Saturday, November 28, 2015

Giving Thanks for the Harvest

It's dark.  There is a nip to the otherwise dry desert air and four green carpet steps lead down to murky water smelly enough to taste.  A flash flood memory of Mae Sot, Thailand sparks the first drip of adrenaline and the body recoils; class III rapids down main street, sinking refugee camps, and spilling sewage.  Memories rear their head at the oddest of times.   

My warm face hits sixtythree degree water and flight turns to fight. Second drip of adrenaline.  Don’t forget to breathe.  Sixty male professional triathletes doggy paddle in a very large drainage ditch somewhere near Tempe, Arizona.  The announcer gives the one minute warning.  “Boom!” goes the cannon, we’re off. Back off or say hello to my elbow.  The pack of sixty quickly turns into a long line of ants marching, with me somewhere in the middle. Catch, pull, breathe, and site. Losing focus the mind drifts to riding my bicycle, knowing later it will warm and smells of juniper will roast in a high-noon sun swirling in violent wind. Out of the water and up the green steps, I’m surprised to see a couple guys around me. Zipping by two in transition it’s onto the bike.

Finding rhythm, finding flow, finding tempo; heart beating faster.  Core and hips push you forward.  Push forward. Come on, push! Off leash. Let me go.

Kurt’s mantra rings in my ear: “First 40k is searching for a group. When in doubt: focus, patience, then toughness.” Having mentors in sport is important. The relationship a coach and athlete develop, like improvements in endurance racing, isn’t something that happens overnight. Kurt is the objective measurement and mentor in pursuit of maximizing potential, I am fortunate to have his brutal honesty.

Four hours, ninety three miles, and a steady mind that is starting to lose focus. At the turn-a-round that starts the third and final lap I sight four guys three to four minutes up.  A switch flips and the sheet starts to lift. Patience, but time to bridge.  Time and space melt away.  Vision tunnels and my heart rate lifts higher. Being present is pure and been harder to come by lately.  With twelve miles to ride, a tail-wind pushes me forward.  “Become a sail.  Stand and dance on the pedals, loosen up, then sit and settle.  Hunting season is now is session. Push forward,” I think to myself.

Quiet Thunder goes back to his stable and the race suddenly becomes very simple: run comfortably hard but hardly comfortable. Keep eating. Go hunting.

“It worked! It’s working!” I can count on one hand the number of races where performance matched fitness; the fitter athlete doesn’t always win.  I’ve been known to discount “life stress” and try to hammer through it; transitioning into professional racing while earning a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) was not low key.  Performance has suffered.  To be clicking off miles at target pace halfway through the marathon is making me smile; to only have ten weeks left of the DPT program makes me proud; both are culminating in a good race today and more consistent racing to come
At mile 18 of the run I suddenly became dizzy, lost control of my footing and stumbled off the bike path. I came to propped up on all fours.  Anthony Toth, fellow pro who’d been chasing from behind, tried to help me up. Massive dizzy head. Plopped back down onto the dirt. “We’re not moving fast enough to stay warm,” he said.  I tried to stand up and get moving, failed, thanked him, and told him to hammer on.  Medics weren’t able to get a blood glucose draw due to lack of circulating blood in my hands, reported a weak radial pulse, and wacky diastolic blood pressure.  Anthony was right, we weren’t moving fast enough and we weren’t warm; my temperature reading after being transported to the medical tent was 94 degrees; dangerously low.

Racing 140.6 is a fascinating distance and the lifestyle requires incredible support and sacrifice.  In a lot of ways, endurance racing attracts solitary mavericks, but it is human nature to want--and need--interaction.  Beyond the endorphins, sunrise morning swims, and chasing alpenglow down single track on a trail run--there is the endurance community.  People I’ve met through this lifestyle continue to guide a good life.  It’s the training partners, morning swim crew, long climbs with good company, and post session epiphanies prompted by a riding or running partner that make this mess a beautiful journey.  There is no better quality of life than to push yourself everyday, get a lot of fresh air, adventure, and new blood to your brain.  The companies supporting this journey have become friends.  I am extremely fortunate to have the support and platform to be the best ambassador I can be.  Thank you to La Sportiva for supporting creative endurance projects with the best mountain footwear on the planet; PowerBar for keeping the journey fueled; Mountain Khakis for fresh designs and durable clothing; Giant Bicycles for a two wheeled experience second to none; Zoot for excellence in all things triathlon; Woodinville Bicycle, a long time friend and epitome of bike shop service cycling culture.  And to Kurt at PBM coaching: Your high performance methods for every athlete continues to help define what it means to race at a high level.

Day 1 of off season
Day 2 of off season

Off to explore the Wasatch and climb some desert towers.
Thank you for reading and joining me on the journey.
2016 is going to be a big year.

Your pal,

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Conundrums Continue

I was first introduced to triathlon on a rainy morning standing outside the rec center at Seattle University.  A very awake and strong contingent of folks around twice my age talked excitedly about rides, runs, and swims completed over the weekend.  I was a burnt out soccer player searching for something.  Long story short, I followed them to the pool, was welcomed with open arms, and started to learn about ‘triathlon’.  

People in this group were fascinating.  A chemist, pharmacist, doctor, chiropractor, and real-estate developer, the list goes on.  It was this highly motivated group of great people who welcomed me into a sport that has changed my life.  Tom was a corner-stone to laughter and wit within this group of legends, and though we didn’t log hundreds of miles together, he was a spirit that a person doesn’t soon forget.

Normally anesthesiologists trend towards humor backed by high intelligence, which Tom certainly embraced, but Tom wasn’t normal. Tom bucked the norm in the form of triathlon backed by a positive and lighthearted outlook.  

A best attempt at describing this remarkable individual who defied odds and cranked out Ironmans in the face of a terminal illness does not make sense.  What follows is a race report from Ironman Canada 2010, one of many Tom completed while undergoing cancer treatment.

Enjoy every breath, have no regrets, and take nothing for granted. Live life, love life.


Tom’s 2010 Ironman Canada Race Report:

 Finally, finally, finally the time had arrived and I was wading into the chilly waters of Lake Okanagon. The lake had been the source of some anxiety in the days prior, with wind whipped white caps and waves crashing on the shore, but on race morning it was smooth as glass. There were nearly 3000 wet suit clad bodies in there with me, but somehow, as seems to happen every year, I looked to my right and there was my pal Mike Nelson. I don't know what the odds of finding him are, but they are probably improved by the fact that he dyes his god awful haircut pink. We wished each other well and then shared a special moment with all the others who had trained so hard to get here - a nice whizz down the leg of our wet suit. You really don't want to swallow any lake water that first hundred meters.
      The cannon fired and a crowd that was standing in close formation all tried to lay down together with the expected results. Almost immediately someone kicked my goggles off my face, but one thing I've learned is to keep the straps under the cap so you don't lose the goggles. One thing I haven't learned is how to swim, so it was quite a while before I stumbled onto shore, half blind because I could never get those goggles to reseal. I'm sure up front they moved through transition with steely eyed resolve, but the folks in the tent with me greeted each other with the heartfelt emotions of fellow shipwreck survivors. A lot of guys named Gord saying "good to have that over with, eh? thought it'd ever end, eh? lets go get some of them on the bike, eh?"
        So that's what we did. Even a mediocre cyclist like me passes quite a few people when you've flopped and chopped to a 1:38 swim. I managed to pass over 900 youngsters on the bike and run. We have our ages on our calves, so they could see my "59", although to fit it on my massive specimen they had to write something that looked more like an "11".  I felt good on the bike, loved the cool temps, hated the headwinds, and was driven to distraction by ... well no one really wants to hear about an old man's prostate problems. And I figured hell, I'll be pissing my pants everywhere in a few years, why worry about  ... ok enough of that subject.
     I finished the bike in 6 1/2 hours, an average of 17.2 mph, which is pretty good for me. Better yet, the back problems I'd been having the past few months didn't hurt me. I came blasting out of transition like a crab who'd been out on a beach too long but gave Laura a big smile and a thumbs up so she'd know I was doing great (I found out later she went to facebook and posted "Tom just started the run; he looks like shit"). After a soul draining will every step eternity that felt like all I had I looked down and saw the 1 mile placard. Retrospectively speaking this is always my favorite memory of an ironman, because it truly feels impossible at this moment, but as we all know it isn't. People who don't do this kind of thing think the key is to endure suffering, but it's really about maintaining hope and optimism. Very good carryover into life's non elective challenges.
     Anyway, the legs came around and I was running well enough till 10 or 12 miles when my back threatened to spasm, and by the 13 mile turn around I was also running out of gas big time. I thought of that old adage "it never always gets .... what, worse? Or was it always never gets better? that can't be it. Never, always, sometimes? Who the @#$%# thinks up this stupid shit anyway, and what the @#$% good is it supposed to be doing me anyhow? And so it went, inspiration wise, as I put one foot in front of the other and thought up some of my own unprintable adages.
     The tri gods must have been sick of listening ("enough with the adages, you think we're not sick of them too?") because they granted me a miraculous second wind at 20 miles and I ran in feeling pretty good, actually picking up the pace as I ran through town. I had hoped to break 14 hours and as I saw the finish up ahead I realized it would be 13:30. One quick look around to make sure there wouldn't be any fatties or one legged runners in my finishing photo and through the chute I went. The ninth anniversary of piss on cancer day was in the books.

How Cancer takes its picks is not well understood, but is sure doesn’t make sense to me. Conundrums continue.

Here are some pictures from this weeks of endorphin's:

 Wake and run. The air is thin, dry, and harsh.  Welcome to altitude training where everyday sucks but is scenic.

Loving life.

Tioga Pass into backside of Yosemite. Nothing like face shots of hail in August; storm looms.

Angry clouds at 9,000ft.  Hammer on.

 ...And spitting rain.
 Tioga Pass: 1. Andrew: 0. I'll be back

 Full intentions of ring fully supported reverse century of Mammoth with local club...turns out it's Sunday...Not Saturday...But then I ran into Seth (5th fastest collegiate 5km at present)...Intervals are fun!

 Nasal cannula please.

 Eastern Sierra  = Underrated 

It's all uphill from here

Until next time.
Your pal,

Monday, July 27, 2015

Taking the Detour

DETOUR #1: Driving over the Eastern Sierra was very relaxing after a solid week of work.  I finished work at 2:30pm, arrived in Santa Rosa to race Vineman 140.6 at 11:30pm.  Turns out there is a fire near South Lake Tahoe, which translated into a turd chase on windy county roads trying to get down and around.

DETOUR #2: Exited water feeling pretty good and in 4th place.  Solid bike legs came around and we were cranking in 2nd or 3rd place (pretty strung out and no one giving splits) just past mile 100 of bike.  Head down and hammering a corner full of volunteers shouted left turn, I turned left.  Ten minutes later I realized I'd been sent out on lap 3 of a 2 loop point to point bike.  Missing the "lolly" part of the "lolly pop," was at 120mi and 10mi from the bike to run transition when things hit the fan.

Most days are awesome, so everyday can't be.  It's my responsibility as an athlete to be familiar with the course.  That was the first, and hopefully last, time I've been that close to the front and feeling good then gone way off course.

Vineman is a great race.  I would certainly plan to go back and would recommend it to friends.  Very scenic.

I sorted out my excess energy on the Pacific Crest Trail off Sanora pass with a couple hours of mountain shuffling and silence.  

Solitude and mountains is restorative. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sean Hayes Sandwich: Fresh verse

Miles of trials, the trial of miles.
Time is starting to move faster.
Finding space to slow it down feels good.

A long time ago Nick met Sarah.

Eventually they got married.  Here's a song that sums it up:
Time went on. Happy and moving swiftly.

Then came the most magical moment: a daughter.
Introducing 'B':
In a place as powerful as Yosemite, with friends turned family, the experience can only be described as follows:

A couple photos from in between hugs: Day 1 trail run 20ish miles Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite with a huge net loss.  Day 2 ride Yosemite back to car in Tuolumne Meadows with a huge net gain.
 Long rides are longer without coffee.  Sunrise roll-out. Nick and Sarah are on a tea good.

 'B' and Nick stage right.  Lucky baby, proud dad.
 Post ride after work mid week. 4,000ft to 9,500ft. Not bad California.
 Mountain shuffling


Until next time.
Your pal,