My Endurance Journey

Bad Boy Donnie--largeI am athletically average, perhaps below average. My father was an engineer and my mother an art teacher. Not exactly an athletically rich gene pool. Growing up, I loved my bike but considered it only as a means of transportation. My fitness exploits on it ranged from how long I could skid to impressing the girls by popping a wheely. Mostly, I liked the way I looked on it!  I raced sailboats as a kid, was interested in racing strategy, the physics of airfoil lift, and predicting wind based on cloud formations. But I was also interested in winning by understanding all aspects of sailing better than anyone else. High school was the pinnacle of my athletic achievements. In track, I was the slow leg of the 4x relay. In junior varsity basketball, I averaged 1.8 points a game, could not jump, and spent a lot of time warming the bench. When the varsity coach came in to talk to us about moving up to the varsity team, he paced back and forth in front of us, scratching his balls, and said, in that gruff coach voice, “Boys….you have big decision to make. It’s going be either books or basketball”. Wow, what an easy decision. BOOKS!

Through my twenties and thirties, I did a little swimming and a little running. I even tried a 5k and thought I was going to die. In my forties. I was a little chubby and many of my friends were overweight and not healthy. Then one day a buddy of mine was turning 50 and to celebrate, he was inviting folks to ride 50 miles. 50 MILES?! ON A BIKE?! But I was intrigued. I had loved riding my bike as a kid. I even took a touring trip on bike along the coast of North Carolina in college. So…I went down to the local bike shop and bought a road bike.  I gathered with these other “roadies” for the birthday ride. I came in running tights, a running top, and a Wal-mart wind breaker. What I found were guys with tight, color-coordinated spandex outfits (kinda silly, looking really) stretched tightly over bulging leg muscles showing smooth, shaved legs. The first 10 miles or so weren’t too bad. The guys were friendly enough and I even got a complement on my bike. Then the lead group started pulling away. They didn’t look that far off.  I pedaled hard but never seemed to get any closer. One guy, in his early sixties (I wanted to be like him!), came by and said “Grab a wheel and we’ll catch ‘em” Huh? Grab a wheel? He sped on without me. Later,  I lost my map and ended up following a sweeper who was riding to pick up stragglers. I wisely only rode 35 miles with an average of 13.5 mph. Pretty impressive, for my first time on a bike in 30 years. I came away from that ride with several impressions. First, there were guys in there 40s, 50s, and even 60s who were fast, strong, fit, and having fun, able to ride 50 miles at a much faster pace. Secondly, I wanted to be one of those guys. Third, I wanted to be one of those guys because I knew the only way to life-long fitness was through setting goals and working hard to achieve those goals. And thus, my journey as an adult-onset athlete began.

So my first goal was to be able to ride 50 miles at the pace of those middle-aged, lycra-clad guys. I achieved that. Then 100 miles. Done. 100 miles in the mountains. Done. Then I took up triathlons. Escape from Alcatraz, USAT Nationals, Ironman 70.3. Then a couple of half-marathons and a marathon. Somewhere in there I threw in some cyclocross to spice things up. Then mountain biking caught my interest. Lots of skill required and those trees don’t move out of the way! Plus, I loved being in the outdoors. Through all this, I read everything I could to learn about the endurance sports. Equipment. Gadgets. How to train, how to race, how to fuel, how to hydrate, how to win and how to lose. I also learned everything I could about the peripheral aspects of endurance sports. Stretching, core strength, eating right, yoga, meditation.

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