A few years ago my number 1 sport was watching television and eating Combos. I was the classic obese American walking around waiting for a stroke to happen. I made all the typical jokes about exercise. “I don’t run unless something is chasing me and I’m out of bullets”. Then, a few years ago, while waist deep in competitive archery (a sport not known for it’s cardio benefits), I was shooting a big tournament in Pittsburgh and happened to be on the line with several other lefties. It was unusual enough that my wife snapped a picture. The picture was a revelation. A very scary revelation. Archers as a whole tend to feature what is known as a “counter balance” (read that: fat gut) but as it turns out my counter balance was bigger than most and certainly bigger than I had pictured myself. Sure . . I was wearing size 38″ pants and probably should have been wearing at least 40s but that isn’t that big . . right?
I dabbled with exercise and even managed to get in fairly decent shape for an elk hunt I went on but slowly and surely the weight came back. Finally, in 2009 when my Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer she got a bit unfiltered and she bluntly pointed out that I was “getting fat” again. The next day, I dug out my little-used running gear and hit the road. For good this time.
Within a year I had run 5ks, 10ks, a 10 mile race, and my first half-marathon. I remember the day I stared at the computer, swallowed hard, and clicked “Submit” to enter my first full marathon. It was a scary moment. I would go on to run several more marathons and suddenly the idea of 10 mile races and half-marathons was almost routine. How did that happen?
Each new challenge I present myself with is scary. I think I signed up for my first triathlon either shortly before or shortly after my first marathon. I was skeptical to say the least. For one thing, I didn’t even own a bike. That could present a problem. I also hadn’t swam in oh . . . twenty years or so. And I never REALLY swam. I think to pass lifeguard certification you had to complete something like 2 laps and then spend your summers sitting on a high chair eating Reese’s Pieces and baby-sitting local urchins.
Nevertheless I was signed up for a triathlon in the spring of 2011. Along about December I set out to find a pool. I used various free passes to narrow down the choices. But the defining moment came when I went to the local Gold’s for the first time swimming in 2 decades. I jumped in, free-styled a length of the pool, grabbed the wall and gasped for air. “Oh my God”. I thought I was in shape. Maybe running shape but this swimming was different. How would I ever swim the few hundred yards needed for a sprint triathlon? Well, like running, you need to learn to pace yourself and it takes time to build up endurance. I think the first time I ran I made the 2.5 miles around my development in about 40 minutes. I reminded myself of this and slowwwwlllyyy began to add yardage in the pool. My form was awful, I was slow, but I got to the point where I could comfortably swim several hundred yards.
Now about that bike thing. I started thinking that the bike leg of a triathlon probably goes faster if you actually have a bike. I wasn’t sure if I would like this whole tri thing so decided not to go nuts but I still wanted something decent and reliable. After much internet surfing and consulting with smarter bike people than me I purchased a Cannondale CAAD86 road bike. No, it was not one of those sleek, carbon fiber aero wonders, but it would be more than adequate to learn to ride again and also a better choice if I decided I didn’t like triathlon and just wanted to ride. The pretty new bike sat unridden in my garage from December until February 18th. My birthday was a bit cloudy and grey but 51 degrees. I felt that that was a good temperature for running so naturally it should be good for riding. I can’t tell you how wrong I was. I only rode about 10 miles that day but it felt like the sub-arctic. I spent the rest of the day thawing out after learning my first bike lesson. The plus is that I didn’t fall over in my new clipless pedals. (Yet.)
Despite it all, in May 2011 I completed my first triathlon. The swim was a debacle, and I was not even remotely fast but I was hooked. What a fun day! That said, I’d never do anything more than a Sprint distance. Or maybe an Olympic. It would just be crazy to start doing longer events at my age. Right? Of course, I remember when I did my first 5K race. There was a 10-miler on the same day and I remember watching the start and thinking “I’ll never run farther than 5K”.
So in 2012, I did my first Half-Ironman. It was a hot, nutty affair. For those that don’t know, a Half-Ironman involves a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. Sound far? It really is. 70.3 miles in total. A bit nutty right? Well . . . as you can infer from the name if there is a Half-Ironman there must be an Ironman. Indeed there is . . and yes that is what they do in Hawaii. But that isn’t the only one. That is the Ironman championship. There are Ironman races all over the world throughout the year. In case you are struggling with the math a full Ironman distance event is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon. But no worries . . you have 17 hours to get it all done. Oh and the reward for the people that can do this the fastest is to go to Hawaii and do it again in high-winds, hills, and lots of heat. Knowing this I would never be dumb enough to sign up for an Ironman.
Never say never. I am currently training to attempt Ironman Lake Placid on July 27th in Lake Placid, NY home of the 1980 Winter Olympics. I really blame a couple of my tri friends for this (you know who you are). No reasonable or sane person would think this is a good idea and would not attempt it without peer pressure. I volunteered at Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) last year which is almost the only way you can enter. Believe it or not there are so many people that want to do this they fill up in moments when registration opens. I think there is a lucrative opportunity here for a motivated psychiatrist.
Unlike the half or Olympic distance, training for an IM is all-consuming. As I am typing this, I am watching the clock. It is Saturday morning and I need to get on my bike soon. I also have to do yard work, think about mowing grass soon, and a bunch of other things I really don’t have time to do any more. And there is this woman I see occasionally in my house. She looks vaguely familiar. Maybe some day I’ll introduce myself.
For now . . . I am training for an Ironman. Interesting. Crazy. Scary. And this little Youtube video says it all. I once passed it around because it was funny. Now it is just a statement of my life. (Parental warning: One brief f* bomb in here).