Philip Langford has had people encourage him to do a triathlon for years.
The cycling and the running portions of the three-stage endurance didn’t bother Langford, but for the longest time he couldn’t get past the fact he didn’t know how to swim, so he stayed on the sidelines.
As the years passed, Langford, who last competed in a marathon in 1995 or 1996, suffered a knee injury after falling from a ladder. He also gained weight as a result of his time away from running and his inactivity.
It wasn’t until Langford and his wife moved to Columbus last November that he paid a little more attention to the people telling him he should try doing a triathlon.
Thanks to some help from a local swimming instructor and a more active lifestyle, Langford has lost 50 pounds and is looking forward to competing in his first sprint triathlon, the third-annual Possum Town Triathlon at 7 a.m. Saturday at the boat ramps off Wilkins Wise Road in Columbus.
“It is a good feeling,” Langford said. “It’s good to know that regardless of your age you can get back into good physical condition even after not being active, like me, for 15 years. If you come back, the old juices do flow. If you’re competitive in your 20s, once you start getting back into shape that little competitive bug is still there.”
Langford and his wife moved to Mississippi from Detroit, where he was a longtime member of the Motor City Striders, a group of runners and track and field competitors. Langford said the group held marathons and races in the Detroit area, and that he was active in the organization from 1973 until the 1990s.
But Langford, 59, said he got “lazy” and coaching cross country and track and field at Grosse Pointe University Liggett School started to take up a lot of his time. He said it didn’t help matters that he fell off a ladder and hurt his knee, which became too painful for him to keep running.
Langford’s knee is better these days, but it isn’t as good as it was.
Still, he wasn’t going to let that stop him from getting back into shape and preparing for competition.
First, though, Langford had to learn to swim. That’s where Stephanie Rodriguez comes in. Beginning in April, the former Caledonia High School swimmer worked with Langford at the Columbus YMCA and gradually helped him get more comfortable in the water.
“She said, ‘I am not here to teach you not to sink. I am here to teach you how to swim,'” Langford said. “She knew my ability level and formulated a plan, and as things didn’t work out she figured out what would work.”
Langford said he had a real problem putting his head in the water, but he said Rodriguez worked with him to get over that and to start putting pieces together. He said Rodriguez had him swim intervals and that it didn’t take long for him to be able to swim a few hundred yards. Two weeks ago, Langford swam a mile.
“She is a good coach,” Langford said. “She got me going. In four months I have gone about 18 miles. I have gone from not being able to swim 15 yard to totaling 18 miles.”
Langford won’t need to swim that long. The swim is the first leg of the sprint triathlon and lasts only 600 yards. Competitors then will ride their bicycles for 17 miles and complete the day with a 3.3 mile run.
Langford hopes to complete his first triathlon in less than two hours.
He admits he still has some anxiety about getting in the water and completing the swimming portion of the triathlon. But he said he has gained confidence working with Rodriguez and talked with people who have advised him to take it slow and to relax when he is in the water.
If he can do that, Langford knows he will finish the race. After all, losing 50 pounds has dropped him to 182 pounds and has made him a new man. On Saturday, Langford will have a sense of accomplishment when he finishes the race and is able to check one more thing off his bucket list.
“You never know how your training plan is going to work out and if all three disciplines are going to mesh,” Langford said. “I have no doubt I am going to finish it. That is what my mind says. That little competitive bug is in there, so I am going to finish it. If I think about going 15 mph on the bike, my mind thinks, ‘Let’s see if I can do 18 mph. That is what makes me anxious, will my plan come together and how well will you do.”
For more information about registering to compete in the Possum Town Triathlon or to volunteer the day of the race, go to possumtowntriathlon.com
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.