Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hickory Grove Triathlon

Well. I got the first one under my belt. The official times are in. Here are mine...

Swim 9m 17s
T1 3m 41s
Bike 1h 03m
T2 2m 06s
Run 43m 20s

Total Time 2h 01m 23s
189th place in the men's division (out of 192)
32nd in my age group (out of 32)

It wasn't fast. (well, the swim was pretty good) But I finished, and I didn't take three hours. Ten weeks ago I was ballooning up towards a weight I had not seen since before I joined the Corps. I really didn't want to get into the third century weight wise. In the 9 1/2 weeks since I began my training, I shed 25 pounds. I improved my endurance in swimming, biking and yes, even running. Ten weeks ago doing any one of these distances alone would have probably put me in the hospital. But I did all three in a smidge over two hours.

Race Report:

I warmed up with a very short swim before most others got to the beach. Being my first tri, I was getting jumpy and nervous as more and more and more people crowded onto the beach. There must have been a hundred other guys with blue swim caps like mine. And we'd all be starting in the second wave! I moved off a ways and dipped my feet back in the water and looked out over the very peaceful lake in the early morning. I took a deep breath and thought about how far I had come to get here. 9 1/2 weeks of training as hard as I could. Dropping 1/12 of my weight in the process. When I started training I was only able to swim 200 yards in ten minutes, mostly a slow breast stroke and side stroke with little stretches of freestyle. My first actual bike ride was 7 weeks ago, lasted five miles, took a half hour, and I almost passed out when I returned home. My first "run" was a mile long and took nearly twenty minutes. Most of which I walked and watched my six year old son run ahead of me and tell me to "come on and run, daddy!" Yet here I was on race day. Actually feeling ready to swim the 500 yards, bike the 15.5 miles, and run the 3.1 miles and do them all in a row. Just finishing would be worth all of the hard work I had put in. My wife and kids were here to cheer me on, as were my parents. All I had to do was the best I could, and have some fun. With that I turned around and headed for the crowd, no longer nervous or anxious.

I'm the one in the blue swim cap.

I was able to leave my glasses on the announcer table right near the water exit, so I could pick them up a few steps from the water after the swim. But I spent a long fifteen or twenty minutes before my wave standing and watching the blurry people around me press in. The first wave left and I had six more minutes until my start. It went fast, and somebody from the first wave was exiting the water as they gave us the ten seconds to start call. The horn blared and I was off! I ran into the water and dove, feeling fast and sleek with my shaved body. Yes, I shaved. I was a swimmer in high school twenty years back and I like feeling slippery in the water when I race. Besides, it'll grow back. I was bunched up with what seemed like a hoard of other people. I remember catching a mouth full of water on one breath that choked me a little. But I have not panicked in the water for decades, so just coughed it out and took a breath on the other side. I caught an elbow in the forehead, thrown by the very guy who talked me into doing this in the first place. I was going to smack him back a little, but then somebody cut across behind me, grabbing my ankle and then my butt. I worked my way to the outside of the pack and gave myself about a ten foot buffer from then on. I did cut into the buoys a bit on the turns, but otherwise swam out on my own. I remember rounding the first buoy and spotting the one at the far end. It seemed so very far away. But I got into my groove and just had a fun swim. Before it really registered, I was approaching the second buoy. I passed a lot of people on that long second leg of the triangle, and by the time I turned the second buoy and headed for the finish, the pack had stretched out enough that there were only a few people around me. Before I knew it, my fingers were scraping sand. I popped up and ran up the beach, stopping to grab my glasses. There was a nice hill to climb and a road to cross to get to the transition area, and there were people lining both sides and cheering. I was so startled and pleased by this that I actually ran up the hill smiling! My wife and kids had found an open spot along there to cheer me, and that boosted me even more. I had not really expected to be able to run up that hill. But I did!

Just out of the water, looking for my glasses.

I had been practicing my T1 for a couple of weeks. Rinse feet in my special foot bucket, bike shorts on, shirt on, shoes on, helmet on, grab bike, go, go, go. It had been a mantra in my head before bedtime. Yet somehow when I got there, I couldn't remember what I wanted to do. I rinsed my feet then grabbed a shoe and slid it on. Then remembered that I wanted to put the bike shorts on first. Off came the shoe, on went the shorts. OK. Now the shoes. On went one shoe. NO WAIT! my brain yelled. YOU WANTED TO DO YOUR SHIRT BEFORE YOUR SHOES! OK, off came the shoe again. I had my shirt halfway on when the thought struck that it really didn't matter if I had a shoe on to put my shirt on. Duh! So I bent down and put the shoe back on. By this time I noticed that my once cleanly rinsed feet now had grass clippings on them. Shoe off. Rinse feet. Pull the dumb shirt down for Pete's sake. Shoes back on. Right feet? Yes, right feet. Let's see, where was I? Rinse, shorts, shirt, shoes... Ah yes, the helmet. On and fastened. Bike off the rack. What am I forgetting? Why are all those people running by me with their bikes? Oh yes... GO, GO, GO! And so what should have taken just a minute or two ended up taking nearly four.

Starting the second lap.

Finally got onto my bike and pedaled off past cheering crowds and out onto the road. First thing up was a nice downhill glide. I could have pedaled, but there was a 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom that we had been warned about. It turned out that there was plenty of road before the turn, and I could make the turn at speed with no problem. Then an immediate climb of the corresponding length and grade hit us. Another left turn at the top of that and a gradual climb over the next mile or so on a winding road. All of this time the power bikers were speeding past me. That's ok though. Ride my race, ride my pace. There was a nice long straightaway with some shallow rollers. I was surprised to look at my computer and see that I was going around 20 - 25 mph! I realized why when I reached the turn around. The wind that had been nudging me along now hit me almost like a fist. It slowed me considerably, and those shallow rollers turned out to be pretty mean to a big guy on a bike riding into the wind! Fortunately the return ride was half as long before we turned right to head back to the park entrance and start another lap. As I rode past the park entrance I saw and heard my cheering section rooting for me. I managed a smile and a wave. Two laps to go. I picked up the pace a little on my second lap, as I was familiar with the course now. Down hill, up hill, long climb, long straightaway with the tailwind where I left it in the highest gear and maintained 22- 25 mph, once even hitting 30 mph on a downhill stretch! Then back into that miserable headwind that ate up all of that time I had gained. As I passed the start again and heard my cheering section again, I waved and smiled again. Some guy on the sidelines then yelled at me "NO! GET DOWN! GET AERO!" And I had to giggle. As if that extra second or two of "getting aero" would make a huge difference between where I would likely finish (back of the pack) and the winners podium. I almost turned around to say "Dude, chill. I just want to have fun and finish!" But by then I was at that sweet, sweet downhill again, which I pedaled. In fact, the whole last lap I pedaled constantly, not wanting to coast down the few hills I had coasted before. I was still feeling pretty good! I passed probably a half dozen people on the bike. But mostly just stayed left and watched others zoom around me!

Into T2 my legs were doing the jelly thing. I hung the bike up but noticed that I was on the wrong side of the rack. At least it was not where I had stood to do my first transition. For some reason this was very important to me, so I crawled under my bike to stand on the "right" side. I dropped my helmet and slipped off the bike shorts. Then I grabbed the energy gel the race sponsors had generously provided in the race packet. I have never had an energy gel before, and since they only gave us one, I decided to try it before the run. I squirted a large dollop into my mouth and immediately regretted it. I felt as if a Rainbow Brite doll had crapped raspberry in my mouth. It stuck to every crevice and gummed up my throat. I tried to wash it down with the remainder of my home brew gatorade, but ended up leaving the transition area feeling like I was hacking up raspberry poo.

Ten feet from the finish line!

I jogged out onto the trail and was guided by very helpful volunteers. My cheering section had moved again to watch me hobble by. I gave them a smile and a thumbs up and told them I'd see them in an hour or two. I had hoped to run a good majority of the run. In training, I was able to motate for the entire distance, but I couldn't seem to actually run for more than a half mile to a mile at a stretch. And it always seemed to take a mile and a half of walking and jogging to get up to that. I had a few other things working against me though. Two days before the race after my last swim practice, I decided to try a race start from the beach to make sure my suit would stay in place. I ran into the water and on the last step before I dove I stepped down hard onto a rock. It left a quarter size purple bruise in the arch of my right foot. When I walked or jogged on flat surface it didn't bother me too much. But our race was run about half on grass trails and a couple of stretches on a gravel road. Whenever the uneven surface or gravel poked up into my arch, it was like stepping down hard onto an electrified spike. Pain shot up my leg and into my back. I could only go so far doing this before I needed to stop and walk or risk falling down and sobbing like a baby at the pain. The other thing going against me was that 9 1/2 weeks of training was not enough to build the endurance I needed to run non-stop. Especially since the last 3 mile run I did was my last physical fitness test in the Marine Corps well over a decade ago. But I kept going. I tried to ignore the knife in the sole of my foot. And the other triathletes were incredibly supportive! I can't count how many others spoke words of encouragement as they passed me. Nobody was harsh or condescending. Just supportive. It really did help! My time ended up about ten seconds faster than the 5K I had run for practice a week and a half back. But considering this was the third time I had gone an entire 3.1 miles, I was OK with that.

The pictures don't show it, but I felt like I was grinning from ear to ear when I crossed that finish line. And before you ask, yes I crossed running, and no I didn't have much energy left. They gave me a water bottle filled with water and took the little timer chip off my ankle. I staggered over to my cheering section and was congratulated by all, with wonderful kisses from very excited kids. My buddy who got me into this was there, too. He had finished a half hour before me. It was his third tri, and he weighs about half what I do. I had accomplished my goal - training for and finishing a sprint triathlon. I felt like a million bucks, even though I finished pretty close to last. The bug has bitten and I know I will do others. The training is actually fun. The races are a blast! I have lots of room to improve, and know exactly what I need to do to get there. I am a triathlete!

More Later

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Did It!

What a day it was. I'll go into more detail later, as I am quite exhausted now. But I finished without incident. I did quite well on the swim, pretty ok on the bike and got through the run.

I am now able to say with pride that I am a triathlete!

Thanks go to Mom and Dad, the Wife and the Kiddos for being there to cheer me on. It made everything so much better.

More Later

Friday, August 27, 2010

This Is It, Here We Go!

Today I had my last workout, and hopefully experienced all of the things that could go wrong, before my first triathlon.

The plan was simple. An easy swim, a short bike, a mile run. Practice the transitions most of all.

The swim went fine, I felt great. Then after I decided to try a running start into the water just to make sure my suit would stay in place. On my last step before I dove in, my right foot found a rock. That has developed into a nice light purple, quarter size bruise right in the middle of the bottom of my foot! It's a little puffy and VERY tender. Should be fun to bike and run on!

I didn't sweat it though. I just went up to practice my T1. Got the bike of it's spiffy new bike rack that hangs it on the back of our SUV, and noticed the rear tire was a bit low. Well, I just got a spiffy new tire pump WITH a gauge, too! So I hooked it up and sure enough, it was mighty low. I pumped it up to recommended levels and removed the pump... and was greeted by a great rushing of air and flattening of the rear tire! I fiddled with it for a few moments, but quickly realized that it was not going to hold air for me anymore, and I am not a bike mechanic. Fortunately the bike shop that tuned it up so well was only a few miles away, and I was sure they could have me back on the road in no time. So I opened up the back and tossed my stuff in, then closed it to put my bike back on the rack.

What I did not count on was the bike rack arm swinging down and leaving a three inch gash in my forehead! It started bleeding immediately, of course. Thankfully it wasn't deep, but will leave a visible reminder in all of the pictures from this weekend to pay attention to what I'm doing when I load up!

I went to the bike shop and the bleeding was stopped by the time the tire was finished. I bought a spare tube in case the front tire poops out on me on race day and headed out the door. I briefly considered going for my bike and swim, but the wife is working an overnight tonight and we are headed for the Triathlon tomorrow. So I wanted to get home and let her sleep some before her shift.

Tonight I decided to do something I have not done since my last race in high school. I shaved down. When I was a Warrior Swimmer, we shaved our bodies and heads to show just how committed we were to going our very fastest. It was Warrior Pride at its finest, as most other swimmers would wear swim caps. But we were state champs for all four of the years I was there, and national champs twice, so there may have been something to it.

I didn't shave my head or beard this time, as the Boyo was worried that he would not recognize me without those. But I did everything else not covered by my suit. I remember way back when that swimming after the shave always felt REALLY fast. I felt closest to a dolphin on those days. What I did not remember was how long it took. I also have a considerably larger amount of hair this time!

But, I will feel fast in the water again. And maybe even on the bike a bit. Which will help me feel good for the run. And I need all the help I can get on this one! I've trained hard for 9 1/2 weeks. Now it is time to go do it!

Wish me luck!

More Later

Monday, August 23, 2010

Twenty Miles

Yesterday I went for my last "big" bike workout before the triathlon. It was hot and humid, but I decided to shoot for twenty miles. It took an hour and a half, and I drank through a liter of water and a liter of my home made black cherry gatorade before I returned. But I made the whole twenty miles. In fact, I went an extra half mile beyond that, and was able to pedal up the monster hill to my house.

I needed the ride. It has been a pretty miserable time of late. Stress and sorrow from all quarters. My mom lost a cousin, Dean, to cancer. My brother's father in law died in a freak accident, throwing their world into turmoil. My father in law came for a visit to Mayo and has ended up being in much worse shape than anyone knew, thus stressing my wife and I quite a bit. With all of the tests and hospitalization and further tests and consultations, I have not been able to have the workout week I would have liked. The Wife and I are in the midst of change as well. She and I have been working part time so that one of us can be home with the kids all the time. Thus erasing the need for day care, which would have taken my entire paycheck as a full time medic. But the schedule has been horrendous. We have about three days off together each month, and we alternate working holidays, so we have not had our family together on actual the actual holiday much at all. This sort of schedule leaves no time for any sort of vacation either. We have been down to see my folks once or twice in the past year, or over to see my in-laws. But the kiddos big adventure this summer was playing in the sprinkler on the front lawn. And that's just not right.

The Wife and I have agreed that this schedule is just not working for us as a family. So we crunched some numbers, talked about several plans, and here is what we have come up with...

She is moving to a .8 position and I am moving to PRN, or as needed. This will give us at least a few days off every couple of weeks, allow for an actual vacation, and means we can spend actual holidays together as a family. Since my medic hours are going to be dramatically less, I am going to focus on getting Bluefeather Gardens and Workshop up and running for real, and seeing if I can make a viable business out of it. I'll still take shifts as a medic, which is great, because I still love that job. But the Wife and I agree that I have to give 100% to Bluefeather and see if it can work. Otherwise, I'll always wonder.

Needless to say, this huge life change is adding extra stress to an already stressful time. So the big bike ride and the full length tri on friday were so vey welcome for stress relief.

It seems that in this season of my life, my elders are beginning to die off. I am not looking forward to their loss at all. Nor am I looking forward to becoming the elder. The Wife and I are changing our lifestyle and eating habits too, as if we need something else to worry about. But we both want to be healthier for our kids and our future grandkids. Life is too short to be out of shape and sickly. I (as you know) have taken up triathlon training. The Wife is going to start running again with the goal to team up with me on a future tri as the running part! I'm really looking forward to that!

So. Lots of transition right now. Some not so great. Some unsure but hopeful. Keep us in your prayers if you are the praying sort. I'd appreciate it!

More Later

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Forty Five Years

It was 45 years ago today that my parents were joined in marriage. After knowing each other for a little over four months! They met on April 1st, a fitting date for the rest of their married lives!

For better or for worse, they were married, and they have seen both ends of the spectrum and come through it together. I'm pretty sure the good times outweigh the bad. They created a relatively stable home for us to grow up in, and provided a great example of how to stay together through thick and thin.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! With much love from Shaffer North!

More Later

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nine Days Left...

...and the butterflies are already stirring.

Today was pretty nice though. When I started this little adventure back in late June, I thought that I'd like to be at least doing the sprint tri distances by a week or two before the actual tri. I hit the 500 yard mark long ago, and my bike rides have been up over 15 miles for some time now. My runs (jogging and walking time) have gone over the three mile mark a grand total of twice before today.

But today was the first time I put it all together. I did a 600 yard swim and ran up to my vehicle, which contained my bike and other gear. That took a total of 12 minutes. Then I headed out on the bike and did 15.63 miles in 1:08:38. Stashed the bike back in my car and hit the road walking. It takes a good mile and a half of alternating between jogging and walking to get my legs under me, and even then I need to stop once or twice. But managed to go 3.1 miles in 43:29. Those are all sprint distances (or more for the swim) and I finished the whole thing!

The total time was around 2:05, give or take, because I didn't really time the transitions. But I was pleased with my performance, and know that I can and will improve!

My confidence is very high for finishing, and I'm looking forward to race day!

More Later

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Twelve is the number of days left until the triathlon. Between my Saturday night and Sunday night shifts, I managed to pedal fifteen miles in less than an hour for the first time! The trails around my place of employment are pretty flat compared to my regular route at home. I ended up going 15.5 miles, the full length of the coming tri, in 1.01:14. Then I hopped off my bike (see: staggered) and started doing laps around the hospital. Turns out the road that runs full circle-ish around the facility is just a shade over a half mile. My goal was to go at least two miles.

I had to start out walking, as my legs were still a bit rubbery. For the first mile I ran for a minute or to, then walked about the same. For the second mile, I extended the running (jogging) distances, and shortened the walks. When I started on mile three, I decided to just see how far I could jog without stopping. I did about a loop and a half! So about 3/4 mile jogging! Then I walked a bit to listen to an older guy who was walking the laps tell me about his knee replacement and doctor orders and past health history, and wife's health history. I parted ways with him as gracefully as I could and finished the loop jogging! six times around is about 3.3 miles, so just over a 5K - which is the distance of the tri! It took me 44 minutes. Not great, but much better than any previous "runs", both in time and distance!

I spent monday recovering, and I'm hoping to get a swim and a run in yet today. Next week I'll do a little taper for the event. Then it will be time! Twelve is the number of days left until the triathlon.

More Later

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Birthday Week

My sister was born on the first of this month. My brother on the fourth. I came on the seventh, and somehow growing up, I never tired of the cake. Of course, there was a lot of leftover cake from time to time. But we seemed to manage.

Happy birthday to my sister and brother. One older than me, one younger. Both very special to me.

And thank you to Mom and Dad. How on earth you managed three birthday parties in the same week for all those years is beyond me now that I am a parent myself!

More Later