Starting to tri

Many of you know the background of how I got to the start line at Kona, but for the sake of starting at the appropriate start point – the beginning – here’s my story:

I was a runner.  A fairly decent runner.  I never ran in high school or college, but I started running distance when I was in law school as a way to stay fit and relieve a little stress.  Right away, I was drawn to the marathon, and I discovered I was pretty good at it.  On not a lot of training (by my current standards), I could pretty easily run in the low 3:30s.  I did that a bunch of times, traveled all around the country to races and inspired my husband to start running marathons too.  A few years ago, I hooked up with a group of fast runners in Evergreen, and with their help and guidance, I got myself into the low 3s, running 3:05 in 2009 and 3:10 at Boston that same year, which was probably my best performance.  It was fun, but when I knew I could reliably run under 3:10, I started to crave a new challenge.  Breaking 3 hours in the marathon was the obvious next step, but that seemed really hard.  I wasn’t really sure I could train that hard and get there.

Instead, I began wondering if I could do an Ironman.  Mark started doing Ironman in 2003, and I had stood on the sidelines at four Ironmans and envied those people.  In his first IM (Wisconsin in 2003), I stood at the finish line, enthralled by what those people were accomplishing.  It seemed significant and I longed to be one of those finishers, digging as deep as possible in a single day, laughing and crying as I ran down the chute.  I loved watching it.

There was a problem though.  I couldn’t really swim.  Well, technically, I could swim, but I definitely could not swim freestyle very well and certainly not for 2.4 miles.  It seemed impossible.  I also hated it.  I hated getting wet, being cold, having to blow dry my hair after swimming (this was a real issue as I usually blew out my hair).  So the swim was enough of a deterrent that I didn’t seriously consider triathlons, although I remember watching and contemplating if I could make the swim cut-off (2:20) swimming breast-stroke, which was my only stroke.

Then, in January of 2010, after a night out with Mark, and perhaps a cocktail or two, I went home, sat down at the computer, and bought a community fund spot for IM Coeur d’Alene that June.  It seemed like the logical place for my first tri since I was already going to the race – Mark was registered – and I had been there in 2009 (he raced that year, too), so I had seen the course.  In fact, at IMCdA in 2009, I took the first steps to becoming a triathlete by demo-ing a wetsuit and swimming in the lake (for about 10 min, but I was super-proud), and riding a bit of the bike course on a demo Cervelo.  That was scarier.  I had never ridden a tri bike – I barely road my road bike – and it was a brand new bike.

First time in a wetsuit

I pushed the “register” button for IMCdA 2010 and immediately got down to the business of learning to swim.  I started at my local rec center with the woman who had been giving my kids lessons.  She didn’t teach adults, so she didn’t really know how to start with me, but she taught me a few drills and gave me a few pointers.  I started going to the pool at least three times per week (that was my goal), and took a few more lessons at SwimLabs in the endless pool and two with Mark’s tri coach in Boulder.  Oh, and I read a few books about swimming and watched some YouTube videos.

June rolled around pretty quickly, and before the race, I think I swam 3000 yards maybe once or twice.  I definitely did not swim 4000.  When we got to CdA, all I could think about was the swim.  It occupied my every thought.  To make matters worse, we had booked a room at the resort right on the lake, with a lakefront view, so I sat and watched the water all the time, becoming more and more nervous.  As if I wasn’t scared enough just dealing with the mass start and the distance, it turned out that the lake was rough.  And it was very, very cold.  Yes, I was pretty scared leading up to that race.  This is probably the time to mention that I had only done two triathlons in my life prior to arriving in CdA.  One was a sprint distance with a pool swim in Aspen about 10 years prior, and the other was another sprint distance near our house in May.  So yes, it was scary times in CdA in 2010. I had lots of confidence in my ability to do the running and biking, but it was not at all a given that I would make it out of the water.

Swim start at IMCdA 2009

The CdA swim lived up to my fears – there was a lot of contact.  Trying to turn at the first buoy is still one of my scarier athletic memories.  It was unbelievably cold, and it seemed to take forever.  Hours and hours seemed to pass until I rounded the final buoy and turned towards shore.  More hours seemed to pass until I climbed out of the water.  But in reality, it was 1 hour and 44 minutes.  Abysmal by IM standards, but I was ecstatic!  I had survived!  I had not drowned!  I would actually be permitted to ride my bike and do the run!  The rest was uneventful and I finished in 12 hours 32 minutes.  Mark and I were excited.  I felt like the day had been a huge success.  And I couldn’t wait to do it again and see if I could get faster.  Well, I knew I could get faster, but I wanted to see how quickly and by how much.

Just a few short weeks after CdA, I registered for IMCozumel that November.  I felt like I was just getting started with this triathlon thing, and it seemed silly to take time off after I had just begun.  So with Mark’s blessing, we all headed down to Cozumel the day after Thanksgiving 2010.

Next up, IMCozumel!


2 thoughts on “Starting to tri

  1. Wow, it’s so cool reading your story, I can’t wait for more!

    I was one of those white caps at CDA 2009, but haven’t managed IM #2 yet. I’m hoping to get faster at running first. That’s my big weakness.

  2. Hi Jen, I’m Sil and I’m just starting in this tri world! I loved your swim story, I can totally relate! I just started swimming with my husband last year and I’m about to do a half IM in Miami in 10 days!!! I’m so excited and I loved loved your blog. Oh! and huge congrats on your last Kona!!!
    Keep inspiring people, it’s great!

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