The Journey

The journey is more important than the destination.

Several years ago a friend of mine asked me if I would do the Fairlee Triathlon in Vermont. After training for three months, feeling like I was going to drown in the swim, feeling nauseus on the run, I crossed the finished line and was hooked.This led to my triathlon journey.

Please consider supporting my latest effort to raise money for Bretton Woods Adaptive through the Janus Charity Challenge at Ironman Lake Placid this July. Check out the Links I Like section of the blog or explore the BWA Fundraiser links.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report: The Day After

It's been almost four weeks since Ironman but it seems like much longer. I've gone to start this post several times but for some reason it's been tough to find a way to wrap the race report up, which is ironic, because Monday after the race was arguably the most fulfilling days of the of the weekend.

I've been drawn to using athletic events to raise money since I did my very first triathlon six years ago (has it only been seven years?!). I've said here before that triathlon is an inherently selfish sport, especially given the training demands of the longer distance races. I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to participate and I think this is what has driven me to give back in some way.

In the case of Ironman, there is a very sophisticated program set up in the form of the Janus Charity Challenge. I participated in the program during my first Ironman and helped to raise over $115,000 for a local Habitat for Humanity chapter. This year my cause was Bretton Woods Adaptive and we raised $41,500, which earned an additional $4,000 donation from Janus Investments.

A side benefit to participating in this program, especially if you are one of the top fundraisers (we were 4th this year) is that you and your family receive VIP treatment during the Monday award ceremony. Besides being recognized on stage with the other Janus Charity Challenge participants in front of a couple of thousand athletes and guests, my family and myself were in the VIP seating area and had the opportunity to sit with such pros as Michael Lovato, Hillary Biscay and Paula Newby Fraser. Though one of the best parts was being able to sit with and catch up with Carol.

Carol is a fellow Janus athlete and has participated in the program for several years. She does an incredible job fundraising (this year she raised over $400k for her organization) and is one of the kindest and most genuine people I've met. She won this year's Janus Charity Challenge, as she also did in 2006, the first year I participated. One of the thing's that draws me to triathlon is the people. Carol is a perfect example of that and it was great to be able to see and catch up with her again this year.

This year's Ironman was an incredible ride. A friend sent me an e-mail after the race with some incredibly inspiring words. She wrote "...this destination that you've come to has meaning and adds more depth and experience to your life, and allows you to reflect on so many things you might not have if the out come were different."

A DNF was never an option that day, it just wasn't something that I thought about. However, just as my friend wrote, since it happened there are so many things that have I have gained a deeper about. In the end they are all reasons for me to continue to be grateful for the opportunity I have to participate in endurance sports.

What's next? The mind is swirling with ideas! Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report: Run

You may have already read the end result of my run. But, I wanted to cover in more detail the time leading up to the pre-mature end and if you'd like to read the details, they were posted the day after the race.

For how the race ended, I felt surprising good on the start of the run. Once I got off the bike I walked briskly to the transition area. I had just ridden 112 miles, and yes the legs were fatigued, but it definitely felt like all the long rides and hill training I had done for the past 7 months had paid off. The idea of running a marathon was still a little daunting, but seemed very possible. And, I finished in about 20 minutes faster than my goal time. This gave me some extra fluff time on the run to try and reach my time goal of breaking 13 hours.

Transition went smoothly and I was in and out much quicker than my 2006 race. I remember thinking that this gives me an extra few minutes to do the marathon and still make my goal time.

One of the best moments of the race was heading out of the transition tent for the run. Just after exiting the transition tent I saw Amy and Connor. I hadn't seen them for over 6 1/2 hours so it was a nice emotional boost for me. As soon as you leave the tent there are spectators everywhere lining the streets. It's like this for the first 3 or 4 miles of the race which makes it hard not to go out too fast because of the adrenaline, but I stayed conservative and tried to just keep a steady pace.

Once you pass the crowd lined streets of the first several miles there is an out-and-back section after a left hand turn onto River Road, which as the name suggests, spends most of the time following alongside the Ausable River. It's a winding road and as my buddy Paul puts it, you kind of feel like your in Groundhog Day. After a while, every bend you go around looks the same as the other and your not quite sure when you'll get back.

I still felt pretty good heading out for the first time on River Road. Though this section of the course becomes mentally challenging. It's flat for the most part, however, except for the aid stations there are virtually no spectators and for me its when the demons start to come out which started at about mile 10 of the run.

I didn't quite understand why I was starting to feel a little mentally beat down. Of course I felt physically beat up, but I had been training for seven months and had put several 15 - 20 mile runs in the training log, most were after a four to six hour bike ride the previous day.

At about mile 11, the first loop back through town begins which is about 3 miles total. I went through some ups and downs during this time but mostly I began to feel myself sliding to a place I was beginning to get nervous about.

In two previous races, a half Ironman and after my 2006 Ironman Lake Placid finish, I ended up once in the hospital and once in the medical tent after passing out at the finish line. Both times dehydration was the culprit. I remember the feeling I had at both races before passing out and shades of that same feeling were creeping in - only halfway through the marathon. Not a great sign. The feeling is hard to explain but it's a groggy feeling where I go through waves of dizzyness and loss of focus.

I'm a pretty heavy sweater and as a result try to stay topped up on my hydration. I didn't think about it at the time (though I've been obsessing about it ever since the race), but even though I pee'd a couple of times on the bike, I hadn't kept close track of how much I was drinking. For a humid and warm day I should have been taking in about 24 - 30 oz of water per hour. Honestly, I don't know how much water I had during that 6 1/2 hour ride. I remember finishing my first two 24 oz bottles in the first 3 hours, which already put me behind. After that, I was using the 20 oz bottles they gave us on course and I'm sure I didn't go through as many as I should have.

And so, after what I remember being my last relatively good section at about mile 14 to 15 of the run, things started to go down hill rapidly. On the run I generally can't take in as much water as I can on the bike. I was shooting for 24 oz per hour but was no where near this. The worse I felt the harder it was to taken in both nutrition and hydration. After mile 15 I can't even recall what I took in for either calories or hydration. Again, not a great sign.

The rest of the race is pretty foggy. One of the last clear memories is seeing one of the GSTC support crew at the 21 mile marker. I remember he suggested that I try jogging 100 yards and walking 100 yards and I told him I was done running. I was completely out of gas.

The rest of the story has already been told here.

I'm incredibly grateful for the support of friends and family prior to race day, on race day and since race day. I've been humbled by the comments of support by my familiy plus new and old friends which has helped put the whole experience into perspective. Without this support, I have to admit that it would be significantly harder to deal with.

Most people who really know me would describe me as a pretty low key guy who doesn't let a lot of things bother me. For the most part I've always had the attitude that what's done is done - let's move on with the situation as it stands and deal with it. Intellectually, that is the easy part, however the challenging part is accepting that logic emotionally. This DNF experience has been tough. Whereas I could normally be pretty disciplined about accepting situations for what they were and moving on, for some reason in this situation, my discipline has been really tested.

Besides asking myself what I could have done differently, the biggest question I'm asking myself is did I give up too easily? Many friends have told me how inspired they were just to see me do the training and make it as far as I did. I'm truly grateful for that and don't want to come across the wrong way. To most, getting pulled off the course by EMT's after 135 miles can be defined as not giving up too easily. My intent here is not to sound tough or somehow inflate my ego. Nevertheless, I'm constantly asking myself that question - could I have gotten up off the bumper of that ambulance and gutted it out to the end. Not knowing the answer really bothers me sometimes.

I'm so thankful to the many friends that have reminded me of my own words that I use as the intro to my blog - "The journey is more important than the destination". The interpretation I'm trying to emotionally solidify for myself from the experience: I learned more about how deep I can go physically, physiologically, mentally and emotionally on July 26th, 2009. Use that experience and apply it to every other part of my life. I know, in time, this is the meaning that will stick.

The rest of the long weekend ended on a high note at the awards banquet the next day as a result of the Janus Charity Challenge. More on that soon....

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report: Bike

With the swim behind me I was anxious to get on the bike. There is a good little run getting from the swim exit to transition but it goes by quickly with the hundreds of screaming spectators that surround you as you move through the 10 foot wide chute. I saw some of my family in the masses of people which is always great to be able to do.

Thanks to my well placed transition bags I was able to easily find mine and make my way to the transition tent. 112 miles is a long way so I took my time to make sure I had everything I needed. After getting my socks and shoes on I doused myself in sunscreen before getting my helmet on. That's when the first annoying pain of the day hit. The velcro around the neck of my wetsuit had apparently left a pretty good section of irritated skin, which burned as I put the sun screen. But, I shrugged it off, continued with my preparation and made my way out to my bike.

I walked briskly out to the bikes. There was a heavy downpour during the swim and the grass in the bike area was pretty soft. No need to twist an ankle on the unstable ground by trying to run out to my bike.

One of the nice treats of Ironman is the volunteer support and organization is awesome. My bike was waiting for me at the end of my row and I made a point to thank the volunteer as I grabbed it and made my way to the bike start.

Just before the bike mount line I saw my wife and son. It would likely be 6 1/2 to 7 hours before I saw them again so I took the time to give them both a quick kiss and made my way on the bike.

The first 2 miles of the bike course is a mix of sharp downhills and false downhill flats making for a nice way to start out the bike. After the first two miles the climbing begins, lots of it. Drafting is a always something race officials try to discourage, which in Ironman means a distance of 7 meters between you and the bike in front of you. It is comical to try and comply to this rule when there are hundreds of other athletes, all going 12 - 15 mph uphill. I didn't see any race officials but I suspect they would be lenient during the first several miles as the race begins to spread out.

I felt really comfortable on the bike. My goal time was 6 hours 45 minues but even more than that I wanted to have similar lap times over the two lap course. A drastically slower 2nd lap would most likely mean I pushed too hard early on and was setting myself up for a very tough run.

I was determined to take it easy on the first lap. I kept close eye on my heart rate and tried to keep it under 135 on the hills and under 125 on the flats. The first 40 miles start out with several rolling hills, a fantastic 5 mile downhill and several miles of flat section along a river before getting to the serious climbing. When I got to this point I was still feeling very good but wasn't quite sure how my body would respond on the upcoming hills.

My coach had me doing quite a bit of bike work, particularly on hills only 10 - 14 days before race day. While doing the training I was nervous that I might be doing too much too close to race day, but, my fears were overcome as I navigated the hills. I felt strong and steady and by the end of the 1st loop I had posted a time of 3 hours 10 minutes, without pushing very hard. This was well ahead of the 3 hours and 20 minutes I was shooting for.

Making my way through town after the first lap, I was able to see most of my family, except for my wife and son. There are so many people in that 2 or 3 mile stretch and your moving at 20mph so it's tough to try and make out faces as they whiz by behind the barriers. I know they were around but as I made my way back out on the 2nd loop I wished that I was able to catch their faces.

There was some incredible support out on the course. Thanks to Tom's crew (Tom is a GSTC teammate), whose enthusiasm was incredibly helpful out on course. I actually had other racers who were around me at the time we passed Tom's crew comment what great support the GSTC had. Quite a compliment to be noticed out of the tens of thousands of spectators out on course!

The 2nd loop went smoothly also. I was riding into a pretty strong wind coming up the climbs that dominate the end of each loop which made the end more challenging. However, for just having ridden 112 miles and close to 6,000 feet of climbing, I thought I was in good shape. My total bike time was 6:33. Eight minutes faster than my 2006 time and only about a 10 minute difference from loop 1 which I was happy with. Plus, aerobically I felt in really good shape.

I would soon find out that I had made some hydration errors while on the bike that would seriously cost me later in the race....

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where is the line?

If anyone knows where it is please let me know.

You may have seen me write before that triathlon, especially Ironman, is an inherently selfish sport. It requires the commitment of your family almost as much as the athlete. Here's my dilemma:

Where do you draw the line between pursuing individual goals and walking away for the family?

If you are a regular reader than you know about my recent result at Ironman Lake Placid. In many ways I've accepted my DNF and no doubt have already learned a lot about myself and what I can use from that race in other races and in other areas of my life.

The support and well wishes I've received for just getting to the starting line have been overwhelming and have themselves been inspirational. But at the end of the day, I didn't make it to the finish line and several times day since race day I think back to what I can remember about those last couple of miles on the course and wonder could I have made it if I just tried to keep going. Not knowing the answer is sometimes tortuous. I want to redeem myself, to myself.

On the flip side, my wife and son had a challenging day also. I think they both love the excitement that comes with the Ironman event. But at the same time getting up early and trying to navigate Lake Placid with thousands of other spectators plus the stress of seeing me come in from the course in an ambulance is not something anyone wants to experience often. Is it fair of me to want to sign up for another Ironman and put my family through all that again?

And so goes my search for the line. I know I won't find it right away. I suppose this is also part of the journey and just searching for the line we'll all learn a little something about ourselves.

So again I say, if anyone knows where the line is, please let me know.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report: Race morning and swim

Race day is a bitter sweet memory. While I was incredibly grateful to be out there, the way the day ended still has me up at night trying to figure out what I could have done differently or whether or not I could have dug any deeper and pushed through to the end.

I woke up at 3:45 feeling like I had gotten a great nights sleep. One thing I seem to have inadvertently trained myself to do is to use the bathroom first thing in the morning. This may seem like it isn't a big deal but being able to empty the bowels before leaving the room and not have to worry about standing in a port-a-potty line with 2,400 other athletes is a huge relief!

After using the bathroom I went about the routine I had been running through in my mind a thousand times. Get the uniform on, put the timing chip on, put on my sweatpants and sweatshirt, mix up my nutrition and fill the water bottles. I was hoping to be done by 5 but was ready to walk out the door at 4:45. It was nice to have my bike and transition bags already dropped off from the previous day.

The plan was to meet Paul at 5 and walk down to transition together. I don't remember what we talked about while walking down to the transition area but I was glad to be walking there with him. We had done marathon training together, lots of training for other races together and most recently we had been training for the past six months together for Ironman, his first and my second. We developed what was already a pretty tight relationship to one that was even tighter. Doing 7 hour bike rides together with someone who you have so much in common with will do that.

Once I arrived at transition I went through body-marking in what was a surprisingly short line, and went to my bike. There I put the bottles in their cages, topped off the air in my tires with a borrowed pump and gave the chain a quick lube. The last step was to drop off my special needs bags.

The only thing I had to do now was sit and wait. I found a seat at the place where I was going to meet my family and took in the craziness for a while. I felt calm even in the midst of all that was going on around me. While I was waiting I started the process of getting my wetsuit on so I was ready to go once my family arrived.

At 6:30 I met up with my wife and son and we made our way up to the swim start area. I had the chance to say a quick hello to the rest of my family. At about 6:40 I took in two Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels, took a swig of water, said my good byes and off I went to the swim start.

It took about 10 minutes to actually get into the water even though the total trip was only about 50 yards. All of the 2,400 athletes were being corralled over the timing mats through a 10 foot wide chute.

Just as I was getting in the water it started to rain pretty hard. The water was refreshing as I did my first few strokes and I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed after swimming for three or four minutes. I swam over to one of the beaches to minimize the treading I would have to do before the start. With about 5 minutes before the start I made my way up to the starting rope.

I still don't know how smart a decision this was. In 2006 I started about 25 yards back from the starting rope and while it was pretty crazy I was able to find clean water after the first 1/4 mile. This time, that wasn't the case. My swim had improved a lot in three years and I was feeling comfortable about starting closer to the front. I was still surprisingly calm when the cannon went off. I put my head in the water and started to swim.

The problem with starting so close to the front ended up being that I was never able to get into a great rhythm until close to the end of the first 1.2 mile loop. All the craziness actually made the first loop go by quickly. In that first 32 minutes I had my goggles knocked off once, almost had my wedding band pulled off, and got knocked around pretty good.

The 2nd loop wasn't much better, even though I had cleaner water to swim in with fewer people, I seemed to have gotten stuck behind a slower group that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get around. I got out of the 2nd loop and saw that my time was almost 1 hour 8 minutes. I was swimming sub 1 hour training swims at this distance so I was kind of disappointed in my swim time. But, I just made my way to T1 to get on with the rest of my race.

In the grand scheme of things the Ironman swim is just a warm up for the rest of the day.