The truth is that I’ve been thinking about doing a triathlon for years. This is a sort of strange truth, since I’ve never considered myself an athlete. But some part of me sensed that with a really big, kind of badass goal, maybe I would become one.
Three years ago, a group of moms from my children’s school formed a team to compete in a regional “sprint distance” (1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) triathlon for women. I wanted to join them, but the timing just didn’t work that year, or last year.
Late last summer or early last fall, my mom and I were talking about health and a physical goal she had for turning 70, which she did this summer. I teased her about her goal, and suggested that we should do a triathlon together. Unfortunately, mom’s knees gave her trouble, so ultimately, her doctor and physical therapist recommended against the triathlon, but we did a bike race together, and we’re both excited to do more riding and racing together in the future.
I decided to do the triathlon anyway, with the team of moms, even though my kids are now at a different school. I wasn’t able to do as many of the team practices as I would have liked, but it was still a great decision. Our team, the Highland Honeys, was supportive, fun, and encouraging. In fact, the only things I want to do differently next year is that I want to be more tied into the team: more practices, more carpooling, and more teamwork.
Doing most of my own training had limitations. First, I didn’t “peak at game day.” I probably peaked a month early. The week after I swam my first mile, I had two bike accidents on the same day. In both cases, I wasn’t able to get my fancy clippy bike shoes off of the pedals before I fell over, and I bloodied both knees and badly bruised most of one shin. Although I kept riding (no clippy shoes!), I didn’t do another swim practice. It was really only on race day or the day before that I was finally fully healed.
I let up on my running practice too, although I didn’t quit completely. The fact is, I still don’t like running. I found a good bra that mashes the girls in place so that running doesn’t actually hurt, and I found a really fun app that keeps me entertained and motivated. I also learned that I run faster when I’m with people than when I run alone. I’m not going to quit, because running is an easy form of exercise that is pretty convenient to squeeze into my early morning, but I would be damn surprised to wake up one morning and find that I like running.
How the race was for me: Hard. Empowering. Kind of lonely. Exciting.
I wasn’t prepared for the swim. We swam across a lake, a distance of half a mile. I can swim half a mile. In fact, I can swim a mile. But I underestimated how much difference the short pauses every 25 yards makes. Swimming half a mile where I can’t touch the ground or pause to catch my breath is different, and a whole lot harder. Instead of my strong breaststroke with occasional bursts of freestyle, I barely put my face in the water, and frequently surged off-course. I didn’t find my groove until near the end.
The bike ride was fantastic. I pushed myself the hardest there, because I knew after the swim that the only segment I was likely to do “well” in was the biking. I pushed hard enough that I beat my anticipated time by one third. I thought it might take me a full hour, and I did it in 40 minutes.
The ride was also great because I’d changed into my Highland Honeys jersey. The families of the other moms yelled as I rode by. Each time one of the other moms spotted me, or I spotted them, we yelled “Go Highland!” or “Go Honeys!” and it felt wonderful.
I felt good going into the run. I knew I’d gone fast enough on the bike to make my goal of completing the triathlon in under two hours, even if I walked almost the entire way. My new question was, how much under two hours? I thought I might be able to make it in 1:45!
As it turned out, my weakness in running and my lack of practice made that impossible. I was pretty wiped out, but I kept moving. At my peak, I’d declared a running goal of a pace under 11 minutes/mile. In the end, my running and walking pace averaged out to 11:16/mile, and I finished the triathlon in 1:47:13.
Seeing all the Honeys kept my spirits up in the run, too. We said hello, we high-fived as we ran, and we cheered one another as we finished. Two other racers commented, as they passed me on the run, “You Honeys have great teamwork!”
I wish I’d carpooled with other Honeys. I wish we’d been confident that the kids would not have to walk a mile themselves to cheer for me, and that they’d have fun hanging out with the other Highland Honeys kids.
Other changes I plan for next time: I want a super-supportive, quick-drying bra. I want a great pair of socks. I’ll ramp up my running and swimming practices significantly, and make sure I get in practice swimming on the course, so that I really know what to expect. Besides the Honeys, I might sign up for a more formal triathlon training program, so I can really improve my swimming, especially.
Specific goals for next year:
- Swim: 20 minutes or less
- Bike: 39 minutes or less
- Run: 10 minute mile pace or faster (holy shit, can I do that?)
- Transitions: Reduce total transition time to 4 minutes or less
If I can do that, that’s a total time of roughly 1:35. It’s a big goal, but 3 of the top 10 overall finishers were over 40. If they can do THAT, I can certainly get faster.