As you may remember, Mother Nature was NOT kind to me the last time I visited the Carolinas to race. Apparently she didn’t get the memo that just because I was from the Chicago area didn’t mean that she needed to provide Chicago-style weather (32 degrees) for the race start… And the hits [almost] kept on coming for this trip…
Before heading down to Charleston for the race Sunday, Paul helped me to do the USAT Para Combine. Two weeks out from the crash, my knee was maybe 80% at best. And that missing 20% was the crucial hinging part. If I had to guess, I was only able to get about a 25-30 degree lift instead of the normal 90. Even still, the first ~550 of the 800 runs was OK. As we came to the back half of the 2nd lap, a gentleman joined us and ran in the rest with us. It was extremely helpful to have that distraction, especially during the end 20-40 yards when I didn’t think I could finish without falling down. All in all, it was on par with where I was prior to the Pandemic (11:40 / mi).
Having finished the run, we headed to the pool for the 300yd swim. As with the run, the hinging motion reared its head. This time, it caused real problems getting into and out of the pool. But as I kept warming up, I got a little more flexibility each time. We started the actual test as soon as I could get a full extension/push off the wall, and the times were a little better than when I was pre-Pandemic (2:24/100).
One other piece that we addressed before heading down was the new swim tether. It had been about a year of struggles since most of the similar tether had gotten lost in the Gulf of Mexico. The key feature of the new tether is that I’m not having to either shorten the stroke OR hit the connection.
As I mentioned, Mother Nature did not play nicely in April. With all of the rain on the way down to Charleston (including a couple of points where it was like a faucet had been turned on full blast), I was concerned that we’d be racing in the rain. Thankfully, we got a clear window Sunday morning to race in.
On race morning, packet pickup and set up went extremely smoothly. The only hiccup was that the bottom part of the tether kept slipping. Paul helped to triage it, and we got ready to race.
While the tether did come partially off a couple of times during the swim due to these issues, it felt to be a much smoother swim. I did find an unintended fix after the 2nd time, and it stayed in place after that.
T1 took a little longer, but we made it out onto the bike with a strong mount. As this was my next race after the crash in TX, there were a lot of nerves early on. Paul helped with that, and we did take the corners a lot slower than normal. As a comparison, I know that we were taking corners at 22+ last year in Cypress. If we took any at greater than 15 in Charleston, I’d be surprised. But it was all about being safe. I know that I’ll get back to being comfortable again in the near future. And even with the slower corners, it was still a strong (~19mph) bike.
Coming off the bike, we had a solid T2 and then headed out onto the run. Given the knee issues, Paul had come up with a plan of a 60s/90s-120s run/walk pattern. Even though the overall time was about 8 minutes slower than where I would like to be, going this route ensured that we finished with a respectable time. I truly believe that if we had tried for a normal run that mile 1 would have been about 13, and then I would have been in so much pain that we would have had to walk the rest.
As I can never make out the course maps, I rely on my guides. So I had no idea that we would loop through the area near the transition between loops 1 and 2. That energy, and all of the people cheering for us, helped so much.
Post-race, Nick front the Charleston County Parks took the time to interview us. I really appreciate everything that Allison had done pre-race and race morning to help things go smoothly, and we were glad to talk with him.
While there were a lot of positives from this race, there were also several things I need to focus on improving. One of those is going back to wearing gloves on the bike. About 5 years ago, I went away from those for Sprint races. However, I believe it’s once again worth the extra 30 seconds between T1 and T2 to have that comfort in the bike.
Thanks to Paul for guiding and all of his help throughout the weekend. And thanks to Para Guide for all of their help and support! If you’d like to support what they’re doing, please visit https://www.paraguide.org/how-to-help
[Introductory Note: the [number] references are below the main post.]
Last year in Texas, the humidity won. At Sylvan, I was able to run a little bit; at Cypress, between the back and humidity, it was a no go after .5mi. So my focus going into The Woodlands was to have a solid run. So even before I started packing for Texas, I started eating Endurolytes like they were candy.
Because of work, this race was going to be an extremely tight turnaround. In that I would arrive in Houston at 10PM Friday at best and need to be back up by 4AM Saturday to go race. However, having raced with Nelson before, that wasn’t a concern. Also, being able to do race morning packet pickup helped ease the strain a little. After Nelson picked me up at Hobby , we spent a couple of hours getting the bike ready and talking through things for the following day. So it was much closer to 1AM before I got to sleep.
After arriving at the race site and doing one of the easiest packet pickups ever, we found friends and set up transition. Megan (RD) had helped so much prior to the race and did so again on race day with where our rack was at. It was a very AWD friendly setup.
We had been placed in the Open/Elite wave, which meant we were starting first. What happened at the swim start was the exact opposite of what happened in Cypress . But we got off smoothly, and the swim seemed OK. I did end up hitting Nelson on the back of the head multiple times as I was cycling through strokes on that side. I was focusing on what I had been working on with a swim coach, but Nelson said that I was windmilling a bit.
We made it out of the water and into T1 OK. One of the minor drawbacks of getting in so late Friday was that we hadn’t had time to practice starts/stops again. But with all the practice and racing in Indy the prior year, I wasn’t concerned.
To say the bike start was graceful or smooth would be a lie; but we did not crash. After the first couple of pedal strokes and the bike wobbling, I know that I heard Nelson say something like ‘Oh shit’, so I made sure to unclip because I thought we were going to stop and re-start. Instead, he had kept pedaling. So, I had to go from having both feet on the ground to trying to get them on the pedals to immediately pedal and try to clip in. From what I’ve been told, it made an extremely interesting video…
After the interesting start, things went well for the first ~9mi. The bike was wobbling a little bit at times, so I had to hold off on nutrition after not feeling stable during the first bottle pass. Even still, almost every check that Nelson gave me was at 20+, with the range being 18 (once) through at least 22. We were also able to deal with an idiot passing on the inside . So I was feeling really good as we were starting to make the turn back to the park. And then everything went to pieces…
As we were towards the last 15-20 feet before the turn (far too close), I heard someone yelling ‘sharp turn’. At that point, there wasn’t enough time to slow and Nelson did everything he could to control the bike. I don’t know if the tire went flat before we went into the turn or because the bike went flat on the ground. But the end result was that (a) the bike fishtailed going around the curve, (b) the bike ended up flat on the ground, and (c) both of us were somehow off it. Nelson mentioned later that he had been ejected when the bike hit; I have no idea how I got out.
Early on in riding tandems, I either fortunately or unfortunately learned how to fall. It wasn’t done on purpose, and came mostly as a result of learning how to do proper U-turns / play tandem games on grass. That all came in handy on Saturday, as I was fairly certain that I’d be OK if I could brace myself with a hand so that my face didn’t smack the road. Because of proper equipment (Rudy helmet), I believed that the helmet would take and withstand most of the brunt versus my head.
After the crash, I laid on the ground for a couple of minutes just trying to recover. When race staff and Nelson helped me up, my first question was ‘am I bleeding?’ I know that that sounds like a very silly question after hitting the road at 15+ mph. But what I was really asking was ‘can I keep racing?’ While the right leg and arm were superficial (and I can probably create a bike out of the arm scars with a little sharpie help), the left thumb was torn up and numb. I couldn’t make a fist, and for a short period of time afterwards, I was mildly concerned that I had broken the top part of it when I braced myself. It ended up being fine a couple hours later.
Medical eventually showed up and treated me. Nelson decided to ride the tandem back solo (fulfilling a running joke ) while they took me back in the ambulance. Between when we crashed and when I left, several other people crashed. IMO, that just was a dangerous corner that people racing for the first time should have known about, but didn’t.
After making it back to transition, we found out that one of our friends (Linda) had won her age group. Even though I was in pain, I still wanted to be there to cheer for her. I knew how hard she had been working and was also very glad to later learn that she hadn’t stopped when she saw the crash .
Even though it definitely was not the race I had hoped for, it was still a fun race until the crash. It’s definitely one that I will look at doing again in 2023.
I also want to share this in general regarding the crash. All that I ever ask of my guides is that they do everything possible to keep us safe. I completely understand and accept that things can and WILL happen. It’s not about being perfect – it’s about perfectly reacting when something does go wrong. And to that point, if either one of us had panicked when the fishtailing started (i.e. slamming on the brakes), things would have gone worse.
: In 2016 or early 2017, it seemed like airports changed to using the CF bulbs. While my vision has been declining over time, there was a change that I noticed only at the airports. After the first mishap of stumbling in the dimmer surroundings, I started to take advantage of the airport accessibility services. For the majority of the time, they’ve worked out really well. However, two of the more frustrating issues have occurred at Hobby (HOU) in less than a year. Last year, one of the accessibility staff just left me in the dark outside without saying anything, and we had to play ‘Marco-Polo’ so that Linda could find me. This time, even though it said wheelchair (more efficent) on my reservation, none was there. I ended up having to wait 20-25 minutes before someone from the airlines’ Ops team walked me down to baggage claim.
 In Cypress last year, things were either so noisy or we were far enough out that we couldn’t hear a horn for the Para wave start. So there was a delayed start (video is on IG from the person who shot it) with someone from the land yelling ‘GO’ at all of us several times before we realized that we should be going. For The Woodlands, it was apparently implied that we were all starting once we hit the water. Instead, after 2-3 strokes out, I heard the horn.
 Because of the length of a tandem, we will typically go wider on turns than someone on a single bike. You should NEVER, EVER, EVER be passing someone on the right. It’s an extremely dangerous thing to do, as you’re likely in both people’s blind spots, among other reasons. This race was the 3rd time that someone has passed us on the right — without any crashes thankfully. I also learned during the weekend that apparently sanity has come to USAT rules.
At Pleasant Prairie in 2018, we were coming around one of the curves before you went into the neighborhood. At that point, someone decided to pass us on the right (inside). When I finished the race, I was told that I had been assessed a two minute blocking penalty. This was complete BS, as the other person had broken the rules and dangerously passed us. As it didn’t make a difference on the results, and it was so minor, I chose not to fight it. But it’s always upset me to have been tagged with something that was clearly BS.
What I took away from the weekend is that at this point, that would NOT be a penalty against me – as it shouldn’t have been in 2018.
 There are many ‘don’t dos’ as a guide/pilot. One of the cardinal ones is ‘don’t drop your stoker’. As Nelson said he was OK to ride the bike back even though he was in some pain, he got the check that one off of the ‘don’t do’ bucket list…
 I did not know about this happening until after the race, but my feelings are still the same as they would be if I HAD known.
Linda was in the very last swim wave. For all intensive purposes, she has a tail when it comes to crushing the swim (roughly 7:30 swim for the race). So even though we were about 25-30 minutes ahead of her, she still caught up to us after the crash. From what I’ve been told, she asked Nelson if we were OK and about stopping, and he waved her on. She did mention something to the next race crew she saw.
As I said, I am truly glad that she did NOT stop. There were people at the corner, medical was on the way, and there wasn’t anything else that she could have done. I would have felt really, really, really bad if she had stopped and messed up her race in that scenario.
After almost 8 months since my last outdoor Triathlon, I was looking forward to racing in Greenville. I felt prepared, and thought that I had everything I needed to succeed. However, Mother Nature pulled a sneak attack, and caused a lot of issues…
As I was looking at the weather while packing, it looked as if it would be mid 50s when we got out on the bike, and a little better when we hit the run. So I planned for a ‘normal’ bike/run — meaning no base layer.
On the way down to Greenville, Paul had to stop by Charlotte Running Company to help them out. While he was, I took the opportunity to pick up a new pair of running shoes. My normal pair had worn out, and my normal running pair were starting to wear. These will be great going forward in the season, and the staff there did a great job helping me to find what I needed!
When I woke up Sunday morning, Paul delivered the news that a cold front had come through and that it was 32 degrees out. While I knew the race would now be more of a challenge, there really wasn’t anything that I could do at 5AM with everything close closed. Thankfully, it was a pool swim instead of an open water (OWS). I know that if it had been an OWS with air temps at 32, I couldn’t have raced safely.
The swim was a 8x50m snake swim, with relatively wide lanes. Things went OK with it for the most part, even though I had challenges getting under the lanes / hitting lanes, and having my gogles fly off during the last lap.
When we made it to T1, I threw on the only extra layer that would work. Unfortunately, my running pants would have gotten caught in the pedals, so I just had a windbreaker. To say the bike was brutal as the winds (10-15mph) hit on top of the cold would be an understatement…
At 5 miles in, we had to stop since I could no longer clench my hands around the bars. At this point, Paul graciously gave me his heavy gloves and we went on. At about 9, we had to stop again as my whole body was freezing up again. At that point, I almost tapped out. But even as miserable as I was in the cold and wind, I decided to go on. The final stop was at about 2mi out. The mental game here was won by saying ‘we can make it back to T2 before they can reach us’. And even though it was another 5-8 min in high winds, we made it.
In T2, I was able to throw on running pants. But at that point, I was completely frozen and stiff. It took roughly 2 miles before I had full feeling back in my body. While the run was essentially a walk, I did still sprint into the chute as normal.
While this race definitely did not go as planned, I learned a lot from it. I will have a pair of heavy bike gloves and a base layer in my bag going forward for pretty much every race. Texas will be the only exception, as a ‘cold’ TX race is say 60 with 0% humidity instead of the normal 90s and humid…
I am extremely grateful to Para Guide and Paul for all of their / his support throughout the weekend. If you would like to help support Para Guide, please click visit https://www.paraguide.org/how-to-help.
I am extremely grateful to Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) for their continued support of my athletic endeavors! Their support since 2017 has enabled me to get to necessary practices and continue to push forward!
With things coming back to a sense of ‘normalcy’ for the 2022 season, I look forward to getting back into the city and to a multitude of practices that were put on hiatus during 2020 and 2021.
If you’d like to donate to CAF, please visit https://www.challengedathletes.org/give/
Typically, the Shamrock Shuffle 8K has been my first outdoors race of the year. This year, it was my second, and unfortunately there were just as many struggles on the 2nd race of the season as there were on the 1st.
In the past, the AWD wave has been in front of the Elites. While that created a little bit of anxiety for me (trying to get through the tunnel before they caught us), it also provided a really good pacing measure. In that I knew that if I made it to the turn after the tunnel exit as they caught up to us, I was at the right pace. However, this year we were towards the back of wave 1, which threw me off a little bit. I remember my guide telling me that I was running something along the lines of 8:30 min miles early on.
While that would be great for a short run, those early miles came back to bite me in the ass later on. Things were OK through about mile 2, but by 2.5 I was in utter pain. So much so that it was painful to even walk.
As I won’t throw in the towel unless it’s something really severe, like a broken bone, I struggled on. My guide (Kelsey) helped tremendously during those painful miles. And even as much pain as I was in, I still found a way to sprint in through the chute.
After the race, I found that my running sock on the more painful foot had had holes in it. While I don’t know for sure, my suspicion is that the uneven foot (two toes going through the sock, 3 toes in) created a strain that caught up with me.
(Photo courtesy of my parents – thanks to them for the guiding help!)
After the struggles in January, I re-started the swim coaching with Coach Joe. Things had also gotten a little better on the other two aspects during training. So going into this race of the series, I expected better outcomes.
That did occur with both the swim and the bike, but not the run. In the swim, it would have gone even better (as I was told I was literally 2 strokes out from another length), but had lost time asking how much was left. While treadmills have always created issues for me, the run was even harder this time. I just couldn’t keep the heart rate and breathing down/at constant levels. So I had to keep going through a loop of running for a few minutes and then walking to get things back to par before starting the cycle again.
While I had hoped for a larger improvement from Jan to Feb, it was still a good step forward. I hope to build on these successes when the outdoor season starts for me in April.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, this journey began from a simple premise of ‘that looks like fun’ without really thinking through all the pieces. While my only regret is not trying it earlier, that thinking can sometimes lead to ‘interesting’ events…
During late 2020 and early 2021, I was constantly searching Running in the USA for anything to do in-person. While these events were EXTREMELY scarce, I did come across a 5K for the morning of ‘the big game’. Because conditions kept shifting, it didn’t work to do in 2021, but it was on my list for 2022.
Winter running isn’t the easiest thing for me, as my nostrils freeze at about 20-25 degrees. That’s not a big deal when you’re just out for a run by yourself, but it is when you’re doing a race. It had also been snowing a few days prior, so ice spots (and some ‘fun’ hills) were also a factor.
For safety reasons / nostril freezing, there were some spots where we had to walk. However, it was still a decent run, and a really fun race. I look forward to doing it again in 2023 — hopefully it’ll be a little warmer!
As I had mentioned last year, things did not go as planned. What was supposed to have been a 1-2 week stint on IR after Cypress ballooned because of work and personal issues. But I tried looking past all of that and towards the 2022 season.
For me, the season started with the ET Indoor Tri. These are always fun, great events put on by Coach Joe and his team.
While I had hoped for better, the challenges from 2021 showed up in the first race of 2022. My swim was shorter than normal by about 40m, my bike was shorter by about 1 mile, and my run was shorter by about a 1/4 mile.
Even though the results weren’t what I had hoped for, it was still good to get back to some sense of ‘normalcy’. I’m grateful to Coach Joe for continuing to bring back the series even while there were still some COVID concerns. I’m also grateful to Lee for all of his guiding help as always.
And the race will also serve as a ‘baseline’ for 2022. I know that there are going to be challenges during the 2022 season as I work to get back into a rhythm after losing so much in 2020 and 2021. I’m planning for and looking forward to a successful 2022 season!