What the hell?

I sit here in a comfortable Montreal apartment looking out the window watching leaves fall from trees wondering where yet another racing season has gone?

A little over a week ago I was in California racing my second 70.3 and last race for the 2016 season. I had one goal in mind: have a complete race. No stopping, no malfunctions, good effort all the way through, but it was a day that almost didn’t start.

I arrived in California with my good friend Kevin Malone after our long(ish) flight from St. Louis into San Francisco. Kevin and I tend to race together frequently during the season since we live in different states and its a rare opportunity to hang out with someone whose company I really enjoy.

Right on time, Kevin’s mom comes dancing through baggage claim towards us as we wait for our bikes to come up from the checked luggage. Following Kevin’s previous purchase for our trip to Age Group Nationals (where he flew into Kansas City before we drove up) I finally bought a bike case, the Ruster Sports Hen House.

Bike Fees from airlines are the plague of cyclist and triathlete’s existence. Typically a $150 minimum round-trip and if you’re with American it’s $300 round trip. You might as well just buy the damn bike a ticket on the airplane and put it right next to you in the seat… Exuberant ranting aside, I was hoping to avoid some fees and keep my carbon chariot safe all at the same time so I thought I’d give it a go. No fees on the way out, $75 already paid back on the case was a good start.

Our cases appear on the baggage carousel while everyone else is still waiting. There’s always whispers and personal conversations overhead trying to guess what’s in those mysterious large cases (and in this case oddly shaped) when they come up from baggage claim. A lady chanced to ask us “What’s in those, you guys?” “Bikes” I reply with a smile. “See I told you” her friend retorts jokingly. I can only hope there was a friendly wager on it and I could make someone’s day, ha.

Fast forward past our hour and half trek towards Ben Lomond where we’re staying with a family friend of Kevin’s, the bike appears to be in good shape, no damage done and everything intact. Score one for the Hen House.

The next few days go by a bit slowly. All professionals know and most competitive age groupers as well. Most of the time you spend getting ready for a race is sitting in your hotel/airbnb/guest house staring at the wall or watching netflix before it’s race morning. So much like many of my bike sessions I will end up watching stand-up comedy. This time was notably a few of my favorites, Louis C.K., Bill Burr and Patrice O’Neal (may he rest in peace).

Race morning arrives with only a few minor glitches to have been worked out. We’ve traded venues with Kevin’s parents for sleeping arrangements prior to race morning so we are only an 8 minute walk to Transition instead of a 30 minute drive out of Ben Lomond.

Run warm-up on the Santa Cruz streets finished, we waited at the Victorian house we were staying at until it was time to head down to the race site. Setting up transition is going pretty well. There’s only 15 minutes left until transition closes, but that’s plenty of time when you’ve done this 100 times and know exactly what you need.

Only a couple things left to-do, pump up the tires, can’t forget that. I borrow a screw-on pump from a nearby competitor and starting pumping up my front tire. Fully inflated it’s time to take off the pump and move to the back tire, but wait it’s kind of stuck and then…

The valve extender comes out of my 808 and the tire fully deflates.

Flat as a pancake.

I’m dead in the water.

“Fuck.”

There’s no PG way to put that moment. You’re at your A race for the season, you’ve spent hundreds of hours this year alone getting ready, traveled a thousand miles to get there and then one moment of mechanical catastrophe stops your day cold. I tried to see if there was any way to put the extender back in the tire, but that was that. My day was over before it got started.

I began walking towards transition exit as it became time that transition was closing. I don’t recall whether Kevin called me or if I called him, but I was on the phone all of the sudden. “I’m headed out, I can’t race today.” “What? Why?!?” Kevin says to me over the phone. I explain the situation quickly and he says “Hold on.”

Although I’ve resigned myself to sitting on the sidelines for the day, Kevin still has the enthusiasm and creativity to play on the heartstrings of the bike mechanics who end up lending me one of the wheels from their personal bike’s they have with them. Which is at least as nice as the 808 I took off it, purportedly better by the smug/proud look of the bike guy who handed it to me.

Transition is closed, I have no time to finish setting up the minor details of my transition area, but I have a working front wheel back on my frame, the back tire will have to hopefully have enough tire pressure from pumping it up 2 days ago to do.

Every second of the race I get from this moment on out is a gift.

We head down to the beach. Luckily the waves coming in look to be fairly minor this morning, although the horizon is completely indistinguishable from the grey sky and you can’t see all the way out to the turn buoy at the pier. Not that it matters. Just Dory that thing “Just keep swimming.”

Swim warmup in the water was my best option this morning despite the 57 degree water temperature and a similar air temp. I get out right in the nick of time to head over to my race group about 5 minutes before entering the water.

I’m calm, warm, loose and ready to race. Happy to be there and then we get our “send-off song” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us.” I don’t usually connect with songs before races, I tend to be in my own world, but it was just the right thing at the right moment that carried in my head the rest of the day.

Finally we’re off into the water, 70.3 swims (and races in general) are now my favorite because they are right in my strong point as an athlete. That strong endurance/threshold pace where you can feel like you’re going, but also hold it all day.

The clear goggles were the perfect decision for the day (go Amazon Prime for getting them to me last minute before I left home). It was hard enough to see the next buoy with them, I can only imagine if I was wearing tinted goggles I’d be totally lost.

~32 minutes of swimming later I’m exiting the water, not the time I was looking for, but I had no idea how long it had taken me when I exited the water.

Despite most of the racers looking like unhappy, cold, sad, wet rats heading towards T1 I was feeling good and ready to get out on the bike course.

Luckily the racers seem to be spread out a bit more on this course than they were at Eagleman 70.3. Most often it’s easy enough to pass them on the left anywhere on the course.

My one complaint about Santa Cruz is the ride on Highway 1… The shoulder in many places is only wide enough for 1 cyclist and it has deep rumble strips between the shoulder and the actual rode to ride over to pass someone. Both lanes were fully open to traffic, which I’m used because of where I normally ride, but it could be run better for sure…

Most of the bike is pretty uneventful. The first 10-15 miles I traded leads with a guy named Dave who was sure we’d be doing it the whole race. I hope things went well for Dave because I didn’t see him again after about mile 20 from my recollection.

After a really quiet and long climb through a red-wood forest section of the course, a pretty technical descent begins. I realize that although I have my front wheel, I didn’t adjust the brakes so my bike has barely any braking traction in the front and mostly the back to rely on. Good ‘ol California highway switchbacks to contend with I just hope my bike handling skills are up to the task.

Descent basically complete, there’s one super hard right back out onto the highway to take. Which I decide is a good time to take 3-4 cones out while I’m trying to get around other people. Fortunately the cones decided it was best to play dead and not take me out with them.

Fast forward to the turnaround at about mile 30 and I see Kevin creeping up behind me. He started in the last wave 4 minutes behind me and I had anticipated seeing him earlier.

Up and down a few more hills… Then finally at the top of a climb I’m trying to shift back into my big chainring and all I get is a large grinding noise.

“Bullshit. SHIFT!”

I pull the lever harder to no avail, it just won’t budge. As I would come to find out my front derailleur (yet again) has slid down and is now running into the big chainring instead of floating over it. (Hopefully the bike shop has this permanently fixed for me when I return to KC).

 

I’ve now got to ride the last 15 miles in the small chainring. I can hit my power target like before, except I can’t take advantage of the downhills anymore.

Kevin passes me and I yell my problem to him and he remarks on how much that sucks, but there’s nothing to be done.

On West Cliff Drive, winding its way back to Transition I finally catch and pass Kevin again as I’m being aggressive on this section of road and pushing my limited technical abilities on the bike to make up as much ground as I can.

Into T2, rack the bike, helmet off, socks on (that’s a first), shoes on, grab your belt and go.

Kevin has passed me again with his better positioning in T2, plus I had to stretch briefly for a tight right hamstring I’ve had for most of the bike. We get a brief chat in before getting to work on the run course.

I sit in on a quick but comfortable pace and he’s sitting with me. I’m thinking to myself it’s going to be a long run if he’s here the whole time, but I’ve got to keep at it since I need to put more than 4 minutes on him now if I want to win (between us that is). That’s  roughly 20 seconds/mile, can I do it?

Kevin falls away from me somewhere in the first mile or so and I keep cruising. Man am I feeling good and I feel like I’m flying. Nothing like the struggle at Eagleman. 6-7 miles of tempo in and I start to feel a bit of drain. Part of my setup in transition I missed was getting food attached to my belt for the run so I only have the intake from the bike and gatorade/water from the course to go on.

As I continue forward my pace progressively slows. My attention is beginning to wane. My focus slowly dropping. 4 miles to go… 3 miles to go… The lack of food is catching up with me as my consciousness slowly starts to fade and I’m having a hard time staying awake.

Just keep moving, keep running, you can’t stop you’ll never start again, keep running, dammit Kevin is going to catch me, oh well, it is what is is… run, keep, run, move, keep.. foot… leg…. can’t see… can’t focus… getting closer…. 2 miles to go?… Push faster, you don’t need to be awake to run fast…

I pick up the pace here and there, all attention focused on trying to get my pace back on track despite the obvious signs that its not going to happen. In the moment I don’t care what my body is saying: I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul…

Eventually my consciousness was nothing more than motion. Fighting to stay awake, people well beyond my age are passing me in the last stretch of the race as I’ve slowed to what feels like a crawl.

400 meters to go, a long downhill into the chute to the finish.

Finally I’m here.

The day wasn’t perfect, but I made it. No stopping, despite mechanical issues and a lack of fuel. It wasn’t my whole race plan, but considering what happened it was the best I could come up with for the day.

I apparently looked about how I felt as without asking for them two of the medics at the finish line look at me and ask “Are you okay?” And I say I need some sugar, Gatorade, something and I’ll be fine. They take my arms and walk me through the crowds of people to the medical tent. I can make it anywhere now as long as I don’t sit down. That voice inside my head “dont’ stop, keep going” is so ingrained that they could have walked me miles from the finish if that’s where the tent was and I would make it.

Butch (Kevin’s dad) apparently saw how bad I looked at the finish and was concerned since he remarked I usually look pretty good coming in. Especially because he didn’t see where I’d gone to as he searched for me after Kevin came in.

Back in the medical tent I’m wrapped in 3 or 4 thermal blankets, shivering, drinking gatorade and chicken broth, slowly regaining cognitive recognition of the wider world around me.

The medics got enough information out of me to be able to call Butch from Kevin’s race info, but he wasn’t immediately answering his phone. As I learned later he wasn’t paying attention to it as he was looking around the finish and race venue for me trying to figure out where I’d gone.

About a half hour or so has passed since I’ve been in the medical tent. I’m cognitive of the world again and able to speak with complete thoughts. Butch finally arrives and I get changed into dry clothes before we head out to get some post-race food in me and I re-tell my race story to him and how I ended up in the medical tent.

So that’s my story of Santa Cruz 70.3. Now 2/2 ending up in the medical tent, this one being probably worse than Eagleman for different reasons I can at least take heart in the fact I’m confident if faced with a struggle for survival that I have an unerring will to go on. I say it somewhat facetiously, but there are things you wonder about your own character until you are faced with a real life scenario so from that standpoint it was an eye-opener and confirmation of what I already thought.

Packed up, heading to the airport, checking in at the ticket counter I dream of my quick turnaround in ~36 hours where I’ll be heading back to Montreal for my “vacation” and off-season of doing no training. Only to be rudely interrupted by a ticketing agent who is convinced my Hen House is oversized and charges me $75 for the bike fee. I’m so livid I can’t figure out how she measured the case wrong at the time and keep my head on straight. I’m tired, frustrated and can’t deal with it. I walk away from her after signing the receipt for the charge and don’t say a word.

An angry phone call to Kevin later to give him a heads up I head through security to await what ended up being an extra long cluster of delays and screw-ups in flights back home starting with re-routing me through San Diego, then the plane departing 1.5 hours late even from that, then arriving in SD just as my flight home began boarding.

Through this time I figured out what went wrong. The ticketing agent was measuring the case not as length plus width plus height, but measuring the diagonal (hypotenuse for my fellow math fans) of the case which isn’t Southwest policy.

Luckily, after submitting my situation and evidence to Southwest Customer Service online they did decide to refund me the oversize fee.

So for anyone with the Hen House flying Southwest or American, remember to make sure they actually measure your case parallel and perpendicular to the ground for official oversize measurements if they actually bring out a tape measure (like the agent did in my case). Otherwise, they’re wrong and you can give them a refresher course on the pythagorean theorem along with an updated lesson on the airline’s baggage policy.

Now I’m off for a few weeks here in lovely Montreal before getting ready for what I anticipate will be a big improvement in time… racing at Ironman 70.3 Texas.

 

 

It’s been about a week since age group nationals. I’ve both had time to reflect on my race and watch the Olympic races that I had once hoped to be in.

Time is a way of distilling the essence of what’s important in your life. It seems the common theme among most of my posts this year have to do with people and places and less to do with how I did with the actual race.

By most measures my nationals race went pretty well to plan. I had a minor snafu on the swim when I sighted the wrong buoy coming back in. The three siding duties were not in line with the swim exit which meant that we had to cite the second ability to stay in line.

I was leading our small group of swimmers around the turn buoy and saw the first buoy thinking it was the second making a swim extra for the course. Most days this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but at nationals every second counts.

The bike was a relatively smooth affair with me holding my watts just under my target. Ignoring a motorcycle that blocked me from passing another racer as well as another motorcycle that almost ran into me going the opposite direction the bike went off without a hitch.

Hydrated and ready to go I started on the run passing people by the dozens. The only thing that slowed me down was my own body in the annoying, irritating, ever present mucous running on the back of my throat.

About halfway as we entered the ballpark things were drying up which meant that I couldn’t breathe at top-end speed without gagging. It’s an annoyance I’ve lived with for over a decade now racing, but it seems to be the greatest downfall for me this season. I still ended with the 27th fastest run for the day, but I know I could of been in the top 10 had I been able to let my legs really run.

Overall and evidenced through the workouts for the rest of my week I left too much on the course. My only consolation is that I seem to need basically zero recovery after this race and absolutely crushed my workouts for the week.

With most of these races being fairly uneventful for me I’m never quite sure what to say in these posts. I sit here dictating these words and paragraphs in a microphone wondering if there’s any significance to be found.

I found myself watching the Olympics after the race wondering whether it’s simply a matter of hard work or for truly does take both genetics and work to make it there. At this point my career I think I have to admit there is a large genetic component to being the best the world at a given sport. However, that doesn’t take away from the work that all those athletes have put in.

As I watched Gwen cross the finish line and become emotional I couldn’t help but tear up myself. Later when I talked to Barb she admitted herself to crying watching the scene unfold. Maybe it’s simply my own rationalization of my inability to compete even at the professional level in draft, but it seems like Gwen’s finish carried not only her own dreams and aspirations but a small piece of each of us that dared to dream to be in her place one day.

There can only be one. The inescapable fact of any competition. I thought about this many times over the last few years of my training. The words “it takes a village” takes on different meaning in my head. Not only did take all the coaches family friends supporters to get Gwen where she was going, but her competition as well. Both friendly and adversarial.

Maybe it’s my own idealization, but without people to race against it seems near impossible to judge the profoundness of what she or any other champion is able to achieve. There’s somewhat of a Zen duality where you exist based on your own records and times as well as placed in a field of your peers. I’m a firm believer that you achieve the most you can by focusing on the first and allowing the second to simply happen.

Only one race left in the season for me. It seems another year will pass where I have yet to earn my elite license. However, with the new focus on the half Ironman distance and our increased focus on bike training that license’s ability to escape me is growing shorter by the day.

If nothing else this season has brought a renewed sense of self-reliance. Not in the sense of not listening to my coach or listening to Barb or any other solid advice. In the sense that I spend less and less time dwelling in the good opinion of other people.

I’ve read what people think you can do with your FTP in a year’s time. It’s no longer important to me. Time will be the judge.

Three weeks left to Santa Cruz, here we go.

Although Clermont officially opened up the season for me, the KC Tri is really the “season opener” in my mind as it begins the rollout of the month to month of races remaining in the season.

morning-fog

Each year, I get ready to give it a go, estimating my finish time based on training times and thinking where I should place depending on who shows up.

Each year, this race, for whatever reason, hurts. This year was no exception.

Narrowly avoiding the coldest race to date (which was KC Tri 2014) the temperature rose fairly quickly after sunrise and the clouds cleared long enough to get things moving on the thermometer. Warm-up session in, standing in my wetsuit beginning to absorb the sun’s rays with some welcome warmth; the under 34 crowd surrounded me as we toed the water waiting for the gun.

Without much hesitation we were off once again into Longview Lake on a double looped course. Unfortunately I wasn’t warm enough in the arms to really get out hard and get on some quick feet so I lost a few of the fast guys out of the gate. Which also led me to getting passed momentarily by a few guys one of whom kicked me in the face before I passed him only 10-15 seconds later. It never ceases to amaze me the lack of pacing ability in the swim start, but that’s triathlon.

Swimming blinded straight into the sun I could only hope our gaggle of flailing arms were headed towards the buoys. The first orange buoy was somewhat easy to spot, the yellow turn buoy was a shade different than the rays pouring off the sun at best. Once around the turn, I found some similarly paced feet and sat in. No repeat of Clermont for this swim, we’re staying on those feet this time.

 

Out of the water, under the arch and onto lap two.

kansas-city-triathlon-lap-2

This time we headed into traffic as we swam through the other waves that had started after us. Despite the 750m double looped course being convenient for not strong swimmers (a short breather on dry land before heading back out), it really makes for a headache going through traffic (and I imagine a headache for those getting swarmed by faster swimmers coming from previous waves).

I’d lose my feet then find them again. Sun blinding me as I wrestled with blue caps, green caps, searching for that one damn red cap I needed to keep on. Around the yellow turn buoy again and finally; there he is. Stuck back on those feet I’d be with him the whole way in. Arms moving well, effort really pretty reasonable.

Headed into t1 my foot speed got the better of him and he didn’t begin taking off his wetsuit until he reached his rack. One down, how many IMG_5350more to go?

My original plan had been to put on arm warmers in t1 – lose the 15-20 seconds doing so – and stay plenty warm on the bike. I found my rack, put on my glasses then attempted to put on my first arm warmer. Drat, the water was making it next to impossible for it to slide on. “Screw it.” I tossed them aside and slapped on my helmet, “It’s warm enough.” I thought.

Running out of t1 I found another competitor who had exited the water before me, but wasn’t moving quick enough. Navigated around him past the mount line and off I went.

 

It was definitely a bit cold getting going. Wet uniform, mid to low 50’s, but luckily very little wind. Much of the bike is a blur to me now. Pedals turning, trying to keep moving without blowing up. A lot of things mashed together. I watched slowly as Kevin (Denny) was putting time into me (which was no surprise). Part of my main point for the day was to see how much if any I’d closed the gap on him in the last two years. We’ve both improved on the bike, but him much more so.

IMG_5379

I made a decision not to take any gels in on the bike again this year. I seemed to be having some digestion issues with breakfast and didn’t want to risk throwing up on the run. I knew I was getting some calories in with the HEED in my bottle and left it at that.

FinaIMG_5420lly rounding out my time on the bike, slower than I had wanted it was about time to get to what I do best, the run.

Rack the bike, helmet off, shoes on, go. The familiar chant subconsciously ringing through my mind.

 

Rounding the arch and making the sharp left onto the run course, I see Coach Ryan stationed and cheering me on. Time to get moving, start out a little slow then let the legs loose as we go along.

Boy, did the legs hurt. My back hurt, my legs hurt, it was now a game of pain management. Not just a matter of normal pain management in a running race, but a whole body hurt where you have to try and keep as smooth as possible, as swift as possible, without blowing up or cracking under the pressure.

At these times I try not to get negative. I’ve thought in the past at these moments “Why the hell am I doing IMG_5432this?” This year it was finally a little more neutral “Don’t worry about where you finish, put in the work and the results will be what they’ll be.” Despite this run hurting more than previous years it seemed to be a sustainable pain. Yes, it hurt a lot, no, I wasn’t anywhere near going to stop. I just don’t have it in me to quit.

Coming around the first lap Coach Ryan holds his hand out for a “mid five.” He got a little heavy on the touch there which pulled me off balance momentarily, but nothing too much to worry about.

Somehow finding the asphalt again after being on the slippery gravel trail lets me pick up the pace. Feeling smooth again the legs don’t seem to hurt as much any more and its time to start increasing the pace. Each mile, 3, 4, 5 I put down a little more speed and ramp the breathing up one more notch. “Stay calm.” I have to remind myself. I’m a bit dehydrated at this point and could start gagging with my terrible sinuses draining down my throat as thick as GU (lovely image, right?).

Last straightaway to go, I’m passing sprint distance athletes and headed for the finish. No kick is in me this year, the legs are pretty worn today.

IMG_5457

“Jesse Funk coming across the line, he’s one of our Olympic distance finishers, looks like Top 5.”

“Bollocks.” I thought. Not where I wanted to be at all.

2:06:12. A new course PR and a new lifetime PR. Sure didn’t feel that way.

Every course is different, some suiting certain athletes, others favoring different people. KC Tri never seems to really suit me, it always poses a challenge and it is almost always my most painful performance of the year. Maybe that’s part of why I keep coming back, to see if I can finally beat this thing into submission.

I try to make sense of the time since I thought I should have been faster. There’s not much to say about it, my only consolation being the last time I went 2:06 was 2013 Nationals. What did I do at the KC Tri that year? 2:18. I’ve definitely improved, but still have a long way to go.

IMG_5468

5th overall, 3rd in the age group, 2nd in the age group on the podium with Kevin Denny removed as the overall winner.

 

Although it pains me to do it, a power meter is on its way to me. Luckily the first business is doing well enough now that I can get one, it’s still hard to part with the capital to invest in it.

Time to start acting like the “big boys” that are destroying me on the bike leg (I had the slowest bike leg of the top 10, being 0.6mph  slower than the next closest competitor and 2.6 mph slower than Kevin – the eventual winner of the day).

4 weeks to go. Eagleman 70.3, here we come.

 

 

Another year of training, getting ready for another shot at qualifying for that good ‘ol elite license.

The actual race review for me is pretty short. I had a nice triple PR on day 1, about 30 seconds faster in each discipline over last year. However, the whole field got faster so I literally ended up placing the same as I did day 1 last year. No closer to qualifying than I was a year ago.

A highlight of the weekend was that my dumb face rubbing my pec out got into the highlight reel on the race video this year. Woo. Note to self: try to be more conscious of video camera drones and people hanging around.

Clermont Draft Legal 2016 from Vantage Point Aerials on Vimeo

On the macro level of things, the results are great for the sport. We need more competitive men if we’re going to get on the podium. It simply isn’t great for me on a micro level with draft-legal aspirations. It essentially seals my fate as a 70.3+ athlete (which I was fighting against because I love the draft-legal format) for the future. First one up will be 70.3 Eagleman in June. Updates later on how that goes.

There’s always something to be said in regards to the race, the in workings of my mind as the race unfolds, mental prep going into it, the training it took to get there, the effort put forth to the finish line and a new PR, mistakes made, positive steps taken, etc. But this year really has cemented a different impression on me. Something I think that will be more lasting than whether I was 29th or 75th.

People.

We meet so many people in our lives. Surrounded by hoards of others like us, yet so dissimilar that often we find it hard to reach out and say hello.

Somehow though, on race day, no matter the age, gender, experience level… you can always seem to find a friend. Despite the supercharged competitive atmosphere, the triathlon community as a whole and especially at races like Clermont where hopes and dreams are on the line, seems to be a microcosm of the best of human nature. Hospitality, kindness, courtesy, generosity: all seem to be in abundance.

Maybe it’s in part to do with the suspension of reality that occurs at a race. Where the worries of every day life cease and all that matters is relaxing and getting ready to race. Your entire being, distilled down to a singular purpose. Devoid of the stress of bills, jobs, or headaches outside of your nutritional strategy to race.

No where else is it better distilled than a snippet of conversation I had with a new friend before I was to return home. “Headed back to reality in T-minus 5 hours.” I told her. To which she replied “Don’t do it. Reality sucks. It hit me like a bus this week.”

Of course I’m sure there’s a large sense of hyperbole in her response, but is there any sense of reality for which we all yearn? To live in a place where we can meet and connect with new people. People we understand, get along with and relate to coming together in a community that lives outside of our digital-Facebook-social-media laden lives.

There’s a part of me, the part that drives me forward to goals that seem “impossible” to the “masses.” (Allow my blanket statements for now please). This part believes that hard work and determination make anything capable. Connecting with people across distances farther than most people go for vacation. I seem to have found a knack for picking up friends across a continent and even across country borders. Maintaining such relationships is anything but the “norm.”

These people you meet, at races, or on vacation as well in my case, that you seem to be drawn to or connect with, have this suspended state of friendship/relationship progression. Where you make such fast friends with them that you’re closer than you are with many people in your city yet are hours long flights away and you end up in situations you’d never dreamed. Staying with their family in a vacation home, hosting them as they fly in from another country just to see you for a week, late night skype calls across borders and time zones, plotting joint vacations or races to be able to hang out or simply sending a text or e-mail to try and stay connected.

People.

The story of our lives I believe is told in large part about the people we want to associate with and those that want to associate with us.

Maybe it’s simply a shadow of childish thinking to believe in connecting with people beyond regular boundaries. Maybe one day it will hit me more plainly. For now however, I still believe in figuring out what it is that you want and doing it, rather than focusing on what “can’t” be done and surrendering to  conventional wisdom.

I’ll stick with Dan Pena. “Conventional wisdom is almost always wrong.”

 

Detroit in 2014 was my very first draft legal race. It was exciting, held amid a turning point in my personal life that unbeknownst to me would bring me to a place where I began to thrive more than I have in the last few years since college. Finally able to flex my proverbial muscles and work more on becoming who I want to be personally and professionally not to mention continuing athletically. A year has passed since that race and another Detroit Triathlon has been raced. I know I’m still young, but I also feel I’m getting old since I thought to myself now “Can a year have really passed?”

This year I was looking to really make some strides in the water to come out further ahead to race in a faster bike group. Despite cutting back mileage my other races seemed to show that I have still been making improvements this year on the swim. My plan on race day was to go out and bury myself on the swim to get myself as far forward as I could and let the chips fall as they may from there.

The actual race turned out to be much different than that. I won’t say I had a bad swim, it was decent, a solid effort, but not quite the heart thumping redline effort I was hoping to get out of myself.

Much as last year I ended up one of the last guys out of the water. Somehow, unfortunately for him, just behind my friend Kevin who’s made big leaps on the swim this year. He had a pretty bad swim day and felt gassed, which was fortunate for me since we ended up racing by ourselves on the bike leg.

On lap one I was leading the two of us as we caught another guy, I slowed slightly to let him on the back hoping to start building our group, but we dropped him shortly after only a couple pulls for him. Just Kevin and myself to work trying to catch up to a couple guys with a 30 second gap on us. We never could close the gap and it was off to the run.

Because of my position coming out of the water I really thought I was way back in the race so I put a solid effort in on the run, but the motivation wasn’t super high. Going into it I wasn’t sure how the legs would hold up, but I began to feel really good and started to turn over a little smoother (at least in my mind) on lap 2.

After finishing I was sure I had finished high 20’s out of what I thought was a field of 35 (as the start list had). Turns out that not everyone showed up to the race and I also finished 17th, exactly the same spot as last year (barring the 2 DQ’s ahead of me last year).

The results weren’t really spectacular, but the weekend also served as a much needed get together with friends and like minded guys. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but there’s something about hanging around other guys/gals that are in the sport, work themselves day in day out just like you and really understand why you’re all there without any need to explain.

As I enter my week 2 of rest right now I’m not quite ready to get back to training, but spurts of squirrely behavior where I have to do something have popped up a couple times so I’ve snuck a short 3 miler in (feeling terrible of course) and a little lifting session yesterday.

I’ll be meeting with my new full-time coach, Coach Ryan Ross, from Coast to Coast Triathlon on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming year. With his help of taking the load off me to figure out workouts and make sure I’m doing the right things I am hoping I can begin to focus down more on working hard every day. It’s going to take something special to make the kind of improvement I need on the swim over this next year to be in contention for my elite license next year in Detroit or even earlier in Clermont.

I have my own ideas about what I need to do to get my strength up massively in my upper body, we’ll have to see what his plan is and where we can get together over the next year. Time will tell.

Only 354 days until the next Detroit Triathlon.

Monday morning, a return to the usual routine of waking up, preparing the day’s work and fitting in errands and workouts. An all too familiar routine for the stark contrast of what has been an incredibly enjoyable weekend.

This past weekend marks my first venture to Florida, ever. Combined with a back-to-back race weekend meant it was probably going to be a memorable trip. While kids are whisked off to Disney, I prepared the last few hours for a race I’ve been waiting to do for 4 years.

A series of fortunate events including the cancellation of my previously scheduled flight to Orlando brought me to a 7am departure with fellow Kansas City resident and my occasional training partner, Charity. She got the go ahead last minute to attend the races in Clermont for what I could hope would be a joyous occasion for her. With my experience last August in Detroit I re-found the thrill of racing in the draft legal format and only wished that she could feel that same excitement this weekend.

After arriving in Orlando and erroneously waiting too long at the wrong over-sized baggage claim (my bad) we had our bikes, rental vehicle and were on our way. Charity graciously allowed me to tag along with her which was completely outside of her original plan (and mine). Sometimes life throws a wrench in the works, which happened to be me at this juncture, but she’s a pro at dealing with life so there was nothing to worry about.

Leaving KC in 14 degree weather and arriving in Orlando to 85 degrees, I sat in the car beaming. I couldn’t help but just smile so spontaneously I felt like a little kid. You don’t realize how much you miss the sun until its been missing from your life for quite some time then reappears suddenly.

Errands done, lunch eaten, house reservation checked-in we set off to the rental house I procured for me and the guys to set up our bikes. Somehow I forgot my bike tool and had to borrow Charity’s to get my bike together. Finally assembled and ready to go, Charity did a short ride and headed out to her hotel stay for the weekend as Kevin arrived. The first of the guys to show up to the house Kevin and I have a lot in common. We’re both too old to be doing this shit (compared to the newly minted 20 somethings kicking our asses) and we both own businesses.

Bike successfully re-assembled.

Bike successfully re-assembled.

 

Friday Morning – Pre Race Clinic

We had our schedule set, Dan arrived late in the night after continuously delayed flights for him coming out of JFK. We were running late and rushed to grab the bikes and head out to the race venue to meet with Barb and the others for the pre-race clinic with her. In the rush out the door, I forgot my bike shoes at the house, it was raining out so the roads were slick and that meant no drafting practice for me. Things had been lining up so well before I got in Orlando, what was happening? I didn’t have my head screwed on straight yet. Still wondering about various life topics, business, etc. I told myself to get my shit together and forget those things for now. We’re here to do a job and get it done right. I spent the time jogging through transition, familiarizing myself with the layouts of the winding road in and out the best I could so I could handle it tomorrow on my bike.

I joined back with the group for a little bike mount/dismount practice in my running shoes – which isn’t really the same. Afterwards we headed down to the water for swim practice in the choppiest water I’ve dealt with yet. Rainy, windy, choppy water, forgetful brain. What happened to the sunny Orlando I had yesterday? After getting my head bashed around for  15 minutes or so in the water we did some swim start and exit practice before heading out for the day.

 

Saturday – Race Day 1

Here I began to take notes so I had a candid account of what I was thinking. The race started at 8:30am, between waking up at 4am and race time we had 4 warm-ups to accomplish. First off was a run just over a mile, 5 minutes after getting out of bed. Loosen the legs, warm up the body and getting things flowing properly. With an anticipated air temperature for racing of 55 degrees and the 65 degree water temperatures I thought to myself “I guess God didn’t want me to overheat today coming from training in the 20’s to racing. On to breakfast ”

Start line for day 1 - you can notice the flags, trees and a little bit of the water to see how choppy it was.

Start line for day 1 – you can notice the flags, trees and a little bit of the water to see how choppy it was.

Heading to the race site I made a note to myself about thinking at the time “WTF are we all doing? I have no idea why we do this objectively speaking. Regardless I’m ready for a chilly but great race day.” It appears I had finally got my head screwed on at least a little bit. Still having a small moment of existential crisis, but ready to throw it away for just enjoying the day.

20 minute bike warm-up once we got to the park was chilly. The first time I’d been on my bike, on the road, since last September. Time to get comfortable drafting again and fast. Another 1.5 mile run warm-up followed by a hurried check-in and transition setup lead to 10 minutes in the water for the final warm-up getting ready to race. Then we got delayed an extra 5 minutes and got to stand in line trying to keep warm before the siren went off.

On the swim I got out well. Despite being buoyed around like a toy boat by the chop I kept in contact with a good group. Unfortunately I let up too soon at the first turn buoy which meant racing mostly alone for the next 450 meters. I caught just a little bit of some feet on the way back in, but got into transition mostly by myself.

Out onto the bike I was faced with the annoying proposition of pushing hard to get back onto someone’s wheel. A guy in front of me could have used my help to move forward and start forming a pack. Unfortunately he decided he wanted no part of me and sprinted on ahead, leaving me to more work by myself. After some jostling, passing guys and jockeying I finally reach a rider of similar speed after the first 1.5k mark. After almost taking us both out by rubbing wheels I realized, “Hey, it’s Cory, I was looking for a different uniform.” Cory was the 4th guy to stay at the house I had rented and came down last. We spent the entire bike leg splitting lead pulls between the two of us. We tried to bring other guys into the group, but they either fell off the back or were just slightly too strong for us to stick on with our accumulating fatigue.

Cory and I working together on day 1. He's leading through the turnaround and then I'll take over for a bit.

Cory and I working together on day 1. He’s leading through the turnaround and then I’ll take over for a bit.

Finally heading into transition it was time for me to put my legs to good use, what they were meant for, running. Dismount, run the bike in, take the helmet off and struggle to put the shoes on. Those shoes, it can’t have been more than 5 seconds but it felt like an eternity trying to get those damn things on my feet. Maybe it was the cold, I certainly didn’t feel it, maybe it was my brain just being numb, I don’t know. Finally I was headed off onto the run course.

Now I was at home. Pounding the pavement in cardboard thin shoes the way God intended. As I exit transition Barb shouts at me “Let’s go Jesse you’re a runner!” I can only nod in agreement, of course I am, it’s time to do this. I had no idea how fast I was going, but I was pushing as hard as I could without going red line and blowing up my engine. Lungs were working, breathing audibly hard so competitors could hear me as I crept up behind them; I knew I was pumping away about as well as I could. I think to myself at times like this “relax, allow it to hurt, be comfortable being uncomfortable, this is what you do.”

The last turnaround to come home for the day. 1200 meters to go and I see Kevin about 250-300 meters ahead of me. All I can think of is what comes naturally to me after so many years of racing, of coaches yelling things at me as I go by. I think to myself “I want him, just push as hard as you can.” With an almost imperceptible downhill that most people would mistake as flat I accelerated into the last 1000 meters. I passed a couple guys, but they didn’t matter to me. Kevin had ground on me and I didn’t like it. I should have been out of the water with him, but he has gotten much stronger in the pool this year than I have. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had put 2 minutes on me before the run. This was my time to take it back. The finish line in sight, less then 150 meters to go and I pass him and surge for one last time. Giving it all the gas I have I know if he recognizes me he’s going to come hard so I can’t look back. I’ve just got to head for the line as hard as I can and hope for the best.

Success.

Apparently he didn’t even realize it was me coming by him until after the race was over. Dan, our other housemate finished furthest up for the day by starting the day off  exiting the water 2nd and held on as best as he could for the run. Finishing 30th out of 75 for the day (click EDR Men Day 1 – read the rest of the post before looking at day 2 you cheater), considering the field is stacked with some of the best amateur guys our age in the country, I can’t complain too much for a nobody just doing what he loves.

All in all an okay way to start the race season, but frankly a disappointing swim coming out of the 750 meter swim in 12 minutes. I know I can do much better than that. The plan for day 2 was to hit the swim as hard as I could. There was no point in holding anything back. Either risk blowing up for the reward of placing farther up or settle for complacency. The plan was clear – I had to put it all on the line in the water or tomorrow didn’t matter.

 

Taking the turn extra wide out of the frame so I'm not chopping my stride at all. The arrow shows the tiny dot that is Kevin at the final turnaround from me on Day 1.

Taking the turn extra wide out of the frame so I’m not chopping my stride at all. The arrow shows the tiny dot that is Kevin at the final turnaround from me on Day 1 with 1200 meters to go.

 

Sunday – Race Day 2

I’ve never done back to back race days for triathlon like this before. I have no idea how my body will react or deal with the stress. My college coach sent me a word of encouragement and a small admonition to it being a tough double. Of course, I have to brush it off like its something I do all the time so I respond to him “Nah, it’ll be fine.” My nonchalant confidence is a default when faced with new situations. I assume I’ll be doing awesome until proven otherwise.

Assigned spots in transition with name placards and plenty of space for your stuff. Ah, this is living.

Assigned spots in transition with name placards and plenty of space for your stuff. Ah, this is living.

Our race isn’t scheduled until 10:55am for day 2. However, with our warm-up schedule and my body’s own silly clock I effectively only woke up 20 minutes later than the previous day at what would have been 4:30 without the time change (now 5:30). I decided to lie around for the remaining hour, which I believe I drifted in and out of sleep for. Then at the appointed time an hour later I got up to start the morning routine we did yesterday. Get a little mile stroll in outside with some strides to start the day right. I noted to myself that my legs were just slightly fatigued, but overall felt really good.

Breakfast, then onto the park. Bike warmup my legs aren’t responding quite as well as I’d hope. Kevin and Dan are pulling a bit harder than I want to respond to on the bike. No guarantee that this means anything as of yet since I know from history I can feel like poop and then compete well. The body can be a funny thing before you get it all the way revved up.

Fortunately with the later race start there was a lot more time to get warm-ups in without the rush around like Day 1. A little longer run warm-up at the venue plus a more solid swim warm-up for the day. Not to mention the much calmer water. Air temperature scheduled to be about 70 degrees for race start, calm wind, the lake is calm enough I can sight buoys without getting thrashed about from my weak swimming abilities. It’s shaping up to be a good day. I’d find out soon if I could really pull off what I intended.

The gun goes off at the race start and I run in after the leaders. I always pause a second before sprinting in since there’s no point in getting run over at the start by the guys much much faster than me. I grab some feet and off we go. Much smoother water today means I’m comfortable being aggressive. Barb rings in my head “stay on those feet!” no matter what I have to do I can’t let those feet go. If they’re gone grab on to some new ones. The slipstream is too important to give up today. It’s almost impossible to see what’s happening without sighting. The water is a murky copper color with a vaguely familiar and unpleasant taste – dark enough that you can’t see feet 6 inches from your face. I think back to the poster on my wall at home “Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.”

We round the first buoy and all is well, time to put a surge in to stay on the group. No repeats of yesterday, the whole race depends on now. All I can think of now is about not losing the feet. Whatever I have to do, however hard I have to push, however high I have to jack my heart rate up that’s what I’ve got to do. Still on feet as the buoy for home comes. The group keeps infighting to stay moving towards the buoys for home. The guy I’m hanging on really doesn’t like me sitting behind him and keeps kicking hard whenever I touch his feet. Such is the life of poor planning on his part – I’m not wasting more energy than I have to. 100 meters to go and the group surges to get onto the beach. The swimmer next to me, whether intentionally or not, snags my left arm during his pull and pins it to my side then pulls my head under water. In hindsight I’m thinking to myself I should be mad and get aggressive, but at the time I simply popped up, took a deep breath and kicked hard to move ahead of him and get back on my lead swimmer.

Wetsuit stripped down taking a sharp corner into T1 on Day 2. I'm on a mission to stay with these guys.

Wetsuit stripped down taking a sharp corner into T1 on Day 2. I’m on a mission to stay with these guys.

Finally on the beach I see the clock letting me know I’m 30-40 seconds faster than  yesterday. The effort was worth it even if I can’t keep it up I know I met my minimum goal for the day. A long run up to transition means I can make up some ground with my legs. It’s time to take the wetsuit off, but where the hell is my zipper pull? It’s a foot long and I can’t find it. After fumbling with it for much too long I finally get the back unzipped and the wetsuit pulled halfway down. Into T1 I’ve passed 2 guys and gotten into a group flying out of transition with the fury of someone who just stole the only meal they’ve had all week. Onto the back of some guys today, yes, exactly what I wanted.

Our bike group has 6 guys and we’re eating into another group ahead of us. I’m probably middle of the pack of this group as far as bike strength goes, but I’m sitting behind the strongest guy. It’s making me take pulls at the front way longer than I want because he pulls so hard and won’t let off enough for me to move off and get another guy going. I let him know as much and he starts to back off to get the rotation moving faster. Into the first technical section around the transition area I make a fatal mistake. I end up at the back of the line, behind another rider with worse bike handling skills than myself so we get gapped out of transition and the stronger cyclists are gone. Now its just me and him riding together. Just like Cory and I yesterday. Damn. Not again. If life gives you lemons as they say…

Men's side of transition before the race. The course loops through here unlike regular non-draft events most amateurs can compete in.

Men’s side of transition before the race. The course loops through here unlike regular non-draft events most amateurs can compete in.

Fortunately he was willing to work hard with me and I decided we should take 30 second pulls and move off so nobody gets tired. We’re keeping relatively decent time with the bike group that left us, but they are definitely gapping us larger and larger until they pick up the bike group ahead of them that contains Kevin. No time to think about it in the moment, but I could have done a lot to have been in a group with 10-11 guys off the bike.

Shortly before we pick up a third rider who’s weaker, but able to somewhat keep pace with us, I learn my cycling companion is actually not going to be running. Later after the race I would learn his plantar fasciitis was too bad to allow him to run – a heartbreaker for someone who was a runner by trade originally. Although we are gapped, he’s offered and willing to work for me harder at the front to lead and make sure I’ve got as good of position as possible since I’ll be running and he’ll be done at the end of the bike leg. I told him as much after the race, but I’ll say it again for posterity – what a fucking champion. I just met this guy in the middle of a race, we’ve never spoken two words before meeting up on the bike leg, and he’s selfless enough to help me out by giving me slightly more time in the draft behind him so I have fresher legs to chase some guys down on the run. I make sure to return the kindness by getting up for strong pulls myself to give him a break behind me since I know he’s working as hard as he can for me. I could have just sat behind him the whole time, but that wouldn’t have served him or me if I had just been a jerk and relaxed in the draft. That’s not my style of racing. Maybe one day I’ll be arrogant enough to sit at the back and do nothing, but for now I’m stupid enough to think that I’ve got to get out there and work to keep moving forward, especially in a small group like that.

We hit the winding section before transition and I take the lead of our group on our 4th lap. It’s time to unstrap the shoes, pull the feet out and get ready to dismount the bike. This is where I leave my two companions behind and go to work doing what I do best, turning the legs over.

Rack the bike, helmet off, shoes on, go! A ritual that plays out in my head every T2. I see Barb straight out of transition, I don’t recall whether she said anything to me or not, I was focused on chasing Kevin down as soon as possible since I knew he was closer today. I don’t remember what she said, but Charity was at the junction right out of transition onto the road cheering me on. As well as some other people who knew my first name (who I can only imagine was Kevin’s family since I didn’t see them and only heard voices) and were cheering for me to “bring the funk.” It’s always a bit funny to see what people will do with my name. Strangers seem to latch onto it, but I’ll always accept the cheers nonetheless.

Today I was going to get more spots than I had yesterday, I was going to finish farther up. The run was hurting more than yesterday, not so fresh anymore, but that didn’t matter. It’s just one day, it’s only 3 miles, it will be over in an instant. So I push ahead, grabbing runners (figuratively) one by one as I slip past them with my audibly loud breathing again. Here it is, the first turnaround only 1200 meters into the run and I already see Kevin. “Good deal” I think to myself, I pass him shortly after the turn and re-focus on getting as many more guys as I can. I can’t ease up, goal 1 is done now we need some more. Always one more guy, then another and another. An insatiable craving that’s been burned into my brain over the last 13 years of racing.

The turnaround by transition Barb shouts at me “Okay Jesse, I need you to catch 5 more guys by the turnaround.” Cheers from Charity accompany Barb’s call. I’m in the zone and focused now, I give the nod which I don’t know if she can even see it’s so small. It’s my way of saying “challenge accepted.” Like clockwork I pick up the pace as soon as I know what my job is ahead of me. I can only even see 2 guys at the moment and they’re quickly lost around the bend. This can be a big psychological challenge where your brain wants to let up and I notice it calling at me. Fortunately I recognized it for what it is, a phantom lying to you. I give another surge to tell it to piss off and I get back to work. Out of the turn I can see my guys. I reel them in ever so slowly, painfully slow. Only 3 caught by the turnaround, but as I look down the road I see them dotted one by one. Now my inner nerd comes out and I quite literally think to myself “it’s time to play some pac-man and gobble these guys up.” With the last 1200 meters to go and knowing that I have a whole string of guys in front of me, including one guy who left me on the bike from the previous day, its time to put down the last 6 months of training on this winding stretch of road.

One by one they fall to the wayside. They don’t have the legs to keep up, I know it, they know it. One guy gives a little chase in behind me to try and keep up which only spurs me on harder, but the effort is useless for him. He may have spent his legs a little too much on the bike to keep up with me at this point. I keep in mind that I didn’t get my 5 by the turnaround like Barb had asked. Ignoring the little voice that wants to wallow in the failure I redouble my mental effort to say I need even more on this back stretch of road.

As I pass guys I notice ahead of me a pale broad shouldered figure that’s all too familiar. Dan. What the crap he’s doing this close to me I have no idea. He should be 10-15 spots up from this section of the race from his great swim position. I later learned he essentially got ran off the road by a poor cyclist and crashed into a bush then spent most of his bike ride grinding it out by himself. Such is draft-legal racing unfortunately.

Just like Kevin, the knowledge that I want to beat my buddy is only pushing the lung and legs harder. “Relax” I think to myself. “Focus in front of Dan, not on him.” A trick I learned long ago about myself. If I focus straight on a runner ahead of me I allow them to dictate my pace mentally and will slow down. So I look in front of them to where I want to be instead of at the back of their heads simply accepting that I’m behind. 3 guys until Dan, 2 guys, 1 guy, okay here he is and still 400 meters to go. Running past I know it’s a matter of getting into the finish now. Dan is a very competitive swimmer and we’re very much on dry-land which is my domain between the two of us. I grab 2 more guys after I passed Dan before it was all over. So I only made 3 by the turnaround, but I made it up by catching (to my recollection) 6 on the way home.

The finish line behind me, I can be satisfied for the day. It took a good deal more effort and my run lagged behind the previous day’s run by 11 seconds, which I preferred it to have gone the other direction. So compared to Day 1 I swam and biked faster, but had a slower run. Trifecta for another day I imagine.

 

A considerably better effort – or at least I thought so – bought me 26th place out of a field of 75 for day 2. The whole field was faster on the day, but I did increase my finishing spot nonetheless in an almost identical field of guys.

 

After day 1 racing and pro races we snuck a photo with Olympian Sarah Haskins who dominated the women's field. I wanted to get Barb in the photo for a "double Olympian" photo, but she was busy talking. Serendipity took hold however and she is in the background off to my right side (left of the photo) so we got her in there after all.

After day 1 racing and pro races we snuck a photo with Olympian Sarah Haskins who dominated the women’s field. I wanted to get Barb in the photo for a “double Olympian” photo, but she was busy talking. Serendipity took hold however and she is in the background off to my right side (left of the photo) so we got her in there after all. (left to right – Barb Lindquist, me (Jesse Funk), Dan Isaacson, Kevin Malone, Sarah Haskins and Charity Fluharty).

Post Race Thoughts

I wrote a long list of thoughts while sitting at the airport by myself. However, this post has gotten inordinately long as it is. So I’ll have to sum up a bit. Being able to hang with like-minded guys and around a field of such competitive athletes if only for 2 and a half days was great. Not to disparage my friends or family, but I finally felt “home” for the first time since college.

There’s an interesting dynamic within our group of athletes and I think for the most part the triathlon/endurance community as a whole. We’re all competitive as hell, but you can feel that each of us all genuinely wants the other ones to succeed. Despite racing being a zero sum game, there’s an ethos of finding a win-win where none exists between fast friends. People you only see once or twice a year that know parts of your soul only few can glimpse at without having gone through the experience themselves.

As Dan and I discussed under the fluorescent lights of the Orlando airport’s well maintained food court, we’re probably both too old to really “make it” as an Olympic hopeful like we dreamed. Our destinies probably lie in the Ironman distance if anything. In one sense though we are still young and there is still time left for us to develop, but the toll that must be exacted from each of us to get what we want is yet unknown. (From my notes) “As age and time creep along without abatement we all fight the clock to chase our dreams the best way we know how. One pull, one pedal stroke and one stride at a time. Truthfully I’m not sure any of us know any other way to live than to push as hard as we can physically and mentally every day then wake up and do it again tomorrow. Is it insanity? I’m not certified to tell…”

‘Though I can say in this moment, it certainly just feels like life.”

 

An Update on Training Since Nationals

A perpetual state of procrastination has left my site unattended. Have I been training? Absolutely. More than ever before. Which is partially why my procrastination to post has taken hold.

I’m now training twice a day, 6 days a week with one day only having one workout. Soon, that day will be either a long run, or a two to two and a half hour brick. The life of a triathlete is never dull, or should I say, never unoccupied.

I’ll use this post as a catch-up on training since Nationals last year and hopefully be posting more regularly now that we’re cranking into the regular season.

I’ve been spending a good deal more time in the pool this year. Now I am training with William Jewell’s head swim coach, Mark Gole, in addition to some of the workouts that Barb sends the Collegiate Recruits. Which the help of Coach Gole and the addition of approximately 7-9,000 more meters a week than my peak week last year (last year peak around 13k a week, now I’m swimming 20-22k a week) I have made some significant gains in the pool. This gains have led me to be green-lighted to go to my very first Elite Development Race. These are draft-legal sprint-distance races where professional licenses hang on the line. The first 3 to cross the finish earn them and the rest of the field are left to try another day. The field is limited to 75 entrants and every one of them pretty much fills up. This will take place as my A race, my final race of the season, in Mid-August. I’ve elected to skip Age Group Nationals this year (at least at this point) since it is a week before the EDR and I don’t anticipate being on the podium at Nationals this year.

If somehow I can pull out a miraculous qualification for my elite license this  year. Next year could potentially be my fist professional season. Or I may continue to race amateur for another year to get more experience and racing under my belt as well as take a shot at an overall Age Group Nationals title. Development is always slower than I hope it could be, watching some of my fellow athletes cruise into the pro ranks. Fellow Collegiate Recruit, Katie Hursey, recently won her first World Cup (top tier global professional level) race in New Plymouth, New Zealand. If I remember correctly I got to meet her at my first Age Group Nationals in 2012. This is only her second year racing professionally and already she’s cranking out a win at the absolute peak of competition. Unfortunately I’m not quite there yet, or more rather, anywhere near that yet, ha. But it’s great to see some fellow college athletes really stamping their name in the sport early on.

Yesterday was my first day back at the track outside. And it was the first speedwork I’ve done on the run in about a month and a half. I spent a few weeks not running, just rehabbing, after I had a peroneal tendon strain on my left ankle. No, I didn’t fall in a hole. No I wasn’t running on rough terrain. No, I wasn’t running fast. I was just on a long run and it as such a freak occurrence. I’m not sure what triggered it. My only thought is from a couple weeks prior I was running on the track at my gym doing full out sprints. Unfortunately the gym doesn’t have a regulation track so the turns are almost right angles. This may have weakened the tendon on my left side, but the world may never know.

The internet brought me a great solution I think I had only heard Coach Tom mention in passing. I wouldn’t have thought about it had I not seen the reference. KT Tape. Kinesiology Therapy tape. Pre-cut athletic tape strips to wrap various injuries from. From a business stand-point. These guys have it down. They know their product, they answer all your questions on the website, they have videos showing you exactly what you need to do to support various kinds of muscle ailments. I was sold almost instantly. In the future I won’t be leaving home without some KT Tape in the bag just in case. It helped me get back to running 3 weeks earlier than I anticipated. I’m not saying it’s a miracle or it’s magical, but if you are doing rehab I would recommend it to speed the healing process. I’ll be wearing it for the next month as I continue to run to make sure that tendon is nice and healed before running “naked” again. As a side note, my only complaint is that the version I got is supposed to last 4-7 days before needing to be changed and is labeled as “water proof.” However, my main pool workouts slowly peel it off my foot so I have to remove it. Essentially I only get 1-2 days of use out of a taping job. But, for $1.60 a day I’m happy to pay that to get back to training sooner. You can check it out at KTtape.com. I picked mine up at Wal-Mart. It’s widely available, but you can order online if need be. Again, no sponsorship deal with them, just a genuine endorsement for the product.

Back to my workout from yesterday. First speedwork on the run in what feels like an eternity. I decided not to make it too difficult and set up a set of 5 x 1000 meters with 90 seconds rest at 5k pace. More rather I decided to just do it by feel at 5k pace instead of setting an actual 5k time since I have no idea where my fitness is right now. By the end of it, between it being 40 degrees, the wind blowing me around and the intensity level I was pushing my body at, it became one of those days where you question your own sanity. Heading down the final 100 meters into the wind, legs are burning, lungs are pumping cold air as hard as they can, abs are screaming at you because you’ve neglected them for not running for so long. You question yourself “Why the hell do I do this again?” A major part of this game is being able to focus solely on the task at hand despite your pain. Despite the weakness in your head yelling at you “quit, just stop here, lay down and take a breather, it’ll be easier, don’t you want a rest, let’s find something else to do.”

A Consideration of Definitions

The truth is, sometimes I wonder whether I teeter on insanity or not. I push my body, like so many other athletes at this level, at levels below my speed and many levels above me. Push to the brink of exhaustion day-in, day-out. For what? A medal? No. Nobody is stupid enough to do this just for the sake of a medal. The medal is only a symbol. A symbol for other people to have a glimmer of understanding what it takes. A symbol for our superiority at that moment in time. A symbol that says “for this one moment in time, I’m the best. I put in the work, the hours, the grind, to make it here and I want to enjoy my moment.”

The word “sacrifice” is thrown around a lot with athletes. We have to sacrifice so many things in order to achieve our goals. To achieve the impossible dreams. I disagree. Some may sacrifice things, but on the whole I believe and certainly feel at times that this endeavor is entirely selfish.

Sacrifice (verb): To give up something important or valued for the sake of other considerations.

Does this sound like a sacrifice to you? We love, I love, this sport. A sacrifice would be giving this up, something that amounts for a large fiber of my self-identity, for the sake of other considerations. Not the other way around. Yes, I’m not able to do some other things that I enjoy. Play the violin, sculpt, paint, metalwork, etc. etc. However, when faced with time constraints, the whole of your life will be distilled to the most important things to keep you living and or that keep you happy. Unfortunately, they’re not always the same nor do they always coincide. I have been fortunate enough to have an infrastructure to allow me to (by societies standards) skimp by on a meager income while relying on family to help me on my journey.

But I am determined. This is my year. The year to finally take charge of everything in my life. To be able to support myself entirely, financially. To earn my professional license so I can stop saying “I’m trying to be a professional triathlete.” and be able to say “I am a professional triathlete.” This is the year. It takes little enough to say the words, but I’ve been working every day for months now and will continue, to make this my reality. Dreams are only an idea. Action, daily action, is what makes those dreams a reality.

We must always remember. “You can’t cheat the grind.”

This past weekend as many fans of Triathlon already know was USA Triathlon’s Olympic and Sprint distance National Championship event. This was my second year participating in the event and I was definitely more prepared this year. It’s interesting how our perspective of time varies depending on which side of an event we sit on. Now that this year’s Nationals is over I think about how long and short the last year has been. Never enough time for training, always too much time working on tedium just to be able to get back out the door for one more workout.

USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruits with Coach Barb Lindquist - Friday preview/pre-race workout group.

USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruits with Coach Barb Lindquist – Friday course preview/pre-race workout group.

 

Running into T1 catching up to a guy from the wave before me.

Running into T1 catching up to a guy from the wave before me.

I think I had mentioned in a previous post that I had very specific goals for this year’s National event. With these goals in mind I spent nearly all year working out 7 days a week with few days off to get to them and somehow, some way I actually made it. I dropped 3 minutes off my swim from the previous year now down to 23:30 (times are approximate). My bike was just over 23 mph up from 21.9 last year and I dropped another 2 minutes on my run from last year for a 35:30 at the end which ended up being the 25th fastest run time for the day. I finished 200th overall up from 288th last year and 44th/114 in the age group compared to 44th/88 last year. Total time was 8 minutes faster than last year with my first actual sub 2:10 time as I finished at 2:06:30 (approximately) for my fastest finish time yet. Additionally this year’s event was larger than last year so its not a straight comparison in terms of moving up numbers since there were more people competing.

At the mount line heading out onto the bike.

At the mount line heading out onto the bike.

All in all I should be able to say “Mission Accomplished,” but something in the back of my mind leaves an  unsatisfied feeling and a malaise about the event. Despite my marked improvement I’m still getting crushed by guys in my age group on the swim and bike, some of whom are not even training as many hours as I am.

Hitting the bike as hard as I can. Gotta get a TT frame for better body position.

Hitting the bike as hard as I can. Gotta get a TT frame for better body position.

At times I take pause to reflect on why it is that I do what I do. I’ve chosen a path in life that will lead to little financial success by itself and my current “job” leaves little extra to spare with the expenses of the sport.  At times it is easy to focus on how I’m progressing. I know that I’m the kind of athlete that isn’t a standout in the traditional sense, but that I obviously still have some natural ability in me. It has taken me long consistent hours of grinding to get into the kind of shape I’m in now and that’s the nature of the sport. However, it makes me ponder some times if the sacrifices required for me to make it into the ranks of the professionals and continue the grind upwards until my body is unable to grow any more are worth the effort. The long hours, little social interaction, vacations spent in hotel rooms doing nothing in preparation for your race; its all enough to be maddening to most sane people.

Maybe that’s just the thing. Sanity as dictated by society has never been my

Leg swung over getting ready to hit the dismount line.

Leg swung over getting ready to hit the dismount line.

bag and if everyone else is doing it I’m probably not interested. I can’t help but feeling a little let down in not having placed higher in the standings this year, but at the same time I’ll forget about it and continue doing what I’m doing. Why? Because this is who I am. Running and now Triathlon is such a part of me that I can’t at this point in time imagine not doing it.

It may wear me down to the point of exhaustion many days. It may take grueling hours of pushing my physical and mental limits to the point of breaking, resting a little for recovery and doing it all again. It may leave me unable to go out with friends or eat absolutely anything any time of the day, but its simply how I live. I mean this in an unalterable sense of living. In a way that if you took away Itzhak Perlman’s

Just finished. My work is done.

Just finished. My work is done.

violin forever or kept Monet away from oil paints they wouldn’t be whole ever again. I may never see an Olympic games from the inside, stand on the podium at a world championship event or even receive any kind of compensation from sponsors for my athletic prowess. I do this for love of the sport.

Usually these posts are a recap of my race and how I felt. It’s a pretty simple thing to sum up really. I went out hard on the swim and exploited a poor buoy positioning to cut some distance off the course that guys swam if they followed the exact line of buoys (the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line). I felt tanked on the bike and wasn’t sure how the run would go. I got on my feet and headed out as uncomfortably as I could for a 10k that felt as natural as could be. I did what I went to do at Nationals and I may not have placed as well as I wanted, but that can’t be helped. Simply put I did it for love of the sport.

Full USAT Age Group National Championship 2013 Results

tyr_yellow_buoy

 

So this past weekend was finally the first race of my triathlon season this year. I counted it up and it had been 10 whole months since I raced last (Age Group Nationals last year). Little bits of slacking here and there definitely have occurred because of the 7-day a week training schedule that leads to monotony if you’re not kept fresh mentally. Despite those however I have been fairly consistent in the majority of my training (I’m just hyper-critical sometimes).

Surveying the scene the day before the race and out for a bike warmup

Surveying the scene the day before the race and out for a bike warmup

We drove over Friday morning and arrived in town around 11. Freshly paved roads on the bike course and a hilly run were going to be a good and bad sign of things to come. Post lunch we arrived at the race site and spent 20 minutes driving around trying to figure out how the heck to get over to the transition area since nobody had yet put up any signs giving directions within the Innsbrook resort. This is a typical occurrence when you’re new to an area and there’s a dozen options of turns to take, but I like arriving before everyone really starts coming in to pick up their packets to get my pre-race workout in. A 30 minute bike and a 15 minute run almost end in disaster. As I was turning around on the run course my left foot planted on the ground, pushed to help me turn and came out from under me with the gravel. I was forced to stick my arm out to save myself from face planting, but hurt my wrist and shoulder a little doing it. Post-workout I just wanted to get the heck out of there before I hurt myself, I’d waited too long to race for any kind of ridiculous shenanigans to prevent my race appearance.

Repping the Cycle City KC gear in transition at the St. Louis 5150 the day before the race.

Repping the Cycle City KC gear in transition at the St. Louis 5150 the day before the race.

Coming into this race I knew that I needed to win my age division to make my qualifiying spot for Age Group Nationals. Looking at last year’s results and the winner having a blistering fast almost 25mph bike in the 20-24 category I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Barb had talked to the race director to save a few spots for the remaining collegiate recruits (which included me) who hadn’t yet qualified and registered. Knowing that in the worst case scenario I can always qualify at Regionals helped me relax and forget about needing to qualify.

Setting up transition at around 6am. I'm standing in the camera lens flare of course.

Setting up transition at around 6am. I’m standing in the camera lens flare of course.

Race morning started as most race mornings do. An early alarm. Putting the few things I have with me and the bike in/on the car and heading to the race site. Setting up transition in a matter of minutes while everyone else muttles about and I wonder how everyone can have so much stuff in their transition area (it just boggles my mind, I’ll never understand).

 

34 and under wave start St. Louis 5150

I’m in the middle of the frame, mid depth in black and red. The white cap, can’t you see me?

As the cannon has sounded several times for the pros and age group elite waves to start the 34 & under crowd is called over to the start line. I realize I never took any of my accel gel before the race. “Oh well” I thought “if 110 calories are going to make or break my day then so be it.” (as an aside, this is why you actually eat things pre-race instead of relying entirely on gels) Regardless of anything else I’ve learned over the years that panicking over minor details is the worst idea ever, just relax and put out there what you have in you and that will be that. I toe the line oddly calm. It’s almost like I’ve been doing this for years (oh, I have now I suppose, but this is the first year I’ve finally been able to relax pre-race without almost any jitters). The cannon goes off and the clusterf*ck begins. I use that term because that’s the only way to describe a wave start with too many guys. I’m prepared at the front of group only as one line of guys ahead of me to get out and sprint onto some fast feet. To my surprise and chagrin I’ve got guys surrounding me making it difficult to even get in the water so I continue to wade forward as they what seemed like slowly crawl forward. Finally I’m able to dive in and get going as the mass of hands and feet kick, claw, climb and assault everyone in everyone direction. I couldn’t even get into sprinting speed for the mass of guys until about 200 meters in when I started to get out of the congestion and find some faster feet.

I would estimate it was 4-500 meters into the race before I finally got settled onto a slightly faster guy’s feet and there was only one other person around us. Sighting was much easier this race as I’d been practicing it over and over and over for months in the pool inserting it at random points through all different speeds in workouts. Sprinting around buoys to stay on feet and keep others off mine I seem to be making a pretty good pace and keeping up with the guy I’ve latched onto. He begins to die with what seems like 400 meters to go so I begin to go around him. Nope, just taking a breather he says (or I imagined) as he zooms back around me and puts some distance between us I just can’t seem to close. 250 meters to go and I’m by myself with a pack ahead of me. Everyone is wearing white caps so I have no idea who is who at this point.

Coming out of the water I anticipated being sub-24. Alecia tells me I am rightIMG_4519 around 26. Oh well, it is what it is and I couldn’t have put anymore into that swim. I’m still grappling with this swim time today and I can’t decide whether I think the swim course is long or not, but it doesn’t really matter at this point so training continues unabated.

Into T1 I go knowing that I need to deliver a great bike performance. After getting out of the resort area with its steep hills and speed bumps I’m finally on the open road ready to start making some ground up on the swim leaders. “Focus on cadence, exact every advantage you can by switching gears often, don’t get lazy” I tell myself. I pass by several people (which always feels nice) in the beginning 15 minutes of the course. I come to a point where there’s a gap between me and the next rider and enough turns in the course that it seems like I’m in a world by myself, just me and the clock. Then the eventual Age Group winner comes past me with a momentum I can’t even pretend to match. Those damn 40 year old guys always annihilate me on the bike. I catch back up with him as we hit the largest climb of the day and pass him for some time up the hill. They always get me on the descent though. Unsure of how I’m able to climb faster than him (despite being in my smallest gear possible) while he still passes me on the downhill I pedal on. Heading into the resort I unstrap my shoes to get ready to head into T1, but oh no I apparently didn’t study my course maps right and I have another mile or two to go before I am actually into T2. Oops, now I’m pedaling with loose shoes and guys are passing me as my inferior bike handling skills show on the fast and tight turns. I’ve held them off for the whole 40k and get caught up by about 5 guys my age within the last mile going into T2. “Rookie mistake, rookie mistake, grind it out and salvage what you can” I think to myself.

IMG_4538Coming into T2 there’s some congestion at the dismount line as I squeeze in between two older age group competitors shouting “in the middle!” (you know, like when you say “on your left” when passing; I just hoped for the best). Somehow I make it through them without taking anyone out and get stopped briefly at the transition entrance by a competitor walking their bike into T2. I run the bike through transition counting the racks from the front “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, fourth rack here we go.” I slam the bike on, unbuckle my helmet and toss it down. Shoes on, grab your belt, go!

Having already consumed 2 accel gel packets on the bike I’ve decided to try a new strategy on race day (I live dangerously, what can I say?) and I have put a gel packet inside a 12 ounce gatorade bottle with about 4 ounces of G2 in it. Previously I’d been too dehydrated on the run at Nationals when trying to consume gels and it was like the worst thick paste I’ve ever had (and accel gels are watery compared to GU packets). Somehow I successfully clip my belt onto myself on the way out of transition, open the gatorade bottle and down about half of the bottle before tossing it aside. Some nutrition is better than none and it went down smooth, mission accomplished I think to myself.

Now I’m back in my element. It’s just another cross country race at this point with my racing flats on. “Good form, high cadence” I chant inside my head. Careening downhill past other competitors I begin navigating the beginning twists and turns of the run course onto the first big hill about a quarter of a mile in. A phrase Barb said last year rings in my head “Don’t blow your load on the first hill of the run.” That phrase will always stick with me I imagine. I see a Missouri Collegiate guy on the hill and give him a little “M-I-Z Brother, here we go” and he shouts back “Z-O-U” as I cruise on past. Unsure of where my random Missouri pride has all of the sudden come from I figure it is simply spending too much time with John watching Missouri sports and competing itself that brings out my desire to enjoy the sport and the competition around me. One by one the other competitors fall behind me as the run course continues. Up hills, down hills, it doesn’t matter which way they are “good form, good form” I keep thinking.

I’m always checking ages on people’s calves as I pass. “Another 22, another 24, 19, 21, good keep going.” Then I see him, the 44 year old who was kicking my butt on the bike. I already know he’s 6 minutes ahead of me overall because of the difference in start time, but I refuse to be shown up in my own discipline come hell or high water by the 40 year olds. A second 40 year old guy I was passed by on the bike I begin to pass on a climb and say to him “You 40 year olds were kicking my butt on the bike” to which he replies with a chuckle “Yeah, well we kind of buy our speed, some people call it cheating.” My eyes are locked on my 44 year old competitor in front of me. He takes a glance back as he seems to sense that I’m coming. He begins a surge that lasts another half mile as he doesn’t want to be caught and eventually the pace is too much for him and he has to relent a little as I pass him. Small victories I say make up the successful race and training day and this was one of them. I have no idea where I stand overall at this point and with only a large downhill and the twisty quarter mile into an uphill finish to go I see an OSU guy in front of me. “One last guy to break” I think as I surge past him into the downhill.

Going downhill I start to see female pros in front of me that I eventually pass. “Hey, I can’t be doing too bad if I’m catching up with the female pros and they have a 6 minute head start on me.” I know it may sound ridiculous, but those ladies are stellar and at this point in my development I am happy enough to be able to compete with the female professionals.

A little photo op up a small hill into the final stretch as Alecia sprints along the stlouis5150runinlower portion of the hill towards the finish line trying to make another photo before I hit the line. I see the time on the clock at 2:25, meaning I’m at 2:16. Not terrible for a super windy bike course and a really hilly run course I think.

 

Post-race I won’t let Alecia tell me what I placed. I just want to wait it out and see what happens at the awards ceremony. No need to fret over it out. I put out there what I came to do and nothing can be changed now. She picks up one of the tickets that gives finishing place and comes back with a smile. Did I tell you she plays poker poorly? So I know I probably finished where I needed to qualify, but what about overall placement? In my head I think “Maybe 6th?” I’m a bit advantageous I suppose.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. The Olympic results finally start and I see my 44-year old competitor who kicked my butt on the bike has won overall. Good deal I can’t be too far down the standings with him only 6 minutes ahead. The announcer decided to go in reverse order of age groups to do the 20-24’s last. My patience has to wait another few minutes before they’re in. Fourth place is announced, nothing, third place is announced, nothing, second place is announced and it isn’t me. I let a smile crack on my face as I know what will be said next. I place my hat on the ground (not a great looking hat for photos, but I love it for training purposes) as the announcer calls my time and name to come up to the podium. Finally, I’ve made it. 10 months of training and the need to qualify for nationals in my first race out of the gate are successfully accomplished.

Stlouis5150podium

1st in the 20-24 Male Age Group Category. 8th overall, 15th overall counting Age Group Elite with Age Group at the St. Louis 5150 2013

Despite my extra time in the pool and on the bike with only a little increase in run training over those 10 months, I am disappointed with my swim and bike performances. I imagine the swim either had to have been long or I was stuck in a time warp since there’s no way with the kind of soreness my lat’s experienced I could have only put down a 1:44/100 pace. Regardless I somehow ended up putting down the fastest run time out of the age groupers and 3rd fastest run time including all the age group elite. Something that shocked me as I don’t really feel like I’m even training the run all that much. In spite of whatever flaws and accomplishments have happened or not yet occurred I think the extra training this year has finally made it happen for me. I am no longer a just a runner, I am finally a triathlete.

 

Now it’s waiting time. Waiting for both e-mails to show up. Free entry to the 5150 National Championship on September 1st and the e-mail saying I’ve qualified for USAT Age Group Nationals. It’s been 3 days post race and I’m wondering whether they have my e-mail. Can you e-mail me already? Where’s that e-mail. I guess my steely reserve is only for race days. I’ll be wondering about that e-mail every day until they show up and I can make that registration official. Now’s time to find some lodging. Cheers everyone and thanks for sticking through my longest blog post ever.

Monday was the start of a new chapter of life for me, full-time self-employment. Really just working on a simple buy/sell kind of business, but it allows me a more flexible schedule to train with and I can work on spreading the word about my high protein pancake mix too (although I haven’t done much this week since I’m busy with the other business).

This is my “off” week of training so today I should just have a nice easy 6 mile run and a 90 minute bike. The rain may force me to hunker down inside for said bikfile0001970449622e or move it to another day this week. However, I did get the opportunity to go out this morning for my run during the thunderstorm here which is still coming down as I write this. There’s something about a long run (pace wise) in the rain when it’s over 60. Shirts off, shorts on, rain pounding down on my head and droplets of water flick from the brim of my cap every step I take. There’s no other word for it besides refreshing. Although rain can make some people a bit pensive I become a bit more contemplative on runs such as these.

I began to think to myself as I passed the giant corporate offices here in Lenexa that I wouldn’t trade my life right now for anything. There I was running in the rain; reveling in the raindrops like a little kid laughing (literally) while enjoying my run and these unknown people to me are stuck inside in cubicles. Moments like that make me say to myself “This is real life” because I can’t always believe I get away with the life I have.

Which brings me to my next point of business. Why do I do the things I do? A question people ask me sometimes and I ponder most often. Put simply I do what I do so that I can be happy and find bliss. Emotions are such a large motivator for us and they can either hinder or help us in our quest for happiness. For me, being able to pursue life unencumbered by a traditional job setting helps accommodate my passion (triathlon) and fills me with a sense of virility I can’t find elsewhere. Pushing past just a sense of happiness is an ultimate motivator that lies at the heart of everyone (or should)  and that is knowing that one day you and I will cease to exist on this earth. Maybe death is not a large motivator for most people my age, but I’m unashamed to say it is a constant reminder in my own mind. Our existence in this life is so fragile in the scheme of reality that we hang on a thread day by day. Knowing this I can’t help but do anything besides pursuing the most fulfilling life I can possibly imagine, unrelenting in my endeavors. I’m not suggesting you go hog wild and try to fit in as many adventures in the next weekend as possible, but for the love of yourself take a step towards your dreams each day. We may not all reach our goals, but our pursuit of excellence in the face of mediocrity triumphs as the most worthy pursuit available to most of us.

My final words for the day. Action is the inexorable foe to a mediocre life. Take action, live passionately, you only have one life.