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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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 for ongoing updates of the impact of the Annapurna100 on the people of Nepal.

2016 Year in Review

Running in Zofingen

Accountability is at the core of reaching a goal, and accountability requires measurement.  If you can measure something, you can improve it.  I achieved a lot of goals in 2016, and here is some background on implementing a measurement strategy and use it to make your goals happen.

Let’s do a hard accountability measurement example first that many of us all share-we want to spend more time with family. If you say you love your family and want to spend more time with them, you have set a goal.  How do you make the claim that you are doing something about it and not just blowing hot air and making another fruitcake New Year’s resolution?  Start with the measurement!

Get out your calendar and look at how often you saw them in 2016.  Perhaps you saw them a total of 6 times, and all but one of those instances coincided with a holiday.  That means your measurement showed that you had 5 holiday visits and 1 non-holiday visit.  Remember, we aren’t measuring quality here-just quantity.  To reach your spoken goal of spending more time with family, you need to visit them more than those 6 times.  That means that future measurements include numbers that are larger than 5 and 1.  Perhaps you could set a goal of 6 holidays and 3 non-holiday gatherings. From your measurement, you see a need to pick some holidays that you missed and add in a couple of non-holidays.  The unspoken assumption here is that you will continue to repeat your previous behavior.

At the start of last year, I studied the outcomes from running and riding my bike.  I knew I could do better but the causes for the low performances were a mystery.  So, I got serious with my measuring.  Here is what I committed to measuring:

  • Body Fat-I was between 10 and 12%, and I knew that I needed to get to 8%, if not less.
  • Power on the bike. Going “as hard as I can” didn’t give me a metric to say how hard was hard.  Measurements shows that my sustainable power was 200 watts and change.  I needed it to be in the 255 Watt window to get the sustained speeds that I wanted.
  • My running cadence was 165 to 168 strides per minute. I needed to get to 180 to be more efficient.
  • The difference between the speeds that I did my long runs at was not that much different. My easy days weren’t easy enough, and my hard days weren’t hard enough.  I needed to learn how to go easier, as well as go harder.

Getting there….

To address body fat, I felt that most of my eating habits were healthy, but there was room for improvement. I committed to a monthly body fat measurement regimen with one of my Pilates instructors, Laura Pittman.  I knew I was eating too many carbohydrates late I the day and needed to measure what happens when I eat less.  I started eating more sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, and I added more veggies.  During my monthly body fat analysis, I watched my weight remain relatively constant, but my body fat went all the way down to 7% at the end of the racing year.  It remains there.  Success!

To address my low power, I incorporated more “hard” sessions that included repeated efforts above my best race efforts.  These anaerobic efforts worked wonders to increase my power.  My cycling speed is up 10%+, and I haven’t worked out any more than I did in 2015.

My running still has room to grow.  My long runs are nearly all on trails, so I run slower.  I have started doing intervals but that aren’t frequent enough or fast enough to result in much of a difference.  To address this, my first 4 events of 2017 are all running events, forcing me to prioritize running ahead of cycling until the end of March.  This makes me put more runs on the schedule.

My family, at Christmas time


Every Sunday, I review outputs from these tools and adjusted workouts.

I implemented a plan to address these-details of this would be an overwhelmingly long blog.  Suffice it to say that without the help of my family and business, this plan would have failed.  Here are the 2016 results:

  • I had two first place overall wins last year: one duathlon and one Ultra-Marathon. That causes me to shake my head in disbelief, and, in one instance, cry.  Beating everyone else in an endurance competition when I am 51 years old breaks nearly all molds people have of what the aging process is.
  • I did better than ever both at Duathlon Nationals in Bend (9th place in my age category) and at Duathlon Worlds in Switzerland (10th in my age and 91 out of 241 overall). Despite aging, I am getting faster in both disciplines.
  • I finished the competition season at 7% body fat
  • I didn’t get injured. I could have put this first, as it is a precursor to success with everything else.  What this means is that I didn’t get any overuse injuries or range of motion injuries associated with not being aware of your body’s limits. Had I been in a car accident or the like, I would still be making this claim.
  • Giving-it-away points were higher than expected. Giving-it-away points are earned each time my wife and I share our knowledge of fitness and nutrition.  I helped a couple of athletes out as well as taught two of our classes.

The items up there that I controlled are the 3rd and 4th ones.  The first two I didn’t control-I have no input as to who else shows up on race day.  However, I know that 1 and 2 would not have happened without 3 and 4 happening.

Accountability requires that I do this process again, starting now. There were things that didn’t go right in 2016 that I need to address in 2017.  My goals remain the same:  run faster, ride faster and longer, avoid preventable injury and eat better.  The obstacles I hit were associated with inconsistent efforts to get there.  My strategies all revolve around avoiding inconsistency.

In those moments when you get honest and observe that your results don’t meet your goals, don’t take the “let’s try harder” strategy.  That doesn’t work.  Start with measuring your efforts and keep doing it.  You need the feedback provided by measurement to see if your efforts are working.



Who is Team USA, part 2

This is the second installment of my series on Team USA members.  I suspect there may be a lot more, as TeamUSA people tend to be interesting.  This story is so unique that it deserves its own blog post.

Jenna Hay and me, before the start of Powerman Zofingen

Before ever meeting Jenna Hay, I met her mom and dad.  Her parents were travelling with her as her support staff.  Jenna was a recent college grad (like, in the last few weeks).  Her trip from Duathlon Nationals (Long Course) to Worlds has already been published by local TV in Dallas. I met her in Zofingen, but not until I first met  and had breakfast with her parents.  They were both proud of their daughter and were excited to be watching her compete on Duathlon’s biggest stage.

Two days before the race, a group of 30 of us took a test ride on parts of the course.  Jenna, another young man named Bryce (no photo) and I did the entire 50km loop. Although Bryce and I had nice aero bikes, Jenna was riding a road bike and was happy to do so. Her advice for newbies included, “hold off on buying all of the fancy equipment. It is 100% the athlete that wins races, not the bike, or aero helmet, or fancy clip-in shoes. Before dropping tons of cash, make sure multisport is something you are passionate for and want to pursue.”

When I asked Jenna what goes on inside her head during a long distance event, she offered some thoughtful advise.  She shared, “I never consider myself to be suffering during a race. Even when I am in pain, being smothered by the heat, or reaching a wall in my strength I am still having the time of my life. I love racing, and it’s hard to be sad when you’re doing something you love! But when the going gets tough, I think about friends and family. I have been blessed in my life to know people who inspire me to push myself, whether it is because they have forced me to or because they have set a wonderful example. I am also a fairly imaginative person, so entertaining myself during the long runs and bike rides is not too hard. I typically imagine myself being cheered on as I cross the finish line, and if I’m feeling really loopy, I’ll imagine myself in funny situations. That has caused me to burst out laughing in the middle of a race, which definitely freaks out those around me. You could say it’s a race strategy! The final method I use to keep a positive attitude is to smile. Spectators love to see a competitor, someone who should be miserable and exhausted, jogging by with a huge smile and pep in their step. I love waving and joking around with people watching the race. Making them smile makes me happy, which makes it easier to run through discomfort.”

The ladies start the course an hour ahead of the boys, preventing a lot of log jams on the course.  After the race started, I didn’t see Jenna until the final run was nearly over, and the rain was pouring down.  She had a big smile on her face and laughed out loud.  She had a great 150km bike and was enjoying the final run, as best as her body would let her.

After my race was over, and I took a warm epsom salt bath to ease my muscle pain and headed back to the stadium.  As Jenna entered the stadium, the crowd roared like it had for no other competitor up to that moment.  Her smile and look of happiness were compelling.  People naturally love Jenna.  At the awards ceremony when she was crowned World Champion for the women’s Under 25, you could only sense that there is a lot more racing ahead of Jenna.

Jenna on the podium at Worlds

After the event, I strongly recommended that she reach out to Kristen Armstrong about learning road cycling from the best. America needs a new Elite cyclist to take up the torch as best in the World, and Jenna has it in her to be that girl.

Image…all at 23 years old.

Who is TeamUSA? (part 1)

Beginning a few months ago, people began asking questions regarding the upcoming Olympics.  The most common form came out like this.  “So, what time is your event down in Rio?”

“Um, I’m not going,” would come to mind and come out of my mouth, but that response didn’t answer the “why not?” that everyone seemed to ask.  Delivering a monolog that addressed incorrect assumptions gracefully  isn’t always easy.  The question got asked so many times that I feel a need to get the publish the answer.

  • Sadly, duathlon is not currently an Olympic Sport.  Most sports are not Olympic Sports, for that matter. There is no bowling (America’s most actively participated in sport) nor football (America’s most financially invested sport).    The best we get as duathlete is to compete in World Championships, and those are yearly.
  • Skill and money play huge roles in Olympic participation.  Olympians are typically the most elite athletes in a sport, but being the best is not enough. For single person events, like Triathlon, in a best case scenario, a country gets to send 3 people.  Few countries don’t get to send that many, and most countries send no one at all.  Most sports don’t support a financially viable pro league, or if there is a league, it requires supplemental income and sponsorship to make things work. One of the outcomes of great likelihood is to meet a former Olympian and learn that he/she is broke. We don’t get the best of the best training and support without raising money on our own to pay for what we think will give us an edge.  There is some assistance from national groups and governments, (in my case, USA Triathlon helps elite athletes), but it doesn’t cover all the costs, or even come close.  More than one athlete has missed a game because they ran out of money.
  • I am an age group competitor, meaning I may get to know and hang out with the elite athletes who get to go, but in my sport, no way is a 50-year-old is heading to the Olympics as an elite endurance athlete.  I don’t have the VO2 max of the young kids out there…even if I do beat them, now and then.  In any given sport, there may be a few hundred people who get to do TeamUSA competitions, and of those, only a small handful ever get to by Olympians.

The people who make up TeamUSA are the best part of most events.  Here are some stories of the people who participated in the 2016 Powerman Duathlon World Championships.

Be and Sarah Looney, TeamUSA athletes and chefs from Texas

Ben and Sarah Looney are professional chefs/nutritionists from Texas.  As you can imagine, they eat well and workout hard.  Their fitness is obvious.  Both of them qualified for Zofingen, and they decided to save their money and jointly compete this last year.  They travelled with another couple, Julie and Monty Hardy, as Money was also competing, and the two couples knew each from other events.

Ben and Sarah were working together when he began chasing her.  Ben learned that Sarah’s dad was an Ironman guy, and he was the one that encouraged Sarah to take up triathlon.  Ben had always had an inkling of interest in multisport racing but hadn’t pursued it with any zeal.  According to Ben, “I figured what better way to get close to her than by hanging out with her dad and training with them both. I had ulterior motives, but in the process became really passionate about duathlon and triathlon, as well as Sarah. I actually asked her dad to go on a training ride and at the end asked him if I could marry his daughter. The rest is history!” What a brilliant idea to ask your future father in law a real important “yes or no” question when he is on a natural high!

Ben and Sarah Looney, from a balcony in Italy, after Powerman Zofingen 

Sarah Looney views the suffering of long race competition with an attitude that the rest of us could learn from.  She shared with me, “I try to remember those that are suffering more than I am, who can’t just quit when things get hard – like my Grandma who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, a friend battling cancer – they can’t just say “this disease is harder than I thought, I think I’ll stop for a while.”  And of course I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a good post-race breakfast or a nice glass of wine doesn’t push me towards the finish line …just kidding! But seriously ;)”

They two of them hope to compete and do future races together.

Cora Sturzl, competing in the 2016 Standard Distance Duathlon Worlds in Spain.


Cora Sturlz is a “seasoned” athlete (meaning, she is old, like me!), with a long history of competition.  Cora has competed in Nordic skiing, road biking, basketball, and a few paddling races and says she was known as “Velcro hands” when she played women’s soccer.  I know her as the woman who played the role of everyone’s friend during the last two Worlds in Zofingen.  Cora demonstrates both with actions and words that no matter how bad the race is (rain, suffering on mountains, etc), she has a look on her face that says, “I can do this, and so can you!”  Cora says, “just focusing on the next step or breath and coming back to the now usually helps with the harder moments.”

Cora has finished Powerman Zofingen 4 times, now.  Her goal is to join the jubilee club for people who complete the Powerman Zofingen 10 times.  She encourages other Americans at qualifying event to give Powerman Zofingen a fair try.  Even though nearly a quarter of all athletes dropping out of the race, Cora is confident.  Her goal of joining the Jubilee club has an attitude of confidence built into it that she will not become a statistic during any of her 10 years of trying.


Cora Sturzl

Her inspiration to race has been documented by local Washington State newspapers as well as others on TeamUSA who get to hang out with her before and after events.  She says, “I guess multisport has taught me to roll with the punches, and be self-sufficient. Each successive race was another learning experience and I’m not sure the lessons can be learned without the experiences. I read everything I could find on multisport.  If I could, I would tell other women looking to get into multisport to just wear the same outfit for each leg of the race!”

Cora’s history of no-so-healthy living is documented.  She used to smoke and ignore signs that her health was degrading.  Cora found a magic moment when she was departing her 20s when she decided to make the change. The rest in now history, and her uniform proves it.

World Championship experiences can’t be recreated, as they are all so different.  However, the relationships we make can last us all of our lives. Cora is loved by all and her encouraging attitude lifts the spirits of those who are nervous.  Every TeamUSA needs a Cora in the lineup!

Next time, I will profile a couple of other athletes and share with you what I have heard from them.  Stay tuned.




Jeff Gaura crossing the finish line at the Powerman Zofingen

Powerman Zofingen, Take 2

Amazing what a year’s experience in a competition is worth.  I had a great time this year at the World Championships in Long Course Duathlon, and this story explains some of the “why” behind that.  Zofingen, Switzerland, is very small Swiss village and Powerman Zofingen is the town’s biggest event each year.

I entered the town, pulling my bike bag and suitcase with confidence.  After navigating the Swiss trains, I knew which streets to walk down to get to the hotel, and the hotel receptionist was the same girl as last year.   One of my blogs about my experiences during last year’s race was sent out to all the TeamUSA athletes who were in attendance, and more than one or two people came to me and introduced themselves to me, before I even got to settle in, saying that they read this blog.  After dropping my stuff in my room and building my bike, I headed downstairs to meet more folks in the hotel.  For most in attendance from the USA, Swiss culture was something they learned about it school but had not yet experienced.  Adding to their uncertainty was a mild feeling of trepidation over what is often called the hardest race that the International Triathlon Union (ITU) sanctions.  Adding to my previous Powerman Zofingen experience, I also had the benefit of speaking German (albeit a bit rusty).

Steve introduced himself by letting me know that he beat me at a race in Dallas last fall. Competitive!

After a few minutes in the lobby, I found 12 people following me to dinner.  This pattern would last much of the week.  Friday morning was slated as a bike ride.  A group of 20 or so athletes with bikes showed up outside the hotel after breakfast the next morning.  Fortunately, by this time, there were others in attendance who had Powerman Zofingen experience, and I didn’t feel a need to account for everyone, as I did the night before at dinner.  The bike course is a 50k loop (31 miles) that goes through several small Swiss villages.  The majority of the route is flat, but there are 3 climbs on the route, and for many Americans who don’t get to practice on hills, there is a sense of fear associated with the unknown nature of the climbs.

Before ever arriving in Zofingen, I planned to ride the whole loop at a casual pace before the race.  My only memory of the course includes last year’s competition; I had no reference as to how beautiful the course is….all I remember was going all-out while looking at my electronics that displayed power, heart rate and pedal balance.  I never really watched the countryside as it passed by, and I wanted to experience of “real” Switzerland before racing again.

At the top of the first climb, all but two others in the group turned around and headed back to the hotel.  For the three of us who kept going, it was a great hour!  I can’t put to words how awesome the stress free joyride through the Swiss Countryside felt. Color images of cows, pigs, chickens and hawks now sit in my mind, next to images of racing last year.  During the previous year’s race, a man wearing a chicken outfit stepped on the course in front of me during one of the harder climbs, and he ran next to me while i rode, all the way to the top of the hill.  It scared me.  This year, when we reached what I now call, “the chicken point,” I stopped to take a picture.

Chicken Point
Chicken Point

Later, as we rode though some of the flats, we stopped at a village watering hole to refill our water bottles with spring water, straight from the ground.  Historically, Swiss villages would all have a public water fountain and trough for farmers and shepherds to fill up their water skins and let their animals drink as they moved them between higher ground in the summer and the valleys in the winter.  The water was cool and tasted great!

Jenna Hay filling her water bottle
Watering hole!

Even though I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, I did have a great breakfast and I felt relaxed and in control on race day.  On the 5-minute walk to the transition area, I reflected on all the training that got me to this point.  All of those early morning rides and runs that I had done throughout the summer, prepared me for this moment, on this day.  I felt blessed to step into transition, healthy and rested.  I have made it a habit to walk through transition, taking pictures with my selfie stick and praying for people.  Last year, everyone whom I asked if I could pray for gladly agreed.  This year, two folks didn’t.  That was a new experience, as even non-Christians usually get it that any advantage they can get is a good one.

Across from me in transition was Serna Alexander, a Colombian rider who was 15 years my junior.  We both prayed for each other, me, in English, and he, in Spanish.

My partner during the race, Pastor Serna
My partner during the race, Pastor Alexander

We were next to each other nearly the entire race, back and forth, and we always had a greeting when one of us passed the other.  He wore white Colombian gear, me in the red, white and blue.  My time competing with him will surely be the most memorable part of the actual race.  Later, at the awards ceremony, he showed up wearing a collar and a long flowing black robe.  Turns out Serna was Pastor Alexendar!

Both before and during the race, I fostered a new friendship with Arne Olav from Norway.  Arne speaks great English and had Zofingen experience.  He kicked my butt during the race, but when we did pass each other, I made sure to ask him if he had checked his email today!  I can only imagine that I will see him and his family on our trip to Denmark, Sweden and Norway in 2018.

About 5k from the finish line, the rain started coming down, and salty sweat was dripping from my wet head and face into my eyes.  I stopped at another one of the Swiss watering holes on the final hill before the end of the race and washed my face, arms and hands thoroughly.  Stepping away from the watering hole and returning to running form was borderline surreal.  I had been going over 8 hours at that point and yet felt pretty darn strong.  I was not expecting any positive feelings, as last year at this time, I was in pain.  It was great to realize how much my fitness had improved in a single year.

Jeff Gaura crossing the finish line at the Powerman Zofingen
Crossing the finish line

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I went directly to the hotel to take a bath and soak in Epsom salts.  I had carried a kg of them all the way from North Carolina and knew that a 20-minute soak will help to remove the yuck in my muscles and obscure the pain associated with an endurance event.  The salt bath worked like a charm!  Once I got out of the tub, I headed back to the race to watch others cross the finish line and just chat over the events.  No pain or discomfort in my legs, unlike last year, even after sitting for 30 minutes.

It was a bummer, albeit a predictable one, to see so many Americans drop out of the race.  Each had real reasons that no one but them will be able to understand.  Many were ashamed to share of their choice to stop racing with me, but some knew that they needed to come back and finish what they started.  You know who you are.  Those who fail but stand up, ready to fight again, are the athletes that most inspire me.

I had some real accomplishments at this year’s race.  I was top American in my age category and 4th out of 36 Americans, overall.  Every American who finished ahead was young enough to be my child!  In addition, I didn’t get a penalty this year, and when I crossed the finish line, I felt that I could have kept going.  I never had a “panic” moment, but I did have a “what the heck am I doing?” moment when Emma Pooley, the world champion, passed me on lap two.  She was going so fast that I thought I was in the wrong chain ring.

In retrospect, I am sure that I cannot and will not prepare for and race in Zofingen again, while my wife and I have children at home.  Success at Powerman Zofingen requires a lot of early morning running and bike rides on trainers throughout the winter.  While I am out in training mode, my wife carries the burden of morning chores, as I would be long gone by the time the rest of house starts waking up.  She had to do all the laundry, mow the grass and put up with my afternoon naps.  My employees had to tolerate a scheduling fiasco that included finding time to meet both with customers and with me when I wasn’t doing Pilates, running at the US National Whitewater Center or climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I can’t say thank you enough for all the people whom made this trip possible.

Yet, it is by having this singleness of focus that I can stay young and compete.  Since returning to the US and resting, I competed in the Weymouth Woods Ultra Marathon the following Saturday, 6 days after Zofingen.  The course covered three loops in a sandy course in Eastern NC.  I was nowhere near the front on laps 1 and 2, yet despite running in sand occasionally up to my ankle, I never needed to slow down and ended up winning first place, overall.

Jeff Gaura wins the Weymouth Woods Ultra Marathon
First first ever ultra marathon win!

When I look at this plaque, I conclude that Zofingen fitness won this award, not my skills as an Ultra Runner.  That sort of result may never happen again, as I am now racing into my 50s.   First place in a marathon should happen when you are 20 or 30, not when you are 50!

Next year, my A race is the ITU World Championships in Canada in Standard distance, not Long distance.  Although much shorter, the effort and build up will be just as big…but without all the half marathons that lead up to it.

Stay tuned.  The next two blog posts will be about the people behind the faces of TeamUSA.  There are some interesting and fascinating people that make up the athletes in this sport, and the next two posts will be to bring some attention to them.


Jeff Gaura, before the 2014 Long Distance National Championship, in Transition

Suffering-the choice we all make

Suffering is a constant.

Take visiting the dentist, as an example.  If you go, you will suffer.  Shots, fillings, x-rays, cleanings, etc…none of them feel good.  Choose not to go, and you suffer.  Skip your cleanings and inspections and your teeth can rot.   Skip your checkups and potential cavities don’t get addressed, and then real damage can happen.  Either way, go or don’t go, and you suffer.

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

Same goes with your athletic health.  If a cyclist skips riding for 4 weeks because of, say, weather, he/she suffers when they return.  Ask a runner who hasn’t ran in a few months what it is like to head back out…they can tell you stories.  They suffer.

Avoiding suffering creates a different dynamic.  Human nature convinces us that pleasure is good and pain is bad, and we decided to make that is a black and white issue. We have lots of negative self-talk about suffering and we associate with others who empathize with our desire to avoid suffering.  The different is that this avoidance policy yields zero benefits.  We don’t want to hurt, so we skip that which makes us hurt.  Later, we discover that we actually hurt more, care of our avoidance policy.  Too often, we are convinced that the day will come and we will “get around to it,” but we never do.  In retrospect it is stupid behavior we know not be true all the time, but we act like it is.

These next two weeks, I will suffer.  This am, I completed a 14 mile run.  It was humid and hot, and I changed shirts twice, as each one got soaked.  I even had to change my running shorts at the 10 mile spot, as they were so heavy with sweat that they were causing chafing.  My shoes were soaked with sweat and required a change out, as well.  The only items that I didn’t change were my hat and sunglasses!  The effort hurt, but it didn’t hurt as much as not being ready for Zofingen in three weeks.

Jeff Gaura, before the 2014 Long Distance National Championship, in Transition
Pre-race transition setup.  

This evening, I am scheduled to do a 30-mile bike ride.  Following up later in the week, I have a time-trial effort on the bike.  Saturday is a 75+ mile ride with a lot of climbing through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Next week is an 18 mile run.  Scattered throughout these next two weeks are items like speed work, frequency runs, max strength/weightlifting and the like.  All of them have a “suffering” component to them.

If I don’t do them, I will certainly suffer mid-race.  Everyone who races Zofingen knows that there is a good chance (not just a slight chance) that circumstance/bad luck will cause even the fittest athlete to get a DNF.  The bike course is hilly and 90+ miles long. The run immediately following is hilly and contains sections of running on grass, gravel, trail and paved road.  I have talked to folks whom have raced it 5 times, only to finish once.

The only honest choice to consider is “which suffering” do I prefer.  I prefer the one that I control.  I prefer to have an alarm wake me up before sunrise to head out before the heat is overwhelming.  I prefer to get up early and Saturday and ride to the mountains so I can get stronger instead of sleeping in, wondering when I will get the moxy to “get around to it.”

Makes me wonder…when was the last time I saw the dentist?  I also need to get a colonoscopy scheduled.

Time to “get around to it.”