Took the First Step, And Still Going

author : mjguanella
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Overweight, ex-high school athlete and father of three decides to enter a triathlon and gets more than he imagined.

One year ago to the day as I write this article, I decided to change my life. But it didn’t start out like that. It began as a desire to check something off my list of things to do before I die – complete a triathlon. I told everyone I was doing it, so I couldn’t back down for fear of embarrassment. However, I didn’t realize that the true motivation to keep going didn’t come from a fear of being judged but instead came in the form steady improvement, not only in my training but also in my overall health and self image. And I didn’t realize that a year ago I wasn’t only taking on a challenge of completing a triathlon, I was truly reinventing myself both physically and, to a large extent, emotionally.


My background
Before I get too far down the road, I need to describe briefly the “old” me: a 32-year-old ex-high school athlete, who at 5-foot-9 and 210 lbs was more than a little overweight and out of shape. I used every excuse in the book – kids, career (complete with a tough travel schedule), wife’s career, and that old standby—genetics. I was very good at rationalizing a lifestyle that really wasn’t sustainable. Did I think that completing this triathlon would fix it? Not really, but I knew that I needed to get into better shape to complete it, so there was some upside potential. Plus, it would make me rearrange my schedule to fit in workouts and not disrupt the home front, so I needed to get organized.

How did my training go?

The first thing I did was buy a notebook to track my workouts and calorie consumption. I also bought an Ironman watch. My initial goal before tackling the actual triathlon training was to get down to 175 lbs, the weight I was when I graduated high school. The first mile I ran took about 10 minutes, and I was absolutely gassed afterwards. I eventually added on some miles here and there and kept track of calories burned doing yardwork, golfing (no cart, all walking), and remodeling our basement. All the while, I kept track of my calories consumed each day and became much more food-aware.


After about four months I hit my goal weight of 175 lbs. That’s when I started my triathlon training in earnest by adding in the swim. I waited to start the swim portion because, frankly, I was embarrassed to be seen in a swimming suit in at my former weight. Thanks to the resources at and a co-worker who is a triathlete and former collegiate swimmer, I progressed steadily in my workouts. Add in a spinning class here and there, and in about four months of focused training, I was able to swim a mile non-stop, bike 25 miles, and run about eight miles. It was time for my first triathlon.

How did that first triathlon go?

Aside from being nervous as heck and the weather being cold and blustery (a triathlon in Minnesota in early May, what was I thinking?), it was great. My finish time wasn’t too bad, but honestly anyone in their first triathlon should be focused on the moment, the experience, and not their splits. I walked away from that event convinced that I wanted to do more. Not only because I enjoyed the training and the physical benefits, but also because that the beauty of triathlon is that you don’t have to be great at each of the disciplines – you can be good at each and still do well. And as much as I just wanted to participate, I also wanted to compete.


Since that first tri I have completed two more, including an Olympic distance event, and have three more scheduled this summer. I’m already looking at doing longer events next year. I’m now down to 162 lbs and have a entirely new wardrobe. Triathlon has become a core part of my life – it’s not my only focus, but it’s a key element that my entire family has really adopted. Being the father of three kids as well, I want to continue on for their benefit, as I believe that I need to be a role model for my children in terms of their physical well-being.

What did I learn from this experience?

First of all, the triathlon community is extremely supportive. Just log into and check out the forums and articles. Ask anyone at your first event for help, and you will likely not only get a warm smile and an answer, but also encouragement. Second of all, triathletes come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and levels. You will not stand out as much as you might think you will, being a rookie. You may stand out, but only as people recognize that competing in a triathlon is a brave endeavor and if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. You will be unique as someone who has signed their name on a race form and stood nervous on the edge of the water waiting for that horn to sound.

Finally, I’ve learned that as trite and cliché as it sounds, the greatest of journeys still begins with that first step. For me, it was buying that watch and notebook to track my progress. The first few weeks were slow going, but it built over time. Motivation will come as you make progress, but it’s that first step that is key. Just be careful, as it could become more than just something to check off the list of things to say you’ve done, more than a badge of honor. It may become something that sustains you and becomes a part of you.


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date: July 28, 2008