Surviving Week 1 at the Olympic Training Center

The Big Move

Well #eyeronvision supporters, it’s here. January, 2019. That means I’ve made the move to Colorado Springs to take up residence at the U.S. Olympic training Center as a member of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team. I was certainly excited, but at the same time anxious, nervous, and for lack of a better term, scared shitless.

Uprooting your life and moving to a city where you know only a handful of people is nerve racking in normal circumstances. Throw in being a totally blind extreme introvert and you get someone who’s nearly a basket case. Granted, I think I hid it pretty well. After all, “fake it till you make it.”

Dad drove Skye and I down to Colorado Springs On Sunday evening and helped me move all of the stuff I brought—primarily clothes and my training bike and Wahoo Kickr bike trainer—into my room on campus first thing Monday morning. Then began the process of trying to figure out where the heck I was going. Dad was able to help me orient a little bit to the campus. At least by the time he left that evening I could somewhat competently make it from my room to the dining hall, to our triathlon training room, to the pool. Confidence would come over the course of the week. But my mantra for the rest of the week was “just survive getting around.”

Testing

Monday morning had been reserved for me to move my stuff into the dorm, but Monday afternoon saw my first official duty as a resident team member. And that was a run lactate threshold and VO2 Max test. The test is both awesome and miserable. Cool because I’d only ever read about elite athletes doing the test before and I never thought I’d actually get to do one in my lifetime. And miserable because… well it really fucking hurts.

The test was done in the High Altitude Training Center (HATC) Lab. This is a room that can be adjusted to just about any atmospheric pressure, temperature or humidity level. So rather than doing my test at the actual 6000ish ft of elevation that Colorado Springs is located at, the testers made the room sea level. I then got on a treadmill and a contraption was placed on my head which included a snorkel-like breathing tube which went into my mouth. My nose was then clamped shut and I could only breathe through the snorkel-like mouth piece. This measures the flow of oxygen I take in and the amount of CO2 I exhale as well as the rate at which I breathe and some other things. I kind of tuned out at that point as I was trying not to gag with this rubber hose shoved into my mouth. Oh yeah and then they turned the treadmill on and I had to run.

We started with an easy 10 min warm up with me breathing through the contraption so I could get used to it. Then they let me take the contraption off to get some water and brace myself to actually do work. Then the real test began. First, lactate threshold.

This first test was pretty straight forward. My coach, Derick, set the treadmill at a certain speed and I ran at that speed for three minutes. At the end of those three minutes the physiologist, Carwin, jabbed my index finger with a small needle and took a small sample of blood to measure the amount of lactate in my blood. Then the speed was cranked up a little more and we repeated that process until my blood accumulated a certain amount of lactate. All in all the actual test took about 30 minutes to complete. Then I could walk, stretch and get some water and prepare myself mentally for the VO2 Max test.

The VO2 Max test is basically finding out how much you can suffer. More scientifically though it’s finding the point where you just can’t process oxygen any further and are forced to quit because you can hardly breathe. To do this test, Derick set the treadmill at just below my lactate threshold speed and then proceeded to crank up the incline by one percent grade every minute until I gave up. The goal of the test is to last as long as you can but if you do the test correctly it should take anywhere from six to 12 minutes max. Oh yeah, I had to where the breathing contraption again too. I was able to do the first five or six minutes fairly easily, but once the percent incline got up to around seven percent I started to hurt. “Make it to 10 minutes” I kept trying to repeat to myself, but as the incline rose and I continued running at my threshold pace things began to get a little fuzzy. I pushed on past eight minutes and hung on tip nine minutes. “One more minute!” I screamed in my head. But it wasn’t meant to be. I cried uncle about 30 seconds or so into the ninth minute. Oh well, the next time I do the test I’ll hit 10 minutes.

I don’t specifically know what my numbers were on the lactate threshold and VO2 Max tests, but Derick and Carwin appeared relatively pleased with my results. Then it was off to shower and get ready for dinner.

Dad had stuck around to make sure I navigated around ok and left after dinner. Then I was on my own.

Finding a routine

Routines and schedules give me comfort. While I can fly by the seat of my pants if I need to, I much prefer structure in my day. Since my senior year of high school I’ve found I’m most productive and happy when I have a schedule or routine to follow. So this living at the OTC thing was actually going to work out in my favor because I had to be on time to work outs and there wouldn’t be a ton of wiggle room.

That first morning on my own I was definitely nervous walking into the cafeteria and getting my food. There are a lot of things that have the potential to stress me out, cafeterias are at the top of that list. Getting food and then navigating an unfamiliar place while carrying said food and drink in one hand while holding my guide dog in the other hand is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately this wasn’t the cafeteria staff’s first rodeo and they were all extremely helpful in letting me know what was available to eat and then directing me to a table. Over the course of the next few days I got more and more comfortable navigating around the cafeteria, but I’m still learning where everything is and will continue to move cautiously the entire time I’m living here.

A Two Minute Walk

After surviving the cafeteria it was time to go for a little swim. One of the biggest barriers to me getting in adequate training in the past was access to a pool. When I lived in Orlando, Mike and I lived a short drive from our downtown pool, but the Tri club often worked out at a pool a 45 minute drive away. Then living in the Roaring Fork Valley I had to rely on someone to drive me down the hill to the bus stop. Then I had to wait for a bus that would then take me up valley. I’d then change buses and eventually make it to the pool. Then I’d do the same in reverse. All in all, for a swim that lasts about an hour to an hour and a half would take up a good four plus hours of my day (if I was lucky and everyone was running on time). Now though the pool is literally a two minute walk from my bedroom.

The indoor pool at the OTC is also a 50 meter rather than 25 yard pool. This cheered me immensely because that meant fewer times I had to turn around in the pool meaning fewer opportunities to smash/cut/rip my knuckles and fingers on the pool wall. Derick had apparently been thinking along these same lines as well and had chatted with the Paralympic swim coaches to find out how they coached their blind athletes to not crash into the wall. The system they used was pretty nifty and we adopted it.

When I walked on to the deck of the pool I heard the usually echoes of an indoor pool, but there was also the sound of a couple of sprinklers. Derick had set up a hose at either end of the lane that I’d swim in and positioned the hose so that the water would hit me when I was a few strokes out from the wall. So when I felt the water falling on me from above I’d know I was approaching the wall and could therefore ease up and anticipate the wall and just maybe avoid smashing my fingers. If I’m not careful I’m going to become soft and spoiled with all this pampering.

Since I hadn’t swam since Ironman Arizona, Derick took it easy on me this first week and we focused on just getting my technique back and getting me used to swimming every day. I have a feeling that’ll change in these next couple of weeks.

The rest of the week followed a pretty similar pattern. Get up early to swim, eat in the dining hall, do some kind of test in the afternoon and in general just get comfortable navigating on my own. I hardly spoke to or saw any of my fellow paratriathletes except in passing primarily because I was just focused on surviving getting around and not getting myself lost or causing chaos by tripping over something and sending food flying in the cafeteria. But since I’m writing this now I obviously survived and the past couple of days I’ve actually felt confident that this new living situation is going to work out all right.

So, sorry for the fairly boring report, but in my world boring usually means I haven’t screwed up too badly just yet. But have no fear, I’m sure the next few weeks will bring all kinds of excitement 🙂

#eyeronvision

2018 Year In Review

2018 Year in Review

Wow, what a year. There were some tremendous highs, a few lows, a lot of learning, growth and development. I pushed myself in ways I didn’t know possible. I was able to turn a hobby into a career and have set myself up for a, hopefully, incredible 2019. Because I know we’re all preparing for some end of year celebrations I’ll keep this #eyeronvision newsletter short and sweet by just hitting a couple of highlights 🙂

January: Attended Camp No Sight No Limits and met several new friends, guides and my eventual coach. Also attended my first Race Across America Training Camp for Team Sea to See and became acquainted with my team members.

February: hired now 5X Off Road Triathlon World Champion Lesley Paterson to coach me for 2018.

March: Took 4th place at my first International Triathlon Union (ITU) race at the CAMTRI American Championship in Sarasota, Fla, guided by my buddy Matt Miller.

April: Through a steady rain, consistent wind and cold, I broke the 4 hour barrier for the first time (3:55:14) in a marathon at the Boston Marathon with my buddy Pete Fowler, beating my previous best marathon time by more than 23 minutes. The race was made even more special because it was my sister, Kelsey’s, first Boston Marathon and getting to share the experience with her was incredible. Oh yeah, I met this crazy Scottish dude named Alan Greening who likes to drink beer and whiskey and who does sub 11 hour Ironman with regularity. Lesley thought we’d get along and thought Alan would be a great person to guide me for Ironman Arizona in November.

Also attended training camp number two for Race Across America with Team Sea to See.

May: Attended the United States Association of Blind Athletes Tandem Cycling Camp hosted at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.

Also finally rode up Independence Pass with my buddy Everet Minute piloting the limo (15 plus miles of nearly 4000 ft of elevation gain topping out at more than 12000 ft above sea level).

June: Race Across America with Team Sea to See. 3067 miles, 180000 plus ft of elevation gain, 12 states, three major mountain ranges, four major rivers, four tandem bikes, four blind/visually impaired stokers, four sighted pilots, three RVs, three 15 passenger vans, a mini-van, 20 plus of the most amazing support crew, 12 person camera crew, starting in Oceanside, Calif and finishing in Annapolis, Md in 7 days 15 hours 3 minutes. We became the first four tandem team with all blind or visually impaired stokers to complete Race Across America. An experience that taught me so much about team work, friendship, stress management, sleep management, pain tolerance, how to turn adversity into an advantage, and how focusing on a vision can bring people together to achieve remarkable things. Of course the ultimate story that everyone always wants to hear about is how Chris Howard and I crashed in Kansas and somehow scraped ourselves off the road to finish strong even though it turned out I had a pretty significant fracture in my right arm. Thank you Chris and the entire crew for helping me gut out those last three or four days. I don’t manage without the support of the entire team.

July: The Lake Christine Fire forces my family to evacuate our home. Fortunately we’re able to return after a few days but we know people who lost everything. It was a sobering event that was a reminder to be grateful for the things we have and to cherish memories over possessions.

Later that month, Kelsey and I ran the Power of 4 25K Trail Race in Aspen. My first official trail race experience and the first time my sister ever guided me in a race/official event. What a blast and I can’t wait to add more trail races to my race calendar.

August: Attended the USA Triathlon/United States Association of Blind Athletes Triathlon Camp hosted at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. This was the first time Alan Greening and I got on the limo together and I’m pretty sure Alan thought he was going to die. But we figured it out and had an awesome camp experience and were confident that we’d be able to pull off a good race at Ironman Arizona in November.

September: Raced Ironman 70.3 Augusta with my buddy Danny Craven and fell just short of my goal of breaking 5 hours finishing the 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike and 13.1 mi run in 5:01:42.

October: Raced my second ITU race at the Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup guided by my buddy Zack Goodman. We were able to grab my first podium with a 2nd place finish despite the race being modified to a duathlon (run, bike, run) rather than a triathlon (swim, bike, run) due to poor water quality.

Less than two weeks after this I was informed that my application to live and train full time at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center as part of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team was accepted.

November: Ironman Arizona with Alan Greening. 2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26.2 mi run completed in 10:59:17. We were able to pull off our goal of breaking 11 hours and in doing so I became the first totally blind triathlete to go under 11 hours for an Ironman 140.6 Branded race and only the third person who is blind or visually impaired to do so. Thank you Alan for helping me push through to achieve that goal we’d set.

December: Attended the United States Association of Blind athletes Marathon National Championship at the California International Marathon as a spectator and social media representative for USABA. What a blast cheering on and sharing the stories of so many awesome athletes.

I then spent a few days with my good friend Deb Yoder who was one of our RV Managers for Race Across America and who guided at the USABA Marathon National Championship despite the fact that she lost nearly everything she owned in the Paradise Fires only a few weeks before. Spending those couple of days with Deb showed me once again the power of community and how we choose to confront adversity is so important.

Only a few days after returning from California I went to Colorado Springs and covered the USA Paracycling Track National Championships via Twitter for the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

A couple of days later I flew to Florida to visit my older sister, brother-in-law and brand-new niece for some much needed family and relaxation time.

Now it’s the last day of the year. A day to look back and reflect on the year past, but also a time to look forward to the year ahead. There’s no doubt I had some epic experiences in 2018. I don’t accomplish any of them without the incredible team of people that helped me along the way.

Thank you to everyone who guided me on runs, bike rides and in races. Thank you to my friends and family who helped support me mentally and emotionally through this year of ups and downs. Thank you especially to Team Sea to See for the opportunity to be part of such an incredible history making endeavor. Hopefully we can continue the work we set out to do and help shrink that 70 percent joblessness rate among the blind and visually impaired community.

Thank you to my coach, Lesley Paterson, for pushing me to all new heights I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make. Also thank you for introducing me to Alan. Speaking of whom, thanks mate for not just being an awesome guide for our record setting performance in Arizona, but thanks for becoming such a good friend. Can’t wait to race with you again—or drink a beer or share a glass of scotch, or a dish of creme brule.

Thank you also to my sponsors and supporters who made it possible for me to turn this triathlon and adventure seeking lifestyle into a career.

And, last but certainly not least, thank you to all of you in the #eyeronvision community! You all have been with me cheering me on and supporting me from afar. Your energy and support is much needed and appreciated. Thank you for following me on social media, reading my newsletters and for just being awesome 🙂

Now our attention turns to 2019. I’m excited for this new year and the opportunities it’s going to bring. In 2018 I was able to keep an “eye on my vision” of raising the bar in the blind and visually impaired athletic community and I think we made strides in making people aware of the athletic and professional capabilities of the blind and visually impaired. In 2019 I’ll continue to push myself to get better and grow more as an athlete, professional and overall person.

Remember everyone, no matter the circumstance, that your attitude will determine your altitude and always keep an “eye on your vision!” See you in 2019!

#eyeronvision

Kyle Coon

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Breaking 11: Ironman Arizona 2018

Breaking 11: Ironman Arizona

November 18, 2018

Tempe, Arizona

2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26.2 mi run

*This report may contain strong language.

“You wanna go under 11 hours right?” Alan asked as we ran step-for-step in stride with each other. “Yes,” was about all I could manage. “Well, then we can’t stop at any more fucking aid stations,” Alan said.

Race Lead Up

I arrived in Arizona on Tuesday evening having driven with my buddy Mike Melton, AKA the guy who taught me almost everything I know about triathlon and guided me for my first Ironman back at Boulder 2016. Another friend, Joel Diaz, was flying in Tuesday night as well. Joel was about to attempt his first Ironman. Joel had guided me at the Disney Marathon in 2016 when I attempted to qualify for Boston for the first time.

We spent Wednesday getting bikes put together and looked over by a bike shop. Eating good food and tracking down a pool to do some easy swimming. Wednesday evening one of Joel’s old roommates, who now lived in the Phoenix area, came over to the Airbnb for dinner and we enjoyed some relaxed laughter and good company.

Thursday, Mike and Joel went to check in and do some expo shopping while I headed over to the Airbnb I’d booked for Alan, his wife Muriel and I. Alan and Muriel arrived Thursday evening and we immediately began moving into pre-race mode. Alan got out all the “torcher tools” including a car buffer which we used to gently massage our muscles, foam rollers, roller sticks and a variety of other mysterious instruments.

On Friday, Muriel and I made a grocery run while Alan did some work on his computer taking care of athletes he coaches. Then it was time to head to the expo, check in, listen to the athlete briefing and get back to the house. While listening to the athlete briefing Alan and I weren’t 100% thrilled to hear that the swim start and location had changed. But we were less pleased when we learned that the swim course would now be a clockwise swim with all right hand turns. Since I do a better job swimming when I swim on my guide’s right side this would mean a more stressful swim for Alan as he tried to sight on the buoys around me instead of sighting to his left. This meant we also had to decide how best we were going to signal me to turn. Eventually we came up with the idea of just me swimming as far to my right as possible and always trying to keep the tether tight and Alan would stop me if he needed to and we’d physically reorient ourselves. Or Alan could just punch me in the ribs to tell me to move over. Whatever, we figured we had 2.4 miles to figure it out in the swim. Everything else though seemed unchanged from the year before.

That evening we went to a bar to socialize with several friends and some of the athletes that Alan coaches. Alan lifted my beer ban and allowed me to have two beers because you can’t socialize with endurance athletes and not drink beer. It’s against some unwritten code.

Saturday we got up and headed to the practice swim which was a 750 meter loop that was a miniature version of the swim course Sunday. Before diving into the water though Alan and I took 30 minutes or so answering questions from a local news station who were doing a short piece on us. Then we plunged into the chilly 61 degree water and completed the practice swim at a fairly easy effort. Overall we were pleased with our practice swim especially since it was Alan’s first ever time guiding me in open water. We’d swum with a tether in a pool but swimming in open water is much different tethered than in a pool. We then went to lunch with Muriel and Alan’s friend and business partner, Cory, who’d flown in that morning to support us and several other friends and athletes that were racing. Finally it was back to the house for naps, food, lots of fluid and bed. After all, we had some big goals at this race and we needed to be rested.

Race Day: Shit just ain’t this easy is it?

Ironman mornings begin early. For me that’s around 3:15 or 3:30 AM. I had to mix my nutrition—consisting of several bottles of Base Performance Rocket Fuel which is two scoops of Base Performance Hydro, one scoop of Base Performance Amino and two scoops of Base Performance Salt—and double-check that I had my wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and timing chip. Then it was down the stairs to stuff my face with food.

My Ironman breakfast is pretty basic. I eat two to three packets of maple and brown sugar instant oatmeal, two to three bananas, a bagel with peanut butter, black coffee and gatorade. Alan ate eggs, sausage, rice cakes, bananas and coffee. Then it was time to head out the door.

We left the house around 4:45 and made it to the parking garage a little after 5. We quickly found a parking spot and headed into transition to arrange our nutrition on the bike and do a last minute tire pressure check. After this was accomplished we walked to a little grass covered hill and just sat down to wait for the time when we had to start walking toward the swim start.

Only one thing was bothering me and I voiced it out loud. “Shit’s gone too easily so far today.” And for an Ironman morning I was right. Usually I feel stress about getting to the start on time. Usually I have to use the bathroom every five minutes, or something doesn’t go just right. But today everything was just falling into place and I hoped it was a good omen.

The Swim: It’s a good thing I like the cold

Alan and I made our way down toward the swim start. I’d decided to go with my one piece sleeveless ITU kit with the Bubba Burger logo displayed prominently on the front and back, and my Roka sleeveless wetsuit—partly because it’s the only wetsuit I own that isn’t in need of repair and partly because I don’t like swimming in full sleeves. We wound our way through the crowd at the swim start and made our way up to the front where the pros were staging. As participants in the Physically Challenged Division we were allowed to start immediately behind the female pros so that we weren’t fighting the mass of people at the swim start. Having a few minutes of smooth water also helps my guide to settle in and not be so incredibly nervous about the swim.

Just before the singing of the national anthem we observed a moment of silence for a firefighter and triathlete who’d lost his life while training for Ironman Arizona just a few weeks before. He was hit and killed by a distracted driver while out riding his bike after a work shift. It was sobering because cyclists and triathletes being hit by distracted drivers while out training has become far too regular an occurrence. So please, friends and family who drive, put your phones down and pay attention to the road.

The gun went off for the male pros to start. Then the female pros lined up and the gun went off for them. Then the head official sent Alan, myself and any other PC athletes who wanted a head start in. Strangely my buddy Corvin, another visually impaired athlete, and his guide Johannes weren’t anywhere to be seen. So Alan and I figured they were starting back with the crowd.

Alan and I entered the water and at first it was a shock to the system. It was pretty fucking cold. They’d announced the water temp as being 60 degrees. Later on many people were reporting the water temp at 58 degrees. Nevertheless, it was cold. But we didn’t have time to dillydally. As soon as we were able we started swimming. We took it pretty easy for the first few hundred meters as we had a couple of tight right hand turns. Then we were able to settle into our Ironman race effort. But for some reason, even though I felt strong and I felt as though I was grabbing the water well, the swim felt slow. It was almost as though we were battling a current.

After a while the super fast age groupers caught up to us and began swimming over and around us. Several swam right up between Alan and I getting tangled in the tether. That threw off our swim strokes and caused us to stop, reorient and start again. Occasionally someone would swim by me on the right and I’d hesitate because I didn’t want to get elbowed or kicked in the face as I had in so many other races.

For the most part the swim went fairly smoothly. But no matter how much I focused on my swim technique, fast arm turn over, strong kick, body rotation, etc, it felt as though Alan and I weren’t making much forward progress. We were being tossed and bounced around as though we were in a washing machine. And while this is usually the case in an Ironman swim it felt more pronounced than normal.

Finally, my hands touched the boat ramp and I stood up on shaky numb legs. Alan and I staggered up the swim exit and I vaguely heard Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, call out our names and saying something about how we were going for a sub 11 hour Ironman finish time.

As soon as we could talk, Alan said exactly what I was thinking, “Damn that felt fucking slow!”

Swim Time: 1 hour 19 minutes 14 seconds

Transition 1:

“fuck this hurts your feet!” Alan said as we jogged through the seemingly endless transition from the water’s edge toward the bike gear bag pick up, wetsuit peelers and changing tent. I’d already stripped my wetsuit down to around my waist and was trying not to focus on how cold my feet were and how, yes, it did hurt to run over the uneven ground. It felt like I was stepping on pins and needles. My toes were completely numb and I just wanted to get out of my wetsuit and get on the bike.

The wetsuit peelers did a phenomenal job in helping me get the legs of my wetsuit off. Then Alan and I grabbed our bike gear bags and headed into the warm changing tent to put on our socks, cycling shoes, helmets and sunglasses. Then we trotted out, grabbed the bike and wheeled it to the mount line. Muriel and Cory were standing just on the other side of the transition fencing and when Alan mentioned that we thought the swim was slow Muriel told us that we’d done a 1:19 which was about five minutes slower than we’d expected. Right then I shifted my brain to thinking about just racing the best I could. I’d secretly hoped that we could go 10:40 for the day, but I knew we’d need a perfect day. However, sub 11 hours was still in play if Alan and I could have a strong bike.

But as we rolled to the mount line I banished all thoughts of time goals. I needed to focus on what I could control here and now, not what could happen.

My friend Scott Bennefield was at the mount line and wished me luck as Alan and I mounted up and pushed off. Sorry, I didn’t respond Scott but I was pretty laser focused.

Transition 1 Time: 8 minutes 11 seconds

Total Time: 1 hour 27 minutes 25 seconds

The Bike: The Limo’s Last Ride

My custom built Cannondale has been my trusty steed for more than 10 years. I’ve ridden it with many pilots keeping me upright and healthy over tens of thousands of miles. (Note: Chris Howard’s and my crash during race across America doesn’t count since we crashed while using Dan Berlin’s Seven. Funnily enough, the four flat tires we had during RAAM also came while riding the Seven. So Dan, I guess we can call your Seven Flatapuss Jr.) Needless to say, the “Limo” as Mike Melton had so aptly named my bike in 2015 when I started racing triathlons had been a good and faithful ride. But I’d decided that this race would be it’s last. So I prayed that the little mechanicals that had been cropping up more frequently over the last year would hold off and the Limo could give me one more rock star race.

A little more than five miles out of transition I heard a dreaded sound. It was a high pitch squeaky whistle that I recognized immediately. The rear break was rubbing. We powered through until Alan was able to find a spot just past mile 15 where we could pull over and make a quick adjustment to the rear wheel. It only cost us a couple of minutes but it was something we had to do because who knew how many minutes it could cost us if we didn’t fix it.

We hit the first turn around at mile 18.7 or so in just over an hour. And as soon as we made the tight U-turn we immediately started flying. Ironman Arizona is awesome for tandems because it’s a very gradual uphill on the B Line highway for 10-11 miles to the turn around. This means you get that same 10-11 mile stretch going slightly downhill. So with the combined weight and power of the tandem Alan and I could easily hold 25-30 mph on our return toward town. After the stretch on the highway we had some tight turns and a rough road before we made another tight turn around to head back out for our second loop. I heard Mike Reilly again give us a shout out as we made the turn and headed out. We had some time to make up and I intended to put down some power on this lap.

My legs felt strong and I was riding in a solid tucked position behind Alan. But even though I felt strong and was pushing the effort it still felt as though we were moving slower than we should. I had nutrition alarms set on my watch which alerted me every 15 minutes to take licks of Base salt, drink my rocket fuel and/or eat a bar or jell. The 15 minute gaps between watch alerts seemed to be getting longer and longer.

Our second lap was also slightly more crowded as more people had exited the swim and were out on the bike course. This meant Alan was constantly saying “on your left.” Fortunately though we didn’t get passed too much.

We made the turn around at 56ish miles in about 2 hours and 42 minutes. We pulled off for a planned bathroom and refueling stop at mile 63ish where bike “special needs” was set up. Both Alan and I had to piss like race horses and refill a water bottle.

When we got back on the bike and started riding again Alan informed me that the strap on his right cycling shoe was busted. Not a huge deal as long as he didn’t pull up on the pedal but it probably affected our power just a bit. No big deal. We were still riding well, though not as well as we’d hoped. Since we’d come through the halfway point in 2:42ish according to Alan’s watch I guessed we were on pace for about a five and a half hour bike ride. Better than my ride at Arizona 2017 and my best Ironman bike time ever, but we’d planned on a sub 5:10 bike split.

The rear break occasionally rubbed a little more and then as we passed 90 miles the front break decided it was a good time to start rubbing as well. Alan had to keep flicking the break levers to loosen the breaks as much as possible because we couldn’t afford to stop again.

We rolled toward the dismount line and my watch beeped signaling a 15 minute interval had passed. “Wow, right around 5:30,” I thought. It wasn’t until more than three hours later I discovered that I’d miscounted the nutrition alarms that had gone off on my watch. I’d accidentally added 15 minutes to our bike time.

Bike Time: 5 hours 18 minutes 26 seconds

Total Time: 6 hours 45 minutes 51 seconds

Transition 2: “Going slow is going fast.” – Jeff Evans to me as we hiked up a steep mountain trail somewhere in Peru in 2006 when I was just 14 years old.

Alan and I grabbed our run gear bags and sat down in some chairs outside of the changing tent. I got my cycling shoes off along with my helmet and sunglasses. I’d tossed an extra pair of socks into my gear bag in case the socks I wore during the bike leg got wet for any reason, but my socks were still nice and dry and I felt I could run well in them. So I just pulled on my Hoka One One Tracer2 running shoes and immediately headed for the port-a-john since I could feel my guts gurgling. Thank you to the volunteer who helped me get to the port-a-john while Alan was still putting on his shoes and collecting the run tether. After a minute or two emptying my system I popped out of the port-a-john, put on the run tether and Alan and I moved out of T2 and on to the run course. It felt as though we’d taken forever in T2 but any time I’m in transition I remind myself of what one of my climbing mentors told me one time “going slow is going fast.” This basically meant, move efficiently, don’t hurry and you’ll go faster than you realize.

Transition 2 Time: 4 minutes 12 seconds

Total Time: 6 hours 50 minutes 3 seconds

The Run: Triathlon is not how well you can swim, bike or run; it’s how well you can swim, bike and run.

As soon as we started running my legs felt heavy. My quads felt huge and like I was trying to move them through mud. My calves were extremely tight and I thought briefly about stopping to stretch them out. My run form was also all over the place as I staggered sideways into Alan. I wasn’t sure how wide the path was we were running on and the last thing I wanted to do was step off an edge this early into the run. So we played a little yoyo with me bouncing into Alan and away from him again until I finally settled in and was able to get in sync with Alan.

Alan set the pace and cadence and it was my job to match my stride with his. As soon as my feet found the rhythm, my arms fell into sync with my legs and my breathing fell into my long run pattern. Breathe in for three-four foot strikes, breathe out for three-four foot strikes. Once we got by the early run hubbub of noise it was much easier to just focus on running at an almost effortless pace. I didn’t know what pace we were holding exactly but it felt smooth. Each time we came to an aid station we grabbed what we needed as quickly as possible and got out of there.

Just beyond mile three my buddy Mike ran up next to me and said, “Come on buddy, if you can pull off a 3:52 the world record’s yours. So get your ass moving!” Then he slapped me on the butt and darted off the course again to continue cheering. “Put that out of your head for now,” I told myself. I couldn’t focus on trying to break the overall Visually Impaired Ironman World record. I had to focus on running my race and if I ran smart I’d still PR. But I wanted that record if I could. Or if I couldn’t get it I at least wanted to make it close.

For the first three or four aid stations I only grabbed water. And for the most part Alan and I were able to run through the stations. Around mile five I felt a gurgling in my stomach again and took a quick pitstop in a port-a-john to clear my guts out again. After that I started grabbing water and gatorade at the aid stations. Alan and I also began power walking through the aid stations and picked up running as soon as we were clear of the area.

We simply focused on staying steady. My goal was only to walk in aid stations. Between the aid stations I would not walk unless it was absolutely 100% necessary.

For the most part Alan and I were very focused. We occasionally chatted about random things along the run and Alan would describe some of what was around us, but for the most part we focused our energy into running and Alan focused on giving me the information I needed. “Feet up. Step toward me. Sharp left turn. Sharp right turn. Super tight fucking U-turn. Aid station coming, what do you need?”

We passed through the Base Aid Station which was rocking as usual and grabbed some bottled rocket fuel for a quick pick me up. Then we made the turn around mile seven and up alongside of us came running the top female pro, Heather Jackson. As she pulled alongside she said “Great work guys!” Then disappeared ahead of us. (Yes, this is the same Heather Jackson that the year before my guide Will shouted at “Princeton sucks!” while we were on the bike and Heather was cheering from the sidelines. I don’t think she remembered that a year later LOL.)

Alan and I continued chugging along grabbing what we needed in aid stations and continuing to run strong between stations. After mile eight or so I felt surprisingly light on my feet. My calves were no longer tight, my stomach had settled down and I felt I could run forever.

About mile 12 Alan felt he was on the verge of bonking so we started grabbing coke in aid stations as well. Even though I felt good and strong I knew that if Alan was feeling calorie deficient then I would be feeling that way before long as well. So I started having coke in addition to my water and gatorade. I also grabbed some bananas and Alan had some pretzels and grapes.

We hit the turn around and immediately flew back out onto the second loop holding strong. The miles seemed to just melt away. Around mile 14 or 15 I was in a zone and vaguely heard Mike running on Alan’s other side yelling at me that I needed to pick it up. That I was looking good but that I couldn’t get lazy.

At mile 16 I started counting down. Ten miles is an easy training run. Nine miles, that’s a walk in the park. Eight miles, hey at this point last year Will was puking out that red bull he drank at mile 16. Seven miles to go, shit Lesley assigns me harder runs than that on the treadmill running at 15% grades. Six miles to go, fuck I hate racing 10ks. Damn it, I think my watch just died.

Around mile 20 of the run, Muriel and Cory found us and started running alongside us. “You guys are on pace for sub 11!” Muriel yelled excitedly. “If we can hold this pace we’ll just sneak in under it,” Alan said. Then Muriel and Cory ran off again to get back to the finish line to cheer us in.

The Last 10K:

Alan looked down at his watch and asked “Is going sub 11 your goal?” “Yes,” was all I could manage. “Then we can’t stop at any more fucking aid stations!”

We ran and didn’t walk. It hurt like hell. All I could do was continue putting one foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. I tried relaxing my shoulders and letting my arms swing in rhythm with my steps. We ground our way up the steepest and longest hill on the course which under normal circumstances wouldn’t even register in my brain as a hill. But 20 plus miles into an Ironman run it felt like a 10% grade.

We passed through the Base aid station one last time and I heard Matt Miller running alongside us and yelling that I was at 10:35 with just over two miles to go and that I was going to break 11. I think he asked if I needed more rocket fuel but I couldn’t afford to slow down for even a second. I couldn’t take on any more nutrition. I had to run.

Alan and I barely spoke. All I could hear was a cacophony of noise interspersed with Alan giving terce instructions. “Stay with me. Left turn. Fuck I meant right. Now we’re going left.”

I think it was around mile 24 that I asked, “are we going to go under 11?” “If we can hold 9:30s we have a chance,” Alan said. “Are we?” I croaked out.” “Almost,” was all Alan said. To me that meant “Speed the fuck up!”

I tilted my head slightly forward, pumped my arms a little harder and gritted my teeth. “You’ve been in more pain than this before! There are people out there who aren’t as lucky as you who can’t quit. What about that 13 year old boy you just learned about who has cancer? You think he’d give up just because it hurts a little bit? What would you say if you looked back on this moment years later and admitted to yourself that you’re a quitter? Do you want to be one of the best in the world or not? Come on fucker it’s only a mile! This shit’s easy!”

I heard people yelling nonsensical things like “The finish line’s just there! It’s around the next corner.”

I heard the boom of music and the sound of an announcer on a loud speaker. Was that Mike Reilly’s voice? Then Alan and I turned left and a wall of noise closed in on either side of me. Something in my head yelled “GO!!!” And I called on every last bit of strength I had to sprint down the finishers shoot. We hit the line and people were going insane. I heard Mike Reilly shouting something about sub 11 hours. Dad, Muriel, Cory, my dad’s friend/one of my marine corps uncles, Beto, were all screaming and yelling. Alan was yelling something asking if we’d broken 11. Then Alan and I were hugging and holding each other up.

Then our finisher medals were being hung around our necks and foil blankets being draped around our shoulders. My friends Scott, Alex, Mike, Mikey, Melissa and so many others were reaching across the barriers to hug both Alan and I. I was so exhausted I could hardly stay upright. And I was so incredibly happy and satisfied because I’d accomplished my goal of breaking 11 hours in an Ironman. Now all I wanted to was to drink some good beer and celebrate with Alan, Muriel, dad, Beto, Mike and the rest of the crew who’d pushed and supported me through the day.

Run Time: 4 hours 9 minutes 14 seconds

Total Time: 10 hours 59 minutes 17 seconds

The Aftermath:

Post race I could hardly stagger around. I was pretty delirious. It’s not often you can feel so incredibly satisfied with the result of a race. Yes, we didn’t have the swim and bike we expected. Both Alan and I agree we very well could’ve gone faster if some things had bounced our way. But then again, Ironman is a log day for everything to go right, everything to go wrong, and a long day for things to go both right and wrong and to bounce back from anything.

We spent the post race filling our bellies with beer and food. We also checked in on all of our friends who were racing. My buddy Joel snuck under 12 hours for his first Ironman. My friend and fellow visually impaired athlete Corvin crushed his first Ironman as well finishing in 12 hours 38 minutes. And so many other friends, both first timers and multi-time finishers, had strong races. The next day we all headed toward home for some much needed rest, relaxation and more food than we could fit in our stomachs 🙂

And so my 2018 competitive season comes to a close. And what a year it was. I will be doing a year in review in a few weeks but I’ll go ahead and say now that this was probably my strongest year as an athlete. But I certainly didn’t do it alone. I had such an incredible team of people around me to support and push me to incredible new heights.

First and foremost, thank you to Alan Greening. Brother, we set a goal of breaking 11 hours in Arizona and accomplished that goal. And we had a ton of fun along the way! Thank you for taking the time and the risks of becoming a guide. Hope to race and train more with you again soon!

Thank you to my coach, five time World Champion, Lesley Paterson. Les, I know I missed some work outs on occasion and breaking my arm mid season set us back a bit, but you knew the right buttons to push and guided me to my strongest season. Being able to witness from afar the struggles you went through as an athlete as well helped me to continually step up my game. It’s been a real pleasure and honor to train under you as a Braveheart Athlete!

To my family who’s been incredibly supportive through this crazy journey. You guys are always there in person or in spirit no matter where the race is and are always my biggest fans and cheerleaders.

A very special thank you to Mike Melton. Bro, if you don’t take me under your wing and teach me how to be a triathlete all those years ago I don’t know where I am today. You taught me how to have fun while suffering during the course of a long day. You laid the groundwork for what we’re accomplishing now.

Thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters who allow me to make my passion a viable career (at least for now). Bubba Burger, Base Performance, Independence Run and Hike, The United States Association of Blind Athletes, Sopris Chiropractic, Team Catapult and so many others.

And as always, thank you to you all, the amazing #eyeronvision fans who continue to cheer me on from far and near. Your support is always felt and much appreciated 🙂

Now, after a short offseason, it’s time to turn my attention to representing the USA on the International stage as I attempt to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. I’m excited for this next chapter in my life but rest assured, I don’t think this’ll be my last Ironman 🙂

Until next time faithful #eyeronvision fans.

Kyle

Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup Race Report: ITU Bounce Back

October 14, 2018

Sarasota-Bradenton Paratriathlon World Cup

2.5 km Run, 18.3 km bike, 5 km run

“Come on! This is what we train for!” Zack seemed to yell even though he was only about 50 cm away from me. It was hot, humid and my legs and lungs were burning. All I could focus on was breathing in for two foot strikes and breathing out for two foot strikes. My arms were pumping as I desperately tried to cling on to the lead I’d gained on the bike. I wanted this win. It didn’t matter that I was in the middle of Ironman training or that I had a former Paralympic gold Medalist in the marathon bearing down on me from behind. I wanted this win.

Dodging Disaster

“we’re parked and waiting for a gate to open so we can deplane,” Zack texted me as I sat at Gate E14B in the Charlotte Airport waiting for our connecting flight to Sarasota. Hurricane Michael had rudely disrupted the flight patterns of hundreds of flights across the southeastern part of the United States. Not to mention the devastation to homes, towns, property, roads, infrastructure, etc. What was most concerning at this point though was that my guide for the Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup was in danger of missing our connecting flight. Not the end of the world if he did, he could simply hop on a later flight, but that would put us behind the eight ball even more than we already were.

“Use that 5:30/mi speed to get here,” I joked over text back to him.

With the call of just a couple of minutes until boarding Zack arrived at the gate in time to board with me and for us to make our very delayed flight. Zack’s flight from San Diego had circled the Charlotte area for quite a while before being diverted to Atlanta to refuel and attempt to fly back into Charlotte. I was fortunate enough for my flight from Denver to only have to circle for an extra 15-20 minutes before we were able to sneak in through a clear window.

Once on the plane to Sarasota though we settled in and caught up on life, chatted about races we’d done and strategized for this weekend.

I met Zack at Camp No Sight No Limits in San Diego which is put on by Elite Female Blind Triathlete Amy Dixon. Zack was guiding another athlete but we hit it off and kept in touch. Zack went on to crush his first Ironman in Canada and take second in his age group. Barely eight weeks later he competed in his second ever Ironman and won his age group and took sixth overall (he’s 24 years old). I’d been keeping an eye and ear out for fast guides and had built up a roster of potential guides for future races. Zack was on that list and after shooting some text messages back and forth with Amy Dixon I reached out to Zack to see if he’d be interested in guiding me at the Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup. He immediately said yes, but if I could find someone faster then he wanted me to choose them. Zack is probably the fastest triathlete I know that I can call a friend so I didn’t find anyone faster and we arranged to race together.

Upon arriving at our Airbnb in Sarasota we changed into running clothes and checked a map for somewhere to eat after 10 PM at night. We saw that there was a Chili’s a little more than three miles away so we decided to run there, eat and Uber/Lyft it back to the Airbnb. Only problem was that it was pitch dark outside with few street lamps lit. Zack was using his cell phone as a flashlight and a little more than a mile into our easy jog his foot caught a rise in the road and he went down scraping up his knee. He popped back up though and kept on running as though nothing had happened. “It’s a little bloody,” was all he mentioned about it. We eventually made it to the restaurant, drenched in sweat from the humidity, ate a quick dinner and then Lifted it back to the Airbnb where we showered and crashed.

Change of Plans

The next morning Zack and I Lyfted over to our friend Rachel’s house where I’d shipped my bike. Rachel was racing this weekend as well being guided by another friend we’d all met at Camp No Sight No Limits, Alex Dreu. Zack and I built the Limo back up from it’s broken down state and then Alex, Rachel, Zack and I pedaled over to Nathan Benderson Park for the Bike and swim course previews. Unfortunately though we received word that the swim was cancelled due to poor water quality. So instead we’d be racing a duathlon comprised of a 2.5k run, 18.3k bike and 5k run. That didn’t change my goal of taking the top step on the podium. I felt strong and in our quick shake out runs Zack and I were holding sub 6:30 min/mi paces with apparent ease. It would just be a little different and a little more challenging to go for gold now.

Kona Day

Saturday was Kona Day—meaning the Ironman World Championship was being contested in Kailua-Kona. It’s easily the biggest day in triathlon each year. Yes we have the ITU World Championship and 70.3 Worlds and the Olympics every four years, but nothing compares to Kona. I was glued to my phone watching coverage on Facebook Watch and tracking several friends including Erich Manser (the blind/visually impaired Ironman World Record holder for fastest Ironman at 10:42:59). We went over to Rachel’s house to watch the coverage on Alex’s computer. We were all still even watching the coverage on our phones right up to the time the Paratriathlon Race Briefing meeting began at 6 PM back at Nathan Benderson Park.

I was antsy for the briefing to end so I could get back to following Kona. And what a day… So many major records fell including the men’s and women’s swim course records falling, the men’s and women’s bike course records being broken, the overall men’s and women’s course records being broken, the first two people to go sub eight hours in Kona and the overall women’s fastest Ironman branded time being set. Not too mention so many others. All the triathlon community could do was say “Wow!” And I prayed I could have a similar race the next day.

Race Day

Oatmeal, banana, watermelon, gatorade and coffee were in my system as Zack and I pedaled the bike from our Airbnb to the race venue of Nathan Benderson Park. I’d raced here in March when it was the Camtri North American Championship and I didn’t have the race I was capable of. I planned to correct that and push myself to the max.

Because of the duathlon start the start waves were shuffled around and now the PTVI wave didn’t start until 10:01 AM instead of 8:03 as it had originally been scheduled for. This meant hotter and more humid conditions. No matter, we just had to live with it.

The First Run

Due to course crowding potential the Wheel Chair athletes had their race first then at 10 AM the waves of the other Paratriathlon categories began. The B1 (totally blind) men and women started at 10:01. I waited with my heart thumping and legs tensed ready to spring. At the sound of the airhorn beginning our wave Zack and I sprang forward exploding out to a fast lead ahead of the other eight or nine B1 athletes. Slowly though a few clawed their way back and passed us. A Japanese athlete passed me, then my fellow Team USA teammate Brad Snyder and one of the Irish athletes. Zack and I measured our pace. I was going hard but not as hard as I could. Every time Zack looked down at his watch though we seemed to be hovering around a 6 min/mi pace.

At the turn around point of the 2.5k run we were sitting in 4th or fifth place. We slid up to run shoulder to shoulder with the Irish and held a measured pace all the way to transition 1.

Run 1: 9 min 27 sec

Transition 1

We sprinted to the bike and I grabbed my helmet, throwing it on, buckling it while kicking off my running shoes. Then I slid my feet into my cycling shoes, strapped them, grabbed onto the bike and ran with Zack toward the mount line. We paused threw a leg over the bike, clipped in and took off. We were right on the heels of the Irish and only a few seconds down on the lead Japanese team and Brad.

Transition 1: 57 sec

The Bike

My legs felt heavy as I initially started pedaling. I worried that I’d pushed too hard on the first run and wouldn’t be able to have the power to surge to the front as Zack and I’d planned. But the heavy feeling quickly disappeared and Zack and I began to hammer. On the first opportunity we zoomed passed the Irish. Then we locked onto the red, white and blue kits of Brad and his guide Colin. We also had to contend with some cyclists from the wave ahead of us. Not long into the first lap we surged passed Brad. To encourage my teammate and fellow countryman along I yelled “Go Team USA!” Then we set our sights down the road. Japan was just ahead of us and we were on a mission to catch and pass them. We did a short while later and took the lead.

I don’t know how fast we were going at any given point, but I could feel that we were flying. I was throwing down possibly the strongest bike ride I’d ever done. Zack took the turns aggressively in the arrow bars and I stayed tucked in behind him as best I could to reduce drag.

We completed the first loop and I vaguely heard the announcer say something about first visually impaired athlete. But we went by so fast that was all I heard. Then we were on the second lap of three. This was where we decided to hammer even harder and where we extended our lead. We held that effort until about three quarters of the way through the third lap when we down shifted and spun the legs out a bit to get ready for the run.

We blazed toward the dismount line, hit the breaks, unclipped, came off the bike and started running into T2.

Bike: 25 min 12 sec (26.3 mi/hr average speed)

Transition 2

We racked the bike, I unclipped my helmet, tossed it in the bin where we are required to put discarded pieces of equipment, kicked off my cycling shoes, threw them in the bin and yanked on my running shoes again. I grabbed the run tether and Zack and I began sprinting to the run start.

Transition 2: 58 sec

The Run

It was hot. As we flashed by a crowd of people applauding and cheering. After all, we weren’t just leading the BVI field, we were actually the first people to get on to the run course. The was water at the first aid station just outside of transition and we grabbed a bottle to share until the next aid station.

I fell into a rhythm syncing my arms and legs to a fluid cadence. Zack was keeping an eye on our competitors. They were coming hard and fast but we still had a gap. I turned up the pace a notch. Dumped water into my mouth. I dumped water over my head. I breathed in. I breathed out. I swung my arms. I flexed and extended my legs. I didn’t talk. I tried not to focus on how fucking hot it was.

All the time Zack seemed to be striding effortlessly next to me giving me crisp clear directions. “Step toward me. Easy right hand bend. Now back to the left. Windy path. Keep it up man! You’re looking so strong!”

As we passed the one mile mark I knew I wasn’t holding the pace I wanted to. I felt like my legs were moving through mud. I pumped my arms harder trying to get my legs to catch up. I tried pushing the pace. But it was as though I could feel someone bearing down on me from behind.

“You’re 20 seconds up,” Zack said “keep pushing!” That gap came down to 15 seconds, then 10. We hit the turn around hard and pushed the pace a little harder. The lead Japanese athlete was flying behind us. I could hear his and his guide’s footsteps and heavy breathing. I gritted my teeth and willed my legs to go faster.

“How bad do you want to win?” Zack barked at me. I pushed harder. Then Japan was next to me. We ran shoulder to shoulder for a brief moment.

“Come on man, he looks like fucking shit! You look stronger!” Zack said. My brain was turning off. I was just running, pushing. Japan began pulling away. I tried to match the furious pace he was setting but couldn’t hold it for very long. Japan dropped me with just about a mile to go. And another Japanese athlete was coming fast behind me.

Zack continued to feed me encouragement and constantly reminded me to focus on form. “Don’t fall apart! We’re on the podium! We can still catch him!”

We hit the second to last bridge and Zack took a peek back to see where our second Japanese pursuer was. “Ten seconds,” Zack said. “If you want to hold this guy off you need to give it everything.”

I dug deeper and opened the gap a little. I vaguely heard someone yelling at the side of the run course “Keep driving forward!”

We hit the apex of the final bridge and headed slightly down hill. I extended my stride and dug just a little deeper. I knew that in order to begin collecting credit toward making the National Team I needed to minimize the gap between me and first place. I also needed to hold off this fast charging second Japanese athlete.

Zack and I came into the finisher shoot and hit the line in second place. My legs were shot, my heart rate through the roof and I was wetter than I would’ve been if we’d just completed a swim. I very nearly collapsed but Zack was there to hold me steady on my feet as we made our way into the athlete recovery zone.

Run: 22 min 16 sec

Total Time: 58 min 47 sec

Post Race

As I stood on shaky legs in the recovery zone, a volunteer draped a cold towel around my neck and shoulders and pushed a bottle of water into my hand. I sipped on the water and let the cool towel lower my core temperature. The Japanese athlete who’d finished in first place—48 seconds ahead of me—came up to Zack and me and hugged us. In broken English he said “Good race. I was Paralympic Gold Medalist. You did very good job.” Zack and I took that to mean that we’d pushed him to dig deep and this win wasn’t easy for him. Then we greeted the other Japanese athlete who’d finished a mere 18 seconds behind us in third place telling him that he’d pushed us and it was a great race. Then we began making our way out of the recovery zone to walk around and keep moving. Other athletes were coming across the line and we cheered them on as we saw them. We stopped to chat with Brad and Colin to see how their race went. We all agreed that it was a very hot day and that we felt the race might have shaken out differently if the swim hadn’t been cancelled. But all we could control was how well we raced and on the whole we were all fairly pleased with how the race went. Even so I turned to Zack and joked “Give me an Ironman over that any day.” Ironman is hard and it gets harder the faster you go, but Ironman is suffering little by little throughout the day not one hour of pedal to the metal. The pain is no worse or better, it’s just different. The thing that is so appealing about ITU racing though is the pure competitive nature of the beast. How hard can you push yourself to beat your competitors. Sometimes we win the battle and sometimes we lose.

I often say that if I’m second place I might as well be first loser. I still feel that way and expect better of myself. I know that in order to compete with the best in the world (which is what I want to do) I have to improve.

Nevertheless there were a lot of positives to take out of this second place finish. Even though my 5k run split of 22:16 was exactly the same as I’d done in March, the conditions this time around were much worse. I’d also begun with a hard run then had a much stronger bike and I was in the middle of Ironman training. More than that though, I felt I’d pushed myself and really raced for the first time in a long time. It felt good.

We walked around and chatted with our fellow athletes. We analyzed the race, had the podium ceremony and began cleaning up our transition area. Then it was time to bike back to Rachel’s, take the bike apart, pack it up and then head back to the Airbnb to get cleaned up and head out for good food and beer before crashing and getting up in the middle of the night to catch a 5 AM flight.

And so another race weekend came to an end. Thank you as always to everyone who made yet another race possible. Zack for an incredible job guiding and pushing me to my limit. Amy Dixon for playing guide/athlete match maker. Rachel for taking such good care of my bike. To the awesome crew of USA athletes who are all so supportive of each other. I do think we push each other to truly be better and raise the level of competition. Thank you also to the great race volunteers, race officials and spectators who made the race a fun one. Thank you as always to my incredible sponsors for allowing me to represent you and race and test myself against the best athletes. Here’s to hopefully many more podiums to come. And finally, thank you to you my readers for staying with me on this journey and for taking the time to read this newsletter.

#eyeronvision

Ironman 70.3 Augusta 2018 Race Report: So close but yet so far

September 23, 2018

Ironman 70.3 Augusta

Augusta, Ga

1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run

“Fuck! Something’s not right.” Is one of the last things you want to hear from your guide as you’re two miles into a 13.1 mile run during a half Ironman where you both appear to be having a top notch day. Nevertheless, this is Ironman, whether at the 70.3 or 140.6 distance stuff happens and it tests your ability to adjust on the fly.

Arrival

Danny and I flew into and met in Atlanta on Friday evening. We shared a quick dinner with Aleshia Mueller, who is directing and producing the documentary about Team Sea to See and our Race Across America. Aleshia is based out of Atlanta so I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see one of my RAAM family members.

After dinner Danny and I drove to Augusta listening to a riveting podcast called Dirty John. When we arrived at our Airbnb in Warrenville, South Carolina (just outside of Augusta) our Airbnb hosts had stayed up to greet us and give us a quick tour of the house. Terry and Kevin are an older couple and truly delightful people. Terry had baked a whole jar full of chocolate chip cookies as well as a basket of blueberry muffins to welcome us. Talk about southern hospitality. Danny and I both indulged in a blueberry muffin before turning in for the night.

The next day was a busy pre-race day as we needed to collect my tandem—AKA the Limo—from the bike shop to which I’d shipped it. We then had to drop it off at the transition area as well as get all checked in.

After a classic low budget diner breakfast we made our way to the race expo and picked up some essentials such as our race packets, some Gu Energy Jells and CO2 cartridges. We had some fun with the people who were checking us out at the Gu station. Someone asked how I knew what bills I was handing over since I was paying in cash. I quickly explained that I folded my bills a certain way to quickly identify them in my wallet. Fives are folded in thirds, tens are folded hamburger style and twenties are hotdog style. The woman seemed confused. “Hamburger and hotdog style?” “What did you never play with paper airplanes?” Danny asked incredulously. Several people behind us in line laughed and we moved on.

We then headed to the bike shop where I’d shipped my bike. Chain Reaction was about a 13 mile drive away. So we left the rental car parked at the expo and grabbed a Lift to the shop. After spending some time with the head mechanic and bike fitter, Brad, in the shop dialing in our bike fits and making sure everything was shipshape we rolled out of the shop and pedaled our way to the area where transition would be. We stashed the bike on our transition rack through on our running shoes and ran back to the expo.

Having gotten our pre-race day spin and easy run done we headed for a quick bite of lunch before heading back to the Airbnb for an afternoon nap.

Danny had some Olive Garden gift cards so we picked up Olive Garden for dinner. I munched on grilled chicken parmesan, spaghetti, soup and bread sticks. Then it was off to bed because we had to race tomorrow.

Race Morning

Our race morning began bright and early at 4 AM. My breakfast consisted of oatmeal, walnuts, a banana, some watermelon, a bagel with almond butter, gatorade and coffee. Danny had music playing over a bluetooth speaker and we had a bit of fun as we took a short 15 second video of us stupidly dancing to our friend Alan Greening (who will be guiding me at Ironman Arizona in November). Of course it was to Alan’s favorite song, Africa by Toto. (Sidenote: At a camp we attended at the Olympic Training Center Alan expressed his absolute disdain for the song Africa by Toto.)

Finally it was time to get going. I do not like getting to race starts late. I like to be there in plenty of time to set up transition and soak in the pre-race atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like the charged feeling before an Ironman 70.3 or 140.6 event.

We arrived in transition and I methodically set up my gear. Cycling shoes with socks in the shoes. Directly to the right went my Hoka One One Tracer 2 running shoes with my run tether/racebelt stuffed into the right hand shoe. On the handlebars went my helmet with sunglasses inside the helmet. I put two water bottles on my bike filled with my customary Base Performance Rocket Fuel. This Mixture consists of two scoops of Base Performance Hydro, two scoops of Base Performance Salt and one scoop of Base Performance Amino mixed in a 20 fluid ounce water bottle. In my food box I put three Base Performance Real Bars of various flavors. I think for today I’d grabbed a peanut butter and a couple of apple flavored bars. To the top tube of the bike I also taped three orange/vanilla flavored Gu Energy Jells with caffeine. Then I just had to make sure I had my swim cap, Roka sleeveless wetsuit, Roka X1 goggles and swim tether.

Our friends Rachel Weeks and Patty Collins were wrapping up their set up next to us and were ready to head to swim start around the same time we were. So we wandered over to the shuttle that would take us to swim start and made it there in plenty of time for a final bathroom break, the singing of the national anthem and to see the pros take to the water and begin the race. The male pros took off down stream then the female pros. Then the Physically Challenged athletes were called to the start.

Since “PC” athletes are not eligible to qualify for Ironman World Championship events we all elected to wear our wetsuits even though all other age groupers were not allowed due to the water temperature. But a wetsuit is free speed and I figured I needed the practice stripping my own wetsuit for future races. There were five or six of us in the PC division and we all gathered on the dock for a group photo before jumping in the water to await the race start.

Danny and I floated holding on to the dock patiently waiting. Then the announcer began the count down. When he reached five seconds to go I hit the button to start my watch. Then the horn sounded and we were off.

Swim

This was my first open water swim opportunity since I’d raced the CAMTRI American Championship in Sarasota, Fla back in March. At that race my guide and I’d gotten our tether tangled around a buoy on a tight turn. Fortunately we wouldn’t have any technical turns on this swim course. The Augusta swim course is one of the fastest swims on the 70.3 circuit because it is a point to point down stream swim. This morning the dam hadn’t been opened so the current wasn’t flowing as fast as it had when I’d done this race as my first ever 70.3 in 2015. Nevertheless there was still a bit of assist from the current.

Danny and I quickly found our rhythm. I focused on a high stroke rate, where my hand entered and exited the water and on the position of my body as I rotated. Given the limited number of turns in this race the swim tether was joyously slack between Danny and I. I think we only bumped into each other a couple of times. We’d started five minutes behind the female pros so we had no chance at catching them and we’d also started five minutes ahead of the fastest age groupers so there was a chance we’d only be caught by a few as long as we swam well.

I love open water swimming so much more than swimming in the pool. I can let my mind go blank and just focus on smooth technique rather than worrying about when I’m going to smash into the wall. Because of this I tend to swim just a touch faster in open water than I do in the pool.

About three quarters of the way through the swim my left hand was about to enter the water. Danny meanwhile was taking a quick second to look over to the right just to make sure I was still over there. Suddenly three of my fingers were nearly bitten off as I fishhooked Danny. Fortunately Danny didn’t bite hard there was no interruption to our swim strokes overall. A couple of minutes later I felt my hands slapping someone’s feet. I figured we were on the feet of some of the faster age groupers who’d caught us. Unfortunately one such age grouper kicked out and grazed the right side of my face. Just a minute or so after that though my hands touched the boat ramp and I popped up out of the water.

I immediately hit the lap button on my watch to shift it from open water swim to Transition 1.

Swim Time: 28 minutes 5 seconds

Transition 1

The run from swim exit to the bike was long and slightly uphill. Running in a wetsuit is not fun. While we ran I stripped my wetsuit down to around my waist. Then I began shoving it down over my thighs. Less than 50 meters from the bike the wetsuit and the swim tether got bunched up around my knees and I had to shuffle the last bit to the bike. I then quickly sat down and peeled the rest of my wetsuit off. I tossed my cap and goggles on the ground, grabbed my socks and cycling shoes. Then I stood up and got my sunglasses on before accidentally knocking my helmet off the handlebars. It took only a second for Danny to grab the helmet and then for me to get it on my head and buckle the chin strap. Then we were running with the bike to the bike out zone. I threw my leg over the top tube, clipped in and we took off.

Transition 1 Time: 4 minutes 13 seconds.

Total Time: 32 minutes 18 seconds

Bike

“Railroad tracks” Danny called out for the fourth or fifth time. We hadn’t even made it 5 kilometers and we’d already hit a ton of railroad tracks. With each railroad crossing I tried to relax but unconsciously tensed up despite my best efforts. Before my crash in June during Race Across America I’d never feared railroad tracks or any small bump in the road. Now a tiny nugget of fear was implanted in my brain. All I could think about was “don’t crash. Stay upright!” Fortunately after six or seven miles the railroad track crossings seemed to be over. Once the tracks were behind us Danny and I could get into our rhythm.

Strangely enough we were riding alone. Normally on an Ironman race course there are several dozen cyclists around you and you are all trading spots in a line while trying to keep out of the drafting zone. But for the first 25 kilometers or so Danny and I rode alone. At mile five I took my first jell. Then at mile 10 I ate my first Base Performance Real Bar. Every five miles or so I took two licks from my tube of Base Performance salt as well as taking a sip or two from my bottle of rocket fuel.

As we passed through the first aid station Danny caught a bottle of gatorade tossed to him by a volunteer and handed it back to me. I chugged some of the gatorade and then Danny handed back a bottle of water. I drank some of the water and then sprayed the rest of the bottle over my head to cool myself off. The temperature was beginning to rise but it wasn’t unbearably hot yet.

Soon after the 15 mile mark several super fast age groupers caught up and passed us. Pretty soon though we settled into a familiar pattern of back and forth chasing with a group of three or four age groupers. They’d attack on the uphill and then Danny and I’d use gravity to blow pass them on the down hill. On one such yoyo an age grouper joked as he rode by “Gotta love gravity.” To which Danny replied, “See you on the next hill.”

Just beyond mile 20, we saw a race official ride by on a motor scooter. Then we heard the bleeping of a police siren as a police officer raced by us to pull the race official over. We’re not sure if the cop didn’t know the guy was a race official or if he had some other agenda. Nevertheless it was funny to see the official get pulled over when it was usually the race official pulling racing athletes over.

The miles melted away and I continued pacing myself hitting my nutrition at certain intervals. As we passed the 28 mile marker—the halfway point—Danny looked down at his watch and saw that we’d been riding for one hour 17 minutes. To himself he thought “Oh shit, we’re riding too hard.” Meanwhile on the back of the bike I wondered if we were riding hard enough. I felt comfortable and strong. We continued holding a consistent pace and I continued nailing my nutrition.

It was just beyond mile 50 when Danny and I finally got the pleasure of being “chicked.” (To be chicked is to be caught or beaten by a woman. To me it’s a real badge of honor as I greatly admire badass female athletes.) The woman that came blazing by us left us in the dust like it was nothing. She also caught and passed the three or four age group men that were just ahead of us as well. All Danny and I could do was say “Wow, fucking badass!”

A few miles before this Danny had confessed that his legs were beginning to feel a little like jelly. So I cranked up the intensity on my end. Instead of riding in my high aerobic zone I began creeping toward that threshold zone.

We blazed into the second transition feeling strong and ready to kick ass on the run.

Bike Time: 2 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds

Total Time: 3 hours 6 minutes 14 seconds

Transition 2

As we rolled close to the dismount line we unclipped. As Danny counted down “3, 2, 1” I popped my right leg over the top tube and hit the ground running while holding on to my saddle. We arrived at our rack and Danny hooked the saddle on the bar as I undid my helmet and kicked off my cycling shoes. I quickly slipped into my Hoka One One Tracer 2s, grabbed my XLab race belt with my run number and the luggage strap that made up my run tether. I stepped into the race belt and shoved my tube of Base Performance into the custom salt tube holder on the side of the belt. Danny pulled his race belt on which was attached to the other end of the luggage strap. We quick stepped through transition and nearly went the wrong way out of transition, but were able to slip through and on to the run course.

Transition 2 Time: 2 minutes 1 second

Total Time: 3 hours 8 minutes 15 seconds

Run

My legs felt heavy at first but after a couple of hundred meters I felt loose and ready to fly. “Don’t let me go too hard,” I told Danny. My legs felt like they did when I ran my half marathon personal best at the Aspen Valley Half Marathon the year before. That race I’d run a 1:40:59 and felt as though I’d been floating over the ground rather than running. Yes I’d just come off swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles, but my legs felt better than they ever had coming off the bike.

Danny and I immediately began cruising. I was breathing easy, my heart rate was fairly low and our race was going according to plan. We hit the first aid station and I downed water and gatorade, tossing an additional cup of water over my head. It was hot but I felt that I could control that by maybe slowing the pace and dumping water over my head and ice down my Tri kit.

After the second aid station was when things took a turn for the worse.

“Fuck, something’s wrong.” Danny said. “My heart rate is way too high and I’m burning up.”

I immediately slowed the pace and told Danny that we’d walk the aid stations and make cooling him down a priority. But barely a hundred meters went by and Danny had to stop. “I’m a dead weight to you bro,” he said.

“Dude, it’s ok, you’ll bounce back. Just focus and we’ll work through it,” I tried assuring him. But Danny wanted me to have the best race I could so he kept an eye out for someone that might be able and/or willing to run my pace. He asked a couple of volunteers and spectators on the side of the course if they were able to run a 7:45 pace. They couldn’t. Then a couple of racers sped by saying they were averaging sub 7 min paces. That was faster than I wanted to go until the last part of the course. Finally a guy named Jack came along and Danny asked him if he’d be willing to guide me for a few miles while he cooled off. Jack was averaging a 7:30 pace and immediately said, “Sure I’ll help.”

So for the next four miles I ran with Jack. We found a rhythm where our arms swung in sync together and Jack quickly learned how to direct me. “Feet up, railroad track. We’re coming to an aid station, let’s walk it.” And while we ran we chatted. Jack was in his sixth year of doing triathlons. He’d taken a bit of a break and this was his first race back. “I’m glad I came across you guys and that your guide was having a bit of trouble because that run was getting a little lonely,” he said as we passed the five mile mark.

I was glad that Jack had sacrificed his own race to help me and Danny out for a few miles. Danny appeared at mile six ready to give it another go. He’d cooled down and was ready to get back to racing. Jack stayed running with us for a short time but Danny and I slowed down and let Jack pull ahead. We walked every aid station and poured water over our heads and ice down our kits.

Around mile eight someone just ahead of us was begging aid station volunteers for salt because he was cramping so bad. I pulled my tube of Base salt off my belt and gave it to him. Danny and I would share the other vile of salt that Danny had on his belt.

A couple of miles later though Danny began to struggle again. The heat was brutal and the humidity was oppressive. Danny glanced around to see if there was someone on their second lap who’d be able to guide me for a short stretch while Danny stepped aside and cooled off again.

A guy had been running just behind us for a couple of miles and volunteered to help out. And so I met Dustin who was in his first 70.3. We ran together for about two miles chatting and dodging the crowding race course. We were so close to the finish. We walked a couple more aid stations and took a short walk break just beyond mile 11. Dustin was cramping but fighting through. Even though Dustin was in his first 70.3 he wasn’t a stranger to endurance events. He was a Georgia State Champion cross country mountain biker and had done a couple of off road triathlons. He was on pace for a sub five hour 70.3. When Danny hooked back up with us at mile 12 I encouraged Dustin to hang with us, to push through. He did for a bit but I think Danny and I wound up out pacing him after the last aid station.

We had less than a mile to go. It was hot, the sun was beating down and we were so close to going under five hours. To bolster our spirits and give a little extra pep to our step I yelled at Danny, “Come on man, we’re not here to fuck spiders!” (Sidenote: Danny had just returned from being a handler for a wheelchair athlete at the ITU World Championship in Gold Coast Australia. After the race Danny and a few other para triathletes were hanging out with some locals who taught them a phrase “We’re not here to fuck spiders.” Meaning, we’re not here to mess around, or something to that effect.)

The phrase had the desired effect and Danny cracked up and immediately began picking up the pace. We cruised into the finishers shoot and sprinted the last couple hundred meters. I hit stop on my watch and gave Danny a big hug. Even though we didn’t have the race we’d both hoped for it was still a personal best for me. I would’ve much preferred that Danny didn’t overheat the times he did, but I was also touched that he refused to slow me down when I was having such a good day. And I was very thankful that people like Jack and Dustin were so willing to step in to help out.

Run time: 1:53:29

Total Time: 5:01:42

Post Race:

Post race massage, pizza, beer and cheering on other finishers is standard. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty lame to just peace out and not cheer on other competitors especially if you’re waiting for friends to finish.

Danny and I began walking toward the transition area to collect our gear and also to see if we could catch Rachel and Patty as they were on their second lap on the run. We did catch up with them and they were both having some trouble with the heat but were otherwise in high spirits.

After packing up the transition area we made our way back to the finish area and cheered Rachel and Patty through the finish line. Then we collected our “Participation” plaques for taking part in the Physically Challenged/Exhibition Division, grabbed a photo with Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae (the winners of both the men’s and women’s races). After taking a photo with them Danny asked Rinny (who’s originally from Australia) “So is ‘we’re not here to fuck spiders’ really an Australian saying?” I can only imagine the look on Rinny’s face as she said that she hadn’t heard it before but it could be. Tim O’Donnell (Rinny’s husband) laughed and said “it sure sounds like an Australian saying, so I say go with it.” Then it was time to go. We needed to shower and sleep since we had an early flight out of Atlanta in the morning.

And so I closed the chapter on another successful 70.3. A new PR, on a day when I didn’t run what I felt I was capable of and on a day where I had no nutritional or gastro intestinal distress. All in all it was a solid day and I’m feeling enormously confident heading into my final two races of the season—The Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup (sprint triathlon on October 14) and Ironman Arizona on November 18.

Thank you Danny Craven for doing an excellent job guiding. Don’t worry man, we’ll go grab that sub five 70.3 soon. Thank you to Jack and Dustin for stepping in to help guide me for several miles. Thank you to all of the great volunteers who supported all of us athletes on course. Thank you to Ironman for always putting on such an incredible event. And thank you to my incredible sponsors who make it possible for me to travel and race in these amazing events. And finally, last but certainly not least, thank you to you all for cheering me from afar and taking time to read these newsletters and race reports. Be on the look out for another #eyeronvision newsletter coming out soon 🙂

#eyeronvision

Kyle

Race Across America with Team Sea to See

Race Across America: The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race

June 16-24, 2018

Start line, Oceanside, Calif. Finish line, Annapolis, Md.

3070 miles, 175000 ft elevation gain, 12 States, 4 major rivers, 3 mountain ranges, 4 tandem bikes, 8 cyclists, 3 15 passenger vans, 2 RVs, an All Star crew of more than 20 people, and we must complete it in less than 9 days

*Please be aware this is a longer than average race report. Please also be advised that there is some strong language.

“What is the hardest thing you can think to do physically?” Jack Chen asked Dan Berlin during a phone conversation.

“Riding a bike across the country,” was what Dan replied.

“Then let’s do it!” Responded Jack.

The air was chilled and damp after a furious rain and hail storm. The roads were slick and I could feel water flying up and hitting my legs and butt as I turned the pedals. I was tucked in behind Chris Howard, my pilot on this epic journey of racing bikes from west coast to east coast of the United States. We were somewhere in Kansas, I think just beyond Johnson City, closing in on the halfway mark. We’d just come off of a three hour weather delay while we sheltered in our vans as rain, wind and hail pounded down. The hail became so fierce that a window in one of our vans shattered causing us to get hold of some duct tape to patch the hole until we could come up with another solution. But we were finally back on the road racing with calm winds and mostly favorable conditions.

Chris and I were feeling super strong and were beginning to really push the pace. 20 mph, 21 mph, 22 mph and we were still well within our sustainable zones of effort. Then we rolled into a town and the sudden lights caused Chris to momentarily lose sight of what was on the road. Even our follow van didn’t see the railroad cutting across the road at an angle in time. Suddenly we were upon it and Chris didn’t have enough time to move left to square the bike to be perpendicular to the tracks to ensure safe passage over. The next thing I knew was that the bike had stopped moving forward and I was thrown sideways and forward. My right elbow and shoulder hit the ground hard and my knee drove forward into Chris’s back. The first thing I immediately  thought was “Oh fuck! Is Chris ok? Did I land directly on him?” The next was “Get up! If you can get up and move then you can still race!” So I struggle to my feet.

Then I heard the panic shouts of our follow van navigator, Sheila S, as she yelled over the radio “Riders down! Riders down!” Our van driver, Panu was out of the car and running over to us as well as Sheila S. They checked on Chris and me but Chris and I just wanted to get the bike back up and rolling. We picked up the bike but didn’t immediately notice the damage. We saw that one of our chains had come off and in our delirious state we briefly forgot about our backup bike. Finally, we just grabbed our second bike and got back rolling on the road.

As soon as we started rolling again though and the adrenaline had worn off a bit I noticed that my right arm was not ok. It hurt like hell to put any weight on it and I found myself grinding my teeth to try and grit out the pain. However, there was never a question in my mind about whether I should pull out of the race. This was Race Across America, the world’s toughest bicycle race, I wasn’t stopping!

Getting to the Start Line:

I’d packed all of my cycling gear, including multiple pairs of shoes, helmets, cleats, shorts, jerseys as well as several pairs of regular hanging out clothes. My dad dropped me and my bike, a white Cannondale that I’d turned into a time trial bike for flat and fast sections of the course, in Glenwood Springs where I was picked up by our Assistant Crew Chief, Steve O’Leary, in one of the 15 passenger vans we’d be using as a support vehicle during the race. We spent all day on the road before reaching our destination of Camp Pendelton, where a team member and supporter, Michael Somsan, had arranged for us to stay for the days leading up to the start of the race.

Once at Camp Pendelton the race preparations began. We collected certain signage that all Race Across America support vehicles are required to have, we got checked in as racers, crew and media, our mechanics fitted each of us to our bikes and worked making the bikes truly race ready, and our amazing RV/Nutrition Managers spent several days prepping much of the food we’d be eating while on the road. We planned to only use the microwave in the RVs to heat up prepped food. There were also photos to be taken, reporters to talk to, and the Blind Stokers Club (a tandem cycling club to promote tandem cycling for the blind and visually impaired community in the San Diego area) hosted us for a picnic. All in all, it was a whirlwind of two-three days before the race even started. I had a hard time even believing that we were about to undertake RAAM. I just did my best to absorb it and let the excitement build inside of me.

The Start Line:

We arrived at the RAAM start line excited and ready to ride. We had all four tandem bikes with all eight cyclists there to do a ceremonial first mile. Dan Berlin (stoker) and Charles Scott (pilot), Jack Chen (stoker) and Caroline Gaynor (pilot), Tina Ament (stoker) and Pamela Ferguson (pilot), and finally Chris Howard (pilot) and me (stoker). Each RAAM team left in one minute intervals starting at noon. Team Sea to See was scheduled to roll out at 12:18. We lined our four bikes up straight across the line and the announcer spoke about our team and mission. Then the horn sounded and we rolled out as a team pedaling easy, smiling, chatting and laughing. After a little less than a mile, Jack, Caroline, Tina and Pamela pulled off and jumped in a van which then shuttled them 20 some odd miles up the road while Dan, Charles, Chris and I continued on. The team had decided to have two bikes ride this first 23 mile section of the course together at the same time because this portion of the course was unsupported by vehicles and if one bike had a mechanical problem the other bike could continue on meaning we’d lose no time.

The first eight miles were what is called a “neutral zone” meaning no active racing was to take place. This was because the course was a narrow public bike path. As Dan, Charles, Chris and I rolled onto the bike path, several of our friends from the Blind Stokers Club rolled up on tandems to escort us through the first eight miles. Once we rolled across the end of the neutral zone however our escort peeled away and we actively started racing. Chris and I stayed just ahead of Dan and Charles letting them draft off of us. We rolled through the southern California rolling hills looking for the course markings to show the way. We had some sporadic radio contact with our support crew, but the radios that Dan and I were both wearing only had a limited range, so we had to follow this part of the course based on directions we got from course martials and the limited course markings. Eventually though we rolled into our first “Vehicle Meet Point” (VMP) to do an exchange and begin to execute our race strategy of short pulls with one bike on the road at a time. Dan, Charles, Chris and I turned the reigns over to our teammates and were shuttled up to the next VMP.

Getting Used to the Middle of Nowhere

Our first official VMP was in a parking lot of some store, next to a taco shop in Borrego Springs, Calif—AKA one of the last times I knew where I was and what time of day it was. We arrived at the VMP and had some snacks and relaxed while Caroline, Jack, Tina and Pamela battled heat, a broken chain, wind and a 5000 ft descent known as the Glass Elevator. Caroline and Jack recorded a top speed of about 58.4 mph going down this twisting descent.

Around 6 o’c, Dan, Charles, Chris and I were ready to roll out on our first long shift of the race. Dan and Charles took the first pull. Since the temperature wasn’t terrible and the terrain was relatively flat they decided to shoot for a 10 mile pull before letting Chris and I take over. When our team management had decided on the distance between each VMP they’d taken into consideration the terrain, climate, etc. But none of us could have expected the stroke of good luck we received weather-wise on this first leg of the trip. Borrego and much of the desert can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees, but when Dan, Charles, Chris and I rolled out it was in the low 80s, maybe even the high 70s and once we made the turn eastward we had a wicked awesome 25 plus mph tailwind. On any bike that translates to free speed.

When Chris and I took our first 10 mile pull we hardly pedaled strong at all. We were flying so fast that in the first 15 minutes we’d traveled more than 8 miles. Dan and Charles barely had time to set up to take back over for us. The next several pulls went like that, even when we got swallowed by a massive sandstorm that cut visibility down to only a few feet. We rolled into our next VMP feeling strong and way ahead of schedule. And this is about the time that I started not even paying attention to where we were or what time it was.

After getting a quick “Navy shower” (this consists of turning on the water in the RV shower for a hot second to get wet, then turning it off, soaping up and then turning the water back on to quickly rinse off) I grabbed some food and fluid and then went back into the bedroom to try and catch a nap. Of all the things we’d encounter over the course of Race Across America, lack of quality sleep would become the toughest thing to overcome. And this would rear it’s head very quickly.

Our First Fan Club

It was about 1 o’c in the morning and Chris and I were standing with our bike next to the entrance of a trailer park somewhere near the eastern edge of California. We were waiting for Dan and Charles to roll up on us so we could take over for the next 8-10 miles. Chris glanced behind him and saw a golf cart rolling down the driveway toward us with a woman driving and two very clearly inebriated guys hanging all over her. “Oh goodness, this can go either very well or end very badly,” Chris said. The golf cart rolled up next to us and the “drunk guys” couldn’t have been nicer or funnier. They were quite perplexed at what we were doing. “You guys are riding bikes from San Diego to Maryland? Dude, that’s like a long fucking way!…And some you are blind?”

After they finally believed us that we were in a bike race and that we weren’t 100 percent crazy (only 99 percent maybe) they immediately wanted to help. “Can we hold the bike while you clip in? We could ride our golf cart in front of you and block the wind…Oh, we’ll just sweep the rocks off the road so you have a clear launch path!” Chris and I could hardly contain our laughter. These guys wanted to help and they were by making us laugh. We thanked them for being supportive and for letting us use the entrance to their trailer park as an exchange point and then Dan and Charles rolled up and we took off. About 15 or 20 minutes later a truck full of our “drunk guys” and their friends passed us and pulled over on the side of the road to cheer us on as we rode by. “Hey, it’s our first fan club,” Chris joked.

Arizona Adrenaline Drain

Later in the shift post “drunk guys” we crossed over the Colorado River into Arizona. We were also closing in on the 24 hour point of the race. We were all still so pumped and fueled primarily on adrenaline. Most of us weren’t sleeping great and this would ultimately affect our judgment, emotions and tempers much sooner than we realized. After some warm pulls in the 95 degree heat of the desert some rumblings of frustration started getting back to Dan, Charles, Chris and me. There were accusations on the other set of tandems that some people hadn’t prepared adequately. Then there were political and social arguments that threatened to tare the team apart. This on top of the frustrations of some crazy chain breaking, the breaking of a crank and almost getting a penalty for unsafely pulling off the road, combined with a significant lack of sleep and the realization that we were barely 24 hours into this race and we were already having problems caused our team management to halt the race and bring all racers into a closed door meeting.

I could feel the tension among racers and crew. Some racers were frustrated that the crew chiefs had forced us all to stop and gather to talk, but I think the decision was correct in the long run because we all were able to express our frustrations and reevaluate what we were about as a team. When we came out of our closed door meeting I won’t pretend that we’d solved all of the world’s problems, far from it. We’d lost an hour and it seemed as though we had a rift in the team that I feared couldn’t be repaired. Dan and Charles hopped on the bike and took off riding and Chris and I leap frogged up ahead in the shuttle van.

After Chris and I had our first 8-10 mile pull on the bike we were sitting in the back of the shuttle van chatting. We recognized that if some of the racers and crew back at the VMP didn’t get some rest then this would be a very short-lived Race Across America. So I keyed my mic and asked Dan and Charles what they thought about pulling a double shift—meaning, instead of our two tandems splitting up 75-80 miles, we take on the next shift of 70-75 miles as well. Our crew chiefs heard our radio conversation and drove out to discuss this idea with us. Dan, Charles, Chris and I all were in favor of staying out on the road. Our van drivers and navigators also supported our decision. And it was like a switch had been flipped. Tension that had existed seemed to be channeled into focus.

Fortunately we pulled this double shift in the middle of the night, so the heat and other elements didn’t drain us like they normally would have. Chris, Dan, Charles and I just kept plugging away one pull at at time while our RVs leaped up ahead as quickly as possible to allow racers and crew to get as close to a full night sleep as possible. One of the things that also worked in our favor on this double shift was the fact that there was not a ton of climbing. It was primarily flat easy terrain. Mother Nature was kind to us as well in that the winds were calm. We were also fortunate in the regard that this section of the course had very few navigational turns. This meant Dan and I, who were in radio contact with our van navigators, didn’t have to relay complicated turn by turn instructions up to Charles and Chris as often. This allowed us to zone out and just pedal. However, the double shift was not easy. Tacking on an extra 75 miles on no sleep did take a toll. Both Chris and I started zoning out near the end of this shift and our patience wore thin, but we still pushed through and reached the VMP. And any impatience we’d had or frustrations were erased when we saw the crew and racers well rested and energized ready to take on the next shift. I went to sleep feeling good at the decision we’d made to take on the extra shift. Plus that meant Chris and I would get to do the big climbs now, which was what we wanted in the first place.

Progress from Congress

“If pro means good and con means bad, then the opposite of Progress is Congress, correct?” Is possibly one of my favorite one liners and I thought it was appropriate as we set up a VMP in Congress, Arizona. Just beyond the town of Congress is one of the toughest climbs in Race Across America. Yarnell Grade climbs 1800 ft in 7 miles ranging up to as high as a 10 percent grade. Dan and Charles tackled the lower section of Yarnell, but Chris and I took on the upper half as well as the descent. Chris and I love to climb on a bike. Chris likes to because he’s got an amazing power to weight ratio and is good at it. I like to climb because I’m crazy and am not supposed to be good at it and therefore supposed to hate it. Our shuttle van navigator, Sheila S, got a great video of our shuttle van driver, Bharat Pannu, running up the hill next to Chris and I as we climbed. Pannu was chastising Chris and I for having too much fun. “If you’re smiling and laughing while climbing you’re not working hard enough!” Which only made Chris and I laugh harder.

Later on that day though Chris’s and my smiles would fade as we took a few longer 13-14 mile pulls through the heat of the day and through stop and go traffic. The final major obstacle of the day was a climb up and then descent in to the town of Jerome. Chris and I had the honor of starting and finishing the climb with Dan and Charles taking a good chunk of the middle of the climb. But when we started the climb it was hot with a quartering headwind. And while the climb was not steep it was a grind and the optics made it appear as though we were going nowhere. This is incredibly mentally fatiguing, especially when you haven’t gotten a lot of sleep.

Finally though, between our two bikes we pushed up over the top of the climb and Chris and I took the winding technical descent into Jerome itself which I’ve been told is one of the most beautiful descents during the entire course of the race. Chris remarked that the descent reminded him of descending an Alp into a small Swiss or French mountain town. The roads were narrow and winding. More often than not Chris and I would get stuck behind a car with Chris grabbing onto the breaks. We eventually made it down and traded off with Dan and Charles so they could pull it into the VMP.

Colorado Homecoming

The teams rolled through Arizona and Utah with little to no problems. Yes, we were all tired but we were ticking off mile after mile, always moving forward.

Chris and I were on the bike when we crossed from Utah into Colorado. “It’s good to be home!” Chris exclaimed as we rolled over the state line. There is something about riding in your home state. There air just tasted sweeter especially the higher we climbed. We rode patiently up each little rise heading toward Durango and the infamous Wolf Creek Pass.

That night Chris and I were almost giddy with excitement. Although Yarnell Grade, which we’d climbed about 24 hours previous is considered the toughest climb in RAAM due to the amount of elevation it gains in such a short time, Wolf Creek Pass has an infamous reputation because it is the highest point on the RAAM course. But for some crazy Colorado boys who like punishing their legs, Wolf Creek is a dream to climb.

Before we started our shift up Wolf Creek Pass, I got the opportunity to meet Chris’s dad, sister and brother-in-law who’d driven down to meet and give us a morale boost. I immediately saw where Chris got his easy going attitude from. His family was so incredibly kind and supportive and just excited to watch Chris do what he loves to do—ride a bike up a big ass hill.

Dan and Charles took the first pull out of the VMP and road 5-6 miles. Originally they planned to go 8 but Chris immediately noticed that the grade started to kick up and immediately jumped on the radio asking if Dan and Charles minded taking a bit shorter of a pull so that Chris and I could at least get our legs warmed up before the climb really began. Dan and Charles are both so easy going and gladly acquiesced to our request. So then Chris and I jumped on the bike, got our legs spinning and then the climb began.

Up Wolf Creek Pass, our strategy was to keep each pull short—maybe as short as 1 mile at a time. The idea is to keep the speed as high as we could up hill. Tandems do not travel uphill very fast. So often people remark, “two people on a bike means you must have twice the power and twice the speed, so going uphill can’t be that hard.” This is not the case. On a tandem we also have twice the weight and far less maneuverability. Our efforts uphill are much more intense and therefore we had to be careful measuring our effort so that we didn’t blow our legs out. After all we still had more than 2000 miles to ride.

We plugged away uphill climbing steadily higher and higher. I love riding on high mountain passes because the air is so crisp and clean. It was also the middle of the night, so the air was nice and cool. I could hear the sound of running water somewhere off to my right, especially once we got up near the top. Finally we pushed up over the summit—around 10800 ft above sealevel—and began the descent. Chris and I bundled up for the descent. In the daytime riding down a steep mountain pass going speeds 40-50 mph can be nice as the air rushes by you cooling you off from a hot climb. At night though we risked hypothermia if we weren’t careful. I wore cycling tights and two or three layers up top as well as full-finger gloves.

The descent itself was fairly straight forward. We hardly pedaled and just let gravity do its job. We descended cautiously trying not to go much faster than 40 mph not wanting our wheels to slide out from under us. We had to move cautiously through a couple of construction zones and tunnels, but eventually popped out near the bottom of the long 10-12 mile descent. And just in time too because both of us had some cold fingers and toes that we both desperately wanted to warm up. For the remainder of our shift, Dan Charles, Chris and I had a blast trading off 8-10 mile pulls as we traveled mostly downhill toward our next VMP. We were happy to roll into the VMP and get a quick shower, food and rest while Pamela, Tina, Caroline and Jack tackled the next big climb—La Veta Pass.

The team absolutely crushed this section and Tina felt so good that she talked Pamela into climbing the entire 2400 feet of La Veta. All in all, we seemed to be back on track and rolling.

Tired into Trinidad

Our final mountain pass to climb in Colorado was Cucharas Pass. Grade-wise I don’t think it got to over 5.5 percent, but our pulls were longer due to limited exchange points. Dan, Charles, Chris and I climbed Cucharas with little trouble, although the lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with Chris and me. A camera crew from 9 News Denver had driven down to get some footage of the team as we rolled through Colorado and both Chris and I were so tired that we fumbled over some of the questions asked of us. But we made it through without sounding too terrible.

Chris and I had the pleasure of taking on the descent on Cucharas, after Dan and Charles crushed the final uphill section. Even though we were tired, we were excited because the course profile showed a long downhill into Trinidad where our next VMP was set up. Even more exciting was that Chris’s wife, Marsanne, was meeting us there to drop off a large quantity of food for the entire crew. However, the downhill on Cucharas was the start to one of Chris’s and my worst stretches on the bike.

It started with dodging through a construction zone going more than 50 mph. Then we hit a pothole and got a flat tire. We pulled over on the side of the road and radioed that we needed our back up bike—my trusty Cannondale, which I fondly call “The Limo.” Our Follow Van Navigator, Jim, initially had some trouble getting the bike out, initially pulling Dan and Charles’s back up bike out, then realizing his mistake and pulling out our bike. Then he hoisted the bike up and ran across the road to deliver it to us. We applauded his mountain bike/cyclocross skills with the tandem. Then we took off again.

After a few more exchanges we had an 11 mile stretch which the profile showed as downhill. Dan and Charles finished their last pull and shuttled into the VMP. This last 11 mile stretch was fairly straight forward until the final half mile which had some roundabouts, traffic lights and was potentially confusing. Jim harped on us about this final half mile just before we took off on our last pull. Then he and Andrea (Follow Van Driver) sped up ahead as “Direct Follow” wasn’t permitted in daytime hours during this section of the race. Unfortunately, the Van made the mistake of jumping ahead too far. On a normal bike ride this wouldn’t have been a problem, but Chris and I were at the end of our rope.

This section which had appeared flat to downhill in the route book was anything but. Each time Chris and I found ourselves on a downhill, Chris would immediately look up and see an even longer and steeper uphill. On top of that the sun was beating down and there was little to no wind. We were hot and the Van had jumped so far ahead that they were out of the range of my radio. I kept trying to raise Jim on the radio wanting them to come back and just pep us up a bit, but I heard nothing but silence. For about eight miles Chris and I ground our way up and over each hill until finally I heard radio chatter.

Jim was back in my ear, but I was so brain dead at that point I could barely communicate directions to Chris on the way to go. This resulted in a couple of wrong turns and us having to get off and walk the bike through a couple of intersections. We finally rolled into the VMP and turned the reigns back over to Tina, Pamela, Jack and Caroline.

It was at this point that my attitude was at its poorest. I snapped at Chris for not paying attention to my directions, I snapped at Jim and Andrea for leaving us hanging out to dry with no radio contact for more than 30 minutes, I snapped at Paul—our head mechanic—for having shitty radios, and finally I nearly bit one of our documentary camera guys in half for sticking a camera in my face just before I was about to head into the RV to get my shower, food and sleep. It goes to show what an awesome crew of people we had that even though I had a shitty attitude at that point, no one held it against me and did everything they could to pull me out of my funk. After a shower, some chocolate milk and food I did feel marginally better and headed off for a nap. I knew the next time I awoke we’d be in Kansas and at least we’d have some flat riding. I just prayed we’d have a good tailwind, or at least not a head wind. Turns out wind would be the least of my problems.

Riding Through the Hell/Hail of Kansas

“Oh my god, it’s another grain elevator,” is the common joke among my family whenever we drive through Kansas. I’ve got nothing against Kansas, the sentry looks all the same to me, but I’m definitely not a fan of the unpredictable weather patterns.

When Dan, Charles, Chris and I took off on our next shift, we nervously watched the clouds. It looked like the clouds were far away, but here was lightning popping from cloud to cloud. The wind was also blasting us directly from the east which meant we were fighting a headwind for the first 30 miles or so. All the while the storm clouds thickened and drew closer. Rain drops started to fall and then all of a sudden lightning started popping from clouds to ground within a mile of us. Our Follow Van Driver and Navigator—Pannu and Sheila S—determined it was unsafe riding conditions and pulled Chris and me off the road and into the Van. It was a smart choice as, no more than a minute or two after we got in the van the sky seemed to open up and the rain began pounding the pavement. We sat on the side of the road for 15-20 minutes until the rain and lightning had subsided. Then we got back out on the road. We only were pedaling for a little more than a mile though when the lightning started popping again. We again pulled off the road and sat for a while.

Then the wind began to pick up and swirl rocking the van from side to side. Our shuttle van was a few miles up the road and radioed back to us that they were heading off to seek shelter from the wind. Once they found a place to shield the vans from the wind they radioed back to us and directed the follow van behind a grain elevator, which for the most part protected us from the worst of the wind. Hail started pounding down as well and we all did our best to curl up and get a short nap in.

I’m not sure if I was able to catch a few minutes or not, but it was nice to at least rest and not be riding in the wind and rain. We eventually left the shelter of the grain elevators and drove into Johnson City to a gas station to refill the vehicles and maybe find better shelter. As we drove our shuttle van took a direct hit from a large piece of hail, or it could’ve been debris from the road, which caused the middle driver’s side window—right next to where the riders sat on the bench seat—to shatter. Now when we pulled into the gas station we had to somehow repair a broken window as well.

So our command vehicle, along with our crew chief and assistant crew chief drove out to assist us with the window repair. Trashbags and duct tape held the window in place for the next several days as we didn’t have time to find a repair shop.

While the crew worked on fixing the window, we riders wandered into the gas station to use the bathroom and grab a snack. It was still raining pretty persistently and Chris was worried because I didn’t have the best waterproof jacket. (Note: I despise rain jackets. I’ve never worn one that has kept me dry. The only time I typically use them is as a wind breaker as a last layer.) So to keep management happy we rigged up a trash bag rain jacket for me which I wound up not using because the rain stopped and I tend to overheat very easily.

After the window was fixed and we determined it was safe to get back out on the road, Dan and Charles were shuttled back to the point that Chris and I last stopped and we resumed.

For the next several pulls, things were uneventful. That is until Chris and I got on the bike just outside of Johnson City. We were cruising ranging from 20-22 mph. We were feeling good and even though the roads were wet we felt perfectly safe. The wind had died to almost nothing as well. Then we rolled into town and the shift from pretty dark conditions to city lights nearly blinded Chris. We saw the railroad tracks cutting across at a severe angle but it was already too late to readjust our position so that we hit the tracks square on. Our front wheel got caught in the tracks and we went down hard. I felt myself fly forward crashing into Chris’s back as we smashed into the ground. My feet came unclipped from the pedals and my right shoulder and elbow smashed into the ground hard. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel my head bounce off the ground though. I did let fly with a “FUCK!” As crashing at 22 mph does hurt. But my immediate thought was, “is Chris ok?” I knew I was fine, but I’d practically landed on top of Chris and I was worried I’d landed on his head and neck area.

I got to my feet and heard Sheila S yelling over my earpiece (I’m impressed it remained in my ear) “riders down! Riders down!” Pannu, was out of the follow van and right beside us asking if we were ok. Chris got to his feet slowly but seemed unhurt. We got our bike back up and immediately noticed the chain was off and Chris’s seat and my handlebars were misaligned. Initially we tried fixing the chain then realized we had a back up bike for this reason. So we got the Cannondale out of the follow van and gingerly climbed on and took off.

It was then that I realized that I was not ok. My right knee was a little scraped up but what hurt the most was my right elbow. I could hardly put any pressure on the handlebars and my grip in my right hand was nonexistent. “Just shut up and ride,” I told myself. We finished our pull and swapped off with Dan and Charles. I knew my elbow couldn’t handle a 10 mile pull so I requested shortening our pulls for the remainder of the shift. Dan and Charles were strong and continued hammering out 9-10 mile pulls. Each time I got back on the bike I ground my teeth and just tried to ignore the pain radiating from my elbow. “It’s not broken. It’s just a bruise. Suck it up! You’ve dealt with worse pain than this.”

Chris was also hurting. I guess I’d driven an elbow or knee into his kidney and he’d also roughed up a previous shoulder injury. But Chris was keeping his pain quiet and so did I.

We finally rolled into the VMP and there was quite a bit of concern over Chris and me. I just didn’t want to discuss the crash. In my mind we’d crashed and now had to move past it and continue on. My elbow did hurt a lot though.

My friend, Deb, who was our head RV Manager and highest qualified medical professional (being a Flight Nurse) tested my range of motion and asked me where the pain was and then advised me that she had looked and found an ER where we could get my arm X-rayed if I wanted at the next VMP. Quietly in my ear though she whispered, “If you go in they’ll likely tell you not to ride.” To me there wasn’t a question, I was riding as long as I could manage the pain. After all, I didn’t need two arms to pedal a bike.

Surviving The Flats and Rollers

If there was a time to get injured, I picked the best time in the race. The remaining part of Kansas was flat as a pancake and the only true obstacle we had to deal with were wet roads. Our second team of cyclists—Jack, Caroline, Tina and Pamela—got the very bad luck of dealing with heavy and persistent rains during their shifts seemingly for the rest of the race. By the time our shift rolled around we might have some sprinkles but for the most part we just dealt with the wet road conditions.

The first 24 hours after the crash were very hard for me. I could put no pressure on my right arm and could only survive about 20-25 minutes on the bike at a time (about 6-7 miles). Dan and Charles stepped up in a big way taking on a few longer pulls with shorter recovery. My pride was probably more bruised than my elbow. For that first 24 hours I was very lopsided on the bike. My legs felt great and I wanted to do nothing but push the pace and hammer, but any time I started to lean back to my right my arm screamed at me in protest. I kept my mouth shut and did my best to ignore the pain. Every time I got back in the van, or rolled into a VMP I was constantly asked “How’s the arm? How’s the elbow?” Finally I got fat up with saying “It hurts,” or “It’s fine.” So eventually I asked Deb to communicate to the rest of the team and crew to “stop asking about my arm!” The only people I wanted to discuss my elbow with were Chris and which ever RV Manager was helping me with my pain management. Deb, Karen and Shana (our RV Queens) did a stellar job of making sure I was constantly icing my elbow and getting my advil. Our RV Queens were always just so positive and attentive, often knowing what I needed before I knew I wanted or needed it, that it was hard to be cross or sullen or sulk over my disappointing riding.

The entire crew was actually superb. I don’t think I ever heard something that wasn’t positive. The crew was always aiming to lift the spirits of the riders even when we wanted to do nothing but be frustrated.

We eventually made our way out of Kansas and rolled into Missouri which had a lot of rolling hills. Even though I like the long grind it out climbs of the Rocky Mountains, my body type is better suited for the rolling hills that Missouri presented. Slowly, I was able to put a little more pressure on my right arm which leveled me out allowing me to transfer more power to the pedals. I was still only able to hold myself on the bike for about 25 minutes at a time but I was beginning to bounce back. I was happy with my choice of sticking it out on the bike. This was Race Across America, stopping wasn’t an option.

Inspiration in Illinois

From Missouri, we proceeded into Illinois and the terrain remained flat to rolling. One night we were riding at a good clip. I was feeling stronger with each pull and my sleep was starting to become a little bit more regular. This meant I’d at least sleep every time I got back to the RV for at least 45-90 minutes.

Chris and I were riding in the shuttle van during one particular pull and we passed by a group of people standing on the side of the road. They were holding signs that said things like “Go Team Sea to See!” And off to the side there was a young blind man standing with his cane. It was the middle of the night, probably about 1:30 or 2:00 AM and these people were clearly waiting for us wanting to catch just a glimpse as we darted by. It was a reminder that what we were doing was historic and people were following us and looking up to us. More often than not I’m very uncomfortable being called “inspirational.” I’m just a guy trying to live an adventure filled life. I want to be the best at what I do and compare myself to the best. But as we drove by this family with a young blind man, I felt good about what we were doing. We wanted to inspire these people. We were riding to raise awareness of the capabilities of the blind and visually impaired community. We wanted to showcase not only our athletic abilities, but our professional abilities as well. Yes, we wanted to show the general population, corporate America and small businesses that blind people are hirable. But at the same time we also needed to inspire our blind and visually impaired comrades that they too can achieve something special if they’re willing to work for it. Although we’ve all claimed we never lost sight of our mission during the race, we did. It were moments like this however that brought us back into focus.

Overstretched in Ohio

We rolled from Illinois to Indiana and then on to Ohio. Through this stretch of Indiana and Ohio we had some much needed morale boosts. Until this point we hardly ever saw a sign that the community we were passing through knew what Race Across America was. But through Indiana and Ohio it seemed there were literal signs and banners welcoming riders and crew. There were invitations to come knock on peoples doors to ask for food or showers. We passed several local bike shops that had barbecues. There were groups of fans and spectators cheering us on as we passed timing stations.

As Chris and I crossed the boarder of Indiana and Ohio, we entered a town called Oxford, Ohio on a road called “Pike Road.” “This must be a town with some smart fish,” Chris joked. Chris and I even got a photo with the mayor of Oxford who was a big cyclist herself and loved coming out to cheer on riders in the Race Across America.

But even though the crowd support was incredible for the most part through Ohio, Chris and I hit a few more rough patches.

As we sped out of Athens, Ohio we rolled through yet another construction zone and were unable to avoid a significant pothole. We hit it straight on and pinch flatted both our front and rear tires. We stayed upright but damaged the rim of the rear wheel. We swapped out bikes and continued riding.

Then we had possibly our worst pull during the entire race. It was getting toward 9 AM and we were on an eight mile pull into the VMP, somewhere near the Ohio and West Virginia boarder. Chris and I had been off the entire shift. Deb had come into the back room of the RV to wake us up at the beginning of the shift and unfortunately woke us both up in the middle of a REM cycle. We both immediately fell back asleep causing her to come back in and wake us up again. So from the get go we were groggy and a little out of it. Pile that on top of me having a messed up arm and Chris gritting out pain in his shoulder and kidney and we were not the pleasantest of company.

We were riding along fine. The temperature was starting to rise and Chris had his head down following the line on the road. We were entering a town and we accidentally got off an exit ramp and wound up several hundred yards off course. However, our follow van also got off course and they had to relay some instructions to us on how to get back on course which seemed enormously complicated in our semi-delirious states. We were able to get back on course but then proceeded to hit every single relight in town. In addition, we missed another turn causing us to get back on course, causing us to hit even more red lights and stay out much longer than we should have been.

When we finally made it into the VMP, we’d been out on this particular pull of eight miles for more than an hour when it should’ve taken us no more than 30 minutes. We were frustrated with ourselves, tired and ready to get out of towns that had stop lights and so many turns.

The Hills of West Virginia

“Do not underestimate West Virginia. It’s probably the hardest part of the entire race,” is what we’d all been warned coming into RAAM. There was definitely some nervousness around West Virginia’s hills, not because they were big, but because many were very steep.

Chris and I attacked the hills with gusto though embracing the steepness. Short punchy climbs with quick fast descents actually were a welcome change to the flats and gentle rollers we’d been riding since Colorado. The up and down nature of West Virginia also suited me with my injured arm as I was able to fully sit up and relax my upper body on the uphill and then put pressure back on my arms on the downhill.

The rain did seem to follow us though. Chris’s and my first ride in West Virginia was immediately after a fairly heavy rainstorm. Jack and Caroline had apparently had to dismount their bike, pick it up and run it through some flooded areas. But luckily by the time it was our turn to ride the rain had subsided and we only had to deal with wet roads. Chris and I just dusted off our climbing legs and plugged away one climb at a time.

During our first shift in West Virginia, Chris and I also got a little taste of head-to-head competition. Our team had been trading places with a few other four bike teams and to keep ourselves entertained we’d often push the pace to try and catch the other teams, especially if we caught sight of them on the road.

It was the middle of the night and we’d just come off a nice little descent. Then Chris looked up and saw a follow van and rider not too terribly far ahead of us going uphill. We turned up the power and caught the single bike about halfway up the climb before motoring away from him and dropping him far behind on the descent. Anytime a tandem can catch a single bike on a climb it’s a sweet victory.

West Virginia was also when we started catching the solo RAAM riders. One memorable moment was when Chris and I rode up on a solo rider grinding it out uphill. His daughter, a badass looking athlete in her own right, was sprinting alongside him yelling encouragement to him in Spanish. As we rolled up next to him Chris and I offered the best encouragement we could “Escelante! Venga, venga venga!”

What we as a team of four tandem bikes with all blind stokers were doing was hard, but riding alongside and passing the soloists who’d started three days before us and who rode upwards of 22 hours per day… I felt like what we were doing was just going for a pleasure ride on a Sunday afternoon. The soloists have tremendous grit, strength, endurance, etc. They’re just on a completely different level and I could feel nothing but respect and admiration for them.

Two States to go

We exited West Virginia and entered the steep hills of Pennsylvania. We would bounce back and forth from Pennsylvania to Maryland and back two or three times over the last 12-16 hours. However, we could not relax. We were right in the thick of still trading places with a couple of teams, we still had some steep punchy hill climbs on every shift and pull, and we were now so close that we could almost taste the finish line. The excitement and adrenaline caused several of us to lose focus and not get as much sleep as we probably should have.

Racing to Ram’s Head

It was finally the last shift. A mere 80 miles separated us from the finish line of Race Across America. Mine and Chris’s primary goal was to arrive in Annapolis upright and safe. We’d already done the hard work and we didn’t want to risk another crash and further injury especially since the foggy conditions weren’t ideal.

Plans however do get altered, especially in the heat of the moment and during a competitive event. When you put a bunch of type A personalities together on a team your competitive nature is bound to come out. And such was the case with our last shift.

I’ve mentioned previously that we’d been trading blows with a few other teams during the second half of the race. Now we were all beginning to group pretty close together and our competitive sides flared. Dan and Charles caught sight of one of the cyclists from a team that was just ahead of us and decided to chase him down. They were so eager that they shot right past Chris and I set up for an exchange causing us to scramble to get back in the van and leap frog ahead to find a new exchange point. Then Chris and I got caught up in the heat of the race as well and started hammering, especially on the steep hills where we just wanted to inflict pain on our fellow competitors.

Unfortunately, the fog rolled in and made it difficult to really open up the throttle. This section of the course was also very navigationally heavy, meaning we had a lot of sudden turns and had to keep an eye on street signs. As Chris and I sped down one hill, Sheila B told me to watch out for a turn, which I relayed up to Chris. The turn was difficult to see and Chris had to slam on the breaks to prevent us from missing it. However in doing so we killed all of our momentum and when we turned we immediately started climbing a hill that felt like it was about 110-12 percent. We were in the big chain ring and Chris desperately tried shifting down to the small ring. We got it down to the middle ring but we were already applying too much torque and power to get it down to the small ring and the extreme power and torque caused our chain to snap cleanly in half.

“Oh fuck!” I thought. Fortunately my triathlon training kicked in and I executed a semi-flying dismount before the bike tipped over and I successfully landed on my feet. Unfortunately though we had to remove the back wheel of our bike to put it on our back up bike because we’d damaged the rim of another wheel when we double flatted in Ohio. This would’ve taken too long to accomplish very quickly, so Dan and Charles hurried back to where we were and took over while we tried fixing our back up bike. The fact that we were also exhausted from more than seven days of racing and little sleep over the last 24 hours because of excitement caused us all to get a little over excited and our stress of trying to catch and stay ahead of the other team made our tempers flare a bit. But once we got our back up bike in working order we shuttled up ahead and exchanged out with Dan and Charles. We then proceeded to catch and drop the other team far behind as we reached the outskirts of Annapolis.

About 7-8 miles out from the Ram’s Head bar, which is the official place where our timing is stopped before we parade finished with our team, Chris and I pulled off and turned the reigns over to Dan and Charles. It was symbolically important to have one of our team founders be the one to cross the finish line first.

Then when we all arrived at Ram’s Head, all four tandem pairs got together, stepped on to our bikes and soft pedaled five or six miles to the City Dock on the Atlantic Ocean. Just before we reached the dock we lined up four wide and rode across the ceremonial finish line as a team.

We finished around 6:00 AM on June 24, seven days, 15 hours and three minutes after we’d started from the Pier in Oceanside. A year plus of planning, training and fundraising culminating in a race on bikes from coast to coast. But more than that, we’d made history as the first four tandem team with all blind and visually impaired stokers to complete the Race Across America. And even more importantly we were all much better friends than we’d been when we started this project.

The Aftermath

After some pomp and circumstance with getting brought up on stage, presented with finisher medals and being interviewed by George Thomas—the voice of Race Across America—we went over to our support vehicles and Paul began handing out cans of beer. We toasted our successful finish, drank a few brews and then immediately headed for our hotel and some much needed and desired long showers and good sleep.

We attended the official Race Across America Awards banquet that night where we were presented with official finisher plaques and plaques for finishing in first place for the tandem mixed relay category. Then it was hugs good-bye and promises to stay in touch with many of the riders and crew. Most of us would be leaving in the morning and either heading for the airport or getting back in the support vehicles to drive back to Colorado.

The stokers and a couple of pilots had some media obligations the following morning as we were interviewed for NBC’s Today Show and then it was time to say good-bye—for the present—to my fellow stokers. I got into one of the RVS with Nate, Deb and Shana and we drove back across the country, taking our time to stop off and explore along the way.

I eventually made it home to the Roaring Fork Valley, got my elbow X-rayed, was told it was broken and proceeded to take my time getting back into my work out routine. I reflected on what we’d accomplished as a team and where to go from here.

The truth of the matter is that I’m still digesting the entire experience. It’s truly humbling to be part of something so historic and crazy. The reality is though that our work as Team Sea to See is only hopefully just beginning. We’d set out on this journey not to complete the world’s toughest bicycle race, but to prove that blind people can be successful in whatever they put their minds to. Specifically, we wanted to be role models that employers and other blind people could look to and model after so that we could start putting a dent in the joblessness rate for the blind and visually impaired community. That rate of people who are blind or visually impaired who are not employed is around 70 percent and that number hasn’t changed in decades. Can we be a small part in making that 70 percent number shrink? I believe we can, but it’s going to take a lot of work. We’ve completed step one of completing the event that we plan to use as a platform to speak about this issue and now we are commencing with step two, completing the documentary through which we’re telling our story.

In order to see this documentary become a reality though, we need your help. If you can please consider donating to Team Sea to See via our website www.teamseatosee.com. Your donation is tax-deductible through our partnership with the United States Association of Blind Athletes. We hope to have the documentary complete by early 2019 and plan to share our stories of on and off the bike success with the world starting now. If you are interested in having one or several members of Team Sea to See speak at an event you’re holding please contact me at kylecoon@bellsouth.net. Our experiences with Team Sea to See and Race Across America apply to many walks of life and to many organizations and we’d each be happy to share those experiences.

I thank you all very much for your support throughout this #eyeronvision journey. I can promise you, there is much more to come! But until then keep an eye on your vision!

#eyeronvision

Kyle

2018 Boston Marathon Race Report

2018 Boston Marathon Race Report

“Just imagine that you’re sunning on a beach with a drink in your hand,” I said to one of my Team With A Vision Teammates as we waited in the Hopkinton Vision Center for the start of the 2018 Boston Marathon. The weather was certainly less than ideal, temperatures were in the low 40s, it was steadily raining and the wind was gusting up to 25 mph. In short, the kind of weather I told myself I enjoyed racing in.

My first ever road race was held in very similar conditions. It was a 15k (9.3 miles) 53 degrees and drizzling in Orlando, Fla. To that point in my running endeavors I’d never been able to run for more than a couple of miles at a time without a significant walk break. But in the chilly rain I rand the entire 15k at a very consistent pace from start to finish. Today in Boston was only 10 degrees colder and the rain was a bit heavier, with some stronger winds. No big deal. I’ve been known to say something along the lines of “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and/or attitude.” So I did my best to judge what I should where and keep an upbeat positive mindset. In situations such s these I often fall back on a technique I learned from Erik Weihenmayer. The technique is called “positive pessimisms.” They make little to no sense and make you sound a little crazy, but they’re entertaining and take your mind off the situation and make you realize things could be worse. So for this race I kept repeating to myself “It sure is cold, but at least it’s windy and raining.”

This was my second Boston Marathon in a row and my fifth stand alone marathon overall. It didn’t matter the weather, I was going to grind it out to the finish.

A couple of years earlier, before I actually qualified for Boston, I met Chris Lancaster—a fellow athlete—who told me about Team With A Vision. This was a team comprised of blind/visually impaired runners, their guides and runners who support the blind and visually impaired community. Chris told me about the awesome accommodations TWAV provided throughout Marathon weekend and said that when I qualified I should join up with the team. So I did and this was my second year running with TWAV.

I arrived into Boston late Friday night (or was it early Saturday morning) with my guide Pete Fowler, my sister Kelsey and her boyfriend Brenden and his good friend Peter. Pete and I made it to our hotel thanks to the amazing Cynthia who’d volunteered to pick us up and drive us to our hotel in the middle of the night (talk about VIP treatment).

After a few hours of sleep, Pete and I had some breakfast and then immediately headed out for a 4-5 mile run. Pete have never been to Boston and me being totally blind and not knowing where I’m going we just picked a direction to run and started running. After a mile or so we got tired of hitting so many stoplights and flipped around. All in all I remembered how frustrating it could be to run in a city and it made me miss the quiet roads and trails of the Roaring Fork Valley. But it’s always cool to explore an area you’re unfamiliar with and experience the energy and pulse of a city.

Saturday night, Pete and I attended the 25th anniversary dinner for Team With A Vision where we heard all about the founding of the team, the work that the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) does for the community and how TWAV plays a roll in that. We also heard from numerous athletes and guides who’d run Boston numerous times and who had tremendous impacts on the visually impaired community. I loved seeing people I knew and admired being honored. People like my Team Sea to See/Race Across America teammate Caroline Gaynor—who has guided more Ironman triathlons than anyone and who has given her time to growing the awareness of the needs for guides in running and cycling for the visually impaired community. Also, Richard Hunter who was the one who talked me into running the California International Marathon where I originally qualified for Boston back in 2016 and who continues to grow the field of blind and visually impaired runners and guides at CIM and across the entire running community.

Unfortunately, my sleep Saturday night was restless but Pete and I still headed out for a slightly chillier three mile run than the day before. Physically I felt good and the weather forecast for the next day wasn’t concerning to me. After a TWAV brunch where MABVI honored many of it’s volunteers, a quick logistics meeting with TWAV to discuss how race morning would go and then a quick cup of coffee with our friend Kristen who was a Boston Marathon Volunteer Captain/Lead, Pete and I made it back to the hotel to rest up for a bit before we headed to meet Kelsey, Brenden, Peter and my Auntie Sheryl (who was in town for business) for a bite to eat at a small Italian restaurant called Grassano’s—BTW it was a perfectly delicious choice for the night before a marathon. Then back to the hotel for the traditional fitful pre-race sleep.

Race morning dawned wet and chilly. We caught the bus with several other TWAV-mates and made it to the Hopkinton Vision Center where we stayed warm and dry for the next several hours. As I stated before, being a member of Team With a Vision is truly a VIP experience especially on race morning with less than ideal weather conditions. Pete and I took advantage of the abundance of food and loaded up then found a place to just sit down and relax. Despite the wet, windy and chilly conditions outside there was still a palpable excitement among our fellow TWAV-mates. This is still the Boston Marathon after all.

Around 9 o’clock, Kelsey popped into the Vision Center to hang out with us for a bit before her race start. Then the announcements of wave start times began rolling in. First wave people started rolling out, the second wave and finally it was time for Pete and me to make our way to the start line.

Pete and I followed a couple of people who looked like they knew where they were going and found ourselves in a sea of people shivering as we waited for the start gun. Many people were wearing trash bags as modified rain jackets. Pete had opted to throw on a trash bag to attempt to stay warm and dry while I opted for triathlon shorts, compression socks, a long sleeved T-shirt, my Team With a Vision race singlet, sunglasses and a Bubba Burger trucker hat. Some people thought I was crazy for not dressing more warmly but I thought I was dressed perfectly.

Finally the gun went off and we started picking our way through the crowd to the actual start line. When we finally crossed the timing mat we started jogging.

Boston begins with a fairly steep downhill and unfortunately, this year in addition to it being slippery with rain water, people also thought this was an ideal place to start tossing trash bags off of their persons. So Pete’s first road marathon guiding experience was made doubly stressful with people running slowly, throwing trash bags onto the ground and people stopping without notice in the middle of the course. Pete’s a pretty calm and levelheaded guy though and didn’t let it show that this was stressful. We just made the best of it and wove our way through the press of people.

After about four miles the crowd started to spread out and make use of the entire road and Pete and I were able to dart ahead of some slower people and find our pace. We still had to contend with discarded trash bags along the entirety of the race course but we avoided any major mishaps. Pete and I can probably both admit to coming into this race a little under prepared. I’d only seriously started training about six weeks before and Pete had been dealing with a couple of nagging injuries. But on race day we both performed.

I felt incredibly calm and comfortable with our pace. We were ticking off sub 8 min 30 sec miles with ease and we both felt we could push harder. But, not wanting to blow up too early we held back. Around mile 8.5 we both had to stop and use the port-a-potties but then quickly jumped back on course and resumed our steady pace.

I did my best not to notice the weather. Yes, it was chilly and the rain, although not heavy, was coming down at a steady drizzle. The wind would occasionally gust a bit making me shiver, but on the whole it could’ve been worse. The one thing about running in the rain that I find the most annoying is running through puddles and there were lots on this course. Fortunately, my Hoka One One Kona Claytons are pretty good at draining and my shoes didn’t get excruciatingly heavy over the course of the day. I also, strangely didn’t feel any hot spots develop during the course of the day. Yes, I’d lubricated my feet, but even when I lubricate my feet I still tend to get one or two blisters. Not today though.

We passed the halfway mark and the famous Welsley scream tunnel. The one thing about this year’s Boston was that the weather did drive more people inside so there were fewer spectators than the year before. Nevertheless the citizens of Boston and the surrounding towns still turned out in droves to cheer on and support the thousands of runners. And it’s rougher weather days like this when the runners need the crowd support. I know I fed off the energy of the crowd as we passed through each successive town en route to Boston.

We stopped off at another port-a-potty around mile 15 and then took a quick stop around mile 17 to refill our handheld water bottles. Then the hills started getting a bit steeper and a little more rolling. We ran up one hill and down the next. We cruised up each hill not really knowing which one was heartbreak and not really caring. Our pace had definitely slowed considerably but we were still running at a consistent pace. After mile 22, the miles just seemed to keep getting longer. I felt like I always did at this point in a marathon “Can we just get this over with!” And “Why do I say I enjoy this?” We passed mile 24 and then 25.

We made one of the last turns on the course and suddenly it was trash bag central. We’d had to contend with people throwing off their trash bag warmers/jackets the entire race, but this was just insanity! It seemed as though everywhere I put my foot down I was slipping on a trash bag. People wanted their finish line photos to have their bib number so they were tossing their trash bags off before they reached the final stretch. It certainly made it hazardous for us blind and visually impaired runners. I thanked my lucky stars that I knew how to keep my feet under me. Running on slick trails and icy roads payed off.

Pete and I charged down Boyleston Street and crossed the finish line with an overall time of 3 hours 55 minutes and 14 seconds beating my previous best marathon time by more than 23 minutes. It was definitely exciting and exhilarating to finally break the 4 hour barrier and on limited training.

As soon as we crossed the finish line though we immediately felt the cold and wet. While I hadn’t minded the rain and cold while I was running, I minded it now. Pete and I did our best to hurry to find our drop bags with our cell phones and hotel room keys and then we made our way to the hotel room of Alan Greening and his wife Muriel not far from the finish line. The Greenings had graciously offered us the use of their shower when we’d met up with them for drinks on Friday and we gladly took them up on the offer. (Alan is slated to guide me at Ironman Arizona later this year and is a Braveheart Coach under my coach Lesley Patersen.) After showering and warming up in the Greenings hotel room, Pete and I made our way down the block to pick up Skye from the Team With a Vision finish line base of operations before making our way back to our hotel a good 15-20 minute Uber ride away. (Note to self, next time I run Boston I’m so totally staying downtown right at the finish line, it’s worth the higher cost.)

After a couple hours chilling at the hotel we made our way back downtown to celebrate with our TWAV-mates with pizza and beer. The previous year, Trinity and I’d bar hopped just about all night long because we were so jazzed about running the Boston Marathon. This year, Pete and I each had a few beers, some pizza and just wanted to sleep. So we headed back to the hotel and crashed hard.

All in all, an enormously successful second Boston Marathon. I could not have done it though without the help of so many people. Thanks first and foremost to Pete Fowler for being a tremendous guide and training partner. Hope your first road marathon guiding experience didn’t scare you off from guiding me in future races LOL. Can’t wait to get back our on the trails with you soon buddy. Second, a huge thanks to my coach, Lesley Paterson, for getting me into shape in such a short time in order to run my best marathon yet. I may complain about the brutal work outs you assign, but they obviously are paying off. Thanks to Team With a Vision for always treating us like VIPs. Thanks to the Greenings for letting Pete and me warm up in your hotel room immediately after the race. Can’t wait to do some training and racing with you later this year Alan. Congratulations to my sister Kelsey for completing your first Boston Marathon. It’s always so much better getting to race the same course with you. Hopefully one day I’ll be fast enough to keep up with you 🙂

Finally, thank you to everyone who makes the Boston Marathon the best stand alone marathon in the world. The volunteers, race organizers and spectators are second to none. Thank you and I hope to be back soon!

Now… I guess it’s on to the next adventure, or as my friend Jay Wuchner texted me after I finished Boston “It’s time to RAAM!

#eyeronvision