“At Age 70, I Had 19 Days To My First Triathlon” – Pat Johnson’s Story

The Villages, Florida – Can you prepare for your first sprint triathlon in less than 30 days, even at age 70?

According to Pat Johnson, you can. She did it and is now an advocate for seniors to compete in triathlon.

Pat’s story was first published on June 24, 2018. Recently, I contacted her for an update on her triathlon journey. Now approaching age 77, Pat remains active in triathlon and is still enthusiastic about it as a way for seniors to stay fit.

This post, updated on February 8, 2021, combines the story of Pat’s first triathlon and her experiences with the sport over the past two-and-a-half years.

Pat Johnson’s First Triathlon at Age 70

Pat Johnson’s triathlon story begins with a conversation she had a few years ago with her then 35-year-old niece, Barb. Barb told her Aunt Pat about her goal to complete an Ironman triathlon before age 40. Excited by the idea of doing a triathlon, Pat committed to complete a shorter, sprint triathlon by age 70.

Fast forward a couple of years and Barb had completed the Ironman triathlon well before age 40. Meanwhile, the deadline for Pat to complete her first sprint triathlon was quickly approaching.

“19 Days To Get Ready for My First Sprint Triathlon”

Pat did not even know where she could do a triathlon.

“I knew I was going to have to practice swimming in order to complete the triathlon. So, I contacted a guy who also lives in The Villages and was part of the masters swimming program called VAST (Villages Aquatic Swim Team).”

Her swimmer friend told her about triathlons regularly held in Clermont, Florida. She said, “I found out that the next triathlon was in 19 days.”

Undaunted by the short time until the race, Pat registered for it, her first sprint triathlon.

The next morning, while waiting between pickle ball games, Pat casually mentioned to another person that she had signed up for a triathlon in Clermont.

Much to Pat’s surprise, the lady replied “Oh, no. That’s the worst place to do a triathlon. There are hills.”   

Pat, a Wisconsin native, admitted, “Until then, I did not even realize that there were hills in Florida.”

This fellow pickle ball player took Pat under her wing and helped her prepare for her first triathlon. She even provided swim goggles and clips for her bike pedals.

Nineteen days after registering for the Central Florida Triathlon Series Race 3, Pat completed her first sprint triathlon, fulfilling the agreement she had made with her niece.

Ironically, the person who helped Pat, Donna Maguire, had been thinking of giving up triathlon. Instead, she started The Villages Triathlon Club. Since then, Donna has completed many triathlons, including at least one Ironman.

Catching the Triathlon Bug At Age 70

Pat had planned to do only one triathlon. However, like so many of us, she caught ‘the bug’. As of this update, she has completed 21 triathlons. And she’s not finished.

Pat Johnson prepared for her first sprint triathlon at age 70 in less than 30 days. Since then, she has created a collection of finisher medals.  Included is one from Pat's first sprint triathlon.
Pat Johnson has earned a fine collection of triathlon medals.

Racing with Sally Edwards

Most who have completed a few triathlons have been asked to name their favorite.

For Pat, the ‘Girlz on Fire’ triathlon in Clermont, Florida has been her most memorable. This race was particularly special in that she could not only meet, but compete alongside, Sally Edwards, a triathlon icon.

At the conclusion of the race, Pat posed with Sally while Sally signed her book “Triathlons for Women” which Pat had purchased earlier and brought with her to the race.

Sally Edwards book signing.  Pat first started her triathlon journey at age 70.
Sally Edwards with Pat Johnson signing Pat’s copy of ‘Triathlon for Women’.

Racing in the ‘Girlz on Fire’ Triathlon with Sally Edwards was one of the highlights of my triathlon career. 

Pat Johnson

Speaking of the ‘Girlz on Fire’ triathlon, Pat said, “There were only two people in my age group. As she often does, Sally purposely stayed back so that she could cross the finish line with the last finisher as a show of support. She is really a sweetheart. When you meet her, you feel like you have been friends forever.”

Pat Johnson (first place) and Sally Edwards (second place) at the awards ceremony of the Girlz on Fire Triathlon in Clermont, Florida.

Some Triathlons Are Challenging Even With Experience

Pat, who is approaching age 77, will soon enter her eighth year in the sport. She has no plan to stop “Tri-ing”.

Over the past two years, Pat has volunteered at an Extreme Triathlon each year. She has also completed two triathlons.

The first race she completed was at the Daytona Speedway. According to Pat, this triathlon was “amazing”.

“Running on the speedway track was a wonderful experience.”

In contrast, Pat refers to her last triathlon, one in Crystal River, Florida, as her worst.

“During the swim portion, I was near a swimmer who kept cutting me off each time I tried to pass them. I am sure it was unintentional, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating.

“The bike portion was even worse. The rear brake rubbed on the wheel throughout the course. I couldn’t get my bike to go any faster than 14 miles per hour. I had picked up my bike from the shop too close to the race to give it a test ride.

“By the time I got to the run, I was really down. Since I walk instead of run, I think I was the only one still on the course. I felt humiliated. While I was continuing the last leg, other racers were already leaving, since there was no awards ceremony because of COVID.”

A Personalized Approach to Training

Pat has developed her own training approach, one that works well for her. Since she has problems with her back, she runs very little. Instead, she trains in race walking, which she uses during the run leg of the triathlon.

Pat describes her approach to her run leg as “race walking with a tiny bit of running. I get excited near the finish, so I save just enough juice to run across the finish line.”

In any week, Pat will go on at least one 10 to 12 mile bike ride along with a few shorter rides. She also takes advantage of the wonderful lap pools in The Villages with two to three swims per week.

Pat developed her open water swimming by connecting with another local triathlete, Lorri, who lives on Lake Weir. Lorri has a daughter who is an accomplished swimmer. Lorri’s daughter provided “a couple of great big yellow ducks” used to practice sighting, a skill important to staying on course in an open water swim.

Advice for Seniors Thinking of a First Sprint Triathlon at Age 70

Pat is an outspoken advocate for seniors to stay fit. 

“If you have the slightest inclination to do a triathlon, go for it.  Meet people who are involved in triathlon and ask them for advice. You will find them eager to help you on the journey.”

Pat is living proof of the ‘no excuses’ lifestyle. If you were going to use the excuse of not having enough time to prepare for a triathlon, perhaps you need to think again. Pat had less than 19 days to get ready for her first triathlon.

Even if you cannot complete the three legs of a triathlon, there are plenty of races that include a relay option. In these, each team member performs one leg, the one with which they are most comfortable, capable, and prepared.

Applying Faith in Triathlon

Triathlon has given Pat Johnson an opportunity to stay fit and meet new friends. It has also provided her opportunity to put her faith in Jesus Christ into action.

Pat’s Christian faith goes with her on the racecourse. She starts each competition with a personal prayer for God’s guidance during the triathlon.

“One of my favorite promises from the Bible is Philippians 4:6-7.” This verse says:

‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’

Triathlon for women and cross following first triathlon at age 70
Pat Johnson proudly wears a cross symbolizing her Christian faith with one of her triathlon finisher medals.

After the particularly difficult Crystal River Triathlon mentioned above, Pat stopped to reflect.

“As I said, this was my worst experience with a triathlon. What I learned from it was that I hadn’t relied on the most powerful source available to me. My LORD!

“I was so wrapped up in self pity that I didn’t use the power that we all have when we have Jesus as our advocate.

Philippians 4:13 says ‘I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me’.

“Hopefully next time I will keep my focus where it should be.”

Do You Want To Do Your First Triathlon at Age 50? 60? 70? 80+?

Would you like to complete your first triathlon as a senior triathlete? What help can we provide?

Tell us in the Comments section below. You will find plenty of support from this wonderful community.

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Pat, I can relate to the frustration of having a bike that is not working properly. I rode a bike with a brake that was dragging during my Georgia triathlon (https://seniortriathletes.com/triathlon-across-usa-georgia/).

Then, more recently, at my Arkansas triathlon (https://seniortriathletes.com/triathlon-across-usa-arkansas/), I couldn’t go over 15 mph because the chain and derailleur were both bent. Neither of these problems were evident before the race.

In both cases, I can only blame myself for not having checked out my bike thoroughly enough before the race.

Great bio….great story. Impressive????

Thanks for your comment Marty.