2012 Race Schedule

January 8th, 2012

Lara and I spent some time over the holidays working on our 2012 race schedules (her write-up is here). Now that we have most of our travel weekends laid out for us, we can fill in races and see what kind of training and racing schedule is available to us. This year will prove to be exciting for a couple of reasons.

Early Season

This year, Lara and I both signed up to do the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon in March. I was planning on making this race an early goal, but I’ve decided to simply focus more on my running and probably racing this with C2 in his jog stroller. I’ll be going off the Team Z schedule with a more run-focused training schedule, with a secondary weight-loss focus to try and get down to what I think is my ideal racing weight. Fun times!

‘A’ Races

Of course, the first monster on my schedule is Ironman Lake Placid. I’ve been signed up for this one since last July, and I’m looking forward to a very different challenge from Ironman Cozumel. Cozumel is dead flat, and Lake Placid is…not. Friends say that the only flat part of the course is the swim, and they would make that hilly if they could find a way. Still, it’s an iconic course, and I’m looking forward to putting in an even better effort (if not a better time due to the hills).

Another goal is to qualify for the 2013 USA Triathlon National Championships. I can do that by finishing in the top third of my age group at The Nation’s Triathlon in DC in 2012. I think that’s do-able, but my concern here will be that the race is about six weeks after IM Lake Placid, so there won’t be much downtime. I craved that after COZ, but am hoping that I can keep pushing through.

Finally, my goal from the last two years has been to qualify for the season end awards in the Virginia Triathlon Series. I need a minimum of five events (not relays) to qualify. Life has just gotten in the way the last two years, but this year I’m signed up for two events at Rumpus in Bumpass, Kinetic and Luray. That should do meet the requirements, so hopefully I’ll be fast for them. Luray is right after IM Lake Placid as well.

National Championships

There are two National Championships that don’t require qualification. I enjoy racing at these, even if I’m not yet as competitive as I would like.

Right now, I’m only signed up for the Long Course Duathlon National Championships in Maryland. Not treating this as an ‘A’ race, but a good training race where I’d like to do OK. The Duathlon format is Run-Bike-Run, so hopefully my focus on running this spring will pay off.

I’m considering the Aquabike National Championships in Richmond (the Deep Creek Gran Fondo and the Syracuse IM 70.3 are also that same weekend). Need to talk with Lara about that one, but the swim-bike format is interesting, and it would mean less travel time and less away-from-the-family time than the other two. But if anyone has other thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them. A 650m swim followed by an 18 mile bike seems pretty decent, and we love staying at the Richmond Westin.

Musselman Sprint

A week before Lake Placid is Musselman. We’ve planned to take that week off and head to upstate New York. This is a beautiful area, and Lara is signed up to do the Musselman Half Ironman (which I have completed my last two years). So, I’ll do the sprint that Lara has traditionally done and we’ll switch places. This is a great Team Z atmosphere, so looking forward to hanging with friends that weekend and revving up my legs for the full distance in a week.

Still Undecided

Not sure if we’re going to include the Mountains of Misery again this year. This is a 128 mile cycling challenge with over 13,000 feet of climbing. It would be good training for Lake Placid, and we really enjoyed staying at Mountain Lake the last time we did this. It’s our anniversary weekend, so it’s basically Lara’s call.

Savageman is another iconic race, and I am really hoping to do this one. Problem is, I have a University of Illinois Alumni Association Board of Directors meeting the day before. If I do this, it will be my last semi-serious race of the year.

In October, I am traveling to the Association of Corporate Counsel meeting in Orlando, FL, and there are a bunch of us who are looking to kick off the weekend with a race. A Disney running race is a possibility, but it looks like they moved the Wine and Dine race to another weekend. We’ll probably find something, but this will just be for fun as my season will be effectively over.

I’m also not sure if we’ll be heading out to the Seagull Century in Salisbury, Maryland. I enjoy this flat, scenic ride (Lara’s first ride over 40 miles), and I may hitch a trailer to the bike and take C2. But since my season should be over by then, it depends on whether I can get the neighbors or my wife interested in this one.

So, take October light and start base building for 2013 in November. Should be interesting, as Lara is hoping she can do her first Iron distance race then. So, looking forward to 2012 and all the challenges it will bring.

Tri Sport Express

December 30th, 2011

I had planned to write a final Ironman Cozumel report on the debacle called Tri Sport Express. Even had a post written and everything. But I’m not going to rehash everything here.

The short story is that they were (very) late in delivering the bikes to Cozumel, messing up everyone’s plans and races and almost not allowing us to start. Add nonexistent communication, a perception of being less than truthful about logistics and experience and damaged equipment, and there are a lot of angry people out there.

But it’s also provided a lot of internal drama as well. Not sure why, but at this point it’s jumped the shark as far as I’m concerned.

My motivation in writing anything at all was to ensure others never had this experience happen to them. But there’s enough written at Slowtwitch that hopefully people will be better informed on TSE, or any companies run by the same people.

And hopefully people will get compensated for the physical damage that was done.

Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate 5k/15k

December 10th, 2011

A lot’s been written about the Washington, DC stop on the Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate 5k/15k races recently at National Harbor. The stories all take the position that the race was an unmitigated disaster; you can see examples here, here and here. If you were there, you know that description is generous.

But I started to wonder…what lessons does the race hold for promoters? Viewing this from my combined experience in being an athlete and a lawyer, what can we learn from this series of problems that led to a seriously unhappy group of customers? I don’t do this for a living, but here are just a few preliminary thoughts:

The first thing that struck me was the reference to fixed costs in putting on a race of this nature and the fact that the promoter, RAM Racing of Chicago, seems concerned about their liability. They should be. I’m hoping that each of their separate races are organized out of a separate legal entity. Many will see this as an unnecessary additional step, but when everything goes wrong you want to make sure your liability is limited as much as possible to that specific race. This is the example that proves why.

I was watching the race, not running in it. My wife—who doesn’t even like chocolate—was running this after supporting me at Ironman Cozumel the week before, and our neighbor was running with her. The husbands were cheering, and I turned to him when the 5k runners went by and said, ‘this is why they place a cap on the number of athletes.’ Every promoter thinks that tripling their wildest dreams would be great for their race, but especially the first time you run an event in a new venue you should simply cap it at a reasonable number. Overreaching leads to bad results, and even successfully managed events like Ironman races get grumbling at the number of competitors. This builds buzz as well.

Third, you need to make sure that the venue is appropriate for the event. Part of this is the location, but an even greater amount is the working relationships with local authorities and partners. There are always two sides to any relationship, but if you don’t have complete confidence that your partners are willing to work with you to make things successful then you shouldn’t put on the event in the first place. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have heard this advice, decided to do the deal anyway because ‘there’s no one else’, and then the deal ends up as a disaster for everyone involved. Usually ‘there’s no one else’ means ‘it seemed like the best deal at the time.’ Your partners hold your reputation in their hands. Treat them better than your bankers.

Most of these problems could have been avoided. (But, RAM racing has a history of disappointing on these very issues, in multiple cities.) Maybe the problem was hubris, maybe it was random…I don’t really know. But I think many problems can be avoided by having someone on staff to poke holes in the planning. I’m biased, but I prefer a lawyer for this role because we’re trained to raise questions about poor outcomes and have the confidence and position to raise them to leadership’s attention. Many people view this as a negative force when having a ‘red team’ is just part of an effective planning process. Look, you can hire me (legal) or my wife (pr and marketing). Actually, we have great jobs already, but you know what I mean. You should hire both roles to be part of your team. But what most people do is skimp on the former and outsource the latter. What happens then is you hire several (very expensive) lawyers and a vast team of PR and marketing folks to try and keep the 20,000 former customers and their pitchforks from your castle, instead of building the right relationships from the start. Have someone on your team as the designated contrarian, at the very least.

Finally, I haven’t reviewed the participant release that RAM prepared for this, but I think every race promoter should sit down with their lawyer and review theirs in light of what happened. Same with their contingency plans, and their agreements with municipal and location partners. At the Association of Corporate Counsel meeting in Denver a month ago they had a panel discussion on race promotion legal issues, and hopefully your lawyer was there and up to speed on the latest issues. You know what they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Ironman Cozumel Race Report

December 8th, 2011

I’ve gotten away without writing a race report thus far in my triathlon career, but it seems fitting that I should do my first one in conjunction with my first attempt at the Ironman distance (2.4 mile open-water ocean swim, 112 (really, 113) miles on the bike without drafting, followed by a full running marathon of 26.2 miles). But that means this will be a little long, so apologies in advance.

All focused on this

All focused on this

For those of you who don’t know my story, let me give a brief explanation about my journey. When I was younger, bike racing was my thing. And I was pretty good, but thought that college and law school was a better career choice at the time. I focused on my career, gained weight and eventually was over 240 pounds. After working for five years to develop a lifelong dream of pursuing elected office, I walked away. At the time, my wife was studying for her MBA and once I had nothing to focus on; I was apparently a little distracting. So, after three days, I was told to choose a new goal to keep me occupied.

I decided to tackle a triathlon. Just one problem: I couldn’t really swim. If I was on a boat that capsized, I would make it to shore (probably), and I had passed the lifesaving merit badge in boy scouts, but I couldn’t really get anywhere fast and I wasn’t comfortable around water. How bad was it? I hired a swim coach, and our first meeting was probably the most humiliating point of my journey. My male ego took a bruising when *she* was faster than me. Even though I was doing freestyle, and she was doing sidestroke and yelling at me while swimming. Oh, and did I mention that she was 8 ½ months pregnant?

But I progressed, and overcame quite a bit to finish my first sprint distance race. Then my first international distance race. Then joining Team Z, my extended family, and finishing my first 70.3 race.

My motivation

My motivation

But the Ironman presents its own challenges, and much of that surrounds the training. This was how I wanted to mark turning forty. My own challenges involved being in a very busy two career household, with an almost-two-year-old, significant involvement in outside boards and organizations, and doing some cycling coaching for Team Z. But Team Z provided a plan that would prepare me well, even if I had to be more disciplined in getting those workouts in by myself so that I could be there for my family. My race weight was down to 175, after spending a good part of the season around 170. And my wife, son and our au pair Tomke provided me with tons of support, which made my journey theirs as well. And while I was constantly juggling in the months leading up, I arrived at race month filled with anticipation, curiosity and a fair amount of dread. After all, I was about to tackle the Ironman…

RACE WEEK

Awesome little world traveler

Awesome little world traveler

Traveling with an almost-two-year-old is always adventure. C2 is a great traveler, but it’s just more complicated logistically. But this trip was relatively smooth, excepting a sprint through the Houston airport with a stroller on my shoulder. We got to Cozumel, got settled in to our hotel and I head down with some teammates to pick up our bikes from the transport company.

One Cool Dude!

One Cool Dude!

Except, there are no bikes there. That’s odd; the guy said this was the time and place to meet him. Now, you have to understand something about me. My bikes are my babies. I prioritize them more than my car, my house, just about everything other than my immediate family. So now my baby was missing without any word from the transport company that I and fifty of my teammates had hired to get our bikes there without dealing with the airlines. I’ll write more about this experience in a follow-up post, but suffice it to say that this was a major stress-inducer the entire trip.

Head back to the hotel, and Lara and I went for a run to get the legs moving after a long travel day. We also picked up our scooter from Bambino. Now, I have no problem recommending Bambino and his company, but we did have to negotiate to get there. I don’t mind negotiating (after all, lawyers are pretty good at it), but it’s much more pleasant to have a fair price settled beforehand. We thought that we had that, but when we were boots-on-the-ground, we ended up being faced with a lot of “extras”, and were given a heads-up by Coach Ed. Suffice it to say, we settled a lot closer to my price than his in the end. Then dinner, and in bed by about 8.

I was worried about germs, but little did I know...

I was worried about germs, but little did I know...

The next day was Thanksgiving. The highlight of the day was supposed to be a ride around the course, but instead all I was able to do was register for the race, pick up my race schwag, and head into town for a little shopping/negotiating and lunch. We had lunch at Toro’s place, and actually got to meet Toro. Great food, but he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t have a margarita or shot of tequila. I told him I would come back when I had finished the Ironman on Sunday. He said he would wait for me to finish. I got the strong impression that he wasn’t convinced that I would make it. We ended up naming our scooter Toro on the way home. Then we hit the special Thanksgiving buffet at the Hotel Cozumeleno, and were in bed well before 9.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Friday the plan was to hit the swim course and do a practice run. I hopped on Toro, and headed towards Chankanaab. Toro didn’t seem all that peppy though, and in town I realized that he had a flat front tire. Hmm, negotiating away the insurance now didn’t seem like the smartest idea after all. But a call to Bambino and I was off with a new scooter, with less pep than my bike but no mention of my not having the insurance. Met up with some Team Zers, swam about a mile to get a feeling for the area, and then Lara and I hit the “MANDATORY” athlete’s meeting. I really hate wasting time, so it’s painful to sit through a meeting where they simply read the athlete’s guide off a PowerPoint. No wonder few people actually show up. But we took the scooter on a run around the bike course, but this didn’t actually give me a very good sense of the winds. And we came painfully close to running out of gas due to a broken gauge. Then, we had a team meeting about the bike situation, and the coaches had been working overtime to come up with contingency plans for their athletes. The bikes were supposed to come the following day, and the coaches were really working 110% to make sure everything worked out. Another early night, as either the stress was getting to me or I was fighting a bug. But C2 didn’t want to go to bed, so we listened as he did everything he could to keep himself awake. Turns out he can speak in complete sentences, say Tomke’s full name and repeat every word we said at dinner…at least when he’s supposed to be going to sleep!

Hanging out

Hanging out

Saturday morning I woke up early, checked Facebook, and saw pictures of the bike transport being loaded off the ferry from the mainland. Success! I went back to sleep for the most restful sleep of my trip. Then woke up again, picked up the bike with Lara, I was able to do a painfully short brick and Lara got a short run in and I racked the bike. Back to the hotel, short nap, and then the team dinner and team meeting. 

Brett with his bike

Brett with his bike

At dinner, I was talking to Sebastian who asked something like were we nervous. My response: “It’s just another day of work, with more people watching.” In reality, we were really super-prepared and most of us knew we would get the distance done. We just had to perform. The transformation of these athletes was amazing. All of us had our stories, and most were more interesting than mine. But it was really inspirational to see everyone that I had met along the way looking ripped and ready. Coach Ed really got us dialed in with what we’ve been through and to keep it all in perspective, and then C2 stole the show by walking around smiling at everyone while Coach Alexis and Coach Ryan got all emotional in their speeches. C2 thought the applause was for him, and we were all happy to burn off a little nervous energy. Not much sleep the night before the Ironman…

RACE MORNING

Ready for it

Ready for it

I woke up at 12:30, and figured it was close enough to my 1:30am plan for first breakfast. I debated, and chowed down on a Chocolada (pain au chocolat) and a banana before heading back to bed. Up at 2:45 and had a sweet role and some water with salt tablets and vitamins. Finally, up at 3:45 to beat the 4am wakeup call. (Which, still came despite my calling down to the front desk to cancel it…but it didn’t wake up C2.) Dressed as much as I could, grabbed the bottles from the fridge, and fired up the iPod to get a soundtrack running through my head for the day. I was ready.

Lara and I left around 4:40am on Toro II. Only hiccup was the closed off streets in town, leading me to get pulled over by the local police. My Spanish is good enough, and yet bad enough, to get me out of that situation and we were on our way. Finished futzing with the bikes and bottles, and headed to the Team Z meeting place. Only we would find a bar open at 6am, but it was relatively secluded and no lines for the bathrooms.

The team picture was cancelled to make sure we got to the start line on time. Becky and I went over together, and we talked out our nerves about the start after a little jog. They close off so much of the pier that we had to go through transition to get there, but with no real problems. Then we watched the pros start, and went onto the dock (where we saw dolphins and sea lions from the water park). I declined to jump in (I’ll conquer my fear of heights some other time), and slipped around the side of the pier. A bunch of Zs congregated on the fence for the dolphin pens, and we waited for the start. Just another race, with a little more distance…

Near the swim start

Near the swim start

SWIM

Eugene and I were looking at the mass of people and decided to just hang back. The gun went off, and I probably went out too soon. I didn’t have more than a minute of clear water before I was in a scrum of people. Before the race, my biggest concern was the swim. Not only was I not the most confident swimmer, with panic attacks in several races, but in an Ironman race everyone starts at the same time and it’s not uncommon to be run over by the pack. With my history, I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I would get in trouble. But, we had 700 meters to get to the first turn, it was against the current during this part, and everyone was amped. The first half was relatively good for me, as somehow I found mostly clear water. But as we came closer to the turn, everyone compressed and all bets were off. I was punched, kicked, had my timing chip pulled, body pulled and a fair number of sprints for position. The gals were, if anything, more territorial than the men. But we made it to the 180-degree turnaround, and it seemed to open up from there.

After the turn, you go with the currents and this is where the swim really picks up speed. When it was clear water, you could enjoy the swim and the pull from the current, while watching the Mexican Navy divers, coral and schools of fish below you. For me, it was also harder than I thought to sight my position out here and I lost some time around the rest of the course on sighting. But that problem would soon solve itself.

After about a third down the fast side of the course, I ended up behind a line of swimmers. Not a pack, a line across the course (which I’ve never seen before). Couldn’t get by them, even though I wanted to swim a touch faster. There were some vicious kickers there too that would try and kick you in the face if you came too close. So, I settled in behind them until everyone positioned themselves for the turn.

After the last 180-degree turnaround, you head back towards the other end of the piers to complete the swim. The course here is a little tricky, and we were warned not to follow the shoreline too closely as you would end up blocked near the end of the swim where land and coral jut out into that swimline. Despite the fact that it was less bumping here, and trying really hard to stay in the middle of the channel, I found myself being directed left by the course marshals. And I got stung by some jellyfish here—felt like someone punched me in the lip, then the forehead and then under my arm. Of course, that’s when the bodies are thrown together and the bumping really starts to position for the swim exit. But, out of the water and saw my time, and jogging through the showers and into Transition.

Goal Time: Between 1:10 and 1:20

Actual Time: 1:14:55 (1016 Overall; 166 Division)

Lessons: Fight for position, but keep the pace reasonable. Sighting is key.

Result: Pretty happy with this swim! Could have gone faster, but part of that is experience, part was staying easy to stay within myself in the first leg. And hey—I just swam 2.4 miles like I knew what I was doing! Woo-hoo!

T1

There are showers as you leave the pier to wash off the salt water, and I ducked in there just enough to get the salt off my head and face. I grabbed my transition bag and headed for the change tent. The men’s tent had an open door on either side so people could see in, but I really didn’t care who saw me buck naked. Stripped off the swim skin, into the Team Z tri shorts and jersey, helmet on, shoes on, sunglasses on, washed off with my extra water and out the door with my transition bag and sunscreen. Get to my bike, drop my transition bag for pickup, and realize that I have lost my sunscreen. Uh oh. Grab the bike and start to run…dump my bike, which knocks off one bottle top and half of its contents. Put everything back together, execute a pretty impressive flying leap onto the bike, and I am back in my element. Helllooo highways of Southern Cozumel!

Goal Time: Ten minutes

Actual Time: 6:30

Lessons: Don’t drop the damn sunscreen!

Result: Good, not perfect. But my goals weren’t going to be met or not here.

BIKE

Saw Lara and Jacqueline on the path out to the highway, which was awesome for my morale.

Off we go!

Off we go!

Let me say something about the course and my plan here. The first loop is like ¾ of the way around the southern half of the island, and loops 2 and 3 are obviously full loops through town. The first stretch heads south, then a short while east, then north along the eastern side of the island, then due west into town, and then south again until we hit the swim park. The northerly section along the coast is notorious for its wind, and the stretch into town has a tail wind. The section along the southern end of the island has a headwind, but isn’t all that long. We were told that the southerly roads after town were windless. This is where bike recon would have been really helpful.

So I pick a pretty fast pace, but was monitoring my heart rate and wasn’t too concerned because I knew I could let it roll in the windless conditions. I was really proud of my backing off into the wind, and felt like it was right on target in terms of effort and time. I was able to fly on the tailwind section, but wasn’t too concerned because I wouldn’t have to fight the wind for a while. Or so I thought.

As soon as I left town, I knew I was in trouble. The wind slammed me from the side and front, and instead of maintaining I started to really struggle. My speed dropped to about 15mph, and although I had been eating according to schedule the wind was making my calorie needs more urgent. So I ate, and slowed, and tried to persevere. I limped around to the windy side of the island, where I started to feel a little better. Oddly, my pace on the windy section was just about where I expected it to be, but I had lost a lot of time from my expected pace. I was also starting to feel the effects of the sun beating down on my shoulders and arms. The last thing I wanted was to get through the marathon without being able to move my upper body.

This is probably a good place to talk about how awesome Team Z was. Some people brought a cheering section, which consisted of a significant other or some family. Team Z had something like 64 racers, and over 160 people cheering. But they weren’t just cheering, they were everywhere. There would be times when you would wonder why you hadn’t seen a Z in a while, and there would be one sitting on a desolate stretch of road so you wouldn’t get lonely. Or there would be a caravan of scooters traveling on closed roads (away from the athletes) to make sure you knew you were supported. We had three formal spots on the bike and the run, and probably close to eight informal spots on the bike. I was actually asked three times whether we were a cult. And the best part was cheering for all the other athletes from the DC area….my teammates, friends and family who came out to cheer for us were absolutely amazing, and there is no other group of triathletes like them in the world. But special thanks goes out to everyone who was cheering on the bike course with Alexis right before the tailwind section. Because I pulled in like an Indy car driver, and within seconds they had provided me with sunscreen and a sendoff that would make a Tour de France rider jealous.

After that, I backed off the last lap to adjust for the wind I would find around the rest of the island. My back was hurting (Dr Kathy says it’s a soaz muscle issue, but I think it’s because I didn’t have my tri bike for two weeks before the race), my time was disappointing, and I was not in the place I envisioned myself for so long. But I stayed (relatively) mentally strong, and knew that this was a tough way to learn a lesson on the bike, but still an aberration.

Goal Time: Between 4:45 and 5:15

Actual Time: 5:43:32 (556 Overall; 92 Division)

Lessons: Think my preparation was decent here, and recon could have been better. More speed, more fitness, and I can hit those time goals on an IM course. Probably need to dial in nutrition better and make that easier, with a bottle of Red Bull to sip through the ride.

Result: Extremely disappointed, but still a respectable time. My standards are very high here, but I just didn’t meet them. Work to be done, but on the right track.

T2

Dismount and hand off my bike, grab my T2 bag, and this tent is the opposite of the first transition: there is a guy holding then tent door so people can’t see us changing, but he practically refuses to let me in. Volunteers are so helpful that I spend half my time refusing water. Do another costume change, grab a banana and water, two race belts, and I’m off. I wonder if that blister on my foot will give me problems on the run…

Goal Time: Seven minutes

Actual Time: 4:22

Lessons: Plan the bag better.

Result: Hmm, not bad but could be faster. Take :30 seconds off each transition, and I’m sitting pretty.

RUN

When you leave T2, no matter what common-sense says, you start to run. Not moving is time lost, and walking just doesn’t cut it. Until your brain starts processing the fact that you’ve been biking 112 113 miles, eating GU and you need to now tackle a marathon with legs that aren’t used to this. So no matter how many well-meaning Cozumelenos encourage you to “Vamos!” or “Si se peude!”, you stop running and walk like you’re mortal. At least, I did; everybody who I was biking with just took off and dusted me. But, at least I enjoyed my banana. Sort of.

I saw Toro, and he seemed surprised to see me. But he said he would wait for me to finish and have that tequila shot. Great—now I have homework after my day in the sun.

The run course was three loops, 4.7 up, turnaround just past our hotel, and 4.7 back into town. I can still see every inch of that road in my head. The nice thing was that there was an aid station every kilometer, instead of every mile as you might find in the US. With my plan to walk through each aid station, that meant a little more respite for my weary legs.

The first lap was decent. After about two miles I got my running legs working again full-time and was running most of the time between aid stations. Coke and water through the aid stations, plus a little gel. I tried pretzels or bananas, but it just wasn’t happening. My blisters were noticeable halfway through the first lap, one where each toe joined the foot, but the pain was manageable. Then the rain started.

But before the rain, I ran by our hotel twice. I got to see Lara, Tomke and C2 as I ran by, plus all the Zs congregated there. And after the turn, I got the greatest gift…the look on C2’s when I ran up and hugged him was something only a father could understand. I hugged Tomke too, because I didn’t have a chance to do that before I left. And I gave Lara a big kiss and was on my way.

The clouds had been welcome, as it took the edge off the heat while the sun was still up. The rain, however, would saturate the course and create all kinds of issues. The first was that it would inflame the blisters on my feet as my shoes became waterlogged. This caused the blisters to become worse with each step. At first I hoped they popped. But I’m glad they didn’t.

The rain kept coming down, as we pushed on through the race. I kept seeing teammates on the out and back course, and tried to greet each one with a “Let’s Go Z!” I was mostly holding my own. The Zs were out on the run course as well, holding down a well-stocked bar in town, a mini-cheer station about a mile from our hotel, at our hotel and a roving caravan that would cheer for each one of us.

The rain was creating not only puddles; it was backing up the sewage system on the island. So now we were running through giant lakes of who knows what. At one point, the road was flooded from curb-to-curb, and you had to run through at least a foot of water. The timing chip had cut my ankle, and you could feel the wound stinging each time my left leg went into the water. The stench was quite bad in places too. Had my blisters popped, I would have quite a job to keep them from getting infected. Keep pushing.

Running through the pain

Running through the pain

Still, about halfway I looked to be on a 4:30 pace. My pace would slow considerably on the last lap, as the blisters, puddles, darkness and tiredness took their toll. I knew at this point that I would be an Ironman; it would only take some perseverance to the finish.

The last lap I ended up walking more than I would have liked, but the blisters on my feet were really getting to me mentally. I should have gone faster, but my brain just wouldn’t. The Team Z glow necklaces really helped keep everyone’s spirits up though. I was able to run the last mile or so, making sure to keep space ahead and behind me. If I crossed the line with others, they wouldn’t call out my name specifically. But I had finished my marathon, and with it my first Ironman!

Goal Time: 4:00-4:30

Actual Time: 4:59:13

Lessons: Need to better prepare my feet to ward off blisters.

Result: I was actually pretty pleased with this run, given everything. Need to address blister issues, but I am already researching that. And probably need some better BRIC transition work, but I am thinking about how to build that into my schedule. Other than that, just get faster!

Overall Goal Time: 10:48

Overall Actual Time: 12:08:32 (683 Overall; 107 Division)

Lessons: See above.

Result: I was disappointed with the time, but for my first 140.6 (actually, 226 since Mexico goes by kilometers not miles) race I was pleased that I finished, finished strong mentally and see some areas where I can gain back the time I lost on this first attempt. To put it in perspective, something like 2350 people started the race, about 1400 of them were men, and 277 finished in my age category while 80 dropped out of the race in my age category alone.

FINISH AND POST-RACE

So I pass the turnaround and turn into the chute, and hear Lara screaming over a couple thousand people cheering. She got a video of me running by, and there was another competitor right on my heels. Always push—there were seconds separating the person in front of me and the person behind me.

I raised my hand and face to heaven, remembering that we lost a baby this year while trying to have another child, crossed the line and was overcome with emotion. With all I had been through to get to this point, with all the sacrifices that we had been through as a family and team, with all the change in our lives as we learned to love sport again, became healthier and happier and grew together as a family, there was a lot driving me that no one saw.

Grabbed the medal, waited in line for the picture, went to see the American docs in medical about what to do about my ankle (“soap and water”, and I didn’t argue because I had visions of a Mexican tetanus shot). Found Lara, who took my bike back to the bike transport, which apparently decided to not park where they said they would, but in the middle of a dark alley. Great. Meanwhile, I was Ironman-shuffling up to Toro’s where I had a shot of the smoothest tequila I had ever tasted. Then, Toro drove us to the taxi stand, and we made our way back to the hotel and the buffet there. I was starving!

In the time since, I don’t know whether the enormity of my accomplishment has sunk in. What has blown me away are the Team Z Ironman statistics from this year. We had 16 people race IM Arizona (not even our team race), and of those I think 14 finished. 66 people raced IM COZ, and 62 finished. While those are impressive numbers in any athletic team, Team Z is more about changing lives than fine-tuning already fit athletes. That means that we search out the folks—like me—that got too heavy, or for some other reason needed to prove something to themselves. Out of the process, we got some great athletes, but also some amazing friendships and a family-like atmosphere. If you’re thinking about changing your life, you should really check out www.triteamz.com.

Since the race, most of my teammates have come down with what we’re calling the Mexican Death Plague, and others have been suffering from the Post-Ironman Blues. I’ve been pretty lucky, as we went straight back to work and now have the house decorated for Christmas. My blisters are almost gone ten days later, and my eye infection is starting to clear. And I’m taking December mostly off and then doing it all over again for Ironman Lake Placid 2012.

My rock and best cheerleader

My rock and best cheerleader

So, before that gets going again, I have a few people to thank. First, my wife Lara, without whom I could not have done this. Actually, I could have, but no one one would be watching C2, and that would have been bad. C2, sorry I missed so much—but there’s a purpose behind it. Tomke, you were an amazing help to us when we had crazy schedules (the entire time you’ve been here), and you’re a daughter to Lara and I. Thank you. To my whole family, your support was invaluable. To Coach Ed, Coach Alexis and Coach Ryan: I cannot believe how well you prepared us, watched over us, pushed us and bled for us. What you’ve created here is stupefying, and you don’t get nearly enough credit for the lives you’ve saved and changed. Thank you, especially for putting up with all my carp. To my IM-bound teammates: you will never know how much your presence was an inspiration in the entire time leading up to the race. I wish I had been able to train more with you, but believe me I was suffering with you in body and spirit. Come race day, you all were amazing sources of motivation. To the Ironman Sherpa and Cheer Squad: you literally choked me up several times while I was trying to race. You gave us wings, and made an enormous difference. When the entire race is talking about our cheering section, you’ve made the biggest impact of all of us. And I’m sure I’m missing people in this list, but thanks to everyone who helped me conquer this goal.

See you all in Lake Placid, 2012!

2011 Race Season

February 27th, 2011

Well, I’m really excited about my race season this year. After completing my first two half-Ironman distance races last year (Musselman in NY and Timberman in NH), this year the aim is to build the entire year towards doing the Ironman in Cozumel Mexico next Thanksgiving weekend. Talk about giving thanks!

I was hoping to take out a USA Cycling license this year and at least do some time trials, but it seems that there aren’t too many in this area.  Maybe 2012!

This year’s training is already under way, with spinning in the Coffee Garage, and running building towards the National Marathon in March. After that, some decisions still need to be made. But here’s my preliminary race schedule:

March 26: Nation’s Marathon

April 16/17: Rumpass in Bumpass (Sprint and International)

Memorial Day weekend—TBD, but as our anniversary, this weekend is always us doing something special

June—here it gets difficult, because we have awesome options every single weekend, but it might get to be too much

June 4/5: General Smallwood MTS

June 12: Eagleman, this one’s a definite go

June 19: Cubs play the Yankees on my second Father’s Day weekend…here, the triathlon will be beer, deep dish pizza and Garrett’s popcorn

June 25: two Gran Fondos, the hilly Diabolical Double, or the 200 mile true Double Century

July 15: the µMussel (I’m looking for a Green Machine, or possibly a tricycle)

July 17: Musselman Half Iron (I’ll be sure to remember the inhaler this time)

July 30/31: Culpepper…not a Team Z race, but because I need a fifth to qualify for VTS

August 13/14: Luray (don’t try and pronounce it, unless you grew up in Virginny)

October 8/9: Waterman’s MTS series…..maybe, we’ll see

November 27: Ironman, Cozumel

Ohhh, that hurts

November 4th, 2010

For the next year, one of my favorite quotes will have special poignancy. Part of a speech called the Man in the Arena by my personal hero Teddy Roosevelt goes something like this…

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

But, marathoners might find more direct relevance in Invictus, the 19th Century poem by Englishman William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish something. And I have to say, it feels like a failure.

On Sunday, I started the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. It was a spectacular fall day for running a marathon, I had a ton of support from my family and Team Zers and Illini around Washington, and a very emotional backdrop of the monuments of DC and the course lined with US Marines. This was supposed to be the capstone to a great year, and an amazing month. But, instead, I pulled out of the race with an injury after mile 20.

My injury is one that sounds wimpy, but any runner who has had shin splints knows they are one of the most painful things you can endure while trying to make forward progress on foot. It feels like having your shin hit with a sledgehammer. It just hit all at once, with no warning from my training. And further running just makes it harder to recover. I guess I could have walked it in, but I had to do that at the Musselman Half-Ironman and it didn’t feel any different than quitting. True, that was more of a mystery (until I realized my inhaler had worn off). But I also knew that I had another Half a month later and knew I wasn’t getting injured by continuing. Dirt, yes. Sweat, definitely. But no blood to show from my battle in the arena.

It wasn’t my all, but it wasn’t my day either. Don’t know why it wasn’t, but it just wasn’t. So this whole winter, I will be wondering what went wrong and try and use this failed attempt as motivation for next spring. And I’ll try to keep this memory alive as why it’s sometime smarter to tactically withdraw, but why I personally hate quitting at anything.

Master of my fate. Captain of my soul.

40 Under 40 Awards

November 2nd, 2010

Last week was supposed to be supremely positive. I was named to the Washington Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list, a huge recognition. The list is supposed to recognize the top 40 business leaders under the age of 40 in the Washington, DC metro area.  Here is the write-up.

For a practicing lawyer to be named to one of these lists is not unheard of, but relatively rare. Even in a town like Washington, which is known for a high percentage of the nation’s preeminent lawyers, legal eagles don’t tend to make the list of the best business leaders because they aren’t really considered, well, business leaders.

Although in-house lawyers are really more appropriately considered businessmen in that they are part of a business, the practice is to recognize them as their own category in legal awards. And last year, I was humbled to be chosen with two lawyers I greatly admire–Paul Mamalian, then GC of Apptis and now GC of Choice Hotels, and Manik Rath, GC of LMI—as finalists in the In-House category for the 2009 Top Washington Lawyers. And it makes sense—if we do our jobs right, you may never know we played a role in fixing problems, developing solutions and moving companies forward.

And the focus is entirely appropriate, while giving leeway to adding the exceptional lawyers that should be honored in a 40 Under 40 list. But at the same time, law is the town’s local specialty and it’s only natural that some very accomplished lawyers made their way onto this list. I was the only in-house attorney, but Justin Antonipillai from Arnold & Porter, Erica Leatham from Ballard Spahr, Peter Zern from Covington & Burling joined me as the other lawyers on the list. 10%–not too bad for the JDs.

Especially when you consider the other nominees. Tim O’Shaughnessy runs LivingSocial, one of the hottest social graph businesses right now. Heather Stouffer makes Mom Made Foods so our kids are eating healthy. Matt Voorhees, a long-time friend, runs Anybill, a remarkably innovative B2B accounts payable company, and David Andrukonis runs AlumniFidelity, which runs online fundraising for universities. I was excited just to meet and talk with some of these business leaders and find out how they built their innovative business models. In the end, we didn’t get to meet and chat as much as I would like. But I hope to follow up with people and talk to them one on one.

The night was planned for an upscale bowling alley in the District named Lucky Strike, and we were to walk out with a video playing behind us. We got a very cool plaque that looks like a magazine cover, then celebrate with Lara and meet some people.

At this event, there was another twist. They were voting on the Reader’s Choice award for the top young business leader among the forty of us. For the reasons set forth above, I was no more expecting a lawyer would win (let alone an in-house lawyer) than I was expecting President Obama would name me as the next Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Well, we’re not packing our bags for London. But much to my utter disbelief, the publisher Alex Orfinger called my name out as the winner of the People’s Choice award. We were told beforehand ‘no speeches’, and I had about two seconds to prepare when Alex tried to hand me the microphone. Blank. As a lawyer, people expect you to come up with something, but I had bupkiss. Nothing. Nada. But I had to say something. So, I think what I said was , “I wasn’t expecting to say anything, so thanks to everyone for coming out.”

Seriously? Did that come out of my mouth? D’oh!

Here’s what I should have said: Thanks, Alex. I’m really humbled by this award, because there are so many amazing business leaders in this room tonight. I have to thank my wife Lara for supporting me in everything I do, and for my CEO Linda LaRoche for providing the opportunities to do such amazing work. And ,of course, everyone who voted for me. But I think the companies you see represented on this list speak to the vibrancy and innovation in the local business community, and I’m really glad to be a part of it. Being recognized like this speaks volumes about our local in-house legal community as well, and they are a special group of legal and business leaders. And it’s especially notable since it means that I’m under forty for another 364 days. Thank you. So, apologies to everyone at the event, but I was just too stunned by the news to properly put words to the sentiments I felt that night.

In the end, the festivities were great, and major kudos to Whitney Suntum from the WBJ for creating a great event. And thanks to Pop Chips for sending me home with a complimentary gift basket of great tasting, healthy potato chips—everyone should try these for the taste, then stick with them as part of a healthy routine.

Being recognized for my work was an amazing honor, and adding the business recognition to the legal award last year was really pretty cool. But perhaps the coolest comment was one of my colleagues who asked me to join a group that’s closed to CEO’s. When I pointed out that I wasn’t a CEO and thus not eligible, she said: “It’s only a matter of time.”

I think she’s probably right.

Back to the blog.

November 1st, 2010

This blog, and the perpetually under construction website it’s a part of, was set up as part of my political ambitions. I left those behind in the winter of 2009, and this has been dormant since then. My life has changed dramatically since then, and I’ve been thinking about getting the blog, at least, more active. So, I thought I would kick things off with an enhanced version of an article I was asked to write for the company I work for…hope you all enjoy, and good to be back to share some thoughts…

For many people, the competition of the sports fields when we were young was replaced by other demands as we age. But all too often, as our responsibilities increase, we set aside rigorous physical activity for demands of career, family and civic engagement.

In my case, I stopped riding my bike and started riding a desk. In my youth, I was a highly ranked cyclist, training at the Olympic Training Center and winning races all across the Midwest. But at a time when only one or two riders from every year would make a decent living racing bikes, I opted to pursue a career in the law. As I focused on my career, my health slowly suffered and my bike gathered dust. 

About two years ago, I had to end my immediate political ambitions. About 24 hours after my decision, my wife Lara—who was studying for her MBA at the time and could not afford many distractions—told me that I needed something new to occupy my time because I was annoying her with nothing to occupy my time. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided I would tackle a triathlon for the first time in my life.

Triathlon has an interesting history. It’s the youngest of the Olympic sports, and has a strong tie to the military. Details are sketchy on the first swim/bike/run triathlon, which was thought to have occurred in San Diego in 1974. But a couple years later, a debate broke out about which athlete was the most fit. Reportedly, US Navy Commander John Collins suggested settling the debate by combining the three toughest endurance events on Oahu at that time: the 2.4 mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 115 mile Around-Oahu Bike Race (shortened to 112 miles) and the Honolulu Marathon. Of course—they didn’t realize that Around-Oahu was a two-day event, but that’s not an unreasonable distance for one-day bike races (and fairly short compared to many European Classics).

Thus, the Ironman was born. Of course, this was—and is—considered a supreme athletic test to manage all three distances in the space of a single day. So, as the sport grew from a foothold of ultra-endurance fanatics, shorter races were introduced in the International (or Olympic) distance of .9mile/1.5 kilometer swim, 25mi/40k bike and 6.2mi/10k run and shorter distances called ‘sprints.’ But don’t let the name fool you—the sprints have swims of around a half-mile, biking for up to 20 miles and runs that are generally between 5 and 8 kilometers.

I wasn’t planning on starting with an Ironman, of course. But the decision to do any length of triathlon was especially daunting. After all, if you drop out of the run or bike, you walk. But if you drop out of the swim…you drown, or have to be rescued. And I have never been a very strong swimmer. But I was determined, and found a coach to help me understand swim mechanics. Let me tell you, it pretty humiliating to have a coach swimming alongside you critiquing every freestyle stroke. Especially when she’s eight months pregnant. And doing the backstroke. But better than drowning. I think.

My first triathlon, I did want to quit in the swim. Did I mention that the swim start is a mass start in open water, so you have waves, people kicking and hitting you, and even some swimmers crawling over you and pushing you under to make their way forward? In my first tri, I got kicked a couple times, hit in the face with waves on two consecutive attempts to breathe, and started to panic. They told us that if this happened, to pull off the brightly covered swim cap we were each given and wave it in the air to attract the attention of a lifeguard. Of course, I don’t think they had ever tried to do this while drowning, and it proved quite impossible. So, I flipped onto my back, got my composure back, and finished the race. Ever since then, it hasn’t been quite downhill, but I have gotten comfortable doing long open-water swims without a wet-suit, and my times have been dropping.

This year, I competed in about ten different events. This year, I stepped up my goals and completed two half-Ironmans (1.2mi swim/56 mi bike/13.1 mi run) as well as the Duathlon (run/bike/run) Nationals, top-20 age group placings in two sprint races, and a 128 mile bike event with over 13,000 vertical feet of climbing over four mountain passes outside of Blacksburg, Va. It’s become incorporated into our family, with C-squared starting to go to races at two months old, and Lara and I trading off race days so one of us can watch C-squared one day and race the next. Next year, the goal is an Ironman distance race—probably November in Mexico. And now I’m getting back to the personal motto I had when I was younger: Mens sana in corpore sano (sound mind in a sound body).

Learning to swim was a challenge, but I still stand in awe of what Lara has accomplished in the sport. She did the Chicago International Triathlon, the largest in the world, when she was four months pregnant, and her first race after giving birth was three months afterwards. This year, she took third in the Luray International Distance race, and has proven to be a very tough competitor. Her personal motto is Why Not Try? I love that because of the different layers involved in three simple little words, and the action underlying it.

For us, making healthier decisions and a commitment to an athletic lifestyle has not always been easy, but definitely worth it. My weight has dropped from a high of 240 to 185 today, and the doctor says that I have completely changed around all of the areas of concern that he had. It’s given us a chance to really reconnect with something that makes us happy, relieves stress and allows us to see the world through new eyes. And most important, it’s setting a good example for our child. Which in the end was the most important demand of all.

Welcome

November 11th, 2008

My name is Brett Coffee, and welcome to my blog. I’m starting this blog on my website, which details my campaign for political office here in Virginia.  That’s really an extension of the community activities my family and I have been focused on here in our community.

This forum will be a place to discuss issues facing our community, solutions that we can propose and the news about the campaign.  Hopefully you will provide both concerns and solutions so that we can make this campaign about improving everyone’s lives in this area.

And hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out the web site.  If you have any questions, leave me a comment or send me an email.  And campaigns take a great deal of financing and effort, so please consider donating or volunteering as well as voting for me next year!