My First Triathlon

A story written by local business woman, Karen Solverson about how she changed her life...

Less than a year before, I was sitting in the doctor’s office at Mayo Clinic waiting for a diagnosis after years of joint issues.  When he came into the room and told me that my immune system was attacking my own body and basically eating away the cartilage, but he wasn’t quite sure what to call it, I was shocked.  So then the question became, “Now what?” He offered pills to reduce the pain, but told me it would not be a cure.  The pills ended up having worse side effects than the pain, so I stopped and decided I just needed to take my body back…with what I was eating and what I was doing with my body. 

I set my sights on a triathlon because I knew I needed to cross train so there was not as much demand on the joints.  I knew I’d been using the pain and being too busy as an excuse to not workout like I should, and just decided I was training for my life and I was taking control. That was a powerful sense of empowerment in itself.  I started out walking and swimming at the start of 2011.  I was shocked that I had to keep stopping while I was swimming, and found out how out of shape I had become.  I never thought I would like swimming, but I ended up more recharged at the end of the workout and really started to like it a lot. I kept setting my goal to go a certain number of laps before stopping and soon, I was swimming for 30 minutes with just a quick stop in the middle.

 Walking turned to a run/walk, and at first I would run down the hills and walk up the hills and each time, I’d look for cracks in the road or something ahead of myself and tell myself to “just keep moving” and make it to the new mark, and then I’d push to hit the next shadow on the road or stop sign and soon I was running a mile without stopping and then two.  About that time, I decided to get on the bike and just see if I could make it to Viroqua and back (4 miles each way).  I remember the first time and having to stop on certain hills, completely winded, and I just wanted to quit.  I felt old, but that approaching 40th birthday was not going to win.  I walked some on the first two rides, usually just on this one horrible hill right at the end, but with time, I was flying on that route and started looking for a more challenging ride.

 I’d gotten to the point of being able to run 4 miles and bike 17 and swim for 30 minutes by the start of July, and felt very confident about doing a triathlon in October, when I realized the Viroqua Triathlon was 4 days away.  After talking to several people who had done it before, and probably in a moment of insanity, I clicked on the button online to enter the triathlon, deciding that I just wanted to know if I could finish.  Anxiety really built and suddenly race day was here. Everyone showed up with these fancy bikes and strange tires I’d never seen before, with lean, strong, young bodies and panic set in.  I just closed my eyes and remembered I was not there to race them….just to prove this to myself, that I had taken back my body and I was in charge.  I remembered my dad, when I told him what I was doing, and he assured me that if I couldn’t finish, he would come pick me up.  I told myself I was not calling him until I was done, even if it took me five hours to finish. 

The swim began, and due to my shoulder issues, I had to do the breast stroke, and I saw in a hurry that even in the slowest group of swimmers, I was really pretty slow.  Then I ran to the bathroom to change (wow, am I a novice) and my shirt was wet and got stuck trying to get it off.  Finally it came off and of course the new one stuck going on and stretched and my number tag was on it and had to be redone. By the time I ran back outside, eight minutes had gone by, but the quivering in my legs began to go away.  I jumped on my bike and off I went.  A light rain began to fall and it felt good as the temperature started to climb.  The first several miles were more or less downhill, as I’d seen on the contour map I studied earlier, and then the uphill began and never quit.  People were passing me going downhill as they pedaled and I realized my mountain bike must have very different gearing than their road bikes, because I couldn’t pedal on the downhill sections.  They passed me going uphill, too, but to my amazement, nearly every one of them told me to keep going and not give up. I started thinking there was a sign on my back that said, “Please help me.”  The volunteers were wonderful, clapping and cheering like they were my best friends, telling me I could do it.  I believed them all and just kept pushing forward. 

I made the final hill back to the transition area, hopped off and took a minute to stretch and be sure of my legs and drink some water before starting the run.  I’d never pushed myself to this point before and it was now a mental game to overcome what my body wanted to do.  I had looked at the map so I knew where the one and two mile markers were so I had something to work toward, and told myself if I had to walk, I would, and I had come this far so I was not calling anyone for a ride now.  I hit the mile marker by VMH and thought, “Wow, just two to go.  I think I can really finish this!”  People cheered on Main Street, and volunteers pushed me to keep going, and I hit the two mile mark and knew I was going to do this.  There was one horrible hill left to conquer, and then the home stretch.  I felt like I was back in high school at a track meet in that last 100 yards and I picked it up a little bit and really pushed at the end.  I crossed that line and I heard everyone cheering and yelling my name, and I was just in a state of shock. 

I had done it.  I had been nearly 40 pounds heavier 7 months ago, defeated about the news about my joints, and resigned to the fact that I was just too busy to do things for me, and yet here I was at the finish line.  I had done it.  I took back control of my body and my life, I finished the race, and I began the next leg of my journey as a happier, lighter, more toned, forty year old woman.