Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why there should be no place for Lance Armstrong in the public sphere

Last week it was announced that Lance Armstrong will be participating in a triathlon.  The immediate message from the racing series Rev3tri was that this race was under the control of their charity partner Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, and that neither Rev3tri nor Armstrong was going to be paid any money from this event.  As if, how can you possibly disagree with any decision that will raise money for young adults with cancer!

Here is where the case against Armstrong is currently.  Less than a month ago Armstrong gave up his fight against the agency responsible for drug testing of US athletes in hundreds of sports - USADA.  His reasoning was that after over a decade of fighting he simply came to the conclusion that "enough is enough."  He felt like the arbitration process was unfair to him and that USADA was out to get him in an "unconstitutional witch hunt."

I'll leave it to the legal experts to discuss the details of the USADA process - but, a federal judge did throw out his case against USADA just before Armstrong gave up his fight.  So - according to the US legal system - the arbitration process that Armstrong signed onto as a professional cyclist and triathlete is fair.

The outcome of Armstrong ending his fight with USADA is that he has a lifetime ban from all cycling and triathlon competitions.  He can't even coach or be part of the management of a professional cycling team.  So how is he able to race at a Rev3 event - a company that is trying to position itself as a rival to Ironman events?  The event can no longer be an official USAT (the official governing body of the triathlon in the US) - which means they had to find alternative insurance for the event and anyone who was racing the event to get USAT points is now out of luck.

But it's all for the kids with cancer!  Some things are bigger than doping!

Just doing a brief count - I have known at least 7 close relatives or friends who have had cancer.  I even had a teammate and friend in college who died of cancer when he was in his Junior year at the age of 21.  He was just a year younger than me.  He was one of those people who you knew would have done a lot of good in this world. His name was Sean Earl - the Loyola cross-country invitational is now named in his memory.

Since Armstrong gave up his fight in August there have been many articles asking whether he is a villain or a hero - or maybe both.  Rick Reilly of ESPN came down solidly on the hero side.  He even asked people all over to wear yellow the Friday after this all went down in honor of Armstrong.
Nice sentiment - but I think that people who think this way are not understanding the depths of lying, threatening, and slandering that Armstrong has done over the last 20 years to keep the truth from coming out.  So which Armstrong is the real Armstrong?

I was listening to This American Life on NPR a few months ago.  They were talking about a psychological measurement on sociophathic disorder.  They talked about how many sociopaths live very normal lives.  CEO's even score higher on the scale than the average person.  Here is a list of common behavioral traits of sociopaths (from  -  checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self
    Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."
  • Pathological Lying
    Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
    A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions
    When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation
    Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
    Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
    Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
    Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
    Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
    Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
    Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

  • Other Related Qualities:
    1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
    2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
    3. Authoritarian
    4. Secretive
    5. Paranoid
    6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
    7. Conventional appearance
    8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
    9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
    10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
    11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
    12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
    13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
    14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
    15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world
     Now - I don't know Armstrong's sexual proclivities or whether he got in trouble as a child.  I also don't think that he's a parasitic individual or has stated that its his goal to rule the world - but the rest seems to fit pretty well.

    Being a sociopath also explains how he could both ruthlessly manipulate teammates into keeping this doping secret and at the same time create a huge organization committed to fighting cancer.  Both of these activities had the same goal - to show his greatness to the world. 

    He has used the raw emotions of people with cancer for 20 years in order to "seek out situations where his behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired."  That is sick.

    All of this always has been and always will be about Armstrong.  Cancer fundraising won't collapse with Armstrong out of the public eye.  Foundations will continue to thrive - hospitals will continue to flourish.  People give money for cancer research because they have intimate experience with the disease - not because of Lance Armstrong's "character."

    I will always remember that when Lance Armstrong was at his lowest - Rev3tri partnered with him and helped him to improve his image.  Overall they seemed like a pretty cool racing series - but, I know that I'll never race at one of their events.  They say that they are all about the athlete.  Just think about the pro's (some who have spoken out against Armstrong) having to race past the "Go Lance!" signs.  Think how that will make them feel about how seriously the public takes their health and safety.  The message is clear - dope up - and maybe one day the fans will be holding up signs with your name.


    Monday, September 10, 2012

    The Joy of Sisyphus

    The day in Madison started with a checklist.  Hand in special needs bags.  Check air in bike tires.  Put bottle of Gatorade on bike.  Check on transition 1 bag.  Turn on myathlete gps.  Check on transition 2 bag.  Get body marked.  Apply body glide. Put on wetsuit.  Turn in morning clothes bag.

    For a runner who only recently transitioned into triathlons I'm still not used to all the rigmarole associated with the sport, but I was able to make the rounds with plenty of time to spare.  I had heard the entrance to the swim is narrow - and that some people who wait too long find themselves just getting into the water as the cannon booms.  So, I went into the water just a few minutes after it opened up at 6:30am. 

    I had almost 30 minutes in the water before the race start, but with the buoyancy of the wetsuit you actually don't have to expend much effort to stay afloat.  I tried to channel my grandfather who could float on his back in his pool.  He was so relaxed that sometimes he would even fall asleep.

    As I calmly treaded water - I noticed I kept getting pushed out to the center of the lake by a current.  The effect of the current was that the 50 meters closest to the red buoy (marking the inside of the course) was packed with people.  About 5 minutes before the start I found myself in that mess.  There were people bumping into me on all sides.  Thank goodness I'm not claustrophobic, but I knew that I needed to at least try to find a less congested area.  I waded my way through people towards the shore and within 25 meters it thinned out.  At the start I was about 4th row from the front and nobody was within an arms length of me.

    The announcer yelled "Today you will be an Ironman!" - we all cheered and about 30 seconds later we were off.  My last minute positioning change was key.  Yes, I certainly bumped into a few people at the beginning, but I didn't get any hard elbows or kicks.  In fact, there were only two incidents in the entire swim that were scary.  On the first turn (the turns are always more crowded) I got a pretty firm kick to the goggles and I also took in a bunch of water down the wrong tube a little later on.  Trying to cough out water from your trachea and swim at the same time is not exactly fun. 

    I didn't check my watch the entire swim.  I decided it would mess up my rhythm and I might not like what I saw.  So, I was completely surprised and overjoyed to see 1:03 and change coming out of the water.  To put this in perspective, in June I swam over 40 minutes for the Kansas 70.3 (half the distance of an Ironman).  To be fair - the conditions were pretty bad at Kansas.  The temperature of the water meant that we couldn't wear wetsuits and there was a 20 mile per hour wind - which resulted in 2-3 foot whitecaps and a pretty brutal cross current. 

    It was such a poor showing though that I decided I needed a coach to help me with my stroke.  Luckily the president of our local triathlon club also coaches a few of the athletes with swimming - so, he agreed to meet with me once per week.  He completely overhauled my stroke.  At first there was so much to think about that I was really uncomfortable.  But slowly I started to put it together - and the results are undeniable.  Thanks Jim!

    Inside my mind I was jumping up and down at this point - but I tried to stay calm - I mean, I did have close to 9 hours left to go!  Madison is unique in that the transition areas are actually in the Monona Terrace building (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright).  The first transition is very long.  You have to make your way up a helix that is usually for vehicles to get to the parking lot.  The entire helix was filled with people cheering. 

    As you enter the building they direct you to the room with your gear for the bike.  You pick up your bag and then make your way to the male changing tent.  In the changing tent there are people waiting to help you with whatever you need.  I took off my swimsuit and applied sun block - which stung a bit because the wetsuit tends to rub you raw in a few places.

    The bike was relatively uneventful for the first 40 miles or so.  My goals had been 1:15 for the swim, 5:30 for the bike, and 3:00 for the run with 15 minutes for transitions etc for a total of 10 hours.  Since I was over 10 minutes faster on the swim than planned I was pretty relaxed at the beginning of the bike.  Although some people had told me to delay taking in gu's on the bike, I decided to load more of my calories early on the bike.  Overall my nutrition plan was to take in one gu every 30 minutes and a bottle of Perform per hour (basically gatorade with more salt) with water as needed.  I figured that since I had no calories during the swim that I should over compensate for the first few hours of the bike.  Instead of gu's every 30 minutes I took gu's (100 calories per) every 20 minutes for the first 2 hours of the bike.

    The bike course is a stick and loop.  From Madison you make your way 16 miles to Verona where you begin a 40 mile loop - which you do twice before heading back to Madison.  Madison is known for having the second hardest bike course of any Ironman race in the U.S.  There are courses with longer hills - but there isn't a course with more consistent hills coming one after another.  Although there are hills all along the course there are three hills in particular that are infamous.  People even drive out, or take buses, to cheer people up the hills.  It's like a Tour de France atmosphere - with people in weird costumes - sometimes even running alongside the cyclists.

    The oddest thing I saw was actually on the second lap.  About a mile a way from one of these hills I heard some strange horn noise - I looked over to the side of the road - and there in the bushes was a man dressed as a clown squeezing a clown horn with a very strange smile on his face.  I'm still not sure whether I just imagined the whole thing.

    On my first lap I felt good - I powered my way up the hills pretty easily - making sure to stay in a small gear.  On the top of each hill I would quickly change to my big chain ring to take full advantage of the downhill.  On the 3rd hill I just made it over the top - as I tried to change gears I hear the sound of metal snapping.  I looked down in horror to see the picture below.  My front derailleur was split in two.

    I had a good minute or two of panic - but then I quickly accepted my predicament.  There was a very small likelihood that the bike tech support on the course would have a front derailleur - and even if they did it would take more time to fix it than I would probably lose being restricted to my small chain ring.  I even tried to tell myself that it might be a good thing.  "On a course like Wisconsin that big chain ring can only get you into trouble!" I tried to convince myself.  This happened around mile 50 - so, I had over 60 miles to go with my bike in this condition.

    On the flat and slight downhills I got passed constantly.  On the uphills I would pass people and on the steep downhills I didn't lose much time.  Overall though it was a little depressing - to know that I was getting passed because I didn't have my big chain ring was frustrating.  There wasn't much use in getting too upset - I still had a marathon to go - and since running is my strongest event - I figured I would pass most of them back. 

    The only really scary moment on the bike involved a dog.  People - why do you bring dogs you can't control to a bike race?!  Did we learn nothing from the Tour de France this year?  I was heading down a decent hill on a wooded stretch of road at ~30 mph when I saw a loose ~70 lbs Dalmatian sprinting in my direction on along the right side of the road.  I veered toward the middle of the road and put on my brakes a little - just then one of the people with the luxury of having a big gear was passing me.  I didn't mean to - but I veered into her line - and without some good bike handling on her part we probably would have both gone down.

    Having survived the dog my main concern now was a flat tire.  I had a string of flats in the late spring this year.  I think I was over inflating my tires - but, how often it happened certainly was in the back of my mind.  To make me even more paranoid the front race wheel that I had borrowed from a friend somehow went flat during my drive from Omaha.  Luckily I had brought my regular wheels in case something happened.  My road bike with clip-on aerobars, an aero race wheel on the back, and a regular training wheel on the front probably looked a little ridiculous compared to what everybody else was riding.

    I limped my way back to Madison - coming in at 5 hours and 38 minutes - 8 minutes off of my goal.  Considering I was missing my big chain ring for half the race it wasn't awful.  Plus, I was feeling fresh from my forced coasting (there was no reason to pedal over 24 mph) and a little pissed from getting passed so often.  I also knew that I had a little bonus time from my swim.  At the start of the run I was at 6 hours and 55 minutes.  I needed to run a 3:05 marathon to meet my goal time.  Since my PR is 2:32 at Boston and Madison is a relatively flat course - I felt like that was doable.

    I decided to not look at my watch the first few miles of the run.  I just wanted to get into a rhythm.  The first mile is almost completely downhill - although it's a gradual downhill - pretty much perfect for running fast.  I was passing people pretty quickly.  I finally looked at my watch at mile 4 - I was under 24 minutes.  It took me a second to do the math - but I soon realized I was well under six-minute pace.  I was feeling good - but I knew that was probably a little quick - so I dialed it down a notch.

    The marathon course is two loops.  I knew that I would be one of the better age-group marathons of the day.  At Kansas I had the 7th fastest run of the day - 2nd fastest non-pro.  I thought I would stack up around the same place with the top pro's going about 10 minutes or so faster than me.  I had no expectation that I would be going at a faster pace than the leader.

    Although it seems stupid looking back - that's why I didn't realize that I passed the leader on the Observatory Hill.  The official on the bike or the police motorcycle probably should have clued me in - but, I was kind of in mental autopilot.

    The first thing I noticed was that more people seemed to be shouting my name.  I did have my name on my bib - I had heard a few people yell - "Go Benjamin!" early on in the run - since I go by Ben I knew they must be reading my bib.  Then I hear someone yell "Go Ben!" - only it was from so far away that there was no way he could have been reading my bib.  I thought - well, I know a few people who are spectating - they must know me - so I waved back in their direction.

    Finally I put two and two together.  I ran past some college girls - and they said - "hey, they're both named Ben!" - then the bike came by and said "Lead runner coming through!".  I thought - I'm an idiot.  The guy I passed on the hill was in the lead - and apparently his name is Ben. It turned out to be Ben Hoffman - a top pro.  As he passed he muttered something under his breath - he was probably wondering what the hell I was doing waving at people cheering for him.

    I decided to back off - I didn't want to impede him.  So, I just ran about 10 feet behind him.  I heard the lead bike radio-in that we were hitting 6:30's per mile - which was fine with me.  It also gave me someone to key off of - which makes keeping a pace much easier.  Around mile 22 for him (about mile 9 for me) - he started to slow.  I read an article today that he started to get some cramping around this point. 

    I still wanted to keep my pace - and I started to overtake him, but I felt a little foolish for taking so long to recognize that he was winning the freaking race - and waving to people who were cheering for him - so, I decided to make a joke.  As I passed him I said - "if you take over 5 hours and 30 minutes on the bike - the run is much easier."  I think he chuckled.  I then sheepishly added - "my name is Ben too" - trying to explain why I was waving to fans clearly cheering for him.

    He rode 4 hours and 38 minutes for the bike - a full hour faster than me.  The pace he averaged on a hilly course over 112 miles I would be lucky to average over 10 miles on a flat course.  Truly amazing.

    The rest of the run went relatively smoothly.  I took perform, water, cola, and wet sponges at pretty much every stop - which are about once per mile.  I took a few chomps and one or two gu's.  The cola and perform seemed to keep my calorie count up sufficiently - plus I think my frontloading of calories on the bike probably helped.

    Being a good runner in a triathlon is awesome.  Good swimmers do their thing away from the crowds and then have to get passed the rest of the race.  Good bikers also usually don't have many people to cheer them on - and even if they do - most spectators probably can't tell the difference.  By the time I was on my second lap I was passing people on their first lap who were shuffling or even walking.  It was especially fun near the bars - people seemed to pick up on the fact that I was running pretty strong - kids wanted to give me a high five - it was awesome.

    I did have a tough spot around mile 21 - but by mile 23 I was thinking - "I just have a 5k - I can do anything over 5k".  With a mile to go I found myself very emotional.  I was going to make my goal of 10 hours with over 10 minutes to spare.  I was also going to kill my 3 hour goal in the marathon.  Over the last mile you start thinking about everything that has led you to this point.  You think about people who have inspired you, people who support you, people who have taught you things that made it possible to accomplish your goals on this day.  Over 20 years of racing I've never found myself choked up during a race until yesterday - that's why the Ironman is special.

    In his book The Myth of Sisyphus, the philosopher Albert Camus discuses how the myth of the man forced to roll a rock up a mountain for perpetuity speaks to the absurdity of life.  In very stark terms Camus says there are several ways to react to the absurdity of life, but the only one that allows us to accept this absurdity and still see life as meaningful was "revolt".  The revolt happened not by overthrowing whatever power forced Sisyphus to roll that rock everyday - but rather by embracing his effort.  Camus wrote - "the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

    The transformative effect of the Ironman is that you become Sisyphus in a very tangible way.  Over the months of training you are rolling a rock up a hill everyday - sometimes with friends - but many times all by yourself.  On race day it might be a bigger hill and a bigger rock - but there is a great amount of joy to be found in all the people supporting you along the way - family, friends, and mostly strangers.  You don't have to imagine Sisyphus as happy - in the Ironman you find his smile on your lips.

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    One week to my first Ironman

    It really feels weird typing that.

    One week from today I will most likely be an Ironman.  I say "most likely" because complete confidence in an ironman only invites the wrath of the gods.  That being said - I feel like I'm in as good of shape as I could have hoped in order to have a successful day next Sunday.  What does successful mean?  Let's go through each discipline.

    The Swim

    The swim is a mass start - meaning that all ~2800 participants start the race at once.  From what I hear there is only a small entrance into the water - which means that you should try to get in around 20-25 minutes before the start of the race.  Yes, you might have to tread water for awhile (or hold onto a kayak) but it's worth it to be in better position.  I've also heard that the majority of the time you should expect to be slowed down by the people in front of you.  Periods of swimming in open water are few and far between.  To emphasize this there is a tradition of everyone yelling "Moo!" as they go around the first turn - feeling like cattle. 

    I think the key is to not get too excited at the start of the swim.  It's a long day and I'm not the fastest swimmer anyways.  Better to go with the flow and remain calm during the first few minutes of "washing machine" craziness.  My goal for the swim is 1 hour and 15 minutes - which is pretty much in the middle of the pack. 

    Transition 1 and the bike

    If I do come in around 1:15 I'll have a lot of company.  My plan is to let the wetsuit strippers help me ( you basically flop down on the ground with your legs in the air and they literally strip off the wetsuit for you).  However I've been told that there might be a line - so, I'll have to play it by ear - I can always try to take it off myself while I'm hopping along in line.  The Wisconsin Ironman is a little different than most in that you have to run/jog/walk up a parking structure "helix" to get to transition.  I don't exactly want to be hitting V02 max at this point - so, I'll have to be ok with a few "motivated" people passing me.

    The dressing rooms are in convention halls that are part of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace.  Instead of wearing the same thing all day I'm going to go with comfort - I'll be wearing my normal bike shorts and a plain red/white cycling jersey with deep pockets in the back.  I most likely will put on some sunscreen as well.

    The bike course is a 16 mile stick out to a 40 mile loop that you ride twice.  The first part of the bike is technically a no-passing area - so, again I will need to just keep my cool.  The bike course is generally rolling with a few "climbs".  I am so glad that I rode the course back in June.  I've seen everything except for the first/last six miles of the course.  As many people say - it's a course where you are constantly making choices.  I'm going to be paying close attention to my pedal rpm's - I'm most efficient ~90 rpms - much less than that and I should down shift.  There will be at least 3-4 times per loop where I'll be in my small ring.  It's not worth killing yourself up the hills - much better to sit back and spin up them.  Again - this requires a certain amount of patience - especially if you're getting passed by people.  But again - the mantra of the first half of the bike should be - "they'll come back to me on the run".

    As for nutrition I'm planning on taking gu's every 30 minutes and downing a bottle of perform (similar to gatorade) plus some water every hour.  The aid stations are every 15 miles - which means I should be hitting them every 45-50 minutes - so, I should never be getting too low on my perform.  I will put some gu's on my belt and in the jersey pockets - but I'm also going to pick them up on the course.  This seemed to work out fine at the Kansas 70.3.

    Even though the swim is going to be scary - I'm most worried about some kind of technical problem on the bike.  I'm going to be using some borrowed racing wheels that have tubular tires.  These tires are tough - but they are also glued on to the rim of the wheel - which means if you flat your day is done unless you can get a replacement wheel.  I've also had some issues with skipping gears when I'm shifting etc.  I took my bike to a shop yesterday and they tuned it up the best they could - so it should be fine - but there's always the chance something weird could happen. 

    My goal for the bike is 5 hours and 30 minutes.  I went 2:35 at Kansas - so, I feel like that's doable. 

    Transition 2 and the run

    If I make it to the end of the bike relatively unscathed I'm going to be a happy guy.  The run is my strongest discipline and there is much less that is out of my control.  The second transition is a little quicker.  Everybody will be more spread out and you don't have quite as far to travel.  I'm going to change into a running singlet, running shorts, and training shoes.  Again - the name of the game at the beginning of the run will be patience.  There are huge crowds in Madison on the run course.  I just need to get into a rhythm. 

    The run course is very flat.  There is one little rise on Observatory - but, it will only feel like a hill if I'm really hurting.  The course is on a mixture of roads, paved and gravel trails.  You even do a lap of the football stadium during each loop.  I've been told that the constant changing of surfaces can mess up your rhythm a little - but I don't think it should be too bad.

    My goal for the run is 3 hours.  Yes, that seems a little quick - maybe even foolishly quick.  But I have a lot of confidence in my running right now. 

    So what does that add up to?  1:15 swim + 5:30 bike + 3:00 run + ~15 minutes for transitions/bathroom breaks etc = 10 hours.

    When I signed up for this race a year ago Kendra was in the middle of interviewing for the job in Omaha.  I picked Wisconsin because I knew Omaha would be a good place to train - regardless of what you may think Omaha is hilly.  It's not like the plains of central and western Nebraska - it's in the Missouri River Valley.  I also knew that this summer was going to be a relatively quiet time - I was between taking pre-reqs for physician assistant school.  So I had a lot of time to train.  In fact I'll probably never have that much time to train ever again.  In some ways I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life AND I don't have any nagging injuries for the first time in a long time.

    I'm ready.