The Madness of March

The Madness of March

“1:33, keep it there,” Derick yelled on deck as I hit the wall on my 12th or 13th 100 meter repeat. I had just a couple more measured efforts before it was time to dig deep for the 16th 100 which we were to perform at the “edge of our ability.” I executed that 16th 100 meter sprint right around 1 min 30 sec, maybe just a touch faster. In short it was one of the greatest swim sets I’d had since moving to the training center at the beginning of January. But there was something not quite right either. While I was pleased I was also frustrated. I’d had my best performance at a sprint triathlon only a few days before setting personal bests in my 750 meter open water swim, 20 km bike time and a new overall 5 km run personal best. Despite these metrics I’d only taken second and had finished 37 seconds short of finishing within 2 percent of the winners time. This 2 percent metric is key because that is one of the metrics USA Triathlon uses to determine which athletes receive actual monetary support. I’d finished within 2 percent of the winner’s time at my previous race back in October and would need to do so in two more races to receive the lowest level of funding that USA Triathlon allocates to Paratriathletes. I’d missed out on that margin by a mere 37 seconds and it soured my outlook. I also tend to put a high demand of pressure on myself to perform and I felt I’d lost an opportunity to win while the guy who won, Aaron Scheidies, was nursing a long time hip injury and was preparing to go under the knife to repair it. If I couldn’t beat Aaron while he was at best 75 percent then how on earth was I going to be competitive against the dominant Europeans? The following two weeks post CAMTRI didn’t inspire much hope in me either.

Brought Low

After my race in Sarasota, Fla I went back to the training center ready to slay every workout Derick could conceivably think to throw my way. I was going to push so hard that my numbers in Sarasota would seem like a beginners. And in the first couple of swim practices it looked like that was going to be the case. Then Derick assigned us a 2 mile all out time trial on the treadmill which I demolished in 11 min 50 sec including my second mile being at 5 min 17 sec. Much of the second half of that last mile I somehow ran at a sub 5 min per mile pace. So I was feeling good about my fitness. But for some reason I was feeling more drained than usual.

I took several naps a day lasting at least an hour or two in addition to sleeping a solid six to eight hours at night. My appetite was also slowing vanishing. It was a struggle to eat breakfast, lunch and by dinner I couldn’t stand the thought of food. It culminated on the evening of March 18.

That morning our entire paratriathlon team had struggled to hit our slowest times in the pool during a 4400 meter day. I was able to choke down some breakfast and then head to the bike trainer to spin my legs easy. I struggled through my strength and conditioning session and then took a very hot bath to try and loosen up. My stomach felt funny and when I walked into the cafeteria determined to at least eat something I felt extremely nauseous. I took a few sips of orange juice hoping that would give me some hydration, a couple calories and maybe calm my stomach down. I then walked back to my room and promptly started praying to the porcelain goddess. I did that off and on through the night praying that it would all be out of my system in time to swim. It wasn’t.

I had to miss an entire day of training, most of which I slept. I was able to drag myself to the pool Wednesday morning and get through a modified swim set. That only served to piss me off more because I was already one of the weakest swimmers on the team and I felt I was sliding even further backwards.

I struggled physically and mentally trying to hit my sets in the pool, on the bike trainer and treadmill. The Friday after my being sick I cracked for the first time on a bike workout. I managed to push through until the fifth set, but half way through my legs gave out and no amount of coaxing or cursing brought them back to life. I was stressed and frustrated. If I couldn’t get through a bike workout how could I get through the following week’s workouts when my guide, Zack would be flying in to do some intense training with me? I could only hope that whatever sickness was in my system made it’s way out.

The Zack Attack

As it’s been told before, by myself and other blind/visually impaired athletes, one of the most difficult aspects of trying to be an elite blind endurance athlete is that you have to find guides to both train and race with. The guide needs to be borderline elite athlete themself, or at least a much better athlete than you yourself. My general rule of thumb is that my guide must be 10-15 percent faster than me when I am having my best day and they are having their worst. So if I run a 5k at a 6:30/mi pace on my best day, my guide must be able to easily run a 5k at a 5:51/mi pace on their worst day. If I run 2 miles in 11:50 (5:55/mi) my guide must be able to run that same distance in 10:39 (5:20ish/mi). Through in the complications of work, school, different training schedules and it makes it very difficult to find consistent training and racing guides. That doesn’t even include the fact that we have to jell as people and be on the same page in terms of communication. Most of the time, those people fast enough to meet these rule of thumb requirements are professional or elite athletes themselves, have their own training and racing to do and don’t have the time or desire to guide. Fortunately for me I was able to at least find a guide to race with who meets just about all of the requirements of speed, time availability (mostly) and temperament.

I met Zack in January of 2018 when I attended Camp No Sight No Limits hosted by Elite Visually Impaired Triathlete Amy Dixon. Zack was guiding another blind athlete but we hit it off as friends. Later that year I was in a bit of a pickle as I was in need of a guide for my second ITU race of 2018. My first ITU race guide didn’t have the running speed to guide me at the pace I wanted to hold, plus he was tied up with work obligations. My buddy Alan who would be guiding me for Ironman Arizona didn’t have the top end speed for a sprint triathlon, although he could seemingly run forever at a slower pace. And all of the other guides I could think of were busy with work or racing. So I shot Amy a text asking if she knew of anyone and she immediately recommended Zack. I jumped on the phone with Zack. I admit I’d thought of asking him before but I’d known that he was attempting to qualify for Kona at Ironman Maryland which was only a week or two before my race in Sarasota and I wondered if he’d be ready. Amy assured me he would be so I gave him a shot. Zack scored major points with me when he said “I’m happy to do it if I’m feeling good, but if you can find someone faster kick me to the side.”

Zack went on to take sixth overall at Ironman Maryland including having one of the top swim and bike splits of the day and earning his slot to Kona for 2019. Two weeks later he guided me to a 2nd place finish at the Sarasota World Cup which had been modified to a duathlon. We threw down the fastest bike split of the day and one of the faster runs and Zack didn’t appear to be tired at all whereas I was wiped out.

When I moved to the Olympic Training Center in January, Derick immediately mentioned the possibility of having Zack come out to do some training with me from time to time. Since Zack lives in San Diego we don’t get many opportunities to train together. So we arranged it so that Zack would come out during his spring break. I didn’t like it that I was coming off of a week of sickness and struggling but maybe Zack being here would give me a motivational boost. Fortunately it did.

Our week kicked off with a nearly 4000 meter swim followed by a two hour spin on the tandem during which we did a bit of climbing. Then we cranked out a lifting session. After Tuesday’s 4400 meter swim set we headed to Memorial Park to do 1.5 mi repeats at 5k race effort. It was during runs like this where having Zack was invaluable. Instead of cranking out the session on the treadmill I was able to join the rest of the team outside. The running path we followed was winding and being a beautiful spring day in Colorado it was crowded with people. So Zack and I got some good practice weaving in and around people while moving at a sub 6:40/mi pace.

Wednesday was another tough swim followed by a gnarly strength session. Then that evening the entire paratriathlon team headed up to Denver to take part in the Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trial Series. This 9 mile bike time trial was a good time for Zack and I to really go all out on the tandem. We, along with the rest of the Paratriathlon team, crushed the race riding strong despite some windy conditions. Zack and I rode the 9 miles in 20 min 34 sec averaging just over 26 mph and taking top 20 in the overall standings. I slowly felt like my legs were starting to come back, but my lungs were still hurting and I felt like I was still operating at an overall calorie deficit. I just couldn’t seem to get ahead.

The following day was great as Zack and I joined the rest of the team for an easy coffee ride and then Zack and I enjoyed an easy hour run. So many of my workouts have been so carefully constructed that it was nice to just get out and run on some dirt roads.

Friday, Zack, Allysa and I headed to Gold Camp road for some grueling race effort hill repeats. The day was cold and windy and by the time we got back to the training center our extremities were rather chilled.

Saturday was Zack’s last day in the Springs so Derick assigned us a 3 mile run at 5k effort. So being who we are, Zack and I just tacked on an extra 0.1 mi onto the effort to make it a 5k. The day was chilly but thankfully there were fewer people out so Zack and I only had the winding sidewalk to contend with. Zack pushed me hard as we attempted to hold the pace we’d held at sea level a couple of weeks before. Ultimately we fell just short of that pace, but it was still a very solid and consistent 5k effort. And even though my lungs were burning and I was spitting up flem, I was relatively pleased.

I still didn’t feel full strength, but I was beginning to calm down and trust that my body wanted to heal and it would come around back to full strength. I’d had a maddening couple of weeks, but despite the frustrations of failing to meet my lofty expectations I still saw some marginal improvements in my swimming, biking and running. And the first couple days of April have been showing even more promise.

The Three Month Look Back

I’ve essentially been living and training full time at the Olympic Training Center for three months now. Early on I was fueled by adrenaline and excitement. Then I struggled through physical fatigue and broke through to make some massive fitness gains. The third month has been a mental battle for sure. Learning to manage my expectations and trust the process of training rather than obsessing on outcome goals has been a learning process.

Early on in my professional career—immediately upon graduating from college—I wanted a job so desperately and I wanted to be making and earning money. When I eventually did find a job I worked my tail off attempting to get promoted or catch the eye of another company that would pay me more. That eventually did happen but it turned out not to be the right fit for me.

My triathlon career has eerily mirrored my professional career. Early on I thought busting out sub 12 hour Ironmans would be a walk in the park. World records would fall before the outstanding athlete that was Kyle Coon. Fortunately for me though that didn’t happen. It turned out I wasn’t so good at triathlon early on and had to learn to struggle and scrap and fight my way to near the top. I somehow managed to learn to be patient with my Ironman racing and I’m learning the same lesson in my transition to sprint triathlon.

My last two coaches Lesley Paterson and now Derick Williamson, aren’t all that dissimilar. They both have stressed the importance of trusting the process to me. And while I generally have considered myself to be a patient person, I have not been patient when it comes to my athletic career. Little by little though, if there’s anything that this past month of madness has emphasized to me it’s the value of patience and trusting my fitness and my mental game. Sometimes it’s ok to let go of the big picture and to let go of the tiny details and find the middle where we just enjoy being triathletes.

So my personal goal for the month of April is focus less on the result that I’m going to post in my next race—April 27 at the Milan World Paratriathlon Series—and more on steady improvement day by day and workout by workout. Yes, I must keep an “eye on my vision” but I can’t obsess on outcomes.

#eyeronvision

2019CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championship Race Report

CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championship

March 9, 2019

Sarasota, Fla

750 m Swim, 20 km Bike, 5.225 km Run

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Right, left, breathe. Focus on rotating your body around a single point. Only bring that right goggle out of the water. Stay relaxed. Don’t push too hard, and don’t ease off. Are those Brad’s feet I keep slapping? I’m feeling good. Maybe I’ve got a little more in the tank and we can get around Brad and Colin and… Oh fuck! We can’t be caught on a buoy again?!

Travel and Classification

Zack and I met up in Tampa, collected the rental car and loaded it up with our luggage—including my brand-new tandem from Cycles Chinook. After filling our bellies with a bite to eat we made our way to Sarasota and checked into our hotel. We then proceeded to piece my new bike together before turning in for the night.

On Thursday morning my coach, Derick, had assigned me some race pace efforts and above in the pool, so we tracked down a pool we could swim in and cranked out a 1500 yard workout before taking the Chinook to a bike shop to have them look over the bike to ensure we’d put it together correctly as well as do a quick safety check on it. Then it was off to an eye clinic so I could be officially “Classified.”

Competing on the International Triathlon Union (ITU) circuit as an elite paratriathlete means that your disability needs to be verified by a small panel of officials with medical experience.

After it was determined that I was officially totally blind, Zack and I made our way to the nearest Publix for sub sandwiches and to pick up a 12 pack of beer as payment for the bike mechanics at Ryder Bikes who were checking over the Chinook. Then it was time to actually test ride the Chinook and do a little shake out run with some race pace efforts before turning in early for the night.

Friday we continued tinkering with our fit on the Chinook before heading to the race venue to preview the swim and bike courses. Zack and I’d never actually swam open water together before so the swim course recon was very important for us. We plunged in without wetsuits as the water temps weren’t terrible. They were certainly considerably warmer than when Alan and I’d taken on the 58 degree water temps in Arizona back in November. We then proceeded to do one very easy lap of the entire swim course. We only had one mishap when one of our fellow Team USA female visually impaired counterparts, Liz Baker and her guide Jill, accidentally swam up between us and got a little tangled in our tether. But no harm done. Little did we know that would be a bit of a precursor for the following day’s race.

Immediately after previewing the swim course we had a meeting for all of the Team USA athletes, many of whom were competing in their first ITU race. It’s definitely exciting to see the sport of paratriathlon grow. Across the six paratriathlon sport classifications there were around 40 athletes competing for the USA. Personally I also liked seeing the field of visually impaired men grow with stiffer competition.

At the end of our “Team USA” meeting it was time for the bike course preview. The previous two times I’d raced on this particular course the bike was a fast three loops totaling 18.3 km. This year a small out and back section was added for technical difficulty as well as to make the course a full 20 km. Unfortunately they only gave us one chance to preview that new section of the course. When Zack and I went around that turn around we were very cautious as the road was fairly narrow and we had to avoid going off the road into the dirt. So after they shut the course preview down we went to an empty parking lot and worked on taking tight 180 degree turns at higher and higher speeds.

Then it was time to make our way back to the venue for the official pre-race briefing and then off to find food and sleep. After all I had high expectations and I wanted to be ready to deliver.

Assessing the Competition:

The previous year at this same race I hadn’t performed up to my potential. I was determined not to let that happen again. On the start line were five Americans, two of whom—Aaron Scheidies and Brad Snyder—I’d raced against previously. Aaron is ranked 2nd in the world and over the past decade has been a prohibitive favorite at any race he’s entered. In fact, he’s never taken lower than 2nd at any ITU race and has only taken 2nd a total of three or four times in his more than 20 ITU starts. It was a very long shot that I could beat him, but I was going to try my hardest. Brad is a seven time Paralympic medalist in swimming and has been making the transition to triathlon the last couple of years. Brad was able to out run me at last year’s CAMTRI American Championship and beat me by an overall margin of only 14 seconds. I’d bounced back later in 2018 to out race Brad at a World Cup by more than a minute. Today my competitive side wanted to bury Brad. The previous day at breakfast, Brad, his guide Colin, Zack and I were eating next to each other and Colin jokingly said “Hey Brad don’t give away any race strategy cause I know Kyle’s eves dropping over there.” We all laughed and I half jokingly replied, “Doesn’t matter because my strategy is to just kick your ass Brad.” So needless to say Brad and I were keeping an eye on each other.

There were also two Americans making their first ITU starts. Owen Cravens was a 16 year old who’d I’d heard vague whispers about. The social media buzz was that he was a star in the making and that he was possibly faster than Aaron. The final American in the field was my buddy Francesco Magisano who’d I’d met at Amy Dixon’s No Sight No Limits triathlon camp the previous January. Francesco’s still new to triathlon but has a ton of potential. He also happens to be a retinoblastoma survivor so we bonded over that.

Outside of we five Americans, there was a Canadian, John Dunkerley, who’d taken 2nd at CAMTRI last year and who’d shot up the rankings throughout the course of 2018. Going into today he was currently ranked 5th in the world. But having scrolled back over he’s previous year’s results I felt I could out swim, bike and run him. There was also an Israeli, Oren, and a Mexican, David. Zack and I’d met David on Wednesday evening when we were checking into the hotel. David was fairly new to triathlon but seemed like a great guy. Oren had previously raced on the ITU circuit but it had been several years so I wasn’t sure what to make of him.

At the end of the day my gut told me it was going to come down to Aaron, Brad and me. I knew that I was swimming, biking and running better than I ever had previously and that Aaron was nursing a hip injury. Despite that though I knew that if I was going to beat Aaron I’d have to race harder than I ever had before. One of the last things Derick said to me before I headed down to Florida was “Go turn some heads and let’em know you’re here to compete.” I planned to do just that.

Race Day

I woke up early, probably around 6:30 or so to feed and take Skye out. The race wasn’t until 2:30 so Zack elected to sleep in as much as possible. I like to stay on as much of a routine as possible so I stuck to my early wake up time. Once Zack got up we wandered down to stuff our bellies with breakfasts of eggs, bagels, peanut butter, fruit, bacon, waffles and coffee. We’d snack on fruit, carrots and other various snack items a couple of hours before the race and top off our glycogen stores with an energy jell 10 minutes before we got in the water.

Zack and I then finished packing our bags as we were checking out of the hotel prior to heading to the race (we had an early flight out of Tampa the following day so we’d elected to get a hotel in Tampa Saturday night post race) and spent some time just getting into our own zones.

Around noon we’d packed the car and checked out of the hotel. We drove over to Nathan Benderson Park and got ready to race.

We checked in and got my blacked out swim goggles and running/cycling glasses approved as well as the length of our swim tether. There are so many rules in ITU racing in general, now through in a few more on the para side and it can make your head spin if you think about it too much. But here are a few of the basics as it pertains to the Visually Impaired Division, or PTVI.

Some Rules Explanations

PTVI is actually separated into two categories—PTVI1 and PTVI2. PTVI1 is for those athletes who are totally blind—like me. There are generally three levels of visual impairment in the international sporting world, these are known as B1, B2 and B3. Athletes who have a designation of B2 and B3 have a certain level of visual acuity which can range from best corrected vision of 20/200 to a visual field of X percent (sorry I don’t exactly know the designations for B2 and B3 classification since it doesn’t really pertain to me). In short, B2 and B3 triathletes are placed into the PTVI2 category because they have some level of usable sight.

In 2010, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) established Paratriathlon as an official Paralympic sport. Rather than separating B1, B2 and B3 athletes into three separate categories they combined them into one. There just weren’t enough athletes with visual impairments competing in triathlon to warrant three separate medal events. However, controversy arose almost immediately because there was a blanket rule that all athletes with a visual impairment would be required to wear goggles and glasses that had been blacked out to make a “level playing field.” However, this didn’t go over too well. B2 and B3 athletes pointed out that they should be able to use their level of usable vision in triathlon just as other athletes with similar eye conditions could in other sports. It was also a safety hazard having those athletes who were used to training using their sight to suddenly not be able to do so in an event such as triathlon. Eventually it was determined that B2 and B3 athletes had a point. So a new system was developed which took swimming and running data from other Paralympic sports to create a time factor so that B2 and B3 athletes wouldn’t have too much of an advantage. This allowed B2/B3 athletes to not wear black out glasses/goggles. However, B1 athletes are still required to do so. This time factor continues to be adjusted year to year as more and more data from triathlons roll into the ITU’s database. In the early years of ITU racing B1 athletes got a little more than a 2 minute head start on B2/B3 athletes. In 2018 during my first year of ITU racing that factor was increased to 3 minutes and 16 seconds. This year in 2019 that factor was again increased to 3 minutes 21 seconds. This means that I as a totally blind athlete get a 3 minute and 21 second head start on my B2/B3 counterparts. Again, this is to make a more level playing field and is supposed to promote actual racing against each other. Is it a completely fair system? No, but right now it’s the best we have. Maybe one day there’ll be enough athletes to separate B1, B2 and B3 athletes into separate medal events, but at last check there are only 75 men who have done at least one ITU event in the past 18 months or so. Also at last check, I don’t think a B1 athlete has won a world championship or won a “Major” International race that had a field of more than a handful of visually impaired athletes.

A couple of other basic rules exist for PTVI athletes. First, all swim tethers must not exceed 80 cm in length and must be made of an elastic/bungee material. B1 athletes must wear blacked out goggles during the swim and can not remove their goggles until they reach their bike in transition at which time they can replace the goggles with blacked out sunglasses. The guide must not pull, push or propel the athlete forward in the swim or run. (For example, if your guide is significantly stronger than you in the swim they could potentially assist you by dragging you a bit in the water. So the rules state that the guide can not do this.) There is also a rule on run tether length. The run tether must not exceed 50 cm in length and must be made of a nonelastic material. The guide can also not physically “guide the runner except in designated “leading zones.” For example, when Zack and I are running I can not grab his elbow or wrist to have him physically guide me except at designated points on the course such as a narrow path or a tight turn around.

There are a few more rules and regulations, but those are the basics… Ok, got that? Now let’s cut out the boring talk and get to the racing shall we?

 

The Swim

“PTVI1 athletes, please make your way to the start.”

I lowered myself in my wetsuit off the edge of the pontoon and into the water. Zack was tethered to my left by an 80 cn length of bungee cord attached at my upper left thigh and his upper right. Zack, being an elite level swimmer and not being bothered by the water temps elected to go without a wetsuit. To Zack’s left were Brad and his guide Colin. To my right were the Israelis. On either side of us three athletes and guides I wasn’t quite sure but I knew that there were five B1 men and two B1 women in the water. Three minutes and 21 seconds after our gun went off the B2/B3 (or PTVI2) men would be sent off, and about 27 seconds after that the PTVI2 women would be sent off. Needless to say we who were currently in the water ready to race were packed tightly like sardines. My left shoulder was practically touching Zack and my right touching one of the Israelis.

The horn sounded and I put my head and charge ahead aggressively. I was being banged on my right side by the Israelis and Zack was being bounced into my left side by Brad and Colin. “Hey, it’s just like Ironman,” I thought. So I slammed my right elbow out creating a bit of space and then turned on the power to surge ahead of the Israelis. Then I felt someones feet at the edge of my reach and I instinctively knew I was on Brad’s feet. “Stay here and don’t let him get away,” I thought. And for the next 400 meters or so I continuously slapped Brad’s feet with each stroke. I occasionally felt Brad kick out as though he were trying to get me out of his draft, but I refused to ease up. I occasionally felt a tug on the tether as Zack turned us left. Then Zack pushed my ribs indicating if we needed to move right.

I fell into a rhythm of stroking, breathing and rotating. I was feeling strong and I felt like we were moving fast. Then all of a sudden I felt the tether get jerked part way down my leg. The previous year my guide and I’d gotten our tether tangled on a buoy and it cost us 30 or more seconds in the swim. “Fuck, we can’t be hooked on a buoy!” I screamed in my head. I reached back and thought I felt something on the tether. I popped my head up and Zack screamed at me, “Go, go go! Finish strong!” So I put my head back down and surged ahead. I again felt someone’s feet and stayed on them. However, it wasn’t Brad’s feet. It turned out that the Israelis tried to swim up between Zack and me and had grabbed onto our tether. Zack’s portion of the tether had actually come off but he was so quick in grabbing it and getting it back on that I didn’t notice. In that time though that I’d popped my head up and Zack took to get his tether back on the Israelis had darted around us and Brad and Colin had surged ahead.

I swam hard right up until my hands hit the swim exit. I came up out of the water pissed off at what ever had gone wrong with the tether.

Swim Time: 12 min 26 sec

 

Transition 1

I yanked down the zipper of my wetsuit as I sprinted past the Israelis and pulled the wetsuit to down around my waist. We made it into T1 and I quickly sat down on the ground for Zack to help me get my wetsuit off. It got hung up on one of my ankles costing us precious time but we eventually got it off and into the basket where we’re required to put things that come off our bodies. I tossed my cap and goggles in there as well as I grabbed and put on my cycling shoes. I stood, put on my blacked out sunglasses and helmet. Then I grabbed the Chinook off the bike rack and Zack and I ran toward bike exit.

Transition 1: 1 min 9 sec

 

The Bike

I threw my right leg over the top tube and luckily managed to clip in immediately. Zack pulled the pedal up and we launched. After a couple of quick pedal strokes with only our right feet clipped in we clipped in with our left and Zack shifted into a better racing gear. I felt the Chinook respond immediately as though it were coming alive beneath me. She was ready to race fast. After all, this is what she was built for.

We made it onto the bike course and immediately set our sites up the road looking for Brad. He wasn’t far ahead and we reeled him in slowly. We took a hard right hand turn to do the little extra out and back, made the tight left hand U turn and then another hard right to get on the main loop of the bike course. Then we put the power down and surged past Brad and Colin. “Let’s go boys!” I yelled as we passed. Zack and I were now leading the PTVI field. I had no idea what Aaron had swum, but I knew that he was going to be the fastest in the water and that he and his guide Ben were strong cyclists—injured hip or not. However, Zack and I were also strong on the bike and we decided that if Aaron wanted to win today he was going to have to earn it.

Zack took each turn aggressively in the arrow bars and I stayed tucked in tightly behind him. We completed the first lap in around 9 minutes and headed out for our second lap. Aaron still hadn’t caught us and Zack couldn’t see him and Ben when he glanced back. We took the out and back U turn a little more aggressively this time and accelerated out of the turn. Brad and Colin had managed to hold on about 20-30 seconds behind us but Zack and I quickly accelerated again and threw down an even faster second lap. Coming into the third lap Zack got his first glimpse of Aaron and Ben. We came out of the out and back U turn for the third time with about 20-25 seconds on Aaron and Ben. We pushed the pace but Aaron’s not a seven time world champion and the strongest PTVI cyclist in the world for nothing. They caught and passed us a little more than half way through the third lap.

Zack down shifted with about a mile to go so that we could spin our legs out a bit to get them ready for the run. Zack could still see Aaron and Ben as we rolled toward T2. About 45 seconds before we were due to get off the bike we put our left pedal down and unstrapped our right shoes placing our bare feet on the top of the shoe. Two or three pedal strokes later we did the same with the left foot. Zack waited til the last second to hit the breaks hard. We jumped off the bike and hit the ground running into T2.

Bike Time: 27 min 9 sec

 

Transition 2

I’d just successfully executed my first flying dismount in a race. We ran with the bike to our rack, racked it and tossed our helmets into the bins. I slipped on my running shoes (sockless) grabbed the run tether and headed toward run exit. I yanked on the run tether over my head and down around my waist as I ran and Zack did the same.

Transition 2: 58 sec

 

The Run

We made a couple of quick tight turns as we tried to find our run legs. Shortly after coming out of T2 there was a water stop. I didn’t want or need water just yet but the volunteer accidentally slammed an open bottle into my chest. “I can see he can’t” Zack yelled frustratedly. Fortunately it didn’t slow us down. We made it to an open area and turned up the pace.

In previous sprint races my strategy had been to go out as hard as possible and just hang on. Derick however had instructed me to ease into the run. He wanted me to hold no faster than a 6:30/mi pace for the first 0.5 miles. After that we could recess and with pick it up or hold steady.

“I can still see Aaron and Ben up ahead,” Zack told me as we started to settle into our groove. We came down the backside of a foot bridge running at a sub 6 min/mi pace. Once we hit the flat at the bottom of the bridge we reeled it back and settled into a 6:30ish pace. I didn’t speak. I just focused on my breathing, my cadence, my arm swing and not slowing down.

“Snake left. Step toward me. Don’t stop. Water coming up I’ll grab it. Toss it right when you’re done.” Zack kept up a constant stream of instruction and encouragement. “I can still see Aaron. Keep your pace. How many races have the Brownly brothers won because they just stuck to their pace and let the guys in front crack?”

I pushed my body to another gear. We began to approach the turn around and we saw Aaron and Ben coming back toward us. “Hang on to it! You got it man. It’s just a race between you and Aaron now. No one’s in sight behind us.”

The 180 degree turn around was a leading zone so I hooked my right hand under Zack’s left elbow and we executed a super tight right hand turn. We were half way through the run now and still in striking distance if I could only dig deep enough. Only problem was that as soon as we made the turn we now had a tail wind which was blowing at the same speed we were running. “Oh fuck!” I thought as the air became still. I tried to run faster to create a breeze to cool my body down but the heat was brutal. My breathing rate went up and so did my heart rate. “Stay with it. How bad do you want this?”

We hit the next water stop and I sloshed water over myself in an attempt to cool down. It didn’t do much as the water was lukewarm at best. We passed Brad and Colin going the other way. Hot on their heels were the Israelis and the Canadians. We had at least a two minute gap on them though so as long as I didn’t start walking the silver medal was mine. But I didn’t want Silver. I tried to dig a little deeper, but the gap between Aaron and me steadily grew. I tossed water into my mouth and over my body. Sweat poured down me. My legs, heart and lungs burned. Zack continued to coach and encourage me. “Lean forward, keep your form, don’t give in.”

We hit the second to last bridge and it felt as though my legs were made of lead. We came down the backside and I tried lengthening my stride. We executed some tight left an right hand turns before coming into the final stretch. I gritted my teeth and pumped my arms and legs willing them to go faster. We hit the finish line in 2nd place 1 minute and 50 seconds after Aaron and Ben. I’d run a 5 km personal record and secured my second silver medal and second podium in only my third ever ITU race. But as I staggered to a stop and nearly collapsed on the ground I was far from satisfied.

Run Time: 21 min 24 sec

Total Time: 1 hour 3 min 3 sec

 

Post Race

We were just beyond the finish line. I was supporting myself in an almost downward dog position on the ground as Zack poured cold water over me. Finally I staggered to my feet and we made our way to greet and congratulate Aaron on an excellent race. “I wanted to make you earn that one,” I said to him. “You did man,” he replied and then we shared a quick hand shake and hug then turned to wait to see who’d finish in 3rd to round out the podium. It turned out to be Brad and Colin who managed to out last both the Israelis and Canadians making it an American podium sweep. We congratulated Brad and Colin as they came across the line and then it was off to refuel, rehydrate and wait for other Team USA athletes to finish.

Once all of the PTVI men had crossed the line, the women started coming in. We all got together and posed for photos and chatted about our individual races. There was a buzz of excitement that only a hard fought race can bring. I was happy that I’d set new personal bests in each triathlon leg, but at the same time I wanted to do nothing else but get back to the training center and start working to narrow that gap between Aaron and myself.

We shared the podium with Aaron and Ben on the top step, Zack and I on the second, and Brad and Colin on the third. Team USA had swept the PTVI Men’s podium. After stepping down from the podium we again congratulated each other and said “Let’s do this racing thing again some time.” Then we left.

Zack and I made our way to an all you can eat pizza buffet and stuffed ourselves before heading to Tampa, disassembling and packing the bike and falling asleep for a few hours. Then it was up early, get to the airport and fly home to rest up for a couple days and get back to training. After all, Silver tasted sweet, but I want to see how Gold tastes. And in order to do that I got a lot of work to put in.

 

CAMTRI American Championship Results:

  1. Aaron Scheidies; 1:01:13 (Swim 11:00, T1 1:06, Bike 25:10, T2 0:49, Run 19:49, plus 3:21 factor time)
  2. Kyle Coon; 1:03:03 (Swim 12:26, T1 1:09, Bike 27:09, T2 0:58, Run 21:24)
  3. Brad Snyder; 1:05:37 (Swim 11:54, T1 1:27, Bike 29:20, T2 0:59, Run 22:00)

#eyeronvision

Two Months In

Two Months In

Well folks, it’s March. That means I’ve been living and training at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) for just about two months now. The first few weeks were definitely an adjustment in terms of navigating my way around complex, getting to know people and finding a rhythm and pattern with my training. After two or three weeks I felt I was settling in nicely and then the fatigue set in.

For the first couple of weeks I was definitely running on pure adrenaline and excitement. I mean, I was finally here, living a childhood dream of being a “professional athlete.” Not only that I’m living at the Olympic Training Center where so many of our finest Olympic and Paralympic athletes have lived and trained. Star-struck, starry-eyed… Yep, that was me for a while.

One day in my second or third week I made my way to the Strength and Conditioning facility to do my run workout on one of the treadmills. There is one specific treadmill that I always use in the S&C facility. It has a sticker that my coach, Derick, slapped on it so that I know where the start button is. As I made my way past several treadmills I heard several people running extremely fast on the treadmills. When I reached my treadmill I heard a female voice say “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m just finishing up and you can have this treadmill.” “No problem,” I replied as I looped Skye’s leash around an unused treadmill so he’d be out of the way. The woman who was using my treadmill hopped off, quickly wiped it down and stepped away. Almost immediately I heard someone say “Hey Colleen, I’m a huge fan…”

“Wow, did I just kick Colleen Quigley, 2016 Olympic Steeple Chaser off a treadmill?” (Note: I’m not sure if it was Colleen Quigley, but I do know that the Bowerman Track Club was in town for a bit of training, so who knows.) Little moments like that would just throw me for a loop and make me think “what am I doing here?”

I think it was the next week that Derick decided it was time to tighten the screws a bit. All of a sudden I’d open my Training Peaks account and my run paces would be much faster. In the pool in the mornings I wasn’t exclusively working on technique. I had to still focus on technique but at a much higher intensity. Derick would set my tempo trainer and I’d have to beat the beep on the timer setting. I felt slow and sluggish in the water and felt like everyone was just flying through the workout so easily. My shoulders ached, my lats complained and my mouth constantly tasted like chlorine.

In the morning I’d wake up and my shoulders and back would feel extremely stiff. One week, this must have been two or three weeks ago now, Derick assigned me a hard swim set. I thrashed my way through the first two-thirds of the set at what felt like a snail’s pace even though I was swimming as hard as I could. Derick stopped me and told me to call it a day because I was going backwards.

The very next day the swim set was even harder with the main set being 5 by 400 at close to race pace effort. I felt strong on the first set so went out harder than I should have. Then the second set I settled into a nice pace. The third was hard to maintain and the fourth I completely fell apart. I dangled on the wall with my head leaning against my arms, chest heaving and blood pounding in my head. I expected and desperately wanted to hear Derick say “Let’s call it quits Kyle. You’re going backwards again.” But alas, I didn’t hear those blessed words. Instead I heard “10 seconds… 5, 3, 2, 1, go!” And so I had to push off the wall and do my best to crank out another set. And if the fourth set had felt terrible, this one felt like my muscles were being torn from the bones.

For the next week or so I floated through each day in a bit of a daze just wanting to survive each swim. My bike was the only thing I felt strong and confident in. I’d swing my leg over my trainer and after five minutes of easy spinning I’d feel the power surge into my legs and I could crank out any workout Derick through at me. My run was hit and miss. Some days I felt like I could run at a sub 6 minute per mile pace. Other days I wondered if I’d be able to hold a 9 minute pace. My weight lifting sessions were pushing my physical and mental capabilities as well. Some days I felt like I could lift the building, and other days I felt I could barely pick up a coin.

But then some time early last week there was a shift. My shoulders and back no longer screamed in protest as I stroked through the water. If anything it felt good to push myself and it felt like a challenge to raise the bar in terms of my technique and effort. Wattage ranges that only a few weeks earlier had been tough, were now seeming almost easy on the bike. But the real break through came in my run when Derick assigned me 8 by 1 km repeats at a 6:15/mi to 5:49/mi pace. I hesitated, unsure if I’d be able to hold those paces. Just the week before I’d really struggled holding a 6:45/mi pace. But I gritted my teeth and opened up what I call “The Hurt Locker.” And let me tell you, this workout Hurt! When I reached the last interval if I could see I’d say I would’ve been seeing triple. My legs were so shaky that I had to walk the cool down. But after that nothing seemed that bad.

Now we sit just about one week out from our first race of the season and I’m excited and nervous. Excited because I feel that I’m swimming, biking and running, stronger and faster than I ever have in my life. But I’m nervous because what if it’s a fluke? What if I can’t put it together on race day? In the end I know I need to trust my training and use next week’s race as a springboard into the rest of the season.

Interested in what a normal week looks like for me? Read on below.

Monday:

Wake up at 6:00 AM. Feed and take out Skye. Drink a protein shake, eat a cliff bar or run to the cafeteria and grab some fruit and a bagel with almond butter.

7:30-9:00 Am: Swim, normally about 3500 meters.

Post swim, eat a larger breakfast.

11:15ish: 90 minute easy spin on the bike. Shower up and head to cafeteria to eat lunch.

3:30 PM: Strength and Conditioning, usually lasts 60-90 minutes and we hit just about every muscle group in the body.

Quick dinner around 5:15 after feeding and taking Skye out. Then around 6:00 PM head to Pure Bouldering (a bouldering specific rock climbing gym) to work on some bouldering projects, or head to CityRock to volunteer to belay kids with the Adaptive Climbing Team.

Get back to the room about 8:30 or 9:00. Shower and crash.

Tuesday:

Same morning routine.

7:30 AM swim, again about 3300-4000 meters.

Breakfast and then normally around 11:00 or 11:30 is a high intensity run interval workout.

Lunch and then the rest of the day off unless I schedule a massage or elect to do some foam rolling and stretching.

Sometimes Tuesday night I’ll meet friends for tacos… Yum!

In bed by 9:00 PM at latest if I can manage it.

Wednesday:

7:30 AM swim usually about 2500-3500 meters.

High intensity (normally threshold/race power work) bike session right before lunch.

3:30 PM, another strength and conditioning session. This one is normally a bit shorter, about 45-60 minutes again hitting just about every muscle group.

Try to be in bed soon after dinner. Definitely don’t be in bed later than 9:00 PM.

Thursday:

8:00 AM swim. This swim is usually shorter, no more than 2500 or 2600 meters and we focus on technique and drills. Although we’ll occasionally throw in some very short but very high intensity sets just to keep us honest.

Easy run right before lunch.

Rest of the day dedicated to stretching, foam rolling and/or a massage if I didn’t do one on Tuesday. Also, I tend to be low on workout clothes about this time of week so I’ll do some laundry.

Friday:

7:30 AM swim. 3000-4000 meters with intensity.

Tempo/endurance bike intervals just before lunch.

And once again, strength and conditioning at 3:30. Normally this one’s about 75 minutes but we push the weight hard. For some reason my trainer likes to make me do a lot of pull-ups on Friday… Not fun after a week of hard swimming.

Dinner around 5:30. Shower and in bed by 9:00 PM.

Saturday:

Typically a tempo run at around 7:45/mi pace, but that seems to be getting faster each week. I usually try to get this done around 10:00 AM or so after breakfast but before lunch.

Afternoon I reserve for relaxing or hanging out with friends I’ve made outside of the OTC complex.

Sunday:

Typically a higher intensity bike session ranging from 1.5-2 hours. I definitely try to get this done early, just after breakfast. Afternoon again is reserved for relaxing, reading, hanging with friends and doing laundry.

Of course this schedule isn’t exact. There are a lot of moving parts, but this is the rough outline. And naturally I do take my dog out four or five times a day and spend some time on Facebook helping to manage the Bubba Burger Adventures Facebook page, and doing my best to come up with blog topics to update you all 🙂

So stay tuned as more updates and stories will be coming!

You’re Goofy! My early running days Part II

You’re Goofy: My early running days part II

“So I think you should sign up for the Disney Marathon,” Mike said to me on one of our late afternoon training runs.

“Dude, that’s like 26 miles. I don’t know if I can do that just yet.”

“Well, you don’t have much of a choice because we’re signing up for it as soon as we get back to my house… But there’s one catch. The marathon’s already sold out so I’m actually signing you up for the Goofy Challenge.”

“Ok, whatever you say… But one question… What’s the Goofy Challenge?”

Disney Marathon weekend is a semi-big deal in Orlando. At least it is for the endurance running community. It’s a big weekend for Disney as well. They get tens of thousands of runners descending on the theme parks from all over the world plus all of those runners families. Disney also knows how to put on a production and they do their best to make the endurance race experience worth it. Disney Marathon Weekend is a week-long festival of sorts when you include the days leading up to the actual races.

The week is kicked off by the Disney Marathon Race Expo where runners can pick up their race packets, race shirts, shop for apparel, technology, nutrition etc. On Thursday the racing is kicked off with a 5 km run/walk for those interested in doing something a little more tame. Then on Friday the stakes are raised a bit with a 10 km run/walk. Then the big fish begin to be fried as Saturday rolls around because that’s the day of the half marathon (actually the biggest race numbers-wise of the weekend). It’s estimated that more than 30000 runners participate in the Disney Half Marathon alone every year. Then on Sunday the main event takes place—The Disney Marathon, which around 25000 runners partake in each year.

The marathon is such a special distance and is alluring for many. 26.2 miles seems so short when you drive it in a car. Even when you pedal it on a bike it doesn’t seem that bad. Then when you take to foot and begin trying to run you suddenly realize how fucking far it really is and it seems a bit overwhelming. For a few select special crazies, Disney offers a couple of race packages which include the Goofy and Dopey Challenges. The Goofy Challenge consists of running the Disney Half Marathon on Saturday, followed by running the Disney Marathon on Sunday. The Dopey Challenge adds in the 5k on Thursday and 10k on Friday making for 48.6 miles of running over the course of four days. Goofy is 39.3 miles of running over two days. And for someone who’d never “run” more than 10 miles at a time, that seemed pretty daunting. But at the same time I was confident and cocky enough to think I could pull it off. After all how much harder could it be than humping a 60ish pound backpack for 50ish miles in the backwoods of Wyoming on little training and severely blistered feet (I’d done this in 2010 with my mountaineering team, Team Sight Unseen). It turns out, a little harder than I anticipated.

Needless to say, people around me thought I was absolutely crazy but supportive nonetheless. The only one that didn’t think I was completely out of my mind was the crazy SOB who’d signed me up for this endeavor, Mike.

Three weeks after Mike and I completed our first road race together he completed the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Over the previous couple of months Mike had filled me in on what “Kona” was and it’s significance in the triathlon world. Tracking Mike via the online tracker on my phone was fascinating. I found myself on the edge of my seat anxiously waiting for Mike to reach the next checkpoint. And once Mike crossed the finish line nearly 17 hours after he started I thought “If he can do 2.4 mi of swimming, 112 mi of biking and 26.2 mi of running, then maybe I’m crazy enough to somehow pull this Goofy Challenge off.”

Goofy Prep

Mike returned home from Kona and took a week or so off. But since he was planning to guide me for the entire Goofy Challenge coming up in just over two months we needed to get training. Our plan was to do as many back-to-back running days as possible. I wasn’t advanced enough to do a traditional marathon training plan so we made it up as we went along. I ran with Mike three or four times a week. Sometimes we only ran three miles, other times we ran up to 10.

We drove out to Clermont—about a 45 min drive away—to a looped dirt road with no traffic called Clay Road. Clay Road was a 10 mile loop with no shade and no opportunity to refill on water. Mike and I ran/walked Clay Road several times in our lead up to Disney. Over the next couple of years Clay Road would become one of my favorite spots to run due to the lack of traffic and the fact that I could just focus on running and not worrying about tripping over curbs.

Mike and I ran a little 5k in mid November just to get another road race under our belts and then we stepped it up the first weekend in December to run one of Orlando’s other big foot races of the year—The OUC Half Marathon.

This was my first half marathon and it was only a month before we were slated to take on the Goofy Challenge. Mike and I ran/walked the first nine or so miles before we both blew up. Mike was struggling a little bit motivationally post Kona and I just didn’t know what the fuck I was doing when it came to running. We mustered up enough mojo to run the last half mile of the OUC Half Marathon to cross the line in just under two and a half hours. Slow, but we finished. I couldn’t help but wonder though “How the hell am I going to do this plus a marathon just one month from now?”

The Disney Half Marathon

If there’s one drawback (apart from the financial expense of the race itself) to Disney Marathon weekend, it is the ridiculously early start times of the races. Disney is a money-making machine and they want their parks to be open as long as possible with as few disruptions as possible. So in order to accommodate nearly 30000 runners running 13.1 miles through several of the parks they start the races around 5:30 AM. This means getting to the startling before 5:00. For some runners who stay at the Disney resorts and surrounding hotels, they actually tend to arrive before 4:00 AM. Since Mike lived downtown and we were only a 45ish minute drive from the parks, we left a little later. Of course we got stuck in a little traffic, but still made it to the parking lot with time to spare.

We made our way from the parking lot toward the startline. Since my best running times were fairly slow I was assigned a wave near the very back with the slower runners. However, Mike had also signed up as a participant (not as my guide) and his times pushed us up closer to the front of the race. So Mike had me drape my shirt over my bib and snuck me into Wave F, rather than Wave P where I was originally slated.

The temperature was cold but the energy was high. I’d never experienced the nervous excitement of a major race like this before and it pumped me up. I drank in the energy and was excited to get going.

The first wave to go was the wheelchair athletes. Then Wave A, B, C and on. Eventually we started moving forward and crossed the timing mat to get started. People were bumping and jostling us and Mike was calling out “Blind runner” with a little more force and authority than he had at the Miracle Miles back in September.

We made our way to the right hand side of the road where slower runners typically run/walk allowing the speedy people to pass on the left. Of course, our biggest nemesis were people wearing headphones. But we somehow navigated around them with a combination of yelling and running them over… Hey, whatever works right?

The thing I noticed about the Disney Half Marathon was the party-like atmosphere. There were high school marching bands, cheerleading squads, thousands of spectators, people playing music from big speakers. Then when we actually entered into the Magic Kingdom (the first park we passed through) it was like I was a kid again going to Disney for the first time. I recalled being a kid and running all over the Magic Kingdom because I was so excited. Now I couldn’t help but laugh because I was intentionally running down Main Street USA for a half marathon—and the next day I’d hopefully be running through here again for the marathon.

I heard all kinds of Disney music from movies I used to watch as a kid. Mike let me know when we were passing characters. Overall it was an incredible experience.

We ran/walked our way all the way through several other Disney Parks until we reached EPCOT—the final park. We “ran around the world” and finished the 13.1 mile course strong besting my previous personal best half marathon time by more than five minutes. Now, we had to go home, eat and rest up because we had a marathon to run the next day.

The Disney Marathon

For the second day in a row I found myself in Wave F at 5:something in the morning with 25000+ of my closest friends at the start of another Disney foot race. This time though it was that iconic 26.2 miles. Twice the distance of anything I’d run/walked before. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. I felt very underprepared. My legs were very sore from the previous day and I didn’t know how I was going to get through this. Mike was also hurting and was fighting a bit of a cold. But we knew that we had to somehow just keep moving forward.

We crossed the startling and broke into a shuffling jog. We’d decided to run for 6.5 minutes and walk for 1.5 minutes. And for the first 15-20k we held to that schedule. In my mind I wanted to break 5 hours as that was the Blind/Visually Impaired Boston Qualifying time. My arrogance knew no bounds.

We made our way through the Magic Kingdom, then Animal Kingdom as well as the Disney Speedway and some other attractions. Once we crossed the 13.1 mile mark we were in new territory. I had no idea how I’d respond or when I’d hit that “wall”. It turned out the “wall” was just around the corner.

Mike and I somehow managed to shuffle/jog our way to about 15 miles, refilling our handheld water bottles every few aid stations. Around mile 15 or 16 my legs just didn’t want to work any more. We slowed to a walk and wound up walking one of the most boring parts of the entire course with no music, crowds or anything to motivate us. We could vaguely hear the people cheering as runners passed through the Wide World of Sports Complex, but that was still a very long three or miles away. We walked just telling ourselves to keep moving.

I was on autopilot. I knew that if I stopped moving I shouldn’t be able to start again. I kept telling myself, “It’s only 10 miles. Just one Dr. Phillips or one Clay Road loop.” Then that distance got whittled down to nine, eight, seven and six miles.

We walked through Disney’s Hollywood Studios at mile 22 or so and I couldn’t fathom traveling another four plus miles by foot. We tried jogging, then shuffling, then jogging again. Mile 23 passed and we grabbed some coke, bananas and chocolate. Then mile 24 and 25. We were approaching EPCOT, the final stretch. We did our best to run but at this point I just didn’t care any more. I just wanted to be done with this race. I hated running and never wanted to do anything like this again.

The last quarter mile we were able to break out into something resembling a run because we at least had to look good for the cameras. We crossed the finish line and celebrated with our friends and supporters who’d come to cheer us on and some of whom run the race as well. Then it was time to collect our Marathon Finisher medals and our Goofy Challenge Finisher Medals as well as get our Goofy Challenge Finisher photos taken.

Naturally by the time Mike and I’d gotten our photos, medals and everything taken care of I’d talked myself down off the ledge thinking, “that was awful, but I probably made it way worse in my head than it really was.” And by the time I was laying in an epson salt bath at home I was telling myself “I could run a marathon faster than that.” Maybe if I just did the marathon it wouldn’t be so bad… In other words, I was hooked on distance running and challenging myself physically and mentally. I wanted to know how far I could physically and mentally push myself. Previously I’d pushed myself pretty far, or so I thought. But running/walking 39.3 miles in two days opened me up to a whole new realm of suffering and for some crazy reason I really liked it. And thank goodness I found this love of pain and suffering when I did because my personal life was going to hell in a hand basket way faster than the 5 hours 49 minutes and 6 seconds it took me to complete my first marathon. In fact, my personal life was spiraling our of control nearly as fast as a 2 hour marathon and I would need the pain and suffering of running, then cycling and swimming to cope with myself for the next year and a half.

Very Early Running Days

“Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history; you’re denying who you are.” (Dr. Dennis Bramble)

 

Growing up, I’d always considered running a punishment or just a way to train for other activities. I never thought I’d consider myself a runner and a distance runner at that—nevertheless wind up enjoying the sport.

 

As kids, my dad would make my sisters and I run laps around the house if we misbehaved. In PE at school, our punishment for acting up was always running laps. At wrestling practice running was part of conditioning but it was also used as punishment. Didn’t give your best effort in a match, start running and don’t stop until coach said so. Sometimes that could last all practice. There was one form of running that I did semi-enjoy though and that was treadmill running.

 

Growing up totally blind I used a long white cane to feel the ground in front of me so I wouldn’t trip over obstacles. Running with my cane usually resulted in it getting bent and breaking. So when I did run I usually held onto a friend’s elbow or wrist and we’d run together. I didn’t like relying on someone else though so I hated running even more. Running on the treadmill was different. In eighth grade I began training to hike the Ankascocha Trail into Machu Picchu. Part of my training was doing cardio on either the treadmill or elliptical. I wasn’t a graceful treadmill runner. I landed on my heels and made quite a bit of racket. I’m sure others around me in the gym didn’t appreciate the noise I was making. Over time though I began to enjoy the 45 minutes to an hour that I spent on the treadmill. I could just plug my headphones in and listen to music. I worked on developing a lighter foot strike so that my running would be quieter and I’d draw less attention to myself.

 

When I got to college I continued my treadmill running as my primary method of training for wrestling. I got to a point where I ran a 5 minute and 37 second mile on the treadmill during my sophomore year of college. After that though I got more into indoor cycling and stopped running for several years. Treadmill running and my 5 minute 37 second treadmill mile might have been the end of my running career if I hadn’t struggled finding employment after college and taken to reading and found out about the “born to run” phenomenon.

 

Born to Run

 

In May 2013, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. I immediately began job hunting, sending my resume everywhere I could think of. I applied to jobs dealing with communication, social media, public relations, writing, etc. Sometimes I got interviews, sometimes I didn’t. There were a couple of times that I came out of an interview feeling confident that I’d at least get a second interview but days would go by and I’d hear nothing. I had one memorable interview where I walked in with my guide dog and the receptionist rudely asked, “What are you doing here?” When I explained that I had an interview the receptionist excused herself and went to talk to the person I was supposed to meet. Then she came back out and said the hiring manager had suddenly been called away to an emergency meeting and that I’d be called to reschedule. This wound up happening several times and as the months passed I became more and more depressed and desperate to find any job. The low point came when I applied to be a bagboy at a local grocery store and was turned down.

 

At this point I’d put on 25 plus pounds from when I’d graduated. My fiancee at the time was becoming increasingly frustrated with me. She’d come home and find me asleep on the couch with my laptop sitting on my lap, on the floor or on the arm of the couch. She insisted that I should just go back to school and become a college professor. I did not want to. I was determined to figure something out, I just wasn’t sure what that something would be.

 

It had been nearly a year since I graduated, and I had no job, my bank account was nearly empty and I was losing hope. When I’d gone through tough times before I’d forgotten my troubles by reading books. So I started reading some books. And then I came across “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.

 

“Born to Run” is a book about a tribe of natives in the Copper Canyons of Mexico who are considered some of the best distance runners on the planet. McDougall traveled with several top American ultrarunners to the Copper Canyons where they competed in a 50 mile race. The book also discussed the sport of ultrarunning and for some reason it captivated me. I began thinking about the trails and mountains I used to hike as a kid growing up. When hiking in Peru one of our climbing mentors kept telling me to “gear down, we ain’t racing!” I did slow down, but reluctantly. Reading about trail running made me yearn to get back out and move fast over hundreds of miles of trails. I knew though, that before I could run mountainous trails I had to be able to run…period. In order to do that, I needed to find a running partner.

 

Mike:

 

In 2008 I was still relatively new to using the internet with my JAWS for Windows screenreading software. I was in charge of finding sponsorship deals for the climbing team I’d founded with my buddies Brad Jaffke and Justin Grant. My rudimentary googling skills brought me to the C-Different Organization. They were primarily focused on getting people into endurance sports like running and triathlon. The founders were Aaron Scheidies and Matt Miller who I’ve become closer with in the years since. I wasn’t interested in getting into running or triathlon at that point, but I was interested in their fundraising platform that would allow Team Sight Unseen to receive tax-deductible donations without becoming a nonprofit ourselves yet. In order to utilize that fundraising platform though I had to create a profile. The website also matched people who were blind or visually impaired with sighted guides for activities such as swimming, cycling and running. I created the profile and it remained pretty dormant for several years. Until that day I finished Born to Run and decided I needed to get my ass out the door and start running.

 

I logged on to the C-Different website, updated my profile and typed in my zipcode to see who was in the Orlando area. Two profiles popped up and I emailed both individuals and waited to hear back. One of those guys responded and it’s a good thing he did too because I’m pretty sure the C-Different website went defunct not long after that.

 

The guy that emailed me was named Mike Melton. He was an ER doctor and triathlete but was willing to do some running with me when he wasn’t doing his own training or during his easy days. After a quick chat on the phone where we deduced that this was going to be a total shit show with no rule or playbook we arranged a time to meet and give running a try.

 

I’d bought some parachute cord and tied it into a rope. I figured we could each hold onto one end and that’d get the job done as some kind of tether.

 

I met Mike at a running path that circled a lake in downtown Orlando which was pretty close to his house. We began jogging, I held one end of our makeshift rope tether and Mike held the other. Mike had never been around a blind person before and was nervous. I was nervous too but tried not to show it.

 

About half a mile into our run we came to our first obstacle. We had to navigate between two poles that were placed on the path to prevent cars from driving on it. Mike notified me of said poles and I stepped sort of behind him. Unfortunately I didn’t step far enough behind him and crashed into one of the poles. I had a massive charlie horse in one leg and thought I still had both testicles but wouldn’t be able to confirm that until I got home nearly two hours later. Mike felt terrible having run me into the pole but I did my best to shake it off and we continued running. In all we ran about five miles that day and despite our one mishap with the pole we decided to run together again that upcoming weekend.

 

That weekend came and Mike drove to where I was living with my fiancee. We ran from the house out about five miles and then back for a 10 mile day in just under two hours. Not bad for my second run. And this time we didn’t crash into any poles, and only stumbled over a few curbs.

 

I mentioned earlier that Mike was a triathlete. He was actually in midst of training for the Hawaii Ironman. He kept calling it “Kona” and I pretended to know what he was talking about. Over the next several months Mike and I got together to run a few times a week. I eventually landed a job downtown and Mike and I would run after I got off work. Then we’d occasionally meet up on the weekends at either one of our houses to do an 8-10 miler. Mike took me to get fitted for running shoes. We constantly reevaluated our tether system experimenting with all kinds of materials and systems to find the best tether that worked for us so that Mike could effectively guide and we could both have something resembling running technique. And all the while our friendship continued to grow and our individual personal/love lives began falling apart.

 

Eventually, Mike decided I was ready for my first race. He picked out the Miracle Miles 15k—a 9.3 mile road run that wound through downtown Orlando and raised money for the NICU at Whinny Palmer Hospital. I was nervous and excited. I’d never been able to run more than a couple of miles at a time, it was chilly and drizzling, and I’d never run in crowds before. So understandably both Mike and I were apprehensive. All in all though we had an incredible race. I ran the entire 15k and Mike navigated me in and around the crowds fairly flawlessly. Early on in the race Mike kept politely calling out “blind runner” to try and get people to move but nobody was paying attention until a lady running right behind us helped us out by screaming at the top of her lungs “MOVE!” That parted the crowd and gave Mike and me a bit of a clearer path. We were lucky to be running a similar pace with this woman who was acting as a pacer for a group of her friends. She used her loud boisterous nature to clear a path for us a few more times. We finished the race having averaged 9 minutes and 38 seconds per mile. Not fast by any means, but it was my strongest fastest run up to that point.

 

Later that week Mike signed me up for something that truly seemed inconceivable, but something that sounded too tempting not to try… My first marathon. Except there was a little bit of a “goofy” catch/twist.

 

… To be continuedJ

The Open Road: My intro to Cycling

The Open Road

“A bike is freedom; freedom from rules and freedom from adults.” (Lance Armstrong)

 

When I was four years old, I got a bike. It was blue with black knobby tires, black seat black pedals and black handlebar grips. I rode that bike in endless circles around our col-de-sac. I’d pretend I was racing or that I was riding a motorcycle. I did my best to pop wheelies or jump the bike over curbs, but I wasn’t very good at it. I just liked going fast.

 

I first learned to ride without training wheels on my younger sister’s bike. One of her training wheels had fallen off and her bike was leaning against the garage wall. My bike was hanging up from hooks on the ceiling. Everyone else was inside watching TV and I felt like riding. So I grabbed Kelsey’s bike and rode it with one training wheel. I think mom came outside to look for me and then talked me into taking the other training wheel off. Now I was riding on two wheels. I felt alive. I was able to push my bike as fast as it would go.

 

When I lost my sight at age six, I didn’t think I’d ever ride a bike again. Meeting Erik Weihenmayer though opened up my eyes to the possibilities before me as a blind person. Rock climbing was of course at the top of that list, but probably second was tandem cycling.

 

My dad spent several months looking for the right tandem. There were several bike shops in Jacksonville but not many carried tandems built with a seven-year-old stoker riding in the back. Finally, though we found one and I felt my old excitement of going fast. The tandem was black with knobby tires. I called it a mountain bike but it didn’t really have any shocks and I  later discovered that it wasn’t so hot off the road. But for the time being all I had to do was sit on the seat, hold the handlebars and push the pedals as hard and fast as I could. And that was all I cared about right then.

 

We began doing family bike rides around the neighborhood. Eventually, my friend John Norville was deemed trustworthy enough to get on the front of the tandem and pilot me around. John and I rode a bunch together. It was a way for us both to get out of the house and hang out together. John and I liked the idea of pushing ourselves as hard as we possibly could. We started venturing off of the paved roads and over grass, then a few dirt trails.

 

On a boy scout trip to Standing Indian, North Carolina, dad loaded the tandem in our camping trailer and we tested the tandem’s mountain capabilities on a few steep mountain trails. It was a terrifying but exhilarating experience. All I had was a T-shirt, gym shorts and sneakers. With no shocks we hit roots and rocks, I felt my butt come off the seat more than once as we seemed to fly through the air bombing downhill at speeds more than 30 miles an hour. All I could do was hang on for dear life. After that mountain biking experience we never took the tandem offroading but I wasn’t done cycling. I was actually just beginning.

 

The Orange Crush

 

When I was 11 I appeared as a surprise guest to Erik Weihenmayer on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Shortly after that dad was contacted by World TEAM Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) and they invited dad and me to participate in a bike ride that would go from Ground 0 in New York City to the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. a ride covering 280 miles in three days. I don’t know if I’d ever ridden further than five miles up until then but I was willing to try, even though 280 miles sounded inconceivably long and miserable. I thought about how my butt ached after a couple hours of fun riding with John around the neighborhood. Dad of course said we’d do the ride and started looking for a new tandem, because “Blacky” just wasn’t going to cut it.

 

Dad found the perfect tandem for our endeavor, a sleek orange Cannondale road bike. This thing just looked faster than Blacky and I couldn’t wait to ride it. I was in the midst of my second season of competitive rock climbing then and was growing used to the idea of training for performance, but climbing was still more fun than anything. My coaches were good at making up games and pitting us against one another in competitions to make us better. Apart from some basic core exercises I didn’t really do much “training” for climbing other than just climbing harder and harder routes. Cycling would begin to introduce me to actual training for sport and the foundation of cycling would build a tremendous base for when I stepped into long distance hiking, wrestling and eventually triathlon.

 

Dad started us out easy just going for a six mile ride. I felt weird in skin tight cycling shorts and a jersey. I also didn’t understand why on earth I had to wear these shoes with plastic soles and massive clips on the balls of my feet. I couldn’t walk at all in them. Couldn’t I just use regular pedals and have that strap that tightened over my shoe?

 

I was very self conscious about how I looked in my cycling kit. I felt like I was wearing nothing but underwear, but I eventually got used to the feeling. Dad and I would ride every couple evenings when he got home from work. There was no way in heck I was getting up early to ride, that just sounded crazy. Our rides became steadily longer from six miles, to 10, to 20. Then dad felt I was ready for a 30 miler.

 

He found a bike path called the “Baldwin Trail” which was an old railroad that had been converted. Dad picked me up from school one afternoon and we drove to the trail, making it there around 3:30. I changed into my cycling kit in the car and then clipped into the back pedals on the “Orange Crush” as our brilliant orange colored tandem was called. My butt always hurt after rides, I didn’t like the racing saddle I had to sit on. How was I going to sit on this thing for three days of cycling?

 

We took off from the parking lot and hit the trail. It was mostly shaded by trees and almost perfectly straight for 15 miles. We settled into our rhythm and passed several groups of cyclists who were pedalling along leisurely. We picked up the pace at the five mile mark, then the 10 mile mark.

 

We flipped around at 15 miles and began heading back. I wasn’t sure I could make it, but dad was yelling his customary “MUSH SLUG!” his nickname for me while on the bike. And so I mushed as hard as I could. We made it back to the parking lot after just over an hour and a half of cycling. I was hot, my butt hurt, my legs hurt, but I also had this weird feeling of accomplishment. I liked pushing the pace and learning to suffer through the aches and pains to reach the end as fast as I could. Plus there was something cool about riding nearly 20 miles per hour on a bike.

 

We ultimately didn’t do the ride from New York to D.C. But we did not stop cycling instead setting our eyes on another goal—The PGA Tour Cycle to the Shore MS 150. This charity bike ride raises money for MS research. I had a great uncle, with whom I shared a birthday, who had MS and it was much closer to home than the World TEAM Sports event had been.

 

Dad and I spent an entire year just riding the tandem. We picked several routes through Jacksonville that we’d ride once or twice a week. Most of our rides ranged from 20-40 miles. Sometimes we got together with other cyclists, sometimes we rode on our own. We always enjoyed it more in a pack though because of the drafting effect, but somehow dad and I always seemed to wind up on the front of the paceline. Dad was also fueling my competitive spirit with little phrases like “Are you really going to let Mr. Dawson beat us in this sprint again?” or “What you say we try to catch and drop Mr. Stenson?”

 

The most fun we had was probably when we’d go to the Baldwin Trail for time trial work. A time trial is just you against the clock. You go all out as fast and hard as you can. And because the Baldwin Trail only had a few street crossings where we had to look out for traffic, it was a great place to practice going all out for 30 miles.

 

One memorable day we were riding with our usual neighborhood group at the trail. Dad and I of course wound up on the front of the pack and just started hammering at the pedals. At first the guys hung, but slowly a gap appeared. When we flipped around at the 15 mile mark the group was only a few seconds back of us. That was when dad told me to “MUSH!” and we took off like we were shot out of a cannon. We seemed to just fly. I felt light on the pedals and perfectly comfortable in my cycling position. We made it back to the parking lot a mere one hour and 18 minutes after we’d started the ride. It took the rest of the group more than 10 minutes to catch up with us.

 

The MS 150

 

We arose early in the morning the first day of the MS 150. The start of the ride was at the St. Augustine airport, about a 45 minute drive from our house. We arrived around six AM for the seven AM start and took a picture with the rest of our team—comprised of people from dad’s office—with us all decked out in our Bubba Burger cycling kits.

 

Our best cyclist, Andy Stenson, was bouncing around and eager to get on his bike and to the front of the pack. The rest of us grouped together and started the ride off easy. I was a little antsy too and wanted to absolutely crush it. However, I’d never done a ride longer than about 40 miles, and I had 86 to travel today. Dad did his best to keep me reeled in. After all, I couldn’t exactly go faster than he’d allow since he was piloting the tandem.

 

We cycled with the rest of the Bubba Burger team for a while until we all started settling into our own pace groups. Dad and I latched on to a group of men and women who appeared to be very strong cyclists. We all took turns swapping leads for about 20 miles. We averaged close to 25 miles an hour. Then we hit the halfway point and dad and I pulled off to grab something to eat. I was tired and wasn’t sure how I’d make it the rest of the way to Daytona. But after a sandwich and gatorade I knew I had to try. And so we set out again.

 

A couple of hours later we rolled across the finish line five and a half hours after we’d begun. My butt hurt, my legs hurt, my neck hurt, everything hurt and I just wanted to curl up in a ball and go to sleep. Mom and the girls met us at the finish line and helped us get up to the hotel room where we showered and fell into bed for a long nap.

 

That night we made it down to the hotel restaurant for some dinner. As the waitress went to hand me a menu, dad—in his befuddled and tired state—said “He doesn’t need that…he can’t read.” (Oh, what she must have thought of us.)

 

We got up the next morning but were too sore and exhausted to attempt cycling back to St. Augustine. So we instead drove back as did all of our team except Mr. Stenson. The MS 150 had been a phenomenal and humbling experience.

 

We returned the following year with an even larger Bubba Burner cycling crew, including mom. We rode more as a team until dad and I got ants in our pants and took off after lunch. We finished this year’s ride slower but stronger. The next day instead of fatigue keeping us from riding it was bad weather. We elected not to fight strong winds and potential storms. Those two years of cycling with my dad and the Bubba Burger cycling team were great. I’d fallen in love with the sport of cycling and begun building a solid foundation for my later adventures.

My Swimming Evolution

Growing Gills

 

My earliest memories of the pool are pretty vague. I was maybe about three years old and had on a pair of bright orange blow up floaties to prevent me drowning. I  splashed and played around in the little two foot deep kids pool at the public pool in our neighborhood. I couldn’t help but one day hope I could swim in the big pool just a few steps away where all the big kids were swimming and laughing. Shoot, I could’ve thrown the toy shark I was playing with and landed it in the big pool, but alas I was confined to the kiddy pool until I could swim. So I resolved to learn.

 

We occasionally traveled down to Naples, Fla to visit my mom’s side of the family. One day we were at their community pool and I think I talked my Uncle Bill into letting me swim with just one “Waterwing.” He relented and I started figuring out how to swim. From then on I practiced every time I was in a pool. Sometimes I wore one floaty on one arm and then I put the floaty on the other arm. Eventually, I got confident enough to tread water and finally start stroking without “waterwings.” My technique was horrible, I splashed more water out of the pool than probably anyone else, but at least I was swimming—or more accurately, not drowning.

 

When I went blind just before I turned seven, something changed. The pool and water weren’t as fun and inviting as they used to be. On one hand, I desperately wanted to play in the pool as all my friends were doing. But on the other hand, I wanted nothing to do with the pool. I was definitely scared. When my head went underwater all of my senses seemed to shut off. The only thing guiding me was my hands. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t smell or breathe. Nothing existed beyond the reach of my outstretched fingertips. It was my childhood friend, John Norville, who helped me get back in the pool and somewhat learn to enjoy swimming again.

 

John’s grandmother—whom we all called “Gaga”—lived just around the corner from where my family. She had a pool in her backyard and John and I’d often go over to Gaga’s and play. Sometimes other friends would join us, but most of the time it was just John and I. We practiced tricks off the diving board and then pretended like we were secret agents or pirates swimming underwater up to our unsuspecting targets. We pretended as though we were shipwrecked and desperately swam for shore.

 

When friends joined us we played our favorite game “Star!” Star is a game where one person sits at one end of the pool and speaks the initials of a movie. A group of people, usually anywhere from three to five, sit at the other end of the pool and ask for clues on the movie. When you think you know what the movie is you shout “Star!” and swim as fast as you can to tag the lone person at the end of the pool. Once you tag them you speak the movie title. It’s best when several people shout “Star!” at once. Then it’s an all out race to tag the “It” person. We did anything and everything to beat each other to the end of the pool. We’d try and swim faster, we’d swim over each other, we’d grab bading suits…anything to win. This friendly competition and banging around in the pool would certainly serve me well later on during the chaos of open water triathlon swims.

 

Despite the fun I had playing with John and other friends in the pool, swimming slowly lost it’s appeal to me as I got into my teenage years. I of course loved to get out on a motor boat and be dragged behind on an intertube, but I never enjoyed getting thrown off because I still harbored that fear of drowning, even though I’d proven to myself time and time again that I could swim. One time while being pulled behind a boat on a tube the tube completely flipped upsidedown. I, being stubborn, clung on for dear life as I was being dragged underneath the surface of the water. Somehow the tube righted itself and I was still there hanging on.

 

As I became a teenager, I also became conscious of my looks and body image. Being blind, I didn’t really know what I looked like with my shirt off and it just felt weird being at a public pool or at the beach dressed in nothing but my bathing suit. I imagined myself as a pasty white, chubby guy who had no business having his shirt off. I also hated, literally, bumping into people that I didn’t know. Which is an occupational hazard of being blind. So I started avoiding pools and beaches. Despite all of this though, friends would still occasionally talk me into doing stuff around the water with them. After all, we did live in Florida and Florida’s known for it’s water activities.

 

I spent one memorable day learning how to surf. A wrestling teammate, Kyle Manning, lived just a stone’s throw from the beach and invited a few friends over during one of our last days of high school. I admitted that I really didn’t like the beach but did want to learn to surf. Kyle made it his mission to get me standing up on a surfboard. So we spent several hours that day with Kyle teaching me how to paddle and feel the waves. When I finally did manage to feel the pull of the wave and the board underneath me it was unlike any feeling I’d had before. It wasn’t quite as awesome as dangling 100 feet up on a rockface, but it was still cool to feel the board suddenly become stable under me and then I was standing riding a wave, if only briefly. After that experience I tried surfing a few times but I determined that the ocean just wasn’t my thing. Swimming just wasn’t my thing. After all I didn’t have gills, and unless I grew some I didn’t think I could ever enjoy swimming. So apart from the occasional trip to the beach, I hardly ever swam from the time I graduated high school in 2010 until January 2015 when Mike Melton somehow convinced me that I needed to learn to swim if I had any dream of one day doing a triathlon.

 

Grasshopper, You Must Learn to Swim

 

Mike and I’d been running together for about six months while Mike trained to race in Kona and I trained for my first marathon. Shortly after Mike and I completed the Goofy Challenge (Disney half marathon on Saturday and Disney Marathon on Sunday) Mike took me to the downtown Orlando YMCA and began working with me on how to swim. I tried swimming from one end of the 25 yard pool to the other. I crashed into the lane lines on either side, splashed a shit ton of water out of the pool and lifted my head completely out of the water to desperately suck in lung fulls of oxygen. I couldn’t swim more than 25 yards without stopping for several minutes. My shoulders ached, my lungs burned and I thought there was no way in hell I was ever going to get this swimming thing.

 

But Mike showed tremendous patience. He taught me how to float. How to turn my head to either side to breathe. How to take a stroke. How to kick. And so on and so forth. He took me to several different swim coaches who changed one thing or another tinkering with my swim stroke, body position and breathing until I could somehow do something resembling a swim workout.

 

Over the course of 2015 and 2016 I transformed from a thrashing mess to being able to comfortably swim several thousand yards during workouts and survive in the open water. I somehow completed numerous triathlons ranging from sprint distance to my first Ironman and I thought I was becoming a pretty good swimmer for a totally blind triathlete.

 

At the end of 2016 I moved from Orlando to Carbondale, Colo and put my triathlon specific training on hold for several months while I concentrated my efforts on training for my first Boston Marathon. But I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Boulder in August 2017 and Ironman Arizona 2017. So at some point I needed to get back in the pool. Eventually I did and just cranked out swim sets to the best of my ability doing workouts I found online. Somehow after only eight training swims I pulled off (probably thanks to Matt Miller mostly dragging me through the Boulder Reservoir by my tether) my fastest 70.3 swim at 34 min 16 sec. But I knew I had to spend more time in the water before tackling Ironman Arizona in a scant three months.

 

Swimming with Mere

 

In October 2017 I took a trip with my buddy Mike Melton to Kona, Hi during the week of the Ironman World Championship. Mike and I tried to swim in Kailua Bay every day we were there. One afternoon we were browsing through one of the Ironman merchandise tents and I got to chatting with one of the people working the tent. Her name was Meredith and she mentioned that she’d love to maybe meet up and swim with us the next day. She gave me her card and said to let her know when we’d next be down to swim.

 

Over a lunch of fish and chips—while Mike ribbed me saying I should’ve asked Meredith out on a date—I checked out Meredith’s website. Turns out she’s a former pro triathlete and is now an elite open water marathon swimmer. The open water swim races she competes in are 10 km or longer. Damn, this woman wanted to swim with me? Needless to say I was slightly intimidated.

 

The next day Mike and I met up with Meredith and Mike suddenly handed her the tether and said “Have fun you two” and took off. Ok, not what we were expecting but Meredith took it in stride. She’d never guided a totally blind swimmer before but she guided spectacularly. We swam together for nearly an hour and a half. Throughout the course of that swim Mere would stop me and make suggestions on how to change my technique. After about 20 min or so she began assigning me workout sets—20 strokes fist drill, 20 strokes easy, 40 strokes hard, etc. We occasionally would stop, tread water or float and just chat. Mere helped me learn that by improving little things in my technique I’d eventually get faster in the water and actually learn to enjoy swimming.

 

When I got back to Colorado I did my best to implement what Mere had taught me in Kona and I saw a dramatic improvement in my swimming. Maybe this swimming thing wasn’t so bad after all.

 

Next Strokes

 

After completing Ironman Arizona with my friend Will Fisher in under 12 hours I took my training to a new level. I was pretty sure my 1 hour 14 min 42 sec swim in Arizona had more to do with Will dragging me through the water than my own swimming ability. So I dedicated myself to getting faster. My friend Tom MacPherson, who’d recently become a triathlon coach, helped me for a few weeks at the beginning of January 2018 to dial in some technique changes. Then I attended a triathlon camp hosted by elite blind female triathlete Amy Dixon where I worked with a couple other coaches on refining certain aspects of my technique. Then I hired multi-time Off Road World Champion triathlete Lesley Paterson to coach me. While Lesley didn’t focus a ton on swim specific technique with me she did help me drastically improve my swim fitness to where I was suddenly able to crank out 3000-4000 yards with ease three to four times a week.

 

I improved across all three disciplines of triathlon during 2018. When Alan Greening and I pulled off the first sub 11 hour Ironman by a totally blind athlete at Ironman Arizona, we didn’t have the fastest swim we were capable of, but it was one of the smoothest and most efficient open water swims I’d ever executed allowing me to have more in the tank for the bike and then the run.

 

Two weeks ago I moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where I’m getting used to swimming five days a week. Having taken the previous eight weeks off from swimming my coach, Derick, has spent these first two weeks really stressing technique. Swimming is by far the most mentally taxing of the triathlon disciplines for me because there is so much to think about. Left hand enters water at the 11 o’cclock position; cup the water; point fingers at bottom of pool during entire stroke; rotate body to right side throughout stroke; reach right hand as far as possible to lengthen the body to cover more distance; left hand exits water at left hip; take a breath just before rotating flat and bringing left arm back up above the water to repeat. The slightest turn of the hand in the middle of the swim stroke, or the dropping of the elbow in front toward the bottom of the pool, over rotating to the side can throw off the entire stroke, direction and momentum. The faster I get, the more I focus on the littlest of details. Swimming is also pretty counter intuitive in that the harder you work the slower you go. Swim smooth to swim fast is a mantra I repeat to myself when I’m in the water.

 

No, I’m still not fast in the water. In fact, I’m probably one of the worst swimmers Derick and others here at the training center have ever seen. But already after two weeks of intense focus I’m seeing improvements in smoothness and efficiency. Yes, I’m impatient and want to be at peak swim fitness already, but I’m trying to trust the process and I know my swim speed and fitness will come back around. Now the question is where is my swim crest and can we make it higher?

 

#eyeronvision