My friend Liz wrote this about her involvement in triathlons. If you’ve ever been worried about not being able to do something, read this. If you’ve longed to be tenacious, read this. If you need a little encouragement today, read this.
Thinking About Doing a Triathlon? If I Can Do It, So Can You!
TRIATHLON. The word can bring up some interesting ideas. “Isn’t that where you have to ride your bike, swim and run forever?” a friend asked me when I told her about an upcoming triathlon. Another friend thought she knew all about it. “Oh yeah, that’s where you have to run 25 miles or something, right?” I have to admit that until a few years ago I thought that all triathlons consisted of swimming 2-1/2 miles in shark infested waters, cycling 100+ miles and then running a full marathon. Doing a triathlon was not something that seemed possible, and certainly didn’t seem “fun.”
Although I grew up actively participating in all kinds of sports, and had even become a PE teacher, I found myself, several years ago, in horrible shape. Having 3 children in 3-1/2 years had taken a toll on my body. One hundred and ninety pounds clung to my 5’7” frame. I felt and looked terrible. I summoned all my strength, joined a local gym and began working out. I lost close to 20 pounds, started feeling better about myself, and even played in a women’s basketball league that fall and winter. I thought I was back on the track to fitness.
But then, in the spring of 1996, a strange thing happened to me. My joints started aching, my feet hurt when I tried to run on the treadmill or play basketball. In a matter of weeks I had difficulty walking and my hands had begun to stiffen.
I was diagnosed with arthritis. “It sometimes happens even to active young women,” I was told by one rheumatologist. “There is no cure.” Another doctor told me that I would never be able to run again, even if I took the strong medications he offered. I was told to “go home and grieve the loss” of my active life. Images of being in a wheelchair started haunting me and it was suggested that I look into renting an electric cart to help me get around. To make a long story short, I went to a naturopath, found out I have food allergies, changed my diet and started to get better. One nice side effect was a fair amount of weight loss, but it took 2 years before I could think about seriously exercising again.
In the summer of 1998, a friend from church mentioned that she was going to do the Danskin Women’s Triathlon. It intrigued me. Swim 1/2 mile, bike ride 12 miles and run 3.1 miles. Even though I was out of shape, it sounded do-able. I set a goal to participate in August of 1999. I had always been athletic, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get in shape for it. I began teaching PE again part-time that Fall, so I tried to do sit-ups and pushups with the kids at school and keep myself moving during the day. The goal of the triathlon was often on my mind.
The New Year came and I knew I needed to begin “training.” I was still confident that I could get in shape fairly quickly. What a shock awaited me!
The first time I went “running,” in March, it took 28 minutes to go 1-1/2 miles. Each step was painful because of the damage to the joints in my feet. I hadn’t swum a lap in a pool for at least 15 years and my first lap almost did me in. I think I only made it a total of 5 laps that day, very slowly and with a long rest in between each. At least I could ride my bike without problems, albeit pretty slowly. I was starting over at ground zero, on even par with women who had never worked out. My heart and my mind said “Athlete,” but my body had betrayed me. I had worked so hard to overcome the arthritis that I was determined to stick with it. I had a vision of walking into the rheumatologist’s office wearing a race T-shirt and saying, “Remember me?”
Finding time for working out was a juggling act, as it is for most moms. Only one of my children was in full-time school, my youngest wasn’t yet in preschool and I was working 2 days a week. I ran while they rode their bikes (the youngest with training wheels), swam laps while they took swim lessons and swam in the lake while my husband paddled the canoe. My training turned out to be good for the whole family!
If it hadn’t been for the dozen or so friends I had talked into “doing the Danskin” with me, I might have thought about backing out. Here I was organizing a group of women, none of whom had ever done anything like this before, and I had a secret fear that I couldn’t really do it myself. But there is strength in numbers! We trained together on Saturdays and encouraged each other all spring and summer. A week before the actual event we did a “trial run” complete with a lake swim. YES! All the months of hard work had paid off. I was ready, and so were all my friends.
When the day of my first triathlon came, I was nervous, but confident that I could finish. As I ran the last mile, the words of one of my doctors ran through my head. “I’m sorry, but even with the medication I won’t be able to get you running again.” The joke was on him, because there I was finishing a triathlon! I wasn’t fast, finishing in about 1 hour and 44 minutes, but I did it!
That day stands out as one of the most exciting days of my life. I had finished a triathlon! I was so elated that I immediately registered for another one the next month. I was hooked.
I have now finished 5 “Sprint Distance” triathlons and participated as part of a relay in a 6th. My goal for next year is to finish an “Olympic Distance” which is about twice as far as a Sprint. I am still not fast, struggling with the fact that the arthritis did some permanent damage, but I am slowly improving my times. The important thing is that I have done it and that I live a healthier life because of triathlon. I really believe that if I can do it, after what my body has been through, anybody can!
Does the thought of a triathlon spark your interest? What is holding you back? Fear of “competing” against men? Danskin, Nike, Reebok and other organizations sponsor all women events. (And I must add that most men in the coed races I’ve done have been really nice.) Excess weight? Many women who finish Danskin triathlons weigh well over 200 pounds. And if you stick with the training YOU WILL LOSE WEIGHT! You’re busy with kids at home? I have a friend who has EIGHT children and has finished 3 triathlons now. You’ve never been an athlete? Can you ride a bike, walk and propel yourself forward in the water? Then you’re athletic enough! I can guarantee that the sense of accomplishment you will feel after training for and completing a triathlon will be worth every ounce of effort that you put in.
As I read these words I wrote a few years ago, I realize that I never dreamed of what challenges awaited me. It is now 2005. In the spring and summer of 2002, as I was getting ready for the Danskin again, I felt unusually tired. I pushed through. During the actual triathlon in August of that year I felt horrible, even though I had been training. I shrugged it off, started teaching PE in the fall and never felt quite right for the whole school year. In August of 2003 I was finally diagnosed with a kidney disease, perhaps a side effect of taking large amounts of ibuprofen when I was dealing with arthritis several years ago. I survived 10 months of taking prednisone and in the end seriously restricted my diet again. It has seemed to help. Somewhere in there my husband and I adopted a 4th child, traveling to Russia to complete the process.
In the spring of 2004 I heard about the Reebok Women’s Triathlon, to be held in a park less than 10 minutes from my home. They have a “Super-Sprint” event – about half the distance of a regular sprint distance triathlon. I thought that this would be a good way to ease back in to triathlons.
My daughters, then ages 11 and 13 decided to do it with me. We “trained” all summer. I was proud of them for working hard to prepare for something that most girls and women would never dream of trying. On race day, the girls and I were ready. My 11 year old finished in 1 hour and 21 minutes, 6th in her 11-14 age group. My 13 year old and I stuck together for most of the race; she was a little overwhelmed by the swim and took the biking slowly but steadily. I was just proud of her for finishing, since she has never been an athlete. My PE teaching partner, her 11-year-old daughter and my girls’ 11 year old cousin all participated with us.
In September of 2005 we did the Reebok again. We all improved our times and had fun training together and being part of the event. There were several more mother-daughter groups this year and I look forward to making it a yearly tradition.