Giving It a Tri: Triathlon Training After 40

Training for a triathlon at 41 with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program was more demanding — and more rewarding — than this mother of four could have ever anticipated.

By Sheila Leverone

Setting a GoalIt had been 12 years since my last triathlon at the youthful age of 30 — okay, my only triathlon (a sprint-distance race consisting of 0.5-mile lake swim, 15-mile bike, and 5K run) — and since then, I’d had a daughter Meagan (9), a set of triplets (Brendan, Kyle, and Maura, now 5), and a series of executive-level jobs that collectively had left me totally drained and at my wits’ end. Having taken a one-year leave of absence from my job to spend time with my kids and "recharge my batteries," it seemed the perfect time to attempt an Olympic-distance triathlon (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 6.2-mile run), a long-time goal of mine. Not sure where to begin, but wanting to train for a cause along the way, I picked up the direct mail postcard I had received from Team in Training (TNT), called the number, and registered for the information session.Team in TrainingTNT is composed of more than 32,000 volunteers nationwide who participate in endurance sports events while raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Society is a not-for-profit, voluntary health organization whose mission is to find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma, which collectively strike some 107,900 Americans each year and claim more than 60,500 lives in the U.S. alone. Each participant in the program pledges to raise a certain amount of money during the four to five months they train for their event. And so on that day in January, TNT masterfully convinced me that 1) there were thousands of individuals needing MY personal help in battling blood cancers, and 2) TNT coaches could train me (a month shy of my 42nd birthday) to complete the entire "Escape from Ft. Delaware" Olympic-distance triathlon, and 3) it’d be no big deal to raise the $2,300 minimum contribution. Despite the youthfulness of the other participants I saw at the meeting (the "twentysomethings" and "thirtysomethings" as I affectionately came to refer to most of my teammates), I felt there was a place for me in this program, and a purpose for my efforts. Learn more about Team in Training TNT’s Training ScheduleFifteen-week training schedules were provided for three levels, ranging from "beginner" to "elite athlete." TNT sponsored two coach-led training sessions per week — one organized swim session at a local pool and a weekly group bike/run practice at various locations throughout the greater DC area. TNT also sponsored informational seminars covering topics such as nutrition, triathlon equipment, running shoes, and bike fitting.There was no pressure to attend the group sessions, only encouragement to do so for camaraderie and fun. With four kids and a marathoner husband to consider in the schedule, however, I most often wound up doing the workouts on my own, only making it to three group swim sessions and three group bike rides during the 20 weeks of training. Those were enough, however, to make friends and feel connected to my teammates on our journey to Ft. Delaware. Relearning How to Swim, Bike & RunSwim TrainingStill confident from my reign as a star eight-and-under breaststroker on the Mantua Marlins swim team in Fairfax, Virginia, I could already swim a mile of freestyle when I began this training. However, I didn’t realize that while I was a proficient (albeit slow) swimmer, I was not a particularly efficient swimmer. Frankly, I thought efficiency was something to strive for in the workplace, not in the pool, so it was no wonder I hadn’t attained this pinnacle of swimming success. As we began to focus on stroke counts and drills, however, I became aware of the flaws in the freestyle stroke I’d been doing for 34 some-odd years. If I could swim more efficiently, I learned, I could theoretically take fewer strokes to complete each lap, and save more energy for the bike and run portions of the race. Two swim lessons with a tri coach confirmed the need to alter my stroke considerably, and thus began my quest to relearn something that previously felt so natural and easy. Now I labored and struggled and analyzed and complained and regressed — all in the name of this elusive "efficiency." I assumed this was what a golfer must go through in trying to alter his/her swing after being entrenched (no pun intended) for years.

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