Being Grateful – My Journey to Ironman Louisville
Five years ago I was standing in the men’s department at Sears staring at the clothes rack in disbelief. I knew I needed size 38 pants because the size 36 I was wearing were squeezing my guts. “Man, didn’t I just trade up to the 36 from 34?” I said, now approaching 210 lbs. I was an athletic kid growing up. What happened? The long hours, the travel, the late night meals. I was miserable. I’d had enough.
I bought a trail bike and hit the Western Trail and Prairie Path on the weekends. I cut out soda pop. I kept a log book. 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles. Weekends turned to weekdays as I was spurred on by the success of fitting into the size 36 pants again. I remembered being around 160 in high school. That became the goal. After the following winter (and a few pounds in the wrong direction) I restarted the biking routine. Before long I was hitting the trails most days. I loved being outdoors … whizzing down the trails, enjoying the view. By the end of the second summer I was down another 20 lbs and scrounging through the closet looking for the size 34 pants.
Determined to head off the winter weight gain, I made up my mind to start jogging. Execution was a different matter. I sucked. 500 yards before stopping to grab the stabbing pain in my side … sucked. My love of the outdoors kept me going through the winter though. Getting up before the sun … the only sound made by my feet, crunching on the thin crust of snow blanketing the street.
The next spring I mustered the confidence to try my first triathlon, the ET Batavia Sprint Triathlon. That was when I met Coach Jim Riga, who gave me my first swim lesson in 25 years and told me about how ET Personal Coaching could support my journey. I remember asking him if I needed to buy one of those tight fitting suits or if regular swim trunks were ok (triathletes start laughing now). During the race course overview clinic the day before the race, Joe LoPresto, the ET Batavia Race Director, was giving advice to us newbies. A lot of it I would hear repeated at future triathlons: “Don’t get on your bike before the line,” “Pass on the left,” “No drafting,” “Don’t litter.” But then he spoke from the heart and said something that stuck with me, “Not everyone can do what we do, so go out there and enjoy tomorrow.”
Reading that sentence may not seem earth shattering to most, but it underscored my life perspective at that moment and fueled my competitive spirit. I had dropped 50 lbs (hitting my goal) and revamped my overall approach to diet and wellness. What I heard Joe say was that I can’t take this opportunity for granted and I needed to make the most of my fortune of good health. After finishing ET Batavia, I started setting loftier goals and knocking them down like one after another: Chicago Triathlon’s Olympic distance later that fall. First half marathon, first half Ironman, and first full marathon the following year. And now this year … Ironman Louisville.
The weather on race day was ideal. Near 50 degrees in the morning (73 deg water), high of 71 in the afternoon and low 60s after sunset. Perfectly blue skies and light wind. The last nine months were filled with daily workouts and continuous encouragement from Coach Jim. He helped me map out my pacing and gear plan, while Laurie Schubert, ET Team Dietitian, helped me map out my hydration and nutrition plan. In my mind I knew I was ready. The swim start was a rolling wave; one after another we dove into the water. From dawn to well past dark, I focused on the plan and it paid off at the finish line almost 14 hours later.
One of the best pieces of advice that I read prior to the race was about the volunteers and spectators. Thank them all. Stop and hug your friends and family. I did that. I stopped for hugs and high fives at T2 and in the last 50 yards before the finish. Those are the memories that last a lifetime.