Monday, December 28, 2009

A year in the life of a triathlon idiot

Time for a somewhat self-indulgent look back at the year... how it started, how it unfolded, and a chance to think about what it all meant. If you are reading this and that sounds really painful, just read the next couple of paragraphs and then you can skip the rest of it starting where it is labeled "Race Review" :)

Before digging into the recap, I first want to mention that I will be starting a new blog for this new year. The title and theme of this current blog were explicitly tailored to the 500 Miles of Hope idea, and that has now been completed (although I will continue to highlight HFK). I'll post info soon on the new blog in case anyone is interested in following that one. I think this time it will be a little more eclectic - not as triathlon focused. I'd love to cover more on Haiti and Mexico, random things that interest or amuse me, etc. Along the triathlon lines, though, I do want to include items related to the coaching part of triathlon; as I'm starting to get more involved in that aspect (and truly enjoy it!).

So, on to a look back at my year in triathlon and endurance sports... A year that was quite aggressive by my standards (for a mid-40's guy with a full-time job and no real athletic background), but something I wanted to to in order to test my limits and get some things out of my system. Training and racing at this volume can be considered anything from disciplined to dedicated to obsessive to perhaps a bit dumb, depending on one's perspective. I'm going to go with something that mixes a bit of obsessive with self-discipline, that I did in order to push myself and achieve things I once did not think were possible. I believe it is the same thing that drives people to do other "excessive" endeavors, such as climbing the world's tallest mountains or swimming the English channel. We all have something inside us that feels alive when we accomplish what initially seemed impossible.

This all started with a goofy idea I had as I started thinking about the race mileage that I would be accumulating during the year. If I did everything I wanted to do, it would be close to 500 miles, and so that milestone kind of stuck in my head. I had done the Janus Charity Challenge when I had competed in my first Ironman in 2007, and really enjoyed that fundraising/awareness aspect. So, I decided to go ahead and do this crazy amount of racing this year (at least for me); and dedicate it to something that I believed in. The final result was 500 Miles of Hope, dedicated to a program called Hope For Kidz that provides education for children in Haiti.

This post was my introduction to that concept:

I had already done the first couple of events (a 20 mile run and a small duathlon) when I made that original post and started the blog. Next up was the Austin Marathon ; where I ran a nice steady race, keeping in mind that it was going to be a long year. I managed to finish in the top 24% of my Age Group (AG) and top 15% overall, so things were off to a good start.

Shortly after the marathon, I took a little detour and went to Clermont, FL to do the classroom work for my USAT Level 1 Triathlon Coach certification. I finished the rest of the paperwork and exam in April, and received my official certification on May 1st. I've started coaching a couple of people since then, and really enjoy that side of the sport. I'll be looking to delve into that a little deeper in 2010... perhaps hooking up with a more experienced coaching mentor.

The next event on the schedule was the Lonestar Triathlon in Galveston, TX. Moody Gardens in Galveston provides a fun venue for a race, and the race director (Keith Jordan) always puts on top-notch events. I had a great race and finished 3rd in my AG and top 8% overall, which I was pretty excited about - it seemed like all that hard work was starting to pay off! :)

Just two weeks after Lonestar, I fulfilled a goal that just 4-5 years ago seemed impossible for me, and went to Boston to run in the Boston Marathon! I had qualified at the Austin Marathon in 2008, leveraging the fitness gains I had achieved to get ready for Ironman Florida, and was really pumped up to actually be there. And it was every bit as fun as I had heard... tremendous crowd support, scenic and challenging course, and a great place to visit. I'm running the Austin Marathon again this coming February, and hoping to qualify once more so my wife and I can go back to Boston in 2011! Speaking of my wife, good time for me to point out how terrific she is with supporting me. Thanks Susie!!!

May and June were pretty quiet from a racing perspective. Lots of training, though, including a couple of long organized bike rides. One of those resulted in a pretty good bike crash, which luckily caused only minor bike damage and an elbow that took a couple of months to feel normal :) It was also really really really hot (really)! We had over 60 days where the temps hit 100 degrees or higher this year. Yikes...

The one race I did participate in during that time period was not as an athlete - I joined the race committee for the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon and served as the swim course director. It was a lot of fun, and very interesting to see things from the "other side". I highly encourage folks to volunteer and/or serve on a race committee whenever you have the chance. Besides being necessary for these events to continue, it is also very fun and rewarding :) Thank you to the race director (Glenn Beck) for letting me take that role (and doing it again this coming year).

Got back to racing in July with the Marble Falls triathlon. This is a unique and interesting race, kind of a hybrid between the sprint and olympic distances; with a challenging/hilly 23 mile bike course. The bike course had always left me pretty worn out for the run, so it felt great this time when I got off the bike and was still able to have a nice fast run. I ended up with 3rd place in my AG, and top 10% overall. It was weird for me this year to be placing in the top end of my AG, since I started at a place where I thought that type of result was just not in the cards for me.

In August there was more training in the blistering heat, and a much-needed family vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas. We had a great time, and just enjoyed life for a few days...

Then in September I started the gauntlet that I had been anxiously awaiting from the start of the year. An Olympic triathlon to kick things off, and then 2 full Ironman triathlons in a 10 week period, with a half-ironman stuck in the middle for good measure. What was I thinking? Not sure...

So, first up at the beginning of September was the Austin Triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon. My good fortune continued, and I was able to place 2nd in my AG; top 9% overall. The swimming was really starting to improve, and my bike fitness was allowing me to be slightly faster on the bike and still have my fastest runs since I started triathlon (6:43 pace on the 10K portion of the race). This was great for my confidence, but there was no time for letting up, as the biggest tests were yet to come...

The first of those big tests came less than two weeks later, the Redman iron distance triathlon. On a day that came close to being a disaster (morning downpour nearly resulted in a race cancellation, and made the bike very challenging); I ended up doing really well and completed the race in 11:23, almost a full hour faster than my first IM in FL. I was extremely pleased with that time, and even more pleased when I found out the final results. Redman is a fairly small race (less than 200 IM competitors), and only one person in my AG had a better time. Not only that, but he won the entire race, which left me as First Place in my AG!!! Wow, the first time I ever won first place in a triathlon!

At this point, I honestly felt like I had achieved everything I wanted to for the year; but still had a couple big events to go. I think it was about then that I started really looking at the amount of time and effort I was investing, and what I was sacrificing in other areas of my life. While I was having a blast and doing great, I knew that I needed to soak it all in and enjoy it fully - because I just wasn't going to sustain this level of training and racing in the years to come. I decided that the future for me was going to hold more balance. I love triathlon, and the training I do will still get my best effort; but the coming years were going to have a more sane schedule - and if the results drop off a bit I am perfectly happy with that!

My next race was the Longhorn 70.3 in Austin, and I was really hoping to have a great day. It had been 5 weeks since Redman, and I felt like I was recovered and re-trained, ready to do well at the half-Ironman distance. And I did have a very good day, finishing 14th in my Age Group out of 142 people and top 13% overall. While I was happy with the results, it was a little short of what I had hoped for. The swim wasn't great, and I could never really get going on the bike; so it took a pretty fast run to make up some time. Tough day against some tough competition. Looking back at my training/racing logs, I can also see now that I was just plain and simply starting to wear down (no surprise). Still, if you had told me 5 years ago I could have that type of result, I'd have had a good laugh :)

After Redman, there was some time for rest & recovery; a quick ramp up on training; and 5 weeks later it was time for the coup de grace - Ironman Cozumel. This was the race I had signed up for in Nov of 2008 which set this whole chain of events into motion. Here is the full race report, but the short version is that it was a great and beautiful swim, a really tough and windy day on the bike, and then a marathon that wasn't my finest hour :) I ended up at 12:29, somewhat slower than what I had anticipated going in. In retrospect, though - it turns out to have been a good result for that day; as it put me in the top 21% of my AG and top 24% overall.

With IM Cozumel in the books; I had completed the entire 581.4 miles of racing!!! Considering all that can happen in a given race, let alone an entire year, I was truly blessed to have been able to have participated in and finished every single race on my schedule! :) And what a great location to finish it all off - my wife and daughter and I had a GREAT time in Cozumel the week after the race... The weather was fantastic, the beaches and ocean were beautiful, the people were very friendly and excited to have us there... we didn't want to come back home! And I also met some great fellow triathletes and their families from all over the world (England, Canada, Hawaii...). A terrific way to cap off the year!

Since Cozumel, things have been pretty laid back. Trying to catch up on a million things that need to get done around here. Went back to Mexico for a mission trip just before Christmas, and I'm starting to ramp up the running for the Austin Marathon. Biggest event of all, though, is the upcoming trip to Haiti! I get to go and visit the kids that this year has been dedicated to... and they are truly wonderful kids that are the hope of Haiti's future.

That's it for now... I'll post a couple more items here; but will soon switch over to a new blog (as mentioned above). In closing, one final plea to check out the Hope for Kidz website and perhaps make at least one small one-time donation to help those children get some education. Ciao for now...

RMI Hope For Kidz Website Link

2009 Race History:

January 11: RunTex 20 Miler (20 mile run) -> COMPLETED

January 25: Frost Yer Fanny Duathlon (27.2 miles run/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

February 15: Austin Marathon (26.2 mile run)-> COMPLETED

April 5: Lonestar 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles swim/bike/run) -> COMPLETED

April 20: Boston Marathon (26.2 mile run) -> COMPLETED

July 19: Marble Falls Triathlon (28 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

Sep 07: Austin Triathlon (32 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED

September 19: Redman ironman distance Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

October 25: Longhorn 1/2 Ironman Triathlon (70.3 miles s/b/r)-> COMPLETED

November 29: Ironman Cozumel Triathlon (140.6 miles s/b/r) -> COMPLETED


  1. JD - you are awesome. loved reading your look back.... :)

  2. I really am beyond impressed!! Nice work!!! You did more in one year then most will do in a lifetime!! Cant wait for your new blog.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement! But, should I be encouraged? :)

  4. Nice year! I am definitely encouraged!