Look Ma – No skin! (Woodforest Bank TRI) – 5/7/22

(Photo courtesy of Nelson)

[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 [1], 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 [2].  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 [3].  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 [4]) 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 [5].

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. 

[1]: 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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…

[5] 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.

Mother Nature is a Witch (Andy’s Race) – 4/10/22

(Photo courtesy of Happy Pace Coaching)

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.

18 Years Later (12/17/21)

“However small, first step is hardest of all.” – Dave Matthews Band

It was just a ‘silly’ concert.  At least it was supposed to be…

In December 2003, I was still struggling with having been told about eventually becoming blind.  The prior 5.5 years had essentially been living in classrooms, libraries and in front of computers so that I could finish college before that occurred.  But after having enjoyed a concert in the Chicago area the prior summer, I decided to take a chance and head into NYC after my last final.  I knew it would be a challenge, but decided to take the chance.

I don’t remember all of the details of the evening.  But the important parts are this – it ended up well and its success gave me the confidence to do so much more.  While I don’t remember the exact point (some point between Dancing Nancies and Up on Cripple Creek), I do remember looking up at the ceiling and saying ‘it’s all going to work out’. 

And for the most part, that’s been true over the last 18 years.  That initial success gave me the confidence to do and try so many other things that were ‘scary’ to me at the time.  Those early successes became cumulative and helped me to be ‘okay’ trying the adaptive sports world. 

While 2020 and 2021 were a bit derailed due to the pandemic, I have a lot of exciting stuff planned and penciled in for 2022.  Hopefully it will all fall into place.  To see how it all turns out, please follow the blog or @nocrappyexcuses on social media.

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to thank Dave in person in 2018 after one of the shows at Northerly Island.  The post photo is from that post-show meeting.

The Race That Wasn’t (Lake Zurich Tri) – 7/11/21

** Yes, I realize that there is a more formal name to the event.  For reasons that you’ll see later on, I am referring to it just as the Lake Zurich Triathalon. **

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, the Lake Zurich Triathalon is one of my favorite races.  And that’s with having to wake up at 4AM to do packet pickup and the first part of transition set up in the dark.  It’s a great setting, and is typically a great course.  It’s also an opportunity to get some massive speed on the downhills that are on the backside of the bike loop.

During the 1:1 portion of the Injured Military Camp, Lee had fallen and injured his wrist.  So a few weeks out, there was a concern that he wouldn’t be able to race.  Thankfully, it wasn’t as serious as originally thought, and he was all set to go.  And while we were ready to go, the reace apparently was not. 

About 9 days prior to the race, an e-mail was sent out that essentially said ‘IDOT didn’t finish as we thought they would, we don’t have an alternative, so it’s now an Aquathon.  Oh, and there are no refunds.’  Less than 24 hours later, a second e-mail was sent out offering more reasonable options, including deferrals to 2022.

While I realize that part of triathalon is adapting to changes, I have a huge issue with the ‘it’s now an Aquathon, no refunds’ from the intial e-mail.  IMO, the first e-mail shouldn’t have ever come out.  If it had just been the second e-mail, I would be feeling a lot different.  However, there was an initial thought of ‘let’s make OUR lack of contingencies YOUR problem.’  I also believe that it was a HUGE slap in the face to their sponsors, as things like this can drive people away. 

It would have taken almost 2 hours in transit to race an Aquathon. So I did not race; I also did not take the deferral.  The main reason for that is that I wanted the swag.  The Tri backpack that I have is slowly wearing out, and I would be receiving a new one for being one of the first 500 to register for 2020 in late 2019.

While I have truly loved doing this race, I am done with it until it’s under new management.  I won’t go into everything publicly, but just re-read the last few paragraphs and you’ll get a sense of why.  I truly, truly, truly hope that someone buys this race from the current RO.  I would gladly come back under different management. 

**UPDATE: After about 2 months, I did finally receive the backpack and additional swag.

Steelhead 70.3 Relay (6/27/21)

During the 2019 season, a few of my teammates talked me into doing a 70.3.  The original plan for 2020 was to do a relay in the summer and then for all of us to do one sole (with guides) in the fall.  However, even before the Pandemic hit, the others decided that the fall 70.3 wouldn’t work for them.  While I had to tap out of doing the solo 70.3 in the fall, I was still on board for the relay.

The weather on Saturday created some changes, but everything worked out.  I am extremely grateful to Mara and the rest of the Athlete Services staff for all of their assistance not just during packet pickup, but throughout the entire event. 

There were some pretty fierce storms throughout the day / night, and the swim ended up being cancelled.  This mean that Eric didn’t get to swim, and it also led to a time-trial type bike start based on bike finish times.  As we were waiting to start, we heard that someone had wiped out on the bridge and heard the ambulances going by.

So when we started about 40-45 minutes after the cannon start, we took that first mile a extremely cautiously.  After that first mile, things went smoothly on the first half of the bike leg.  There was one gigantic hill that was a challenge, but the overwhelming majority were rollers.  Although I don’t have an exact speed, I would guess that we were averaging between 23 and 24 mph on the way out.

The second half was unfortunately an entirely different story…  At that point, I started having issues with IT bands and sit bones.  It essentially turned into a walk/run, but on a bike.  We had to continually stop so that I could try and stretch things out.  Thankfully, our starts and stops were solid, so even though we did a total of about a dozen during the bike, there weren’t any issues.  There were a couple of points that I was in so much pain (especially after that gigantic hill) that I was in tears.  However, there wasn’t any way that I was going to tap out or ask for the SAG.

When we did finally make it back to transition, Sarah was ready to go.  Our plan was to walk up to where the loops ended so that we could cheer her on.  After having some time to recuperate, we started walking there with Eric.  Because the road was active, we had to walk on the shoulder.  And while we were able to get about 3/4 of a mile in, it just wasn’t possible to get to the loop splits.  So we ended up in a restaurant while waiting for her to run by.

Just looking at the tracker, it seemed like the heat and humidity was taking a toll on her  — but she was still having a solid run.  We did all manage to make it out to cheer her on when she passed by.  After she finished, I found out that we had won the PC Open category! 

While it was a struggle on the bike, it was still a lot of fun.  I am grateful to everyone who made the weekend a success and to Billy for guiding and Eric/Sarah for being the other parts of the team.  I look forward to doing another 70.3 Realy in 2022!

Indianapolis Sprint Tri – 6/12/21

With the season in full swing, I knew that there would be some short turnarounds. As a case in point, I was in Indiana (Hammond) on Sunday and then headed back again (to Indy) less than 5 days later.

While in Texas, I had connected with a guide (Nelson) that I hope to work with on a consistant, long-term basis. The Indy Sprint Tri was our first race on that journey.

When we met at Eagle Creek Park on Friday afternoon, the main focus was to get the bike adjusted and get in a quick course preview. There were a couple of close calls early on, but no crashes. As we did the park portion of the loop, there seemed to be a bit of wobble with the bike and gear issues. When we got back to the car, we saw that the shifting cable had frayed. This meant that we were without the three lowest climbing gears for a bike course that’s full of hills. While we weren’t able to get it repaired prior to the race, Carmel Bicycles was able to help stretch it so that we got back 1 or 2 of those gears.

For most every race, the game is ‘what will James forget to pack’. Usually, it’s something insignficat that I can easily buy or borrow. However, this time it almost cost me… I unintentionally left my race bib on the hotel desk. I didn’t realize this until we were getting everything set up and it was too late to go back for it. Thankfully our support crew (Linda) was able to get a replacement one for me from the race staff (hand written on the back of another bib).

For the swim, you were seeded by bib number and could drop back if needed. To help minimize people running into us, we dropped back towards the end. While people didn’t run into us, we did have a couple of unexpected tangles. The tether got caught up on the sighting buoys a few different times, with the most severe being before the first turn.

As we headed out onto the bike, I cut the corner too tight and tripped over the cones. Everything was OK, and we headed into ‘hill fun’. With the missing gears, there were challenges at several points of the bike. I also know that I had to push it a lot harder, as we were at least 2 gears higher than we should have been.

When the run started, we walked up the big hill and then started running. The first mile wasn’t bad, but by the second, my back was really starting to tighten up. Because of this, mile 3 was mostly a walk/run. Even with those challenges, the run in Indy was far better than the prior 2.

It was great to see the TriLoco guys post-race. TriLoco helped with guides in prior years. I am grateful to everyone who helped make the weekend possible, and look forward to working more with Nelson in the future.

Leon’s Triathlon – 6/6/21

While things did not go as planned in Texas, I was confident that they would go better in IN. And I was partially right…

As usual, Lee and I went out the day prior, as he is always a 1:1 guide for the Dare2Tri Injured Military Camp. During that afternoon, we had a chance to do the swim course preview and get the bike set up.

For the normal Sprint, it was a 500m swim in the normal L. For the Para Sprint, it was 750m in the shape of a checkmark. There’s typically a 15 minute break between the Para wave and the 1st (fastest) Sprint wave. In the past, that’s always worked out well and we’ve been out or almost out of the water by the time that next wave catches us. However, with them doing a shorter course and different angles, there were a couple of collisions in the water. Even still, it felt like a good swim and we headed to T1.

As we got onto the bike, things went really well — at least for us. Unfortunately one of my teammates had ended up on the side of the road with a flat less than a 1/4 mile from transition. I learned later on that they had in fact triple flatted. It stayed good throughout our bike, and we finished strong.

Going out on the run, things started OK… and then they went to crap. I believe part of it was the heat and humidity, as getting hydration in helped. There were points that I was in so much pain even when walking, and the bridge portion (no shade) was the worst. Even still, I found the energy to have th proper kick down the chute. As I’ve said in the past, even if I have to crawl the run leg, I will always find a way to run into/down the chute.

The first two races have not gone as planned. Hopefully things will get better as the season progresses… Also, while it wasn’t the race I wanted, it was still good to see a lot of people that I hadn’t seen since 2019. And I’m extremely grateful to Leon and his mom, along with the Flag Man for all the work that they do to help make this possible. I hope to see more of you in 2022!

Sylvan Beach Triathlon – 5/16/21

In August of 2019, I raced the Chicago Triathalon. It was the end of my 2019 outdoor season, and I expected to be back outdoors about 7 months later in Carmel. But COVID changed all of that… So it was almost 20 month before I had a chance to race outside again.

My first race back was the Sylvan Beach Triathalon. I went down a day early so that I could work with Danny B, who would be guiding me for the first time.

On Saturday, we had an opportunity to make sure that we were in sync for the swim and bike. At that point, the waves were at about a 5 (scale of 1-10) and made it a little challenging for the out. But we knew that we’d get a nice ‘ride’ on the back portion of the course. After figuring out the starts/stops and dealing with chain/gear issues, everything seemed set with the bike.

Race morning did not start off well, and I almost did not get to race. All I can say is that I owe Mother Nature a nice gift basket. I spent more than 45 minutes just trying to get an Uber. When I did, I ended up with a driver that said ‘I am not from here’ and didn’t know how to navigate around the closures. So I arrived at about 13 minutes prior to when transition would have originally closed, and about 1/2 mile from it. Thankfully, the weather had pushed back both transition close and race start, so we had a chance to hurridly set up transition and get ready to race.

While I had benefited from Mother Nature on the front end, I paid for it on the back end. The waves had gone from a 5 on Saturday to an 8+ on Sunday. And there were a couple of points that I could feel them lifting me as I was trying to swim. Because of this, it was decided to tap out of the water for safety reasons. Unfortunately, the tether was lost during that process.

** Note — I know that getting pulled out of the water would normally end the race. I expected to be told our race was done. However, I was specifically told that because this was a Development race, we could continue. **

When we got out onto the bike, the challenges of the day unfortunately continued. It started with an asshat (who I believe may have been part of the race crew, as I saw the truck at a couple other points during the bike/run) pulled right out in front of us as we were on the bike. Thankfully, we were able to avoid a crash, and continued on. At some point into the bike, we lost gears — the bike just wouldn’t shift into them. This meant having to do hills in 5 or 6 instead of 10.

Because of that, I put out a lot of extra energy on the hills. And I paid for it when we made it out onto the run. My legs were shot, and I believe that the most I was able to consistently run was 1/5 mile. That was at the start, and the overwhelming majority was walk/run. I did manage a nice burst into the chute/finish though.

While it wasn’t the race that I wanted or expected, it was still good to be back outside racing after that long. I learned a lot, and knocked the rust off of several things as well.

Thanks to USA Triathalon for doing the clinic / Development Series, Catapult for getting the tandem in place, Danny B for guiding and everyone else that helped make the weekend possible!

#VirtuALL Distance Challenge – 5/12/21

As I’ve said many times over the the last 15 months, I am NOT a fan of virtual events. Typically, the only ones that I will do are to support organizations that have helped support me. The simple reason behind this is that I want to be out doing things physically. I’ve also got enough race gear that I don’t need to be paying extra money to run by myself.

The exception to this is the Brewery Running Series VirtuALL Distance Challenge. When I saw this in late 2020, I thought it would be something fun. It has been; but it’s also been a good motivating object. There have been days where I just didn’t want to get out there for a training session. But having that little extra push to complete the current challenge helped.

At this point, the goal is to complete the entire US before the end of the decade. Alaska on its own (35K+ miles for the perimeter) will take more than a year. It will be a fun goal, and I know that it will all pay dividends in the long run…

You can learn more about the VirtuALL challenge and sign up at https://breweryrunningseries.com/virtuall/ .

2021 #CAFSrong – 3/23/21

Being unable to drive, transportation is one of the large hurdles in my athletic life. While I have many (family friend, guides) that will help at times, there’s still a HUGE transportation cost each year.

As such, I am extremely grateful to Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) for their continued support. For many years, their grant has helped ensure that I can get to training sessions and continue pursuing my goals.

As things continue to open up, I look forward to making the most of this grant in 2021!