Learning to suffer

CyclocrossMy son is racing on his school cyclocross team this fall. While he’s been cycling for a few years, this is his first time racing, and first time racing ‘cross. He’s been participating in some kind of sport since he was 5 or 6, but it isn’t until racing cyclocross that I’ve seen him take giant steps from being a boy to becoming a man.

My wife and I have strongly encouraged (almost to the point of forcing him) to participate in sports since he was barely able to walk because we believe so strongly that over the course of his lifetime this participation will serve him far more than he can understand now. He’s currently 14 and I’m guessing like many parents of teenagers there is a common perception that their son or daughter is complacent and too many times taking the easy route. I know in many ways that’s the way I was as a 14-year old and in some instances I see this with my own son.

However, what I also see, thanks to the sport of cyclocross, is that he is learning how to suffer. And I say that in the most positive way possible. I see him pushing himself in what is a very challenging sport and digging deeper than I’ve ever seen, to the point where he has felt sick to his stomach after some races from the effort he put out. Maybe that makes me a bad parent to encourage that type of effort and be happy in some ways to see him suffering, but I know from personal experience that he will have a more fulling life as a result of having these experiences at such an impressionable age.

Part of the reason my wife and I have so strongly encouraged his participation in sport is to help teach and reinforce the trait of perseverance.  How does he react when he thinks he can’t go any harder or push himself any further, yet of his own accord finds the internal drive to push that extra bit further or go just a little bit harder. It’s these single moments in time we want to give him internal points of reference to access not only while he’s racing bikes, but when he’s facing challenging parts of his life outside of sport.

As much as we don’t want to see our kids suffer, we are learning as parents that giving them a chance to experience that struggle will benefit them in the long run.

The Pendulum

Golden Back to Basics CX RaceI suspect most age grouper endurance athletes go through a pendulum like experience with their training and racing. In the past twelve months I’ve experienced the largest pendulum swing yet.

A little over a year ago, for the first time ever, I ran 50 kilometers.  It was one of those bucket list endurance things on my list. Mostly what made it possible was that for the 7 months prior to that day I was living on my own 2,000 miles away from my family while we were in the process of relocating to Colorado. It gave me plenty of time to train as I tried to keep busy during lots of lonely weekends.

After many months of sacrifice being away, my family we were finally reunited full time this June. This has obviously been great for our family as we’ve spent some wonderful time together over the summer and fall. Lots of hiking, biking and just hanging out at the house (with our new addition, Gus)!

What has not happened is any kind of regular training and racing since completing my first ultra run (except for a half marathon and my first cyclocross race). My CTL is taking a nose dive while my TSB is shooting through the roof (for my non TrainingPeaks readers this means my fitness is dropping not good!).

Performance management chart from 9-11 thru 10-12

Now that the back to school routine is in a good groove it’s time to get back on track. Even though it may mean a little less time with the family, both my wife and son agree that I’m a much better person to be around when I’m training and racing. Not to mention the forced efficiency in time management helps me to actually get more done with less time. This might sound weird but I think my endurance sports friends would agree with me.

One of the biggest drivers is that I got into endurance sports primarily because of my son. At almost 250 pounds 15 years ago, learning of a son who was on the way sparked the drive to get in shape. Then after getting hooked on triathlon, being a good role model for my son on living an active lifestyle was the driver that led to several marathons, half-ironmans and (almost two) Ironmans.

So this off-season actually marks the beginning of my planning for next season….stay tuned, the off-season is over!

USA Pro Cycling Challenge

It’s been two months since my last posting here, but my absence has been for a good reason. Work has been a crazy flash for the past two month and I was fortunate enough to attend the USA Pro Cycling Challenge from the perspective of a sponsor.

TrainingPeaks made a major splash as the official race analysis software which included seven days of expo space in seven beautiful locations throughout Colorado, two wrapped vehicles that were part of the race caravan and more cool experiences than I could describe in a reasonable length blog post.

So, rather than write a 5,000 word blog post, I’ll let the pictures and video give some some small insight into what an incredible week it was that capped off a couple of months of preparation.

 

 

One of the highlights to the week was an impromptu interview I gave while in Vail.

 

Bolder Boulder 2011 Race Report

I wasn’t planning on doing a race report for Bolder Boulder but I was motivated after reading a friend and co-worker’s report. Reading Melissa’s report reminded me that it was more than just a 10k race, but a unique experience I was fortunate to participate in with around 55,000 other runners.

Before the experience I was very skeptical of how the organizers were going to get that many people through a 6 mile course without it feeling too crowded and like I couldn’t set my own pace (not that I was setting any records after an unplanned two week break from training). Well, apparently after putting this race on for 32 years they learned a few things and for the most part everything about the race was a smooth experience.

Registration

The organization and logistics started with the registration process. Like many large races the start is separated into waves based on expected pace.  The first smart thing the race organizers did was require proof of pace – not something I had seen before in a 10k race.  The qualifying race to prove your pace had to be within a year, or, you could qualify for a wave by running on a treadmill at the Bolder Boulder store, a retail storefront that served as a pick up point for race packets and merchandise.

The second cool thing about registration was the option to donate your race t-shirt to charity.  As my wife will attest, I have more race shirts than I can use, so I thought this was a great idea to help benefit charity.

Pre-Race

Boulder is a good size city but there is no way for 55,000 runners and their spectators to park within walking distance to the start or finish. There looked to be a thorough shuttle system going and I saw many people biking to the start (hey this is Boulder after all!). However, I was fortunate to have a friend who live a few miles from race start so I made the not so brilliant decision to park there and run to the start.  The problem was it wasn’t the couple of miles I expected, it was 4 miles.

In between the four mile run to the start and the start of the 6 mile race I still had to pick up my race packet (note to self – sign up for pre-race day packet pickup for future races).  It took about 40 minutes in line to get my race packet, leaving me about six minutes to put on my number and timing chip, run to the start before my wave started.  Standing in line for 40 minutes after a four mile warm up made for a rough first mile.

Race Time

The actual race experience was fantastic. It had everything from live music, to belly dancers, to neighborhood residents cranking tunes, to Colorado University students drinking beer (and offering it to any runner who would partake) and the slip ‘n slide that seemed to be the hit of the runners! The finish was a CU’s Folsom Field, a 53,000 seat stadium for the football team, which was already packed with people when I finished, and only got fuller as more racers finished and made their way to the stands to meet family and friends.

Post Race

After the race I met up with co-workers from TrainingPeaks who had also done the race and took in the spectacle of the experience.  One of most memorable moments was watching a group of Marines come running in formation with the front two holding a US and Marine Corps flag (remember the race was on Memorial Day).

As more and more people saw the tight formation dresssed in green running through the chaos the cheers started building until just before the finish when the Marines stopped and did several pushups, still in formation. At that point the crowd eruped and it gave me the chills.

Thankfully I didn’t have to run back to my friends house as they were kind enough to come pick me up and I enjoyed a beer and veggie burger at the afternoon barbcue.  One thing I’ll change about next year is to stay to watch the men’s and women’s pro race (four of the top five men finished in under 30 minutes!), see the military jets fly over at Noon and see the parachutist drop into the stadium.

Oh, and find a way to pick up my race packet before race day.

Letter to my Son

Letter to my sonAlmost six months ago our family decided to take advantage of an incredible work opportunity at TrainingPeaks. With the whole family being life long New Englanders, moving 2,000 miles to Colorado was a tough decision. The tougher decision was to live apart for several months (with lots of short and long visits) to accommodate work and school situations.

The following is a letter I wrote to my almost teenage Son to give him some perspective on what he as an individual could choose to take away from the situation. It is a letter I revisit myself frequently because it contains many foundational beliefs I hope to have for the rest of my life.

One of the ways I hope to stay connected with you in the coming year besides phone and video is by email.  I’ll have more time to write while I’m in Colorado and want to continue passing along what lessons I can even though we may be physically separated.

The first thing I want to do is give you some perspective on why we decided to make this move. I consider my two most important jobs to be 1. the best husband and 2. the best father I can which has made deciding on this move one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to consider. I sometimes still question whether being away from you and Mom is the best move for our family but we believe with all the information we have it’s the right thing to do.

You may be tired of hearing me say this but I’ll tell you again that we all have a choice as to how we react to this (and any) situation. I want to share my perspective on the lessons I’m choosing to learn from this in hopes it helps you choose how to react to it.

Made a decision and go full out – While talking to my Dad about this move, one of the things he said to me that helped clarify things is that we’ll never have all the information we need to make the decision. But, once a decision is made, go for it. Now that we’ve made this decision, let’s take full advantage of it. Make new friends, explore new places, try new things.

Step outside of your comfort zone – Your Mom and I have lived in the same area (NH or Massachusetts) for our entire lives. Moving outside of this area is going to make all of us uncomfortable at times. To some that may be a bad thing but trust us when we tell you that in the long run it will be a great thing. Remember the voicemail that Grandpa left you from the top of the mountain in Colorado? What I remember from it is he told you to persevere through the apprehension and anxiety because on the other side are incredible opportunities. I say the bigger the anxiety the bigger the opportunities!

Pursue your passions – One of the biggest things I hope as a Dad you learn from all this is what I’m trying to do by leading by example – pursuing a passion. If you can find something that you are passionate about doing every day, it won’t seem like work. I see this kind of passion in you with basketball (and even video games!). I feel so strongly about this opportunity at Peaksware that it has led to lots of difficult decisions being made about our move. But in the end, the goal is that both Mom and I can be doing something we love and believe in, while also doing the best thing for the one thing that we both love more than anything else, you.

Don’t settle – I can guarantee you that if you can learn how to expect more of yourself than anyone else, you’ll have an incredibly happy and fulfilling life. I know it is a hard thing to get in the habit of doing, especially at 12 (almost 13!) but I promise you the rewards are well worth the effort. Mom and I are so persistent in communicating this to you because of how much we love you and want you to have a happy and fulfilling life.

It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we do it together – Even though we’ll be separated for chunks of time over the next year, and then in a new place for all of us, we are doing it as a family.  Thankfully, technology makes the world a smaller place and I know we’ll find a way to stay connected despite the distance. Being part of the family means communicating and helping each other when there are tough times. There will be tough times over the next year as well as incredibly happy times. Make sure you are communicating to us about all of them and I promise to do the same with you and Mom.

I love you kiddo.

Dad

Getting some questions answered

A week after having a small stroke I was back in the hospital (this time a scheduled appointment versus an ER visit!) for a follow up test known as a Transesophogial Echocardiogram (aka TEE). The goal of the test is to get a better view of the Patent Formamen Ovale (PFO) in my heart and determine if

  • Should I have it closed – much of what I’ve been told is that the research doesn’t show a decreased chance of additional strokes whether a PFO is closed or not.
  • Is it something more than a PFO
  • The regular Echocardiogram showed the right side of my heart may be bigger than the left. The TEE would give a better look if this was actually the case, and if so, why.

The TEE is an outpatient procedure that involves putting a camera down your throat to get a picture from the back/side of your heart. I had a TEE done several years ago when my PFO was first diagnosed but I must have blocked from the experience from my memory because reading the authorization form and all of dangers was freaking me out a little. Just before the procedure was to begin the Tech came in and sprayed a numbing agent on my throat while we waited for the Cardiologist to arrive.

The Tech was a Colorado native so we had a short chat about some of his favorite hiking and mountain biking spots. Thankfully he did most of the talking because I was having a hard time swallowing, much less talking, as my throat started to numb. Thankfully my family had made the trip from NH because as much as I tried to remember what was going on around me, once the sedative was put into my IV, I was out. I needed my wife to fill me in with what the Doctor said after it was all over.

After the sedative started the procedure only took about 20 minutes. Once it was over I slept for about an hour after which I was finally allowed to eat. It was about 1:30 at this point and my last meal was 9:30 the previous evening. I couldn’t tell if the food was any good, just that I was finally able to eat.After eating and more sleeping the nurse took me on a couple of loops around the hospital ward to make sure the sedative had worn off, and I was released.

The results: it is a PFO, and the concern about the enlarged atrium size ended up being consistent with the PFO. The answer that I don’t have yet is whether or not to have the PFO closed. There are still more conversations to have and research to do before making that decision. Thankfully it is not an invasive procedure but it is not a decision I’m taking lightly.

In the meantime, other than no weights, there are no physical restrictions and I got out for a short run the next day. I plan on ramping back up slowly and if I decide to have it closed figure out what races to do based on how long the recovery time is. Lots to decide in the coming days….

Well That Was Unexpected

The Weekend started out normal

I spent Friday night at the gym doing a weight workout and then went to the grocery store to pick up some food for the weekend and following week. The workout consisted of a mix of upper and lower body sets, nothing too tough, but it was a challenging workout.

Which is why when I started to get a weak feeling in my left arm I didn’t think too much about it. Often after a weight workout my arms feel weak and fatigued for a little while. Though I thought it was a little weird that the weakness was just on my left side.

As I left the grocery store the left side of my face and tongue started to feel like they were coming off a shot of novacane. That is when I started to get a little worried. As I drove out of the grocery store parking lot I realized that some of the fingers on my left hand felt numb and I started to feel a little foggy.

At this point I was freaking out a little and decided to head to the hospital. Given that my family is 2,000 miles away, I was admittedly pretty nervous about being home if things kept moving the way the were. Thankfully the hospital is just a couple of miles away, and I remember as I explained to the recepeptionist why I was there, that I was having a hard time verbalizing what I was feeling.

Stroke Alert

I was shuffled into triage after which the true gravity of the situation set in when the doctor who examined me and asked a few questions said, “…We’re going to do a stroke alert…”. That sounded really bad to me.

For everyone else in the ER that statement triggered a very comprehensive set of events that filled up my room with more people than I can remember and led to lots poking, prodding, tests, and questions. All of this eventually led to being admitted to the hospital which entailed being woken up every few hours to check vital signs and an MRI of my neck and head at 6am the next morning (thankfully the MRI tech had a choice of music on the headphones and I was able to relax to some Dave Matthews).

The resulting diagnosis from all of this madness was a Transient Ischemic Attack possibly contributed to by a Patent Foramen Ovale. Or in plain English, stroke-like symptoms possibly caused by a small clot passing through a small flap in my heart that never properly closed at birth and going into my brain. YIKES!

By Saturday afternoon I was feeling good and was sent home with instructions to see a Neurologist in a week, take an aspirin every day, and call if there are any other symptoms. Unfortunately, I would be calling.

The Return

Saturday night was pretty typical outside of the challenging conversations with my wife and son who are 2,000 miles away. We obviously wanted to be together but flying on short notice is not cheap. On the one hand, I was feeling good and spending several hundred dollars wasn’t all that appealing. On the other hand, we learned that a TIA can be a pre-cursor to other TIA’s or something more serious in some cases.

Sunday morning came and soon after I got up the symptoms came back, though not as bad this time. I REALLY didn’t want to go back to the hospital. But, after calling the doctor he thought it would be best to move up the time table of seeing a Neurologist and also see a Cardiologist about the PFO. Not what I wanted to hear. So, I called my wife and headed back to the hospital.

The next two days consisted of two more days in the hospital in a department with people who probably averaged 2x my age (not very comforting!), meeting with a Neurologist and Cardiologist, my family flying to Colorado, getting my blood pressure taken every 3 hours and measuring my liquid input (and output via a plastic jug!)

The End Result

The resulting diagnosis is simlar to the first, except that technically a TIA doesn’t leave any damage, so because of the two small areas on my MRI indicating damage, the diagnosis is 2 small strokes, likely caused by the PFO. It was scary when they told me and it’s scary to write about now.

Now the decision is whether or not to close the PFO. Further heart tests will provide more information on how to proceed with that decision.

Some things I learned (which I already knew, but this situation highlighted) are I have an incredible network of family and friends, a very thoughful and understanding group of co-workers, great cholesterol levels, and a resting heart rate of about 50.

All in all, I’m a pretty lucky guy.