Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Path to Become an Ironman

Solving calculus equations was a hobby of mine, while swimming, cycling, and running were not. As I get ready for my Ironman race tomorrow, I find myself looking back at my journey.

Vietnam

I was not an athletic type growing up. I played the mandolin. I took classes for drawing, painting, cooking, floral arrangement, knitting & sewing. I couldn't run a mile in high school. In college, my brother got my to start going to the gym. We did some weightlifting and a little running to warmup.

Post-college, I was looking for ways to meet new people besides and decided to join the Philadelphia Falcons, a co-ed gay and lesbian soccer club in Philadelphia. The Falcons provided both athletic and social outlets for members of all ages and skill levels. I was far from being a good player, but I felt accepted as part of the group as we traveled to compete at the local as well as regional LGBT tournaments. I enjoyed hanging out with teammates as well as players from other teams.

Stefan Walter Anh

DC Philly United @ Chicago Gay Games

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I was looking to improve my soccer game after playing for a few years, and decided that I needed to work on my running for speed & endurance. I gave myself one or two running workouts each week between soccer practices.

At the age of 30, with encouragement of my work colleagues, I ran my first 5k and almost died! I thew up, my legs cramped, and needed help to get back home. I kept on running and ran my first marathon later in the same year with encouragement from one of the most wonderful people I met while running, Betsy, who started running marathons AFTER she turned 50 years old.

It took about 8 years for me to go from a 5:00 marathon to a Boston Marathon qualified finish time time of 3:08. I documented my marathon progress in this blog post.

Garden Spot Village Marathon 2013

When Pigs Fly

Philadelphia Marathon 2004

Two years into my running career, I met some runners who were also swimmers & bicyclists. They were training for the  Philadelphia Triathlon! I came out to watch the race (and the tan, lean, hard bodies). I decided at the race that I wanted to do the Philadelphia Triathlon the following year, and started to set a plan to get there.

I got on Craig's List and bought an old road bike for $100. I knew how to ride a bike, so I wasn't worried about this discipline. I worried about swimming. I took some swimming lessons but never really swam outside of those classes. I was ok with breaststroke but had trouble with the front crawl (freestyle). Luckily, I knew the head coach of the Philadelphia Fins Aquatics Club at the time, and he encouraged me to join the Fins.

Philly Masters

Learning to swim was not easy for me. I was ok with 25 yards from one end of the pool to the other. I had to take about 30 seconds before swimming back. I blogged about my early days with the Fins.

It was a big accomplishment for me to complete the Philadelphia Triathlon Olympic distance the following year as my parents and cousin Ro were there to cheer me on.

Between 2007 & 2011, I continued to participate in triathlon races. I never worried about my time as I was happy to finish. I brought a triathlon bike but was afraid to use it after a minor crash.

Swim Bike Run

During this time, I met many Fins swimmers who were training and completing Ironman triathlon races. I was fascinated with their training regimen but never thought that the Ironman distance would be something I could do myself. My perspective changed when I met a new Fins swimmer named Ryan Tarrant. Ryan joined the Fins to training for his second attempt at Ironman Lake Placid. His first attempt the previous year ended in an ambulance trip during the bike course. As I talked to Ryan, I got more excited about triathlon again. Ryan went on to complete his Ironman in his 2nd attempt at Lake Placid. I trained for the 2012 triathlon season and started to be more aware of when I finished vs. guys in my age group.

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On Saturday May 19, 2012, I had a new goal: to complete an Ironman race before turning 40. I told my partner Dan of my goal, and he was very supportive.

On Monday July 23, 2013, I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2013 online.

I started taking spinning classes and regularly joined the weekly Shop Ride sponsored by my local bike shop, Breakaway Bikes.

I completed my first half distance triathlon in September. I swam ok, I biked well, but I struggled in the last 6 miles of the run.

My goal in the offseason was to condition myself so that I would run strong off the bike. I kept on running, focusing on many running drills. I read a few books on triathlon training. I started taking RPM classes offered by Breakaway Bikes. I followed a strict training schedule from December 1, 2012 leading up to Ironman Lake Placid on July 28, 2013.

A little bruise can't keep me down

Lake Placid peak training weekend

Training for the Ironman was easy since I decided that it was my most important goal. Out were the happy hours and the weekend brunches. In were twice daily workouts during the week & day-long workouts on weekends. My boss at work was supportive of my Ironman training so I was able to have some flexible work to fit in all my workouts. Dan had dinner by himself 5 days a week while I was out swimming, cycling, or running.

Untitled

Ryan also signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2013, so did his brother Steven. The three of us had the same racing schedule leading up to #IMLP. Steven joined the Fins and soon Steven & I became training buddies. Ryan connected me to the Breakaway Racing Team, a Philadelphia based triathlon club. I joined Breakaway and met many similar-minded athletes, many of whom regularly won age-group awards. I also became friendly with many members of Philadelphia's other triathlon club, T3, since we shared some connections with either the Fins or Breakaway. I enjoyed being in this competitive & supportive environment which helped me to stay on course with my intense workouts.

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At work, one of my colleagues is also training for his first Ironman, and it's also #IMLP. Frank & I discussed our workouts during coffee breaks and helped each other to focus on the race.

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And then then was Adam Heiser @ADHinTheLab. I briefly met him during the Poconos Marathon in May 2012. I ran with him for about a mile then couldn't hold my pace. Adam went on to quality for Boston Marathon, while I felt apart in that race. I found his race report through a retweet, felt moved by his story, and congratulated him via Twitter. Adam was also training for his first Ironman. We kept in touch during my Philly Marathon training & race.


We compared our training workouts, our progress and our struggle. My friendship with Adam grew stronger when he came to Philly for a business trip, and we met up for some workouts & breakfast. On my road to become an Ironman, Adam is my biggest cheerleader outside of my family & my Breakaway teammates. I am grateful for his support, and I hope to keep a lifelong friendship with him.

Lake Placid peak training weekend

My training is done. I'm ready for my race. I have a goal time in mind and have trained well to reach that goal. No matter what happens tomorrow, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to train for this race. It has been fun and challenging. I have pushed my limits. I struggled and I pushed through. I have learned many lessons for racing and for life. I have met many wonderful people whom I will think of during my race.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Walter said...

Ahn, you're amazing! I so respect all the focus and superman effort you put in every day. Have fun and enjoy tomorrow. You'll have lots of friends cheering you on during the courses whether we're there on the side of the road or not. Much love.-,Walter

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Ahn, you got inmediately my attention with such a headline. I have so much respect for you ... Good luck!

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