Cheaters — I Don’t Get It

Last year, at a triathlon, I encountered a gal (JD ) who was struggling on the bike portion of an Olympic (Oly) distance. I chatted with JD, effectively talked her through the bike, and we finished the bike portion at about the same time.

During the run, it was the same: it was very hot and humid, and she was clearly dehydrated. I had plenty in the tank and could have steamrolled her, but–like the fictional would-be Naval Aviation Officer Candidate Zach Mayo–I “talked her over the wall”. At the end, JD decided to break into a sprint so she could finish ahead of me.

I thought it was tacky of her to do that, but I figured what the hey..if it makes her feel better, that’s her business. As for me, I’m man enough to enjoy a DFL*. MrsLarijani and I had a good laugh over it.

This year, JD did the Oly distance at the same tri. The conditions were better. This time, due to a schedule conflict, I opted for the Sprint distance and had a blast. It was my best triathlon execution to date.

This time, JD finished 3rd overall among the women. The kicker: her “official bike time” was better than any of the men. Her average pace was over 25 mph!

I know that course very well–it is very hilly, with a nasty half-mile climbout coming out of transition–and I know many of the athletes who did that race; some of whom are VERY elite athletes: we’re talking Boston Marathon finishers and potential qualifiers for the Ironman Word Championships in Kona.

I also know that JD is not a strong cyclist. And even if she trained very hard over the past year–and I KNOW she didn’t–there is no way in HELL she biked a 25 mph pace on that course. She couldn’t even pull that pace on a flat course such as Tri Louisville.

But that brings me to wonder: why on earth do people cheat in events like these? There was no prize money on the line. Other than some token recognition–there’s some bragging rights, but this was a small-ball event–what is there to gain? I can understand people cheating to get into the Boston Marathon, or Ironman Kona, or even fudging to get a finish that they did not earn at a large event.

But an obscure triathlon that is a fairly laid-back event where no money is on the line and people are generally training for other events?

Ultimately, JD will have to live with herself.

That day, I saw some bold people out there: several people doing their first triathlons. One gal–very obese–slogged her way through the swim, bike, and run. She was about 2 miles into her bike as I was finishing the bike. But, as I drove out after packing my gear–I saw her enjoying a casual jog into the turnaround on the run. I gave her a thumbs-up.

I don’t know her, but she has every reason to be proud of her finish.

There are analogs with the Christian life in this.

One of the things I often point out in endurance sports: you cannot afford to run someone else’s race. You are there to run YOUR race.

During this year’s race, there was a gal who passed me several times: we took turns passing each other. We did this throughout the bike and run. I wasn’t racing her; I was focused on my Garmin data and maintaining a pace I had planned. She was doing a run/walk ratio and was very methodical. She was clearly a better runner, and I suspected she was probably using me to pace her.

I didn’t care: I ran the race I trained for, and I got the finish I wanted. I would suspect she did, too.

The obese gal did the same: she was all smiles in that home stretch. She ran the race according to the rules. Sure, she was DFL, but an honest finish is a good finish. Her finisher medal counts as much as mine does.

JD, on the other hand, got some recognition out of this. But she did not play by the rules. At the end, her medal is meaningless, not even worthy for the trash.

Similarly, in the Christian life, we each have our own races. Some of us have more gifts than others, just as some athletes have better genetics than others. I have a bad back, bad lungs–from three bouts with pneumonia–and a torn rotator cuff. I accept that I am not going to be in the ranks of elite finishers any time soon. Some folks live this life with more gunning against them than others. Some inherit more baggage than others.

Your job isn’t to finish first; your job is to finish well. That you get to run that race is itself a grace from God; you didn’t earn it.

Your finish is also a product of God’s grace. Your calling is to be faithful and run that race according to the gifts you’ve been given.

Just as some athletes will cheat, you will also see “cheaters” in the Christian ranks. They are often hypocrites–they fashion an image that you see on Sunday and Wednesday, while they are completely different persons in private.

But make no mistake: as the Bible says, their sins will find them out. (I often frame it this way: your character will eventually catch up with you.)

The same is true with athletes who cheat. Just ask Lance Armstrong. Just as you can have your awards rescinded–in Lance’s case, years after collecting on the prestige and monies–you can be “disqualified” on judgment day.

I would suspect that, in the final judgment, there will be a mother lode of surprises: some of them pleasant, and others not so much.

*DFL: in the word of endurance sports, this stands for Dead Flippin’ Last. (Well, that’s the clean version.) It’s often a badge of honor in triathlon and other endurance sports, as a last-place finish is better than a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Bicycling Magazine Omits Facts

In their recent piece about the deaths of two Zombie Zone cyclists, Bicycling magazine left out important facts regarding one of the cases.

In May 2015, Hinkel was at mile 99 of the region’s premier event, the Horsey Hundred Century, when a pickup truck crossed the centerline and hit him head-on. Witnesses called 911 immediately. The driver, 29-year-old Odilon Paz-Salvador, who had a history of substance abuse and was allegedly drunk at the time, continued three miles down the road until police pulled him over at a mobile home park—as Hinkel lay bleeding on the truck’s bed cover. Emergency responders found Hinkel there and rushed him to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Here are the rest of the facts:

(a) Paz-Salvador is an illegal immigrant.

(b) Paz-Salvador had at least three prior aggravated DUIs, one of which had his blood alcohol level at 0.3.

(c) Paz-Salvador’s deportation orders had been sitting in bureaucratic Hell for more than a year.

(d) Paz-Salvador was not “allegedly” drunk: he was bombed off his arse. He confessed to smoking marijuana and had beer in his truck.

(e) After hitting Hinkel head-on, Paz-Salvador was fleeing the police.

That he was even in the United States, let alone allowed to walk the streets or–worse–drive on them, is a travesty.

Like Hinkel, I rode Horsey Hundred 2015. My group was finishing when he got hit; we were three miles ahead of him. (We started long before he did; elite riders like Hinkel often start later whereas groups like mine–who are intentionally slow–start earlier.)

Hinkel was very likely enjoying the last couple miles of what was a long but pleasant ride. He no doubt had enjoyed a root beer float and other goodies at the Bethel Church rest stop, which was the final rest stop before the finish. The hardest parts of the ride were over, and, at mile 99, it was relatively flat the rest of the way. He had one more turn to make, then he’d be riding into Georgetown college where he would finish, check in and get credit for the Kentucky Century Challenge, and then knock down some nice food.

That all went to crap when Paz-Salvador showed up, struck Hinkel head-on at a high rate of speed, and then tried to flee the police with Hinkel–badly wounded–in the bed of his truck.

After-Action Report: Redbud (Makeup) Ride 2017

I had originally set my sights on doing an Ironman triathlon this year. But The Battle of NICU blew a 2-month hole in my training schedule. So that will probably happen next year.

But I decided to sign up for the Kentucky Century Challenge. This will be my 4th year doing it. This year, the format is different.

(1) There are five “century” (100+ mile) rides, not 4.
(2) Doing 4 rides earns you the free jersey.
(3) Doing all 5 rides earns you a free pair of bike pants to boot.
(4) The rides for this year are:

  • The Redbud Ride (London, KY), Apr 22
  • The Horsey Hundred (Georgetown, KY), May 27
  • Bike Morehead (Morehead, KY), June 17
  • The Bourbon and Bluegrass Ride (Owensboro, KY),August 5
  • The Hub City Tour (Elizabethtown, KY), September 9

—-
It seems that, in odd-numbered years, the Redbud Ride gets hit by nasty weather. 2013 and 2015 were nasty. (I did not do the ride in 2013, as I was not aware of the Century Challenge at the time.) 2014 and 2016 were excellent.

This year, we got the odd-numbered weather: suckola. Cold weather, rain, and thunderstorms forecast for most of the day.

As a result, the Century Challenge team gave everyone the chance to “make up” the ride, provided they had been registered for the Redbud. It had to be a verifiable completed ride–with witnesses–or with evidence from a GPS unit (such as data from a Garmin device).

Since I now have a Garmin 920XT, I figured this would be perfect.

What I decided to do, though, was use this opportunity to get a baseline for my performance at 100 miles on a flat course, complete with heart rate, calorie burn, and split times. And I wanted to do it with minimal caloric intake during the ride.

As a result, I picked Beckley Creek Park in Louisville, and decided to ride the entire 100 miles on the Egg Lawn. At 0.8 miles per loop, that would require 125 loops.

On its face, this would seem like a boring ride.

For calories, I had 200-calorie jugs of Gatorade of various flavors, as well as a 1300-calorie bag of potato chips. I picked the latter because it had three things I wanted: carbs, fat, and salt. My diet has been increasingly ketogenic, and I am ratcheting back carbs progressively. This was my opportunity to see what that would do for me on a century ride.

My plan was to break for hydration/nutrition/bladder relief every 20 miles.

I started out very strong, probably too strong. The weather was very pleasant: temp was 55F when I started, and winds were light. I stayed aero most of the way.

Average speed exceeded 17mph for most of the first 50 miles. I was killing it by my standards. I finished the half-Iron distance (56 miles) inside 3:30, which was a 45-minute improvement over my Toughman Indiana bike time last year (and that was on a flat course as well, albeit with epic headwinds).

After mile 50, I began to slow, as the winds picked up and my legs started getting tired.

At mile 60, my quads were starting to hurt.

On one hand, a flat course might seem easy, but the downside is this: on a flat course, you cannot stop pedaling, whereas on a hilly course you get relief on the downhills.

Also, my bike mechanic screwed up the settings on my bike when he test rode it. Ergo, my bike-fit is whacked, and that probably is what put too much stress on my quads.

At any rate, I was unusually sore.

On the bright side: I was not tired, even though I was going harder than I normally do on my century rides. I finished the first 50 miles in just north of 3 hours, and that included pit stops. The lower calorie approach was working.

On the front 50, I used very little Gatorade, using water for my primary hydration source. I used Gatorade at pit stops only. But on the back 50, I switched to Gatorade, as I figured I would need the extra carb support.

As it turned out, I was well-hydrated throughout the ride. Where I had planned to only stop at 20 mile intervals to pee, I had to stop at mile 70 and mile 90 to do that.

At mile 80, my legs were KILLING me.

At that point, I had 25 laps remaining. I knew I was going to finish, but–dang!–it was going to hurt. Still, I was on track to finish at a 15 mph pace (including pit stops).

At mile 90, I hit the wall. Fatigue was setting in, and my legs were really hurting. But I knew I had the finish. Just 12-and-a-half laps to go.

I slogged it in from there, getting my miles in. Total mileage: 100.4. Including pit stops, my total pace was 15 mph. Not including pit stops, I was at 15.7 mph.

Total calorie burn was just south of 2,100. If that is accurate, then i only expended about half of what I thought I would. (I was expecting a calorie output closer to 4,000.)

On the positive side:

  • I now have a baseline for my performance at 50 miles, 56 miles, and 100 miles.
  • This was my fastest completion of any century distance.
  • I have a tangible picture of my capabilities at races such as Toughman Indiana.
  • I only consumed half the bag of potato chips.
  • I only consumed 400 calories of Gatorade.

Total calorie intake during the ride: about 1,100. Not bad.

After the ride, I went to Wendy’s and had a small chili and a small chocolate Frosty.

The only negative: my leg soreness. I’m not sure if this was due to (a) my lack of training due to NICU Hell, (b) my bike fit, (c) the fact that my legs got no relief due to it being a flat course, or (d) some combination of the above.

I might have to take my bike in to get it re-fitted. This is money I did not want to spend, but it may be necessary.

Overall, however, a very good ride. 100 miles “in the zone”.

And, with my Garmin, I now have the data online.

Boston Marathon 2017: Another Serial Cheater Gets Busted

I’ve run 8 marathons, an ultramarathon (50K), 7 half-marathons, 6 10Ks, and God-only-knows how many 5Ks. That doesn’t include two triathlons (a 70.3 and an Olympic) and 13 century (100+ mile) bike rides. I’ve completed the Kentucky Century Challenge three years in a row. I also have a 2.4-mile open-water swim event in my resume. That doesn’t include the two DNFs: Ironman Louisville 2015 (missed a cutoff time on the run) and Tri Louisville 2016 (mechanical failure). I’m not particularly competitive–several of my finishes are DFLs–but I know what endurance is. I also have great respect for those who fight hard to qualify for prestigious races.

In all of the triathlons, we wore straps with timing chips. I never missed a split.

In all but two of the runs, there was some sort of chip, strap, or bib-based timing device that every runner wore. I only missed a split in two of those races–the 20104 Air Force 10K and Half Marathon. What happened? I wore both bibs at the same time, because the races were back-to-back. And because I had both bibs on, the mats did not record my split times. As a result, the Air Force folks had to go back to photographic data to verify that I indeed ran the course, and they were able to verify it.

I say that to point out that it is very, very hard to miss a timing mat in multiple races, let alone the same race.

Keep that in mind when you read this.

What really pisses me off: much like the Julie Miller Ironman case, these Boston cheaters are stealing the slots that others have earned.

Like the Ironman World Championship at Kona, the Boston Marathon is exclusive: you have to run a “qualifying time” to earn a slot. (Either that or you can run as a “charity runner”, but you have to raise a ton of money.)

Runners often train and race for YEARS before earning qualifying slots. And in some age groups, even if you run a qualifying time you still could be denied a slot. This is because some age groups are so competitive that you have to run well under the qualifying time to actually get a slot.

In other words, in these endurance events, cheating is the equivalent of “stolen valor”.

“If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going”: After-Action Report, Air Force Marathon 2016

Going into the Air Force Marathon, I had some concerns:

(1) My knees had been bothering me on and off all summer.

(2) I had not trained for this event. Aside from some longish workouts–a few bike/run bricks–I had not done any serious long runs. I had been to 20 miles once, but that was a very slow pace. Since Toughman Indiana, I had laid back on the training, mostly due to very nasty summer weather, and went into this race about 10 pounds heavier than I wanted.

(3) I had done a very tough century ride (the 101-mile Hub City Tour) the previous Saturday, and simply did not have a good taper. (Note: a taper is that period before a race, normally two weeks for a marathon, 3 weeks for any distance longer than a marathon, where you cut back the duration of your long workouts.) Due to the century ride, I had only one week to taper where I normally take two.

(4) Weather on race day was tough. It was about 20 degrees warmer than usual at the start time. Forecasts were for thunderstorms and heavy winds. There was a thunderstorm before the race, and that caused a half-hour delay for the race start. And the humidity was very high.

My goal: finish, get it done. Preferably with no injuries.

—————

The start of the race was uneventful. The first mile was pretty flat, but mile 2 was very uphill. From there, you have some mild rollers between mile 2 and 6.

I felt very good, except that, at the 10K mark, I was already drenched from head to toe. I was sweating profusely, mostly due to the weather.

As a result, I made sure to drink at every rest stop. I made it a point to walk the uphills and keep a light jog on the flats and downhills.

Because I was sweating so badly, I took it extra easy. My split at the halfway point was disappointing–I was at about a 14-minute-per-mile pace, which was slower than I had planned–but I otherwise felt good, except I noticed some bowel issues materializing. I knew I would have to take a pit stop, and hoped I could hold off until mile 20.

I had to break for the potty at mile 17, and that cost me about 10 minutes.

Other than that, most of my run, up to mile 21, was pretty smooth, even if slower than I wanted.

At mile 18, I had an unexpected surprise: MrsLarijani, who had registered for the race but decided (wisely) not to run it–as she had not trained for it at all–showed up to jog with me. Given that she had paid her registration fee, she wasn’t a “bandit”, so she was legally on the course. She decided to jog with me until mile 25, then cut over and meet me at the finish line.

I enjoyed that.

At mile 20, I felt good. “Only 10K left. Anyone can do a 10K! We got this!”

Then the hills from 21-24 began. I started having severe cramps in my calves and hamstrings on the uphills. I had to stop several times to use my stick roller to rub down the cramps.

But I was still able to jog the downhills, even if I was practically crawling uphill. Miles 21-24 were awful.

Looking at MrsLarijani during the worst of the cramps, I quoted Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going…”

But once I crested the final nastiness at mile 24, I decided I was going to jog the final 2.2.

The last 2 miles featured terrible headwinds, although the course was pretty flat going into the finish. I had about 10 minutes of very bad cramps after the finish, but–after that–felt good, even if I had to walk slowly back to the car.

There were MANY stragglers behind me. While I am used to seeing marathon-related carnage, this was more brutal than normal. I saw people getting cramped at mile 9 whereas that normally doesn’t happen till at least mile 18. There were a lot of hurting people out there.

On my end, aside from the cramps, I was fine. I did not bonk, and my RPE was pretty low for most of the race. Even with my problems–I lost a combined 15 minutes to pit stops–I still beat my first marathon finish time by 25 minutes.

I’ll take it.

After-Action Report: Hub City Tour 2016

From a fitness perspective, I began the year strong: I swam, rode my bike trainer, and even threw in some runs, with a vengeance.

That paid off for me in April, May, and June. I began my endurance season with a decent ride at the Redbud Ride. That was my third Redbud, and my most uneventful. My only concern was my lack of power on the hills, but I was otherwise strong: I rode aero and even got good use of my big ring on the flats and downhills. I was clearly improving.

In May, I had a half-Iron triathlon (Toughman Indiana) and a tough century ride (Horsey Hundred) on consecutive weekends. I came back from an asthma incident in the swim at Toughman Indiana to beat the swim cutoff, and earned my first triathlon finish. The following Saturday, I struggled in the heat and bonked at mile 80, but still enjoyed my fourth Horsey Hundred finish.

In June, I had scheduled a century ride (Bike Morehead) and a sprint triathlon (Tri Louisville) on consecutive days. Bike Morehead was of concern because of the brutal hills: almost 7,000 feet of climbing according to the cue sheet. I finished Bike Morhead feeling very good (was barely tired and not sore), and felt excellent at Tri Louisville until a mechanical problem ended my race at mile 3 of the bike. That was frustrating, as I had one of my best swims, and was going strong on the bike.

In July, I got my second triathlon finish: an Olympic distance at the Louisville Landsharks Triathlon. Hills, Heat, Humidity, Horseflies, no problem.

But after June, my fitness dropped a bit, largely because I am not training for Ironman this year. This month, I had two events left: The Hub City Tour, followed by the Air Force Marathon.

My goal for Hub City: finish comfortably, and leave some room for recovery.

The only reason I signed up for Hub City: I wanted my third consecutive Kentucky Century Challenge jersey. If you do all 4 rides, you get the jersey for free. I wanted the freebie. It’s all about the bragging rights.

But going in, I had not trained for this one. I had focused mostly on strength work, and had done some smaller rides and runs. And Hub City is the hardest of the rides, featuring a nasty, hilly stretch from mile 43 to mile 77 which is downright awful.

Complicating matters: a brutal line of storms was on the way.

My group departed at just north of 0700. Our goal was to enjoy the ride, and beat the incoming storms.

The first 45 miles were relatively smooth. A few areas of rough pavement, and a few climbs, but nothing major. Pulling into the third rest stop, the hills had begun, but we all felt pretty good.

Then the fun began.

(1) I struggled on the hills. My lack of rides was showing, as I simply did not have good power on the hard climbs. Having said that, I still wasn’t hurting.

(2) The heat was nasty. The incoming storm front was bringing some colder air, but we had none of it. Several riders were laying down at the rest stops. They were clearly pooped.

(3) Headwinds were very rough. Hub city is known for headwinds on the back 50, but this was a circle of hell all its own. We also had some very bad crosswinds. Sustained winds were at least 20-25mph, with gusts worse than that. I nearly got blown off the road twice.

(4) For the first time at Hub City, I saw seasoned riders dismount from their bikes to walk their bikes up the toughest climbs. In spite of my struggles, I never had to do that.

(5) I nearly hit a deer. On one of the downhills, I decided to go easy, as I was concerned about road quality. That was a wise move. In the middle of my descent, a deer popped out of nowhere to cross the road. Had I gone all-out in the aero position, I would have nailed the deer.

(6) There were lots of bone-jarring, hemmorhoid-popping rough spots in the pavement. Due to these stretches, it was tough to capitalize on the downhills. It was also tough to use the aero bars in these sections.

(7) On the toughest climb, there was a gal who was running hill repeats. She PASSED us on the uphill. I remarked to one of the guys in the group: “You know you’re having a bad day on a bike when a RUNNER passes you on a hill!” (I blew past her as I got to the top, though.)

Once we got past mile 77, things improved somewhat, although we still had some tough climbs left. The good thing about Hub City: once you turn onto Ring Road, it’s a piece of cake. A small jaunt down Ring Road, then a ride through the E-Town Sports Park, then, after a few short turns, a left onto Mulberry Street, then a left onto Helm Street, and you’re done.

We beat the incoming storm by 15 minutes.

Overall, a fun ride. Mission accomplished.

This Saturday: Air Force Marathon.

Endurance Sports and the Christian Life

In a time not so long ago in a world not too far away, I embarked on a dimension of my fitness journey that I had not considered before. Up until 2000, my idea of exercise had always been playing sports such as tennis and basketball. (During my high school days, I played tennis, golf, and wrestling. Wrestling taught me mathematics with all that time I spent on my back counting the lights!)

But in 2000, I decided to take up endurance sports. At the time, I was enjoying running 5 miles a day–I had dropped a lot of weight and felt the best I had since high school–and, out of curiosity, stumbled into the ultra-distance community while researching some ideas about running.

In April that year, I completed my first half-marathon, a distance of 13.1 miles. I hadn’t trained for it, but enjoyed the heck out of it.

Then I signed up for the Air Force Marathon. It was 26.2 miles, and it was at a place I loved to frequent in my childhood: the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.

After the half-marathon, I realized that a full marathon was a whole different ballgame.

Anyone can do a half-marathon, most venues give you 4 or even 5 hours to do it. Most people can WALK that distance without too much of a problem. Sure, if you haven’t trained for that you’ll be sore for a couple days, but–unless you have a disastrous health situation–you can do it.

But a full marathon is a different beast. 26.2 miles.

To successfully complete that without hurting yourself, you actually have to TRAIN for it. You need to develop a running “base”. You have to do long runs–progressively increasing your distance and time–once a week. In the marathon world, 20 miles is the magic number: if you get comfortable doing 20 miles in your long runs, you’re ready for the marathon: it’s a 20 mile run with a 10K at the end.

But the preparation, the training, that requires discipline.

That year, I would do two of those–the Air Force Marathon and the Indianapolis Marathon–and then top it off with a 50K (31 miles) race, the Quivering Quads 50K at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri.

Admittedly, the first of those–the Air Force Marathon–hurt. A lot. I was in pain for 3 days afterward. But the second wasn’t bad at all. And after the 50K, I was tired but not sore.

The training had paid off. I was in the best shape of my life.

After a hiatus–from 2002 to 20012–in which I struggled with back issues, I returned to the game. I did the Air Force Half-Marathon in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but decided to take the plunge and help MrsLarijani do the full marathon, as that was one of her goals. (She did it twice: 2012 and 2013. She’s also done the half marathon with me three times, and had a solo half-marathon finish last year.)

Now, I’m doing “centuries” (100+ mile bike rides), triathlons, long-distance swimming, and the occasional marathon. Since 2012, I’ve done a half-Iron triathlon, two marathons, and 14 century-distance rides. (I DNFd at Ironman Louisville last year, as I got pulled by officials at mile 17 of the run, due to my missing the cutoff time for the final turnaround.)

If my back and knees hold up, I’ve got my sights on an Iron-distance triathlon next year.

After that first race, I had someone in my church question the value of those kinds of events. “It’s just torture!”

I told her. “Life is an endurance event.”

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, admonishes them about running the race–living out the Christian life:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In distance running, as with the Christian life, success requires discipline.

In the Christian life, you are going to face all kinds of temptation to cut corners: from gluttony to dishonesty to various forms of sexual immorality, it’s easy to cave to those. It requires discipline to fight against the lusts of the flesh and eyes, and the pride of life.

But what does that have to do with endurance sports in particular? After all, other sports–tennis, basketball, weightlifiting, etc.–require discipline, too. What does endurance sports teach that other sports do not?

I can sum that up in one word: perseverance.

In the West, particularly in the U.S. of A, we have a Christian culture that is drowning in various forms of the Prosperity gospel, which is a profoundly heretical teaching.

In modern culture, these are the variations of Christian teaching that are pervasive:

  • God doesn’t want His people to suffer.
  • If you are a Christian, you won’t struggle with lusts. If you do, it’s because you aren’t spiritual enough.
  • If you are a Christian, you will never struggle with material things. If you do, it is because you are living in sin.
  • If you are a Christian, you will never struggle with health issues. If you do, it’s because of sin. Or you are demon-possessed.

In reality, it’s the other way around:

  • If you are a Christian, you are going to suffer in this world. Some Christians will suffer more than others, but this world is not a playground.
  • If you are a Christian, you are going to struggle with sins that, at their root level, involve lust and pride. That is true if you are a teenager with hormones blazing at Mach 9; it also holds true if you are 50 years old and happily-married. Temptations will come from angles you never thought possible, and it takes years to learn to fight and maintain vigilance.
  • If you are a Christian, you will likely have your share of setbacks. Those may not be your fault. You may lose a job though no wrongdoing; you may be falsely-accused of something evil; you may experience health issues–including terminal conditions (cancer, congestive heart failure)–that are common in this broken, cursed, dying world. Hardships CAN be a result of sin, but they are not necessarily a consequence of sin.

In Scripture, Jesus and the Apostles stress the value of endurance. In Mark 13:13 and Matthew 24:13, Jesus said it flatly: he who endures to the end will be saved.

(And no, I am not going to go on a tangential sidebar about the question “are you saved because of your works?” The answer to that question is no, but a more complete discourse on that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4, says, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul assures them:

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ

In this case, he commends their endurance of persecution and reminds them of the endgame.

In the world of endurance sports, you are going to have setbacks. You might get cramps even if you’re well-trained. The conditions might make your race more challenging. If you’re swimming, the water might be colder than you are used to, or might be choppy. You might get kicked and have your wind knocked out. You might have a bike crash. Your back might be stiff.

Some days will be uneventful, but you are going to have days that are very challenging.

As you age, your body breaks down. That is normal, as we all are going to die one day. Once you hit 30, your cardiovascular fitness, ceteris paribus (all things being equal), begins to decline. Flexibility starts declining. Your back and knees aren’t going to be as good as they were in your teens. This is why you don’t see very many over-30 (or even over-40) athletes in the Olympics.

But here’s the thing: it’s common to see old fogeys–and I’m talking 50 and older–in endurance events. They remain active, even though their bodies aren’t what they once were.

On the extreme end of the spectrum is Madonna Buder, the “Iron Nun”. She is the oldest person to have completed an Ironman triathlon. At 86, she has done 45 Ironmans, and she recently won her age group in the USA Triathlon National Championships. I have dubbed her “Sister Badass”. I hope to live that long, and do what she does now when I am that age.

But what is the value in that?

I can answer quite simply: endurance teaches you the value of fighting through pain while keeping your eye on the finish line.

While every race has a finish line–you finish, you get your medal, and you might even have some goodies (even a beer)–endurance events, marathons and beyond, are a whole different ballgame.

Every endurance athlete I know has some routine they do after they finish. Some wear their medals to work. Some frame their finisher certificates. Some collect their race bibs. Every race presents different challenges, different memories.

(I wear my t-shirts for that season’s events to work.)

For me, every t-shirt tells a story.

When I look at my 2013 Horsey Hundred shirt, I remember that first century ride: no prior cycling experience, no cycling shoes, had no idea what I was getting into. But finished smiling. It was after that race that I decided that an Ironman event was, in spite of my back issues, within the realm of possibilities.

My 2014 Redbud Ride shirt reminds me of the nasty crash at mile 16. I got up and rode 84 miles–with a concussion, a jarred back, and a black eye–to finish.

My 2015 Redbud Ride shirt reminds me of the cold and rain for 33 miles. Rider after rider dropped out. But I stayed the course.

My 2015 Horsey Hundred shirt reminds me of the drunken jackass who killed a rider 3 miles behind me–at mile 99–as I was crossing the finish line.

My 2001 Air force Marathon shirt reminds me of 9/11: that race was cancelled due to security concerns, as it was on the heels of the September 11 attacks. (The race organizers sent us our shirts and patches as commemorative of 9/11, even though the race was not held. I usually wear that shirt on September 11. I have that patch on my flight jacket for the same reason.)

My 2000 Quivering Quads 50K shirt reminds me of the hills, the branches I tripped over quite often, and the nice chili I enjoyed at the rest stops. The fatigue of “the wall” was not enough to surmount the enjoyment.

My 2016 Toughman Indiana shirt reminds me of a number of things: coming back from an asthma attack in the water to beat the cutoff time, my first triathlon finish, my first ultra-endurance finish since 2000.

In life, we also have varying challenges, and–as we fight through them–we have a story to tell. And that is an integral part of your witness if you are a Christian.

You are going to have challenges in your marriage if you are married. Even if you are HAPPILY married. (No, seriously.) If you’re doing it right, you will learn more about your own sin–and God’s grace–than you ever thought possible.

If you are single, you’re always going to have sniveling naysayers questioning everything form your spiritual fitness to your sexual orientation, or–if you’re lucky–you’ll just get relegated to a “singles” class pretty much segregated from the rest of the church. You will have the challenge of living among God’s people without developing a chip on your shoulder. Some days, that will be easy. Until Debbie Maken shows up and wrecks the party…

You may have challenges–with which you were born–that make your life harder than the average bear experiences. You may be wheelchair-bound; you may be autistic; you may be more prone to depression or anxiety; you may be predisposed to bipolarity; you may have various traumas–from car accidents to combat experience to abuses that may include physical or sexual–for which you didn’t ask. Life is not fair in that regard.

(Endurance sports teaches you not to worry about others who are running better times. Some folks are more athletic; some have better genetics than others. They run their races; you must focus on racing your race.)

Living out the Christian life in the midst of all of that requires perseverance, allowing God to create in us hearts of flesh where our hearts would otherwise gravitate toward various forms of hardness.

Endurance sports teaches exactly that perseverance. It is what separates endurance sports from other sports. In triathlon, you will get challenges from many different angles on the same day, due to the multi-sport nature of the event.

Preparing for such events requires discipline and perseverance. Being willing to swim in cold water, or run or bike in hot and humid conditions, being smart enough to hydrate and maintain nutrition while working out. And on those hot, humid, sucky days, maintaining your training often requires thinking about the finish of the event for which you are training.

In the Christian life, it is the same dynamic: the hardships can be severe: from the depths of the hell of depression to the worst anti-Christian persecution (think ISIS). This requires calling attention to the endgame, the finish line.

This is what Jesus says to the church at Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

To the church in Pergamum: “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

To the church in Thyatira: “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.”

To the church in Sardis: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

To the church in Philadelphia: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Endurance sports are an object lesson in this.

Triathlon Glossary (Half-Serious)

Triathlon = An event for people who wish to suck at three sports on the same day.

Sprint Triathlon = a triathlon featuring a 750-meter swim, a 20K (~12.5 mile) bike, and a 5K (3.1-mile) run.

Olympic Triathlon = a triathlon featuring a 1500-meter swim, a 40K (~25 mile) bike, and a 10K (6.2-mile) run.

Half-Iron Triathlon (also called “half-distance” triathlon) = a triathlon featuring a 2K (1.2-mile) swim, a 90K (~56 mile) bike, and a 21K (13.1-mile) run.

Ironman Triathlon (also called “full-distance” or “Iron-distance” triathlon) = a triathlon featuring a 4K (2.4-mile) swim, a 180K (~112-mile) bike, and a 42K (26.2-mile) run.

“Double-Anvil” Triathlon = Iron distance x 2 (4.8-mile swim/224-mile bike/52.4-mile run). People who do these races need such anvils dropped on their heads.

P1 = Peeing before the race. Often done in the wetsuit, although many athletes deny doing this. While we’re on this issue, there are only two types of triathletes: those who pee in their wetsuit, and those who lie and say they don’t. Just sayin’…

P2 = Poop stop before the race. If you don’t do this before the race, Murphy’s Law guarantees that you’ll have to do this during the race, and–when this happens–your distance to the nearest port-a-potty will be directly proportional to the square of the urgency of your need to go, and the probability of it being unoccupied when you reach it will be inversely-proportional to the square of your need.

T1 = Swim-bike transition area.

T2 = Bike-run transition area.

Brick Workout = a workout involving a multisport combination–usually a bike-run combination–in order to prepare your body for transitions during race day. Otherwise known as a masochistic workout done by people who are just nuts.

Mass Start = swim start where everyone starts together. This is also called a “washing machine”.

Rolling start = swim start where people stand in line to enter the water. Your time begins only when you start. This method is prominent in some Iron-distance events where athletes swim in a river and the start area is a set of boat docks. Examples of this include Ironman Louisville.

Wave start = swim start where people go out in groups (called “waves”). Your time begins when your wave starts.

DNS = Did Not Start. Athletes who were registered but otherwise skipped out due to injury, illness, sharks in the water, alligators in the water, jellyfish in the water, algae blooms in the water, human feces in the water, etc.

DNF = Did Not Finish. Athletes who started the race but, for whatever reason, did not complete the race. Reasons include quitting (rare), getting pulled for medical reasons, missing designated cutoff times, or dying during the race. On a serious note, the latter DOES happen a couple times per year, usually during the swim, and usually due to undiagnosed heart problems and/or swimming-induced pulmonary edema (SIPE).

DQ = Disqualification. Athletes who started the race but, due to rules violations, were disqualified.

Draft zone = that distance–usually 10 meters–behind a bike that, in USAT races, athletes must remain outside in order to avoid a drafting penalty, assuming the officials are enforcing draft zones, which they usually don’t.

Drafting = On the bike, that means following another athlete closely enough in order to take aerodynamic advantage of the slipstream, which minimizes the drag forces you encounter, therefore making your work on the bike easier.

This practice is actually very common in cycling events and is actually an integral part of the strategy. In ITU (International Triathlon Union) events, it is also a common practice.

But in USAT (USA Triathlon) events, which is what most triathlons in the US are, it’s a big no-no. If you get caught doing this, you get penalized.

This is often a sore spot among American triathletes, because while drafting is illegal, the rule rarely gets enforced, and many of the elites will draft with near-impunity.

It’s like federal laws against mishandling classified information: they only apply to little people.

Sucking Wheel = synonym for drafting, usually a perjorative term.

“That cheater is sucking wheel!”

Penalty tent = a prison where athletes guilty of various offenses hang out for a designated time and kvetch about the officials. I’ve never been in one myself, but I’ve heard stories from folks who’ve worked them in Ironman events.

Special Needs = In Iron-distance races, a designated point (usually during the halfway point of the bike, and the first loop of the run) where athletes keep items that they may need during the race. This could include an extra clothing item, a food item, a bottle of beer or vodka or bourbon.

(Well, not really, but–trust me–when you’re starting the back half of the marathon portion of an Ironman, bourbon sounds like a wonderful idea.)

HTHU = Harden The Heck Up. More common variations of this include HTFU, and–since we’re adults–we all know what the F stands for. This is a common admonition to embrace toughness, and is popular among the ultra-distance community, which includes ultra-marathoners, long-distance swimmers and cyclists, and triathletes who go out at distances from the half-Iron and beyond.

Athlete #1: “I am dehydrated, I’ve hit the wall, my legs are killing me. And I still have 20 miles left on the run.”

Athlete #2: “HTHU! You got this!”

RTFM = Read The Flippin’ Manual. (OK, that’s the clean version anyway.) The response when athletes on Facebook groups ask the same question over and over, and the answer is in the athlete manual.

Body Glide = one of the greatest inventions of the last 50 years. Helps prevent chafing. Failure to use it often results in bloody nipples.

Chamois Butter = another great anti-chafing aid. Often used to prevent saddle sores and chafing in the crotch and buttocks.

Modesty = Forget it.

Gatorade = sports drink that royally sucks but, due to universal availability, is very standard at endurance events.

Infinit = high-end sports drink that is popular among Ironman triathletes.

Tri bike
= a road bike that is specially-designed to accommodate the aerodynamic position and includes aero bars. Also called a “time trial” or TT bike.

Aero bars
= special handlebars that allow the rider to pedal while resting in an aerodynamic crouch. These are a hallmark of TT bikes, but also can be installed on standard road bikes.

Podium: If you place overall, or place in your age group, or place in any group that receives awards, you get to stand on the podium for a photo op. Example: “I made podium; I got second in my age group.”

DFL: Dead Flippin’ Last. Again, that’s the clean version. In triathlon, this is often a badge of honor, as finishing always beats the heck out of a DNF or a DNS. A crappy finish is better than no finish. And if you manage to finish in spite of severe setbacks, it can be a “Peacock Moment”.

Peacock moment = a major accomplishment. Whether it’s your first triathlon finish, your first open-water swim, your first century ride, your first “podium”, a first-place finish, or even a DFL. If it matters to you, then it’s a Peacock Moment.

After-Action Report: Louisville Landsharks Triathlon

After my DNF at Tri Louisville in June, which was due to a mechanical problem and not a physical matter, I signed up for the Louisville Landsharks Triathlon, held at Taylorsville Lake State Park on July 24.

Instead of doing the smart thing and signing up for the Sprint triathlon (1/2-mile swim, 12-mile bike, 5K run), I did the really stupid thing and signed up for the Olympic triathlon (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 10K run).

Why was this a stupid idea, given that I was otherwise in fine shape for it?

(a) the course was very tough. Water temperature was 87F, meaning this would be my first OWS without a wetsuit. And given that the swim was in loops, I was going to get kicked, bumped, and swam over by the faster swimmers. The bike course was quite hilly. And the run was also quite hilly.

(b) the weather forecast was very nasty: morning temps were in the mid-80s with very high humidity. Temps would climb into the 90s, with heat indices surging above 100F. And there were no shaded areas on the course.

The triathlon was hosted by a triathlon club in which I am a member: the Louisville Landsharks. They have many highly-elite athletes. I absolutely expected to finish near the bottom.

Many of the elites had opted out of doing the entire triathlon, opting instead to participate in relay teams. They were the smart ones.

Me? I was a freaking idiot. I wanted revenge for Tri Louisville. And–dang it–I was going to get it, heat be damned.

Part 1: The Swim

The swim start was a “mass” start. I intentionally started in the back, and was the last one out. The swim felt pretty good for the first loop, even though I got bumped quite a bit. I started having trouble on the back half because I kept bumping into a swimmer who I was slightly better than, but not so much better that I could overtake him. I would pass him, he would draft me, and then pull up and bump or kick me (unintentionally). I finally said the hell with it, stopped, treaded water, and let him go on for a while. I didn’t want this upsetting my rhythm.

My back locked up on the last quarter-mile, as this was my first open-water swim without a wetsuit. I usually rely on the wetsuit for low back support, and I didn’t have that this time. Still, I finished relatively comfortably, even though I was clearly slow as molasses.

T1 (swim-bike transition) was pretty smooth–downed some carbs, got my bike shoes, jersey, and helmet on, and I was on the bike path.

Part 2: The Bike

My Speedfil hydration bottle was not mounted properly on my aero bars, and this made drinking and riding difficult. But that was a minor inconvenience.

The course started with a very hard half-mile climb-out, followed by 24.5 miles, mostly rolling hills. The heat was noticeable, and I drank nearly all 3 of my water bottles. My pace was a bit slow, but I otherwise felt comfy. I passed a lady on the bike, who was clearly dehydrated.

Pulling into T2 (bike-run transition), I felt pretty good, although it was hotter than Bill Clinton in a Japanese whorehouse. I downed more carbs, got some water down, dried off my feet and got my socks and shoes on, strapped on my back brace, and headed out for a 10K. On the way out, I passed the gal I passed on the bike.

Part 3: The Run

Whether I would finish the run was never in doubt. But, after the first mile, I knew it was going to be slow. I saw elite runners walking the last leg on the return! While I clearly had the legs to jog comfortably, the heat was very brutal. I was sweating profusely, but my body was not cooling. I had a water bottle and drank from it liberally, and I was consuming water at twice the rate I normally do on runs. I had to defend against heat exhaustion.

So I decided to jog only on downhills. I felt good, but wanted to be cautious, as MrsLarijani does not permit me to die without permission.

The gal I passed on the bike caught up with me, but she was clearly struggling. She was very dehydrated. I figured I’d chat it up with her and see if she could jog some downhills when they came.

Thankfully, there were plenty of water stops, and I was able to keep my water supply strong. I was still getting dehydrated, but being able to drink was helping. I was able to jog comfortably, but didn’t want to upstage the gal. At this point, I really didn’t give a crap about trying to beat anyone. And besides, I was having a good time giving her tips about the Ironman Louisville course, which she signed up for this year. Her weak area is the bike, and that is actually one of my stronger showings.

With a half-mile to go, it was all downhill, so I broke into an easy jog. She broke into a sprint when she got into the parking lot. I was happy to finish jogging and smiling.

At the finish, I felt good, albeit a little dehydrated. I got my revenge. The heat added at least an hour to my time, but I felt good at the finish, and that was a lot better than a lot of folks could say. Once I got a liter of cold water down, I felt fine.

At this point, my triathlon season is over, as I have completed the triathlons I had on my schedule. I finished an Olympic and a half-Iron, while DNFing at a Sprint due to a blown tire and no spare. On top of that, I have three century rides done, with one more to go. The grand finale will be the Air Force Marathon in September.

If my stress test goes well, I’m aiming to sign up for an Iron-distance next year.

After-Action Report, Bike Morehead, Tri Louisville

I’m finally out from under other obligations, and can write about a new race that has been added to the Kentucky Century Challenge: Bike Morehead.

Being on the third Saturday in June, Bike Morehead–which takes the place of what was the Preservation Pedal–is particularly challenging. Not only is heat and humidity a high risk, the course is exceptionally hilly. According to this profile, it appears to have about the same climbing as the Horsey Hundred. The problem is, those RideWithGPS profiles are subject to the settings on the GPS unit.

The official cue sheets we were given indicated almost 7,000 feet of climbing, with a large portion of it being in the first 30 miles.

I made it a point to drive that part of the course the day before. I can describe it in one word: brutiful. Very scenic, and very hilly.

Given that I had a triathlon the following day, I decided to hang out with the slowpokes. But, unlike the Horsey Hundred, I was well-rested for this one.

We departed at about 0630. The first ten miles were relatively flat and enjoyable.

At about mile 10, the fun began. The climbs were tough. Not as bad as Tussey Hill at the Redbud Ride, but more like repeats of the Peaks Mill climb at the Horsey Hundred. It was tough, but not too bad. Pulling into the first rest stop, at mile 25, we all felt somewhat relieved. The worst part was over.

From there, it was mostly flat, with a smattering of tough climbs here and there, just to keep us honest. And it was VERY scenic, providing a ride around a lake. A few of us were tempted to stop and take a swim!

On the back 50, the temperature began to climb, but–thankfully–there were some additional rest stops provided at the last minute. Hydration was never a problem. Nutrition was also not a problem.

At around mile 92, there was one brutal climb left: it was like Peaks Mill, but about twice as long. It was grueling, but not that bad.

After that, it was easy-peasy going in to the finish, where the folks at Morehead were providing a catered lunch/dinner.

This was one of the best rides on the KCC. My only problem was the large amount of time we spent on US 60; given the problems cyclists have had with bad drivers, including the Kalamazoo driver who killed five cyclists, I would have rather stuck to less-traveled roads.

Other than that, two thumbs up. Now my moral dilemma: whether or not to do the Hub City Tour in September. I would have no reservations about doing it, except that I have the Air Force Marathon the following Saturday. I have already qualified for my 300-mile jersey, so the Hub City would be purely for bragging rights.

Right now, I am leaning toward doing it.

_____________________________

The day after Bike Morehead, I had a sprint triathlon: Tri Louisville. In spite of the amount of climbing over the course of the 102-miles of Bike Morehead, I felt great in the morning. I was ready for the triathlon: a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and a 5K run. The swim would be all downstream, and the bike and run would be on a flat course. Piece of cake…

One detail, though: I fried a valve stem before the race while filling my rear tube. This forced me to use my spare. This shouldn’t have been a big deal. Surely, my tires will be fine for 12 miles; it’s ONLY 12 MILES!

Going into the swim, the hard part was waiting, as it was a “wave” start, and I was in the final wave.

I was intentionally the last one to start the race. To my surprise, I passed several swimmers, and even bumped into a few. I felt great at the swim finish, going into T1. This was easily my best swim ever.

My time in T1 was quick: I dried off my feet, got my jersey and helmet on, slipped on my cycling shoes, and was off.

The bike course was excellent. I was not going overly hard, but focused on staying aero, staying comfortable, and using my high gear. I was having an excellent race.

Then, at about mile 3, at the intersection of 12th and Main, I heard a bad noise: PFFFFTT, followed by a thwap-thwap-thwap!

I had a flat.

I stopped, looked at the tire, and–S**T!!!!–I took a nail in the rear tire.

And I was out of spares!

I flagged down an officer and called MrsLarijani, and she got ahold of the race director, who said he’d send a SAG person out to me. Others had offered their tubes to me, but none of theirs would fit my wheel. Turned out, there was no SAG: the race director had sent someone to take me back to the transition area.

My race was over.

Lesson learned: I will have multiple spares on hand in the future.

And I plan on getting revenge at the Louisville Landsharks Triathlon in July.