Thursday, May 23, 2013

John's History

A brief History of how I, John, got here;

A few years back I had some health issues, at the ripe age of 48 years old; I was spiraling downward, leading to a heart attack and ending up in the hospital for a short stay.  Once out, I saw my doctor, he sat me down and let me know that if I didn't do something to change my lifestyle, I would have about 3-5 years left on this planet (this was in 2008).  I had heart trouble that required daily medication, diabetes that required daily injections, blood pressure issues that required daily medication, and a couple other health issues.   Not Good!  I have a lovely and wonderful wife and did not want to leave her all alone in this world.  We had way too much more to enjoy in life together.  And I needed to change in order to share a long and wonderful life with her. 

Here I am in 2008 just before I had my heart attack.

I remember sitting there as the Doctors’ words sank in.  I kept thinking of what Morgan Freeman said in the epic film, “Shawshank Redemption.”  “Either get busy livin, or get busy dyin.”  I chose to get busy living.  I had a long road ahead of me and basically went old school.  No fancy diet plan with any name attached to it, just basic healthy eating habits and exercise, lots of it. 

I started walking, then jogging, then running over the course of the next year.  Things were coming along nicely.  I was up at 4:00am daily, hitting the gym and then again in the evening after work and sometimes throwing an extra session in at lunch.  We have a gym at work we can use.  Along with that, we provide lunch time activities for all employees, which include soccer, volleyball, basketball, yoga, Zumba, and Adapt cross- training.  By year end I had lost 85 pounds, and was ready to enter my first official 10K run.  I finished my 10K and was grinning from ear to ear the rest of the day.   In the past, I had run the Hood-to-Coast relay 8 times and really enjoyed the freedom, solitude and camaraderie running allowed. 

Helvatia 10K, my first race a year after my heart attack.

“What next?” I asked myself.  Do I stop here and consider it a goal accomplished and be done with it.  No way!  My wife was excited and happy to see my progress and me getting back into shape, the way it was when we first met.  I truly enjoyed seeing the smile on her face as she gazed at the new me.  I remember her saying, “It’s nice to have my husband back.”  That meant a lot to me and is still a motivation for me to continue this lifestyle.
By the way, I had gone back to my doctor for a follow up after the year was up.  He grinned and almost didn't recognize me.  He listened to my story and then he proceeded to tell me that I no longer needed any heart medication, blood pressure medication or any daily injections for Diabetes and that not only have I recovered nicely and gotten back on a nice healthy track, but I also got fit in the process.  He told me I should live to be a very old man.  He was happy in that he usually gives people the not so good news and then never hears from them again, so he never knows if they took his advice or not.  I learned later that this was a great success story for him to tell others.  I liked that, and hope it inspired others onto the road of happy, healthy living.

I used to mountain bike a lot in Bend and around Mt. Hood National Forest and loved it.  So I broke out my old mountain bike (Cannondale DeltaV500), brushed the dust off, got on it and started to hit the streets and trails again.  I was having a blast.  So now I was running and riding.  It felt great! 

Then one day I had heard about an Ironman event.  What was that all about, I thought?   I checked into it and saw they had different distances from the Sprint all the way to a full Ironman.   A full Ironman, now that would be an accomplishment.   I started reading everything I could get my hands on with regards to Triathlons and becoming a triathlete.  

Swimming, well I grew up in Florida not far from the beach and pretty much every state I lived in always had a coast line not far from where I lived.  I loved open water swimming so much I took up scuba diving while I was in the Navy.  I was certified sometime around 1979 or 80 in the Philippines.  And still dive to this day whenever I get the chance
Freestyle swimming long distances was much different than the swimming I did in scuba diving and free diving.  However, in order to do some of the more advanced diving, your swimming skills need to be fairly strong.  I had done some pool swimming to keep my skills high for diving in areas with lots of current.  Now I just needed to get back in the pool and learn to swim correctly and more efficiently.

I practiced and practiced my swimming, bumped up my bike riding to a more regular and frequent level, riding to and from work a few days a week.  It’s about 25 miles round trip with a few nice hills thrown in.  I also increased my running.  Running at lunch and getting into the weekend longer distance runs.  Here I was, doing all three disciplines’ of a triathlete.  Now I needed to find that first triathlon to see if I have what it takes to put it all together. 

My first Triathlon (Sprint distance) was in Bend Oregon in July of 2009, elevation, 3,700 feet.  I was excited and nervous.  The nice thing I kept reading on the venue posters was “You swim like a Rock Star”.  That was because you swam in a river, with the current.  So basically I could float and still get a pretty good time.  What they didn't tell you was that the water is snow runoff from Mt Bachelor.   So it was freezing.  Also, the bike ride was uphill out of town for the first half.  Great, I'm used to single-track mountain biking so it should be a breeze right?  Wrong.  It was tougher than I thought.  I was pretty slow on the mountain bike compared to those fancy expensive Tri bikes that blew by me like I was standing still. 

I wore my shorty scuba diving wet suit.  Didn't know they had triathlon specific suits.  I thought a wet suit is a wet suit and the only difference was the thickness.  Mine was 3mm thickness.  However, being that the outside was definitely not the right type, it was more like a sponge than allowing me to glide through the water like the triathlon specific suits.

Deep in thought by my mountain bike in Bend (What I was thinking about I haven’t a clue)

I got in the water waiting for our wave to start.  The horn sounded and we were off.  I tried to stay in the current as much as possible.  My sighting skills weren't the best and I got off track a few times.  More like a salmon swimming upstream, almost seemingly bouncing from shoreline to shoreline.  It must have been pretty comical to those on the shoreline watching us crazy folks swimming in the freezing water, especially me.  As I passed under the bridge in the Old Mill District, the spectators were cheering me on as I was dead last in my wave.  I was done with the swim, a bit cold and numb. 

The great scuba diving wetsuit. Top of the line for diving, bottom of the barrel for Triathlon.

Bend Swim 2009, second wave.  Nice backdrop, but freezing water. 

The transition was slow but I was soon on my bike.  Since it was my first triathlon I was on my mountain bike.  It was the only bike I had at the time.  And no, I didn't have my knobbies, but they were Town and Country Continentals.  The bike wasn't too bad.  It felt like riding on a trail as I sat in my seat grinding up the road the whole way.  It was a very rewarding speeding back into town.   T2 was fairly quick since I had my running shoes on during the bike leg.

Heading into T2 in Bend

Now for the run.  I am two thirds done, just a 5K away from completing my first triathlon.  I was doing great! My lovely wife, support crew and photographer, met me at almost every corner and/or overpass along the route.  I think she did more racing around than I did the whole day.  Every time I turned around, there she was cheering me on and waving to get my picture.  It was great; and almost a bit creepy.  How did she do that?  Her secret I'll never know.  I rounded what I thought was the last corner on my way to the finish line.  I still had some energy left.  I should turn it on and push as hard as I can, finishing strong.  But wait, as I pass the finish line, I realize I am on the wrong side.  I still have another mile to go before reaching the real finish line.  Great.   So I slowed a bit to catch my breath as I still wanted to finish strong. 

As I hit the last turn where we had to go under a short (in height) bridge, you had duck to get under it, run ever so lightly along a short path at the edge of the river, then back up onto the sidewalk, I heard what sounded like a dog panting right behind me.  There was a doggie dash going on at the same time as our run.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see this plump, grey haired black Labrador, tongue hanging out and starting to pass me.  “Oh hell no”, I said under my breath.  And I picked up the pace as I wasn't going to let him cross the finish line ahead of me and spoil my triumphant moment and photo, crossing the finish line.  I crossed and my wife snapped the shot.   I had finished my first triathlon.  I am now a triathlete.  What a glorious moment.    I was tired, but at the same time, recharged.  I hugged my wife and gave her a big kiss, got my medal, and we headed home.  I now have the triathlon fever. 

And the photo my wife took was absolutely great.  I am crossing the finish line with the Three Sisters mountain range in the background.  Perfect!  Now if I hadn't picked up the pace in the final half mile you would have been able to see “Old Grey Hair” right on my heels.  I awaited his crossing and when he did, I had to give him a hug and a pat on the head for giving me that last bit of motivation.  I now have another great motivator when I start to fade, I think of “Old Grey Hair” right on my heels and I say to myself, “Oh hell no,” and I pick up the pace.

Crossing the finish line with Three Sisters mountain range in the background.

Since 2009 I have moved up in Triathlon distances from Sprint to Olympic.  I have also moved up my running events including some fun runs at 5K and 10K to half-marathons and finally my first marathon this year in Eugene.  Are marathons really considered fun runs?  In between all of that I was encouraged by a coworker (Will ) to do a Duathlon with him.  It was an absolute blast! 

Will, Master bike mechanic, and all around great guy and myself at the Spring Classic 2013

Speaking of coworkers inspiring and encouraging me to step up my game, my dear friend and training partner, David Hopper, inspired me to finally do my first Ironman distance in Tempe, Arizona.  We signed up last year.  What an event registration was.  I will have to tell you the story about that some other time. 
David has done 6 Ironman events already.  He has been a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for me.

David and 4 time Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington at her book signing (A life Without Limits) we attended this year.

Between now and November, I am also signed up to do a Half Ironman at Lake Stevens Washington in July, an Ironman distance relay with David and another coworker in Penticton Canada in August, I get to do the swim leg. Then it’s the Portland Triathlon (Olympic distance) in September here in our lovely hometown of Portland Oregon.  Athletes Lounge did such a nice job last year; I decided to do it again this year, and probably the next and the next.  In October my wife and I are headed for Kona, Hawaii for 2 weeks to watch the Ironman World Championship, I can't wait.  Then it’s back to Portland and the final stretch of training in preparation for Tempe.

I was fortunate enough to tack on a weekend visit to Tempe and rent a bike on a recent business trip to Phoenix this year.  I was also extremely fortunate to be able to connect with one of the employees at the Tempe Tri-Sport Shop (which is now unfortunately closed).  Bummer!!!  Such great people!!!  Laurel Darren from the shop was gracious enough to escort me on a lap of the Ironman bike course, show me the transition area, where the swim entrance and exit is and a portion of the run course all before she had to get to work at 10:00am on a Saturday morning.  She’s the greatest!   It was so nice to be able to ride the bike course to get a feel for the grade and terrain.  We also had time to take a detour at the turn around and go through Fountain Valley, beautiful community, before heading back out on the course and back to town.

So enough of the history lesson and how I got to this point in my Triathlon journey, I have some “Thank You’s” I should say at this time.  I have met a lot of great people along the way and they have all helped me get here.  Mike my strength training partner and coach, Will, my bike mechanic and teacher on how to keep my bike in tune, and David, my training partner, friend and now mentor in the world of Ironman.  A big Thank You also to my swimming buddy, Ertan at 24 Hour Fitness and all his help in providing me guidance in getting my swim technique dialed.  He’s still trying to get me to join a Masters Swim group, maybe next year Ertan.  To all the many authors and story tellers with their books and magazines out there I've read and continue to read and everyone else along the way, THANK YOU for your kindness, helpfulness and being straight with me.  

But, most importantly, the biggest THANK YOU goes to my wife Robin.  Without her and her support, I could not be where I am today and achieve the dream I have of becoming an Ironman triathlete.

Okay, now you know a little of how I got to this stage in my Ironman journey.  Now it’s time to tell you how I plan on getting to Tempe this November.  Yes, I have a training plan.  It’s already being fine-tuned.  I will post a summary of it tomorrow.  Stay Tuned………. 

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