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Tough Mudder 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Tough Mudder is aptly named. I think because Crazy Mother-#@&*er was already taken.
The event is billed as “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet”. With the possible exception of the Ironman and the Eco-Challenge, I think this is true.
Matt Greenwald and I did not go into this blind. We read the website, the reviews. We had done Warrior Dash in January, Muddy Buddy, and Matt did Spartan race. We’re both in pretty good shape, jogging regularly. I’ve been steadily training (if not strenuously training) for a while for an Ironman, so I’m no slouch.
In a word- Damn!
Matt got us a hotel room in Brooksville, a little north of Tampa. The hotel was ful of Mudders. You could tell from the look of them. Toned, confident…a little nervous, but with that energy that seasoned veterans of Endurance events have. They had their ritual coffee in the morning, wore their lucky compression tights, and didn’t complain about the 40 degree chill in the air.
We rolled to the event itself, in Dade City at the Little Everglades Ranch. Nice ranch! Too bad a zillion Mudders are here to jack it all up! After a half-mile walk from the car to registration (which we knew we would curse on the way back!) we got signed in and numbered. They write the numbers on your arm, and your forehead. I guess if your head’s not attached to the rest of you, it’s not so urgent to identify you quickly.
The event was very impressive. There were games, Tattoo artists and head-shavers, for those inclined. Lots of Porta-Potties (this is important!) A large stage for a live band, and many food options. Many participants came in costume. Some looked colder than others! We arrived early by about 3 hours, so we had plenty of time to wander. We felt pretty warmed up by the time our corral was called to the starting area. Everyone listened attentively as the Hype-man got us raging to surge into a maelstrom of adrenaline and testosterone-fueled awesomeness, then he had everyone take a knee and administered the Tough Mudder pledge:

I understand that Tough Mudder is not a Race, but a Challenge.
I put teamwork and Camaraderie before my course time
I do not whine- Kids whine.
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.

At the time, I though to myself, “Who’s got fear?” I would learn, and I would overcome.
The Star Spangled banner was sung, and she hit the high note. Then, it was upon us, and the crowd roared and surged forward through orange smoke, howling to break ranks on the first obstacle.
…which was ¾ of a mile away. A brisk jog brought us to two dumpsters full of orange and blue ice water… with the ice still floating in it. We climbed up one side, slipped in and blasphemed mightily at the frigid liquid. A barb-wire beam made sure we submerged fully in it, and we scrambled to the other side, where the more hypothermic Mudders were having a tough time getting back out again. We heaved them over the rim, and then tried to clamber out ourselves. With shivering, muttered curses, we all had the group thought, “These guys aren’t f#@king around!”
The next obstacle was a lake. The 65 degree water was so much warmer than what we had just endured, we laughed as we sank in, until we realized that we had to go UNDER a series of barrels floating on the surface. Now we were entirely soaked, head to toe. At this point, I realized the cotton T-shirt and BDU-pants were an error; Nylon is the fabric to wear.
We fell in with ‘Shree, a 51 year old military vet, whose teammates had left her. She cursed them energetically and fell in with us. I’m sure we would have continued jogging between obstacles, but Shree set a pace that neither Matt nor I would have. Neither of us was going to be the wuss to ask her to slow down for us. Four events later, she would complete the obstacle first, and leave us in the dust.

There were mud-holes. Yeah, you say, so what? I think they took a telephone-pole auger, and drilled 5-foot deep holes below the surface, because the bottom would drop out at random, and everyone would fall. This continued for some time throughout the course, whenever there was muddy water, you could count on losing your footing to a submerged pit.

Eight-foot walls met us. No problem! We climbed over those, and helped other people over, too. We climbed sandy clifts, covering our mud with a fine layer of grit. A wobbly balance beam gave us a chance to fall off into some cleaner water. Sewer pipes, led down into a pond, then half-submerged pipes led back out. Ever tried to climb up a plastic pipe while your soaked in mud? No traction. I had to inch-worm, using my toes. I hadn’t worked those muscles. They feel it, even now!

As we went below ground, so we would ascend to the sky! We climbed a sketchy ladder to a 15 foot high platform, then we were supposed to jump from this into a pool of water. I had visions of leaping grandly, decrying something inspiring. I had forgotten my fear of heights.
I’m not used to feeling afraid. I’m not a big guy, but I’m tall, and smart, and skilled. I can overcome most of the obstacles in my life, and I’m aware of this. I cannot take away the fear of heights.
Not with a bang, but a whimper, I fell off the platform with all the grace of falling feces, and slogged my way out of the water. I did experience something akin to joy as I realized that that would have to be the scariest thing I faced that day. I dug into my pocket for a mud-soaked package of Shot-bloks (food) and ate the muddy, gritty blocks on the run, thankful for the calories. We jumped haybales, dodged attractive women with tattoos (another dangerous obstacle!) and went deeper in mud that I can fathom (see what I did there?)

Twelve foot walls greeted us. I needed help to get over this. My upper body strength just can’t pull me over. But it can help someone else go over. With help, I made it to the top, and brought a couple other Mudders over, then moved on.
A lake appeared, and along with it, a line of Mudders, carrying heavy logs, walking into the lake, and back out again. I am amazed at the temperature variations that can occur so close together. The lake was cold! Of course, carrying a log does not help footing, and a few missteps threatened to submerge us in a bad way. A job to dry off brought us to a strange house of monkey bars, going up at a 15 degree angle for about 20 feet, then down again. Against all odds, I made it. My simian arms finally had their moment to shine.
Walls to traverse appeared, with a horizontal foot-board ¾” wide and a 2×4 at the top to hang onto. I laughed. Rock climbing skills to the rescue!

A large cargo net (I think King Kong last occupied it, by the smell) was challenging, but not tough. A 30-foot pile of haybales was structurally frightening to climb, and scary to descend, but done with alacrity and trepidation. Then came the nasties.

A 16-foot tall ¼ pipe was a challenge. You had to run as fast and as high as you could, and try to grab the outstretched hands of the people at the top. Some of them were able to reach the top by themselves. If you missed, you slid back down, and tried again. The crowd was frenzied. The finish line was in sight! We cheered each victory, and roared in frustration when victory was postponed. Eventually, it was overcome. At the top, was the battle line. People lay on their bellies and tried to catch the outstretched hands that would rocket up the ramp. I thought this might be a bad idea. I envisioned being pulled back down the ramp. On guy almost went over, but two of us grabbed his legs, and pulled him and his catch back to the top.

Then only one thing left: Electro-shock therapy. How much could one car battery hurt? The answer is: A LOT! They hit you with a water truck on the way into a pergola full of dangling strings. Some of them are electrified. I’ve played with Tesla coils and VanDerGraff generators. I’ve been zapped by 110 volt current before. This was painful and debilitating. I think I look like I’m smiling at the end of it, but the truth is, it might just be a rictus snarl from the spasming torment.
Then it was done! What trophy did we get? What medal was heaped upon us? What laurel decorated our brow? An orange sweat-band, with the words “Tough Mudder” written on it. That’s how it is at the Mudder.
Then they give you a Dos Equis beer, which was a wonderful reward. Matt and I hoisted them high, and toasted ourselves; the Toughest Mudders occupying that space.
Were we slow? Hell yeah! Did we cry? Naw, that ain’t me. Did we finish? Like a BOSS!
I’ve got to say that the camaraderie at this event was just as epic as the obstacles. I was as sore from this as from ½ Ironman. I would almost rate this as a similar difficulty. It far surpasses a ½ marathon. I couldn’t have done it without Matt. I’m a Tough Mudder on my own, but with my teammates, we’re unstoppable. Matt’s a hell of a Tough Mudder, too.

A shower, a massage, a beer and a pizza brought me back to life. Seeing the family again brought me back to reality. Here at the house, I’m the Dad and Hubby. Part repairman, part jungle gym. But deep down, I know when I need to be, I am one Tough Mudder.

In Memorium Mousie

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

There’s a Buddhist story about a monk who had a beautiful antique vase. A friend came to visit, with a young child, and sure enough, the vase was shattered. It was irreplaceable, and the friend was mortified. The monk was serene about the entire experience, saying he appreciated the vase as though it were already broken. The moral is to live life fully appreciating things as they are, for they will not remain so forever. The lesson is, children will destroy your prized possessions.
My kids discovered two little stuffed mousies I owned, Lewis and Clark. These were my traveling buddies. They were small, cloth, sand filled mousies, and they’ve traveled the world several times. They climbed Mt Fuji with me. The explored the Great Pyramid of Giza, and they’ve visited the quaint patisseries Paris is known for. I got tired of taking my picture in front of landmarks, so they stood in for me, gaily making an appearance instead of my young adult mug. It made me smile to watch my two-year-old daughter have conversations with them. I envisioned her exploring the world and the mousies showing her the sites they knew so well. Then one vanished. Morgan couldn’t say where it went, and we searched all over for it. Days passed. Weeks. Months. Her vocabulary improved. All the while, I kept hoping it would turn up. Tonight she told me she put the mousie in the big trash can, because it had germs. This happened months ago.
I feel so sad. I have lost something of sentimental value that cannot be replaced.(They came from a small shop in San Fran, 20 years ago). Blame is useless. I could have forbidden her from playing with them. What kind of parent would THAT make me? I could have checked the trash. Every trash can, every time. I should have done that. I think of his last adventure, and it makes me sad I wasn’t there for him, when he was always there for me.
And then I start trying to be practical. I can buy another toy. This is how the Velveteen Rabbit became real. I can MAKE a mousie, for crying out loud. It doesn’t stop me from being sad that Clark is all alone now.
I am extremely grateful for the things I have, and I appreciate my wonderful, imaginative children, who teach me so much about letting go, even (especially!) When I don’t want to learn.

There is another Buddhist story, of a young monk, well loved by everyone in the temple, who died abruptly, unexpectedly. At his funeral, the other novice monks were taken aback to see the Master weeping openly. “Master,” they said “Are we not to be happy for this man, who has moved on from this world of suffering, and will surely be rewarded? This is a good thing!”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the Master. “But when else do I have occasion to cry?”

Tomorrow, I shall begin construction of new mousies; one for me, and one for each of the kids. Tonight, I’m thinking about Lewis, who has gone on to adventures unknown.

The Dogs of Lucky’s Lake Swim.

Monday, March 21st, 2011

At 4:15 this morning, I found myself wide awake. My wife’s insomnia had transferred itself, and I could only peek out the window at the unnaturally large moon.
“Come out and plaaaaay,” it called to me.
“Go away. It’s early. The kids don’t get up for another three hours.”
“Yes, but Lucky’s Lake is in two.”

Fine, I thought to myself. If I’m still awake at 5:15, I’ll haul myself out of bed and drive he half hour to Lucky’s Lake swim, and jump in the lake. After all, the tags are still on my wetsuit, and I’m NOT going to be the guy at the YMCA swimming in a wetsuit there.
Sure enough, 5:15 winked at me from the alarm clock. Logic was snoring peacefully in bed, but madness had risen early and already made coffee and grabbed the paper.
With a whispered “Boo-yah”, that sounded remarkably like “Unnnnh”, I grabbed my gear, threw on some clothes, and scuttled out the door without pestering anyone.
A quick scan of Facebook showed other friends were up and about, so I called one of them, and we discussed the joy (misery) of being so early.
The trip to Lucky’s is uneventful. Expressways and toll roads lead to Interstate 4, still slumbering, and I exit at Universal Studios. With the lights out in the parking garage, it too looks like a sleeping colossus, waiting for the hordes of tourists, smelling like sunscreen and easy money.
A zig, then a zag, and I’m outside Lucky’s gate. It opens automatically, with a gravitas that belies the foolishness of the undertaking. Anyone here at this hour is going to jump in the lake, and that’s just silly.

I pull into the driveway and park under the basketball hoop. “Lucky” is Dr. Meisenheimer. He has a modest home at the edge of Lake Cane. When I say “modest” it’s like saying a Ferarri is a compact car. Lucky is kind enough to share his property with anyone willing to haul themselves to the water’s edge, strong enough to swim a kilometer, and foolish enough to do so. His home is beautiful, and I always have a sense of peace there.

As I park, I’m greeted by the first of the dogs. There are many. You know the dogs in the Disney movie, “UP”? These dogs are very much like them, only they don’t speak. That aside, they do not lack for communication ability. I know they have names, but sadly, I don’t know what they are, so their names are all made up at the moment, but you’ll get the idea.

Belvedere approaches my door, and sniffs up toward the window. He’s a spotlessly white Scottish Terrier, immaculately groomed, as though he got up even earlier than I and had a professional haberdasher mould his appearance. I, bleary eyed and yawning, feel shabby next to him. At least I can see him in the dark. As I exit the car, I realize Ninja Poodle is RIGHT THE HELL NEXT TO ME, and I jump, causing Belvedere to question my worthiness. Ninja Poodle is jet black, and a BIG poodle, maybe with a little something else mixed in. He has curly hair, cut short, like an assassin. I’ve arrived early (how did THAT happen?), and the cars are still filtering in, one by one, guided in by Belvedere. Many of them bear stickers with no words; just numbers like 13.1, 26.2, 70.3 (mine) and a 140.6. These numbers are meaningless to most of the population, but to a certain group, they mean a lot.
The original meaning of “occult” is “Hidden”, and that’s what this shadow society is. Endurance athletes are somewhat of a strange group. They ride bikes for a really, really long time. They run a loooong way. They get up to go swim across a lake before the sun rises. I am one of them, but humbles by my superiors. I’m still new to the “club”, and learning.
At some invisible signal from an unknown origin, everyone starts to move to the dock. There’s a light under the water, highlighting the fact that there are at least 20 cubic feet of this lake that do not include alligators. One of the regulars scoops some turtle food into the water.
“Chumming for gators?” I attempt to joke.
“Naw” he says. “Just trying to distract them a bit.”
Gulp.

My wetsuit is new. When I realized that the Ironman I’m practicing for was in November, and the water was usually around 67 in November, I bought a full suit in hopes of surviving the cold. I also bought a neoprene cap and some webbed gloves. I know I can’t use the gloves at competitions, but I figured they’d keep my fingers warmer during training. My ‘suit is an Orca S3, purchased online. Ordinarily, I’d suggest trying your suit on before you buy it. In this case, I lucked out. The suit fits like a second skin. Better, actually. I wish my skin were as sleek and toned as my wetsuit. Two other people have ‘suits on, too. The hardcore people don’t judge, but they know who they are, and they wear Speedos. The water is 73 degrees. From experience, I know this is cold enough to make me shiver uncontrollably. I zip my suit up, put on my hat, adjust my goggles, and collect my thoughts. Belvedere and Ninja Poodle are joined by Benedict, a Saint Bernard who looks like he’d rather carry a margarita glass than a barrel of brandy. I suspect Benedict has his own collection of Guy Harvey aloha shirts and listens to a lot of Jimmy Buffett.

The dogs line up at the edge of the dock, which is the signal that it’s time. The humans shuffle down the steps and wade into the water. I’m not fooled this time by the concrete alligators at the water’s edge; they got me the first time, though. The big dog woofs, and we Transform into Water Creatures.

The water is cool, but not frigid. It creeps in through the zipper on my back, and sneaks in the neck opening, but in small amounts, and the wetsuit performs exactly as it’s supposed to. They tout it as being faster than skin in the water, but I have no way of knowing, watchless and timeless as I am. I am wearing an anklet that has my wife’s phone number and my blood type, in case of emergency. Of course, it’s pitch black, I’m wearing a black wetsuit, black cap, and black gloves. And an alligator is just as likely to grab the ankle with the info on it. Oh, well. You can’t plan for everything.
These are the thoughts running through my mind as I swim toward the distant lights of someone’s boat dock. Something brushes my leg, and I stop for a moment, panicked, to discover it’s another swimmer. A whole big lake, and two people bump into each other. The leaders have moved out of hearing range, and the only sounds I hear are my own arrhythmic splashings. I swim as gracefully as an eel waltzes. This morning, my groove is off. I chalk it up to the gloves (which are new), my tiredness (I swam a mile yesterday), and the moon, which is RIGHT THERE IN THE SKY!!! The stars are pretty, and I feel graceless and clumsy. I get tired in the middle of the lake, and backstroke to regroup. The stars are out, and dawn is only a promise of faith with no evidence.
I reach the doldrums, that part of the lake where nothing ever looks closer, and the side you left never looks farther. I wonder why I decided to do this, why I decided to do any of this, I can’t come up with a compelling reason.
Then the Devil swims up next to me. He’s old company at this point, and I was surprised I didn’t see him at the dock. He reminds me that I can’t touch the bottom, and suggests that I’ll drown. I tell him I can’t even SEE the bottom, and the alligators will eat me before I can drown. He swims off in a huff.
At this point, I realize that my goggles have been fogged up for quite some time, and I’m a lot closer than I think. My toes touch soft sand, and I’m standing in the shallows on the other side of the lake.
A few words of encouragement pass with another swimmer, and she strokes off for the point of origin. Leaving me to figure out if I can make it.
I decide to go for it, figuring I swam a mile yesterday, I can swim a kilometer today. The doldrums arrive sooner than anticipated. I came up with the idea to be methodical. I figured the doldrums were a finite distance, and if I could swim through that distance, I’d be noticeably closer to the endpoint. I count strokes. I lose count. I start over. I take a break. The stars are pretty, and false dawn is beginning to light up the Eastern sky. At about twice the distance I anticipated, the doldrums end, and I realize I’ve been swimming toward the wrong lights a minor course correction, and I slog through the shallows to dock, where the dogs are waiting with an expression that says, “What took you so long?”

The wetsuit clings with all the effort of a codependent octopus, I remove it, and set out to reap the rewards; a patch, a sticker, and the right to sign the Wall. I’ve swum Lucky’s before, but never claimed the prizes. I sign the ceiling, a long arm’s reach from the other signatures. I find a friend’s autograph, and smile, thinking about the small but feral community that lurks behind tired eyes and road-rashed bodies.

Belvedere greets me as I exit the pool cage. Benedict is sitting in a patch of dirt that looks freshly dug, and seems quite content. Ninja Poodle is nowhere to be found, so I suspect he’s right behind me RIGHT NOW!
The swimmers disperse like they’ve never even been here. “I come like water, and like wind I go,” says the line from the Rubaiyat, and it applies here. The magi of endurance set about their days and feats of amazement, leaving Belvedere to tidy up before sunrise and await tomorrow, when it will all happen again.

Except tomorrow, I will be sleeping.

FL Half Ironman or How to Finish Last and Win

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

The story of this race does not begin on Race Day. It begins more than a year earlier, after the Disney Marathon. I look around and thought, Well, I survived that. What’s next? Then I heard about the Half Ironman. I figured that since I had done most of the distances (except the swim), it should be pretty easy. Haha! Folly is rewarded with PAIN!
The race is not cheap, Fortunately, Vitamin Water stepped in with some extremely generous sponsorship, and support. Thank you Sharlie, for making this a possibility! Your contribution played a bigger part than you know in the final hours of the run portion!
Then there was the bike. I didn’t own a road bike. Funds were tight, so I built one out of bamboo and carbon fiber. I found other people online who had done it and followed their excellent and well-documented examples on Instructables.com and other places. Huge thank-you to Brano Meres and the others who were generous with their experiences and thoughts. Thanks to Ben Willard for helping me figure out how to use Carbon Fiber, and To the Orlando Bicycle Community, specifically: “Rob” from Craigslist, Kyle of Kyle’s Bike Shop, and the team at Orange Cycle. All provided great advice, parts, service and were willing to answer questions from an amateur bike maker.
The Bamboozle was built! If you go to www.jamesjessup.com and click on the blog section, the saga of it’s birth is documented there. There are other bamboo bikes, prettier bamboo bikes and faster bamboo bikes, but not in my garage!
There was training! We swam! In a 25-yard pool, it takes 42 laps to go the full 1.2 miles. I worked up to it and did it… with many breaks and stopping to stand in the shallows, look at the clock, go Geez, I don’t know if I can do this! The usual bugaboo. I swam in Lucky’s lake. I made the 1K crossing in about ½ an hour, and figured I could do it again if I had to. The water was warm and clear, and I didn’t panic too much as the opposite shore kept sneaking away, elusively.
We biked! We rode most of the major trails in Orlando. We preferred the Cross-Seminole to Cady Way trail, from Oviedo to Baldwin Park. Take a break, grab a smoothie, sit for an hour, and head back. It’s a fun way to log 20 miles, especially towing a 90-lbs trailer with two kids in it. The Seminole-Wekieva trail is beautiful, with gentle hills and lots of shade. If you catch another leg of the Cross Seminole trail in Oviedo, you can go about 30 miles on it. The West Orange trails goes from the slums of Apopka to the hills of Winter Garden, and is a great way to get a good 40-mile ride. Lori, Lisa, Joe, Matt, Vince, and Leslie were frequent riders, and I appreciate their company.
We ran! Oh, wait… no… no we didn’t run. The last time I RAN, a bear was chasing me in the woods in the middle of the night. No lie! I don’t run well. I don’t run fast. I walk fast…enough… I thought…
I felt ready! Race Week arrived, I was fit, strong and mentally prepared… to have a panic attack the day of the event. I was also ready to push though it and keep moving. Then, the Friday before the Sunday Race, I woke up sick. Sore throat, coughing, headache, watery eyes. Merde! Racing was going to be hard enough. How do you swim a mile when your lungs are full of snot? I vowed to find out. Cold Meds: Check! Check them against the Banned Substance List so I don’t get DQ’d for taking Sudafed: Check!
Saturday, we went to check in. Lori and I got our bags, checked our swag. The Bamboozle proudly hung on the rack with the other racers’ bikes. It gathered a LOT of attention! People took pictures of it. I’m wondering if that’s because it was cool, or if it’s because they wondered who would be foolish enough to try to ride a homemade bike in this event. In any case, the Vitamin Water sticker affixed to the frame got lot of exposure, and it felt nice to have something I had worked so long on be appreciated by fellow competitors, in addition to all the great feedback I’d gotten from my friends.
Lori and I dropped the kids off with my Mom, and went out for a pre-race dinner of sushi. I still wasn’t feeling well, so instead of carb-loading, I ate 4 pieces of fishie and some rice, and called it a night. I think we were in bed by 8 PM. Ever try to fall asleep quickly when you know you’ve got a big event the next day? Doesn’t work so great! I kept going through the race in my head; what each section was going to look like, where the turns were, how I was going to feel. It worked. The alarm went off at 3:30 AM, and we were out the door.
We arrived at Disney about 5:00ish, boarded the shuttle bus from Parking to the event, and then we were there! So was everyone else! In the dark, people were going about their business with a purposeful look. We checked our gear, prepared the transition area, and marked our numbers on our bodies. In addition to the body-marking, Lori and I both wore a necklace with our vital info, an anklet with the same info, and a timing chip to record our times. waiting
In the pre-dawn, we wandered around, and the tension mounted to palpable levels. Usually, this is the point where I purge myself of anything I’ve eaten, but I’d eaten so little the day before, it didn’t happen. Or, I was better prepared. Or Lori’s nervousness trumped mine. In any case, I was ready. As dawn broke, a blast of the cannon announced that the first swimmers were in the water, they churned through the lightening water, following a line of buoys that seemed to stretch out of sight. They would be out of the water within half an hour- before I would even enter the water. swimstart
At 7:09, it was my turn. Surrounded by a group of men approximately my own age, we ran into the water, and took off swimming, before realizing that it was faster to just slog through the shallows for the first 10 yards or so. Then we began to swim. It was a nice swim. I kept thinking I was going to be more tired, but I’d swim, then backstroke to catch up. Then a wave would go over my face, and I’d choke and sputter, and flip over again. At this point, I’d realize I was off-course, and swim determinedly in the right direction. I tried to stay away from the pack for the most part, to avoid getting kicked, and this plan worked. I think I kicked more people trying to pass me than I got kicked. I was passed a lot. I’m okay with this. My goal for the swim was to exit the water before time was called, and I actually surpassed this, leaving the water about 1 hour after entering. I did not rest, although it was offered by friendly kayakers with floaty-things.
Ted and Cheryl met me as I slogged out of the water. It was nice to see some friendly faces as I jogged to the transition area. The weather was perfect. Not too cool, not too hot…yet.
Lori was waiting at the Transition with words of encouragement and a look that said, “I still think you’re crazy.” I washed my feet off, dried them carefully, and put my socks and bike shoes on. I prepped some bottles with Hammer Sustained Energy (which tastes like drinking bread, but keeps me going), and then trotted off through the transition area to the mounting point. T1
The bike portion started off beautifully, though tree-lined paths and streets of Fort Wilderness. Roads got bigger and bigger until we were riding along a blocked-off section of the super-highways that connect Disney to the World. There were a few turn-arounds, and then we headed out to Hwy-192. The course was well-marked and police were on hand directing traffic. I can’t think of how it could have been better managed. Around mile 30, my back started to hurt for some reason. I still can’t figure out why. My body started to realize that most of my training rides had been about 20 miles, and I was beyond this distance. At mile 40, my left shoe started to squeak, and the bottom bracket of Bamboozle developed a clunk. Squeak, Clunk, Squeak, Clunk, for 16 more miles! Left knee started to hurt, too, and I started to fall behind my schedule.
Then the Devil appeared.
“You know you’re not going to make it,” he whispered. I don’t know how he had enough breath to talk so easily. He’d been biking for more than 40 miles, too, and looked like he had enough energy to go all day. At this point, I’d been biking for over 3 hours and was starting to tire. You don’t look so good, he said. You’re not eating enough. He was right. I had loaded my bike with about 4000 calories and only taken in about 500. I should have been filling up, but my stomach just did not want any. Additionally, the wind gave me a nasty runny nose, which I had inadvertently blown… all over the mouthpiece of my Camelbak.
“If you’re too sick to finish, maybe you should just drop out now and save yourself the hassle. You’re already exhausted, and you’ve still got half a marathon to run…IF you make it back to the transition area. Oh, and I noticed you forgot your bike pump, so if you do get a flat tire, you’re S.O.L. It’s been nice riding with you, but I’m going to finish this, so I’d better pedal a little faster. See you at the loser tent! ” And then he pedaled off into the distance. I could hear him laughing until he was well out of sight.
I’ve seen him before on rides like this. His gear is impeccable, and he rides effortlessly. But I’ve never seen him at the end of the race, only on the tough stretches. I decide to keep going. I really wanted to stop at a rest stop and stretch my back out, but I didn’t. I have this fear that if I stop, I won’t start again. Momentum is more valuable than comfort. I think this is one of the more important lessons of this event. A few minutes later, I start thinking of good comebacks for the Devil, and vow to taunt him, if he shows up again. He doesn’t but the headwinds are more than enough to keep me occupied. I saw a snake… and some buzzards. I didn’t like the way they looked at me. “You bag of guts, you’d better keep moving, because if you stop, you are just so much meat, and we don’t care if you have an MBA. Your eyes will taste just as juicy.”
So things get a little hazy at the ragged edge of endurance. I don’t know what goes through other peoples’ minds, or how they deal with the madness that creeps in. I like to imagine that the Elite are just focused on nothing but winning. I wonder if that’s just a fiction, though. I forget the distance of the bike ride, and thought it was only 54.6 miles. It was 56. I almost cried for the last two miles, but I didn’t have the energy.
And eventually, painfully, the bike ride was over. I walked my bike into the transition area, and my loving wife was there. Just seeing her really added a lot to a failing system. I put on two knee braces, my Injinji toe socks and my running shoes, grabbed a water bottle and trotted off with a confidence I faked.
The crowds of well-wishes fall off after a quarter mile, as well as my ability to trot. I settled into a brisk walking pace behind a man old enough to be my grandfather. My own grandfather was smarter than to spend his remaining heartbeats in the agony everyone felt. I’ve seen pictures of the Bataan Death March that looked about like we felt. The trail had three U-turns that felt never-ending, a few aid stations that provided life-sustaining fluids, and above all, ICE! Thank the gods for cold water. I don’t think I could have endured without cold fluids to keep my body temperature down. The trail led off the roads into the fire roads along the canals of Disney’s wilderness. They are hot, humid, dusty and endless. Did I mention we had to go three laps? The Run portion is half a Marathon, 13.1 miles. Each lap is about 4.3 miles, so it’s tough to do that calculation. It’s really tough to do math in the heat and exhausted. And everyone was exhausted. Exhaustion Management is the key to success, scratch that, SURVIVAL in this event. At about mile 3, I started getting stomach cramps. I’d heard that this happens after the bike, as your body tries to absorb the food on the run. Then, on a 2 mile stretch of nothing but heat and humidity, the Devil caught up with me again.
He was jogging, I was barely walking. “Cramps, huh?” I shook my head, dully. “That’s too bad. At this rate, you’ll never make the three o’clock cut-off for the last lap. You know about that, right? If you don’t start your third lap by three, you’re not allowed to finish. You need to walk 4 miles an hour, but you’re barely able to maintain 2. What are you going to do?” I didn’t have a good answer. He was right. That’s what I hate most about him. But I knew something that he didn’t. I am the James. And I know what that means. In this case, it meant that I was not going to quit while I could still keep forward momentum. If I fell, and someone had to carry me off the course, so be it, but while under my own power, I was going to continue toward the finish line.
What could I say to the people who put their faith in me? To Lori, who stayed there all day in the hot sun; How could I tell her I started to hurt and dropped out? To Vitamin Water, who had enough faith to sponsor me; How am I going to tell them I wasn’t comfortable so I bailed. That’s not the way I want people to think of me. If I fail, it will be beyond my control. While I have any say in the matter, I’m going to keep going.
I looked over at the Devil, “Dude.” Yeah, I called the Devil, Dude. “This is the freakin’ Ironman (well, half). Do you think that I thought it would be easy? I knew there would be pain. I was READY for there to be pain. And now the pain is here. This was all part of the plan, just like your arrival. Everyone hits their own wall, and you showed up right on schedule. You are completely predictable, and I was ready for you. So find some sucker who thought this would be easy, because you’re talking to a lost cause” But I was talking to myself, because he was already gone.

I did a lot of talking to myself. After lap one, I realized that I was NOT in fact going to make the cut-off time if I kept going so slow, so I had to find a way to get rid of the cramps. I visited the port-o-let, and that seemed to help. This would be the only time throughout the day I wasn’t moving forward. The cramps backed down, and I realized I also hadn’t consumed as many calories as I thought I would, so I grabbed a couple gels from an Aid station, and started refueling. This worked, and I jogged through the gates to the magical third lap just ahead of the cut-off. No, seriously. I was the LAST ONE THROUGH.
Previous laps, there were lots of people moving forward, passing me, talking and keeping up. “We’re almost there!” they’d say.
“Not me!” I’d cheerfully reply. “I’ve still got more laps to go.”
“Oh,” they’d awkwardly respond, but by then they had moved on.
At this point, I couldn’t see anyone coming up behind me. There were only six people within the mile ahead of me that I could see. As I kept walking at my fast-walk pace, a golf cart crept up behind me. A voice said into a radio, “Athlete number 1785 is the last one.”
The Last One. I’ve been there before. At a previous adventure race, my team came in absolutely last, and officially didn’t finish because we forgot to punch a card at a checkpoint. I was okay with that. We finished. At this point, there was nothing that could stop me. Every race has someone who comes in last. I was that person, and therefore, I HAD TO finish. It was a natural fact. My father used to say, “You know what they call the person who graduates last in his class at Johns Hopkins? Doctor.”
I caught up with the two people in front of me at the Aid station. The volunteers there knew they were near the end and were having a fire sale trying to unload 40 lbs of bananas and about 30 gallons of water on us. We marched off together, happy in our knowledge that we had secured significant positions in the race.
We kept up a decent pace. We probably could have gone a little faster, but I’ll confess, it was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders, and we frankly forgot about the rules that the race officially ended eight hours and thirty minutes after the last wave hit the water. As we got to the last Aid station at Mile 12, we were in high spirits, until an official told us we might not be allowed to finish. This caused a minor panic, and we set off hobbling at an advanced pace. It’s not that we were lollygagging, we just knew we’d want to jog in for the finish, and frankly, had to save up the energy for that.
Two Medical techs on bikes kept pace with us the last mile. They commented that one guy had been pulled off the course with a fever of 107.5. Ouch. That can kill. A final reminder that not everyone who tries and is in phenomenal shape finishes. We pulled into the final stretch and broke into a light jog.
It was the scene from Memphis Belle, where most everyone has gone home, and given up, except for a few people emotionally invested, vowing to wait to the end, and beyond . The crews were cleaning up and tearing down, and the announcer goes over the air to say that the final three runners are coming in. And we crossed the finish line, not to adoring crowds, but to the dozen or so people that were around and not at the awards ceremony that was going on by that time. We jogged over the line, and bowed our heads to receive finisher’s medals. We had won our races, not against our competitors, but against ourselves. finish
Lori was there to see me finish. She’s been with me through the dead of night, mosquitoes like vampire clouds, sweltering heat and frigid colds. I can’t wait to be given the opportunity to cheer her the way she’s been there for me. Thank you, Lori. I love you more than I can express.
A few people wanted pictures of the Bamboozle, so we obliged, and dragged our gear and selves back to the bus to the parking lot. It seemed like a loooooong time since we’d driven in. So long, in fact, they dropped us off in a different parking lot, and we thought we’d lost the car for a few minutes.
At home, I was dirty, incredibly sore, and spectacularly sunburned. Oops. I even put on sunscreen! Oh, well. Small price to pay. It took a while to sink in that it was done, and I’d finished it. More than a year went into the planning for this day, and now the execution was complete, and as planned, more or less.
Lori reports that there were many people who didn’t start the bike ride, and even more who didn’t start the run. I know of several who didn’t make the three-o’clock cut-off for the third lap. I feel fortunate that I was able to finish. I am humbled by the many athletes of all ages, sizes, and shapes who finished ahead of me. There was one man who had no arms. He was so far head, I only saw him once on the run. The man with no legs likewise dusted me, as did a very nice 64-year old woman who shared the trail with me briefly. There are many people out there who make commitments and see them through, beyond the pain, beyond the doubts, to victory over self.
This would not have been possible without you. I didn’t have enough strength or endurance on my own to complete this. Without the resources I tapped into, the creativity, the skill, the knowledge, support and encouragement, I would have failed. I was thinking of you out there, and it helped me keep going.
Special thanks to Vitamin Water, who provided generous funding and support. Thank you, Sharlie for making this a possibility. Our jerseys looked great out there, and lots of people got a kick out of the XXX label on the Bamboo Bike. Ben Willard, thanks for the Carbon Fiber and the knowledge of how to use it. The bike worked great, and nothing fell off! Kyle of Kyle’s bike shop was great about finding hard-to-find parts for custom bike. Nowhere else in town has a claw adapter for a rear derailleur hanger, but Kyle has one. Orange Cycle was great with the tips for nutrition and had some great sales on apparel. Track shack was helpful in finding me some orthopedic insoles so my flat feet didn’t ruin my hip joints on the long run.
Thank you Mom, for watching the kids. Thank you Rowan and Morgan, for keeping an eye on Gramama. Thank you Dad and Cheryl for getting up crazy early to watch a fool hurl himself into a lake, and then drag himself out again an hour later. Thanks Jaime and Lisa for your care and for keeping Lori busy with updates. Thanks Joe, Matt, Vince/Pat/Pal, and Leslie, for all the fun training rides and the liquid Carb loading. It worked! Thanks to my Full Sail buddies; Cassi, Laresa, Jim, Bekka, Charles, and the many others whose ears I bent about this. Thank you Robin, for the warm wishes and thinking to wish me well. It was deeply appreciated. Thank you to Pat, my mother-in-law, who supported us in this endeavor. You weren’t here to see it happen, but we brought you with us in our hearts. Thanks go to YOU the person reading this! Thinking of the tale I’d have to tell made me hike a little harder. Studies show that positive thoughts can improve healing, even when the person being focused on isn’t aware of it. I could feel the love, mixed in with a lot of , “Dude, you’re nuts!” Yeah, but it keeps me out of trouble.
Finally, my thanks go to my wife, Lori, who set out on this journey with me, and saw it all the way through to its conclusion. Your faith in me never wavered, even when mine did. I love you, and won’t put you through this again.
…any time soon.Finished!