Cristin Stokes competed in her first triathlon last Saturday in Missoula, and did quite well! Not only did she accomplish her first goal of not drowning, she actually finished 3rd among females competing in the 500m swim option (There were two swim distances, 500 and 1000m. The bike was 20k and the run 5k). Great job Cristin! Here is Cristin’s personal account from her first tri, and official submission for the Montana Moves April Challenge:

Wow, Neal’s inspiring account of this year’s Boston Marathon is a tough post to follow. However, since the Montana Moves Challenge of the Month for April is to complete a personal best, I thought it was still worth sharing the story of my first triathlon.

After finishing a half marathon last summer, I was looking for a new fitness-related challenge. I had heard positive things about the Grizzly Triathlon in Missoula, and with the event date in April, I thought it would provide some nice motivation to keep moving and exercising during the winter. There was just one problem: I’m not a swimmer. I had taken lessons as a kid, but never really enjoyed swimming. High school gym class was the last time that I had swam for any other reason besides cooling off in a lake during the summer.

But with my sights set on the triathlon, and with access to the swimming pool at the Hoseaus Fitness Center on the MSU campus, I bought an inexpensive swimsuit, borrowed some goggles, and made it one and a half lengths of the pool, about 35 meters, before I had to stop for a break. My lungs were burning and I felt a little panicked that I might just sink to the bottom and require a lifeguard rescue.  The thought of doing a 500m swim for a triathlon seemed more than daunting; it seemed impossible. Still, with 7 months to train, I signed up for swimming lessons, got a friend to take lessons with me (thanks Val!), and practiced. A lot.

Over the winter, my swimming slowly improved. I was able to increase the distance I could swim without stopping and felt more comfortable and relaxed in the water. I officially registered for the race, recruited my husband (new to triathlons as well) to sign up and train with me, and got Neal to write me an awesome training program. By the time that April arrived, after lots of swimming, miles of cold-weather runs, and time spent on an indoor spin bike with a few outdoor rides as the weather permitted, I was feeling mostly ready.

Waking up nervous on the morning of the race, I reminded myself of the goals that I had set prior:

  1. Don’t Drown.
  2. Have Fun.

With one lap to go in the swim, I had the wonderful realization that I was going to accomplish goal #1 – hooray! Thanks to adrenaline, my time wasn’t bad either. Goal #2 was easy with the weather being sunny and beautiful, and plenty of spectators out supporting the racers. Plus, my husband and I ended up being in the same heat, so it was fun to be in transitions with him and cheer for each other along the way. Surprisingly, I would even say that I had fun during the swim!

For those of you considering doing a triathlon for the first time, the Grizzly Tri is a fantastically organized race and great for beginners since the distances are short and the swim is held in an indoor pool. This year, more than a third of the racers were competing in their first multi-sport event. All abilities and ages were represented. I had good company, and the atmosphere was fun and supportive.

The best part of the race was that it made me excited for my next triathlon. I know I won’t be breaking any swimming records, but finishing my first triathlon has given me confidence to try a longer distance or maybe even one in open water. Plus, it’s always a good feeling to set a Personal Best!


Swimmers competing at the UM Grizzly Pool.


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