Getting fit the triathlon way

By Lisa Britton May 05, 2010 01:00 am
101 have signed up for the YMCA’s mini triathlon on May 8

Anne Mehaffy, front, and Kata Bulinkski are preparing for Saturday's mini triathlon.
All have gone swimming, ridden bikes or taken a run at some time in their lives.

But all sports together? On the same day?

No — but there’s no time like the present to try something new.

“I was thrilled to know there was something going on in January,” says Darlene Nelson, 73.

The event is a mini triathlon, sponsored and organized by the Baker County Family YMCA.

Competitors will swim 400 yards (that’s eight laps at Sam-O Swim Center), ride a bike for six miles and run one mile. The mini triathlon takes place Saturday, the finale of a 16-week training schedule. Participants could chose either a “couch-to-triathlon” regimen, or a more challenging “2X” schedule that included two days of swimming, two of bicycling and two of running each week.

“It starts out so innocently,” says Ann Mehaffy, who along with her training partner Kata Bulinski describes her age as “60-something.”

A background of fitness

Darlene Nelson isn’t new to exercise — she was a P.E. teacher. In the 1960s, she and a few friends finished the “Jog Around Green Lake” in Seattle.

“Jogging was just sort of starting for adults,” she said.

They exercised early, before their children awoke for the day.

She moved to Baker City in 1995, and has stayed active with step aerobics and yoga.

As for swimming ...

“I know how,” she says. “But the swimming’s going better than the running.”

She’s been swimming in the mornings, and that’s a habit she just might keep after the triathlon.

“I just may,” she said. “I do enjoy that relaxation in the early morning. It’s just wonderful to sink down in the water.”

Last-minute decision

Ann Mehaffy and Kata Bulinski aren’t sure who came up with the idea to enter the triathlon.

They decided to sign up a day before the deadline.

“I had been attracted to the training part of it, and it fit in with some challenges I want to take on this year,” Ann said. (She calls it her “pre-bucket list.”)

Kata liked the training.

“It looked so orderly,” she said.

“And so doable,” Ann said.

Kata gives an example: “Walk, walk, walk, then run for two minutes.”

They call each other “gumption partners.”

“It sure makes a difference,” Ann said.

“You don’t tell someone you’re showing up at the pool and then not show up,” Kata said.

Before, Ann describes her exercise as “totally recreational” with step aerobics, weights, walking and snowshoeing.

“I thought I was in shape,” she said with a laugh.

Kata has, for “many years,” walked and jogged five days a week for an hour, plus weight training, cross-country skiing, hiking and cycling.

But for the triathlon, she’s logged a lot more minutes — in a recent week she recorded 632 minutes of training.

“That’s 10fi hours of combined cycling, swimming, walking and running,” she said.

Swimming proved the biggest challenge, and they signed up for the free swimming lessons the Y offered as part of the training.

“At the beginning there were people who wouldn’t even put their face in the water to blow bubbles,” Kata said. “Now they’re swimming laps.”

“They were very kind and very encouraging,” Ann said of the instructors, Laurie Wittich and Mike Hibbard.

She grew up swimming in the Gulf Coast.

Well, she thought she was swimming.

“It was humbling and humiliating to get in the water and realize I wasn’t a swimmer at all,” she said.

As for Kata, she had to face her water fears — she lost a friend in a kayaking accident.

“I can tread water for a long time,” she said. “Swimming laps? Are you kidding me?”

But they were committed, and met at the pool three, four, sometimes even five times a week.

“You do have the feeling your body’s just one moment away from revolting,” Ann said. “With any athletic training, you have to get in the zone — but first you have to find where that zone is.”

They just took it day by day, week by week.

“Little bits of progress, and we’ve been each other’s support to remind us of how far we’ve come,” Kata said.

When registering, participants had to turn in an estimated time for the 400-yard swim.

“I thought it was funny that they asked ‘how many minutes and seconds’ it would take,” Kata

said. “For me, with my aversion to the water, I thought I should put ‘how many hours and minutes my swim would last. I now know I am capable of completing the 400-yard swim in a matter of minutes, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

“It’s the journey, not the destination,” Ann said.

And both are glad for the opportunity to try a new physical challenge.

“I think it’s terrific what the Y is doing — getting people interested in this, and improving their health,” Kata said.

“And getting their families involved,” Ann added.

And speaking of family fitness ...

Gary and Roseanne Van Patten have trained together for the last four months. She turns 60 the week after the triathlon, and he’ll turn 62 in June.

Gary is a runner — he ran his first half-marathon at 60, and has completed several marathons and half-marathons since then. His next marathon (that’s 26.2 miles) is in June.

“He’s doing it to encourage me, and so is my sister,” Roseanne said.

Her sister is Donna Coble, who turns 66 in June.

Roseanne teaches water aerobics at Sam-O Swim, but doesn’t swim.

“I’m not a swimmer, and had never had swimming lessons,” she said.

Gary and Roseanne laugh when asked who suggested the triathlon.

“It just seemed like a good thing to do,” Gary said.

“We were already doing water aerobics, so we said ‘yeah, we’ll do it,’ ” Donna said. “We were all wanting to get in shape.”

Since January they’ve been swimming laps, riding bikes on nice days and running (for Gary) or walking (for Roseanne and Donna).

“Gary times us, tells us when to speed up,” Donna said.

Roseanne likes cross training.

“I think it’s really good — it makes you stronger,” she said. “We have gotten into more exercise, and overall it’s helped our health.”

Donna said the bicycling has been her biggest challenge, and if race day dawns a bit breezy, she hopes it’s blowing from the north.

“I want it at my back on the way in,” she said.

And in Gary’s experience with marathons, he’s found that the cheering spectators who line the route are good encouragement. He and Roseanne hope people from the community will turn out Saturday morning to support the 101 athletes who are registered.

“I think that would help,” Roseanne said.

Above all, Donna wants the experience to be a good one.

“I don’t want to win the dang thing, I just want to finish,” she said. “I don’t want to be last, but I don’t want to be first.”

Setbacks, and perseverance

Chick Fillebrown, 77, says the training is “going pretty well” despite some hamstring troubles that have made running a bit difficult.

But his goal is more about the experience.

“I didn’t get in it to try and win,” he said. “I got in it to finish.”

His strength is swimming, a sport he took up 30 years ago.

He never took lessons.

“I just persevered, and kept asking everyone (for advice),” he said. “I probably swallowed half the pool.”

But soon he could swim three laps without resting, and just kept practicing.

“Finally I got up to a mile nonstop,” he said.

As for the training?

“It’s been a blast,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.”