Thursday, March 6, 2014

Triathlon

The birth of my first son wasn't enough to convince me that smoking a pack plus a day and drinking whiskey most nights of the week wasn't a sustainable lifestyle. Well, fine - I knew I wasn't healthy, but I wasn't grossly overweight. Just a little. I got sick just like everyone else, my hairline was receding a little, everything normal. Then the birth of my daughter wasn't enough. Yikes. Then a few years later the birth of my youngest son...ok, I see the issue. When you have kids - at least when I had kids - little alarms go off in the brain saying "Hey! You should see this! Watch that kid, it's somethin' else!". The little devil that sits in an easy chair on one shoulder that fed me smokes and tumblers also had some choice words, along the lines of, "meh, so what." Those two things don't juxtapose too well.

Eventually - as in my youngest was now a couple of months old - I decide that as stubborn as I appear to be with myself (now THAT'S embarrassing), the only way I might actually clean myself up is to put myself in a life or death situation where I have to live cleanly. Signing up for a triathlon seemed like it fit that bill. If you can't swim, you'll drown. Bingo, death - check. If you don't quit smoking, you'll die on the bike or the run. More death - check. Must "train", so that I actually finish, meaning I'll get in some sort of shape other than 'lumpy'. Excellent. I signed up on January 1st for a sprint triathlon (the naming of which made me laugh for a couple of years - how do you sprint for an hour, I thought?!) in my home town to take place the first week of June, just prior to my 34th birthday. What a birthday gift, I thought.

I started to work out how to run, and it didn't seem I could. I would barely make it a mile before a searing pain enveloped my lower legs, all the while my chest and back jiggling. I can't describe the breathing sensation, but it wasn't therapeutic. The race distance demanded five kilometers of this. Into death's sweet arms I marched on.... The swim. I quickly came to the conclusion that I could not swim a half mile as required. More accurately, I couldn't swim 4 laps of a pool doing anything but the breast stroke. So that's what I decided to do. I tried desperately to swim a crawl, but I couldn't seem to last at it much more than a couple of minutes. Could I ride a bike? Well yes, in that department I thought I'd be alright. I'd ridden bikes everywhere since early youth, commuting with them through high school and college. I'd even taken a bike tour through Cape Cod in my teens, and had ridden at the front the entire time. I'd never ridden a road bike, but I knew my legs were strong and my road knowledge and comfort were there. I purchased a used road bike and considered that the portion to worry the least about. This was a challenge!

Fortunately, triathlon proved to be the perfect distraction, and I shed my slovenly habits without missing them. I can't remember my last cigarette, it wasn't an event. I can, however, remember my first triathlon. I swam a lovely breast stroke, rode my bike 12 miles, and ran\walked my way across the finish line. I had lost about 25 pounds since the first of the year, and I became infatuated with the bizarre sport of triathlon. In comparison to the vast majority of the participants, I was awful at it. I had a lot of room for improvement, though, and an engineering background to apply. I considered myself a work in progress and took to training a lot more, vowing to come back the next year and try again, but the triathlon bug bit deep; I made it only two months before I completed another sprint distance race, and improved substantially over my first effort. Whatever hope I had of this being a passing fancy were obliterated.

A few years later, I've actually come to be rather good at triathlons. I've podiumed (race-speak for a win, place, or show) in my age group several times, and have taken on longer and longer distances each year. Like other athletics, triathlon races are split up by age groups, meaning you might be first among 60-65 year old males and get a nice pat on the back, or you might place overall amongst all finishers and be given a heartier pat on the back. You don't typically win anything tangible other than a pat on the back, and maybe a pint glass with some words on it. The sense of accomplishment is enormous, however.

A perfect example of a reversion - I was off the path, and found my way back on. Triathlon changed my life, and I enjoy it immensely.