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.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ironman Boulder 2014 Part 1: It's Acclimation Baby!

Well, we made it. After a 11:pm wake up call and one final assurance that the car was packed and ready for a 1,000 mile trip we left our home in San Clemente at a God forsaken hour to head out to Boulder Colorado.

I tried to use my experience with Ironman to soften the blow of the impending 15 hour drive through relation. "It's like a long Ironman triathlon". And certainly a drive like this with two kids would be a test of endurance. But why leave so early? Well, as with any endurance competition, you want to try to control everything you can and brace for what you can't. In this case, leaving at midnight would give us a few hours of "peace" while the kids slept in the backseat.

Fortunately, we arrived without incident, and the kids behaved marvelously. We are renting a very nice little house on the outskirts of Boulder overlooking the town and the mountains. In fact, I can just jump on my bike and be on the bike course. It's absolutely amazing. Since we arrived 10 days prior to race day, I would have plenty of time to get to know the course.

What seems like an extended vacation is actually a purposeful attempt to acclimate as much as possible to the mile-high altitude of Boulder. A month ago, while attending a training camp here, I experienced the effects of altitude first hand and found that the bike and run were manageable, but the swim was very difficult. In fact, I was on the verge of panicking a number of times. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of experience in the open water before race day.

After getting settled in and having a very, very good night's sleep, I woke up the next morning to do a 3.5 hour bike ride. Having been on the course the month prior, I was very excited to get back out there, and it was absolutely a gorgeous day for a ride. In fact, I was surprised to find very few athletes on the course that day. I knew a week later that would be a different story.

Empty Roads most of the day. I'm so not missing Southern California!

The house we are renting is right off of 95th St., two blocks south of 52nd, which is between miles 80-90 of the course. I chose to just jump on there and immediately brave the most challenging climb of the course on 79th St. (affectionately referred to as "The Three Bitches"). It was here that I could tell that the altitude was affecting me. Or maybe it was the sleep deprivation and 15 hour drive the previous day. Probably both. Hard to tell. But after that climb it was all descent back into town toward the race start where I then rode up the foothills on the first part of the course. Ended up doing about 60+ miles. Pretty good for a long taper ride. Here's a link to the Garmin file.

The next day I attended the organized Boulder Masters swim at the Boulder Reservoir to conquer my reignited fears. Those fears were further compounded by the idea that the race may not be wetsuit legal due to rising temperatures. Now "not wetsuit legal" is a bit misleading, since at temperatures above 76.1 degrees one can still wear a wetsuit, but not be eligible for awards or Kona slots. While I am not so optimistic to think that I may be part of that elite fraternity of athletes, I am also not one to back down from a challenge. It is an Ironman after all. So big deal? What good will a wetsuit do anyway? The answer, for me, is that it will give me the security of knowing that I won't die come race day.

You see, I sink like a rock.

Correction: I sink like a rock tied to a pile of cinder blocks. Yet despite my handicap I have spent the last year and a half training to cover 2.4 miles without any added buoyancy. However, all that non-wetsuit work was done in a pool, not the open water. All of my open water swims have been wetsuit legal. Hence the fear being compounded.

On Saturday morning at the reservoir I decided for my own sanity not to elevate my fears beyond working to get over the altitude adjustment. I donned my wetsuit and set out to swim a couple miles. Success! I ended up completing the swim without having a diva-esque panic attack in the middle of the reservoir, and I was only about 10 minutes off my Ironman Cabo pace.

The rest of the weekend was a real confidence booster for me. I ended up doing another 50 mile ride (Garmin File) with a much higher power output at a lower heart rate. I also got in a couple runs and another open water swim. The swim felt much better, and I completed 2.5 miles in just under 1:20. Not great, but for a land lubber like me, I'll take it.

The weather for this week could really be anything. It's supposed to cool off and get really stormy out here. The cool weather will be a God send. However, with thunderstorms a real possibility, it will be interesting to see what will happen come race day. What to do? Well, as with the 15 hour drive from California. The best thing to do is control the things I can, and not worry about what we can't. Regardless, August 3rd is going to be epic!

Marie and I just crossing over the Vail Pass. Already huffing and puffing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Carlsbad Triathlon Race Report 2014

It's official. It's been one year since my first triathlon. How did I celebrate? By doing the same triathlon I did a year ago, of course! And what a great day it was.

Unlike last year, where I had signed up for this race to get my first experience in triathlon before I jumped deep into the world of iron distance racing, I signed up this year to give myself a good speed race/warm up leading up to Ironman Boulder. The main purpose? Don't screw up and hurt yourself 3 weeks out from race day. Primary mission accomplished.

Carlsbad is an interesting sprint triathlon because it is a bit longer than traditional sprints. It's a 1 km swim followed by a 25 km bike followed by a 5 km run. But the pace is still fast and furious.

Racked and Ready
In a nutshell, the race went great. I won't go into great detail, but over the course of the year I improved on my time by about 10 minutes, all of which was realized on the bike and the run. I finished in 6th place in my age group out of 68 overall, missing a podium by about 3 minutes.

In fact, I had the fastest bike split out of anyone in my age group. I was pretty proud of that! The run is also steadily improving with slower gains, but gains nonetheless. My swim has had zero improvement. It is becoming clear that this is my limiter. With a respectable swim I would have been on the podium. My swim was much slower than respectable. It is apparent that I will need to find additional help with my swim if I want to get to the next level in this sport.

I think what it is coming down to is that I still have an element of discomfort in the water. While I have been a water person all my life - surfing, swimming, etc., only recently have I ventured into actual "swimming". I'm learning that, much like golf, a lot of things have to line up in order to have good form. As an adult onset swimmer, I'm finding it very hard to improve.

So the next stop is Boulder, Colorado and over a weeks worth of training at altitude prior to taking on the Ironman for the second time this year. Should be a fantastic week filled with all sorts of fun, silliness, and inspiration. I'll keep my journal up as we get closer.

Swim - 18:14
Bike - 41:01
Run - 20:33
Overall - 1:19:50 - 6th/68 AG, 45th/743

By the way, this was the second race in a row where I was racing with Apolo Ohno. Turns out he was local training here for his big day in Kona. I am hopeful if these things happen in threes, then perhaps I will race with him there as well (very, very wishful thinking). In Boise I beat his time by about 2 minutes. In Carlsbad he smoked me, and actually won his age group. Clearly a world class athlete!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Armored Hen House Product Feature

Vacations are fun. Racing is fun. Racing while on vacation is like the peanut butter and chocolate of enjoyment. However, the process of getting ourselves and our valuable bike from point "A" to point "B" is anything but fun. Airlines and the TSA do their level best to subtly remind us (whilst unsuccessfuly feigning interest in our complete satisfaction) that we are all sheep, our belongings are worthless, and we all have large green dollar signs tattooed to our foreheads.

The airlines essentially know they have us by the tight pants and they take full advantage of their position. Insane bike fees and lack of care for our beloved equipment are just two of the ways they demonstrate their compassion. Fortunately, many companies have designed bike cases which will protect our gear from the onslaught of abuse laid out by the baggage handlers and TSA. But they don't protect us from the price gauging that occurs when ticket agents find out we're bringing a bike on board which exceeds the 50 lb weight limit or the 62 linear inch requirement.

Enter Ruster Sports. These folks have perfected a design by professional triathlete TJ Tollakson which meets both the 50 lb weight requirement and the 62 inch linear requirement. It's called the Armored Hen House, and the company asserts that these bags will fly free.

I picked up the Armored version of the Hen House after researching a number of reviews online of different bike bags. Most of them were sturdy, and would work just fine, but I was still concerned about the random and seemingly inconsistent bag fees imposed by carriers, some upwards of $150 each way. I did not want to be surprised or even expect to pay $300 or more than the price of the regular fare. It is worth noting that I do take a slight issue with the claim that "bags fly free", as it is misleading. Nothing flies free anymore. While under most circumstances you will not incur additional bike fees, you will likely have to pay the regular baggage fees if the airline has them - for two bags. Still, a significant savings over the price of shipping a bike.

The Armored Hen House is two bags, one for the bike frame and one for the wheels, which each by themselves will fall under the 62"/50 lb magic numbers. Additionally, you can store a lot of your clothes and toiletries within the nooks and crannies of the case. I found this especially true in the wheel case where a) I had more weight cushion to work with, and b) I needed more padding between the wheels. Each time I have flown with the cases (which has been four thus far), I have been under the limit for a weekend trip.

Meeting the linear size requirement requires a significant amount of disassembly for the bike. In fact the company recommends you be familiar with this aspect before proceeding. I tend to not necessarily look at this as a downside. I feel that it is important for anyone who is traveling with their time trial or road bike to get familiar with their bicycles so as to know how to see if something isn't working quite right. This bag is one sure fire way to force that knowledge. But I will say that it is important to take great care to get proper instruction before hand, and even get your reassembly checked by a professional bike shop once you're at your destination. It can provide great peace of mind on the first trip.

Once disassembled, and packed up based on the instructions provided in the YouTube video, your bike will look a little something like this (I will usually bubblewrap the crankset - not pictured):

Once I had it secured up to this level, my confidence in its security went way up. The combination of the foam insulation, velcro straps, and padded interior gave me a great deal of comfort that the bike would survive unscathed after anything the baggage handlers threw at it (literally). The TSA still had me concerned, however, since I knew they would be opening it up and moving stuff around. But even with that inevitable unpleasantness, I knew that with this construction my bike was safe (save for any maliciousness on the part of the agents).

Packed up, here's the wheel bag:

Now confident that my bags were secure, I was still sweating bullets about the interaction with the check in agents. Would I truly be flying with free bags? My first experience was with Southwest Airlines. I don't like to lie about anything, even if I think I'm being taken advantage of. Thus, when asked, I reluctantly told them it was a bike, but added that it was under 62"/50 lb requirement. The bags went on the conveyor, and I walked away with money still in my account - no charge! Success!

The next two flights, on Southwest and Frontier, had the same result with decreasing levels of anxiety (of course on Frontier I had to pay the regular baggage fees for two checked bags). The fourth trip (Frontier Airlines from Devner to Orange County) I was not so lucky. When they discovered it was a bike, they immediately chose to assess the bike fee. Additionally, they wanted to charge me for a second bag on top of the bike fee (despite the fact that both bags were technically one bike). Fortunately, I was able to confuse them on a technicality, and "only" walked away with the bike fee. Unfortunately, my bike did not get waived this time around despite it meeting the dimensions.

I will say that my experience with Frontier was in no way the fault of the bike bag. It's worth noting that in this case a bike is a bike is a bike. I would have been charged the fee regardless. I had read on the web that Frontier was friendly with bikes, and they "were". What I didn't know was that a few days earlier they instituted a number of changes which essentially reinforced their vision of "sticking it to the customers" in which they essentially impose charges on anything that's not attached to the person (and that's up for debate). Bikes were included in this, regardless of how it's packaged. Moral of the story: Do your research!

With the Hen House, you're not necessarily buying an automatic exclusion from bike fees, you're buying an argument. Unfortunately, only the airline determines if our bags fly free or not, however, the Hen House gives you the advantage of forcing the airlines to find a reason to charge you. In most cases, you will avoid the fee and get away with saving some money. Over time and enough flights, you will pay for this case. Add on top of that that this case is sturdy and secure and you can rest assured that your bike will be safe on the way to its destination. It's an absolutely great case and I would recommend it to anyone.

One more perk of the Hen House is that it will fit very nicely into any size car. I even got it into a Toyota Yaris on one of my trips.

You can expect to find one of these bad boys in the case after you arrive at your destination.

This leads me to some small pieces of advice to make your chances of success at avoiding bike fees more likely.

1. Do the cost benefit analysis. Don't always go for the cheapest fare as they are presented on Kayak or Travelocity. The airlines use this strategy to their advantage, so the winners typically lowball the fare and make it up on fees. Consider the extras you're going to pay for and factor that into the equation.

2. Keep the weight limits in mind when packing your Hen House. Use the wheel bag as much as possible for heavier items as you have more of a weight cushion vs. the bike bag.

3. One of the ticket agents in Denver told me (just as she was shaking me upside down by the ankles trying to catch any additional pennies coming out of my pockets) that the reason I didn't get charged for the bike in Orange County was because the ticketing agents at non-hub airports are outsourced, and don't necessarily know of or care about additional fees. Translation: you're more likely to get away with "free" bags at locations which are not hubs for the airline you're flying. A poor excuse for incompetence, but take it for what it's worth.

4. There's something to be said for creating less hassle when traveling. For my money, even if it's reflected as more in the base fare, I would choose to fly Southwest. Their rules with regard to bikes and bags are very clear and you will not pay for your Hen House to fly on Southwest (given their two free bags rule). Again, even if the base fare is more than the competition, it's all inclusive, and I'll pay a little extra for certainty rather than get nickled and dimed. .

Here is a list some of the bike rates charged currently by carriers (taken directly from their websites, often times buried deeply). I simply listed the domestic fees because all airlines have ridiculous and lengthy rules for different countries and situation, which I'm sure even they don't fully understand. I've also listed what the "worst case" scenario would be for a regular bike case vs. the Hen House (keep in mind that worst case can likely be avoided). Note that there are a few airlines where "theoretically" based on the baggage rules the Hen House would cost more because it is two bags vs. one, but I was able to effectively argue out of the second bag charge.

  • American Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Overweight - $100 - $200
    • Bicycle - $150 (unless bag is below 62"/50 lb requirement, then regular fees apply)
      • Round trip with regular case - $300
      • Round trip with Hen House - $120
  • Delta Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Bicycle - $150 (regardless of dimensions)
      • Round trip with regular case - $300
      • Round trip with Hen House - $335
  • Frontier Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $20 first, $30 second
    • Carry On Bags - $20 - $30
    • Overweight - $75
    • Bicycle - $75 (regardless of dimensions)
      • Round trip with regular case - $150
      • Round trip with Hen House - $200
  • Jet Blue:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $0 first, $50 second
    • Overweight - $100
    • Bicycle - $50 (unless bag is below 62"/50 lb requirement, then regular fees apply)
      • Round trip with regular case - $100
      • Round trip with Hen House - $100
  • Southwest Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $0 first, $0 second
    • Overweight - $75
    • Bicycle - $50 (unless bag is below 62"/50 lb requirement, then regular fees apply)
      • Round trip with regular case - $100
      • Round trip with Hen House - $0 (WINNER!)
  • United Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Overweight - $100 - $200
    • Bicycle - $100 (unless bag is below 62"/50 lb requirement, then regular fees apply)
      • Round trip with regular case - $200
      • Round trip with Hen House - $120
  • US Airways:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Overweight - $100 - $200
    • Bicycle - $150 (unless bag is below 62"/50 lb requirement, then regular fees apply)
      • Round trip with regular case - $300
      • Round trip with Hen House - $120
  • Hawaiian Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Overweight - $50 - $200
    • Bicycles - $100 plus any overweight charges (regardless of dimensions)
      • Round trip with regular case - $300 - $600
      • Round trip with Hen House - $270
  • Virgin America:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $25 second
    • Overweight - $50 - $100
    • Bicycles - $50 plus any overweight charges (regardless of dimensions)
      • Round trip with regular case - $200 - $300
      • Round trip with Hen House - $150
  • AirTran:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $35 second
    • Overweight - $75
    • Bicycle - $75 (regardless of dimensions)
      • Round trip with Regular case - $150
      • Round trip with Hen House - $220
  • Alaska Airlines:
    • Regular Baggage Fees - $25 first, $25 second
    • Overweight - $75
    • Bicycles - Overweight fee applies
      • Round trip with regular case - $150
      • Round trip with Hen House - $100

Monday, July 7, 2014

MarkAllenOnline Boulder Training Camp

Leading up to an out of town race, a lot of the concerns that arise are related to the "unknowns". This is especially true of Ironman Boulder, where the uncertainties of the affects of altitude hang heavy on my mind. Having only been to this area once, and having gone there when I was much more unhealthy than I am now, I remember gasping for air at every climb of the stairs and feeling generally exhausted throughout the whole trip. Needless to say, this had me nervous about trying conquer 2.4 miles of open water swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon. On top of that, my only impressions of the course were the 2D images provided courtesy of Google Earth, which never do any justice to hills, heat, or wind.

I've been less worried about the hills, heat, and wind due to my recent experience at Ironman Los Cabos. No longer were these variables "unknown" to me, and so I knew that I could at least overcome them. The altitude, however, was still a bit scary. If only there was some way to get some experience on the course, to see how the altitude would affect me during the swim, bike, and run, and how I might better prepare to face on these effects.

Enter the MarkAllenOnline Boulder Triathlon Training Camp. Coach Luis Vargas hosts this camp every year as a means to give athletes an opportunity to work up close and personal with a word class triathlete, and coach of world champion triathletes. This year, the added incentive was that the camp would help athletes to prepare for Ironman Boulder, which would take place 5 weeks after the camp. The timing could not be more perfect. I jumped at the opportunity to attend and hopefully quell my fears.

The trip itself was a great opportunity to meet some new and like minded people with varying hopes and expectations regarding their respective events. While in most triathlon clubs you have a variety of skill levels and people training for different events, this camp was specifically geared for iron distance races, thus everyone was somewhat on the same wavelength. Furthermore, everyone had a great story, and I really enjoyed being inspired by everyone's individual journey.

Luis' training over the weekend was fantastic as well. In addition to experiencing the course first hand, we had lectures where Luis shared valuable insight and experience from his years as a Ironman triathlete, and his knowledge about racing at altitude. Having this setting to learn from his experience was priceless. I would highly recommend this camp for anyone wishing to get to the next level in Ironman, or simply to meet and train with some great people.

Bike Training

The bike training was my first introduction to training at altitude, and it was a "head first" introduction. The morning after I arrived in Boulder, we would take on the entire 112 mile bike course. I would very quickly get to experience how going from 0 to 5,000 feet would affect me. Fortunately the pace was not fast, rather it was rather leisurely throughout the first half. I was expecting a noticeable spike in heart rate, but that was not the case. In fact, my heart rate was in a very comfortable 110 - 130 range all day. I even felt as if I was able to go faster with the thinner air, but I certainly didn't feel any effects of the altitude playing a factor on my ride.

While the altitude wasn't much of a factor on the bike, the weather itself proved less forgiving. The majority of the ride (as demonstrated by the photos below) was absolutely perfect. But about 70 miles into the ride a storm descended on us rather abruptly. Large hailstones and lightning was all around us. Fortunately, Luis had a trailer in which we were able to hunker down for the half hour the storm was upon us. The very next day riders reported winds gusting at 60 mph, thus making the course more challenging. This was demonstrative of how the weather can change abruptly on this course.

Riding the course early gave me a chance to think about race strategy as well. Since the course has a lot of false flats and straights, the impulse will be to go out hard and fast. However, since the first 30 miles is where most of the "hills" are located, it will be best to take it easy at the beginning, and then build throughout the ride, paying close attention to the fact that there will still be some climbing in the last 15 miles of the course (oh, and a marathon too).

Swim Training

Noticeably my weakest sport, and one which I need the most work, still I wasn't necessarily too concerned about how the altitude would affect my swim. That is, until we got into the reservoir to practice the second morning of our trip. The wind started blowing pretty early, and created a bit of chop in the water, but nothing I don't often see in other open water swims. This swim, however, I was having a really hard time finding a rhythm. I felt like I couldn't get a full breath in, and consequently, I started panicking a bit. I completed one 600 yard lap feeling a little uneasy, but halfway into the second lap is where I began feeling panicky. Rather than try to complete the loop (as the buoy became dislodged and began to drift in the wind) I decided to call it a swim and get toward shore.

Boulder Reservoir
I felt quite defeated after this swim, and a little embarrassed, however, Luis got us into the pool later on to do some drills. I was able to get through the workout, but felt more winded than ever. Demoralized, I went back to considering my race strategy, specifically my swim time and pace.

I was dreading the next day's swim. Luis said that he was going to work us hard in the pool, and after the previous day's performance, it wouldn't be pretty. Fortunately, a little more volume and a bit of a challenge was all I needed to regain my confidence. He had me in a lane with faster swimmers, which forced me to push the pace, but it also helped me to work through my issues with rhythm. That and the technique drills were most helpful in giving me a way to improve my swim over time. All this swim work at altitude gave me a good amount of confidence for the Ironman swim, and made me realize that I will need some daily swim training when I arrive for the race 10 days early.

Run Training

I had a three hour run scheduled for this week, so I planned on doing it on the Ironman Boulder course. The course runs right along a shaded creek path, which makes it a little cooler than the expected "exposed" temperature we'll get on the bike. The only exception is the Easternmost part of the course which leaves the creek and is unprotected from the sun. The Northeast section has a bit of a climb which we'll have to hit twice on each loop. Unfortunately, this will happen around miles 18-19, which is where I melted down in Cabo. Not to promote a self-fulfilling prophesy, but a meltdown here would not be fun.

The altitude affected me slightly on the run, but not significantly. I was about 20-30 seconds off my pace, but it felt more due to lethargy (from a 8 hour bike ride the previous day and excessive travel) than altitude. Furthermore, the run was all on paved concrete, which played terribly on my calves. After 20 miles, I was in quite a bit of pain and had to slow significantly to avoid injuring myself.

It's not a hilly course, but there are a few punchy sections, specifically some of the bridges and overpasses, which will chew up the legs quite a bit. But the important realization was that the East to West portion of the course is a false flat (naturally, since the river flows Eastward). It will be necessary to pace myself heading West, but the pace can increase pretty significantly going East.

All and all a great trip and camp, which provided a lot of insight and confidence for race day. Today I feel as prepared as I will every be for this race, and am excited to experience the joy not only myself, but through the others that I met who will be experiencing this as well. A big thanks to Luis Vargas for a great experience.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Change is Never Easy - What We Can Learn from Exodus

I'm going off on a bit of a tangent, so bear with me. This has been on my mind lately due to some of my own personal circumstances. It's about "change". Nobody likes it. I mean nobody. If you think you do, you don't. Sure, it may be nice to have a change of scenery, or a change in diet, or take on a new hobby, but really only when it's our idea. When change is enforced on us, it's not so great.

In fact, just the very discussion of "change" may lose the attention of a few readers. And I'm about to lose a few more... Why? Because I'm going to start talking about the Bible.

Still there? Good! Thanks for sticking with me. This is not an attempt to get all "religious", I'm not going to try to indoctrinate anyone, and I'm not going to become "preachy" (ok, well maybe just a little). I'm simply going to use the Exodus story of the Bible to illustrate my points about how we handle change.

I'll briefly summarize the relevant points of the Exodus story (of which I'm including the story beyond the book of Exodus, as the Hebrews spent a mighty long time hanging out in the desert). In a nutshell, the self-exiled Moses is called by God to lead his people (the Israelites) from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Wow, sounds awesome! Thanks, God!

Well, despite the rosy picture that's painted above, our protagonist Moses was initially reluctant to perform God's Will, and continued to complain about his own lack of competence for the task. Further, the Pharaoh continued to disallow the freeing of the Israelites, despite the pain being inflicted on his own people. Eventually though, through God's demonstrations of His divine competence, Moses was able to lead his people out of Egypt and beyond the Red Sea toward Milkville and Honeyland.

Hooray! Happy ending! All is well, right? Not quite. It turns out that between Egypt and the promised land exists a vast desert through which Moses and the Israelites would have to pass... well, more like aimlessly wander. Almost immediately, the people began complaining to Moses about their current living conditions, pining to return to the comfort of slavery in Egypt, and praising other gods as a means of trying to find a "quick fix" to their current problems. Consequently, God punished them for their lack of faith by forcing them to remain in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the promised land.

Eventually they made it to their destination and for a time became a powerful nation. However, it wasn't without a great deal of (mostly self inflicted) misery.

Regardless of what personal opinions each of us may have about whether these events actually occurred, the "story" itself brilliantly demonstrates interesting lessons into how we process change.

1. Regardless of how necessary and attractive the change may be, any departure from a required level of comfort will create resistance.

As you can see by this story, once the Israelites' comfort was compromised, even the prospect of going back into slavery seemed more attractive than the present situation. Even Moses, the "project manager" so to speak, had his doubts from time to time. When it comes to getting out of our comfort zone, if we hope to see improvements in our own lives at times we have to take a leap of faith and absorb a little discomfort for a while to reap the benefits of the end result.

2. The long term benefit of any change can be overshadowed by the short term pain.

When we are in any type of discomfort, it is hard to reconcile that with the idea that things will get better. On the contrary, we see short term pain as endless suffering. We will do anything to get out of it immediately. If we can keep the end goal in sight and continue work through the challenges toward a positive result, the pain will be short lived.

3. Lack of buy in and resistance to change can be detrimental to the expected positive result, and can serve to prolong the pain.

Due to their lack of faith and resistance to God's will, the process of getting the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land took much longer than expected. If the attitude on the part of the Israelites was one of cooperation and helpfulness, it likely would have taken much less time. Instead the Israelites had to spend 40 extra years in the desert. I think that one of the purposes of this story is to demonstrate how resistance to positive change only serves to delay any positive outcome, and will increase the amount of time spent in the desert.

4. We may not always receive praise for the success of the change, or even see the benefits of the outcome.

One last part of the story that is a little depressing, but illustrates an important lesson is that Moses died before the Israelites could even enter the promised land. He didn't even get to experience the reward of all of  patience and hard work. Sometimes we have to invoke change that we may not necessarily be rewarded for or even see the benefits of. This is not to say that we will die before they provide any benefit, but there are scenarios such as career or job changes which leave us removed from any benefit. Further, it is not always likely that we will receive praise from others when a change is successful. In this regard we are called to do good for the benefit of humanity without expecting anything in return. Not always easy, but the rewards are inherent if not explicit.

Now, we don't all have the hand of the Almighty God to force productive and positive change on people. We can't turn rods into serpents, or bring forth springs of water from dry land. We mortals require a more gentle approach. Worst of all, we have to deal with the "will of other people" which doesn't always align with ours. But faith, commitment, persistence, and keeping your eye on the end goal while overcoming present obstacles make achieving the goal more manageable.

For any type of change, between "A" (the starting point) and "B" (the point when the change is completed), there will have to be some time spent in the desert. Here is a diagram to help demonstrate:

How long you spend in the desert is largely up to you. When you think about your role in any kind of change, consider this story. When change takes place in your life, are you Moses? Are you the Israelites? Are you Pharaoh? Or are you trying to play God?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ironman Boise 2014 Race Report, and a Search for Sushi Amongst the Strip Clubs

Let me just preface by saying that we visited neither a sushi restaurant or a strip club. But more on that later.

I didn't really know what to expect coming to Boise... Scratch that, I kinda did. My flight over which was filled with triathletes sitting next to large bearded men in suspenders and flannel pretty much confirmed my suspicions. However, what I DIDN'T know what to expect was with regard to the conditions come race day. Two years ago it was really cold. Last year it was really hot. Every year it is really windy. I was hoping for a Goldilocks effect of "just right".

This was the first time flying with my Ruster Sports Armored Hen House, and I have to say that I was tremendously nervous about flying with my trusty steed packed up and at the mercy of the TSA and baggage brutes. But after disassembling the bike and seeing how secure it seemed in the case, it was clear that unless the TSA or baggage brutes did anything malicious (gulp) it would be okay. Sure enough when I arrived in Boise, there it was waiting for me in one piece. Well, at least not in any more pieces than I had disassembled it into. I was very impressed with how it performed, and will write up a product feature on it soon.

The morning before the race I loaded my bike up and went down to the expo to check in and I thought I would have the on-site bike mechanic evaluate my bike reassembly skills. You see, I'm pretty confident I did okay, and likely would have foregone the professional bike check if it were a flat course. But considering that right out of T1 we would be going into a blazing fast descent, I thought it to be better safe than sorry, lest this happen to me.

All systems were go, and I dropped off my bike at Lucky Peak in T1 for a slumber party with 1400 of its friends. Then my wife and I were off to enjoy our pre-race dinner ritual, sushi! Now, sushi in Boise. Our first mistake was to try to make that combination work. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that there are plenty of good sushi places in Boise. But at 6 pm on a Friday night without knowing the area, this is a decision you do not want to rush. So we honed our Yelping skills and drove by a number of supposedly "decent" places only to find they were all in less than stellar areas. The last one we went to was across the street from two strip clubs, and adjacent to a used car lot called "Fairly Reliable Bob's" (no joke). We decided to skip sushi this time around. We ate elsewhere and went back to the hotel to sleep.

This was the first time I was able to wake up with the sun shining on race morning. All other races tend to start around first hint of corona over the horizon, but this race starts at high noon. And being a wave start, I wouldn't go off until high noon thirty. Many people praise the late start as a way to get a full night sleep, sleep in, and eat a full breakfast. I couldn't disagree more. First off, I like to get my suffering going as early as possible. It adds to the experience. Second, I don't find it wise to go into a race with a full belly of complete breakfast. I opted to go with my usual, and have a shake for breakfast and some quinoa and oatmeal a couple hours before the start. 

My goal for this race? I wanted to go under 5 hours, specifically do about a 2:30 bike split and maintain a run pace of about 7:15-7:20. This would have proven for me some significant fitness gains since my last half. Since this was a hillier bike course than Palm Springs, even if I had the same bike split I would have considered that an improvement. Additionally, I wanted to see how I fared with a little altitude (Boise being at about 3,000 ft). The course would likely be a good practice for Boulder.

We were bussed up to Lucky Peak Reservoir for the swim start. 

It was a beautiful view as the pictures will demonstrate below.

This is where we bike out of T1, scream down the hill and into the plains of South Boise

Lucky Peak Reservoir, a bit calm, but the winds picked up just in time for our wave
Swim: 38:41, 58/194 in AG, 399/1435 Overall - Man, I need a swim coach!

Our wave, the 35-39 male age group, was the 8th wave to go off, so there would be plenty of traffic on the course by the time we got out there. Unfortunately, we had no time for a warm up, so immediately when we got in the water I started bobbing my head in and out to get my face used to the water and through the panic of the cold. Fortunately it wasn't as cold as it was in previous years, only about 60 degrees (I'd heard stories of it being in the low 50's).

The gun went off and we all started swimming, and I started feeling relatively comfortable pretty quickly. I began to feel a good rhythm, and fell into a pack of swimmers I felt was going a comfortable speed. Tempo still felt high, so I thought I was pushing the effort pretty well. I also took this opportunity to practice my drafting skills. I would find a swimmer that would pass me and jump in behind him and lighten my effort. It seemed to work pretty well over the course of the swim.

Rounding the first turn buoy, it became harder to swim with forward progress. It felt like the current was against us, which was probably correct, since the wind was pushing at our faces. I began to swallow a lot of water because I was breathing out of my right side, which was where the wind was coming from. At about the third turn buoy, I began to get pretty bad cramps in my calves. This had never happened to me in the water before and was quite unnerving, since I could no longer straighten or bend my foot. It just sat there like a painful brick in the water. I did my best to try to work it out and swim on, but it continued to persist. Right as we hit the dock, with about 20 meters to go, it seized up really bad and I sat there floating right at the end of the swim, unable to move, while trying to stretch out my calf. I dog paddled the rest of the way to the swim exit, and stood up, fully expecting to fall down again in a heap of uselessness. To my surprise, all systems were working properly, albeit a bit sore. Despite the hiccups, I was expecting to see a swim time of 38 minutes, and that is exactly what I got. Still a little disappointed that I haven't had any improvement since my last half in December (hence the comment above - I really need a swim coach!).

Transition 1: 3:16

There was a bit of a hill running from the swim exit to transition, and naturally my heart rate reflected the shock of moving from upper body to lower body activity. I bypassed the wetsuit strippers, as I couldn't justify them saving me any time, and continued on to my bike. I'm sure I could have gone faster, but I still haven't mastered the art of the "clean transition". This requires that all swim items be put into the bike bag, and I am still pretty slow at that task. But, I grabbed my bike and headed out.

Bike: 2:32:17, 22.06 mph avg., 20/194 in AG, 114/1435 Overall

On to the bike, and I was all set to enjoy a fast descent. However, because I am a slow swimmer, I was met with a ton of congestion on the bike immediately, which consequently meant that people were riding side by side (which would be considered a blocking penalty, but nobody seemed to care too much). Thus, no fast descent for me. 

There were only a couple climbs on this course, and the first began about 3 miles in. The course was still congested here, but the slow and safe pace provided a good opportunity to pass a lot of people. My heart rate during this climb was at the high 150's, which is too high for a half Ironman, but I figured I would take it back once I got to the flats. I did that and averaged a heart rate of 151 over the course of the ride. 

The course was a point to point, which  basically resembled a giant fork (if that fork had spent significant amounts of time in the garbage disposal), The majority of the ride, from T1 out to the first turnaround, and the turnout toward T2, was westbound, which consequently was into the wind (coming out of the NW at about 15 mph). The conditions, combined with a relatively false flat course, provided a prime opportunity to overdo it on the bike, which I (and apparently Apolo Ohno), delivered on.

If I failed to mention it already, Apolo Anton Ohno, Olympic speed skater, was doing his first triathlon in Boise. I was curious to know how well his fitness would transfer over into triathlon, and if I would catch him on the bike or run (his wave started about 15 minutes before mine). Around mile 20 of the bike, I had my answer. He was flying, and still about 5 miles ahead of me. He had to be matching me or even going slightly faster. Dude was flying, even with his camera crew in toe.

One of the things I found challenging on this race was staying well hydrated enough. I used the same setup I had in Mexico, which included a cage on my aero bars, and one in my seat tube. I would use my nutrition in one and water in the other. I was fully expecting that they would hand out nice water bottles like they did in Mexico. In fact, I started with my "Ironman Los Cabos" water bottle, which I planned to discard at the first aid station and replace with a nice, new "Ironman Boise" water bottle. Unfortunately, they chose to go with the cheap plastic Arrowhead bottles, which did not fit in either cage. Reluctantly, at the first aid station, I traded in my nice Cabo souvenir for a $1.00 generic Arrowhead light plastic bottle. The aid stations were spread out farther than Cabo as well, which meant I had to make the water go farther. Throughout the whole bike I felt like I wasn't hydrating well enough. This was certainly a learning experience for Boulder, which will likely have the same spread of aid stations. This, along with the cramping calves, would haunt me on the run.

Fun little descent into T2, and I was off on the run.

Transition 2: 2:36

Nothing really to report here. Just have to give props to the volunteers. In this case they saw me dismount my bike, shouted out my number, and ran too my gear and pointed it out to me. It was amazingly coordinated, and surprising that it is something they do only once a year (and for free). I heard that there was 1,200 volunteers for the 1,400 athletes, almost a 1:1 ratio. 

Also had a quick pee break, since I didn't pee at all on the bike. I could tell now that I was clearly dehydrated, and my stomach was cramping pretty badly (not due to nutrition this time, but due to lack of hydration I believe). I would only be getting water from the aid stations, and taking eating gels and salt individually during the run. This was also a test run for Boulder. In Cabo I had a fuel belt with all of these items mixed together for easy consumption. Only problem was I had to lug around a Batman-esque utility belt for 26 miles. I wanted to see if I could get away without the belt this time around.

Run: 1:40:19, 7:39/mile, 20th in AG, 102 Overall

Immediately a few things began occurring to me as I went out on my run. First, my legs were already jello and my calves were screaming with every footstrike (leftover trauma from the cramping on the swim). Second, my stomach was not liking me. It didn't seem to be the nutrition this time, but likely the dehydration combined with the new position of being straight up vs. hunched over. With these things already bothering me, I had an increased lack of focus due to the fact that I had to fiddle with a sandwich bag of 6 gels and salt pills. I tried desperately to stuff these in my pockets, while running, while tired, and I was having a really hard time of it. This experience taught me that at the very beginning of the run, you want to do nothing else except for focus on getting your legs under you. Every other little thing you do just magnifies the suffering. 

Beginning my run, way in the background

It took me a long time to find my rhythm. Based on my training, I had hoped to get onto the run and tick off 7:15-7:20 miles. But I was in the high 7:30's, and I had to struggle to maintain that. By the second mile, I decided to walk the aid station, get some fluids in, and collect myself. I did so and I started feeling a little better, but not much. I felt good enough to maintain my high 7 minute pace. I had a chance to pass a number of other runners, and the common theme was that nobody looked exceedingly strong. Actually, everyone looked pretty beat up, which told me that I was not alone. The bike must have kicked a lot of butts. 

By around mile 5 I felt that my cramps had finally left me for the most part. My jello and crampy legs were still with me, but it was a bit of a morale boost for me. I was able to maintain the pace and pick off some more runners. As I approached lap 2, I caught up to some of the pro women who were about to finish, but the announcers at the finish line were all about "Ohno". They were letting the crowd know that he had just passed through the 8 mile split, and he was due in within the hour. My math told me that I was catching up to him. Not that it really mattered either way, but it's always nice to give a former Olympian a pat on the back for conquering a new challenge. 

I was continuing to maintain my pace through the second lap, but as my heart rate began to accelerate, and fatigue began to overtake me, I got that ever demoralizing late-race apathy. I was so tired, and couldn't take any more calories in, couldn't drink any more water, and so I began getting the attitude of "who cares?" At that point it didn't matter to me how I finished, or if I walked the rest of the way. I just wanted to be done. There is a moment when this happens in all endurance races, and at that time it is best to trick your mind by bargaining. I would tell myself that I would run to the next aid station and then walk, and once I got there I would keep going and set a new target and repeat the process. This is related to something that works in recovery, "a day at a time". We don't think about what the future brings because it brings us demoralization. Instead we think about just this moment right now. And at that moment right then I was going to run.

As I ran under the bridge the last time, I thought I would just have to make a turn up the hill and run to the finish. However, in my delirium I became confused. Once up the hill I was following a guy who looked very confident to be going the right way, but it was in the opposite direction of where I thought the finish was. Nobody in the crowd seemed to be telling us we were going the wrong way, but I still had to slow down and yell the question to nobody in particular, "am I going the right way?" We were running in the very same place we started the half marathon, and the prospect of doing another lap wasn't an option. Turns out I was thinking that T2 was the finish line, but was actually on the other side of the river from the finish. We were simply crossing the river toward the finish, but it felt like forever. 

Finally I turned down the finishing chute and looked up at the time to see 5:23 as I crossed the line. By my math (since I had started 27 minutes after the gun), I was under 5 hours by a few minutes. A lot of pain, but I had persevered and achieved my goal. Official time was 4:57:09, which gave me 20th place in my age group (out of 194), and 102 overall (out of 1,435). I didn't catch up to Apolo, and he did very well for a first triathlon, finishing in 4:59. With a few months until Kona, I think he will do very well there (and I hope to see him there!).

Post Race:

The grassy area outside of the finish line looked like a war zone medical tent, where the wounded soldiers were clad in Lycra rather than camouflage. A lot of people, more so than Cabo, were woozy and laid out on the grass trying to collect themselves. A lot of people seemed to put it all out there, including myself. I was one of those laying on the grass, trying to decide if horizontal or vertical was the better position to avoid puking or passing out. Eventually I came around and got a massage (more props to the volunteers who freely gave of themselves to touch numbers of sweaty triathletes after a 5 hour race). Then I heard the 5 greatest words you can possibly hear after a long triathlon, "They have burgers over there". 

You have to love a race that is sponsored by "Beef". Yes, "Beef". While I tend to stick to fish and eggs as animal protein during training, post race it's all about red meat and gluttony. I'm sure many vegans didn't appreciate this, but I sure did. It was awesome to have a couple of free burgers and beef jerky at the end of the race.

We had to fly home early the next morning, which meant that I had to get back to the hotel and disassemble my bike and pack it up. That I did, and once again my bike made it safely home without incident. One more successful race!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ironman Boulder Fundraising Campaign - Charity:Water

By trade I work for a company that, in part, supplies chemicals to water treatment plants so that the water that is supplied to our homes, businesses, and communities is safe and free of disease. I know from my experience within this company the type of infrastructure required to support our communities is vast. Needless to say we take safe drinking water for granted.

At no time during any of my races did I ever stop to think "man, am I lucky to have all of this water so readily available to me". In fact, during the recent Ironman in Los Cabos I expected that water would be literally handed to me for my consumption, or dare I say, to simply pour over my head for a quick cool down. And why not? There's plenty where that came from after all!

But in many places in the world, too many to count, people would cringe at the idea of pouring much needed water over their heads.. In fact, in some communities they don't even have safe or clean water at all. Some have to travel for hours just to find any water at all. And even then they're putting their lives at risk.

For Ironman Boulder, I choose to race for +charity: water because not only are they a stellar charity with high marks on Charity Navigator, but because this is a problem that is solvable. This is not a problem with supply (there is plenty of water on the planet so that nobody has to go thirsty), it is a problem with infrastructure. A problem that charity:water is working to solve one project at a time, one community at a time. Please watch the video below to view how they try to change lives through accessible water.

Charity:water projects are not just saving lives, and providing water to those that thirst, they are literally building opportunities within communities, creating resources, and promoting health. This is truly a worthy cause, and one I hope you'll contribute to.

You can reach my fundraising page here to donate. It is my goal to reach $1,500 by August 3. If we can do better then great! Thank you for your support!