Although I was pretty sure that I had qualified for USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship at HITS Waconia, it was nice to get official confirmation this morning. USAT Olympic Age Group National Championship is the only (non-Ironman) qualification only race in the United States, and is the first time that I have successfully qualified for a race. Sure, I was able to bypass the lottery and get guaranteed entry once in Houston, and I have received prefered coral placement as well, but the only way into this race is to qualify. It may not be quite as prestigious as Boston Marathon or Ironman Kona, but this is still very special and exciting for me. I never would have thought this would be possible and it exceeds all of my hopes and expectations. Omaha may not be Kona or Boston, but Omaha will be MY Kona and Boston combined. It is a validation that I have truly am a triathlete. It is validation that I belong…
…as a spectator.
As many fans gear up for the first NFL game of the season, I have been glued to my iPad watching real time results of so many friends across the country tackling their last big races of the year.
So many stories. So much inspiration.
Yesterday, two of my friends did their second ever triathlon…and their first Olympic distance and first race with an OWS. They ended up first and second in their age group.
Today, another friend is competing at Cedar Point Rev3 70.3 triathlon. She has completed several 70.3’s and this is her last one before she can register for her first full distance Ironman (IM Florida 2017…on her birthday).
But, the main event has to be Ironman Wisconsin…the same race I completed 2 years ago. So many friends are there that it is hard to keep track of them all. Many are veterans looking at setting a new PR. Some are first timers who are just hoping to finish.
Three of them have unfinished business.
The first is an outstanding athlete who I competed with 2 years ago. I met at a century ride a couple of months earlier. She got a stress fracture in her hip the week before the race. Her orthopedist grudgingly gave her the green light to swim and bike, but firmly told her not to run. She crushed the first two legs of the race but made the decision to put flip flops instead of running shoes in her T2 transition bag. I remember feeling like death coming out of T2 wondering how I could ever finish (I could barely stand up or walk), and I heard her cheering me on from the sidelines. Her day was done. I still had a chance. That gave me the mental push I needed to keep going. She has taken a break to recover, and is there to finish what she started.
The second is a middle of the pack Ironman who keeps going back despite having to concur panic attacks on the swim every single race. Last year, he got a DNS since he needed urgent spine surgery. He was told that one wrong move could paralyze him. Now he is back to race again.
The third athlete reminds me of me…but with a lot more heart and courage. He lost 100 pounds and lined up at the start with me in 2014. He fell a little short and got swept at mile 15 on the run. He was first in line to sign up for 2015. That year, he had a very rough bike race and his legs kept cramping up. He reached T2 but missed the cutoff by less than 30 seconds. His legs were so badly cramped that he could not unclip as he came to a stop that he crashed his bike. Since this was the bike in at T2, it was being streamed lived as we all watched in horror as the ambulance arrived. He was ok, and again 1st in line to register the next day. If Ironman was measured in the size of someone’s heart and determination instead of finish time and distance, he would be the IM Wisconsin Champion. I have followed his progress this year…and he is ready. His swim split was 11 minutes faster than last year and 19 minutes faster than2014.
I will be glued to the live streams all of these champions cross the finish line in Madison.
Is this inspiring me to sign up for another Ironman? Nope…not a chance. I am thrilled by that race, but have no desire to do it again.
But it is inspiring me to try and do more than just show up at nationals next year. I know I won’t be competitive, but I can give it my best effort. It is also making me wonder about a return to the 70.3 distance. It has been two years since I have done anything but a sprint. Ironman launched a new 70.3 in Ohio this year and will be launching a new Ironman 70.3 in Madison Wisconsin next year.
Maybe I can build up to those as my “A” races of 2018 and 2019.
Time will tell…
UPDATE: Everyone successfully finished their events. The three athletes profiled above are all Ironmans now. Another friend (that I didn’t know was racing) finished first in her age group and qualified for Nationals. It was a great weekend. Now the long hard triathlon off season begins. Of course, that also brings the fall running season. I completed back-to-back 10 milers this weekend in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend next month. Not used to running more then 5k anymore…
August 27, 2016
Maple Grove, MN
Triathlon season always flies by. This is already the final event of the season. It will be at least eight months before serious triathlon training begins again, and 10 months before my next tri.
Today, I have unfinished business. I left Waconia with mixed emotions. On one hand, I got a 1st place finish in my age group. On the other hand, I had a disastrous swim which has resulted is a severe loss of confidence in my Open Water abilities. I will need to do a lot more open water training before next season. But, I desperately needed a good swim to boost my confidence heading into the off-season. Another bad swim will haunt me for months. The rest of the race is just for fun. It will be a much bigger and more competitive race, and there would be no chance at a podium finish today. That’s just fine. I have already punched my ticket to Nationals. This is just a fun victory lap…
The weather was unsettled. We knew it would still be cooler than seasonal, but warmer then Waconia. What we didn’t know was if it would rain. The weather report changed daily. Sometimes it would be scattered showers, other reports would predict severe thunderstorms. The morning of the race, it looked like it would be overcast with possible passing sprinkles. Prepare for anything I guess.
Water would be wetsuit legal (and it was…71F). I got their really early since I didn’t get my packet the day before (many didn’t) and parking was a 10 minute walk. The pre-dawn weather was perfect. It was cool, but dry and comfortable. Once I got my packet and got my gear organized, I threw on the wetsuit and headed to the lake. I had a lot of time for a warm up swim…international distance swimmers were going first, and I had over an hour to wait. The lake was perfectly calm. There was barely a ripple and no current. I jumped in and swam slow and relaxed in the shallows then in deeper water. I would then flip on my back and just float there and take it all in. I was perfectly relaxed and at peace. This would be a different swim then last weekend. As the start time drew closer (time trial start by age group…2 swimmers every three seconds), I headed over to the staging area.
I was in one of the first sprint waves and headed off early. I tried not to push too hard. I just wanted a nice relaxed swim. I wasn’t sighting as often as I should, but my plan was to just find my stroke and settle into a rhythm as much as possible. It worked. Despite a bit of zig-zagging around the course and occasional contact with another swimmer (it was much more crowded than Waconia), I was stunned at how fast the turn buoys came up. By the time I came out of the water, I was certain that the course was short. It wasn’t. My Garmin showed 0.5 miles. Right there, my mission for the day was accomplished. The rest of the race was just for fun.
Swim Split – 19:04 (2:32 min/100m)
Long run to transition. I always have a hard time getting my wetsuit off. My gear was in big ziplock bags to keep it dry from the rain, so transition was not optimally efficient. Once again, I had one of the slowest T1 times in my AG.
T1 Split – 4:20.
The rain had started falling by the time I rolled out of T1. As soon as we hit the road, I started reeling people in. Of course, other riders were blowing past me as well. The course may be kind of boring, but it was very dynamic and busy. I glanced at my bike computer. I was typically over 20 mph (except in the turns where I slowed way down…road was very wet…lots of road spray…and I am just not a technically skilled or aggressive cyclist…especially on slick roads). The course was under 12 miles, and both of my 5 mile split times were just above 15 minutes…very pleased with that. Around mile 10, the rain started to come down hard. It felt like sleet and each drop stung a little. The rain persisted the rest of the ride to T2.
Bike Split – 34:44 (19.01 mph)
More efficient. Finally a middle of the pack transition time!
T2 Split – 2:18
With a more aggressive and successful Bike Split then planned (1/2 mph better than Waconia), I was going to push as hard as I could for as long as I could on the run. It was a 5k…I could suffer for 30 minutes. I went out fast and I was just soaked (feet were sloshing around in my shoes). The ride was a little chilly, but the run was ideal. The rain had let up a little. The sun, heat and wind were non-factors. I have rarely run well this year, but I seem to find a hidden gear during my triathlons (which is definitely absent during my run only events). The first mile hurt…a lot. By mile 1.25, I kept hearing someone right behind me. She was using me as a pacer…and I was doing what I could to drop her. A quarter mile later, and we had joined forces. We were both forcing the other to go a little faster than we wanted to go. We also distracted each other from the inner hell we were in. She had just done the Nationals so I got a little bit of info from her. By 2.5 miles she had hinted that she would not be able to keep up this pace, so I started to pull away. Not too much farther, and the finish was in sight. Many around me started mad sprints for the finish. I tried to copy them but I had nothing left in the tank. I cruised into the finish at an even pace having left it all in the course. I have no idea what I am doing in this pic…
Run Split – 26:19 (8:30 min/mile)
Finish Time – 1:26:42
Age Group Place – 12/31
Gender Place – 147/275
Overall Place – 214/503
I am more pleased with my performance today then any other triathlon this season. I exceeded expectations in all disciplines. I recorded faster speeds in all disciplines then Waconia (7 minutes faster on the swim, 1/2 mph faster on the bike, and 30 seconds/mile faster on the run). I got my pic taken and headed for post race food. This was the best spread of the season. A local BBQ restaurant was catering-build your own pulled pork sandwiches with choice of sauces. I went back for seconds. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down hard. I was already soaked and the wind had kicked up a notch. I got cold…fast. With these larger races, I cannot access my gear in transition until all racers are done with T2. I had to wait about 1 hour….in the rain. By the time I got in there, all of my plastic bags of gear (which I had not securely sealed in the heat of the race) were filled with water. It was 2 bags of drenched yuck. It was a long trek back to the car to warm up and dry out.
And, so ended triathlon 2016. Overall, a fun season (except for the Waconia swim). I had a 1st place finish last week (along with qualifying for Nationals) and a stronger race this weekend. I already have the 2017 schedule tentatively planned. In the mean time, I will focus on the run again and the final races of the year – The Twin Cities Loony Challenge (1 mile, 5k, 10k, and 10 mile) at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend in early October.
August 21, 2016
When it comes to races, participants usually have a script visualized in their minds eye. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a fear. Mostly, it is a vision of what has gone before, and a realistic a hope for something a little bit better.
Some races transend expectation. This may be good or bad. Occasionally, they are both. A race that baffles the racer at the end of the day in every possible way.
This was one of those races. Nothing followed the script. Nothing was even close. It made for my worst and best race in recent memory.
My training volumes and intensity have been down from last year. I showed up to participate, not compete. But, I had thoughts that I could get my first ever podium finish. This is not because I thought I could smoke the competition. Instead, I remembered that this was a very small triathlon. Most participants got a podium award. Unfortunately, I was in the largest and most competative Age Group last year. Despite a decent showing, I ended up 5th out of 6 participants. If my age group happened to be a little smaller this time, I could get lucky and score a third place finish…maybe.
I found out last week that HITS would not be returning the Minnesota next year. Judging from last year’s event, this was not be a shock. About 50 participants in the full, 100 or so in the half, and small showings in the Sprint and Olympic distances. The medals and shirts were the same for everyone. The course was dull, even for a sprint, with only a small number of volunteers. Despite rock bottom pricing ($200 early bird pricing for the full), HITS just never caught on. Turnout is much better at local events (participants, volunteers, spectators). So, it was no surprise that this event was absent from next year’s calendar. I am starting to wonder is there even will be a 2018 HITS calendar. HITS has dropped events in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now Minnesota. This leaves only events in New York, Florida and California. I wasn’t planning on running this event in 2017, but the loss of competition in the market is never a good thing. I truly hope that they can make a comeback.
The forcast called for a cold front to come through town the day before the event. Predicted morning temps was to hover around 50F. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough time for the lake temps to drop. The swim would be wetsuit legal, but comfortable. The run would be nice. I expected to freeze on the bike course, and I started going through my cool weather cycling wardrobe. The day before my race, HITS held their longer events (140.6 and 70.3). Those guys got clobbered with cold, rain, wind, and whitecaps. I definately got the better day of the weekend to compete.
Unfortunately, I did everything wrong leading up to this event. My training was sidetracked. I did not swim or bike for a month before this race. My running volume was down as well. I spent the day before the race watching Gwen Jorgensen win a Gold Medal in Rio (while Sarah True received a heartbreaking DNF). That night, Canada’s rock band – The Tragically Hip – streamed their final show online. The lead singer was diagnosed with brain cancer and had just had a craniotomy, chemo and radiation, and decided that he wanted to tour one last time. I had to watch the show. It was electrifying. But it also wasn’t over until 11:00 pm. Since I had a 90 minute drive to the race site the next morning, and the early transition time, I had to get up by 2:30 am. That gave me about 3 hours of sleep….
The weather turned out better and worse then expected. It ended up being warmer (high 50’s) but felt colder due to strong winds. As I arrived at the venue, I could hear (but not see) the waves crashing against the shore. This immediately started to mess with my confidence. This is odd since I have swam in far worse conditions without issue. But the cool morning air, strong winds and the sound of the waves messed with by head. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this race.
It is a small event. Parking was close to the park and I got there just as packet pick up was starting. Generic shirt again (and wrong size), chip, bib, stickers and back to the car I went. After getting most of my gear together, I hiked back to transition and got my area organized. HITS does provide a nice transition area with benches for each participant. After setting up, I decided that it would be easier to get my wetsuit on in the back of my SUV instead on the wet grass…so another hike back to the car. I was walking back to transition for the last time when I took note that I was walking barefoot…I had left my running shoes in the car. My head was clearly not in the game that morning.
After everything was in place, I headed to the beach and saw the water for the first time. The waves weren’t as bad as they sounded, but there were a lot of them, and there was a very strong current coming towards the shore.
I was the first to hop in the water for a warmup. The water was very comfortable…but the anxiety skyrocketed as soon as I started taking a few test strokes. The current and frequent waves made it impossible for me to get into a rhythm and I started panicking. The more I swam, the worse it became. I started to doubt my ability to do this event.
We were called back to shore for a quick pre-race briefing. It would be a mass start from the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the rest as I was trying to get my heart rate and breathing under control. I couldn’t. Moments later the horn sounded. I let the small mass start (50 or so racers) go ahead and then, with an intense feeling of foreboding, I followed them into the water…
Let’s just sum it up. The swim was a complete disaster. It was my worst swim since Ironman 70.3 Racine (with the freezing lake temps, six foot swells, the current and the undertow). At least there, I had a reason to panic.
I may have been 100 feet from shore when I felt certain that I was going to drown out here. I actually turned around and started heading back to the beach. I then saw a paddle board that was closer and headed towards her instead (mostly because it was closer). I tried to calm down (didn’t really work) and the paddle boarder agreed to stay near me (since I was already about in last place and marked by the lifeguards as the most likely to need rescuing).
The course was a triangle. The first leg, I would be fighting the current the whole way. The second leg, I would have waves coming onto my right side (the side I breath from), and the third leg, the current would help me back to shore.
I swam another hundred feet and had to latch on to the board again. I was doing head up breast stroke half the time. I doubt I took more then 5-6 freestyle strokes in a row. This pattern continued until I reached the turn buoy. I grabbed on to it for a break. I looked around me and there were a couple of struggling swimmers nearby, but almost everyone was long gone. I was dreading the second leg. Waves would be hitting me in the face as I tried to breath. I figured that the first one would send me into a complete panic. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I was able to keep my face above water, but I never found a rhythm. I was still doing a fair amount of breast stroke. I was still taking breathers on paddle boards and buoys.
By the time I reach the final turn buoy, I started to wonder if I would miss the swim cutoff. We had thirty minutes to complete the swim. It felt that I was in the water longer then that. I checked my Garmin and realized that I never started to timer. I forgot that I could have just looked at time of day since we started racing as a mass start at 7:00 am. I was having that kind of morning.
I started the final leg, and the current finally started to help me. I started to get into a rhythm, but I still fighting a very high anxiety level, and a certainty that I would get my first DNF. After what seemed like an eternity, my feet touched the sand and I crawled back onto the beach.
Swim Split – 26:57
I expected to be handing over my timing chip. Instead, I was directed to the wetsuit stripper. A quick strip later and I was in transition. I looked around and I few stragglers we’re heading out on the bike and I was the last one there. I knew I passed at least one swimmer at the end of the last leg, so I was not dead last, but I was very close. I had to start catching up. I had to vindicate myself a little bit on the bike. I tried to get through transition as fast as I could, grabbed my bike, and headed out of T1.
T1 Split – 2:38
I looked at my Garmin. It still wasn’t on. But time of day was 7:30 am. So my swim + T1 time was 30 minutes. I knew that I had made the swim cutoff and wasn’t going to get an automatic DNF. But it had been close. I felt angry and embarrassed. I knew I wasn’t quite dead last, but I was close. I least nobody would likely be passing me on the bike. Hopefully, I could start reeling people in.
It was time to redeem myself.
I attacked from behind. In the first mile, I spotted the couple that had left transition just as I arrived…
“On your left!”
A mile later, I come to another rider…
“On your left!”
Then my first group of riders…
“On your left!”
You get the idea.
By the time I had reached the turnaround (it was a simple out and back course), I had lost count.
On the way back, I counted how many were behind me. Twenty two. Not bad…
The ride back was lonely. I passed one more cyclist. Didn’t see anyone else. The stronger cyclist were way ahead of me, and I was all by myself in the middle of the pack.
It was a cold ride. Being fresh out of the lake didn’t help and the windy conditions made it worse. But the hard cycling and the sun did make for a pretty comfortable ride back.
A few more miles at a steady pace and I was back in T2.
Bike Split – 44:10
I just tried to not waste any time. Certainly room for improvement.
T2 Split – 1:13
I had found some redemption on the bike, and wanted to keep that going on the run. I still knew that a podium finish was a possibility and didn’t want to just miss it because I got lazy in the final few miles.
The first part of the course is a dirt trail. Unfortunately, torrential rains had struck the night before, and the trail was a mud run in locations. I maneuvered through as best I could and got to the road that we were racing on.
If it was cold for the bike, it was ideal for the run. I didn’t think that I would be reeling anyone in, but I wanted to be passed as little as possible. The course was again a simple out and back. On the was out, someone just flew past me. Fortunately, it was a female and not in my AG. I remembered at this point that the body markers had not placed the competitors age on the calf…I would not know if someone was in my AG or not. This would become a big deal later on.
I reached the turnaround and got some water. Several seconds later, I passed someone going out towards the turnaround. He looked my age. I glanced at his calf. His age wasn’t recorded. I had no way of knowing if he was in my age group or not. But a voice in my head told me to make damn certain that he didn’t pass me. I look further back. He still had a little bit of concrete between him and the turnaround. I had a comfortable lead with 1.5 miles to go.
I passed a small number of walkers on the way back in. None of them looked like AG competition. I glanced back occasionally. He was gaining on me, but I didn’t think that he could make up the rest of the distance in time. He was running out of run course.
Soon, I was back at the muddy path. I tried to stay in the grassy areas so I didn’t slip too much. A fall here and I would be overtaken. But, I safely maneuvered the path.
I got back to the park. I just had to get to the picnic pavilion and it would be over. Head down, final sprint, and I crossed the finish line.
Run Split – 28:27
Finish Time – 1:43:25
It certainly wasn’t the race I wanted. The swim was a disaster. The bike went well, but I was had significantly less training then last season and my bike split was slower then 2015. My run was a little faster this time, and my transitions were improved. But I was seven minutes slower overall. A podium was still a possibility, but it just depended on what the rest of my age group accomplished this day.
I got my medal and a bit of food. The first page of race results was printed and taped to a table. I looked at it. Nobody in my age group on the list. Maybe I had a chance after all. An announcement stated that the award ceremony would take place in about 30 minutes. So, a went to transition, grabbed my gear and headed to the car. After a quick clothing change and loading everything into the vehicle, I headed back to the park to see if I got lucky. I did not feel optimistic.
Upon my return, they were just setting up. I returned to the results board and a second page was posted. I scan down the age group column and started to curse. Two back-to-back M45-49 had made the list. I didn’t see anyone else in my AG. I was still in the running for third. There was still a glimmer of hope.
One last scan of the sheet and I saw it. My jaw dropped because I saw my name…
It was listed next to the first M45-49 result.
I had just won my age group. First place.
I scanned the sheets again. Nobody ahead of my in M45-49. There was one right behind me however. I was right to listen to that voice in my head. The guy chasing me on the run course was in my age group….and he was fast. His run split was 21:53. He had made up 6:30 on me in the run. If he had been 16 seconds faster, he would have won my age group. But he didn’t. I held him off. I was on a podium for the first time…and I was alone at the top.
I looked at the results again and took a pic. I texted my wife…and a few friends. I could not believe what I was seeing. The award ceremony was starting and I headed over.
The awards just kind of whizzed by. I was in a fog for most of it. The announcer got to M45-49 and I held my breath. He announced my name. First place!
I was just dazed after winning the award. Someone I was talking with earlier in the day had come over to congratulate me. He then asked “So, are you going to go to the Nationals?”
USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship. The 2016 event had just occurred a week earlier in Omaha. Some of my most talented triathlon buddies had qualified and attended. I remember reading their race reports and thinking how cool it would be to attend…but that I had no chance in the world of qualifying for it.
“You do know that you just qualified for Nationals right?”
No. No, I didn’t know that.
I got a dry mouth thinking about it. This is thiathlon equivalent to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
USAT is the national triathlon organization. They sanction almost every race in the country. They select and train the Olympic athletes, set up collegiate programs, and have a series of regional and national championships. Most events are open and no qualification is needed…except for the Olympic Distance National Age Group Championship (the sprint event held on the same weekend is open to everyone).
I started to do some research. Triathletes qualify by completing a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance (super sprint to Ironaman) and finishing 1st in their Age Group OR in the top 10% of their age group. This race was USAT sanctioned, I was first in my AG, and a sprint was acceptable distance. There was a little bit of fine print, but none of it seemed to affect me. I reached out to friends who had just finished the race a week earlier, and they confirmed what I suspected. I had just qualified for Nationals.
They warned me not to hold my breath. Next year’s championship schedule would not be announced until the end of the year, and I likely would not get an invitation until January, but I had made it. They also confirmed that the event will be in Omaha for one more year. The venue would be perfect for me. Omaha is a 6 hour drive from home (I could not imagine shipping all my gear and flying to the race), and it was a calm inland lake for the swim (I just could not bring myself to doing an ocean or Great Lakes swim again). It would be a year until the event, so I would have time train for the longer distance in the spring…and get out to do some open water training since I clearly need it. Finally, the schedule shows that the Olympic Distance is held on Saturday, and that I could also do the sprint on Sunday. Sounds like an amazing opportunity!
So, yeah, I had a script in my mind for this event. I would be middle of the pack. It would be my best chance of the year to get a podium spot if luck went my way. I panicked on the swim, I almost turned around and quit. I almost missed the cutoff on the swim and almost got a DNF. Instead, I persevered, had a strong bike, a strategic run, I won my age group, and I qualified for 2017 National Championships. None of that was ever in the script. Sometimes, dreams come true. Occasionally, things you couldn’t even dare to dream of will come true as well. You never know what race day will bring…
A link to this editorial popped up in one of my Facebook groups. I had to save it. I know many athletes that will be challenging a full or half distance Ironman in the next few weeks. For some, it will trying to improve on a personal best or trying to qualify for Kona. For most (like me) it was chasing a dream. The hope was just to finish…knowing that failure was a real possibility. This is one of the best tributes I have read to those that dare to try. To all my friends trying to complete their first 140.6 or 70.3 race, you are an inspiration to many. The real victory comes when you cross the starting line. The rest of the day is the celebration of your journey…
Editorial by Tom Demerly.
Last people in.
The weather report said the sun would go down today at 7:49 pm. And it did.
Now it is dark.
In the street there is a sporadic, somber procession. It is a black and white picture. There is no color, no pageantry, and no grandeur. The grace is gone and now and it is down to gritty reality.
It is the time of The Strugglers. 11:18 pm, Taupo, New Zealand- the 20th Anniversary Bonita Banana Ironman Triathlon.
The Pros are asleep. Their stomachs are full, their muscles are massaged. Their performances are a matter of record now. They are done. Have been for quite some time. They finished in the sunlight in the front of cameras and microphones racing for paychecks and trophies.
It’s easy to understand why they race. They should race. They look like they should. Lithe and toned and buff and tan and serious, the Pros and the other talented athletes reap the generous gift of genetic athletic abundance, meticulous preparation and clear-cut motivation. They are here to kick ass. It doesn’t take a psychologist to decode their motives. They’re athletes, and this is the big show. It’s what they do.
The pros’ time is over. Now it is time for The Strugglers.
There are no levels of performance for The Strugglers. You either are or you aren’t one. If you haven’t finished by now and you’re still out under the lights you are a member of this vaunted fraternity, The Strugglers. Just as the stark street lights leave either harsh illumination or black despair for The Strugglers this is a matter of finish or not finish, victory or defeat, do or die, pride or humiliation, success or failure. It is all the chips on one square, all the cards face up on the table, and all the aces have already been dealt today. The Strugglers play high stakes with a bad hand.
It may never have been pretty for The Strugglers. Most of them may not be athletes in the sense that they spend hours and hours every week training, but they line up nonetheless to do this race. The downtrodden, the meek, the ones with something to prove or something to defeat. Whatever it is they bring it here and beat it into ugly submission over 140.6 miles, each one a full 5,280 feet. The Strugglers earn every inch of every foot of every mile.
In a day so daunting and fearful they line up on the beach as if bravely facing the gallows. A cannon sounds the beginning of their trial and there is little known at the onset about how matters will be resolved, except to say it will be hard and uncomfortable and then downright painful. That may be the most frightening part: The not knowing. Some will find absolution, some will teeter and wobble and fall. There will be polite acknowledgement of their ambition, but ultimately, for The Strugglers the only thing that matters is Finishing. It’s what they’re here for.
So for The Strugglers, this is a huge gamble. Hero or failure. No in between.
And struggle they might, against awful odds and distance and poor conditioning and genetic poverty, but in bravery they are absolutely peerless. Without equal.
The Strugglers know it will not be pretty. They know it is not a sure thing. They do not have the luxury of prediction or past performances or experience. This is not their aptitude. But this is their choice and their bold dream.
Imagine being sent to do something, something beastly difficult. You know in your heart of hearts you are not prepared, maybe not even suited for this. You know the stares of others less brave and more envious fall heavily on your effort. They want The Strugglers to fail. For every Struggler who crosses the finish line it is a failure for those who never dared try. For every Struggler who sadly and reluctantly succumbs to the distance before the finish line and is carried off the course it is a victory for those who never started. They take sick pleasure in that. Shame on them.
Those who never had the courage to try have no right to cast judgment on The Strugglers.
The Pros are comfortable and resting. But the Strugglers have not left their sacred vigil. They soldier on, unswerving in their oath to finish, No Matter What. People marvel at the Pros performance, but I say The Strugglers are the real athletes. Explorers on the terrible frontier of self-doubt, fear and potential embarrassment on a grand scale. They bring less to the start line and they do more. Longer, harder, more painful: It is a different race for The Strugglers.
It is a parade really. A parade of people so brave and tough and fearless that they don’t care if it might not work. They bank on the fact that it could. They don’t back away from the possibility of failure. Imagine their performance as set against the backdrop of the very best in the world and they are not self-conscious about their version of the very same dance. Ask yourself, would you take the stage at the Kennedy Center after Barishnikov or Pavoratti? Are you that brave?
The Strugglers are.
Their performance is tedious and grinding. It is utterly relentless in its duration. The distance, the time, the struggle cannot be compromised. The Strugglers know this, they accept it- embrace it even. And they never succumb. Under the street lights, through the cool air, in filthy clothes streaked with their own discharge of minerals and fluids and sometimes even tears and blood.
The Strugglers do a different kind of race. A harder one. And they are Elite. It takes longer. It is less practiced. It seems to never end, and it does more damage.
Decode their motives if you will. But I decode yours as trying to explain more why you didn’t try than why they are. Instead, I respectfully suggest, salute them. Unless you have walked with The Strugglers until midnight on the Ironman course they stand above you in the athletic arena. Struggle as they may, they mustered the courage to try.
July 9th, 2016
Triathlon season in the Upper Midwest is short. Very very short. It is mostly a July/August thing. I have competed in June and September, but lake temps can be very cold. So, we have about 10 months of nothing, then there are two months of triathlons being hosted in practically every lake in the state.
Even though I train every spring for it, it is always a shock when I turn the calendar to July and triathlon season is here. It is also a shock when it disappears just as suddenly on Labor Day.
When I was running the Red White & Boom HM this Monday, I knew that my first tri of the year was coming 5 days later and my mind kept returning to that race. I had to dig out my USAT card and my wetsuit and all of my other gear. So many more details for a triathlon then a run…
Fortunately, Lifetime Minneapolis is one of my favorite triathlons. It’s big, it’s urban, it’s scenic, and it’s well organized. It is also a highlight of my season. As a bonus, the weather looked to be perfect!
Race morning was breathtaking…
The venue is stunning. The weather usually cooperates, but never quite like this. Sunrise was a moment to treasure. After I put my phone away, I saw some other athletes heading towards transition is a dense layer of fog just as first light was upon them.
I took it all in, and I could remember why I fell in love with this sport in the first place.
Despite to amazing urban park venue, the courses has a few challenges. The bike course is rough. The course has a few tight u-turns and steep (but short) downhills on uneven cobblestone with potholes in one section…on a road bike. Fortunately, the bike course is always closed to vehicular traffic making it much safer. It takes us for a stretch on the West Bank on the Mississippi River, over a bridge, and back down the East Bank of the Mississippi. The roads are narrow, but closed to traffic and wide enough for one way bike traffic. Overall, it works out great…
…but not this year.
This year, the needed bridge to cross the river was being repaired. So, they sent us up and back on the narrow east bank road…and we got some of the tightest sections of the course twice…with oncoming bike traffic…and a lot less room to maneuver.
It was nobody’s fault…just the way it had to play out this year…and the old course should return next year.
As you can tell, I got there early (again). Water temp 75F (wetsuit legal, but not really needed). I opted for the sleeveless. I got my transition station set up then had a couple hours to kill. I went to the practice swim area repeatedly to cool off (my first open water and first wetsuit swims of the year). All the international racers went first, and finally, it was my turn.
The Swim (750m or 0.47 miles):
Swim was a time trial start…two racers every 3 seconds. Simple course, green water, calm conditions, not much contact. I continued to do my single speed in the water that I always do at these events. 26/40 place in my AG. Not much more to say.
Swim Split – 18:05
I really need to get a little bit faster at these. 37/40 place.
T1 Split – 5:33
The Bike (15 miles):
Pretty much said all I needed to say. Seemed slow at times due to the bottlenecks and added technical elements. I am not an aggressive cyclists if the roads are technical and crowded. Given those limitations, I am pleased with my average speed. AG 30/40.
Bike Split – 51:34 (17.45 mph)
Same as T1. Still 37/40.
T2 Split: 3:05
The Run (5k or 3.1 miles):
This was one flat lap around the lake we swam in (plus an out and back on the bridge crossing the lake). Aid stations were at every mile. We needed them. The heat (about 80F and sunny) felt awesome on the bike, and not so great on the run. I had been running very slow all year and I was determined to go faster then my typical 11-12 minute/mile pace. I succeeded. Best run I have had in over a year. AG 16/40.
Run Split – 27:32 (8:53/mile)
Nothing spectacular, but I was not really competing with anyone but myself, and I am pleased with those splits. Unfortunately, the transitions killed me. Because of those, my overall finish place was worse then any of my 3 disciplines.
Finish Time – 1:45:47 (336/642 overall, 224/359 males, 31/40 AG).
This race is known for some good hot real food after the race. Since a chicken company was the principle sponsor, I expected some of that after the race. Nope. We got a snack box like they hand out at Disney after a race. Kindof a letdown. The medal was great! It was the events 15th anniversary and the medal reflected that (and…it was a bottle opener again!) The rest of the swag was good too. The shirt was well designed and we got a poster too…too bad there aren’t pros at this event anymore to autograph them.
Overall, great event. Loved returning to triathlon, and looking forward to two more triathlons next month before the season come to a sudden end…
July 4th, 2016
My 100th event (well, 89th according to Athlinks since they don’t consider events without a finish time as official…so the fun runs and 100 mile cycling events don’t get counted). Fitting that it should be the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon…it has been a staple on my schedule since I started running 5 years ago. It is the only event that I have raced every year since I started to run. The half-marathon is also my most commonly raced distance.
So, I found it ironic that, in reaching this milestone, that it could be my last half.
Unlike full marathons, I am not actively avoiding the distance, but I am cutting back dramatically on all race events. I will likely limit my racing to a spring and fall running event and a summer triathlon. The fall race will be the big event of the year and will be the Twin Cities 10-Mile (no half marathon option available at that event). The summer event will be a sprint triathlon (Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis most likely), leaving a spring race that will likely be shorter after the off-season (Hot Chocolate 15k scheduled for 2017). A half marathon will almost certainly show up on my schedule at some point…but nothing is on the radar in the foreseeable future.
I have finally settled back into a predictable training routine. Each week I do a 1 mile pool swim, a 32 mile bike/5k run brick, two 10k runs and one “long” run (10k or longer depending on my schedule). This averages out to over 1 hour/day of fitness. It feels like a good balence.
Being on the 4th of July, this is historically a hot race, and it starts early. I received an e-mail that the race would start under a yellow flag due to heat. That seemed a little excessive (mid to high 60’s with dew points in the low 60’s). I assumed it would finish under a yellow flag, but those temps don’t seem too unpleasant.
Packets could be picked up on race morning which makes my life easier. Unfortunately, they have added a 5k run to this event and have opted for two completely separate courses (same finish line) so my race is on the west side of the Mississippi River (about a 1 mile walk from packet pick up) instead of being on both sides and crossing the river a couple of times. I think that I will miss the old course…
The morning was beautiful. Parking was worse then prior years (always a nightmare for this event) even though I got there before they even started handing out packets (5:15 am). I got my stuff, hiked back to the car (to drop off the shirt and pint glass) then headed back to the start. So, I had logged over two miles on my feet before I even made it to the starting line.
The weather was ideal. 64F, slight humidity, nice breeze…and a yellow flag (seriously?) Small dose of reality hit when the cop went by with the bomb sniffing K-9. They wandered through the crowd and opened the garbage bins for a quick sniff before moving on.
The race was fine, but I did miss the old course. This one just wasn’t as scenic. It did get into the low 70’s by the end of the race and I was pouring water over my head during the second half. My speed did not return for this event (I didn’t expect it to) and I am still left to wonder why I am so much slower then before. This race was a full 21 minutes slower then my first half marathon…about 8 weeks after I bought my first running shoes. I am not that much older. Sigh…
As is the norm for this race, they offer grilled hotdogs at the finish. I have never liked these mystery meet products, but I do “indulge” in my only hot dog of the year right after the finish line.
Finish Time – 2:30:02 (grrrr…)
This brings my “spring” running season to a (late) close. In five days, my short summer triathlon season begins (training is already in full swing). Three sprints, the final two being in late August. It should be a nice change of pace…
“I always try to explain to people that peak performance and life fitness are really different worlds. When you are trying to maximize everything you can out of your body, you’re also getting that much closer to getting an injury, getting burnt out, or paying a price that you may never get back. Life fitness is about figuring out: ‘What can I do every day so I feel better today and tomorrow and I can still go and do something and do it next year and the year after that until I’m 98?’ That’s kind of what my athletic quest is now.”
Mark Allen – Six Time Ironman World Champion
I found the above quote in the 2016 Fargo Marathon Results Magazine. Mark was the keynote speaker at the Fargo Marathon Expo and did a throwaway Q+A article for the magazine.
It nicely summarizes my journey for the past two years.
When I started running, it was new and exciting. I was in awe of what I could do and kept setting bigger and bigger goals for myself until I crossed the finish line in Madison. For the next two years, I struggled with motivation and burnout. I felt that the new goals (Ultramarathon, 50 marathon states, back to back marathons, etc) should be motivating but it was burning me out. I realized that my path was not sustainable. I have been radically cutting back on training and events trying to find something that I could enjoy, maintain, and that would be worth maintaining. So, this quote resonated with me.
Interestingly, in the past few weeks, I think that I may have found that balence. I have been on a regular and consistent training schedule…and I have been enjoying it. It is a far cry from my Ironman days, but more then most middle aged adults do routinely, and it should help me maintain some degree of “Life Fitness”.
Here’s the current schedule:
Monday + Tuesday: rest (work schedule does not allow for a regular workout)
Wednesday: 1 mile swim
Thursday: 32 mile bike/5k run
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10k run
The whole thing averages about 1 hour/day. I am not trying to break any speed records, nor do I have any complex drills. It is just “me” time. With the exception of Thursday, the whole workout is done before anyone else is out of bed. It does not take away from family time.
This feels right. It feels sustainable. It is also something I can use as a springboard for future training if the desire ever returns…
…of course, I am starting a little late this year. First triathlon is in 1 month.
Fortunately, I am just participating for fun this year…and to give me a reason to get to the pool and bike trail.
Once the Fargo Marathon was behind me, I got to work setting up a regular running schedule and building up good habits again. But, with a Half Marathon and 3 sprint triathlons coming up soon, I need to ramp up running mileage AND get the cross training going. Two days ago, I hit the pool for the first time since January. Swam a mile and it felt good. Yesterday, I hit the bike trail and completed 32 miles followed by a 5k run. Today, a 15k run completed at the crack of dawn before it got too hot and muggy outside.
Sure, this pales by comparison to previous seasons, but great to know that I can still do this much….
…and I was having fun again! How cool is that?
A common conversation among Ironman Finishers is which Ironman race is the hardest.
This happens A LOT.
It generally starts with a newbie asking which races are easier or beginner friendly. Then the standard disclaimers start up. “There is no such thing as an easy Ironman”, “They are all 140.6 miles”. Everyone agrees that there is no “easier” Ironman. Then people start expressing that some races are “more hard”. Of course, the “more hard” races are always the events that the speaker has participated in. Funny how that works out….
Level of difficulty will always be subjective in these conversations. Much of it has to do with the participants own strengths and weaknesses. Are they technically strong cyclists? Can you run in the heat or cold? Wetsuit legal vs warm swim? I would, of course, play up IM Wisconsin’s very technical bike course with the big elevation gain and the mass swim start whenever I would wade into these pissing matches…assuming that there would never be a true winner in these debates…until now.
LAVA Magazine (official publication of Ironman) has endorsed IronIndex.com as the official ranking of all Ironman races (this ranking also includes all Challenge/Rev3 races worldwide). A total of 50 of the biggest and most well known Iron Distance races are ranked in terms of their overall level of difficulty. They are then branded as “Standard”, “Difficult”, “Intense”, and “Extreme”. To put it in perspective, the Ironman World Championship is 9th on the list and ranked as “Intense” (only eight races worldwide are listed as “Extreme”).
Imagine my surprise to find that the race I completed (Ironman Wisconsin) listed as the 6th toughest race…in the world (and considered an “Extreme” event)!
It is listed as a tougher race then Malasia. Malasia! That race has a “monkey zone” on the bike course. Participants are warned not to eat or drink anything in the monkey zone since the monkeys are aggressive, not afraid of humans, and will attack you on your bike. The course guide advises that participants should carry a big stick when riding and a tutorial on how to use that stick if attacked. Somehow, that race is considered easier then Wisconsin.
Of course, there are a lot of disclaimers for such a list. It only considers current Ironman and Challenge events. Discontinued events (Ironman Tahoe and Ironman Muskoka are both off the list), other series (HITS), non-Iron Distance (X-Terra), and independent events (Alaska-Man, Norse-Man) are conveniently excluded. The list also assumes “average” weather conditions. Ironman has been cursed with some bad weather of late (108F at Coeur D’Alene, hypothermia conditions in Florida, forest fires in Tahoe, modified swim due to poor water quality/shortened bike due to flooding and construction/suspended run due to lightning in IM Texas this year. Variables like these would dramatically affect the course’s level of difficulty on any given day (I was fortunate to have ideal weather for my race day).
So, does the “extreme” ranking matter? It shouldn’t, but to me, it does (at least a little bit).
Had I seen this rating before registering, I may have reconsidered my decision to participate…so I am glad that I never saw this beforehand. But it reaffirms to me that my training was no joke. It reaffirms that crossing the finish line wasn’t beginners luck. That victory was earned, and I did something remarkable that day. I may not be able to repeat the achievement, but it emphasizes that I am capable of completing something that is (almost) impossible.
But I still think that mutant monkeys would be harder…