Let me take you back the year 1986. Besides some Farrah Facet styled hair, most women were wearing massive shoulder pads and men were sporting the ever infamous Member’s Only jackets. Haley’s Comet made its closest encounter with earth, the space shuttle Challenger shocked the world by exploding just over a minute after takeoff, Oprah Winfrey made her TV talk show debut, and Andrea Fisher entered her first triathlon at the age of 13. Well, ok so I’m pushing the actual importance of my triathlon entry a bit in comparison, but the reality is that I was trying to paint a picture of when I did my first race – A LONG FREAKING TIME AGO!
Trying to recall that day, 33 years later, is like teeing up my parent’s old carousals of Kodak picture slides. I hit the button, click, a new photo appears in my mind….I hit the button again, click, and another photo appears in my mind. With that being said I would love to recall those photos, one by one, as they pop into my head.
Click: I remember a woman at the beach tell me she was doing a triathlon and that it was going to be really hard. I’m guessing that triggered something in my competitive mind, because I do remember thinking “Well heck, I swim faster than this lady!”
Click: There was a bike store where my mom took me to look at bikes. I think the reason I walked away with a stylish Raleigh Technium 8 speed was probably because it was affordable and fit me. I’m guessing the downtube shifting and stylish metal toe clip/Velcro pedals didn’t look to awesome, but that red-white-blue paint job made me feel like Wonder Woman! Of course the fact that I also walked away with a mandatory bike helmet made out of Styrofoam and netting did nothing to boost my super hero powers…..I literally could go put a $1.99 disposable cooler from HEB on my head right now and it would provide more safety than that thing did!
Click: Race day at Schoolley’s Mountain Triathlon! I show up with my bike and shoes. I look around and wonder why everyone has a bucket of water by their bike?
Click: I’m swimming, and there’s one person next to me (I was a really good swimmer at this point, but that’s it….stay tuned for more on the explosion to come) and THERE WAS NO WAY I was not getting out of that water first. I killed myself as hard as I could to swim as fast as I could….and yes I exit the water in front of her….and then proceed to collapse on the beach because I’m completely exhausted.
Click: I’m at my bike, feet dripping and covered in mud. AHA!!!! Now I know why there are buckets of water! To wash your feet off before putting shoes on. Oh well, I carry on with my muddy feet/shoes to the bike but at least this would be the 2nd time ever for me to ride my new bike (Note to reader, I SAID 2nd TIME EVER TO RIDE THIS BIKE!)
Click: I’m on the bike course, and don’t know how to shift or ride up a hill on this bike with the downtube shifting. I walk it up a few hills and I coast down a few hills riding those brakes like my life depends on it. I have promptly gone from 1st out of the water to 220th off the bike coming into transition.
Click: I’m on the run course. I have never run outside of the 100 meter sprint required of the yearly Presidential Fitness Testing at school, so 3 miles won’t be too hard right? As I walk most of the 3 miles and have every other person who passes me ask “Honey, you ok? Do you need some help. I eventually finish in 436th place. There are 437 people entered in the race.
Click: Post race I’m sitting in the Dover New Jersey diner eating a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes. That was the BEST hot RBS I have ever eaten to date and I knew I earned every bite!
I went to work later that afternoon at the beach (I was a lifeguard) and as I sat there on my chair I was beaming. I didn’t cry or pout because I was 2nd to last….instead all I remember was thinking “HOLY CRAP….I did a triathlon earlier today and I finished!” Not a single person at that lake knew what I had done a few hours earlier, but I knew and for that I was so proud of myself. Even at a young age I took away what was most important from my first triathlon….I put a goal out there that was super crazy for me, I may have not prepared the best I could have for it but I tried the best I could at that time, and I tried something challenging and new. It would be 10 years later before I did my next triathlon, but to this day when things get tough I think back to that 13 year old naïve girl trying to finish the last 3 miles and I keep going. Now if I could just find a hot roast beef sandwich (with gravy) as good as that one in the diner…….there’s nothing I wouldn’t be able to do!
My first triathlon was actually a fluke so-to-speak. The 2016 Rookie Tri (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight (I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”). He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon were to take place to sign up 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 & #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.
I didn’t have much time to train, but plenty of time to worry. I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.
Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. The bad news: the swim distance of 300 meters doesn’t seem like much until you try to swim it. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training. The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri, so I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike, and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled with those “Rookie” course hills. Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.
Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but, 5 AM comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. The wind was really strong on race day, gusting to 20-25 mph into our face. The open water had small white caps and looked rough. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. That would come back to bite them. I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed A LOT of people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. The water was rough and I got my goggles kicked a few times. I was glad I had practiced breaststroke since the water so rough. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was a long uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.
Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the head wind, it was like I put a sail on my back and I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run”. My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake! That 2 miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgement) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong. My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only 3 minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.
Unfortunately, that tri really slowed down my knee rehab. It took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (no more running...ever) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.
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