I DID A TRIATHLON AT 54 AND LOVED IT
She didn’t own a bike and wasn’t a strong swimmer, but that didn’t stop Mimi Parfitt
“When my friend Jo first suggested it, I could think of several very good reasons why I shouldn’t sign up to do a triathlon with her. Three stood out. One, I’m almost 55 – fairly mature, shall we say, for a first-time triathlete. Two, I’m not a strong swimmer, and three, I don’t own a bike.
“As it turns out, I can run. Jo came up with her crazy idea at
the end of a 10-kilometre fun run late last year. We were high on adrenaline and talking about our next goal, and I succumbed.
“Originally we were aiming to do what is officially called the Sprint triathlon: a 750-metre swim, a 20-kilometre bike ride and a five-kilometre run. I could manage each of those legs, even if I wasn’t particularly fast, but I wasn’t so sure I could put them all together.
“After various interruptions to my training – an overseas trip, Christmas, my husband’s 60th birthday, my friend’s broken heart – I set my sights a little lower. Basically I was just a naughty, undisciplined trainee who readily put anything else first. Fortunately triathlons come in a range of sizes. I decided to aim for the Enticer – a 250-metre swim, 10-kilometre bike ride and 2.5-kilometre run – and suddenly that nagging sports demon on my shoulder went quiet.
“Melissa Ashton, our trainer, was a professional triathlete for almost 10 years before retiring in 2007. The opportunity to train with her was certainly another incentive to give it a go.
“Our group of six met twice a week for formal sessions with Mel. In between we were meant to follow the individual programs she had tailored for us. Along with running, swimming and cycling, mine included yoga on Wednesdays because I always did that anyway. Sometimes I ignored the program completely, apart from the yoga, and I never once did the required amount of swimming, which wasn’t the wisest thing to do.
“Mel taught us the triathlon rules – stressing, for instance, that we shouldn’t remove our helmets at the end of the cycling leg until we had racked our bikes. Forgetting would mean disqualification. She emphasised the importance of stacking our equipment neatly for a quick getaway – sunglasses, helmets, shirt, shoes with elastic laces – and also to mark our spots with a brightly coloured towel so we wouldn’t lose our bikes in the excitement.
“The sun had just risen when I arrived at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith for the TriShave Women’s Triathlon Festival. Women and girls were wheeling their bikes across the bridge to the registration area. It was really happening.
“I was too nervous to eat breakfast, so watched the early events. The atmosphere was friendly but tense, with pinched faces making valiant attempts at smiling. I thought, ‘Just let the swimming part be over, then I’ll be fine’.
“A few minutes after 8am I slid into the water, tired and without much fuel in my tank. I felt like I was swimming in heavy boots. Eventually I made it to the end, ahead of only a handful of other swimmers. But worse was to come. Despite all Mel’s great instruction, I couldn’t find my bike in the transition area. Panic rising, I ran up and down the row, shouting, ‘I’ve lost my bike, I’ve lost my bike!’
“At last, there it was, just a couple of metres further along than I had remembered. It was so great to get on it and go, even if I was at the tail end of the group. We had to cycle around the lake twice. At the end of the first circuit, I looked over to see Mel cheering me on and narrowly missed colliding with another cyclist when I took the corner too fast and wide. Off to the left, I could see other contestants already starting the running leg, but I didn’t care. I was exhilarated – I was in a triathlon and I was sure my worst mistakes were behind me.
“My next transition was clumsy, but not nearly as ridiculous as losing my bike. Then I was off on foot. As I started to run, I heard Mel calling out behind me, ‘Go Mimi! This is your favourite!’ It struck me as incredibly touching that, after all my errors, she was still there. Spurred on, I ran reasonably well – 2.5 kilometres in 14.52 minutes – and didn’t come last by any means. I was happy with that.
“Would I do another triathlon? Actually, I find myself strangely attracted to the idea. Certainly, I’ve learnt a few things the hard way that will help me if I ever do.”
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