Monday, April 10, 2017

Irrational Levels of Confidence - Tuckerman Inferno

"We will just see what the people ahead of you are doing and give you some advice when you get there. If we need to change things up, we can..." A friend who was crewing for me said as we debated the logistics for the hiking portion of this race. I was packing things into one of the four transition bags I'd need for the day.

"Sure," I replied. "The only problem with doing that is that there won't be anyone in front of me!" It was a half-joke as I informed my team that my newly found strategy to mentally prepare for this race was to employ "irrational levels of confidence." It was funny. And it took the edge off of just about everything we did or said when we talked about the pre-race nerves and game-day logistics over pizza and beers the night before.

The race is staged around Mt. Washington at the beginning of April. Spring doesn't really spring until May in the White Mountains but the chatter pre-race was about how 'lucky'  we were to have predicted temps in the 30s. To call it a multi-sport event is a bit of an understatement. It is the multi-est of multi-sports and we can get into the details later; it is a run-kayak-bike-hike-ski. Dubbed the Tuckerman Inferno.

I have never kayaked before and I've only skied in Tuckerman's Ravine once. I had no idea what I was doing signing up for this thing. The thing was, I haven't really suffered in a race in a while and I was just looking for some opportunity to suffer. I was also looking for something outside of the box. I was looking forward to seeing how I handled racing in the freezing cold temps. Maybe masochistic of me, but I was really craving the frigid temps; the feeling of telling your fist close but digits not responding to the command due to frozen muscles. 

I was super nervous leading up to the race. I didn't know how I was going to handle what race-day was going to throw at me; and even better, the race is so unique that I didn't even know how to go about preparing myself for it. By shear chance, I had set up to have lunch with a friend the Thursday before the race - it was the conversation we had that afternoon that got me back in the right mindset and back to the title of these ego-maniacal race-rant-blogs of mine. Act as if. Or as Matt put it that day "irrational levels of confidence."

To back up, I met Matt while running a marathon back in 2013. We were strangers at the start line, then stride for stride for most of the run; and after we finished, we smack talked each other a bit, and became really good friends. The focal point of our lunch was that he had just completed a 100mile run. I simply wanted a recap with him and I wanted to pick his brain.

"What got you thru the 100miles?" I inquired. "How'd you feel?"

He replied with a resounding, "I dominated every single one of those miles... and I enjoyed every second of it. Every one was telling me to 'respect the distance' but I blatantly disrespected the distance and it was one of the best days ever." Matt went on to joke, "I 'talked shit' to my crew when they told me I was going too fast. I told the race director I was going to go out for another loop once I was finished." Matt told me that he literally sped up and "ran away" from anyone he came across on the course who had a negative attitude.

I walked away from that lunch with a new attitude and the race changed right there for me. No matter what happens on race day, I told myself I was going out reckless abandon (even if it was completely out of ignorance). It was very liberating.

My crazy, old, bald, football coach used to spit and drool and snap clipboards over his knee while he screamed (with a lisp), "HAFF-A-TREE!! YOU CAN MAKE A MISH-TAKE BUT YOU'VE GOT TO MAKE IT AT FULL SH-PEED (exploitative, exploitative, exploitative)!!"

So that's what we did on race day.

I say "we" because I had the best crew up there with me. Three of them I had never met before but they truly made my race/day/weekend. I'm still smiling ear to ear as I write this thinking about it all and how selflessly they committed their day to making sure my race went smoothly. I like to think I returned the favor as best I could with some humor and smiles along the way. I committed myself to having the best day ever, even if I was in the depths of hell suffering thru this race, I promised that I'd always find a way to joke about it and laugh it off.

The Run
The race starts with an 8.3mile run that starts at Storyland in New Hampshire and ends at a launch on the Sacco River. The first quarter of a mile is relatively flat then you get kicked in the face by a 600ft climb over the <2 miles. Everyone starts in one wave, so it's unclear who is doing relays and who is doing the whole event. "Fuck it." I said to myself as the race director yelled GO! "Just beat everyone and keep a huge smile on your face doing it." I know this sounds arrogant. I did look at the previous years times, and I knew I was definitely not going to beat everyone. I just wanted the feelings and the pain that I knew was to come upon completely disregarding the voices telling me to "save your energy for the run" which I have become numb and a little bored with in the triathlon world. This morning, I was saving nothing for the nothing. 

My legs immediately cursed me for this decision. Adrenaline hides the pain at the beginning of a race but it doesn't take more than a few instants for the pain to lift it's vale. My heart was beating faster than I have ever felt. I crested the top of the 2 mile hill in about 15minutes and the 4th runner. I tried to real in the guy ahead of me as we switched from climbing mode to downhill running mode. My muscles felt the shift as well and they took the opportunity to cry out again as the lactic acid built. I mumbled, "I love this shit." to myself and pushed them harder. I wondered if there was a breaking point in terms of self inflicted pain registering in the brain - as in - what if there was a point where you could keep pushing beyond the point where your muscles hurt. What was after that point? What would it feel like?

It hurt the whole way. However, as promised, I didn't let a single bit pain show beyond the confines of my cranium. When I saw Chris with his phone out around mile 4, I asked him if the race started yet and went up for a heel-click.

I would find out after the race that I had set a personal best 10k time within this 8.3mile run and though I have never seen my heart rate above 181 BPM (even during track workouts) that I somehow pushed it up to 192 BPM during this run.

The Kayak
My legs were screaming so loud during the run that I didn't realize that snow was flurrying and that it was cold. Doug and my crew helped get me in the kayak and shoved me off. I dipped a hand into the water, looked back, and yelled "Yeah, a little warmer than bath temp!"

To sum up the kayak, I hit every single rock in the rapids. In true Atari/Pong fashion I rammed back and forth from one side of the river to the other. I went backwards and I nearly capsized multiple times. About a mile down the river, I spotted one of the race officials. He asked me if I was sure I knew what I was doing and then proceeded to inform me that I was using my paddle backwards.

I replied with my best Quint impression and let him know that, "HOOOPAH DRIVES THE BOAT CHIEF!" Then commanded my vessel in the same voice... HARD TO STARBOARD! He half-laughed, half-worried-for-my-safety as I paddled off with hands barely warm enough to keep a grip on my backwards paddle.

The Bike
Other than the fact that my leg muscles had an amazing opportunity to seize up after overflowing with lactic acid and then going completely docile for 40minutes, I was feeling great. At this point my body was freezing cold as well. I didn't change my soaking wet clothes because that would have taken too long and started got on the bike shivering so hard I could barely control the handlebars. I felt my legs flash figurative double-middle-fingers(toes?) up as I reasoned with them - pedal harder and you might warm up faster.

The bike up to Pinkham Notch was not only steep and unrelenting but the head winds were absolutely brutal. My deep rimmed wheels blew around like sails with every gust. I'd say "Woah, I bet everyone else is realllly hating this wind right now!" and crank harder.

The Hike/Skin
I rolled into the trail head parking lot and smiled when Doug greeted me to take the bike. I threw on my borrowed skis and skins and started making my way upward even more.

The hiking trail is also incredibly steep, windy, and snowing harder still. It was about halfway up the mountain when I realized I hadn't eaten anything or drank much at all. I started getting super dizzy every little turn hoping to see the transition to the ski. I'd sing to the other people on the trail as I passed them (it was still open for public use during the race) and I'd ask them stupid questions like if they had seen anyone else in goofy looking spandex going the wrong way on skis. Some of them got the humor, some didn't, but I was having a blast and despite the dehydration and hunger and freezing cold and heart throbbing out of my chest, I was in high spirits. 

I got to the top and didn't really know what to do up there. I knew I had to take the skins off and lock my boots down but I didn't really practice how to do that on my borrowed ski set up. I lost a ton of time here and race people at the top seemed to get a kick out of my goofiness but I eventually managed to get ready to ski the right way down the mountain


The Ski
Or maybe I should just call it a "slide and don't die" rather than a ski. On frozen, already sore, beat up legs I put a pair of skis on that I had never skied on before and attempted my way down. I was getting tossed air-born by the deathly combination of ice and mogles. I yelled more times than I will ever admit and at a higher pitch than I could ever recreate. I begged to crossed the finish line before my quads gave out and sheared off my bones. I finished with a huge smile 3rd across the line. 

It was one of the best days I've had racing in a long while. Attitude is everything. Stay upbeat and positive no matter what. The alternative is to act shitty and to have shitty thoughts; that will only reinforce a shitty experience and no one wants to be around that.

Even if it's not 100% your style -  I highly encourage and challenge you to try and employ "irrational levels of confidence" in any aspect of life whether working, racing, or absolutely anything. See what happens, I can almost guarantee you'll either be happy about what comes of it, or have an even more hilarious story about how you went down laughing about it. I am still not sure which of those I like better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Shit is So good.

I'm glad you're here.

No really. I am so glad you are here.

You could have slept in. And I guess I could have too. But we showed up. And we crushed it. Today was awesome for me. For no particular reason that I can put my finger on. I've been struggling to find some of that mythical workout-motivation-mojo recently. And that is a new phenomenon for me. I've always been a pretty self motivated, but lately I've been finding it all too easy to make excuses and figure out how the deck is stacked against me.

I guess that's what I love about NP so much. The shit is always so good. Getting up and hearing, "I'm glad you're here." is so basic that it is always awesome.

Don't get me wrong. Hugs are amazing. But hearing "I'm glad you're here." hits the spot completely demolishes the spot.

We both could be in bed under warm sheets (in our respective beds). And bed always seems like a better place in the morning. Sure, you can get a solid bounce while still in bed. And you can even scream "Fuck yeah!" at the top of your lungs a couple times if you're into that sort of thing.

But doing these things always seems just a little bit better at the Harvard Stadium with a bunch of smiling, hugging friends.

So that being said, I don't want "I'm glad you're here." to fade off into the distance and lose meaning. It holds dearer than the "Hi-how-ah-ya?", "Good-n-you?" exchange. And it's better than a quickly mumbled, "How's it going? (But don't really tell me because I don't care)." The same way a hug totally dominates a handshake.

If you have ever run into the wind, you realize and acknowledge the headwind100% of the time. It's in your face. Your mind is constantly focusing on the harder the effort you are putting forth to maintain the pace. Just like the obstacles and hurdles you have to deal with during the day. But when you turn around and and things switch to a tailwind, it's all too common that you only recognized and appreciated for a minute or two. After the initial relief, it's easy forget about it and you appreciate it less.

The connection I am trying to make is that I find it's so easy to play the world's smallest violin for myself and it takes effort to find the subtle special moments in the day. Hearing and expressing, "I'm glad you're hear." is one of those subtleties. Every time I say it, I mean that shit. And everytime I hear, it means something back.

So thanks! I've been bouncing around a lot but it's good to be back. This shit is so good. I can't wait to start dropping verbals all over the place. I am truly glad to be sharing my morning with you all.

I know it's a little late for an Irish Blessing having missed St. Patrick's Day. But here's a little better version tailored for real life...

May the road rise up to meet you,
(but if it doesn't, don't be afraid to meet it halfway)
May the wind be always at your back,
(and try to appreciate it every second that it is)
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
(but try not to worry too much when it is not)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On Goals... via a Cozumel 140.6 Recap

I'm not quite sure why or how individuals decipher between the endeavors they continue to pursue and the ones they have no problem leaving "uncompleted" by the wayside. Maybe it's a feeling, maybe it's fate, maybe it's just a timing thing.

I'm also not sure when the right time to let go of something is. Some things you can pick up and put down without regard to outcome and some things you just cannot let go of no matter the personal sacrifices you have to make.

I know that, after five years, I was ready to lay down the goal of getting to qualify to race the Ironman World Championship after racing in Cozumel whether I had punched the ticket or not. I was final content with the decision. And I am still not quite sure if that fact makes it better or worse.

I just felt like I was sacrificing too much for something that had no guarantee of actually happening. It wasn't like qualifying for the Boston or New York Marathon where you have a very finite set of times that you either hit or do not hit to qualify. In Ironman there is a huge grey area that is defined by an arbitrary set of rules which means you could lay down the race of your life and put out everything that you've got and still be left wanting at the end of the day if you don't beat out a set number of people in your age group. I'm not saying it's harder or easier than having a set time to shoot for. It's just a different set of rules that leaves a little bit of the goal to chance.

I am still not quite sure why I had been so hung up on subjecting myself to these standards. A big part of it was fun. I have a lot of fun swimming, biking, and running all day and getting to do it with friends all over the world is even better. But certainly other things are fun and less demanding. I am still not quite sure why I locked into a goal such as this.

First tri!
I just wanted to get to race in Kona. It has been a goal of mine since 2011 and I guess it just with me.
Now, as far as Ironman Cozumel goes. I realize that I am one of the lucky ones just to have a goal of qualifying for the World Championships, though it eluded me in my past 4 races. But I really think that luck only plays a small role and that you (yes, you...) should not impose the limits of others onto yourself - no matter how "crazy" it can seem. I don't think I am talented enough a writer yet to convey exactly how much effort I put out to achieve this goal. I can subscribe to a small bit of it being "natural talent" but no more than a small bit. If you want something - you can find a way to make it happen. Your starting point is just that; nothing more than a starting point.

I remember not too long ago being astonished to cross the finish line of my first 5k in under 30minutes. And not too long before that, thinking that my high school cross country team was "absolutely crazy" for running up to 3 miles every day as I buckled my helmet and shoulder pads before football practice. I was a lineman who hated running 40yards. And most of all, I vividly remember the first time setting up my transition area for my first triathlon. The guy next to me had a super fancy bike and talked about racing 140.6 like it was nothing. I, on the other hand, was equipped with flat pedals and running shoes on my Craigslist, nameless bike also wondering if I could make it to the first buoy without changing to backstroke.

I remember saying out loud (and truly believing it), "I'll never be able to go that far." And, at the time, I also didn't care. But it grew on me and after a few more races I decided that, for reasons still unknown to me, I had to qualify to race in Kona.

Fast forwarding another four years, a whole lot of racing, a bunch of money, unimaginably fun times with friends and teammates, and four more attempts at 140.6 to qualify for a spot to Kona.

I remember FaceTiming with my mom as I waited in the airport to depart to Cancun on Thanksgiving by myself. The conversation didn't last long and my mom has always been my #1 fan but she was crying that I wasn't home on Thanksgiving. I've missed a couple other Thanksgivings from working on ships but this was the first time I had left out of choice. I was bummed I wasn't spending time with everyone and realized I was on the edge of "How much do you really want to keep pouring into this goal?"

The next day, I was on the Island of Cozumel checking into my 6th Ironman and wondering if all my training and race experience would be enough this time. Leading up to the race I didn't tell many people or post anything on any social media about my intentions. This was highly uncharacteristic of me. I felt like my final bout with this type of race was highly personal after my last two races coming within minutes of qualifying but ultimately falling short due to a mental implosion on the run. And because I felt it was personal - I decided to keep things to myself this time. The social media hiatus was very liberating.

As far as the actual race went, I don't have many details for you. I was really on cloud nine for the majority of the day and I think that was because this race was really the culmination of five years of training. Five years is hard to sum up in ten hours of racing but I was  mentally tuned in and in a great mood all day starting with the 3:30am wake up before the alarm went off.

The pre-race routine is pretty much set in stone by now. Eat a bunch of granola and a banana. Do most of a crossword puzzle on my phone and try to go back to sleep. Wake up again. Gather the race stuff. Hugs and hand-pounds to the Capo and Warner team who were kind enough to invite a vagabond like me along for their trip.

Jay, Jeff, and I head down to the jeep which was parked under a tree all night with the top down. Bird turd was everywhere. All over everything. If bird poop is really "good luck" then there was enough "good luck" spread in the interior of this jeep for everyone on the island to have a good day.

A handful of towels and little while later we were off to the swim-bike transition area to set everything up. This part is super easy for me because I don't have many frillz to worry about. I don't race with a spare tire replacement and I don't pack special needs bags.

Jeff and I board the buses silently with game faces plastered on. The only exchange is a tacit fist bump.

Arrive at the swim start and immediately get inline for the portapotty. Still in the portapotty minutes before the race, I heard the national anthem and the pro men's start... Then the pro-woman's start. Still in the portapotty.

Jeff and I depart ways with a hug and a handpound and I head up a little further to the "Under 1hr" group start. This was very optimistic on my part considering the small amount of swimming I had been doing.

Getting close, I turn my head to a familiar shout... "BILLLAY!" and I jumped in line with James and Casey as the line started moving forward and eventually off the dock. More hugs, more hand pounds.
The three of us jumped off the dock and started the day together.
Casey and I stayed tight for the first half an hour or so each breathing to the side and making eye contact every now and again. "Is Casey making funny faces at me?" Casey is the kind of guy that would definitely be making funny faces at me. I couldn't help but laugh and take in a huge gulp of water. So salty. But so crystal clear. The most amazing swim in a race that I've ever been a part of... beautiful coral only a few feet away and fish swimming along the bottom that Crayola colors couldn't even begin to describe. Can all just we stop and just go diving?

Speaking of stopping. It didn't take took long to figure out we were all swimming at an incredibly slow pace. The buoys tethers' were all outstretched and fully taught against us. Meaning that the current was actually flowing against us, and it was pretty strong at that. The first 1650yards took me over a half an hour. It was going to be a looooong morning if this continued.

The current shifted shortly after the half way point. Now we were moooving (Note the paces above). The rest of the swim took about 26minutes. The first transition was quick and headed to the bikes. With all my nutrition in my back pocket.

Ironman racing is extremely boring. It is borderline annoying if you are doing it correctly.  You just have to turn your mind off and stick to the plan. The hardest part about racing for such a long period of time is keeping the negative thoughts out of your head over every time the creep up again and again. Racing for so long never actually "hurts" until the final hour or so.

Cozumel is a bit of a different course because it is flat as a pancake. The challenge on this island is that winds are relentless on the east side. It is three laps around the island. I'll try to be brief with a summary of each lap.

Lap 1 - 34miles - 22.0mph average. It was still early in the morning so I was lucky to get a lap in without the winds howling. They were still pretty strong but tolerable. The pedals were moving themselves and the carbon Zipp wheels were humming. The island is gorgeous.

Lap 2 -  39miles - 21.8mph average. Riding thru the city was remarkable. Pumped to see some familiar faces as we zoom thru town again. Not sure how I missed everyone on the first loop but zooming by the hotel and Sam, Jay, Megan and the kids felt amazing. One more lap! A couple miles down the road right as we left downtown was the Sunny and the rest of the Iron cowboy crew. It is so amazing seeing smiling faces along the course. When I signed up, I thought I was going to be alone for this race. It would not have been the same race if I had been alone.

The locals had all sorts of interesting ways of making noise and showing support. I got distracted reaching for some food and accidentally dropped my nutrition, salt, and caffeine pills. The winds started to pick up. I tried my best to forget about the missing food. It's all mental. I usually complain about eating too much anyways. I rode on knowing it'd be hard but not impossible to get all my calories in via Gatorade. There also was no other option. Also, I realized the last lap is going to suck without caffeine.

Lap 3 - 39miles - 21.3mph average. I've been extremely steady on 230watts. All day pace. But it started to fade on the 3rd lap. I didn't need caffiene after all - I replaced the mental stimulant with the song that Camilla Capobianco stuck in my head the day before... and that same song will be stuck in my head for the next 5 hours. And the same song that I will now think about every time I think about this race... Enjoy it... I did...

I had a super consistent bike ride. (Link to Strava here). People start to get frustrated at the end of a 112mile ride and want to just get off the bike ASAP. Especially when there is strong wind or a hill or whatever. 4 hours is a long time to be on a bike. But surging at the end of the bike out of frustration will easily spoil the run. I thought to myself, "This island is so gorgeous. It's such a shame I've spent the last 5hours staring at damned watch display.

Finally nearing the end of the ride, I force myself to get one more bottle of Gatorade down. I was pressing the limits of human Gatorade tolerance. The lack of caffeine didn't help either. But all the aid stations were amazing. I couldn't believe how helpful the kids were handing off the bottles and then getting out of the way.

Off the bike. Into the tents. Out of the tents as a runner. The run was also three out-and-backs. Which is highly convenient for my story telling efforts.

I pounded back the long awaited caffeine that was in my T2 bag and ate something solid for the first time in hours (Shout out to Garden of Life nutrition - they make the absolute best plant-based bars on the planet).

Lap 1 - 8.7miles 7:42min/mile average. The "suck" of the first mile was dampened by the fact that I came off the bike with the pro women. I spent the first 4ish miles running with a gal named Nicole. She was cool as a cucumber and chatted with me a bit. Her crew yelling emphatically how far behind she was and how close the next chick was. I joked with her a bit. This is where strong runners like her go on the hunt to make up time and where strong bikers like me hang on for dear life. After the first turn around she put on a solid gap. She was definitely on the hunt and ended up throwing down a 3:17 marathon to finish 8th.

The great thing about a run course that is three times out-and-back (Link to strava here) is the fact that the race is broken up in to very manageable 4.3 mile segments. 4.3miles is chew-able. Whenever my mind started to wander or worry about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other I would push up my sunglasses, pull down the brim of my hat, and refocus.

Lap 2 - 8.7 miles 8:15min/mile average. The other good thing about a triple out and back is being able to see everyone along the course. The Capo/Warner crew was cheering from about a half a mile from/after the turn-around and the Sunny/Iron Cowboy crew was right at the turn-around. I made sure to perk up and act like I was having a great time in preparation for them.

The other amazing thing is that you can see where you are relative to the rest of the racers and maybe even your age group standings. Long and short of it all was that I was basically seeing at least a familiar face every mile or so.

I knew I came off the bike in 2nd and I knew I was going to have to fight not to let Jeff or Casey pass me as they are both far superior runners than me. Not that it really mattered. We were all in different age groups - but the friendly competition aspect and bragging rights were on the line.

Lap 3 - 8.7miles 8:45min/mile average. I put 15minutes on Jeff on the swim and 15 on Casey on the bike. By the pace of things it looked like that wasn't going to be enough to hold them off. Jeff looked strong and Casey was down right flying. I allowed myself to think about these things for about a half a second.

Every time my mind got too far off track I pulled the hat brim down a bit tighter and pushed the sunglasses back on to the top of my nose. "You only need to worry about right now." I'd say to myself.

It was true. Prior to the race I set myself up so that I literally only need to think about moving forward. The run was where I fell apart in the past races and it was because I started thinking about too much or worrying about too much. I even set my watch metronome on to buzz at a frequency of 180 steps per minute. My watch was telling my feet when to step to take that burden off my brain as well. The absolute only thing my mind had to do was convince me to eat or drink every so often and to stay focused on the moment.

Though I was slowing down. And I allowed myself to shuffle thru the aid stations on this lap, I never once broke focus. Every time I would get to the last trash can it would be back to the watch's cadence no matter the pace.

After the race, a lot of friends and family congratulated me on finally qualifying for Kona with a 2nd place finish within my age group. There was only one person who worded it as, "Congrats on learning how to push though and having the guts to do so" (Thanks, Sue).

As I crossed the finish line, I had this wave of satisfaction was over me as I collapsed to the ground. I honestly didn't know if there were going to be one or two slots for the M25-29 age group. And I know it is a shift of thinking from how I started this article but I was so satisfied with the things I had finally learned about racing and life along the five year journey that it didn't matter to me as much whether I got a ticket to Kona or not. I had the race I wanted to have and never gave up when shit got real dark.

The main point of this piece is that whatever your goal is in racing or in life - 99% of time it will be achieved by sticking with it thru thick and thin. No matter how "lofty" you set your goals, if you stick with them persistently, you will achieve them. Not enough can be said for raw grit.

The keywords in the last sentence is "personal goals". I think my message got lost in the last article I wrote about IM Chattanooga because I tried to give the masses a dose of "tough love" instead of a gentle pat on the fanny and a, "Nice job, sport!" The point I was trying to make was that nothing of note is accomplished without the "suffer." Or as a friend and fellow writer put it (a lot better than I ever could), You Deserve to Suffer. I did not mean to come across as condescending, I simply think most people give up on themselves a bit too easily. Consequently, giving up robs the person from the glory that is only achieved by finding a way to push through. Coming from someone who has experience in both the agony and regret of giving up, and the awesome sense of accomplishment in persevering - I can honestly say that everyone on this planet deserves the pure and complete elation that comes with pushing through the "suffer" aspect. No matter what the goal is, no matter what time or pace you are striving for... You can get there if you stick with it and push through the awful times. And it will feel incredible. I promise.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Wussification of 140.6

What happened last week in Chattanooga?

In the aftermath of an Ironman that saw over 1,000 out of the 2,700 participants quit and accept a DNF, I can't help but wonder what is going wrong with the perceived enervation of Ironman participants these days?

Maybe there lies some irony in this endurance race sharing a title sponsor of Little Debbie...

And I choose the word "participants" deliberately. I can't help but wonder if this outstandingly high drop out rate is a product of a lack of preparation, stubbornness of athletes to adjust a game-plan, or  racers not in touch with how they are feeling/what to expect on race day? Or even worse, a growing population of people who hop on they "I'm training for an Ironman" train but are complacently satisfied with quitting prematurely in the face of adversity. And even worse so than that, they then are pleasantly plum with placing the blame on extrinsic elements, dodging the fact that they are the only ones responsible for dealing with their decisions.

I understand the temperatures reached 97 degrees. That's pretty hot. But it'd be delusional to think that every single person who toed the line didn't know that this was the forecast at least 10 days in advance. No matter what the forecast, or race day specifics, or course profiles you need be in tune and expect these things. It is boarder line insane to start a race of any distance without research and attention to detail. More so, every athlete wishing to optimize their race day performance needs to know how to adjust effort levels and expectations on race day in the face of whatever is thrown at them.

It is all too common to hear people duck and cover from all responsibility of their upcoming race with phrases like, "I haven't even swam in two weeks," "My longest run has only been XX miles,"  or my personal favorite "I just haven't had any time to train." It is even more depressing to me to seemingly see the people DNS (did not start) a race grow and grow over the years - for whatever reason (read: excuse) that may be. Now, I know I am going catch some flack and I know SOME injuries are unavoidable. But even "being injured" is a tough pill for me to swallow on the excuse front. Most injuries can be avoided in the first place by training properly and knowing what you are getting into before signing up.  For most people new to the sport that problem is easily solved by a consulting with a coach or a seasoned vet about the physical demands an endurance race of any magnitude requires. From there, developing a personal plan to get you acclimated to the distance accordingly.

Now, to get to the main point of my rant. Is signing up for an Ironman becoming trendy? Is the slogan "Anything is Possible" in need of a gut check? Because to me it is more sounding like, "Anyone can sign up." I realize that I wasn't even alive for most of the bouts between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. And not yet into double digit years when Karen Smyers dug out Paula Newbie-Fraser with an epic finish of a run. Also to be mentioned is the 1997 Crawl Finish that contributed to the popularization of Ironman. "The legs are still there, you just can't feel them; the eyes still see but through a gauzy vale of delirium." I didn't even know about endurance sports back then but I now fantasize about pushing my body to these limits. Most recently, the Cozumel ITU finish between the Brownlee brothers (in a race a quarter the Ironman distance). What happened to the days when quitting just wasn't an option?

The examples above are all the top echelon of the sport at the time and may seem a little out of touch to most. But let's also take a trip back not much more than a year ago to the same state that obliterated so many aspiring Ironmen (and women) as they threw in the towel, accepted defeat, only to blame the heat. Could those 1,000 athletes that dropped out REALLLY not take one more step forward? Really?? I doubt it. And I am willing to bet that if they looked deep down into their hearts most of them would change the "But it was so hot" to a "But I was just unprepared mentally and physically." I say this because back on June 18, 2015, an RV made it's way to Tennessee. The red and black RV had made 17 prior stops in 17 different states in consecutive days; inside that RV was a beard and a mustache that had completed an Ironman distance triathlon in each one of those respective days/states.

The "Ironcowboy", James Lawrence was on 2-3hours sleep for the past 2+weeks. The temperature was 95 degrees. Yes, only two degrees "cooler" than the 2016 Ironman Chattanooga event where 40% of participants tapped out with a "no mas" as they hitched a ride back to the "Athlete Village" to mow down on pizza and coke. James was plowing his way through the US, 30miles into the bike on his 18th consecutive day of 140.6 in 95 degree heat when he literally fell asleep on his bike and crashed. Do you think he wanted to drop out then? I bet if it was an option to him, he would have wanted to quit. But the difference lies therein: It wasn't even an idea to him. He had no idea what he was getting into, but he prepared like an animal and the option of quitting was not only unfathomable; it was non-existent. He got up and finished the ride. Then finished a marathon right after that. Then he finished 32 consecutive days of covering the 140.6 distance in every other state.

So I ask again, "Could those DNFs at Chattanooga reee-eeee-aaalll-llyy not take one more step?"

I am not trying to sound cynical (or am I?). I just think the words "I quit" are on far too many tongues these days when a race isn't going as expected. And to put it into context this is coming from someone who has been brought to a walking pace during his past two Ironman attempts (furthermore, one of those races was a lack of mental preparedness and one was, to my best guess, a lack of run volume). But the connotation there is a bit different. I am proud of both those race results; and I own both of them (even though they both resulted in me missing my ultimate goal of a Kona spot by one place and two places respectively). There's a difference between "I quit because it was hot out," and "I quit because I gave it my all and was ultimately not prepared for the heat (or cold, or hills, or whatever)."

I am not saying that everyone needs to finish an Ironman at blazing speeds but the endurance sport world is only fascinating when you, personally, figure out what it means to "endure." The answer comes from within and requires you to be completely truthful with yourself. The goal upon signing up is, and this is an assumption,  to push yourself mentally and physically. The goal is to want so desperately to stop, but then push through.

Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe the goal is to sign up, tell all your friends, post pictures of all your workouts on Instagram with a cunning hashtag, and then drop out with an excuse when the race gets hard.

To wrap this little declamation up, I think anyone embarking on any endurance journey, 140.6 or otherwise, would benefit greatly both mentally and physically by consulting with a coach or at least someone who has been there before with knowledge of the sport. In a previous piece, I wrote about "Training for the Low" of any race. and if you think your race won't be filled with "lows" I'd be willing to bet that you'd be one of those 1,000 people who called it quits "Because it was hot out," or "I had to drop out because I dropped my salt tabs."

The goal is to find out what you are capable of and challenge yourself. It is not to dive in head first only to realize you bit off more than you can chew on your own. If it's going to be hot, you need to prepare yourself, maybe you need to slow down, or eat more, or drink more water, or whatever. But you can't expect to be able to perform at your best if you don't know what exactly are getting into. Y need to prepare and train properly up until race day, and then you need a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C for whatever race day throws at you.

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." - Muhammad Ali (EDIT: This is a Tyson Quote... not Ali)

Do you want to dig deep and push yourself? Or do you want to be a part of the DNF statistic wondering what would have happened if you kept going?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Best Man Speech

In the spirit of wedding season, I decided to publish this on my blog in case anyone else out there was struggling with a "Best Man speech." I delivered it this past weekend and upon delivery, I have a few tips/thoughts.

1) Practice - out loud - even if you are the Micheal Jordan of public speaking you need to practice to deliver a good speech in front of real people. You need to hear your voice and how things sound out loud.

2) Unless you are a professional comedian and constantly making people laugh naturally, stick to being sincere. Maybe lob a couple light hearted jokes but if you try to hard - it will be noticed. 

3) Keep it under 5minutes. Tops.

So, hear is what I have... feel free to use it, or parts of it, or ideas from it or whatever. It is unedited and typed mostly how I spoke it. Good luck.

  Hello, my name is Billy.  

So - Over the years Eric and I have had well-intention-ed arguments over engineering topics, movies (lots of movies), beers, career paths, and even love. Eric asked me to be in his wedding and be a Best Man a while ago and that made me extremely happy. Not only because he was planning a life together with the woman of his dreams (Sarah you look gorgeous!) buuuuut - he was finally admitting that after all those arguments and debates - I - in fact - was the best man all along.

So yeah - Bookie and I met on Sea Term my freshman, his sophomore year. I know half of the room is nick-named "Bookie" - but I can't seem to bring myself to call him "Eric" was on what "Trash Compactor Watch". For those of you who aren't familiar with Mass Maritime, I will spare you the description but just know that - like a lot of things at Mass Maritime Academy - it was a boring and seemingly pointless task on the ship... (I am still not quite sure what we were supposed to be doing?)

But anyways - I was a freshman on a training ship for the first time and after I walked into the trash compactor room and saw Eric sitting there I think the dialog went something like this:
(dweeby voice) "Oh hey man whatcha doing?"
For those of you who don't know this is the voice that every freshman makes at MMA
"I'm on trash compactor watch, go away."
"Trash compactor watch... what's that? The senior sent me down here to help."
"Oh - you really want to help??"
"Sure Sure - teach me something cool"
"Alright well here we go - thiiiiiiis right here is the trash compactor."
"Sit in thiiiis seat... and watch it."
"OK cool  - 10-4"
Eric started to walk out.
"Hey wait where are you going, bro??"
"You just sit there and watch! OK?!"
Eric then proceeded to go up to the mess deck and make a sandwich.

He took his sweet time too... I am not quite sure how long he was gone for but I was pissed. The thing about Eric is that - - And I am sure everyone in the room can relate - - After giving me, much deserved, grief as a silly freshman at MMA on a ship for the first time - - He came down back to watch with a half sandwich for me too.

And if that's not quintessential Eric Bookmiller in a nutshell - I am not quite sure what is... He is always quick with a joke and to poke fun but this guy cares more about each and every one of you in this room more than life itself.

We didn't really talk or hang out much for the rest of sea term (not intentionally or out of spite - but just because we had other groups of friends) but after we got closer over the years we both still lament about the missed potential of friendship and adventures in ports in the Caribbean we could have had if we had known, at the beginning of the relationship, how great of friends we would turn out to be.

Over the next few years, we became close. Late nights cramming for tests, late nights drinking at POC because we didn't want to cram for tests, early morning engineering labs, early mornings hungover at Leo's. There was a whole lot of movies, and a whole lot of Xbox. All along the one common theme in Eric's head was always Sarah.

Just like Eric and I didn't how good of friends we would turn out to be after the trash compactor episode, I am sure Eric and Sarah (though they made had a good feeling about it) probably didn't know how incredible their relationship would turn out at the very beginning. I think that's how the best things often turn out though. You always be yourself, and you always make an effort. Life has a funny way of taking care of the rest.

Though they were in two different states, and sometimes he was in the middle of the ocean - they carved time out for each other and no matter what the situation was they made each other number one in their lives. When ever Eric would hang up the phone, there was always a "She's the one for me... She's my girl." on the tip of his tongue. I didn't know Sarah at the time but one thing was obvious about their relationship all along. They didn't have to change who they were to make each other smile, and they always put effort in and made it work.

Now, a couple weeks ago I emailed both Eric and Sarah and I asked them not to discuss the email with each other. I asked them, among other things to list qualities that they admire most about one another. Honestly, I thought this was just going to be a way to get some ammo for this speech to poke fun at them but I quickly realized after reading the separate responses why these two are meant to be. So, to wrap this up, I just want to share their responses on the top qualities they each listed.

Number one from Eric: She listens to my rants. (No small feat... as most of you know)
Number one from Sarah: He listens to all my crazy and gory work stories.

Eric's number two: She puts up with my dumb jokes
Sarah's two: He is a goofball with a dry sarcastic sense of humor that makes me smile

Three, Eric: She is smart
Sarah: He is willing to learn something new even if it is just to make me happy

Last but not least...
Eric: She's compassionate
Sarah: He sees the best in life no matter what

Clearly they are on the same page as one another...

So let's raise our glasses to Eric and Sarah... When you combine all the above, let's toast to their new life together... and for God's sake that from now on, no one else will have to listen to Eric's weird rants or Sarah's gory work stories, - but most importantly the most compassionate marriage with the driest sense of humor of them all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thoreau Introspection

Humidity. Shiiiiit. This may be the only thing in Boston that hits you before the flight attendant's accent.
(Ding) "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Baw-stin. Where the local time is..."
I had almost forgotten about both.

The two main reasons for the trip were to throw a bachelor party for my little brother and then celebrate a wedding the following weekend. I filled up the rest of the week with catching up with friends, workouts, and mini-adventures. 

I was halfway across Walden Pond and just about to fake a flip-turn when the first pieces for this little nugget came into my brain. That, and I had seen a few brace souls dump a myriad of thoughts and emotions into similar lists of their own. I had been off the red-eye for only a matter of hours and Walden was the first place I went. Though he did not have to elbow through tourists or see the ugly construction taking place, Thoreau was really onto something. There is just something really magical about Walden Pond.

Being back at such an awe inspiring place and not being able to call it "home" is a peculiar feeling. Through a swim at Walden and run thru the city, I found myself recounting life events, soul searching, dealing with the overwhelming feelings of such profound connections with people and places but also a gratitude to the next adventure.

I had a hard time organizing these thoughts but finally settled on this. I'm approaching the start line of the final year in my twenties so in true BuzzFeed fashion here's my 29 for 29. Twenty-nine personal lessons or thoughts for 29 years in Boston training for races and life in general.

1. I believe that a bold and hearty "Fahk you" from a Bostonian is equal to a Goose/Maverick-volleyball-style high-five anywhere else.

2. My janky running cadence is symbiotic to my current writing cadence. I love both of these activities and I am going to have to work on both if I want to get any better at either.

3. A polite "On your left" said anywhere else means "Please excuse me and do not be alarmed as I run by you." Roughly translated on the Charles River: "You wanna race, asshole?"

4. I still purposely have my read receipts on.

5. A text response in all emojis is the universal sign for "this conversation is fucking over" - How do some people not know this yet?

6. Any show with a built in laugh track is not inherently not funny.

7. I live by Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". That poem describes perfectly the feeling of being back home, and with the same exact words, describes why I left. I still smile walking past the tattoo shop in Davis Square where I decided to have it inked into my bicep. I still give a head-nod to the artist in the window every time though I am sure he doesn't remember me.

8. I also don't remember the name of the barista at The Wholy Grain and I am sure she doesn't remember mine. Upon walking in, we both recognize each other and decide tacitly not to acknowledge the meaninglessness of the name-oversight. She remembers my order perfectly (a large black coffee and Swiss Muesli). Interactions like this make me smile.

9. What someone has hanging on their refrigerator might be the best insight into their life.

10. I'm not quite sure when I realized this but I look up to my little brother in more ways than I'll probably ever admit to him.

11. Ketchup is disgusting. It is a microcosm to all that is wrong with the world.

12. I don't follow or care for sports much anymore though I do pretend to for the sole purpose of maintain connections with some friends and family.

13. As a pudgy second grader who was banished to always playing goalie at recess, I tried to change my name from Billy to Will for no other reason than I thought it would make me run faster and be inherently "cooler". Reason being that Will Russel was the fastest kid in school. I realized far too late in the game that it was OK not to be in the "cool crowd".

14. Though I love constantly dropping hearts on friends pictures, I am not proud of how attached to social media I am. I realize it is a "highlight reel" and not a true depiction of anyone's life but am jealous of people who go weeks without caring to check-in on the world.

15. The jury was out on dating apps for a while. My gavel has, as of recently, slammed them to be bullshit. It is an easy way to jam a square shaped "fix" into a circle shaped void. It inherently robs two people of the magic of organically connecting with one another and developing a relationship. The satisfaction of an instantly gratifying connection hijacks the sensation of reliving those weightless butterfly feelings whenever anyone asks "So, how'd you meet?"

16. "Maybe we could just get together and eat a bunch of caramels." 

17. Seeing the Milky Way under a clear sky for the first time is the most phenomenally belittling experience I have had to date. If I could wish one thing on every human being, it would be this.

18. Running is church to me right now. I believe in it.

19. I still have not had to experience and endure the heartache that comes with the of the death of a loved one. Knowing that it constantly lurks in the shadows of the sometime-future scares the hell out of me.

20. My favorite thing about myself is my ability to smile and bullshit.

21. Leave no trace. But always leave things (people. places, conversations) better than you found them.

22. You're in charge of your on schedule and priorities. The excuse "I'm too busy." Is the ultimate cop out. If you don't want to be somewhere or do something, be honest and don't lead people on.

23. Having confidence and passion beats being physically attractive/sexy every single time.

24. Knowing how to learn and adapt beats actually knowing a lot almost every single time.

25. I once debated that the hardest thing in the world to endure was the tail-end of an unforgiving, tear filled, conversation after breaking a loved one's heart. (I now accept that this is actually the second hardest thing one is obligated to endure).

26a. The last mile of the Boston Marathon is absolutely breathtaking. I miss taking the T out to Woodlands on Thursday nights and running the final third of the Marathon route back into the city. I also miss the pizza, beer, and people afterwards at the dive-iest of dives that was "the upstairs Crossroads Pub."

26b. I also won't be able to think of that pub without reliving the scene of falling in love for the first time. I mean really falling in love. Hard. Started by an unsuspecting comment to a stranger who I thought had just ordered a "post-run-Martini." The lessons learned and experiences from that relationship had a profound affect on who I am and how I live/love today.

27a. Consequently, I now accept that the number one hardest thing to endure is to sit on the other side of the aforementioned break-up conversation and listen as someone that you've given your whole heart to tries to explain that they do not want to be with you anymore. 

27b. I think the best (read: only) thing one can do in the above situation is not make the situation any harder than it has to be. Sitting in silent acceptance will be your only way to "return fire" as you make it more awkward for the other person. Because fuck them and what they are putting you through. (It will also make it more awkward for the cab drive who overheard the whole thing... because fuck him, too, right?).

28. I live for awkward moments and will crack jokes or movie quotes even knowing that no one around me might get them. And as long as I think that I'm funny, that's all that matters. It also makes it all the better when people do get the jokes.

29a. Weddings are still weird to me. As I watch two friends look into each other and profess an unconditional love, I am both profoundly happy that I am not ready for that yet, but, in the same sentence, admit I am equally scared I will never be able to get on that level. 

29b. I will, however, take the opportunity at your wedding to overindulge and dance with your grandmother.

Boston from the Blue Hills Skyline Trail