“Training for My First Triathlon”- Liz Lawson’s Story

By Liz Lawson – It’s been quite the year so far!  I turned 54 last December and little did I know what the coming year would hold for me – training for and completing my first triathlon.

Even though I have lived in Raleigh, North Carolina for three years, I am still settling in.  Working from home resulted in me sometimes feeling a little isolated.   I was pretty down on everything.

Then, in September, a friend suggested to me that I think about training for a sprint triathlon.  She had joined a local training group and completed her first sprint triathlon two years earlier.  She said it was life-changing.

Deciding to Tri

I agreed to start training for a triathlon, mostly to not disappoint her, wondering what would happen.  I joined a North Carolina-based group called Tri It For Life (TIFL), whose focus is on getting women to move, and began a 3-month program designed to prepare me for my first sprint triathlon.  Our training was aimed at competing in the Ramblin’ Rose, a series of five sprint triathlons held for women in North Carolina.

I cannot say enough about how incredible this organization is.  Tri It For Life is volunteer-driven.  All the women who mentor the athletes have gone through the program.  And, all of them continue with their triathlete ways.

After I paid for the training program, I literally broke into a cold sweat.  I could barely swim!!  I couldn’t even complete a 25-yard lap, and certainly not using a freestyle stroke.  That forced me to do something I’d been putting off for years – learning to swim.  I was terrified of drowning.

Getting Started in Training for My First Triathlon

I enrolled in swim classes at the Raleigh city pools. Although I was gasping for air most of the time, I was feeling a whole lot more confident.  Then at the end of December, I had to have minor knee surgery.   By mid-January, all I wanted to do was get back in the pool.

The TIFL training started in February.  At the kick-off meeting, I started to realize this – the triathlon – was going to happen and I was terrified.   I hadn’t been on a bike for 16 years and was still hobbling a bit because of my knee surgery.  However, at least I could now swim the length of the pool without drowning.

I quickly learned that I was not alone.  Our group was definitely a ‘mixed bag’ – some of the ladies were great runners, but wanted to train to swim; others were good swimmers but wanted to train to bike.  Then there were those who deserved the greatest admiration, those who had almost never been in water, hadn’t been on a bike since they were 5 years old, and did not run.

There was no judgment and no competition.  We all had the same goal….to do the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon!

Our training involved swimming two nights per week, biking on Sunday afternoon, and running/walking one evening.   The intensity built each week.

Fast Progress in Training for My First Triathlon

Two months into the program, we were swimming between 500 and 700 yards twice a week.

The bike training started with learning about gears and how to use them.  Then, we started training on a portion of the actual route with some gnarly hills – one, in particular, was most people’s nemesis.  We started bike training two times per week.

Ramblin' Rose triathlon
The weeks of bike training leading up to the Rambin’ Rose prepared us for our first triathlon

We were also taught about transition, nutrition – every aspect of a triathlon.  The TIFL mentors shared all their experiences with us.

In addition to the training that was part of the program, groups of us would get together for additional training – an ad-hoc Saturday meet up for a bike ride or an extra swim.

We all encouraged each other – even on the days when we were thinking “I can’t do this”.  There was always someone to encourage us to take the extra step, do the extra lap, or get further up the hill before getting off to push.

There was no judgment and no competition.  We all had the same goal….to do the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon!  

Liz Lawson

One month before the actual event, TIFL held a mock-triathlon.  We put together all of our training on a Sunday morning – including transition – and did our first swim/bike/run.  This event was designed so we’d know what the real day would be like – what a wonderful experience.  We even got medals for finishing the mock!  The first medal I’d ever had in my life. For anything.

Race Day – Completing My First Triathlon

On the day of Ramblin’ Rose, we had fun. Yes, it was daunting to go from a training group of 50 to a race including 700 athletes. but we got through the event and there was nothing like coming to the finish line and seeing a big group of the mentors (now volunteering at the event) cheering us through and presenting our medal.

Liz Lawson celebrates completing her first triathlon

Continuing to Train

Once the event was over, I was so upset that my training time with Tri It For Life was coming to an end.  But as a result of our experience, most of us had ‘drunk the kool-aid’ and kept going!  I did another triathlon a month after Ramblin’ Rose.

Last weekend I did my first open water swim.  I can do 1000+ yards in the pool, though I am still working on the non-stop bit :-).   I’ve also signed up for the Tour de Femme bike ride and hoping to do at least two other sprint triathlons over the next year.

I’ve had a session with a running coach to learn how to do it properly.  I have some problem with my Achilles tendon which is keeping me back from running, but this doesn’t have to stop everything else.

We meet up and bike each week.  Some of the girls I train with will likely complete 6 or more events by the end of the year.  Participating in the IronKiwi was a blast – and a blessing as it kept me focused on continuing to train.

Once the event was over, I was so upset that my training time with Tri It For Life was coming to an end.

Liz Lawson

As I am writing this, I am on vacation for two weeks, but can’t wait to get back and get started again.  I’ve learned so much.   It’s changed my life and I just want to keep going.

What Was Your Experience Training For and Competing in Your First Triathlon?

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This post was originally published on July 5, 2016. It was updated with new formatting on January 13, 2021.