From last to almost last in just one season

USA Triathlon Times [Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 4], May 1, 1999

I remember my first triathlon: the 1997 Lone Star in Pflugerville, Texas. Clueless, I was standing in line for the swim when my eyes met those of a friend whose (buff triathlete) daughter was racing. With an audible gasp, my friend’s eyes widened with an expression that could only mean: “I can’t believe you’re exposing these poor young people to your lily-white, hail-damaged thighs and that mid-section that has given birth to three children.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of hearing from world-class, buff triathletes in this publication. It’s time you heard from real triathletes like me who are, say, speed- and talent-challenged. And I’ve got a an inspiring story to tell — how I made it from last to almost last in just one season.

In 1997, I was ranked by USA Triathlon’s National Rankings Program as LAST in my category — female 50-54. Yes, 57th of 57. USA Triathlon’s Tim Yount assured me that I did beat one woman in the 75-plus age group. Then, in an amazing burst of speed, I rose to 68th of 81 triathletes in the female 50-54 category in 1998.

I remember my first triathlon: the 1997 Lone Star in Pflugerville, Texas. Clueless, I was standing in line for the swim when my eyes met those of a friend whose (buff triathlete) daughter was racing. With an audible gasp, my friend’s eyes widened with an expression that could only mean: “I can’t believe you’re exposing these poor young people to your lily-white, hail-damaged thighs and that mid-section that has given birth to three children.”

Thus inspired, I did the swim — no big deal. But that 16-mile, hilly bike ride was a killer. The farthest I’d ridden at that point was 14 flat miles. When I got off my bike, the seat of which was made of concrete, I was stunned to discover I had no feeling from the pelvis down. I told myself, “If you’ll just put one foot in front of the other, you won’t crumple to the ground and confirm for all the world that you are, in fact, A TOTAL IDIOT.”

Having started the “run” with no feeling in my legs, I decided it was time for some positive self-talk. “Okay, you’re really a stud here. How many other 50-year-olds do you see? In fact, where is everybody? I’m alone. My God, I must be ahead of the pack! Yyyeesss! Can’t wait to tell my husband and children that by some fluke I won the first triathlon I ever did! Now that’s raw, inborn talent. There’s a nice lady at the water table. She looks like she could stand to do a few of these. Hey, she’s leaning out over the table, looking at me! I must really be an awesome sight.”

I reach out to get the water she’s handing me, and she says, “Hon, do you know if you’re lay-est? I’d like to go home.” (In Pflugerville, “last” is a two-syllable word.)

“Hon? Last? Go home?” With the soft ping of a bubble bursting, I hear the music from the slash scene in “Psycho”, and I feel just like the guy with the knife. She’ll get home all right.

That was my first triathlon, and I won first as well as last in my age group. In fact, I got my name in print in the Austin American-Statesman and Runner Triathlete News with a time a good hour slower that anyone else in the listing. But this year, ’98, I kicked butt. No more hail damage. No more lily white. Weighing in at 118, I’ve dropped 19 pounds from last year without dieting, and I look like I’ve had maybe two children instead of three.

How have I done it? After I finished my third triathlon last year, a friend (and buff triathlete) who looked like she was explaining a complex mathematical formula to an oyster, informed me that I could improve my time by jogging rather than walking during the part called “The Run”.

Another big help was replacing my 32-pound, Sherman-tank bike with a sleek, 20-pound bike named after some dude named LeMond. He must be a god because there were giant posters of him hanging from the ceiling of the bike shop where I bought it. The guy’s got thighs the size of prize-winning hogs and has a pretty intense look on his face — not unlike the guy with the knife in “Psycho”. Frankly, I think he’s got a real problem with sweat, and I worry about the mental stability of a guy who would tape his feet to his pedals for a time trial. Not even the buff triathletes featured in this publication would do that. Would they?

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident and retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews, writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.