2011 Ironman Steelhead Bike/Run Time Trial

Flying home from New York the day after a successful race my attention turns to being with my wife and daughter. The week ahead is packed full of activities so each moment with them becomes central. One of my favorite tasks as Head Coach of the Boise Y TriClub is running the week long Youth Camps. Seeing the kids acquire these essential skills; you know you are setting them up for a life long journey that includes more fulfillment. Kids swimming, biking and running just makes a lot of sense.

Sandwiching two east coast trips on back to back weekends takes a lot of demands on the mind and the body. Asking your body to then perform at its highest level to race against the world’s best endurance athletes is wishful thinking, especially when your week is packed full of activities.

The Ironman 70.3 Steelhead is in St. Joseph, MI where I spent 4 years of my youth. The seeds for my love of swimming were planted here. My first day of swim practice happened on a Tuesday evening when I was nine years old (a late start for a kid whose dad was a swim coach). I spent about 40 minutes of the 45 minute workout in the showers at the Y, intimidated. I finally worked through some fears and yielded my shy persona out to the swim deck. The coach introduced me to some swimmers and then I jumped in and swam a fast 100 yards racing some of the others. I haven’t been away from the water since.

Joining the swim team enabled me to have the confidence to take my love for swimming to the next level; spending much of my summers on the beaches of Lake Michigan, swimming. This lake is an open water paradise and having the pleasure to enjoy this at a young age has shaped me to this day. Most of the time the lake is calm but my favorite days were when the wind picked up and the waves rolled in. I would play in the waves for hour after hour until hunger or mom said it was time to go.

Every year of my life gets better and this golden age refreshes the memory of the beginnings of my journey.

Now, a fish story. A rainy day along the banks of the river did not keep the true fishermen from casting. My dad got off to an early morning start and headed to the St. Joseph River. I have fond memories of waking up before sunset to spend serine mornings on the lakes of Northern Michigan fishing. Unfortunately, I slept in for this outing.

Hearing the raindrops hit the river as the water flows towards the giant lake, one can meditate on the movement like watching sand spill out of an hour glass. Fishing is a patient mans game and much of the time you ‘settle’ for the simple act of being outside on the water. Then, the line starts reeling. The senses go on high alert and adrenalin spikes through your body. I can only assume a fervent, “Holy Crap” was uttered. This was no ordinary fish. This sucker was pulling the full weight of my dad along the river banks. With the line reeling he stumbled to find better footing while being pulled along the shallows of the river. Then, he lost the white knuckled grip he had on the pole. The fishing pole slipped into the river and out of sight. With out a moment’s hesitation he jumped in the river.

The picture below is of me when I was 9 holding up the prized Steelhead. I remember having a hard time hoisting it for the photograph. My dad is decked out in all Levis denim on cloud nine from an epic day on the St. Joseph River.

He spent the next hour swimming and fishing in a battle of wills that ended with one fine ‘catch’.

Returning to St. Joseph for the Steelhead Triathlon after more than 20 years had me excited to race on semi home turf. It also proved to be an awesome family reunion as much of my extended family still lives in the area.

Race morning came and the conditions were perfect; breezy and cool. Lake Michigan looked marvelous with some subtle 1 foot waves rolling in at irregular intervals. The 9 year boy in me saw the lake again and looked forward to a fun swim.

The race organizers saw it differently and canceled the swim. I was stunned and disappointed.

I let it go and prepared for the longest time trial I’ll ever do. Having the pros start at 30 seconds intervals took the race away. A 56 mile bike and 13 mile run is a long way to race the clock.

Still the biggest shock of the day came when a draft pack of about 14 pros swallowed me up around mile 40. Without any referees (no one saw any all day) the drafting got way out of hand and turned this ‘race’ into a very unfair day. I got mad and went to the front and hammered home the last 10 miles not wanting to be a part of the cheating. All I did is pull everyone to T2. I ran hard for 3 miles holding almost the whole lot off but by mile 6 my fight was gone.

The race that could have been didn’t materialize and I’ll be honest it left a sour taste in my mouth. It had its moments in the early parts of the bike and run but the overall race was not at all what it should have been. It is imperative to know that when you spend a lot of time, money, and energy for a race that you are going to get what’s promised; a swim, bike, and run in a fair racing format.

Later that same afternoon my family and I enjoyed some time on the beach, my wife and I went for a leisurely swim while doing some body surfing in similar conditions to the morning in what we felt was very pleasurable.

New York Triathlon Battle

One week before traveling to the world’s capitol in Manhattan for the NYC Triathlon a friend texted me about a possible run. Being in the skyscraping mountain region of Central Idaho I knew this would be no ordinary run. Adam Wirth (mountain man authority and Xterra Pro) baited me well with a ‘6 mi trail run?’

Adam called it, “Training to train”. This strikes a chord with the tune we love. At the core of sports is this search for optimal experience. A person atoned with gaining these moments strives on challenges. Adam and I set off in the Payette National Forest trekking into its vast wilderness. Mainly up. This is as much about discovery as it is about training. It is easy to find that special harmony when surrounded by the obvious power of nature. You feel small and large at the same time. The following photos speak to the beauty of this run.

Dichotomy of weekends; from a land populated with trees and mountains to one of people, cars, and skyscrapers, I arrive in New York ready to test my body and mind on a very different course and stage.

I need a top 8 finish to secure a spot in the 5150 Hy-Vee Championship Race.

Resting for the race, the days lingered while lying around in the Upper West Side Y’s room overlooking Central Park. The urge to go walk around needed to be limited to a few blocks for finding lunch or dinner. Race morning came after very little sleep, yet feeling refreshed and looking forward to storming the streets of New York.

Awaking to a New York cloaked in rain clouds made one want to curl up on the couch and read a book. But as usually is the case, once you’re out in the storm, it is very invigorating.

The pro men lined up ready to dive into the Hudson River. The gun went off and the quick dive I envisioned into the water did not happen with the slightest hesitation. The guy next to me also used his left arm swing to push me back. No big deal, opening up a fast few strokes would have me back near the front. The wind was blowing strong up river and this disrupted the rhythm and sighting potential of the swimmers. We played bumper boats for a bit while the leaders started pulling away. It took too long but eventually, getting in some open water allowed for some focus on speed. The 4 leaders had created a sizable gap and I swam hard to bridge up. In one of the best second half swims of my career, the gap is closed on Bennett’s feet just before exiting the water.

Next, began the hardest part of this race with an almost 3 min barefoot sprint on pavement. With Greg Bennett being my rabbit the pace clipped off at a horse’s gallop. Leaving T1 within seconds of the leader I mounted the Plasma 3 for its inaugural pro race. Perfect.

The rough roads were full of puddles and forced one to concentrate on avoiding these pitfalls. This course is a hilly twisty one and keeps the ride challenging. Having passed two of the leaders and now riding in third I’ve got hopes of a strong negative split and closing in on Greg and Ben. I’m riding in the zone and enjoying the performance, knowing that this race is opening up a nice opportunity.

Then, with Greg 200 meters ahead and veering right up a subtle hill, the referee is trying to get my attention. I ignore her, and stay in the zone. The referee is demanding my attention. She wants me to pull over so she can assess a penalty. “What!?” the first thing I say while throwing my arms in disgust, “Are you kidding me!” I go on for another minute trying to state my case. I just can’t believe she’s giving a stagger penalty. I can barely see Greg up the wet road as he’s just cresting a hill. I was riding the best line in the middle of the road, there’s giant puddles on the right and pot holes to avoid. I’m clearly getting no advantage. She is not budging and I finally come to a stop. She doesn’t start the stop watch until I get both feet on the ground. When I do, she still doesn’t start the watch while she plays with the modes. These seconds matter! I continue to complain about the penalty and she says, “If you can see the person in front of you, you must be staggered from their position.” Well, that works if the roads are flat and straight. Physics 101 time and space; I was staggered from Greg for the simple fact that he was climbing a hill that was veering right. Just because I’m in the same line that he was 200m before does not mean I am not staggering.

Standing there while rider after rider goes by, it feels awful. It is difficult to stomach all the seconds taken away, seconds you muster and struggle for. After an eternity and seeing all my hard work washed away I mount the bike in 15th place.

I let the setback go quickly. This race is too important and the sacrifices my family makes matter to much. Thinking of them gives me strength. My focus narrows. I must finish in the top 8 to qualify for Hy-Vee. I keep repeating this motto. Top 8.

While catching up and passing a few riders, I’m very aware of the stagger rule, when nailing a pot hole pops the water bottle right out of its cage. A referee is right next to me. I’ve gotten this penalty before, abandonment. My heart skips a beat and I try not to draw attention. If the ref see’s this I’ll be disqualified for my second offense. The next few seconds pass by interminably. Nothing happens. I thank my lucky stars and ride with a third life.

With five miles to go I turn the crank as hard and fast as my legs can. I enter T2 alone but knowing some fast runners are hot on my heels. Running up a steep hill the legs feel good and Josh Amberger, who was right behind me when I received the penalty, is just up the road. There are also footsteps behind me. Tim Reed is setting a torrent pace, unwisely, I match it. We pass Josh and turn into Central Park. After a fast mile with Tim he starts to pull away, on his way to a third place finish and the fastest run on the day.

In the urgency to have a fast run, the tough pace Reed set left me in trouble for the last two miles. I could feel the energy in my body having limits, and the cutoff point was near. The battle between my ears commenced. Josh caught back up and passed me for 7th place. With a little over a mile to go and no room to spare I did my best to stay calm and focused while under a good deal of stress.

Dangling over the steep ravine grasping a tired creeping plant I’m moments from falling to the earth far below. But I climb up and out of danger and make it to safe ground. I cross the finish line and hold my 8th place. Battle after battle under less than ideal circumstances tests the limits of my character; climbing out of trouble is satisfying.

I am humbled by the support of family, friends, and sponsors. Thanks for keeping me in the Race.

Race Results

2011 Y Not Triathlon

Click Y logo for race site & results

The Y Not Triathlon is a splendid 400 meter swim, 6 mile bike and 2 mile run. It was my first introduction to the fringe sport of triathlon when I competed as a 12 year old with swimming and soccer being my focused sports. The race took my fitness to new levels and the pain is something I still remember; it shocked me how tough the ‘sprint’ was. It would be 16 years before my next triathlon. Too bad it took so long.

Today, being a Triathlon coach at the Y and a professional triathlete I have the pleasure of introducing and expanding the sport to kids and adults. Triathlon is a simple sport with challenges for everyone and this attests to the explosion of participants and races in the last few years.

Doing the Y Not Tri as a 12 year old novice and a 36 year old professional the challenges remain. Ones skills will improve with the trials of swimming, biking, and running, they are continually pushing the boundaries of your abilities. Your passion for the sport rests in this continual search for improvement through finding bigger and bigger tests. It will help enrich your health which in turn makes all of life sweeter. Perhaps you’ll even be fortunate enough to have the optimal experience, the ceaseless moment we often refer to as the ‘zone’. Sport can be intrinsically rewarding when the dimensions of the mind, body, and time merge to create one of the highest states of being humans can experience.

Being a spectator, coach and athlete at this year’s Y Not Tri proved to be very rewarding. It is especially gratifying to see whole families take part in the event. These healthy families are making our community one of the best in the world. Cheers to families and sports.

Every race should have the kids take part in so that the adults can all see them race. When the kids start racing, the joy is evident. You can feel the anxieties of many of the adults subside as we all remember the purpose of this simple sport; to have fun.

My race proved to be an opportunity to test the limits of the speed my body could propel it. I found the internal moment permeated by joy which guarantees a good race.