Category Archives: Commentary

Triathlon Tips: Be Inspired

Triathlon Inspiration

Sunrise over White Lake
Sunrise at White Lake, NC.

Have you ever watched a video or read an article and thought, “That’s what I want to do”?

Often, a triathlon journey starts out as a spark in the “I’ve-Got-To-Do-That” section of the brain.  By the way,  that section is very close to the “Watch-This!” cortex which in some people is an entire hemisphere.   After a while, the journey gets routine for some people and the “Let’s-Do-Something-Else” reflex kicks in.

What keeps many of us going down a certain path?  Why do some triathletes stay passionate about their sport for decades and others lose interest after several years?

The “Journey”

Usually, the word, journey, implies going somewhere:  a destination awaits.   If that is true, then what is the destination in a triathlon journey, or any metaphorical journey for that matter?

I can only share with you my personal experiences and philosophies on this subject.  I have no database from which to pull enlightenment.

I get great satisfaction from finishing a triathlon. The finish line feeling is amazing.   But the finish line is not really a FINISH line in the sense of a destination.  It is only a step toward a greater objective: to live life to the fullest.   In an earlier blog post I wrote about what it feels like to be an IRONMAN. It applies to any race.  Here are the main points.

  • It’s the nervousness of waiting for the swim start, then getting pummeled by hundreds of swimmers and trying to fend off nausea caused by drinking too much salt water.
  • It’s the relief of climbing out of the water to be greeted by friendly volunteers  and the adrenaline rush of racing a quarter of a mile to my bike.
  • It’s the fear of riding the bike over a metal drawbridge and the excitement of having done it without incident.
  • It’s the arrogance of yelling at the head wind to “BRING IT ON”
  • It’s the excitement of seeing that special person on the sidelines at mile 38.
  • It’s the horror of seeing an ambulance on the bike course and a fellow athlete who is face down on the pavement.
  • It’s the sadness of thinking how hard that athlete worked to get to this race to have it end so horribly.
  • It’s cheering with the spectators at the entrance to T2.
  • It’s the pain of the muscle cramps that won’t allow the legs to function and the blisters: those nasty blisters.
  • It’s the warmth and friendliness of the volunteers.
  • It’s the companionship of hundreds of others who are suffering too.
  • It’s that feeling of renewed energy at the head of the finish chute.
  • It’s the satisfaction of crossing the finish line with a good friend.
  • It’s an overwhelming emotional catharsis as the events of the day are retold among friends and family.
Guillermo runs with LG on Front St. during IMNC

But this is just my perspective of the journey.

Inspiration From Others

I live by Scott Tinley’s quote,

“… race long enough and sooner or later you’ll suck…”

I’m fine with that.  Self deprecating humor can actually be quite therapeutic.  But I do find inspiration in others like Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Melissa Stockwell.  Some may call them challenged athletes, but I don’t think that term fits.  We are all challenged athletes.  We all have burdens to overcome.

Garcia-Tolson is a double amputee above the knee.  I’ve been following him since 2009 when he and I participated in Ironman Arizona.  I’ve never met him and he has no idea who I am, but he pushes me to be a better athlete: a better person.   His story is inspirational as he tells Bob Babbitt (who, by the way, has an awesome series of video interviews with endurance athletes).

It’s not just the “challenged” athletes that inspire.    The next time you toe the starting line, look around you.  Each person has a story worthy of telling.  Everyone there has made sacrifices, overcome obstacles, lost motivation, struggled with self doubt.

TriRiot is my attempt at telling the age grouper story.  I hope you find as much inspiration as I do in all of the “ordinary” people who push themselves to extraordinary limits.

Finish line at PPD B2B
PPD Beach2Battleship finish line.

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The Race That Wasn’t

Less Than A Year

It wasn’t even a full year ago that Ironman announced its purchase of the independent race, Beach2Battleship.   And now, after one go at it, the race has been discontinued.   I will miss it.  Mostly I’ll miss the 112 mile single loop bike ride.

However, I don’t feel the anger that many have expressed on Facebook and I don’t view WTC, the IRONMAN company, as an evil monster.  WTC and its founders were instrumental in developing our sport and building it to what it is today.   It grew from a $3 million dollar investment to a $650 million dollar business deal last year when it was purchased by the Chinese conglomerate, Dalian Wanda Group.  So today, it is faceless and an easy target for animus.  But they’re not to blame.

So Who’s To Blame?

No one.

Who’s to blame for evolution? Who’s to blame for the color blue? Who’s to blame for puppies and kittens?  Those questions hardly make sense, right?  That’s because no one is to “blame” for the loss of our race.   We are all in this together.

  • For the same reason that athletes complain about the IRONMAN race price tag, WTC seeks to make a profit.
  • Because athletes choose IRONMAN races over independent races, WTC acquires independent races.
  • When athletes want a race experience, WTC focuses on delivering a race experience.

WTC is a business and can only exist if it has customers.  It has many.

The solution is simple, but not easy.  Competition will drive WTC to either change or wither.  I don’t want to see it wither, but change may be a good thing.  If you doubt that, look at Microsoft.  They are a completely different company since the competition arrived (Linux, Google, opensource, etc).  And WTC is a teeny tiny fraction of what Microsoft is/was.

Race companies have to find new, innovative ways to deliver the race experience.  That’s really what it’s all about: an experience.   Otherwise, we can just swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles and run 26.2 miles on any day of our choosing in any location of our choosing.

The Race That Wasn’t

Ironman North Carolina did happen on October 22, 2016.  However, the bike course was shortened from 112 to 56 miles due to the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.  The race was an “IRONMAN”, but it was not 140.6 miles.  I’m fine with that.  In fact, the race was a wonderful experience for me.  I loved having it in my part of the world.

I wanted so badly to show off to the IRONMAN world how great our bike course is, but didn’t get the chance.  Now that the race has been discontinued, I will have to be satisfied riding the course for training and taking video selfies with the chicken at mile 67.

I’ll mourn the loss for another day and then be back on the computer to build my 2017 race schedule.

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What Does It Feel Like To Be An IRONMAN?

Looking Back at Joyful Pain

As I write this, it has been 27 hours since I crossed the finish line at Ironman North Carolina.   Although my mind is ready to move on to the next big thing, my body is reliving the pain of the race.

That’s what it feels like to be an Ironman.

  • It’s the nervousness of waiting for the swim start, then getting pummeled by hundreds of swimmers and trying to fend off nausea caused by drinking too much salt water.
  • It’s the relief of climbing out of the water to be greeted by friendly volunteers  and the adrenaline rush of racing a quarter of a mile to my bike.
  • It’s the fear of riding the bike over a metal drawbridge and the excitement of having done it without incident.
  • It’s the arrogance of yelling at the head wind to “BRING IT ON”
  • It’s the excitement of seeing that special person on the sidelines at mile 38.
  • It’s the horror of seeing an ambulance on the bike course and a fellow athlete who is face down on the pavement.
  • It’s the sadness of thinking how hard that athlete worked to get to this race to have it end so horribly.
  • It’s cheering with the spectators at the entrance to T2.
  • It’s the pain of the muscle cramps that won’t allow the legs to function and the blisters: those nasty blisters.
  • It’s the warmth and friendliness of the volunteers.
  • It’s the companionship of hundreds of others who are suffering too.
  • It’s that feeling of renewed energy at the head of the finish chute.
  • It’s the satisfaction of crossing the finish line with a good friend.
  • It’s an overwhelming emotional catharsis as the events of the day are retold among friends and family.

That is what it feels like to be an Ironman.

Ironman NC - It feels good to see friends along the way
Guillermo runs with LG on Front St. during IMNC
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What Makes an Ironman Part II

The world looks a bit different now.

I Feel Better About This

In my last post, I talked about IRONMAN North Carolina and the altered bike course.   All us athletes were expecting to compete on a 112 mile bike course.  Because of Hurricane Matthew, the bike course had to be reduced to 49 miles.  Actually, the race company was able to find another six miles to add to the course.  Based on my estimates, I think the total may be close to the 56 miles they claim.

Social networks lit up with many comments starting or ending with the phrase, ” … it’s not an Ironman… ”

In that post, I was not very happy, but kept an open mind as to the value of the race experience.  I feel much better today after picking up my packet and racking my bike.

The start of another great race
The start of another great race

Consider All The Parts

The lesson here is that a 112 mile bike during the race is only a part of the whole experience.  There are so many other parts to consider:

  1. The swim
  2. The run
  3. The volunteers
  4. The spectators
  5. The other athletes
  6. The finish line energy
  7. The starting line nerves
  8. The warm chicken broth on a cold run
  9. The high five from the kid along the finish chute
  10. The months of preparation
  11. The hard workouts that hurt
  12. The group rides that I’ll never forget
  13. The group breakfasts after long runs
  14. The group happy hours after evening swims

If any of this matters to you, then you will probably come to the same conclusion that I did.

The Question

So is it an Ironman?  That depends on you.

Literally and technically, it is an Ironman, because it is an event produced by WTC who can put the Ironman brand on whatever they want.

But the distinction of “IRONMAN” goes only to those who complete an Ironman race.  If you prepared for it and you completed it, you are an Ironman.  Therefore, tomorrow’s race with the altered bike course will make me an Ironman.  To me, the race is the ceremony that concludes months of hard work.

To others, the altered bike course may be a complete deal breaker.  Maybe they race only for the distinction of being called an Ironman under the condition that the full 140.6 miles are recorded in a database for the world to see.  For them, I truly hope they find a resolution, even if it may not be at Ironman North Carolina this year.

To the purists, whomever they are, no one is an Ironman unless they complete Ironman Hawaii (World Championship).

Conclusion

You have to make your own conclusion.

If I cross that finish line tomorrow and feel like an Ironman, then there’s nothing you can do to convince me that I’m not.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll feel the Ironman love.  But that’s no different than any other race for me.

By The Way

At yesterday’s athlete briefing, we were told that we would receive a coupon for $150 off of one out of a selection of the 2017 Ironman races.  I probably won’t need it to be a happy customer, but I might use it.  We’ll see.

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What Makes An Ironman?

I’m numb now.  When I first heard the news, it felt like a punch to my stomach. And then I thought about what makes an Ironman.

A Race Director’s Decision

Because of Hurricane Matthew, the Ironman North Carolina (B2B) bike course was reduced from 112 miles to 49 miles.  Many of the roads on the original bike course are either still under water, damaged or needed by county vehicles for recovery efforts.    There was simply no way that the race could use those roads.

At this point, I can only speculate on why the race director made the decisions she did. And I admit it:  my speculations are biased because I know the race director and I’ve worked for her.  However, I’m also an athlete in this race, so I think I have a pretty good perspective on this.

The Facts

I don’t know exact details, but some facts are apparent

  1.  Several roads on the bike course are closed to vehicle traffic as of 10/19  (the race is on 10/22).
  2. The race requires support from participating counties in the form of law enforcement, permitting, and planning.
  3. County and state agencies have the power to grant and deny special use permits.

(A bit obvious, right?)  That’s not much information, but those are the facts that won’t be changed before the start of the race.

The Options

Given those facts, the race organizers have a few options:

  1. Cancel the race
  2. Postpone the race
  3. Modify the bike course

How the race company handles customer service is a totally different matter.  I’ll address that later.

The Decision

I don’t know why the race was neither postponed nor canceled.  I’m sure it has to do with economics and finances, as well as other factors.  However, I think I can speak to the reason the bike course is only 49 miles long.  It comes down to two words: GOVERNMENT APPROVAL.

I was not involved in any of these decision processes, but I know the bike course directors and the race director and I am 100% confident that they explored every possible detour in the area to get 112 miles.   I’m sure that even the contingency routes have been flooded and are off limits.  I have had discussions in the past with them about loop courses, contingencies, obtaining permits and rerouting bikes.  If you look at a map of the area, you will see that there are many roads that could be used.  In fact, I have ridden the vast majority of those roads on training rides.  However, what the map won’t show is just how difficult it is to obtain permission to use those roads.

Some possible reasons that permits will not be issued for the alternate plans.  Keep in mind that I don’t agree with all of them, but I think these are some of the reasons:

  1. Two way bike traffic on a two lane US highway is too dangerous.
  2. Every U-turn or left turn on a major highway causes a delay in traffic and increases the chance of an accident.
  3. Each intersection will require law enforcement to monitor and control vehicle traffic.  It’s possible that the number of law enforcement officers required on an alternate route would be cost prohibitive or too high for the counties to supply.
  4. Vehicle traffic is too high on many of the proposed alternate routes to allow a safe race.

I’m sure there are other reasons.  I do believe that if 112 miles were as important to the community as it is to us athletes, our permitting agencies would make sure that we had 112 miles to ride.

Is This An “IRONMAN” Course?

Ironman is a brand.  It is owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC).  So whatever or whomever they want to call an “Ironman” is an Ironman.

That’s not a very satisfying answer, is it?

  • I trained for a 140.6 mile multisport race.
  • I probably won’t feel like an Ironman after this race, but I won’t know until I cross that finish line.
  • I certainly can’t compare my results of this race with my previous Ironman races.
  • The results of this race will be biased toward good runners more so than other Ironman branded races.
  • Will there be a midnight finish line?

To me, Ironman embodies much more than a brand.  It means more than 140.6 miles.  My finish time hardly matters.  To me, Ironman is an experience that involves the distance, the challenge, the aid stations, the finish line, the doubt, the pain, the nerves: all of it.  I paid over $700 for that experience and I don’t know if I will get it, because the 140.6 is part of it.  But if I cross that line at the end of the new, short course and I feel like an Ironman, then I don’t care what anyone else thinks: I am an Ironman.

I don’t blame the bike course directors, because they made some very difficult decisions.  And I don’t blame WTC… yet.  It depends on how they handle the situation.

What Can WTC Do?

What WTC does about all this is the big question.  They have to be very careful because the Ironman brand must be kept in tact for WTC to be successful.

  1. They could change their minds about the race and cancel it all together.  That would be devastating for the athletes who want to continue with the race and for the community that is counting on the economic boost.  And if they do that, then what about the money we paid to participate.  I don’t think they are legally entitled to refund anything in the event of a natural disaster but they should offer something as compensation.
  2. They keep the short bike course and offer a percentage refund.
  3. What about giving athletes an option to either participate with the short bike course OR take entry in a different race in the near future?

I obviously don’t know if they will do any of that, but I do hope they seriously consider making “it right” for all of us.

Perhaps they have insurance for these kinds of things.

 

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Report Card – Nautica Malibu Triathlon

On September 18, 2016 I participated in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.  The race was relatively short with an 800 meter swim, 18 mile bike and 4 mile run.  The race company, MESP of Agoura Hills California, claimed there were over 5000 participants.  I believe it.

This is my report card.

Malibu Triathlon art.
Malibu Triathlon art.

Two Parts

I look at each triathlon in two parts: the race and the event.  The race is that part that consists of swimming, T1, biking, T2, and running.  It’s the personal goal stuff.  I’ve already written about that in a previous blog post so I don’t need to do that here.  malibu_tri__mg_3316The other part is the event.  That is the part that embodies everything associated with the race like the venue, the race staff, the marketing, etc.  This post is my brief report, mostly about the event.

 

I give the 2016 Nautica Malibu Triathlon a B grade and here’s why…

The Venue

I don’t know that the organizers could have selected a better venue in the region.  If the bike course had followed one of the canyon malibu_tri_mg_3465roads into the mountains, that may have been better, but the difficulty level would put off many people.  I like loop courses, but given the location was between mountains and ocean, a loop course would have been either too long or too difficult to manage.  Overall, I like this venue: clear ocean water, rolling hill bike and mostly flat run.

The Race Staff

malibu_tri__mg_3319The race staff that I spoke with were attentive and helpful which is very important for both first time athletes that are nervous and race veterans who might have high expectations.

The Charity

Over one million dollars was raised for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  I can’t say enough good things about that!

The Award Ceremony(ies)

img_0297
Tom Bergeron announces the celebrity winners.

The award ceremony was strange to me.  It gave me the impression that there were two classes of athletes: celebrities and everyone else. There were only two or three participants  I would call celebrities. I recognized two names: Zack Efron and Dave Zabriskie.  John Crier and David Duchovny, who have participated several times in the past, weren’t even there.  Or if they were, I neither saw nor heard about them.

Oops!  I almost forgot.  Tom Bergeron hosted the celebrity awards.

To be honest, it doesn’t even matter to me.  I just didn’t like that the whole event pandered to the “celebrities.”  I’m sure they did this because the celebrities can generate big donations.  But their pandering was at the expense of recognizing the “other” athletes.  This is one of the reasons I didn’t give the Nautica Malibu Triathlon an A.

The Promotions. There Were Promotions?

The other reason I didn’t give the race an A is that all the promotion was blatantly about the charity partner, the sponsors or the race itself.  Several months ago, I received an email from the race organizers asking for my triathlon story.  I’m sure they did this for all registered participants and I’m sure that out of 5000 or so participants, I was not the only one to respond.  This is usually done so they can highlight a few age-groupers who have overcome big obstacles to get to the starting line (weight loss, cancer, car accident, etc).  I never heard a word about any of these stories.

Another promotional piece that went into hiding was the video contest.  Registered participants were asked to submit funny, triathlon related short videos to be judged.  The winners were to have their videos shown on the big screen above the transition area.  Again, not a word was mentioned about that.  I even inquired about the contest soon after I crossed the finish line and no one knew anything about it, but I was given an email address for a follow up inquiry.  I emailed MESP, the race production company, several hours after the race and I am waiting for a response.

Overall

As I look back on the whole experience, I am so glad that I participated.  My race felt like it was one of my best yet and I was able to get out of the water without help from a lifeguard! (see my other post for an explanation).

Would I recommend this race to any of my friends?  Certainly.  But I would preface the recommendation with a warning about the celebrity culture which, in my mind, does not belong in a sport that prides itself on giving equal access to all participants.  Let me be clear:  This is Hollywood’s playground, so I can accept that.  I just don’t have to like it.

Would I do this race again?  Maybe.  I did enjoy it, but 2500 miles is a long way to travel for a race.

img_3336

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A Successful Race

A successful race

img_3346

For me, the 2016 Nautica Malibu Triathlon was a very successful race.  I had one goal for that race: finish the swim.  That sounds a bit odd coming from a seasoned age-group triathlete who is rather competitive in the swim, but this race was different for me.

Motion of the Ocean

Ever since I can remember, I have had terrible motion sickness.  Back seats of cars do it.  Airplanes do it.  Boats do it.  Turning my head too fast can do it.  I’m a basket case!

When it comes to the water, it’s not the choppiness necessarily that makes me sick.  It’s the rhythmic swells:  that side to side motion of a boat’s wake or the ocean beyond its breakers.  Usually everything starts out fine.  But after a few minutes of the motion, my head begins to throb, followed by a lot of empty stomach burping.  Then the nausea creeps in.  By that point, the head is in a full vise grip of a migraine and it’s not long until I start vomiting.

This is exactly what happened to me at the Nautica South Beach Triathlon in 2011.  By 800 meters I was chumming for big fish.  I used to worry about vomiting and swimming at the same time, because I was afraid I would drown.  I didn’t drown.  My race started on the beach and ended on a life guard’s surfboard.  It was the worst race day of my life.  After I reached the shore, there was more vomiting, disabling vertigo, severe migraines, and lots of misery.  I even had a fluid IV in the back of the ambulance.  It didn’t help too much and the world kept spinning around me.

Getting Back in the Ocean

Since that time, I’ve done one race with an ocean swim, but it was very short (350 meters).  Other than that one race, I have avoided ocean swims completely which is a fine solution except for one thing:  I have wanted to participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon for many years.  Why?  I guess because it is near my native birthplace of Pacific Palisades, California.  So I had some reasons to “do Malibu.”  2016 turned out to be my year for Malibu.

Preparation

My preparation consisted of swimming in choppy channel water and working with my swim coach, Perry Maxwell.  She and I swam beyond the breakers one time and one time only, but that was enough to give me the confidence I needed.  Her words were far more powerful for me than any style or techniques she could have demonstrated.   She taught me not to fight the environment, because, with a problem like mine, you can’t just muscle your way through it.   Instead, I had to work with the environment and ride the swells and waves to my advantage.  The solution sounded more mental than physical, so I practiced visualizations as often as I could.  I imagined every scenario I could think of and “saw” myself in the middle of them.  That’s another thing I learned from Perry.

Race Day

On race day (September 18, 2016), I was very nervous about the swim even though the water beyond the breakers was relatively calm.  I watched the athletes before me get tossed around by the breakers which really should not have concerned me because I know how to get through the breakers.  Regardless, I was worried.

So there I was: at the starting line and ready to go.  The cannon sounded and we were off; actually they were off and I was hanging back.   I jogged very slowly to the water behind the main group in order to prevent a situation that might produce a hyper competitive migraine.  It actually worked.  I stayed relaxed the whole swim without trying to “power” through any tough spots.  Getting through the breakers was no problem at all.  And once on the other side, I was surprised by the water.  It was clear and didn’t taste as bad as the water off the coast of Wrightsville Beach.  Every now and again, I started to feel a little dizzy, but that’s as far as it went.  When I felt like I might be losing my focus, I counted strokes and meditated on my swim form.

The Best Part

By far, the best part of the swim was the last 50 meters.  I could see people walking out of the water ahead of me and Perry’s voice was in my head.  She was telling me to ride in on a wave.    With each breath, I looked behind me until I saw my opportunity in a big swell that looked like it was going to break.   Because I swam with ease for the length of the course, I had plenty of strength left to race the swell and catch its wave.  I caught it at just the right point and rode it in with my arms out front.  I shot like a torpedo past many of those in front of me.

The Rest of the Race

Everything after that was great.  I had the fastest T1 and T2 in my age group.  The average speed on my bike ride was 21.1 mph and my run pace was under 8:30/mile.  But none of it mattered as much as the swim.  My age group placing is not important. Neither is my race time.  I conquered a fear and pushed myself beyond limits that had held me back.

Just Incase You’re Wondering

Swim: 800 meters

Bike: 18 miles

Run: 4 miles

Time: 1:45:43

Division Place: 8/95

Gender Place: 105/1039

Overall Place: 108/1577

 

 

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The Eight Days of Hanukkah – Day 8

The End of Another Hanukkah Celebration

Had I not been moving furniture around my house last night, I would have lit the final  nine candles indicating the beginning of the last day of Hanukkah 2015.  If you’re wondering why nine and not eight, suffice it to say that there’s an extra candle each night.   So I was busy and completely forgot to do that.  And with today’s sunset, Hanukkah has ended.

On this last day of the “Jewish Festival of Lights,” I spent the day in Chapel Hill, NC at a performance testing center.  That’s one of those places where they put you on a treadmill and make you breath into a tube which measures everything from oxygen consumption to halitosis.  Well, maybe not the latter, but definitely the former.  This was a gift to myself: to become a better triathlete.   I’ll find out the results later in the week.

Looking back, I realize that the one ingredient missing from my Hanukkah celebration this year, and most every year, is extended family.  I don’t have a big family tradition for Hanukkah, but my sister does throw a mean party on the last night, which was – wait for it – last night.  But she didn’t throw it far enough for me to catch it.  She lives 2500 miles to the West.  Enough said about that. Now on to my promise.

Why Is This Holiday Like Triathlon?

This blog is primarily about triathlon and endurance sport, so I promised that I would tie that in to my Hanukkah commentaries on day eight and here we are:  day eight.  There’s really not much in common between the two.  Maybe someone could come up with a good punch line to the question, “What do triathlon and Hanukkah have in common?”  Not much, really.  However, I do have to work on losing several pounds from eating the celebratory foods cooked in oil.

Maybe the answer is endurance:  eight days for one holiday is an endurance event in itself!

In reality, these last several blogs have just been my way of saying Happy Holidays to the world.  May you enjoy all the warm fuzzies and peace on earth that this time of year brings.

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