When my digital clock radio hit 4:00 a.m. and the sounds of The Clash rattled my brain like
a left-right combination from Floyd Mayweather, I could really do nothing but let out a primal
moan and play rope-a-dope with the largest pillows that Bed, Bath, & Beyond had to offer.
"Should I stay or should I go,
If I go there will be trouble, and If I stay it will be double...."
It would've been easy for me to stay in my cocoon of comfort with the sounds of that hit song
by The Clash in 1981 muffled by 6 inches of down feathers covering both of my ears. But I
paid $275 for the right swim 1.2 miles, bike 56, and then run 13.1 miles with about 1,100
other deranged people who thought that a heavy dose of pain and punishment was a good way
to spend the first Sunday in June.
"So you got to let me know,
Should I stay or should I go?"
I decided to make the 90 minute trek to Middlebury, Connecticut where the Rev3 half-
ironman triathlon was being held in the midst of an amusement park. Little did I know I'd
be going on one of most painful rides of my adult life, which has been all of about ten years.
I had done this race in 2010 and swore that I'd never come back. Biking malicious, steep hill
after steep hill seared my lungs and all but ripped the chicken off my chicken legs. Yet,
here I was at age 47 and weighing a less than svelte 240 lbs, back in spandex trying to
conquer this 70.3 mile beast.
I had gained 17 pounds since my last visit to Lake Quassapaug and my wetsuit didn't quit
fit me. It was akin to trying to put 240 pounds of sausage into a 220 pound bag or casing.
It just wasn't happening. I had tried to use the wetsuit during a swim at my club on the Friday
before the event, but had had difficulty breathing, so I decided that I was going to do the
1.2 mile swim at 7 a.m. in the chilly water without a wetsuit. Polar bear-style. Nothing but
those combo swim-bike-run shorts on. Whoa, you talk about major shrinkage! We're talking
George Costanza shrinkage.
I looked through the mass of humanity at the starting line and noticed that I was the only
person that didn't have a wetsuit. I think I frightened some people because my body is
Beluga whale-white. The only thing that might've been whiter was the face of Mets manager
Terry Collins when he saw Johan Santana's pitch count rise over 130 in his no-hitter last
Friday night. There could've been some shrinkage there, too.
Swimming in open water is like swimming in a blender. It's all choppy and there are legs,
feet, and arms everywhere, and a few usually hit you in the head at one time or another over
the course of the 1.2 miles that you're in the water. I finished in a time of 34.58, which ranked
182nd out of 1,066 "athletes". That was the strongest part of my triathlon...biking and running,
ah, not so much. It seemed like everyone I had beaten out of the water and those who
started a good 10 minutes after I did, passed me on the bike. I heard the warning, "on your left",
at least 500 times. The only people I went by were those fixing flat tires or fertilizing the
used to run anywhere in baseball, people would say, "Hey, Devlin, get the piano off your back."
At 240 pounds, now I feel like somebody hitched an 18-wheeler to my bicycle seat. I thought
event officials were going to put a red flag on me and attach a sign to me that said, "Wide Load."
On this picture-perfect day, my legs were moving, but I wasn't going anywhere very fast. Embarrassment reached its highest peak for me during the 56-mile bike ride when this little
old lady passed me on a very steep climb. Everyone has their age marked on their right calf,
and when I looked down to see the number "57", I just said muttered to myself, "Wow, isn't
that wonderful?" (I omitted what I really said because this is a family blog)
It seems like the only place I have trouble eating is on a bike. There is a right way to do it
and I just haven't figured it out yet. When you're covering 56-miles in three and a half-hours,
you burn some serious calories. The day before the event, I dropped by a sporting goods
store and bought everything that said energy shot on it. 5-hour energy, B-12 energy, Protein
energy. If they said energy, I was buying them and slugging them down during the race. The volunteers on the course provide you with more "energy" in the former of Gu shots. When
it gets warm and they melt, it seems like they turn into a pack of 12 salamanders who are
in a race to get to the bottom of your stomach for whatever it is that salamanders eat. It's
popping a tire, but also knowing there was trouble ahead for me. I still had to run 13.1
miles on a course that had some brutal hills. I had practiced running up some very big hills
in my hometown, trouble was, I just never did it after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56.
I tried to trick my mind into thinking I was strong and in shape for the final leg of the triathlon,
but my mind laughed at me and laughed at me real hard.
The first three miles were OK, then came the hills and the heat. I was cooked and almost
delirious. I had bonked and there were still 10.1 miles to go. That's not fun. I thought of people
who inspire me to help get me through, from my late father, to Brian Bill, the Navy SEAL
from Stamford who was killed in action last August, and to a triathlete from New York City
who literally got run over by a 40,000 lb bus and not only lived, but went on to complete
the Ironman in Hawaii.
There were times I felt like quitting, but they didn't last very long. I recalled a conversation I
had with Lou Marinelli, my former football coach, who asked me, "Aren't you too old to be
doing that stuff?", and just then a 59-year old man who was shredded like Terrell Owens ran
by me like I was standing still. You're never too old. For anything. No matter what. Events
like these are for challenging yourself and testing your limits. Was I in great shape for this
event? Absolutely, not. Did I prepare adequately for this half-ironman? My time of 6:52:38
was 26 minutes slower than the one I completed here in 2010, so the answer would be a
But it's not about the bike, the swim, the run, or the time it takes you to complete the race. It's
about finishing and the will to finish. I hadn't felt pain, punishment, or agony like that in a long,
long, time. But you know what? When I crossed that finish line, all that pain and agony actually
felt pretty good, even if it lasted for all of two seconds.