I have always been active and enjoyed going for long walks or day hikes with my family. In 2009, my husband at the time had been training and losing weight to get healthy. We both went to the gym and worked out. He decided to start running. In support of him I would go to the 5K races he was running and take pictures. On a number of occasions I would also sign up to walk the 5K. I never thought of myself as a runner nor did I ever think I would be. I had problems with my knees and had been diagnosed with arthritis in my hip, something the doctor said was common for “my age”. I was able to walk up over 100 flights of stairs on the Stair Master and did the elliptical machine for 50 minutes at a time. The exercise helped to alleviate the pain in my hip. I figured that was the extent I would be doing anything athletic. But fate had a different plan for me.
My husband and I had signed up for a race in Port Huron, MI. When we got there, I found out that there wasn’t an option to walk this race. I had to run it. So, there I was set with the choice to either sit the race out or go outside of my comfort zone and run the race. I decided, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.
As the gun went off the seasoned runners took off. I had placed myself at the end of the pack knowing that I would be going at a slower pace than the other runners and I had heard enough from my husband how frustrating it was when the slower runners started off out front and the the better runners had to maneuver around them to get out front. They didn’t have a hard time with me. Nope, I was at the back of the pack and jogging at a slow pace just trying to catch my breath. There was a stiff breeze off of the water that morning. That was one of the biggest challenges. I was not used to running and the breathing was very hard to regulate. The route ended up having a number of hills as well. I did alright going up the first hill, but the steep down hill actually agitated my hip. I was not going to give up though. It was only a 5k race. I had walked that several times. My lungs were burning and I never seemed to be able to catch my breath. There didn’t seem to be anyone else on the course but me. The route was beautiful next to the water, but concentrating on adjusting my stride to work through the hip pain was taking most of my concentration. As I got closer to the finish line the runners that had already finished the race were lining the route and cheering the few of us that were still struggling. It was amazing how they had finished and were coming back out to provide the moral support. My husband had jogged all the way back out to come back out and run with me toward the finish line. A gentle rain had started falling, but I could hardly feel it as I gasped for air and focused on getting myself across the timing pad. As I completed the run I was thrilled I had completed it and was a bit nauseous from pushing myself in the end. With completing that race, I had proven to myself that I could actually run a race.
I wouldn’t have that opportunity again for several months though. A few days after that successful accomplishment I had a freak injury. There isn’t even a good story to go with it. I had gone to the gym to work out before work and just used the elliptical for 35 minutes. I stretched and then went to get into my car and felt a pop in my right knee as I was sitting down behind the wheel. Yup, that’s all it took for me to sprain my knee. I walked on it for the entire day at work and when I got home my husband looked at it and told me that my knee was swollen. He drove me to the emergency room and they confirmed it. I ended up on crutches for two weeks and then had physical therapy exercises I had to do to strengthen it. At the same time we had just bought a rental property and there was a lot of work that had to be done there. Not much time for me to focus on thinking about running again. My husband, however, continued to increase his mileage so that he could achieve his ultimate goal of running a half-marathon.
I have to admit it was tough to be on the sidelines and struggling with the pain and watching him be able to run. I was happy to be there for him though and to see him get closer to his goals. It is inspiring to watch someone work toward their goal and it ignites a flame within us as well. At least it did for me.
I had been on the swim team when I was in high school. I trained hard and was on the varsity team all four years. Sure I dreamed of going to the Olympics. The best I did was 13th at the regionals, but that was out of 100 competitors for my event. But, I was a competitor. It was in my blood. That competitiveness had gone dormant for a number of years as I became a parent and spouse and put the needs of others before myself.
Igniting the flame to want to swim, other than while on vacation, came when my husband stated that he wanted to go to the local high school pool and try to see if he could swim the distance to be in a triathlon. He had conquered the half-marathon and was looking for a new challenge. Since I had a background in competitive swimming I offered to go swimming with him to help him work on his swimming technique because that was his weakest event. It also gave me an opportunity to strengthen my knee.
I tried to give him some pointers and then decided to challenge myself to see if I could do the distance for doing a sprint triathlon. I had always been a strong swimmer, but at 43 was I able to still do that kind of distance? I ended up being able to do the 32 laps of the pool. Something clicked for me. Maybe I could train to do a triathlon, too. He decided not to pursue that training.
Over the coming weeks I went to the pool once a week and then went to the gym and kept up with the strength training for my knee rehab. I had not intentionally tried to compete with my husband, but because we enjoyed doing the same things I seemed to have fallen into wanting to do a triathlon. One evening I decided to borrow the book he had bought that gave a detailed 12 week training plan and introduction to what to expect by doing a triathlon. It was a pretty quick read and it continued to stir my desire to challenge myself.
Because of my knee issues the biggest obstacle that I had was being able to do the bike portion of the race. The book actually taught me the technique of having a bike with peddles that have a harness on it. Then, instead of pressing down on the peddles I was actually supposed to pull up on the peddle and feel the rotation on the pull up of the peddle instead of pushing down. This technique worked awesome. I also added some more weight training to help strengthen my leg.
On Superbowl Sunday, February, 7, 2009 my husband asked me if i wanted to try and run another 5K race. It was a cold 19 degrees out and we drove out to Novi, Michigan where we joined 1200 other crazy people who were running the annual race. This time I knew I was running the race. The air was brisk, but the electricity of all the runners seemed to warm me up. Having a successful race on this morning was what it took to push me over the edge and sign up for an indoor triathlon that would be taking place on Valentine’s Day the following Sunday. I told my husband that I had really decided to do it. We even stopped into the running store and bought me the triathlon top and shorts.
The following day my world was shattered when my husband told me that he wanted his divorce and that I didn’t live up to his expectations financially and that he wanted us to still be friends. We had been married 11 years at that point and yes we had stresses like everyone else, but his choice at that point to tell me that he wanted his divorce floored me.
Here I was all excited to be thinking about doing something wonderful for myself again and he thinks that by me having this goal that that will replace the life we had built together. I won’t get into all the sorted other details, but this revelation of his shocked me. Somehow he had to “go and take care of himself”. Wasn’t that what he was doing by losing all that weight in the first place? He said I wasn’t there for him and wasn’t listening to him. I had fallen into wanting to do a triathlon because of how I was supporting him all those months.
That week was hell on me as I barely ate anything and went to the gym and trained for the race. I lost 12 lbs that week. Nothing like going through a living hell before challenging yourself. The irony is that he went with me to this indoor triathlon where I did the events for 20 minutes each. He kept count on my laps and cheered me on. It was pretty messed up. For him somehow I just became a friend.
Through this experience I had ignited the drive to be a triathlete. I fared pretty well in each of the events to give me a baseline on how I would do if I did a sprint triathlon. I didn’t have another triathlon until May 29, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. That was to be the real test. By this time I had lost over 40 lbs. I hadn’t thought of myself as being overweight since I had gone from being a size 6 to a size 1-2. The weight loss was also supposed to help me avoid injury.
I was ready for the challenge of doing an X-Tri. This race had mountain biking the 13 miles. My bike wasn’t in good shape so I used my husband’s bike. The weather was awesome, but the race was going to take everything in me to get through. There were only 56 competitors and only 8 of them were women. I was the oldest female. The water conditions left a lot to be desired. The weeds were so thick it took me forever to get through them. When I got out of the water I had mud that had splashed all over me from the weeds.
The bike portion was not very well marked so I made a few wrong turns and the trail through the woods had me getting off the bike several times on some of the steeper hills. What an adventure I had put myself into. I even managed to pop the chain on one of the flat portions. Luckily, I was able to put it back on. Finally, when I got to the run portion of the race I had the adrenaline pumping in the anticipation of completing my first real outdoor race. Through parking lots and over grass with by now the close to noon day heat pounding down on me, I was thrilled to be approaching the finish line. It took me nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete, but I had done it. I had become a triathlete and I would definitely be finding myself doing this again.