OK, it IS a journey, not just a race

OK, it IS a journey, not just a race

by Pete J.

We all get into triathlons for different reasons.  I got sucked in listening to my sister regale me about her first tri last summer in Charlotte where she placed 2nd in her age group!  Prior to that call, I had never spent an hour and a half on the phone with my sister AND I never had any interest in doing a triathlon – too much running.  Somehow, during that call, the bait was set.  If she came to visit next summer, she was challenging me to run in the Naperville Sprint Triathlon presented by Experience Triathlon, so we could do it together.

I got a call in March saying I had better sign up, because she had just gone on-line and paid the registration fee.  Crap!!  From that original 90 minute call (and subsequent hourly conversations), I knew a sprint was not an Ironman – I ONLY had to swim/bike/run for approx. 90 CONTINUOUS minutes.   I knew I needed help.  It had been 2+ years since surgery on my foot made me retire from playing hoops with the guys, so getting back into shape and not getting injured were high on my list, along with building my endurance.  I surfed the web and Experience Triathlon kept popping up, so I called Coach Joe for an initial meeting.  Coach Joe is a quick study and he pretty much had me figured out halfway (or sooner) through that meeting.  He said he would help me with my journey.  I wasn’t even sure if I would like doing a triathlon and if I would ever do another one, and he was already telling me about my future.

Since I had been inactive for such a long time and I did not want to get injured, a lot of the early weeks were spent on stretching and small runs and workouts.  I kept Coach Joe current with my aches and pains and he quickly assessed that I needed to change things up to get rid of some of those IT band and hamstring issues I was having.  The next day, I was introduced to Experience Massage and Coach Sarah.  I’m not a massage guy, but after two long and pleasantly painful (if that is possible) sessions with Coach Sarah, my legs came back to life.  You have to have some pain to make some gains, and I am glad Coach Sarah hit those sore spots with the tender force she did.  Within a day or two after her massage workouts, my muscles were loosened up and ready to learn the new demands I would be putting on them.

I thought 20 weeks was plenty of time to get ready.  I was not going to let my sister beat me.  As the spring came, Coach Joe said I should try the ET Run Club and ET Bike Club on Saturday and Sunday mornings, respectively.  You get to meet people going thru the same things you are.  Some are old tri pros and others are beginners like myself.  Some are training for shorter events, others for longer triathlons.  Everyone comes together and shares that common bond of suffering training. (OK, I said it.)  However, that is not Coach Joe’s outlook.  Along with the ‘Sunny and 80’ attitude he shares with us, he told me something during one of our bike ride talks that I did not get when he said it.  It took many more weeks before I understood what he really meant.  I said I was a “gamer” and really liked get up for the game/race.  He said he looks forward to the training and prefers that to race day.  He gets more satisfaction with a good workout, particularly in the environment he has created at ET, where there are other people to share the experience with and see them develop.

When I first met with Coach Joe, I was well aware of the triathlete’s need for gadgets and how costly it could be.  I had mentally told myself to say no to all the whiz-bang toys out there – heart rate monitors, tri-bikes, wardrobe and accessories were all out since I had 2 kids in college and a third fast approaching. Coach Joe heard my reason for keeping it on a small budget and supported my decision.  I did agree with Coach Joe to get a good pair of running shoes, since I knew the running was going to be hard for me and on my body.  He took me to the Naperville Running Company, and with my run analyzed and shoes fitted just for me, I was feeling good about my decision to get a coach.

Being on my small budget, I was prepared to ride my mountain bike, since I figured I could do 20 MPH for the 22K in Naperville.  What I learned after a couple of weeks of pounding my mountain bike behind everyone on the Sunday ET Bike Club rides and the ET Tri Club rides at Spokes on Wednesday night was that yes, I could do that, but I would then be crawling the 5K run portion since my legs were all used up.  After doing my first brick – a half mile in 10 minutes was the fastest I could muster after that bike ride – I told Joe what he already knew.  Being a competitor was good, but my ego needed a better tool to compete.  Within a few days, he had me at Spokes, where the right bike was just sitting in the aisle waiting for me.  He knew what I needed and what should work for me weeks before I saw the light.

The stereotypical triathlete is a data obsessed, competitive person who likes to compete and be analytical (does that overdo the stereotype?)  Well, I’m one of those analytical competitors also.  Being data obsessive, I probably had worked and reworked what my time should be, based on my latest run and swim workouts.  Of course, Coach Joe kept telling me to not focus on the time and to spend attention on parts of the race, on how I was feeling, on enjoying the experience of finishing my first triathlon.  I’d respond, “I know I’ll finish, but what should my time be, roughly?”

About 2 weeks before the race, I was really getting excited, thinking about how the race would unfold, mentally walking through my transitions, trying to figure out how hard to bike but save energy for the run, etc.  Coach Joe and I spent an hour talking through things and questions I had.  He told me the goals I should have for the race (I’m 100% sure these are the exact same goals he tells everyone and he might add 1 or 2 specific goals for the more seasoned athletes):

  1. Enjoy the race, have fun
  2. Take a second to see what’s going on and try to soak some of it in
  3. Stay in control, stick to the plan so you finish the race
  4. Put a smile on your face.

Well, that wasn’t the pep talk I was expecting, but it was consistent with everything he had been telling me since Day 1.

As race day approached, I found my excitement for the race was subsiding.  Not in a bad way, but I was just not as anxious as I once was.  My sister and her family and my mom arrived in town, we did things with the kids, caught up on stuff…

So, after 5 months of training, I would run my first triathlon (also my first 5K 🙂 ).  My father, a Marine pilot and engineer, taught me a long time ago the 7 P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.  I felt I was properly prepared and I had plenty of time to get ready.  My sister and I walked up to the starting pad, holding hands and sharing the moment as we both looked over to our families before running into the water.  I was not anxious or excited, rather I felt calm, in control, having visualized this so often.   I realized that this wasn’t really a race against my sister, but for myself. The race started.  I remember shouting words of encouragement to the few ET athletes I saw on the bike ride, as well as to my sister as I passed her.  I stayed in control and before I knew it, the race was over. With both of us across the finish line, we hugged and congratulated each other.  The rest of the day, we would celebrate and talk about the race with family and friends.  But before I went to bed that night, I realized that I wanted my journey to continue…

What is a race?  It’s an event, a point in time, something you train for.  It’s a contest, you compete and it’s over.

What is a journey?  It’s a trip from one place to another, a passing from a stage to a hopefully better stage.  That’s what Coach Joe was trying to tell me the first day we met.  You have goals, but they can be shifting.  It’s like the Lord of the Rings – you set out, you encounter adversity, you deal with it and keep going.  You meet people along your travels, people who may be making the same journey.  Hopefully, like my journey, you have a wise and experienced wizard who sees things before you and guides you to the right path, but knowing he can only do so much, that you have to experience it yourself.  And when the race/goal is upon you, you are prepared, ready to handle whatever comes your way.

And when the race is over, the journey can continue, if you so choose.

I see this whole experience now as a journey, not as training for a race.  I want to continue that journey.  Do you?

Sidebar – for those competitors who are interested, I beat my sister.  A rematch is tentatively scheduled in Charlotte on her home course next year.  Also, I ran the race I hoped I would, under 81 minutes, so all the proper training (mental and physical) and fabulous weather did result in a good race day.  And if anyone saw/heard about the woman who flipped over her bike at the Bike-In for the most spectacular wipeout of the day, that was my sister!  Probably why she wants a rematch.  🙂

Enjoy all the photos from our amazing day at the 2012 Naperville Triathlon presented by Experience Triathlon on the ET Photo Gallery!

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  • Outstanding Pete!!  Congrats on your successful day at Naperville!  Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.  I’m sure it will inspire others to tri.  I’m honored to support your journey!

  • Alyse

    What a great story, Pete! I enjoyed reading about your journey!

  • Sarah Farsalas

    Pete, what a super-cool blog!! I loved reading it from start to finish, & wow you really captured perfectly what so many of us experience in this sport/lifestyle! I’m so glad your sister got you hooked and that you found ET!! 🙂

  • Kirsten Janss Hall

    Pete, that was so well written!  You have always been a fierce competitor but the joy was watching you have fun while you are competing, and for you to know that it is indeed a journey…not just to the finish line, but to better health, to broadening frienships and proving that even though we age, we can still do it!  I am very proud of your first tri…and look forward to doing them with you for many years to come!  And if I hadn’t had flipped over the handlebars….I would have beat you on the run! 🙂

  • Jeff P

    Very good blog story, Pete! Absolutely loved the 7-P’s! Going to steal that one for sure for myself. It really is all about the journey that gets you to the start line and if you prepare properly, the race is just extension of that journey. Good job and I look forward to reading about your adventures in triathlon!

  • Bob H.

    Great story, Pete and a GREAT race! It’s been great sharing our journey with ET. You’re going to have many more high points on this journey!

  • Natalie H

    Great Story. It is certainly a journey – I like that!