How I Got Hooked on Triathlon

By Lisanne Rogers | Jan. 06, 2020, 12:48 p.m. (ET)

adjusting goggles in water

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I pulled my goggles over my eyes and took a few deep breaths. The water below looked dark and cold, and I didn’t feel ready to leave the warmth of the soft, salty Texas air.  I saw an empty space directly below me. Don’t hesitate. I closed my eyes and jumped. The water was warmer than it looked and smelled of seaweed. I couldn’t see anything. I am swimming blind. When I surfaced, my arms began to windmill toward the shore. The water was choppy from the frenzied wetsuit-clad swimmers. Every few strokes I looked up to make sure I was heading in the right direction (and that another swimmer wasn’t about to barrel into me).  A hand hit my leg hard as a swimmer went crooked, and I tried to speed up. I gasped for breath every third stroke. As I swam farther away from the boat, the swimmers spaced out and I began to have a rhythm in my head that matched my arms. My breathing eased up. A sense of calmness overtook me in the water, and I counted strokes in a rhythmic fashion, one, two, three, breathe, one two three breathe. I can do this. By the time I neared the one-mile mark of my first triathlon I had found that Zen state.

My feet hit the sand and I stood up in two feet of water. I tried to emulate the swimmer in front of me who was lifting her knees above the water to avoid fatiguing her legs. I pulled off my cap and goggles and reached back for the long tie to pull down the back zipper of my wetsuit. My husband Jim shouted out my name in encouragement. I gave him a smile and thumbs up, and slowly ran up from the shore to the transition area.

Peeling off the skin-tight suit left no time to think about anything besides drying my feet. I wiped the saltwater and black silt from my face with a hand towel and put on my bike shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. My race number was already on my bike. I felt like a warrior as I jogged out of transition while rolling my bike along beside me to the bike start line. I said a little prayer to get me safely to the end

Unlike most triathletes, biking has been my biggest challenge. I find it both exciting and terrifying to fly down a big hill after I have worked hard to get up. Nearly all the experienced cyclists I know have a crash story. One such cyclist, after detailing how he had to remove gravel from his arms and legs with a tweezer, piece by piece, told me, “It’s not if... but when.”

I clipped in successfully and was off. The bike was a long twenty-five miles, and the first few miles I needed to slow down as I weaved through a neighborhood and headed toward the highway. Once on the road, I settled into my aero bars and the spin cadence I had practiced. Spinning with a high turnover and less resistance helps you have fresher legs for the run. Every few minutes someone passed by, and less often I overtook them. I had been warned about the headwind in the first half of the flat out and back course. I reminded myself to keep sipping my endurance drink, keep my shoulders soft and not get discouraged by how the headwind had slowed my speed. You will fly home. I reached the 12.5 half mile cone and turned around with relief. It felt like the wind at my back was an invisible superpower pushing me forward. I focused on my cadence and aerodynamic bike position to take advantage of the wind.

The start of the run was challenging. My legs were like tree trunks as my body protested the continued exertion. I was glad the morning was overcast, but it was still a humid seventy-five degrees. The triathlon magazines talk about having a mantra but, “I just want to walk, please let me walk” kept replacing Muhammad Ali’s, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” I focused on my breathing and arm swings. Just get to three miles, then four miles, and then somehow, miraculously,  I was at 5.2 miles with only one mile left. Nothing can stop me now. Bystanders lined the road, and the excitement of nearing the finish line was contagious. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was hooked on my new sport.