Number 41 – Another Lobo Triathlon

Just before 6AM waiting for transition to open

Sunday was my first triathlon in quite a long time and my fourth go at the Lobo Triathlon.  The Lobo Tri takes place at the University of New Mexico whose mascot is Louie the Lobo, a Mexican Grey Wolf.

The last time I did this event was in 2018. I couldn’t do the 2019 event as I was preparing for a right hip replacement. Both 2020 and 2021 were wiped out by the Covid pandemic. There was a “virtual” Lobo Tri in September 2021 which I participated in, but that was just for fun and to see if I could string a swim, bike, and a run together. So, the last real triathlon I’ve done was a Half Iron Distance event in September of 2018 in Welland, Ontario Canada that finished near Niagara Falls.

This is a reverse sprint tri, the order of events being run-bike-swim rather than the more common swim-bike-run. The run is first so as to spread the field out for the bike and swim.  It’s difficult to start over 200 athletes at the same time in a pool for a 400 meter swim.  The run is a 5K (3.1 miles), the bike turned out to be about a mile short of the usual sprint distance, being 11.22 miles instead of the standard 12.4 miles, and the swim is 400 meters.

Training for this one had been hit and miss. I sustained a labral tear in my right shoulder over a year ago and it has been really slow to heal, so there has not been much swimming. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to do any freestyle swimming. The last time I swam 400 meters straight was the 2021 Virtual Lobo Tri which was all breast stroke. I’d done a few unenthusiastic sessions of breast stroke mixed with the odd couple of lengths of freestyle using an abbreviated stroke with my right arm, but it wasn’t really training.

Run training went OK, but my right knee has been a little wonky along with some lingering pain in my right thigh from the hip replacement.

Cycling has gone really well though. I bought a new Trek Domane SL7 just after Christmas and I love it. So, I have been riding 20-30 miles a week and it has been a lot of fun. The sore knee resulted in backing off a bit the last two weeks though.

So, I was up at 4:45, after a lousy night’s sleep, to get some food in me.  I’m thinking it’s only a sprint, which means about a 90 minute effort, requiring only a couple of bananas blended with some chocolate milk for breakfast.

I get down to venue at UNM just as the eastern sky is starting to brighten up behind the Sandia Mountains.  My stuff was packed and ready to go from the night before so I pulled into the empty parking lot, aired up the tires and biked to transition, arriving at about 5:45.  Transition was supposed to open at 6:00, but they were a few minutes late getting us inside. While we waited the body marking crew did their thing and I picked up my chip.  I got my favorite spot, right next to the fence which gives me a little more room to put my stuff, but still pretty close to bike out and swim out.

I love the transition setup for a reverse sprint.  With the swim last it makes transition logistics so much easier.  We would start with the run, head into transition after two loops of the run course around the University of New Mexico, put on our helmets, swap running shoes for biking shoes, grab our bikes and head out to the bike course. After the bike we just had to remove helmets, shoes, socks, and shirts, grab our goggles and sprint into the pool building.

This year’s race was using a new course for the bike. We would bike 6 laps of the main ring road around the campus with an extra timing chip attached to our helmet that would keep track of how many laps we rode.

After a quick pre-race briefing, we walked over to the start line which was about 1/4 mile away.  I was in the last of three start waves, planning to do a run 9 minutes / walk 1 minute cycle for the 5K run.

I didn’t really know how my body was going to hold up. I’d gently built up to doing a 5 mile trail run two weeks prior that I think was what set off my knee hurting. As a result, I had been taking it easy on the running for the last two weeks. The knee was feeling quite a bit better, but it definitely wasn’t 100%. My right shoulder was still a question mark too, as I hadn’t done more than 2 laps of continuous freestyle in something like two years.

Two of my running friends, Meisha and Jennifer, who had come out to cheer me on, were waiting for me when I arrived at the starting area. While we were waiting for the first two waves to go off, I took on a couple of Tylenol pain relievers that Jennifer had with her to help with a little bit of soreness in my knee.

A few minutes later, Byron, the race director, called for the third wave and I lined up right in front to get as much advantage as I could. I wasn’t planning on anything dramatic, just hoping to maintain a steady run 9 minutes / walk 1 minute pace and hope that my knee didn’t go south.

The horn went off and we started the first loop around the campus. The first half of the loop would be along the same road as the bike course, except the runners were supposed to stay on the sidewalk while the bikes were on the street pavement. I wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement, as it meant that I’d be running on concrete when almost all of my run training was on dirt trails. It was definitely for the best, though, because the first cyclist, who had started the run about 10 minutes before us and finished the run in under 18 minutes, rocketed by us when we were only about 3/4 through the first mile.

I took my first walk break right at 9 minutes and passed the first mile in 11:28, took my second walk break at 19 minutes and passed the 2nd mile in 11:33, took my third walk break at 29 minutes right on schedule. I passed the third mile in 12:21. I had to take one last walk break to catch my breath a bit before pushing on to the run finish, then I motored into transition with a 37 minute flat 5K run. I was pleased with that as it was as good as I had done a standalone 5K last November on Thanksgiving Day.

The run course

Transition was pretty quick for me at 1:42. Got on the bike with no issues and immediately started pushing the pace. The roughly rectangular course was just under 2 miles per lap and we would do 6 laps. The westbound leg was with the wind and slightly downhill so I hammered that pretty well constantly passing people and occasionally getting passed myself. The northbound leg was mostly downhill so I was able to maintain most of my speed while dodging potholes in the street. The southbound leg was where we had to ride fairly steeply uphill back to the westbound leg and that was tough, raising my heart rate into the 160’s.

The bike course was crowded so it was difficult to take in fluids and impossible to take on nutrition unless I was willing to slow way down. I had to pay attention all the time as there were bikes around me either passing me or being passed by me nearly all the time. The really fast guys weren’t bothering to announce their passes which really annoyed me and nearly caused a crash right in front of me. I forced myself to take in some fluids after the course thinned out a bit after about three laps.

When the faster folks left the course I took the opportunity to ride even faster and ended up averaging about 7 minutes a lap.

The bike course

I finished the bike in 42:27 and executed another fairly quick transition in 1:33. I would have been even faster if I’d double checked my swim goggles and adjusted the straps properly before the race. I had to walk a bit as I headed to the pool to adjust the straps to my face.

The swim was the toughest leg. We were swimming in an eight lane, 50 meter pool. The course was serpentine, up one lane, dive under the lane divider, and swim down the next lane.

I had left too much on the bike course. My arms and legs were dead in the water from the very start. I also had done almost no swim training for the race as I had been babying my injured right shoulder and had been reluctant to put in much time in the pool.

Amazingly, the right shoulder picked the right day to come around. I was able to swim freestyle the whole 400 meters. I had to briefly stop and rest twice to catch my breath and had to stop once to clear water from my lungs. After an agonizingly long 14 minutes in the pool I finally touched the wall at the end of the 8th lane, climbed out of the pool, and crossed the timing mat in 1:37:26.5.

Summary of my race

I think I can improve on this with some more focused training. Clearly, my bike was the best part, finishing the ride in the top half of the field. I can take a few minutes off the run time and the swim time once I get the training for those two disciplines back on track.

My time was good enough for 2nd place out of 4 participants in the 70-74 age group. I was pleased with the result. Not bad for a nearly 70 year old man with an artificial right hip and rheumatoid arthritis.

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The Not So Big 4-0

When I finished Triathlon #39,the National Senior Games Triathlon, in June of 2019, I was anticipating surgery on my left shoulder that would keep me out of competition for a while.

The surgery on the left shoulder, in mid August of 2019, went pretty well, but it turned out that I had a badly torn bicep tendon that was causing all the pain while swimming and a number of other issues in the joint. The surgeon needed to cut the tendon and re-attach it. This complication forced a much longer rehab, 6-8 months, than I had expected. So I signed up for the Lobo Triathlon, which I’ve done several times and is normally held in early April at UNM, scheduled for April 19th, 2020. This was to be triathlon #40. Then Covid hit.

A few months after Covid hit, in May of 2020, I had to have my right hip joint replaced with a prosthetic one. That precipitated another long, arduous rehabilitation during which I watched as my fitness deteriorated to the point that when I started running again 10 months later it was an effort to slowly jog for 30 seconds. I kept slowly increasing the running time up to running slowly for 4 minutes and walking for one minute, repeating the cycle 6 times with a 10 minute walk warmup and cool down. Such was the state of my fitness going into this endeavor.

Long story short, the Lobo Tri was cancelled in April 2020 and April 2021, so the race director decided to make the 2021 event a semi virtual event called Salute to Heroes The idea was for the participants to do the three sports on their own and submit times and some supporting documentation to him.

For those who didn’t have access to a pool, he got permission to use the aquatic center on campus for a few hours to time those of us that signed up for Saturday, September 11th to swim.

I decided to make this as much like a real triathlon as possible and count it as my 40th triathlon. I signed up for a time on Saturday morning to swim and planned to do a 20K bike ride after swimming, followed as closely as possible by a 5K run. There was no need to submit transition times. It would take me a bit to drive to the start of the ride along the North Diversion Channel path which was a traffic free venue to ride 12.4 miles. Then I would drive about 1/2 mile to a nearby somewhat shaded trail around a golf course for the 5K run.

I arrived around 9:30AM for my 10AM start time. I could have started earlier, but I attended the Saturday group run and breakfast with my running group. I would later regret not starting earlier.

Because of two labral tears in my right shoulder, I wouldn’t be able to swim freestyle, but I could do a pretty strong breast stroke relatively pain free.

The pool was 50 meters long and had 8 lanes. So the swim would be a serpentine affair, up one lane and down the next. I had done a 400 meter swim in a 25 meter pool at my gym the previous Monday, just to make sure I could complete the swim, in 16 minutes and 57 seconds moving time, but I rested twice to catch my breath. This was a race so there would be no stopping.

I pushed off the wall after running a bit outside for warm up and started swimming as hard as I thought I could maintain for 400 meters. After the first length, I slipped under the lane divider and caught my heart rate strap which caused it to come undone. I had to grab it and lay it over the lane divider for later retrieval as I was in the deep end of the pool where the diving board would be so I couldn’t just let it sink to the bottom. That was the only drama for the whole swim. It was harder than I expected to push for the whole 400 meters, but I hit the wall after the 8th and last length in 15 minutes and 57 seconds according to the official timer, exactly one minute faster than my practice swim. I stopped my watch 10 seconds after hitting the wall.

I dried off, collected my swag bag, and headed to the car to drive to my bike venue a few miles away.

It took me a while to get off campus because there was some sort of parade on campus closing some streets but about 15 minutes later I arrived at the start of my ride route. I aired up the tires put on sunscreen, helmet, bike shoes, and gloves and took off.

I had a little tail wind as I rode due north along the Diversion Channel, cruising along at 17+MPH and thinking I was doing well. That wouldn’t last though. I turned around at 6.2 miles and started back into the wind. After a mile or so on the way back my lower back started to get tight and quite painful, causing me to back off a little on my effort for the last couple of miles. No other drama on the bike as I cruised into the parking lot where my car was parked after stopping my watch in 51:21 at exactly 12.4 miles for a 14.5 MPH average, which was better than I thought I’d do.

Then it was off to my run venue less than a mile away. I chose the trail around the UNM North Golf Course because it would provide some shade as the day heated up into early afternoon. I was hoping for about 45 minutes, but that wasn’t going to happen as my lower back continued to plague me after about 1.5 miles. The trail is two miles around the golf course after which I did some out and back to stay in the shade and on a flat part of the trail.

I ended up walking much more than I expected after the first mile of running two minutes/walking two minutes. The heat was a little more onerous than I expected also. In a nutshell, I finished up in 51 minutes and 10 seconds. I think I was carrying too much weight in my tri top pockets with my phone, wallet, keys and the extra battery for my standalone camera that I had neglected to leave in the car. That, combined with my relative lack of fitness, was a bit too much for my nearly 70 year old lower back muscles. I will be embarking on a core strength training routine as soon as I recover from this effort.

The finishers medal is a fidget spinner which will come in handy as I wait to do triathlon # 41

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One (hopefully only one) More Time

Another operation on the wonky left shoulder that has been, with the help of my propensity for landing on it every time I fall off my bike, getting progressively wonkier for several years now.

Part of the operation wasn’t due to any specific injury, or at least that wasn’t the proximate cause. I decided that the plate that was installed 10 years ago on my left clavicle after I shattered that bone into three pieces after an awkward flying dismount from my mountain bike, needed to come out, since it seemed like it was often the cause of discomfort in my shoulder.

My awesome massage therapist had had her plate removed and she said that the rehab from the removal surgery was really quick, something like a few weeks, before she felt normal.

So that was the perspective with which I approached the surgery.

What I was conveniently forgetting were the other problems with the shoulder about which I had talked to my surgeon; like the sharp pain on the top of my shoulder during the recovery stroke while swimming and what turned out to be a small tear in the rotator cuff caused by some bone spurs.

So on surgery day I’m thinking I’ll be back to normal activity in a few weeks.

Well, it turns out that when your swimming pain is caused by the upper bicep tendon being torn at the insertion point into the bone, they cut the tendon and re-attach it further down. It’s supposed to be good as new after it heals, but the healing part, that’s the catch. It takes three whole months.

That’s three months of doing no strength training, as in no swimming, or outdoor biking, or weight lifting.

So much for back to normal in a few weeks. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

I’m now one week post surgery. Eleven weeks to go…

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Barrelman Niagara Falls Half Iron Distance Triathlon


It was a tad warm and humid at the start.  The fog burned off just as the swim got underway. Photo credit to Rachy Lauz.

I chose this race for several reasons.  First, because it was close to where I grew up, where my sisters still live, and where Brigitte has family east of Toronto.  Second, after the 94F (34.4C), mostly walking, run debacle at IMAZ 70.3 last October, I was reasonably sure that it would not be hot for the ride and run. Third, the bike course was almost completely flat.  Fourth, I would have the advantage of a 5000 foot elevation decrease between where I train and the race venue. And last, how cool would it be to run by Niagara Falls twice during a triathlon? I turned out to be right about three out of five.

We decided to drive to the race to save money and to have our own car in NY and Canada without having to rent one.  Since I wanted to get there early so I could relax and do some course recon before the race, that meant we would need to leave a week before race day.  Two and a half days of driving later we arrived at my sister’s house where we would stay until the night before the race.

Training had gone pretty well.  I only missed one long ride on the bike that had more to do with scheduling issues around work than anything else.  I had to miss several swims because my left shoulder has not been happy for a long time.  I got all the long runs in and almost all of the runs off the bike that were on the schedule.

I was going to do one thing a little differently in training this time and that was to have a bit more active taper in the final days leading up to the race and I have to say that went pretty well.

The only question mark about race day after we arrived in NY was the weather.  Western New York and southern Ontario had just had a very warm and humid although largely rain-free summer.  The forecast for race day was more of the same, very warm and very humid.  I was not looking forward to suffering in the heat and humidity and race day turned out to be worse than I had imagined.


Typical road on the bike course.  Straight and flat.

We got to our hotel in the late evening the night before the race without incident.  I wanted to stay in a hotel in Canada the night before the race because the swim  was in Welland, Ontario and I didn’t want to risk any issues with the bridge over the Niagara River and the subsequent border crossing on race day.  Our hotel was about 30 minutes from the swim venue.

I had my usual spaghetti dinner at a restaurant not far from the hotel and I got to bed fairly early for me on a pre-race night after a dry run to test the route out of town to get to Welland and the race.

Barrelman Niagara Falls Triathlon is a point-to-point, two transition race.  We had dropped the bike at T1 in Welland, Ontario when I checked in on Saturday.  It was very hot and humid with little to no wind then and it turned out to be a near carbon copy of race day weather, only cooler. T2 would be in Kingsbridge Park just south of Niagara Falls, Ontario where I’d leave my bike and start the 13.1 mile run. It was nice not having to deal with the bike on race morning other than to check the tires.

I woke up to the expected cool, foggy morning at 6 AM.  Race start was 8:29 for the pros and 8:30 for the first age group wave.  I was in the last age group wave that was scheduled for 9AM. Cutoff for the finish was 5:20PM so I had less than 8 1/2 hours to complete the race although I wasn’t concerned with any of the cutoffs.  Barring a serious bike malfunction, I would easily make all the cutoffs.

Although it was a tad cool when we arrived at the start, it warmed up quite quickly and by the time I put my wetsuit on it was warm enough that I worked up a good sweat wriggling into the thing.

2018-09-15 12.06.27

The swim venue featured a 600 seat grandstand for the spectators. This was a shot from the pre-race briefing on Saturday.

Robin and I at swim start in Welland

Wetsuit on and ready to go.  That’s my sister, Robin, next to me.

I got in a five minute warmup, but I should have warmed up a little harder.  That’s probably the only logistics mistake I made all day.  I guess after doing 35 of these triathlon things, you eventually figure most things out.  Then it was time to line up on the dock before getting in the water for my wave to go off.

There were maybe 30 athletes in my wave which was men 60 and over and women 55 and over.  After about 3 minutes in the water we were off.  Only a little drama on the swim.  I stayed with the group trying to draft as much as I could.  It got a little congested even after we had been swimming for a while as I found myself in a pack of swimmers doing the same speed as I was.  At one point I found myself swimming with my face next to the feet of a woman who was kicking vigorously and every time I turned to breathe I got a mouthful of water.  I quickly moved away from that annoyance.  The water was warm but wetsuit legal and truthfully, I got a little overheated on the swim and couldn’t wait to get out of the water.  That was a sign of much warmer and more uncomfortable hours to come.

I swam remarkably straight as you can see from the GPS track.  The swim venue was at the Welland International Flatwater Centre.  This facility is on a disused portion of the Welland Canal that has been converted into a site for flatwater racing of all kinds.  The rowing race course that we were swimming around is delineated into lanes with small white buoys.  The buoys are anchored to yellow lines placed on the bottom of the canal that are easily visible in the  clear water.  So I was able to swim straight by following the line on the bottom much like swimming in a pool.  This worked well until I made the final turn for the swim finish and, not having the lines on the bottom to guide me, veered to the right directly into the dock from which we started only about 30 yards from the finish.  Also, at this point both of my calves decided to lock up into a crampy ball. I quickly corrected course, kicking furiously to relieve the cramps, and got out of the water in 48 minutes, 2 minutes slower than I had planned.

Welland Swim Track

Swim Track


I even had trouble getting my arms out of the wetsuit.

I headed into transition where I had a hell of a time getting my wetsuit off over the timing chip.  I also had to pack up all of my swim stuff so the race could transport it to the finish at T2 resulting in a relatively slow 5:26 T1 time.

Leaving transition in Welland

Leaving transition

I was a little disappointed in my swim time.  I was hoping to improve on last year’s 46 minute swim.  I guess my lack of swim training due to my deteriorating left shoulder was more of a factor than I thought.  Other than that I was off on the bike without forgetting anything.  I had two throwaway bottles of dilute Gatorade on the bike which I would exchange at the two aid stations and a bottle of water on the aerobars that I would top off from the frame mounted bottles.  I also had 10 electrolyte capsules and 8 Endurance Tap packets in my Bento box.  All I had to do was remember to drink, take the Enduranced Tap, and take the electrolyte capsules.

Welland Bike Course

The Bike Course

The first third of the bike course was on rural, fairly quiet, and dead flat roads through farm country as we headed southwest towards Lake Erie. Unfortunately, the wind although fairly light was noticeably a headwind.  I was feeling OK and made good time over the first third of the course.

My target for the bike was 3:30 or better.  I had done 3:30 in Tempe on a much hillier, much windier, and much more technical course. This course had less than a third of the elevation gain and 90% fewer turns than Tempe, plus I had aerobars for this race that I didn’t have in Tempe because the Tempe course had 120 turns on the course making aerobars much less effective,  so I thought 3:15 would be easily doable.

Welland Bike Course Elevation

Bike Course Elevation Profile  It doesn’t get much flatter than this.

No problems on the bike.  I sipped fluids steadily, exchanged water bottles without issues, and took my electrolytes more or less on schedule.

The headwind that we had going out to Lake Erie wasn’t much of a tailwind as we headed back to Welland.  After we got to Welland and headed toward Niagara Falls we had a headwind along with the only significant uphill, a three+ mile long steady climb into a headwind after we went through the tunnel under the Welland Canal.  I tired steadily as I pedaled towards Niagara Falls and my butt got steadily more sore as the heat built and the humidity kept my sweat from evaporating, resulting in my bike shorts never really drying out.  I had lubed the undercarriage quite liberally before the race, but the soggy shorts dissolved it.  I was hot, sweaty and uncomfortable for the last 25 miles.

By the time we hit the Parkway along the Niagara River, I was ready to be off the bike.  It was a little cooler along the river and we definitely had a noticeable tailwind but I wasn’t feeling great as the day had become very hot and humid with no relief from the bright sunshine.  I didn’t know it, but the run course would be a lot worse.

I finally pulled into T2 at Kingsbridge Park and hit the watch to end the bike ride.  Three hours and thirty two minutes.  A good 17 minutes off of goal time.  The heat and humidity was definitely getting to me.

I had done almost all of my long training rides in the heat of Albuquerque’s high desert climate with temps in the mid to upper 90’s (35-37C) .  I was prepared for heat, but not for the 70% humidity. More on the weather later.

T2 was uneventful although a tad slow at just shy of 4 minutes.  My legs were pretty toasty after the bike and without the cooling effect from a bike ride induced headwind I was overheated as I started out in the blazing sunlight.

The first two miles of the 6.755 mile, two lap course were in full sun with virtually no wind on an afternoon with the humidex in the mid 90’s.  I tried to run but the legs shut down in the heat.  After the first two miles, the course had some shade and I started running 30 seconds and walking for 90 seconds.

Barrelman Run Course

Run Course

I got confirmation that I was drinking enough when I had to stop and pee at about 3 miles.  That was followed by walking the one steep uphill on the run course.  After cresting the hill, we had moved away from the cooling influence of the light breeze wafting off the Niagara River and were now traversing a flat but stifling section of the course with a bright, full sun beating down and absolutely no wind.  I started to doubt whether I would finish the run it was so uncomfortably hot.  This was way worse then the 93F (33.8C) dry heat in Tempe and all I could think about was having to run this section again on the second lap of the run.  Mercifully, this section was only about 1.2 miles long and we finally came to a shady section followed quickly by the downhill portion of the course that would take us by the Falls.

You may have seen iconic photos of Niagara Falls with the mist rising from the cataract and drifting over the Parkway wetting the cars and the tourists in a gentle, cooling rain. Well, today there wasn’t enough wind to blow the mist onto the course which followed the Parkway in a coned off lane for the athletes.  There was the absolute gentlest of breezes that did provide some relief from the energy sapping heat and humidity. Thankfully, for the first mile or two on the course back towards T2 and the completion of my first lap of the run course, the sun was behind one of the few clouds in the sky.  I didn’t pay much attention to the Falls.  I was busy concentrating on relentless forward motion.

Once I finally got my running legs back, I increased the running time to 45 seconds and walked 1:15.. I figured that since I had walked almost all of the Tempe run course, a short but steady run/walk would gain me enough time over the Tempe run that I might make my 7:30 overall goal.  I hit the turnaround to start the second lap in about 1:39.  I knew it was going to  be tough to make that 7:30 goal.

Barrelman Run Elevation

Run Course Elevation Profile

I picked up the pace as much as I could on the second lap, increasing the run to 1 minute and decreasing the walk to one minute.  That was the best I could do.  The temperature was just the tiniest bit cooler but the fatigue that was setting in more than made up for any performance improvement from ever so slightly lower temperatures.

I ran the second lap about two minutes faster than the first, finishing the 13.1 miles in 3:16.  My last mile was my fastest of the run so I didn’t bonk or get dehydrated. I had no issues with hydration or nutrition on the run.  I took my electrolyte capsules like clockwork and had no cramping at all in spite of the high humidity.

Total time was 7:47:04, a Half Iron Distance PR by 8 minutes.  I did OK on the day given the conditions but it wasn’t the day I had hoped for as the weather delivered the hottest, most humid conditions in the history of the race.  There were about 40 DNFs, most after the bike ride, and 108 DNSs.  I finished 8 out of 9 in age group and 498 out of 539 total.


Finishing the first lap with the Canadian Falls in the background

This was my A race for the year and I think I delivered an A performance given the conditions.  Logistically, I did my best ever triathlon. I forgot nothing and took in hydration, fuel, and electrolytes steadily and on schedule throughout the race.  My one fault was swimming into the dock, but that only cost me 10 seconds or so.


Crossing the finish line

The jury is still out on whether I will do another Half Iron Distance triathlon.    I think I have a sub 7:30 in me but I’ll be another year older before I can try again.  In the meantime I have several sprint and olympic distance races on my schedule as well as a 100 mile bike ride.  We’ll see.


Cooling off on the splashpad with my two beautiful sisters.

Thanks to my wife, Brigitte, and to my sisters, Robin and Laurie, and my nephew, Ryan and his fiance, Tricia, Robin’s husband, Mickey, my niece, Stephanie and her boyfriend, Ryan, and Laurie’s partner Dave for their support during the race.  It really helped a lot.

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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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