Sixteen Years In The Making

Today was one of those days and I’m sure you’ve had this kind of day. But rather than bore you with the details of how tired I was and how I was looking for a fight with the boss, I’m going to get right into the day’s highlight.

Podcast of Inspiration

On the way home from work, I listened to a recent interview from Bob Babbitt’s giant selection of awesome podcasts. In this particular episode, he interviews a triathlete named Kelsey Withrow. For details I encourage you grab a cup of coffee or a cold beer (depending on time of day) and listen to it yourself. In this post, I want to share with you a wee bit of the content and what I took away from that conversation.

Kelsey set her sights on the olympics, but didn’t quite make it even though she swam and ran well in her youth. For 16 years she raced as a professional athlete and those 16 years were neither easy nor kind. There were bad coaches, bad accidents, heart surgery, heat stroke, a lot of pain, a lot of injury, a losing fight with a motor vehicle, friends and family telling her to quit and a long string of losing races. Those losing races weren’t like 5th place losing. They were like last place losing.

Most people I know would have given up long before year 16, but not Miss Kelsey. She persevered. Today she is a 70.3 champion and qualified, as a professional, for the 2019 IRONMAN World Championship. All indications would suggest she’s going to maintain or improve on that record.

SIX. TEEN. YEARS!

After such a crappy day, hearing that story turned me around pi radians (180 degrees). Here was one athlete who struggled for 16 years to attain the highest levels of her sport while being knocked down by very serious challenges. Yet she stayed true to her vision.

I have one bad day at work and I’m ready to quit. You really have to love something to stay with it for so long through so much suffering. I”m sure Kelsey had her dark days too: she said as much.

Her story impacted me so much because it reminded me that even the best athletes have to work very hard to attain athletic greatness. Championship medals are not handed out to just anyone.

No Complaining

Her story was a reminder that all my little challenges and setbacks are nothing. I have nothing to complain about. When my friends and I raced at the Chicago Triathlon, our bikes were racked near the challenged athlete’s rack. In between races, Steve, who had been nursing a cold, looked at the special equipment near us, then quietly said, “I have no excuse.”

I love stories of overcoming hardships like that of Roderick Sewell who was the first double above the knee amputee to finish Kona. However, I identified with Kelsey’s story more than those of challenged athletes, because she is an ordinary person like you and me. If she can suffer through 16 years to become a champion then I can set my goals high and dream big too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m realistic, but I know with the right focus and training, I’ll attain my equivalent of athletic greatness and right now that’s a ticket to Kona.

Thank you, Kelsey. Thank you, Bob.

Until next time…

Day 89 – Los Lobos To The Rescue

This morning’s workout was a Doozy (notice the capital D). Two hours and eleven minutes on the indoor bike trainer. I’m not a Zwift or Sufferfest subscriber, so that was over two hours of riding by myself staring at the floor and at the wall and at the little paint chip on my top tube. The one saving grace was the music.

Music can be some powerful stuff. All it takes is one song to put you in the right frame of mind or ruin your whole day. Even though the playlist was done after the first hour, it ended with a song that carried me back to 2003 and made me relive one of my minor regrets in life. I’m warning you now that this story might be upsetting to some readers, especially those who can’t read.

Lori and I were traveling to Denmark for my work. We left Chicago, laid over in London and landed in Brussels where we would make our final connection. Getting off the plane near last meant walking the long hallway to port of entry behind everyone else, which meant being last in line to get our passports stamped. Of the two lines at port of entry we chose the one on the left.

The scene around us turned surreal as the line shortened. Travelers quickly passed through the port and the area became strangely quiet and lonely. I looked back down the hallway from where we came and saw four or five more travelers approaching us. These stragglers were lumbering along as they carried oversized luggage and upon reaching the port, I could see that these were no ordinary people: these were musicians.

The musicians took their place in the line on the right: right next to us. Something was oddly familiar about them. Had I been anywhere else, I might have recognized them immediately. However, standing in line to show my passport to a government agent after a day of travel, my mind was not too clear. Just as Lori and I stepped up to see our agent, I recognized them: Los Lobos.

I wanted so badly to shake their hands and thank them for the profound influence they had on my life almost 20 years earlier. Their popular song, “Will The Wolf Survive?”, kept me from losing my mind as I plowed acre after acre little more than a mile from our border with Mexico. I heard that song at least four times a day. It gave me perspective into an entire world that was right across the Colorado River, less than a mile from me. The song challenged me to reach outside my comfort zone and see the world with a more compassionate eye.

I suppose I could have told the customs agent to wait a minute while I gushed over this group of musicians that I had admired for so long. But I didn’t. I think I may have whispered something to Lori about them and then we moved on and didn’t see them again.

I regret not saying something to them. But in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, because at the moment I came back from 2003 into 2020, I had only one job: finish the day’s training. Now that I’ve finished my 131 minutes of indoor cycling and 30 minutes of outdoor running, maybe I’ll see about tickets to Los Lobos 2020 tour.

Until tomorrow…

Day 87 – Nutrition Story

I’m still not sure how I will handle the nutrition end of the impending big race which is only 88 days away. The other day, I was bitching about how difficult it is to get together a good race nutrition plan. I was so upset, I dropped my box of Krispy Kremes.

Today, I want to relate to you a nutrition story from 2013.


Stewart was not one of our usual training partners. His bad knees forced him away from triathlon, but he still rode his bike a lot. On one particular Saturday morning, early in the season, Stewart and his friend Terry were out riding with us in the far reaches of Sampson County which, by the way, is pretty far from any convenient food sources unless you like picking blueberries.

At an intersection of two lonely county roads near Ivanhoe, NC we stopped for a short break and that’s when I thought I had found the answer to all my race nutrition questions.

Everyone pulled out their nutrition of choice: gels for me, liquid stuff for Mike, and crackers or Crustables for Marty. While we were happily refueling, Mike noticed that Stewart and Terry were eating something from a piece of foil and the conversation that followed changed my whole mind about nutrition for that year.

What Stewart and Terry were eating were balls of rice mixed with various proteins like bacon or something that looked like it. We learned that these rice balls were becoming a popular way for endurance athletes to fuel and they made so much sense, because it’s real food and it tastes good and it’s cheap and it’s easy to make.

This discovery was so exciting. Mike may have actually bought a book with recipes for these rice balls. In fact, I probably borrowed it, because within two days of that ride, my refrigerator was full of rice balls. I trained with them for the rest of the season, right up to the big race, IRONMAN Lake Placid.

Because I knew I would not have a rice maker in the hotel at Lake Placid, I made a bunch of rice balls ahead of time. A cooler was used to hold the stash during travel and the plan was to transfer the rice balls from the cooler to the hotel refrigerator once we arrived.

It was near mile 50 of the bike on the big day when I realized that I hadn’t followed my plan. While pulling out a foil wrapped rice ball from my trisuit pocket, something didn’t seem right. I was hungry and couldn’t be bothered with little nagging thoughts of doubt. With smooth precision, the rice ball was skillfully unwrapped while I peddled the bike up Mama Bear hill.

Before my mouth closed around the first bite, I figured out what was wrong. I forgot to put the rice balls in the refrigerator three days earlier. The cooler had since lost its ice and I hadn’t even noticed when I put the rice balls in the transition bag that morning. As quickly as that rotten rice ball went in, it came out all over the road.

I haven’t tried the rice balls since then. Maybe it’s time I revisit them.

Until tomorrow…

Day 86 – Social Media Athletes

On this 86th day of my journey to IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, I’m thinking a bit about social media.

Have you heard of the Pathetic Triathlete’s Group on Facebook?

It’s a very large group of triathletes that post almost anything triathlon related. Some discussions get quite heated. In fact, that group, PTG for short, is notorious for banning users who are accused of abusing the “system.”

What surprises me is that triathletes are a much more social group than I would have expected. We often hear of triathlon as a selfish pursuit, however the participation on social media would suggest that many triathletes are reaching out to other like minded people.

Maybe “like minded” is not the right phrase, because of the many arguments that pop up. I suppose they are reaching out to others who have the same problems of seeking greatness through self torture. After all, if we are going to torture ourselves shouldn’t we check with others to make sure we are doing it correctly?

If you’ve seen any of my blog posts from the past few days, you will notice some pictures that include my friends. That’s one of the greatest things about triathlon for me: the relationships formed. However, our lives are rarely linear and rarely parallel. I don’t do much training these days with my friends. But I can always rely on social media for that human to human contact, right? For me, social media is a curiosity. Yesterday I told Mary (part of my coaching staff) that I fear technology. I was joking, but it’s sort of true. Something happened today that made me feel a lot better about social media.

After listening to my favorite podcast on the planet (I’m not saying which planet), I shared the podcast link and thanked Bob Babbitt for bringing that interview to my ears. You really should listen to it. Here’s a link.

What gave me faith in social media is that he thanked me back. Or to put it more precisely, someone with his Twitter handle thanked me back. He didn’t just click a “like” or heart button. He actually thanked me by name. It’s not that big of a deal, but after the solitude of a 60 minute treadmill workout this morning, it’s kind of nice to make a connection with another endurance athlete from 2500 miles away.

I’m not saying he and I are besties. You’re not likely to find me drinking a beer on his porch, but sometimes it’s just nice to be noticed.

Until tomorrow…

Day 85 – Nutrition For The Southern Triathlete

Call an electrician… because I’m in shock! Sticker shock.

Training for triathlon is a complex endeavor. Trying to fit all the workouts into an age grouper’s schedule is difficult enough without having to consider daily nutrition, training nutrition and race nutrition. That’s my weakness: nutrition. My bike and run really suck, but the real weakness is nutrition. At least I’m good at swimming.

First of all, I live in the South: yes North Carolina is in the South. Southern cooking is notoriously famous for too much sugar and too much fat and not enough of that healthy stuff. Fiber. I think that what it’s called.

I’m having a coronary!

This is the region of the United States that produced celebrity chef, Paula Deen who introduced to the world a new kind of breakfast sandwich I call the coronary (because I don’t know what Paula calls it). The coronary consists of a beef patty, a fried egg and a two strips of bacon sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

I don’t see anything wrong with a little fat and sugar now and then but, COME ON! Really? I’m surrounded by people who consider fried Oreos a delicacy. Even the collard greens are swimming in grease.

Here’s the problem: all of it tastes soooooo good. When you walk down the street and you see crappy food that you know tastes bad you shrug your shoulders and move on. But when you know the crappy food tastes great, you can’t help but be drawn to it like Dean Martin to a martini.

After living here for 13 years, I find myself tolerating more fat and sugar in my diet than is healthy. That’s a problem for my athletic aspirations and so far I’m just talking about daily nutrition. Preworkout food, postworkout food and race nutrition are a nightmare. I can get the Krispy Kreme doughnut into the water bottle, but how do I get it out?

Lately I’ve been searching for a nutrition consultant. I need someone who can help with all three aspects of my nutrition: daily, training and race. It’s tough to find someone who truly knows how to help with dietary suggestions and how to test different race nutrition strategies.

We are all different in how we handle nutrition. Some of my friends eat candy during a race. Some use expensive custom liquids for both energy and hydration. During an IRONMAN race, I rode past an acquaintance who was eating a ham sandwich. Not long after he finished the sandwich, he flew by me and disappeared into the distance. Maybe I should have had a ham sandwich. After 13 years, I still haven’t found the right nutritional strategy. This year will be different, however. I’m going to get help.

As I get closer to my first A race of the season, I need to seriously consider my nutrition strategy, but I’m not sure what to do just yet. I’m still in shock after finding out that Peaks Coaching offers personalized nutrition consulting at their platinum level for a mere $499 USD per month. For that amount, do you think Hunter Allen will personally deliver my fried chicken to me?

Until tomorrow…

Day 84 – Spectacular Sunrise

It’s been 84 days since beginning training for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, the first A race in my 2020 season.

It’s also day 10, the final day of #triathlonchallenge which was handed to me by my coach, Sami Winter. Here’s my final photo for the challenge and it’s one of my favorites from 2019.

Spectacular sunrise over T1. IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina, 2019

All the nervous energy and excitement of race start is over a mile away while two thousand bikes quietly wait in the chill of the October morning.

Day 83 – Long Line

#triathlonchallenge

Look at the number of outhouses and look at how long the line is. If you’re a nervous type of person you may have to use the port-a-john twice before the race which means you might as well get back in line immediately after finishing the first go around.

I pee in the lake.

This photo was taken at the Triangle Sprint near Apex, NC.

Day 80 – Good Friends

By the fall of 2008 I had been racing for almost two years, so when my friends signed up for IRONMAN Arizona, I went along with it. After all, I consider Arizona my home state so it seemed fitting for my first iron distance race.

I’m not sure who took this photo. It may have been Perry, our swim coach. That’s a fun story in itself.

Around January, Marty asked if I wanted to join a small group to share the cost of semi-private swim coaching. I felt honored to be asked, so I jumped at the chance. There were five of us: myself, John, Marty, Mike and Bob. Bob was the only one not training for IMAZ, but he was close to all of us so we were glad to have him.

The coach we hired was Perry who was, and still is, one of the area’s best coaches. For the eight or nine months that followed, Perry gave us two workouts per week and met with us once a month for face to face coaching. She analyzed our strokes. She took videos of our form. She had us practice visualization. She filled our heads with good swim stuff. She even had us swim with rubber bands.

The rubber band is a simple concept. One end is affixed to something solid like a diving block at the end of the pool. The other end is attached to a belt that is strapped around the swimmer’s waist. The swimmer’s job is to swim as hard as he or she can against the pull of the rubber band to the opposite end of the pool.

My memory is a bit foggy so I may get some facts confused. I definitely don’t remember swimming against the rubber band on that day, but I do remember that it broke. John’s poor leg got the worst end of that band as it shot back toward our end of the pool. Come to think of it, maybe Bob was the one swimming against the band. He’s by far the strongest swimmer of us all.

There are a lot of good memories in my IRONMAN Arizona 2009 file.

Until tomorrow…