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.”

The bus wreck that became the National Championship….

Like a thief in the night, joy can be taken from the strongest of souls, in a matter of seconds…especially when you watch a multi-vehicle accident within an hour of something you have been planning for more than half a year.

On the ride to the race, Danielle and I got on our bikes at 6:30 in the morning, wearing racing clothes, tattooed up with our race numbers on our arms and legs, and started the ride to the race start.  Cycling on the main roads in a big city early on a Saturday morning felt surreal.  The city was quiet.  The day had not yet started for most, as this was a day off from the normal hustle and bustle.  The roads were near empty, and the office buildings appeared vacant of employees.  There were few commuters coming in from the suburbs, but we had the roads to ourselves, free of trouble.

So I thought.

The light we were stopped at turned green, and something didn’t seem right. I clicked into my pedals and was about to start moving when I got to watch pinball happen between a drunk driver, city bus and a school building.  The drunk driver ran the light right in front of us and hit a moving city bus.  The sound of the car getting crushed by the bus was loud, but it wasn’t as loud as the sound of the bus getting pushed off the road and hitting a charter school, taking out the front entrance of the school.  No one else was around…Danielle and I were first on scene.bus wreck

I pulled my bike to the curb, dropped my pack and turned to Danielle, saying, “I am an Eagle Scout, and I am stopping to help out.  The race may not happen for us the way we planned.  I am going to help the drivers. Can you go and assess the passengers on the bus and call 911 for help?”

Danielle is a trained nurse and mother of three young ones.  She got what we were doing and was instinctual in her willingness to help.  She found a couple of folks with minor injuries but no one appeared in critical condition.  She called 911 and got fire, medical and police to respond.

The front of the car T-boned the front left of the bus, and the impact totaled the car and damaged the battery array and booth where the driver sat.  As I approached the car, I saw only one person in the car (thank God), but the seat was reclined and the driver appeared to be out of sorts.  Through the sunroof, I called down to see if she was OK.  She didn’t respond initially but she surprised me when she asked for a cell phone so she could call her mother.  She then tried to start the car…even odder.  I yelled down at her stop, since her car was pouring out liquids and fumes from a blown radiator.  She then said, “I need to light my cigarette!” with an attitude that convinced me she was stoned/drunk and needed more than just good insurance to make it through this day.

Within a minute, a cop arrived and the bus driver walked towards me crying hysterically.  She was mad at the car driver and was sobbing.  I put my arms around her and told her that this wasn’t her fault.  She quickly rebutted that she had been working for the city for 5 years and had never had an accident.  She was concerned not just for her passengers and her health but also her job!  She must have heard Danielle and I tell her too many times that it wasn’t her fault that this driver ran a light and hit her.

The next thing that happened was the craziest event of the morning.  She stepped out of the car, sat down on the curb, and began eating some French fries that she had kept in her car.  There was a bus stuck in the entrance to a school and upset people all around her, all her doing, and her mind was focused on food.  I will never understand that moment.

Within 15 minutes, there were multiple support vehicles present and one guy was taking our statements and getting our information so he could reach out to us later for future questions.  He sent us on our way and wished us well in the race.

Danielle, Laura and Martha, American's best!
Danielle, Laura and Martha, American’s best!

As we started pedaling towards the race, any heart to compete was gone.  I was about to compete in one of the most enjoyable events on this earth, and my heart to do it wasn’t there.  After we arrived in transition and began setting up, I met the usual suspects and competitors, but I couldn’t put on the game face and game heart that I usually do.  I debriefed the event a little bit with Linda and the boys, as well as Randy Whitt, but there was no one to go up to and say, “I am not OK.”

I wasn’t OK.

Danielle was worse off than me.  Her mind was elsewhere and she completed only two of the three required bike laps.  She got disqualified from the race and was beyond mad.  She knew that she was doing well when her DQ happened and can compete at the highest of levels.  It broke my heart to see her investment in travel and preparation turn into anger.

Even at the end-of-the-day ceremonies, my head was still not on right.  I was literally a second or two from being hit by a drunk driver.  I got to see the aftermath of the cost of the decision that woman made and my desire to athletically perform wasn’t what it could have been.

Yet, the results at the end of the race show that I did well.  I moved up my ranking 4 places on the first race, and I did well enough in the second race to win the title, “Kind of the Mountain,” for my efforts climbing up Ohio Street.  As I walked to the TeamUSA table to initial a form and confirm my willingness and interest to represent the USA in Spain at Worlds next year, I couldn’t help but think about the hysterical driver, whose world had been changed a few hours earlier.  I wondered if she lost her job…I wondered if everyone was OK.

Danielle Newsome
Kristen and me, after the race.

But, I got to see Joy.  I got to see Danielle connect with other really fit and fast women of the sort that she would not otherwise get to meet in our hometown.  That made my day as much as the accident unmade my day.  Getting to know and compete with those other women may bring her back, ever after an awful first experience.

Ken Nakata beat me (about time!) and others whom I just got to meet made it onto the podium.  My wife and sons got to see the best of the best go all out, and our joint efforts set an example of what hard work can and should look like.

After the race was over, Danielle sent me a link to an article published in the newspaper about the story.

Two days off before training for Zofing

Jeff Gaura and Alex Gaura, at the Grandover Duathlon.

Father and Son Event-a day of adversity for both!

Riding and Running have become many things.

Jeff Gaura and Alex Gaura, at the Grandover Duathlon.
Jeff and Alex Gaura, at the starting line.

They can be therapeutic.  I get to mentally depart from most of my other responsibilities while I prepare for races.  I love that I can start my day or interrupt my day to do this.

They can be spiritual.  I can talk to God and hear from him, too, when I am out on the roads and trails.

They can be contemplative.  When I struggle with larger business issues, I can get a good hour spent thinking and talking out loud about the choices that I need to make.  Running and biking can become efforts in risk management, at 160 beats per minute.

On race day, it is different.  I think through each step, each action, with great deliberation, no matter how simple they appear to others.  They become my focus.  Entering a valley on the bike, I ponder how many cogs to change on the bike, when to change them, and what to fix my eyes upon, as I go both up and downhill.  I watch my heart rate and power meter, talking to me using only numbers, about how hard I am pushing.  They teach me to go harder, most of the time, and seldom offer me a recommendation to slow down.

Last Saturday, at the Grandover Resort up in Greensboro, NC, I competed in a Duathlon which was identical to a race that I did the previous year, on the same weekend.   Ironically, that was a new experience.  I remain new enough into this sport that all the events that I have done are different than previous ones. I have no repeat performances under my belt, yet.

This weekend, that was not true, and my brain went to different places. I saw a beautiful horse farm on a road that I had missed last year.  I saw a tennis court while running that I didn’t see before.  And, I went faster than last year, showing that aging doesn’t mean slowing down, as many conclude.

My hill climbs were easier.  The downhill rides felt faster. The runs seemed shorter.  They were familiar…and that made the experience different.

I was doing well.  The first run was fast, and the bike was exceeding my expectations.  But it was all too good to last.  While changing gears on a hill, the chain fell off the bike.  I had to stop and get off the bike to put the chain back on.  It cost me 80 seconds of time, and I watched 7 people who had been following me all pass me by while I fiddled with the chain.

Sure, I could and did fix the chain, and I finished the race.  However, I had greasy hands for about 30 minutes, and the fallen chain ended up taking me several places down the finish list.  I could have done better.

The race that started as “the same as last year,” was anything but.  While on the road, fixing the chain, my heart raced.  My anxiety went from physically imposed to emotionally imposed, as it angered me to see all my competitors pass me while I messed with a “technical difficulty” that happens to be a part of the course.  I guess when a basketball player sees his coach get a technical foul, he feels powerless.  I, too, felt powerless trying to get off my bike to put the chain on and get back in the race.  And, yes, the other team did make their free throws and pass me.

At the end of the race, I waited to see my son cross the finish line.  This was his first race of the year, and with a total running distance of 8 miles and a cycling distance of 20 miles, this was no small burden for this 14 year old to carry.  He enjoyed the event and got a prize at the end for being the fastest (and only) 14 and under competitor on the course that day.

He had stomach issues that would make most people want to quit.  Yet, he persevered.  Hearing his race day story left me feeling that I had an easy day, dealing only with a chain issue, and then, only for 80 seconds.  He had a stomach issue that ended poorly and his problem lasted about 15 minutes.

Yet, we are both signed up for several more events, this year.  Father and Son events are precious and priceless at this age, as I now have to compete with a girlfriend and others for his time.  That he chose to spend a Saturday, with his fanatical father doing an endurance race, is pretty cool.

My friend and competitor Rory came up to me after the race and pointed down to his bike and said, “do you see that?  That keeps my chain from falling off.  They cost $9.  Ebay.  I don’t know why I am telling you this, but go get one.”

I ordered two.

My Race Car

I love the visualization created by a “race car.”

Race Car!
Race Car!

It not only exceeds the speeds of anything that you and I drive, it also has a lot in common with human body when asked to perform like an athlete.

Imagine if this race car, with all of its performance expectations, had some sub-standard components installed on it.  What would happen if we put Honda Civic sort of tires on the car because they were readily available?

There would be consequences. At the very least, it would be beaten by cars with equivalent drivers and engines that were using the best tire for the job, not the Honda Civic tires.

What might happen if we put regular gas in this race car and tried to race against others who were utilizing racing fuel?  No doubt, we would lose, even if we had a faster motor that the other cars.  We wouldn’t have the efficiency that the other cars have.  To ask it another way, what if our race preparation included the use of 85 octane and we only used 100 octane for the race itself?  To begin, we wouldn’t have experience with the more efficient fuel source and we would have to “learn as we go” how to best use this “new” fuel.  We would be at a disadvantage to all of those drivers and race teams that use racing fuel day in and day out and are familiar with the performance of racing fuel.

As I work with other athletes, and sometimes when I am alone, I am tempted to use convenient cheapo gas.  Drive through food, food-in-a-box and food with shelf life of spent nuclear fuel are right in front of me, at every convenience store and grocery in my community.  Even with my knowledge of nutrition and the benefits of eating smart and the consequences of cheating, the temptation remains.  I like my cheapo gas, now and then.

What should be our response?

We already know the answer.  If you want to win, you should behave and act like a winner would, every time.  Eat to win and treat your body using the best fuels possible.  Did I really have to take the time to say that?

Race Car, when presented with racing fuel after using cheapo gas for an extended period.
Race Car, when presented with racing fuel

Yes, I did.  It starts with the “conversion” that we have to go through when we leave the world of cheapo gas and migrate towards the consistent use of racing fuel.  To translate, to be winners, we need to abandon gas station food and migrate towards real food.

We all resist.  We see it in children when they are given real food and are told that they cannot have the packaged food anymore.  This kid lost her Pop-Tart and had to eat chicken and rice.  See her response?  That dissatisfaction of the loss of junk food doesn’t go away just because you are an adult or are an athlete.  That desire for cheapo fuel has to be untaught.

Race Car, consistently using  racing fuel.
Race Car, consistently using racing fuel.

However, once we are migrated over to eating real food, the act of choosing what to put in our tank is a non-event, and we appreciate its effects literally, all the time.

What cheapo fuel do you need to stop putting in your race car?

Running for 3rd World Solar Power

Running for Solar Panels
Running for Solar Panels

Not a day goes by when I don’t get some sort of humbling moment when I find a new way to view the athletic gifts I am currently enjoying.  Watching another cyclist grind on a road or seeing a runner try to get in some miles late in the day, I speak under my breath.  “It is Grace that I get to go and go and go, with the best in the world.  These others are working hard…perhaps harder than me, but only I am getting this chance.  And, it is a chance of a lifetime!”

I secretly shake my head ever so slowly.  I am not yet OK with the labels associated with competing with TeamUSA.  Truth be told, I hope I never find them to be commonplace.  Just this last week, at a professional event, I asked a couple of different folks if they wanted to go running with me.  They all came up with an immediate excuse.  “I can’t go as fast as you,” or  “I can’t go as far as you.”  These folks were often half my age and dedicated athletes themselves, out on the road more days a week than I was when my foot was damaged.  I am just a middle-aged guy, who happens to have an athletic tint to his being…I guess that intimidates some folks.

Hmm..  I guess this applies to me, too.  I wonder if I was asked to go on a bike ride with Alberto Contador, if he asked.  I, too, would probably be a bit in awe.  Not that I’m Alberto…

At the same time, I need a new challenge, as there are no national or world level competition for duathlon in the immediate future.  It is time to do something for others with my skill for others.  I found a perfect fit.  Many of you know that I have worked in Nepal for years.  Two of the schools there have made requests in the last few months to get solar arrays placed on their schools, as they don’t have power for computers or even lights.  This small country gets all of its energy from inadequate resources, and there is no electricity for schools during the day.

Combine that with a lifelong dream to run the Boston Marathon, and out comes a new plan.  To run Boston, I need to do some Marathons to qualify.  As a first step, I am training for an Ultra Marathon that will raise money for Solar Panels in Nepal.  The one I am doing is a 50k trail run on the shores of the Catawba River around the US National Whitewater Center.  I am asking for folks to sponsor me… $1/km or $2/km.  All of the proceeds will go to paying for solar panels and inverters for two different schools in Nepal.

Click on this link to make a donation.  http://active.com/donate/thenepalproject

To get ready for this event, my focus is totally different than preparing for a Duathlon.  I spend much more time running, and, with the changing lengths of days, I find myself running early in the morning, wearing a headlamp.  Since the distance of my training runs is so much longer than I am used to, I drive the route the night before and leave food and drink caches on the route.  When I reach milestones on the run (mile 5, 10 or 15, for example), I get a drink and some carbs.  I look forward to reaching the snacks…like a mini Christmas hidden in the bushes on the sides of the roads!

Being in sustained cardio mode in the hot days of summer means clothing selection is a big deal.  Everything I wear is soaked at or before the halfway point, and its weight doubles!  Wearing anything cotton is out of the question.  That said, a 2 or 3 hour run before starting work gives me a mental clarity that I don’t normally get if I wake up and go right to work.

I fly to Nepal on October 23 for 11 days.  While in Nepal, I will climb on roofs with solar panels and meet with villagers whom I have known for literally 26 years, back to when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  None of your donations shall go towards buying my plane ticket…my wife and I funded that.

What are you setting as your new goal?  Do Life changes have you thinking about what to do as a physical challenge?  Look inside…not outside, and you will find a dream that goes back to childhood. I did.

Go for it!

 

Just having fun. The story of our National Champion

Isabel Speer, displaying her National Champion Jersey.
Isabel Speer, displaying her National Champion Jersey.

We all have memories of seeing superstar athletes receive awards.  As we watch them get introduced and do the steps towards the top of the stage, we all know that there was a dedication and innate talent that lead to that moment, and we all hope beyond measure that this one athlete will have a one paragraph delivery of words that will inspire us or, at the least, allow us to enjoy their successes with them.  In the movie, Rocky Balboa screams out of his wife’s name, “Adriane,” most unforgettably, as he desperately tries to connect her to his moment.   We all want to be someone’s Adriane.  Sometimes, we connect when we see an athlete lifting up their children after the end to a season or match.  That act of normalcy grounds us that these people are as human as the neighbor down the road whom we only wave to as they drop by us at the end of each work day.  Despite whatever rules were broken on and off the field of play, none of that matters as the athlete changes roles to that of mother, father, spouse or child.

It is beyond rare than any of us ever get a glimpse into the background that leads to a regular person getting labelled a “Champion.”  And, if we get honest, there is inevitably a dark story embedded in there.  As I talked to Isabel Speer a week ago to get her story, I got emotionally levelled each time I tried to synthesize my notes with the need to put something in writing that might inspire us.  I have my dark story, and it remains hidden to all but a select few, and, after pondering, it really doesn’t empower any of us when we hear it.  I want Isabel to be remembered as an athletic hero and occasional overcomer, not like Rocky Balboa.

Imagine spending a childhood in the shadow of the most powerful force on earth but without the ability to understand what is going on.  I think that is what life might be like if I, too, was raised in Mexico but couldn’t speak English.  Sure, others could help translate for me what the US or Canadian presidents were saying, or what an American athlete was talking about in their post-game interviews, but I would still feel lost.  It is like being on a desert island with a radio that only broadcast in a language that I didn’t understand.

To complicate matters, Isabel got told, “no” when she tried to compete.  She recalled that as she ran around her school on the playground, no one could catch her, not even the older kids, when she was age 8.  When a coach came to the school to hold a tryout for the cross-country and track teams, she felt that she was sure to be invited to join the team.  As the coach read the names of the 5 children selected, she didn’t hear her name announced.  To emotionally complicate the moment, her best friend’s name was read as one of the 5 to make the team.

After a short spell of sadness, Isabel did something most bold.  She took the title of “6th girl” and went to the team’s practices anyway.  Her wild-card gift came not from another athlete or coach, but from another athlete’s mom.  Another girl’s mom didn’t like the responsibility of bringing her daughter to and from practice each week, especially on Saturday, as that was her day off.  The coach, who thought he had done a good job at saying, “no” to Isabel, also did something unexpected, as he tried to find a place for her on the team that didn’t involve the skills that she had previously tried out for.  He saw that even at 8 years old, she wasn’t going to take his failure to put her name on the list as his “final answer.”  He kept her there, and he sought a place to put her on the team.  He tried her at long jump and at hurdles before a spot formally opened up for another runner, and Isabel joyfully stepped into the opening.  And run she did…all the way to Columbus State University on a Cross Country Scholarship.

That single moment of courage she exercised at that young age led her down a path that she could not have predicted.  She loved to run, and she practiced it enough to get good at it.  But not in her craziest of thoughts did she think it could take her to a place where she could wear a TeamUSA uniform and have the honor of representing the USA as its National Champion…after all, she was and is Mexican, by birth!

At the awards ceremony at Nationals a few weeks ago, I listened to USAT’s leader call the names of the athletes who had done something special at the event that wasn’t listed on the printable results documents.  She and I had talked right before the race and again afterwards, but we didn’t really talk about the race.  We talked about the other things in life…our church stuff, families and craziness of travelling to St. Paul to a race that had the course change due to flooding that year.

Of course, we prayed together.

Tim announced, “This next award goes to the fastest woman on the running portion of the course.  It comes from combining the times for run 1 and run 2.  The award for fastest female running in the United States goes to…Isabel Speer.”

She turned back when this was announced and looked at a couple of us.  We all clapped as she stepped towards the stage to receive her award.  Over the next 15 minutes, her name got called a couple more times.  Fastest woman, overall, in her age group, and 3rd fastest woman, bike and run combined in the country…all ages combined.  A couple of us joked with her that she a walking advertisement for a sporting goods store, as she had so many different prizes that she had taken down from the stage.

Mike Kosteniuk, another member of TeamUSA Duathlon who competed at the World Championships in Spain is coached by Isabel.  He recalls, “the minute she told me she wanted to start coaching, I wanted to be her first athlete. She and I talked at dinner after her big win in St Paul, and the first words out of her mouth were about how much potential she saw in me and I was beyond humbled. It was like Albert Einstein telling you he thought you were smart. Most people would have wanted to talk about their big moment but she talked about her children, their future, and how above all she was having fun just being Isabel.”  He summarizes his thoughts about her saying, “she is an incredibly talented athlete, loving mother, tough coach, and I am blessed to call her my friend.”

During the act of sport, there is a moment or moments that all champions get a fire alit in the deepest parts of their being.  The adversity of their past and their circumstance run headlong into their skill and focus.  It gets labelled as joy and love for the sport, and to be fair, those are accurate labels, but sport often is a tool to address our inadequacies, and, in more instances than we can count, be one of the few places on Earth when an athlete can say, with a straight face, that they belong.  Athletes are the victim of unplanned tragedy at the same rate as everyone else on Earth, but their mechanisms for handling and coping are not shared with the same frequency.

“Enjoyment can carry you far,” was the best piece of advice she offered when I told her I needed a quote from her as I composed by thoughts for this story.  “You know, my goal was to get to go to Worlds again, just like you.  I was really happy when I got to go to the podium, but that wasn’t my goal.”

As she and all of us prepare to represent the US in Australia next year at the World Championships, she shall travel with her ghosts in tow, just like the rest of us.  And, just like me, she will carry a picture of her family, as they stay home and live a normal life while we board a plane to travel to a far off place, to run and ride with the best in the world.

When we race, all personal inadequacies are washed away, and we are purely in the moment.  We all see the commercial about the football player who was arrested for this or that, only to be playing the next weekend, and when the camera zooms in on them, they carry the competitive look into battle, and no lawyer or judge can change their focus on the game in that moment.

“There are no barriers for me when I am out there (racing).  The only thing I can control is my performance, and I love that.”  Most of life, we lack the ability to control the outcome.  On race day, in an endurance sport like Duathlon, all of us run and ride our individual races.  It just so happens that we are all doing it, at the same time, on the same course.  It is like bowling, and each bowler has their own lane, but we all go to the same bowling alley.

If you’ve read my blog, it should be obvious that the suffering and growth that occurs when preparing for an endurance race drives me.  When I asked Isabel about her drive, she shared that, “I don’t think it is a drive.  It is the enjoyment of the sport that keeps me going.  There was a lot of pressure of college (to perform).  I got tired of that.  I do Duathlon and Triathlon for enjoyment now.  It gives me a peace and a balance.  I can silence everything around me when I am doing these sports.”

As a 5k specialist in college, she could break the 18 minute barrier and turn a consistent sub 6 minute mile.  Her best road race time was 17:29.

“Right after I got on full scholarship at Columbus State, my dad lost his job.  Had I not got that scholarship, at that time, I don’t know what I would have done.”  God’s timing goes beyond human understanding.

I am proud to call her a peer and friend.  That she also happens to be a hero of our sport is just a plus.  It creates a drive in all of us to tell her story, as it can only inspire.  Her dark stories are no different from anyone who lives in Middle town America.

What is different is what she did about it.

She is our National Champion.

National Champion!  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Duathlon Nationals, 2014: Family included.

Jeff Gaura at the USAT Duathlon National Championship 2014
Crossing the finish line after PR in literally everything

Going into last year’s event, I had problems.  Injury and a lack of confidence were both preventing me from going all-in on my effort.  Heck, I almost dropped out.

This last weekend in St. Paul, MN, I lined up to compete again, but this time, my foot was working at 100%…that meant no difficulties, and I was much better prepared than the last year or even two months ago.  I had already ridden the course and knew what I had to do to be successful.  After completing Spain in less than ideal conditions, I knew I was ready for this race.  Confidence was high, I was hydrated and had a great night’s sleep.  It was a day to remember.

This race included my extended family in the audience.  My wife, son Alex and I drove up from NC, and those two dropped me off at the race hotel to pick up my stuff and meet my friend Mike, so we could ride the course together.  It was enjoyable to catch up with him as well several others from the TeamUSA community.  Seeing each of them required that I put on my teacher hat and remember their names, where they were from and one anecdotal tidbit of data about them.  We are all known as great athletes in our hometowns, but remembering the name of the hometown…now that was the challenge!

Examples include:  Kristen Wetzel whose name sounds like pretzel, from WVA.  Martha from Cleveland whose boyfriend is a dud.  Eileen the Pilates lady.  Glen, the lighting fast guy from Cornelius, NC whose sister lives in Chicago.  And the list goes on.  All in all, I spent over an hour at pre-race check in, and I never talked to anyone more than 5 minutes nor spent more than a minute alone.  TeamUSA is a community inside of a community.

Marcus Alexander, whose  background includes life in the UK, USA and Luxembourg.
Marcus Alexander, whose background includes life in the UK, USA and Luxembourg.

In all, nine family members were there to see the race.  Neither my children nor any of my parents had ever seen me race, and my wife has only seen me race once.  I told a few folks this story and they asked if I felt pressure to perform.

Jeff Gaura, Alex Gaura and Mike Larsson, at the USAT Duathlon National Championship
Me and my boys

“Not really.  I am more ready for this race than I was for Spain!” I told them.

My sons were there at the starting line, and my wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law were all at the one mile point on the run.  They all moved to the bike course and saw me go by 6 times as I did three loops in downtown St. Paul.  My wife and sons were all there at the finish line to see me cross, and most of the photos in this blog came from Michael, my oldest.

I knew when I crossed the finish line that I had done well.  After the race, as I reviewed the numbers, I was pleased at my progress.  My first run was 31 seconds per mile faster than Spain.  The bike was 20 seconds per mile faster than Spain.  My second run was 34 seconds per mile faster. What a difference training, nutrition and a cortisone shot can make!

Walking to the results table, I felt that I was about to learn that I locked in a spot on TeamUSA for 2015, so long as I didn’t get any penalties.  To say that I was shocked when I saw that my national ranking had dropped would be an understatement.  I was better in all categories.  Mike Lupini and I both reviewed our numbers together, and it didn’t make me feel any better.  He locked his spot in Australia, and I was going to have to wait a week or two before getting my formal invite.   Everyone encouraged me and reminded me that I would get a slot, but I still wanted to celebrate my success with everyone, while I was still there.

My body felt different after this race.  Last year, I was exhausted and took a pain killer and slept on the ride from Tucson back to Scottsdale.  This year, I felt rested and ready to go.  The next am I went on a 2 hour bike ride, and there was nothing to report….all was good.

Jeff Gaura at the USAT Duathlon National Championship, climbing over the Mississippi River on a steep bridge
Climbing the bridge over the Mississippi river with a USAT official, on a motorcycle in front of me.

After the race, we piled in a couple of cars and drove to a rental house outside of St Paul and had some family time for the next few days.  We spent time together playing games, fishing, walking, eating and just hanging out.  We celebrated three different birthdays.

Since Worlds are more than a year away, I am taking an all-star break, as Sharon and Dave Koontz call it, and I am not tracking nor monitoring my exercise efforts for a couple of weeks. I will still run and bike, but not to get better or faster….I will go back to being a boy and just have some fun.  I am reducing Pilates and dry needling, and I will be making my own schedule for exercise.  In just two weeks, I will be leading our scout troop on a canoe trek up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area…no way to ride a road bike up there….but I might do a trail run or two.

My wife and I are intending to teach a course at our church, and I will be using lots of the time that I have historically been spending exercising to prepare for and teach the course.  We are already debating positions on food issues, and the whole family is involved in the discussion.  The area that I most need to improve is nutrition, and this will only help.  Expect some blog entries on nutrition and nutrient timing in the not too distant future, as well as a guest blogger or two.