Susan Rubis: The Accidental Triathlete


Susan Rubis (left) with her sister Carole, niece Jill, and sister Jeannie at the Tri-Glenwood Triathlon finish line .

Ever think about  entering a triathlon? Me neither, but watch out! Last September family members lured retired social worker Susan Rubis into Colorado’s Tri-Glenwood Triathlon in Glenwood Springs. Here’s what Susan has to say about it.

Cheryl Fusco Johnson:Why did you enter the Tri-Glenwood Triathlon?
Susan Rubis: My sister Carole, who lives in Colorado, sent me an email suggesting she, my sister Jeannie, and I do a triathlon with her daughter Jill. I replied, “Is this a joke?” When Carole, who is three years older than me, assured me it was not a joke, I decided to try it. I had retired a year before and I had a lot of empty space in my schedule. It was a chance to spend time with my sisters and niece in a beautiful place in Colorado. Also, Carole made it sound doable when she told me the race could be broken into a team race and that she was going to walk the run part.

What worries sprang to mind when you contemplated participating?
The altitude, my age [58], and the fact that I have never been an athlete had me worried. What if I had a heart attack?  What if I couldn’t make it?

How did you quell those fears?
Reading the distances of the Tri-Glenwood on their website was my first reassurance. Swim 825 meters, ride bike 15 miles and run five miles. On the Internet, I found stories of others who had done triathlons.

To quell my worries about my age, I called the toll-free nurse on the back of my health insurance card. That led me to my doctor for a heart check. The heart check-up was an unexpected positive by-product. My heart is in great shape. Now I have an image of myself as a really healthy, stout-hearted woman! Just thinking about it makes me want to go outside and play!

Knowing we could be a team was part of what lured me into saying yes. When Carole told me she wanted to do the whole thing, I followed the lead of my older sister, who has not led me astray yet. Since we were walking the run, I made my goal to finish, not in any set amount of time.

How did you prepare?
I started swimming and biking, gradually increasing distances. I already walked a lot and I kept that up. I rode my bike to the pool and anywhere else I could. I did not run. I never did the whole race agenda at one time in advance. I heard from a friend that marathoners do not train the whole distance, they plan on adrenaline to push them the whole distance on race day. So I figured to do the same.

I had my bike tuned up. It’s about four years old, not a racing bike. It’s good for cruising around town.

How was life different once you began training?
My life took on a structure that had been missing after I retired.  I was outdoors a lot, which made me feel great.

What did you do the night before the triathlon?
We swam in the huge Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, where the race would take place. We attended a pre-race meeting, planned what clothes to wear and have ready at our bikes, and went to bed early.

Describe the triathlon.
We three sisters started in the first heat, around 6:00 a.m. It was still dark when we parked our bikes in the “transition area” and got into the pool. My niece Jill started later.

The pool was cozy and warm in the early morning chill. My favorite part was the bike race. Riding with the morning sun just starting to shine on the canyon walls was thrilling. The Interstate shoulders were wide and traffic was somewhat monitored, so it felt safe. Somehow, it seemed to be downhill or level both ways. We rode seven miles west out of town and then back in. The run—walk for me—was fun. My sister Jeannie happened to start that segment at exactly the same time, so we walked—with a little run now and then—together. Jill joined us for a short while, then passed us by. The run is around the streets of Glenwood Springs, really well organized with lots of people cheering on the racers.

Will you enter another triathlon?
I plan to do a “rookie triathlon” about five miles from my mother’s home in Minnesota the weekend of July 4.

Any advice for people considering their first triathlon?
Don’t be intimidated. Not every triathlon is the Iron Man.  If I can do it, you can. Set a goal you can meet and do it.

©2009 Cheryl Fusco Johnson