Black Flagged (Naperville Sprint) (8/4/18)

“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people too.” – Jimmy V

While he was talking about his battle with cancer, this seemed an apt quote to start this blog with — Just replace say and said with do and did, and it’ll all tie together. For me, the time clock has been and always will be related to my vision. As I’ve said before, I was told that I’d be completely blind by 30. Coming close to 40 and still having a decent amount of vision sometimes makes me ask the question of ‘when will it run out?’

But the overwhelming majority of the time, I’m able to shove that question back. It’s in line with what I was telling a neighbor earlier today. I can either be disappointed with what I don’t have or make the most of what I do. And I clearly choose the latter.

However, earlier this week, I wasn’t able to do that. I had Naperville on the schedule for tomorrow, and we were doing pre-race fit/practice Tuesday night. As we were going to work on turns, I put on the flat peddals instead of the clips. And as we continued to ride, I was getting more comfortable without the ‘safety blanket’ of the clip there. But as we made one of the final turns towards home, my left side pedal fell out. Initially, I thought it had just come unscrewed. But when Natalie looked at it, she confirmed that the threading was stripped.

At that point, while I was disappointed that it had happened, I was confident that we’d be okay. In my head, I thought ‘it’s just a standard crank; every bike shop should have it.’ But that thought was soon prooved wrong on Wednesday when every bike store, including CoMotion licensed dealers said they had to order it and I wouldn’t get it until after the race.

At this point, I started looking at plans B, C, D and E (as usual). While I really wanted to race, what it ultimately came down to was safety. I’ve got so much left in this season (Triathlon and Running along with other sports) that racing just wasn’t worth the potential risk caused by rushing a fit or being uncomfortable on a quickly borrowed bike. So I scratched it before end of day Wednesday.

What I struggled with most of the day was losing a race and the ever-present uncertainty of length of vision. Long story short, the underlying theme of the interal thoughts as I tried to salvage the race was ‘How many more of these will I get before the vision disappears?’

Not a fun day to say the least, but I did have friends helping me throughout. Even still, it took until after football practice before I finally got perspective. What caused it was the parallel of being upset about missing football games (medical) in the moment that it had happened and seeing things in the larger scheme when I had come back.

If you’ve gotten this far, you may be saying ‘that’s all well and good, but what’s the point?’ Well, there are a few:

1) Regardless of what the endeavor is, you’ve got to keep perspective. And quickly get it back when you lose it. Something’s going to hit the fan periodically; how you deal with it determines success.

2) Being proactive as possible will protect you from yourself. After this happened, I committed to purchasing extra parts. It won’t stop a crank or derailer from wearing out or breaking. But having extras, especially on remote races, will help ensure that it’s a quick fix.

3) It’s okay to keep thoughts like I mentioned at the top in your mind. Just don’t let them control you. Beat the chimp; every time.

I am grateful that I was given a deferral for 2019. That also helped with the entire process, knowing that the race wasn’t fully ‘lost’.

Finally, for those of you wondering why I would share something like this, the answer is simple. When I started the blog, I promised to share openly throughout the journey– warts and all. This definitely falls into the ‘warts’ category…

Hill Hell (Ripon Medical Center Tri) – (7/22/18)

Last year, the timing between when I did a Triathlon and vacation just happened to work out so that I did the former right before the latter. As doing so made me feel less guilty about a week full of beer last year, I wanted to try for the same this year. So this year, Ripon fit in nicely.

Going in, I knew that this was going to be a challenging course. Dave made it very clear that there were a lot of hills. But that didn’t phase me for a couple reasons — one being that hill work makes you stronger and the other being that if you can succeed in a hilly course, you can crush the normal ones. So I was up for and excited to race Ripon.

The race is held around this amazing conference center in Ripon. You swim in the on-site lake, and are on parts of the compound for some of the bike and entire run. There’s an amazing view during the run — but I’ll get to that later.

After setting up transition and making sure that my electronics were protected from the rain, we got ready to race. A week or two prior, one of my friends had told me about a draining workout that they had had to do. It was essentially that the person in front was trying to break away and they were trying to keep in their draft. That essentially happened throughout most of the swim for me from a couple of people that were behind me. I’m still waiting for the Thank You basket from them for the free ‘tow’ at times…

It had been raining throughout the night and was misting/raining through the morning/race. Knowing that, and knowing the hill layout, we made the decision pre-race to go a little slower on the bike. While I would have liked to keep the 20mph I’ve gotten to, I realized that that wasn’t reasonable given the conditions and took Dave’s advice. So after a few minutes in T1, we headed out on the bike. And he wasn’t wrong about the hills… I would estimate about 6 1/2 miles of hills (up/down) and maybe 2.8 miles total of flats. The worst was the initial 1 mile uphill, where it went up for about 1/2 mile and then leveled out. At this point, I thought we were out of the first hill; instead, it went up again for about another 1/2 mile. There was a spot during the bike portion where the hills were so bad that I said ‘down one more’ and Dave’s response was ‘we’re in the lowest gear’. I am glad that we only had to do one loop on that course.

Just like the bike, the run started with a ‘nice’ uphill. This one was a 1/2 mile up instead of a full mile. After an hour of hills on the bike in the hills, I didn’t have the legs to do that much uphill running. So I did have to walk a big chunk of that first 1/2 mile. But once we got over the hump, I was able to run more and the first mile wasn’t too bad given that. As we approached the first aid station, the volunteers mentioned that they had Heed. There’s a good reason Heed has been in my bottles for the past two seasons, and I was extremely grateful to see this lifeline at the stations. After recharging there, we had… you guessed it… more hills. But because of being able to continually recharge (4x – 1, ~1.4, ~1.75, 2), I was able to make it through a VERY hilly run. And even with that first 1/2 mile challenge, the 5K time was only about 45s-1m off from where it usually is.

Remember the view I mentioned to you early on? On the run, that first 1/2 mile is up (or down) a hill/bridge. There’s an amazing scenic overlook about halfway up the hill. It’s a great extra push as you’re making that final push to the finish line.

Even though the bike was longer than normal and the overall time was the longest this season, I still felt really good post race. I know that I couldn’t have completed Ripon last season and that all the work I’ve done since the beginning of the year helped me to have a successful race. And I’m grateful that Dave was there to guide for me.

Two final notes:

1) Post-race as we were loading the bike, this older gentleman came up with one of his daughters (who had raced) and started asking me about how I race and all the normal PT stuff. As we spoke, he shared some amazing stories with us about his family. I hope to run into Tim and his family in 2019 and have a chance to talk more with him.

2) Ripon has been added to my parmanent Tri schedule. It’s a fun, challenging race; and it will only make me stronger in the long run. When I’m able to hit 1:30 times there, I know I’ll be able to hit the benchmarks I need to on ‘normal’ courses.

I See You (Endure It 10K) (7/15/18)

Earlier this summer, I saw an interesting new race concept get posted. It was a Team 10K, where team members swap off at each 400. After seeing the success I had at camp with doing sub 2:30 4x 400 repeats, I decided to give it a go.

So team I See You was formed with Owen as the other half and Eric and Chris as the respective guides. Even though I knew the rest periods would be short (90s – 1:45 max), I was still excited to do it. And I believed I could negative split like I had at camp.

However, the breaks were not long enough to allow for the negative splitting. For the most part, by the time I was able to get liquids and catch my breath, Owen/Eric were 3/4s of the way around. Even still, all except two were below my best 5K pace. I did negative split the final one.

While it was hot and while it was a grind, I had a tremendous amount of fun. Also the consistent grind kept me from losing focus, as I had maybe 15-20 seconds to think about running the next lap before it actually happened. I look forward to doing it again next year!

I Don’t See You (Glo Run Chicago) (7/14/18)

Over the last few weeks, I had talked to a few different people about the trust aspect of doing Triathlons. The synposis of the conversation being ‘you can’t do it unless you have total faith and trust in your guides’.

Since I have a decent amount of vision during the day, I can lend some extra advice if I see something or ask about something I’m seeing. But in the dark, I have to have complete faith in my guides. Some may say it’s silly to race when I can’t see anything. But to me, it’s fun and a challenge I accept now. But it may also be a long-term reality for all races, whether it’s daylight or not.

For night races, I run with two guides so that each can watch one side. With the path being narrow, Rob suggested that one go in front and the other by my side. That turned out to be a tremendously helpful suggestion. With Jen keeping her headlamp on the back of his bright yellow shirt, and her guiding, it went really well.

For those of you who have been continually following my blog, you know that running is not my strong suit. But because of the work I’ve been putting in, I was able to run the entire 5K. I stopped for about 20 – 30 seconds to get water at the aid station, but that was it. And in a sprint towards/through the finish, I was told I surprised one of the camera guys (who had to scramble out of the way). I’m looking forward to seeing those finishing photos!

Thanks to Jen and Rob for all of their help!

Lake Zurich Tri (7/8/18)

My plan after PT Nationals was to hit it hard and crush the next race (Lake Zurich). But with work and other chaos, I unfortunately got little training in during the two week period. But with the success to this point, I wasn’t worried about the race.

After getting transition set up, we got in the water for a brief practice swim. The drift came up then, but we at least worked out all of the signals to try and correct it.

The swim went about as expected — the drift added much more distance than it should have. I can accept it adding 30 – 60 seconds, but in this race it was at least 8 minutes. Something that needs to be addressed in order for me to keep moving forward; and quickly.

Last year, the bike course was an out and back, with a couple of harry corners. This year, even though they changed it to a loop, one of those corners still existed. We had to contend with a moving truck on the course that didn’t realize it was a bad idea to pull out as we were on an uphill. But it still went well overall. Especially since this year I was much more confident on the downhils. Last year, we coasted on almost all of them; this year, we pedalled through almost all.

And then there was run… With the loop bike course, the run was reversed. This meant running up two large hills early on into the run instead of running up them at about 2 and 2 3/8 miles in. It was still a decent run, even considering that I couldn’t really see the course the last 800 – 1000 yeards. Running through planters and shadows would have been impossible without Lee’s help.

While there were some hiccups, I did improve on 2017’s time by 9 minutes. I also got to see one of my friends win their AG (25-29).

IMO, one very big improvement from 2017 to 2018 was putting Mr. Mic (Dave Kappas) on the PA. Night and day difference, IMO.

2018 PT Nationals (6/24/18)

Even though I didn’t make the National wave as intended, I felt a lot better going into PT Nationals this year than I did last. A big part of that was because of the nutrition changes and the byproducts/results from them.

While the swim felt really long, Saturday’s practice went really well. Especially the run, during which the pace seemed faster but I was still able to hang in for a good while. Dave showed up after practice finished and we did our final race prep after the course preview.

After watching teammates get in and start the National wave on Sunday, it was our turn (PC Open). Last year, I was accidentally at the front of the starting pack, and paid for it (going out too fast to attempt to avoid being run into). So this year, I positioned us further back.

While it seemed longer than 750, the swim went well. I did have some of the normal ‘drift’ issues, but felt I was in the right time range (20-22 min) getting out of the water. After a few minutes in T1, we were out on the bike for a scenic ride. This scenery included a mooing cow, which we mooed at coming back on the bike. The bike saddle change between last year and this helped immensely. Even with an unintended early dismount, it was a great bike.

So then it was onto the hardest part for me — the run. The goal was to replicate what had been done at PT Camp two weeks prior and end up with a roughtly 38min 5K. While it was a decent run, it didn’t turn out as I had intended or hoped. The main reason being that without intending to, I did mile #1 in 11 min (including a 1min walk). That was way too fast, and I paid for it during miles 2 and 3.

Even though it didn’t go exactly as planned, I did shave about 4 minutes off from 207, and I did win the PC Open Mens VI division!

I will continue to work on fixing these issues. This is only the halfway point of my summer season, so there’s a long way to go in the 2018 season!

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!

Final Shot (Leon’s Tri) – 6/3/18

For those of you following my blog or me on social medial, you know that I had to pass on my May race that I planned to use to qualify for Nationals. So Leon’s was my final opportunity to qualify. And even though I was conservatively 3 1/2 minutes off headed in, I still thought I had a chance.

Before I go any further, I want to remind all of you reading that VI Paratriathlon is a team effort. While I’ve heard some refer to the guide as “equipment”, that’s not the whole story. This is someone who’s given up their time, their race and their comfort to ensure you succeed. Yes, it’s “your race” and yes, you put a tremendous amount of trust in them. But that has to be a two way street for success; both short and long term.

Wolf Lake has two very different modes. One is it being calm and you can easily churn out your 100s. The other is wind hitting the lake and it slamming waves into you for the first 150 – 200m until you make the left around the buoy. While I struggled with waves two years ago, bilateral breathing helped out. It was wavy again this year, and my guide ended up with a couple of huge mouthfuls of water early in. It got down into his lungs so for the rest of the swim, we had to stop every 50-75m so he could get breath and try to cough out more water.

Even though the clock was working against me and I wanted to get out of the water ASAHP, I didn’t have an issue with this. For the simple reasons that I knew he needed to stop to try and reset and that he would have done the same if reversed.

We made it out of the water and by the time we were a couple of miles into the bike, he was doing much better. Between the wind and the 4 U-turns (so much ‘fun’), I wasn’t drinking much from my bottle on the bike. I think that this led to some minor dehydration, as I had cramping to the point of pain about 300-400 ft from the dismount line. It all worked out though and we moved onto the run.

With what had happened the previous weekend, I was a little bit concerned about going too fast. But I still wanted to finish strong. Even though qualifying for Nationals was gone, I still wanted to PR. And while it wasn’t a smooth run, it was 100 times better than 2017’s. During that run, at best I was able to run for 1/10th of a mile and then had to walk because of back issues. This year, I was able to run for much longer stretches, finishing with an all out sprint down the finish chute.

I did succeed in setting a new PR by about 10 minute (mostly by shaving 13+ min off from 2017’s run).

Burn Out (Western Springs Tower Trot) – 5/26/18

Over the past several years, I’ve continually battled with going out too fast. Usually it’s meant an unsuccessful practice, as I’ve got little left after mile 1. But I’ve been working on it, and usually in 5Ks themselves, I’ve been okay. Unfortunately, it caught up with me during this race. And I didn’t know that it was going to happen until it was too late.

As Rob and I started out, he noted that I was going too fast. I kept trying to slow it down, and things felt good at a 12:15 or so pace. Then at less than a 1/2 mile in, my right side and back started hurting — bad. Almost like I had pulled something without realizing it. I hoped that a couple minutes of stretching would help, but to no full avail.

So for the rest of the race, I did what I could. This meant running until the pain level got to a 5 or 6, then walking until it was back down to a 2; rinse and repeat. While it’s just antidoctal, I think I may have had some minor dehydration. I say that because post-race as I kept draining cups of water, it kept getting a little better (although I was still in some pain).

While it wasn’t the race that I had hoped for, I still had fun. And I appreciate Rob being able to come out and run with me!

Dolphin Dash 5K (5/5/18)

With a May Tri on the calendar, I went looking for a couple of ‘warm up’ 5Ks early in March. The one that was part of Dare2Tri’s Start the Season event was one I found; another was the Dolphin Dash.

As Chris and I talked prior to the race, I went through guiding basics and the time milestones I was trying to hit with him. With the progress from prior 5Ks, the compression running socks and the new running tether, I was confident that I’d hit them.

There was a nice turnout of students and their parents for the 5K. Knowing my pace, the plan was to start at the back and move forward, continually hitting 13 min miles. The first one was on target, and after walking through the aid station to grab water/brief breather, we focused on mile 2. Until we were about to hit the 2 mile mark, I had no idea that I was waaaaaaaaaay ahead of the pace. I believe mile #2 was at about 11:15.

Given where I was at at 2 miles, I thought I could PR. And I came very close to doing so. But the normal foot numbness at 2.5-2.75 happened. And along with burning too fast during mile #2, I missed it by a bit.

It was still a good race, with the average / mile being 25 seconds below what I was aiming for. I had a lot of fun, and will plan to do the Dolphin Dash again in 2019!