Many first-time triathletes hope to shed a few pounds while training for their first event. Instead Patricia Miller lost weight first (230 pounds!) and then celebrated that powerful transformation by training for and finishing her first triathlon. In a similar fashion, Miller chose a reverse triathlon (run-bike-swim) rather than a traditional triathlon (swim-bike-run) for her first event.
Even at her peak weight in 2001 (405 pounds) Miller was active, hitting the gym 3-4 times a week and walking 2-3 hours once a week. Walking was slow and steady work. Her first treadmill mile took 55 minutes. But even a slow step is a step towards a healthier lifestyle and Miller was determined to get there.
She asked for a referral to a dietitian and saw limited success with exercise and diet choices over the next four years. In 2007 Miller researched Gastric Bypass surgeons. And with her doctor’s advice, Miller dropped more weight, getting down to a safer 350 pounds by the morning of her surgery (Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass—Roux-en-Y (RGB).
“The risk of death due to complications from any surgery is significant when you are morbidly obese and rise dramatically when you are ‘super obese,’” says Miller. As far as super powers go, Miller jokes that super obese would not be her first choice.
Instead, she wanted to become a super triathlete. She saw marathons and triathlons as high-level athletic events and knew one day she’d like to do a triathlon. “I wanted to be fit and doing a triathlon seemed like the best well-rounded way to demonstrate I was now a fit person,” says Miller.
In February 2009, with her goal weight (175) in sight, she began training. Miller would have about three months to train for the Jay Benson Triathlon May 10 in Albuquerque, N.M.
Training was fun! She loved the varied training mix of swimming, biking and running. But like many new and experienced triathletes, Miller struggled to reserve training time. As a school district superintendent she works 12-14-hour days so weekdays were tight.
As a result Miller stacked most of her workouts on the weekends with some weight training and cardio during the week. She built up her bike stamina from six miles to a peak of 18 miles, averaging about 12 miles an hour. But, with no technical background in swimming, biking or running, Miller felt a bit lost.
“I had no clue how to train, what to focus on, or how to get better,” says Miller. “Basically, I ordered a book from Amazon based on the title, The Slow, Fat Triathlete, and figured anyone with that kind of self-deprecating humor could be a good role-model for me.”
Miller booked help in the pool and tested brick sessions combining the bike and run. An online search for training plans brought her to active.com where she later registered for her first triathlon and then several more triathlons.
Race day arrived and Miller’s can-do attitude carried her through the run, bike and swim (reverse triathlon). As fellow triathletes know, the finish line is an experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first sprint distance triathlon or your first iron-distance race. What matters is what you gave to get to that finish line—what it took to get there.
Many first-time triathletes cry or at least tear up post-race, and Miller let tears of gratefulness fall. She was thankful she was physically able to do a triathlon. “It was an amazing feeling,” she says.
“After I did my first one I went home and told my husband, ‘I’m going on the circuit,’” she says. Miller’s family was supportive, but also surprised she kept going back for more triathlons!
“My husband bought me a new road bike for my 50th birthday and bought me all of the triathlon, swimming and biking books I had on my Amazon wish list,” she says.
In addition to her family Miller had a school district full of support. “I’m the superintendent of a small county-wide school system in New Mexico. Our students are outstanding athletes,” says Miller. “Last year they won four of the five possible state championships for 1A schools: football, volleyball, boys’ basketball, and boys’ and girls’ track. They were such fantastic supporters of my effort. They wanted to pack me some snacks and beverages, but I told them I require specific foods due to weight-loss surgery and that their moral support was sufficient.”
While Miller trains alone she’s spread encouragement across the state. Thanks to Miller’s support, two friends also became triathletes. One friend lives in Las Cruces (350 miles away) and another friend lives in Albuquerque (160 miles away). Miller’s new triathlete trio enjoys getting together at triathlons around the state. And, she hopes her story and example will encourage future “thinking-about-it” triathletes to take the plunge.
“I hope other folks may find this encouraging,” says Miller. “Anyone can do a triathlon. The only thing that limits us is our fear of failing. And right now I would rather try and fail than sit around wishing I had the gumption to give it a shot.”
Nobody will make fun of you for being last, she says. And nobody will make fun of your bike or your swimsuit. Take pictures, she suggests, and remember you don’t have to be first to be a winner.
Currently Miller is working to reduce her 5K time (45 minutes mostly walking). “Recently I went to Active.com to find out how to progress from walking my 5Ks to running them,” she says. “I got some training tips and hints and now I can run for 35 minutes without stopping. I am so jazzed that I’ve signed up for a 5K in Florida when I’m visiting my daughter and son-in-law for Thanksgiving. THEY are so jazzed by my excitement that they have signed up too.” Her new 5K goal time is 30 minutes. “I don’t know how realistic that is,” she says, “but I’m trying like crazy.”
And if she finishes last in future triathlons she has great perspective thanks to her husband’s comics.com purchase. When Miller finished last in three of her first four triathlons, her clever husband bought her a Frazz t-shirt. In the cartoon a little boy is running beside the main character (a triathlete) and asks, “What do they call the last person to finish a triathlon?” to which the triathlon character responds, “A triathlete.” Buy Jeff Mallet's new Frazz book Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete.
“I love that shirt,” says Miller. And in her last tri, Miller bumped up three spots to 347/350. She keeps a record of all her race times and improves consistently. “That keeps me trying,” she says.
Resources Miller Loves:
My blog (Cool!) & more “I really appreciate the effort you make to keep your blog current and to have nifty and encouraging stories on the site,” says Miller. “I don’t have a coach or a team to train with, so I get lots of encouragement from web sites, magazines, and the books I’ve collected since I decided to do this 10 months ago.” Thanks Patricia!
Other Good Stuff:
- Triathlete Magazine’s Essential Week-by-Week Training Guide: Plans, Scheduling Tips, and Workout Goals for Triathletes of All Levels by Matt Fitzgerald
- Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier by Terry Laughlin & John Delves
- Triathlon 101 - 2nd Edition (Outdoor Adventures), by John Mora
- Going Long: Training for Triathlon's Ultimate Challenge (Ultrafit Multisport Training Series), by Joe Friel & Gordon Byrn
- The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills, and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want, by Edmund Burke, Ed Pavelka & Bicycling Magazine.
- Triathlon Workout Planner, by John Mora
Gear Miller Loves
I love my Shimano clip-on bike shoes and pedals. They make me feel like a machine when I’m on the bike. I also love my bikes. I have a Giant hybrid I use for “dirty tris” and mountain biking and a Specialized WSD road bike.