Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

High Anxiety

These posts have been few and far between, but not from loss of interest. On the contrary, my training volume has increased, and so to have other obligations, which have left me really challenged to make sure I am hitting the marks in all areas of life - personal, family, training, and business. All things seem to be heating up at once, and I am trying my best not to let any of it fall off. Unfortunately, this means writing about my experience has to take a back seat until the heat is turned down a bit. But I do at least want to take some time to check in and give a few words of encouragement to those who may be going through similar situations.

On top of everything going on in my life, with Ironman Cabo less than two months away I am really starting to feel the pressure of the impending race. In fact, as I am writing this, the song of Carmina Burana is running through my head as a soundtrack to the run up to the race (look it up). However, I have been reminding myself that one of the main purposes of this is to find serenity and spiritual peace through triathlon. Regardless of the outcome of the race, I'm successful because I have improved myself spiritually, mentally, and physically. The race itself is a celebration. As I remind myself of that, the fearful anticipation turns into excited and joyful anticipation. As for the rest of the anxieties, it's best to let them go. Ask God to relieve them from me. Then I can focus on what I can control. This has worked wonders for me.

Where am I at with my training now? It is certainly time consuming. However, there are really only a handful of weeks out of the year where the training peaks and it becomes really intense. For me that is right now, and for about the next five weeks. At this point I am swimming up to about 10K a week, running over 40 miles per week, and biking over 150 miles. Combined with a couple days of weight training this comes out to over 20 hours a week. But it makes me really look forward to the taper (oh, the taper!).

On a separate note, I built a bike over the past few weeks. It turns out a frame of the same make I "totaled" was on sale for half price. Figuring I had all of the components already, I decided to rebuild it with the idea that I could keep it on the trainer for indoor rides (so that it wouldn't fall apart on me during a fast descent, and I would only look foolish and not injure myself in a stationary crash), as well as learn all of the parts and workings of a bike up close and personal-like. If you're not interested in the mechanics of rebuilding a bike, by all means stop here. It was nice of you to visit, and I look forward to having you for the next post! However, if you're a nerd like me, then carry on...

This is the Orbea Ordu SSJ frame, right out of the package. 

These are all the parts I removed from the old damaged frame. I was sure to keep everything that I could attached so that any "fit" issues would be addressed once the pieces were put back in place.

Bottom bracket installation. These are a pain to remove, but easy to install after you determine the correct thread direction. Grease is necessary on the threaded areas as well as inside for the installation of the crank set.
Installing the crank set.
Crank set fully installed.

Fork and headset installation was pretty straightforward, but a little tricky with only two hands. It was important to make sure all bearings and spacers were replaced exactly how they were removed, so that the fit and function would be sound. 
Rear derailleur installed. Fine tuning the front and rear derailleurs is one of the more formidable tasks associated with bike maintenance. But thanks to YouTube and practice, it can become very easy to accomplish.
Fully assembled bike (except for front wheel of course - that would have been a colossal fail). Oddly enough, the bike chain was the most difficult part to attach. Making sure that the length was just right and the pins were installed correctly was rather difficult and frustrating. Otherwise, cabling the bike was much easier than I had originally thought.