Undertrained and Underbrained*

*Borrowed the term “underbrained” from Jim Puckett, a triathlete friend.

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is highly apropos when applied to my triathlon career and no less true of the City of Lakes Olympic Triathlon.

I did about half of this race a year ago when I was suffering from a hamstring injury.  I did the swim and half of the bike. It looked like a fun race with a good bike course so I was looking forward to doing the entire race this year with a group of triathlon friends.

Training was going well until about 6 weeks ago when my right knee went south on a trainer ride.  I couldn’t run or bike for several weeks.  A few weeks ago I started running a little but stayed off the bike.  In the last two weeks I logged a total of about 20 miles on the bike during two rides and I had a “long” run of 4 miles.

So, yet AGAIN, I found myself standing in a lake, wearing a wetsuit, and woefully undertrained for what I was about to do.

Actually, I wasn’t completely nuts for this one.  The real plan was to treat this as a training day and take each leg of the triathlon as it came and decide if I was going to be able to complete it. The swim was no problem.  I had been swimming right through the injury, completing a 1.7 mile open water swim last Sunday, so the .93 mile swim here should have been a piece of cake.  I was planning to do the first half of the hilly 12.5 mile out and back bike course and then decide if my knee would tolerate another 12.5 mile go-around.  If that went well and the knee didn’t feel any worse than the first cycling lap, I’d go out on the run.  The run was a net point-to-point, but the course would come close to the finish twice and to transition twice so I could bail if I needed to.

The swim turned out to be the most challenging part. Twin Lake, just outside of Santa Rosa is a small, spring fed lake that gets very warm in the summer.  Last year the water wasn’t wetsuit legal and this year, as of the night before the race we were told that the water temperature was only a half degree below the wetsuit limit so wetsuits would be iffy.  Fortunately, the area got hit with a good thunderstorm in the late afternoon the night before the race, lowering the temperature in the lake to well below the wetsuit limit. Just as I was discussing the efficacy of knowing whether we could wear wetsuits with the guy next to me in transition, they made the announcement that the water temperature was wetsuit legal.

So on with the wetsuit and down to the lake in plenty of time for the closing of transition and the pre-race briefing down at the lake.

The lake water is crystal clear, allowing for a good view of the bottom and the swimmers around you. Being quite  warm, there are no issues with breathing, but the smell of rotten eggs that permeates what we from the Great Lakes would call a pond takes a bit of getting used too.

Planning on treating this as a training day, I started out in the second wave, sporting a yellow swim cap, behind the green-capped first wave swimming nice and easy. Even so, I passed a few athletes in the first wave some of whom were doing breast stroke.  Not much drama on the first 750 meter lap except for a nasty calf cramp that started just past halfway around the lake.  I stopped briefly to try and massage it out with limited success and started swimming again after the pain had subsided a bit.  The cramp went away after another 30 yards or so.

Things got ugly on the second lap. Just as I rounded the start buoy for my second lap, the horn went off for one of the waves of the Sprint triathlon.  About 30 seconds later I was absolutely trampled from behind by a stampede of about 50 swimmers thrashing through the water.  I futilely tried to work my way to  the outside but gave up the effort to find some clear water and just started to breast stroke until the group had passed.  Why the race organizer doesn’t start the Sprint event swimmers first since they’re only doing one lap of the lake is beyond me.  The lake is quite small and when you get 300 swimmers in it, things can get a bit crowded.


This is the “lake” that we swam in.

Shortly after surviving the mauling from one of the Sprint waves, I suffered a second, much more severe calf cramp that stopped me dead in the water. I spent a good two minutes massaging that one out and getting my now fogged up goggles cleared. After rounding the far turnaround buoy, I developed yet another cramp that stopped me, although only briefly.  The last problem on the swim was nearly losing my swim cap.  I grabbed it as it was coming off as I wanted to keep it because it was a nice cap (although apparently a bit small for me) and swam with it in my hand for a few strokes until, realizing that I didn’t want to do that for the last 100 yards of the swim, I stuffed it into my wetsuit. I was finally finished with the .93 mile swim and out of the water in about 33 minutes, not bad considering the cramps and the crowding.

Since this was only a training day I walked leisurely up the bank of the lake, got my wetsuit stripped off by the fabulous wetsuit strippers and moseyed into transition.  I had a decent T1, not being in any hurry to get out, and left transition in 3:16.

Out on the bike and the knee wasn’t really bothering me much. There was some pain but not enough to make me stop, although I did want to try to take it a little easy.  I had to quell the competitive spirit a little so I could keep a steady pace without pushing it at all.

The bike course is pretty hilly as the pavement generally follows the meanderings of the Pecos River south of Santa Rosa so there isn’t really any flat road. You’re either riding downhill or uphill. Mercifully, the sun was obscured by some mid-level broken clouds for most of the bike. I finished the first 12.5 mile lap of the bike course in about 54 minutes and I figured that my knee didn’t hurt any more at the end of the lap than it did at the beginning, so at the first decision point I decided to attempt a second lap of the bike course.

The second lap went pretty much the same as the first lap except it was a bit faster. When I returned, my knee didn’t feel any worse than it did when I started the second lap so I started to prepare for the run.Transition went smoothly except for forgetting to sunscreen my legs.

By now, I was over 2 hours into the race and the layer of clouds that had shielded the participants from the worst of the mid-morning sun were largely gone now. It was getting hot. I had a cold bottle full of Gatorade and two Endurance Tap packets with me so I thought I’d be covered for hydration and nutrition between water stops for the 6.2 mile run course.

The run course started with a 1/2 mile on a dirt road and then went, mostly uphill, along the main road back into town.  After about a mile and an aid station we turned right and up another hill.  This was followed by another right turn leading to a downhill that ended at a stretch of mostly downhill road that we would run up and down twice after making another right turn.  The astute reader will assume that after three right turns we would be headed back towards transition and said reader would be correct.  At the end of this stretch of road we were only a quarter mile or so from transition. After the double out and back on this part of the course we still had one mile to go.  So, after coming back up the double out and back road for the second time the race organizer sent us out for a half mile on a dirt road that featured F-bomb hill. With a name like that I don’t need to describe the elevation profile of that section of the course.  Let’s just say that the last 1/2 mile of the race would be a steady downhill.

After running, albeit slowly, the first half mile of the run I decided that I was going to have to meter my effort if I was going to finish. My heart rate had hit 145 when my legs started getting tired to I decided that I’d keep the heart rate between 135 and 145.  So I ran until the HR reached 145 or so and walked through the heat as the sun beat down until my HR dropped to 135.

Because I hadn’t trained much at all for this race and the fact that it was well into the 90’s temperature-wise, I was worried about cramping up on the run.  The Endurance Tap nutrition packets that I took during the run are filled with 100 calories of salted Canadian maple syrup.  They’re a little expensive but worth every penny.  I felt a tiny bit crampy at the beginning of the run but after an Endurance Tap at about mile one and another around mile 4 my muscles, although tired, never cramped at all. I did have all kinds of visions of coming down with some serious injuries as, first my feet, and then the hip flexors started to complain during the run. But it all worked out and no disasters befell me during or after the race.

Endurance Tap

One hour and twenty four minutes after I started the run and three hours and fifty one minutes after I started the swim, I sprinted over the finish line after running the last half mile of the race AND passing a 29 year old guy just before the line.

Two days post-race as I finish writing this, I don’t feel too badly.  The knee actually feels better today than it did on Friday before the race.  Other than a pretty stiff and sore left calf, likely the result of favoring the right leg for 25 miles on the bike ride, my body is in pretty good shape.

There’s life left yet in this old man.  Let’s hope I can find a little intelligence and smart training somewhere in there too before the next triathlon in August.







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There’s Always a First Time…

On the beach...race day

This one’s for my brother, Scott

My 2015 Xterra Off-Road Triathlon World Chamionships race was full of firsts:

– This was the first of the three Worlds races where we had travel issues getting to Maui, missing our flight to San Jose where we would catch our Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui.  We ended up flying out of Phoenix on Hawaiian at an additional cost of over six hundred dollars.

–  This was the first of the three Worlds races where I was competing on so little training, as I have been struggling with injuries for most of the last year.  First there was the breathing issue that turned out to be nothing more than exercise induced asthma, or so they think.  Then, my right hamstring tendon decided to go south on me and refuse to heal after 3 months of self care until it got 7 weeks of professional physical therapy.  To add injury to injury, I had crashed my mountain bike two weeks before we left for Maui and severely bruised my right hip and somewhat less severely bruised my right ribs. So I showed up on the start line with some pretty good swim training, but very little in the way of run and bike training, no workouts longer than about 2.5 hours, and some very tender body parts.

– This was the first triathlon EVER (out of 25 or so) where I had a flat tire in the race.  I’ve had flat tires when I went back to retrieve my bike after the race, but never a flat during the ride. And, of course, it happened at the most inopportune time possible.

– This was the first of the three Worlds races where I didn’t bring my floor pump.  This is directly related to the flat tire first.

– This was the first of the three Worlds where I would need my albuterol inhaler. This is related, although somewhat more tangentially, to my flat tire. Yeah, it’s a bit of a story, but that what these race reports are for.

– And, of course, as is my luck, this was the first of the three Worlds where Maui tied a heat record for the day. The heat, combined with the Maui humidity contributed to a very poor bike performance by this severely under-trained desert dwelling triathlete.

I knew I was in terrible shape for the race.  On top of that, the bike course had been lengthened by two miles and a bunch of technical (although not overly so) singletrack had replaced some of the jeep road that comprised the bike course the last time I raced here in Kapalua. Add to that the fact that there had been a lot of rain on the course in the few days prior to my practice ride before the race and I found myself with quite the challenge on Wednesday morning for my pre-ride.

The course was a greasy, slippery, muddy mess.  As you may know, I live in the dry desert; no humidity, lots of dry heat in the summer and very little rain.  The last time I even saw mud was three years ago when I rode through the single mud bog on the otherwise bone dry bike course of the 2012 XTERRA Worlds. I, almost literally, never ride in the mud.  Now I was faced with 19 miles of hilly, technical mountain bike course with lots of mud.

My plan was to pre-ride the lower bowl, which consisted of the first three miles and the last five miles of the bike course, because I knew I wasn’t in good enough shape to recover from a full 19 mile pre-ride by race day. This was where most of the technical stuff was and the other ten miles of the course I already knew from the course I rode three years ago.  Although, with all the rain that this part of Maui has had over the last few months the course had become so overgrown it was hardly recognizable.

It took me over *two hours* to ride 8 miles.  There was mud on a lot of the turns and the first three miles were almost all uphill…so steep that I’d be hike-a-biking a lot of it on race day.  It was so slick, it was downright scary in spots and I didn’t bring mud tires.  I was not filled with confidence when I finished the pre-ride, especially when I saw some of the pros returning from full pre-rides absolutely covered in mud.

Did I mention that, at the time, they were predicting more rain for the course before race day?

I wasn’t worried about the run course.  I’d seen it before and I knew there were no substantial changes. “Not worried” is a slight exaggeration.  I knew it was all uphill for the first half and all downhill for the second half.  After that bike ride in the heat and humidity I knew the run course would be no fun, with me having to walk most of the first half and hoping not to have cramps as I ran what I could of the second half.

The swim would be no problem.  I was actually trained for that and the shore break was predicted to be considerably less than than the 6-10 feet that we had for the 2012 race.

After the pre-ride my plan was to get as much rest as possible before race day, only doing a short run on Thursday and a short bike ride on Friday on the roads.

We moved into the host hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, on Saturday after Brigitte ran the 10k trail race that XTERRA holds on the day before the big race and capturing third place in her age group.  I would have to walk my bike no more than a few hundred yards to transition on Sunday morning.

2015-10-31 11.30.42 Rotated

In spite of my misgivings about my training and the conditions on the course I got a fairly good night’s sleep on Saturday as the word was the course had dried out considerably but there were still some muddy spots.

I awoke on Sunday morning at 6:30 for a 7AM transition opening.  There would be no body marking as another first for me this year was number tattoos in my race packet which I had applied the night before.  That would save as much as twenty minutes of pre-race preparation in transition since there would be no line for body marking, so no reason to hurry.

I made and drank my chocolate milk/ banana smoothie.  I drank two cups of the espresso that they had in the room for the caffeine boost.  I had prepared all my nutrition and hydration the night before.  I had a gel flask on the bike containing the contents of four Gu packets. I had prepared an insulated water bottle with two GU Brew electrolyte tablets and some water for electrolyte replacement on the bike.  All I needed to do was add some ice which I did after a quick trip down the hall to the ice machine.  I would chase a quarter of the gel flask with some of the electrolyte solution every 4-5 miles on the bike ride.  Lastly, for the bike, I had filled a 70 oz Camelbak with Gatorade and froze it in the room fridge so it would still be cold by the time I started the bike ride. For the run I had 10 endurolyte capsules and four GU packets along with a bottle of Gatorade that I had also packed with ice. I would place this under my transition bag to keep it out of the sun.

2015-10-31 20.36.21

Everything got laid out and double checked before being packed into my transition bag

Here’s where the floor pump usually came in.  Since I didn’t have it, I purchased a digital tire gauge at West Maui Cycles as I had planned.  I was going to top off the tires and check for proper inflation with my hand pump in transition and then the pump would accompany me in my Camelbak for the ride.  Normally, I would check the tire inflation before leaving for transition.  This was another and costly first for this race.

I had packed all of my equipment in my transition bag after double and triple checking everything the night before.  I loaded up the transition bag and headed for transition at a little after 7AM. I was in no hurry.  It was a 5 minute walk to transition and the race didn’t start til 9AM.  All I had to do was lay out my stuff and check my tires.

After dropping off my bike and setting up my stuff I had to make a porta-potty trip.  After that I ran into Brigitte and asked her to go to the car and get my inhaler which I am still not used to needing.  In the warm moist air of Maui it was unlikely that it would make much difference but I figured I could use all the help I could get.

I went back to transition to double check everything and top off the tires.  Just as I reached for the tire gauge, Brigitte yelled from the transition fence that she had my inhaler.  So, with my train of thought now interrupted I grabbed my inhaler, took two puffs, and proceeded to go for a warmup run, completely spacing out the tire inflation task.

Transition, just before the race

Transition, just before the race. The beach is well beyond the trees to the left of center. My bike is well to the right of the picture, even further up the hill.

After my warmup run I wandered down to the beach and went for a swim.  Just as predicted, the surf wasn’t too bad; certainly nothing like the 6-10 foot shore break that we experienced three years ago.  There would still be a few good swells coming in but they were fairly tame when they broke.  I got in a nice swim and the really good news was that my wonky left shoulder had decided not to bother me much at all this morning.

After a few  pictures on the beach once Brigitte came down to the start,  I had little to do for the next 15 minutes but wait for the start.  I found a good spot on the far right of the beach as I faced the ocean and waited for the Boom! of the cannon signaling the pros to go off right at 9AM. Well, for some reason there was no cannon, only an air horn sending the pros charging off into the surf.  That was my cue, with 5 minutes left, to put my goggles and swim cap on since the age group males were next.

The air horn wailed 5 minutes later and I waded into the ocean.  The sea bottom on this side of the beach wasn’t sandy.  It’s a large, smooth rock which made for a somewhat unsteady entry into the water.  I dove through a couple of breaking waves and was finally swimming steadily past a guy doing breast stroke after a minute or so.


Swim start.

The plan was to swim steadily without a huge effort for the 1500 meters of the “M” shaped course.  We would swim out to a buoy, turn left 90 degrees and then do another 90 degree left turn around another buoy about 10 yards away to separate us from the outgoing swimmers behind us as we headed to shore for the 30 yard beach run before re-entering the ocean and doing it all over again with a little angle to the left to make up the other side of the “M”.

The Swim Course

I had a fairly smooth swim out to the first buoy.  The faster women age groupers, starting 5 minutes behind the men, caught me just before the first buoy.  Because of the crowd, I ended up swimming a little wider than I would have liked around the first buoy but it wasn’t too bad.  I swam steadily towards the beach aiming for the marker buoy, never stopping until I reached shore after the first leg, even when I got swam over from behind by a group of faster swimmers.

After running the short beach leg I re-entered the water and swam well to the buoy marking the final turnaround.  The water was a bit rougher on this leg but I just kept swimming.  I sighted fairly well and didn’t wander too badly, only getting surprised once when I looked up to sight by a wave that shoved a mouthful of sea water down my throat.  I was surprised by how fast the buoy came up as I rounded it sharply and headed for shore.  A few minutes later, after riding a wave for the last 20 yards or so, I hit the beach and started running for transition, crossing the timing mat in 38 minutes flat by my Garmin.  I know that’s not terribly fast but it’s as well as I’ve ever done in an XTERRA swim so I felt pretty good as I headed up to transition. I finished 721 out of 773 swim finishers.  Not bad .

Then my day started to unravel.

I always have a crappy T1. First, it’s a long way from the beach to my bike at the top of the hill where transition had been laid out, at least 200 uphill yards.  Then, I can never get the sand off my feet quickly.  I think I’m going to start keeping a bowl of water at transition from now on.  I struggled with my towel to wipe off the stubborn sand and finally got my socks on over my wet feet along with some sand that didn’t come off.

I managed to get all my equipment on and didn’t forget anything in transition.  But I realized quite quickly that my front tire was way low on air.  So I spent a few minutes with my hand pump and got it firm enough to keep riding.  The back tire seemed OK so I left it alone.  I would regret that later.

As expected, much hike-a-bike ensued during the first three miles.  The course, although much drier than during my ugly pre-ride, was muddier than I thought it would be, but not too bad.  Still slick in some spots, as I would become painfully aware later on but I wasn’t too apprehensive.

After blowing a couple of turns too widely I suddenly realized my problem with my mountain biking skills.  I was becoming fixated on the obstacles instead of concentrating on where I wanted the front wheel to go.  What a difference! I immediately started riding faster by keeping my eyes focused on the exit of turns instead of the apex and as far down the straights as I could see.  I was still nervous about encountering an unexpected muddy patch so my top speed was a little limited but I sure felt a lot more comfortable on the bike.

It was hot!  And it was humid!  The course was very overgrown and the jungle foliage kept what little wind there was away from the trail on much of the hike-a-bike.  Being in such poor physical condition for the race my body readily overheated if I pushed too hard while walking my bike up the miles of steep trail.  In some spots I had to stop and rest every thirty yards until I reached the top of a hill and then blessedly revived from a cooling breeze as I charged down the other side.  Every time I stopped to rest a stream of sweat would flow off of my head and my kit was as wet now with sweat as it was when I left the ocean after the swim. This was going to be a very long day.

Just before the first aid station I had my first crash.  After flying down a steep hill the trail made a sharp right at the bottom of the hill straight into a giant mud bog.  The pros told us not to try and ride through it but I was sure I could make it.  I got about 20 yards into the mud and went down fairly softly into a pile of brush that had been laid down to give some traction through the muck.  No damage done except a small cut on my left ring finger, which I didn’t discover until I saw the blood oozing out over my finger at the next aid station, and a ton of mud on the bike and on me.  I picked up the bike, slogged through the rest of the 4-inch deep mud bog pushing the bike and motored on to aid station number one at 6 miles of the bike course.

Mud Bog Crash Video

I need to cut down on my aid station time.  I spent way too long getting my cut washed out, pouring water on my head and back and getting my bottle re-filled.  Then the fun began.

The view from Razor Ridge

The view from Razor Ridge

The bike course elevation profile has two big peaks and then roller coasters its way back to transition after one more longish uphill.  Aid station #1 is just past the first peak at 6 miles.  There was a long downhill right after the aid station that was fairly straight but it was a good news/bad news thing.  I really had fun riding down the hill, but I knew that every inch that I was effortlessly flying downhill would have to be given back by pushing the bike up the ensuing long, hot, humid, windless, and very steep uphill.  And I couldn’t make up as much time on the downhill as I would have liked because I still didn’t know if there was a muddy spot lurking just around the next turn.  So, I kept my speed under control just to be a little prepared if any surprises presented themselves on the trail.

2015 Xterra Worlds Bike Course Elevation Chart

Bike Course Elevation Chart

That worked out well until I entered a sun-dappled, off-camber, sharp right turn at the bottom of a hill a little too fast, hit some mud just as I started to turn and went down hard.  Remember that training ride crash I mentioned two weeks before we left?  Well, I landed on my already tender right hip and right ribs.  That was a very unpleasant experience. It took a good two minutes for the adrenaline to kick in and for the pain to subside. Here’s a link to my helmet cam footage:

Slick Turn Crash Video

Most of the rest of the ride was uneventful.  I rode the long downhills as fast as I dared and pushed my bike up all the uphills I couldn’t manage to ride (which was most of them), although sometimes, on the shorter ones, I opted to walk the bike because it would be faster and less effort. I managed to catch a woman and a young man that I had been leapfrogging for a lot of the ride and on the final two mile stretch of twisty single track. Right after passing the woman for what I thought would be the last time, disaster struck.

My back tire suddenly became very squishy on the turns.  I knew I was near the end of the bike course since I had passed the 18 mile mark.  I toyed with the idea of riding it in flat because I knew I was very close to the bike cutoff or even running it in, but in the end I decided that the fastest thing to do was to change the tire. I put a new tube in as fast as I could, as first the woman, and then the young man passed me while I worked on the back wheel.

I blasted through the rest of the single track and flew down the cart path as fast as I could, skidding up to the dismount line and asking the volunteer, “Did I make it?”.  He said, “No, but keep going.”, so I got ready to run and left T2 in about 2 minutes.  After the race I asked the guy how much I missed the cutoff by and he said the cutoff was at 2:10PM and I got there at 2:22PM. I spent at least 15 minutes on the tire so without my first ever flat in a race I would have made the cutoff by at least three minutes.

Post-mortem on the tube showed that it had failed at the valve stem, a clear sign of too little inflation and probably exacerbated by the fact that, again as a first in this race, or any race for that matter, I had not installed new tubes.  After I retrieved my bike, I discovered that the spare tube had gone flat also while it sat in transition. Its autopsy revealed two small holes. It was a used tube that I had checked a long time ago, but after months of bouncing around in my car and my Camelbak on training rides it had developed some small holes.

One more post-race discovery was that I had ridden the entire bike course with an unknown mechanical malfunction. As I was doing a little recovery ride a couple days after the race I noticed that the rear derailleur wouldn’t put the chain on the lowest gear in the cassette.  I had ridden the entire bike course without the use of the lowest gear on my bike!  Now I know why I always felt like I should have one more gear on the uphills.  Next time (Next time? Are you crazy?) I make sure my derailleurs are properly adjusted.


Back from the ride.

The run was a carbon copy of my race from three years ago with one big exception.  I had to walk most of the three steeply uphill miles that start the run, not solely because I was tired, but largely because my lower back was killing me, and then I ran as much of the three-plus downhill miles as I could.

The exception from my last race here was that I apparently had managed my hydration and nutrition correctly during the race.  I had taken in fluids, electrolytes, and nutrition exactly as planned on the bike.  After the ride my gel flask was empty, my Camelbak had about 2 ounces of Gatorade left and I had emptied my electrolyte solution bottle twice.

2015 Xterra Worlds Run Course Elevation Chart

Run Course Elevation Chart

I took two endurolytes as soon as I left transition and took two every mile after that until the eight that I had left were gone.  There were aid stations roughly every mile and I took a Powergel just before each of the first four.

After about mile four, as I was running steadily downhill, my right hamstring got a tiny bit crampy, so I backed off a bit and the crampiness went away.  That was it.  For the first time in my three Xterra Worlds races I did not cramp up.

I ran most of the last three miles of the course.  There was one spot though, at about 4.75 miles, where the course went VERY steeply up a short section of pavement.  I almost didn’t make it up that hill!  I was close to spent but I finally staggered to the top and I knew that, except for the 150 yards of beach and the final 200 uphill yards to the finish, the rest of the run was downhill.

I really tried to run the whole beach section.  There were beachgoers applauding and cheering me on so I ran all but the last 20 yards so I could rest for the final uphill push to finish.


The finish line

Seven hours and twenty-nine minutes after I started the race, after a nearly two-hour 10K run/walk, I finally crossed the finish line.

2015-11-01 16.46.42

Finished, in more ways than one.

My legs were starting to lockup on me until a volunteer handed me a banana.  After inhaling that I felt better immediately.

There’s something anti-climactic and less than satisfying to finishing a race when there’s almost no one left at the finish line and they’re almost done tearing everything down.  The announcer made a big deal of my finish but there weren’t too many people around to cheer besides a few volunteers, the finish line crew and photographer and Brigitte.

2015-11-01 16.46.25

The bike after the race before I hosed her off. Notice that the spare tube that I had installed had gone flat.

I had thought about not continuing after the bike because I knew it meant I would have to suffer for another two hours in the heat and humidity, but I didn’t travel all the way to Maui to quit after they gave me a chance to finish the race.

I was DFL for the race.  Actually, I was the final finisher, as there were 20 DNF’s.  I was 721 out of 773 in the swim, 764 out of 766 on the bike, and 749 out of 753 on the run, 17 out of 19 in my age group. So, about the only thing I get to brag about is being crazy enough to try this thing.

So, I guess I have to sign up for this race at least one more time and see if I can wring one last Xterra Worlds Triathlon out of this old body. Hopefully, I’ll finally be able to train for the next one.

2015-11-14 21.39.01

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Yesterday’s run is shown above.  It was a pleasant , not-much-faster-than-a-jog run.  Or at least it felt like I wasn’t running much after than a jog.  

I think I’ve worked out the nature of the problem, or at least the manifestation of the problem.  Long runs used to be enjoyable exercise.  There was a little bit of discomfort at the start as my lungs opened up and my heart reached a steady state, beating fast enough to keep up with the demands of my body for fuel to burn and the oxygen to facilitate the energy releasing reaction. After a mile or so, I’d achieve an equilibrium.  My body would arrive at an effortless, rhythmic balance of stride, stride-breathe in, stride, stride-breathe out that, at least in the beginning of the run, I’d feel like I could keep up for hours.

I haven’t felt that way for a long time.  During the worst runs of the last few winter months I’d be huffing and puffing like an old steam engine, gasping for air as I tried to keep up with the group.  It seemed like no matter how slow I ran, I just couldn’t take in enough air to sustain the meager level of activity that I was engaged in. It just wasn’t fun and in spite of the fact that I was training five days a week, I just didn’t seem to feel like I was getting into any better shape.  Something had to be wrong.

During the last few workouts I felt a little bit of the old comfort level come back.  Today’s ride was quite pleasant and even though I was cruising along at 14-15 miles an hour I wasn’t struggling to breathe.  I noticed yesterday during my run that I hit that old, com comfortable breathing stride rate of stride, stride-breathe in, stride, stride-breathe out, stride, stride-breathe in, stride, stride-breathe out.  It just worked and I was even able to carry on a little bit of a conversation with a running buddy while I ran.  This was in sharp contrast to a run in February when even the slowest of jogs had me gasping for air.


Clearly something is better.  I wonder if it’s the slow release nitrate that I’m taking now? Could be and I’m almost not noticing the headachy side effect of the drug.  I hate to be dependent on a medication for my everyday health but this may be the new normal. 

If Imdur is on the banned substance list, I’m in real trouble if I ever train up enough to win my age group at the Xterra World Chamionships in Maui this year.  I’m not too worried about that, I’ll settle for feeling some of the old magic runner’s highs and being able to finish the race in under five hours.

In a week or two, I’ll withdraw the drug and see if the shortness of breath returns. Hopefully, 15 dollars worth of medication and a layman’s common sense medical experiment can do what several high priced doctors and over 3000 dollars couldn’t do.

We’ll see.

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I Have a Question…


This is a picture of a comet, currently about 500 million miles from Earth, taken from a distance of about 17 miles.

Think about that.  We, meaning humanity, or more specifically, the European Space Agency, but still part of humanity, figured out how to launch a spacecraft off this planet. That takes a velocity of something like 17,500 miles per hour to break free of the Earth’s gravity.  

Then we calculated the orbital mechanics required to find the exact three-dimensional position in the solar system, a part of the of the universe that is something like 4 or 5 billion miles across depending on how one defines the solar system. That is one hell of a lot of real estate within which to locate a rock that’s 2.5 by 2.7 miles across.

Then we worked out the calculations to fly a spacecraft to the comet while a) the earth is moving at 66,000 miles an hour and b) the comet is moving at 84,000 miles an hour in a completely different orbit. Not only did we get the spacecraft to the comet, we had the spacecraft take a few pictures of other bodies in the solar system along the way.

Then when we got the  spacecraft to the comet, we actually sent a lander from the spacecraft to land on the comet.  The probe sort of crashed and its batteries died because it didn’t get any sunlight but still, we landed a probe on a comet!

Now back to my question.  We beamed a high resolution photo, taken from 17 miles away, of a comet hurtling through space at 84,000 miles an hour 500 million miles back to earth, but we can’t figure out why I’m having more trouble breathing while I run than I should be having.

There’s something wrong with this picture.  Pun intended.

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It Looks like a Standoff

She said, he said.  She is the cardiac physician’s assistant. He is the pulmonologist.

She thinks my heart isn’t the problem.  She refers me to the lung doctor.

I saw the lung doc today.  He’s skeptical. He says I don’t present with any of the classic symptoms of a lung problem.  He thinks it’s probably a cardiac issue.  But, to his credit, he’s keeping an open mind and covering all the bases.  

I go in on Tuesday for a pulmonary function test.  He says if that doesn’t come up with any anomalies, he’ll schedule a cardiopulmonary combined test of some sort.

If the cardiopulmonary test is negative, I’m not sure what’s next.  Acupuncture? Wearing garlic around my neck? Maybe if I eat some eye of newt that’ll clear up the problem?

Who knows.  We’ll find out soon enough.  In the meantime I’ve got a five mile run on the schedule tomorrow. I’ll just take it slowly.

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Back to the Drawing Board

It’s time to refocus my goals. I find it really hard to swallow that my cardiovascular fitness has declined as rapidly as two minutes per mile pace while running in the space of 4 months.

I ran six miles last September comfortably at 10:xx pace per mile. After training regularly since October or so I found myself really struggling to breathe even during my easy runs a few months ago. What used to be conversational pace slowly became tempo run pace. Two days ago I ran four miles on a course similar to the six mile course from last September. 12:xx per mile pace on that short run was an effort, but after I got warmed up, it was a little easier to breathe and carry on a conversation at the same time.

Maybe this is the new normal. Maybe at Sixty-Two years and Eight Months the body just flips a switch and says, “OK, pal. This is all you get from now on.”. Maybe the age-related performance decline really starts to slope precipitously downward after one passes 62.66 years of age. Maybe there’s only so many running, biking and swimming miles in a body and after you use them up, trying to do more becomes much more of a struggle.

September 2014 Six Mile Run

This is the September 2014 Six Mile Run from my Garmin.

I was fairly comfortable running on Saturday. I covered four miles and I could have easily gone at least another two miles. It was slow, much slower than I’m used to running at the level of effort I was putting out. My heart rate was at least twenty BPM higher than it should have been for the pace I was running. Maybe I just need to refocus my expectations.

this is the 4 mile run I did last Saturday.

So that’s the plan. I’m starting over.  I’m not expecting to be able to run six miles in around an hour.  I’m not going to be able to average twenty miles an hour for a thirty mile bike ride.  And swimming faster than two minutes per hundred is just not going to be in the cards. But I will do all three sports, I’m just not expecting a great performance, at least for now.  Whatever I get, I’ll take.  It sure beats the alternative.

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They Give Up

The cardio folks are waving the white flag. They surrender, giving up their weapons after one last try to fix me. Echocardiogram, nuclear stress test, and an angiogram along with an attempted angioplasty later and they don’t know what is causing my shortness of breath.  Echocardiogram is completely normal. In fact, my heart function is remarkably good, especially given that there is some significant narrowing of my major cardiac arteries. My electrocardiograms are just about perfect.  My heart skips a beat every now and then, but apparently that isn’t unusual in someone my age.

Oh, it could be a bunch of things.  Exercise induced asthma, for one, or some sort of bronchial spasms brought on by seasonal allergens or cold air. Lots of possibilities, no certainties yet.

I told the PA today that I feel no better, that the only change was that I am three thousand dollars poorer.  She said that apparently, the diagonal artery that is significantly narrowed is very small and unlikely to cause my symptoms.  Furthermore, it apparently has been blocked for at least the last eight years, since my heart attack and stenting.  I don’t remember being told about that vessel back when I had my heart attack but it seems that it came up in several conversations back when I was in the hospital for my heart attack and stent.

I have a referral to a pulmonologist.  I am now deeply enveloped by the bowels of the health care system.  I would have been happier with a diagnosis of, “You need a triple bypass and then you’ll be fine.”  At least that’s definitive albeit a lot more invasive.

This, “Well, it’s not that, let’s try something else”, approach is driving me crazy.

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