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The Midlife Rookie: A Triathlon Anyone Can Do

I have a hard time keeping this little factoid to myself: I’m a triathlete. An over 50 triathlete. Meaning, I. Ran. A. Triathlon. Sometimes I drop it into conversation like this:

“Those are nice running shoes. I could have used them when I was running my triathlon.”

Or this: “Yeah, my knee has been hurting a bit. I think I tweaked it doing my triathlon.”

Or even this: “Oh, you’re drinking water? That reminds me of all the water I drank after finishing my triathlon.”

As you can tell, I’m kind of proud of being a triathlete, an over 50 triathlete, and people seem to be impressed that a woman my age can do a triathlon. What I don’t tell them is that my triathlon was an iddy-biddy-baby triathlon. I mean, if the Ironman Triathlon is Jupiter, my triathlon is a jelly bean that somehow escaped the International Space Station.

Read More: It’s Never Too Late: Getting in the Best Shape of Your Life After 50

Introducing the Spa Girl Triathlon

triathlete over 50, spa girl triathlon
The author getting ready to dive in.

Yes, you read that right. My triathlon is called Spa Girl Triathalon, which tells you something right there, doesn’t it? Neither adjective suggests fierceness or endurance. Both make you think of pink and pedicures. Fittingly, it took place at a spa resort, the Lost Pines Hyatt, outside of Austin.

I signed up because my minister was swimming in the YMCA pool when I was doing my regular laps. She only stayed for six laps (300 meters) because she said that’s how long the swim was in the triathlon she was going to do in a few weeks.

I swim a mile three times a week, so I thought, Hmmm, I could do that. The best part was that the swim was to take place in a pool, actually a lazy river. My minister said that if she couldn’t swim it, she’d be able to walk because the water was only three feet deep.

I started grinning—finding it hard to believe I was actually doing a triathlon.

When I looked up the Spa Girl triathlon online, I saw that the bike ride was 10 miles and the run was two miles. Hmm, I could do that and that, I thought again, so I signed up. On the day of my triathlon, my husband and I drove to the resort at 5:30 a.m. Many of the competitors actually stayed at the resort, turning the event into a long, decadent weekend punctuated by a spate of sweat.

Read More: Osteoarthritis Knee Pain? Here’s How One Bad-ass Got Back to Living

Triathlete Over 50: Leading the Charge

triathlete over 50, spa girl triathlon
Finishing the 10-mile bike ride.

Wearing a new triathlete bra and padded triathlon shorts, I crowded onto the deck of the Lazy River. The Lazy River was turned off, but after I dove in from the wide stairway, I found myself being pulled along gently. Because the Lazy River was circular, all the women ahead of me were turning the water into a large eddy.

It was like a flushing toilet, and we were the turds.

But I couldn’t just drift along. I wanted to charge ahead. So I started churning my arms in my best freestyle, but the problem with the Lazy River is that it winds and bends. There’s not a straight stretch on the whole route, which meant I kept crashing into the walls. Everyone did.  Really, I think it would have been faster to walk.

After I got on my bike, I spent the next 10 miles looking to see if anyone who passed me looked my age. If I saw someone who just might be, I sped up. It was a ride with gentle hills, and I didn’t have trouble at all. When I was coming into the bike finish, I was sprinting just like the Tour de France guys I’d seen on TV.

I started grinning—finding it hard to believe I was actually doing a triathlon. The run was over a golf course and I’m proud to say only a few people passed me. I was jamming out to my iPod nano along the way, and I had told myself that if I needed to, I would stop to walk.

Finishing Strong

triathlete over 50
Yeah, baby. Take it on home.

I was huffing mightily toward the end, thinking about stopping for a stroll, when one of my favorite songs, “Take on Me,” started up. The line in the chorus, “Take me home,” rejuvenated me. Yeah, baby, let’s take this home. Suddenly, I saw the finish line banner ahead of me and my husband shooting photos up on a hill. “You’re smiling a lot,” he shouted. “That means you could push yourself harder.”

Someone handed me a mimosa. I wanted to object—“What I really need is water!”—but it’s really not in my nature to pass on a free drink.

And then it was done. “Finish a triathlon” was now checked off my bucket list. I was officially a triathlete. Someone handed me a mimosa. I wanted to object—“What I really need is water!”—but it’s really not in my nature to pass on a free drink.

That little buzz didn’t dampen my competitiveness, because as soon as the Spa Girl results were posted, I was over at the booth, trying to find out how I did. I ended up ninth in my age group (50-54) and 90th out of 600 overall. I looked at the age group ahead of me (55-59). Next year, I would be in that contingent. I just might be able to smoke the older gals. There was even a category for 70 plus, and I thought of my mother, who, in her 80s, was still riding bikes and hiking. “She could do this,” I thought, “she could win her age group.”

“Ah, look at my transition times,” I said to my husband.

“You could really cut down there,” he responded. “If you’d done that faster, you probably could have come in seventh, maybe even sixth.” This is why we’re married. We think the same way. We egg each other on.

“Maybe you should do a triathlon sometime,” I said, enjoying that I had accomplished a physical feat before him—even though he already knew how minuscule it was. “I sure had fun doing my triathlon.”

Read More: “I Never Thought I’d Be This Fit:” The Story of One Late-Blooming, Competitive Athlete

A version of this story was originally published in February 2017.

By Jeannie Ralston


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