First...A Humorous Look into the Mind of an Athlete
What a simple, five-mile practice run sounds like in the head of a non-athlete (a.k.a. Opal):
Five miles! I can do this. I ”have” to do this...the Tough Mudder is 13+ miles long.
How can I do this??? Yikes. OK - I'm not going to look at my watch. I'm just going to run and run and see how far I get before I get tired and have to look.
(some time later)
Crap! It's only been 20 seconds. What. The. Hell? Argh. How am I going to finish the Tough Mudder next weekend?
What a triathlon sounds like in the head of a true athlete (a.k.a. Sarah):
Pre-race: Sitting by the lake watching the sunrise over the North Carolina hills. I have about 30 minutes until my wave. Plenty of time. WAIT. ONLY 30 MINUTES? I’VE BEEN TRAINING FOR SIX MONTHS AND IT ALL ENDS IN 30 MINUTES?
Swim: Oh, ”this” is what the Bible was referring to as gnashing of teeth in hell. Yep, I’M IN HELL. Only one more mile to swim. Good Lord, Almighty. That’s a long way. OH, HEEEEEEYYYYY. The ramp to exit the water. Nope, not a mermaid anymore! Back to being a real, live human… Whoa. Legs are a bit wobbly. Now I know how Ariel felt walking on land for the first time…
Bike: Look at all that lake water flying off of me! …And, ew, it feels gross sliding into my shoe. Three-and-a-half hours alone. I will not cry from boredom. I will not cry from boredom. I will start SINGING!
Run: Whoa. Did NOT expect my legs to feel this…weird. Maybe I’ll walk a bit. Oh. I already am. No, I’m running, but the same speed as the walkers.
YES, I’m doing it! I’m wrapping up the final leg of my triathlon journey! The run is getting easier! There are the people from my cycling club, and my friends, and my husband, and my coach…this is happening AND I FEEL GREAT! Wait, is that a girl in my age group? She will not beat me. I must beat her. YOU’RE GOING DOWN!!! …Beat her at the finish line! Smile for the cameras! …Now give me my darn medal. I EARNED THIS!
Three Seconds Post-Race: WHERE IS THE FOOOOOOOOOD? Hi hubby! Love you, too! Thanks, yes the medal DOES look great on me! I know, I’m very salty. And sweaty. WHERE IS THE FOOD I GAVE YOU TO HAVE FOR ME AT THE END? I want beer! I want carbs! I want fat! I want protein! I want food! I want…TO SIT DOWN. And food. MAINLY food.
What is a Super Athlete?
This post is a celebration of "super" athletes – people who push their bodies and minds beyond the norm. (Note that I made up this term "super athlete" – it's not official or anything.) These types of athletes compete in triathlons – races that consist of swimming, biking, and running long distances. And they do this for "fun". This article is an ode to their inner thoughts, experiences, and training. May we all strive to have their mental discipline and stamina.
For those of you who didn't see the social media announcements, prior to Kscope16 there's an event called the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman. This race takes place on June 12, 2016 in Cambridge, Maryland (one of the oldest colonial cities in America) and it's the race’s 20th anniversary year.
Yes, 70.3 indicates the number of miles involved. This event, as is reminiscent of all Ironman races, forces its competitors to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and then run 13.1 miles, all within a certain time limit (8.5 hours after the last athlete's start). A group of ODTUG'ers have decided to do it together. (If you're curious about the details on all they must complete, as well as the types of guidance given to athletes who participate in this type of race, check out the Eagleman athlete's guide.) These folks are renting a large house and spending the weekend together to prepare, compete, and then bask in the glory of their madness.
Luckily, they allowed me to Facebook-stalk their group and interrogate them about their habits and experiences for a few months. They indulged me while I asked inane questions about their motivations and training.
P.S. They are taking volunteers for next year's Eagleman. They call this "ODTUG bonding." Any takers?
The Usual Suspects
So who is this insane group?
Rob Lockard (President at OracleWizard.com, Oracle ACE, age range: 45+, technology identifiers: Oracle DBA, Designer, and Developer). He and his (generous and super cool) wife Candy are the gracious hosts. They are putting together a crab feast in celebration of the event and are there to cheer on the team. I'm pretty sure Rob is using this as an excuse to continue the "Scotch and Cigars" party from RMOUG Training Days 2016, but hey, who wouldn't want to?
(Sarah's finish at her very first Ironman. Look at those leg muscles!)
Sarah Zumbrum (Sr. Sales Consultant at Oracle, Oracle ACE Alumni, age range: 25-34, technology identifiers: Oracle BICS, OBIEE, and EPM). The ring leader. Accomplished triathlete and Wonder Woman, Sarah spends all of her free time training for events such as this. Sarah completed her first triathlon in 2015 and continues to push her personal limits. I once asked her if she was "done" now that she completed a triathlon. Uh, yeah...not even close. I don't think "done" is in her vocabulary. She was ready for the Eagleman months ago – she's probably twiddling her thumbs while running a marathon.
Bjoern Rost (Principal Consultant at Pythian, Oracle ACE Director, age range: 35-44, technology identifiers: Oracle DBA). The crazy European who we all love. If you've ever spent any time with Bjoern (and his awesome wife) at Kscope, you know exactly why he's part of this team. Not only is he hilarious and insane (you all saw the nighttime skinny dipping picture of him in the ocean at last year's Kscope, right?), but he's a great teammate and rounds out the group well. Bjoern made an honest attempt to get in bike training prior to the Eagleman, but his bike manufacturer has failed him.
(Alex at 90km of a 160km race in Denmark, 14 hours since the start. His supporters, including Bjoern and his wife, drove all the way from Hamburg to support him. Alex still had 70km+ and 11 hours to go in this race.)
Alex Gorbachev (CTO at Pythian, Oracle ACE Director, age range: 35-44, technology identifiers: Oracle DBA). This chill Canadian transplanted to South America. If you're Facebook friends with Alex, you'll see that he travels a lot and genuinely enjoys life. He's a great ODTUG'er and we are appreciative of his participation at all Kscope events. Alex is waiting until the last minute to train for the Eagleman.
(Chet loves biking)
Chet Justice (President and Founder of ORACLENERD, Oracle ACE Director, age range: 35-44, technology identifiers: OBIEE and data modeling). The crazy American. Chet had intentions to compete in the Eagleman with the rest of the gang this year, but, unfortunately, had to cancel due to competing time commitments. Chet is well known in the ODTUG world and adds great flavor to the team. He has loads of stories from the "old days" when he was "thin Chet" (his words, not mine). Chet is striving to make next year's race and will be living vicariously through the rest of the group's experiences.
How in the world does one train for an event like the Eagleman, especially when you travel for your job? When do you start? What does one eat? How many hours a week do you have to commit to training?
In this cast of characters, it's humorous to see the large swing in the range of training. Some take it very seriously (Sarah), while others are just going to "wing it" (Alex). But, there are some commonalities across the board: learning from past experiences, endurance, and food.
Bjoern recently started his new job at Pythian and is relocating to Canada, so training has been a bit of a challenge for him. His plan has been to swim twice a week and bike outdoors in the spring when the northern weather allows for it. However, he's completed two triathlons of this length before. In addition, in 2014, he trained for, competed in, and finished the Challenge Roth - the world's largest Ironman distance race.
Sarah started training for the Eagleman at the start of this year. Her weekly training regimen includes:
- one tempo (sprints) swim
- one endurance (steady) swim
- one interval run
- one recovery run
- one endurance run
- one interval bike ride
- one endurance bike ride – followed by a run
- one easy bike ride
(Whew...I don't know about you readers, but trying to say all of that makes me tired!)
Sarah has completed three half races of this type in the past. In addition, last year she finished her first full Ironman. In 2007 she also completed in something called an "adventure race". The adventure race involved "mapping our race route based on map coordinates, orienteering, mountain biking, trail running, rappelling, and kayaking for 24 hours." She has one half Ironman and two more Ironmans (she just completed one in March) planned for this year. She also regularly competes in half and full marathons and distance bike rides.
As of March, Alex...well, here are his own words: "... I haven't really been training... yet. First couple of swims last week after a 10-month break. I now know that I will probably swim 1.9k and not drown. :) As I'm now based in São Paulo, road biking isn't really easy there so I haven't got on the bike since last summer. Had a couple gym sessions in the last week. I'm running five to 20k, but not as regularly these days. So... I think I'll make it, but it will be a struggle."
Chet has competed in two past Ironmans in his lifetime and gave them his best effort. His goal is to finish in a full Ironman within five years. He will continue to train until then.
In addition to training, everyone agrees how important diet is for preparation. Although there is a large swing in what's considered to be the "proper diet" for each athlete, fuel is critical to a successful finish.
Sarah: On "'normal' days, I eat a caloric combination of 50% fat, 25% protein, and 25% carbs. By eating more fat than carbs, it forces your body to use fat as a fuel versus carbs. This takes lots of planning each day. During a full Ironman, a typical athlete will burn 10,000 calories. For the full Ironman, I planned out my nutrition intake for the race, divided up between breakfast, bike, and run. Further, I broke this down by carbs, salts, protein, and liquid. I worked with my coach/nutritionist to determine the right mix of nutrition so that my performance would be optimal. Immediately after the event, I just EAT. Ideally, you will want to eat carbs in the first hour after the race to help replace glycogen store loss. This year, I'm making it a point to be smarter and stick to the 50%, 25%, 25% plan so I can be as lean and as in shape as possible for the full Ironmans later this year." For the record, Sarah also created an Oracle Essbase cube last year to track all of her stats. She presented this solution at Kscope15.
Chet: "The great thing about really getting into training for me, is that I simply start eating healthier. More pasta. More grilling (meat, natch). Actual. Green. Foods." (Gasp!) "I know." He also continues his usual diet of food and beer. "Generally speaking, I don't diet. When I have tried it in the past, I failed. It requires more discipline than I possess."
So if you train and eat right, nothing can go wrong, right? There are some obvious and hidden dangers when training for and then competing in one of these types of races. I remember reading a Facebook post earlier this year from Alex about getting lost during an outdoor run in a new place. I asked the group about other dangers and the reality of injury.
(Chet after mile 12 of a past Ironman. He went about 8 or 9 more miles before calling it quits.)
To prevent injury, everyone recommends endurance training. In addition, Sarah recommends rest days, stretching and yoga, turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory root), and body weight resistance training. Chet recommends "not crashing the bike" and avoiding "alien hornets that cause you to crash the bike."
The real dangers that athletes face in each portion of a triathlon-type event and/or training:
- Swimming: getting dragged under the water, getting kicked, getting punched
- Biking: crashing into others, solo crashing, bike malfunctioning crash, getting hit by a car
- Running: spraining your ankle, spraining your knee, spraining your (fill in the blank)
In addition, Chet and Bjoern added: Overeating, under eating, too much water, not enough water. Cramps. Panic attacks. Death (although rare).
(Bjoern riding his bike at a local course just outside of Hamburg, Germany.)
I also quickly learned that everyone has at least one story about almost getting hit by a car while bike training. A fellow ODTUG biker, Stewart Bryson, missed Oracle OpenWorld last year because he was actually hit by a car during one of his long bike rides.
Sarah comments: "I requested a helmet-mounted GoPro to start recording my rides so I have evidence to give police if cars are reckless, impatient, or aggressive. I used my GoPro last week and a lady was verbally aggressive. When she noticed my camera, she immediate shut up and stopped being aggressive. I loved that it was a deterrent."
The Awesome and (sometimes) Crazy Stories
Through these many years of training and competing, this group has some great stories to tell. Some are crazy, some are scary, some are heart-warming. Here are a few:
I flatted in a race last year, twice. I changed the first tire no problem, but I did not have a second tube. After sitting on the side of the road for a few minutes, I decided to go find the support van. I took my bike and started running the bike course. I remember thinking, 'it's only five miles or so' because I thought I was much further along than I was. What I didn't realize is that I flatted at mile two. I kept turning corners thinking I was almost to the transition. Then I turned the last corner, finally. I was thinking about [my son] and my father who had come out to watch–I was now two hours late. So I run down the "final" stretch...which turned out to be the final three miles. Dad and [Little Chet] found me, thankfully. I was last on the course, but I was angry, angry they (the officials) left me out there. So I kept going.
So I ended up running almost eight miles, barefoot. With my bike.
I got to transition, asked for the race director, and gave him an earful...he promised me the next race would be free and took me by the hand to the beer tent where I had Sierra Nevada Nooner for the first time at 9:30 in the morning.
Moving to Raleigh was tough. As I was traveling near 100%, I never had an opportunity to meet people and make friends. Because of training (biking, running, and tri’s), I've met some amazing people. The women are tough as nails and the men don't accept 'being a woman' as an excuse for not kicking their tail in a race. We are always encouraging and pushing each other. And they have pushed me beyond limits I thought I had. And these people range from early 20s through 60s! I love that age is just a number in this sport. The camaraderie is everything. It gets me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday. It pushes me a bit further than I think I can do. It's a tight group...it's fun and amazing at the same time.
I had to scavenge for food at Escape from Alcatraz last year as I was stupid enough to not bring any. I did not pack gels for this trip (because the last time two packs of gel exploded in my luggage) and I forgot to buy some at the expo. That was a great mistake since I was already running at close to empty and there were no aid stations on the bike course. Luckily for me, the roads were so rough that other athletes lost plenty of their food on the course. I stopped twice to pick up gel that someone dropped. I was desperate.
Finally, Why Do This? Like...WHY?
It's hard for my feeble brain to imagine taking on 70+ miles of anything that I have to work at myself. So why do these folks choose to compete in events like this one?
Without missing a beat, Sarah responded with, "Um, I don't know why everyone isn't doing them." LOL. The truth is that Sarah really enjoys working towards a long-term goal. She also feels that the mental challenge offers the most benefits, as it allows her to be more focused and patient during the week. "...And hearing the announcer say, 'You are an Ironman!' as you cross the finish line is really, really cool."
Chet says that it's also about the journey for him. He doesn't care so much about the actual event. He enjoys the solitude, the ability to think carefree when he's on the bike, and the glory of it. He whole-heartedly admits that he's a show off.
In addition, there is a competitiveness that all seem to embrace, whether it's about competing against other people or competing against themselves. Sarah was told seven years ago that she shouldn't be biking and running. Look at her now – I guess those orthopedists were wrong.
(Sarah's first triathlon age group win ever!)
Good luck to all of our ODTUG super athletes – those mentioned here and those not mentioned. We hope the Eagleman and all of your future journeys are successful!
BONUS Content: For the record, Chet also shared some very candid thoughts about the random things that go through his head. Oh, the humanity. (Giggle) A censored list for your reading pleasure:
- Why the heck am I up at oh dark thirty? I slept for 30 minutes, tops.
- I have to put/pack/rack the bike on the car. It's dark. I'm tired. Argh.
- [Drives to race, doesn't map it, just follows other cars with bikes mounted/racked] Hope I don't get lost.
- Crap. Did I forget anything? This is a check I've done approximately 42 times by now. Goggles? Shoes? Socks? Race belt? Argh, I forgot my race belt. I'll just buy one. (I have 12 at home.) Helmet? Handlebar end caps?
- Holy crap, there are other stupid human beings here, too.
- I need a marker. When will I remember to do this on my own? I also need to register. I'm the worst planner.
- Why does everyone hog the bike rack? Don't they know 20 bikes have to go in this section? Why are people such dorks? [Moves people's bikes, hopes they're not near, remembers he's larger than most of the people, relaxes]
- (I just got contacts last year.) I won't be able to see anyone for the next 47 minutes, until I get back to the transition post-swim. I hate being blind.
- [Walks (blindly) to swim start] Thinks "if I just close my eyes, no one can see me."
- My group is up next. (I have never done a mass start.) [Horn blows, stays outside of the group, let's them get ahead] I dive in the water to start swimming and think to myself, "What is wrong with me? I could be sleeping. Why am I doing this? I must have a brain injury."
- [Sees first buoy] OK, this still sucks. Why am I doing this?
- I can touch the bottom now... [starts running in water blows] Dolphins swim a little more. Running in the water? That sucks. Who does this? Why am I here? I must have brain damage. Holy crap, my legs are wobbly. I must be a freaking moron.
- Why is my heart racing? Am I having a heart attack?
- Forget these a**holes cheering me on. I'm in pain, can't they see that?
- I have sand in my shoes. Why am I running in my shoes? Why can't I be cool and have my shoes pre-attached to my bike like those other skinny a**holes?
- What gear am I in? Feels like gear one million!
- Are we there yet? I should probably conserve my legs for the run. Another turn? I thought that I *was* on the last turn...
- Please don't make me get off this bike. I DO NOT WANT TO RUN. [Have you ever done squats, or stadiums/stairs, and then tried to run? It blows. Your legs are all full of lead.] PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME RUN. That's it, I quit.
- My sand still have feet on them. I mean my feet still have sand on them. Why am I doing this? I could be sleeping.
- WHY AM I RUNNING??? THIS HURTS!!! MY HEART IS GOING TO EXPLODE!!!
Then you're done. There's beer at the end. I always try to remember the beer at the end. It's super awesome to have a beer at 9:00 a.m. and be drunk. I have the best naps on race days.