As a 59-year-old athlete who is totally dependent on a cardiac pacemaker, I am often asked how I’ve had to modify my training and racing regimen to account for having a bad heart. The truthful answer is “not much.” Having a dependable heart rhythm is preferable to not, and it’s helped me continue as usual, even doing pretty well on the local scene. I was doing well enough that I began looking for a new challenge, so in early 2014 I approached Greg Hawkins, director of the Virginia Triathlon Series, with a simple question: In his 10 years as race director of the VTS, had anyone completed all of the races on the VTS calendar in one season? This was not a trivial question — in 2014 there were 18 races on the VTS calendar, including 11 sprints, one super-sprint, four Olympic-distance and two long-distance events. Greg rubbed his chin, smiled, and said, “no, no one ever had; are you interested in trying?” In a case of be careful what you ask, I accepted and began The Challenge. As a guy with a full-time job, a family and a better-than-average excuse to take it easy, there were many reasons to run in the opposite direction, but as most triathletes understand, we are often defined by the challenges we create for ourselves, so once committed there was no turning back.
Triathlons are not a passing interest. I started in the early days of 1983 while living in Pittsburgh, where I was a member of one of the first clubs, cleverly named the Endurefiends. That being said, The Challenge was clearly going to be difficult on many levels. There would be juggling of training volume, figuring out when to rest, following a nutrition plan, keeping up with family, maintaining a job, and of course wondering about potential cardiac issues. Oh yes, and having fun. Fun was the most important factor, as my wife would be accompanying me on the journey and doing many of the sprint races to compete in the series age group championship.
After the season-opener in late April (a small pool tri at the Smithfield, Virginia, YMCA), Hawkins’ VTS team put on an astounding six races in sixteen days, concluding with a half at Lake Anna in Spotsylvania, Virginia. It’s not clear at this point which Greg had the harder job — Hawkins or Guinther. For me, back-to-back racing on a weekend was unknown territory, and “just finishing” seemed like a pretty good plan, at least at the beginning. But once in the groove, waking up to race was like having a job you really enjoy, and race I did! This shouldn’t surprise most competitors as it’s really not in our DNA to ever hold back. The only accommodation I had to make was when doing a sprint the day after a half, where just waking up and getting out of bed was a cause to celebrate. Even then I discovered that once in the water, reflexes took over and it was truly a new day.
Staying uninjured was an overriding and compelling concern, so training and racing flowed together into a seamless stream of activity done in the company of supportive friends. There were many interesting metrics that speak to the epic nature of The Challenge.
- Number of miles driven in VA: 3,200. Virginia is blessed with amazing system of state parks and beautiful scenery.
- Hotel nights: 5.
- Gels consumed during races: 41.
- Bottles of energy drink consumed during races: 33.
- Flat tires throughout the season: 0. As an old-school guy using tubulars, this is particularly notable.
The final results exceeded expectations: 18 races, 15 podiums, 10 AG wins and series AG winner. Keeping in mind the prime objective to have fun, many special things happened during The Challenge. My wife, Ellen, and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary at one race and came home with dual age group wins (she eventually won her AG in the series). Her success really pegged the fun meter! My 58th birthday fell on the last weekend and we celebrated after the final race with cake and champagne with the special friends we made during the season.
If there’s an object lesson for me, it’s this: Seize The Day. “Carpe Diem” appears on my RoadID and it reminds me of the uncertain nature of the future. While the stars aligned in 2014, the same wasn’t true in 2015 when the series expanded to include out-of-state and concurrent races. I was also sidelined for four months due to a little pacemaker problem that required a not-so-little surgery. But look out 2016 — it’s a new season, a new AG, and I’m as good as I’ll ever be. Seize The Day.
Share Your Story
Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the triumphs and accomplishments of your fellow athletes. Submit your own story. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the story and any accompanying photos as attachments. Please include "My Story" in the subject line.