Last race of the season

Later today, I will head out to my last race of this calendar year, a 10k in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I’ve had a goal all year to place in my age group in all of the races I have ran and this race is no different. I’ve come close to placing, but most importantly, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger each race and each month I have trained.

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During the last couple of months I have worked really hard at improving my speed and endurance on my runs.  Since The Nations Triathlon in September, I have had 28 runs for over 133 miles. I have improved my pace from 7’59” per mile in September to 7’47” per mile the past couple of weeks, with a couple of runs under 7’20” per mile. During those runs I’m averaging 4.75 miles per run.

I love looking back on my runs from this past June and see how far I’ve come.  Then I was averaging over 9’24” per mile. Now, my pace is well below 8′ per mile. Persistence and commitment has been key to that improvement.

I use the Nike Run app to track my runs and I love getting certain achievements for my screenshot_20171109-221140.pngfaster runs. Most recently, I “smashed” my 5k record by running a 5k in 22:27. If I can keep that pace for the entire 10k, I will certainly place, maybe even win the 40-45 age group.

No matter what happens on Saturday, I know I have put in the work and the effort to put me in a position to do very well. I’m going to go out there, relax and try to settle in to a nice pace from the beginning. If I feel like I have enough left in the tank during the last couple of miles, I’m going to increase my pace and fight hard to the finish. I know I have what it takes to accomplish my goal, especially if I can get my mind in the right place on Saturday morning.

Something I will probably write about on future posts is the mental aspect of race day. This year, during the triathlons especially, I realized how important a proper mental approach is to performing strong on race day.

Tomorrow, I hope to have a clear mind and a clear focus on my race strategies so I can perform well in the race.

As I continue my journey to be an Ironman, I look at this race as one to end the season on a positive note heading into winter training. I’m not much of a cold weather runner, so I will be spending most of the next few months indoors, focusing on technique and increasing my strength.

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I’m going to keep working hard, with you all by my side, to accomplish my goal of being an Ironman in 2019.

Thank you all for the positive comments from my last blog post. I feel so much love and support, not just heading into the race tomorrow, but my Ironman journey, as a whole. Your encouraging words and your small tokens for motivation are greatly appreciated.

Let’s do this.

I want to be an Ironman

“Matthew Wells, you are an Ironman.”  That’s what I want to hear in 2019 when I cross the finish line at my first Ironman Triathlon, a 140-mile endurance race, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, followed by a 26.22-mile run. Over the next two years, I have decided to embark on a journey to complete the full Ironman and I’d love to take you all with me as I plan, train, and participate in the events that will lead to the destination I have in my sights.

It’s funny how five months ago, I never would’ve said I wanted to attempt the ultimate fitness challenge of completing a full Ironman triathlon. Swimming over two miles, biking 112-miles seems very daunting, but to have to run a full marathon after those two segments, just didn’t seem like something I’d ever want to do, until now.

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I know it sounds so crazy, but over the past five months, I have gained so much confidence from my training and in my abilities, I have decided that I want to be an Ironman.

Back in May, I was just getting into a consistent training plan for sprint triathlons. Now, after months of training and participating in a couple of short-distance triathlons, I get the twitches if I go more than a day without exercising. Running five miles now is easy. Five months ago, I was struggling to run two.

I am ready for this challenge. I am ready to be an Ironman.

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This journey is going to be tough, though. There will be lots of sweat, soreness and exhaustion as I strive to achieve this goal. I will have to make some sacrifices that are going to be difficult to make. There will probably even be times when I don’t want to train and thoughts of giving up may enter my mind. But, I’m going to give it everything I have to become an Ironman.

I want to share this journey because I feel my readers, along with the support of those close to me, will keep me accountable and keep encouraging me as I strive to accomplish this difficult goal. It’s not going to be easy. I realize that going into it.

Life as a working dad is hard enough on its own, but to add more training to the already packed calendar, will be tremendously challenging. My training plan will gradually increase to ten to fifteen hours a week. Currently, I’m spending about six hours a week running, preparing for a 10k race later this month. Once I get past this upcoming race, I’ll add more variety to my training over the winter with a regimen of weight training, swimming, biking and running.

With three very active kids, a demanding job and a very blessed life to live, a flexible training schedule is a necessity.  My training plan will have to include many early morning training sessions, as well as some late evening sessions, if I’m going to accomplish my goal of becoming an Ironman in 2019.

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I look forward to this challenge and to having you all join me on this journey. You’ll be able to follow me here on my blog and across my social media channels every step of the way.

It’s going to be raw, real and fun. Push me, pull me, motivate me and encourage me. Failure is not an option.

I know I have what it takes. In 2019, I will be an Ironman!

DIY Halloween adventure with my teenager daughter

Halloween has never been a day during the year that I look forward too. I don’t like the stress of zipping around town trying to catch all the trunk-or-treat locations and the busy neighborhoods with all the other ghouls and goblins. I’m just not a fan of the early darkness with all the children in the streets, the knife-wielding adults that are too old to be walking around with a candy bag, or the kids bloody and scary horror-themed masks. I’m not as bad as Ebenezer Scrooge was when it came to Christmas, but I’ve always been fairly ho-hum when it comes to Halloween, until this year.

Now, I want to get this straight, I’m no mom-blogger that has all these fancy Pinterest-like posts to share how to make the most incredible do-it-yourself Halloween costume. In fact, I don’t have a Pinterest account or know how to make this DIY post look all official with “ingredients” and numbered steps. I’m a dad that loves hanging out with his kids and found myself having a great time with my teenage daughter, Hannah, making her “Holy Cow” Halloween costume.

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Last Friday night, while the younger kiddos were at a birthday party, Hannah and I had less than two hours to hustle from store to store finding the items she needed to put together her costume.

First, we had to get some food. Hannah and I have this propensity to get a little hangry when we need food in our bellies. She wanted orange chicken from one of our favorite Chinese restaurants. I had mixed veggies and fried rice. It was so yummy.

After dinner, we went to the Goodwill store to find some things or see what they had that may work for the costume. We walked out with a large white tee-shirt and a black tee-shirt to cut up for the cow spots. Finding nothing else that caught our eye it was time to move on. We spent $3.60 on the tee-shirts at Goodwill.

With the tee-shirts in hand, we still needed a halo and angel wings. We made a quick dash to K-mart and came up short, finding nothing that would work. We did find some wings that could have worked, but they were $20, were black and red, and didn’t feel very angelic for a holy cow. Hannah thought we could spray paint them white but we decided it wasn’t worth it and moved on. It was 7 o’clock, we had to hurry so we could pick Christopher and Julia up at 8.

Our next stop was Michael’s. Still in need of a halo and angel wings, we explored every aisle trying to find those perfect components that would work. The Christmas decorations looked promising but too expensive and nothing suited what we were looking for. Luckily, we came across the foam boards, perfect for two angel wings. We left Michael’s with tacky glue for the cow spots, a gold metal head band to support the halo and pipe cleaners to complete the halo. We spent $8.40 at Michael’s. We realized we still needed a few items to make the wings more glittery and angelic. We headed over to Walmart.

The time was 7:30, meaning only 30 minutes to finish at Walmart and get across town to pick up the kiddos. Up against the clock, it kind of felt like Hannah and I were in the Amazing Race.

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At Walmart, we found exactly what we needed and at an incredible price. We bought 15 feet of gold tinsel to line the wings and two elastic head bands to hold the wings to Hannah’s shoulders. We spent $1.90, and made it out in time to pick up Christopher and Julia by 8 o’clock.

After spending $13.90 on the components in less than two hours of running around town, it was time to put it all together.

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Hannah did most of the work, but Julia and I helped cut out spots from the black tee-shirt and glue them to the white tee-shirt. Hannah did a great job carving out wings from the foam board. She and I glued the tinsel around the edges to make them heavenly and angelic. We joined the wings together with Gorilla tape and Hannah punched holes in the wings for the elastic head bands. Hannah shredded the pipe cleaners onto the wings to add a glittery effect.

The final thing needed was the halo. Hannah used the pipe cleaners, twisting, shaping and then attaching them to the metal head band for the perfect halo.

The complete DIY shirt with cow spots, wings and a halo, to go along with black tights that Hannah already had, and we had made the perfect Holy Cow. I’m so proud of Hannah for her creativity and the time we could spend together laughing, joking, and working together to figure out how to make a Holy Cow.

For $13.90 and a incredibly fun time with my teenage daughter, I believe I may be able to buy into this Halloween stuff. Next year, I’m going to plan early and see what other creative DIY Halloween ideas we can come up with and do together.

Happy Halloween.

Transformation

Transformation, a noun, meaning “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.” When I think of transformation or to transform, I think of my childhood love for Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots in the Transformer series. I remember transforming this large action figure from a red and blue tractor trailer to a great warrior, equipped with all kinds of armor and a huge gun.  I loved that transformer and can still hear the noises I would make with my mouth as I twisted and turned the different components, trying to imitate the sounds those parts made as they moved on the “real” Optimus Prime.

Pretend transformation is easy.  Actual transformation is not.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite a while but just couldn’t decide on the best time. My dilemma has been whether I should have shared it before I turned 40, after my latest triathlon, or even wait until the end of the year.

Now’s the time; I’m feeling it.  For one, it’s been a while since my last blog post and two, I’ve had many people, friends and family, make comments about how much weight I’ve lost saying, “Dang Wells, don’t turn sideways, we may not be able to see you.”

IMG_20171004_115042-01The purpose of this post isn’t to gloat about how much weight I’ve lost or to show off my new physique.  I’m also not implying that I have become this great Optimus Prime-type warrior through my transformation. In fact, my reasoning for sharing this is quite the opposite.

I am writing about transformation because sharing my journey could possibly inspire others to seek a positive transformation themselves, whether it’s physically, emotionally or mentally.  The transformation story I’m sharing will seem to be mostly physical, but there is no hiding the fact that my emotional and mental transformation has been paramount as well.

Shortly after the first of the year, I found myself in a dark place.  It was supposed to be a new year, a time for a new start, new beginnings, a new job. Yet, there I was separated from my marriage, struggling with loneliness, probably some depression, and living in an eerily quiet apartment.  For the first time in my life, I sat at a bar with people I didn’t know, watching the Super Bowl.

A bar or casino could’ve been where I ended up most evenings after work but I knew my weaknesses and thankfully instead chose to belly up to the treadmill and the bench press machines at the gym.

Back in December, I stood on a scale that read 224.4 lbs, the most I had ever weighed.  That was an eye-opening moment for me.  Looking down, I was ashamed that I could grab a hand full of belly fat in both hands.  I didn’t really feel overweight, but I was.  I guess I just “carried it well,” as some would say.

Initiating a workout regimen was very tough, but once I started, I loved it.  It had been a while since I’d lifted weights and early on, I found it very difficult to even run a couple miles without stopping to walk.  I knew I had it in me though and I kept going, digging IMG_20170822_142405deep to stay committed.  I was determined to get back in shape, both physically and mentally.

Weeks of going to the gym and getting up early to run passed yet I still wasn’t seeing much physical improvements from the effort.  I would drag myself out of bed and kept going to the gym daily, sometimes even two and three times a day.  I would lift weights, run the trails at a nearby lake, and sometimes even go back to the lake later in the evening to walk.  My dedication and commitment was confirmed when the employees at my gym would ask, “So, will we see you here again later?”

Eventually, the exercising started getting easier. I would stay on the bike longer, lift heavier weights and run faster. Feeling stronger was great, but with all that hard work and effort, I still had that dang innertube around my waist.

By the time May rolled around I was down to 210 pounds. I was feeling good and it was then I decided to start training for triathlons again. Swimming, biking, running and lifting once, sometimes twice a day, six days a week, became the norm for me. I was thoroughly enjoying the training. My motivation to get stronger and faster kept growing like that proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, growing larger and larger with every turn.

June and July were full of early morning runs, runs that ended with incredible sunrises over Lake Norman and Lake Junaluska.  I was running longer and faster. My 5k pace had dropped from 10-minutes per mile to under 8-minutes per mile. I was mixing in long swims and bike workouts throughout each week to get ready for the Lake Lure Triathlon in North Carolina and the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, DC.

In late July, I was not only beginning to shed fat, but I was getting much faster on my runs and swimming faster than I’d ever swam before.  My weight had shrunk down to 188 pounds; I was losing weight in my sleep it seemed.  I haven’t weighed 188 pounds Photo Oct 01, 8 13 56 PMsince high school and that amount of weight loss worried me a little. I had to reevaluate my diet to ensure I was getting enough calories and carbs to fuel my training.

Ironically, a good friend had just shared some great recipes. She suggested ways to incorporate healthy carbs, like whole grain pastas and sautéed vegetables, into my diet.  I was already getting plenty of proteins, but never realized the amount of carbohydrates I needed to fuel my workouts. The shift in my diet was a huge component of my overall training plan.

The hard work and training throughout the summer paid off tremendously.  I felt very good about how I performed and my successes in the Lake Lure Triathlon and The Nation’s Triathlon, finishing 67th out of 491 racers in DC.  These were great events and I look forward to competing in them again next year.

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So, here it is, October 4th and my weight is 185.6 pounds, down 38.8 pounds since December 31, 2016.  I am at, or very close to, my “normal” weight for training and competing in triathlons.  I am so excited about continuing to train and planning my 2018 race schedule. I am ready and I feel fantastic.

I also feel great mentally and emotionally and am certain the training I put in this year has a lot to do with that transformation.

Yes, I was in a dark place earlier this year, struggling to be confident in myself and just being me, but all of that has changed and for that, I am so grateful.  I’m no longer in that dark place or scared of what the future has in store for me and my three amazing children.

I underwent a tremendous physical transformation this year, but I’m most proud of where my transformation has taken me mentally and emotionally.

I have not transformed into anyone different, I’ve just transformed into myself.

Character and Sportsmanship in Triathlon

Last Sunday at 6:35 a.m., I was prepping to race the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, DC. This would be the largest triathlon I’d ever entered. It was a beautiful morning in our nation’s capital. The sunrise over the Washington Monument was spectacular; the sky perfectly blue and clear. I was pumped up, to say the least. I had a few pre-race jitters, but I was super excited. I said to myself, “Let’s do this!”

Triathlons begin with the swim and then racers’ biking and running gear is organized and waiting in individual transition areas. The Nation’s Tri staff had a strict closing time of 6:55 a.m. At that point, everyone had to be out of the transition area and making the 100-yard walk to the start on the bank of the Potomac River.

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While there were some nerves, I felt great about the race and confident in my training. Before I started my walk out of the transition area to get a “good-luck” from my cheering section, I felt I needed to check my bike’s tire pressure.

Front tire. Check.  Back tire. Holy shit, it’s flat.

Was this really happening?

While I’ve changed a tire tube before, I’ve never done so in less than 15 minutes under such an intense time crunch. Here I am, at the Nation’s Triathlon, my back tire is flat before the race begins and I’m thinking, “All that training for nothing, race over.”

This is where the sport of triathlon separates itself from other competitions.

Sportsmanship, support, encouragement and comradery seem so paramount with this sport.  The events that unfolded during the next 15 minutes will show you why triathlons are so special.

Once I realized my back tire was flat, three of the competitors near me saw the horror on my face and quickly volunteered, jumping into action to assist me with getting the tire fixed.  Luis, Jeff and Jeff, all direct competitors in the 40-44 age group, showed a side of this sport only witnessed as a participant of triathlons. IMG_20170910_062333

Ten minutes prior to realizing I had a flat tire, we were all organizing our stuff, chatting about other races we’ve competed in, discussing the water temperature, and other normal transition area pre-race conversations.  Then suddenly, we were all hunkered over my flat tire, working on fixing this unfortunate situation with only minutes until the proverbial transition area doors slammed shut.

The weather was cool and everyone’s hands were a little numb.  Taking a tire off the rim is hard enough on its own, but when temps are frigid, your hands are cold, and the clock is ticking, it is especially difficult.

As added pressure, the announcer was counting down, over the loud speaker, every minute we had to get out of the transition area.

Luis, Jeff and Jeff could’ve easily said there was no way to get the tube out, replaced, put back on the bike and pumped up in 15 minutes or less. They could have told me I was on my own, that it was my problem, but they didn’t say these things. These guys helped a fellow competitor during a desperate time of need.  With about two minutes to spare, my tire was fixed and pressurized to 100psi.

Wow, my heart was absolutely pounding; all pre-race jitters were gone and out the window. During those 15 minutes when I would have normally been thinking about the swim or how cold the water was going to be (69 degrees), all my focus was on fixing my flat tire.  Any anxiety had disappeared very quickly.  I was ready! Somewhat in shock, IMG_20170910_065433but I was ready to get the race started.

The Nation’s Triathlon was my absolute best triathlon to date. I finished the race in 67th place overall, out of 491 racers and was 7th in my age group, out of 30.  I had personal best times in each segment of the race and finished feeling very proud of how I performed in this amazing event.

I could find tons of inspiration from many parts of the race or could easily write about the unbelievable weekend I had in DC.  My race results and memories of the entire weekend will always hold a special place in my heart, but the acts of those three men was the first thing I wanted to highlight on my blog. Luis, Jeff and Jeff, whom I’d never met before and will probably never see again, willingly gave away some of their pre-race preparation time to help me overcome the adversity of a flat tire.

The sportsmanship and character of the competitors and racers like Luis, Jeff and Jeff, is what makes triathlon so special.  Yes, the sense of accomplishment and adrenaline rush you get at the end of a race help make the sport addictive, but it’s more than that.  The support and encouragement that you feel as a triathlete, even from direct competitors, is something that can only be experienced as a participant in this great sport.

Many times, I’ll hear, “nice pace, keep it up,” or “great job, keep pushing,” as racers pass me or run alongside me during the run.  No matter how fast or slow I am, other racers and spectators are always encouraging and cheering one another along the way.

Last week, three competitors pitched in to help me in a crunch, allowing me to compete in one of the most amazing triathlons in the country.  I will never be able to repay them for their acts of kindness, but I will always remember the generosity of Luis, Jeff and Jeff.  They put me, a fellow competitor, before themselves during that integral 15 minutes before the race.

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What really inspired me was the 2nd place overall finisher was Jeff Zickus, bib number 1422.  I was bib number 1421; our bikes were right beside each other in transition.  This Jeff was one of the Jeffs that willingly helped me with my flat tire before the race and who went on to stand on the podium as the 2nd place overall male finisher. I knew I wasn’t going to win the race that morning, but I had goals set to beat my previous times.  Someone that finishes 2nd overall goes into the event knowing he can and was trying to win the race.  Jeff wanted to win, coming very close, yet he took the time, prior to the race, to help me with my tire. That’s some amazing sportsmanship right there.

For many reasons, the Nation’s Triathlon in 2017 and the weekend in DC, will always hold a special place in my memory.  Today, though, is about how the acts of complete strangers inspired me in such a great way.  I hope sharing what inspired me can also motivate someone else out there because what Luis, Jeff and Jeff did to help was beyond special.

Have a great week!

Matthew