Jun 26, 2010

“AJ, meet Mountains. Mountains, AJ.”

The first five days in Boulder have easily been the best five days of 2010. Making these days even sweeter was the blessing of a semi-healthy foot. Ditching my cast and crutches has been almost as freeing as riding a bike through town naked. Not that I would know what how free that feels… The mountains are a beautiful place, and as a kid from Cleveland, Ohio, I just want to climb!

Here is a look at my first week in a cycling paradise…a week full of tough training and a few really late nights.

Day 1: Sunday, June 20, 2010

It is always nice to get reacquainted with an old friend. Although, it is important to note that my definition of an “old friend” is much different than most people. In some circumstances, I can consider an individual an old friend after one long day. For those few people, they know exactly who they are.

An old friend in my life is someone that satisfies two criteria. First, that person needs to have gone on some type of adventure with me, whether it is a grueling long run, a climb up a mountain, or an epic pub crawl. Embarking on this adventure is how I really get to know what a person has deep down. Satisfying the second criteria may be even easier. When that long day has come to end, joining me for a drink solidifies the bond that had been built all day. After a few stories, a few laughs, and quite possibly a few too many beers, I can truly consider this person an old friend.

Like a small number of people, Doug Maclean was an old friend very shortly after I met him in Tucson. With that being said, coming to Boulder to train with him and a few other “old friends” was truly a pleasure.

            On Sunday, we headed out to get a taste of what Boulder had to offer. The ride to Lyons is short; a quick 30 minutes in the saddle. The climb from Lyons takes much longer. It isn’t a steep climb, but it is very, very long. Since Doug was tapering for Ironman, we cut the climb very short. Our 2 hour recovery ride ended in a flash. I had seen some of the most beautiful sites I had ever seen from a bike. I was officially in love with the mountains.

Day 2: Monday, June 21, 2010

I was told swimming in Boulder would be much more difficult, but it was really hard to tell from the first day at the Scott Carpenter pool. Because I have been swimming more than 20,000 yards most weeks this year, my swimming is as strong as its ever been. I got into a set of 200s with ITU pro Marybeth Ellis. I started the set late, but it was nice to swim with someone that was my same speed.

The second day of riding was my first real introduction to the types of climbs that Boulder has to offer. After 90 minutes of riding in the plains, I headed up Lee Hill Road. After a few minutes of gradual climbing, the road shoots towards the sky. The 22% grade hugs the hillside a few miles northwest of town. My heart rate immediately exploded. Lactic acid shot through my body. My mind was at rest while my body worked efficiently. The only task at hand was heading toward the sky. At the top of Lee Hill Road, I hung a left on Deer Trail. I immediately regretted that decision. The road turned steeper and I struggled to stay upright. After a few minutes, I pulled over with my white flag raised. It was a good introduction to what the next few days would offer.

Day 3: Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The third night on the “hardest, but most available futon in Boulder” didn’t allow me much rest and recovery. Because I was up with the sun, I figured it would be a perfect day to swim in the Reservoir. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Boulder Area Masters team sets up a 1000 meter swim course. I woke up with several loops. A few hard efforts and 45 minutes of high aerobic swimming allowed me to cover about 4000 meters.

After an hour nap, I woke up to Janna Lynn knocking at the door. Janna Lynn is ITU pro, Kelsey Winthrow’s roommate in Salt Lake City. I had never met Janna Lynn, but she is a close friend of Kelsey, who is definitely one of those “old friends” from Tucson. When I heard she was in town, I jumped at the opportunity to meet someone new. That afternoon, we headed back to Scott Carpenter pool for a second swim. At the pool was the whose who of professional racing. I was sandwiched between Crowie, the Bennetts, Dibens, Carfrae, O’Donnell and Ellis. You could say I was in good company. Joining me for my second swim was another “old friend” from Tucson, Doug Fahlbusch. Doug is an incredible mountain biker, downhiller, and swimmer. He is one of those guys that doesn’t ever shit talk. He just rips your legs off. We did a strong sprint set full of 50s. I was delighted to see my splits nearing 30 seconds for 50 meters.

That evening, Janna Lynn and I headed out to finish the climb out of Lyons that I had started two days ago. The road gradually climbs up to Peak to Peak Highway at over 9000ft above sea level. The road never sees grades higher than 12% or 14%, but it is a very long climb. We settled into a rhythm and clicked away at the miles. We called it a day after 90 minutes of climbing. The ride back into town was sluggish. It was a tough day of training. The trials of miles have been slipping back into my life and they have been received quite well. It feels good to work hard again.

Day 4: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

After a few beers on Tuesday evening, Doug Fahlbusch, Janna Lynn, and I decided to climb something epic. Our choice was Super James. I spent the morning watching the US soccer team beat Algeria in extra time. My adrenaline was pumping, the day was beautiful, and an epic adventure lay right outside of town.

We started the climb towards Jamestown, a small town that lay in the mountains at around 7000ft above sea level. The beginning of the climb is fairly easy, but Doug was at the front mashing from the start. My heart rate was nearing 170 before we ever got started. I was doomed… After Jamestown, the road tilts in a way that makes you squirm. The locals call this ride to the Peak to Peak Highway “Super James.” From Jamestown on, the road doesn’t dip below 10%. I let Doug ride away; I needed to conserve energy if I was going to make it 2000 more feet into the sky. Janna Lynn slipped into a rhythm a few hundred feet behind me… Every man (or woman) for themselves. After cresting 8000ft, the road really turns upward. Looking up, I can see a series of switchbacks that are all over 20%. We were on top of the world. I cranked away slowly. No urgency left, this was the hardest climb of my life and I was in survival mode. I begged for relief, but the mountain was incapable of granting me this one wish. The road got steeper. With everything I had, I climbed to 9000ft. Once into Ward, an old mountain town that resides at 9300ft above sea level, we stopped for a soda and some recovery. I couldn’t breathe. The air was too thin. I felt nausea creeping into my already destroyed body. My body has never been at 9300ft above sea level. I pleaded with the group to hit the road. I needed to get off the mountain. The descent through Left Hand Canyon was fast and furious. Doug, an experienced Downhiller, ripped past 25mph signs at over 40 mph. Leaning into each bend, he slowly put distance between us. I rested my chin on my bars in order to rip through the wind. We flew back towards town. We finished the ride with one last climb up Old Stage Road. It was steep and it only twisted the dagger that was already lodged in my lungs.

Once back home, I quickly fell asleep. I awoke with that deep feeling of fatigue. After an adventure that quickly makes acquaintances, old friends, Janna Lynn dragged me out for beer to seal the deal. We sat on Pearl Street and watched a street performer juggle fire and knives while riding a unicycle. I couldn’t believe that this kid didn’t kill himself or someone else. Pearl Street is an interesting place… the perfect setting for a night of debauchery. That night quickly came on Thursday.

Day 5: Thursday, June 24, 2010

My body was destroyed from Super James. I was lucky to even make it to the pool on Thursday. Again, the pool was filled with the world’s greatest triathletes. Doug and Janna Lynn joined me for another workout. Also at the pool was long course star, Sam McGlone. I hadn’t seen her for a couple months. It was nice to catch up with her for a second. I did some REALLY tough workouts with Sam in Tucson. It was nice to get reacquainted with her.

That night we all met up with a group of 10 guys from Kansas City. Among them, was a kid named Ben. What happened in the next 12 hours would absolutely allow me to call Ben an “old friend.”

Even though we all committed to climbing Left Hand Canyon to Ward on Friday morning, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a night of drinking. What transpired that evening will have to be talked about elsewhere, but it includes the following… Beer, Tequila, Foosball, a live band ripping “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a strip club, a dance club, a mechanical bull, Tequila, a beautiful local gal, and a very fuzzy walk/crawl/skip/run home.
Day 6: Friday, June 25, 2010
The next morning came quickly. Three hours of sleep and one incredible hangover left me shuttering at the thought of climbing to 9000ft again. We showed up at the coffee shop a little late but ready to ride. We all felt the effects of the previous night, but our will to climb was strong. We knew what we were getting ourselves into.
Ben, Janna Lynn, and I hammered into the start of the climb. The group had left town 5 minutes before us, so we had some making up to do. Ben led the group hard into the 6% grade. After 15 minutes of climbing, we saw the main pack ahead. We flew back into the group and went directly to the front. After a few minutes, I started laying down some power, breaking the group apart. If I was going to feel like a walking corpse, everyone was going to feel like it. Joining me in the lead pack was five, well rested, “tapered” and eager riders. My effort made me feel dizzy. Last night’s tequila crept into my throat. To avoid a mishap, I went to the back and sat in for a few miles.
A couple miles from Ward, the road gets steep again. Twelve percent grades are common and a few pitches reach sixteen. Again, I went to the front and started hammering. I wasn’t about to let a hangover ruin my climb. I pushed hard and the pack behind me started to string out. I put down the hammered and rode away on the first steep pitch. Again, it was every man for himself. I continued to push hard with total disregard for the feeling of pain, sickness, and oxygen debt that was rushing to my brain. The end was near and I knew that I had just owned the mountain. I was the first up the mountain.
At 9000ft, I started to feel too ill to control my body. A combination of the altitude and the previous night’s antics had caught up to me. I found myself in a bush on the side of the road expelling everything that my body couldn’t handle. Thinking back, maybe I should have taken that climb a little easier… but that wouldn’t really be my style.
The rest of that day was just as ambitious as climbing mountains after a late night of drinking. We met up with Sam McGlone for a margarita and some tubing in the Boulder Creek. All of us hurt ourselves in some way. We finished the adventure the way we started… on Pearl Street late into the night. We tried our best to hang all night, but each of us was completely unable of reliving the previous night.

The last week has been RIDICULOUS. I really hope I can continue this string of awesomeness for the next 4 weeks in Boulder, Colorado.

Jun 20, 2010

Goodbye Tucson, Hello Boulder!!!

Waking up at 5am will never be easy, but today wasn't like other days. Today was the beginning of the best summer of my life. Nothing like 4 months of traveling and training to make up for a spoiled season.

I decided to take the longer, more scenic route to Boulder, Colorado. I passed through Flagstaff, Sedona, Moab, Vail, and Breckenridge. I literally drove through the Rockie Mountains. This 13 hour trip, which I did solo, was one of the best drives of my life. Beautiful scenery and plenty of time to consider the next 6 months of my life. On a side note, I was able to pack all my belonging in my car. It is a pretty satisfying feeling to have the ability to pack your life up in an afternoon and leave town. My roommate Steve put it best, "There is nothing like packing everything you own into your car and just pissing off for a few months."

Here are some photos from the trip. Keep checking this blog for plenty of updates. The next 5 weeks in Boulder will definitely be exciting.

Rolling through the Sedona area, not too far from the Grand Canyon

Amazing view of the red rocks

Heading into the Moab area

Moab was ridiculously beautiful. I need to stop there on the way back to Phoenix for a workout.

Into Colorado

View from I-70 was incredible, had to pull over a few times

The Colorado River

West bound highway was on top with raging white water rapids to my right

Near Vail, Colorado. I drove right over this mountain range.

Tunnels through the Mountains!!

Near Golden, awesome views from the pull offs

Cheers everyone!


Jun 18, 2010

Winter in Tucson, Arizona

Enjoying the sunset on top of my favorite Tucson climb, Gates Pass

Sammy J and I drinking a little whiskey... why not?

Kaitlin and I during our last BBQ in Tucson

At the Desert Museum... but a snake just like this slid into my garage once!

Crashing the nicest resort in Tucson for a little rest and recovery

Trying to train when half of our normal riding routes were flooded!

Katie and I after an evening "hike" on top of Gates Pass

Out of the water in the first chase pack (on the far right), less than 2 minutes off leader Chris McDonald

Driving up Mount Lemmon on my first evening in Tucson

I took a bite out of a snake that was at the bottom of a $200 bottle of sake.

On top of the world, inches away from falling off a mountain


Endless winter miles

Road rash from a gnarly crash. If you want to hear the whole story, ask me sometime ;)

On top of Mt. Lemmon. Most satisfying cookie in Arizona.

2nd Overall at Rage Triathlon, had the day's fastest (legitimate) bike split

Last night in Tucson, crazy night with lots of good people

Sunset in Tucson. Enjoying it from my roof after a hard day of training

Best winter job ever!!! Working and training at Hillenbrand was a perfect addition to my Arizona adventure

The view from Saguaro East, amazing 8 mile loop in the desert

Off-Road adventure with roommate Rusty, perfect start to a very cool winter.

Infamous climb, Gates Pass

Birthday beers with good friends

Jun 8, 2010

A New Adventure

Dear all,

It has been over a month since my last post. Mirroring my current level of depression, the urge to write comes and goes. Some days I felt optimistic and hopeful. Those days have been few and far between. I couldn’t help but fall back into hold habits. Habits that I thought were long dead. It was inevitable. Take away the one thing that makes a man happy, and you will kill his spirit.

The last 8 weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. I wish I could sit here and say that everything is alright and that I am healthy, but it is not true. The road ahead is unpaved, and I don’t know how bumpy the ride is going to be. However, I have a plan and am beyond committed to getting myself back on track.

While reflecting on this year, I can’t help but attempt to make sense of everything that happened. I have always been a firm believer that everything in my life has happened for a reason. Maybe that’s why I haven’t posted anything since my injury. While searching for answers to my own questions, it has been hard to invite everyone into my struggle. Well, I may not have all those answers, but I’ve put a few of my thoughts to rest.

Breaking my heel was an accident. Accidents happen. I can no longer look back on that day and ask “Why me?” I can only ask “What now?”

My original plan for this year was thrown out the window the second my heel hit the ground. Racing isn’t an option. I still haven’t taken a step without the protection of a boot. Despite my efforts over the last couple months, I have lost a lot of fitness. I am still swimming very well, but my riding has suffered greatly. I can’t even speculate about my running because it may be 2 or 3 weeks before I set out the door. So without racing what can I do?

Train for Ironman! If all goes well, I will be toeing the line in Cozumel on November 28th 2010. If everything happens for a reason, this winter pushed me towards Ironman. Hopefully, it will be the start of a long and satisfying relationship. I always thought Ironman was my future; this injury has finally forced me to accept that future.

Because of this injury, acceptance has become a new part of my life. An athletic career can end in an instant. An injury can strike at any time. I need to start dealing with the negative aspects of this lifestyle or I will never be able to enjoy the positives. Triathlon isn’t the end all be all, and if I don’t enjoy the process, the finish will never be satisfying.

So now, I’ll allow my life to revolve around the process, not the finish. With that in mind, I’ve saved up a little money cleaning pools during my 8 weeks off from training, and I intend to use it to enjoy the next 4 months.

I am leaving Tucson, Arizona and heading to Boulder, Colorado in less than 2 weeks. There, I’ll spend the rest of June and most of July crashing at my buddy’s place and riding in the mountains. My only goal will be to truly enjoy every day of training in a training paradise. From there, I will be headed back to Cleveland for a week. I know it is barely any time home, but that is just how it will work out. My flight leaves for Switzerland on August 3rd. Once I get to Switzerland, I am dropping off my bags and catching a train to Barcelona, Spain. The goal is to ride my bike back to Switzerland by August 30th. The trip covers around 1400km and goes from Barcelona, up the Mediterranean coast, through the south of France, into Italy, and north to Switzerland. I will have to average around 60 km a day for 25 days (and I won’t be riding every day), so I’ll get plenty of riding during the month of August. Once back in Switzerland, I will be setting up camp at the Swiss Olympic Training Center. I’ll have 2 months of dedicated Ironman training in the French Alps. I’ll return to Tucson on Oct 25th for a couple weeks of training and a long taper. John Kulbis will be joining be in Tucson, so this next winter will definitely be a great one.

The next four months are going to be absolutely hectic. I’ll be living out of a suitcase or out of a saddle bag for a long time. My plan is to work hard, train hard, enjoy EVERY single day, and truly make 24 the best year of my entire life. As for Ironman, you all know that I won’t take that too lightly. But, with the right attitude and some hard work, I’ll be sure to toe that line in the best shape of my life.

I know I have been REALLY bad at updating this blog lately, but keep checking it. From now until Ironman, I will be updating it every week. And once I get to Europe, I’ll be posting pictures and stories about my travels every time I find internet connection.

Here’s to one real adventure… triathlon style.