Escape from Alcatraz Race Report

James Alcatraz

My journey to compete in Escape from Alcatraz started 4 years ago when I first got into triathlons. I had done only a couple sprints an Olympic distances races before I knew that it was a race I wanted to have on my life list. This past year was the first time I had submitted for a lottery spot and actually got in. When I realized I got in, a sense of reverent fear came across me because a sense of excitement and fear arose in me. Obviously the swim was the toughest portion to get ready for because you’re not just training for it physically, you’re also training for it mentally. The physical part is easy as I have already complete several ironman events beyond this distance, but mentally preparing for the swim knowing how rough the bay can get, and seeing a couple of shark weeks on TV is going to be tough. Towards the end of my training I wish I hadn’t of seen those shows.

Race morning started out in transition zone getting all of my gear together, then hustling over to the bus pick ups to get yourself to the San Francisco Belle. I got there plenty early so I didn’t have to get rushed onto the ferry so the bus system worked great for me. After we were delivered at Pier 3, everybody started stripping off and getting wet suits on as nothing was coming off the boat except in a trash can. After an hour of waiting on the boat, they finally fired up the engine and got moving. There was no turning back at that point. It was a foggy morning so it was a little intimidating not being able to see everything that you’d be swimming in to, especially seeing how high the waves were already that early in the morning. After a 30 minute jaunt with a scenic view of Alcatraz they signaled the start of Escape from Alcatraz. As they announced the countdown, all athletes shifted to the left side of the boat, and 1 by 1 we all jumped sporadically into as much open water as we could find. I have seen all the videos of the boat start, and they was intimidating, but realized if I was smart I would be just fine. Luckily I have mad hops and cleared anybody around me by about five to ten feet including one person I even jumped over. I had one strategy when I land in the water, that was too slow my heart rate and just swim. Not fast, not slow, just relaxed. Fortunately I found that easily and just cranked on. Luckily I listened to others who have done the race before, and the race director and I made my target the two condo buildings inside the Maritime Historical Park area for the first 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes, start turning towards Fort Mason, so I did that with ease knowing that the current would be a factor.  Luckily both of those suggestions worked well for me, but heard some have a hard time sighting and staying on track. Only recommendation I could suggest is to practice your sighting more than you think you need too.  As I got closer to land, I organically curved my swimming path for the st. Francis Yacht Club. My final time of the swim was 39:21.

After the swim exit, there is a long transition zone of ½ mile running. This is somewhat frightening to some but if you pack the right shoes for your run, catch your breath, it should be nothing for good athletes. Quite refreshing to be honest. Even more refreshing was coming across my wife Lauren and amazing friends Pat and Joni hemphill. They were a great source of encouragement during this time as I realize the swim was finally over. Checking into the bike transition was a piece of cake considering I was in a wetsuit just passed the ½ mile run. I quickly got my gear together, put on some arm sleeves (because it was a bit cold) and took off on the bike.

The bike was more hilly than I would have expected, not that I didn’t think San Francisco is hilly, just didn’t think about how aggressively hilly some of the parts would be. I did plenty of hill training in colorado, but there were sections that really took a lot of energy out of me. A great example of this is Mile 9 and 12.  If you are reading this while you were training for the escape from alcatraz, I would suggest hitting short steep sections and your community consistently so that you know if you have the right gearing ratios. I did not, and paid for it. The bike was beautiful as you’re going through some of the best parts of San Francisco. One of the best parts by far was coming around to the Cliff House, where I almost took a spill and left a 15-foot skidmark as I approached the turn too fast. I saved it though, and moved on to the flat portion along Ocean Beach. After a beautiful ride through Golden Gate Park you circle back for the most part the road that you took to get there and back to transition. My bike time was 1:04.

Escape Alcatraz Bike

Even though the bike took a lot out of me because of the steep hills, my legs still felt fresh, and I was ready for the run. The run was a lot nicer than I thought it was going to be as the weather really was in our favor that day. Nice and cool, allowing for a faster pace. There were a couple moments where I was running at a good pace and realized that my backdrop was the Golden Gate Bridge, and my heart was overwhelmed with the beauty. What a magnificent place. After some of the natural wood ladders to get up underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, you stay along the coastal wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This also was amazing to me. Once you go down the ocean wall to the beach, there is a small turn around on the sand, then delivers you to the sand ladder. The infamous sand ladder. Most fear it, little get excited for it, but I was ready take it on. Towards the beginning you feel strong, halfway up you realize you are not.  I’m afraid I didn’t feel much benefit being a colorado guy as I was sucking wind as much as I do on a 14er.  Fortunately, my sand ladder time was 2:52, which in relation to other top athletes, I performed above average.  Once you’re at the top of the sand ladder, you are not done, as you still have some climbing to do. After you get over the hill back down underneath the bridge, down the natural steps, it’s smooth sailing from there as it is flat to the finish.

Sand Ladder

The finish line is as good as a finisher shoot as you could imagine.  Like myself, a lot of physical and mental preparation was put into this race and there a lot of amazing love ones and family members cheering you on knowing what you went through. I did my typical finish line hurdle, found my wife lauren, gave her a big kiss, and celebrated with her that I officially escaped from Alcatraz. What an amazing race it was and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I will forever be proud that I was able to compete and complete this race.  My goal was to finish the race in under 3 hours, and my official time was 2:59:08.

IMG_3515 IMG_3522

Hoka One One Conquest Review

hoka one one Conquest review  I’m about 4 runs in on my new Hoka One One Conquests, and I am a fan.

I have now done dozens of endurance events, and I have found that the extra cushy effect from the Hoka’s has allowed me to go longer and stronger because it doesn’t wear out my legs (shins, calves, quads) as fast.  The one thing that I have struggled with though has been how fluffy/cushy they can sometimes feel when running on streets.  You definitely want that effect when you are bouncing off roots, rocks, and erosion paths, but you also need confidence in your steps by feeling the ground easily.  This is where the conquests meet the need that I have been looking for.

They are much more firmer and lower to the ground than the other Hoka’s I have run in, and allows you to make quicker turns a bit better with confidence.  Obviously you don’t do many “quick turns” when you are getting a 20mile training run in for the next Ironman, but should you need to, these will handle much better.  I have often felt on the trail too top heavy and was waiting to experience a bad ankle sprain because of them.  This is a perfect balance between getting the cushy effect, and feeling close to the ground.

People usually don’t like the weight of Hoka’s, and candidly if you are looking to break some street records, these will never be for you.  Personally, they do feel a bit faster than my other hoka’s, but that may be because of the red color.

Anyway, I love ’em and look forward to getting a LOT of miles in them.

Free Kid Activities

I have recently been creating a list of some new ideas of things to do with my kids (ages 3-8) because the common answer from them lately when asked “What do you guys want to do today?” is typically “JUMPSTREET”, “BOWLING”, “WATCH A MOVIE”.  Those are all high dollar ticket events if you have 3 kids, so I decided to get a list of activities together that are FREE.  Crazy concept right?  Here is a list of my favorite 10 that have hit the rotation.

  1. Go Geocaching Not hard to find an App on your phone anymore, and it’ll take you places you’ve never been.  There is likely several in your own neighborhood.
  2. Feed the ducks (or geese) – Got some old bread? If not, find the discount section of your local grocery store.  I bet they even have some they are about to throw away.
  3. Visit the Library – Most libraries now have some pretty cool activities for all ages.  Oh, you can read books there too if you want.
  4. Visit a Fire Station – They don’t like drop-ins, but maybe you could squeeze into an already planned tour.
  5. Pet Store Animal Viewing – You’d be amazed how much entertainment kids can get visiting a local pet store.  Turtles, Ginea Pigs, Dogs getting haircuts, talking birds equals cheap fun.
  6. Paper Airplane Contest – All you need is 3 things:  Paper, a nearby hill, and  …oh wait, just 2.  EASY fun, and can go on for hours.
  7. Tennis Ball Hunt – Might sound weird, but go check out your nearest tennis courts and see who can find the most balls.  We have done it several times.
  8. Create a Mini-Olympics – Find 5 natural events in your neighborhood and compete.  To give you an idea of our recent events:  1) Rock toss at tree  2) Curb walk for select distance 3) Who can stand on 1 foot the longest
  9. Chalk Races – This one might be work for the parent, but draw out a long line race course in chalk, being sure to include “obstacles” that they will need to complete.  Some obstacles might be rock jumping, hopscotch, backwards walking, spelling, etc.  Hint, after your hard work is done, you can take a seat and watch.
  10. Tennis Ball Golf – You think golf is too old for your kids?  Give them a basic golf club, find them a tennis ball from #7, get to a park, and tell them to shoot for specific objects.  “You guys need to hit THAT trash can in 5 swings”.  Its a riot to see them play.

Now, choose 1 or 4 and get out there and go play with your kids!

2013 Ironman Lake Tahoe

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to race the inaugural running of Ironman Lake Tahoe which started at the famous Kings Beach on North Shore, ending at Olympic Village in Squaw Valley.  My involvement in this race all started because of a post by Josh Hickey on Facebook announcing the race in June of 2012.  The moment I saw his post, I was pretty much all in.  I successfully got my name in during the full 18hrs it took for the race to completely sell out, and with that, it was on.  In between then and race week, there was a LOT of early morning training, a lot of great practice races, difficult rides, blah blah blah …let’s get to the race.

Pre-Race:

Lauren and I had originally planned on just renting a house near Kings Beach, but an open invitation to some of my California family got more amazing people involved, so we needed to upgrade the house to something that could hold a couple families.  We landed a great home on the edge of the lake in Homewood just south of Tahoe City.  It was perfect.

HomewoodLR-sooc-2013Sep21-651-21Injury:  Unfortunately, right after my heaviest peak day of my training 3 weeks out (100m bike to 10m run) my back completely tweaked out.  The best part is that I tweaked it moving my sons scooter from one side of a room to the other.  I mean, how the heck can I work out for 8hrs, but not be able to move a 5lb Pixar Cars scooter 4 feet?  Anyway…I got hurt, and literally stopped my tapper hard until 7 days to race day.  I was pretty nervous that this was going to significantly impact my race day.  My life then turned to focus on recovery, and ONLY recovery, fearing every twist, turn, kid pickup, and walk I was involved with.  Fortunately, 7 days out, I was at least able to get a good long brick in (not without discomfort) that gave me hope that I would be able to bag this race.

Race day:

Wake-Up:  Alarm clock on my phone was set for 4:00am, and that’s exactly when I got out of bed.  I didn’t even need the other 2 alarms that I had set on my watch and tablet.  My guess was that my masochistic passion was crazy excited to get this day started.  I’m sure that Laur’s mindset on the alarm was a bit different than mine, but she and my brother-in-law Jeff (“Bear Chaser”) both hopped into our car set off for Kings Beach as they were also planning on volunteering as well.

Race prep:  Getting dropped off at T1 was surreal for me because it was there were I kissed Laur goodbye knowing what the day was likely to be for me.  Brutal, cold, and at times VERY uncomfortable.  Seeing how it wasn’t my first IM, I knew partially how un/fun my day was going to be.  As soon as I got to my bike, I immediately put my wetsuit on because the outside temp was around 30 degrees.  I removed my rain protection Safeway bags from my handlebars and seat, got a psi check in, scrapped too ice off my bike, and headed for the beach via the welcome center (last option for heat).

Lake Tahoe Ironman T1    Ironman Lake Tahoe Swim     

2.4m swim:  

Once there was enough light out to see the water, it all of a sudden got real.  In every other triathlon, the swim has scared me.  In Boulder 70.3, the first turn buoy seemed way too far out there.  In Canada IM, I couldn’t even see the buoy (single loop).  In Kansas 70.3, the water turbulence freaked me out.  I’ve always been intimidated.  For some reason, I wasn’t with this one.  There is something about the Lake Tahoe water that just makes swimming enjoyable to me.  Maybe it was the clear blue water, maybe the calming mist coming off the surface, maybe the scenery with every breath, but I was ready to get this party started.  The cannon for Pro’s went off, and soon the rolling start of athletes went after.  BTW, I love the rolling swim start that IRONMAN has installed.  I’m a fan.  As I entered the mat and race start arch, I had the extreme benefit of giving my good friend Keats McGonigal a hug (he was wishing all athletes good luck) whom was also the race director for the course.  This guy is a phenomenal person, athlete, and race director.  You’ll clearly see how great of a race director he is by my favorable comments about the race, but to take on an inaugural Ironman event has got to be something fierce, and then throw all the elements and weather on top of it, the dude rocked it.  IMPRESSED!  Back to swimming …The first leg took a couple of breast stroke breaks to get into it, but then finally took my customary gulp of water, put my head down and just swam.  The chill of the water never seemed to be a factor, but it definitely was warmer the deeper you got.  It appeared that 1/4th the field were wearing booties, but I am glad that I didn’t.  Other than not being able to see the buoys due to the lake mist, my only distractions included random connections with squirrely line swimmers, AMAZING clear vision of the bottom of the lake, and one of my favorite moments of the race …when the sun came out from behind the morning clouds.  Sorry to sound cheesy, but that lake LIT UP the moment the sunlight hit the water.  It was awesome.  Drafting then became an option because I could see everybody’s feet so clearly.  I lassoed myself to someone my pace and just swam!  2 great loops, not as fast as I typically go, but a great swim.  Swim Results: 1:12, 1:52/100m pace, Top 20% of my age category.    

Ironman Lake Tahoe Swim Out

T1 – Swim to bike transition:

The changing tents were crazy, but manageable.  I was way too close to men doing a full change into warm bike gear.  I breezed through in 9min as I wasn’t planning a full change.  I went with arm warmers, my already dawned tri suit, bike jacket, overly warm bike gloves, and regular pair of athletic socks…and I NEVER wear socks with my cycling shoes.  Friends will vouch for me.  Lauren wishes I did, cause those thangs STANK something fierce after my long rides.  I ended up taping over my aerated shoe vents the night before so my toes weren’t so breezy.  It was very cold, but I believe that due to my training nature of doing my long rides starting at 2-3am on typically chilly Denver mornings, my body was able to handle the chill a bit more than the average field.

112m Bike:

Getting on the bike is usually an amazing goal for me because I typically don’t like swimming, but there wasn’t quite the feeling this time seeing how I could have kept swimming for another 2hrs because of the beauty of the water.  I had 2 loops ahead of me of what I thought to be a pretty fast ride.  I was wrong completely!  The chill was noticeable, but not a factor, so I was feeling good.  Hwy 28 was the first leg, and acted as a great warm up for what was to come in the next 7hrs.  From Kings Beach to Tahoe City I averaged around 19mph.  Without the Dollar Point climb in the leg (+250ft), I probably would have averaged around 26.  I stink at hills.  In Tahoe City, I received another favorite moment of the day.  Crouched in aero, just trying to push out of initial adrenaline comfort, I look to the right side of the road and I see the whole clan of kids and my parents.  They had the most amazing signs made for me.  “Go Uncle James”, “smile if you’ve pee’d your pants today”, massive hearts around “dad”, etc.  My parents are seriously All-Stars for taking on 7 kids for the day, and it was so great to see them there.  They have the most amazing hearts.  One moment I’ll never forget is the look on my daughters face as she danced recklessly holding her sign cheering me on.  What a testimony that happiness in life can be found through the eyes of a child. The vision of her dancing hung with me throughout the rest of the day.  From Tahoe City to Truckee I averaged 23mph.  Climb to the Ritz, I averaged 7mph.  Climb up Brockway 6.5mph ave.  I stink at hills.  Then on the descent of Brockway back to Kings Beach, I averaged 37mph topping out at 45mph.  Now THAT was a good time.  Total aero tuck, bugs bouncing off of helmet and glasses, eye’s watering, neck hurting, passing peeps around 40mph.  I am easy to breeze over detail of the hill climbs because those were brutal for me.  Those hills were much more straight up and down than most of my training (except for the Bob Cook Hill climb up Mt Evans in July) so my 6’5”, 190lb frame had a hard time with it. If you were a racer, and wondered “how did this guy get so far ahead in the pack?” …that was most likely me.  Fast on flats, stink on hills.  I believe that we topped out at 7230ft, which is only about 1200ft higher than my average riding elevation because I am from Denver.  In fact, it was on hills where half of the mighty Visalia Tri-Club caught me.  Eric Blain, Brent Blain, and Joshua Hickey all passed me on hills, and I was honored by it as they are all amazing athletes!  One specific meet up that I enjoyed the most was finally getting the opportunity to meet Joshua Hickey face to face up Highline/Brockway.  We’ve been virtual friends for a long time (great friend Jamie Hickey’s husband), he has always been a great source of tri encouragement/knowledge, and I even give him partial blame for my original commitment to an Ironman 70.3.  Anyway, SOLID guy, we chatted high-level about how awesome we are, and then he decided to go fast again as he easily was sacrificing some speed for our conversation.  Thanks for that Josh!  That was a high point, but a low point was the fact that this was a loop course.  I dislike loops because I like the element of surprise and seeing something new.  Climbing in Truckee, Highline, and Brockway were no more fun the 2nd time.  …and seeing how you could easily find someone puking on either climb the 2nd lap, it was easy to see that others agreed with me.  The best approach to the hills for me was to just put my head down, and pedal!  It was often that I kept looking for more gears with none available, but for some reason my head thought that it would be fun to keep trying.  As for nutrition, I slammed 2 20oz and 2 8oz bottles of Infinit, 2 full Bonk Breakers (the new choco/peanut butter is amazing), 2 AccelGels, and 4 large nutter butters from my special needs bag.  My friend John Bastian pointed out that on my bike alone, I burned 9600 calories. That’s equivalent to about 2lbs of weight loss in my world.  If you need another comparison, it’s also equal to 7 Chipotle burritos.  Infinit was a HUGE find for me towards the end of my training.  It’s a personalized endurance drink (290cal/serv) that Bastian had been telling me that I should try for the past 3 years.  Glad I finally listened, cause it was perfect fuel for me.  Regardless as to how good Infinit was on my soft lips over the ride, nothing was better than seeing the entry into the Squaw Valley Olympic Village signifying that my ride was over for the day…and there was no better place to end the bike, and start the run!  Brutal ride, but I would not expect ANYTHING different from an Ironman event.  I really hope that Ironman never changes it because of its huge contribution to DNF rate and vocal whiners.   Bike Results: 7:05, 16mph ave pace, Top 26% of my age category.  

LR-sooc-2013Sep21-651-41     James Sullivan, Josh Hickey     LR-sooc-2013Sep21-651-34

T2 – Bike to Run transition:

Here comes another favorite moment in my day.  Wendi (sis), and Jeff (bro-n-law) both wanted to volunteer for the race, and I had the extreme benefit of being able to see them in the transition tent.  This is a bigger benefit then you could imagine because typically in the bike-to-run tent you mostly see other athletes who are suffering, dying, or just pissed off about something.  Well, I got to chat it up with Jeff as he helped me due VERY basic bending tasks (yes, picking up a hat off of the ground at that point is painful) and even got a big hug and picture opportunity with my amazing sister as well.  I transitioned in about 7min which is pretty quick, but can only assume that was because of the encouragement from them.  They were amazing to see, and I am so honored to be related to such amazing people.

26.2 Marathon:

Running out of the T2 changing tent to the marathon was a great moment because I felt pretty dang good.  Let’s see:  legs feel good, I’m in a place of the 1960 Winter Olympics, back hurts a little, fuel is all full/fresh, shoes/socks feel good …why not go run my 8th marathon?  It definitely helped that the first 3 miles were downhill, but it didn’t help to see the pro’s finishing their race within the first 3 as well.  Pure athletes right there.  My spirits were quickly lifted higher by the sight of my great friend Jamie Hickey sporting her “Team Hickey” Ironman shirt.  If you haven’t connected the dots yet, she is Josh “hill climb” Hickey’s wife.  I wanted to stop and just catch up with her, but we settled with some brief words (mostly her encouraging me as she does well to so many), some high fives, and some parting “you rock” statements.  That is a great peep right there!  Anyway, I carried a sub-10min pace through the first 6 miles, and I felt great doing it.  I had forecasted that I would be running 9:30-11:00min pace throughout the marathon, but after the beast climbs on the bike being more than I thought they were, I quickly changed my expectations.   Regardless of how good I felt, I apparently dropped to an 11min pace through mile 15.  I still don’t know why, as I felt strong …and it was actually all downhill too.  The only thing that I can think of was the fact that running along the Truckee River was SO STINKEN beautiful!  Maybe I just got lost in it.  I guess that is ok. I chose not to keep looking at my watch, so maybe that was a risk.  Then, mile 15 happened!!!  If you know the course, there is this one hill just beyond the turn for Squaw Valley Rd that goes behind a playground and school that just destroyed me.  I couldn’t Ironman shuffle it, but could only Pikes Peak stride it out.  It was only 200m long and 150ft gain, but it totally wiped me out.  After that gem of a climb, I snuggled in tight for a 12-13min pace from 15-26 miles.  I never recovered from that hill.  I just couldn’t seem to get back the steam that I felt I had just prior.  Lungs felt good, back hurt appropriately, I felt fueled, but I just couldn’t seem to get my legs to turnover with comfort.  Oh well, I guess it is the end of an Ironman so it’s to be expected to an extent.  That’s when I started throwing everything down because I can fix anything. 😉 I started drinking de-fizzed cola, warm chicken broth, Ironman Perform, and even downed half a banana which I have never done.  Only minor successes, so I decided to resolve with blaming Brockway once again for taking so much out of me.  I stink on hills. I believe it was about mile 18 when I saw the first headlamp, and it was mile 22 when I got my own.  At that point, it was survival time, and it was almost poetic how the dark hid faces in pain.  Just like on the bike, I just needed to put my head down and run.  To use a friend’s life catch phrase (Brian Dillon), I kept repeating “always forward” in my head to try to find just a bit of speed out of my completely drained legs.  I started run/walking about mile 22 (with a couple occurrences prior) when muscle cramps and back got really bad, but ultimately carried the shuffle until the finish.  Results: 4:51, 11:06/mile pace, Top 25% of my age category.   

FINISH:

The finish line chute is as good as you could imagine it.  Here I am in the middle of Squaw Valley Village, thousands of peeps cheering on loved ones but it feels like they are all there for me.  I lost all pain in my legs, back, and neck and just ran for the finish.  I think I threw in a “lawnmower start”, a couple of “Mike Tyson upper cuts”, a “plane coming in for landing”, and capped it all off with one of my signature finish line hurdles.  I’m not sure how I did it, but it happened.  I specifically remember with this one thinking that I had to pull up crazy hard on my legs just to get them off the ground.  …and then, the most amazing moment of the whole day happened.  This event was better than seeing the sunlight hit the water during the swim, better than pedaling on top of both huge hills twice, better than seeing my friends, better than hearing my name announced and crossing that finish line in pride.  None of them came close to touching this event … I saw my wife Lauren.        She was among the finisher volunteers, lookin all beautiful, holding my Ironman medal in hand telling me congratulations with a kiss and sweaty hug.  Ah, there was nothing greater.  …oh wait, UNTILL I got to see the rest of my family as well.  My children, my parents, and my sister’s amazing family were all just on the other side of the fence not caring a single ounce how sweaty and smelly I was offering amazing hugs and love.  What an honor it was to be loved by such amazing people.  I am a blessed guy.    Results: 13:25, Top 25% of my age category   
Ironman Lake Tahoe FinishLR-sooc-2013Sep22-651-34-2    LR-sooc-2013Sep22-651-49

Regardless of the huge DNF rate (20%), the countless hours of training in the dark Denver mornings to prepare, the $ it took to travel, battling the unknowns of the course, and staring the elements of Lake Tahoe in the eyes …this was without question the greatest athletic accomplishment I have achieved yet.  IRONMAN Lake Tahoe will always be an amazing moment in my life because it drew so many fond memories and gratefulness out of life with my family, friends, and my athletic pursuit.  That’s what life is all about right?  Looking, and at most times finding those above average moments where you have grown or are growing as a person/spouse/friend, and most importantly as a child into someone that is a needle mover of TRUE good on this planet.  Those moments of growth don’t always only happen when you cross a finish line, but it also happens at coffee with a friend, watching a child in a sandbox, and even climbing up Hess Rd in Parker, Co at 2:30am.  I love the growth phase, and I hope that I never feel like I have grown because I am enjoying the ride way too much.  I enjoy the fact that Ironman Lake Tahoe in its splendor was NOT one of the last accomplishments I plan to conquer.

Hoka Stinson EVO – Ironman OR Trail runners

I tried to stay away from the Hokas.  They’re expensive, ugly and the complete opposite of my beloved light K-Swiss Quicky.  A buddy of mine wears them (an ultra runner) and LOVES them, so I thought to give them a try because I had been dealing with some Metatarsal pain.  I never wanted to try these marshmallows of a shoe, but I had the opportunity to test a pair and decided to try some miles with an open mind.  They are awesome.

I’ve now done 1 half Ironman and a Full Ironman, and they have not disappointed at all.  Even when I am running on trails, I still have no issues.

Function: Great on punishing technical terrain or if you’re going to be on your feet for a long time. The quick lace system is really easier to use, even with gloves on.

Fit: Hoka says these run big, and suggests ordering half a size down. I went with my usual 13 and found they fit just fine. My biggest complaint about the fit is the toe box is too snug. I’m used to a big, roomy toe box and the Stinson’s are just a tad too narrow. If I don’t have the right socks, I pay for it with my toe nails.

Cons:

  1. Hoka also calls these shoes “feather light.” At 10.7 ounces they’re pretty average, and  more than 2 ounces heavier than my K-Swiss.
  2. When these get wet (you know, rivers, peeing during ironman) they feel even heavier. They dried fairly quickly, but all that cushion seems to hold water like a sponge.
  3. And there will never be any way that these don’t look ridiculous … and they’re almost double the cost of other shoes.

Verdict: I don’t plan to wear them for every run, but I will save them for long runs, trail runs, and overall when I need to look cool.  😉

Ironman Boulder 70.3 – Race recap

On August 8th, 2010, I completed my first 70.3 Ironman at the Boulder Reservoir.  This involved a 1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, and a 13.1mi run. This is my race recap of it.  It is long.  You don’t need to read it.  It is mostly for myself in 10years, but I always enjoy reading others race re-caps, so I thought that I would post it for you. Enjoy.

Pre-Race:

Race day started with a 3:50am alarm clock, and a pickup at 4:30 from a great friend.  Ben Lacina (a fellow believer that sleeping is lame) offered a ride, and he was perfectly on time.  Great conversation motivated my wave start, and I began the nervousness and fear of the length of the race.  Parking was a cinch, setting up transition was cake, and even got a quick hand shake from ‘Mr Triathlete’ himself…Andy Pots.  That guy is so money, its not even funny.  He ended up winning by the way.

The swim

Walking to the beach was the most intimidating moment of the morning, cause I don’t think that I had ever seen 1.2 miles totally mapped out in a lake with buoys…and it looked a LOT different than doing 48 laps in a pool.  It was freaking me out.  Luckily it was calmed easily by Ben and Courtney (a former co-worker who was also proving how much a stud she was).  Anyway, after my warmup and watching wave after wave depart, it was my time.  There was apparently 1700 athletes in the field.  The fear disappeared once I got in the water for start.  It was a deep water start, which was cool, I peed in my wetsuit, and at the horn I was off.  Now, I don’t claim to be a great swimmer in any fashion, but for some reason, I was feeling it this morning.  In open water swimming, I always plan on getting to a place of intermittent breast stroke (much slower), about 10 strokes between sessions of 120 freestyle strokes (counting is the only way that I can make swimming interesting), but today was going to be different. For some of these, I flat out skipped most of my breast stroke breaks. I was counting up to 200 with no thought.  We swam in a box shape.  At the 1st turn, I had caught some other age groupers from the previous wave, at the 2nd turn it was spread pretty thin, and at the stretch I was so excited to see the ‘swim finish’ bridge getting bigger and bigger.  I was always most fearful of the swim due to how hard it was to train through because of my dislocated shoulder in Feb…but it finally came to a close.  I submerged from the water with GREAT energy, and ready for transition.  In total, my swim took 32:14.  Top 18% of the total field.

The bike

Transition to the bike felt AWESOME.  I came out screaming.  Luckily, there was a hill at the beginning that calmed that desire.  The course consisted of 2 laps (28 miles each) of amazing front range country.  We went up Hwy 36 to St Vrain, then came back via the Diagonal Hwy. Great views of the valley, hogbacks, and a small taste of Boulder farming. I felt the most encouraged with this leg of the race, cause I was hanging with some pretty intense boys. We kept sling-shotting each other back and forth.  It became a sense of pack (obviously not breaking any drafting rules).  I even got the pleasure of coming across another good friend, Stephanie Enriquez (another tri diva) on the bike.  We both verbally recognized how cool of a ride it was.  I was so impressed with how collected she was. I felt pretty amped/stressed out at that point for some reason, and she really helped me chill and enjoy it. She is awesome.

I tend to be pretty aggressive on the bike…because of all the mountain biking I used to do, so I often found myself completely forcing myself NOT to get out of the saddle so that I saved some energy for the remainder of the ride or the run. It was needed for some of the hills, but for the most part, I stayed on my butt.

The morning of the race, I decided to write a message and tape it to my handlebars.  The message read ‘For God’.  Two simple words that mean a whole lot when you are riding almost 3hrs on a bike.  It continually reminded me that if it were not for the gifts that God had given me, I may not be able to do any of the stuff I was performing. Two simple words that reminded me, that everything that I do needs to be for Him.

The two laps seemed to go over pretty quick.  Throughout the ride, I ate 2 salt tablets, 1 Accel Gel, and a Cliff Shot block (Margarita flavor).  To be honest, when I hopped off the bike, I felt like I left a little bit out there on the course, but after reading what the run was like, you’ll understand that I am glad that I did. In total, my ride took 2hr40min and I had an average speed of 21.9 MPH.  Top 28% of the total field.

T2

Throughout training, triathletes perform a series of workouts that are called BRICKs.  The purpose of BRICK training is to prepare your legs for the transition from the bike to the run.  I have heard horror stories of this transition, and even felt the pain in previous races in regards to ‘jelly legs’ or ‘dead legs’.  I did not seem to have any problem with it, so I must have had appropriate training….oh and the fact that Mr.Lacina decided to run a solid 200yrs WITH me, encouraging me, as soon as I left transition probably distracted and helped too. We departed with his motivating words of ‘all you got is 13 easy ones’.

The run

Out of the 3 sports that are involved in this race, I deem myself more of a runner than any of the others.  …so you think, if that is your sport…then that should be the easiest leg of the race.  Well, here is where the humbling begins.  I ran Colfax ½ Marathon earlier this year with a bunch of Hillside peeps, and I bagged a 7:16min/mile average.  That was my PR, and it remained such.  I came off the bike still feeling really good knowing that I had 2 laps (6mi each) of a gentle path run around Boulder Res…but somewhere between mile 4 and 5, something turned on me.  I think that my ave pace dropped from 7:50 to about 8:50 within a half mile at that point.  I can’t describe it, but it had to do something with the heat/humidity/dirt trail that forced me to start taking walking aid stations.  I would get at least 1 Gatorade cup (drink), three cups water (2 drink, 1 pour), and two sponges at each aid station.  Much more than I thought that I might need.  This occurred the remainder of the run.  The heat was no fun.  In retrospect, I should have done more training runs in the afternoon heat.  Running at 4:30 in the morning didn’t prep me very well for that. Anyway, after that, I felt like I got another kick around mile 10 and knew that I could kill this.  At this point I was well under 30min of my goal time, I just needed to hold it.  It was clear that this is officially where the ‘endurance’ was kicking in.  My good friend Woody, had just got into trail ultra marathons (just completed Silver Rush-47miles), and he said that he started dabbling in drinking ‘defizzed coke’ for a source of energy and assistance in cramping…well, I was in both of those places…and it just so happened that all aide stations had it…so I rocked me some coke on mile 10.  It reminded me of the time that Woody and I had a beer at mile 20 of the San Diego marathon.  Good times. With 3 miles remaining, I just had to carry the damn stretch (it actually was a damn), couple small hills, and then the sound of the announcer was music to my ears.  I was greeted about a 1/4 mile from the finish by my mom (that’s right, I am a mamma’s boy) and then slowly entered the cheering, and direction to the finish coral.  Some of you might know about my passion to hurdle all finish lines…well I didn’t let you down.   It wasn’t pretty, but chalk another down for a non-touched finish line.  I felt like I had just won the race.  I couldn’t believe that I had actually got to this point.  The finish line felt just as I hoped that it did.  Back during training, when it was 5:15 in the morning, and I was 30min south of Parker in the absolute MIDDLE OF NOWHERE in the dark, I remembered dreaming of this moment.  I wondered what it might be like, what would I be thinking, would I actually get there…well it occurred…and was amazing!  I was greeted on the other side by Lauren, Brooke, Nikayla, my pops, my mom, and Mr. Lacina.  What a treat it was to have such important people there to celebrate with me.  In total, my run took 2hrs 2min, and had an ave mile of 9:19.  Top 21% of the total field.

My overall time was 5hr21min.  36th out of 140 in my age group.  …and let me remind you that this is Boulder.  There are a bunch of studs in Boulder. 😉

Props

-Triathlons have always been interesting to me, but never thought that a 70.3 would be on the agenda.  That wasn’t a thought until I saw race photos on the Enriquez’s wall when we were over for lunch one day.  It was then that I wanted to be as cool as they were.  I even got a free swim lesson from Jerico. -Throughout the training (which sucked) you look for any motivation at all, and it was easily found in Josh Hickey.  This guy is the man in many ways.  Always delivered in Facebook fashion, but always great stuff. – Woody is the one that turned me into an ‘endurance’ athlete.  ‘Go long’. Without him, I would probably still be 40lbs overweight.  – Multisport ministries.  An amazing organization of Christian triathletes giving all glory up first.  – All my co-workers and friends at church that dealt with my continuous rambling about this race. – My official training began in Mar, and Lauren (my wife) has been steady this whole time.  One of my personal goals of this training was to NOT impact family time in any fashion…and that didn’t always happen.  She dealt with alarm clocks at 4:30, very loud morning departures, loads and loads of athletic laundry, extra big helpings for dinner, extra triathlon expenses, ½ spent parenting from her spouse, and sometimes was probably a watered down support for her pregnancy.  She is amazing, and still the absolute love of my life.  I actually chose to wear my wedding ring during the run (put it on during transition – probably cost me 15 seconds) because I knew that it would help me think of her.  I am a blessed husband and father.  She is quite a gift to me.

In summary

Training was crazy hard…but it made this race the best race that I have ever done.  I regret nothing, and am so proud of this accomplishment.  Is a full ironman in store? …doubt it, but I now know that if my heart does change about it, then I got the tools to get her done.

James

LA Marathon Race Report

Well, this one starts from back in the 80’s when Pat Hemphill and I used to go to Los Angeles Dodger games back in the Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Tommy Lasorda days. I always remembered the amazement of the Dodger Stadium. It was so huge, and I always loved the experience of going to this amazing field and the taste of the Dodger Dogs.  Nothing like it!

Now, fast forward with me 15yrs later. In November of 2011, I hear that Pat had been doing ‘some running’ lately, and that he was actually considering running his first half marathon in the beginning of 2012. Wow. Usually he scoffs at my silly endurance stuff and I started trying totalk him into a fall, and ….blah blah blah ….we have all heard of the ½ to full conversion conversation….. but soon after he ended up running a LOT more.  He converted his training into a pursuit of finishing the LA Marathon.  AWESOME!  If anybody could make a quick change, Pat could.  So, we went for it.  Anyway, that’s the preamble to this race report. There was history to this one, and there usually isn’t, so I needed to take advantage of it.

RACE MORNING:

Weather forecasters all week long had been forecasting 100% rain for Sunday morning (race day) and that was NOT encouraging to us obviously.  The 2011 race had apparently dumped rain the whole race, so it was destined that we were going to have to run in rain as well. So, we got rain gear ready.  We got ponchos, we got big plastic bags, long sleeve shirts…and planned for the worst. I even considered bringing my swim goggles to run in if it was going to be “100% change of rain”. Not that funny I know, but you get the point. We (Pat, Lauren, Joni, and I) were staying in Balboa the night before and the drive was only 1hr to dodger stadium (the start line). It was raining and blowing in Balboa, but it dried up by the time we got to Dodger Stadium. Loved that, but thought the rain was still going to come. Well, it never did. The sky opened up, the sun came out, and we had an amazing start to the day.  Surrounded by 23,000 other runners, we crept to the start of one of the best 26.2 mile tours of Los Angeles ….in running shoes.  Our goal?  …to finish this race in 4hrs.

Mileage Highlights:

 

Mile 1: It seemed a bit surreal that we were running away from Dodger Stadium considering the fact that usually we were stuck in CRAZY traffic to get off the hill…but rather we were running downhill to Chinatown (Dragon Gate).  It was obvious that everyone else assumed that it was going to rain later and everyone was either still wearing their warm gear/ponchos, or they had thrown it down on the ground to make as great jumping obstacles for our fresh legs.  On a good note, there were plenty of homeless in this area so hopefully it felt like Christmas to them.  Ave pace so far: 9:18

Mile 5: We saw our first venders trying to hand things out to runners. Guess what the freebies were?  Chili dogs!!!. Pretty amazing suggestion right?!?  Well, I MAY consider it at mile 22, but there is no chance that I was going to eat one at mile 5. Ave pace so far: 9:10

Mile 6: There were plenty of other groups that were supporting the runners taking over a full block of space at a time but there was one that was pretty amazing.  The LA Dream Center was in full effect.  If you have never heard of the organization, it’s a volunteer based center that offers programs to residential rehabilitation for adults and teens, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, a transition shelter for homeless, and MUCH MUCH more.  It was cool to know their story and still see them cheering their hearts out for 22k runners.  Ave pace so far: 9:11

Mile 7:  There was this hill that was thrown into the course and obviously did a dozy on the race population.  This is where I started hearing people cursing to themselves for motivation.  It was amazing to see how this small little hill of maybe 150ft could cause such oxygen heaving, sucking, fierceness out of the runners.  Didn’t hurt me much because of the elevation change from Denver, but was even more amped that it didn’t impact Pat either.  Of course it didn’t. He is a stud!  Ave pace so far: 9:10

Mile 11: This was a mile of the race that both Pat and I were excited to get to.  Not because it was 2 miles shy of ‘half way’ but there were some great sights at this mile.  Capital Records tower, Hollywood and Vine, the Walk of Fame….and the best part….SEEING OUR LADIES.  Lauren and Joni were planned to meet us there to cheer us on.  I say ‘planned’ because, well, let’s just say that our trust in the motivation that would get the girls out of bed was low. BUT, they did it, and it was so great to see them standing outside of the Chinese Theater, Camera’s and iPhones ready to capture…and a starbucks in their hands.  We got a kiss from these amazing women, and then kept on going!  We had a long way to go.  Ave pace so far: 9:07

Mile 13-17: Umm, I’ll be honest.  This section was West Hollywood, and I don’t remember much about it…except for maybe seeing a donut shop and thinking ‘that sounds good’, and feeling like I needed to pee a lot.  I am sure that Pat would have something to say about it, but I literally don’t.  Sorry, I didn’t take notes.   Ave pace so far: 9:08

Mile 20: Mile 20 is always a tricky physiological mile for me for some reason.  I always wrestle with the “oh man, I never trained longer than 20.  I wonder if this Hal Higdon really is a good coach.”  thoughts.  Luckily, this mile was welcomed in on Rodeo Drive.  It’s been a while since I had been in Beverly Hills, but if I needed anything to distract me, the epicenter of luxury fashion could do it. Ave pace so far: 9:09

Mile 22: At mile 22 we ran through the Veterans Administration campus.  I didn’t think much of it until the exit of the campus when we were faced with 3 guys that were out on the side of the course, clearly with amazing history, with no legs, in either a wheelchair or gurney totally cheering us on.  I said to Pat, “we have NO excuse to whine about anything right now”.  These guys were pushing through any issues that they were experiencing to make sure that they were encouraging the runners passing by them.  What an amazing display.  I remember saying a quick prayer for those men, specifically friends that are serving now, and every member that helps protect this great nation.  This place, that occurrence, now holds a deep spot in my heart. Ave pace so far: 9:11

Mile 22: This was also the first place we saw an injured/dehydrated/melted runner with paramedics around.  The volume of these guys would increase through the remainder of the race.   Ave pace so far: 9:11

Mile 23: This is where the unbelievable occurred.  Let me first state that mile 23 is usually the beginning of what some call the ‘death zone’.  Otherwise known as ‘the wall’ for those that really run at a decent pace.  Mile 23 is always where the pain train stops by for a visit with me, and my full pursuit is to survive at the existing pace I am at.  All that to say, I was running with a different type of human this day.  Pat looks at me and says “James, we need to pick it up if we are going to break the 4hr goal.”  I looked at him like I thought he was CRAZY.  Dude is running his very first marathon, and knows little about what he is capable of anywhere above 22 miles…and now he is suggesting that we pick up the pace (somewhere to the tune of 1 to 1.5 min faster than average) so that he can get 4hrs under his belt?!?  Unreal.  Oh, and meanwhile, we are still getting the random occurrences of guys puking on the side of the road, people totally limping as they grab their hammy/knee/ankle, and average paces totally slowing to a jog.  Yup, he wanted it.  Anyway, I threw down a ‘are you ready for a pace kick?’, and he confidently responded ‘bring it on’…and we kicked it.  We went from 9min miles, to 7:20s sections within a .5 mile, and he was OFF and rolling!  24th mile = 8min mile, 25th mile = 7:30min mile… and he was still rolling!  Keep in mind that this was at the END OF A MARATHON.  Some of you reading may not even be able to brag that you can even run a 7:30 mile, let alone running it after 24 miles.  THEN, apparently, in the last .5 mile we screamed out a 6:57 pace to get across the finish line.  On a side note, our best pace recorded on the race was during the end too where apparently we were hoofing at 6:10.  Obviously there is nothing better than a finisher chute for motivation, but for our legs to carry it, was stellar.  What Pat just did was seriously amazing.  I was FLOORED that he was able to do such a thing.

Ok, I’ll stop teasing, I stated earlier that our goal was a 4hr marathon, well, we did it.  We wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for that last 3 mile kick, but our finishing time was 3:59:51.  9 ticks away from missing our goal.  It was amazing, and I literally deem this as one of the most impressive athletic feats that I have been a part of.  I am so honored to be a part of it with such an amazing friend.

After the finish line, we both wobbled to our medal, and post race snacks, and were immediately greeted by our beautiful wives screaming at us over a fence.  We were SO wasted, yet so supported.  I’ll never forget the moment when I was able to look at Pat, put my arm around him, and remind him that he was now a marathoner.  I still remember when Woody Anderson did it to me in San Diego (Rock and Roll Marathon), and it was something that has honestly changed my life forever.  I then knew that I was capable of something beyond what I ever thought I could do…and I hope that Pat now has that feeling.  His two week hangover isn’t over yet, but I soon will be coming to him asking what he wants to do next.

LA Marathon will always be an amazing memory to me…even though it forced me to train in Denver winter months.  I am so thankful to have a life of health so that I could run it.  I am also thankful for amazing friends in Pat and Joni and what a blessing they are to me, Pat specifically for his encouragement, and for having such a phenomenal wife who literally cheers me on with any athletic venture I dream up.  I am blessed, and I praise and give all the glory to God for what he has done in me.