Update: I posted an edited version of this story, with voice-over, on Cowbird. Read/listen to it here.
Yesterday marked my fourth year of running. There are so many reasons to celebrate this 4th runniversary: I’m feeling fit and healthy and finally, after two decades of primarily exercising my brain, I’m exercising my body, joyfully using the ridiculous amount of energy that I seem to have. I’ve found a passion that I can share with my husband STA and model for my kids. And, I’m doing something that I know my mom, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2009, would be so proud of and delighted by. She always admired and enjoyed how physical and strong I was as a kid.
While these are all great reasons to celebrate, they aren’t the main reason I celebrated my four years of running yesterday. I celebrated because my ability to run regularly these four years for 30 minutes or more without injury, has enabled me to train for and race in triathlons.
I’ve wanted to do triathlons for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching the Kona Ironman on NBC Sports. I recently found many of these broadcasts on Youtube. Sweet. I didn’t think I’d ever do one myself; the distances were too great and I was mostly a swimmer. But I recall being deeply inspired by the athletes. And somewhere, buried deep within me, I harbored fantasies of doing a triathlon. Probably not an Ironman, but a triathlon of some distance.
After graduating from college and moving out to California in 1996, I bought a book on training for a triathlon. As I read through it, focusing my attention on the running section, I convinced myself that I wouldn’t ever be able to do one. People with crunchy/creaky knees like mine can’t run a 5K, the distance that is required in a sprint triathlon.
Bad knees run in my family. After being on cross country for a few years in high school, my older sister had to have knee surgery and I assumed that, with my knees, I would suffer a similar fate if I tried to run seriously. Whenever I walked up or down stairs, my knees would crunch, almost as if to signal a warning, “Crunch! Don’t even try running! Crunch! You’ll get an injury. Crunch! It will be too painful.”
Throughout my late teens, twenties and early thirties, I thought, and probably said, “I’d like to do triathlons. I’m a good swimmer and I can bike. But I can’t run.” I never questioned the validity of this statement, even though I had run occasionally over the years, for swim team or on my own at the local health club, without any problems.
On June 2nd, 2011, when I tried running again for the first time in decades, I was still haunted by the belief that I could never be a runner. But, I was 37 and I needed to run. I was just beginning to come out of agonizing grief over my mom’s death and was struggling to deal with the end of my academic career. I had to do something deeply physical, not just because my body was falling apart (I had gained weight, was experiencing mysterious back pains and often felt an odd numbness in my feet), but because I wanted to use my energy in joyful and productive ways. And since my husband STA, the self-proclaimed non-athlete, wanted us to try a Couch to 5K app, I decided to give running another chance. I think he knew that I needed to run and that I wouldn’t or couldn’t unless he did it too.
My first run wasn’t pretty, but it felt good to be active again. And, I loved talking with STA about it afterwards. I slowly (very slowly) built up endurance. I struggled with minor pains and an increased sense of vulnerability as the running worked my body—my bones, joints, muscles—in new ways. That first year I was so protective of my knees. “Watch the knees!” I’d yell frantically as my kids, 8 and 5 at the time, ran around me in the living room. I could only imagine ice skating, something I had just started to enjoy again as an adult, with horror. “I can’t ice skate,” I declared. “What if I fall down and hurt my knee?”
But, aside from one tortuous week about two months into my running, when my knee hurt so much that couldn’t run, my body, especially my knees, were okay. I could actually run! And I did, with increased joy and passion.
In my first two years of running, I wasn’t thinking about triathlons at all. Even though there were two big triathlons at my local lake and an indoor tri series at my local gym, I was too focused on running to consider training for anything else.
Every so often I’d think about triathlons. I’d remember how much I’d always wanted to do one. I’d think about signing up for an indoor triathlon at the local YWCA. But, I wouldn’t. I’d think about signing up for an outdoor triathlon at Lake Nokomis. But, I wouldn’t.
Then, one day in early July of 2013, I decided to swim across Lake Nokomis. Once a week, on Tuesdays that year, you could swim across the lake, 600 yards, as many times as you wanted for two hours. I almost didn’t go. But, after some convincing from my ten year old son, I went. I loved it. Shortly after that, I signed up for my first triathlon in August, 2013: the Women’s YWCA Triathlon at Lake Nokomis. It was amazing. That winter I competed in all 4 indoor triathlons at the YWCA. Then, in 2014, I swam all summer and trained for and raced in the YWCA tri again.
This summer, I’m ready to train for and compete in at least three triathlons. I have a new bike and I bought my first wet suit. Slowly, I’m getting serious. I even have a long term goal: to race in the half-Iron in St. George, Utah for my 50th birthday (June, 2024).
I love swimming. I love running. I’m learning to love biking. I feel so much joy (some pain too!) and pride as I train for and compete in the triathlons that I always wanted to do, but never thought I could. This joy would never have been possible if I hadn’t taken those first running steps 4 years ago on June 2, 2011.
So, to honor this accomplishment I did what I love doing yesterday. I swam, biked and ran. What a great day!
note: I want to put this story about triathlons beside my past stories about running: