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Triathletes and superheroes have a lot in common.  After all, both have wardrobes comprised mostly of lycra and spandex, both cause a stir when walking into a convenience store wearing the aforementioned outfit, both have an obsession with high tech gadgets, and of course there is the whole alter ego thing we all wrestle with. But lest our egos become Super-Sized, there are plenty of opportunities for humility in 140.6 miles.

I certainly didn’t get this far on my own. I had lots of help along the way. I want to thank Jesus for seeing me through every step and giving me everything I needed to accomplish this, my wife Lisa, my kids, and family who went above and beyond being supportive, Trainer Jeni Schumacher who started me on my triathlon fitness path, Coach Jamie Church who stuck with me through all the ups and downs of training, master bike fitter and coach Jim Cunningham for making me one with the bike, Dr. Jeff Harris (triathlete & all around cool Doc) who kept me moving, all of our friends who have prayed for and encouraged me, and Carolyn Bain for introducing me to the benefits (and pain) of neuromuscular massage.  I owe a debt of gratitude to all of you.  You all are the real heroes; I just got to wear the cape.

Sometimes the life of a superhero can be really tough on the family, a little fact it would behoove every triathlete to remember.  Spiderman, Superman, Batman – none of these guys had a stellar track record in the relationship department – what ever happened to Vicki Vale? She didn’t even last through the sequel!  And who can forget the trials of the valiant Frozone (alter-ego Lucius) of The Incredibles?

  • Lucius/Frozone: Honey?
  • Honey: What?
  • Lucius/Frozone: Where’s my super suit? (i.e. what happened to my tri-shorts, I left them here on the floor last week? )
  • Honey: What?
  • Lucius/Frozone: Where – is – my – super – suit?
  • Honey: I, uh, put it away.
  • [helicopter explodes outside (or weather looks perfect)]
  • Lucius/Frozone: *Where*?
  • Honey: *Why* do you *need* to know?
  • Lucius/Frozone: I need it!
  • Honey: Uh-uh! Don’t you think about running off doing no derrin’-do (i.e. 6 hour training ride). We’ve been planning this dinner for two months!
  • Lucius/Frozone: The public (My fitness level) is in danger!
  • Honey: My evening’s in danger!
  • Lucius/Frozone: You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!
  • Honey: ‘Greater good?’ I am your wife! I’m the greatest *good* you are ever gonna get!

This is all simply to say that I realize my training was a great effort for my family as well. Don’t get me wrong, they could not have been more behind me.  My wife (definitely in the “greater good” category) was truly Mrs. Incredible, 100% on board.  She is the one who signed me up for this thing in the first place. How many women do you know who would insist the yard remain uncut (and even cut it herself) so her husband’s legs could remain fresh for the weekend ride?  Not many I’m sure. Ultimately, we all survived the crazy schedules and there was nothing left to do but race.

The Venue: Beach 2 Battleship Iron Distance Triathlon, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Lisa and I (with me still in my mild-mannered husband and father persona) drove up on Thursday to give us plenty of prep time before Saturday morning.  My super powers are enhanced by certain types of music, so we jammed our way across the state with Eye of the Tiger and the best jock jams the 80s and 90s had to offer. Once in Wilmington, we spent the rest of the day getting settled in, visiting the expo (excellent by the way), and searching out places to eat pasta (Everyone knows that pasta to a triathlete is like spinach to Popeye).

Friday AM: Lisa and I woke up early to take a little bike ride under race conditions (i.e. cool temperatures).  We had a great ride, went to the pre-race meeting, and spent the afternoon sorting out the special needs and transition bags. That evening my incredible sister-in-law and brother-in-law made the five-hour drive and met us for dinner.  My fellow caped crusader Jolene joined us, and we all descended on Olive Garden, ready for our endless bowls of pasta.  Well, apparently someone at Olive Garden figured out that a town full of spandex clad warriors, an endless bowl of pasta, and a slow economy just didn’t add up to fiscal responsibility for the restaurant, so the offer was no longer available.  Obviously the forces of evil were working against us. Despite such a plot, we enjoyed a good meal, good company anyway, and headed back to our hotels hoping to catch at least a few hours of sleep before we set out to conquer the world.

Saturday AM: The alarm in the secret lair was set for 4:30AM, but we were up well before that.  First a quick hot shower to try and loosen up the shoulder, and prayers that the inflammation would be down so I could manage a half-way decent swim and not be in agony through the bike and run. Most importantly we prayed that whatever happened I would honor God through it. We took our time checking things in transition and getting body marked (all the work had been done, my bike and bags were turned in the night before).  Time moved along quickly, and by 6:30 I was on the shuttle headed to the beach.

Swim: It was a chilly morning (temps in 40s) and the sand was downright freezing!  Frozone would have felt right at home.  68-degree water would be most welcome compared to the ice-sand.  Is this sleeveless wetsuit going to be warm enough? Luckily for me, a freakish imperviousness to cold is one of my super powers. After the national anthem and some heart pumping music we were off.  To date, this was the roughest swim I had ever been in.  I certainly got my share of kicks and scratches.  KA-POW! BIFF!  POW! Now I know why they call a mass beach start the “blender.” I didn’t baby my shoulder though and just went about my business.  It would take more than a kick to the head to stop this buoyant boy wonder.  I glanced at my watch occasionally, and around the 50 minute mark I saw what I thought was the last turn, marked by the distinctive “Wiggly Man.”  Imagine my amazement to realize that I had already made the turn with the rest of the pack, and was actually approaching the swim exit.  Fifty-four minutes and I was out of the water!  That was better than I had ever hoped for, even with a good shoulder.  My feet didn’t work when I climbed onto the dock, so I hit the deck hard.  Although impervious to cold, I was thankfully not impervious to the numbing effects of the cool waters and didn’t feel much from the fall. With a hand from one of the volunteers I was up and on my feet again in no time.  On to the wetsuit strippers, the shower, and then the changing tent – leg one was complete!

Transition 1: Who knew it was so hard to get dressed when you can barely feel your fingers and toes?  How did Superman do this in a phone booth? Don’t even get me started on Wonder Woman.  At least the attitude in the tent was jovial as everyone was excited to have made it through the swim.  After a quick check to make sure I didn’t forget anything, I was off to mount my trusted steed.  Hi-Yo Silver, awaaaayyyy!!!!!

Bike: After what seemed like a REALLY long transition I was finally into my comfort zone.  The bike felt good, and I have to admit that it was quite a rush getting to ride a bicycle on the interstate.  Once we got out of town there was little traffic on the course, and every intersection was controlled – nice. The volunteers at the special needs stop were spot on, which made for a very smooth and quick stop.  As the day wore on the sun really began to heat things up, so off went the gloves, arm warmers, and vest. Then there was the last forty miles of the ride, a continual head wind that just wouldn’t stop.  To be fair though, it was a pretty flat course, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much about the wind.  Everything went just as I had planned, nutrition and hydration all according to schedule.  The IGC (Iron Guy Cycle) performed flawlessly.  After 112 miles my shoulder still felt fine.  I was getting set up for the run and hoping to nail my personal target time.

Transition 2: This one was a little quicker than T1, now that I had the feel for how the whole changing tent/transition bag handoff worked. I was thankful to just keep from putting my shorts on backwards.  I still was not racing through the transitions, and then it was time to ease into the run.

Run: Things started off pretty well.  I found myself having to intentionally slow down during the first mile, and it was actually getting hot!  I never expected to be pouring water on my head in November. I made a quick “pit stop” at the first rest station, and that’s when the trouble began.  If  you’ve ever been there you know what I’m talking about, that slushy feeling in your stomach that feels like you are carrying around a small ocean (I wonder if the Flash ever had this problem?).  I managed it for the first 6 miles or so, but after that I knew I was in trouble.

Because of that slushy feeling, I had quit drinking as much, and stomach discomfort soon turned to something more sinister – stomach cramps! Could this be some type of wicked plot from an unseen super nemesis?  More likely they were the results of unprocessed Clif Bars and Shot Bloks, but an effective does of Kryptonite nonetheless.  Feeling betrayed by my belly I pressed  on.  I ran as much as I could, but sometimes it felt as if I had to choose between slowing to a walk or throwing up, and I chose the former.  I resolved to make the best of the situation, run as much as I could, and take “pit stops” as required.

Still Running: When the sun set on the course the temperature plummeted.  At the halfway point I put on a long sleeved shirt, wished I had packed some gloves, and hit the road again.  I had started to find my rhythm again here and there, I even cheered at the downtown crowds, and had some good miles.  My wife and family were staked out on course and the times I passed by them were some of the greatest moments of encouragement for me.  About mile 17 I had a close encounter with some railroad tracks in the dark, rolled my ankle, and did a very graceful fall onto the pavement. So there I sat stunned, on the ground, alone in the dark.  Was I injured?  How was my ankle?  Was I cut? Bleeding? Could this be the end?  Had the would-be Iron-Dad finally been defeated? What to do?  I had no choice – I got back up.  That’s what you do when you fall down, you get up, and I’ve already learned many lessons from that moment. I started back slowly, making sure that everything was working properly.  Miraculously, I made it through the fall without a single scrape.  Thank you God.

Finishing: Realizing that my goal time was an impossibility, I decided to do my best to enjoy the rest of the race.  I encouraged others on the course, I prayed for those who looked like they were struggling, and I took in every moment.  Once the end was in sight, adrenaline clouded any stomach pain – I was about to fulfill a life’s goal.  The final 100 meters was surreal Should I fly across the line?  I settled for a slow run/ jog to make it last. I heard my name called over the PA system and reality came crashing in. I had done it. 140.6 miles.  I was an Iron Man.

It’s hard to explain the rush of emotions I felt once I stepped across the line. Elation, relief, euphoria, thankfulness.  It was beyond words.  My family was waiting for me, it was so great to see their beaming faces.  I declined any medical help at the line, after all, I was fine, a super hero.  Obviously the race organizers recognized our super status, why else would they give us all those neat foil capes to wear?  After a few minutes I was feeling a little nauseated and decided to visit the medical tent, just in case.  It turned out I had become dehydrated on the course.  The stomach cramps I experienced in the tent were the most severe yet.  I felt worse there than I had at any point along the course. Judging by those around me, I had done well to stave off hypothermia, which seemed to be common in the tent.  After a couple of bags of fluid l was good to go.  The next morning I felt great, ready to tackle the world, or at least the breakfast buffet!

The series of thoughts and emotions one goes through during one of these events is unique, and I’m sure it’s different for everyone.  To summarize, mine went something like this:

During the marathon leg: “Once this is over, I am NEVER EVER EVER going to do this again.”

At the finish line: “This was awesome, but I won’t be doing this again for a LONG LONG TIME.”

The next morning: “I wonder how the run would be without the stomach issues?  Maybe another try in a FEW YEARS?”

Perhaps I’m now under the influence of an enemy mind control ray, or suffering from Post Super Hero Syndrome, but as crazy as it sounds even to me, I think I want to do it again. Soon.  Will it be this year?  Only time, schedule, and the demands of life will tell.  Until then, up, UP, and AWAAAAYYYYY!!!!

Finish Well!


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November 18, 2009

This past Saturday, coach Jim Cunningham officially opened the doors of the all new Greenville Cycling Center powered by Jim Cunningham Coaching. The open house was an opportunity for friends, fellow athletes, and prospective clients to get a first look at the new venue, which includes a state of the art eight station computrainer studio which boasts wide screen projection. Coach Jim has been a vital force in Upstate cycling and coaching for some time now, but this new “bricks and mortar” location on the Eastside will allow him to expand his services even further.

Offering in-depth training plans, threshold testing, motor pacing, domestique services, and his exclusive bio-fit system (in conjunction with partner and physical therapist Tim Crunk), Jim is ready to help cyclists of all abilities take their training to the next level. To learn more, check out Jim and the Greenville Cycling Center at www.jimcunninghamcoaching.com

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