I’ve Been Sober For 2 Weeks

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Well, I am sure that title is going to get a lot of people’s attention. This is probably the hardest post I’ve ever written and it is long overdue. Alas, it is not as bad as it sounds, but life could have been without change.

To understand where this post comes from, I have to start back in December. My family had the wonderful opportunity to visit my parents in Thailand for two weeks. I am not going to make you sit through a travel post; I’ll just cut to the chase. There was a lot of eating, a lot of resting, a whole hell of a lot of ATM fees, the most amazing culture, and plenty of family. It was simply an amazing time and the best vacation I’ve ever taken.

But besides all that “but of course” was something I didn’t expect.  Once we got to Thailand, my cousins were kind of enough to give us some fresh baby bananas. After 24 hours of flying and eating things rewarmed in plastic, this is was like getting a rack of steaming hot BBQ ribs out of your special needs bag on the Ironman ran. So fresh and simple.

This was a trend that was to follow. Over the next two weeks, we dined on everything from huge fresh shrimp to tiny, salty, fried worms. (Look, we don’t eat a lot of bugs in Thailand, but I had to try it when I saw it). I won’t bore you with the details of our menu, but my focus is what happened because of this: my wife and I never felt better. We were faced with heat, cold, jet lag, and toilets that border on something that should be judged at The Hague. All while toting 4 kids, one with a peanut allergy (yes, a peanut allergy in Thailand with 24 hours of flying). But despite all this, we awoke every day well slept, fresh feeling, non bloated, and full of energy.

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At the same time, I was reading a book recommended by friend, called Eat Fat, Get Thin by a Dr. Hyman. A fascinating read, it talks of the importance of non-processed, local foods, as well as healthy fats. Sure, there are some things in the pages that the MD in me raises my eyebrows to, but the overall message was alluring.

After we arrived back, we did what any American away from the USA for a long time does: we had pizza. And wouldn’t you know it, we felt terrible. Of course, maybe it was the insane west to east jet lag or the raw oyster buffet we tried two days before flying (brilliant), but the “gut feeling” was enough to trust.

So with that, my wife and I finally jumped on the New Year’s resolution band wagon and decided to change the way we eat drastically. We had a few basic rules:

  1. No processed foods. The less something looks like food that grew or walked in a field, the less likely we were to eat it.
  2. Eat as local as possible.
  3. Limit unhealthy carbs.
  4. Eat much more fruits and vegetables
  5. Cutback drastically on alcohol.

First the processed food. Normally, the family unit goes out 1 or two times a week. Usually pizza or the breweries. Gone. We didn’t have a terrible diet by any means (McDonalds 1-3 times a year), but still, we enjoyed Chex Mix, diet sodas, Pop Tarts, and chocolate.  LOTS of chocolate. All of that? Gone too. I nearly cried watching my Christmas bag of Chex Mix go into the trash.

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As for the local foods, it was an eye opening experience to see how difficult, and expensive, it is to eat local. Last week, I picked up a package of beautiful looking grass fed beef. Sure win right? Turned it over to find it was raised and butchered in Australia and then processed further in America. YUM. Through some investigation, I was able to find some local meat sources but….if anything is getting thinner it is going to be my wallet.

Carbs. This has probably been the most difficult. No more breads, chips, pitas. No more pretzels. How do you make a grass fed hamburger without bread??? (You actually can, but that is a different post). If there was anything I was craving during my transition, it was a big ass bowl of potatoes.

There are many things one can get addicted to when traveling to Thailand. Fortunately for us, the only thing we came back needing more of was fruit. Lychees. Dragon fruit. Jack Fruit. Mango. Papaya. Even Durian. It was everywhere, and we ate all of it like there was no tomorrow. So, filling our pantry with fruits was no problem.

The above has been my life for two weeks now. Many vegetables and fruits with healthy, non chemical infused meats. No more microwaved breakfast sandwiches from Costcos, but instead home blended smoothies with spinach, avocado, almond butter, almond milk, and a fiber supplement. And the result of the financial and mental strain? WE FEEL GREAT. I emphasize we, because my wife is on the same transition. We both have more energy. We are sleeping better. Our minds our clearer. And our bowel movements are something akin to pooping a Beethoven symphony.

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But lets cut to the chase. You came here to find out if I am an alcoholic. The answer to that is NO. I don’t rush out of work to slip in an IPA. I don’t wake up with a glass of scotch. I don’t find myself in my truck wondering what happened the night before or how I got home. I dislike getting drunk, and absolutely despite having a hangover.

BUT. (Any true addictive personality knows there is always a but)

For people with my family history and tendencies, I was on a slope more slippery than Trump’s approval rating. I didn’t typically drink a lot, but I drank frequently.  Lunch with the wife on the weekend? Lets have a beer. Dinner meeting? Lets have a scotch. Finished up a six mile interval session? Time for a session beer. Got nothing else to do while waiting for the plane to board. Lets have a martini. Drinking was just becoming a filler in my life. And while I wasn’t about to murder my wife with an axe, there were ramifications. My belly was approaching the end of 1st trimester. I felt less energized. And projects, my many personal projects, sat idle.

So, I put down the bottle and picked up the water. For the past two weeks, my wife and I have been alcohol free. This was actually probably bad for our health, but we had to see how we felt. I am happy to say, it wasn’t that bad. We didn’t get the shakes. I wasn’t drooling when passing by the local pubs. And the craving was non existent. What was the hardest was sitting around in drinking areas while waiting for something else to happen. For example, yesterday I had to wait for my youngest daughter to finish skiing. Normally, I wouldn’t have had any problem ordering up an IPA and kicking back. But hell hath no fury like a Type A personality with determination. I poured a free glass of water and sat back with my phone and waited. Grueling? Yep. Unnecessary? Yep. Something I needed to prove to myself? Yes.

I turned 40 a month ago. And I am happy that this new chapter in my life is happening now instead of at 65 and on Medicare. As I have always said, life is a practice of moderation. Buddhist teachings tell us that the middle way is often the best. I am certainly not giving up drinking, or yogurt pretzels, or real hamburgers. But Ive learned now what can happen to our bodies when we assume that the world’s corporations will take care of us rather than vice versa. We need to take care of ourselves. 

2018 is going to be a big year for me. I am part of the Ironman Executive Challenge. I’ve signed up to get coached by Purple Patch Fitness. And I’m happier than ever. Stay tuned and follow the adventure. Now, off to make a meat crust pizza.

Why So Serious? The 2017 Ironman Arizona Race Report

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It’s been almost a year since my last post. I am basically now a writer with an MD, so I haven’t had much time for pleasure writing. But, I know some of you tri-geeks want to know went down yesterday in Tempe, so I am here to enable your multi sport voyeurism. Shorter and sweet, hopefully to repeat.

Pre-race

Since restarting triathlon, I have made one promise to my self and my family: I am a participant now, not a competitor. My job has taken off, in good ways, but that means my hours are really unregular now. On top of that, my kids are older and now are participating in pretty much everything Montana has to offer. Finally, I have taken up a love for hunting in addition to my passion for fly fishing. So that means basically my dedication to training has worn thinner than the chamois of my 11 year bike shorts. Yes, I really do have 11 year old bike shorts I still use.

So coming into this, I had as much training as Trump did on how to use Twitter before becoming President. I also used no training plan. I felt I just knew what my body needed to get the job done, the job being solely finishing. I also prioritized. I barely swam, swimming only a handful of 4000 yard sets and about four swims total in November. I ran about three times a week, always consisting of a long run, an interval session, and a fartlek session. I did two 20 milers before the race, and usually hovered between 13 and 18 miles other weeks. For riding, I did TrainerRoad. If I got bored of workouts, I swapped into a fast Zwift session. I rode last outside before the Ironman in August. All my long rides were done on a Tacx Neo, the longest being 4:45. And that’s about it.

My “whatever” attitude applied to equipment as well. My wetsuit ripped a few years back, so I just found whatever cheap wetsuit I could get online instead of getting something made of fossilized shark skin. I didn’t upgrade my bike, even with all those fancy bottle systems I see out there these days. Same banged up Garmin. I didn’t even pack my bag until the night before it was time to leave. I was so sick of making this a big mental deal, I just wasn’t even thinking about the event until 24 hours of leaving. Of course, that mean I forgot my prescription sunglasses, but whatever…..I don’t need to see slow…..

Setup

Like I said, I was not going to make this a mentally taxing event. I showed up early at transition. Pumped my bike tires up. Took care of business in the porta-a-hells, then took a nap until the race start.

Swim: 1:16

My goal was to simply not drown. Drowning was going to make it difficult to finish the race I figured. It was a rolling start, based on your expected time. They had times on signs and you just got into the herd with your best guess. No, no one swims with the sign, but that would have been awesome. I did 1:13 with real training six years ago, and 1:23 at my first Ironman in CDA, so I jumped in at 1:20. Gun goes off and into the water we went. I took about ten minutes to walk up to the start after the official gun.

I set simple rules to guide the day. I used to be part of Endurance Nation, and those lessons served me well.  I told myself if I felt like I was racing while swimming, I was going way too hard. So I focused on form. Face down and good catch. It has been a while since I did an Ironman, and what I immediately got re-taught was how physical the swim was, even with the rolling start. Not on purpose of course, but I got a few good punches. It was also bolstered by the fact I was blowing by people. The water was again dark, not even being able to see my wrist in front of me. We also start the swim going into the sun, so that didn’t help. I was zig zagging like Rickard Stark totally should have. After running into more people than than the Seahawks offensive line this year….wait, the opposite of that…I ended up back on land unscathed. I didn’t wear a watch so I didn’t know what my time was….like I said, whatever. It was only after I found out 1:16. To me, this is a damn miracle considering how little I trained for swimming. Just goes to show that form can make a huge difference for middle packers like me.

T2 Find the Blow

Ok, in retrospect I wish I hadn’t been so “whatever” in transition. I walked to my bag from the swim, thanked the volunteers and wandered to the changing tent like I was window shopping. Big experienced Ironman Arizona tip for you newbies visiting: The changing tents are heated by vents that line the bottom of the tent canopy. So some of the folding chairs are right over the vents. I grabbed one, and by the time I was ready to leave, my feet had gone from numb to almost burning hot. I went to go pee, got some good sun screen (another experienced Ironman advice…unless your qualifying for Kona….get the sunscreen….not one strip of sunburn on me, even my lower back), and off I was with my bike.

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Bike: 6:37

Remember my mantra of “whatever”? Well, I found out the day before the race that my Quarq Elsa power meter was not communicating with my Garmin. Wouldn’t pair despite my geek attempts, and I’m Asian. (I can say that…I’m Asian). So instead of getting stressed and having an aneurysm, I just went with “well, go easy.” I had known from doing the race before and Endurance Nation that everyone and their grandma triathlete goes out way too hard on the bike.

So I went easy, LIKE CRAZY EASY. If you have ever wanted to know if you could finish the Ironman bike by literally soft pedaling, the answer is yes. And the Rich Strauss truth proved true again. First lap, I got passed like I was Harvey Weinstein hitchhiking. Second lap, less passing. Third lap, I was passing a few peeps. Probably what helped is that the wind was pretty bad. We had an uphill headwind the first two laps and then mixed on the third. Even with knowing people were going too hard, it was hard to lay back. I helped myself by saying “don’t forget that whole marathon thing” and by singing to myself. If I was breathing so hard I couldn’t sing (not on tune wise, that is a given) I was going to hard.

In retrospect, I totally undercooked the bike. My time was miserable. Went I got off, I felt like I basically hadn’t even ridden any. Next time, I will push this more, with a working power meter.

T2: Stil taking my time

Felt great coming off my bike. Walked over to get my bag and then took a leisurely change and some water to rinse the salt off my face. I crust salt like a tide pool in Death Valley. After revisiting the porta-a-hells (seriously, how bad is your aim when you create what looks like a chocolate cake got thrown against a wall behind the toilet seat), off I went. Ironman Arizona is a great spectator event with so many loops, and I finally got to give my wife a kiss during a race. Been waiting for that for like 10 years. Whatever feels right.

Run: It all comes together, 4:33

My strategy was to run walk. Run about 9:45 pace to each aid station, and walk for one minute. Keep my cadence high in the 170s (Garmin Footpod on board). Try to keep it together until mile 13, when I expected to crash hard.

I had learned from my Boise performance a few years back that two things propel me through the run: passing people and caffeine. Normally, when I get to the Ironman run, I feel like I’m doing taxes for a North Korean labor camp, aka like I’m dying a slow death for no reason. I wanted to avoid this like college students with wanderlust and a hankering for kim chi. I stuck with the plan. Run, walk, cola, repeat.

First mile, felt great. Second mile, felt great. I start passing people. I started alternating Red Bull and Cola. I started growing wings. My overall pace remained constant, around 10:30, and that is with my run walk strategy, and even a few stretch sessions. I always focused on keeping my cadence up and not settling into a shuffling form.

My goal was just to do well until I would eventually crash around mile 14. But mile 14 came around and I felt great. People were even commenting how strong I looked. And now I wasn’t just passing people, I was blowing by people. This only spurred me along more.

All in all, I had 13 half cups of coke, 13 half cups of Red Bull, and a fun size Snickers. And shut the front door, one aid station had freaking peanut M&M’s. I love these things, and I don’t get to eat them because my kid has a serious peanut and dairy allergy. I grabbed four cups and downed them.

The true pain only started in mile 25, as always. But as I turned the final corner, I knew this had been my most successful Ironman yet, even if not my fastest.

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Finis: 12:43, second fastest IM. Top 50% of age group, top third of men. 

Woh, what a ride. I could not be more pleased about yesterday. My family too. Those jokes about triathlon widows and such….well lets say that all jokes have some base in truth. My past IM events have been fraught with family stress, questions about what is more important, and more than just my own sacrifice. But not this time. We go to Boy Scouts. We go to church. I hunt on Saturday and Sunday mornings instead of riding. I take cello lessons and go with my daughter to her violin lessons. I swim went I feel Iike to need to reach nirvana, not when a piece of paper tells me so. I have fun while riding indoors. And with that, I can not just be a happy triathlete, but also still happy enough with my performance.

Thanks for the lessons Arizona. I’ll being seeing you in 2018.

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