Today I Can Call Myself a Triathlete

author : verga
comments : 2

My journey from semi couch tater to triathlete.

I look at that sentence and I still can’t believe it. I think that almost anyone that knows me would say that I am one of the most unlikely candidates to bear that title. In high school and college I competed in Archery and Chess, in my thirties I earned two black belts - more through perseverance than actual athletic prowess. My wife and I have done some camping, hiking, kayaking, and geocaching, but nothing you would consider high endurance.

Let me give you some background. I am a 49 year old high school teacher who has always fought a losing battle with my weight. I am 5’10” and at my heaviest weighed in at 285 lbs. I began walking and trying to watch what I ate and gradually got the weight down to 215- 220. Later I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes and had to begin taking oral medication to control that.


My journey began this way. My wife Judy and I were traveling from our home in Virginia to visit family and friends in western New York. While there Judy was stricken with central nervous system Lyme disease. The disease did not present with the usual symptoms but went right through the blood brain barrier and attacked her brain directly. She required a month of hospitalization then a week of rehabilitation. During a follow up visit to her doctor he suggested that she begin an exercise program to improve her recovery. I signed both of us up at the local YMCA and began working out myself to inspire her.

I began lifting weights and walking on the treadmill but got bored with that rather quickly. I spoke to a co-worker whose wife competes in triathlons and he suggested adding swimming to stretch the muscles out and give myself a break. So I set a goal for myself to swim one mile straight through. My first effort was a miserable...50 yards, but I kept adding and worked my way up from there. At that time I began to take one of the spinning classes, because I had pretty much given up on the weights. Gordon from work then reminded me that all I had to do was add the running and I would be on my way to a triathlon. I slowly added running on the treadmill and found the Beginner Triathlete website. At this time I told my wife that I intended to do my first one on our 25th wedding anniversary as my gift to her. She was quite a bit surprised but thought it was a good idea. After reading Eric Harr’s "Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week," I thought I could be ready sooner, much sooner. I began hitting the gym 5-6 days a week and found a race that was six weeks away and signed up for it.


We went down the day before to check out the route, pick up my packet, and attend the pre-race meeting. Kathy the race director did an incredible job of organizing everything. During the pre-race the President of the local Tri Club did a skit showing us what not to do during transitions. It was very funny stuff that alleviated a lot of my fears. I went to bed that night and got a total of maybe an hour of sleep as I kept going over my transitions and the race in general in my head.

Race day

Race day came and it was a bit cloudy, but as we got to the event site the clouds really rolled in. As I was finishing setting up my transition area the rain came down in a deluge, and Kathy announced a ½ hour rain delay. I was disappointed and told one of my fellow racers that it would have been a better “First Tri story” if we did it in the rain. As if on cue half an hour later the rain stopped and the skies cleared.

The Swim

We did the swim in the Y’s pool. It was a six lane snake swim for a total of 300 meters. There were 500 competitors and we were ranked by our estimated swim times. I was ranked 481 of 500 at an estimated time of 14:45. I have a lot of endurance, but not much speed. I was seeded between two very nice young ladies and we chatted while waiting in line. The first competitors came out after about four minutes, they had rooster tails behind them as they cut through the water, and I was quite impressed. It was great seeing everyone applaud the competitors coming out. We had 15 seconds between each competitor. I held my pace pretty well but still got passed by about four other racers. I ended up with a swim time of 9:50 - better than I thought. We had a 300 meter jog to the T1 (I love saying that as it makes me sound official and almost smart). I could not get my water shoes on so I just ended up carrying them. My wife Judy got a great picture of me rounding the corner.


This went very smooth for my first one. I put on my helmet and glasses. I had covered my sneakers with a towel before the rain so they were still dry.  I then grabbed some quick hydration (though I should have put on some sun-block), unracked the bike and made it to the mount area. Time 4:25.


The route was a lot flatter than the area around my house and I went full out and I think I passed as many people as passed me. Most of my training has been on the spin cycles, and they are great for what they do, but it does not give you an accurate idea of the open road. I wanted to do the course in around 45 minutes. My actual time was 53:08.


I read on the Beginner Triathlete site to pedal backwards a couple of times before your dismount - I hope it helped because I would hate to think how funny I would have looked without it. I literally left everything on the bike and I could barely walk out of T2. I used toe cages so I did not have to change my shoes, and that helped my time quite a bit. Time 1:16.

The Run

I am not the runner in my family - that was the job of one of my sisters. The run was 3.1 miles and I freely admit that I walked more than half of it. The volunteers were great and so were my fellow racers. The course was an out and back “L” shape and we cheered each other on as we passed by each other. I was hoping for a run time of 36 minutes, but ended up with 40:50.


My overall time from start to finish was 1:49:28 and I ended up second-to-last in my age group. The most important result was that I actually finished and I met some of the nicest people in the world. I finally got to meet Bonehead (Randy), Turnip girl (Hannah), her husband and daughter, Matt and too many others to name.

Things to do differently

More road training on the bike and running would have improved my results. I should have worn the sun block like my wife suggested, do more bricks so I know not to leave everything on the bike and save some for the run.


Thanks to Kathy the Race Director, all the volunteers, police officers, officials, sponsors, and Shady Grove Y, none of this could have happened with out you. Special thanks to Gordon and his wife Tammy for getting me interested and giving me advice. Most of all thank you to my parents for teaching me perseverance against adversity, and my wife for supporting me through all of this.


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date: August 22, 2012