Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Next Big Challenge

As many of you know, on August 14, 2006 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. On that day, I became not a cancer victim, but a cancer survivor. I get to live my life today as the result of a lot of people.

When I was first diagnosed, I was afraid, unsure, wondering what was going to happen to me. I realized quickly that knowledge is power, and I went to sites like the American Cancer Society, The Testicular Cancer Research Center, and the National Cancer Institute. But the place I turned to first was the one that was most obvious for a cyclist with testicular cancer: The Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The LAF gave me a guide to tracking my cancer (FREE HERE!), resources, answers to my questions, and most importantly, immediate hope that I was a survivor. I realized I probably wouldn't win the Tour de France and I'm in love with Mrs. Fish so dating a rock star was out, but the hope that I could survive cancer was my light.

I fought cancer with everything I had, with the love and strength of my family, the devotion of my friends, the knowledge of my doctors and their staffs, and the experiences of the millions who have gone before me with this disease. My hope, my prayer is that one day we can live in a world without cancer. People ask where the money in cancer research has gone: less than 30 years ago, the testicular cancer I had was a death sentence. Now, because of research and science, there is a 95% survival rate.

That's why I have become a Team Captain for the LiveSTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia, this year. Team Fish or Cut Bait is riding out of Philadelphia on August 26th, a shade over one year from the day I became a cancer survivor. I would love it if you would become part of team Fish or Cut Bait. There are several ways you can do this.

First, you can ride WITH us. There are rides ranging from 10 miles to 100 miles, with options in between. You can go HERE and click Join Our Team at the top of the page. I would love it if you could join me in Philadelphia on that day!

Second, you can walk/run 5k as part of Team Fish or Cut Bait. Not everybody can ride 10 miles, so the LAF has a family walk option. Again, click HERE and go to the registration page to sign up as part of my team for the walk.

Third, you can support Team Fish or Cut Bait by MAKING A DONATION. There is an option, when you make a donation, to do so in someone's honor. It would be my honor to ride in the name of someone you love.

Thank you for the kindness, love and support you have always shown me. I have learned so much from my cancer experience. This is the one that occurs to me now: Find the courage you need to face your challenges, the strength you need to overcome them, and the dignity to do it with grace.

Blaze of Glory...

Jon "Blazeman" Blais died on Sunday. Unless you are a triathlete, you probably don't know who he is. He was a special education teacher who contracted ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. In 2005, he finished what is probably the greatest challenge know to man: The IronMan in Hawaii.

When I first became interested in Triathlons, I saw Jon's story and I knew I was hooked. What I realized, watching him, is that this sport is about more than overcoming adversity, more than pushing your body to new limits. It is about finding yourself.

Jon did. I am. I think his website gets it right: The world is a better place because Jon was in it. Godspeed, Blazeman.

Little Fish Wisdom

So I'm watching golf with my dad and Little Fish this weekend. A golf club commercial comes on for the latest-greatest driver-of-the-week. I asked Little Fish what she would name a new driver, designed to set the course on fire.

Without even missing a beat, she replied, "The Whip."

Awfully good. World, meet the next great advertising genius.

Triathlete Humor (Humour to our International Readers)

A man was out jogging in the forest one day when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me I'll turn into a beautiful princess." He bent over, picked up the frog, and put it in his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will tell everyone how smart and brave you are and how you are my hero." The man took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it, and returned it to his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I'll stay with you for a year and do ANYTHING you want." Again the man took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it, and put it back into his pocket.

Finally the frog asked, "What's the matter? I've told you I'm a beautiful princess, that I'll stay with you for a year and do anything you want. Why won't you kiss me?"

The man replied, "Look, I'm a Triathlete. I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is cool."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Got the Nerve? Race Report

Getting There
I woke up at 5 am without the alarm...it was a function of having a two glasses of wine with dinner (I don't think I'll do that again, though...) and going to bed early the night before (around ten o'clock). I had laid out my transition area, so I knew how everything should look and that I had everything. I stopped for a coffee on the way out at Tom's convenience store. I was going to stop at McDonald's, but thought there was more windows at the Tom's so I could see my bike while inside (drive-through at McD's was crowded and I thought it would be a good time to use the facilities quickly as well). Well the bathroom was great, but the coffee tasted like burned monkey butt. Today's thought: Plan your race, race your plan. If you plan on the known quantity of McDonald's coffee, go with that. It's a small thing, butt still, monkey-butt coffee is not the way to start race day.

It was a clear, warm early Summer day. I arrived at the site about 6.40 and off loaded my gear and bike. I walked down to the race area and was surprised by how crowded it was. That being said, it was also very well organized, with all of the volunteers knowing exactly how things should go, where people should be, and how to run things most efficiently. This race is organized by Chris Kaag, a retired US Marine, and his background shows in the way this event is run: Ship-top-shape all the way.

I work with a woman whose husband did a marathon last year. He got himself roped into when a friend of his said, "Why don't you come down and watch me?" So I was talking to Kurt about Got the Nerve and I said, "Why don't you come out and watch me." Game on. he e-mailed me back that he registered. Coolness. I was wondering, given how crowded it was, how the heck I was going to find him. I racked my bike, went to buy a race belt and walked back...and there was Kurt, standing at my rack, which also turned out to be his rack. Six-hundred competitors and his bike was racked 7 down from mine. Weird...but cool. So we talked about plans, and the race--I could tell he was stoked, a little nervous about the swim, but ready to go. I remembered the enthusiasm, anticipation and nervousness of my first race. I could have dispelled some of that for him, and debated it for a bit, then decided to let him be a little anxious--it's good for you. It keeps you sharp, and he was ready.

We gathered for the race instructions, but they were pretty much impossible to hear, like the teachers in Charlie Brown. "Wamp, wamp-wamp, wammmmmp." Yes, we'll swim and not drown. "Wamp wammp?" And bike safely. "Wamp-wamp, waaaaammmmmmp." And run until our legs fall off. As loud as it was for the pre-race discussion, when the Star-Spangled Banner was sung, the whole area fell into a hush so deep you'd swear you were in a Midwestern meadow with only the woman singing. It was beautifully done.

Then it was time to move off to the swim area, and like the gladiators of Rome we filed off single file through the cheering crowd to our arena: Mt. Gretna Lake.

The Swim
I braced myself for the water temperature, waded in and....it was WARM? What the...? I jumped in and swam out. It was still warm. Did I have a shot of brandy before starting? I didn't think so. So the water was actually warm, one guy said 74 degrees. Oh sweet mercy, this was the best news yet!

I had heard the swim was 500 yards, not 400 like previous years. That meant one of two things: either they had lengthened the swim, or they had mismeasured how far it was and now were making it right on the official card. It was, of course, the former. Also, it was in reverse direction this year. Oddly, neither of these developments fazed me. Kurt thought it was pretty funny, but I explained it was the Lance Effect. "Their just trying to Rob-Proof the course, make it harder so I don't win. You know, like an individual time-trial up Alpe d'Huez. They lengthen the swim because it's my hardest event."

After jumping in, I actually thought about going without my wetsuit. It's a Body Glove shortie (short-sleeved, short legged) and it restricts my arms a little at the top of the stroke, increasing my fatigue on the swim. Then I remembered: plan your race, race your plan. I left it on. I swam a bit to get the motion and felt REALLY confident and good: strong and smooth through the stroke. This was unusual, as I only had one day a week to practice, but I tried to make the most of those, focusing on form more than speed or power.

It was time for our heat to go, and we waded into the water. I put myself in the middle of the pack, a sign of how confident I was feeling, and the countdown began. The horn sounded and WE WERE OFF! The course was an inverted triangle, and I planned to go out easy to the first buoy, go up a notch on the top of the triangle and then see what I had left at the end. I started off nice and easy, but found myself staying with the pack. Was I going out too fast? I didn't think so. I just felt natural. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. I remember thinking to keep my chin down which leveled my body in the water, and also to use the entire stroke, and not waste anything (thanks Steve!). Stroke, stroke, breathe.

It occurred to me that I could learn to breathe bilaterally and do even better. I wasn't going to do it this time (plan your race, race your plan) but I have set it as a goal. I could get a more efficient and lengthy stroke between breaths. Next time! Until then: Stroke, stroke, breathe.

I turned around the first buoy and begin to swim across the top of the triangle. Then, I do the impossible. I begin to PASS people from the PREVIOUS HEAT (they started with a 3 minute head start)! I'm still freestyling and waiting for the fatigue to catch up, to kick in, to slow me down. Stroke, stroke, breathe. It doesn't come as I head for the last turn, where I will make my way back to the beach. Stroke, stroke, breathe. The bulk of my pack has pulled away from me, then I catch people from TWO HEATS ahead of me--they had a SIX-MINUTE head start! I am lean in the water, slippery, like a fish.

As I head for home, I still wonder where the fatigue is. It occurs to me that I will not falter. I will freestyle the entire 500 yards, finishing as a swimmer. Finally, I look down and see the bottom. I "site" the buoy and realize I have have 50 yards to go. I finish the swim, feeling like I could have done another 500 yards...easily. It is an INCREDIBLE feeling. I now realize I can be a strong swimmer, with work and practice.

I feel better about this swim than any I have had in my life. Ever.

Goal: 15.00
Actual: 13.04
Overall: 342/600
Age Group:40/53

Transition 1
I walked/ran to my bike. In the future, I will run faster, recognizing I have the ability to rest while I get my shoes, helmet, and glasses on. I eschewed (yes Eric, Good Word: +1 from Dr. Robert Johnson) socks and was glad I did--much quicker and no less comfortable. The run out for the bike was on the opposite end of where I was racked with my bike. They had assigned rack places this year and I drew the short straw. Whatever. I geared up quickly and got going.

It was then I heard my daughter yelling, "GO DADDY!" and my wife cheering for me. It's actually kind of cool to be able to pick out Mrs. Fish's voice, my daughter's. It's also amazingly uplifting. My mom and dad came in from Jersey to see the race and I heard my dad, and my mother's Irish brogue above the crowd screaming for me. It was amazing. I hopped on the bike and went.

Goal: 1.45
Actual: 2.00
Overall: 152/600
Age Group: 17/53

The Bike

The bike course offers a quarter mile downhill respite before Pinch Road. Pinch road offers and steep climb of more than 350 feet right after the swim. It is most decidedly not for the faint of heart. I was worried about this because with my new bike, I had a double chain ring in the front, instead of a triple which makes climbing hill a lot easier.

I was prepared to go to lactate threshold, a period identified by the buildup of lactate, most notably in the legs. The primary symptom of reaching LT is an intense burning like the brands of hell being applied directly to one's thighs. I was NOT looking forward to this, but had accepted it as my lot. I got up a good head of steam and hit the hill.

I started up, realizing that there is a flat spot about half way up, where you can catch your breath for about 15 feet. I hit it hard and my legs started to burn. I ground it out and reached the flat spot, feeling good about where I was. Then I attacked the last part of the hill, rising out of the saddle to adjust my position once, then settling in to the grind and the burn. It felt good. Bad. But good. If you ride, or work hard in anything you do, you know what I mean. if not, I could never even attempt to explain it.

I BOMBED THE BACK HALF OF THE HILL!!! I was flying...a later computer readout confirmed 51.8 miles per hour. The back of the ride was a blur. I passed and was passed. My legs felt dead on the ride, though. I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't seem to wake them up. It was so frustrating, because I knew I could be riding stronger than this. In hindsight, I would have spun as part of my pre-race routine. NEXT TIME! I needed to do something to make up time and ground.

I couldn't ride stronger, so I had to ride smarter. I developed a strategy of stalking riders on the rolling hills. I made up my mind to pass them on the downhill. Then I would attack a bit on the uphill, to separate myself further in an attempt to frustrate and demoralize them. It worked. I'm not patenting it, but I surely am remembering it. I was still lamenting my dead legs, though, this act of will notwithstanding.

At the end of the bike course are two hills, the first a sharp 200 foot climb, the second a long, slow climb of 150 feet over two miles. I realized I could make some ground on the competition by passing them on the hills. I hit the first hill and felt something. A zing. something in my legs came alive. It was GO TIME, BABY. I hit the hill like Lazarus, risen from the dead. I passed A LOT of riders on that hill, bombed the back side (40 and change), then got ready for the next steady climb.

There was electricity in my legs now. I looked to the right and saw a sign, nailed to a tree. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE it read. Inspirational to the average reader, but I knew the rest. Matthew 19.26: With God, all things are possible. I looked ahead and saw riders. I knew I was going to catch them--my stroke was clean, driving, lifting, circling in a clean, pure motion. I had found it. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. I passed a lot of riders on that hill. At one point I looked down and was doing 20 miles per hour. Solo. Uphill! I hit the last part of the downhill, then cruised into the transition area.

I can only wonder what my time would have been had my legs felt as good at the beginning as they did at the end.

Goal: 53.00
Actual: 49.40...18.1 miles per hour
Overall: 179/600
Age Group: 35/53

Transition 2
I had to dismount at the front of the area, then run all the way to the back in my cycling shoes. Totally teh suxxor, but still, it was what it was. Racked my bike, dropped down, shoes off, runners on, spritz the head with water and I was off.

Goal: 1.30
Actual: 1.25
Overall: 327/600
Age Group: 39/53

The Run

Linguine legs...only, not as bad as last year. The couple of bricks I did, I focused on fighting this off. I started off with the wobblies, but (TRAINING!!!) got my legs under me quickly. I made the exit from the T2 area and saw Nate from World Cup Ski and Cycle coming in. He had the strength to encourage me, and told me that I was almost done. In one sense, he was right, in another, soooo wrong. I was just getting started on the run, and it was HOT out.

There were the typical runners, and I knew they would pass me. They did. I was passed by a guy with a 44 (age) on his calf, and then a guy with a 39 on his calf. I determined to push a little and run with them, even though I knew I was running downhill the first half of the run. It's a tough course because it's an out and back rail trail; the first thirty steps in the trail portion look the same as every other step in the run, which made it hard to gauge just where I was.

I also knew Kurt, with his marathon background, was lurking back there somewhere. Shortly after I made the turn, Kurt was there. I wasn't hurting as bad as I thought I would be. I picked it up a little to stave him off a bit. It was just a matter of time, but I wanted to make him earn it. I saw a bright spot on the course, and I knew it was the opening that meant I was approaching the home stretch. Kurt still hadn't caught me.

I hit the tarmac, and I heard a voice behind me. "Rob. Triathlete." I knew it was Kurt. He passed me with about 600 yards to go. I ran on. I wanted to finish strong, finish well. I could see Kurt up ahead. Then, he did something inexplicable. He slowed down. I picked it up and ran up next to him. "Finish strong, brother," I said...as I passed him. He had a choice. Finish strong and work to pass me back, or quit and know that I beat him. He kicked it back and passed me. I didn't have enough in the tank to pass him again, but I'm glad I made him work. Well done, Kurt (DAMN YOU!!!).

As I was coming in to the last 400 yards, there were three guys. Two were in my age group, and the third was 28. "I can do this", I thought. I sprinted past the first guy, then the 28 year-old then the last guy, clearing them out at the end. I heard my daughter yell for her "DADDY!!!" as I finished. There is NOT a sweeter sound in the whole world.

By age group, my best event was the run. Huge ups to to my friend Scout who gave me the confidence that I could be a good runner. Now, I want to be a STRONG runner!

Goal: 29.59
Actual: 27.39...8.55/mile (Yeah Scout!!!!)
Overall: 241/600
Age Group: 32/53

Me, on the left, with my new nemesis, Kurt.

Goal: 1.41.13
Actual: 1.33.48
Overall: 213/600
Age Group: 35/53

This was my first race since being diagnosed with cancer (ironically, it occurred to me, somewhere on the course, that I was probably competing last year with full-blown testicular cancer...kind of crazy). It was my first race since getting run over in my hit and run by a pickup truck. It was my first real training-based raced, where I had prepared for my race by focusing my training. I have work to do, but I have done a lot of training, and worked through things that have debilitated or destroyed others.

All Things are Possible.

I want to do a longer race--Olympic distance. Next year, I'd like to do a Half IronMan. Two years from now, a full IronMan. I think I am building the foundation to do this.

What Would I Do Differently?
Not have two glasses of wine the night before competition.
Spin on my bike before the race.

Team Fish
I couldn't do this without my support team. First and foremost, a HUGE thanks to Mrs. Fish, who puts up with the alarm clock going off at 5.30 in the morning. And my late night runs. And my cycling. And my really strange eating habits. And who bought me the coolest bike jersey in my collection. I love you.

Big Thanks go to Little Fish, who is always encouraging, always smiling, and always out there screaming for her "Daddy!!!"

This year, I also have to thank Mom and Dad for coming up to cheer me on. It really meant a lot to have them here with me.
And thanks to all of you who have encouraged me, kicked me in the butt or just gave me a mad shout. My friends, family, church, work buddies and the BT and JP families.

It means the world to me.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Got the Nerve?

I have my triathlon tomorrow. I think I am ready. I've done a good job on the bike and put in some extra miles running. What? Oh, there's swimming, too? Huh. That could be a problem. Actually, I got over to the community pool a couple of times as well (they have community swim on Mondays only) and worked on my technique and pull a little, so I shouldn't drown. I say shouldn't because there has been an unusually long cold snap in this region of the country, and I know that water is going to be COLD. It's always been a little chilly, but I suspect this year will be something to behold.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Armed Forces Day

Just wanted to send a HUGE THANKS out to the men (including my friend Eric) and women of our Armed Forces--thank you so much!!!! Here's your flyover!

Pure Comedic Gold...

...if you like those safety films we "of a certain generation" were forced to watch...

Thursday, May 17, 2007


If it's wrong to think this is funny, I don't want to be right....

Friday, May 11, 2007

Morning Runs

I went for a run the last couple of mornings, very early. Things have started to change, with the season. It was warm enough to start the run in shorts yesterday, and I took off the long-sleeved shirt I was wearing when I got to the house, before my last loop and cool-down. Weird to be running in shorts and short sleeves, but it feels good.

Last night, we had violent storms. I think a neighbor's house actually got hit by lightning. All of the moisture from those storms sat, and made for a very soupy morning. It was a low-lying fog that made the air thick, thicker than it's been in a long time. I could feel its weight in my lungs. When cars drove by, the air held the exhaust, adding to the choking smell and feel of the morning. I also noticed that the early season flowers and trees, the magnolias that dotted my run and added to the aroma of my experience, have given way to the smell of tanbark and mulch. It's earthier, not altogether unpleasant, but I do miss the bright, airy, sweet smells of the magnolias in bloom.

On a brighter note, my azaleas are now in full bloom. Though I can't smell them, they're beautiful.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fashion Trifecta...

I hit the Fashion Trifecta at the Chinese Buffet tonight. He was wearing jorts and sporting a mullet (SEE ALSO) while she proudly hiked her jeans up under her bosom for the classic MOM JEAN LOOK. I honestly don't know how I am ever going to top it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


I liked this one as much for the music as the video.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


I did a brick yesterday, which in triathlon parlance means that I combined two events into a single workout, in this case a 21 mile bike ride with a 2.2 mile run. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I sometimes use these instances to pray, to seek a deeper understanding with God; I used to use it (a lot) for when I was angry, particularly with God.

Yesterday, my friends Kathy (with whom I went to Belarus) and Gene lost their 16-year-old son, Donald, in a one-car accident. The details are still sketchy. It was, apparently, the first time Kathy had let her son out of the house to go for a drive with his friends. Mere words alone cannot express what I am feeling and thinking, but I spent a lot of time on my run praying for them. If you are in the habit of praying, please take a moment to lift them up.

I also spent some time thinking and praying about Logan, the grandson of my friend Roger. Logan was born with Cerebral Palsy and a host of other medical complications. It has been a long and twisted road, but Roger's faith keeps him upright (I honestly don't know how he does what he does most days) as does his family's, and they inspire me. More so, Logan is a fighter. I kept seeing that "Little Guy" on yesterday's run, and every time I thought about quitting I remembered him and how hard he fights. He is back in the hospital this week because he wasn't able to eat on his own. He is starting to eat again and indications are he is going to be okay and is getting what he needs. But again, if you pray, take a moment to lift up Logan and his family.

Thinking about all of this, I picked up my pace. I hurt. I thought about Kathy's pain and Logan's fight, and asked God to give them understanding. He told me there would not necessarily be understanding, because there is no way to understand things like this. I asked Him for healing for Kathy and Gene and their family, and for continued strength for Logan and his family, and that seemed to be the right thing to be asking for. There were a lot of other things that I thought about, felt, said on this run. Anyway, this was a pain run, where I pushed hard, but the pushing felt good. The pain felt good.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tour de Donut...

A friend of a friend started The Veloist, a site that has video productions of and by cyclists, a place to talk about biking and some other cool features. My friend Q also sent along this video, of the Tour de Donut. Where do I sign up?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

12 Second Swim

I logged a 12 second swim in my training journal on Sunday. My neighbor Bob opened his pool, and I got the call, as per tradition, to Christen it. Here in Central PA, an April opening always means chilly water temperatures. This year's late season cold snap means it was even more so. So I donned my suit, grabbed my towel and walked over, knowing it was probably going to be a little extra chilly. I took a look at the pool. It just looked cold.

"Ummmm. Bob. What's the temperature in there?"

Mrs. Fish came over to witness the event/carnage and asked, "How cold is it?"
"Oh-my-GOD degrees," I said.
"Seriously," she asked.
I replied, "I was being serious....It's 46."
"Oh My GOD."

The bad thing is that part of the tradition is for a third neighbor, Joe, to come over and jump in with us. Joe was late, which gave Bob and me time to sit and think about it. And dip our toes in. And examine the bluish tinge they took on. Eventually, Joe showed up, much to the joy of my daughter, and he brought a shot of liquid courage, much to the joy of Bob and me.

Bottoms Up!

Another good shot of Little Fish, jumping in. She was amused by the whole thing, most specifically the stupidity of boys. This event never fails to confirm her suspicions about said stupidity.

I checked the water temperature again. It had warmed up to 46!


You'll have to take my word for three. Mrs. Fish didn't snap any pictures of us hitting the water or swimming back and forth across the pool. I think she was trying to locate the skimming net, in case she needed to fish one of our carcasses out of the ice bowl. I'm pretty sure it was one of my faster splits, and getting out of the pool, the first thing I mentioned was the temperature of the water: OH MY GOD!

Still, a good time was had by all, nobody died, and we had a couple of shots, so everyone retired a winner. Good day. See you again next April.