Friday, December 30, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Parental advisory . . .
I like it because it makes the monotony of endurance training and racing seem dynamic and even edgy. Even though I am CERTAIN that Jay-Z didn't have this in mind, the song helps me to put one workout or race behind me and look ahead (with a bit of swagger) to the next one. Over the last several months, I often listened to this song immediately following hard workouts or good races, and it helped me focus on what was next. Post-Ironman, I wasn't ready to do that for a little while. I am ready now. Enough wallowing on Cozumel. It's on to the next one.
Of course, I won't be doing any eight-hour bricks just yet. Unlike Kacie, who has a double Ironman in February and is already back to doing two-a-day workouts, I I have a bit more time to chill. This will let me catch up on stuff that has fallen by the wayside in the past few months. Among other things, I will be sending out our Christmas cards that will feature pictures of us in Cozumel. Check them out!
The standard means of going about training an endurance athlete is to have them do base training and then some tempo work when they are several months out from an event. As you approach your event, you shorten the workouts but increase their intensity. By the time that the target event arrives, athletes should be feeling rested, "sharp," and speedy. This is the overall plan that I follow with the high school cross-country runners I coach, and it's one that I've followed myself several times over several seasons.
Ironman, though, is a totally different type of race. The race, as I learned the hard way, is not about going hard from the gun, but rather moving through the day at a moderate intensity. Even in the last two hours when it gets hard, it's not hard because you're pushing to run fast. It's hard because you're pushing to run AT ALL. Given this, it seems to me that the trick is not to arrive at the start line feeling speedy, but to arrive at the start line feeling as if you could go all day at a moderate intensity--which, after all, is precisely what you have to do!
To this end, I've asked my coach to design a training plan for the next 24 weeks that will start with the hard, fast stuff and then add the moderate-intensity volume at the end. I'm excited to give this a shot. Anybody have any feedback on this idea?
Friday, December 2, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Big, authentic smiles cause my eyes to disappear. There are only a few photos of me like this, and nearly all of them are from our wedding. We'll see whether the ones of me at the IM Cozumel finish line look like this . . .
Monday, November 21, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Here's how it went:
Me: And in sad news, some of you may have seen that Heavy D died on Tuesday.
Student 1: How'd he die?
Me: It's not totally certain, but I can almost guarantee that it was related to the fact that he was "Heavy" D.
[I take whatever opportunity I can find to remind my students of the dangers of obesity given that such a significant portion of this generation is overweight. The crap they eat is mind-blowing. My classroom is on the third floor, and not a day goes by when multiple students don't collapse into their desks in my classroom complaining of having to walk up "all those stairs."]
Student 1: He wasn't that heavy anymore! He had lost weight!
Me: He had lost weight, but he was still pretty heavy.
Student 2: Yeah, he was still like 500 pounds.
Student 1: That don't matter!
Me: It does matter. I don't think that he was 500 pounds, but he was definitely still too heavy to be healthy.
Student: Nuh, uh! Somebody can be 500 pounds and be healthy!
[At this point, the class kinda erupted. I tried to pull it back together a bit.]
Me: No, not really. A person can't be 500 pounds and be healthy.
Student 3: You can be if you're really tall.
Me: You'd have to be REALLY tall--like nine feet--and even then, 500 pounds is a lot.
Student 1: No, it don't matter. Mr. Darden, how much you weigh?
Me: I weigh 152 pounds.
Student 1: See? You 152 pounds, and you ain't healthy!
It's possible that she was trying to make the point that there is not a direct correlation between weight and health. And I believe that that's true: a thin and light person can be much less healthy than a bigger person, if the skinny person doesn't practice healthy habits. I've found this to be particularly true in the triathlon community: triathletes come in all shapes and sizes, and many folks that might "look less fit" than me leave me behind in races. Ultimately, I'm not sure what point she was trying to make, but I am left wondering what her notion of health is if she thinks that I am unhealthy. By most measures, I believe that I would qualify as a pretty healthy person.
This is sticking with me more than it should, and I don't know why. I think that a couple of weeks out from an Ironman, I'm annoyed by the fact that the people in my life--specifically, my co-workers and students--don't really recognize the work that I'm doing. Even if they don't understand my speed or goals, even if they don't comprehend my specific workouts and challenges, I would like for people to at least recognize that in order to train for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon of running, I have to be pretty damn fit--fitter, in fact, than virtually everyone they know.
Sure, I'm being vain, but is it so wrong for me to desire just a little recognition after all this work?
Thursday, November 10, 2011
On March 14, 2009--okay, so it's not quite the Ides of March, but again, details--I was in a bike race on wet roads. The person in front of me slipped, and in trying to avoid him, I crashed into a tree on the side of the road at about 23 mph. I broke my clavicle and shattered my scapula. I spent four days in the hospital, had surgery to implant three plates, and missed a month of work. When I tell this story to my class, I fill it with all sorts of drama, and of course, I share pictures of myself pre- and post-surgery. At the end of class, I offer to take off my shirt for any student who wants to see the scars and feel the plates. There is usually a handful of students who want to check it out. Last year, a student wrote on his evaluation, "You should take off your shirt again."
This year, when I taught it, one student who stuck around to see the scars said, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups." My response, predictably, was "Donny, I'm the fittest person you know." (I'm sure that that's probably true, too.) Now, Donny could have been saying, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups because they will definitely improve your swim only three weeks from your first Ironman." Obviously, that's not what he meant. Rather, he was suggesting that I am out of shape. I'm not.
This is one of those comments that I will probably remember forever, much like Shakena's "Why you ain't never absent?" of 2003, Lindsey's, "You don't really care" of 2000, or Jocelyn's "You want us to fail" of 2006. It falls into a different category, though, since it was about my fitness rather than my teaching. Nonetheless, I found it particularly insulting. Last week, I swam more than four miles, I ran forty, and I biked about 130. What did you do, Donny???
Am I being oversensitive? Yes. Of that, there is no doubt. Donny's actually not a bad kid; I am not holding any grudge against him. And was my negative reaction borne out of the extreme tiredness I'm feeling right now? Undoubtedly, yes. If someone were to ask me how I'm feeling right now, less than two weeks before we leave for Cozumel, my answer would be "tired," closely followed by "excited."
Last night, for the second time in this training cycle, I failed to complete a trainer workout. I like trainer workouts, and I think that they greatly benefit my cycling. But a long, hard trainer workout is just too intense and difficult for me given the mental and physical fatigue I'm carrying right now. I'm sure that I will be fine; I did nearly an hour of work, and I quit before my performance started to trail off. Plus, I have a swim/bike brick on Saturday that features five hours on the tri bike. My running workout today will undoubtedly be better for having not tried to gut out a crappy workout last night, and I think that my cycling is just fine. I need to stop writing about it before it starts to sound like I'm rationalizing.
The exhaustion that I'm feeling right now is not the sort of "most pleasant exhaustion" that inspired the title of this blog. Rather, it's a sort of deep fatigue that has built up over the course of several weeks. My coach and I have been cautious not to over-train me, and I don't think that I am over-trained. It's just that part of getting ready for 140.6 self-propelled miles is getting really, really tired. Right now, I'm expecting to carry this fatigue until race week, when I'll taper, get lots of rest, and hit the starting line ready to explode. Correct? I surely hope so.
Monday, November 7, 2011
It went really well, though! I managed to remain strong throughout the bike, and I even pushed it in the second half. I was about 25 watts higher on the return trip, and all of my bests from 2:00 up were in the second half of the ride. I also ran solidly--right around 7:00 pace, not including the pit stops. The only problem I had was not drinking enough on the bike. The store where I stopped around halfway was not very well-stocked. They said that they had gone deer hunting a couple of weeks ago and left someone else in charge, and that someone else had evidently not locked up or hosted a party or something. Their shelves were nearly empty.
What this meant was that I was a bit dehydrated on the run, which in turn meant that I drank a bit more than I should have at a couple of stops. Continuing on, that meant that I got some small cramps on the run. They weren't so bad that I had to slow down, but they were bad enough to keep me from pushing the pace (had I wanted to do that--I didn't, but I will want to in Cozumel, I'm sure). It's amazing how issues in long training days or ultra-distance races manifest themselves. The store where I stopped on my bike was empty, so I got cramps on the run about four hours later. Crazy.
Also, paradoxically, I had to use the bathroom more than I would have liked. Once the workout started, I stopped four times to go. All told, that's probably two to three minutes in stopped time. I'm hoping that since it will be a little warmer in Cozumel, that won't be an issue, but we'll see. I'd hate to see a KQ spot slip away because I had to wait in line at a port-a-potty.
Somewhere around 13 miles on the run, my body went into "auto-pilot mode." I didn't quite feel connected to it anymore. I wasn't pushing and I wasn't holding back; it was kinda doing it's own thing. I found myself imagining my brain as a captain on a ship: "All hands on deck! He's STILL running! Everyone focus on the run!" I felt as if all of my body's functions became dedicated to finishing this run. Anything else that might take energy--like thinking, for example--was put aside. Nonetheless, I didn't slow down. I took a split from 5-7 and from 15-17, and they were within ten seconds of each other, despite the fact that miles 7 and 17 were brutally uphill. I kept hearing the line from Rocky IV in my head where the trainer tells Rocky something like, "No stopping now! All your strength, all your love, all your power, everything you've got! No pain! No pain!" And then, of course, a battered Rocky goes out there and drops Ivan Drago. Here's the clip:
My wife and I will have to bring our Rocky movies with us to Cozumel.
Of course, this massive training day also helped me learn a few more good things ahead of Cozumel. There were small things--like to pack a paper towel in my T2 bag to clean my sunglasses--and big things--like my nutrition plan for the run. I feel like all of the details are falling into place.
We leave for Cozumel two weeks from tomorrow. That's hardly believable. Between now and then, I have a few more big workouts. I have four long swims of 4000-4500 yards this week and next. A run or ride of comparable distance would not bother me, but swimming takes a lot of physical and mental energy for me. And next weekend, I have a long swim/bike brick (that I asked for) on Saturday, and a twenty-two mile run on Sunday. One more swim lesson, two more massages, two more trips to the chiropractor, and that's it. The race is in sight.
Oh, yeah, and I have to defend my dissertation--the last step in an eight-year Ph.D. process. But let's not let that distract us from the important things.
Friday, November 4, 2011
This set in for the first time last night. I have done some great training, and I have a really good background in endurance sports. If anyone was ever ready for an Ironman, it would be me. Well, then again, maybe that's not true. I only learned to swim four months ago. I guess that the most-ready-for-an-Ironman person ever was probably a better swimmer than I, but I digress. The point is that it's not like I'm going from couch to 140.6.
Last night, the enormity of the task itself hit me. Perhaps it's the incredible 2000 yard swim/80 mile bike/20 mile run workout that looms on my calendar this Sunday or the two 4500 yard swims I have for the week-after-next. Perhaps I have finally watched enough Ironman coverage on Universal Sports to realize that I'm undertaking something a little bit nuts. Perhaps it's thinking about the New York Marathon that's coming up, and considering that I'm going to be doing one of those . . . after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling. Perhaps I have an appreciation for it that can only be gained from up close; at a distance, almost any endurance event seems like a good idea.
But even though it's close, it seems really far away, given the amount of work I have to do between now and then. I think that that paradox is weighing on me a bit, too. I have only three weeks . . . but I have to keep up for three more weeks. I'm really tired already. How am I going to step it up? But I need to do this work in order to accomplish my goals. Can I do it? I'm far enough away that my workouts still count. They need to go well! And during a time when all my students are getting sick, can I stay healthy?
This whole adventure has been very interesting.
Monday, October 31, 2011
To be clear: I believe that one's running and cycling on flats can be greatly improved by training on hills. In fact, as a coach, I strongly advocate that athletes run and ride hilly courses even if they are training for the flatest races. However, riding our tri bikes on the flat Silver Comet Trail meant that we had to stay in our aerobars the entire time, just as we will in Cozumel. Not all of our long rides and bricks will be out there, but it was important for us to put in a long chunk of time in that position.
The cold weather arrived this week in Atlanta, so we intentionally got the day off to a slow start in hopes that it would warm up. We dropped off some nutrition at a couple of different spots, parked the car, and put on all the cold-weather gear that I haven't had to wear in months. (Sigh.) The plan was to ride twenty miles out, then come back to the car for refueling, then twenty miles out, then back to the car for refueling and changing, then run eight miles and back. In my head, I thought of it as three two-hour out-and-backs.
The cycling went well. I was comfortable in my aero postion, and I felt like I cruised along nicely. I pushed a bit to keep the intensity high, but I never went super hard. In fact, this is about what I figure the Ironman will feel like. My normalized power for the ride was 215w, which is a bit lower than I might have liked, but it was certainly in the acceptable range. My speed was just shy of 21 mph, but I was not wearing my aero helmet or tight tri clothes, and I was not using the aero front wheel. Those will give me several more minutes in Cozumel.
The bike made me feel like my bike goal in Cozumel--now less than four weeks away!--is within reach. I was looking forward to the run, though, because if I can't produce on the run, what's the point of the bike?
I started the run at around 7:00 pace. Along the way out, I clocked the odd mile here and there, and they were around 6:45-6:55. I stopped three times to eat and drink, but I did not stop my watch. Thus, I hit the eight-mile turnaround at 55:30. On the way back, I sped up to about 6:40 pace, then I sped up to about 6:20 pace, and then I sped up to about 6:10 pace. I stopped three times on the way back, too, but it took 51:30. My last four miles, including two stops, was 24:50. Whew! In total, the sixteen-mile run was 1:47:00, including about 2:00 to 3:00 of stopping, after riding eighty miles. My actual run speed was right around 6:30 pace, or about 2:51 marathon pace. NICE!
Most importantly, I feel like I had plenty left. I didn't have to speed up when I did; I could have kept running 6:45-6:55 (~2:59 marathon pace) very comfortably for a while. Also, even in the last mile when I started to dig a bit, I didn't dig from my deepest place. I still had more to give.
So, needless to say, this was a fantastic confidence booster. It boosted my coach's confidence so much that he decided to add another pretty monstrous brick to our schedule this weekend. (I'll write about the 2000/80/20 next Monday, I suppose.) The only downside to the workout was that my wife had a rough day. She strayed too far from her normal nutrition plan and paid for it in the last stages of the run. It sucked, but she won't do that on race day.
Now if I can just learn to swim . . .
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
It still seems very far off, primarily because I have several workouts between now and then. Specifically, I have a long brick this weekend, a 20-mile run next weekend, and a 22-mile run the weekend after that. In addition, the dissertation that I completed this semester and mailed out TODAY will be defended by then. By the time I race in Mexico, I may well be finished with the Ph.D. that I've been working to complete for the last EIGHT YEARS. So yeah, there are still several big things that need to happen between now and the whole "George Darden, you are an Ironman!" thing.
Nonetheless, I am starting to get excited. I've been thinking a lot about the race and my goals. Goal #1, of course, is the starting line. I've struggled with injury in the past, and while this has been a fairly injury-free training cycle--KNOCK ON WOOD!--there is still enough time for some little thing to turn into a big thing. Let's hope not. Goal #2, of course, is the finish line. I've never doubted that I would be able to finish an Ironman, and my training has bolstered my confidence. However, on race day, I feel like anything is possible. It's such a long day, and there are so many things that could go . . . not quite right. Particularly since this is my first Ironman, I think it would be unwise to have any other goals as my primary goals besides the two I have listed above. Goal #3, Goal #4, and Goal #5 are all family secrets.
I'm probably most confident about the run. My running has been going well, and I feel as if I will be able to cobble together a strong run. In addition, I feel like I'm pretty good at running off the bike. In fact, I kinda prefer it; I don't have to worry about warming up. :-)
The bike . . . maybe a little bit less so. I have no doubt that I can finish, but I do worry that I might ride too hard or too slow. Or both. I did a century a couple of weeks ago that was harder than it should have been. I also quit a workout in the middle of it last week, and I have only done that once or twice ever. I chalked it up to mental exhaustion, which I in turn chalked up to riding my tri bike too much. On my tri bike, whether I'm on the trainer or on the road, I'm pretty much staring at the stem. It's also more intense to ride the tri bike; I figure that it's tantamount to riding in the drops all the time. That wasn't fun. I like it when I'm racing; I enjoy the intensity then. For day-in and day-out training, though, it was overwhelming. I've gone back to my road bike a bit in the last couple of weeks, and that has been nice. I'm sure that I'll be fine.
The swim . . . well, I'm not confident about that at all. I'll feel better by the time it arrives, though, and I don't have to do anything beforehand. And, as a friend who is a good swimmer but a weaker cyclist and runner recently told me, it will help me to pass people all day. On the other hand, that friend gets passed from the moment the bike starts. That would indeed suck.
On a related note, in the four triathlons I've done so far, I haven't yet been passed from the time I exited the water. I've decided that I won't really consider myself a triathlete until the three sports are a little more balanced. And I probably won't consider them to be balanced until someone passes me on the bike or run.
The last push is coming. I hope to write a bit more since the dissertation is off my desk for a little while. Send me good, healthy thoughts!
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I took three days off this week--Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday--before I started training lightly again on Thursday. I ran that day, then swam on Friday, and then rode today. I'm riding again tomorrow since I have a hilly century--the Six Gap Century--next weekend. I'm looking forward to that.
Today was the first day that I felt a bit recovered. My ride felt about like it would have felt if I hadn't raced. That's good! Now, I can start looking ahead to what's next.
At our house, we cut off our race bracelets when we are done with one race and on to training for the next. I cut mine off on Thursday. I'm eager to move ahead, but I will probably continue to eat pizza, burritos, and candy for another couple of weeks before I commit totally (i.e. nutritionally) to Cozumel.
The fella who finished second in my age group posted his race report on Slowtwitch. I enjoyed the part where he called me a "freight train." :-)
I've also read other good race reports from some of my wife's teammates, like here and here, and best of all, my wife's race report here.
Not having spent a lot of time on the road or in the pool, I don't have anything deep to say. This week has been all about catching up on work and sleep. I'm excited to move on to the next block of training.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
First, a little background. Since I last wrote in this blog a few months ago, I have begun competing in triathlons. My first tri was in early June, less than a week after my swim tutor and I completed my swim stroke. Thus, understandably, of the 303 competitors in that first sprint, I was the 298th athlete to exit water that day. I had the fourth-fastest bike and the second-fastest run, and as a result, I finished second in the beginner division. I was satisfied with that. In fact, not being the last swimmer and being one of the fastest cyclists and runners was exactly my goal. Check.
I then competed in an Olympic tri a month later, but it did not go well. I had a mechanical issue with my bike which cost me several minutes and destroyed me mentally. My coach and I then decided to enter a second Olympic tri in August, and it went significantly better. This time, I finished around the middle of the pack in the swim, and again near the top of the bike and run. That was good enough for sixth in my age group--an improvement.
The goal is Ironman Cozumel on November 27th, and to that end, I competed in my first half-iron distance triathlon this past weekend. My wife, my coach, and I selected the Cedar Point Half Rev in Sandusky, OH, and my wife and I went up there on Friday morning. We prepared for the race on Saturday, and we competed on Sunday. My wife did the full 140.6 distance.
My first goal was to go roughly the same pace as I plan to go in my full-distance triathlon this fall. That would mean finishing around five hours. I figured that I could probably run a bit faster, though, so I was thinking that 4:50 was a worthwhile goal. I figured that would put me in the top five of my age group and top thirty of the race, but I wasn't too bogged down in placings. Most importantly, I wanted to experience the longer race as a means of determining my readiness for Cozumel.
My wife started about 90 minutes before me, so I wished her a happy start and headed back to our hotel room for a little while. During that time, I basically sat and dreaded the swim. Even though I have spent a lot of time in the pool lately and I was confident about the distance, Lake Erie made me nervous. I did the practice swim the day before, and the water was so murky that I couldn't even see my hands and arms in front of me. No exaggeration. I was also wearing a wetsuit for the first time, which on the one hand gave me more confidence, but on the other, felt like something uncertain that could possibly go wrong.
My race began at about 8:40. After trudging through some sludge and into the water, I began swimming. The water was just as murky as it had been the day before. Whenever I put my head down, I might as well have had my eyes closed. As a result, I was constantly running into people and people were constantly running into me. It was a battle the entire time. We were still running into each other as late as the last couple hundred meters. I ended up about three or four minutes faster than I thought, though, between the wet suit and the unintended drafting. My swim split was about 41:35. I was the 221st person out of the water, and around 40th in my age group. I was middle of the pack, basically, which is perfectly fine for someone who learned to swim three months ago.
I was excited to hop on the bike and make up some time. I transitioned quickly (about 2:30), and hopped on. Having finished the swim where I did meant that I had a lot of traffic to navigate in the first half of the bike. That has been the case in every triathlon I've done so far, so I didn't mind. In fact, it's kinda fun passing folks who are going about five to eight miles per hour slower than me. It's a bit dangerous, perhaps, but I'm confident in my bike handling given my history with bike racing.
During the bike, I moved up about 200 spots, but I was also passing people from previous waves and folks from the 140.6. It wasn't until the last 15 miles or so that I had open road. I started out a bit harder since I had to surge a lot and pass people and stuff, but it didn't affect me too much in the long run. The course was mostly flat, but there were a couple of rolling hills, a bit of stiff wind, some rough pavement, cars, and two or three steep kickers. I finished the bike in 2:22 (23.6 mph), which was the eighth fastest bike split of the day. I came into T2 in nineteenth place overall and third in my age group.
I knew that I had the ability to catch a lot of people on the run given my history as a runner. After transitioning in about 1:30, I was thinking that the first mile would be between 6:40 and 7:00. It was 6:10. I was feeling very relaxed and well within myself, though, so I didn't worry about it. I also have a lot of faith in my "running instincts"--that I am very good at perceiving how hard a particular effort should be, so I was confident that I was putting in the right effort. I actually thought that the mile marker might be off, because I just didn't think that a 6:10 off the bike should feel that easy. When I did the second mile in 6:14, I began to think that averaging around 6:20 was possible. That's what I kept in my mind the entire run. Even though I lost my running splits--my battery died in my watch about two hours after the run--most of the miles through the downtown Sandusky neighborhoods were between 6:05 and 6:20, depending on the aid stations. (I was speed-walking through them.) My fastest mile was mile eight or nine, a 5:54. That was around the time that I started to push, and I didn't have any aid stations in that mile. From that point on, I was under 6:10 for each mile, but I quit paying as much attention to each mile split.
As I had expected, I was chasing down a lot of people on the run. The fact that there were some out-and-backs on the run course helped me to pick out folks in front of me that I could run down.
Just past mile eleven, I felt a little twinge of a cramp in one of my calves, and I almost panicked. Fortunately, it held off, and I was able to catch a couple of other people, including the leader of my age group. I had no idea who he was at the time, and no idea where I stood in the race or in my age group, but that's just as well. I was just intent on catching people. The leader of the age group still had about 100 yards on me with a quarter-mile to go, and he didn't see me coming. I went past him with about 200 feet left in the race, just before entering the final chute. My run was 1:21:03, and was actually the fastest run of the day by about 3:00. I finished 5th overall.
Overall, the race was a good confidence builder. Even my transitions and nutrition were good. If I have a race in Cozumel like I did this past weekend, I feel like I'll be able to swim about 1:20, bike 5:00, and run close to 3:05. That would be sweet--around 9:30. That would put me in the running for a Kona spot. I'm not going to start planning for it yet, though. I'm going to keep my goal around 10:00 (1:30, 5:00, and 3:20), which would be like 30th in my age group in Cozumel. We'll see.
One last word about Rev 3, since I know that folks are really into the whole Rev 3 vs. WTC thing. Rev 3 did a great job of organizing and pulling off the race. Rev 3 is not the spectacle that Ironman is, but by the same token, it feels much less rigid. When my wife finished the full 140.6--in a thirty-minute PR and third in her age group!!--we were able to run across the line together. That was fun and very special. In addition, I sensed that they are more thoughtful. When there was a bunch of muck on the shore near the swim start on Saturday, they brought out bulldozers and cleared a lot of it. They provided ART therapists for the athletes before the race. At the post-race meal, they let families eat, too. At midnight, pros and amateurs together danced and waved glow sticks for the final finishers. In general, I felt less like a nameless amateur who was finishing a race and more like a respected athlete who was seeking a quality experience.
I also thought that Rev 3 handled the fact that the race fell on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 well. They mentioned it, had a moment of silence, and offered athletes the option of finishing with a flag (which, given how close my race was, I did not do). Given how politicized 9/11 remembrances have become over the past decade, I appreciated the fact that the importance of 9/11 was recognized, but I wasn't forced to take part in some nationalistic exercise.
I'm going to try to stay on top of my blog a bit more in the coming weeks as I begin the build toward Cozumel. I'm open to any advice as I continue to quickly step it up!