I always seem to have a little anxiety the night before racing, so it wasn’t a big surprise the night before my first triathlon that I was lying awake at midnight looking at the ceiling. But, when I found myself laying on the floor at 2am with my restless and screaming two-year-old son, Braden, while Caroline, my wife, was rocking our five-month-old baby, Eli, in the adjacent room, I was a bit surprised.  As I put one hand around Braden to calm him, I remembered what got me to this point…

My friend and colleague, Tom Duhling, had been asking me to do a triathlon for two years, without much success.  In January 2010, with my new son, Braden, and another on the way, and Tom asking me to do not just a triathlon, but an half Ironman, I had even more reservations. Would my family be supportive? Would I have enough time to dedicate to training while growing a physical therapy practice and personal training studio?  How could I finish a long distance open water swim when the thought of just swimming one lap in the pool terrified me?  Beyond all that, I had never run more than six mile and didn’t even own a bike!

At the time Tom proposed the idea of doing the Timberman Ironman 70.3, Caroline was pregnant with Eli and a bit hesitant at knowing that things were just going to get more and more hectic as the late May due date approached. I promised her that I would try and get all the training done in the early morning and middle of the day over my lunch break and still be back for dinner every night. She relented, and jumped on board for what was going to be a wild ride. Unfortunately, that meant I had to start training.

Starting with my weakness – swimming – I jumped in and started with just one length of a 25-meter pool before gasping for air. The next week I went two lengths, than three lengths, then 100 meters – woo hoo! I did some quick math in my head and knew that I would still be in jeopardy at this rate for the late summer 70.3 in New Hampshire. So, I used the expertise of a coach at Homestead Aquatic to help me iron out some of my technique and before I knew it, I was breathing more efficiently and able to do any distance without too much complication. The swimming workouts were easy to get in before work or over lunch because they very rarely took over an hour. As we got farther and farther along with our biking and running, getting those workouts in, and sometimes both in one day called a brick, became very challenging.

The birth of Eli on May 22, 2010 added a whole new level of challenges. My sleep lessoned, nutrition suffered, and workouts were dragging. Nonetheless, I put a lot of trust in the training plan that I developed specifically to adhere to these demands. I tried to not let my worries of not being ready for the race get to me while at home in the evening or the weekends. I loved spending time with my wife and young boys and wouldn’t trade this for anything else. I often turned off my phone and computer to dedicate my focus on them and enjoy this time as they were growing and so many things were changing. To this day, my favorite and most important minute of every day is the one when I get home and see the boys and my wife. I am blessed to have such a healthy and wonderful family that is so eager and excited to see me every day. This makes even the worst days not so bad.

The hardest part about training for triathlons on a busy schedule is that most of it is done by yourself. It’s difficult to find a partner who can train at exactly the same hours that you can, especially when I was trying to avoid doing any training on Saturday or Sunday to be home with family. I was lucky enough to have a great friend, Michael Zimmerman, who took time out of his summer to join me for some of the rides. You need to have support from people such as “Zimm” to get through some days and I was lucky to have him around.

Unfortunately, while we were on vacation I received news that would challenge me even more.  Tom had just started a new job and was struggling to accomplish his workouts.  The prospect of training just to finish when his original goal was to qualify for the 70.3 World Championship in his age group left him defeated and tired.  I did not want to force him to do something that he wasn’t really up to doing so, after talking with him about it for a few days, we decided to not go to New Hampshire.

Caroline might have been the most disappointed because she knew how much I had poured into my training the last several months to get to this stage. She knew how far I had come and didn’t want me to just quit on the goal of finishing. She encouraged me to find a different race, a closer one if possible, and to finish what I set out to accomplish with or without Tom. Luckily, I was able to get into the Beach2Battleship triathlon in Wilmington. The hard part was that I was going to have to pick back up the training and continue for 8 more weeks.

With the full support of my family, I attacked with an even greater vengeance. I used the extra time to practice my transitions and do more open water swims in Jordan Lake. I did an Olympic distance simulation a couple of weeks prior to race day and felt good rolling into race week.

My mom and dad came down for the race from Ohio on Thursday night and we all left in two different cars on Friday morning for our friend’s house in Wilmington. I had made a delicious Bolognese sauce and some fresh pasta to eat that night and we enjoyed a nice family meal. We were extremely lucky to have Theky Pappas lone us her house. I was only a few blocks from the start of the swim and didn’t have to worry about all the traffic race day morning. On the news that night, they mentioned that this race, the B2B, was becoming one of the most popular and biggest draws for a triathlon across the country. This didn’t help with any nervousness that I was feeling.

That brings us to the night where I was on the floor next to Braden at 2am.  After Caroline got Eli down to sleep, she then tried to get Braden to go down and let me go back in the bedroom to try and get a little sleep in before I would need to wake in a couple of hours and get some food in me. The night seemed to go on forever but I had to smile as I looked up at the ceiling. I was tired and restless, but I was ready. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way than this.

I had a great race and through it all, learned a lot about triathlon as a way of life.  It’s part of who you are. It helps define you. It should not only help you get in better shape, but hopefully help make you a more focused, loving, and attentive father or mother, husband or wife.  It is also an amazing and supportive community of people.  When I was training on Orange County country roads, I saw people on their bikes tucked in aero positions who would gently lift a hand in acknowledgement as I passed. If I ever flatted on the side of the road, someone was quick to stop and ask if I needed help.

This same camaraderie carried over all the way into the race. At the bike drop off the night before, people smiled, asked where I was from, what I did, if I had any family here to support me. These people, although complete strangers, were like a family of individuals after a common goal. It’s a neat feeling to be a part of a community. You recognize that everyone there had to go through similar sacrifices and that made them your brother and sister in this endeavor.

There is not a better feeling in the world than seeing your family and young son cheering for you at the finish line. To Braden, I was the “fastest” on the run, and “super fast” on the bike.   Win or lose, PR or not, to him, I was an IronDad. Nothing can beat that feeling.

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