lanes at a Masters Swim workout. A good many of us are very nervous during the swim part (I actually saw people walking during my first tri at a shallow part of the lake, not to mention the doggie paddlers). I am told that you can improve swimming by technique and endurance. Granted, most of the people in the pool are incredible swimmers who were on teams during high school or college, but they won’t kick you out for wanted to improve. So come on and join me in the slow lane! Secret #5 - Being last can be wonderful. When you are last, everyone has already finished. Okay, so it’s more mentally challenging to plod those last few miles, but the rest of the crowd is so supportive, they really cheer you on. Secret #6 - Often, the photographer has gone home so bring your own throw-away camera so you have a souvenir of the race.Secret #7 - You can win medals and plaques! On my first triathlon, I won my very first athletic award! Second place in my age group (okay, there were only two). There are all sorts of categories: fat tires, Clydesdale and Athena (although 140 lbs is skinny to me), first-timers, etc. Secret #8 - Take your time in the transition area. I watch people rushing around like maniacs. If you are a recreational athlete, take the time to make sure your equipment is on properly and you hydrate. The difference of a few seconds may make the difference between comfort and misery. Secret #9 - Don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts during a tri. Wet underwear = chafing, arghh!Secret #10 - Learn the vernacular. I am having so much fun talking to people at bike or sporting goods stores about my “bricks” or finding out if they have tri bars or wear a “farmer john”. Just read BT and you can learn all these great words! I would never have had these kinds of conversations with athletes. Wow, I’m a triathlete! Secret #11 - There are teachers and coaches who will teach you. Lessons aren’t only for kids anymore. If you can’t swim, swim well, or want to improve your swimming, there are people out there who will teach you how to do it. The same goes for biking and running. A lot of money and time have gone into the “engineering” of sports as techniques continue to change so it might behoove you to work with a coach/trainer/teacher in these areas. And last but not least….Secret #12 - Smile to yourself while you are tri-ing. Stay mentally focused while you are challenging yourself, but enjoy the journey.