Surviving Week 1 at the Olympic Training Center

The Big Move

Well #eyeronvision supporters, it’s here. January, 2019. That means I’ve made the move to Colorado Springs to take up residence at the U.S. Olympic training Center as a member of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team. I was certainly excited, but at the same time anxious, nervous, and for lack of a better term, scared shitless.

Uprooting your life and moving to a city where you know only a handful of people is nerve racking in normal circumstances. Throw in being a totally blind extreme introvert and you get someone who’s nearly a basket case. Granted, I think I hid it pretty well. After all, “fake it till you make it.”

Dad drove Skye and I down to Colorado Springs On Sunday evening and helped me move all of the stuff I brought—primarily clothes and my training bike and Wahoo Kickr bike trainer—into my room on campus first thing Monday morning. Then began the process of trying to figure out where the heck I was going. Dad was able to help me orient a little bit to the campus. At least by the time he left that evening I could somewhat competently make it from my room to the dining hall, to our triathlon training room, to the pool. Confidence would come over the course of the week. But my mantra for the rest of the week was “just survive getting around.”


Monday morning had been reserved for me to move my stuff into the dorm, but Monday afternoon saw my first official duty as a resident team member. And that was a run lactate threshold and VO2 Max test. The test is both awesome and miserable. Cool because I’d only ever read about elite athletes doing the test before and I never thought I’d actually get to do one in my lifetime. And miserable because… well it really fucking hurts.

The test was done in the High Altitude Training Center (HATC) Lab. This is a room that can be adjusted to just about any atmospheric pressure, temperature or humidity level. So rather than doing my test at the actual 6000ish ft of elevation that Colorado Springs is located at, the testers made the room sea level. I then got on a treadmill and a contraption was placed on my head which included a snorkel-like breathing tube which went into my mouth. My nose was then clamped shut and I could only breathe through the snorkel-like mouth piece. This measures the flow of oxygen I take in and the amount of CO2 I exhale as well as the rate at which I breathe and some other things. I kind of tuned out at that point as I was trying not to gag with this rubber hose shoved into my mouth. Oh yeah and then they turned the treadmill on and I had to run.

We started with an easy 10 min warm up with me breathing through the contraption so I could get used to it. Then they let me take the contraption off to get some water and brace myself to actually do work. Then the real test began. First, lactate threshold.

This first test was pretty straight forward. My coach, Derick, set the treadmill at a certain speed and I ran at that speed for three minutes. At the end of those three minutes the physiologist, Carwin, jabbed my index finger with a small needle and took a small sample of blood to measure the amount of lactate in my blood. Then the speed was cranked up a little more and we repeated that process until my blood accumulated a certain amount of lactate. All in all the actual test took about 30 minutes to complete. Then I could walk, stretch and get some water and prepare myself mentally for the VO2 Max test.

The VO2 Max test is basically finding out how much you can suffer. More scientifically though it’s finding the point where you just can’t process oxygen any further and are forced to quit because you can hardly breathe. To do this test, Derick set the treadmill at just below my lactate threshold speed and then proceeded to crank up the incline by one percent grade every minute until I gave up. The goal of the test is to last as long as you can but if you do the test correctly it should take anywhere from six to 12 minutes max. Oh yeah, I had to where the breathing contraption again too. I was able to do the first five or six minutes fairly easily, but once the percent incline got up to around seven percent I started to hurt. “Make it to 10 minutes” I kept trying to repeat to myself, but as the incline rose and I continued running at my threshold pace things began to get a little fuzzy. I pushed on past eight minutes and hung on tip nine minutes. “One more minute!” I screamed in my head. But it wasn’t meant to be. I cried uncle about 30 seconds or so into the ninth minute. Oh well, the next time I do the test I’ll hit 10 minutes.

I don’t specifically know what my numbers were on the lactate threshold and VO2 Max tests, but Derick and Carwin appeared relatively pleased with my results. Then it was off to shower and get ready for dinner.

Dad had stuck around to make sure I navigated around ok and left after dinner. Then I was on my own.

Finding a routine

Routines and schedules give me comfort. While I can fly by the seat of my pants if I need to, I much prefer structure in my day. Since my senior year of high school I’ve found I’m most productive and happy when I have a schedule or routine to follow. So this living at the OTC thing was actually going to work out in my favor because I had to be on time to work outs and there wouldn’t be a ton of wiggle room.

That first morning on my own I was definitely nervous walking into the cafeteria and getting my food. There are a lot of things that have the potential to stress me out, cafeterias are at the top of that list. Getting food and then navigating an unfamiliar place while carrying said food and drink in one hand while holding my guide dog in the other hand is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately this wasn’t the cafeteria staff’s first rodeo and they were all extremely helpful in letting me know what was available to eat and then directing me to a table. Over the course of the next few days I got more and more comfortable navigating around the cafeteria, but I’m still learning where everything is and will continue to move cautiously the entire time I’m living here.

A Two Minute Walk

After surviving the cafeteria it was time to go for a little swim. One of the biggest barriers to me getting in adequate training in the past was access to a pool. When I lived in Orlando, Mike and I lived a short drive from our downtown pool, but the Tri club often worked out at a pool a 45 minute drive away. Then living in the Roaring Fork Valley I had to rely on someone to drive me down the hill to the bus stop. Then I had to wait for a bus that would then take me up valley. I’d then change buses and eventually make it to the pool. Then I’d do the same in reverse. All in all, for a swim that lasts about an hour to an hour and a half would take up a good four plus hours of my day (if I was lucky and everyone was running on time). Now though the pool is literally a two minute walk from my bedroom.

The indoor pool at the OTC is also a 50 meter rather than 25 yard pool. This cheered me immensely because that meant fewer times I had to turn around in the pool meaning fewer opportunities to smash/cut/rip my knuckles and fingers on the pool wall. Derick had apparently been thinking along these same lines as well and had chatted with the Paralympic swim coaches to find out how they coached their blind athletes to not crash into the wall. The system they used was pretty nifty and we adopted it.

When I walked on to the deck of the pool I heard the usually echoes of an indoor pool, but there was also the sound of a couple of sprinklers. Derick had set up a hose at either end of the lane that I’d swim in and positioned the hose so that the water would hit me when I was a few strokes out from the wall. So when I felt the water falling on me from above I’d know I was approaching the wall and could therefore ease up and anticipate the wall and just maybe avoid smashing my fingers. If I’m not careful I’m going to become soft and spoiled with all this pampering.

Since I hadn’t swam since Ironman Arizona, Derick took it easy on me this first week and we focused on just getting my technique back and getting me used to swimming every day. I have a feeling that’ll change in these next couple of weeks.

The rest of the week followed a pretty similar pattern. Get up early to swim, eat in the dining hall, do some kind of test in the afternoon and in general just get comfortable navigating on my own. I hardly spoke to or saw any of my fellow paratriathletes except in passing primarily because I was just focused on surviving getting around and not getting myself lost or causing chaos by tripping over something and sending food flying in the cafeteria. But since I’m writing this now I obviously survived and the past couple of days I’ve actually felt confident that this new living situation is going to work out all right.

So, sorry for the fairly boring report, but in my world boring usually means I haven’t screwed up too badly just yet. But have no fear, I’m sure the next few weeks will bring all kinds of excitement 🙂


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