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115 Triathlons and Counting…

By YWCA of Minneapolis
June 11, 2015
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Jane Greenberg, pictured here with her three sons, is a regular at the YWCA of Minneapolis so we knew she was a fierce competitor and had completed many triathlons. When we found out this year’s Women’s Tri would mark her 115th triathlon, with her first one in 1989, we decided we had to collect some of her racing stories, training advice, and life challenges. Read on for our Q & A with her.

Q: When was your first triathlon?
A: The summer of 1989 at Baker Park Reserve (Maple Plain, MN).

Q: What inspired you to sign up for that race?
A: I was training for the Twin Cities Marathon with a bunch of co-workers. My marathon training friends wanted to do it so I registered for it.  Then it turned out I was the only one who actually competed in the race! I already swam regularly to stretch out my muscles and to take a break from running. I saw a triathlon at Baker Park (Yes, this was the site of my first triathlon so I had to register and compete in the first Women’s Triathlon there—a historic moment for me) and thought how much harder would it be, really, to add a 15-mile bike ride? I always like a fun, physical challenge so I registered for it.

Q: Can you share your experience of that first race?
A: I learned a lot about transitioning and endurance, as there were many firsts in this race: serious swimming in shallow green colored lake (the organizers were so paranoid about people drowning that they ran down the beach while we were swimming in shallow water, parallel with the shore, so that if anyone got into trouble they could stand up and walk the rest!); setting up my bike and stuff in the ‘transition area’—a big patch of grass amid the picnic tables and barbecues (people were picnicking as we raced around them); biking in a wet bathing suit (BIG mistake—called chafing—ouch!); changing into running clothes out of a wet one-piece suit in front of a lot of people with a friend holding a towel in my transition area—I’m sure I flashed and traumatized a few families because my friend tripped and fell backwards at JUST the right moment—I had to untwist my wet one-piece off the rest of my body. Then, as I was slithering on the ground, I was fighting to pull my jog bra into position over wet skin—oh the joy of that—all while I was lying on the ground trying “not to be seen!” I got grass burns on my back. And, I was so flustered that I didn’t double tie my running shoes, so I had to stop twice during the run to fix the click, click of my laces against my shoes. In the last mile, my friend ran with me and brought me water—it was such an open race no one thought any thing of this!—not so now!

Q: What motivates you to participate in multi-sports events like the YWCA Women’s Triathlon?
A: I love the focus, planning my training, and the discipline required to carry out the training. I like the physical and psychological benefits of being in good aerobic shape, and I love being supported by strong muscles. Besides, it is fun! I also only compete at the sprint distance because I do not really have the time to train for longer tri races. This way I can still have a family and work life and do not have to spend more than an hour a day training. The only exception is if I compete on a relay team, in a longer race, and  I usually take the swim leg.

Q: How many YWCA Triathlons have you participated in?
A: I have participated in six Women’s Triathlons since 2008. I missed 2009 because I wasn’t crazy about the Baker course. The immediate, intense running uphill after the bike was too difficult and made it not fun for me. I have participated in every Women’s Tri since the event moved to Nokomis in 2010. I can ride my bike there from my house.  I do most of my training at Nokomis anyway, so it is really convenient! I have also competed in the majority of the YWCA Indoor Triathlons.  My husband and I have competed in these since 2005. I think that totals 15 triathlons. I missed a couple, due to vacations and breast cancer treatment.

Q: What keeps you coming back to the Women’s Tri and triathlons in general?
A: The Women’s Tri is the most well run race I have ever participated in. I love the women-only competition and the community and camaraderie that this represents. There are over 1,000 triathletes and at no time on the course do I feel crowded, pushed, or hurried. There is also so much positive support along the way from spectators. I really like the diversity among the women participating. I especially love that spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins come to support ‘their’ women!

Q: What do you do to prepare for the YWCA Women’s Triathlon?
A: I have a good baseline of fitness because I run, bike and swim year-round. I begin more serious training four weeks ahead of each race.

When I start training, I always work on the bike/run transition because that is the hardest for me. My bike muscles are very contracted when I get off the bike and it sometimes feels like I have clubs for feet when I start running. As a result, I try different things in training to avoid this very uncomfortable feeling!

Before a race, I start practicing the ‘brick’ (bike, run)—at increased distances every other day for four weeks to prepare my body mentally and physically for the full race. On the ‘other’ days I swim at least the distance of the race or another ¼ mile longer than the race distance-usually about 1.0-1.5 miles per week. In the last week of training I am at 90% of the distance of the entire tri.  I usually do not run a whole tri during training, only the brick of bike/run and swimming on the other days.

I also lift MedX weights with a trainer at N2Living in south Minneapolis for 20 minutes at a time, twice a week year-round.  This has given me much greater muscle endurance. MedX machines were suggested by my oncologist after I was treated for breast cancer to avoid osteoporosis, which runs in my family.

I always take one rest day a week. I also do not exercise the day before a race. And I begin increasing my water intake drinking to 8-10 glasses of water per day  for three days before the race to maintain hydration.  I also try to maintain a sensible diet of complex carbohydrates (gluten free), lean meats, veggies, and fruits when I begin training.  But I never give up caffeine (tea and coffee).  I love it. I always make a pre-race smoothie of berries, almond milk, orange juice, with a whole banana & one serving of a veggie-based protein powder. Plus a cup of tea or coffee!  I mix a 24oz. cold water bottle for my bike with Emergen-C to keep my electrolytes stable.

I make sure through my training that my bike is working properly and that on the day of the race I have all parts and pieces with me (goggles, bike, bike helmet, water bottle, shoes for biking and running, towel, hat if it is sunny and hot, and some high energy Gu that I take with me to eat slowly during the run).  I pantomime each transition of the race. This helps me picture what I need at each transition.

Q: Have you had any set-backs during training?

A: Yes, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. I had a lumpectomy and I was very sick as a result of the chemotherapy. I just couldn’t see more than a day or two ahead of me. But once I began to feel better toward the end of my chemotherapy, I decided to swim and run/walk a triathlon I registered for with my husband the previous year.  I was thrilled to swim slowly during that tri and go right to my walk/run.  The race organizers were great about my modifications!  I was able to cheer my husband as he crossed the finish line after finishing the whole race too. I also was able to do the Women’s Tri that year because it was during my radiation therapy and my energy was mostly back.  I wore my Cancer Sucks T-shirt and my hair was about ½ inch long. I did each event slowly as I just wanted to finish-and I did it! Perseverance, heart, determination, and a belief in my physical capabilities pushed me right along.  I am very proud of myself for finishing that race.

Q: Were there any accomplishments along the way you would like to share?
A: I had three healthy pregnancies and three healthy boys. I participated in triathlons and runs within three – four months after each of their births.  I always had a physical goal in mind so that I could stay in shape after each pregnancy.  I would run my boys in a jogging stroller or park their car seats at the edge of the pool and I swam laps while they slept. I used to carry them on my back while I biked them to daycare or once they were old enough we pulled them in trailers. They have very good memories of riding in the bike trailer especially.

Q: What advice do you have for other women thinking about trying multi-sport events for the first time?
A: Take it slowly. Go into it with a friend as it is more fun. Take the time to join a training group prior to the race so you have an idea of where your fitness level needs to be. It will prepare you physically and psychologically for the competition. Then if you are ‘ready’ for the race it is much more enjoyable.

If you are doing a triathlon make sure you can swim with some confidence. Take the swim seriously as it is the toughest leg because it is crowded in the water. You can easily get hit by arms and kicking legs. It is dark and hard to see. Sighting the buoys takes practice. Sometimes it is really wavy (I have swum in two foot waves, it felt like you were in a huge washing machine) and hard to find the best breathing rhythm. You have to train yourself to be calm in the water. It is a good idea to practice swimming in lakes, sighting to the shore across from you so you can swim in a straight line and swimming in waves so you know how to find your breathing rhythm. The swim is my favorite part because you have to rely on strategy, strength and calm to maneuver around 25-50 people who are all headed in the exact same direction!