I was 24 years old, out of college for two years and working full time. The transition from the carefree college days to the reality of an 8-5 (or 7-6 some days) had thrown my fitness goals on the back burner. Those goals were limited to begin with, as I had set a vague target of "losing my freshman 15" once I was out of college.
Unfortunately for me, my freshman 15 was more like a freshman 30 with a sophomore 10 to boot. Going from a full time three sport athlete in high school, where I never once thought about (much less worried about) my weight, to a zero sport college kid with access to late night pizza delivery was quite a surprise. It took about one semester for my parents and out of state friends to notice the weight was starting to pile on, but I didn't really care at the time. I figured as soon as I "got motivated to work out" it would shed as quickly as I put it on. Oh how wrong I was...
By my junior year I had decided that enough was enough. I had one of those moments, standing in front of the mirror, where I really got a good look at myself and was not happy with what I was seeing. I was determined to get back to my starting weight and started running and lifting weights 3-4 times a week. I dropped 20 pounds quickly and felt pretty good about myself, figuring the last 20 would come eventually. So I started slacking off a little in the gym, started ordering late night pizza again, and before you know it, college was over and I was still 20-25 lbs over my goal weight. I told myself that now that I was out of college, away from the late nights, beer and pizza specials, I would drop the rest of the weight without problem. I resumed the running and weight lifting whenever I remembered to get into the gym. However without a real goal (besides the vague target of losing weight) I had no set schedule or targets to work towards in my training.
Then my best friend started talking to me about running in a sprint triathlon in our hometown. I immediately thought he was crazy. For one thing, my sports in school had been soccer, cross country, basketball and a little golf. Running I knew and had a bit of distaste for, unless it involved a ball and a goal. But swimming and cycling? Swimming was for crazy people who loved to get up to work out at 4:30 in the morning and shave their legs, and cycling was for the strange roaming packs of people in spandex who also seemed to have a thing with shaving their legs. I was not interested. But he was in even worse shape than I was and we got to talking about setting this goal together. If we both had the same target with the same end date, we could push each other and keep ourselves honest. Plus, the thing cost over $60, which I couldn't believe! Shouldn't swimming, cycling and running be free?! If I was going to pay for this instead of doing something lazy and much more fun, I was sure going to give it my all.
I joined a gym with a pool, spinning classes and good quality treadmills. I started telling everyone I was training for a triathlon, and was amazed at the supportive responses I got. Then I told them it was six months away, and I got the look of "yeah right, I'll believe it when I see it." I began by going to the hour long spinning classes three nights a week and running on the treadmill two nights a week. I kept a log of when I worked out, what I trained on, how long it lasted and an estimate of the distance I had gone. Pretty soon my favorite part of my morning routine was filling in my training log with last night’s work out details. I was shocked at the end of five months with the number of miles I had put in and the hours I had spent training. I was feeling great and losing weight. The race was one month away!
Oh no! I haven't even thought about the swim! Ehh, it'll be easy right? I'm in good aerobic shape now, so putting away an 800M swim should be a piece of cake! Again, big learning experience for me. Not only was I a bad swimmer, I was a slow swimmer. As the race loomed, all I cared about was finishing the swim and getting to the bike where I hoped to make up any lost time.
Race day came, and the usual nerves and excitement came with it. It was also my 25th birthday, and I had friends and family lined up to help me celebrate and push me along in this crazy endeavor. The swim went as poorly as expected - my friend, a former swimmer, beat me out of the water by seven minutes and was well into his bike by the time I reached the transition area. Pictures taken by my parents would later confirm what I was feeling in that first transition. Panic and fatigue! The swim had really drained me, but I was excited to prove my mettle on the bike.
The ride was a blast. Perfectly cool weather, unusual for central Indiana in August, and a beautiful sunrise made the ride through the rolling hills a treat. I was fatiguing quickly but I didn't mind the pain. I was racing, and passing a lot of people who smoked me on the swim! This was a tremendous boost to my confidence and I felt I could catch my buddy if I just kept cranking. I made my way through the 17.5 miles and back to transition with still no sign of him. Now I was worried. How badly was he going to beat me?
I parked the bike and headed out on the 5K run. Immediately I was concerned as my legs felt like I was hauling cinder blocks and the pace felt like a crawl. After a 1/2 mile I spotted my friend as he ran past me when the course doubled back on itself! He was well ahead and I was crushed. He was going to beat me badly and I was going to look foolish since I was the one who was supposedly in better shape when we started this thing six months ago! I pushed harder and told myself there was only a little more than two miles to go. All that time in the gym, and I wasn't going to quit now.
As I rounded the final turn, my parents and friends were lined up on the street cheering me on. I spotted my friend just about to cross the finish line and kicked it into high gear, putting whatever I had left in the tank into that last 100 meters. As I crossed the finish line, any feelings of defeat or foolishness gave way to an intense feeling of accomplishment. Although I had been beaten by my friend by 30 seconds, I had done something I truly thought was not possible only six months prior. The cheers of complete strangers rang in my ears and the smiles on my family’s face were more than worth the journey. I fell in love with the sport right in that moment and have never stopped since.
This is my second year running sprint tri's. A lot has changed since that first race - I've bought my first real road bike, with the cycling shoes and the bike rack for the car. I've got the dedicated running shoes with the special lacing system for quick on and off, and I've tried to lay off the pizza! I now pay the $60 per race with pride, thankful for the wonderful army of volunteers that my money helps feed and support. I will complete five sprint triathlons this year instead of just one, but the one thing that hasn't changed is the feeling I get at the finish line, when I think I have nothing left in the tank but somehow manage to cross.
I still won’t shave my legs though!