Mt. Audubon Duathlon FKT

After doing the Longs Peak Duathlon a few weeks ago, I decided to research other projects for next summer, just in case 2021 happens to be another non-race year due to Covid. Turns out there aren’t many established mountain duathlons, so I might have to create some of my own. But I did happen upon the Audubon Duathlon on the Fastest Known Time website. It starts right here in Boulder at Broadway and Lee Hill and summits Mt. Audubon, which is near Brainard Lake for all you cyclists who have no clue where it is (I didn’t anyways). 

The route: ride up Lee Hill, descend the backside, ride up through Ward to Brainard, and leave the bike behind at the Mitchell Lake trailhead for an eight-mile round-trip run/hike up Mt. Audubon, which has a modest elevation of 13,229 feet. Then you ride back to Boulder of course. Round trip, it’s 52 miles and a little under 9,000 feet of elevation gain. Originally, I figured this would be something for next year, but because of the warm fall we’re having, I realized it could be done sooner, “Like this week!” I thought. “Who needs preparation? I’ll just go for it!” 

The previous FKT stood for 18 years, which led me to assume that it wasn’t a very hotly contested record. Afterall, it’s not even a 14’er, so why bother amIright? But upon further research, I realized that the previous FKT (4:38 set by Kraig Koski in 2002) was actually sort of fast. He rode to the trailhead in 2:05, summiting in a little over one hour, ran down in 35 minutes, and was back in Boulder in just under 60 minutes. Most likely on a road bike with a backpack, pulling a wagon of beats to the market or something (that’s how I assume people back in 2002 made a living). I began wondering if I could even get to the trailhead in under two hours. I mean, I wasn’t confident I’d ever ridden to Ward without stopping to pee once or five times. Has anyone? It’s a pretty long ride to go without peeing.

While I didn’t feel like doing any training for the Duathlon, a few days before I made the attempt, I decided to scout the trail at the very least. But on the damn scouting mission, Adelaide and I ended up hiking to Little Blue Lake (the top lake in the above picture) instead, after setting out on the wrong trailhead. “I thought Mt. Audubon would be a little more mountainous,” I mentioned to Adelaide. So, I was off to a very similar start as my Longs Peak Duathlon attempt—getting lost at the trailhead and never actually summiting until ‘race’ day. 

Thursday, September 24th—I started the FKT attempt nice and early, with an 8:20 AM roll out after two packets of instant cinnamon apple oats, three pieces of toast, and two eggs with sweet chili sauce. As I rode up the base of Lee Hill, I agreed with my past self that I should have done at least some sort of warm up (I live about a quarter mile from Lee Hill and Broadway), but successfully kept my breakfast down and continued grinding away in the 42×28, my smallest gear. I think I made it up and down Lee Hill in around half an hour, which seemed like an okay time. 

My power dropped from there, and I spent the next 30 minutes calculating times in my head, hoping I’d at least beat the mark Megan Roche set to the trailhead (1:59 hours). She just set the women’s FKT a few days prior, and I was sort of blown away at how fast she rode, especially considering that she isn’t a bike racer or triathlete. 

Judging by the headwind I was fighting through Ward, I knew that whatever time I put in today would easily be beatable by my future self on a windless day, which put a dent in my motivation. I think I was looking for a reason to not bury myself, which is why I spent so much time adding numbers in my head instead of just going for it. Anyways, I ended up at the trailhead in an hour and 47 minutes after averaging 284 watts—16 lower than my arbitrary goal of 300. I hopped off the bike, locked it to the trailhead sign post, and tugged on my running shoes before trotting down the trail and fumbling with a bungee cord that I’d forgotten to leave with my bike. 

After stuffing the bungee in my pocket—I’d used it to strap my running shoes to my aerobars during the ride—I set off at a fast walking pace while I tied my windbreaker around my waist. I let out a groan and a curse at how slow the transition was going, then finally set off at a very slow jog. Shit. My legs weren’t working. I could tell straight away that they were tired from getting dropped by Justin the day before on a 10-mile tempo run. My hamstrings and calves already felt trashed and tight, and my quads felt super weak—not good, because I get about 98 percent of my power from my quads. I’m what you call a “non believer” in all the glute activation nonsense. 

Thankfully, the Audubon trail is fairly forgiving, and the FKT requires that you stay on the trail the whole time, unlike the Longs Peak FKT, which is “open course.”  I chugged along like a slow-moving tractor, steadily and letting out nasty exhaust from all ends. I was oddly unable to put myself into threshold due to sheer lack of willpower. But by the halfway-to-the-summit point, I realized I was going to be at the top in roughly one hour (from the trailhead) as long as the terrain didn’t get a lot steeper (it did). 

The one hour goal gave me something to shoot for, and I managed to summit in basically 60 minutes exactly, despite the steep talus in the last half mile. I tagged a pile of rocks at the high point of the flat-topped peak, refused to take in any view whatsoever, and began trotting back down the steep talus section. I took a backwards fall and caught myself with my hands, just barely. My ass didn’t make contact with the ground, so I assume this doesn’t count as a true fall, but I took it conservatively from there on out. Baring a flat tire on the bike, I knew I’d take the FKT pretty comfortably, and my body just wasn’t moving well today. I felt slow and uncoordinated, so I tried to just take it easy, focus on my footing, and not sumersault my way down the mountain.

Back on the bike (after a 38 minute descent), I flew down Brainard road, passing a few cars in the process and zipping through Ward without a moment’s thought of getting water at the faucet. I’d hauled two liters up on the bike and still had a full bike bottle left. Over the next half hour, I set the second fastest Strava KOM descent from Ward over Lee Hill, which must have meant I had a favorable wind because I didn’t do much hard pedaling, save for the backside of the Lee Hill climb. Even as I ground my way up and over Lee Hill, I felt sluggish and unmotivated, knowing that sub four hours wasn’t going to happen, and the old FKT was reachable even if I had to push my bike the rest of the way. 

I stopped the clock at Broadway at 4:10:20, roughly half an hour faster than Kraig’s nearly two decade-long FKT, and coasted home, tired but not blown to pieces like two weeks ago after doing Longs.

This record can easily be chopped to pieces by any strong pro triathlete in town on a good day, especially since Audubon requires no technical scrambling or talus skillz. It’s basically all normal hiking terrain. I’ll give it another shot early next summer and see if I can whittle it down by another half hour, which seems possible considering the half-assed effort I gave. Although, when you’re sitting on the couch writing a blog, it’s hard to remember what the effort really felt like. In retrospect it seemed easy. In reality, I’m sure it hurt. I guess that’s like a lot of races. You almost always look back and feel like you could have given a bit more. Maybe that’s life in general: you look back on even your finest accomplishments with shame, and regret the chances you never took. Or maybe that’s the way a try-hard ends a blog post: searching desperately for deep meaning—a concise one-liner that makes you seem wise and thoughtful—when, of course, there is no such meaning to be found.

Longs Peak Duathlon FKT

With Covid putting a quick end to the race season this year, I chose to focus on writing a novel or two instead of continuing to train. I did, however, manage to put in eight to 14 hours of training a week, for sanity’s sake, and came up with the goal of setting a new FKT (Fastest Known Time) for the Long’s Peak Duathlon, which involves riding 38 miles from Boulder up to the trailhead at 9.2K feet, summiting and descending Longs Peak (a 14er), and riding back to Boulder. I’d heard of this ‘event’ a number of years ago, and always thought it would be cool to do, but with racing, it just never made sense to attempt it. Now that my first manuscript is mostly completed, though I’m sure it needs a fourth round of editing, I decided to spend the previous couple weeks getting in passable shape to give the Duathlon a shot. I did a few four hour rides a few weeks ago, finally built my A-Squared TT bike up last week, then began scouting Longs for the route I was planning to take (the Cables route, which involves a pitch of class 5 scrambling).

The previous fastest time (6:55) was set a month ago by mountain runner Anton Krupicka, who beat his own previous fastest time of 7:05 from a few years ago. The following is just my report that I submitted to the Fastest Known Time website. If the writing sounds off, it’s because I rushed through it—aspiring novelists (and law blog writers) have to save their best writing for The Work.

My brother Galen, taken five or six weeks ago when he and Ryan and I did the Glacier Gorge Traverse, which kicked my ass like no other. 22 miles and 12K feet of elevation gain, with a ton of class 5 scrambling and a few extra sub peaks thrown in for fun. Galen left me for dead in the last six miles, and I limped in solo after Ryan cruely chose to do the same. This day deserves its own blog post, but alas, my novel writing and editing is getting in the way of personal blog writing. And my work blog writing too actually.


My total time for the Longs Peak Duathlon was 6:23:56 to and from the Boulder city limit sign. I didn’t take any other interval time checks, so the following times are plus or minus a handful of seconds each.

Bike up—2:11 and change
Transition #1—2 minutes
Run up—1:48:11
Run down—1:01:45
Transition#2—2 minutes
Bike back—1:18 ish

Started out late in the morning (8:00AM) with tired legs, and worries the Cables route was going to be iced over again. This was the third attempt I’ve done going up Cables. I didn’t make it up the other two times due to thick ice. Since snow and cold weather was predicted for the next day, I decided that if I was going to have a chance at even trying the Duathlon, it would have to be today.

I made it to Lyons in a little over 23 minutes, feeling okay but not great. Riding is my strong suit, but because of Covid I’ve done very little training this year. By the Peak to Peak intersection on St. Vrain, I was pretty upset with my time (1:25 I believe). I’d averaged 275 watts by that point, and was already feeling pretty bad. I was hoping to hit the Peak to Peak intersection at around 1:15, but the headwind and my legs weren’t cooperating. 

The new steed, ridden a grand total of two times this year (okay, so I just had it built up by Gav the Mechanic last week).

The wind grew worse as I climbed. By Allenspark, it was gusting at 30+ miles an hour, and I actually had to pedal down some of the steep hills to keep my speed up. I was considering pulling the plug on the entire attempt at this point because I knew I needed to make up an hour or so on Anton’s bike splits to be in contention for the FKT, and the wind seemed to have other plans in store. 

I got to the trailhead tired, defeated, and pissed off, but I had a fast transition time so decided to see if I could at least make it to the top of Longs for the first time on Cables (I’ve summited twice on Keyhole).

I finally figured out where the shortcut goat trail is, and took that up. Two climbers who I passed said that Cables was mostly clear of ice, but to be careful of the wind. I wasn’t sure what that meant, and continued trudging up the goat trail and hoping that I was going the right way. During my eight days of training for this, I got extremely lost twice taking short cuts while trying to figure out how Kyle Richardson and Anton Krupicka get up the mountain so incredibly fast (other than just pure athleticism and skill). My brother Galen, who’s a climber, put together an excellent PowerPoint presentation that gave step by step directions on the fastest route for me the other week, but each time I still managed to get lost. But not this time!

I trudged up the mountain with lead legs and fought 50 mile an hour wind gusts, yelling at the wind in frustration and having to hike most of it instead of run. But I made it to the base of Cables in 91 minutes—not bad for me, considering the conditions and how tired I was from doing the Keyhole the day before. I was happy to see two climbers rappelling down, thinking I could grab onto their rope if I slipped. Just kidding. They said the same thing as the other climbers near the trailhead—there was minimal ice. I slowed down and took a few deep breaths as I began climbing since I was super dizzy and breathing like a 90-year-old caged lion with asthma.

Because there was very little ice, climbing the Cables was a breeze. In fact, I realized that the previous time I attempted the Cables, I had essentially made it past the crux but didn’t realize it. I’d been a bit sketched out about having to do another pitch of what I’d just done, and I wasn’t excited about downclimbing with wet, slippery shoes.

I got a bit mixed up route finding to the top of Longs after I finished the Cables, but figured it out without too big of an issue and without losing more than a minute or two. I quickly texted my wife Adelaide at the top to let her know I was okay, then turned around without taking in the beautiful brown sky view that pretty much stopped at Mt. Lady Washington. The smoke was getting really bad at that point.

Descending the Cables was easy because, over the last week, I got used to descending on the outside of the crack, away from the ice. Because it was clear this time, it felt super secure. The two climbers that had rappelled down snapped a quick picture for me near the bottom (and later emailed it) and I made it through the Boulder field pretty fast.

Coming off the Cables (not pictured). Photo credit: Will Rosenburg

With the massive headwind that I’d been battling on the way up the mountain now pushing me down, I felt like I was flying at points. I’d never tried running down the mountain before because I’ve been nursing a bum knee all summer, but my footing was good and I didn’t take any spills, choosing caution over courage because at this point, I was getting confident that I’d set a new best time. 

I did get a bit turned around going through the Battle Mountain area and took a different trail than I did on the way up, but I ended up popping out unscathed, and I still hadn’t fallen (though I came close a few times). I flew down the normal trail and briefly got confused trying to find the turn after Goblin. Not to worry though, I found it shortly after, then greedily chugged water at the creek. I rolled both ankles in the next five minutes, made it to the big drain pipes at the bottom (chugged more water and filled my hand-held bottle again) and was on the bike after a two minute transition.

I gave a few hoots of joy ripping down the access road, knowing that, barring a flat tire or two, I was going to take the FKT. Then I felt that gut-dropping squishy feeling in my wheels. Shit, I do have a flat! I bounced both wheels up and down for the next half hour, paranoid that I had a slow leak, but it all ended up just being in my mind.

The descent down St. Vrain was fast and the wind was swirling like crazy. A few cars held me up briefly, but luckily they were speeding like everyone seems to do these days (the only time I ever condone a car speeding is when it’s currently slowing me down on a descent while I’m riding). I made it through Lyons and onto 36 with plenty of time to spare. Just under six hours I believe. 

I set a goal of coming in at under six and a half hours, just for something to focus on, as I was now dying a slow death of dehydration. It was around 90 degrees at that point, and I had a single sip of water left. As the minutes wore on, I felt sicker and sicker, groaning from the heat and thirst. I was still pushing out good power, and the wind was minimal, so I had no excuses, though I did coast a few times unnecessarily. I mainly made it through those last 20 minute by shaming myself for being weak and fragile and afraid of pain, and finally got through the Boulder city limit finish line in just under 6:24. At home, it took two hours before I could eat anything—I hadn’t been that dehydrated for years. 

Next summer I plan to give this another crack. With some good fitness, better trail knowledge, and perfect wind conditions, I think I can go under six hours. Possibly under 5:45 if I’m in race shape. A huge shout out goes to Anton, who has helped pave the way for this super cool event, and who set a high bar earlier this summer. 


This was taken back in May. It has nothing to do with the Duathlon. I just like it because LOOK HOW SKINNY MY ARMS APPEAR TO BE!

Photo credit: Galen Peterson

Adelaide, Maybellene, and I did an 18-mile hike last week to Gibraltar Lake while camping at Peaceful Valley. This also has nothing to do with the Duathlon, but it was a super fun hike! This summer has been, by far, the most time I’ve spent hiking and roaming the mountains. It’s been a lot of fun, but I do miss the regimented, monotonous, grueling swim-bike-run training and feeling super fit. I guess above all (at least when it comes to the athlete lifestyle anyways) I miss competition and a reason to destroy myself during intervals. Sigh. 2021?

Virtual Life

Summer is here, though it doesn’t quite feel like it for me. Lacking this season is a dark swim tan, the long hours on the bike up in the mountains, and structured training that I normally plan my life around. Gone too are BBQs, traveling to races, bike to work day, and margaritas at Wapos with friends.

While exercise is still a priority, it’s more for fun and mental health right now than ‘real’ training. I did have the opportunity to compete in Ironman’s VR10 race last week, which gave me a reason to train slightly more than what I had been doing the past few months. And, by chance, the VR10 race started out with a 3K time trial—just the serendipitous distance I’d decided to start training for, as noted in my last blog, two weeks ago.

Tyler, Joe, Andre, and myself went head to head (20 minutes apart) out on Eagle Trail on Thursday with a bike-mounted cameraman filming our suffering. Maybellene got loose from Adelaide at the 1K mark and tagged along at my heels for a hundred meters. After getting a slow start in the first half, I picked things up in the second half and threw down a 9:13 while narrowly avoiding a rogue dog attack by our friend’s dog Jack, who came at me from the side like a wolf ripping out the hamstring of a caribou. I kept on my feet and kicked towards the finish.

Go to @26 minutes and @30 minutes for the dog show/full race.


Tyler was five seconds faster than me, with Andre and Joe not too far behind. A few days later on Sunday morning, my stupid alarm on my stupid phone didn’t go off and I woke at 8:30, just 50 minutes before the start of the virtual race, which was to be battled out between our identical quintuplet avatars. With Adelaide and the technical support crew’s help, I managed to get all of the necessary screens, wireless headphones, smart trainer, apps, and other stuff figured out with 90 seconds to spare. There was much cursing and stress done by me.

The race began before I had the chance to realize that I was A) riding a trainer and B) riding a trainer in a virtual race—one thing that I suck at and another thing that I vowed, just a few months ago, to never do. But, with an ego to boost and prize money to earn, I guess anyone can be convinced to do the things they swear off…like meth and organized religion. And now here I am writing a god damn race report about it. Fuck my life has probably never been said more, or used more appropriately, than in 2020.

15 minutes into the race, I found myself actually enjoying the damn thing. I’d never ridden a smart trainer until a few days before the race, and it was currently helping make all the difference. Instead of sitting at a monotonous, boring, even grind like a normal magnetic trainer, Justin’s smart trainer, which I was borrowing, adapted to the rises and dips of the virtual race course. This seemed to trick my legs into thinking they were outside on pavement, and for once they cooperated on an indoor bike. I guess this has been old news for most of you, but I never thought riding a smart trainer and using a virtual course would be enjoyable. It’s the silver lining of a million people dying from covid I guess.

Anyways, I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the money primes throughout the 40K effort; the fastest combined run/ride time won the overall, so I made that my priority and gave the primes a decent effort, but held back on the first one to make sure I had energy to respond if someone tried to come around. Joe took the first prime, then I found myself in the lead for the remainder of the short race. I took the next prime, then Joe took the final one, then I won. Jesus Christ I’m boring myself to death right now with this virtual race report.

I did like the format of the event however, and the broadcasting is pretty darn good, I do admit. I watched part of it a few days later and Michael, funny as always, is insightful and entertaining. The footage of the run was great as well, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if I got invited back for another VR race this summer. Maybellene too. If nothing else, it feels good to be part of something to help encourage others to exercise and compete.

What else have we been doing? Adelaide and I have been paddle boarding, camping, attended Black Lives Matter protests, and have been working on our writing projects—her book Degloved is getting published, while I’ve been spending a bit of time writing the opening chapters of my own sci-fi novel. Yeah, I’m working my novel, damn it. And that’s not even a joke anymore.

The Black Lives Matter protests were certainly the emotional highlight, and lowpoint, of the last few weeks. On one hand, it felt good to show up in support of others who truly need our backing. On the other, it was gut wrenching to listen to the speeches about how we (white people) have intentionally or inadvertently made living nightmares out of the lives of the African American speakers.

I felt pride and shame at the same time when a young black man, who was not part of the protest, smiled and held up the peace sign at me as I marched past on Canyon Boulevard yelling Black Lives Matter—I felt pride because it felt good to be out there giving him hope that at least some white people do care about African Americans. I felt shame because I realized I haven’t really done anything to help end institutionalized racism. Even me being there at the protest wasn’t doing that much to help. Simply not being racist oneself is not enough. Being a democrat is not enough. Having friends or training partners of color isn’t enough. Donating to groups like the NAACP and showing up at protests isn’t even enough. By themselves, debating white people who don’t think racism is a problem and voting for candidates who want to create change aren’t enough (god damn it how is White Bread Biden the best person for the job?) Intervening with physical force when a racist civilian, or cop, harasses a black person isn’t even enough. Doing all of those things is a start, no more.

The average white household owns 10 times the wealth of the average black family, which is why reparations are needed to kickstart a new era of equality. Reforming the criminal justice system and completely dismantling and rebuilding law enforcement from the ground up is a start. Giving land back to Native Americans, education reform, and rebuilding our dilapidated social safety net is a start. These are hard to wrap one’s head around, because how does an individual have any impact on these huge social/political changes? Just like with global warming, ending racism seems hopeless. Maybe that’s why so many well intentioned white people don’t actually do anything. If racism doesn’t negatively impact your daily life, you forget it exists. So once a year, when it’s socially acceptable, we share memes on facebook and call it good.

Unfortunately, hate, fear, and greed—three of racism’s pillars—are much stronger than weekend [keyboard] warrior compassion. Hate, fear, and greed work 24/7, perpetually sharpening themselves day in and day out. Compassion is dulled with time.

Sorry, you came for a virtual triathlon race report and left with a human rights rant. Actually a pretty normal blog post for me.

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.