Sweet Dreams of Spine Surgery

I’m strapped down horizontally on an operation table in the middle of a room filled with medical equipment, dressed in a yellow hospital gown covered in smiley faces. I look at the leather straps holding my wrists and believe I can rip my arms out, but I’m too worried to do so. Such a violent motion could cause further injury to my broken neck, so I lay there like a frightened rabbit, paralyzed, at least, with fear. Nurses walk by importantly with clipboards, looking down at their paperwork as they hurriedly pass. I feel cold rushes of air on my cheeks and an involuntary shiver runs through me.

I now look down at myself from 10 feet above as a blind surgeon approaches my motionless body, strapped to the green operating table. Empty eye sockets, filled only with darkness, gaze absently at an array of tools on a tray next to me. Drills, assorted razors, scalpels, and gleaming silver hammers with picks. He chooses an eight-inch blade with a curved tip like a pirate’s sword and brings it to my ear.

“My name is Your Doctor,” he says smiling. “And this is where we enter the spinal cord.” He delicately presses the blade into my ear canal. It enters easily. Slides in with no pressure or effort at all, like cutting into jello. He rotates the blade circularly as he presses deep inside my skull, coring my brain out as he begins to hum Mary Had A Little Lamb. He extracts the blade and places it on the metal tray from which it came, exchanging it for a long set of cold metal tweezers. The tweezers go into my year and he pulls out the sludge and chunks of my brain and scalp that are left behind from the coring.

“Excellent consistency,” the surgeon says. He leans his head backwards and opens his mouth wide before raising the tweezers and dropping the bloody gray tissue into his mouth. “Brain food. Sorry, bad joke but I need to stay sharp for this next bit,” he says with true concen, looking down at me has he chews. Brain spittle shoots out from his mouth onto my face and into my slightly open, gaping mouth as he he tells me, “I’ve only performed this next procedure successfully one time before. It was on a Lemur who contracted epilepsy afterwards. Sad.” I noticed at this point that the surgeon had dyed blond hair, combed over an obviously balding scalp in a nasty, messy wave. “China,” he says for no apparent reason, and then begins vomiting wet, bright-green dollar bills onto the floor. A nurse walks into the room with a newspaper and throws it on the mess to cover it up, then exits the room.

Realizing that something truly horrible is going to happen, I strain against the straps that are holding my arms and legs down, only to find that I’m completely paralyzed after all. Panic. I concentrate and put the entirety of my will into budging a toe, a finger, but I’m not able to move. My heart races and thuds in my chest, yet despite the fear and sense of doom I wonder why they’d both strapping down a quadriplegic.

Defeated, I groan and try to say “get on with it,” but I find I also cannot speak. “I know, I know,” the surgeon says with compassion, and lays the tweezers back down on the instrument tray. “That part of your brain is gone.” Next, he picks up a long, thick straw that I hadn’t noticed before, and carefully inserts it into my ear hole. Like an 8-year-old’s juice box, it is equipped with an accordion-like joint that allows it to be inserted straight into my ear before making a 90-degree bend, where it slides delicately down into my spinal column.

After pushing the straw down at least a foot, I expect the blind surgeon to place his lips around it and start sucking, but instead he reaches into his white coat pocket and nervously pulls out a small glass jar. Inside the jar, an enormous black centipede is wrapped around itself in circles. The surgeon unscrews the lid and quickly places the open jar up to the metal straw. Fearful that the centipede might brush against him, he holds the jar, arm fully extended, pinched with his thumb and index finger, grimacing. The centipede stretches towards the opening, revealing its full length of six inches, fangs dripping dark yellow poison, and after a moment’s hesitation, the creature scurries into the straw.

I hear all 142 of its sharp legs scrapping and tapping on the inside of the metal straw as it scuttles through my ear and brain. It then drops into my spinal column, where I feel it moving about, pushing my damaged bones aside. There is a crunch, followed by a nauseatingly intense shock of pain that radiates outwards through my entire body, and I understand that the centipede had taken its first bite. The intensity of the pain takes all of my breath away so that when I open my mouth to scream, no sound comes out. My arms and legs lay motionless like dead fishes as I try to strain against the straps. The crunching of my bones, tendons, and spinal cord continue for minutes that turn to hours, until it finally comes to a sudden stop.

“All done. You may rise,” the surgeon says. I open my eyes to find two nurses unstrapping my arms and legs. One holds a black cattle prod to my temple and pulls the trigger before I have time to react. The shock jolts me upright and I spring to my feet in pain, which is followed immediately by joy that I’m able to move my limbs.

The surgeon points to an X-ray slide lit up on the wall. “Better than new, though you may have lost a few dozen IQ points,” he chuckles. On the slide is a terrifying image: the centipede is stretch vertically up to the base of my skull from the center of my back, forming my new spinal cord and vertebrae. Horror sinks into the pit of my stomach, which must show because the surgeon says, “Not to worry. Hop on the trainer and give the new neck a spin,” gesturing to a stationary bike in the corner of the room.

I make my way over to the bike in a haze, feet seeming to walk by themselves, and throw a leg over the saddle and take a seat. I see that I’m now somehow dressed in a full kit and bike shoes. Not having any choice, I clip in and feel my legs begin pedaling by themselves. I notice a bike computer a moment later on the handlebars. It reads 250 watts. Not bad for riding easy. I put some pressure on and the number jumps to 274, then 298, then 333. Encouraged, I push a bit harder and the computer shows 371, 387, then 407. Nearly effortless. I look up at the surgeon with excitement. His arms are crossed and he has a satisfied grin on his face. I smile back with enthusiasm, not noticing the long thread of drool dripping from my gaping, idiot mouth. “I knew you’d think it was worth it,” he says. But now when he speaks, all I hear is gibberish, so I shrug my shoulders and look back down at the bike computer. 445 watts good. Kenney push harder. 489 watts gooder. Kenney HAPPY. Push more pedals more harder. 524 watts even gooder. Even happy more more. I reach into my back pocket for ride food and pull out a handful of live spiders and wriggling, bloody mice tails, jam the mess into my mouth, and crunch. Centi-spine happy too.

Broken Neck Update

It’s been four weeks since the day of my injury in Hawaii and I’m holding strong mentally (mostly). Since my last post a few weeks ago, I’ve staying busy by going on long walks with Maybellene, reading, working on Adelaide’s and my coaching company Be The Beast Coaching, reaching out to sponsors, playing chess, and aqua jogging (just twice actually). Adelaide is doing her best to keep me socially engaged with the world, so we’ve had a bunch of dinners with friends. My mom visited for a few days this week, during which she beat me at every card game we played, even the one that I’ve been practicing with Adelaide for three weeks and my mom had never played it before.

Despite not training, commuting by bike, or being allowed to ride in a car, the days have been going by fairly fast. Or, I should say, they aren’t dragging by like one might expect. I attribute this to the endless hours I spent doing very little as a bike racer—the many months when I was jobless and training full time. Even if I was doing three to four hours of riding most days, that still leaves a lot of down time. Add in the weeks of being sick and not training at all and I’ve conditioned myself to being very good at boredom.

The lack of exercise is certainly draining on me though, and I’ve noticed that I’m more irritable and have fewer (and lower) highs than usual. Exercise is pretty much the entire point of my existence, as many know, and even when I’m finished as a professional athlete, training will remain. My appetite has also shrunk to that of a normal person…maybe an extra hungry normal person, but a normal person nonetheless, and it’s easy to forget to eat lunch. It’s not easy to forget dessert though.

Adelaide is now the only athlete in the household (other than Maybellene), and often the highpoint in my day is having her explain how her intervals or long run went. With CIM (California International Marathon) coming up in less than four weeks, she and our run group (Run Boulder AC) are about to hit peak form. I enjoy listening to the details of their workouts, which are increasing in intensity and duration, and I imagine myself running with them one day in the future.

I had a few scary days last week when I began feeling tingling in my hands, arms, and legs. I’d had a very faint itching/prickling sensation for a week, usually only when I’d lay down in bed, but for those first seven or eight days it was so light that I thought I was imagining it. But after a particularly strenuous day (30 minutes of aqua jogging and 30 minutes of kicking with a snorkel), my neck tightened up in the evening and it became apparent that the itching sensation was no longer simply my imagination. Unfortunately by then it was the weekend and I couldn’t call my neurosurgeon, Dr. Lamond. I sweated through a few restless nights, picturing my vertebrae shifting and pressing and slicing into my spinal cord—thoughts that made the tingling sensation even more intense. I calculated what just one percent of power loss would amount to nearly five minutes in an eight-hour Ironman. Any loss in physical ability would be devastating to me.

Out of desperation, I called Jason Glowney, a sports orthopedist with Boulder Biologics who I, and probably every athlete in Boulder, has seen for injuries in the past. Jason was the doctor who ordered my CT and MRI scans as fast as possible after I got back from Hawaii, and I trusted that he’d know what to do about the tingling I was feeling. He quickly reassured me that what I was experiencing was a normal part of the healing process, and that the inflammation near the injury site was most likely causing nearby nerves to become irritated. As long as I wasn’t noticing weakness, incontinence, or a few other serious complications, I’d probably be fine. To keep tabs on my grip strength, at least twice a day I squeeze Adelaide’s forearm until she yells at me to stop. As long as she has bruise marks, my spinal cord is in tact. Just kidding. Eventually did get a hold of Dr. Lamond, who confirmed what Jason said.

Vigorous exercise.

The recovery process is going to be much longer than I originally thought. At my appointment with Dr. Lamond a week ago, he informed me that I had another five weeks to go (a total of eight weeks from the injury and four weeks from today) before I could take the neck brace off. But even then I’ll still have to wear it a month longer for ‘risky’ things like being in a car or walking outside. It takes a neck fracture 12 weeks to fully heal, and Dr. Lamond and Adelaide agreed it wouldn’t be worth re-breaking on a bike ride, so I won’t be back on the bike outside until January 9th.

I have been given the OK to ride the trainer, which I plan to start up a the end of this week. It was unclear how long I’d be banned from running and swimming. I think, and am pretty sure, that by eight weeks I’ll be allowed to run and swim with a snorkel, and that my neck will be ready for it. At this point though, I’m giving it one more week before I get back in the pool to aqua jog and kick with the snorkel, since it doesn’t seem worth it to irritate the spine like I did last week. Patience is key, and I’ve got a lot of that. Anyways, this time is best used to build motivation and allow pent-up energy to be synthesized into white blinding rage for race season. Adelaide and I have an awesome race schedule for 2020, which includes a few full Ironmans, Challenge Mexico halfs, and a couple big, non-branded races in France come August.

Tracey Jacobs has been giving me massage to keep my back and shoulders loose, and I’ve been seeing Bette Long for psychotherapy once a week. All in all, I’d say I’m handling this injury better than expected, although the life I’m living is really only enjoyable because I know that there’s an end in sight—January 9th. I wonder if life in general is only enjoyable knowing that there’s a definitive end to it.

On that note, see ya.

 

 

Kona Shit Frosting

In the days after Ironman Boulder, my 2nd place began to to get overshadowed by the fact that I’d qualified for Kona, which hadn’t been a goal or even something I’d been thinking about for 2019. Racing Kona wouldn’t be the most logical step to take in my triathlon career, since I still hadn’t won a race. Competing at Wisconsin or Chattanooga would have made a lot more sense in hindsight. Alas, the hurrah of Kona swept me away and I made the commitment to be there in October.

Unfortunately, my Hashimoto’s ended up getting in the way, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. This entire year I’ve struggled with low energy and low motivation, and have been off and on depressed since the beginning of January. I managed to get through one block of good training in April and May, but that was it. I went in for blood work in August and my thyroid numbers were bad. But instead of being hypo, I was now hyper. The dose of thyroid medication I was on was too high, causing me to suffer from hyperthyroidism, which has many of the same symptoms of hypothyroidism—low energy, muscle weakness, and insomnia to name a few.

When I was first diagnosed in 2015 I never saw an endocrinologist because back then I was on Medicaid and no endocrinologists accepted Medicaid in Boulder, so I just worked things out with my primary care doctor. Over a period of a year and a half (it takes six weeks for a medication increase or decrease to show up in your blood work) we came to a dose of Armour Thyroid that seemed optimal for me. It most likely wasn’t, and my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) slowly began getting too low.

I decreased my thyroid medication early this September and things began slowly turning around. I had two good weeks of training in Tucson with Chris a month out from Kona, though a handful of days during that training camp I was completely spent and couldn’t put out any power on the bike or in the pool. With thyroid disorders, recovery is compromised and performance is unpredictable from day to day. On bad days, training feels like it does the before you get really sick with a head cold—you have no energy and you feel super off, but you don’t know why because you don’t have any cold symptoms yet.

Back in Boulder, I had a rest week followed by a fairly hard week of training, during which I finally put out some good numbers. In addition to two hard group runs, I did a five hour ride averaging 242, and a three hour ride with a 90 minute interval at 300 watts. Nothing groundbreaking, but this week was encouraging considering how my training had gone in the previous four months. I had a strong masters swim on Saturday and that sealed the deal for my confidence. I hadn’t felt good about Kona all summer, but now that my hormones finally began turning a corner, I became hopeful. It was a week out from the race, so I couldn’t have cut things any closer.

Some physical limitations cannot be made up for with positive thinking. While I’d had a few good days, October 12th wouldn’t be one of them.

The Race

Pretty quickly during the swim I felt off. I was unable to take powerful strokes, and felt myself drifting backwards in the chaotic froth of the first 400 meters. Instead of having the usual fight in me, I was content to let other pass by, and I dropped in with a small group of other stragglers and ended up just gluing myself to them for the remainder of the race. I realized how slow our dejected group of four was going by the halfway point because it no longer felt challenging, and I began daydreaming.

After coming out of the water and entering transition, I had to double back and search for my helmet visor, which had become detached in the bag. Losing those 30-40 seconds meant that I was no longer in contact with the three guys I’d swum with, two of whom were strong cyclists (Arnout and Weiss) and who ended up bridging to the main group.

It probably didn’t matter that I wasn’t with them, because once I got on the bike I found that I was struggling to average 23 miles per hour. My power meter wouldn’t turn on that morning before the race, which seemed like a big problem at the time, but having legs that don’t work is, of course, a bigger issue. By the first turn-around at mile six or seven I counted that I was seven minutes behind the tail end of the main group. I knew my race was over at that point.

Photo: Kenny Withrow (@itskennywithrow)

I continued onto the Queen K highway, still a few minutes behind the lead female, Lucy Charles, who’d passed me in the swim, and still losing ground to the one guy up the road I was able to see when I first got onto the bike. By mile 15 I got passed by the second to last place male. At this point I was just riding to put some distance between myself and town; I needed time to ride off my emotions and think about things before I spoke to anyone, had to suffer any type of cheering from spectators, or got back to my dark condo. I flipped it at mile 25 and soft pedaled home, almost in a state of disbelief that this was how my race went. After so many hours of training (well, not that many) and hours spent fantasizing and going over the race in my head, it was over before it really began.

But things can always get worse. Much, much worse.

I spent the rest of the day watching the race on my computer from bed since seeing it in person was too difficult to stomach. Adelaide and I packed up the next day and moved into an Airbnb with both sets of our parents. Throughout that day and the next I felt like I’d wasted a once in a lifetime opportunity, and wasted the time of so many people, including the time of Adelaide and our families, in addition to my sponsors. By day three, I was doing better. We’d been snorkeling, did a night dive with manta rays, drove to Volcano National Park, and Adelaide and I had been running on Alii Drive each morning.

On Thursday, the last day of our trip, roughly three hours before we needed to be at the airport, I was body surfing on Magic Sands beach. A wave built up and I went for it even though I knew I was too far in and that I would go over the falls and get pounded. I’ve surfed and body surfed for my entire life, and feel very comfortable in the water. I’ve wiped out a thousand times on much larger waves without incident. This was just a little three footer, so I didn’t think there’d be much of a consequence of being pummeled by it. As it flipped me, I tucked my chin and covered my head like normal. It was a steep beach, and the water between me and the shore had been sucked back into the wave as it approached, making it just a few feet deep when I went head-first into the sandy bottom. As the top of my head impacted the sand, I felt and heard two distinct pops in my upper back, followed instantaneously by pain. I instinctively wiggled my toes and fingers a quarter second later, fearing the worst, when I was still underwater. I popped up in the wash with the wind slightly knocked out of me, and as I made my way to shore, a secondary tiny wave knocked me off my feet in my weakened state. I regained my balance and staggered to my beach blanket and layed down in a good deal of pain. A few minutes later Adelaide appeared, wondering why I’d gotten out so early. We’d only been in the water a few minutes when I’d wiped out.

She rushed over to the lifeguard stand when I told her what happened, and a lifeguard appeared above me. He suggested I go to the ER. “Someone gets a spinal injury here every day,” he commented. We opted for urgent care instead.

As the urgent doctor manipulated my head up and down and side to side, he told me that my neck and back were fine. “I wouldn’t be able to do this if there was something broken. He’d be in a lot more pain,” the doctor told my mom. Exactly what I thought, I thought to myself. Just a back strain. After all, the pain had let up a bit at this point.

My mom and Adelaide insisted that I get an X-ray anyways. After Kathleen (Adelaide’s mom) drove us to the radiology building, we went back to the Airbnb and packed. Or, I should say, Adelaide packed for me as I laid in bed with my eyes closed. An hour later we got a call from the radiologist, who said the X-ray showed a small bone chip on my cervical spine. It could also be an anomaly, or just part of my bone structure. The x-ray wasn’t detailed enough to confirm anything. To be safe, we decided to go back to the urgent care for a neck brace on our way to the airport. The doctor—the same one as before—said the neck brace probably wasn’t even necessary, and that I only needed to wear it in the airport where I might be run into and knocked over by another person. He adjusted it to the loosest setting and sent us on our way.

It was a miserable day of travel home because in addition to the neck and back pain, I ended up getting super sick with a really bad head cold that had started as a sore throat earlier that morning.

Fast forward a week and a CT scan and MRI showed that I didn’t just have a minor bone chip. I’d broken my neck. I suffered a stable burst fracture of C7 without damage to any soft tissue. The other day, while my neurosurgeon pointed out the damage to my vertebrae on his computer, he said “This is the type of injury that paralyzes people. You got lucky.” My throat had gone dry so I nodded. Paralyzation has been my biggest fear since adulthood. I have no fear of spiders, flying, confined spaces, or most things people are normally afraid of. Yet, even the thought of my own death doesn’t bother me that much. Paralyzation, or losing a limb due to amputation, would be the worst possible thing to happen to me, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to cope with it. Most fears seem to be based on activities, animals, or other tangible things: being at the top of a cliff or walking by a barking dog, for instance. Conversely, my main fear—a very specific injury—is the result or consequence of another person’s phobia. I’m not sure if this makes me more, or less, rational than others people.

Photo: Carolyn Peterson

If my vertebrae had been dislodged just a bit more and pushed inwards towards my spinal cord, I wouldn’t be able to walk, control my bowel movements, or have full strength in my arms. That my disc didn’t rupture and none of my ligaments were harmed is also incredibly fortunate. Already, just a week out, I don’t have very much pain, so it’s a good thing that I got checked out, otherwise I might be out riding today.

Because the fracture is stable, I don’t need surgery or to wear the halo that has been made famous in the triathlon world by Tim Don. However, during the next six to eight weeks I can’t be in a car due to the possibility of being in a crash, must keep my neck brace on at all times, and I obviously can’t train or do anything that would jeopardize my neck. I assume this includes using a pogo stick, jumping on the trampoline, or doing box jumps and back squats, though I think dancing should be fine since it doesn’t involve the neck at all:

 

While this summer’s training and Kona didn’t go to plan due to my Hashimoto’s complications, I regularly tried to remind myself that I was still living a pretty plush life, fortunate enough to do what I’m passionate about and do it in cool places like Boulder, Tucson, Hawaii, and The Black Hills. It’s hard to appreciate what you currently have; it’s much easier to long for what you used to have but don’t anymore. Even now I catch myself pessimistically wishing I wasn’t injured, instead of gratefully reflecting on the fact that I’m not paralyzed or prepping for spinal fusion surgery. Whether that’s the human condition or just a negative attribute of some humans, I don’t know.

 

 

Wildlife Loop Triathlon—2019

Adelaide and I first found out about the Wildlife Loop Triathlon—an Olympic and 70.3 distance race in Custer, South Dakota—three years ago on a Facebook ad, which is quite possibly the first and only time facebook has been useful for anything other than political misinformation and identity theft. We were next lured onto the event website, which seemed to be from another era, specifically the mid 1990’s. Neon green typing, mostly written in the first-person, burst from a jet black background. Why this eye-straining and simple design faded out of style we’ll never know. Much of the course description page discussed the various wildlife that one might see on course, with Buffalo being the main attraction. We were enthralled. I’d raced Ironman events almost exclusively, and this low-key family-style event, which would give us an excuse to go to South Dakota—a new state for us both—was strangely appealing. While the website was updated a year or two ago and given a much more modern look, Adelaide and I continued following the Wildlife Loop throughout the years and discussing it as a possibility for a September race. We finally, and wisely, made the decision to drive up to Custer State Park in South Dakota do it a few weekends ago.

With 70 total participants divided between the 70.3 and Olympic distances, transition was small, the lines to the bathrooms were short, and the atmosphere was friendly. No blaring announcements or annoying pop songs disturbed the early morning quiet by the lake. The cool morning air had mostly vanished, as had the fog coming off the lake, by the time the start horn went off at 8:15—delayed to give a participant with a wetsuit zipper malfunction the time to get zipped up.

I was with one other guy Garth, for the entirety of the swim, and would have been happy to just draft off him if he’d been able to hold a straight line. I found myself swimming alongside him instead, though my own inability to hold a straight line helped us draw a DNA strand, if viewed from above, in the water as we went. I felt slightly sick to my stomach throughout the swim, and unmotivated to push myself very hard.

The previous six or seven weeks I’d been struggling to find the energy to train. I’d go out for intervals and find my legs incapable of pushing above high zone two. During an endurance ride a few weeks ago I averaged 153 watts for 3.5 hours. Despite choosing a flat route, I was coasting down tiny hills and even flat sections, two things I never do. My swimming had become almost non existent. I was lucky if I got 4K in a week. I had a few good results this summer, and a good workout twice a week or so, but I’ve felt weak and low energy this entire year, with the last few months culminating in my [near] decision to scrap Kona. Luckily, the Wildlife Loop helped me find my passion again, and Kona—the soulless epitome of corporate hype (some would say) is still on my schedule thanks to this grass roots race.

However, my lack of motivation was most likely caused by something more than burnout. I had blood work done three weeks ago, then more done the week after that, and I believe I might have found the cause of my “illness,” as I’ve been thinking of it. It’s possibly related to my thyroid, and hopefully some modifications to my medication will result in a quick-ish turnaround. It will probably take at least a few months for me to return to full strength if it turns out to be my thyroid.

Back to the race: Garth and I came out of the water in 28 minutes and I began the 10-mile descent out of transition. The bike course wound back and forth at a consistent three to six percent gradient, perfect for feeling fast when you aren’t. By the first turnaround I noticed I had four or five minutes on the next guy behind me, David—who had surpassed Garth—and I realized that I could probably ride somewhat easy and still win.

I ditched that idea when the climbing started. There was a large amount of prize money for such a small event, and winning was of course a goal, but I came here to see if my legs had responded to my new lower dose of hypothyroid medication, and to remind myself that triathlon can be fun. I began hammering up the climbs and found myself enjoying the feeling of going hard, albeit not my normal race power—but still good training watts that I hadn’t been able to do in many weeks.

Photo: SdTriNews

Photo: SdTriNews

The course had 4,500 feet of elevation gain distributed nicely in moderately steep bumps, rolling hills, and a few longer climbs that kept the entire bike portion of the race interesting. Dark green pines burst from the rocky ground in every direction and the blue sky above was patchy with white clouds behind which the sun attempted, and mostly failed, to hide. I saw a bison at mile 14, and by lap two I set an attainable power goal for myself to ensure that I didn’t let off the pedals too much. I kept enough breath in my lungs to encourage every racer I’d lapped, something else I don’t typically do in races. I climbed off the bike with around 15-20 minutes on David and began the run, which ended up also being pretty hilly and difficult.

Still not willing to push myself too much since I felt like I was just finally getting out of a hole, I ran fast enough to make it a good workout. With five miles done, I missed one of the turnarounds and was chased down by a volunteer in a pickup, who instructed me to run back as far as I thought I’d missed on the turnaround. “Just go back as far as what you feel is right,” is about what she said. I doubled back then continued on for my second lap. I added onto the second lap as well just to make sure I got in the correct distance, and by the finish I had 14 miles on my Polar watch, a mile more than needed.

I hopped back on my bike pretty soon after finishing to go cheer on Adelaide, who had been in 2nd the last time I saw her. She had extended her lead by the time she completed her first lap, and I got to ride alongside her to take some photos as she started her second. It has been a difficult road for her the past few years with her labral tear, and it was awesome seeing her excel once again. She finished in 2nd, followed seven or eight minutes later by Brittany, the lone athlete that I coach.

Everyone was in high spirits after the race, recounting tales of buffalo and long climbs. Hot dogs, chips, Bud Light, and Arbor Mist were on the menu, and I indulged in all. Adelaide and I headed back to our motel briefly to shower, then drove the five minutes back to the race to try out our new inflatable paddle boards. We got to hang out with the race director, Brandon, and his mom as we helped break down the transition area. As the sun began to set, Adelaide drove us on the Mt. Rushmore route to see the presidents, who we never did find, before we returned to town for Mexican food. It was a great weekend, a super fun and challenging race, and we’ll be back next year. Thank you to the volunteers, Brandon, First National Bank, and everyone who helped put this fantastic race on!

Boulder 70.3 Race Report 2019

Training has been up and down and somewhat lack luster since Ironman Boulder. I never felt quite right until around week six. Adelaide warned me that it would take over a month to recover but I didn’t believe her. By the time Boulder 70.3 rolled around (eight weeks out) I had at least gotten a few good sessions under my belt, though nothing that left me feeling like I had the legs to crush the race. I was mainly looking forward to seeing how horribly I’d do in a non-wetsuit swim and, hopefully, slaying the bike leg with Chris Leiferman on his way to what I assumed would be a victory for him (or me if I could pull out an amazing run).

The Swim

I had a moment of panic 10 minutes before the start when the zipper on my swim skin got stuck, then broke off in my teeth when I decided pure force was the right choice. I rushed around trying to find a pair of pliers with no luck, then managed to get it unstuck when I applied even MORE force. More force is always the answer, and would be my saving grace later in the day. Despite this moment of panic, I started the swim out with relatively low stress levels. I positioned myself on the outside behind Ben Hoffman and Robbie Deckard, two guys faster than me but hopefully not so fast that they would immediately drop me.

They immediately dropped me once the start gun went off. I spent the next few minutes veering from the very far left to the very far right of the pack, cutting people off and unintentional causing chaos until I finally found a pair of feet that suited my needs. I’ve come to realize that I have a strong leftward veer when I breathe to the right (my preferred shoulder to breathe on) and an even stronger veer to the right when I breathe to the left, my bad side. As long as I’m on someone’s feet, I can control the veer, so I sighted through the murky brown water to a pair of albino feet furiously kicking and stuck on for the rest of the swim.

The fecal mater water of the Boulder Res. never treated me so good or tasted quite as sweet as it did on Saturday morning when I was rewarded with a very decent swim time. I came out, unbeknownst to me, in 27:20, a solid non-wetsuit, altitude swim time that netted me 21st place. Sick. More importantly, I was only 2.5 minutes down on the leaders (Andy Potts and Josh Amberger) and I was just a second or two behind Chris.

The Bike

Onto our bikes, Chris and I made short work of everyone around us and by mile five we were in 11th and 12th, quickly eating into the time gap ahead. I told him I “wasn’t feeling very good” and that my legs were “blocked” but I think he heard that I “was feeling good” and that my legs were “ready to rock” because he drilled the next few miles while I hung on for dear life. I came around again on Neva and by then my legs had started to feel decent. We hammered up to 36 and down Nelson, catching and quickly passing more guys as we went. Pretty soon we had passed and dispatched Hoffman and Tyler Butterfield and were making our way up to Amberger and Potts.

Photo: Andrijan Smaic

Photo: Kenny Withrow (@itskennywithrow)

Photo: Kenny Withrow (@itskennywithrow)

Photo: Andrijan Smaic

We made the catch at the top of St. Vrain, about 30 miles into the bike leg, and I breathed a moment of relief before I went around and tried to break away from those two. Looking back, I saw that Amberger and Potts were still there, so I sat up. Chris came by and suggested I settle down a bit and not blow myself up before the run, so I drifted to the back of the group. Unfortunately, when Chris went to the front he pretty quickly gapped Potts, who had moved up to second wheel at that point, and I watched in frustration as Chris’ gap grew to 30 seconds by the turn onto 75th in just a few short miles. I wasn’t about to chase him down, fearing that I’d just pull Potts and Amberger with me, so I waited until Potts ran out of steam and Amberger finally went to the front. The timing of this was perfect, as it coincided with a couple tiny rollers—all I needed to pull away from them.

Chris doing what he does best, destroying hopes and dreams. Photo: Andrijan Smaic

I went hard but Chris was already over a minute up the road and I didn’t think I’d be able to catch him. I held steady for 10 miles, then in the last five or six miles he put another 45 seconds into me. I wasn’t worried about that gap though. 2nd behind Chris was fine by me. My focus was on getting as much time on Potts and Amberger as I could. By T2 I had a minute on Potts and two on Amberger—I wasn’t confident that would be enough.

The Run

Even before I exited transition, my chest was giving me serious breathing/cramping problems. “This is why I stopped doing this fucking race,” I reminded myself. I staggered along at 7:30 pace across the reservoir dam waiting for my chest to calm down so I could run hard. I groaned, wheezed, and cursed as I went, letting the anger wash over and dull the pain in my intercostals. It eventually worked and I was able to pick the pace up to 6:15s and low 6:20s. “Not great, but it might be enough to stay in the top six for a pay day,” I tried to reassure myself. Yet, the chest cramping wouldn’t fully go away, and if I tried increasing the pace the stabbing sensation intensified.

By mile three I was confident that my race was doomed. Potts was 100 meters behind me and I was sure that others were about to start the process of mowing me down as well. I knew that once I was off the podium my motivation would fall apart and I’d be consigned to just jog it in. I tried to stay positive as people shouted my name but it was rough going. I surged, slowed down, and surged again temporarily only to resume my previous pace. I couldn’t shake the chest cramping and my breathing was too ragged to get sufficient oxygen to my legs.

Tyler flew by at mile five or six like I was walking, no standing, no walking backwards, no like I was a dried up corpse being cartwheeled backwards by the wind like a tumble weed. “Good job Tyler,” I squeaked when I finally realized who he was. I don’t have much memory of the next few miles, but I do remember being angry and then depressed, then feeling utterly doomed. I learned that Potts was about to catch me at mile eight before we turned onto Monarch, a straight and slightly uphill drag that I’ve done many intervals on over the years. It’s hard to run fast or confidently up it during the best of times, and this was not the best of times. I knew that anger and stubbornness would be my best weapons at this point, so when I heard him get on my shoulder I surged. I slowed and he was on my shoulder again so I surged once more. I did this until we got to an aid station, where I drenched myself in water and surged again, this time harder and more sustained, finally breaking away by a few meters.

Photo: Andrijan Smaic

Photo: Kenny Withrow (@itskennywithrow)…Thank you for photoshopping out all my slobber and snot Kenny.

Andy Potts coming in for the kill. Photo: Kristin Cummins

The meters turned into….uhh, more meters and from there I quickly built a gap, my chest finally feeling good. However, I wasn’t confident that I had 3rd sealed up. I continued looking over my shoulder for the next 20 minutes expecting to see Potts or someone else about to role me, but no one was in sight. I ended up running the last 3.5 miles at 5:50 pace, which was quite a bit faster than I had been running earlier, and I wish I’d been able to run that fast the whole time (Tyler would have caught me anyways though).

 

Photo: Andrijan Smaic

My favorite part of the race was putting the torch to half the field with Chris, trading pulls like a training ride, and seeing him take the win after a very long, frustrating bout of injuries that I was worried would either keep him from racing Kona or force him to quit triathlon altogether. It appears that he’s back and that his run will only improve from here. As for myself, the only thing I was confident in before Boulder 70.3 was my run, and it ended up being (sort of) my weak point. I was pretty happy with the swim, and even though I made a tactical blunder on the bike, I still had good power and averaged just under 29 miles per hour (the bike course is not short like it was a few years ago). My mental game has improved a lot in the last year or two as Adelaide pointed out, and that’s probably the most important takeaway from this race. Even a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to hold Potts or someone else off late in the run while feeling that bad.

Next up is the Wildlife Loop Triathlon in South Dakota in five weeks—a 70.3 with a tough course in a beautiful location. Adelaide and I are both racing it, and it would make a great late season event for anyone in the Front Range who doesn’t have a race on their schedule for September. As part of my Kona build, which officially starts now I guess, I’ll be blogging once a week about training and life like I did for Ironman Boulder, so stay tuned for some monotonous training reports with the odd poop joke thrown in for good measure.

As always, I have a big thank you to my wife Adelaide, my sponsors A-Squared Bikes, Vision Tech USAiKOR Labs, and Maurten nutrition, as well as everyone out there cheering, volunteering, and working the race. And thank you to the hound, Maybellene.

Photo: Andrijan Smaic

Can’t Have it All

My post Ironman Boulder recovery got off to a bad start when I didn’t take my own advice and celebrate the night away with alcoholic beverages. Instead, I went home, showered, and laid down until it was time to go back to the finish line to hand out medals and watch an athlete I coach cross the line. Adelaide and I brought a pizza home from Papa John’s after sitting in a parking lot for 10 minutes trying to decide what to do for dinner. I ate my whole pizza but felt slightly ill and nauseous the rest of the night, and went to bed at 8:30. I got poor sleep, and would get poor sleep for the next night as well.

The sick feeling I had that night worsened over the next few days and turned into a full blown cold; the forced rest that it required meant that I got great recovery—I barely moved for about four days. I wasn’t too worried about missing workouts for Coeur d’Alene though, which was three weeks after Boulder and is this coming weekend, since the sickness never fully moved into my lungs. I began training again seven days after Ironman Boulder, starting out with a fairly hard run on Switzerland trail at 8,500 feet elevation. Probably not the best idea, but I figured it would either make me much, much worse, or better. It made me better, miraculously.

By mid week last week, 10 days out from Boulder, I was feeling decent enough to do a few hard sessions back to back over a two-day period, including a hard masters, a moderately long (3.5 hour) ride with some low cadence intervals, a tempo run off the bike, a group ride with some intense climbing efforts, and an easy open water swim. I felt better than expected for all of the workouts, and thought I was on track for a good race at CDA, which was 10 days away at that point. Then, disaster struck the day after pushing too hard and I relapsed with the sickness.

I rested for three days straight hoping that it would go away, then planned to do a few test workouts to confirm that racing CDA still made sense. The first of those test workouts, which involved 3×10 minutes upper threshold intervals on the bike, was planned for today. And I failed. Not wanting to allow time to change my mind or continue see-sawing back and forth about whether I should race or not, I cancelled all my travel arrangements the moment I got home from that ride this morning.

It probably doesn’t make sense for me to go to races with the mindset of “at least make your money back” anymore. That may have been a primary goal in the past, but I feel like I’ve reached a level in this past year or two where the goal should be to do a race fully prepared, and toe the line with the mindset of winning or performing at my own personal best ability. I need to go to races fully prepared and committed to doing everything possible to have my best performance—something that I struggled with in bike racing because there was always another big race a week or two away, and training through a race or racing with a lingering illness was normal.

My next two races will be Boulder 70.3 and Santa Cruz 70.3 before heading to Kona, where I’m truly starting to believe that a top 10 is within possibility.

 

 

 

Ironman Boulder Race Report

I was hoping to pull a Chris Leiferman and win my first Ironman attempt, but I fell short by one spot. I came closer than most people probably expected, though leading up to the race I really did think I was capable of winning, which was most likely delusional as I had no clue how anyone else would feel on race day, and there were at least three or four guys that had the results in the past to be marked as true contenders for the win, unlike myself. I’m still sore as hell on Wednesday, three days after the race, and I have a nice head cold to add to the misery. Definitely worth it.

The Swim

Despite spending a small fortune on a new wetsuit, I swam the same speed as I did last year and the year before. I did the swim two years ago and the swim and the bike last year for training, not attempting to finish the race either year. Both those previous years I was in the 54 minute group. I figured this would be the case again for me, as in the past there have only been three swim groups—the leaders, who swim sub 50 minutes, the main pack that swims 54 and change, and stragglers who were part of that 54 minute group but fell off after the last turn buoy. I have not been working that much on my swim, with the main reason being that I knew I’d be in the 54 minute group no matter what I did.

The first few minutes of the swim were exciting; I was on someone’s feet who quickly charged to the right and momentarily got behind Brent McMahon (I think). Then we got dropped, along with just about everyone else, and the pace drastically died down. A large group of 7-10 guys formed, with Justin Daerr, Matt Hanson, and Tyler Butterfield all taking pulls at the front from what I could tell. I sat a few lengths back, glued to Sam Long’s feet, hoping that my clawing wouldn’t give him a staff infection. I consider a stroke to be succesful only if I take a chunk of skin out of the person’s feet in front of me. Kidding aside, I do like to get up real close and personal. The most efficient position I’ve found is to get so close that my head is about five inches from their feet, which requires that I take wide strokes on the outsides of their legs. It’s a risky position to be in since if I run into their feet I’ll get my goggles kicked off.

The Bike

As I predicted, we came out of the water in 54 minutes, though I didn’t know it at the time. The only thing on my mind was to quickly get on the bike and begin executing the plan that Sam and I had hatched a few days earlier. Whoever got on the bike first would ride steady and wait for the other person to catch up. The person behind would ride extra hard to close the gap quickly. Then, we’d take pulls evenly, with each pull ended by a hand wave for the other to come around. The person in front would get to sit up and soft pedal for 20 seconds as the person from behind made an easy pass. First, I needed to speed up in transition because Sam had just grabbed his bike and was running for the exit.

Because of the cold air temperature, I had planned to wear socks and cycling gloves on the bike. This may have been a mistake, because 45 degrees doesn’t actually feel cold when I ride hard, and I immediately lost 40 seconds to Sam fumbling to put on my cold weather gear.

I hit out moderately hard for the first few miles to close the gap down. Sam and I exchanged a shout at the first turn around at mile two or three, letting each other know that the plan was still on. Around mile eight I caught up to Sam, who took the first long pull. Over the next 20 miles I could tell he had good legs, as did I. My average power at 40 minutes was 295, significantly higher than I had planned to hold for the duration, but we were focused on creating a gap to everyone behind, in addition to quickly slashing the gap to the leaders, which was more than four minutes out of T1.

We passed Jeremy Jurkiewicz quickly, then it was just Brent McMahon and Tim O’Donnell up the road, who were riding separately. By mile 20 or 30, Tim already had a minute or more on Brent, which was to our advantage since neither would have anyone to work with.

For those who aren’t familiar with the bike course, it’s mostly flat with a few rolling hills. There is just under 4,000 feet of elevation gain, making it a fast course. The roads are wide-open, blanketed on the green and gold planes just east of the Rocky Mountain foothills. Last year the race was held under sweltering 96-degree conditions. Today, it was windless and cool. Perfect for riding fast, and then later running fast.

One of the few hills.

Sam and I cresting another hill. These two photos are by Andrijan Smaic.

Photo by @beanmachinetri

After the first lap, my average power had settled down to 286 and I was still feeling good. McMahon was minutes behind us by then and the gap to O’Donnell was about 2.5 minutes. Our initial progress on him had been rapid, but it was dying off now. We discussed what to do on a pass, and agreed that O’Donnell was over biking. That, or he was just a beast. Either way, it would be unwise for us to ramp up or pace.

On a few of the hills that second lap, I distanced Sam unintentionally. Sam had just raced, and won, the previous weekend at Victoria 70.3, and was understandably starting to suffer. I sat up for him on a few descents so he could catch back on as soon as possible. I was starting to feel a bit tired at mile 95 and, having dropped Sam a little ways back on a climb, rode moderately easy until he caught up six or seven miles later near Hygiene market. We took steady, easier pulls from then on out. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run well if I continued riding hard the last 10 miles, so I was content with our easier pace. Unfortunately, it meant that our gap to Matt Hanson, who was just two minutes behind us, never really changed much on that second lap.

I came in at 4:07:59, which was the fastest bike split of the day and the bike course record for Boulder. I averaged 275 watts, with a normalized power of 287. During those 4+ hours I consumed a shit ton of calories. I think I had seven Clif Blok bars, a Snickers, two gels, two Gatorades, and 600 calories of drink mix for a total of 2,250 calories.

The Run

Everyone loves to say that you bike for show and run for dough, which is an idiotic saying. I think a more accurate saying is you bike to drain and run for pain. I was tired after the bike, but of course the real pain doesn’t come until the run.

Yet, by mile four the pain didn’t seem too bad. I was hammering out a pretty solid pace by then, just having reached the bike path that 95 percent of the course would follow from there on out, and feeling better and better. Or, at least I wasn’t feeling worse. My memory quickly reset itself multiple times during the marathon, and there is a chance that the first mile sucked and I just don’t remember.

The time gaps I was hearing regarding O’Donnell’s shrinking lead were encouraging. He had a 2:40 lead on Sam and I off the bike but I had cut it down to 2:00 already in the opening miles. Sam had been close behind for a few miles but was feeling the full affects of racing back to back weekends and had dropped well out of sight by mile five. Since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, I guess that’s a dumb way to explain how far back someone is.

Anyways, I thought I was alone at mile six but was suddenly passed by a flying demon in red. Matt Hansen. Fuck. Moments earlier I thought about how I was going to win. Now? Just hold on! This was my first thought. I picked up my pace, which was already really fast. I’d been averaging 6:16 per mile, which was fast even considering that the majority of the run had, at that point, been slightly down hill.

Despite still feeling okay, increasing my speed to 6:00 pace now, my fear was that since I had no idea what I was capable of in a marathon, I could easily blow sky high if I tried to stay with Hanson. Even for just a few miles. Instead of sticking on him, I just tried to minimize the gap he was pulling out on me. I stayed relaxed, continued eating a gel almost every mile, and focused on catching O’Donnell. The course bended west, leaving a formerly industrial area of Boulder that’s now populated by prairie dogs, and entered the heavily shaded part of the path that winds alongside the Boulder Creek. The course was still sparsely populated with spectators, though that would eventually change the deeper into the race we ran.

I caught O’Donnell at mile 11, fumbled and dropped my gel flask at special needs, cursed, went back for it, and hammered downhill on the creek path after Hanson. By mile 15 I was still averaging 6:18 pace—way faster than I had ever hoped for—and the gap to Hansen was still between 80 and 90 seconds. It had been there for at least five miles at this point, since the only time he had built his gap was the first few miles after he came around at mile six. Confident that I would hold off O’Donnell and everyone else behind me, I decided it was now or never to start chipping away at his lead.

Over the next few miles I wavered between trying to catch him and just trying to focus on my own running (AKA preserving my 2nd place). I knew the last 45 minutes of the marathon would be the hardest, and the final three miles were almost all uphill. I didn’t quite have the confidence in my endurance to make an all out assault on Hanson, who was still a minute and a half ahead of me despite my half hearted efforts to close the gap.

Then at mile 18 I was suddenly stopped by the head race referee and told that I had to stand still for one minute as a penalty for failing to put on my race number in T2. I remained surprisingly calm during those 60 seconds, admitting fault and that I had simply not seen it when I dumped everything out on the ground. I looked back around the bend in the bike path to see if I could spot O’Donnell, but couldn’t. I had at least three minutes, probably more, on him at that point and one minute wasn’t going to change anything.

When my 60 seconds were up, and my bib number was securely attached around my waist (the refs had brought it from T2 at the reservoir), I took off after Hanson once again. I shaved a few seconds off his lead over the next two miles in a fit of excitement and anger. But it was a futile attempt. I began fading, gradually realizing that it would be impossible to catch him unless he had to start jogging for some reason. Maybe if I had never let him get a gap on me, had remembered my bib number, and had an extra 1,000 mg of caffeine I could have stayed with him at least until the last few miles. Maybe. But he may have just sped up even more if I had attempted that.

By mile 23 I began suffering. The next three miles became a death march as my muscles gave out. My legs had nothing left in them despite eating a total of 17 gels during the run. In the last two miles I began running in a weird way by swinging my legs out wide and keeping my knees as straight as possible in an attempt to save my quads, which were wrecked. Those last few miles were excruciating, and I was still worried that I’d get caught even though I had a six minute gap now to O’Donnell. The fear of getting caught kept me pushing as hard as I could.

With a mile to go, I was gnawing away at the insides of my cheeks—an old habitat that I do when I’m in serious pain. Once I start to taste blood, or see it on my finger if I do a swab inside my mouth, I know I’m putting in a good effort. I downed one last gag-inducing gel and let out a groan of desperation. My entire focus was just to be able to stop running. Get to the finish line. Just be done as soon as possible so you can lay down, I thought.

Much of the creek path navigates cross-streets above, which means there’s a bunch of underpasses that have a short downhill one direction and an uphill on the other end. I refused to walk up any of the small little hills, fearing that if I walked even one I wouldn’t be able to start running again.

Finally I approached the last few turns and could hear the finish line announcements and commotion. My excitement built—excitement to be off my feet, which were barely holding me up at that point. Coming into the finish shoot, I gave my brother a high five and took a flowered lei neckless from my sister in law, Joslynn, not realizing that its purpose was to signify going to Kona, which I hadn’t even decided upon yet.

I crossed the line in 8:01, 4.5 minutes slower than Hanson, and collapsed at once. Looking back, it would have been awesome to go under 8:00 in my first Ironman, which is right about where I’d have finished if it weren’t for that minute penalty. Of course, none of this was going through my head as I lay on the ground. Entering the finish line shoot and the five minutes I lay motionless were just pure blissful relief of being done and hanging onto 2nd place.

Drained of everything. It was a good thing Adelaide was there. I was incapable of doing anything myself for the next hour. Photo by 303 Triathlon

Previous four photos by 303 Triathlon.

Stumbling through an incoherent interview where I thanked my wife and my dog, in that order.

Adelaide trying to get me up off the ground from earlier. Photo by Jeff Malin

Sam, who came in 5th, was a huge ally that day. Photo by Adrijan Smaic

My brother and I. Photo by Joslynn Corredor

It would appear that I’m about to throw down here with the head ref for giving me that penalty. Of course that wasn’t the case. I was probably just going in for a sweaty hug. He was a real nice guy.

 

Ironman Boulder was a great experience, and one that I’ll hopefully remember for a long time. There were so many friends and people I knew out there cheering for me, which felt amazing and really did help at times. My brother, Joslynn, Jeff, Adelaide, and I all hung out on the grass afterwards eating pizza in the sun as the accomplishment slowly washed over me. Thank you to Adelaide, my friends and family, training buddies, the volunteers, Ironman staff, A-Squared Bikes, and Vision Tech USA for helping to make this possible for me.

 

The Final Count Down

The last week of real training for my Ironman Boulder build was accomplished without getting sick or injured, which was the main goal. I toned things down quite a bit from my original plan, cutting the hours back significantly due to time constraints and deciding to be smart.

Monday was Bolder Boulder. I already discussed this since I included it in the previous week’s training block. For those who haven’t had the privilege of seeing the race photos, behold the degradation in run form and general poise:

 

Tuesday was a recovery today. I did a short bike commute to Spruce pool, where I swam approximately 22 minutes, getting out early because it was super cold.

Wednesday was also easy—a 2 hour endurance ride and a 15 minute easy run. I was still recovering from the previous week, the race, and the post race outings on Monday afternoon. At mid-morning, Adelaide and I drove to Denver for the Vulnerable Road User bill signing, for which she had testified before congress twice in the past few months.

More info about the new law here. And a video of Adelaide by Channel 7 News here—click the right arrow button on the image on that page to make the video play.

Thursday: A little over 2 hours on the bike again, this time with 2×10 minute upper threshold intervals. I had planned to do 2×20 minutes but mid-way through I buckled and convinced myself that higher power would be better than going easier for longer. Later I did 4K at masters. I also had the pleasure of doing an interview with Kenny Withrow from 303 Triathlon, who also took a bunch of great photos. I also started sauna training today, and did it for the next four days as well, ensuring I’d be well prepared for the forecasted, sweltering race temps of 45-65 degrees.

 

Friday: Easy three mile dog jog in the morning, 4K masters, and another 2.5 mile run in the evening. I had planned to do a hard run in the morning but got sidetracked working on my bike, then didn’t have time in the afternoon. Another easy day was probably for the best.

Saturday: Adelaide and I did a track workout at Centennial middle school, which is a mile and a half from our house. I completed 4×800 and 4×400, all roughly at 5:00 pace—less for the 400s. My legs didn’t feel good, but I didn’t push that hard either, which meant that I must have at least been on an okay day given the relative ease of the speed. Early that morning we both did a hard 4K+ masters.

Sunday: Chris and I rode 5 hours fairly hard up in the mountains. The descents are the most challenging part of the ride when I go with Chris since he’s always in the mood to hammer down hill (as am I), and he corners like a demon in the aerobars. Many times when he came around to take his pull I found myself pushing all out to get back on the wheel. After the ride I did a short hike with my mom and an easy 2K swim.

I might as well delve into this current week since I don’t plan on writing another blog post between now and the race.

Monday: Easy bike commute and a 4K masters—just shy of 4K actually. My mom and I also did a short mountain bike ride that evening.

Tuesday: 2K open water swim at the Res, one hour easy on the bike, and a 25 minute run with Adelaide and Maybellene. The highlight of the day was getting my first ever pedicure along with my mom and Adelaide.

My feet felt amazing for that afternoon run. I’m not sure if it was placebo but it felt like I was wearing shoes made of clouds lathered in Vaseline and fed a steady diet of pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes.

Wednesday: Bike commute, a fairly hard 3.5K masters, and another track session, which was comprised of a mile of corners/straightaways, 2×800, and 4×400. I felt pretty shitty at the track; my lungs were super tight for some reason and I wasn’t able to get enough oxygen into my legs. Better today than on Sunday.

Thursday: 75 minute ride with 5×2 min VO2 intervals. 2K easy swim.

The race will be shown live on Facebook. Got to ‘Ironman Now’ to watch, or just use the normal Ironman race tracker if you don’t want to watch the video coverage.

 

 

Eight Days On

This was the last big week. I thought I’d be more relieved than I am about backing off now that most of the work has been done, but I ended up not getting as tired as I thought I would, and I’ve really enjoyed the training and seeing some good gains in my running. I think that the easy week in Colorado Springs made things a lot easier, both mentally and physically, and I’ll incorporate a similar strategy for my next full distance race if things go well in two weeks from now.

Monday was a fairly typical recovery day with one hour easy on the bike, a 3 mile run, and a 4K masters.

Tuesday: The snow didn’t keep any of us on the treadmill today. At Kathy’s run group we did 1K’s followed by a set of progressing hills on a super steep incline, avoiding the slush that was quickly melting from the previous nights’ storm. I completed three sets of 1K and 3 hills for close to an hour of hard work, including recovery jogs. The snow, or wet roads I guess, did keep me from riding outside later that morning. I did 2 hours really easy on the trainer, which is not normal for me but has become routine in the last few months of uncalled for late spring blizzards. I’d blame it on not wanting to get sick, but part of it is just having zero desire to ride outside in sub 40-degree wet conditions.

Wednesday: 4.75 hours on the bike with Chris at easy endurance, followed by a solid 7 mile run off the bike at 6:07 pace on part of the Boulder run course. I would have gone even faster than that, as my breathing was controlled and my legs felt good, but I had a mini bonk at the half way point and had to down a gel and pause for a few minutes to let it soak in. I got back home quickly and chugged two sodas. My soda count for the entire week was probably a dozen or more.

Thursday: The weather sucked again today so I scrapped my planned long ride and did an easy 8 mile hilly run. Maybellene kept me company and we both came home muddy and hungry. Before that I did a hard 5K masters in the morning.

Friday: Our run group did a short taper workout with a few 400s and some 200s. Adelaide and I shortened things even more by cutting out the cool down so that I could get home to ride. I ended up doing 4.5 hours with a few 30 minute intervals. I wasn’t excited about any of it though, and barely managed to stay out there as long as I did. 6 hours was the original goal, but that would have meant I’d be riding until 5:30.

Saturday: Adelaide and I did a solid 5K masters workout in the early morning, then she went off to do a big hike with our friends, Abby and Tarak who were visiting from New Orleans, while I set out for my last long run of this training block. It was my first high altitude run (Magnolia) of the year and the conditions were perfect. I had a personal best on Mag with an average, controlled pace of 6:45, then did an easy spin a few hours later.

Sunday: 4.5 hours with Chris up to Estes Park, sitting on his wheel as he hammered up the base setting a Strava KOM. Both of us were feeling good at times, so the miles went by quickly. I followed the ride up with a very short, and cold, swim at Spruce, which just opened again and is one of the best summer pools.

Monday: I’m going to count this week as 8 days long since today wasn’t a rest day, but more of a continuation of the previous week. Our friends in town, Abby and Tarak, got Adelaide and I entries into Bolder Boulder a few months ago, so the four of us lined up early Monday morning with 50,000 others. I surprised myself with a time of 33:48—40th overall in the citizen’s race. During a short warm up my legs ached from the previous few days and I wondered if I’d end up having to just run tempo, but once the gun went off I felt fine. The race was a lot of fun and we had a fantastic day seeing a bunch of friends and spending time with Abby and Tarak out on the town until the early evening.

I’m ready for an easy day today, Tuesday, and then it’s back on for the next four days until the true taper begins. Since I’ve never done a full distance triathlon I have no idea if what I’ve done is enough, or if I’m leaving the taper too late. Maybe both of those worries are legitimate.

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Week #4 and #5 Easy—Hard

I realize I’m late with both of these weekly training reports, and I know that you’ve been anxiously awaiting an update, refreshing your browsers non stop for many days. Alas, my training secrets are revealed!

A few months ago, someone reserved our condo on Airbnb for some big bucks the weekend of April 10th. We accepted the reservation even though we had no plans to get out of town that week. It took us well over a month of planning on where to go for the three nights our home was to become a college graduation crash pad, and after many sleepless nights of  excited wonderment regarding our extravagant destination, we landed on Colorado Springs.

Week #4 started out with shitty weather as per usual, during which I didn’t do much training other than a group run, an easy swim, and an easy ride or two. We packed for the trip to the Springs and cleaned the house, which took most of Thursday morning, then drove south to our cheaper Airbnb. But first, we stopped at the Manitou Incline for a quick run up and run down preview for the following day’s speed attempt.

The Manitou incline is a 0.9-mile-long stretch of railroad tie stairs that starts out at an elevation of 6,500 feet and ends at just over 8,500—2,000 feet in under a mile. For math wizards, that equals a 45 percent incline, which I guess is probably normal for a set of house stairs. Some sections, though, are 68 percent.

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Mid way.

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Maybellene at the top.

Friday: I chugged up the Incline in 21:00 flat, missing my goal of sub 20 minutes. I think if we came down in the summer I could knock off close to a minute since the top two-thirds of the stairs had an inch or two of snow on them. Better course knowledge and visibility could get me the rest of the way there. Adelaide has a high altitude trail marathon in August, so our plan is to come back and do the Incline again, and some high elevation trail running, in July.

Anyways, after the Incline I ran down the backside to meet Adelaide and Maybellene. From there we hiked up to 11,000 feet on Pike’s Peak. If we’d gotten an earlier start we would have done the whole thing, but it was still a good 6+ hour journey. Despite being April, the entire route, except for the very bottom, was snowy. A thick layer of freezing cold clouds hung between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, meaning that we had to eat extra candy bars to stay warm. Breaking through the cloud layer, we finally got a glimpse of the sun, and stripped down to T-shirts in the 55-degree bliss.

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Adelaide smoking ice. Get it?

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I got really into cereal for a little while. I’m back on the bread diet now though. Cereal was so last week. 

Saturday: We did a shorter hike and I went out for an easy 75 minute spin on the bike path afterwards.

Sunday: I didn’t have any motivation or energy to run my planned 22 miles. I got in three, then called it quits and walked back to the car as Adelaide finished her run. We drove back home after that. Not a very productive training week, but at least it meant that I would be fresh and hungry for the next three big’uns.

Week# 5

Monday: Hour easy spin. 4K masters swim. 3 mile easy jog, followed shortly by another 4.3 mile trail jog with Adelaide.

Tuesday: Run group at the track. I did 10×400 at 70-73 seconds (1 min rests), then a 6 minute jog, followed by 8×150 fast with 50 meter walking rests. With warm up/cool down it was a little over 10 miles as usual. I got on the bike after that for a little under three hours of endurance riding in the hills.

Wednesday was a big 6 hour day in the saddle, which started out with 3×20 minutes threshold. I did a peppy five-mile run off the bike, re-thinking my secret pie in the sky goal race pace of 6:30 for the run portion of Boulder Ironman, but still feeling strong.

Thursday: Hard 4K masters in the morning, which destroyed me, and then a 2 hour endurance ride later. I had planned on 4 hours but I had nothing in me so cut it short.

Friday: Another run group morning with Kathy Buttler’s squad. We did 5×1 mile on the hard part of the Bolder Boulder course. My average pace was somewhere under 5:30 I believe, holding back a bit because I was recently warned about running too fast the three weeks before an Ironman. I headed out for another 4K of masters after that.

Saturday: 5K masters with Adelaide at East Boulder Rec. Center in the morning. Then, a 4 hour solo endurance ride with a 6-mile run off. I didn’t feel horrible on the run but didn’t feel great. The ride went better, with the first 48 minutes on my road bike exploring all the steep roads up on Linden while the Di2 batteries on my TT bike charged in the garage. I swapped out the roadie for the TT bike after the climbing and spent the rest of the day up around Carter Lake, putting out what I felt were decent watts. Nothing spectacular, but good enough.

Sunday: Adelaide and I didn’t feel like running on pavement so we spent the rainy, gloomy morning slogging up and down the trails surrounding Eldorado, with Maybellene of course. The gloom of the overcast, gray, drizzle-ridden city was replaced by serene green forests, magnificent fog-shrouded granite cliffs, and empty rolling hills of gold. Maybellene and I got in 21 miles at a slow pace because of the mud, tough terrain, and my mushy legs that just didn’t want to work hard, or couldn’t. I was ravenously hungry mid-way into the run and afterwards, so Adelaide suggested we stop at Taco Bell (or maybe I did). I got two bean and cheese burritos in the drive through, spending $2.18 with taxes, and in so doing saved at least $20 at Sprouts on our way home. Our grocery bill ended up being super high despite dulling my hunger with those two burritos.

Later in the day we got to the pool for 3K of endurance.

Week 5 was a great success. I finally broke 60 miles of running in a week and it didn’t feel too hard. It was also the first week in a long time that I got over 20K in the pool, and I can feel my swim form rapidly coming back. I was happy with my threshold intervals on the bike, and the overall volume I got in as well. The weather finally cooperated, though that didn’t last very long, and I’m still looking forward to the next few weeks of training.