Discovering California as an Ironman

1.10.2014

By Clark Harding

Clark Harding, Out Traveler's resident adventurer, tackles his next journey: Ironman. He didn't realize the competition would show him a new side of his adopted state.

“Why the fuck am I doing this?”

That was the question that went through my head about a bagillion times in the year after I signed up for the 2013 Tahoe Ironman. The most challenging triathlon, not only in length but in scope. I stood at the starting line at 6 a.m. on September 22 in a wetsuit, ice cracking beneath my feet, desperately trying to come up with an explanation as to why I would subject myself to 16 hours of torture: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2-mile run. Even writing about it makes my body hurt.

I’m not all that much of a Type A overachiever. “No, you’re really quite Beta,” my training partner Tia would say (and frankly, I know some men who would tell you I’m downright submissive). As I looked around at whom I was racing with — a bunch of crazy, middle-aged executives with something to prove — I realized I had. a janky old bike, hand-me-down gear, and used wetsuit. The tri-geeks clutched their pearls and screamed, “Dear God, his bike frame is ALUMINUM!”

The truth is, this whole thing started with a good ol’ dose of stereotypically gay, body dysmorphia. I mean, I’ve always kept fit, but I wanted to be in “the best shape of my life.” And with that proclamation, Tia (a TV executive, big shocker) grabbed me by the hand and laid out a schedule for what would be the most exhausting year in existence.

• Swim Tuesdays, Fridays, Sundays: Practice with West Hollywood Aquatics
• Bike Thursdays, Saturdays: Distance ride (LA Tri Club or Independent Group)
• Run Mondays, Wednesdays
• Brick (two or more exercises) Sunday (Swim, Run) Thursday (Bike, Run)
• Rest Resting the body is important for training I figured I’d always miss/skip a session at least once a week.
• Training races Malibu Triathlon, L.A. Marathon, Breathless Agony Bike Race (yes, it’s actually called that), Vineman Half Ironman. Ouch.

If was going to take this seriously, and actually put my mind to overachieving I was going to have to sacrifice something. So I gave up drinking. Cold Turkey. If only one beer affects how I wake up the next morning, and I have to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning to bike a 100 miles, there’s just no room for alcohol. Thus, for the next year, I was that loser who, when my friends would call saying, “Let’s go get drinks,” I would say, “Sorry, I got to be up in the morning so… I’m just gonna watch Good Wife and go to bed early.”

And as my distances began to get longer and longer, my absences started to get more frequent. My friends would ask, “What are you doing Sunday?”

“Ooooh, I have swim practice, then I run on Sundays.”
“Okaay…. Saturday?”
“Bike day, can’t.”
“Thursday?”
“Bike, run.”

Eventually people gave up and pronounced me dead to them. “Yeah, most of my friends know that when I’m training they won’t see me for like a year,” Tia informed me. “It’s just us now, dude.” Great.

And the occasional times that you did see me in public? I was like a fat kid eating cake. At numerous Hollywood parties where no one ate anything (naturally) the gays would stare as I hovered over the catering table, shoving my face like Cookie Monster, and talking with my mouth full at the same time.

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