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Dead Last Again – Why I Love Triathlon

I remember why I just put myself through that training session...to finish dead last.

At least the big red truck was waiting for me to pass by the water stations and the distance markers before picking them up.

I hadn’t seen another soul on the run course for at least a half hour, except for the wonderful couple who ran a hose from their house and set up a makeshift cooling shower for us all to run through. When a 10km run turns into a two hour walk, it leaves a triathlete with plenty of time to think about why they are doing this to themselves and whether any of it is worth it.

In my case, I do it for bragging rights. Well, not really bragging but I love talking triathlon with people and having them say “That is amazing! I could never do something like that!” Not only does it feed my ego, it gives me the chance to try to convert them to the cult of multisport. My response is always the same, “If a fat guy like me can do it, you can too!” and I believe that statement with all my soul.

Triathlon is something pretty much anyone who can move under their own power can participate in. I have seen 90 year old great great grandfathers blow past me on the run like I was standing still. A paralyzed triathlete, motoring along on a hand-crank bike, made sure I was ok while going up a hill. I had stopped with a make-believe chain issue so I could catch my breath on the horrendous slope of a psuedo-mountain just outside of Cobourg, Ontario. Hey, I’m not above faking a cramp, mechanical or anything else to make the suffering stop for a second.

But there I am, hauling my cookies through 16c water, stuffed into my wetsuit like a neoprene sausage. So, I fully stand behind my statement…almost anyone can come out and play. Really all you need, besides a bike and sneakers, is determination.

Like many racers, my first foray into multisport was through a clinic at my local running shop. I signed up, fully expecting to be in a room full of ruggedly-fit runners, by far the biggest guy in the room. And I was partially correct…I was the biggest guy. But my clinic buddies ran the gamut, 20ish to 60ish, thin, lithe jackrabbits to heavy-footed plodders. For some, it was their first clinic of any kind, like me. Others were seasoned vets, having done this tri clinic and others before. All were runners however and I was quickly left at the back of the pack during our weekly tempo runs, fartleks and long, slow distance runs.

It was twelve weeks to our goal race in Peterborough and my own personal goal of taking part in a tri. Just six months before the clinic, I was 50 pounds heavier and unable to run five feet let alone five kilometres. As part of my weight loss, I set a goal of being in a triathlon, almost a throwaway goal, but it was the only one I hadn’t accomplished yet.

It took a lot of discipline and determination, two traits I thought I was lacking, to lose that much weight. So, sucking up my ego and running by myself was tough but I knew that if I could force myself to start the run, I would finish it. As one of my coaches likes to say, “Just keep moving forward”.

And that is the great thing about triathlon, there is always a “low”option. If you get tired while swimming, roll onto your back and float. On the bike, get off and walk up the hill. And there is no shame in walking on the run course, trust me, I know. I have finished last in my age group eight out of nine races but I have never once given up, no matter how horrible I felt. Once I start, I can convince myself to keep going. Just keep moving forward.

After the clinic was over and our goal race was behind us, one of the clinic instructors cuffed me in the shoulder and said “Good job. I thought for sure you were gonna quit the clinic. You should be really proud of what you have done.” Proud? No. Happy it’s over? Yes. Looking forward to the next one? Hell yes!

After nine races, I still say “hell yes!” to triathlon even though it destroys me. I have to. On New Year’s Eve, I went out and got a triathlon tattoo on the inside of my left forearm.

Once you are inked, you’re kinda committed. And when I look down at my arm, covered in sweat from a run or a spinning class, I remember why I just put myself through that training session…to finish dead last.

But always to finish.