I replaced my drive at work with endurance athletics. The interesting thing as my career took a back seat, I did better at work. My confidence was increased and my stress decreased. I became a director
during this period. But my family took a back seat.
“I have to go train," I would say to Areeg and kids. As if I was was training for the olympics.
“Come on Baba, please don't go train” they would plead. Sometimes they would win, but most of the times I would win.
I had started carrying around a little black Moleskine notebook where I would write my thoughts every morning. My concerns seemed less concerning when I would get them out of my mind. The day before the race, I would right down my entire race script and plan. I wanted to remove all thoughts and just trust in the list.
My first Ironman would see me back in Germany. Challenge Roth is the world’s biggest long-distance triathlon event. The competition starts with a 3.8 kilometers swim in the Main-Donau-Canal, followed by a 180 kilometers bike race and a marathon run of 42 kilometers.
Ironman has a 2 hour and 15-minute time limit for the swim. Challenge has a 2-hour limit for the swim. Having never studied the course or read anything about the swim, I didn’t know that if you swim in the middle of the river you are swimming against the hardest part of the current. If you swim near the banks the current is far less strong. Not surprisingly, smart triathletes swim near the banks.
I just saw an opening without many swimmers and swam. Unfortunately, this was near the center of the river. I felt like I was going backwards. Challenge Roth has a wave start, wave after wave passed me. I was working incredibly hard and going nowhere. My frustration made me work harder and slowed me down. This was not a good start to the race.
I emerged out of the water with only 4 minutes to the cut off both annoyed and relieved. I had watched many videos of ironman Hawaii where people would be heartbroken when they missed the swim cut off. Those videos played in my mind
“Transition is the 4th discipline of triathlon” Mike would tell me. "Keep it simple and don’t waste time.”
Where other triathletes would spend 6 minutes transitioning from the swim to the bike, I would spend less than three.
The bike course of Challenge Roth was legendary. The highlight of the race is solar hill. It is the closest ‘the rest of us’ can get to feeling like riding in the tour de France. Thousands of spectators crowd solar hill and urge the riders up the hill.
It was a bittersweet experience. It was my first ironman but I went alone. Crossing the finish line in roughly 13 hours all I could think of was I wish my family was there. I crossed the finish line in what was one of the biggest achievements of my life and then felt nothing.
A group of Irish athletes who were staying in my hotel spotted me looking pathetic and yelled at me, “hey fella, you’re with us!”
We binged on pizza. This group of jolly Irish people taught me how to enjoy finishing a race.
The next morning I hobbled around the ancient city of Nuremberg and recorded my thoughts.
The following year, I made to three major adjustments that made ironman Austria a much more enjoyable and faster experience. I shaved off 75 minutes off my time.
I decided never to feel like that again in the water. I had learned how to swim; I was determined to learn how to swim faster.
I asked google: “best swim coach in London”
One of the top results, was swim for tri and Dan Bullock. Lucky for me he had a one-day swim camp coming up in east London. I immediately signed up. The day was a combination of drills and speed work.
Dan was not actually coaching that day; he just says in the stands watching while another swim for tri coach walked us through the day.
I struggled in the slow lane. I was the slowest person there. I was lean and in the best shape of my life, yet little old ladies would glide past me as I pushed as hard as I can do.
After the class, I walked over to Dan.
“he Dan the man. did you watch me swim?” I told him.
“Yup” he said
“What am I doing wrong?” I asked
“Everything” He didn't flinch.
“Can you help me?” I pleaded.
“I am not taking on any more clients at the moment” but I can suggest someone.
“No, it has to be you or no one else.”
He didn’t agree.
A few days later I called the swim for tri number and spoke to his sister Keeley.
“Tell Dan that we belong together” I said jokingly.
“Is that the American guy, if so, tell him I will coach him” I heard him tell her. Dan had relented.
I would meet Dan twice a week and we would do different drills designed to increase my efficiency in the water. He tried a number of different drills. He tied my legs together, made me swim with golf balls in my hand, one arm drills.
He also taught me something that I would always use before any triathlon, a short routine to warm up my shoulders before getting into the water. This routine was priceless.
One day while at tooting bec Lido in London, an outdoor 100-meter pool, it all clicked, I started to glide. All the hours in the pool alone, with Stephani and now with Dan had paid off in a moment. I was flying in the water.
“This is what I live for, these moments”
Dan helped me shave 40 minutes off of my swim in Ironman Austria. Dan IS the man.
During this time, I read Chris “macca” McCormack book. I didn’t remember much from the book, but I did take away one thing: coke and water on the run. I hated gels, but everyone used them. I tried them all: powerade, Gu, shot. They all made me want to gag. Coke and water on the run was magic.
The last major change I made was bring Yusuf with me. Having him was a game changer, we hung out, we ate ice cream, we rode segways & he crossed the finish line with me.
Despite two punctures, I crossed the finish line an hour and 15 minutes faster than Challenge Roth.
"Ironman Austria was the perfect way for me and baba to bond. My parents decided to send me to Austria and man were we in for a surprise! We landed in Austria and I was alive with excitement. “Baba can we do this?!” Can we do that?! I would ask. I had eaten jelly snakes on the plane. I was so hyper when we reached the Hotel that I nearly fainted! The trip was amazing! There were activities like canoeing, swimming, and ping pong.When we reached the hotel room I took a nap and when I woke up, I was energized so my dad said let's go to the docks so when we arrived we ate ice cream and went segwaying and we also rented a boat and I drove it through the bay while my dad took a nap it was really fun. Toward the end of the trip a serial killer broke loose and when I woke up one morning my pillow and blankets were covered in blood I woke up my dad and he said go wash your face because it turned out I had a nosebleed so my dad put all the blankets in the closet and we left. That is my version of the Ironman with no Ironman." Yusuf