What was I thinking? Yes. I had a bucket list of "must do's before I turn 60" but it was made up of things like, "take a course in public speaking, weekend trip to NYC with my three grown sons, learn to kayak, etc." Nothing on that list had anything to do with becoming an athlete - much less a triathlete! Then my 35 year old daughter-in-law was talking about how she was training with a group of friends for a sprint triathlon and how much fun they were having doing it together. I've always liked being 'part of the in-crowd' and started asking questions. "Tell me more!" I said.
My daughter-in-law is a runner and a natural-born encourager and she gave me the basics. It was a women-only sprint triathlon, designed especially for first-timers. "Surely there are no women in MY age doing this!" I said. She said we could go online and check. To my surprise, there were at least 10 women over 50 already signed up to participate in this crazy tri thing! Hmmmm. But I don't know how to swim and I had back surgery only six months ago! True, my doctor had encouraged me to walk laps in the pool, but never in my life had I tried 'real' swimming strokes like the crawl. This whole idea was probably not possible, and I thought I should just drop it. But for some reason it sounded like a challenge and I couldn't just get it out of my mind. "Now this would be a real accomplishment if I could participate in a triathlon before I turn 60!" I thought. Maybe I should talk to my doctor about this.
The very next week I brought the flyer from the PINK POWER TRIATHLON to my doctor appointment. After the usual physical tests for leg and ankle strength and whatever else he was looking for, I showed him the flyer. The absolute BEST thing a recovering back-surgery patient can have is a doctor who encourages you! Dr. Kim is an athlete himself - he has had back surgery, and has successfully trained to continue his passion to be competitive and to stay physically fit. He wrote up the following plan for me:
So I decided to try it. Everyday I would go to the pool and walk/swim for 30 - 45 minutes. Oh, I even bought a Speedo-style swim suit and goggles! Trying to do the crawl was comical at first, but I kept watching the 'real' swimmers in the other lanes and trying to imitate what they were doing. After a few weeks, I was getting better, but I was so out of breath after swimming just one length! My daughter-in-law assured me that I could do whatever stroke I needed to do to finish the 400 yard swim. So I started doing the side stroke and the back stroke - whatever I could do to build my endurance so that I could do 16 lengths of that pool! She said I could even walk in the pool for part of the swim if I needed to, and that statement - even though it is probably NOT true - is what gave me the confidence to believe that I could somehow get through the swim. So with two months to go, I bit the bullet and signed up to do my first triathlon.
To make a long story shorter, there were many times during the next two months of training that I almost backed out. The one that really stands out is when my son explained the body marking. "They are going to do what?" Because this was a USAT race, the number that they were going to write on my leg with permanent marker would be my age in this calendar year. "But I'm not 60 yet!" Now the whole world would see my age printed boldly on my cellulite-laden calf. How humiliating! "Be proud, mom," my son said, "Think about it as inspiring other ladies your age."
Race day came and because the race was two hours from my home my husband and I had to stay in a motel. Needless to say, I couldn't sleep. I kept tossing as I was imagining all the things that could go wrong. Because of the estimated swim time I submitted with my application, my race start time was 1 1/2 hours after the 7am start of the race. So I had to stand around and watch the first groups of amazing swimmers while I was beating myself up for ever thinking I could do this. But eventually the line started moving and there were more and more women who were doing side stroke or breast stroke combined with the crawl to get through their laps. At least I wouldn't be the only one that didn't look like a pro. The other women in line were so nice. Almost everyone was doing this for the first time. We were all making jokes about how great we could be if they would only allow flippers and snorkel masks! By the time I got on my bike the temperature was 91 degrees, and the hills were daunting to say the least. I got through the bike portion AND barely got through the walk, and finished in two hours and seven minutes. I know that sounds really pathetic to many of you who are younger and more athletic but for this grandmother who is probably as non-athletic as a 59 year old woman can be, it was the beginning of a life-changing event. I signed up the following week to do a mini-sprint with my husband -- 250 yd swim, 6 mile bike, 1.5 mile run -- (I so wished I had done that one as my first triathlon!), and a month later did another standard Sprint where, in spite of the rain, I finished in 1 hour and 50 minutes. I guess some would say that I can now call myself a triathlete!
To top it all off, there was another lady in that triathlon who was 84! She did her first triathlon at age 60 and has done three sprint tri's a year every year since. If she can do it, so can I. I am hooked!
Tomorrow night I am signed up to begin a six week swim clinic for triathletes of all levels. My swimming skills are still embarrassing, but I am determined to get to the point where I can swim 12+ laps without stopping and without doing anything but the crawl! I'll keep you posted. By the way, training for a triathlon is such a healthy way to lose weight and get fit at any age. I wish there was a way to get the word out to other women over 50...it is possible to get through a triathlon without being an athlete, and it is so worth it!