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
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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,
Andrew