Monday, August 5, 2013

Ocean Swim Recap

Let me start off by saying the Montauk Open Water Swim was the most fun I have had during a race. The combination of the nervousness, and the tension that built up before the race made it so exciting to be a part of. My day started off watching the sunrise over the ocean from my hotel balcony in Montauk. I stood there with my brother, talking about family, life lessons, and various race experiences over a cup of coffee and a banana. It was a great moment, I am lucky to have moments like this in my life. After we finished our coffee, we both packed our wetsuits in the car and left for the race. Upon arrival, we see a group of around 50 people all in wetsuits. The environment was such a pleasure, it seemed as though everyone had a smile on their faces, just happy to be there like I was.
After we got our swim caps and the race briefing, we then got our suits on and started walking towards the water. At this point the sun was fully up and beaming down on us. To me, the sun beaming down on us really was a real reality check. I knew this race was going happen very soon. I then looked down at my watch (6:45) “Here we go!”
About two hundred people gathered and jumped right into the water. Before the race started, we had to swim out to the first buoy which was a good 150 yards out. Treading water at the buoy, I gave my brother a high five, we wished each other good luck and we were on our own from there.
In the beginning I felt great, I was actually very comfortable. I made sure to stay calm and remembered to swim at a comfortable pace, and to breathe nice and easy. I wanted to conserve energy so my start was considerably slow compared to other swims I have done. By the 20 minute mark, I figured that I would start picking up the pace because I was still feeling relaxed. I may have gotten a little overconfident because as soon as I picked up the pace I lost track of my direction. A lifeguard came up to me and told me I was too shallow. This really threw me off, because I had to swim back out essentially in the wrong direction from the finish line. When I got back on track I became very conscious of the direction I was heading. It is very difficult because the “sweep” was either pulling me too far out or too far in. At the 1 mile mark I really got the hang of it and was able to manage my direction well.
Still, I was feeling great! I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to swim in the ocean. When I was finally able to get over the nervousness and manipulate the oceans sweep, I started to really enjoy the ocean. It was honestly one of the most relaxing times of my life. It sounds corny but it was an empowering feeling being essentially alone in the ocean with your thoughts.
When I hit the last buoy, I was rounding third base and had an easy swim back to the beach. I simply took the waves in and swam as hard as I could. It probably took me 7 minutes to swim out 150 yards and to swim in I would say 2 minutes. When I got onto the beach, there my brother was obviously since he beats me every race. One of these days I will beat him. He finished in 1:08 and I finished exactly 1:16. When I finished, it was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had. I was not only relieved to get a 2 mile ocean swim under my belt but I truly felt a moment of euphoria. If I could, I would do an ocean swim every weekend. It is the best way to start your day! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Zombie Encounter

I woke up at 5:45, frightened that I slept through my alarm. This happens before every race. I quickly gathered myself and tried to doze off to catch my last hour of sleep. As I closed my eyes, I noticed my bedroom door opening at a very slow pace. Of course I initially thought it was the wind. I closed my eyes again until I heard what sounded like a my dog hobbling into my room. Frustrated by the distractions I turned over to see what was going on. Suddenly a Zombie appeared in my bedroom. Well, I instantly declared this creature a “Zombie” after being exposed to several zombie flicks over the years. My eyes still heavy from sleep, I adjusted myself with the expectation of this creature being a figment of my imagination or even perhaps a pull over jacket that resembled a Zombie. As I came to, this so called Zombie was still standing right in front of me. I instantly felt my heart racing; but my veins which normally filter blood quickly and consistently began feeling slow and thick as if my blood was the texture of molasses. My body became numb and my brain felt temporarily shut down. For the first time in my life, I was unsure of what to do or how to act.

The Zombie had long hair resting down to his shoulders. I could tell his hair was probably blonde when he was alive but it was difficult to be certain because it was stained with blood and dirt. His nostrils flared like nothing I have ever seen. It was as if they were wounded gills on a fish. With every breath of air the Zombie took, drops of gory bodily fluid would fall from his mouth and nose. This guy had no manners. His groan was very subtle, it wasn’t overkill. I could tell this was not your cliché Zombie figure. This guy was the real deal.     
After several minutes of what was becoming an awkward interaction between me and the Zombie, I was finally able to begin plotting out a plan of action. I noticed a flashlight on the night stand right next to me. My plan was to grab the light and shove it down his throat to prevent him from biting me. I assumed he was slow and weak, not only due to my depiction of Zombie's from the movies but in real life they really do look slow and weak! “OK” I said to myself. “Im gonna mess this Zombie up.” I quickly grabbed the flashlight and yelled, “EAT THIS!”

I quickly came to realize the poor judgment on my part. As soon as I finished my heroic roar, he answered back by grabbing my right cheek with his four fingers, yes I said four. One of his fingers must have been amputated in his travels. I was literally being fish hooked by a guy who almost looked like a dead fisherman. As I stared into the soulless eyes of this zombie I figured he would be the last thing I saw. Then suddenly he dropped me and said “Keep running.”

I then, woke up in a sweat at 6:45. First I thanked god it was just a dream and then I began getting ready for my race. Oddly enough, this race was in fact called “Run For Your Life” A zombie infested 5K race. If you haven’t realized at this point, I have a few un orthodox ways of training for this Ironman.   

Thursday, August 1, 2013

History of Triathlon

The history of Triathlons

To truly feel passionate about a sport, I believe you first must understand the origins in which the sport derived from. For instance there are several theories surrounding the question of who invented the sport of baseball. Some think it was Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY. Others believe the sport derived from another sport played in England called “Stool Ball.” I have actually heard stories that an African American slave in the 1800’s began inventing the sport and it was incredibly well received. (I enjoy that story the most quite frankly) What is ironic about that story is that when slavery was abolished, African Americans were not allowed to play baseball in the Major Leagues. What a tragedy that was. Sometimes it is hard to understand our history isn’t it? Anyway, my point is, all sports have origins that are rich in history and contain information that we must respect and understand before we can say “I love this sport” Therefore this post will focus on the history of triathlon and the players that we can thank for creating what has become a sport that I truly love and has been welcomed worldwide.

First let’s break down the triathlon. Within the race you have a full marathon (26 miles and 385 yards of running) Now where does that 385 yards come from? And why is it 26 miles?  It’s an odd number don’t you think?  Well like most things in sport, there is a reason for this! The 26.2 miles actually began in commemoration for the Greek soldier Pheidippides. This soldier was in fact a messenger during the Battle of Marathon in which he was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. Despite some debate between historians, it is said that Pheidippides ran approximately 26.2 miles back to Athens. Cool story don’t you think? Some historians actually believe the messenger ran 240 miles altogether. Let’s just say I am glad that story never caught on.  
Pheidippides upon arrival in Athens:

In years following this story, the run from Marathon to Athens not only became an historical event, but in an effort to commemorate, it became a sport! A sport that became a phenomenon in the modern Olympics and only got more popular as the years went on. Today, for some people marathon running is a way of life, a paycheck, motivation to better yourself, and the list goes on.

The sport of Marathon running has and always will become more and more popular in my eyes. But the first noticeable boom in marathon running may have started in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. I believe this was due to growing technology and knowledge proving the healthy aspects of running vs smoking, staying immobile and other various activities during that age that I can only imagine. The kicker was the media backing these Health kick claims. More and more people gave in to this health conscious lifestyle and the next thing you know, people were “jogging” all over the world. Prior to 1960, jogging may have been considered taboo for some people.

During this craze, two men named Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan were greatly affected by the search for a healthier lifestyle. Jack was what he calls a “mediocre” athlete but he is modest. He was an All American Swimmer in college. During the 1970’s he was about 35 and began feeling somewhat self conscious of his weight. Like most of his peers, he began Jogging and swimming, looking for a new way to live his life. Soon his workouts were not only to lose weight and get back in shape but it made him content with the way he was living his life. It seems as though he hadn’t felt like that in years.

Upon catching the racing fever, Jack heard about a race called a biathlon. This race consisted of aproximately 4.5 miles of running followed by a quarter mile swim. Consequently, like most athletes driven and strong-minded, he wanted more! So he began experimenting with several different racing scenarios in which he would like to take part in. After trial and error with various different rules for a new exciting race, his friend Don came up with adding a bike portion to the race. Despite Jack’s hesitation to include the bike, he eventually gave in. The end result “Mission Bay Triathlon”

The Mission Bay Triathlon took place on Wednesday September 25th 1974 in Mission Bay, San Diego. This was in fact the first modern day triathlon. Triathlon History  reads,  “Mission Bay Triathlon, a race consisting of segments of running, bicycle riding, and swimming, will start at the causeway to Fiesta Island at 5:45 P.M. September 25. The event will consist of 6 miles of running (longest continuous stretch, 2.8 miles), 5 miles of bicycle riding (all at once), and 500 yards of swimming (longest continuous stretch, 250 yards). Approximately 2 miles of running will be barefoot on grass and sand. Each paricipant must bring his own bicycle. Awards will be presented to the first five finishers. For further details contact Don Shanahan (488-4571) or Jack Johnstone (461-4514)”

Here are the first ten people to cross the finish line. Notice a familiar name placing 6th place?

Bill Phillips
Greg Gillaspie
Dave Mitchell
Jim Young
Gordon Lutes
Jack Johnstone
Richard Fleming
Bob Letson
Tom Rothhaar
John Garty

All in all, this event was pandemonium. Like any other sport, people began not only participating but the sport actually began molding the people who took part. Life styles, personalities, and an overall outlook on life began to alter for the better.

As we look back to reflect on the history of Triathlon, it is important to realize why Jack and Don started this journey in the first place, and what happened to them afterwards. Jack was just an average Joe ex athlete, who felt a passion for competition and innovation. He and Don, developed a sport that not only offers an escape for people who need it, but they created a lifestyle that is incredibly commendable. They created a sport in which any one can compete but only if they are willing to shed blood, sweat and tears to find the finish line. As it correlates to any other endeavor we experience in life, nothing is ever handed to you. We must work hard for our accomplishments and if you work hard enough you will see results. Upon crossing the finish line at a triathlon, graduating college, getting a promotion at work, we feel a sense of extraordinary accomplishment and there is no feeling in the world like it. Am I right?

So the next time you accomplish something in life, whether it is during a sporting event, or any event outside of sports, try to remember Jack and Don’s accomplishment. And if you ever compete in a triathlon, remember the history, not only Jack and Don’s story but the people who have competed in races before you and why they raced in the first place. Remember the Boston Marathon, and the people who so tragically lost their lives. Remember the men and women who lost limbs fighting overseas that still compete in triathlons. Remember the people who have suffered from obesity and lost the weight to finish a race. Remember that with every race you finish, you are now a part of a club and you have the ability to write history.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to Swim

How to swim:
Sounds ridiculous right? When you meet someone who can’t swim your initial reaction is always “excuse me, come again?” The reality is that most people can tread water, do the back stroke, breast stroke, and freestyle pretty well. At one point or another we have all jumped in the water for a nice relaxing swim. But the real question is how is your technique? When I first started swimming long distance, I thought to myself, “OK this is going to be a piece of cake, I have been swimming my whole life. I quickly came to realize that was certainly not the case. I became winded quickly, breathing became difficult and I felt very uncomfortable. Suddenly, swimming lost its relaxing appeal. So how can we better our technique to improve our stamina, speed and overall appeal? 

First in order is to understand the correct form. Let’s focus on the placement of your head. Your neck and upper back muscles need to be relaxed. The more you’re able to relax these two muscles the more comfortable you will feel. As you are facing parallel to the bottom of the pool, lake, ocean etc. your head should be cocked forward around 45 degrees. The more your head is tucked against your chest, the more resistance you will feel. Additionally, tucking your head in may alter your body position. On the contrary it is important not to face your head too far up as you will create unwanted tension which will tighten up your neck and back muscles. 

Now let’s focus on your stroke. It is imperative to extend your arm to its maximum length during each stroke. To create maximum extension you must reach out as far as possible and then extend your shoulder as well. The shoulder extension may give you an additional 4 or 5 inches of reach. 

Now that we have our head aligned and our reach capabilities in order, it is time to focus on body rotation. To facilitate your shoulder extension you must tilt your body slightly towards the side that you are stroking with. For instance as you extend your right arm and shoulder, you need to also tilt your body slightly to the right as your left hand exits the water. As you tilt your body with each stroke, your entire side should be submerged in the water so your rib cage is now parallel with the floor temporarily. Then as you extend with your left arm, you must alter your position 120 degrees so that your left rib cage is now perpendicular with the floor. This may sound difficult but it actually makes swimming a lot easier and enjoyable as you are no longer compromising your body motion. This motion is perfectly natural and actually helps you move across the water. In other words, think of a pig being turned on an axis as it cooks over a fire. That is how your body should be moving but don’t worry there is no fire involved, just water!

And finally learn how to kick! I still find myself compromising the kick by either not moving my legs at all or kicking at a very slow awkward pace. As you are swimming you may think it is easier not to kick because it gets tiring but I swear its not! By not kicking your body has difficulty staying afloat as well as staying in the right direction. The kick completes the entire motion. If you learn how to kick at a consistent pace it will help you stay straight, move faster and complete your freestyle swim perfectly.

On paper this all sounds easy I am sure. But in all honesty, I am still trying to figure out how to control my entire motion as well. It is incredibly difficult and takes stern focus and repetition. So get out there and try it our. Practice makes perfect folks! 

If you want to see for yourself, watch this video on Michael Phelps aka Human Fish!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Friend at the Gas Station

Two weeks ago I found myself pumping gas at around 9PM on I84 West as I was on my way to Kingston NY for an old friends wedding weekend. As I stood there pumping gas, I noticed a man wearing a triathlon shirt dumping buckets of ice into a couple of water coolers. Of course I couldn’t let this guy leave without asking if he was doing a race over the weekend. It turned out he was not doing a race but coaching a team for the NY City triathlon! Oh man was I excited to talk to him. He was incredibly knowledgeable and forthcoming. So naturally I got the idea to ask him a few questions about his triathlon and coaching career. We exchanged numbers and planned to talk the next week over the phone after the NYC triathlon.

Tuesday, July  17th 6:30pm

Me: Scott, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to a fellow triathlete! I have to say, I was not surprised that we instantly felt a bond at the gas station since we both love the sport of triathlon. Do you notice other triathlete’s being friendly to each other?

Scott: I sure do Mike. In fact, that is what enticed me in the first place. My first race I was welcomed by other rookies and even the veterans. It is a fraternity in that sense.

Me: I couldn’t agree more! So how did your team do on Sunday at the NYC Tri?

Scott: I was so proud of them. This was a great test for them. What we are really in training for is the Lake Placid full Iron Man on the 28th. I wanted them to participate in this race not only as a training day but to start replicating a race environment for them. Get them amped up if you will.  

Me: It must be incredibly difficult to not work your athletes too hard to the point where they get hurt correct?

Scott: Absolutely. Our training is very gradual so we have to start our training schedule about 6 months in advance. This enables us to get into good enough shape for the harder more strenuous weeks of training. Without those weeks, it is very difficult to get into shape. So we will ease into it at first and the workouts will come in waves.

Me: Has anyone gotten hurt this year?

Scott: Oh yeah, unfortunately one athlete suffered a severe hamstring pull and was unable to continue training this season. This was actually done on the bike as he was riding up a hill and must have accelerated too fast.

Me: Are you still competing yourself or are you just coaching?

Scott: You better believe it! Over the past few years I have gotten into coaching because it is truly a thrill and I love seeing my team’s progress. But I try to do my fair share of races myself. I am actually doing a race in Tobay Long Island in August.

Me: Maybe I will join you! 

Scott and I continued our conversation for some time. We not only discussed triathlons but ended up learning a lot about each others lives. This just further proves how triathlons can be more than just just a sport. They are a way of life. They promote friendship, encouragement, laughter and achievement. So next time you are pumping gas, take a look around. There might be a future friend with a lot in common standing right next to you!