Why am I Swimming 36 Miles Down the Red River? It’s Just Time

Time to think.

I was curious to know how my bike was, but I couldn’t see it the way I was facing and I wasn’t able to move. All I could really do was moan softly to no one in particular. I knew I was alive and I knew I wasn’t going to die, but in the first minute or so I wasn’t sure how bad things were. I was lying in the road and I had just been hit by a pickup truck while riding my bike. The truck had pulled out from a side road in front of me and hit me head on.  Thank goodness he was coming off a stop, but he was looking backwards when he hit me while still accelerating. I hit the left front of his car and my entire left side went into his grill. My head hit the hood and then luckily slid down the side of the truck before hitting his rear view mirror (as opposed to supermaning into the windshield). Even at that moment I remembered the entire thing very clearly.  It was extremely quick, but at the same time it all seemed to happened in slow motion.

“Why is he pulling out.”
“Why is he still accelerating?”
“The driver is looking behind him!”
“He is going to hit me.”
“He is still accelerating!”
“Ouch, this collision really hurts.”

My bike

Wheels tacoed, fork snapped and cockpit got jacked.

I was 3 weeks out from what would have been my 20th Ironman. I was 95 miles into a 110 mile ride which was my last big ride before the race. 3 minutes earlier I made the decision to go straight instead of turning right towards home like I had planned because I needed extra miles and that decision led me to this spot. I lay on the pavement unable or at least unwilling to move waiting for the ambulance as several people kept an eye on me. I was still staring at the same patch of grass I saw when I first landed on the ground. I began to think.
Is riding a bike worth this? I wasn’t scared and by this point I felt I’d be no worse than a few broken bones, but I knew acquaintances who had been killed and friends who had been seriously injured. Some had sworn off riding. Is my 20th Ironman worth this? Would I ride a bike again? Did I even want to ride a bike again?  I couldn’t shake those thoughts and they rattled around in my head all the way to the hospital.

The ER was wild. I tried to tell them I wasn’t feeling too bad, but they were cutting my clothes off and probing me in all sorts of uncomfortable ways. People were shouting over me using words I had no clue of understanding. I spent the day at the hospital and one by one things began to check out.  Eventually I limped out of there a little bloodied and bruised IMG_20170902_160926504 but with no major injuries. Mike 1, Car 0. But I knew that my Ironman plans had likely gone up in smoke.

After about 3 weeks I began something that resembled swimming, biking and running. My riding was all indoors, not yet ready to get back into traffic. I decided I would try to do the Great Floridian Triathlon Ironman distance race in 3 weeks. It would be a “just finish” sort of effort, but I still wanted Ironman #20. Training was OK enough that we booked the hotel and plane tickets. Then, 8 days before the race I developed an ear infection. The doctor said I couldn’t swim for 10 days. Ouch. My ear hurt really bad and was swollen shut and I developed a fever. I tried to go out for a 3 hour ride the weekend before the race and I made it about 10 minutes before turning back. I couldn’t hear out of the ear, had a low fever and my equilibrium was off making me unsteady on the bike. The next day I tried to run for 1:15. No. It didn’t happen and my GFT dreams as well as Ironman #20 joined my triathlon bike up in heaven. There would be no Ironman #20 this year. Would there ever be an Ironman #20?  I was having doubts.

Time to let go.

I’ve actually been hit once before on my bike. It was more scary in some ways, but the injuries were less serious, but it did send another triathon bike into heaven. I wasn’t necessarily scared to ride anymore but at some point (especially with a family) it felt irresponsible, especially if there is no burning passion to justify it.

My bike after a car hit me in 2014

And after 17 years of riding bikes a lot and chasing Ironman dreams, I don’t think the passion was there to justify it. The sport wasn’t teaching me that much about myself anymore and what was left to learn I was realized I wasn’t that interested anymore in putting in all the work it took to figure it out. It was time to let go. The newness was gone and this accident reminded me there is a potential price to pay to play this game and I asked myself if the reward was still worth the risk. The answer was no. Those accidents weren’t the only reason I decided to give up Ironman and all the riding, but they ultimately extinguished the flame.  I do sill ride outside sometimes, but much less often and if I don’t feel like riding I just don’t ride without giving it a second thought.

Time to get high.

I was a bit adrift for a few weeks as I tried to figure out what was next. Taking away triathlon was like taking the drugs away from a druggie. I had been hooked on it for so long that I went through withdrawal. 10-20 hours a week of training for 17 years created, or at least enabled, my endurance addition and now I was looking for my next fix. But what? I had always enjoyed swimming and was pretty good at, but it was always the last priority – an afterthought to things I needed to work on that did not come so easy. Despite not growing up a swimmer or putting in serious work in the pool, being fairly good at it was actually pretty easy (unlike biking and especially running).  The answer was right there. An epic swim race was going to be my next high.

When I first came across this 36 mile Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET) race down the Red River in North Dakota this June (the longest in North America) I immediately dismissed it.  That swim is way too long.  Way too crazy.  But it kept creeping back into my head. Initial thoughts of

“why would I do that?”

were slowly replaced with

“why wouldn’t I do that?”
“why CAN’T I do that?”

I began to swim more just see how my brain responded. Was this miserable or enjoyable? My swim friends saw my swimming extra after practice, but I didn’t dare tell them what I was thinking for fear of looking like a fraud….one of those people who always talks about what they are going to do but rarely ever does it. I didn’t believe yet. I know Crazy Town, USA exists and I feared I was its sole resident. I’d say I was just making up time for a missed workout or trying to work on my stroke. 12,000 yards per week became 20,000 became 30,000. The more I swam the more I wanted to swim. A month earlier a flame went out, but now a new one was raging. I wanted to do this.  I decided I wouldn’t commit to the race until I was consistently hitting 40,000+ yards (25 mile) per week with a weekly 15,000+ yard straight swim. The totals would go up from there, but that would be my launching pad to the really big weeks and give me the confidence I needed commit.  I pushed onward and started hitting those targets weekly.  Some say I’m still living in Crazy Town and if I am, I’m loving the place.

Time to freaking get after it!

I’m a big believer that even the seemingly worst things that happen when given the benefit of time are the basis for something beneficial. I’ve written about that experience several times while racing and experienced in life. No one in their right mind would ask to be hit by a car. I still have pain in my left ribs and foot and some scars on my knee, but that mishap did more than knock me off my bike, it knocked me off my hamster wheel and I’m thankful for that. I re-found my passion for the pursuit of what’s possible. People have asked me if it’s boring to swim so much and for so long. It’s not to me and it’s because I’m passionate about it and if you have a passion for something you will love to do it. I look forward to my weekly 15,000+ yard swims. I can’t wait for 60,000 yard weeks and 25K training swims. I see myself in the race when I close my eyes go to bed and again when I wake up. I’m anxious to get to the painful parts of the race and feel the hurt. Is that crazy? Yes, it probably is, but what can I say, I’m high again.


Mount Sanitas Fun Run Friday – A Foolish Exercise

“You always have to be the wise guy, eh?  I am going to start calling you Jake…..the village idiot.”

–Frank Guzek, my dad 1987

A blue net hat from a trip to Hawaii somehow made its way from the bottom of the hat drawer and into the living room and I saw it and had the same thought that most anyone would – “I can use that hat to make a kick ass 70s runner costume and run up Mount Santias this Thursday morning!”  Throwback Thursday was born!  Well, my two small kids screwed up my Thursday run so it was pushed back to Friday and so Throwback Thursday died as quickly as it began and Fun Run Friday was born!

Net hat, jorts, tube socks and funny shades. A tradition was born.

And so it began shortly before 6 AM on June 8th 2012 at the base of Mt. Sanitas.  A man in a net hat and jean shorts set out to change the world….that man’s name was me.  My idea was to run up in that outfit every Friday.  I would be like a ghost emerging from the morning mist on Friday and then disappearing as quickly as I came.  I’d be elusive.  Some would doubt my existence.  Others would speak in taverns (in whispered voices only) of their encounters with me.  It would be magical.  Spiritual.  But that first run taught me something.  It taught me that jean shorts chafe.

With that, I knew the strategic vision of this operation needed to change.  Any summit wearing or carrying anything ridiculous was fair game and the more ridiculous the better.  Thus began a weekly ritual of spending Thursday nights running around the house pulling out old clothes and props to assemble something I could run to the top of Sanitas with. I have two rules.  Rule 1 is to wear proper footwear.  I just couldn’t live with myself if I broke an ankle because I tripped in Wonder Woman boots.  Rule 2 is to not be offensive.  I don’t mind if someone thinks running up and carrying a wooden patio chair is a stupid idea (mainly because it’s absolutely a stupid idea), but if people start getting pissed off then it’s just not worth the wigs and morning make up.

Over the weeks I have come to know many familiar faces on the mountain…many of them with horrible fun run ideas such as (keep in mind these ideas were at the height of our very hot summer) Eskimo, snowboarder, scuba diver  and  lumberjack with working chainsaw…..  I suppose when you are at the top of the mountain talking with a guy who just ran up with a tray of drinks and lots of flair, no idea seems off limits. Nevertheless, seeing a good number of people truly get a kick out of it makes me think “yes, it was worth all that time in the basement looking for the George Mikan protective eye glasses in order to pull this costume off” and “that hour with the table saw to make that banner instead of helping my wife with dinner was worth it.”

I’ve learned a lot these last few months running the 1500 vertical feet from my house up to the top of Mount Sanitas with prop or costume every Friday morning.  I’ve learned carrying a wooden patio chair isn’t as hard as it might seem, while being dressed as Atlas and carrying a giant globe is very hard.  Unless they see it in the commercial, most people just think a Snuggie is a long funning looking robe.  Too many people in Boulder can watch a guy run by them in a tie with a briefcase and coffee and not smile.  Dribbling a basketball along a rocky ridgeline trail is a risky endeavor.  If you are carrying some swim noodles and you ask someone if the pool is still at the top, too many will genuinely think you are looking for a pool at the top.  Moses did not carry a Fed Ex package and a volleyball with a red handprint on it, Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway did.  Good friends will run with you, but those who run with you in costume are just as stupid as you.  Treasure them.  Even Jake the village idiot needs friends.


(click a picture to launch viewer)

Mount Sanitas Summit x 5

Sanitas Run Profile

I made the mistake of noting my start and stop time on a run to the top of Mount Sanitas a few months ago. Of course then each subsequent run had to the beat the time from before. And then it wasn’t just a “sometimes” run, it was a weekly run. And then I was running it twice a week. I hit the internet to see if I could find out what a “good” time to the top actually was and I landed on this site (http://www.wwwright.com/climbing/speed/sanitas.htm) which lists nearly every permutation of conquering that mountain you could come up with. Shortly after realizing my times paled in comparison to the fastest time, I saw someone had run five loops to the top and back. I was instantly drawn to it and a quick text and response from David Glover gave me a running buddy. The game was on.

We were off on the wrong foot when the forecast predicted sustained winds from the west up to 50 mph with gusts up to 100 mph (http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_19327805?IADID=Search-www.dailycamera.com-www.dailycamera.com) . And of course our ascent was on a westward facing ridge. However, as we headed out around 8, the conditions were only moderately breezy. Our course was up the west ridge approaching from the south and heading back down and home on the north side/valley trail. My initial goal was 5 hours leaving 1 hour per loop, but I thought 4:30 was possible. The climb up Sanitas is steep and rocky with endless 2-3 foot step ups and virtually no place to recover. You go 1300 feet up over 1.2 miles and 1.8 miles down and home.

That will be our summit 5 times today

The first two ascents weren’t that big of a deal (25:05/25:40 mins) and we decided to reverse direction on the 3rd loop and head up the valley floor. It was on this loop that I felt the onset of the will to aggressively cover the course beginning to slip away. This direction was a longer way up and took us 30 minutes which was still a good time, but we both knew we were going to be entering the pain zone soon.
It was about this time Mother Nature delivered in earnest on her predicted winds. The wind was literally blowing me over boulders on the descent and I was aggressively hitting the breaks for fear of being launched like a champagne cork down the trail. It did make for our fastest time down from the summit though despite a number of near wipeouts.

The 4th ascent may have been the hardest because it wasn’t the last and the wind was at its worst. I was leaning in at a 45 degree angle digging in like a lineman pushing a tackling dummy just to make any progress at all. Periodically a gust would come along and stand me straight up and back on my heels. Just as quickly, the wind would shift directions and blow me across the path. This was quite unnecessary for quads that were already being pushed to their limit. Later in the day when I took a shower I was washing dirt and pieces of leaves out of my ears that had been blown in there.

Lap 4 Summit

I struggled to keep up with the Glover, but managed to hang in and we submitted in 26:46 which I was pretty happy about given how we felt. The runs down were getting particularly tricky now as they were very technical (and neither of us are skilled) and the fatigue had set in on our legs in earnest. Upon finishing lap number 4 I realized not only should we beat 4:30, we had a chance to go under 4 hours for the run. My quads attempted to protest any time goals, but my brain (at rest anyway) was all for it.

The spring in my step was long since gone and the initial stages of climb 5 had me questioning the rational for doing 5 loops. Whereas overtaking someone on the trail was normally a mental boost, I was now dreading it because I feared a total collapse at any moment and absolutely embarrassment as I crawled into the fetal position in front of someone I just passed on the trail. Right around the halfway mark I had to take my first break and take about 5 seconds and regroup. Glover was strong and I sort of yo-yoed from right behind him to 10 yards back over the next few minutes until I could see the summit about 5 minutes away. I told myself “no more stopping” but several thousands 1 legged squats hoisting my 200lb carcass up this mountain caught up with me and all screamed at once to “stop!”. After one last 5 second recovery I vowed to keep going to until I was at the top. Several minutes later I tapped the lap button on the watch at the summit in 27:46 and collapsed in exhaustion on rock that had been my friend 4 other times today.
Glover and I snapped a quick picture and then headed down the trail. Sub 4 was easily in our grasp, but smiles turned concern as wobbly legs led to a face plant by Glover. Bruised and scraped, but not broken, he walked it off and again sub 4 was ours. But one final test came when I completely bonked hard with .25 miles to go. I was fine, then out of nowhere my legs buckled, eyes fogged over and it was like my head was a balloon and someone just let the air out. After about 30 seconds I ran again and with some sense of urgency….sub 4 was nearly slipping away. We managed to make it in 3:58 but I had to walk most of the mile home because I was flat out out of gas. I’ve never fueled for an event quite like this with its hard/easy thing and I obviously didn’t do it right.

I felt like absolutely crap for a couple hours, but some food and a short nap had me right as rain…rain that walks with a slight limp, a bit of a grimace and drinks a Red Bull to make it through the rest of the day, that is.

Avg Pace
Summary 3:58:50.2 14.44 16:32.5
1 -up 25:04.2 1.20 20:54.8
2 -down 20:42.9 1.69 12:14.1
3 -up 25:20.7 1.20 21:08.8
4 -down 20:21.8 1.79 11:24.4
5 -up 30:48.9 1.78 17:17.9
6 -down 17:20.6 0.84 20:42.3
7 -up 26:46.7 1.20 22:13.5
8 -down 20:48.4 1.75 11:54.2
9 -up 27:46.5 1.18 23:30.0
10 -down 23:49.2 1.81 13:10.0