When I think about how I first got involved in triathlons, it brings me back to the very first race I committed to doing.  It was the Marlton Lakes Triathlon scheduled for August 30, 2004, and boy oh boy was I stoked!

I first heard about triathlons at the Riverwinds Community Center, where I worked teaching Spinning, yoga, and other group fitness classes. At that point triathlons were really growing in popularity, and Riverwinds was hosting its first Triathlon Training Class. It sounded like a challenge, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it.  But with some major encouragement from my family and friends, I decided to go for it.  I signed up with a couple of friends and we made the commitment to “tri” a sprint triathlon together. We chose DQ’s Marlton Lakes Tri to be our first race.

Just the idea of the swim made me extremely nervous. As a kid I took swimming lessons, but never actually swam for any significant period of time—and never in a lake. That just seemed gross. On the first day of the triathlon class, I couldn’t swim more than 2 lengths of the pool, and water kept getting into my goggles. Eventually I learned how to relax in the water (thanks to yoga), found some smaller goggles, and after about 6 weeks I was swimming at least 25 laps without having to stop. It seemed incredible.

My bike experience was limited primarily to the Spinning room at Riverwinds.  I already had a hybrid bike, which I bought a couple years prior, so riding a bike outside was still fairly new to me. Everyone said how important it was to get the real road experience, so I would go out with other riders whenever I could, which really helped me gain confidence and get comfortable riding on the road.  Once I got over my fear of the cars and riding on narrow shoulders, riding outside was a blast! It made me feel like a kid again.

Up to that point, I hadn’t been running regularly either. There was the Susan G. Komen 5K that I did a couple years back and a 5k run in Harrison Township, but that was about it. My knee would often hurt when I ran, so it made it difficult to keep up with it. So I talked and ran with other runners, got a good pair of running shoes, and started putting on the mileage. The triathlon trainer also introduced the class to the Pose Method of Running, which basically involves running on the balls of your feet. I bought the book and tried it. Running got better, and actually felt pretty good sometimes.

As the training progressed, the excitement began to build. The long weeks of training started to pay off. I was becoming a better cyclist and there was no doubt that my running was faster. I had the triathlon bug and never felt so alive in my life. I was ready to race. Then, it literally all came crashing down.

A week before the Marlton Lakes Tri, I went out for a short brick (bike/run), alone, on a Saturday morning.  Near the end of the bike ride, I made a right turn into a neighborhood. There was sand and gravel on the roadway. I panicked, thinking that my bike was going to slip out from under me, so I took the turn wider. Turns out I took the turn too wide and too fast and ended up hitting the median in the middle of the roadway, flipping over on my bike. I got up, checked my bike, felt my wrist hurting a bit, and decided to head home (riding the bike of course!). I was still thinking about doing the 2 mile run.

As it turns out, I never did that run because my wrist got a hairline fracture when I crashed. And I missed my very first triathlon. That’s right. I never got the chance to do the Marlton Lakes Triathlon in 2004. What a let down. Actually I was very lucky…it could have been much worse.

I was not ready to give up. My fitness level was the best it had ever been. While my wrist was healing and since biking outside and swimming was out, running became the main event. It was going well, and I was considering training for something bigger–a marathon.

At some point that fall, as the training volume increased, my forefoot started to hurt while running. Then it hurt all the time. I kept running, trying to ignore the pain. Big mistake! I eventually went to a podiatrist and after two visits, an X-ray, and an MRI, was diagnosed with Freiberg’s Disease in my third metatarsal (foot bone). Freiberg’s Disease is also called avascular necrosis, which is the fancy way of saying that the blood supply to my bone was cut off, and the metatarsal head began to die, causing inflammation and pain. And while the true cause is not known, most physicians generally agree that when this disease occurs in adults, it is most likely due to repetitive stress or trauma. Perhaps the Pose Method of Running wasn’t right for me.

I was deflated. I worked so hard and was in the best shape of my life at 38 years old. But it was time to stop. No marathon for me. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever be able to run or do triathlons again. After some soul searching, healing, and going through a couple of pairs of custom orthotics, two podiatrists, and several pairs of running shoes, I finally was able to take up running and triathlons again. The injuries taught me that stopping is not the same as quitting. Healing happens. You can move on.

It took me a couple of years, but I did eventually get to do the Marlton Lakes Triathlon, this time with a lot more experience in the saddle.  It was one of my best races. I also got to run in a half marathon—a distance I thought would be impossible for me to do. I have since participated in many sprint triathlons, running, and biking events, recently completing my 5th half marathon. I am so grateful that I am still able to do this and for all the inspiring people I have met along the path. And I am thrilled to be a part of such an awesome club with fabulous women. So maybe that marathon isn’t out of reach after all. Ladies?

One thought on “Rookie Mistakes Make You Stronger: Laura Bonanni

  1. What an inspirational story! It makes me definitely want to get out there and start doing more, perhaps a triathlon next? Good on you for not giving up and getting back into your running and triathlons! I’m sure the ladies at your club give you a massive boost too! Keep at it!

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