January 29, 2007

My First Triathlon

Everyone remembers their first. Their first love, their first car, their first concert, their first baseball game, their first speeding ticket. Well, I don’t know about that last one but the list goes on and on. But how about your first triathlon? I’m sure everyone remembers that first experience. I clearly remember mine because it was a disaster.

I finally signed up after wanting to do one for years. With the courage in hand, I filled out the form and paid my $40 bucks. It was a half mile swim, 15 mile bike and a 5 mile run. A piece of cake. For the bike portion, I was going to use my Schwinn World Tour. It was a great bike. It probably weighed 40 pounds but I put a nice new gel seat on it and I was good to go. I trained hard on the bike. The run would be no problem. I had always been a good runner. And as far as the swim was concerned, I could swim. No sweat.

I joined my local Y and went to the pool to train, er, swim some laps. Looking back at my training journal, I believe I swam maybe 3 times before thinking I didn't really need to train in the swim. I remember thinking “How hard could it be to swim a ½ mile?” Well, fast forward to race day. The nerves were high but I was still full of confidence. Well, the gun sounded and we were off. The first few strokes were ok. But then suddenly fatigue set in. And it set in fast! We were less than 200 yards from shore and I was thinking “Oh, my God, I’m not going to be able to finish this race. All that training was going to go down the drain!” All that training? All that biking and running…maybe but training?

I started to swim on my side in a modified dog paddle. As I approached the first buoy, I saw out of the corner of my eye some guy standing on the shore in shallow water. His hands were on his hips, he was breathing heavy and he looked like he had just seen Jesus walk across the lake. I thought it looked like my friend Jim but I wasn’t positive. (Later, it turned out to be him after all. He was feeling the same way I was in the water and was taking a break. We still to this day have a good laugh about that!!) I swam slowly and painfully on my side for the rest of the race. As I approached the finish, both calves went into the most painful muscle cramps I have ever felt. I couldn't stand up so I sort of floated and pushed myself with my hands along the bottom of the lake until I could crawl, stand walk out of the water. Then I made the long trek to transition.

The rest of the race was uneventful. But I learned something invaluable that day: you get out what you put in. The next year, I trained a little harder in the swim and had a better race. But I still laugh at some of my training journal entries for that year:

May 6: Swim 10 Laps
May 10: Swim 14 Laps
May 12: Swim 10 Laps. Awful!
May 19: Swim 18 Laps. Best yet!

Can you imagine 18 laps being the best yet! The following year, I joined the Masters group at my Y and swam 40 laps my first time out. I couldn't believe it! At the next session, it was 46 laps, then 65, then 84. I was elated that I could swim that far! My swim time for that same triathlon that year was half of what it was just 2 years ago! I was hooked.

Anything is Possible!

January 19, 2007

Just Keep Moving

When I'm out on a long run or long ride, I have alot of time to think about things. Sometimes it's just small stuff like a "to do" list or remembering an old song I want to download for my i-pod. Sometimes it's about intense, life decision type stuff. The alone time helps me think through it and I try to find the answer to the problem. Often it's about my knee's and why do they have to hurt so much while I'm in the middle of a 3 hour run!

And then there are the times when my thoughts drift to those who can't be here, running, biking or just simply being like I am. Those close to me who had to leave this World and are now somewhere else. Hopefully, in a better place. The alone time will do this to you. You get philosophical. Many times these thoughts will give you the strength to carry on.

At the top of my "rememberance list" is my sister April, who died in a car accident at age 30. I was 20 at the time and a junior at the University of Maryland. I know that she would very interested in these triathlon things I do because that's the way she was. She wanted to be involved with what you were into. But these things I do (swimming, running & biking) are for fun and they don't mean a heck of a lot in the big scheme of life. I would galdly trade all of my experiences and good fortune to have her back. To ask her a question, show her pictures of my children or simply give her a hug. Maybe she's one reason why I do triathlon. Maybe it's not for the whole, accomplishment part of it but more that I'm chasing her memory or trying to out race what happened to her. It's been almost 25 years and the pain has faded a bit. But she's still there on my shoulder as I pound out mile 67 on the bike or mile 20 on the run.

Then there is my mother in law, Phyllis. She succumbed to her second bout with breast cancer 6 years ago. It would have been nice to have her at the Ironman finish line last year, standing next to her husband Al, her daughter and my wife, Sean and my kids, her gradnchildren. She would have enjoyed the atmosphere caught up in the dramatics of the event. She had a flair for the dramatic.

I almost always think of my friends who lost siblings too. Don (and U2's Number 1 Fan) lost his brother Michael in a skiing accident. Rich lost his brother Guy in a car accident (less than a month after my sister was killed). Eddie lost his brother, David, when he was hit by a car in Puerto Rico. I think of all them. And I keep going for their memories.

I often think of my good friend from growing up, Steve. He died at the age of 25. They said it was an accident but many of us feel that it was worse than that. It happened at the South Street Seaport in NYC one hot summer. They said he fell off an escalator. I remember many good times with him. Many hilarious times. All those great memories keep me laughing and smiling. One needs a little humor while running in 90 degree heat.

I remember my high school girlfriend's Dad, Jim. He died of cancer soon after I graduated from college. I remember him because of one simple, caring act of kindness he did for me. He did many of kind things but one really stood out. When I had a bad experience my first few days at college, he drove me back to school and helped me work out the problems. If it wasn't for him, my life might be different right now. Maybe I never would have gone back. I'll never forget him for that.

I guess one of the hardest losses is my nephew, Michael, at the age of 10. Michael was in a car accident with his Mom and two of his brothers. Unfortunately, he was the only one that didn't make it. I often think of Mike's smile when I'm out there all alone and it's just me and the road. Alone and depressed that my knee's hurt and my spirit is down. When the finish line seems so far away that I have every doubt in the World that I won't make it, I think of Mike. What would Michael do at this moment? I'll tell you. He would flash that big grin of his and tell me to get moving. Maybe even kick me in the butt to emphasize his point. Mike's face flashed in my mind during Ironman last year. I knew what he wanted me to do. Just keep moving.

Triathlon is a great sport. It's a great way to stay fit and to be part of your life. But it should never be taken too seriously. We can all accomplish great things. Triathlon proves that. And the people that are dear to us, both living and dead, help us to succeed. Those we hold dear to us in our lives won't be here forever. That's a hard fact of life. But it's our job to understand that and live our lives to the fullest because of it.

Thoughts on a Friday

The cold and the snow arrived today. I can deal with the cold but the snow makes it tough for riding the bike. I used to be into skiing real big but now that I'm a triathlon junky, the snow is a nuisance. Maybe I should consider moving to a warmer climate? Gotta ask the family that one.

The sun is out, so hopefully, it will melt the snow. All 3/4 of an inch of it. I took a quick look at the forecast for Saturday and the low will be about 15 degrees. Did I say I can deal with the cold? My mistake. Looks like the trainer on Saturday for the long ride. Another one of my favorite things. Thank God for the i-Pod, the TV, DVD's, and other electronic distractions. The schedule calls for 90 minutes in the saddle. Maybe I'll swim instead. I guess I could always skip the workouts all together and then write about the remorse I feel in my next post. There's a plan. Good writing material.

January 12, 2007

One Tough Race

We all have our favorite races. We may have our favorite easy race. And we may even have our favorite toughest race. But does anyone have a race they seem to do year after year even though it’s as hard as hell and not necessarily their favorite? I do. It’s the Eagleman 70.3 in Cambridge, Maryland. This year will be my sixth in a row doing Eagleman and sometimes I ask myself: Why? I have a love-hate relationship with this race. First of all, it’s one of the most professional races put on that I have ever competed in. The director, Robert Vigorito and his team put on a great event year after year. Second, to race a course that has been won by Natascha Badmann the last five years on the women’s side and the likes of Chris Legh, Luke Bell and Tim DeBoom winning on the men’s side is pretty cool. And third, the give-away’s remain fairly strong year after year. And that’s really why we do these crazy things, right? For the T-shirt!?

But let’s talk about the conditions because that’s what makes this race so tough and yet so compelling at the same time. The swim, shaped like a V, always has at least one leg where the current is against you. The course is on the river Choptank. That name ought to tell you something. In addition, the water is a mix of salt and fresh water which is always interesting. In 2006, there were wakes 3 feet high on the swim in. I kid you not! Every time I went for a breath I got whacked in the face with a splash of water. I also enjoyed my own personal nightmare last year as I cramped up in both calf muscles as well as my hip with less than 200 yards to go.

After the swim, the flat as a pancake bike course awaits you. I’ll say 3 words that describe the bike course: Flat, Windy and Hot. I get bored on flat tracks. But throw the wind in there and there is no relief. No coasting and no climbing. It’s just constant motion. Last year, the wind was so strong that my speed went down to 12 MPH at one point. It felt like I was standing still. Around the 40 mile mark I’m usually screaming to get out of the saddle. The temperature around this time of year on the Eastern Shore is no walk in the park either. It’s usually 85 to 90 degrees with very little shade. All in all it makes for a tough bike ride.

After 56 miles, the urge to get off the bike and run is so great that is hurts. However, what waits you is the most painful part of this race. At least for me it always is. The run is flat, which is nice, but it usually takes place at the hottest point of the day. And absolutely no shade. Let me say that again because it requires emphasis: No Shade. It’s also mentally tough because part of the course is sort of an open U shape. Since it’s an out and back, you can see the people in front of you for miles and miles. I try not to look at them since it’s a reminder of how far I need to go. The first year I did this race, I made the mistake of not putting any sun screen on. I was so sunburned that the race number on my arm was a permanent tattoo for over a year after.

But all in all, it’s a great race. Well run, well supported and great participation. I guess I’ll just keep doing it until someone knocks some sense into me. It’s always around the 2nd Sunday in June with the entry opening up in September the year before. And if you’re lucky you may even see an Eagle out on the course. I never have but there certainly seems to be some vultures circling me every year waiting for my carcass to fall.

January 03, 2007

And so it begins..

The quest for an IM finish # 2 “officially” began on December 25. Merry Christmas to me! However, you know that basement I wrote about a few posts ago? Well….still not finished. It’s almost finished but I’m not quite there yet. I can see the end so I’m bumping training up the list as the top priority this week and going forward. The kids are happy with what they see so far so I’m almost out of the woods.

I didn’t hit all my workouts last week, which I’m not happy about, so I will take a shot at them again this week. The New Year has brought about new vigor but it should be a challenging week nonetheless. I’ll be preparing for a 3 day overnight sales conference that starts next week, my oldest daughter has 5 swim meets, the youngest daughter has basketball practice and a game on Saturday and we need to find a second car as I turned in mine last week when the lease ended. Oh, and did I mention the basement? Sounds like a lot of whining I know. But isn’t that what blogging is about? So I can whine a little in the comfort of my own blog?

Actually, there is a good point to be made and one that I’ve made before. I’m only a one Ironman veteran here but I feel I can speak about this with experience and knowledge. The point is this: No matter what training plans you have carefully laid out for Ironman or a Half-Ironman, Life gets in the way. Last year at this time I would have stressed out about missing workouts but this year experience can helps to alleviate that. In fact at this time last year, I was unable to run as I was going through physical therapy for my runner’s knee. I didn’t start running until mid-February and I was concerned that I wouldn’t get in enough running. But it worked out in the end. I was able to get up to the training time required without over doing it (the sure way to another bout of runner’s knee).

Lake Placid is 200 days away and there is still plenty of time to get on track with training. But I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that you take the relaxed approach for too long, especially if it’s your first IM, because at some point your performance will suffer. You will suffer. You cannot “wing” Ironman although I do know a few who kind of did, finished, and paid for it. That’s just not my style.

The alarm went off this morning at 5:30 AM and I made the Masters class at my Y. It was hard. Oh, so hard!! But I’m happy I got there.