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

Jensie’s Last Ride

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Bike, In Transition
Tags: ,

The world of sport is a little greyer today with the loss of one of the toughest bad asses you’ve probably never even heard of; Jens Voigt.

Yes, Jens “Mr. Shut Up Legs!” (aka ‘Jensie’) Voigt has finally decided to retire from the sport of cycling at the ripe age of 42 (same age as me) after an exciting career spanning 17 years and yesterday’s final 7th stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge marked the occasion; alas, cycling’s undisputed ‘Breakaway King‘  is no more.

When I first started to get into cycling as a sport five years ago, I saw a Stage of the Tour de France where this guy pretty much sacrificed himself on the slopes of some French mountain for his team leader Andy Schleck (click HERE  to see). The announcers were making a big deal about the young rider Andy Schleck at the time faring so well in the race, but here’s this guy out front literally ‘burying himself’ as they say in cycling, to make all that possible.

Who is that?’ I wondered.

Here is this unremarkable looking guy absolutely suffering to bring his teammate (and Alberto Contador for that matter) up the side of a mountain and all the announcers can talk about is the on-going battle between the those two favorites. I made a mental note to learn more about this Jens guy.  Let’s talk ‘tough’ for a second: Voigt is known for his propensity to attack.  He is capable of repeated attacking, holding a high tempo, and breaking away from the peloton.  He has worn the yellow jersey of the Tour de France twice as well as the KOM (“King of the Mountain’ for you cycling noobs).  There’s lot of other titles and accolades of course but most notoriously, Voigt is as known for his fierce tenacity in competition as he is for his positive attitude.  You have to admire a person like that.

I do anyway.

As far as ‘sporting idols’ go I don’t have many. Usually they are more of the off-beat athletes that I can better identify with; more for their personality and character than them simply being awesome. For example, I never cheered for Wayne Gretzky; I rooted for Charlie Huddy. ‘Who’s Charlie Huddy’  you ask?

Exactly my point.

Charlie Huddy played on the revered championship Edmonton Oilers team of the mid-1980’s and present for all five of the franchise’s Stanley Cups. Of course everyone remembers Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffee, Grant Fuhr and, of course, Wayne Gretzky…but Charlie Huddy? Who’s that?

As it turns out, Charlie was the team’s real go-to guy, being a versatile player that could basically fill in anywhere. Charlie was what I call a ‘work horse’, choosing to do whatever it was the team required of him rather than serve his own selfish purposes and letting the other players garner the majority of the spotlight. It is also worth noting that, at the time, not only was Charlie older than any of his teammates but he also spent more time on the ice than just anyone else setting up plays, defending leads, blocking shots and simply playing his balls off and doing as he was told. I respected that. Immensely.

I even have an old hockey card of Charlie Huddy to remind me of these virtues.

Later when I got into triathlon I gravitated towards the likes of Simon Whitfield. Not because of his Olympic gold medals, mind you, but because of his ‘never retreat never surrender’ attitude when it came to training, competition and, later, being a father. I appreciated the willingness to throw the odd ‘haymaker’ at life despite his age and, hey, when it worked, it worked. But when it didn’t he got back up, brushed himself off and worker even harder. I respect that kind of mental and physical discipline and that resiliency has stuck me over the past few years of my own triathlon training.

As I watched the Tour de France last year, the camera focused on a breakaway of three riders all going balls-to-the-wall. Two of the riders were clearly trying to simply endure the agony of pushing the pace so hard so late into the stage but, the other guy, here he was making silly faces and mugging for the camera. Yup, that’s Jensie! In an interview with the press later, he mentioned that he’d rather give the impression to his kids that daddy was having fun rather than being in the throes of all out agony. How can you not love the guy?  And that’s when I really started to take notice.

I figured out pretty quickly that Jens is a very likeable, down to earth and humorous guy as any YouTube video will indelibly prove. I read everything I could get my hands on and his column in our monthly Bicycling magazine, ‘Hardly Serious with Jens Voigt’, is the first thing I flip to when it comes in the mail. He is just so quotable. In fact, trying to list favorite Jens Voigt quotes would simply take up too much time and bandwidth and the fact that he is not known and adored by more sporting fans outside the cycling realm is a true crime. So for those of you who may not already be familiar with Jens awesome tough guy ‘bad assness’, here a list of 15 reasons why you should get to know him:

1.  Jens is a team player, a workhorse (In tour terminology, a ‘super-domestique’) who will never win a grand tour but rides every day with heart and desire that exceeds many tour champions.

2.  Jens just finished riding his 16th Tour de France, considered by many to be the toughest sporting event on earth (only two men have done 17 tours). Out of 15 starts, he’s reached the finish in Paris intact 12 times.

3.  Of the 20 men who have started The Tour past age 40, Jens is the oldest and chosen for the team for his strength of body not just his heart.

4.  Through the years, his physical fortitude – coupled with a relentlessly positive attitude – has helped turn him into cycling’s biggest cult hero.

5.  Jens contagious character and super-hero like feats has spawned tribute, “Chuck Norris” like website where fans contribute “Jens-isms.” Enjoy classics like,” Jens Voigt doesn’t age, he simply drops every year that catches up to him.”

6.  Jens has 66 victories as a professional and was once the world’s top amateur but, even at his peak, he did not have the climbing capabilities to challenge for overall victory in the world’s biggest stage races.

7.  Jens has ridden over 510,000 miles since he began racing competitively. That is enough to cycle around the world 20 times.

8.  Jens is what’s right about athletics: He rides not for money, nor fame, but for the love of it. He seems to relish every moment with gratitude, reverence and healthy sense of humor.

“It is the passion inside me that means I keep going,” Voigt added. “I love what I do and I think I am lucky to do it. When I am riding a quiet country road, I hear the birds singing and think ‘I am in my office now’.”

9.  Still one of the most elite cyclists in the world, Jens continues to train in the cold winter months of Germany—rather than traveling to a warm climate like most, because he refuses to leave his six children and wife alone.

“I have a wife and six kids at home in Berlin and I cannot just say ‘hey honey, listen I am going somewhere warm for a month to train, you all stay here where it is minus 10′. I am a family man and I have to find my priorities. “

10.  In the 2009 Tour Jens survived a horrific crash on a steep mountain descent, literally smashing face first into the asphalt and by sliding 20m down the road on his face – ON HIS FACE!  Let’s see your multi-million dollar Big League ball player do that!  He was airlifted to the hospital with injury and at an age where most men would have retired, Jens simply healed, and returned to ride every tour since.

11.  Jens has coined one of the most widely used motivational phrases in cycling, “Shut Up Legs!”  He actually is known to have this written on a part of his bike where he can see it.

“I tell my legs ‘just one more hairpin and then we will slow down’ but then I reach the next one and tell them the same again. Sometimes I am done – I would not be able to pull the skin off a custard – but my motto is to never give up.”

12.  In 2010, Voigt had another crash that left him with blood flooding out of a hole in his elbow and smashed his bike. Refusing to abandon the race he borrowed a small yellow child’s bike which he says made him look like “a bear riding a circus bicycle”.

13.  Because he said this about himself: “I hope I am allowed to say that the reason I am popular is because of the way I am, the way I race and the way I talk. I am just the old-fashioned, reliable guy and people always know I am after one thing:There is Jens. He will go in the breakaway’…

14.  In the 4th stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Tour of Colorado) a nearly 41 year old Jens executed the unbelievable feat of a solo break-away on Independence pass, riding alone, in the rain, into a head wind, for over 100 km, most of the entire stage to a better than 3 minute victory in Beaver Creek. Fuck anything Lance ever did, this was one of the most epic feats ever witnessed by one man on a bike.

15.  Speaking of Lance, Jens did it all without doping.

If you’ve tired of athletes, their egos, the doping… get to know Jens and get your faith in the human potential back. Jens is pretty much the opposite of everything that is wrong with professional sport. He’s a great athlete and an even better person who brings light and positive energy to his job each and every day or, well, he did anyway.   And I have no doubt that whatever his next steps are in this life they will be as equally amazing and I simply can’t wait.

Here’s an excellent Jens video summarizing his personality as a person worthy of respect:

People can keep worship the over-priced major leaguers, favorite MAA superstar, or whatever.  I’ll take guys like this any day.  These are the types of guys I strive to be.

So long Jensie.  Enjoy the much deserved retirement.

Ode to my Water Bottles

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Equipment, Financial
Tags: ,

“See, if now I fly, you must follow;

Your cool spurting gifts, you soon must offer;

For if not, I will surely die;

Lost if not for your precious life force;

On the hot pavement of life…”

In case you didn’t immediately pick up on it – this is a love poem dedicated to my faithful water bottles.

Lord knows that I am a creature of habit.  I typically use the same workout clothes over and over again (clean – usually – of course), I follow a pretty set schedule as to which workout happens on which day and, yes, I use pretty much the same two water bottles.  Call me obsessive compulsive, call me overly loyal, or just call me plain stubborn, whatever, I literally use these water bottles every single day.

And these water bottles and I have been through a lot; four years of completion actually.  Not only does that include one Ironman, five Half Iron competitions and more Sprint and Olympic events that I can remember.

Okay, 15 Sprint and 5 Olympic…but who’s counting?

And it’s not just during these events that they get used either.  No sir!  These trusty companions have also endured more kilometers, time, and training workouts than I could ever calculate.  And, believe me, that includes lots of sitting proudly on the pool wall, or guarding my towel and car keys dockside during long swims, riding in my battle cages for thousands of long (and short) bike rides, and countless He-man sessions at the gym.  Oh, and then there’s the yoga and spin classes, car trips to and from stuff, sitting at my desk here at work (as well as at home) so, yeah, you get the picture.  I use these things a lot.

Too much I’m afraid.  I think I might be killing these things with love.

Sadly, for the past four years I knew this day would arrive as all good things eventually come to an end: my fat shorts, my favorite running socks, etc. – don’t even get me going on all the pairs of goggles and running shoes I’ve gone through (for whom the Bell tolls by the way). Let’s just say I can get pretty attached to stuff and these water bottles (i.e. ‘Pillars of Hydration’) might just be the hardest yet to part with yet.

DSCF1946

Here’s another pic of them in action:

Belly not included.

(Belly no longer included)

Aren’t they beautiful?

These water bottles came to me at exactly the same time I purchased Lucille from Enduro Sport in Toronto (five years ago).  They fit into Lucille’s bottle cages perfectly so you can see a lot of wear n’ tear on them; which are just beauty marks as far as I’m concerned.  In over five years of riding, they may have fallen out, maybe, twice.  And that was more likely due to my own error in returning them back into their cages mid-ride than anything else.

They are made of that soft squishy plastic – sorry to go all technical there on you – I like as opposed to those harder plastic bottles I find hard to use.  I hate having to fight with a water bottle to hydrate myself and if I need two hands to squirt its precious contents into my mouth then it’s more or less useless to me.

In an effort to combat the typical wear and tear and prolong the general life expectancy of these things, I have employed a rather rigorous cleaning regimen (click HERE) to limit the amount of mold buildup and therefore, hopefully, maintain their overall dispensing efficiency.

Regardless, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.

Keeping these bottles sanitary has now become a losing battle.  Their nozzles are leaky and the twist-on-top’s no longer keep a watertight seal so they don’t dispense water so much anymore as they serve as the mere vessel for ineffectually transporting fluids.  On my bike rides, the water splashes from their tops each time I hit a bump in the road and soaking me in the process.  Half the contents will squirt over my face and run down my chest into my bib shorts whenever I try to take a sip.  Furthermore, there’s about an inch of crusty funk built up around the inner lip no matter how often I scrub them (which, truthfully, isn’t as often as I should).

In short, it’s a lost cause.

But it’s not as easy as simply running out and buying more water bottles – oh no! That’s crazy talk.  I just can’t use any water bottle; it has to be the water bottle (there’s a huge difference)…and even then there has to be two of them.  If Enduro Sport wasn’t also a 2+ hour drive away I would just go back and purchase two more but, alas, I am too cheap to pay the gas simply to replace water bottles.

Believe me though, I did consider it.

So I’m on the prowl now to find the perfect replacements, or ‘substitutes’. I will call them ‘substitutes’ because these two Enduro bottles will always occupy a permanent place in my heart.

However, water bottles are something that the inner miser in me would never pay for.  I am a Tightwad Triathlete after all.  In the case of my Enduro sport bottles, they came free with the bike.

No. One has to come by water bottles freely, whether they’re earned or acquired it doesn’t matter but you never pay for water bottles.  I think it’s a law or something.

For shits and giggles, let’s review a few of the candidates currently in contention at my home:

1. The Big Move:

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I have volunteered with the organizers of The Big Move (100k) as the sweep rider for the past few years so I also have lots of these water bottles lying around.  Alright, I have exactly two.  Or I thought I had two anyway.  So maybe I only have this one. Whatever.

I use this bottle periodically and before that Kelly used it on her bike before she ‘purchased’ (yeah, I know) her own.  It fits into the bike cages well enough but they’re made of that hard inflexible plastic I hate so unless I can use both hands to squirt its contents into my mouth while riding, or somehow manage to work my suck into an industrial vacuum-like power, it is rather difficult to use. It can certainly be used periodically – like, at work or something – but it will never be part of my permanent rotation.

2. Ironman Gummies:

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The plus side here is that this water bottle is made of that soft squishy plastic I like since it’s really meant for kids (hence: Iron Gummy vitamins).   It also fits perfectly in my bike cages, which means I could easily use it while riding without any extra effort or care.  Likewise, the seal is fantastic so it doesn’t drip or leak, like, at all.  Sure it does have a rather childlike feel to it seeing as how it’s from a kid’s triathlon series but, hey, that’s as good a program to endorse as any.  It was however, supposed to be the kids’ water bottle and this kid likes to chew her nozzles.

Just look at this madness:

(WARNING: this following picture depicts scenes of graphic violence. Viewer discretion is strongly advised)

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Unfortunately, this is the only one of its kind in our possession that doesn’t also look like it’s been attacked by beavers. I will surely need to protect and preserve this one with straight up Diane Fossey type fervor…however, we definitely have a keeper!

3.  Whatever the fuck this thing is:

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Who the fuck knows where we got this thing from but it’s completely useless; needless to say it’s doesn’t leave the shelf very often.  Personally, while I see people (typically the older people) using these types of water bottle at the gym, I firmly believe they should never – ever – leave the house. Certainly not for a workout, like, anywhere! In this one and only case, style trumps cost.  Do us all a favor, unless your 90 years old, leave the shitty Rubbermaid on the shelf at the local DollarMart and spend the money something else.

This bottle is definitely OUT.

4. The Cancun 70.3 Souvenir Bottle:

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I kept a few of these bottles as souvenirs after my Cancun 70.3 competition back in 2011. It has the perfect ‘Swim, Bike, Run’ advertising on it and it definitely worked at the time but now, well, not so much. Its make-up and over all squeezeability’ is pretty cool but it only contains 400ml of fluid which is well under my usual hourly intake (550ml). So I would have to refill this thing a shit ton more just to keep my current hydration strategy alive and well.

Plus, it’s that ugly fucking orange color (or ‘persimmon’ which makes it sound even worse) is hard to accessorize around.

Sorry.   Won’t work.

5. The Canadian Tire special:

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Beats me how I came into possession of this bottle. It completely solid (i.e. you can’t squeeze it) and it doesn’t fit into my bikes bottles cages making it practically useless on the bike. Likewise, even though it’s measured out in ml’s which might be nice if I was, say, mixing a protein shake or something, for workouts it’s practically useless.   And, really, what the fuck is with that propeller thing on the top anyway?

Basically, this is the water bottle equivalent of any cheap ass water bottle you might find on the shelf in the ‘Kitchen Crap’ aisle at Canadian Tire. Pass.

6.  Don’t even get me fucking started:

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No.

7.  What the fuck is this thing anyway?

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Again.  No.

8.  The Tin Man:

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We use this to send the kid to camp with because they’re unless you’re backing over it with a tow motor, they’re practically indestructible.  Other than that feature, why do they even make metal water bottles anyway?  They’re impossible on the bike and pointless anywhere else.  In fact, unless you have this thing properly clipped onto your Outward Bound backpack while hitch-hiking around, say, Europe, or you’re planning on having to fend off marauding zombies, this type of bottle is just a huge, heavy, pain in the ass.  It should definitely never be used for a workout.

9.  Maybe at my desk perhaps:

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Not sure how this would work on the bike.

10. TryForce

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This is another type of souvenir bottle I got from my triathlon group.  In fact, I have a few of these.  Honestly, I do.  I should be using these bottles given I love my training group and whatnot, but I hate it.  It’s the same 400ml as that Cancun shit thing and it’s that hard plastic I despise, plus it also rattles in my bike cage which drives me nuts.  I want to love it – but I just can’t.

When I do use any of these bottles I inevitably feel like how Hugh Grant might have felt when he was caught cheating on the beautiful Elizabeth Hurley with the likes of Divine Brown – dirty.

Anyway, I am aiming to finish the season with my current two trusty and faithful Enduro bottles but, beyond that, the search will indelibly continue until the perfect two bottles are ultimately located, procured and otherwise assume a regular place in my daily training routine.

As I have alluded to in the past, I had another opportunity to step back into the Brock Kinesiology lab to participate in another series of tests and, consequentially, further develop my overall ‘mental toughness’ this year.  This time around the research dealt with the effects of heating and cooling on firefighters.  Yup, this means I got to dress up as a firefighter and live out the dream of every little boy on the entire planet including myself.  Seriously, who didn’t  want to be a firefighter growing up?

I got the email from Matt a few months ago inquiring if I was up to the challenge.  I like to think that he remembered me on account of my God like level of uber-fitness and total domination on the bike, but as I disclosed in my previous blog post during the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) that, well, sadly, this wasn’t necessarily the case.  It was probably more along the lines of ‘who else would be stupid enough to do it?’, but I digress…

Whatever is was, I agreed immediately.  What can I say?  I like testing my mental fortitude in interesting and challenging ways; I’m a sucker for data and information about my current level of fitness; and maybe…just maybe…I missed having something stuck up my ass.  Who knows?  But, hey, they promised me a t-shirt…so how could I say no?

Anyway, this particular study went by the rather spiffy title of Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’  (say that  three times fast).  The purpose of the research was to study the effects of cranial cooling during recovery on temperature and breathing responses during exercise with fire protective clothing ensemble.

When we exercise, our muscles produce heat.  If the heat can be released to the environment the body can “thermoregulate” itself and, theoretically, remain somewhat comfortable and functioning adequately.  The protective clothing used by firefighters traps the heat, which often results in a condition called “Uncompensable Heat Stress” (UHS).  In UHS, body temperature is elevated and work capacity can be severely impaired.  In order to reduce the effects of UHS, the study is seeking to explore countermeasures that help to cool the body either during exercise or during recovery periods.  This particular study was designed to evaluate the effects of a cooling strategy that pumps cool water through aspecial green balaclava-like hood that can be easily worn during recovery periods.  The testing for the study involves periods of hard exercise followed by recovery periods aimed at monitoring how this cooling strategy might affect body temperature and breathing.

What this meant for me in the long run (or short walk, if you will), is four separate parts scheduled over approximately two to four weeks.  The duration of each part will vary between 1.5 and 3 hours.  The first includes a ‘Graded Exercise Test’ (GXT) which measures my peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) while walking on a treadmill wearing the full fire protective ensemble (FPE) and breathing with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); the second part is a practice familiarization session of two 20 minute periods of exercise and two 20 minute periods of recovery, complete with measurements on my core temperature (yes, this means the probe), skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, perceptions of effort, breathing and temperature stress, respiratory muscle strength, body weight, and urine specific gravity.  Sounds like fun, amiright?    Fortunately there was no need for blood samples so I wouldn’t have to undergo the whole IV insertion unpleasantness, so that’s good.  The next two parts consist of the actual study sessions identical to the practice trial; one trial will use the cranial cooling technique during recovery.

The initial explanation and consent form said this about the study:

“The exercise and heat stress experienced in this experiment will be challenging.”

This could quite well be the understatement of the century, but more on that later.

Day 1: The Graded Exercise Test

The GXT involved about 15 minutes of exercise on a treadmill where the exercise gets slightly harder every two minutes or so.  The treadmill speed is set at a normal walking pace and will not change throughout the test.  At the start the treadmill will be level but the grade will increase slightly every two minutes.  As the test proceeds the exercise gets more and more challenging until, eventually, I can’t go any further due to the extreme exhaustion.  At this point, they can determine my highest rate of oxygen consumption, or my VO2peak.

Here is a snippet from the consent form:

“The graded exercise test requires maximal effort in order to keep exercising until exhaustion. There may be some health risk with this type of exercise. During and following test, it is possible that you may experience symptoms such as abnormal blood pressure, fainting, lightheadedness, muscle cramps or strain, nausea and, in very rare cases, heart rhythm disturbances or heart attack.”

Basically, nothing I mightn’t experience on a typical Friday night anyway so, yeah baby, let’s get it on.

Getting to play dress up.

Getting to play dress up.

During the test, I was expected to be dressed in the full FPE and breathe through a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  I will admit to being really excited for this part as, like I mentioned above, I had that typical firefighter fantasy as a child.  With some assistance, I was fitted into the rather heavy outfit complete with cotton shirt and pants, jacket, overalls, hood, tank, helmet and gloves.  In all, the entire ensemble adds an additional 22.5 kg (50 lbs.) of weight and therefore resistance to the workout.  Once I was successfully ensconced in my suit, I kind of felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but, still, it was pretty cool.  Complete with the inhaling and exhaling sound through the SCBA gear, the whole getup reminded me of that classic horror B-movie scene where you see the psycho killer approaching the unsuspecting victim from the vantage point of looking through the eye holes of their mask.  The breathing especially is a bit challenging at first and the minimal visibility of the visor makes things rather claustrophobic.  Now I know how Anakin Skywalker must have felt behind the Darth Vader mask.

First all the usual body fat and weight measurements were taken.  If I ever see another pair of calipers again it’ll be too soon, let me tell you.  However, making things a little more awkward this time around was the PhD student in charge of the study was a girl named Maz and another assistant, Tyce, was from Brazil.  So, yeah, just what every insecure, aging, fat triathlete wannabe enjoys: having his folds of body fat scrutinized and recorded with attractive females in the room.

“Oh boy, can we?!”

Not.

Eventually, we were ready to begin.  Before the test started I was allowed to warm-up on the treadmill to get accustomed to being in my suit. Imagine walking normally on a treadmill.  No big deal, right?  Now imagine doing it while dressed in a 50 lb.  clown suit complete with head; the SCBA apparatus was particularly awkward and definitely took some getting used to.  Now imagine that while walking in that clown suit, somebody keeps increasing the grade on the treadmill every two minutes.  Still sound like fun?

It’s not.

Trying to stay positive.

Trying to stay positive.

Motivated by my meager “Good” result last time around, I was determined to do better.  I spent the first few minutes, 10 or so, focusing on my breathing and simply trying to get ‘in the zone’.  I focused on maintaining a strong and relaxed breathing pattern through my nose as I’ve learned to do when I start to get uncomfortable.  Every few minutes I was asked to give my rating on a series of scales posted to the wall in front of the treadmill including ‘RPE’  rating my physical exertion, ‘Breathing Stress’, how labored my breathing feels, and ‘Thermal Comfort’, or how my body was actually feeling in relation to the heat stress being placed upon it.  Other than those stimulating visuals to focus on, there was only the hand that would magically appear out of my peripheral to increase the treadmill grade one agonizing percent level at a time; there was none of the usual motivation stimuli to give you that added push.  Sure, the research assistants would offer the occasional praise or motivation but, truthfully, you couldn’t really hear them above the sound of my own labored breathing and the loud din of the oven’s fans overheard.  All you really had to egg you along was your own mental fortitude to keep going at all costs and this was fine for, say, the first 10 minutes or so.

By the 13-14 minute mark, I felt my composure begin to break down.  My breathing became labored through the SCBA gear and I had to break my steady walking pace into that of a light run against the ever-increasing grade while carrying all that gear.  By now it was a matter of survival and simply hanging on and my mental fortitude was beginning to wane.

Not too shabby this time around.

Exhausted but pleased.

Now, I’d love to tell you here that I had lots of inspirational thoughts going through my head as I did on the bike previously but, well, this was an altogether different feeling.  The only thing I really remember towards the end was simply counting the seconds down in my mind until I collapsed (or died) as I was definitely reaching critical mass.

At approximately the 17 minute mark, I had officially reached my ultimate end game for the test and I tapped out for good.  I collapsed into a chair while my overall results were calculated.  Turns out, my original VO2peak score of 41.51 ml/kg/min.  during November’s test had improved drastically to a 47.75 ml/kg/min.  now, which, is still 10-15% lower than what it would have been had I not been wearing that heavy firefighting gear.  That means my VO2peak score might have scored as high as 52-53 ml/kg/min.,  classifying me as almost “Superior” on the general VO2-Max classification for men my age (40-49); just a tad bit better than “Good”, huh.

Here’s the official results:

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Yeah.

Who’s your daddy?

That’s right, bitches.

Me.

Almost Superior”…sweet.  How fucking awesome is that?  I found it extremely reaffirming to know that the past months of training were paying off. So despite my present battered condition, I felt…well, pretty fucking awesome actually.

I won’t lie.

Day 2: The Familiarization

After the previous weeks GXT I can honestly tell you that I was less than excited for this trial session.  The novelty of getting to dress up in a firefighters outfit had long since passed and I more dreading having to get back into it, anticipating that this session was going to be much worse, like, way worse.  Remember, the exact term the PhD students used was “challenging”.

Now, the word ‘challenging’ itself isn’t very scary, nor does it ever phase me anymore, Lord knows I’ve done ‘challenging’ things, but the look in their eye when they used it actually sent chills down my spine.  As it turns out, this was the only ‘chill’ I would ever really experience the entire time I was in the lab (with the exception of the cold shower afterwards).  The look was like what you might get from a veteran when they talk about their experiences during the war.  They may say ‘bad’, but it’s almost spooky the way they say it.  You just know it was much worse than they are willing to say so you don’t press for specifics.  The way the lab assistants used the word ‘challenging’ was exactly like that; you just knew it was going to be much worse than they were able to say, except I didn’t know by how much…yet.

I did however take one piece of advice to heart from Phil (one of the PhD students) to make sure I was adequately hydrated so, for the next three days, I hydrated like it was my fucking job.  In fact, it was seldom I ever went more than 90 minutes without having to go to the bathroom.  In fact, I barely made the drive from my office to the Brock lab – a mere 20 minute commute – without pissing myself.  So mission accomplished there.

Getting ready...

Getting suited up…

The first 30 minutes or so in the lab were spent getting prepared and dressed.  This process included (among frequent trips to the bathroom of course) such things as being weighed, providing a urine sample (no problem there) to determine my hydration status, strapping on a heart rate monitor, attaching heat sensors to my body,and, yes, inserting that damn core thermometer (not to mention the dreaded ‘Shuffle of Shame’  from the change room afterwards).  I am pleased to announce though that the term ‘Shuffle of Shame’  has now been adopted by the kinesiology department as standard terminology for this short walk between the change room and the lab with a probe up your ass.

Again, from the consent form (just in case you missed it the first time):

“Core temperature will be monitored continuously during all practice and experimental trials. The system used for monitoring core temperature requires that you insert a small diameter, flexible plastic probe to a depth of 15 cm into your rectum.”

If ever a single sentence could strike fear into the hearts of men, this would be it.  Well, most men anyway.  For me, however, this whole insertion process was old hat and was more like getting reacquainted with an old friend (click HERE).  Well, maybe not an old friend so much as someone who used to bully you as a child perhaps, but you get the idea.   Let’s just say that this definitely wasn’t my first rodeo and if anyone needs any information or clarification on the proper procedure for shoving a probe up their ass – I’m your guy.

Probe?  OH BOY!

Probe? OH BOY!

All this was accomplished rather quickly and soon it was time to begin the trial and really open the floodgates…literally.

The first time I stepped into the environmental chamber (or the ‘oven’ as I likened to call it) back in November, the climate was set at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45% and bearing in mind that I was only wearing a typical cycling kit made of light, breathable materials.  Today’s session was about as far from that as you could possible get, like, eons apart.  Not only had the Velotron bike been substituted with a treadmill inside the oven itself, but while the temperature remained at35°C as it did before, the humidity had now been cranked way up to 65%.  Oh, let;s not forget to mention the added  50 lbs. of FPE.  Yeah, this was going to make my first foray into a hot yoga class years ago (click HERE) seem like a day at the beach by comparison.

Here’s how it was described in the consent form:

“The protocol will last approximately 100 minutes, and during this time you will walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, recover for 20 minutes and then repeat the cycle. At certain times during the exercise and recovery we will measure heart rate, blood pressure, skin and core temperature, oxygen consumption, and breathing. We will also ask you to provide your perceptions of exercise, temperature and breathing stress using simple scales that are graded from “0” (no stress) to “10” (maximal stress).”

Sounds easy enough right?  Where’s the ‘challenge’ right?

The fuck.

Think happy thoughts.

Not so sure about this. Just think happy thoughts.

Prior to beginning the first 20 minute session I was asked to walk on the treadmill for 3 minutes at an easy 3.5km/h  pace at a 1% grade (2) which was approximately the equivalent to my grandmother walking to market.  It was just an opportunity to get moving comfortably, well, as comfortable as possible with all that FPR and SCBA gear anyway and get used to breathing through the SCBA.  Immediately following the warm up, it was the ‘ol familiar “THREE…TWO…ONE….”

and the gates of Hell were opened once again.

Each of the actual 20 minute trials were programmed into the treadmill at 5.6km/h  for a 4% grade (5.6) incline. It’s work, but barely.  What was making it difficult (as you might expect) was carrying that50 lbs. worth of added weight and those preset hotter than fuck atmospheric conditions.  Soon, I was sweating like the pig who knows he’s dinner.  Every 2 or 3 minutes the research assistant (Bryan) asked me for my subjective perceptions based on those scales posted the wall in front of me, just as I had done during the GXT test the previous week.

I have to say, the first 20 minutes wasn’t bad.  Sure it was hot, yes I sweated my bag off but, really, it wasn’t overly difficult.  Following the first session I was allowed off the treadmill and cool down passively in a chair.  By ‘passively’ they simply mean remove my helmet, hood and gloves.  That’s it.  Big deal.  I was hoping for maybe a cold beer or a margarita, a Slip n’ Slide maybe, anything that might offer me some relief from the intense heat and humidity.  The good news was that I was half way done and just beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be too bad.  Yeah, right.

Following the 20 minutes cool down I stood up and immediately, things got ‘challenging’.  Oh shit.  My neck was sore from supporting the helmet and I felt lightheaded and disorientated and not at all like putting all that shit back on and climbing back on the treadmill.  Furthermore, while I was a bit more comfortable, it was clear that my body was still very hot and the thought of putting the hood, helmet and gloves back on was not a happy one.  About this time, Phil had a conversation with me about their expectations to only ‘do as much as I can’; but there was that faraway look in his eye again.  Determined to make a go of it, however, I staggered back on the treadmill and allowed the researchers to put all that shit back on.

Maz takes a selfie while I'm suffering in the background.  Can't you just feel the love?

Maz takes a selfie while I’m suffering in the background. Can’t you just feel the love? She may be happy with my progress but, clearly, I am not.

The second session began with the same 3 minute warm up, except that by the time the second 20 minute trial was ready to start it was like my body was on fire.  So this is what a pot roast feels like? I can’t say I liked it…like, at all.  I tried as best as I could to regularize my breathing and clear my mind of negative thoughts but, seriously, there’s little one can do to calm themselves when they’re being roasted alive.  My mask started to fill with perspiration so that each time I exhaled I was splattering the inside of my face mask with droplets of sweat and my hands felt like somebody was applying a blowtorch to them inside the gloves.

Seriously, this  is what firefighters have to deal with?  Hol-lee fuck!  It was all I could do at this point to trudge on as best I could and wait for the sweet release of death to rescue me from this agonizing torment.

It’s safe to say that I have never experienced anything like this before…and I have done some crazy ass shit.  This, however, was completely different.  If my initial goal for this study was to find a new way to test my mental toughness, well, I need look no further as this was about as tough as its ever going to get.  It was excruciating; words simply cannot express.  The only way I could ever communicate my perceptions of stress levels was by holding up fingers and even then, that was effort. Phil’s words ‘you can quit whenever you want’  were resonating in my brain but I trudged on.  I knew at this point that making the whole second 20 minute session was slim to none as I was feeling faint, my vision was beginning to blur and I was getting sick to my stomach.  It was hard to breathe and my organs were cooking.  I almost tapped out 2 or 3 times but, somehow, I managed to carry on with my Death March.  ‘One more minute…one more minute…one more minute…’ was the only think I could think of.

Am I looking glamorous or what?

“Hello, dum dum’s”. Am I looking glamorous or what?

When Bryan counted out the 10 minute mark I knew I was 99.9% spent.  By eleven minutes I was done and finally tapped out.  By this point I was ready to chew through my helmet in panic and they couldn’t get it off fast enough.  They quickly ripped it off (albeit not quick enough for my liking) and a tidal wave of sweat was instantly released out of the helmet and onto the treadmill; so much so it splashed my running shoes.  It was like a water balloon had been dropped out of the helmet.  I was allowed to sit again, this time with a green cooling hood that kind of made me look like the Great Kazoo…not that I gave a shit mind you.  It was bliss.

Including the initial 3 minute warm up I lasted a total of 14 minutes.  Now that may not seem like a lot of time but, I assure you, it’s an eternity in those fucked up conditions – or so it felt anyway.  It was a while before I felt comfortable enough to stand up again and disrobe and it wasn’t without a great deal of help that I managed to get out of my FPE and SCBA gear; I might as well have been a newborn infant for all the assistance I could provide.  My cotton shirt and pants were completely saturated with sweat.  It looked like I had jumped into a pool and they made the same sound that a wet towel makes when it hits the ground after being dropped from a height…SLOP!

Feeling lucky to still be alive.

S Feeling lucky to still be alive.

To put it all in proper perspective, before the trial started I weighed in at 88.16 kg, afterwards… 85.96 kg., which represents a total loss of 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs.) in a mere 37 minutes.  Yeah.  That’s insane.  I do believe that’s a new lab record for sweat loss.  And since I’m seldom ever setting ‘records’, per se, I’m choosing to take it and run with it.

Here’s the evidence:

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

Gross, right?

Anyway, all the sensors were then removed which, I might add, is much easier to do when you’re completely dripping with sweat.  The tape practically leapt off my body in protest.  I was asked to provide another urine sample (I’m actually surprised I had any fluids left) before I was allowed to remove the probe (which, is much worse than putting it in – go figure) and cut loose with an earth-shattering fart, or ‘fartgasm’ as I will now call it (let’s see if that term catches on at the lab).  Oh, and I had what might very well be the best cold shower I’ve ever had.

Not that I care to relive it any, but here’s a brief glimpse for you of the trial itself in progress (pardon the shitty sound of being in the oven):

Day 3 – Experimental Protocol 1

To say I wasn’t looking forward to the next days experimental protocol would be an extremely accurate statement; so would ‘I’m as excited to get back in the oven as I am to get a root canal’.  Truthfully, I’d rather just be hogtied to the treadmill and have the research students take turns kicking me in the junk but, hey, I’m going to persevere and get this done just as I agreed to come Hell or high water, which, in my case, are almost practically guaranteed.

After the last weeks’ familiarization session, the first thing I recall is having one serious appetite…like, ravenous.  Seriously, on top of the leftover sandwiches I was offered in the lab, I could have easily made short work of any buffet table I might have encountered had I been given the opportunity.  I mean there’s ‘hungry’ and then there’s HUNGRY, and I was definitely HUNGRY.  Secondly, I was probably more tired than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Not just the typical kind of fatigue I experience after my other workouts and events, but the ‘holy shit, I can barely remember my name’  kind of fatigue; I could have slept for weeks and I was practically useless at work the next day.  I didn’t really work so much as I just stared blankly into the computer screen.

The good news is that I know now what they mean when they say ‘challenging’.  String Theory is ‘challenging’; following the plot to Inception  was ‘challenging’; running a marathon is definitely ‘challenging’.  This was torture…pure and simple.  So while I was still nervous about the days protocol, I felt I was more mentally prepared than I was the week before and I was determined to give ‘er, even if for only one minute longer.

For that particular protocol the girls took over applying the blood pressure cuff and all the heat sensors to my pudgy body with tape, and afterwards helping me to get dressed; definitely not one of the finer moments in my life.  I guess they have to learn somehow by talk about awkward!   The indignities we lab rats subject ourselves to.  Within minutes, however, I was all fixed up, attached to all my bodily devices, dressed in the FPR and SCBA gear and ready to get my sweat on.  It’s evident how nervous I was when my first blood pressure reading came in at 155/91.

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Although I had been through all this once before, it was almost worse this time around knowing what was going to unfold.  Ignorance is definitely bliss.  During the previous week’s familiarization session it had all been revealed how incredibly difficult today’s protocol was going to be; Pandora’s Box had been indelibly open.  I knew now how challenging that days session was going to be.  It was going to suck on a proportionately epic scale.

Whatever fun we might have had last week with the joking and humorous back and forth banter was now tossed directly out the window and I was beginning to focus myself on the task at hand…survival.  It was go time.  It was really no different than the moments before any major triathlon events, all is silent as the participants ready themselves mentally and put their game faces on.  The mood in the environmental chamber got serious…fast.  After getting squared away on the treadmill I was asked if I was ready to begin and I gave a very nervous thumbs up and within seconds the countdown started, “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and my return to Hell started.

Much like the previous week, the first 20 minutes were manageable and were completed fairly quickly.  I mean, it was hot and it sucked but it was doable.  Unfortunately, today’s protocol was passive cooling (no cooling hood), so my subsequent 20 minute “cool down” (and I use that term extremely loosely) was going to be passive (i.e. no hood).  My body was so hot and uncomfortable.  As part of the cool down I was offered a water bottle with only 200 ml  of water to sip on; in impossibly small amount given the nature of what I had just completed.  It’s like offering someone who’s just crossed the Sahara Dessert a Dixie cup.  But I made due by rationing my meager portion accordingly and resisting the urge to dump the entire contents over my head.

Simply hanging on...

Just hanging on…

While sitting, my blood pressure was retaken a few more times which was extremely unpleasant given my current state.  Each time the blood cuff was inflated, I could feel my heart beating in my teeth.  My fingers tingled to the point of extreme discomfort and I felt like crying out in pain.  I just can’t articulate how discomforting it is to have your blood pressure taken when you’re hotter than Hades and feeling cranky and uncomfortable.  It’s brutal.

I also have to say that sitting idly for 20 minutes is almost as unpleasant as walking on that damn treadmill.  You become keenly aware of all the sweat dripping down your body and pooling into your shoes.  Within the first five minute the towel I was given was completely saturated.  Likewise, knowing how intensely shitty the second 20 minutes is going to be its rather like waiting to be executed by a firing squad.  Not fun.  You just want to get up and get it over with, but you don’t.  It’s a total mixed bag of emotions.

Once the cool down session is over, the next two minutes are also particularly ‘challenging’ (insert faraway look in the eye here).  Immediately upon standing, all the blood that has been running to your legs immediately rushes back up to your head and you become extremely disorientated and dizzy.  You almost want to quit altogether at this point as it’s hard to imagine continuing doing, like, anything.  All you want to do is lie down, preferably in a Turtle Pool full of beer…ice cold beer.  But what choice do you have?  So you allow yourself to get suited up again, slip that fucking mask over your face and before you can protest it’s “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and you’re off.  Let the Big Suck commence.

Eventually, the queasiness passes and after the initial 3 minute “warm up” (I guess it goes without saying that this is another understatement of supernova-like proportions) on the treadmill we begin the second 20 minute session.  At first, it’s not so bad.  I’m still hot and uncomfortable but, again, it was manageable.  I was beginning to think that I might be able to make the distance this time so I tried to focus on anything but the burning sensation in my gloves, the sweat pooling in my mask, the soreness in my neck from supporting the helmet and the ever rising temperature rising inside the suit.

Remember, this is all I have to look at for the entire session:

The view from within.

The view from within.

Not very stimulating is it?

Fuck no.

After, say, the first 10 minutes into the second session what little confidence that had started to build suddenly began to crumble…rapidly.  It’s incredible to me how fast your mental and physical state can deteriorate in the oven.  I actually started to pray.  It’s true.  I would have happily converted to just about any world religion at the time had it provided me with any actual relief.  Shit, I would have sacrificed my firstborn to the Dark Lord himself had someone offered to save me from this torment.  As the heat and discomfort continued to escalate and my breathing became more difficult I asked my mom for strength, I continued to recite what few verses of prayer I actually know and genuinely tried to convince myself that I only had another 10 minutes left…I can do anything for only 10 minutes right?  How wrong I was.

A single minute later (which still felt like an eternity), Maz reminded me that I had reached last week’s tap out time (11 minutes) and to keep it going.  She reminded that I still had lots of oxygen and to try and breath comfortably but by that point it was all to no avail…I was cooked.  Quite literally!  I was growing desperate.

By 12 minutes I was reaching my critical mass again.  My breathing was extremely labored and I had that pot roast feeling again.  Just…hang…on…

At the 14 minute mark (17 minutes including the warm up) I tapped out.  Same as the familiarization session, the researchers scramble to get me out of the gear.  It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of deal, all scrambling simultaneously to release me from my confines as if my life depended on it which, truthfully, it certainly felt like.  I didn’t even make it through the next 20 minute “cool down” session, after my blood pressure was taken (which I’m surprised didn’t explode off my arm) I begged to get out…like, begged.  It was right out of Oliver Twist, pleading eyes and all.

“Get me…out…of…here…like, NOW!”

I was nice about it, of course, but still very insistent I’m sure.  I just wanted out badly as I’m sure you could tell from this video:

Taking off the tank and jacket might just be the most joyous thing I have ever experienced; I swear, angels sang.  I stripped out of my drenched clothes down to my skivvies (running shorts) in what must have been the unsexiest striptease ever attempted.  I’m sure the girls are probably scarred for life now and I couldn’t care less.

Oh, and yeah:  Mental Note to Self: NEVER step on the core probe wire as you’re trying to undress.

Ouch.

The final measurements were then taken and consistent with the previous week I had expunged a complete tsunami of bodily fluid; this time exactly 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat during the 40 minutes of testing.  Yay me!  Not quite the achievement I had been looking for originally but I’ll take ‘em wherever I can get ‘em.

Day 4 – Experimental Protocol 2

It is with mixed emotions that I begin the next  protocol session.  Where I wasn’t at all thrilled to go back into the oven (never mind the core probe, heat sensors, FPE, etc.), I was extremely pleased that this would be the last time I had to do it.  Likewise, knowing I was also going to be allowed to wear the cooling hood this time around that that will make things in the oven marginally more comfortable and (dare I say it) less ‘challenging’.

By then I had the whole pee, weight and probe routine down pat.  I’m certainly beyond the embarrassment and indignity of having my chubby frame taped up and affixed with sensors and what have you, so with little difficulty I was all dressed rather quickly and ready to roll.  You could say I was pretty eager to get this last torture session over with…pronto!  I guess my mindset was similar to the common philosophy for removing a band-aid…STRAIGHT OFF!

I was determined to make the distance this time, well, I’d be happy with one minute longer anyway.  To help, I decided to take matters into my own hands and provide my own motivation aside from those damn scales taped to the wall:

I give you:  Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Of course, Maz wasn’t too impressed.

So much for that!

Boo! So much for that.

Similar to before the first 20 minutes went by pretty smoothly.  There was a little complaining from Thunder n’ Lightning given I ran 17k the day before but, other than that, things went pretty uneventfully.  Helping matters along, of course, was knowing that I was going to spend the next 20 minutes during the cool down session wearing the cooling hood.  So upon finishing the first test session, I took a seat and allowed the hood to be applied and just reveled in the instant relief it offered against the roasting feeling in my body.

I also took the advice from another peer who is also doing the test, to raise my legs on an incline against the treadmill to help prevent the blood running to my feet and then back to my head afterwards when I stood back up and, hopefully, avoid the whole nauseous light-headed feeling again.

So there I sat, legs raised, Nalgene bottle in hand, and pretending I was looking at this:

Awesome right?

Awesome right?

Of course, this is what I was actually looking at:

Yeah, not so much...

Yeah, not so much…

Once again…quite the let down.  But what can you do?

Truthfully, the cooling hood really helped improve my recovery and I definitely felt more comfortable for the first cooling session.  If my body was still roasting (and apparently it was) I couldn’t really notice.  I was beginning to think that maybe my next 20 minute test session was going to be a bit easier, then Maz explained to me that, physiologically speaking, while I might feel better now, the test was rigged in that ergonomically it was still going to be ‘as challenging’ during the second test session.  My positive can-do attitude began to shatter around me like breaking glass.

Thanks Maz.

Making matters a bit worse is that the cooling hood started to fail.  I felt completely ripped off.  For 4-5 minutes it lost its cooling properties and my normal sense of heat discomfort began to return.  Thanks Christ Phil got it all sorted out pretty quickly and I had the remaining time of my cool down in relative comfort, but then it was back to the grindstone I’m afraid.

Fortunately, my legs up strategy worked and when I stood up I felt relatively good and I didn’t need that extra moment to collect myself.  I had the hood, helmet and gloves put back on and began the process of mentally preparing myself for the complete Suckfest to come.

Eventually Bryan counted me down: “Exercise to begin in THREE…TWO…ONE…

…and here we go again.  God help me.

Just as Maz explained, the heat returned rather instantly; so much for my whole physiological argument.  Don’t you just hate it when girls are right?

Just...keep...going...

Just…keep…going…

Anyway, I labored on just as I had before and the suck factor ramped up quickly to nearly unbearable.  After the 12 minute mark my breathing started to become labored through the SCBA gear and I heard Maz whisper to Bryan that it probably wouldn’t be long now.  How I ever heard that I’m not sure; maybe some super natural presence wanted me to hear it.  I gave her a look and shook my head…whether she had understood or not that I had overheard her I’m not sure.  I wasn’t angry exactly, but I definitely more determined than ever to suffer.  14 minutes was my benchmark to aim for and as it approached I was trying to mentally assess how much longer I could go.  At exactly the 16 minute mark, I made the mental choice I was going to go for broke and shoot for the 20 minutes, if anything to prove Maz wrong.  Hey, in this kind of experiment you simply take your inspiration wherever you can get it.

Now, I know what she mentioned to Bryan was not intended for me to hear, nor was it a challenge or pre-determination on my ability.  She was only basing it on her past experiences and observations with us lab rats in the oven under these circumstances, as any significant increase in breathing difficultly typically spells out the beginning to the end.  I get it.  In fact, by the 18 minute mark I was beyond suffering.  The torment was almost surreal and I almost tapped out twice.  My ‘RPE’  was 19, my ‘Breathing Stress’  was maxed out, and my ‘Thermal Comfort’  was definitely a 9 to boot, or ‘The heat is unbearable’  according to the rating system. In other words, I had pretty much maxed out across the board and it sucked.  It sucked bad.  This was making my whole experience with the heat and humidity during the Cancun 70.3  competition seem like a walk at the water park.

For whatever reason, I thought about this from the consent form:

“If you become ill or injured as a result of participating in this study, necessary medical treatment will be available at no additional cost to you.”

It did considerable little to comfort me.

By this point, however, Bryan was counting down my time in 30 second intervals and I was simply taking it one painful interval at a time.  The last two minutes were brutal and were far beyond any realm of discomfort I have subjected myself to in any of my previous training or competitions. In fact, simply being flogged for an hour would have been infinitely more pleasurable and preferable.  Words simply cannot express.

Eventually, I reached the 20 minute mark and there was an all out panic to get me out of my FTE and SCBA gear.  I swear, I could not get those gloves off fast enough.  The feeling of air, regardless of how hot and humid it was, was still an immediate relief once the mask came off.  I was spent.

I was pleased to have finally made the entire 20 minutes but I was barely cognizant of that fact at that exact moment.  It was rather like being rescued from a bad dream in that everything was still very surreal.  The consequence however was that I was 100% broken mentally, physically and emotionally.  It was a few minutes before I could really stand or communicate effectively.  All I could really do was bury my face in my hands and thank Christ it was finally all over.  Luckily, when you’re that sweaty nobody can instantly tell if you’ve been crying or not.  I’m confident that sweat was not the only liquid that poured from my helmet, believe me.

I think the end results tell the true tale: another 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat lost during the testing.  Now, how much of that was actually lost in tears will forever remain a mystery.  I have never been so happy to be finished anything in all my life.  This was definitely harder than anything I’ve ever subjected myself to.  Shit, even the 35 kilometer mark of the Ironman Wales marathon was more bearable than this.  I could probably spend a month in a Turkish prison at the height of their summer season and say, ‘Hey, at least it’s not the oven at the Brock University kinesiology lab.’

See how happy I am?

See how happy I am?

So, that’s that.  My time in Hell is finally over.  Based on my time in the oven (as well as others), the lab researchers were able to determine that….well, I’ll have to blog that when the results get officially published.  In the meantime, I’m back focused on my training and preparing myself for September’s competition.

What about future testing you ask?  Well, I’ve already volunteered for the next two series of lab experiments beginning in July and November respectively.  Maybe I lost a little a few marbles through this experience, but I really do enjoy testing my limits and seeing the quantifiable results afterwards.  Plus, by now I’ve developed a rapport with the researchers and I take great pride in having some part in them completing their studies (however small a part suffering on a treadmill provides I guess).  So while I won’t say I’m necessarily excited to get back in the lab, I will do so happily when the time comes.

Besides, after this total horror show, how bad could it really be?

P.S.> I am also happy to report that I got my promised t-shirt.  Yes, it might be for the Edmonton Fire Department but, shit, I’m thrilled nonetheless.  After all, a well-earned trophy is a well-earned trophy.