Wednesday, February 28, 2018

More racing

I've sat down and begun writing an "update" probably 7-8 times since April when I last wrote something on here. Each time, though, I think "honestly, who cares" and end up letting something sit in the Drafts folder while I think "well, I'll make it more entertaining with other witty anecdotes and photos shortly." But I continue to not do that, as my fear of worsening the self-aggrandization that is triathlon social media sets in. Plus, I figure people who read this likely know me, or are at least familiar enough via Facewittagram to have a pretty general idea what's going on. There's a small subset of people who accidentally stumble across a random years-old post about Escape From Alcatraz (by FAR my most popular post all-time, especially from search engine referrals), and in that case, the reader probably isn't as interested in a linear story of my "triathlon journey" (a phrase which makes me green-face-emoji just to type out).

As far as the 2017 racing season goes, it was a bit lackluster, but it certainly had its major highlights that stick out:
I led out of the water at XTERRA Oak Mountain in a fairly deep field, but man, was that stupid. 0/10 would not recommend.
I raced my fifth Armed Forces Triathlon Championship. Team Navy won for the first time since I stopped getting outrun by most of the women, but I came up one position shy of an automatic berth to the CISM Military World Championships by coming 7th. One slot quickly rolled down, though, and off I went to Germany in August.
A relatively last minute change to make Worlds a non-draft race meant I was left scrambling for a TT bike. The race went OK, not my best work but not disappointing, finishing well behind a field with a handful of 2012 and 2016 Olympians.
I was supposed to race ITU Cross Triathlon Worlds a few weeks later, but a crash on my very last training ride at home sent me to the ER for some stitches with a doctor saying "you absolutely should not swim in a lake in 4 days." So, I tried doubling down on XTERRA Pan American Championships in Utah, hoping to avenge my flat tire last year in what was otherwise some of the best fitness I think I've ever had. Unfortunately, that was not to be and race day was remarkably disappointing.
I closed out the season with some low-stress smaller, collegiate racing (more on that below). I wasn't in particularly good form for either, especially Pumpkinman that came at the heels of a 5-week block of nearly zero structured training.

As for my non-racing life...I finally left Virginia Beach! This might merit its own post because I lived there for a rather formative 5+ years immediately following college, but that's honestly not going to happen. I had something of a love-hate relationship with the beach, but it had really gotten to the point where most parts of my life (beyond just triathlon) had gotten "stale," for lack of a better term. Plus my tour of duty in Norfolk ended, so I was due to at least change jobs. I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in July and am now pursuing a Master's of Computer Information Systems at Colorado State University. For those following along very closely, that degree has nothing to do with my previous job of ship inspections and port management, but I am still in the Coast Guard and will return to "the fleet" in December 2018/January 2019 to work in IT (or something closely related) for the Coast Guard.

Considering that I'm covering about 10 months' worth of material here, I've inevitably forgotten a thing or five. And there's a strong possibility that it will be another year or more before I update this again (though I may change the layout as I get a bit more familiar with HTML in one of my classes...just because I can) However, because of the addictive nature of smartphones, I'm substantially more inclined to keep things updated on the folder of apps on my phone titled "Time Wasters." (@idking90 on both Instagram and Twitter, though the latter is less and less frequently used)

In rough chronological order, here are some pictures:
Team Navy: so good we don't even wear shoes.

I broke the rule and shared a Snapchat post elsewhere. But this was one of my very last days of work, one of my first times visiting Norfolk Waterside version 643. Fortunately the Chipotle only opened up about a week before I left, or else I'd be fat and broke spending $16 a day because it's impossible not to get chips and guac with my burrito that obviously I want extra guac on as well.

I lived in four different places in Virginia Beach/Norfolk over the five years I was there. Old Beach was the one that felt most like "home."

Farewell, little half-street. I will not miss every delivery or Uber driver taking an extra 10 minutes to circle around the block six times because they missed you. (Update: in my large condo complex, my building is basically out of order in the numbering scheme. So I basically have the same problem 😂😂😂)

Officially, day 1 of driving was Va Beach to New Jersey. But more (less?) officially, I called my Columbus, NJ to Cleveland, OH (ish) as day 1. I thought this day would be the roughest for some reason???
Day 2. "Oh, are you going to take your time driving across the country?"
"No, I'm driving through the 2/3 of the country that you skip over. Nobody needs to see southern Indiana at a speed slower than 85 mph."

Day 3. Everybody talked up Kansas, but I figured it couldn't be that much worse than the day before through Indiana and Missouri. But in Indiana and Missouri, I-70 never disappeared as a straight line on the horizon. Woof. And then there's the stretch where "I'm in Colorado??? No, this is like worse than Kansas" for a solid couple hours.

I had a transcendental experience in Kansas with Europe '72 on repeat for about 7 hours.

Everybody was taking service-contingent photos before the opening ceremony for Military Worlds. Naturally, I was alone. At least per capita by service, I'm guessing that 1/40,000ish is better than the ratios of the other branches? Maybe?


Yea but them quads.
Welcome to Colorado! Here's your daily summer hail storm!
Tried to send it. Insufficient postage.

Chicks dig scars, so I hear. The PA doing my stitches, however, did not dig my 8 year old girl level of screaming.
On the bright side (pun alert!) of missing ITU Cross Worlds, I was able to see 100% coverage of the eclipse by driving about 2 hours north to Wyoming. Here is where I stopped, at an I-25 onramp with nothing but a dirt road leading to a private ranch that, by the time of the eclipse, probably had a thousand people of it.

#nofilter
(But re: my prior caption, look how many more cars there are during the eclipse itself!)
Growing up, Mom always used to take a picture of us right next to a lamp post in the driveway on the first day of school. No lamp post, but here I am on my first day of 17th grade.

This is a borrowed throwback jersey, but yes, I'm wearing green and gold now. But blue and orange still hold a very, very special place in my heart and always will.

#JustColoradoThings
Fun fact: ask me about what happened 10 minutes after this picture was taken.

#TimeTrial(Today.DayOfWeek)
Fortunately I won't be wearing my throwback jersey any more, as much as I like the Michelin Man look.

Monday, April 24, 2017

El Viaje

At this point, we all know my triathloning is just a rouse for more South American wine and coffee. That said, performing in races means more money going to the coffee and wine fund. My decision to open the season with back to back races in Chile and Costa Rica came from a combination of the race schedule, my work schedule, and my cache of frequent flier miles.
Chile was a great experience from start to finish. There's always a bit of apprehension about a first year race, but you'd have never known it based on so much of the organization. The race organizer and my host family were beyond gracious, helping out wherever, whenever possible, like getting me to their triathlon club's gorgeous outdoor long course pool set in the Andes foothills.
Even if you don't like swimming, how can you not want to swim here?
Race day came, and it was...interesting. The start was fairly tame and not insanely fast, so I found some good feet early to follow while the superstar swimmers got rid of us mere mortals early. Within a couple hundred meters, I decided my offseason was over and GO TIME and I could bridge back to the trio just away from us. I couldn't and didn't, but, hey, I led my group out of the water, giving me a clean transition and a solid confidence boost.
4 K a day keeps the slow away. That's what I tell myself when I have to wake up at 4:15 to swim, at least.

I then rather stupidly drilled the first winding, flat 2 miles of the bike, hoping perhaps I could still bridge up to that next group before we hit the first climb on the bike. I didn't, and then it became evident that the flatlands of Virginia Beach are not apt training grounds for the desert foothills of the Andes. Go figure. The second, bigger climb was a bit more of a hemorrhaging of race position, but I seemed to finally find a bit of a groove near the end of the last climb and into the last descent. Then, to start the final 4-5 miles of flat dirt roads through vineyards, KAPOW. Broken chain. Whoops.At this point, I was maybe 400 meters from the transition/finish area if I quit, or about 4.5 miles if I ran the bike. At that point, I figured I hadn't really trained much in the past several days, and the 2017 version of the XTERRA Pan American Tour scores every race, so even finishing well down in the race could make a small difference at the end of the season. So that's exactly what I did. It sucked.
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Apparently I left the clutch off my rear derailleur, as well, based on the waviness of my chain on flat ground. To me, it makes sense that a clutch would actually make a broken chain MORE likely because it introduces more tension, so at least I can tell myself that this mistake didn't lead to the race-ruining mechanical.

The funny thing is I have no recollection why my left leg is bleeding. I guess that's XTERRA, though.
So, I set off on the run, not totally sure how to play it. I was pretty sure I couldn't make up any placings in the pro field, but after about 400m of being indecisive and thinking I might jog the run, I decided I wanted to put down a run split that made it VERY obvious that I had bike issues. So,that's what I did, and the couple of messages I got later that evening confirmed my strategy. However, my quads were not super jazzed about the unnecessary hard downhill running.
My quads hurt just from looking at this photo. The photographer had a lot of faith that I'd actually be under enough control to make the bend in the trail and not come crashing into him.
So, after the race, I got to enjoy a little bit of Santiago. It really is a great city, and I wish I'd had a bit more time there, though that's often the way this travel goes. Part of me says that some day, I'd like to go back and visit all the places I've raced, except actually see and experience the place. But there are unique little things that wouldn't come from being an ordinary tourist, so it's a mixed bag, I suppose. 
Two paths diverged in an Andean foothill desert, and I....

Normally my recovery spins take place in industrial parks surrounding hotels. Not the case here.
Wine from Argentina, unroasted coffee beans from Maui, now wine from Chile. Something tells me I should bring back a bowl of grits or something from Alabama next month. 
I made it into Costa Rica with plenty of time to spare, giving time to really relax a bit. Perhaps even more than Chile, though, I confined myself mostly to my room watching Netflix (Archer and Last Chance U, for those who are going to ask) for most of the time during the day, though, because I was far from prepared for the daily highs in the upper 90s. Part of my race week "entertainment" was getting updates from Airbnb sharing buddies, and Virginia friends Greg and Parker, who had escapades and adventures abound where driving overnight from Lynchburg, VA to Atlanta airport to make a connecting flight was one of the more innocuous parts of the trip. I attempted multiple times to capture an iguana but never quite got one, repaired an air conditioner, troubleshot our lack of running water...so, yes. It was interesting. Previewing the course was interesting in its own right, as there were frequent encounters with cows, dogs, horses...really about whatever you can think of.
Race morning came and to just add to the comedy of errors was getting stuck in the soft sand on the beach well before dawn, then "Oh dear, there's a car coming behind us, I hope they can see us without any lights on." XTERRA events tend to have more humane start times, but when the daily high approaches 100 degrees, 6 a.m. is the humane start time.
Regardless, it was time to race! I felt very good about this course in previewing it, knowing much of the course would come down to a couple of short but selective climbs. I got off the start and tried hard to stay on Jean Phillipe Thibodeau's feet on the swim,but that plan failed shortly before the first buoy, and as usual I found myself behind Branden Rakita for the next couple hundred meters. After a few minutes behind Branden, I again decided it was go time and JP seemed human enough of a swimmer that we might be able to pull him back, and I also knew there were some strong bike-runners behind us. Right as we really started to claw back some time to start the second lap, I got a nice handful of jellyfish and came to an abrupt stop. Branden came back around and led for the rest of the second lap and we exited the water together, 12 seconds down to JP. I booked it up the beach and took off first of the three of us out of transition because I chose not to wear a swimskin after my beloved neoprene longjohn one ripped last year in Maui, and it paid off. Jean Phillipe came back around and took the lead while I adjusted my shoes and gloves on the beach, and Branden caught on before long. I inadvertently surged a bit going through the soft sand up from the beach onto the trails and found myself with a small gap, but figured I may as well push it until the first climb to give myself a safety buffer given my weak climbing. It then dawned on me..."IAN YOU ARE LEADING A PRO RACE DO NOT SCREW THIS UP!"
Who needs swimskins?

FINALLY, A MOUNTAIN BIKE COURSE I CAN PREPARE FOR IN VIRGINIA BEACH! I'm sitting second wheel here, shamelessly.
 Well, I did screw it up, of course. The first climb becomes a bit too steep to ride about halfway up, which is where Josiah managed to catch our leading trio (HOW DOES HE MAKE UP A MINUTE AND A HALF IN LESS THAN 2 FLAT MILES???), and the four of us started the first and only technical descent together. I bobbled a bit late on the descent coming out onto the fire road, and then they were gone. Eventually, Josiah pulled away from Branden and Jean Phillipe, but those two stayed glued together the rest of the ride and put about 2 minutes into me. Not too long after those guys left me, Kris Coddens caught and pretty much rode right through me. Then I rode the rest of the course singing Eric Carmen songs to myself.

The zip tie broke on my number plate on the beach section in the first 400m. It bothered me for the next hour-plus. Also I need to work on my grimace....Photo from August Teague.
Coasting down the final paved hill into transition, I saw Branden and JP trudging up the same hill to start the run, and body language said I might have a shot at getting one or both of them. A few minutes later, I realized that, no, everybody looks terrible going up that hill. Still, I knew Ryan Ignatz wasn't that far behind me and I was hoping to hold onto 5th place, but Ryan caught me around the halfway mark of the run. I hoped to go with him, but that didn't last very long. Still, XTERRA runs often can turn south very quickly, especially when it's 100 degrees in April, so I knew I had to keep the pressure on in the hopes somebody ahead of me might be struggling. That didn't happen, and I even managed to find myself scared by how close I was feeling to an epic meltdown with less than a mile to go, but I got through to the finish in easily my best every pro XTERRA finish of 6th place.

It was yet another rather quick turnaround, leaving the race the next day, but after almost two weeks living out of a suitcase and having to concentrate SO HARD to hold a conversation (my Spanish isn't what it used to be), I was grateful to get home.
I am fairly certain that driftwood is structural. I don't know how I feel about it.
Living on the east coast, I forget how magnificent west coast sunsets really can be.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thoughts

Writing a "reflections and thoughts" is something that has made me feel icky and entirely self-indulgent, because honestly, I'm not sure who cares that much to read it that doesn't already know the way I feel. Still, it's one of those part obligation, part catharsis exercises that I'm instead trying to add more and more pictures and "copy editor humor" that I inherited from my mother.
I may have earned my elite license halfway through 2015, but realistically, that season was a throwaway for reasons including terrible race selection, below average focus, inconsistent training, and a less than stellar personal life that influenced many of the other factors. In addition to some personal issues and a great deal of uncertainty about my ordinary career, my foray into racing elite or "professionally" was an absolute ass-kicking. It wasn't enjoyable at all, and triathlon had actually become a source of stress for the first time in almost a decade of doing it. I realized I had the most fun in Richmond, despite finishing in last place, because it was just enjoyable, so I decided to go in on off-road triathlon as much as I could, limited by where I live.
Of course, I still got crushed in 2016, though maybe a little bit less. Even my race placings may not have been awesome or what I wanted, but there were times in training and racing that I started to really realize that I'd made the right decision. Some brief thoughts on the year:
I'm very happy that I was able to race a full schedule of the inaugural edition of the XTERRA Pan American Tour and finish 7th in the men's pro standings.
Armed Forces Championship was an absolute dream scenario for me individually, where I finally got into the front group and then backed it up with a great run.
I was ECSTATIC to finally be able to race the Breezy Point Sprint Tri. I'm pretty sure it's an unwritten rule that anybody in the Navy or Coast Guard that does triathlon has to race it at least once.
This season was definitely a grind at times, where I really felt like triathlon consumed me, but in a positive way. I realized that I had finally structured my life around it appropriately. I was away from home for 53 nights between when I first left for Clermont in March until I came home from Maui in October. That's a lot, and something that will likely decrease a bit in 2017 because I learned from it, where more time at a race venue isn't always better, and so on.
All in all, it was a great first full season. I made a little bit of money doing this, though nowhere near in the net positive. By the IRS's standards, "hobby income" is still very much a thing, and reportable at that. There's also the slang term of "hobby pro" that gets thrown out there from time to time in cycling, track and field, and triathlon, that certainly has a bit of a negative connotation. It's something I'm actually embracing, because frankly, it fits me extremely well. Due to commitments I've made, it's unlikely I'll be able to leave the Coast Guard much before I'm 34 or so, but I've been able to race more or less what I want to. Honestly, there's not really much of a thing as a true full-time professional triathlete outside of a small handful of people in the world, so the fact that I have a single, steady job rather than a smattering of half-jobs to make ends meet I don't see as a negative whatsoever.
I wouldn't be able to do any of this stuff without all of them, so I'm thankful for that.
San Telmo, Buenos Aires. I've had worse 36 hour layovers.
Just off the road, outside of Snowbasin resort in Utah. Utah is pretty in late summer/early fall.
Sherando Lake became one of my absolute favorite riding locations. Yes, we have 15 minute, brake rotor-heating singletrack descents in Virginia.
Relationship goals.
For four years, I'd been dreaming of this scenario: being off the front with nobody from any of the other teams. My personal ideal scenario, now for 2017 to just keep getting a little better with a larger gap at T2 and a faster run...
It's beautiful to have the sun just ever so slightly poking out from behind the mountains at sunrise, especially when I'm used to sunrise being right on top of the water (this photo from NAS Point Mugu, California, the day before Armed Forces Triathlon Championship)
Cornering is fun. ITU racing...I could take or leave.
Jonas was my coaching guinea pig, where I learned a lot more about myself as an athlete, and got him to get some of his own goals. 

My days in Virginia Beach are likely numbered, and my focus shifting to off-road means fewer and fewer weekend rides on the Pungo loop.

Now, starting off this offseason I was in a MUCH better place than I was the previous year, really excited to get to training. That said, I was actually taking an offseason this year, as opposed to last year which was two weeks of other stressors that hardly left me with any sort of recovery. These are all out of order. Don't hold that against me.


Monster Cross 2017 on the brand new bike. Love it. So much. I truly built it from scratch. Photo: Jesse Peters.

The brand new bike, fully built, on its semi-maiden voyage. I say semi-maiden because I'd had it for about 3 months, but was gradually changing almost everything on it to be EXACTLY what I wanted, with zero compromise.

Mount Trashmore at sunrise. After a few years since my previous masters group disbanded, I FINALLY found one that worked for both what I'm looking for and my schedule with Tide. That, and views like this make the 4:15 wakeups worthwhile.

Nothing overly special about this, but again, I know I won't live in quirky Old Beach, Virginia Beach forever, so I've found myself taking more photos on easy rides and easy runs (when I'm on call for work and have to carry my phone anyway). This is the LifeguART that only exists in winter. I like to pretend to hate Virginia Beach, but there are definitely things I'll miss about it.

I mean, how could I not?

"Congratulations, you're now an adult! Also, can you go work 72 straight hours because there's a blizzard coming and we have to close the port and queue up all the inbound vessel traffic"

Virginia Beach isn't just endless subdivisions and fighter jet runways. OK, it's mostly like that.

One of these days I will learn to throw a whip. Until then I'll settle for poorly timed bunny hops. Heaps of fun at Rustbucket Cross race in Norfolk.

I guess I have to go back to Cleveland every November now to close out my off-season.