Thursday, November 20, 2008

To be or not to be... IRONMAN!

I've been wavering for two plus weeks about wanting to make an entry here about my upcoming adventure. It has been something of which I have personally wanted to tackle for a while, mostly from the perspective of I just simply wonder If I can do it.

My thinking was that initially I did not really want to advertise it to many people in the event I did not.. 'you know'... finish. But then I also realize that to take on such a big challenge requires not just an insane amount of training and preperation, but I really do genuinely want and need mental support from my friends and family. So with that bearing on my mind as I prepare the last bit of physical tasks of packing and tuning my bike, I decided to make something short and sweet to clear my head, so here goes:

Several months back (12 months to be precise) I had the unusual opportunity to sign up for (and actually felt ready) for a full Ironman sponsored event before it sold out. Signing up is always the moment when you cross over the gray matter to a commitment, especially a financial one this big. Let's just say that between the race registrations, equipment and lodging... several thousands of dollars were spent so you can bet your ass I'm gonna go and give it my all.

For those who have not figured it out or bothered to look it up, we are talking about 140.6 grueling miles of tears, sweat and other unmentionables. I will be 1 of approximately 2,000 athletes in Tempe Arizona on November 23, 2008 for the Ironman:

2.4 Miles of Swimming
112 Miles of Bicycling
26.2 Miles of Running

Nothing like waiting for the countdown to start before making my endeavor public but hey this is for me and it's what I need to do. I love the idea of taking on a new race distance that actually brings the butterflies back, and this race is certainly doing that for me even as I write this. The weird part about when I pick a new race, and of course it's usually some all day thing or very long distance, I can no longer get people to understand the commitment required. Which is no big deal and I'm not complaining, but it sometimes make the tangible thing were about to do a bit surreal to us as the competitor. When you can't explain the event then you know you've achieved something special. Of course I also have to realize that most of this event this weekend is made possible by the support or my incredibly tolerant, patient, and understanding wife... something that only another married endurance athlete can even begin to imagine. However something I'm going to admit here and which I do not take or admit to lightly is that it was incredibly important for me to have someone there, and Leslie (my Rock Lobster) will be there. I've also tried on several verbal conversations to my family, how really important this is to me and how much it means to me. Though I am bummed that they will not be there I know they are going to wish the best. To prevent motor mouth diarrhea I'm going to stop the soapbox here and move on.

Friends are also some of the most incredible and surprising allies at times of need. I had several friends who genuinely wanted to be present and help root me through this all day adventure. Unfortunately not by fault of their own most could not make it. However, we will have my good friend April to keep Leslie company during the day. April on a whim bought her plane ticket and said she would not miss it for anything. I'm always grateful to friends that get on bored for things like this and I can only hope that maybe I inspire someone else to get out there and challenges themselves like I am doing; " I <3 April ". I also could not even get to the starting line without my " Cinday Bear"... she is unwavering and has of recently become another inspiration person in my life with her dedication to fitness (oh yeah and having the great side effect of looking pretty HOT now also, way to go Cinday Bear). Someone else who I feel the need to mention that has been with me through literally every single difficult moment in my life has been Winslow W. Hall. It's a novels worth of words to get into about Wins, but again for brevity and to not spoil the plot of a someday book let me just tell you that he was the only person whom I have ever seen as not just a role model but a father figure as well. Winslow was my Scoutmaster when I joined the Boy Scouts of America at age 11. He saw and made it possible for me and Anthony to reach the high honors of Eagle Scout. Though Winslow is not with us anymore, he is forever inside of me and not a single achievement goes by in my life that I don't thank this man for making it possible. So Winslow wherever you are "Thanks".

So it's been about nine months of swimming, biking, running, paired with many early mornings, late nights, and sacrificed weekends, but this Sunday I think that no matter what I will at least know I did my best that one can do in nine months of preparation. It's going to be a personal adventure and one I am not taking lightly, which can be displayed by the amount of crap I'm packing. As much that the bragging rights for even starting this race the Ironman are going to be AWE.. (wait for it).. SOME! it's the personal crusade I'm on that will fill my heart and mind with overwhelming joy. We all have demons and 'funks' in our lives but we all need to find those things that give us joy, happiness, and a sense of belonging and accomplishment. My race on Sunday is going to provide that personal accomplishment for me no matter how far I make it. Since this is my first Ironman it's especially emotional and thought provoking. Honestly I am so anxious to fulfill this adventure that I truly think the finish line will be a life changing moment for me, and one that will stay with me forever.

What will the next adventure be?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Woke Up, Ran, Finished Dehydrated, Got Stung, Recovered in Ambulance, Drank a Beer, Called it a Day!

To share the race story I was gonna send a picture since they are worth a thousand words, but then realized it could be used against me since I’m laying on a stretcher in an ambulance (but I’m still smiling in it). Somehow I think Leslie is going to savor that picture for future torture though we are both laughing at it ;)
Essentially I was ill prepared at the time for a hard run at 6500’ elevation. When we got up to the mountain on Friday I felt fine and was hydrating early and often though only with water. Got our bibs and made dinner, went to bed early… all the usual you know. Race morning we went to meet Jenny, Norm, and Sandy (you’ll meet them all at Noble) since they were staying in their RV a block away from start line. We all walked over together and met a whole bunch of other Ultra runners, since apparently they are the only ones equipped for a marathon at elevation. Was really great ambience and the town totally embraced the Marathon with the help of Ryan Hall of course. Weather was perfect and scenery was unmatched as we circled the lake no foot.

I ran with Jenny the first 14 miles and let her set the pace of about 7:45’s. At that point I was feeling good and despite her warnings of the “big hill” about mile 20 I edged out front and said “see ya at the finish line”. Much of my inspiration was coming from the fact that I knew I was within the top 20 runners at this point and very likely placing in my age group. Next few miles were fine and then the hill. It was about 1.5 miles of climbing uphill. Since I was still passing the Male runners I kept chugging up the hill at a jogging pace, was tough and my legs were starting to feel tight and cramped, most likely due to lack of oxygen circulating in my muscles.
Mile 24 was complete bonkage for me. I actually had to walk most of that mile and could not even come close to doing a butt kick to loosen up my hams or quads. Not only that I had only been hydrating with one cup of water every 2 miles and some Heed every 5, which is clearly not enough and my salt tabs exploded in my shorts pockets so I also had no sodium. I did my total best to run through it but after the brutal uphill immediately followed by the brutal downhill, I was close to being physically done. After 26 marathons I still felt that this is the worst my legs have felt of all my races, and I had no energy.

Thank goodness Leslie was with me at the finish. I knew that my body was depleted and something just didn’t feel right so I just asked her to follow me around as I tried to walk it off. “Just stay close to me and make sure I don’t fall or pass out” is what I think I said. After several minutes of walking and trying to put more fluids and fruits in me I thought I was starting to feel a little better and it would be safe to sit down in the shade. We went up to the awards area a block away with everyone and found some shaded ground to sit on. We were there for maybe 10 or 15 minutes and I was really starting to feel better as we verbally relived the challenge of this course in terms of elevation and hills. At one point I reached around and was painfully stung right in the crux of my first two fingers. A very sensitive area with plenty of nerves. I jumped up immediately from my sitting position and looked at my hand to see a big stinger sticking out of it. I also immediately started to feel lightheaded and was in a lot of pain from the sting. My hands must have been trembling a little bit because I had to ask Leslie to pull the stinger out. We started walking down the block towards the finish looking for ice to put on it, and the moment I started to walk my vision went so blurred that I could not walk straight or even see the curb or people in front of me… this was very scary! We saw a medic and asked if he could get me a place to lie down and make sure the sting was not something to worry about. Thankfully I am not allergic! Leslie was holding me up as we walked with the medic to his ambulance and during this time I know he kept asking me questions like where I was and my name. Though I could comprehend his questions I could not respond in full sentences or words and apparently could not even say my name right.
We finally got to his ambulance which seemed to take forever, and I sat on the step. As I sat there my vision continued to get worse and according to the two medics and Leslie I also had no color in my face, so they put me on the stretcher in the ambulance and also put me on oxygen at this point and tried to get my feet elevated to get blood flowing to my head again. While I lay there they took a full set of vitals and tests with a variety of instruments. Turns out my blood sugar was very low and below 40 (should have been at 80 I think he said). Also my heart beats were arrhythmic so they kept saying I needed an IV and they needed my permission to go to the hospital in the ambulance… while stubborn me I was not going to the hospital or getting an IV, especially since I usually will pass out from having blood drawn, let alone I did not want to pay for the ambulance ride (stubborn ultra runner was I huh!).

After maybe 20 minutes though I am not sure, color came back to my face and the oxygen was really bringing me around. So now I was able to look out the one open door on the back of the ambulance and felt weird as all the other runners (who were still finishing by the way) were staring into the ambulance wondering what happened to the guy laying in the stretcher; what a bizarre realization that the guy in the ambulance laying on the stretcher was ME! Took a few more minutes to compose myself and finally convinced the medics after they had started the ambulance and everything, that I was fine to recover on my own. Took a bit longer to get all the hooks and stuff of me and I signed their waver that I was leaving on my own accord and went against their suggestion for the hospital. As a runner we know those symptons and often have experiences close to this level of exhaustion. What I needed was carbs and juice. I was well enough to be on my own at this point and was with Leslie and her folks (if I was not with anyone to help no doubt that I would have let them take me to the hospital). We had a car and were near the hospital and co-incidentally next to a restaurant. Immediately from the ambulance we went next door for lots of Orange Juice and Strawberry pancakes, and in less than 30 minutes my recover was quicker having gotten some sugars and carbs in me. Things that I had not been taking before or during the run.

Finally we headed back to Jenny’s RV and I thought we could hang out and drink a couple brews. Somehow I managed to consume one beer and a few vegetables but everyone said I still did not look right, and my hand with the sting was incredibly painful. It truly felt as if I had a knife stuck in my hand that would not come out. Strange how something so small can be so painful. Though I later realized that the longer you wait to take a stinger out the more venom it releases into your body hence why the pain lasted so long since I did not take it out right away. I decided to heed the advice of the others and go back to the condo and lay down while trying to continue consuming carbs and juice. Leslie her folks and I went back to the time share just a few miles away from the Finish line and I plopped straight on the bed. My body was so weakened that it was all I could to keep my hand elevated with an ice pack.

Now here I am a couple of days later and I can say that I feel back to normal for the most part and even had my traditional post Marathon cheese burger! The legs are still shot and certainly not ready for my next ultra (yes I’m doing another one) in just a few weeks. So all in all it was overall still a great time and I am really proud of every one to finish the race including Leslie, Tom, and Jan for doing the 5K. I finished in 3:47:39 which is respectable in my own eyes and garnered me 34th place overall and 7th in my age group. As a bonus I was faster than Jenny, but just barely and put me in an ambulance. I’m now smiling about the event and all that came of it as they are stories to tell. The course and support was great and the scenery as we rounded the lake was really awesome. I’m definitely thinking of doing it again but would certainly train differently and take extra sports drinks and gels.

What a day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

90lb. Weakling to a 135lb. Pillar of Determination

The beginnings of putting one foot in front of the other

Unlike many athletes I was never inherently good at sports, nor did I participate while in High School or College. It was not until I turned 30 that I really got started. Previous to that I had done several 5K races and soon after realized what a great personal sense of accomplishment I got. I’m the happiest and most fit I’ve ever been since running has become a part of me.

Running is a very personal and emotional part of what makes me who I am today and I kind of’ like that person. It takes me away from reality, stress, and many times is where I come up with new ideas and solutions to other parts of my life. It does not matter if I finish first or last, it only matters that the courage and determination was there to start, and for that I can be proud of myself and walk a little taller.

Once I began running as a regular method of exercise, it was with the intent to someday complete a Marathon, which is something I have accomplished…again…and again… When I started running with the goal of a marathon, those 26.2 miles seemed almost unrealistic for a person who was just barely able to run a 5K. To finish a marathon I knew would mean a new milestone in my life and it was a personal accomplishment I knew had to be done. When I started reading, researching, and sharing running stories and information with others I was surprised to learn of many other people who wanted to work towards the same goal. What I leaned in this exercise is that many of these people fell into two categories; the one’s who said “that’s impossible I could never do it”, and those who said “I think I can”. Those who could not even challenge themselves with the vision of running a marathon had given up before they even started. The other camp of people, the ones who said “I think I can” fell into yet two more groups; those with the will power and determination to make a commitment to themselves and actually take action, against those who simply just kept saying “someday”. All my childhood and early adult life felt like a “someday” that never seemed to arrive. Finally here was something in front of me that no one could alter or take away; it was completely up to me to finish what I started. So I knew that “someday” was actually ‘Right Here, Right Now’. No longer would I wait for something to happen I had to make it happen!

Once I started running a few miles and seeing the weekly and monthly gains in distance I continued to become more inspired that my personal challenge of a marathon was absolutely and unequivocally possible. It was only a few short weeks of doing some alternating days of running that I was sleeping better, eating better, and seemed to be generating more positive ideas and influences in my life. I continued reading inspirational words of other runners and athletes, and marvel at the intense inspiration that disabled athletes exude. How can we possibly be negative in the presence of such greatness? With each day closer to my goal I got my self confidence was also gaining momentum and I began to openly share my personal commitment of the marathon to others. When I was met with looks and comments of awe and “you can do it!” I knew now that I was headed somewhere special. As the little train that could, I was also singing “I know I can, I know I can” and set to lay out a calendar and seek more people like me, and if your reading this, people like you. Whether or not someone was interested in running, if they took on a positive attitude then I found myself eating that up like energy bars and getting stronger mentally and physically.

As the 5K race bibs began to collect on my “running wall” I found myself consistently wanting to take the next challenge. To find more support I surrounded myself with people like me who also desired more of themselves and were prepared to make the commitment of time and effort. Soon I found West Coast Road Runners, who quickly took me in and adapted me to better running through demonstration and communication.

The completion of my first marathon was more than just an event; it took on an emotional level in me that I get with each new distance challenge. It’s a moment I will never forget just as you will never forget your first marathon, no matter how long it takes you to get there. Just know that you will do it, and you will have earned it.

Not long after that first marathon I was still on a runner's high, which does not come frequently but when you are in the zone, you’ll know it and want more of it. It’s been a few years now since I got started and because I am still inspired by watching and teaching others, I have continued to accumulate marathon medals. After hitting double digit marathons I took up the personal challenge of an Ironman 70.3. Yet another goal which at the time seemed very difficult to obtain but don’t forget that I also said “any real goal is obtainable if you desire to challenge yourself”. I challenged myself and stuck to the program and made sure to get good advice along the way. One trick that I try to always remember is that with the abundance of information out there not everything you see, read, or are told will apply to what you want to do. It’s up to you to listen to not just the information but your body as well, but if you got this far chances are you know what I’m talking about and have already started to tweak your own recipes of success.

The challenge of the Ironman 70.3 has come and gone and it was again opportunity for me to see myself reach new heights in physical fitness and mental strength of commitment. That’s when I began this year with the commitment to begin running Ultras (that which is anything beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles).

With each new race or milestone completed I continually look for the new challenge to keep me inspired. One thing that really keeps me going is being able to see and help others reach their goals. True inspiration really does come from regular people doing extraordinary things.

I guess my motto of all this is that ‘You can never give up and no matter what anyone thinks or says, it’s never too late’.

2007 Races
1/21 Carlsbad Marathon
2/11 San Dieguito Half Marathon
3/31 California Ironman 70.3
4/21 Santa Cruz Half Marathon
4/28 Wild Miles Relay (5 man team 179 Miles)
6/03 Rock & Roll Marathon San Diego
8/11 Mt. Disappointment 50K Ultra
9/03 Disneyland Half Marathon
9/29 Noble Canyon 50K Ultra
12/02 Cal International Marathon

2008 Races so far…
1/12 Avalon 50 Miler Ultra
1/20 Carlsbad Half Marathon

Until next time Happy Trails and may you find the trail that goes nowhere,


Monday, January 14, 2008

Avalon 50 CONQUERED!

Shock and Surprise fill my mind right now. I'm pretty well recovered mentally from this jaunt around the island, but still find the thought that I just ran 50 miles to be a bit surreal.

A few months ago I had decided that after running three 50K's it was time to take on the 50 mile distance. It was kind of a scary decision but one which I committed to by paying my race fees!

We left Dana Point for Avalon on Friday morning. As you can imagine the nerves were sensitive and anxiety levels high, and as we neared the Island and you could see the shadow of the mountains... it also got very silent. Our conversations kind of halted as we stood in awe at the helm of the boat watching the mountain get bigger and bigger with each nautical mile closer we got. The great part was that our very experienced guide/part-time resident and Ultra runner Jenny, showed us a couple of course highlights which came in handy especially the last ten miles or so.
After the typical pasta dinner and large stein of Hefenweizen the night before, it was time to go back to the hotel and try to lie out and coordinate all the race junk we would need. Even I was surprised at how much thought I needed to put in for preparation. Somehow I managed to get my gear all ready where I felt confident nothing was forgotten... except for my potatoes still sitting on the counter back at home, oh well, I could not worry about it now it was time to try and get some sleep. Like most other runners I'm sure, my actual sleep time the night before was about four hours and very restless at that.

The race start was hilarious. About 160 of us all decked out in bottles of this and that type elixirs and flashlights and headlamps a-glo were congregating their at the beach front. The RD pretty much looked around and hollered "OK, all set... 3... 2... 1... GO!" and off we went. All you saw were a bunch lights bouncing on up the hill past the Wrigley Memorial (which also happens to be where Leslie and I got engaged 10 years ago). It was completely dark out but we knew the hill was step by the ascending elevation of headlamps you could see as you looked skyward. Maybe it was a good thing that it was dark :)
Once towards the top of the hill the sun started to rise and the serenity and painted like images below us were breathtaking. At this point we pretty much ditched our headlamps and extra clothing and at least for me, the race was ON. I settled into my pace and felt great the entire day. Of the 9 1/2 hours I was out there I sighted 9 buffaloes with two of them being close enough I could of hand fed them, but wisely decided to give me them all the room I could as I quietly toed myself around them allowing them all the space they wanted. To see something that big and graceful in the wild habitat sure makes you humble and something you can never ever match at a zoo, but only in something like the Avalon 50 race. In fact this alone almost makes it worth doing.

The course was incredibly beautiful in every single mile that passed. I was solo for the majority of the race and since I don't believe in running with tunes the sounds of the mountain were music to me. I could hear all the sways of trees, the ocean way below me and of course the munching of leaves and wild brush by the buffaloes. Towards the 25 mile turnaround was an out and back section through Two Harbors. Again this was an incredible sight to see from the top of the mountain as you descend for an up close look at the fishing boats and small beach. At this point I also saw all my friends and fellow ultra nuts. The camaraderie is never ending and regardless of whom you are or where you are in the race, everyone cheers and roots each other, it's a great "family". On ward back across the mountain tops to Avalon we go. The way back was just as pretty and scenic but I was becoming extremely focused on my race against the clock, so to be honest I was not really taking the time to smell the roses or party at the incredible aid stations along the way.
Once descending the North side of the hill into town you run through a few residential streets before turning the corner and seeing the banner and your adoring fans and the finish line tape! Funny how all of a sudden you forget that you have just gone 50 miles and can almost sprint the finish line. Once crossing and feeling totally happy with my 39th overall finish I went straight to the oceans to give my feet and legs a well deserved ice bath in the ocean... AHHHHHhhhhh.

After the post race repair of fuel and hydration it was already time to get ready for the Awards Banquet, this was our first 50 miler so we decided to go along with all the basics, not expecting anything of course. After dinner they began the awards ceremony where Kristen got 3rd place in her age group, as the age groups went on I was not even paying attention because though happy with my time I was not prepared for it to be a competing time against others in my division. Oh how wrong I was as they announced "Joey Bryan 3rd place in 30-39 age group". I was shocked and in fact Leslie had to tell me that they just called my name as I was in disbelief. I happily went up for my picture and Award which is an appropriate Beer Stein. First thing I did was walk back to my table and fill it with beer to begin the evenings libations, Mmmm yummy!
After the Awards we hung out at El Galleon and continued to drink and celebrate. We also met there Evan, Mark and his wife, all who also ran the event. As it turns out, Evan took the 1st place in my age group (his beer stein was much larger but he earned it) and Mark and I were battling for the 3rd place. The night was a fun finish to an exhausting day.

The next day's boat ride to Dana Point was also quite eventful. Twice our boat had stopped mid-way because the Whale Sensors were going off. The first one was a false alarm but the second one turned out to be a school of Dolphins, what a treat! We stopped in the midst of them for several minutes before proceeding slowly right in the middle. What a sight to see with hundreds of them swimming around, jumping and surfing the wake of the boat. Something that I don't think any picture or video could capture with all it's beauty.

The whole trip was worth every second of training and preparation and with luck and confidence I will be back next year. I did try to capture some pictures along the way and some of them goofy self portraits... what can I say my mind was exhausted and I was running for over 9 hours so anything goes. You can check a few of the Avalon pics HERE.

Thanks to Leslie for putting up with me and always being there at the finish no matter how smelly and out of sorts I am... you not only ROCK but you are the ROCK.

Yes, in case you are wondering I am planning to do another Ultra and by the way, this race happens to qualify me for Western States ... Hmmmm how crazy am I?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Off to meet the challenge of my first 50 miler run

Well.. it's due time I hit the distance of which the Ultra community finally considers a race to be an Ultra, 50 miles in one shot.

I've worked hard to get here, especially emotionally, but feel more than ready at this point. In fact I'm downright anxious. In less than 24 hours I will be heading out on a boat to Catalina where I will take on the Avalon50.
The traning has been ok but since the minor foot injury from CIM I did fall off my mileage charts for a while, but I am not to be dettered because I also believe that the mental and emotional challenge is just as hard as the physical training. I'm not going to talk about my goals here because one thing we all know is that it takes guts and determination to just toe the starting line of an adventure such as this; I must be honest that yes, I have other finishing goals but the only one I will mention is that I want to "Finish" and do so on my own two legs, everything else is a bonus.

Of note I will be running this with my running partner Kristen "Malibu". It will also be her first transcending to the world of Ultra running, though she will be leaving us for an undetermined amount of time to see the world Down Under as she will be traveling/living in Australia for a while... perhaps she will find both some Ultras and Aussie Rugby Players who look like Matt Damon and surf! Also aside from Kristen I will be running this with my new Ultra friends Jenny Henderson and Norm Haines who'm I met at Noble Canyon and worked the SD100 Sunrise Aid station with.
Joining us at the finish will be my numero uno cheerleader and favorite person.. My wife Leslie. She is coming out on the boat with Kristen's mom on Saturday morning to cheer us on and then join in the after party at the Casino.

I'm also realizing that I still need to pack all my gear but one thing for sure is that the "Green Lantern" from Wild Miles will be going with me on the first few miles until the sun-rises. And in case you're wondering what's on my iPod before a race like this it's Speed Metal, Acid Punk, and old school bronx style Rap.

Until next time Happy Trails friends and remember, we do this because we CAN.. and it's FUN