Friday, January 20, 2012

Coming and Going (with photos) -Year 5

Part 5 of a continuing series...(I had posted this a short time ago, but am having to remove and repost due to a technical issue.)

Last July, while I was continuing through my physical and mental recovery following Ironman Texas, I began a series of posts where I reviewed my fitness progress and achievements throughout each year since I made an effort to return to an active lifestyle after a long period of relative inactivity and weight gain. These posts can be found here, though you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the page and work your way up to follow the chronological order of the posts.

January brought some big changes to my life and training. First, I got under 200 lbs for the first time in over 10 years and maintained my sub-200 lb weight for first time in nearly 20 years. In addition, January brought an uptick in my training schedule as I began ramping up for Ironman Texas. My training ranged from schedules of roughly 9.5 to 15.5 hours as I began the mental and physical preparation for the Ironman. As February came along it seemed that 16+ hour training weeks were becoming normal for me. By this point a recovery week had close to 13 hours of training--a volume of training I might never have even had prior to the start of my Ironman training program. Looking back from my current point of view I wonder just how I stood up to adjusting to that schedule, but it is something that I did manage to handle. I expect most of that was having the mental attitude of planning to complete the journey I was on.

March brought some big training firsts, such as a personal long 112 mile bike ride for the first time. I also used some time to take a bit of a "break" by participating with a team in the Texas Independence Relay. The TIR is a 203.2 mile relay race from Gonzales, TX to the San Jacinto Monument. The course covers 203.2 miles in remembrance of the Texas fight for independence from Mexico in 1836. I used the term "break" partly in jest as I ran over 20 miles in 5 or 6 run segments during the 31-ish hours our team was running. I can be seen in the back of this photo with a few of my teammates as we stand in front of the San Jacinto monument.

April brought me the peak of my Ironman training as I covered over 554 miles of combined training. Ironically, I probably would have had even more training if not for racing early in the month. One of the unique features of the Kemah Olympic Triathlon is jumping off of a boat and swimming back to shore. I really thought this race was worth doing for this experience alone!

In the end, I had a good day at Kemah, even though I was a bit disappointed with my swim and bike times, each of which was more likely due to the windy conditions than due to any shortcoming on my part. I came away with my first PR of the year--over 12 minutes since last doing this distance the previous September. By the time I was done with the Kemah race, Ironman Texas was looming even larger on the schedule. Before the month ended I was hitting my longest week, with around 18.5 hours of training and doing my longest sessions of each discipline. I was also hitting the wall and beginning to burn out on training just as I was getting to the 3 week taper point before the race.

May brought with it the prime event of my year--Ironman Texas. I had a good start on the day of IMTX but that gave way to some problems late in the bike and on the run portions of the event that hampered my performance on that day. Even so, I persevered and made it to the finish. Even with those problems that I had on that day, it was still a great event for me and I was glad that I had done it. One of the most surprising things that happened to me during Ironman training was the loss of about 17-18 lbs, from the start of the year until race day.

My post IMTX rest continued into June, but by the end of the month I felt ready to get going again. Although I was not quite fully recovered I returned to triathlon by entering a relay with my friend, Karen, as she got her first taste of triathlon. We participated in the Mixed Relay Division of the Y Freedom Tri in Pearland, Texas. We each had a good day and scored a first place finish on our division. This was my first and only athletic award in my 5 years of being active, and while that felt good it felt better to share the experience with a good friend.

It was during these summer months where my training had wound down from the Ironman training levels that I experienced the mental growth that followed my physical loss. By that I mean that I still mentally envisioned myself as the much heavier version of myself from several years earlier. To be truthful, this was a hard thing to reconcile as I had been in the 250-270 lb range or more for a number of years before taking on an active lifestyle, and I suppose I had long been used to the idea of how I once looked and likely I mentally assumed that I would always look that way. To some degree, I am still surprised by my current image in photos and reflections as being "me". I guess I am still getting used to that image of myself, and am maybe not entirely convinced it will be permanent. As a matter of comparison let me share two photos taken almost 4 years apart on separate vacations to Disneyworld. One is from the early morning hours of January 1, 2008, where my daughters and I stayed until the park's 4 a.m. closing and the other is one of my photos from the Disneyworld marathon just a few days ago. The difference in weight in these two photos is probably about 85 lbs (I almost can't believe I am actually posting the older photo online! However, if my posting helps convince just one person that they can go from looking like I did to being able to reclaim a healthy and active lifestyle, then posting this is worth it.).

In August I was back at triathlon fully as I did the Bridgeland Sprint Tri for the second straight year. I think it may have actually somehow been hotter than the previous year but I was much better prepared this time around. My final time for this race was 1:27:00, beating out last year's time of 1:34:14 by over 7 minutes, even with the run lengthened by 0.15 miles. It may have been the first time that I ran every step of the run part of any triathlon and it definitely was the first time that I finished in the upper half of my age group in any running or triathlon event, something that I am happy to say that I continued for the remainder of the year.
In September I ran the Houston Olympic Distance Triathlon. This time I was on a specific mission for my first sub-3 hour finish at this distance. Even though the day was warmer than expected, I set out to beat my goal time. I followed my plan and though I had some issues (worse than expected swim, better than expected bike) I came through in a time of 2:58:12 to meet my goal.

As October rolled through I was well into preparation for my early November half iron distance triathlon at Oilman, but I took a break for a fun sprint tri with a few friends to do the first year Oktoberfest Tri in Fulshear, Texas. I went there to have fun, and ended up having a great race. I finished 9th in my age group and 22nd overall while doing this fun, local event with several friends from my tri group, OutRival Racing. To finish up my racing in October, I did a local 10 miler called the Ten for Texas. This is a generally well run event (though I had my issues with it this year) that I seem to manage to only be able to run every other year for various reasons. I was looking to run under 1:40 this year, which would have dropped over 15 minutes off my PR off this distance. Since running a time of 1:40 would equate to a 10 minute per mile average pace, I set out to start at a pace of 9 minutes per mile and expected to have some extra time in reserve as I slowed down. As it turned out I stayed close to the 9 minute average pace and with a fast 10th mile I finished in 1:29:50, well faster than my own expectations on this day.

In November I started with my second most important event of the year for me, the Oilman Half Iron Distance race. I came into this race trained, rested and ready to go. I was looking to put as much distance as I could between this year's finishing time and last year's finishing time of 7:07:43. I improved in each area from last year, including both transition times. I had some cramping issues late in the run and had to walk much more than I planned in the final loop of the 3 loop run, however, this year's time was still 6:21:22.5, 46:20.7 ahead of last year's finishing time of 7:07:43.2.

Finally, to close out my racing year, I ran the Run The Woodlands 5K on Thanksgiving weekend. I ran this race last year on Thanksgiving weekend and set a new PR of 27:05. Given all the training I've done this year I figured a new PR was close to a sure thing today.

My goal was to get under 25 minutes and possibly even under 24 minutes with my finishing time. I ran hard and steady, trying to run as hard as I could maintain without faltering over the distance.I found my time to be quite a surprise as I would not have anticipated that I would have been able to run a 22:43 5K, but I did it. This is a time that takes me back to my 20's in terms of speed, though I have far more endurance training now than I ever did then.

In the end I can only say that this was a fabulous year for me. I successfully completed new events, most notably the Ironman, and reached a lot of self-improvement milestones along the way. In addition, I redefined my sense of who I was and I got to know a lot of great friends along the way. I also managed to maintain my early year weight loss and build on it so that I finished the year just under 180 lbs (even with some weight gain during Thanksgiving and Christmas) for a weight loss of almost 24 lbs on the year. Also notable for the year was that I gained a new PR in every event I did this past year. My only regret for 2011 was that it had to end, since it seemed that I hopped from one success to the next.


Amanda said...

Don't worry, you're going to continue that hopping from one success to the next this year too! It was so great to see you and I am still just so impressed by all that you've accomplished! Keep it going!

corinnak said...

A fantastic review, Richard. I think the thing that I like the most is that you always know where to find, if not always the fun, at least the joy in an event. Your before/after pictures are tremendous - I have no doubt you will continue to be the you that you choose to be and that you will inspire others to choose their own best path as well. As ever, I'm proud to be your friend and companion on the journey.