The Grind

The dog days of summer seem to finally be behind us.  Sure, the midday highs are still in the low 90’s..  but it’s the mornings that matter.  Cool morning temperatures over the last couple weeks are a much welcome training companion after the long hot summer.   The last few months have been a grind to say the least.  16 triathlons in the past 18 weeks.  Some good, some bad.  The common factor in bad races were obvious.  Hot humid temps resulting in pitiful run splits.   The common factor in my good races.  Cool morning temps coupled with overcast or shaded courses.  

The weather broke here in Florida in the first week of May.  It had been an unseasonably cold winter and spring.   The cooler weather of course is exactly what we love to train and race in.  The effect warm and hot temps have on performance has been studied and is undeniably detrimental.  Since my journey started in cool or even cold weather in January and I had never raced or even trained in hot weather, I was oblivious to this.  I was in denial when I had my first bought of heat exhaustion at a local adventure race the week before I was to race in an ultra marathon in the heat of the Florida Keys.   I chalked it up as fatigue, going out to fast and whatever other reason I could come up with.   I stumbled in to the finish line and kneeled down with my head spinning while I was dry heaving and sweating like a tropical storm.

Throughout the summer I would have 4 more cases of heat exhaustion during races.  Each race was the same scenario.  It finally dawned on me that for whatever reason, I don’t react well to pushing my aerobic capacity during high temperatures.   This was the case even during training.  I was reduced to short speed work.  Intervals and hill repeats.  I could push it for short intervals but could not sustain it for longer endurance training.

Nonetheless, I pushed on.  It became mental as much as physical because if I knew the heat index was going to be 98 degrees during the run split of a race, it was certain I would break down.   Knowing your are going to fail going into a race is not a good feeling.   Regardless, I was able to take something from each race and grow as an athlete.  I had several great races during some rare cooler overcast mornings grabbing some hardware with an age group victory and a top 5 overall along with couple break out races coming close to hardware.

The last few weeks have been focused on preparing for one of the biggest challenges of the year.   This Sunday I will be toeing the line with 3,500 fellow triathletes in an Ironman 70.3 triathlon.   This, for those who don’t know is comprised of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run.  The training has gone well and has been a pleasure getting back into the long runs and rides I enjoyed this past spring.   Something about getting up at 5 am and hitting the pavement for a long run has a residual affect on me the rest of the day.  Rounding out the day with a 50 mile bike ride gives me a feeling of satisfaction I just can’t find in the shorter workouts during the summer heat.

This weekend will mark my 42nd race of the year.  As I enter the home stretch of this year of firsts, the only regret I have found is that I didn’t do it 10 years ago!  I am looking forward to the future challenges, the new experiences, my growth as an athlete, and the great people I meet every week.

Now if it will just stay cool this Sunday for all of us toeing the line.  Grinding for 4-7 hours is tough enough without the heat!

‎”set the bar high because what a person accomplishes is in proportion to what they attempt.”

Train, Race, Repeat.

Racing every weekend doesn’t fit into the typical training routine. Most triathletes and marathoners pick a race, tailor their training over a few months by adding volume, peaking then tapering so that they wake up on race day at their peak physical condition, strong and rested. Elite marathoners will literally only race 2-3 times per year. Obviously by racing every weekend, I simply cannot put forth my absolute best performance. In reality, I look at each race as part of my training. I push hard and give it 100%, but the amount of time I spend training each week just doesn’t give me time to rest.

A common misconception about racing is that you train to simply finish. For some people maybe this is true. Like when I ran my first 10k.. I honestly just wanted to be able to finish. But the realty is that they are races. You train to finish as fast as possible. Every minute of training has a specific purpose. 40% or more of my training time is focused on increasing my VO2max. (maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and utilize oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual) This is done by running or riding or swimming intervals, running or riding hills, and tempo runs and rides. Another 40% or so of my training time is spent increasing and maintaining my endurance. (the ability to sustain the running and riding over an extended amount of time) The final 20% of my training is spent on lower body strength building. Riding and running hills, squats, lunges, etc.

In training the focus always needs to be on quality over quantity. Someone could say they train 30 hours per week.. but what does that consist of? A casual 40 mile ride? A long slow run? Although these forms “training” won’t hurt you.. they will not make you faster. You only get faster by running and riding faster. I estimate that I train an average of 25 hours a week, and because of the hectic race schedule I include every race as part of my training. This past Saturday, Katie and I competed in a triathlon in Clermont, FL.. I did fairly well.. it was by far the toughest course I have raced on so far. VERY hilly.. steep climbs in both the ride and run. I ended up 12th out of 38 in my age group. After the race I said to Katie.. “that was a great workout” because that is truly what I thought of it. After the 2 hour ride home.. I jumped on the bike and road a 30 mile tempo ride.

This fall my schedule will push the limits of my endurance. It’s one thing to race 10k’s and half marathons, and sprint triathlons each week. But beginning with The Ironman Augusta 70.3 in September, I will be competing in Marathons, Ironman, half ironman and olympic distance triathlons. There will be a few more ultra marathons as well. And all this time I will still need to continue training day in and day out.

After this year of firsts.. I still am not sure which discipline I will focus on.. I guess I am leaning towards either ultra marathons or Ironman triathlons, but one thing is for sure. I will race once or twice a month.. and train and prepare for each race the proper way.. and who knows, maybe I’ll be ‘kinda fast”.

Rescue Me

So for many of us.. including myself, we often see something that catches our attention and we think “wow I would love to do that”. You see a heartwarming story of how a group or individual made sacrifices to help a cause and say to yourself “I really need to get my selfish ass off the couch and volunteer”.  Yet time after time.. year after year, we never follow through.

The bottom line of this year of firsts for me really strikes a chord of “no say or try.. just do”. I’ve always wanted to be a triathlete, but just could never pull the trigger. I’ve always been a giving person, but felt I really needed step up and volunteer. I have had a love for animals my whole life and every time I’ve seen or heard a story of animal rescue I would wonder why I wasn’t helping that cause.

You can’t help to see the connection to the fact I was drinking a bit to much the last few years. Drinking magically creates excuses. Excuses of course are denial in disguise. Now, instead of coming up with reasons not to do things, it’s fun to come up with reasons to do them.

Earlier this year I decided to volunteer at a large women’s only race called the Iron Girl here in Clearwater. I had 2 long days including a 3am arrival on race morning. As with all volunteer jobs, there was absolutely nothing in it for me other than some sore muscles and a free t-shirt. RIGHT? The fact that without the volunteers, 2,00 women would not have been able to race on that spring morning. Knowing what running means to me and the thousands I toe the line with every weekend, this was all I needed.

Katie an I had discussed being foster parents for rescue dogs for some time. The local dog rescue (Dunedin Dog Rescue) kept coming to our attention. We had done a charity century ride for the Suncoast Animal League earlier this year and got a first hand look at some of the sweet adorable rescue dogs awaiting a permanent home. I became a fan of the Dunedin Dog Rescue facebook page and would see daily posts of new dogs coming in that needed temporary homes until they were adopted and the need for more foster parents to accommodate them. These dogs are called rescue dogs because they are dogs turned into shelters in rural counties who are on their last days before being killed if someone does not take them. These dogs are most often simply stray dogs which are a result of unspayed and unneutered dogs having unplanned litters to homes that are not suitable to care for these dogs.

I emailed the president of the dog rescue informing him that we would be happy to be foster parents if needed. Less than 3 hours later, he emailed me with an email titled “karma”. They had taken on 3 dogs literally in their last day before being put down at a kennel in Tavares, FL. They committed to saving them knowing he had nowhere to place them.

"Killian" the Catahoula

It was a bit of a scare to take one on such short notice.. but this is what we committed to, so less than 4 hours later a 1 year old male Catahoula mix was dropped off at our house. We named him “Killian”

Anyone who has a dog knows how challenging the first days and weeks are for both the owner and the dog itself. A strange new environment, new commands, unknown personality traits. There is no question there have been many stressful moments, but once again, although if anything this only makes our life more difficult, and saving this dog is anything but selfish, the feeling of knowing what we did for this dog and his future family is unmatched.

If you care for animals.. look up your local dog rescue. There is little sadder than an innocent dog loosing his life as a result of irresponsible and inconsiderate humans.

Amazed at how far I’ve come, humbled by how far there is to go.

30 races.  6 triathlons, 1 ultra marathon, 2 half marathons, 1 15k, 1 12k, 4 10k’s, 3 trail races, 10 5k’s, 2 65 mile cycle tours.  This just in the past 22 weeks.  Start weight – 205 lbs.  Current weight -158lbs.  No more high blood pressure.  Resting heart rate is down to 48 bpm.  I guess it’s safe to say it’s been a productive 6 months.

As I both reflect on the experiences of the first half of the year and contemplate the grueling schedule laying ahead of me there is much to ponder.

Yesterday as I toed the line for my 6th triathlon in as many weeks and 30th race in the past 22 weeks I couldn’t help to notice something.  It’s 6:50 on a Sunday morning.  I’ve been up sine 5..  but this is unusually late for me on a weekend morning because this week’s race is just down the street here in Clearwater so it allows me to get a little extra sleep.   I’ve gotten my body markings, secured my timing chip, racked my bike and prepped my transition area. I’ve swam some warm up intervals.

Moments before the start of the Morton Plant Mease Triathlon, Sand Key, Clearwater, FL

The full moon showed it’s face in the western sky as the morning sun began it’s  rise in the east.  1,000 nervous athletes gathered at edge of the calm clear water of the gulf.  The national anthem blared just minutes before the first wave of swimmers would suddenly turn that calm water into a massive washing machine.  I dip my goggles into the water to clear the fog for one last time and stretch them over my swim cap then slide them snug over my eyes.  The announcer informs us there is 2 minutes to start.

And there it was..  the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  It never fails. My heart rate is jacked. I take a deep breath to try and calm myself… it doesn’t work.  It never works.  30 seconds to go.   I shake my legs and arms as if I’m trying to rid them of some unwanted pests.  10 seconds.  I place my finger on the start button of my watch..  take one last deep breath, my heart pumping against my chest.  The horn sounds and the fight begins… arms and legs flailing as the 130 or so athletes in my wave scrape our way toward the first buoy getting kicked and kicking at the same time.

Half way through the run leg of the race.. my legs are burning!

For the next hour and 20 plus minutes my heart rate would not slow.  My breathing would be a labored.  My muscles would scream and beg to stop.  The battle of mind over body will fight as they do every weekend.  Quads pleading for mercy, lungs and heart crying to air, meanwhile I keep telling myself  “just keep it here.. keep it here..  keep pushing, keep pushing, this is what you train for..  don’t give in..  keep it here”.

I reflect back to a year ago and I can assure you that this same Sunday morning the only thought would be when I would have my first drink.  This new found adrenaline is what I have come to live for.   It’s amazing what we can do when we apply ourself, whether it is for me training and racing, or for someone else it’s writing a book or yet for another it’s volunteering for their favorite charity.    There is no try or want to, only do or do not.

Need Oxygen..

The coming months will bring challenges beyond anything I would have ever thought possible.  The past 6 months will resemble a carnival ride compared to what is to come.  Ironman triathlons, ultra marathons, marathons.  Train, race, repeat.  I just know the 2 things I look forward to every weekend..  the adrenaline of toeing the line and the sense of achievement as I cross every finish line.

She said YES!!!!!!!!!

A year of firsts is not just about races…  it is about the whole journey.  A journey of change.  This journey is about becoming not only a better person physically but mentally and emotionally as well.   Internally and externally.  No more denial.  No more fooling myself or others.    I didn’t have to go out and become this freak endurance athlete to do this.  However, it was something I felt would help facilitate the process for me.  Something to give me direction and focus.  Those of us with addictive or obsessive type personalities generally, I believe, need something to keep them occupied and driven.   Alcohol in my opinion is just a vehicle to transport us though this trait. It masks the constant urges and transports us to a place where everything slows down.  It shifts our brain to a slower gear.  It turns cruise control on at a turtle pace rather than the normal rabbit pace.

I simply decided to trade my vehicle in for one with a little more high performance and self satisfaction.  One that would satisfy the constant churning of the brain gears yet would have residual benefits in regard to health, self confidence and emotional strength.   What a person accomplishes is in proportion to what they attempt.

With this being said..  I’m not sure I would have ever made the decision to change if I were flying solo.  If it was just me.. I doubt I would have been able to see the need for a change.  Alcoholism is a very selfish disease.  In no way does drinking benefit anyone other than yourself.

October 2003 I was in a wedding of a great friend of mine when I crossed paths with a girl who would ultimately redefine my life.   Soon a 31 year old lifelong bachelor aimlessly stumbling through life would discover something he didn’t know he was looking for.

Six and a half years later..  and LONG OVERDUE, I needed to do that thing that changes your facebook status from “in a relationship”  to “engaged”.   It would not of course change how we feel about each other.  It wouldn’t change our daily lives considering we have lived together for 3 and a half years.  Tradition, nonetheless, deserved it’s due.

I went through the stressful process of choosing a band for the ring.  I very unique and ornate design in white gold from a jeweler in Ireland.  It would take about a month to have it made and shipped to me here in the states, meanwhile I would embark on the search for the diamond to complete the one piece of jewelry she would, I trust, wear everyday for the rest of her life.  Endless hours on the internet researching and searching only brought me full circle to a small local jeweler here in Dunedin, FL that we had used in the past and found extremely trustworthy and knowledgeable without the overhead of the big mall stores.  Before I knew it I decided on a stone that I thought would satisfy my budget needs and more importantly give my new fiancée pride in showing off her new accessory.

We love Key West.  Traveling there frequently over the past few years I knew for some time this is not only where we would get married, but also where I would pop the question.  Months of training and preperation behind me, we loaded the car and drove the 7 hour trip through south Florida towards Marathon Key Florida.  The next morning I would be running my first ultra martahon with Katie as my solo crew.

Dinner just before sunset on the calm clear waters of the Florida keys followed by a stroll out on the old historic seven mile bridge seemed to be the appropriate setting.  I had tossed ideas around my head for years of how and where I would propose.   Maybe at the summit of Breckenridge’s famous peak 8.  At 13,000 feet this peak surrounded by nothing but double black diamond bowls would be a perfect setting.   Or maybe I would act like I found a special shell while snorkeling in the coral reefs of the keys and pull out the ring underwater (very risky though.. what if I dropped it)   In the end I settled for a Florida sunset, one very old bridge and just the two of us.

1 mile or so out on the bridge suspended over the water or the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.  The unmatched beauty of a Florida Keys sunset in the background.  I stopped, pulled out the ring, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.  With a big smile my beautiful future wife said yes.   SHE SAID YES!

I was lucky and fortunate to cross paths with her that autumn day in 2003.  It’s gonna be a good life.


Ultra Marathon – I must be crazy

Drenched in sweat.  Bent over with my soaked hands on my tired knees. The scorching south Florida afternoon sun beating down on me with no where to escape it.  I haven’t gone to the bathroom in 7 hours even though I have been drinking water non stop… apparently sweating it out faster than I am consuming it.  Then it hits me as I start dry heaving along the side of US 1 in the Florida Keys.     No this isn’t the result of an all day drinking binge on Duval Street.  For some reason I thought running 50 miles from Marathon to Key West in the hot midday summer heat would be fun.   A few short months ago I was 50lbs overweight with high blood pressure and could barely run 2 miles.  Now I was attempting an ultra marathon.

Just before the start with our support vehicle.

Training for my first ultra marathon became a 2nd job.  I would set the alarm often at 3 am, have a bagel and coffee, fill my water bottles, pack some energy bars/gels bring some money for any pit stops I might need to make and set off on runs anywhere from 20-35 miles.  At one point I ran everyday for 3 weeks straight with my shortest run being 10 miles.  One of the hardest things to adjust to was running slow.  Go slow to go fast is what they say in ultra marathons.  I had spent the last 3 months learning to run as fast as I could.  Now I needed to slow it down.. pace myself.

Crossing the 7 mile bridge.. still feeling good, but not for long.

All the training in the world would not prepare me for what I would encounter on this hot May Saturday in the Keys.  I would go out at a pace I really thought was slow, right around 8:00 per mile.  I grabbed a water and got rid of my shirt at mile 4 just before embarking on the 7 mile bridge.  I felt so great.  Cruising along in the top 10 runners or so.   I saw a couple tarpon rolling in the crystal clear water of the ocean and about half way accross the bridge I spotted a huge sea turtle floating along and not to far after that I saw a monster leapord ray cruising under the bridge.  Still feeling great as I got closer to the end of the bridge but I knew I would need some calories and couldn’t wait to see Katie on the other side.    Then something happened..  something that has never happened in any previous race or training run.  I bonked.  I mean big time.  When I met Katie I had run the first 11 miles in around 1:40.   All of a sudden I got dizzy.. had to kneel down and thought I was going to pass out.  After a quick rest I stood up, gathered myself and went about my mission.  39 miles to go.   The only problem is that every time I tried to run I felt like I was going to puke.  I started to get back spasms which constricted my breathing.  This was not good..  how could this happen after all that training.

The next time I met Katie I told her there was a change of plans.  Just survive and make it to the finish.. somehow.   Every few miles I would meet Katie and honestly contemplate quitting.  I couldn’t imagine how I could finish.  I couldn’t imagine how I would run 1 more mile, forget another 30!   I felt horrible.. dry heaving, dizzy, week.  Katie wouldn’t have any part of me quiting, she made me keep going, feeding me pedialyte and water and energy bars.

Around mile 22 or so I started feeling a little better.  I was running a decent pace when I approached a bridge that had a pedestrian bridge to the east side.  I asked another runner if we were to take the pedestrian bridge or stay on the highway.  He confidently steered me to the pedestrian bridge.  Big mistake.  Talk about a buzz kill.  Turns out that this bridge didn’t go all the way across.   We had to run back around which added a good mile which I could not afford.  Mentally I was defeated..  I couldn’t believe it.

At the 25 mile check in I decided to rest for a few minutes, change sneakers, eat some of a turkey sub and see if this would make me feel any better.  It didn’t.    The sun was getting higher in the sky and now was in my face.  It was getting hotter.  I was getting weaker.

Telephone poles.  I tried to forget about how many miles I had to go and focused on baby steps by running to the next telephone pole.  Run 2 telephone poles then walk one.  Run to one telephone pole walk to the next.  Katie did everything she could to keep me moving forward…  no matter how slow.    Just keep moving forward.   I would complain like a little baby how hard it was, how horrible I felt.    What a fun day that must have been for her putting up with my whining for 12+ hours.

Once the sun started to set, the temps became bareable.   I stopped sweating as much.  The only problem with this is that the residual salt left on my skin was causing chafing on my thighs.  Just one more issue to spice things up.   I started feeling much better at this point but my feet and legs were extremely tired and sore.   If it’s not one thing it’s another.

Around mile 43 I decided to pick up the pace.  I was feeling good other than my sore feet but could suck it up.   I told Katie I didn’t need anything and to meet me at the other side of the upcoming bridge.  Cuising along just before the bridge I felt something I had never felt before.  A blister broke on my right heel.  WTF?  I didn’t even know I had a blister?  I never get blisters.  I blame it on doing 2 miles in my crocks around mile 35 to let my feet air out.. but the heel was rubbing.  I didn’t think anything of it.. until.. POP!  OUCH..  now Katie was gone..  I had to limp and hobble 2 miles over the bridge before I could attend to my new issue.  My foot was so sweaty that nothing would stick to it.. so there was nothing I could do to pad it.  Only 5 miles left and this was going finish me?  I couldn’t believe it.   Not to mention when attending to the blister we notice my thighs that were chafing earlier were so red and swollen that it was unbearable to look at.  I changed my shorts to a pair with thigh length underwear built in to keep my thighs from rubbing, changed my shoes again and got back on the road not knowing how I could manage 5 more  miles with this open blister, sore feet and not to mention the dehydration.  I still hadn’t gone to the bathroom and it had been 11+ hours!!

Somehow the adrenaline of knowing I was so close to finishing took over and I all but forgot about the blister and other issues and started really picking up the pace.  When I met Katie a mile or so down she couldn’t believe how fast I got there. I told her I was good to go and to meet me about a mile before the finish just to be sure.  I flew into Key West.   Even though the finish line was much farther than we expected..  I finished strong with my hands held high running into the arms of Katie where I held her tight, shed a couple tears and  enjoyed the greatest feeling of accomplishment in my life.

I retrospect although I failed in my execution of the race by going out to fast, in the end I learned more about myself by finishing that race through all of the struggles.  It literally took every last physical, mental and moral fiber in my body to get to the finish line.  Even with that.. I could have never made it and would not have made it without my loving fiancee Katie.   She fought me the whole way to keep going.    Thank you Katie.  Now I can’t wait for my next ultra!

Over half the field did not finish this race…  which says something as to the overwhelming challenge when over 80 athletes who train specifically for this discipline could not finish.

In ultra marathons, victory is to finish.

Katie and I after the finish

Fat to Fit..

I think I have super human power to pack on weight.  I can gain 5 lbs just walking into a grocery store.  The good news for me is that I can also lose it just as fast.  After a few years of playing yo-yo with my weight (with the yo mostly up.. not down)  I decided for many reasons that I would focus on training with purpose. Training for races changes everything.  If you put in the work you will get results.  I am able to do things physically I have never been able to do in my life.  I can swim, bike and run farther and faster than I could have ever imagined.  This is only the beginning.. it takes patience to build a stronger athlete.

I peaked at my fattest somewhere around 210lbs.  At 5’8″ this is obese.  I don’t carry my weight well either.  In fact I look like a complete slob.  Man boobs, a couple chins and a food baby that looked like I was 8 months into a pregnancy.

A funny thing happens when you stop drowning in a bottle of vodka every night and downing portions of food fit for a large family.     Just 3 months into my journey I easily lost close to 50lbs.  I wasn’t dieting.  It is a simple formula.  Burn more calories than you consume.  When you train 20 + hours /week, it is nearly impossible to consume more calories that you are burning.   I estimate that I burn around 3,000 calories per day training in addition to the 2,000 already built into my metabolism.  I can honestly eat anything I like.   But healthy natural foods are better tasting and better for you.

I hope to never see that fat slob that I was and creating a lifestyle of competing in endurance athletics is a pretty enjoyable way to be sure I never do.

Before.. estimated weight 210lbs

After 3 months.. 160lbs