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A Year In The Life – 2011

December 31, 2011

2011 was an outstanding year in my life. Of course, it had it’s ups and downs, but that’s what life is: a collection of ups and downs. Fortunately the ups usually outweigh the downs, and life is completely worth the living. This was another year spent with my wonderful wife, Joan; it brought me another year closer to finishing my bachelor’s degree in Web Design and Interactive Media (only nine months to go!); I finally succeeded at one of my longtime goals; got closer to another childhood dream; started climbing again after a two year absence from the sport; became a multi-sport ultra-distance athlete; and hopefully became a better person through it all. We lost two of our ultra-cycling friends: one in a senseless late-night collision with a driver and the other to natural causes. Those losses were tough, but helped to bring a focus to remind me of why I do the things I do. And I’m learning to appreciate things more deeply than I did before.

The last sunset of 2010 and the first sunrise of 2011 were witnessed from the South Rim of The Grand Canyon; in the frozen tundra of northern Arizona. Yes, we had Canada-like conditions for the trip. But it was a wonderful way to celebrate the new year. We got to hike in sub-zero conditions to start off the year in style. The photo above was taken at sunset; December 31, 2010. The photo to the right is from a training run at Point Reyes National Seashore in February.

Going into the year, I was ramping up my training for three major events which I hoped to successfully complete: The American River 50 Mile Run in April, Ultraman Canada in July/August, and the Furnace Creek 508 in October. This was going to require more training and dedication that anything I had ever done before, to say the least.

I settled into a training pattern of doing long bike rides on Saturdays followed by a long swim and a long run on Sundays. My long training session began to seem absurd to most of my friends: I’d do 100+ miles on Saturday and then a 3 mile swim and 20 mile run on Sunday. It was certainly challenging! I had also intended to do a Super Randonneur series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km rides). That plan ended up getting scrapped due to an injury, but more on that in a moment. I ran my first half marathon as a training run and did 200km and 400km brevets. My training swim were quickly approaching four miles in the chilly waters at Redwood Shores.

Going into the AR50, I was feeling fairly confident that I had what it would take to finish. But one thing I didn’t foresee became the cause of much of my frustrations throughout the year. After about 18 miles of running, I got a cramp in my left calf. And this was one of those cramps that just wouldn’t go away. But I pressed on, hobbling along for the rest of the race. I finished within the time cutoff, but not within the cutoff for qualifying for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. This race has been a dream of mine since I first watched it on Wide World Of Sports when I was a kid. But still, I had arrived as an ultrarunner! I was doing things that a few years back I would have not thought possible. And there was much more to come! A few days after the race, I went for a short bike ride to loosen up my stiff muscles. I felt reasonably good while doing so, but after I got home I sat on the couch for a while to finish up some homework for the next day’s class. When I got up after an hour or so, my back seized up and I couldn’t move very well for the next few weeks. And even after that period, getting up from a seated position was agonizing for another couple of months. During that time, I discovered that I could swim just fine (though with weak pushes off the walls of the pool), so I upped my training mileage in that sport and tried to stay focused on preparing for Ultraman. Once my back loosened up, I carried on with cycling almost like nothing had happened, though my back still bugged me there too; I just pushed through it while trying not to do any lasting damage. The photo to the right is at the One Mile To Go marker during the American River 50, April 9.

On March 20, Joan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. When I was younger, I never imagined that it would be possible to find someone like Joan in this crazy world. That she is every bit as crazy as me certainly helps! The best times in this life are those that I’ve spent with her.

In April, our friend Jim Swarzman, who we’d only really gotten to know at the Central Coast 400k brevet in March was killed during the Temecula 600k brevet. We all know that our sport is dangerous, but when someone who you know is an experienced cyclist can have his life snuffed out in the blink of an eye, you gain a sudden new appreciation for what you have. I dedicated the rest of the season to Jim’s memory, and think about why I do the things I do. I ride, swim, bike and climb for fun; and to be with people who I value as family and friends. When I was hurting late in the run on the third day at Ultraman, I thought of Jim, and was thankful that I could at least be out there doing what I love. When I saw the hawk/falcon late in the Furnace Creek 508, I felt that Jim was watching over me and the rest of the racers out there.

In June, Joan became the first woman to completely Race Across The West solo. Spending a week or so supporting her quest to do so also made me appreciate even more having a wife who is determined, focused and just plane awesome. She set a course record that will undoubtedly be broken one year, but she set the mark high enough that it will take a strong rider to overcome. And of course, spending time with the crew that she handpicked for the race was great as well. Our friendships were all made stronger by that journey through the western United States. The photo at right is Joan at the finish in Durango, Colorado.

At Ultraman, we got to meet tons of great people; and I got to swim, bike and run through some pretty cool places. Without Joan’s support, there’s no way I could have done something like this event. The 10k swim across Skaha Lake was amazing in a good way and interesting in a bad way. You’ll have to read the race report if you don’t know the story! I survived thanks to

some Immodium that Joan picked up in Osoyoos during the Stage One bike. The first day was an ordeal, but I made it. Day Two had some struggles with the wind, but I survived. Which meant of course that I now had to do that pesky double marathon run! With much prodding from Joan and Lisa (the awesome crewperson we got thanks to her knowing the race organizer of Ultraman), I made it through the run. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be called Ultraman! At right is me crossing the finish line with Joan and Lisa.

After the race events were finished, I supported Joan on a multi-day ride from Penticton out towards her hometown, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. Getting to see Banff and Jasper National Parks again was nice, even if I didn’t get to ride through there this time. And of course all the trips to Tim Horton’s made the pain in my muscles fade to a memory!

And of course, there was no rest for the weary for too long after Ultraman! I had another big race to train for: the Furnace Creek 508. The 508 had stymied me the previous two year; and Joan laid down the ultimatum of “three strikes and you’re out!”. I was determined to finish this time. My bike training hadn’t really been where I wanted it to be, but I knew I had to go and give it everything I had. Since the race was dedicated to Jim Swarzman’s memory (and his fiancee Nicole was also riding solo), I felt his presence very strongly during the race. Unlike the prior two years, the weather was rather tame, never getting above 81 degrees for me. This of course was a welcome relief after last year when the high temps were close to 100. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey along the course, and finished in a not-too-blistering 42 hours and 32 minutes. But the monkey is off my back, so next year I can do the race as a two-person team with Joan. That should be fun! Look for a possibly Monty Python themed totem in the 2x mixed roster in 2012! At right is me after the finish with my crew (Rama, Marie and Joan).

In October, we lost another ultra-cycling friend. His life was tragically cut short by an apparently genetic heart condition. Matt Wilson collapsed and died on October 14th at the top of one of his favorite climbs. It was his 23rd birthday, and he was out celebrating, doing what he loved doing when he died. This was another reminder to savor all that we can in life. You will be missed, Matt! Article at

For the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to cut my body fat down to a better percentage. I spent the 2011 season at a bit higher weight than I would have liked, and I think that contributed to some of the problems I had with running. Currently, I’m down 9 pounds from when I did the AR50 and 13 pounds from when I did the 508. Hopefully I can cut the weight down another 10 pounds or so. I think if I can get below 180, I can have a more awesome race season next year. I can certainly tell it’s been working, as climbing on the bike and running have become much easier. I’ve also begun going to strength training classes at Integrate Performance Fitness in Mountain View. I think that that will also play a huge role in making for a successful 2012. At right is me a few minutes ago…

Top 5 Athletic Achievements of 2011

  1. Finishing the Furnace Creek 508
  2. Finishing Ultraman Canada
  3. Finishing the American River 50
  4. Half Marathon PR of 1:49 at the Kaiser Half in San Francisco
  5. My first 5+ mile swim. At Lake Del Valle in May, supported by Joan (she was in a kayak)

Top 5 Moments Of 2011

  1. Celebrating our first anniversary, March 20
  2. Watching Joan finish Race Across The West, June 18
  3. Watching the sunrise/sunset over the Grand Canyon. December 31/January 1
  4. Playoff hockey game between the Sharks and Redwings (and the Sharks won!)
  5. Riding around Crater Lake with Joan, September 5

Goals For 2012

  1. Graduate in September from AI -Sunnyvale.
  2. Get Joan to the finish line of Race Across America.
  3. Finish the Ultraman World Championships.
  4. Qualify for the Western States 100.
  5. Get my weight down to 179 and keep it there.
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