Aluminum Foil Mike - My First Triathlon

author : Team BT
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One year ago I weighed 238 lbs. and got winded walking up one flight of stairs - literally. I ran across a brochure for a triathlon...hmm. It seemed like an impossible task, but I was intrigued.

My name is Michael Shanahan. No I'm not the coach of the Broncos, nor am I related. What I am is 38 years old, married (LaKrista), father to two kids (Hayden - 9 and Tyler - 7), working a full-time job (accountant), studying as 3rd year law student (Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis), and one month ago I competed in my first triathlon, the Indianapolis Sprint Triathlon Series (see I finished in 1 hr. 27 min., which put me across the finish line in 355th place out of a full field of 600 entrants.

Before I started

One year ago I weighed 238 lbs. and got winded walking up one flight of stairs - literally. Indiana University's law school has three floors. All the classrooms are on the second and third floors. The building is basically a big square with an open atrium in the center that reaches the top of the building. Three flights of stairs stretch from the first to the third floors, which the majority of the students use to get to classes. I, on the other hand, got winded taking the stairs, so I usually opted for the elevator. It always took longer to get from one floor to the next than using the stairs. Not to mention that the majority of people who took the elevator were carrying too much to use the stairs or were handicapped, obese, or elderly. Enough was enough!

I purchased a membership at a tennis club and gym, and I started training for the Indianapolis Mini-marathon with a buddy. Two weeks into the training, I developed a seemingly severe case of shin splints and blew my knee out. I could barely walk. I thought my body was just too old and too far out of shape to handle the pounding of the road. I gave up on the idea of running in the mini, but I did not give up altogether. After a small hiatus, shin splints and all, I continued to work out. I started cross-training on an Elliptical and continued to play tennis.

How it all started

After about a month of tennis and the Elliptical, I ran across a brochure for a triathlon...hmm. It seemed like an impossible task, but I was intrigued. I took the brochure to work and a guy at my office saw it and laughed. I told him about some research I did into triathlons and about the ultimate tri, the Ironman. He joked and said that I was more like aluminum than iron and started calling me Aluminum Foil Mike. Needless to say, that was my motivation. I signed up for the sprint triathlon a few hours later. By the way, I didn't even have a bicycle.

That day, I went to a bike shop, got outfitted with an entry level Trek, signed up at the Indianapolis Natatorium (a big indoor swimming pool) and bought a triathlon training book. The triathlon was about fifteen weeks out. Talk about my eyes being bigger than my appetite. The next few weeks were pure hell. I was sore and tired every minute of every day, but there was also this sense of accomplishment that kept me going.

First day of training!

The first day in the pool I found out that I could not swim fifty meters without stopping for a break. I literally got three quarters of the way down a lane and almost drowned. I had to float on my back for a few minutes to catch myself. Each day I was able to go a little farther.

The first day on the bike I rode about three miles one way and had to stop for half an hour before I could get back on and ride back. As I improved, I constantly struggled with sore hands and glutes from the constant pressure on the handle bars and seat, not to mention sore muscles from the training.

I already told you what happened when I tried running the first time, but that was about three months ago, and my knees felt fine now. Additionally, I started working out the muscles around my knees at the gym. Fortunately, my knee problem was solved; however, the shin splints still haunted me. My first attempt on the track amounted to a half mile run (excuse me, trot) and a half mile walk. Twenty minutes later, I had finished a mile.

Keep on slogging

The battle was uphill, but I kept at it. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I rode my bike for twenty to thirty minutes and hit the gym for forty-five minutes working on core muscles. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I swam, and on Tuesday evenings I played tennis in a men’s clinic. I took Fridays off. On Saturdays, I swam and rode my bike. On Sundays, I went on a long ride, which at first amounted to thirty to forty-five minutes, but after about ten weeks of training, I was up to forty-five minutes to an hour, and close to race day I could do almost two hours. Around the twelfth week, I did a practice run. It was great. I finished in about one hour forty minutes. I had proved to myself I could do it.

In addition to the training, I also purchased about a dozen disposable Glad containers, which I filled up every Sunday with meals and took them with me throughout the week. Remember, full-time job, family, and law school. I left every morning Monday through Saturday between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. and normally did not come home until between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m. On Sundays, I grilled steaks, pork chops, and chicken, and I cooked pastas and rice for the whole week. Additionally, I took a can or two of albacore tuna with me each day, along with apples and oranges. The training program had increased my appetite and apparently my metabolism. More was going in but most was being utilized as energy.

By the way, throughout the training, I consistently missed at least a day a week of what I intended to do, and about every three or four weeks, I took it real easy as that is what the book I bought suggested. After seven or eight weeks of training, I was starting to feel really good about myself. It got to the point that if I missed a workout, something didn't seem right.

The day of my first tri

The day finally came. Saturday morning, 5:30 a.m. the alarm sounded. I jumped out of bed ready to go. I made sure to get a good breakfast -- fruits and cereal. I got my Gatorade, water, and Gu ready to go along with my swim cap, goggles, bike, bike shoes, towel, bike helmet, running shoes, ear plugs, and then I went to put on my tri shorts, but they were nowhere to be found. I woke my wife up and we looked for some time but could not find them. I was panicking because the race instructions said the transition area, where all your equipment goes, would be secure at 7:00 a.m. My drive was about 25 minutes and then I had to park outside the park where the event was being held and walk about 2/3 of a mile to the transition area with my gear. It was 6:30 when I finally grabbed a pair of spandex shorts and took off. I drove like a maniac. I was worried that all the work I had done was going to be for naught, that I would not be able to compete because the transition area would be secured and I would not be able to get in.

Fortunately, when I got to the parking area at about two minutes until 7:00 a.m. I saw all these people casually walking with their gear to the park. I was relieved. Apparently, the transition area being “secure” merely meant that only those competing could enter. I parked, got my gear, climbed on my bike and started to ride. Nervous as ever, I got to the street crossing and forgot about my clips on my bike shoes. I fell flat on my face with at least a hundred people watching. I couldn't have been more embarrassed, but I got up and told everybody that asked that only my pride was hurt, laughed at myself, and went on to the transition area and check-in site.

No goggles!

Upon arriving at the transition area, I was in awe about the number of people there. I have not ever competed in any type of race where that many people participated. I can only imagine what one of the large marathons is like—wow. Anyway, as I was laying out my stuff, I realized that I'd left my goggles and ear plugs at home. After freaking out for a minute, one of the other entrants let me borrow his extra set of goggles. When I finished the race, he was already gone so I still have the goggles--thanks to whoever you were.

The first wave of the race started and I was up next. With only a few minutes till go time, I proceeded out into the water. I was told to stay left and I wouldn't get bumped, kicked, or hit as much as if I got in the middle of the pack, so I did. As the gun went off, I put my head down and took off. After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn't getting touched anymore, so I looked up to find out I was one of the two people to the farthest left I could be. The other guy, apparently, was keeping on my line--what a mistake. Correcting my path, I continued around the first buoy to the second. Now, though, I was looking up about every eight strokes. The second buoy seemed like it wasn't getting any closer and then I noticed that the majority of the wave had already turned and a guy on a wave runner was yelling at the twenty or so in the group I was in to turn in. The buoy had come loose and started floating out. Eventually I made it in. What was supposed to be 500 meters ended up being closer to 650 meters, but I was done with a leg and headed for my bike.

I had my bike shoes in their clips on the bike pedals like the pros. I simply jumped on and took off. I got out of the first transition in about forty-five seconds, a good time for a beginner. The bike leg went very smooth. I passed a bunch of people and a few people passed me. After the halfway point in the bike, I went to reach for my water but discovered that I forgot it with my goggles. What an experience. I finished the bike leg, dehydrated as ever, and started out on the run.

The run had water stations on it, so I was able to hydrate, but nearly an hour went by where I had no water. (As I was going out for the run, the winner was crossing the finish line—amazing stuff.) The run was grueling under those conditions, but as I proceeded along the course, I caught glimpse of my wife, my kids, and the partner for whom I work. Motivation was mine. I managed to finish and did so eventfully. As I crossed the finish line, I threw up three times. It was another embarrassing moment.

45 pounds later

Immediately after my first tri (about four months after I started training for it), I weighed 192 lbs. and had a thirty five inch waist. I lost over forty-five pounds and five inches off my waist, not to mention I felt a great sense of accomplishment and sense of self, like I could do anything. That was about six weeks ago. The guy at the office still calls me Aluminum Foil Mike but in a respectful way, which is okay with me. I intend on making that goal of doing an Ironman, and when I do, I'll have a warm-up shirt with Aluminum Foil Mike across its back.

I will never forget my first tri and wouldn't change a thing. I hope your first is amassed with memories as fulfilling as the as mine. Next year, I will be a veteran.


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date: June 4, 2006

Team BT