Do a Triathlon to Tantalize your Life

For those of us who are so busy that our primary form of exercise
is a sprint through the supermarket, the idea of doing a
triathlon can be tantalizing—pounding feet, racing heart, the
sheer exhilaration of forward motion. What makes this running/biking/
swimming competition so compelling is the same thing that makes it
so scary: the level of commitment it requires. It’s not like skiing, whereby
you can go once or twice a year without any training leading up to it.
To be a triathlete, you’ve got to train for sixty to ninety minutes a few
times a week for a couple of months. Once you get into it, though, you’ll
have an enormous sense of accomplishment as you carry yourself forward
to the day of your actual event.
My friend Patty, a longtime runner, upped the ante for herself
when she entered the 2007 Danskin Triathlon in Sandy Hook, New
Jersey, one of fifty women’s-only races held in the United States each
year. Competing for the first time at age forty-eight, she never expected
to finish. But halfway through the competition, she realized she was
doing it: “I was passing people. I thought, I’m actually enjoying myself.
I’m going to do it in decent time. And I’m having fun.”
Because Patty already ran a few times a week, ramping up for the
triathlon was relatively simple; she just built on what was already there.
But if you’ve never done much running, or if you’ve let it slide for a while,
you’ll need to work on that first. Sounds obvious, but start with a good
pair of running shoes. Many factors determine which shoe is best for
you: how tall you are, where you’ll be running, how high your arch is. Go
to a specialty store, and have someone knowledgeable help you choose
the right shoe.
Before you raise your foot to run, be sure to lower your expectations.
Even if you’ve run before, if you push yourself too fast, you’ll likely
get discouraged and quit. Set a modest goal for your first outing—ten
minutes if you’re a novice, fifteen if you’re getting back into it—but if it
gets too difficult before then, stop and walk awhile. With subsequent
runs, increase your time slowly until you can run comfortably for thirty
to forty minutes. At that point, you’re ready to start triathlon training.
The question is, how do you want to do it?
Some women happily train alone; others need buddies to keep
them motivated. Patty never would have competed in the Danskin
race if her three regular running mates hadn’t signed up, too. Making
a commitment to one another made it easier for them to stick to their
three-month training regimen. They started with their normal running
schedule—forty-five minutes, three times a week—then worked in the
other triathlon components: swimming and cycling. They’d meet at the
community pool at five forty-five, run three to four miles, and return at
six thirty for the “commuter swim.” On Saturday mornings they’d go on
women’s bike rides organized by their local bike shop.
For Patty, who has two children and a full-time job, the rigorous
training paid off in more ways than one. “It was a totally selfish thing,”
she says. “Whatever was going on Saturday mornings, I wasn’t available,
so everyone else had to deal. I decided that this is what matters to me
right now.”

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