Reached a few key fitness goals today – 2,000 miles bicycle, 500 running, 5 swimming. I didn’t start the year with those goals at all. In mid-April my daily goal was simply to live one more day.
The year started out like many years. I had set a few business goals but unlike years past, this year I had also committed to improve my fitness level. I had been diagnosed as diabetic in the fall of 2016 and had decided that in 2017 I was going to improve my diet and do some exercise so that I could lower my blood glucose levels. I had started running with Kay a bit, but nothing serious. Three miles was a LONG run for me. In fact, I couldn’t even run three miles. It was more like run a half mile, walk a quarter, run a half, walk a quarter, make it to three miles and I was done for the day.
In mid-February I had a second heart attack. That was scary. Real scary. I very clearly remember laying it bed, my chest in excruciating pain, Kay was on the phone to 911, tears in her eyes and a frightened look on her face, and we were both hoping paramedics arrived before I died. I wasn’t sure they were going to make it in time and thought “OK, so this is how it ends, the girl I love with all my heart crying on the phone and me in severe pain and I couldn’t even kiss her goodby.”
Luckily God had other plans for me and the paramedics arrived just in time. I was rushed to the hospital, the cardiologist ran a tube in my arm to my heart, put in another stent, and I felt much, much better. In fact the next day I was walking all over the hospital trying to get some exercise. I was determined to get better fast and even wore blisters in my feet from walking in hospital socks throughout the hospital.
It wasn’t until April when I saw my cardiologist at the OKC Indian Clinic that I discovered the gravity of the situation. He didn’t pull any punches. None. He said “You have very serious cardiac disease. You are lucky to be alive. Most people don’t survive their first blood clot, and you have survived two serious ones. Your odds are not good. It is good that you are exercising, it is good that you are eating better, it is good that you are taking your medicine. We are doing everything we can for you. All I can tell you to do is more of each of those – more exercise, eat better, and don’t miss taking your meds. And make sure you are right with your God, because you might be seeing him really soon.”
Damn. That scared me. A lot.
Basically he told me I was probably going to die soon, and the only thing I could do about it was exercise more, eat better, and be ready to die at any moment.
But I wasn’t ready to go yet. I wasn’t ready to leave the girl I have loved my entire adult life, and the family we have built together.
So after my scary meeting with my cardiologist in mid-April I started working out like a madman with my primary goal of living one more day. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have another day and my cardiologist wasn’t too sure either. My singular focus was to work out so hard that I could survive another day, and be very, very careful what I ate so I didn’t sabotage all my hard work. I started tracking my daily food intake using Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal app, which really helped. I could count the calories I was consuming, and use my Apple Watch to track the calories I was burning. My weight started dropping fast, 2-3 lbs per week.
All summer I would wake up each morning and think “whew made it through another night, gotta go work out like crazy again today so hopefully I can make it to the next day.” I was really scared that any day could be my last.
By late summer I started to actually enjoy my workouts and especially the running. Never thought I would ever say that. I got up to running 6-8 miles per session without walking – a big difference from barely walk/running three miles at the first of the year. However, about that time I came down with plantar fasciitis and that slowed things way way down. It became very really painful to run. I would do it anyway but could barely walk for two days after my run. I was lifting weights and working out ever single day, but the running was really difficult at that time.
I had always loved bicycling and had been riding my bike off and on for an alternative form of exercise, but the plantar fasciitis forced me onto the bike even more. As I watched my progress on Strava I began to think “hey, I could hit 1,500 miles on the bicycle this year”. So I plugged that into my Strava goals and watched as I progressed pretty quickly to that number. The cycling was great during the summer but it took a lot more time to burn the same calories when compared to running, and I knew I still needed some other way to get exercise.
So late September I decided to start swimming. We have this fantastic swimming pool at our local YMCA where I run and I figured I would start swimming again. I was a passable swimmer when I was 20 years old, but hadn’t done any real swimming since the early 1980’s. I started going to the YMCA pool and quickly figured out I really, really sucked at swimming. Bad. I was a horrible swimmer. I could barely make it one length of the pool – 25 meters. Out and back was a herculean effort. I started watching some Youtube videos, bought a swim snorkel, and spent all of September and October trying to relearn how to swim. But I still sucked. I was horrible. I couldn’t get my breathing right, I would almost panic by the time I made one length of the pool, and it was really hard. A long, long swim for me was 200 meters – 8 trips across the pool.
About that time my heel started getting better, I was back to running again, I was really enjoying the bicycling, and people started asking me about doing a triathlon. Me? A triathlon? Swim, bike and run. I could see myself doing the swimming and biking on short triathlons, but the swimming? That seemed like an insurmountable challenge. How in the hell was I ever going to swim even a half mile – 800 meters – the shortest distance for what is called a “sprint triathlon”? For those who are not familiar with triathlons, there are a lot of different distances that can be done, kind of like running. A sprint triathlon is typically around 800 meters (half mile) swim, 5K or 3 mile run, and 12 mile bicycle ride. A half triathlon is usually a 1 mile swim, a half marathon 13.1 miles, and around a 52 mile bicycle ride. A full Ironman triathlon is a 2 mile swim, a full marathon, and typically a 100+ mile bicycle ride. Dang.
I penciled in a short sprint triathlon at Lake Thunderbird for late October, but as that date got closer I knew there was absolutely no way in hell I was going to be able to swim a half mile in open water. No way.
That was when I decided the only way I was going to figure out this swimming was to get some swim lessons. I signed up for advanced lessons at the YMCA and started going 2 nights per week. It was hard going but after 3 weeks I felt much more confident in the water and had basically figured out the stroke I needed and how to relax in the water. I practiced regularly before and after the 30-minute lessons and soon was doing 400 to 600 meter sessions. It was hard but I was able to get them done. I could finally see myself completing a sprint triathlon.
This entire time I had been tracking my rides, runs and swims in Strava using an app on my iPhone and iWatch. I am a numbers-type person and really enjoyed tracking my progress. As the year end approached – mid-November by then, I passed my 1,500 mile cycling goal on Strava and started looking at my numbers and thought “Humm, I think I can hit 2,000 miles cycling, 500 running and 5 miles swimming before the end of the year.” I was going to have to push to reach those numbers, so I really started digging in and pushing hard. By mid-December it was clear I was going to make my running goals, since my heel felt great and I was cranking out 5 mile daily runs pretty easily. And the swimming was a pretty low goal so I felt I could hit that with a little effort, but I was still about 200 short of my cycling goal and the weather was getting cold. So I focused on indoor cycling, which is boring and hard, but is a great way to burn calories really quick. The week before Christmas I did 130 miles indoor cycling and hit my 2,000 mile mark a day before the YMCA closes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Today I got back in the gym and finished up my running and swimming, finally hitting 2010 miles on a bicycle, 502 miles running, and 5 miles swimming – all since mid-April. Felt good.
The nice thing is that now I don’t think about dying every single day. It is always in the back of my head, but doesn’t dominate my daily thoughts. I now enjoy all the exercise and just can’t imagine a day without doing some type of strenuous physical activity and working up a good sweat. I plan to keep cranking at the YMCA this week and figure out my goals for next year. A couple of goals come to mind – ride a century – 100 miles in a day, and to do some type of triathlon.
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