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July 16th, 2010
10:14 AM ET

Traveling the road to the NYC triathlon

Outside my window, I can still see the cracks in the wall of the Port-au-Prince airport. I am sitting on the Tarmac, my plane getting ready to taxi to the runway for takeoff. I am headed back to the states - to JFK International Airport. Over the past couple weeks I have been in the Gulf, covering the oil spill and now the six-month mark of the earthquake in Haiti.

It is notable, because when I first started training for the Nautica NYC triathlon, it happened to be on the day of this earthquake. Earlier that day, Jan 12, 2010, I had met with the Fit Nation team in its entirety for the first time. We were all a little nervous as we started our routines. However, I think we all took comfort that six months lay ahead of us, allowing us plenty of time to prepare. Of course, within 12 hours of that meeting, I was on my way to Haiti, where I would spend the next several weeks. And, now again six months later, just a couple days before the triathlon, I am in Haiti once again.

Over the last six months, I have traveled a lot, spent a lot of time helping take care of our three daughters (all under the age of 5), and worked a couple of jobs. In short, I am probably like a lot of people reading this blog. Busy. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I would’ve liked to exercise, and there were extensive gaps between some of my long-distance roadwork training.

Still, I am feeling pretty good going into this weekend. On July 18, I will complete my first triathlon and, at the age of 40, I am in as good shape as when I was in my 20s. My weight is about the same as when I graduated from college, and I can swim, bike and run with roughly the same endurance. Getting to this place, despite the demands of life, requires some creative thinking, some real diligence and a deep desire.

First of all, given my busy schedule, I needed to have a long discussion with my wife. Family time is at a premium, and now my training would take me away even more – often hours at a time on the weekends. We agreed that I would incorporate the kids as much as possible into my training – all of us going to a park by a lake or river, allowing me to get an open-water swim - or pushing one of them in a jogging stroller for some of my runs. I also got a trainer for my bike and stuck it in the living room. I have read them books – them – sitting on the couch, me -burning miles on my bike. Overall, my wife thought it was good for the kids to see their dad place such a premium on exercise.

In terms of diet, I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t going to make much progress in dropping some accumulated pounds unless I focused on this. No matter how many miles I knocked off, all the calories lost would be put right back on with that unnecessary bowl of ice cream. I needed to eliminate some of my vices, like ice cream, from the house. I did so immediately. I also bought into the idea that we should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a peasant.” Studies have shown if you eat a bigger breakfast, you will most  likely eat fewer calories throughout the day. And, finally, I started practicing something called hara hachi bu. It is the idea that you should push your plate away when you are roughly 70 percent full, and never stuff yourself. I have been pretty good about that one. While I will nibble on all sorts of different foods, over the last six months, I can’t think of an instance where I overate, or felt stuffed.

Finally, there is the exercise itself. I spent some of the early part of the year really focusing on the basics. I spent time in the gym doing a triathlon workout that Laura Cozik, our Fit Nation trainer, showed me. It helped focus on some of the muscle groups I would use the most during the swim, bike and run. I put a simple pull-up bar in my office, which I used to exercise my upper body and to also work through hard-to-solve problems. I planned out my long roadwork ahead of time, focusing a great deal on my eating and drinking during the training itself. I spent a fair amount of time getting used to the transitions between swim and bike, and mainly between bike and run. Your legs feel like jelly getting off the bike, and I have a found a quick stretch helps get you ready for the next stage.

Most of all, I have been consistent. Despite the busy schedule and the unpredictable demands of personal and professional life, I have tried to break a sweat every day. I have cheated on my diet a few times, but not very often, and I really haven’t missed the sweets very much at all. On the road, I will often wake up early to explore a new city with a jog or use a jump rope in my hotel room to build core, balance and endurance.

Truth is, I had some real doubts along the way. Talking to other new triathletes, I think we all do at some point. And, at the start of the race, there will some of that same nervousness I had six months ago, but I am ready. July 18th. 641a. Wish me luck as I jump into the Hudson River.


soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Nirav Shah

    Sanjay,

    Good luck! I am a marathoner so i understand what it takes to train and the amount of endurance required. Go makes CNN, viewers, fellow athletes, your team and most importantly, your wife and kids proud!

    July 17, 2010 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jack Waddick

    Dr. Gupta-

    Good job.

    It sounds like you are ready.

    Enjoy the race and be safe.

    July 17, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. R Daly

    Good luck on your first triathlon. It is a great feeling when you have completed it!

    Here is some of the best advice I got for doing triathlons. When you have finished setting up your transition area on race day, walk over to the swim entrance and walk to your area. Do the same thing with the bike entrance. Its amazing how different the areas look when you come in from a different direction.

    Also, if its a hot day, freeze your water bottles the night before and, if possible, take a small cooler in to keep them cold before you put them on your bike.

    Have fun!

    July 17, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Brent

    Good luck Sanjay! I was in my mid-40's when I did my first Olympic Triathlon. It was the best thing I have ever done and I have been doing it ever since for the last 5 years. Triathlons are the fountain of youth! And, lots of fun.

    July 17, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sean

    Best of luck to you. I did a triathlon several years ago and although it was tough, the feeling of completion afterwards was unbelievable. Swim, bike, and run your heart out!!

    July 17, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Scott

    Have fun, and remember to thank the volunteers for their efforts! We truly couldn't compete in these events without their support...

    July 18, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Maralene

    Doc...I'm nearing 64 and have been frustrated with doing the exercise I once did with biking and walking. I have a spur between the split of achilles tendon at the base of my foot above the heel... my foot doc says it is a brittle achilles especially when it inflames from the biking/walking...I used to bike up to 5 miles and walk at least 3 per day... what can I do for alternative to get good exercise in...also taking a med that causes weight gain...

    July 18, 2010 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Barb

    Dr.,
    I was in your group Sunday as part of a relay team raising money an awareness for paul's posse and amyloidosis reseach. I was the swimmer, thinking I could never run 10k. It was encouraging chatting with the CNN team. Now our biker is def. going to train for the full event next year and I am even considering it. Well done to you and your team, well done to Paul's Posse and well done to all involved, racers and volunteers alike.

    July 19, 2010 at 07:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Leslie Korff

    Hi Dr. Gupta :) Leslie Korff here wife of John Korff owner of the NYC Triathlon. Did you have fun? I introduced myself as we were both ready to jump into the Hudson. My Dr is Dr. Alan Kessler from Cornell Presbytarian After the last tri he thins I had twins b/c of the Hudson. Ha,ha,ha...what a fun race..as always I think it's a blast. Most importantly do you and your team feel fit and even more importantly did you enjoy yourself. All our best from us to you and congratulations on setting an amazing example of fitness and goals for people all over the world. Big hugs from us at NYC Tri and all of your wonderful athletes. Congratualtions! What a race!

    July 20, 2010 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Wineh

    Aero bars were first used in triathlons. And the seetper seat tube angles were also first used in triathlons because you had to move forward in your seat to be comfortable in the aero position and save your legs for the run. The time trial bikes before didn't have these characteristics so in a way the tt bikes today borrowed a lot from modified road bikes used in triathlons.

    September 11, 2012 at 07:27 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.