Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Preparing your life documents for evac

I have developed a pretty good system for containing important family documents that I think is worth sharing, especially in light of several friends who this week are in the path of hurricane Irene along the east coast. I have been through several CAT3's, a few CAT4's and one memorable CAT5. Mistress when she was just old enough to be a Princess, went through her house burning down and all the family pictures and documents going up in flames.  These life experience helped develop our Bug Out Folder (BOF). Your folder will allow you in a split second to leave your house but not your life behind you. 

To prepare your BOF you need to be organized. All these items can be purchased very cheaply at any office supply store, if you don't already have it. 
  • Legal sized (11x17) expanding wallet folder. Purchase a very bright, eye catching color. 
  • Letter sized file folders, with spine tabs. Each a different color. One for each member of the family, plus one extra.
  • Fat tipped black permanent marker. 
  • Business card organizer pages with side hole punches.  One package. 
  • Sheet protectors with side hole punches. One package. 
  • Digital camera.
  • Jump drive, CD or Secure Digital (SD) camera memory card.  
On a table, place one brightly colored file folder down for each family member and the one extra file folder. Make sure that each file folder is a different color. No two the same color if it can avoided.  Using a fat tipped black marker write the name of each family member in large letters on the front of each folder. On the extra file folder write, 'HOUSEHOLD'. Next, insert several pages of business card holders and sheet protectors in each folder. Business cards in the front. Place all the prepared file folders in the brightly colored, legal sized expandable wallet folder.

Your current organizational skills will determine how long the next phase will take.  From your wallet, your purse, your junk drawer or multi-use filing box shoved next to the unused stack of Yellow Pages in your closet, start collecting all the documents that will fill your personalized file folder. Items or copy's of items to include in each personal folder will vary from family member to family member and adult to child but should include items such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports, business cards for all every doctors and clinic, lawyers, banks, insurance agents, a recent photograph, personal policies such as Wills and Life Insurances, any ongoing organizational cards for unions, sporting clubs and groups. Include a voided checking deposit slip for each bank account.

In the Household folder use the sheet protectors to hold a copy of a mortgage bill, a utility bill, contact information for home warranties and insurance policies. Add business cards for the tree guy you used last year and really liked, the pet vet (unless you have a pet folder) the yard guy, the maid agency that got you out of a jam last year, the neighborhood handyman, plumber, all the people that you use one or two times a year but can never remember where you put their contact information. 

At a minimum take a digital picture of every item, if possible scan the item directly into a computer file to print out for the folders and retain a digital copy. Remember that digital files can be zoomed in on when viewed using a computer. Thus it is not important to take multiple up close photos of important documents as long as the one picture taken is clear enough to be read by blowing it up on the monitor.

A worst case scenario for a homeowner is a situation where you have to talk to insurance about damage/destruction of the residence or home robbery. Most current digital cameras have a basic video shooting feature. Using this option, slowly walk around your house capturing images of each room, pausing briefly to highlight specific brands of items, the condition of expensive furniture, if possible serial numbers. Do the same outside the house and with each automobile, especially ones with aftermarket products. If there is collection of stamps, coins, comics, dolls or other smaller items in the house lay them out on a bed or floor and slowly scan over each item rather than take individual photographs.

Once a complete video log has been created and placed into a computer system, drop that information onto a jump drive, compact disk or keep it on the camera memory card and pull the card from the camera. Place this digital storage item in one of the business card holders or sheet protectors in the Household folder. This is incredibly helpful when filing a claim for damages.

The cynic will state that all that information out in the open is dangerous if its stolen. They would be right if the following conditions are already met; your house has a history of break in's and a brightly colored expandable file folder presents a better theft item than all the hard items in your house. Otherwise, you and your family will know where this is located in the closet, on a bookshelf, where ever and in the event of an emergency it can be grabbed on the way out the door.

For those that want an extra layer of security and not have hard documents in the house or on a physical hard drive there are a few options. The easiest is to have previously scanned or photographed every item, then create a digital folder for each person and the house and place this on a password protected jump drive that you would not forget in an emergency. The next would be to create a new email address using an online provider like Yahoo or Gmail. Prepare a new email and attach as many pictures, scans and video's that be sent in a single message. Use the subject line to describe the attached items. Then save the message in the draft folder. Repeat this process until all your documents are online and secured in the Draft folder. Now from any computer with internet or your smartphone you can go back to the email account, open the draft folder and view all the attached files. Only those that know the email and password would be able to see these important items.

I hope this effort only becomes a lesson in organization and never needs to be used for an emergency. If the only benefit is that by forward thinking you don't have to waste any time finding the number for someone who did work at your house a year ago, it time well spent.

It is not enough to exist. I am going to live. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vineman Fallout

After a big race, it is pretty normal to toss all your gear in the corner and not look at it, let alone touch it for a couple weeks. Being no exception, I did just that and worked on my post race recovery by engaging in active rest in ways that did not require my triathlon specific gear. 

As part of my recovery I have been doing treadmill inclines and weighted ruck runs but not actual, 'normal' type of run workouts. Thus I had no need for my usual running shoes, the ones I used at Vineman. Until today. And guess what. I completely busted the heel on one of them. Folded in, squeaky and there is separation lines along the outer sole. Bummer.  So I guess it's time to hit RoadRunner Sports for a new pair of shoes. 

I decided to inventory the rest of my gear and realized my goggles are missing. I've been using basic swim goggles since I've been home but like my Aqua Sphere Seal mask I use for open water.  So I need to hit the sports store and get a new pair. 

Since I am not so focused on triathlon at the moment, its finally given me some clarity on troubleshooting my adventure gear. I have been cataloging items and writing notes on what need to be fixed, improved upon or researched for updated versions. That list, more want than need, is quite long and not easily resolved. Nor do I want it to be. For me researching and considering the benefits of an item give me more pleasure than the purchase itself. Needless to say, the 'Possible Buys' folder under my web browsers bookmark tab is growing exponentially as I add things to read up on. 

It is always fun to accomplish long term goals. Especially one as personally redemptive to me as completing an ironman distance triathlon.  Yet, I have more that I want to do and once I finish a goal, I create a another that builds off it. I am not comfortable, being comfortable. 

It's not enough to exist. I am going to live. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Triathlon has been very, very good to me and I doubt I will ever stop swimming, cycling and running. There is too much benefit to me with that combination of endurance training. After finishing the Vineman 140.6 race a couple weeks, I wrote that I wasn't going to just rest on my laurels but return to a Toughening Phase and rediret my fitness into other areas. I thought I'd give you all a bit of a glimpse into my thinking. 

My next confirmed and possibly most responsible race this year will be the Sally Meyerhoff 5k in Tempe, this December 10. I only knew her tangentially but she was a real hope and inspiration to young women athletes and her abrupt departure from this world has left an indelible gap in progress towards that end, here in the Valley of the Sun. This race will include a Who's Who, of local and nationally ranked running legends, some I am proud to call friend, and I intend to bring my A game. Based on previous short course races, I think I can hit a sub 19 pace or hold around a 6 minute pace. That would be blazing compared to my usual long course training pace of  9-10 minutes, but I think based on looking at all the data I have, it is doable. A hard goal but achievable. 

I still have no real desire to enter a 140.6 race. Train. Sure. Complete is something else. That day really put the physical and mental pain on Mighty Mo and I have no desire to do that to him again. Plus, two weeks later, my legs are still recovering and my body battery is not totally recharged. 

By taking my focus off long course triathlon, I can be guiltless in my desire to tackle some credentials that can only be tackled on weekends, like PADI and Skydiving certifications, clinics for pre-race certifications like rappelling, Wilderness EMS, kayaking, horseback riding and the like which you are often required to show certification or proficiency in at event registration. 

For race fun, I am really looking more towards the obstacle course stuff. Take your pick, orienteering, Adventure Racing, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Super or Beast, GORUCK challenge. I have done all those events in title or real world experience through the military, so it's a natural extension of my personality. The difference from focusing on just triathlon is less time and funds for triathlon specific items but more in travel expenses as some of the events listed above are best done in other states or only done in other states. A long term goal might be the 2013 Spartan Death Race. (10 minute video, highly recommend you watch it).

In essence, I am looking for a more well rounded life of endurance pursuits. I always have sought this and Lord knows that triathlon, especially long course like 140.6, has given me great challenges and pleasures, but I have a bad habit of being too loyal to a goal. Training for an ironman becomes a singular purpose, one that requires significant investment for specificity. Everything else in fitness or fun is balanced against the long ride, early swims and training runs, deposits in the Bank of Ironman. And you don't miss making those deposits. Where as, two hours of compass work, two hours of running cross country with a weighted pack, an hour of jumping over my cinder block backyard fence, high crawling through my yard, pull ups, burpees, sledge hammering a tractor tire, can translate into a lot of other races.

As you can tell, lots of thinking on the future. A great big weight lifted off me by finishing Vineman, but the distance, right now, doesn't appeal to me. Staying in half iron shape is easy and sustainable. I firmly believe that once a goal is completed that another goal should be added to the list. One that improves on the previous goal or one that takes the foundation of what you just accomplished and go in a completely different direction, like I just laid out. 

It's not enough to exist. I am going to live. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

A look ahead

I am about to make a link between ultra endurance athletes and Special Warfare soldiers, only to prove a physical conditioning point, not a correlation between an ironman finisher being equal to a Special Warfare Operator. Because there isn't. 

Members of special warfare groups are not born with a patch on their shoulder or chest, they earn it through years of schooling and aptitude. In these schools are three phases of physical conditioning. The short term Toughening Phase where you are immediately pushed to beyond the breaking point in order for the cadre to determine if the candidate has the physical foundation and mental ability to start the program and complete it. Snivelers, those hiding injuries or those unable to show the endurance, coordination, strength or stamina are washed out over a day or at most a week or two. 

From the Toughening stage, which also triggers the body to adapt to lactic acid removal and increased blood flow, the candidate moves into the Conditioning Phase.  This is a longer phase of development occurring over several weeks or months where the body becomes more adaptable to the training stress placed upon it and the  rapid improvements in physical areas generally become the new standard of fitness. Improvements at this apex point tend come much more slowly. 

At this point the candidate enters the Sustaining Phase, where the new level of fitness is at the peak of the Conditioning Phase and is continued with less effort to maintain. A new norm is created where the learned physical behavior is maintained for as long as the person challenges them self to hold it. 

For those that are endurance athletes, do you see the similarities between how a soldier becomes a Green Beret and how a couch potato becomes an multiple marathoner or ironman?  The macro training schedule, the accumulation of a particular skill sets which in some cases take months or years to master? Both soldier and civilian achievements also suffer from large percentages of people who attempt to complete the challenge and fail due to a wide variety of obstacles or injuries. 

Back to me. Maybe you too. Even though I just finished an ironman distance event and my physical powers should be at high level of ability, after I recover I am going to go back to a Toughening Phase. Why?  Because my goals have changed for the near future. I have no desire today to train for another ironman. I will still swim and bike and maintain a level of high Sustainment in those categories assisting my team mates attempting to complete their own iron races, but my focus is going to be on becoming a faster, lighter runner in preparation for the Sally Meyerhoff 5k on December 10th

Running in preparation for finishing an ironman, from my finishing time perspective, is not the same as preparing to compete in a short road race or even stand alone marathon. It is a completely different animal. It is also a completely new challenge which is also important in creating a well rounded endurance life. Running will take on new meaning when it is judged in minutes instead of hours. When it is based on squeezing the life out of the road rather than feeling the course is slowly squeezing the life out of you. 

Oh, this is nothing new and comes as no surprise to accomplished runners. Training is always predicated on course distance. Yet, even with a focus change on running speed and distance, just by maintaining swimming and cycling with my team it will allow me to sustain a level of triathlon fitness that would allow me jump into any triathlon up to a half iron and finish it. Not saying compete in the Age Group, but finish. And that is enough for me at this point. 

It's not enough to exist, I am going to live. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The pain we put people through

After finishing Vineman and getting checked out by the med team, Mighty Mo was holding on to me as I hobbled to the car.  I think as much for his relief as my neccesity which I very much needed as I was shivering and shaking too much to walk very well. As he hugged me and nursed me along with an arm around my waist, he leaned his head into the crook of my armpit and started a short conversation with me. It started with, "Daddy, I am so happy you finished and you're alive. I was very nervous for you." Then we talked about if I would ever do another. 

After he and Maisy Daisy passed out in the van on the way back to the hotel, I mentioned the talk with Mistress and she provided the back story. Mighty Mo, as many followers know, has had Colitis since he was born. Only in the last year have we been able to keep his condition in a remission like state and he live a mostly normal childhood. Apparently he was so stressed out about me while I raced that he had a flare up during the day and he was in tremendous pain and nausea and in constant urgent need of a rest room. 

Well I felt and still feel horrible about this, something he personally has not mentioned to me even several days later. I am jaded enough to think that he has had too many days, weeks, years in his eight years of life like that and to him its just living.  The other side and probably the truer side is that he doesn't want me to think I did it to him doing something I wanted to do. 

It's one thing to put yourself in a risky painful situation, and iron distance racing is all that regardless of your ability. No one finishes unscathed from that distance on the body. Its wholly another to have that risk affect your child in such an adverse and painful way. While I am comforted that once again I have proven the doctors wrong, I don't enjoy knowing what it did to my son's health.  I am not a risk adverse person, but it's pretty humbling for me to know my personal risk taking is causing such a physically painful experience for my child. It very much must frame any future ideas I have about doing endurance pursuits.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Race Report: Vineman Full 2011

The Vineman 140.6 was a great race event in very pretty wine country and while much harder than I ever expected, I enjoyed the experience. I do tend to be wordy in my race reports so will attempt to wrangle in my length. 

Pre Race activity. The whole family drove up with me for the race. Mistress figured if I was going to blow up out there, she wanted to at least see the hospital I would be staying out. Sonoma county is beautiful but the layout of the roads are horrible. Complete disaster. Even with GPS it is hard to drive someplace without being confused. And the roads themselves are a patch work of filled potholes. 

The expo shops were good, no complaints, but was a little put off by the whole structure of the pre race logistics. It took me, hustling, three hours to get through a small expo and waiting for the the first showing of the mandatory video, then stand in line for 30 minutes for the registration to open its doors (when they should have opened immediately after the viewing), then set up my bike/run transition. If this was a couple days before the race, no problem, when its the day before and I want to have my feet up as long a possible, a bit stressful. 

I tried to drive some of the course using the maps and address provided. The day before the race I saw nothing signalling to the public that a very large race was about to take place the following day at the beach or on the roads. For a first timer to the event that was a bit disconcerting. 

Race Day. I was really nervous about the race. I didn't know what it would do to me. I was comforted by the fact that the Russian River race course is only between 3-7 feet deep and very nice to swim through. I did in fact walk some of the first lap when it got too shallow but I realized I could swim faster than I could walk and tried to avoid that on the second lap. 

I am not a fast swimmer and newer swim waves kept coming up on me. I saw lots of different colored swim caps. Some friends later said they felt the washing machine effect of a triathlon swim start, but other than some brush ups, some rubbing of wet suits, I thought it was pretty well behaved considering the tight confines of the river. I got out of the water about what I expected. Had I not walked at all I think I would have had a personal best swim. 

It is never a good sign that when you immediately leave transition with your bike and allowed to mount that you decide to walk up the hill to the road. The hilly nature of the course keeps the rider constantly adjusting gears to take advantage of free speed going downhill and maintenance of that cadence and speed going uphill. While I admit that most people are much faster swimmers than I, there is great satisfaction passing those people on the bike and almost every time I do so I have to egotistically think, "you swim faster than me?"  It just goes to show never judge a swimmer by their build. Also never judge an iron distance athlete by their build, they are not all lean, single digit body fat whippets. 

I promised everybody that I would pee on the bike leg. Not pee while actually riding, but stop and use the port-a-john because I have never done that in a triathlon bike leg and needed to do a kidney check. After 5 hours of good race nutrition, I didn't feel I had to, be felt compelled to do so nevertheless. 

Well that added a total of ten minutes to my race, trying to urinate. In full disclosure, five hours is a long time to be balancing your whole body on a small seat between your legs, but it felt like fire trying to get the fluids out. The pain in no way made up for the few ounces of weight I lost. But I did it. 

There is a really step hill called Chalk Hill that is rode up two times on the course. The second time at mile 100, I got a serious cramp in my leg at the beginning of the steepest grade, (approx. 15%). I had to stop and rub it out. I had heard of people walking their bikes up this hill but I was determined to not be that person, so I started off again and immediately cramped again. Doubt crept in. I massaged again and through force of will rode my bike to the top and of course made it to the run transition. 

The bike leg is where I developed the internal organ failures in my last iron distance race, so I always held myself in check. I really felt I could have had a faster bike split by 30 minutes but my goal was to survive the bike not ride as fast as I could against the clock. I felt that if I could get off the bike I could finish the race and that was more important to me than overall time. That being said, in my personal race experience, that was the hardest bike course I have ever ridden. 

I racked my bike and decided to hit the port-a-john again. Another ten minutes of burning fire later, I was able to hit the run course. I knew this was a hilly course based on word of mouth, but it was, no hyperbole, the hilliest marathon course I have ever run, stand alone or part of a triathlon. Wow that was hard to get up and down. 

The scenery was very nice and over the course of the three 8+ mile loops you passed almost thirty aid stations over 26.2 miles. I have never witnessed a better stocked run course.  In fact I think I over drank myself on the first loop and my stomach was sloshing. 

The first loop I was having trouble breathing. My diaphragm and rib cage felt really tight and it was the hottest part of the day. I thought maybe I was cramping like I did the last race where I tore rib muscles trying to breath and all the muscles and organs in that area had cramped up. I decided maybe some forced dry heaves would help open the area up, which it did, and while the remaining two laps saw my average pace drop due to the pounding my legs were taking, above the waist I felt better with every passing hour. 

The best part of out and back runs is being able to see family, friends and team mates many times over. It is so motivating and inspirational when for several minutes you're inside your head just trying to get through the next mile and see a friend coming towards you from up ahead. A hand slap, a hug, a stop with comments, all pour energy into the soul and make the next few minutes pain free. 

Crossing the finish line was, as always, a momentous experience I won't forget. Mistress and family met me at the finish exit and they took me to the medical tent for vitals. She wanted to make sure in a few hours I wouldn't be puking myself silly. Everything was fine, I only lost four pound for the day. I however could not stop shivering.  It took several blankets in bed to resolve that issue. 

The final thoughts I had during the race took me back over all the endurance pursuits I put myself through in my life. The highs, the lows, all of it. Since my last triathlon three years ago, I didn't think I would ever do another, let alone a full iron distance. After the damage I lived through I considered each day a bonus. But really that is a selfish way to think, as if a bonus was something given to just me to appreciate. It really is not a bonus, but a blessing. A blessing is more of a shared experience, you feel blessed by what you recognize others do for you or a praising of action to/from others. I couldn't have got through this race, to this point in my life without all the support, all the blessings, I get from my family and friends. It has allowed me to live a life based on short affirmation, listed below. 

It is not enough to exist, I am going to live.