My Sister Dared Me!

author : pjwalzphd
comments : 2

When I told my husband that I planned to work toward completing a sprint triathlon, he smiled and was supportive, but a bit disbelieving.

My younger sister dared me. That's my excuse. My reason? My older sister had breast cancer seven years ago and I needed to do something to get in better shape. Barbara, who lives in Denver, completed her first sprint triathlon, the Tri for the Cure in Denver, in August of 2007 and dared me to do it with her the next year, a week after my 50th birthday. I figured if she could do it at 45, I could do it at 50. Never mind that I had back surgery in 2005, or that I've never been a runner, or that I hadn't been on a bike in over 20 years. My last bike was a three-speed. When I told my husband that I planned to work toward completing a sprint triathlon, he smiled and was supportive, but a bit disbelieving.

My first step was to buy a good pair of running shoes. I traveled an hour to a good running shoe shop and purchased my first pair. Then I started some run/walk interval training. At first, I could only run 10 seconds at a time, then had to walk 60 seconds. I worked up gradually and had gotten to about 20/60 in a few weeks when I had my first setback. I was running in the street at 6:00 am and fell, forgetting that there was a median curb in the street. I couldn't get up! A nice couple stopped and literally picked me up and drove me home. Lucky for me, the man was a competitive bicyclist and he encouraged me to keep trying. After a quick doctor's visit and discovery that I had just bruised my patella, I took a week off and started again. I stuck with running until January, when I introduced swimming and bicycling in the gym.

I was pretty proud of my swimming ability, but had to work up to being able to swim continuously, as I hadn't been swimming laps for about 10 years. I've never been a competitive athlete, but was a strong swimmer as a child and I used to swim for exercise. The bicycling seemed easy in the gym! Everything I read on and in books suggested that riding a real bike was much different, so I bought my first bike in March. I made the mistake of getting a speedy road bike, but it scared me to death and I was pretty unsure of myself. In addition, I have arthritis in my hands and couldn't get comfortable with the handlebars. I changed to a hybrid Schwinn (such a comforting brand for me, as I rode a Schwinn when I was a kid), and felt a lot safer.

In spite of injuries to my ankle and shoulder, I was gradually building up my stamina and feeling pretty good about my prospects until three weeks before the race when I strained my back helping my husband do some construction on a house we're building. Lesson learned there. I told my doctor to think of me as a professional football player who was going to be in the Super Bowl in 10 days. He took me seriously and prescribed a multitude of muscle relaxers and other drugs to get me back on track. I didn't get to exercise much for the next week, but rested and let my muscles heal. My husband and I traveled from Arkansas (where I live) to Denver a week before the event so I'd have time to acclimate to the altitude. My sister was kind enough to take time off work to charter me around to practice in open water swims and biking at Cherry Creek Reservoir, where the tri was held.

The day of the race, I was full of anticipation, fear, and nausea. The atmosphere was amazing with about 3000 women preparing for the tri, many of them breast cancer survivors. I'd had some trouble with my rear tire, and thankfully, my sister had arranged lessons for us in tire changing a couple of days before the race. Little did I know how much I'd need that. Everything you read about triathlons tells you not to use new equipment the day of the tri. Well, it's too hot in Arkansas to swim with a wetsuit, so I had only used mine once in Denver before the event. It was too snug in the arms and neck, causing me to feel like I was choking when I swam freestyle. I ended up swimming the whole half mile using the breast stroke, but didn't have a terrible time. When I got out of the water, I wasn't as exhausted as I thought I'd be, but I had little strength in my legs and had to walk most of the way to my bike.

My first transition went well (but slow), and I got ready to hop on my bike. When I got on, I could hardly go! I pedaled like a maniac, only to have everyone pass me like I was standing still. I thought I'd never be able to say "on your left" to anybody. Then, they started yelling encouraging things to me, like, "Keep going girl, you can do it!" I thought, "Oh no! I'm the pathetic slow old lady on the side of the road that everyone's passing by!" I knew I was slow, but didn't understand this. When I got about three miles into the 12 mile ride, there was a hairpin turn and one of the volunteers yelled that I had a flat. That explained everything. I calmly pulled over and not so calmly changed my tire using the instructions I'd written down at my lesson. After it was changed I was amazed at the speed I had. I even got to say "on your left" as I passed someone.

My biggest fear had been the big hill which we had practiced the day before the race. I still didn't have my breath, but I managed to get up it and was in the process of celebrating when I looked back and saw that my rear tire was flat again. I was totally wrecked. I had only brought one tube. My first thought was that I'd have to quit. That's when I cried. I sat beside the road for a while, all the time, with riders passing me by yelling "come on, you can do it" or asking me if I needed anything. I decided maybe I could just inflate the tube and see what happened. I struggled with my hand pump (another lesson, as I hadn't used it much before) and finally got the tube inflated. I got back on the road and from there on, finished the last half of the ride by stopping every mile to pump up my tire. It had taken me an hour and a quarter to go 12 miles!

My second transition went well. I was very slow on the run because I just couldn't get my breath. I had to walk about half the race, but I finished with a big smile. My husband and sister met me at the finish line, with hugs all around. I guess you can say I've got the bug now. I took five days off, but started training this morning for a sprint tri in another month.



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date: September 8, 2008