Ironman 70.3 Ohio

After completing my first Ironman 70.3

After completing my first Ironman 70.3

Well I did it. I mentioned in my previous post that it had always been a dream of mine to compete in a triathlon. I completed my first Sprint distance triathlon last September and wanted more. I was out of shape and rocking a dad-bod. This challenge was twofold. It would help me get in shape and it would help me accomplish some of my life goals. That was what I thought initially, but it ended up being so much more.

The four most common distances in Triathlons are:

Sprint: Swim .47 miles, Bike 12 miles, Run 3.1 miles
Olympic: Swim .93 miles, Bike 25 miles, Run 6.2 miles
(Ironman)70.3: Swim 1.2 miles, Bike 56 miles, Run 13.1 miles
(Ironman)140.6: Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles

As I mentioned earlier, I did a Sprint distance race last September. I had just bought my bike earlier in the year and I thought that race was rough! I signed up for an Olympic distance race at the end of June this year, but unfortunately, the swim portion of the race was canceled due to flooding. I still competed in the duathlon, but felt like it wasn’t a full race.

I had signed up for the Ironman 70.3 Ohio back in December of 2016. At that point I had only one Sprint under my belt and I thought my sanity had lapsed. One of the things that this experience has taught me was discipline. I’ve never been a particularly disciplined person. My friends know that I am more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” type. I was so nervous about my race, that all of that changed. I started planning each and every week around my training schedule. I said no to plans on Saturday mornings that would interfere with my long workouts. I left events early so that I could get to bed on time. This experience really changed me in ways beyond fitness.

Ironman 70.3 Timing Chip

Ironman 70.3 Timing Chip

When July 30th, 2017 (Race Day) finally came. I had an odd sense of calm. I woke up before my alarm went off at 4am and started getting ready. Coffee was already waiting for me downstairs and I ate a nice breakfast before heading to the race start. We had to be out of T1 (Transition 1, swim to bike) by 6:45am, but my wave didn’t start until 8:12am. So I had a lot of time to kill. I hit the porta-potties multiple times and made friends with some of the more veteran triathletes.

As my wave time neared, I put on my wetsuit and got ready. (I was very happy they announced at 5am that the race would be wetsuit legal by .2 degrees!) I assumed that I would be part of the slow group. So I lined up in the very back. This was my first mistake of the race. Swimming in a huge group is difficult enough, but trying to maneuver around people and pass them is even more difficult. After the first turn, the swim headed directly into the sun. This made it almost impossible to see the buoys. So my swim was all over the place and added a couple hundred extra yards to my 1.2 mile swim.

When I ran up the beach into T1, it was already mostly empty due to how late my wave was. I hopped on my bike and took off for the 56 mile bike ride. The weather felt great and I had remembered to actually kick my legs during the swim. So they were warmed up for the bike. This was my first experience with biking aid stations. Trying to grab a water bottle from someone while you are going 15 mph on a bike can be pretty difficult. Luckily, I didn’t wreck! I started to feel a little fatigue in my legs around mile 46, but pushed on. At mile 50 while going down a big hill, my chain popped off. I had to pull off to the side and put it back on. I quickly finished the last 6 miles and headed into T2.

As I sat down to put my shoes on at T2, I was already tired and I could feel the mid-day sun blasting down on me. It had gotten hot and the temperature was almost 90. The run was brutal with very little shade and I hit a wall at mile 2. I had to run-walk the rest of the half marathon and was disappointed in myself. The run seemed to drag on forever at my slow pace, but the other athletes were so encouraging. Everyone I saw was also doing a run-walk due to the heat. When I finally was on the last mile heading back to the stadium, I got a second wind. I knew my family was waiting to cheer me on and when I finally saw them my heart soared. I sprinted around the stadium track to finish.

A wave of relief washed over me. I almost felt like crying. I had trained so hard for this and I did it. I completed it. Unfortunately, I missed my goal time by 9 minutes due to my very slow run split, but I finished. It just means that I will have to come back next year and do even better!

I always used to believe that people that competed in these endurance races were crazy and superhuman. I didn’t think that I would ever be doing one, but now I have. It just proves the old mantra that you really can do whatever you set your mind to. You just have to have the self-discipline. So get out there. Set a goal. Then crush it!

Ironman 70.3 Ohio Finisher Medal

Ironman 70.3 Ohio Finisher Medal

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Featured Adventure: Symmes Creek/Morgan Sisters’ Backpacking Trail

Lake on Symmes Creek

Lake on Symmes Creek

The Trail

Symmes Creek & Morgan Sisters is actually a combination of two different trails with four separate loops that interconnect. It is located in Southern Ohio near the town of Rio Grande. Because of the different loops, there are multiple options for distance as well as trail heads. To do all of the trail is just over 14 miles.

Official Trail Map

Official Trail Map

Getting There

Kevin and I have both been battling nagging knee injuries. So we decided to make this trip just an overnighter. It was late October 2016 and we were prepared for cold weather. The trail provided multiple options for distance should either of us find ourselves in too much pain to continue. We met early Saturday morning at Kevin’s house and drove the hour and a half down to the trail head. The trail head is off of a non-descript gravel road in the middle of nowhere. We were the only vehicle there, but there was evidence that locals use the trail head parking lot often as a bonfire/drinking spot. There were also ATV/4-Wheeler tracks setting out in all different directions from the trail head even though they are illegal in this area of Wayne National Forest.

Rock Formations on the Trail

Rock Formations on the Trail

Day 1 on the Trail

We grabbed our gear and quickly set out on the trail. We noticed very quickly that this would be a challenging trail. The trail immediately started with a steep climb up a hill with the trail badly washed out and rutted from the illegal 4-wheeling. This was my third attempt to complete this trail. Twice before I had taken friends that were new to backpacking on this trail and had been rained out. So I had only completed the first loop. I was hoping this adventure would be different. Despite the poor trail conditions, Kevin and I made good time. We reached some caves by lunch time and decided to take  a break. I was starting to develop some blisters (I’ve been away from hiking too long!) and we were both hungry.

Our pre-lunch hike

Our pre-lunch hike

After a quick bite and me putting on two pairs of socks, we set off again. We quickly made it to the connector trail that led from Symmes Creek trail to the School House loop. This was officially new trail for me. Despite it being  late fall (and us having packed for cold) we found ourselves sweating in 77 degree weather.

Our second half of the hike for the first day

Our second half of the hike for the first day

The second half of the hike had even more elevation change and was very difficult. The autumn leaves covered the ground and the seldom used hiking path was very difficult to see. We lost the trail multiple times and found ourselves trailblazing through thorns. Furthermore, the crisscrossing ATV paths often made us question our bearings and more than once we accidentally followed an incorrect offshoot. We followed the North section of the School House Loop to the North section of the Ridge Loop and finally to the Coal Branch Loop. We stopped to admire a beautiful lake as a family was setting up tents along the shore.

Symmes Creek Lake

Symmes Creek Lake

It was clear that few people used the Coal Branch Loop trail and we soon found out why. It started with a steep 500+ foot climb with no switchbacks. After completing this loop we were exhausted (especially after climbing back to the top of the South section of the Ridge Loop). So we found a nice flat spot on top of the ridge with massive ravines on either side of us. We cleared the sticks and leaves away and setup camp. While clearing the site Kevin found a large machete buried in the leaves (luckily he noticed it before his foot found it). We quickly set about coming up with creepy stories about how the machete came to be there. That night we had a lovely fire and enjoyed the unusually warm night as we stayed up talking.

Rock Formations on the Trail

Rock Formations on the Trail

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast in camp. Although, we did use the little water we had left to make coffee. We underestimated the amount of water that we would need due to the warm weather (lots of sweating). Luckily, we eventually crossed Symmes Creek again and were able to filter and refill some of our water bottles. Throughout the morning, we continually lost the trail. It was covered in leaves and we could not find regular blazes. The main trail was crisscrossed with ATV trails, hunting trails, and logging roads. When we found ourselves a mile down an ATV trail and clearly no longer on the main path, we were both nursing painful knees and unwilling to hike all the way back to try to find the trail. Instead, we followed the ATV path out to Symmes Creek road and just walked the road back to the trail head. The trail was challenging and beautiful. Had it been blazed better it would not have been as difficult to follow. We lost too much time trying to figure out where the trail was supposed to go and following offshoots. I would not recommend this trail to beginners, but for experienced hikers willing to do some navigation, it is beautiful.

Kevin looking beautiful

Kevin looking beautiful

 

More information on the trail:

http://www.backpackohio.com/trails/symmes-creek-morgan-sisters-trails/

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/wayne/recarea/?recid=6237

http://www.neohbackpackingclub.com/mapLib/Morgan.pdf

Triathlon

It’s been my dream since I was a kid to compete in a triathlon. Swimming was my favorite event to watch in the Olympics, I always enjoyed biking, and I’ve always admired distance runners (although I typically hated doing it myself). Putting all three of those events together seemed like quite a feat. Previously, the main thing that had held me back was my lack of a good bicycle. In my previous post, I mentioned that a friend of mine found me a great used bike that I purchased and used to train for/ride in Pelotonia. After I proved to myself that I could train for a bike race farther than I had ever ridden before, I decided that it was time to sign up for my first triathlon. Triathlons come in many different styles and lengths. For my first one, I decided to start out easy with a Sprint distance Triathlon. This race was was a 1/4 mile swim, a 12.4 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run and the competition was to be held in Hocking Hills, Ohio.

I was number 4

I was number 4 (with sexy tan lines)

The race was set to kick off at 9am. So I got up at 5:50am to eat a big breakfast and let it settle before the race. I also wanted to get there early to setup my transition area and survey the course. When I arrived about 8am, there were already quite a few people there. I went to registration to sign in, get my shirt, and get inked with my race number. My only goal was to finish the race, but even so, I started to feel some nerves set in.

They called everyone together for some announcements and rules, then lined us up on the beach. A timer counted down and we were off for the swim!

Triathlon Swim

I promise that isn’t me in the red

Even though the swim was “only” 400M, I was exhausted and winded. I’ve never swam with that many people before. It made the water choppy, people were accidentally grabbing/kicking me, and I really had to focus on where I was going.

Triathlon Transition 1

I got out of the water towards the front of the pack (to my surprise) and headed into Transition 1. When I practiced transitions at home, I never practiced running through sand and dirt before getting to my transition area. My feet were filthy and I hadn’t accounted for that. I wiped them down as best as I could and jammed them into my bike shoes. As I stood up to grab my bike I heard a *CRUNCH* and realized I had just stepped on my sunglasses… (Note to self: don’t put sunglasses on the transition mat next time.) I jammed the broken lens back into the frame and hoped it would hold as I jumped on my bike.

Triathlon Bike

I was so winded from the swim that I immediately started questioning what I was doing in this triathlon for the first couple miles on the bike. Finally, I settled into my cadence and started feeling pretty good; that is until the half way point… The turnaround for the bike was at the top of a 300ft + climb at the steepest incline I had ever attacked on my bike. My heart rate was spiking at almost 180, I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I couldn’t even get my bike to budge while standing on my pedals in my highest gear.  My speed slowed to a crawl, but it must have been just as difficult for everyone behind me because I did not get passed. When I finally reached the top and turned around, I hit over 40 MPH on my way down the hill and slowly started to get my breathing back to normal. I pushed it back to the transition area and changed into my running shoes.

Triathlon Run

I kept a pretty good pace throughout the 5K despite feeling exhausted. As I was heading out on the run, I started counting the people coming back to try to get an idea of what place I was in (secretly hoping for top 10). Alas, top 10 was not to be, but as I saw the finish line, I eagerly sprinted in to see my place and time.

Triathlon Finisher

I finished in 13th place (out of about 60 people) with a time of 1:18:24. It was an amazing experience and I felt such pride as the realization of what I had just accomplished hit me.

Now I’m looking ahead to 2017. If all goes as planned, I’d like to do another Sprint Triathlon, then move up to an Olympic distance Triathlon, and finally compete in a 70.3 Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Let’s see if I can do it!

What have you always dreamed of but have been too afraid to try/didn’t have time/insert other excuse here? Tell me in the comments and then get out there and attack it!

Reader Submission: How do I choose a rain jacket?

I received an email from a reader asking for advice on how to stay dry on her upcoming trip. When shopping for rain gear, the options and price ranges can be overwhelming. I’ll publish my reply in hopes that it can help others in their rain gear search.

Alex Wet Thumbs Up

Hi Jill,

Thanks for reaching out! I’d be happy to help. I have plenty of experience getting soaked by torrential downpours. There are two primary types of rain jackets, coatings and laminates. The type you choose will depend on a couple factors. First, how much rain are you expecting? If you are expecting quick showers that don’t last more than an hour, coated jackets are much cheaper, lighter, and are usually more breathable. If you are expecting lots of rain for indefinite periods of time, coatings can become saturated and lose their ability to repel water. For these situations you will want a laminate (think Gore-Tex) rain jacket.

My go-to jacket for backpacking is a Helly Hansen DWR-coated jacket similar to the one in the first link below. It’s very durable and (usually) keeps me very dry. On a recent backpacking trip, when we experienced unending rain for hours, it completely soaked through (you can read more about that here: Wet Backpacking Trip). The next step up from that is a Gore-Tex lined North Face jacket highlighted in the second link below. It’s heavier, more expensive, and less breathable, but it can survive the hours of rain. I hope this has been helpful!

(They sell female versions of both the below jackets)
(I am not affiliated with either of these brands)
http://shop.hellyhansen.com/us/item/stanley-park-h2flow-62369/?t_type=src&t_type=cat

https://www.thenorthface.com/shop/mens-dryzzle-jacket

Sincerely,
Atlas Alex

Questions? Comments? Do you have recommendations for great rain gear? Leave them in the comments below! Remember, you can also submit questions or article ideas directly to me at Alex@AtlasAlex.com

So You Want to be an Adventurer? The Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking – Part 1

Archer's Fork Day 1 Camp

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by calling this the “Idiot’s Guide” or anything of the sort, but I will try to keep this series specific and easy to understand. The first task for your adventure will be to decide what your goal is. There are many different ways to enjoy the outdoors. These posts will primarily deal with hiking and backpacking.

A few different ways to enjoy the outdoors on foot are listed below:

  1. Day Hiking – Traditionally, day hikes involve driving to a parking lot, hiking a few trails, hopping in your car and driving home. This can be an excellent way to get started. Some day-hikers still carry small packs filled with drinks, snacks, or other supplies for the day of hiking.
  2. Backpacking – Backpacking usually involves carrying everything that you will need for an overnight or extended stay on your back during a hike. This can allow backpackers to cover much longer trails or just take their time on the trail by spending the night.
  3. Peak Bagging – This is more specialized term and can be either backpacking or day hiking. It is typically used to refer to climbing a summit. This can be done in one or more days, with or without a backpack.
  4. Slack Packing – Slack Packing is a mix of Day Hiking and Backpacking. Slack-packers typically try to tackle longer, backpacking trails, but without carrying a backpack or staying on the trail overnight. Slack -packers will typically carry a small day pack, hike as much of the trail as they can in one day, then leave the trail and go home or to a hotel. The next day, they will return to the same point in the trail and resume their hike.

You don’t have to limit yourself to only a single type of hiking, but choosing your goal or how you would like to get started can help you narrow down the specialized gear you will need.

Stay tuned for additional articles about getting started in backpacking!

If you’d like some additional reading on gear definitions check out this article on the “Big Three” from a fellow outdoor blogger.