Two months ago, a letter arrived in the mail, It began “Dear Terry, I want to thank you for helping me to achieve one of my dreams.” and went on to tell a memorable–and cautionary–story of a decades-long pursuit of athletic dreams. I asked Thomas Lyden, who sent it, for permission to publish excerpts from it as a guest post. Here it is.
In 1980, at age 18, I watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports coverage of the Hawaii Ironman, the first time that event was on TV. I wasn’t a swimmer, cyclist, or runner, but I thought “It would be neat to do that some day.”
As a youngster, I rode all over town on a hand-me-down bicycle. In high school I thought about going out for cross country team, but never did. And I’d been a diver on the swimming team, but quit after sophomore year.
In my late 20s, in 1991, married with our first (of three) daughters, I bought my first pair of running shoes and a racing bike, and started swimming, teaching myself freestyle with the aid of library books. I entered a ‘sprint’ triathlon in Delaware, Ohio.
My age group was the last to start. It began to rain during the run and the volunteers were packing up the course as I struggled to the finish line. I thought I was the last to finish, but later learned I’d finished 15th out of 17 in my age group.
As I drove home I told myself I’d keep doing triathlons until I earned a ‘podium’ finish–1st, 2nd or 3rd in my age group.
In the late 1990’s I stopped training, while pursuing an MBA, picking it back up after my studies were complete. About this time, a co-worker gave me a copy of the book Total Immersion. This book helped me to improve my swim stroke. But I hated how long it took to get from one end of the pool to the other while doing drills. Everyone else was swimming laps while I was trying to “press my buoy.”
In the early 2000s, I entered the Columbus [Ohio] Marathon. Six weeks from race day, I’d already had enough. With all the mileage I was doing, running just wasn’t fun anymore.
On my final long run, a 20-miler, I returned home literally hurting from head to toe. I had a headache, my neck was chafed, my hips and knees hurt, and my toenails had turned black and blue. I was done. If I couldn’t run a marathon—without swimming and biking—doing an Ironman seemed far out of reach.
I decided to lower my sights to completing a half-Ironman. In the summer of 2004, without a training plan, just my own idea of combining swimming, biking and running, I trained for a half Ironman.
I took a few swim lessons at the YMCA, biked hard, and assumed the run would take care of itself. In retrospect, my 6:10 finish wasn’t bad. A half Ironman is a worthy accomplishment. It wasn’t, however, an Ironman.
One day in 2005 I bumped into a former neighbor at the YMCA. He commented he’d just finished a marathon. I thought, to myself “How could this guy ever finish a marathon?” He was built like a fire plug, short, stocky, and when I saw him running through the neighborhood, he just plodded along. I said to myself, then and there, “I’m going to run a marathon.”
In 2006 I finished the Cincinnati Flying Pig marathon in 3 hours, 28 minutes and 56 seconds. Had I been six months older–in the 45-49 age bracket–my time would have qualified me for the Boston Marathon. The dream of completing an Ironman was now within reach.
þ Run a marathon
A few months later, I got a new boss at work. His demands made my life miserable and left no time for physical activity, which I’d always loved to the point of obsession. Eighteen months later I left that position and resumed training, with a goal of completing a half Ironman in 2009. If I did well, I’d consider a full Ironman in 2010.
While training for the half Ironman , I attended a Student Leadership Conference in Orlando. At the conference, Dr. Jay Strack talked about the Mediocre Inn in the French Alps. Many climbers set out for the peak but when they reach the half-way point they stop and go into the inn (mediocre means “halfway” in French). While inside, they get warm and comfortable while resting. As a result, they turn around and descend back down the slope, never to reach the peak.
After listening to Dr. Strack, I decided I wasn’t going to get comfortable and satisfied with another half Ironman. Upon returning from Florida, I registered for a full Ironman in 2010.
It was time to get serious about swimming. I took some lessons at the YMCA but it wasn’t until I really started to study Total Immersion DVD’s, that my stroke started to become more efficient, and effortless.
Training for an Ironman is hard. Early in the season, I was out biking when there was still snow on the ground. Cold, dark, and rainy mornings give way to hot, long, and dry afternoons. By August, I started to have doubts about my ability to finish. Then I thought back to a family vacation we took when I was 12.
Throughout my childhood, I heard about the Empire State Building and how for years it was the world’s tallest building. A few years before our vacation, the World Trade Center was built and replaced it as tallest building. On our trip to New York City, our parents gave us the choice of going to either the top of the Empire State Building or the World Trade Center.
We picked the Empire State Building. I distinctly remember thinking “I can always come back and go to the top of the World Trade Center.” But I didn’t return to NY until 2005. I again went to the top of the Empire State Building, but there was no longer a World Trade Center. I never had the chance to go back nor to the top. I remembered that “never had the chance” as I pushed towards the end of my training.
On September 12, 2010 I fulfilled a 30-year dream of completing an Ironman Triathlon, finishing the Rev 3 event in Sandusky OH in 12 hours and 59 minutes.
þ Complete an Ironman Triathlon
At this point, I decided all future athletic endeavors would be “just for fun.” But for a Type A obsessive “just for fun” is hard. I still had the dream of standing on a podium.
By the summer of 2011 I was in the best shape of my life. I was lifting weights, swimming, biking, and running. On July 2nd I biked 50+ miles. On July 3rd I ran 8 miles in one of my fastest times ever. On July 4 I planned to go for a 60-70 mile bike ride.
Instead, I woke up in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic sticking a needle in my arm. “Mr. Lyden, hold still, I need to start an IV. You’ve had a seizure and we need to take you to the hospital.” I’d had a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy.
Four weeks later, it was all I could do to jog easily for two miles . Yet, I was undeterred. I continued to train. In my next marathon, I wanted to qualify for Boston.
On May 6, 2012 I finished the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in 3 hours, 25 minutes and 6 seconds. I finished 11th of 238 in my age group and qualified for Boston.
þ Qualify for the Boston Marathon
I’d still not finished a triathlon “on the podium.” If I competed in a lot of races I might have accomplished this by now. I still had a life to live and when I train for a race, I want the race to be memorable.
Through all this training I swam only freestyle. I thought it was time to learn other strokes. I ordered TI videos for Backstroke, Breaststroke, and BetterFly. I started with Backstroke and set my sights on another half Ironman in 2013.
The podium finish was not to be. I finished 6th of 11 in my age group in HFP Racing’s Deer Creek (Ohio) Fall Challenge. Although my finishing time was the fastest of my three half Ironman races, the 2nd fastest run time in my age group could not overcome a slow bike split.
I’m not one to let a dream die easily. In 2016 I’d move into the 55-59 age bracket. How many competitors could there be? I could say I kept at it while others gave up competing. Wouldn’t that be something? Fifty-five years old, completing an Ironman, and “Standing on the Podium.”
I committed more fully to improving my swimming, for the first time hiring a TI Coach, Leah Nyikes, to film and analyze my stroke and work with me on weak points. I bought a new racing bike and worked with Ohio State Sports Medicine and Rehab to analyze my running stride and develop core exercises to improve it.
I trained. I had doubts. I trained. More doubts. My swim times were slower than in 2010, but my biking speed increased and my run times were far faster than 2010. I pushed and pushed and pushed.
Within seconds of crossing the finish line of the Rev 3 Sandusky race (Ironman distance), my daughter called out, “Dad, you’re 2nd out of 9.” Eleven hours and 54 minutes earlier in the day I had set out for the podium. I made it.
þ Finish a triathlon “On the Podium”
I was elated. I’d achieved every dream. I would now “Stand on the Podium” in an Ironman.
After the race, I wasn’t feeling well. I went to the medical tent. I was dehydrated. They put two liters of fluids in me. The doctor ran an EKG. The results appeared abnormal. He suggested I go to the emergency room.
With lights and sirens I was transported to the local hospital. I spent the night in the ER. My family “stood on the podium” the next day at the awards ceremony while I lay in the hospital.
The test results indicated I’d damaged my heart. The cardiologists said “let this be a warning.” I’m done. I’ve run a marathon, qualified for Boston, completed an Ironman, and finished a triathlon standing on the podium. Dreams Never Die. Thanks to your help, I’ve achieved mine.
Postscript: After reading Tom’s letter I suggested to him that he could still pursue meaningful goals in a healthy manner: Return to the Different Strokes and achieve mastery . . . and ease.