Why I Tri? by Ben Chastain
“Why I Tri,” because I can, which is something I could not say 3 years ago! For those of you who know me, I don't fit the stereotypical mold for an endurance athlete or triathlete. I am a plus size guy that no one would expect would compete in triathlons, let alone an Ironman. I have never been an athlete and never would have imagined I would want to race in an Ironman. I Tri because I can! There have been so many times people see my race shirts and ask, YOU did a Tri!? YOU, did an Ironman!? Really??? WHY??? It used to bother me when they would assume someone like me could not complete a Tri. However, now, I don’t let it get to me, as I Tri for me and no one else!
I have always been on the huskier side. Although, I have carried my weight well and stayed active hiking and biking. In 2002, while mountain biking, I crashed my bike going downhill at a high speed. I was knocked unconscious, I just remember my friend finally coming back to check on me after he realized I was not behind him. The crash resulted in a slipped disc, which my doctor did not find, nor treat until the disc ruptured a year later. I was not able to walk for almost 6 months and gained a lot of weight. I was afraid I would not be able to return to hiking, biking, or any other type of physical activity. I was prescribed 4 different pain medications and had 3 rounds of epidurals. After months of physical therapy, I eventually started walking again with a cane. For several more months I had to walk with the cane until I became strong enough to walk on my own. At this point, physical activities were difficult, with my bad back and being severely overweight. My outdoor activities lessened and I became a true “couch potato!” My day consisted of waking up, going to work, coming home and sitting in my recliner watching TV.
The “Why I Tri” story dates back to 2009. Just sharing this story is a challenge for me, as I have always been embarrassed with how big I actually got. However, what I have been able to accomplish over the last 5+ years is exciting and I want to share my story with everyone that is willing to hear it. Hopefully, my story will help to inspire someone to get off of the couch and change their life like I did. The photo to the right is a picture of me in 2009, when I topped the scale at 470 pounds. In August 2009, our company went through a re-organization, and my position was eliminated. At this point, I had a lot of extra time on my hands while I was trying to find a new job. So I started hitting the gym, swimming and weight training. I bought a new mountain bike and began riding with my friends 2-3 days a week. My doctor recommended I try a medically supervised weight loss program. In 2010, I began the weight loss program, which started out on an 650 calorie a day diet. The program was designed to burn fat at a rapid rate, while you learn new eating habits. During that time, I was not able to do any exercise other than a 30 minute walk. Over time, the daily calorie intake increased up to 1500 calories per day. Over the next year and a half, I learned new healthy eating habits. By the end of 2011, I had lost 200 pounds.
In June 2012, I was recruited back to my old company and re-located here to Washington. My wife stayed in California for the first year, while I searched for a new home and job for her here in Washington. With no friends or family here, I decided to join the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (LLS TNT) in 2013 to raise money for a good cause and walk my first half marathon. I figured I could help a good cause, keep active, and continue my weight loss. On day 1 of training, I told the coaches “I am not a runner; I am here to just walk the ½ marathon.” Over the next few months, I found that I could run, not just walk, and I actually enjoyed it! My desire to do one half marathon, turned into two half marathons 3 weeks apart for the LLS’s TNT. During our training, I had heard a teammate (Justin Knoff) and a coach discussing triathlons. I had no idea what a tri was, or the fact there was a Sprint, Olympic, half Ironman, & Ironman. A tri sounded interesting, so I decided to challenge myself further and signed up for the Black Diamond Sprint. To the left is a photo of me crossing the finish line and the beginning of a lifelong love of Tri’s. My first year of endurance racing consisted of a 5k, 12k, 3 half marathons, and a Sprint Tri. While I still did not consider myself an endurance athlete, I had learned that I could actually get off the couch and complete endurance races. This was the beginning of “Why I Tri”, because I realized I could and really enjoyed the sport.
The following year, I decided to challenge myself further and signed up and started training for an Olympic distance tri. As the months of training progressed, a work colleague kept trying to talk me into doing the Lake Stevens half Ironman. I was still so new to endurance sports, but I decided I should step up and challenge myself again, so I registered. I reached out to Justin and asked about the Tri Team he had joined, so he put me in contact with Kathy Morrison. I joined the team, started reading the newsletters and went to the team Video Swim in Covington, where in talking with some team members, I learned many of them had coaches, who had helped them tremendously. I reached out to Kathy and Patty to ask about the coaches. Both of them recommended the same coach, as they knew he could help with both of my goals: continued weight loss and to complete my first half Ironman. I met my new coach, Josh Adams for the first time and told him of my goals and race schedule. I had really stepped it up, having registered for six half marathons (two with the LLS’s TNT), two Sprint Tri’s, an Olympic Tri, and the Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3. Yikes!!! I had found a new passion besides fishing and I was determined to become an endurance athlete. In August 2014, I completed the Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3. It was one of my highest achievements. It was a proud moment in my life that I got to share with my wife Myra, family, and friends. That night, I celebrated and considered to challenge myself again and complete a full Ironman. I had truly turned my life around and found a new passion. Over the course of my training and racing, I had become stronger, faster, and a few pounds lighter, but I was still nowhere near what I perceived to be an endurance athlete.
I took some time to rest, recover, and heal, then talked with Josh about training for Ironman Coeur d’ Alene. I was really nervous, but determined to continue this new lifestyle and level of fitness. Late 2014, my Ironman training began. I had no idea what was in store for me. As the weeks progressed, the training schedules got longer and tougher. I did not register for the IM CDA right away, giving myself an out if I did not feel I could do the race. In talking with my Josh, he asked what I was waiting for, you will be ready, you have a strong engine, and I know you will be ready and able. So that night, despite my fears, I registered for Ironman CDA. At that point, there was no backing out; I had a goal and dream, which was to become an Ironman. Over the months, I continued to become stronger and faster in all 3 disciplines and had lost another 20 pounds.
Again, I signed up for several races prior to IM CDA. Three weeks before IM CDA, I ran the San Diego Rock n Roll ½ marathon, plus another 6 training miles during race. Four days later I was out for a 10 mile training run. When I got home, I was stretching my right leg and heard a loud pop. It was sore, but not too painful. The next morning, it was swollen and had a sharp pain under my knee cap. I told Josh and we took running out of my training plan and backed my biking down to give my knee a chance to heal. It was not getting better, so I went to see a physical therapist at OPT. I told him I have two and half weeks to get strong enough to complete Ironman CDA. He checked me out and determined that the therapy could get me well enough to at least walk the marathon.
I continued training on the bike and water and skipped the running, while I was completing my physical therapy. While I still had tenderness, my knee had improved and I was ready to race at IM CDA. I had my reservations all the way up to the night before the race. However, I decided I could and would cross that finish line and hear Mike Reilly say, “Ben, YOU, ARE, AN, IRONMAN!!!” Racing in 100+ degree conditions was tough, however, I was here to get it done and cross the finish line. My gear was prepped, wetsuit on, and confidence high. I got to the beach and took it all in, it was an amazing site! Seeing 2000 athletes, thousands of spectators, my wife, our little Jazzy, and friends and fellow RTB teammates was AWESOME!
The race started and we all started to corral into the water, the race had begun. I completed the 2.4 mile swim, headed to transition and got on my bike. Around mile 30, I began cramping, so I stopped several times to stretch, get out of the sun and drink as much as I could. I eventually completed the 112 mile bike ride, but an hour slower than I anticipated. However, I still had plenty of time to run the marathon and cross the finish line in less than 17 hours. I spent extra time in T2 to rest and cool down. I finally got out on the run course and started getting closer and closer to crossing the finish line. In my mind, I thought I had until 8:30pm to get to the run cut-off (I know I read that somewhere). I was running as good as I could, but I was still cramping. With the help of Base salt and the extra fluids I consumed at each aid station, the cramps subsided and I was running again. I decided I would conserve energy on the first half of the run during the heat and run faster on the last half. Again, I thought I had until 8:30, so I took my time, BIG MISTAKE! When I rounded the corner at Special Needs, one of the volunteers told me I had 5 minutes to cross the run cut-off. I said I had 30 minutes, he told me “No, 8pm is the cut-off.” So I started running as fast as I could, and crossed the timing mat at 8:04pm, 4 minutes past the cut-off. I asked the official if I could continue, as I had plenty of energy and would make it across the finish line in 17 hours. He informed me that my race was over, I could not continue.
Being pulled off the course in CDA after spending 14 hours out in the brutal heat, completing 127.8 miles, and knowing in my heart I could have gone all the way was devastating. I made a 4 minute timing mistake, which haunted me. With the support of my wife Myra, family, friends, and teammates, I decided to sign up for Whistler at the last minute to become an Ironman. Despite my fears of the tough, hilly bike course, rain, head winds, and choppy waters, I knew in my soul, I would finish IM Canada. Everything was going well until halfway through the run course, my IT band and hamstrings were really tight, and blisters on feet were screaming. Every time something hurt, I would look down at the motivation pictures I had laminated to push through the pain and get to the finish line. The first picture was of my wife and me with our little Jazzy in front of registration at Ironman CDA. The second was of my friend Casey and his son Troy, running together the day before IM CDA.
Troy was one of my biggest supporters that day and unfortunately had to see me be pulled from the course and see me heartbroken with tears in my eyes. It made him just as sad as me and he came over and gave me a big hug. His Dad almost did not finish the race. While waiting for him to finish, after having seen what I experienced, he was crying at the finish line. Mike Reilly saw him and asked what was wrong. He told him, “my Dad might not finish and I am sad.” When Mike found out Casey was near, he ran out to get him to run a little faster to make it in on time, which he did. While I was on the fence about signing up for Whistler, I was talking with Casey and Troy asked to talk to me. He said, “Ben, you are my hero, I know you can do it.” Those pictures motivated me all day to get to the finish line, not just for me, but for every one of my friends and family members that wanted me to cross that finish line.
Despite the pain of the large blisters on my feet, I dug deep and keep pushing forward towards the finish line. Throughout the 26.2 mile run course, I kept looking at those pictures, reliving CDA and the heartbreak of my DNF and dug deep. Every mile I would see another friendly RTB face smiling and cheering me on and it kept me going. When I got within 3 miles, I kept hearing the announcer say, “You Are an Ironman!” I kept telling myself, I WILL BE AN IRONMAN! When I was close to the Village, I looked down at the photos I had on my BIB belt one last time, dug deep and ran towards the finish. After 16+ hours on course, I finally rounded the corner and saw the finish line in sight. As I ran down the final stretch, I could see all of my RTB teammates there to see me finish, it was Awesome!!! The closer I got to the finish line the louder the crowd got and hands from random stranger’s reaching out to high five me, it was an amazing feeling. Then, after 8 months of waiting, I heard, Ben, YOU, ARE, AN, IRONMAN!!! My wife Myra, friends, family, and all of you got to see that proud moment in my life!!! I had finally accomplished my goal and became an Ironman.
I do triathlons because I can and enjoy sharing my experiences with those who can't. Over the course of this journey, I have shared my training progress and race photos with friends and family on Facebook. They get to see the races and finish lines through my eyes. My journey across the many finish lines has inspired many of them to start training and racing themselves. For the last 3 years, more and more of them have begun joining us, at what has now become, our annual race at the Las Vegas Rock n Roll ½ marathon. I even inspired my father to begin training and complete his first half marathon this past June, just so he could do something I enjoy with me. I am proud to say, my wife Myra is training to complete her first half marathon in Las Vegas this November. It feels good knowing where I came from and what I have been able to accomplish over the last two years and how many others I have inspired to get out there and accomplish their own new goals.
I apologize for the long story, but this is “Why I Tri,” because I can. This former 470 pound couch potato turned his life around, started learning healthier eating habits, training to swim, bike, and run, and became an Ironman! I am truly inspired at every race when I see people like me, who are not the perceived endurance athletes, out there getting it done. Over the last 3 years, I have realized that there are no stereotypical one size fits all endurance athletes. While I still struggle to call myself an endurance athlete, I know that I am. Anyone that has the heart and determination to step up and get out there to race, no matter their body style, are athletes in my eyes. My lifelong mission moving forward into the future is to continue inspiring others to get off of the couch and try to change and improve their lives. Despite all of the challenges over the last 6 years, I challenged myself to stay tough and push through the mental and physical pain to improve my life. Not only have I changed and extended my life, I have inspired friends and family members to starting walking and running. It touches my heart when I hear from someone that I inspired them to get off of the couch and change their lives the way I did.
I do not get out there to win my age group; I get out there because I can now and enjoy the sport. I am truly blessed to have such a supportive wife, family, friends, and great RTB & TNT teams! Training with you and watching all of you race is what inspires me continue to push myself to get healthier, stronger, and faster. I may never win my age group to get to Kona, but I have a new dream and goal, which is to complete 12 Ironman races, and get a Legacy slot to Kona. This has been a long journey, which is just the beginning of a new chapter in my life! Thank you all for your support!!!
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