2018 Year In Review

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Maple Grove MN
Event #116-122
Triathlon #22-23

Changes in life happen. They are needed. There are times in life that you recognize that the current state of affairs cannot continue and that a change is inevitable…even if one has no idea what that change will look like.

I have been struggling with that since 2014 when I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin. Nothing kills a dream faster then accomplishing it…and the fastest way to do that is by crossing a “finish line”.

That dream motivated me and pushed me farther then I dreamed possible…and it was gone in a heartbeat. Of course, I pretended it was still there as I bounced around looking for something to take its place (another Ironman, more marathons, ultramarathons, cross country skiing) but nothing stuck. I was going thru the motions and not having any fun. I pulled back a couple of years ago and even further last year…but it was still a struggle. I decided to hang up the running shoes completely after last year’s final race.

I decided I would stop racing since my heart was not in it anymore…but I would remain physically active to maintain health and fitness without a schedule to worry about. That was the plan with my last blog entry over a year ago. How did that plan worked out?

In short…it didn’t.

I spent the next 4 months parked on the couch binging on Netflix. I never had any intention of running in the snow this winter, but I intended to get to the pool regularly (never happened), run on the treadmill (nope), do some weight training (nada), and get on the elliptical regularly (6 times…maybe). So, this wasn’t working, but it did give me a chance to heal up from the overuse injuries and the mental exhaustion that I had been dealing with. It also resulted in a complete loss of base fitness and provided me with extra “insulation “. Sigh…

I received an e-mail announcing the opening of registration for a few local events. For the first time since 2012, I had nothing to train towards, and it resulted in no training. So, I took the plunge and started looking at upcoming events.

There were a few things I knew with certainty:
1. No extreme or ultra-events. Short and fun events only. I would avoid everything with the words “Marathon”, “ultra” or “Ironman” in the title.
2. No traveling. It takes too much time, money, and planing.
3. No massive racing schedule. Just a few events that have always been highlights on my calendar that I would enjoy doing.

I ended up deciding that I wanted one running event and one triathlon. The choice for each event were obvious decisions. The best local tri is Lifetime Minneapolis (beautiful urban course which is completely closed to traffic), and the best local running event is Twin Cities Marathon Weekend (I again signed up for the Loony Challenge which gets me guaranteed entry in the Twin Cities 10 Mile as well at the TC 5k and TC 10k the day before).

That might be just enough to get me going.

It wasn’t. At least not right away. Winter was not going away…and I still had no treadmill motivation. We were well into May before I went out for my first run. I almost made it to the mailbox before stopping to catch my breath. Yeah…base fitness is a real thing. I slowly got back to running a little farther. The city put up some new paved trails last year and I started to explore them. It was a 5k run around the neighborhood and an 8 Mile run around the lake. That became my weekly running goal…one short and one long run per week (8 Mile being the new “long run” replacing the 15 Mile weekly long run that I did for years).

As the weather warmed up a bit further, I pulled the bike out and returned to Elm Creek. I used to do 4 laps during my IM training. This year, I planned on just doing one lap (32 Miles) weekly. I had a love/hate relationship with this park in the past, but I really did miss it. It is a beautiful urban oasis and a fun/safe place to ride. This got added to the weekly schedule.

I also made my way back to the pool. 1 Mile weekly swim. So, I had gradually made my way back to regular physical activity 4 days a week. I wasn’t pushing myself hard at any of this…just getting out there and re-engaging a healthier lifestyle.

The events were doing what I wanted them do to…get me active again. But another thing was becoming clear…I had no interest in aggressively competing at these events. That drive was gone. This was a hobby. What I was doing before was like a job. I never had a DNS or DNF in the past 6 years…but now, I was ok with that possibility. If I was sick or injured (or if the weather was dreadful) I felt fine staying home. I would feel just fine with finishing last…and I would still have a sense of accomplishment for finishing. I would place the medal on the wall with the others, toss the shirt on the pile and likely never wear it again, and still keep the bib and finish time printout in a binder with the others. I would not buy extra swag, or photos, or hoard all the stuff that came with the race (swim cap and wristbands for example). And I would not write extensive blog posts detailing in excruciating detail the training or race I had just completed. This was a hobby. This was for fun and fitness. And it got me on a regular (if not very intense) training schedule.

Once I saw my training was back on track, I signed up for another triathlon (Maple Grove Tri). This was usually a good event, although it’s a boring course. It is a late season triathlon that would keep me in my training routine for an extra six weeks, it is close to home, and my employer was sponsoring the event meaning that I would get perks and discounts.

With a commitment to a second triathlon, I took the plunge and bought a new wetsuit. The old one was…old. It also had a bunch of holes and was way too tight when I bought it 6 years ago (when I was at my absolute thinnest). A small would not fit. Looking at the size chart, I was right in between a S/M and a Medium. I decided to size up, and it was the most comfortable I have felt in a wetsuit ever. I could move. I could breath. I could put it on in under five minutes. It wasn’t cutting off circulation to my feet. I could not wait to try it out at my first triathlon of the year…which turned out to be a non-wetsuit event.

Eventually, race day came Lifetime Minneapolis Sprint Triathlon. It was a beautiful (but hot) day. It had been over nine months since my last event. For the first time in a few years, I was excited as I arrived. I even felt a few butterflies in my stomach. As I arrived, I saw that the water temp was 79.1F so it would be a no-wetsuit event. I expected this, and had left my wetsuit in the car. Got my transition spot ready and had to wait a couple of hours before my wave would start. While waiting, officials announced a yellow flag warning due to high heat and humidity. I kept jumping back into the lake to cool off.

I finally made my way to the start line. The swim was perfect, warm, calm, without much bumping with other racers. T1 went smoothly and it was a gorgeous day to be cycling. Despite my light training volume, I was keeping a decent pace and passing more people then were passing me. The run, on the other hand, was brutal. The course was red flagged by this time. It was hot, humid, with no breeze or shade. Dumping water over your head had little impact since it was so humid. But, I was still able to run the whole way to the finish line.

 

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After I left the race venue, I realized that I never bothered to look at my results. It just didn’t matter to me anymore. This was a victory for me since I always fretted about finish time and position, then micro-analyzed what I could have done better. This time, I didn’t even think of checking (or looking at my Garmin for that matter). Eventually, I did pull up the results. I was slower then average but I wasn’t back of the pack either. This is typically where I finish in triathlon events and I was please to see that I did so well considering my “non-training” training this year. I also picked up a few race photos since they were free.

The training mostly continued until the Maple Grove Triathlon (except swimming never really got off the ground). The weather was cooler, but dreary. The swim was wetsuit legal (my first wetsuit swim in two years). The perks were nice (especially the special section in transition with personalized nameplates). I wasn’t as excited for this event as Lifetime Minneapolis. I had to wait around awhile for my swim start, and everything went ok. My knee had been bugging me for the last few weeks (resulting in no long training runs) and it was giving me grief here. Other then that, it was an uneventful end to my Triathlon season. I again left without bothering to check my finish time (again…middle to back of the pack).

With Triathlon season behind me, I had to work on my run since Twin Cities Marathon Weekend was coming up…and this would include two consecutive days of 10 Miles of running (10k, 5k, and 1 Mile on Saturday, 10 Miles on Sunday). If had not run more then 8 Miles in one day in almost a year (with no back-to-back long runs). Minor injuries plagued me that last month. I strained a rib muscle and that completely sidelined me for three weeks. I ended up running only two times in September (and never over 5k). The weather was particularly bleak and rainy heading into marathon weekend. Fortunately, the rib improved and the rain stopped just in time for race weekend.

As usual, I had signed up for the Loony Challenge. This is a 10k/5k combo on Saturday and the 10 Mile on Sunday. For the Saturday races, they start the morning with the longest race (10k) starting at the marathon finish line. We run on the Marathon course for 5k, then turn around and come back. They then use the same course for the 5k, Family 1 Mile, kids 1/2 Mile by just bringing the turnaround point closer. It’s rather efficient, if a little repetitive. I got there early, got my bibs and shirts, and went to the corporate team tent.

One of the challenges I always face at this event is weather…and layering. I am acclimated to warm weather throughout the summer and this is usually one of my first cool weather runs in months. I pull out all of the cold weather running gear and try to figure out what to wear. I usually end up overdressed. This year would be no different. Temps were in the low 40’s (I would have preferred low 50’s with a light wind. It would be overcast but minimal chance of rain. I ended up going with a long sleeved thermal top with a light zippered windbreaker and long tights. When I got to the start coral, it was windier then I anticipated and I instantly wished I had grabbed some gloves and a head beanie to cover the ears…but it was too late to go back for them.

The races were familiar. I was cold the first mile or two, but warmed up adequately. My hands still got cold when we got a bit of wind. My rib was behaving but my knees and ankles were both stiff and achy. I fell into my normal pace (middle to back of the pack). When I crossed the finish line, I had just enough time to grab a snack, stuff my finishers medal into my zippered coat pocket and get to the 5k start coral. Repeated this again for the family fun 1 Mile Run (always feel weird about this one since it’s a kids race, but I can’t leave bling behind…especially since I run so few races now).

Speaking of bling, I’ll bring up my biggest pet peeve for the weekend…bling. Medals has never been a strength of the Twin Cities Marathon…but they have been getting better. They used to use the same medals and finishers shirts for the 10k and 5k. When they started the challenges, they started creating unique (but very similar) medals for the two races. Well, they went back to using the same medal for the two events. This is fine for smaller events and organizations, but it just comes off as cheap and lazy here. It is especially inappropriate here when a challenge event signs you up for both races. And the medal design was so plain. There was the race name on a plain background with a small emblem on the lower left of the medal (that I have no idea what it is supposed to be). C’mon TCM, you charge a lot for these events! Don’t be so lazy and cheap with these….

Since I’m venting, I’ll mention my other pet peeve for the weekend. The free race photos. In theory, this sounds great. But they had no photographers. They just had high speed cameras taking wide angle photos every second or so. The result is a big group photo with most runners hard to identify. The photos were linked with runners based on a nearby timing mat. There was an issue with that calibration since most of the pics didn’t have me in them. There was only one photo station on the whole course and another at the finish line. No post race photos either. For me, this wasn’t that big of a deal since I have thousands of race photos and most of these start to look alike after awhile. But I felt bad for the first time marathon runners who were denied the option of getting good race photos.

Anyways, I got my gear, walked a half mile back to the car then headed across the street to the expo. I always love this Expo! For the first time, we had to go thru security and a metal detector before entering (sign of the times I guess). The expo was mostly similar to what I was accustomed to…but it seemed smaller then before. It was in the same hall, but official merchandise, TCM booth, Medtronic Booth (title sponsor), and transportation info booth all had much bigger footprints with a lot of wasted floor space. Despite this, some booths were unrented and they set up a bean bag toss or hoopla hoops just to fill the empty spaces. I got the feeling that the the decline of interest in running events that has been occurring over the past few years was starting to be felt here as well. I checked the race numbers and Marathon finishers was down by a couple of thousand people from a few years ago…but 10 Mile participation was up by the same amount and the short events had stable participation numbers. Still, the expo seemed somewhat smaller. The absence of Cariboo Coffee was the most glaring omission (as the free coffee was always a bonus at the expo). Anyways, I got my bib and shirt, and went on my way back home to rest up for day two.

I was up again in the middle of the night the next day. I was really feeling stiff and sore from Saturday’s events. This was going to be a painful run. The weather was the same, so I used similar gear (but added gloves and a beanie). The marathon and 10 Mile start in downtown Minneapolis (near the new US Bank Stadium-home of the MN Vikings) and finish at the state Capitol in St Paul. It starts an hour earlier than the marathon and is a straight line between the two points. The marathon takes a much more scenic tour of Minneapolis before heading into St Paul. The two races share the same final 7 Miles. The race was fine overall. I struggled with the aches and pains that I earned yesterday by competing without enough training. The course was familiar. The support was amazing, especially since we were coming thru about 3 hours ahead of the marathoners and it was not ideal spectating weather. The course was, as always, beautiful. The rain held off and the wind was pretty light. It wasn’t long before my short season came to an end.

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41B38928-2181-476C-B332-AA3A33A44497So, looking back, was it a successful season? Yes and no. The events were spaced out more and I looked forward to them again…so that was a victory. It did motivate me to stay active, but not as consistently as I would have liked. Now that it is over, my motivation is gone and I will need to figure out a way to stay fit during the off-season. These events are some of the best events in the region and I can’t imaging sitting out the Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon or Twin Cities Marathon Weekend as long as I am even casually involved in running and triathlon. So, yes, I will be back for more next year. I already registered for Lifetime Minneapolis and waiting for early registration to start for another Loony Challenge.

Who knows, I may blog about it too…

 

 

Addendum

The week after the TC Marathon Weekend, I participated in a 5k charity run in support of a friend whose family has been affected by brain cancer. It was a 5k run/walk and I was the only one in my group that decided to run.

That was a mistake.

You see, I had a massive tree fall in our backyard the week before. As always, when I pull out the chainsaw, my wife tells me that I should hire someone to do it. It’s like she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing.

She’s right.

Fortunately, I still have all my body parts but I hurt almost every muscle in my body 2 days before the event. Mostly, I strained a bunch of rib and back muscles. It took me 5 minutes to crawl out of bed the morning of the event. Getting out of the car at the race venue was another significant accomplishment.

Waiting around at the starting area with our team, it felt like I was loosening up. I was registered to run, but I could have just tossed the bib and entered the walking coral.

But, I’m stubborn.

Less then a 1/4 Mile into the run, my back just knotted up completely. Somehow, I kept running, but it was not a pretty sight. Very happy that there were no race photos for this one. I finished in just under 35 minutes…not bad under the circumstances.

This event was a nice way to end the season…supporting others and helping raise money for a good cause.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get load up on ibuprofen and warm up my heating pad…

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Race Report: TC Loony Challenge

September 30 – October 1/ 2017
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Event #112-115

“Hey! I know you!”

Deer in headlights…

I was walking back from the 5K finish line towards the corporate team tent at the time. I didn’t know anyone that would be at the race. So, I was caught off guard and frantically rummaging thru the mental Rolodex trying to connect the face to a name. No luck.

“I follow the blog that you write! Just wanted to say hi…”

This may have been the highlight of the weekend. First, someone out there actually reads my ramblings. Second, someone recognized me in a crowd of thousands of people and third, he took the time to introduce himself. I was rather tongue tied and didn’t really know what to say. But, if you are reading this, thanks for making my weekend!

The weekend was the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend…easily the premier running event in Minnesota (apologies to fans of Grandma’s Marathon). It is a highlight in my race calendar every year and it is often the season finale before the Minnesota winter settles in.

This year, I was doing the “Loony Challenge” again. It is basically every event over the weekend EXCEPT the marathon. I run the 10k, 5k, and 1 mile fun run on Saturday, and the 10 Mile on Sunday. The Saturday events start and finish at the state Capitol as a series of out-and-back runs on Summit Avenue. On Sunday, the marathon and 10 mile start on neighboring blocks in downtown Minneapolis (next to US Bank Stadium…home to this year’s Super Bowl) and end at the State Capitol (all events share the same finish line). The marathon takes a scenic tour of Minneapolis’s chain of lakes and the Mississippi River before crossing into St Paul. The 10 mile route is a beeline to St Paul and the 2 races share the last 7 miles of the route. About 8000 runners are registered for the Saturday events (including the 1/2 mile, toddler trot and diaper dash) and about 25000 combined for Sunday events. The TC Marathon is the ninth largest marathon in the country and has been named “The Most Scenic Urban Marathon in America”. Having run several, I do find this course to be exceptional…and it is the only Marathon that I have completed more then once (three times total, with the 10 Miles three times as well). I was excited about this weekend. Unfortunately, this excitement did NOT translate into a regular training routine. Life events, lack of motivation for the past couple of seasons, and a general apathy about my finish times have resulted in a inconstant and uneven training cycle. This is not to say that I don’t stay active and have a healthy lifestyle. But the training plans dictating me to do a certain number of miles at a certain intensity have worn out their welcome. So, I came into this weekend with the mindset of just enjoying myself and to let whatever happens happen.

Saturday Events:

The weekend’s weather looked a little unpredictable. A cool front came thru a few days prior to race weekend. Until then, all of my running for the past several months was in shorts and t-shirt. It always gets cold just before this event and I always have to try to figure out cold weather layering (and I ALWAYS end up over layering for the first few brisk runs in the fall). Saturday would be the nicer but colder day. It would be sunny, breezy, and a starting line temp of 45F (about 15 degrees colder then I have run in for almost six months). It looked like it would warm up slowly, but stay in the 40’s until I was done running. Fortunately, I had access to the corporate team tent (heated, snacks, private bag check). I decided to wear shorts, but a long sleeved shirt and windbreaker. I brought a few more attire options to do a last second swap if it became clear that I was over/underdressed. I got down there early and it was already about 50F. I elected to start with the long sleeved jersey and windbreaker anyways since the wind still made it feel pretty cold.

Race start was a little earlier this year for the 10k (7:15 am instead of 7:30 am) and was the typical out and back run on Summit Avenue that I have done several times. The run goes from the Capitol to St Paul’s Cathedral (the Twin domes that dominates St Paul’s skyline) and along summit avenue and its 100 year old mansions. I started slow and got slower (as expected) and the air warmed up nicely. Hands and ears were fine by mile 2 and the jacket was unzipped by mile 3. With the turnaround came the bright morning sunlight on a truly glorious day. The overlook onto downtown St Paul was breathtaking. Before I knew it, I was back between the twin domes and headed to the finish.

With the early start of the 10k, I had plenty of time before the 5k start at 9:00 am. Although it certainly wasn’t warm, it wasn’t cold either (it was just right!) I didn’t need the layers anymore. I ditched the jacket and swapped out the long sleeve shirt with a short sleeved. Had just enough time to do all this before heading back for the 5k start. It was well into the fifties by this time. Oddly, the 5k course had changed this year. Usually it follows the 10k route and the turnaround is closer. This time, we went out on a different road and eventually looped back onto Summit for the return trip. I don’t know why they did it, but I appreciated the change of scenery. Once that race was over, I was headed back to bag check when I had met the only person that admits to reading my blog (pretty sure my wife doesn’t read it anymore either) before heading back for the 1 mile family fun run. I probably shouldn’t do this event (it’s a kids race and they organize the corals by grade level), but it has a nice medal that complements the 5k and 10k medals (and I NEVER leave bling behind…). It was a quick run from one dome to the other and back. Get medal, get back from bag check, and I walked about a 1/2 mile to the expo. Saturday races bibs can be picked up Race morning at the race site. Sunday events have to be picked up at the expo. That’s how I started racing the Saturday events…I wasn’t going to drive all the way to St Paul just to pick up a bib. If I was going to drive that much, then I would get a couple of shirts and medals at the same time. I was doing the Loony Challenge before the Loony Challenge even existed!

The expo was as great as always, but I just didn’t need anything. I looked around for a bit, got my bib, and headed home.

 

Sunday Event – TC 10 Mile (The Retirement Race)

Saturday was certainly the better weather day of the weekend. Sunday would be warmer (high 50’s), but with rain and gusting winds. It was looking like it would be a washout all day. By Saturday, the forecast improved with the rain looking like it would hold off until late morning (the marathon runners would get hammered but the 10 mile runners start an hour earlier and are obviously done quicker). I was cautiously optimistic.

I was getting a ride with a co-worker on Sunday morning. She lives much closer to the race than I do. I just drive over to her house and her husband drives us to the start and picks us up at the finish. That was really helpful this year since the Vikings and Twins had early afternoon home games in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday as well ($50+ for event parking???)

The drive to their place scared me. Torrential downpours and strong winds for the whole drive. The car thermometer was showing high 40’s instead of mid 50’s. This was not what the weatherman had promised! The rain was slowing down when I arrived at their place and the radar showed the rain clearing out for the next few hours. By the time we got to the start line, it was dry (windy and colder then expected, but dry at least).

That didn’t last.

About 20 minutes before the start, the sprinkles started. It wasn’t bad, and my windbreaker was water resistant, but there was a definite chill. I headed to my coral and it felt like I was in a wind tunnel. There was still a few drops but the wind was the worst. Once the race started, the wind turned into a very strong headwind. By mile 1, the rain started to come down a lot harder (not like earlier in the day, but I was getting very uncomfortable in a hurry).

Fortunately, it didn’t last. By mile 4, the rain had stopped and the wind started to relent. I was drying off by mile 5. The rain held off until after the race (I have no idea if the marathoners got hit later but the rain got bad again for the drive home).

The rest of the race was fine. The air temp came up a bit, it was dry, and the wind calmed down. My legs were wet noodles however (that will happen when you don’t actually train for back-to-back races). I didn’t really worry about it. The goal was to enjoy myself and to take it all in one last time. Downtown Minneapolis. The riverfront parkway. The ALARC wall. Summit Avenue. The Twin Domes. The downhill to the finish. The giant flag suspended between fire truck ladders. The finishers chute.

And, just like that, it was over.

I got my post race food, got my medals, lingered in the finish area one last time, and headed off to meet up with my crew.


So, what now? Not sure. But I need a break from racing events (and I honestly don’t know if I’ll be back but it seems unlikely). I got burnt out about halfway thru last season (100+ events in just over 4 years can do that) and I just tried to get thru the rest of that season. I almost called it quits then…but I qualified for USA Triathlon Nationals and I had deferred a 15k early in the year. I had to give Nationals a chance, and I wanted to do a warm up Olympic Distance triathlon in preparation for it. So, a mini-season was developed.

I figured a much smaller season focusing on a few quality events (over quantity) may rekindle my passion for the sport. It did the opposite. It reaffirmed my original decision. Even though I enjoy an active lifestyle, I no longer enjoy building my week around training plans, or my year around my race schedule. With age and lower training volume (nothing will come close to matching Ironman training) my speed tanked too. My chronic and lingering ankle injuries were getting worse and the knees were getting grumpier with every race. Races became a chore that was robbing me of time that I could use to do other things (like spending time with my family).

I came to the realization that I got what I needed from the sport a long time ago. I got the self confidence to try new things. I accepted the fact that I can be an athlete and that I can be successful at something new if I just dared to put myself out there and give it my best shot. I redefined myself and my view of what’s possible. And that’s pretty amazing to me.

I may do a race here and there, just for fun. My office usually puts together a team participating in a midsummer 5k. That may be the only race next year. I might throw my name in the lottery for the TC 10 mile in a year or two. Or maybe not.

Time will tell.

As for the blog, I think it’s time to retire it (again). It went on hiatus for 6 months last winter but returned as I had a few more stories to tell.

If I have more stories in the future, I may revive this blog again. But the stories may have nothing to do with running or triathlon. It may be about a new adventure that I have not even considered yet.

Time will tell…

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Race Report: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships – Sprint Distance

August 13, 2017
Omaha, NE
Triathlon #21
Event #111

The alarm again went off in the middle of the night. I stumble out of bed and get the coffee going. I then attempt to get today’s set of temporary race number tattoos properly applied. I get all 4 on me without any screw ups. Hooray for small victories! This day was off to a good start!
Then I opened the weather app and groaned. This was headed right for us.

Well, it is what it is. I had arranged for a late check out from my hotel, so I had plenty of time in case of race delay. It was also just a sprint. I wouldn’t be on the course long enough to care about a bit of rain.

I get my gear together and head out to the race venue. I’m early (again) and the first one in the parking lot (again). I get the closest spot to transition. Then, instead of playing angry birds, I keep refreshing the weather app. Looks like the storm is heading right at us and should hit right at the starting gun. The rain is already pretty steady. It wasn’t a downpour, but a steady drizzle. It would be a sloppy race.

Transition opens and I go get my gear set up. After yesterday’s race, participants doing both events were permitted to just move our bikes to a back rack and leave them in transition. I found my bike, swapped out the race sticker and found my new racking spot. I then got my gear set up. Organizers specifically prohibited any bags from being left in transition (including clear plastic bags). So, I had to leave my running shoes, cycling shoes, and socks out in the rain. They would be soaked by the time I needed them.

Water temperature was even warmer today (82.5F), so wetsuits were again prohibited. This was not a surprise. My wetsuit was in the trunk of my car just in case, but I hadn’t used it all season.

Even though this is a huge triathlon (1184 participants, 1083 finishers), it felt small. This was mostly because it was being held the day after a race that was over twice as big. Half of transition was empty. There were a lot less athletes so far fewer support crews, volunteers, and spectators. The weather didn’t help that. It was still a big event, but it was obvious that the main event was yesterday’s race.

 

I headed back to the car and followed the weather updates. We got lucky. The system started to break apart and shifted north. The drizzle would continue, but no lightning or rain delay. The race got underway on time. I had a bit of time to kill since my wave didn’t start for another 80 minutes so I just sat by the waters edge and watch the other waves start their race. The drizzle and the wind was keeping me uncomfortably cold. The air temp wasn’t bad, but the combo got unpleasant quickly. It would by nice on the run, but cold on the bike. Finally, it was my turn to line up.

The Swim:


Once again, we lined up on the dock, got a quick warm up swim, then lined up with one hand on the dock for our in-water start. Again, I let everyone have a 3 second start so I could (mostly) stay out of the chaos. Again, it worked. The waves were spaced out enough that I was mostly on my own out there. It was quite calm and serene. That said, I was surprised at how sore my arms were from the day before. They had no energy at all. Still, it was only half of the distance today and the turn buoys came quickly. Before I knew it, I was at swim exit. The ramp was very slippery and a couple of volunteers were there to help haul me out on the water. The water temp was much warmer then the air temp and I could feel the wind cut into me instantly. It would be a long bike ride.
Swim Split – 20:32 (2:31/100 yd)

 

T1:
Windy, drizzle, and sloppy. That was transition in a nutshell. Wet socks going onto wet feet and into wet cycling shoes. Delightful! Another slow transition.
T1 Split – 4:39

The Bike:


Well, the good news was that we did not have to deal with “The Hill” today! The bike course was the same out-and-back course as yesterday except that the turnaround was at the halfway point of yesterday’s course. “The Hill” was just past the turnaround so was omitted from today’s race. That was a very good thing. The Hill was terrifying enough in good weather. I can’t imagine riding it in strong winds, slippery roads, and wet brakes.

The course would be bad enough with a lot of slick spots and poor riding conditions. The rain was continuing but the wind wasn’t a factor on the ride out. What was obvious was how much less crowded the bike course was. Less then half the riders, few spectators and less volunteers made this feel almost lonely at times. Just as my arms were fatigued on the swim, my legs had no energy on the bike. Every mile was a struggle. I was happy to see the turnaround again…but was then treated to pretty significant headwinds. I had warmed up by this point so the wind and rain were not overwhelmingly cold, but it did make the ride back uncomfortable. I also noticed the smaller hills today with the leg fatigue. I have to say that I was pretty happy when I spun back into transition.
Bike Split – 1:47:34 (15.9 mph)

 

T2:
Starting to get the hang of transition again!
T2 Split – 3:05

The Run:


The run course was the same as yesterday. This part of the course was not as deserted as the bike, but was much quieter then the day before. It was a simple out and back which we did once (instead of twice yesterday). With only half the participants doing half the distance, it was much quieter. There were fewer volunteers and no spectators once we left transition. The legs were as wobbly as ever leaving transition but found their form quickly enough. The cooler temps were welcome for this stretch of the race (although the ice-towels that were so welcomed yesterday were ignored today). The run course was perfectly flat with 4 aid stations along the way. Overall, an uneventful 5k.
Run Split – 32:28 (10:27 min/mile)

 

The Finish:
As I got to the finishers chute, I was all alone, the racers were very spaced out and I had nobody around me. The red carpet and the finish line beckoned to me but it didn’t look the same as yesterday. The rain and dreary skies made it look a little less special. But it was still something that I wanted to savor. Again, there were a lot of photographers and I lined myself right down the middle. Head up, bib straight, tri top zipped up, and a big smile. Who knew if yesterday’s photos looked decent. I wanted to have a few photos to remember this moment. I was ready for my closeup. I started down the chute and crossed the finish line.
Finish Time – 1:47:34

 

Post Race:
Water, medal, chicken salad sandwich, and a copy of my results were obtained while waiting for transition to open.

It had been a good weekend. I looked at my results and I wasn’t dead last in my Age Group today…so I’ll take that as a win. I knew that I would likely never qualify for this event again, so I let the memories of this weekend sink in. Yes, I had been invited to this event. I may have been out of my league but I earned my spot at the starting line. I may have been one of the final finishers, but I still felt that I earned my spot fair and square and that I belonged here…at least this one time. From where I started six years ago, it still seemed to be an impossible achievement. I took a few more moments to remember the details. I then grabbed my bike for one last photo and I loaded my gear for the long drive home.

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Race Report: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships – Olympic Distance

August 12, 2017
Omaha Nebraska
Triathlon #20
Event #110

Race Day was here, and the alarm clock went off way too early.

I got my coffee and applied my temporary tattoos. These theses are surprisingly complicated a 2:30 am without sufficient caffeine on board. I managed to screw them up…all four of them. You would think that I would have figured it out by number 4. Nope. I got my racing chip on and triple checked all of my gear. Once I was set, I headed to the race venue.

This triathlon is huge. There are 2403 triathletes registered for today’s event (1990 finishers) and 3587 registrants over the event weekend. Wandering thru transition was a spectacle on its own.

 

I got there an hour before transition opened, and was the first car in the parking lot (again). I have a habit of doing that. Access to the the parking area was poor. The size of the lot was insufficient (2500 participants, 1000 parking spaces…you do the math).  The shuttles were a problem last year. I knew I would rather be sitting around in my car (and playing Angry Birds) then stressing in a traffic jam. I’m glad I did. There was a traffic jam. The parking lot was filled to capacity. People who couldn’t get in the lot were rerouted to a distant lot and had to take additional shuttles. Race start was pushed back by 30 minutes.

During the chaos, I got my gear set up and just took wandered about taking pics with my phone. The weather was glorious. It was a cool morning without any humidity or wind and the sky was clear. Water temperature was 80.6F (no wetsuits permitted). I could talk about the scene, but the pics tell the tale better then I ever could…

The Swim:


The lake was small, shallow, warm and calm. There was a temporary dock installed and we started in waves based on age group. When it was our turn, we walked out to the end of the dock and could jump off the left side for a practice swim while the wave ahead of us were sitting on the right side of the dock. Once they were off, we were called back to the dock to sit on the right until 2 minutes before our wave start. We would then slide back into the water and hold onto the dock until the horn started.

 

 

The water was warm and fairly still. The waves were spread out enough that there was minimal congestion (or contact) on the course. Getting to the end of the dock was another matter. This was a temporary floating structure and it bounced around a lot from the waves and having a couple of hundred people on it!

Finally, the horn sounded. I had seen enough from watching the other waves starts (and from watching the practice swim) that I knew that I would be one of the slowest swimmers. There was no point fighting it. I just hung on to the dock for an extra 3 seconds and the rugby scrum was already well ahead of me. I just found my rhythm and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. I actually found the swim rather relaxing. One marker buoy after another ticked by. Interestingly, I caught up with someone from the previous wave just before the swim exit (older lady doing the breast stroke). I passed her just as someone from the wave behind us passed me by (and he definitely wasn’t doing the breast stroke!)

They had a ramp and volunteers in place to help us out of the water and into T1.
Swim Split – 41:21 (2:32/100 yd)

 

T1:
I was as disorganized as ever. I was halfway to T1 exit when I realized that I didn’t take off my swim skin. Yeah, it was bad…
T1 Split – 5:30

 

The Bike:


The bike course was completely closed to traffic. Impressive feat since one of the roads was the main access road to Omaha Airport. The course was mostly flat and not the most scenic…of course I had two wheeled missiles disguised as $10,000 tri-bikes flying by my left ear every few seconds, so I really had no time to do any sightseeing. The course had a few small hills…and one monster. Let’s talk about that shall we? Here’s the course elevation map.

It’s an out and back course so we would hit it twice.The front side of the hill is MUCH steeper then the back side, so I got to climb it on the way out. Maybe I should say that I TRIED to climb it. In six years, I have never been forced off of my bike to walk a hill. I’ve come close, but it never happened…until now. I was about a third of the way up when I saw the writing on the wall. I unclipped while I still could. I kept pushing thru another third of that hill (which hill twisted and turned so much that I could never see the top…it just kept going!)

I finally bailed and started walking. The riders on that hill of all ages were in amazing shape since I didn’t see anyone else bail out (RESPECT!!!) As I got to the top of the hill, volunteers were yelling at passing riders “You got this! You’ve concurred this hill!” As I walked up they looked at me and I told them “I didn’t get this, the hill got me!” and they started to laugh. I remounted and got close to 40 mph on the way down. As I kept going, I could feel how badly that hill shredded my legs. They were jello. I had nothing left in them at all. Fortunately, it was flat until the turnaround…which is when I got slammed by the headwind. It would be a much tougher return then I had expected.

The minutes ticked by and I was back at “The Hill”. It is longer but not as steep on this side with a brief flat in the middle. It was still a struggle but I got to the top in granny gear. Then I got to fly down the other side.

Or, more accurately, I rode the brakes all the way down the narrow steep winding strip of pavement as stronger cyclists flew past me within a few inches of collision.

It. Was. Terrifying.

I honestly didn’t think that I would get to the bottom in one piece. Even riding the brakes, I could not get below 15 mph. My bike skills are ok, but I was not up to this challenge. When I got to the bottom, I could not feel my fingers since I had gripped the brakes so hard. After that, just kept battling the small hills and strong headwinds back to T2.

Bike Split – 1:34:36 (15.8 mph)

T2:
Not as embarrassing as T1, but still a mess…
T2 Split – 5:52

 

The Run:


The run course was also closed to traffic. It was a 2 loop out and back with 2 aid stations that we would hit a total of 8 times in 6 miles. By this point, it was getting hot. The sun was high in the sky and there was no shade to be found. Despite liberal use of sunscreen pre-race, in T1 and T2, I still managed a pretty good sunburn. Ice water and ice towels were in plentiful supply. The legs were wobbly for the first mile, but still worked. The pace was slow but steady. Volunteers and spectators were great and helped keep me going. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I eventually got to the finish line.

By this point, the traffic on the course had thinned out a lot. I looked around me and I was pretty much all by myself for the run down the red carpet to the finish. The feeling wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the Ironman finishers chute, but it was close. After all, I had been looking forward to this moment for almost a year.

Run Split – 1:14:38 (12:01 min/mile)

Finish Time – 3:41:55

 

Post Race:
I got a bottle of water and my medal and headed off the get some food. The meal was pretty good (chicken salad on ciabatta bun with coleslaw and fruit salad.

After that I decided to face the music and check my results. I knew that I would be at the back of the pack at a local triathlon. Here, only a catastrophe for one of my age-group companions would keep me from last place. It didn’t happen. DLF (Dead Last Finish) in my age group (but not overall). It was expected and I was more then ok with that. I had qualified and gave it my best at one of the most competitive amateur triathlons in the world. Being here was a thrill and the memories will last a lifetime. You can see it on the smile on my face as I crossed the finish line. I still got here. I still finished. I still got the experience. More than I could have dreamed possible 6 years ago, when I was obese and sedentary. It has been a long road, and I’ll take this as a victory.

I headed back to transition and grabbed my gear. The bike could be left there overnight for tomorrow’s sprint triathlon. But I had to haul off the rest of the junk and get ready for tomorrow’s race.

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USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championships: Pre-Race

This was it. The only weekend of the season that mattered. The other races were fun train-thru events, but this was the biggest main event since IM Wisconsin. It was an event that I never imagined that I would be invited to compete in.

As a middle to back of the pack age-grooper that occasionally managed to place in the top 10-25%, I was never a podium threat. That changed last season when I won my age group at a local triathlon. This had the effect of getting me invited to the USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha. It is my first qualification/invitation only race. That’s a jaw dropping accomplishment for someone that had never been athletic and who had spent most of his adult life as an obese couch potato. I have not been as excited or nervous about an event since Wisconsin.

My anxiety level had skyrocketed because I had a really bad swim towards the end of my last season. This race would be twice the distance. That scared me.

To make matters worse, I looked at last year’s event schedule. My age group was second to last and the time cut-offs were much tighter then any triathlon I had ever seen. I did not think that I could make the cutoffs if I was in one of the final waves. I need not have worried. The schedule this year had a bit more of a buffer, and my Age Group was seeded much earlier. This allowed me an extra 2 hours that I would not have had last year.

The weather forecast was another wild card. There was a week of 100+F days in Omaha before race weekend and the water temp was recorded as 86F! Long range forecast was for low 90’s on race day. Fortunately, the weather pattern shifted and we had a string of high 70’s and low 80’s around race weekend.

This event has 2 races. The first is the Olympic Distance Triathlon. I had to qualify to register for this race by winning (or finishing in the top 10%) of my age group at a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance. So, only the top athletes get invited to this race. The field is stacked with National and World Champions and is one of the 4 most competitive Age Group Triathlon races IN THE WORLD (other 3 being the ITU World Championships, Ironman World Championships, and Ironman 70.3 World Championships). The top athletes today would be invited to represent Team USA at the ITU (International Triathlon Union) Age Group World Championships in Australia next year.

In other words, I was WAY out of my league here.

I was ok with that. I had qualified for this event fair and square. I earned my spot. It was a thrill to participate and a privilege to be invited. But, looking at last year’s results, I had no doubt that I would get a DLF (Dead Last Finish) in my Age Group. It was truly a case where I was honored just to participate.

I drove from Minneapolis to Omaha on Thursday. I was hoping to get to the race venues early enough to sign in at early packet pickup that afternoon. I arrived about 30 minutes before they shutdown for the day. It was quiet and the process was a breeze. Bib, disposable timing chip (cool!), swim cap, shirt, visor, and goodie bag. The swag was…blah. The shirt indicated USAT National Championships (but did not specify which event or year). The visor only had the USAT logo. The bag at least noted the event.

After that, I went to the Event Merchandise store (if you wanted anything commemorating the weekend, you had to but it) and I picked up a name T-shirt, running shirt with course map, coffee mug, magnet and sticker. I thought about the jacket and hat but neither excited me so I left them in the store.

After packet pickup, I headed into Omaha to grab some food. There are two dishes that Omaha in known for…one of them is steak (big surprise there). I had a couple of places that I wanted to check out but I only made it to one of them…The Drover. I had the Whiskey Marinated Filet (medium rare) with all the fixing.

 

The steak was awesome! The place was very busy (I could see why) and I was there much longer then I thought I would be. Once I was done, I headed off to my hotel for some much needed sleep.

The next day, I got my stuff organized and had to check in my bike in transition. While at the venue, I took in the sights at the expo and I scoped out the course. The lake was calm and warm. A temporary dock was set up for an in-water race start. The lake was your typical Midwest lake: small with green water, but warm and tranquil. Organizers had arranged for a practice swim if desired. I skipped this, but it was nice just taking it all in. I then drove the bike course. It was mostly flat and straight, but there was one really big hill. It was long, steep, lots of twists and turns, narrow, and really intimidating. It would be a serious test of my ability.

After this, I went to the race briefing. Race briefing was annoying. Like really, really annoying. For about an hour, the head referee went on and on about the most insignificant rules and that we should expect the refs to enforce them forcefully. For example, we are issued a bike sticker with our bib number on it. It needs to be positioned so it could be easily viewed from either side of the bike. If referees have to squint to read the bike number (i.e. If the sticker is crooked or if the underseat bike bag was partially obscuring the number), then we would get a time penalty. Sure, referees need to be able to identify who is racing by having an identifiable bib number, but we don’t just have that one number. We have the number temporary tattooed on our bodies in FOUR locations (both upper arms, both outer calfs) and THREE stickers on our helmet. There was similar silliness about bib stickers on our swim caps (that also had the bib number written on both sides with a sharpie) even though they would not stick on the cap (penalty for littering if the sticker or swim cap fell off during the swim), or if the Bib was not attached when leaving transition for the run (holding it and attaching it while running is against the rules I guess). Ultimately, the ref had a one hour power trip and it soured the good vibes I had of the event to that point.

After that, I needed more good food. Aside from steak, Omaha is known for Ruben Sandwiches (they claim to be the birthplace of the Ruben…who knew?) Now, I have never liked Rubens but I was certainly open to trying one again. There is endless debate in Omaha about who makes the best Ruben in town. The consistent answer was Crescent Moon Ale House so I checked it out. It was a dive bar (always a good sign) and the sandwich did not disappoint. It is almost worth the trip to Omaha. Highly recommended if you are ever in town.

After that, I headed back to the hotel knowing I had a long day ahead.

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Race Report: Lifetime Minneapolis Olympic Triathlon

July 8, 2017
Minneapolis, MN
Triathlon #19
Event #109

Doubt.

I had a lot of baggage going into this race.

It had been over 10 months since my last triathlon. In that time frame, I took a six month “off-season” which was mostly “off”. I got back into a fairly regular training routine about 3 months ago, but life throws curve balls at you and choices need to be made…derailing training more then once.

It had been almost three years since crossing the finish line at IM Wisconsin. Since then I have competed in a few triathlons every season…and every single one was a sprint (short course) event. This season, I was trying for the middle course (Olympic Distance) which is twice as long as any race I have done since 2014.

My second to last triathlon last season had a disastrous swim. The water was rough and I had a panic attack during that race. I have had swim anxiety ever since. Fortunately, my last race of the season had a very relaxed and enjoyable swim. Still, I carried the swim anxiety with me over the off-season. This race would have a swim that was twice as long as that event. Physically, I had no doubts that I could do it. But how would I respond mentally when I arrived at the lake and I could see just how far away all of the buoys were spaced out?

When I stated earlier that my training was off, I wasn’t exaggerating. Driving to the expo the day before the race, I realized that I have not done an open water swim or a brick (bike/run combo) since my last triathlon in 2016.  My speed had tanked due to my lack of consistent training and this has been a source of ongoing frustration this year. Cut-off times were now a source of concern.

I had gained a few pounds (about 5-6 lbs) over the off-season that I have not been able to shed. I tried on my wetsuit (which was too small from the day I bought it) and it was clear that it didn’t fit anymore. Fortunately, I likely wouldn’t need it since the lake is small and usually quite warm this time of year. But wetsuits provide buoyancy and a sense of safety in the water. I had a new swim skin that I bought as a backup for non-wetsuit swims (when water temps are above 78F). The swim skin did fit but it had never been used (tags still attached). I guess I knew what I would be wearing for the swim…regardless of water temperature.

So, I wasn’t exactly confident going into this event, and my expectations were low. This is one of the biggest and most popular triathlons in the Twin Cities (about 1200 participants) and all of the top athletes would be there and ready to compete. My focus was different. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it. Having an enjoyable swim was my biggest priority…and I wanted to do it without stopping at a kayak or buoy for a rest. Then I wanted to push myself and have a solid bike and run. I wanted to see if I could still do this.

The race site is about a 90 minute drive from home, and there was no race day packet pickup. I was ok with this. I wanted to see the lake and touch the water to see if I would be warm enough. The announcer for this event is awesome and gives a great pre-race briefing. This is a technical course with the bike route changing every year due to construction and some roads in poor conditions. I wanted to get some details before race day.

We were having a heat wave going into race weekend but cooler weather came in overnight. It was still warm (but not oppressively hot), sunny, decent humidity, and very windy. This caused a bit of choppiness on this typically tranquil lake that I am not accustomed to seeing. Packet pick up went smoothly. The shirt and pint glass were nice “freebies” and the briefing was great. Water temp was unofficially recorded at 78.0 (still barely wetsuit legal). I expected the water temp to drop overnight but there was the potential for a non-wetsuit event.

The following morning, I got to the race site early. I racked my bike right when transition opened. I then went to the waters edge. It was still quite warm…and perfectly still. The only ripples on the waters surface were from the ducks swimming nearby. The lake was like a mirror, and I spent about 30 minutes taking photos before I headed by to the car to get the rest of my gear.

It didn’t take long to set up in transition. Water temp was officially recorded at 76.5F…wetsuit legal…but I would be going without. It put me at a significant disadvantage as wetsuits do make you swim faster. I would also be using new gear on race day. I put on my swim skin and headed back to the water. I looked out at the buoys…never ceases to amaze me how far away they are! I would be swimming to the far side of the lake, follow the distant shoreline for a while, then I would swim back across the lake again. I jumped in for a practice swim which went well. Shortly thereafter, the race was about to start.

 

The Swim:

The swim was a time trial beach start. There were 2 athletes released every 3 seconds. This makes for a pretty mellow swim as athletes are spread out and it minimizes contact between swimmers. As soon as I got into the water, I realized that I was swimming directly into the sun. The glare made spotting much more challenging. I could not see ANY of the buoys. Fortunately, there was a long line of athletes ahead of me and I just had to follow the splashing. I got into a rhythm fairly quickly and was able to just zone out and swim. Not seeing the buoys likely helped since I could not see how much farther I had to go. I didn’t even see the turn buoy (8 feet tall and highlighter yellow) until I was about 20 feet away!

Once I made the turn, I could see the long line of buoys ahead of me. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. But I had found my rhythm and got back to work. Water was perfect. There were a few small waves from all of the swimmers and support boats but the water was as calm as I could hope for. It was also a perfect temperature for swimming. I never felt a chill and I could only imagine those in full wetsuits must be overheating. Before I knew it, I reached the final turn and was heading to the beach. The swim had gone better then I could hope for! I was on cloud nine!

Then, I got out of the water and saw my time. Over 40 minutes on the swim! My heart sank. I don’t know if I was slow due to lack of fitness or if my wetsuit made that much of a difference, but I am usually a one speed wonder in the water (except in very rough conditions). I felt like I was going at my usual pace, but I clearly wasn’t. Still, I had ENJOYED the swim, so mission accomplished.

Swim Split – 40:30 (2:43/100m)

T1:

I entered transition and saw the lack of bicycles. This confirmed that I was already at the back of the pack. I had not done a transition in over 10 months and it showed. Poorly organized and executed. But, I got my bike and headed out.

T1 Split – 5:08

 

Bike:

The start of the bike took us for a loop around Lake Nokomis. I could see the sprint swim race in process. It was the only thing I had to look at as there were very few cyclists out there with me. The weather was perfect however…mostly sunny, warm (but not hot) and there was barely any wind. Once I was done with the loop around the lake, I headed towards East River Road along The Mississippi River. The roads were newly paved and made for a sweet ride. I hit my first stretch of two-way traffic and saw the rest of the athletes heading back from the first turnaround. As expected, I saw a lot of cyclist heading back. I tried not to dwell on it and just tried to put down as strong of a bike leg as I could. I thought I was doing ok, but I rarely passed anyone and I was passed a lot more frequently.

I reached the turnaround and got a pretty good headwind in return. I did see a lot of cyclist going the other way…but they were mostly the sprint triathletes which started after me. Still, it felt less lonely!

As I was going along, I started developing knee pain. This felt very familiar. I had it a lot when I started cycling in 2012. I went to physical therapy for it and had to tape my knees pre-race that season. It gradually went away as I developed more bike fitness. I suspect that my muscles had adapted to cycling and that it had eventually resulted in less knee strain. Now that pain was back (another reminder that my bike fitness is not what it once was).

I passed transition again. The sprinters would turn left on their way to the run course. I was going straight towards Lake Harriett and a loop around it before coming back to transition. The ride to the Lake was beautiful, and the loop was spectacular. Lots of boats on the lake and families making the best of a beautiful summer weekend. Before I knew it, that loop was over and I was heading back to transition. The knees were still bugging me but they were more of a nuisance then a real problem. Before I knew it, I was off the bike and into T2.

Bike Split – 1:25:58 (17.1 mph)

T2:

Still disorganized…

T2 Split – 4:16

 

Run:

It was starting to get a little warm. Not hot, but not ideal. My legs were still wobbly from the bike (normal) and my knees were stiff and unhappy (not normal). My lack of bike/run brick training was becoming evident. The run was along the walking paths around Lake Nokomis. One lap for the sprint, two for the Olympic. The views were again beautiful. All of the buoys from the swim were gone. Lots of family friendly activities were taking place around the lake. I was surprised to see a yellow flag at one of the aid stations (mid 70’s with no humidity and a breeze…c’mon, it wasn’t that hot!). I sipped on Gatorade and trekked around the lake. Things got lonely again when I started loop number two…but just kept plugging away. Before I knew it, I had made my way back to transition…and the finish line. I had the finish chute to myself (I guess I never did dig my way out of that hole I dug for myself during the swim). But, the crowd was still there, all of the photographers could give me their undivided attention and I got a huge finishers medal.

Run Split –  1:11:40 (11:34 min/mile)

Finish Time – 3:27:30

Post Race:

Got my medal, finishers photo, a nice sandwich, got my gear out of transition an headed back to the car. It was not a great outing. I was almost dead last in my age group and in the bottom tier overall. Still, I was pleased with the day’s events. I had a good swim, and proved to myself that I can take on longer events. And, it was a great way to spend a beautiful Summer weekend.

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Images of Dawn Before The Triathlon…

Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis.

Sunrise over the swim venue at Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon as I arrived in transition.

A race report will follow and race photos when they become available, but I wanted to share images of the calm before the storm…

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Another Season, Another Training Cycle

I almost had to laugh out loud writing that title…since I have never done anything vaguely resembling a traditional training cycle. So, there is a first time for everything!

The recent off-season was mostly just “off”. I didn’t do much except sit around, train (errr…play with) our two new puppies, and watch movies. I jumped on the elliptical in our basement once every week or two, but I basically lost my entire fitness base.

 

Looking back at last season, I thought I had maintained a generally consistent training schedule…but old blog posts can reveal some painful truths. Last winter was a whole lot of nothing, and I was just faking the training throughout the season. I knew that I was completely untrained for the Fargo Marathon last spring, but I had forgotten about the complete lack of training that went into triathlon season. I showed up at the HITS Waconia sprint on 3 hours of sleep and ZERO cycling or swimming in the previous month. I almost got a DNF on the swim but somehow got my first (and only) podium award by winning my age group (sometimes luck trumps training).

Prior to that, I was a training machine. My regular “not training for anything specific” long weekly run was 15 miles. I was always Half Marathon trained and could ramp up to a Full Marathon on short notice.

For three years, I was in a perpetual training mode (including several winter events) and working my way towards Ironman Wisconsin. I actually did a 30 week training program for that event, Afterwards, I shifted to run only training with a marathon every couple of months. There was an ultramarathon and back to back marathons sprinkled into the season as well. By the end, I was burnt out, and mostly went into hibernation.

This spring, I knew I had to get back into some consistent training. My weight was slowly drifting up, my endurance was drifting down, and my healthy habits had vanished. I also have two Olympic Distance Triathlons on the calendar (July and August). The rest of the schedule is pretty light by my standards, but I have only completed Sprint Triathlons since 2014. I knew I had to do something.

I had a few false starts to my training in March and April. The Hot Chocolate 15k in mid-April was the rude wake-up call that I knew it would be. When I turned the calendar page to May, the alarms went off in my head. It was time to start a training cycle…arguable the first traditional training cycle since I started running in 2012.

I got my bike tuned up and have purchased a 3-month pass for the local community center pool. I have a schedule and I have stuck to it for the last couple of weeks. The schedule is not all that intense or time-consuming, but I am not used to it anymore, and it will take time for this to become a routine. It is not ideal, but it fits into my work schedule.

Monday: Swim (1 mile)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Swim (1 mile)
Thursday: Brick (32 mile bike, 5-10k run)
Friday: Run 10k (optional depending on work schedule)
Saturday: Run 10k
Sunday: Run 10k

I am slow at everything. Everything hurts. Endurance isn’t there (yet). I have a couple of months to improve fitness enough that I should be able to enjoy my triathlons .

Once those are done, I have the Loony Challenge 6 weeks later at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend (10k/5k/1 mile on Saturday, 10 mile on Sunday). So, the plan is to keep the run fitness going for the rest of the season.

Then, I need to figure out what sustainable fitness and wellness looks like during the off season.

But, for now, I think that I am back on track…

…and the journey continues.

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Race Report: Minneapolis Hot Chocolate 15K

April 15, 2017
Minneapolis, MN
Event #108

Cobwebs have been spun in the corners. The layer of dust is thick, and mostly undisturbed. There is a faint smell of mold in the air.

Much has been neglected.

Whether I am referring to my blog or my passtime, I leave for you to decide.

The past 6 months were to be my first “off-season” in 5 years. A chance to attend to other neglected parts of my life. A chance to heal some lingering injuries. A chance to recharge the batteries.

The “off-season” have been mostly that…”off”.

I did no running between my last event and early March (and maybe a dozen 5-10k jogs since). I hit the pool once and didn’t touch my bike since August (but I just dropped off the bike at my local shop for its spring tune-up). I averaged an hour per week (well, maybe) on the elliptical cross trainer.

It’s been a lazy 6 months.

Today’s event was an early season “fun-run”. Hell, they serve chocolate fondue at the finish line. I registered for the event almost 2 years ago (I deferred last year as it conflicted with the new Disney World Star Wars Half Marathon). I have never had a “Did Not Start” (or DNF for that matter), so I was committed to this. I had a feeling it would be ugly, but I hoped it would stir me from my slumber and get me training for this upcoming season.

It worked…kindof…if a dozen or so 5k-10k training “runs”…at a 12 min/mile pace. Well…small victories I guess.

But, that came at a cost. I have a few lingering injuries. Knees just ache all of the time. More importantly, I have an inflamed ankle tendon (posterior tibial tendinosis) which can rupture…and for which the only cure is surgery (which never turns out well). Both of these came back almost instantaneously. I had forgotten what it is like to walk down the stairs pain free.

So, my hopes that time would heel all injuries didn’t work. I also learned what it feels like to start running again…and how much everything hurts.

This 2017 running season was always planned as a toned down season. Something fairly low key with only a small handful of races (4 race weekends total…this being the first). There are a few big events lined up, and this would either be a re-boot of my running passion, or an epilogue to a pretty amazing five year run. Looks like it will be the latter. But, I like to share these experiences, and will be dusting off the blog for a few race reports.

So, let’s get on with it.

This is what I was facing this morning…

See the green dot…that’s the starting line. See the big red blob….that’s what was heading right at us.

Lovely.

Fortunately, all the lightning seemed to have disappeared. It was also the warmest morning of the year (60 F) with (mostly) light wind.

I sat in the car for awhile, waiting to hear if the race was a go/no go for launch. It looked like we were doing this. By the time I reached the starting line, I came to realize that my wind resistant/rain resistant jacket was neither.

All that being said, this was a bit of a homecoming. It felt good to be here again for a no-stress event.

The race itself was a familiar course. I have run up and down this road dozens of times in the past five years. It was hillier then I remembered it to be.

We were advised that we could take a left turn at mile 1.5 if we wanted to bail and do the 5k run instead (it was tempting) and that we would be turned around (out and back course) if the storm system started to show some unexpected “energy” (aka: lighting). I was relieved to reach the turnaround without incident.


I had not run more then 10k at a time in the past 6 months. I hoped that the energy and adrenaline of the event would propel me that final 5k. You know, like only doing a 20 mile training run before a marathon. Sometimes it works. Today… not quite. I was taking a lot of unplanned “walk breaks” in the final 5k. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by this time and the temps started to climb a bit. The pace slowed a little more but still did better then expected given the slow training runs I have had in the past month.

Finish Time – 1:39:13
Pace – 10:39/mile


The medal was pretty sweet, as was the chocolate goodie bag. The walk through the muddy field (errr…swamp) wasn’t.

So, a partial success. Farther and faster then I had run all year, but chronic injuries are still there. I am expecting some great experiences during the rest of the season, but I will not be returning to my old schedule and my old running form. This may be an epilogue to this story, but I plan to put an exclamation mark on the final few races.

Now, I must segue to Triathlon. Three months until my next event, and I must become friends again with my bike and the community swimming pool in the near future.

Hopefully, the cobwebs will be cleared up at our next visit.

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Views From The Finish Line…A Final Look Back.

There is never a true “beginning” to any story, nor is there ever a true “ending”. There is always a “before” and there will always be an “after” to absolutely everything.

There are, however, convenient starting and ending points for a narrative. A story arc always just feels more complete when there is a clear beginning to that tale, and a clear and concise point where that arc comes to its conclusion.

After a five year journey, which started with a vague decision to “lose a few pounds” and to “run a 5k”, I believe that this narrative has come to an end at the finish line of this week’s Twin Cities 10 Mile.

This does not mean that I will stop running, but this blog was intended to document my journey “from couch to Ironman”. That journey ended 2 years ago. It changed as I tried to find a new calling, a new passion. I dabbled in Ultramarathon and tried the 50 states marathon club. I even tried cross-country skiing. None of these endeavors excited me and those pursuits were abandoned. Finally, I decided that I just needed balence and to make running a PART of my life and a PART of my identity…not it’s sole defining feature. I decided upon this months ago…after signing up for most of this year’s events…and I made it to the end of that schedule. In the process, I tied up some loose ends and found peace in this new harmony.

Ultimately, this passion is something that will be more organic, more subdued, more balenced. It is changing my approach to running.

Events will be for fun and to motivate me to stay healthy. I have not been competative in awhile (except for the surprising results in Waconia) and I have mostly let go of that pressure. As such, the nature of these events will change as well. They will no longer be selected to push my body, and my boundaries, to the brink. They will not be extreme. They will also not be the basis of my yearly life schedule. Traveling for events will occur very rarely (if at all). I won’t bother with race swag or photos (unless included with registration fees) as the swag never gets used and all the race photos look the same after awhile.

My blog will also go dormant. This document was mostly for my own benefit. It was to keep me accountable and to track my journey. It has been successful in that regard…and I am stunned that so many others have followed this journey. But my future in the sport will be more mundane and I am finding that I have less and less to say. It is time to bring this to a close as well.

Despite these promised changes, I am not saying “never again”. I may compete in another marathon at some point. The one thing that I feel that I am missing is a World Marathon Major. There are three of these in the United States…Boston, New York, and Chicago. Chicago would be the easiest race logistically…and is the least inspiring for me. New York sounds amazing and is the biggest marathon in the world. Both races are lottery registrations. Boston is a bucket list race for almost any runner. I will NEVER qualify for this race, but I could do a charity registration. I would just need to find a charity that I believe in that would accept me. Maybe this will be a 50th birthday present to myself. Time will tell…

As for triathlons, I will do one or two local sprints every year just to keep me cycling and swimming. I will never do another full distance Ironman, but a 70.3 may be in my future. It is not a priority, but I’m not ruling it out either. It just feels increasingly unlikely. Despite two new Ironman 70.3’s being launched mithin driving distance, I have no current interest in signing up for either event. Time will tell…

USAT Age Group Nationals was an unexpected wild card. I qualified by winning my Age Group at the HITS Sprint Triathlon in Waconia. This opportunity will be too good to pass up and I know that I would regret passing on this race. I have been invited for the Olympic Distance Age Group National Championship in Omaha next year and I will also compete in the Sprint Age Group National Championship (no qualification needed) the next day. This will be the big travel event of 2017. The rest of the year’s schedule looks quite minimalist by my standards:

-Hot Chocolate 15k (Minneapolis) – April
-Lifetime Tri Minneapolis (Sprint Distance) – July
-USAT Nationals (Olympic and Sprint) – August
-Twin Cities Loony Challenge (10k, 5k, 10 mile) – October.

If I ever do a big race again (Boston, Ironman 70.3, or any full marathon), I will likely post a race report here. I can almost guarantee a few blog posts for Nationals. But my days of regular blogging has come to an end. To my readers, thank you for following me and for the encouragement and inspiration along the way. You have made this journey easier, and more enjoyable as well.

Before I sign off for the last time, I wanted to take a final look back at my five year journey…the medals, the 50 States Marathon map, and the views from the finish lines…

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