I am not Ironman…

I am not Ironman…

 I hear the stains of Black Sabbath’s Ironman playing in my head as I start banging away on my keyboard today, but I somehow think that Crazy Train is somehow more appropriate, or perhaps even the classic Merry Go-Round Broke Down might set the mood nicely. The reason? On September 7th, 2013, I, Bruce Lager, being of sound mind and will, started to train for a Triathlon. Yep…a triathlon!. You know, the thing that those crazy people do on a bike, and in the water, and on a running course? If that is what you are thinking, please allow me to be the first one to shake your hand and tell you that you are only partially right, or partially wrong.

 Let’s give this a little clarity.  First of all, it is called a TRIathlon, because it consists of three (tri) disciplines. They are swimming, biking, and running, and the event is run one right after the other, and it is usually in that order. There are many ways to participate in a triathlon, and earn the title of triathlete. I think that it is a pretty neat title to have, but I also believe that you can only earn that title after you have completed a triathlon, and that the distance of the event in not relevant in this part of the conversation. I have not earned the title…yet. The most basic, entry-level triathlon is a mini-triathlon or as it is also known, a sprint triathlon, although I certainly couldn’t sprint through it…. It is generally a quarter-mile swim, a 6.2-mile bicycle ride and a 1.5-mile run. Full sprints typically feature a half-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike and 3.1-mile run. In general, though, mini-triathlons feature swims of less than a mile in length, bike distances no farther than 15 miles and runs no farther than five. From there, the distances and difficulty increase, until you ultimately reach the Ironman distances (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a full-blown 26.2 mile marathon). I have no intention of putting myself through that particular brand of torture, thank you very much. I plan on participating in sprint length events.

 Ok, we’ve gotten the technical stuff out of the way. Now it is time for what I really want to talk about. The idea to do this didn’t just dawn on me over breakfast last Tuesday. I have been kicking this idea around for quite some time, probably close to two years. I used to think, along with most people, that triathlon was this far-out concept that only hard-core fitness nuts did. It wasn’t for the everyday person, right? But then I started to think about it. I realized that as far as the swimming goes, I am, and have always been, the best swimmer that I know. My father (God rest him) had tried to put together a tryout for me for the U.S. Junior Olympic Team when I was younger. You don’t even have that conversation unless you are a pretty good swimmer. I have always been extremely comfortable in the water, perhaps even more so than on land. Even now, I have no problem getting in a pool and putting down a few laps. A 400-yard should be nice workout for me. Secondly, there is the biking part. A few years ago, I was on a bike-racing team in Orlando, Florida. I loved riding. I just couldn’t stand the people that I was riding with. Overall, I am reasonably comfortable on a race bike. I used to have a gorgeous Trek 1500 race bike, but I sold it in 2009. It was in the ‘Team Discovery’ race colors, and I had all the race paraphernalia that went along with it. I still have my Shimano bike shoes with the clipless pedal attachments on them, and I still have a few bike-race jerseys and a pair or two of shorts (with the padding in them…). While I don’t have the bike anymore, or a helmet for that matter, it is only just stuff…

 Now on to the running thing… I do not run well. I am not graceful. I don’t have the long stride that is the envy of runners everywhere. I am not tall and skinny and built to run. I am all of 5’6”, and I weigh about 180 lbs. I have broad shoulders, but I am bereft of a butt. I do not have a free and easy gait. If you crossed a Clydesdale horse and a penguin, the result would be me. I have never been beyond 4-miles running, and that was when I was a teenager. Now granted in my senior year of high school, I did run a 2:45 half-mile, (yes, 2 minutes and forty-five seconds…), but I was still in really good shape, and I was playing varsity ball. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and the extra weight had not shown up yet. My knees did ache some, but the arthritis in my right ankle was still a few years down the road. I had never even heard of plantar fasciitis. In those days, I loved the heat. Now, I say that the colder, the better. I do not run as much as I plod. If you can picture a Coke machine plodding down the road, that would be a fairly accurate image. The running thing could be a problem…

 So, a few days ago, after telling myself that ‘it has to start somewhere’, I got up early, stretched as best as I could, had a decent warm up walk to the end of the complex where I live, and then took the first tentative steps on my triathlon journey. As could be expected, my plod was an ugly one. I tried to be efficient with my movements, knowing and remembering from all of my previous athletic experience that excessive motion equals inefficiency. Smooth equals fast. Yeah, keep telling myself that…So I moved on down the road, slowly, but constantly moving forward. I think that that is really the key, almost above all of the other keys. KEEP…MOVING…FORWARD. Any progress, no matter how fast or slow, no matter how pretty or ugly, is good! I was breathing hard, but at other times, I was surprisingly relaxed. I did have to take a few ‘walk breaks’, but only two of them, and they were only for about 1 minute each. On the course that I chose, there are several inconveniently placed long hills (I hate inconveniently placed long hills…), that made the going for this plodding, sweating, obscene-phone call breathing newbie somewhat arduous, but there were also several very conveniently placed lawn sprinklers! It was a sheer joy to run under them like a chubby kid on a hot summer day. Sometimes as adults, we forget those little things, but not on this run/plod! All told, I finished my almost 2-mile sortie in just over 35 minutes, but truth-be-told, I didn’t care about the time. I was just happy that I completed the first almost 2-miles of my quest! The only reason that I timed it is because sometimes I can be really anal.

 After I made it back to my townhouse, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I really was. I had started out to slay a dragon! I was sweaty, hot, tired, but happy. At some point, after cooling down, I started to think about the next day of running. I knew that I would be sore, so there were no surprises there. My thought was that if day one is relatively easy, and day 2 would be hard. The first step was the first step, but now to repeat the cycle whilst throwing in the soreness and stiffness brought on by the run of day one, that would be a test. Naturally, I slept like crap, and woke up at 5:00AM. I slept like the aforementioned crap because I was excited about getting up and running! So, I get up, with my cats looking at me like I have three heads, and start to suit up for my morning jaunt. I fed the freeloading cats, and out the door I went. Yes I was sore. Yes I was tired. But I needed to do this. I looked at this as the first real test. Would I come back after beating myself up the day before? Was I willing to put up with the pain? The answer was ‘yes’! The sun had not quite come up yet, and the morning was a warm 73 degrees, so I figured that if I could get my run in before the sun did come up, that I would be OK, and I was. I chose a different route this time, but it didn’t make any difference. There were those damn inconveniently placed hills again! AND, there were no sprinklers!!! But I did my roughly 1.7 miles, again with only two walk breaks, but with one fairly long ‘arthritic ankle’ break. But again, my goal was to finish. In fact, I was so concerned about how fast I could complete my run, I didn’t even bother to wear my watch! I got back to my home in time to join my wife for morning coffee. It tasted especially good…

 I know that there are many, many people who would snort in derision and turn their nose up at my relatively insignificant triumph. I feel bad for them, because in their jaded minds, they forget the joys, and the importance, of the small victories. Sure, just about everyone that I know can run farther and faster than me, and they can do it without the soreness and tiredness. The distances that I am covering are probably just a good warm-up to them, and that is great. It also isn’t the point… In a previous blog, I mentioned the relativity of a person’s achievements, especially in athletic endeavors. For me, it is these step-by-step, small 1.7 mile victories that will add up. I intend to get a little better each time out. I will probably never be fast, and that is perfectly ok with me. My goal is to first and foremost, have fun! What is the point of doing this if it won’t be fun? Secondly, my goal is to participate. Getting started is huge for me, and just making it to the starting line and participating will be even more amazing. Lastly, I want to complete what I have started. I want to cross the finish line. I don’t want laurels, and I don’t need medals (although, I imagine that they are nice…). I will attempt to participate in my very first 5K event in about one month’s time. Wish me luck…

 Somewhere, in all of us, is the need to do something that is a little ‘outside the box’. As I said earlier, I don’t know where my need to do triathlon started, but it has grown larger and larger over time. I have started that quest, and I intend to complete it, perhaps slowly and with the truly hilarious, plodding gait of a Clydesdale-penguin, but I will complete this journey, and participate in a triathlon event. People give themselves nicknames to inspire themselves, or perhaps brag a little. Well,  the unofficial nickname that I have given to myself is…wait for it…Marshmallow Fluff… Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I found myself looking for a bike jersey with the Marshmallow Fluff logo on it, but as you can imagine, I haven’t had much success.

 I will keep posting updates to my trip through triathlon land on this blog.

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

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