Serious as a heart attack

As an athlete, I feel that I am on a journey to find ways to get better and more efficient in my training and my racing.  A clean eating and structured exercise regimen have afforded me a life where I am faster and leaner since turning 50 than I thought possible.  I feel that the mandate to “live long as prosper” from Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame has come true for me.  The onus is on me to maintain and pass along what I learn along this path.

I get and keep confidence to continue progressing by reviewing the positive aspects that science and experience teaches:  lean endurance athletes are at a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc.  Yet, like a normal person, I know that there are some documented risks and side effects and consequences with my regimen.  Until this weekend, those risks got nearly none of my attention.

This weekend was the National Championships in Duathlon, in Greenville, SC.  I will soon forget the competition, but I won’t forget my friend Ed’s heart attack on race day.

One of my sons watching the race noticed Ed holding his chest on run 1 on Saturday morning.  When I passed Ed on run 2, he looked like he was in bad shape, as his eyes were rolling in his head.  After the race was over and I was talking with friends and family during recovering, my cell phone rang.  Megan from medical at USA Triathlon told me that after Ed crossed the finish line, he had been taken by ambulance to the hospital and he had told her to contact me as his emergency contact.  I met up with Megan, gathered his stuff, and created a plan to go to the hospital to see him.  I spoke with his wife on the phone, assuring her that he was in good hands.  She was in TX, and we were in SC, so she started making plans to get to here as soon as she could.

When I reached the hospital, Ed looked like a Christmas tree, with tubes, screens and lights surrounding him.  Ed had a heart attack during the race but pushed through to the finish line, as he really wanted to wear the TeamUSA logo and compete internationally next year.  Indeed, within a few minutes of arriving, he asked if I knew his time and I he made the cut.  The doctors put a stint in his heart to release the blockage via an artery in his groin immediately upon arrival in the hospital, and the darn thing wasn’t even a few hours old when I walked in.  Didn’t matter to him.  “Was I fast enough to make it?” was all that he wanted to share.

“Ed, you just hard a heart attack!  Let’s see you on the path to recovery, first!” was what came out of my mouth.  What I wanted to say was something like, “are you flipping serious?  Like, serious as a heart attack?  You could have died, Dude!”  In this one rare instance, going way out of character, I chose not to speak what was on my mind.

As an endurance athlete, I “know” just like everyone else “knows” that there is some peer reviewed research and anecdotal evidence out there that conclude excessive endurance exercise can be bad.  In one peer reviewed paper, the effects of long term endurance exercise cause a, “pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.”  Indeed, the story of the first marathon ends with the original runner, Pheidippides, dying upon completion of the event.  The author of the book, “The Complete Book of Running,” died of a heart attack while running at age 52, and a 55-year-old mountain biker died 1 mile from the finish line of a race that he had already completed 18 times.  Until this weekend, I glazed over those events, dwelling on it long enough only to say, “not me.”  Ed was the same way.

I met Ed racing at Powerman Zofingen years ago.  Ed is short and stocky, but he has a motor that never stops.  He was always quick to say, “go USA,” when we passed each other during the race, and he is known by many for saying encouraging words to those whom he competes with, regardless of their citizenship.  He is a consummate sportsman.  He is one of those guys whom I nearly always beat but feel no shame in losing to.  Ed and his wife support my school building efforts via The Nepal Project, and they are “givers” down to their cores.  I was fearful that he was about to give his life.

I had a lot of reasons to complain about my National Championship.  Since February, I have been fighting a strain in my quads that has made it difficult to push at either the intensity or the duration I needed to reach to be competitive.  During the first race, I lost one of my cycling shoes in transition, and it took assistance from two of the refs before I found it.  My chain came off as soon as I finally got on my bike, and my rear brake rubbed throughout.  Yet, compared to Ed, I had an uneventful race.

God uses catastrophic events like this to get our attention.  When I arrived in the hospital room Ed quickly became teary eyed, as I was the first person from his previous life to see and talk to him since his life changing event.  I tried to joke with him, telling him that this was most certainly a consequence of voting for Trump.  His chuckle and subsequent cough brought a smile to both of our faces.  The world will only see the bad and perceive that events like heart attacks are random acts we can’t yet fully predict, like Earthquakes and girls and guys who break up with each other over text message.

We know that mortality catches all of us and it is highly unlikely that anyone racing this weekend will be remembered for their athletic prowess 50 years from now.  Yet, it is the power of our relationships that evoke change.  I held Ed’s hand and told him that good would come of this, I sensed a connection that would outlast this moment, in this place, surrounded by the power of science that often isolates us from our Creator.

The next day, I decided not to compete.  I told everyone that I had an achy knee (true) and that I can’t stand riding at 20+ mph in the cold (also true).  The missing part of my story was the impact that spending time Ed had on my psyche.  I did not fear a heart attack.  It was my lack of drive to compete that kept me on the sidelines. Instead, I stood on the run section of the course with my sons, cheering on my friends and encouraging them…for Ed.  That is what he would have done, had he been allowed to leave the hospital.  I watched Marcus, Rob, Randy, Mike L, Kristen and bunch of folks whom I normally compete against give it their best when their best mattered.  Yes, it was cold and I wished I was racing, but I knew I did the right thing.

When we got back home Sunday afternoon, we unpacked our gear and put everything away.  I repaired a piece of power equipment and raked our long gravel driveway, to get the pot holes out of it, and reviewed the final numbers on this year’s tax return.   After dinner, I sat on the couch and watched TV, when I got a long text from Ed.  He was beside himself with joy.  His son who had had been estranged from him for years gave him a call.  He son felt something on his heart, and he decided to call his dad and talk.  The two of them spoke on the phone, and Ed was overjoyed to tears.  Oddly enough, on Day 2, Ed was already grateful for his heart attack.

It is with both joy and satisfaction that I am passing on my TeamUSA status for 2019 and letting my slot on the team hopefully roll down to Ed.  For any of you ahead of Ed in the 50 to 54-year-old age category who considering passing on competing in Spain next year, the one who will be getting your slot will make you proud.  He will make us all proud.

Ed shared last night that his heart scans showed no damage to the heart muscle.  Ed’s wife called me.  She said he wanted to go out for a run.

When I was creating my training schedule months ago, I had put in a week off as a transition cycle before I begin building for Worlds in Denmark this July.  Before this weekend, I hesitated thinking if that was a good idea or not.  No doubt, I will take this week off from running and cycling and be grateful that I am doing so by choice and not by mandate.

Cheers to Ed and all the good that comes from a heart attack.

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Race reports and Waffle House

This entire blog was a discovery and a commitment that the things that pass through my mind as I train for and reflect upon big-deal events shouldn’t be kept to myself and the family and friends close enough to hear my stories.  Sharing here refines me as a person as I transcribe them, and it keeps me humble.

The concept of a race report has evolved.  If you google “triathlon race reports,” you can find lots of places where folks dump their “Here is what I did.  Here is what happened.  Here is what I learned.” commentary.  These writings now are a mini-part of history, and based on feedback I have received over the years, they make a difference to you.

Alex Gaura at the end of a 50K Ultra marathon
Father and Son at the finish line of a 50K race

Media tries to pull competition reports out of athletes during post event interviews, often before the athlete has processed what happened.  When the camera is running, the athlete defaults to a script of, “we played a great team today,” or “We were able to maintain our focus,” comments, knowing good and well that whatever they say would be held against them.  Truth be told, the athletes themselves have yet to formulate a coherent thought about what just happened.  How can they?  They haven’t debriefed in a safe environment with their peers and coaches.

When I watch my TV interview after my first World Championships, I see that I had no idea what I was saying.  The only thing I remember was committing to return one day, with my wife in tow, as I know she would love Portugal and Spain.  Hopefully, I will be able to honor that promise in 2019.

 

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Being Silly at the start of the National Championship

My race reports started when I got to participate on stages that I never dreamed of being allowed to stand on.  The primary reason I put them to pen was to address the fact that I was telling different parts of the same story to many different people.  And, my propensity to let my 2-foot-long fish to grow into a 3-foot-long fish by the end of the story’s third telling gets royally squashed when I put the details to pen.

A short and sweet race report often happens to my wife via text message after the event.  “Race is over.  Alex and/or I won our age groups.  Going to Waffle house.”  Sometimes, it takes the social form of a post on FB or Instagram.  I like stupid poses the best-reflects my own blend of silliness and discipline.  See above.

And yes, we really like Waffle House.  And yes, we know that you just fired us.

However, it is over that meal at Waffle House when we discover what happened and what we can perhaps do differently next time, to get better.  Amazing thing how such low-quality food cooked behind the counter can really change our thinking.  I’ll take another hot tea, please.

Maybe

I can’t count the number of times I meet people in association with reading.  As a traveler, I am keen to see the differences of a changing geography as it passes in front of me: new mountains, beautiful blue rivers, new coastlines, etc.  Yet, a person reading a book in public seems to always get my attention.  Indeed, starting a safe conversation about the contents of a book leads me to accidental introductions.  Other readers whom I met unexpectedly often trigger my next reading project.

The unspoken story that is a part of seeing someone absorbed in a book, inspire me to do what I am doing, right now.  People love a story.  They love ideas to make them think, and they love the comfort of the idea be presented in the threat free environment of the book that they can set aside without offending anyone.

We live in a time when not offending people is perceived as nearly paramount.  It stinks that challenging people is now confused and even equated to offending them.  We are losing our culture.

Let me challenge you, though.

Maybe.

Just Maybe.

You feel an itch to write.  Yes, you love reading.  Yes, you love curling up with a book.  Yet, you KNOW that there are barriers to writing that you can’t wrap your head around.  The time required.  The focus.  The money.  Did I mention the time?

Yet, the desire, however muted, lingers.  Eines Tages.  That is a German phrase I learned in college and use when I travel in Europe.  It translates as “once upon a time,” or “maybe one of these days,” in colloquial English.  I use it when someone presents me with a call to action that currently no place in my life to fit without me changing how I spend my day.

Before I started to write, Eines Tages was my phrase to handle the thought that perhaps one day I would write, once I got around to it.   I would get around to writing that book..that blog…that story…that tale.  So I told myself.

Eines Tages.

I had an unexpected and unpredicted athletic occurrence that started this blog.  At first, writing was difficult, but I had a passion for it.  After 60+ blogs, that passion remains.  That, too, was an unexpected as the events that lead up to thoughts in training.

What do you have going on right now that has the ability to impact the future like a piece of your mind in the form of written words?  That question hit not just my heart, but it provoked action.  And you, my follower, are reading the result of that action.

Like all writers, I had to sacrifice to make writing a part of my lifestyle.  My choice isn´t for everyone.  I chose to work less.  I decided to take a smaller paycheck in order to free up the time needed to write.

As I ask the question, “What is it that I like about the writers whose work I appreciate?” Is it THEIR story, or is it how they tell it?  More often than not, I am drawn in by the story and not the words used.  Looking into a mirror, I see that with my own writing.  I like my stories more than the words I choose.   I seldom write to get out a esoteric thought.  I write to get out a story of a real event that impacted me.  My stories seems to include bikes and running shoes for odd reasons.

The ultimate “why write” resides in writer´s ability to pass meaning from our current culture to the next one.  I get a sense of responsibility when I see that my writings represent a part of our future’s history.  God knows I don’t want MSNBC or FOX News to be the main entities who detail what the next generation thinks happened in the world or what was of interest.

Go pass it on.  Go write something.  Use paper or a computer and get the idea out.  Even a rough draft can become a masterpiece.

 

Alex Gaura at the end of a 50K Ultra marathon

Jump Start on 2018

Athletically, 2017 ended on a high note. My son attempted AND completed his first Ultra Marathon, as the last race of the year.  I have so much gratitude as I review last year.

  • I didn’t get injured! Thank you, Pilates!
  • I attempted two difficult Ultra Marathons: Bad Water and Annapurna, and I was successful at both! I completed 5 Ultras in 2017-three years ago, I couldn’t run down the driveway without pain.
  • I PR’d a standard distance duathlon that just so happened to be a World Championships (WCH), after age 50! Yahoo!
  • I qualified for and signed up for a double World Championship in Denmark next year with my son. Two WCH in 2 days is exciting and requires a whole new sort of racing fitness that I have not ever tried to develop.
Alex Gaura at the end of a 50K Ultra marathon
Father and Son at the finish line of a 50K race

Success in 2018 will require a plan that addresses shortcomings and a plan to get better.

No one progresses in life without a deep dive into what could be improved upon and executing on a plan to get better.  This year, I want to inject some of those philosophies into my daily plan.

To run faster, I need to incorporate not just more running, but more speedwork into my running.  Too often, I train as if the next race is a marathon, and I head out for long, slow runs.  Those long runs benefit a lot of body systems, but they aren’t enough, if the plan is to get faster.  Starting in 2018, my 10-day training cycle includes 2 speed days, up from just 1.   As I get closer to competition, I will increase that to 3 speed days.

To bike faster, I decided I needed a disk rear wheel, hopefully to grant me about 2 mph.  I am already training hard and often on the bike, and the incremental increase with additional training would require more time than I invest today.   That 2 mph may not seem like much, but it is a nearly 10% increase, and all it cost me was a pair of shoes.  Long Story-I sold a pair of shoes in 2015 for some bitcoin.  I sold the bitcoin in December 2017 and bought a Reynolds Rear disk with the proceeds.  Yes, non-criminals are making money on bitcoin, too.

My weaknesses are flexibility and late-night eating.  I am certainly doing nightly stretching, but I am also taking time during the day to do some basic stretching, as well.  As a minor change, there is a part of Pilates class when I conveniently get up to go to the bathroom, as I hate rollovers.  I have decided that I can’t become more flexible if I keep avoiding that which I do not like.  I have since committed to staying in the class during rollovers.  Sounds silly but doing what you don’t like is part of growing up.  Isn’t that what we ask of others when we expect them to change their behavior?  Can’t lead if you don’t practice what you are preaching, right?

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TRX Training at a Pilates Studio

As I have repeatedly blogged, we all need “why” behind what we are doing that isn’t about us, if it is to have an impact on others.  My wife and I are down to one kid at home, our son Alex.    Next year, the “A” event is the World Championships, followed by 3 days of serious trail running with my son in the mountains of Jotenheimen in central Norway.  That will give me a period of 7 days when I engage in 2 WCH, then run 20 miles a day for 3 consecutive days.  I am calling this my “A Week.” With this being my son’s last summer at the house before heading to college, this trip to Norway represents his high school graduation gift.  I can’t express how grateful I am that he has embraced and even helped plan the events associated with our choice to go to Norway and see the home of Thor, Odin and the like.

I put off until last that which I am the least capable of doing something about, namely, late night eating.  We eat an early dinner, then, something “happens” between dinner and bed and I get a serious case of the munchies.  Sometimes, it includes wine, and that makes this worse!  I have a couple of ideas:

  • Pre-portion out the late-night snacks, so as to prevent spontaneous binge eating.
  • Just say, “no.”
  • Give myself a couple of “free” days each week, say, on Saturday and Wednesday, when I can feel less constrained and restrain myself on the other days.

I am going with the first one…

What is you plan for 2018?  What does it look like?  Have you vetted it with someone you either trust or has shown evidence that they have overcome what you haven’t been able to?

More importantly, why are you doing it?

Good reasons, good plans, good feelings, good citizenship-they go together.  Plan 2018 before Jan1, when the rest of the world attempts this task.

 

 

 

 

Loyalty, Athletic Training, and the American disconnect

As the year comes to an end, I find value in looking back at Trainingpeaks.com record of my activities.  I like to compare what I did against what I planned on doing.  Was I loyal to my workout commitments?  Or did I make up an excuse that equated to saying, “I wasn’t loyal to myself.”  Was I loyal to my race commitments?  What races did I plan as my A races, and did I treat them as such?  It is a valuable endeavor that I recommend we all do, in our work lives and with our personal goals.

Then, I got a real world opportunity outside of athletic training to apply what experience has taught me about loyalty.  Last week, I lead out scout troop on a discussion of the application of loyalty, in modern America.  The 100+ year old vision of loyalty predates anyone currently living, and when Baden Powell and his successors wrote down what it means.  They said,

“A scout is loyal to family, leaders, friends, school and nation.”  Lots of kind words here, but some examples to clarify seem appropriate.

Loyalty is when the older brother helps the younger brother with homework, because Mom and Dad forgot how to do it.

Loyalty is when a fireman goes into a burning building to save someone’s life.  It isn’t the paycheck that he is being loyal to.  It is humanity.

Loyalty is when you visit someone in a nursing home when you would rather being doing something else.

Above all, loyalty is what causes young men to give their lives, in battle, both on domestic soil (police) and on foreign soil (military).

Loyalty is the center piece of an endless cycle of giving and getting that in scouting has repeated itself for decades, as men have continually helped boys to become better men.

Stand for the flag

And, at the center of the symbol of this loyalty is our country’s flag.  Since before written language, there have been flags that represent a people group.  To disrespect the flag in some countries (China, for example) is deemed a crime with mandatory jail time.  Same goes for the national anthem.

Currently, the US media has created a spotlight directed at those demonstrating disloyalty to the flag.  They are using these events to seek attention for their cause.  It parallels both in action and intent when a toddler starts breaking things as part of a temper tantrum as he tries to get his way.  Those who do choose this specific attention seeking path are a route to tear down a universal value.

At the core of the value of any flag is the desire to have something that represents all of us when words can’t do that.  In central North Carolina, there is nothing going on to warrant the attention that the media is putting on the current confusion that a handful of people are experiencing, Most Americans still get the contents of the picture above without the need for an explanation.

The flag represents the country we call our current home.  It doesn’t reflect your opinion of your your home, nor does it reflect anything that you have earned or are entitled to.  Others earned the right for this to be your flag, and some of them paid the highest price for you to be able to have that flag.  If you live here, it is your flag.  The only way to change that fact is to move.  For the record, I suggest that you stay.

We are grateful that this is our flag.  It has survived many wars, intermittent assaults on both is value and its longevity, and it is part of the uniforms that many of us wear, myself included.  I love what it stands for and respect those who have graced me with the ability to call it my flag.

The cross, though, represents perhaps the only symbol that is greater.  The Cross is the way to our original and true home.  Without the cross, no such path to eternity exists.  It is for the cross that we kneel.  Our hand goes over our heart for the flag.  We kneel for the cross.

There is a reasonable chance that some folks just don’t know this.  For you, I hope this serves as some education.  For those that know it, it is your reminder not get to get caught up in momentary justifications or words from people whom you trust that are deceiving you into believing something contrary.   For those that disagree, it is your warning and our plea-don’t tear down that which others have built with their lives.  The Chinese get this.  Most Americans get this. You should, too.

Finally, John Wayne said, “The very word ‘loyalty’ is life itself, for without loyalty, we have no love of person or country.”  Loyalty is inseparable from our identity.  Don’t get lost.  Be loyal, instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance-not something you find…it is something you make.

This year represented my 4th opportunity to compete in a World Championship level event in Duathlon.  Since there is no Intergalactic Championship to take part in, this year’s race in British Columbia, Canada represented the end of the road for competitive Duathlon in 2017.  Nothing bigger than a World Championship…at least, not yet.

World Championships are always memorable.  The Parade of Nations makes you feel like an Olympian, albeit with only half the number of countries represented.  Putting on the National Team uniform and knowing you represent the USA for all to see is humbling yet empowering to the spirit of adventure that lives in all of us.  The overwhelming sense of funk that all athletes exude when their race is over and they socialize with other athletes is the source of great olfactory assault, yet mildly reaffirming that you just finished something that is difficult and special.

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Running with Mike and Rob

 

The best part of the 2017 World Championship was getting along with other TeamUSA athletes.  Run 1 turned into a fun run with my friends Mike and Rob. We ran side by side for the first 5k, averaging about a 6 ½ minute mile and we all reached the transition point within 10 seconds of one another.  We talked to each other, often, keeping each other encouraged.  Rob said that our banter was the only thing that kept him going during those first 40 minutes of tough running.  The bike was super-fast, as the terrain was flat.  Run 2 was more of run 1, and I hit the finish line, setting a personal best for that distance, despite a few cramps.

 

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3 athletes and the coach from Liberty University

I got to meet some great people and connect with some old friends.  I traded clothing with a Team South Africa athlete, and I got to meet the coach of Liberty University Triathlon and connect him with my youngest son.  Can’t tell you how proud it would make me feel to have both of my sons attend Liberty!  Rob and I attended an essential oils party with a couple of girls on TeamUSA, Melissa and Kerry.  We laughed so hard that it hurt!  Lastly, getting to experience the solar eclipse, minutes after crossing the finish line is an event I don’t ever see replicating.

Each year’s World Championship has had a unique focus in my memory.  Year one, the top of mind item was trying to reconcile my desire to compete with a lack of training due to injury.  Year two, I was overwhelmed by the distance and effort required to complete Powerman Zofingen and was grateful to finish the race.  Year three challenged me in that I was trying to become a better Ultra Marathoner while simultaneously getting stronger on the bike.  This year, I attempted to have a greater balance of training, life and work, with Spirit a part of every task.

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Kerry and Melissa-too much fun.

After all, balance isn’t something you find.  It is something you create.

This year started with a far-fetched goal of competing and finishing the Badwater Cape Fear Ultramarathon in early March.  I hyper-exceeded goals there, coming in near the top in the standings, both for age and for overall.  The end of the year includes 3 Ultra Marathons in a 7-week window, including one in Nepal to raise money for school building and another with our scout troop to help boys develop into men.  Although neither event has happened yet, I am sure that joy will come while running with Nepali natives and with our scout troop.  Both events shall be my “highs” of 2017 with regards to fitness.

After all, seeking fitness for fitness sake is selfish.  Using fitness to build the Temple of God while helping others hits at the core value of the human experience.

It is my heart’s desire that each of your reading this, regardless of where you are in your fitness journey take a few moments to answer the question, “how can I use my fitness achievements to help others?”  No matter how many medals I hang on my wall, none of them are worth as much to me as the smile I see when I help another athlete achieve something new.

That is the balance that I want all of us to create.  That is the selfish application of fitness that can make you happy.  Give it away, and you will have more wealth in your heart than you can imagine.

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Before the Start of the Badwater.  Seems so long ago!

My bike now sits in the basement, with only a day or so a week of riding happening between now and the winter.  My running shoes are now my weapon of choice, and the finish line now has images of people I am running for, not of places to see and things to accumulate.  Follow the story on http://thenepalproject.org for ongoing updates of the impact of the Annapurna100 on the people of Nepal.

Because She Can’t

Athletes often get special treatment, paid to do what they love and show off their successes in front of a crowd that they would not otherwise have access to.  Athletes get to embrace glory and keep ornaments from their events like the starry dome that they think surrounds them.  Even those athletes who demonstrate unsportsmanlike behavior get accolades and affirmation from the audience they are meant to inspire.

My father recently passed along a bronze medal he earned at an event during the 1930s down to my son, sharing his moment of glory when he was a young athlete, with vision and mission in his heart.  My son kept that medal in his drawer, along with some other mementos from his family that he treasures.  It has a meaning beyond the effort that happened on that day that contains an intangible effect from being a part of a special moment.  My father’s worth was tested that day, and he grew up that day.  And, yes, the outcome is important, as our current culture of participation trophies and “every kid gets equal playing time,” will be our doom.

I argue that our spirit needs more than fun times, medals and glory to justify all the training and nutrition needed to run and bike at threshold.  I need a sustainable and humility based answer.  I must perform during training and on race day with others in mind, if I am to make a difference.

In my heart and soul, I know that taking care of my body is Worship.  A vocalist who writes and performs music has to determine if the focus is the crowd or their Creator.  I, too, must be aware of why I am putting on my uniform when those special days arrive.  A long time ago, I determined that if my answer to “why am I doing this” included phrases like, “get a bigger trophy” and “get my name in the paper” I have missed the point of why I am on this Earth.

11 WaterfallOur time on this Earth is weaved in series of relationships, like a Escher painting.  Before I do a “world championship” level event, I pick an individual to race “with me” who won’t be standing next to me at the starting line.  Sometimes, I know who it is for when I sign up a year in advance; other times, like this time, I didn’t know who it I was for until a few weeks before the starting gun.

This race, I dedicated to Betty Gaetan, my mother in law.  She has always been one of my biggest supporters and has told stories of my athletic “glory” to people whom I will likely never meet.  She is a groupie who happens to really love me.  Since July, she has been experiencing medical problems, and she still has another surgery in her near future.  Not only could she not perform the events that take place in a 55km duathlon, she can’t even come see me, either.

When I called her to tell her that I was going to push at this year’s World Championship for her, she was happy.  What I have not yet told, or anyone for that matter, is how she was there with me, on race day.

When the gun sounded, three of us on TeamUSA ran together for the first 10k, all finishing a few seconds apart.  We all ran quickly and were proud of our numbers, but what made the moment special is that none of us could have ran at that pace, for that long, without each other.  Thanks to Mike and Rob, for helping keep the pace.  Special thanks to Betty, for being there in spirit.  My friends saw us as a group of three.  In reality, I carried Betty with me.

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Lake Okanagan

Most of the bike ride take place on the shore of Lake Okanagan in central British Columbia.  Turning around at the checkpoint to begin this last leg back to transition, I set a visual focus on a Danish competitor in front of me, and I decided to chase him down and pass him.  It was an exhilarating feeling to run my power up to 300 watts and leave it there, to make my pass.  Once I got by him, I powered down to a more human number and looked at the beauty of the lake and how majestic it is.  My heart rate was holding at 150 and my body was in sync with what I was asking it to do.  I was purring on the bike saddle, and I had Betty’s spirit with me.  A few minutes later, the Dane passed me, looked over, and nodded his head, acknowledging that we were “game on” and would be passing each other for the rest of the race.  He tucked in front of me and ran his effort levels up, trying to hold me back.  No joy for him!  For the next 15 minutes, we passed each other two more times before racking our bikes and putting on running shoes.  I raced and paced that Dane, because Betty couldn’t.

When there was only 500 meters left till the finish line, I was greeted by a TeamUSA representative who handed me a US flag and cheered me on.  I upped my pace to nearly a 5:30 mile and held it all the way to the finish line.  As I approached the finish, the announcer called my name, and I held the flag high, thinking about Betty, knowing she couldn’t do that.

I did that race with her, for her.  And, the next time I see her, I am giving her that flag as a token on that day.  It isn’t the flag that will weave us together, but it does give us a token of our event, just like my father’s bronze medal is a token that my son treasures.

Although I don’t know what that flag will mean to her, it will mean more to me, as I am the one who gets to give it away.

Because she can’t.

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Betty Gaetan and my son, Michael, after a football game in 2011