Triathlon is a great way to challenge yourself.

There’s snow on the ground, no doubt ice on some parts of the roads, it’s 25 degrees with a wind chill factor that makes it feel like 15 degrees. It could certainly be worse, back home, in Boston’s south shore area, they have about 2 feet of snow on the ground. Here it’s just enough to cover the ground, not really a factor, but certainly a reminder it ain’t summer anymore.

Now comes the complaining about heating bills, all the problems associated with the cold weather. I’ve taken my share of diggers out running in this weather, just managing to find that one patch of ice that the plow and the salt trucks missed. I took one back home, frankly if someone had seen me I wouldn’t blame that if they broke out in hysterical laughter. It was a 3 Stooges pratfall if there ever was one. There was a very fine layer of snow on the ground, and I was within about 1/2 mile of finishing a 4+ mile run. All of a sudden, my buttocks is hitting the deck, followed by my head bouncing off the snow/ice covered pavement. I went until about July before I could sit down without getting a little painful reminder.

So it’s a day like this that I thought it would be a good idea to reminisce about the past summer, with my last race of the year. It was in Rock Hall, Md. on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake. I did the Olympic Distance race, many of these run different races either at the same time, or on Saturday/Sunday. I haven’t done an Olympic distance since the “Iron Abe” back in Springfield, Il. ¬†Olympic distance is somewhere around a 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike ride and 10k run. It’s definitely challenging, but it was a nice, flat course.

These races all start very early in the morning. Usually there’s a large number of people, I’ve been in races as low as about 400 to ones over 1200. I think the largest ones, like Kona have about twice 1200. In the case of an Ironman that takes the best professionals over 8 hours, to even a quick Sprint, you need to make a lot of time. I believe the average time in Kona is about 10 hours, so most people are finishing about 5pm local time. The cutoff is midnight. But for the rest of the local races, they want to be done no later than noon, clear out so people can use the area and traffic can be unsnarled.

Sleeping the night before is the first of many challenges, getting to where you have to go the night before is another one. We stayed at the Naval Academy so it would only be about an hour drive time to the race. That went pretty smoothly. You have to be at most of these by at least 6am. If you’re an hour away, you really need to be up at about 4. You spend the whole night waking up on the hour to make sure you’re up at or before 4. Then loading the car; wetsuit, running shoes/kit (kit is the stuff you need to run/bike, shoes, shorts, shirt, watch, heart rate monitor, food/fluids), bike rack, bike. I did take one important lesson away from this race. I ate before and during the race. I wasn’t very smart about fueling before and during and I think that’s one particular reason why I did better than I expected.

But as you can see you’re trying to make sure that you’re out the door and all this stuff is in or on your vehicle. Then there’s the nerve-wracking drive. For the most part you will have never been to the place you’re going. I mean “Rock Hall, Md”? Nice place, but wouldn’t know it if I fell into it. So you’ve got so many minutes, to go someplace new. Now once you’re there “on-time”, you spend most of the time until the, normally, 7am start, waiting. You have to get there early in order to get your number, your timing chip, to get marked, get your gear where it needs to be, that last call of nature, hopefully. If you get there later than an hour early you don’t risk getting stuck in a line while your wave is starting. Now granted, that’s never happened to me, I’ve always started on time in 57 races. However, I don’t want to push that.

As you can tell I’m a fat, old guy. Triathlons start in waves. The first wave is usually the professional/elite men, then the professional/elite women, then age groups starting with under 18 and working up. So yes, my wave is pretty much always last. So you’re waiting through each wave to start with up to 5 minutes between starts. It’s usually a long wait, I really hate the “wait” part.

Now you’re in the water. Even at this rate you still have people swimming over you, smacking you in the head, elbowing you, kicking you anywhere from the face on down. No one, at least they shouldn’t be, is doing it on purpose, you really can’t see anything around, ahead and certainly not behind you. If you are catching up on someone, or just in the middle of a group, expect that you’re going to get physical contact. For a mile swim, the pack thins out after awhile, it takes about 30 to 40 minutes for a wave to finish.

And then you’re stumbling your way out of the water, barefoot, to the transition area to find your bike. At this point you’re pulling off this rubber suit (it keeps you a little warmer, but it’s far more about giving you added speed), trying to get a little toweled off, finding helmet, glasses (yes you do need them), shoes, gloves, then run you’re bike to where you can get on it, jump on it and start a whole new set of motions.

The ride is kind of the easiest part. You’re sitting, no one is smacking you in the head, and this is the point where you want to see if you can cram some fluids and food down your face for the rest of the race. These races take at least 2 1/2 to well over three hours for most people and you’re burning a lot of calories. “Map my walk” said I torched at least 4500 calories. Using that much fuel that fast needs to be replaced or you will start feeling wiped out through the rest of the race.

I’ve been training in York, Pa. seems no matter where I run or ride my bike there are really big hill challenges. There’s one hill I do on my bike where I get my heart rate up over 170. My average running and bike is about 140 and a lot of that has to do with the hill climbs. But it has served me very well for races. My first race, after training awhile on these hills, was at the Norfolk, Va Naval Base. You can imagine a Naval Base is flat, I felt like I was flying over the course, the same for the race I did in Indiana this summer. Well this course was also flat, and I did well on it, both bike and run.

I jumped off the bike after an uneventful ride (meaning no mechanical issues with the bike, the one downside to the bike) and now I have to actually put my feet on the ground along with my entire body weight. Running after all this other activity starts out a little weird. Your body has gotten used to a certain set of muscles and now you’re forcing it to use another set of muscles that for the most part have gotten kind of stiff and have just been along for the ride in the water and on the bike.

The first few yards, at least, are kind of a waddle for a lot of people, versus what you would say is a genuine run. But even this time on a nice, flat course I adjusted quickly and adapted. Got through 10k pretty comfortably and finished.

Then of course there’s the getting home. Making sure you have all of your equipment, clothes, and the drive back, which by 11, 12pm, means much more traffic than at about 5am on a Saturday.

Yea, there’s a lot to it. But I finished my first Olympic Distance in eight years and when you’re starting to get up in age it’s nice to know you can still do it, in fact better than I did eight years earlier. It might not be for everyone, but by the same token everyone should have some kind of challenge like this, at least once a year. Hey, way too many people get over 50 and blah, blah, too old for this, too old for that. Way too early to start giving up on life. So find what it is that genuinely challenges you and work to improve on it, even when you’re starting to get into those advanced years. Have fun with it, feel that sense of accomplishment when you do finish. Don’t expect too much from those around you, yea I have bragging rights, which I sometimes exercise. But for the most part the people you know will just think that you’re some kind of “wack-a-doodle” for doing something like that. It’s sad, they’re the ones that have either decided to start coasting, or have been coasting their whole life. That’s no way to live life, but find those who still want to live a challenging, fulfilling life.

Let’s live our lives for Jesus to the fullest extent that He has given us. I’m not going to be doing an Ironman race in Hawaii in this life. But in the resurrection, the perfect life, the life God always intended for me, I’ll be there, getting smacked in the head, kicked in the face and to quote Maxwell Smart “and loving it”. I won’t beat anyone but I will have done it and will have eternity to work at it. Yea, on cold, dark, snowy/icy, days in January, it’s miserable, at least for me. But there’s a new season, only about 3-4 months away now, have to find a race in West Virginia. Who wants to join me?

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