From Couch Potato To Triathlete!

From Couch Potato To Triathlete!

by Jeff S.

I finished my first Triathlon in 1:43:22, not the time I wanted but a very good result for someone who was a complete couch potato only 3 months earlier.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; I need to start at the beginning.

Back in 2005, I realized how out of shape I had gotten and I decided to start working out again.  It had been a long time since I last worked out on any kind of regular basis.  Back in high school I was a pretty good athlete, but then life got in the way with college and jobs, so now it was time to put more into taking care of myself.  After a couple attempts at working out that failed within 1-2 weeks, I decided I needed to find something to train or workout for, a reason to get in shape.  At the time I worked with a guy named Jose, who was training very intensely for an Ironman and wanting to qualify for Ironman Hawaii.  He started telling me about what it takes to train for a Triathlon and how great the triathlon community could be.  I started to do lots of research to find out more about Triathlons and it seemed like something that I would really enjoy.   Unfortunately, I was also in the midst of planning my wedding to my wife, and I decided that training for a Triathlon and planning a wedding was too much to tackle at one time.   So I put off my plans for a year.

I continued to research and plan for my first Triathlon until February 2006 when I chose Pleasant Prairie as the Triathlon I was going to do.  I had found lots of good things being said about it, and lots of people who gave it great reviews.  So now I had my first Triathlon ready to go.  But how do I train?  I had read a lot of books on training but reading and doing are 2 different things.  So I started some basic training and knowing I was training for something specific really helped to keep me motivated.  I knew, however, that I wasn’t doing enough to be ready in time for my first Triathlon; I had such a long way to go and no idea how to get there.  I tried to find some Tri-clubs to join but there were none in my area.  Then I came into my club in Romeoville one day and my prayers were answered.  They were starting a Triathlon training class.

I went to the meeting to meet my coach, Joe Lo Presto of Experience Triathlon Coaching Services.  We needed more people to get our class off the ground, so I began a campaign to boost enrollment, unfortunately without much luck.  When it came time to start our class we only had 4 participants, so we had to scrap the class.  But I did meet the man who would help me become a Triathlete.  I signed up for personal coaching services with Joe immediately, and began my official training.  Within a few sessions with Joe I had major improvements in all aspects of my training.  I went from barely able to swim 2 lengths of a pool to swimming 20 lengths and doing drills; I went from barely able to make a full minute of running without being completely exhausted to doing 30 min workouts; and I went from hardly riding my bike at all, to logging 1 hour workouts on my bike in a matter of weeks.  This was the answer to my problems.  Now not only was I getting back in shape, but I was also making major gains toward becoming a Triathlete.

My training progressed and I met many other great people who were also into fitness, some of them Triathletes like myself, some runners, some cyclists, some swimmers, but all great people.  So I was able to reach another one of my goals for getting in shape, and that was to meet new people who are also into fitness so I would have some friends to train with and to keep me honest with my training.  Things were really starting to come together for me.  Then something major happened: my wife and I found out we were having our first baby.  This put a major obstacle in my way, but my wife was totally on board and completely behind me in my goal to become a Triathlete.   Without her support this would have been impossible, but with her behind me I knew that almost anything was possible.

I continued my training with Joe and I continued to show improvement.  I was slowly going from couch potato to Triathlete.  People could see the difference in me physically, I felt the difference in my energy, and most importantly my health improved.   Some of my changes were in weight, where I lost 15 lbs, some were in body fat, where I went from 25% to 20%, and most importantly I had improvement in my cholesterol.  When I started I had high cholesterol of 252 and now I was down to 191, below the 200 mark that I needed to achieve.  Becoming a Triathlete has changed my life and the way I live it.  In the process of becoming a Triathlete I learned that Triathlons are not a race, they are a community of people, a lifestyle based on fitness, an addiction, a philosophy on life, they are a break to your everyday routine, but most importantly and probably the least noticed they are a journey they will take you from where you are to where you want to be.  When you undertake the challenge of becoming a Triathlete it is more then just getting in shape, it is a mental, emotional, and spiritual journey you are undertaking to bring your life into a new and better version of yourself.

So it comes down to my race.  The day before, I went up to Pleasant Prairie with one of my training partners, Patty, and we met Coach Joe to go over things and get ourselves prepared.  I was lucky to have my family there to support me on the course, as well as many of my training friends.  On race day I was ready, I had my goals all lined up and I knew exactly what I was there for.  My personal performance goals had 3 very distinct tiers: my primary goal was to cross the finish line standing, but in a worst case scenario I wanted to make sure that I finished the whole thing in less then 2 hours time, and in an ideal situation with everything going well, I was hoping to finish in 1:30.  Don’t get me wrong!  I already learned that triathlon isn’t all about athletic performance, so I had many other goals for the experience of my first triathlon.  I wanted to make sure I had fun with the whole experience, I wanted to be there to support my fellow Triathletes, I wanted to get my family and friends who were there excited about the sport of triathlon, and I wanted to keep myself from getting caught up in the number and enjoy the finer points of the experience.  This all happened for me, so the entire day was a success from that standpoint.

Now for the actual race.  I was off in the twelfth wave, which happened to be the first wave of the sprint distance Triathletes.  I started off toward the back of my wave because I didn’t think I was a strong swimmer.  I hit the water with a blaze of glory and flew threw my wave, before I knew it I was toward the front and things were going perfectly.   Shortly before I got to the halfway point I realized I couldn’t feel my arms and I was slowing.  By the turn I was really in freak out mode, my confidence went away and I started to wonder if I would make it out of the water.  I went from perfect form and blowing through my wave to being caught by people in the wave behind me.  At this point it went from a physical event for me into a mental event.  I knew that I couldn’t let myself get beat by the water, I knew I could do this, and no matter what it took, I needed to get out of this water and on my bike.  I found it in me to make my way into transition and I got off on the bike without much hassle.  I ended up getting a fairly good ride in, a bit slower than I wanted, but I was very happy with my performance.  But what I was most proud of is that on my bike I was passed by well over 50 riders, and every single one who passed me got words of encouragement from me.  I made sure that everyone who was participating heard me urging them on to the finish line.  When I finally made my way into the run transition I knew I had a tough road ahead of me, but I wasn’t going to quit.   I got off the bike and started my run fairly well.  About 2 minutes into my run, though, I started to feel shooting pains in my left shin and calf.  I realized this run was going to be a battle of guts and heart more then any kind of a physical challenge.  I continued on with a run/walk pattern, trying to keep myself going at the fastest pace possible with my injured, or at least painful, leg.  On the run I found another person with a sore leg, and I forced him to push me while I pushed him along as well.  Finally with about 200 yards to go I decided I was finishing this race no matter the pain and I just went.  When I entered the final stretch I knew I wanted to leave it all on the course, so without any thought about the pain in my leg I began a sprint, an all out burst to the finish and I passed at least 10 people in my dash to the finish.  I was now officially a Triathlete!  I didn’t finish in my best time, and the race definitely didn’t go flawlessly, but I had accomplished all of my original goals.  I was now in shape, I was now a Triathlete, and I now had friends who I know would push me on to bigger and better things.  This was the end of one small journey and the beginning of a much bigger one that will go on for the rest of my life.

So my time for my first triathlon was only 1:43:22 but I know now where I stand and what I have to work on for all future triathlons.  I now have a goal for myself to strive to be better and I have a coach and friends who can help get me there.  It was a true mental test for me to finish my first triathlon and even though I was a bit disappointed in myself originally, I realized that 90 days ago, I wouldn’t have finished. I would have let myself give up and just been content to try it.  But now I was a new person who couldn’t just give up, I had too much invested and too much on the line for myself to call myself a quitter.  So in conclusion, my path to becoming a Triathlete was more of a doorway into a new life than a pathway of any kind, it has opened a door that will never be closed.  Now I am a part of the Triathlon community and I am very proud to make that claim.   Thank you to Coach Joe and all those who helped me get to this point: my wife, Patty, Dave, and all my fellow Triathletes and friends.

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