Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hurting Is Temporary, But Quitting Lasts Forever.

As my toes dug into the Spanish sand, part of my body anticipated the blasting air horn that would start the 2012 Long Distance Triathlon World Championships, and send me sprinting out into the water for a grueling 2.5 mile swim, 75 mile bike and 19 mile run.

The other part of my body was messed up. 

My eyes were bloodshot from severe lack of sleep, my gut had a deep gnawing pain, and my usually sprite pre-race muscles felt drained and empty.

No, this was not a result of a nasty Rioja wine drinking binge, too many CafĂ© Largo’s the night before, or some kind of stomach bug.

It was simply me experiencing the same sub-optimal state that has been described to me over and over again by other triathletes, whether during a training workout or before an important race.

That dead feeling of being completely exhausted and unable to dig when the race intensity begins.

It’s been so long since I’ve arrived at a starting line in that state, I had forgotten what it feels like to have a non-responsive body despite perfect training, a good taper, and no emotional and lifestyle stress.

And it was a loud and clear reminder to me: arriving on the starting line of a race with a 100% physically prepared body means that you have to take care of your gut during race week. Otherwise, by abusing or neglecting a section of your body that is even more exposed to external environments than your skin, you’re setting yourself up for subpar performance.

So what is it about the gut that can create this kind of dreaded pre-race condition in triathletes? In exactly one month, you’re going to find out the answer in Lava Magazine – or you can leave your guesses or comments below, because I’m not going to tell you until then, since it’s an article I’m commissioned to write and I can’t “leak it” on this blog post.

But until then, here is what ensued from my race week mistakes…


The swim was tricky, with twists and turns throughout – rather than the typical “loop” or “out and back” you see in most swims. Over and over again, I tried to “dig” and drop the group I was in, but kept having to fall back on hips and feet to draft.

At 1500 meters, I considered grabbing hold of a kayak and calling it quits. But eventually, my hands hit sand and I came charging out of the water in an hour even, in 10th place. After learning later that the swim was actually long by nearly 400 meters, I was pretty happy with this, as it means it would have given me an equivalent Ironman swim split of about 55 minutes – one minute faster than my personal record. But I drafted the entire time, so it didn’t really feel like it was swimming, as much as desperately trying to stay on feet.


All through the swim-to-bike transition, I was gasping for breath – more than usual. My heart felt like it was beating out my throat, my lungs felt tight and constricted and when I finally started pushing the pedals, I once again experienced that frustrating sensation of not being able to dig.

By this time, I knew what the problem was, because that gnawing ache in my stomach had now grown into a full-blown “issue” - and by the time I was 90 minutes into the bike, I was vomiting gels.

So with dead legs and an exhausted body, I wiped the vomit from my mouth and began repeating a mantra that I would repeat over 50 times before the day was over:

“Hurting is temporary, but quitting lasts forever”.


With this mantra, I strung myself along, splitting the painful bike into 5K portions, and trying to keep down something – anything. By the time I finally got off the bike and onto the run, it had been an hour since I’d last eaten or drunk.

I came off the bike still in 10th place, with a 3:08 bike split and an average speed of just under 25 miles per hour over the 75 miles. But I knew that even that placing wasn’t going to last long with the way I was feeling – and it was pure will at this point that was keeping me on my feet.

“Hurting is temporary, but quitting lasts forever”.

I said it one more time as I slouched in the bike-to-run transition tent, preparing myself mentally to charge out in front of thousands of screaming Spanish fans and at least try to look like a triathlete, not a walking zombie. All I wanted to do at this point was curl up into a ball and go to sleep.

As I came out of the tent, I wished I’d had earplugs. The roar was deafening. There were more spectators in the cobblestoned Vitoria plaza than I’d ever seen in any race, shouting, cheering and blowing horns.

I clutched my stomach and began running.


Within 1K, I passed my wife Jessa, and when I crumbled to her side and literally collapsed onto my back on the race course, she immediately knew I was having a rough day.

My breaths were coming in short spurts, and my heart rate was screaming in my throat. What was wrong with my body? I felt like I had no control.

Jessa and a police officer helped me to my feet, and I desperately turned to the officer in broken Spanish, “Donde es el bano? Donde es el bano?”

He pointed across the park at a lone bathroom, and I ran to it and stumbled inside. With my head in my hands, I grimaced through several minutes of extreme discomfort, then splashed my face with cold water, and finally emerged from the bathroom:

“Hurting is temporary, but quitting lasts forever”.


When I emerged from the bathroom, two spectators literally shoved me back out onto the run course and I started running. Within 1500 meters, I was back in another bathroom. This happened again, and again, and again over the first 15K of the run course. By this time, I had discovered that I could only keep down one source of energy: Coke.

After consuming two full cans of carbonated Coke during those first two loops of the run, I knew that I would finish, but it would be ugly. At this point, I only had three things keeping me going…

1) The fans; 

2) Imagining pushing my twin boys in the stroller, and not wanting them to see me be a quitter. 

3) “Hurting is temporary, but quitting lasts forever”.

I though the last loop of the run would never come. By the time it finally did, I had taken eight bathroom stops and completely emptied the contents of my gut out both my front and backside. I was now running with what felt like balloons full or air in my stomach.

With pride, I somehow passed the final bathroom on the run course without stopping – although it seemed like merely the site of a bathroom was now my gut’s cue to “empty”. I’m guessing by this point I just had nothing left to “go”.




Screaming spectators.

The finish line arch.

In this video below, you can barely see me clutching my head in my hands as I cross. That about sums up my thoughts at that point, “I have no clue how I just finished that race”.


My final run split a flat and fast course was 2:20 – 20 minutes slower than last year on what should have been a much speedier course. This got me 19th place in my division and 33rd overall out of 593 male athletes who competed – and nowhere near my 1st place finish from last year.

I broke down crying from a combination of extreme fatigue and exhausted disappointment. After limping to the hotel, I spent the next 5 hours in bed, doubled over with gut pain and unable to do anything but lie there and stare at the ceiling.

So what happened? What can cause an athlete to arrive in perfect preparation to a race, but suffer such a lack of ability to perform?

Over those 6 hours and 30 minutes, I had been reminded of an important lesson that I already knew, but took for granted. You’ll get to learn exactly what that lesson is in my next article in Lava Magazine. Stay tuned. It will be in the “Kona” issue.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Tiger And A Double Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog In A Cheeseburger, Please.

How Can You Not Read A Race Report That Starts With A Baby Tiger Photo?

Today, as a pre-race tune-up before I go defend my gold medal at ITU Long Course World Championships in Spain next week, I dropped into the Tiger Triathlon.

This race is advertised as a "quarter Ironman".

Which basically seems to be a 1K swim, a 40K bike, and an 8K run. I'm not quite sure how the math on that works out with the run part, but whatever - I'm in!

So I showed up on race morning with 2 kids, 2 dogs and my wife (bless her heart, once I took off on the swim she was left with all 4 of them) and with the help(?) of my 4 year old boys set up transition area in a blistering 20 minutes, with barely enough time left over to put on my brand new Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit (thanks B70 guys!) and rush down to the water.

Here's the hurry-up video I shot for my Twitter and Facebook followers who asked me how I set up my bike for an Olympic Distance Triathlon...

The swim horn sounded and we were off. Here's where I remembered an important lesson:

In an early morning lake swim, the glare of the bright morning sun at some point is going to really impede your sighting as it glimmers off the lake, so A) if you can get tinted goggles, wear them, and B) if you have the option to draft do it.

Fortunately, I did both A) and B), and came out of the water in 2nd place, about 5 second behind the leader. I passed him in the run up to T1 and headed out on the bike in 1st.

The 40K point-to-point bike is a net elevation loss, which means a few things:

1) You need to really focus on maintaining wattage, as it's easy to let yourself "cruise" with as many downhill stretches as a bike course like this has - no "zoning out"!

2) If you're lucky enough to come out of the water in 1st place like I was, you need to put the hammer down early because if anybody gets on your wheel it's much tougher to shake them off when you've both got a downhill advantage.

As I rolled into transition and dismounted to grab my shoes, I was unpleasantly reminded of one other thing about net elevation loss bikes...

3) You'll be going faster than usual, which makes non-aerodynamic position have a higher time penalty. This means you stay tucked, aero, and for heaven's sake, don't look back behind you because that stick your helmet tail into the wind.

Why did this turn into an unpleasant reminder for me? 

Because I didn't realize that another competitor,  super-speedy runner Jesse Carnes, had snuck up on me in the bike and rolled into transition just a few seconds behind me. Rather then getting to comfortably run to the finish line, this meant I was now going to have to suffer - especially considering that the entire two-loop run takes place on Jesse's old highschool cross country course!

I took off running scared, and here's where I implemented another tip:

If you know the guy behind you is a faster runner than you, try to outsplit him early so that he doesn't have the motivation to catch you later on. 

So with Jesse hot on my heels, I ran the first 4K much harder than I knew I could maintain for the full 8K.

And it worked.

By the time we reached the finish on the high school track, I'd put about 25 seconds on him, which was enough for me to cruise in for the win in 1:43 and change.

And get a freaking huge Tiger Triathlon coffee mug, which means I may need to increase the volume of my morning coffee dose:

Delicious and decadent post-race celebratory details will come in just a moment, but first a few shout-outs:

Nutrition/Gear notes:
-Day before: Slept in tiny hotel room with wife and kids. So none of the usual Millenium Sports Somnidren GH and EarthPulse for sleep enhancement.
-2 hours pre-swim: 2 sweet potatoes. Totally plain. Burn clean.
-30 minutes pre-swim: 2 delta-E (caffiene/B12/Taurine packs), 20 Sprays Magnesium Oil, 10 Master Amino Pattern capsules, 4 Extreme Endurance
-Wetsuit: Blue Seventy Helix
-Google: Blue Seventy Element

Bike notes:
-Shoes: Louis Garneau Tri-Speed shoes
-Helmet: Gray Aero helmet
-Wheels: Shimano C-50
-Tires: Challenge Triathlon
-Groupo: Shimano Dura-Ace
-Seat: Adamo ISM Road Saddle
-Sunglasses: Native Eyewear
-Fuel: GU Roctane powder, 300 calories, mixed into 20oz water.

Run notes:
-Shoes: My killer new Skora Forms <--you must wear this shoe - it is a minimalist racing shoe that looks like a freaking Italian designer shoe.
-No food, no water.

Of course, a big thanks to all my sponsors. Check them all out here.

OK, on to that post race decadence I mentioned. 

I don't know where you compete in triathlons, but out here in the Northwest, it's usually not terribly difficult to find bananas, peanut butter, and some kind of cream cheese in the post-race area. If you're lucky enough to find all three, then do as I do, and make yourself a peanut butter-cream cheese-banana split.

And that's not the only post-race indulgence in which you can partake...

...Tiger Triathlon happens to be out in Colville, Washington - about a 90 minute drive north of Spokane - and if you ever happen to have the pleasure of taking that drive, I would highly recommend that you do as I did, and indulge in a "World Famous Clayton Burger" after the race (if you're gluten-free like me, sans bun, of course.)

You'll find the joint on the left side of the highway as you drive back from Colville to Spokane, about halfway back.