One of the questions I’ve been getting asked a lot, probably because I’m currently connecting in a new environment and with a new group of athletes, is what I did athletically in high school and/or college. I take this question as a great compliment because I’m a very late bloomer in the athletic scene. I was a musician in high and college, and waterskiing was the extent of my exercise. During my senior year of college my dad got me into weight lifting, and I did that pretty religiously for the next couple of years.
After hitting a serious plateau in the gym, I came to terms with my tall, thin genetics that lent themselves much more towards other forms of exercise. At the time, running a marathon sounded boring. So I decided to give triathlon a go. I honestly can’t tell you how I heard about triathlon, but I bought a road bike, swam my first lap in the pool, and forced myself to run. My first race was a sprint in 2009, but I didn’t get into longer-distance racing until 2013. That year I did my first half-iron and Ironman in Wisconsin.
After Ironman Wisconsin, I was very uncertain about what the future held for long-distance racing. I switched coaches at the beginning of 2014, but racing the iron-distance wasn’t on my radar that year. I did several half-iron distance races and grew a lot with Alyssa, my new coach. In 2013 I was 17th in my age-group, very far away from a Kona spot. So it seemed like a pretty ominous, elusive goal that wasn’t within the realm of possibility for me. Finishing Wisconsin, I felt awful. Other than the sense of accomplishment for actually finishing, there wasn’t much about that race that made me want to be active for 140.6 straight miles again. But I continue to learn and realize that there is an addictive, amnesiac quality to endurance sports. After a few days/weeks/months, the memories of the pain and discomfort diminish, being overshadowed by even the smallest moments of elation that were experienced in the blur of the finishing chute.
Even though joy had replaced the thoughts of suffering, I still wasn’t sure I was ever going to be a repeat, much less a habitual, iron-distance athlete. It wasn’t until race day of Ironman Wisconsin 2014 when the desire truly came back. I was in Des Moines, seeing social media blow up as several of my training friends were racing, feeling like I was missing out. That following Monday, still very much on the fence about what I was ready to commit to, I threw my hat in the ring and registered for Ironman Wisconsin 2015. Still understanding that this wasn’t going to be a habitual event for me, my sole focus for this race was to get a qualifying spot for the 2016 World Championships. With family support, a great coach, and 500+ hours of training, this goal was realized on September 14th. I’m crazy excited for this opportunity, and October 8th, 2016 is going to be an epic day! (And of course powered by GLUKOS!)
One of the common responses that I get when the topics of training volume, race distance, etc. come up in conversation is, “Why?” “Why spend 15+ hours away from family each week just to prepare for a 9+ hour race?” In essence, what they’re asking is what motivates me to participate in this sport. I don’t make any money from racing. I don’t necessarily enjoy spending half of my Saturday away from home and my family during the summer. I don’t at all enjoy when my alarm goes off at 4:30am. So why do I do this? I wrestle with this question all the time, and there are three things that I keep coming back to:
1) Challenge – I’m one of those guys that can’t pass up a challenge. I look at American Ninja Warrior and want nothing more than to give it a try. Not necessarily because I think I could win but because it’s a new challenge. I haven’t done it before, and I want to see what it’s like. This is the essence of endurance sports with new training sessions, new routes, the variability of any given day, and the continual effort to shave seconds off your journey to the finish line.
2) Self-improvement – Challenge is about more than just doing new things for the sake of it; it’s about stretching your limits, discovering your weaknesses, and improving upon them to become better. And not just better at sport but comprehensively better as a person. I’ve learned things about myself in training and racing that have transcended all areas of my life. In his Project 740 video series, Jan Frodeno said, “I want to go to bed better than when I woke up.” If we apply that philosophy to any area of our lives, we’re going to continuing improving and becoming better versions of ourselves.
3) Passion – Strip everything else away, I really love triathlon; I have a passion for the sport and thoroughly enjoy every aspect of it. Without that, there would be no driving force behind the “why”. My passionate engagement in triathlon fills me up, which allows me to spill over into others in a greater, more impactful way.
Favorite Places to Train
Probably because of the novelty factor for me, I love training in Arizona! I’m coached by Alyssa Godesky, who works with Hillary Biscay and Team HPB. Every spring they do a training camp in Tucson that is absolutely brutal but also one of the best ways to kick-start the season. I’ve only had the opportunity to participate in this camp twice, and it never ceases to present weaknesses, boost confidence, and increase relationships with other athletes.
Regardless of location, those three elements are what create my favorite places to train. Triathlon, especially long-distance, requires a crazy amount of drive and desire to expose your own weaknesses. This is imperative in order to grow and continually improve. So the training routes, locations, etc. that don’t offer the opportunity to be challenged are the ones that I avoid. If a ride route hurts, go back. If turning left means running up a huge hill, turn on the blinker. If the water is cold and the lane is full of really fast fish, jump right in.
As cliché as it sometimes sounds to me, Ironman truly is a lifestyle. The physical, emotional, and mental requirements of training and racing can’t just happen without consistent preparation and planning. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried staying out with friends until 11pm, or later, on a Friday night and then go for a 4+ hour ride early Saturday morning. Those don’t end up being the greatest sessions. Even during the week, I have to spend a majority of my post-training evenings eating, preparing for the next morning’s sessions, and packing enough food to get me through the following day. It’s not glamorous, and is actually my least favorite part of the day. But without building these steps into my routine, I greatly question my ability to perform on a daily basis. Ironman doesn’t just happen, and the fitness that is required comes from consistency. Creating a lifestyle that supports consistent training is imperative.