Hey all! 2017 wrapped up great with the silver at ITU Du Worlds and then 2 crushing wins at Xterra. The last few months have been a whirlwind with grad school as I taught at ASU and got chances to play some great orchestra rep. More to come in 2018!
I closed alright. About time. 15th OA at Ironman 70.3 Coeur D'Alene including pros. 4:18 time for the hilly and hot course.
On a warm day in France in WWI, Ferdinand Foch said it took 15,000 casualties to make a major general. After my recent Bloody Sundays of races, a certain part of me had given into this thought completely. I thought perhaps I needed to lose a lot more before I could be proven or deserve to win. I do. We all do. Without errors we learn nothing.
Truthfully, I went into Idaho jaded. I went towards a quagmire. Victoria's pain loomed in my mind. The embarrassment and frustration of losing Duathlon Nationals in my AG to a lost run number tired me. I went into Victoria and Bend with a head raised high, and left with it whipped around. I went into Coeur D'Alene with a helmet on. Too bad Ironman doesn't put their logos on those.
In packet pickup I was in and out fast. Going on Friday evening meant avoiding the Saturday lines and the prancing-around-peacock-show. I already knew who was coming. Big guns. Naval guns. The kind that hits stuff from dozens of miles away. This was no skirmish. My AG was stacked and so was the whole field and they were gonna do some damage.
Good thing I had that helmet.
After an ungodly early wake up, I crammed some Clif bars down my throat and headed down to the race site. Setting up transition in a wonderfully lazy manner, I stayed pretty relaxed and chill. It didn't take long and I was off to the water. The swim seemed straightforward enough. Big rectangle. Nascar with one less turn. Even my peanut brain can handle that.
I lined up at the front and saw some of the competition. Essentially, of the top 5 guys in my AG from across the whole country, 4 (including me) were there - and that was just my AG. As the canon went off, I waited patiently in line (the swim was basically single file start) and hit the water maybe 15th or 20th. Two women proved to be the perfect pace match for me and I latched onto their feet. They were quick, though their navigation left something to be desired. However, they were a bit too quick for me, so I still opted for following and trying not to run face first into each buoy.
I popped out of the water in a decent enough position. Cool. Swim for show, run for dough is the saying, so i wasn't exactly ultra-confident that it meant anything at this point. I took a safe course through transition and was out quickly, except I mounted my bike poorly, knocked a bottle off, and had to run back and grab it. So. Aero.
And here the alliance began. Devin came up on me at mile 5 or so of the bike. The Oregon born, Southern Californian engineering student is an excellent athlete and I knew our skill sets were similar. He passed and I dropped out of the passing zone. I told him we should work together in a reasonable pacing fashion. He agreed. An unnamed Ukrainian athlete too seemed to hop on with us. This trio would work its way through the course until the last few miles - where it would swell.
The sun was shining. Trees rustled in the light breeze. The lake was shimmering. It was a beautiful day. I wasn't worried about any result in particular. I was just gonna ride my bike smart today. No hammerfest. Smart. if it was too slow, so be it. I was gonna start that run in a good physical state. The first big climb saw me gesticulating wildly at the semi trucks passing to blow their horn and I laughed my ass off when one blared it loudly, a mere 10 feet from my head. See? I'm fun.
Pacing was everything and I kept my watts very reasonable. No heroes today. Devin and I drag raced the downhills, sitting on our top tubes like lunatics. So cool. After what felt like an epoch, we reached the second turnaround at mile 36. To my shock, Devin and I were not alone. Within about 5 miles we were joined by a large pack of solid looking riders.
They caught and passed us and I went straight to the rear. Using this as my time to drink up and salt up (no cramps for this guy today). The pack remained close. Considering the hilly terrain, it was functionally impossible to space out. Grouping was inevitable, but in the spirit of sport, everyone steered a heady course for one another and avoided drafting. Once we crested the final hill along, a screaming descent awaited and I used this as a chance for a... natural break. The final miles into town were just a long glorified drag race as Devin and I lined up a couple hundred feet behind his teammate, Ryan, from Cal Poly.
Devin blasted by me in transition as I took my time to calorie/electrolyte/hydrate up. Ryan dropped out due to a lingering injury after a few feet of running, much to my surprise. I headed out into the fray with surprisingly solid legs. I kept my eyes up. Only at mile 1 did I look down to see my Garmin beep out a 5:50 first mile. Oops. That was a bit brisk.
But, I felt ok. Like actually ok. I passed Paul (from here in AZ) at mile 2 and Devin was back into reach at mile three and caught within a few meters afterwards. As soon as I caught him, I asked him to work together. Together, we could run faster and help eachother out. He agreed - and as one unit we started rolling up through the field. At the turnaround, for the second lap, he sped up a bit as we passed 4th place in the AG race and we were briefly separated. But, within a few feet we were back together moving quickly and up through the ranks.
It was getting warm out. I was hitting water every aid station, as much as possible, and still on my salt drive. With Devin, the miles were just rolling past. I felt great through mile 9 and 10, despite Devin pulling slightly ahead at mile 9 - only to regroup at 10. Here is where it came a bit unhinged. My stomach had been feeling a bit off for awhile at this point. However, at mile 11, it was clear it was not going to end well. I took my top down and dashed for the loo. I made a quick stop, only losing about 30-40 seconds. Still, very uncomfortable. Devin was gone and all of the sudden I felt the loneliness of having been dropped.
However, the break breathed life into my legs. I felt renewed speed and energy and I took off in pursuit. I was going to finish this thing hard. I was gonna close. I passed Devin with a mile to go and spied the next guy about 200 meters or so down the road. I pushed. I dug. I felt space open up from Devin. The figure in front of me reared closer and closer. I was only 100 feet behind. Then, the final turn, and I went past him on the long downhill straight through downtown. Everything hurt - yet I felt nothing. He responded and passed me back. But I persisted. Not today. I flung myself ahead of him and beat him.
Except I didn't.
He started 3 seconds behind me at the start - meaning that beating him by a second meant I only lost by 2. So. Close.
Well, we gave the folks who came out to watch some action. 70.3 miles came to a few seconds.
But, on my own personal development story, it was a resounding success. A solid run, well paced bike, and cramp free race meant an excellent sub 4:20 result. The errors of the past have taught me well, but I still have a lot to learn from them - and more. I have not so quickly forgotten the ghosts of my failures. They still float in my head. One very solid result and a general it does not make. I still have many more trials to go and from now on, I think I will carry my helmet with me.
"A battle won is a battle which we will not acknowledge to be lost." - Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander of France, Great Britain and Poland; World War One
Wikipedia's disambiguation for the search "Bloody Sunday" yields 19 results. I suppose at this point, my own personal triathlon story the past year or so could also need a disambiguation for "Bloody Sunday". There's been a few.
As some of you may know, IRONMAN 70.3 Victoria kicked off my racing season for real. I had raced earlier at the Oregon Dunes Sprint Tri and nabbed a win, but that race was really an appetizer in my mind to Victoria. I had been prepping for this, my first half, very intently and I felt excellent going into the race. Tim and I had prepared all spring, passing by races in favor of consistent training and distance. My mind was solely focused of this race.
Sarah and I took a lazy course up to the Great White North as we headed up 5 days before the gun went off. We visited friends, enjoyed good weather, did some nice runs and rides, and arguably most importantly, visited a distillery. Despite this, I was more nervous than usual. A sort of primordial dread would sink over me. No reason came to my mind for this dread, but I was uneasy. I just knew something was amiss. We bumped into competition on the ferry that I didn't know was coming and I realized this race wasn't the "off the beaten track" race I was hoping for. The field was stacked. So much for a relatively uncompetitive first race.
We enjoyed Victoria immensely and had a great time exploring the city, it should be noted. Sarah and I loved Butchart Gardens, Old Town, Craigdaroch Castle and the rest. The race venue proved to be a thorn in our sides, however, as the literal absence of parking led to a multitude of headaches that could easily have been avoided with better planning by IRONMAN. Alas.
The weather proved to be glorious on race morning. Warm sun and clear visibility led to a sweeping view of the northern Olympic Peninsula to the south. Sarah put up with my anxiety and nerves by teasing me and telling me to channel my inner "covfefe" a la Trump. Thanks darling...
After cramming into the wetsuit, I waited in line right at the entrance to the swim, and after a lengthy prelude of thank yous, anthems, and introductions, the cannon went off. Due to the nature of Ironman's Swim Smart initiative, we were channeled through to the start one at a time. This led to a relatively clean start, for once, and saw me join a pack of about 5 chasing a single break away.
The journey 1000 yards out was relatively uneventful. Besides the first two age group women and an overexcited male relay swimmer who sprinted in front me and promptly slowed down immediately upon hitting the water, I would not pass anyone. Instead, I made myself content to hold onto my spot in this lead group and bide my time.
Our return to land saw me almost lose contact with the pack, but a few strong strokes and I was back on. I had to whack a relay team person a few times as he obstinately kept swimming into my head, but a few solid blows to his torso sent him back onto a straighter course and my own head free from aches. I got to play a bit of water-polo, yay.
I dashed free from the swim and passed through those who were transitioning slower. Here, I spied Nick Noone, Collegiate National Champion only feet ahead of me. Well... guess that swim went well.
I moved onto the bike with glee. I was ready to lay down a quick split. Passing most of the earlier starting professional women's field in approximately 15 miles, I made my way up to Nick quickly. I was enjoying the ride thus far to be frank, besides hitting every pothole in my flight to the front.
We rode close for the next 30 odd miles, occasionally trading the lead, but still driving onwards, passing into the pro men field. The course had turned from mild hills to much more aggressive beasts that led my legs to tire a bit and I faded from Nick's sight. I was trying to keep my effort tempered as best I could, though I was not very sure how to go about doing that, as I did not want to fall too far behind. However I felt fatigue hitting my limbs and that telltale feeling of weakness leaking in. I would ease off the gas these last 10 miles and try conserve energy. I ate a bit and made sure to drink all my bottles. However, it would appear that I had overcooked the bike. I was trying to get food and more importantly, electrolytes into my body to stop what I feared from happening, cramps.
And they would come. I felt my first cramp at mile 2 of a slow start to the run. By mile 3, I would be on the ground. I fell and couldn't get up. Both legs cramping all over, I writhed. A nearby spectator ran down the trail to me and helped me up. I had lain on the ground for 2 minutes or more and there we stood, assessing the situation. These were bad. I started to walk and cramped again so I stood more. Then finally managed to start putting both feet in front of the other and started running again. At first, I felt great but then the deep, dead feeling, painful soreness and aches hit at mile 5. My legs felt like literal lead and as I staggered through the halfway point, miraculously still in 2nd, I informed Sarah of the situation via a short yell. This was the end.
My downward spiral would begin. Pros I passed earlier rolled past me and, soon enough, most of my main competitors would too. Luckily, I was able to trek on slightly below 8 minute mile pace and do some damage control. The pain stayed. It felt like I had done squats all day long and had kept doing so without pause. I rammed down gel after gel and drank sports drink after sports drink. I was hoping to stave off any more cramps and while I was successful in this task, I made myself quite ill feeling. Nausea hit strong with a mile to go and after crossing the finish line I was shepherded to the medical tent where I would make camp for an hour or so while I recovered fluids. But I made it!
Despite my backwards march during the run, I finished in the top 10 overall for the amateurs and 25th with the pros in there. I snagged a spot to the 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga as well (I declined the slot as this race is during school).
While I may still be digesting what to do for the future, and how to fight these cramps, I can take some solace in knowing that I can do this longer distance race to some degree of success and if all goes well, be very very competitive.
Thanks to CBT Nuggets for the support, without them this expeditionary voyage to the 70.3 would never have been possible. We get to do it all again at the end of the month.
My coach, Tim Crowley's favorite word has to be "consistency". It goes without real elaboration that sticking to a task is the key to success in said particular task. However, I feel like the outliers of the idea of consistency are often ignored - outliers meaning the small day to day consistencies, and then the broader big scope of consistency.
Small, day to day consistency is the drive to keep working every day, little by little, and to absorb the issues that arise, so as to work around them. As a musician, for me this means if practice time gets hit with life issues, I work around it or I work smarter. If I only have an hour or so to work, then I focus on the tough spots and the technical fingerings or what not. The same applies as an athlete; if music demands I spend extra time down at the hall or at a gig, then I alert my coach and we focus on just a few key workouts. This day to day consistency is marked by extreme flexibility and a good sense of perspective. What is important? How can I cope? By prioritizing, I can keep all from just crashing down and losing my consistency.
The next idea is long range consistency. Sticking to a passion when it doesn't feel like a passion any more. Obviously, if you grow to completely hate something then perhaps a reassessment is needed, but if it is just a rut, or even a few ruts, then the key is to keep moving. Often, as a musician, I find myself dreading my pieces, usually before a recital. However tired of them I may be, I have always found that the key is to just keep playing and working through it. Focusing on quality over quantity has helped in the regard too. Quality work and effort will keep the mind focused over these tough times, but also give it a break, to a degree. Again, doing a little is better than nothing at all, and maintaining perspective of the whole picture is a imperative. The proverbial forest through the trees adage. Just keep moving forward, working bit by bit. An inch is still progress, even if you would rather have gone a mile.
I personally attribute any success in my life to maintaining consistency, and thus any failure as the lack of consistency. Last year I suffered some humiliating losses in racing and felt that those were all because I lost consistency with training. Musically too, I find my poor performances come after binge practicing and then the burnout that follows. I see it with others too. Not working on your concerto, then doing six hours a day (the week before). This rarely leads to a convincing or masterful performance.
Adorno's essay on late Beethoven is so painfully typical of Adorno's writing, that after two sentences of reading it, the hole in the wall where I had pounded my head into the last time has once again become worn down. Holes asides, I am a massive fan of Adorno's thoughts. This essay is typically difficult to understand though and despite multiple readings, I am still somewhat confused by his exact intentions. However, I personally have taken one particular point very close to heart.
"Process, but not as development,"
This is what Adorno really seems to think the heart of late Beethoven's works are. Everyone seems to think that Beethoven's preemptive thoughts on death, and deafness, were the driving force behind his late works and, while this may be true, art is not mortal. These works, in and of themselves, are not works explicitly on death or suffering. They are a representation of the process Beethoven was going through - creation without an end in development towards a goal... Art that is not for expressivity outwards, but inward, just simply content to be.
The modern athlete can learn a great deal from this concept of "lateness". Process can be part of training, but not strictly within the confines of rigid development. Triathletes are extremely guilty of this sin. They rarely diverge from their TT bikes, well trodden roads, or familiar, soulless routes. Why? All for development. While development is integral to success as an athlete, it is not the whole picture. To turn into a wandering robot being programmed to complete workouts mindlessly, is not true to the internal self, the inner drive, and soul of the human as a being in motion.
Do the process. Do it for the sake of the process. Go run without tracking it with your phone. Go ride on a mountain bike, all downhill. Or don't even. Play some soccer. Or rugby. Or curling. It's all intertwined within the motion of our body. The "late" athlete recognizes that the differences aren't that stark and every motion can be beautiful in and of itself.
I'm not advocating a complete adoption of the "late" style, just the idea of it every once in awhile as a way to look inwards - less as a triathlete and more as human. I'm still developing toward my goals.; I am still in my "early" period. But I acknowledge that one day I will be in the "late" stage. I will have eschewed my demands for development and accepted whatever I have become, and then I will still search for process.
The phrase "stage fright" invokes strong images for many. Usually this consists of a middle school song contest or class presentation, complete with sweaty palms, shaking limbs, and blurry vision. But what if those feelings were different for different people? Or could evolve over time?
I started college having, besides one terrifying foray onto the stage in high school, having never performed in front of an audience solo. My biggest mental stressors at this point (in regards to performance anxiety) had been cross country races (very stressful - usually to some success) and asking out girls (also very stressful but usually unsuccessful). Orchestral performances were a breeze to me, but I was not ready for the rigors of being a solo performer. I also was not used to the long, gruelling racing of triathlon yet, and as such, found them very terrifying.
Basically, my performance anxiety was of the classical variety. I got very over stimulated before the event and had to constantly calm myself down.
I often would pace around before races and then force myself to sit down and close my eyes. I took a similar approach to music. I would often hold the bass tightly and only through heavy thought control would I steer myself to ease my grip and focus on playing things slowly, breathing deep, and ignoring all stimulation to the best of my ability.
However, during my sophomore year at UO, this would all change.
Over the course of the spring of that year, I raced at multiple races, including two National Championships that were all high stress and tough on my mind. Additionally, I took my first professional audition and was performing more in front of my peers, as required by my degree. This took a toll on me. I spent four months like this and it just kept coming. I was racing my first ITU World Championship that summer and had booked myself into a 90 minute recital for the city of Yachats. After these summer events, I was a changed man
These events made me into a person who needed stimulus when he became nervous. My performance anxiety now calmed me too much. I first noticed this at my Junior Recital that fall. My mind wandered. I became lethargic. It was weird. It was confusing. I had no idea how to handle it.
Before, when I would shake, I was falling asleep. When I would need to close my eyes in the past, I now needed to drink coffee. I still have no idea as to why the change happened, but it did. Ever since, I have to jump around before races to get myself excited and prepared. During performances, I start in an almost dreamlike state, and after a few minutes, I finally come out of it and regain full awareness.
So, I changed. I am now constantly searching for new ways to make myself snap outside of my wandering mind when I experience performance anxiety. It is as if when confronted with a truly difficult task, my mind says "No! Had enough, thanks!" I am just looking for ways to coax it back.
All triathlon essentially boils down to one thing: time. Slow. Fast. Short. Long. Ultimately, every iota of meaning in training and racing boils down to the tick of the clock. But, time is not measured merely on the bike, or during a swim set, or while on a tempo run. It is measured intrinsically. Every step and every stroke is completed within a cadence. Rhythm and time are not an option or an afterthought, They are everything, Time is the sport. But time is integral to something else in my life too, music.
Time, in music, is so apparently important that I shan't remind you. However, what I do want to bring up is how rhythm and time is the binding glue to my life. My two halves are very disparate. One done with multiple layers of clothes on, one with much less. One in physical agony, while performing, the other purely mental. So why does time link the two?
Time is the frame for the construction of both entities. A race happens in a challenge to time. Music is all set within meter and a time signature. What you do with time is integral to the formation of the activity. In music, the choice of speed changes how we perceive the feelings of a piece. An ethereal aria loses its poignancy when done too quickly. A march becomes a durge when done too slowly. The manipulation of time and time feel is everything. It is the building block. But so it is in triathlon as well. Time determines how you approach any given workout or race. A long race merits a slower, steadier pace. A short race begs ferocity and speed. Time changes the meaning of workouts, just like it changes the way we approach music or music practice. I am always perplexed by how we manipulate time and its effects. In triathlon, it is a challenge and an adversary, yet deeply part of us - urging us forward or holding us back. In music, it does the same thing, changing the emotive qualities of the music and its feeling as a whole. That is why I do these two seemingly separate pursuits. I am always courting time.