Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Memorializing Inspiration

Going through some tough times, but gotta keep moving forward.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ankle Surgery

Several weeks after Ironman St. George, I had an MRI exam on my right ankle/heal. The initial read of the MRI was a rupture or tear of the achilles tendon. After additional scans, x-rays, and physical examinations, orthopedic surgeons from two different medical groups revised the diagnosis to torn lateral ankle ligaments. Both surgeons agreed that, although the injury was revealed during the Ironman, the condition likely predated the event perhaps by several years.

I’ve broken my right ankle twice – once while playing soccer in 8th grade and once while playing basketball in college. I’m told each break likely lengthened the lateral ligaments in my ankle. The stretched ligaments made me prone to ankle sprains. Due to my loose ankle, I suffered many sprains in the subsequent 20+ years and with each sprain the ligaments became more and more stretched out. What I now know is the musculature of my ankle was likely my sole source of ankle stability as an adult and muscle fatigue revealed the symptoms of my torn ankle ligaments.

My doctors recommended ligament reconstruction surgery. The prognosis is very good. The procedure, called the modified brostrom procedure, has a very high success rate and the prognosis after the surgery is ankle stability and a return to an active lifestyle. I'm under the care of a top orthopedic surgeon and am very optimistic. I underwent surgery on July 29, 2010.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ironman St. George - Race Report

Getting to the Line

Two months before Ironman St. George took place, I injured my right heel during an 8-mile training run. At the time, an 8-mile run was ‘no big deal’. I’m at a loss as to how the injury happened. The next morning my achilles felt ‘gushy’, later that afternoon I was barely able to walk. I was told I had chronic achilles tendonitis.

The good news was that I discovered the injury did not prevent me from swimming or biking. After a long night of soul searching, I made the decision to continue with a modified training plan and a different Ironman goal. My plan was to crush the swim, fly on the bike, and walk the entire marathon.

The next two months of training took more courage than the race itself. My injury showed little to no improvement and three of my close friends dropped out of the race. I struggled with anxiety related to the injury, but stayed committed to getting to the starting line.

The ‘Swim Course’

The best way I can describe the Ironman swim is to compare it to the running of the bulls in Spain, but in the water. As comfortable as I am in the water, it is definitely a scary feeling. I seeded myself at the very front of the starting line and tried to forget about the 2,200 athletes at my back. I focused instead on the clear line of sight I had to the first swim buoy. The cool water of the Sand Hollow Reservoir reflected the golden hues of the morning sun. I calmed my mind and repeated a typical swim course my friends and I at the Dolphin Club might swim on any given morning, “Opening, repair, goal post, flag and in. . . Opening, repair, goal post, flag and in. . .” The spectators began to cheer and the athletes reacted. “OPENING, REPAIR, GOAL POST, FLAG. . . “

BOOM! Ironman was here and the race was on!

The Swim

My visualization transported me from the insanity of the Ironman swim to the calm of swimming with my closest friends in San Francisco bay. I owe every one of them for the training and their spectral appearance next to me as we clawed, pushed, and pulled our way through the 2.4 mile course. It was exhausting and I took a few hits like everyone else. In fact, I got a killer black eye during the swim, but my mind and body remained calm and I exited the water with a personal Ironman best 1:09.

The Bike

There is only one word that accurately describes the Ironman SG bike course. . . ‘epic’. The bike course was beautiful, heartbreaking, and dangerous. It was, without a doubt, the most incredible ride I’ve ever experienced. It was also the most challenging, frustrating, and desperate experience I’ve had in triathlon.

About 20 miles into the 112-mile course, my rear tire blew. I jumped off my bike and the wheel off in record time, and then things got worse. I couldn’t remove the rear extender on the tube and couldn’t release enough air pressure to remove the tire. It was too flat to ride on and yet had too much air pressure to remove the tire. 10 minutes and 100 athletes passed . . .

Exhausted from the struggle, I decided to break the extender off the rim. I can’t explain what happened after I snapped the extender off, but the tire still wouldn’t deflate. Time passed and I grew more frustrated. After working my fingers bloody, I sat beside the road and tried to collect myself.

Just then I heard a call from across the road. It was a policeman and he wanted to help. Moments later he tossed me a knife. One click and the very dangerous looking switchblade snapped into place. I slipped the knife between the tire and the rim and sliced the tube. After the repair was complete, I thanked the officer, and sprinted to regain my position in the race.

The next 70 miles or so were an exhausting blur. The canyons guarded the course with gusts of wind that nearly blew me off my bike. The climbs painted a picture I’ve never seen in the sport of triathlon. . . a trail of Ironman triathletes walking, pushing their bikes up a perfectly paved road.

Red rocks, winding canyons roads, green pastures, black crested cliffs, ghost like bluffs, wind, sweat, and heat. The course was getting the better of me and I didn’t even know it. As I approached the last aid station at mile 80, I saw my family for the first time since wading into the water so many hours and miles ago. My spirits were lifted and I regained my focus for the most difficult 2-hour ride of my life.

The bike cut off time was 5:30 p.m. and I was in serious jeopardy of missing the mark. 2 hours to go and I needed a negative split to make the cut off. Every athlete I passed yelled out the same desparate question, “Do you think we’ll make the cut off?” I didn’t have the breath to speak but if I did I would have proclaimed, “You will if you ride with me!”

I was absolutely possessed on the last section of the ride, I’ve never ridden like that before and have vowed not to again. I pushed each grade by climbing out of the saddle, I tucked and maxed out at 48 mph on the downhills, and sprinted like madman on the flats. In the end, I made the bike cut off with 20 seconds to spare.

Chasing down the bike cut off was the highlight of my race and the most gut wrenching 120 minutes of racing I’ve ever experienced. Of all my races, I think I’m most proud of this 2-hour effort.

The Run

As I laced up for the run, I could hear the protests of bikers who hadn’t made the cut off time. Their day was over and I was still in the race and had an ample 6:20 to walk the marathon. I paired up with the last male athlete in T2 and we embarked on our 26.2-mile walk. My spirits were high, but my body was fried, it was difficult to even maintain a 15-minute mile pace. I took in everything offered at the first aide station – a cup of water, a handful of pretzels, a cup of warm chicken broth, a cup of flat soda, and a Gu. My body remembered. By the end of mile 2, I had recovered from the bike and strode confidently through the course ignoring the quiet pain in my in right heel.

Mile 6

At mile 3 the pain in my Achilles was too much to ignore. I shorted my stride to prevent the strain and that seemed to work until I hit the hills. I modified my stride every which way to prevent the strain, but I began to experience waves of pain in my heel and leg. I pushed on for another 3 miles. During that time recounted every struggle I’d experienced to get to this point. I visualized each person who had supported and believed in me.

At mile 6 the pain had become unbearable and for the first time in nearly 11 hours of racing, I stopped. I stood a top the highest peak of the run and turned back toward the setting sun, and came to the realization that my day was over. It wasn’t the crushing blow you might expect, in fact, I smiled proudly at the obstacles I had overcome and took in the view of run course. I admired all of the hundreds of athletes struggling on the run course below me. I felt grateful for the experience. I had lived a lifetime in one day. I recalled something I had heard 10 years earlier, "the summit is but one part of the mountain."

The Day After

As you might expect, the relative peace I experienced after withdrawing from Ironman at mile 120 of 140 with 5 hours remaining in the race was difficult to maintain. Rather than focusing on what might have been I decided to focus on how I could improve as an athlete and in the spirit of Ironman. . . I signed up for Ironman St. George 2011.

The race was a catalyst for change for me. A week hasn’t passed since I hobbled through that last mile to the top of the run course and I’ve already logged 3 hours of rehabilitative weight training and stretching at the gym. I’ve started to blog again. I’ve rededicated myself to my training and learning. I’ve rediscovered my love for the journey of Ironman.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Race Report - Escape from Alcatraz

I couldn’t hear the announcements on the boat as we approached Alcatraz Island. I had already put in place my ear plugs and swim cap to protect me from the bitter cold of the bay. The boat had come to a stop and the Rock was a mere 20 yards off the bow. Every athlete stood in quiet attention as the national anthem rang out. As the anthem ended, the boat erupted in cheers and the doors flung open. One more nervous glance at my lone wetsuit stuffed in a bag on the floor and I began the march to the door to the open bay without it. As far as I could tell there was only one other non-wetsuit swimmer on the bottom deck of the boat. He approached me, we shook hands, and the folks surrounding us cheered in support.

At the race briefing they said that 2,000 athletes would jump off the boat in less than six minutes. What is it like? Think of the floor at a rock concert. You are shoulder to shoulder with the athlete next to you and being pushed from behind. When you reach the edge of the boat a race official calls out, “3-2-1 GO!” and you are in the bay. Courage isn’t required, you really don’t have much choice.

It’s a small drop, 3 feet or so, to the water. Whatever breath you had when you jumped instantly leaves your lungs as you submerge. The bay varies in color from grey to green, never blue. However, the color of a jump into the bay is bright white. The bright white light is caused by sensory overload and the white bubbles that ascend with you to the surface. Pastor or priest, when you break the surface and draw your first breathe it is always followed by an explicative. Gotta move now. Another athlete is already airborne above me.

The swim course is 1.5 miles across the bay and down the beach to the Yacht Harbor. I found my rhythm early and started to have fun swimming to and fro between wide-eyed triathletes. I felt powerful and in control. Midway across the bay I pulled though and flipped on to my back to admire the Golden Gate Bridge and the beauty of the morning. The swim ended too soon. I staggered onto the beach 47 minutes after jumping off the boat and started the 1-mile run to the bikes. I could hear my friends from the Dolphin Club call my name, but didn’t see any of them – except my good friend Nobu. He bounced like a kangaroo along side me almost the entire run back to the transition area.

The bike course was a blur. The Golden Gate Bridge, The Legion of Honor, a statue of The Thinker, a guy dressed up as Mr. Potato Head, the beach, motorcycle cops, Golden Gate Park, volunteers in yellow t-shirts, sea gulls. It was a very difficult bike course, but my training rides with Bob on the actual course really helped. I finished the bike in surprisingly good time for me. My bike time was just under 1:20.

As I headed out for the 8-mile run my legs buckled a bit. The fast bike had taken more of toll that I expected. I checked my race time – 2:25. I had mentioned to my wife on the eve of the race that if everything went right, I might break 4 hours. My mind clunked along and I shuffled passed the cheering spectators. . . 2:25. . . that leaves me 1:35 to do this run. . . a 10 minute mile pace would be 80 minutes. . . that leaves me 15 minutes to spare. . . I’ve got a shot at breaking four hours!

The first 1.5 miles are along the beach – flat, fast, but a bit windy. I held a sub-10 min/mile pace during this section.

This is where the race rips your heart out. With 6.5 miles remaining, the beautiful course turns on you and becomes the cruelest joke in the sport of triathlon. Stairs, sand, stairs and more stairs! Roots, tunnels with 4-foot clearances, gravel, stairs, stairs, and stairs. Ducking, walking, trotting, stumbling, jumping, clawing your way up hand rails of stairs just to stay upright. Once section, in particular, has over 300 ‘sand stairs’. I faltered more than once with my quads trembling and my heart in my throat. Other times, my pace was slowed by the submission of an athlete in front of me to a slow walk. Many sections of the run course are too narrow to pass safely as more competitive athletes bound down in the other direction. With each step I grew more and more attached to finishing sub-4 hours and at the same time the goal seemed less and less attainable.

At the 6-mile marker I had a scant 21 minutes to make my goal of a sub-4 hour finish. I pushed hard, but my legs were completely spent, I felt like I was running in ski boots. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Check the time. Clunk, clunk, clunk. Check the time. It was going to be close. At last the finish line was in sight. Tunnel vision, just keep pushing. You can do this – check the watch again. 3:57. . . dig deep.

As I approached the transition area. All my friends are there – Mark, Sunny, Jason, Nobu, Bob, Shannon, Alex, Victor, Elaine, all wildly cheering me on and it helped. One more glance at the watch. . . 3:58 – not there yet.

To my surprise, as I entered the finisher chute, I saw my wife Lisa kneeling and holding on to the two cutest boys on the planet. They somehow managed to gain the athlete side of the fence. Wild spectators cheers from the fence at their backs. No smile comes close to Lisa’s. She released the boys and Brant and Lance were on at my side instantly. Brant grabbed my hand and proudly pulled me along. Lance tore off for the finish line yelling and screaming the whole way. We all cross the finish line together – tears and cheers. I reach down and stop my watch. 3:59:10. I did it! The whole day flashed through my mind in an instant as I bowed to receive my finisher’s medal. It was an incredible feeling, unique to accomplishing the most difficult of tasks. I did it! I did it! I did it!

View from the swim finish.

First swimmers arriving.

A shot at a personal goal.

Lance leading the way and Brant dragging me in.

True love.

The crew.

Me and Bob.

The boys.

Post Script – I never check race results, but I’m pretty sure 3:59 puts me in the absolute bottom of my age group. That said, I can honestly say that when I ran across the finish line with my boys and hit my personal goal I felt as if I won the race. If I’m honest, I still feel that way. :) Well, it turns out I didn't actually win. Later, I learned a guy named Potts won the men’s race finishing in 2:07.

A stock photo of some of those d@#*m stairs!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Upcoming race - Ecape from Alcatraz Triathlon

'click play for cool photos and overly dramatic music'

I’ll be participating in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon this weekend. The Escape is largely a ‘qualifiers only’ race. Typically you would need to take a top spot at another triathlon just to get in to this race. I happened to get in by lottery, so I’ll be enjoying the race somewhere near the back of the pack.

Part of my motivation for racing the Escape is the follow up question I always get when I mention bay swimming. . . “Hey, have you done the triathlon?” Well, hopefully I’ll finally get to say ‘yes’ and have some helpful insight about the race to share with other newbies.

The Rock is the Rock, I would never disrespect her, but I’m less concerned about the swim as compared to the rest of the race. I'm well prepared. I swim 3+ miles a week in the bay and have done the Alcatraz crossing a dozen or so times. I’m still on the fence about whether or not to wear a wetsuit. I’m sort of attached to the idea of being one of the few on the boat without a wetsuit. Then again, once I get out of the water I’ll still have 4 more hours of racing ahead of me in unpredictable SF weather. So, perhaps the speed and warmth of a wetsuit would be a good idea.

The bike course is without a doubt the hardest 19 miles I’ve ever ridden. Bob and I rode the course twice during past couple weeks and it basically knocked me out both times. It is chock full of unrelenting climbs, steep winding descents, and offshore crosswinds. It is an epic ride in every sense of the word.

The run course is 8+ miles and includes long flights of stairs, narrow trails, roads, and windblown beaches. By all accounts it is a really tough run. I haven’t run the course yet and don’t intend to until the day of the race. I’ve still got a nagging pain in my left knee and would rather rest up and see how it goes.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit nervous about the Escape. Perhaps that is why I haven’t written about it. I know it’ll be tough and I know it will be beautiful. Aside from that, I really don’t have any expectations about the outcome of the race. As always, I’ll be grateful just to be out there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Excuses

Someone sent me this one, I thought it was post worthy (watch the whole thing).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Summer Century – Day One

There was a lot of activity at the ole Dolphin Club this morning as it was the first day of the Summer Century. By the way, I coined the term “Summer Century” in the sauna this morning - most folks just call it the 100 mile swim. Anyway, the goal is to swim 100 miles in 5 months (June 1st – October 31st).

I’ve never attempted the Summer Century (yeah, I like the sound of that better). It is more than double the Polar Bear distance in less than twice the time. You basically have to log 5 miles every week for 20 weeks. Only a dozen or so swimmers at the DC actually complete this goal in any given year. Most hit a sub-100 mile mark on October 31st, say 70 miles, and try to better it the next year. However, my good friend Nobu has completed the Summer Century for two consecutive years now. He is attempting his third this year and is my inspiration for giving it a try.

This morning was mile one – 99 miles to go.