2018 – The year that wasn’t

Funny how one year can contain some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of life. I know that’s cryptic, so let me explain.

Early in 2018, I lost my grandpa. In my final semester of law school, I had to lay to rest one of the greatest men I knew. My in-laws were in town for bourbon fest, and we were having a great time, when I got the call that his health had turned south. After a difficult week or so in the hospital, he passed on to be with grandma.

I’m glad I got to spend time with him while he was awake in his last days, I got to tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to me, and that I would see him again.

Then, the Carmel Marathon, which I wrote about here. If you haven’t read that yet, check it out. It’s the only race recap you’ll read from me this year. My hope was that this would be a strong start to my best tri season yet, getting into marathon shape before the season really kicked off, I expected to carry that early season fitness into the 2018 season. I was really pleased with my result, despite missing my goal time by a few minutes.

In May, I graduated from law school. Not only did I graduate, I made the Dean’s List in my final semester. A journey I began more than 3 years ago, completed. We had a fantastic celebration with family, capped off with dinner at St. Elmo’s in downtown Indy.

Shortly after graduation, I accepted a job in Denver, and started preparing to take the bar exam. I was working at the time, taking bar prep classes after work, and packing boxes after that. It was stressful, but there was a lot of excitement around making the move to Denver.

In June, on the way to Denver, our truck caught fire, and all of our possessions were destroyed. Standing beside the sum whole of your possessions as they burn is not a feeling I would wish on even my worst enemies, and emotional scars still remain as we work through this devastating loss.

Included in the destruction, were all of my bar prep materials, including notes I had taken through the first 1/2-1/3 of the course. We had to delay internet installation by a week and a half, so I had no online access to review videos to help me stay sharp. On top of this, I found myself alone (Natalie had to go back to Indy to continue working and school) in an empty apartment, in a new city.

In July, I finally took the bar exam. Two of the most stressful days you can imagine (besides watching everything you own burn), and Natalie and I took some time off to go to Chicago with friends to blow off some steam. We had a great time, but I don’t think I ever got over the concern for my test scores.

In August, I flew back to Indiana again to watch Natalie graduate with her Master’s degree. It was great to see friends and family, and to celebrate Natalie’s achievement. At the end of that weekend, we packed up Natalie’s car with the remaining possessions we had in Indiana, and drove out to Colorado together. No more would I be alone!

I’m pleased to report that there was no fire this time around. A few weeks later, I got the stellar news that I had passed the bar. I came back to Indiana recently to be sworn in, and I am a full-fledged member of the Indiana bar. I’m a real lawyer!

Things started to progress back to normal. I had Ironman Florida on the calendar on November 3, and I was training in a way that I would be able to finish, just trying to be able to put a cap on the year, finish it out on a positive note.

Then came Hurricane Michael.

Michael devastated much of the Florida panhandle, right where IMFL was to take place. There was so much destruction and heartache in that area, and I understand the pain of those affected. Ironman changed plans, and is miraculously still able to put on a race. Just, it’s going to be held 400 miles away, and a day later.

Unfortunately, those changes mean that I’m unable to race. I really had hoped to use the race to prove to myself that I can overcome disastrous circumstances, I can mentally overcome and beat the worst year of my life into submission, and turn it into the best year of my life. I wanted to be able to stand tall at the end of that race, and proudly say that I had become those things I proclaim: Drive, Grit & Determination.

And so, 2018 is the first year since 2012 that I will not have raced a single triathlon. I’ll be back in 2019, specifically at Ironman Texas in April. There are a few other races in the works that we’re looking at, and I’ll write more about those later. For now, I’m taking some time to enjoy our new surroundings here in Colorado, and trying to find some local races to jump into next season.

You’ll still see me on my trainer in the garage, out for a run on some trails, and in the pool at our new gym. I’m not stopping, and next season is going to be strong. 2018 has been challenging in so many ways, and we haven’t given up. We had every excuse, but we keep moving, keep pushing. I’m considering a new mantra for next year, and when we get back from Florida (we’re still going, we did buy plane tickets after all), I’ll provide an update on that.

Later on.

Frustration and 18.3

For those who don’t CrossFit, or for CrossFitters who have had their head in the ground, 18.3 (the 3rd workout of the 2018 CrossFit Open) looked like this:

100 Double Unders
20 Overhead squats @ 115lbs
100 Double Unders
12 Ring Muscleups
100 Double Unders
20 Dumbell snatches @ 50lbs
100 Double Unders
12 Bar Muscleups

2x – time cap 14 minutes

For most people, this workout represented an opportunity to get their first muscleup, or to string them together for the first time. When the workout was announced, I saw it as an opportunity to get my first bar muscleup. I’ve gotten ring muscleups, and was looking forward to a workout that included them.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of frustration I experienced, the exposure of a glaring weakness, and the inability to get through a workout no matter how much I willed myself through it.

The first time I did this workout, I struggled through the overhead squats. I struggled, but I worked my ass off, and I got through them and into the next 100 double unders before I hit the time cap. No muscleups. That was Friday, and scores aren’t due until Monday at 5pm PDT, which meant I had the weekend to do my run workouts, let my shoulders rest, and re-attempt on Monday to submit a new score. So, on Monday, I decided I would take another shot at 18.3 and work to get to those muscleups.

What I got instead on Monday was 90 seconds of double unders, and 12 and a half minutes of failed overhead squat after failed overhead squat.

I tried wraps, I tried racking the bar on my back to get a better set up, I tried taking deep breaths, nothing I did seemed to work. I could get the bar overhead for a few seconds, maybe enough to get a half-squat, and it would come crashing down on top of my noodle-arms. My arms and shoulders simply didn’t have the strength and coordination to keep the bar overhead long enough to squat.

If it had been back squats, no problem. If it had been front squats, no problem. Hell, just about any kind of squat other than overhead, I would have had zero problem getting through the first round. But it was overhead squats, and I can’t hold 115 lbs. over my head long enough to squat 20 times.

I dropped the bar countless times. I wanted to punch the floor, the wall, the rig. I wanted to scream, I wanted to yell. At times I even wanted to cry, to sit down defeated, and declare that I had had enough. That I was no match for the workout, and to save myself the energy of trying fruitlessly for another 5 minutes to get one more overhead squat that just wasn’t going to happen.

Here’s the thing: I knew, and everyone else in the box knew, that I wasn’t going to get through the overhead squats. Once we crossed a certain point, it was painfully evident that it just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t have the strength to complete them, plain and simple.

But, there are two victories to celebrate in this failure:

  1. I. Did. Not. Quit. Not until I was at risk of injuring myself did I drop the bar and decide not to pick it back up. I didn’t want to be trapped under the bar with a concussion because I didn’t have the good sense to stop. This happened with about 30 seconds to go, my arms wouldn’t lock out, were shaking, and could not stabilize, so I decided to live to get on to 18.4.
  2. 115 lbs. is a lot of weight (for me)! A year ago, I couldn’t get 95 lbs. over my head. I tried, and tried, and tried, but couldn’t get it overhead. Not only did I get 115 lbs. overhead, I did get through 20 squats once, and I got through about 14 the second time! I don’t know what my overhead squat one rep max is, but I know it’s at least 115 lbs., and that is a significant improvement.

These victories are a good part of what The Open is about, small victories, being better than last year, improving yourself. So in that way, I celebrate these victories. But to a certain extent, they ring hollow.

Am I happy? No. I’m pretty pissed off about this workout and my inability to complete it. That’s part of why I’m posting it here. I plan on redoing this workout in the future, and crushing the overhead squats. I have never been this frustrated or upset with a workout, and the way I deal with these feelings is by working to crush what initiated them. So whether it’s 6 months from now, 9 months from now, a year from now, I will crush this workout.

In the meantime, The Open continues, Castro continues to dole out punishment. I continue working toward the Carmel Marathon (March 31), and consider training goals for Ironman Florida in November. Crush your workouts, nail your goals, and have fun, but don’t forget the way it feels when you fail, and use it to fuel your forward motion.

Best of luck to others in The Open! Later on…

N=1

In the world of sport, we like to see absolutes. “Follow this plan to run faster! Eat this way to lose weight! Use this product to see x results in y time!” While sometimes these blanket statements can be mostly true, there’s always some element of individuality that plays a role in their effectiveness, or rather the degree of their effectiveness.

For that reason, coaching services are a popular offering in triathlon. There’s a degree of tailoring that you get which follows guidelines from the “one-size” programs while focusing on the particular needs of your body, schedule, etc. Also for that reason, forums on sites like Slowtwitch and BeginnerTriathlete contain a lot of posts saying things like “do this, don’t do that” from anonymous online persons with limited verifiable credentials (other than their own blogs… take that for what it’s worth).

Well, I’m not here to give you a “do this, don’t do that,” I’m not here to plug my coach, I’m not here to tell you not to listen to advice you get on forums (or to listen to it, either). What I’m here to tell you is to do what works for you.

Not everything works for everyone, every time. If you find something that works for you, it may not work for others. What works for others may not work for you, or may not work for you yet. Each person’s body is different, in sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, and they change over time.

To that same point, routinization can be a pathway to complacency, and thereby backsliding. Every now and then it’s good to change things up. Whether that’s a different route, a different workout format, a different workout type altogether, or just working out at a different time, the shift in routine helps stimulate the brain.

So, just because the strength workouts you did two years ago didn’t improve your bike power, doesn’t mean you should throw strength training out as a viable or valuable training tool. The willingness of the endurance community to throw strength training out in particular, is baffling to me.

The title is how all (or at least, most) experiences shared online should be viewed, including mine. N=1 is the proposition that my experience is just that: MY experience. Your results may vary. Does that take away from the benefits I’ve experienced? Absolutely not. Does it add to benefits anyone else may experience? Maybe, but probably not.

My experience is that strength training holds a lot of value to triathletes. At least, it does to me. I’ve seen a precipitous drop in my running pace, an increase in my bike power, and a decrease in my swim time. Even more, this is all at the same body weight.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have intentions of shedding a few more pounds, but that goes hand in hand with other variables and metrics of my training. If losing another 5 lbs means that I’m slower, then I’m packing it back on. For now. I also still have intentions of increasing my strength training capacity. I have deadlift goals, I have clean and jerk goals, squat goals, etc. I have pull-up goals, plank goals, thruster goals, etc.

While there’s a lot to learn from online forums, it’s not gospel. Coincidentally, neither is my blog. I’m here reporting what I’m doing, and how it works for me. So go forth and try new things, lift heavy, run far, eat keto, only cut your hair under a full moon, whatever works for you. That’s my N=1.

Off-Season?

Having an “off-season” is a misguided concept. It would be ill-advised to allow yourself an “off-season,” or to suggest that one even exists.

I know, you’re probably thinking, “But I’m tired! I deserve a break! I did xxxxxxxxx miles this last year, and my body needs some rest!” And you’re right, you do deserve a break, and your body does need some rest, but let’s face it: Overtraining is what got you here.

Pairing these two concepts seems like a silly thing to do, they’re diametrically opposed, right? For one you do way too much, and the other you do absolutely nothing. For one you feel accomplished, and the other you feel guilty. The trouble is, those feelings are assigned in reverse.

Before I dive in and make you upset, here’s my one sentence summary of this post and this time of year: This is the time of year that winners are made.

Assume for a moment that in a season of overtraining you might feel accomplished. You hit a ridiculous number of miles, did a workout or two (or more!) every day for some crazy period of time. This is generally accompanied by a feeling of accomplishment (and often exhaustion) after the overtraining has ceased. But let’s go back to the beginning and look at the driving force behind the overtraining: guilt.

“I didn’t do enough last year and missed my PR, I’m going to really nail it this year and suffer to the max to make myself better.” Or, “I haven’t done anything for a while, and I want to get back into shape. I’m going to go hit it super hard and get healthy and active again.”

Sound familiar? In just a few short years in triathlon, I have heard these things so often it’s nauseating. It’s ok to want to get back into shape, or to work harder to get to that elusive PR, but the answer is never, I repeat NEVER overtraining.

So now you want an “off-season” to relax, eat all the shitty food you’ve been avoiding, have a few (or more) beers and put on some winter weight. You feel a little guilty, but figure it’ll be ok once you start training again in February. Or March. Maybe April…

The fact is that this is driven by a feeling of accomplishment. “I carried my body so far last year and hit a huge PR! I deserve a break!” I listed this crap above, so if you need a refresher, scroll up. But, suffice it to say, your exhaustion is caused by overtraining.

The key is this: rest can be just as important as a workout. If you don’t have a rest day (maybe two, depending on your plan) in your weekly training plan, make one. My coach takes care of me, and understands this concept. Overtraining without rest causes your body to be broken down, and makes you susceptible to illness, injury, and mental burn-out. It can lead you to think, “I’ve really accomplished a lot, I deserve a break.” Then when you take that extended break, you’re left feeling guilty because you haven’t been training, and launch back into overtraining.

Break the vicious cycle!! Don’t let these waxing and waning feelings take over your training. Here are a few tips to know when you might be doing too much:

  1. Listen to your body. If you have a hacking cough, running nose, and are running a fever, maybe going for that 10-mile run outdoors in below-freezing temps and a snow storm isn’t the best idea. Your body needs recovery time to get over an illness, and depleting it of energy is not a good way to encourage recovery. (If you feel like you still need to do something, maybe take a walk on a treadmill, or a light spin on an exercise bike.) Conversely, sometimes what your body needs to kick the illness is the exercise! Learn the cues of your body and know when you need to sweat the sickness out, and when it might not be the best idea. Only you can answer this question.
  2. Listen to your brain. If you’ve been up since 4 am with a crying infant, worked all day on a stressful project, cooked dinner, cleaned the house, ran a meeting in your community, and get home at 9 pm to see you still have a 120-minute trainer session and start to cry, maybe don’t do the trainer session. If you’re mentally drained and the thought of moving one more inch is enough to produce tears, take a rest night. It won’t do much good to do the workout without focusing on it. Conversely, sometimes you need to break through that mental barrier and do the workout anyway. There can be a lot to gain by pushing through, being mentally tough, and doing the workout even when you don’t want to.
  3. Look at your training schedule/log. If you’re like me, you track a lot of data. A LOT of data. You know your macros, your caloric intake, how many calories you burned in your workout, the TSS of your workout, your average heart rate, your power output, blah, blah, blah… The point is, you can readily look at your history and see how many days in a row you’ve worked out over the last few weeks. If you’ve done an intense workout every day for the last 10 days, maybe take a day off. It will do your body and your mind some good to have a little space to breathe. Conversely, it’s important to note the difference in intensity between your workouts. If your last 7 days have been easy days, skipping another easy workout, or that one high intensity workout of the week, could work to your detriment.
  4. When in doubt, check with your coach. I know, this one has a prerequisite, and further qualifiers. I am fortunate enough to have text message privileges with my coach, and he often texts back in a very short amount of time. If I’m having a hard time telling whether I should push through and do the workout or ease up and take a day off, I know I can rely on my coach to help make the decision, even if it’s not what I want to hear. To the same point, don’t bug your coach all the time. If you find yourself trying to decide whether or not to do the workout every week, you probably need to reevaluate more than whether or not you should be doing the workout. This should be a fairly rare occurrence.

The fact is, what most people call the “off-season,” is a significant season of opportunity. It provides the margin that makes itself abundantly apparent on race day. This time frame separates winners from those who didn’t quite make the podium. Now is the time to lose the weight you think you ought to lose, now is the time to increase your FTP, now is the time to improve your swimming/running/cycling form, now is the time to lift more weights, get more flexible, become more mindful. This is prime base building season.

So, it’s all (as usual) up to you. You know you better than anyone else. Only you can check the boxes on whether or not you should work out, whether or not you want to work out, or whether or not you’re in it to win it.

For me, my goals require me to dig in during this time and make improvements. I will engage in suffering all winter and spring so that I am faster in the summer. What are you going to do?

Later on…

A Moment About Suffering

I had the opportunity to answer a question on NYE that I don’t get asked much, but that I contemplate when training: How do you put yourself through all of that pain?

The answer really boils down to two main components:

  1. The suffering lets me know I’m alive
  2. The suffering teaches me about myself and who I am

Suffering is such an odd concept to embrace, because humans are hard wired to avoid it at all costs. We learn at a young age that if it brings pain, we shouldn’t do it. We don’t go back to the stove to see if we can leave our hand on the burner a little longer this time; We don’t touch the stove again! We seek what is comfortable, and so far humans have done a pretty good job at that. We have huge cities, great technology, and we’re pushing that concept further and further every year (OrderUp, InstaCart, Uber anyone?).

So what is it that drives athletes to endure suffering, to abuse our bodies and push the limits of what we can take? The answer will not be the same for every athlete you ask, and I can only give you my answer.

My answer is that I find it cathartic. I find that it is in my best interest to cast myself into the fire to see how, what, and who I am on the other side. There is something about knowing and being known by suffering that allows a person such great freedom.

There comes a point in a race (if you’re running it right in my opinion) where you begin to hear a voice questioning you, why you are doing this and if it’s worth it. You must be prepared to either ignore that voice, tell it to STFU, or answer the questions. If you haven’t prepared, or you give the wrong answer, your day ends there. If you haven’t been there, and practiced your response, it’s extremely difficult to give the right response on race day.

And that’s the often-overlooked value of the training. Aside from just the obvious physical benefits, which are totally a necessary part of what I do, the mental toughness is something learned from pushing yourself to the limit week in and week out. Unless and until you get down and wallow around in the suffering, roll and revel in it, find out who you are in the midst of it and learn how you react to it, you will be unprepared for race day.

When I get into that suffering, when I’m down in the trench wondering if I should call it quits, if what I’m doing is worth it, I know that I have a choice. And making the choice to continue to suffer and to push my body, that’s when I know I’m truly alive. I’m feeling, but I still have a choice. It sucks, but it’s because I choose the suck. It’s hard, but it’s because that’s how I make it. I am directing this moment, and only I say when it’s enough, not the suffering.

I have learned that my body is capable of so, so much more than what I think it is. I have learned that I can endure more than I think I can; That when my body tells me it’s ready to stop, I know better. I have found a new strength, a second, third, sometimes fourth wind. I’ve found the strength to pick the pace up when I thought I could barely walk. I am so much more than the suffering, I just need it to get me to go there.

I wish my response on NYE were this eloquent, this well-thought out. I think I said something more like, “You learn to deal with it and love it.” I got some crazy looks for that one, but fortunately everyone moved on pretty quickly. But to those of you who are familiar with this game, you know what I’m talking about.

For those who are new to triathlon in particular, welcome! Don’t worry, I know everything I said above sounds terrible, but really, you do learn to love it, crave it even. You’ll get there. Start small. Search for it in your training, and know that when you feel it you’re making a break through. When you push through it, you’ve made an accomplishment. Eventually, you’ll know enough about your body to find it and love it, too.

FTP and Perspective

I did my first ever FTP test a couple of days ago now, and I was less than enthused by my results. Maybe it’s the complete lack of training over the last month or so (thanks a lot, finals), maybe I’m just way weaker than I though, but here it is in all it’s lackluster glory: 151 Watts.

Wah-freakin-wah. Not exactly what I was hoping for. That means that I’m generating about 2.1 watts per kg of bodyweight (155 lbs = 70 kg). Ideally, I would have been much closer to 3 w/kg, but that’s what the off season is for, right?

Well, I was wallowing in my sorrow, and headed out for a run to see how much of that had left me since I’ve been so inactive. Not as much as I thought, but still not great: 8:15/mi average. Now, it was a fartlek workout, and there were some pretty icy patches that slowed me down, but still. In the winter months I’m more used to seeing sub-8 average times. Something about that cold air…

BUT, as I passed another person who was walking, they smiled and waved, and I could see that they were breathing heavy, sweat was collecting on their eyebrow, and their cheeks were rosy. Instinctively I waved and smiled back, and I was suddenly smacked with the reality of pace.

First, a brief aside. If you don’t return a smile and wave from another runner, cyclist, or walker, shame on you. In my head, every time someone doesn’t even acknowledge my existence after I’ve waved, I’m thinking (and sometimes saying it under my breath), “Well f*ck you too!” There’s no need to be a dick out there, just freakin’ wave back! You may be the nicest person in the world, but when you don’t wave back, that’s what I think. /rant.

The truth is, “fast” is relative. To those who are huffing and puffing to walk a 20-minute mile, a 15-minute mile is fast! To those running a 15-minute mile, a 12-minute mile is fast! So for me to be bummed because I’m not rocking my usual 7:30-mile training run pace, wishing I was running “fast,” seemed a little petty to say the least.

That said, I want to be faster. I don’t want to settle for my current pace, because I think I can be faster. Is it going to mean a lot of work? Yes. Is it going to mean suffering? Yes. Is it going to hurt? Yes. Is it going to be worth it? Hell yes.

If you’re reading this and thinking about quitting because you’re not “fast,” please, PLEASE do NOT give up! It’s not about reaching someone else’s pace. It’s not about getting to someone else’s definition of “fast.” It’s all about the journey. Embracing that and enjoying seeing the change as it occurs will hold much more value than simply getting to a number.

Later on…

The 2017 Post

I’ve been promising this post, and here it is! Let’s get the big things out of the way first:

  1. I’m excited to be racing under Maverick Multisport this year on their Age Group team!
  2. My A races are Ironman Muncie 70.3, and USAT Nationals (dependent on qualifying)

There is a stretch race that I’ve got my sights set on, but there’s too much work to do to worry you all about that. I’ll address it if/when I get there.

I keep saying I’m excited to race under Maverick, but I really am PUMPED to be racing as a Maverick! I have known a few Mavericks over the years, and I have seen and heard nothing but great things! I’m really looking forward to the community the team has, and to supporting the accomplishments of even more people from all over the world!

I already race as a Renegade, and I won’t be leaving my Renegades behind, nor my OG PCS Multisport team! Just spreading the love between two world wide teams, and bringing it home to the locals.

I have a few things that I need to say about my goals this year. The A races are just the products of a few other goals that I want to see come to fruition, and where I get to go to show off my hard work.

In addition to the races, I have a subset of goals:

  1. Lose 20 lbs.
  2. Build power on the bike (through cross training and through specific bike work)
  3. Get and keep my diet in check – Going Keto!
  4. Do CrossFit to build power in my legs and mental toughness
  5. Run a sub-20 5k in a tri

The first four things are things that I think have been holding me back for the last couple of years. My diet has affected my weight, which in turn has affected my power to weight ratio, which in turn has affected my speed… So I’m going back to basics. Eat fat to burn fat, keep carbs low, plenty of protein for recovery. Operate at a caloric deficit, get lean to go fast. That’s my game this year: GO F’IN FAST.

CrossFit will be a new addition, and will likely not last beyond the spring, but it will depend on how it goes, how I progress, etc. I’ve got a connection to a great box through my wife, and I’m excited to get started with that in the new year.

In order to build more power, I’ll actually start training with power! Now, it’ll be simulated power at the beginning. I’ll be on Zwift training with simulated power, and hoping to make some equipment changes in the new year. We’ll see how that works out.

I’ve been chasing a sub-20 5k in a race for about a year and a half now, but this is the year. I have started to build some consistent speed in addition to adding endurance, and I have no doubt that that barrier will be broken this year. I will have to if I want to qualify for Nationals!

One more thing: This spring is going to be extremely busy. I’ve got a full class load, I’m participating on a national moot court team in Chicago in February, I’m hoping to be working a part time job, and managing a full training schedule. It’s going to be a busy time, but the rewards that potential payoff will be huge!

I’m continuing to search for an internship in the legal field. Colorado, Indiana, California… if you know of an internship that could use a driven, qualified candidate, please let me know!

Look out for more updates as training ramps up, I’ll be doing some baseline workouts in the near future and will post my numbers and thoughts!

Later on!

Ironman Boulder 140.6

Welcome to my new blog! I’m still figuring things out, so bear with me as we continue this journey together!

I thought it would be very fitting to kick off this new chapter with a race report of grand proportions: My very first 140.6-mile Ironman race!

Pre-Race

The build to this race has taken the better part of the last 10 months, and a lot has happened during that time. To fully lay out all the details would take too long, so here are the highlights: Started law school, quit my full time job, totaled my car, wife lost her job, bought new bike, wife started new job, I worked four different jobs, raised money for Tourette Syndrome research. Whew! So much happened in such a short time, and we were very thankful for the trip to arrive.

Natalie and I left on a Saturday, stopped in Kansas City overnight, and continued on to Denver on Sunday. We stayed one night in Denver, had dinner with good friends, then began our stay in Boulder on Monday. I knew that acclimating to the elevation would be a key to my success, and arriving at elevation a full week before the event was a very good head start on that acclimation.

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On Tuesday we went out with one of my best friends to do a hike and get some serious elevation under my belt. Rich took us on one of his favorite hikes up Mount Audubon in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. All told, after 7 ours of hiking we gained 2,789 feet of elevation, reaching a peak elevation of 13,223 feet! Fortunately the race would not be at that elevation, we raced at a measly 5,480 feet in Boulder.

On Thursday we headed over to the Ironman Village for packet pickup and a mandatory athlete briefing. I’m not really sure who keeps track to make sure the athletes actually attend these “mandatory” briefings, but I went nonetheless. The Race Director, DC, had done a great job of getting info out to the athletes through YouTube before the race, so there wasn’t much new information to absorb. After hitting the Ironman Village, we made a quick stop at the Ironman store and picked up a couple of souvenirs. We then headed back to the house we were staying at, and crashed out. It had been a long couple of days, and we were more than tired.

My parents arrived on Saturday, and they helped us get my bike dropped off at the Boulder Reservoir (The Res), as well as getting my bike and run gear bags checked in. We ventured up to Rocky Mountain National Park to do a short, easy hike with them before heading back to bed. I packed my special needs back, and I was surprisingly able to get some sleep the night before the race, something that doesn’t happen very often for me.

Race Day

On the morning of the race, I set my alarm for 3:00. Yes, AM. I knew that the shuttles to the Res would be leaving starting at 4, and I wanted to be on a bus by 4:30. We got everything packed up and into the car, and headed down to Boulder High School, which was central to everything but the swim. We parked the car on a side street before the sun was up, and boarded a shuttle headed to the Res. We overheard that the swim would be wetsuit legal, with the water at a comfy 72 degrees.

Once at the Res, things started to get real. It started to sink in more than ever what I was about to set off to do. 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running in less than 17 hours. I started to get a bit nervous, which helped uh, loosen things up if you will. I hit the porta-potty for a race morning clear-out, and found a good spot to sit down, relax, and get into my wetsuit. Around 6:00, gathered with teammates and family, we had a couple of prayers, took a couple of pictures, and we headed off to the swim start.

Leading up to the race, I had been trying to decide if I would go out with the first wave of swimmers (sub-1:00 estimated time) or the second wave (1:00-1:10 estimated time). After the purchase of a wetsuit, I felt comfortable enough with my time to go out with the first wave. I fully expected to swim in around an hour without a wetsuit, so with a wetsuit I figured it would not be an issue to swim under an hour.

As I stood in the corral waiting to start, I sucked down a gel, and put on my swim cap and goggles. I was really nervous about my cap and goggles, because to this point I had never put them on when dry. I would always get my hair wet and fill the cap with water before putting it on, and then dunk my goggles in the water before putting them on to get a good seal. Fortunately, with the added buoyancy of my wetsuit, I knew I would be able to reposition them in the water if they didn’t cooperate. Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 6.13.01 PM

The cannon sounded (Yeah, we got to start with the cannon!) and we were off! A cannon start is typically reserved for the pro wave, so I was pretty excited to get the honor of going on the cannon blast. I knew that we had to keep the buoys on our left, and that a lot of the other competitors would be staying as close as possible to the line of buoys. I opted to move farther out to the right to try to catch as much clean water as possible, but I still found myself very much in a washing machine of bodies for the first 400 meters. During this time I had what I would call my first real freak out in an open water swim. I was getting beaten up, run over, running over people, having difficulty seeing the buoys, and questioning whether I could continue doing this for another 3+ km, or if I should grab a kayak to catch my breath. I decided to swim farther out to the right to try and get into cleaner water, thinking I might be able to calm myself down enough to be able to continue.  This was probably the best decision I made all day, as I was finally able to get myself into a rhythm and press on with the swim.

After making the first turn, I started to find another gear. I knew that the first two legs of the swim were pretty long, and that the last leg would be fueled by a little bit of adrenaline as I swam toward the finish. I started to pull a little harder with my arms, focusing on all the drills I had done in the pool with pull buoys. Before I knew it, I made the final turn for home.

At this turn we found ourselves in a big patch of seaweed. It was long enough for even a shallow pull to grab a chunk of weeds, and the water became a bit of a seaweed minefield. I found myself at one point fighting to get a chunk of it off of my face so that I could actually breathe. I started to pick up my tempo as I made the swim to shore, being careful not to overexert myself and lose control of my breathing. It was at this point that I noticed how beautiful the mountains were this morning. On our right was the front range, perfectly illuminated in hues of pink and red with a band of fog hiding the peaks. With each breath I took I was amazed by their beauty.

Soon enough I had the tents of the finish line in sight, and I started to push the cadence more. I focused on long, loping pulls with a slower, 2-beat kick. I watched the tents grow larger, and the finishing arch came into view. I swam up the shore until I saw someone beside me stand up. I know I’m one of the shorter athletes, so I took a few more strokes to make sure I could stand up comfortably. Once up, a volunteer grabbed my arm to help steady me as I moved onto shore and toward the wetsuit strippers. After spending 2.4 miles in a horizontal position, you can be pretty loopy when you get upright. Fortunately I didn’t have too many issues with this, and only needed minimal assistance.

On my way to the wetsuit strippers, I saw the family of a teammate along the tunnel, and I smiled and gave them a thumbs up. I quickly checked my watch, 1:05. A little slower than what I wanted, but still very close to being on target! I got my wetsuit pulled off by a couple of volunteers, and moved toward the changing tent. A volunteer grabbed my bag of bike gear, and handed it off to me as I entered the changing tent. I sat down to put my socks on, and as I opened the bag I noticed something was not quite right.I had someone else’s bag! I closed the bag up and headed out to the volunteer to get the right bag. She was extremely apologetic, and I told her it was no big deal. I took my bag back into the changing tent, and got ready to go. A volunteer in the change tent helped stuff my nutrition into the pockets of my race kit, another volunteer slathered me with sunscreen, and off toward my bike I went!

Coming out of the tent and into the bike area, I saw my family cheering for me. I smiled, waved, and shouted my swim time to them. I grabbed my bike and started to walk toward the bike exit. Other athletes were running their bikes out, but I decided to stay calm and walk mine out to the dismount line. Once on the bike, I was off on the first of 3 loops!

I knew I needed to pace myself on the bike, or it would be a very long, miserable 112 miles. I started off going pretty easy, as I knew my own tendency to go hard for the first 3 hours and blow myself up. I took advantage of the downhills and tailwind sections, and spun a light, easy gear uphill; I was feeling pretty good! Around mile 5 we hit a section of road that was under construction, and a bump sent all of my nutrition skittering along the road! I knew I would be sunk without it, and I stopped to gather it all up. I knew I had a choice to either be really upset about this stoppage, or to just laugh it off and stick to my own plan. I decided that getting upset about something so minor so early in the race could ruin the whole day and experience, so I opted to plaster a smile on my face and to enjoy the ride.

This proved to be another great choice, as I continued to move well for the next 30 miles. I was enjoying the scenery, appreciating the speed where it was available, and embracing the suffering of the hills and headwinds when they could not be ignored. I found myself smiling at the spectators and cameras, cajoling with the other competitors, and genuinely having a great time.

Around mile 35, near an aid station, I was faced with yet another challenge. I reached into my jersey pocket to grab some trash to leave with the volunteers, and my tube of BASE salt fell out. Not only did it fall out, it was crushed by a bike behind me. I continued through the aid station, trying to figure out what in the world I was going to do without this extremely important part of my nutrition plan. I knew I had a spare tube in my special needs bag, which I thought was available at mile 40. “No big deal,” I told myself, “you have an extra tube in less than 5 miles, and you’ll stay right on schedule.”

Well, it turns out that special needs stop wasn’t until mile 60, so instead of just 5 miles away, it was actually 25 miles away. That was a very different story, and meant that I needed to come up with some kind of a contingency for sodium and electrolytes, STAT. I knew that if I went 25 miles without any kind of electrolytes or sodium at all, I would be sunk. I passed mile 40 and started to panic, had I missed a turn off for special needs? Did I miss the sign? Would I not be able to get my extra tube of salt until mile 80 now? That would mean 45 miles with no salt, and probably a very bad day. I decided to utilize what the course gave me, and not to worry too much.

At the next aid station, I opted to slow down and take a couple of big mouth-fulls of Gatorade Endurance. I knew I didn’t want to take the whole bottle, and I’m sure I frustrated some volunteers as I took, drank, and discarded the Gatorade all within one aid station. I knew I just needed to keep myself afloat as long as possible, and that the Gatorade was my best option to do that.

I did stop at an aid station to use a porta-potty, and it looked like I was doing okay on hydration. This was encouraging, so I decided that my current plan was working. I started to feel that I was chafing a bit in my underarms, as I started to feel some burning as sweat started to run. I was a little concerned that this would have a big effect on my run, but decided that worrying about that could wait until I got to the run. I hopped back on my bike, and was off again! A few miles later a teammate pulled up behind me, and slowed down a bit to check on me. He asked how I was feeling, we had a quick chat about the swim, how the bike was going, and decided that we would see each other on the run. Just like that, he was off again! Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 6.33.45 PM

As I approached mile 60, I was really beginning to settle into my backup plan of taking the Gatorade in place of the salt. I knew that it was working in a pinch, and that I could make it all the way in that way if I had to. Fortunately, I saw a big flag advertising that Special Needs was coming up. I moved into the pick up lane, and welcomed the short break to take what I needed. I had extra nutrition, including salt, in my special needs bag, and a small tube of extra chamois cream. I only took the salt with me, and left the rest to be donated or recycled. Back on the bike, I took a couple quick licks of the salt, and settled back in for the second half of the ride.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck as I was coming around for my second loop. A cyclist was struck by a vehicle and later died at the hospital. I was fortunate enough not to be near the accident when it occurred, but the image of the bikes laying alongside the road will stick with me. I said a brief prayer for those involved and their families, and continued on.

As I entered the last section of the second loop, I encountered another cyclist who was struggling with cramps. She asked if I had any salt, and I gave her a bit from my extra tube. I’m guessing she was unfamiliar with how the salt should be consumed, because she poured a lot of the salt directly into her mouth. I asked for the tube back, and found it nearly gone. I knew I only needed to have enough for 3-4 more licks, but it was going to be close.

I also had an issue with my shifting the entire way through the course. My rear derailleur was moving to a position between gears, not really seating into one gear effectively. I had to keep constant pressure on the shifter to make sure I didn’t accidentally slip into a harder gear. This had me frustrated early on, since I had the bike tuned up just before leaving to avoid an issue like this. I again made the conscious choice to smile through it, and not let it get in the way of enjoying the day.

Coming into town was exhilarating. The streets were lined with fans and spectators, and their cheers helped wipe away some of the pain of biking 112 miles in unexpected heat. The  high temperature for the day was only supposed to be 84, but we ended up closer to 94 or 95 on the day.

As I came into transition, I knew I wanted to leave my shoes on the bike, so as not to have to run the 1/4-1/3 mile into run transition in them. I was able to get one of my feet out of my shoe coming in, but I didn’t want to risk falling down on a flying dismount. In a shorter race a flying dismount is worth the risk, but not knowing how steady my legs and balance would be, I opted to come to a complete stop with one foot still in the shoe, then take off the shoe and dismount.

I had a huge smile on my face as I jogged with my bike toward the run transition. I was waving at people I kew, and taking in the cheers of all the supporters lined along the tunnel. I saw another teammate who was volunteering and catching bikes, I tried to get my bike to him, but another eager volunteer grabbed it before I got to him. I gave him a high five, and off I went to gather my run gear bag!

On my way, I checked my watch to see my time for the bike: 6:23. I was hoping to be done in around 6 hours, but I would have been happy anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30. A 6:23 meant my average speed was 17.5 MPH, right on target!

I sat down in the change tent and a volunteer came over and asked if I wanted some help. I wasn’t about to say no, and he helped get my fresh socks and shoes ready, laid out my nutrition, and grabbed some body glide and chapstick for me. I got everything on, switched out my sunglasses, put my headband on, and headed out of the tent. I stopped to get sunscreen applied, and boy did those volunteers jump on it! I had 4 volunteers hit me with sunscreen, one on each leg and arm. I got a bit in my hand to rub on my face, and that’s when they told me that the sunscreen had alcohol in it. I felt it start to burn some of the places I was chafed, but it quickly went away as I entered the Boulder Creek Path to start on the marathon.

I immediately ran past Natalie and my parents, along with the family of my teammates, and was feeling great! I saw that I was running a little too fast, hovering around 8:00 miles, and knew that I needed to back it off. I pulled back to around 10:00 miles, and held that pace for the first 3 miles. I made the decision at mile 3 that I would walk that aid station since I was starting to feel sloshy in my stomach.

Looking back, I think I should have pushed through and kept my pace down to 9:00 miles. I knew in my training that I could hold 8’s for at least 17 miles, and then my pace would fall to 9’s. Before the race I had made the decision to start with 10:00 miles and then reevaluate when starting the second loop. Either way, once I broke that pace, I fell off hard. I started to really struggle mentally, and I was not very happy to see my pace falling off so hard.

I walk/jogged as I felt able, but I was struggling with my heart rate. Just a little bit of jogging and my heart rate felt like it was skyrocketing. I had a hard time catching my breath, and I knew that my 10:00 pace was gone for the day. I picked my jog up as I headed back through the crowd of people near transition, and I saw my mom. I was already pretty emotional, and I fought back tears as I jogged slowly and painfully past her. A few hundred yards further were Natalie and my dad, and I was still fighting back tears as I passed them.

I wanted so badly to stop and talk to them, to pull up and just sit for a bit. I was tired, I was in pain, I was now behind my goal and knew I wasn’t pulling it back, and I felt a little defeated. Something my mom had shouted at me stuck though, “You WILL BE an Ironman!” I knew that stopping was not an option. I had put in too much time, worked too hard, come too far, and had too much support and love to stop this close to the end. When I had come off the bike I knew that I could walk the entire marathon and still become an Ironman, I just needed to dig deep and find the iron in me to get to the line.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 6.33.58 PMShortly after I passed my family, my day was nearly unravelled by my body. Around mile 10, I took a lick of salt and immediately felt nauseous. There’s a bit of nausea that can creep up on you during a long run, and I’m familiar with that. This nausea came on so fast and so hard, I stopped in a grove of trees, doubled over, certain that I was going to puke.

Fortunately, a familiar face came up, and he encouraged me to walk with him. He kept talking to me, made me laugh a bit, and soon enough I started to feel a little better. I took a bit of water every now and then, but did not eat anything solid beyond one bite for the rest of the race. To those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of racing, that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Let me tell you, that was probably a pretty dangerous thing to do. I had minimal amounts of water, one more lick of salt around mile 16, a bite of a banana (which was quickly discarded), about two grapes, and a sip of Rocket Fuel, until the chicken broth came out. I did continue to dump a cup of water on my head at every aid station, and dumped a cup of ice down the back of my jersey at every other aid station.

Special needs was accessible at mile 11, and I stopped to grab a packet of notes that Natalie had collected from friends, family and loved ones. To those who sent notes, I cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart. I knew that I was loved and supported not only by those who wrote notes, but those who were present for the race, and countless others watching from afar. Thank you all so much for supporting me and loving me. I needed every bit of it to get through the last 13.1 miles.

The second loop seemed impossible, and like it would never end as I set out. I knew I still had a long way to go, and I had covered every step of it once before. I knew it would be excruciating at times, I knew exactly where it would be hot, where the wind was and was not, and that the number of familiar faces on the course would be thinning out. I had decided that I would try to hold a 15:00 mile pace, in an attempt to keep my finish time around 14 hours total. Fortunately, about 5 hours into the run, a storm started to build over the front range, and the temperature dropped significantly. We even got a little sprinkle! Chicken broth started to appear at the aid stations, and I decided I would give it a try. Wow. Never before in my life has plain chicken broth tasted so good. I was well over 130 miles into my day, and nothing hit the spot better.

As the sun started to set, I was nearing the last turnaround before heading to the finish. I had read some of the most touching notes, and I was in a pretty sappy emotional state. As I climbed a small hill toward the turnaround, I saw the most amazing thing in front of me. At the end of the path were the foothills, the start of the mountains, every bit a mountain in their own right. The sun had set behind the front range, but was still sending enough light to backlight the mountains in a glorious red and blue, with a cloudless sky above. The end of the path was illuminated spectacularly by a generator with four white lights attached to it, also partially illuminating the foothills and forming the perfect picture of peace and completion. I knew I only had 1.6 miles to go to the finish, and that I would in fact, become an Ironman.

I picked up the pace a bit, and headed for home. The tears built as I drew ever closer to the line, and the pain in my legs and chest started to fade. The smile started to come back to my face, and I started to enjoy the race again. I barely felt the hills as I climbed them, urged on by screaming spectators. My mom was acting as lookout, and saw me as I climbed one of the final hills before turning away from the looped course toward the finish. I saw Rich as I neared the chute, and grabbed a high five as I picked up the pace further.

I turned the last corner, and there it was in front of me: the bright lights and loud sounds of the finish line. I jogged down the chute, looking for Natalie and my parents, finally finding them about 40 yards out from the finish line. I got a huge hug and kiss from Natalie, some high fives and hugs from others, and I handed off my water bottle and other items before heading for the finish line.Boulder Kiss

I know Mike Reilly never said my name, but at that point I didn’t care. (Though now I do a little, it’s still a very minor part of a major accomplishment.) Triumphantly, I ran across the finish line, and let out a scream. I had pictured that moment in my head countless times, during training rides, during training runs, and especially in the days leading up to the race. This was a huge moment, and I celebrated it in style.

My total time was 14:07:58, a time that, while not near my goal, represents very accurately how the past year has gone. Things started off smoothly, going well but with a few hiccups here and there. Then, all at once, the shit hit the fan, and hard. To push through it was a choice, and the only way to do it was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The reward at the finish line was that much sweeter for the suffering endured along the way.

Thank you again, from the very bottom of my heart, to those who have supported me on this journey. Friends, family, teammates, coaches, even casual observers. I feel so very loved, and each one of you played a role in my journey to the finish line.Finish line!