Introducing #TrainerBingo

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Now is the time of year that triathletes come out of their off season hibernation, focus on building their foundation for race season and try to shed a few lbs from all the Christmas cookies that they ate.

In the northern part of the country, that also means lots of runs on snowy trails, masters swimming sessions and most importantly, long boring sessions on the trainer. Which leads me to the point of this post: What is the point of being  a nerdy, triathlon-obsessed social media geek if you can’t make fun of yourself?

What do many triathletes do on the trainer? Tweet with other triathletes who are on the trainer, post endless selfies proving how committed they are and talk about their training. This is especially true if you scan Twitter at 5:30 in the morning. Whether it is a product of narcissism, boredom or just a shameless call for love and attention, I’m surprised that no one has made a game out of this absurd behavior.

After all, how dedicated can you really be if you pause a workout to take a perfectly framed selfie that shows off your bulging quads, glistening beads of sweat on your brow and a tasteful level of cleavage as you hunch over your aerobars?
So, next time you are on the trainer, spinning the hours away and refreshing your Twitter feed, also pull out your #TrainerBingo board.

Twitter Trainer Bingo

What do you get if you win? Nothing. This is triathlon. You just earn the chance to come back and embarrass yourself all over again.

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My One Regret About My 2013 Triathlon Season

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

My “comeback” to triathlon this year was emotional and I am grateful for being able to toe the line, but there was one thing that I wish I could have changed.

My one race wasn’t with my my Rev3 family.

Go ahead and ignore everything I’m about to say if you want because Rev3 sponsors me and I’ve never had to pay to do any of their races, but know this. My triathlon team was the third group of people that I made sure knew about my accident right after my own family and close group of friends. They are legit “family” in my books. I don’t know of any other triathlon teams have that level of loyalty.

Logistically, doing a Rev3 race just wasn’t possible  for me this year. My body was only capable of pulling off a sprint triathlon. Rev3 only does one sprint at Cedar Point, and I still wasn’t sure how my body would hold up to racing, so I avoided making travel plans and made the choice to do a small, non-USAT certified, charity race instead.

Granted, the race that I did was a super family-friendly event,  with great post-race food, community support and I got big hugs from my wife, dog and teammate Laura as I crossed the finish line, but there is something about not finishing under the big blue Rev3 arch and having Sean English call my name. I got to watch others cross the line in Williamsburg and Maine this year, but it has been over a year since I’ve been able to do it myself.

What makes Rev3 Special To Me? 

  • Support Positive Change In Triathlon: Triathletes love to complain about things they wish WTC would change, but if you don’t vote with your wallet and support race organizations who put people over profits, you can only blame yourself. Rev3 was started by a father who wanted to make the sport friendlier for athletes and their families and he has not lost that focus. They’ve also had a great influence on everything from pro prize purses, to how the media covers female pros to charity programs.
  • Personal Touches: Everything from personalized name plates on your bike rack, to seeing your face brought up on the jumbotron when you finish line to having race staff go out of their way to address any question you have, there is a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure athletes don’t ever feel like “just a number.”
  • They are a company built on helping people, they just happen to put on triathlons. From running across America to raise money for the Ulman Cancer Fund, to the support that I received from my teammates when I broke my back, there are are constant reminders that Rev3 puts people first. They bring the same passion to getting people happily to the finish line that they do to helping people beat cancer.

If my body holds up, I’m hoping to end that streak at the Rev3 Quassy Olympic-distance race – the last weekend in May. I’m not yet planning races too far ahead of that, but I’m hoping to at least make appearances at Rev3 Williamsburg, Maine and Poconos.

If you are planning your 2014 season and have some Rev3 races on the list, take a look at the “2014 All Access Pass.” One pass, every single Rev3 race and you can share or sell any Rev3 passes that you aren’t going to take advantage of. Basically, if you can’t save money doing this, you probably aren’t trying very hard.

http://www.active.com/various-cities-va/triathlon/races/rev3-all-access-2014

Hope to see you out there in 2014.

 

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Readjusting Priorities

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

My relationship with the triathlon world has been all over the place this year. When I was at my worst, I completely disconnected myself. I stopped reading triathlon blogs, avoided Twitter all together and stopped thinking about anything fitness related. The last thing I wanted to see was someone complaining about missing their marathon goal when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to run a single step without crippling back pain.

As my back healed, I eventually came out of hiding and quit being so grumpy, irritable and was actually open to hearing about and celebrating my friend’s athletic accomplishments. But for me, I was still 100% about recovery. PT, massage, stretching, chiropractic work, strength work and repeat. That was my training schedule. My strength, flexibility and remaining pain were my main concerns, not whether I’d be able to be a competitive athlete ever again.

I celebrating the little things like wiggling my toes or being able to rake leaves in the yard, not lacing up my shoes for a run.

Now, nine months later, my progress has been great but plateaued. I’m able to step away from the strict physical recovery regimen. And along with (mostly) getting over the psychological issues that come with breaking your back, I’m able to toy with the idea of getting back to sports and competition.

But my motivation is now in a completely different place than it ever has been. In previous years, I’ve spent November contemplating qualifying for AG Nationals, new PRs and longer distances, This year, I’m more focused than ever on family, friends, fun and health – which actually makes it really hard to plan a race season. I’d much rather chill on the couch with my wife and dog than spend 4 hours on the trainer.

For now, I still don’t know for sure what 2014 will bring, but I’m taking it one day at a time. Today, I felt like taking my puppy for a 3 mile run, despite being 20 degrees outside. So I did that. Tomorrow, I’ll think about some local snowshow races this winter. After that? We’ll see.

And because I don’t like posts without pictures, here is me and my running buddy. Today was the first run we ever did together. 3.5 miles in the books before work today. Despite some pulling, she did great.
image

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What I Wish People Knew About My Broken Back

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Over the last eight months, a lot of people have asked me questions about my back, how I’m healing and when I’ll return to racing. Most of the time, the questions don’t really get at the heart of what I went through. For example, people would ask about my run training, when I really wanted to tell them about how proud I was for being strong enough to rake up a few leaves on my front yard – even if it completely wiped me out and I had to take a 2 hour nap after.

I’m not normally comfortable talking about myself at length without someone giving me a good reason, so I feel like most people don’t get the full story – especially related to the mental side of my recovery. With that in mind, here are random facts about my injury and recovery that I wish people knew.

  1. Fracturing my vertebrae feels like I was stabbed in the back with seven knives. But they were left in there for months. Imagine sneezing with a knife stuck in your back. Or even just twisting enough to clean yourself in the bathroom. That was my life for the first three months of my recovery.

  1. For the first month or two, I didn’t have the flexibility to lift up the toilet seat on my own, but I was just barely able to twist enough to clean up after myself. GOD was I thankful for that. I needed help doing a million other things, but the fact that I could at least complete that by myself was huge. I did not take it for granted and was glad I was able to avoid that humiliating experience.

  1. Sam and I hope to have children someday. The fear of not recovering to the point where I could hold and play with my own child still haunts me. Just writing this makes my hands tremble.

  1. Being married to an occupational therapist was a godsend. Not that I wasn’t lucky to have Sam before the accident, but she was a huge part of my recovery. From helping to put on and take off my brace each morning and night, to teaching me new ways just to roll over in bed or put on my socks or bathe myself, those little victories were huge for my recovery and helped me to stay positive. The confidence I got from just being able to control little things like what kind of socks I was wearing was huge.

  1. The fact that my bones are able to heal without any medical intervention beyond pain management is both a testament to the amazing abilities of the human body to heal itself and how far we still have to go when it comes to discovering new medical treatments. I had follow up x-rays two weeks after the accident. I was told to ditch the brace, make sure I got enough calcium and not do anything stupid to hurt it. That was it! I haven’t seen the orthopedist since. He also didn’t think that I needed physical therapy, but I opted to do it anyway. It was the right choice and was a huge part of my recovery since my muscles got super jacked up from being immobile for so long.

  1. My vertebrae are now shaped more like trapezoids than squares. That means that they don’t stack up and float on top of one another as nicely as they are supposed to. I have to stretch and crack back at least twice a day, every day, to keep things aligned. Especially when I’m sitting at my work desk for +8 hours per day. I’ve become really skilled at cracking my own back. This helps to keep my muscles from being pulled in different directions and getting fatigued. It also has helped to reduce tingling and numbness in my left shoulder from a pinched nerve.

  1. One of the hardest parts of my recovery has been the psychological side. Months after my bones healed and physical therapy was able to break up the scar tissue and strengthen my back, I still felt fragile and broken. I would hike mountains, swim, bike and run, but still felt broken. Even small things that would spark memories of the accident would set me off on an emotional whirlwind. I don’t think my symptoms were ever bad enough to qualify me for a PTSD diagnosis, but recovering from being dangerously close to being a quadriplegic rattles you to your core.

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Don’t Call It A Comeback

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I only told a handful of people, but for the last few months I’ve been debating and evaluating plans for doing one sprint triathlon this year before the season officially ends here in New England. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on it, because my back has a mind of its own and the last thing I wanted to do was push my limits, cause more damage and take a major step back in my recovery.

Eventually I found a race. It was on the 7 month anniversary of my crash. I signed up and hoped for the best. Despite signing up, I never actually “trained.” Most of my focus was still on building back strength and flexibility. Sometimes that meant biking, swimming, lifting weights or just lots of stretching. But my physical activity leading up to the race pretty much didn’t involve running at all. Physically, I knew I was at the point where I could pull  off a 400m swim, 15 mile bike and 3 mile run – even if that meant coasting the whole bike and walking the run if I had to. It was the mental side that I knew would be a struggle.

Even just 6 days before the race, I woke up with an angry back. So angry that I couldn’t even bend over and touch my knees, let alone put on pants or socks. I had to call out of work and spent most of the day on the couch or in the shower letting scalding hot water rush over my back. At that point, I was okay with giving up on the race if my back didn’t get any better. I had accepted it, maybe my recovery journey didn’t involve a comeback to racing just yet.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten to know my back well enough to have an arsenal of different tricks to help it return to “normal.” There was always a chance that I’d wake up with an angry back again and have to drop out, but by the end of the week the race was back on schedule and my angry back stayed away.

The Race

Race morning was an emotional roller coaster. From excited and nervous to terrified and tears from one second to the next. Sam brought Riley and my friend and Rev3 teammate Laura came with her dog, Kaipo. Having two fur kids there helped me to keep my cool.

Swim Start

I lined up WAY in the back of the swim, waited at least 10-15 seconds before even taking a step forward, then joined the ruckus in the water. I didn’t feel fast, but felt smooth and made it back to shore without any issues.

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The bike was the same. Beautiful cool fall morning through nice neighborhoods, farms and rolling hills. I held my own with a few guys, but would barely call it “racing.”

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I rolled into T2 with cheers from Sam and Laura, and was off on the run feeling good. I shuffled along at a good clip. I focused on keeping good form and not pushing so hard that I’d have to dial it back and walk. I came up to the finish line at the end of a lap around the high school track and lost it. Thankfully Sam was right there for a big hug.

photo_2

Exactly seven months earlier, my spine looked like a shattered window pane. I was on as many pain meds as they could possibly fill me with, just so I’d be able to lie flat on my hospital bed and help dull the unimaginable pain.  After I was discharged from the hospital, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever even be strong enough to lift a gallon of milk to make a cup of coffee or bowl of cereal, let alone do a triathlon. As I crossed the finish line, was overcome by joy, excitement, pride and most importantly – gratitude.

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And of course I took advantage of the post-race breakfast feast.

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What is Next?

I have no idea.

Physically and athletically, I feel like I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Or myself. I still love swimming, biking and running, but I don’t know how big of a priority triathlon will be from here on out.

photo_4

Mentally, I don’t have it in me to train for anything and be even remotely competitive this year. My priority is still building and maintaining my back strength and flexibility. What does that look like? This fall/winter I’ll probably become more of a gym rat, and random hikes and snowshoeing with Riley this winter.

Thanks

There will be lots of stories of thanks and gratitude to come, but thanks to everyone for their helping to get me to this point. I couldn’t have done it without my wife, Sam, and all my friends, family and teammates that have kept me sane and built me back up. And a special thanks for Sam, Riley, Laura and Kaipo for coming with me to celebrate this major milestone.

More Stories To Come

I realize that I’ve been quiet here lately and have only shared a tiny fraction of my journey over the last 7 months. For a lot of reasons, there are other parts of my story that still need to be told. This is especially true for the mental side of my recovery. More to come…

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Summiting Mount Liberty

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

This weekend I took on the biggest physical feat since my accident. I climbed to the summit of Mount Liberty at 4,459 ft. My college buddy Pete brought me up to New Hampshire to climb it, but neither of had done it before. We had no clue that the trail started at the bottom and went pretty much straight up for four miles.

At points I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it. I had to seriously consider if I’d have to turn around if a break on the side of the mountain, some water and Powerbar gels didn’t perk up my legs. I don’t have the same fitness I once did and can’t remember the last time I’ve been healthy and doubted myself that much.

 

As you can clearly tell, I made it. There were 360 views of pretty much all of northern New Hampshire. Well worth all the sweat.

My legs are still killing me, but I couldn’t be happier to be back to doing more “normal” weekend activities. After all, tomorrow marks just 5 months since the accident and I couldn’t even pick up a jar of peanut butter or a gallon of milk. It has been a long road, but I can’t be more grateful.

Click to see the full panorama.

 

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Working Williamsburg

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Last week I joined my Rev3 teammates in Williamsburg for their inaugural race. I’m still a ways away from training, let alone racing, so I took the opportunity to help manage the run course and cheer on everyone racing.

While my bones are fully healed and I’m taking good care of my lingering muscle issues, I’ve still got my share of emotional baggage from my broken back. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to handle the weekend. Would my back be able to handle the physical activity and long hours required to help organize a triathlon? Would I get aggravated watching athletes push the limits of their bodies while I settle with celebrating the flexibility to put hundreds of tape arrows all over Williamsburg to mark the run course? Would I be able to relax and enjoy spending time with my friends and teammates?

I ended up having a little emotional breakdown on my Friday morning flight down to the race. I buried my head in my hoodie as best as I could to try and not give up too much to the guy sitting next to me, but I was a mess for most of the flight. Thankfully, once I rolled into Williamsburg it was a completely different story. I was happy, relaxed and my back held up really well.

Having fun at the Rev3 green screen.

Crowd gathering for the Friday Glow Run.

Team Rev3 cheering squad at the glow run

Saturday morning practice swim with Malaika Homo.

Team photo time.

No one ever said this team doessn’t have any fun.

Laura and Brittney getting their Normatec pump time before the race.

My chariot for the weekend.

Doing my best to make sure all the athletes are smiling.

I caught this guy trying to cut the run course. I had to take his chip.

I made about a million of these tape arrows to make sure no one got lost on the run course.

After the race, I tried photobombing a random person. It ended up being my Twitter friend Annie. Love surprise encounters like this.

After all the medals have been handed out, the party has to get cleaned up.

There were a few logistical hiccups with the delayed shuttles and bag drop offs, which is really hard coming from my position of a Rev3 Staffer because in situations like that when you really want to fix it for the athletes and let them concentrate on having a great race, your best solutions at the time just don’t cut it. Rev3 isn’t about mediocrity, but hopefully the rest of everyone’s race and experience with Rev3 helped make up for it a little. Otherwise, the race went off really well and it seemed like a lot of the locals loved having us there and we made some new Rev3 fans.

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Triathlon Team Loyalty

Monday, June 17th, 2013

This picture means a lot to me. It is a reminder that I have been with Rev3 for the past five years. Like with any team, individual product sponsors have come and go based on changes in their marketing and business plans, but Rev3 has always stuck by me. I like to think that they’ve found their investment in me worthwhile.

But more than being a sponsor, they are a family.

As I was strapped to a backboard and neck brace in the hospital, the team was the first that I let know about my accident after my family and small group of close friends from college. In the weeks after that, my mailbox was filled with packages from my teammates all across the country. Cookies, candy, home made cards that their children made for me, anything I needed. The most heartwarming stuff you could ever think of.

There is the family your are born into, and the family that chooses you. The family that chose me just happens to manage a series of awesome triathlons.Team Rev3 Triathlon

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Psycho On A Bike

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

13 weeks of recovery and I had built up the courage to swing my leg over my bike saddle and see how it feels out on the open road.

I headed out to one of my favorite 15 mile loops. Low traffic, rolling hills, lots of woods, all right turns and no major intersections.  Just about as safe as I could make it.

Sam was really nervous as I headed out the door. I said she could drive behind me and be my sag wagon, but she declined. I think even that was too much stress for her.

Up until this point, I had only swam a few times, ran a mile once and biked for 10 minutes on the indoor trainer once. But I was feeling good. I was feeling up to it. I thought I had it in me, but I needed to find out.

My bones have healed just about as much as they ever will, and the lingering muscle issues are getting better. I still wake up every morning really sore, but not the excruciating pain I had a month or two ago. My flexibility is better, but I’m still trying to figure out some nerve issues and tingling in my left shoulder. But none of this was giving me reason to hold off on my bike experiment.

As I drove out to the start of the bike loop, I cried. Not sure if it was because I was happy, scared, sad or everything all at once.

I parked, saddled up, and rode out. Just like old times.

As I rolled along, I felt good. A strange feeling that was really familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I broke down again. This time with an enormous grin as tears came down from under my Oakley’s. It was one of those spastic crys too, where your breathing is fast and uneven and you are completely out of control. Super attractive.

In the end, I probably spent 30 of the next 50 minutes riding along somewhere between crying and hysterically laughing to myself like a complete psychopath. I felt like I was the lucky recipient of a whole body transplant compared to how I was feeling just two months ago.

Thankfully I was out in the middle of the woods and only saw a few other cyclists, but I wonder what people were thinking when they saw some guy riding along and laughing uncontrollably to himself.

I wasn’t getting all worked up because I missed riding my bike that much. It was the realization that if I can ride my bike this early in my recovery, that it is a pretty good sign that the injury won’t be holding me back from just about anything I want to do in the future. So many things were uncertain as I was strapped to the back board back in February. But now just about all those questions are answered. I’ve still got limitations, but they won’t be stopping me forever.

And then on the ride home I had a couple more laughing/crying fits while I did some Fugees karaoke. It was awesome. Be sad you missed it.

But the next day, I was completely trashed. My legs felt fine, but I felt tired like I had just done a marathon. Complete zombie mode. Another feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time. A welcome one.

I’ve still got a ways to go, but at least I know that it is a journey that I’m capable of making again.

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Readjusting

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The more progress that I make treating the physical damage to my body left from the fall in February, the more I’m left able to start to deal with the mental repercussions.

I may celebrate major accomplishments like getting back to swimming, biking and running, or even just doing laundry and yard work without relying on my wife, friends or family to help me get by – but the simple truth is that things will never be 100% back to normal. I’m fortunate enough that things will be very close to the way they were before the accident, but things won’t be exactly the same. I’m going to have to learn to figure out what this “new” normal is and figure out how to live in that place.

I almost tripped and fell backwards in the driveway last week and had had a major freak out for a few minutes. Part of me still feels like I’m built on these carefully stacked pieces of jagged, broken bones, loosely held together by a messy sheath of knotted muscle and scar tissue. One tumble and I’ll shatter all over again. Those jagged pieces of bone tearing me apart from the inside as I fall apart. That pain is still very fresh in my mind.

Countless people have commended me on how well it appears that I’m coping with this. While I think that I’ve held it together pretty well and won’t argue with them, no one knows how many times I’ve bawled my eyes out over the last 3 months. No one knows how many times I still well up with tears as I try to emotionally recover from everything that has happened this year. Granted, sometimes those are happy tears – like when I came back from my first run around the block – but the emotional roller coaster isn’t over yet.

I can celebrate wiggling my toes, swimming, biking and running and doing all the things that I loved before the accident. Even just being independent and being able to do my own laundry or putting the toilet seat down on my own is a nice change of pace, but I’m still left trying to figure out what this “new” normal will be.

I started by making a list of the things that I may never do again. Or do differently. After all, I’ve had to answer “Will you ever ski again” about a million times. A valid question, and I usually answer “Yes, but no more big jumps” but that isn’t exactly a good depiction of my recovery – physical or emotional. The list of things I may never do again isn’t very long, and they are all relatively inconsequential. No one would ever know that I gave up skiing in terrain parks or mass swim start triathlons unless I told them. My life will still be pretty much the same if you look at just that.

  • The part that that will probably stick with me isn’t how I physically approach my “normal” life. It will be how I see and think about things.
  • The panic of almost tripping and falling backwards.
  • The anxiety when I see someone go to give me a big hug or slap me on the back.
  • The fear of slipping on ice.
  • Losing confidence in my footing when trail running over roots or loose rocks. (I grew up trail running and used to be able to bound over roots and rocks like a freaking gazelle. More than just about anything else, I’m scared that I won’t be able to do this anymore and won’t be able to enjoy the woods in the same way anymore.)
  • Anything involving heights.
  • A general unsettled feeling and being on constant alert for anything that could hurt my back.
  • I’m not sure how much of this is just me being over cautious and protective of my still healing body, and how much may be some mild-PTSD, but I’m at least becoming more aware of how much I’ve still got left to deal with on the mental side of my recovery.

In other news, I’ve got a great recovery story from this weekend – but had to get this post out first. Stay tuned.

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