I had come to watch my cousin Greg Layton compete in an Olympic distance race when my eyes were first opened to the mystic world of triathlon. That was the day I caught the “triathlon bug.” Triathlon was attractive to me because it offered two training aspects that I felt would assist me in staying dedicated to a life of health and fitness. Triathlon could provide a positive focus for my own training and would provide numerous accomplishable goals. Without existing short and long-term goals, I had a tendency to become bored and quit at just about everything I’d ever started. But somehow I knew that triathlon was something I could commit myself to. That day my cousin took third in his division and I became obsessed with the sport.
I’d been extremely competitive my whole life. Everything I did was dedicated to one goal: winning. In two and a half years I’d transformed myself from a 300 lb obese slob to a still plump, but fiercely focused Clydesdale—eating, breathing, and training triathlon. From all my time studying the sport I had seen one person repeatedly winning most every race and claiming victory at most every southwest challenge series championship, Arnold Ceniceros. He’d been at the top of his division longer than I had even known that the Southwest had it’s own series. I’d seen him at a few of the races I’d done, but only at the start. Then he’d quickly become a speck in the horizon.
He is one of the fastest triathletes in his division, and he’s also one of the most consistent and respected competitors I’ve seen in this sport. He’s my age, relatively young, yet he’s been dominant for years. I’d been taught that to be the best I had to beat the best. And there was no doubt in my mind that Arnold Ceniceros was one of the best. Every day after I trained I would log my training on beginnertriathlete.com. On this web site, the first page has the goals I’d set for myself. My two top goals were to become an Ironman and to beat Arnold Ceniceros in a race.
Once I started training, each year the huge gap separating Arnold’s time and my own got smaller. One year during the Polar Bear Triathlon at White Sands Missile Range I had been involved in a bike wreck and shortly after that I had a flat. Consequently I placed last. Afterwards at the awards ceremony I moped around feeling sorry for myself. There were plenty of other competitors in attendance who did not place top three in their division, but I was the only one who was not enjoying the post race activities. At the time I failed to notice that. In the midst of my self-sorrow I heard the top 3 finishers for the Clydesdales. Not surprisingly Arnold was at the top of his division. When I heard his time I was, as always, impressed. But it dawned on me that if I subtracted the time I spent fixing my flat and spitting dirt out of my mouth, I would have only been four minutes behind Arnold. As soon as I realized this I jumped out of my seat and ran outside to phone my wife and tell her the news.
With my enthusiasm re-sparked, I was exited and confident about the upcoming Stealth Duathlon at Holloman Air Force Base. In the three months before the Stealth Duathlon, I had made great improvements. I wasn’t sure if I could beat Arnold, but I knew I was close enough that I wanted to tell him that I had my sights set upon beating him. I had no idea how he’d respond to me telling him this. The morning of the Stealth Duathlon I started setting up my equipment two bikes down from his, and while doing so I told him how I had, in the last three years been chasing his times.
At the last race I was only 4 minutes behind him. I let him know that it was my intention to eventually beat the great and speedy Arnold Ceniceros. When I told him this he smiled, walked over to me, shook my hand, slapped me on the back and said with what seemed like great sincerity “That’s great! Good luck! I’m sure in no time you’ll be faster than me, I’m surprised you haven’t beaten me already!” Then he walked over to my bike and started making suggestions: take off the extra water bottle cage, in this race you’ll only need one, and the extra one will make you less aerodynamic. Try using lighter tubes, the rotational weight in the wheels are the most important weight to reduce. He even went as far as to remove my race number from where I had placed it and put it on my bike where it would create less drag. I was confused…was this some kind of psychological ploy? Was this his way of letting me know that nothing I did could help me beat him? What the heck just happened? After a bit, I decided not to let it rattle me. Someone as experienced as him probably had a lot of trickery in his arsenal. I was determined not to let him throw me off my game.
When the race started I took off like a jackrabbit! I’d never run so fast in my life. I knew Arnold was still a superior cyclist. So the only way I could beat him was to finish so far ahead of him on the run that he’d be unable to close the distance on the bike. I finished 74 seconds ahead of him on the run leg. Just before the half waypoint on the bike he ended up passing me. As he passed me he slowed down and yelled, “Come on, come on.” That motivated me and I picked up the pace and held to within three bike lengths of him. After awhile my legs began to shake and my lungs burned. I was simply not able to keep up the pace he was riding. As I started to lose ground on him he looked back at me, stopped pedaling and again shouted, “Come on Cody, come on” I stood up and started hammering. Thanks to his encouragement I took my first ever third place in the Clydesdale division.
During the race Arnold slowed down three separate times to encourage me to go faster. He also took the time before the race to teach me ways to make my bike faster. He did this even though it meant risking his placing in this or future races. After the awards ceremony I was walking away with something more satisfying than a medal. I was leaving having learned a better way to approach competition. Because of the change of attitude that I learned from Arnold, triathlon is now much more rewarding. And after a race, regardless of how I may do, I am simply happy to be there with other triathletes of all abilities.
If you log onto beginnertriathlete.com you will see one of my top goals has recently changed. It now reads, “Compete with as much honor and integrity as Arnold Ceniceros.” Written by Cody Hanson
Jesus, family, triathlon