I panicked a little bit as I slid off the dock into murky green water. I am used to being able to see clearly when I swim laps in the YMCA pool, but being barely able to see my own torso below me as I bobbed in the ParkCenter Pond freaked me out. My friend Jeanette slid alongside me and we paddled around the dock to wait for the starting gun with more than 80 other beginner triathletes. This was my first triathlon. It was an entry-level event in August called the Y-Not Triathlon, composed of short legs of swimming, bicycling and running through the ParkCenter area of Boise. In the days leading up to the event, my friends wrinkled their noses when I told them I was planning to swim in the warm, oversized puddle that gets its murky green color from all the goose and duck poop floating in it.
What had driven me to swimming in a poop-filled pond?
Until I had children I was a pretty active chick. From second grade to seventh, I belonged to a year-round swim team in Southern California and in high school, I ran on the cross-country team. In my 20s, I was a tall, happy hardbody who knew my way around the local Gold's Gym and ran 5K and 10K races for fun. The day before I gave birth to my first son, I was swimming laps in the gym pool with my sister. We used the giant timing clock on the wall to time my contractions.
But the fresh air and sunshine of my youth were gradually replaced with the responsibilities of raising a family. Workouts dwindled down to taking long walks or grudgingly going through the motions at the gym. Buns of steel became mounds of dough and my upper arms looked like sausages. Unhappy with how I looked and felt when I turned 39 this June, I decided to do something radical. I started with brisk hikes to Table Rock with Jeanette. During one of our hikes, I told her I'd always wanted to race in a triathlon, and within a few days, we had both signed up to do the Y-Not.
Boise's Y-Not Triathlon has existed for 20 years and is an endurance race geared specifically for beginning triathletes. Of this year's 336 entrants, 174 were first-timers of whom more than half were women. The Y-Not begins with a quarter-mile swim followed by a six-mile bike ride on ParkCenter Boulevard and ends with a two-mile run along the Greenbelt, covering eight and a quarter miles in total. The Web sites www.trifind.com and www.spondoro.com helped me find Y-Not race information, as well as a duathlon in which Jeanette and I competed two months later and the 10K that I'm running in this weekend. I also found training schedules at www.beginnertriathlete.com.
At 39 years old and just starting to get back into shape, my goals for the Y-Not were to enjoy the race and finish in one hour. When Jeanette and I agreed the mini-triathlon would be do-able I was already swimming laps in the gym pool once a week and regularly biking a few miles to Lucky 13 in Hyde Park for a beer on weekends with my husband. Jeanette and I traded our hikes to Table Rock for bike rides from Ann Morrison to Barber Park and back. We practiced running (read: barely even jogging) the race route along the Greenbelt in Park Center. And the enjoyment I got from being outside and using my muscles purposefully again was a bonus.
On race day at ParkCenter Pond, 87 pairs of arms and legs churned up the duck poop and I quickly broke away from the pack for fear of being kicked, clawed and swum over by the multitude of thrashing swimmers. After a strong start, I settled into a rhythm and emerged from the water in second place. Those youthful years on swim team finally came in handy. During the cycling leg, many competitors passed me as I chugged along on my son's mountain bike. Yet nearly all who cruised by uttered, "Nice job," and similar kind words. I said those same words later as I jogged past others during the running leg. I crossed the finish line in 52 minutes, feeling both exhausted and elated. And for several weeks after the event, I asked anyone who would listen, "Did I tell you I raced in a triathlon?"