Hammered Again (11/30/17)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, because of the cost of this sport, you need sponsors to succeed. And it’s not just the financial cost that they help with, they also help you when you’re physically/emotionally spent and need to re-buy.

Since beginning this journey in 2015, I’ve been fortunate to have a wide network of supporters and sponsors. They’ve been in my corner, and helped to ensure that I’m able to push forward. Some have come to me, others I’ve gone out and found myself.

Earlier this year, I was overjoyed to get a yes from Hammer Nutrition when I asked them for their support. Since starting, I had tried many different gels but always came back to Hammer’s. And other products like Endrolytes were already part of my race kit. Because of their generosity, not only was I able to have everything I knew I needed but also to try new product like Heed. That was in my bottles throughout the 2017 season and will be again in 2018.

While I’m grateful for any support, I’m even more so when someone sticks with me. There are umpteen different places that everyone (individual or company) can put their support. So when someone re-ups, that means a LOT.

Earlier this week, Hammer said yes to sponsoring my nutrition needs in 2018! That will help IMMENSELY during the extremely long 2018 season I have in store!

THANK YOU Hammer Nutrition!

Giving Back (10/12/17)

“We’re happy to get the kind of money that jingles… [or] the kind that folds.” (from Coming to America)

Some of you may have had family tell you to go play in traffic. Some of them may have been frustrated; some of them may have been serious. But that’s exactly what I did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.

No, no, I’m not crazy [no comments from the peanut gallery….]. I’m out in traffic helping to collect money for the Lions Club Candy Day. The local Club helped to support me in my very first Triathlon event in 2015, and have helped to support me since. I also know that everything collected helps to support other people with visual disabilities, so I’m extremely happy to go out and play in traffic.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, you may see Lions out on the street in your neighborhood. Even if it’s just spare change, PLEASE give what you can. Every little bit helps, and helps those who need it.

And again,a huge THANK YOU to the Naperville Noon Lions Club, who continue to support me in my Triathlon endeavors!

Turnstone Dare2Tri Camp (Fort Wayne, IN) – 9/15-17/17

 

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” – Al Pacino

I thought Chicago was the end of my season. I’d have a little time off and then move into off-season training indoors. But then I was presented with another camp opportunity in Fort Wayne. This meant getting up at pre-dark:30 to get into the city with help from my parents so we could leave at dark:30.

Dan, Stacee, Kristen and I loaded up and then headed for a 3[plus] hour tour. And just like Gilligan’s Island, some very odd things happened during it. Like the place where we stopped for breakfast in farm country. Having the ‘sandwich artist’ being able to recite (in some seriousness) the names of some of the animals that had led to the meet in the trays was a bit odd. But we had fun with it and him..

Arriving at Turnstone, we were treated to a quick tour of their amazing facility before setting up out back. As people were getting fitted for equipment, I had a chance to talk with others (and play with Kahara).

One of the constants of adaptive sports is that you have to be able to adapt. As I’ve said before, something will not go as planned. You just need to figure out how to deal with it and move forward. This started with us losing lights in half of the pool and locker room. And for me continued with working with a brand new guide/pilot. Not only was this his first time doing Triathlon stuff, but also his first time on a tandem.

While that may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, that isn’t how I saw it. Because I realize that my guide/pilot won’t always be the same, I’ve gotten used to training new ones. Even though knowing what works best from experience helps, always remembering what one of my frist quides told me (“uise your words”) helps even more. If I can’t fully describe everything to my set of borrowed eyes, then we’re both going to fail. And I trust every one of my pilots/guides – things will work out right even if they don’t turn out perfect.

Robert continued to prove that rule. Within a few times of start/stops and turns, things were going really well. The first run session did as well, even though the last 90 seconds turned into many minutes… And he continued to do so throughout the entire camp, seeming to get more comfortable each day.

The second day of the camp started out with an incredibly technical bike loop. Just like someone carved up Xs in Megg’s Field in the dark, I could believe that the Fort Wayne Light & Power department just erected poles in the dead of night. What I mean by that is instead of the light poles being on the grass, or sidewalks going around them, light poles were on the sidewalk. In addition to those fun obstacles, the other part of the course was through dens foliage, through a dark covered tunnel and then over a laminate bridge/around a blind corner. Did I mention yet how key trust is?

After some functional stretch, we had ‘fun’ with the run. Yes, I realize that that sounds like an oxymoron… But it was fun with the 15/45 drills. In these, you run fast for 15 seconds and then do active recovery for 45 seconds, with each set of 15 getting faster. During one of the final two, I saw someone in a wheelchair about to pass me. I had it in my mind that I was going to keep pace with them and pass them, which I did before the 15 seconds ended. Like I said, fun while running…

The final day of the camp was a mini-triathlon – swim in the pool, loops on the bike and running on the HS track. This was the first triathlon for several, as well as the start of their addiction. Things went well with Robert as my guide/pilot, as I knew they would from how things had gone the previous two days. One of the camper’s family coming out and cheering both them and then us all on really helped.

While these camps provide an opportunity to build skills, they also provide some great social opportunities. Throughout the weekend, I had a chance to talk with everyone, and learn more about them. And I believe I picked up a new guide for 2018 Indy races. I hope to see many of them at camps in 2018!

Thank you to Turnstone for hosting us and to Dare2Tri for putting on the 3 day camp! It was a great ‘Overtime’ session, and I hope it’s an option next September. I would strongly suggest watching out for opportunities like this. Unless you can do a sub 1 hour Sprint Tri consistently, there’s always room to continue improving!

Even though my season is officially over now, there’s no rest for the weary. Off-season training is in full swing, and I’m starting to plan for my 2018 season. If any of you would like to help support me for it, you can do so through my USABA page.

Falling Short (Chicago Tri) – 8/27/17

Going into Chicago this past weekend, I felt really good. Even though I had gotten sick after them, the final two Open Water Swim (OWS)es of the season were extremely helpful. They were both choppy and moderately warm (mid 70s), which I believed would help for race day. Tthe pre-race 20/20/20 with Kyle went well, and I had a plan for both sides of the extremely long transitions (3/4 mile to swim out, ½ mile from swim in). So everything should have gone perfect with me setting a PR at Chicago, right? No, not really….

After getting everything set up, our group headed towards race start, and our Sprint wave started at 8:45. Once in the water, things felt really good; and from what I mentioned about OWS earlier, I anticipated a 25-26 min swim. When exiting, I ended up knee planting on the huge step. Even with that, T1 ended up being quicker than last year.

Making it out onto the bike, we picked up a tremendous amount of places. Throughout almost the entire bike, we were passing people continuously. Well, except for when people like one of my teammates (David Kuhn) blazed past us at almost 30mph. And even with a couple hiccups (hairpin turns and having to stop for a bit because my lower body went numb), the delta was almost 1000 people.

With the nutrition plan that I had been using, I felt good going into the run. Unfortunately, my knees kept cramping up throughout the run. It was so frustrating, as I had enough breath / stamina to keep going, but I couldn’t keep the pressure on without a lot of pain. I have no idea exactly what caused it, but I managed to make it through the run.

As I’ve already told some people privately, this day was full of frustration for me. I knew that I had put in the work to get the time down, but it didn’t show in the results (+10 min from 2016). While it would be easy to let that frustration make me say ‘screw it – I put in the work and it just got worse’, that’s just not in my DNA. Honestly, the last few days have been a struggle as I continue to try and ignore those feelings.

What will help to silence those voices is continuing to keep perspective and getting back into the pool on Friday to start the off-season workouts. A couple years ago, the struggles with bike mounting almost got the better of me. This year, with the exception of the first race, I’ve been in clips with very minimal issues. The bottom line being that I just have to remember that while it won’t be immediate, things will continue to get better if I keep pushing forward. And that’s the message I’ve got to keep feeding myself the entire off season.

There are several things that I’ll be discussing with coaches and other athletes over the next several months. There will also be several different sets of experiments as I try to find a way to get the numbers to where I need them to be. I am watching the clock and know that my first shot to qualify for 2018 Nationals is about 6 months from today. Even though that’s a lot of time, it’s really not…

One of the other main things that I need to get addressed in the off-season is aaddle fit. Every race this season, the current saddle has caused my lower regions to go numb and lose power during adjustment. On Sunday, this wasn’t noticeable until it was a real issue, causing us to stop for about 60-90 sec at mile 11 or 12. If I want to be able to keep a constant 20mph+, I can’t have that happening.

Even though my 2017 racing season is over, things aren’t completely done for the year. In addition to off-season training, I’ve got two long bike rides and potentially a Tri camp before the end of the year. I’ll have an end of year reflective post once I’m down to just off-season training.

Naperville Tri – 8/6/17

Since I started competing in races in 2014, a beer has always followed the race. Whether it’s included with part of the post-race party or it’s the first thing I grab when I get home, I’m celebrating the finish pretty quickly after the race. This routine changed after Naperville though – more on that at the end.

Naperville was the first official Triathlon that I did, and has become my favorite since. Not just because it’s done really well (between PEM and ET), but also because it gives me an opportunity to publicly thank the local businesses that help / have helped to support me. I would not be at this point without the support from ALL of them, and I’m extremely grateful to them.

As in years past, everything got set up so Terri could guide for me. We got some practice in on the ‘new’ tandem and with the new gear, and were set to go for the race. On race morning, when we set up in transition, Terri noticed someone had majorly misracked (it goes 17, 18; not 17, xxxx). We headed to the beach start believing that an official would notice it and handle.

We started after the elite racers and got into the ‘full contact’ swim melee. So many people trying to climb over / swim over us like every year in Naperville so far. And I could swear that near the final buoy that another athlete physically pulled me upright out of the water. This is a perfect example of where rule K.48 would have been very helpful. Even with these extra obstacles, the swim / 100 was right on target.

After transition, we headed out onto the tandem for 12.4 miles (two loops). Things went well, although it’s apparent that I need to get the saddle addressed before 2018. My lower region keeps falling asleep / getting uncomfortable mid race. And for a sprint race, I’m not going to add another 10 minutes for on/off of bike bibs.

Up until we headed out on the run, it had been cloudy and cool. But as we started out, the sun broke through and it heated up. The first 1.5 miles wasn’t too bad, but I did have to stop at about that point to stretch out. I also had the same feet tightening up issue I’ve had all year. Even though it wasn’t a great run, still better than several from this season. We finished about 5 minutes faster than 2016.

A few notes from / post race —
1) The new nutrition program worked out well, including the ‘emergency’ capsules. I will continue to use that going forward.

2) That the Karma Police always gets their man (or woman). Looking at the results, it appears the person who grossly misracked was DQed. Moral of the story is play by the rules…

3) I’m not sure which part of the race did it to me, but for the rest of Sunday my body was in pain. When we made stops headed north, I think my limping shuffle probably imitated that of an 80+ year old…

So back to where I started this blog – post-race beer. The timing just happened to work that we were headed up to WI that afternoon where a pony keg of local beer (Tribute Brewing Company) was waiting. So instead of having the standard PBR at home, I waited a long time for the Tribute pint. Yes, the beer is that good, and yes, the wait was well worth it!

Early bird registration is open for 2018 if you’d like to join us next year! Register on web site.

Look Ma – No Eyes! (Chicago GloRun) – 7/15/17

Over the past few years, my friends have told me about different versions of Glo Runs. They’ve always sounded like a lot of fun, but the timing hasn’t worked; until this year. Even though it meant a Tri into a 5K, I was still up for it. Especially since I was doing this as a fundraiser race for Challenged Athletes Foundation.

I knew that I’d be able to recover from the Tri in time between a 4 hour ride back and the assortment of Hammer Nutrition products I had with me. I was correct on that part, and headed downtown after a brief break for a shower/food.

For those of you who don’t know, a GloRun is done in the dark with the majority of the lighting come from glow sticks, necklaces and other things like that. There are also other well lit zones at random points throughout the course. Being unable to see well in the dark because of my vision, I knew that this was going to be quite the challenge. However, I knew it would all go well, as I was surrounded by a convocation of Eagles (Jen, Martha and Julian (JuJu)).

Once it was dark, the race started and we were off. In past races, the McCormick tunnel has always been a challenge. But this night, it was just one more dark area. Having Julian to run ahead of us with a light shining backwards really helped, and we were able to keep a steady pace until about 1.5 miles in when we got to the aide station. After that point, I had the ‘foot sleep’ issue I’ve had in past 5Ks and ended up having to do a modified run/walk after that point.

Even with that, it was still a great race. And something that I’m very glad that I did. 🙂 I plan on doing it again in 2018 if the timing works out!

While this wasn’t a triathlon, I still wouldn’t have done this without the previous support from Dare2Tri. I know that may sound odd, but the reality is that because I knew from experience that things had gone well in the dark (read as 4A transition fun…), that this would as well.

Got Grit? (Indy Tri) – 7/15/17

Whether you’ve done it once or a hundred times, you can always learn something new out on the race course. Usually it’ll be something small that helps you to improve a little here or there. But then there are races where something major falls apart, and you have to figure out how to deal with it, and then to learn from it. In 2016, that race was Pleasant Prairie (double flat, 3.5mi+ bike walk); in 2017, it was Indy (4-5 gears max).

When I first started looking for Triathlons in 2015, I came across Tuxedo Brothers’ series. While it didn’t work in 2015, their races stayed in my peripherary. And when they made sense this year, I looked at which one fit best. However, I couldn’t find anyone from my normal guide pool that was available. This is where Caroline Gaynor came in to help. If you don’t know who she is, you’re probably part of that 11% in the Triathlon community who doesn’t. 🙂

Caroline helped to connect me with Sarah, and after a few months of back-and-forth, we finally met up at packet pickup. Even though this was going to be her first time guiding, I still felt very confident going into the race. But I made a mistake that morning which I believe impacted the whole race. Isn’t 20/20 hindsight wonderful?

During pre-race warmups, I heard a loud snap. I thought something might have been wrong, as I’d never heard anything like that before. We looked at it and nothing looked out of place. And the gears all seemed fine, so I chalked it up to nothing wrong. What I should have done was take it over to the bike mechanic tent to have them look at it. But instead, thinking nothing was wrong, Sarah went off to do some solo warmups while I finished setting up my transition.

We got into the water, and things went okay there. Another race where there was a minor point of having trouble breathing in the water. The breaststroke helped until I got it back, and we made it out and back to transition. Everything seemed just fine as we headed out on the tandem, with us making it onto the bike in only a couple tries.

And then things fell apart… As Sarah started to shift into the higher gears when the first set of hills came up, it felt like the chain was off. We stopped, with me falling with the bike (left foot still clipped in) and tried to fix it. What Sarah did seemed to make it a little and we went on. But about a ¼ mile later, the bike started wobbling and I went down hard with it. This fall knocked the wind out of me, and I had to sit there for a minute of so until I got it back.

During that time, I had an internal fight with myself. At this point, I knew that we’d have to do another 8-9 miles in hills with 4-5 gears max (with 4 or 5 as our ‘high’ gear). There was a brief moment where I thought about tapping out. Then I came back to reality, knew that wasn’t an option, and climbed back on the bike. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I don’t believe in DNFs. And unless I’m physically hurt or the equipment is unsafe, you’ll have to physically drag me off the course.

So on we pushed, sometimes at a snail’s pace, but on nonetheless. There were a couple of dangerous spots (bad cone layout and turnaround) where we had to struggle with the bike. And there was a point on the way back where I started physically shaking, probably from having to do so much in those low gears. It got so bad that we had to walk the bike for a little bit, as I was concerned about being able to keep the bike upright in that state.

We eventually made it back, and after having to dodge through people leaving while bringing the bike in, made it out onto the run course. Having spent my legs so much in the low gears, I knew the run was going to be a mess. But I did what I could with a run/walk throughout the course. And we found a way to make it through, even though I was in a lot of pain at points.

While this was not an optimal race, there were a few bright spots and definite lessons learned.

1) To trust my hearing, and be overcautious. While we would have been racing the clock (snap occurred with 15-20 minutes prior to transition closing), I know that the overall race would have been better if I had.

2) That the continual transition practice is paying off. Before the beginning of the season, my best total transition time was something in the 10 minute range. That’s declined over the season, including a 1 minute T2 in this race. That’s the fastest I’ve EVER done T1 or T2 in, and total transition was less than 5 minutes.

3) That there are a couple of things I need to sort out with coaches. I’m not sure why this intermittent breathing issue is strating to occur during races, and I need to find a way to overcome the ‘foot sleep’ issue that’s coming up in the run. That has happened in the last two races, one of which I was able to get a great bike in.

Even though the race wasn’t great, I’m very grateful to my parents for their support in getting me there/back, Sarah for guiding and Doug/Matt for coming out to support us. 🙂 Afterwards, I headed back to get ready to run a 5K in the dark – more on that in the next blog.

Kids PT Camp (7/11-12/17)

As part of the Dare2Tri Development Team, one of my commitments is to give back by volunteering at at least one of their camps. Last year, the Kids Paratriathlon (PT) Camp worked best. I had so much fun last year that I decided to volunteer again this year. And this year, my mom also joined in.

Day 1 started out with several of us getting equipment ready for the kids – a lot of tire examination and pumping. And by a lot, I mean about 40 bikes/racers/racing chairs. After introductions/stretching, the groups were broken up and people went in different directions.

While I’m always moderately serious about it, since no one would let me pilot for them, I spent most of Day 1 in Lake Michigan with the groups. I went through how I swim with my guides and gear I have used/do use in the water with one of the blind groups. Day One ended with transition information for the campers.

Even though I’d been in Lake Michigan for about 2 hours, I still needed to get my normal Open Water Swim practice in after camp. That ½ mile at Ohio Street beach was quite the struggle. I was tired from the previous swims, but still managed to get it in.

Day Two was predicted to be hot and muggy with a chance of rain. Well make that a 100% chance of rain. All of the campers got to learn two very important additional lessons because of the rain —

1) That in adaptive sports, you need to be willing and able to adapt. Things won’t always go as planned, but they’ll always work out. Just don’t let the unexpected throw you off track.

2) That Triathletes don’t melt. You’ll race as long as there isn’t thunder/lightning. It may not be the most comfortable to bike/run in the rain (or the standing water a storm can leave), it’ll still happen.

Thunder and lightning kept us under the beach shelter for about 2 hours, during which the campers did relays and other practice while waiting it out. During that time, I also did an impromptu interview (Facebook Live) related to why I Dare2Tri. You can view this on Dare2Tri’s Facebook Page.

Once the bulk of the storm had passed, the campers got ready to race. Because there were so many Blind/VI athletes, that group had to be split to ensure there were enough tandems. So there were supposed to be 3 races; but the weather changed that again. I ended up on the course helping to direct people onto the bike course and cheering as they came into the finish.

This gave me a great opportunity to see everyone finish, including my mom finishing her first Triathlon. While I haven’t been successful in talking her into doing a Super Sprint or being part of a relay, I’ll continue trying…

For those of you who are interested in volunteering for 2018, please keep an eye on the Calendar that’s on Dare2Tri’s web site. Kids PT Camp has been in July the last 2 years, and will probably be July 2018.

Roller Coaster Bike Ride (ET Lake Zurich) – 7/9/17

Over the 3 years I’ve been competing, I’ve run into some really great Race Organizers (ROs) and Race Directors (RDs). I know that if they’ve running the race, or their name is on it as a title sponsor, it’s going to be a good one. One of the many that falls into that category is Experience Triathlon (ET) and Coach Joe (owner of ET).

Thus, I was looking forward to the ET Lake Zurich Triathlon even though I’d never raced it before. And two weeks after racing PT Nationals (PC Open), I was ready to take on a new challenge – especially the very hilly bike course.

As every race sends out a multitude of e-mails (registration reminder, packet pickup, athlete guide, etc.), it’s sometimes easy to tune these e-mails out and just hit delete after the first few. Thankfully, I don’t; if I had, I would have missed out on the race. I had it in my calendar that it was an 8A start, which would mean transition was 6-7:30 or so. However, transition was actually 4:45-6:30. I saw this in enough time to make all the needed arrangements.

Once everything was set up in transition, we thought we had at least an hour to kill given the schedule. So Lee and I headed down near the beach with my parents to watch the Olympic athletes. About 15 minutes before the first wave of Sprint was supposed to start, my parents noticed Sprint athletes making the turn to swim in. Apparently the Sprint start had gotten moved up and we weren’t aware. So we had to scramble down to the beach and queue up.

On advice of my coach, I tried to stay further right after we started to avoid crowding at the buoys and getting sum over. While that may have helped some, it also meant that I went too far right at one point – almost off course. As well, since we were at least 2 start waves behind where we should have been, I ended up getting tangled in less strong swimmers mid-course. These two in combination caused me to lose a couple minutes in the water. And I still can’t tell you what the swim distance was. The event site listed it as 400m; my timing says it should have been a 750m swim; the race result averages make it look like a 1500m swim.

After one of my fastest transition times, we headed out onto an extremely hilly bike course. While the average was about 19mph, I know that there were places that we were at 25mph+. Just simple laws of gravity / physics. This bike course also made it very evident that I need to get the saddle upgrade done ASAP. I haven’t been able to afford it yet – if you’d like to help support me so I can, you can do so through my USABA fundraising page.

Coming back into transition, Pleasant Prairie T2 almost repeated itself. However, I realized the re-clip this time and unclipped the left foot a second time in time. Because of having to push so hard through the hills, I was concerned about the run being a mess. Even though there were parts that I had to walk while my feet unclenched, it went really well. And having one of my teammates cheering us on as we made the turn into the finish chute made it that much easier to finish!

While it wasn’t a perfect race, there were several bright spots and learning lessons. I know that it will all click soon and I’ll start hitting the benchmarks I want to. Until then, I’ll just continue trying and learning from what does go right/wrong.

Lake Zurich was the beginning of a very long stretch of races/camps. Please watch for blogs on the rest coming soon!

It’s Not Just About You – 6/28/17

Yes, I realize that ultimately, the race is run by you and the accomplishments get credited to you. But in the end, it’s not just about you. The only way that it could be is if you’re not a PT athlete, have a genetic background of a mix along the lines of Michael Phelps/Lance Armstrong (without the doping)/Apolo Ohno and are independently wealthy. That probably covers .00001% of all Triathletes out thre.

For the rest of the Triathlon universe, there’s someone else helping you to succeed. Whether it’s a coach making sure you’re on track, sponsors making sure you’ve got everything you need to succeed, or a guide helping you if you’re a PT athlete, others have your back and are helping. Because of that, there are two-way streets to ensure that you succeed.

As a visually impaired athlete that’s part of Dare2Tri’s Development Team, there’s a long list of people that are helping me. I couldn’t do any of this without it. As such, I need to make sure that I’ve got several different pieces in line before the gun/horn goes off – training/race prep, guide and proper branding.

While I know there are hurdles, I’m doing everything that I can to get the training in. I’ll admit that the running is the biggest ‘fail’ at this point. But I’m still trying to push forward with it – even if it’s sometimes at a snail’s pace. And it isn’t just for personal pride or the desire to continue moving forward, it’s also to have a good end result for those that have put their support and resources behind me.

Early on, one of my guides told me ‘it’s not about me, it’s about you and your race’. At the time, I understood and agreed with them. However, experiences over the last two years make me disagree with that sentiment. As I said at the beginning, what gets publicly reflected/recorded is the athlete (and not the guide). Even still, the guide is giving up their time and their race to help ensure that you have a successful one. Both through the time you spend practing and training, as well as race day. In return for that, I believe that you need to ensure not only that you’re ready to race but that you’re both on the same page for the expected and unexpected throughout. If my mindset was ‘I’m running this race, just be equipment’, not only would I fail, but I’d also lose guides quickly. It needs to be a two-way street of communication, respect and commitment for everything to work.

As I mentioned earlier, I could not be doing any of the Triathlon stuff (practices, races, etc.) without a lot of support from a long list of people. For the organizations/companies that have provided this support, not only do I want to make sure that I’ve got the branding appropriately displayed (especially given if it’s a supported race or not), but I want to have a good ‘end product’ for them. I can’t always control what happens in a race (more on that in the next post), but I do need to be doing everything possible to have a good race and deal with whatever adversity happens.

They could have given that support or those resources to others; but they chose to give it to me. This is one of many reasons that I do not believe in DNF (Did Not Finish). The best example of this being last year where I chose to walk the bike back 3-4 miles after double-flatting and finish the run rather than pulling out As I said, you can’t control everything that happens on the course, but you can control yourself. You can let a situation break you (whether it’s mental or physical), or you can push through it. And quite honestly, I believe that you owe it to everyone supporting you to give it your all every time. That’s the only way to push forward.