Friday, October 30, 2009
BY Gina Salamone
New York natives, celebrities and tourists mix on the city streets each day, and the New York City Marathon will be no different.
So don't be surprised if you spot Edward Norton running with three Masai warriors along the 26.2-mile stretch on Sunday. The 40-year-old actor is taking part to raise awareness and funds for Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, which works to preserve healthy ecosystems in East Africa.
Norton got involved with the cause after taking a trip to Kenya to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He was inspired by the trust's mission, which helps the Masai stay in the area and make money from tourism without destroying their land.
"It literally is lions and elephants and giraffes and rhinoceros and things like that there," Norton says. "So if there's any ecosystem that's under threat on the planet that everybody has a sense of connection to, it's that one."
Working with the locals is a big part of charity, which is why Norton invited three Masai warriors he met in Africa to race with him.
The team recently ran in Central Park, and the warriors donned their traditional colorful clothes, necklaces and bracelets.
Don't expect them to switch to shorts or sweats on the big day.
"They're very comfortable in those," Norton says. "That's what they walk and run in at home. That's just sort of their normal day-to-day wear, and they're really comfortable in it.
"The only thing they're still debating a little bit is whether to switch from their sandals to running shoes," he adds. "They like their sandals and that's what they run in at home, but they had never run on pavement before, and so they're debating maybe wearing Pumas."
Norton, however, has no plans to attempt sprinting in sandals. "I think it would destroy me," he admits.
The actor has already injured his shins and pulled his Achilles tendon while training. "But I think I've come into the good zone," he says. "I'm trying to rest this week, mostly."
He won't have too much down time before the race, though. The three warriors are staying with him in his Manhattan pad.
"For two of them, it's their first trip out of Kenya," Norton reveals. "I think they find a lot of [New York City] strange and intense. The community they come from is 7,000 people in about 300 square miles. They're going to run a race with 40,000 people at the head of the bridge.
"The density of people is one of the things that's most striking to them," he adds. "They're really just staggered by how many people are here."
While the warriors are stoic and rarely give huge reactions, they've found certain aspects of New York life fascinating.
"They think the amount of attention we pay to our dogs is really strange - the dogs on leashes and cleaning up after them," Norton says. "Amidst all the tall buildings and everything, I constantly am seeing them double-take at a different type of dog. And when the person's picking up after it, they just start laughing."
The warriors were particularly impressed with the Art Deco steel eagle heads they spotted on the Chrysler Building through binoculars.
They'll see some more stunning views on Sunday. "I'm excited for the Verrazano Bridge right at the start," Norton says. "That should be really dramatic. I'm hoping I can be on the upper deck, because seeing over the city and all the way to where you've got to end up is kind of cool. I'm definitely most intimidated by the Queensboro Bridge. Everyone says that's just the soul-killer."
Norton won't be the only celebrity barreling through the boroughs. He's recruited Alanis Morissette and David Blaine to run for the Masai trust, though Blaine might be out since he hurt his heel while training.
Former "ER" star Anthony Edwards will join Tony-winning actress Sarah Jones and "Mercy" star James LeGros in running for the Shoe4Africa charity, which raises money for a planned children's hospital in the northwest.
And Christopher Reeve's son Matthew is running on behalf of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to raise money for spinal-cord-injury research.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The SkirtChaser Race Series is an experience unlike any race you've run and any block party you've attended. Not only is it a brand new running race format, giving women a head-start on the men in a fun atmosphere, the entire event is innovative, from packet-pickup to the Block Party and all of its sponsors. From walkers to pro-runners, the SkirtChaser Race Series invites you to experience the most fun you've ever had while working out!
Packet Pickup will be held at SkirtSports retailers around each city, each of whom are proud supports of the SkirtChaser Race Series. Sizes, styles, and colors of each product will be onsite at packet pickup, so come early and get "Skirt-fitted!" in case you were unsure of your size when you registered. No promises, though! We sell out fast!
The actual race will be a 5k course, with the finish line ending at the Block Party. The women will start first, in a "Catch Me" wave, and the men will start three minutes later, in the "SkirtChaser" wave. First athlete to cross the finish line, male or female, will win $500!
Each Block Party will feature live entertainment and a happy hour atmosphere of food and drinks. Food will be your local favorite appetizers, and drinks will be brought to you by Red Bull and Oskar Blues Brewery. At the band's break, a DriLex fashion show, "all the way down to the skivvies," will feature SkirtSports and SkirtChaser products, emceed by the one and only, Nicole DeBoom. Awards will follow, where not only will the first, second, and third place winners receive their mullah, but a special "Skivvies Awards" presentation will accompany. Be careful on that course! You may be the next "most likely to make out at the water station" winner!!
Come for the crazy awards, or the scandalous fashion show, or the free beer and music, or the chance to leave your kids at home with the babysitter on a party night, or imagine that, the actual race! But mostly, come help SkirtSports and all of its sponsors celebrate a fun-filled life of fitness, where you'll never stop smiling and you may just meet your future spouse!
Most people don't know that when Nicole DeBoom, founder and CEO of SkirtSports, had the revolutionary idea for the first-ever running skirt, she also dreamt of creating a race series with the same message. Look good, feel good, perform better. Work hard and play hard. But, as SkirtChaser #1, Tim DeBoom looked on, Nicole decided she wanted to INCLUDE the men in her life in an edgy and fun event. Thus, three years after the company's birth, the SkirtChaser Race Series was born. Now, SkirtChaser has gone from nickname to tagline to race series to product line.
To learn more about the race click on the title link.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Article for the NY Times - By Sarah Bowen Shea
Last November, Kara Goucher ran the ING New York City Marathon, her first 26.2-mile race. Even though she was an Olympian who had placed 10th in the 10,000 meter race in 2008 in Beijing — running the equivalent of 6.2 miles — she felt fear. “I was really scared I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain for that long,” said Ms. Goucher, 31, who had never run more than 18 miles at a time before training for the marathon. “Now I was asking myself to run eight miles farther, a lot faster. It was daunting.” The pain hit at about the halfway point, as she was running with the lead pack of women. “It came into my consciousness how hard I was running and how much it hurt,” she said. The extreme discomfort, which she calls “cramping,” made her contemplate dropping out at around mile 17, but she persevered — indeed, she placed third among women.
No matter how fast they run or how much experience they have, most runners can relate to Ms. Goucher’s fear of exertional pain and concern about what to do when it hits during a race. This type of pain causes extreme discomfort, but can be tolerated using mental strategies and training techniques, doctors and athletes say. To strengthen her resolve, Ms. Goucher repeated a mantra she had developed with her sports psychologist: be courageous. And she broke the race down into blocks, telling herself at mile 20 that she only had a 10K left to run. Then she convinced herself to “survive to each mile marker, knowing I could get another mile out of myself.”
Doctors and athletes emphasize that the type of pain Ms. Goucher endured is entirely different from the acute pain of an injury, which should compel a runner to stop. “If an individual has shin splints, a broken bone or a bad back that pain becomes very different from exertional cues,” said Edmund Acevedo, a professor of health and human performance at Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied ultramarathoners. “Exertional pain is part of going out there and doing the best you can.” There are several ways to train for pain.
Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, recommends that endurance athletes spend 10 to 15 percent of their time training at a vigorous pace known as the lactate threshold zone, which represents the crossover from aerobic to anaerobic exercise (athletes in this zone are unable to speak while exerting themselves).
Those who continually train at or slightly below that lactate threshold, Mr. McCall said, can improve it, delaying the onset of pain and teaching the mind to better handle the burning sensation. “That’s part of the difference with elite athletes — they can function much, much higher into their lactic threshold than you or I can,” said David J. Berkoff, a doctor at Duke Sports Medicine in Durham, N.C., who has done lactate testing on athletes.
Variable intensity running, also known as intervals, is the most efficient way to nudge your lactate threshold higher. Run faster for a short distance or set time — say, four blocks or five minutes — then jog to recover, experts recommend. “You can really push yourself close to your maximum output, then fall back into a recuperative mode,” said K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University who has done research on this type of “deliberate practice,” as he calls it.
Chrissie Wellington, who has won the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, three times, knows all about exerting herself. “I push my body to the limits in training,” she said. “I know I can reach those limits, those thresholds, push beyond them and come out the other side.” Come race day, Ms. Wellington, 32, said she never thinks, “This is going to be a perfect race, and it isn’t going to be painful.” Her advice? “Expect it will be painful and have faith in yourself that you will overcome those dark times.”
If an athlete’s goal is to simply finish a race instead of winning it or setting a personal best, there are simple pain-relieving steps to take. Hydrate, take in some calories (like an energy gel or an orange slice) and slow down. “Most of the aches, pain and muscular or respiratory distress respond to change of pace,” said Mark J. Klion, a clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Even if you have to walk for a period of time, that’s what you have to do.” One way to try to ignore the pain is to focus on something outside the body, such as the spectators lining the course or a runner just slightly ahead.
If external distractions do not help, turn inward. When an athlete hits the wall, the body naturally tightens. “That’s when you really need to stay in the moment and concentrate on your running form,” Ms. Wellington said. She recommended relaxing the shoulders and hands, something she is still trying to work on herself. “Relaxing your hands can relax your whole body.” She also suggested attempting to grin. “It’s easier to smile than grimace when you’re hurting,” said Ms. Wellington, who is known for wearing a smile throughout an Ironman competition. When all else fails, Mr. McCall from the American Council on Exercise has some advice: “Exertion pain comes down to three words: ‘Suck it up.’ ”
Monday, October 26, 2009
Who dares to believe they can keep up with seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, on a bike? Well the people behind Clear2Go, the sports water bottle with a replaceable filter, are giving would-be cyclists around the country the opportunity to do just that.
From October 26th through December 7th, 2009, fans, amateur spinners and fitness buffs can enter for a chance to win a one-on-one bike ride with Lance Armstrong in his hometown of Austin, Texas by going to www.Facebook.com/C2GoRideWLance and entering the “Ride with Lance Sweepstakes.” Participants can earn additional entries by uploading photos of themselves in keeping with the sweepstakes rules and photo entry themes explained on Facebook.
The grand prize winner and a friend will receive an all expense paid trip to Austin where the winner will get a personal bike ride with Lance and their very own TREK® bike to ride and keep.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Mile repeats are a great for getting two important aspects of running stronger - endurance and speed. One mile is long enough to have you improve on endurance yet short enough to allow you run very quickly and have rapid foot speed.
Mile repeats are just what they sound like - running one mile multiple times with a short break in between. It is best to have some rest time between each interval. While you may be tempted to sit or stand around, it is best that you keep moving. It is recommended that for every mile you perform at a high level, you follow it up by slowly jogging half a mile. This way you have enough time to rest yet keep your body active and prepared for the next interval.
Of course, warming up and cooling down are important parts too. For your warm up, run about two miles at a comfortable pace. If you wish, you can stretch after one mile. However, as long as you stretch beforehand, you will be alright. As for your cool down, limit this to a maximum of two miles. The purpose of your cool down is to calm your body and release extra tension. Therefore, don't overwork during this time.
Another important aspect of mile repeats is how many to do. This will ultimately depend on your speed. Your speed should be quick, but not as fast as a race pace. Therefore, only four to six should be performed. This is because the purpose of this workout is to get both speed and endurance built up. If you perform less than four, this workout will be dominantly for speed purposes and you could have held back, going for more repetitions. If you went more than six mile repeats, you could have sped up and taken some endurance away.
When doing these repeats, stay in the inside lane if running on a track. However, it is best to switch directions on occasion so you don't overwork one leg. If you are running on the roads, be sure you avoid streetlights or other areas that will force you to stop.
A day after this workout, it is imperative that you go on a slow, easy run. This will allow your muscles to relax and get more out of the workout before. Therefore, only consider running for one hour at the highest at a slow, easy pace.
By Mark Sisson
Symmetry is a beautiful thing. It seems to be nature’s preferred state, at least in the structure of organisms: two eyes for stereoscopic vision (the better to hunt you with), two legs of equal length for injury-free traversal of the environment, two hands, two arms. For all intents and purposes, the two sides of the body are approximate mirror images of each other, with corresponding muscles and ligaments and tendons. Our anatomical symmetry is obviously a product of evolution, because a balanced body simply works better. Kids born with right legs an inch or two shorter than the left are more prone to injury, just as cars with bigger wheels on the left will be more prone to disrepair. Objective human beauty is determined by symmetry of the facial structure, as if we’re innately drawn to balance. A balanced body structure, too, is objectively attractive, because it connotes strength and competence in matters of survival (war, hunting, protection). It becomes clear that if symmetry weren’t important for survival in this environment, it wouldn’t have been selected for, we wouldn’t be drawn to it, and plants and animals would have assumed entirely different forms. Maybe we’d be amorphous blobs just kind of oozing around (as opposed to the amorphous blobs with legs and arms that presently populate our planet).
Read on....click on the title link.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The 2010 Tour of California will venture high up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, dispense with the traditional prologue, include a time trial in Los Angeles and feature the first mountaintop finish in the race’s 4-year history at Big Bear.
The biggest change for the 8-day event remains the move from February to May (16-23), pitting it against the Giro d’Italia. Still, race organizers expect a field of comparable strength to 2009, when world champions and former winners of the Tour de France and Paris-Roubiax lined up alongside America’s best riders.
In 2010, confirmed riders include seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who had been wrestling with the decision of whether to ride in California or at the Giro next May. He will be joined by RadioShack teammate and three-time winner Levi Leipheimer, national road champion George Hincapie (BMC) and national time trial champion Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream).
Next year, the race will begin in Nevada City and head generally south, visiting Sacramento, Davis, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Modesto, Visalia, Bakersfield, Pasadena, Big Bear, Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks.
Here are the route details:
Stage 1: Nevada City to Sacramento.
The 78-mile stage will put riders back into Sacramento where the race caravan will have been staying in the days before the race. Expect a sprint finish.
Stage 2: Davis to Santa Rosa.
Somewhat of a repeat stage from 2009, but perhaps a little longer and a little harder. It may or may not have finishing circuits. Organizers are looking to put a hill in Santa Rosa to give someone else a chance to win it. Plus, it’s harder for Santa Rosa to do circuits on a Monday and shut down all of downtown. Trinity Grade may figure into the route.
Stage 3: San Francisco to Santa Cruz.
Another repeat from 2009, this stage will again feature the Bonny Doon climb, where this year Levi Leipheimer attacked his way into the race lead. The stage will start at pier 30/32, then it will follow the Bay to Breakers running course from two days earlier, across the spine of the city and into Golden Gate Park. There will not be a Golden Gate bridge crossing this time, however.
Stage 4: San Jose to Modesto.
A sprint finish is pretty certain, as there is no way to get to Modesto without traversing 25 miles of dead flat central valley.
Stage 5: Visalia to Bakersfield.
The first and only real Sierra Nevada stage, this day will take riders up into the Sequoia National Forest. It could be somewhat similar to the Merced-Clovis stage from this year. The proposed finish near Bakersfield College consists of a 2-mile circuit with a 200-foot climb in middle.
Stage 6: Pasadena to Big Bear.
The queen stage will include 13,000-14,000 feet of climbing up to one of the ski resorts in Big Bear. Race organizers are waiting on clearance from the state because parts of the route include areas affected by the Station Fire. If the Forest Service gives clearance, the race would do 2.5 hours through the burn zone. From the start in Pasadena, riders will climb up to Crystal Lake, summiting there at 8,000 feet, then descending into Wrightwood and climbing back up to Big Bear Lake.
Stage 7: Los Angeles time trial.
Originally, the plan was to start the time trial start downtown and go to the beach. The LA Triathlon used a similar route and the city concluded the traffic impact was too great. So, the time trial will take place entirely downtown, visiting Disney Music Hall, Staples Center and the Exposition Park. It will likely be a two-lap course.
Stage 8: Thousand Oaks circuit race.
The race will conclude with a circuit race in the Santa Monica Mountains. There will be at least one canyon climb over the top of mountains and a drop down to the Pacific Coast Highway. SoCal roadies can look for the Rock Store climb to be featured.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
by: Andy Potts
Do you remember your first time? I remember mine like it was yesterday. I remember the setting, how it made me feel and—most of all—wanting to brag afterward, to tell people, “Yup, I did it. I raced my first triathlon.”
My first triathlon was a sprint race in the summer of 2002. I found it ironic that only in triathlon will you find an event that lasts more than an hour called a “sprint.” Reminiscing about my first time is always nostalgic, energizing and certainly puts a smile on my face. I recently sat down with my parents, Hattit and Buzz, who reflected on their first time as well.
My mom was lured into her first race in August 2007, and my dad just finished his first triathlon in May of this year. Like many first timers, they had lots of questions and I provided insight as best as I could. I tried to manage their expectations, but they just needed to go out and race. Knowing my parents, I knew that once they got their first one under their belt, they would be back for more.
Both of my parents are extremely athletic and have enjoyed participating in sports since they were kids. However, it took them until they were around 60 years old before they took up triathlon, proving that you’re never too old to be a first-timer. They both found that the swim was the most daunting task of the race. Because of the lack of visibility, the contact with other swimmers, the claustrophobia, and no wall to grab if something went wrong, the swim can be a showstopper for a lot of people. With that in mind, my mom remembers telling herself, “If I don’t complete the swim, then I can’t do the bike and the run.”
My parents were more prepared for their first race than I was for mine. I had youth on my side but certainly not experience. The two biggest things that I look back on and smile about were that I had no clue as to how to set up my transition area, and I had no idea how tough it would be to run after riding. For transition, I had all of my stuff in a bag next to my bike. I remember fishing through it to find my helmet and bike shoes during the race. As for running after swimming and biking first, I spent the entire run doubled over at the waist as if I were carrying a piano on my back, which is exactly what the run felt like.
My dad had a similar experience despite tips from me. He managed to set an impressive new family record for slowest T1. He had trouble taking off his wetsuit, he mixed up the order of putting on his helmet and glasses and had to redo it, he completely emptied his transition bag during T1, and he actually ran back to his racking spot after heading out for the bike because he forgot his shirt. Then, to top it all off, he had to take his helmet and glasses off to put his shirt on. Before he had even pedaled one stroke, he had put his helmet and glasses on three times. My dad said, “Practicing transition is no substitute for the real thing. In practice it is hard to raise your heart rate to where it will be in a race, and it is hard to account for your adrenaline as well.”
My mom fared much better in transition during her first race. When in doubt, she referenced the person next to her and copied her layout. In an effort of full disclosure, I think I did a better job of explaining things to her than I did to my dad. “The other competitors were really helpful and were out for a good time as well as the challenge of the race,” my mom recalls.
Another thing that stuck out for my parents was the body marking. Race numbers went on both hands, both arms, both legs; mercifully, only one calf got marked with their age. Seeing the ages of other competitors ignited my parents’ competitive side. “I remember seeing a woman who was in my age group just up the road from me on the run. I kept telling myself, ‘I can catch her!’” The run wasn’t nearly as painful for them as it was for me. They had lots of time to prepare and were more realistic in their minds about the challenges of the race.
For both my parents, their first race was a family affair, and it was nice for them to be a part of the race rather than spectators. Just as I predicted, the festival nature of triathlons and the euphoric feeling of crossing the finish line have compelled my parents to enter more triathlons. My dad said, “There was a distinct energy in the finishing chute for everyone. I got a real feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the line.”
One thing is for sure: I had no clue what I was doing my first time. I didn’t have anyone coaching me on how to set up my transition; I hadn’t really trained for it, unless you count visualization as training. Needless to say, I was under-prepared and overwhelmed. Even with that recipe for disaster, my first triathlon ended up sparking my new passion.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Alberto Contador is celebrating the official confirmation of his top position in the UCI World Ranking for the 2009 season today in Mexico. “For me, it was a great joy to win this trophy for the first time in my career,” said Contador, who is enjoying a few days’ holiday in Cancún after winning the inaugural edition of the criterium GP Cancún on Sunday.
Contador led the classification for individual riders, followed by two other Spaniards: Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sánchez. This represents the first time in history that Spanish riders have swept the top three places in the UCI contest. In addition, Alberto becomes only the third Spaniard to have won first place in the UCI World Ranking, joining the likes of Valverde (2006, 2008) and Miguel Induráin (1992, 1993).
Contador assigned special value to this victory, which sets the standard for cyclists globally. “I’m very, very happy, because it’s an extremely important thing for a cyclist. I’ve been close in other years and finally I’ve succeeded. For me, it’s a sort of culmination of my career.”
Alberto returns to Madrid tomorrow, hoping to resolve remaining uncertainties about his future as soon as possible. “The first thing to know is what the UCI rules about Astana and, in the event that they keep the ProTour license, we’ll have to sit down and renegotiate my contract. But even in that case, not everything will be decided yet.”
After a week’s stay in the Caribbean, Contador says he’s spent a “wonderful holiday, that’s given me a chance to unwind and rest so I can go back to Spain fresh, because on Saturday and Sunday there are two criteriums waiting for me, in Oviedo and Alcobendas,” he concluded.
Monday, October 19, 2009
By Tara Parker-Pope
Olympic track star Kara Goucher last year set the U.S. record for an American woman’s debut marathon, with a time of 2:25:53. Ms. Goucher, who is coached by marathon great Alberto Salazar and in April finished third in the Boston Marathon, spoke to me about what the rest of us can learn from her experiences.
What can someone planning to run a first marathon learn from an elite runner like you?
I’m going to train at a different level than an average runner because I have the time to and the resources to, and that’s my job. But I can relate to your average runner absolutely. You just have to scale everything and put it in perspective of what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re asking a lot of your body no matter how fast or far you’re going. Running is something that hurts. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a gift in my life. But it’s painful, and it hurts and takes a lot of time. Have patience. Stick with it and don’t expect results overnight.
Your Olympic events were the 5K and 10K. Why did you decide to tackle the marathon?
My coach really wanted me to try the marathon. He had been saying that for a couple years. I wasn’t convinced. The marathon is such a challenge. Just because you can run a 10K well doesn’t mean it’s going to transfer to the marathon. I kind of fought it. I went to the Olympics this summer, 9th in one event and 10th in the other. It made me realize how bad I wanted to be fighting for the win. When it came down to it, my coach said, ‘You’ll do well in 5 and 10, but you need to run the marathon.” I said, “O.K., let’s do it.”
We decided to do New York. It was a rushed preparation. I knew I wasn’t going to run the best marathon of my life in New York but I wanted to run a good solid first one. More time would be better, but I still was able to put together a pretty good marathon in eight weeks. Ideally you should have more time. I don’t think someone who decides they want to get fit should say, “There’s no way I can do it.” You will.
A lot of new marathoners are nervous about the race. Were you nervous running your first marathon?
I was terrified of the distance and the pain. You’re out there for so long. I was so scared I would get to half way and I would just start dying and have an hour left to run. I’m still intimidated by the distance. It’s daunting to think of running that long and that far. Even before Boston, even though I knew I could do it, I had only run 26 miles once before that. It’s a very intimidating thing to ask of your body and ask of yourself. There was a part of me that was afraid. I didn’t know if I could physically go out and run that far and that hard.
Most runners tackle their first marathon just for the sense of accomplishment. Can you relate to that?
During the race it was all about survival and keeping one foot moving forward, and it was physically the hardest physical experience of my life. When I finished it did feel tremendous. I felt like I had challenged myself in a way I never had before. It’s an amazing thing to see so many other people who do that too. It’s such a demanding task on your body and your mind. It changed my way of thinking, the way I looked at myself. It was such a tremendously hard thing and I accomplished it. It made me believe in myself more and my toughness and my tenacity.
How does running a marathon compare to running other events?
The two greatest thrills of my athletic career have been running New York and Boston, being around everyday people who are running so hard and excited to be there or supporting you and standing out there and cheering and carrying you through the streets. Some of the elite women were giving people high fives as we were running. There is nothing like it.
That’s one of the reasons I like it so much — other people get to be a part of it — whereas at the Olympics, I’m representing my country and all the people who have supported me, but it’s really about me and what I do. When I’m running the marathon so many people get to be involved even if it’s standing on the side. They’re giving you strength. It’s just amazing.
One of the big worries of new runners is getting injured. How do you deal with injury concerns?
I’ve had lots of injuries, stress fractures, shin splints, compartment syndrome, I banged up my knee. I know what it’s like to be hurt. In my running I’ve incorporated a lot more weight lifting and drills that give my body overall more athleticism. I think that helps prevent injuries. If you only have 30 minutes to work out, sometimes it’s more important to run 20 minutes and take 10 minutes to stretch and do weights and build your overall athleticism. I think that will keep you healthy.
Do you have any other advice for runners who are training for their first marathon?
I think it’s important to have patience and give yourself time and plenty of rest. If you want to start running and you’ve never run your entire life, that’s an amazing and wonderful thing. Don’t put pressure on yourself. My advice to people is to stay at it and take their time. Set small goals along the way and don’t be overwhelmed by the process.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Over 20,000+ athletes took part in today's race. The event raised more than 14 million dollars for cancer research. Recovox was at the finish line today and it was truly inspirational to see so many people running for loved ones who have been affected by cancer. Congratulations to all you for such a great job today!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
By Jim Ferstle
It was the week before Christmas, but in the Goucher household in Oregon the thoughts weren't of last-minute shopping or gifts under the tree. All Kara wanted this Christmas was a healthy right knee.
How she got it illustrates at least some of the reason for her recent success. Kara's coach, Alberto Salazar, calls it "the system." Most people know it as the Nike Oregon Project. For both Adam and Kara Goucher it has rejuvenated their careers. "Had we stayed in Colorado, we wouldn't be where we are today," Adam says. "Our running (careers) probably would have been done. Honestly, we probably wouldn't have gotten any better."
Adam says this not to diminish what either did in Colorado or elevate one program over another, but merely to point out that at this point in their lives, the Oregon program has provided them with the key elements they need to reach their goals, which include climbing as far as they can up the ladder in their respective events on the world stage. More specifically, while the Gouchers get emotional and psychic support from their families, nearly every other aspect of their athletic life is aided by the support provided by the Nike program.
In the case of Kara's knee, a pain developed after a mile repeat workout on the grass fields at the Nike compound in Beaverton. Salazar theorizes that the turns, which are marked by cones, were set too severe, and the resulting strain may have been too much for her right knee. After a week of cutting back in workouts to see if the injury might heal yielded no success, Salazar contacted Dr. Robert Cook, former team physician for the Portland Trailblazers NBA basketball team, who immediately got Kara in for an MRI.
Torn cartilage was discovered. The scan was done on Friday; on Monday Dr. Cook operated to repair the knee. The ability to get something like this done quickly is both emotionally and physically beneficial, Salazar says. While it may be the norm for the high-profile sports like the NFL and the NBA, it's not for professional runners, says Adam Goucher, who benefitted from the same efficiencies when he had foot surgery last fall. Having that sort of support can make the difference between making breakthroughs and/or continued development for an athlete, he says.
It was one of the reasons the Gouchers decided to move from Colorado to Oregon in late 2004. They had both been successful in Colorado. They liked it there. It was comfortable, but they didn't want to be comfortable. They wanted to find out how good they could be.
That wasn't happening in Colorado. When they saw what was available in Oregon, they were convinced it was worth a try. Not without reservations. Kara says that after John Cook, who was coaching in the program at the time, outlined all the support they would get and the variety of resources available to them, he added: "You'll have everything here you need to succeed."
Kara says that thought was both encouraging and scary. Scary because if they made the move and didn't improve, it meant they simply didn't have the necessary talent. Encouraging because it would mean they could get massages twice a week, regular monitoring of physiological parameters such as blood values and nutritional health, altitude training, and use advanced training devices, such as an underwater treadmill and a specially designed weight-bearing treadmill that allows you to regulate the amount of impact stress on the legs.
Add to that about an hour a day of non-running exercises--a set of 12 separate drills that are designed to strengthen and protect various parts of the body--and you have a program that trains the whole body, not just the legs and cardiovascular system. Add in the high-tech ice vests for cooling prior to racing in hot climates or the low-tech sweat suits that are used in training for the heat, and you have the pieces of a program that strives to anticipate and plan for every detail of race preparation.
Most of this is not new, says Salazar, just the adoption of time-tested methods developed many years ago by other runners, coaches, and trainers(both human and horse). "I really believe that in the end it's not the coaching that is going to make or break you," Salazar said. "Anybody can get athletes fit enough to run fast times. Whether you do in on any one day, that's where coaching comes in, being able to peak at the right time."
The focus in Oregon is on both the mind and the body. Athlete "buy-in" is vital, says Salazar. If the athlete doesn't believe in the program, then it only encourages more doubt than confidence. The target organ for the training program, therefore, is the brain.
Both Kara and Adam work with a sports psychologist. Unlike most athletes, Kara has been very open about her "inner monologues," the "Can I do this?" questions that all athletes ask themselves at critical moments in a race. She knows this is something she has to work on, as she believes it has has held her back in the past.
She doesn't worry that her openness about her doubts will encourage other athletes to believe she is vulnerable because she says she has been able, with the help of the sports psychologist, to develop strategies to deal with this perceived weakness. "Our psychologist says that Kara is the toughest mentally of all our athletes," says Salazar.
Kara has increased her weekly mileage to 85 or 90 miles a week. One of her key workouts is 6 – 7 x 1-mile repeats, often done on a grass field to minimize impact stress. The speed or tempo work is usually done on "soft surfaces," which includes the track, with only a small percentage of the running done on the roads, Salazar says. He uses the Dellinger/Bowerman formula for the mile repeats when attempting to judge Kara's fitness. According to that theory, whatever you average for the mile repeats, add 5 or 6 seconds per mile to come up with a time you are probably capable of doing for 10K, Salazar says. Before Osaka, Kara ran 7 X 1 mile in 4:51 with 400m rest. Her average pace in the Osaka heat was 5:09 per mile.
This year, says Salazar, the focus of much of her training will be on her kick. While she was able to average 30 seconds for her 12 x 200 workouts in 2007, the hope is to get faster. There will also be drills, Kara says, to allow her to "throw the switch," turn on her speed almost automatically in response to a challenge or surge by another runner. She hesitated when other runners made their move in Osaka, she says. While that lapse didn't cost her a medal, it might in Beijing, where it is likely to be a similar tactical race.
"Kara is very strong, so the key for her is to be in there in the last lap," says Salazar.
"I feel that if I'm there with somebody with 200 to go, the race is mine," Kara says.
Friday, October 16, 2009
By Nick Howe
Champions are made through victory. It’s always impressive to watch an athlete who masters the measure of his/her sport and beats the competition to the line. In an event like last weekend’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, victory means showing the world that you're one of the greatest athletes on the planet. Multiple disciplines in 100+ Degree heat, for more than 8 grueling hours, clearly make this event one of the top challenges in the sporting world. And to win defines the victor as a champion.
It takes more than victory, however, to become a hero. To be a hero, winning isn’t enough. To be a hero, you have to capture the imagination of those watching; to go outside the lines of the expected and rise above whatever line might have been pre-ordained. Being a hero means scoffing in the face of “experts.” Sometimes it means sacrificing your success for another. Other times, it means doing something no one else thought was possible. It’s an expression of oneself on the pitch, or the field, or the road, or the trail, or in the water with such passion and determination that a person looking on is forced to pause, to stare, to take notice that they’re watching something truly extraordinary. It takes more than a win to fill our hearts with passion, and excitement, and a deeper belief in the human spirit. It’s that rare individual who isn’t racing against the competition, but against possibility itself that we come to call hero. It’s that person who looks deep into the eyes of “reality” and says, “come on out chump, we’re gonna have a go,” It’s the person who isn’t racing to win, but rather to find out what the limits of greatness look like who we call a hero.
On Saturday, in Kona, the greatest triathletes in world gathered to find out who was the champion. A 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon to define the world’s greatest endurance athlete.
At mile 50 of the bike portion of the race Trek Athlete Chris Lieto took to the front of the race and dared the rest of world’s best Triathletes to hang with him. He once again proved that he was the fastest cyclist in the sport and quickly built a 6 minute lead on the field and a 12 minute lead on the race favorites. While the rest of the field jockeyed for position and used the variable speed increases of one another to maintain a blistering pace, Lieto ran alone at the front with only his self-will and pride to keep him in the lead. While the race favorites raced to see who would win, Lieto did something more. He raced to see how fast was fast. He raced to see where the limits of endurance were, not the limits of his competitors. In the face of the experts who said he could never hold them off, he ran at the front of the hardest race on the planet for 22 miles before being overtaken by the eventual champion and the sport’s top runner Craig Alexander. It was another 1.5 miles before the champion would eventually pull away. Again and again the announcers changed their predictions of when he would be caught as he courageously held off the run specialists mile after agonizing mile. Every self-proclaimed race expert said he would “fade off the podium,” that “he wasn’t a good runner,” but someone forgot to tell Lieto.
On Saturday in Kona, Chris Lieto road away from the best Triathletes in the world and dared them to, “come and get him.” It took 138.6 miles of a 140.6 mile race, and only the fastest runner the sport has seen for decades could answer that call.
On Saturday, in Kona, Chris Lieto allowed courage to be his guide and raced, not against the rest of world’s best, but rather against his own personal limits.
On Saturday, in Kona, Chris Lieto finished second in the world’s hardest race.
On Saturday, in Kona, Craig Alexander became the 2009 Ironman World Champion, but Chris Lieto became something more.
On Saturday in Kona, Chris Lieto became a hero.
It’s events like these, fueled by performances of the true heroes, those individuals who push the limits of possibility, that fuel us here at Trek to push the limits of bicycle performance. It’s athletes and performances like Chris’s this weekend in Kona, that make us look at the bicycle and stop saying, how can we be better than our competition, and start saying how good can we really be. We are constantly reminded by the people who ride our bikes that being a champion can only make you better than your competition; it doesn’t allow you to find the extent of your ability. It’s the ethereal place beyond that where we will continue to drive. At Trek we love building bikes for champions, but it’s the heroes that capture our hearts and drive us be as good as we can.
Thanks Chris for another fastest bike split, and for reminding us of the ingredients that make up success.
Thanks for Reading and remember:
Don't worry about where you're going, just keep riding.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
By Bob Cullinan
Dave Z was in Marin County, CA for an hour-long question and answer session on Sunday.
The topics ranged from his son Waylon to Dave's relationship with Lance Armstrong...from Zabriskie channeling his inner anger to the potential new names for a women's version of his DZ Nuts chamois cream.
Use your imagination.
It was an entertaining and enlightening look into one of the most successful...and off-beat...riders in the pro peloton. DZ is a man of many faces, and they were all on display for the packed house at Larkspur's Lark Theatre.
You're probably wondering why all the photos are in black and white, and not color? Hey, it's Zabriskie...nothing is as you expect it. Check out the rest DZ's various faces by clicking on the title link.
Eight minutes came between Rudy Garcia-Tolson, 21, of Bloomington, CA and a history making dream of becoming the first double above-knee amputee to finish the Ford Ironman World Championships held last Saturday, October 10 when he missed the bike cut off time. With only his hips used to generate speed in his prosthetic legs, Rudy needed every minute and every second of efficiency to propel himself on the bike 112 miles around the unforgiving rolling hills of the Queen K. The bike is the second of the three disciplines in the Ironman which starts with a 2.4 mile swim, and concludes with a marathon – 26.2 miles. After a speedy 1:05 swim and then 9:30 on the bike, Rudy gave it what he had on that day. He now knows what he needs to do to finish. His sprit is far from broken.
“The swim was pretty crazy,” explained Rudy, as he described his race day. “There were arms and legs everywhere, so it was definitely an experience. I felt good on the bike and wasn’t too bothered by the 90+ degree heat or gusty winds, but at about mile 70, I knew I had to keep a certain speed and I knew it was going to be close. I kept pushing till the end.”
“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to” said Rudy when he spoke about what he learned from the experience. “You can give up or your can fight back and continue to go after your goal. I’m fired up! And after spending a couple hours at the finish line cheering the final competitors in, and feeling the energy from the crowd, the spark grew even stronger.”
“After a heroic effort, Rudy just missed his goal of becoming an Ironman” said Virginia Tinley, executive director of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). “The fact that this two time Paralympic swimming gold medalist was out there pedaling up the challenging hills of Kona in blistering conditions using only his glutes showing others that anything is possible – proves he’s capable. It just wasn’t his day.”
The Ford Ironman World Championship is not for the faint-of-heart. But Rudy lives to take on challenges. As a spokesperson for the CAF and member of Team Ossur – elite amputee athletes sponsored by the company that makes his prosthetic legs - he’s always defied perceptions of disability and pushed the limits of what the human body can do.
“I have no excuses” said Rudy. “My equipment was perfect, but being off my legs for the three weeks leading into the event due to an infection in my stumps was a set back. In the end, it was an honor for me to participate in the event, and I’d love to have another opportunity to cross that finish line.”
With his work with CAF and Ossur, Rudy brings awareness to children and adults that anything is possible despite your challenges. For more information visit: www.challengedathletes.org or www.ossur.com.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
By: Liz Hichens
Both Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington defended their Ironman World Championship titles with victories on Saturday. In the process, Wellington broke Paula Newby-Fraser’s record with a time of 8:54:02. Australian Mirinda Carfrae also turned in a record breaking performance, earning second and posting a marathon course record at 2:56:51. All athletes battled hot, tough conditions throughout the entire day.
The day started out with the two dominant swimmers of the sport, John Flanagan and Andy Potts, emerging from the warm waters at 47:42 and 47:45. Australia’s Pete Jacobs and Great Britain’s Philip Graves headed into T1 at around the 50-minute mark. The main chase pack of 24 athletes marched out of the water 30 seconds later, and included defending champion Craig Alexander of Australia and Chris Lieto of the United States. Former champions Chris McCormack (Australia) and Normann Stadler (Germany) missed the main pack and immediately had work to do on the bike to catch the contenders ahead.
Once on the bike, 20-year-old Graves seized the opportunity to lead at the Ironman World Championship and rode to the front on the Queen K. Graves’ lead didn’t last for long and was overtaken by Germany’s Faris Al-Sultan. Al-Sultan also had limited time to enjoy the lead with Lieto using his power to move to the front. Unlike Graves and Al-Sultan, Lieto’s surge had staying power and he propelled himself to a permanent spot in the front. The American headed into T2 with a bike split of 4:25:10 and a 5:30 lead over Germany’s Maik Twelsiek. Twelsiek also posted an impressive bike time at 4:28:34 and headed onto the run comfortably in second place. Al-Sultan and McCormack followed in third and fourth. Then came the main chase pack that included Spain’s Eneko Llanos and Alexander.
Lieto took to the run course and quickly put his summer run training to work, while hoping the lead would be enough. At first glance it looked to be McCormack to challenge Lieto, with Alexander and Germany’s Andreas Raelert quickly working their way into the chase. After the turnaround point on Alii Drive, McCormack started to struggle and was forced to walk. Alexander and Raelert ran shoulder-to-shoulder to the Energy Lab, when Alexander finally decided to make his move and chase down Lieto. Once on the Queen K, Alexander passed Lieto. Lieto worked hard to stay on his heels, but eventually had to drop back to his own pace. Alexander posted a run time of 2:48:05, running his way from 10th off the bike to the top spot on the podium. Alexander’s time of 8:20:21 was slower than last year’s 8:17:45, no doubt due to the heat. Lieto maintained his stride and earned his best ever Ironman World Championship finish at second with a time of 8:22:56. Raelert also held strong, rounding out the podium at 8:24:32.
In the women’s race, the Czech Republic’s Lucie Zelenkova was the only woman to make the main men’s pack, giving herself a three and a half minute lead over the pack of Great Britain’s Leanda Cave and Rachel Joyce, Canada’s Tereza Macel, the United States’ Gina Kehr and New Zealand’s Gina Crawford. Reigning champ Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain was eighth out of the water and went onto the bike with less than four minutes to make up on Zelenkova.
Wellington immediately found her way to the front and rode away from the pack, at one point getting within 11 minutes of the lead men. Wellington posted by far the fastest bike split of the women and was the only to go under five hours at 4:52:06. Behind Wellington, Macel combined a solid swim with a steady bike to hold strong in second position. Wildflower winner Virginia Berasategui of Spain made up for a slow swim with a speedy bike ride to head onto the run in third position. Behind the uber bikers, fast runners Australians Mirinda Carfrae and Rebekah Keat, and Canadian Samantha McGlone all exited within the top 11 spots, but found themselves with what looked to be an impossible amount of ground to make up on Wellington.
Once the marathon began, it was clear that Wellington would carry her speedy pace from the bike to the run. Wellington started the run with a steady 6:30/mile pace, with her lead growing with every stride. While Wellington’s pace slowed from the 17-mile mark to the end of the marathon, her hard work had already paid off and she earned her third straight victory and established a new Ironman World Championship course record.
The battle for the women took place behind Wellington, with Berasategui and Macel running steady. As Macel began to fade, Berasategui looked to be running comfortably in second position. As many expected, Carfrae proved her half-Ironman running skills can translate to the Ironman distance as she surged her way to second position. Carfrae passed Berasategui in the final minutes of the marathon, posting a 2:56:51 marathon and establishing a new women’s marathon course record. Berasategui held on for third and a time of 9:15:28.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Lance Armstrong's coach Chris Carmichael has revealed that the seven-time Tour de France winner will take part in the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In a video posted on EveryManTri.com Carmichael indicated that Armstrong would head to the race with high ambition.
"2011, [Lance Armstrong] will be here. He's super psyched and I think he wants to do more than win his age group," said Carmichael, who is in Hawaii to observe the 2010 World Championships, taking place on Saturday.
Armstrong's participation in the Ironman World Championships would fall in line with an announcement made in July by the sponsor of his new professional cycling team, RadioShack. The company said that as part of its sponsorship arrangement, the 38-year-old would participate in cycling, running and triathlon events around the world.
For Armstrong, who competed as a professional sprint-distance triathlete prior to his professional cycling career, it will be his first participation in the Ironman World Championships.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Rudy Garcia-Tolson Set to be the First Double Above-Knee Amputee to Compete At the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona
On Saturday, October 10, 21-year-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson of Bloomington, CA will attempt to become the first double above-knee amputee to compete in the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in his division. This historical feat is made even more significant as it will mark the first time a challenged athlete with his disability will race in the event on a standard upright bike and run on advanced Ossur Flex-Foot® running prosthetics made of energy storing carbon fiber technology.
The Ford Ironman World Championship is not for the faint of heart. Tens of thousands of triathletes attempt for years to qualify for the chance to see if they have what it takes. Rudy will be there with them, taking on the 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile notoriously windy bike and a steamy 26.2 mile run as if he had two strong legs beneath him. But a challenge is what Rudy was born to overcome and this will not be the first time. As a spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and member of Team Ossur, Rudy has always pushed perception… pushed limits of what the human body of any shape was meant to do.
Born with rare, multiple birth defects – a combination of crippling Pterygium Syndrome, a clubfoot, webbed fingers on both hands, and a cleft lip and plate, Rudy made the decision to have his legs amputated at the young age of five. Even as a kid trapped in an imperfect body, he was determined to overcome his physical challenges to be active and do what he wanted to do. Once he gained access to advanced prosthetics, he started swimming and running and began competing in triathlons. And by the age of eight, had declared that he was going to win a gold medal in swimming in the 2004 Paralympic Games.
He was true to his word and brought home the Gold in the 200 Meter Individual Medley in 2004 and 2008, while shattering the world record for his class. Rudy continues to swim as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Elite Team, but has shifted his focus to Ironman in pursuit of yet another seemingly impossible milestone from young man who as a child asked his legs to be removed so he could be free to go after dreams meant mostly for those with four functioning limbs.
“Who said you have to have legs to compete? All I’ve ever wanted to do was pursue my dreams and show people that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Hopefully other kids with disabilities will see what I’ve accomplished and go after their dreams regardless of any perceived obstacles,” says Rudy. “I just want to prove to the world that no matter your challenge, whether it’s physical or mental, it can be overcome with a brave heart and determination.”
As with other athletes, technology plays a big part in helping an athlete reach their top form. Rudy is no exception. All told, he will have six prosthetic legs in tow for the big event – a pair for walking, a pair for biking and a pair for running. The advanced carbon fiber technology, silicone suspension, and lightweight alignment have been the catalyst that has always propelled Rudy to reach his goals. “We pride ourselves on being a company based on innovation that allows people like Rudy to push limits. It is people like him who make us work harder to make sure no person is limited by their dreams,” said Tabi King, spokesperson for Ossur.
As a member of Team Ossur for the last 12 years, Rudy has taken an active part in R & D providing input and making suggestions that he knows will make him a better athlete. His input at the age of 10 resulted in the development of the Flex-Run that would allow for above knee amputees to run long distances. This breakthrough has helped thousands of amputees pursue new opportunities. This technology has proven so valuable for kids and adults alike to become more active that Ossur partnered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation to provide running feet for those who could not afford one or is not covered by insurance. Rudy’s infectious ambitions have inspired thousands around the world both able and challenged to overcome and persevere.
“Rudy represents everything the Challenged Athletes Foundation is about. Providing access and opportunity for those who have a goal and a dream, but are only limited by access to technology,” said Virginia Tinley, executive director for CAF. “Rudy’s example of inner strength and dedication has paved the way for a new generation of challenged athletes to dream big and we plan to be the vehicle that will help them reach those dreams,” she added.
Now after nine months of fine tuning his legs with his prosthetist, Michael Davidson of Loma Linda University Medical Center training with his coaches, tweaking and testing his bike and prosthetics, Rudy is ready to defy the odds and inspire the physically challenged and able-bodied community. “I’m looking forward to starting the race” says Rudy. “The swim is my strongest part of the race and where I’ll find my groove. The run is going to be the biggest challenge. I’ll have to constantly monitor my stumps for swelling and slipping, as well as my nutrition and hydration.”
Rudy hopes to finish the Ford Ironman World Championship not only for himself, but through his role as a spokesperson for CAF, make people aware that people with disabilities do not need to be held back by perceived limitations. His accomplishments as an athlete and a role model have been chronicled on the Disney Channel, The Oprah Winfrey Show and ABC’s Nightline to name a few, which have allowed his peers to be educated about what is possible, find the help and support that is available to them through CAF, and learn about the Ossur prosthetic technology they need to get into the game.
The Ford Ironman World Championship is the next sounding block for Rudy to speak his message of hope and ability, to lead the way for future generations to follow and to change perceptions of what is possible.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
So here we are, 3 days away from the biggest race on the triathlon calendar, The World Ironman Championships, here in Hawaii, Kona. The town has transformed over the past week from a quite, relaxed town with no traffic into a small Triathlon City with hundreds of athletes running up and down Ali’i Drive and cycling along the Queen K Highway… in their lycra and compression socks! I can see the local thinking “what the hell?”
Preparation has gone well over the last 2 months and the last 10 days have been mostly about recovery with a few small hard workouts to keep the engine running. I am fortunate to have one of my massage therapists from New Zealand, Ian McKellar up here with me looking after my body and making sure my muscles are ready to go come Saturday. He assures me my body is in a better place than before IM Germany! My Coach Jon Ackland arrived on the weekend with my folks and Kelly. It is great to have Jon’s help and expertise advice leading into the event and having my folks and Kelly fussing over me and making sure I don’t have to worry about anything is the best.
Also a big thanks to Chris “Macca” McCormack for inviting me out to Kona in August to hang out and train. He is a great athlete and top guy who didn’t have to think twice about sharing any information with me.
There are a great number of supporters from back home and around the world coming over to cheer me on so thanks guys. I have also done interviews with TVNZ and TV3 so that should screen sometime this week
You can follow the race at www.ironman.com on Saturday 10th October, we kick off at 6:45am Hawaii time, which is Sunday at 5:45 in NZ. Hope the coverage is great and you all enjoy it.
Monday, October 5, 2009
By: Lee Gruenfeld
In October of 1994, I sat across the aisle from Greg Welch on a flight from Kona to the mainland, grimacing as I watched a steady stream of well-wishers violate entire chapters of FAA safety regulations in their eagerness to unbuckle seat belts and run down the aisles to offer congratulations. With every hearty handshake and back thump I winced harder, until my wife Cherie nudged me in the ribs and said, "Go do something!" As I stood up and began traffic-copping the enthusiastic fans, Greg heaved a sigh of relief and whispered "Thanks, mate" as he sank back into his seat with a fresh grimace of his own.
Greg and I barely knew each other’s names at the time. I was dimly aware of him as the happy-go-lucky Aussie constantly chided for wasting his considerable athletic talent on too much partying and not enough training, too much affability and not enough seriousness. The reason for all the congratulations on the fully-loaded 747 was that party boy had just clobbered a hugely talented field of star triathletes on his way to becoming Ironman champion of the world.
The reason for all the wincing and grimacing was that, unbeknownst to the well-intended conga line of admirers, Greg had fallen in the shower the night before and snapped his collarbone. Every handshake, shoulder punch and back slap was sending bolts of pain shooting through his shoulder.
Sir Plucky swallowed it and kept smiling. You had to look hard to notice that sweat was breaking out on his brow and his legs were weakening because he insisted on getting up to greet each well-wisher and each rise was getting shakier and shakier as the pain got worse and worse. But he was determined not to let on that he was hurting. “They shouldn’t have to hold back,” he said to me of the people wanting to shake his hand.
Greg was no stranger to pain. Two years earlier he’d managed sixth place while running with a flaring hemorrhoid that felt like he was being stabbed with a red hot knife with every step. And only the year before he’d missed the 1993 Ironman because of a last-minute bike accident. He’d licked his wounds for about ten seconds before hunkering down to focus on the 1994 event, which he won with a time of 8:20:27. (Two years later he went a minute and a half faster and came in third.)
I won’t belabor all of the achievements and accolades this celebrated Hall-of-Famer has racked up, including four different triathlon world championships at distances ranging from sprint to Ironman, half a dozen national titles and Lord only knows how many something-of-the-year honors. Those have all been written about before, and you can look them up.
What I’m interested in is what life has been like for someone who, at the exact moment that he was the number one triathlete in the world and the odds-on gold medal favorite at the Sydney Olympic Games, was told that his racing days were over and he should be thankful that he was even alive.
Somewhere during the last quarter mile of the swim in the 1999 Ironman World Championships here in Kailua-Kona, Greg thought he was having an asthma attack. He had difficulty breathing and felt a painful, fluttering sensation in his chest. He stopped swimming for about five minutes and, when it didn’t clear up but at least didn’t get any worse, he started swimming again. After exiting the water he thought of quitting – something definitely didn’t feel right – but the thought was fleeting, because Greg’s decision flowchart for quitting only had two question boxes on it: Am I still breathing? Can I walk? (There used to be a third – Do I know what day it is? – but after winning the world championship on the hottest day on record he scratched that one off the list.
He felt better in T1 but out on the bike he got hit again. Lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pain everywhere but all of it emanating from his chest. It went away, came back, went away…twelve times, plus another three on the run. Each time he emerged from the episode weaker and more shaken, but still he kept on.
Only after he finished the race did he discover that he’d been competing while in the throes of a frightening and often fatal condition known as ventricular tachycardia. Riders of the Lightspeed Tachyon racing bicycle know that “tach-“ means fast and we all know what “cardia-“ is. The regulatory mechanism in Greg’s heart had gone completely haywire, turning that critical muscle into a runaway freight train. It was periodically pounding away at rates as high as 320 beats per minute, which was like holding the accelerator down with the car in Park and the engine on:
There’s only so long that can continue without severe and potentially irreversible damage.
That Greg survived the race was remarkable. That he finished in eleventh place was the stuff of legends.
In early 2001 surgeons implanted a combination pacemaker/defibrillator in his chest. The former tries to maintain steady rhythm in his heart. The latter is another story. An on-demand device that only kicks in when needed, the defibrillator is a modern marvel of electronic brains and miniaturization, a cardiologist-in-a-box whose only job is to detect when the heart’s normal ballet of electrical signals descends into a break dance of chaotic impulses that threaten to kill its host. When that happens, state-of-the-art circuitry jumps into action and counterpunches with stronger signals that overwhelm and thereby tame the heart’s errant ones.
A miracle, right? A source of comfort to the wearer, who is keenly aware that the gizmo is ever-vigilant and will jump to the ready and so there’s little to worry about, right?
Okay, picture this: Greg goes out for a walk, blithely minding his own business, and gets about a hundred yards from the house when an invisible, malevolent gnome swings a sledgehammer in a wide arc and slams it into the middle of his chest. Stunned and breathless, Greg goes down. About two minutes later, when he’s able to breathe again, he looks around, sees no one there and realizes what just happened. As he tries to get to his feet, the hammer hits him again. As he did during his last Ironman, Greg refuses to stay down and forces himself to try once again. This time he gets halfway home when WHAM! It happens again.
By the time he staggers back to the house and drops onto a couch, he’s in too much shock to dial 911. The reason is that the gizmo in his chest does its thing by slamming an 800-volt lightning bolt into his heart, which feels a lot like, well, getting an 800-volt lightning bolt slammed into your heart. Every defib episode is supposed to result in a hospital visit, but he’s had six of them in the space of twenty minutes and it lands him in intensive care for three days, where the miracle gizmo kept hitting him anyway.
So, yes, the thing was keeping him alive, but having a bomb in your chest with the timer set on “Random” is not quite the same as chicken soup and a hug from Mom and, all in all, a far cry from how the world’s greatest triathlete envisioned his future.
That was in 2003, the worst year of his life, but it ended with a turnaround. Surgeons cut into the femoral artery in his leg, threaded a catheter into it and pushed it clear up to his heart, where a miniature camera identified spots of ventricular damage and a second device fried them into quiescence. A little adjustment in medication, three months of recovery, and the awful shocks stopped.
But…the runaway v-tach episodes didn’t. When his heart spontaneously decides to run a marathon at sprint speed, his pacemaker goes into a special mode in which it tries to pace the heart faster than its intrinsic rate in an effort to break the tachycardia before it progresses to ventricular fibrillation. It will try this “antitachycardia pacing” trick half a dozen times or so and, if it doesn’t work, the device surrenders by delivering that 800-volt uppercut. So far it’s worked every time, but each episode is a “Psycho”-class nail biter that’s keeping Greg off his surf board and off the golf course. There’s hope, though: A new procedure he’s investigating might finally rid him of his membership in the cardiac Russian roulette club.
What keeps him going under circumstances that routinely crush people into clinical depression?
“His wife and kids,” offers Paula Newby-Fraser, longtime friend and many-time Ironman champion. “He adores those girls and wrapped his life around them.”
During Ironman Japan in 1993, Greg got hit head-on by a car and broke both his clavicle and a wheel on his bike. There wasn’t much he could do about the collarbone, but as for the wheel? Sian Welch, who was also competing, gave hers up so he could finish the race, which he did, coming back from 60th place and winning it. (He went straight from the finish line to the hospital, where he was visited by race officials who informed him that he’d been DQ’d for receiving outside assistance. He didn’t argue, even though Sian wasn’t an outsider but a competitor, because none of the officials spoke a word of English and it wasn’t until the next day that he finally learned what they were trying to tell him .)
Years later, Sian threw Greg another lifeline, this time in the form of Emma, little sister to first daughter Annie. At the very nadir of his medical odyssey, Greg got the message loud and clear. This is why you fight. This is why you need to stay alive.
It worked. They’re why he gave up stand-up paddling and other beloved sports that, while benign for most of us, were potentially lethal to him.
They’re why , when he occasionally and inevitably feels himself slipping into the abyss, he only has to think about his girls to pull himself out and shake it off.
Close friends can tell when it happens. “He disappears for a few days,” Newby-Fraser says, “and that’s how we know he’s had an episode. He’s not interested in sympathy, so he slinks off, gets over it, and comes back.”
Sir Plucky doesn’t complain, he isn’t bitter, and he’s damned if anyone is going to see him give even the appearance of being down or feeling sorry for himself.
“I was dealt those cards and I played them right from the get go,” Greg says. “When I got the word that my athletic career was over, I was stunned for about ten seconds, and then I started thinking about two things: staying alive and what’s next.”
Staying alive is something the rest of us rarely think about as a deliberate activity, but for Greg it became as routine as brushing his teeth. The Olympic-caliber frat boy gave up alcohol, caffeine and anything else that could be remotely classified as a stimulant and threaten his heart.
He shrugs it off lightly. “They said they were dangerous, so that was it. No way do I deprive my kids of a Daddy because I felt like having a beer.”
As for what he would do next, that turned out to be easier than giving up pub crawling with his mates. How do you parlay charm, radiant affability, the gift of gab and uncanny athletic insight into a new career?
You go on television. Greg’s became a WTC employee, the go-to- guy for expert on-air commentary who also hosts Webcasts, acts as technical advisor and is deeply involved in anti-doping. For the past few years he’s also been Oakley’s global sports manager for multi-sports, outdoors and track and field.
“I bloody love it!” he exclaims. “I get to see all the guys I used to compete against!” And they get to see Greg without having to compete against him, so it’s a win-win all the way.
To say that nothing teaches you more about life than a brush with death is a cliché but, like all clichés, it’s grounded in truth. “Life is so fragile,”
Greg muses in a contemplative moment, “and so worth protecting.” He’s talking about his daughters and he realizes that, while he can’t wrap his arms around them forever, he can take care of himself both physically and spiritually and thereby afford them the benefit of not just his presence but his outlook. To grow up around someone who doesn’t take life for granted is a gift
To be that someone is a blessing.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Alberto Contador introduced a new children’s book based on his life yesterday at Isabel la Católica middle school in Pinto. The book, entitled Querer es Poder (Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way), was written by Jordi Sierra i Fabra, one of Spain’s most celebrated authors and a specialist in children’s literature.
Querer es Poder is the newest installment in a series published by SM and dedicated to lives of famous athletes. Iker Casillas and Severiano Ballesteros, among others, are also featured in the series, which can be found on sale in bookstores in Spain.
“The book is not a biography—that will come later,” said Contador, calling it a “collection of anecdotes” from his childhood and early days on the bike.
“It’s a curious tale with stories about the difficulties I went through in the hospital and experiences I had when I was a child,” he said. "I hope that the book can serve to instill in the kids a desire to dream, and that the values of sport keep them on the right path.”
Alberto used to be a pupil at Isabel la Católica, and appeared yesterday before many of his former teachers. The principal, Nieves Blanco, delivered a few emotional words, and confessed that she is an enthusiastic follower of the winner of the 2009 Tour de France.
After the presentation, Contador personally signed copies for about 100 students, later posing for photographs surrounded by the children holding their new books.