Surgery and hospital recovery (17-22 Sep 2015)

During the run up to scheduling surgery, Dr. Macgovern told me that I would need a cardiac catheterization procedure to check my coronary arteries for any blockages, and if any were found, they would fix them “while they had the hood open”. So we scheduled the cath for Thursday morning, 17 September, then I would be admitted to the hospital for surgery early on Friday morning, the 18th.

The last few days at work were hectic, similar to going out on vacation. All of my team and management partners were very supportive. They wanted me to focus on getting through surgery and recovery and they would take care of the rest.

Since I have had allergic reactions to iodine, and the cath contrast is iodine based, I started on the hospital’s anti-allergy protocol the night before. 50mg of prednisone 13 hrs, 7hrs and 1hr before the procedure, along with 50mg of Benadryl 1hr before the procedure.

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Thursday morning I got to the hospital and sent straight down to the cath lab. Mom arrived after I was already in the prep area, but she sat with Fran during the procedure. I was given an IV drip and IV sedative (valium?) then sent into the main lab area. I was conscious, and I wanted to watch the procedure. They were going in through my right side groin area so I was propped up on my left side and had a pretty good view of the ginormous monitor set up in the room. Looking around the room reminded me more of a flight deck on a sci-fi movie space ship than an operating room. Lots of LCD stuff, equipment on multi-pivot arms. Lots of chrome, bright white, black and blue lettering. It was impressive.

The whole process is only about an hour long. I got to see them get the catheter up to my heart and felt then saw the contrast solution go through my coronary arteries. That was pretty cool.

The rest of the day was spent napping, watching some TV and just hanging out. Fran went home in the early evening.

Friday Fran came into my room early, around 5:00am. Surgery was scheduled 7:00am. Shortly after she arrived the pre-surgery vitals and IVs got started, and I got a strong sedative in the IV. I’m assuming this was also valium, but don’t know for sure. I vaguely remember getting taken out of the room, but nothing after that point. I’m told that my sister in law Sheryl, and brother Steve and my mom arrived while I was in the procedure. I was in the procedure about 4 hours. After the procedure, Dr. Macgovern gathered everyone in to the conference room and told them that everything went well, and they could see me in recovery. Afterward, they were told to go home as I’d be in recovery for several hours. At some point I started to gag on the ventilation tube, and they pushed me back under a bit longer as they were’t ready for me to come all the way out yet. Approximately 7pm, they did take the tube out and I do recall this, but only from the physically feeling, I don’t recall ever opening my eyes during that process. Fran called the hospital about 8 and was told I was awake and doing well. She zipped down to see me. I was awake, and sitting up in bed, feeling a bit out of sorts, but not as bad as I expected to feel. Of course I was pretty well hopped up on pain meds and still under the influence of anesthesia.

Boy was I happy to see Fran, and I could tell she was really relieved to see me sitting up and smiling. We visited for a bit, then she went home. I was really, really thirsty, but the nurse was strictly limiting my intake as I came more fully out of the anesthesia. I got ice to chew and that helped. I had problems with violent vomiting during my last surgery (hernia, 34 years prior) and did NOT want to go through that again. Any coughing I did was quite painful. I had three chest tubes in me draining out the lungs, one of which wrapped around to my back, and those would rub or vibrate when I had to cough, not to mention the shaking of my chest. I got the standard heart pillow to hug tightly to help cough. I did throw up just a bit, but it was very small. Always listen to the nurses. They do know best. My CICU nurse Lenore, was from Jamaica. Stunningly beautiful, wickedly funny and a total professional. I don’t think I could have been in better hands.

I could not see the clock very well, but I figured I was down in ICU for at least 30 hours. At some point Lenore got me up and sitting upright in a chair. Again, pain levels were no where near what I had expected, and I actually felt pretty good. Sore abs, like I worked my core way to hard. About 10pm while I was sitting up, my mom called. She was pretty upset and had clearly been crying. I knew that she was taking this whole process pretty hard, but she calmed down pretty quickly once she heard my voice and I could tell her that I felt pretty good.

There was a delay in getting room in the Gagnon Center so I hung out in the CICU. I think I got some jello and juice for breakfast, then I finally got the urinary catheter removed, and then transferred to a wheelchair and sent up to my room. I think I was in my final room by 2:00pm.

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The rooms at the Gagnon Center are all single rooms, and set up very nicely. They are visually appealing, spacious and some have halfway decent views of the woods behind the hospital. I’ve stayed in smaller, and much less attractive hotel rooms.

As usual with any stay in the hospital there was an entire team dedicated to my care, and dedicated to ensure I sleep no more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Lots of wake-ups to check vitals (BP, temp, pulse and pulse O2), administer meds and just to see how I was doing. At this point I had three IV lines in my body (each arm, and jugular vein). My meds included pain reduction, which cycled between morphine, percoset and tramadol. I don’t do well on opiates, and by Sunday I really wanted to be off of them. When they kicked in I could not keep my eyes open and all and would be sliding in and out of sleep for hours. Even when the meds were wearing off, I was groggy. They finally settled on alternating between percoset and tramadol, and then finally got off the percoset by Sunday evening.

At some point on Saturday I was weighed in my bed and was told I was up to 181 lbs. I don’t recall EVER being that heavy, but the nurse tech told me that this was all water weight gain. As I looked over my normally vascular arms and legs, I realized I couldn’t see a single vein. I was one puffy boy. But I was also on diuretics and they started kicking in about the time that I was told I could get up and move around on my own. The cardiac rehab nurse came in and had me get up and walk down the hall a bit and back to my room. After she observed this, and I didn’t experience any dizziness or cardio-respiratory issues, I could get up and walk on my own, and should do so a few times each day.

Truly, the most uncomfortable part of the process (besides trying to cough) was the drain tubes. The one that wrapped around the back (inside of me) was irritating nerves in my lower back on the right, and eventually lead to pretty serious referred pain into my shoulder area. There just wasn’t a great way to sit or lie comfortably to relive the discomfort.

But later Sunday afternoon I was told the drains would be coming out. By this time the nursing team and cardiology team were all raving about how quickly I was recovering. I was improving by the hour, and it was a testament to the fitness I was carrying in to the procedure. It also helped that I had no other medical issues, was on no other medication and was a good bit younger than any other patient I met in the hospital during my stay.

Once the drain tubes came out, I was a LOT more comfortable. Slowly the IVs came out as well, until I was just left with the one in my right hand.

Each succeeding night I was left alone for longer durations between meds and vital sign reads. I tried to get back to my usual bed time/lights out at 10:30, and then up by 6:00-6:30. Usually I’d be up earlier as the blood draws would be taken between 4:00-4:30am and I wouldn’t sleep much after.

Sunday and Monday I got to choose all my meals. While I had some appetite, it still wasn’t back to normal mostly due to the pain meds. Also, my lower GI wasn’t working well until late Sunday afternoon. While the food was OK, it wasn’t great and left a lot to be desired. For example, Sunday’s lunch was going to be a chicken Caesar salad. I assumed (wrongly) that it would come with dressing, at least on the side. What I got was cold chicken strips on a bed of dry lettuce with croutons. What I DID find out was that there was a small kitchen area with other food for patients to get as they needed. Simple stuff like jello, juices, sandwiches etc. So I was able to put together a decent PB&J on toast a little later.

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I also had a great set of visitors stopping by to check in on me. Fran was a constant presence there with me every day. My brother Steve and Andy both stopped by, as did the pastor at our church, is also an old high-school friend. My triathlete friend Matt stopped by as did fellow cardiac athlete Laura. Mom stopped by and brought gifts of a book and a new Tommy Bahama shirt. During the whole time I was in the hospital, I was getting floods of emails, text messages and FB posts supporting my recovery. Friends from all over the world logged in to show their support, well wishes, prayers and simple words of encouragement. There were also a health doses of sarcasm, humor and ass-crackery as befits those who know me best.

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On Monday, it was pretty clear that I was recovering well enough to be cut loose on Tuesday, so everything got accelerated. My meds were cut back again, my discharge paperwork started to make it’s way through the system, Dr. Macgovern stopped by to let me know that he was approving my discharge. We did discuss the situation that resulted in needing a sternotomy vs the less invasive process we agreed to post surgery. The explanation he gave indicated that once I was under anesthesia and was intubated, the esophageal echocardiogram showed a very minor leak in the aortic valve. While small enough that it didn’t warrant repair at this time, the drugs that would be used to stop my heart would swell the muscle and it could lead to worsening of the leak, if the muscle wasn’t protected well. He could not ensure adequate protection without going through the sternum, so it was a choice for safety. I have no problems at all with that choice, and given how well I’ve been recovering, I’m not sure it would have made much difference in the end.

Monday night was relatively peaceful. Tuesday morning came and my new RN Laura started gathering up all the info I’d need and we went through all the discharge and post op stuff I’d need once I got done. I did have some nursing students stop in for vitals, as it seems Tuesday is a training day for them. Laura mentioned that I’d be a good patient for the students, since I was doing so well and was positive and upbeat. That felt good to hear.

Finally the cardiologist stopped by to officially declare me “released” and I was able to walk out of the room about 90 minutes later.

Some key points I learned through this process:
The whole process is so much more advanced than I was really prepared for. From the cath process which used a new foam “filler” to close the hole in my vein, to the mix of meds to the total lack of post-op antibiotics, so much was different than I had expected.

Everyone on the med team was more than willing to help me learn about the process. They really wanted to make.

Nurses run the hospital. Ask them questions, listen to their answers and do what they say. They were completely committed to making me as comfortable as possible in order to get me out of the hospital as quickly as possible. I truly appreciated each and everyone of the team of nurses, techs and other staff that worked with me. Total professionals across the board.

A new adventure

Shifts in ones life can be subtle. Sometimes they are slowly revealed in a series of small changes over many weeks, months or years. My journey as an endurance athlete was something like this. Other times, the shifts can be dramatic and sudden. Such was the case when the phone rang on Wednesday, August 5th. That’s when I got the news that I’m now a cardiac patient, and need surgery.

I’ve known about my mitral valve issue for about 10-11 years and always knew that it would need to be addressed at some point in the future. But I thought that future would be a long way off, and beyond the point that my endurance sport career had ended. At my last physical, my GP suggested that the heart murmur sounded worse, and I should probably arrange for an updated echo test. On Monday I had the test, and my cardiologist called with the news on Wednesday.

Of course, this comes about two weeks AFTER I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid.

So my life-path has diverged and I begin a new chapter of my life. Got it.. I’m trying to go into this change as any in my life; buy learning, and reading and understanding as much as I can and they writing and talking and teaching about what I learn. I’m already starting down that path by getting involved with on-line groups and real-life folks, building a large team to get myself through this.

So this blog is likely to change up a bit, or may even shut down and be re-created in some other form. But I’m going to have to have some sort of outlet for this journey. Stick around for the ride.

2015 – The beginning

My plans for more consistency in training went by the boards in 2014, so I’m going to try to do better in 2015. So far I’ve been doing pretty well with two-hour MTB rides over the last three days. Today the weather will be working against me, but I’m going to try and get out for a run, or at the very least, a strength training session.

I’m also going to try to snap a pictures every day. It’s a forcing function to get me to stop, take a breath and look around a bit. Time flies by too fast, and I ned to take time to appreciate stillness everyday.

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This was taken along the trail at Six Mile Run park. It was a great day out on the bike, and I just had to stop and grab a shot.

The voice of experience…

When I signed up for IMAZ I had visions of hitting a PR and continuing on my long term plans to get to Kona.  During the early part of the season I was hitting my workouts, staying healthy and having fun, all good signs to having a great race.

In April, I was presented with an opportunity to join a fast-growing start-up company. Somehow, I rationalized that taking the job shouldn’t impact my training too much, and I could make some adjustments as needed.  Then the 60-70hr work weeks and heavy travel schedule started, and my workout log began to get filled with zeros.

After a couple of months of craziness, I sat down and thought through all the reasons that I wanted to race IMAZ, and tried to prioritize them.  I knew that the PR unlikely and that my work schedule would continue to get in the way of training.  I wasn’t even sure I could train enough to finish.  But I never wanted to bail out on the race.  What I hadn’t told many people was that I had originally signed up for the race to honor my stepbrother Hollis, who committed suicide in March 2013.  Hollis was always excited to hear about my racing, and I had promised him I’d race IMAZ and he could come see the event.  However, he was never able to see me race.  But I still wanted to keep my promise.

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So I spoke with Coach Debi and explained my work situation and she adjusted the plan and kept me on task as well as she could.

As many of you know, 4 weeks from race weekend, I had a bike accident where I injured my right leg, and kept me off the bike and off running for about two weeks.  So come race week, I knew I was going into Tempe woefully under-trained (less than 200 hrs since Jan 1), but ‘over rested’.  My one last hope was that I could draw on my experience racing the distance six times prior to IMAZ.

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Thursday of race week, Ultimate IronSherpa Fran and I flew out to Tempe, having shipped the bike via TriBike Transport.  Our travels were uneventful and we arrived in Tempe ready and determined to have fun.  My stepmother (Hollis’ mom) and her husband were going to join us for the circus that is Ironman, and Jason & Powerbar came through with VIP passes for the four of us.  Friday I picked up the bike, and reassembled it only to find that I could not get the Garmin Vector power meters to register on either my Garmin 810 or 910xt.  So I wouldn’t be able to race using power readings, just my HR and experience.

Friday night we attended the VIP viewing of the Ironman World Championship DVD at the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts.   It was a small affair with drinks and nibbles, then the video viewing.  As usual, the video was awesome and inspirational.  Watching Rinny Carfrae come back from a 14min deficit was just the sort of visualization I needed for my race.  If she could WIN by running on guts and experience, then I could finish using the same formula. And have fun doing it.

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Saturday meant early bike check in, transition bag drop off, then back to the room for calm, quiet reflection, reading, TV watching and mental preparation.  Fran knows that I’m not a lot of fun the day before a big race, since I’m not much for conversation during this time.  So she went out to dinner with my family and I hung out.  I actually enjoy the quiet time before race day, and Saturday was no different.  I get to visualize my race day, make my final strategy plans, go over the course on paper and in my head, think about where I’m going to see my family and friends, and make last minute adjustments to special needs bags.  But mostly I reflect on the reasons I want to put myself through the ordeal.  I think the most important point for me this year, was that I had external motivation to race.  I wanted to honor Hollis, and I wanted to make my family proud by doing so.

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Race morning started early, getting my nutrition down, personal needs dealt with and then off to transition.  Our hotel was only 1/2 mile from the transition area, and because of the layout, there weren’t a lot of crowds to deal with.  IMAZ is run really well, and has the best spectator layout and athlete flow that I’ve experienced.  I quickly dropped off special needs bags, got my bike set up then Fran & I camped out in the VIP tent near the swim finish unti it was time to race.  Having the VIP passes meant that I could sit in a relatively quiet and uncrowded place, have a cup of coffee and (most important) a clean bathroom without a line!

The pro men went off at 6:45 and the pro women 5 min later.  The swim is in Tempe Town ‘Lake’ which is really a dammed up stretch of the Salt River.  If you picture a cement drainage ditch, about 75 yards wide, you have a good image of the venue.  The swim is one lap, upstream on the way out, and downstream coming back, with no current to speak of.  Because the lake level was down, they could not use the normal starting point, so we all climbed down the swim exit steps, jumped in the water and swam 300 yds or so up to the start line just upstream of the Mill St. bridge.  IMAZ is a deep-water mass start, with athletes spread about 1/2 way across the width of the river.  I wanted to stay out of the scrum as much as possible early in the swim, so I put myself right against the wall of the riverbank.  When the gun went off I started swimming and just kept my effort hard for 400 yards, then backed off a bit into steady effort.  I found that if only took breath on my right, I could easily see spectators sitting on the wall, and a lot of them were waving at me.  That was pretty cool, and I waved back at a couple of small kids, making them laugh.  What I failed to remember was that the river curves to the right on the upstream leg, but the course goes straight up the river.  When I finally looked over to my left, I was WAY off the main line of the swim, and had to swim pretty hard to get back nearer to the buoy line.  If you look at my GPS plot, you can see where I started to go back, got into the scrum, swam away from the scrum for a bit, then eased back into the main line.  At the turn around, I was right back into the thick of the swimmers and got kicked in the face for my troubles, I managed to round both corners then again stayed to the far right, out of most of the traffic.  I was continually passing swimmers the whole route, but I wasn’t expending a lot more effort, which felt really good.  As we approached the Mill St. bridge, I checked my watch and saw I was at 1:01.  My race plan had me getting out of the water no later than 1:10, so when I popped up the ladder in 1:07, I was right on schedule.

Transition was a bit of a long run and a bit chaotic since transition bags are placed on the ground in long rows.  The volunteers were scrambling to get bags and it took a little time for me to locate mine, as they were MOVED since we checked them in the night before.  I got my bag, got into the  tent, took some time to clean all the dead grass and mud off my feet, get slathered in sun screen, then off to get my bike.

Once out on the course, it was immediately clear that we would be in for a challenging day.  I watched at least three barricades or signs blow over from the strong, gusty winds.  As we made our zig-zag way out of town onto the Beeline highway, I knew that we would have a strong headwind on the outbound leg and thus have a strong tailwind on the way home.  The bike course is three out-and-back loops, with a long, gradual 5+ mile climb to the turn around on Beeline.  To give you a sense of the winds, my first 1/2 of the first loop was completed in 1:07 (about 18 miles).  I finished the return trip in 43 minutes.  The most challenging part of the ride back was the gusty winds grabbing my deep section front wheel.  A couple of times the wind almost tore the bars out of my hands.  Scary stuff at close to 40mph.

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On the return leg of loop one I told myself to remain patient, that the straight and relatively flat course was the type of terrain I like, and I that my bike really excelled in the wind.  Loops two and three were windier, with stronger steady winds, but less gusty.  The tough conditions were mentally taxing more than physically exhausting.  I had to keep focused on my HR, and less on the speedometer reading 9 mph.  At the turn around on loop three, I got off the bike to use the bathroom and eat one of the bars I brought with me.  The wind had completely dried the bar out so that it was hard as a rock and un-chewable.  That got a laugh out of the volunteer holding my bike.  I pressed a bit harder on the last return trip, and tried to get out of the saddle to stretch, but hamstrings and quads were starting to cramp a bit, so I knew from experience that I was at my limit.  I just kept steady effort to get home safely.  My plans were to finish the bike 6:15-6:30 and I came in at 6:12.  Perfect!

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T2 was pretty quick and I was off on the run.  IMAZ run is a two-loop route with long out-and-back stretches, almost all of it on hard concrete.  There is a stretch of about 2 miles on a crushed stone path.  I had run most of the course when I was in Tempe on a buisness trip in Sept, but I didn’t have the whole route and I managed to miss the one “hill” that is on the backside of the return leg around mile 9-10 and 20-21.  I clicked off the miles, walking all the aid stations end-to-end and just kept moving.

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I was getting passed by a lot of people, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew that steady effort would get me to the finish, and any speed spent now would come back to haunt me later.  At the special needs I pulled out my jacket as the temps were dropping as it got dark. About mile 14 or 15 I met up with a gentleman in my age group going at about my pace, and we got to talking about the race.  This was his 2nd IM and 2nd at Arizona.  He was from Phoenix, and his team mates were running one of the aid stations.  We decided to keep running together and to keep pushing each other along.  That made a HUGE difference in both our races. When one person needed a walk break, the other wouldn’t let it go on too long before saying “OK, lets get back to work” or “let’s get this $%@&? thing done”…  The hard miles between 18 and 23 came and went, and once we made the turn on the Priest St. bridge, we could hear Mike Riley calling out finishers, and we could see the top of the US Air building which marked the finish line. Frank & I picked up the pace just a bit and ran it in to the end.  12:54.

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Of all my Ironman races, this one is my most memorable.  Not for the overall performance, nor for any specific segment.  I was happy to have done the race well, smiling all the way, having a great time, honoring Hollis and my family.  I was able to draw from my prior race experience to manage my effort, deal with race-moment situations and still come out as a finisher.

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Passing down the speed

I recently purchased a new tri-bike, so the old tri-bike has to go to a new home:

This is a 2008 Felt B2 size 52. I added a SRAM Quaq power meter, and the race wheels a couple of years later. The race wheels include a Zipp 404 front & rear, and a rear disc. Race wheels have tubular tires. The rear disc tire is brand new, less than 60 miles on it. I purchased the wheels used, so do not know what year these wheels were purchased new but they appear to be 2006-2008 era. The disc has the Zipp dimpled surface.
Also included are the original alloy wheels. Bike frame is carbon fiber, Basebar is aluminum with carbon extensions

Bike has Dura-Ace shifters, front & rear derailleur. OEM Felt Brakes. Look Keo pedals. Crank is an FSA Quaq compact power meter

I’m offering the bike as a complete package (pictures below)

The bike retailed for $3200, Quarq PM is about $1600 new, Used Zipp wheels around $1000.
I’ll toss in any spare tubular tires I have, the bento box (pictured below) and a rear mount 2-bottle holder.

Please shoot me an e-mail if you are interested. greg (at) gbassett.com. Pictures below

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Asking permission

“Ti’s better to beg for forgiveness, then to ask for permission”

I’ve heard this stated on many occasions, and have used the phrace myself at times.  But are we really trying to get over or around some perceived roadblock or are we looking for a different sort of engagement at a different place and time?

In most cases when this cliche’ is used, someone or some small group has a great idea, but feel they may need to gain some sort of approval.  In today’s business world this is generally not the case, and most businesses would be happy for the team to forge ahead and implement the idea within reasonable constraints.

The “beg for forgiveness” part usually comes up in relation to some stated procedure or compliance situation.  If the person or team with the idea is smart, they probably know instinctively where those regulatory/legal/ethical boundaries are.  What I believe is actually being stated is that the team may not want to have to explain themselves later.  I think that is mistake.

When you find yourself in this position, instead of trying to apologize for what you did, or even try to hide it, you really need to be prepared for the conversation with those you perceive might have said “no”.  Don’t think of it as an opportunity to grovel.  Instead, use the opportunity to engage with the individual and talk about the good work you did, the value you provided and the passion you had for the idea.

Being honest and transparent about your motives means never having to say you are sorry.

 

Another trip around the sun

I suppose having a birthday right after the new year means that I only need to come up with one set of resolutions for the entire year.  So what will I strive for in  2014/my 53rd solar cycle?

Swim/Bike/Run – sort of a no-brainer, since I filled my A and B race calendar before Christmas.  But I do need to set some goals for each, so here goes:

Primary Goal:  Consistency –

90% of all planned weekly workouts will be completed.  I’ve been focusing on being more consistent in my workouts, especially my running and it’s starting to pay off. So this year I’m setting the bar really high in order to help me be more consistent in my workouts.

  • Swim:  400,000 yards – Easily attainable, a bit over 7.5k a week.  I should shoot for 10k a week, but we’ll see how this goes.
  • Bike:  5000 miles – Huge bump from 2012,  and a bit under 100 miles/week.  but I need to put in a lot of work on the bike to prepare for all the races
  • Run:  1000 miles – Big bump from 2012, but I’m currently on track for 19+ mile weeks pretty regularly now.

Primary Goal:  More Strength Training.

30-60 minutes 2x week.  More volume means more chance for injury, so I really need to work on strength routines.  Started with the “No Gym, No Problem” workout routine.  I should be able to get this down to 45 minutes per session, and 3 sessions a week, at least through the winter.  I’ll see if I can get through the initial 3 phases before committing to go further with this program, but so far it seems like a winner.

Primary Goal: Body Composition.  BF < 12%, Weight < 155.

This means fat burning, to help with my GI distress problems on long events.  I need to eliminate empty calories from sugar/NA beers and snacks.  Stick to whole foods, good quality fats and proper fueling the workouts.  Easy to say, hard to stick to with all the leftover holiday goodies in the house.  I’m going nibble on them through the weekend, then whatever is left gets kicked to the curb Sunday night.

2013 Year in Review

Month by month:

January – For my 51st birthday, I got a tattoo.  Yep, real ink.  Love it, live it.tatoo

February – Since I’m spending more time in the workout room, I decided that it was time to upgrade the TV and simplify the computer setup.  The results were exactly what I wanted.  The laptop (Macbook Pro w/Windows 7 in Bootcamp) works much better with the Cyclops Powerbeam trainer, and the TV is perfect for watching on the trainer or treadmill.

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March – My stepbrother Hollis took his own life in late March.  It was a sudden and tragic end to a difficult life.  Lots of bad decisions culminating in tragedy. I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life and recommitting myself to purposeful living.

April – My two brothers and I flew out to Arizona for Hollis’ memorial service.  While the reasons for the trip were sad, it was good to spend some time with them both.  We took the opportunity for a quick hike in the Superstition mountains.  I really do appreciate having both my brothers close by.  I need to remember to tell them that more often.

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May – I was nominated for a great management training program at work, and participated in a very challenging CIO simulation.  This program has been run for a number of years, and really reflects how my company works, and the types of business situations and issues that occur every day.  I learned a LOT about myself during these sessions.

June – Patriot 1/2 IM race in Massachusetts.  The Multisport Athletes of the Somerset Hills group had a huge presence at this event.  We all wore our new team kits, raced hard and had a lot of fun.  Not my BEST 1/2 IM, but a solid effort in all three sports.

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July – Two big trips in July.  Over the Independence Day weekend, I went to Portland for the World Domination Summit.  I loved the sessions and workshops and came away very inspired, if not a bit overwhelmed.  Oh, and I helped set a Guinness World Record:  Most People in a Floating Line.    So I got THAT going for me.

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Later in the month we went back to OBX with the Turco/Cole/Bassett group.  This time we opted for a place in Nags Head.  Closer to shopping and other stuff, making it convenient, if a bit noisy.  Had a GREAT week of weather.  Lots of beach time, some great long workouts and just a ton of fun.

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August – I completed my 6th Ironman race in Mont Tremblant Canada in August.  This was my first “international” race.  Mont Tremblant is a GREAT venue for a race.  Again, not a PR day, but I learned some important lessons about fueling during the race..  Thanks to friends at PowerBar Fran got VIP passes and was able to watch some of the race in comfort.  Many thanks to the Jason, Tracy and Stephen from Team NRGY who flew up for the weekend to support me and the other NRGY team racers.

September – Lots and lots of running getting ready for the NY Marathon.  I took a weekend off of running to ride the MS150 City to Shore again.  I really do enjoy this ride and look forward to it every year.

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October – One of my high-points for 2013 was the Great Range Traverse.  24 miles, 11,000 feet of elevation gain.  19 hours on the trail  One of the hardest one-day events I’ve ever attempted.  It helped to have good friends along for the adventure.  I’m definitely looking for something like this again!

GRT2013 Finishers

Picture by Mark Walsh

GRT2013

November – NYC Marathon – In 2012 I completed the New York Road Runners 9+1 program and got a guaranteed entry into the marathon.  This was a bucket list race for me.  The course isn’t one for a PR as it is surprisingly hilly, but I trained for a good performance and ran a good race.  Everything that is said about the race is true!  It is a wonderful experience and one of the best run BIG events I’ve ever done.  I’ll be back to do this one again

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December – I ordered a new race bike for 2014.  After a bit of research and shopping I settled on a Trek Speed Concept 9.9.  It won’t be ready until the spring, but I’m really looking forward to riding and racing on the new bike!

Trek SC 9.9

Training Summary:

  • Swim:  237,914 (135+ miles)
  • Bike:  2770 miles
  • Run:  685 miles

I’m planning on bumping up these totals pretty significantly in 2014.  Goals are for 5000 miles biking and 1000 miles running.  Let’s hope the old body holds together!

 

Always trust your cape

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I’ve been riffin’ on the lyrics to the Guy Clark song “The Cape” lately.  It really resonates with me in way that represents how I feel about the endurance lifestyle, and being a long-distance triathlete.  Completing an Ironman distance race fundamentally changes you as a person.  I suppose it is similar to other life changing events like college graduation or marriage.  Before the event, you were one thing and after a specific moment in time, you are something else.  There are any number of times that I’ve faced something unknown, or even unpleasant in my life where I was able to fall back on some part of completing a race to get me past the current challenge.

Today while I was in the dentist chair waiting to go through a procedure, I recognized the anxious feeling as the anticipation of pain.  It was the same feeling I have when I’m scheduled for an extra tough workout or heading into a 10K road race.  Both events are hard, and a bit uncomfortable, but they are never as painful as I anticipate, and I get through them and recover pretty quickly.  I was able to draw on that experience to get myself settled down and got through the surgery pretty easily.

So to me, the endurance training and racing experience become my cape.  I rely on it to help me fly through life’s challenges.  Or as Guy Clark wrote:

Always trust your cape

 

Great Range Traverse – 2013 trip report

Great Range Traverse – 2013

Summary:  20.45 miles, 11,679′ elevation, 19.08 hours

GRT2013

I signed on for this adventure for a couple of reasons.  First, I love the Adirondacks.  I’ve always been more of a beach guy, but I fell in love with the Adirondacks through my trips to Lake Placid.  Second, this was going to be a new challenge for me, never having done a major hike, with serious climbing.  Finally, I wanted to stretch outside my comfort zone.  I’m not a big fan of heights, particularly those on extreme terrain.  This hike would provide me with multiple opportunities to stretch outside my envelope.

Friday arrived at hotel after an overnight stop in North Creek to visit a friend.  The weather forecast looked spectacular, with bright sun, cool temps and low wind.  Since this was going to be a first time event for me, I was glad to know that weather wasn’t going to be a major factor.  We spent Friday afternoon working to put up a support pole for a new solar panel array.  It was a bunch of work, but it went pretty quickly with 4 people.  A big Thank You out to Scott & Ruth for their hospitality at Camp Garuda.

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I was a bit worried about my gear selection, since some of it was new, and other bits weren’t used  before on a long hike.  I was carrying a pretty big load in my hydration pack, and although I’ve used it many times on MTB rides, none have ever been longer than 2-3 hours.  Wearing it loaded with a lot more gear for 17+ hours would  be different.  I also decided to use hiking poles, since I figured the would help with balance on the trail.  For footwear I opted for my trail running shoes, which worked ok,  but weren’t optimal for the hike.

The rest of the group arrived over several hours on Friday, and we all went out to dinner at local restaurant near our hotel (ADK Trail Inn) in Upper Jay.  After dinner we sat around a campfire provided by the hotel and entertained another couple with stories of the ridiculous endurance events we’ve done in the past.

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The plan was to be up by 4:00am and on the trail by 5:00am.  The hotel staff put some “to go” bags together for the the group since we’d miss the normal breakfast.  Thankfully they also provided hot coffee in the morning as well.

After a bit of a delay due to some mechanical problems with a teammates car, we got on the road to the trail head.  Our plan was to leave from the Rooster Comb trail head and exit at the Gardens trail head.   The planned hike was a “standard” Great Range Traverse, which covers over 20 miles and includes 10 peaks:  Roster Comb (2762′), Hedgehog (3389′), Lower Wolf Jaw (4175′), Upper Wolf Jaw (4185′), Armstrong (4400′), Gothics (4736′), Saddleback (4515′), Basin (4827′), Little Haystack (4692′), Haystack ( 4960′ via the Devil’s Half Mile) and Mount Marcy (5344′).  After bagging all the peaks, we still would have to hike close to 10 miles out to the pick up point.

GRT Map

Our research found that ‘book time’ for the GRT was between 15 and 17 hours.  All we knew is that we were in for a very long day.  None of us had any designs on a fast run.  Our estimates ran from 12 hours to over 24.  We’d just take what the day gave us, move as fast as possible and have fun.

in the hotel
Heading out in the dark was fun and the Rooster Comb trail started to climb pretty quickly.  On this leg, Jim’s wife Kate and their dog Tempo joined us.  They planned to summit Rooster Comb then turn around and head back for the day, and provide ‘base camp’ support, then pick the rest of us up at the Garden trail head.  Jim was wearing a SPOT GPS locator that tracked our path via satellite transmissions.  Kate would be following along online back at the hotel.

As we hiked up Rooster Comb many of us began to shed layers of clothes as we heated up from the aggressive pace.  After the summit, as we moved on to Hedgehog, Mark & Dan dropped back to an easier pace and  brought up the rear.  We quickly summited Hedgehog and moved on to the Wolf Jaws.
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Along the way, Dan caught up to the rest of us, stating that Mark was going to continue on his own from the back, and would bail out when he had enough for the day.  As an experienced solo adventure racer, and with the excellent weather conditions, we felt he’d be ok on his own.

The remaining five hikers continued through the Wolf Jaws, and Armstrong.  At this point we were continually above 4000′.  With each peak, the trails up and down became harder, steeper and longer.  After we summited Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback and Basin, each decent required a LOT of rock scrambling and very cautious footwork along sheer granite rock faces.  Along the descent out of Gothics we found cables attached to the rock to help with the descent.  This was WAY beyond what I had expected from the hike.
Greg & Brian cables down
Once we came down from basin, we had a choice to make.  We were several hours behind our planned schedule, and running low on water.  We could choose to bail out along the Shorey Short Cut trail, skip the Haystacks & Mt. Marcy and head back to the pick up point, or continue on to the last three summits.  At issue was the length of time we would be out on the trail  Since both the Haystacks and Marcy required separate out-and-back trails, we’d be covering about 3.5 miles of trail,  but with the substantial elevation gain & loss between each we would need close to 4 hours to complete the peaks.  We were all pretty well spent physically, and many of us were running low on water.  Dan & Dave decided that they had enough, having summited these peaks before.  Brian, Jim and I decided that we would continue on to complete the whole GRT.

5 left
What Dan & Dave didn’t know is that the Shorey Short Cut was a brutal length of trail and would include close to 400′ additional elevation gain, before beginning the long descent and hike back to the pick-up point at the Gardens trailhead.

Brian, Jim and I continued on toward the Haystacks and kept our eyes open for any water.  There seemed to be a lot of small puddles around, so the trail wasn’t completely dry.  We finally located a source of running water, and filled up our hydration bladders & bottles.  Jim passed around what he thought were iodine tablets to each of us, but on closer inspection we learned that these were different tablets that were to be used AFTER the use of iodine purifying tablets.  So now we had water, but of questionable quality.  We actually began to debate how quickly we’d get hit with giardia if the water was bad.  I was ready to bail out and head back on my own, but Jim and Brian reasoned that we should be able to beg for some iodine tabs from other hikers we met along the trail.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long.  About a 1/2 mile later we ran into a group of men coming down the trail.  While they didn’t have iodine, they did us better with a filtration pump.  We quickly filtered our water, thanked them profusely and headed back up the trail.  We were advised that the view from Haystack was worth every bit of effort it took to get up to the top, and we were excited to get there.

As we summited Little Haystack we passed beyond the 4600′ tree line, and into the arctic-alpine vegetation zone.  Here we found moss and other hardy plants that could survive the harsh, windy conditions.  We had to be extra careful to stay on the rock trail as the plant life was sensitive to any foot falls.

At the top of little Haystack, we could immediately see the summit of Haystack, several hundred feet hight, and right through the Devils Half Mile.  At this point we met up with another hiker who shared his iodine tabs with us, and informed us that we were crazy to consider going on to summit Marcy, so late in the day.  He also stated that we were his kind of crazy, and wanted to meet up with us on a future adventure.  Brian gave him a business card and we were on our way.

The view from Haystack was as gorgeous as advertised.  A full 360 degree view across the area.  The weather was still perfect, but we were losing daylight quickly, and had a significant push to get to Marcy
We descended the Haystacks, doubling back along the trail, and lost a lot of elevation.  When we got back to the trail junction we realized we had to gain 1,200′ to reach the summit of Marcy, and we would be racing sunset.

As we got close to the top of Marcy, we ran into a young lady who had set up a small campsite along the trail.  She informed us that we could catch the sunset from the top of Marcy if we hustled to the top.  I’m not sure how much hustle we had left in our legs, but we assured her we would try.

As we got into the arctic-alpine zone, the wind began to pick up substantially, and near the summit, it was a full 30-35 mph wind.  We caught the very end of the sunset descending over the horizon, as we stood among clouds blowing over and across the top of the mountain.  For me, this was definitely the high point of the day.

marcy sunset
We got our pictures, and then ducked between some rocks to don warmer clothes for the decent and trip back home.  As we descend back to the trail junction, we were in the shadow of the mountain and lost daylight very quickly.  We had to resort to using our head lamps during some of the steepest and gnarliest parts of the descent.

Jim channeled his inner mountain goat and simply bounced down the trail.  Brian and I continued further back, carefully navigating our way with  very tired and sore legs.  The fatigue was really hampering our ability to maintain footing and we had many slips and near falls.  At one point both my feet slipped out from under me and I hit the rock trail flat on my back.  I was stunned, but not injured however it took Brian and I several minutes to find one of my hiking poles.  It had flown up into a tree on the side of the trail.

We caught up with Jim at the trail intersection and decided it would be best if we tried to stay together as much as possible.  We were all very tired and sore and we didn’t want to get separated in case there was any problem along the way.

We knew we had about 8 miles to cover until we got to the end of the trail, and that we’d hit the Johns Brook lodge about 1/2 way to the finish where we could get water and some food.  At this point we were covering a mile every hour or so, but we knew the trail would level out a bit further along.  The first few miles were rocky technical decent, further tapping our dwindling endurance.  Words like “relentless”, “shattered”, and “WTF” were heard frequently from the group.  We finally came upon the Slant Rock intersection and had a bit of a challenge locating the trail out to the lodge.  After a false start, re-group and locating the right trail, we crossed the Johns Brook and followed the creek out to the lodge.  The trail got easier the further we went along.  As the distance passed we began to wonder if the lodge was a reality or some cruel joke from the map makers.

We finally stumbled into the lodge camp around 10:00pm, or over 90 minutes after we were expected to be there.  The food that Kate had hiked in for us wasn’t kept by the ranger, however the volunteer at the lodge made us some tasty sandwiches and handed over a bag of peanut M&M’s.  We could also fill up our bottles again with fresh, clean water.  Our trip was once again salvaged by the kindness of strangers.

We decided not to go into the lodge proper as it would have been far to tempting to sit in comfortable chairs and go right to sleep.  After we ate on the deck, we headed back out to the well marked trail and began our march home.  We were able to pick up the pace a bit to 26-27 minute miles and we covered the remaining ground pretty quickly.  Brian, Jim and I traded spots at the front of the march as we each found second/third/ninth winds.  Finally Jim called back from the front that he saw tail lights in the parking lot.  We emerged from the dark to find Kate and Mark waiting for us.  It was just after 1:00am.

GRT2013 Finishers
We piled into Jim & Kate’s truck, and food was passed around.  The team had picked up quesadillas and ramen noodles for us and we quickly devoured them on the route back to my car.  Mark was kind enough to ride back to the hotel with me as I wasn’t sure that I had the mental capacity to find my way back without getting lost.

Once back at the hotel, we were greeted with more food.  I got back to my room, showered and ate and after 30 or 40 minutes chatting with Dave, I finally burned off the last bit of adrenaline and caffeine and fell asleep.

Sunday morning came up very quickly and we all met up in the hotel lobby for breakfast.  We were all staggering around stiff legged, sore, tired and yet really satisfied with ourselves for having had a great day out on the trails.

I want to thank Brian, Jim, Dave, Dan & Mark for joining in on this adventure.  Having a bunch of fun guys along for the trip makes all the difference.  And a HUGE thank you to Kate for following our SPOT tracking and coming to drive us out of the Gardens trail head.

Next up:  Presidential Traverse – New Hampshire White Mountains