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From Meathead to Triathlete?

When I was young the television show Wide World of Sports was super popular. Back in the day there were only a few stations and there were not any stations which specialized in sports so when sports were on I watched them no matter what the sport was. The Triathlon was always pretty cool to me and I always wanted to do one but never had the courage to try it as an adult. Being 220 pounds and pretty much a meathead I am not suited very well for distance running, however I wanted to see if I could do it.

For those of you who are seasoned veterans in Triathlons this article is not for you. You will laugh at some of the problems I encountered and shake your head with agreement with many of the experiences I had during my first event.

First of all let’s get one thing straight, this is a sprint triathlon not an Olympic or an Ironman. To me a sprint is a 100 Meter event which used to last less than 11 seconds for me. This was not a sprint to me. The race consisted of .35 mile swim, nine mile bike and a 5K run. I signed up for the event in February and started training for it in the middle of March. At the time I figured I can do it right now if I really had to. Lesson number one for me, don’t overestimate your athletic ability at age 40.

I started by getting into the pool. I needed to swim about 560 meters which would equal my .35 miles. Well I started off by swimming 10 laps which was 250 meters. That was brutal for me. I would swim 2 laps (50) meters and rest for 2 minutes because it was not easy for me. At this point I thought this is going to be impossible.

The rest of the week consisted of cycling on a simulator at the gym and running an easy mile on the treadmill. I decided I was going to train six days a week two days per event. I figured I would warm up and train 30 minutes a day for the events to start.

I recorded everything not only to measure my progress but also to hold myself accountable. I wanted to make sure I was getting the work done and in case I wanted to do it again could figure out what worked and what didn’t work. When I was in week three I was in the pool and I was convinced I would never be able to swim .35 miles without stopping. In the middle of my training swim I had myself so flustered I almost had a panic attack in the middle of the pool. (This panic attack will come back later for sure). I continued to swim and eventually after about six weeks I could swim 22 laps in a row. This was a big accomplishment and I felt a bit more confident in my swimming ability.

Meanwhile the land training was a total different story. I had three issues to deal with. I had a chronic tight glute muscle, a plantar wart and a super tight Tensor Fascia Late. I never could get into a good groove while running. I guess this is what happens when you take more pride in “Big Leg Friday “ workouts rather than a slow jog on the treadmill for the last fifteen years.

I decided to take some time off and actually take some advice for training for a 5K from the experts. Instead of trying to run fast for a short distance I decided to set the treadmill and run for a longer distance at a slower pace. (The sprinter in me cannot handle going slow) This was not the first time I said, I need to listen to the experts. With the new slower pace and the longer distance my legs and hips started to feel better and the distance I was running was getting longer and easier.

It was late June and I was about a month away from the race. I was lowering my times in the pool and I did my first Brick workout. Brick workouts are a Swim/Bike , Bike/Run or any combination of two aspects of the Triathlon. I crushed it. I biked nine miles and ran four miles. I was super excited and confident for the race. I will look back at it and laugh because I did it inside. This was another mistake I made.

With about three weeks left to go I felt confident and since I had to be in Texas for work I figured I would get some training in the heat. These three running sessions only gave me more confidence in the run portion of the race. When I got home I was going to fine tune my training, run a 5K and be ready to kill it! With my training in 95-100 degree weather I was totally ready to crush the race.

Throughout all of my training I have been taking very good care of myself. I had been eating very well and have been very well hydrated. I went on a three week stretch of working outside and I honestly think I was dehydrated when I went to run a 5K was a tune up for the race. I was ten days out from the race. Three quarters of a mile into the run I strained my hip again. After four months of work I couldn’t even run. This wasn’t good.

I spent the next few days trying to convince myself I could compete the following week. I stretched constantly, iced took anti-Inflammatory medicine and did everything I could to try to get my hip right. I took three days off of using the hip at all and it didn’t help. I tried to run and it was not easy. The hip was super tight. I said forget it I am going to swim the next few days and hope I could make it through the race.

Race day! It was finally here. I loaded up on some ibuprofen and figured adrenaline will help me finish the race. I will gut it out. I was excited. I felt pretty confident, I figured I would be able to beat quite a few competitors because that is how it usually happens in the town fun runs but this was different. Everyone competing in this event was in very good shape. There wasn’t anyone doing this that didn’t have an excellent level of fitness or train to get to the proper level of fitness to complete the event. As I was talking to some other competitors and listening to their swimming times I was even more confident. My game plan going in was to do well in the swim, and fly on the bike. Looking back at it I sure was naive.

I didn’t listen to anyone. I did not do any open water swimming prior to the event. I guess I thought I f the boy scout training I participated in 25 years ago would be enough for me to be able handle an open water swim! I was using a mountain bike. Yep at least I got it tuned up even the the shop owner told me I did not have a chance to beat anyone on the bike. It was too late to get another ike since I only picked it up the day before the race. Once again I figured I will gut it out and beat a lot of people because I have strong legs!

It is now race time, I am in the second wave in the 40-49 age group. There are about 30 of us in the group. The other group started right at 7AM. We started about 5 minutes later and I was one of the first ones in the lake. I was killing it, leading the pack and then it all went to hell. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to see anything but I started to veer of course relatively quickly. I then heard the rest of the pack catching me and passing me. That combined with being in the middle of a lake and what looked like a mile to go at about the half-way point I lost it. I had a panic attack in the water. It is ok to be tired under the bar while squatting or while running sprints but it sucks to have out of control breathing and being exhausted in the middle of a lake. I was in trouble and the race was 8 minutes old. I found the kayak with the guard in it and I grabbed ahold of it and hung out with two other athletes for what seemed like was an eternity but was probably only 30-40 seconds. I started to swim again and was still crushed from exhaustion from going out too fast! I rested again and now the wave behind me (Women ages 30-39) was starting to pass me. I finally gained my composure and told the guard I did not need a ride into shore and I started to finish the swim. The problem was my legs were already tired. This had never happened while training but the adrenaline from the panic attack was crushing my whole body. When I finally got out of the water I stopped bent over at the waste crushed and trying to figure out how I was going to finish. It sucked, I trained for five months for this race and 18 minutes into it I was ahead of two guys (Out of 60) and behind a handful of women who had started three minutes after me. It is amazing how powerful your mind is and when I lost control of it I almost had to quit the race.

I took my time getting onto the bike and coasted while drinking the Gatorade I had ready on the mountain bike. Everyone was passing me on the road bikes. The enormous tires on the mountain bike are worthless when riding against bike that may weigh four pounds. As I was biking I got a second wind and finished up the nine mile bike in a very respectable manner and got ready for the run. At this point I was pumped to climb the famous hill they talked about and finish this race.

I started the run and my calves were now like a rock. I figured they would loosen up but they didn’t. The hill which I never tried to run in training was brutal I walked half of it. I got to the top finally, actually passed some people and was ready to finish until I hit another obstacle cramping of the quad. I never cramp I took pride in this but then never before in my life had I ever exercised for over an hour straight like I was doing now. Remember how I did one brick workout in the gym? Yep the lack of proper training was catching up to me now. I figured I was going to walk the rest of the way but I got to a water station and the cramps stopped…for about half mile and then they got worse. Now both hamstrings and quads were starting to go.

It was about 85 degrees but that wasn’t an excuse I didn’t properly train for the event. I could not run properly without going into a full cramp so I did my best to run with short strides especially the last .2 mile so I could finish with some dignity. I did indeed finish and got my participation medal and immediately drank everything in sight and ate a couple of bananas.

I never imagined how bad I would feel the next two days. All day after the race I was in bed totally exhausted from the adrenaline rush in the water to finishing the race when I thought I couldn’t even walk let alone bike and run 12 miles. I thought I pushed myself before but this was to the extreme. I am not ashamed to say it was the hardest thing I ever did in my life.

Lessons I learned:

-Listen to the Experts

-Do one Brick Workout a week and Train hard when you are training.

-Rest when you need to.

-Practice open water swimming.

-Beg, borrow or steal a road bike if you do not have one.

-Do not overestimate your athletic ability!

Body Composition Changes/Strength Changes

-Went from 222 lbs to 212 lbs

-20% Body Fat to 15% Body Fat

(Bod Pod Statistics, don’t be fooled by exaggerated measurements you see in other blogs, trust me I am not fat.)

-Strength in all of my lifts remained the same with the exception of squats which I have not tested since the competition and the pulling movements.

-Strength in pulling movements improved a bit with all of the swimming.

It took me about fifteen minutes to decide I will be running the race next year and I will train properly. I was proud of myself for finishing an event that is not geared towards those weighing over 200 pounds. I had a newfound respect for those elite triathletes. It’s crazy how they push themselves and the dedication they have to the sport.



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