Awe-inspiring Pacific Crest Triathlon

Laying awake the night before the Pacific Crest Triathlon I relish images of being in the SCOTT plasma cockpit in full race gear zipping along at high speeds. Vrooooom, vroooom goes the disc wheel as pine trees, lakes and snow covered mountains rush by in a blur. Slipping through the wind like a stealth fighter; I turn the crank and pass mile after mile of Oregon highway at breakneck speeds. There’s something very special about moving your body fast, efficiently, and with grace. To obtain this stage, takes years of trial and error practice while working towards a healthier body and mind. Every race is an articulate balance of life accumulating to a microcosm of the bigger picture. The window is a glimpse into the soul.

To feel a powerful and definite heart beat, lungs breathing in copious amounts of air, and muscles contracting potent movements is the sensation I seek in the body. With the mind; it’s free and expansive all the while being engaged and challenged to be the essence of calm. With the body and mind aligned, now the soul can drink the stuff of life. Joy permeates being.

It is the constant struggle to be more that allows us satisfaction.

What is your challenge?

Pacific Crest Long Course Triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 58.3 mile bike, 13.1 mile run)

Trying to be more present in all aspects of life is a challenge. Getting there before and during a race is a skill I’ve learned to love. Being absolutely present crystallizes the air and slows down time making everything crisp. Especially, when you are peaked for a performance.

I had been preparing to ‘crystallize the air’ for a year in preparation for the Ironman Boise 70.3 when a cold derailed a huge opportunity for me to race on home soil with friends and family nearby. Life’s lessons can be hard but they build character and instill a richer life experience. Getting healthy again and having another option to race in the Pacific Crest Triathlon a couple weeks later allowed me to embolden my spirit into this race.

Waking up in stunning Sunriver to a fresh day of blue skies and pure mountain air, it is a day that heightens your senses naturally. I prefer the cool days and the colder the water the better but the chill in the air made me grab some winter gear.

Being number 516 and noticing the elites were numbered 1 through 50 I found the race director after quickly setting up T1. “I’d like to be in the first wave…I’m actually a professional triathlete.” Race director, “Oh sure, we’ll just take your number down so we can adjust your time after the race. You can grab a red cap at the table over there.” That was easy enough.

I really did not know what the competition would be like as I did not recognize the names of anyone. I did notice an Australian accent just before the swim and thought that if an auzzie came all the way over here to race that they might be pretty good. The swim started and I took the early lead before settling into a strong pace. One swimmer remained close and after turning the first buoy together I knew we’d be challenging ourselves the rest of the swim.

The sunlight water felt refreshing on the skin, perfect for dissipating all the heat generated from putting forth lots of energy. I lingered on moments of bliss, enjoying the medium and taking in the mountain lake vistas. I thought of Hortense and Lola and smiled.

Just when I was wishing the swim could be doubled we finished virtually together but stepped out of the water a bit quicker and stormed through T1 efficiently, calmly and most importantly fast. I never saw another triathlete on the bike course. Lonely, in a good way.

The first few moments on the bike however, were a disaster. It took me a second to figure out why my front water bottle was so loose, the screws were coming undone. Holding my doomed water bottle in one hand left me helpless to do much with the screws. Even so, with no tools they would just loosen again. The water bottle contained precious fuel but I had no where to put it other than to hold it in my hand. Frustrating. Weighing my options I decided to hold the bottle in my hand until I drank all of it. Those riveting images of effortless flying along the Oregon Highway had to be delayed for a few miles.

This bike course is about as cool as it gets. Ha, I’m not talking about riding through snow tunnels either. No, this in one fine bike course, absolutely breathtaking both allegorically and literally. The first 36 miles are a steady climb to Mt. Bachelor and the course actually circumnavigates the dormant volcano. I have been fortunate to ride on spectacular courses all over the world and this is one of the best. Riding strong is easy when you’re surrounded by so much wide open space and beauty. My thoughts were free and clear just like my riding. I thought of Hortense and Lola and found more power.

It was a relief to all when finally reaching mile marker 36 where the long climb peaked. We left the snow behind in a hurry descending at speeds above 50 mph! I let out a few whoooopieeees!

My energy levels were high finishing the bike and I started the run at my happy pace. Checking my watch after 3 miles it showed a split of 17:40. I felt good about holding just under 6 minute mile pace and assumed it would be enough for the win. Then, while grabbing fluids at the mile 4 aid station an athlete flew by me. For a second it seemed likely this guy was going to run away from me. I matched his pace though and a battle ensued.

That’s when I noticed who I was racing because his name was on the jersey; Luke McKenzie. That explained the fast swimmer and the auzzie accent. I was thrilled for the competition. We ran shoulder to shoulder weaving through the forest on the foot path. I thought of Hortense and Lola and grinned with satisfaction.

This was what I was craving, running shoulder to shoulder with great competition for a win. I became the essence of soaking up the moment. The air became crystallized.

I noticed immediately at mile 8 when Luke fell off the pace just a tad. I took my opportunity and ran. The challenge of it filled me with pleasure and I ran and ran. Looping through several holes of the golf course, by an airport and along the mighty Deschutes River. I thanked my body for moving me so well.

Coming to the finish line, the sprint finish I envisioned for first subsided and it allowed me to appreciate the crowd. Emotions flooded me with joy. I thought of Hortense and Lola and overflow happened.

With my wife and daughter in France for a month visiting family the Ditter family was kind enough to adopt me for the weekend. It was a great Ditter reunion! It was such a good thing to be with them and their three kids Dylan, Jayden, and Everly. Everly is only a month older than Lola and I couldn’t help but smile around her. I was holding Eve and she snuggled her head against my chest and couldn’t help but think about how that was the same thing Lola did the last time I held her. Good thing I had sunglasses on. Thanks for a superb weekend.

Pacific Crest Triathlon Results

Dylan and Teddy will both be kicking my butt soon enough…but I won’t make it easy for them.  It was awesome to have the hometown support from Boise.  Thanks guys!  You keep me strong.

20011 Escape From ALCATRAZ

What makes a city great? Well, one way to quickly get an answer is to ask how awesome is the city’s triathlon? How many people utilize the natural resources to exercise outdoors? That standard of excellence is clearly met in San Francisco. How else do you get a sold out often lottery only entry of 2000 athletes from 40 countries excited about ‘abandoning ship’ to brave cold sharky waters? Ask anyone who has done this race and they will tell you it is one of their favorite triathlons. It feels more like an adventure and the course forces one to be mindful of the present.

The 1.5 mile swim in 52 degree water has strong currents, chop from the wind, and lots of marine life much more apt at swimming than humans. Read Devils Teeth by Susan Casey, for an idea of the terror that lurks beneath the murky water. The scene is jaw dropping with both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge sandwiching the San Francisco skyline. The bay’s immense size leaves each swimmer feeling alone; spread out over acres of sea. Where did everyone go?

Once out of the water, disoriented from the cold with numb and sensitive feet, one runs a half mile to their bike barefoot on sidewalk. It feels like your skin is tearing and ripping on some of the loose gravel and uneven surfaces. You’re certain that your foot has been torn open and is bleeding but upon inspection there is not a scratch.

The bike takes you on a technical and scenic route through the Presidio over to the Mill House along the coast and Ocean Beach and then up into Golden Gate Park before returning. There is no flat section apart from the first and last mile. It takes a powerful rider to storm up the hills and a savvy descender to take a good line on the drops. It’s also a wonderful tour of the city and its stunning landscape.

Your adventure has just begun once getting off the bike and heading out on one of the toughest runs in the sport. Heading under the Golden Gate Bridge one first must ascend 300 feet of stairs, go under the bridge and trek through some amazing single track trails where the mighty Pacific meets land for the first time in about 10,000 miles. A quick descent spits you out into Baker Beach and some very deep, loose, soft sand. Your ankles buckle and your speed suffers. Your reward for finishing 1.5 miles of sand running is looking straight up at over 400 steps of sand; the infamous sand ladder. These sandy steps translate into poor footing and quad burning leg suffering while trying not to redline and keep moving forward.

It’s fun. It’s amazing. It’s memorable. It’s stunning. It’s invigorating. It’s the best race in one of the best cities on our planet.

It keeps you focused on the unequivocal moment and when you finish it’s like you’ve just lived through your favorite daydream.

Photo by Cuyler Binion

Boise, Idaho Friday June 3, 5:10pm

“I think I’m getting a sore throat” I say to my wife. “Me too” she says. Neither of us has been sick for months. We are blind with optimism to dismiss the signs as a minor nuisance.

9:10pm

I thought briefly about not even going to the race and then thought better of it. I finish packing for the trip to San Francisco. I leave the next day at 9am.

San Francisco Saturday 10:04am

I arrive in rainy San Francisco trying to ignore the symptoms of my cold. My friend Cuyler picks me up at the airport and we proceed to have a great day exploring the city and it’s never ending enchanting qualities.

I sleep that night sucking on Ricolas to keep from coughing; hoping the illness will not slow me down for a race I’m very ready to storm.

San Francisco early race morning.

I remain positive and hopeful but within a minute of diving into the bay I know my energy is low. In the back of my mind, I’m angry. I get conservative and go into damage control. It’s not as much fun when you can’t be assertive and aggressive. It feels like a really fun training day…but I’m there to race.

Even with a poor swim I remain in good position and perhaps my bike will be different. Nope, I’m struggling. I get down on myself and start thinking of an exit strategy. My goal race, Boise 70.3 is next weekend. I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot the week before. Then, Craig Alexander catches me on the bike. I shoot myself in the foot and match my speed to his. After all, I can’t be having that bad of a race if I’m biking with Crowie. My spirits lift and I enjoy the ride for what it is.

We catch several of the faster swimmers and enter T2 in the top 10. Much like T1 I have a slow T2 my mind and body both seem to be reacting slowly. My running form feels good but the energy level is just not 100%. For about the first mile I see what it is like to match the pace of Crowie and Jesse Thomas for a bit. OK…so I can hold their pace for a few minutes…then reality set in and they took off while I settled into my pace. At this point I just had to be alright backing off, focusing on form and not shooting myself in the other foot.

My underlying fitness and form felt remarkable given the circumstances and thus I’m calling it a good race on a bad day.

Photo by Cuyler Binion

With the power of hindsight and being very sick the following day, I should have had the ‘guts’ to skip out on this very awesome race. Any other race would have been much easier to pass on but the allure of Escape from Alcatraz is significant for a thrill seeking adventure athlete. At this moment, I have jeopardized a race I have been preparing for all year (my hometown race Boise 70.3) and that makes it hard for me to relax. It looks like my cold is going to linger and cause me to miss out on a great opportunity. Give credit to my wife for turning this into a positive, “You get to spend the day with Lola, now” This is very true and helps put everything in perspective. Life is full of lessons. Keeping it balanced will help me grow from the experience.

Thanks to the support of the many friends and family in the Boise community that enrich my life everyday.

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