Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are You Healthy? (No, really healthy)

If you ever are coached by me, the first thing I'll tell you is the number one thing I care about is your health.  Just because you can do an Ironman, marathon, or go very fast doesn't mean you are healthy.  For example, right now I am very fit... and also fat.  Just because I can do certain exercises pretty well (swim and bike right now) doesn't mean I'm healthy. 

Look at any triathlon or running race.  Instead of whole foods we eat manufactured "energy bars" and gels.  Why not take an apple sauce with cinnamon before a race instead of a gel?  That's what I do.  Try it.  It works. 

Look, I'm not saying I'm perfect.  I can put down a Five Guys burger like anyone else and really enjoy it. (I am changing my diet and phasing out red meat completely 99.99% of the time.)  What I'm saying is, THINK about what you are doing. 

We really take our good health for granted until its gone.

I have a very close friend who just had breast cancer surgery, another great friend (and possibly distant in-law) has been forced into early "retirement" from Ironman due to lupus, and my dad has been in ICU for 14 days now with a machine helping him breathe.  The one thing that glares at me every step I take to coach someone one on one or to the day job which pays the bills until I can coach full time - people take shortcuts regarding our health.  What would any of those people do to have their health back?  My guess... a freakin' lot.

TRY.  Just TRY to walk downtown Chicago from the train stations to any office building and it is a "hypoxic" walk.  I hold my breath more walking than I do during hypoxia sets in the pool (cigarette smoke).  Smokers piss me off.  They smell bad, are often cranky and filthy.  Flicking cig butts into the street, river, or anywhere except where they are supposed to be.  Then we see people walking with crappy fast food during lunch - expensive and bad for you - the daily double. 

Please wear sun screen.  I always have and I still have some things on my arm that I'm getting checked again and again as melanoma is a real concern when you are outside as much as we are.  It makes me cringe at the thought of a pro triathlete who I am acquaintances with who looked like raw meat off a grill in Kona last year.  We became acquaintances after I penalized an amateur who was blocking her and she ran into/found me after the race to say 'thank you' for keeping the age group men "off" her on the bike.  I'll never forget the color of her skin - deep red.  Like seared Ahi tuna.  Gives me the willies just thinking about it.  It had to be painful.  She went 9 hours and something in Kona... sunburned so badly... no, not healthy.

Seared Ahi tuna FRESH from the Pacific Ocean... If your skin looks like this... is that healthy? NO!  You are just DUMB.
 What is interesting... is that many of these folks are the person next to you in the gym.  That means "those people" are us.  "Athletes"

What are you doing? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

USA Triathlon Rules, Ironman (and 70.3) Rules: Advice from a Marshal

Somebody pinch me... 1) it's triathlon season in the Midwest, 2) I've been a USAT and WTC marshal for six years.  (Where has the time gone?)

If you are doing an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 race - remember that the rules are basically the same, the penalties are different.  Drafting = red card and 4:00 "rest" for your first and second occurrence.  DON'T urinate or defecate in the penalty tent. (Yes, it happens every year.)  Yellow card is every other violation - you check in at a penalty tent, tell them your name, you got a yellow card, your race number, resume racing.

FYI - I personally don't give a shit if I know you, don't know you, what country you are from, who you are friends with, what your name is... a penalty is a penalty.  Ask my friend Jeremy who got a yellow card from me in Kona last year.  It was a legit call.  No breaks for anyone - this isn't the NBA.

Here are the 10 most violated rules in USA Triathlon races from 2011: 

1. Helmets: Only helmets approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may be used in USAT sanctioned events. Helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike. This means before, during, and after the event.

Penalty: Disqualification

Story - caught a guy (who races pro now) using a German skateboard helmet guts with homemade aeropanels and fraudulent CPSC stickers.  Fraud will earn you a USAT suspension. The WTC view on helmets is: Your helmet.  Your problem.  So if you crack your skull using some Chinese knockoff - it's your funeral (or paralysis).

2. Chin Straps: Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. DO NOT unbuckle your chin strap unless you are off your bicycle.

Penalty: Disqualification on the course; Variable time penalty in transition area only.

Story - this is the dumbest penalty in history and EVERY YEAR we get guys (mainly) unbuckling their helmet on the road. Don't do it.  Even if you have a bee in your helmet.  Stop first then remove the helmet.  It's very easy to see who has a bee in their helmet BTW, so if you get caught... sell it.

3. Outside Assistance: No assistance other than that offered by race and medical officials may be used. Triathlons and duathlons are individual tests of fitness.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Story - EVERY year we see "personal aid stations" and most commonly - a spouse or friend running as a pacer. One of my athletes qualified for Kona because one of the women who "beat" her had her husband pacing her through the entire Ironman marathon.  Someone from the north shore of the Chicago area (who doesn't like this person) called the officials and she was disqualified from that race and removed from the start list of Kona that year, the following year and received a one year ban from all Ironman events.  Pretty steep penalty to pay for stupidity.

Story #2 - last year at Ironman Wisconsin a large coaching service was having it's coaches run with people from their program as well as handing up over-the-counter drugs (like psuedephed (sp?), Ibuprofen), food - PowerBars, Clif Bars, fluids.  This group got a personal invitation to a meeting with Ironman brass for Monday morning and several follow up calls.  Additionally, now this group is clearly "on the radar" for marshals who witnessed this (four of us). Dumb move. Every time I see that group I'll check them twice.

4. Transition Area: All equipment must be placed in the properly designated and individually assigned bike corral. The wheel of the bicycle must be down on the side of the assigned space. All participants must return their bicycles to an upright position in their designated bicycle corral. No person shall interfere with another participant’s equipment or impede the progress of another participant. All bar ends must be solidly plugged. No participant shall bring ANY glass containers into the transition area.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Story - at a race in Wisconsin, I gave a penalty for a woman who didn't want to wait to get to her transition spot as her competition was all around her. So she threw her bike on the fence, got her shoes and ran out of transition without racking her bike.  She was bumped from 1st overall to 4th overall for her 'move'.  Dumb, since she won by :37 seconds and would have been fine if she waited 2-4 seconds. She was really pissed, but the women around her were quite happy that 'justice' was served.

5. Drafting: Drafting--keep at least three bike lengths (four bike lengths in WTC/Ironman/70.3 races) of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds (20 seconds in Ironman/70.3 races). Position--keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Blocking--riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass. Overtaken--once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

FYI - Once you ENTER a draft zone the only LEGAL way out is from the FRONT.  Pros get nailed on this all the time.  They surge up and then rest a little.

TIP - Regardless of how fast you are - ride on the right side of the road unless you are immediately passing someone.

TIP #2 - It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep a legal distance to the person you are immediately behind.  If a pack swallows you up... if you keep your distance as best you can, I can tell if you are trying versus "pressing on".  Ask the age group men at the pointy end of the field climbing to Hawi about keeping legal space. EVERYONE is trying to get position.  When we start that climb - I look for the guys who are not making ANY effort to ride cleanly.  Pretty easy to pick out those guys/gals really. 
6. Course: All competitors are required to follow the prescribed course and to stay within all coned lanes. Cutting the course is an obvious violation and going outside the course is a safety issue. Cyclists shall not cross a solid yellow center line for ANY reason. Cyclists must obey all applicable traffic laws at all times.

Penalty: Referee's discretion

TIP - don't cut the course - we use timing mats for a reason.  You WILL get nailed.  ALWAYS follow course volunteer instructions as they are in charge of your safety.

Story - had a cyclist go head to head with a full cement truck thinking he is "racing" and the cement truck would yield to him.  News flash to that guy... cement truck drivers working on a Saturday don't give a shit about your stupid triathlon clogging up their roads. In a battle of physics (cyclist vs. fully loaded cement truck) - give me the cement truck and the "over" (as in kill, dead, death, mop you up with a sponge, how would you like your remains displayed?).
7. Unsportsmanlike-Like Conduct: Foul, harsh, argumentative or abusive language or other unsportsmanlike conduct directed at race officials, USA Triathlon officials, volunteers, spectators or fellow athletes is forbidden.

Penalty: Disqualification

Tip: different marshals have different tolerances for language.  I draw the line at "Is this directed toward a person (ANY PERSON)?"  If yes, then penalty.  If I call a penalty on you and you scream, "AW THAT'S BULLSHIT!" (as one pro did) - I won't add on unless you direct it at me.  Say, "YOUR FULL OF SHIT!" and boom... penalty. Call another racer an "asshole" - even if they are - boom, penalty.

8. Headphones: Headphones, iPhones, mobile phones of any type, headsets, walkmans, ipods, mp3 players, or personal audio devices, etc. are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

Tip: We've seen them all - even the flesh colored headphones.  Very easy penalty to call.  Get people every year. 

Busted a woman at Ironman Wisconsin who told me she was "tucking in her kids" when I was behind her and heard her asking whoever was on the other end, "How far back am I from the second qualifying spot?"  Confiscated phone and stand down penalty right there on the spot.  Argue with me and I hold you longer.

The issue is two fold: 1) pacing - easier to run when you have your favorite music pumping into your brain (easier to shut out the pain too), 2) safety - I've loaded too many people into ambulances because someone couldn't run a 10k without their Rhianna and was hit by a Honda mini-van when an impatient mommy had to get through the intersection and clips a race participant.  I've loaded race leaders, MOPers and BOPers. 

No music.

9. Race numbers: All athletes are required to wear race numbers at all times during the run. Numbers must face the front and be clearly visible at all times. Numbers may not be cut or folded or altered in any way. DO NOT transfer your number to any other athlete or take a number from an athlete that is not competing.   **NOTE: Ironman and 70.3 races you need to bike with the number on as well.**

Penalty: Variable time penalty for missing or altered number, Disqualification and one year suspension from membership in USAT for transferring a number without race director permission.

TIP: if you lose your number due to high winds or a crash - tell the marshals you see so we DON'T penalize you.

10. Wetsuits: Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wetsuit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion, provided, however that participants who wears a wetsuit within such temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Above 84 degrees, wetsuits are prohibited.
**NOTE: IRONMAN / 70.3 races the water temp is 76.0 F**TIP: Yes, we look at EVERY swim exit picture to ensure you didn't cut down a DeSoto T1 wetsuit to look like jammers (men).  Ask the guy who got DQ'd and removed from the Vegas World Championship last year.  Dumbass cracker.
11. Abandonment: All personal equipment and belongings taken out onto the course must stay on the athlete the entire time. No garbage, clothing, etc. shall be thrown on the course.

Penalty: Variable time penalty

TIP: if you brought it with you it must come back with you - or be disposed of at an aid station. Seriously... just drop it at an aid station.  How hard is that?

Variable Time Penalties

Story: My friend Jeff Zematis won a race by 3:58.  He dropped (launched) a water bottle somewhere on the bike course and was unaware he did it.  Got a penalty for 4:00 and lost by :02.  It was a legit call, but it sucks to lose a race that way.  Jeff would have picked up his bottle had he known he lost it. 

Lastly - three penalties in ANY federation gets you a DQ from that race.

Have fun!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Losing a Parent & Florida 70.3 (the streak ends)

For the last eight years this week has been about two things, 1) my dad's birthday, and 2) the Florida 70.3.  Baring a miracle, there is less than 1% chance that I'll be on the starting line Sunday.  Instead, I'll be reading the newspaper to my father in either the ICU or hospice which is far more important. 

I hope for safe/easy travels, perfect weather and great competition to all those going to the Florida 70.3.  "Z" puts on a great race and I will miss seeing my central Florida friends.  Judging from my email inbox, my friends understand.  There will be other races.

While I am extremely sad about the prospect of losing dad, my faith knows that he will be in a better place and he will be home again.  What I am extremely thankful for is the time I've been able to have with him and the lessons he taught me.  Moving forward I have a choice, door 1) live and be happy for the time we had together, or 2) be miserable.  I'll choose door one as hard as it seems right now. 

It's never easy losing a person we love, but I believe those who go before us would want us to live and be great.  Especially my dad.  Before this blog goes even more soft, I give you some principles my father taught me:

1) Nothing pays off like hard work and perseverance.

- When we were kids going to a Bulls or Blackhawks game, my dad would drive us through the ghetto in Chicago to show us what other people had or did not have.  He would tell us to remember what we saw.  From the time we were little, we heard, "You WILL go to college and you WILL graduate in four years." My brother and I both graduated from good schools; Mike - Iowa, me - Missouri and soon Notre Dame.

2) Stay in school. Nobody can ever take away your education, be it in life experience or formal education.

- See #1.

3) You have to like the man you see in the mirror and follow his principles.

4) Pay your bills on time.

5) Save money when you can, but make sure you are getting quality.

6) Mind your own affairs.

- Keep your own nose clean before criticizing others.

7) Be thankful for what you have as there are others who are less fortunate.

- It doesn't take long to hear about what you "don't have".  Make sure not to overlook what you do have.

8) Take responsibility for your own actions.

- Own whatever you do regardless of the results.

9) Have fun where ever you are.  Everything can be a game if you choose.

- I remember "shooting baskets" with garbage in the garage and the "agony of defeat".

10) You can always figure "it" out if you just keep trying.

- I remember one exercise I must have done 15 times before I got it right, but when I did, I did it exceptionally well.  I have an additional memory about math lessons and spelling lessons.

On the lighter side...
11) Getting up early to make breakfast for everyone before they get up... may CAUSE everyone to wake up.

- Here's to the 'busted chainsaw' that is my dad in the kitchen at 5am on vacation.

12) No awesome accomplishment cannot be brought down to Earth - quickly.

- I was fishing with my dad in Wisconsin and he caught a MONSTER largemouth bass.  This thing was about 7 lbs.  It was an awesome fight and we landed the fish fairly quickly.  This meant the fight wasn't over for the bass.  (I guess he didn't understand we were going to take his picture and release him.) The bass ferociously shook his head and buried the hook which had been in the jaw of the bass into the thumb of my dad.  The hook was so deep that it looked like a straight piece of steel - the hook and barb buried in the middle of his thumb.  We took pictures of the fish.  Released him unharmed.  Then took an 18 mile drive to the nearest hospital in Minocqua where the hook removal was a routine and daily occurrence near the heavily fished lakes.

13) Good donuts and coffee are a nutritious breakfast.  Enter, the apple fritter.

Love you dad.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tomorrow is Promised to Nobody

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that my dad had a stroke.  The doctor who nobody likes, Dr. G, the one who wakes his patients up at 3:45, 4:15 and 5:15 am to ask them how they are, told us it was a "minor stroke".  (The nurses tell him to go away daily.)  Dad could walk, feed himself, talk. Looked reasonably ok.

Dad has slowly backslid, which makes me wonder if there are other complications - did the bleeding stop?  Is there something else?  CT scans aren't perfect.  As of right now, dad is in the ICU on a ventilator and several meds coursing into him.  We have changed attending physicians.  Dr. W, the new attending spent 35 minutes with my mother and aunt explaining everything and answering all their questions.  Dr. G, his nurses and 'professional' staff didn't return phone calls, pages, emails and pleas for information.

While I was talking with mom last night among the whir of the ventilator and quiet hum of the various things linked to my dad, I saw a familiar face.  One of the guys from cycling.  His wife, who I ride with "A" was with him in a hospital gown.  She WON a race on Sunday (honestly, I don't remember a race she "lost" - it's been that long in duathlon) and Sunday night had a stroke. She is 37.  They walked with their two year old daughter in the hall.  "A" said, "I'm fine. I want to go home."  She is two rooms over from my dad.  In "A's" race Sunday?  She ran the first two miles averaging 6:29/mile.  Then biked 18 miles at 21.5 mph and finished the next two mile run at 6:52/mile.  Winning her age group by a touchdown and 2-point conversion - 8:00 and change!!! 

Tomorrow is promised to nobody. 

I'm very glad that since returning from working in Madison, WI last year I've been able to hang out with my dad a lot more.  We've had some cool meals together, hit casinos (where lately my dad has won a little more than lost - rare when you go to a casino), walked Greta in the dog park and went fishing multiple times.  I really want him to recover and do more things with him.  That is not in my hands (or his). 

Whatever is ahead, dad did a great job and prepared us well for life.

"Go for it now.  The future is promised to nobody." - Wayne Dyer

Friday, May 4, 2012

Catching Up

A not-so-quick update on what has been going on.

Spraying to all fields to use a baseball term.

Dad Update:
My father had a stroke that was deemed “minor” (anything medical is minor if it isn’t you). So, I did not go to swim Masters State in Wisconsin as planned. Kinda bummed about that. I haven’t done a swim meet in 10 years. Since, he has had brain swelling, a brain biopsy, MERCA, the left side of his body is “busted” as dad told me and his voice/language is barely decipherable from Portuguese. Dad can still throw a ball with his right hand and enjoys messing with medical technicians, nurses and my mother. Doing things such as humming in the same pattern as the CAT scan or MRI machine, deliberately trying to confuse my mother and printing his cardiac strip in the nurses station to “keep them on their toes and get my money’s worth”. I asked my dad if I should cancel my vacation and stay with him. His response (as only my dad can say it), “You gonna hold my hand? Don’t be ridiculous. Go on vacation. I’ll still be here when you get back.” Dad has been in the hospital going on six weeks now. In and out of ICU and rehabilitation. The doctor in my humble opinion sucks rotten eggs. He woke my dad up at 3:15am when he started his rounds to ask him how he was doing. That doc would have been junk punched if I was sleeping in the hospital that night. He has a long way to go in order to get back to “normal”, but in the grand scheme of strokes – he hasn’t been bad. My wife’s uncle Lon and my friend Gina’s brother have literally been to hell and back – (maybe more than once). We are still feeling lucky at this point, but “luck” isn’t what I’d call it.
Who goes on a 12 day cruise vacation and doesn’t gain weight? Me! Didn’t gain 0.1 of a pound. How? I ate off the “spa menu”; plenty of water, fish, fruit, vegetables. No added salt and prepared fresh daily. Nothing processed or preserved.

My in-laws and Lorrie and I are celebrating wedding anniversaries, my fathter-in-law and I are celebrating birthdays.  Should I go on a cruise 28 days before a half Ironman?  No.  Did I?  Yes.  Will I survive?  Yes.  Perspective is firmly in place.  Go on trips when everyone is healthy - not for the ideal moment in your "schedule".  Screw the schedule.  Live.

Workouts were water running, running, 5x 1 hour or so at aerobic pace in the spin classes on board, swimming – 10 days at about 30 minutes of strong intervals after a 5 minute warm up, two open water ocean swims and one 1 hour SUP (stand up paddleboard) session. I really enjoyed the SUP. What a fun workout! I didn’t “dump” myself off the board until I got really hot. Even paddled through some large waves from the ship’s tenders. I’m sure that’s a “mundane sports achievement”, but it was pretty cool. I saw a H-U-G-E barracuda eating smaller fish. This fish had to be 4’ long and REALLY REALLY FAST. Holy crap was this fish fast. I went to get my waterproof camera and proceeded to dump myself right on top of him/her. Boom! Gone like it was shot out of a rifle. I worked extremely hard from October up to this cruise and weathered the physical challenge fairly well. I felt that 12 days of “easy” workouts would be great before my last training push before the Florida 70.3 (my ninth race in a row there). It’s a new location and course. I’m not sure what to expect. I heard Simon Whitfield express this very well recently. I’m going to Florida to “express” my fitness. Nothing more. My fitness is “better”. It is not “good”. Considering what is going on with dad… I’ll be happy just to finish and catch a few rays of sun with my mind off of dad’s situation.

Emerald Princess docked in lovely Grenada. Princess has always treated me like a king.
 The one thing that “training” in the Caribbean on the Emerald Princess (and islands we visited) did for me… it reminded me in no uncertain terms how heat can make a 9:00/mile pace a 9:30 pace very quickly. Before the rest on the cruise, my heel and knee were really bugging me. I think I really needed the rest and massage. Random thought… running with a GPS on a ship – try it and then UPLOAD the course. Enjoy the circles you ran over the ocean. I stopped at x00 laps of the ship – 13 times around is a mile and I ran for a “normal” run week for me (mostly on the running track). 3x around on the Promenade Deck is 1 mile, but I didn’t do a lot there because people were sleeping just below that deck. While I was up at 5:30am running – I’m pretty sure most folks didn’t want to be up then.  xx miles later - cruise running accomplished. Too bad folks didn't get up early! They missed seeing pilot whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and spectacular at sea sunrises which have no equivalent on land. (Readers note: I only saw one sunset. We opted for the early dinner and it was setting when we were eating.) Once we rounded Cuba and were “officially” in the Caribbean and not the North Atlantic I grabbed a rum drink and all I could think about is Johnny Depp saying, “Welcome to the Caribbean!”

Welcome to the Caribbean! Rum?

Princess Cruises
Speaking of… this was my seventh cruise with Princess Cruises (52 days at sea with Princess). Princess has always been really good to me; great food, service, fun and a diverse crowd. I think we only had 18 kids (18 and under) on a 2,800-person passenger load ship. Our service was exceptional – even for Princess. Cannot wait to go on my next cruise! I love the ocean and being out on my balcony just listening to the ship part the ocean at 18 knots (19.1 mph) and starring up at the sky.

The Ocean
I can watch these every morning and evening.  Awesome.

How do you commute?

Avg flower...
 The ocean gives new meaning to daily life for me. It reminds me of how small we are and how unimportant stressors in life really are. The ocean doesn’t care what is on TV or who said what on Facebook or Twitter. While those medium are important for human communication, they are only important to a point that we place on them (which shouldn’t be much in my opinion.)

The other thing I learned on the cruise… women in their 50s really are proud of their breast enhancements. We (Lorrie and I) had a great laugh when a woman around 50 was walking around the market in Bonaire with a TIGHT and SMALL white bikini top and TIGHT and SMALL shorts. Next to her was a 30-40 year old woman and let’s just say parts moved as they should. The 50 year old woman… nothing moved, bounced or shifted. Whatever makes you feel good I guess. Her breasts looked ridiculously hard. Ladies – imagine shoving D sized rocks in your chest that rise up to your collarbone. Like I said, ridiculous. I should point out that its not like I went looking for these. This woman practically ran me over headed for a bar and bruised my back with her fake breastesess. They must be new, because she wore inappropriate attire all week and it looks like they are still “sitting high” on her chest. Like walking around downtown Chicago today… all the 40-55 year old women were wearing short skits, animal prints, snake skin dresses, high heels. Is there something I missed? Age and size inappropriate clothing is great for another blog topic. Ladies… I know that the media says your should be thin like Paris Hilton (no thanks) or slutty like Kim Kardashian (pass), however, the sexiest woman is one who is happy in her own skin and personality. Someone who is confident in her own style and someone who is intelligent.

Speaking of intelligent…

Once you use this product you will never use a different one.
KINeSYS Sunscreen took the BEATING that is the Caribbean sun and did just fine. Matter of fact… I wore KINeSYS 30 spf (from the spray bottle) and didn’t get burned at all and my skin is exceptional. I wore the sunscreen everyday and was one of only a handful of people not to look like a cooked lobster.
Gretski the Great Golden Retriever
When we returned home, we went from airport to Indiana (Macintosh Goldens) where Greta spent her “spring break” being a dog with her sisters. They ran around the farm chasing birds. Got muddy. Sniffed each other’s butts and crap. Slept in a dog pile. Greta even got to see her mom for the first time since she was 8 weeks old. I have no idea if she recognized her relatives, but I’d like to think that they have some kind of familiarity sense there. On the last day Greta got a full “show treatment” – fur and nails. She looks great. When we got there she RAN to us and practically fell down wiggling with excitement. Since returning home she cannot get enough walking, retrieving and dog piling Lorrie and I.
A show ready golden retriever.
See you at the gym or on the road... I'll be the one gasping for air.