Chunky Illinois air

So this is something I probably should have mentioned earlier, but in early July I took a new job, which required me relocating to Denver, Colorado! This is a big change for me since my whole life I have always lived in Illinois. In fact, Illinois is where I got my start in the running and triathlon worlds. Say what you want about that state, but you will be hard-pressed to find higher quality people. I will miss my friends, family, and colleagues (you all had better visit or at least stay in touch). However I am completely stoked for a new adventure in Colorado!

Rocky Mountains

To the untrained eye this photo might appear to be only of the Rocky Mountains. But also pictured is a large quantity of Colorado air. It is so thin you can see right through it.

I have already been out here a week and have had a chance to run and ride in the city, in the suburbs, and in different state parks. Each of these workouts has highlighted what I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time…the altitude.

Now I am used to the nice, chunky Illinois air. Let me put it in perspective. When I was living in Illinois, every morning I would wake up and take a deep breath. Then I wouldn’t need to breathe again until about 7:30 or 8 p.m. that night. That’s how thick the air is.

Colorado is different. Here I get moving and instantly have to inhale air like a chubby kid gulping down candy from an unattended trick-or-treat basket.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the air is definitely thinner up here. I felt it a few minutes into my first run. It was suddenly as if I had been running for miles. A week and many miles later, I still feel it, but I can manage it. I am excited for how it will affect my IM Louisville performance.

In the meantime, I will be hoping one of my suitcases turns out to be empty and instead full of some of that hearty Midwestern air I enjoy!

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Race for Aaron

Aaron Leetch

ISU’s Aaron Leetch

On the morning of April 7, a plane carrying several of the Illinois State University Redbirds’ greatest supporters crashed outside of Bloomington-Normal, claiming the lives of all on board. Among those lost was Aaron Leetch, deputy director of Athletics for the Redbirds. Before Aaron passed away he was training with Erik Rankin and the rest of the Grim Reaper Fitness (GRF) crew for his first triathlon. Like any soon-to-be triathlete, he was looking forward to the challenge and talking about it with anyone and everyone who would listen. Unfortunately, Aaron never got the chance to race.

But it was a challenge that wouldn’t go unanswered.

Matt Lyons, a Redbird Athletics staff member and longtime friend of Aaron’s decided to finish what Aaron had started.

Steve Barcus and Matt Lyons

Me with Matt Lyons before the start of the race. Matt’s shirt has “ARL” highlighted in honor of Aaron.

That’s how I met Matt. A coworker told me what Matt was trying to do and asked if he could connect us. I was all too eager to lend a hand. With only six weeks before Tri-Shark, Matt would need to learn the basics of triathlon and condition himself to make it through a 600 yard swim, 12.4 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. I called Matt to have an initial chat with him and see where I could help. Fortunately he was already in the habit of keeping fit–running a couple of miles and doing some lifting. He also knew how to swim but had never really worked at specific distances. I suppose the same could be said with his biking ability. He seemed to have an idea what he was actually taking on, which was a good start. So I asked how I could help. He said that if I knew anyone who could lend him a bike he would really appreciate it.

I have commented before on how the triathlon community is made up of some of the generous and supportive people you could ever meet, and it didn’t disappoint me here. I dropped a message in the Tri-Shark Facebook group asking if someone would be willing to lend a friend a tri or road bike. Within minutes I had three offers, the one I accepted coming from Kelly Ruiter and David Ford.

I set up a time for Matt to meet them and Dave did an impromptu fitting on one of Kelly’s bikes. They even lent an extra helmet. I offered up my Tyr Hurricane, but unfortunately the sizing was off. He would have to race without a wet suit.

Luckily Matt had borrowed a trainer from a friend and had been given a training plan. He quickly got down the bike and run brick workout to where he wasn’t particularly worried about finishing the run or bike. The obstacle would be the swim. For those unaccustomed to open water swimming, it can be a significant change from the pool. What’s worse is that with other swimmers kicking and clawing for the same space in the lake, panic attacks are very possible and potentially devastating.

Matt and I went to one of the GRF Wednesday Open Water Swims for some practice. There something good and bad happened. Out in the lake, Matt had experienced a panic attack. It is of course bad, since it is not a fun thing to go through (I can vouch for this having gone through it myself). On the other hand it is good since once you’ve gone through it, you know how to deal with it. He dealt with it well. We swam over to a kayak,  took a break, and then knocked out a couple more laps. During the last one I gave him a bit of a mass swim experience by having him swim while I went out of my way to bump, kick, grab, and claw at him. I’m pretty sure that was more fun for me than for him.

After six weeks of training and a few sessions talking race and transition strategy, the big day arrived. Since I had been out injured for previous weeks I offered to hang with Matt during the race so he had someone to push him along. The only part we would need to do differently was the swim since staying with a specific person during the mass swim could be tough and doing so could provide an obstacle for the other swimmers.

Tri-Shark Classic

Matt received a lot of support from Aaron’s family as well as Aaron’s friends at Grim Reaper Fitness. GRF T-shirts were emblazoned with “AL” in honor of Aaron.

And so it began.

I had a great swim and made it out of the water in 10:10 and into transition. I was a bit anxious since I knew the swim was the only potential problem area for Matt. The way I was looking at it, if he made it out of the water, he would finish the race. I was guessing the swim would take him around 15 or 16 minutes, so imagine my surprise when I saw him running up after 14:11!

Our strategy for transition was to take whatever time was necessary to perform well in the next event. The day was about finishing, not getting a certain time. Total T1 time was 5:09.

After changing out necessary gear, having some water, and eating a gel, he was off again. Matt kept a solid pace for the first seven miles. Keep moving at a steady clip, and conserve energy–that was the plan. After mile seven I told him to kick up the pace until the finish. I also set some targets for him so he had something to work toward. “That guy in the yellow jersey” or “the lady on the red bike” became temporary rivals and saw Matt giving extra effort for the last few miles of the bike. Total time for the bike…48:23.

The next transition was quite a bit quicker since removing a lot of the extras needed for the bike is a lot easier than putting them on, especially while disoriented from the swim. Another gel, more water, and we were off again. T2 time…2:42.

Matt Lyons at Tri-Shark Triathlon

Halfway turnaround and still staying strong.

Just like that we were at the run. We started off at a decent pace. I could tell that Matt was beginning to tire, but to his credit, he never slowed. Even at the aid stations, which I suggested walking through to avoid choking on water and Gatorade, he kept runing. We chatted about Aaron a little bit, chuckling about how he was likely looking down and laughing seeing what he was putting Matt through. Aaron was there in spirit after all. Matt had brought Aaron’s bib along to see it across the finish line.

At the halfway turnaround I started to push Matt to go faster. He answered the challenge, catching a few who had passed him on the bike and holding the pace. I kept checking my Garmin and counting down the remaining distance.

1.2 miles to go…You’re doing fantastic. Keep moving!

1 mile to go…That’s nothing. Not even worth lacing your shoes for.

.8 miles to go…Let’s catch the guy up ahead.

.6 miles to go…If you’re going to pass him do it now before he speeds up for the finish.

.4 miles to go…Good. Now keep pushing it so he can’t try and catch you.

.3 miles to go…This is it, you can see the crowd!

.2 miles to go…Give it everything you have. Leave it all out here.

.1 miles to go…I’m falling back. Go enjoy your moment.

It was awesome watching Matt run through the finish chute. You could tell he was tired, but he ran tall, holding Aaron’s bib over his head while Aaron’s friends and family, as well as many of Matt’s own supporters, cheered him on. It was an emotionally charged moment, and I am sure that Aaron was looking down and smiling watching Matt and his bib cross the finish.

Time for the run…30:11.

Overall time…1:40:38.

Like most who finish their first race he was tired, glad it was over, and happy. Well done! I’ll look forward to seeing Matt racing again in the future. In the meantime he can hold his head high knowing he made his friend proud and can also officially call himself a triathlete.

 

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The donut zone

Krispy Kreme doughnut

Krispy Kreme donuts provide the essential nutrition I need to beat out the competition.

Today I finally participated in an event I have missed for the last two years–Fleet Feet Bloomington’s Krispy Kreme Challenge Fun Run! Styled as a family fun run, racers traverse a one-mile loop for three miles. The twist is that during each mile runners enter an area dubbed “the donut zone” where they must consume a Krispy Kreme glazed donut before proceeding. There is no winner per se, but the first 75 finishers receive a special Headsweats visor commemorating the event. I wanted one of these visor just as much as I wanted to eat three donuts (which was a lot).

I signed up and coaxed my friend and frequent relay team member Kelly Ruiter into racing too. It was a great turnout for the event which was also a part of Fleet Feet’s two-year anniversary. I had the chance during registration to not eat a donut by making a $5 donation to St. Jude, but I passed. Not on making the donation. I happily made a donation, but skipped getting the stick that let me pass through the donut zone once without eating. After all, I did not do the donut run to NOT eat donuts.

Kelly Ruiter and Steven Barcus

Kelly and I proudly pose in our spiffy new Krispy Kreme Challenge Fun Run visors.

The run was great. I took it easy but maintained a 7:30 clip overall, including the time during which I was eating my donuts. Normally Krispy Kremes melt in your mouth, but the combination of a dry mouth and high heart rate made getting each down a bit of an effort. They were still tasty of course. I quickly figured out that the trick was to fully consume 75% of the donut and then then shove the last 25% in my mouth and chew it as I was running. The part that requires technical skill is not choking while running with a mouth full of donut!

In the end I received my visor and had a great time on the run. I am pretty sure I finished in the top 10 too, but the event was about fun and donuts, so there were no official rankings. It was nice to see some familiar faces and chat with friends–all while downing some of the best donuts money can buy! Well done Fleet Feet! Have a happy birthday!

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Upgrades

I have spent the past few weeks learning to manage my back injury. I say “manage” since despite being discharged from physical therapy, pain persists. Fortunately it is not at the level it was at before. So I am getting back to training and rebuilding my volume. More on that in my next post. Today I want to talk about some gear upgrades!

Triathlon is an expensive sport in case you’re not aware. As such, I’ve always tried to develop a policy of using gear until it is no longer usable. The past few months have found me with the need to replace several key items, and I am absolutely stoked debut some new gear.

Garmin Forerunner 920xt

This watch boots up and finds satellites much faster than my old one. Still a lot  to learn until I master this one.

The first item I replaced was my old Garmin Forerunner 305. This thing has gotten me through a lot and I have forced it to limp along well past its lifetime. I knew it was time to say goodbye when the screen refused to display anything. After 5 years of use I upgraded to the latest watch from Garmin, the Forerunner 920XT. This is a great watch. In addition to synching well with Garmin Connect, the biggest change for me is the ability to track swim data, which has been helpful. I am not sure that I am loving the feature that lets you see alerts and messages on the watch, because when I am training I like to focus solely on training. Finding out my clan castle has been attacked, I have been invited to a Facebook event, or my dry cleaning is ready is not really urgent when I am cranking out intervals! Still, cool to have and I look forward to experimenting with other data collection and training features.

HUUB Archimedes 3:5

I love the look and feel of this wetsuit. It is a lot lighter and flexible than what I’m used to.

Next to go was my wetsuit. When I entered triathlon I bought a starter kit that came with a Tyr Hurricane Cat 1. This is a good enough wetsuit for beginners, but 3-4 years of racing have worn this thing down. I had patched it repeatedly, but that was becoming a futile effort, so I decided to retire it. I considered several wetsuits, including the Blueseventy Helix and Tyr Hurricane Cat 5. In the end I chose the HUUB Archimedes 3:5. The Archimedes is a high-end wet suit and has a neoprene distribution that is intended to help correct sinking legs. Having not yet mastered technique, this sounded like a great fit. I did a LOT of research on these wetsuits and found the Helix and Archimedes to be similar in terms of performance, but in the end HUUB won out. I was not a fan of this year’s Helix style. I have already taken the Archimedes out once in open water and was very impressed. I could definitely see the difference between a $150 wetsuit and a $800 wetsuit! I can’t wait to put some more miles in open water wearing it.

Lastly, I have begun to upgrade my triathlon clothes. My tri kit was a bit worn so I picked up a new one from 2XU. Not much to say about the kit at the moment. It looks good, matches the bike, and felt good on a 50-mile ride. I am eager to see if it chafes or does well after 80 or 100 miles. If so, this could be what I wear at IM Louisville.

Thanks for reading. I’m in the middle of a training boot camp this week to get some of the fitness back I lost while injured. Look for an update on that soon.

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Down and out

life bar

Anyone have any red medicine. Or a fairy?

They say all things come in threes. If that’s the case I am glad to be done with my third sickness/injury of the season. I just hope that this means I will be free and clear of any training deterrence for the rest of the season.

A few weeks ago both feet and right knee started really bothering me during workouts. On one occasion it even kept me from finishing a long run. I did the usual remedies–I stretched, I rested, I even switched out my shoes. After around 10 days…BOOM! All better. Ready to rock!

Wrong.

A bad cold took up residence inside my head and decided to wreak havoc on me. It was especially annoying since I had just been sick around Christmas. Once again I did my usual remedies–I rested, I ate especially well, and I imbibed enough drugs to start my own pharmacy. After 7 days…BOOM! All better. Surely now I was ready to rock.

Wrong. WRONG!

After getting over my cold I promptly received a visit from the Random-Back-Injury Fairy. Why do I say random? Because I have no clue how it got this way. It didn’t happen in training. I didn’t take a fall. I don’t remember getting hit by a bus or trampled by hippos. Yet nonetheless my lower back feels like someone took dull-ended iron rebar and jabbed me over and over. I tried my normal remedies–foam roll, stretch, child’s pose, rest. And 7 days later…still crap.

Are you kidding me?!

Okay. Zen Steve. Go to your happy place…

Alright. I am hoping to be better in a couple of days. My coach has given me a stretching regimen and I will incorporate some light cardio to loosen up. Maybe in the spirit of recovery some strong drinks to loosen the muscles and a massage may be in order. Here’s to getting my first injuries of the year out of the way! Should be all clear for the rest of the year…right world?

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Best laid plans

Um hello…is this thing on? Okay good. Steve Barcus here and I am back! After October’s blog post I decided the number one rule of content management, continually roll out fresh content, didn’t apply to me. That’s not to say I wasn’t writing some great posts, it just wasn’t for my personal blog. But with this post all will be made right. For in this post I unveil what I’ve been up to for the past few months and my plans for 2015!

Let’s get to it.

It may be the off season, but I have been making some solid progress. I took a few weeks after Border Wars to exercise causally and then jumped right into off-season training. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the trainer and treadmill, with long weekend workouts hitting around or above two hours. I’ve also been getting a lot of volume in at the pool. Really I think the workouts I have been doing are quite a bit more advanced than in past years. On top of that I am on a specially designed strength training regimen. I was skeptical at first, but am really seeing and feeling the results. If I’m not careful people will start looking at me and thinking I’m actually an athlete!

In short February has barely begun and I already feel like I have built some speed and stamina I can take into the main season.

Only 250 days until Ironman Louisville?  Whatever. I'll be ready in 248.

Or maybe it’ll take 249. Either way, PLENTY of time.

And I’m going to need it. As of today I have 250 days until IRONMAN Louisville! Honestly it feels good to have another big race year. It was nice taking it easy last year, but there is something satisfying about really grinding through training.

So to that end, my race schedule is up. I’ve also included a few other training events I am doing. Plus I may pick up another triathlon or two, or possibly a relay. But there is reason to the madness. Science even, thanks to Laura Wheatley, my coach. (Very glad to be working with her again). I will begin the year building running volume and utilize that volume a bit in a half marathon and then a marathon. I’m hoping to get a new PR out of the marathon and am fairly certain I can do it, barring injury.

Next I’ll leverage that volume and jump into my biking and swimming training. I am going to for sure do one 70.3 triathlon this summer and a couple of shorter races. I may do another 70.3 tri if I feel like I have been able to spend enough time in Louisville riding the course and getting to know the area. I am being careful not to load up on too many races though. Races are great, but do take time away from training and building fitness. In the end it is all about performing at Lousiville.

Laura thinks I should be able to royally improve my time at Louisville. I think she’s right. I’m going into this knowing what I need to do. I have already improved in strength and speed. I have a whole bunch of people who want to train with me and that are doing the same race. Plus I have challenged myself with something extra this year: I am going to try to really push it during my races. I have a tendency to play it safe, because I don’t want to blow up on the course–a fine strategy, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

That’s all for now. Next time I will share some of the purchases I have and plan to make for the new season.

Thanks for reading!

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Race recap: Border Wars

Bridge over Mississippi River in Alton Illinois

A lot of the race took us along and over the Mississippi for the run and bike.

Border Wars, held in Alton Illinois, along the border between Illinois and Missouri, pits races from the East against racers from the West in a 70.3 mile triathlon. For me this race was an opportunity to put some of my good fitness gains to use at the end of the season.

The race was great overall, and I would highly recommend it. Even considering that it was in its first year, it was still well-organized, held on a great venue, and boasted some of the finest SWAG around. It had some growing pains like any first year race, but will certainly improve on these things next year.

Rather than walk you through the entire race, I will instead share one story from the experience.

Border Wars features two transition areas, with T2 being at the finish. So on race morning you have to drive to T2, set up the area for running, and then take prearranged street cars to T1. To ensure that more than 300 racers don’t try to sleep in and take the street cars all at once, organizers told racers when they were supposed to be on their car at predetermined times. I was one of the lucky few who had to be ON THE CAR at 6 a.m. Meaning I had to get up at a bit after 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. race start…I’m not a morning person!

So I did it. I got up. Staged T2. Rode the street car to the T1 area…a pitch black transition area. They hadn’t arranged for lights (little details that will be fixed next year). Also it was around 44 degrees. So I fumbled in the dark, setting up T1. At this point I am pretty good at setting up my areas, so even in the cold and darkness it only took a few minutes.

After that I just sat around and waited…and waited…and waited. I hung out with fellow Blo-No area athlete Matt Cuttell and we exchanged tips and race strategies. I also made small talk with some other athletes around. Finally it was time to get in the water.

I was looking forward to this since at the previous day’s pre-race meeting we were told water temperature was right around 70 though it would feel MUCH warmer since we would be standing in the cold. “It is wet suit legal though,” they said. “You’ll adjust to the warmth.”

Swim at Border Wars

Where we were actually swimming.

The gun fired and I along with other racers went charging into the water.

OH MY GOD! THIS WATER IS FREAKING FRIGID!!!

The shock of the cold came without any warning. I tried calming myself. I tried dunking my head a few times to get used to the temperature. Each time my body fought against me, barely being able to stand the temps. The other athletes were dealing with the same thing. We were all mentally prepared for water that felt too warm, not like ice.

Arctic ocean

Where it felt like we were swimming

For the first hundred yards or so everyone swam with their heads out of the water–extremely unusual for a triathlon. I kept urging myself forward and berating myself to get my head in the water. My body kept fighting me, gasping against the chilly water and air. For a split second I even considered bowing out of the race.

You LOSER! Get your face down in that water and start swimming. You will not embarrass yourself with quitting, you wimp!

Considering quitting roused the voice in my head that has nothing but contempt for giving up. (For the record, I cleaned up the language in the quote above.) Nonetheless I began swimming, looking forward to getting out of the water, dreading jumping onto my bike while soaking wet, and dreaming of a 13.1 mile run along the Mississippi in 58 degree temps.

I found out after the swim that the water temp was around 56 degrees. How it was confused for 70, I’ll never know, but 14 degrees makes a BIG difference!


So how did it all turn out?

Awesome!

Out of 344 finishers, I placed 67th, with a final time of 5:26:57. A new P.R.!

Here’s the breakdown:

Swim: 37:59

T1: 7:15

Bike: 2:50:04

T2: 3:31:58

Run: 1:48:05

That put me as #16 in my age group out of 39. Overall it was a great race for me. T1 was slow because I made the decision to towel off and put on a soft shell jacket for the ride (a great decision). The bike and run went well too. Next time I need to push it harder on the bike and run through. I think part of me is afraid of blowing up on the course, so I don’t work hard enough. I am confident that I will shave several minutes off my 70.3 time next year.

So should you do Border Wars? Absolutely! As I said the venue is great and it is a good time of the year for a season ender. Plus the post race barbecue is delicious! I would already be signed up for this one if IRONMAN Louisville wasn’t the weekend after it. Don’t let my adventure through darkness, cold, and frigid waters scare you away. We need people to represent the EAST! Fight on easterners, fight on.

 

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