Sunday, September 17, 2017

It's Easy to get Stuck

It's easy to get stuck in your own head. Or maybe it's just me. Maybe everyone else lives moment to moment, rejoicing in the vast beauty of existence. At least their social media makes it seem that way. But then, everything I post makes it look like I'm an overflowing fountain of adventure and giggles.

In between those "look at me! Life is a never-ending fountain of unfiltered joy!" selfies, my brain is a churning cauldron of harsh self-awareness and judgment. The problem is that I'm always thinking, every minute, every hour, every day. But growth, success, and any goal you wish to achieve takes time.

A lot of time.
"I don't care how long it takes.
I'm going to eat all of this grass.
Then they'll have to feed me cookies."

And if you're analyzing and over-analyzing every minuscule step of the way, it's going to feel like you're making no progress, or even that you're getting worse. If my weight yesterday was 175 pounds, and my weight today is 180, I'm going to think, "holy sh*t! I just gained 5 pounds!" Nevermind that I weighed myself yesterday after a sweat-tastic workout. And I weighed myself today after I ate enough mac and cheese last night to fill a pool.

Yesterday I did the United Way for Cortland sprint tri. It was awesome! For the first time ever, my swim speed was under 2 minutes per 100yd (1:53). My bike was just shy of 20mph. Both those things were the fastest they've ever been! I've been doing tris for over a year now. And in that time I've had a thousand critical thoughts.

I compared my performance in the five sprint tris I've done since I started 15 months ago. My swim has gotten faster every time, starting at about 2:48 per 100 to yesterday's 1:53. My slowest bike was 16.8mph versus yesterday's 19.7. My run has been pretty flat.

I always smile after the swim, but this time I meant it!
Photo cr. Geoffrey

That's months in between each tri though. On a day to day basis, there's no measurable progress, and it's easy to get fixated on that. There were some periods when I thought I was getting consistently worse. I swam this morning and it was slow. The pool was super warm and I was still tired from yesterday. I had to force myself not to think, "oh no, yesterday was the highlight of my swimming and it's all gone now!"

I think a lot of athletes can get trapped in this. Sickness, injuries, and overtraining make it even worse. And if those athletes are anything like me, they push themselves too hard. They try to compensate for their perceived weakness with even more training, which only makes things worse. If you've followed my blog, you know how much I hate resting.

This past week though, I took 3 days off of cardio. Three!! That's unheard of for me. But I had fallen into my typical trap. After Ironman Mont Tremblant, I jumped right back into training. I wanted to - really wanted to - try to qualify for Boston at Wineglass. That was ridiculous. My marathon PR is a little under 3:15. Assuming my running fitness is the same, I'd have to shave 5 minutes off to qualify. Of course with my shift to triathlons, it's not the same.

Awesome, sure, but not helping my running any!

I rode the edge of injury and exhaustion for the past few weeks. I finally realized that I was being stupid and that my goal was obscene. All that would happen is that I would blow up at Wineglass and end up super disappointment. I've had that happen a lot. Against all odds, I've learned my lesson! I took a much-needed break.

When you train, you have to look at the big picture. That's really hard to do. But progress happens over months and years, not days. When you lose sight of that, you do things that actually hamper your progress. I've seen people injure themselves so badly from overtraining that they've essentially had to quit altogether.

That would kill me.

I have to remember that. My training is my identity. If I lost it, I would lose myself. And the fact that I'm able to do it is truly a gift. Some of my best workouts weren't fast. But they were joyful. They were workouts were I didn't look at the watch and just enjoyed the breeze. Enjoyed the cool rush of the water. Enjoyed coasting down a big hill. Workouts were I could close my eyes (for a couple seconds) and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and the wind in my face. Workouts were I just felt alive.

Also, this happened:

I really shouldn't put this in a place
where it's publicly accessible...

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Don't Quit

I'm training for Wineglass marathon. After I finished Ironman Mont Tremblant, I had about six weeks. I gave myself one rest day, and then started running. With the taper before Wineglass, I only really had 4 weeks to build up some speed. I hoped to qualify for Boston at Wineglass. That means I'd have to run it in under 3:10.

It's not going to happen.

I should have rested after the Ironman. I pushed myself to the brink of injury by running right afterward. And even though I had some decent runs, they mostly told me that I wasn't fast enough to meet my goal. Today (as I write this), I ran 17 miles. I had originally planned to do a hard workout. But my legs have been trash and I decided to just do a long run.

I ran Boston earlier this year, as a guide for a blind runner. I'd still like to be able to qualify for it though. That just seems like the hallmark of any "real runner." I put that in quotes on purpose. I've often beat myself up, telling myself I'm not a real runner, that I'm just faking it. But I am. I'm a runner. But I'm also a lifter, and now a triathlete.


I realized a while ago that being "well rounded" meant I was never going to be super great at any one thing. I was never too concerned with qualifying, but two years ago at Wineglass, I ran under 3:15. I thought, that's really close! I could get it with just a little more work! When I tried at Run for the Red the following spring though, I only beat my PR by 3 seconds. And my running went downhill after that. Yes that's a pun; deal with it.

So while I was running today, I had a lot on my mind. And I had plenty of time to think about it.

When I got home, I saw that I had a text from a friend. She signed up for Wineglass too. She's messaged me before, asking for running advice and the like. This text said that she wasn't sure if she should still run it, that her training hasn't been where it should be. She said she doesn't want to make a fool of herself.

I get that. I really do. I often - very often - tell myself I'm just making a fool of myself. I was telling that to myself during the 15+ hours of the Ironman. Telling myself that I'm just embarrassing myself. That I should quit. That I'm stupid for even trying. I've very familiar with those doubts. This is what I told her.

"You won't make a fool of yourself. Just crossing the finish line is an amazing achievement. I was brutally unprepared for my first marathon. It took me and Alex almost 6 hours to finish. And I was underprepared for my first Ironman, and that was brutally hard. The first time often sucks. Be ok with that and be ok with sucking. Get that first one out of the way. Learn from it. HAVE FUN. And then you'll know exactly what you need to do for next time. This is a lifelong journey. The first few steps are hard. But you will get stronger. And you will discover things within yourself that will amaze you."

That first marathon was definitely slow

She appreciated what I said, but was still worried about finishing before the cut-off and having everyone "scoff" at her. I said,

"Last year at Baltimore, I paced my friend with stage 4 lung disease. It took us 6.5 hours to finish, but we did, and we got our medals. You will finish with time to spare, and in the extremely unlikely event you don't, I will talk to the race director and get you a medal. You WILL have it around your neck.

"Your friends, your family... "everyone"... is wrong. Every. Single. One. Is wrong. They will NEVER understand why you punish yourself. None of them knows what it's like to push themselves beyond their limits. You are NOT satisfied with "good enough." You don't want to go through life wandering what you "could have" achieved. You are empowering your mind, body, and spirit to do something that - frankly - scares most people. But you do not succumb to fear. You want to live life knowing that you never surrendered, that you never gave up without trying. That is incredible. Everyone else may doubt you. But never, NEVER, doubt yourself. You are an inspiration."

And I meant it. I meant all of it. But more importantly, writing that made me realize the significance of it for myself. It's easy to get so focused on training that you forget to enjoy it. Today though I just ran. I accepted that I won't qualify, and that pushing my pace at Wineglass will just cause me to bomb out and get upset at myself. It's not worth it. I'm going to run Wineglass because I love Wineglass. And I'm going to be surrounded by the most amazing people in my life that whole weekend.

Surrounded by amazing.... people

And Sheila, if you're reading this, don't worry. I know you're awesome, but I'm not going to be pestering you to give my friend a medal if she has a bad day. I'll just give her my medal. I already have two. A pink one and a blue one. And that pink one is so nice.

I'm really blessed. I finished an IRONMAN. I was able to afford it. Life sucks for a lot of people and they don't even have that freedom. I had the time and opportunity to train. A lot of people struggle with that. Real life is a b*tch. I got to do it with Meghan and Geoffrey, and was supported the whole time by many truly amazing friends and athletes. And I crossed the finish line. I suffered for a long time. But I didn't quit. And I accomplished something I once thought impossible.

Most people will never know what that's like. Only 2% of Americans have run a marathon. Only .05% have finished an Ironman (that's 1 in 2000). Some simply don't have the opportunity, because real life. Some people can't stay motivated (although I've written my opinion on motivation a lot). And many many are just too afraid. They'd never admit that. They have lots of excuses for not pushing themselves. But it all comes down to fear.

Before you get cranky, running and triathlons aren't the only big things you can accomplish in life. That's not my point. Many folks though don't really try to accomplish anything great. I have a few friends who are amazingly successful businessmen. The hours and dedication they put into their businesses are unbelievable. It's a huge sacrifice. Still others are amazing musicians. In case you don't know, surviving as a musician is very hard. Talk about sacrifice.

A sacrifice.... of bricks.

Sacrifice. That's what it is. Nobody likes sacrifice. Humans are selfish creatures. We want all the good things in life without working for them. We want food, love, and success for free. I don't. I want food because I worked my a$$ off and earned those calories. I want love because I have so much love to give. I give love without expectation. When it's returned to me, it's a gift. I want success as recognition for something I've sacrificed myself for.

When I see someone taking those first few steps on that path, I want them to succeed. I want that more than anything. My friend doesn't know it, but I will give f@#king anything for her to make it. I would run 20 miles with her if she asked. I would hunt down someone who made her feel ashamed for what she's struggling to accomplish and hurt them. I would sit in a jail cell with a smile on my face. I would give her my medal and never let her know that it was mine.

I'm pretty crazy...

Judge me if you will. This world is full of anger and hatred and violence. If one person - ONE PERSON - rises above that to make themselves a better person, that amazes me. That f*#king amazes me. I love it. I take myself for granted. I'm crazy. Everyone knows I'm crazy. I'm not worried about losing my craziness. I may doubt myself, but that's not going to make me stop. It's only going to drive me further. But for many people, doubts can and do make them quit.

Don't quit.

No matter the challenge.

No matter the naysayers.

No matter the pain.

Don't quit.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Life is Weird

We know the good things in life. Doing things that fill us with joy and a feeling of accomplishment, surrounding ourselves with people we love, eating tasty things that fill us with profound delight. It seems simple, right?

But life is weird.

We nag ourselves over things we can't change. We argue with the people we love over trivialities. We know the things we want to do, or "should do", but don't, because of reasons. We want happiness, and we think we know what that means, but most of us claw at it blindly and never quite reach it.

What gives?

I don't know the answer for this. I do a lot of awesome things. And I've done still more that I don't do anymore. I shot photos for years, but I rarely pick up a camera anymore. I don't know why. I just don't. I studied languages for a long time. Japanese, Italian, Spanish. It was super cool. And I don't anymore. I don't know why. I spent a week in Quebec, and I tried to communicate in French once. I was.... ashamed. Because I didn't speak it well enough. Like I should be perfect at something I've literally never done.

What is this weird thing??

It's self-judgment. Just constant, unabating, self-judgment. I just recently finished an Ironman. An Ironman. I crossed the finish line. If I write a list of things I've done, I can put "Ironman" on that list, fair and square. So why don't I feel, just... epic? I'm wearing the shirts - pretty much every day - but I don't feel any different. I don't feel any better. My main thought, really, is, "why didn't I do better?"

And I didn't rest. At all. Well, one day. And then I ran. With my broken legs. I ran the next day after that. And the next. And the next. I'm training now for Wineglass Marathon. I have maybe 5 weeks between the Ironman and Wineglass. And I committed myself to beating the sh*t out of my body during that time. I pushed my body to the very limit that my injured muscles and tendons could handle.

And despite all that, my main thought in the past few days is, "I'm too slow. Why am I so slow? I need to be faster. I'm going to bomb at Wineglass. I suck."

Why is this so weird?!

You're reading this, dear delightful reader. Does this seem incredibly stupid to you? Like, this guy did something awesome. Why isn't he basking in a sense of profound satisfaction? I honestly don't know. There's some evolutionary reason for it, no doubt. Something that makes us always push to be better, to never be satisfied with what we have. I get that part.

But it's so d@mn frustrating.

For once I want to do something and feel good about it for more than five minutes. For once I want to spend time with people I love and not immediately think, "f%ck, I'm so alone." For once I want to actually acknowledge what I've accomplished, rather than thinking that I didn't accomplish it well enough.

But you know what the weirdest thing is? I don't want to change all that.

I'm defined by all the crazy stupid sh*t I do. Training every day. Breaking myself. Never being satisfied with what I have. Fighting, fighting, fighting for more. Whatever evolutionary goo is hardwired into my cells that makes me crazy, I'm glad for it. Because as nice as it would be to sit back and say, "whelp, I'm good, I've done enough awesome. it's time to chill out," that sounds just.... awful.

Why is it so weird out here?

Because my life isn't about pursuing one thing, and doing that thing, and then being done. My life is ABOUT the pursuit. That drive. There's never one thing. Because if I do something, then that must mean that there's something else that's even harder to do. And suddenly that becomes a thing I have to do. And I'm glad I'm insane. I want that drive.

This applies to love. No, not that there are "better" people to love. Not at all. The people in my life are freakin' amazing. But that I can be better at it. More loving. Less obsessed with myself (except for in the recesses of my mind that I keep to myself). I used to be very selfish. And the time I spent with the beautiful people I encountered were superficial. I squandered a lot of love and joy. And I don't want to do that anymore.

The stuff I do - all of that crazy stuff - isn't just about me. It makes me a better person. But being a good person in a vacuum is meaningless. It makes me a better person.... towards the people I give a sh*t about. To be an inspiration. To be more patient. To be more understanding. More compassionate. More full of love.

This is cute.... but also weird

Because the more I hurt myself, the less others are capable of hurting me. The less I take accidental hurts personally. The more hours I spend by myself, on the pavement, the more patient I am when a friend wants to tell me about whatever it is that's important to them. The harder I train, and the more suffering I go through, the more I can appreciate the pains and difficulties that everyone goes through.

I don't want life to be easy. Easy is boring. I don't want to take anything for granted. I don't want to be given something I don't deserve. I don't want people to love me for a facade. Everything I have, I have it because I deserve it. The people I love, I love selflessly. I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain.

I want to make what I am more - infinitely more - and then take all of that and put it out into the world. And make the world better for it. I want to take all of that pain, suffering, anger, self-judgment... put it through a furnace of focused determination.... and take that sword, that diamond, that gleaming product, and have it shine upon, protect, embolden those around me.

So bring it, life. Do your worst. You think you're weird? I'M WEIRD. I like your weird sh*t.  You want to beat me up? Stomp all over my thoughts and emotions? Throw a bizarre surprise at when everything seems to be going well? I'M INTO IT. I'm here to fight. So bring your A-game, life, because I ain't going down easy.

What's your problem with weird anyway?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

6 Ways an Ironman Can Kill You

So I wrote the requisite whiny post about my self-doubts and "wha wha look at me I just barely finished the hardest thing ever." My friends complimented me on my honesty, but really it's just another way of showing off. "Yeah, after having already moved for 130 miles, and like 14 hours, I kinda wanted to quit. But ya know, I'm awesome so despite my b*thching, I finished that sh*t."

Self-aggrandizement to the max.

Need evidence? I wore a flippin' cape. A cape. And it was shiny. Even in the dark a stray streetlight bouncing off that thing could blind you. How much more full of myself could I get? If I wrote, "yeah, I did an Ironman. NBD." You'd be like, "ok cool". But with all the self-recrimination and uncertainty, you were like, "what a hero! He didn't know he could finish but he totally did!"

I'm so full of myself.

Seriously? Look at this @sshole

But one thing that didn't happen is that I didn't die.

[Serious moment]

One amazing powerhouse of an athlete, a father, did pass away at Ironman Mont Tremblant. I'm not making fun of that. It can indeed be a dangerous sport, and folks who do it aren't just pushing themselves beyond their limits. They're risking their lives to prove to themselves and others exactly what they're capable of. That man is a hero and his family has nothing but my love.

[/Serious moment]

So I was lucky. But Ironman is out to get you. Don't doubt that! Here are six ways Ironman can kill you.

The sharks.

Suuuure, people will tell you there's no such thing as a lake shark. But how do you know? Most of the time your head is underwater, if you swim right. My swimming is cr@p, so most of my time my  head is craning up like a periscope. But when it's in the water, all you see is darkness. And that darkness is full of sharks.

I don't think this is a shark, but it's still below you
in the water and it'll still eat your feet off.

Maybe nobody has yet been eaten by a shark. Yet! But it's because they're biding their time. Just you wait. One day there'll be 2000 athletes in the water. And then in a minute it'll be calm as ducks.


Don't believe me? Go swim in a deep lake and tell me the first thing you think of isn't the beasties lurking just a yard below you. They're there. Oooooh, they're there.

The spiders.

What? Spiders? You think I'm kidding. In day to day life, if you see a spider, you can squash it, or dive through a window, or run screaming. But in an Ironman, you don't have the energy for that sh*t. You just stare deeply into its eight million eyes and beg it not to tear your face off.

No joke.

My friend Meghan saw a spider in a port-o-potty at Ironman Mont Tremblant. She had already biked for years, and really had to .... well, whatever ladies do in port-o-johns. Ladies don't pee. They effervesce. She didn't have the strength to swat at it. She just silently willed it to not move.

I still don't know how she lived to tell the tale.

Flying downhill at 50,000 miles per hour.

There are signs. A lot of signs. They all say, "slow the f%ck down." And because people are illiterate, there are volunteers. The first couple of volunteers pat their hands in the air, like, "maybe explore your breaks a bit." The next volunteer is like, "um, there's a big turn ahead, you'll die if you don't slow down."

The last volunteer at the bottom of the hill is like, "slow your f#cking bike down you idiot!"

After climbing a cliff for an hour, the downhill on the other side is nirvana. You want to go fast. You've been crawling in the single digits for an eternity, and the last thing you want to do is ride your breaks down the other side. You don't care if there's a brick wall, an ocean, or a family of grizzly bears at the bottom of the hill. You just want to feel the wind in your face for a brief moment before the next massive hill crushes your dreams.

I'm not worried.

And I don't even look. I put my arms on the aero bars, stick my butt in the air, and just stare at the pavement, because my neck hurts too much to look up. And the wind flies past me so fast that it tears flesh off. It's the most amazing feeling in the world. About a pound of sweat evaporates in two seconds. If I crash into a parked van, I'll just hope there's nothing left of that van after I'm done with it.

After ten or so hours, self-preservation flies out the window as you fly down that hill at warp speed. I think half of the episodes of Star Trek involved going too fast and accidentally traveling back in time. So really, I just want to see some dinosaurs.

Getting side-swiped by another biker.

Oh, this is real. I was looking at posts after Ironman Mont Tremblant. Lots of awesome and gnarly photos of limbs that used to look like limbs. People getting passed on the right. People trying to pass folks who are riding side-by-side like it's a lazy afternoon ride. Folks taking up the whole bike lane while 18-wheelers are flying by inches away. Real estate is tight in these situations.

Nobody does it on purpose. Geoffrey was griping about the people who passed on the right. He said, "the only reason to pass on the right is if some idiot is riding out in the road." I nodded my head, like, "yeah man, those people are all @sshats." I was totally one of those guys riding in the middle of the road, and I totally got passed on the right because of it.

It wasn't on purpose. I passed somebody on the left. Then I passed somebody else. And then because I'd been biking for half my lifetime, I was too tired to go back to the right. Or maybe my brain was just too tired. Or maybe I saw a hybrid spider-shark. In any case, it happens. And if I'd caught my bearings and swerved to the right where I belonged, I totally would've smooshed that dude passing me on the right.

That's why the rules are there. To prevent accidents. But we are just monkeys with half-functional brains. Monkeys on spinning death machines. And that's half a brain on the best of days. When you've run out of energy and popping gels like it's the cure for cancer, you don't even have that half. So unless you're Wolverine, look forward to missing some skin on your knees and hands. They make for great pics.

Your body literally exploding.

You know what mile 20 of the run feels like? It feels like you took a bite of gnocchi, except oh, it was actually a grenade. And the grenade sits in your stomach, making your feel queasy. And then it blows up. But you haven't crossed the finish line yet so you don't get to stop.

That's what it feels like.

At that point in the race, there's no part of you that doesn't hurt. Your scalp, your toes, some random spot on your forearm. It all screams in agony. I don't even know how it's possible. It's like you've used up all of the regular muscles, and your body is scrambling to utilize your bowling muscles, your chess-playing muscles, and the muscles you use when your friend says something really dumb and you turn to the side with a look of incredulity like, "did you just seriously say that dumb thing?"

"Did you seriously just say that dumb thing??"

All those muscles hurt.

You don't literally explode. But with your mental health long since evaporated, it's exactly what you think has happened. You just stare straight ahead, your expression blank with terror. You think, "I hurt too much. Something is wrong. But I can't stop. I can't look down and see what's wrong. I just have to keep going and hope that they can reassemble me at the finish line."

Good times, that.

Some random bullsh*t you can't even comprehend.

The probability of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million. I just Googled that. The probability of a plane falling out of the sky and landing on your head is far below even that. It's so low that even Google won't tell me what it is.

You know how long you're out on that course? Long enough that that probability suddenly becomes an actual number. All those statistics assume you're going to the grocery store. They don't assume that you're going to the grocery store via a 140 mile route without a car. All of the things that are, like, super rare, become a lot more likely when you spend literally the entire day outside.

It doesn't help that you're utterly oblivious to your surroundings.

That 10% chance of rain suddenly becomes a guarantee that the single bolt of lightning that strikes for the whole day does so while you're on top of a mountain (because Ironman doesn't F^ck around and all of the climbs are the Alps). That small chance of a rabid beaver charging at you from a bush becomes much higher after you've swam, ridden, and run past every bush in the hemisphere. That small chance of getting clotheslined by a tree branch becomes much higher when you're aiming for those tree branches on purpose, hoping to have an excuse to finally lie down for a minute.

Pretty... and full of rabid beavers

So yeah, next time you do a 140.6, stop and think about how brave you actually are. And next tie your loved ones do something totally insane, count your blessings when you see them at breakfast the next day. And if the only thing they have is a scraped knee or a line of puncture wounds from a shark bite, they should count themselves lucky!

Still better than dying from diabeetus.

Thank-you Google image search.

Monday, August 21, 2017

I Am an Ironman

Yesterday, I swam 2.4 miles. I bicycled 112 miles. I ran 26.2 miles. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. It was a very very long time to be in constant pain, on the edge of what my body is capable of. For every minute of those 15+ hours, I thought about quitting. But I did not.

Today, I am an Ironman.

It's a surreal knowledge. I've been on edge for weeks, as August 20 approached. I tried not to think about it too much, but the fact that I would be toeing the starting line at a full Ironman was ever on the periphery of my mind, reminding me that I had signed up for something totally insane. I didn't know if I could finish, and the threat of failure was even worse than the anticipation of the brutal event itself.

I signed up for Ironman Mont Tremblant over 10 months ago. Meghan and Geoffrey had signed up, and back then, it was easy to think, "oh sure!" I had no clue what I was getting myself into. By this point I've done over half a dozen shorter tris, and two half Ironman distance tris. But none of those prepared me for a full Ironman. I thought it would take me a little over twice as long to complete the Ironman. It took me almost three times as long.

Here's a cool picture I took Saturday.

My training was junk. I knew it was junk. I like the shorter tris; they're crazy fun! Even the halves were good. I crashed at Musselman, but despite that, it was an awesome event. But I was nowhere near ready for a full. I realized as I headed into the summer that three hours was about my limit for what I enjoyed training-wise. A 20 mile run? Sure! A swim and a bike ride? Yeah! But four, five or more hours smashing my legs up and down hills? Ugh.

I had one 70 mile bike ride, and one 80 mile ride. I had one indoor bike ride that was 6 hours long, and at least one that was 5. But that's it. Geoffrey and Meghan each had at least a couple of centuries under their belts, and countless other long rides. I injured the tendons connecting my quads to my knees early in the summer, and they seriously hampered my riding. I did almost zero biking in the three weeks leading up to the Ironman. I knew going into the race it was going to be a suffer-fest.

I wasn't wrong.

Soon we will suffer, but for now... smiles!

At some point I decided to stop beating myself up. I was feeling guilty for my perceived "laziness", but as many of my friends repeatedly tell me, I push myself too hard, not too little. My goal was to survive, and to finish, and to learn. So I had to train enough to accomplish that, but not so much that I couldn't even start. Of course I'd like to be awesome at everything I do. But if the outpouring of love and high-fives I've gotten in the past day say anything, it's that finishing an Ironman is an amazing achievement, regardless of how fast you do it.

We left home on Thursday early in the afternoon and headed up to Canada. It took us almost 2 hours to cross the border. Sitting in line gave me and Geoffrey plenty of time to have an imaginary conversation with the border guy.

"What is the nature of your visit?" The guy asks with a french accent.

"Is not to bring guns tavarich," I say with a think Russian accent.

"Don't listen to him. He's not even Russian. He's Greek. His parents are sheep herders," Geoffrey soothes.

"I am not a spy," I throw in.

"He always says that. It's a running joke."

"Vee vill be in and out of Canada before you can say babushka!"

"He's fine, just ignore him."

We kept ourselves amused. People tried to edge in front of us in the line of cars, feigning confusion over the lanes. Geoffrey would flip them the bird and climb up onto the bumper of the car in front of him. Meghan, behind us, would then make sweet love with his bumper in turn. We were an impenetrable wall of SUVs.

Welcome to Canada! Good luck getting your phones to work!

The encounter with the border guy was less interesting than we'd imagined, although he did have a thick accent. I had to get out of the car to look at our license plate, because our "stupid bicycles" blocked his view. I don't know if he said "stupid", but there was definitely an adjective in there. As soon as we hit the road again, everything was in kilometers. "This is like a whole different country!" I remarked.

We had left a day earlier than originally planned, so the gorgeous house I'm typing this from wasn't available yet. We stayed about an hour from Mont Tremblant in..... dormitories? We had a small room with three bunk beds in it. Geoffrey and his kid, Meghan and her two kids, and I just barely fit. It was cozy. I tried not to fart too much, but with all the carb loading going on, that was tough.

The actual room the six of us shared. Six!

We ate dinner at a nice place nearby. I order my food in French, feeling all proud of myself. That is until Meghan pointed out that my accent was absolutely atrocious. I haven't tried since. Probably for the best. Every time I say "bonjour", folks immediately switch to English. So yeah, it must be pretty obvious. Of course, I can't understand anything they say either. The sound like Elves making love in a field of mushrooms.

Meghan rented an amazing house for us stay in for a week. And because she's smart, she included the week after the Ironman so we could rest and enjoy our vacation. Finding it in the first place was an adventure. Google maps threw up its hands and stomped off angrily into a corner. We asked everyone we came across and they all knew exactly where it was without knowing at all where it was. We finally found it by accident. The house has all the awesome things a house can have. A deck with a gorgeous view, a dishwasher, a Keurig, and neighbors with little dogs on leashes.

It took me a minute to cover every square inch of my room with my junk.

We got to Tremblant Resort Friday afternoon to get our packets and stuff. It was a beautiful little village with a European feel. Ski-lifts constantly crisscrossed the sky. Narrow brick alleyways were lined by colorful buildings hiding crêperies and ice cream shops. The Athlete Village took up the middle of it, overflowing with svelte athletes. We got our stuff, spent too much money on Ironman merch, and then swam for a bit at the lake. There were zero lifeguards. Just one chubby teenager on duty who struggled with his English. I guess they didn't expect any triathletes to drown. But I was glad for that; I've had my fill of annoying lifeguards who won't let us swim anywhere in NYS.

Geoffrey and Meghan swam Saturday morning while I ran around Tremblant. We had breakfast at Le Vieux Four (The Old Oven). We put together our bags and went back to the Athlete Village. There was a bike bag, a run bag, a morning bag, and two special needs bags. You could only bring your morning bag with you on race morning. You got your bike bag in T1 and your run bag in T2. The special needs bags were placed on the course if you needed them. It was all very well organized. The only thing you put on the bike racks was... your bike. It was very quick, actually.

That's a lot of bags!

I didn't bother with the special needs bags. I dropped off my bike and run bags and then loitered while Meghan and Geoffrey obsessed over every little thing. I kept thinking I should go back and at least pretend to inspect my things. But whatever, I was only doing an Ironman. How much preparation did I really need? Blink. We ate dinner and tried to go to bed early and failed. Anxiety was just way too high.

My mind was pointedly avoiding the thought of what was coming. We were getting our stuff and setting up our transitions, but at no point did I really think about what it was for. I just floated around, following my two friends, staring like a creeper at all the huge calves around me. I felt out of place, like I was just along for the ride. I didn't really belong here, did I?

My alarm woke me up at 3:15am Sunday. I read some more in my Kindle app in bed. I brushed my teeth. The three of us ate breakfast. We grabbed our morning bags and put our bikes on the car. Geoffrey destroyed the hatch of his car with one of the rack clips, which put him in a fit of cursing. We got to the Athletes Village a little before 5.

Haiko watches over my magnet until I've earned it.

We went to our bikes and jammed them full of rice and potato bars Meghan had made the night before. We hunted down some bike pumps and finally filled up our tires. Thankfully Canadians are super nice. Then we went back and checked on our bike and run bags again. I loitered. We walked to the swim start with our morning bags. In some random patch of gravel, we put on our wetsuits. I had to completely remove my clothing to change into my tri-kit, so that was fun. We walked to the lake and literally threw our bags into dumptrucks. I got into the second to last swim corral with the other slowpokes and waited.

You'd think by now I would grasp what I was about to do. I knew logically that I was about to start exercising and I wouldn't be done until after the sun set. It wasn't even 7am yet. I was going to be moving nonstop for the entire duration of the daylight hours. At that point though I was just thinking about the swim. The buoys stretched out beyond eyesight.

Fireworks went off and the elite men started churning the water. A few minutes later more fireworks and then the elite ladies splashed in. And so it went. The excitement was palpable as I inched towards the swim start. 2500 people were crammed on this beach, waiting their turn to start one of the hardest things they'd do in their lives.

The swim was nice. I'd never swam 2.4 miles at once before, but I didn't have any trouble with it. It was pretty smooth sailing for the most part. Since we were in self-assigned corrals, there was very little of the typical thrashing and smashing you get at many tris, since we swam the same speed. Of course, that didn't prevent a few swimmers from cutting me off and swimming in zig-zags like drunken pinballs. And of course you inevitably touch someone's toes in front of you, which always feel like cold slimy tentacles to me for some reason.

It was a long swim, but not anywhere near as long or as hard as the rest of the race. Still, it felt really good to get one of the three events completed as I ran onto the beach. I plopped myself down ass-first as strippers violently ripped off my wetsuit. I ran into the transition tent and grabbed my bike bag. I changed quickly and wolfed down a rice and potato bar. I jammed my wet junk into the bike bag and threw it into a pile with a couple thousand other bags. Magically, I would get all my bags back at the end.

I grabbed my moist bicycle and headed out to start the bike portion. In my mind, I was used to the halves I'd done. At no point did I stop and think I was about to bike farther than I have ever biked in my life. Even at the Tour de Keuka last year I'd "only" biked a 100 miles. Still, I knew I would have to start out really easy. But with my paranoia over my injured tendons, that wasn't too hard.

Those tendons started to ache after 5 miles, which didn't bode well. And of course we immediately hit hills...

Ok, I need to say this.

I was told that there were gnarly hills at the end of each loop. I wasn't told that there were huge hills at the beginning. And hills in the middle. And hills in between all those hills. When you're talking about 6000 feet of elevation gain, you have to pile hills on tops of hills. I don't think there were any flat stretches. And of course there was a headwind the entire time. I know that's not meteorologically possible, but everyone agreed.

Those hills are beautiful! But yeah... hills

The course went out 20 miles. I thought it would go out 28 miles, so we'd only need to do two out and backs. But no! It was 20 miles of hills out. Then you turned around, and somehow rode up hills again on the way back. Then... then! It was another out and back for the other 16ish miles. And that's where the really awful hills were. The one that many cyclists had to walk up.

I was pretty wiped after the first loop. And the worst is that you pass right by the finish, with all the cheering spectators. But you have to go right by them and keep on going. Back out for another loop. A loop that took me almost four hours the first time around.

56 miles in the halves was long, but you had the satisfaction of whittling down those miles and being done after 3 "short" hours. But I had no such thought yesterday. It was just so far, I couldn't even picture being done. I was just peddling peddling peddling with my legs hurting. And I couldn't even think of things to engage my mind. I was just aware the whole time. I wish I could've zoned out. I really wanted to.

And the same thought crept into my mind. I don't have to finish. I can stop. I can stop at any time at a med tent. I can get a ride back. I can come up with a legitimate sounding excuse about my legs being too injured to continue. My friends would understand. They'd say, "great job anyways! You'll get it next time!" It doesn't matter how crazy I am or how much I enjoy pain. After hours and hours and hours of bicycling, this thought was near constant.

If you multiply the number of bikes by the hours spent on them...
That's like 20,000 hours of biking in one day.

The specific pain in my tendons turned into a generic white heat of pain at the start of the second loop. This was actually a blessing. I no longer felt like I was going to tear something. It just hurt, but "just hurting" is something I've very used to. I felt stronger on the second loop. It was still a very very long way to go. And I was even more conscious of that, having done it once already. But when I got to those nasty hills near the end, I stood up on my pedals and flew by all the exhausted folks clicking their cleats as they trudged up the hills.

This is a challenge of writing. How do I express how insanely long I was on the course in just a couple of paragraphs? It was the longest ride I've ever done. It took me seven and a half hours. That's something I was never willing to do even if I was just bicycling, nevermind swimming and running too. I didn't even think about the run. My entire life was finishing the bike ride. That was the only goal I had.

But there was still a run. A full marathon. Something that, by itself, used to be a great feat to me. But I was ecstatic when I finally finished the bike. I biked for what felt was a lifetime, and suddenly I was done, running to T2. I didn't even have to rerack my bike. They just took it from me. I grabbed my run bag, which was almost empty. I put on my run bib. I threw my bike stuff into the bag and just... left it there. It didn't matter. You could've throw your bag literally anywhere and it would've found its way back to you at the end. Small conveniences, in the grand scope of the day, but I loved that tiny bit of not-stressing.

I generally prefer to be stress-free

I had a fantasy of running a fast marathon. I pictured myself posting about my awesome marathon time after doing the swim and bike. My first mile was 8:54, and I felt good. My next three had some hills and were under 10 minutes. I soon realized I wasn't going to nuke this run. Still, the first half wasn't too bad. It was out a 10k, and then back slightly farther with a couple extra twists. A large part of it was on a flat paved path through the woods.

My pace crept up over 10 minutes, then 12 minutes. I was "running" 13 minute miles by the end of the first loop. As I mentioned before, the run passed by the finish line before you went out on the second loop. That was the hardest part, hearing the announcer say, "Bob! You are an Ironman!" Assuming some guy named Bob had just finished. Going out on that second loop was... brutal.

I finished the first loop in about 2.5 hours. I knew that the second loop was going to take even longer. I suddenly realized that even though I had "only a half marathon" left, it was going to take over three hours before I was going to see the finish line. That was crushing. I always take the run portion of tris for granted. But I had already been going for 12 hours, and I was looking at the prospect of at least three more.

Too much text! Insert photo here.

My legs were agony. My feet hurt. My stomach was a sea of fluids and gels and other junk. I was nauseated. My head hurt. I was shivering. And I was going to have to somehow hold on for many more hours. As bad as I thought the bike portion was, this was much darker. As much as I considered quitting on the bike, that thought took much stronger hold on me on the walk (I can't even call it a run at this point anymore).

I stopped running completely by mile 16. Even a short slow jog hurt too much. The sun was setting. I had thrown water on myself at every water stop, and as the temperature dropped, I started to freeze. I suddenly realized that I was going to walk, and only walk, 10 miles. And not even towards the finish. I had to first walk a 5k to the turn around before I even thought of approaching the finish line. I honestly don't know how I kept putting one foot in front of another.

There was a saving grace though. I eventually stopped at a med tent and grabbed a Mylar blanket. I put it on and tied it around my neck. And suddenly.... I was wearing a shiny cape. I flexed my arms. I was a superhero! I laughed. No longer would the walk just be a slog. It was a hilarious adventure!

I powerwalked, faking a smile at everyone I saw. I got quit a bit of attention from my "cape". Lots of folks called me superman. Meghan laughed when she saw me (I had seen her quite a few times throughout the day, always a little ahead of me!). Every time she saw me on the "walk", she asked how I was feeling. She probably remembered my near death experience on the run at Musselman, but I flared my cape and lied that I was feeling awesome. "Woohoo!" I shouted. Fake or not though, I felt it in that moment. I had conquered a huge amount already. I just had to suffer a bunch of walking and get to the end before time ran out.

It got dark, but there were tons of glowsticks available for everyone, and huge floodlights on the trail. This Ironman really was amazingly well put-together. I had no complaints about that. And the volunteers were amazing. They were out there all day. And yet they were always excited and encouraging when they saw you. "Great job! You're amazing!" They really made the suffering much more tolerable, and I'm deeply appreciative for them.

I walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Mentally, I had considered the bike the "end" of the race. And suddenly being faced with a six hour marathon on top of that was awful. I can't mince words here. No matter how close I got to the finish, I kept wanting to quit. Even one mile out I thought about cutting the course and just wondering over to the finishing area and saying "I give up."

"Peter. You are NOT an Ironman," Mike Reilly would shout over the amplifiers. I would hang my head dejected. And I felt that the whole time. Like a cheater, pretending to be a triathlete. I'm a slow swimmer. I'm a slow biker. I'm good at running, but not on tired legs. My training was stupid. Just calorie burning, really, with no goal. "Junk miles" as they're called. I shouldn't be here, I'm just humiliating myself by even trying.

But I didn't stop. I flared my cape, pumped my fist, and shouted at people. I powerwalked like a boss, ignoring the devastating pain in my body. My feet were on fire. My stomach hated me. My head ached abominably. But still, the image I put on was, "I f@#king own this. I am an Ironman! I'm not walking, I'm strutting."

Even though I can't really express how brutally long I was out there for, counting down tenths of miles on my dying watch, it doesn't matter. Because my brain refuses to remember now either. All it remembers is that approach to the finish. Out of nowhere I felt amazing. I ran the last couple of minutes, and I felt zero pain. Just ecstatic zeal.

I was shouting. I was cheering. I high-fived every single person who stuck their hands out. I was running with my cape flaring out behind me, my glowstick bouncing around my throat. I felt invincible. Over 15 hours of torture were wiped away from my mind as I charged through Tremblant Resort, the streets narrow with the press of screaming spectators. I hit the red carpet and picked up my pace.

I crossed the finish lines, my face nearly splitting with my grin as my hands flew over my hand. And Mike spoke those words on the loudspeaker.


Check me out in all my glory.

And in that moment I felt it. All of the self-hatred, all of the doubt, all of the guilt... vanished. I had just done something unbelievable and incredible. I had suffered a tremendous amount of brutal pain and exhaustion and survived. It's not something just anyone can do. I was one of a tiny segment of the population to cross the finish line of an Ironman. And no matter what I thought of my training, the fact is I made it from the start to the finish: 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running (and walking).

If you've read up to this point, you know it's not easy. By far the biggest challenge was in my mind and my spirit. The fact is the body can handle pretty much anything you force it to do. But you're the one who has to tell your body, "don't quit. Don't give up. I don't care how much you hurt. Keep going!" And you have to do that hour after hour after hour. It's a constant struggle of will, and a struggle very very few people volunteer for.

And that's it. It's done. I'm an Ironman. It still feels weird to say it. After having it hanging over my head for many months, after doubting and struggling and second-guessing myself, suddenly it's over. I made it. I have the t-shirt and medal to prove it.

Many folks have asked me if I'll do another one. I kept telling people that it was "one and done." And during the race, I definitely felt that. During the many many hours on the bike and run, I kept telling myself, "never again. Never again." But the brain is weird. It wipes out those horrible memories, and quite effectively. I just remember that last incredible minute crossing the finish line, as if nothing before it mattered. And a small part of me.... A very small part.... is thinking.... "maybe."

That's it. We're on vacation in Mont Tremblant through the week, and we're just going to be lazy vegetables. It's awesome.

I have to thank a huge number of people. Meghan and Geoffrey first, without whom I would've never gotten on this crazy triathlon journey in the first place. It's been a very tough journey, but it's made me do things I never thought I was capable of. I have to thank the many many people, my friends, who gave me a massive outpouring of love and support before, during, and after the race. My short post after I finished has gotten almost 70 incredible comments thus far. And all through Sunday, they were tracking me and posting updates about my progress! I really didn't expect that. I love these people.

And I can't leave out all of the staff, volunteer, and spectators in Mont Tremblant. They. Were. AMAZING. They always cheered you on, no matter how long they had already been out there. Everything you needed they offered to you without hesitation. They made your experience as smooth and positive as possible. Having that much energy thrown at you throughout the day makes a massive difference. There's absolutely no way I could've exercised for 15 hours in solitude. No. Way. So "merci beaucoup" to all of them! Just wow, I've never seen so many generous and giving strangers in one place.

Ironman doesn't mess around. The event was worth every penny. It was extremely well organized. Every tiny little detail was accounted for. The transitions were as smooth and easy as possible. Everything you could possible need on the course was made available to you. There were 2500 athletes on Sunday, but if they were anything like me, they really felt special. At no point did I just feel part of the crowd. I was treated like an Ironman, and as such I performed like one.

I definitely see the addiction. I understand why my triathlete friends keep at it. And truth be told, I feel it too. I like swimming now. I like biking (although not quite that long). I like the variety. I like it that if I'm too tired to run, I can do something else instead. And there's a sense of power of doing all three disciplines that's intoxicating. You feel strong. Accomplished. Powerful.

Crossing that finish line taught me a valuable lesson. I get angry at myself. I insult myself. I get irritated at people who compliment me or look up to me. And last night I realized that it was just egotistical bullsh*t. A way of exercising my vanity in a negative way. It was self-indulgent. Completely an Ironman digs at the very core of your spirit. Way beneath your doubts and anger and frustrations to the very essence of your being. It makes your soul shine. It breaks free of all the junk that you've spent a lifetime wrapping around it. I realized how much of that crust I had allowed to build up around myself.

Even in this very post I talked about "faking" a smile. That's a lie. I love being positive. And I love getting positivity in return. When I'm with amazing people, all there is that love, and I forget myself and all my junk for a while. And the Ironman taught me that I can let go of that cr@p on my own too. It's a choice. It's just that often it's a choice that requires you to go through a gauntlet of pain and suffering to achieve. You have to scrub yourself clean in, to smash away the imperfections. And Ironman does that. It destroys all that grime, letting you see who you truly are.

My doubts and failings make me human. And that is awesome. Humans have the capacity for incredible strength and love. We very often forget that. But if 15 hours of torture is what takes me to embrace the core of my humanity, to feel that strength and love, then it was well worth it.

Thank-you for reading! À bientôt!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Running with the Bro

I was a terrible older brother when I was a kid. I used to beat on my younger brother Alex for no reason. I would shove grass down his shirt. I would break his Lego spaceships. I would play Final Fantasy in the middle of the night just so I could be a couple of levels ahead of him. I would insult him for no reason other than to make myself feel bigger. Classy bullying bullsh*t.

One of the reasons I train so hard is to punish myself for my past crimes. I've hurt a lot of people and I've done a lot of awful things. I realize that a lot of those things were done when I was much younger and much more stupid. I realize I've grown tremendously since then and would never do those things again. But I still have that guilt and I still batter myself daily because of it. No small part of that guilt is over how I treated my brother Alex, even though he's long since forgiven and forgotten, because he's just that awesome.

One of my biggest fears had been that what I did would hurt his self-confidence and make it more difficult for him to prosper and achieve his passions in life. I'm glad to say that I was very wrong. He's grown to be an amazing individual, loved dearly by all of his many friends. He's a talented musician, a gifted masseur, a very generous soul, and is well on his way to becoming an amazing athlete as well!


On Thursday, Alex ran the Tromptown half-marathon. I paced him the whole way, cheering him on to his PR (Personal Record). His goal (or at least what I told him he was totally capable of) was to run it in under 1:50. It's a hilly course. You may recall that the worst race of my life was at Tromptown last year. And though the weather wasn't as awful as last year, it was still quite warm. It's not a PR course by any stretch.

Alex finished in 1:49:47.

He maintained an utterly steady pace of 8:30 for the first 9 miles. And whereas most folks started to dwindle by this point, especially on the huge nasty hill at mile 11, Alex sped up. He managed to shave off the couple minutes he needed to beat his goal. I couldn't even keep up with his sprint finish in the last 100ft! Truly I was blown away by his strength.

Alex is training for Empire State Marathon in October. I didn't blog about it, but I ran Empire State last year, so I know it's a very nice course (with a nice medal!). I wrote him a training plan. I'm not a coach, so don't ask me to write you one. But I want Alex to have every chance of success at the marathon. So I wrote him the entire plan on a scrap piece of paper with yellow marker. And he's been following it!

I know his dedication. He's been lifting regularly for a while now. He has what it takes to train every day. And I could see the commitment in his eyes. He wants to not only run it, but to crush it. The only other marathon he's run was Lake Placid five years ago (again with his big bro). We were sorely underprepared for that marathon. But on October 8, we're going to run Empire State together, and I have no doubt he can finish in under 3:45.

Someday he'll even outlift his big bro!

And that won't be the end either! He's getting excited about the idea of doing triathlons next year. I bought him a Garmin 920xt. I taught him to swim freestyle in the pool, and we've been swimming every Friday at 6am while he's in town. He's seen my many stories and pictures, and he knows how much fun tris are (especially sprints). I'm excited to toe the starting line with him in a wetsuit (which I'll likely also get for him).

Perhaps I'm making up for being a bad brother when I was younger. Certainly there's a selfish aspect: A desire to atone for my sins and assuage my own guilt. But that's not what goes through my head when I watch him run, and when he talks with excitement about his future goals. No, something else goes through my mind.


Somehow he's navigated all the pain and challenges of life to make it not only positive for him, but positive for those around him. He's a beacon of joy and energy, and you can't help but feel intoxicated by his presence. Though he may be learning from me about running and training, I'm learning from him what it takes to be a happy and loving human being.

And as hectic as my life gets, or however angsty I may feel, I know that Alex (and also my amazing sister Kate) will always be there for me. It brings me a great deal of joy and solace to know that as long as the two of them are in my life, everything's OK. I may have the worst race of my life, but a night of music and absurd silliness with the two of them will wipe it all away.

And when Alex crosses the finish line at Empire State, I will have yet another reason for joy and pride.

A face anybody can be proud of...