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A Personal Story: One Woman Takes On The Iron Girl Triathlon - At 58!

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I love a challenge, so loved this story about a woman who took on a formidable physical challenge at – 58! --MT marlothomas.com

By Rosemary Manning

The Iron Man Triathlon is a 30-year-old event that's downright crazy – more than two miles of swimming, over a hundred miles of bicycling, followed by a full 26-mile marathon run. That's way too rich for my blood, but I've been intrigued by the "Iron Girl" variation, which launched in 2004. It's easier than the Iron Man, but still quite a challenge: a quarter-mile swim, 15 miles of bicycling, and a 5K run (about 3 miles). Last year, I heard that there would be an Iron Girl event in South Lake Tahoe, California, where I live. Both of my daughters signed up – and I resolved to do it, too.

Now, I'm a regular runner, competing in several 10Ks each year. (I ran a half marathon once and lost three toenails, but that's another story.) I am also a road cyclist, competing in several metric centuries each year. (One time I did the Holstein One Hundred – 100 miles of beautiful back country roads, thousands of grazing cows, and the smell of cow poop the whole way.) It was the swimming that had me concerned. When you cycle or run, you can breathe whenever you want – not so in the water. And the water in Lake Tahoe is positively frigid, which is a challenge. I decided I would just do the sidestroke the whole way – I could breath whenever I wanted and it would help me swim in a straight line.

To be sure that I kept to my training regime, I agreed with our local newspaper to blog about my training experiences. Now the whole community knew I was training for the Iron Girl, so I couldn't very well back out. And I found that I actually began to enjoy my early morning training swims, with the beautiful calm water and the geese flying overhead.

I certainly learned a lot about goggles. I never could get a good seal around my face with those goggles with tiny lenses with the little strap that goes over your nose. So I bought a righteous pair of goggles with big lenses and a seal so good that it felt like my eyeballs were being sucked out of my head. Here is what my youngest daughter, Bri, had to say:

Bri: Mom, why are you wearing goggles? You don't even put your face in the water.
Me: Yeah, but who does a triathlon without wearing goggles?
Bri: Okay, mom, you look great.

But did I really look great? Yes, I needed to think about what I would wear and – okay, I admit it – what I would look like during the event. What do you wear when you have to swim, ride, and bike and can't take the time to change your clothes? Enter Spandex tri-shorts. Have you even worn Spandex? It's tight and shows every lump and bump. Not only are the shorts tight, they have a chamois in the area where you sit on the bike saddle. You are glad for the padding, but when you run it feels like you are wearing a full diaper. But I soon discovered - tri-shorts are the bomb.

And why wouldn't I take the time to change my clothes between events? It is all about the "transitions," which is when you change from one sport to another. It all counts toward your total time, so you have to be efficient. How hard could that be, you wonder? The Iron Girl website has three pages explaining how to handle transitions! The first sentence is: "Setting up a transition area can be very stressful for participants." No kidding! I read about where to put your shoes, which direction your helmet should be facing, how to set out your sunglasses. So in addition to training three days a week, I practiced the transitions as well.

The morning of the event, the lake was calm but it was extremely cold. I did my swim, using my combination of side stroke and breast stroke, and I didn't drown. When I got out of the water I ran up the beach to where I could lean against a bench to clean the sand off my feet and put on my water shoes. The sand had frost on it, so running on it with frozen feet was like having someone exfoliate my soles with 60-grit sandpaper. But I did the quarter-mile run up to the casino parking lotwhere the bikes were waiting. (Of course, that run doesn't count toward the 5K!) I had everything placed correctly, so the transition went off without a hitch.

Off came the wetsuit, and I put on my cycling gear and rode off to Cave Rock and back. Both my daughters passed me on the ride, but I had two events down! Back to the parking lot, cycling gear off, running gear on to start the 5K. The first mile I had what is referred to as "brick legs." But what an experience to approach the finish line, with people yelling and cheering us on. I did it! I even met my time goal of under two hours – barely, but I did it. I finished in 1:57:45, which made me 10th in my division. Not bad for an old crone! My girls did me proud, too: Dondra finished fifth in her division and Briana finished first in the same division, fourth overall.

Will I do it again? You bet! In celebration of my 60th birthday, I will be participating in another sprint triathlon, Eppie's Great Race. The race features a 5.82-mile run, a 12.5-mile bike and a 6.35-mile paddle held along the scenic American River Parkway in Rancho Cordova and Sacramento.

Rosemary Manning is mind-body therapist who teaches Emotional Freedom Technique to people all over the country through phone sessions, private sessions, and workshops.

CORRECTION: A previous headline for this article incorrectly identified the competition as the Iron "Man," rather than Iron Girl, triathlon.

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