“You need to walk your husband…”These words were spoken to my wife at a holiday party in 2005. In actuality, no truer words have ever been spoken. After ten years of neglecting my health and completely abandoning exercise, I had ballooned up to a staggering two hundred and seventy-seven pounds. You read it right…277. On a 5’ 10” frame (on a good day), I was carrying almost one hundred extra pounds. I had always had a problem keeping weight off. It was a constant struggle that I kept in check through sports and exercise. In my early twenties I started to dabble in competitive running. I was in the police academy at the time and was working out constantly. At one hundred and seventy nine pounds I was running 5k races a few times a month and regularly logging sub-twenty minute times! As they say, all good things come to an end. Life got in the way and my meteoric rise in weight began.
In the fall of 2007, now at age 32, I met with my doctor after having stomach problems that were most certainly caused by overeating. His advice was simple…lose the weight or risk a heart attack by 40. Enter: Pilates and my ridiculously in-shape wife… In several aborted attempts to lose weight in years past I had sampled Pilates. This was done mostly to humor my wife. But for some reason, my weight loss effort this time would be different and in late November 2007 I began attending the beginner mat class at Pilates West Bay in concert with two and three mile runs around the Hill and Harbor district of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Around the same time I had heard that North American Sports would be bringing the Ironman 70.3 series to Rhode Island. After reading the press release in a local paper, I did not give Ironman 70.3 another thought…swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, run 13.1 miles…yeah, right. For the next couple of months my wife Kristy and I religiously attended the beginner mat class. I noticed the benefits almost immediately. My comfort level increased gradually as I added core strength to a more efficient stride…even for a bigger guy like myself. I noticed that the added strength in my midsection, and especially my lower back, gave me the ability go longer without a decrease in running form. In addition, the increase in full body stretching, coupled with the core strength, warded off the most persuasive of exercise stoppers: injury.
For years my body had been wracked with joint and muscle pain from seasons of college football and hockey. With the addition of a solid and strong base, the nasty habits (lousy running form and lazy posture) that contributed to injuries that invariably would chase me away from exercise started to disappear. No longer was I running out in front of my feet which, in the past, had led to hip and back pain. Further, my foot strike moved to a location that was less harsh on my knees and ankles as I ran…less stomping down the street! My running became more precise and much more in control than in years past.In February I was about twenty five pounds down from my original high weight. I had already completed a couple of local road races and was looking for a greater challenge. Still with Pilates, I had mentioned to my instructors (Katie, Abbi, and Dee Dee) my interest in possibly attempting a few long endurance events. First up was the Cox Rhode Races Half Marathon in May with a long term goal of competing in a triathlon…possibly the Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island. “You mean 70.3 miles? Wow! OK Vin, we are going to help you get there,” was the enthusiastic response I received from my Pilates instructors.Over the next couple of months I began to integrate swimming and biking into my running routine. It was with these two disciplines that I began to further appreciate the benefits of Pilates core strength training and flexibility. As with running, efficiency is the name of the game…a more efficient swimmer and cyclist will use less energy over a period of hours leading to the ability to go longer and farther. This was no more apparent than my first shot at the half-marathon distance. For the first time in almost 13 years I was able to run 13.1 miles straight…without stopping to walk…for a half marathon time that averaged nine minutes and fifty seconds per mile. One goal down…one to go. For the next three months I continued my mat training. By this time I had begun training at the intermediate and advanced level mat classes. I was also up to riding 100+ miles per week on the bike, 6000 yards of swimming in the pool and between 10 and 25 miles per week of running. The weight? It continued to drop…AND I could eat almost anything I wanted! Down to a much slimmer two hundred and thirty pounds…forty seven pounds less than when I started…I thought that the Ironman 70.3 may actually be an attainable goal.Fast forward to race day… When I woke up on race morning I had one thought going through my head…just finish. Today would be a celebration of the last eight months of training and a true test of mind, body, and spirit. My supportive wife and my family were on hand to yell and scream. I may not have won the race but my wife and family certainly took home the prize for best cheering section! When the starter’s gun went off at Roger Wheeler State Beach at exactly 6:25 AM another thought went through my head: Let’s have some fun! The swim went by in a flash. Eight months of core training on top of an aggressive swim regimen got me out of the water in just under 38 minutes…middle of the pack. For all 1.2 miles I was able to maintain a strong and consistent stroke over a solid core. A quick transition to the bike and we were off to Providence. In past training sessions on the bike I had averaged in the three hour and forty minute range on the fifty-six mile course. NOT TODAY… I even surprised myself: three hours and thirteen minutes. All along the course I was able to maintain the aero position; further maintaining efficiency and speed on the bike. Another transition and it was off on a thirteen mile journey around downtown Providence with two trips up and down College Hill. They say the true race in any Iron or half-Iron distance triathlon begins halfway through the run. I am here today to say that this is 110% true. The last six miles of the Ironman Providence 70.3 was the single most difficult six miles I have ever run in my entire life. They key to the last sentence is 'run'. Aside from walking the water stops and the steep hills I was able to run the entire half marathon portion of the race. I contribute my ability to continue performing at this late in the race to the months of Pilates training. Six hours and fifty minutes later I approached the finish area in front of the Rhode Island State House. The last one hundred yards of the Rhode Island Ironman 70.3 were the most incredible one hundred yards of running I have ever done. My wonderful and amazing wife accompanied me to the finishers chute and I high-fived all of the spectators on my way to the finish line. Pure joy!It is now a week later and my inner two-year-old is nagging at me to come up with another idea to reinvent myself as an endurance athlete. Whatever athletic journey I decide on, I will prepare for it with Pilates.Vin McAteerJuly 17, 2008