All in the family

All in the family

by Paul W.

Eighteen months ago, my daughter, Sarah, challenged me to join her in a triathlon.  “You can do it, Dad, you are in good shape and have been biking for many years.  We can encourage each other, and it will be fun to do this together.”

I had been biking, but could hardly swim and had not run at all in almost 25 years.  Anyway, I was game for this, so long as the swim portion was a reasonable distance.  We selected the Evergreen Triathlon in the Bloomington-Normal, IL area for July, 2009.  As I lived in West Virginia, Sarah and I would be encouraging each other via telephone and email – no joint workouts.

Shortly after her challenge, she took a Master’s Swim class, met coaches Joe and Suzy, and determined she could use their help.  Suzy became her coach, and Sarah took off.  Meanwhile, I slugged along, started running on our treadmill and joined a health club to swim.  Biking was fine, running was slow – I could manage 12 minute miles for a couple miles if I had not tired myself out with biking first.  But swimming was a challenge.  I could not do more than two laps in freestyle without getting so tired I had to stop and rest.  Side stroke in the pool was workable, so I thought I could manage the distance in that manner.  Overall, I thought I was in fairly good shape.

Over the months of 2009 prior to Evergreen, Sarah was making great progress, and while my running time improved, my swimming remained the challenge.  In May I visited with Sarah, met Joe and Suzy, and took a Sunday morning bike ride with the group.  I had no problem riding with the faster group, so I felt good about that.  I was able to see the tremendous progress Sarah had made, particularly on the bike.

July, 2009, Sarah and I are heading out to Evergreen and her first outdoor tri, and I did not know what I was getting into.  We talked about our goals, and when I asked her what she hoped to do, she said she really wasn’t focusing on a time, but did expect to finish better than 2:15.  I said I hoped to complete in 2:30.  She helped me set up my transition area as Coach Suzy trained her, and now we began.

True to form, I free styled about 25 yards and got completely winded.  I was bumped, jostled and swallowed a ton of water.  Tried to side stroke, got hit some more and swallowed more water.  I struggled to the first kayak I saw to attempt to catch my breath, plus to let everyone get past me.  Then as I started out again, the women’s group came on strong and I got trampled some more.  Panic set in and I wondered what I was doing out there.  While I did not feel I would drown, I sure felt like just quitting then.  After hanging on to almost every kayak I saw, I did manage to get through, take a long transition to catch my breath and get on the bike.

As I finished the run, Sarah met me and ran with me the last couple hundred yards, which meant a lot to me.  I knew I was not in the physical condition I had thought.  My time? – 2:44, 14 minutes more than my bottom line goal.  Sarah’s time? 1:54, more than 20 minutes ahead of her expectation.

I was extremely proud of her and thoroughly deflated personally.  At that time, I wasn’t sure if I could/would do this again.  After a few days of reflection, I decided I was not going to let this beat me.  I am too competitive for that.  Sarah and I talked about the advantages of having a coach, and her strong endorsements for Suzy and Joe.

I really liked what I saw in Coach Joe and ET, but I was in West Virginia.  Could long distance training work?  I also wondered . . . how long would I work on triathlons? . . . I have back problems, would hard efforts pose problems here?  . . . and I was 64 years old at this time, so how long do people work into tri’s, especially starting at that age in life?  But, as I wasn’t going to let Evergreen beat me, I travelled to Illinois in October, discussed all these issues with Joe and set up a coaching relationship with him.

So we started with the swim.  He had me swim one length to observe technique.  His words: “The good news is that you can swim.”  He did not say anything about the bad news, just started giving me bits and pieces of technique.  I started doing yoga and core/power exercises.  My back pain improved tremendously.  I got to running steadily at better than 10 minute miles for up to 6 miles.  And, in the lap pool, though touching the sides and watching the lane lines, I could swim a mile in 50 minutes.  Everything was going well.

Early June, I was with Joe at Centennial Beach for an open water swim with his group.  Deep water, no lanes, tri sighting, swimming in a group, all first time for me – and I lost it.  I panicked and wondered if I could do this at all.  Now Joe’s psychological coaching skills really needed to come into play.  After some time of contemplation, I again resolved to not let Evergreen beat me.  But I had to change my approach to the swim and learn to sight.  Finding a couple open water swim areas, my confidence grew, and I felt ready.

Meanwhile, Sarah suffered from a herniated disk in her back, and was out for this year’s Evergreen race.  She would join us as a cheerleader.

Day of the race was hot, humid, muggy, but with a calm lake.  Joe helped me with my transition area, and gave me some last minute focus thoughts.  And the race started.  The swim went well – I felt confident and steady and finished 3 minutes better than my bottom line goal.  The bike ride went great, but as I started the run, the heat started to hit me.  My calves started to cramp at the half way point, and I was forced to walk portions of the race.  I started to get dizzy, but kept at it.  A large group of ET people were close to the end encouraging me on, and that got me to the finish.

But then everything went white, my head spun, and Joe could see I needed some assistance.  Next thing I knew, Sarah was holding my head saying, “Dad!  Dad!  Dad!”  I had passed out from heat exhaustion.  With ice, water misting, hydration and food, I recovered enough to receive my first place award for my age group.  But where I was most proud – I conquered the swim, plus, with only 3 people older than I in the sprint portion and 214 completing the race, I finished better than 90 of the participants.  I guess an old guy can do it.

So now I’m hooked.  I am sure proud of my daughter, and I know she is proud of me.  I can do this.  At 65, I still can continue to improve. And I am confident I can swim longer distances.  Coach Joe, you are fantastic.   Sarah – thanks for your love and support.  Yes, it’s all in the family.

Share this post