By: Delanie West
Completing my first triathlon. Conquering hair issues, water fears and what was once deemed “impossible”.
I became aware of Tri at least 2 years ago during a race with one of my running mentors. Initially - I thought it was the most awful competition in the world. I only knew of Ironman. At the time –I had NO idea of the various types of Triathlon.
This conversation stuck with me, and as I accomplished my progressively more difficult running challenges, and came to better understand that there was a beginner level tri (sprint) that was absolutely achievable. ( .5 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run ) I knew that a triathlon was something I wanted to “tri”. Through networking with all of the wonderful people in the running & racing community – I met lots of women who were EXCLUSIVELY tri-athletes.
However, I first had to learn how to swim. I never learned as a girl – I remember a few lessons at the YMCA growing up, but in my adult years, I was still the girl who posed and tanned by the pool on beach, or floated on my inflatable chair, because for me the pool had nothing to do with exercise.
I needed to find a place that offered private instruction. My confidence in the water was NON-existent. I had ZERO comfort level and needed to be hand held throughout the entire learning process. I signed up for individual classes at a local gym in a 5” deep JR. Olympic pool. Over time, I ended up working with two instructors, who when were not working with me, spent their time teaching kids how to swim.
Being taught the basics of swim by college kids working part time at the pool wasn’t the BEST way or most effective use of my time – but I continued to spend one day a week working with them becoming progressively more comfortable in the water. Working on my stroke, bi-lateral breathing, and freestyle. (only because I could not do ANY other stroke.) At the beginning of my lessons, I could not swim a quarter of a pool length. Some days I could go 12.5 meters without stopping. As time went on I could go full pool length. My moment of truth on swimming came when I attempted to swim in a full olympic sized pool (7’ depths). This was going to be impossible because I never trained in water deeper than 5’. Instantly I knew I needed better instructors in deeper waters.
Making this jump took some planning, I needed to join a health club that featured 7’ depths. I also needed to find a swim instructor who was capable in teaching adults.
I had my eye on the Total Immersion method. I was introduced to this method by a friend who “re-learned” swimming via this method – and spoke the praises of a more efficient stroke, and effortless glide through the water. She showed me a video of this technique online – if you Google Total Immersion – you most likely will find a You-tube video that features English and Japanese subtitles. You’ll then experience one of the most beautiful visual of a human in water. The featured swimmer made my swim technique look like a drowning in progress. I needed to learn this technique.
After an incredible stroke of luck, the new health club that I wanted to join also featured TI classes! If you know anything about this technique – you’ll know that finding a coach teaching these sessions isn’t that easy. I was lucky to find a gym, and a course that was less than 10 minutes away from where I lived.
In addition to my coach being a very well known competitive swimmer, she was also president of the local tri-club, and would be offering a triathlete 18 week training class at my gym. I was in. All training would be done indoors, with select sessions done in open water and road.
I first started the 12 week session of total immersion – which completely transformed how I interact in the water. My beginner sessions in the 5’ pool proved their worth, as I believe they gave me the confidence to move straight into the TI training and work on the technique not having to address my “other” water issues.
During all of this, I was in constant training mode, for half marathons and a full marathon.
An important deciding factor for deciding on Tri-athlete training was my finding an activity that would take away the constant pounding and pressure on my joints from the amount of running that I had been doing. I will have to transition as I get older into other cross training activities and events – I believe that triathlons are the perfect answer to remaining competitive without the repetition.
I’m sure you are wondering, how I manage my hair as swim training requires you to be in the water 3 or more days per week. I made the very easy decision to go natural – keeping my hair in a very short crop. I figured out a long time ago that I have much more fun spending time in the gym and being active than I do sitting underneath a dryer in a salon.
I have 8 weeks of training before my indoor and 12 before my outdoor tri. I am looking forward to learning/doing more training on the transitions (which everyone will tell you is one of the more important aspects of tri). I’ve got a lot more work to do on my swim, just becoming comfortable with 7’ depths was a huge process. I am super confident on the bike and run portions. I have decreased the amount of running I do each week to spend more time in the water.
My stroke has become cleaner – and I am expending far less effort and energy than I used to during laps.
Completing a Sprint Tri for me is about the fun of constant challenge and the interest to learn more about what I can push my body and mind to do. I don’t yet know if I’ll develop an affinity for the sport and continue to do more events. I certainly hope so .