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Triathlon Gave Me a Second Chance

By Evan Gay

evan gayDuring the summer of 2012, I found myself at the doctor’s office due to some sharp pains. This same visit, they clocked my height and weight, and I came in at 290 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall. Not exactly where I thought I was or where I wanted to be.

This was a rude awakening for me. I always felt like I had the right to be a bit bigger as I played football from age 8 through my freshman year of college. But even at my heaviest when I played in college, I weighed 50 pounds less and could bench press 355 pounds and squat nearly 500 pounds. The numbers had changed drastically in the eight years since I played ball.

So I started eating better but didn’t do much to change my lifestyle. It wasn’t until December that my wife voiced to me that she wanted to run a 5k together. This seemed like the most daunting task to ever cross my mind. I racked my brain trying to find a reason why I couldn’t do it. But I owe it to my wife for making me leave the excuses behind and stick to it.

The first time we went running was in early January and we started out using a Couch to 5k program. Our initial workout required us to walk five minutes, run one minute, walk for a minute and a half, run for a minute and then walk for a minute and a half. It continued for 20 minutes and ended with a five-minute cooldown walk.

I vividly remember the feeling of absolute terror, fear and embarrassment when I realized that running for one minute was just about killing me. I felt pathetic and wanted to give up, but two things pushed me on. One was my wife’s encouragement, primarily because she was suffering with me. And the other was my new baby boy. I would like to see him hit milestones — and one day even meet my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In addition to the motivation from my wife and son, I also found encouragement from a coworker I quickly bonded with over our love of sports and talking trash to each other. His name is Adam and at the time I thought there was something mentally wrong with him because he enjoyed running endurance races, and most recently, a 50k trail race. Adam has been a major player in my experience thus far and now a training partner five days a week.

So, I kept running, and eventually, it became easier. We hit our first 5k in April 2013. Adam ran the race with me and it took me more than 38 minutes to finish it. Several times I couldn’t even fathom continuing on, but I was able to complete it.

A few weeks later, Adam suggested I look into heart rate monitors. This was the beginning of my obsession with endurance sports. I got a heart rate monitor and realized that if I stay in a certain HR zone, I could run for so much longer without becoming exhausted. This was the turning point in my training. All of a sudden, I was running for 20 minutes without becoming exhausted and having to walk. I started swimming in the mornings with Adam before work and found that my lungs were drastically improving, which had a huge impact on my running. All of a sudden my runs were turning into 35- to 45-minute runs. Then, I finally hit 60 minutes of running, one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had throughout my journey.

Around May, I started to think about how cool it would be to compete in triathlon. I found a super sprint tri (0.25-mile swim, 9-mile bike, 1.6-mile run) near me and entered it. This may not seem like much to other athletes, but for me it was quite daunting.

My first tri was an incredible experience. I had a sinus infection and had missed some days of work earlier that week. I stressed myself out so much and had so much self-doubt going into the race. I again racked my brain with reasons why I shouldn’t do it. I never realized just how much of a mental game this would be for me. I ended up finishing the race just fine, and I am so glad I didn’t pansy out of it.

I did five triathlons over the summer of 2013 as well as a handful of 5ks and a half marathon. I took up trail running with Adam, who has become a great and terrible influence on me because all I can think about is triathlons and trail runs. I am down to 235 pounds and can now run a 5k in 27 minutes. I had a physical with my doctor who was blown away by my transformation and journey over the last year. He specifically told me to thank Adam and my wife for pushing me to compete and adding years to my life. Next year I am already signed up for a long-distance triathlon and 25k trail run.

One of the things I admire most about endurance athletes is the level of physical toughness, but even more so is the extreme mental toughness that these individuals put forth. My personal goals are to set a good example for my son, my family and other people that might be supporting a friend in a race and happen to see me huffing and puffing down the road next to skinny athletes who haven’t even broken a sweat. I had convinced myself that I could never run more than a mile in my life — and I believed it. Now, every time I run I always get a boost of energy and smile when I hit the mile mark and continue to run for another 9 miles without stopping.

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