It is my belief that we can become better, happier, and more fulfilled human beings when we give the best of ourselves, and we give of ourselves joyfully. The more we honestly share our experiences of what we are doing to be in service to others, how we are improving our own lives, and how this experience can benefit others, the more we can inspire others to do the same. An upward spiral.

To that end, it is my intent to share my training and racing experience as it happens - from unhealthy, injured, and addicted, to competitive amateur athlete - so that others who can relate may become inspired. Additionally, I want to provide a positive and motivating place where others can share their inspiring personal journeys and promote their cause. If you would like to share your story, please email your story to team@trifundracing.com.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Flo Wheels Product Feature

I haven't taken much to reviewing products on this site, as I figured it might infringe on my "no negativity" rule. Additionally, I felt my experience in the sport had yet to merit any credibility on any particular subject. I then realized that this is a blog, after all, and any opinions which are expressed here are well worth the paper they're printed on (which is none because, well, no "paper". Only the electric ether of the internets). In all seriousness though, after a few races under my belt, I'm beginning see what works for me and what doesn't. Thus I am choosing to not necessarily "review" products, but instead just write about stuff I like.

Now, just because I don't review a product doesn't mean I don't like it. In fact, the lack of a feature here could mean a lot of things (such as power meters not being part of my regular training, or a piece of equipment being far to expensive, or I just didn't get off my lazy butt to write about it). But just know that it's not a critique or endorsement of that product.

Well that was all useless information. Now on to the review... er... "feature".

There are a variety of accessories which, outside of any variable conditions, can provide free speed and performance on a bike, and depending on who you talk to, each may have more benefit than another. In no necessary order (and I stress that to avoid involving myself in the endless debate of what will best improve bike performance) they are the engine* (in other words you), the bike frame, the bike fit, the clothing, the helmet, and of course the wheels. I've put an asterisk next to the engine because that is the number one thing a cyclist can change to improve performance. Even if you add all the other bells and whistles, your bike will still just be sitting in your garage. Improving the efficiency of the rider will be the best way to improve how fast, how far, and how long you can ride.

That said, today we will be discussing the wheels. For all of my races leading up to the Ironman Los Cabos, I had been racing on Fulcrom Racing 7 wheels, which were essentially the stock wheels that came with the bike. This is not to say that they were poor wheels. In fact, I have been using them for over a year in training and racing with a great result. However, wheels traditionally associated with racing have specific advantages I wasn't benefiting from. The main difference is the design of the wheel, which improves the aerodynamics of the ride. The carbon fiber fairings (which are what make the rims look super thick) act almost like a sail in the wind. Instead of wind just going through the wheel, it would catch the fairing and help reduce drag and propel it forward. With the consideration above that I could buy some free speed by purchasing new wheels, I was interested in seeing my options.

The key phrase there is "buy". Turns out this speed was not free after all. If fact it was expensive speed. Very expensive speed. Many of the wheels that offered an aerodynamic advantage were well over $2,000 for a set! Some were more than I paid for my bike. Discouraged, I gave up on my search and came to terms that I would make do with racing the wheels I had. Until I began hearing the buzz about Flo Cycling. I will spare the details of the company (you can view their site for more information), but I had seen through various websites that this small startup company wanted to satisfy a niche in the marketplace to provide aerodynamic wheels at an affordable price. Many of the reviews were very positive, and the price point was 1/3 of the price of the major competitors.

Because the wheels are inexpensive, and because the company is still relatively small, they have an order once a month or so, and the wheels sell out within an hour, depending on the wheel set. The prospect of having a great racing wheel set for a fraction of the price of regular wheels led me to pull the trigger on the Flo 60/Flo 90 combo, a popular combination with a 60 mm faring in front and a 90 mm faring in the rear. At the very least if I wasn't happy with the wheels, I could very easily sell them on ebay or craigslist without much of a loss. In fact, I checked ebay for Flo wheels for sale and found very few results. Those I did find were very close to, if not exactly, the selling price. Another good sign.

I've heard a number of complaints about the ordering process. Since they are flooded with orders over a short period of time, things tend to get "stuck", and people miss out. Fortunately, I didn't have any of these problems. Within a couple minutes I had the Flo 60 and Flo 90 in my cart and had made the purchase. Because the inventory for disc wheels is much less and the demand high, these wheels sell out much more quickly.

I received my wheels about a month before Ironman Los Cabos, which gave me a chance to ride them on a few training rides. Unfortunately, I have nothing to compare them to except the Fulcrum 7's, since this was my first experience with aero wheels. The first ride was a little wobbly at first which had me nervous. It was a windy day, but Cabo would be windy as well. I would venture to say that this wobble factor in gusty wind exists for all aero wheels since their surface areas are similar. However, after a dozen or so miles, I became accustomed to it. The noticeable difference is that upon accelerating on the flats and downhills I could easily maintain higher speeds at less power output. It felt as though the high winds were propelling me forward. On the hills I didn't notice a significant difference from the Fulcrums since they are approximately the same weight. However, once over the peak of the hill the wheels seemed to want to scream. The noise is loud as the air passes through the hollow fairings, but it sounds fast, so that's good!

Ironman Los Cabos was the true test for these wheels (and myself for that matter). It would be the first time doing a long distance ride on these tires, the first time with this level of climbing, and the first time having to run a marathon after riding on them. I have to say that these wheels performed like a charm. The relentless climbing that was the bane of many racers that day seemed comparatively effortless on the Flo wheels. And once hitting the downhills the bike seemed hungry for acceleration. But it was in the crosswinds where these wheels excelled. I had a lot of concerns coming into the race about the winds being a major factor. During training rides my pace would slow dramatically in head or cross winds. In this race I barely felt them, and they only minimally affected my pace. Certainly not to the extent that they did in training rides.

Important too was that off the bike I felt fresh and ready to run, as opposed to training where I had felt fatigued during my longer 5-7 hour rides.

I averaged about 20 mph on the bike, but to compare that pace to any of my other races would be like comparing apples to screwdrivers. I went faster in my half in palm springs, but that was a completely flat course without the heat and only half the distance. The most important thing here is that I felt faster and fresher on these wheels. In a race where how you feel can be the difference between a PR and a DNF, perceived effort can be the most important measure you have. Because the ride feels effortless and fast on these wheels, it gives me all the confidence to race strong.

One further endorsement for these wheels is the service. The owners of this company have a genuine interest in the service they provide. They take a very personal approach to their customers, often responding directly to customer inquiries personally, involving themselves on multiple online forums, and providing ample technical support via their website, YouTube, etc.

Did I mention the price? Well if I forgot, you can get into a pair of these wheels for a small fraction of the price of even second hand race wheels. In fact, it is likely that you can get a set of Flo 30's (training wheels), a set of Flo 60's or 90's, and a disk for less than the price of a set of competitive racing wheels. How do they perform against those competitive race wheels? I don't know, but I will say the risk/reward is much better for the consumer than many of the other wheels on the market. And if at the very least I'm not paying for free speed but for improved feel, then I would say that the product is well worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos 2014 Race Report

First and foremost I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those that supported me in this crazy adventure. The support of my loving family and friends is what helped me through some very challenging months leading up to this race. My wife, Marie, is truly an Ironwoman, as she had to spend the last year dealing with my blood, sweat, and tears (literally), a few tantrums, endless talk of better aero positions and weight savings which had her bored to tears. Additionally, she fed me some great, healthy meals along the way to keep me strong. She had every opportunity to quit as well, but literally was with me all the way through to the finish line. That is real commitment, and I very much love her for it!

Through the generous donations to the three causes I was fundraising for, we were able to raise $1,542 for Compassion International, $1,542 for Feeding America, and $1,804 for Alex's Lemonade Stand. That's almost $5,000 to charity. Even before the race began that is a big win. It goes to show that fundraising for worthy causes while improving oneself can be a win for everybody! Thank you to all those who donated to these causes.

And now on to race day.

Pre Race:

The days leading up to the race were filled with lots of anxiety over the unknown and the uncontrollable. At that point I had already done everything I could from my end to control my race; trained as best as I could, ate as well as I could, set my expectations as best as I could. What I feared now was the weather, mechanical problems, and water temperature. Being that the temperature in the ocean was within one degree of being wetsuit legal, I was at risk of having to do something I've never done before - swimming 2.4 miles in rough ocean water without a wetsuit.

Fortunately, race morning came with water temperatures still wetsuit legal. This calmed my nerves a bit, but I was still about to embark on something I've never done before. What awaited me was 2.4 miles of ocean swim followed by 112 miles of constantly hilly and hot biking, and a marathon in the hot Mexican desert heat, none of which I have done in combination during one day.

Leading up to the race I heard nothing but horror stories from people who had raced this course the year before. Hot, windy, and hilly were all themes that I heard from people. 41% DNF rate the year before, and currents that would carry us all down to Cabo before the race was over. "For your first Ironman," one very fit participant in my age group informed me. "You sure picked the hardest course." I had relieved my expectations a bit, which was originally to shoot for a perfect race which would put me in the running for a Kona slot. Secondary (and more likely) was to finish between 10-11 hours, finishing the bike in sub 6 hours and the run in sub 4. I knew achieving even the secondary goal would be unlikely given the difficulty of the course. The challenge of the distance and the conditions was becoming a reality to me, and now I just wanted to finish.

Race morning I was up at 3:15 am to have breakfast, which consisted of oats, blueberries, a banana, and almond butter blended up for easy consumption. Before I knew it it was time to head out and catch the bus to Palmilla Beach at 5 am. The bus dropped us off at the top of the hill at Punta Palmilla, and we had to walk about a half mile to the transition area. We were essentially walking down the bike exit to the highway which was a climb to the highway. Once at the transition area, I got my numbers remarked. I had them originally marked the day before, but they faded. It's okay, because they told me that I'm remarkable (ha!). No, that joke didn't go over very well race morning either.

I checked out my bike one last time, inflated the tires, dropped of my special needs bags, and took a couple (yes, a couple) trips to the porta potty. Sunrise was absolutely beautiful that morning, and the conditions for the swim were absolutely perfect (as long as the wind stayed calm). I had plenty of time to jump in the ocean for a practice swim before the race start, which has been very important for me in the past to calm the nerves and get used to the feeling of swimming.

At this time I wasn't feeling to anxious. I thought I would be worried about having to use the bathroom once I had my wetsuit all the way on and the transition was closed. I thought I might be worried that I would panic in the water. I thought I might be worried about large fish joining us for a swim. However, none of this really concerned me at this point. As I stood in the corral waiting to get ushered onto the beach, my only concern was that I might get dehydrated on the swim. The rising sun was really starting to get warm now, and I could feel myself sweating in my wetsuit. I knew I would be in the water for about 1-1.5 hours and that was a long time to be exercising without water. I took some gatorade and hoped for the best. Finally we were let onto the beach for the swim start.


I positioned myself to the far right a couple rows back from the front. Enough back so that I wouldn't be pummeled by the aggressive swimmers in the front, but close enough that I could run into the ocean. I liked the right hand side for the start because it would offer a little more open water, and from my perspective a straighter route to the turn buoy without having to fight for space. My first thought as I looked across the beach was that the number of athletes looked pretty light. They kept saying there were 1200, but it only looked like a few hundred.

I remember standing there for a few minutes before the start of the race, but don't remember much about the start. Only running toward the ocean and then a flurry of bubbles and flailing of arms. As always, it took a while to get open space enough to focus on good stroke form. For the first few hundred yards to the turn buoy my intention was to save my energy and simply stay in the pack to utilize the man made current. Around the first buoy I finally had a chance to see where we were swimming to. I couldn't see another turn buoy, just a number of marker buoys off into the distance, so I just focused on getting to one buoy at a time. The swim felt very pleasant and easy, and I was able to draft off of a few people for the length of the swim. I even found myself leading a draft pack for a while.

2 kilometers into the swim we made the turn toward the beach and headed into the final stretch. Looking at my watch briefly here I could see that I was at about 36 minutes. Doing the math I was right on track of where i wanted to be. The last stretch was relatively uneventful, except for the very large crowd on the beach slowly getting larger and larger. Before long I was up on the beach, out of the water in 1:10. That was exactly where I wanted to be and I couldn't be more stoked.

The swim felt very fast and easy, and I would learn later that it was a fast swim for everyone. The pros were out of the water in under 50 minutes, and I was about middle of the pack for my age group, which was absolutely fine with me. 56th out of the water in my age group out of 116.

Swim time: 1:10, 59th/116 in 35-39
Garmin File: http://connect.garmin.com/dashboard?cid=15042400


Transition from swim to bike was a tough experience. Immediately when I stood up from swimming, I could feel the cramps forming in my calves and I knew I had to slow down. I jogged up the beach a bit toward the tent and the effort definitely felt labored. Once into the tent, I got my wetsuit off, but then got a bit disoriented. I had a couple volunteers ready to help me, but I didn't really know what they could help me with. I got everything out of my swim to bike bag, put on my helmet, and then started putting on my shoes. Then I realized my feet were sandy and I didn't want to run in cycling shoes to my bike on uneven surface. So I aborted the putting on of the shoes and ran to my bike. I put my shoes on when I got to my bike, grabbed my bike and started running up the hill to the mounting area.

I mounted my bike without any trouble and started climbing toward the highway. Immediately, I looked at my heart rate and noticed it was way to high (it was in the low 160s, and I should not be exceeding 149). I shifted to the lowest gear to climb the hill and lower my heart rate, but to no avail. I was just too worked up, and the climbing gave me no opportunity to recover my heart rate. Nothing I could do about it, just adjust it when I get to the highway.

Unfortunately, once I got to the highway, I had no opportunity to recover, since there was another climb. No matter how low my gears, I couldn't bring my heart rate out of the 150s, and I was getting passed by other people starting their bike. I thought for sure my race was over at this point. I feared that going anaerobic this early in a long race would hurt me for sure in the long term. Once again I had to accept another thing I couldn't control. So I adjusted my race strategy. I allowed everyone to pass me and over exert themselves up the hill and make up time later on the bike. I would run the first lap very conservatively, taking in nutrition and making sure I was hydrated. I would take it slow and keep my heart rate in the 130s to condition myself back to fat-burning.

That strategy worked for the first outbound trip to Cabo San Lucas, and I maintained my position without getting passed, and without making any aggressive moves on anyone in front of me. I knew I could at least finish the race if I kept this pace, and if I felt good after about 20 miles I could pick up the pace and start gaining positions. Easy spinning up the hills, and fast descents down. A few miles before the turn around in Cabo, there is a gradual descent which provided a good opportunity to pick up speed. It was at this point that I began feeling comfortable passing some people while still keeping my perceived exertion low.

On the way back to San Jose, there was mostly a crosswind with occasional tailwind, which was very helpful up the hills. However, I could really begin to feel the heat as I kept pace with the 10 mph wind up the hill (thus feeling no breeze at all). But then the downhills came, and they were a blast. People said this was a constantly hilly course, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was actually worried about this at first, but during the race I felt great and was having a blast on the course. It was a beautiful day, I was feeling good, and I was doing a coastal bike ride with no traffic! Speaking of which, some of the most serene times came when I could see nobody in front of me. It felt like I had the whole road to myself which was just awesome.

The next two laps I passed a number of people. I ended up gaining 32 spots total on the bike ride putting me in 27th place in my age group once the bike was done. My nutrition plan worked out perfectly. I had a bottle of glucose and salt in my seat tube cage, and a bottle of water in my aero bars. I discarded the aero bottle at each aid station and grabbed another. My second bottle of sugary goodness was waiting for me at special needs, along with a spray can of sunscreen and some Butt'r, if it was needed. I decided against using the Butt'r, much to the delight of the volunteer staff.

The third lap the wind started to pick up, and it was blowing around 15 mph in exposed areas. My bike handled very well in these conditions, and the tailwind really made the third trip back to San Jose a breeze (ha! - Yes, I will remind you every time you need to laugh at one of my sorry attempts at a joke). Looking at my watch, I could see that I was going to succeed with my goal of doing the bike in under 6 hours.

Getting back into San Jose is loads of fun. After climbing the hill back to Palmilla beach, there is a really fast descent which takes you to just above sea level and then ascends a low grade hill with a left turn. It's very scenic and very fast. It reminds me of what James Bond would feel like racing his Aston Martin along the cliffs of Monte Carlo. On the descent I got up to about 40 mph and was able to maintain the high 20's around the curve. So much fun!

Back into town, we took a right turn into the downtown area toward transition which was a gradual descent. I was heading in really hot, and I could see how, if you weren't paying attention, you could go flying through the transition Wyle E. Cayote style. Fortunately there weren't any Adam shaped holes in the transition tent this time around and I was able to do a graceful dismount into T2.

Bike Time:  5:34, moved up to 27th/116
Garmin File: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/471417801


Transition went very well. I had two excellent volunteers helping me, handing me water, putting sunscreen on me, putting all my bike gear into my bag. I just put my shoes on, fuel belt, and hat, and off I went. Once again it was tough to settle into my heart rate zone. I didn't want to exceed 149 on the first half of the run, but it was sticking at just about 150. At a certain point in the first lap I decided that it was close enough and just went with it.

The one way I would describe this run would be hot. But I was expecting that. I had trained many months with extra layers on to mimic the heat of Los Cabos. It seemed to be paying off in the first part of the run. For the first 9 miles of the run I was running in the low 8 minute miles. I was ideally hoping that I could be in the high 7's, but I was okay given the heat, and I saw everyone else on the course suffering as well. A lot of the spectators were cheering me on, saying that I was looking strong. I certainly didn't feel strong. Right off the bike I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I was about to run a full marathon.

One of the awesome things about this Ironman experience was the ability to run along side some of the pros in the field. I watched Matthew Russell pass me on the other side of the road on his way to taking 6th place. I also paced Lindsey Corbin for about a half mile on her third lap (my second) on her way to winning the race.

A couple of tough parts about the race. We were told during the pre-race meeting that we would be getting bags of water on the run course, which sounds odd but is actually good because you can easily break it open while you're running and drink it (unlike cups which are very difficult to drink while running). Unfortunately, they 86'd the bags and went with cups. This meant more frequent stops to drink the water instead of inhaling it. Second, and more of a psychological issue, was the layout of the run. The run was a three loop course around a small town which ended right in the middle of town. To make sure they fit in all 26.2 miles, we had to zigzag our way around the little town, meanwhile hearing the cheers at the finish line as each person was called an Ironman. We had a turnaround to take right at the finish line, which was mentally tough to d o.

Around the second lap I began to fall apart a little. I noticed that I had lost one of my nutrition bottles. I was also having trouble, as my legs just didn't want to cooperate. I was no longer having trouble keeping my heart rate down, but instead I was having trouble keeping my strength up. Additionally, I was beginning to have some stomach cramping. I tried to take in a lot of salt to break it down, but it wasn't working too well. I had to walk every aid station to get some water, but I was still able to do most of my miles under 9 minutes. It was during the second lap that I really started to do math to see what it would take to finish under 11 hours. I knew I wasn't having a perfect day, so I wouldn't be Kona-bound. Additionally, at that time of the day my math was very poor. I couldn't figure out how long it would take me to finish 10 miles, or what time it was, and I certainly didn't trust myself. It began to get quite demoralizing.

During the final turnaround into lap 3 I started to feel my stomach drop out of me. I think my body had had enough at that point. I hit the porta potty and, leaving the gory details aside, I stayed in there a few minutes. The worst part is, when it's hot outside, it's really hot inside a porta potty. Add onto it that that porta potty had been used by many other people before me and you get a pretty poor combination. I began to feel pretty light headed in there. I remember thinking to myself "please do not let me pass out in here. Do not let them find me like this!" But, I made it through, determined to run the last 8 miles as strong as I could.

I began giving myself little milestones to help me get to the end. One more trip around the Mega store and I saw the 20 mile sign. "One more 10K and then I'm home". Running up to the bridge toward the marina, "one more trip around the harbor, and then I'm on my way back over the bridge". "One more out and back along this street and then I can turn in toward the finish line."

As I crossed over the bridge I was reminded of the great sportsmanship and comradery which exists in these competitions. A woman in a 50+ age group who I had been riding with during the bike and now finally caught up to on the run said to me "you look like you're about to finish too." I said that I was and told her congrats. She said that I was about to post a great time for a first time Ironman. She went on to win her age group and is now on her way to Hawaii in October.

Making the last turn, a young kid, no more than two years old, was holding his hand out for a high five from the athletes passing by. I willingly abided and it seemed to have made his day. I saw the finisher's chute which had taunted me for the last two laps and finally took a trip through. As the spectators realized I was not going out for another loop, they stuck their hands out enthusiastically and I high fived the hell out of everyone on the way to the finish line. As I approached, I heard the announcers say something but I couldn't make it out. I'm sure it was along the lines of "you are an Ironman!", since that was the theme of the day. No matter, I raised my arms up and gave a furious fist pump and let out an awkward yell, which sounded like a seagull landing on a sea lion. I had made it.

Immediately I looked up to the clock above the finish line which looked like it was being reset. Then it reset to 10:45. I turned to one of the officials, who may or may not have understood my labored English at that point. "Is that clock accurate to the gun time?"

"Is almost." was his response. Gotta love being lost in translation.

It was the official time, and I had done it. A little over a year ago I couldn't run much more than a few miles, had never rode a triathlon bike, and could not swim more than a couple hundred yards in a pool. A year later I completed one of the hardest Ironman races in under 11 hours. It's amazing what is possible with the right attitude, a little humility, and determination. I am absolutely stoked!

Run Time: 3:52, Moved into 18th/116 in the 35-39 age group
Garmin File: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/471417804

Post Race:

I wasn't expecting that I would feel cold immediately following the race, especially in this heat, but I was shivering like crazy. I was also nauseous, hungry, and overjoyed. I downed some pizza they had available after the race and hoped it didn't come right back up. Fortunately it didn't. After I started feeling better, we began walking back to the hotel, and it was amazing the outpouring of support we had. One woman came up to me in tears saying how inspirational it was to see the finishers come through. Many people were out offering their congratulations. It really made me appreciate why I wanted to do this. I found something I'm passionate about.

When I was in college, I used to watch a show on the Travel Channel (back when the Travel Channel was about "travel" and not just extreme gluttony) about a guy named Albey Mangels, who dropped everything and just went adventuring. He traveled the world on a whim, and learned a great deal about people, cultures, and himself. During that time I wanted to be Alby Mangels. I wanted to be able to just drop everything and find my passion. Instead I just kept making excuses, delaying, and drinking. Partying became my priority instead.

Of course now I'm not leaving my life behind and going on an endless safari with an empty wallet and a mind full of dreams. Like Alby, I've discovered something I'm passionate about, and I went after it. My story shows that with the right kind of motivation, you can find the time to follow your heart. While I'm not in the Kalahari desert being chased by Rhinos like Mr. Mangels, I'm on my own safari, and it's a great adventure. I would encourage anyone to take their own safari. The time is there, the means are there. Just do it! Win or lose you'll be glad you did.

So what's next? Well, there's still Kona. I probably won't be able to make it in this year when I do Ironman Boulder, but who knows? According to the results of this race, the last qualifier in my age group was about 10% faster than I was. That means that I will have to improve 10% in order to be in the running for a Kona slot. Is that possible? Absolutely! The last 10% is always the hardest, but I came a long way in a year. I can sure make time to improve by 10%. Just to be safe, I'll improve by 15%. Keep on adventuring.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos Part 2 - One More Sleep... Ha ha, "Sleep"

The last few days have been a flurry of activity, with athletes replacing the spring breakers. The roads have been filled with Ironman competitors biking and running, and generally just showing off their fit bodies and expensive equipment. To say the least, it's been a bit intimidating. Seeing the level of fitness down here makes me question my own abilities to complete this race. It also sends tornadoes of nerves in my direction obliterating any structure of confidence I have. Maybe it's a problem with my own self image. However, a nice group of people asking if I was a pro because "I look like a pro", and a gentleman asking if I was "Matt" (as in Matthew Russell), gave me a much needed heroin shot of confidence.

And now, the next sunrise I see will be directly in my sight line toward the first turn buoy at Ironman Los Cabos. At the present time I am very calm and thinking only in the present. Over the past week I have found myself thinking of everything that may happen during the race, which only served to make me more nervous. I have done a couple of pre race swims, which have really helped me get used to the open water down here. Additionally, a friend and I drove the bike course, which in fact will be much hillier than I expected (and I was expecting hilly). Most of the people a I have talked with who have done this race before have told me that for my first Ironman I probably chose the hardest one. Yippie.

This of course changes my expectations a bit. In fact now I have none. I haven't even really thought about how I hope to finish this race, only that I do finish. Regardless, I'm in for a long, hot, windy, and hilly day. But I have already won. I am healthier and happier now than I have ever been. A little over a year ago I sat recovering from shoulder surgery, binge eating donuts, and now I am about to test myself in an Ironman. Additionally, because of generous donations from friends and family, three charities have raised over $1500 each. Regardless of how (or if) I finish, life is, and will continue to be, good.

I'm going to cut this post short, since I have a long night of ceiling fan staring to do. I won't even pretend I'm going to sleep tonight. I'll follow up with a more detailed and thorough race report after the race.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos 2014 Part 1 - Arrival and Adaptation

View of the swim start (the last point in the center left) from the host hotel, the Barcelo Grand Faro

Surprisingly, many of the nerves associated with the race left me once I arrived at the hotel and started settling in. This early in the week, the atmosphere is still very much "spring break" instead of "Ironman", but that will likely change by Thursday when more athletes arrive. Despite this, there were still plenty of people running and biking around town with the same expression on their face as I have had, which reads "what the f$#* am I doing?

This is my first glimpse of the run course. Not quite as flat as they advertised!

One thing I anticipated, but now feel a bit unprepared for, is the heat. It is hotter than usual here, and is likely to get into the 90's on race day. As I write this, I am one of the few people sitting in full exposed sun in a last ditch attempt to acclimate. 

Arriving yesterday, I had a lot to keep me distracted, which kept my mind calm. I had to unpack, hit the store to stock up on veggies, get a couple workouts in, and just get settled in. Today, however, I have abolutely nothing to do but relax and sit next to the pool. It sounds awesome, doesn't it? Well, it is, but it's been a long time since I had a whole day with only myself doing nothing. I find that before a race, it is really hard to not do anything. I feel like I should be getting a run in, or a bike, or a quick swim. However, this is a rest day, and I have to take it easy. I have seen many athletes running, biking, and swimming, and I have to admit it made me a bit antsy. But I have to follow my training plan, not theirs. 

Being alone does give me a chance to kind of blend into the background and just people watch, and there is no shortage of that here. Whatever desire to drink and be a part of the party scene I have ever had is gone now, and I'm grateful to see the world from this perspective. I was up at the rising of the sun, and able to appreciate San Jose del Cabo in its beauty well before many people were coming to. I see many people laying by the pool "recovering" rather than relaxing, or they are just continuing the party from the night before.

The locals seem to be really interested in and supportive of the incoming athletic community. They are asking all sorts of questions, wanting to help out in any way, and just being super friendly. When I asked someone about it, they said they're interested because it only happens once a year, and it brings a different, more positive vibe to the area than what is typical.

Today is the calm before the storm. Tomorrow, I will begin my day with an ocean swim at Punta Palmilla, take a 90 minute spin, and run for about a half hour. This should give me a good opportunity to swim the course, and get used to running in the heat a bit. As I walked into town today, I have to say that I felt reallly good and confident. I wasn't overwhelmed by the heat, wasn't huffing and puffing up hills, and was able to keep my heart rate down. Makes me feel like I was able to acclimate pretty successfully. However, I will still have to hydrate properly and keep down my nutrition in order to be successful in this heat. It can be deceiving.

Also on the agenda for tomorrow is athlete check in. I will get all my "stuff" for the Ironman, which includes transition bags, special needs bags, swim cap, and wrist bands. The expo also opens, so I can check out all of the fancy gear that is far too expensive.

I'll check in again tomorrow after I am able to preview the run and swim a little bit. Unfortunately, I have to wait on the bike, since it won't be here until Friday. Oh well, those hills will still be there come race day.

This is how I party in Cabo. Many spring breakers would probably think it is a waste of a pretty good cooler to fill it with veggies. 

Soon to be the most popular place in San Jose del Cabo. I picked up my CO2 cartridges here (to reinflate flat tires) as the first order of business after checking into the hotel. Airlines won't allow you to fly with CO2 cartridges, so I imagine many athletes will be scrambling to get a few here. 

Turns out I was mistaken, these do not come complimentary to all Ironman participants. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos 2014 Pre-Race Check In

So a little more about Los Cabos that we didn't already know. We already do know that it's a constant party, which especially "heats up" during Spring Break, it's a popular hangout for Sammy Hagar (and people that look like Sammy Hagar), and that it's a fabulous fishing destination for those that are so inclined. A lesser known fact is that "Los Cabos" is composed of two towns separated by a 20 mile corridor. Cabo San Lucas, which sits at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula and fits the description above, is an absolutely stunning locale, which is no stranger to drunken college students and poor decision making. San Jose del Cabo, the lesser known and more respectable sister, is a bit sleepier and yet is also a very picturesque resort destination. Many also don't know that San Jose del Cabo is the staging ground for the second annual Ironman Los Cabos, to take place on March 30, 2014.

While I've never been to San Jose del Cabo, my previous experiences with Cabo San Lucas and Mexico in general have been less than respectable. No additional detail is needed, this pretty much sums up my previous trips south of the border.

This year, however, is going to be an entirely different experience. While thousands of spring breakers will descend on Los Cabos to experience a tradition of debauchery, I will be coming to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 (yes, in Mexico they use the metric system, but I choose to stick to imperial, since listing the distance in kilometers seems much more daunting).

The Course:

The swim begins at Pamilla Beach, a few miles from San Jose del Cabo, and takes one rectangular loop into the ocean to finish a short distance from where it begins. The water temperature historically averages about 72 F in March, but lately it has been around 74. Hopefully it doesn't creep up much higher, as the wetsuit cutoff is 76.1. At that temperature, we will not have the luxury of additional buoyancy (not to mention jellyfish protection) a wetsuit provides.

Ironman Swim
From there, we will run, jog, walk, or crawl up a quick hill to where our bikes wait for us. From what I've seen, the view here is absolutely gorgeous, but we won't have much of an opportunity to appreciate it, since I will have to commence punishing myself for another 112 miles. The bike course takes a scenic tour of the Los Cabos Corridor, grazing the Easternmost end of Cabo San Lucas and Westernmost end of San Jose del Cabo for a total of 3 round trips. The challenges here will be the hills and the wind. I have done my best to acclimate to the heat by wearing ridiculous amounts of layers on even the warmest of training days, but not much can really prepare you for the wind. Tailwinds and headwinds are okay because at least it balances out a bit. The crosswinds we are likely to face are another story, since more energy is then exerted just trying to keep the bike from flying across Mexico 1.

Ironman Cabo Bike Course
We bike into transition 2, which will be located (I think) in downtown San Jose del Cabo. From there, we say goodbye to our bikes and don our running shoes for the marathon. This will be my first marathon, and I'm not sure what to expect from the course. It is supposed to be hot, which I've done everything I can to prepare for. It's also supposed to be three "laps", which from what I've seen by the looks of last year's Garmin files will resemble more of a Cabo pub crawl rather than a marathon. In all seriousness they did their best to condense 26.2 miles into a small town, which will require a lot of switchbacks and turnarounds. The biggest challenge here, aside from finding the energy after a long day of swimming and biking, will be purely psychological. I will have to run by the finishing chute three times before actually being able to "finish" the race.

Ironman Run Course. Not quite complete or accurate. Hopefully there will be a little more direction once I'm there!

The Trip:

I arrive in Cabo on Tuesday, March 25th, a few days before the race. The intent is to acclimate further to the heat, and get a feel for the race course. My wife and my bike will both be arriving Friday, my bike via TriBike Transport. We will be staying at the host hotel, Barcelo Grand Faro (formerly Hola Grand Faro, formerly formerly Crown Plaza). That is where most of the pre-race expos and meetings will be held, so it should be a prime location.

I have a few workouts scheduled during the week, but Wednesday and Friday are rest days so I won't be missing my bike too much. I do wish that I could have it for my Thursday workout, but that's not meant to be. I'll have to settle for a really quick pre-race bike ride the day before the race. Bike check in will be on Saturday, where we leave our bikes and transition bags at Punta Pamilla.

The Plan:

From everything I've heard, a well executed plan is the best recipe for a good race day. I've already done all the training that I can do, there is no more that I can do to improve my fitness before race day. The best I can do is to fully taper and focus on the plan.

So what is the plan? In a nutshell, it's to finish looking closer to this...

Than to this...

I'm pretty certain I'll fall somewhere between the two.

It is easy to fantasize about the best possible race, but probably not necessarily best to focus solely on that vision. If I have the best swim I can, the best bike I can, and the best run I can, there is a chance I can be Kona-bound. But for that to happen, absolutely everything would have to go well (including some of the fittest people not showing up to this race). However, I do not have the luxury of a cushion at this point. That is to say that I'm not a "tip of the spear" athlete, so much of what it would take to do well enough to secure a Kona slot would be pure luck, and therefore it can't be part of my race plan. I have to plan to have my best race given the conditions and my condition. Being my first Ironman, there is a lot I don't know of what to expect. Therefore I will be happy to finish and have a good time.

As far as nutrition on race day goes, I will start my day with one of my signature smoothies, which includes bananas, fruit, and oats. On the swim I plan to drink a ton of sea water. I don't want to, but it's likely that I will, so I'm just planning on it. To avoid getting punched in the face, I will line up a few rows back from the front on the right hand side. If I do end up freaking out, I can swim out into open water and have a tantrum there, not in the middle of the melee. If all goes well, I will be out of the water within an hour and a half.

During the race I plan to carry two bottles on the bike. My bottle on the aero bars will hold water, which I will refresh at the aid stations as needed. My bottle on the seat tube will hold my specialty blend of 140.6 Fluid Energizer (developed by team Mark Allen). I will have one bottle with about 1,150 calories when I start the race, and one waiting for me at special needs (at mile 56). This will amount to about 375 calories per hour. Within that bottle of sugary goodness will be about 1,100 mg per hour of sodium (mixed with magnesium and potassium) so that I can maintain electrolytes. I sweat like a wookie in a sauna, so replenishing my salts is a must. So what does this taste like? Imagine a very concentrated 7-Up without the added burden of carbonation, and voila! I will do my best to take a swig of this blend every 20 minutes with a very healthy gulp of water, a very important step as I've tried just drinking the concentrate and it gives me stomach issues (yes, Mom was right about too much sugar - but if you want to eat 3,000 calories of pure sugar, do an Ironman and you'll be golden!). If I get GI issues, it could be game over. My nutrition plan is based on a 6 hour bike ride, since I figure if it takes any longer than that, it's already not going well, so what's a little malnutrition on top of everything?

On the run, I keep it just as simple as the bike. Many people like to have variety because they get bored easily with the same nutrition over the course of 10+ hours. I like to keep it simple. I will be diluting some Honey Stingers in water and keeping them in my fuel belt. For the run I will be taking in about 300 calories and 1,000 mg of salt per hour. My nutrition plan is essentially "less is more". Based on my experience, I would rather be calorie deficient than bloated and gassy (for the benefit of other racers as well. There's enough good food in Mexico to give me the latter). I've trained for the past year in becoming a fat burning machine, so I'm putting that to the test, and hoping I don't have to rely too heavily on carbohydrates. If it turns out I do need more calories, that's what aid stations are for. That's plan B.

I will say that I know exactly what my plan is immediately following the race. It is to fill my face with an enormous burrito as quickly as humanly possible. Yes, I know that a burrito is not authentic Mexican cuisine, but I don't care. At that point I will want someone to stuff as much food as possible into a flour tortilla and hand it over to me for immediate consumption... But I suppose I'll settle for whatever's available.

Next week when I do arrive in Cabo, I will be posting more frequent updates. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, thanks again to everyone for all the support and well wishes. Regardless of the outcome, it has been a blast, and we raised well over $3,000 for some good causes! This will certainly be a celebration of that generosity.

Leaving my bike for TriBike Transport. See you in a week!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Running Scared

A year ago, when I waved the forefinger of my one good arm in the air and proclaimed confidently to the heavens that "I would complete an Ironman", a year was a long way off. So far off in fact, that I needn't let March 30, 2014 worry me at all. It was a lifetime away, and certainly enough time to be adequately prepared to survive a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26 mile run. My daughter would be in Kindergarten by then, my son with a healthy vocabulary. Here we are a month away, with my daughter in Kindergarten, my son already talking back to Mom & Dad. About a month away from the race, and I'll admit that I'm terrified. It turns out that regardless of how well prepared I may be, I'm are still venturing into unknown territory. And most fear is rooted in the unknown.

Within the last year, I have fully healed from an injured shoulder, cleaned up unhealthy habits and unhealthy thinking. I have surpassed my goals with training and racing, and believe I am well capable of completing the Ironman in 17 hours. In fact, I have been close to the front of the pack in most of the races I have run. While I'm not the tip of the spear, so to speak, I am closer to being the string that ties the pointy end of the spear to the stick that carries it. I could not be more prepared than I am right now. But the feeling of fear still grinds at the pit of my stomach.

So what exactly am I afraid of? Well, to make it easy, here's a fun little top ten list of things which may make a triathlete fearful before their first Ironman, some far fetched, others... fetched?

  • As odd as it sounds, there's the fear of being afraid. There is a lot of standing around and waiting before the gun goes off. That leaves a lot of time to be in my own head, which never ends well. For example, getting to the start line and succumbing to my fear in the form of a storm of gravity pulling all my blood from my head, at which point I collapse in an embarrassing heap, ending my race before it begins. Here comes the stretcher, making its way through the throngs of swimmers, now delayed in their start because some poor schmuck couldn't harden up. All eyes on me, as I'm carried off the beach in the opposite direction of where the race is to begin. 
  • The fear of getting sick right before the race. Thus far this year I've been lucky, but I don't want to tempt fate as chances are if I do get sick, it will happen just as I'm getting ready to race.
  • The fear of being halfway through the swim and then having to go to the bathroom. I mean, "grab a newspaper and some matches" go to the bathroom. Although, this may help me swim faster, or clear away any congestion from other swimmers.
  • The fear of other people around me having similar "bathroom issues".
  • The fear of panicking mid-swim. It's a long way out, and it will take a lot of effort just getting through the beach start, or as I call it the "Braveheart Start".

  • The fear of being skewered Crocodile Hunter style by a giant stingray. Heck, defiled by any sea creature, big or small, would be unpleasant 
  • The fear of getting one mile into the bike and realizing "crap, this is really hard." Well, duh.
  • The fear of blowing out multiple tires, dropping a chain, breaking a pedal, hitting an armadillo and exploding... any number of mechanical problems which would not be able to be fixed. 
  • The fear of having a diva-esque meltdown at around mile 20 of the run. At this point it is possible that some racers are so worn out that they may lie down prostrate in the middle of the road sobbing uncontrollably, chastising poor volunteers for running out of Snickers bars. 
  • Of course, the dreaded "DNF". Could be for any number of reasons, catastrophic to simple. But the result is the same: Failure to accomplish a much sought after goal.
I will say that I do have some of these fears to varying extents, and even some others not listed, rational and irrational. But look at all of these fears. What do they have in common? They are all things that are out of my control. Funny how fear grips at us when we don't have the ability to pull the strings. It is an interesting sport, triathlon, which people subject themselves to, where there are so many variables which can affect a result which is out of the athlete's control. It requires a lot of humility, of which I have done my best to try to learn and practice over the past couple years.

When I look at it that way, and when I diminish my fears by writing them down, seeing how silly they actually are, and recognizing that they are out of my control, it makes it easier to face them head on. That's not to say that I won't still be completely terrified a month from now, standing with 1499 other people covered in neoprene, waiting for a horn to sound which will begin an intense day of suffering, head games, loss of bodily functions, and diva-esque behavior. But it does mean that I can do my best to be prepared, stop worrying about what I can't control, and take the race as I now try to take my life; moment by moment, challenge by challenge... and hope to God that I just finish on my feet, with a smile on my face.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Quiet Insanity

I know that this post will be a bit tangential from others I have written, but there has been a lot of discussion on this issue, and I wanted to share my thoughts. While I don't ever really take to the interwebs to gossip about celebrities, or chatter about lifestyles of the rich and famous, I was drawn to the sad news stories regarding the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman recently. In the same way, a few months ago I was similarly drawn to the stories of the death of Corey Monteith. While countless others have shared the same fate of Hoffman and Monteith, these are two people who were in the public eye, and for all intents and purposes didn't fit our typical view of what one who dies of an overdose should look like. They weren't violent criminals, they didn't live under an overpass, and they maintained their incredible talent until the day they died.

This of course let to feelings of shock around the world when news surfaced of their respective deaths. Despite this, the comment threads across all the news sites were ablaze with speculation and opinion, which left me feeling really sad for the way that many people (at least those who are most vocal) choose to understand addiction. I won't repeat what I read on those threads here, but I will say that the overwhelming sense that I got was that there was a lot of negativity around the "addict", but not necessarily the "addiction".

Granted, if one wants to live a happy existence, they would do well to stay away from any internet comment boards, lest the attitude and belligerence continuously push their anger buttons. So rather than post comments into those voids, I felt inclined to write a bit about my experience here. Keep in mind, I don't share everyone's experience, and I'm not trying to speak for anyone else but myself. I speak from a very personal level to try to help build understanding on the subject.

Why Even Start Using Drugs or Alcohol?
Well, there are a lot of reasons, and it's different for every person. For me, I started drinking in college, which is nothing strange in and of itself. Sometimes personal or emotional issues come into play, but sometimes not. Alcohol became my drug of choice, and I immediately began a love affair with it. It was, in my head, a solution to all my problems even when it caused more problems. It's all part of the insanity, and the disease which inhibits addicts from appropriately interpreting reality. I was never really presented with the opportunity to try narcotic drugs, so it's hard to say whether or not I would have developed addictions to them or not, but the likely answer is that I would. Many people start earlier in their teens, and for the addict, there is no un-mixing the margarita, so to speak. Therefore the notion that "he shouldn't have started in the first place" is not a helpful statement. 90% of the population can maintain their sanity and use substances in moderation without ill effect. Unfortunately, however you don't know you have a problem until the damage is done. At that point, without help, it is too late.

Why Not Just Practice Moderation or Willpower?
Mark Twain once said said that he smoked cigars in moderation. One at a time. As insane as it sounds, my mind can easily interpret that tongue and cheek comment as a rationalization. That is the disease of alcoholism/addiction. It is a disorder of obsession and compulsion in which we are powerless over the first drink/drug. Once we lose control over our drug of choice, we never have control again. Ever. Ever ever. I can imagine it is hard for normal drinkers to understand this, because they don't obsess over alcohol. "Why not just stop at two?" is a typical question, which is reasonable because that is how most people can think. They can sip their drink and leave it half empty without a second thought. In that situation the alcoholic, on the other hand, can think of nothing else, and under their own willpower they will continue drinking, despite their most sincere intentions to do otherwise. Hence the sincerity in the repeated promises of the addict to maintain control or stop completely. They will always fail if they act on willpower alone because they are powerless over the addiction.

Why Not "Just Stop"?
This relates to the question above, and it concerns powerlessness. To stop completely on our own would imply that we have the control and will to do so. But the disease of alcoholism/addiction suggests that we are powerless over it and no longer have control over our own lives. It's similar to asking someone with chronic and debilitating depression to "cheer up". Or telling someone with OCD to stop messing with the lights. Chances are they want to abide, and have every intention of doing so. But without help they are unable to. Furthermore, it requires people who have developed often strong self centered personalities to become intensely humble so as to admit powerlessness over something which they internally believe is the solution to all their problems, and accept help. I tried many times to just "quit" on my own, but despite the fact that my life improved, I always came back thinking I could control it or just couldn't live without it. It requires a fellowship of like-minded individuals and a strict program to maintain sobriety. Again, this is a disease of insanity which will do anything it can to kill. While we may not want to die, when we are practicing our disease we are slowly killing ourselves, and totally unaware or unwilling to accept that fact. There have been many situations in sobriety where I have looked with envy into the shadiest of dive bars thinking I want what the people inside have. The alcoholic/addict has the ability to fantasize even the most obscene types of drug or alcohol use. It takes my daily program of recovery to keep it foremost in my mind that my disease is not looking out for what's best for me, but wants to kill me, but not before destroying my life altogether.

If Things Get Better Once Sober, Why Relapse?
The unfortunate truth is that the better things get in sobriety, the more dangerous addiction can become. Addition doesn't go away with time. Contrary to common sense, the addiction only gets stronger with time even when we're not using. If things are going very well, there is a likelihood that the user may reduce participation in their own recovery, and soon that will turn into the feeling that they "deserve" a drink or drug. Complacency kills. In very short order, if not immediately, the addict is right back in the worst of it, and all their positive work has been lost. I have also heard that it is these relapses that are the most dangerous because your body is no longer tolerant of the high doses of toxins being put in the body, but the addiction takes us right back to the volume we had used before. A deadly case comparable to the eyes being bigger than the stomach.

Why Do You Consider Addiction a Disease?
I've heard this legitimate question a lot, and have witnessed a lot of resentment with regard to this subject. I've seen a lot of comments about addiction being a choice, not a disease. For example, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Monteith "chose" to put the needle in their arm, and they shouldn't be compared to innocent victims who die of cancer or other actual diseases. Fair point. But I think it is necessary to remove the comparison of addiction from these other conditions because it's apples and oranges. Simply, if you google "disease", you come up with the following definition: "a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, esp. one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury." Breaking it down, it is a disorder of structure or function (inability to control a behavior or physical condition)... that produces specific signs or symptoms (obsession, compulsion, inability to function without the substance) or that affects a specific location (the brain) and is not simply the result of physical injury (it is the result of a specific mental condition). This is not to say that responsibility is not taken by the addict for their behavior. On the contrary, many programs of recovery which revolve around abstinence involve treating the mental and spiritual condition while cleaning up wreckage from the past abuses. In this sense the behavior of using the drug of choice is just a symptom of the overall disease. In any respect, in order for a diseased individual to get better, they must be treated.

The truth about addiction is that it never goes away. For those of us afflicted with it, it will always be with us and we have to constantly remember that fact and seek to work with others who share this disease. If we choose to practice willpower or moderation, we will have no choice, and we will fail. As an alcoholic, as one with no control, the only choice I have is to admit that I am powerless, and be willing to surrender my will.

I don't believe that Hoffman, Monteith, or many of the countless others who died as a result of their addictions necessarily wanted to die, or thought they would. But they are examples the indiscriminate nature of this disease, and their death is evidence that it wants to kill us. Addiction really can, and does, affect anybody from all walks of life. Not only are addicts the people living under bridges, or the arrogant rich and famous 20 somethings we hear about on TMZ. They are also doctors, lawyers, business people, philanthropists, ministers, and the list goes on who may have started down the path of addiction for any number of reasons, but due to their disease have since lost all control. I only hope that those who may feel that they have a problem find the willingness to take the first steps in recovery and find the wonderful life that exists in sobriety. I know I have. And I pray on a daily basis that I keep it. After all, regardless of how well I am doing, I am always only one drink away from a relapse.