Give It A Try: My Journey from Couch Potato to Ironman part 1

This might be my all time photo ever taken of me, it was at the Gravenhurst Triathlon in 2009 when I was at the peak of my physical fitness that year, and perhaps in my entire life.  I had just finished the 1.5km swim of the Olympic Distance triathlon I was racing in.  I had done both races the day before as well, the Sprint Distance along with the Give it a Try race.  I had carefully planned out a schedule of races and events to test my physical endurance and to mentally prepare me for what the Ironman to come.

I had just flown out of the transition area, jumped onto my bike and this was about 500m out of transition area after climbing the first short hill of a 40km bike to come.  Your arms were still all pumped from the swim I had just finished, and I looked awesome.  The photographer, Mike Cheliak @MikeCheliak was perfectly positioned to capture this moment in time.  He also took the picture above as well.  Thanks Mike for making me look my very best.

It was about a month and a half before I would go on to complete Ironman Kentucky in August of 2009.

But let’s go back a few years shall we.

I grew up a very active child, I don’t think I ever sat still.  After all I didn’t have an iPhone back then, in fact I was fortunate to see the growth and invention of the home computer all the way to its modern counterparts.  We had to get up and turn the rotary dial on our antenna to change the channel on our TV that has maybe 10 or 11 channels… oh how far we have come.  I think of my Dad who will be 88 next year, and the changes that he has seen over his lifetime.  Brings new meaning to the word perspective.

I played t-ball, soccer and hockey into my teens.  I played volleyball and basketball, I ran on the cross country team and carried these sports into high school as well.  My childhood friends and I would ride our bikes all over Milton growing up, exploring and having adventures almost every day.  It was normal to active and outside, didn’t matter if it was summer or winter.  We were also outside, swimming in our pool during the summer months and cross country skiing in the winter.

When I moved out on my own all of that stopped, almost completely!  I became a couch potato, literally I did nothing, the restaurant I worked for, The Keg was throughout the year a football, baseball, ski/snowboard, soccer and volleyball tournaments.  I would always be an active participant, but I was also very sore afterwards.  The baseball tournament for days afterwards I would have to lift my legs into and out of my car as I had several overworked my poor tired, unused muscles.

Being a manager with The Keg also came with the bonus of free food and drink, and boy did I take advantage of it.

I gained 10 pounds a year for the first 5 years I was a manager, going from 170 to 220 pounds without anyone noticing, myself included!  After all, I didn’t do anything and when I did I hurt like hell afterwards.

It wasn’t until I became single again in late 2006 that I realized that I would need to get myself back into shape again.  By that point I ballooned to almost 240 pounds, I believe the highest I recorded in my journal was 238.  And while I never actually bought a size 38 inch waist pair of pants, all the size 36 pants I owned, well I wasn’t able to close the top button anymore, they just didn’t fit.  All cleverly disguised by my Large, then Xtra Large chef coat which hid belly and waistline.  I was horribly out of shape and didn’t have a clue as to where I should start.

July 2005 061.jpg
July 2005 ~ lying in bed, eating cake

It turns out that it would be Wal Mart.  Shopping one day I found a started weight bench with maybe 150 pounds of weights for $100, sold.  I brought it home and started working out.  It was New Year’s Eve of 2006 as I looked at myself in the mirror.  Fat, out of shape, I looked unhealthy when I look back at my photos from that period in my life.  I wanted to change, I needed to change.  I remember clearly that the motivating force was that woman would be seeing me naked again, and even I didn’t want to see me naked.  Yikes!  It was a very memorable eye opening night of my life.  I believe that night I started a journey that while at times has been bumpy, I wanted to change my life and something deep inside me just clicked.

I would quickly wear out the weight set that I had bought, and started to look for what else I may try.  I should also point out that it was also around this time that I completely changed my diet, and after years of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, KFC and an at home menu that was primarily made of pasta, hamburgers, Kraft Dinner and what ever other pre made packaged foods we would by.  I remember the Swanson Hungry Man dinner by the freezer feel, we didn’t cook anything.  I would call it barely cooking… all while I was a Kitchen Operations Manager at the Oakville Keg… Yeah let that sink in for a second…

On my own, and starting a complete lifestyle change I started cooking for myself, I started to get creative in the kitchen.  At this point I was actually learning a lot from the menu at work and all the new specials we would have on a regular basis.  I would need to prep and cook these myself in order to explain them to my staff on how to prepare them for our guests.  That is how I actually learned to cook, and understand different techniques in the kitchen and carried that back home to the benefit of me and my kids.  Having worked out a set schedule at work allowing me to have my young kids whenever I wasn’t working, and I filled the lonely hours when I didn’t have them with exercise.

After all the sport revolves around swimming, biking and running.  I grew up swimming and was very comfortable in the water, I love to ride my bike and have my entire life it would be the one thing that I never really gave up and of course, running which I hadn’t done since I last did cross country in high school and boy did I suck at it.  It was very hard to get going as I would often go out way to hard instead of building into a run which I would eventually learn.

The combination of exercise, and finally the right diet as I have and always will have a sweet tooth.  Finally cutting down on the amount of soda, pop if you will allowed to break the 200 pounds barrier and getting involved in triathlon took care of the rest.

I weighed 186 the day before I weighed in for the start of my Ironman race the day before and weighed out at 175 after I finished the race.

True story.  Today that is my weight, as I’ve been able to maintain it over the last 9 years.

July of 2007 I did my first triathlon, it was the Niagara on the Lake Give it a Try race which consisted of a 400m swim, a 10km bike ride and a 2.5km run to finish.  Simple enough, right?  Well Lake Ontario even in July is freakin cold, especially when you had been swimming indoor pools to get ready.  I recall walking down the shore to the swim start line seeing a dead fish body floating in the water along the shore, and thinking what have I gotten myself into?

My dad, sister, ex-wife #1 and my two young kids all came along for support.  The swim went as expected, with a combination or front crawl and breaststroke when I would get tired.  Coming out of the water I made a point of stopping and giving a kiss to both Emily and Megan who were loudly cheering for their Daddy.  They both would be a huge source of inspiration a few years later during my Ironman race as I wrote their names on each leg so I would have something to look down towards during those long hours on the bike.  The 10km bike on my very heavy mountain bike was challenging if only for the fact that I couldn’t generate very much speed in comparison to a modern racing bike.

More than one picture will show people twice my age were zooming past me…  alas the out and back bike course was finished, and so was I… almost.  Getting back to transition and throwing on the running shoes I had a brave face and nothing but smiles for my entire family there cheering me on.  I keep on this brave face, despite both sides killing me and as I ran out of transition turned the corner past some trees and out of eyesight I immediately stopped running and started to walk.  It would eventually turn into a run walk run walk run until I crossed the finish line in just over an hour’s time.

Driving home that day, I had never felt such a sense of accomplishment.  So powerful that it would carrying me on to some crazy things over the next years.  But you can read about that in part two.

To be continued…

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Edward Dillon

I am a single father of four amazing and completely different kids. Three girls and a baby boy ranging from 17 down to 4 years old. I'm sharing my adventures, hoping to help and inspire others to make positive changes in their lives.

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