Today’s guest blogger is Kyle “the Flying Scotsman” McEachern. When I first started coaching Kyle he was a big guy (now he looks like a stick figure) and just starting with the sport of triathlon. He started off with tons of enthusiasm (which is necessary but dangerous) and has gradually transformed himself into a solid triathlete. I asked him to share tips with other beginners who are getting started in the sport and trying to lose weight as well.
I didn’t always have a cushy chair in my living room that had, over many hours of carefully-honed lethargy, molded itself perfectly to my wider-than-acceptable form. But there I was. 226.6 pounds (oh, wifi-enabled, data-tracking scale, how I loathe/love thee…), as opposed to the 170 or so I’d been in my first couple years of college. I was out of shape, dozens of pounds overweight, and didn’t own a bike. I felt like I was going to die after stumbling through a two-mile “run” in just shy of 23 minutes and I considered it a personal accomplishment when I successfully floundered my way from one side of the pool to the other.
I decided I wanted to try this “triathlon” thing out, so I joined Coach Coady’s triathlon training group on the Google campus. The group had members who have finished multiple Ironman races, members who regularly podium in their half or full Ironman races, multiple Kona qualifiers and Boston marathon qualifiers. I couldn’t help but wonder what triathlon and coaching could do for someone like me for whom the idea of running sub 3- marathon is a HILARIOUS joke.
But I joined up and 8 months later I’m 35+ pounds lighter and prepping for my second Olympic-distance race. My goal wasn’t just to lose weight- I came into triathlon to do triathlons. But I couldn’t do one without the other following, and off the extra “me” went, slowly but surely.
Coach Coady has asked me to describe some of the keys that I think drove me from where I was to where I am now:
- Take the first step. Decide to do it. This one took the longest for me. I’d bought a book or two, I’d tried to go on a run or two, but I needed something organized. Enter Coach Coady. From the time we started, it was a 1, 2, 3 process: decide to do it, go to my first workout, and give it a try.
- Commit. Don’t let early pains and struggles get in the way of long-term goals… and don’t be embarrassed at performing at whatever level you can. My second group workout was a normal weekly hill run workout. It’s one I happen to quite enjoy now. But that first time, when asked to (not too quickly) run up a half-mile long path up the hill behind our work (everyone else was running between .75 and 1.25 mile repeats – bunny slope for me!), I had to stop halfway and start walking. I could hardly breathe, my stomach felt like it had a combination of lead and lava in it, and my muscles were telling me to lie down and take a nap. After a quarter mile. Of slow jogging. Within a week, I had come to Coach Coady and said to him, “Kevin… every muscle I knew existed, and a few I didn’t, are tight, aching, sore, any other term for ‘in pain’ you want to use. How the #*&$ do you expect me to do this on a regular basis?” His response was one that stuck with me, and was one of the keys to my committing to stick with the program: “The first month or month and a half? That’s knocking the rust off your muscles, getting them to the point where they’re ready to be trained again. Then we can get started actually training and strengthening them, and after that, that’s when you can start to get fast. I promise it doesn’t always hurt like this.” It was a comment that I had to go back to many times in those first couple of months, but in the end, as I have found tends to be the case an annoying amount of the time, he was right on target.
- Be public about it. Once you’ve told everyone you’re going to do a triathlon (especially if you pick a specific one and register), and are trying to lose 5, 10, 20, however many pounds… you’re locked in! You’ll be forced to choose between the guilt and embarrassment of quitting and then letting people know you couldn’t put out the minimum effort just to get yourself healthy and go through with your commitment that you had been so proud to tell them about – or you can drag yourself on a run or a bike ride a few times a week, and feel empowered knowing you’re adding years to your life and removing inches from your waist!
- Make it a habit. The easiest way (for me) to NOT succeed at something is to make it occasional, ad-hoc, or unstructured. My training calendar was intimidating at first, to be sure. But I decided that it was going to be a new habit, and hard as it was for a few weeks, I made sure to do every single workout that was scheduled, because I knew that within a month, it would have become just a normal part of my daily schedule, something that would feel strange to NOT do, rather than vice versa.
- Corollary to the habit rule: don’t let habits take precedence over recovery and injury prevention/treatment. I made this mistake a few times early on in my rush to do everything perfectly, and it caused me to take one step forward and about six back. A tendon was hurting in my lower leg? No problem, it’s not like doing this ONE extra hill workout instead of skipping it and icing it down will cause me to not be able to run for 3 weeks! (False.) Ankle giving me some nagging pain? Nothing like a short 5K run to knock me back into the La-Z-Boy for 10 days that I could have spent working out if I’d given it a day or two more to heal. In all I’ve done and seen in the sport, the heroes who push through their injuries are the ones who take the longest to reach their goals.
- Make it so the smart financial decision is to stick with it. A bike can be expensive. A Garmin ForeRunner watch will run you a pretty penny. Good running shoes? Yep. Heart rate monitor strap, foot pod for run cadence, power meter on the bike, indoor trainer, run and bike clothes? Sure enough, each one is another chink in the bank account armor. But they each bring a ton of value into training, they each make it easier to lace ‘em up and get out there, whether it’s doing a low-heart-rate time trial run, working on bringing running or biking cadence up to their optimal levels, tracking your power zones on the bike to find your threshold, or any number of other options. And once you’ve made the investment… what else are you going to do but make sure you get the value out of it? Have to go out there and make sure those purchases weren’t for nothing!
- Make some small changes to food habits. Sure, you could go and combine everything out there on the internet to create an ultra-diet AtkinsSouthBeachZonePaleoVeganPlantPowerCaveman system. Or you could try a few things like reducing portion sizes some, geting some more protein w/ fewer sugary sauces, moving carb intake down a bit and centering it more in the hour or so before/during/after workouts, or keeping an eye on how much unnecessary sugar is in your diet. Mostly, be cognizant of what you’re eating, and let a few small steps be compounded by quality of exercise.
- Track everything. Ours is a data-driven sport, but more than that, ours are data-driven minds. Whether it’s one of the plentiful tracking sites out there (TrainingPeaks, Strava, Garmin Connect, etc.), a Google Calendar or Google Docs spreadsheet with data filled in by days, or scratch marks made on the wall a la cartoon prisoners counting the years, some of the hardest habits to break are the ones we’re paying attention to and tracking. Jerry Seinfeld once said that he’d buy a giant year-long calendar and put it on the wall as a productivity trick. “For each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” Sometimes, when all else fails, and I *really* don’t feel like I can head out for the next workout, I can check my training log and the guilt at potentially breaking the chain is that little kick I need to get out there.
- Race. No matter how slow you think you might go. Like I said, I got into the sport to compete in the sport, and having races on the schedule, even months away, can give an extra bit of motivation that wouldn’t be there if it was just your standard gym routine. All the running, biking, and swimming training in the world doesn’t compare to going out and pushing at a race pace, seeing what you can REALLY do, wearing yourself all the way down, vomiting in the water (or… wait, is that just me? Aw, man…), and getting a finisher’s medal when you cross the line. Finished in last place? An hour behind the time you’d wanted? Who cares, you DID it, and you get this medal as proof of that when you look back and can’t believe it. When you don’t want to go out for two or three hours on the bike and would MUCH rather watch the My Fair Wedding maratho– I mean, umm, the… WORLD’S STRONGEST MAN COMPETITION MARATHON, having that medal and wanting another one from an upcoming race is a great incentive to see if you can’t earn yourself an extra watt or two of pedaling power on your next race’s bike leg.
These are some of the ways that I have found helped me personally on my quest toward being a serious triathlete. This quest involved MANY more hours of hard work than I expected, more pain than I anticipated (much of it avoidable, as mentioned above), and overall, being a lot more tired than I’d planned for. But more importantly, it was much more rewarding (and enjoyable) than I could have ever imagined. Along the way I’ve run the fastest mile of my life, run a half-marathon just for fun in training this past weekend, gotten strong enough on the bike to complete a 100-mile century ride with my dad last month, and swum a mile at 7am as just the first leg of a triathlon. Oh yeah, and I’m (as the song doesn’t-quite-say) about 82% of the man I used to be.