This is the third of four posts this week on sprint triathlons.
Tuesday: Triathlon by the numbers
Wednesday: The growing popularity of sprint triathlons
Today: Kim Feth’s story: From walking around her living room to finishing her first sprint tri eight months later.
Friday: Gerald Babao’s story: Trying to out swim, out bike, out run cancer.
At first, it seems like curious logic: A marathon is too much, I’ll do a triathlon instead. Curious, until you realize that the triathlon in question isn’t of the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, then a 26.2-mile marathon Ironman variety. It’s the increasingly popular sprint triathlon kind, consisting of a roughly 300-yard swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run.
“Three miles seemed reasonable, I love being in the water and I love riding a bike,” Kim Feth of Apex recalls of her decision to get into shape by training for a sprint triathlon. “And with three sports, I figured I wouldn’t get bored.”
It was late 2009 and Feth had just turned 42. She was grieving the death of her mother, was plagued by headaches, her weight had ballooned to 207 and after putting in a full day at Poe Montessori Magnet School in Raleigh as lead secretary/bookkeeper/nurse, had little oomph left for exercise. Her A-ha moment came when her son approached one day and said, “All you ever do is lay on the couch and have a headache. When are you going to play with me?’”
She knew then that she had to do something. Shortly, she decided on a sprint tri. Her training began immediately — by walking laps in her living room. It was December, Feth explains: “I don’t like the cold.”
She didn’t want to pay to join a gym, so she went to WalMart and bought a training DVD. That first workout was one mile and it took her 30 minutes, again in her living room. “I thought I was going to fall over sideways,” she recalls.
She didn’t. She kept at it and my March was walking outside, for five miles at a brisk 12-minute-per-mile pace.
Also from the start, Feth signed up on RealAge.com, a Web site offering tips and tracking tools for people trying to get into better shape. She began eating better, looking now at food as fuel to feed her walking habit. “I stopped eating junk,” says Feth. She cut out sodas, substituting them with water, occasionally spruced up with lemon or cucumber. She switched from ground pork to the leaner ground turkey in the family’s weekly spaghetti, started using Greek yogurt instead of fatty sour cream, switched from fried chicken to baked or grilled, dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent milk, started using whole wheat noodles, stopped buying ice cream simply because it was on sale.
She was religious about entering every detail of her fitness program — what she ate, her workouts, her weight — into her RealAge.com tracker. She was especially tickled to see her measuring tape — a graphic device used to show progress — get smaller. “It’s goofy, but I love seeing that. I love seeing the progress that I made.”
Just two weeks into her new lifestyle Feth says she could notice a difference. “My pants were fitting better … I’ll over-share here. I was wearing size 18 pants [before launching her fitness regimen]. Realistically, I should have moved up to a bigger size, but that would have meant crossing the hallway in the mall to the big girl’s store. Mentally, I knew if I went into that store I was never coming back. I just couldn’t do that.”
Spring rolled around and Feth added cycling to her workout regimen. That, too, was unorthodox for a triathlete-in-training. Rather than three-hour rides in the country on a sleek carbon bike with aerobars, she was tooling around the neighborhood on the cruiser she had gotten for Christmas. When the neighborhood pool opened at the end of May, she added swimming. Again, her training deviated from the norm of triathletes swimming in 2,000 to 3,000 yards three times a week.
“I’d do mostly sidestroke, some backstroke,” she says, acknowledging the absence of the more competitive freestyle stroke. “I was losing weight, so what did I care?”
It wasn’t until she showed up for her target race, the Dash for Divas in September that the unorthodoxy of her training struck her. First, there was the 250-yard swim — in a murky lake. Feth had trained in a clear pool. Then the gun went off and the adrenaline kicked in. “I got so caught up in the pace I was out of breath. That’s a scary place to be.”
She made it out of the water in 35 minutes and ran to the bikes. “I noticed all the other moms were on serious racing bikes with those clip-in pedals. I’m in a mommy cruiser, in running shoes.
Time began to blur on the bike. Had she been pedaling five minutes? Five hours? Then she noticed a car was following her. She tried to wave it around, but it continued to stay on her rear wheel. She turned and discovered it was a sheriff’s deputy car, lights blazing: It was the escort car for the last rider, and it would keep her company through the end of the race. Not far from the finish — where volunteers were already packing up equipment — a volunteer told her, “You’re almost there! I’m going to run with you until 20 yards from the finish.” She did, peeling off so Feth could enjoy her moment alone. Or, as it turned out, with her awaiting husband and son. It was her 9-year-old son that provided her true motivation.
When she saw the police cruiser and realized she was the last racer, “It was all I could do not to break into tears. I just wanted to toss my bike in the trunk and quit.” She kept going, and when she saw her son at finish, realized, “I don’t care if I have to crawl across the finish line, I’m not going to let my son see me quit something. I want him to see what I’ve accomplished.”
Over the course of her training, Feth lost 34 pounds. She continues training and hopes to be under 150 pounds in time for her next sprint triathlon, the Ramblin’ Rose in Raleigh, on May 22.