Why I’ve Stepped Back From Racing and the Hidden Fees of All That Training

To have more time for late afternoon fishing with Dylan at Folsom Lake

To have more time for late afternoon fishing with Dylan at Folsom Lake

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

When I started to analyze the racing events I was doing, I uncovered some hidden costs that were never disclosed in the entry fees. A marathon/ultramarathon/ironman can range anywhere from $100-$700 but quickly increase if you need to travel, pay airfare and stay in a hotel. A monumental race like Race Across America is around $3,000 for the entry fee, but my out-of-pocket costs were closer to $20,000. In the beginning, the experiences were well worth it. I usually made some new friends, learned a little something about myself and added another finisher’s medal to my collection. But at some point, I started to realize the price of these events was more than just money. There were hidden fees for which I never wrote a check but still had to pay – things like time, energy, missing other family activities. When I began to add up everything it hit me: the price was more than I wanted to spend.

Everyone’s experience and journey is different and some might classify me as a quitter. But how many marathons do I have to run to prove I can run 26.2 miles without stopping? If running 50 marathons doesn’t prove the point, then I don’t think running 51 or even 100 would do the trick either. How about if I became an Ironman, would that do it? Apparently not, because I’ve done that too but still felt I had something left to prove. So I committed myself to something truly epic and entered the Western States 100 mile run. What if I ran 100 miles in less than 24 hours, surely that would be enough? Nope. Every time I crossed a finish line, the satisfaction would stick around for only a few days before I was out trying to find my next event. I kept having to upstage the previous race. How about riding a bicycle 200 miles nonstop? 508 miles? 3,000 miles? I did that too and was still left trying to satisfy the hunger.

I think pedaling a bicycle 3,000 miles in Race Across America finally gave me the time to come to terms with myself. I proved to myself that we can push our bodies and our minds to accomplish more than we imagine. We can chase and achieve our dreams. Now I feel I don’t need to keep proving it over and over. But for years, having to prove it over and over was part of the lure. After the race was over, the euphoria would fade and I was left feeling I needed to do it again. I needed to start training for my next event. I still had to convince myself I had what it takes. Just getting to the starting line of something like Race Across America required a focus so intense and selfish that most other areas of my life had to suffer. Ironmans/ultras/marathons all require a similar level of intense focus and training. Saying “Yes” to one thing meant saying “No” to something else and when I realized what I was missing and saying “No” to, the true cost of all that racing and training proved too much.

I love a good race and battling it out to the finish line. And I believe training and racing instills positive traits that carry over to other aspects of a successful life. But life must stay balanced. I don’t want to be the dad missing my son’s events because I’m married to work or constantly training for my next race. In the midst of Ironman training last year, I made it a point to schedule Saturdays around Dylan’s soccer games. I squeezed in rides before or after but was always there for the whole game. Same with baseball games and practice. When I had to ask myself which one to choose or which one took priority, I knew something was wrong. Why is missing my son’s soccer game to go for a bike ride even an option I’m considering?

I could justify it and say all that training gave me a healthier body. I absolutely need to exercise both the mind and body. For me, running is therapeutic. Yet, where is the point of diminishing returns? Exercising 45-60 minutes a day is going to give me a healthy body. Anything more is overdoing it. Using the minimum effective approach, if I need to boil water and water boils at 212 degrees, what do I gain by boiling water at 300 degrees? I’m wasting energy. And that’s what it came down to for me, I was wasting my time and energy training for so many long hours. The water already boiled. I already proved I could do it. I need about 45-60 minutes a day of exercise a day to maintain some level of health and fitness. The danger for me is when I try to convince myself the more the better. In this case, more is not necessarily better. Most often I just want to spend a few free minutes running in the mountains under the pines clearing my thoughts instead of worrying about who I’m chasing and who’s chasing me.

Heading out to clear the mind

Heading out to clear the mind

I’m a creature of habit and routine and training can become an addiction. I’ve never used or been addicted to alcohol, nicotine or drugs (although Nicole and Dylan will say I’m addicted to Starbucks and Chipotle). But when running got to the point that I couldn’t say no to missing a training run or not doing a race, then I realized I had my own addiction problem. Sure, it might be a healthy addiction, but I’m not sure any addiction is all that healthy. Unable to say “No”, doing the same races over and over, year after year, made me feel like a slave. Races like Ironman are not merely races, they are lifestyles. Be prepared to sacrifice. Every time I signed up for a big race, it was not only me making a sacrifice, it was the entire family. They’re noble events and I’m glad I did them. Now we can move on. I don’t want it to be the thing that consumes some of the best years of our life. Now I’ll have the freedom to channel and focus some of that time and energy to invest in someone and something else.

For me, that investment is already paying off. Lately, hitting a couple baskets of tennis balls after work with Dylan is more rewarding than adding another finishing time to the list. Being at one of his events and watching him in his element is proving more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. At one of his recent swim meets while Nicole and I were in the stands and watching, more butterflies bounced around in my stomach as Dylan stepped up to his starting block than I’ve ever had at the start of an Ironman. We were so nervous for him. We watched and cheered, squeezed each others’ hands as he swam from one end to the other. Racing, he appears so relaxed. I’m up on my tip toes and my insides are in knots. We are hoping, no matter what, he’s going to finish happy and with a positive attitude and climb out of that pool with a smile dripping off his face. And that’s where I am these days. A 4 mile run together beats an 8 mile run alone. Playing a little tennis together after work and chasing down his shots is pure joy. Riding our bikes to the lake and watching Dylan fish and untangling his line brings more happiness than if were out by myself and training for my own event.

When I was younger, I would imagine crossing the finish line with my family in the stands as they proudly cheer me on. At some point the dream changed. Now I want to be the one cheering them on as they cross their own finish lines. Give it some time and maybe I’ll need to toe the start line again. I still love hitting a trail for a run, but if you don’t see me racing/pacing at some of the events, hopefully you’ll understand why.

Some of the Best Moments of My Day

The joy of playing catch

The joy of playing catch

The direction of this blog might change over the next 12-24 months as I start to explore more of what is happening in our life and where my thoughts take me. At times there may be no connection to any sporting event or race. As in life, balance is key. I enjoy the freedom and energy going for a simple run can infuse in me and sharing about where those journeys take me. However there are other things to discover and explore. Two nights a week I’m coaching Dylan’s Little League team and the the other nights we are playing tennis or hitting the trails. So many other things consume my life and time and yet I find I seldom write about those things. Not because they are unimportant, but the introspective life can be more work and take more time. The next 12-24 months will be a work in progress. Although part of me wishes to know exactly where we will go and how we will get there, the better part of me knows the uncertainty and discovery of the journey will be the best part.

A constant battle has been taking place, deep in the back of my mind. Once reserved for the daydreams of a working boy, my mind now more closely resembles the cluttered desk of a middle aged man trying to find his way through life. I’m on a mission to simplify our life but finding simplicity has proven so complicated. I’ve been lucky up to this point to enjoy a front row seat to the journey of my life and chase after my dreams. And, for me, it’s been pretty remarkable to watch the story unwind the way it has. At this point, it’s hard to imagine life any different but I know there have been countless times when it could have taken a different turn. Now, I feel we are nearing the point where we will make another turn and start another chapter in our life. Life is about to pivot.

I grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. It was not uncommon for us to have a can of gasoline stashed in the back of our car, just in case we ran out of gas. The smell of gasoline and oil-stained rags along with the sight of a banged up red steel can behind the front seats reminded me things were tight. We didn’t run out of gas that often, but it happened enough that I remember walking along the shoulder of Highway 101 a few times with my dad in search of the nearest service station to get enough fuel to make it home. If we didn’t run out of gas, it was more likely our car was going to overheat. To prevent this, next to the red gas can we’d line gallons of water that we would use to refill the radiator when the temperature gauge started leaning too close to the H. Other times, our car would just break down with no warning. Leaving for school, the car might not start for my mom. We would need to push the car down the driveway until it was rolling fast enough to pop the clutch. I remember when I was probably only 5 or 6 years old, my mom paying for groceries with food stamps. It only happened a few times but even as a little kid I knew we were struggling. The living pay check to pay check, buying on layaway instead of with credit and seeing my parents pay $15 fees for bouncing $5 checks was how I grew up. More than a few times our checks were rejected at the checkout line because our name was on a list. There was always that feeling when getting in line with a full cart, “I hope they accept our check.” We were penalized over and over with what I call the “poor man’s tax”.

Our Home In Windsor, CA

My Childhood Home In Windsor, CA

Writing a check for $5 only to have it returned for insufficient funds and then paying a $15 fee is a poor man’s tax. Having to take out a car loan at 13% in order to buy a used car for $1000 in order to drive to work and back is a poor man’s tax. Frequently paying bills late and incurring a late fee each time is a poor man’s tax. The poor man doesn’t know his own actions are taxing and stealing his precious income. He works so hard only to lose his money by his own undoing. While the rich man earns money in his sleep with his investments paying dividends, the poor man is usually living one paycheck behind and instead of receiving interest from savings and dividends from investments, the poor man repeatedly finds himself in a predicament where he owes money that he hasn’t even earned, and he burdens himself with unnecessary debt. Like an albatross hung around his neck, his unnecessary debt weighs him down. And too often, the poor man mistakenly believes the debt weighing him down is going to make him rich. The debt burden is often hidden from our neighbors. We are often fooled into thinking someone is rich because they have the appearance of being well off. You can’t tell if most of what they have has been purchased with borrowed money. Most people can tell if you are 50 lbs overweight. However, there’s no outward sign if have $50K in credit card debt. Read “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko and it might change your perception of wealth.

Growing up, we could have been the face of the working class. My dad always had a job. We weren’t living on unemployment but things were always tight. For the most part, kids don’t know what they don’t have so we didn’t grow up thinking we were missing something. For better or for worse, the path our life took was just that, it was my parents putting their stamp on life and it’s what made it so memorable for me. I remember a few times thinking there must be an easier path but as the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The earliest memory I have of my dad working was when he worked in the laundry room at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, washing and drying the linens and uniforms. When Hewlett Packard opened some of their manufacturing in Santa Rosa, he started working at HP until I finished high school. I give my dad a lot of credit for working hard throughout my childhood. They weren’t dream jobs but they provided the means to get through the week.

Hewlett Packard was a union job and, for my dad, being part of the union was the best part of working there. I’m not sure it mattered if the work was challenging, the pay good and there was advancement potential, being a union member was the main decision factor when considering job opportunities. And once you had a union job you secured your future. Why would you ever consider any other job? Later when I started working at Safeway during high school, my dad thought my future was secured. Why would I ever need to work anywhere else besides Safeway? At 16 I had landed a union job. I was set for the next 50 years.

My Mongoose Bike For Delivering Papers

My Mongoose Bike For Delivering Papers

I began my own working career in 5th grade delivering newspapers. For the next 4 years I stuffed, folded and delivered newspapers across town on my bicycle. I’d carry a backpack style sack full of newspapers that was filled front and back with papers. Just getting a full load balanced on my shoulders while riding a bike was a workout. From 5th grade, I’ve always had a job save for a few gaps during college. For the most part, I’ve kept my head down and tried to stay focused on working hard and not being hit by the “poor man’s tax”. Already, it’s been 30+ years of working and sometimes I’m tired from all those years. I’m still challenged with work and am drawn to technology and software but it can be exhausting. When my dad came home from work, he too was exhausted.

While my dad went to work, the work came to my mom. Growing up, her job meant running a day care center out of our house. My parents had only two biological kids, my younger brother and I, but it felt like we always had a house full of kids. And I’m sure in some way battling for my mom’s attention against lots of other kids when I was younger, left me wanting a smaller family of my own. We had kids coming at 7 in the morning and leaving at 6 at night. Weekends were sometimes spent watching a special needs child so his/her parents could get a brief few hours of respite. Looking back, it was all a noble cause but at the time it felt like I was missing something. At times I longed for a more normal family and I can remember telling my mom I thought she cared more about the other kids than me. I was not a neglected child. Maybe I should have viewed the situation with more compassion and perspective, but at the time I just wished things were different.

It seemed being around kids is what energized her. Her work was a true labor of love. The money was not enough, the hours were long and there were never any days off. My mom loved her work. She would have made a terrific grandmother and would have claimed our guest bedroom as her own to spend time with Dylan.

Running a daycare out of our home gave my mom some extra income. I doubt my parents were working to be wealthy. With two kids and a mortgage, most of the time they were just trying to make it to payday. MacGregor was our Nike. I’d browse the Santa Rosa Kmart sporting department gazing at the latest MacGregor tennis shoes and then hand over $5 to put a pair of white and red MacGregor shoes on layaway. Layaway: another poor man’s tax. You hand over your money in exchange for nothing more than a promise you can buy the item later. You give them your earnings so they can use that money to earn interest while “holding” the item for you to pay in full later. Since we didn’t have a credit card, layaway was one of our preferred methods of funding a purchase.

Many childhood memories revolve around the family car. For years, my mom wanted a baby blue Ford Pinto, the car also known as an exploding gas tank on 4 wheels. Due to the placement of the gas tank at rear of the vehicle, stories of the Ford Pinto exploding if hit from behind were popular in the news. But the cars seem to hold their popularity. We finally upgraded our VW bug to a 2 door baby blue Ford Pinto (the one in the picture). Ours had a passenger door that wouldn’t close unless you lifted the door while slamming the door closed. This meant that you could really only close the door from the outside where you could get a get hold, then lift and slam. So either the driver would have to lift and close the passenger door then walk around and get in. Or, what became more popular, was the passenger would open the door and let the kids jump in the backseat. Then the passenger would roll down the window, lift and slam the door shut before getting in and finally crawl in through the window. It was our own version of the Dukes and Hazards’ General Lee.

I don’t think, growing up, we ever emerged from living paycheck to paycheck. It was the sort of life that was hard. Not too hard. Just hard enough to make you appreciate the good things and the easier times when they came. What’s hard to know is what part of those experiences made me who I am today. We want to provide our kids with some of the opportunities we missed out when growing up, but will this only soften them? It is hard to say. But the one thing I know for sure is when I ask myself what I would change, it is I wish I had a father who wanted to be involved in my life and who was there for advice, wisdom and even the occasional “Nice job!”

Which, in a round about way, bring us to the pivot. For 20 years, we’ve had the pressures of mortgages, car payments and bills like everyone else. And for many of those early years, it felt like Nicole and I had multiple jobs. Our day job was in the office, then our evening and weekend job was working on a house to improve it through sweat equity or work on a rental property. Some times we were stretched to the max. I remember after living in one of our houses for a year we still had no money to furnish the place beyond a few things here and there. My mom flew out to visit. She walked in our front door with a friend and the friend, surveying the empty living and dining rooms honestly asks, “Oh this is nice, when do you move in?” After a year of living in the house, our paychecks were going to mortgages and renovations and in a 2,700 square foot house we had furnishings for only about 500 square feet. But we survived and in a few years we sold that house and that proved a game changer for us. By the time we were in our 30’s, we had bought 7 homes and sold 5, making a profit on all but one.

We are the first to say that we benefited from the luck of timing and the support and advice of good friends. So much of life is determined by timing. We could be on the right path just at the wrong time. For the most part, knowing when to do something is hardest part of the decision. In most decisions, it comes down to imagining where we want to be in 2 or 5 or 10 years and then making the decisions to try and get us there. And benefiting from lucky timing.

Nearly 10 years ago, for our 10 year anniversary, we bought a cabin in the Lake Tahoe area. It was a dream come true for me. The best place on earth is in the mountains, breathing the thin mountain air, smelling the pine needles and exploring the endless trails. I’d gone from growing up in a tiny house on 732 Park Glen Drive in Windsor to writing pharmacy software, having rental properties and having a cabin in the woods. I thought we would have our cabin for the rest of our lives and it would be a place where Dylan and I would share mountain bike rides and summer hikes.

We are always looking ahead and trying to imagine where we want to be and what we want to working on in 2 or 5 years. Last year, we sat down in January and it became clear that in order to do what we want to do in the next few years, we should sell our cabin the woods. So we made the decision to sell one dream in order to chase another. The decision was truly a bittersweet one. We had so many good memories and plans but dreams change over time and we realized closing one door was going to open some other doors for us down the road. It took a while but we sold our cabin (at a loss – timing is everything) and paid off the mortgage on our house to be completely debt free.

At 43 years old, we are at a place very different than where my parents where when they were in the 40’s. I have a relationship with my son that I don’t think I ever had with my dad. I don’t see myself as just a provider. The decisions we have made over the past few years are ones that will hopefully translate into spending more time together. I don’t need a bigger house or a faster car or another finisher’s medal. I’ve had my fill. Dreams can shift and our dreams will likely shift again. We’ve decided to pass on the dream house we had in the mountains. At 43, the thing I hope to find is a little more time. More time with my wife and son. At the end of the day, right now my dream is to play some catch with my son. When I ask, “Hey, how about some catch?” and his eyes light up and he yells “Yea!”. Those moments are often some of my favorite parts of the day.

140428_1869

A New Garmin 620 Watch And A Pair Of Shoes

My Favorite New Shoes Are The New Balance 1010RD

My Favorite New Shoes Are The New Balance 1010RD

I’ve made two equipment upgrades that have been worthwhile enough to mention. Next to my garage door sits a shoe rack with about 6 different pair of running shoes. I have shoes best left for muddy runs, rocky trails, a pair waiting for a marathon, one for the summer when I can smell the oak leaves roasting in the warm sun, another when a soft ride is important and the rest are my grab ‘em and go pairs. I’m trying to simplify my shoe collection and get down to one or two that I can take with me and wear no matter what. Something light, that can be worn with or without socks and can be used on the trails or pavement. And I think I might be down to a single solution. The New Balance 1010RD is my new favorite running shoe.

I’m surprised because I wasn’t a big follower of the minimalist running movement. This shoe is not a “barefoot” style shoe but it does have only a 4 MM drop. Yet there is some bounce in the shoe and it is light, incredibly comfortable without (and with) socks and feels great on both the trail and pavement. I’m not sure how they would feel for 26.2 miles on the road but so far they feel great after a some runs of 7 to 8 miles.

I picked a pair up for $40 from the New Balance Outlet store and already have stashed a couple extra pairs away.

My other upgrade is a new watch. I’ve been trying out the new Garmin 620 watch and this will be my new watch. I had been eyeing the new Garmin 220 and 620 when they were announced last October but thought I’d be frustrated with only half the battery life of my 310XT (rated at about 20 hours per charge). Both the 220 and 620 claim about 10 hours of battery life when recording. But I’ve been more and more frustrated with 310XT ANT syncing and having to carry 2 watches: a daily watch to tell the time and then a “running/GPS” watch. However when I really thought about it, I realized I don’t need more than 10 hours of recording. 90% of my runs are about an hour and so I stopped worrying about having enough battery life for the exception. If the need arises where I might require up to 20 hours of recording, then I can pull out the 310XT or I’m sure Garmin will soon release an 910 upgrade.

After using the new 620 for about a week, I’m sold on this watch. For one, I’m down to a single watch. No more wearing a watch during the day and then switching to a different running GPS watch. The 620 is both a watch and GPS tracker. It doesn’t stand out or draw attention like some of the other tracking watches. And when it is not in recording mode, the battery lasts days. So within a few minutes after a run, it goes into a low power mode and only displays the date/time. Then the next time I head out for a run, I resume from the lower power mode and start recording. I was able to go 5 days between charges using it as a watch and during those 5 days I recorded about an hour run each day.

For me, the main reason for going with the 620 over the 220 was the built-in wifi on the 620. Being able to walk in the door and have the watch upload via my wifi without requiring an ANT+ connection has simplified the process. Also firmware updates are automatically downloaded. This is a natural evolution of the Garmin watches and I’m not sure why it took so long to integrate wifi. It’s too bad the 220 doesn’t offer the wifi or that would be a terrific deal. The extra $200 for wifi can be hard to justify.

The 620 has other upgrades too and if you are a data junky they might be more important to you. Along with the new heart rate monitor, the watch measures V02 Max, cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time. After a week of normal running, my cadence is about 167 steps per minute, about 10.5 centimeters vertical oscillation and around 225 milliseconds ground contact time. Both the vertical oscillation and ground contact time are only measured when wearing the new heart rate monitor. And at the end of each run when wearing the heart rate monitor, the watch will perform a V02 max calculation. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it has calculated mine at 57. The watch also includes a race predictor to predict your finishing times from distances from a 5K to a marathon. No 100 miler predictor yet for you ultra runners.

12576557523_1a55df5d64_o (2)

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t run a 2:53 marathon right now, but the encouraging prediction is impressive and provides some hope. My Garmin Connect page updated with more data points when it detected the new watch. I was curious if Strava would incorporate any of the new watch features. I uploaded an activity to Strava and it looked the same to me as if I had used the 310XT.

Overall, I’d give the 620 two thumbs up and would recommend it. If you are out running 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday, you might need to wait for the 910XT upgrade. For me, I’m more than happy I made the switch. The extra data isn’t that important to me but having wifi is a game changer.

The Path to Ironman Lake Tahoe

Swim Start of Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013

Swim Start of Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013

The last race is often the hardest and toughest. The pain is fresh and the wounds still open. But give it time to settle, let the bruised spirit heal and the pain will soon fade. The day will eventually find its resting spot along with a list of other distant races, all tagged with a lasting epitaph to eternalize the hard fought battles won and lost. “Here Lies IMLT 2013…”

The path I followed to the Ironman Lake Tahoe race proved to be the right one for me. 11 hours was the mark I had somehow set in my head (1:20 swim, 5:50 bike and a 3:40 run with 10 minutes of transitions). I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say I would be very happy with 11 hours. That was it. It seemed doable. Sure, faster would be better, but I knew better than to set unrealistic expectations. I decided early on that I wouldn’t be upset with any result as long as I worked hard throughout the day, had a good time and kept life and the race in perspective. Complacent? Apathetic? No. Just had to keep my priorities in check.

About a month and a half out from the race, my training was pretty limited. In fact there was no regular training except my evening runs. I was running about 40-45 miles a week and that was it. Plus I rode my bike about once a week for an hour. I was/am nowhere near any peak performance level. However, to survive the Ironman distance, I knew that I needed to increase my training effort. Luckily, my buddy Bob Shebest, a certified triathlon coach, called me and said he was going to work with me. We talked it over and I said I could commit to about 10 hours a week. Miracously, he devised a 6-7 week training plan, with long rides on Saturday and long runs on Sunday. This was the exact opposite of what I would have planned as I would have preferred to run on fresh legs on Saturday and recover on the bike on Sunday. Yet his reason of riding then running was to replicate race conditions. Once he explained it, the light went on.

Having someone plan my training helped settle any anxiety. I’d get a list of the workouts at the beginning of the week: always 6 days with one complete rest day. Weekdays were light with the longest weekday workout being a 90 minute ride on Wednesday evenings. Saturdays and Sundays seemed to be the bulk of the long riding and running efforts. For the most part I was able to stick with the plan but missed a few sessions here and there. Sometimes I would come home from a ride and grab Dylan for a 30 minute run. I only rode and ran the first 3 weeks, and then Bob started throwing in the swim sessions. Like a good coach, he started pestering: “How about a swim session this week?” “Any chance of running or biking to the lake then cooling off with a swim?” “You really need to swim!” Finally, with about 3 weeks to go, I hit Lake Clementine and Folsom Lake after work.

Week Bike Miles Bike Hours Run Miles Run Hours Swim Yards Swim Hours Total Hours
1 63.0 3:12 43.5 5:32 8:44
2 117.2 6:42 46.6 5:43 12:25
3 108.0 6:03 43.3 5:37 11:40
4 71.8 3:45 46.2 5:38 9:23
5 110.1 5:38 28.1 3:33 9:11
6 83.7 4:30 39.1 5:07 1778.6 0:51 10.28
7 112.8 5:57 30.5 3:53 2356.9 0:53 10:43
8 51.3 2:37 8.2 0:58 0:30 4:05

Lee McKinley and I were able to ride together twice during this period. We rode one lap of the course on one weekend, and 3 weeks out rode two laps (both times we skipped the Martis section), followed by a 12 mile run on the marathon course. I always enjoy the time Lee and I are able to train together and when he started to pull away from me on our last training climb up Brockway, it was obvious he was ready. That was pretty much it. We were also dealing with smoke for a few weeks from some California wildfires so there were days that I skipped as it was just too unhealthy and risky. For the most part I kept it simple. Not that it was easy. Wednesday rides finished in the dark. Instead of doing something fun Friday after work, I would spend an hour or two on the bike then meet Nicole and Dylan for dinner. And most rides concluded with a short run, which kept reminding the legs to expect to do some running after riding. I also paced the 3:15 group at the Santa Rosa Marathon in August, which fit right into the training schedule and load. However, I felt pretty lucky to have to put in only 6 weeks of dedicated training.

Everybody has their own approach to preparation. I knew Ironman Lake Tahoe was not going to be easy. I was racing against myself and the course. I wasn’t racing anyone else. Success would equal a satisfying effort and a time of around 11 hours. It could be lesson for my son about working hard and not giving up, but let’s face it, at the end of the day his concerns are Legos and The Wild Kratts. There’s a large gap between something like an Ironman and a 5 year old. And that’s the way we prefer it.

I took Friday off work and we went up to Truckee on Thursday night. Friday morning I drove to King’s Beach for a 30 minute swim to test the wetsuit and goggles. I knew I was in trouble when I was walking past the TYR tent on the beach and this guys says, “Hey man! You can’t swim in that surfing wetsuit. Do yourself a favor and try one of these on.” He starts pointing out all the things that are wrong with my equipment. I’m immediately out of my element. You mean there are swimming wetsuits? One of the things about triathlon is how easy it is to become consumed in the triathlon world. Before you know it, the unimportant becomes very important even though it’s not that important at all.

Friday's morning swim in Lake Tahoe

Friday’s morning swim in Lake Tahoe

After 5 minutes, I thank him for his wisdom and ask if the white buoys running out from the beach mark the swim course.

“White buoys?” he asks.

“Yea, the white buoys out there.” I say, squinting and pointing.

“White buoys… You mean those seagulls?” he asks.

I really can’t believe there are seagulls evenly spaced about 100 yards lined up in the water, but it’s an argument I cannot win. I check his table, find a new pair of goggles and quickly get on my way. Still worked up about why I should spend $1000 on a wetsuit, my heart rate immediately spikes as I start to swim. “Don’t panic” I remind myself and settle into a comfortable swim/float. within a few seconds I’m abrutly overtaken by a couple other racers and they literally are going twice as fast and carrying-on a conversation while swimming. Oh how I cannot stand the swim!

Friday was a beautiful day.

Then we woke up Saturday for the kids race. Dylan was full of nerves and didn’t want to do it. But he overcame his butterflies and we ran the course together. We were about halfway through the race, just after we passed Sharon McNary, and Dylan turns and looks up at me. His cheeks burning red. He says, “Oh, it’s starting to get hard now!” I think that is one of the moments that will stick with me. And I love it.

Dylan starting to feel the burn

Dylan starting to feel the burn

But a few minutes later, he could hear the finish line and the music and he took off. He pumped his arms high in the air when he crossed the finish line and was so proud to claim his finisher’s medal.

A sprint finish

A sprint finish

Not too soon afterwards the winds started to howl, the rain began falling and the temperature started dropping. By late afternoon, about 12 hours prior to the start, it was snowing. I didn’t quite know what to think. But for me, I’d rather deal with the cold than the heat.

A Few Inches Of Snow 12 Hours Before The Start

A Few Inches Of Snow 12 Hours Before The Start

Thankfully, when we woke up on Sunday morning, the skies and roads were clear. The start couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting with the lake surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Of the events, it’s obvious the swim is my weakest and least favorite. But as luck would have it, the day before the race I decided to rent a full length wetsuit instead of risk turning into an ice block standing in the sand at the start. I drag myself through the water. Others have a nice effortless stroke. I paddle. My lower half constantly sinks to the bottom. And I zigzag. For the life of me, I cannot maintain a straight line. I zigzagged so much along the 2.4 mile swim course, my Garmin reported I swam 4.2 miles of the 2.4 mile course. I know the Garmin is not as accurate in the water but 4.2 miles is not even close. The wetsuit seemed to help and propelled me to a swim time of 1:15. Believe it or not, I managed to survive the swim.

Some of the swim leaders

Some of the swim leaders

I stumbled out of the water onto the shore. I caught a glimpse of Nicole and Dylan on the shore as I headed in to T1. There is no other way to explain T1 other than complete chaos and pandemonium. Hundreds of athletes were attempting to squeeze into a tent intended for about 50 people. I tried to wiggle my way in but realized it was impossible. I found an empty spot on top of a pile of bags. With bare butts to my left and right, I just wanted to get out as soon as possible. I had one sock and one glove and a shirt sitting in a puddle. I pulled up my shorts, grabbed the rest of my gear and bag and did the rest of my changing outside. It took me 15 minutes to get out of T1. I think that was better than the average. I jumped on my bike, seat still covered in the morning ice and headed out. Heated seats on bikes? There might be a market…

Enough cannot be said about the views while cycling along Lake Tahoe in the morning with the sun coming up. Cold? Yes. But beautiful. My brand new Profile Aero HC system came flying off after about 5 miles during a little bumpy section. I handed the pieces to a volunteer and moved on with one water bottle. I saw Dave Campbell riding between Tahoe City and Squaw and gave him a “Looking good Dave!”

Martis Climb

Martis Climb

I tried to take it easy on the first lap and maintain a reasonable effort. Nicole, Dylan and Troy greeted me in the middle of the Martis climb. I hadn’t ridden that section of the course and was surprised how scenic that area is. Near the end of the first lap, I glanced down at my watch for the first time and saw my lap was over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Ouch!

Moving Through Truckee

Moving Through Truckee

The two laps went by relatively fast and without any issues. A couple stops here and there to fill up and then empty. By the second round of climbing, my legs had just about enough. I could tell the run was going to be a kicker and the climbing was taking a toll on my knees. Kevin Buchholz surprised me at the top of Brockway. Before I knew it, the last of the major climbs was over. I couldn’t have been happier riding into Squaw, mentally preparing for the marathon and giving hugs and kisses to Nicole and Dylan at T2. Time on the bike: 6:06.

Grinding. Slowly chipping away, one mile at a time. That sums up my run. I felt I was barely moving along the Truckee River, but somehow I continued to overtake one runner after another. Just after mile 8, I spotted Lee coming the other way which meant he had about a 2 mile lead. A man on a mission. His eyes were focused straight ahead and full of determination. We exchanged our “Keep it going!” and he was gone. A few minutes later, Deirdre Greenholz gave me a big boost of energy at the turnaround point. And then on the return to Squaw I spotted Robin and Dave. How fun to see so many friends on the course, whether competing, cheering or volunteering.

Heading out for the marathon

Heading out for the marathon

Around mile 14 was the lowest point of the run for me. This happened to be the point when the song Royals by Lorde became stuck in my head. I stopped at an aid station, bent over for a minute and recovered with some chicken broth and pretzels. The chicken broth immediately raised my energy.

Soon I saw Bob giving me the finger (a big giant foam finger) as I headed back to Squaw. You know the pain of the final 6 miles of the marathon. Everything hurts. But the pain is par for the course. And pretty soon it’s only a mile to go. Then I see Jody Stange right before the finish area and a couple minutes it’s over. 11 hours and 22 minutes total and a 3:42 marathon. I’m satisfied. I finally have a few minutes to connect with Nicole and Dylan and my body goes into shutdown mode.

Spent

Spent

I’ve always thought Lake Tahoe would be an ideal venue for this type of event and it did not disappoint. I’m grateful for all the help along the way. The past 7 weeks, Nicole and Dylan have been very flexible and supportive of evening and weekend training sessions. I’m guilty for taking time away from other things to follow this Ironman path. Enough cannot be said about the incredible volunteers from start to finish (like Sharon). I’ve never experienced such a supportive event.

Compared to some ultras, this seemed like a cakewalk. It wasn’t like you had to run to the next aid station that was 10 miles over some 9,000′ mountain peak. Literally, you just had to run 1 mile at a time. Breaking it down into 1 mile increments made it so much more manageable. Hard? Yes. But nobody should have been expecting it to be easy. An Ironman in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is going to be challenging.

Congrats to friends Lee McKinley (qualified for Kona), Sara McKinley, Robin Soares, Dave Campbell, Karyn Hoffman and Layne Scoggins for having great races and making it to the end of their paths too.

The Accidental Ironman

2 x 10 Workout At Donner Lake

2 x 10 Workout At Donner Lake

When Ironman Lake Tahoe was announced last year, I immediately passed. I knew that committing to the Ironman distance would likely put life completely out of balance. Too much training. Too much stressing over when and where I would finish. Then a couple hours later, I began to imagine being out there on the course and being in the race instead of just watching the race. It took about 1 hour after completing the online registration page to enventually hit the “Register” button, but I finally committed to another Ironman distance race. Registering proved to be a bittersweet moment.

Fast forward nearly 10 months later, and the competitive fire I thought would be burning by now has yet to be ignited. When I look inside myself, there’s nothing about the race that excites me. I’m having a hard time justifying spending hour upon hour training and taking my weekends away from time with Nicole and Dylan. Work already consumes about 50 hours a week. I try to get out for about 40-60 minutes of running 6 days a week. This gives me time to decompress from work and once or twice a week Dylan will join me on his bike (he’s great for about 5 miles at a 7:30 pace). And more than once as I’ve been lacing up the shoes for a brisk paced run, he’s asked to join me. And anytime he asks to go I always will choose a slower workout together over a workout alone. Any time a child is asking to become involved, it’s an opportunity to engage that child in the activity instead of leaving them on the sidelines. I have some great memories of us strolling down some dirt trail.

So two months before race day, I realized I needed to do some sort of focused training. My running endurance needs to increase to the marathon level and I need to spend time on the bike. I used to be able to ride about 50 minutes once or twice a week during lunch. This year I’ve been luckily to ride once a week on Fridays. My training for the Devil Mountain Double was one 80 mile ride and a couple of 50 mile rides. I try to avoid talking about how many miles I can train as it is somewhat similar to discussing money and how much one banks. “Hey everybody, I just deposited my paycheck this week and it was …” For the most part, it does not interest me, except I realize there’s a minimum amount needed for completing Ironman and not imploding. Without going crazy, my plan is to increase the training to:

July

  • Running 50 miles a week with working up to 18 mile long runs
  • Biking up to 100 miles a week with 2-3 rides a week, with working up to 50 mile long rides

August

  • Running 60 miles a week with working up to marathon distance
  • Biking up to 150 miles a week with working up to 80 mile long rides

Honestly, this is the best case scenario. Most days, by the time I am done with work I am more in survival mode than training mode. I have no real expectations on finish times. I simply want to have a good experience and work through the challenges of the day. I love the venue of Ironman Lake Tahoe and am sure there will be some competive juices bubbling up during the race.

July is coming together close to the plan. Last weekend, I was able to get my longest run of the year while pacing Bob Shebest to his Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Run victory. Bob had run the race twice before and his third attempt was masterful.

Running that trail also provides some special memories. Views are spectacular. The section along the Snow Valley ridge at 9,000 feet under the stars is a favorite. And Bob didn’t fail to deliver an epic performance. He finished about 2 hours ahead of 2nd place and never let up one bit the last 80 miles.

Bob is also a student of the sport and loves to share his experience and what helps him succeed. If you want to know the secret to winning the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile race, check out his blog:http://smoothflow.org/2013/07/25/2013-tahoe-rim-trail-100/

Before I know it, this too shall pass.

Red Flag, Jets and Jail

B2 Coming In For A Landing

B2 Coming In For A Landing 

We made our 2nd annual trip to Las Vegas where Nicole attended the International Wedding & Portrait Photography Conference. I’m not a big fan of Vegas and wanted to avoid wandering up and down the strip for the six days we’d be there. A week before the trip, Dylan broke his right wrist skiing so our physical activities were somewhat limited (no mountain biking in the desert or tennis with Andre Agassi). A couple of nights before we left, I googled local activities and news stories and came across an article warning local residents about increased noise levels due to activity at Nellis Air Force Base, a large base on the north side of Las Vegas. A little reading revealed that “Red Flag” was just beginning at Nellis and we would be there right in the middle of it. “Red Flag” is a massive air combat exercise with all types of helicopters, jets and other planes that lasts about 2 weeks. Think of something like Top Gun school with not only United States military aircraft but also aircraft from other allied countries. It’s not a public airshow that provides grandstands for seating. There’s no ticket to purchase. You just need to find a good spot close to the base to park the car and catch of glimpse of the takeoffs and landings.

The Nellis website warned increased flights between noon and 5 PM. So on Sunday, Dylan and I drove out to watch the activity. I’d read that the best place to watch was across the street from the base at one of the entrances to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Big mistake! My googling failed to warn me of the NASCAR race also taking place on Sunday. About 5 miles from the base, we were stuck in traffic that was not moving. I soon realized we were part of a massive stream of cars heading towards the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and its 130,000+ seats. Red Flag was under the radar but NASCAR on Sunday appears to be popular. It was clear we were not going to be able to use the Vegas Speedway as a viewing area or even park anywhere close. So we turned around with plans to return on Monday.

Our morning routine was dropping Nicole off at the MGM and then heading over to Einstein Bros. for some bagels and coffee. Usually, the morning commercial air traffic brought the jets right over our heads as they landed at the Las Vegas airport directly across the street from our breakfast. It was during these morning breakfasts that Dylan decided he wants to be a pilot.

Breakfast Under The Jets

Breakfast Under The Jets

Luckily on Monday there was no traffic and we pulled into the empty Vegas Speedway parking lot at 11:45 AM. There was one other guy sitting in a parked car but that was it. So we sat and waited. And waited. About 45 minutes later, two F-35 jets came flying in but at the complete opposite end of the base. We were sitting at the wrong end of the runway! We jumped in the car and raced about 5 miles to the other side of the base in hopes of seeing other jets landing. That proved to be the wrong decision. It took us 20 minutes to navigate to the other end of the base. And as soon as we arrived we heard the unmistakable roar of fighter jets at the other end, the end we just left. We made another U-turn and decided to head back to the Vegas Speedway end and stay put. At around 1:30 PM, we started seeing Blackhawk helicopters flying overhead.

Black Hawk Helicopter

Blackhawk Helicopter

Then the Thunderbirds did a fly-by and some of the bigger support aircraft started to take off. Since it takes the larger planes longer to fly to the warzone, the support aircraft leave first. We also saw fueling tankers so the fighter jets could refuel in the air over the desert without having to return to base.

Command Control

Command Control

Around this time, a couple of vans pulled off the road next to us and about 2 dozen photographers unloaded. We started chatting and learned they were a group from Europe that had come all the way to Las Vegas this week to watch and photograph the aircraft. Around 2 PM, the fighter jets and B2 bombers started taking off. Each B2, which looked like a UFO when their landing gear was up, is estimated to cost about 1 billion dollars. The roar of the engines was loud even from where we stood. Probably around 30 jets blasted off including what looked like some Raptors. We had a great time enjoying the sites and sounds.

Doubtful This Jet Would Pass California Emissions

Doubtful This Jet Would Pass California Emissions

Around 2:30 we had seen and heard enough and were getting hungry so we gave a thunderous round of applause and headed back toward The Strip. It appeared most of the activity took place between 1:30 PM and 2:30 PM so keep that in mind if you want to watch the aircraft.

Later that night, we saw Recycled Percussion, a group of drummers that can play a beat on almost anything (ladders, paint cans, their own bodies and even upside down drums hanging from the ceiling). The worst part of the evening was the 20 minutes leading up to the show. As we entered the auditorium, every member of the audience was handed a pot or pan and a drumstick to use during the performance. You can imagine the noise a couple hundred people (adults and kids) can generate banging on pots and pans waiting for a show to start. A minute before the show started, one of the ushers asked if Dylan and I wanted to move from the rear to the front. Sure! And so she moved us to the very first two seats at the center of the stage. It was a fun show and we got a kick out of the “Random Cookie Break” when right during the middle of an act, “Random Cookie Break!” flashed on the screen and all the band members stopped playing and immediately started passing out freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to the entire audience.

Recycled Percussion Redefines Convertible

Recycled Percussion Redefines Convertible

Near the end of the show one of the drummers asked Dylan to go up on stage for one of the acts. With the spotlight on him, Dylan froze and wouldn’t stop shaking his head, a clear indication he had no interest to be on stage. Eventually when they realized even bribes were not going to do the trick, they said Dad would need to take his place. I didn’t get to play any drums but did win us a bag of M&M’s.

Tuesday, I had planned to drive to Indian Wells to watch some of the pro tennis matches with Dylan, but another 9 hours in the car didn’t sound too appealing so we opted for a UNLV basketball game. Our tickets got us into 2 afternoon games: Air Force vs. UNLV and then New Mexico vs. Colorado State. By the end of the first game (a blowout by UNLV), all that was on Dylan’s mind was the swimming pool back at the Excalibur. Unfortunately, we skipped watching my alma mater: Colorado State.

Air Force vs. UNLV

Air Force vs. UNLV

On Wednesday we wandered the shopping areas then all of us (Nicole too), went to see Penn and Teller. We enjoyed the show but thought they would reveal how each magic trick was performed. They only explained one trick yet kept reiterating there is nothing magical about magic. Much of it was part comedy and part magic. During the “Cut the Woman in Half” trick, we kept reassuring our wide-eyed 5 year old that it was not real.

After returning home from Vegas, it was only a few days before I left again for New York. I had a work trip to visit a new customer and that took me to the jail on Rikers Island. I only had to spend a few days in New York and it proved my most interesting business trip yet. Two days were spent on Rikers Island. Cell phones are not allowed so I don’t have any pictures to share. However, even without a camera, the images will be hard to forget. Passing through multiple security checkpoints. Walking the corridors between the blue painted lines on the floor while the inmates stood against the wall. Observing how the pharmacy dispenses and inmates receive their medications. Hearing the shouting matching between inmates and officers. And taking a look at the “Wall of Shame” that displays recently confiscated weapons found in the jail. The trip could not have been less interesting. Even the hotel room (of a certain size when the room door bangs into the bed when you open it) across the street from the Queensboro Plaza subway station was something to remember. The trip was one of those that cannot be replaced by WebEx and conference calls. Their needs are not all that much different than a normal behavioral health institution but the terminology and workflow is different enough that you have to see it to fully understand it. Just when work appears to be getting a little mundane, things get real interesting.

Lance Armstrong And How To Measure A Man

“The true measure of a man is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught.” – Lord Kelvin

Yes, I watched most of the Oprah and Lance Armstrong interview and here are my thoughts. A few years ago, I had already realized he was not the man most of us thought he was. From the gaps in the book “Lance Armstrong’s War” and then after reading “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports”, it became clear as to how far some of our heroes go to reach and stay at the top. I was a big Lance fan. Like so many others, it was inspiring to watch him attack in the Tour de France mountain stages. He was a machine. But when I started reading the stories of how he treated other people, people like Greg LeMond, Tyler Hamilton, Frank and Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Floyd Landis and anyone who dared to try and stand up to Lance and tell the truth, it became evident he was not a man of character and honor. Sure he was a fierce competitor, but there’s more to life than competing and winning.

What has been interesting the past few months is how we have reacted to the revelations. This has unfolded like a Greek tragedy. A champion born from nowhere. Almost killed but returns from the grave. Then dumps his wife and kids to chase movie and rock stars. He ascends the mountain again. Regains the throne and is crowned the champion. He is loved by the people and becomes a symbol of hope. An icon with hard work and determination as pillars of his success. But all the while he is hiding a secret that the success is built on cheating.

There is the camp that thinks everybody cheated and he is no worse than all the other riders. In fact, some say, he still beat them so he is the greatest cyclist. Yes, let’s still idolize him and admire his accomplishments of being the best cheater and liar among a race full of crooks. No, I don’t buy it. We were sold a bag of empty goods and some of you seem to be OK with it. There’s the argument he’s done so much good with LiveStrong. But in the end, gifts and money should not overcome our bad deeds. That is blood money. I hear that we need to focus on the good things he has done, like LiveStrong. But maybe he’s caused so much harm and vindictively ruined so many lives that in this case the bad overshadows the good. Sure, we are all flawed and none of us are perfect. But being flawed does not equal destroying lives, people’s careers and dreams.

There’s no honor in what Lance has done or is doing. We need to put honor back into sports/life and hold honesty and character as our highest values. Throughout the interview, Lance gives the impression that even the interview is a competition that he’s trying to win. Multiple times, I had the impression Lance was referring to himself in the third person. Not taking personal responsibility but referring to some character in a story and the story just got out of control.

One of the most telling parts of the interview for me was the part when Oprah asked about suing Emma O’Reilly. I failed to see any signs of him being contrite or empathetic to his victims.

Lance: “She’s one of these people that I have to, uh, apologize to…”

Oprah: “You sued her.

Lance, with a laugh and smirk: “Uh. To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don’t even. Uh. I’m sure we did.”

My first thoughts were, “You haven’t already apologized to her? And you honestly can’t remember?” But then I wonder if this was just another lie often heard on the witness stand: “I don’t recall.”

The one point in the interview when Lance came remotely close to looking remorseful was when he reflected on being honest with his own son. Only when Lance’s son finally saw Lance for what he is, that almost brought Lance to tears. Yet, there was no sorrow or sign of empathy about destroying Emma O’Reilly’s life or Greg LeMond’s life.

What Lance could have done was start the interview with a short message, “First Oprah, let me start by publicly saying sorry to some of the people I have hurt. I have here a list of people who have been telling the truth but I’ve been saying they’ve been lying. First I want to apologize to…”

For those who still hold Lance in high regard and consider him a great athlete, I think you have misplaced your values. This is not a person who has a place in sport or in the history books. Those we admire should be people we would aspire to become or want our friends and kids to be like. I’d rather I finished last than cheat and finish first. Even if everyone else cheated. Let’s not justify cheating and destroying other people’s lives. Two wrongs do not make a right. If we continue to applaud cheated wins, we are saying the ends justify the means. The message we seem to be giving, which seems to be the message in most sports these days, is that the cheaters are better off. The upside is you’ll have better results, more fame and probably more money than if you didn’t cheat. The downside is you may have to pay a small price. So cheat. In the end, you’ll likely come out ahead. Eventually, the fans will forgive and forget. But placement in competition should not be our most prized measurement. Honor, honesty and integrity should be our highest values. Lance continues to show he is not a man of his word. If he was sorry for what he has done, beyond the lies, then we could forgive him. But to have his back against a wall and then have such a matter-of-fact attitude like “sure I’m sorry” and “I wish I hadn’t come back” (meaning I wish I hadn’t gotten caught) and “I am flawed”. Lance we are all flawed. That’s not an apology.

Do not be blinded by the results of a crook. The results, the legacy, the image are built on lies and do not stand up.