The Back Story: Part I

The first thought of doing a triathlon came in an email dialog with a friend of mine, Steve, who was living overseas. It was late in 2001 and in the following year both of us would turn 40. We weren't exactly looking for a way to mark this passage; rather, turning 40 was both motivator and excuse to think about something big or meaningful—or both. This was a compulsion that ran deep in Steve. I shared it, I guess, though prudence or maybe fear tended to temper my pursuits and I usually went along with the craziness rather than led it. For example, in college, Steve was in charge and I was a key player as a small cadre of us righteously dedicated to an immature but not unimpressive idea of journalism unsullied by politics broke away from the campus daily to start a competing newspaper.

Well, as we nudged 40, that glorious short-lived failure was well faded, of course, and many less ancient thrusts at Good Work That Mattered—this was what we really cherished—had likewise come and gone in the way they do in most lives.

We were both athletically inclined guys—Steve was a swimmer in high school, still swam from time to time, and loved to play pickup basketball, and I had spent much of my free time during the dozen years preceding my son's birth in 1999 mountain biking trails all over the West. Yes, that is how old I am: I began mountain biking in the days when no-suspension wasn't retro, it's just what was. Heavy steal frames, toe clips ... Ned Overend, you are still my hero! I raced a lot, in the NORBA Sport class, always cross-country, usually finishing in the upper half of my age group. There were some freaking epic rides and races along the way and I was ridiculously casual about taking on danger. I remember clocking 50 mph down a hard, deeply rutted dirt road in Riverside. Honestly, I doubt I'd crack 35 down it now. And often I'd go off into the backcountry by myself, deep into the woods, utterly unprepared for mechanical failure, injury or losing my bearings. I saw a grizzly bear in British Columbia. I came an inch or two from bouncing down a canyon wall and into the great beyond while riding a trail on a sheer precipice outside Moab. That was one of many pilgrimages to Moab. I did a hut-to-hut ride from Telluride to Moab solo. For a while, that experience loosened my grip on sanity. There were also a few 10ks and off-road duathlons along the way. I loved it all, loved challenging myself, loved competition, and being outside and feeling and appearing fit.

In September 1999, Niko was born. Looking back, it seems it should have been possible to work some exercise into the world-upending reality of having a newborn, but it didn't happen. Then three months after the blessed event we moved 400 miles and I started a new job. Having reached new heights of frazzlement, fitness disappeared. In your 20s you can get away with the Homer lifestyle, but not when you creep toward 40. I grew … not fat, exactly, but definitely soft. Instead of 172, I was 185. I couldn't fit into 33 jeans anymore. Once in a while I'd get out and run, like, three miles really slowly, which was just enough to remind me of how out of shape I was. And that was how things stood when this talk of triathlon came up.

More tomorrow.

Today's workout: Brutal intervals on the bike. Thirty seconds as hard as I could go—cranking it up toward 600 watts—followed by a minute of restful spinning. Times 15. They really weren't that bad until, like, the last … 12 of them.

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