Feb 20: Day 8
Planned workout(s): Off-day
With no scheduled workouts today, I started thinking back to how I even got here to begin with, and thought I would share. I share it because I think if you have ever even thought about trying this, it’s worthwhile to let you know how positive my experience has been.
I decided to try a triathlon when I was 37. I had been running regularly since I lost the weight, so about 17 years. I occasionally did a 5K or 10K event, but mostly I just ran 2-3 miles daily around the neighborhood to keep active. However, it was getting stagnant and stale, and I was developing some chronic achilles pain that bothered me. I wanted to keep active, but thought it might be better to mix it up and do some lower impact training. This was when I was 36.
So, I started working in a little biking, but it was kind of aimless. I used to love swimming casually as a kid, but never really mastered the swim strokes or anything, just goofing around. I had body issues that kept me away from pools. Let me touch on that for a second.
When you lose a lot of weight, say 70-80 pounds like I did or more (like you see on the Biggest Loser) what you see on the outside is happy, thin people who have solved their problem. They should be enjoying their bodies right? They look great! Except….you don’t. You look like a deflated balloon without clothes on. Everything sags and bags as loose skin. It’s kinda gross, and you are just as self-conscious about that as you were about the weight. Those people you see at the finale of Biggest Loser? Look carefully. They are in spandex to show off their weight loss to be sure, but there is a more practical reason–it holds in and shapes all the loose skin.
So for 16 years I was thinner on the outside, but still ashamed of how I looked. Finally I did something not a lot of men do–looked into cosmetic surgery to get rid of it and reshape my entire chest and abdomen. I had the procedure and while the results aren’t perfect, I finally FELT confident. When I was about to turn 37, I was at last willing to get in a public pool.
But what to do? I had no idea really. So I bought a Triathlon for Dummies book and decided I would follow their plan for beginners, but not race. Why would I want to do that?
Except, I was still kinda aimless. I always train better with a goal, and I was finding I liked it enough to actually give it a shot. I liked the variety. I liked getting outside on the bike. I liked getting in the pool and getting better at swimming. And I felt great and fitter than I had in years. So, what the heck. I found a local event and registered, not expecting much. It was a sprint event: 500m swim, 12m bike, 3.1m run. It sounded like the hardest thing ever at the time, but you only live once.
I got to the event and was such a triathlon newbie. I didn’t even have a road bike–I was using an ancient mountain bike at the time. I had no idea if it would stick or not, so why invest? I bought a cheap TRI suit, because I needed something I could do all 3 things in, but I figured I would never use it again. Other than that, I just had my regular tennis shoes, my old mountain bike, and my desire to see how I would do.
There was a beginner orientation before the event, and I attended it thinking there would be just a few folks. In actuality there were several dozen. That’s where I met Michael Hays for the first time. Michael is just one of those people who exudes positive energy, and was part of the organization putting on the event. He led the session, and took the time to reassure all of us and make us feel welcome, and that we COULD do this. He stressed how much he respected every single one of us for showing up and giving this a shot. He knew we were nervous, and told us not to worry about how fast we were going, just do our best and nobody cares if you finish last. I was convinced at that point I was going to be that guy (the last one), but Michael made me feel like it was going to be OK.
That night at the hotel I put my stuff together and nearly talked myself out of it. I was actually pretty scared. “What if I drown?” “What if I get a flat?” “What if I get hurt?” “What if I come last?” and the overwhelming one, honestly: “What if I get laughed at?” However, I showed up all the same. I had to try. Michael believed I could do it, so maybe I should too.
I got there that morning and it was clear and cool. I put my swim stuff on way too early because I was nervous as heck. This was the part I was least sure of. Swimming in a pack of people? It can sound scary if you’ve never done it.
Needless to say, I didn’t drown. Everything actually went really well. I got through each phase and just focused on the next thing. But honestly how I did is not what I remember most.
I remember the people.
I remember all the athletes and how little bravado there was. How little judgment on how people looked. Little? Heck there was none. Everyone respected that we all had a journey. Everyone had a story that led them to this place. We all appreciated each other, and I’ve never done any other kind of race where the fellow competitors spent so much time encouraging one another.
Before we got in the water? Everyone wished each other luck.
On the bike? Half the people who passed me gave a thumbs up or a “Good job, keep it up!”
On the run, everyone is shouting encouragement. “Looking good! You got this”. It was surreal, and contagious. It wasn’t long before I was doing the same thing.
I remember the volunteers, all of them shouting encouragement, dancing, having a good time. I remember the spectators: no sarcastic signs here, just people clapping and cheering for strangers they don’t even know.
I remember I didn’t come in last, but I also remember how the athletes, families and spectators didn’t just finish and leave. They stayed, and they cheered for those still on the course. The person who finally did come in last got the biggest cheer of all. And there was nothing sarcastic or disingenuous about it. We all knew–for that person, they had a journey to get here. That journey matters, and we wanted to acknowledge and respect that. And so we all cheered with genuine, real joy that they had completed that journey, faced their doubts and fears, and crossed the line. Nobody cared what the clock said.
That feeling of togetherness, of positivity, of personal triumph–THAT’S what I got hooked on. After I did it, my whole family wanted to try it because of what they saw. They wanted to be part of that culture too, and I never wanted to leave it.
THAT’S why I TRI. And that’s why, if you ever had the slightest inkling you wanted to give it a shot, I say go for it. Even if you finish last–you will get the biggest cheer, and your accomplishment will be valued and appreciated. It’s honestly among the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I am so glad I do this.