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!