Thursday, September 27, 2012

Training wheels

I taught my first big boy yoga class today.  One student attended.  She requested some stretching and mentioned that her legs were sore so she asked for a break on the lunges.  I'm still processing how it went, from the sloppiness of my words to the casual nature of it all.  There were moments where it felt all right but plenty of moments where I wondered what I was doing.  She was a great student, very appreciative, next to zero expectations, and she worked up a sweat early on so she clearly got into it even though her limbs looked fairly soft most of the time.  About 15 minutes in she asked if we could do headstand which made me doubt myself even more because it's not necessarily the safest pose nor one I've practiced teaching.  But shoot, kids play around like this all the time so I figured wtf, give it a go if we can get there.  One big difference between a group class and a one-on-one yoga session is how open the conversation can be when it's just two people in the room.  I ran way over time and that's something to be aware of next week.

Below is what I remember of what I lead.  This was my first time going into a freeform class and I had no plan.  I figured I couldn't have much of a plan without knowing the students or in this case the student (singular.)  I'll be asking my yoga friends for feedback on the sequence so I can attempt to correct any errors of judgement.

Breakdown

  • Start in standing, access breath, personalize
  • sun A x 3, first slower, next two not particularly fast
  • one half baked sun b: modified crescent lunge (knee down) to revolved crescent lunge (knee down) to runner's lunge (knee down), both sides.
  • chair to low lunge to pyramid to warrior 3 (pyramid to warrior 3 was the ugliest transition of the class, poorly thought out on my behalf, I was working towards half moon but never got there) to standing splits to forward fold, repeat on left side
  • navasana two sets with an attempt at pickup in between which didn't really happen
  • tree both sides, dancer's both sides, eagle both sides or it might have been eagle then dancer's, I forget but I know we did all 3 even though they were fairly sloppy/casual
  • side plank left and right (prep for headstand)
  • dolphin (prep for headstand)
  •  headstand (she did this quite well, I think she felt comfortable from doing it in the past) with a little badha konasana legs at the end
  • child's pose to puppy
  • table top to one arm forward opposite leg back, elbow to knee repeat 3x each side, other side
  • peeing dog pose both sides just because it's the coolest pose name ever
  • camel (honestly I forget exactly when I worked this in but I think it was right around here).  I cued it as a gentle camel and she didn't go very deep.  I am not sure why I did this, it just sort of seemed like the right time.
  • cobra, full locust, floor bow
  • seated forward fold with assist
  • seated wide angle single leg stretch into twisted single leg stretch (janu sirsasana into parivrrta janu sirsasana) on each side without coming up in between (not sure if this is OK, never seen this done, never tried it in my own body, not sure if there is a reason why it's important to come up other than getting the elbow to the inside of the knee
  • butterfly (badha konasana)
  • seated spinal twist (ardha matseyendrasana) both sides
  • half pigeon both sides.  I attempted to try wild thing after the first side of half pigeon with assist but it didn't happen so I skipped it on the second side.
  • happy baby
  • supine spinal twist
  • savasana
I'm actually reasonably fuzzy on the exact sequence but the general position of all of the pieces is correct and I'm sure I went through everything listed here.  I don't think I'm forgetting anything either.  I tried to demo and I tried to cue and for the most part I think she got something out of the 90 minutes, but it certainly wasn't terribly pretty on my behalf because I really did not know what I was doing.  It just felt so different without any rules, it felt so strange, so uncertain to me.

I welcome any comments about what I messed up here, other than the obvious tendency to squeeze 10 lbs of sugar into a 5 lb bag.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Two

I wrote this post over two years ago about the differences between 1+1 and 2.  The sentiment I attempted to express in that post was directed towards the topic of a life partner, a "forever friend".  This post is more of a reflection on the differences in perspective which 2 years of distance provide.

Todd
Yesterday started with the Sunday ranch run where I saw quite a few faces of old friends (Hupfeld, Stohl, Dr Ken, Theresa, Kim, Beth) and of course the yoosh crew of Luc and Todd.  During the back stretch Todd and I got to talking about how happy the 2012 version of Dave seems compared to the Dave he first met when he started running with us.  The past 2 years have transformed me, incrementally at times, but significantly in aggregate.

Two years ago I was hurt, I was in pain.  Ironically, my lifetime fitness peaked during that same time, I chose to work through my emotional pain with a steady diet of physical challenges.  Two years ago I was bitter, guarded, and fairly angry.  I ran with fear, I ran with hate, I ran with reckless abandon.  When Todd first met me, he was amused.  Since then we've become good friends.

In 2010 I began my yoga practice.  There was no reason for this other than a sudden availability, free time which did not previously exist allowed me to create space for a new passion.  It wasn't the smoothest of starts as those initial trips to yoga tropics seemed more like a beatdown than a buildup.  I found a community at Haute and another one when CorePower opened the Encinitas studio.  I now have many wonderful friends within the yoga community and they make me feel a lot like my running friends do, sweaty hugs and all.

Yesterday's noon practice was one of the most physically open moments I've ever had on the mat.  I felt a union between my forehead and knee in a few poses which exceeded any prior sensations.  In extended side angle I felt both length and rotation, a rare moment where my body could attempt more than one thing at a time.  Reflecting back on where I began when I bought that first yoga mat I am truly amazed at the quantity of change that is available over 24 months.

I get a little hung up on how much life rules this year.  I'm no longer healing from pain, I am no longer searching for joy, and I am no longer wishing I could add something to my life.  I am actively creating joy, indulging in my passions, and experiencing moments of bliss.  My pot feels full, in fact it feels like it is overflowing from the contributions of friends and family, work and life, running and yoga.  I am fit but I don't know when my next race is and I don't care that much either.  My practice is flowing well but I don't really have the same agni about progress, I am content to observe progress walking towards me vs me chasing it down.  I am busy and yet some of my favorite time is spent bumming around the yoga studio geeking out about poses and learning how to do the front desk work.  Hunter is old and overweight and perpetually stinky but his mind is every bit of what it has always been and we are such old friends that our understanding crosses the boundaries of verbal communication into the subconscious.

Two years later, I can honestly say, life is good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roll

Work continues.  Coaching continues.  Yoga teaching on Sundays continues.  Adjustments continue.  Sometimes it seems like too much, and other times, for brief moments when I get a break to take a breath on my own, I start to wonder if I could do more, if I could put more energy into some of these aspects.  It's not that I strive to feel overloaded as much as I want to squeeze the most out of myself whenever possible.

As a visual analogy, perhaps my favorite kitchen tool is the lime juicer I bought a few months ago from Sur La Table.  It was something like $20 for a metal/plastic tool which has only one purpose, turn limes into juice.  I think it is my favorite tool because of how effective it is compared to my bare hands.  I think I spend an inordinate amount of time in my life trying to figure out how to be more like that lime juicer, how to get every last little drop of juice our of myself.  The analogy is that the juicer is my mind and the lime is my body, my self, my physical incarnation.  Together the two can be in harmony, but it takes a level of precision and alignment.  The lime juicer takes maintenance and cleaning, just as my mind does.

Today's class (which isn't on the schedule and is in the middle of the Chargers/Falcons game so it should be pretty quiet) has a theme of "Roll with it."  Because life has been just a little too heavy this week for me.  But heavy is also what I like.  I need to constantly remind myself to just roll with the punches, to take it all in stride, to not react emotionally when things seem to be rough or unfair or over the top.  Because after a night of sleep, after some calm perspective, nothing is as big of a deal as it might seem in the moment.

There have been many moments this week when I've truly felt blessed.  Blessed at how my present life is going, blessed at the potential for continued wonder and experience in the future, and blessed at my rich past, the privileges I have and the wonderful people who surround me and enrich my life.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Adjustments


I spent a good portion of my weekend coaching, running, and in the yoga studio.  I had a few moments to reflect upon the similarities and differences between these two roles during my time in the studio, particularly immediately before and after the classes I helped out with.

Aside from leading stretching, I think that run coaching and teaching/adjusting during a yoga class are actually fairly different.  I suppose I see run coaching as more of a sister to leading yoga teacher training than it is to leading an actual yoga class.  I don't have direct access to my athletes during a run workout because they are spread out in space and time.  It is pretty much impossible to see everything at all times and similarly impossible to be heard by everyone.  The moments of coaching running which matter tend to be restricted to before and after the workout, when the athlete is less able to directly apply a specific suggestion.

However, I think that pacing is actually fairly similar to adjusting in a yoga class and reasonably similar to teaching yoga.  This might be one reason why I seem to gravitate towards all of these activities.  The big difference between being an adjuster vs being a teacher is that the adjuster generally uses his or her own body parts to fine tune a student's alignment whereas the teacher generally uses words.  Of course there is plenty of grey area, a good adjuster should speak quietly to one student at a time when necessary and a good teacher should be dishing out adjustments as well as speaking, and the teacher knows what is coming next whereas the adjuster may not.

Many runners are familiar with pace groups since most major marathons offer them as a free service.  Find the stick that says 3:30 and that dream of qualifying for Boston requires the bare minimum of brain activity to stick with the stick.  Pacing an individual is common in ultras but less so on road courses, especially ones with aid stations and race clocks at every mile.  I must admit that many of my fondest racing memories are from pacing during road marathons.  The thrill of making a positive contribution fuels me in a unique and effective manner.

Pacing a group is quite a bit like teaching a yoga class.  As the pacer, you set the tempo, the tone, the effort, and you guide your athletes through the process, preparing them for what is coming without dwelling on the details or the past.  A good pacer knows when to keep quiet and when to be vocal.  A good pacer is constantly observing the body language of the runners in the group, trying to get a bead on who is holding back and who is pushing too much, who is serious, and who is just along for the ride.

A good individual pacer is able to dive into the mind of the athlete.  This often takes a personal connection or prior knowelege of their personality.  Is he or she the type who will self motivate at the end or will doubts likely surface?  Is he or she the type to go out too hard, to be too enthusiastic too early, and will it be important to keep things under control for the first half?  What motivates this person, does he like tough love, does she want to hear positive affirmations?  How can humor be used?  Is it best as a pacer to focus on the end goal at all costs, or on the process and conquering demons along the way?  Some runners want to be distracted from the race in order to run their best, whereas some want to retain a tight grip on things and would prefer to receive mileage and pace information continuously.  Some runners can be tricked into performing better than they thought they could, others are simply too sharp and must be given accurate information at all times or trust is lost.

Adjusting in a yoga class involves a lot of what I describe in the paragraph above minus the competitive element.  To be good at adjusting, you have to be invisible and yet present, you have to be available but not in the way.  The best adjustments are given when the adjuster and the student both know each other, when both feel comfortable in each other's space.  I find one of the bigger challenges with adjusting is with reading the body language of someone I do not know.  I frequently interpret a desire to be left alone and then I am told after class that my adjustments were actually well received.  We all have different body language, and I think the key to to adjusting is projecting an inner confidence, which is so easy to say and so hard to do because it must be genuine and confidence is something which naturally ebbs and flows in all of us.  When I approach someone, either a runner or a yogi, with the intent to create a better experience for them, the subtleties of this intention are received subconsciously.  When I approach someone with uncertainty because of how they are moving, the difficulty of the pose, or whatever might be creeping into my head, I tend to have more trouble.

As the 60 minutes of class tick by, I notice myself gaining comfort and confidence with my role as an adjuster.  At first it feels odd, as I noticed on Sunday when I wound up as the only male in a room full of women.  I begin with the people I know the best, even if I've only talked to them briefly, because I know this will inspire confidence for all of us.  From there I tend to gravitate towards those who I feel are most in need of help, often picking students who seem to demonstrate a lack of experience with their alignment or their facial expressions.  More often than not, these are the ones in the back row, typically in the corners of the room, who steal a glance at the instructor or the person in front of them every minute or two.  Honestly, while I think I help a little bit for these types of yogis, I find myself frequently challenged when adjusting a beginner I don't know.  There is a definite uncertainty about how strong of a lead they would like, and some fear that I might underestimate their experience and somehow come across as insulting which causes me to err on the side of caution and a softer adjustment than I would otherwise.

Interestingly, however, it is the experienced yogis who typically benefit the most from an adjustment.  Experienced yogis already know which direction their body should be rotating, extending, or folding and will follow my lead, encouraging me and taking advantage of the mechanics of my assist more than a lesser experienced yogi.  I think this might be comparable to how an experienced female dancer learns to follow effortlessly from her male lead.  It is over the second half of class when I start to finally feel that I am performing my role the way I'd like to, where I begin to give adjustments which I would actually receive favorably as a student myself.

The satisfaction I take away from pacing and adjusting is similar and fairly intangible.  I hope that anyone I pace will remember their toughness, their ability to conquer a physical challenge, and that I will effectively disappear from their memories of the event itself.  Similarly with my adjustments, I hope the class is remembered as an internal experience, a special mix of breath and movement which might have been subtly enhanced by a push or pull in the right direction at just the right time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Curtain Call

My last trip to Kona wound up being my last Ironman.  It wasn't necessarily planned that way but that's how it wound up.  Perhaps there is another race still waiting for me, but the way life seems headed, there won't ever be time.

There is some truth to the third time's a charm idiom.  For the most part, however, 2005 was a good year simply because the weather cooperated and allowed somewhat faster times than the previous two years.  It's hard to believe 7 years has passed. I still have many friends from the days of racing, and I even have a few bikes.  The sport has changed considerably, the competition has grown with the entry fees, and the chances of me making a return trip continue to shrink.  Perhaps that is what makes Kona so special, how delicate a grip I had on it to begin with and how much of a stretch it has always been for me.


Ironman Triathlon World Championships 2005


Regardless of how you get there, racing in Kona is a pretty unique experience.  Part of what makes Ironman in Kona so unique is the course itself, which can seem both impossible and incredibly straightforward, all at the same time.  Of course the primary differentiator between Kona and other Ironman races is the caliber of athletes who participate at the world championships.  But the same is true of the ITU age group world championships which I watched in Honolulu the week before.  What sets “The Ironman” apart from all other races, and all other Ironman races, is that it has become an icon of the sport.  “Have you done Ironman” is often the first question asked of a triathlete by those who don’t yet realize that the number of Ironman distance races around the globe is roughly comparable to the number of world class marathons.  Even amongst my friends, most of whom participate in some form of athletic competition, Kona for some reason becomes more important than any other race. 

Two studs and a guy who can't keep his head straight
In 2005, however, I wasn’t terribly focused on Kona.  I’m not quite sure why, my best guess is some combination of burnout, changes in my employer, and preoccupation with my house, my dog, and my pathetic attempts at a social life.  I missed a few key workouts, something that wasn’t possible in 2003 when I had no job, and something that didn’t even happen all that much in 2004 when I was fully charged by the time October rolled around.  Of course, for reasons I still can’t understand, I managed to set PR’s in the marathon, half marathon, 10k, and 5k distances, as well as dropping my 112 mile time trial bike PR by over 15 minutes and my Ironman PR by 6 minutes.  So as October approached, I had somewhat mixed feelings about the race, specifically my preparation and commitment.  I wondered how I would perform mentally and physically when race day came around. I’ve had one solid meltdown in the past where I ended up with a 5:18 run split on my 2nd Ironman of the year, so I was concerned that I was setting myself up for another failure, but at the same time I allowed myself to have zero expectations about the day, hoping that it would somehow be enjoyable, at least partially so.

 Changes at work made swimming very difficult for me.  I either had to get up at 4am to walk my dog in order to ride my bike to the pool by 6 for practice, or I had to take an effective 2 hour lunch break to swim at noon. Neither of these happened more than a handful of times, so I basically had zero swim fitness for August and September.  On October 1st, I flew over to Honolulu to cram for the test and do whatever I could to bring my swimming out of the gutter I knew it must be in.  I averaged 5k/day for 10 days, half in a 50 meter pool (thanks John and David) and half at Ala Moana beach park (my favorite swim spot.)  I felt my swimming coming back to life by the end of this cram session, though I pretty much buried myself in the middle of it, so it was hard to evaluate much of anything other than my own misery.  I hoped it would be enough to at least get out of the water ahead of the majority of the other athletes in Kona so that I would have some free road to ride on.  More importantly, though, I was hoping to avoid getting out of the water feeling tired, something that is rather undesirable when you have to ride and run until the sun starts to set.

Sunsets are better Hawaiian style
In 2004 I flew from Honolulu to Kona on Wednesday, so again in 2005 I booked the same day to fly over.  The upside to going over late is that I avoid the craziness that sets in on Kona during race week.  I managed to get a bit of work done, saw a few of my closer high school friends, and I got to watch the ITU worlds race, plus I wanted to keep focused on my swim workouts through Tuesday.  The downside to going over late is that you don’t have any real time to spare futzing with bike parts or missing gear.  For example, in 2004, I used a bike that I keep in Honolulu at my dad’s, instead of the one I race on in San Diego.  That bike takes an Italian bottom bracket, instead of the more standard English version, and it was basically impossible to find an Italian ultegra bottom bracket in Honolulu.  So, in 2004, I raced on my duraace bottom bracket even though it was ready for replacement.  But by going through all of that in 2004, I had a nice stockpile of tools and spare parts in the closet that 2005 was problem free bike-wise.

So, basically, I was all squared on gear details, a little under-trained, and pretty relaxed about the race.  I ended up drinking myself somewhat silly on Wednesday night, and even having a beer at Lulu’s on Thursday. Walking my bike to check-in on Friday, I honestly was not even thinking about the race yet.  I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t nervous, and I wasn’t stressed, at least not about the race, all I can remember feeling is curiosity about the future.  The best analogy I can come up with is how it feels as a kid to go to bed on Christmas Eve.  You have some idea of what Christmas day is going to be like, but there are also some surprises (often both good and bad) as well.  Ironman can be similar to Christmas in that way, you’re not sure what you’re going to get when you go to sleep, but you know that it’s going to be an exciting day.

For some strange reason, 2005 was running relatively smoothly for me.  I shaved, ate dinner, and was ready to sleep by 4pm.  My dad suggested a movie, though, and since I figured it’d be hard to fall asleep at 4, off we all went.  About an hour later, after sitting in traffic, we found the movie theater and realized the only viable option was an animated picture, which I vetoed so it was back to the condo and lights out by 6:30 or so.  Surprisingly, I slept pretty well, though I woke up at 1:30 for about an half hour, then got a nap in until 3:30 when I woke up again, and finally was woken up the third time by the alarm at 4.  For me, it’s a very good sign when I wake up before the alarm on race day because the few races where I’ve been fast asleep when the alarm fires, have all been terrible.  For some reason, the morning was just really smooth, so I was out the door at 4:30 without having to rush, or forgetting anything.

One of these ladies has a top 3 at ultraman
I stopped by Cathy’s condo where Kerri was and forced her to slap some sunscreen on my back.  That was one mistake I had made the last two years, being a little too forgetful with sunscreen on the backs of my shoulders which are hard to get when you have the flexibility of a nail.  As Cathy and I were nearing the bodymarking tables, Peter Reid edged past us into the pro line, which I figured was as good of a sign as any to have on race morning.  The chaos of years past with bodymarking had somehow been resolved, so instead of an hour it only took about 10 minutes.  I put my shoes in my pedals, pumped my tires, and got my fluids in place, all before5:45.  So, I had an hour to kill, which was unusual and unexpected given how slow the mornings were in 2003 and 2004.  I slipped into the King Kam to avoid the crowds gathering outside and stumbled into Lance, who was quite amused at my liberal use of bodyglide as I got prepared for the swim.  In 2004, I forgot to lube my neck which got pretty chafed, and in 2003 I just didn’t lube enough at all and got chafed just about everywhere. The salt water really tears up my skin, so I just went to town this time.  At about 6:30 I walked back to transition, dropped off my bag, and got onto the beach to watch the pros start.  A few pros ended up leaving early, forcing the start instead of waiting for it, something I thought was rather amusing, but I guess with $100,000 on the line, it’s understandable to be somewhat jittery.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades
 This year I had an idea to try something new.  In 2003 and 2004, I have started on the far side of the line, closest to the boat.  Since I breathe only on the right, this allows me to smoothly merge into the pack as the field spreads out.  But it always seems like I have to work pretty hard to get through that first stretch, and yet my swim split is basically the same.  So, since I wasn’t too sure how my fitness was, I decided to line up in the center and take my beatings, to see if maybe I could either sneak my way into a faster swim split or at least get out of the water with less effort than the sprint-and-merge technique.  The result ended up being plenty of elbows and knees, a few knocks to the head, a bunch of navigating around other bodies as they squeezed me out from both sides, and very minimal clear water.  The upside to the beatings I took was that I was not putting much effort into the swim on the way out.  Average HR was 153 to the turn boat, and as I clicked off a split, I was happy to see 29:30.  The swim portion of the Ironman is all but inconsequential for most of us, but it does set the tone for the day, and with my nonexistent training in the months prior, I was more than happy to simply be on track.  On the way back, I still got knocked around a bit, but as the field stretched out I had to do a bit more work to bridge gaps and navigate from small packs into larger ones.  Ironically, I almost wished there were a few more turns to tighten up the packs as I almost had to swim on my own for a few short segments of the return trip. Average HR was 157 for the second half of the swim, so I was doing a bit more work, but still within the realm of comfortable.  As we reached the pier, I paused for a quick pee break, one of my little tricks that I figure saves me a few seconds and lets me start the bike feeling good.  As I grabbed for a hose to shower off, I saw Patrick Baldwin an arm’s distance ahead of me.  Before I could yell “hi” to him, he was gone, but I figured I’d catch up with him later.  I stepped out of my outer swim suit, allowed myself one final second under the hose, and ran down the gear bag racks.  I shoved swimsuit, goggles, and cap into the bag as I ran, then fished inside for my sunglasses, dropped my bag near the exit of the change tent which I had successfully avoided the need to traverse.

For some reason that I can’t quite understand, I am a bit anal about time spent in T1.  Now it’s rare that T1 can lose a race, although it did for Scott Molina at worlds just one week before.  And of course there were already hundreds of bikes ahead of me, so it’s not like I speed through T1 out of pure competitive drive.  Instead, I figure a fast T1 partly makes up for my somewhat pedestrian swimming ability.  I pride myself in being able to get out on the bike ahead of stronger swimmers, it seems like a victory of sorts, even though it’s relatively meaningless.  Having a fast transition from swim to bike is actually more of an engineering challenge than an athletic one, and of course it changes depending on the layout of the transition area.  You have to know where all of your stuff is, know where you plan to do what, and be alert through the whole process even though it all happens very quickly.  This time I nailed it, and I was rolling out on the bike before I even knew what was going on.  Now, by no means was this an Olympic caliber transition, but for Ironman it was pretty good, and it served as a bit of a high point to my morning which was going pretty well so far.  Sometimes you need these small victories when faced with the enormity of the race as a whole.

Out on the bike I saw nobody I knew until the turnaround on Kuakini, which is in the ballpark of 5 miles from transition.  On my way down the hill, I saw Patrick, my coach Terry, and Katya, though I probably looked at some other friends of mine but didn’t recognize them.  I was right where I wanted to be, and feeling pretty good.  I allowed my HR to get past 160 a few times, and finally once we were out on the Queen K heading toward Waikaloa I settled in around 155.  I hadn’t worn a heart rate monitor in a race in a while, and I’m not quite sure why I chose to wear one this time, but I was somewhat curious about seeing some objective numbers just to make sure that rpe (my perceived exertion) was sill somewhat accurate.  The first 35 miles or so went by smoothly, no dropped bottles, good progress on food bottle #1, and clean exchanges at the aid stations.  I felt OK, but I suspected we were running a bit of a tailwind because it seemed so much easier than last year, though I couldn’t tell for sure since the trees and bushes weren’t showing much sign of wind at all.

 Between Waikaloa and Kawaihae, Pablo and Patrick ended up rolling past me.  Pablo didn’t pay me any attention (he says he didn’t notice it was me even though I gave him a cheer as he went past) but Patrick and I shared a few words of encouragement.  I was still in pretty good spirits at this point, I figured that my swim had gone pretty well even though my time wasn’t better than last year.  I started rationalizing things, perhaps the chop I felt on the way back had slowed things down a bit or maybe the 10 days of focused swim training had done something special for me.  Looking back on it, though, I think I must have ridden that first 35 miles relatively well, even though my average HR was probably in the 155 ballpark which still seemed pretty reasonable.

Between Kawaihae and the final climb to Hawi is where I get to see the pros on their way back down the hill.  I was delighted to see Faris Al Sultan and Michellie Jones with substantial leads already built up, both have the talent and experience to win but neither had been in such a position in the past.  So I knew that the mild conditions were keeping the pace up and allowing these two strong cyclists to put time into the field.  I also saw Tomppa Soderdahl, a friend from Finland, exactly where he needed to be.  It seemed like everything was shaping up great at the front of the race.

The climb to Hawi was where I started to fade a bit.  In 2004 I came completely unglued on that section, getting passed by coach Terry.  So this year I was determined to beat her to the timing mat at the turnaround if at all possible.  Magically, I managed to hold her off, though probably not by much.  The trip down from Hawi was sketchy as usual, it’s pretty much no aerobars and no eating for me for about 10 miles.  In 2004, I had started to make up some time on this stretch as it was the first bit with any sort of tailwind, but this year I was pretty tired and my feet hurt, so I did a fair bit of coasting as well.  The problem with coasting is you have to stay alert or you’ll get sprayed with urine from the people in front of you.  The trick is to watch the road for the long thin mark of someone peeing on the bike in front of you so that when you reach them you know to swing as wide as you can and pedal hard.  I did get sprayed once just a little bit, not too bad, but still not pleasant.  I’m not able to pee while sitting on a bike yet, so I guess in my dream world, nobody else would either, but when it comes down to it, ironman is a dirty sport and one of the hazards is urine spray on the bike, just like getting a knee is on the swim.

Kona is all about the bike
By my return to Kawaihae, the fight had left me.  My right foot really hurt from pressing against the pedals, and I was having some real trouble on the climbs.  I was passed by 2 or 3 age group women by Waikaloa, something that didn’t happen in 2003 or 2004, and was kind of a shellshock.  In retrospect, some of those age group girls were riding really well, and though I’d like to be able to ride that well, It’s fair to say that I can’t. What is always the hardest part for me is not focusing on how far I am from being as strong on the bike as I’d like to be, and instead working on milking every bit of bike fitness that I can.  My HR dropped into the 140’s and even the 130’s on the way back as I struggled, sometimes in the small ring, to just keep going.  It wasn’t that the conditions were difficult, as the wind was as mild as I had ever seen it.  I was taking in plenty of water, and I was up to date on food, but I was going through the typical mid-ironman letdown that seems to plague all of my bike splits.  I decided at mile 80 to try something new so I took a bottle of coke.  That seemed to help a little bit, though I assumed I was making deals with the devil, so I only took one more bottle of coke at around 100.  As I watched my HR sink, I noticed that my race time was near 5:30 at around mile 95.  I figured 1 hour for 17 miles was doable, and that a sub 5:30 bike split was about as much as I could hope for, even on a easy day.  So I tried to focus and get through the pain in my feet.  It was slightly better with my feet slammed forward into the toe box, though that was probably because of less circulation.  I did a few seconds of one leg drills to get pressure off the other foot.  I saw one guy riding with his feet on top of his shoes, and one of my friends told me he had done the same for a bit even though he rode sub 5 hours.  It was almost exactly the same pain as I had experienced in 2004, so all I knew to do was suck it up and get to T2.  I didn’t loose too much time on that stretch, but I figured Patrick and Pablo were way down the road already.  Andy Baldwin had passed me in the last 30 miles or so, and he was promptly gone, but I was hoping I might see him again.

One guy having fun, one guy suffering
By the time I hit T2, I was already thinking about the run.  I dismounted the bike smoothly, rolling it toward a volunteer as I took off onto the carpet.  I unzipped my suit to prepare for my pee stop at the urinal, another one of my tricks to avoid throwing a pee stop into my run split (anything to help the ego.)  T2 wasn’t as flawless as T1, as it took me a while to wipe my feet dry, put on socks and shoes, and fumble for my hat and gels, then get my pee stop taken care of.  But by the time I ran out onto Palani, I was on track.  I got a great boost from the crowd and probably started running a bit too fast, but I was so happy to feel good that I let myself get carried away. Actually, I didn’t feel good, I felt great, although it was really hot.  You simply don’t feel heat the same on the bike as the run, it’s much more tolerable at 20mph than 8.  I tried ice in my hat, but that gave me a headache, so I stuck to water on my head and into my stomach, and of course coke whenever I was up to date on water.  The stretch along Ali’i drive has been the most difficult for me in the past, but by mile 3 I was running smoothly, and I cranked off some great miles to the turnaround.  I saw Patrick and figured his lead was sizeable enough that I’d never catch him even if he didn’t run as well as I knew he would.  I didn’t see anyone else, though, so I wasn’t sure where Pablo was, and I hadn’t seen Ben all day, and I must have passed Andy at one of the aid stations or someplace else where I didn’t see him.  I was passing plenty of other people, though, and I was tempted to even pick up the pace and run harder except that it was still so early and so hot that I was scared to go any faster.  Average heartrate was in the 160 ballpark on this stretch, anything under 165 should be safe, though I go up to 170 on the run during a half marathon at times.  Slowly I started to feel my quads fatiguing from the pounding, and that started to scare me a bit.  I figured it might also be connected to the heat and inevitable dehydration I was putting my body through, and I knew the second 2/3 of the run course would be hotter and more desolate.  When I hit Palani, I had the wind knocked out of me.  I struggled up that hill, it seemed harder than I remembered it, and by the time I was out on the Queen K, I was in humble mode.  I ran well enough through the mile 13 marker, but my pace had slowed from 6:30’s to 7’s, and now it was approaching 8’s.  I did some math and realized I could probably run some 9’s and still make it home in under 10, which would be as far as I could hope to take this race, but I wasn’t sure how I would hold up in the heat.

Sometimes Ironman feels difficult
I stumbled upon Mike Drury, who also lives in San Diego, but I didn’t know who he was at the time, he was just a dude in a blue zoot singlet, running at the same pace.  I would have liked to have turned the 6:30’s back on, but I was struggling to put up 8’s on those hills.  I rationalized it to myself that it was just because it was predominately uphill and into the wind, but they aren’t steep hills, so I knew I was starting to fall apart.  I got a nice boost from seeing Faris heading in for the win, but was bummed to see Natascha had overtaken Michellie, though I gave as much encouragement as I could to all of the top pros.  Finally, after what always seems like forever, the energy lab was in sight.  I was really hoping to turn things around at this point, and dreaming of a 3:15 run split, which wouldn’t have been out of the question if my legs were halfway decent.  But running down the hill I knew I was cooked.  I saw Pablo and Patrick, about 2 miles ahead, both looked awesome and I was completely impressed.  So, from there on it was damage control as much as possible, me following Mike, then him following me for a bit, etc.  I was still running through aid stations at full speed, a tactic which might not have been too smart given how difficult it was to get enough water.  There weren’t too many volunteers, and there were a lot of runners around me, so some aid stations I only got one cup of water, which wasn’t nearly enough given how hot it was.  Mike was walking the aid stations and catching up to me when I slowed down.

At around mile 22 or so, when I was really struggling, I got a bit of a side ache.  I stopped to walk a few seconds and Mike passed me, telling me to suck it up.  I told him I just needed a few seconds, and forced myself to stick to that.  I was scared of letting a sub 10 finish slip away, but also scared of not finishing at all.  The real challenge of Ironman at the end of the run is not letting yourself dwell on how miserable you feel.  It helps when you’re passing people, but it’s hard to do when you’re being passed or just trying to survive.  The best way to get it done is to have a goal that is reasonable, and then work toward that goal.  My goal was clearly to break 10 once I realized that an impressive run split wasn’t going to happen.  So, Mike and I limped our way to Ali’i drive, me about 100 feet behind him for most of the last few miles.

One of my favs, I almost look normal
Perhaps the biggest challenge at Kona is the finish line challenge.  On one hand, you want to soak up the crowd as much as possible, so it’s cool to look around and enjoy the moment.  On the other hand, the ever elusive finish line photo is all but impossible to get without some other dude in the shot.  So you have to time your speed and location on the carpet as well as you can, all after 141 miles of misery, on legs that barely work, and in front of hundreds of other people who are trying to distract you from your mission.  The worst part is you always think you did such a good job until you see the actual photo and it totally sucks.  I haven’t picked up mine yet, but I’m hoping they were more like my T1 experience than the last bit of my bike and run.

Off to the awards…

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wind

All I remember from 2004 in Kona is wind.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I remember the balls of my feet screaming in pain on the last stretch in on the bike.  I remember crosswinds and lots of headwind.  I remember feeling like I wasn't sure if I was going to finish the bike portion.  But somehow I ran ok.  Somehow I finished 222nd out of 1500+ with a 3:22 run split.  In retrospect, that 10:25 was probably my biggest accomplishment in six years of multisport racing.

I think this might be my lamest of many lame ironman race reports, but I dig the photos.  They seem to tell the story much better than the words do.

One of us is sweaty from a tough day.
Without question, 2003 was the best year of my life as I spent the vast majority of the year unemployed, unstressed, focused and fit.  At the very end of the year I somehow managed to convince Active.com to hire me as their dba.  So, I spent that winter eating, working, and every now and then commuting to work on my bike.  As spring rolled around I was heavy, 185+ lbs but ready to race again.  I hadn't signed up for any Ironman races because I made a deal with myself to avoid signing up for the next Ironman until after I've made it through the current one.  I had a mediocre start at the Carlsbad 5000, though it was a small PR, then I managed to pull off a pretty solid race at Ralphs Half Ironman in Oceanside, placing 4th amongst a pretty talented field and running as well as I ever have at that distance.  At Ralphs I took a spot to Ironman Florida and planned the rest of my year accordingly.  The results encouraged me to put a full effort into my training, so I started a pretty big weekly routine and as the water at the cove warmed up I spent more and more time swimming at lunch.  I naturally peak in mid to late summer, something about the sun really motivates me.  I watched this progression and was pleasantly surprised to receive a very unexpected slot to Kona at the Vineman Half Ironman in early August thanks to an error made by the staff in the rolldown process.  I withdrew from Ironman Florida and jumped into full Ironman training mode for September.  I slimmed down to sub 170 by the end of September, but unfortunately the taper kicked in and brought me back to 185 by the time I made it over to Oahu on October 6th.  Some last minute prep saw my weight fluctuate again, but by registration I was still hovering at 185 and wondering how that would play out.  I never used to pay much attention to my weight before, but I've begun to notice a difference in my ability to accellerate and climb better on the bike when I'm lighter.  Anyway, nutrition is definitely something I continue to struggle with, it has been a learning experience and I've made many positive changes, but I have plenty of work to do still.

I flew over to Kona on Thursday, registering in the last hour possible, it was so much less stressful being on Oahu at my dad's with a full kitchen, car, and no other super-lean, super-fit athletes to stress me out.  Race prep went fine, though some parts I tried to order last-minute for my bike never made it, but neither was really critical, just a new BB and RD, though the ones I had were certainly working well enough.  We had 6 of us in a 2 bedroom condo, so it was pretty tight, but lucky for me my dad likes to go out dancing the night before Ironman so I got the master bed for a few hours of fitfull sleep on Friday night.  The old man ended up waking me up at 3:30 saturday morning because he was worried I'd be late, that's my dad for you.  He's the type who has to be at the airport 3 hours early so he can sit and wait in the silly lounge they have for people who fly way too much.  Still, 7am comes quickly and I didn't really mind the extra time to get myself together, suck down my liquid breakfast, and gather my bags and bottles. When I arrived at the start I realized I was in for a bit of a wait getting through the bodymarking lines, so I was grateful for the extra time cushion.  I ended up needing almost 2 hours to get through everything despite being too lazy to pump my tires which felt right or fiddle with putting shoes on my bike since they were already there from Friday.  All I really had to do after getting marked was apply sunscreen and bodyglide, two tasks I ended up failing to do adequately, I guess that says something about the pre-IM state of mind I have, even though I knew exactly what I should be doing, I was unable to accomplish such simple and mundate tasks adequately.

 I wanted to check out the pro start which was 15 minutes early this year so I found a spot at the edge of the pier.  I intended to jump off into the water once the pros started, but then I remembered that there was a timing mat at the entrance to the beach last year and I was not about to get DQ'd before the race even started, so I wandered back to the beach and watched from the wall as a few small waves threw sand at my legs.  I didn't end up seeing much of the pro start since it was so far away, but I also had plenty of time to swim into position near the start boat on the far left side of the line and evaluate my position.  I wound up behind 4 red caps (women) who were talking about swimming an hour flat, seemed like the right place to be and I was happy to be in the water early because looking back at the beach it seemed as though not everyone was able to get into the water in time to make swim out to the line before the canon went off.  I guess I'll trade inadequate bodyglide and sunscreen for a good start position any time. I had tweaked my shoulder the weekend before, from swimming 4k/day in two sessions and trying to keep up with a few of the faster swimmers at Ala Moana.  So I didn't swim much the last 4 days and I wasn't sure what to expect on Saturday.  I got some ARTdone on it on Friday and it ended up feeling great right from the start, so I definitely dodged a bullet with that one.  In fact, the start almost felt too easy, though I knew I wasn't strong enough to get around the large pack in front of me, so I just let the others dictate the pace and was happy to rummage about for a good combination of clear water with as many feet as possible in front.  I felt like I could have gone much harder if I needed to which seemed like a good thing at the time, though I'm still not sure how I will be able to shrink my swim split in the future with that approach. The wierd part about the swim in kona is that I am just not strong enough to pull around the large packs that form, but it takes very little effort to hang in and draft, so I wind up zoning out a bit and just playing a waiting game.  When I reached the turn boat I looked at the people on board to try to see Kervin and Megan, but I didn't stop and it was really difficult to make much of the people yelling and screaming at us.  At the turn boat was when I really started to realize how much I had goofed with the bodyglide. This year I got my pits really well but forgot my neck. Last year it was a pretty sharp cut under my arm from forgetting to lube my pits enough. I suppose I am destined to get rashed up at the kona swim. Perhaps one of these years I will try swimming with a bare torso.  The water was warm, especially with a cap on, almost too warm, but I wasn't going to complain after the last few cove swims which were close to 65. Anyway, immediately after rounding the 2nd turn boat and heading home, I got dealt my first problem as someone grabbed my ankle and yanked my timing chip off (it is secured by velcro.)  I had thought that this might happen even though it didn't last year, and I have seen friends use a safety pin to keep the strap from coming off, but just like lubing my neck I had forgotten to take care of this little detail.  So, I stopped, turned around, and swam back a stroke or two to find my chip floating right in front of me.  Apparently neoprene chip straps float in water, something I was subliminally hoping might be the case but had never tested out.  I shoved the chip down my suit leg and kept swimming, didn't really lose much time at all and managed to find one of the four girls I had started with quickly and tuck in behind her for the ride back to the pier.
 At the end of the swim I paused for a pee break.  I did the same thing at Vineman, and it helped calm me down as well as take care of the pee issue for a while.  I had spent some time in the cove learning how to swim and pee at the same time, it's not all that hard to make reasonable forward progress and I knew the group in front of me would bunch up on the ramp anyway so I had a little bit of time if I wanted a clear path to my bike.  Once up the ramp I ran my chip over the mat with my hand, noticed the timing people saying something about my bare ankle but then realizing I had the chip in my hand.  I paused under one of the last hoses to wrap my chip back around my ankle and spray some cool water down my back.  It took a bit longer to put the chip on than I expected, I suppose I never really practiced doing that, but I was still reasonably calm.  Once I was out of the showers I turned the corner to see 1:01 on the clock which was a bit of a bummer since I felt stronger in open water than last year but I knew I hadn't burned up too much so I was happy enough with the split.  I ran pretty quickly to my bag, grabbed my glasses and bib out, and ran to my bike, dodging people as well as I could.  I hate stopping in the tent in T1 at Ironman because it is such a traffic mess and the bike is always my achilles heel so once I am out of the water I want every advantage I can get.  I reached my bike, donned my helmet, and ran to the mount line. Last year I almost dropped a shoe on the first hill so this year I got into my shoes early and had no trouble.

I felt pretty good, almost great on that first little insignificant bit through town on Kuakini.  I remember a girl near me wearing green who was breathing very hard on many of the small climbs, expending far more effort than I thought reasonable for the distance, but I suppose everyone has their own game plan and pain threshold.  Eventually I got away from the heavy breather and settled into my pace on the Queen K.  A few people passed me early on but I could tell they were superior riders so I wasn't terribly concerned about anything for those first 20 miles.  It all felt pretty easy and smooth, I remember thinking that it'd be so nice to have an Ironman bike leg that didn't leave me completely broken by T2.  I assumed we must have had a bit of a tailwind on that stretch but I wasn't sure how much since I was really hoping I was superman this year. At the Waikaloa, though, things got ugly and what I remembered as a pretty challenging section last year became a downright brutal survival struggle to Hawi.  I was already very tired by the "26 miles to Hawi" sign and I was started to lose a bit of my confidence and to use my small chainring more.  I simply wasn't feeling very strong on that stretch, I couldn't really grasp the concept of how much more I had to struggle just to get to the turnaround. Then the trains started rolling and all the male age groupers started passing me. Many in large packs with blatant drafting where each rider comes past in 1 second intervals. I couldn't help but get a bit peeved by all the drafting, you might think guys in the world championship would ride cleaner, but they just don't. It just goes to show that drafting is still the biggest problem in the sport.  And I suppose to some degree I take the drafting rules too literally, but the upside to doing so is that I didn't feel like I was riding anyone else's pace buy my own, however slow that might be. I came up on Blair Canon and asked him if he had seen Andy Baldwin. Blair said he hadn't yet which was a surprise because I didn't notice passing him on the bike, and I certainly didn't expect to be riding faster than him.  He ended up swimming about 3 minutes faster than me and then pulling over on the bike very early to adjust his tire clearance, but eventually he got rolling and blew past me somewhere near the 40 or 45 mile marker.  I was left for road kill, though he did at least smile and exchange pleasantries as he spanked me.  After a somewhat desolate section through Kawaihae and the start of some of the more substantial climbs, I finally got to see what was happening at the front as the leaders started streaming back towards Kona.  Norman Stadler was of course in front by now and blowing everyone away with what had to be at least 10 minutes worth of a lead by that point.  I was a bit surprised to see Nina ahead of Natascha and also to see Lori so far back, but by the time we reached the pro women I was also spending a great deal of time recruiting the desire to keep moving forward up the hill to Hawi. Heading up that final climb, in my small chainring and barely making any progress, my UCSD track coach, Terry Martin-Duvall passed by without even noticing me as I was on the shoulder trying to avoid blocking any of the stronger climbers.  Right after that I saw that Andy had built up a sizeable lead on me already, but I was honestly too concerned with keeping my bike upright and moving forward to care all that much.  The funny thing about a little friendly competition in Ironman is that while it can help you through some rough spots every now and then, in general it's pretty hard to fathom that you are racing someone when you are only 4 hours into a 10 hour day.  I finally made it to the turnaround mat, popped the chain onto the big cookie, and settle in for a fast and scary descent through the crosswinds.  I didn't push it very hard on that section out of fear of crashing, but I did try to keep the effort at a reasonable level because I knew I had to try to salvage some time after a dismal start.

At Kawaihae I caught coach Terry again, I guess that I roll downhill much better than she does. I shadowed her up the hill to the right turn and saw her husband, Billy yell at her that she was doing great.  At the top we got a momentary clean tailwind so I decided to forge ahead while my only power play option was open after a few words of encouragement to my idol.  I also didn't relish the idea of getting beaten by a 40 year old woman, even one as amazing as Terry.  A little shame can go a long way in Ironman, whatever gets you through the rough patches.  I made up a little bit of ground from Kawaihae to the Waikaloa, but quickly the tailwind disappeared and left me with 25 miles of headwind to get back to town, just like last year only I was in much worse shape. I struggled to finish up those last few miles.  My feet were burning from constant pressue on the pedals.  I noticed later, while packing my bike, that my seatpost had slipped about 1-2cm over the course of the ride.  I am usually very anal about my bike, so I was pretty surprised at this relatively substantial blunder.  I think I just didn't crank down on the seatpost clamp hard enough, but I will have to pay close attention to that issue on that bike in the future.  I felt like my saddle was a tiny bit low during that stretch, but not so off that I knew for sure something was wrong and I didn't have any wrenches with me anyway so stopping wasn't an option.  I took a few 5 second coasting breaks along the way back, some to dump water on my scorched head and neck, and some just to let my feet stop throbbing momentarily.  I was so ready to get off the bike that I didn't even check to see if anyone was there to take it, I just kind of let it go into a sea of orange shirts at t2. I had quite a bit of trouble running barefoot, even on the carpet/astroturf they put out for us, because my feet hurt so bad.  So, once I got my run bag and made it into the change tent I naturally sat down and breathed a sigh of relief.  From there I managed to wipe my feet dry, and put my socks and shoes on, but both feet still felt really sore and I was a bit worried what running would feel like.  It ended up being one of my slowest IM T2's ever, though I had a similarly slow T2 in 2000 when I pulled off a 10:12, so I was still calm even though I knew I was throwing time away.  I stopped to pee on my way out, noticing how dark my urine was despite a pretty good effort trying to stay hydrated.  Getting enough fluid in on a hot day just might be one of the biggest challenges of racing in Kona, you have to be right on the edge with your stomach, too much one way or another and you're in trouble.  I stumbled out of the tent and off onto the run course, hoping for the best and expecting quite a bit less.
 I did manage to catch some people rather quickly as I settled into my pace as best as I could.  I was very thankful at this point that I had chosen to race without my HRM or watch, I really didn't need to know anything except how I felt and if I could go faster.  It was still very hot for those first 8 miles on Alii Drive and I wasn't running as well as I would have liked to, but at least I wasn't walking. I was just pretty exhausted from the bike effort, so I went into survival mode on that first stretch, just tried to keep the legs moving and the fluids going in.  I saw my dad at about mile 3, he was lying down taking a nap so I waved to him and continued along on my path of misery.  I saw Andy near the turn and figured he had at least a mile on me at that point.  I resigned myself to defeat, despite a reasonable amount of confidence in my run, I really didn't think I had much chance of taking back 7 or 8 minutes from him over the next 20 miles.  He looked pretty strong at that point despite what he felt like, and the thought of trying to give chase was simply too much to comprehend.  So I slogged on, content with the scenery of ocean, a few pro women, and some scattered spectators including a few locals drinking beer at the turnaround.


As I struggled back into town I felt pretty lousy, very hot, and heavy/slow during the shuffle up the rollers, but started feeling a tiny bit better on some of the descents.  Those 3 miles seemed to be a bit easier than the 4 to get to the turn, perhaps because the condos are so much more familiar on the way back in to town and because the crowd gets bigger and noisier as you head back compared to thinner and quieter on the way out.  I hit the turn at Palani and the crowd really helped me pick it up a bit right there. The irony is that I remember feeling pretty much the same way last year, those first few miles are tough, then things get a bit better before the real test waiting out on the Queen K.  I think that perhaps some of those rollers are just a bit tougher than I realize, either that or I go through some kind of metamorphosis afer 30-40 minutes of running off the bike.  I got out to the highway and started working extra hard to slog my way up the never-ending hill to the Energy Lab.  I was running on coke and water, if I missed the coke at an aid station I really felt myself slow down, but at the same time my stomach wasn't too happy taking burp duty.  Somewhere on the Queen K I caught Andy, which was a surprise, but I guess he was having more trouble than me by that point, so we exchanged pleasantries and we both continued on our way. I finally saw the solar panels of the energy lab and made the turn after what seemed like an eternity to get there.  I had been hoping to see sarah Reinerstein riding in on my way out, but figured she still had some time to make the bike cutoff so I tried to not be worried about her.  I ran down the hill into the energy lab as it really started to cool off, so I dropped off my hat at the degree tent much to their delight at having a gross sweaty hat, just like I did last year.  Lucky for me that the Degree tent is staffed by my colleages at Active, thanks Lauren! Somehow I reached the turnaround mat, though it always seems so much father than you'd like it to be.  I was very happy to be heading back in the right direction now.  I grabbed a gel out of my special needs bag and started the shuffle back up the hill. That part just plain hurt, I was on damage control, and I think someone may have passed me going up that hill, but I couldn't think about anything other than forward progress for that stretch.  And it was kind of hot again, though I knew that was just from climbing.  None of the hills on the run course really look all that bad, but perhaps the cumulative sum of all of them tends to beat me up.  I am simply not a great uphill runner, but I can usually make up some ground on the descents.  Still, I was just really cooked by then.  I saw John Dougery at the top of the hill where we get back onto the Queen K for the stretch home and he told me to pick it up for the last 10k.  I laughed at that thought but Kervin gave me some similar encouragement so I stumbled on trying to pick up the pace. I worked myself as hard as I dared during the last 4 miles to town, I really felt like I was right on the edge of a meltdown but I've played that game many times before so I thought I knew what I could get away with.  I could feel my feet screaming and it always seems to take so long to get back to Palani, though not anywhere near as long as getting out to the Energy Lab seems.  As I came up the last hill I saw Kevin Purcell trudging out laughing about his race.  I figured he was ok since he was chuckling, but I was also worried about how far back he was, he should have come off the bike very close to me if not ahead of me.  I finally reached Palani and madethe turn, immediately kicking into my finish line sprint with over a mile left to go.  I knew it was going to hurt, but once I know it's all downhill or flat I can handle quite a bit more pain than when I know I still have some climbing to do.  I saw Rob Klingensmith on Palani and I told him he better finish it up, which it looked like he was going to do just fine.  Then I ran pass Billy who yelled "go Psycho Dave" at me.  I was excited to see how spread out the field was near me, I finally had a shot at a decent finish line photo without anyone else in it.  So, fueled by excitement and relief, I cranked down Alii, through the chute, and gave a bit of a hop at the tape.  My day was done, my sacrifices had been made, and now it was time to relax, rest, and enjoy.


I can't help but remember Kona 2004 as a year that was brutal on the bike and still plenty tough on the run.  The swim was nice if not almost pleasant.  I hope to be back again sometime soon, but you never know where your journey will take you. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Asymptote

Who remembers high school geometry?  I do.  I remember it fondly.  Doc Bowers?  The guy who wore the bow ties?  But, wait, that was trig maybe?  Geometry was Clarke?  Shoot, it all blends together.  Now I really don't remember.  At least I don't remember anything more than sneaking off campus to go to lunch and that was right past Bingham and Bingham was the math building.  And I remember Bowers throwing chalk too.  And erasers.  Those were good times.

I remember enjoying geometry.  I remember Emily Mitchell singing the ex equals negative bee plus or minus the square root of bee squared minus four aye see in homeroom.  I remember the tick marks noting isosceles triangles and the square thingy to denote a right triangle.  I remember those days as exciting, electric, the beginning of knowledge, the cultivation of ability and a step on the road to intellectual accomplishment.

But before all of that, before we got to the fun stuff, there was algebra.  Polynomials and factoring and all that tedious math which most of us mostly hate but sometimes we get a little geeky about.  Parabolas and asymptotes.  I always loved asymptotes.  Asymptote always seemed like the perfect mantra for me, reaching, or perhaps striving, and maybe meeting at infinity, but never quite there in real time no matter how infinitesimally close the gap may seem or how long I wait.

WTF am I writing about?  Yoga of course.  Because yoga and math go hand in hand.  They are practically one and the same.  I mean, is there a single math major who doesn't practice yoga?  Or a yoga instructor who doesn't absolutely love math, especially doing math homework?  Yeah, right.

The thing about yoga, well, the thing about teaching yoga is that it's nothing like anything else I do.  That is why I love it so much.

Most of what I do I gain appreciation for in advance, I learn while doing, and I become proficient with over time.  That is true of running, and it is especially true with software and computer science in general.  I'm not the smartest guy on the planet, I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack, but I can learn stuff and apply what I've learned in useful ways.  My brain does work, perhaps not as well as many others, but I can trust it to operate at a basic level.  I can trust that over time I will asymptotically approach a state of experience.  Eventually I will become capable.  Improvement in most things is inevitable as time turns elastic.

What is different about teaching yoga?  It is much like half pigeon pose.  I'm good at the try harder parts of life.  I'm good at the delayed gratification stuff.  I can put the miles in and pay in advance.  Where I suck is sitting still and letting go in order to arrive.  I suck at surrendering.  I suck at intuitive, gut-driven, in-the-moment, feeling-inspired, ah-ha moments.

As I gain knowledge of yoga, as I learn and grow and experience what it is like to attempt to teach, and in particular to attempt to string my own flow together, I think a more apt analogy than asymptote is escape velocity.  I feel like the gap between myself and the teachers I admire increases as I gain awareness of what it takes to teach a good class.  I honestly believe that most of the brilliance of a truly great yoga instructor is lost on most students.  At least that is true of me.  I can only begin to understand the brilliance of a typical high school dropout, weed-smoking yoga instructor after many years of study and on-the-mat experience.  This boggles my mind beyond belief.  The more I know, the more intimidated I am by the prospect of trying to somehow emulate that which I increasingly admire.  How can this be true?  I don't get it.  Usually the more I know, the more confident I feel about my abilities.  In the case of yoga, the more I know, the more humbly amazed I become.

This may sound like hero worship.  It probably comes off that way.  But I think it's worth mentioning that I'm not completely insane, I do realize that yoga's place in most minds isn't at the top of some pinnacle of human achievement.  I do realize that we're talking about a practice which has more grey area than black and white, where it's almost impossible to call anyone out as wrong.

I know better than to think that yoga is anything more than personal preference.  Some prefer Ashtanga, others Iyengar, others Anusara.  Each instructor has their own followers, those who proclaim their greatness and some even have celebrities like Bikram who wears a speedo and dances on banks and treats the world like his own personal urinal.  There are countless yogi's who have taken too long of a pull on their own peace pipe and can no longer see straight.  I know my own preferences are just that, preferences, not universal truths about what is best for all of mankind.

But I'll be honest when I say that I find teaching yoga as something that is really effing hard.  And by observing my own ineptitude I am supremely humbled by those who make it look easy.  Because to the beginner student, it seems easy.  The rookie cannot begin to understand what is actually going on in their body and how those subtly crafted emotions are mixed at just the right concentration in the mind of the instructor.  The newb cannot fully understand all of the permutations which were avoided in order to have a flow which just makes sense.  All we can do as students is taste the porridge that is poured for us and smile when it seems just right.


Nerves


I will be teaching this Sunday.  That sentence sounds so strange to me.  I haven't attempted to teach since 2011.  With two weeks to prepare for my section of roughly 15 minutes, I've had so much time to think and then overthink this weekend that I'm approaching a state of mind which is not unlike my pre-Ironman nerves.  As I notice this happening, I'm laughing at myself for how strange I am.  Why do I care so much about 15 minutes which will be forgotten by everyone else as soon as it is over?  The answer to that question opens up a pandora's backpack full of thoughts on what yoga means to me and what I hope it might mean to others.

When I started my practice, I knew next to nothing, but I was pretty fit.  I stumbled into yoga tropics one morning on a whim and spilled my sweat all over the floor.  I decided I wanted to be able to touch my toes, so I kept coming back.  It helped that at that point in time I was the lightest I've been in the past two decades because the lack of bulk helped with twisting and some of the more claustrophobic asanas.  It was the right time to adopt a new passion and yoga fit the bill.  It began as a physical journey at that point in time.  Although the spiritual element was present in the class, I was not plugged into it.  As I was fresh off the most difficult breakup of my life, my emotional wounds were fairly raw and I tended to ignore them in class.

Paul and his then-girlfriend Carmela got me to try out Haute.  While I enjoyed the instructors at Tropics, and while I appreciated the convenience and quality, I was not truly hooked into Tropics as a community.  At Haute I first experienced what the yoga community feels like as I made friends with Shane and Jenna and began to pair up names and faces.  I remember Lex using 3 or 4 different names for me in some of her classes that first month or two at Haute, and I also remember one specific class where I gave up on standing head to knee and instead looked over at Jenna sprawled out over her leg in perfect balance and surrender only to be woken from my trace with what I remember as "Jason, focus on your practice, not Jenna's."  I remember my first few Katie Brauer classes, and how I began to understand a few of the differences between vinyasa, anusara, ashtanga, and iyengar.  The hook was set at Haute, within the space that Dino had created for just that purpose.

I started working privately with Shane and that opened up a world of yoga which I am still trying to absorb and understand.  Throughout 2011, with the help of a few very special instructors, I subtly and patiently began healing from whatever emotional scars remained from my failed engagement.  It wasn't really a direct addressing of any of my thoughts of feelings which I needed.  I had tried a few rounds of traditional therapy and found it to be empty and pointless.  The worst hell for me is sitting in a room with a fat guy in a sweater vest spilling my guts to a poker face who's only contribution was "I can't tell you where we're going or how long it's going to take to get there."  I chose my mat for my own dynamic healing, I chose my mat because of how I was able to feel during class.  What I found on the mat in 2011, off the seed that I planted in 2010, was a reconnection to the joy of living, breathing and feeling, a reconnection to change, and an opening to all sorts of new experiences.  I was excited to take class, excited in a way I hadn't been in many years.  And a huge reason for this excitement was the environment created by my favorite instructors.  I knew what gifts they would bring into the room and how good I would feel in the presence of those gifts.  I would build up tremendous anticipation and expectations which I carried into the studio with me.  The best instructors, my favorites, lived up to these expectations and routinely exceeded them.

I haven't taught much yoga yet, just tidbits and smidgens, but from what I've observed of myself, I am not the instructor I wish I were because I am not able to create the type of experience which I desire as a student.

I have watched my fellow teacher-trainers as they've gone off into the wild and started teaching on their own.  Trevor, Jordan, Matt, Tricia, Shelley, and this week Anna.  I've seen their progress in various ways and I've enjoyed their lead.  Matt in particular has reached a level of awesomeness which approaches what I feel around some of my favorite instructors.  I know it's a long road and I know the only way to get somewhere is to start.  Matt has proven that progress comes from dedication.

But here's the thing.  I am willing to suffer through the worst misery imagineable if I think I'm heading in the right direction.  I've proven that to myself many times.  But what I struggle with, where I feel most drag in my yoga teaching pursuit, is my inability to offer to others the experience which I crave for myself.  I know there is no path to excellence which does not first visit suckiness and I know I need to do my time sucking and then sucking a bit less and maybe one day sucking only a little.  I'm fine with sucking.  I just hate subjecting other people to my own suckiness when I know they could be in the same room at a different time and experience wonder, joy, excitement, and amazement.

So, anyway, I take another step this Sunday.  And I'm nervous about that.  More nervous than I've been in a long time.

Kona

Part of the reason 2003 was such a great year for me was the absence of work.  Just as substantial was earning my first entry to the big dance, the Ironman world championships in Kona.  I had already hosted Mika and Tomppa from Finland and experienced the race vicariously through them, but I wanted a taste of the pain through my own eyes, I wanted to feel the sweat, the heat, the misery, and the joy of Ali'i drive for myself.

I won't say that 2003 was my best race because I placed higher in 2004 and I was faster in 2005.  I will say that of my 10 Ironman races, 2003 was extremely memorable.  I felt that somehow the 5 year journey made sense, I felt like I had earned my place on the start line that year and I was honored to have the opportunity to race alongside some truly gifted athletes.


Ironman Triathlon World Championships 2003

The last time I had made a trip to Kailua-Kona was at least 15 years ago, during my pre-teen tennis years.  The only thing I remembered from that trip was seeing white coral graffiti along the highway.  At the time I was confused as to why anyone would go to so much trouble just to spell a name out in the middle of nowhere.  Over the years, as I grew more familiar and intrigued with triathlon, particularly Ironman distance triathlon, I began to understand and even appreciate the level of obsession and dedication that is required simply to make it to the starting line on the most incredible Saturday in Kona.  My own journey to that same start line ended up spanning 5 years, 58 races, and 5 other Ironman distance triathlons.  I had reached a level where I was no longer completely intimidated by the sheer distances involved.  Over those five years I had gained enough experience that I was confident I could fix just about any problem that might crop up during the day.  And since I grew up on Oahu and had recently spent all of July inHonolulu, I knew as well as any rookie what kinds of conditions I might expect in Kona.  Still, I have to admit a bit of unanticipated intimidation cropped up when I got my first glimpse of the general mayhem along the Queen K and Alii Drive when I arrived in town the Monday before the race.  I am used to seeing fit people doing all sorts of pre-race training, but usually most of them speak English, ride bikes with decals that I can actually pronounce, and show at least some element of fear or disorientation.  The bodies I saw that week were, almost without exception, ideal examples of endurance athletes.  The women in particular were so far removed from traditional concepts of beauty that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish them from the men.  I was simultaneously amazed and embarrassed, the athlete in me was thrilled by the display, but the local boy in me was disgusted at the overdose of Narcissistic behavior.

I considered myself pretty lucky to have snuck into the holy grail of long course triathlon for the first time in my life, after 5 years of not-quite-good-enough attempts.  But I was also doubly-lucky to have qualified for the 25th anniversary of the race, and I was triple-lucky to have been offered to share condo space with Mika Luoto and Pauli Kiuru of Finland.  I met Mika in 2002 when he stayed with me in San Diego on his way to an 8th place finish in Kona, and I knew Pauli from watching several videotapes of Ironmanfrom the 1980’s and 1990’s.  I was excited to see two of the greatest athletes in the sport, Mika preparing for what he hoped would be the best race of his life and Pauli enjoying and reliving the experience as a media consultant.  Ironman is so special to so many people from around the world, and I could see the flicker of joy in both of their eyes throughout the entire week.  As I watched the two converse, I could see that they shared a unique bond.  They both have a humble yet confident approach to their abilities, you can see the intensity when it is time to let the animal out, but the rest of the day you wouldn’t be able to differentiate either Pauli or Mika from the other haole tourists that keep the Hawaiian economy alive.  Mika trained as much as one would expect during the last week, no more, no less, and it although he treated his last workouts seriously, they didn’t affect his attitude at all.  Indeed, one of the most ironic parts of Ironman is how relaxing the days surrounding the race are, at least in a physical sense.

To start off my own race-week workouts, I decided to try to make it to the swim start on Tuesday morning.  I went primarily to check out all those amazing female bodies in swimsuits, but also because I was mildly curious about the course and water conditions.  I saw plenty of friends and fellow competitors as I waded into the water, and ended up tailing Chris Hauth who was leading some of his athletes along a tour of the buoys.  I felt great at the turn buoy, I suppose something about the course layout or the day’s conditions made the swimming better the further we got from the beach.  I was a little tired when I got out of the water, but happy enough to know for certain that the swim course was exactly what I expected it would be.  I had heard a few stories of currents and swells, but I didn’t know how to weigh those stories against my own bank of experience from growing up in the same ocean.  I was actually somewhat surprised to see all the fish, even with all the hyper triathletes chopping up the water it still seemed much more like Hanauma Bay than Ala Moana.  That ended up being one of the recurring themes that week, as I noticed how the small town of Kailua Kona shone through even in the midst of an international championship event that at times almost suffocated the town.  I have to admit I didn’t really plan to swim the whole course when I got in, but on the flip side, I had filled my bucket of swim stoke for the week and I could happily retreat to the condo and slack off the rest of the day.

The parade of nations had been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and although I wasn’t too terribly excited about sitting, standing, and walking in the afternoon heat, I was looking forward to meeting some of the other Degree athletes.  I figured that any friend who I might be able to recognize during my dark moments would be a valuable friend indeed.  As we waited for things to start I got to meet Mike Baldinger who had already completed two Ironman races this year, the second of which was only 4 weeks prior.  Sometimes it’s nice to not be the guy in the group who deserves the “el loco” title.  Joe Guenther and I had qualified a distant 9 weeks before, and by comparison we had to feel almost soft with that much time to recover and prepare.  The parade itself was pretty lame, but the expo was chock full of celebrities and friends, so it was well past dark before dinner and well past my bedtime before I got home.  Oh well, I wasn’t really here to race anyway, I was here to soak it all up and enjoy the experience.

On Wednesday I figured I needed to get out and test ride my bike, burn in my brand new tires with some volcanic dirt, and do some reconnaissance of the nearest 1/3 of the bike course.  It was a little chaotic getting out of town, and for the first time I felt like a contributor to the traffic problem.  Clearly nobody was thinking Ironman when they designed Alii drive.  Out on the Queen K I instantly noticed that intangible and indescribable element of difficulty that pervades the bike and run courses.  In one respect it’s no different than any other road, even if the scenery is extremely unique with black lava and crystal blue ocean views.  Sure it was hot, but it wasn’t 110 like the Mojave.  I felt the wind, but not to the point where I could really isolate it as being the source of my difficulties.  It was just tough because each roller took more effort than I expected, and the wind seemed to sap just enough off the top end to really slow me down to a pathetic crawl.  I struggled out of town for an hour, sucking down water and gazing at a seemingly unreachable Kawaihae Bay.  I made it past the airport, but I still didn’t have any idea where the Waikaloa intersection was.  Distances on Oahu are deceptively short, 20 miles can take you from one side to the other.  But on the big island, distances are deceptively long and it takes a lot more work just to get to the next visual reference point.  I was a little disappointed realizing that there was at least 2/3 of the course that I still hadn’t seen, and that the last 1/3 was probably going to be the most difficult section during the race.  But I knew that trying to ride any further 3 days before the race would be total suicide, so I forced myself to turn around and head back to town.  Once I made the turn, it still wasn’t particularly easy going, even though the descents got easier with the tailwind. It seemed to take a considerable amount of effort to survive the climbs, although there was nothing even remotely steep about them.  I returned to the condo somewhat defeated but resigned to the realization that I never ride all that fast anyway, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if I didn’t do so well on the bike on Saturday.  I suppose the source of my disappointment was not that the course was tough, as I fully expected that to be the case.  I think, instead, I was mildly bummed out that I hadn’t magically transformed into a powerful cyclist so I could have the race of my life.  It’s so easy to want more in this sport, and to get more takes so much work that those substantial breakthroughs are constantly elusive.  I didn’t put much more thought into the bike course than that, I simply resigned myself to the fact that I would probably lose quite a bit of time and would probably be passed by many of my fellow athletes, possibly up to 500 depending on how my swim went.

On Thursday three of my friends had decided to run the roads through the Natural Energy Lab.  I figured that would be a great way to experience what I suspected to be the most difficult part of the run course so I tagged along.  We targeted 3:00 which would be pretty close to the time I would be running through.  Ironically, the weather didn’t cooperate and some heavy clouds shifted in during the early afternoon leaving conditions relatively mild.  I came away from the experience sweaty and hot, but it wasn’t as much of a knockout punch as I knew it could have been and I still feared what might be lurking for me on Saturday.  At the same time, as scared as I was of the heat and the cumulative fatigue of 141 miles, running has always been my strength and a certain sick side of my personality was really hoping for a few surprise challenges once I got off the bike.  As if anyone wants unexpected misery in an Ironman, hah!  Still, my major concern was getting through the bike course, from there it would just be a matter of pride.

Friday was as mellow as I could make it, aside from having to check in my bike and hang out with my dad.  Pauli’s tradition is to watch Dirty Harry the night before the race, so the three of us gathered in the condo to relax a bit and watch Clint Eastwood put some holes in a few bad guys.  I wasn’t particularly nervous up until that point but once the movie ended I slipped into the role of stressed-out-athlete.  I could see things getting a bit more serious for Mika as well, neither of us slept perfectly that night and I was up before the 3:30 alarm.  The best part of race morning in Kona is the fact that it’s not cold.  That’s my favorite part of Hawaii, you don’t have to fear the dark or the rain because neither is cold and it really doesn’t matter what you are wearing, you won’t be cold.  We arrived and Mika skipped through the pro line while I wandered into Frank and Kimber from the Degree team who were tailed by a camera crew.  I introduced myself, enjoyed some small talk, then found my way through the lines somehow, despite being forced to display my swim cap and timing chip before being permitted to enter the body marking lines.  I know this is Kona, but goodness, body marking just doesn’t have to be so difficult.  After being stamped with 1588, the highest bib number I’ve ever seen in a triathlon, I wandered over to my bike.  As I messed with bottles, Pauli showed up with the pump, assisted me while I topped off my tires, and wished me good luck.  There’s something really cool about special attention from a legend of the sport on race morning, it helped calm me down and get me in the right groove.  I wandered to the front of the King Kam to take a bit of a mental break on the grass and watch for the sunrise as I dabbed my meager remnants of bodyglide on my neck and armpits.  Perhaps 25 minutes before the start I dropped off my pre-swim bag, stood in a long chute to get in the water, and snuck onto the beach just behind Jurgen Zack, Heather Fuhr, and the soon-to-be champion Lori Bowden.  I figured seeing those three on race day was a sure sign of good luck, even though just about everyone in this race is a celebrity of some sorts and you have to be blind to not see them.

Once on the beach I began to make my way over to the far left in an effort to avoid people.  People just bug me before a race, and there’s no escaping the bodies in a 1500+ mass start.  I bumped into Mike Nichol sitting on a rock below the seawall and for a moment considered trying to swim with him.  He gave some convenient excuse like he was sick or something, then slipped off to the start line at warp speed, leaving me behind to fend for myself.  I floated up to the start line perhaps 10 minutes early and it was then that all the nervous tension really started to hit.  It’s just such a bottleneck getting into the water that you want to get in early, but then you’re stuck treading water, stressing about how your race is going to go.  There was a woman next to me who was stretching her back out by bending into a ball underwater, for some reason I couldn’t help but watch her go through such antics.  Those final 10 minutes really test your patience, everyone is frantic, doing their own little stupid pre-race routines and basically everyone is annoying and annoyed at the same time because nobody has as much personal space as they’d like to have.  Water starts in particular are a bit more traumatic, on a beach I can hide and then bust a move at the start, but in the water you just get bumped around and where you end up starting is not completely within your control if you don’t choose to completely abandon your manners.  I ended up on the far left side, which is often where I start, but I wasn’t sure this time if it was such a good choice since there were so many people clustered near me.  I didn’t have time to move before a swimmer took off, then another, followed quickly by the canon which signaled the official start of the race.  Wow, what a start it was.  Usually I can find clear water early in the swim, even in an Ironman swim, and then try to settle into my stroke before venturing into the draft.  This time, there was nowhere to go, people were everywhere and they were all swimming about my speed.  Ironic how I had worked hard on my swim to get away from the masses in other races but as a result I was now stuck in the midst of the Kona frenzy.  I realized pretty quickly that it was futile to try to get around or past the clumps of arms, heads, and ankles, so I settled into the middle and bobbed around.  There were times when I didn’t have to do much work at all, other times when small gaps opened up and I could squeeze through and try to make up ground, and also times when the two groups on both sides of me merged in front and I had to slow down to avoid a thrashing.  The trip to the turn boat didn’t take long at all, despite the single loop course, but I had my first problem brewing already.  By the turn I could really feel it, a pretty bad rash from my swimsuit near my left armpit.  I tend to reach more with my left arm than my right since I breathe on the right side exclusively, so the stretching along with a pretty tight suit with some thick seams was eating up my skin.  Combined with salt water and my limited ration of bodyglide it didn’t feel good and I knew that it was way too early to start dealing with problems.  So, I put it out of my mind since there wasn’t much I could do other than stopping to remove my suit entirely which seemed silly.  In retrospect, I either need a whole lot more bodyglide or I need to swim with a bare torso and do the singlet struggle in T1 (something I feared more than swim rash, hence the choice of the dorky, knee-length body suit.)

I bobbed the final few meters and up the grate on the boat ramp, and watched as the clock ticked past 1:01.  Oh well, not the best swim ever but I thought I hadn’t really put too much effort in so that was probably a good way to start the day.  I would probably have done better with a smaller pack swimming slightly faster, there were plenty of times when I swam slower than I wanted to, but it did drive home the substantial benefit a good draft can deliver.  I made a mental note to try to draft more in all my other swims, took 5 seconds under a hose, and ran to the parking lot.  I grabbed my glasses out of my bag, stuffed my suit, cap, and goggles in, and ran to my bike.  I had some trouble getting my shoes on once I started pedaling and ended up climbing the first small hill with my left foot on top of my left shoe and my right foot, heel-out, holding onto my right shoe which had popped off of the pedal.  I got over my self consciousness at looking like such an idiot (mental note to get my feet in fast if I ever make it back) and managed to get the feet issues squared away on the quick out and back along Kuakini highway.  I was a little surprised that the leaders were nowhere to be seen, the clock had said they were 14 minutes ahead so I was hoping to get a glimpse of them, but they must have made it up to the Queen K before I got out of transition, yikes!  That first little stretch was pretty fun, although not particularly speedy as there was no shortage of commotion.  Basically it was a parade for the spectators.  I didn’t dare eat anything on that stretch, just tried to hold a decent line and get it over with.  By mile 10 we were out on the Queen K and the bike race was into full swing.  I decided around mile 10 that it was time to start eating and grabbed one of my two food bottles, the one which was a bit more concentrated, and which I intended to consume first.  As soon as I grabbed it, it jumped out of my hand, dropped to the road, and the top broke off.  I turned my head to watch the contents spill onto the pavement as the bottle rolled into the shoulder.  I was stunned, unable to believe I had made such a huge mistake and had done so with my full concentration bent on not doing something so stupid.  I wanted to take that moment back, put the bottle back in the cage and not eat until mile 15.  Maybe by then I’d be capable of handling a bottle.  But it was too late, there was no undo, and I was down to one bottle of food, roughly half what I knew I should have.  I started drinking from that second bottle, managed not to drop it, and also picked off a couple of bananas as I headed out to Kawaihae, trying not to think too much about the stupidity and severity of my mistake.  I also tried not to spend too much time wishing that I had been a bit more paranoid and had left a third food bottle in my special needs.  I have done that in the past, but in my moment of laziness I had only brought two bottle’s worth of powder.  So I was just plain stuck and had no choice but to suck it up and deal.

To my great surprise, I managed to hold position reasonably well on the bike.  Not to understate my ineptitude, or come off as remotely competent at what is clearly my weakness, but for some strange reason I didn’t see 500+ people pass me that I thought I would. My bike rank was an almost-decent 618 compared to my swim rank of 385, and it’s fairly safe to say that many of those 618 faster bike splits were already ahead of me after the swim.  In other words, I don’t think 500 people passed me, and probably not even 400. Maybe 200-250 or so would be my guess, which was a surprise compared to my expectations.  I was riding fairly well on that first stretch out to Waikaloa, trying to find any gap I could so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the marshals who were policing the course with a vengeance.  I feared a DQ more than anything because I just had to have the silly finisher’s medal and trophy.  How could I come to Kona after 5 years of hard work and end up with a DQ?  It was unthinkable.  So, I kept as much distance as I could from all the other bikes, I didn’t care one bit how little draft I got or if I was farther back than the rules required.  Many of the other competitors were content with taking a full 10 seconds on someone’s wheel before pulling off to the left to pass them in the remaining 5.  It was an interesting lesson, so many people all at a pretty similar level of ability and despite a ton of great officials, there was just bound to be quite a bit of drafting, blocking, and general chaos.  Add in the new stagger rules for the pros which left the women riding on the left near the centerline and it was downright comical at times.  One guy passed me on the right.  That hasn’t happened to me in years, and this was Kona, did he not know the rules, or did he just not care?  Finally we hit the turn to Kawaihae, a quick trip through a less bleak landscape, and then the dreaded stretch to Hawi.  I was riding in fear of this moment, a deep fear of the unknown.  I felt a little bit like a knight showing up to slay a dragon with a pen knife, only I had no armor, just some lycra and spandex.  But at the same time I was oddly confident that I’d be able to get through it, no matter how bad it was, so the fear was more of how much it would hurt than of what might happen to me.  I was also worried about how much time I was going to lose in the process of my flailing.  Somewhere along this section to Hawi, Michelle Gwozdo passed me on her blue Softride.  I recognized the bike and yelled to her, wishing that the last names were on the bib numbers like they had been in Canada so I could have said something before she gapped me.  It’s just so much more fun to know who is kicking your butt, particularly which women are doing so.  Sometimes not knowing can lead to too much self doubt in mentally weak competitors such as myself.  Anyway, Michelle didn’t stick around to chat, so I continued my struggle up to Hawi, realizing that the two athletes I knew from my pool were now well ahead of me and increasing the gap with every minute.   Soon, I heard the helicopter, then a few official vehicles, and finally the lead vehicle and the lead rider.  In retrospect, I assume it was Faris Al-Sultan, but I’ll have to watch the tape to be sure.  Next came the lead pack, with all the usual contenders all sitting in pretty tight and seemingly effortlessly.  I was pretty amazed at how much it resembled a draft legal race.  Next came a pretty substantial gap and then the second pack, where Mika was riding.  I yelled at him, hoping he’d bridge the 2-3 minutes up to the main pack on the way back.  Next I saw all the strong age groupers and the female pros.  I saw Natascha ahead of Lori, but it was such a small gap and that I got all fired up and decided to yell for Lori, hoping that she’d rise to the top and beat Natascha on the run.  I guess I have a predisposition to want the strong runners to beat the strong cyclists, and it always pisses me off when the race is over by T2 because that’s how it always is for me.  After a pleasant diversion as an on-road spectator, itwas back to the work at hand, keep the pedals turning, and wondering where the stupid turnaround was.  It always seems so far to get to the turn and so quick to get back.

The final bit of the climb to Hawi really wasn’t as bad as I know it should have been.  It wasn’t all that steep and for some crazy reason the wind wasn’t fierce or even substantial.  The pain and suffering  was there, but it was muted.  I was tired from the climb, but I wasn’t destroyed yet.  I reached the turn and got a charge from the meager crowd, suddenly I remembered how quiet the rest of the course had been.  I slapped the chain onto my 53x11 and cranked past a few other cyclists on the descent, using my extra weight as a momentary advantage.  I checked my position as I saw Michael Baldinger following way too close for comfort.  Even though you know you have twice as much time from the turn, just about any lead still seems way too small.  I decided to make it my goal to hold Mike off until the Waikaloa if possible, then try to follow him to T2.  I also saw Joe, and he was close enough to catch me if he busted a move, but I was hoping that he had spent a bit more time partying and a bit less time training than I had in the weeks sinceCanada.  Then the majority of the other riders went past and the sightings  shifted toward the late-night celebrities like Bill Bell and Dick and Ricky Hoyt.  Everyone I saw looked good, the most likely reason was that the winds were coming from the south, and the stretch from Kona to Hawi had seen a pretty friendly tailwind.  The descent from Hawi was fast, but the climb out of Kawaihae ended up pretty tough with the midday sun beating down and only a pair of spectators to cheer us on.  I was starting to crack, but I had heard someone else say that the toughest part of the course is that climb out of Kawaihae, so I trudged on, hoping it would be smooth sailing from the turn onto the Queen K.  Unfortunately, that turn put us right into the wind and though it wasn’t strong by any standards, and certainly not strong by West Hawaii standards, it became pretty tough work to make progress, particularly on the climbs.  I struggled on to Waikaloa, hoping it would be all downhill from there even though I knew that wasn’t the case.  Then I struggled even more to the Airport, by that time I was completely cooked.  I was just about done with my food bottle and while I knew I was low on calories I was not about to take another banana or try to deal with a gu while pedaling.  I should have grabbed a bottle of coke at that point, but I was scared that too much coke too early would come back and burn me later on.  So I got sucked further and further into my own personal pit of despair.  My right foot was blowing up on me, the outside edge of my arch felt like it was fractured even though I knew it wasn’t.  It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit, it hurt to use the aerobars, and it just hurt to keep riding.  I bummed myself out even more trying to calculate how much more time I had to ride, going by a 20mph guess and realizing I wasn’t anywhere near that pace to begin with.  This was the dungeon and I was a captive.  Math was the only way to escape from feeling 100% of the torture, and even adding and subtracting become tremendously difficult during an endurance event, to say nothing of division.  It appeared that there were others who weren’t doing so well either, at least there weren’t too many flying past me on that last stretch.  I recognized the same jerseys for most of that way, although a few new faces did catch up to us but in general nobody was making a huge move at that point and all the big dogs were well down the road, probably running by now.  One small bit of satisfaction was all I clung to, Neither Joe or Mike had caught me yet so while I knew I was suffering, I was also minimizing the damage reasonably well.  These are the threads we cling to in our moments of doubt and weakness, and for some crazy reason, they seem to hold up.

I had all but stopped using my aerobars.  I had finished my only bottle of food and I wasn’t grabbing anything from the aid stations except for water.  I spent the last hour of the ride feeling miserable, trying to hold on to the few cyclists I recognized, and hoping that the storms of other riders would not start flying past me.  In the state I was in, I could mount no resistance anyway.  Finally we made the turn off the Queen K and I instantly felt better, although still exhausted.  I saw Peter Reid running out on the Queen K with a solid lead and heard from the announcer that Tim DeBoom was behind in 2nd.  I wondered how the women’s race was shaping up.  It was nice and smooth into T2, and a happy dismount, leaving the bike always feels great.  Into the change tent where I droped my helmet, put on socks and shoes, grabed my gels and hat and followed the parade out.  Only, coming out of the men’s tent I went left instead of right, oops, had to backtrack and follow the athletes instead of that volunteer who was trying to get out of the way.  I ran over the mat and out onto the run course, forgetting that I had intended to make a pee stop.  I was amazed at how much pee was flying around during the bike leg, it seemed like everyone in front of me was alternately spraying pee and then water.  That was part of the reason why I tried to keep as much distance as possible between the rider in front of me.  I felt reasonably hydrated, not fresh like I had felt in the morning but not in a dangerous state.  I wanted to pee, so that was good, but I also wanted to run and I didn’t want to stop because I had already reached the point of disaster mitigation.  I clicked off the first mile, but I knew I was forcing it too much and I wasn’t running too spunky.  I clicked off the second mile, threw my salt tabs to Kerri realizing it wasn’t going to be all that hot and hoping that I wouldn’t need them on the run.  I headed off down Alii drive to the first run turnaround.  I saw the women’s leaders and it looked like Lori was going to run down Nina and Natascha, so that got me fired up.  But I started wishing I were up there with them, closer to the fight, more in the guts of the race than off the back and useless.  By mile 3 my elation at getting off the bike was completely gone and I was back into my pit of despair.  I started with coke, trying to get at least one cup of coke and one of water at every aid station which is a lot of fluid for me as I prefer to hold pace while drinking.  Sometimes  I’ll even skip an entire aid station if I’m running well, particularly in a half, but I was toast this time and I needed sugar and fluids.  I saw Steve C from the pool coming back toward me, already walking.  That was not good, because I knew felt like he did and I was scared I would soon be walking too.  I feared walking as much as I feared the pain I felt from running.  My right foot felt broken, each step was too much of an impact on a painful arch.  And that turnaround just seemed to disappear down the road.  I thought it would be before mile 4, but it ended up being just before mile 5.  I was toast at that point, and I no longer tried to hold my position against the stream of runners. People started passing me and I tried desperately to keep my feet moving, tried as hard as I could to not walk.  Effort was high but pace was slow, and I was scared to death of falling apart, particularly on the leg that should have been my strength.  I was very thankful at this point that I hadn’t worn my HRM because knowing my pace at that point would have depressed me even more.  I struggled up the hills and trotted down them, scared to death of the remaining 20 miles and the heat that was baking all of us.  The enormity of it all was beating me to a pulp and I slipped into the role of victim.  I kept going with the gels, coke, and water though, as my stomach felt OK since it hadn’t been too busy during the bike leg.  Finally something clicked, probably my blood sugar from the coke, and I started running a decent pace for the first time.  Not that I was walking before, but there is a difference between what I know I can run and what I had been running.  I picked it up a bit more, saw Kerri again and was much happier to skip by on the way back into town.  I made the turn and started up the hill still feeling good.  I saw Pete at the top of the hill and got fired up some more that he had pulled off the win, so I cranked out some solid miles out on the queen K.  I went a bit too hard down some of the hills, particularly one where I passed a walking Heather Golnick, and at some point I realized I had to back it off if I wanted to keep it all together.

And then my second low point (or was it really my third?) started to develop, the initial elation of finally being able to run had worn off and I was still 14 or 15 miles away from the finish.  And I was pretty tired too.  I slowed my pace a bit, it seemed like a lot of work to keep running because the road seemed completely uphill and it is so long and straight.  I took a pee stop and felt better, but was sad to let some of the people I was running with get away.  I had recognized them from very early in the run, then they had passed me before the first turn, but I had worked so hard to catch them that I didn’t want to let them get away again.  I saw Norman Stadler and then Jurgen Zack running back into town and I was excited that they had both had really good races.  I had watched them train during the weeks prior to Kona and I remembered in particular the 33 minute 10K they ran immediately after an 80 mile ride.  I really wanted to see Mika right up there with them because I knew he could run them down, particularly at the end.  Mika did come along soon after, in 11th place and with 3 or 4 guys only 2 minutes ahead.  That has to be an extremely difficult place to be, because he must have known that he needed to dig really deep right at the point where he must have been the most exhausted and before the finish seems close enough to go for it.  I yelled for him, excited that he had done well and hoping he could maybe pick off another one or two guys.  It’s hard to comprehend the challenges and the effort the top athletes go through, and it felt cheap to wish him speed when I had already faltered so substantially.  The first female running toward me ended up being Lori and I was so excited for her to have beaten Natascha that I lost it and yelled at her like an idiot.  Then Nina Kraft who was ahead of Natascha at that point, but they were both close, it looked like a fantastic battle.  Somehow watching all of this action unfold had helped keep me from dwelling on my self pity too much and I felt rejuvenated.  I ran as hard as I could for the next mile or two up to the Energy Lab, and happily turned on the jets for the descent into hell.  Downhill is just my thing, it always makes me feel better no matter how tired I am.

As I ran down the hill into the Natural Energy Lab, I started to notice that the clouds had moved in and that things had really cooled off.  That was a pretty big surprise, but it was a welcome one at that state in the game.  I started to gather my resolve to keep pushing all the way through the finish line.  Rounding the corner before the turn I saw Michelle again, and she didn’t seem too terribly far ahead bit again there is the doubling factor that I wasn’t taking into account too coherently.  I also saw two other friends that looked like they might be within range as well.  I hit the turn, grabbed my special needs bag, stuffed some extra gels in my pocket and started running hard.  On the way out I saw Michael Baldinger again, he looked very close.  I saw another couple of Degree team athletes on their way in, probably Sock Guy Andrew Block and Willie Stewart.  I dropped my hat at the Degree tent, where I mentioned that it would probably be about 5 minutes before Michael caught me because I was hurting.  I struggled up to the entrance to the EnergyLab, climbs not being my thing, then turned the corner and decided it was time to fight again.  I caught Steve Chavez from SF and he encouraged me to stick with him.  I pushed the pace for a while with him right on my shoulder, then I got tired again and slowed so he could take a pull.  I tried to silently shrink away while he was in front but he would have none of it and goaded me into holding pace.  It didn’t hurt that much more than slacking, so I decided to try even though we still had a 10k left to run and even though I had no concrete goals other than avoiding capture by those behind me.  Once we got settled in, Deborah Leyh caught us en route to her 3:18 marathon (yikes!).  I noticed her age on her leg and told her that I thought Michelle wasn’t too far ahead and that there was a good chance Michelle was leading her age group.  As I talked up the chase to her, I got excited myself and soon the three of us took off to chase down Michelle.  As if winning the womens 30-34 age group were the most important goal of my life, we blasted through aid stations, feeding off the slowing pace of the runners in front of us and the cooling temperatures as the clouds shifted in even more.  We caught some of those friends I had seen in the Energy lab and I continued to push hard while Deborah didn’t seem to have any trouble hanging with me.  Each time I thought I saw Michelle I gave a surge, but no matter how hard I ran I couldn’t find her.  I was running my fastest miles of the day at this point, partly because it had cooled off so much, partly because I had a goal that seemed possible, and partly because I was excited to be near the end of a long and challenging day.  I blew past my dad on the way back into town, handing him my sunglasses because they weren’t needed anymore.  It’s a rare day that I give up my sunglasses inHawaii.  Deborah and I continued to chase Michelle’s shadow all the way into town, I think Steve dropped off a bit when we started getting too into the chase.  At the turn off the Queen K I surged again.  While I might be a good downhill cyclist I know I’m an excellent downhill runner and I turned on the jets with a little less than 2 miles to go.  I must have looked like an absoulte moron running full speed at the end of a 3:34 marathon for 407th place, but I didn’t even remotely care at the time.  I dropped Deborah inadvertently, oops, but I was trying to work for her by hunting Michelle and I thought if one of us could catch her it might be some kind of victory.  I ended up putting just under 2 minutes into her on those final 2 miles which is remarkable because she was steady and strong the entire time she was running with me.  I have never run the last 10k of an Ironman this hard but I was finally psyched up about the race and I wanted to dump the tank in celebration.  I turned onto Kuakini, ran to Palani, started to fade a bit, then down the hill where I picked up some speed again and rounded the corner to Alii drive.

Everyone who has raced in Kona says Alii drive is the best part of Ironman.  Watching the tapes it appears that way.  But to be honest, it’s such a tiny part of a huge race.  I doubt I spent more than 2 minutes on Alii drive, I was funning full speed the whole way and even though the finish line was magical, it came and went very quickly.  I wanted to go back and absorb it all, to watch my other friends finish and congratulate them, and to share the energy of the crowd but I was suddenly extremely tired.  Once the adrenaline wore off I had to sit down and struggle to drink water while I contemplated a shower.  I congratulated Michelle who had beaten me by a solid 4 minutes even though she ended up with a fractured ankle from slipping on some ice.  I struggled through a shower, grabbed my medal, trophy, gear bags and bike, and headed back to the condo as a shell of the athlete I had been that morning.  I managed a real shower, then about 50oz of very cold Gatorade at which point I got the shivers and wrapped myself in a sheet and passed out on the floor.  Mika was very tired and sore but pretty happy with his race all at the same time.  We both wanted to go back to the finish line but as time went on I grew roots and I knew it wasn’t a possibility for me.

The next few days left plenty of time for reflection.  As a Kona rookie, the course had been both challenging and manageable, depending on the conditions and my mental state.  I had watched the champions conquer, the masses suffer, and I had done a bit of both along the way.  I realized that the road to Kona is a lot more interesting than the race itself, even though race day itself certainly wasn’t boring.  And I gained a lot of respect for the races that brought me there, certainly there is no lack of excellence outside of Konaand there are even some aspects of the World Championships aren’t all that fine tuned.  As I boarded the plane I couldn’t help but want to come back and try to race a bit faster.  The course is one that lulls you into thinking you could do better if only things would have been a little different.  It is such a tremendous challenge to toe the line with so many incredible athletes.  Indeed, it was a privilege to race alongside the giants of the sport, the age group champions, the celebrities, and all of the veterans.  I ended up feeling very satisfied with my race, particularly my effort if not my time.  I had dug deep the whole way, particularly when I was hurting, and I managed to turn things around after a lousy end to the ride and a very poor start on the run.  At its core, that’s what Ironman is all about, those struggles within the race, and those moments of doubt that we all end up conquering somehow.  Throughout the day, you are challenged and then you respond, either positively or negatively, all of which adds up and affects your future challenges and mental state.  Those who conquer the race bubble up to the front while those who have difficulties shift towards the back.  I ended up a little bit ahead of where I expected to be but not quite where I had hoped I might end up on a perfect day.  Some of my friends, particularly Michelle, had the kinds of races I was dreaming about for myself.  Other friends had to struggle along the way even more than I did.  One thing is for certain though, we were all extremely excited to be there and we’d all go back next year if given the chance.  That’s just the way Kona is, you can’t help but want to be there.