The Story of my First Triathlon, from Training to Race day!
by Allison Fowler
My name is Allison and I live in Charlotte, NC, USA. I’m a Christian, wife, daughter, sister, friend, photographer, and nanny.
Although I’ve exercised regularly for more than 10 years, I would never have classified myself as an athlete. Fit and health-conscious, sure. But an athlete? Definitely not. My younger brother has always filled that role. I’m the academic.
After my husband, Aaron, and I experienced an ectopic pregnancy in October 2010 and then the untimely death of my aunt after a difficult three-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer in January 2011, I desperately needed a way to release the pent-up stress in my body and process my deep feelings of loss. Running became my therapy.
In January 2011, I started a 12-week training program for a 10K race I wanted to run in April 2011. I quickly realized that exercise-induced asthma would be a hurdle I’d have to overcome if I was going to keep running. In addition to asthma, I started experiencing IT band issues in my right knee after 8 weeks of training. I could have taken the easy route and given up in the face of adversity but that’s just not my style. I ran through the pain, completed my first 10K within my goal time and began seeking my next training goal on the car ride home. My running coach and friend, Dexter, encouraged me to consider training for a triathlon to help heal my knee. I laughed and told him he was crazy. I couldn’t swim one lap in the pool without drowning, I was terrified of riding a bike, I had asthma, and my knee was a mess. How on earth could I participate in a triathlon? “I couldn’t swim one lap in the pool and didn’t own a bike before I signed up for my first IRONMAN,” Dexter replied. Alrighty, then. I joined a triathlon training group at my local YMCA in June 2011 where I met my enthusiastic coach, Melonie, and my 27 other training mates. Being the youngest trainee in the group by at least 10 years, I was sure that my age would give me some kind of advantage over everyone else. I quickly realized I was very, very wrong. Every single one of my older, wiser, more experienced training mates were stronger swimmers, faster runners, and better cyclists than me.
I fought the initial urge to be discouraged and chose to work harder than I had for anything else in my 26 short years of life. It didn’t take me long to start bonding with my training mates and their daily encouragement fueled my desire to be just like them…stronger, faster, and better. It was during a bike ride on week two of training that Melonie suggested I sign up for Tri Ballantyne here in Charlotte. That gave me three more weeks to prepare for my first triathlon and, to be completely honest, I thought she had lost her mind. I still couldn’t swim well, I wasn’t comfortable on my bike yet, and my running pace was as slow as molasses. Compete in my first triathlon after just five weeks of training? Maybe I was the one who had lost my mind. July 16th, 2011 arrived before I knew it – and wouldn’t you know that after five weeks of waking up at 4:30am every day to train, I overslept on the morning of my first triathlon! I sat straight up in bed, thanked God that I had packed everything the night before, toasted an english muffin for breakfast, and frantically headed out the door.
Despite oversleeping, I arrived at Tri Ballantyne with plenty of time to set up all of my gear in transition, eat a snack, warm up my legs with a quick run and get encouragement from my coaches and training mates. Before I knew it, I was standing in line at the pool and it was my turn to swim. The nervousness I felt at that moment was so intense…but I knew I could do it. I had to. I had trained so hard for this very moment. “3…2…1…GO!” counted the official…and I was off! I wouldn’t say that my 300-meter swim was graceful or easy by any means – but hearing my husband and Melonie cheer was just what I needed to keep going. My legs felt like noodles as I ran from the pool to transition but I was so happy to be out of the water!
As I mounted my bike and pedaled away from transition, I reminisced about how terrified I was of cycling just five weeks before. If I felt this good after just a few weeks of practice, how much better would I feel at my next triathlon? The thought excited me and fueled my 12.7-mile ride. Much to my surprise, I actually passed a few people on the bike course! I felt great as I entered transition again and changed into my running shoes. No number of brick workouts, however, could have prepared me for how terribly tight my legs felt as I shuffled on to the run course. I wanted to cry but instead, I ran. My legs finally loosened up after the second mile and I got a burst of adrenaline as I anticipated reaching the finish line. As I rounded the final corner, I was greeted by Aaron and a bunch of my training mates cheering. I DID IT! I had accomplished a goal that just two months prior seemed laughable and impossible.
The journey from injured runner to successful first-time-triathlete has been a deeply spiritual one for me. God promises in Isaiah 40:31 that “…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I truly believe that God has used triathlon training to help heal my mind and body after tragedy and heartbreak. I’m in the best shape of my life and couldn’t be happier. Thanks to my amazing husband for supporting me on this journey, to Melonie for always challenging me, and to Dexter for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My name is Allison. I’m a Christian, wife, daughter, sister, friend, photographer, nanny and now, a TRIathlete.
Allison Fowler is a Newbie Triathlete and photographer – check out her website http://www.allisonfowlerphotography.com/ !