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The Making of a Middle Age Triathlete

February 27, 2017

Exercise has always been a challenge for me.  In my effort to find something that I could commit to, I tried everything: Jazzercize, Zumba, Curves, etc. etc. I had been a swimmer in high school and I enjoyed socializing with friends, while working out, but nothing ever held my attention for long. As a 55 year old, middle aged, woman, I was running out of options and getting more and more out of shape, as the years progressed. 

One night at the movies, I ran into a friend (around my age) who excitedly told me about Shane Eversfield’s Immersion Swimming Program.  My friend’s enthusiasm for this ‘new kind’ of swimming was inspiring and  I decided to give it a try. I hadn’t done ‘lap’ swimming in many years and wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t drown, so before the class began, I went to the pool and challenged myself to swim some laps. I was slow but steady and I felt like I could at least hold my own and not drown!

Shane couldn’t have been a more supportive and kind teacher!  I was surprised to find that the class, initially, didn’t involve swimming repetitive laps across the pool. Instead, Shane deconstructed the front crawl and taught us how to swim more efficiently and effectively.  The goal was to swim without tiring. We achieved this by learning to use the body’s buoyancy and mechanics to glide
through the water, as much as possible, without creating resistance. Before too long, I felt confident swimming many laps without over-exerting myself.

To my surprise, many of the people taking Shane’s classes were triathletes. My only exposure to Triathlons involved seeing signs about Triathlon Training Programs at other gyms, throughout the years. I always thought that to compete in a triathlon would be so exciting, but I never, in a million years, thought it would be something that I could do.

Before long, there was talk at the gym of a ‘Beginners Triathlon Training Program’. There were also rumors of an ‘in-house’ mini triathlon that was being planned for the spring. Although these things peaked my interest, the last time that I had owned a bike was 25 year ago, when I was in graduate school. Additionally,  I could not run a mile to save my life!  (One of my exercise plans, several years ago was an App called ‘Couch to 5-K’. I had tried it and failed miserably!)  I was NOT a runner.

None the less, the enthusiasm of the other participants drew me in and I signed
up for the program.  I remember attending the first running class. I was extremely nervous because I was sure I would be ‘out of my league’ and would be embarrassed by my lack of ability.  The coaches, Adrian, Selena and Regina and the other participants quickly made me feel at ease. We did warm up exercises and ran on the treadmills. Each week, we ran a little bit more, and a little bit more. Before long, I could run a mile and slowly continued to increase my distance over time.  My speed was pretty slow, but I was building endurance and experiencing success. Everyone in the class was a beginner and we all supported one another and had fun!

The biking class was next.  For some reason, I missed the first class.  (I also missed the part about buying bike shorts to add some extra padding!).  The class took place on the stationary bikes.  I struggled through the entire class.  I was out of breath, sweating and sore!  There was nothing ‘fun’ about it and I didn’t know how I was going to continue.  None the less, I returned week after week.  I was swimming, biking and running every week and in the mean time was building my confidence, meeting new people, and having a blast. Finally, I was enjoying exercise. I was also scared to death about what was to come. I was actually training to compete in a triathlon and I continued to feel very intimidated!

I knew that once the weather improved, we would begin running and biking outside. I had become comfortable on the treadmill and enjoyed monitoring my pace and distance. Running outside presented a whole new set of circumstances. Also, I didn’t own a bicycle and needed to purchase one before the weather broke. I talked to a friend  who is an avid biker.  He helped me with my purchase. Although I knew how to ride a bike, I knew nothing about changing gears, inflating my tires, riding up hills, etc. There remained a steep learning curve ahead!

Although it was still pretty cold outside, it was announced that we would meet the following Saturday morning at Taughannock Falls State Park.  Our goal was to ride our bikes the sprint distance of the Cayuga Lake Triathlon.  Our bike ride was to be followed by a run from the parking lot, to the falls and back. (The distance was 3.2 miles or 5K, the same distance for the running portion of a Sprint Triathlon). Needless to say, the bike ride was a real stretch for me.  The distance was never-ending. I thought we were NEVER going to turn around to head back to the park.  Once we did, the ride continued to be a challenge. However, the last mile was a fast down hill. It was exhilarating and I was so relieved and impressed that I had actually ridden a bicycle for 14 miles! Getting off the bike and trying to run was its own challenge.  I walked a good part of the distance, the first week. However, as we continued this same routine, each Saturday morning I steadily improved. My goal was to not walk. Eventually, I ran the entire distance. By then, spring was well underway. My new friends and I  bathed in our success by wading in the cold water of Cayuga Lake.

As spring turned to summer, we began swimming the Sprint Triathlon Distance  (750 Meters) in Cayuga Lake on Wednesday evenings. I purchased a wetsuit on line and had to learn how to put it on as we all prepared for the swim.  (This was one of the many humiliating experiences of the training program!)  To challenge myself, (and because I always had fear at my heals)  I followed each swim with a 5K run at Stewart Park.  I would return home feeling exhilarated and proud of myself.  It was hard for me to believe that I could actually run that distance, not to mention that it followed a swim in the lake!

The Cayuga Lake Triathlon was looming in the not so distant future. The training program offered a number of small group discussions on topics related to race day.  Equipment, nutrition, and transitions were discussed.  There was a lot to learn and it was fun to anticipate the race with other beginners.

The indoor ‘mini’ triathlon at Island Health and Fitness gave me my first experience of transitioning between the three different sports. First we swam, then we biked on stationary bicycles and then we ran on treadmills. It was my first ever triathlon race.  It was a fun time with a lot of camaraderie. Another confidence booster.

Eventually, race day arrived.  Believe it or not, I felt prepared.  I arrived early and set up my transition area.  My son and I took photos of one another and tried to shake off our nervousness. We wished each other well and prepared for the start of our race.

The race itself wasn’t easy, but it was exhilarating and a huge amount of fun!!! The racers all encouraged one another. I didn’t pass anyone, but I held my own. My family and friends met me at the finish line with signs and hugs.  I had achieved the impossible. I had become a tri-athlete!

All told, I have now completed five sprint triathlons, and four mini triathlons.  Most importantly, I have found a way to actually enjoy exercising I am never bored and always feel that I have more to learn. Surprisingly, it never gets any easier, but my commitment to improving, remains constant. With the support and skill of the Cayuga Coaching team, I feel that I have achieved the unachievable.

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