Twice a year, military members must show they are physically fit to perform their duties. This is accomplished by completing the physical readiness test, or PRT. Based on age, a given number of pushups and situps must be done, and a 1.5 mile run must be completed in a set time. Oddly, PRTs were a huge challenge during my time in the Navy.
In 2000, I was diagnosed with an odd autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis. As that can have a significant impact on lung capacity, a pulmonary doctor asked that I use running as a means of monitoring that area of concern. The near joy of being out of the Navy and NEVER having to complete another PRT vanished. Instead of running twice a year, I was being asked to run twice a month. I let the doctor know that running like that was quite impossible.
But I also suffer from an impaired sense of accomplishment. Simply put, I'm unable to do something (such as run) without a clear goal. The idea of running just to run struck me as idiotic. So, the 1.5 mile jogs twice a month turned into 1.5 mile runs three times a week. That quickly turned into the vague notion of someday running a marathon. Mind you, it was very vague, and "someday" was a long way off.
Then, I opened my big mouth on the first day of a new semester in college. I hinted at this goal of running a marathon. A classmate pointed out that his mom helped run the Fox Cities Marathon in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was about eight weeks away. I could run that marathon. Though still a beginner, I knew that a full marathon was out of the question. What about a half-marathon? The distance concerned me. I was running 6.5 miles three times a week, but could I run 13.1 miles in a race. I was such a beginner, I ran 13.5 miles two weeks before the race to make sure I could finish. That, of course, got big laughs from more experienced runners on race day.
After completing that first half-marathon, the idea of running 26.2 miles seemed less daunting. Someone who pretty much despises running was well on the way to becoming a marathoner. It took two years, two significant injuries, and quite a bit of taunting from a co-worker, but I did complete that Fox Cities Marathon in September of 2004. Since then, I have also completed the Green Bay and Chicago marathons. And 1.5 miles is either a warmup or a short run after 45 minutes swimming.
Six months ago, the idea of completing a triathlon became the new challenge. And it is a big challenge. The bike and run don't particularly concern me, though the idea of putting them into the same race does. The swim is another story entirely. All of my experience with swimming involved avoiding drowning. While fairly skilled at that, my ability to go from point A to point B in the water was fairly limited. Completing a 250 yard swim seemed impossible. Forget 2.4 miles. My mom helped keep my head on straight, pointing out that I didn't run 26.2 miles the first time I put on running shoes.
Though 2.4 miles still scares me, the process of getting there is clear. Lots of practice, and lots of laps at the YMCA. It's 72 laps to the mile, or 173 for 2.4 miles. If I follow the same theory as my first half-marathon, that's 180 to make sure I can complete the race. Of course, I'm a BIT smarter than that, now.
At this point, it is more difficult to see a point where I look back and say, "Why was I so concerned, it was a piece of cake." Marathons are still a huge challenge. Completing my first sprint triathlon seems within reach, but the thought of an olympic distance or half Ironman seems less so. Then again, they are just challenges to be overcome.
Like everything else, I see little point in attempting any triathlon if the Ironman isn't an end goal. And just as I questioned ever running more than one marathon, I admit that one major triathlon may be all there ever is. Then again, what we view as challenging tends to change as we progress in training. And the triathletes I've met tend to confirm Iron Bennie's comments about the romance of triathlons. Completing one seems to be the first step to a lifetime love affair.