Seal of Primm-proval (Mind Over Matter Alpha) – December 2022

I am honored and proud to be a Mind Over Matter Alpha for the 2023 season! 

This will be my second year as part of the team, and I’m hopeful that I can continue to self-shrink into the Tri kit.

I’m still waiting for a proper ‘visit’ from the M/M mascot, Ms. Primm (@adventures_of_primmcakes)… 🙂

Santas, Santas, Everywhere (Arlington Heights Rotary Santa Run) – 12/3/22

Welcome to Santa Claus, IL… um, I mean the Santa Rotary run.

About 5 years ago, one of my guides mentioned this race in Arlington Heights.  I did it in 2019 for the first time, and had so much fun.  It’s become one of my standard winter races at this point.

For 2022’s race, you couldn’t try the suits on (due to the pandemic), so I had to guess on sizing.  Even though I had shrunk a bit at that point, I still went with the same size as in the past since I had to guess.  That was a bad choice, as I’ll explain later.  [For reference, the Santa suit was over an Under Armour base layer and Saucony running pants / t-shirt.]

As I’ve mentioned in the past, pacing was a concern.  So Natalie made sure that we kept things fairly slow for mile 1, and started to negative split from there.  Mile 1 went great, and mile 2 was decent.  And then the wardrobe malfunctions began…

When we started running at a decent pace for the final mile, first the Santa pants started coming down.  After stopping to fix them twice, I gave up and stripped them off.  However, that didn’t stop the issue.  The running pants were also too large, and started coming off as we ran. 

While I haven’t found them, I am certain that there are some very ‘interesting’ photos of us coming into the finish line with me holding up the running pants so that I’m decent.  Yes, I did have on the UA tights, but I didn’t want it to get to that level…

Even with the wardrobe challenges, I still felt that it was a solid race and a great way to end the 2022 running season!

FraidyCat 5K – 10/30/22

The FraidyCat races have been one of my consistent fall running races.  While I did the 10K at one point, I’ve primarily focused on the 5Ks.

The 2022 race was my first chance to use the new Hoka shoes in a 5K.  It was also an opportunity to put into practice everything that I had learned at the Welcome 2 Running camp.

One of my biggest challenges in all 3 disciplines of Triathlon is going out too fast.  In swimming and cycling, I can usually compensate and ‘smooth the curve’.  But in running, if I end up going out too fast, it can bonk the race later on.

Knowing this, I had asked John to watch the pace.  Unconciously, multiple times during the first mile I was in the 9:30-10:00 / mi range.  That’s at least 3 min faster than the target had been.  And that was with him telling me I was going too fast, allowing myself to correct the pace, and then unconciously going back to a too-fast pace.

Needless to say, things started falling apart after the first mile.  The second mile was a respectable mix of run and run/walk.  However, the last 1.1 was a choppy walk/run at best.

While it wasn’t the race I wanted, I did at least confirm that the Hokas worked and that they will be the right shoe going forward!

Welcome2Running Camp – 10/21-23/22

(Photo courtesy of Blake)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the run leg has been where I’ve struggled the most.  So when the opportunity to participate in a run-specific camp with Team Catapult presented itself, I jumped at it.

Day 1 of camp started with a run gait analysis, followed by a shake out run before dinner.  Both of these were done in the new Hoka shoes that were generously provided.  After dinner, Oofos added the recovery sandals into our gear.  These will be incredibly helpful as I continue running more and longer.

Day 2 included run training and two specific runs (moderate and faster pace) along with strength, yoga and nutrition sessions..  Almost 8 years in, I still am NOT a fan of Yoga, but the instructor did an amazing job..  I learned a lot from the nutrition session, and got a fair amount out of the strength session.

The first run session of the day started with drills (active warmup such as butt kickers and the like) followed by intervals.  The second session was more of a longer run at medium pace, and the last session of the day was doing loops around a neighborhood at a faster pace.  I’ll admit now (and I told the coach on the way back) that I was hiding the vomit to avoid being pulled from the run session.  Especially as I was able to have a conversation 5-10 seconds on either side of it, I was confident that it was just my body not being used to that pace vs. anything being wrong. 

At the end of Day 2, we all ended up in the pool.  It was honestly one of the strangest and most mesmerising things I’ve ever experienced.  When you went under the water, you could clearly hear music that wasn’t audible at or above the surface.  Think of The Sirens from the Odyssey…  I did want to try the 25 ft water slide in the dark, but by the time I got up the nerve, it had closed for the night.

The camp concluded on Day 3 with a relay (coaches and athletes).  I believe each team had athletes from each type (amputee, VI, WC), with the coach being the anchor.  I also believe that it was a 1/4 mile loop for each member of the relay.

When it was our turn, I had to trust Blake (my guide) tremendously.  Whether it wasn’t fully light or it was overcast, it was hard to see.  While it was only 1/4 mile, I still treated that last 50 yards or so like a normal finishing chute.  There’s a great video floating around of our leg finish.

This was a great weekend, and I learned a lot.  I came away having formed new friendships, gained knowledge and picked up some really great gear that will get used from here on out.   And I will be switching to Hokas going forward — I can definitely feel the difference.

THANK YOU to Team Catapult for putting this event on and to ALL of the sponsor! 

Back on the Horse (Naperville Sprint Tri) – 8/7/22

In the early part of 2015, Naperville was supposed to be my ‘one and done’ Tri.  As I’ve talked about in the past, it was simply a springboard to the next 75 Tris…

Going into the race, I was still a bit ‘shaky’ from the crash in The Woodlands and the issues in Hammond.  But I had a strong pilot and guide for the race, which helped to calm some of the nerves.

While Centennial Beach is a great venue for the race, it’s a challenge to get a car close to after 90 minutes prior to transition opening (so say after 5 AM).  While we had a plan (Todd riding the bike solo and me taking an Uber), it didn’t go off as smothly as hoped because the Uber had trouble getting relatively close.

We were able to regroup and get transition set up just in time.  After having a few minutes to say hello to Coach Joe and friends, we headed over towards the beach to wait for the swim start.

In 2015 and for a couple years after, I was almost the first one in (after the Elites).  While this was good in theory, it also meant that those who could legitimately swim 65 second / 100s were climbing over us within the first 50m.  To try and combat this, I moved further back in 19.  Even though we were about 2/3rds of the way back, the ‘swim over’ issues still occurred.  So for this year, we decided to try being the final adult Triathletes into the water.

While this worked better than in years past, and we passed a fair number of people, there were still issues.  After all these races, I accept that there are going to be arm strikes and unintentional one-off ‘swim overs’ in every race.  It just happens as you’re going full speed. 

But what happened at about the 2nd to last turn was far beyond unacceptable.  For about 3-4 full cycles (meaning a good 20-30 seconds), someone not only was fully on top of me, but they kept going on top.  I would subtly nudge them off, and they’d be back on top of me less than 5 seconds later.

Even with those issues, we made it out of the water successfully and into T1.  I had told Todd that I needed to keep the curves a bit speed conservative given the nerves after The Woodlands. 

The bike itself was uneventful.  We passed a large number of people and got the standard smart-assed ‘that’s cheating’ responses as we passed some (to which my response always is ‘I’ll trade you the tandem for your eyes…’)  Even with keeping things conservative, we were able to take advantage of some of the ‘straighter’ downhills.

Going into the race, I had decided to try a different tact for the run.  In the past, I had started running at run out and had pushed things up the hill that goes from within the Riverwalk path up to Jefferson and over the bridge.  As that had led to me being spent by mile 1, I planned to run the flat part from run out to the base of the hill and speed walk until we were over the bridge.

This seemed to work well, and even with a run / walk due to the heat, it seemed to be better overall.

Although I was still working through the issues I mentioned in Hammond, Naperville seemed to be a solid race.  Thank you to Todd for guiding me!

Catapulted! – July 2022

Since 2019, Team Catapult has continually provided amazing opportunities for me. 

This has included opportunities to do some amazing ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ things.  From being part of the Texas INdependence Relay (TIR) and running in the dark down two lane country roads to 25 ft platform diving in the dark and so much more.  In addition to those group opportunities, their support has opened up individual opportunities for me.

Because of their continued support, I have the opportunity to get individual swim coaching.  THANK YOU Team Catapult for your continued support!

Treadmill Yahtzee! (USA Triathlon Foundation) – July 2022

I have contstantly struggled with finding running guides for practices. While I had a routine with a few in 2020, the Pandemic killed that.  Post-pandemic, many of those haven’t been able to guide for practices.

In the past, treadmills have not worked for me.  Part of it has been the narrow running band surfaces; part of it has been my inability to read the ‘video game’ type displays due to my vision issues.  But I believed that if I could find a more accessible treadmill, things might work better.

Because of the USA Triathlon Foundation’s generous support, I now have that accessible treadmill!  I was able to find one (made by Horizon Fitness) that has the old-school number display, a wide running band and easy to use controls.  I am extremely grateful to have it, and I look forward to getting a lot out of the treadmill and improving my run!

And then the other shoe drops… (Leon’s Triathlon 2022) – 6/5/22

Right before I left for Charleston, I was hit with some very unpleasant news.  As it was fresh, I was able to ignore it in SC.  However, that wasn’t the case in IN two weeks later…

As in past years, I was in Hammond the day before with Dare2Tri, and helped out at their Injured Military Camp.  In the afternoon, I had a chance to get the bike set up and practice with Lee.  During the swim practice, the tether (newly created in SC) kept slipping.  As it had stayed relatively stable during the SC race, I was hopeful that I’d have better luck the next day.

Race morning started off as usual — watching the motorcade bring the Dare2Tri camp in, getting transition set up, and seeing Leon as we all went down to start.  While treading water prior to the start, I felt good about the race.  If only it had gone that way…

During the swim, the tether slipped several times.  I also remember having to stop a few times because of breathing issues.  While all of that was going on, I was having a ‘me vs. me’ struggle in the water.  Since a guide is my eyes, I’m focused on just proper breathing and proper stroke / position.  This gave my mind a lot of time to wander.  And unfortunately, it wandered to what had been going on outside of racing.

When we made it out of the water and towards T1, I tried to push all of that back down and refocus on the race.  In the period between swim out and entering T1, I managed to succeed.  But as I made it into T1, the dam broke and a massive panic attack hit.

While I tried for 15 minutes, I just couldn’t get past it.  As much as I wanted to continue racing, I just wasn’t in the right mindspace.  I knew how unsafe it would be to try and get on the bike in that frame of mind, so I eventually threw in the towel.

As we were walking equipment back, Lee and I were stopped by a photographer.  She said that she’d been photographing each of the finishes.  Even though I had a DNF for the race, we found a way so she could get a photo of us close to the finish.

I don’t know what the rest of the season will hold.  There are some things bigger than racing that I need to deal with before the next race.

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.