Thursday, October 22, 2015

Losing Great Friends

On August 20th our great friends, Ty and Terri Schenzel were lost in a head-on crash on an interstate in S. Dakota. I had the honor of sharing at their funeral service. 3,200 packed into the church and thousands of others were watching on the live stream. I post this as a tribute to their inspirational lives, lived for the Glory of God and the benefit of others. I start sharing at the 4:05 minute mark of the video.

I held up a baton at the end of my talk and encourage everyone to "pick up the baton" and to run their lap as Ty and Terri did, blazing it and amazing all who watched them run. When I race, I will, for a while, carry that baton. It'll seem strange in a triathlon because batons are not used in those races. But it will inspire me and perhaps prompt others to ask about it and I can then share with them about the Schenzels and the Hope Center For Kids that they started 17 years ago.

A Strange Kind of Season

This is an end of the season post. It’s been a strange one. Started out pretty well. Then I got hit by a truck while riding my bike on July 4th. Tried a couple of comebacks that were too soon. Did very little running the rest of the summer but ended up with a few good races.

Here are just a few highlights:

1 – I survived having a pickup truck pull right in front of me as I was cycling downhill at 25mph and hitting the front of it at an angle. The “angle” part is key. I ricocheted off of it, body and bike flying, bounced off the pavement and landed in the grass between the street and sidewalk. I could have been dead. I should have had a shatter left leg. I should have a completely blown-out knee. Instead, I walked away with 3 stitches and some road rash.
My helmet didn’t have a scratch on it. The impact pulled the cleat off the bottom of my shoe and yet my ankle/foot didn’t have a scratch. Yes, I believe in God and angels. Only explanation. My bike wasn’t even damaged. Miracle #2.

2 – Pre-crash, I did well at the Siouxperman Tri back in May with a 20:01 5K run off the bike early in the year. The week after I did the KC Sprint and got 7th overall and 1st in age group. Would have gotten 5th but ran right by the left hand turn to the finish line. Rookie mistake.

3 – The Norfolk, NE Tri was my last before the crash and took 2nd overall male there. And then…#1 above happened.
So I tried to come back running too soon. I discovered this when doing the Fall City Tri three weeks after the crash. I took first overall in that small race but limped in the last half mile with a calf strain. I then did the Omaha Aquathon (since no running was involved - 1,500m swim, 40K bike) and took first overall.

A few weeks later, after another calf strain due to not letting things heal completely, I did the Yankton, SD Tri. I was in 2nd place off the bike but was determined to just jog the run and not push it in the least. So, 11 guys ran by me and finished 12th overall and 2nd in my age group. VERY fast runners do that race.

I finished up this year with two good races. I took 3rd overall and 1st in my age group at the Des Moines Sprint Tri. My run was two minutes slower than the Siouxperman Tri way back in May. If not for the accident I’d have been duking it out for the overall win. I was super thankful though!

Last race was an Olympic distance tri and I knew my running was not even close to racing a 10K off the bike but hey, it’s the Lincoln (NE) Last Blast Tri so I’d have all Fall to heal up if needed. I had a solid swim in very wavy and windy conditions and very good bike on a very hilly course.  I started the bike in 5th place but slowly picked off the guys ahead of me one by one.

Then, I took the overall lead in the race at the 20 mile mark in the bike leg. Being first in and out of T-2 is a lot of fun. Trouble was, the person behind me was a 20 yr. old, very fast running kid who went by me at the 1.5 mile mark.  Somehow, battling through a tight hamstring and calf, I held on for 2nd overall and first in my age group. It’s tough spotting a “kid” 38 yrs. Ha.

I’m so thankful that this season somehow held together...kind of. I’m thinking about the next two seasons, since it was announced that the USA Triathlon National Age Group Championships will be right here in Omaha in ’16 and ’17. In ’17, I age up to the 60-64 (is that really true?) and will look to do very well.

Thanks to the following companies who have helped me tremendously this season:  Hoka One One, Hammer Nutrition, Zensah, Dual Eyewear, Fitletic, Barracuda, Valdora, Primal Sport Mud, Macks and XTERRA Wetsuits. They all make top-notch products!

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Bit Of My Story - From Getting Cut...To, Making The Cut

Yeah, I was that kid. The kid who fell in love with sports or, more so, thrill of competition but, wasn't highly gifted. I tried hard but never played a varsity sport in high school. In fact, I got cut from the 8th grade basketball team, had one 8th grade wrestling match and lost 12-0 and scored one point the entire season in 9th grade basketball. It was a beautiful free throw though - should have seen it.

I worked hard at basketball in high school and played two years of JV. In one game as a sophomore, when taking the ball out of bounds to throw it in and start the game back up...instead of throwing the ball in...I took off dribbling in bounds, from out of bounds!! Why? No idea. My brain just snapped. The ref didn't know what to do. He's never seen anything like it. He just blew the whistle and yelled, "Hey, you can't do that!"

As a senior in a small NAIA college in Kentucky, I decided to go out for track having never run competitively in my life. Here's a tip - don't ever do that - don't go out for a sport as a senior that you've never attempted, unless you want to make a fool of yourself. At one large invitational at Eastern KY University, as I ran the two mile, (8 laps) I noticed the leaders getting pretty far ahead of me. Then they were so far ahead of me that they were actually, behind me! Oh no!! Probably in the history of track and field, no one had ever been lapped in an 8 lap race. Well, it happened. Embarrassed I crossed the finish line after everyone and still had a lap to run.

Fast forward 30+ years and I'm running once again. It's a 5K...that followed a swim and bike. There were 300 yards left to the finish. I was three feet behind the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation in my age group. I'd closed down what was about a 500 yard lead he had off the bike. It was the USA Triathlon National Championships in Burlington, VT. Just behind me, chasing me was a five-time National Champion and a silver medalist at Worlds. How did I get in this place? Seriously, I'm 300 yds. from becoming a National Champion in a legit US Championship?

After college I'd continued to run. 10Ks. Half-marathons, marathons and even a few ultramarathons. Then, I watched the Hawaiian Ironman on TV. Then I met a triathlete. Then I became one. I trained and raced for 20 years, swimming, biking, running and racing countless miles. From sprint distance to ironman distance, I loved ever minute and mile. I kept improving and getting faster even though I got older. I was setting PRs in my early 50s. And there I was...slowly but surely passing the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation. Though I was hurting more than ever, I found one more gear, beating him to the finish line becoming the National Champion at the sprint distance. The next year, on Team USA, I raced at the ITU Age Group World Championships in London and out of 95 guys from 50+ nations, I finished 6th, (first of 15 from Team USA.)

Hard work, passion, vision, staying teachable and a bit of natural gifting from God, have allowed me to accomplish more than I could have ever dreamed. If you'd told me after I got lapped in that track meet that someday, I'd be a National Champ and 6th in the World, well, I'd have told you that you were crazy.  

Hey, you...yeah you...what's your dream? Go for it. Give it your all because you just might be amazed at what you can do!!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Keys To Speed - Learning To Embrace Pain

If you're an endurance athlete of any kind I know you've been asked, "Why would you do that?" In many folk's minds there's just no space whatsoever for any kind of activity that would produce the "P" word.  Remember when Clubber Lange, in Rocky III, was asked his prediction for the fight? His answer was one word. He stared into the camera with a look that would put fear in a Navy SEAL and said, "PAIN!!!"  (Just kidding about the Navy SEAL. Nothing scares them!)

People ask why you run, bike, race, do marathons, triathlons, etc. because they can't imagine someone doing anything intentionally that hurts. Why would you do such a thing??? I'm sure you're polite and give them a kind answer, but you're really thinking, "If they have to ask, they'll never understand." True that.

There is a difference between pain from injury...pain telling you to stop because your setting yourself back via injuring yourself, and, the pain from just pushing hard in a workout or race. With the first, stop, rest, recover, get better. Don't further injury yourself just to show you're tough. I've tried to press through an injury as it's occurring only to later wish I hadn't. Sometimes it's best to walk away and live to fight another day.

But, we must learn to embrace the pain of really going for it. In the summer of 2012, as I was preparing for the USAT National Championships, I told myself over and over that come August, I needed to be ready emotionally and mentally, to endure more pain than I ever had in a race if I were going to have a shot at the top 10 or 5 or wow...maybe even getting on the podium! I would have to push deeper into that black hole of pain than I'd ever pushed before. And it was true. I came out of the water in about 15th place and really, really pushed the bike with no thought of pacing myself. I came off the bike in 2nd place! During the last 1.5 miles of the run, as I chased down the #1 ranked triathlete in the nation (in my age group) I knew I had to hurt myself badly. My entire body was screaming at me to stop or at least slow down.

It took every ounce of mental strength I had to keep pushing as I slowly reeled him in. I caught him with about 300 yds. to go to the finish line and at that point I was done. My legs felt like I was going to trip and fall any second and my lungs were absolutely screaming for oxygen. Yet, I needed to go yet one level deeper into the pain cave. And so somehow I found one more gear, slowly passed him and hit the red carpet, not knowing if he'd come back on me or not. He couldn't stay with me and I won.

How? I still don't know. I think I ran in the high 5's for the last mile...maybe 5:50 or so. It was God's grace, strength and purpose I'm sure. But my relationship with God is a partnership. He gives me strength, hope and inspiration, but I'm the one running. If I had not prepared myself for the pain, I wouldn't have won the National Championship. Because I did prepare, I believe I was able to hold an insane pace for me to the finish. Get friendly with pain. Embrace it as a friend. People won't understand, but that's OK. You get it. I get it. That's enough.