Cycling Through Life--cycling, triathlons, training and thoughts on an active, adventurous and healthy life!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ironman Boulder and artwork?? Thanks for the Inspiration AJ!

At his Jeffco awards with AJ
Ironman Boulder, or any Ironman, is like the Death Star and just sucks you in to its grip of doubt and intimidation. But it’s just a day of exercising really. For me, once the swim is over, it’s all down hill from there. No doubt once the day starts there is a lot of nervous energy projected that will cause my adrenaline to spike but I am going to try and think of my good friends’ son AJ during my race. His story has nothing to do with triathlons but more about following his dreams having no idea what was in the pot at the end of the rainbow. Yes, Pearl Street will be an amazing finish, but what’s in that pot?

It always comes down to expectations. Maybe having none is the key to all of this. Maybe if we just focus on the passion and happiness competing gives us, the rest will take care of itself. I know, it’s easy to get swept into the slipstream of race anxiety and the worry of this and that but presumably 50 weeks ago or so you decided to dedicate a year to getting ready for the challenge. AJ started his journey at birth and simply dedicated his life (unknowingly) to his craft.

He recently won the most prestigious art award on the planet for high school kids. A few months ago he had never even had heard of it. Other kids go to special schools and to great lengths to try to even be considered for this award but maybe they focused too much on the reward of their talent, rather than the talent itself.

At Carnegie with his teacher Mr. Yutzy
AJ, this joyous, kind of a goofball kid, but with the biggest heart ever, called himself the Bad News Bears of the Scholastic Art & Writing award ceremony recent held at Carnegie Hall in New York City. This truly simple, yet complex kid from the suburbs of Denver going to a very ordinary school won a very coveted gold medal. He came out of the woodwork with over 300,000 entries of art submitted and reviewed.  In triathlon terms this would be somewhat like the winner of an age group sprint race going Kona and beating the pros. This is a big deal with the likes of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Robert Redford among the lengthy list of recipients of this 90-year-old award.

For 18 years, AJ learned a different way and didn’t really fit into the mainstream school structure. As a wee lad, I remember seeing how he could take a pile of Legos and turn them into the most imaginative and dynamic world ever. He would go at it for hours. I remember a beach trip to Mexico where the sun traversed the sky and AJ made it no further than a patch of sand that became a magical castle.

All clay, just some of his amazing work
He kept following his passion and learned the art and science of pottery making. I spent time with him the other night and he explained in amazing detail all that goes into pottery. He described the different types; stoneware, earthenware and porcelain. The complexity blew my mind with all the different types of clay and firing processes and I soon began draw this weird parallel to my passion of triathlon.

His passion taught him more chemistry, history, art, social sciences and problem solving than any book or teacher could ever offer. Knowing how much he struggled with “regular school” and hearing the most articulate and passionate description of his work and the world of pottery and really how it is a big part of human history, really got me thinking. Am I just going about life, and in particular triathlons and ironman’s the wrong way? Am I forgetting the path too often?

Am I forgetting the love of competing and worrying about the reward too much? I’m not even sure what that reward is. Yes a ticket to Kona would probably suffice to say the least, but I don’t control that. Effort is not enough. Everyone tries hard, some people are just faster. Finishing is a great reward but I’m not sure it’s enough for me. But what is? Maybe that is the crux of the challenge of life—what is enough and what isn’t? When is failure a success, what is failure or is there really no such thing, just experience?

An Ironman is great place to find out and dig deep and look back and wonder “what if” and look forward and ask what now.

For AJ, he is lucky; he is on his way to one of the most prestigious art colleges in the country to perfect his craft. Listening to him and his depth of knowledge and desire to learn, this kid who overcame amazing odds will undoubtedly be successful because he simply never gave into his passion. He made it both his destination and journey.

I hope I can do that in two weeks and enjoy the 140.6 miles of effort and pain and be ok with the reward of racing that far and let the chips fall where they may. Like pottery, which in its simplest forms is earth, water and fire, a triathlon is just a swim, a bike and a run; one stroke, one pedal and one stride at a time and worry about everything else later.

Simple right? Just relax, put it together and know there is no right or wrong finish. Every pot is different and beautiful and can never be duplicated. Just like our races, each one is a once in lifetime experience.

Thanks AJ for the lesson…..keep making the world more beautiful.

Boulder Peak race report

Race reports are tough. Do you really want to know how I did, or what I experienced or how tired I felt or how I beat my goals or a person? There are so many angles to choose but what do you hope to gain about reading about my race? Some sort of hope or inspiration, maybe a chuckle or a tear or maybe it’s just nice to know someone else had a similar experience.
For me the Boulder Peak had the excitement that probably surrounded the 3rd place soccer game at the World Cup played on Saturday. Like, I just wasn’t into it and it didn’t feel like a lot of other people were either—and I think I know why.

I was happy to do it, knew I could practice some things, and of course try to do my best, but even before the day started I doubted that I could find that extra gear of excitement to have my best day. I cared but I didn’t care. I was driven more about having a decent race rather than trying to have my best race.

Why you may ask. I think for me and many athletes, it was hard to totally be into it with the Boulder Ironman three weeks away. I don’t know how many of the participants at the Peak are also racing the IM, but I knew quite a few.  The Peak was part of the race package we all bought to compete in the Ironman and it almost felt like an interruption to the important training left before the “big dance”.
Maybe it was that vibe that I felt that seemed to take a little edge off the race or maybe it was simply because almost all the people I knew were also feeling a similar way. For whatever reason the energy level seemed off and contagious.

But I learned something about myself and that is I just don’t have it in me to not compete. I had two opportunities to pretty much throw in the towel.  About 400 yards from the swim start, I panicked. I have no idea why and it’s been a long time since that happened but there I was treading water gasping for air about to grab a kayak and go home. What the hell I thought. But once I calmed down for what seemed like an eternity I started swimming and found a relaxed pace knowing I had just wrecked my chances to have a great time. But who cares.

I felt a bit discouraged jumping on my bike and my legs felt heavy but I kept reminding myself they should, I’m really in the crux of my IM training so give myself a break. But I can’t do that and kept pushing finally feeling ok.  Onto the run I went and started to feel so much stomach discomfort I simply wanted to quit, but just couldn’t do it. I actually used the bathroom on the run once again killing my time but I kept on. Nothing most of us haven’t experienced so what’s the big deal.

I finished with a good time and 10th in my age and I was good with that.

What I take from this race is the power of visualizing a great race and what happens when you don’t. I didn’t really even want to do the race, barely gave it another thought and frankly didn’t get my mind ready to compete. My muscles and training carried me through when twice my mind wanted to pull out of or at least quit trying so hard..

I think the Boulder IM is great for the triathlon community but for me it clearly has consumed my mental racing energy and I find it difficult to feel energized for anything else. I suspect it has had both a positive and negative impact on other triathlons taking some of “luster” away from the shorter events. All eyes and hearts seem to be pointed to August 3rd in Boulder.

There might be a rush of wind leaving the state on August 4th when all that energy and effort has been sucked out of us.  It will be interesting to feel the post ironman effect on the roads as all summer I’ve never seen more tri-bikes crisscrossing the roads of Boulder county.

Amazing how one event trickles its draw into others, at least for me and I bet for others too. Enjoy the next three weeks, work hard and get your mind ready to race!

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Walden and Ironman Boulder

I will do Henry David Thoreau a disservice by titling this piece "Walden"but his book published in 1854 about his two year immersion living in nature under the roof of a cabin on lake Walden, owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, is about a quest maybe not so different than mine.

I have not read the book, but maybe I should. Apparently he took this tranquil opportunity to reflect upon himself and draw parallels to society in general. Here is a quote that is kind of amazing and in relation to this article, I think the readers and triathletes you are will find its message more than relative. I believe we often turn to our passions of competing and training into finding ourselves, rightly or wrongly, consciously or unconsciously and hopefully forge a path of self discovery.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” –Henry David Thoreau

I did not intend to ride to Walden, Colorado to “find myself” or anything of the sort. I had a five and half hour training ride to complete as part of my Ironman Boulder training.

Perhaps like John C Fremont, Kit Carson or Jim Bridger in the mid 1800’s, it was because of other reasons that I discovered this remote part of Colorado, home to fewer than 800 people but teaming with beauty and wildlife. For they, in search of beaver pelts, and me in search of fitness, found nothing but beauty and tranquility.

North Park, essentially Jackson County, is an expanse of alpine prairie plateauing at over 8,000 feet surrounded by amazing mountains with water flowing in every direction and an expansive view that is mesmerizing. My ride took me from Grandby over Willow Creek pass and the Continental divide ending in the sleepy town of Walden and back—a 100 mile journey.

Walden is remote and half empty but still at the crossroads to supply travelers traversing northern Colorado from places like Steamboat Springs making their way to or fro to populated areas. Its role is really no different than the miners and trappers needing to restock in the 1800’s when finally the town was incorporated in 1890. It was a crucial stop from Ft. Laramie and presumably a wagon wheeled conduit for those needing to connect with the transcontinental railroad.

As I rolled along Colorado Hwy 125 passing through a cluster of homes call Rand the expansive views kept pulling me along in their slipstreams. Each small hill gave me a goal for I knew an amazing view waited. Finally I saw yet another cluster of buildings I guessed to be Walden.

A few miles outside of town I came upon a wagon, no doubt from the 1800’s, that looked as if it just stopped in its tracks. The journeymen maybe just hopped off and claimed this land as his own. Wow, how would that feel to arrive in such a place and simply call it home-so far from any civilization and no known history? Talk about brave.

I was merely training for a race; nothing hard, compared to what this man and family probably went through to get to a place I discovered by pedaling a bike. Crazy.

I rolled into Walden with its half empty buildings swarming with RV’s at the only gas station in town. I wandered into a “restaurant” serving the biggest ice cream cones I had ever seen. For two dollars one could get what seemed a complete tub of Ben and Jerry’s. I commented on the generosity of the ice cream and the woman/owner said “that’s what keeps them coming back!” I guess if you live in Walden that is how life thrives, on people coming back—like it always has.

There are still buildings from the “old days” and it’s not hard to imagine dusty streets bustlingly with horses, cattle and pioneers trying to settle the land.

Riding back I thought how ironic it was that I was on a machine weighing about 16 pounds going twice as fast as those wagons weighing tons and powered by animals weighing thousands carrying loads of provisions.
It was just me and my bike trekking through history preparing for an event people a hundred years ago could not even fathom. Yet my bond with the land is the same and it blows my mind that on the very same ground I shared such a beautiful place with people so much tougher who were just trying to survive.

How can I be tough like that? How can I be introspective like Thoreau and take Walden and take all of its beautiful power to give me strength in Boulder in three weeks? How????

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Boulder Ironman Course Review

Thom, me, Bob and Randy
I am no expert, but having experienced Ironman’s Arizona, Canada (Penticton) and Cozumel and now having ridden the upcoming Boulder course, I can without hesitation say that Boulder is by far the most deceptive and strategically intriguing course I’ve ridden. They are all challenging in their own way of course and there is simply no easy way to ride 112 miles, but Boulder is sneaky—and hot, very hot.

It’s visually pretty flat, but it’s not; and while the 3,500 feet of climbing seems relatively easier than say the 6,000 feet in Canada, Boulder’s climbs appear almost like a mirage begging you to make constant decisions on how hard to push.  Don’t be fooled by the surroundings, most of hills have grades ranging between 4% and 8% that can take that sweet spin cadence and turn it into a noodle leg grind. And, unlike the nice long hills in Canada with 40mph long downhill recoveries, Boulder didn’t offer many chances to catch my breath. I wouldn’t underestimate those “little” hills as I tried to focus on my effort and not get frustrated by some of the slow speeds. Patience I kept telling myself.
St. Vrain Hill
No doubt stretches of road were fast and like any race the wind will be the “x” factor. The first third of the course offers rewarding mountain views as it hugs the front-range between Boulder and Lyons along the rolling hills of highway 36.

But just as I was cruising along, came the annoying out and back on St. Vrain road. It’s a jab in the side that if you aren’t careful might leave lasting pain. Heading east on this rapid descent feels great, but it’s short lived and greeted with a U-turn at about 4 miles. The climb back is steep (10% grade in places). Don’t try to crush it, it’s not worth it. It’s a brain-freeze on your mind, just let it pass and be ok going slow. There are still about 70 miles to go.

A magical line divides the scenic Colorado post card west half of the course from the east half that screams hot and dry prairie.  I kept waiting for Tom Joad and the rest of his family to pass on their way to California during the dustbowl. John Steinbeck, where are you?

By the time I rode into the Grapes of Wrath, it was well into the 90’s. According to Ironman, 70% of the participants will not be from Colorado. Dry heat at altitude is viscous and attacks so silently it’s kind of scary. With only one gas station on the course I don’t think I had enough hydration and it got to me with about 20 miles to go. Drink drink drink. By the way, if you plan to practice on this loop know there is only one place to get refills.

Wish this was legal in the race!
The perspiration didn’t soak my jersey but evaporated so quickly only leaving salt rings to remind me I was baking, or more likely turning into jerky. People from the mid-west say how nice the dry heat is and I can recall sweltering Iowa summers where merely stretching my legs caused pit spots. But don’t be fooled.

The sun at 5,500 feet is intense and a breeze feels like a mini blow drier. Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate more than you ever have—and pray for little wind. The wind could seriously break this race and no doubt the eastern part of the course will be breezy at best.

I know this sounds terribly negative, maybe that’s my personality, I don’t know, but the Boulder course feels long and relentless. At least with Arizona and Cozumel the three loops offered some energy passing through town. In Canada, it was a ride through the mountains; I even learned to pee on my bike on those long descents. Boulder, while parts are simply beautiful, will be a mental challenge in deciding how hard to attack those little hills and also trying to time passing people. To pass and climb might take more work than I realize so I want to be careful.

The one and only pit stop
Rolling into Boulder in the afternoon to start a full marathon in the hottest part of the day really is capturing my attention, which causes an even bigger challenge on the bike. The goal is to come off the bike hydrated and having not over pushed the hills that recruit big leg muscles critical in running.
I recently did a 15 mile training run in the hottest part of the day and conservatively the heat gobbled up at least one minute per mile off my normal pace—and that was with no ride beforehand. With this experience I feel more than ever that a somewhat conservative effort on the bike is crucial.

But it’s a race and adrenaline kicks in and my competitive spirit can get the best of me, so this sneaky bike course better not sneak up on me!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Boulder Ironman and heat and the perfect storm

I am officially nervous for Ironman Boulder on August 3rd. I'm confident I will finish, I'm nervous about how much I'm going to suffer. I fear I won't care about time and performing well, but rather my focus will be simply to finish. Perhaps I should relish this extra challenge.

My foe is the heat and possibly the wind. Today I invited my fear to present itself and give me a taste of the race.  I ran 14 miles in 95 degree heat just to see how it felt. Keep in mind I hadn't ridden a mile, much less 112 of them prior to running. I was relatively fresh.

My pace was at least a minute per mile slower, but it felt worse than that. My feet were on fire and the air was so dry my sweat would immediately evaporate which I guess could be considered good as the evaporation aids in the cooling process, but a little moisture on my skin or clothing would've been nice.

The only redeeming factor I guess was the lack of aid stations and ice that will be present in the race. However I ran near a golf course and fetched water from a couple of coolers meant for the hackers on the course.  I couldn't wait to be done with my two hour run and find shade---fast. I suppose I could've kept going but I could feel my pace constantly slow. It was annoying to say the least.

Couple that run with reports from others who have ridden the entire course that sweeps through the rolling and notoriously windy roads on the eastern plains and it could be the perfect storm for a serious challenge. All Ironman's are challenging. But Boulder has a chance to test the best I think.  The profile of the bike course looks relatively flat but a series of constant rollers with a headwind could prove difficult.

I do tend to be a bit dramatic at times and worry more than necessary, but as a Colorado native I know the heat and wind that we might face. I am thankful to be completely acclimated to the altitude and wonder how those who come from much lower places will feel coupled with the heat.

If the winds I rode in Saturday in Boulder are duplicated at the race and it's above 90 degrees, watch out.

But so what, it is what it is right? There are ways to acclimate to heat and it takes a couple of weeks. Start train more and more in the heat and in the first week or so your cardiovascular system will start to function better in the heat. About 8 to 10 days into acclimatization your core temperature will start to adjust and during all of this gradually increase your liquid intake. Your sweat will not be as salty as normal with the added intake giving your muscles the critical sodium they need to keep the electrolyte balance. Blood levels should rise a bit bring more cooling and nutrients to your body.

I'm glad I don't need to worry about altitude as well!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ironman Boulder 70.3 recap

The 2104 Boulder Ironman 70.3 was my best race ever, not because I won (which I didn’t’) or had my best time (which I did), but because I raced my best race. I had a strategy, a plan if you will, that worked and at the end, because of my preparation and confidence built with hard training days, I dug deeper than I ever have to simply finish 8th in my age group by 10 seconds. Big deal you say. We have all come from behind or dug deep. So why does it matter?

Last week I asked you to consider the word “race” and how it defines you and challenged you to define it. Again, why do I race, why do you race? I race to find the depth of my ability and hopefully perform better than I could imagine and I don’t care so much about “beating” other athletes as I do in relishing the challenge they offer me to try to beat them while beating myself. In Boulder, I was blessed to have such an opportunity—to try and catch a terrific athlete.

On Sunday I chased down the “man in the yellow hat.”  I put aside my fear of cramping or simply failing and took the challenge and found some energy and motivation I thought I had lost 30 years ago as a soccer player giving it my all trying to win a game.

You see, one mile into the run, I had to use the port-o-potty and as I emerged, Scott ran by. I quickly caught him and noticed he was the same age—49. Wearing my Carmichael Training Systems kit, he asked whom my coach was and I told him Lindsay. He smiled because she is his coach as well. Great I thought, same age, same coach and we both were in a top 10 position (kudos to coach Lindsay) and battling each other for a good spot.

He pushed ahead and I refused to get out of my comfort zone so early in the run. I continued on with my plan of maintaining “my pace” during the first loop and pushing as hard as I could in the second. My stomach groaned a bit and I felt sluggish and worried I didn’t have much energy to go faster.

My mind told me to eat some gels or something to get a few calories, but my stomach said no. I nibbled a banana but that didn’t hit the spot so I decided to listen to my gut and not give it anything but water and a little cola.

By the second lap my aches and bloated feeling had calmed down and I picked up the pace. My breathing settled into a deep constant rhythm and I was “that guy” you could hear before you saw. Usually “that guy” is dying and panting, but I felt strong, like a train chugging along just burning fuel and chewing up miles.

I kept moving, only slowing at aid stations and throwing water down my throat and in my face to keep cool. Then, in the final mile or so I spotted “him”. Remind me to never wear a yellow neon hat, it’s too easy to see!

I thought of my column last week and wondered how I would define this race. Would I continue to work hard and finish wherever I would finish, or would I search the nooks and crannies of my body for some extra strength and shut off the protector of all, the mind, and listen to my heart and take this opportunity to suffer and catch him?

I put the logic aside, and relished this chance and responded with a make or break effort. I’m always fearful of cramping but with such little distance to go I knew I had nothing to lose. I stepped it up and ever so slowly the yellow hat became clearer. I kept reeling it in and finally with about 1/2 of a mile left I passed Scott and ran hard to the finish hoping he wouldn’t catch me. I never looked back to see if he responded. It didn’t matter, I had nothing left to give to this race, and it was all on the line. I finished 10 seconds ahead.

It really didn’t matter I had beat him. More importantly I found that elusive effort that brought me from behind. It was defining moment for me and I feel so thankful I had prepared to be able to challenge myself. I am forever grateful to the “man in the yellow hat” who gave it his all not knowing he gave me a gift of extra motivation.

I learned a lot about myself that day. I couldn’t have chased him down if I hadn’t built some confidence in difficult training. Not everyday needs to be a hard day, but I know to embrace them will pay off. I learned to let go of some fear of physical pain and emotional strain and take control and be my best and had I not caught him, I at least knew I gave it a shot. I suppose that is the best approach to anything in life.

I learned that a race is nothing more than a showcase to do your best and that it’s the everyday effort where the credit belongs. But it shows the importance of a race, or perhaps more accurately, its value. The experience of the energy given and received can’t  be duplicated in training. The pre-race tension and preparation giving way to fear and anxiety but overcome with effort and confidence must be a lesson I apply everyday to everything. It can only help me be a better person right?

Embrace those almost seemingly impossible challenges when you can.