This weekend, June 16th, marked 20 years since I did my first sprint-distance triathlon in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Great Lakes Sprint. An 800-meter lake swim, 12-mile bike then a 4.5-mile trail run. I had participated in this race the previous year as a member of a relay team, and completed the swim.
As I watched my teammates bike and run, I knew I was capable of completing the entire race. My tri training the next year kicked off in April and consisted of riding my $200 mountain bike around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where I was a student at Eastern Michigan University, and running track workouts that I found in Runner's World magazine. I continued to train like a swimmer, six days a week, since I was on a full-ride scholarship.
I did not have a coach or mentor. I did not know anyone except my mom that did triathlons. I borrowed her bike helmet and used her tips to set up transition. Back then, we set out a bucket of water and a chair to sit on while we washed the sand off our feet before putting on socks and shoes after the swim.
I wore a XL LaLaPolooza cotton t-shirt with cotton stretch pant shorts. I did not own a wetsuit. The first time I used clipless pedals and cleats was 11:00 p.m. the night before I raced my second triathlon in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on a borrowed road bike. I did not know how to clip in or change gears. I still managed to win my age group. A month later I purchase my first road bike, a Miele steel frame. It was deep purple, and I loved it.
My third race in Toledo, Ohio, was an Olympic distance, and I rode the entire 40k in my biggest gear. My legs were shot, though my heart and lungs felt great. A learning experience.
I continued to race sprint- and Olympic-distance races my second year, and completed my first long course – the Springfield Endurothon – in Springfield, Illinois. I raced it because of the longer 1.5-mile swim, 45-mile bike and 10-mile run. I qualified for Kona Ironman at this race, and I did not even know what the Ironman was. I declined my slot, because I did not want triathlon training to interfere with college swimming. I was only 20 years old. I set my mind to qualifying for Kona again after I finished swimming for EMU and before I turned 25.
My first half ironman was in Muncie, Indiana, 1994, which is still run as the Muncie 70.3. My Miele road bike was stolen from my home five days before the race and I borrowed a friend’s bike. It was a 56 cm frame – way too big for me – with no aerobars. I just rode it to get though the event and won my age group. A few days later, though renters insurance, I was able to purchase a Litespeed Catalyst before moving to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1995.
The next two years, 1995 and 1996, I was plagued with injuries due to training without a purpose and over training. I trained for but missed my first marathon in Detroit due to a pulled groin. Then I had my first DNF at Age Group Nationals in Orange County, California, in 1996 due to a pulled hip flexor.
In 1997 I met my goal of qualifying for Kona at the Desert Sun Half Ironman in Grand Junction, Colorado, at the age of 24. I drank 1/2 water bottle on the bike, consumed no calories during the race, and cramped at mile 11 on the run.
When it came to training for Kona, I was clueless. I swam, biked and ran a lot. I was in graduate school at Colorado State University and had tons of time to train. I did no periodization, I just went out and di what I felt like doing each day. That year in Kona, I finished 10th in my age group, eating my first energy gel at mile two of my first marathon, at the Ironman World Championships.
Then I slipped into post-Ironman depression. Without a coach to guide me, I did not stop training after the Ironman. I was fit and did not want it to end.
Two months after the race I got very sick, with mono-like symptoms, although the doctors could not diagnose what plagued me. My resting heart rate was 70 bpm and would jump to 150 bpm when I stood up. I was exhausted 24/7 and had to stop all activity.
My diet consisted of pastries and other "unhealthy" food. I spent three months trying to figure out what was wrong with me so I could get healthy. I read dozens of books on training and nutrition, Homeopathic and Naturopathic medicine. Rest was the best medicine, and I cleaned up my diet and started back training 8 months later, very slowly. I was so happy to be able to run three miles and ride for 30 minutes without fatigue. My purpose for training and competing became more wellness oriented and less competitive.
I struggled though my 25-29 age group, and worked to figure out my strengths, weaknesses and limitations, including what distance to race and train for. I wanted to train like an Ironman athlete and race the shorter events. That type of training prevented me from reaching my potential when it came to strength and speed.
Ten years after my first event, in 2002, I started to understand what the books were telling me about training. I grasped the concept of periodization, and most importantly, the peak and taper phase and nutrition. I was tired of training hard and racing fatigued. This year I had a break though event at the 5430 Sports IronDistance event in Boulder, Colorado. Despite my first flat tire in an event, it felt close to being a perfect day, at least at that moment. Now, 10 years later, I still love to train and compete for me.
To Be Continued.......