Back in the summer of 1989 the only connection I had to triathlon was maybe something I read in Sports Illustrated or saw during the limited coverage of this crazy event held in Hawaii called Ironman. I swam for fun on hot summer days in the ocean, commuted to work on my bicycle with an occasional foray up the local mountain, and ran while covering left field or rounding the bases after a nice dinger on my softball team. That all changed when a co-worker and soon to be training partner, Steve Issaris, asked me after a lunch time ride if I wanted to ride the bike leg of a triathlon as a relay in September.
He had done a couple relays before and already had a runner, but needed a new biker. I don’t know what he said to get me to sign on, but I did, as I began the first block of focused training in my life. The bike leg was about 16 miles, with a one mile flat section followed by seven miles straight up a hill. On the very fast downhill return to T2 (where for the first time I went 50+ MPH, on a questionable flat repair!), riding with one of the lead women, I think the switch got flipped and I was hooked.
The following year Steve convinced me and another co-worker to do the Malibu Triathlon in September, while Steve and I would do the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon as a relay a few weeks before after a one year hiatus. From that year on until this year, 25 years, I typically competed in 3-5 races a year, which including a handful of duathlons, now total over 90 races. Throw in 80+ running races, innumerable ocean swims and swim/run events, and looking back it seems like I was always racing and doing something on a nearly monthly basis; that was until two years ago.
While training for the ITU World Long Course Triathlon Championship I was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia and had to put all training and racing on the back burner. I had to wonder if I should actually be out training and racing, if this was a onetime event (which it wasn’t), if I could modify my lifestyle to solve the problem (which I did for eight months, but then they returned), and if the surgeries I eventually agreed to would “cure” me, and on that count all I can say is so far, so good. My second surgery was back in November, but since October, on a greatly reduced training volume and intensity, I have not had another AFIB episode.
By finishing the SB sprint tri last Sunday I had kept the streak alive. Anyone that has been injured knows the mental anxiety we face from not being able to train and race as we like, but throw in the possibility that what you’re facing is potentially life threatening (an AFIB episode causes pooling of the blood in the heart, so when a normal heart rhythm returns, the chance of a blood clot heading towards the brain is real), you have to adjust your priorities to deal with the situation.
I like to say that a younger Fred would not have dealt with this so well (not to say that I did deal with it very well!!!), but with the hindsight of age, looking back over what I’ve accomplished these past 25 years, the highs and lows, the people I’ve trained with, the countries I’ve travelled to that I might not have seen if it wasn’t for the sport of triathlon, I have to say it has been a good run. That’s not to say the run is over, but that other changes in my life have caused me to reduce my training hours, accept that age is catching up with me (father time is one heck of an endurance athlete, not somebody that you can ever out run!), and that finally I can accept that less is more.
During the sprint tri last weekend, where I pushed the swim and bike very hard, knowing the run would be where I really would feel the pain, at about ½ mile into the very short two mile run, chasing a ghost adversary that kept pulling me forward, I thought that if I just slowed down a little I would probably feel better, finish in about the same time, and maybe enjoy the run more. Well that lasted maybe 100-200m when my inner competitor chimed in and said, no, this is a race, so push it. Ah yes, normal service returned!
Crossing the finish line was as much a relief as it was a pleasure; the first time in nearly 16 months I had finished an official triathlon. With so many local friends out on the course volunteering, fans rooting for us, and others competing with me side-by-side, it was a great homecoming and a renewal of racing as I know it. I have one more sprint on tap this year and then I’m looking forward to the off season to bring my 10k run times back up to speed, or at least closer to speed as I knew it, so I can think about doing some Olympic distance tris again.
There have been many lessons learned these past 25 years, and it’s too bad that we humans seem to need an “event” to remind us that when it’s all said and done, the greatest pleasure we have in life is hanging out with our friends. It also didn’t hurt that we all just pushed ourselves to our athletic limits, for a brief period of time, and killed it! I’m just saying…