I almost cried yesterday after the Chicago Marathon

Yesterday, I had a good day running the Chicago Marathon. The experience was not as draining or emotional as last year, but an accomplishment regardless. I plan on posting the Race Report later.

I was talking with my coach from nJoy Racing, Kimberly Shah, taking a chance to debrief about the race and the season. That whole conversation is going to be fodder for 3 blog entries, but I’m going to start with this one here.

Kimberly took the time to point out that I did improve massively over the past year, and it brought me into perspective. I didn’t realize it because I was looking at the minutiae and sweating the details. But that wasn’t the most profound moment.

Kimberly ended up calling me out on the carpet on something that I didn’t really expect. But at the same time, it was the same type of call that started this whole journey into endurance sports. The same one that got me into Triathlon this year. That insight, combined with the experience I had in the marathon this year, shook me to the core. But, I knew that she was right. I knew also, this could mean something special and extraordinary. When someone knows you very well, they also can see the truth that you tend to hide from yourself. They know what you are capable of, even if you don’t believe it yourself. But belief can only get you so far.

However, having this insight does me no good right now. For today, I have to keep this insight close to my vest.

If this comes true, I will re-post what she said to me in that moment. For today, this is just a time capsule. A reminder to my future self what is possible. And how blessed I am to know this ahead of time.

Race Report – Rev3Tri Cedar Point

If you guys were looking for a happy ending to this crazy year, I’m sorry I can’t deliver on it.

As I sit here at home, sore and kind of hurting, I’m just trying to come to grips with all that happened.

As a famous person once said: “Just start from the beginning”

I rolled into Ohio on Friday. Mind you I’ve never been to Cedar Point before, after hearing multiple reports of about the park and trips I’ve missed with friends. It was a bit underwhelming when I got there, and very contrasting to the old Sandusky, Ohio waterfront. It almost felt like Cedar Point wasn’t in town or at the very least the most popular thing going.

Regardless, checked in and made the trek up the beach to the expo. (Author’s note: I picked a hotel on the Cedar Point campus, but even that was a 20 minute walk. Next year, different hotel). The expo was all outdoors, much to my surprise and chagrin. Then the second shoe dropped. My rush to get in town Friday was that I under the assumption that we had to be in town for a meeting since I was doing a relay sprint leg on Saturday. It turns out that I didn’t, although it would have made it easier to check-in. Regardless, when I got in line for my half-ironman race, I found out I had the race number 666.

Now, I’m not superstitious by any means, but I would have thought SOMEONE would have at least skipped the number. And worse after all this drama over registering and everything I went though this summer, I was a bit miffed that I had this number. And everything as personalized as well, so number-switching wasn’t really an option. But it was the start of a very ominous day. First was the rain right after getting my packet. Then having to walk in the rain back to the hotel.

Then Saturday rolls around and a major storm was passing through. I woke up to find out that the Sprint Race was cancelled (or at least reduced to a 5k run for most participants). So I promptly went back to sleep. Not bad right? But the weather reports all pointed to something similar around the start time tomorrow. Also, the life guarded practice swim was also cancelled as well, denying me a chance to get into the water.

Transition was different this time around, because you had to check in your bike the day before (Saturday). I was more concerned about the rain messing up my bike so I tried to wait as late as possible to check in the bike. I also got a chance to do ART and such as well, enjoying a very painful experience but hopefully better in movement.

I had dinner at Breakers and tried to decompress as much as I could, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t fall asleep and I found out waking up in the middle of the night that I had a sinus infection. It was blocking my passages and not letting me breathe. I thought at that moment in time that maybe I should drop completely out of this, because too many coincidences occurred. This didn’t feel right at all. But, I tried to get back on the horse and go to the race.

Sunday rolls around and starts off okay. Since I packed everything for transition (Read: new strategy, separate Ziploc bags with materials in them. Great stuff.) the night before, I knew I just had to drop everything off and get down to swim start. It was very cold that morning and I prematurely put on my wetsuit because I was shivering without it. (Author’s note: Better prep for cold weather, I think this contributed to things as well.) I saw the Iron distance mass start and went back into the hotel to try and relax before going in.

I did get a chance to warm up a bit in the water. A few notes, that most of the water was shallow, which shortens the swim a bit. I felt good warming up after not being in the open water since the Chicago Triathlon. So I got in line for the start of the swim.

However, there was another problem. As I got started, I realized that there wasn’t as many boats out on the water, and very young lifeguards just standing on the coast. So sure enough I started swimming for 100 meters and as I realized the safety net was going away, I didn’t see anyone close enough to help me if I had a problem. Then right after that I mentally went into a black hole, and resulting hyperventilation symptoms came back again. Not wanting to risk a heart attack in the water, I immediately turned around (Author’s note: I think I swam faster back than I had going forward.)

Yep, I decked out on the swim again. On top of this, I was severely cold and sick. Neither was helping me in my condition. The water was warmer than the air, which also I think contributed to the freakout cause I felt my body being shocked from the temperature change. I also noticed that I had to pretty much walk to transition and no one really noticed I had turned around or I potentially needed help. It was even more disconcerting to me.

I got back to transition to get checked out. I knew that I was okay physically but being cold and mentally going haywire I just wanted to sit down for a second. The person I asked for help took my timing chip and I thought that was it. Another friend of mines suggested that I go finish the other two legs, I mean who cares, right? I agreed with him and I paused for a second, thinking that if I was having this bad of a day I should just stop right there. But he was right, I came here to do this, so I should at least finish this out.

So I went into transition and suited up for the bike (Author’s note: again being cold, should have left my tri-top in transition.) I got rolling on the bike out on the causeway out of Cedar Point. All reports that I saw on the bike leg mentioned that it was either flat or rolling hills. And a few ‘steep’ climbs. So the first 10 miles or so went okay, I stopped because I thought my seat post was too high, and then I got back on the bike to the first aid station.

Mind you, I’ve also never done a bike aid station before and I was told a number of things. The first and craziest lie I found out is that nicer water bottles would be out on the course. So I planned on trading in a few water bottles I had. So, much to my chagrin the stations did not have said nice water bottles, just sports bottles with Gatorade and water. I was able to get the first water bottle no problem. I passed on the Gatorade bottle. I got one gel from a lady. And after feeling confident, I went for the second gel. .

And then I crashed on my bike. I felt worse that in actually was, but it turns out as I was getting the gel there was a bump in the road. The fall mostly happened on my right side, with road rash scars on my arm. My tailbone and right leg were sore from the bike landing on me. Regardless, I was down and my chain was off the rail. Again, trying to mentally recover from falling and what just happened, I didn’t know offhand how to fix my chain or if it was even possible. I then proceeded to try and help someone with a flat tire, as he didn’t have a spare, and I had one, and figured it would pass the time while I was waiting for a bike mechanic to show up. Over time I figured out get my chain back on, and thankfully I was also able to switch gears as well. The bike mechanic finally showed up to fix the other guys tire (in 5 mins or so no less). And I was off again to finish the race.

As I was going I started noticing that I couldn’t mentally focus on anything. I was by myself for most of the ride, and while I knew this wouldn’t count, I just couldn’t think of anything that would keep me going or help me enjoy this. This culminated in me going downhill at breakneck speed having to make a sharp turn but I had a car behind me that wouldn’t give me enough room to come to the outside. I was more upset about the car being behind me than I was about figuring out the turn. So I knew that I was done. I didn’t want anything else to happen to me that day, and I just couldn’t figure anything out. I had to remove myself from the situation. I waited at the second aid station to be picked up and dropped back off in transition. The volunteers allowed me to get my stuff and I promptly left Cedar Point for home.

Final Notes:

Before the race, my coach had joked that she fired her coach on the first half-iron that she did. I was trying to keep the pre-race jitters down but without any experience in this distance, or seeing the course, I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all. I felt worse than I did before the marathon, or before the Chicago Triathlon even. I don’t know what I could have changed or did differently but I do know the mental game kicked my ass hard this weekend. I was on the way home and honestly wanted to sell my bike and quit triathlon. That probably won’t happen, but I feel severely disappointed and I’m not sure how exactly to go forward. The hope is that I can find a way. I know it’s best not to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment

Weekly Update: The Story So Far

  • I finally purchased a bike.  2 weeks and $2,000+ later, I purchased a Scott CR-1 Team from Get A Grip Cycles.  I took the bike out for a few rides and had to get used to the clip pedals.  It takes pride to fall flat on my ass on Chicago Avenue in the middle of a busy street.   While it scared me initially and I stayed off the streets for awhile, I’ve learned to not fall, even though my courage to ride Chicago’s city streets on a bike isn’t up there yet.  Maybe I’ll get a steel frame bike for that.
  • I ran 57:08 at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k.  It was an unusually warm day compared to normal Chicago weather around March.  I had met up with my Chiropractor and received KTape on my left knee.  Also Pre-Race I got super stretched out by David Hardin and ran the race with no problems.  For a cold start and no training runs since last years Marathon, I felt fantastic and started looking forward to this years training season.
  • I nailed down the majority of my race schedule, which eliminated a few races and added others.  I have a full training plan up till my Rev3Tri Half-Ironman in September.  This is all thanks to Kimberly Shah at njoy Racing, whom I look forward to getting to know better as time goes on
  • I ran for redemption at the Race for Wrigley 5k.  Pulled out my best official 5k time to date at 31:26.   Even better? I capped my Heart Rate to 180 bpm and was able to sprint towards the finish.  Although my official time was about an hour because I started late, my runkeeper that day had me at about 41 minutes, which sounds about right.  I think I would have beat 27 minutes if I didn’t have to walk part of the race.   The race also seemed less staffed and very minimal camaraderie, but I digress.
  • Pulled an unofficial 35:10 the next week at the Sherryl Gaptka 5k in Lisle.  This was a new race and I wasn’t going for time, but I was able to yet again sprint at the end.  I had adjusted my run walk strategy to correspond with my heart rate.
  • My Triathlon Training Started (with nJoy) about three weeks ago, and while I’m trying to learn the ropes, I signed up with Chicago Endurance Sports half-ironman training.  This was so I have access to a coached swim, and I have options for workouts in case meetups with nJoy don’t work all that well.  That and Chicago Triathlon Club also has outings (I think mostly biking) as well.   The Triathlon Training has me working out 6 days a week.  Which is tougher than I thought.
  • Strength Training with David Hardin is the best decision I had ever made.  Not only does my body look fantastic after years of feeling ashamed, but it has improved all three sports as well.  I’m closer to the endurance-building phase with David, as the workouts are closer to not leaving me begging for mercy.  I puked for the first and hopefully only time in the Gym.  I’ve heard of this happening before, but experiencing it is quite different.
  • My first bike ride was fantastic. It was at Train Chicago Studios, found out that my Time Trial output is at 112 watts.  I was able to bike the entire time, only spinning for about a minute during the entire exercise, which shocked me.  I was also at 160 bpm as well after a stern warning from my coach.
  • My first swim however, was not so well.  I think that I have lost all memory of how to swim, because I distinctly remember being a fish, and finding excuses to be in the pool during the summers of my youth.  Heck, I remember diving to the bottom of the deep end of the pool to pick up weights, no problem.  However, all that has gone away and I can’t even move forward with a freestyle stroke.  So, this is the challenge before any of the other triathlons post Bigfoot.  At the Bigfoot Triathlon I can walk along the bottom so it’s not so bad, but I know that 70.3 will probably be in deeper water.

Doing things the right way – Part 1

*my spine, circa 2008.

What’s interesting to me is there is some semblance of a debate on health and nutrition when it comes to this sport.   In retrospect on my training, I really wish I had focused on this, because it would have saved my legs from the Chicago Marathon.  My thing is, there is a reason why science and medical advances exist.  There are experts out there who have done this before, so why not consult them?

There is also the notion of insurance, which is always tricky.  I’d prefer to have everything on record so that I don’t die prematurely.  But I digress, some have recommended to me to find a way to find out everything without involving an insurance company.  On top of this, I’m sure that most doctors far and wide will lean away from anyone participating in long distance sports, but I digress.

One of the main reasons why I keep up with my health is because I have a plethora of ailments to which I have to pay attention to.   Mind you however, the worst of all these symptoms (asthma, insomnia in particular) actually got better the more I trained.  I never felt better than I did in my life almost two weeks before the Chicago Marathon.

As part of my training this year, I recruited various members of the health and wellness community.    Their expressed purpose is for peak performance during my training and racing this year.  Thankfully, most of these people are my friends that I’ve developed relationships over the years, and I finally get to use their services.

To start, I met with Dr. Michael Rosen, who practices out of West Loop Chiropractic here in Chicago.   I attended the clinic before for a back issue, but I never got a chance to see him for any of my training.   I chalk it up to being extremely busy during the summer, but I should have made time.    After a short re-acquaintance, I mentioned that I did the marathon last year, and what ‘injuries’ I had sustained during so.

Thankfully, I made the right call.   For starters, I run with orthotics in my shoes, which I received last year from Dr. Rosen.  I attribute having them to keeping my gait neutral and my heels from not hurting like hell.   It always surprises me during informal gait analysis clinics how many runners have shoes to compensate for an imbalance someplace.    What I didn’t realize however was that while my gait is neutral, the rest of my body was compensating for an imbalance someplace else.

It was somewhat awkward discussing my eventual knee X-rays, but the bottom line is that I need to get an MRI.  Dr. Rosen stopped short of telling me that my endurance career is over before it started, but he did make some good remarks.  Along with one of my trainers, David Hardin, also mentioned the same hopeful good news.   I definitely have an ‘instability’ issue, and I have to focus on rehabbing (or pre-habbing in this case) my knees for the next 3 weeks or so.   I know that I’ve had tight hip flexors and quads, and regulary have IT band issues in the past.   From both Dr. Rosen and Dave, once I get in the swing of things, this will help all of that.

In the meantime, I have to put the brakes on my upcoming plans for the ING Miami Marathon and the Austin Half-Marathon.     Which sucks, but I’d prefer to come back stronger and ready to go.  In the meantime, I signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle, which I may later regret. . but I need to do something to jumpstart the sping.

My New Years Resolution

So as I sit here, I have a major problem.   Well, it’s not a problem per se, but it’s definitely something I didn’t expect.

So, my life post Chicago Marathon has been a gradual slope down a very steep hill.  I didn’t realize how much I benefited from Training over the summer for the Marathon, until I sat down a few months ago.  I furiously tried to plan my Race Calendar next year, sticking with safe bets and smaller distances.

However, as I sit here, I haven’t been in a gym or trained since running the Marathon.  It’s one of those things ‘Yeah, I’ve been meaning to’ or at the very least, I could enjoy the diet I had been consuming (which is crap food for the most part) for a few months and get back on the horse.   After all, I should be at a fitness level to bust out half-marathons without thinking, right?

But as it stands right now, I’ve lost all of my energy, I’ve regained some of my insomnia symptoms, and the kicker? I can’t deal with stress as easily as I used to do.    It’s very weird, but my fitness regimen has to stick somehow, because the benefits outweigh almost everything.

And then, there is something else.  I talked myself out of a Triathlon last year.   While it was a good decision at the time, I’ve been sitting here literally DREAMING of doing one.  I didn’t expect this, but again, it comes from a lifetime of putting my dreams on hold and accepting perceived limits.

So, as a New Year’s Resolution, I don’t want to commit to something that’s going to fizzle and fade out by February.  I have to commit myself to something very large, plan it out and follow through.

Therefore, I’ve got this goal in mind for a Resolution.  My promise to myself, and my friends.


Right now, I’ve got my eyes set on Ironman Racine, which is in July.  However, I might not be ready by then and there are not many smaller Triathlon’s before the Racine Race happens.  Ironman Austin is in October, but if I do that race, then peaking for the Chicago Marathon is out of the picture.

This is going to require changing a lot of things up.  This is going to require a major investment in a Bike, and more time outdoors than I’m used to.  Some of my social obligations may have to take a backseat.

But I’m sure that I can do it.   I’ve got the support.

Getting Back to Work

So, this actually worked out better than I expected.

I finally got a chance to sit down with David Hardin, of www.dhfit.com.   Until my race report gets posted about the Chicago Marathon, you’ll have to do with this short story.

I met Dave as part of Imerman Active last year, and at the time, we only discussed business, and not what he actually did.  And in usual fashion, I did not follow up with him.

However, sometime after the Chicago Half Marathon, and the Newton 20-Miler, I had messed up my hamstring behind my left knee.   I had to walk the last 4 to 5 miles or so with only an icepack and some pain killers.   From all accounts, both online and through a last minute physical therapist that I had seen, I had just a minor sprain, and was given a book and some exercises to do.

However, on the day before the Marathon, at the expo, I was still feeling some residual pain from that area, and was kind of bummed that I would be running pretty much injured.  I was also severely tight in my hip flexors, which I didn’t even know that I was tight in.  However, I got a very quick stretch from Dave, on the expo floor no less, and I felt FANTASTIC afterwards.  He also made some observations and last minute tips which also helped, and I felt fantastic during the first half of my Marathon.

So, I kept him in the back of my mind, and finally got a chance to meet with him for an assessment.  During of which, I tested for a few things

  • Flexibility – Turns out that I’m fine in this regard.   My legs went 90 degrees, I can touch my hands behind my back, and I can reach my toes sitting down, no problem.   Mind you, I’ve experienced other people that can reach farther than I can, so I always thought I was a newbie in that regard.
  • Balance – Same, which is again surprising.  I thought I would be off-balance due to the curvature in my spine that’s going to take forever in a day to fix.  I’ve also had orthotics in my shoes for the past year or so, might be a testament to that effect.
  • Push-up Test – Only got to 16 before I had to give in.   I think I did 10 for a test last year, and CrossFit KILLED me on workouts that had that part in.  Dave wants me to get to 100 pushups (what??)
  • Squat Test – I don’t know how many squats I did, but from what I retained from explanations, I just have to work on my form, which shouldn’t be much of an issue.  I got a bit of correction in my Crossfit training.  Dave wants me to get to 200 squats (what?? I could only get to so many without weight!)

So afterwards, I did some additional ‘warm-up’ exercises, one of which exposed my main issue, which seems to be hips and glutes.  This makes sense, considering that I sit at my computer most of the day.  Most of the other topics we discussed were music to my ears, because I had read about them in The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris, and wanted to implement.

On top of this, I found out that he’s a sprint coach, and more than likely will be taking over for speed training with my other coach, Kimberly Shah, who I’m consulting for Distance.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

In the meantime, gotta whip myself into shape, somewhat fast.  I’ve got less than two months for the ING Miami Marathon, and somehow I got to get a 20 mile run in before the event starts.  Although, I’m thinking of just switching to the Half Marathon, and just focusing on PR’ing that race.

Race List 2012

So I’ve been ruminating on my ‘plans’ next year, knowing around June I’ll have to train hardcore for the Chicago Marathon.  This is also quite nerve-wracking for me, because I have to plan ahead so far, and I normally don’t.  So, I’ve put together a list (and a wishlist) of events I plan on participating (and covering) for 2012.

Race to Wrigley 5kApril
The first race I ever did, would like to return and PR my original time (which is at 1:00, but I crossed the line very late)

Ravenswood 5kApril
I like Ravenswood, this was a fun race, plan on doing it again.

Soldier Field 10 MileMay
I did this race last year, and while I’m not a Bears fan, finishing on the 50 yard line is a very good incentive to run over Memorial Day

North Shore Half MarathonJune
At the suggestion of my coach, I’m swapping this for 13.1 Chicago (which is the next day) in 2011.

Bigfoot Triathlon  – June
This will also be a first time for me.  I’m going to train for a Sprint Triathlon and based on my experience / performance, might go for longer distances.

L.A.T.E. RideJuly
This was AWESOME last year.  Riding on Chicago streets at night, watching the sunrise in the morning, and drafting bikers at 25+ mph?  Hell yeah!

Chicago Half MarathonSeptember
Was awesome running on 9/11 last year, willing to do it again this year.

Newton 20 MilerSeptember
Of course the last training run before the Chicago Marathon, will definitely be on next year.

AIDS 5k Walk / 10k RunOctober
Did the 5k walk last year, but I plan on running the 10k and walking with my friends for the 5k portion.

Chicago MarathonOctober
Fall Classic.  World Major.  ‘nuff said.  Going for a PR, which shouldn’t be too hard.

Malibu Half MarathonNovember
This will be my second traveling trip, at the suggestion of my coach.

Rock and Roll Las VegasDecember
Missed this for 2011, definitely on deck for 2012, especially if they are on the strip at night.


So far, 11 Races with 1 Marathon and 1 Triathlon in the mix.

Below are a list of races that are on my ‘wishlist’.  At the behest of over-commitment and physical exhaustion, I’m keeping these races off my schedule, for now.

Shamrock Shuffle – Been advised against this race because EVERYONE  does it.
Lakefront 10 Miler – Conflict with another event. . might do it anyway
Indy Mini-Marathon – Conflict with another event. . might do it anyway.  Would have to travel.
13.1 Chicago – A day after North Shore, and Windy City Challenge? Very tempting.
Half – Ironman Racine – Yeah, I know, insane, right? But I have friends doing said race, might be tempted to try just to crash and burn.
Rock and Roll Chicago – Didn’t care much for it last year.  If I have some compelling reason to go, yes, if not, will pass on it.
Hot Chocolate – Been advised against this race too for various reasons.
Disneyland 2013 – Mixed reviews on said race.

I’m interested in other stuff next year as well.   There are Century Rides, the ‘mud’ races (Spartan Race, Mudatlon, etc.), larger Triathlons, and other stuff that I will have my eyes out on.  I would also like to try races outside of the Chicago area.