Great COVID Success

Success is hard to measure, unless you’re rich. Then, under capitalism, it’s really easy to measure.

A month or two ago, I had big plans to replicate the training I did for the bike racing season of 2013. I went along with this for two weeks, even beating my November / December 2012 times climbing Sunshine—my main training climb that year—but things began to fall apart and I lost motivation to continue with this plan. It was encouraging to see that if I really wanted to, I could certainly get back to that bike form. But to really want to, I’d have to have concrete races on the calendar, which I currently do not. Ironman insists that there will be pro racing starting in August, but I have serious doubts that anything will happen this year at all. Of course, I’d love to do Boulder 70.3, Oceanside, Ironman Arizona, and other events in the fall if they do occur, but I’m not holding out hope.

Therefore, I need another goal other than just maintaining fitness or trying to hit arbitrary power numbers that I used to be able to do on the road bike. Instead, I’m going to try to hit an arbitrary running number: 8:40. My high school’s current 3K record is 8:40:63, so my summer running goal is to beat that. Does it get any more arbitrary than this? Of course! Which is why I also have the goal of sub 6 hours for the Longs Peak Duathlon, which is definitely still on the schedule. Due to snowpack, I think my initial hope of doing this by June is too soon, so it’ll have to take place in mid July at the earliest.

As for the 3K, I did a trial run—pun intended?—two days ago and came in at 9:25, which was 36 seconds faster than I ran the 3K as a sophomore in high school. I started out pretty conservatively, and didn’t have anyone pacing other than Adelaide and Maybellene cheering from the sideline, so I’m confident that with a bit of preparation and a pacer or two, I could shave off 20 seconds within a week. Getting down to 8:40, though, will definitely require more fitness, and speed work on the track. With any luck, two months from now I’ll be able to rub my 8:40:62 success in the face of Henry G., that smug 18-year-old bastard. High school records still count when you’re 34, right?

Even with these meager goals keeping me going, somewhat, I definitely haven’t been training at the same level as normal. Long gone are the weeks of 20+ hours. I’m lucky to get in 12 hours of running and riding lately. So for everyone out there worried that they aren’t doing enough, you aren’t alone. My guess is that most people are doing quite a bit less than they would be in a normal year. I certainly encourage those trying to get something out of 2020 and bettering themselves in the face of adversity (I’m also finally writing my novel, so I’m still trying to consider myself part of this group). Yet, it may be more reasonable, and sustainable, to simply just get through the pandemic without 1) getting sick and dying from Covid, 2) declaring bankruptcy or gaining 40 pounds, 3) becoming an alcoholic child abuser, or 4) becoming clinically depressed. With those things achieved, 2020 (and maybe 2021) would certainly be a success story.

 

Skyline Traverse

Yesterday Adelaide and I set off to do a Boulder tradition that, somehow neither of us had thought of doing until recently: the Skyline Traverse. It involves hiking and/or running all the major peaks—South Boulder, Bear, Green, Flagstaff, and Sanitas. In total, it was 19.7 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain. We drove to south Boulder and were on the trail by 8:00. My guess is that we ran about 7 miles total and hiked the rest. The trails weren’t too crowded and it ended up being a perfect day.

Top of South Boulder. Adelaide’s favorite of the day. Shadow Canyon is one of my favorite sections too.

Two down, three to go. Coming down Bear Peak in the background. This and the next few miles is the most scenic, runnable portion I think.

Kibble, doughnuts, Snickers, clif bars, and trail mix. And lots of water stops for the Hound.

Top of Green. Things were starting to heat up.

Heading down Flagstaff, which felt loud and crowded after the seclusion we had at the backside of Bear Peak. Not that I need to be reminded of how loud and obnoxious traffic is, but all it takes is spending a few hours in the quiet of nature to open your mind—or ears—to the intense noise that we live in every day.

Maybellene nudging for food and/or water. I think this was on Sanitas, when legs were beginning to fail.

Backside of Sanitas after summiting in the heat of the day. Maybellene was feeling the sun by this point. I believe it got into the upper 80s by the afternoon. We brought five liters of water, but had to refill at Ebin G Fine park earlier. In total, we drank 7 or so liters.

Goat trail to Linden. Almost there!

Nothing but pizza and cold soda on the mind at this point.

Coronavirus Goalz

Hello. It’s been a while. A long while back, I planned on writing up a blog about the training camp that Adelaide, Justin, Chris, and myself partook in back in March, but the coronavirus abruptly cut our camp short. Chris and Justin left early on a cold, drizzly Monday morning (okay it wasn’t cold or drizzly, it’s Tucson. But I’m trying to paint a metaphorical picture), leaving Adelaide, Maybellene, and I questioning what to do next. Our car was currently in the mechanic shop awaiting a new engine—it broke down 160 miles east of Tucson on our way there, resulting in the longest and most expensive tow truck trip of our lives—so we were stuck in Tucson until our beloved Prius was fixed. Also, we were closing on a house in Tucson later that week. Bad timing? Maybe. Perfect timing if you take into account the fact that our car wouldn’t be driveable until our Airbnb was long expired.

Back to that Monday morning five or six weeks ago: I rode my bike to the airport to pick up a rental car for the week, then we went to the pool for what would be our last swim in…months? Hopefully not the rest of the year, but we’ll see. On Tuesday, Adelaide, Marilyn, and I did a four hour ride on Mount Lemmon. I didn’t have much motivation myself so I sat on Adelaide’s and Marilyn’s wheel as they did intervals. By Wednesday I had a bit of motivation back, and somehow did a hard 10 mile track workout solo. I got another 10 miles of running the next day, followed by an interval bike session following that. On Saturday, we did a 3:15 hour 17 mile trail run, but by Sunday my motivation was gone again and I cut my planned 5 our ride short to 2 hours. I’d been writing a blog on “The Importance of Training Through an Apocalypse” but hadn’t finished it because I was having doubts about the actual importance of training at this point.

The following two weeks were rough, training-wise. Without races to train for, I didn’t have any goals or anything to look forward to. Adelaide was struggling to get out the door herself, and it just seemed like we were in limbo. Of course everyone was at that point—and still are—but we were in even more in limbo than average. After our Airbnb reservation ended, we moved into the house we’d successfully (barely) closed on. We furnished it with a table, two chairs, and a $66 single-occupant sofa chair, as well as cooking ware from Good Will. During those two weeks, we constructed a metal shed from a kit in the backyard, took Maybellene on walks, and continued working our online gigs. But our only real goal was to find a renter ASAP so we could get someone in to cover the mortgage and head back to Boulder. I was riding or running every day, but nothing very hard, long, or focused—the sort of training that actually makes me less inspired to train, depending on my mood. The sun was certainly nice, as were our many long evenings and late nights playing Ticket to Ride, but life felt very unfulfilling. I think I would have been more okay with this unfulfilling feeling had I not been living that same, pointless, time-biding life since I broke my neck in October. I had finally gotten back to full on training and my days once again had purpose by early March, only to have it taken away from me again a few short weeks later.

Back in Boulder, we struggled for two or three days to get into a healthy routine of sleep, work, and training. I think we’re both still getting there actually, though our states of mind have drastically improved this past week despite the off and on again shit weather. Training is also becoming more interesting again after starting to work on my two short term goals of replicating the bike training I did in the fall winter of 2012/2013 (which will be next to impossible), and working towards the FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the Longs Peak Duathlon (very possible). More on both of those goals in a later blog.

While some aspects of our lives have remained the same after the coronavirus shut down the world, because we work from home and are still free to run and ride, much has changed. I’ll just stick to training/racing for the intent of this post.

My training has always been driven by competition. Not having that competition—that event that could change it all to look forward to and scream out loud about during intervals out in the middle of nowhere—has had a big impact on my will to push and punish myself. I need hard daily exercise to feel happy, though. That much is certain. If I don’t do at least one bout of real exercise a day, I get depressed immediately. Despite knowing this, it’s still hard to really want to get out the door some days. I guess I will always need some sort of goal for my training/exercise, even when I’m done racing. Fortunately, there are always goals to meet and others to beat. Well, right now there’s no one to beat because we’re both strictly adhering to social distancing, but Anton’s FKT on Longs Peak and the 2012 version of Kennett are going down! Ha. As if I stand a chance against 2012/2013 Kennett right now. 2020 Kennett is a soft biotch.

I’m going to attempt to stay more up do date with my blogging, despite both of my grandmothers, who were my most avid readers, passing away in the last 12 months. Adelaide and I decided to let our Instagram die for the time being, so this will be my main social media training/racing presence for the remainder of the year.

Photo: Brad Kaminski

For My Next Generation of Readers

Let’s see, where did we leave off? I was in the middle of a 12 week recovery from a burst fracture of C7. If you remember, it was caused in Kona while trying to sneak in one last body surfing session before a red-eye flight home to Boulder. Unfortunately, by 12 weeks—early January—my neck still wasn’t fully healed. The crack in the vertebrae was prominent in what must have been my fourth CT scan since breaking my neck. This meant that I had to take an eraser to my training plans for the winter, which isn’t that bad of a time of year to miss here in Boulder.

I still ended up pacing Adelaide for the Phoenix Marathon, where she set a 3:15 PR, and continued building up my run, gym, and swim fitness, albeit more slowly than I would have liked, due to some lingering non-neck injuries and niggles. But because I still wasn’t back on the bike, full training mode has continued to elude me, which has been frustrating to maintain motivation at times. It’s hard for me to go 60 percent. I like to be training full throttle or nothing at all.

In late January, Adelaide, Maybellene, and I headed down to Tucson to stay with a bike racer friend of ours, Tim Rugg, who, in exchange for swim lessons, let us stay in his guest room for two weeks. I bent my doctor’s orders of ‘no riding outside’ by doing 1-2 hour spins on the bike path. Yes, it was outdoors, but there were no cars. The danger was being hit by a car or crashing, not being in a bent over TT position, like many people have assumed. To reveal how out of shape I am, on the longest of those rides (2.5 hours) I was on the verge of a pre-bonk (a pre-pre-bonk I guess) after averaging 189 watts.

Back in Boulder, I continued doing one or two easy spins on the trainer per week, but decided to keep focusing on swimming, as I had in Tucson. I topped out at 30 kilometers last week before traveling to California for my grandmother’s memorial. Both of my grandmother’s were avid readers of this blog, and both died in the last 12 months. Unfortunately, I’ve written fewer and fewer blogs over the years as my motivation to write has decreased from being busier, and also due to my legal blog writing work. In the past, when I didn’t feel like writing, I would force myself to start tapping away at the keyboard because I knew that one or both of my grandmothers would be eagerly awaiting a new post. They followed along from the start when I bragged about how hard intervals up Nectar Way were, getting into fist fights mid-kermess in Belgium, crashing out and breaking my collarbone in Tulsa Tough, riding a Greyhound across the Southwest to race Gila, and attacking a lap early in Philly. It was a bit confusing for them when I switched over to triathlon, but both grandmothers followed along anyways until the last few years when using a computer became too difficult. Now I morbidly picture my grandmothers’ email inboxes, somehow cobwebby and dusty, filled with new posts from Kennettron5000 going unopened and unread. 

Onto happier news, I just got back from my final neurosurgeon appointment with Rod Lammond, and he gave me the okay to get back on the bike and resume normal life. Good timing too because I somehow lost my neck brace last week. The crack in my vertebrae finally sealed itself up. It was a huge relief, because during the last few weeks I had grown increasingly concerned that I would be given bad news during this appointment—that my neck still wasn’t healed and that I’d need spinal fusion surgery and another six or eight weeks of recovery. I didn’t know if I’d be able to stay sane for another month or two.

I’m sort of amazed at how patient I’ve been since breaking my neck. Yep, it was a long four and a half months, two of which I had to be fully sedentary, and I’ve never been more bored in my life. But my mental state could have been much worse. I made it through without a mental breakdown or major depression because I knew, or at least assumed, that I’d fully recover and be back at training and racing sooner or later. I don’t think I’d have been this content if my condition was permanant, or if I had serious doubts about a full recovery. I also went to therapy for six weeks in the beginning, so that probably helped. 

Planning races also helped me maintain a sense of normalcy. The thin line between denial and being overly optimistic is one walked best with purchasing lots of expensive plane tickets to races. Adelaide and I have already spent thousands of dollars on travel for races and training camps, even before we knew what the outcome of my neck would be. We’re doing Oceanside, where I have zero expectations other than finishing, then Tulsa and San Gill, followed by Alpe d’Huez and Embrunman in France. 

Tomorrow will be my first real outdoor ride. I love the Tucson bike path, but you can’t really train on a bike path filled with pedestrians, dogs, and unnecessary bends. The only reason I’m writing this right now instead of bundling up for a 20-something-degree spin is because I had the flu yesterday, and don’t want to push my luck with a relapse. I’ve already waited 126 days to ride. I can wait one more.

 

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.