Ten seconds into my swim, those were the words racing through my mind. "I can't believe I'm doing this!". It was probably a good thing I was under water, because I think there were tears of pride on my face.
In September of last year, I sat quietly reading my latest issue of Men's Health. I quickly browsed an article that talked about doing a Triathlon, and how it wasn't really that hard. With a "tsk!" I quickly turned the page while thinking, "Yeah, right!" As I turned two pages, five pages, seven pages away, I somehow became strangely intrigued. I found myself flipping back to that article to read it. As I read the article, I remember thinking that I get terrible shin splints when I try to run, even a drop of water in my ear would promise me a nice ear infection, and I didn't even have a road bike.
A few days went by, and as I continued to stare at my terribly distorted image of the guy who entered college at 184 lbs. and could bench press almost 300 lbs, I became even more ashamed of the 235 lb. guy staring back at me who had, for all intents and purposes, let himself go. Every time I thought about that article, and the people who get out there and accomplish such amazing feats, I couldn't help but feel somewhat slack.
"This will be my Everest," I thought to myself. If I could turn myself around and run a triathlon, then what could I NOT do? For the first time in my life, I was mentally hooked like never before.
I started by running just little bits at a time. I literally couldn't run for more than three minutes at a time before being completely out of breath with my shins killing me. I got the old mountain bike out of the garage and pumped up the tires. I started out riding only a mile at a time, and moved on to two miles, then four.
There were weeks that I didn't think that I'd ever be able to run three miles. My shins were killing me. I took the plunge and went out and purchased a road bike. What a difference! My four mile rides became 10 miles, then 12, then regular 15 and 16 mile rides. I was finally making some progress at something.
I ended up buying some nice running shoes and was finally able to get off of the treadmill and onto the road. My shins began to hurt less and less, and I was really starting to make some gains.
Oh how funny the swimming was. I joined the YMCA at the very end of last year. On my first trip to the pool, I remember thinking to myself, "Now, I haven't swum since I was a little kid. I probably better limit today to only 10 to 15 laps.” Imagine my surprise when it was all I could do to BARELY make it to the other side of the pool... "UH OH.... I can't swim for crap." It probably took me four or five trips to the pool to be able to swim a mere 50 yards. I worked at it continuously for a few months, and was able to work up to swimming 200, then 300 yards.
My confidence was soaring - I came a long way in a mere six months or so. I was ready to pick a date. My first tri would be May 19th.
My wife and I made the trip out to the course the week before, not only to make sure we could find the place, but also to drive the course. I was quite surprised to find out that the pool was outdoors! "Maybe it's heated," I thought. After all, I was quite used to the 88 degree waters of the Y.
On race morning, I awoke at 5:00. I've never seen my wife look so un-impressed that her husband was going to become a triathlete.
I found myself uncharacteristically calm waiting to begin. That's pretty unlike me. Since it was a pool start, I had lots of chances to watch other racers take off before my turn.
Finally, it was my turn to get in the water. NO! The pool was NOT heated! I would guess that the water temperature was somewhere around 65 degrees or so. I got in the pool with only three people starting before me. I remember wondering if I was going to go into involuntary convulsions or something and start swimming in circles from the cold water. I tried as hard as I could to swear out loud, but all I could get out was a "Shi... Shi.... holy shi..... oh, my, what the? Shi....." My real shock came when I had to put my head under the water to get into the swim lane. I think I saw some of my long departed ancestors waving to me as I swam under the rope. I was still gasping for air when the official yelled "Go!"
"NOW?" I thought... "Already?"
My “breathing plan” was to breathe every four strokes for the first hundred yards, and then every two strokes after that.
As I pushed off of the wall, I can assure you that I QUICKLY abandoned my plan as the cold water again surged over my head. Before taking a single stroke, I lunged out of the water like a dolphin looking for a fish from its trainer. I can only imagine how people nearby were laughing as they heard me gasp for air. I felt like my muscles were all about one half of their original size from the cold.
Then, as I settled in, I thought, "I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M DOING THIS."
My swim actually went ok. The guy who could barely make it across the pool felt an intense surge of pride as he tapped the ankle of the girl in front of him.
The bike went really well, too. Admittedly, I was pretty winded as I began. There was a woman who passed me, but I got up to speed pretty quickly. I passed probably eight to ten people along the way.
Before I knew it, I was off and running. To date, running is probably my worst of the three disciplines. I guess this became pretty obvious as all the people that I passed on the bike started passing me by. I did, however, pass the woman who passed me on the bike.
3.1 miles never seemed this far before. I kept waiting for that halfway point to show up, and it felt like it was 10 miles out, but I got there. I buckled down and ran as well as I could. Finally, I could see the finish line. I took everything that I had left in the bag, and started sprinting.
I did it! I've already committed to running an Olympic tri next year. If that goes well, I could plan for a half-Ironman. IF that works out, I could plan to run Ironman. The sky is the limit. Even today, I still can't believe I’m doing this.
I have to run.... Literally.... I have to run!