I Was Overweight, Out of Shape and Completed My First Triathlon After 50 — And You Can, Too!

Ladies celebrating triathlon after 50

If you want people to sit up and give you their attention, just mention that you are training for a triathlon. Especially if you’re training for your first triathlon after 50. Their jaws drop and they look at you with admiration. It feels great!

Why I Decided to Do a Triathlon

As part of my “Margie Project” the year I turned 50, I trained for and completed a 5K run. Just like many people (maybe you), I had always shied away from running and said, “I’m not a runner.”

When I first started training for the 5K with my workout buddy Nikki, I could run a half mile. A couple of months later, we ran the 5K together.

That was really exciting for me. Especially since I was really overweight and still did it!

About six months later I had started losing weight on a program and was continuing to run. I also liked to bike ride. Nikki mentioned that she was doing a triathlon about four months later, and asked if I would like to do it, too.

Even though I was still overweight, I was feeling better about myself and was looking for a new challenge, so I agreed.

The Definition of a Triathlon

Many people are confused by the term triathlon, and what it entails. There are four different types of triathlons, and you can learn about all of them from this Active Times post.

I signed up for the shortest one, called a “sprint.” While it varies slightly from race to race, it’s generally about a half mile swim, 12.5-mile bicycle ride, and a 3.1-mile run.

Most triathlons are outdoors, and the swim portion is completed in the ocean or a lake. The swim portion is the part most people are afraid of. I’ve talked to many people who say they would be happy to bike or run, but are freaked out by the creatures swimming in the ocean or a lake.

By the way, I’m one of those people. I enjoy swimming in pools, and even though I am a 50-year-old mermaid, I was very nervous about swimming in open water. But I decided to do it anyway. As surfer Laird Hamilton says, “Everyone should experience fear at least once a day.”

Training With a Buddy

I mentioned that I had trained with my friend Nikki for the 5K. While training for a triathlon and training for a 5K are very different, I was lucky that Nikki had done both 5Ks and triathlons, and was willing to be my workout buddy. She was also a cheerleader and mentor.

Even though she had a full-time job, and we didn’t work out together much for the triathlon training, she was always there to answer my zillions of questions. She also provided encouraging words when I kept her updated on my progress.

She (and another workout buddy, Monica) also went with me on open water swims during the last month of training, which was very important.

I was lucky to have other workout companions (my husband is a bike rider), and cheerleaders (my husband, daughter, and Mom, as well as several friends), but Nikki was the superstar.

So — a big thank you to Nikki! Cheers!

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a Nikki in your life right now, you can find one by checking out a Triathlete Group in your area. I joined the Boca Raton Triathletes Facebook group and got great info. I also saw many posts about training and tips. Soon after I finished my triathlon I realized I could really use the resources of the real-life group so I joined. If you ever need training buddies, there are always some in those groups.

Your Shopping List

While I had some items already (a road bicycle, sneakers, some running outfits), there were some items I needed to buy to compete in the triathlon.

We have bicycle, running, and swim stores in my area (I live in Boca Raton, FL), but they didn’t always have what I needed or wanted, or at a reasonable price. So I bought many of my items online.

Nikki and Monica and I often talked about our gear and shared where to buy things. The list of items I bought is available here.  

My Training Regimen

By the time I started seriously training, I had lost 35 pounds. This really helped me, especially with my running.

I had always taken vitamins, but I started taking three capsules daily of turmeric (it had lessened my husband’s knee pain, so I figured it would keep me feeling good, and it did.)

I had about three months to train for the triathlon.

I put my workouts on my calendar for six days of the week, and one day of rest. The weather was generally good for most of my training (Florida from December through February), so I rarely missed a day.

As a business owner, I have a flexible schedule, which really helps. I usually worked out in the morning. Sometimes I trained at lunchtime, or even in the afternoon. Nikki always worked out in the afternoon or early evening during the week. You can fit in the training whenever it works for you.

Nikki and Monica shared this three-month training regimen with me. I followed the last month’s schedule, but prior to that, I did my own thing (see below). I know that Nikki and Monica follow the three-month schedule and it works for them.

Note: The last month of the training regimen above was really important to follow because it included combinations of two activities together. So you might bike and then run, or swim and run. This was important training preparation for the triathlon which requires that you complete three activities in a row.  

Here is how I trained for each portion prior to the last month:

Swimming:

I have a pool, but it’s small, and not good for laps. I hadn’t swum laps since high school, so I joined a local swim club and began to swim laps twice a week. I started out with 10 lengths and worked up to 50 lengths. My goal (which I made up) was to always do at least DOUBLE what was required in the triathlon. Since 20 lengths was a ½ mile in the 25-yard pool, 50 lengths worked well.

The month before the triathlon I went for three practice swims in the ocean with Nikki and sometimes our other triathlete buddy, Monica.

The first swim was in calm waters, which I was told was unusual. I felt lucky to have that as my first experience since I was very nervous. I swam more slowly than both Nikki and Monica, but I had no problem swimming.

The second swim was much rougher. There were big waves that kept crashing into us, but I made it through that, too.

I always practiced in the ocean wearing my tri suit, since that’s what I would be wearing on race day. That’s how I learned that I had an underarm chafing issue, and why I bought anti-chafing lotion (see my Shopping List.)

In addition to drinking lots of water during training, I would make sure to eat small snacks or meals before working out. I would generally eat a protein bar about an hour before a swim.  

Biking:

I have ridden a bicycle on and off since I was a teenager. A couple of years ago, my husband got a good bonus at work and bought us some nice road bikes. I enjoy riding and can ride easily without getting too winded. This was the triathlon portion that I felt most confident about. For training, my goal was to ride DOUBLE the 12.5-mile race amount, so I rode 25 miles or more. I did this twice a week.

Sometimes I would ride with my husband on the weekends. He likes to ride in places with more traffic, which isn’t my favorite way to ride. I’m lucky that we live a mile away from a large housing development with an enclosed three-mile bike path. I used that often for training. If you don’t have that option, you can also ride a stationary bike.

A week before the race, I scheduled a bicycle maintenance to make sure everything was working properly. It was really busy at my bike shop, so next time I would do it two weeks before the race.

I eat a protein bar about 20 minutes before every bike ride. I’ve gotten hungry on long rides and have had to cut them short so I minimize the time between eating and riding.

Running:

I had been running occasionally since the 5K, and I quickly got up to my the 5K amount (3.1 miles). Again, my goal is to always train DOUBLE the race amount, so I ran twice a week for the first two months and worked my way up to 6.2 miles.

I preferred running outdoors. I get very warm easily, so I ran early in the day, or if it was just too hot or if it was raining, I would run on the treadmill at the gym. I also used a cooling towel and sometimes wet my hat, too. Running outdoors feels different than running on a treadmill, and since you’ll be running outside during a triathlon, I strongly recommend that you train by running outdoors at least near the time of your race.

I eat a protein bar about 30 minutes before a run. I also do stretches and squats, and massage my calves and thighs based on Tom Brady’s peak performance book, which I love:

 

I also check the weather before I run and use this site to determine what type of top and bottom to wear while running in different temperatures.

Yoga:

Nikki suggested that for my Active Rest Day (on the training schedule), I consider yoga. I’m so glad she did! I did Yin Yoga at my local gym, and it was — and is — amazing. Great for recovery, stretching, and so relaxing, too!

Finally, it was almost race day. We picked up our packets two days before the triathlon. They contained instructions, our race numbers, etc.  

Racing Day

Our race was on Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

We had to check in no later than 6:30 a.m. and the clocks had sprung ahead a few hours earlier, so we lost an hour. My husband and daughter came with me, even though they were exhausted. So was I, but the adrenaline was pumping.

My husband tied my bike onto our SUV’s bike rack and helped me carry a few things in, which was really helpful.

I ate a larger than normal breakfast because I knew my age group wasn’t racing for a couple of hours. It consisted of two slices of Ezekiel Sprouted Grains bread, almond butter, and apricot fruit-only jam, tea with goat milk and Stevia.

Parking took a long time and we arrived later than I expected. I hastily checked in and brought my items with me to my area.

I put my bike on the rack, and laid out items below on a towel, as Nikki had suggested I do.

Nikki and I then went to the Porta Potty line to go to the bathroom before the race.

A few of us met up before the race to walk along the beach and check out the swim course:

Finally, at 8:04, Nikki and I were ready to go. We were in the 50-54 women age group. There was a surprisingly large group of us.

The waters were really rough. I was glad that the second practice swim had given me experience swimming in tough conditions.  

Swimming!

When the whistle blew (or whatever it was that got us started), we had to walk in the water, and swim to a buoy farther out. The waves were big and it took a while to get to the buoy.

Once I got to the buoy, I was excited. Then I heard some women yelling “Help!” and “Get me out of here!” I’m guessing that they hadn’t practiced swimming in rough water, or just got panicked, and wanted to get out. Nikki and Monica told me that in every triathlon they’ve been in, people ask to be pulled out by the rescue crew.

That experience threw me for a loop. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to stay or go. Then swimmers around me started to go so I did, too. Luckily, the current was strong and it helped move me along to the end buoy more quickly.

It was hard to get out of the water since the waves were still crashing, but I finally did. I jogged out onto the sand and saw my husband, daughter, and some friends. They were waving me on!

Biking!

It took a while to jog to our bikes. I then had to towel my feet off, put on socks and sneakers, and I ate half of a protein bar because I couldn’t find my Goo (the packet of gelatinous stuff people eat during races). Oh, and I drank a lot of water and put on my cooling towel and helmet, bike gloves and sunglasses. My transition time between swimming and biking was pretty long (about 10 minutes) which is an eternity in the triathlon world. But I wasn’t competing on the time element; I just wanted to finish the triathlon.

The biking seemed pretty easy when I started, but then it got windy. Really windy. It was pretty tiring during the last few miles, but I did it.

Then I came back to my station and got ready to run. Whew!

Running!

I drank more water and only needed seven minutes to transition to running. I was tired, but my goal was to run (not walk) the 3.1 miles. Many people were walking at that point, but I ran (slowly) and finished.

Finishing!

When I went through the finish line, my family and friends cheered me on. I found out later than I had placed 10th in my age group!

It was a terrific feeling!

My husband, daughter, and friends all went out to breakfast after the race and then I went home and took a nap!

Afterglow

A few days after the triathlon, Nikki said to me, “Wow, you’re an athlete.”

Of course, I might have been one already. Maybe I was one all my life, but I never realized it. And I didn’t embrace that term until I finished the triathlon.

The best part? I wasn’t just an athlete. I was a triathlete. I even included that term on my Facebook profile! Plus, I wasn’t just a triathlete. I was a first-time triathlete, and I had finished my first triathlon after 50.

When I put up a Facebook post and thanked some people who helped me along the way, I got amazing comments and likes from people I hadn’t heard from in years. When I saw people in person they also congratulated me.

Another plus — my daughter, a teenager, told her friends that I had finished a triathlon. So now I was definitely the cool Mom!

Wishing They Could Do That

The high I experienced while training and especially after finishing the triathlon was fantastic, but the experience wasn’t a cake walk. It was doable, however.

Many people said to me, “I wish I could do that.” So I decided to write about my experience, in case they wanted to train for and complete a triathlon, too.

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or fitness expert. I am sharing my personal experience. Before undertaking any fitness regimen, check with a medical professional.)

I hope my story helps you consider going for a stretch goal, too! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, as well as your experiences, in the comments, below.

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