Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Drop the Mic (Kona 2013)

I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.” – Vince Lombardi

Ever since I started to race Ironman, I have strived for the above quote. That feeling of purity; Pure exhaustion, pure joy, pure effort. In Ironman Florida last year, after 10 years of racing, I finally was immersed in that feeling. After that day, it’s almost as if I was satisfied with triathlon and Ironman. No more demons in my head and no more disappointment in myself. I could walk away from triathlon and act like a proper adult and be totally cool with it all. But let’s be honest, I’m not sure I could ever act like a proper adult. Instead of packing it in and finishing with the best Ironman race of my life, I figured what the hell?! Let’s give Hawaii another go.
The Florida race changed everything about my preparation for Hawaii. If I was forced to take that hard look in the mirror and have a 12-step moment of admittance, I would admit that I am an exercise slacker. Just like all the years of soccer, I worked hard. Just barely hard enough to keep improving. And while I worked hard (ish), I sure bitched about it. A lot. However, for this buildup to Hawaii, it was as if the shift change was just acceptance. No bitching at WJones for the hard schedules, or if he understood what it was like to be in a hot ass garage on the computrainer for 3x20min. Instead I just trusted WJones, and I trusted that the work he prescribed was the work required to have a good race in Hawaii. After all, while I’d put it together a complete race on the beautiful shores of Panama City Beach, the 140.6 miles of Kailua – Kona is a totally different beast.

Now before you yawn from that monster paragraph above, please understand that the tale of the Ironman Hawaii cannot be told without the groundwork of what it took to get there. The race is only the tip of the iceberg. I got my ass kicked in Hawaii the first time, but I was determined to flip the script this time. Obsessed is usually pitched in a negative connotation, but that was me to the T. I pulled every magazine I had (I am somewhat of a hoarder) with any Ironman Hawaii information in it to re-read. I scoured the Internet for old interviews, articles and comments from Peter Reid (who in my opinion is the most methodical IM Hawaii champion ever) or Torbjorn Sinballe (a big guy who like myself has struggled in the heat). Jones cooked up crazy treadmill hill workouts, and big rides where I just crushed myself. I looked through UFC fighter’s diets to understand cutting weight for the race more completely. I took advantage of Chevron’s health and wellness program to meet with a superb nutritionist. And when I asked Molly the most embarrassing question I think any Cajun guy could, “Is it possible to do this training, keep my energy and drop my weight by going vegetarian?” she never so much as batted an eye. The nutritional guidelines she put together for me were perfect. I’ve never felt so good, and I’ll be forever grateful for her time and guidance. I quit listening to the radio, and downloaded every podcast with Hawaii and Ironman in the description. Looking back, it was all encompassing and truthfully exhausting. But I knew that this might be the last time I’ll ever get to race Hawaii, and nothing is guaranteed. If I prepared as perfectly as I could, the only thing that’s certain is that I’ll have an opportunity to have a good race. But if my preparation were shit, then I’d be guaranteed to have a miserable race. With all this preparation, research and focus, I knew that there was one stone that I had to turn over before I got to tread water in the bay.

Everyone talks about the heat and humidity of Kona, and yes it’s hot. But come on, south Louisiana is the place Lucifer comes for summer vacation. So there was not really much of a change from being at home to being in Kona. I arrived Sunday, but it seemed like a lifetime away from the race. More important than getting rid of the travel legs or adapting to the sun’s strength, I knew that I had to make peace with the island. Now before you call me a stoned-out hippie, there is something about this island. When I first read Mark Allen talk about it, I said the same thing in my head about him. “Oh, easy on the new-age hippie sauce buddy.” However after spending time here, I knew that this island’s energy is like a mirror into your own soul. I knew that I had to accept that I did the best preparation that I could, worked my hardest, and in the end this may not be enough. I made peace with this feeling that the island may win again, and that is ok. Because the fun isn’t in the result, but the fun has been in the journey. And I gotta be cool with that. After I made peace with this and the island, it was time to focus on the task at hand.

The second time around, it just seemed like everything was easier. You get a lay of the land, know where to eat (Da Poke’ Shack EVERY-DAY!), how to maneuver around all the craziness of Ali’i drive, and generally get it all figured out. I hit up The Coffee Shack and Kona Joe, which to me are mandatory spots to check out. This year I mostly stayed away from Ali’i, Dig Me Beach, Lava Java and the expo. As a triathlon geek, it’s hard not to walk around and mix it up in that area with the sport’s fast and famous. I think the closest that I got race week was having lunch with Larkin Carter at Lava Java. I didn’t pick the place, but the food was good. While we were eating lunch, in addition to your food you could taste the nervous energy from all the racers in there as well.  One last place on my short list that I had to hit up was Mark Andrews’ condo. Who is Mark Andrews, you ask? Do you ride a speed concept? Have you ever watched a Trek YouTube? Chances are 100% you’ve seen him. He is one of the masterminds behind the speed concept, and is like a Doc Brown style mechanic. The guy is a mad genius, and I needed his help. I broke a stem bolt right before shipping my bike to Hawaii (via Tri-bike transport and HIGHLY recommended) and it needed to be replaced. Lisa got my part to Lafayette before I got on the plane, so I had it with me and fully intended to replace it once I got my bike. Not on Mark’s watch! He told me that it was no problem, and to just come back in the morning. The bike would be race ready and tuned up. It was an awesome gesture of kindness from Mark, and it allowed me to just save a smidgeon of energy here and there by not having to fuss with it. After I ran my mandatory errands, I just kind of sat around the rest of the week. Well, there was that quick little trip to the expo to hustle up some cool swag and free gear. Because at the end of the day, I’m from Louisiana. And we have Mardi Gras. Free stuff is a way of life.

My parents and Elyse arrived Thursday. They were entertaining like always. There is nothing I love more than seeing people who just pulled 16 hours worth of flying with minimal sleep and hygiene. As their taxi driver, I always ask the same stupid question, “So where do ya’ll wanna go?” Easy dumb ass, to the condo. To sleep. Or translated into the Bear’s (my dad’s) language, “Buddy, we are gonna catch some zzz’s. We’ll hit the farmer’s market tomorrow.”

Friday is the day that everything gets real.  As you wheel your bike toward check-in, you look around and see that the face of Ali’i and the competitors is changing. There is no more expo, no more athlete or companies swarming twitter offering free stuff and invitations to parties. People you see on the street have that 1,000-mile stare. You know that pit of the stomach feeling that you got when the middle school bully told you he was gonna whoop your ass, and the teacher made you go on the playground? Well, that feeling didn’t go away. It just laid in hibernation for 25 years.

And the intensity is no greater than athlete / bike / gear check-in. In reality, it’s a comical circus of shenanigans but it sure doesn’t feel that way. There are people running around trying to give you t-shirts or hats for riding a certain bike, or wheels. There are gaggles of people who are tallying what frame you are riding, wheels on your bike, saddle you sit on, group set, etc. I mean it’s the closest this country bumpkin will ever get to a red carpet walk. And while I laughed about it while shooting that video (you know, the fishbowl video where I filmed the people who were staring / filming me), it’s highly uncomfortable and just taking that anxiety to another notch on the totem pole. Getting through transition and bike check-in as quickly as possible was a high priority. The quicker I could wrap it all up, the quicker I could remove myself from this mosh pit of anxiety.

Despite the horrendous condo bed and lack of air conditioning, sleep came pretty easily Friday night. However, Saturday’s 4am alarm was about 10min after that snooze fest. I tried to pretend I could eat, but it wasn’t happening. So I slugged down 4 Pediasure’s, ate an egg on top of rice and got the hell out of Dodge. Or actually the hell into Dodge, since the Bear and I got into the Dodge caravan and headed down Ali’i drive to the pier. That ride to the race start is always awkward, no matter who you’re with or how many times you’ve raced. Someone you love is driving you down to a spot where they know in the very best case scenario that you are gonna get your ass kicked. And at the very worst case, well, no one ever wants to acknowledge that the worst case could actually happen to them.

A lot of people think I’m being a prima-Johnna when I draw the parallel between Ironman and what it must be like in the UFC. Minus the obvious blows to the head and never having to be across the fence from someone named “Spider” or “Bones”, they have a lot of similarities. The walk through body marking to “the octagon” of the pier is a deafening silence. You try to feign confidence, contain the anxiety by putting in the earphones and getting out the swagger. But you don’t dare make eye contact, as you are certain the person you lock eyes with will see through your bullshit. You weigh in. The doctor talks to you but it’s as if you don’t even know he’s there. The looming battle is getting more real by the moment, and it’s all consuming. That first cannon firing for the pro start almost frightens you out of your swim skin. It’s the triathlon equivalent of that cage locking behind you. No turning back now. There’s only one way to freedom, and it’s 140.6 miles that way.

The mean mugging continues while we tread water in the pier. Thousands of heads bobbing up and down in the water, all with a gunfighter’s trigger finger and waiting to be released onto the course. Those paddle boarders and referees must say 200 times in the span of 15 minutes “BACK UP! BEHIND THE BOUY! YOU WILL BE DISQUALIFIED!” No one listens, as everyone refuses to give one inch to someone that they have never met. I listen to blatant lies “I’m going to swim an hour.” Nope, you’re a liar. I detected the shake in his voice, I better get in front of this kid. He’s gonna panic 400 yards in. The years slugging it out in this mass start swim arena teach you a few things. You learn to pick out the contenders from the pretenders. I know I’m ready for a 57-58 minute swim. Jessica threw her best stuff at me all buildup and I took it. That feeling in my stomach is back, but before I could acknowledge it BOOM! All hell broke loose.

Somehow starting on the left side of the buoy was a stroke of luck and genius. I got 10, then 15, then 25 strokes in a rhythm before I got smacked. This swim is in stark contrast to 2011, where I got to experience what would happen if a mosh pit turned into a bar fight. Sure enough, 500 yards in, people started to implode. I’m trying to pick my way through the shrapnel, deciding to try and make that front group. But the front group is like that mirage you see on the road during a scorching summer day. It isn’t there. And if you do ever catch them, then why would you swim with them? You’re going faster. So I just tried to get into a rhythm and head toward the turn buoy.

When I got to the buoy, it was as if I got my entire swim beating at once. Some guy thought it would be comical to keep swimming wide, and then randomly slam into me. Each time, I backed off and allowed him to swim in front of me. After the third ramming, I dropped back and went to work on this kid’s feet. Every stroke, tickle his feet. Every stroke, smack his ankles to throw off his kick. I’m a gentleman most of the time, but I am not afraid to use the tricks I have up my sleeve. After about 10 minutes of this back and forth, I had enough. I figured if I accelerated I would get past this Martinsville paint trading and get back to swimming. The last bit of swimming had me a bit bummed. As I was stuck in what I thought was no-man’s land. Not fast enough to be with “that group” I saw just up the water, and ahead of the demolition derby behind me. Using my highly skilled predictive swim model (patent pending), where I judged the gap versus the contact and my perceived time in the water divided by my start position squared to derive a time that put me at or around 1:03 from my estimation. So when I got out of the water and saw a 57, I went with the only thing I could think of “HELL YEAH!”

Transition was a mad house as usual, and this year I added a “fantastic” twist. I was going to try and put on a top that was dry, while I was wet. I mean, I even did practice runs in the condo, developed a proprietary folding pattern that would expedite the donning of said aerodynamic and (most importantly) sun protecting top. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…. left me frustrated and tangled up, but fully dressed and onto the bike. Remember that demolition derby guy? Well, apparently I will not be getting a Christmas card from him because he punched me in the back as I was standing at my transition spot grabbing my bike. I kind of laughed because I knew the feet / ankle routine worked. Besides, bitches and punks hit people when they aren’t looking. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

In 2011 I flatted 3 times in the first 2 miles. No, that is not a typo. So needless to say, I was holding my breath until we descended off of Palani. I swam a 57, and got out of T1 in 1:01:00 so the racecourse wasn’t too bad. But coming back down the hill from the out and back was the angry mob. And they were angry. On a good day, if the wind is right and God smiles favorably upon me, I can do 300 watts for 10 minutes no problem. Well, I was holding 300 on the climb and people were coming by me so fast that I looked down no less than 3 times to see if the brake was rubbing. That first hour was like a Soul Train dance line moving to the music of “Drop John”. I came through the first hour at a pace that would give me a 4:30:00 bike split, and people were blistering by me. One guy who was particularly entertaining was wearing a Michigan Wolverines tri kit, and weaving in and out of the reflectors on the road as he tried to pass people. I didn’t know whether to laugh or fear for my life. Another person of interest was a guy I met a few days ago. I recognized him because of his kit, introduced myself and chatted him up a bit. Just as I was going to leave, he asked, “What age group are you racing?” I said 30-34, to which he replied, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Huh? What are you sorry for? That my dashingly handsome looks and baby blue eyes make me look like a 20-24 thoroughbred? No, John, in the world of edgy triathlon smack talk I believe it means he is apologizing in advance for crushing your age group dreams.  Well, that guy passed me too. It kind of made me angry, but then I realized that if he could really predict the future like that (him beating me), then I should ask him for the next Powerball numbers. And that feeling of being a Powerball winner killed off the anger. Really during the first 1.5 hours, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was holding good watts, watts that I know I can hold and run well. But there were mobs of people dropping me. And I knew it wasn’t my weak descending skills as I made a deal with myself pre-race to descend like a proper bike racer. So if I wrecked then I went down more like James Dean, less like Steve Carrel. All I could do is rest my belief in that the other racers passing me would either blow up, or were just better than me. The pace we kept down the Queen K highway was still batshit crazy. Turning onto the road headed to Hawi is where it went from straight speed, to brute strength.

The climb to Hawi isn’t that bad, but it’s sneaky. You just keep climbing and climbing and climbing. Sometimes you’re going fast, then it’s like you are standing still. Then the random crosswind gives you a sober slap across the face for daydreaming. You keep looking down at your cassette, as if looking and wishing will somehow sprout another sprocket on the cassette. Then you’re stuck in between the big and small chainring in front. The big is faster but noisier and more painful. The smaller gives you a fluid pedal stroke but you’re losing ground. Things are starting to heat up, and you’re just getting grumpy. Like that tight pair of underwear that just keeps riding up, things are getting uncomfortable. Just as the aggravation is starting to boil over, you see that car coming toward you with the massive Timex clock on top and immediately you feel giddy like Christmas morning.

For me, the coolest thing about Hawaii is that I’m racing, but I am still a fan. It is so cool to geek out and see all the guys / girls you read about, look up to, cyber stalk for equipment choices, prototype equipment, etc slugging it out on the same tarmac you are suffering on. You may only see them for a snippet, but it’s an all access pass to the levels of pain some of them go in the race. And this year, there was no more vivid memory etched in my brain than Andreas Raelart pedaling at 6mph with his feet on top of his clipped in shoes, holding the bullhorn bars, helmet cocked to the side and head hanging dejectedly. He was weaving like a downhill skier carving fresh powder. He was a knockout casualty of the day, and a cruel reminder to me that I need to race my own race no matter what.

When we bombed down Hawi, I just gave into the fear that if I crashed on this decent I would definitely break my collarbone in the best scenario. Worst case is that the road rash would not allow me to wear a shirt for several months. Let it go, and let the bike go. I can’t say that there weren’t scary moments, but once I made peace with the consequences, I got to kind of started to enjoy flying 40+ mph down the hill on two skinny tires 2.5 feet off the ground.

I came through the 100-mile mark in 4:12:00. HOLY WOW! I’ve definitely slowed since the first hour, but that was still brutally fast in my book. The bad news was that the wind was picking up. I was a little behind on taking in enough water, and after 4 hours in the saddle, well the natives were restless. In short, the last 12 miles took me 46 minutes. However, I did gun it once I knew I had a shot of riding under 5 hours. Yes, it’s immaterial and vain, but it’s my sand box and that’s what I did. I came flying into transition in 4:58:00. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Bike hand off to the volunteer. Uh lady, for your own safety and well-being please don’t touch those shoes…. never mind.

Oh sweet mother in heaven, that plastic chair in T2 was more comfortable than any Lay-Z-Boy I’ve ever plopped my rear down into. I just wanted to sit and reminisce for a bit, but I knew all too well that this fight still had two more rounds. My plans were to “lose” rounds 1 (swim) and 2 (ride out to Hawi), and win rounds 3 (Back from Hawi) and 4 (Run to energy lab) while winning round 5 (Energy lab to home) convincingly. Well, I accidently won round 1, and got into a slugfest in round 2 while still losing. Round 3 was a draw. Now it was time to see what I actually had left for this marathon.

Against my better judgment, I ran with a GPS to keep my knockout punch in my bag of tricks until the time was right. So 7:00 pace it was until the energy lab or the wheels fell off; whichever came first. And along Ali’i, it was all rose petals and fairytales. I was actually doing it! 7:00 pace would give me a 3:03:00 marathon, and that would be a massive run PR for me and convincingly catapult me through my age group. I saw my parents on the way out and back. Stanley, Tonia, Smitty and Shawn near Lava Java. And that smokin’ hot lady I call “WOMAN! NO BUTTER ON THE TOAST!” ok, ok. I saw Elyse right before I turned up Palani. I couldn’t believe it; I was doing what I said I would do. Here it was. I was a little over the 7:00 pace, but well within tolerance. And seeing Elyse being so positive and excited put some fire in my belly heading up Palani.

I don’t know why, but it was never in the cards for me to walk up Palani. I did a ton of crazy “sweaty man flinging sweat off the treadmill” hill runs at Red’s. I was ready for Palani. But in the face of danger, as Tin Cup would say, I laid up. I played it safe. I walked up. I don’t know if I would do it again. I don’t even know if it affected the race at all. But I know that I think about that moment, and how it defined the race for me. It was an outward example that today I was racing with my head instead of my heart.

Off of Palani and onto the Queen K, things were a bit slower but still good. Casualties of the pros were starting to show up. Jodie Swallow was laying in the median with cold towels all over her. There were quite a few that were shuffling, head down and defeated. And misery loves company. So I had to almost say out loud to myself that we were not stopping to “kick it with the homies”. We had a job to do, and we needed to run. Mile 13 was when I started to wobble the foundation a little bit. The pace started creeping in the 7:30’s to 50’s when running. Add that to walking the aid stations for ice, and we are falling off. Then the positivity kicks in. If I could run 3:15, in Hawaii, that would be badass. Just keep running little buddy. And when that Dr. Phil stuff didn’t work, I just went back to the only thing that ever works. I counted my foot strikes. 1 to 20. Start over. And again. And again. The melodic rhythm and routine of it all just quieted my mind. Before I knew it I was in the energy lab. But now I was desperately looking forward to each aid station so that I could have a break. Not because I was cramping. No, I convinced myself that I was “racing smart” by walking the aid stations. And oh sweet Jesus did walking feel good! The energy lab was uneventful, except that I saw a familiar face right before the energy lab turnaround. Ole’ “Sorry” was right there, and it was clear his doors were blown clean off. I wanted to say something, and in a past life I probably would’ve. But I had my own demons to wrestle with, and I knew that this island could turn around and bite me in the ass at any moment.  So I didn’t even acknowledge him. As Maverick would say, “Just fly right by.”

I had a quick picnic of Red Bull on ice at the energy lab aid station, and trudged out of the energy lab hole. It was getting late into the run, and I was running desperately low on resolve and energy. All I wanted so desperately was to have a great race here. 2011 just quietly taunted me in the shadows. No way someone like me could have a good race at Hawaii. I’m a fraud, a cherry picker. I never even deserved to go in 2011, and the race let me know. How arrogant of me to think 2013 would be any different. I just didn’t have what it takes to go well in Hawaii. I have no endurance pedigree, and I am no elite athlete. This is the big boy table, and I need to be sitting outside with the kiddos. No matter what you do, the voices in your head will tell you all that. After a while, you just have to quit listening. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 1, 2, 3, ….. to just tune out the noise. Get back to basics. In one hour, this race and your season will be over. But you will live with the effort you gave in your heart forever. That’s what I focused on. Not a time, not a “LOOK AT ME NOW MO’ FO’S!” but an effort that I could hold in my heart and be proud of. An effort that would let me be at peace. An effort that I knew was complete and genuine.

I just threw myself down Palani. FTW! I’m running for this. If I fall or cramp, or eat a mouth full of asphalt, it will be at full tilt. I saw Elyse one last time. She said she didn’t cry, but I know she did. There it was, the last chapter of my race. The finish line, and the knowledge that I gave it my full effort. I just ran. Maybe a bit too hard, maybe a bit too fast to savor the moment. What was I running for anyway? The difference between 52nd and 54th in my age group? 43 seconds on my finisher’s photo? Nope. I was running for me. I was running to empty the tank, and cross the line exhausted; victorious.

There are so many people that I have to thank for getting me to the start line of all these races and giving of themselves so that I can go out and chase whatever it is that gets me out of bed every morning.
- First and foremost, my most awesome best friend, manager, soigner, counselor, assistant, emergency bike mechanic and pillar, Elyse.
- WJones, the mad scientist that has never backed down from a challenge and has kept pushing me to new heights since he told me that I sucked in 2010. We talked about a complete performance, and “dropping the mic” after our best effort. I feel that we did. Best race I could have hoped for overall.
- My parents for always encouraging me, and never once telling me “to grow up” or “kids ride bicycles, John”.  There is nothing more rewarding to me than having my parents tell me that they are proud of me. I’m sure that I could probably skip the 9 hours of self-ass kicking and they would still tell me. But giving your best effort for them to witness will always hold a special place in my heart.
- Jessica aka Swim Gurzi. I’m not gonna hug you like Eric did, but just know that the 57 was your doing. Also know that I’ll celebrate that for like 3 weeks. Then I have bigger plans (which does include MORE PAIN and spitting in the pool gutter WAHOO!)
- Lisa, Jason and the crew at Capital Cyclery. There are no words. 2003 I stumbled in your shop and somehow you could never get rid of me. Thank you for all you do.
- Mark Andrews at Trek. I have no idea why you look after a regular old age group Joe like myself, but I appreciate it so much. It makes me proud to ride a Trek.
- Pat Fellows at Mizuno, Rocketkidz, LA Marathon, FRESH! A man of a million talents, and someone I’m proud to call a friend. Dude, I don’t know how Ironman is my 32 miles, or that it is at all. But I’m honored you want me representing the Runbird, and I can say thank you for keeping me motivated and moving forward.
- Stanley at Corner Bar. You add to the Lafayette triathlon group, and are making a positive impact. And it’s not just by dropping people on the Saturday ride. We are having more people at the time trials than ever. I’m looking forward to seeing you 5 years into this sport. The sky’s the limit!
- Mark at Precision. Dude, you are a cornerstone of the triathlon community, and I am humbled that you call me just to see “what’s up.” I joke calling you the Godfather of triathlon in this town, but it’s true. You have played a role in making Ironman racing big in our area. Thank you for all your wisdom, guidance, and even having the stones to tell me to quit being a head case.
- Mark & Mr. Red at Red Lerille’s. I still can’t believe you guys gave me a job teaching spin. But I appreciate it, and the opportunity to be a part of your family. We are spoiled here in Lafayette because your relentless pursuit of perfection in what a health club should be. Thank you
- Keith Terro at Abshire Chiropractic. Bubba, we did it! Your crazy voodoo and weekly adjustments kept me cobbled together just long enough to get it done. Thank you.
- Kris Thibodeaux. If anyone should be fired as a client, it should be me. Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, and keeping my muscles healthy and happy.
- My training buddies who helped me get ready for this. You know who you are, and I hope that I get to return the favor. You guys / girls kick ass. Thank you.

So after that long, awards ceremony speech you want to know “What’s next?” Well, until yesterday, I had no idea what was next. I’ve tried to retire; I’ve made peace with it after Florida and was ready to move on. But the sport keeps pulling me back in with its siren song. So in 2014, I will go back to the roots of triathlon. Where adventure and pushing the limit just to see what’s possible replaces numbers on a clock and watts on a computer. I got accepted in the elite pool for the Norseman Xtreme triathlon in Eidfjord, Norway. Honestly, I’m scared shitless. I know that it’s a monster race, and it will take a monster effort just to finish. So I know it will get me out of bed in the mornings. After all, once you find that something, that passion, that fire that makes you go; you hold onto it. You hold on with two hands and ride the ups and downs. Because for me it’s in those ups and downs where you have the quality life moments. Those moments that make you feel alive. As for Kona, will I be back? Honestly, I don’t know. Kona is a beautiful, cruel, hard ass race. It will always hold a special place in my heart. As for going back I will not say never, but it may be a while. For 10 years, I thought that Kona was the holy grail of triathlon. But to quote Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, “The search for the holy grail? Who gives a shit what the Holy Grail is. It’s the quest - that’s what’s important. The transformation within yourself is what’s important.” And I’m interested to see what else is out there; what else is out there to continue the quest…

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Kona Madness, Round 2

Well, to say that it has been a long time would be the understatement of the year. So here we are, back to the grind after the best triathlon (and dare I say sporting event) of my life at Ironman Florida. I did ponder not taking the IM Hawaii slot after the Florida result (You know, kind of like dissing the girl that once broke your heart. Not that I've ever done that, but I've heard...), especially since the first time I  raced Hawaii was an absolute disaster. It was almost as if I was scared shitless (See this: Merlin Mann - Scared Shitless (Webstock 2011) - YouTube ) to go back and get beat down by the island again.

Well, in short here we are just 11 short months removed from IM Florida and 2 years from the first time I landed on the island in 2011. Believe it or not, things were easier the 2nd time around getting here. In no small part because I finally squeaked open my wallet and paid for Tri Bike Transport to deliver my bike and gear bag. So no 80 lb duck walk with bike, gear, clothes, laptop bags from baggage claim to the rental car counter. Instead, I carried on the clothes and immediately got on the wrong rental car bus. Sidenote: Hawaiian people are very much like south Louisiana people. Friendly and fiercely proud of where they are from. So the bus driver brought me to the Alamo place with not even a funny glance.

Onto these days leading up to the race. In short, you are in a fish bowl. It really is pure electric madness up and down Ali'i drive. There are sculpted abs and shredded bodies MURDERING the run and bike from 5:30am well into the pure dark every day. You always hear that the best races are lost on Ali'i during race week. And after seeing it first hand, I can believe it.

And the stuff you can do all of race week. Oh man, it's like you're the popular kid in class and everyone wants you at their party. No no, here's a free this; we are giving away a bunch of that. Think Mardi Gras for tri-geeks. That's about the best way I can describe it. I'll do my best to document and take pictures of what is happening in the fish bowl that is Kona this week. But to be honest, I learned my lesson the first time around. Round 2 (this year), I'll be saving all my energy for the actual race on Saturday. It's gonna be tough, especially because I really want to see all the new bikes / kit / widgets coming out. And let's be honest, how could I pass up a chance to meet CHRIS FREAKING BOARDMAN?!! Well, I did. And while I'm still kicking myself for it, let's hope it's for the best.

So that's it from the island. Thanks for checking in and seeing what's happening. My peeps show up today, so that means a mandatory trip to Kona Joe coffee and the Coffee Shack tomorrow for the world's best coffee (Kona Joe Trellis Reserve) and pizza that I would actually babysit my nephew (and his friends) for. Really, the pizza is that good. Until tomorrow, Aloha.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Victory 2004

Victory 2004 
(Note: The title has little to do with the race, but it was the song stuck in my head for at least the first 7 hours. Mom, please don't download this song off of iTunes. If you hear it, I may be out of the will.

“Listen, I’m not calling to bitch but if you were in Lafayette I would punch you right in the face. I’m exhausted, I’m angry, and I’m cranky because this weight cut has me eating soup and salad 85% of the time. If I see another rice cake, I may choke out the Quaker oats guy. And WJones, if you were in Lafayette you would be next.” This is how the typical taper conversation went between myself and WJones. In retrospect, he was quite patient with me. Especially because a physical confrontation would involve him telling me, “Go outside and practice falling down, I’ll be there in a minute.” After I would vent, he would calmly tell me “when you are done crying, go do the workout I put on the sheet. Trust in the path, and you’ll see the result. And do me a favor engineer boy; don’t think. Not even a little.” This pretty much summed up my world perception from two weeks pre-race until race week. I was panicky, I was nervous. I felt like shit. I didn’t even feel good during workouts. The numbers were there, but there was nothing easy about any of it. However, I have been listening to quite a bit of Brett Sutton lately, and my favorite comment of his was “You would never ask a boxer on his way to the ring, ‘Hey mate, how do you feel?’ So why the hell are triathletes worried about how they feel? You’re trained to do a job, so go out there and do your job.” I love the raw honesty of Brett Sutton, and in reality this was the only hope I had in my heart for a good race. I had to look at Ironman Florida through a boxer’s lens. I was trained to do a job, and regardless of how good or crap I felt was irrelevant. I was going to go out and do what I trained to do.
I promised myself that my race plan would have no bearing on who was here racing. For once, I was going to treat the race like a golf tournament instead of a UFC fight. UFC fights can end at any moment with a flurry of effort. On the other hand, a golf tournament is 72 holes no matter what (of course you have to make the cut). You can never win an entire tournament in one hole, but you can certainly lose it all in a moment. And that was my plan. The first round (swim) and second round (bike), make the cut. The third round (1st loop of the run), be on the leader board. The final round (2nd loop of the run), make your move and go for the win.
I won’t bore you with pre-race foods, rituals, etc. If you want all that, email me. However, one thing did change for me this race. It was the first Ironman race where I was flying solo. The good was that I had a ton of time to myself, and that I could do exactly what I wanted to do when I needed to do it. The bad is that I miss my entourage and that walk to transition race morning. There is something calming having your inner circle walking with you down to the battle. Maybe it’s that for one or two minutes on race morning you can take your mind off of the suffering that is about to envelope your entire day, or maybe it’s just that security blanket that you toted around as a kid that gave you the feeling that as long as it was here, all was right with the world. Either way it was a long, dark march to the inevitable.
After putting all the goodies in the bags, and air in the bike tires I got into the wetsuit and headed down to the water. Now after many years of racing, I went back to a trick I learned to get the wetsuit on/off quickly. I used KY jelly on my arms and legs. Let me tell you, next race you enter go to the grocery counter with a frozen pizza, a 20oz coke, and tube of KY jelly and try not to laugh. Before the girl even looked up, I said, “I swear it’s not what you think.” Anyway, after getting the wetsuit on properly, I headed down to find a good spot for the swim. For some reason I was way more calm for this Ironman as opposed to any of my previous races. I think it stemmed from the fact I said that this would be my last IM race for at least a year, and that I have done everything in the sport I ever hoped to do. This race was just for me. Just to see how fast I could go and if I could execute. No fighting to be in the first swim pack, no jostling for position on the bike. Just staying in my box going as hard as I can go, staying in the moment and moving forward. I got in the water and pulled my rude gentleman start move where I pretend to warm up swimming. This way when the paddle boarders whack us and tell us to get back, we back up and VOILA! Front row swimming. Well for some reason the paddle boarders let us start in the water. They weren’t pushing us all back. And just before the gun went off, I was splashing water and my wedding ring slipped about ¾ of the way off my finger. All of the weight cut, plus some strategic KY residue under the ring had made for a slippery environment. And since I was staying in the Harem of Panama City, I can imagine coming home after an unsupervised trip to the redneck Riviera. “But I swear Elyse, the ring fell off in the swim! Honest!” Yeah, right. So the frantic panic of trying to get the ring to stick on my finger and trying to hold my swim position ensued. And just as I got it to where the ring would only get to my knuckle and at least stick there for a second, KABOOM! Goes the cannon.
The swim can be summed up easily. Uneventful. I “gently” placed one guy in the right direction after he was making a kamikaze move diagonally away from the swim course. I placed him in the right direction, and I think one day he may thank me for it. Out of the water in the first lap and the clock read 44:xx. I could do the math, a 29min first loop. Not too shabby, considering the chop that was out there. And back into the water for lap two. Once again, the loop was uneventful except for seeing that awful, choppy swim stroke and that signature soul patch. Yep, 3,000 people in the water and I run into Jeremy on the swim. It was almost comical. We battle each other in training, in races, even in eating the most chips and salsa at La Pagua. To paraphrase the Joker from Batman Begins, “ I have a feeling that you and I are destined to do this forever.” Out of the water, and into the maze that is Transition 1.
Florida is a funny bike course. It’s deceptively evil. I compare it to the Siren’s that would crash boats into the rocks. The course begs you to go fast. The conditions allow you to go fast. The groups form to help you keep the pace fast. It’s all there. And first couple of hours feels almost easy, like it shouldn’t be this easy. So you go to the front and try and get away. The pace is fast, 25, 26, 27mph. So you start thinking crazy thoughts. Like “maybe I can stick it at this pace for the ride.” Um, no. Reality bites, and about mile 70 it will bite you in the ass if you let those thoughts drive your legs. So my goal was to ignore temptation and wait until hour 3 to 3.5 to really work. No matter what happened in the first two hours, the rules were to stay out of the draft zone and avoid a stupid penalty, and the second was to just observe what was going on around me. I had to remind myself about 50 times in the first two hours that the goal of the bike was just to “make the cut.” During the two hours of observation, I realized who was what in our group. The worker bees, the wheel suckers, and the people who generally had no interest in spacing out by the rules. This is where I will tip a cap to Mr. Riccitello and his USAT official crew. They were in force for this race, and handed out appropriate penalties. Our group had a motorbike with us for about an hour of the bike ride. The cheaters got dinged, and the people riding legal were left alone to race. I liked it. Anyway, after a mishap with the special needs bag, the second half of the bike is where I started to really feel good. I noticed people putting their heads down, letting gaps grow to 20-30 meters between them and the next guy, and a lot of uniforms with salt all over them. I knew it was time to start my shenanigans. The first dig was at mile 70, and I just rode off the front. Nothing really fancy, but somehow effective. I thought I may have gotten away, but Das Wunderkid (a German guy that was DRIVING the group at a knee groaning 55rpm) drug me back into the fold. All was well until mile 90 when I tried it again. In a stroke of quasi-intelligence, I actually researched where aid stations would be on the course. Then I wrote the mile markers on some athletic tape I put on my aerobars. This way I would know when they were coming up and if I wanted to stop and get some water. I knew the last station was mile 92, and it was starting to warm up. So I made the deal that I would grab water and immediately gun it out of the aid station. Whoever came with me was my partner in crime. Well, no one did, but I caught a guy who was riding well. We worked together into the beach road, when he disposed of me like a bad carton of milk. Coming into to transition was when I got the news: I made the cut.
The bike to run transition was maybe one of the cleanest I’ve ever done for the amount of stuff I had to grab. The weather had warmed up to a breezy 82 degrees. Now, I’m not the most intelligent guy out there but I knew that it was going to be a stretch for me to try and run my goal pace the whole way when it was 10-15 degrees warmer than I planned on it being. So I immediately called an audible and settled on running 7:00 miles until I hit the finish line or the doors blew off. Either way, I was going all in. And during that first loop, it was all butterflies and fields a bloom. I mean, I had never EVER felt that way coming off the bike. I was holding back running the pace. It was incredible. The run course in Florida is very imaginative. Out/back, out/back. So it is very chewable and easy to understand where you sit in the field. In the first 6.5 mile out section, I did notice I wasn’t seeing very many runners. No big deal, nothing to worry about. I just kept counting the foot strikes. When I was about .5 miles from the turnaround and saw Mirinda Carfrae, I thought, “That’s odd. But she did race Kona 3 weeks ago. Maybe she’s just mailing it in.” The back section of the first lap got a little more serious. I started to really focus on the effort, and getting those calories down. The heat did worry me so the magic salt water was getting knocked back with some frequency. As I came into town, some of my Lafayette friends were yelling at me, “DUDE! You are crushing it! Keep it up.” Which is very nice, but not informative at all. Either way, I knew that I was running in my space and that round 3 (lap 1 of the run) was a success. I had no idea how much though.
Eric ran ahead of me and barked the info. “You’re 1 minute back from 2nd place, and 9 minutes back from the leader in your age group. You’re running 30 seconds a mile into both of them.” Eric’s monotone delivery kind of numbed me to the shock of what he just said. Are you kidding me?! I’m 3rd in my age group at Ironman Florida? And we are at mile 14?! No way! This is not possible. I should be back in 14th or 23rd trying to run up into a good spot. This silly golf analogy really did work out. Holy shit! I really am on the leader board. What happens if I can actually pull this off? Yes, these were all the thoughts that went through my head in the span of about 1 minute. But like that moment you find out that the beautiful girl you’ve been eyeing actually would give you the time of day, you try and be Joe Cool about it all. So I told Eric, “Good, this is where I meant to be. Time to do my job.” On this comfortable couch, with the A/C on, it’s not such a big deal. But what a ridiculous acting job I just pulled. I was freaking out inside.
About this time, I started to hit some rough patches. My feet were crazy wet, and I could feel every strike on the concrete run through me. As if you could wrap up “Just stop for a second and relax. Everything will be fine” as a Christmas present, and if I opened it right then I would be signing with joy. That is all I wanted, just to walk for a second. Bad idea. I gave in at an aid station at mile 16. “Just to get some coke and water down,” I said to myself. I had all these very elaborate, very legitimate excuses to justify why I could walk the aid station. And I did walk, all of 18 steps. And that was it. The internal voice came back, “What the Eff is wrong with you? Dude, you freaking selfish prick. You hog time, fit your workouts in, demand WJones look at your power files, borrow people’s equipment to do velodrome tests, loan Eric’s space boots for 2 months, so you can walk in this race? Do you know how much time EVERYONE, not just you, put in to make you successful? You think Jessica likes waking up at 4:30 to coach swim? You think Lisa likes the “hey do you think we can get those parts for the bike by Friday” phone calls so you can have that “must have” “watt saving” gizmo? John Fell, you talk A LOT of shit about racing. How you’re gonna go as fast as possible, or blow up trying. What was it, ‘like a top fuel dragster. Either the run of your life or blow the engine sky high.’ Well guess what mother lover, THIS IS IT. Here is your chance to back up that mouth. Here is your chance to prove to yourself what you have been chasing all of these years. That you are a fast IM racer. That you can run 3 hours in an Ironman. That everyone has to come from somewhere, so why can’t there be a fast Ironman from Scott, LA. Here is your chance to NOT QUIT ON YOURSELF. You drop the walking, lift the pace, and roll that action!”
And that was the watershed moment. I never walked again. I spent all of the mental and physical energy I had left to move forward. And the difference between the first loop and the second loop was noticeable. The weird thing was, when we hit the state park for the second time Mirinda was in about the same spot that I saw her on the first loop. Either she was caving, or I was putting together one hell of a run.
During the training, I had this theory that I based off of UFC fighting. Truth is, I love UFC. There are so many parallels to Ironman, minus of course the 8-foot high steel cage and getting punched in the mouth. However, a funny thing happened while watching a fight. This guy gets knocked out, but by all accounts he is still fighting and defending himself. Only the trained eye knows he is comatose, but the body knows only one thing: defend. And born of that was my theory. I convinced myself if I could teach my body “the pace” which was my goal pace (3:00:00), then when things got dicey and the isht inevitably hit the fan, my body would default to that pace. Well, at mile 21, it was time to put that theory to the test. However, to help was the first time Luke appeared. A friend of mine from Baton Rouge was so excited to see me on the course putting it together, and I had seen him a few times earlier in the day. But now he was going to help me in a way neither of us ever saw coming. The first split was “John, 2nd place is 1 minute up on you and he looks terrible. DUDE you can do this! You just have to run. RUN!” And that was what I had echoing in my brain, with my immediate silent rebuttal, “Um, that’s all she’s got Cap’n! We are FULL THROTTLE!” But then a crazy thing happened. Luke lied to me.
“Dude! The gap is 51 seconds. Come on John Fell, you have to go now. It’s mile 23. Dig deep my dude!” It was almost as if it gave me a shred of hope that I could lasso this guy back. 51 seconds in 3 miles. So possible. So I started working, and I mean really working. I know I have 51 seconds in me. Then the internal voice started, “Didn’t you tell WJones that no one is tougher than you? Big talk for a small dude. If you said it, than back it up son. Time to be tough.” The next split was 37 seconds. “John you are closing the gap, but you gotta go!” Man, I knew what was happening. I was doing it, but I was going to run out of real estate. It wasn’t going to be possible. 37 seconds in 2 miles was just a bit too much of a gap. I resigned that I might not catch him, but I told myself “You still run as hard as you can. We are 2.2 miles to go and you haven’t quit all day. You have 2.2 miles. Don’t quit on yourself.” At mile 25, the gap was 26 seconds. Then it happened. Luke saw it, I saw it. And he just couldn’t contain himself.
The 2nd place guy was easily 6 foot 5 inches tall, and had the goofiest handlebar moustache I’ve ever seen. However, it was easy to spot him. So there he was, about 200 meters up the road on me, coming to a walk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Luke about lost it. I think he was losing faith that I could close the gap as well, until now. He sprinted over to me and took this Gatorade bottle he was carrying and squirted me in the face. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to being in the UFC. He got in my face and yelled the loudest whisper (he didn’t want to spook the guy into running and call attention to me) He said to me words that I will carry to my grave. “John, in 2 months the pain you’re feeling in your legs right now will be completely gone. However the pain of disappointment you will feel if you don’t close that gap and take that dude will haunt you forever. Go for it!” As I came within 20 meters of the guy, He started running again. He never looked back, never saw me. He just started his death march to the finish line.
I was locked and loaded. I knew we were inside mile 25, and I knew where I was. I have run this race 3 other times, and run this route countless times pre-race. We would make the bend, run over the boulevard, turn right on the beach road, and run toward Gulf Crest. I knew exactly how far every stretch was. I knew I had it in me to take this guy, but where would I do it? How would I do it? Do I go with the Alistair Brownlee move and pass so close that I brush him, while accelerating so hard it immediately breaks him? Do I go with the Dave Scott where I go on the opposite side of the road so I don’t draw attention to myself? A stealth move. Do I pull a Macca and sit behind him until the finish chute and then slingshot passed him (also called a Ricky Bobby slingshot)? And if I go too early, he may gather himself and re-pass me. Or what if I go and don’t have enough kick to make it home? Whatever I do, it’s gotta be violent and it’s gotta be decisive.  Just as I settled on the spot and style of my pass, the moustache man stops smack dab in the middle of the road and starts stretching his hamstrings. This was it, it was all instinct. I went completely blank. It had to be now. I went to the outside of the road and used some runners on their first lap as camouflage. I never turned around, and never looked back. I just went as hard as I could. I ran from the bottom of my soul. I have run faster, but I doubt I’ve ever run harder than that moment. I ran like a scared animal. I was weaving in and out of athletes. I willed every muscle in my foot to push off just a little bit harder. I scraped my body for a smidge faster turnover. I made the left after the downhill by Gulf Crest. I promised once I committed to the move I would only look back once. And I would look when I took a left so it wasn’t so obvious. I saw nothing I could make out. It was a sea of runners. All running after me. I saw the Lafayette people. They were screaming. So was my body. My hearing was gone. I might as well have been in a tunnel of silence. I cut through pairs of athletes hogging the lane walking and talking about their awesome bike splits. I was on fumes. I could barely talk. I tried to ask people who was behind me. I would have been better off speaking mandarin Chinese. People just looked at me. As I ran toward Alvin’s island and the finishing chute, my boys were there. Eric, “Captain Canada” Trevor Casper, Brett, Luke and Pat O. They were going BANANAS! I am begging them for a view of what was behind me. They were just hysterically screaming at me. This had to stop. How could this guy answer that kind of attack? It was brutal. I almost destroyed myself. I finally ask the volunteer manning the chute, “Is he behind me?” No dude, you’re clear.
Oh sweet, mercy! Now it was time for the pimp check. Zip up the jersey, straighten it. Wipe sweat and snot off the face. Look presentable, your mother-in-law is watching. I come into the chute and there is 9:04:xx on the clock. Oh wow. I hear on the loud speaker clear as day, “And here is your 2nd age grouper of the day, from Scott, LA John Fell.” I just lost it. 2nd age grouper overall and 2nd in my age group at one of the oldest Ironman races on the circuit. My heart was exhausted but happy, because I did my job.
I ran all day with my uncle Bob in my heart. That’s what the kisses to the finish line and thumbs up were about. This was my gift to him. He has always been the inspiration behind my endurance sports drive. In Hawaii, the ultimate honor is to say someone “would go.” So if you’re surfing and scared of a wave, they would say “Bob would go.” It is to show that Bob is courageous, and that he would go and so should you. So that is what was written on my hand. “Bobwouldgo”. Because Uncle Bob is courageous, and if he was racing Ironman Florida then it would be racing at the front with courage. And that is how I wanted to race, and wanted to honor my Uncle. Through all of the courage he has shown in the past 2 years with his battles, he has inspired people to be courageous in all avenues of life.
I see my buddy Trey, and there are just no words. I don’t even know what to say. I go over to where Eric, Brett and Trevor are. Questions ensue but I just nod and smile. I sit against the generator, happy and exhausted because I finally did what I always wanted from myself, which was full effort. I never quit on myself. I never gave up. And I have a 2nd place age group finish to prove it. That is when Eric tells me, “Dude, you won your age group.” Como say what? Well, apparently when they were screaming and yelling at the turn by Alvin’s Island had nothing to do with excitement. The fact that I just caught and passed 1st place in my age group was the reason for the hysteria. You read that right; I caught and passed 1st place in my age group 750 meters from the finish. I guess that’s the thing about Ironman. It really is never over until the finish line.
This was easily the biggest sporting result of my entire life, without equal. And on Facebook I said it was my “Turtle on a fence post” moment. And that is how I still feel today. You see that turtle way up there on that fence post. Every one sees the turtle, but the truth is you know that the turtle didn’t make it up there solely on his effort. And neither did I. My family has been there through the ups and downs, breakdowns, bad races, and crazy training schedule. They have been supportive and patient. My man WJones with his mad scientist training, and doing the impossible which is getting me to actually believe in myself. To paraphrase him, “Hey, champions have to come from somewhere. Why not Scott, LA?” Lisa at Capital Cyclery for seeing something in me and helping me out 10 years ago as I was a young punk roadie kid who loved to go fast but couldn’t quite put it together. PFizze Pat Fellows for keeping me healthy and well shoed with those beautiful Run bird Mizuno shoes. Kris my massage therapist for lying to me before every race and telling me that I’m as lean and that my muscles feel as ready as they have ever felt. Jessica for putting up with my swimming diva fits, and giving me all those sweet doses of Gurzi “Shut up and swim”. My training buddies, who most times (Mike, Eric) sacrificed their rides so I could get pushed just that much closer to the edge. Our battles are always epic, and always a highlight of the week. And last but most important, my wife Elyse. In our texts after the race, I said “This is our victory, not mine.” and I meant it. You are my best friend and the best teammate I could ask for. Thank you for permission and support to dream big.
So what happens now? Well, I ran most of the race knowing that this was my last Ironman race for at least a year. But after the race, I talked to Elyse and my Dad about going back to Kona. Elyse wanted a do-over, as school only allowed her to come in the day before the race. And my dad set me straight, “Son, two reasons we are going back to Hawaii for that race. First, we (Fell men) don’t leave things undone. And I feel like we left that island last time with things unfinished. And second, I really love that farmer’s market in Kona. So I think that we should go back so I can hit the farmer’s market again.” So in short, I’m going to suffer next October so my wife can enjoy the race atmosphere and my dad can get star fruit at the farmer’s market. Sounds like a fair deal to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Miseducation of John's Feet: The Allure

The biggest question I think I had for myself in putting this together was “How the hell did I get here?” A good question, and kind of a comical answer.
I rode mountain bikes a little bit in high school and college, and started racing road bikes when I was a junior. And by racing, I mean staying with the pack for about 3 miles of a 40-mile race. But my buddy Dave Allen persuaded me to race and keep coming out and giving it a go, and to this day I credit (or blame) him for loving the raw speed only the road bike can provide.   Yeah, yeah, that’s all well and good, but what about Ironman? How did you get pulled into Ironman racing?
Well after a whopping 4 months of racing triathlons, I started reading everything triathlon I could get my hands on. Most of the articles and talk were about Ironman and all of the races throughout North America. There was Peter Reid, Tim DeBoom, Natascha Badmann, Heather Fuhr, Simon Lessing on the national scene winning races. But really the intrigue started with our local Ironman superstars. You had guys like Jimmy Bienvenue, Mike Alexander, Jerry Martinez, Robert Mitchell, Mark Miller, Jody Ferguson, Ken St. Pe’, Keith Manuel, John Deshotel, Charles Brenke. They called themselves “Team LIT”, and these guys were the big guns in triathlon. They had the respect in the triathlon circle that the rodeo clowns get at the rodeo. These guys were the real deal. Hearing stories of these crazy epic rides to Kaplan, Opelousas, Church Point, and all over south Louisiana.  One of the “Team LIT” members explained their crew as “drinkers with a triathlon problem.”
Nevertheless, I wanted into that party. Just the idea of the Ironman race sounded gnarly. I was pretty shitty on the swim, and good on the bike. The run? Well, I played soccer, how hard could the run be? Besides the monster miles and larger than life characters, the three things that lured me into Ironman were: the competition, the camaraderie, and Peter Pan syndrome.
Competition was everywhere in soccer. From age 6, seeing who could get the most soccer ball patches on their shorts for scoring goals, to who played the most minutes per season. You were constantly in competition, trying to win your starting spot on the field, trying to keep your spot, trying to score goals, trying to win games, trying to pick up chicks because you scored goals that won games. You get the idea. I was a lazy forward, and there was nothing better than that battle of one forward with the ball versus a couple defenders and a keeper. It was as much a mental battle as it was physical. There were fights, shirt pulls, fists, and even a Gatorade squirt to the face (allegedly). But after that last game at DePauw, the competition in my life was over because soccer was over. No more battles, no more bus rides, no more pre-race music on the Discman (no judgment youngsters!), and no more adrenaline from all that competition. I did try to party for a while, but I wasn’t very good at it. Plus, since I was already losing my hair as a senior in college, I could never fit in with the gel craze at Amanda Scott’s / 410. I tried to bike race for a year or two, but just got frustrated with the shenanigans of it all. You’re telling me the guy that is the craftiest, not the fittest could win this race? Not cool. But Ironman, where the toughest, hardest working, fittest person wins. This is cool! This is for me! Competition and scoring goals in soccer was fun, and I may have embellished my goal celebrations a bit much for how good I really was. But one thing I missed more than the competition was the camaraderie.
Long bus rides, those stupid inside jokes at practice, hiding coaches keys so he couldn’t get the gear out of the shed. These were all the day-to-day bonding and general goofing off that I missed once soccer was over. So when I looked at Ironman and saw that I’d get to go on 5-hour bike rides and tell stories, cut up, and generally act foolish, how could I resist?
The last (and most important) allure to Ironman for me was / is “The Peter Pan syndrome.” I’m sure all the psychologists (Elyse included) are licking their chops on this one. What is the Peter Pan syndrome? Well, it’s the refusal to grow up. Somehow, I figured out / decided that it was socially acceptable to continue being a kid as long as I did kid things. And riding my bike, swimming and running definitely qualified as kid things. Ironman offered me an avenue to stay young, and never grow up. Because after all, when you spend all your time swimming, biking and running, how could you possibly have time to do any grown up things like applying for a mortgage, buying investment property or starting a side business? No, Ironman was the perfect escape from reality. It gave me the same experiences and opportunities that soccer provided all 16 years, and gave me an excuse to see cool places and spend money, time and effort on kid stuff like bikes.
After 9 years of racing, I don’t regret a single minute. I would still fall victim to the allure of Ironman racing if I knew then what I know now. I may be poorer for all of the business / career opportunities missed, but the ability to extend the competition, camaraderie and the chance to not grow up is a deal I would make again. I’ll be forever grateful for falling victim to the allure of the Ironman, and for all of the experiences I’ve had on the race courses throughout the world.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Miseducation of John's Feet : Intro

Honestly, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been writing a bit, but mainly in my journal so I can remember all the crazy stuff I’ve cooked up over the years training for Ironman after Ironman race. And when I say remember, it’s really to taunt my yet to be born children with statements like “Whaaa, you had to run two miles in 20 minutes for PE class. When I was younger, I….” You see where that’s going. Nothing like taunting your unborn children for being soft. Anyway, while training for Ironman Florida has been fun this year, I’ve realized that my paper is empty. Paper, you ask? When I started training/racing triathlons, I wrote down my big “Pie in the sky” dream goals. They were simple:
1 – Qualify for Ironman Hawaii
2 – Win Cajunman
Well, both of those have been crossed off the list with a lot of hard work, a good bit of luck, and a ton of patient Elyse and family. After knocking these two off, and thinking long about my future in triathlon, I’ve decided that Ironman Florida will be my last Ironman race for at least a year*, maybe more. And what a wild, crazy, strange, exciting, exhausting, eye opening, frustrating, pure experience it has been. I’ve made a ton of wrong turns, had a bunch a bad “theories”, and generally did most all of the dumb stuff anyone training for triathlon could make. And while I’m not too thrilled with the direction of some of the fraternity / sorority / country club type crap that is infecting triathlon in recent years, I’d like to leave the sport even the tiniest bit better than when I started. And the best way that I know to do that is to write. What you’re gonna find is this series: The miseducation of John’s feet.
 All 9 years, shoehorned into a series of blogs about what I’ve learned, what has worked, what I wasted time with, what has helped me, and really what it’s like chasing after the two above goals when you have a full time job, some responsibilities, and awkwardly flat feet. I’m not a sports scientist, nor do I really know all that much about the technical jargon of kinesiology. Nor will I will not debate grumpy people on the scientific approach of the 20 chosen fit subjects in some Norwegian study with double blind control groups. I’m an experiment of one, and I’m here to share my story (warts and all).  I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of my training, but I will outline some of the stuff that has worked for me throughout the years as well as some stuff I straight wasted my time with. How will self-reflection and whining on the internet leave triathlon a better place? Well, when I started there wasn’t much out there in terms of real life guys / girls talking about “the grind”. Sure, they had sexy Triathlete articles about Peter Reid going up to an abandoned Hawaii girl scout camp and putting together 40 hours of solitary Buddhist monk style training a week. But what about us regular hacks that have to push papers all day? Are we doomed to glow sticks at every Ironman race? So that is my goal with this series. To put out there all I’ve learned, and some of what I’ve tried to forget, in a nice little package for you to read. And if it gives you one idea, helps you flip over another rock of improvement or avoid a bonehead move, then I have succeeded. So I hope you enjoy the series, and good luck on your journey.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day 9 - The final km's

Well, that was sure something. 1,000 km's is in the books. Today's ride was not without both shenanigans, caffeine and excitement. The shenanigans came in the form of fog. Lots of fog. All day. I thought it would burn off by 10am. My theory really didn't pan out. So we rode to Starbucks and waited for the fog to at least thin a bit. The stories Adam had really aren't for public domain, but they had me laughing obnoxiously. As did Jeremy's stories of passing out trampoline belly hugs to his wife. It's a wonder Lisa hasn't smothered him with a pillow while he sleeps by now. The excitement was that pit bull puppy that was on the loose and refused to leave Adam alone. In the panic of a terrorizing mutt trying to snack on his leg, Adam smoothly asked "Why me dog? Do I smell like beef jerky?!" I guess you had to be there. Anyway, I'd like to say thanks for all those people who came out and rode with me this week. It was a blast, and kind of a silly insane challenge I did kind of just because "it was there." A special thanks to Adam and Marcus who rode a large majority of the miles with me. Also to Will Jones, who will be receiving his limited edition (as in 1 of 2) 1,000 Christmas K's t-shirt. Details and pics of this shirt to follow. As for now, I'm kind of at a loss of creativity for what to do next. Something equally fun, equally ridiculous, and equally easy to photo the whole thing.

Today's ride - 45.6 miles (73.5km)
Total for the whole challenge (Dec 23 -31) - 630.5 miles (1,017km)

This was an omen of things to come. All foggy all day 

Adam with that goofy grin. At least his helmet is straight this time 

Adam and Jeremy who looks more contradicting. Roadie gear on triathlon bikes 

Theme of the day. Fog 

A haven in the fog. Good coffee, good stories 

Jeremy, your orange mocha frappacino is ready. But that matching kit is sharp! 

The miles are adding up for young Adam 

Contemplating life, and New Year's eve plans 

I've tried to find better, but damn these shoes are comfy! 

I know this is a gratuitous product shot, but they make some awesome stuff. The pro tour bib short and lightweight gilet are staples of my cycling wardrobe

Looks like that house in "Misery" 

The swamp 

The horses did not warn us of the pit bull puppy ahead 

The comedy train, rolling all day long 

That look says "This was fun, but I'm looking forward to a nap." 

I saw this view a lot this past 9 days 

We almost got shot over this photo. Yep, that's strollin' around in a bath robe and hair in a towel with shower shoes on. You only see this stuff on a bike 

 The surprise of the day. Showing the guys the deer farm. People would kill for those bucks

This beauty deserves a day off, and a bath.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 8

Man, the 1,000 Christmas K's is so close, I can almost feel it! Before today's ride, I was 130km away from busting this out, and today and tomorrow's weather is just superb! Today started off foggy, but a later start and shorter route was very welcome. Marcus ventured out with me on one condition, that a coffee stop was on the menu. After a doppio espresso, it was time to log some miles. Overall, it was nice to have an indian summer day. 70+ in late December?! I'll take it. Only one ride, and 57km left to complete the 1000 Christmas K's. I'm looking forward to putting this challenge in the completed column.

Today's ride - 46 miles (74km)
Total so far - 585 miles (943km)

Lafayette Parish ordered 15 of these signs. 8 of them are on Bayou Tortue Rd. 

After 1,000 Christmas K's, the hay will in fact be in the barn 

Marcus soaking up the sun. kid is gonna crush dreams in 2012 

Yes, that's a dog tag. Chances are if you get hit, your iPhone will be toast. Make it easy for even a stranger to get you help 

The Chastant's rapunzel tower