Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rest Day + Great Nova

Yesterday I went out with my kids to shake things loose, so today's a day to relax. I watched a great NOVA on PBS (we recorded it) about a team of out of shape people who trained 40 weeks for the Boston Marathon. They had all kinds of health problems and emotional issues and really struggled and achieved. It's well worth watching, although I must admit I winced pretty hard when they talked about stress fractures.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ironstar Recap 1/2 Iron 6:40

What? You thought my recovery wasn't going well? Well - I'd been sick and out of it, barely hanging in at work and not doing workouts. Then I realized that I've only done 2 triathlons this year, and I felt like I really wanted three so I could see how I was doing compared to last year in the USAT rankings. I looked for a shorter race, but there were none to be had close to Houston this late in the season.

So Wednesday night I thought - I can do this, and I signed up for the race at packet pickup.

We went camping in the cold with the cub scouts for the weekend and then I was off to Conroe for the race. It was cold. The swim was not short as in previous years, but I only missed my swim PR by 10 secs or so. Then the bike ride - another PR averaging 16.1 mph (including a stop to get a bee out of my hair!). And then the run - another PR for the race. My time of 6:40 lopped about 40 minutes off of my previous best effort and it was a great way to end the 2008 triathlon season.

In "Celiac retrospect," the best part was that after waking up at 4:30 am, I went by myself, recovered well after the race, loaded up all the equipment, drove home and unloaded it. I came home and went straight into watching the kids, making dinner, etc and didn't go to bed until 10:30. I'm not saying I wasn't dog-tired, but it's such a far cry from efforts in prior years, where I've had significant support from my wife, slept on site, slept after the race, etc. And it's even farther away from the days before I was diagnosed when I used to sleep for hours after my Saturday long runs.

What a blessing it has been to me and my family to know and eat right. Eating gluten was such a physical boundary for me before my diagnosis, and I think some of those boundaries crept into how I thought about the world. Not anymore. Not anymore.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Triple digit temps

No - it's not actually 100 degrees here in Houston. The weather is actually quite nice 88 degrees and low humidity. I'm referring to the cold bug that snared my kids and wife and finally, me. I had been busy catching up at work and then went out for a Saturday morning ride and I just never really felt up for anything after that. Sunday night and Monday morning were the worst - that twilight sleep that doesn't refresh, combined with alternating hot and cold spells. Ick. Add a deadline at work and the week was double-ick. My resting heart rate the other night was 64, so you know I was fighting it hard.

In retrospect, now that I'm on the mend, I figure it was a good time to be sick, though. My body could use the time off. If I don't want to totally spin out, I need to set a new goal. Oh sure, I'm signed up for the marathon, but I wonder about the wisdom of doing a tri, beat up and coming off an illness. Maybe I'll just play it by ear.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Redman Triathlon recap


I was ecstatic with my time of 16:20 – because I met my goal of finishing the race. The race started in temperatures in the high 70’s and spent most of the race in the low 90’s. This had the effect of slowing down my overall speed, but I managed my energy to start speeding up as the temperature dropped. In retrospect, a race this long is about overcoming the multiple obstacles that the distances and environment place in your path. Throughout the distance you draw on the love and support of the volunteers, other athletes, the inner physical training and your spiritual resources to overcome them.


There’s a saying that you “pack your fears.” Well, I packed a bunch. If I had been smart, I would have packed my Pre-race, T1, T2, special needs (bike and run) and post race bags AT HOME. I think it would have helped me pack less. I didn’t pack that way, and then I basically had to pack again, which was a total waste of time (and honestly, it made me anxious).

There were a couple of Celiac-related things. I had called Hammer to ask about their gels. They have natural grain dextrins in them – and the ingredients are proprietary. They asked me for my email so they could send me a note. I’m still waiting, so no Hammer gel for me. I also hadn’t really figured out what I was going to do for a pre-race dinner and breakfast. Next time, I’m going to identify a meal and/or restaurant in advance. We asked the hotel for a refrigerator and they sent up a mini-fridge.

My parents and I reserved adjoining rooms, which was good. My mother brought a cold with her, which was bad. I kept waking up at odd hours. I’m not sure if it was the newness of the hotel or pre-race jitters, but it was kind of weird. There was a pre-race swim on Friday morning, but you get your sleep when you can. I put in earplugs and put on eye shades to sleep in and skipped it. Later I found out that was a good idea, as the waves were quite choppy.

I spent most of Friday futzing with my bike. I had noticed some holes in the front tire on the way up. I thought, “Well, I’m either going to be worried about a flat because of the holes or I’m going to be worried about a flat from a new tire, so I might as well change it.” So I did. It wasn’t until I rode it around the parking lot that I really felt my fitness. “Good timing there.” I thought.

We went to the pre-race meeting to drop off the bike and transition bags. Then it was off to dinner.


I woke up before the alarm. In terms of sleep, I don’t need to sleep well at all on race night, but it’s nice. If I wake up more than an hour before the (two) alarms I set, then I try to go back to sleep. Transition opened at 5:30 am, and after a quick breakfast, I left at about that time.

The parking was a long way from the transition area, so I walked in, and walked my pump back to the car. I should have left it in my post race bag, because it made the time tight. I brought my LED headlamp like the ones they wear on the “Amazing Race.” That was a good idea – it was easier to see in the pre-dawn light. I had planned to put the socks I was wearing in my bike shoes, but didn’t. That became important later, as did my inattention to my bike gloves. Someone else had brought an extra bicycle – and I thought that was a pretty good idea, although he should have brought an extra helmet, too.

One neat thing was that I was racked two bikes away from the only other guy from Houston in the full. We chatted briefly and wished each other luck.

The invocation and national anthem were great and put me in the right mood. I still wasn’t nervous. The race is just too far for that. I quickly grabbed my goggles and helmet and headed to the swim start. I put my goggles under my swim cap and put in my ear plugs and we got into the water. I had a little trouble with my wetsuit. I lined up back and away so I could avoid the “cuisinart start” – Swimming is probably my slowest leg, relatively. I sent up my prayers and we were off.


I swam clear and smooth, thanks to training the “Total Immersion” way. I was wearing goggles that were practically new and I had put them on dry. Navigation on the leg going out was easy because there were distinctly shaped buildings on the north side of the dam. Somewhere short of the first turn, there was a short patch of warm water followed by a patch of colder, rougher water and what seemed to be a bit of a current. I went around the first and second buoys without a fight. Coming back through the cold patch, I was kicked on the side of the head hard enough to knock loose an earplug. That was a surprise, to put it mildly. Up to that point it had just been the occasional arm brush. I had been concerned because I’m a slower swimmer and the half iron and aquabike was starting after us. I think the guy who kicked me was wearing a white cap, which would mean he was doing the full, too.

Navigation coming back was more difficult. I couldn’t see the end, and the shoreline was indistinct. so I had to swim buoy to buoy. The rest of the swim went without incident, although I noticed myself getting tired in the shoulders, sort of hungry and a bit of rubbing on my neck. The wind and waves picked up a bit, and I noticed it was easier to breathe on the left away from the waves. It was the farthest I’d ever swum without “touching” a wall, and I felt pretty good knowing I was setting a “race distance PR” with every stroke.


I came up the ramp and tried to relax on my back while volunteers stripped my wetsuit. I jogged into T1 and dumped my bag out on the floor. I ate and drank a little. I put on my heart rate monitor, changed into my cycling bibs, put on my cycling jersey and looked for my gloves and socks. Uh oh. Even though I’d put on sunscreen before the race, I asked the volunteer to hit me with the spray. THAT woke me up – my wetsuit had given me a few hickies by chafing my neck, and the alcohol in the spray stung. I jogged out to the bike and saw my shoes without my socks. I decided I’d just have to go without – and I’d never gone without socks on the bike, even for a short tri. I had gone without gloves, but oh well. I walked my bike out to the mount line and was off.


It was pretty nice out on the 56 mile, two-loop course to start. I settled into a comfortable heart rate and started in on my nutrition plan. In a little early drama, one section of rock bound with asphalt had a soft shoulder, but the trick was it looked the same. I had to wrestle with my bike a bit at that point to stay on the road. The course had few turns out of town and was then out and back on a country road. I would have actually enjoyed something a little more technically challenging. I skipped all the aid stations on the first loop, as I worked off my four bottles of calories and electrolytes and bars. I had a great first half of the bicycle leg, but I was worried about a hot spot developing on my left toe.

I saw my family around mile 55 and said I would be stopping at the nearby aid station on the turnaround. It was great to see them all cheering and supporting me. I secured a pair of socks, topped off my bottles with cold liquids and was on my way. Only later did I find out that they had waved to me at the start of the bike from the car, and I had waved back. Of course, I waved at everybody who cheered and I didn’t realize it was them.

I headed out for the second loop and the wind picked up. It was deceiving, because it was a tailwind. The heat started to rise and it reminded me of all those hot training days in Texas. My food started sitting on my stomach, and the Endurance made things worse. My heart rate started going higher, so I stopped at aid stations to lower my core temperature and heart rate. I heard at one of them that there had been a medical evacuation already, and it reminded me that I needed to keep respecting the distance.

After the turnaround, the hot wind was in my face and I had 28 miles to go. I had to be smart and patient, because my food still wasn’t settling, and without water I risked overheating. Nothing worked like it did on the training rides, but I just kept going, if slower. I started in on the headaches and knew I was riding the fine line with heat exhaustion. Despite the cautionary notes in my race, I was still passing the stragglers from the half iron race at this point.

If Kona looks like the moon because of the lava fields, then the Redman looks like Mars. The dirt in the plowed fields is Oklahoma red, just like in the NASA pictures. There was at least a 10 mph headwind and on some of the rolling hills I went down to my last chain ring (although I was sitting and didn’t have to stand or tack the hills). It was 92 degrees at the lake, but it was cooler there. My math abilities started to become unreliable and even my cyclometer had quit by now. My calves started to give notice that they wanted more electrolytes and calories. Someone at the next aid station joked, “Who’s ready to run a marathon?” and nobody with a number thought it was funny. Mentally, you want to be in the moment, or at least in the segment, of the race you are actually in. Worrying about a marathon when you still have to finish the bicycle leg isn’t productive.

I remembered the cool breeze off of the lake that had energized me on the first leg of the bicycle course, and that gave me hope that things would get better when the sun went down and temperatures fell, and I kept pedaling. Suddenly, I was at the turn into town and the scenery changed more rapidly, with more houses and businesses. I churned up the dam hill in my lowest gear and crested the hill. My heart rate was still under 160 and I was going to finish the bike portion. Later I would find out 16% in my age group did not.


I came to the dismount line and eased off the bike. I had learned earlier that running right away after a 112 mile bike ride made my hamstrings complain, so I eased into transition and racked my bike. I took off my cycling shoes and walked to the tent. A volunteer offered to massage my legs. I took a long time in that tent, trying to get food down or even see what looked good, but nausea was setting in. I was keeping count of my heat exhaustion symptoms, and I always bag a workout if I get to three. So it was decision time. I decided that the aid stations were close enough together that if I went slowly, I could manage. I’d start the marathon. My race number ripped off my tri-belt and I had to do safety pins on shorts. “So much for high tech tri gear,” I said. Thank God for the volunteers who massaged my legs and helped me get on my way. Later I would find out that another 16% of my age group abandoned in transition after they racked their bikes.


My family was waiting for me just outside T2. It was good to see them again. I was determined to walk, but my Dad said I had to jog by the bleachers so I could “look good.” I gave it a try and figured I felt like I’d bonked at mile 20 in a hot Houston marathon. Well, I’d done 6.2 miles feeling this bad before. I started jogging 100 paces, walking 50. I was on the windward side of Lake Hefner, so the wind was hot. It was around 5 o’clock. I was picking my shots, going slow now and hoping that I’d recover enough to go harder later. My family drove around to mile 3 and nearly missed me at the park there. It was good to see them. My nutrition plan was out the window, and I knew I was short calories. As a celiac, the crackers, figs, pretzels, gels were all out of consideration. Soda was making me gassy. An orange didn’t work. I choked down one of my energy bars, but it just sat, Endurance was twisting my insides and I envisioned a repeat of the bicycle leg. I needed probably 2000 calories to finish the marathon and I was already running at deficit at mile four. Desperately thinking for calories, I finally struck on bananas. Run 100, eat one bite, walk 30. Repeat. My body agreed to take just one bite every repeat.

The heat seemed unrelenting for the first 10K. But it finally started to drop a little after the turnaround. The shade was rapidly getting longer and the wind died down. My body spent less time trying to keep cool, and more energy went into the run. My pace improved, but I was still nursing my calorie situation. It was twilight. About mile 11, I realized I needed to run significantly faster to beat the 17 hour cutoff. Panic set in – a year’s worth of training had come down to this. It was now or never. I started running. My family saw me going into turnaround, I said “Hi” – at my limit. The turnaround mat was way past the finish line. Earlier the Redman instructions had said to put a long sleeve t-shirt into the special needs bag and tie it around your waist. I carried it along with my bars and electrolytes. I could feel my pace improving. On the way out I said, “Can’t stop, this is going to be close.” But miles started ticking by at 12 minute pace, which started to provide a cushion. 14 – I stopped at the aid station to try some water and and electrolyte tab. I gave them my shirt. I had my hat and couldn’t possibly see how I could get cold enough to need it. 15 and then 16. At that point, another challenge cropped up. Both calves locked up simultaneously in cramps, nearly pitching me forward into a face plant. I knew I’d be walking for a while. 20 minute pace - 3mph – 10 miles. Again I ran the math. This time it worked! If I could keep that pace, I would beat the time limit, just barely. I started walking faster. Around that time, a golf cart with volunteers showed up with ice cold Endurance. It was just the thing for cramps, if I could drink it. And suddenly I could. I was 130 miles and 14 hours into the race and I could finally tolerate the stuff. I had a cup of ice and just drank the whole bottle as I walked fast, swinging my arms to improve my pace. Four mph would be 15 minute pace. I timed the next mile at 16 minutes. I decided not to test my calves for a while, just in case they really locked up instead of just complaining.

It was a little dark on the lake path, even with the ¾ moon shone in the cloudless sky. Outright darkness made things interesting. At one point, I saw a glow stick a good distance that wasn’t moving, and I worried for another athlete’s safety. I had been calling out to people all day, asking if they needed help and so on. I called out, “Are you okay?” No movement. I was really worried, until I saw that the volunteers had ringed a post in the intersection so I would see it and not hit it. Then I called out, “Am I okay?” laughing at myself for imagining things.

I dropped off my bag of useless bars at an aid station and worked bananas, endurance and water as the mood struck. I decided I could run the downhills, such as they were on the mostly flat course. Now that my risk for hyponatremia had passed, I was looking for labeled ibuprofen, but there was none to be had. As I pulled out of the last aid station, I met Tara. She and I struck up a partnership, encouraging ourselves to finish the race. As we came back, we could see the other people trying to meet the cutoff time. One guy was wearing an eight pound bag of ice on shoulder. “Why didn’t I think of that!” mixed with, “He looks terrible. I hope he makes it.” And suddenly we were passing people going the other way who knew they weren’t going to make it. The next day I would sit with the “ice man” at breakfast. Steve finished in just under 20 hours, and three volunteers were there waiting for his victory at 3:10 in the morning.

This was Tara’s third iron tri. She was still nursing her 7 month old, and a mid race feeding had made her nauseous. But she was strong now, walked like the wind and I felt I was holding her back. I told her I was cooked, and I was. With three miles to go I went to a Coke. Nothing. Then something, so I jogged to catch up. We had been making good progress and at this point we knew we were going to finish. I thought she should go first, but she didn’t. She told me to go on. So I ran on ahead toward the lights. This time, I could take the left turn instead of going straight to the turnaround. I went over the recognition mat and kept going to the finish line. My family saw me and started cheering. My son ran ahead and I high-fived him with joy in my heart. Seconds later I was over the line. I was done.

Post Race

The most confusing thing was that they wanted to hand me things I hadn’t asked for – A finisher’s shirt and medal. Then they were asking me how I felt. At that point, I remembered I had hurt my shoulder reaching into my cycling jersey, and now for some reason I couldn’t lift my right hand above my shoulder. I went to the first aid tent for ice. But I was fine. I sat there with ice on my shoulder sipping my recovery drink. I went to the massage tent and they worked my muscles. I didn’t feel too bad. Adrienne and Dad were awesome, getting my bag and helping me navigate around the finish area. We collected ourselves and went back to transition to bail out my bike and bags. At this late hour, it was easy to pull the car up and put everything away – except I couldn’t put my bike on the roof rack (shoulder, again). We tried to leave without one of my bags, but I spotted it before we took off. After that it was back to the hotel, shower and bed.

Post Nap

About 3 o’clock I woke up in darkness, needing to use the facilities, but I felt like I had a weight on my chest. “Ha ha,” I kidded myself, “I’m having a heart attack.” In my grogginess, a momentary flash of panic set in when I realized I couldn’t move my left arm! But my daughter had fallen asleep on my chest, cutting off my circulation. Then, she decided that her ‘pillow’ was escaping and was surprisingly effective at wrestling with it. Upon my return, I fell asleep again into that sound sleep without dreams. What a great day.