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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A tale of two races (Part II)

I did everything I could to recover from my Saturday race. I used The Stick, stayed off my feet most of the day, took a nap and even took a hot bath with some fancy bath salts that my wife had. I don't know what I was expecting to feel like but my muscles still felt pretty beat up from the intense Saturday effort.

It was an early start to the day when I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. My alarm went off at 4 a.m. but my eyes were already open as I lay in bed. After a traditional pre-race breakfast of Green Goodness and protein powder, my family and I were out the door and arrived in South Berwick right at 5 when transition was supposed to open.

Pre-race was pretty laid back. I had a sweet transition area spot at the end of a rack leaving plenty of room for my gear. I had enough time to catch up with the other GSTC'ers racing, Dave and Tom, along with a few other folks I knew from the local tri-scene.

The Swim
After a first place age group swim the previous day I was definitely confident at the swim start. Probably too confident. Instead of going out strong and steady I red-lined for the first 100 yards and found myself hyper-ventilating. After laying off the effort for about 15 seconds and regaining my composure I went back out and finished the swim strong. I ended up 7th out of the water in my age group but pretty sure I lost a couple of places with my early pacing mistake. Overall, I was still happy with a sub 28 minute 1.2 mile swim.

The Bike
The first few miles of the bike is when I started to realize it might be a painful day. Even my intentional effort to spin easily over the first few miles of flat roads, the residual muscle soreness was still very present from Saturday's effort. I tried to get into a steady rhythm and eventually got into a groove and did my best to not work the leg muscles too hard.

I did go through several bouts of doubt as to how I would respond on the run. I tried not to let too many negative thoughts build up about what the run when going to be like if I had sore muscles from going easy on the bike. I was thankful that I did some reading about David Goggins and his perspective on dealing with pain and suffering while racing.

I also kept repeating to myself one of my favorite perspectives on keeping a positive attitude: that nothing we do or feel has any inherent meaning, only the meaning we give it. I could either commiserate with myself about the running pain I was anticipating, or, figure out a way to embrace it and help to feed my drive to finish.

The Run
Thankfully, I managed not to commiserate. However, I did suffer. With every stride my muscles ached but I was able to maintain my nutrition and hydration so that the only thing I had to do was focus on blocking out the leg pain and keep putting one leg in front of the other.

One thing I did better in the race than any other that I can remember is get hyper-focused in the present moment. Typically in longer races, my mind is racing with everything from calculating my pace to watching my heart rate. I have a hard time finding that place I can usually get to in a training run, where a 2 hour run is done before I know it. This race was different. As much as I hurt, I never walked and there were several points where I didn't really remember any details about the previous mile or two.

I do remember virtually every step of the last two miles. I saw the mile 11 marker on the road, my energy level felt good and my hydration felt good, so I went as hard as I could the race of the race. It hurt so so much, but if you are a reader of this blog, then you know about my first and only DNF six weeks earlier, and finishing this race (the 2nd in 2 days) became what I perceived as an emotional must.

As I crossed the line I could feel the lump in my throat grow and eyes start to well up. My wife and son were waiting for me at the line and I couldn't hold it back any longer as I gave each of them a huge hug. I know they didn't care whether or not I DNF'd in Lake Placid, however, they had both sacrificed so much to let me train for my races this year that I was super motivated to finish this race and be able to hug them at the end. Something I wanted to do so badly in Lake Placid but never got the chance to.

A couple of good friends, Paul and Tony, were also there at the line. It was especially good to see them both because they were also in Lake Placid. I had spent the equivalent of several days training with Paul preparing for the event (and he had an incredible inaugural Ironman performance). I think he had a unique perspective on how disappointing Lake Placid was for me and how satisfying it was to finish the Pumpkin Challenge.

My triathlon journey has taught me some valuable lessons this year. I'm expecting next year's journey will be just as valuable!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A tale of two races (Part I)

The original plan for the year was to do the Patriot Half Iron race as prep for Ironman Lake Placid. Knowing the time it takes to train for an Ironman, my original intent was to take the rest of the year off from racing after Lake Placid.

However, after an unexpected and disappointing Ironman result I was compelled to redeem myself and signed up for the Great Pumpkin Challenge. The challenge consists of a sprint distance on Saturday followed by a half iron distance on Sunday. While I finished both races, they were two very different experiences.

The Sprint
My training for the two weeks leading up to race weekend was a little spotty. Work and pool closings have kept my schedule a little tough to manage. So, I really wasn't sure what to expect on race day. My plan for the Saturday race was to go comfortably hard and push it a little if I was feeling really good.

The Swim
The swim was 1/3 of a mile and the way others in my age group were looking to jump the gun I figured it was going to be a fast one. One of the biggest benefits of going through an Ironman mass start swim with 2,400 other racers is that I feel completely comfortable getting to the front and mixing it up to try and move into clean water. I did just that and found that I was able to find a clear line quickly. I saw some other swimmers on either side of me for the first 50 yards or so and then I just saw what I thought was another racer from my age group about 20 yards up ahead. I was feeling good so I pushed it a bit hoping to try and catch up to them. I thought it would be kind of nice to be 2nd or 3rd out of the water.

I never caught that person in front of me but chasing them down helped me nail a good time. I would later find out that the racer in front of me was one of the Elites and I was actually the first swimmer out of the water in my age group! I've only been swimming since I took up triathlon six years ago so I was super excited to have such a good result.

The Bike
I've ridden the bike course a couple of times prior to race day so I was comfortable where I could push and where to back off some. Starting in the 2nd wave behind the elites, and being first out of the water I was able to keep track of who in my age group was passing me (For those that don't know, the age of each racer is written on their calf prior to the start). I was feeling pretty good and was surprised to only see 2 others in my age group passed me during the bike. I was even more surprised to catch up to 2 of the female elite racers that started 1 minute ahead of me. Either they were having a really bad day or mine was going better than I thought.

The Run
As I roll into T-2 I'm still feeling really good and it hits me that I'm currently in 3rd place in my age group! I've never been in this position before! I'm used to finishing maybe in the top third or top half of a race but getting on the podium hasn't ever been on my radar. Now, I'm starting a three mile run in 3rd place but I have no idea how far back anyone else in my age group is. Because the age is written on the back of the calf so you don't know if your losing a position until someone has already passed you.

Even though I'm pretty lean right now from my Ironman training schedule, I'm a larger than average for a triathlete at 190 pounds, which has always been a disadvantage on the run. But, I kept to my plan of going comfortably hard until the 1 1/2 mile mark when I heard footsteps behind me and saw a "35" on the back of the calf of the racer who just passed me. Dang, he's in my 35 - 39 age group! I was feeling good but started to have an internal dilemma. Do I try and keep up and hope I don't over do it before the half-ironman I would be doing is less than 24 hours???

My competitive juices temporarily ruled the day and I picked up the pace to stay with him as long as I could, which ended up being until the 2 1/2 mile mark when I looked at my heart rate monitor and realized that I was pushing the red zone. My more sensible side took over I backed off a bit but it was enough to lose contact. One more person from my age group before crossing the line at a sub 7 minute/mile pace and about 2 minutes faster than last year's time. This was good enough for 5th place out of 45 in my age group and 27th out of 433.

For now I'll just say that the Sunday half ironman the next day was a physically and emotionally exhausting experience. So, in order to do it justice I'm going to tackle that one tomorrow because right now I'm going to have a Guinness, eat more food and hopefully fall asleep on the couch.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The end is in sight

Three days to go until my last triathlon of the year, the Great Pumpkin Challenge. A sprint distance race on Saturday followed by a 1/2 Iron distance on Sunday. My original race schedule for the year didn't include any racing after Ironman Lake Placid, but after a DNF at that race I signed up for the back to back races.

My Son asked me why I was doing this event, which caught me off guard a bit. He's seen me do several races including 2 Ironmans, several 1/2 Ironmans and several marathons so it stumped me why he found signing up for this race so strange. But, I told him straight up that it was an attempt to redeem my season and that I didn't want a DNF to be how it ended.

Had I not signed up for that race I probably would have been a blob on the couch for the rest of the summer. Knowing I had one more major challenge for the year has gotten me out the door to train, even after what has been a very long season that started on January 1.

I've had a hard time staying motivated over the past few weeks but the in the last few days my excitement and desire to race has really grown. I've been reading David Goggins Blog for some motivation. Read about him if you can - he's an incredibly driven person with a perspective on suffering in endurance sports like nothing I've ever seen. His perspective has helped on many of my recent long training sessions.

Yes, I'm looking forward to a break from the intense training schedule. BUT, my mind is swirling with ideas about what's the next endurance challenge. Any ideas...