Hevel during a Gran Fondo

King Solomon remains a famous figure in the world’s great religions and ancient history.  He ruled for 40 years over ancient Israel in the 9th century BC.    Of all the artifacts left behind by the man considered “the wisest man who ever lived,” are the three books of the bible that he authored.  His first book, Song of Solomon, was written when he was young and full of vigor.  He second writing, done when he was middle aged is perhaps his most famous book, the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs are, for a lack of a better word, a book of rules.  His last writing, done when he was an old man, is Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes is a musing into the meaning of life and how we are to live.

It is said that Solomon had 700+ wives and uncountable concubines and blessings of wisdom and wealth from God.  In a single year of reign as king, the book of Kings reported that he collected 666 talents of Gold, or 39,960 lbs.  In 2018 dollars, that equates to more than $766M.  He had 39 additional years of wealth earning, before Solomon eventually died and his kingdom passed to his son and later collapsed.

With all this wealth in mind, very early in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon throws the reader a curve-ball, as he starts the book with the conclusion.  He says that “all the actions of man are hevel.”  Unfortunately, the ancient Hebrew word hevel doesn’t translate clearly into English.  Many bible translations bring it over as having a meaning that parallels “vanity” or “futile.”  It also means “breath” and “vapor” and Hevel was the name given to one of Adam and Eve’s children (we mispronounce it “Able” today).  Other words we could use for hevel include foolishness, absurdity and nonsense.

All the actions of man amount to foolishness, nonsense and vapor.  Why, then is this message about hevel the only thing on my mind at the start of a bike race in the North Georgia mountains?

Sure, Shakespeare quoted Ecclesiastes.  Abe Lincoln used Ecclesiastes in presidential speeches.  Authors like George Bernard Shaw, Ray Bradbury and Earnest Hemingway all include characters and commentary directly from Ecclesiastes.   The contents of Ecclesiastes are a part of our culture.  The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant built a world view that altered the thinking of much of Europe based on the initial claims written in the first verses of Ecclesiastes.  Yet, why are these 3,000 year old words on the tip of my tongue when I am about to burn 2,500 calories an hour?

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Hevel at the start of the Georgia Gran Fondo.

I pause and look at the other riders also undertaking this event.  My son is sitting on his bike, right in front of me.  For a moment, I ponder the efforts of great athletes from other cultures, and I am struck by how unimportant all of us are and how much hevel applies to our efforts.  I couldn’t come up with the name of a single 19th century soccer star.  I couldn’t come up with the name a single swimming rock star who wasn’t also an Olympian.  With the Olympics happening only once every 4 years, many great athletes peak and miss the cycle to compete on that stage.  The efforts of athletes are forgotten, just the bumper crops of the ancient passed and the hurricanes of 100 years ago.

To get to the point, the work that I am about to do today, on my Cervelo P3 road bike, is hevel.  Sure, my cycling power is at an all-time high, but 100 years from now, I will be dead and the numbers and results I get today will be hevel.  Heck, they will be hevel within the first minute of my next training session.  So why am I even doing this?

Solomon ends his tales with a claim that the purpose of life is to learn to fear God and follow his commandments.  As I ponder this claim, a light goes on in my head.  I look at my son, sitting on his bike waiting for the race to start, and I see his scars.  I remember how he wrecked last month and how scared he is of a repeated wreck.  He is only scared because he knows what happens if he wrecks.  Without that knowledge, he has no reason to fear fast and windy descents.  Today, we will have strong cross winds, and I have told him how to handle them to prevent another episode of road rash.

I conclude that I need to tell my sons more stories of God, so they get to know who he is.  There is no chance that they can fear the Maker of the universe if they don’t know Him, just like Alex can’t fear the road without knowledge of what will happen if loses control.

I can’t tell him stories now, as the race is about to start in less than a minute.  I want to pull out my phone and record a memo.  Instead, I decide to dedicate part of the ride home to storytelling.  After all, we have a 4-hour drive once we finish this race to get home.

The pursuit of fitness has assuredly changed my life, by making me focus on improving and getting better, when others say that such things are no longer possible after reaching a certain age.  But I can conclude that my efforts are anything but hevel.  God teaches us to offer my body up as a living sacrifice, and he calls this sacrificial act our “true worship.”   Yes, it really hurts to get better and not just maintain.  But, who said pain is a justification not to get better.  Fearing the Lord includes more than just having a relationship with him.  It includes following his commandments…at least, that is the point that Solomon is making.

As the race starts, and we follow a police escort out of town, it hits me.  I more deeply understand that my results don’t matter, but my willingness to offer my body as a sacrifice, this day, as an act of worship is what I am here to do.  The act of pedaling with worshipofmy God in mind is not hevel.  The results of the event are hevel.

20180506_165439I won today.  The medal I received is hevel.   The lesson to fear God and follow his commandments is not hevel.

I heard that there are special needs organizations that accept people’s medal collections, and they use them to give to the kids for competing against each other in their own version of the Olympics.  If they can provide another person some hope and a smile, then they no longer are hevel.

I know where my medals are going one day.

And I know what I am talking about on the ride home.  Despite being a 3000-year-old message, for the first time in my life, I feel like I really get it.

What are you doing to come to terms with all of your hevel?

 

 

Failure en route to success

Nelson Mandela said, “there is no passion in playing small.”  His point was that you must take a trajectory that is outside of your current life to achieve greatness.  I committed to this behavior years ago, leaving home at an early age to go to places that no one in my family had ever been, and I traveled without even an acquaintance.  This blog is a continuation of that commitment to not playing small.

I feel a sincere drive to set the example for others to follow.  Yet, sometimes leading by example creates some intermediate failure. This story connects intermediate failure with the success that follows, if you stick it out.

20180331_090533A week before Duathlon Nationals, I signed my son and me up to compete in an organized bike ride in the foothills of the Smokies, about 2 hours from our home.  The weather was beautiful that day, and it represented our last real workout before tapering and leaving for Greenville, SC.  We were excited to get to travel to Nationals without a plane flight or a long car ride.  Greenville is about 2 hours from the house, and this bike race was the last “thing” we would do before finishing our packing and leaving a few days later.  Alex had just started his Spring Break, and he was looking forward to spending time with friends over his time off.

Alas, my son only completed 7 miles before crashing out.

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Alex Gaura, after his crash, being inspected by a paramedic for broken bones

How he crashed, I can only speculate.  I was in front, and I told him to follow me.  We both had some mechanical problems early on, so we had to stop and fix them before proceeding.  Even though we were in the back of the group for the first 10 minutes, we started passing people once we corrected our brakes/chains/power meter/heart rate monitor issues.  We did a couple of climbs with some shorter descents before entering a roadway that Alex will never forget.

A minute after reaching the bottom of the hill, I slowed down, thinking that Alex was coming any moment.  After a couple of minutes of soft pedaling, I pulled over and waited for him on a bridge over a small clear stream.  The views from the valley floor were gorgeous-trees were in full bloom, with new leaves forming on nearly all the hardwoods in the valley.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the humidity was low.  I thought, “this is what parts of heaven must be like.”

Alex never showed.  I decided that I needed to pedal back to the bottom the hill that we had descended and look for him there.  Perhaps he pulled over with another mechanical problem?  He had already pulled over once today.  Who is to say he didn’t pull over again?

At the bottom of the hill, I saw no sign of him and knew that the next step was to climb back to the top of the hill and see if he stopped on the way down.  After getting more than halfway up, I saw a couple of bikes on the side of the road, with a woman standing over the top of someone, talking on her cell phone.  As I got closer, I saw that it was Alex who was on the ground, and he wasn’t moving.  As I walked up to him and saw that he was conscious and able to talk and move, I took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.  For sure, his clothing was torn, and he had lots of road rash on his body.  His fingertips were torn up from sliding on the asphalt, and he tried to use his hands to break his slide.  The neighbors had come out to see what all the commotion was, and everyone slowed to ask if everything was OK.  One cyclist stopped only a minute after I arrived and announced that he was a medic.  He did a once over on Alex and felt confident that he had no broken bones and needed only to be treated for road burns.

Once the support vehicle showed up and Alex was taken back to the YMCA to shower and clean up, one of the riders who had done the short course arrived and told me that he was a local doctor.  He went into the shower where Alex was cleaning up and assessed Alex’s condition. He took out his phone and called the local pharmacy, calling in a prescription for burn cream.  He sent me to get it.  The pharmacist was expecting me when I walked in, and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.  When I got back to the YMCA, Alex was out of the shower, the doc was ready to put the cream and bandages on his wounds.

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Alex Gaura with Road Rash and a not-so-happy face

Alex walked out of the Y, got in the truck and took a serious nap to address the shock that he had been through.  Over the next couple of days, my wife and I changed his bandages and watched him begin the healing.  Thank goodness that there was no school, as he was too immobile to attend school.

He had band-aids of many of his fingertips, and his hip and knee required the biggest size non-stick pads we could find, as he slid on the asphalt until he stopped.  When he returned to school a week later, he was still wearing lots of bandages and had limited mobility.  Yet, as soon as he could, he got back on the bike and kept up his training regimen with his Coach, Glen Thompson.  He returned to swimming in the pool, and within 2 weeks, he was able to “jog” up and down the driveway.

By the end of week 3, Alex was ready to compete with his not-quite-healed body.  He competed in the White Lake Sprint Triathlon, his first open water triathlon, wearing a wet suit over some serious scabs. He had a long first transition, yanking the wetsuit off over those wounds, yet he got on the bike and covered 14 miles without any pain.  A week later, he did the Cary Duathlon Classic, a race that is harder and longer than the upcoming World Championship.  In both these races, he won his age group, handily.  No “just squeaking it out” sort of wins but he won by several minutes each time.  Tonight, he does his first-time trial of the season, yet another cycling event.  I suspect that he will break his personal record tonight, even though 4 weeks ago, he was lying in bed, nearly motionless.

As I watched Alex step up to the podium to be recognized as the winner in each event, he had a traditional smile of pride on his face that any kid would wear when he gets positive recognition.  Yet I questioned how much he “changed” from his accident.  For sure, when a person, teenager or adult, experiences a grand failure that they knew was their misdoing, the temptation is to overreact, or perhaps go so far as to quit the sport in its entirety.  I am blessed to have a son tough enough to keep fighting.

20180422_102637Last night, he told me that he feared the upcoming series of Gran Fondo bike races this weekend.  I was proud of him for confessing that he knows that his bike handling skills are not good.  That fear should help him put out extra effort to remain in control as we descend though the mountains in and around Chattanooga, TN, on Saturday and North Georgia, on Sunday.  That said, I won’t be shocked for a heart beat if he comes home with some more hardware and cool Instagram photos from success.

Or he might come home with some more scabs.  Either way, it’s all good.  Failure is a part of our trajectory.  In fact, it is the act of failing that represents the litmus test as to whether or not you are even ON a trajectory or just trying to maintain.  Trying to maintain inspires no one.  Trying to overcome adversity…now that is the stuff that stories are made.

What adversity are you trying to overcome?

 

 

Windshield vs. rear view mirror

 

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After getting an inspired message at a men’s group meeting this week, I came home and measured the size of the windshield in a car.  I then compared it to the corresponding rear view mirror in the car.

The front window average 54” across and 36” top to bottom. That is a total surface area of 1944 square inches.  The rear-view mirror measured 9” by 3”, a total of 27 square inches of mirror.

To put into perspective, only 1.3% of the total area to stare at is for looking backwards.  The remaining 98.7% of space in front of me is meant to see forward.

The forward direction represents where we should be looking nearly all the time.  That is why it represents such a large portion of the field of view.

This applies to nutrition and fitness.

When we seek to change to healthier eating patterns, nearly all of our efforts should be focused on what is ahead of us-the next meal or snack, the next day, etc.  Too often we find ourselves consumed by thoughts about what certain foods from the past we are craving, instead of being focused on the task at hand.

Nats3With athletics, it is important to review efforts from the past.  But once we have reviewed those lessons, discussed and learned from them, we must move forward with the next workout/training cycle to get better at our craft.

This last weekend, and Duathlon Nationals, my bike broke on the 2nd climb up a mountain.  I was stuck in 15th gear for the entire climb….my cadence during that climb was 31 rpm.  That hurts!  Might as well have pushed a wheel barrow up that mountain.  Fortunately, when I crested at the top of the climb, I jumped off my bike and successfully fixed the issue before getting on my bike and descending back to transition.  My placement in the race dropped a couple of spaces since last year, but it was still a good day, and I earned a TeamUSA slot for 2018.

Nats7My son saw a young man in front of him fall.  His emotional response to the accident caused him to forget to take off his helmet.  He did run 2 wearing his helmet.  That cost him a few seconds, but he also did well enough to finish in the top 6 and get a TeamUSA slot for the Sprint distance.

The windshield for both of us is large now.  Alex begins Cross Country season, and will not see nor wear a cycling helmet until the fall, at our next race.  I have ITU Worlds in Penticton in 8 weeks, and my focus is on preparing for an even greater challenge than Nationals.

We have no time for the rear view mirror.

Rednecks and Cherries…they have a lot in common!

During my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I lived in a remote village in the Kingdom of Nepal.  Sure, the scenery of the surrounding Himalaya was great, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the people whom I lived with for 2 years.  I remember how some villagers would put fresh manure in their wounds, claiming that it helped to stop the spread of pain.  Two weeks later, when they still had festering wounds and were confronted (by me!) about how stupid that cow-shit-on-a-cut idea really was, they said that it was part of the process called life.  It was a rite of passage to be able to live through the cut and the corresponding recovery.  Lastly, they just got used to it.

Sure, they didn’t know any differently, as science was not a mainstream idea used in decision making, as it is in the West.  That said, it pointed out some fundamental flaws that all of us have when it comes to enduring something that hurts us.  It is called Redneck Thinking (with Capital Letters).

  • We believe that the way we have been doing things is an effective way. It may or may not be the best way, but it is a safe way, because we survived it.
  • When confronted with better ways, we will occasionally change. Most of the time, though, we don’t.
  • When our ways cause us to suffer, we look to make sense of it all, saying that it is good for us…we say that it builds character and toughness.
  • Here is the real kicker. The older we get, the more we fall victim to the “old ways work, why change it?” sort of thinking.
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Redneck dogs even have fewer teeth that regular ones…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No place does this happen more that during conversations with people who are interesting and show leadership.  I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “this is a great recipe.  You ought to try it!”  I agree with them, both in heart and in mind.  The conversation ends, often with a recipe in my inbox, only to sit there until I delete the idea.  I redneck it.

I KNOW that if I had just cooked it and tried it, there is a good chance that the dish would have likely to make it to our dinner table repeatedly.  I KNOW that I would be better off for trying something new.  But, more often than not, I don’t.

Truth is, we are all rednecks.  We generally do what we did the last time, even if it wasn’t that great of an idea.  What really seals the deal with our hard-earned title of redneck is how we view our poor results as “part of life.”

As an athlete, this is measurably true!  Often, I reject good ideas backed with good science.  Yet, this last weekend, I went out on a limb and tried a new idea to address an anticipated pain from an upcoming event.

Last weekend’s event was a 103-mile bike ride up Mt. Mitchell, NC.  The ride is much like a day in the Pyrenees in France, with a bit more climbing.  Like most bike rides that include both more volume and more intensity that I am used to, the expectation was that I would be both tired before I was done and I would HURT the day (or two) following the event.

Science has a name for this hurt phenomena-Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.  You know what it is-that feeling you get the first time you play basketball as the start of a new season that makes you think that in the two days afterwards it would have been more pleasant to have been hit by a truck.

Part of the dread of DOMS is knowing that it is coming.  Knowing that you will be hurting the next day.  It is not just a physical phenomenon; it is also mental.  Knowing that what you are about to do is going to hurt will prevent people from trying.

A few days before the Mt. Mitchell ride, I heard an episode of The People’s Pharmacy, a syndicated radio show where a married couple helps take complicated medical studies and learnings and simplifies the learnings so folks like me can understand them.

This episode currently on the radio as I drove down the road was titled “What is the science behind fabulous foods for health?”  The first segment of the show was about the effects of foods on either delaying or eliminating DOMS.   The researcher being interviewed took a very complicated question and simplified it. He had heard that cherries and cherry juice (but not cherries from concentrate, mind you), could reduce if not eliminate DOMS if eaten in correct volumes, over the right period.  The science sounded solid, and he had enough unanswered questions to convince me that he was still humble enough to do more good science.

cherriesWanting to tackle my Redneck crown and take it off, I decided to try out his idea.  Cherries and cherry juice, 2 days before the event. Cherry juice the day of and 2 days after.  I hit the grocery store and bought both fresh cherries and juice.

The big day came.  103 miles of riding later, no pain.  The next day, no pain.  The following day, 80 minutes of running and still no pain.  I am currently on Day 4 after the event, I haven’t had to miss a workout.  I never felt the slightest bit of pain (although I was tired after expending 8000 calories in about 7 ½ hours). Last year, after this same event, I was fighting to reach down far enough to tie my shoes.  This AM (day 4), I woke up early and did a 10K run as if the event had never happened.

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Climbing all day hurts!

Just this AM, I thought, “what other clever ideas have I rejected that have led to a pain that I just didn’t need to experience?”  What other cherry juice alternatives are out there that could give me power, speed, endurance, flexibility and strength that I have been missing?”

The only thing that has prevented me from learning them is my addiction to redneck thinking.  I suspect that I have already either read or heard many great ideas that could help me perform at higher levels, but I have rejected them in favor of the items that I perceive as my source of comfort.

Getting used to pain is often deemed a rite of passage for an athlete.  Push through the discomfort and you get better is the mantra.  So, so glad to learn that isn’t the truth.

And one day soon, I hope to get this redneck hat off of my head!

Ecclesiastes and the Green Jersey

King Solomon is considered in the Bible to be the wisest man that has ever lived. He had more wealth and more leisure time than not only any man of his time, but our time as well.  Solomon used his time to rule a kingdom and write down words of wisdom.  He often wrote about what is meaningless and what is good. In the end of his lament, he concluded that undertaking great projects, building parks and reservoirs, amassing wealth, and any delight of a man’s heart proves to be meaningless.  Yet, he doesn’t stop there.  He gives guidance for all of us as to how to live our lives.  In Ecclesiastes 2:24 he states, “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil.”

Today while riding in the virtual world within the software program of Zwift, I earned the coveted green jersey. For those non-cyclists here, let me explain. In each of the worlds grand cycling tours (Giro D’Italia, Vuelta Espana, Tour de France, Tour of California, etc.) there are classifications for the top riders.  This is no different than how we in America claim which quarterback or which linebacker is the best, on any given Sunday, using statistics.   Using an example from the cycling world (Tour of France), the best overall rider wears a yellow jersey; the best mountain climber wears a polka dot jersey; and the best sprinter wears a green jersey. Normally each of these is a different rider with different skills.  I have never considered myself to be a strong sprinter.  Climber?  Yes!  Sprinter?  No way-there are too many young guns out there with fast twitch muscles that I just don’t have.

In front of signParticipating in this virtual training has some requirements.  You must attach your bicycle to a stationary trainer that creates resistance as if you were riding on the road.  You sit on it and pedal as if you were outdoors, riding on a brisk spring day.  Since you aren’t outside, we rely on electronics attached both to the bicycle that measures power and cadence, as well as a heart rate monitor to measure aerobic effort. Each persons’ efforts are run through an algorithm to determine the equivalent speed as if we were outdoors.  It isn’t exact, but the calculation is within a percent or two.  Today, during my ride, I passed under a banner that indicated my speed during a specific interval was being calculated and ran through this algorithm.  I have passed under those blow-up markers a hundred times, and nothing ever happened.  This time, though, my jersey changed to green and the icon representing me changed to green as well, indicating that I now had more Sprint points than any current rider. I had never seen this before and quickly glanced at the statistics screen on the right. It showed that there were currently 1042 riders all participating in the same event that I was.

Holy screaming pedals, Bat Man   Woo hoo!  My mind immediately shifted to Ecclesiastes 2:24. I had most certainly been toiling during the last 45 minutes as my heart rate was near threshold and I was pouring sweat, even with the doors open in the basement the ambient temperature in the room in the low 40s. Out loud I stated, “I shall now find satisfaction in my toil. Thank you, King Solomon, for your help today.”

It is commonplace for people who do not understand holy Scripture to ask simplistic questions such as does that stuff really apply today? Today I was reminded of the importance of enjoying my toils while I still could have them. There will be a day when I can no longer ride a bicycle. I do not know when that day is. However, if at 51 years old I can be the fastest sprinter in a group of 1000, I will take it and celebrate!

Time for some yogurt, blueberries, and granola, and maybe I will do it again soon!

Joyous Ordeal: Du Nationals 2016 Recap

During a recent 8-day stretch, I participated in three duathlons…and none of them were easy.  As I sit down back home, I now view those 8 days as a joyous ordeal.  During the moment, though, it was anything but joyous.

Like most trained athletes, every event as an A, B and C goal associated with it. Typical “A” goals include winning the race/game or setting a personal best.  My “B” goals include doing well in my age category and seeing a reflection between my training goals and my race results.  “C” goals would be to cross the finish line in one piece.  Each of these last three races had different grade and outcome.  Even as I type this, it is hard to believe that all of them happened in such a short window of time.

Duathlon #1: Powerman West Virginia.

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Setting up at the start of Powerman West Virginia

I didn’t reach my C goal.  During the cycling portion of the event, one of the spectators walked across the race course during the race and stepped in front of my bike path.  My efforts to follow cycling etiquette and rules for safe riding were not enough.  Upon impact, I went over my handlebars and slid on the pavement.  I limped my bike into transition and abandoned the race.  I was sore and bloody, and I began to question my ability to compete the following weekend.  After counsel, I decided to talk to a lawyer, see a doctor and spend some time healing and while getting my bike shipped out for repair.  Seven days later, I was still struggling with a sense of anger that someone would decide to walk across the race course and not apologize for their actions, and I felt pain, as my back was deemed to be burned by the abrasions from the road and was still bleeding when I got on the plane two days before Nationals in Bend, OR.

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Finger to the sky at the end of the USAT Duathlon National Championships in Bend, OR.

Duathlon #2:   USAT National Championship, Standard Length.  Grade B.  It was a good performance, all things considered!  Going into Nationals, I was physically unable to go at 100%.  My left hip flexor did not have a full range of motion, and I could not rest my full weight on my left elbow while on my tri-bars.  As such, I took off all of my electronic gizmos that measured my bike and run metrics and decided to race by feel.  To my surprise, event timing chips showed that my bike splits were way ahead of what I thought they might be, considering I couldn’t put much weight on my left forearm.  In addition, my runs were as good as a training run, and I was pleased with that, as I couldn’t kick hard as I normally do.  During the last 3 minutes of the final run, I passed 3 others guys in my age category, all of whom were suffering more than I was, and I confirmed my TeamUSA slot for 2017.  That all said, I laid down on the grass after the race was over and had a tough time trying to stand up 15 minutes later.

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Walking across the finish line, ITU style.

Duathlon #3:  Pacific Crest Olympic Duathlon (even though there is no such thing as an Olympic Duathlon!)  Grade of A!  Going into that event, I knew that I wouldn’t be recovered from the previous day’s race, but I knew it would be great training effort to get ready for Zofingen.  Between races, I spent as much time resting and hydrating as I could stand but as late as Saturday night before the Sunday am race, I am almost cancelled, as I didn’t see how I was going to get up and complete for two more hours.  When I finally decided to look beyond my muscle soreness, I decided to race with electronics measuring my efforts, and I did the race with my best effort.  My Garmin showed that my cycling average reached nearly 22 mph on a hilly course.  I was amazed that I was able to sustain the speed on the bike for 28 miles, knowing my limitations. When I got on the 10k run at the end, I was unable to sustain even what I did the day before.  I went with best effort, watching my heart rate to make sure that it was high enough to be in its upper limits but not at threshold.  I held back until the last mile, which I ran about 30 seconds faster than any of the first 5 miles.

Seeing all the people that I had passed on the race, I had an idea that I had done well, and that knowledge gave me a confidence that I can’t always count on.  When I saw the finish line, I knew that my 8 day ordeal was about to be done, and I decided to savor the moment the way that the elite ITU athletes do on TV. I walked across the finish line knowing my ordeal was over and that I was a better athlete for trying to do three races in 8 days.  Although the race management’s timing chip didn’t record my numbers, I reviewed my Garmin data afterwards.  I came in first place out of 91 athletes!

Did I get better through the races?  Depends on what better means.  I was most ready for the 1st race, but I couldn’t even finish it.  I was least ready for the last race, but I raced within my limits and had my best result.  The middle race had me most concerned, as there was more on the line during that race than any of the others.

I conclude that I mentally improved.  Physical improvements are more difficult to evaluate.  Every run in every race was slower than the previous event.  Ugh.  Yet, every bike was faster than the previous event.  I now feel more comfortable competing successfully while injured, and that mental strength only came to me from experiencing adversity.

Jeff Gaura, racing against Europeans at the Powerman World Championships
The final run, against my peers from Europe.

My body is now in need of healing and recovery.  I have no more competitions until ITU Worlds.  For the next 9 weeks, I am preparing to go back to Zofingen.

Thank God for flat tires.

After the first three events of the year, I am convinced more than ever that bad luck can lead to good things.

At the first event of the year, the Albany Half Marathon, I got 34th out of 728 competitors.  That is a top 5% finish.  The second event, I got 33rd out of 74 competitors, putting me somewhere in the middle.  In the third event, I got first place in my age group and 24th out of 280+ entrants. 20160326_113014

In college, our teachers graded us on a curve.  They claimed it best represented how the real world would judge us once we left the ivory towers.  Grading on a curve means there is no set number that equals excellence.  Your grade comes from how well you did in comparison to everyone else.  The class average is deemed a C+ or B-.  If you do better than the average, you get a better grade than the average.  On some exams, a grade of 70 might earn you a mark of A, whereas on other days, that same score might be a grade of D.  Throughout my brief athletic career, I have very much adopted that same style of grading my results.  Once I cross the finish line, the first grade I seek is my position in regards to everyone else…not what my times were.

Applying that method to these first three races would mean a grade of A for race one and three and a grade of B- for the middle event.  Indeed, in the last event, I was barely in the top half.

I am most proud of my efforts in the 2nd race.  This crazy sort of claim deserves some explanation.

The first event was a half-marathon.  I most certainly didn’t push myself to the limit, and I was able to talk with others after finishing and was driving home after the event within an hour.

Two weeks later, I entered the Hagan Stone duathlon.  I finished in the middle of the crowd and can’t be prouder.

Huh?

The unexpected reset my thinking.  During the bike portion of the event, my front tire went flat.  Before the race, I decided not to carry a spare tube with me…I decided that two 8-mile loops didn’t warrant a spare tire.  I equated carrying a spare tube for that short of an event like taking 4 pairs of underwear for an overnight sleepover when you are already constipated.

UCD Jeff dismounting
Off the bike, running in socks.

Dumb thinking…I am good at this.

Once I noticed that the front was flat, I gave up racing.  I pulled over and paused for a few moments to ponder my bad luck.  Throughout the race, there were only a handful of people in front of me.  After I stopped and putting my feet on the ground,  I watched those who were behind me proceed ahead.  Nearly all held grimacing looks on their face as the powered up a hill that was biting into their legs.  As the athletes passed, one by one, I shook my head and bummed out.  After a few moments of this, I got up off my pity potty, and pedaled back to the start of the race, about a mile and a half away.  I turned the bike around and went as slowly as I could back to the transition area.  I most certainly didn’t want to damage my wheels, and riding on the road with uninflated tires can ruin a carbon wheel in a heartbeat.  I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t a big deal, as this was intended to be a training event for the big races coming up later in the year…that is what I was telling myself.

The new plan was to push the bike into transition, put on my shoes and do the final run, for the training effect.  This new plan lasted exactly 12 minutes.  Once I got back to the race start, Rich, the race director saw my predicament and ran towards me offering the wheel off of his bike.  I felt like the prodigal son returning home with the father running down the road, offering me a fattened calf that I did not deserve.  Within literally a few seconds of saying, “OK,” his wheel was on my bike and I was heading back onto the course.

“Thank you, God,” was all I could come up with to express my gratitude for the assistance.  Moments earlier, I was all but resigned to stop trying.  In the next moment, I found myself riding literally at 100+% for my 2nd lap.   Mid lap, it dawned on me that I haven’t gone 100+% since the start of the year.  I most certainly wasn’t at 100+% during the first half-marathon, nor have I trained at 100+% for more than a handful of minutes all year.

It took a flat tire for me to recognize that I wasn’t really trying to get better in the off season.  I had gotten complacent, blaming my “take it easy” approach to a lack of daylight, colder outside temperatures and who knows what else.

During the 2nd bike loop, I got to overtake many of the people that passed me when I down and out.  Many of those that I didn’t catch on the bike I caught on the run.  After the race was over, I was sore.  This pain was a good pain.  It came from pushing hard, and it felt distant, as it had been a while since I had given World Championship-level effort.

For the next few weeks, I decided that complacency was over.  I have since upped my effort on my stationary bike workouts – I can now sustain 30 more watts than I last year…and I probably have been able to do it all year, but never had tried and didn’t know.  I took this “try harder” thinking to the weight room.  I have added plates and reps across all machines.  A few months ago, I could only do 4 chin-ups before starting to fatigue.  This week, I did 10 chin ups, twice in a 90-second window.  I don’t think I have ever been able to do that.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I ran a half marathon trail race and came in 1st place.  During the final mile, I knew I had 10 minutes on the next guy in my group.  My response was to push hard at the end of the trail race, and I achieved a sub 6-minute mile.  That speed for one mile, on a road, would normally make anyone proud, as the half marathon is considered a distance event that includes pacing and strategy.  A sub 6-minute mile, after running 12 miles, on a trail…well, of course I was sore!

And to think it took a flat tire, deflated confidence and unanticipated help to get to me try hard again. flat_bicycle_tire_950x425

Thank God for flat tires.