This is part of series I wrote in 2011, which describes my progression from non-runner to Ironman athlete — a long journey that I am very proud of! I hope this story will inspire you and help prove that you can achieve the impossible, no matter where you start. Links to the rest of the story are at the bottom of this installment.
After the Chicago Marathon in 2002, I wasn’t feeling excited about running. That race had been mentally difficult for me and I wasn’t able to meet most of my goals for the race. I decided I needed a change to break out of my rut — enter: triathlons. I remember a friend of mine talking about doing triathlons after my first marathon, but it wasn’t something that interested me at the time. When you’re tired of running all the time, though, a triathlon sounds like a great idea!
I searched the internet (my trusty research tool) and found a beginner triathlon training plan that I printed off and posted on the fridge. I pulled out my old mountain bike from college, bought a pair of goggles & swimsuit – and I was ready to go! I was lucky that Kirk was a swimmer growing up, so I enlisted him to take me to the pool and show me what to do. I swam a bit in middle school with a neighborhood summer swim team, but I was the kid who swam in the exhibition lane (read: not a good swimmer).
In my first triathlon, I struggled the most with the swim. My wave was given the signal and I put my head down and swam…for about 3 seconds before I stood back up, panicking. The water was brown/green and I couldn’t see a thing! And it was cold – I felt like I couldn’t breathe! I started and stopped a couple more times, before I finally flipped over on my back and “backstroked” the 400 meters to the finish. The bike was also a surprise – I knew something was strange when a guy passed me on his bike coasting down the hill, while I pedaled my heart out. No one told me how much faster everyone around me would be, because their bikes were so much lighter than mine. I was 3rd to last in my first triathlon, but I was a triathlete!
Over the next few months, Kirk was gracious & patient enough to help me get over my fear of open water swimming. My second race went much better and I was actually able to swim freestyle most of the way. We celebrated by buying my first road bike to end the summer! At this point, I was officially hooked on triathlons. I found a great beginner website for triathlons (beginnertriathlete.com) and trained for sprint and olympic distances races for the next year. I joined a local triathlon club, so I would have fellow “crazy triathletes” to bike & run with – which brings that social aspect back into training. Going for a ride, followed by dinner & drinks with the group at a local restaurant is lots of fun!
Tips I would give someone looking to try a triathlon:
- Use whatever bike you have lying around for your first 1 or 2 races, but realize that you will be slower because your bike is likely heavier than others at the race.
- Swim Lessons (or Masters) are a must. The swim is one of those things that is most foreign (unless you were a swimmer as a child) and requires the most technique. You won’t really get much better just swimming more, unless your technique is good. It’s also a lot easier to learn the right way first, rather than have to re-learn how to swim later. At the very least, find a swimmer friend you trust to get you started!
- Triathletes tend to be very friendly – we love to recruit others to join the sport – so don’t be afraid to join a group.