I was reading a conversation yesterday about swimming wherein swimmers and athletes were sharing their experiences in endearing the swim portion of their first triathlon for the first time.  Long story short, 99.9% of these accounts were negative in that they found the swim absolutely terrifying; near death experiences by some accounts. This made me reflect on my own first experience with the swim portion of the triathlon in my first ever event way back when and it was, well, a bit different.

Swim MeetI’ve always enjoyed swimming growing up and I participated in the usual gamut of swimming lessons put on by the Red Cross every summer at the local Merritton Lions pool.  And when I wasn’t participating in my lessons, I was back in water that afternoon playing tag and ultimately getting kicked out of the same pool by the lifeguards for running, rough-housing, splashing, dunking…you name it.  Basically everything we learned not  to do while at lessons.  So all I ever really learned through the Red Cross was basically how to keep afloat and get from one end of the pool to the other without drowning which, as a child, is as good a lesson as any.  Oh, and I could do an amazing cannonball.

On rare occasions (usually at my parents insisting), I would sign up for a swim meet hosted at one of the other neighborhood pools but I never really fared very well, which goes to show how much I really picked up about stroke technique during my lessons.  At one particular meet, I made it from one end to the other without drowning and in the process earned myself a bronze medal so in my mind I was a huge success. Of course, there were only three people in my particular heat, but who cares? I had me some bling to validate my success at not dying.

Go me!

It wasn’t until much later – six years ago as a matter of fact – that I really learned how to “swim”.  In many ways, I am still learning and improving on my technique but what’s different now as opposed to my ability as a kid, is that I do more than simply make it from end to another without drowning; I can get there relatively fast and efficiently.

Anyway, back to my story.

When I first decided to participate in triathlon as a dare with my younger brother, I did a smart thing in that I signed up for a triathlon training group based out of the YMCA which offered spin classes, running groups and a weekly “Masters Swim” (click HERE).  This group would eventually evolve into the TryForce group of which I still belong to and train with today.  By that point, however, I had never participated in a “Masters” swim group and remembering my bronze medal as a child, decided that I was decent enough to position myself in the “Advanced” lane where I proceeded to literally get swam over time and time again (and nearly drowning in the process) by the faster swimmers until the coach moved me to the “Beginners” lane.  Ouch.

One of the other things about the TryForce group is that they would typically meet for coffee after these Masters swims and, really, that’s where the real education began and I would eagerly listen to and glean tips from the other group members as I prepared myself for my own first challenge that coming summer. I learned a lot that off season.  I picked up tips from them on how to strength train effectively, how to create a training schedule using periodization, specific race tactics and strategy, how to set up in transition, and how to fuel myself properly before, during and throughout my training program and races.  But there was also something else I picked up from them to a large degree, a healthy fear of open water swimming.

Remember that this training group was not so much a group of professionals as it was a group of people who were in the sport more to participate in a healthy and active lifestyle than to earn themselves medals.  So when the conversation turned to swimming, most of them had a specific horror story about their triathlon swims and open water swimming in general.  It seemed to me that everyone was very fearful of the swim.  Maybe I should too?

By that point, I had never swam anywhere but in a pool in my life.  I may have gone to the beach once or twice as a child but that was more splashing around where you could still touch bottom, hardly swimming out where it was dark and scary.  By these peoples account, open water swimming was something you had to be mentally and physically prepared for and to that end I stressed about it…a lot.

Throughout that off season I worked on developing my stroke through endless drills both at the Masters swim and then again on my own and, eventually, I graduated to the “Medium” lane – a huge accomplishment in my eyes. I still stressed, however, about how these pool skills would translate in the open water or if they would even translate in the first place. Thoughts entered my mind about what it’s like to not  see that black line at the bottom of the pool, or what it’s like to swim against a current or in waves.  Later when I shopped for and purchased my first wetsuit, I stressed about what it would be like to swim in a sausage casing.  Of course, there were the stories about the “washing machine” effect of the triathlon swim to feed off of and this scared the living bejesus out of me.

In the pool, everyone swims in a relatively orderly fashion one after the other.  Well, that’s assuming everyone is using proper lane etiquette that is (click HERE).  But in the open water, by the sounds of it, it was every man for himself in a non-stop frenzy of fists, elbows, knees and feet all thrashing about wildly for the singular purpose of both fending off other swimmers and, hopefully, also making it to the end of the swim itself…alive preferably.  We actually practiced swimming as a group in the pool during our Master swims but you could always see the bottom, or grab onto the side if the going got too tough.  I knew full well though that grabbing the side would not be an option in the open water.

I'm in there somewhere.

I’m in there somewhere.

Come springtime, we started having our Masters swim outdoors in Welland at the site of what is now the Welland International Flatwater Center.  It was during these initial open water workouts that I figured out that swimming in a wetsuit was not so bad, nor was it a big deal to not be able to see bottom. Sure I stressed a bit about monsters from the deep coming up to drag me under and I remember constantly hearing the classic John Williams Jaws Theme (click HERE) playing in the back of mind each time I swam but, generally, I found the whole experience not as difficult as some others. In fact, it was kinda fun and this made me happy.  However, there was still that “washing machine” effect to contend with.

My first race was in Milton in May of 2009.  I spent the entire night stressing about it, the swim in particular.  I pictured be literally being beaten to death in the water (like THIS) at the hands (not to mention knees, elbows and feet) of 300 other capable swimmers.  I knew I could get around the bike course, and even if I had to walk I would make it through the run but, swimming, well, who knows. Triathlon isn’t known as the world’s most dangerous sport for nothing and that fact was not  lost on me, like, at all.

When the time came to enter the water before the race’s official start I found myself smack dab in the middle of the pack and I totally freaked out.  Certainly my imminent death by drowning was at hand. So much so was my fear at the time that I immediately moved to the back of the pack with the old ladies and doggie paddlers.  Certainly, I was a little more skilled (maybe) but damn if I wasn’t terrified of being in that washing machine.

When the race started, I literally waited for nearly everyone else to get on with it before I even started.  I remember watching the flurry of white water erupt from the main gaggle of swimmers and it looked absolutely chaotic.  Eventually, I started myself and it wasn’t long before I had joined the fray of flailing body parts, except, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought.  Dare I say it, I actually found it exhilarating.  Sure I look some lumps and I’m confident I gave some back in return but, all in all, it wasn’t bad.  It was tough, sure, but it wasn’t as ‘scary’ as I had initially thought it was going to be.  I used this new found confidence to drive me through the water past other struggling swimmers and by the time I exited the water I had this huge shit-eating grin on my face.  I was happy not in that I had survived and not ended up as fish food but because I had actually enjoyed myself; so much for believing the hype.

Incredoubleman Triathlon Challenge 2014

Incredoubleman Triathlon Challenge 2014

Now, six years later, where some still dread and fear the open water swim, I recognize that it is my strong suit when it comes to triathlon.  In fact, open water swimming is my one true joy when it comes to either training or just being active and healthy. For me, there is no greater joy to be found than swimming out into the open water and simply…being there. It’s so peaceful.   I love the seeing the odd fish swam underneath me, or the feeling of aquatic plants on my bare skin when I choose to go sans wetsuit (which is most of the time).  Really, I just love the feeling of being out in the open water and I work hard at helping HRH  to get over this same fear herself (click HERE).  To me, open water swimming is a life skill and I really thrive on seeing her develop this same love that I have for it.  Sure, she still hates the feeling of plants on her bare skin, but she’s no longer afraid of fish nibbling on her toes so she’s definitely getting there.

For my end, where others might not mind so much, a triathlon isn’t a triathlon unless there is a swim involved.  I work hard to perfect my open water technique and genuinely see myself doing more in this particular discipline.  But more than that, it’s now what I love to do.  Period!

I guess what I’ve learned through all this is that while a positive ‘Can do’ attitude is contagious; so too is fear. And if that fear revolves around open water swimming, I suggest working at it and embracing it as best you can to ultimately get past that fear. Eventually you might come out the other side loving it instead.  And, believe me when I say this:  there’s a lot to love about open water swimming.  In fact, my favorite workout ever is to simply swim out into the canal in the morning just as the sun is beginning to peak over the horizon and the early morning fog is still settled over the water and just pause…tread water…and simply enjoy the silence…confident that no monster is going to drag me down.

A Letter to Mr. Vaughn

Posted: November 1, 2014 in Lifestyle, Run
Tags:

It’s not often I feel the need to respond to things that randomly pop up on my Facebook feed as I realize that when it comes to the Internet, opinions are like assholes in that everybody has one. Of course, the odd kitty cat video will still garner the periodic response from me (we all have our weaknesses) but, still, usually I’m pretty good at letting things go. But recently, I read a link to a post put forth by Brian Vaughn that even I couldn’t resist responding to.  After all, I have an opinion like everyone else and, hey, it’s my recovery day and currently raining outside so I’m feeling a bit antsy.

In his post entitled ‘Why We All Hate Your 13.1 Sticker’ (click HERE) Mr. Vaughn makes some rather disparaging remarks about those who choose to decorate their vehicles with 13.1 bumper stickers. I’m choosing to respond in this case not as a runner, or as a triathlete, but because, for whatever reason, it lingered a little too long in my lizard brain and cut a little close to home and, hey, I can be an asshole too.  For the record, I have no stickers presently on my bumper but I do own a 13.1 sticker.  Just sayin’…

Let’s start with the title of the article itself: ‘Why We All Hate Your 13.1 Sticker’. Geez, it must be nice to be the singular voice for the entire human species; the pressures you face must face. However, given the number of people I see sporting these stickers, not to mention the number of runners I see out on the road lately or the growing number of participants in local running events, suggests to me that not ALL people see these stickers in quite the same light as you. Likewise, I’m sorry that these stickers make you want to “run (them) off the road”  but remember that sometimes radio stations advertise their position on the dial with numbers and decimals so, if you’re going to commit vehicular homicide please make sure it’s for the right reason.

Anyway, I think your anger might be a little misguided.  Seriously?  Anger much?  What with everything going on in the world today, BUMPER STICKERS are what you choose to publicly crusade against?  Whatever your reason, please don’t loop me, my fellow runners, or anyone else who might feel differently into your toxic little world. Furthermore, when you suggest how “three numbers and a decimal point can single-handedly turn someone into a big, arrogant butthole”, that’s your impression of which you are certainly entitled to, however, recognize that most runners I know are anything but and you don’t strike me as the kind of person who regularly frequents the Running Room anyway, so maybe your impression is a bit skewed.  We apologize if our hobby or active lifestyle choices somehow threaten your status as a tater-tot chomping lay about but, well, that’s not really our problem.  By the way, how does it feel to have assumptions made about you?

Just curious.

You go on in your article to explain how bumper stickers in general are for the purpose of touting one’s appreciation for something specific; be it a particular interest, location, destination, band or whatever it is that’s managed to capture someone’s ultimate attention just as you profess to have done yourself.  And I agree with you for the record, but you lose me when you then suggest how the 13.1 stickers do exactly the opposite. So interests expressed through bumper stickers are fine, just as long as they mirror your own.  Really?  So if anyone should dare to support something that they might be passionate about – like running – they’re “arrogant buttholes”  simply because you don’t share that same passion or interest?  How.  That’s good to know I guess. Thank you for putting me back on the right track.

Dodged that bullet.

Maybe herein lies the problem, runners aren’t necessarily decorating their bumpers to impress you. In fact, I doubt they care about what you think at all.  Who’s the arrogant butthole now?  Likewise, I don’t think they’re bragging about their half (or full) marathon at all but simply documenting something that they are proud of and then communicating it with others of the same community who might either feel or have experienced the same, just as a Smiths fan is doing when they choose to affix their Smiths sticker to their own bumper.  It’s their way of advertising to the world ‘Hey, I like this too!”.  The notion that runners are different in that they are “defending (their) interests”  or trying to “quantify their love”  for running, or in some way suggesting that they’re better than someone else because they a) run and assume others don’t, and b) run more than other runners is fucking ridiculous. That’s like saying all Smiths fans are snobby, pretentious douche bags because they assume they have more Smiths albums in their record collection.  Should they instead only have ‘I Love Music”, or maybe just a treble clef to advertise their interest instead?  For runners, the ‘three numbers and a decimal’ are simply a way of celebrating their accomplishment.  That’s it.  So either you’re a complete idiot or you’ve been listening to too much Morrissey.  It’s just a number, dude.  Relax.  Take some vitamin C.  Maybe go for a run.  You’ll feel better. Trust me.

Oh, and by the way: it never stops.  Can anyone ever have too many Smiths albums?  Can anyone like the Outer Banks too much?  What’s it to you anyway?

I’m three weeks into my recovery period and, truthfully, I’m driving myself crazy.  I think many triathletes may feel the same way.  We know it’s important to have this recovery time to heal and rejuvenate our bodies (or, in my case, knew it was important but never actually did anything about it) but suddenly, having all that time back in our week where we would usually be out training is hard to fill productively. It’s a double edged sword.  But after my recent revelation in regard to my current mental and emotional fatigue, I’m sticking to my guns and doing my very best to spend this time de-stressing and enjoying myself as much as possible. But that’s all easier said than done.

To do so, I’ve been trying to enjoy my downtime instructing spin classes at my local YMCA, indulging in some fancy meals while traveling, taking a few easy spins around my neighborhood to take in the Fall colors and smells, spending time in the pool playing with HRH, and watching a whole lotta Walking Dead.  So do I feel better? Well, that’s entirely debatable.

However, recently, I was also contacted by Agnes, an Etheric Health Practitioner and Reiki Master (ReHolistically Speaking) who just happens to be the wife of a training peer of mine, who volunteered to spend some time with me realigning the specific energy fields of my Endocrine System.

I know, ‘say what now?’  Hang in there.

Similar to my first massage experience (click HERE), the automatic skeptic in me started asking all the immediate questions: what do I need to wear?  Will there be chanting?  Is she going cast spells?  Will there be magic crystals?  Am I going to be offered the purple Kool-Aid?  Oh, and, yes, the ever-present ‘will I get a boner?’ crossed my mind too.  Hey, it’s an important question.

Thankfully, the answer is a resounding ‘No’ to all the above.

So what is it she’s attempting to do anyway?  It’s not like you have “energy rewiring” being advertised on every street corner it is? Nor is there any real hard information on this practice floating around out there.  You certainly can’t run to Chapters and pick up an ‘Etheric Health for Dummies’.

As I figured out (thanks Google), the Etheric Body gives vitality, health, life and organization to the Physical Body.  Think of it as the subtle level of the Physical Body, so healthy Etheric’s will inevitably lead to a healthy physical body; the two are intertwined in that regard.  Anyway, that still doesn’t explain what it was that Agnes was attempting to do so my inquisitive nature was spilling over with all the usual ‘why’s and ‘what’s.  I am game however to try just about anything once and, ultimately, I am interested to know if these ‘treatments’ will benefit me (if at all) so I took her up on her offer.

As she later explained to me (and after a considerable amount of research on my part), it’s possible that I am suffering from ‘Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome’.

I know, what the hell is that?  I had the same question.

Well, as I discovered, Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary levels. Some might refer to it as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ (CFS) which I’ve heard of before but I think what I have been experiencing is a bit, well, different.  However, the three main causes for the syndrome include: emotional stress, poor diet, and chronic inflammation of the body, of which, I’m guilty on all accounts. So maybe…

Strictly speaking, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress (yup, that’s definitely me).  As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep, yet it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger so you’re not likely to hear anyone ever say to you: “Dude, what’s wrong? That looks like Adrenal Fatigue”.  In fact, you look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and not display any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you still live with a general sense of unwellness (yup, me again), tiredness or “gray” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day. Now, while I don’t necessarily think I ‘need’ extra caffeine every day I do recognize that I have been drinking more coffee in the morning and I can certainly identify with the whole “gray” feeling thing.

This syndrome has been known by many other names throughout the past century or so, such as non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub-clinical hypoadrenia, neurasthenia, adrenal neurasthenia, and adrenal apathy.  Whatever you choose to label it as, it apparently affects millions of people in North America and around the world, yet conventional medicine fails to recognize it as a distinct syndrome leading to the misguided belief that any treatment process – Etheric or otherwise – is more viewed as a practice in ‘hocus-pocus’ than it is of any valid scientific remedy.

Adrenal fatigue is produced when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress – of which, I have a lot.  The adrenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys, mobilize your body’s responses to every kind of stress (whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological) through hormones (including cortisol) that regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with the stress by initiating that ‘fight or flight’ response in your body as a way of increasing your pain threshold – a necessary evil for triathletes who constantly push their endurance limitations on a near daily basis; particularly those idiot ones who don’t follow a training plan such as myself.  Whether you have an emotional crisis such as the death of a loved one (sound familiar), a physical crisis such as major surgery, or any type of severe repeated or constant stress in your life (i.e. training), your adrenals have to respond to the stress and maintain homeostasis (the property of any bodily system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant).  If their response is inadequate, you are likely to experience some degree of adrenal fatigue.

During adrenal fatigue your adrenal glands function, but not well enough to maintain optimal homeostasis because their output of regulatory hormones has been diminished – usually by over-stimulation.  Over-stimulation of your adrenals can be caused either by a very intense single stress as I mentioned, or by chronic or repeated stresses that have a cumulative effect.   Misdiagnosis is a serious concern since a patient could be suffering instead from a recognized adrenal disorder such as Cushing’s Syndrome (too much cortisol) or Addison’s Disease (too little cortisol, aldosterone and/or sex hormones), both of which can be treated with medication. I’m confident though that I don’t fall into either of these categories.

So what next?

Well, a quick and simple self-evaluation that you may be suffering from Adrenal fatigue might include asking yourself such questions as:

  1. You feel tired for no reason.
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  3. You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  5. You crave salty and sweet snacks.
  6. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.

I can answer a resounding ‘Yes’ to all of these.  So perhaps these sessions are a step in the right direction.  They certainly aren’t going to hurt any are they?

Now, where I can’t say for certain what Agnes was doing during these sessions specifically as I tended to have my eyes closed and I’m about as close to sleep you can possibly get without completely going under, what I can relate to you is how I felt during and after the sessions.  I think I’ve already successfully documented how I feel now (i.e. before these sessions), however, just in case you’ve forgotten here’s a quick summary: I feel shitty.

But before I get into those results, it might help to try and explain the actual intent of these sessions; Lord knows I needed some help in understanding them myself.  In short here, the aim is to get the adrenals to stop running your body and rewire it “energetically” so that the pituitary gland runs the system as it is normally designed to do.  Likewise, she is working to restore the flow to my body’s energy system.  As it could be now, my adrenals might be permanently stuck in the ‘ON’ position leading to an unhealthy increase in cortisol (see my previous ‘Reset, Recharge, Replan’ post) with all the unfortunate consequences that go along with it (i.e. stress, fatigue, etc.).

So what is this “energy” she’s channeling exactly? Well, think of it this way…everything in the universe is comprised of energy and energy is all around us.  Agnes works with the energy field around the body and senses where it may be blocked or out of balance. In doing this work, she also takes into account the emotional state of the individual, as the emotions we feel in the body are “energy” as well and vibrate at certain frequencies.  Emotions such as anger, sadness, irritability are thicker, more dense vibrations are usually carried in the lower part of the body, making us feel burned out, run down, unmotivated.  Emotions such as happiness, joy, etc., consist of a higher frequency and leave you feeling “lighter”, whereby, you feel more “enlightened”, or peaceful and relaxed.  And who doesn’t like to feel like that? Surely, this is the entire point of a successful recovery period – something I have failed miserably at this year, hence, my plateau in training this year and my feeling the way I do now.  So what I’m really looking for then, is beginning to reconnecting more with those good, good, good, vibrations…

“…good vibrations, Oom bop bop.”

Sorry, couldn’t help myself there.  Anyway, back on track…

Think of it this way, your body is a river through which energy runs from head to toe and that energy is the veritable life force for each individual system that, together, regulate the body allowing it to function healthily.  If something should ever block that natural flow of healthy energy then everything begins to be negatively affected.  During my second session, Agnes reported that she ‘felt’ an overwhelming sense of sadness in my chest represented by a dense vibration which is not surprising seeing as what’s transpired over the past seven months.  So if that overwhelming sadness, or dense vibration, has been blocking the natural flow of positive energy through the rest of my body, then maybe that explains why I have been experiencing so many nagging injuries in my lower limbs lately.  I mean, shit, there’s no real ‘medical’ explanation yet why the soft issue of my right foot continues to ache after a month of relative non-activity, or why my left Achilles tendon is stiff in the morning despite my not having run for some time.  Maybe that part of my body is still laden with thick, unhealthy, negative vibration, or “energy”.  Any removal of dense vibrations or a “rewiring” of my body’s natural flow of positive energy should yield some positive results, right?  Go Agnes.

I mean, why not?

However, don’t go donning all your flowing robes just yet because, I admit to being more of a pragmatic type of person that needs to understand the specifics of what I’m dealing with.  But, sometimes in the absence of certainty and rationality, the irrational might just hold true.  Can you touch or directly detect your body’s ‘energy’ directly? Maybe not (maybe so), but you can definitely feel it so maybe that then becomes your ‘measure’ for improvement.  So the real evidence then that my rational mind might be craving should be based on how I feel as a result of these sessions and not the logistics of the actual session itself.  Follow me?

So the ultimate question then becomes: how do I feel afterwards?

Well, truthfully, after three sessions over a two week period I genuinely feel pretty damn good.  More correctly, I feel more relaxed; more so than I have felt in the past year or so since all the shit started being flung in my direction.  Am I healed?  No, probably not yet.  But in the past two weeks I have noticed a slight improvement in my lingering injuries (and anything is better than nothing), some improvement in my overall mood and, hell, even a sense of ‘calm’ that I hadn’t experienced in a very long time represented in the fact that I am sleeping much better these days.  Am I perfect?  Shit, no.  But I do believe I am getting back to feeling somewhat normal again and that definitely weighs very favorably in my conscious mind so, yeah, pass the flowing robes; there might just be something to this whole Etheric’s thing.

I am getting convinced now that there is more to this body then simply the muscle, bone and various tissues that make it up – it’s just not that black and white.  And my failure to initially recognize that just might – in itself – be the biggest mistake I’ve made all year; a mistake I don’t care to repeat thank you very much.  Any if you don’t learn from your mistakes and make efforts to correct them through whatever means necessary, well, I think that’s pretty sad – and I’m tired of being sad. So any effort, practice, or what have you, that helps me ultimately heal my mind, body and spirit, is gratefully appreciated and very welcome and maybe this needs to be a part of my regular recovery process.

Pass the Kool-Aid.

With just over two months left to go until Christmas, some of you might already be thinking about what to get for that picky, hard-to-shop, harder-to-please triathlete you always struggle to shop for. Fortunately for you, I have also been spending a lot of time traveling on business lately, so that means lots of time spent flipping mindlessly through the Delta Sky magazines on the various flights to and from San Antonio and Denver. So in an effort to provide you with some cool holiday gift options, I decided to once again collect a few unique gift ideas for you to consider for the triathlete that has everything (Part One and Two) in your life.

Reindeer

One of the tips that some veterans offer novice triathletes is to mark their spot in transition with something easily identifiable like a piece of ribbon, a uniquely colored towel or even a balloon (although things this extreme are typically disallowed now). So, I say go big or go home and mark your spot in transition with this huge two story inflatable reindeer. With its underbelly only 6 1/4 ft. off the ground, you’re not likely going to miss this inflated colossus out of the water – shit, nobody is. Just position it directly over your bike and run gear and you can probably sight your way back to your specific transition spot from the actual start way out on the swim course. You’d have to be blind to miss it; a steal at only $379.95.

Bowling

The off season is all about strength conditioning and developing your core. Likewise, it’s the time to try something different and cross-training with something fun aside from the usual swim, bike and run drills. Why not do it all with this Human Bowling Ball and inflatable course? Consider it an investment in your off season fitness development.

Snowball Launcher

Winter is almost here and that means lots of long, brutal winter runs. Oh joy. Furthermore, if your triathlete lives in a rural setting like I do then they do might have to worry about Coywolves. Yes, they’re really a thing (click HERE). Then there’s dogs to worry about (click HERE), so what it all means is that it might be wise then to consider arming ourselves for these runs with a 50 ft. snowball launcher to prevent our becoming their next moveable feast.

Shark

I’m not sure this huge inflatable air shark will help with your triathlete with their swim development in the off season, but it will definitely be damn funny to show up with this thing at their next open water group swim. Or, perhaps just keep it to yourself and place it in the water during one workout (or race) without their knowing and help motivate them to their next swim PB. I’m sure they’ll thank you afterwards.

Glove Phone

It’s already documented that I don’t bring one with me when I run. In fact, I don’t even own a cell phone, but I know that most others do so how about this special pair of ‘Call Me Gloves’? This unique product will allow your runner to call for help should they need it by assuming the universal ‘call me’ gesture, having a speaker inside the left thumb and a microphone on the inside of the left pinkie. Sure it may not be cool that they have to call you to come rescue their sorry ass, but at least they’ll look cool doing it.

Toast

Breakfast is the most important part of the day, particularly when you have to fuel for a long morning workout and in that regard, many triathletes rely on the tried-and-true peanut butter toast formula, including yours truly. So just imagine how awesome that workout will inevitably be when they start off with a piece of toast from this Darth Vader toaster. The force will definitely be with them, that’s for sure!

Bike Rack

Some triathletes will spend big money on a hydration system for their bikes, so think of how excited they’ll be Christmas morning when they open this special leather beer caddy. Crafted by artisans in Wisconsin, this caddy carries a six pack of bottles perfectly under the top tube on their bike. Simply perfect for a quick run to the liquor store, or for a long summer ride where they might want something other than water or performance drinks.

Face Mask

I don’t know about anyone else, but I hate my finisher’s photos. I look like an orangutan in the throes of a full on cardiac arrest and I suspect I’m not alone. I can’t be the only one out there who hates being photographed at the end so how perfect is this: the Paparazzi Thwarting Visor? Just throw it on in T2 or have it handed to you somewhere on the race course and no more will you (or your triathlete) ever be subjected to embarrassing finisher’s photos with this reflective visor that blocks the entire face from race photographers, or the paparazzi for that matter.

Tarantula

Transition is often a zoo and just getting to your spot is sometimes like running a gauntlet of slow ass triathletes all trying to figure out how to get out of their wetsuit and into their bike or run gear. Sometimes it’s just people running around lost panicking (been there!). Whatever is going on, it’s a pain in the ass to clear your way and move through these human obstacles. So why not clear the way with this remote controlled tarantula? Just loose this hairy, menacing looking robotic arachnid loose and scare the living bejesus out of those who happened to be getting in your way; clear the path to your transition spot so to speak. I’m a genius, right?

Sleep Helmet

It’s all about recovery now in the off season and sleeping is at a premium. Even many pro triathletes swear by taking regular power naps throughout the day to rest and recharge between workouts. So how about making an investment this holiday into your triathlete’s recovery with this head-enveloping pillow that blocks out both noise and light? Sure they might look like a Teletubbie, or a complete moolyak but, hey, who’ll be laughing come next competition season given that they’ve also spend more hours in a comfortable cocoon-like state of total relaxation than anyone else? No one, that’s who!

Give me a few more weeks closer to the holidays and I’ll search out even more gift ideas to supercharge your shopping trips to mall and, thereby, elevate your Christmas morning to a total state of complete holiday-triathlon awesomeness.

You can thank me later.

It’s been three weeks since my Last Stand at the Incredoubleman Triathlon weekend but thanks to an aggressive business travel plan, I’ve only now been able to sit down to write about it.  Well, truthfully, I did draft some notes in my journal while flying somewhere over northern New York (click HERE) last week so I’m really just getting around to actually sitting down to craft out this post specifically.

On paper, the Incredoubleman triathlon had everything I look for in a great getaway event: great location, family as well as athlete focused, a sweet swim course, a cute (yes, I said ‘cute’) gazebo finish line, beautiful countryside to cycle through (Jefferson County) and a flat (and equally picturesque) run course.  Oh, and it had drones bitches.

That’s right, drones!

 

Kelly and I have actually cycled through these parts – Sackets Harbor in particular (click HERE) – last year on our Tour d’ Lac trip around Lake Ontario so we already knew what pretty country it was so I was excited to make this my last competition of the season, complete with family vacation with friends to boot.  Kelly even found us the ideal cottage to rent right on the lake only 20 minutes away.  How perfect is that?

Anyway, the plan was to compete in the Sprint competition on the Saturday and then complete the Half Iron competition on the immediately following Sunday.  I had intended this to be the last ‘tough guy’ challenge of 2014.  The reality however, is that I haven’t been feeling so tough.  My left Achilles tendon has been acting up and I’m still getting over some soft tissue issues in my right foot so I haven’t really been able to stick to my training plan as I would have liked.  However, I figured that mentally I’d still be able to suck it up and complete it successfully come hell or high water (which, if you read about our last trip through these parts – see the pics in the link above – there was an extremely good chance of this actually happening).  I had originally planned that the Sprint would be a good warm up for the second day’s Half Ironman but, truthfully, I was just going to be happy to get through it all without breaking myself any further (more to come on that point later).

Day One:

Day One set up

Day One set up

Day One started off like any other day-of-competition morning, an early wake up, equipment check, breakfast, coffee and poop before hitting the road.  Of course, that’s a bit harder to do with three people including a nine-year-old girl in toe, but within 15 minutes of our planned departing time we were on the road and heading into Sackets Harbor.  Not bad considering.

It was particularly cold out (5° actually – which is incredibly cold to be out biking and running immediately after being in the water) and windy and it was almost certainly going to rain judging by the menacing looking clouds on the horizon.  In reality, the weather forecast for the area was calling for 100% chance of heavy showers.  Goodie.   Although I was keeping my cool on the outside, inside, I was mentally bracing for a very difficult day.  My initial strategy was to go out fast in the swim (750m), power through the bike (24k) and then just ease into the run as to not injure myself any further knowing that I had to do it all over again tomorrow…plus 1.25k in the water, 76k on the bike plus the half marathon at the end. My nerves were quickly beginning to set in.

This is clearly my "I wonder if this race belt makes my ass look fat?" moment.

This is clearly my “I wonder if this race belt makes my ass look fat?” moment.

The good thing about having a nine-year-old around is that everything is so calm yet totally exciting. HRH  was excited to be there and she relished helping me set up Lucille in transition and just simply being a part of the experience.  When you have that kind of calm innocence around it’s easier to cope with that pre-race stress in the moments leading up to the eventual start. I was happy to walk around with hand-in-hand while doing my best to keep that calm façade for her sake.  After all, how can I expect her to have fun if I can’t demonstrate the same?  So I did my best to put all the stress away and tried to just enjoy sharing the experience with her, Kelly and our tag-along buddy, Doug – for whom, this would be his first triathlon experience – who was going to take pictures for us.  In fact, all the pictures included in this blog as his and have kindly been made available through his ‘Great Shots‘ website.

Anyway, my ‘just enjoy yourself’ philosophy worked and within 15 minutes or so to the official swim start I cool, calm and collected.  I stripped out of my warm sweats and my testicles immediately retreated into my chest (I mentioned it was cold out, right?) and I couldn’t get into my wetsuit quick enough.  I even peed myself right then and there before I even got in the water and the sudden rush warmth was very welcome; gross…but welcome nonetheless. Fortunately I was on the lawn adjacent to the concrete boat ramp which was going to serve as our swim start so I didn’t have to further embarrass myself by dripping a trail of piss and shame across the entire parking lot (nobody has ever said triathlon was a glamorous sport).

Exiting the water

Exiting the water

In keeping with my ‘go out strong’ strategy for the swim I positioned myself smack dab front and center of the pack on the boat ramp.  Those in the half iron swim start hadn’t gone out too  fast so I figured I might be able to keep pace with the lead swimmers in the Sprint.  Now, most competitions I’ve done have some sort of siren or a pistol of some sort to signal the start of the race, namely the swim. Some events have even had cannons * or a more ‘le grandeur boom’ method of starting the race; at the Incredoubleman, a guy on the side of the boat launch counts you down: “3…2…1…GO!

Yup, spared no expense there!

I jest. Honestly.

In fact, the easy-going way that the athletes were all launched into their days quest was simply perfect for keeping in the moment and with the spirit of the area itself; laid back and humble.  I really can’t think of a better way to start the day given where we were.  Anyway, we were counted off and I jumped immediately in the fray of the first four swimmers, took three strokes and…BAM!

Heel right to the face.

“Oh, pretty…stars”, I thought.

"All bid'ness", as they say.

“All bid’ness”, as they say.

The next 2 nanoseconds felt like hours debating if I was okay and assessing the problem, then strategizing the next move.  What pace?  How was my Form?  Then there were those pretty stars again, wait, what happened?  And before I knew it I had snapped back into the moment and I was still…swimming.  Booyah!  Sure I had dropped back a bit from the other leaders but I was in fact still stroking and despite the ache in my jaw I was turning over okay; may as well go with it and continue on.

I tried to accelerate back to the lead swimmers what going out against the choppy water was rough going to I decided to salvage my own pace and settle in for a solo swim and see if anyone of them craps out from going out too fast.  They didn’t but I managed to hang onto 4th position just a few seconds behind the lead three and we exited the way in close proximity to one another.  My swim time (including the run into transition) was 14:22.

I'm never the epitome of a "happy racer".

I’m never the epitome of a “happy racer”.

The transition area was a small field set up on the other side of the road opposite the boat ramp so I hustled over into the bike area, got dressed and hustled out still in 4th position.  I did notice though that some of the lead swimmers were part of relay teams and so didn’t have to really with the whole swim-bike transition of stripping out of wetsuits and into cycling cleats, so I was happy to just be hanging onto my position.

It should be mentioned here that the water was amazingly warm compared to the chilly air and headwinds immediately upon exiting.  I figured I wouldn’t be out long enough to really warrant getting all dressed up in warm cycling duds but I did make one fateful mistake in not bothering to put on socks prior to setting into my cleats.  I’ll explain more on that shortly but it with a severe chill beginning to set in that I made my way out of the downtown Sackets Harbor area and out onto bike course along Smithville Rd.

Before the chills set in.

Before the chills set in.

I’ve already mentioned that the headwinds were fierce and very shortly out onto the ride a slight rain began to set in.  This was only the short and easy portion of the weekend but it wasn’t going to necessarily easy-going either.  Now I admit to being more or a crappy weather suffer bunny so I wasn’t concerned much with the cold and whatnot but I still mentally braced myself for some hard-going.  And I was right. The headwinds never – EVER - let up along the entire 24k route.  Serious!  I’d round a corner and just begin to think to myself “good, finally maybe I’ll get a tailwind”  and then, no sir…no such luck.  I’d round the corner directly into another headwind.  It was just one going to be one of those kinds of rides.

As per usual, I got into a position where I was riding pretty much on my own, behind the leaders but still ahead of the main pack.  I seem doomed to forever be trapped in this kind of position on the bike.  Oh well, not a bad problem to have I guess.  I steered back into downtown Sackets Harbor into transition in a time of 46:06  not bad given the strong winds (6th best of the day).

INCREDOUBLEMAN_D1_193Here my transitioning error of not bothering to put on socks for the bike became an issue in that – unbeknownst to me while on the bike – my feet had pretty much froze into blocks of ice so that I couldn’t even feel them pounding on the pavement heading out of T2.  Anyone who’s tried to run off-the-bike with frozen feet will instantly know what I’m talking about.  It sucks.  In fact, it wasn’t until, say, the 1.5k mark or so when I began to get any feeling back in them at all.  It was pouring buckets now but my legs were turning over fairly easily so I worked on keeping a reasonable pace knowing that how hard I pushed today would no doubt govern how well the Achilles tendon on my left foot would hold up during tomorrow’s half marathon.  For the time being though, it felt okay so I keep my pace steady and fished the run conservatively in 9th position overall with a time of 23:36.  I was happy to have cracked the Top 10 in 9th as well as claim the 1st place in my age category, so that was cool.  Plus the award coffee mugs were pretty awesome.

See how excited I am despite being so wet and cold?

INCREDOUBLEMAN_D1_283

I would have been even happier if it was filled with something hot.

Anyway, shortly later after scarfing down a bowl of delicious clam chowder and hot chocolate from the nearby food truck we packed up and made our way back to the cabin so I could have a warm shower and begin the damage control of stretching, refueling and looking after my feet for the next days’ more significant challenge.

Oh and, yes, I might (or may not) have blow-dried the arm pads on my aero bars as well.

Don’t judge me.

Day Two:

I woke a bit earlier the second morning (which was fine given I wasn’t sleeping much anyway) since we had to be on site a bit earlier being in the first wave at 8:00am.  I gave myself a once over and everything seemed to be in good working order.  My Achilles was tender but not in the kind of pain I’ve been experiencing in the previous weeks leading up to this events so I was hopeful.

Similar to the day before, I set up in transition first thing with HRH  before heading off to get body marked (I also had a little inspiration added to my right calf to boot – see pic) and shortly afterwards into my wetsuit at the 20 minute to go mark.  It was just as chilly this morning as the day before except that instead of the forecasted torrential rain later in the afternoon as it had yesterday, it was calling for the clouds to lift and for the temperatures to rise…slightly.  Unfortunately, the headwinds were not going anywhere.  Similarly, the water was just as gorgeous as it was the day before except that the winds had now made the water even rougher than the previous day.  So while it was definitely going to be nice temperature-wise, it was certainly not going to be easy; just my kind of swim actually.

I went for a short paddle to warm up and did the prerequisite pee prior to being counted down again:

“3…2…1…GO!”

Just as I had in the Spring yesterday, I had planned to go out a bit quickly to feel everything out and make the decision from there was going to be my plan of attack for the rest of the day (I’ve never been good at following a race strategy preferring to race in the moment as the mood takes me).  My initial thoughts prior to beginning was to go out hard in the swim/bike segments knowing the chances were slim that I was going to have strong half marathon to finish on.  I caught the heels of the swimmer ahead of me and together we powered ahead of the main pack through the chop to the first turn around.  The good thing was that we had our own race marshal in a kayak to lead us to the first buoy so I didn’t really need to sight so much as to just keep myself in the draft position on the lead swimmers feet.

About half way to the first turn around, the water got much rougher and the lead swimmer was showing no sights of backing off his pace so I made the decision to let go and reestablish my own rhythm through the waves.  I was a bit disappointed at first as after watching the start yesterday morning for the half iron event I figured there was a good chance that I’d be in the lead, if not first out of the water (something that has never happened to me before).  And here I was in the lead by a good stretch, but still in second behind, apparently, Aquaman as he powered through the opposing current out into the harbor.  Over the course of the next 200-300m or so I watched as the lead kayak got slowly and slowly further out in front as the lead swimmer put some distance in on me.

“He’ll tire eventually”, I kept reassuring myself.

To this point, I made a note to stop stressing about how close or distant I was in proximity to the lead kayak and just focused on my own pace and relishing how good my turnover was feeling.  Upon rounding the first turn around the water was suddenly calm as we had turned from swimming directly into the current to swimming along with it.  Perfect.  I re-sighted my kayak (and lead swimmer by proxy) and picked up my stroke with an effort to make up some time/distance.

It was on; time to reel back the leader.

I had had a discussion in the car that morning on the way to the event about what I ‘think about’ while swimming and racing; truthfully, very little.  And while these post race reports might give you the impression I am constantly thinking, strategizing, assessing and whatnot, in actuality, I’m not.  Although I might do all the aforementioned things at specific points during the race – albeit briefly – typically, I’m either humming to myself or singing the chorus to whatever song happens to be motivating me at the time and that song depends on the day.  Some days I might be revving myself up with the classic Bill Conti ‘Going the Distance’  (click HERE), or maybe something a little more balls-to-the-wall like ‘Kickstart My Heart’  (Motley Crue), ‘Just Got Paid’ (ZZ Top) or (lately) ‘Shit Shots Counts’  (Drive-By Truckers) – and, yes, I did play each of these in the car on the way there – but today, however, it was something much more mellow and sedate despite what was currently transpiring in the water: ‘Angels’  by Robbie Williams.

Yes, I know.  It’s hardly the adrenaline-inducing pump-up anthem you’d expect to listen to under the circumstances, but the song has becoming pretty meaningful t me over this year as it was one of my mom’s favorites and the song that was sang at her funeral service.  So while I had picked up my pace in the water a bit, in my head I was cool, calm, relaxed and loving it.

Along the back stretch of calm water I had quickly made up some time on the lead swimmer and I could see the bubbles from his kick just up ahead of me.  Maybe being first out of the water wasn’t so far-fetched and I motivated myself to try and do just that as it looked like the leader was beginning to tire.  And then it happened: the leader veered off course to the left heading for another buoy intended for the shorter Sprint course.

Inside, I did this:

Sensing the moment, I quickly re-sighted the shore (they had one of those inflatable dancing guys at the finish line) and dropped the hammer. This was my chance. The next 700m or so was nearly at an all out pace as I knew I was now swimming with the current so it was definitely the ‘now or never’ moment I had waited for.  In moments, the “leader” had realized his mistake I think I saw him readjust his course back towards me and the shore; I figured he was either going to try and sprint in ahead of me, or catch my draft but, either way, I was determined not to let it happen.

With 200-300m  I gave everything to make sure I exited in 1st place.  This has never happened before (I came close in Brockville last summer exiting the in 2nd place) and I was really eager to experience it, even if just the once.  I reached the ramp with a swim time of 34:35 (not the greatest swim time of my short and unimpressive triathlon career, but not bad given the rough water for the first half), a mere 10 seconds ahead of the former leader and, together, we had put a gap on the rest of the group of about 4 minutes.  We charged into transition where our bikes were racked closely together and we chit-chatted a bit while we both went through the process of what was promising to be another cold and windy ride.  I avoided yesterday’s mistake and put on my socks and even rolled up some arm warmers to boot prior to leaving T1 for the transition line and out onto the bike course.  By this time I had let my lead lapse to second but I was still in good shape.

In the opening 1-2 kilometers I fussed and adjusted with my kit to be comfortable, took a sip from of my water bottle and battled the immediate headwind in an attempt to catch up and establish contact with the leader whom I could see just a little further ahead up the road.  Within minutes I had reestablished contact and I when I made an initial pass attempt I noticed that he already seemed rather uncomfortable.  I mean, who could blame him? We were wet, cold and riding into a strong headwind – I’m sure I wasn’t the perfect picture of comfort either – but I  know I tend to do perform well in uncomfortable conditions so it was definitely on like Donkey Kong in my head.  Shortly thereafter, we entered a short out and back stretch along Ridge Road and I made small push to see what the response might be – and there was none – only that same look of being cold, wet and miserable.

I made the decision then and there: “I’m going”.  So I channeled my inner Jens Voigt and attacked up and over the next inclineand I was gone, baby, gone; I would never see another rider over the next two and a half hours.

The next 15 minutes or so were pretty surreal.  A white van had pulled up in front of me with his hazard lights on and continued to stay just ahead of me.  My initial reaction was “what the fuck is this guy doing? Does he know there’s a race going on? GET OUT OF MY WAY YOU ASSHOLE!  And then I realized that this was in fact the pace car and that I was in the lead.

That was all the inspiration I needed, I lowered my head and amped up my pace even more.  ‘Let’s see how long I could hang onto this lead’  I thought to myself; maybe as well enjoy it while it lasted.

The next 40-45 kilometers or so were pretty uneventful, just me riding full gas (well, as much ‘gas’ as I could muster anyway) behind the pace van as it continued to lead me through the winding rural roads of Jefferson County.  I have to say that Jefferson County is ideal biking territory; lots of vast expanses of fields, meadows, farmlands, rolling hills, and just enough hills and wind to keep things interesting (passing by the ‘Painful Acres’ farm was definitely a poignant moment).

Here’s a look at the course elevation-wise:

Elevation

Definitely some hills.

Lookit me; all artsy n' shit.  You might even think I was fast!

Lookit me; all artsy n’ shit. You might even think I was fast!

I had a, shall we say, “moment” somewhere along Cady Road where I was cresting the top of a long incline and at the top, the clouds gave way to sunlight which filled the entire valley to my right and it was gorgeous.  Had I been just riding for fun, I would most certainly have stopped and reflected for bit but, as it was, I took a few quiet seconds to myself to reflect , think of my mom and dad and what was currently happening – I shed a tear (okay, maybe two) – before I refocused my composure and got back to pushing.  Now there was no way I was going to give up the lead; not without a fight anyway.

If ever I get any distance out front on the bike in any other race, it’s only inevitable that at some point I will get caught.  While I think I have some bike skills, they typically pale in comparison to the cycling machines that will inevitably fly past me on their $10,000 carbon fiber rocket ships.  Today, however, I was feeling stronger in that I had already passed the first hour and there was still nobody in sight.  I looked back periodically along long stretches of road to see who might be closing in on me and the road was always empty; completely void of activity at all in most cases.  I was truly alone with nothing else to motivate me pace-wise except myself (this was in itself, a new experience for me) so when I passed Kelly, HRH  and Doug who had driven out on the course to cheer me on, it was a very welcome sight indeed; so much so that it gave me new inspiration to continue riding hard despite the fatigue beginning to settle in my quads.  No point in adjusting my strategy now, and it was back to the ‘go hard and build a gap into the run’  strategy I considered earlier.  Whoever wanted a podium spot today was going to have to bury themselves on the run to do it.  I have to say, it was fun to have the car pass by with HRH’s face beaming out the back window and although I couldn’t make out what she was saying, her ‘thumbs up’ sign of encourage was reinvigorating and gratefully appreciated.  I think I may have even made a silly face for fun.  Maybe…

For the next half hour or so, my carload of fan support appeared and reappeared along the route and getting those quick visuals and words of support was awesome.  I was beginning to think that maybe winning this thing wasn’t so far-fetched after all, but I tried not to let myself think that far ahead as, as it typically happens, everything can and usually does happen with you least expect it. But it wasn’t going to happen without me at least giving it everything.

The next half of the bike course was uneventful as the pace car had ceased driving in front of me and the loneliness began to creep in. I focused on getting over the hills (which were significantly tougher the second time around) and fighting through the headwinds (where were getting tedious and frustrating) and with 2-3 kilometers left, I ate what was left of my Shot Blocs, sipped the remainder of my bottle, and powered back into town very spent but completely happy with my performance, as well as having ridden the top bike split of the day in 2:56:00.

Now, I will admit here that my legs now felt like lead poles.  I had done everything I could to push the limits of my swim and bike and now I was paying the unfortunate price, so it was time to mentally prepare for and settle into what would inevitably be a long and painful run to the finish.  I was thrilled to still be in the lead, and after a short pee break in transition (hey, at least I knew my hydration strategy was working) I let myself enjoy some of that excitement.  I tucked the zip-lock baggie containing photos of my mom and dad into my tri-suit, donned by dad’s favorite ball cap and made my way out onto the run course.  I was being realistic with myself in that it was very unlikely that I would be able to sustain any decent pace through the entire run, but it was also really cool to be on the receiving end of all the assorted whoops and cheers of approval from the spectators for being in the first guy.

Another first!

Me…in the lead… on the run  no less!

I will savor that feeling for a while, I assure you.

I would find out later, that at this point early in the run I had accumulated an overall gap on my completion off-the-bike of 12 minutes.  In any other event in previous this might have been enough to cruise to the finish line but today, I knew it was a matter of seeing what would happen.  My legs felt beyond tired but my feet weren’t as bad off as they had been yesterday (cold), so I was optimistic that things might not be so bad.

Just…keep…going…

I tried my best to keep to a somewhat easy and comfortable pace, walking through the aid stations to rest my Achilles temporarily and – I have to say – being in the lead kinda sucks.  There’s not really a lot to keep you going in the sections of the course where you’re all by yourself and you know that the others are closing in behind you.  Or so this was the feeling I had at the time anyway.  At the first turn around somewhere along the 6 or 7 kilometer mark, the next two athletes came into view and we exchanged quick pleasantries as we passed on another.  I was also cognizant that I had started to limp slightly as my Achilles slowly began to tighten and that my competition now smelled blood.  Moreover, they were running smoothly and seemingly effortlessly by comparison.

At just over the half way part while looping back in Sackets Harbor, I could see the next athlete (the person immediately behind me in the swim) closing in fast.  But I was still hopefully that I still build up enough of a time gap to pull this off.  Maybe.

Wrong.

Shortly afterwards while rounding another corner I knew that being caught was inevitable at the “safe” pace I was currently running at.  So I began to have a conversation with myself about what was smarter.  Was it better to push to the end and, maybe, claim the top spot of the day which would be a HUGE first for me, or was it better to keep doing what I was doing and playing it ‘safe’ in order to spare myself serious future injury, and simply allow for whatever that end result was meant to be.  It was the classic ‘Emperor’s New Groove’ scene (click HERE) where both a devil and an angel appear on Kronk’s shoulders and trade arguments back and forth.

At about the 16 kilometer mark, my Achilles was really beginning to complain so at the 18 kilometer mark I made the ultimate decision to let my lead go (I guess the angel won out in the end).  It was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever had to make in a competition.  I got to the second-to-last aid station and did something I have never done – I stopped.  I waited the 30 45 seconds or so until the other runners behind me came into view and I shook their hands as they passed by and I congratulated them for their effort.  I was extremely sad and disappointed to see them take my lead, but how can I expect my nine-year-old to accept defeat graciously if I am not also capable of doing the same; that was my final rationale and I was good with it…eventually anyway.

From that point on, I walked/ran at a comfortable pace to the finish in town where I walked across the finish line hand-in-hand with HRH  with a completely unimpressive run time of 2:09:51, good enough for 3rd over all.

How I felt at this point is, really, indescribable.  In one way, I was disappointed not to be strong enough to push for a 1st place finish, but I was also happy to have experienced some genuine race ‘firsts’ and confident that I had ultimately made the right decision not to push myself to the breaking point.  I congratulated my victors again at the finish and reveled in their telling me how much effort it had taken to actually catch me.  So I guess that part of my plan anyway had worked perfectly.

So, now with all that behind me, I can actually get back to refocusing on my off season recovery and rebuilding myself back to being competitively strong once again – within limits of course (click HERE).  First, however, I had a promised play date with the kid back at the cabin, steaks, a celebratory apple pie and more than a few beers to tend to; the perfect way to finish off the weekend if you ask me.

 

In fact, the Incredoubleman triathlon coordinator actually had a small cannon both available and intended for this purpose. What was lacking was a conveniently available licensed operator to actually use it.  The world is a funny place.

I’m kind of putting the cart before the horse with this post but my review of the Incredoubleman Triathlon Weekend is still on hold pending pictures, so I’m plowing forward onto other things that are currently pressing on my mind.

Namely, me.

Of course.

So to begin with, please accept this disclaimer that this is going to be a very different kind of post.  Think of it as my having a real honest moment with myself.  In reality, this might just be the most important blog post I’ve made to date.

When I started this blog in what seems like eons ago, I really had no idea how it would develop (if at all) and I am proud of the journey that I’ve made and documented in these online pages since that time. I was a very different person then and nearly a decade after I made that initial commitment to change my life for the better; I’ve accomplished some really incredible things. Things I never would have deemed possible back then; superhuman almost. Of course, I know now that that these things weren’t really superhuman – nor am I for that matter – and ordinary people do incredible things all the time but, back then, they would have most definitely seemed superhuman considering the shape I was in.

Since then, the most common question I get asked is ‘why do you do it?’  Why triathlon?  Why did I take up a sport so physically and mentally demanding?  What I usually tell these people is “because I’m bat shit crazy”, and while that might be partially true it doesn’t really paint the whole picture and I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this particular question lately.  And the answers I come up with aren’t always positive.

Sure there’s the whole ‘challenge’ and all that, but there’s a darker side too.  Something I’m only now coming to fully realize. Maybe why the reason this is all coming to light only now is that I’m on the cusp of surviving, maybe, the most difficult year of my short and unimpressive life.  In fact, although I haven’t been doing the same volume of training in the year (2012) leading up to Ironman Wales (and for a reminder on how that turned out afterwards – click HERE), this year has been vastly more difficult physically, mentally and definitely more emotionally. To that point, I have recently lost both my parents this year in a span of five short months (HERE  and HERE) leaving me feeling rather like I’ve been orphaned and through it all…I swam, biked and ran – a lot.  Usually without any real plan or focus but more for the opportunity to just get out and deal with it.  This year was supposed to be my big return to being ‘competitively strong’, the whole ‘We Can Rebuild Him’ strategy, and in that regard I feel like I’ve failed miserably; albeit for reasons that were mostly beyond my own control.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that I’ve done some incredibly awesome things this year that pushed my personal boundaries of endurance and conditioning even further.  As part of this ‘tough guy’ training commitment I completed a 10k Swim for Strong Kids, set a new personal best for the 30k distance at Around the Bay and I recently completed back-to-back triathlons at the Incredoubleman Triathlon (post forthcoming). But there was one important thing missing: DISCIPLINE.  The discipline of a well-crafted training plan and as a result, it’s left me feeling rather fragile…physically, mentally and emotionally.  But having said that, I’ve also learned something very important about myself in that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to dealing with my emotions and personal well-being.

Before I went down this whole healthy living-triathlon path, I dealt with pain and sadness another way: I ATE.  I ate a lot and it was a completely self-destructive way of dealing with things.  But now that I’ve hopped on the ‘healthy living’ bandwagon, things really haven’t changed, I just have a different way of dealing with stress: TRAINING.  I believed it was a healthier way to deal with my emotions when things got rough; or one might have thought anyway.  But maybe that’s entirely debatable.

Instead of taking the time out I may have needed to cope and heal, I did what I’ve always done…I put my head down and ran directly into the storm.  Great in triathlon maybe, but not so great in life.  I did it when my Nana passed away. Within minutes of stepping out of the funeral home I put on my running shoes, pointed myself directly towards the darkest most menacing cloud on the horizon and ran directly into it. I thought it would be in some way cathartic and maybe I mistakenly thought that it was, but four years later I’m beginning to doubt that.  When my mother passed away this past January, I did the same thing: I ran…and I swam.  A lot.  I later used the experience to fuel my Around the Bay PB and later my 10k swim in the pool.  Was I following a plan?  No.  I was just out to punish myself through suffering.

Hell, I remember when “suffering” meant going 24 hours without a donut!  What happened to me?

When my dad passed away this past June, I focused into preparing for the Incredoubleman weekend.  And although I survived it and the results were favorable (they’re coming – be patient), I know I wasn’t performing anywhere near my potential.  Again, did I follow a plan to prepare for it?  No. I just went out and suffered as I always did.  The tipping point should have been when I completely tanked my 10k run at the Peachbud in July.  I felt like ass and spent most of the time being lapped.  But did I pay attention?  Shit no.  I put my head down and pushed myself into training even harder.

I had literally convinced myself that what I was doing was for the purpose of honoring my parents by doing something that would have made them both proud (and I believe they were).  But it came at a significant cost: cortisol.

Bucket loads of cortisol.

What is cortisol you ask?  Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone created by the body, more specifically a glucocorticoid, produced by the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex.  What does that mean exactly?  It’s not really important.  All you need to know is that it is released by the body in response to stress (both mental and physical) and a low level of blood glucose (poor diet). Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through a process known as ‘gluconeogenesis’, suppress the immune system, and aid the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate.  In fact, elevated cortisol levels lead to a perpetual catabolic state where muscle is broken down and fat is stored.  That would definitely explain my growing waistline despite all the effort I’ve been making to get rid of it.  Moreover, cortisol is released in response to stress (something I know a little about), sparing available glucose for the brain, generating new energy from stored reserves, and diverting energy from lower-priority activities (such as the immune system) in order to survive immediate threats or prepare for exertion…see the problem here?  The real issue is that prolonged cortisol secretion (which may be due to chronic stress – nod nod wink wink) results in significant physiological changes; i.e. my body’s inability to cope with the amount of physical stress I am regularly placing on it in the absence of a well-structured training plan for the sole purpose of suffering.

So here I am three weeks after my last competition and my left Achilles is tender, my legs are all but refusing to wake up and the muscles on the sole of my right foot continue to ache and I just generally feel like ass.

All. The. Time.

Furthermore, I feel like I could break out into a flood tears at any moment.  Will I?  Probably not (okay, maybe).  Likewise, I’ve become more distant from the people who continue to love and support me; namely my family (which is totally unacceptable).  And what are my instincts tell me to do?  Well, despite being in what is supposed to be my ‘recovery period’ I have this need to immediately launch myself back into the one thing that’s been the common denominator through it all: suffering.  Go run…go swim…go…do…something.  Suffer!

Not smart.

>>insert bang head emoticon here<<

Except this time, after a serious ‘tete-a-tete’ yesterday afternoon with my councilor-slash-athletic therapist Dr. Kristin Burr at Legacy Health & Performance (LOVE THOSE GUYS!), I’m going to try and do things entirely differently.  I’m going to better listen to my body the way I know I should have been all along and make the right decisions going forward, hence, this complete ‘Come to Jesus’ moment in that I’m not continuing down the same path I always have.

So what should be the plan going forward?  I still want to compete and get back to being ‘competitively hard’ this year but I know now that something has to change in my approach to enable that all to happen successfully.  Specifically, I need a better plan; time to reassess my goals for 2015, restrategize and put me back on track to effectively accomplishing them.

  1. Play – That’s right.  Play.  Have fun for a change.  Maybe ride my bike with HRH, go exploring on Snowflake, go for short walks with Kelly now that the autumn colors are here, take in a yoga class, maybe do some light weights when the mood takes me; you know, just take it easy.  No ‘suffering’.
  1. Instructing.  In regard to ‘Play’, I have just successfully received my spin instructor’s certification through the YMCA (yay me!) and I am starting teaching now on Monday nights at 6:30pm and I love it.  The truth is – and I hope I’m not giving too much away here – but I don’t really get a ‘workout’ during these classes so much as I’m leading others through theirs; so I’m only suffering vicariously through them.  Perfect, right?  It’s my goal then to work with these regular participants over the winter months to build their own bike strength and endurance and achieve their own goals; all set to a groovy soundtrack (click HERE  for my playlists).
  1. Diet. In recent months, my lack of wanting to do anything else besides suffer has meant that my “healthy diet” has largely subsisted of meatball subs from Subway; quick and easy.  No more.  Kelly and I have made a pact to get back on the healthy eating bandwagon and make a serious bid to lose some healthy weight and that largely means going back to being gluten free.  I’m not setting any specific weight goals, just on maintaining a healthy intake of the rights foods while minimizing the amount of snacks.

That’s it.  That’s my whole philosophy:  “keep it simple stupid”.

That’s the plan anyway, to keep things simple and fun to allow my body the time it needs to reset, recharge and flush that cortisol 100% out of my system prior to getting back on the path to becoming awesome.

What else is there to say?

An Open Apology to AJ Meyers

Posted: August 29, 2014 in Equipment

Dear Al,

I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

For the rest of you, here’s why:

Al – a devout runner and marathoner – has been a good friend of mine for a few years now.   We used to work for the same company, albeit in different locations, so periodically our paths would cross whenever one of us happened to visit the other’s site.  It was during one of his trips to St. Catharines in the summer of 2011 that we took to bike riding together after work and it gave us a chance to bond over our love of physical activity and competition. It was during one of these rides that I actually committed to the idea of completing an Ironman; something that would come to fruition a year later in Wales.

At the time though, I was still learning how to ‘love’ this whole running thing.  Little did I know at the time that eventually I would make peace with long distance running and, shit, even turn out to be pretty good at it – for a fat guy.   That season we ultimately competed together in the ‘Run for the Grapes’  Half Marathon (click HERE   for the story of my first ‘Run for the Grapes‘), that being my first half marathon – like – ever.

It sucked and it hurt.  Live and learn.

Being a fountain of information in regards to running marathons, I literally sponged up Al’s tips and advice as best and as often as I could.  And, believe me; Al had lots of wisdom to impart.  One of these particular tips included his suggestion to invest in a pair of Crocs.  You know, for ‘recovery’.

Of course, all I could think at the time was: “But they’re ugly”.

Apparently, I was still wrestling with the whole vanity thing that I’ve since stopped giving a shit about.

Unfortunately, this tip was pretty much cast aside never to rattle around inside my brain like a marble inside an empty soup can.

“I won’t ever need those”, I thought.  “Those are for old fogies”, I told myself.

Boy, what an ass I was.

What I’ve learned now is that Crocs are actually made out of a patented foam resin called ‘Croslite’.  The foam forms itself to a wearer’s feet and offers purported medical benefits, according to a number of podiatrists.  You can interpret that as they act as a spongy surface for my delicate tootsies to get around on post workout as opposed to dealing with the hardwood floors in my home which tend to get painful.   After giving this shit a test drive (or walking if you will) with Kelly’s pair, they were very soothing and comfortable; like walking little pillows.

Okay, SOLD!

So here I am three years down the road and guess what, I am finally ready to take the plunge and get my own.  And yes, they’re still ugly, but at least I can now see where Al was going with that advice all those years ago.  Ugly-schmugly…this Croslite shit feels great!

The thing I’m learning now is that as you age, your body gets less resilient to the pounding it endures.  I’m 42 now, and after three years of Ironman training and pavement pounding, well, let’s just say that I have absorbed my fair share of pounding (the bad kind).  So much so, that lately my feet have been extremely sore post (as well as pre) workout; hence my interest in Crocs only now.   Whew knew that in three years things would be so different?

Making matters worse is that where I spent a considerable amount of time perfecting my running form over the past few years, I did little else to actually aid in my feet’s recovery.  In fact, once my running shoes have blown out they typically become my ‘everyday shoe’ – when I happen to wear shoes at all. Most often, I tend to go barefoot. So when I’m not running I’m walking around in old, worn out shoes.  Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done for my feet – I get it now.

Last week I told myself that enough was enough – no more sore feet – time to invest in some ‘gentle recovery’ for my aching feet, so we made plans to visit the Croc outlet at the Niagara Outlet Mall.

Goodie.  Shopping.

Don’t get me wrong, I will shop for running shoes and other assorted triathlon gear…all…day…long.  But shopping for everyday shoes (i.e. these Crocs) just doesn’t excite me, like, at all. In fact, I felt like a complete wuss and I would have much preferred to pour hot lava down my pants than endure a single minute of casual shoe shopping at the mall.  But suck it up I did and now I am the proud owner of two – two – pairs of Crocs.  One to serve as my ‘indoor slipper’ (remember those hardwood floors at home) and one as my ‘outdoor shoe’.  Yes I feel like a total spazz with these things on but I will say that, indeed, they do make my feet better; even after one week.  Huh.  Who knew?

The indoor pair.

The indoor pair.

The outdoor pair.  Fashionable or what?

The outdoor pair.

Am I fashionable or what?  At least my feet are happy.

So once again, I’m sorry Al.

Hopefully, we can still be friends.

Sincerely,

Terry