Thursday, September 27, 2012

"BallouSkies Update"

Click here to visit the BallouSkies website

I had a rare mid-week day-off from work yesterday.  So, after Laura's pancake breakfast, Luke and I attended a Ballou Skies meeting at PLB Sports headquarters.  I am part of the Ballou Skies Triathlon Team, and I consider it a privilege and an honor to be part of a team comprised of so many dedicated and elite triathletes.  However, the Ballou Skies' mission is so much more than triathlon.  Our mission is to raise awareness, hope, and funds for the battle against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  Our mission is led by Ty Ballou, who is also the CEO of PLB Sports.  His son, Ryan, has been inflicted with DMD since birth.  Ty's passion and perseverance are easily recognizable when he talks about Ryan and Ballou Skies.  Ryan's optimism is evidence of his unwillingness to allow DMD to control his life.  Despite needing a motorized wheelchair to get around, Ryan continues to work towards a college degree, while also being employed at Stage AE on the North Shore of Pittsburgh.  Ryan is now 24 years old and continues to show that he lives an independent life on his own terms.

2012 Ballou Skies Triathlon Team

When Luke and I arrived at PLB Sports, we were warmly greeted by Ryan and Sherry, PLB's administrative assistant.  Luke was being shy at first, but quickly warmed-up.  He really liked Ryan's wheelchair. :)  Ryan and I talked about his job at Stage AE and how the schedule of shows slows this time of year.  Ty was quick to come and greet us, and we met Merrett, Ty's daughter and Ryan's sister.  We met many other Ballou Skies' friends, supporters and board members, as well as Dr. Jill Rafael-Fortney and Dr. Subha Raman, from the team at the Ohio State Heart Clinic.  I was happy Luke and I were there and was looking forward to learning more about the DMD research.

From Left to Right: Dr. Rafael-Fortney, Ty, Ryan, Dr. Raman, Me & Luke
(Luke was still checking out Ryan's wheels)

Luke and I took our seat next to Ryan in the conference room.  I thought Luke would be able to sit with me, but once he saw there were buttons on Ryan's wheelchair, he would not sit still.  I had to turn him over to Sherry to read books and play with cars.  Thanks Sherry! 

Dr. Raman began with a brief history of the work that has been done to date.  She recalled how quickly things have progressed since 2007 with the help of Ballou Skies.  She spoke about how the "stars aligned" to produce progress that is unheard of in the medical research field.  With the success of Ryan's ground-breaking treatment, many other boys with DMD have been getting MRI's of their hearts to track the scarring caused by DMD.  Presently, the research team is trying to get the remaining balance of 40 boys to begin a 12 month double-blind randomized research study that will monitor the effects of Spironolact, a heart medicine, on reducing scar tissue that can accumulate on the heart muscle as a result of DMD.

In addition to the detailed account of the research, Ty spoke from time to time.  You could see the passion in his eyes.  He spoke about how difficult the trips to Columbus for Ryan's regular MRI's are.  He spoke about the fear of the possibility that things could look worse this time.  However, he concluded that each car ride home is the greatest car ride because Ryan's heart continues to be strong.  We also heard the story about the young boy and his parents that came to Columbus all the way from California for his first MRI.  When they arrived at the hospital, the boy was too scared to go through with the MRI.  They arranged for Ryan to talk with the boy on the phone, and Ryan was able to calm the boy's fear so that he was able to complete the MRI.  As I sat there and listened, I was inspired by the commitment, passion, and courage that the people in the room had for this cause that could some day really truly help so many boys with DMD.

As the meeting concluded, I asked for a picture with Ty, Ryan, Dr. Rafael-Fortney, Dr. Raman, and Luke and Me in front of the HOPE poster that accompanied so many other Ballou Skies posters in the room.  Of course, they were all more than willing to be in the picture.  It confirms that we're all part of a winning team, and while Ryan continues to live everyday fighting DMD, the reality is that he has already won.

Until there's a cure, Ballou Skies...

The HOPE that accompanies the passion and courage.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Cedar Point Full Rev Race Report"

This past weekend was the most successful triathlon experience I have had to date.  The weather, venue, family, support, and race turned out better than I could have expected.

This was my first Rev3 race and my first full distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).  Just to clear-up any confusion, for the non-triathletes, Rev3 calls their full distance triathlon a FullRev.  Ironman calls their full distance triathlon an Ironman.  Thanks to the Rev3 organization for conducting such a well-organized and enjoyable event.  Cedar Point/Sandusky is a great place to have a race.  There is so much for spectators to do.

On Saturday, as I prepared for Sunday's race, the family (Laura, Luke, Mom & Dad, Emily, Kevin, Tyler, Aidan, Katie, Rylen, and Reese) went to Cedar Point.  Everyone said it was really fun and that there was so much to do.  I was disappointed not to be with them, but so happy they had a good time.

Mommy & Luke riding the Teacups.

Luke and Tyler racing around the track.

My parents and Reese chillin' at Cedar Point.

Tyler and Rylen hangin' with Snoopy.

Hotel Breakers is a nice beachside resort with a very friendly and helpful staff.  The location to Cedar Point as well as the race can't be beat.  Transition was just a short walk down the beach, and the swim start was directly outside the hotel.  On race morning, I, like most athletes staying at Hotel Breakers, setup my stuff at transition and returned to my hotel room to await the start of the race.  This gave me a few extra minutes to change Luke's diaper and get him dressed.  Yep, I'm not kidding.  How many athletes can say the last thing they did before the start of a full distance triathlon was change their 16 month old son's diaper and get him dressed?  But seriously, it helped me stay calm as the race approached.  Most of the family watched the swim from our hotel room balcony.  It was the best seat in the house.

Mom and Me heading down to the swim start.

My mom at the swim start with me in the background.
Dressed for success

"My First Ironman"

The Swim
Swimming 2.4 miles became routine during training for my first full distance triathlon.  These were the long, boring swim workouts in which you usually lost count of your distance at some point.

Mass start

Sunday's mass start (everyone in the water at the same time) for 2.4 miles was a new experience.  I told my parents, "I'm just going for a nice long swim."  Once started, I found a fairly clear path just inside the directional buoys and settled into a smooth consistent pace.  The water was cool and the sun rose behind a mountain of billowing clouds.  I was having a nice long swim.  The end of the first loop brought us back into the shallow water close to shore where we started.  Everyone stood and walked for several hundred meters.  This gave me a chance to look around and see my place in the pack.  As I thought, I was in the front half of the group and having a good swim by my standards.  The pack of 355 athletes had spread out, which made navigating a little easier.  But, Lake Erie had awoken, and the water was much more choppy.  I did my best to stay smooth and consistent.

As I rounded the final turn toward the swim exit, I knew I had put myself in contention with the other amateur athletes.  Although my swim time wouldn't stack-up against the top swimmers, I knew there was a 112 mile bike ride to make-up lots of time.  As I exited the water, I passed my screaming family.  What a great feeling to have them there supporting me.  My overall swim time was 1:15:10 and 60th place overall.  I'll take it.

The Bike
T1 went smoothly as I prepared for the 112 mile bike ride.  However, about a quarter-mile into the ride, my excitement got the best of me.  I veered a little too far right and ended-up in someone's front yard bunny hopping crevices and roadside debris.  After stopping to retrieve my water bottle, I said to myself in a chuckle, "Ok, relax.  Let's start this over again."  I got back on the horse and eased into a 90 rpm cadence that quickly increased my speed to about 24 mph.  Gotta love flat bike courses. :)

I knew it was a long ride (not to mention the marathon that followed) so I focused on taking in plenty of fluids and gels.  I wasn't interested in racing anyone at this point, but rather taking care of the business of staying comfortable, hydrated, and fed.  The volunteers at the aid stations were fantastic as they handed out gatorade and powerbar gels.  The volunteers encouraged us as we passed through with cheers, cow bells, blow horns, and shakers.  Before I knew it, I was at the 56 mile mark.  I recall passing a timing mat and looking down at my watch to see what everyone following online would be seeing.  I was happily surprised to see I was right around 2:30.  Happy might be an understatement.  I was shocked at how well I was riding.  Not to overstate it, but I couldn't believe how quickly the first 56 miles had passed, and I couldn't believe how great my legs felt.  I thought back to my many half-ironman races and how hard the 56 mile bike ride had been.  I guess the training was paying off.  I knew that, if I was able to go 2:30 on the second 56 miles, I would be right around 5 hrs.  That would be exceeding the 5:15 I had planned for.  Somewhere between miles 60 and 70, the bike course for the FullRev met-up with the bike course for the HalfRev.  This was a pleasant distraction as I had been riding alone for quite some time.  I enjoyed seeing the other competitors and took comfort knowing we shared the determination of conquering the day's challenges.

By mile 90 I was getting quite uncomfortable.  I unclipped my pedals from time-to-time and shook-out my legs.  I made frequent adjustments on my bike seat in order to manage the inevitable discomfort in that region.  I checked my watch for reassurance that I would be off my bike soon.  At that moment, I discovered new motivation.  I was on pace to break 5 hrs. on the bike.  I decided this was a goal I wanted to achieve.  I wasn't willing to sacrifice the rest of my race, but I was willing to deal with the discomfort of staying in the aero position and continuing to ride at the pace I had set to that point.  I wanted to be able to look at my online results and see a bike split that started with a 4.

My final 25.4 mile pace was almost as fast as my first 22.5 miles, and I pulled into T2 with a bike time of 4:55:32 (fastest amateur and faster than six pros).  Mission accomplished!  Well, at least two-thirds of it. :)

The Run
"Ok, this is exactly why you signed-up.  You wanted this challenge.  Just run the first mile and we'll see where we're at."  These were the words I spoke to myself as I enter the parking lot on my bike.  I didn't let myself think about the fact the marathon I had to run.  I needed to approach it in much smaller, less daunting distances.

After racking my bike and changing into my run gear, I swallowed a gulp of gatorade and stuffed half a banana into my mouth before easing into a steady jog.  At the first mile-marker, I checked my watch.  8:14.  Well, that was a little slower than the 8:00 pace I was aiming for, but it was only the first mile.  At that moment, I heard the voice of a fellow competitor coming up behind me.  He mentioned Ballou Skies .  He had obviously noticed the uniform I wear for the best Tri Team around.  No, seriously.  Check out my teammates results.  We're setting PR's all over the country and continuing to raise awareness for the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  If you don't know about it, you better check it out.  The voice belonged to Kris Kocan from Meadville, PA.  We talked for a minute about Jason Jacobs, who also races for Ballou Skies and won the HalfRev on Sunday.  Our short conversation was a nice distraction, and I decided to let Kris pace me for as long as I could hang on.  I ran with Kris for about four miles at 7:35 pace and felt good.  I started telling myself it was just a long weekend run on legs that were tired from a hard training week.  This strategy worked because for the first 13.1 mile loop, I felt like I was on a victory lap.  Sure my legs were tired, but I've been in more pain at the half-iron distance.  Well, my victory lap was about to come to an end.

After the first mile of the second loop, I could feel my pace slowing and the pain building in my legs.  At this point, Matthew McDonough from Chicago ran up beside me.  I made a decision to run with him and let him pace me since Kris had fallen back.  Even though my legs did not want to go that fast, I made up my mind that's how it was going to be.  I'm sure Matt knew exactly what I was doing.  The toughest part of staying with him was catching-up to him after the aid stations.  He chose to run and drink, while I chose to walk and drink.  I wanted to make sure I was still getting fluids and calories in me not on me.  At about mile 18, Matt surprisingly veered off to go to the bathroom.  I thought this was a good sign as he might be hurting as much or more than I was.  However, without Matt to set the pace, I slowed and over the next few miles, Matt was able to catch and pass me for good.  My legs were hurting and I was doing everything I could to put one foot in front of the other.  With about 6.2 miles to go, my focus was on finishing the race.  My pace had slowed to over 9 minutes and now Travis Early from Fairport, NY was passing me with about 4 miles to go.  I needed something to rejuvenate me.

A few minutes later, I noticed Travis stop up ahead.  He was cramping!  He stopped and was doing everything he could to massage his legs.  I don't mean to find joy in another man's struggles, but it reaffirmed that others were hurting as bad as I, or even worse.  I checked my watch to assess the situation further (pretty much you're looking at your watch all day).  9:41 and 4 miles to go.  "If I can go sub 9-minute miles from here on in, I could break 10 hrs!"  This became my motivation.  Travis had cramped and I'm hunting a sub 10 hr ironman.  I dug deep and pulled out an 8:45 and an 8:54 mile.  I ran through the remaining aid stations without stopping or grabbing anything to drink or eat simply because I couldn't bear stopping and starting again.  My legs were screaming with each step.  The next time I stopped would be at the finish line.

Em cheering me on down the finishing shoot.

Mom cheering me on.

As I was funnelled into the finishing shoot, my sister, Emily was screaming up ahead.  I passed my mom as she shouted and finally came around the corner to see Laura and Luke.  I had told Laura I wanted to finish with Luke so she handed him off and the celebration began.

Me and Luke, Laura, Uncle Kevin, and Tyler
Well, not #1 buddy, but maybe next time.

Final Results
If you've seen the final results on-line, you might be asking the same question I'd be asking.  How could he finish just one second behind the 4th place finisher?  Well...

You see, when Laura handed me Luke, my legs were hurting so badly that I walked the final 30-40 feet because I didn't want to drop Luke in the event of cramping.  I didn't realize Travis Early, who had cramped earlier, was making a final dash to pass me.  After crossing the finish line, he apologized and said, "I'm sorry, but I had to."  Well, it's all good because I got some spectacular memories and photos of finishing my first full distance triathlon with my son.  And, each of you can determine for yourself whether you would have done what Travis did.  But, my dad did happen to catch the moment on camera.  And Travis, "I'm sorry, but I had to."

4th & 5th place finishers.

Thanks to all my family and friends for their support!