The Road To Tri

Robin Fowler's story

Before I get into my story of my first triathlon, I want to tell you a little about myself.  In 2012, I lost both of my parents to heart related issues and it was a year I will never forget.  After picking up the pieces, I decided that I needed to be healthier and thought of ways I could get more exercise in my life. I had never been much of a runner but one cold morning in January 2013, I woke up and decided that I would try my hand at running.  It just so happened, RunWenatchee was hosting the Winterfest 5K Run that morning and I thought I would give it a try.  I wouldn’t say that I ‘Loved’ it but I can tell you that I felt so invigorated after running that 5K (well more like walking) that I decided I would make a goal in 2013 to participate in one ‘official’ 5K each month.  And just for the record, I have EXCEEDED that goal and even have participated in two 10K runs this year.  I have enjoyed all of my running experiences and while I don’t see running as my primary form of exercise, it is something that I will continue to do every week.

This brings me to my triathlon experience……

During my daughter’s dance recital practice (May 29, 2013), I was approached by a dance mom (and fellow runner/walker) who asked if I was going to participate in ChelanMan in July (July 21, 2013).  I had no idea what ChelanMan was so she informed me it was a triathlon.  A triathlon?  She told me there were several different triathlon lengths and that she was signing up to do the “Try-A-Tri”.  Hmmmm – swimming AND biking AND running?  I wondered to myself ‘who in the world does that’!  I mean, yes I can ride a bike and yes I can swim and yes I can run but can I do them all together in one day and do them back to back?  After checking out the different options, I decided ‘What the Heck’, if my friend can do it, so can I.  So I signed myself up for ChelanMan “Try-A-Tri” (400 meters of swimming; 13.1 miles of biking and 5K of running) and started my training. 

Which takes me to Cycle Central……

Cycle Central had just recently opened in Wenatchee and I was in the market for what I thought were biking shorts to use for ChelanMan.  After walking in the store and browsing the bike clothing selections, Carmen approached me and asked what I was in the market for.  I told her about my triathlon coming up and from there a blessed friendship was born.  She told me she was a fellow triathlete and that what I really needed was a special tri-suit or tri outfit that would allow me to swim, bike and run without having to change clothes.  Are you serious?  They make something like that??  There was so much to learn more than just the mechanics of swimming, biking and running.  It was so overwhelming.  She recommended a few books for me to read about triathlons and even let me borrow one from her collection.  She then recommended that I wear a wet suit during the swim because you never know how cold the water would be and the last thing I would want would be to get cold and panic in the water.  I reserved my wetsuit directly from Cycle Central and was so surprised that they would offer such a thing but so glad they did.  They even tuned up my bike and changed out my old tires for new ones to make sure my bike was in the best condition it could be in before my training began.


My Training…….

Initially my training consisted of doing a different part of the triathlon alternating activities each day.  I swam in the pool at the YMCA; started biking around the Riverfront loop and running either at the Riverfront or in my neighborhood.  About three weeks prior to the start of the race, I then increased my training to doing two portions of the triathlon per day and sometimes back to back just to experience that transition.  The week of the triathlon, I increased my training to doing all three portions of the training back to back.  The transition from biking to running was brutal on my legs to the point where I thought something was wrong with me.  Goodness, could I really do this?  Even though it would be different during the actual race I just had a feeling that I would be successful at this triathlon.  I knew I could do it. 

The Monday before the event, my husband and I had a ‘date night’ in Chelan because he wanted me to feel comfortable with the bike portion and get a feel of the course before race day.  So we drove to Chelan, parked at the event site and proceeded to ride the entire 13.1 miles!  Half way through the ride, I experienced my first flat tire and was so glad my husband was there to help me!  He changed it for me and taught me how to do this in case it happened while I was ever riding alone.  To experience that flat tire made me extremely nervous about it happening on race day but I just had to accept that if it did happen, it happened.  Not much I could do about it.  All during the practice ride my husband kept complimenting me on how well I was riding and that he was impressed with my cycling ability.  I felt so proud getting those compliments from him because he had so much cycling experience.  I was even more confident in my cycling ability after that ride, it gave me the boost I needed to go into the event with a smile on my face.  After the ride, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Campbell’s Resort in Chelan and just had a wonderful evening.

Two days prior to the event, I picked up my wetsuit from Cycle Central and after pulling it out of the bag, I thought to myself “how in the world am I going to get this thing on”.  Carmen gave me some great pointers about how to get it on and suggested that I even test it in the water before I do the event because it will make you more buoyant and help you float.  While I didn’t test the wetsuit in the water before I did the event (which I now regret), I did try it on at home.  My husband took delight in testing out the wetsuit to see if it was truly water resistant.  He literally took the hose to me in the backyard and got me as wet as he possibly could!  I couldn’t feel a thing – the suit kept me dry and even kept me warm.  I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait to actually use it in the lake.  Wahoo!

The advice I received from Carmen at Cycle Center was invaluable.  Not only did she give me pointers on what to wear and how to prepare my body for the event, she also helped me get an idea of how to lay out my transition station for the event.  I had read about it in the book she gave me but she helped me visualize what to place on a towel (yes, you need a towel or something you lay this stuff on), where to put my bucket of water to rinse my feet, what to place on my bike etc.  She had so much valuable ‘personal’ experience that she shared with me that the book didn’t provide and it was reassuring to know that the information she passed along was based on real life experience.  I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Checking In …….

I checked in the day before the event and was there ‘early’ so I could find a ‘prime’ spot to set up my bike.  I knew I wanted it on the outside of a bike rack so that I could easily navigate through the crowd of people that would be transitioning from the swim portion to the bike.  (Yes, I actually thought I would be fighting for room in the transition area) to escape from my wetsuit.  I had to leave my bike in the transition area over night and although I was uneasy about it, it was a rule that I had to accept.  I attended the mandatory ChelanMan meeting that afternoon and learned more about the triathlon routes for all three portions of the event.  I already knew going into the weekend where I would be biking and running but wasn’t sure of the swim portion so attending that meeting set my mind at ease.  At the end of the day, I enjoyed a nice meal with my husband and daughter as well as my sister and brother in law that drove up from Oregon to cheer me on at the event.  I headed to bed early that night as I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep well and would have to wake up early on race day.

Race Day……..

This is it!!  My first triathlon experience was finally here!  I woke up early and immediately started getting ready.  I put on my tri-suit and made my way down to the transition area to set up my station.  When I got there I noticed there were so many empty bike racks in our section of the transition area so I politely asked the race officials if I could move my bike from my assigned area to a vacant space.  I squealed with delight when I was told I could move my bike! So I moved it over one rack and had the whole rack to myself.  I felt even more confident that I would be able to navigate the transition area to my advantage.  I laid out all of my gear and mentally readied my mind for this exciting event.  I headed to breakfast to fuel my system with bananas, oatmeal and some protein and ate enough to take away the hunger but I did have to choke it down as my stomach was filled with butterflies.  After breakfast, I headed back down to the race area to get ‘marked’ with my race number and age.  What a wonderful feeling it was to get ‘inked’ – I kept thinking, this is really going to happen.  I then had a nice gentleman put air in my tires and hopped on my bike to make sure everything on my bike worked as it should. T-2 hours and counting!

Now it was time to get that wetsuit on which I thought was going to be a challenge but I guess practice makes perfect!  It went on without a hitch.  I made sure I put my timing device on the correct foot, grabbed my swim cap and goggles and after getting lots of hugs and kisses from my husband and daughter, I set off to the lake.  Since I was doing the Try-A-Tri, my event was set to begin at 8:30 but I wanted to experience everything there was to a triathlon so watched the earlier events take off.  Plus I knew it would be a good opportunity to test out my wetsuit in the lake. T-1 hour and counting!

I arrived to watch the Sprint Triathlon get started and saw exactly how the swimmers set off, found their stride and turned the corners of their route.  I walked into Lake Chelan and was so surprised at how warm the lake was.  We had really warm weather the couple of weeks leading up to the event so the water was warmer than usual which helped calm those butterflies that were still flying about my stomach.  I put on my swim cap and goggles and started swimming around.  But wait, why can’t I swim like I did in the pool?  This wetsuit really does help a person float!  I actually struggled swimming in this thing – now I know why the books (and Carmen) encouraged me to test it out before the race.  Oh goodness – what would I do?  Well, too late to take the thing off and since I paid money to rent it, I just had to use it.  So I practiced a bit more and got as comfortable as I could knowing that I was to begin the swim in less than 20 minutes!  Yikes! 

By this time my sister and brother-in-law had arrived and found me at the lake with my husband and daughter.  I got lots of hugs and kisses from all and then waited patiently for my coral of swimmers to take off.  As I entered the lake to wait for the announcer to send us off, I chatted with some lovely ladies and we all shared our triathlon experiences.  It was comforting to know most of us were first-timers and were all going to be experiencing this together.  We watched the people in the Try-A-Tri coral in front of us and it was at that time I made up my mind to hang out towards the back of my group to allow myself some space to swim. Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Our ‘gun’ went off and here is when my fun began!

Swim Portion……..

I took off towards the back of the pack and set out trying to do the front crawl amidst all these bodies in the water.  Ah ha – another thing I didn’t experience during training was doing this swim with 50-100 people in a confined area.  I really really tried to swim but initially found myself doing what I could to stay afloat without getting hit in the head or legs by other people.  I rounded the first corner and found it was necessary to lie on my back to catch my breath and calm myself down. I hung out close to the ‘orange’ rope and when I saw that the number of bodies was clearing out, I turned myself over and actually started swimming!  I was finally getting into a groove - my breathing slowed down and before I knew it, I rounded the second buoy.  I thought to myself, this is going great!  I kept swimming and floating to get to the end and at one point I needed to get my bearings to see how far I still had to go.  It was at this point I realized I could actually stand up in the water but I didn’t want to cheat so I laid back down in the water and kept swimming.  I felt like Dory from Finding Nemo – just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming.  I was so close to the end.  When I reared my head from the water, I heard a voice shout “keep swimming as long as you can; it is easier to swim in the water then it is to walk”.  So I finished my swim strong and before I knew it, my feet hit the sand!  I did it!  I completed 400 meters of swimming.  At this point, the transition area was not as crowded as it was when the race started.  There were still quite a few bikes still in the racks and I thought “Hmmm – I was so worried about finding my bike because it would be crowded but it turns out, I am not as fast as the others.  But you know what, I am still faster than the other people who are still in the lake”! Oh my gosh 1 out of 3 legs completed!  I ran for the transition area and found my bike and my family!!! 

Bike Portion ………..

Off came the swim cap, goggles and the ever wonderful wetsuit!  I rinsed my feet off and began putting on my socks and lacing up my sneakers.  On went the bike helmet, gloves, race number and sunglasses and I took off with my bike running up the grassy hill to the pavement.  My family gave me shouts of encouragement to keep going and how well I was doing that left me feeling so giddy!  I had set my bike gear in a low gear to help me get up the hill and when I got to the top, my husband was there telling me to “Vai Vai Vai (an ever important Italian term which means Go Go Go!).  He ran a part of it with me like they do on all professional bike races and I was off!  I thought my legs were going to feel tired after swimming but I remember thinking how strong I felt going into the bike portion.  It felt amazing to pass people on my bike!  I was still a bit wet and it felt great to have that sun hit my suit and skin and before I knew it, I was hot and thirsty.  There were volunteers on the course with water, gel snacks and squirt guns to help refresh us which was very nice until one of the volunteers actually pegged me with her squirt gun and nearly knocked me off my bike.  Ouch!  But I kept on going and made the turnaround (past the area where the flat tire occurred before) and headed back for the transition area.  I kept seeing all the other Try-A-Tri participants on the other side of the road still heading for the turn around point and thought I was doing really well. Then I saw the Youth Division on the other side of the road as well and thought those kids were amazing for doing a triathlon so early in their lives.  I commended their parents for getting them so active at a young age.  I was so lost in thought that I actually ran into an ‘orange safety cone’ and knocked the darn thing over and almost knocked myself over in the process.  What in the world was I doing daydreaming during this event!  Focus Robin – you are so close to the end of the bike leg, how in the world would it look if you had to drop out because of a silly injury you caused yourself!  I gathered myself together and crested the hill and down into the transition area to drop my bike.  And guess what, there was my family again cheering me on!!  I felt so loved!  Oh my gosh - 2 out of 3 legs completed!  I can do this!!

Run Portion …….

I ran my bike into the transition area and placed it in the rack and off came my helmet, gloves and sunglasses (temporarily).  Since I had decided to use my running shoes for the bike and run portions of the event to cut down on transition times, all I had to do was turn my race number around and put on my visor and sunglasses and I was off!

Again, my family cheered me on the whole way to the road and at one point, my daughter who was running along side me asked me if we could get ice cream when we were done!  I thought to myself, I have just swam ¼ mile, biked 13 miles and you are asking for ice cream?”  I politely told her that I had other things on my mind and I would think about it during my run.  As I neared the top of the hill to get into my running groove, I realized how much I missed having my motivational running music to help me keep pace.  Because this was an official Triathlon event, we were prohibited from wearing or listening to music devices during the event.  Oh how I missed my music.  Since I had been doing my training of these legs back to back, I knew that it would be a tough start to the run portion.  You see, my legs felt like jello and I quickly learned you really do use different muscles for biking than you do for running.  So while I intended to start off running, I had to alternate between walking and running until my legs were able to run like my brain wanted them to do.  But after the first ¼ to ½ mile of walking/running I actually began to run a lot of the 5K.  I still alternated between running and walking a lot and did get passed by a number of people that I knew I had passed on the bike portion.  But I didn’t care – I was still in this race and I was determined to finish.  As I made my way to the finish line, I passed the area in which I hit the traffic cone with my bike and saw a stash of energy beans that must have fallen out of my Bento Bag during the ‘incident’.  No time to stop and pick them up - I was so close to the finish line.  When I crested that last hill, I saw all of the spectators and earlier triathlon finishers waiting at the end of the line for the rest of us to cross.  Again, my husband was there and my brother-in-law taking pictures capturing this special day for me.  My good friend, Heidi, was there with her family rooting me on.  They made the trip to Chelan (on her daughter’s birthday) to share in this experience with me.  My daughter met me as I made the last turn and ran a portion of the way with me right before I crossed the finish line.  I did it!  3 out of 3 legs completed!  I completed my first triathlon!!!!

Crossing the Finish Line……

At the end of the finish line, I remember stepping forward to collect my finisher’s medal and having one of the proudest moments in my life! And wait – what did that official clock say?  Did it really say 1:53:06?  Not only did I cross that finish line, but I crossed it in less than my goal of two hours.  I crossed it with almost seven minutes to spare! I couldn’t believe it!  Yes, I could believe it!  I set my mind to it, trained for it and crossed that finish line myself!  No one did it for me and I knew that my mom and dad were there in spirit and cheering me on from above!  After collecting my medal and much needed water, I found my family and friends and received so many hugs and pats on the back.  They even hugged me back even though I endured almost two hours of sweat!  My family and friends told me how proud they were of me and my daughter was so sweet, she ran back to the food stations countless times to get me bananas, oranges, bagels and loads of water to help me in my recovery.  My brother in law captured more photos of me and my family with my medal and then I began to share my triathlon experiences with them.  My daughter once again asked about ice cream after she gave me the biggest hug and kiss!  I basked in those final moments before we set off to gather up my belongings and head to the showers.  We finished the morning with a great breakfast at the Apple Cup diner in Chelan and I had the most amazing omelet ever and some of my daughters French toast and some of my sister’s breakfast too!  It was amazing how much of an appetite I worked up.  The rest of the day was spent recovering, including a much needed and well-deserved nap and a congratulatory dinner that night at my favorite restaurant McGlinns.  I wore my commemorative ChelanMan T-shirt proudly and still am amazed at what I did! 

Post Race Memories …….

I relived my wonderful day with so many friends, family and neighbors and they all were so supportive and congratulated me on the wonderful job I did.  I remember thinking how wonderful it was to complete something that I had no idea I ever wanted to do.  It just goes to show that anyone can do and accomplish anything and they set their mind to!

As I dropped my wetsuit back at Cycle Central, I was able to tell my story to Carmen and I think she could tell that the triathlon bug hit me.  If it weren’t for her, I don’t think I would have finished so well.  I would have had the wrong clothes, been disorganized and mentally not prepared for the experience.  I was so glad that my friends at Cycle Central were there to help me with my first triathlon experience and I look forward to many, MANY more triathlon events in my future.