Taming of the Chimp, Parts 1 & 2 – 1/28/17

Early in the month, I had started joining the local YMCA so I’d have a place to train during the cold. Today, I went back to finish the enrollment and get my first swim session in.

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it; It’s just that simple. So I started putting things that I had learned at #CampNoSightNoLimits into practice today. During camp, Coach Ray spent a good amount of time working one-on-one with me on breathing and mechanics. Coach Simon talked with us at length about sports psychology and Coach Alan about nutrition.

It started in the pool with the breathing and stroking techniques that we had worked on. Even though I’m still not getting my left arm high enough up, I did notice improvements during the swim. I wasn’t feeling as tired as I normally do when trying to force 4 strokes or going 4-2-4 because I’ve run out of breath after the first 4. At about the 3/4 mile mark, Coach Simon’s speech came into play.

At that point, I was struggling and the technique was really breaking down. I was tempted to get out of the pool instead of finishing the full mile I had planned to do. I took a minute to relax, catch my breath and find a way to finish it. It was at this point that I muttered ‘fuck you chimp, we’re finishing this mile.’ I finished the mile and then did another 100 to show him who’s boss.

Once done at the pool, I headed to the store to load up on protein and other better foods. This was where Coach Alan’s lecture really helped. There are a lot of things that I got which I wouldn’t have before that I did, and a lot that I would have gotten before that I didn’t. The only thing I think that was ‘bad’ was the bag of peanutes. I got a lot of odd stares from both people in line and the cashier. But I don’t care; I just care about the results.

Back into the pool tomorrow and hopefully a strength workout as well.

Camp #NoSightNoLimits – 1/20 – 1/25/17

This all happened because I didn’t understand the rules. Yes, I know that’s an odd way to start a blog post, especially when I know a USAT/ITU official will most likely read it. But it’s the honest truth.

As a brief explanation for those of you who haven’t read the historical Triathlon blogs, what I mean is this. When I decided to do Triathlons, Terri was my intended guide. I thought the USAT rules about guide gender would throw a wrench into all sorts of plans, so I went looking for male guides. This eventually led me to several wonderful Facebook groups. What I found in the long-run was that I didn’t entirely know the rules. Meaning that for Regionals and above, the USAT set is inflexible; but for the smaller races there are some rules that Race Directors have latitude on (guide gender being one).

So even though it was unnecessary to have gone through all that at that point, it was good for the long-run. If I hadn’t expended the effort, I wouldn’t have met Amy Dixon, I wouldn’t have known about Camp #NoSightNoLimits, and I would have missed out on an AMAZING opportunity.

Since receiving my Golden Ticket the day before Thanksgiving, I had been getting things together for camp. Not just the material things (gear, nutrition, etc.), but also the physical base. Several workout sessions on the bike with clips proved to be frustrating but still a good step forward. And after scrambling around the week prior to camp, I left for San Diego ready to learn and get stronger, faster and better.

To say that there were bumps getting to San Diego would be an understatement. It started with my dad severely bruising or tearing a tendon in his arm as we tried to get the bike box in the car. The next hiccup was when I got to O’Hare and was told the bike fee wasn’t waived. Apparently the reservations people didn’t put their notes in. Once that was fixed by the supervisor, I made my way to the gate. I have been traveling alone for many years as my sight declined and have never seen a terminal so dark or struggled so much because of it. The best analogy I can give is that the power’s gone out and you’re powering things at 40% off of generators.

Having finally found the gate, I was able to get help with pre-boarding and thought it was smooth sailing ahead to San Diego. Unfortunately, I was wrong again. While I don’t know this as a fact, I am pretty sure that two of the engines momentarily cut out somewhere over Oklahoma. I say that because I felt the plane going downwards and then heard noises like a helicopter starting up. I was only a couple rows in front of the wings which is why I was able to hear it so well. Coming down out of the clouds in San Diego wasn’t much fun either. In turbulent weather, it was like the huge roller coaster drops.

While the trip to San Diego didn’t go as smoothly as planned, things did once I arrived. United’s ground crew helped to make sure that I got from the plane to a taxi with my bike/bags, and I made it to the hotel without incident.

As we didn’t need to be at camp until noon the next day, Luke and I went swimming at a local YMCA. In the outdoor pool, I did a little more than a mile before we heded back to get breakfast and get ready to head to Chula Vista. Upon arriving at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), we had a chance to meet other campers during lunch and then unpack while bikes were built by Mike.

The first workout was a 16 mile bike ride (8 out and 8 back). I had spent time working on clipping in/out and pedaling while clipped, so I was looking forward to getting out on the bike. Unfortunately things didn’t go as well as I had hoped – clipping in was a struggle and a real safety issue. The shoe/clip issue is one of the many tweaks that came out of camp and will make things better in the long run. Because of the safety concerns, I was on flat pedals for the rest of the camp.

After an entertaining evening in the room, the second day started in the pool. After doing warm ups and some open water drills, Coach Ray spent time helping me with stroke and breathing mechanics. That was a huge help, and something that I was very grateful for. We also figured out a better way to tether at the leg instead of the waist. This will help going forward so that I’m not hitting one of my arms during the stroke.

The afternoon found us on the lawn, on bikes and ready for an interesting bike skills workout. It had been raining for two days before and throughout. There was wet grass and mud – I’ll let you use your imagination as to how things worked out. We did get in a lot of good control drills, and I found something else to tweak on the bike. The seat seems to be too long and at one point it caught and tore the outer layer of the kit. We finished up the day on the track with all sorts of different running drills.

The next day started in the pool again since it had been raining. We were told that you have to wait 72 hours after it rains before you can go into the ocean. Knowing that there was a small window before leaving and a long bus ride, I packed my bag the night before. I was certain that I put my tri kit into the bag, but when we got there I couldn’t find it. Thankfully, Luke had an extra pair of shorts and I was able to be in the pool. Coach Ray helped more with the technique and breathing throughout the session, and it went well. Ending the session in a hot tub was a nice benefit.

Once back, we did some work on the track and then a transition clinic. Up to this point, it had been raining pretty much every time we’d been outside. This time Mother Nature decided to add insult to injury and added hail during it. We had to run for cover, but still did the clinic once it let up. I learned several things that will help going forward.

The fourth day started like the previous two in the pool. While it was a familiar place to start the day, the drills, format and focus were different. Doing hypoxic drills when you know it’s X strokes to a breath is bad enough. Doing them where you’re focused on not breathing for yards/meters is even worse. There were a couple of other drills that worked really well and will get incorporated as I continue training.

In the afternoon, we were out on the Criterion course. It’s a course built with hills, curves, ups-and-downs and more to test your skills. After several loops around, we did different drills (180s, starts/stops, and more), finishing with the slowest race on earth. At some point during the drills, I cut up my leg. I saw it and that was bleeding but just kept going. Minor injuries / hurdles will happen during a race; you deal with what’s an emergency and push through the rest. The evening finished with an opportunity to thank those who had helped make this experience possible after time in the weight room.

While I’ve talked about the workouts, that was only one piece of camp. Another was getting to meet and talk with the other athletes and their guides. Take a look at the NBC video to see and learn a little about some of them. Yet another was learning sessions. We learned about nutrition, guiding, rules and so much more from amazing and spectacular coaches. I learned a tremendous amount during these sessions that will help as I go forward. I’m not going to go into detail about these though – you had to be there.

Even though there were a few challenges, it was an amazing experience. Five days of being pushed to and then beyond your limits to continue getting better and stronger. I am so extremely grateful to everyone who made this possible – family, friends & CAF for providing support, Amy, Debbie and all of the coaches for camp and all of the amazing experiences/learning; Luke for being my guide/pilot and United for all of their assistance.

You can see a small snapshot of camp by viewing the NBC video!

I had an opportunity to spend time with a friend that I hadn’t seen in 20 years before heading home and family during a stopover. I was glad to make it back home, and am focusing on the next steps towards improvement for 2017!

Starting over… again – 1/15/17

Growing up, I did a lot of bike riding. First as a passenger and then on my own with family. From the short rides around town to the long ones on the Prairie Path, a tremendous amount of miles were riden. After the first fall or tow as I road around the block at 5 or 6, things were pretty smooth sailing. I say pretty smooth, because those 30 or 45 degree up and downs that are somewhere in Wheaton are no joke.

Somewhere in my early teens, the riding dramatically dropped off. It returned in full force about 2 years ago when I got on the tandem with Terri. Even having rode for years, this truly was starting over. You get used to being in full control and just having to worry about your own balance on an upright bike. But with a tandem you not only have to worry about what you’re doing but what the other person is and making sure you’re both in synch. But once you get used to it and get going, it works well.

After two years of training and racing, I was comfortable on the tandem. With the exception of a couple flat incidents and the frustrating mount session, it’s gone pretty well. But you can’t just stay in your comfort zone. If you do, then you’ll plateau and never move forward. So I’m starting over — again. This time it’s with bike shoes and clipping into pedals.

I’ve been working with the tandem (Erik) on an indoor trainer for about 10 days. The first session was a disaster to say the least. I didn’t fall or hurt myself; but it was a mess clipping in/out. During that first session, I think I perspired more from the frustration and stress than anything else. Since that first workout, it’s gotten a little easier and easier with each. There are two different struggles at this point:

1) Since I can’t see the clip holes, trying to get my feet used to properly flipping and clipping in in a single motion. While it’s easy to bring the pedal up to the top and then clip in, that’s not a reality outside of the trainer. That lack of balance will just lead to too many issues.

2) Learning to vent frustration when I miss the clips in G language. In my home, on the trainer, the frustration comes out in profanity. I know that’s not going to fly out in public or in a race. Expecially since I could get tagged with a course violation for it.

There have been baby steps forward on both, and I will continue to work on it. In today’s workout, I was able to reclip as normal one out of 12 times. I know it’ll get better — it just takes more practice.

Looking Both Ways – 12/31/16

I realize that it’s been more than a month since I posted last. It hasn’t been that there’s been nothing going on; far from it. Rather, I’ve been focused on laying down a foundation for 2017. This has included grant applications, fundraising and handling personal items. But as it’s New Year’s Eve, I wanted to look back on my 2nd year (and first full year) in Triathlon.

2016 had several high points, most notably being named to Dare2Tri’s Development Team for 2016 and receiving funding for a tandem (Erik). There were many times that I was pushed to and then past my limits, and saw improvements. But there were also some low points, including the double flat race and the double Half troubles.

As frustrating as those were, it both taught and tested the ‘bend don’t break’ mentality that I believe you need to have to succeed in any sport. It’s never going to go perfect 100% of the time; it’s how you deal with it that defines yhour outcome. It would have been VERY easy to tap out of Pleasant Prairie or either of the Halfs. But if I had, I don’t think I could have looked myself in the mirror or my coaches in the face. It’s just not in my DNA to give up unless you’re physically carrying me off the course because I can’t do so myself.

Even though I was focused on my own training and season, it was great to have diversions and build / strengthen friendships. The running joke of the blind leading the blind (me being legally blind leading my completely blind teammate) continued, and I had an opportunity to help the next generation at the PT Kids Camp.

All in all, a great year. I believe the total was 6 indoor tris, 6 outdoor tris, 1 8K, 1 5K, 2 Halfs and 1 50 mile bike ride. NONE of that would have beeen possible though without all of the help and support I received throughout the year. A HUGE thank you to everyone who has and continues to support me in my endeavors — Dare2Tri, coaches, guides, family & friends. And I’m also grateful to all of the RDs/ROs for their help throughout the year!

So now that I’m done looking back, it’s time to look forward. I’ve got several things in the works for 2017. As I get responses on them, I will share. But two things I can share now are:

1) I will start 2017 with my first ride on Erik on an indoor trainer. It will be in bike shoes clipped into pedals. Outside of the fittings, I’ve never ridden this way. And I had a tremendously hard time getting into the clips. But I’ve got less than 3 weeks to get more comfortable with that.

2) I will start my 2017 Triathlon season at Camp #NoSightNoLimits in Chula Vista in January. If you would like to help support me and my guide, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

I hope you all have a Happy New Year!