At this time one year ago I was in the final days of training for my first triathlon, DeWitt’s own Crossroads. Last weekend I completed my first Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin.

I’m sharing this not to brag or boast, but to encourage any of you who ever had a whisper of a thought like, “Could I?” to prove to you, “Yes, you can!”

When I completed last year’s Crossroads, my goals were pretty simple: don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t crawl. Time? Reaching that finish line was Numero Uno.

After I finished, I was quite certain I’d do more triathlons and within just a couple of months, with one sprint tri under my belt, I registered for a half Ironman. A couple of my training buddies found it humorous that I’d take such a leap, but given my propensity for action before thought, it made perfect sense to me.

Racine 70.3I am lucky to have a host of local friends who regularly do this type of sport. They are completely to blame, not only for infecting my goals, but also in seeing I achieve them. While some people may have the moxy to train and prepare without the support of others, I am not that island.

So how does a half Ironman compare to a sprint tri? At the Crossroads, the swim is 500 yards in Lake Kildeer compared to Racine’s IM being 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan. The bike is 15 miles of rolling hills as opposed to 56 miles of mostly flat, though bumpy roads with the run being a single 3.1-mile out-and-back route compared with a 2-loop, moderately flat course totaling 13.1 miles.

Because I’d already done plenty of running this year, I cut back my normal running schedule and focused more on swimming and biking. Factor in that I’m an old RAGBRAI’er at heart, even the biking wasn’t too strenuous as muscle memory, even from years ago, allowed me to ramp up my mileage fairly quickly. That, and finally, after enjoying my road bike since 2000, having a “fitting” done.

With several people referring me to Dan Adams at Healthy Habits in Bettendorf, he put my bike on a trainer, watched me ride and then began tinkering. He replaced my stem, handle bars and bike seat, added aero bars and with mere millimeters of adjustment, had me feeling so fabulous I’d swear it was a different bike!

The only thing left was to address my swimming. Throughout the winter, my friend and trainer Ray Porter had dissected and rebuilt my crawl stroke to improve efficiency and power. That’s well and good, but last month’s QC Sprint Tri proved the second I hit open water, anxiety completely renders me incapable of anything other than laying on my back and kicking my feet.

I’m not afraid of the unknown beneath me and while I initially thought it had to do with the feeling of my wetsuit around my neck, is something weirdly mental that seems to only happen in open water. Does it go back to my days as a lifeguard at Wacky Waters when we’d do early-morning lake searches for possible drowning victims? Who knows, but it certainly could.

Fortunately my open water freak outs began decreasing thanks to specific breathing exercises that address the limbic system in my brain where my emotions are controlled. (Like I said, WEIRD.) These, coupled with doing more open water swims at Scott County’s Lost Grove Lake and Lake G, helped get me comfortable in my wetsuit.

But no matter what kind of preparation a person does, once you stand on the shores of Racine’s North Beach and stare at that massive body of water that you’re required to swim in? The prayers come quick and fast.

Fortunately I was not alone in this endeavor as DeWitt resident and local trainer Matt Dingbam of No Limit Fitness and his student (my cousin-in-law) John Melvin, also of DeWitt, committed to the Racine IM, too!

Each of us had our own reasons for doing so and our own goals to reach. And reach them we did! For now, however, I’m saving the experience for next week to encourage you to participate in next week’s Crossroads Triathlon, Saturday Aug. 2!

Whether as a member of a 3-person team or solo, it’s a wonderful event for a first-time tri. It’s not too late to get in on the fun so visit www.crossroadstriathlon.com for event information and registration.

You never know what you can do if you don’t try, or what dreams and goals a tri can unleash!


Originally published 26 July 2014 in The Observer.

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