Sometimes, my addled lump of grey matter gets so clogged up with random topics, it takes a while for me to clear it out, and in working towards turning my little corner of the web back into a regular stop for new and interesting (well, at the very least new) opinionated content, I stop myself before I get started. This is a common problem for many; in fact, if you’ve ever even heard about time management guru-to-many David Allen and his GTD system (standing for “Getting Things Done”), you’d know that it’s the primary problem. “Open loops,” as he calls them, that one works so hard to remember, they simply never get done. (I’m simplifying.)
And frankly, it’s just impossible for me to start talking about all the more blog-topical subjects — the new TV season, the New York Film Festival, the move from Broadway to off-Broadway of Avenue Q or even why nobody in New York should vote for the annoying and (dare-I-say hypocritical) Bill de Blasio in tomorrow’s run-off election for Public Advocate — without first discussing what I did this summer that led up to what I just did yesterday.
Some might term it classic middle-age crisis, others might just decide I suddenly became more adventurous, and plenty, I’m sure, likely think I’m crazy, but as I hit Summer 2008 which would end with the birthday propelling me into the period commonly known as “late-30s,” I got it into my head that I wanted to jump out of an airplane – and survive! So last year, eight days before I was to turn 37, two friends and I drove to eastern Long Island, took a plane up to 11,000 feet and then stepped outside.
That didn’t take much planning or preparation, but as this summer rolled around and I was decompressing from another festival, I got it into my head that I wanted to do a Triathlon. How? Why? My ADD-inspired need for variety probably played a part, but there was more to it than that.
In early 2009, I suddenly found myself fatter than ever. I’ve never been totally, svelte, but I also never considered that I would be eligible for participation on The Biggest Loser. I still didn’t come close to tipping the scales to that extreme, but when I did see the digits hit 228 one morning (I’m 5’10” and not an NFL fullback!), I was quite upset. Yet, like so many, fitness has always been one of the more difficult disciplines in my life, and when you combine that with my natural expertise at laziness, things weren’t looking good. But again, hitting my late 30s, with various ugly family histories involving heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, etc., that had to be a high number I left far in the past.
In 1999, I had a similar drive to lose a chunk of weight, and in an effort to kick myself in the ass, I registered to do the Boston-New York AIDSRide: 3 days, 275 miles, all on a bike. I knew that if I was part of a group with scheduled and structured training sessions and if I raised a bunch of money and had that guilt complex as motivator, no way would I then flake and have a bunch of people say, “Uh, Aaron, I donated $100 because of you. What do you mean you can’t do the ride?” And it worked. My training for the AIDSRide was a success. I was ready. I lost around 20 pounds, and was under 190 for the first time since high school. The ride was a big letdown, though. Hurricane Floyd passed off the coast that weekend, and the organizers for the first time in AIDSRide history (at that point) canceled part of the ride. Most of the first two days worth, in fact. They stuck us on a bus and transported us all the way to New Haven, where we spent the night on the harder-than-hard concrete floor of the New Haven Coliseum. All the Connecticut hills for which I had trained … we passed them by. The second day, we rode about 30 miles; it took under two hours. The third day, we rode into New York, finished on 7th Ave in front of Madison Square Garden, and then I went home, went to sleep, and didn’t get back on my bike for nearly two years.
And so, in early 2009, I was looking for something similar: another way to find structure in training; a huge, seemingly-ridiculous endurance event to use as a goal; an organization that would help coach me and structure my workouts; and a fundraising component so that after hitting up friends, family and acquaintances, there was no way I could even consider not training hard enough to be able to follow-through.
The first decision was the event. I had no interest in doing a marathon or even a half-marathon. It wasn’t because I didn’t think either would be difficult enough. Quite the opposite. I hate running. I hated running even more when I was making this decision in May. The idea of running 26+ miles in one day still seems utterly ludicrous to me. I remember when deciding to do the AIDSRide, I thought to myself that spending four hours or so running 26+ miles seemed far less appealing than spending three days riding nearly 300 miles on a bike.
So still feeling that way, a marathon was out. I then thought about doing a Century Ride – one day, 100 miles on a bike. There are lots of those rides, several every year right here in New York. But having trained for the AIDSRide and knowing that I could do that (even though I was ten years younger when I trained), there was something less appealing to me about it. I wanted to really challenge myself. I wanted to try to do something that seemed doable but I couldn’t fathom actually doing.
I also had some knowledge of Team in Training, and was considering using them as my cause (for a couple reasons), and they worked with marathons, century rides and triathlons. I did some reading about Triathlons and learned that they come in a variety of distances. The shortest is called a “Sprint”: between 1/3-1/2 mile swim followed by 12-15 miles on a bike and a three-to-four mile run. Next is the official “Olympic” distance: 1.5 km (0.9 mile) swim, 40 km (approx 25 miles) run and 10 km (6.2 miles) run. After that you get the half-Ironman and Ironman distances. The latter is a nearly-three mile swim, followed by 112 mile bike ride, and to cap-off things for fun, you run a full marathon. (For the record, I did not nor will I ever complete one of those.)
Most of the books I looked at talked about how one should complete a “sprint” distance first, and yet, the two triathlons with which TNT worked were both “Olympic” distances. One was the Nations Triathlon in Washington D.C. on 9/13/09; the other was the Westchester Triathlon in Rye, NY on 9/27/09. I was nervous about doing the longer distances, but a few people assured me that I had plenty of time to train. Two things encouraged me to choose Westchester: first, it meant two extra weeks to train; and second, the minimum fundraising requirement was $3,000 instead of $4,000 for Nations.
And so, I went to a TNT information session in mid-May knowing that unless they said something to truly terrify me, I was going to register and do this thing. And that began a four month journey that … will get a post of its own tomorrow ……