Du Chicago (Chicago Triathlon) – 8/25/19

Throughout the summer, I went into the city for Dare2Tri’s bike / swim sessions and Chicago Tri Club’s swim / run sessions.  After the issues in June, the focus behind them was getting ready for Chicago.  Even during the ‘washing machine’ swims, things went well for the most part.  All of this was great practice for what was to be my Tri season finale.

Knowing that traffic / road closures could cause delays Sunday morning, I decided to do packet pickup myself.  IMO, the Expo is set up like a Vegas casino – in that even when you see an exit, it isn’t always an exit.  At least pick up went smoothly once I finally found the right place to start at.  Having gotten all of the race materials, and just as important, the alcohol bracelet, I was set to do the Tri.  And then the water decided not to play nicely…

The first e-mail dropped the swim to 750 for everyone and offered people the option of a Du.  When that happened, I told Eric that I still wanted to do the full Tri.  Unfortunately, early Sunday morning it became a mandatory Du.

Upon making it into the city, we ran into lots of closed streets and delays.  The closest we were able to get at 6:30 was Navy Pier.  So it was a mile walk to transition.  Eric met me at the entrance, and we still had plenty of time to set everything up.  As a Du, the set up was much more simple (just helmet, sunglasses and bottles on/next to bike).

After making sure that everything was properly set and we had the layout for ‘swim out’, bike in/out and run out properly mapped, we made our way to the start.  It’s a 3/4 mile walk that is best done in shoes.  Even if it hadn’t been a Du, I still would have been in shoes pre-swim.  But with it being Run/Bike/Run, I just walked there in my run shoes.

Given the duplicate run leg, I had planned to do the first one more slowly than normal.  I figured that this would save my legs for the second run.  After we started in a time-trial type one, the pace was a little bit faster than I had planned.  We ended up passing a few of my Dare2Tri teammates, making it to T1 in about 8:15.

After a quick T1, we headed out on a challenging 15.8mi bike.  Because one side of Lake Shore Drive was closed, the bike was reversed.  You could tell who didn’t pay attention during the briefings – those were the ones riding right.  They were also the ones serving penalties at mile 1 of the run. 

As with the past several bike legs, we passed a tremendous amount of people during it. We had a tailwind on the way out, which helped us to almost catch Alberto and Justin.  But we paid for that wind ‘help’ on the way back – doing hills into a headwind aren’t fun.  Even still, Eric told me that we topped out at 39.8 and had an average of 21.

We had a solid T2 and left it just seconds behind Alberto and Justin.  The first 1.25 miles went well, and then the hills came into play.  I remembered the first one at about 1.5 from 2017.  However, because of course changes, we had a ‘new’ second one at about 1.8.  With the heat and climbs, I ended up having to walk part of these hills.  As we were at about 2.2, Val and Andrew came past us headed the other way.  While I was starting to struggle, my main thought was ‘I need to finish strong and not let the bike go to waste’. 

Going into the race, I knew that I was giving 5-7 minutes up on the run to Alberto and Val.  With that solid bike, I had probably 12 minutes on Val going into the run.  I would have been distraught for giving up 13 minutes on the run.  Even though the last mile was a moderately painful run/walk, I turned it on when we made the final turn and finished strong.

A huge THANK YOU to Eric and to Dare2Tri for all of their support.  Not just during the race, but also leading up to it.  Eric was my pilot during many of those bike sessions.

Naperville Sprint Tri – 8/4/19

Last year, a broken crank sidelined me from the race.  I tried everything I could to make it work, but had to eventually throw in the towel.  So I was really looking forward to this year’s race.

Upon getting to the race site, I was surprised in the dark.  I thought that I knew where my ‘stalker’ was at that weekend.  But they surprised me by being there.  Their note pre-race was ‘finish faster’. 

In past years, we’ve been immediately behind the elites.  While it’s been a privilege to be that far up-font, it’s come at a price.  Simply because we’d have those able to do 5-6 minute swims swimming over us.  To counteract this, we seeded ourselves towards the back of the pack.  This helped some, but didn’t solve all of the issues.  Especially since it seemed like they went from a lane-line barrier to a more solid one.  Even with a couple of hiccups, it was still a decent swim.

After doing a reasonably quick T1 for the distance, we headed out on the bike.  As in Lake Zurich, we passed a tremendous amount of people on the double loop.  I was hoping to see the Para Relay team while we were on the bike, but we didin’t.  It also got a little hairy towards the turnaround on the 2nd loop.  At this point, the participants of the Kids Tri were on the bike course.  While some weren’t as familiar with the rules, Lee was able to keep us safe and [eventually] get them to ride properly so we could pass.

Arriving back in T2, I drained about half the bottle of Skratch before we headed out on the run.  While I remembered most of the course from 2017, I had forgotten about an important hill on River.  Even still, the portion through the woods and over the bridge was solid.  So were spurts along River.  However, when we hit Aurora in the heat and humidity, things broke down a bit.

While it wasn’t a perfect race, I did end up shaving 14 minutes off my 2017 time. 

ET Lake Zurich – 7/14/19

“What do you do when you fall off the horse? You get back on.” – Multiple sources

After Pleasant Prairie, I wanted back on the horse; badly. I had to wait 3 weeks for the opportunity though. Going into Lake Zurich, I also intended to test out a few things and see if they worked. They included ‘racing empty’ (1/2 Powerade for breakfast instead of solid food) and racing without a wet suit.

Lake Zurich is the earliest race that I have during my season. When you’re not fully awake at 3:30AM, you can sometimes forget things. HUGE, HUGE, HUGE thanks to Steve from Village Cyclery for his help. We would not have been able to race without it.

While I had planned to race without a wet suit, I couldn’t have raced for points with it. The water temp was a balmy 83.5 and the air temp was about 68 pre-race and mid-70s when we got out. So it was the perfect water/air temp mix IMO. With the issues in the water the previous race, I gave myself a little bit of a cushion when self-seeding. Even though there was traffic, it was definitely the smoothest OWS I’ve ever had during a race. To the point that I believed we still had one more buoy turn when Lee signaled me we were at the swim exit.

Transition went as planned, and we were out on the bike relatively quickly. The bike went really well even though there were a couple of unexpected obstacles. There are a lot of hills (both rollers and a couple of huge ones) on the bike course, so there weren’t any good places for bottle passes. However, draining half a water bottle of Skratch from dismount into T2 seemed to work out well.

A reasonably smooth T2 led to us headed out onto the run at just over 1 hour. At this point, the heat and humidity had increased from the nicer mid-70s that it was on the bike. While my goal was to run the entire 5K, it just didn’t happen. I knew it would go well because of WI hill hell and hoped I could make it happen. But the huge hills at about 1mi and 2mi, along with the heat and some other minor ones killed that.

Even though the run wasn’t what I wanted, it was still 2+ minutes better than last year. And overall, I PRed the race by almost exactly 12 minutes (1:39:51.66 vs. 1:51:51.59).

As I head into the back-half of my season, I would greatly appreciate your support. You can support me by donating through my Dare2Tri fundraising page. Thank you in advance for any support you can provide!

A Rocky Weekend (Train2Race / Pleasant Prairie) – 6/21-23/19

[Photo credit – Claudia Ani]

“Send lawyers, guns and money. The shit has hit the fan.” – Warren Zevon

This year, Dare2Tri split the PT Training Camp into two, a beginner and an advanced camp. With all of the racing that I’ve done to this point, I was at the advanced camp.

Day 1 started with triple bricks (3 mi bike/1 mi run/rest x3). The bike felt really good, and more importantly so did the runs. While GPS wasn’t great because of all the trees, I was able to be at and under pace for the first 2 runs and at for the 3rd. The pace that I set for myself for these runs was 30 seconds faster than my current normal run pace. Not just to get faster, but also to get a measuring stick towards the <35 5K I need to hit before summer’s end. After lunch, we were in the water for skills and drills. The day finished up with recovery, during which I had a chance to try an amazing product.

Over the last couple years, I’ve had intermittent pain in my upper right arm. The only thing that’s really helped prior was getting worked on by a PT. But after about 5 minutes in the arm sleeve that’s made by Rapid Reboot and things felt great. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to use their products more in the future.

Day 2 started with swimming the course, and continued with a course overview. After some bike handling skills, the day finished with a breathing session and an ice bath experience. Last year, I had had an opportunity to do the contrast bath course (cold/hot/cold/hot). The cold sessions were in about 40 degree water for a total of 10 minutes, so I thought this 1:15 would be just fine. And outsize of the first 5-10 seconds, it wasn’t that bad. Meditation in 30 degree water is interesting to say the least…

There’s nothing fun about 3A wakeup calls, but that’s what was required for race day. After meeting up with Dave and getting transition set up, I felt really good. We poisitioned ourselves far enough back in the wave to avoid getting run over by people like Jack and Owen, and had a great start. Then at about 175-200, I started to feel the carbon dioxide start to build up. Using a drill that Stacee had taught me the day prior, I was able to get rid of a bit. At about 225 though, it came back and we had to head to the floating podium so I could try and clear it. At about 275, it was back and severe enough that I had to go to the boat. They gave me some water and it felt like the throat cleared. However, less than 10 strokes later, I had to tap out of the water. I felt true distress between when I told Dave I needed to and as we were swimming to the boat.

Because of HIPAA, I won’t go into much of what happened between when I was pulled from the water and when we walked to the finish line to cheer teammates in. All I will say is that too much fluid in the lungs was the culprit behind this. Post-race, I’ve had a chance to talk through this more with coaches and teammates that I trust. As a result of those conversations, I’ve got a few different things to try to help minimize this going forward.

As many of you know, I don’t believe in DNFs. In fact, Pleasant Prairie (2016) was the race where we walked the bike back 3+ miles so that I wouldn’t have to tap out. But this one was unavoidable for safety reasons.

While this was a disappointing day — not just in the water, but also having to scratch both of my A races — it wasn’t all bad. I know that as I continue to move forward, there are going to be bumps and setbacks. While I don’t ever want something like this to happen again, I’m glad it happened at a local race.

I still have a huge chunk of my season left, and I will find ways to work this out. I will also find a ‘replacement’ A race to focus on. And while this is a setback, it will NOT be a permanent one. I WILL find a way to fix all of this prior to the start of 2020’s seaons. And I WILL be in CA next summer.

Southern Exposure (D2T Elite Camp) – 2/14-17/19

2016 Dare2Tri Development Team Jacket

Year #4 as part of the Dare2Tri Development Team started off with a respite from the cold. In the past, the Elite camp has been in Chicago. Not surprisingly, this means treadmill running and lots of COLD. So it was nice to have it at the Lakeshore Foundation in Alabama.

Before I go on with camp #4, I want to go back to camp #1. The header photo for this blog is the jacket that was part of the 2016 Team gear. At that point, I didn’t realize that Triathlon gear wasn’t cut the same as normal clothes and that you usually (well, make that almost always…) need to size up to get the same fit. So when I received the jacket, it wouldn’t fit and has sat in my closet for 3 years. This year it will fit really well and get used pre-race in several races to keep warm!

Day 1 started off with a bike build, ‘paced’ running including sprints and a bike workout (including a bit of off-roading). Even though it was warm, it was really windy and a little rainy, so I was glad to have the L/S bike top to use. I also had an opportunity to play with the Apple watch during the run.

The afternoon consisted of strength, swim and yoga. Because of the group size, this meant circle swimming. This is not one of my most favorite things; simply because I’m swimming ‘blind’ and then having to find an opposite wall. I say ‘blind’ because very rarely am I able to make out markers on the bottom of pools like this where it goes from say 3.5 ft (shallow) to 10+ (deep). But it all worked out without too much issue.

Day 2 was the same format as Day 1, with T2 practice instead of strength. The run was on an outdoor track (mile straight and then relays) and we were able to find a ‘closed’ road path to bike on. I was able to negative split throughout the T2 practice and found a couple of things to help as the race season starts. The afternoon swim was an OWS simulation, with several lane lines having been removed.

Day 3 was a recovery day, with just run and swim sessions put in. Even though the IT band behind my left knee was hurting, I was able to get a decent amount of work in. Even if it’s not perfect, you should never waste a session — you can never get it back.

It was a great camp and I hope that the Elite camp will continue to be in warmer weather so we can bike and run outdoors in Feb.! Thank you to everyone at Lakeshore for their help and hospitality throughout the weekend!

#WhyILoveDare2Tri (#GivingTuesday 2018) – 11/27/18

Five years ago, I had no idea what it would take to do a Triathlon. And four years ago, Triathlon was supposed to be a ‘one and done’ (2015 Naperville Sprint Triathlon). Then a chance meeting changed everything forever….

When I arrived to run the 2015 Shamrock Shuffle, Keri Serota was the AWD Director. She also was, and still is, the Executive Director of Dare2Tri. As we talked for a few minutes prior to the race, she shared a lot of great information with me about Dare2Tri and invited me to their Paratriathlon (PT) camp in June.

When I showed up there, I had very little when it came to proper gear. I believe I had a helmet, a swim suit, goggles and a pair of normal gym shoes. Definitely not all of the tools that you need to be successful in the world of Triathlon. But that didn’t stop me from having a successful camp, as they provided everything else that I needed.

Just as important as the training were all of the people that I met and new friendships that I made. These were people that had the same amount, or even less sight, that were all being successful — both there and in their daily lives. Seeing that helped tremendously from the personal perspective.

More than 4 years later, I have grown so much athletically and personally because of their support and the Dare2Tri family/community. That ‘one and done’ has turned into about 40 so far, with another 17 planned in 2019. And while I can’t honestly say that I’ll accept eventually losing my sight, I can say that I feel better about it than I did in 2015. I know I wouldn’t be able to say that if I hadn’t made the connection with Dare2Tri.

I realize that there are a lot of organizations that are asking for funding today and throughout the rest of the year. But I would ask you to consider making a donation to Dare2Tri. The $150 goal that I’ve set will cover a race entry. And I truly believe that what you’re doing will start a spark in someone else like it did for me. Dare2Tri helped me to cross my first finish line in 2015, and I hope you’ll help someone else to be able to cross theirs in 2019!

Thank you in advance for any support you can provide! You can donate through this link.

2018 Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Camp (6/8 – 6/10/18)

I don’t remember who told it to me, but this has stuck with me — ‘this is an adaptive sport, as you have to be willing to adapt’. Whether it’s a piece of equipment that breaks druing a warmup, missing a key piece of equipment and having to go to back ups or something else, it will happen. More important that what DID happen is how you handle it and what DOES happen afterwards. Being frozen in a ‘plan A’ only mentality will do more harm to you than having to walk a tandem 3 1/2+ miles back in cleats after it’s double flatted (and yes, I’ve done the latter).

To that point, while it wasn’t planned, I was fortunate to get extra sessions in with my Nationals guide on Friday, to help a newer guide get more comfortable on the tandem on Saturday, and get in some valuable practice with someone who will be guiding me later in the summer. All positives, and all good things both short and long term.

For me, camp started with FUnctional Stregth, followed by time in the pool. Lots of drills and lots of opportunities for Dave and I to work out swim signals, rhythm and other beneficial things prior to Nationals. The afternoon was bike/run, with several important learning lessons coming out of both.

While it has been getting better, I still have some confidence issues when it comes to turns on the bike. Simply because I know basic laws of force, gravity and motion. Even with how well the nutrition stuff has been going, it’s still a concern. But we were able to get more and more comfortable throughout the turns to a point where I didn’t think about it. The initial starts and stops were a little choppy, but got better. As I started to think there might be an issue with the pedals, I talked with Cameron post-session. What I found out is that there are two different types (Zero something and Light Action) and I needed the latter. The former do work, but there are usually clip/unclip issues. I will get that addressed after Nationals. (1)

Coach Judy was back this year for the run, and I’m so glad she was! The first run session was drills, including the incredibly fun ‘pull the guide’ resistance drills. I’m sure that there’s a video of it somewhere; just Google it. Things felt much better this year during the first run session than they did last year. And a refresher on how to properly run hills was a great learning lession. Especially since I’m going to be pushing towards a strong finish when I hit it during Nationals.

Day two for me went bike, run, Open Water Swim and Yoga. Even though she hadn’t done much tandem riding, Canders stepped up to pilot for (and then run with) me. Even with the chain breaking at the end of the workout and my left hand going a little numb at times because of the seat spacing issue, it was still a great session. Thankfully we were essentially at a stop when it did, so no harm and something Cameron was able to fix.

Before going into the run, I had told her that my pace was about 12:30 / mile. That’s what it had been during my last good 5K (5/5), so that seemed like a good ballpark. So when Coach Judy said that we should be doing the 400 intervals a little faster than run pace, I was thinking 2:55. That would have been an 11:40 pace, and a decent drop. And then the 400s went 2:22, 2:23, 2:25 and 2:19. No, those aren’t typos; those are my real 400 times and a roughly 9:25 / mi pace.

Open Water Swim with Natalie went well. We had a chance to work out a lot of things with signals during that practice, all of which helped the following day (and will beyond camp).

During the weekend, there had been on and off rain. And who loves rain — mosquitos of course! While they was moderate during days 1 and 2, they were out in full force for the Triathlon on day 3. It rained hard in the morning, gave us a roughly 90 minute window and then came back in full force. And from how I was post-race, I think a mss message went out on BugBook — “Eat at James, he is delicious!”

Even though there were a couple of issues during the Triathlon, there were also a lot of bright spots. Especially on the run, where pacing and resets led to one of the best runs I’ve had to this point. And all of that will help during Nationals on June 24th.

It was a great weekend, and I came away with a lot of great knowledge and experience. A huge THANK YOU to all of the Coaches, sponsors, volunteers and guides that made the 2018 Dare2Tri PT camp possible!

2018 Dare2Tri Elite Camp (2/23-25/18)

The Dare2Tri Elite Camp is the ‘unofficial’ start of each season. Living in the Chicago area, it’s far too cold for the season to officially start until at least late April. As with last year, camp was held at Fitness Formula Club (FFC) Union Station. Not only do they do a great job with hosting us, but it’s an amazing facility. If you work in the city, I would suggest checking it out as a new or replacement club for yourself!

Prior to every camp and every race, I have anxiety about packing. Simply because I always forget something. Unsually it’s something minor that I can go without, borrow or buy if I really need it. However, this time, it was a biggie. I thought I had packed my Tri kit; I realized at the train station that I didn’t have it. So while I could have borrowed a suit, I went back for it. Simply because I knew it would be bugging me all weekend if I didn’t. I was glad I did it, but this [expensive] mistake also meant I missed out on the video swim analysis prior to camp.

Day 1 of camp consisted of swim drills (a lot of skulling to work on stroke) and run drills. Part of the treadmill run set was a hill repeat set. 4% incline (1 min) -> 5% incline (45sec) -> 6% incline (30 sec) -> 5% incline (45 sec) -> 4% incline (1 min) -> 2% incline (2 min). When the run starts to tax me in general, there are a few songs that I start singing in my head to distract me from thinking about the run. After the hill piece of the set, my mind was so mush that I couldn’t remember the words to songs that I’ve continually sung for the last 15 years. Even with all of that ‘unfun’, the big plus out of the run was that I didn’t notice the numbness in the bottom of my feet until about 45 min in. I should be off the 5K course before then, so the new shoes were worth the investment!

Day 2 of camp was much longer – swim, bike, strength, run, yoga (in that order for Ambulatory). There were some interesting Open Water drills as part of the swim, including trying to draft in diamond formation. During the bike session, the normal triangle issues came back. I know there’s probably a good way to stand up in clips on a CompuTrainer while it’s in motion. I’m just not confident enough to try it. I think I pulled something in one of my quads during strength, so the run was a bit of a challenge. And since I am a man, not a pretzel, you can all imagine how yoga went…

After this very long day, we headed over to the Edge Athlete Lounge for recovery/dinner. They have a 50 degree / 100 degree tub set that you’re in for 8/8/4 minutes (cold/hot/cold) for recovery. While it was fun to do, the first two minutes were brutal. Once your body goes numb, it’s not as bad… Time in the NormaTec boots afterwards completed my recovery cycle. These are a very cool piece of equipment that work quite well – they should though for the $1200+ price tag…

Day 3 was the FFC Indoor Tri. While things weren’t exactly where I wanted them to end up (shooting for 400/11.5-12/1.67), they were encouraging, expecially the bike. Also, in comparison to last year’s race, swim was about the same, bike was +1.8mi and run was -.02.

I noticed that this year’s camp drained me more than last year’s did. I think a part of that was the nutrition pieces I’ve been working on since the start of the year meant I had more to give and thus pushed harder and was spent. In fact, so much so, the beer that I brought down wnet untouched. I was just too tired

I was doing the math throughout the weekend and since. I truly believe that I have a shot to qualify for Nationals at my next race because of where things are at. What it’s really going to come down to is whether or not I can push a couple of 22-23mph miles on the bike to ensure I’ve got enough time for the run. The bar is at 1:25:21 for Male VI.

Dare2Tri Development Team (2/15/18)

At this time 3 years ago, I had no idea that Dare2Tri even existed. As I’ve said in several blogs, the 2015 Naperville Sprint was intended to be a ‘one and done’. And then I ran into Keri Serota (Dare2Tri Executive Director) at the 2015 Shamrock Shuffle; the rest is history.

After Chicago 2017, I thought I’d be on the outside looking in on several fronts for 2018. That was my race to prove a lot of things and to end 2017 strong. And then it all fell apart during mile 11 on the bike when my entire body went numb.

Thankfully, my fears weren’t reality. 🙂 I will be starting my 3rd season as part of the Development Team next weekend. I am extremely grateful to Dare2Tri for all of their support to this point, and for continuing to believe in me.

I am excited for 2018. The goal is to be representing Dare2Tri in the National wave in June. I’ve got a plan and a path to make that happen – follow the blog to learn more as it unfolds.

If you’d like to view the entire Dare2Tri Elite Team, Development Team and Jr. Development Team rosters, please visit Dare2Tri’s site.

You vs. You vs. You (11/30/17)

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns

After an extremely long season, which started at Amy Dixon’s No Sight No Limits camp in Chula Vista and ended at Turnstone Dare2Tri’s camp in Fort Wayne, I had a plan for 2018. It involved having a little bit of a break and then hitting things hard. Having planned out an equally long 2018, I saw this as the best route for success.

But then a thunderstorm of personal stuff started and derailed that plan. It will all be great stuff in the long-term, but it derailed what I had planned. When this happens, you can either say ‘screw it, focus on X’ or you can come up with a Plan B (and in my case usually a C, D, … X) and move forward. This is the first half of the title of the blog, and the first battle.

I know it’s sometimes very easy to say ‘this sucks, I’m out’, but that’s not the right attitude. Even if you have to temporarily back away or radically move things around, there shouldn’t be a reason to sit on the sidelines forever. Not only will you miss out on a lot in life, but you owe it to yourself and those who’ve supported you to get back out there. See my Leaning Tower blog for an example of this. Things would have gone radically different for 2017 if I hadn’t won out in that you vs. you battle.

But once you win that first battle, it’s not over. It’s onto round two for you. It’s very easy to find ways to backslide, legitimate or not. You’ve managed to refocus, now it’s just staying on that new path. And I’ll be honest, that’s not always easy. But when you falter, all you can do is pick yourself back up and keep moving forward.

The most important piece of all this is to remember that while it’s an internal fight at times, it’s not fought on your own. You’ve got a tremendous support network that can help you (coaches, friends, family, etc.) when you need it. They’re there to support, encourage and drive you.

When December starts tomorrow, things will kick into high gear for me. My 2018 season starts early, and I need to be ready for it. While I know that the second part of the fight will continue all month, I know I’ve got the support to win it. And the motivation to keep moving forward through a challenge with friends.