Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Life of a Runner Turned Cyclist Turned Triathlete

by Liz Shelton

Runners, just like our equipment, are fairly easy to understand. The only requirements needed to start are a decent pair of shoes, shorts, sports bra (optional for men), and at least a watch to log time or track splits. With runners, what you see is what you get. Depending on distance, we only need water, or at the most, a gel pack of our favorite flavor. And training for a 5K only takes a few weeks. (Well, at least according to every issue of Runner’s World.) We like our sleep. We like food. No, we LOVE food. Heck, sometimes I think my running is just a front so I can order the French toast with whipped cream at my favorite breakfast diner without guilt.

For the most part we get to bed early. Have you ever run 15 miles off of only four hours' sleep? We’ve all done it, but eventually we’ll learn the error of our ways. We like routine: our warm-ups, drills, even the way we tie our shoelaces. Creatures of habit, you could say. There’s not much that ruffles our feathers. We’ll talk to anybody on the trail who breathes, giving a friendly smile and wave of the hand to friends and strangers alike. Runners are a happy people. Our morning high stays long after the last mile ends, and gets us through the daily traffic grind and through endless work meetings. Life is good as a runner.

After my first charity ride, I began to dabble in cycling enough to join local group rides, but I wouldn’t consider myself a cyclist just yet. Cycling takes more effort and planning: load gear and bike in the backseat of the car (I refuse to get a rack), remove gear and bike from car, air up the tires, check fuel and water levels, helmet and shoes on, and then you’re finally ready to ride. I would say the biggest adjustment for me is riding with traffic. Runners can avoid traffic if we choose; winding trails and sidewalks offer some relief, but unless your idea of fun is repetitive loops on the Veloway chasing tricycles, then you have no choice but to ride roads. I will admit that I find myself riding the trainer more than I should during the week just to avoid speeding motorists. While my marathoner's endurance has carried over somewhat to my cycling, the speed from my track days does not. Not. One. Bit. It’s like starting over. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy, so like anything, you have to put in the time and keep at it.

I got into multisport the same way most do. Running…check. Cycling…check. Only one thing was standing between my exploring the triathlon world: swimming. While I practically grew up in my neighborhood pool, I never took formal lessons. I was na├»ve to think I could do my first tri without any. Danskin was a great experience. It was a women-only race, low-key, and I knew both the bike and run course at Decker from my running days. In other words, it was perfect. Except I spent the entire swim on my back, gasping for air and basically acting as a float for other girls to push off. I couldn’t swim more than 200 meters without stopping. I swallowed my pride and signed up for basic stroke and technique classes the very next day. I saw immediate results. Compared to my first tri, the second was smoother, and I bettered my swim by five minutes for the same distance (800m). Was I really that slow before?! Yes. Over time, I steadily improved and gained better overall conditioning. The bike is my weakest link and that will take time. The run leg feels most natural to me, so it’s a matter of staying relaxed, finding a quick rhythm right away, and focusing on turnover. 

Kerrville was my first Half Ironman. It was an amazing experience. While somewhat logistically complicated for a beginner not used to split transitions, the race was run beautifully (kudos to race organizers and sponsors!). I look forward to one day completing my first long-distance tri, but for now, I’ll continue on the journey to try new things and adjust to my new life as a multisport athlete. Life is still good.

Born and raised in Houston, Liz Shelton attended UT Austin on a Cross Country & Track Scholarship. While there, she was a seven-time conference champion and five-time All American in CC, Indoor & Outdoor Track, and she helped UT win four NCAA team titles in a row. Her accolades range from a Big 12 Indoor Athlete of the Year Award in 2000 to winning a title at the prestigious Penn Relays. In the 2000 Olympic trials, she placed seventh in the 800-meter finals. Currently she lives and trains in Austin with her husband, Jeff, and can frequently be spotted on ATC's  Wednesday run. 

1 comment:

  1. Big D as she was referred to at UT was a a force on the track back in the late 90's. While these days she'll smile and urge on those she passes on Town Lake Trail back in college she was strictly business and in track she was there for one purpose. She was there to win and if she didn't win she'd push the pace and blow the pack apart. She was never one to follow; she often went off the front form the gun. It's nice to see that she still enjoys competition and trying new things. Thanks for the great races while your were a Horn.