Thursday Thoughts: Introducing KISS

What’s the biggest difference between elites and amateurs?

In high school, my competitive sport of choice was wrestling. I was a decent wrestler throughout my career. I improved steadily from my freshman to senior year. At the time though it felt like I wasn’t progressing at all. At that time in my life I was much more of a hothead. (I’m still a bit of a hothead but I’ve become better at controlling it.) I also tended to blame others for my problems more readily. I’m not winning matches, it must be the coach’s fault. Coach doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I know way more than everyone else. I and so many of my high school wrestling teammates kept searching for that wrestling move or style that would turn us into winners.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year I attended a camp run by former Olympian Ken Chertow. Some of the camp coaches taught some advanced/fun/flashy techniques and styles that went way over my head. However, at the beginning of every session we started with simple, basic drills and techniques that I thought I mastered. Eventually, I learned though that if I couldn’t hit a double or single leg takedown in a match I hadn’t mastered two of the most basic ways to score points in wrestling. Going into Ken’s camp my biggest weakness in wrestling was being taken down. I was decent and strong once we got to the ground but opposing coaches quickly realized this and began playing what I called “catch and release.” My opponents would take me down, disengage and stand up releasing me to score one point (since they were scoring two points per takedown they’d win easily). Ken’s advice when I told him my problem was remarkably simple and basic

[1] get stronger

[2] don’t get taken down

[3] take the other guy down

It short “don’t over complicate things.” I eventually did what Ken advised me to do. I went on to have a better junior year than sophomore year and a pretty good senior year.

Eventually, I made my way to triathlon a sport that encompasses swim, bike, run, and so much more. Triathletes are known for pushing the envelope on innovation. Triathletes are quick to adopt new techniques and technologies especially if they think it’ll make them faster. My friend and one of my triathlon mentors, Mike Melton, and I often joked that we could make a fortune by turning our old race T-shirts into blankets and marketing them to triathletes saying that if you wrap yourself in this special blanket you will recover better and be faster. But I digress… So often we think more is always better. More gadgets, more information, more distance, more opinions. Sometimes more is better, other times less is better, more often than not we need to find the middle.

One of the biggest barriers to people getting into triathlon is worry over complexity. Triathlon today seems to outsiders to be this immensely complicated sport, especially when you get people talking about their functional threshold power, training stress score, swim drills, single leg pedal drills, bounding drills, and whether functional strength training, HIIT training or olympic lifting is better. Not to mention all the various recovery techniques such as foam rolling, compression boots, dry needling, electrical stimulation, mindfulness… And I won’t even mention the debates that rage around nutrition. Is there any wonder why triathlon seems intimidating and complicated?

The first mistake that 90 plus percent of amateur/age group triathletes make is the same one that my high school wrestling teammates and I did. They look for the magic tool or technique that’s going to make them faster with less effort in the shortest amount of time. Fans, friends, family, and others that I’ve spoken with in passing so often remark “Oh I’d be an elite athlete too if I had all that time, those tools and techniques that you have at your disposal at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.” This is the second mistake that so many people make when distinguishing between elite and amateur athletes. Elites don’t have some secret training program, diet, recovery tool, technique, gadget, gismo, or what have you. The biggest difference between elites and amateurs is something my coach Derick Williamson preaches to everyone and it’s something that has sunk into my being over the length of my athletic career. Elites “Do Simple Better!” Or as my dad taught me throughout childhood, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Or flip it around as my friend and USA Triathlon teammate Jamie Brown does and say “Keep It Stupid Simple!”

There is no secret when it comes to training, racing, recovery, nutrition, etc. The same goes for our general lives as well. Do simple better and you will succeed. True success does take time though and unfortunately my generation appears to be the most impatient generation. My dad often says that today’s kids are significantly smarter than generations past, however we do lack a certain wisdom which only comes through hard work, and time. I’m not immune to impatience but I know that as long as I continue to do simple better and keep it stupid simple I will progress and succeed in triathlon and life.

Tokyo Para-triathlon World Cup/Test Event

Tokyo Para-triathlon World Cup

August 17, 2019

Tokyo, Japan

2.5 km Run, 19.2 km bike, 5 km Run

“National team is on the line.”

“This is like my world championships.”

“You’re running well, so attack early and keep that podium streak alive.”

“You come off the bike with a 90sec or 2min lead on Aaron and/or Ellis then anything can happen.”

I arrived in Tokyo on the evening of Wednesday, August 14. I’d flown from Colorado Springs via Chicago with few hiccups. This was actually the first time I’d traveled completely solo internationally, but fortunately the flight attendants and airport personnel in Japan spoke wonderful English. We located my bike, spare wheels and got me into a cab bound for our team hotel. I fell into bed exhausted but unable to sleep for several hours. I finally fell asleep around 4 AM and got a fitful few hours of sleep before I made my way down to breakfast where I successfully navigated the breakfast options with help from our team nutritionist, Sally. Then it was time to build the bike and get in a swim. Our team mechanic, James, helped me put the Chinook together in record time and he had it shifting and running beautifully. Everything was moving along smoothly.

I accompanied the team to the lap pool where we executed a quick workout. Most of the team had already been in Japan for several days, but we all still complained about the heat and humidity. Every time I stepped outside it was like being engulfed by a wall of warm water. Occasionally a breeze would blow, cooling us off ever so briefly only for the heavy air to envelope us again.

Zack arrived that night having flown directly from San Francisco and having barely slept on the plane. This it turned out worked in our favor as Zack was able to sleep hard through the night and woke refreshed and ready to go on Friday morning for the bike familiarization.

Japan has a law against tandems and hand cycles on the roads which really baffled me. I’d been told that Japan was so incredibly accommodating to people who are blind or visually impaired and in some aspects they were. On every sidewalk a raised line split the sidewalk in half which was meant for a blind person to drag their feet or cane along. At the bends and turns in the sidewalk was a different pavement surface notifying you of a turn. However as soon as we’d step inside, the accessibility seemed to go from wonderful to extremely limited. No hotel room had Braille or even a raised print number on the signs. The elevator buttons were almost like a touch screen in that you just touched the button and the elevator registered your touch and assumed that was the floor you intended to go to. In one elevator a couple of the buttons had Braille next to them, but not next to all of the buttons. The elevators also gave off no indication as to what floor you were on. No voice saying a number in Japanese or English, no beeps to count, nothing. So for this totally blind guy it was very disconcerting. My first morning in Japan I spent riding the elevator up and down a couple times trying to get to the breakfast level so it was a relief when Zack finally arrived and we could go places together.

Despite Japanese law stating we couldn’t ride tandems on the streets we biked over to the race venue just hoping a police officer wouldn’t catch us, We rationalized that anyone would assume we were stupid/ignorant Americans. We performed two laps of the bike course, paying attention to every turn and the condition of the pavement. On the course map provided, the bike course appeared extremely technical. However once we got out and rode the course, Zack and I became excited by the prospect of taking some of the turns aggressively at race pace. The course seemed to suit our punchy quick surge style of riding and, with Zack’s tandem handling abilities, we thought we might have a good ride.

We returned to the hotel for a large breakfast of eggs, fried rice, fruit, bread products and coffee before heading back to the race venue for swim familiarization.

The wind was blowing strong making little waves in the bay where we’d swim. Race officials elected not to set out the swim buoys because it would be too difficult because of the wind. Instead they had lifeguards stationed where the buoys would be. This didn’t work out great either though as the lifeguards kept moving around. Despite everything, Zack and I swam well and I was feeling good and confident. My swim was stronger than it had ever been even with the slight chop in the water. This was going to be my second race in a month without a wetsuit as water temps were hovering above 80 degrees. The saltwater provided a certain amount of buoyancy though that was similar to wearing a wetsuit. We returned to the hotel to rest and prepare for the race briefing.

After the briefing we rested, had a meeting with Derick to strategize our race, and then we met up with Howie and his handler, Sarah, for dinner. We found a conveyer belt sushi restaurant a short walk from the hotel. Not being one for raw fish, I selected only cooked fish as well as a bowl of ramen. It was a delicious meal and we returned to the hotel to sleep and gear up for the next day’s race.

Race Day: Rolling with the Punches

“A meeting took place this morning and it has been determined that the water quality is unsafe therefore the paratriathlon race has been modified to a duathlon.”

“What the fuck!” I exclaimed as I read the email, time stamped 4:32 AM, only 30 minutes before Zack and I’d planned to depart and head to the race venue to check in. Originally our race had been scheduled to start at 6:30 AM but now with the swim canceled the format was drastically changed. The bike course was still the same but the run course was modified from three laps to four for the 5K. Our race would now consist of two laps of 1.25 km (totaling 2.5 km), followed by a five lap bike totaling 19.2 km followed by a four lap run of 1.25 km totaling 5 km. Start times were shifted around as well. Now wheelchair athletes would race first, starting at 6:40 AM and the Visually impaired racing wouldn’t begin until 7:55 AM. More problematic from my point of view was that now the course was going to be much more crowded once we got to the second run as we’d have to dodge around all of the upright para categories on narrow running paths. Temperatures were also supposed to be 10 degrees warmer at 8 AM as opposed to 7 AM. Not to mention, the top guys in the VI class against whom I’d be competing were significantly better runners than I was.

PTVI Men’s Race Outlook

Dave Ellis: 3x World Champion who competed as a Paralympic swimmer and track athlete prior to switching to triathlon. He was being guided by Ironman pro Tim Don (former Ironman 140.6 world record holder and who’s probably best known for surviving a horrific bike crash two days before racing in Kona and then making a comeback which included spending several months in a halo to help heal his broken neck). Ellis is like a dolphin in the water and a gazelle on the run. The chances of Zack and I beating him in a triathlon were slim at this point, but in a duathlon?…We could only hope that we had a ridiculously strong bike and I could run fast enough to hold him off.

Aaron Scheidies: 7x World Champion, possibly considered the greatest Visually impaired triathlete of all time. My USA teammate who was racing his second race post hip surgery. A wicked strong cyclist and runner; but he and his guide had been known to struggle in the heat and Aaron didn’t quite have the running legs he’d had the past few years. Possible? Maybe, after all I did finish 46sec behind him at Paratriathlon Nationals just three weeks ago.

Jonathan Goerlach: An Australian who’s a ridiculously strong runner. This was the guy I was most worried about. Apart from Dave Ellis, Golach was the only one ever to finish ahead of Aaron in a race. I knew that if we’d been competing in a triathlon, I could out swim Golach, our bikes were fairly similar, but he would destroy me in the 5K. Now I needed to have the run of my life and possibly the bike of my life if I wanted to finish on the podium.

Arnaud Grandjean: A frenchman who could also run like the wind and who’s bike was similar to mine. I’d been run down and beaten by his countryman Antoine a month earlier in Magog, and a new French athlete Thibaut had nearly caught me at the line.

Apart from these fine gentlemen, I thought I could hold off the rest of the field. The bright side was that these four were all starting now 3min and 4sec behind me. I didn’t have to be the fastest at run, bike, run, I just had to be fast enough to hold them off. Could I do it? Derick texted me and said “Strategy doesn’t change. Go out hard and go for the win. You’re running strong right now.”

Pre-Race Jitters, Cooling and Warming Up

The night before the race Zack and I’d each swallowed a pill that would lodge itself in our intestines and through radio frequencies would notify our team physiologist, Carwin, of what our core body temperatures were. Carwin would be able to analyze the data after the race and come up with more effective cooling strategies for the future. For the meantime though I wore an ice vest and stuffed a stocking full of ice under my trisuit. Zack and I spun our legs out on the bike trainer, then performed a short 10 min jog with a couple pick-ups to get the jitters out. Then it was time to head to the start line.

Run 1

We lined up with the rest of the B1 men, shoulder to shoulder under the hot sun with the humidity pressing down on us. My heart thumped and I focused on taking slow deep breaths as I listened to the countdown over the loud speaker. When the horn sounded, I launched myself forward, but there was something wrong. The buzzer used to signify the start kept going off. We all faltered and came to a stop. “False start,” Zack said to me. Apparently one of the Ukrainians had jumped early. We were all brought back to the start line and reset. I again focused on breathing and set my feet, right leg back, shoulders and hips down and relaxed ready to spring.

The countdown began again and the horn sounded. We were off.

I launched myself forward, determined to seize an early lead so that Zack could dictate the lines we took around the turns. We opened up a sizable gap on the rest of the field surging up a hill and taking a hard right then left. Even though I was running well, I was a little hesitant around the corners not knowing how aggressive or wide each turn was. On the straight-a-ways I was able to get my legs up to speed, but as soon as I reached a sustainable speed I had to slam on the breaks to go into the next turn. Very quickly this acceleration and deceleration caught up with me. One of the Ukrainians, Anatolii Varfolomieiev, reeled me in and took a slight lead. I knew I was stronger than Anatolii on the bike so I wasn’t overly concerned if he got into T1 before me, but I knew I had to minimize the gap. Plus, I wanted to be the one dictating the race, so I pushed myself a little harder. Anatolii was running at a different level than me though and pulled away little by little.

Zack and I blazed through the transition area which was part of the run course and began our second lap by surging up a steep ramp. Running uphill is not one of my strengths despite living in Colorado. When I’d lived and trained in the Roaring Fork Valley I relished hills because that was what I trained on. Now though Derick and I had focused on pure speed so hills had once again become an achilles heel. Trying to run up a 5 plus percent grade on a slippery vinyl material slick with humidity drained me and as we started the second lap of the run my foot caught on a lip nearly sending me down. I caught myself but a “Fuck!” Flew from my lips and spiked my heart rate. Once again I had to get up to speed and the trip cost me a few seconds. I wasn’t sure what was going on behind me but I knew that guys like Ellis, Scheidies and Golach would be running much harder and faster than I was currently. I did my best to run hard but not to overdo it. I went into what Zack calls the “Maybe Zone” or is it the “Navy Zone?” I’m never sure because the only time he mentions it is when when I’m running at 5K effort. It could be the “maybe zone” because I’m running at a pace that I can “maybe” hold on to. Or it could be “navy zone” because I’m hovering between the black and red zones… But I digress.

We blazed into transition and made it to the bike a little less than 20sec behind Anatolii and his guide, and only a few seconds ahead of Donnacha McCarthy of Ireland. I yanked off my running shoes and put on my helmet and cycling shoes. Then we were running with the bike toward the mount line. We stopped, threw our right legs over the top tube, clipped in, and took off.

Run 1: 9min 9sec

Transition 1: 55sec

The Bike

On the map, the bike course appeared quite technical with multiple turns and several U-turns. When you throw in five laps, intrigue is added. Zack and I powered out of transition and took the first few turns cautiously. We knew we had to reel in the Ukrainians but we weren’t overly concerned. While I wanted to blow by them on the first lap I knew I couldn’t over cook it too early. We took the first lap to get a feeling for the course at race pace. There was one U-turn which had a sketchy portion of pavement, but we handled it with ease. From a pure fun and challenge standpoint, the bike course was incredible. It not only tested our physically ability of throwing down huge power numbers, but also Zack’s decision making on how and when to take turns. What turns could we pedal through, which ones did we need to stand up out of, and how wide or tight could we take each turn?

It wasn’t until the third lap that we finally caught the Ukrainians and passed them. Once we made the pass though we dropped them quickly. We opened a gap and never saw them again. We were now in the lead where I wanted to be and where I was much more comfortable. They say it’s more difficult racing from the front, but I’ve only ever raced from the front so it’s comfortable for me.

On our fourth lap the course was beginning to get more crowded. An athlete from another sport class (not a visually impaired athlete) was riding on the left hand side of the road. This course was a “ride right, pass left” course. This means that cyclists are supposed to ride on the right hand side of the road and only can ride on the left when they’re passing another cyclist. Zack was yelling at the top of his lungs for the cyclist to move to the right by screaming “On your left, on your left!” However the cyclist either ignored him, didn’t speak English, or thought there was plenty of room to the left. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room on the left, so as we entered the “drafting zone” Zack had no choice but to pull hard right and pass. This occurred right in front of an official on a motorbike. We thought for sure we were going to be penalized for passing on the right especially as the official pulled up alongside us. However, he didn’t penalize us but rather just told us that we had only one more lap to go. Our best guess was that the official had heard Zack yelling and saw that he had no choice but to pass on the right because of safety reasons.

Now Zack and I were leading the PTVI race and I had no intention of relinquishing the lead. I hammered at the pedals squeezing every watt I could out of my legs. I drained my bottle of electrolytes less than one minute out from transition. With about 30sec to go Zack gave the command to take off our right shoes, then the left. We hit a ramp and dived down into transition. We leaped off the bike and ran hard toward our rack. Zack quickly racked the bike, I tossed my helmet into the bin, yanked on my shoes and pulled on the run tether. Then we were sprinting toward the run start.

Bike: 28min 40sec

Transition 2: 45sec

The Run

As we exited transition I powered my way up the steep ramp/hill that would begin each lap. My heart rate immediately went through the roof and I felt the heat. “Ignore it,” I told myself, “This is why you spent so much time in the HATC.” I knew I was capable of running close to 19 minutes on this 5K and if I did that, who knew what would happen behind me. I gritted my teeth and took each turn on the run as fast as I could. At every aid station Zack threw water over me and I got as much water into my mouth as possible. Fans were all over the run course clapping and cheering, but I tried to only focus on Zack’s directions. Step left, come right, right turn, now left turn. I tried to keep my forward lean and to kick my legs out behind me. I pumped my arms trying to keep my run cadence high. We entered into the transition area plunging down a steep hill. As we ran toward the start of the second lap I heard a British voice call out “On your left,” and then Tim Don and Dave Ellis went streaking by me like I was standing still.

“Go with them!” Zack encouraged me. “You’ve got it in you, dig deep.” I really tried but Ellis was running like a man possessed. He ran away from me so fast I thought I was running backwards. Now the only thought in my head was to minimize the damage. I had to finish within 3 percent of Ellis’s time to earn a spot on the USA Triathlon National B Team, and with the way Ellis was running, I’d have to have the run of my life to make that time cut off.

With each successive lap my legs seemed to get heavier and heavier. My breathing became more and more labored. I was weaving from side to side and it took immense concentration to keep running in as straight a line as possible. On every lap Derick tossed a stocking full of ice to Zack which we wrapped around my neck to try and keep me cool. But my second and third laps passed in a haze of heat and pain. Despite that I entered the third lap still holding on to second place. About three quarters of the way through lap three, Aaron came up running fast on my left. The path was tight and Zack got us over to the right side as far as he could, but now Zack, Aaron, Ben and I were running four across and the course was crowded with other sport classes not running as fast.

Aaron’s right foot got tangled with my left nearly sending us both crashing to the ground. Fortunately we both stayed up and Aaron moved ahead chasing after Ellis who was already more than a minute up the road. Hot on our heels now was Jonathan Goerlach of Australia. He and his guide passed us chasing Aaron. Now I was desperately clinging on to fourth place. I had no idea who was behind me and I was starting to wonder and think that every person that ran passed on my left was a VI male. I dug deeper going to a place of hurt I hadn’t gone to before.

We began the fourth lap and I was pretty much going on will power alone now. I knew I could survive 1.25 km. There was a scary moment when Zack told me we were passed by the team from Hong Kong and that we’d just passed the Ukrainians. “I thought we’d dropped them far behind,” I wondered. As we approached the final few hundred meters I knew every second was going to count so whatever was left in the tank, I emptied it. I vaguely heard the announcers say something about me coming across the finish line and I heard Zack say we were done, but the next thing I knew I’d sunk to the ground–hot, dripping in sweat and shaking from exhaustion. Zack supported me as he half dragged, half carried me over to the side to allow other runners to come through the shoot. Two thoughts filled my head at that moment. The first was that I was really happy the race was over. The second was, “I’ve got to get better at running.”

Run 2: 20min 13sec

Total Time: 59min 42sec

The Aftermath

As I lay on the ground to the side of the finish line a medical volunteer draped several cold wet towels over me and kept asking if I was okay. I was fine, just exhausted and hot. Zack was able to support me as we walked into the medical tent. I sat on a chair and tried to drink water. I just needed to cool down and stay off my feet a few minutes. Anatolii, who’d crossed the finish line a little more than 20sec behind me had to get taken away on a stretcher because of heat exhaustion.

Eventually I was able to stand and slowly make my way to the recovery area where there were some ice baths set up as well as volunteers plying everyone with food, electrolytes and water. I sank into an ice bath and immediately felt rejuvenated. I didn’t want to run another 5K, but my head cleared and I was able to think and talk coherently. I eventually got more fluid into my body and some food in my stomach.

Zack and I eventually made it back to the athlete lounge where the rest of the team was congregating. I was trying to not be disappointed with myself. Zack and I weren’t really sure where we’d finished. Were we fourth or fifth? I knew we weren’t within the 3 percent time we’d needed to make the National Team. It was the first time Zack and I’d finished off the podium and I wasn’t pleased with myself because of that. At the same time though I don’t think I could’ve gone harder. I tried to rationalize with myself that if there’d been a swim the results could’ve been different, but you have to race the race you’re presented with and today I wasn’t podium worthy.

Our team physiologist, Carwin, downloaded the data from our temperature pills and did a quick scan of the data. Based on what he saw, he said that during the first run my core temperature went up to 102 degrees then came down to about 101.5 on the bike before going straight back up on the second run. My peak temperature was around 104. He wanted to analyze the data more closely before making any conclusions. The good news was that Zack appeared to regulate body temperature a bit better than I did meaning that he still had more to give. Well, no fear in my guide overheating 🙂 We talked briefly about maybe having a more aggressive cooling strategy pre-race for me but ultimately I just wanted to get out of there and get back to the hotel.

We did find out the official results which had Zack and me in fourth place. Ellis had indeed had an incredible race running a 16min 39sec 5K. Aaron had held on to second place 1min and 46sec behind Ellis. Right on Aaron’s heels was Goerlach 6sec back. Then there was me in fourth 2min 41sec back of Ellis, 55sec back of Aaron, and49sec back of Goerlach. Anatolii came in fifth just 23sec behind me. Thank goodness I’d had such a solid bike.

Later on when the splits were published online I actually sat down and analyzed the times. I was pleased with both of my transition times, very pleased with my first run, and so-so on my bike. I was pleased with the bike in the sense that I was only 57sec slower than Aaron who had the fastest bike split of the day, but disappointed because it was the first time in my ITU career that I didn’t have the second fastest bike split of the day. In fact I had the fifth fastest. Ellis, Goerlach and Grandjean all had faster bike splits (Goerlach and Grandjean only out biked me by 7sec and 2sec respectively though). I was disappointed that I hadn’t broken 20min on my 5K and resolved to train smarter and harder to get that 5K to where Derick, Zack and I knew I was capable.

On the walk back to the hotel, Zack and I had a brief chat with Dave Ellis and his guide Tim Don. We congratulated them on a superb race and they said they were looking forward to racing us in Lausanne in a couple weeks. Unfortunately we had to inform them that we hadn’t made the Lausanne start list and we’d have to do battle some other time. They both seemed surprised but wished us luck in whatever races we had coming up.

After showers and a bit of rest, we headed out to find some real food. We wound up hanging out with Howie and his handler, Sarah, for lunch and a bit of exploring. That night we again met up with Howie and Sarah for a sumptuous meal on the 30th floor of a hotel overlooking the Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge. We ate numerous courses of steak, rice, vegetables, soup and dessert. We occasionally chatted about the race, but for the most part we all just enjoyed the incredible food and even better company. After all, none of us were 100 percent sure if we’d get this opportunity to be in Tokyo again, so we just soaked up the atmosphere and experience.

The next day we all made our way back to the USA. Some of the Team was preparing for the World Championships coming up on September 1, and some of us weren’t sure what we were going to do. I was in the latter category. I’d put in for a race in Banyoles, Spain on September 8 but hadn’t made the start list. Zack suggested maybe racing at the World Cup in Turkey the week before he was due to race Kona, but Derick said for us to hold off on making that decision. So for now it looks like my 2019 triathlon season is on hold until further notice.

My final thoughts on the Tokyo Paratriathlon World Cup? I’m disappointed with fourth place, but I gave it everything I had in a race format that didn’t play to my strengths. I still have reached the podium four times in six ITU starts and have never finished lower than fourth place. This was also the second race in a row in which I finished within 1min of Aaron who is the best VI triathlete in the US. There were many positives mixed in with many areas in which I need to improve. As we went wheels up from Tokyo I vowed to give it everything I had to ensure that I’d be back in Tokyo in August/September of 2020, fighting for a podium spot at the Paralympic Games.

Tokyo Para-triathlon World Cup Results

  1. Dave Ellis, GBR, 57min 1sec
  2. Aaron Scheidies, USA, 58min 47sec
  3. Jonathan Goerlach, AUS, 58min 53sec
  4. Kyle Coon, USA, 59min 42sec

Paratriathlon National Championships

Paratriathlon National Championships

July 20, 2019

Long Beach, Calif

750 m Swim, 18.9 km Bike, 5.1 km Run

“It’s Aaron’s first race back. He’s beatable so go for it.”

Coming off a disappointing second place finish at the Magog Paratriathlon World Cup the week before, I went into the Toyota Paratriathlon National Championships eager to test myself against one of the top VI triathletes in the world—Aaron Scheidies. I’d raced against Aaron twice before. The first time I finished nearly five minutes behind him in my first ever ITU race. Then earlier in 2019 at the Continental Championships I was able to finish only one minute and 37 seconds behind Aaron. Aaron soon after went under the knife to repair a torn hip, and I steadily chipped away at my swim, bike and run times. Now Aaron was making his return to racing at Nationals. Much how triathletes in the 1980s and 1990s measured themselves against the likes of Dave Scott and Mark Alan, or how quarterbacks are measured against the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the measuring stick for American VI Male triathletes is Aaron Scheidies and I was eager to see if I’d made any progress.

Arrival and Near Ending

I and several other members of the Paratriathlon Resident Team took the direct flight from Colorado Springs to Las Angeles early in the morning on July 19. Immediately upon landing, we headed to our hotel just a short 10 minute walk from the race site in Long Beach. After getting checked in, we grabbed food and waited around for the race briefing. Zack arrived shortly before the race briefing having flown directly from his summer internship in San Jose. After the quick race briefing, Zack and I headed to the hotel room to build the bike. And that was when our race nearly ended.

The week before, we’d accidentally snapped a bolt to a seat post collar. Fortunately one of the coaches loaned us a spare seat post collar. Unfortunately I’d totally blanked on getting a replacement. So Zack and I had to call around to bike shops in Long Beach to see if they had a seat post collar that would fit my bike. Zack pedaled the bike to a nearby shop and in a pure stroke of luck they had one perfect seat post collar left in stock. Crisis averted we picked up some take out Chinese food and shared our pre-race dinner with our teammate Howie and his handler Danny. Then it was off to bed for an early morning race start.

Race Day

The Paratriathlon National Championships was being held in conjunction with the inaugural Legacy Triathlon so there were a lot of age groupers very excited to get their racing underway as well.

The age group racing began at 7:00 AM, but the Paratriathlon racing wouldn’t begin until 8:00. This concerned many of us as we feared the bike and run courses would get crowded causing us to have to dodge slower age groupers more than necessary. However we had to race with the hands we were dealt. I was just eager to start racing.

The Swim

We stood on the beach at the water’s edge waiting for the word to head out into the water. There were only five visually impaired men in the national championship division. Three of us were B1 (totally blind) and the other two were B2/B3 (severe visual impairment). We were joined by several visually impaired women as well.

The call came for the B1 athletes to enter the water and so we waded out to about mid thigh. Then the starting gun sounded and we were off. Zack and I ran for a few steps before diving in and beginning to swim strong.

The first half of the swim was slightly choppy and I made an effort not to swallow any saltwater. I felt strong even with some waves attempting to push me back toward shore. Zack tapped my left shoulder to indicate a sharper turn to the right. I did so and immediately felt the waves now buffeting us from the left. I’d heard some reports that a couple of age groupers had already been stung by stingrays so that added to the urgency to swim fast. Zack tapped my shoulder again and we made the turn for the beach. Now the waves were behind us and pushing us into shore. I felt like I was flying.

My hands touched the sandy bottom and then I was up on my feet and sprinting through the shallows and onto the beach. I yanked the zipper of my wetsuit down as Zack jumped to my right side. I pulled my wetsuit down around my waist then focused on running as hard as I could through the extremely long transition. We finally reached the bike and I immediately sat down on the ground so Zack could help me rip off my wetsuit. Then it was on with the helmet, blacked out sunglasses and cycling shoes. Then grab the bike and sprint for the mount line.

Swim: 12min 5sec

Transition 1: 3min 4sec

The Bike

Unlike an ITU race we hadn’t had a course familiarization. We only had a map. Fortunately the course was well marked and the turns were nice and wide. This allowed Zack and I to really gun it on the bike with very few technical aspects to worry about. It was just straight power, and that’s what we’re good at.

It didn’t take long for us to catch up with the slower age groupers. Zack was constantly yelling at people to move out of the way. Many times we were moving as speeds twice as fast as some of the people we passed. Some were beginners and while we loved seeing them out on course racing their race, it caused some frustration. We were racing in a national championship event with prize money on the line and we had one of the best VI triathletes to ever live in hot pursuit.

We completed the first lap of the bike course still holding a gap on Aaron and his guide, but we weren’t entirely sure what the gap was since there weren’t any great places to mark and count off the gap. All we could do was head out for our second lap and hammer away as hard as we could. On our second lap we were still dealing with a couple age groupers but now there were more experienced Paratriathletes on the course so they held their lines as we blazed past.

We hit the far end of the bike course and headed back toward transition, powering up and over the little bridge that was the only elevation on the course. Zack timed the removal of our shoes perfectly and we slipped out of our shoes and executed another flawless flying dismount. We sprinted to our bike rack, dropped our helmets, yanked on our shoes, grabbed the tether and ran for the run course.

Bike: 26min 21sec

Transition 2: 1min 6sec

The Run

The path we were running on was fairly narrow and a little windy. We now had to contend with passing a few age groupers but now we had the lead bicyclist riding behind us calling out that runners were coming. The problem was that we were running fast and the runners ahead of us weren’t so Zack was still yelling more than was necessary. Finally Zack asked the lead bicyclist (who accompanies the race leader) to move ahead of us to help in clearing the path. Thankfully the guy on the bike was experienced enough to clear the path while not accidentally pacing us.

Apart from Zack’s voice giving me direction, I did my best not to focus on anything else. I was running as hard as I could and trying to synchronize my arm/leg turnover and breathing. It was warm but not overly hot. I could hear age groupers running in the opposite direction yelling encouragement but my focus was on pushing my limits. We hit the turn-around and caught our first glimpse of Aaron and Ben. They weren’t far behind us but if I could just dig a little deeper maybe we could hold them off. I willed my legs to move faster but about 400 meters past the turn around Aaron and Ben caught and passed us. They were running hard. “Just stay in contact with them,” I told myself. I tried clawing my way back to Aaron’s shoulder but he was just running too fast so after 50 meters or so I had to let him go. I wasn’t ready to hang with him and beat him in a sprint. Nevertheless I continued to push myself, determined to not let the gap grow too much. I later heard from several athletes that witnessed Aaron and me racing that it was quite the site. It was a legit race and they could tell that we were both trying to shake the other loose. Ultimately it was Aaron who broke away and broke the tape first, 46 seconds ahead of me. However I took pleasure in knowing that I’d significantly improved from the last time we’d raced. We congratulated each other on an excellent race before turning to wait for the other Paratriathletes to finish.

Run: 19min 59sec

Total Time: 1hr 2min 33sec

The Aftermath

My second place finish earned Zack and I each a check for $750, the first time we’d ever won prize money for doing this sport we love so much. We shared the podium with Aaron and a young 16 year old up and comer, Owen Cravens. We cheered on each Paratriathlon category as the podiums were presented. Then it was time to get out of the hot sun and break down the bike. Zack headed back to San Diego for a couple days before he had to get back to his internship. I meanwhile joined Howie, Danny, and our friend Tyler (a para downhill skier who’d flown into L.A from Colorado Springs to hang out with us). Together the four of us went into L.A to the Tarpits, then dinner and cruising around Hollywood. The next day we geeked out at Disney Land spending the majority of our time in the newly opened Star Wars section of the park. Then Monday morning came and I jumped on a plane to Aspen for a quick visit home with the family before returning to Colorado Springs to prepare for my next race—The Tokyo Paratriathlon World Cup in Tokyo, Japan.

Toyota USA Paratriathlon National Championship PTVI Male Podium

  1. Aaron Scheidies 1:01:47
  2. Kyle Coon 1:02:33
  3. Owen Cravens 1:06:36

Magog Paratriathlon World Cup Race Report

Magog Paratriathlon World Cup

July 13, 2019

Magog, Canada

750 m Swim, 19.8 km bike, 5 km Run

“Just go out there and go for the win.”

“It’s not like you have any competition here, right?”

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I’ve flirted with that line many times throughout my life but especially as I continue to see success on the international level of Paratriathlon racing. I was once again walking that line heading into Magog. Having looked and analyzed the start list from every possible angle, I was convinced that no one could beat me unless they had the race of their life. After all, I’d beaten most of these guys at previous races and my current efforts should be enough to keep those I haven’t raced behind me. I knew one thing though, I wasn’t going to be happy with anything less than my first ITU win.

A Stormy Arrival

I and several members of the Paratriathlon Resident team loaded up a couple of vehicles and drove from Colorado Springs to Denver on the morning of July 11. We had to laugh because we were a motley crew indeed. Melissa Stockwell (above the knee amputee), Howie Sanborn (wheelchair athlete) and myself (totally blind). Somehow we all managed to pull together three bikes, several suitcases, a racing wheelchair, and navigate successfully without leaving anyone behind.

We were joined in Denver by our fellow resident teammate Kendall Gretsch (wheelchair athlete) and several other athletes and support personnel who’d flown from Colorado Springs or other parts of the country. Then it was onto the plane bound for Montreal.

We arrived in Montreal and it was raining which would quickly turn into very stormy conditions. Howie and Melissa had each rented vans and we were able to get all of our gear into them. Howie’s handler (who assists him in transition during the race) met up with us in Montreal and drove one van, while Melissa and I rode in the other. It was getting on toward 7 PM and we were all starting to get hungry and cranky. Zack, my guide had been delayed more than two hours out of San Francisco so I texted him to just meet us in Magog once he got the rental car. We drove around an hour before finding a Canadian version of a Chipotle. We were in the French speaking part of Canada, but thankfully most people also spoke English. While I can understand the most rudimentary French thanks to studying French until my junior year of high school and then taking two semesters in college; I hadn’t used it in a long time. While I could get the gist of what people were saying, it was often too fast for me to comprehend clearly and when I tried speaking, it was often easier to just be the stupid American who couldn’t understand or speak French. So I found it amusing that we were in Canada, eating Mexican style cuisine and the primary language around us was French.

After a delicious meal of burritos, we got back on the road. Shortly after leaving the restaurant, the skies opened up and we were in the midst of a rainstorm the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I lived in Florida. Melissa cautiously drove as this was easily the most intense rainstorm she’d ever driven in and we seemed to be having issues with out headlights. Melissa was having a hard time seeing the road and even the other vehicles around us on the road. Howie eventually texted saying that we appeared to have no headlights on whatsoever. After turning a couple of knobs, Melissa suddenly exclaimed “I can see!” Guess we just hadn’t tried locating the right headlight setting hard enough.

We eventually made it safely to our hotel in a small town about a 15 minute drive outside of Magog, Canada. We got checked in, put the bikes in the Team USA conference room, and headed to bed. Zack got in a couple hours late having also driven through the crazy rainstorm which thankfully let up some time during the night.

Magog’s Monkey Wrenches

“Shit!” Zack exclaimed as I heard a metallic snap while tightening the bolt on my seat post. Fortunately the Team USA Coach, Ken, had a spare seat post collar in his bag of miscellaneous supplies. Crisis averted. Then we got to the race venue and heard that the swim was likely going to be non-wetsuit since the water temperature had measured 25 degrees Celsius that morning–just over the wetsuit legal limit for ITU racing. Wetsuits generally provide a little more buoyancy in the water therefore promoting better body position which translates to better speed in the water. The less proficient a swimmer you are, the more advantage you get from a wetsuit. I’m a terrible swimmer compared to the top end visually impaired men but on the bright side none of the top guys were here. In fact, one might argue that I was the best swimmer in the VI field. Nevertheless I would’ve preferred to wear my wetsuit. But in preparation for a non-wetsuit swim, Zack and I dove into the shallow waters of the lake we’d be racing in tomorrow without wetsuits and proceeded to swim well. Then it was on to the bike to do a couple laps around the bike course. There were a couple small hills and some railroad tracks but apart from that, the biggest issue we seemed to be having was that the electronic shifters were acting up on the Chinook. However the bike mechanic had just arrived so we figured there was an easy fix like just charging the batteries or reconnecting a wire that he could help us with.

After bike familiarization it was time for the race briefing. The ITU official stumble-bumbled his way through the presentation leaving many of us confused. The printed maps of the swim bike and run courses didn’t match up with what was online. The official seemed unclear on what the rules were regarding wetsuits and how it applied to wheelchair athletes versus non wheelchair athletes. In the past wheelchair athletes could wear a wetsuit no matter the water temperature. However this year it turned out that wheelchair athletes would now be subject to the same water temperature regulations as the rest of us. But hold on, apparently wheelchair athletes could wear wetsuit bottoms. But could the rest of us?… It turned out that the ITU official giving the briefing had brought the briefing from a race that had taken place in Montreal two weeks before and hadn’t bothered to check beforehand if it was the correct briefing. Needless to say we were all a little frustrated at the lack of organization. I took a deep breath and just prayed that we could get the shifting on the bike figured out and then just go have a solid race the next day.

When we got back to the hotel, David (the Team USA mechanic) went to work on the Chinook eventually discovering that we needed to replace a battery that controlled the shifters themselves. Then we also had to charge the ETap batteries. Additionally the break rotors had gotten slightly bent in transit. So David slowly bent the rotors back into shape while the Tap batteries charged, and Melissa gave Zack and I a battery that she’d gotten from Howie so that our shifters would again work. To be on the safe side, David also reattached the shifter wires and programmed the shifting. It was after 10 PM when David texted Zack and I to let us know that the bike was shifting beautifully again and we shouldn’t have any mechanical issues… Hopefully.

In the meantime, I was getting my pre-race nerves and jitters. I set numerous alarms to ensure I got up in the morning, which always annoys Zack and I tried to cover my nervousness with bravado saying things like “Let’s just go kick ass.” Finally I fell into an uneasy sleep.


It was a fairly warm and humid morning as we loaded the bike into the car for the 30-45 minute drive to Magog. I was already sweating and I hoped the heat and humidity wouldn’t play as big a factor as it usually did for me. We found parking on a side road less than a kilometer from the race venue and set about doing our last minute checks. Bike was shifting. We had all of our gear now we just needed to get over to check in and get ready to race.

We hung out in the athlete lounge for quite a while chatting with our USA Teammates and fellow competitors. Before too long it was time to make our way down to the swim start. It had been officially announced that it was a non-wetsuit swim. So grabbing my swim cap, tether and goggles we headed down to the beach.

The Swim

Just before 9:55 AM a race official called out the names of the B1 men and women racing so we could line up. I was positioned somewhere in the middle of the group. Not ideal, but I’d grown fairly confident in my swimming ability that I could fight out of the throng and get out front away from the crazies. Normally we started much deeper in the water with it up around our chests, shoulders or where we were unable to stand. Today however the water barely came up past mid thigh. This presented a curious question, did we try to run for a bit before starting to swim? Or did we try to dolphin dive? Or did we just start swimming. I decided that I’d let my instincts kick in when the horn sounded. Then came the count down. “On your mark…Go!”

I took a couple quick running steps and dove into the water and started swimming. Later I’d learn that I was at the very back of the pack to start out as everyone else ran or dolphin dived, but it didn’t take Zack and I long to cut through the chop to get into the middle of the pack and then from there up to the front.

The water was choppy due to a breeze and the shallowness of the lake. I felt myself slapping someone’s feet and decided to stay on them for a bit. It turns out it was the feet of the South African team who’d Zack and I’d become friendly with the day before after swim familiarization and while we’d been standing in line waiting to check in that morning. They were swimming well, but I knew in my gut that I was the best swimmer in the field. Zack knew it too so just past the midway point of the swim, he maneuvered me around the South Africans and got us to the front. The water was still choppy but as we turned to start heading back in toward swim exit the chop was more behind us helping to push us forward. All I could do was focus on my technique and try to stay as smooth and steady as possible. I could feel that I wasn’t swimming as fast as I would like. I was working much harder than I should’ve been for the pace we were going. Eventually I began feeling weeds at my fingertips then sand and it was time to pop up out of the water and run. Zack ripped off the tether and hopped to my right side so he could better guide me. We ran up the steps out of the water and hit the timing mat leading into transition.

Swim: 13min 10sec; first out of the water

“You’re first,” Zack yelled as I panted and ran alongside him. I didn’t respond as we took a hard left and right and threaded our way through transition. My legs felt heavy and slow and it felt like it took forever to get to the bike. When we reached the bike, our momentum caused me to accidentally knock Zack’s helmet off the handlebars. I scrambled to put on my helmet and blacked out sunglasses, then it seemed to take forever to get my shoes strapped. “Smooth and steady,” I told myself, but I felt slow and sluggish.

Finally we ran with the bike through transition to the mount line, mounted up and took off.

T1: 1min 3sec

The Bike

We settled into the bike letting our legs spin up to a high cadence. I felt a little winded but knew I had to push the pace. Zack and I were strong on the bike and we knew this was where we had to drop the hammer and let anyone chasing us know they couldn’t hang. We made a right hand turn and headed for the first railroad track crossing. In the briefing the night before the officials had said they’d lay mats down over the railroad tracks but as Zack and I approached the tracks there were no mats laying over them. There were mats tossed off to the side of the race course doing the racers absolutely no good. I did my best to relax as we sped over the tracks and began a long straight away slight climb up a hill toward the turn around. We powered up the rise. We hit the first U-Turn and Zack caught sight of our first chaser about 30 seconds behind us. It was the Canadians. I’ll admit I was a little surprised they’d pulled back a bit of time. I figured they’d either swum really well or had really improved on the bike, or maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough. So I put my head down and attacked the slight downhill. Zack and I would fly down this slight downhill a total of three times often reaching speeds of close to 40 miles per hour. We hit the train tracks around 37 or 38 miles per hour, so fast that there was no time to tense up or be worried about crashing. We took turns aggressively and didn’t hesitate to hammer over each track crossing. We hit the second U-Turn and it seemed as though we’d either maintained or increased our lead over the Canadians. Additionally we seemed to be well ahead of one of the two French teams. Before the race I’d marked both Frenchmen as potential podium threats. It seemed though that I was holding a nice and consistent gap of 40ish seconds or more over Antoine Perel, who’d I’d marked as the one with a chance to beat me. “Stay ahead of Antoine,” I kept telling myself. I knew he could run like the wind so I tried to drop him on the bike.

Zack and I hammered away at each successive lap until we made the final turn to come into transition. Zack timed it and gave the command for me to slip out of my shoes. We cruised into T2 with a comfortable 45 second or so lead on the Canadians and at least more than a minute on Antoine.

Bike: 27min 27sec

We sprinted as hard as we could while wheeling the bike along. There were a couple of tight turns to get back to our rack in transition but eventually we got the bike racked, and I tossed my helmet into the basket next to the bike. I grabbed my shoes, yanked them on, and slipped the run tether over my head as Zack did the same while we ran for the run exit. Even though it felt like we were moving fast, I knew this was not a stellar T2 time.

T2: 1min 5sec

The Run

Coming into the race I’d set myself a goal of running as close to 19 minutes as I could. That meant holding about a 6:05 per mile pace. The day before I seemed to accelerate up to this pace with relative ease during our shake out run, but today my legs felt heavy and my foot speed and turn over wasn’t there. I screamed inside my head at my legs to get moving, but that first mile was excruciatingly slow. I had a gap and I knew if I could just run what I was capable of then the race was mine to lose, but as we ran I felt the heat and humidity begin to seep into me. My breathing became labored, my turn over slowed down and I began to crack.

We tossed water over me at every aid station in an attempt to cool me down but it was as though I could hear the feet of Antoine coming behind me. I willed my body to go harder and faster. I dug myself into a hole willing myself to go to a level of pain I hadn’t experienced before while racing.

I still had a decent gap on Antoine at the first turn around on the run. The run was an out and back which we had to do twice so Zack was able to keep an eye on our competition. But Antoine was gaining.

We hit the second turn around and went out for our second lap. My legs were on fire, I gasped for air. I couldn’t get enough air in or expel enough air out. The run course was getting more crowded as more paratriathlon classes flooded the race course. Zack was yelling at people to move, and we were constantly slowing down a step or two then having to accelerate back up. Fortunately I’d bounced back after my first bad mile and was now running at least the pace I’d run in Milan back in April. It wasn’t enough though. Less than 100 meters from the final turn around Antoine caught and passed me. I tried to match his furious pace and was able to keep up for only a few steps before I fell off the pace.

As we made the U-Turn and began the last stretch back toward the finish line, Zack saw the second Frenchman–a newcomer to the ITU circuit–gaining fast. We had to really throw down the hammer not just to try and catch Antoine, but to stay ahead of this new guy. I pushed the pace desperately trying to reel Antoine in. I knew if I could just get back to his shoulder I could out kick him in the last 100 meters. Despite my best efforts though the gap continued to grow between Antoine and myself and shrink between myself and Thibaut. With less than 400 meters left, Zack started yelling at me “SPRINT, SPRINT, SPRINT!” Thibaut was closing fast and if I wanted to hold on to second place I had to dig deep. I put my head down, pumped my arms and kicked my legs out behind me sprinting with all my might.

I hit the line in a final time of 1 hour 2 minutes and 34 seconds just 31 seconds behind Antoine and a mere 6 seconds ahead of Thibaut. It was good enough to wrap up my fourth consecutive ITU podium and my third second place finish.

I wasn’t thinking about this as I staggered across the line and collapsed against Zack. All I could think was “First fucking loser again.”

Run: 19min 50sec

The Aftermath

One of the first things we did once we got our breath and became more human was to find out the fate of two tandem teams—one male one female—who’d crashed on the bike course. I’d heard the mens team wreck close to the railroad tracks and on one of our laps Zack had seen the women on the ground to the side of the course. The male team who crashed were our friends David and Tim, the South Africans. Tim, the guide, had some scrapes but David appeared ok. They’d been able to get up off the pavement, finish the bike and finish the race. The female team wasn’t so lucky. We later heard that an ambulance had to be called to take both the guide and athlete, from New Zealand, to the hospital. No one was sure if the crashes had happened due to the lack of mats across the railroad tracks, or if they’d been caused by something else. Nevertheless it’s never good when competitors crash and even less so when some participants are significantly hurt or injured.

The podium ceremony was delayed a couple of hours while judges reviewed times, splits and official finishes across all the sport classes. Zack and I indulged in some beer we’d found as well as a delicious pile of French fries, cheese, bacon and sausage. We cheered on as many of our USA Teammates into the finish as we could. My fellow resident teammates, Melissa and Kendall had strong races, with Melissa getting a win in the female PTS2 class and Kendall locking up a second place finish by less than 20 seconds in the female PTWC class.

The race organizers attempted to make the podium ceremony more lively by handing out bottles of sparkling apple juice to the podium finishers to shake and spray. Naturally they miscounted the number of bottles they’d need and the male PTVI class was the last podium to be presented. So Antoine, occupying the top step of the podium was the only one to get a bottle of the fizzy sticky drink. He shook it and definitely livened things up when he released his finger from the top of the bottle. Zack got a chest and face full and I also got the right side of my face drenched. We laughed and then Antoine passed the bottle around for each of us VI male finishers to take a swig. We congratulated each other on a great race but I knew I hadn’t performed up to my expectations.

We returned to the hotel, cleaned up, and packed up the bike. Then we grabbed dinner at a pizza restaurant with the rest of Team USA and I did my best not to analyze the race too much. After all, I had a chance at redemption as I’d be racing the following week at the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. So I took a deep breath and put my disappointment for yet another second place out of my mind for the time being.

Magog Paratriathlon World Cup Male PTVI Results

  1. Antoine Perel: 1hr 2min 3sec
  2. Kyle Coon: 1hr 2min 34sec
  3. Thibaut Rigaudeau: 1hr 2min 40sec

Six Months In

Six Months In

“Who wants it more? You or Brad?!” Derick yelled. My brain was foggy, sweat poured off me like I was my own personal rain cloud. I could feel the sweat pooling in my shoes and the shoe inserts beginning to bunch up at my toes. But Derick had said the magic words. I was already running at a sub 6 minute per mile pace but I knew that if I wanted there to be no doubt that I belonged on the Team that USA Triathlon selected for Tokyo next year I needed to push even harder. So with my heart thundering in my ears, my muscles screaming and my lungs burning, I cranked the treadmill speed up again. 5:30/mi, 5:15/mi, 5:00/mi, 4:52/mi…

“The Elite Paratriathlon Selection Committee can not decide who the better athlete is at this time and so they’ve elected to go with the athlete who’s points allow easier access into the top 12 in the world.”

“Bull shit!” I wanted to scream, but couldn’t since I was sitting on a bus riding back from Denver to Colorado Springs after having run a successful BolderBoulder 10K. I’d literally sat down in my seat and opened up my email and had gone from an immediate high to a crushing low.

Currently there are three of us in the American Male Visually Impaired Ranks who are battling it out for the opportunity to represent the United States in Tokyo 2020. Our top Male VI athlete—Aaron Scheidies–is recovering from injury and therefore it’s up to myself and Brad Snyder to pick up as many points as possible and get as highly ranked as possible in the world to ensure multiple slots at the world championship and multiple slots in the top 9 of the Paralympic Rankings. Given my performance at the CAMTRI American Championship where I’d taken 2nd to Aaron Scheidies by just 1 min 37 seconds, and where I finished 2 minutes and 34 seconds ahead of Brad it was decided that I would get the first World Paratriathlon Series start in Milan, Italy. I went to Italy and raced to a 3rd place finish—it turns out much to the surprise of everyone except myself and my coach. The only two guys to finish ahead of me were the guys who’d taken 1st and 3rd at the 2018 World Championship. So the only people to beat me in the 2019 season was the podium from 2018 Worlds—Dave Ellis, Aaron Scheidies, Hector Catala Laparra… I was feeling pretty good.

Brad was given the opportunity to race at the next World Paratriathlon Series Event in Yokohama, Japan. Brad was able to race to a 3rd place finish as well against a field that lacked anyone from the 2018 World Championship Podium. So I felt that I’d raced better against a stronger field so was confident I’d get the call to toe the start line in Montreal for the third installment of the World Paratriathlon Series. Not only that but I was on a very steep trajectory and if everything played out right I could improve on my 3rd place finish and begin collecting points for the Paralympic rankings which would open up on June 28, the same day as Montreal. Those hopes were crushed when USA Triathlon decided to send Brad Snyder to Montreal instead.

I was frustrated and bewildered. How could USA Triathlon say they didn’t know who the better athlete was? I’d decisively beaten Brad in consecutive races and had made the 2018 World Championship Podium finishers work their butts off to catch me thereby making them really earn their places ahead of me. After 48 hours of stewing over the “decision” and meeting with my coach and a USA Triathlon official who explained the decision further, I decided to just put my head down and train even harder. It wasn’t the first time I’d been doubted and it won’t be the last.

The Decision Explained

To the best of my knowledge here’s how to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the sport of Paratriathlon. Beginning on June 28, 2019, races will begin counting toward a separate Paralympic Ranking. The races that are eligible to be used as points collectors are the World Championship (valued at 700 points for 1st place), the World Paratriathlon Series Events (valued at 550 points for 1st place), the Continental Championships (valued at 500 points for 1st place) and the Paratriathlon World Cups (valued at 450 points for 1st place). How you get into each of these races is based on your World Ranking. The Paralympic Rankings will close on June 28, 2020. In the span of that 12 months we have the chance to race at these various races. Our top three races will be added together to get our Paralympic Ranking. The top 9 in the Paralympic Rankings will qualify slots for their country but no country can receive more than two qualifying slots. So even if the United States had three athletes ranked in the top 9 of the Paralympic Rankings, the US would only be allotted two slots. The USA can then decide to whom those two slots go.

The International Triathlon Union (ITU) has decided to have a 12 man field at the World Championships this year for the Visually Impaired category. Since World Championships are worth the most points in the Paralympic Rankings, USA Triathlon decided to try and get either Brad or myself into the top 12 in the world so we’d be assured two slots at Worlds and therefore have a good chance at finishing the 2019 season with two athletes ranked in the top 9 of the Paralympic Rankings. Then in early 2020 USA Triathlon will ensure that the best Visually Impaired Triathletes face off in a race and at that point it will be mano-e-mano and the top two athletes at that point will get the full support of USAT to ensure we both go to the games.

So how do I make sure I’m one of those two that goes to the games? Train hard, race harder, and rise to the occasion.

Six Months into this journey of being a full time ITU Paratriathlete, living and training at the Olympic/Paralympic Training Center, I’ve experienced some extreme highs (including two podium finishes and some truly unbelievable workouts where I pushed myself to new levels) and crushing lows (being left off the team that traveled to Montreal for the first opportunity to collect points toward Tokyo Qualification as well as some truly horrific workouts that left me broken and questioning why I’m doing this to myself).

It has been a learning experience managing the load and stress of training, knowing when to push hard and when to throttle back. When I need a break and when I need to just suck it up.

It was barely two weeks after USAT had made their decision regarding Montreal that I needed a mental break. I’d been hammering away for five months doing nothing but eat, sleep and train. I’d done little else but think about triathlon, run calculations on what it would take for me to get into the top 12 in the World Ranking; what paces I’d need to hold to ensure I finish ahead of the best triathletes in the world… And that stress was beginning to catch up with me. I struggled and fought through every workout trying to complete them perfectly only to fall short. My swimming in particular seemed to be reverting back to beginner level. Immediately after racing in Milan I was effortlessly gliding through the water at speeds I would’ve considered impossible a year before, now I struggled to hold the paces I’d held when I first moved to the training center in January.

I needed to get away and not think about triathlon for a couple of days, even just 24 hours would be a big relief. Fortunately the opportunity presented itself. A friend invited me for a weekend camping trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Having heard that the dunes were an amazing experience and not having camped in about six years I leaped at the chance. And I got my wish. While triathlon lingered at the back of my mind for about 36 hours I blissfully focused on running barefoot through hot sand, splashing in icy cold river water and enjoying a camp stove cup of coffee early in the morning. Tension that had gathered seemed to slowly melt away as I finally realized that my 2020 hopes weren’t over. I knew in my soul that I’m one of the two best triathletes in the country and when given the opportunity I’ll prove that I’m one of the best in the world.

Granted it’s not just me on this journey. I’ve received nothing but support from my friends and family as I pursue what really amounts to a very selfish pursuit. In particular I have to give my guide, Zack Goodman, some mad props for being so incredibly patient with me as I struggle with the highs and lows of this profession. Zack has been at times motivator, voice of reason, frustration sounding board, and ultimately a friend. Whereas I’ve just primarily been a premadonna pain in the ass ITU triathlete 🙂

Between Zack and my coach, Derick Williamson, I’ve reached heights in the triathlon world I’d only fantasized about before now. And as they both continually remind me, the hard work is just getting started. I may be six months into this journey, but we have a long way to go on this road to Tokyo. So stay tuned because if there have been highs and lows in these first six months I can’t wait to see what the next six months bring!

2019 Six Month Statistics

Swim: 369762 yards (338100 meters)

Bike: 2250 miles (3620 kilometers)

Run: 526 miles (846.5 kilometers)

Races: 2

Podiums: 2 (2nd Place at American Continental Championships; 3rd at World Paratriathlon Series Milan)

Next Race: July 13, 2019 Magog Paratriathlon World Cup, Magog, Canada

BolderBoulder Quick Race Report

BolderBoulder 10K Race Report

May 27, 2019

Boulder, Colorado

10K (6.2 mi) Run

Banana, bagel, peanut butter, coffee, bottle of Nuun… “Why are you bouncing around?” Dani asked as I finished my 5 AM breakfast while my legs, arms, mouth and body in general were all in constant motion.

“Race day jitters,” I said.

No matter the race or distance there’s always a little extra jitter on race morning. 5K, Ironman, or ITU Sprint… Doesn’t matter, a race is a race. And BolderBoulder was one of those races where I was both excited to break the monotony of training as well as burn off nervous anxiety regarding whether I’d get into my next ITU race in Montreal.

From High to Low

The first week of training back at the OTC after my best performance in an ITU race looked like I was ready to catapult to a whole new level. I was swimming faster with far less effort, my cycling power continued to rise, and holding a sub 7 min per mile pace was suddenly easy. At least for the first few times. Then throw in some unscheduled travel for my grandfather’s funeral, beginning a new strength training block, increasing the volume of swim/bike/run and a little—ok maybe a lot—of anxiety of whether I’d be racing in Montreal at the end of June and the last couple of weeks have not been as positive despite my attempt at a positive attitude toward my training.

Swims where only a couple of weeks before I was averaging 1:30/100m I was now struggling to swim 1:45/100m. Run paces that seemed easy are now almost impossible. And my heart rate is WAY too high for the amount of watts I’m producing. Am I distracted? Or am I thinking too much about ITU and triathlon in general? I needed something to get me away from the OTC and focus my energies toward a race. Fortunately, just such an event existed right up the road in Boulder.

I hadn’t done a stand alone road race in more than a year. My last road race was the 2018 Boston Marathon, and prior to that I hadn’t done a stand alone road race since the Sopris Runoff 4 Miler in Carbondale in July 2017. So I was long overdo to test my pure running legs. So I texted my buddy and Ironman Arizona 2018 guide Alan asking for a guide recommendation. He put me in touch with one of his athletes who was a very solid runner and who had guided my buddy Michael Stone on some runs before. Dan drove down from Boulder just four days before we were scheduled to race BolderBoulder. We weren’t about to jump into a massive crowd without running together first. We cruised on some of the running trails in Colorado Springs while Dan and I got used to each other’s running styles and what type of communication we could use. I run very differently depending on with whom I’m running. There are a certain few select people that have guided me who are so flawless that I don’t have to run with them for months or years and we can pick up right where we left off. Other guides want to give too much information, others don’t give enough. Some give information that seems important but that is really quite trivial. Guiding a totally blind runner is also a very physically and mentally taxing ordeal. Your running gait changes and your stress levels go through the roof without you noticing it.

My coach wanted me to really “race” BolderBoulder and was worried that I couldn’t find a guide fast enough to keep up with me. However I know myself too well and knew that even if I found someone who could easily run a sub 35 min 10K that wasn’t necessarily going to translate into them being a good guide for me. I wanted to do well, but I wasn’t trying to qualify for the 10K in the Paralympics—I don’t even know if there is a 10K event that I could participate in at the Paralympic level. I was a triathlete looking to have fun and push myself a little in a fun event. I set myself a goal time of 40-42 min just to have something to shoot for. And when I ran with Dan for the first time I knew we’d make that goal easily. More than that though we were both easygoing and laughed freely and got along. Sure we talked about primarily running, triathlon, making fun of Alan… but I tried to impress upon Dan that I wasn’t very concerned with setting any records. All I had to do for a personal best in the 10K was break 48 minutes. Yes, I wanted to shoot for sub 40 minutes but it wasn’t going to crush me if I didn’t meet that. This race really was just fun for me. Plus I felt I needed to get out of Colorado Springs for a couple days.

A Mental Break

Saturday morning dawned just like any other, except that I’d be bound for Boulder that afternoon to spend time with one of my newest friends, Danielle (or Dani) and her family. Dani also happened to be pushing me in my writing, especially of the book that I perpetually keep picking up and putting down since I never think my story is truly good enough to tell in book form.

So I cranked out my bike and run work out first thing in the morning and then Dani drove down to both give me a ride to her house as well as do a little work in discussing scope, theme and target audience for my book. Then from that time until Monday after the race I hardly thought about triathlon unless I was directly asked about it. I just had fun being in the moment, getting to know Dani and her family better. It was a blast trying to best Dani’s kids in games of Uno and trying to explain the concept of Texas Hold’em to them. We had many great games of Uno over the next couple of days…. Texas Hold’em? Not so much. It was also great fun watching Skye, my guide dog, attempt to make friends with Dani’s mom’s dog—a 15 year old, blind dog about the quarter of the size of Skye. Skye would go up to sniff Corky and Corky would whirl around and bark like crazy, but because he couldn’t see where Skye was he often wound up turned around barking in the complete opposite direction. We laughed hysterically imagining Corky as some grumpy old “get off my lawn” kind of guy, whereas Skye was the mischievous/fun loving punk.

On Sunday I accompanied Dani and her daughter to a horseback riding lesson. Fun fact that not many people know about me, I love horses and most farm/ranch animals. My first horseback riding experience came on a dude ranch in Montana only a month before I lost my right eye. I loved riding through the brilliantly colored trees, seeing the vivid blue sky overhead with fluffy white clouds, and the vibrant colors of a triple rainbow after a rainstorm. I remember the green snowcapped mountains rising to meet the sky and those images all have stuck with me the past 21 years or so.

After going blind I didn’t have many opportunities to ride horses or hang out with ranch animals but when I did I enjoyed every second of it and my memories of just before I lost my sight came back to me. Those thoughts and feelings were really reinvigorated when I worked as a summer camp counselor at Sanborn Western Camps in 2011. I’d become friendly with our ranch manager and all of the ranglers and they thought it was crazy that no one had ever let me just ride on account that the horse would run away or accidentally throw me. (Every time I’d ridden before it had been in extremely controlled safe conditions in an arena or while someone else was holding my horses reigns. So it wasn’t as fulfilling as when I’d been six years old riding an appaloosa through the mountains of Montana.) So several days throughout the course of that summer the ranglers invited me to just come ride with them. I learned how to lope and how to just work with the horse. I also spent a bit of time feeding the horses and just spending time with them.

So it was great to hang out with Dani while we watched her daughter learn some of the same things I’d learned while riding horses in the mountains of Montana and Colorado. The nervousness manifesting to joy once she got the hang of cantering was pretty special. But I was here to run a race and I still had to pick up my race packet. So Dani and I headed to the expo that Sunday afternoon to get my bib and T-shirt and to also meet up with Dan so he and I could get an easy 40 minute run in.

Race Day

Dan and I were in the second wave of runners. Dani, who was also running, was in a later wave so she planned to just hang out at the start line until her start time. We parked at Dan’s town house which was conveniently just a little more than half a mile from the start line. Dan and I jogged over as a little warm up and got into our start corral. Just before getting into the corral I saw a couple friends from the Springs who’d come up to race as well, so that gave me a bit of a boost. My heart was thumping with excitement and I was just giddy to race. The gun went off and we started running.

The start area was crowded. It felt like we were running so slow as we tried to dart around people looking for a clear path. There was no real clear path though and we’d have to deal with a crowded race course virtually the entire 6.2 miles. I’d run numerous races ranging from 5Ks to Ironmans. I’d run the Boston Marathon twice, the Disney Marathon twice, and BolderBoulder was just as, or maybe even more, crowded as any race I’d done. Dan and I had to run tight, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow and weave in and around as many people as we could.

A few times the crowd seemed to disperse a little and I cold drift away from Dan allowing the tether to become tight allowing me more room to relax my shoulders and get my arm swing and leg turn over back to race pace. We had a couple of close calls with fellow runners. One runner stopped and started walking directly in front of us causing Dan to react and quickly grab my wrist and pull me to the right to get around her so she wouldn’t become snared by the tether. Several other runners got the misfortune of getting their heels run on as we came up on them. Sorry folks, no hard feelings I hope.

It was exciting running with the crowd, despite it being stressful. The energy of a race is something that is incredibly infectious. Every mile or so there was a band or music playing. There were people cheering and urging runners on. As far as my physical ability? The first 5K seemed to pass by in a blur. It felt so easy and it wasn’t until mile four that I felt I was really working hard. From a physical standpoint my legs and lungs didn’t hurt nearly as much as other races, but I was mentally fatiguing as we wove around people and I had to concentrate extra hard when we ran through an area of loud noise. I could tell that Dan too was stressing a little about the crowds and a couple other little obstacles in the road. So I tried to keep the mood light and just smile. After all, I was genuinely enjoying myself. I honestly had no idea what pace we were running, but it felt maintainable and I was just happy to be running outside with a new friend and running guide.

With about a quarter mile left in the race we hit the biggest hill on the course. One of the really cool things about BolderBoulder is that it finishes inside Fulsom Field, home of the University of Colorado Buffaloes. It is a bit of a booger to get up into the stadium but the visual once you’re inside is pretty epic from what I’ve been told. The hill was longer and steeper than any I’d run up in quite a while so my breathing became labored and when I get tired I tend to run with my feet a bit closer to the ground. Dan was also working hard and focusing on getting us around a couple more people. So I don’t think I heard his mention of the timing mat part way up the hill. So I stumbled a bit killing my uphill momentum, but didn’t eat pavement so all’s well. We crested the hill shortly after my little stumble and then plunged downhill into the stadium and onto the field. The field was protected by this uneven and very slippery covering so I ran the last 300 meters or so cautiously thinking it would be a really bad look to slip and fall in sight of the finish line. We crossed the finish line 41 minutes and 57 seconds averaging 6 minutes and 46 seconds per mile. It was a new personal 10K best for me and physically I felt I could’ve run a whole lot longer. I turned to Dan and hugged him, thanking him for sacrificing his own race to guide me. “Next year, let’s break 40,” I said. Then it was off to celebrate with friends and fellow runners.

The Aftermath

We tracked down Alan, who guided our buddy Michael Stone. Then we all headed to breakfast since the crowd inside the stadium was getting bigger and bigger and we all just wanted to hang out and shoot the shit. Dani also ran her best 10K time and joined us as soon as she could after finishing. Then it was back to Dani’s house for one more afternoon and evening of relaxing, playing with the dogs, a couple fierce games of Uno with the kids before it was time for me to head back to Colorado Springs the next day.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling refreshed and not like I’d raced a 10K the day before. My mind felt clear and I was eager to get back to the training center and attack my next block of workouts. “What’ve you got for me Derick? Bring it on! I can’t wait to crush some hopes and dreams in Montreal as I climb the rankings.” Were just a few of my thoughts as Dani dropped me off at the bus that would take me back to the Springs. I got Skye settled under my feet, connected my phone to the bus’s WiFi network and opened up my e-mail…

What was in that e-mail? I guess you’ll have to come back to find out when I put up my next post. So stay tuned until then.


Not Your Average Joe

Not Your Average Joe

In Memory of Joseph Paluch: February 28, 1932-April 30, 2019

A couple weeks ago my Grandpa Joe passed away after a long and fulfilling life. This past weekend I attended his funeral and spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what I learned from my grandpa. I wasn’t always the best at keeping in touch with him or any of my extended family (shoot I struggle to call my parents and sisters on a regular basis). The time I did spend with my grandpa however, helped to shape me as a person and an athlete.

My grandpa was born in the early 1930s, toward the beginning of the Great Depression. His parents were Polish immigrants and Joe was the youngest of 13 children. The Paluchs lived and worked on the south side of Chicago. I believe they were all factory workers. My grandpa grew up in a strict household which also overflowing with love and care. When WWII came around, several of Grandpa’s brothers joined the military and served in Europe. After all, WWII began with the invasion of their homeland, Poland. Initially during WWII, US citizens all came together to massively support the war efforts in Europe and the Pacific. The war helped bring us out of the depression and create a generation of hard working, passionate, and patriotic Americans.

In the late 40s, Grandpa was in high school and played sports such as basketball and baseball. I distinctly remember him being proud of his high school athletic career. His basketball team had a couple of future NBA players on it. Grandpa saved an article from a Chicago newspaper telling about how Joseph Paluch pitched a 1 hit shut out during the 1950 high school baseball season. Supposedly Gramps was drafted by the Chicago Whitesox and offered the opportunity to play in one of their Minor League organizations. However, he didn’t take the opportunity instead electing to go into the Airforce and serve his country during the Korean Conflict.

After that I really don’t know much about my grandpa’s life until my Mom’s memories of him begin and even those are just snippets and fragments. I know my grandpa was a disciplinarian and liked organization. He pushed his kids to not just be theirbest, but to be thebest. I remember him reflecting with my mom saying “You know Annie, you were a great golfer in your early teens, but you could’ve been a pro if you’d just practiced more and worked at it a little harder.” My mom did go on to be a distinguished student in school and was enrolled at Arizona State University before meeting and marrying my dad.

I knew my grandpa was a very successful businessman. He was the President of Fulton County Cold Storage in Chicago, and served as the President of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehousing. When Dad got out of the Marine Corps he was planning to work for United Airlines but United went into a hiring freeze and Grandpa Joe offered him a work opportunity. That opportunity?…Cleaning toilets and doing other maintenance tasks around Fulton.

Grandpa didn’t believe in handouts. He believed in “hand ups”–helping out family by giving them a chance, but they needed to earn their own way. That’s what happened: my dad scrubbed toilets and worked in the engine room at Fulton County Cold Storage until one day an employee passed away from a heart attack. Grandpa needed someone to step into this logistics role and offered the opportunity to Dad. He took it and moved his way up. My grandpa taught my dad a lot about business in those early couple of years at Fulton so when Dad was offered an opportunity to manage a chain of Cold Storage warehouses in Florida, Grandpa encouraged him to take the opportunity and make the best life possible for his family.

Over the next several years grandpa was involved in our lives. He and his first wife (my Grandma Dorothy) helped out where they could as my parents dealt with numerous hospital visits for the first six years of my life. They didn’t smother us. Grandma and Grandpa had more of a “be with each other in the moment attitude” rather than a “be involved with everything attitude.”

It was around this time that I started developing my own memories of my grandpa. He could be stern and strict, but he was also fun. He loved playing card games with us kids. Early on it was things like Go Fish and Uno. Once we got to be teenagers the games changed to Gin and Gin Rummy. The most memorable thing about Grandpa was his competitiveness. I couldn’t beat him in a game of cards until I reached my teens when I finally bested him at a game of gin. Every time he won a game he had this little victory song he’d sing. As little kids we hated it. “Grandpa, that’s not fair. You should let us win because we’re kids. This isn’t fun.”

“Of course it’s not fun,” Grandpa would say as he munched away at a Louigie’s Italian ice, “Winning is fun! And someday you’ll beat me and you can sing the victory song and you’ll realize that.” The day did eventually come for all of us grandkids whether it was in a game of cards or a board game. We all eventually beat Grandpa at least once, but we had to bust our butts for years to do it. When we did win, we sang that victory song with gusto and realized that Grandpa was right… Winning is fun – when you earn it.

That lesson in particular has defined my athletic career. There are some who’ve asked me why I’m so hard on myself when I take 2nd or 3rd in a race. “That’s an incredible result,” they say. Or, “as long as you’re having fun, nothing else matters.” If you’d grown up doing everything you could to beat your Grandpa at Gin, you might understand. Grandpa taught that lesson to a lot of people and everyone has their own “winning is fun” story, but Grandpa taught us a lot more than the value of winning.

The want to win certainly taught me the value of perseverance and persistence. It also taught me the value of good sportsmanship because after the first time I beat Grandpa in cards I definitely rubbed his big Polish nose in it. He then proceeded to absolutely obliterate me in every card game for a long time. I eventually learned how to both win and lose a little more gracefully and not toot my own horn when I did win (most of the time at least).

Grandpa also taught me the value of family. Grandpa Joe wasn’t always physically present in our lives but he was always a phone call away and when we visited him in Naples, Fla or he came to Jacksonville to visit, it was like no one else mattered.

In 1999, my Grandma Dorothy passed away from colon cancer and in 2004 Grandpa Joe married a wonderful Italian American woman named Roz. To this day Nanna Roz still makes the best Chicken Parmesan I’ve ever had—and that includes what I’ve had at high-end Italian restaurants, as well as my mom’s own chicken parm which follows the exact same recipe as Nanna’s, but still doesn’t compare.

Roz softened Grandpa up as he got older. He became a much more fun loving and easygoing man. As I grew up I enjoyed sitting at the table listening to Grandpa reminisce about days at Fulton and how proud he was of my mom and dad for doing so well with the opportunities they’d made for themselves. He was always quick to tell us all when we made him proud.

It was through my Grandpa Joe that I got my biggest speaking engagement—the 2004 International Association of Refrigerated Warehousing International Convention. I was 12 years old and had spoken at some Rotary Clubs and American Cancer Society Board meetings and events. I’d spoken in front of schools and churches, but nothing compared to speaking in front of nearly 1000 business professionals, many of whom English wasn’t their first language. Fortunately I didn’t have to give the speech alone. My dad was going to anchor the keynote presentation. I got the first 30 minutes (the event organizers thought 60 minutes was a bit much to ask of a 12 year old boy) and Dad would tie everything back to business for the last 30 minutes. The topic on which Dad and I chose to talk was “Values”.

As a kid I vaguely understood the importance of having a value system, but I wasn’t an expert. I knew that family was important; hard work yielded results; it was always better in the long run to be honest; trust in people and yourself is critical to success; staying humble will yield more rewards than bragging; showing respect made others respect you; and so much more. Nearly 15 years after that speech, the value topics I barely understood are more prevalent in my life. Those values are what has molded me into the person I am. I think many of those values were the very same ones my Grandpa lived his life by and passed on to his children and grandchildren.

Some might say that you have to be cut throat, nasty, or a jerk to truly be successful and make a lot of money – only the average people bother with that moral compass shit. My Grandpa wasn’t an average Joe yet he proved that sticking to your core values will help you become successful in business and life. I will continue to live my life based on the values my Grandpa Joe exemplified. This is how I will honor his memory.