Mind Over Body

By Mike Wise
Saturday, October 4, 2008

In the darkness of a September morning, after months of preparation, my greatest fear still lay beneath, in the blackness below the Memorial Bridge.

"Have you ever swam in the Potomac before?" a 40-something man in a black wet suit and navy bathing cap asked.

"Not intentionally," I said.

"Don't worry, just relax. You know the mayor swims in this water? It can't be that gross."

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has swum in the Potomac, among many of his open-water swims. He has competed against the best in each of the three Nation's Triathlons, having finished in the top 10 in 2007.

As people who run municipalities go, he is in tremendous shape.

When I had the good fortune of running with the mayor and his posse of elite male and female athletes -- at some ungodly hour at an undisclosed location in the District -- he introduced me, generously, as a "budding endurance athlete."

Which roughly translates to "budding pain addict."

But I digress.

Several months ago, I finally realized long-distance running is very taxing on people with large bone structures and limited athleticism -- and that if Michael Jordan's joints and cartilage had expiration dates, so, probably, did mine.

With the notion of transitioning to more swimming and biking and less pavement pounding, I was encouraged by a female triathlete I know to sign up for my first grueling event, the Nation's, an Olympic-distance triathlon: 1,500-meter swim, 25-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run, in that order.

For attempting this stunt I blame Eunice, who asked that I not use her real name. (Her real name is Emily. She's a senior policy adviser at a Virginia NGO.) Between 50-mile bike rides and two-mile swims, Emily trained and trained and trained.


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