Monday, September 12, 2011

FAT GUY TO TOUGHMAN: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Do you ever feel like certain events in your life could make for a good
sitcom? That's kind of how I felt when I showed up for the Toughman
Triathlon in suburban New York on Sunday. I picked up my registration
packet, and other than my name and address, there was a note highlighted
in neon yellow which read, "WEIGH IN!". I was like, seriously, I have
to get on a scale and weigh in? Because I was in the Clydesdale division,
reserved for those 200 or more pounds, my weight had to be certified.
42 athletes out of 1,000 were in the big and fat division and we actually
had to get on a scale. Nice. For the record, I was 236lbs, or 10 pounds
less than when I started training in earnest for the 70.3 mile event.


When I went to unload my Jeep of all the equipment needed for the
swim, bike, and running events, I had an uneasy feeling come over me,
the kind you get after checking and double-checking your list, but still
feel like you forgot something. Then, all of a sudden, I was like John
Belushi in "Animal House" when he discovered he accidentally killed
the horse in Dean Wermer's office. "Holy S-h-i-t! Holy S-h-i-t!" My
sneakers were missing. That's kind of like Derek Jeter forgetting to
bring his glove for a baseball game. What the hell was I going to do?
I couldn't go home and get them. The mall wouldn't be open until at
least 11am and I didn't even know where the hell it was. What a dope!
I had to get creative so I decided to size up all the volunteers at the
event to see if any had a jogging shoe that was a 10.5. Yeaaaaah. I'm
trying to focus on this event and now I have to worry about getting a
pair of shoes. I found a kid who was a freshman at Iona College. He
had a pair of maroon and yellow Nike Livestrong shoes. They were
size 10, but I didn't care. I gave the kid a $70 check. I'd worry about
the fit when I started the run.


With my mind somewhat at ease, I got ready for the swimming portion
of the event, a 1.2 mile leg in the Hudson River, which after all the storms,
looked like Chocolate milk. Oh, well, if you sign up to swim in the Hudson
you have to expect dirty water, drift wood, and even corpses. It is what it
is. Open water swimming is nothing like training in a pool. I describe it
as swimming in a blender. Arms, legs, feet, elbows, and heads everywhere.
It's like roller-derby in the water at the start.


My goal was to start out slow, get my breathing settled, and concentrate
on my strokes.  I started out slowly and that was about all I accomplished.
My heart rate was too fast and I struggled to catch my breath. This
wasn't good. I got  elbowed a few times and was kind of disoriented. I
had to do breast stroke for about 10 seconds to get my bearings again.
Once I did, I settled in and got the cadence of my stroke going. I finished
the 1.2 mile race in 36:02 which is not a bad time.


I really wasn't in any hurry to get through the transition from the swim to
the bike, which required me to take off the wetsuit, put on gloves, helmet,
and shirt for the bike. My only goal was to lower my heart rate to get ready
for the 56-mile journey through the rolling hills of Hudson Valley, New York.
I wasn't going to win the race, so I wanted to make sure I didn't rush
through things getting out on the bike.


The bike ride was challenging but fair. I had done a half-marathon in
Middletown, CT last June and the hills were ridiculous and brutal. This
ride was smooth  and solid, for me at least. One mile into the race, I
witnessed a nasty wreck  between two cyclists. One rider ended up
on his back, stunned and with a nasty case of road rash. At the 32-mile
mark, a girl was sitting on the side of the road crying because her tire
had blown out. That's my biggest fear, blowing out a tire during the race.
You just pray you don't run over a sharp object and then have to change
a tire with your heart rate blasting and your brow dripping with sweat.
I finished the 56-mile trek in a personal best of 3:29.45. And I celebrated
mostly because I got through the race without popping a tire.


As I got to the transition area, I was just hoping and praying that
those shoes that I bought from that college kid, weren't going to be
too tight and cause me to have miserable blisters. The shoes were snug,
but they were light and felt pretty good. I didn't even know if they
were actually running shoes. They sure didn't have a lot of cushion.
But they were a lot better than running 13.1 miles in my bare feet. I
started brutally slow in the run, trying to stretch out my legs after 3.5
hours on the bike. I felt pretty good and strong. My sister, Kara, sent
me a note before the race for inspiration. It read:

       "It doesn't matter how slowly you go, just as long as you do not stop"
                                                                                -Confucius

I don't know if Confucius ever did a triathlon, but those words stuck in
my head. I made it my goal NOT to stop, no matter how big the hills were
or the pain I was experiencing. The 13.1 mile run was a nice layout that
included streets and trails that led us by the Croton Dam which was a
spectacular site. I did not stop. Not once. I was also dedicating this race
to Brian Bill, A Navy SEAL from Stamford, CT, who was killed recently
while on a mission. There was no way I could stop. This guy used to
do Ironman Triathlons for breakfast before going on mission. He was as
tough as they come. A man of great courage and bravery who sacrificed
his life protecting our country and its freedom. I would not stop, I could not
stop.


As I came down the last mile of the 70.3 mile journey, I couldn't help but
think how much I enjoyed the entire day. The 4am wake-up call, the
weigh-in, having to buy shoes from a college kid, the frenetic swim, the
long bike ride and run. And all the pain gave way to pleasure, knowing
that I accomplished a goal and could finish in honor of Brian Bill, a
military man who could never fulfill his great promise. A life cut down at
the age of 31, with so much accomplished, yet so much left to conquer.


I finished in a time of 6 hours and 29 minutes. I didn't enter to win,
just to finish and enjoy the challenge. In all honesty, my training
was sporadic, at best. This was more about will than skill. 10% of the
race was about talent, but it really doesn't take much talent to run,
bike, or swim. We all can do it. 90% of the race was about persevering
through the pain and not giving up. That's what I'm most proud of.
Going the distance for Brian Bill and never stopping, no matter what.


Since the day started like a sit-com, it was only fitting that it ended like one.
After my 6 and half-our endurance event, I went back in the chocolate river
known as the Hudson. It was chilled just right and I stayed in to lower
my body temperature and cool off my joints. When I was pulling out out
of the parking lot, my Jeep was blocked by none other than a "Mister Softie"
Ice Cream truck. LOL. Larry David wasn't around but that giant vanilla
cone with chocolate sprinkles was. Man, the Fat Guy would've certainly
loved it.

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