Ironman Vineman: Do It Once, Brag Forever.

IRONMAN Vineman

A huge thanks to my wife Virginia for supporting me through this endeavor. Being pregnant and managing a 2 year old was not easy when I was training 15+ hours a week. Also a thanks to my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their kids for cheering me on throughout the race. I could not have done this without all your support.

About a year ago I raced in and completed my first Ironman race. It was one of the most challenging things I have done and probably will ever do. For those who do not know, and Ironman distance triathlon is the pinnacle of multi-sport, the longest and most grueling version of an already difficult contest. The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. All said and done, 140.6 miles in one day.

Each race has it’s own specific difficulty and with close to 4000 feet of elevation gain on the bike and over 1000 feet on the run, the Vineman Triathlon is no slouch when it comes to difficulty. Lucky for me I was training in 90+ temperatures so though some were complaining of the high if 82, I was ready to go! I’ve already written about my twenty weeks of training for the race so I will start with the arrival at the hotel through the finish line.

Arrival in Santa Rosa

On Thursday, July 23rd in the evening, we arrived in Santa Rosa and checked into our room at the Marriott. Upon walking into our room I noticed the distinct smell of marijuana and we were immediately upgraded to a different and much large room (Thanks Residence Life). After check-in we met the family and settled in for the night. Friday would start the race prep.

Friday, the Day Before

Friday morning started out with a brisk tune up ride through Santa Rosa. Just thirty minutes to keep the legs nice and loose.

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Next it was prep time for all of my race nutrition. The one thing you do not see that much on timelines is the massive amount of planning that goes into proper nutrition during an Ironman. Over the course of 140.6 miles, you’ve got to eat, drink, and take enough supplements to that you can avoid the dreaded BONK and finish strong.

It took me about three years to figure this out but thanks to my friends at Hammer Nutrition, I finally got on a good plan. I basically take all of their supplement and electrolyte pills. An hour before the race began and each hour thereafter I averaged 5 supplement pills. Depending on which hour it was in a three-hour cycle, the mix of pills would vary and this is the cycle that works well for me on long training days. In addition I would eat a GU gel (Blackberry with caffeine) each hour, totaling 15 gel packs in a day. It got kind of rough.

Specifically on the ride, I had two water bottles at all times. The first was a 24oz filled just with water that I refilled every 2 hours on the bike. The second was a 28oz that had a double serving of Hammer Perpetuem Strawberry that would last four hours. This mix would be made a second time halfway through the bike. I also ate a Hammer bar at the start of the bike and at the halfway point.

On the run, I would drink at every mile marker table, and carry with me a tablet version of Perpetuem or “Solids” as they call them and eat one every 20 minutes (These are chalky and very rough to chew but totally worth it). This food, if you choose to call it that, allowed me to avoid anything they offered at the assistance tables so that I wouldn’t cause tummy problems late in the race (It happens, always stick to your plan).

You may be thinking, that is a ridiculous amount of supplies, how did you carry it all? Well, in an Ironman race, since it is so long (At least for me), you can pack a bike assistance bag and a run assistance bag in advance. The bike bag would be left for you at the 55 mile marker and I packed it with my second half supplies, sunscreen, and new bike tire tubes just in case. My run bag, which I could stop at when I began each of the three run loops, had two full water bottles, supplements, new socks, baby powder, sunscreen, and Vaseline. These assistance bags were glorious!

All totaled, I likely consumed close to 3500 calories and 350 ounces of water during this race. Seems like a lot but it is nowhere near what I burned and sweated off over 14 hours. Ok, that was a long aside but totally important so now onto the rest of race prep.

After getting packed it was time for my Dad, Sherpa extraordinaire, and I to go on an adventure.

First stop was Windsor High, the main site of the race where I could do packet pickup and set up my run transition area. Since this was my first Ironman, I didn’t realize how serious they were about you knowing what was going on. After standing in line for twenty minutes waiting to get my packet, I learned that I could not have it unless I sat through a half hour orientation. So off we went to orientation. Sat through it, didn’t learn anything new, but got my yellow X that allowed me to get my packet and bags.

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After checking in I and getting my run transition ready we were off on a course charting car ride. First we drove out to Johnson Beach where the swim and bike transition would take place in the morning. This gave me a good idea on timing for arrival, where to park, and the look of the river in which we would be swimming.

Next it was time to drive the first loop of the 112-mile bike ride. I felt like this was important since I would spend the majority of my time on the bike. This decision proved fruitful right away because we missed the hard right turn down basically an alley at mile 5. That would have been bad on race day. The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful if not scenic with a quick stop to check out Chalk Hill Road, the largest climb (Elevation gain 385 feet) that I would hit at miles 45 and 100.

When we got back to the Windsor high school I decided to forgo driving the 5-mile connection road back to the 2nd loop and go back to the hotel. This almost proved to be a very bad decision (More on that later).

Finally, it was time to head back to the hotel, check into my separate hotel room, eat some Clif Bars for dinner, and get to bed early (Like 7am early). Luckily, unlike other races I slept well, so thankful for that.

3AM Saturday Morning, RACE DAY!

Though it seems early, 3am had and continues to be a normal wakeup time for me and probably most Ironman triathletes. I woke up, ate my normal spoonful of peanut butter, a Clif Bar, and had a cup of coffee from my portable Keurig. I took the “Don’t add anything new to your routine” advice pretty seriously. Next I finished packing up my two assistance bags and the rest of my swim and bike gear and hopped in the car with my dad for the drive to Johnson’s Beach.

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We arrived about an hour before race time, which gave me more than enough wiggle room to get my bike transition all set up, and pee 75 times (I get nervous). I dropped off my assistance bags, donned my wetsuit and it was time to race!

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The 2.4-Mile Swim AKA “Wait, I can just stand up?”

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Twenty weeks and really three years had been leading up to this moment. It was time to see if I could become an Ironman. I was in the first wave at 6:30am with the elite racers (Whom I would never see again, just sayin). Though I can safely say that for the first three minutes of the race, I was keeping pace in the front of the pack!

I waded into the water and waited. Finally, the gun went off and it was time to swim.

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Like my other races, I waited 30 seconds to let all the competitive people go so that I could avoid getting kicked in the face. While this helped initially, the course was so narrow that getting kicked in the head, neck, body, and legs, was all but inevitable during the eighty minute swim, but oh well.

This swim course was two loops with the second loop ending a bit before the beginning at an exit corral. I got into my rhythm quickly but it was broken up periodically by the shallow river. At points, the river got so shallow that I was raking the ground with my hands. At the far end of the loop people were even standing up since it was too difficult to swim. Admittedly this was a little strange and led to minor calf cramping but I powered through.

2.4-miles is close to 4000 meters or 80 laps in a pool so things get boring pretty quick. Also swimming in open water requires you to pay a lot more attention lest you add to your swim by going in a zigzag. There are also no water or supplements to be had so you just need to get it done.

I’ll be honest this was the part of the race for which I was most prepared as I tend to overdo it on the swim training. The shallow water and my inability to swim straight made things a little difficult but I took down that swim with little issue in 1:23:40, only 2 minutes off my goal time!

I trudged out of the water feeling pretty good and got caught in picture and video by my brother, Evan, who had arrived to see me complete that portion of the race. After that he got really into the day and we had some fun interactions over the course of the race. Now it was time for the bike!

 

Transition #1: Swim to Bike

I will say it now and always, I suck at taking off wetsuits. It’s not really something I can practice and I was not on board with someone ripping it off of me. Oh well, after fighting my suit off and downing some water and a GU gel. I tossed on my Rutgers cycling kit over my tri-suit for some additional butt padding and I was off. Taking some awesome advice from a volunteer I walked my bike up the initial steep hill so I had flat road on which to clip in. After that it was 112 miles to the run.

The 112 Mile Bike AKA “Please God No Flat Tires”

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As I mentioned before, my brother really got into this race once I left the water. At first I complained about the car in this picture below until I realized that was him driving behind me until I hit the 5-mile alley turn. I didn’t miss that turn and the first set of hills and then settled into my race. The course was beautiful. Almost every few miles we would come across another vineyard. Some riders even dismounted to take photos (I did not, not a chance). Really the first 2-3 hours were my time to get settled, lower my heart rate, and shovel in some much needed nutrition.

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At around hour three I hit the first pass through Chalk Hill Road, the largest hill at an elevation gain of 385. I had been training on hills ranging from 300-700 so the first pass through this hill was not too bad, the second time though…

After Chalk Hill it was all downhill back to Windsor. I was flying down the much nicer roads trying so hard to hit my 3:45 split, that I tore by my entire family with only a wave. And they were all ready with signs and everything.

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Now, I thought they would be closer to the halfway point but I admit I did see them about a quarter mile out; I just wasn’t going to stop with so much momentum behind me. Do I regret that now, yeah. Would I go back and stop if given the chance…probably not. It’s all about the timing chip y’all.

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IMG_0283Anyway I reached the halfway point and stopped to restock my gels and water bottles. So far no flats but I grabbed my extra tire tubes anyway. After a few minutes there I was off on the last 56 miles of the bike.

You remember that I mentioned the choice to skip driving the 5-mile connection to loop number 2? Well this was the reckoning. At this point the riders were spread out and I was practically alone for this stretch. For the whole 5 miles, there were no signs, no arrows, no volunteers, and only one rider about a mile behind me. This is where I encountered the real challenge of Ironman, the voices inside your own head. “You can’t do this, you’re too weak, just quit…” Well this time the voices were screaming, “You went the wrong way, you’re lost, that guy shouldn’t be following you”. Hearing that for 20 minutes of riding gets tough and I almost pulled up and stopped on some random bridge to turn around but then, in the distance, I saw the road come to a T and decided to see where that would take me. I was elated to see a right turn arrow on the road just at the T and knew I was going the correct way, voices be damned!

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Again things settled in for a few hours until the real test, Chalk Hill Road pass #2. This was mile 100 and I could feel the downhill stretch calling my name. I was feeling good so those voices urged me to push hard up that hill. “This is your chance to pass a bunch of people,” they said. And I listened. I fought my way up that hill, passing rider after rider until I crested the top. Super proud I sat down to catch my breath and then….CRAMP!!!

It was mile 100, what the hell was I thinking! This cramp was on the inside of my right thigh and got worse with every rotation of my pedals. There was nothing I could do but stop, get off the bike, and massage it out. Luckily I had a few emergency salt pills and downed those with half a bottle of water. Sadly, all those people I passed victoriously sailed by probably thinking “What an idiot”.

A few minutes later I was able to gingerly mount my bike and continue on my way. The final twelve miles were relatively uneventful. All I wanted was to get off that damn bike and start my Marathon. I made it back to the high school with no more incidents and hit my goal time on the bike at 7:30:10!

Current amount of time in motion: 8 hours and 53 minutes. Yeah, it was 2:30 in the afternoon. Just a reminder, the race began at 6:30am, just some perspective. Now onto the final transition! Oh and by the way, NO FLATS!!!!

Transition #1: Bike to Run

This transition was a bit weird. You had to dismount a significant distance away from the transition zone and run, in cycling shoes, to your stuff. I took the 10 seconds and removed my shoes to avoid slipping and maybe cramping from that awkward walk. My feet did not like that but it was my only option. My family was around again and got to see me fly into this transition, my dad and brother even got photos and video of me coming though and getting ready for the Marathon.

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I stripped off my Rutgers kit and was finally down to the bare bones. Tri-suit, shoes, hat, and race belt. It was time for the final 26.2

The Marathon AKA “No Way In Hell I’m Getting a Glow Necklace”

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Loop #1: I’m feeling good!

All that stood between me and Ironman glory was 26.2 miles of running. No big deal. The run course of the Vineman consisted of three ~8.75 mile loops and about 1200 feet of elevation gain mostly set in miles 3 and 4 of each loop. That final hill was brutal…just brutal. I started out pretty strong logging my first mile at around 9 minutes but as I came past mile 3, I hit the hills. It was at this point on my first loop that my mile time crossed into the 10 minutes zone and climbed each time I hit those hills. For the first loop I was doing pretty well with nutrition. The GU gels were getting old and my Perpetuem solids were not too chalky just yet. I was very thirsty though and I was drinking 1-2 cups of water at every mile marker. The 82 degree heat didn’t help much either.

Anyway, as I approached the high school, my family was there waiting to cheer me on. My nephews Owen and Ari ran with me when they could.

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I hit the first loop marker at 1:34:15, a bit faster than goal pace and I was still feeling pretty good. Stopping at the aid tent for my aid bag, I restocked, drank some water, applied Vaseline where it was needed, and changed my socks. Then I was off on lap number two.

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Loop #2: Pit Stops Galore

My issue on the second lap, aside from the hills knocking my mile time over 11 minutes, was over hydration. I had consumed way too much water on that first lap and damn did I have to pee. Often. This was unpleasant but at least there were Porto potties at every mile marker. I used almost every single one on this lap. I tried to dial back the water and added ice to my hat to deal with the heat but the damage was already done. Stopping to pee every 10 minutes really makes it hard to get into a rhythm.

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Once I hit those mile 3 and 4 hills I knew I couldn’t keep running anymore. I had to start cycling in a walking minute. I began doing 9 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking which seemed to help. But I was starting to feel the pain of the day take on a life of its own.

There was one thing that pushed me on this lap. The race rules stated that if you finished lap two past a certain point (Where they knew you would finish in the dark), you would have to wear a glow in the dark necklace. There was no possible way I was getting one of those at the start of the third lap; I would not be out on the road in the darkness. NO WAY. You could see my pace pick up slightly in the final two miles of that loop, all to avoid the dreaded necklace and as I came back to the high school, I knew I had beaten the clock!

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This loop was finished in 1:43:50, slower than my estimated pace but I was there, only one loop to go! Once again I restocked, said hi to the family and was back on my way.

Loop #3: You Can Do This! Just Keep Moving!

The third loop and final 8.75 miles were the hardest I have ever done in my life. As you draw closer and closer to the end, your body truly begins to recognize the magnitude of punishment you have bestowed upon it. I hurt. In my soul. While this loop was a war with my body, it was more so a war with my mind. My brain was tired and it stopped wanting to take in any more GU gels, powders, or water. Everything began to taste foul and it took every fiber of my being to place one foot in front of the other. Those voices were back in full force telling me I wouldn’t make it and that I just wasn’t strong enough. This time I started to believe them.

When I came back to the final set of hills, I could barely run anymore. I went down to a 4 minute jog, 1 minute walk and on those hills it was mostly a walk. My mile time peaked here at 12:50 and I began to feel like I was carrying another person on my back. I made it up those hills to the final turn around and knew only 4 miles remained and it was all (Mostly) downhill from there

Pacing out the 4/1 split on my watch and counting all the people with glow necklaces still going out on their last loop was all I could do to keep my brain active. I forced down one final GU gel, ignoring the urge to vomit, and pressed on. Finally reaching the last mile.

It was there that I spotted my brother and my nephew, Owen, who wanted to run with me on the final mile. I tossed my disgusting hat to my brother and Owen and I made our way to the finish line. Sadly, yes, at the end of the Ironman, a 6 year old could pace me. That’s how bad things really were.

As I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line funnel, it hit me for real that I was going to do it. I was going to complete an Ironman!

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With the finish line in front of me, I reached over and grabbed a hold of Samantha who was waiting, confused and exhausted, and together, as is family tradition now, marched triumphant across the finish line. I had done it! IMG_0357

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It is hard to describe the feeling that comes with accomplishing a feat so challenging but crossing that finish line was and will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life. Period. I had completed something I never thought I could and didn’t think I would until I did. With a final loop of 1:50:27 and a 5:08:35 marathon, I was finished! I was an IRONMAN!

Final Time: 14:17:23

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(Guest Post) Wildflower Triathlon Race Recap

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While I was unable to compete in the Wildflower this year (You can see why at this post Triathlons and Babies), my race partner, Joe Wilensky, was able to finish and has written a race recap for you all to read:0527_for_web_f1665bca74

Race report for Wildflower:

I was planning on doing this race with a co-worker (Steven Lerer), but his wife delivered their first child 2 days before the race, and one month sooner than expected.  Heather traveled down with me instead to be my race day support and cheerleader!

I couldn’t really get to sleep all that well and ended up awake at 4:00 am, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, and finally 5:45 when I gave up and got out of bed.  Changed, packed my bags and loaded the bike in the car before waking Heather up earlier than she would have liked.  Unfortunately the weather changed quite a bit from the day previous and the temperature dropped a good 30 degrees from the day previous.  Bad news as I had only packed a t-shirt and shorts type clothes to wear on the day, so lesson learned about warm clothes for transition set-ups.

We grabbed a quick breakfast of Velveeta cheese filled omelets and biscuits at the continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn, topped it off with a banana, and were on the road by 6:30.  It was only a 30 minute drive from Paso Robles to the race course and given our arrival 2 hours in advance of the race start.  Quick note about staying in Paso Robles as opposed to camping at the Lake.  The short drive was well worth it to be able to sleep comfortably (no loud partying from the finished racers) and sleeping in a bed made my restless sleep much more productive than sleeping on the cold ground camping.

At 6:30 in the morning, the only people on the road were either driving to or from the Lake, so it was very reassuring that Heather and I were heading in the right direction.

We parked and walked down to transition, where I saw someone who had already crashed their bike on a downhill being attended to by EMTs, so rough start to the day for him.  Transition was mostly empty at that point and set up was quick and easy, so we had a hour to sit around, shiver, and play with a ridiculously excited dog while waiting for the race to begin.

The water for the swim was actually warmer than the air, so I was quite happy to jump into the lake and take a quick warm up swim right before the gun went off.  I lined up in the 3rd line of my wave, the gun went off, and we charged into the water.  The beginning of the swim was a bit chaotic, but not more so than any other open water swim start I’ve been in before.  A bit of swimming over-top of people who really didn’t belong at the front of the wave, having my legs grabbed a few times (a few good kicks stopped that from happening), and just really steady strong swimming to keep your position and find some clear water.  It all settled down within 300 yards or so and down the course we went.  I was surprised that I started to pass people in the 3 waves before me within the first 500 yards, but there are some awesome bikers and runners who just hang on and survive the swim, so as long as they float they’re ok.  Coming home in the swim I did get one strong kick to the chest, but the guy’s foot brushed my chin, so I consider the hit to be a lucky one (the water was murky and he did a whip kick so it came out of nowhere).  Coming into the shore we bit the boat ramp and started the long run to transition.  I need to work on my sighting a bit as it’s been some time since I’ve done an open water swim and went a bit off course.  The swim was a bit slower than I was expecting, but it was a bit choppy, and I’ve never done a swim of this length while holding back effort for the rest of the race.  Swim Distance: 1.5k  Swim Time: 27:54  Placing: 289/1881.

Off to the bike!  I had some trouble getting my socks on with my wet feet, but I haven’t really done any barefoot running or cycling so I didn’t want to get blisters from trying it that day.  The course began with an immediate hill, one that was really steep.  Even after being warned of the hill, 400 feet in about 1.5 miles is rough when your legs aren’t quite used to working right yet.  The bike overall really hilly, and I was consistently passed, which was expected given my size (it looked like I had about 30 lbs on most of the other people competing), but I did have fun rocketing downhill.  Due to the steepness of these climbs and while trying to not completely kill my legs, my speeds ranged anywhere from 5 mph to 40 mph in one steep section.  I hopped off the bike feeling pretty good, and threw my shoes on.  I almost forgot my running watch, but remembered at the last minute. Bike Distance: 25 miles  Bike Time: 1:43:13  Placing 1216/1881

And now the run.  My right Achilles started hurting pretty much from the beginning of the run, and kept on nagging at me the whole time.  It was a trail run with more gradual uphill than anything approaching down and I was begin passed left and right by 45 year old guys who are more fit now than I was 5 years ago.  Something to strive for I guess.  The run went pretty well, with only 3 planned walking stops to drink water at the aid stations, and one brutal mile of downhill (we ran down most of the hill that we started to bike up).  Running downhill when your legs are tired is really not fun.  I finally turned into the finishing shoot and finished my first Olympic distance triathlon pretty much exactly how I had predicted I would go.  Run Distance: 6.2 miles  Run Time: 55:55  Placing 1030/1881.

In the end, Heather was there cheering me on every time I went through transition, which was quite the feat considering I had no idea when I might be back to the spectator’s area.  She kept a sharp eye for me and kept on cheering, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm!

Overall time was 3:12:16.  I thought I would get in around 3 Hours, so I was a bit slower than I thought, but the swim was slower than normal that day.  I need to work on my bike and run some more J

I’m doing a replacement race with Steven in September, and this will be a flat course so I expect to go much quicker.

The Course:  http://www.tricalifornia.com/index.cfm/WildFlower2013-course_descriptions_olympic_international.htm

Hero Rush LA: Confirmation on Not Doing First Time Races

Hero RushLast week I ran the first Hero Rush LA. This was a 5K race planned by firefighters, donating to a good cause, so I figured I would give it a try. They touted the catchphrase “More challenge, less mud” so I figured the obstacles would be awesome, I was wrong. Maybe I am just getting biased after running Tough Mudders and Spartan Races but I think this race could have been so much more. It was littered with first time mistakes both logistically and during the race, which confirmed my philosophy of skipping first time races. I am going to take a cue from my friend Adam Daniels and do a what worked/what didn’t setup for this recap.

What Worked?

The last wave. I signed up for the 1pm wave which was by far the smallest so there was no wait for any obstacle. It also helped that the final wave often has the slowest people so I was easily at the front of my group which aided in the lack of wait time for obstacles.

The cause. The event raised money for the fallen firefighters foundation and paid homage to the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11. You can’t really argue with that cause and I did not mind paying what I consider a high price of registration to support it. I hope that a significant portion of my registration fee actually went to the cause.

The partner obstacle. One obstacle was a two person event. You had to work with your partner to put a person “Tire set” on a stretcher, carry it over and under some walls, under barbed wire, and through a tunnel. I’ve never done an obstacle like that and it was pretty cool.

What Didn’t Work?

The bag check area. For some strange reason, they had the bag check area set up by registration. The problem with that was that registration was not anywhere near the post race festivities. Additionally, the changing rooms were in the post race area and not near the bag check. This meant that in order to change, dry off, or get money for food you had to walk back to the bag check area, but once you got your bag you were closer to the parking lot so it was easier to just leave. I ended up changing at my car and leaving. This was probably a huge loss in revenue not to mention it was just annoying.

The “Hero Dinero”. After the race you got five dollars in race cash to be used on food and apparel. The problem was that this money got you almost nothing because the food costs were ridiculous. And since I didn’t have my wallet all I could get was an awful microwaved pretzel and a bag of Doritos. At all other race I have ever done you at least got a free beer, but not at the Hero Rush, no beer cost $9. Ridiculous.

An abundance of tires. This race boasted eighteen obstacles, yet four of them involved carrying or pulling one or more tires. That is not inventive, it is boring. I could think of a lot of other things they could do but they must have gotten a deal on tire rentals. I’m sorry but connecting two tires together does not create a brand new obstacle.

False advertising. If you go on the website and watch the video you see people climbing through obstacles filled with smoke, riding down zip lines and, jumping over multiple fire pits. Awesome right! Definitely, if that is what really happened. This race had none of that so I felt completely cheated. I was so excited about the zip line and the smoke filled obstacles because they were very unique but all I got was traditional mud run obstacles without any mud. Even the fire was a joke. We just ran around a large campfire, no jumping at all.

Overall

This race was not built for regular adventure racers, it is really a way for firefighters to get together and run a race. I felt very out of place, almost everyone I met asked me where I was a firefighter. I could also tell the tone of this race by the lack of competitiveness. I put in a minimal effort because of my knee issues but still finished 33rd overall. There were a ton of beginner errors that could easily be fixed but the big issue was the lack of the obstacles touted on their website video. I felt ripped off and hope that they can make the races more consistent in the future. I do not think I will run this race again and with just stick to what I know and like.

Race Grade: C

2012 LA Marathon: My Goals Realized

After four months of training marathon weekend had finally arrived. We drove out in the pouring rain to stop by the expo and get my race bib. The expo was huge and it was cool to be right outside of Dodger stadium but we arrived late and it was cold and wet so a long stay was not in the cards. I checked in and got my bib but then went over to the store to have my number ironed onto a new technical tee. This was a really cool option because it allowed me to leave the paper bib off my clothes in order to avoid chaffing. My mom also bought me a birthday present, a frame to hold my medal, race picture, and engraved finishing time. That would be a really cool addition to my office if and only if I finished under my goal pace. Before we left I found my pace time starting area to take a before picture.

We left the expo and headed over to the Millennium Biltmore hotel to get checked in. After a few minutes waiting we dropped off the car and got up to the room. It was really nice to be at such a high end hotel at a much cheaper race rate. Even the parking was discounted for people running in the marathon. A few hours later we headed over to Scarpetta for my prerace carbo load dinner. Take a look at my most recent review for info on that amazing meal. After dinner we settled in to get a good night sleep but of course adrenaline and anxiety took over. I spent the next seven hours having my trademark weird dreams followed by an accelerated heart beat which only allowed me to sleep for a few hours. Completely expected but still really annoying.

At 5am I got out of bed and began to get ready for the race. We left to drive over to Dodger stadium and I made my first of two tactical errors. I listened to the guy at check in and tried to take the side streets right to the stadium. To my dismay every access point was closed so after 15 minutes of driving around we were finally forced onto the highway like all the other idiot drivers. Traffic was ridiculous and it took us almost 45 minutes to get through the one open entrance to the stadium. I even had to get out of the car and let my mom park so I could get in line for the bathroom. Next year we stay at a hotel closer to Santa Monica because the shuttles were able to get in a different way and the travel time was much shorter. The second tactical error was not filling up my water bottles at the hotel because the bathroom lines made it impossible for me to leave and get that stuff ready. I had to send my mom on an expedition to find water or else I would have been in a bad way. Last note of prerace, they did not have nearly enough bathrooms. I spent thirty minutes waiting in line and came dangerously close to missing the start of the race.

In an uncomfortable hurry up offense, I made it to the start with five minutes to spare, no real stretching this race. The starting area was jammed with people and there was no way that I would made it to the 9:00 pace time so I just started in the back with the goal of catching up. The good thing is that this allowed Virginia to get some final pictures before the race began. Finally, it was time. The gun went off and I got ready to run. But, wait, seventeen thousand other people had the same idea so after a very slow ten minute walk I made it over the start and we were on our way. I guess I did have time to stretch after all.

And I was off! Marathon #1 here we go! A note on the weather, it was beautiful. Everyone was so fearful because of last year’s run and the fact that it was cold and pouring on Saturday. Somehow it all worked out and it was 55 degrees, no wind, and a mix of cloudy and sunny. You could not ask for better running weather, thank god I didn’t try and layer or I would have been a mess. The first mile was just me getting the nervousness out and finding my pace time. At mile two things went a little awry, a guy bumped into me and messed up my runmeter app (stupid me for not locking it). It took me a little bit to fix it but I wouldn’t notice the real impact until mile 25 so I will talk about that later.

Here was the next issue. At races they generally have pace leaders who hold signs stating the pace and finish time. I came upon a group of people with balloons of the number nine. A few of those people had shirts that said “Pace Leader” so I made the stupid assumption that this was the nine minute mile pace. I settled in with them but after a few updates from my phone saying that I was pacing at ten minutes, I realized that something was wrong. I decided to speed up and spent a few miles running at my own pace. About 45 minutes later I came upon a person holding a real placard as an actual pace card holder. It turns out the people I was following were just a team and that was group number nine. Frustrating! Well, this person was the 9:30 pace leader and I had to average 9:09 to hit my pace time so at this point I was already a few minutes behind my goal. This meant that I had to pick up my pace progressively as the race went on. Not ideal but I was determined.

As we all settled into the race things got pretty smooth. Most of this race was slightly downhill which was very nice and allowed for me to set in a pace and cruise along. The amount of support for this race was amazing. Almost every mile there were dozens of people giving out a variety of snacks, drinks, and encouragement. I tried to stay away from these things because you never know how they will impact you and I had all my supplements in my waist belt. One thing that I was all over were the Vaseline boards. Yes, people were standing every so often with post board covered with Vaseline. You could just run by and swipe some off and use as you needed. I learned my lesson in Seattle so I made sure to hit these folks up quite often. Awesome!

I reached the halfway point feeling good but I was still three minutes behind my goal at 2:03. I knew that I could not sustain a faster pace to make this time up so a new game plan was needed. What I then decided to do was to run a nine minute pace for 25 minutes and then accelerate to a seven minute pace for 5 minutes and repeat that for the rest of the race. It was my hope that this would get me back under my goal pace by the time we hit Santa Monica. This would allow me to activate different muscle groups and have time to recover.

We ran through Hollywood and past the stars and street artists and soon hit Beverly Hills. I waived to Scarpetta and ran through Rodeo drive. This was really cool and they had a huge screen that people could use to send messages to their friends running the race. As we reached mile 20 it started to get a little rough and I was running out of water so I had to spend some time refilling at water stations. Throughout this race people were sending me messages over my apps and it was at this time that I needed their support the most. I thank them all for sending me encouragement throughout the day; I was empowered and energized by the outpouring of support from across the country.

After mile 22 and getting into mile 23 my knee started to ache and I was getting winded. I was struggling to conserve water and I was out of gels so it was time to abandon all plans and go for the support on the sidewalks. I started shoveling in gummy bears, pretzels, fruit, and PowerAde until I made it to the one Clif Energy Shot station. I still can’t believe that they only had one station, some half marathons I’ve run had three or more so this was the one part of the race that ticked me off. I grabbed two shots and finally all the sugar and carbs kicked in and carried me to mile 25.

At this point my phone had been telling me that I was on track to finish under my goal time but then the phone issue from mile 2 came back to haunt me. A few minutes after I passed under the archway claiming “Mile 25!” my phone spoke to me and said, “You’ve made it to Mile 26!” It was at this time that I realized that my tracking was off by 8/10 of a mile. Now, though my phone said my pace was on track I was actually still way behind. I had been running much slower than I thought so now my goal was at major risk.

In a complete panic, I picked up the pace. Soon I was crossing under the seven minute per mile pace and continued to speed up. My phone soon told me that I was done but I had yet to hit mile 26. It was now time to focus solely on the actual elapsed time and it soon hit 3:55. I had five minutes left and the mile 26 archway was in view. I blew by that marker and rounded the final turn to Ocean Ave in Santa Monica. At this point I was in a full sprint with only a few minutes left. I took the side of the road to avoid on the hobbling and tired people passing dozens every few seconds. People were reaching hands out for high fives and I was ducking under them in stride. With less than a minute left I was a few hundred feet away from the end when I heard my mom yell out “Go Steven!” I looked back real quick and then pressed ahead.

I crossed the finish line at the fastest pace all day with my arms held high in victory! The clock read 4:06 but I knew it was not my chip time because of the bottleneck at the start. I looked at my phone and it said I was indeed under four hours but still unofficial. I walked through the finish, received my medal, ate some snacks and made my way to my mom and Virginia. Soon we were on the way to the car but I was still wondering my official time. Finally, the texts came in and my time was official 3:59:33! I made it and my goal was realized. My last mile was completed in 6:30 and that last sprint was the only think that pushed me over the top. Tired but filled with endorphins it was time to shower at the hotel and head over to our victory dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. The LA Marathon was a great race, well planned, with a beautiful course. I will be back next year with a goal of 3:45!

Tough Mudder So Cal: Fun Race But No Photos

This year I ran in the Tough Mudder at Vail Lake Resort in Temecula, the same location as the Super Spartan Race just 11 miles instead of 8. I was worried that the course would be very similar but luckily it was not. I arrived in the morning, paid my $10 to park, and was on my way. The set-up and check in was very easy and I was ready to race with thirty minutes to spare.  This year they set up a wall climb on the way to the start line which was funny because a lot of people struggled significantly with that initial wall. They were in for a very tough time. As the announcer got us ready he let us in on a little secret; this year there would be not one, not two, but three electric shock areas. Awesome.

The race got underway basically running backwards from the end of the Super Spartan. A few obstacles and a few miles later we were facing the first barbed wire crawl. As I looked at the challenge I noticed that it was really low and shifted uphill at the end. Then as I started my crawl I realized that there were wires hanging from the metal barbs. After listening to my fellow mudders cry out in pain it became clear, we were crawling through our first electric shock therapy. I proceeded to get as low as possible and managed to stay under all the wires, that is until the uphill climb. At the second to last wire I was shocked, right on the butt, and my got it hurt. Actually, it burned, and hurt for about a half hour; I think they cranked up the voltage on this one.

Training for the marathon and experience really paid off. I was making good time and owning the obstacles I couldn’t complete last year. I was able to spring up and hoist myself over the twelve foot walls with very little trouble where last year I had to use the side planks and teamwork. I was feeling good, but my big challenge loomed ahead, the butter covered monkey bar steps. These were about two dozen butter covered bars with half going up and then the other half going back down as you make your way across the water. Last year I swung too much and slipped off as I made my way down to the last two bars. This year I was determined to finish and was careful to keep my legs under me. As I powered through I watched people falling all around me but this was going to happen. Slowly but surely I pressed on and jumped off at the end dry and proud!

The feeling didn’t last long though as I made it to the arctic chill. A ten foot tall container filled with ice water with a plank in the middle you had to go under. The first part was not so bad but then I went under. The second half was almost entirely ice and really hard to push through. Upon resurfacing I came up and was completely disoriented and my limbs did not want to work. It took a person at the end to yell back at me to shake off the cobwebs. My god that was cold, but it felt good once I got out. We then marched up to “Walk the Plank” where I jumped off the twenty foot platform into the muddy water below.

The next few miles for rolling hill and a few tunnel climbs leading up to the log carry and then the mystery obstacle. Apparently watching two hours of Ninja Warrior each day pays dividends! The mystery obstacle was an easier replica of the spider crawl that I have seen hundreds of times. As the other mudders were trying to figure it out I flew across with perfect form. Hurrah for TV watching justification! As we neared the end we hit the best obstacle, the slip and slide. This was a long wet slide on plastic down a hill and into water. I loved this one last year and threw myself down the hill head first.

After heading into the lake and under some tubing I reached the halfpipe or as Ninja Warrior calls is the warped wall. I sprinted up the halfpipe wall, jumped to reach the top, and grabbed on with my finger tips! I thought I was up but my arms had had enough and I could no longer pull myself up. I almost lost it but at the last minute a fellow mudder reached down, grabbed on, and hoisted me up and over. With that obstacle behind me I made it to the final electrocution, the second was also paired with another obstacle but it was almost impossible to be shocked and not worth a report. After taking a breather and focusing on the finish line, I sprinted through the hanging wires. Almost at the end and a few light shocks in, one wire lit me up on the inside of my thigh. That hurt, a lot, and I stumbled down to my knees. With a desperate crawl I made it through, stood up, and finished strong! With a great time of 2:32 and a my free beer changed and headed home victorious.

The Tough Mudder in Vail Lake was fun but I missed the mountain challenge of the one in Big Bear. Next year I will go back to that one in June. This race was definitely easier than the Super Spartan even with an extra three miles but the obstacles were a whole lot more fun. I have two major complaints that I wish they would change (Though I doubt they will). First, they charge $20 for a spectator to come and watch which is ridiculous. Basically, the spectators are paying to sit on a bench for three to four hours because they can’t get into the race to cheer you on. I really don’t understand the charge and I think it is just greed but I feel like they would make more money if the would let visitors in for free and charge more for food, drinks, and apparel. As someone who does these alone, it is really frustrating that I’d have to pay $20 for Virginia to come just to take start and finish pictures of me.

My second issue kind of goes alone with the first. This year they took almost no pictures of individual participants. Last year I was able to get a few and search by my bib number but this year they went to make money in a weird way. At a handful of spots alone the race they had photographers staged to take pictures. The issue was that they didn’t take pictures of everyone, only a select few. They also then gave you a card that you would need to keep to find your pictures online. That was just ridiculous, what the hell am I going to do with a paper card when I am in the middle of a race. Stupid! I didn’t get one picture taken, so my race is undocumented. And, since Virginia wasn’t there because of their outrageous spectator fee, I have zero photos of the entire event.

If they would fix those two issues, this would be a flawless race but they wont because in the end it is all about making money. Oh well, I will definitely run it again, I will just bring a disposable camera and bother fellow mudders to take my picture. Next stop, Tough Mudder Seattle with by brother in August!

Super Spartan Race: Failed Obstacle Penalties, Really?

At the end of January I volunteered at and competed in the Super Spartan Race. This was a 8.5 mile obstacle course race down in Vail Lake Resort in Temecula, CA. The greatest thing about this race was that you could volunteer on the day of the race and receive a ridiculous amount of benefits. I volunteered doing various tasks from 6am until my noon race and here is what I got in return:

  • Free race registration including t-shirt and finishers medal
  • VIP parking 200 feet from the festival and start line
  • Volunteer t-shirt
  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Easy storage and access to my bag

I think this is a pretty great deal for a few hours of light labor and a lot of standing around. I arrived at 6am but we did not start doing anything until 6:30. Most of the other volunteers showed up at 7am so I will lock that one away as a mental note for next year. I ate some granola bars for breakfast, got checked in for my race, and then helped check in some volunteers. One thing to note, they were pretty disorganized and a little confused all around. I’m pretty sure that if I was less honest I could have just walked away and raced and no one would have noticed or been able to locate me. Good think I’m a nice guy and wanted my free lunch. After a few hours of watching the tunnel crawl it was time for me to get warmed up for my race.

The noon heat was the last one and the sun was blazing especially for January 28th. Another note is that they do not post the map of the race in advance you just figure it out as you come to it. The race started and we headed out on the first straightaway. We quickly started an uphill climb which narrowed and then slowed to a one by one walk up to the top of a ridge. I really hate it when a race like this gets to a narrow ridge before we are able to spread out. Everyone was complaining, it must have taken 5 minutes just to walk to a spot where we could get around the slow people and even then you only had intermittent spots where you could pass for almost two miles.

We finally made our way down from the first ridge to reach some obstacles which broke up the monotony. Some short walls, a log crawl, and some hay bails let to a rope climb up to the top of a shipping container. This was the first big test, a twelve foot drop into a pile of hay with an injured knee supported by a brace. I took a breath and went for it. Positioned myself so I’d split my landing heavy on my left knee and rolled into the hay. Thankfully I came out of it unscathed and was on my way. At this point the field spread out a bit as we approached the first barb wire mud crawl. Almost standard issue except for one thing, uphill! Halfway through this long distance crawl the course went up at a steep angle and yet we still had to crawl under barbed wire. That one was unique and a little complicated. No wonder I was seeing people coming back from the halfway point with cuts all over them. I on the other hand made it out unscathed.

Next I entered into the first obstacle that you could actually fail, the balance beams. At most mud runs failure means try again or move on but not at the Super Spartan. They built in penalties. Yes…penalties. You got one shot to complete the obstacle and if you failed you had to do thirty burpees. What’s a burpee you ask, just follow this link for the description. This sucked and yes I had to do them. The next four obstacles had the penalty in place and I truly did not want to do that again. I rocked the monkey bars, the rock climb, and the five foot hurdles but failed miserably on the javelin throw. This one really pissed me off, if you did not know how to throw a javelin it was really luck that was between you and more burpees. I think they should have let you keep trying and only make you do the penalty if you gave up. Let’s be honest 20, 25, 28 it all sucked.

With five miles to go I went around to the sand trap where you had to fill up a five gallon bucket with sand and march it up a hill and then back down to where you started. After that and the tire carry came the march back up and down an handful of more ridges and finally the four and a half mile mark at my post, the tunnel crawl. Two hours of watching others try this obstacle I had learned the best way to get through it and flew by a dozen people under the net in the perfect bear crawl. With three miles left to go I made it to the third and final aid station. After this was two miles of swamp running, hill climbing, and a few random obstacles. None too difficult just a rope pull of a sand bucket up a tree, a wall climb, and a twenty foot cargo net.

As I marched up and past dozens of people I noticed everyone sitting under brush and looking somewhat delirious. I and everyone in the medical tent later attribute this to the lack of water offered to the participants. 8.5 miles, 75 degrees, and 28 obstacles calls for more than three places for water. It was even worse that the last three miles were in the sun and had no water whatsoever. I was lucky that I am used to running with very little hydration but a lot of other people were not so fortunate. This is the one part of the fact that I think was irresponsible and could have gotten someone in serious trouble where no one would find them.

I made it down the final slope and hit the last six obstacles. The first two were the final penalty based challenges and after an eight mile battle there was no way I was failing. I dragged a huge rock attached to a rope through a muddle course and some water and then made it to the rope climb. Just like gym class, you had to climb up a knotted rope and ring a bell at the top of the obstacle. Totally exhausted yet determined to finish I hoisted myself up bit by bit and run that bell just as my arm strength gave out. No burpees for me!

Next it was it was time to get seriously wet. Wading through pool after pool of muddy water I made it to the final barbed wire crawl. This one did not go uphill but at points the barbed wire was only a few inches off the ground. I military crawled inch by inch and made my way through only getting caught up once thankfully only on my shirt. This is where they finally had some photographers because we were back at the festival area so you get to see some pictures. I made it through and on to the fire walker. Though it looks intense this is probably the easiest obstacle with a quick jump over burning wood. It makes for a great picture! The final obstacles were in my path and I was determined to power through. Between me and the two gladiators was the tricep pull machines. Each participant had to use a real rope pull down (Like a standing rowing machine) and draw a counter down from 200 to 0. Not a fun way to finish but I made it through. Powering through the two gladiators, who missed me completely, I made it to the finish line arms raised and victorious in two hours and thirty two minutes!

I grabbed my shirt and medal and walked dazed over to the festival area. Close by was the lake and a free coconut water tent. I downed four containers of the water and made my way over to the lake. What better way to get clean and cool off then to jump into an ice cold lake. Who needs showers, not me. Just like the rest of the finishers I stumbled around to my bag and dried off. It was then that I was able to get my PP&J lunch which was glorious. Next I took off my shoes and socks and discovered my casualty of war. RIP right pinky toenail, you will be missed. A small price to pay for a great race.

All in all, this was a well put together and really fun race. Not one for the feint of heart and on par with the tough mudder, I would do it again volunteering for free next year. This time I am going to practice the javelin through while waiting for my shift so I don’t have to do the ridiculous penalty and can speed up my time. I hope that next year they add more aid stations and maybe put the photographers at some of the other obstacles so you can get a feel for the whole race. I will say though that this is the first race I’ve ever done where the digital pictures were completely free. Kudos to them for that. Now I am a Super Spartan Finisher, now they just need to have a So Cal Spartan Beast!

Take a look at the race descriptions here

13.1 Seattle: The Importance of Preparation and Vaseline

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Virginia and I went up to Seattle to see the family and I decided to run the Amica Seattle Half Marathon in order to manage the overeating of the holiday. This was to be my second half marathon and only two weeks after I completed the 60 day Insanity program. We arrived in town six days before the race, had a fun Thanksgiving, went snowboarding, and picked up my race packet and map. Anyway, this post is entitled The Importance of Preparation and Vaseline so let’s go ahead and embarrass myself for the sake of future education.

For those who don’t know the area, Seattle is very hilly and very wet so for a race such as this preparation was key. Coming from Southern California and only racing in LA I had only run in 50+ degree weather, so I showed up with a cut of technical tee, 6-inch shorts and a light jacket. After my first practice run in sub thirty degree Seattle rain I realized that the clothes I brought were just not going to cut it. The next few days were spent driving around trying to find some better clothing for me to wear (Thank god I had my snowboarding gear to awkwardly get me through those days). The best we could do were my first pair of running tights from the third store we drove to. The unsolvable problem was that my shorts had an internal lining that did not fit well over the tights so it caused there to be a little more chaffing than in desirable. Let’s not talk too much about that but I will leave you with the comment that it did not turn out well. To the left is a picture of my pieced together outfit for the race.

We arrived bright and early on the day of the race thanks to a ride from my brother and I started to get ready for the race. As we walked up to the starting line there was a booth with Vaseline covered slips of paper and a box of safety pins. I thought about grabbing the Vaseline at that time but I also needed to pin my number to my leg. I grabbed four pins and said to myself that I would come back for the chaffing assistance. After spending some time pinning my number, stretching, and standing in the long line for the porta potties the start time was almost upon us. I tried to get back to the table with the Vaseline but the crowd was too think so instead I rationalized. “I didn’t need it for 13.1 LA so I’ll be fine, screw it”….big mistake.

I said goodbye to my support team (Virginia and my mom) and got in the corrals. This was where my lack of planning for a hilly run came into play. I picked a slower starting pace 2:15 because I thought I could do a slow speed build and still end under 2:00. As soon as the starting gun sounded the sky opened up and it poured for 4 hours straight (At least I only ran the half). The first mile was OK but then I started feeling a weird sensation under my right foot every time I stepped down. Now this was not pain, it was something in my shoe or as it turns out under my shoe. I stopped to look and, of course, a part of my shoe was peeling off. Now every downhill stride the rubber would fold under itself and make the step awkward. Thankfully the uphill parts were fine.

Overall the race was really cool, beautiful views of the city, terrain transitions from city to highway to woods and a lot of rolling hills. One highlight was that they closed part of what I think was the 5 and we ran on an actual highway even through a tunnel. That was a first and pretty cool. My plan to start slow and have a slow build was just plain wrong. I realized that when I hit the first mile of uphill climb and spent the rest of the race playing catchup. One funny note was that at the halfway point, Virginia called me asking if I was finished. I replied with “No, a 1:08 half marathon would be cool but highly unlikely”. Apparently the tracker app was not worth the 99 cents and told her I was finished. Another great thing was that they had GU gels throughout the race which kept my energy up.

The biggest incline was the first half of the last 5K but I was determined to go faster. I started playing a game where I would look 100 feet out, pick a person, and pass them. Each time running a little faster. By the last mile I realized that a sub 2 hour may not happen but I was still going to try. We were all downhill by now so I started sprinting. I was running on the wrong side of the road, yelling at people to get out of my way, and just being an overly unpleasant person with a goal in mind. With a half mile left I finally paced the pace runner for the group infront of mine and just kept going. I finished at an all out sprint, when you look at my splits I ran that mile in 6:45 but it was too little too late. I finished the race in 2:04, feeling like I could have run more which means I did not run hard enough. Oh well, now I know what this race looks like when I run the full marathon here in the future.

Since it was still pouring we decided that hanging around was not ideal so we headed over to the McDonalds where I got a victory egg mcmuffin (Yes it was only 10am!). So you are probably wondering “He talked about Vaseline a lot in this post, I wonder why”. Well I will tell you why. During the race my pectoral region started to hurt a bit (Yes, my nipples). The combination of rain, t-shirt, and jacket were just too much without some petroleum jelly. After a while though the pain subsided and I thought we were good to go. That is until I took off my jacket at breakfast. The look of shock from my support staff was enough to make me concerned. It turns out that the pain stopped because my body realized that a good substitute for Vasaline was my own blood. The red streaks down the sides of my white shirt spoke volumes and I zipped back up pretty quick. The pain for the next few days was also pretty awful so I am now the poster boy for nipple protection.

As I said in the title, preparation and Vaseline are key components to a good race. The Amica Seattle 13.1 was a lot of fun and a beautiful race but not for the faint of heart. I will leave you with the most embarrassing picture of my short racing career and hope I inspire you to race smarter in the future.