My wife decided a few years ago to try running a half marathon, which she did. Then she tried an Olympic distance triathlon (swim like 800 yards, bike 20 or eleven miles, run a whatever K), and did fine with that, too. I’ve always been impressed with her ability to do these kinds of things, but then she signed up for a full Ironman. In the summer. In Texas. For those who don’t know, this is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. I could do it over the course of a few years, but you have to finish it all in one day. I think it’s less than a day, actually.
She did all of that in about 13 and a half hours. I can’t really put letters in the correct order to explain how impressed I am with that. And I’m not just saying that to make her feel good. She can’t even read.
Anyway, She was named Triathlete of the year by our local Triathlon club (who probably will not want to be associated with me or this blog if they read it, so I’ll leave the name out. It’s in Atlanta, and it is a triathlon club. That’s all I will say), and I was thinking “Well, maybe I should try getting off my ass and moving around a bit. All this sitting and eating isn’t doing much for my constitution…” And about an hour later I was signed up as a member of the club, and am now a few months in. I decided that chronicling my adventure would give my fair readers much to laugh about…and let’s face it…that’s what I’m here for.
The most common question I get is “When’s your first race?” I usually answer by just gesturing at my body as if to say “Look at this heap. I couldn’t finish a race if I was asleep in a car being driven by someone else.” Or I’ll make something up like “I’m doing the Murderbrain UltraMountain Tri Challenge out in…you know…west-north of Spurlington…over east.” “Really? How many weeks out?” “Infinity weeks. Gotta start tapering and bonking pretty soon because of the electrolyte negative splits.” And then I’ll blast myself in the face with a packet of Gu and start aggressively stretching some muscle that I don’t have, hoping for no follow-up questions.
I’m doing this to become less fat and to see my wife more often. That is my “Goal”.
As with any endeavor, the first thing you do is get equipped. I have running shoes that are really shitty at running, so I was good to go there. I bought a used bike from another guy in the club, along with some shoes for the bike that cling to the pedals so you can’t get off even if you want to. It’s probably best, because I pretty much always want to get off. Swimming – I have never really swam (swum?) other than dicking around in a pool as a kid, but you have to have tight shorts that look AWESOME when you’re out of shape, a floating giant buttplug looking thing that goes between your legs to ensure that you can’t breathe, and according to my wife, at least a dozen pair of goggles.
The only other requirement is to fill an 18 yard dumpster with sports water bottles and have them delivered to your kitchen. Now you have most of the trappings. There are all kinds of supplements and an entire language, but this is part one. Why blow a hammy trying to cram everything into one story? I’ll just start where I started. Cycling.
I’ve had three operations on my back and I have screws and rods in my spine. I’m not interested in doing any of this again, so I’m all about the non-impact stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever run a significant distance again. Fortunately I don’t care, because running is really fucking exhausting.
I was unaware that you had to be fitted for a bike. Deep down I think it’s like being told your kid’s head is asymmetrical and he has to wear this spiffy little $5000 helmet until he grows out of it next month and then you can buy a new one. After five years of this, there will be no discernible difference in the shape of your kid’s head. It is something that we have been told to believe and we believe it because the guy telling you is wearing a lab coat or in this case a full cycling suit and ironically, one of those helmets with the long pointy bit in the back. We went to our local multisports shop and I was introduced to a guy we’ll call Andy because that might be his actual name.
He put me on this machine that sort of had bikeish geometry, but no wheels and a tiny seat made of concrete and broken glass. He told me to pedal. I pedaled. He adjusted things up and down and in and out, stepped back and looked concerned, made a clicking noise, adjusted something else, and basically did what I would do if I was trying to appear to know what I was doing. Except he knew what he was doing. “Okay,” he said, “I’m going to add some resistance. Keep pedaling…” I had been pedaling for a little over 90 seconds and was flatly amazed that there was actual smoke coming out of my legs. I could smell it and everything. Sweet baby Jesus on a bowflex, I’m out of shape. Fairly embarrassing for anyone to admit what a piece of shit they have become, but as I’ve always said, there is no greater motivator than shame.
I got my bike all fitted to this bag of spoiled oatmeal I call a body, and signed up for a couple of classes. I’d call them spin classes, and I guess that’s what they are, but I have been to spin classes. These aren’t really spin classes. My first indication was the fact that many members of the class were actual world-class triathletes. Some of them are in the top 5% of their age group in the world and have body fat percentages smaller than their shoe size. So back to my point about humility. “Welcome aboard the shame train! Next stop – your stupid fat face!” They are all super nice and very helpful and in no way tried to make me feel weak and useless, but I’m me. That’s how I stay in the game.
I flailed and gasped and cramped and farted my way through the hour long class. They say not to worry about what the guy next to you is doing, which wasn’t a problem because my eyes had crusted over with dried sweat and every ounce of my being was devoted to not falling off of a stationary bike. My only goal was to stay on that shitty seat and keep my legs moving for an hour. I did that, and was almost proud of myself. Not really though…I think there’s too much patting oneself on the back in general these days for not really having done anything, so I was satisfied with having done what I set out to do. What I really liked was that nobody in the class was all “awesome job, champ” about it. They weren’t pointing and laughing either, rather they are actual athletes and may have been where I was at one point feeling exactly like I did. Nobody minimized or overstated my non-accomplishment. It was exactly what it was, and that’s how I like it.
It took me almost a week to walk right again. I could go up three stairs before my legs would burn, but I was signed up for my next class. When I got there, Everybody was talking in words I hadn’t heard before (nothing new), and I kept hearing “FTP test”. Of course I had not a clue what that meant, so I asked someone with padded shorts and a nine thousand dollar bike. His answer actually triggered a primitive part of my brain that caused me to run toward my car. My legs were still shot to hell from last week, so I only made it a few steps.
“See, what you do is warm up for about an hour, and then you’ll set the resistance to a wattage that you can barely hold for 20 minutes. Last time we did this, I almost threw up…”
At that moment, FTP meant nothing more to me than “Fuck This Place”. Warm up for an hour? Who even thinks of that?
BUT. I have said this a million times on this blog and other places – if it is outside your comfort zone, it is probably something you need to do. Not a great line on a first date, but in most aspects of life, it is the gospel. So I warmed up forever, and then the lady who was running the class gave instructions “Set your power to something you think you can barely hold for 20 minutes. If it’s 250 watts, set 250 and try to increase as you go. It will average your wattage over the 20 minutes to give you (something about basal lactic whatnot)” I looked down to see where I was, and asked if these things go to negative numbers. I’m sure my neighbor’s five year old daughter does more than I could do on her tricycle. I followed direction, though, and the guy next to me gave me some advice – “Start low and increase as you can. If you burn out in the first ten minutes, this will be a bad time.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was already burned out and the bad time started about a week ago. I decided to do it like I do everything – break it up into small but pathetic goals. Set a number for two minutes, see how I feel. Adjust accordingly, do two more minutes, ad vomitum…
I think I finished with an average of 170, which might be sad, but it’s what I did. I was trying to turn the little display thing off so no one would see, but I didn’t know how. I decided instead to post it on a blog that is read by thousands of people. Plus I had to concentrate on getting off the bike without falling down. There was literally a puddle of sweat below my bike that you could float a rubber duck in if you really hated that rubber duck and had absolutely no use for it anymore.
So that was my starting point in a nutshell. A retarded colorblind left-handed socially awkward babe in the woods, out of my element, not really feeling like I’ll ever be an actual athlete, (and not a very good ambassador for the triathlon world, judging by that last sentence). But it is good – nothing is better for us than a little adversity and discomfort. It’s why I quit my cushy desk job to go fly hot shitty smelly airplanes for almost nothing, and in some ways it is why I got married. Those are the two best moves I ever made, but they were both a bit scary (getting married was scarier for Sara, but quitting my job was terrifying). And it’s why I will keep pedaling and splashing and loping forward with no particular goal in mind.