Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Family

2015: The Long & Short of It

There was no singular event, race or accomplishment to define the past year.  However, there were many firsts — new experiences, new friendships and new adventures.

  • For the first time, I raced outside the continental United States in March with a trip to Puerto Rico.
  • I ran a half marathon personal record by about eight minutes in April when Esme and I took a weekend trip to Raleigh.
  • Later in the year, I ran a marathon personal record during a training run and lopped about eight minutes off of that time too.
  • After more than a decade away from it, I swam the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim during a heat wave.  I crossed in about 1:46 or as fast as I ever have.
  • I had fun — and some success — with local Olympic distance races that I’d never been to in Charlottesville and Colonial Beach.
  • In late June I showed up for my fourth Ironman in four years.  By my own assessment, I was more fit and more prepared for Coeur d’Alene than the previous races.  It was far from my most successful race.  I barely dragged myself into the finish area.  Nonetheless, it was a great trip to a beautiful corner of the country.
  • I was able to see all four members of the tribe swim in the “A” meet for two consecutive weekends for their summer swim program.
  • During one four week period in the summer I raced three times, in three formats — Ironman, Olympic and open water marathon swim.
  • I volunteered at a race — a 5k — where Desmond won some hard earned recognition.
  • In July I did my first ever race in the ocean.  The nine mile course in Ocean City is worthy of the term “marathon swim.”
  • In September, my team of two years began the process of folding up.  Then in October I joined a new team — with a whole new set of people to learn.
  • During the summer, I spent the better part of an afternoon volunteering with kids in a program with the DC Parks and Recreation teaching and answering questions about swimming and triathlon.  Later in the year I guided a blind athlete during a half marathon.
  • When November rolled around, I found myself going long again for the JFK 50 — my first ultra-marathon.
  • I watched Desmond flourish in cross country and Josephine in the field events of their first year of track.
  • A couple weeks ago I ran with Esme for the third straight year at the Celtic Soltice — and she dropped nearly seven minutes from her 2014 time.

In all, I swam more than 233,800 yards which is just a bit shy of 133 miles.  Though I didn’t check, this may be the first time ever that I ran more than I rode my bike.  Cumulatively I was on the saddle nearly six days during the year covering 1,765 miles (not including commuting).  By contrast I ran the equivalent of 7.7 days for a total of 1,261 miles.

The blue dots on the chart below represent the intensity of a workout.  The closer to 1.0 the harder the session.  Each blue dot corresponds to a red dot.  The red dots along the X axis are days that I did not exercise.  Red dots above the axis show how much “work” I did that day.

There is a clear pattern with a minor peak in March for Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico and the Raleigh Half Marathon and a major peak at the end of June for Ironman Coeur d’Alene followed an Olympic race and the Ocean Games.  Then my fitness declined; I continued to work out but without a clear plan or schedule of races.  At the end of August I decided to do the JFK 50 and the workload and frequency of sessions picked up straight through Thanksgiving.  At that point, I started “offseason” until about a week or two ago when I started swimming again.

2015 TSS


Schedule Note.

Through the first seven months of 2015, I’ve done the following races:

  • Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico
  • Raleigh Rock N Roll Half Marathon
  • Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon
  • Great Chesapeake Bay Swim — 4.4 Miles
  • Ironman Coeur d’Alene
  • Colonial Beach Olympic Triathlon
  • Ocean Games 9 Mile Swim

It has been a really good year.  I did my first “training camp” over Memorial Day weekend and finally was able, after years of intentions, to ride a big section of Skyline Drive.  Puerto Rico was big fun, Raleigh rewarded me with a best time and moreso with a father-daughter weekend trip, at Monticelloman and Colonial Beach I ran personal bests for the 10k, and I soaked in joy of the Chesapeake on a 90+ degree day for the GCBS.  IMCDA and the Ocean Games both extended my horizons by creating opportunities to keep looking for my limits.  At the former, I showed up more fit than I’ve ever been for a triathlon.  At the latter, I literally jumped in with both feet to try something new.

I won’t likely be racing in August.  However, if I can swing the logistics I’ll volunteer while the tribe races at the NOVA Running Club 5k on August 25.  The weekend of October 3 I will be volunteering at Ironman Maryland and the following weekend, October 10-11, I’ll be busy spectating at the tribe’s fall track meet. Read the rest of this entry »

Ocean Games — Nine Miles is Not Playing Around

Yesterday was the third annual Ocean Games in Ocean City, Maryland.  I took part in the nine mile ocean swim.  It is a point-to-point swim starting at Caroline Street and ending at 145th Street.  There were some two dozen of us who took the plunge for the marathon swim — others did SUP races or a three-mile or one-mile swim.

This is the crew that swam the length of the barrier island (the Maryland segment) where Ocean City  is located.  A pretty happy bunch before the swim start.

This is the crew that swam the length of the barrier island (the Maryland segment) where Ocean City is located. A pretty happy bunch before the swim start.

Paddy was my kayak pilot.  Ironic considering he doesn’t like the water — but what good is staying friends with someone you met at age 18 if you cannot drag them along on adventures?  He was able to launch into the surf without dumping over, rode without incident for the whole race, and kept me fueled while I was out on the course.  Looking back, it could have been a real mess with the two of us.  He has been on kayaks, but isn’t an experienced ocean paddler.  I know how to swim, but I had zero experience with what we were getting into.  It all worked out however I’m pretty sure we had some of the slowest feeding sessions among all of the swimmers.

I finished third overall behind a 40 year old man and a 22 year old woman who pipped me in the last mile.  She had it when it mattered; I did not.  I finished in 3:22:04.4 which is about a 22:27 per mile pace.

Top three finishers were given a cool water bottle and a very nice beach towel featuring Ocean Games logos.  Here I am with the event's founder, Corey Davis, who organizes the whole thing to benefit the Johns Hopkins Brain and Stroke Rehabilitation Center.

Top three finishers were given a cool water bottle and a very nice beach towel featuring Ocean Games logos. Here I am with the event’s founder, Corey Davis, who organizes the whole thing to benefit the Johns Hopkins Brain and Stroke Rehabilitation Center.

The day was very pleasant.  We had a 10.00 a.m. start with light, steady breezes that grew into a steady 12 mph wind from the south.  As a result, we had a tailwind pushing us down the course and the water became increasingly choppy as we progressed.

We stayed at a Hampton Inn at 43rd Street which was a short walk to the Friday night check-in and safety briefing.  In the morning, for $3, I took a bus down the main road to where the numbered streets begin to walk about two or three blocks to the race start.

The pre-race preparations went smoothly probably due in part to the later start time.  I’m not sure if that was to accommodate the live guards and when they go on duty, if it is because of the tides or what, but 10 a.m. is luxurious compared most triathlons that go between 6.30 and 7.30 a.m.  I prepared nutrition as if I would be swimming for 5 and a half hours, then I included another hour of stuff in case things went way off my plan, and then I threw in a few things as back ups.  I had way more than necessary on board the kayak and possibly more than necessary in my gut.


I was aiming for 75 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  My objective was to come up with a plan that would be simple to execute.  Fewer choices, fewer variables, fewer chances to make a mistake or combine two things that don’t go together and if something was off, it should be easier to isolate the culprit for next time.  My plan was to drink half bottle on the 30 minute mark, drink half a bottle and eat a Gu Roctane gel on the 60 minute mark, and then repeat.  In addition, at 120 minutes I planned to chew up a GasX tablet to help with all the gels.  For the first, third and fifth bottle I had Gu Roctane Endurance drink powder in a Clean Bottle.  For the second and fourth hour I had Gu Bru drink powder (I could only find the low-calorie/carb version so I tripled the concentration) in a Tri360 bottle.  All the drinks are made primarily with maltodextrin as the base carbohydrate.  Items in the “extra” or just in case category included two regular Gu gels, a bonk breaker, a single serving bottle of Scope, Cliff Shots which are nutritionally like a gel but packaged as gummie chews, the bottle of ginger tea and a bottle of Gatorade Endurance.

Next Post

Next up I write about how the race developed — there was a lot more action and movement within the field than I expected — and what I learned.  I learned a lot.  Open water swimming is a prerequisite for marathon swimming, but the two are not at all the same thing.  I’ve done the former and enjoy it tremendously.  The latter is a whole new world and I’ve only just begun to earn some understanding of its mysteries — understanding that must come through experience.  From what I’m told, marathon swimming is a prerequisite for channel swimming which is on a whole other plane.

Teasers — I swam in the lead or with the leader for almost 90 minutes, donated some of my breakfast as fish food, was passed by two people simultaneously around the seven mile mark only to pass them both back — temporarily.  Also, everyone I met was very generous with their advice and in answering my very naive questions about everything from what type of bottle to use (I used standard bike bottles) to pacing and other race options.

Meltdown in the Mountains — 80 Minutes of Medical Attention

A list of the weird things my body did upon finishing Ironman Coeur d’Alene

  1. I became dizzy, disoriented and had narrow, tunnel vision.  I slurred my speech and repeated the same thing several times.
  2. I talked excessively to a guy I met at the finish line, Scott Rigsby, like I had known him for years.  It was very uncharacteristic behavior for me but he didn’t seem to mind and was the person who steered me into the medical tent to find someone to help my crazy-talking self.  I’ve known of him for years, but never met him.
  3. I did not recognize two friends who stood “bedside” shortly after I arrived.  According to their report hours later, at first I just stared blankly at them like we’d never met.  Sorry about that.
  4. There was a metallic taste in my mouth.
  5. My teeth and my feet became tingly and numb.
  6. My right calf seized up into a monstrous cramp the first time I shifted and tried to sit fully upright.
  7. Freezing cold towels were draped over my legs to help the cramp which made me start shivering and shaking so bad that I couldn’t talk and I crushed a paper cup full of soup because my hands clenched while they shook.  The cold towels were removed and I was given a space blanket.  We were in a massive tent, on asphalt, it was 105 degrees and I was happily bundled in a blanket.
  8. The vastus medialis muscle above my right knee went into a spasm that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
  9. I had a twitch in my left foot; for about five minutes it just kicked out an inch or two to the left every five seconds.
  10. I forgot Dana’s phone number.  Fortunately, the medical attendant who agreed to text her for me was able to look at my Road ID to get the number.  For some reason, during this conversation I developed a stutter.  It was amazingly frustrating because I felt like my brain was working at 80 percent normal speed but the messages — which I was thinking — were not coming out of my mouth.  She would say, “What would you like me to tell her?”  I could not get the words out to say something as simple as “I’m fine.  A little dizzy.”  This exchange with an extremely patient women trying to help me communicate made me cry.  She gave me a towel to wipe my face and it was still cold from the leg incident which caused an immediate headache.
  11. I became extremely emotional — nearly weepy several times like when they first took my vital signs, overjoyed at other points, and worried about details that were entirely insignificant like how tight the laces were on my shoes.  I apologized several times for taking up space when there were obviously people who needed help.  I was assured that I was in fact one of those people — only I couldn’t recognize it.
  12. Several times I called out to the guy in the chair opposite me.  I thought poor Kevin — only about eight feet away — was in terrible shape if he didn’t recognize his own name after the race.  Only about an hour later, when Kevin arrived in the medical tent and took the spot two chairs to my right did I realize the guy I’d been harassing was someone else, wearing entirely different colors in his kit, and with his name clearly visible on his bib — it wasn’t Kevin.  I was the mess, not the other guy.
  13. For the first half hour I was in the tent, my nose would not stop running.
  14. I became mildly paranoid about my heart rate and kept checking it even after they removed my watch to improve circulation to the extremities.  The watch had the heart rate on display so I had to count it out.  This would be no big deal but I was paranoid and doing it every few minutes.  Every time I checked it was within a few beats of when they came by and checked it which was in the low to mid 60s.  My blood pressure was also pretty stable around 110/70.
  15. I felt drunk.  We’re not talking buzzed or tipsy.  I was like that guy you’ve all seen who gets so loaded at the tailgate he never makes it into the stadium.  The only difference is he usually sleeps in the parking lot a mile from the game and I was awake, on a plastic lounge chair, totally falling apart in a parking lot only 10 yards from the finish line.

The medical personnel said that I had acute hyponatremia and not to worry but to drink my fluids — chicken broth and Gatorade.  I knew enough about hyponatremia to get a little freaked out.  I kept thinking about the irony that I was going to drown, on dry land, when the thing I did best at these races was swim.  Later, before I was released, it was explained that if I had more serious symptoms or if I had vomited even one more time, I would have had an IV immediately and probably been shipped straight to the hospital.  Their prescription was salty drinks and time.  It worked.

I didn’t have it from drinking too much fluid but rather from too low of sodium concentration because I had been sweating out electrolytes faster than I could keep them down and absorb them.

I was also told that it was both helpful and a good sign that I was able to recount for the medical team my “history” which is to say I was able to detail my nutrition over the previous six hours — how much I drank, how many salt tablets I took, how many gels I ate, how many times I vomited and my estimate of how many gels I kept down.  It was helpful because it gave them a picture of how long I had effectively been running on empty and they didn’t have to guess or assume the worst.

It was a good sign because even though my mind was playing all sorts of games and working slowly, the ability to count a variety of items/activities and recount them was a good sign.  I knew how many salts I had taken and the intervals at which I had taken them going back ten hours but could not recognize friends who stood next to me or sat across an aisle.  I gave a detailed account of my Gu consumption but was dizzy enough that three people had to lower me into the chair.

Most of these symptoms that emerged in the medical tent, I’m told, were brought on as my systems tried to “turn themselves back on” as more electrolytes entered my bloodstream and the balance of water, sugar, salts etc. regained a semblance of normal.  It took almost a week for my stomach to get back to normal.  I’m going to lose one toenail to the race.  I felt mentally sluggish for several days after the race and had term memory problems — like when I called someone and had trouble with the voicemail because I couldn’t remember my own phone number or difficulty with my computer passwords.  All in all, it probably took about a week to get back to normal.

Thank you to the people of Coeur d’Alene who lined the run course with ice, hoses, sprinklers and good cheer.  I’m sure you kept many people out of the hospital.  The volunteers kept us all out of the hospital.  The medical volunteers were smart, attentive, patient and genuinely humane.  Thank you all.

You Did Good, Papa. I Got a Chipper Sandwich, See?

I went to Idaho last weekend.  Like previous Ironman experiences, it was big and grand and memorable.  I was fit.  I was ready.  I was excited.  The race didn’t turn out how I wanted.  There were good aspects, but mostly, I bombed out.

After traveling all day and night Monday and then working on Tuesday, I rode straight to the tribe’s diving meet after work.  I was behind schedule and as it turned out, arrived too late.  It stung.  It was a totally avoidable mistake.

The pool sits atop a hill.  It is an eighth of a mile and about a seven percent grade to get up the hill.  I churned with all that I had to drag my aching body and my commuter bike up that hill.  At the top, I rode straight to the fence, peered through and saw that there were teenagers diving already.  I was too late.  And, I was dizzy so I layed down right there in the driveway.

I’m not sure how long I sprawled on the asphalt.  I was disappointed and sweaty and mad and, I was dizzy.  Tobias came out.  He played with my helmet and the blinky light.  Then he announced, “You did good, Papa.”

There was a pause.  I asked what he meant.  I had missed his dives.  I had barely gotten around the second loop of the run in Coeur d’Alene.  He held the pause.  Finally I opened my eyes and he held up his ice cream treat.  “I got a chipper sandwich, see?  And, you did good.  We saw you do a summersault at the end.  Mama laughed.  It was funny.”

It was worth it.  Every painful step.

Puerrrrto Rrrrico!

We’ve been married 15 years.

They have been hard, wonderful, enriching and life-filled years.  We’ve loved, lost, doubted, grieved, moved and grown.  We have made big life decisions and been wrong.  We have made life-altering changes that have been rewarding beyond expectation.

What a ride.  We rented an efficiency apartment and then a tiny one-bedroom house.  We’re now on to owning our third house — and at 8+ years have lived in it for longer than all the other places together.  We have four wonderful children who everyday remind me how crazy, exotic and surprising they can each be in their individualism, generosity and sheer wackiness.  We have jobs, hobbies and passions, enviable health and enough resources to keep paying the bills every month.

Monday morning in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan.

Monday morning in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan.

We have also been through a failed adoption, five miscarriages, sudden job loss, a catastrophic accident for a close family member, death of loved ones and the ongoing challenges of aging parents.

We’ve had a life, and we’re just getting started.

One day last weekend, there was a meltdown over the rules of a board game, a band competition, the first soccer game of the season, track practice, drop-off for a sleepover, going out to the local burger joint and frozen custard shop and more games and reading before bed.  That is just the kids.  In between, Dana did her thing and I mine — which consisted of 95 minutes on the trainer, a four mile run and some strength exercises.  I fell asleep on the couch with one of the Narnia books at my fingertips — reading time abbreviated by Papa’s inability to stay awake.

I wonder how we ever left for a weekend.  But we did.  Dana and I went to San Juan to celebrate our anniversary.  She was able to spend time — twice a day most days — with her favorite teachers taking part in a special workshop in an airy studio blocks from the beach.  I raced.  The Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 is on a fantastic course.  We swam in a protected lagoon (with manatees!) while the bike course quickly exits San Juan via closed highways and puts the Atlantic over your shoulder for a good portion of the ride before you turn south and find mountains on the horizon.   The run course is also spectacular.  It is hot, largely unshaded, full of hills and it takes you through Old San Juan and past two towering forts.

We stayed in a hotel with a balcony overlooking the lagoon where the swim took place.

I love her and cannot wait to see what comes next for us.

My favorite picture from the race.  A friend always says about challenges, "Make sure you are running to something and not just away from something.  I'm running headlong into the next 15, no 50, years together.

My favorite picture from the race. A friend always says about challenges, “Make sure you are running to something and not just away from something. I’m running headlong into the next 15, no 50, years together.

WITSUP? Gender Equity, That’s What

When I can, moreso in the summer than the winter, I frequent a handful of triathlon focused sites.  I read Slowtwitch and Triathlete Magazine articles.  I really enjoy the Down Under perspective from First Off the Bike.  The business of triathlon is covered at the predictably named Triathlon Business.  I follow several professionals’ social media accounts.

It was through social media that last year I found WITSUP.  At first glance, you might think a site devoted to women in triathlon would not be so interesting to me.  But, you’d be wrong.  They do nice interviews, the content — nearly all as far as I can tell — written by women is not always just for women but for triathletes.

Recently, the WITSUP community (like FOTB, also based in Australia) has gone to the front of the parade for changes in how professional races are staged — especially the Ironman World Championships and the biggest of the Challenge races.

A four-part series on gender equity in triathlon is currently being published.  Sara Gross is thorough and even-handed.  Part two of the series is here.  As best I can tell they are also leading the effort to work constructively with the new Women In Tri panel established by WTC.  Go here to get a concise overview of the issues at stake and to lend your own support to the cause.

I signed the letter.  In the area where you leave a modifier next to your name, I wrote the following:

Husband, Father of Four, Supportive Dude, Fan, Finisher of Dozens of Triathons & Open Water Races, Race Volunteer, IM 70.3 World Championship Qualifier, Multiple Ironman Finisher

Being a fan — watching the development of races, seeing the human struggle and triumph, marveling at the execution of near super-human feats — brought the issue to my attention.  As I have developed as an athlete I’ve also gained a sliver of insight into how some of the structural problems affect the professional field — especially draft packs and the effect of strong swim-bikers and how they can affect the female professionals.  As a fan, I want to see deep and competitive fields and not tactics compromised by another simultaneous race happening on the same course.

Last night I took my 10 year old daughter to run with me at the track.  Afterward, we talked about what she saw.  It was an interval session with nearly 30 members of the club present.  I ran near the front of the second group and to her, I was going “super fast”.  She was polite enough not to point out how I struggled with the last 800.  I highlighted that the bulk of the leading group were women.  We talked about them by name and accomplishment: Mothers, 20-something professionals, a 50+ national caliber and record setting age-grouper, former NCAA Division I runners, a doctor, a writer.

Our family has resources.  My children have a strong and accomplished mother demonstrating how to live well. In the end, they will be okay.  But they and so many others will have their horizons broadened — in sport, in business, the arts, academia, the non-profit community — when they have heroes with whom they relate.

Lend your support today.  Make room for the next generation of heroes on the Kona pier.

Tom Calomeris, 1942-2014

Invariably, a funeral is focused on life.  There is a remembrance of the deceased, a gathering of family and friends, and most certainly reflection by the living.  For Christians there is the obvious liturgical narrative woven through the proceedings about life after death.

This week I reunited with some past team mates as our coach was laid to rest in a rural, historic and beautiful mountain cemetery outside of Lexington, Virginia.

There were moving tributes, including eulogies by Cal’s daughter Tina Prather and one-time CUA team captain Brian Larkin.  There were stories told and old acquaintances reestablished as well.  A bevy of family hugged, laughed and cried a little too.

Cal played many roles.  He was a husband and father, grandfather, and coach, certainly.  He never really stopped being a member of the fraternity that goes with his two decades of service in Maryland law enforcement.  He was a parishioner, motivator, disciplinarian and to countless people on the cusp of adulthood, a role model.

Dozens of photos have surfaced online this week.  This is among my favorites.  There is no telling what he is saying.  Is he cheering, announcing a relay line-up, singing to himself, congratulating someone?  Cal was a big man - 6'4" who loomed large when he stalked the pool deck.

Dozens of photos have surfaced online this week. This is among my favorites. There is no telling what he is saying. Is he cheering, announcing a relay line-up, singing to himself, congratulating someone? Cal was a big man – 6’4″ who loomed large when he stalked the pool deck.

In my life, he was the prime mover behind a move from a small town in Illinois to Washington, D.C.  That move kept me in school.  By the time I visited CUA as a recruit in April 1992, I had been in touch with Cal for approximately a year.  While he was interested in me as a swimmer, I wasn’t interested at all in becoming a student.  I had not applied to college — not to Catholic University and not to any other schools excepting James Madison University though my interest in the Virginia university had waned substantially.

Long story short, I visited campus over Easter break, met the swim team at a picnic hosted at Cal’s house, took part in various irresponsible activities both on and off campus and decided that going to college wouldn’t be all that bad and if done well could be tons of fun.  In the subsequent two weeks Cal was able to both get my formal application to the right office of the university as well as have a generous package of financial aid communicated to me.

I distinctly remember taking a phone call from him after my application was accepted and the financial aid letter had been sent.  Our telephone was affixed to the wall in the kitchen and it had a long, probably ten foot, cord that would allow you to walk around.  I didn’t need the cord.  The unhappy call was short.  I had to explain how grateful I was for his efforts but that I wouldn’t be able to accept.  He wanted to know where I was going instead.  I had no plan and despite the generosity of the grants, the scholarships, low interest loans and the guarantee of a work-study position on campus, the difference between the price tag and what I was able to pay with funds from my parents’ savings, my own savings and additional loans was simply too great.

He didn’t miss a beat.  He asked me to hold off for a few days and not to make any commitments about my future.  True to form, he was optimistic, resourceful, focused on a goal and indefatigable.  A new financial aid offer arrived within the week.  There wasn’t a tremendous change — as I recall, it was about $2,500 and only guaranteed for the first two years if I maintained good grades — but it was enough.  And I became a Cardinal.

Cal was THE catalyst to the path of my adult life.  He also provided the guardrails as I started down that path.  Until I met Cal I had never worked hard at anything in life except swimming.  I was not entirely disengaged with life.  I enjoyed family, friendships, other sports and extra-curricular activities.  I had jobs.  I read.  But I didn’t commit and really work hard.  When I came to Catholic University as an 18 year old I was an indifferent student for the first semester and the grades showed it.  But by then his influence started to take hold.  The practice of skating by with Bs turned to searching for the best professors, the most challenging seminars and much better grades.  Eventually, I graduated early with honors and a double major.

Cal cared about his team — our times, our win-loss record, how we got along and as is undoubtedly the case at the majority of schools, whether we were putting in the effort in the classroom.  He had an old-school, blue collar sentimentality about work, respect, and taking the long view about life.

He was in my life nearly every day during a critical period of development and maturation.  He lived an example of living true to your talents, pursuing excellence, and sacrificing in order to contribute to others’  success.  He could be hard.  He was often crazy and frustrating.  He was a throwback from another era who had no problem embracing New Age-ie language about how to marry the mind to the body and belief to performance.

Tom Calomeris leaves behind a wife and four children.  Their lives have dramatically changed with his death and my prayers for peace are with them all.  It is no small thing to live well and Cal did so; he did so by helping others do the same.

Matthew and Getting Medieval — Starting with the End

Sunday morning I was with the tribe, sitting in the balcony at St. Mary’s, trying both to focus on mass and to keep them focused.  Since the tribe favors the front row of the balcony, I was also doing my best to mask involuntary grimaces as my body adjusted to the aftermath of a race.  Going to mass after an Ironman was pretty hard — first were the stairs, then the sitting, standing, kneeling, wooden pews, more stairs to take Tobias to the bathroom, more kneeling.  I’m sure you get the picture.  Not quite a Medieval torture chamber, but it was seriously uncomfortable.

Josephine’s homework assignment was to write down a few lines explaining the priest’s homily and draw a picture.  I could tell she was getting frustrated as he worked his way through the readings and tied them back to our lives, our behaviors and our own attitudes about living well.  One of the readings, from Matthew, was about the vineyard owner who paid the same wage to workers who worked a full day as he did to workers who came late in the afternoon.  He admonished the grumbling laborers that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Which brings me to the Ironman Maryland race report.  It will come in phases.  I don’t have the time to document everything in one go, and frankly, for this report it is best that we start with the end of the story.

Patrick and I had traveled together to the Eastern Shore.  He drove, he took care of the hotel, he knew where to park.  All in all, a great deal for me.

Ready to leave Capitol Hill and tackle the inaugural Ironman Maryland -- although you would be forgiven for thinking we were headed to Vaudeville.

Ready to leave Capitol Hill and tackle the inaugural Ironman Maryland — although you would be forgiven for thinking we were headed to Vaudeville.


Patrick has a fancy new SUV.  It is diesel and turbo and probably environmentally friendly in ten ways that I don’t know.  He also has a fancy bike rack which we put to good use after racing, after eating and changing clothes, and after visiting with friends who were responsible for the aid station at the top of the only hill on the run course less than a mile from the finish line.  As we drove through the night rehashing the day, he made a stray comment about a bump we had just hit.  Less than a minute later he asked if my bike was still on the back of the car.  In alarm and in no mood for jokes, I looked through the back window and was immediately sickened.  Silhouetted through the window was clearly one set of aero bars, the top of one wheel and one saddle.  My bike was missing.  He immediately looked for a place to pull over on the left, found his way across several lanes of traffic and pulled onto the shoulder on the right a few hundred meters from the beginning of the Bay Bridge.

I jumped out ran to the back and to my shock and total confusion, there was a bike.  It was in the wrong position and looked wrecked, but there was a bike.  We had clamped down the front wheel very aggressively — which probably saved the bike from total loss.  However, we had not tied down the back wheel due to the wheel cover that I used.  Instead, the bike simple sat in the tray — same as it had done on the trip to the race Friday morning.  There in the windy night chill, I stood in the headlights of ongoing traffic on Route 50 and could see why the bike was not visible through the window — the entire back half had lifted up out of the rack, twisted at the steering tube which was still, like the front tire, perpendicular to the direction of the car, and then laid down on the pavement with the rubber of the back tire resting in the road and the entire frame clear of the concrete.

We couldn’t find any broken bits, the tire was still inflated, the scratches on the crank arm, pedal and spindle may or may not be new.  As a result, I stuffed my stomach back down into proper position from where it had come to rest at the back of my throat, we reaffixed the bike, each went pee and were off, once again headed home.  Patrick theorized that once the back of the bike went clear of the rack from the bump, the wheel cover acted like a sail and the bike probably “flew” behind the car a foot or two off of the ground not touching until he slowed.

In the moment — the whole episode was probably less than ten minutes long although it involved at least several months worth of colorful explicatives from the two of us — I was sure that I had just finished my last triathlon.  I would not be able to replace the bike.  I was, as the Biblical folks like to say, despairing.

In retrospect, I’m reminded of how powerful it is to witness someone achieving outrageous goals.  Ironman races are full of stories.  Some are chronicled on the back of a jersey or written in chalk in the middle of the road.  A disease beaten.  A loved one lost.  A cause advanced.  An addiction faced.  All of them are carried in our hearts and to the extent you catch a glimpse of someone’s story, that you share or do just a little to make it more likely to have a happy ending, your own experience is enhanced.  For some people getting on the course is winning.  For others, it is finishing.  For a few, victory is found on a podium but even those people have special stories.  Whether they earn the victory through a 17 hour day on the course or in less than nine hours, in the end it there is no variance in what is worthy.

When I went charging down the last mile, when my pace miraculously increased.  I gave thanks for my friends and teammates at the aid station.  I pictured each of my children.  I could hear — more clearly than the loudspeaker — Dana’s voice.  I was bone tired and no longer anywhere near first in the race, but I would not be last because I was living my story, my own personal victory.  Like Josephine came to realize about the homily the following day, there is always another chance to do good things, to be kind, to live the life meant for you full of happiness through grace.

And so as I took my last stride to the finish line, I bent down, planted both hands squarely at shoulder width and tumbled over.  What better way to share joy that to summersault like a child.  It worked.  Dana tells me that on the live feed you can clearly see one of the volunteer catchers start laughing at my inelegant gymnastics.

Next post: Ironman Maryland Swim where I went slower than expected, felt good, won my age-group and finished seventh overall.

Injury Report

It is Tuesday, mid-day, and I’m still a bit tender but overall doing well after Saturday’s big race in Maryland.  Quick reminders to my future self:

  • Four toenails took a beating.  One of them was already in a death spiral from the last long training run and it is doing the best today.  I drained the space under the nail bed of the other three last night using a sterilized pin.  The pressure let up considerably, rose colored fluid squirted out and the tribe was totally non-plussed with my medical prowess.  Two of them drained some more today.  Prediction: I’ll lose two of the three.
  • My RoadId cut into the back of my right Achilles.  I’ve been wearing the same model for years and never had this problem.  I’ve never even had chafing.  It looks like a blister in the shape of a 3/4 inch stripe.  Assessment: I must have put it on too tight and combined with the brackish water the skin broke down.  I have two of them and will continue to wear them for all manner of activities.
  • At the top of the zipper in the front of my tri kit I got a bit of an abrasion.  I’ve raced in this kit five times and this is the first skin irritation I’ve had anywhere.  I attribute it to the river water and the length of the time I was out.  All the other races were much shorter.  It had no negative effect on the race but I did start to notice it about a third of the way through the run because as I dumped ice down my shirt I would get a quick stinger where the skin was reddened and raw.  Prediction: The scratches will be gone before the weekend.
  • I have a very light, very small snakebite rash on the left side of my neck where the wetsuit closes.  Again, no big deal and smaller than usual.  It will be gone by tomorrow or Thursday.
  • I wore my favorite race socks unlike in Raleigh where I tried sockless for the first time with rotten results.  I had two tiny blisters on toes that took care of themselves within 36 hours and a third, monstrous blood blister on the side of the left big toe that looked like a ripe angry cherry.  Within 24 hours the blood blister had deflated and was no longer tender.  Now it just looks like discolored skin.
  • Of all the muscle soreness, my left calf is the only place that feels “more” than the others.  It is a bit knotted and I’m trying to work it with a lacrosse ball as much as possible.

I took advantage of the complimentary massage after the race.  Sunday I used the foam roller on my legs for about 15 minutes.  (I forgot last night.  We were busy with the 6U Soccer practice.)  Today I hope to go swim easy for about 35 minutes.  All in all, I’m very surprised and happy with the injury report.  In January I was seeing a physical therapist because my hamstrings were so tight I couldn’t walk without discomfort.  He helped and recommended changes to my running stride.  A couple months later I tore my left calf muscle and after a cast, crutches and months of therapy I started training for Ironman Maryland about 3.5 months “late.”  Eight days before the race my lower back started to tighten up and got to the point that I wasn’t standing up straight.  I went to the chiropractor three times in a week — he diagnosed an overuse issue, released the muscles and sent me off to Cambridge.  During the race, my hamstrings, calf and back were not ever on my mind.  Today, they are all doing fine.

I’ll take that.