Monday, June 27, 2011

The end and the Begining

On Sunday at the Buffalo springs 70.3 race in Lubbock Tx, my vision quest came to an end. I worked very hard for nearly 6 months, but in the end it was not nearly enough to get the job done. I want to first thank everyone-- my friends, sponsors and especially my family for all the support along this journey.

When I made my goal/quest to come back to competitive triathlon racing after my second Heart surgery, I had convinced myself that if I worked hard enough I could be competitive again. I would then prove to myself and others that having your chest broke open a couple of times does not mean things have to be different. In retrospect I should of never came out with that goal. I knew that becoming ultra competitive again in triathlon would be very difficult. I just did not know how difficult. I should of realized that just coming back to healthy training and finishing triathlons would be enough of a challenge. But my perfectionism and hard headed-ness kicked in and I wanted more than that. I know that the first rule of setting goals is to make them achievable. However, I did not follow this rule. It became clear in Lubbock that my body did not allow me to reach these lofty goals. My competitive triathlon days are now officially over. And with this realization there comes a tremendous sense of relief. It is now time for a new beginning.

Race report:

Going into the race and for the past 6mo, I have worked as hard as I ever have, in my 20+ yrs of training for this sport. But now my engine is different, retooled with a transplant aortic valve and root, the way it feels to train and race is much different than ever before and not in a good way.

Before the race, Mike Pigg and I decided to take the pressure off of trying to compete at a high level and just stick to conservative Heart rate numbers throughout the race and have a clean day and finish. The last time a did Buffalo springs after my first Heart surgery I didn't finish the run and of course there was St.Croix. The plan was to swim very smooth and not stressed, stay at 130-135 on the bike and 135-140 on the run and finish feeling good.
I spent much of the past few weeks getting my head around this idea. I knew it was the right thing to do given the last few races and how inconsistent I felt in training/racing. With the weather on race day predicted to be over 100 degrees with wind, it made even more sense to be very conservative.

Before the race I was very calm and even though they grouped the 50+ group in with the 30-34 males I found a way to get away from the madness and have a relatively stress free swim, going 28 and change and never really pushing any HR effort. Coming out of the water I took my sweet time and got on the bike with the sole focus to stay at the 130-135 number and concentrate on hydration and nutrition.

All my career I have always hammered the bike and for most of the past 20+years this was my strength in the sport and how I became competitive in races, so it was hard to let tons of folks pass me on the bike. But I did-- even though it was very hard to keep the HR down to the 130 number with the heat and wind and I found myself riding more at 135 instead. this probably cost me a bit in the last 5-10 miles as we hit a pretty stiff headwind and what was a relatively easy ride to that point became tougher. My split was 2;42 and that pretty much sucks. On to the run and with the heat rising up into the triple digits, it was really hard to keep the HR down, so I used the walk through the aid station technique, ice in the hat, etc.... typical death march stuff and actually felt pretty good the last 4miles and ran most of it without walking. My split on the run was 2hrs not exactly stellar either but I finished. My time would end up being 5:16 placing 7th in my age group. I ranked 7th in every discipline. At the finish I felt physically pretty good, no gut bomb, no medical tent, no blisters( i did wear socks) a clean race( albeit slow as ass) But one thing was for sure, I was done with racing Triathlon. I had once placed 2nd overall in this race back in 1995 in a time of 4:18 almost an hour faster than I did on Sunday. Just another stark realization of my deterioration and inability to race competitively on a national level again.

I am proud of fighting myself back to this point. The work has been brutal. I think that in the end I realize that for me to get more competitive in this sport I would have to spend even more time, maybe even years of many hours of aerobic training in order to acclimate my system to become more efficient at lower HR numbers. And even if I did so, I may still not get to that level again. This is something I am not willing to put me or my family through any more.

when I started racing triathlon in the late 80s it was fun, I had no expectations and it felt good to get in shape after being fat and out of shape by having a desk job. The next few years from 87-93 I had fun with the sport. I enjoyed going to races, talking smack and planing the training with the guys. There was camaraderie, we had a good group of guys to train with, there was no coaches or numbers to adhere to, just chase each other around as hard as possible. those were the days. It was hard but it was fun to compete on a day to day basis

then in 1993 I started to win races and with that came the expectations and pressure to be good in every race. This made the sport less and less fun. My relationships turned stressed and it was only about living up to the expectations of doing better or at least as good as before. There was Ironman Hawaii, Nationals, ect... I didn't like what I had become as a person, I was focused completely around the sport and I was so very selfish. Competition was the focus in my life and it became my identity. There was so many sacrifices and mistakes I made through those years. I can honestly say that the only real positives that came out of that period was meeting my wife Sarah and a few good friends as well as developing my fitness business.

Starting in 2003 I became more removed from the sport of triathlon when Sarah and I moved to Montana. I exercised the 3 sports just for health and fitness and without a whole lot of structure. Again i started to enjoyed the sports. You see in Montana triathletes are not super prevalent and folks enjoy activity in many modes and don't take themselves so seriously about any of them. I put very little pressure on myself to be very good in these years.

Then the heart surgeries changed everything in my life both mentally and physically. I did not want heart surgery to limit me in any way. So I fought hard to come back. Fast forward to this latest comeback. By trying to be competitive like before I found myself again getting selfish, absorbed in the training/racing and basically a pain in the ass to live with. Going to the big races and seeing the competitive athletes made me want to be good again. It was like in the godfather-- "I try to get out but they pull me back in" But at these races I also realized that I was not into the triathlon scene anymore. I found it more and more nauseating.

I also know that my training had become a stress on my family and friends. My wife Sarah has been super understanding during this period but it has not been easy on her. I am very sorry to have put her through this struggle. I love her so very much. And my kids( Chloe and Cale) are the lights of my life and during this whole thing it has weighed heavily on me that I have spent so much time away from them while training and racing. Now that it is over I am very excited to spend time playing with my kids in the dirt again!

After the Race, I was in the car and driving back to Montana within 45min of my finish. I do believe that I won the open heart surgery division + driving 16 hrs straight after a 70.3 race, all I can say is thank god for 5 hr energy! On the drive I had a great conversation with Mike Pigg for about an hour. He has been great in the past couple of months counseling me in my training and in Life. We talked about how finishing was a good thing and that I had done it right by racing aerobic and feeling good at the finish without incident. He also remarked that he didn't understand how anyone with a family trained for Ironman. He told me that if he had a family when he raced that he could not have done it. I think he has got that right.

We also discussed how to approach my post racing period. here are some of the suggestions that Mike made when I asked him how he approached his transition from racing. The following is some of the advice that Mike gave.

1. No more structure, Have fun when you exercise and mix it up with what you feel like doing on that day.

2. take days off when you feel like it

3. its ok to gain 10 pounds but not 20 lbs. if that happens just cut back on the beer and ice cream and eat more protein and vegetables.

4. plan exercise with your kids and your wife, make movement a family outing. Mike recently went out for 3hrs with his 14 yr old son on a tandem. He said that it was great to spend that time taking, moving and seeing the countryside. killing 2 birds with one stone

5. go out and train with friends and/or clients. Go as slow as you want, make exercise more social.

6. Its ok to enter a 5k or bike race and go as hard as you want, just make sure you don't have any expectations

7. look down the road to things like coaching your kids in sport or activity

8. stay fit enough to keep up with your kids when you get to be 60,70,80 yrs old

9. play more golf

10. spend more time at the cabin, hiking, biking and playing in the woods with the family.

so today I will start a new phase in my life without triathlon racing. Is this failure in my quest hard to swallow? sure it is. but with every end there is a new beginning and this quest fortunately has no clock.



  1. Jay, reading your post about your last Triathalon brought tears to my eyes. Your candor and gut level honesty is nothing less than the strongest and most courageous way to express what you are going through. To fully realize that your motivations have shifted on the deepest level, from being self-centered to being other-oriented, namely family and loved ones, and then to own it so cleanly is more difficult than any Triathalon could ever be! Only the strongest of men among us can face life's challenges with such open and honest humility. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all! We wish you and your family much joy, love and happiness!
    Elizabeth Klarich

  2. Hi Jay, Your realization of your athletic endeavors is honest and a good switch of energy towards your family. Looking back at your blogs, I feel that you did not give yourself or your heart enough time to heal and rest after your major surgery. One year after my second open-heart surgery, I was super tired after doing two consecutive mtn bike ride workouts. So much more tired than I remember. This was hard on me after being the XTERRA National Champion two years in a row and winning national collegiate championships in my twenties, among other races. It was difficult to switch gears from training to race to just working out to be fit. My doctors from the Mayo Clinic told me that it would be at least two years before I started feeling better athletically. Over time my heart got stronger and I felt better. In fact, I was riding hills in the middle chain ring that I never could do before. The Mayo Clinic fixed my mitral and tricuspid valves since I was going into congestive heart failure at the age of 39 due to major congenital birth defects. I feel thankful everyday since that surgery and even more thankful that I can get out and enjoy mountain biking, swimming and even runnning. I have not competed in triathlons since before my heart surgery, but may again someday. I have done a couple of open-water swim races as they are less stress and less time involved. My goals have changed. I place some of my energy on helping my freinds develop their skills in the pool and watching them get faster! I have no children due to the severity of the congenital birth defects- I wish! Anyways, I hope that more time with your family allows you the time to heal, relax and define your motivations in life. Best wishes. Karen LeFebre; XTERRA Wild Horse Creek

  3. Jay, In the 80's or now it's all about the people you touch, and the journey NOT THE OUTCOME. Sure the result is special, the recognition, the accolades --- but who really cares? Your quest, your adventure, your next goal will touch people's lives. I don't do this for me... never have have. It gives value and merit to what we do, and to be honest it's just cool to be "me". Be strong, make a difference and touch everyone you can. You just never know know when that little thing matters.
    For one afternoon, and only one, you made a difference to my son (he's now 25) and he remembers today that afternoon at the track when you busted his ass... It's all in the journey, and your story is far from being over!!
    Be fun.
    -Mike Z