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Finding My Sport

By Craig Mitchelldyer

April 1, 2014, was my first runner-versary. A year ago I had never run for fun a day in my life. I couldn’t even run around the block without thinking I was going to die. Now that seems like forever ago. Since that first “run” I have run over 400 miles and have raced in a 5k, 8k, 10k, half of a half marathon and two triathlons. It has been fun to look back on the last year and remember where I was, what I’ve become and where I still need to go.

I don’t know exactly how much I weighed a year or so ago. I never really stepped on the scale. Never really cared. Didn’t really think of myself as overweight at all. I’d eat like garbage. I’d finish working at 10 or 11 p.m. and head to the Burger King drive-thru for a couple of Whoppers on my way home. I do remember one day I was playing the Wii with my kids. I stepped onto the Wii Fit Balance Board and it told me in not so many words that I was too fat to use the game. I was going to break the board. The weight limit was 330 pounds. I was about 340-345 pounds or so. I remember thinking, holy crap, how did it come to this? At that point, I tried to start eating a little better and cutting out fast food. Almost immediately, I dropped down to 329 and could (barely) play the Wii with the kids again. My wife has always been a runner. I wanted to be able to run with her. I am around professional athletes nearly every day. I see people running all over town and they always look like they are having a blast. I needed to lose weight. So, I thought I’d give running a shot.

my story
My daughter and I on day 3 of running; my wife and I before the first 5K; and my brother and I after finishing my first triathlon.

I downloaded the Couch-to-5k app and set the Cinco de Mayo 5k in Portland, Ore., as my goal. I am the kind of person that once I put my mind to something, I can’t half-ass it. I attack it full speed and this was no different. The app is set up so it gives you cues on when to run and walk over the course of a 30-minute workout. Starting out with 30 seconds running, two minutes walking, and moving up to more running and less walking as it goes on. Those first couple days I thought I would never be able to run a 5k. Three miles, are you kidding me?! Then, running for 30 seconds became easier … then running 90 seconds was easy, then two minutes and I’ll never forget the first time I ran for eight minutes straight. Five weeks later I could run for a mile, walk for a quarter mile, run for a mile, etc. and finished that first 5k in 36:18. I was hooked. Running was fun and by the end of May I had dropped to 299 pounds — under 300 for the first time in a long time. I was feeling great.

For the next couple of months, I ran 3 or 4 miles a day and was loving it. Running was getting easier and easier. I was officially addicted to exercise and was feeling good.

Around July, my good friend and fellow photographer Tiffany Brown in Las Vegas called and said that she was training for a triathlon in September in San Diego and I should too. No freaking way, I thought. On one hand it sounded like it would be fun and on the other, it sounded like I might drown. But she kept calling me and texting me every day. She recruited my brother to do it. An “I will if you will” kind of thing. Then another one of our photographer friends, Sandy Huffaker in San Diego, said that we all couldn’t do a race in his town without him, so, suddenly this triathlon had turned into a party. OK fine, I’ll do it. Sandy, Kevin and I all signed up and we’d meet Tiffany in SoCal in September.

For the next eight weeks, I would hit the triathlon training as hard as I could. Tiffany would send me a training calendar and I would do everything it said. I knew how to swim, but not how to swim for 500 meters without stopping. So I went to a couple of masters’ swim classes and got some pointers from a coach and it was super helpful. I bought a bike and quickly found that riding the bike was now my favorite part of training. I loved being on the bike. I still enjoyed running too. Triathlon training quickly became my focus, took over my life and it was so fun. I am certain people grew tired of my Facebook posts about swimming, biking and running every day, but I didn’t care. While simply running 4 miles every day could get boring, triathlon was something different every day. Run on Monday, swim on Tuesday, bike on Wednesday, rinse, repeat. Something different every day. Then I’d do workouts with two disciplines, or all three at once. This was really, really fun. What I once thought was going to be impossible was suddenly becoming not too big of a deal and by the middle of September I could not wait to get to San Diego.

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Me on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC before I started running; me running in the Shamrock 8k; and Jenn and I before my first 10k in October.

That first race is something I will never forget. The butterflies in my stomach, the mass of people, jumping into the ocean at 8 a.m., the ride, the run — the whole thing seemed to go by so fast. I was super nervous. But once I put my head in the water, everything seemed to go quiet, and it was as if I was alone training by myself. I came out of the water faster than I ever had in training and was in and out of T1 in just a couple of minutes. The bike ride took us through a Navy base and I felt like it went way too fast. The final 5k run was beautiful, running along the boardwalk to the USS Midway and back, everyone motivating each other as we ran. It all seemed to go by way too quick. I didn’t want it to end. I finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes — 15 minutes faster than my goal. After the race, I found my wife in the mass of people at the finish line and gave her the biggest hug and not going to lie, I cried. I had accomplished something I never in a million years thought I would ever be able to do. I was hooked. I signed up for my second tri as soon as we got back to the hotel.

When I got back home, it was a great feeling having accomplished that first triathlon. I had finally found my “sport” … I am a triathlete. I cannot thank Tiffany enough for hounding me to sign up for that first race. If not for her, I would never have found the sport which I now love so much.

In October, I ran my first 10k and another sprint triathlon. In November, Jenn and I went to Vegas to run in the Half of a Half Marathon down the strip and in March I ran for the first time in the Shamrock run, finishing the 8k in 49:18. I am now down to about 269 pounds and would love to drop another 25 or so, but weight is no longer my main focus. My 2014 goals include 10 triathlons, including my first Olympic-distance event in Vancouver, British Columbia, in July. My daughter, Jordyn, is going to do her first triathlon in May as well. Every run, every bike ride, every swim I am getting better and better and faster and faster. My life pretty much revolves around when I can get my training in for the day. I have found a great set of people and friends to work out with in the Portland Triathlon Club and Jenn’s cousin Sarah is my partner in crazy, doing all the races with me as well. It feels great to look back and know that a year ago I could not run for 30 seconds and now I can run for over an hour no problem. I can swim for an hour, bike for an hour and run for an hour without even blinking an eye. It’s crazy what a difference a year makes. I’m in the best shape of my life and still have a ways to go. Never say never and there really is nothing you cannot do. I cannot wait for the next 12 months!

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the triumphs and accomplishments of your fellow athletes.

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