Thursday, June 14, 2012

HITS Marble Falls Triathlon - same but different

I participated in the HITS Marble Falls Triathlon back on April 29th. This was a half iron distance triathlon, which is the same as the Ironman Texas 70.3 Triathlon that I did back on April 1st. So, it was essentially the same basic type of race with the same distances; but in many ways it was completely different...

To start with, it was a much, much smaller race - just under 100 total people for the half iron distance (and less than 20 that did the full iron distance); compared to the nearly 2500 participants for Ironman Texas 70.3. The venue was also very different... Marble Falls is in the Texas Hill Country, with remote county chip seal roads and lots of rolling hills (including a couple of fairly big ones). TX 70.3 was at Galveston Island on the coast along the beachfront - smoother roads and flat as a pancake. Additionally, the HITS triathlon is a fairly low key event with relatively few spectators; while the IM TX 70.3 is an official WTC Ironman-branded event with all the associated hoopla and thousands of spectators. So, a very different race in those respects... but still the same 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run!

Race Summary
Here's the short version for the ADD crowd: It was a tough day with hot, humid, and windy weather; and a very hilly bike and run course. Even though I came into the race feeling just as prepared and strong (if not more so) than Galveston, I finished about 17 minutes slower. With the small number of participants, that was good for 7th place overall, and I won my age group... sorta kinda... You might want to read the part at the end about the strange/unusual way that HITS handles age groups and awards : )

Now on to the full blown race detail...

Pre-Race/Race Morning
Since it is just about an hour drive from my home, I had previously confirmed with the event staff that it would be OK to show up Sunday morning to pick up my race packet and check in my bike (one of the nice perks of smaller races). As soon as I arrived, I was impressed with the staff and volunteers - they were all very friendly and helpful. I was able to quickly check-in, got my race numbers and chip, and headed over to the transition area. The HITS folks have a new and different type of transition area setup, and I must say that I really liked it a lot! It is such a smarter way to do things compared to the typical metal poles you hang your bike from. They actually have a wooden structure on the ground that forms a box for each athlete to put their stuff into, and two grooves cut into the box where your wheel fits to hold your bicycle. That has two nice advantages over the traditional set up: 1) The bike is fully on the ground and much more stable, and 2) The boxed off gear area allows you to set up your bike and run items without fear of having them kicked around or blown away. They even provide a stool for you to sit on! Here's a picture where you can see the stool and the boxed storage area:




While I was getting things organized in transition, I ran across my good friends Kat and Justin. They have been part of our local triathlon community for years, and both have very fun and positive personalities. Kat was there to cheer on Justin, who was also doing the half iron distance. It was nice to see some friendly faces. Here's Justin and I just before the race start:



There wasn't much else going on before the race, so once we were set up and ready to go, we just made our way down to the water. A little warmup swim, and it was time to start the race...

Swim
With just over 100 total competitors, everyone started at the same time, including the athletes that were racing the half. Plenty of room, and the course was well-marked, so a fairly stress-free swim. Time ended up being very close to my time at IM TX 70.3, about 35 minutes. Kat was able to spot me coming out of the water and grab this video:

video


T1
I had been told that there would not be wetsuit peelers, but there were! Yay : )  That helped make for a quick transition, and I also liked how easy it was to pull the bike out from the slots in my transition box and get going (no clutter of stuff to worry about, either). As I headed out of transition, I saw Justin starting his bike just ahead of me. Hey, wait for me! : )

Bike
Here's a short video clip of me heading out to start the bike (thanks again Kat!).




video

Once the bike course gets away from the lake, we had to cross the main highway that goes through Marble Falls (Hwy 281). There was a fair amount of traffic to cross, and a short section of the highway to ride on before we made our turn onto the country roads, but the police were doing a good job to get us through.

It was cloudy and overcast, which was good; but also VERY windy, which was not so good. And the first 10 miles were mostly rolling hills and an upward elevation trend, so I knew right away that today was not going to be a terribly fast day. The exception to the upward trend was a VERY BIG hill that we went down around 4-5 miles from the start... Hmmm... didn't that mean we'd be going UP that hill at the end of the bike?!

As we got further away from the city into the back county roads, the roads also got a little worse, but nothing too terrible (not if you're used to Texas chip seal roads...). The turns and intersections were very well marked - big white signs with black arrows pointing you in the right direction. There weren't always people around, though, at least not people that were visible. That, combined the small field of participants, made for one of those rides where it was mainly just you and your own thoughts. I did see Justin once in while, usually when we'd hit a long straightaway and I could see him up ahead in the distance.

Even the aid stations were very quiet, usually it was just one guy out there handing out water bottles. There were supposed to be sports drinks, bananas, gels, etc.; but all I remember seeing or being called out was water. I did not actually stop, so maybe there was more there... but it didn't seem like it to me. I hope nobody was counting on that for their nutrition!

I ended up catching up with Justin around mile 22 of the bike course. It's too bad that on a wide open course like that you are still not allowed to ride near each other, even side by side; as it would have been nice to just chat for a few minutes... It's a long day : )  I did say hello and ask him how he was doing, and we wished each other luck. Shortly after that we came up to a pretty tough, steep hill; which Justin tackled with a bit more vigor than I did, so he was up ahead of me again after that.

I reached the turnaround at the 28 mile point, and caught up with Justin again. This time I ended up passing him and moving a little ahead. Guess it was my turn to be the rabbit : )  Right after that we hit a great section of road that seemed to be smoother and had a dowhill elevation, and we had the wind at our back! Didn't last long enough, but it was nice for a while. That section ended in a small city (Burnet) where we went through a neighborhood with a number of cross streets, but nobody around to help look out for or direct traffic; which made me a bit nervous. I made it through that area fine, though, and headed back on the same roads that I had started on. That meant it was time for the Revenge of the Big Hill. Yes, that hill that we had flown down at the beginning was now coming back to give us something to work on before we could finish the bike. And oh, by the way, the run course also came out on that same road... so, hey - I'll be seeing you soon!

I got back into town and finished off the last few miles of the bike. As expected, a fairly slow bike course; coming in just under 3 hours. And now it was very hot, and it was time to run 13.1 miles :  )

T2
I slid my bike into it's slot in the transition bikes, pulled on my running shoes, grabbed the visor and race belt, and it was off to the final leg.

Run
Here's another video clip, this time of me starting the run and trying to get my race belt on... The tall guy in red that you see as I go by is another friend of mine, Jamie Carlile. He was training for Ironman Texas (a FULL distance IM), and was out for a 100 mile bike ride that he routed thru Marble Falls so he could see Justin and I race. BTW: Jamie did complete IM Texas and is now officially an IRONMAN - way to go Jamie!.


video



As best as I could tell, I was around 10th overall as I started the run; assuming that I had counted returning bikes correctly. The sun was out in full force, so it was very hot, and I knew I had a hilly run course in front of me. Right off the bat, there is that slow uphill climb leading away from the lake, which is a little tough on the legs after a hard bike ride. I did settle into a rhythm, though, and concentrated on knocking off one mile at a time. The aid stations were spread out a little further than the 1 mile spacing that I'm used to, so I made sure to take advantage of each one; getting plenty to drink and cooling down with water, sponges, etc. Running in hot, humid, sunny conditions on the open road with no shade and already tired; I knew I had to stay on top of the heat and hydration from the beginning.

The last aid station before the halfway turnaround point was around 4 1/2 miles in, and I was starting to feel a little bit nauseated, so I had to start backing off on the drinks (especially sports drinks). The hills were also taking their toll, and my legs were feeling very fatigued. I started seeing the race leaders during that stretch as they headed back the other way, and was able to count them and see that I was in 8th place overall.

As I made the turnaround point (again, no timing mat), Justin was coming up right behind me. As we passed each other, I told him I was pretty cooked and I thought he'd be passing me pretty soon. He smiled and gave a shake of the head with a look that said "maybe not"; so it was clear he was suffering a bit as well.

As I came to the Big Hill that I had been dreading, I caught up with the person in 7th place, who was walking. I had already determined that I was going to have to walk a good part of the hill, or I'd end up setting off some massive leg cramps. So, I settled into a walk next to him and we both talked for a couple minutes as we made our way up the hill. The volunteers at the top of the hill were yelling out encouragement to keep going, and told us not to worry - everyone else in front of us had walked that hill as well : )  Towards the top, I was able to start running again, and my hill buddy also took off a few seconds later; staying not too far behind me for the last few miles.

Near the end of the run, I had to make the crossing at Highway 281 again; and this time it was a bit of an adventure. Racers were more strung out, and harder for the police to see as they came up the road; plus there was more traffic as it was now around noon. All that added up to the traffic not being stopped right away, and I couldn't really see where I was supposed to cross the street. So, I just ran down 281 looking for a break until the traffic was stopped and I could see the crossing point (a friend of mine had a similar issue on the bike and turned too quickly at the last moment, crashed and ended up with separated shoulder and possible broken finger).

Once across 281, I was on the final homestretch and happy to have more of a downhill run for the last couple of miles. I was really starting to hurt at that point, and I could see two people behind me (my hill buddy and my friend Justin). I kept thinking that I just wanted to hold it together and keep moving, so I could at least stay in the top 10. Then, with about a mile to go, I had sudden and massive leg cramps... The kind where your legs seize up and you can barely stay upright. I literally almost fell over, and started limping along trying to work out the cramps; massively frustrated that all that hard work could disappear if I ended up having to walk that last mile. Luckily, though, after walking about 100 yards it started relaxing just a bit; and I was able to slowly and surely break into a slow jog and then finally something resembling a run. Justin later commented that he could see me up ahead of him walking, and he joked that he thought maybe I was just waiting so we could have a sprint to the finish line : )

With the cramps worked out, the remaining run was just a steady, slow, "keep moving" thing of ugliness that nevertheless got me to the finish line. I ended up with a 1:47 run split, and kept my position of 7th place overall.



Post-race
Justin finished right behind me for 8th place, and here we posed for a picture; looking just a little more ragged than we did in the pre-race pictures!




There wasn't a whole lot going on in the finish area... I just hung around with Kat and Justin waiting for the awards ceremony and watching racers come in. There was plenty to drink, and some typical bagel/banana/pretzels type of fare. For the cost of admission, I really would have liked a couple slices of pizza or something similar; but not a big deal. 

One thing that's still weird to me about the HITS races is the award for every age (not age group, every age...). They give out top 3 male and female overall; and then each age gets a first place award (no second or third place). That leads to some goofy results - I'll use a hypothetical example to illustrate:

- 41 yr old does race in 5:10, another 41 yr old is 30 seconds behind
- 42 yr old does race in 6:02
- 43 yr old does race in 5:00, another 43 yr old 2 minutes behind
** Per HITS policy, the 41,42, and 43 that crossed first for their age get first place awards. Neither the 2nd 43 yr old (who was second in that total group), nor the 2nd 41 yr old get any award. It is what it is, though; and here's Justin and I with our first place Age awards:




Summary
Overall, I'm very happy that I chose to do the race. I didn't have to train much, since it was only 4 weeks after IM Texas 70.3. And with it being fairly close to home, there was no overnight hotel stay, etc. So, with relatively minor hassle, I was able to race another half iron distance triathlon, and in a really nice setting (I always enjoy Marble Falls, it's a great town).

As far as my evaluation of the race itself... This race costs about the same as the Ironman Texas 70.3 triathlon; so I can't help but compare them against each other. Based on that objective cost/value evaluation, I really can't see that I would go back and do this race again; unless they either raise their level of athlete support or lower their prices. While it was a fun race and I had no major issues, there were a few things that fall a little short; which mainly come down to more support for the athletes out on the course. Some of these things simply must get fixed: get enough volunteers, aid stations MUST be stocked with what is advertised, roads must be manned and have excellent traffic control, need to have timing mats at the turnarounds... and another one or two strategically placed aid stations on the run would have been good with that kind of heat. Perhaps this a bit of a chicken and the egg thing, in that they might feel like they can't put more into the race with so few racers. I think that will backfire on them, though; as the numbers likely won't come until that value proposition improves.

What's next?
The next event I'll be participating in is the Texas 4000 Atlas Bike Ride on June 2nd, which is a kick-off ride for a team of University of Texas students that ride 4000 miles from Texas to Alaska as a cancer research fundraiser. The rest of June is family vacation time, and then we'll just see what comes after that...

JD

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Texas 4000 Atlas Ride 2012

On Saturday, June 2nd; I'll be participating in a group bike ride sponsored by Texas 4000, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing and fighting cancer. I do realize that there are only so many times I can go to the well for support of the many charities and causes that I am involved in, so apologies if I'm starting to sound like a panhandler! : )  At the same time, however, certain events just capture my attention and make me want to participate, and this is one of them. If nothing else, I thought it might be interesting to learn about the Texas ATLAS 4000 ride, and be inspired by the tremendous things that people will do to support each other... We certainly hear enough about the rotten things that people do TO each other! So, here's a description of the organization and the bike ride that I'll be doing, as well as how that fits in with the larger 4000 mile bike ride that the actual team is doing. Thank you for reading : )

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Texas 4000 is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing and fighting cancer. Each year a team of dedicated University of Texas students brave the elements to complete a more than 4,000-mile bike ride from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska sharing Hope, Knowledge and Charity along the way. As their flagship event of the year, the LIVESTRONG Texas 4000 ride is the longest annual charity event bike ride in the world. Texas 4000 riders train, fundraise and develop as leaders and servants in the community and to date have contributed more than $2.5 million to the fight against cancer. Cultivating the leaders of tomorrow, Texas 4000 organizes and performs numerous charity events including the Texas 4000 Tribute gala and the ATLAS Ride send-off throughout the year.

I will be taking part in the 2012 Texas 4000 ATLAS Ride, a one-day community bicycle ride benefitting Texas 4000 and the fight against cancer. This event will celebrate the first day of Texas 4000's cornerstone event, a more than 4,000 mile bike ride from Texas to AlaskaThe three tenets of Hope, Knowledge, and Charity serve as the pillars to the organization's mission, where the ultimate goal is to help win the battle against cancer by aiding the life of one individual and one community at a time. 

The seventh annual ATLAS Ride will be held on June 2, 2012 in Cedar Park, TX, where I will have the opportunity to ride 70 miles for those who have been affected by cancer. In addition to riding, I also have the opportunity to fundraise for this important cause. Every dollar raised will go towards Texas 4000's mission of spreading hope, sharing knowledge, donating to cancer research, and empowering student riders to be the next generation of cancer-fighters.

Ever dollar counts, so to donate, simply click on my fundraising link below or to find out more information about Texas 4000, visit www.texas4000.org. Thank you for support in the fight against cancer!

Fighting Cancer Every Mile...

Donation Link


Thank you!
JD

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tour of Livestrong Center in Austin

This past weekend, Livestrong held an open house/bike ride event nearby in Austin; as a kick off for the Livestrong Challenge.  I've been getting more involved in Livestrong since learning of my brother's cancer diagnosis, including the fundraising page that I did on his behalf when I raced the IM Texas 70.3 triathlon. So, I decided it might be interesting to drive into Austin and check things out. Below are a few pictures and notes from the tour.





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Side Note: Speaking of Livestrong, they are currently providing my 15 seconds of internet fame (not minutes, this is internet time)... If you go the main LS page at Livestrong.org; on the bottom left of the page is a section on the MH Ironman Texas 70.3 triathlon with 4 small photos. That goofy guy on the top right is actually me - ha! The pictures may not be on the front page long, but that thumbnail image links to the full picture in Flickr, which should stick around for a while.
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Now, back to the main topic... I arrived at the Livestrong building early Saturday morning, in time to see the bike riders getting ready to head out. The ride itself didn't quite fit into my schedule that day, unfortunately, but I was excited to tour the building and learn more about what they do there. Things got started with a short greeting and a couple of announcements about the Livestrong Challenge bike ride, including the news that it would now be flat $50 fee; with no fundraising minimum requirement. That should allow many more people to participate, as they can just sign up for the race and not have to worry about their ability to raise funds.


 Bike riders getting ready to head out.


A few minutes after the bike riders left, we started the tour of the Livestrong building. It turns out that building is really two buildings in one:  The main Livestrong Headquarters/Office, and a Navigation Center where they provide on-site assistance for cancer patients (evaluating treatment options, financial counseling, emotional counseling, etc.). Here are a few pictures and notes on some of the things I found interesting...



Reception Desk. Note the sign on the desk



Inspirational quotes and mottos like this are everywhere in the office




Lance's 7 Tour de France Yellow Jerseys




Open, cubicle environment. Even the CEO sits out here.




Plenty of cool stuff like this custom-made motorcycle...



 and this mobile art piece. Each "bike" tells a different story from Lance's life




Tribute wall



Livestrong Core Values




Employee fitness room, with aerobics studio above it



Actual table from local restaraunt (ZTejas) where the idea for Livestrong was hatched.




Entrance to the Navigation Center




 Inspirational quote on wall in Navigation Center


So, I'm glad that I made it down there for the tour... It was really quite interesting and informative, and it was great to meet some of the Livestrong team. Every person that I met was very passionate about what they do and why they do it. It is nice to know that people like my brother have advocates like that, fighting for their cause, and helping direct them through this painful and difficult process!

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Ironman Texas 70.3 -> LIVESTRONG Jeff!

Below is my race report for the Ironman Texas 70.3 triathlon held on April 1st in Galveston, TX. This was *not* just another triathlon for me, by any means... As I wrote in a previous post; my younger brother Jeff is fighting stage 4 cancer, and I had dedicated this race to him. The past few weeks of training since his diagnosis, it had felt to both of us as if Jeff was right there training alongside me; which made this a very significant and emotional event. It was also an official Livestrong event, and Lance Armstrong himself would be there competing; which added to the overall sense of this race being something a little more special and important.

Warning: More important race = more detailed race report! : )


Race Preparation
My wife Susie and I drove down to Galveston Friday evening before the race to get get the drive out of the way, check in to the hotel, and get a good night of sleep. Race registration started at noon on Saturday, so we lazed around a bit in the morning, and then I headed over to the expo. Our hotel was only a 1/2 mile or so from the expo site at Moody Gardens, which made for a nice, easy walk.

When I got to the registration tent, the line had already grown fairly long, so I went ahead and got into line right away. Things moved pretty quickly, so it didn't take too long to complete the registration process and get my packet (timing chip, numbers, a few goodies, etc.)


While I was at the expo getting registered, I made my way over to check out Lance Armstrong's bike. It just looks fast, doesn't it?


Next, I walked over and checked out the transition area, where I'd have to bring my bike later that afternoon (large events like this often have you check your bike in the day before and leave it overnight):


From there, I headed over to the athlete meeting, where the race directors and officials review the rules and procedures, any late breaking news, etc. I think most of the athletes were mainly concerned about one particular ruling... would it be a wetsuit legal race? (the answer was yes).


After the meeting, I headed back to the hotel to get everything prepped and ready to go for race day. It's amazing how much gear there is to deal with (wetsuit, goggles, bike, helmet, bike shoes, water bottles, bike pump, run shoes, socks, run visor...):


By now it was mid-afternoon, and time to grab a late lunch/early dinner. Susie and I headed out to a local Italian place and had a very nice dinner. I did my best to talk about things other than triathlon, but I imagine that Susie would say that I was not very successful : )

The final step for the day was to take my bike to the transition area. Susie and I walked there together, so she could find a good spectator spot for the run course and see the finish line/transition layout. Once at the transition area, I found my numbered spot and hung my bike on the bike rack; then it was time to head back to the hotel and try to get some sleep!

Race Morning
I woke up at 4:15 a.m., and made my way down to the hotel lobby just a few minutes later... Coffee!!! After a quick breakfast, Susie and I grabbed all the gear and loaded it into the car to drive over to the transition area. Yes, she was already up and awake, and offered to drive me so I wouldn't have to walk - what a wife! Traffic seemed a little dicey on the road, though; so I ended up getting dropped off and walking the rest of the way. 


BTW: Have I mentioned yet that it takes a very special wife to put up with all the training, the never-ending triathlon talk, the racing, "vacations" that revolve around a race... Thank you Susie! : )

Once I arrived at the transition area, I found my bike - which had survived a very windy night : ) - and then set about my usual preparation. Pump up the bike tires, shoes on the bike, water bottles in place and filled, etc. My goal is always to have things simplified and ready to go, so there is an absolute minimum to think about or do in transition (you'd be amazed at how fuzzy and scattered your brain can be as you run up to find your gear and get ready for the next leg).

With everything set up, it was then time for the waiting game... Most triathlons, including this one, start in "waves" by age group and gender; so there are smaller groups of people swimming at the same time. I was in a wave that started at 7:50 a.m., which gave me plenty of time after they closed the transition area (6:45 a.m.) to wait around for the start of my race. One thing that I like about this triathlon is that it is held on-site at Moody Gardens, and they have their buildings open on race morning. This provides a nice and unusual perk, in that you can go inside and use real restrooms (vs port-a-potties), and hang out in the lobby sitting on a chair or bench...  makes the wait for race start much nicer! 

Finally, it was time to make my way to the pier where the swim starts. My nerves were running pretty high at that point - I had my usual pre-race jitters, plus the extra thoughts in my head of my brother and wanting things to go well. Perhaps it doesn't make much sense, but I felt it was important to have a good race and somehow provide him with a little encouragement and motivation. So, I did a few short run sprints to work out my nerves and give my heart and lungs a bit of a jump start, and headed over to the pier.

By that time, most of my wave was already on the pier and getting ready to go, so I quickly got on my wetsuit and made my way through the crowds and joined them. A couple of minutes we were called to get in the water, and I followed the pack to the end of the pier and jumped in. The water felt great... and after a quick goggle check and short sprint warmup swim, I got in position and waited for the countdown. Here we go!!!

Swim
Luckily, I was able to get into a good rhythm right away, so I could focus on form and technique and keeping a straight line. I was determined not to overreact to people getting in my way, bumping into me, etc. That worked very well... I felt like this was one of my more strong and confident swims. I had borrowed a sleeveless wetsuit from my buddy Glenn, which was another positive, as I never felt any shoulder fatigue.

Overall, the swim went great, with no real issues or problems. I got out of the water in 35 minutes, which is good for me and right on target with my race goals. That ended up being 20th out of the 135 or so finishers in my age group.


Swim to Bike Transition
I had been told that they would not have wetsuit "peelers" to help us out of our swimsuits (don't laugh, just try to quickly get out of a wetsuit after 35 minutes of intense swimming!); but as I was running towards the bikes I saw that they did indeed have some peelers out there... Yay! I got the wetsuit down to my waist and plopped down on the ground, then the volunteers yanked it off with one quick pull. I grabbed my wetsuit, thanked the volunteers, and finished the run through transition to my bike. My setup was very simple, including having my shoes already clipped on to the bike pedals, so I had a nice fast transition time (just over 2 minutes from water exit to crossing the bike mount line).

(gotta love the helmet)

Bike
I wanted to push the limits on the bike a little, similar to what I done at the Kerrville Triathlon, which had worked very well. I knew that it would cost me a little bit of time on the run, but the net of that trade-off would still be positive if things went according to plan. I also started thinking about my brother, and how I didn't want to let him down. If he can battle what he's battling, no excuses for me! And I thought of others that I knew that had been touched by cancer, including my father-in-law, who lost his battle with cancer almost a decade ago... and a couple of family members that were currently undergoing tests to find out if they had this dreaded disease... it all made me very determined to fight and give this race all I had.

The IM Texas 70.3 bike course is about as simple as they get... you head out of Moody Gardens and quickly get to the main road along the seawall, head straight down the road to the halfway point, turnaround, and come back. It's one of those races where you just drop down into aero position and chug away!


Another thing this race is known for is the wind. There is always a good stiff crosswind in Galveston, due to the bike course running along the beachfront. It is usually more of a headwind on the first half heading South, and then a little bit of a tailwind effect coming back. So, I knew that the first half was going to be slower, I just didn't want it to be too slow... For most of that first half, I was feeling pretty strong and felt good about how things were going. And it was cool to see Lance coming back the other way, flying along and leading the race. I was a little surprised to see another male pro right behind him, but a super-flat course like that does not really play into Lance's strengths.

The last few miles of the outbound leg, I started feeling the heat and humidity (it reached 80 that day with about 90% humidity). Also, the roads are a little worse as you head out and away from the main part of the town. I had to fight to not lose too much speed during that section, and I kept wondering where that turnaround was! : ) The good news was that there were very few people passing me, and the few that did were primarily the younger guys (bike is still not my strongest event, but it is getting better...).

Once I hit the turnaround and started heading back it re-energized me a bit. Between that, and the shift to having a little tailwind, my pace jumped up and I started clicking off the miles. With each mile that I ticked off I was that much closer to getting off the bike and starting the run! I wasn't picking up quite as much speed against my overall average as I had hoped, but I still felt strong and was happy with how things were going.

Then, just after I passed the marker for mile 50 I noticed something strange... my watch beeped, signifying the end of a 3 mile "lap". Hmmmm... my brain was a bit fuzzy, but I was pretty sure that 50 was not divisible by 3 : )  So I checked my distance, and my Garmin had me at 51 miles. Huh?!? Please tell me the bike course is not an extra mile long! Oh well, nothing I can do but just keep going the last few miles as hard as I can and get to the run...

I finally saw the main beach area, which meant the turn off towards Moody Gardens, and the end of the bike leg was not too far ahead. I flew down that section as fast as I could, got my feet out of my bike shoes, stopped right at the dismount line, and started running to my transition spot. My bike split ended up being 2:44, which shows up in the official results as a 20.5 mph average (my Garmin watch recorded slightly under 57 miles and a 20.8 mph average).


Bike to Run Transition
This transition is very simple and went fast. Helmet off, slip into running shoes, grab my visor, and take off to start the run. Total time from bike dismount to crossing the run start mat right around 1 1/2 minutes.

Run
OK, so now it was time for the part that I'm most comfortable with - the run. The nerves are all under control; no swim fears to deal with, no bike breakdowns to worry about... just me and my feet : ) The only thing that I was worried about was the heat and humidity that I mentioned earlier. Sun shining bright, nearing 80 degrees, high humidity... not ideal run conditions when you're already very hot and tired! I knew that I'd need to focus on staying hydrated and cool off whenever possible. I was also very determined to run as fast and hard as I could, since my bike was just a little slower than what I had hoped for.

The run course was 3 loops of just over 4 miles each (13.1 miles total). The first loop I was running a little faster than I knew I could hold for the duration, but my heart rate was good and my legs felt pretty strong (just a little bit of cramping the first mile or so, but that eased up as I continued running). I saw Susie about halfway through the first loop at a spot we had picked out the day before. She took a couple of pictures as I ran up, then I paused for a few seconds so she could record a quick video message for my brother. It is always a big pick-me-up to see Susie, and the video message to my brother fired me up as well. Let's go!

At the end of the first loop we ran across a small airport runway. On the one hand, that was a fun and unique thing to have as part of the triathlon. On the other hand, it sure was hot on that runway! Soon I was onto the second loop, making liberal use of the ice water and iced-down sponges that the volunteers were handing out to cool off. I also started drinking flat coca-cola in order to help calm my stomach and provide some caffeine and sugar-induced energy : )  I was still going strong, though, and there were no more signs of cramping; just a little bit of fatigue starting to set in. I was passing a lot of people, including many in my age group, and that always helps with the motivation...


By the final loop, I was definitely feeling the heat and the fatigue. In order to keep pushing through, I decided that the last loop was going to be my brother's, and pictured him running there next to me. I also still had in my mind my wife and all her sacrifices, other family and friends touched by cancer... there was no way I was going to give in! This was the time to dig deep and prove that the mind can will the body to do more than you imagine... The last couple of miles, I was even able to speed up slightly; helped along by a man in my age group that was slightly ahead of me who made for a good rabbit : )  I never did quite catch him, but it made for a heck of a chase!

At last, the end was in sight... One final trip across the airport runway, and I was headed towards the finish. As I came down the finisher's chute, my fists clenched and raised up in the air in a spontaneous gesture of the anger and defiance I felt towards cancer and the pain that it had caused so many. Long distance triathlons are in many ways a triumph of human willpower and spirit over the supposed limitations of the body, and this was me saying to cancer "we are powerful and we will fight you with every ounce of strength we have". I realize that might sound a little odd, but that's truly what I felt at that moment.


I ran the last few steps and crossed the finish line knowing I had laid out every bit of energy I had on the race course, the tank had been fully emptied. My run time was 1:41:38, for an average pace of 7:45/mile. Overall time for the full triathlon was 5:04:46, right on target with my goal of staying close to 5 hours (and did I mention the extra mile on the bike?...). That gave me 14th place out of 135 finishers in the male 50-54 age group.



Post-Race
After the race, I met up with Susie and sat down for a while to cool off and rest. Then I grabbed some pizza and water from the athlete food tent, and we sat a bit more while I finished eating and tried to get re-hydrated. After checking the posted results to see how I had done within my age group, I got my bike and gear out of transition; and Susie and I headed back to the hotel. A little bit of cleanup time, and then it was off to Landry's for a big celebration meal! Belly full and body tired, I had a good night of sleep and then we headed back home the next morning.

Race Summary
As far as the race itself, I have to admit it was a little humbling to come in 14th place, even with a very large and competitive field. I just have to be realistic about the nature of these large "Ironman" branded races compared to the local races. With the official Ironman races, people come from all over the country, and even from other countries, in order to prove themselves against the strongest competition and try to pick up one of the coveted Ironman 70.3 World Championship slots (out of the 13 men ahead of me in my age group, only 5 were from TX, and one came from Mexico). And the Lance Armstrong factor likely made that dynamic even more true for this race. Once you start pulling in elite athletes from all over, there are many that are much faster than I am, and that's OK! : ) I am honored and humbled to even be able to participate in these events, let alone be competitive.

Final Thoughts
All the blah blah blah about my performance and times and placing aside; what was truly important about this race is the cause and the people that it represents... My brother Jeff, who provided so much inspiration and motivation. My father-in-law Lee, children like Ishani that have to deal with this horrible disease at far too young of an age, and all the other family and friends that have battled cancer... I have no poetic way to say this, other than I am tired of seeing the damage that it does... #cancersucks.



In the end, I was happy to be able to be able to do a little bit of fundraising for Livestrong on my brother's behalf, and perhaps provide him with just a little bit of motivation and distraction. Jeff has told me about some of his initial discussions and interactions with Livestrong, and so far I am impressed with the help and support that they provide. I especially appreciate their attitude of not being a victim and fighting with everything you have. So, for all of you out there dealing with cancer... KEEP UP THE FIGHT!!!

Most sincerely,
JD

PS: Jeff has started doing some biking and light running, and is really getting hooked into the sport of triathlon. For his family and friends who will soon have to deal with his obsessive behavior regarding all things triathlon (training methods, equipment, race strategies, etc.); I am truly sorry. OK... not really : )

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Update on Jeff; race this weekend (IM Texas 70.3)

I recently posted about the sad news that my brother Jeff had been diagnosed with cancer (link). In order to provide some level of support and encouragement, I signed up for Team Livestrong and created a fundraising page in his honor (see fundraising update below).

Jeff has now gone through additional tests, including a PET scan; and the results had some elements of good and some that weren't quite what we would optimistically hope for. The cancer has not spread to any other organs (lungs, liver, etc.); which is great; but it was found in some additional lymph nodes near his sternum. That resulted in this now being referred to as a Stage 4 cancer. The chemotherapy started this past week, and will continue every other week for at least the next 6 months. Very scary stuff, and I know that there are many, many people out there joining me in prayers that Jeff will win this battle and enjoy a long life with his wife and family. As I've mentioned, Jeff is certainly up for the fight and his family is right along side to support him!


The Livestrong triathlon (IM Texas 70.3) that I am registered for is this coming Sunday. There is not much left for me to do in terms of training at this point, I just need to get in the last few workouts and taper properly so that I am rested/recovered and ready to race. I really want to do well, as I somehow feel like that is at least a small way to show Jeff that I am supporting him and fighting alongside him. Not that I'm looking for any supernatural abilities, I just want to race up to the level of the abilities that I do have and have trained for (and maybe just that one notch higher that comes with a little extra motivation...). What I do NOT want is for something that I cannot control (e.g. a mechanical issue on the bike) to mess things up. Although I guess there are lessons in that as well, aren't there? Sometimes our plans get royally screwed up and we just have to do what needs to be done and fight on.

Love ya Jeff - fight with everything you've got!

JD

PS: The fundraising page has raised $765 to date, which is fantastic; and I'd like to thank everyone who contributed! And there were some great notes of encouragement that people wrote to go along with their donations, which provided Jeff with tremendous encouragement. Here are just a couple of excerpts from those to close out this post...

you know how much I love you and I that I am praying for you everyday. You will beat this!!

We love you, Jeff. We're lifting up prayers to the Lord for strength to fight through this battle and for His healing on your body

Keep the faith. Fight, fight, fight and try to laugh! Your family and friends will carry you through when you don't feel you have the strength to do it!

Monday, February 27, 2012

This one's for you, bro

So, I've been off the blog for a bit. No great reason, really, just been doing other things (including building a new coaching website that I'll post about at some later date). And I'm really not sure what to say for this post, because it's such sad and unexpected news - my younger brother Jeff has just found out that he has stage 3 colon cancer. He's up for the fight, I know that; he has a wife and 3 kids and he's only 43 years old - so he's going to do what he has to do to beat this... and he has a bunch of family and friends that love him deeply and will be fighting alongside him. It's still one great big sucker punch to the gut for him and his family, and for all of us that do love him. Jeff's a great guy, the one who always is helping others and making them laugh and smile. Now he's going to need us to help him, and to help him find the laughter and smiles where we can. The doctors say he has at least 9 months to a year of chemotherapy ahead, so everyone's prayers on this are greatly appreciated.

It just so happens that my next triathlon is an official Livestrong event (IM 70.3 Texas in Galveston); so I went ahead and registered for Team Livestrong for this event; and I'll be dedicating this race to my brother. I've already registered and paid for the race, so I don't have any kind of fundraising minimum - it is just a small gesture on my part to show my support. I was thinking that if a number of people can pledge even just $5 or something - maybe that list of names and show of concern will help strengthen his spirit. Maybe not... I don't know... but I just have to do something!

Here is the LINK where you can donate if you'd like - Thank you!

Love you Jeff!