As I fly back back from successfully finishing my 5th Ironman race in New Zealand, I decided I should write my race report. I was going to wait until after I got home, but seeing how I said that for my 4th….and never did (outside of a IG/FB post), I figured I better knock it out while I have the time (12 hours from Auckland to San Francisco).
However, instead of writing the usual play-by-play report with a bit of insight and comic relief thrown in, I felt like my 5th race was a worthy milestone for looking back across all my races and what I took away from each. So with that all said….let’s get to it!
I’ve always been a pretty determined individual in life. I have countless stories of people doubting me and/or my ability…and me deciding to prove them wrong. While I suspect some of this is just my personality, I know most of it is due to having parents who have always supported and believed in me.
With that said, I had my doubts when it came to doing an Ironman race. I had done a half the year before, and while I finished, it wasn’t easy at all…and this race even had the swim cancelled! So with that on my mind early on in my training, my confidence was not high. On top of that, I wasn’t as emotionally solid going in with the unexpected death of my father and other life related events that same year. Looking back, I had plenty of opportunities to quit training and post-pone the race…but I didn’t.
Anyone who has completed an Ironman will tell you that the race is the reward and the training is the real endurance test. The sacrifices made to swim, bike, and run hours and hours every week, while attempting to live your life cannot be understated. Having now done five, I can also say it’s the hardest the first time around because you don’t yet know your strengths and weakness…what workouts you can occasionally skip or shorten…your nutritional needs on long rides and runs…what pain is “good” versus “bad”….or when you are tired versus approaching burn out…and how all of that will affect you emotionally.
So my first Ironman renewed my belief… belief in myself when attempting to do something new…belief in myself when I was afraid and full of doubt…belief in myself when I was hurting physically and emotionally…belief that the only person or thing that can ever hold me back in life is me.
Going into my second Ironman I had the confidence of knowing I could do it, as well as a better understanding of the training commitment required. I was going to do the race in Panama City, Florida with two other friends. The course would be “fast” with a two loop ocean swim and straight, flat terrain for the bike and run.
Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for me in this race. Just about a month before the race was to take place, Panama City was hit by a massive hurricane. Entire areas of the city were flattened, with many buildings damaged beyond repair and others unusable for months. Lives were lost and people displaced without homes or possessions. Needless to say, putting on an Ironman race was the least of their concerns.
Not to let it beat them, and with an idea of using the race to raise awareness, as well as bring in money and donations for Panama City and those affected, Ironman acted fast to relocate the race. They moved it to Haines City, Florida, where they had hosted several Ironman 70.3s (half distance) over the years. They would need to make course changes, but having a location familiar with the event certainly made it easier. Now knowing many would not be comfortable with the change in venue and course, they also allowed athletes to transition their entry into Ironman Texas the following year. My two friends took that option, but I was not able to because I was already signed up for my third Ironman in Santa Rosa, CA taking place around the same time.
So there I was…faced with doing an Ironman race completely alone…no friends on the course or supporting me at the venue…on a new course that had a lake swim with nearby crocodiles and twelve turns total (an Ironman record btw), a bike course of rolling hills, and a 3 loop run course with too many twists and turns to count. I had my belief though…so I took on the challenge and went for it. The swim was chaotic…the bike was hot and tough…but the run was where I’d be tested the most. About 10 miles into the run (early in loop 2 of 3), after the sun had set and temperatures dropped into the 60s, a huge rainstorm hit…and I mean a real down pour, with water running in the street and puddles over your ankle. While there was thunder and lightning in the distance, it oddly stayed far enough away to allow the run to continue…so I continued to run. I have to admit there were several times I wasn’t sure it was worth it…I had some real battles of the body, mind, and spirit…some people dropped out…I could have…no one I knew was there to see it if I did….but I didn’t. I would often look up at the sky…rain in my face…then back down…speak to my Dad in heaven…ask God for strength…and keep putting one foot in front of the other until I finished.
While not a huge fan of religion, I have always believed in God and that our lives on Earth are just a small part of a bigger plan and spiritual journey…but in this race that belief grew into faith. My second Ironman race strengthened my faith in God and the power of prayer.
As I mentioned above, Santa Rosa, CA would be the location of my third completed Ironman. After having my belief renewed and faith strengthened, I had decided that I would start doing two a year…up from my plan to do one a year going into Florida. I would need to be smart about spacing the races and adjust my training approach, but I knew I could do it. Heading into this third race, I’d be doing it alone again, but that didn’t worry me after Florida. Conditions were good going in, with temperatures in the low 70s, no rain predicted, and a course that had an easy two loop lake swim, rolling, but shaded bike, and a completely flat run course. I was pretty excited going into it and expected a good finish time…maybe even better than my best in Maryland.
Race day started out well. Went through the usual pre-race routine of getting ready, rode the shuttle to transition to prep my bike, then put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water. Athletes lined up according to our swim pace and we then slowly proceeded towards the water entey with nervous energy and excitement. When it came close to my time to enter, I pulled down my goggles…took a few deep breaths…then made sure my watch was setup and ready to go….seconds later I was heading in! And within about one minute of swimming, one side of my goggles filled up with water. I’ve had this happen before…no biggie..just empty and reset the goggle placement over the eye better. Yeah…I tried that at least 4 times, while attempting to swim…no success. About 400yds into the swim I had almost resolved to swim with one eye…thinking at least it was fresh water. I tried one more time to fix it…this time running my finger under the seal to make sure it was fully extended and thankfully it worked! The rest of the swim went well and I was off to the bike.
Within the first mile of the bike I hit a bump in the road and lost my brand new electric pump. I had a backup hand pump, so I kept on going…sucked to lose it, but I was not gonna waste time to get it and then worry about it falling for 111 more miles…nope! Then about 3 miles in, I hit another bump…losing one of my nutrition mix bottles. This had never happened to me before…but it would happen twice this race…and I would have to stop, dismount, run back in my bike shoes to retrieve it, and then run back to my bike. I would later realize I should have just lowered my tire pressure some to allow for the rougher road. Going into the run, while a bit upset the bike took me so long, I was feeling pretty good in my legs and still thought I could beat my personal best in Maryland. Unfortunately, this would not happen, as I would get stomach cramps starting around mile 11, which forced me to walk slowly until mile 17 or so, when I was able to get them to go away with a combination of coke and warm chicken broth from the aid stations.
Once I realized I wasn’t going to beat my personal best, I admit I felt a bit defeated at first. However, then I began thinking about the entire day and all the mishaps that occured…and how I still pushed through…and I did just that again and finished. This Ironman race reminded me of the real value of perseverance when things don’t go as expected.
#4 Continuous Improvement
Cozumel Mexico would be the location of my 4th race, and my first attempt at doing two in one year. The timing of this race was my only concern, in that Fall temperatures had arrived in Austin and I wasn’t sure if I could adjust quickly back to the higher temperatures typical for this race.
Having done a 70.3 earlier in the year all by myself in Italy, I was now accustomed to traveling and racing alone. This would be yet another solo race, in terms of other friends participating. However with friends in town celebrating a birthday, I would have friendly faces on the bike and run course….a first in a full Ironman since Maryland and greatly appreciated.
This race course is flat, but has it’s challenges. The swim is a straight point-to-point ocean swim with current assisting you, and various types of sea life to entertain you…including jellyfish and their larva called sea lice. The bike is a flat three loop course, but with strong crosswinds at some parts making rear disc wheels illegal for safety reaaons. Finally the run is a flat, three loop course through the heart of town with fans cheering you on…and mosquitoes feasting on you during dusk hours.
I did pretty well in this race. I had opted to use my special needs bags during the bike and run segments, which provided a nice break half way through each discipline. The bike break allowed me to use more of my own nutritional liquid mix versus having to rely on the choices at aid stations. And the run break allowed me to reload on allergy medication that I didn’t want in my race belt.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to beat my personal best due to an extended time of walking as a result of dehydration and heat stress headaches at the start of the run. In addition to adding the special needs bags, I had switched nutrition gels to a brand that was easier on my stomach. A few weeks before going into this race, the manufacturer released a caffeinated version and I decided to use those in the race. This decision proved to be a blessing and a curse, as I had more energy on the bike…but was also dehydrated by the time I started the run. Fortunately, I was able to recover after sunset and finish the race with my friends cheering me on. My key takeaway from this race was the appreciation for continuous improvement in all aspects of my racing approach, and the understanding that while I should not be afraid to make changes…I need to make sure I think through all of the possible consequences.
This 5th Ironman turned out to be pretty damn amazing, but not for what you would expect. The race itself went pretty good though.
It was a mass swim start…which means everyone (except pros) enters the water and starts at the same time when then cannon fires…it’s cool to watch but sucks to do. My pace was great, but took me awhile to find enough space to get going.
Going into the bike was ok, except for the 400m run uphill from the boat docks…legs were definitely warmed up. The course took me longer than I expected, but it wasn’t necessarily hard…like Santa Rosa. There was some elevation and the beginning and end, along with some crosswinds, but I had honestly handled worse before. I felt like I just wasn’t able to transition my leg strength into speed as I should have. I think it could be a combination of the bike being slightly too small or too lightweight….something to definitely investigate before my next race.
The run was good for me physically, but mentally I hit a wall on the 2nd of 3 loops. I knew I wouldn’t beat my personal best, but also knew I was going to finish before the cutoff…even if I walked the entire 26.2 miles. Perhaps I was also a bit burnt from doing a marathon 2 months before and Ironman Cozumel 2 months before that. All I know is that I struggled with motivation that lap, but I was able to dig out of it after:
- seeing my friend on the course kicking butt in her first Ironman race…that really lifted my spirits
- talking to a man 15+ years older than me, as we both walked a bit…and realizing he was a lap ahead of my trifling ass, lol
- reminding myself that I was extremely blessed to be in freaking New Zealand doing my fifth Ironman without injury or illness
- seeing two guys in my age group pass me and refusing to let either one of them finish ahead of me….ego is a bitch, ha
I finished the run and race strong, but let up a bit at the end to allow the oldest woman in the race to finish ahead of me…she absolutely earned that moment.
Like I said before, the race was nice….but the experience of traveling there and back was the best part for me. There were a lot of first times in this trip:
- First time traveling to the Oceania region
- First time traveling during a freaking pandemic (which is WAY overblown, but I won’t go there)
- First time I had to breakdown my bike and pack it for air travel.
- First time doing a mass swim start
- First time I would have to drive on the left side of the road
- First time I would have to ride and run on the left side of the road in a race
- First time seeing geothermal vents, Hobbiton, Glow worms in a cave, and a real live Kiwi bird
All of these firsts made the trip feel like a real adventure for me, which was refreshing and energizing in many ways….and what I will remember most. It’s good to take some risks…go off the beaten path…explore…keeps the mind, body, and spirit young!
Well I gotta get this race map tattoo updated, lol. After that, I’m going to take a break to focus on work…plan a vacation with my kids…and maybe play a little basketball and do a little Crossfit. But don’t worry…my confirmed Ironman Barcelona 2020 registration won’t let me get too comfortable. 😁
Looking Back and Forward
Looking back at 2019, with all its’ ups and downs, I can definitely say it was a hell of a year. Career-wise, I had a blast leading the software engineering efforts with my friends at Vapor IO. It was refreshing to step back into my software engineering management roots. I was quickly reminded of just how hard (and fun) it is to deliver cutting-edge (no pun intended) software solutions while pressured under the triple constraints of: quality, time, and budget…of which I am convinced you can only guarantee two, at the expense of the third.
As I look forward towards 2020 and beyond, I literally cannot be any more excited about the opportunity I have been granted with my new role leading solution engineering efforts for the Infrastructure industry at Arm, Ltd.
What is Arm?
I can hear a lot of my friends and family right now….”what the hell does that even mean, Robbie!?”
Let me first start with the company I now work for – Arm. According to Wikipedia, Arm is:
“…a British multinational semiconductor and software design company, owned by SoftBank Group and its Vision Fund. With its headquarters in Cambridgeshire, in the United Kingdom, its primary business is in the design of ARM, aka Advanced RISC** Machine, processors (CPUs)… as well as systems and platforms, system-on-a-chip (SoC) infrastructure and software…It is considered to be market dominant for processors in mobile phones (smartphones or otherwise) and tablet computers…Unlike most traditional microprocessor suppliers, such as Intel…ARM only creates and licenses its technology as intellectual property (IP), rather than manufacturing and selling its own physical CPUs, GPUs, SoCs or microcontrollers.”
In simple terms, Arm provides licensed and proprietary technology innovation and designs (aka Intellectual Property or IP) used to deliver computing power to the world. A driving characteristic of Arm processors has always been their low power consumption and heat production. So traditionally, this has made them a perfect fit for computing solutions in the form of small microcontrollers in embedded systems, like automobile safety systems, fingerprint sensors, Bluetooth headsets, smart TVs, digital cameras, smartwatches, etc. Arm is also dominant in more general purpose computing needs like portable gaming machines, smartphones and tablets (yes…your Samsung Galaxy or iPhone depends on Arm).
What are Infrastructure Solutions?
Now with that bit out of the way…lets move on to explaining what “Infrastructure Solutions” means. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “infrastructure” as:
1: the system of public works of a country, state, or region
also : the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity
2: the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization)
3: the permanent installations required for military purposes
In the realm of computing, the second definition is most applicable and can be further expanded to be:
those computing machines, i.e. servers, and services that make up the underlying foundation or basic framework of the Internet or intranet of a specific organization, e.g. business, school, government entity, etc.
For the longest time, Intel and it’s family of processors has owned this infrastructure computing space, with AMD only now just starting to gain significant traction. Both Intel and AMD use a different architectural design approach to their processors, now commonly called x86_64…I’ll spare you the history lesson. All you need to know is that this architecture, while not nearly as conservative on power, heat, or even overall size as Arm’s designs, has been more generically applicable over the past few decades. This has meant it was easier and more profitable to produce CPUs that could be used in a variety of laptop, desktop, and server configurations, where limitations on power consumption, heat production, and available space for the chip wasn’t as much of a concern.
For the longest time, this separation of architectures for purpose was acceptable. Intel/AMD did their thing at the high-end, while Arm did it’s at the low-end. Now there are other computing architectures that also play in these same spaces and more (i.e. High Performance Computing applications and Mainframes), but these are the main players you need to know for this lesson ;-).
As for “Infrastructure Solutions“, these are different combinations of computational and networking hardware (along with various software applications), that are interconnected to solve technology problems commonly had by businesses and other organizations that make up the infrastructure computing market. Today, these problems are primarily divided into three categories of:
- Hyperscale Computing – This category is comprised of organizations deploying an extremely large number of interconnected servers for use in internal datacenters and public cloud computing to provide a multitude of internal and commercial services for e-commerce, advertising, communications, media/entertainment, gaming, and storage to name a few. High performance computing for intensive scientific and mathematical applications is also part of this category, however it is a much smaller, more specialized/niche market.
- 5G Telecommunications – This is the fifth generation of wireless technology. Unlike the 3G to 4G/LTE transition, that primarily focused on improved mobile phone connectivity, coverage, and speeds, 5G encompasses much more. Along with faster speeds, wider coverage, and lower network latency (a term used to indicate any kind of delay that happens in data communication over a network), 5G roll outs will also need to accommodate:
- an explosion of connectivity demands and an increased focus on machine learning/artificial intelligence driven by advances in Smart Cities, Self-Driving Cars, and Internet of Things (IoT) deployments
- an industry-led transition away from costly, customized telecommunications hardware to cheaper, standardized servers that provide the same specialized services via software
- the introduction of privatized/local network services for use by municipalities and private business without the need to acquire expensive operator licenses
- Edge Computing – This is essentially the “glue” technology that will allow for 5G proliferation. it’s focus is to improve the performance and reliability of network connections between any and all connected devices on the edge of the network, and the services they rely on that reside on hyperscale-based deployments connected miles and miles away.
Over time both sides have started looking into the other’s “playground”, so to speak…Intel/AMD wanting to get smaller, less power hungry, and cooler (temperature-wise) for the small device market, and Arm wanting to get more powerful and faster for the demands of the desktop and server markets. For the longest time (almost a decade), neither side has really been able to make significant progress beyond a few experimental or niche designs that proved a point, but couldn’t hold up to customer expectations or computational demands.
However, in the last 2 to 3 years, there have been some key technology advances within Arm with the introduction of the Neoverse family of processing cores (N1 and E1) , as well as shifts in thinking about how computation should be done in the infrastructure services industry. This has led to improved Arm-based CPU performances for server/infrastructure-based workloads, as well as an increased focus on using specialized processors at the edge. This now puts Arm in a unique position to be wildly successful at it’s goal of penetrating the infrastructure computing market. We’ve already seen an incredible response to the recent announcement of Graviton2 by Amazon Web Services, which will provide Arm-based EC2 instances that offer nearly “40% higher performance at 20% lower cost equating to a 40% improved price/performance” when compared to similar Intel and AMD based instances….and there are more announcements within the industry to come.
With all this hardware landing in the market, the next challenge is to continue working across the entire infrastructure ecosystem. Intel and AMD have had a sizeable head start (decades), but in the last 8 years there has been an industry-wide effort to enable the combined hardware and software solutions required to meet the demands of Hyperscale, 5G/Telco, and Edge Computing on Arm….and this is where I get to play.
I feel like my entire career has prepared me for this opportunity at Arm. Coming in from Vapor IO, I led software engineering for their edge datacenter management software stack. Prior to Vapor IO, I spent 9 years at Canonical, creators and commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux. While at Canonical, I lead multiple teams and efforts across Engineering, IT, Support, Delivery, Project Management, and Sales Engineering primarily focused on the Infrastructure industry…including the enablement of Arm for Ubuntu Server. Finally, before joining Canonical, I spent 10 years at IBM working in the Linux Technology Center on Linux enablement for multiple architectures across the IBM server platforms.
I have spent the last month drinking from the proverbial firehose…digesting as much as I can in my new role as Senior Director of Solutions Engineering within the Infrastructure organization at Arm. I will be leveraging my past experience, extensive industry network, and genuine excitement for innovation to lead a team of engineers. We will be tasked to work across Arm’s partners and the wider Infrastructure Services industry to develop and deploy solutions for the Infrastructure market space. We will focus on demonstrating the strengths of the Arm Neoverse processor family in the areas of Hyperscale Computing, Telco/5G applications, and Edge Computing. I cannot wait to get started….and I’m building the team, so if you’re interested in joining me on this adventure…hit me up.
Today was my last day at Vapor IO, and I left with mixed emotions. The past year and a half has felt like three, but in a good way. Much like an Ironman race, life in a start up is chaotic and uncomfortable, yet also exciting and inspiring…all at the same time. The only way you succeed is having determination, adaptability to changing conditions, and a positive focused mindset on your end goal. I can say without a doubt the team at Vapor IO has all of this in surplus.
I am genuinely thankful for having the opportunity to work with such an awesome senior leadership team. A team that actively listens, speaks with radical candor, and puts what’s best for the employees and overall success of the company ahead of anything else.
I am equally honored and humbled to have lead and worked with such an amazing software engineering team. A team that cares for each other. A real family of developers that puts ego aside to deliver an incredibly well architected, deployed, connected, and visually designed edge datacenter management software stack.
With such an outstanding senior leadership team and technical talent in place, I know things are in good hands.
It’s been said that people “join a company and quit a manager”. However, in my 14 years of leadership experience I’ve concluded that people “join a company, quit a manager or move on to a better opportunity“…and that’s just what I’m doing. I am in no way quitting on Vapor, but I am moving on.
I’ll save the details on my next career chapter for another post, but know that I will still be working with the team at Vapor…along with partners and colleagues from my prior time spent at Canonical, which is one of the reasons why this new opportunity is so appealing.
So with that, I’d like to say thank you to the entire team at Vapor IO for the opportunity and the friendships made…and I look forward to seeing your continued business expansion and thought leadership growth within the edge computing ecosystem!
P.S. Shout out to Thomas Latiolais, who is not only a badass designer and user experience professional…and kickass water skiing athlete….but apparently also the best award creator EVER.
Yeah…that’s what the race announcer said when I crossed the finish line…after 16 hours of pushing…that started with a 3:15am wake up…to catch a 4:30am athlete shuttle bus up to the swim venue…for a 6:45am start…Robbie Williams…LOL. Given how the race went for me, it was fitting to have just one last unexpected occurrence that I had no choice but to smile about and roll with.
Going into this race I was genuinely excited. The weather predicted was as close to perfect as I could ask for, the swim was an easy two loop course, the bike was mostly downhill through beautiful vineyards, the run was relatively flat and shaded, and I felt great physically. I was feeling pretty good about finishing with a personal best of under 14 hours. I decided my mantra for this race would be from the latest Kevin Hart stand-up special:
As you can see the swim course was pretty straight forward. Swim 1.2 miles, get out for 30 secs and back in for another loop. I was targeting a 1hr 20min swim time or less, so I seeded myself in that start group. The self seeding is helpful versus the age/gender group starts, this approach keeps athletes from getting swam over by faster swimmers and blocked by slower ones in front.
The race starts and I slowly make my way down into the start corral, where they were starting us in groups of 5 about every 2 seconds or so. I get in the lane furthest to my left to give me the outside lane. Having the outside lane helps me avoid being crowded into the buoys on the right or bumped as we made our way around the first turn. So I finally get to the start line…hear the beep…the volunteer allows me to pass…and in I go! And within the first few strokes my left goggle fills up with water…no problem…it happens, so I pause and adjust. I start swimming again…fills up again…I rotate on to my back and adjust again…start swimming…fills up again. At this point, I’m about half way towards the first right turn and needed to calm down my breathing (frustration). At that moment I decided that I was just going to swim the first loop with one eye. I would try to fix it before starting the next loop, when I could get out. While this would not be ideal, it could have been worse…I could have had both fill up and be forced to swim without goggles..in the murky water of Lake Sonoma…yay! In the video clip below, I will enter on your right towards the end of the clip…and you will see me grab that right goggle a few strokes in.
After the turn, and about half way before swimming under the bridge, I had calmed my breathing down and had space to try fixing my goggle one more time, without worrying about another swimmer running me over…and it worked, woohoo! I proceeded to swim the rest of the first loop and second, and ended with a time of 1hr 22min…personal record met.
The swim-bike transition was loooooooong (see that blue line in the map above)…almost a quarter-mile…uphill…with the volunteer wetsuit strippers about half-way up. The good thing was that they provided us padding the entire way (I did IronMan 70.3 Puerto Rico with a long transition that did not), but it could barely fit two people side-by-side. I walked briskly to the wetsuit strippers, then ran the rest of the way to help warm up the legs. I then grabbed my gear bag, ran into the changing tent and changed clothes…on the ground…because they didn’t have enough chairs…oh well, still so exciiiiited!
The bike course started at Lake Sonoma, ran down through multiple vineyards east of highway 101, then across and back north through more vineyards west of highway 101, before looping back down again and into downtown Santa Rosa. I drove the course the day before and felt generally okay with it. The scenery was beautiful, it had a lot of shade, and while hilly…with a steeeeeep climb in the loop (see the stars)…it was largely downhill…..so exciiiiiiited!
What I would later discover is that while I noted the hills, turns, and hazards of the course while driving it, I didn’t pay enough attention to the conditions of the roads themselves.
The race started with crossing over the lake into a fast downhill, where we were told not to ride in aero position for safety. While crossing the bridge, I hit a small bump and lost a new portable air compressor I used to add air to my tires earlier that morning. Luckily it didn’t hit my tire or someone else, so I was okay with it…having never ridden with it before, I figured that might happen…oh well, that’s on me…I kept riding….sporting my awesome socks…so exciiiiiiited!
I hit the downhill and was easily at 40mph…sitting up…lightly riding the brake. I don’t have a problem going fast…probably from my motorcycle days…but I wasn’t going to risk a wreck…no way. I come out of the downhill and settle into getting that first 10 miles…then I hit another bump…and lose a nutrition bottle…ugh! The pump I could do without, but losing one of my nutrition bottles would suck…forcing me to stop at every aid station and experiment with whatever they had there…no thanks. So I immediately pulled over, propped my bike up against a tree to avoid spilling my electrolyte mix on my handle bars, and ran back to get the bottle. I was off the bike for maybe 90secs, so no big deal…got back on and was off to the vineyards…so exciiiiited.
As I mentioned earlier, the condition of the roads for about 70% of the course were unexpectedly…well…shit. They were in need of resurfacing badly, with cracks, big bumps, and long rough stretches that made you feel like you were riding a jack hammer. I had a nutrition bottle fall out again on this course…went back for it…had a little girl hand it to me…thanked her with a smile…and took off. They never fell out again (and had never in any ride before), but I was also extremely conscientious of their positions when approaching bumpy conditions after that. All of these rough roads and bumps put extra strain on your upper body to control the bike, stress on you mentally to avoid crashing, and slows you down in general…especially when you are on the…eh hem…larger triathlete side. If you look at the bottom right corner of the picture below, you can see the difference as I was about to hit a smooth patch…which probably lasted 2 minutes on this part of the course…it was definitely frustrating to a lot of riders. In hindsight, I suppose I could have let some air out of my tires, but that’s a risky move…can lead to an even slower roll.
Despite the conditions of the road…and hitting that mountainous climb twice…I stayed positive. The temperature was great…low headwinds…and I never once cramped in my legs…a first. I had to give up on the idea of hitting a personal best on the bike when I was half way through at 3hrs 30min…just wasn’t possible without risking burn out. So I focused on staying consistent with my time, heading back into town, and going into the run strong….and so exciiiiiiited.
The run course was great and relatively flat. A simple 3 loop course, in the shade, alongside the Santa Rosa Creek, with low grade inclines and declines. Going into this race, for the first time ever, I was looking forward to the run…so exciiiiited!
Over the past 5 years I’ve been working on being a stronger, more efficient runner…and it’s been hard. I can sprint pretty well, but my long distance running pace is still pathetically slow for all the strength, form, and cardio work I’ve put in. I’ve tried all the different shoe styles, from super thick to super thin, running with short strides and high cadence, running with long strides and slow cadence, getting stronger in my legs to dropping 20+ pounds to get lighter…and I still have always felt like I was putting in way too much effort to run so slowly.
Ironically, my eureka moment would not have happened if for not having one of my worst race runs ever…IronMan 70.3 Puerto Rico this past March.
The run was hot, super hilly, and I repeatedly cramped in my right hamstring for the first mile….oh, and there was a 2 mile section that smelled like cat piss. While the run time wasn’t that bad, the physical toll was. While I knew I wouldn’t quit and would finish, I was brought to tears of pain and frustration several times during that run. After finishing the race (and taking about 20 minutes to sit in the shade, hydrate, and emotionally gather myself), I went into transition to get my gear. I proceeded to change out of my running shoes into these new Ironman branded “recovery” flip flops that I bought the day before, and walk the half mile or so back to my hotel. As I walked back, I noticed how amazing these damn flip flops felt on my feet! It wasn’t because of the cushioning, but rather the arch and heel support they provided. I also noticed that I had better balance and my overall effort to walk was different…easier…even after doing a half Ironman. I pretty much never took them off for the rest of my time there, lol.
Fast forward about one month later. I’m trying yet another type of running shoe with yet another change in my running technique, which felt great. However, after taking a 3 mile run one morning, I started feeling a strain in my upper, inner left ankle…every morning I woke up afterwards. This. was. not. good. I was 4 weeks out from my Ironman…shit! After a few mornings of having to endure the pain until the muscle got warm or my Aleve kicked in, I tried wearing my super flip flops instead….boom…magic…pain immediately went away while wearing them. Now I’m sure most of you reading this are like…duh Robbie…you need insoles in your running shoe!…and you would be correct. However, as a flat footed big person my entire life, I had worn tons of arch supports (both off the shelf and custom), and they never helped. Walking long distances…marching band…just standing for a long time all gave me pain. Not until I lost a bunch of weight in college did my feet issues go away…no insoles necessary. With decades of not wearing insoles, I was convinced I didn’t need them…wrong.
After doing some research, I decided to try some insoles by Superfeet. They were lightweight and recommended for runners with low to no arches. Insoles with high or even normal support can hurt people born with flat feet. Unlike people who’ve had their arches fall over time, we never had one, and thus our bodies have adapted as much as they can…for me that means bowed legs and strong calves to keep weight on the outer foot. To make this long bit short, these insoles worked…like magic…so much so that I got both my sons a pair (natural flat feet is genetically passed from father to son). All three of us run, walk, and even dance better now!
So…we’re now back in Santa Rosa…I’m changing into my run gear…complaining with other athletes about the road conditions and that mountain…putting on my special run hat (#PapaLu) and looking forward to smashing my personal best of 6 hours (IM Maryland)…targeting just over a 5 hour run. After the first mile of my legs adjusting from riding to running, I was running with joy😊…only about a 5mph pace, but I wasn’t straining to move and keeping a good run cadence as well. Now don’t get me wrong…after a 7hr bike ride I was hardly running with fresh legs, but the discomfort was manageable…and even went away after a few miles. My game plan was to walk for about 2 min at every mile and through the aid stations. If I felt good, I’d skip the every mile walk and just do the aid stations. I was kicking butt…so exciiited!
Then the side stitch in my right abdominal area came right around mile 13…half way through the run. I was really good about hydration this entire race…taking salt stick pills every 30min…nutrition every 45min…and feeling great in my digestive track and leg muscles. When the pain first came, I thought it might be gas or I needed to use the restroom, so I stopped and used a port-a-potty at an aid station…nothing…and I’m a pretty regular fella, if ya know what I mean. So I kept going, but couldn’t run…barely could walk at 3mph without it hurting badly. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a side stitch…it’s literally been years…maybe decades….but here it was…just when I thought I was on my way to a personal record…so exciii…nope.
The picture above shows the course distance and elevation in gray, with my foot cadence in orange….and my moods through out. As you can see, the stitch lasted for about 4 miles or so. During that time I would try to run several times, but couldn’t…couldn’t go to the restroom…and it was getting dark and cold (mid to low 50s)…I was getting pretty frustrated. My only thought was to pray and start drinking the warm chicken broth they had begun to put it out at the aid stations…so I drank some at every one that served it (some didn’t). I don’t know if it was the salt…warmth…food calories…or God himself, but shortly after mile 17, the stitch went away…and I started to feel energized and determined. I had just retrieved my headlamp (they were mandatory because the run trail had zero lighting) and long sleeve shirt from my run special needs bag, and was heading into my last loop out of the 3….looking like a coal miner, but now feeling….so exciiiiiited!
I ran two straight miles (18 and 19)…without walking…and at my target pace of 5 mph. I didn’t want to get too crazy, so I stopped to walk some after mile 19…and did some math. Unfortunately, I worked out that I would have to run a 10min mile (6mph), non-stop to the end if I wanted to beat my best run time from Maryland…I was crushed. To set the stage, it was cold…pretty quiet…extremely dark….and the athlete count was thin…as in I had a lot of alone time on the course now. I had such high hopes for this race…had felt so good going into it…and had tried to stay positive through the trials of the bike…and now I was going to finish with an even slower overall time than what I did in Florida. After my pity party and walking for about 4 miles, I said fuck it…I had to do my best…even if I was going to have the worst overall time of my three IronMan races. So I resumed a run/walk pace for the last 4 miles to the finish…enjoying the feeling of almost being done with fellow athletes along the way. As I approached the finish line, I removed my headlamp, adjusted my hat (#PapaLu), tied my long sleeve shirt around my waist to show some IronWill pride….and ran through the finish line strong…as Robbie Williams. LOL
“Those obsessed with glory attach their well-being to the regard of others, those who love pleasure tie it to feelings, but the one with true understanding seeks it only in their own actions.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
There are only two things you can control with any endeavor in life: your own effort and your own attitude, everything else will require you to adapt, avoid, or accept. Whatever your expectations and plans are, you can’t let the unexpected throw you off your goal. These are probably the biggest lessons I’ve learned while doing my triathlons…and have been reinforced in each IronMan race.
After crossing the finish, I will admit I was still pretty disappointed in the outcome….but not in my effort, because I knew I had done the best I could under the circumstances…and that made me smile.
The Next Steps
So what’s next? Going to take a break from the swim, bike, run for a little bit…no races this Summer. Going to see if I can still play basketball (outside of shooting in my driveway). Going to spend time with my sons, continuing to empower them to be strong, responsible, caring young men….with a week in the Bahamas to do our yearly Guys Trip. Going to work on my leg strength and run pace (now that I got these magical insoles!!!). Going to keep reading every day…being the best leader I can be at work…and making my bed every morning :-)….then after all that, it’s back in the saddle again!!!
So it’s been 7 days since I completed my second IronMan race and a little over a year since doing my first. I wanted to take some time to reflect on the race and my entire 2018 triathlon season before writing this. Both were full of emotional highs and lows…just like last year, that started out with the unexpected death of my father on Valentine’s Day and ended with me finishing my first IronMan race ever.
Soon after finishing IronMan Maryland, I setup my 2018 schedule of races that would lead me into IronMan Florida this year. I didn’t want to do a LOT of races this year, but wanted a few short and long distances in the books before heading into Panama City Beach, Florida. With that in mind, I setup the following season plan to lead me into IronMan Florida prepared:
- April 8 – IronMan Texas 70.3 (Relay)
- May 26 – The Rookie Tri
- June 2 – IronMan Hawaii 70.3
- August 26 – Jack’s Generic Tri
- September 30 – Kerrville Triathlon Festival
- November 3 – IronMan Florida
So 2018 started out and with it, another significant life changing moment occurred….I left my job for 9 years at Canonical. It was the right decision to make, but still a difficult and scary one, because I had not secured my next job when I submitted my notice. Hell…I didn’t even know what I was going to do next! While it would have obliterated my savings, I had enough money to live a year without income…even longer if I had to, but would have involved significant changes in lifestyle and living conditions for sure. With all that, I had to put myself in that position…outside of my comfort zone…because it was the only way I knew, without a doubt, that I’d find the right next step in my career. I will always bet on me.
Fortunately, I was able to find the perfect next opportunity for me. And looking back on the time I spent jobless, searching for my next adventure, and spending some time on me and with my loved ones…it was good. I left that period with a better appreciation for the important things in life, as well as the real meaning of living without fear.
IronMan Texas 70.3 (Relay)
As the section title suggests, I did the relay with two other friends, which means each one of us only did one activity in the race. I did the swim portion. I wanted to get a decent salt water swim distance done (1.4 miles) in my swim skin before heading to IronMan Hawaii 70.3, where wetsuits are not allowed (too warm). A swim skin is a very thin short sleeved suit worn over your tri/swimsuit. It stops above the knee and gives you a slightly faster swim due to it’s water repelling (and slightly slimming) features.
Now if you look closely at the picture (ignoring the weirdo making superhero eyes at the camera), you’ll notice I have a pair of wetsuit shorts on…over my swimskin…over my swim shorts. Why? Because on that particular Spring day in Galveston it was 50°F……yeah.
Despite the cold air, the water was actually not too bad…above 70ºF, which felt like a warm bath when I jumped in. The water was definitely salty and a bit choppy, but I got the practice swim I needed. Shout out to Brent Baker and Justin Fosbury for freezing their asses off with me in the race, and our friends for the support!
The Rookie Tri
I have done this race every year since I first started doing triathlons…it was my first race ever, so there’s a sentimental reason for why I do it. However, I also wanted to do a full swim, bike, run race with transition changes before taking on IronMan Hawaii 70.3. This triathlon is super short (300m swim/11.2mi ride/2mi run), so the timing of it being so close to IM Hawaii was fine…as long as I didn’t drown, wreck, or get hurt, I would be fully recovered for the upcoming 70.3 mile race in June.
The race went well for me. I didn’t have any friends racing or even their supporting me, but it’s not a very long race. Plus local races always have familiar faces….and as you’ll see, it would turn out to prepare me for most of the season. Thanks goes out to my Mom, Linda Williamson, for staying the night before and watching my boys that morning for me.
IronMan Hawaii 70.3
I had chosen to do this race for three reasons:
- I wanted to get a long race in that had a real ocean swim before IronMan Florida.
- I thought it would be cool to ride the same bike course (half) as the IronMan World Championship.
- Despite having traveled the world extensively, I had never been to Hawaii in my life.
I had originally planned to do this race solo, but my Mom asked if she could go and given how much she has done for me, I decided to bring her along as a treat…upgraded flights…VIP spectator pass…room and food paid for…BAM! Now, because I had reserved the room using my timeshare points and the popularity of this race, I could not switch the room…so yes…I shared a kingsize bed with my Mom in Hawaii, LOL.
The race went pretty well. Despite not seeing any cool sea life, the swim was perfect. The water was calm and clear, perfect temperature, and I didn’t get eaten by a shark :-P. The bike portion was tough for the first half, but I expected it. The out-and-back ride starts out half way into the championship course, on the same highway with the same turn around being at the highest point in the course. The views were a crazy contrast of barren fields of volcanic rock with distant clear blue ocean and sandy beach views. The temperature wasn’t too hot, especially if you’re from Texas, and we were lucky to have the trade winds blowing the hazy volcanic air from the erupting Mt Kilauea away that day. It did rain at the peak of climbing…which was just insult to injury as I pedaled at a blazing 9mph at some times, and despite hitting 40mph on the way back (big boy biker), I was slowed a bit around mile 40 of 56 with leg cramps. However, I finished in a decent time and felt ok going into the 13.1 mile run….but that quickly turned to a struggle. The run course (described as “challenging” by IronMan) was mostly on a golf course…a two-loop rolling golf course that zig-zagged all over the place across golf greens, golf cart tracks, and a straight stretch outside the course near a lava rock field called Devil’s Kitchen….yeah. The first mile was bad…my hamstrings would not stop cramping…making it hard to even lift them to walk. Fortunately, I’ve experienced enough cramping to know that as long as I kept moving, hydrated, took my salt pills, and stayed positive, I’d get through it…and thankfully I did and finished the race. Huge thanks to my Mom for being there and meeting me at the finish!
Jack’s Generic Tri
After almost 3 months of no races, I wanted a relatively short race in August to prepare me for my next 70.3 race at the end of September….which was my last race to prepare for IronMan Florida in early November. I had done this race two times before, and had swore I’d never do it again. I hated the two-loop hydrilla infested swim in Lake Pflugerville, the two-loop ride on the country roads with grand canyon sized cracks, and the two-loop run around the lake in the blazing sun with no shade. Thankfully, the race was relocated this year…to the same exact course as the Rookie Tri, with just a little bit longer swim (600m) and a 3.1 mile run at the end. As with the Rookie Tri, my Mom would watch my boys, as I was doing this race solo….but again, it’s a short race with familiar faces, so no big deal. I went into this race with plans to really push myself in the swim and bike, and then finish strong in the run. All while recognizing the extended run course included a monstrous hill at the end that I intended to walk up, because running it would not improve much time for me and only tank me for the final 400m or so.
The swim started out great. We entered the water in a rolling start of two athletes every 3 secs. As I was approaching the start, I noticed my start partner just so happened to be the strength coach for UT Men’s Basketball. We had a short conversation about racing…he was surprised I recognized him…I told him I followed the team closely, heh. After the swim, I headed for the bike portion with plans of staying at or above an average speed of 18mph….I averaged closer to 16.5mph….yeah. The week before I decided to replace my inner tubes, but kept the same tires I had rode with all season. I had done a couple trainer rides with them…no problem. However, there was a problem that only showed up when riding at an incline…my rear wheel was mounted too close to the frame and rubbed when going upwards with my weight transferred more to the rear. This course has a particular steep climb that just so happens to occur immediately after short down hill ride into a sharp right turn requiring you to slow down. I’ve seen racers not familiar with the course stop and walk their bikes up because they got caught in the wrong gear heading into it. I was prepared for it, but the rubbing was like I hit and held my brakes while trying to traverse the hill…I got off and checked the brake…tried riding again with no improvement…then said f*ck it, got off, and ran up the hill with my bike on my shoulders. I passed two riders in my run…hulk-based frustration is an amazing source of power for me when controlled and directed, lol. Afterwards, I had a couple more rubs but managed to pedal through it…unfortunately I only figured out the issue when I got home that day, otherwise I could have quickly adjusted the rear mount and rode fast…oh well. I got into the run and finished that portion in a respectable time, despite being disappointed in the bike. All in all, I was happy with the race…ignoring the bike mishap, my times were good for me…went into Kerrville feeling good.
Kerrville Triathlon Festival
I had done the quarter distance race in Kerrville just before I did my first 70.3mi distance race in the IronMan Austin 70.3. It was a big deal for me then, and involved a ride during a pretty rough rain storm. I finished, which was all I wanted to do, and got to witness my friend Pamela Gagot churn out the most amazing 70.3 race I’ve ever seen. After having a pretty severe wreck towards the end of the second bike loop, she completed the full 13.1 miles in a respectable time (WAY faster than I would have done without injury)…bleeding and bruised…in the rain #WonderWoman.
Anyway, for this race I would not be alone (woohoo!), as I’d be racing with my fellow IronMan Texas 70.3 Relay teammates Brent and Justin, as we all were preparing to race in Florida in November. For this race, I wanted to do well on the swim, average 18mph or faster on the bike, and push the run as hard as I could…while testing out my IM Florida race plan of walking the first tenth of every mile. The swim course is a single loop in a nearby river, and I could have used a wetsuit (just under the legal 76.1ºF) but was concerned I might overheat. In hindsight, I think I would have been fine…and definitely faster. My lower back was a bit tight during the swim for some reason, so I did “OK” in the swim, but wanted to do better.
Heading into the bike, I was determined to ride hard and fast, after a short stop about 400m in to adjust my nutrition bag (tried a different mounting position on my bike that I immediately knew wasn’t gonna work), I was off and riding fast. I’m blessed/cursed with a good memory of faces and events, so I was comfortable on the course, despite only riding once before 2 years before. The weather was perfect, no rain…overcast so not hot…and not windy. Both my friends were ahead of me, Justin entered the water before me and is fast on the bike and Brent passed me when I needed to adjust my nutrition bag. My goal was to catch Brent and just have a respectable time compared to Justin, lol. Well…it was going great until half way through my first loop of the 56 mile ride, when I noticed my rear tire was very low on air. Now if you know anything about my race experiences, I am a seasoned bike flat changer…it is not an issue for me. But in this case, my desire to save time led to a poor decision (in hindsight), where I decided to stop and just add some air to the rear instead of changing it. The only reason I did this, was that I had no puncture and figured my tire had heated up (expands) and I had just hit a hard bump that forced the air out of the tube…it has happened to me on my trainer before when I adjusted the roller way too tight and rode a bit. Well…I was wrong and ended up changing the tube after fighting a slow leak for about 15min of riding. Luckily, a race assist vehicle came by just as I decided to change the tire, who had a real pump. I carry a mini pump because CO2 cartridges are risky and if you run out before getting adequate inflation, you’re screwed. However, I had bought a new, stronger mini pump a few weeks before that turned out to suck when trying to actually use it with my wheels (Ugh!!!). After changing the tire and pumping it up, I jumped back on the bike and rode like a mad man. I had to finish the loop and ride another 28mi loop afterwards. I was concerned I might miss the cut off and get pulled from the race…screw that! That second loop had considerably less people on it…mostly relay riders (who start last) and a few folks who either swam slow or just struggle in the bike…I was passing folks on the regular. I got to the run feeling ok…no leg cramps…and I didn’t burn myself out too bad catching up. I saw Justin on the course when I started, who was 5 miles into the 13.1 and Brent’s wife Andrea who was there to support us. She told me Brent was having a hard time in the run with his knee (went into it not 100%) and stomach issues. I’d later catch up and pass him on the run…he had to drop out unfortunately, but it was the right decision…not worth serious injury or illness. My goal for the run was to PR the 13.1 portion, yet still stick to my run/walk plan…I did and my good friend, Justin, was at the finish line to meet me. Brent had to head back for a wedding…plus he was sick and injured, so understandably he had to roll out. Justin and I took the shuttle back to our cars and headed home….both wondering why in the hell we do these things, hahaha.
There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.
After Kerrville, I did two things right away:
- I replaced my tubes and tires with the brands and types I used in my IronMan Maryland race. Did several road rides to test, but I knew these would get me through…and I won’t be changing away anymore 😉
- I upgraded my bike trainer setup to a Wahoo KickR system, with added Climb and Headwind accessories. This would allow me to do long rides indoors (was raining a lot), and still simulate resistance and elevation, but remain relatively cool…I sweat a TON on the trainer.
I then started doing wetsuit swims to acclimate myself to the feeling of swimming in openwater with one, stopped all alcohol consumption (accept for ACL Weekend 1), and dialed my eating in…I was determined to go into Panama City Beach ready to race.
Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans…and one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the US, Hurricane Michael, ran right through Panama City Beach, Florida. The entire region was destroyed…lives lost…and homes/buildings destroyed.
Three weeks out from the race…and this happens. You feel horrible for the residents and frustrated for yourself…will they cancel the race? Will they move the race? Did I do all of this training and racing for nothing? IronMan gave early indications that the race was a low probability, but would not give a definitive answer for over a week. The waiting was an emotional roller coaster…should I keep training?…should I cancel flights?…should I say screw it and drink!? During this time, the Facebook group had postings from other racers who had accommodations cancelled without anywhere to stay…others (like us) had heard nothing on our vacation home rental…it sucked. Then on the evening of Tuesday, October 16th, IronMan released the plan. They were cancelling the race in Panama City Beach….but relocating it to Haines City, Florida, home of their IronMan Florida 70.3 race…which was about 6hrs by car away, near Orlando, Florida. The race would also be moved out by one day to Sunday, November 4th.
This was great news for me…but understandably an issue for a lot of racers who had
- Planned to do a wetsuit swim in the ocean and race a flat course. The 70.3 course in this region had a shallow lake, that might not be cool enough for a wetsuit, and was not flat…it wasn’t insane, but definitely a change that required adaptation.
- Could not race on a Sunday because they had planned on flying home that day to avoid missing work that following Monday
- Could not race in Haines City because they planned to drive and the extra 6 hours was not ideal…and flying was too expensive
IronMan was silent on any deferral options for two days. Understandably, they were in uncharted territory and taking on issues as they arose, while coordinating a monumental relocation of an IronMan race…that included getting new volunteers, city permits, arranging the course, rebranding merchandise, and getting all necessary equipment re-routed. Meanwhile, I was rushing to find accommodations in a city that had no major hotels, re-book flights to Orlando, and change car reservations…for a trip two weeks out. Luckily, for $110/night I was able to find a 3 bedroom vacation home with swimming pool, 2 miles from the new race venue that Tuesday evening using my extensive travel experience. Others were not that fortunate…with stories of jacked up prices and overbooked timeshares. I also updated flight/car reservations with little financial impact to the overall trip.
Eventually, IronMan announced that racers could opt to defer their race entry and use it towards IronMan Texas, April 27, 2019. As you can imagine, some were overjoyed, while others still upset…but I heard IronMan was handling them case by case. As for me, this would not work because I had already registered for IronMan Santa Rosa months before, which is May 11, 2019 (yeah, I know…I’m crazy) However, for Brent and Justin, it would, and it just made more sense for them to defer. So once again, I was going to have to race alone, which I had done a few times this year already…but not an IronMan…not in an area I had never been to…and not with zero familiar faces….but it was what it was, and if I could overcome a Volcano and Hurricane, I’d overcome this.
Fast forward to Thursday, November 1st. I would arrive in Orlando, Florida that evening with a carry-on backpack and one checked bag…at 50lbs. I didn’t want a lot of bags, because I was doing this all solo, and even packed all must-have race equipment in my backpack, just in case my luggage got lost enroute (connected through Houston). I had also shipped my bike to Florida, just as I had done with IronMan Maryland and IronMan Hawaii, and secured the additional valet service so that I would not need to worry about collecting my bags from transition after the race…they’d grab and take them back, along with my bike.
While waiting for my luggage, I met a fellow racer on the same flight from Houston, who was doing his 8th IronMan race of the year…yes…year. He was just an age group athlete, but belonged to a team…and to be honest, didn’t look like someone who did that many in a year, but clearly looks were deceiving, lol. We chatted about all the chaos leading up to the race and discovered we were staying in the same vacation home community (it had several areas that surrounded a golf course). Once my language arrived, we parted ways, as he was waiting on others…I’d later see him at check in and post race, but only from a far (remember…super memory on faces). I then headed straight for my car rental (with several Disney trips and a couple cruises under my belt, I know the Orlando airport well), and then took the 20min drive to Haines City…hoping my house would look like the pictures….it did. The next two days, I checked in, got familiar with the race venue, found a close spot where I could reserve parking on race day (wasn’t trying to hike to my car after the race with my morning clothes bag…in who knows what condition), picked up my bike, checked it in (along with my bike and run gear bags), laid out everything I needed race morning, then proceeded to enjoy an early pasta dinner from a local Italian place I found the day before at the house….while watching the Longhorns suck it up against West Virginia (boooo!).
The night before a race is always “fun”…I tend to wake up a lot, fearing I will over sleep….even though we gained an hour of sleep that night. Add to that, I was going through a lot of emotion because I was doing this all alone. I mean, I know I had people back home supporting me, and it’s not like you see much of your fellow racers or supporters during the race (accept for the run), but it was still tough. I guess it didn’t really hit me until check in and the mandatory athlete briefing, where I had to indicate an emergency contact (my Mom, but not much she could do from Texas if I was injured) when they are suggesting to athletes where their family/friends should be during the race to cheer….what you should leave with them before heading to the swim start…how they can pick up your bike/gear bags after…and where they can meet you after the race. Needless to say…I didn’t sleep much that night.
On race day morning, transition opened at 4:30am and closed at 6:15am, but I was only 2 miles away and had secured parking across the street from the venue. I left the house around 5am, parked, had a short moment of prayer in my car, then headed for transition. The lady in the reserved lot wished me luck, which made me smile (she remembered me and my name…not a lot of 6’4” black men do these, lol), and was setting up my bike by 5:30 and out of transition by 5:45am. The next 30min, after leaving my morning clothes bag (had my phone and car keys too), I spent the time stretching, mentally going through the 6 swim turns I would take…twice, and just trying to control the pre-race nerves and emotion. The weather for the day was predicted to be a high in the low 80s, with a lot of cloud cover, and a chance of rain in the late afternoon and evening…which is usual for this area of Florida at this time. The temperature had dropped just enough in the days leading up to the race, along with some heavy rain the day before, that the swim would be wetsuit legal at 70ºF…already my luck was turning :-). With an IronMan record breaking turn count of 12, the wetsuit buoyancy would be a welcomed asset today. So with about 10min until race start at 6:30am, I put on my wetsuit and headed to the beach to seed myself into the 1:30-1:45 race pace group. As I slowly walked towards rolling swim start, this time in groups of 4, the nerves and emotion went away, replaced by a sense of calm determination to trust my training, accept whatever challenges may come, and do this damn race!
I spent the first straight portion of the first loop, warming up…getting my breathing right and stroke pace down. I stayed to the far right of the buoys to avoid a lot of contact, but that all went away after the first turn. The swim in a triathlon is the shortest, yet most mentally challenging part. You are navigating the course, trying to avoid getting kicked, bumped, or impeded by other athletes, maintain a good pace, and breathe without swallowing too much water from waves created by other swimmers and safety spotters in small boating craft nearby…it’s a bit chaotic. There is always a bit of a traffic jam at the turns (yay for 6 of them in one loop!), with some swimmers trying to course correct into the turn right through/over you and others stopping in front of you to check their direction or rest while holding on to the buoy. This race also had a timing section in the middle of the swim course, right at the “crotch” of the pants, to make sure people didn’t just swim straight across.
Fortunately, I had done a similar section in last year’s IronMan Maryland, so I knew what to expect. You have to swim between these long floating black cylinders, with timing wires above you, through a space that is maybe 10ft wide. Picture a 6 lane highway funneling into 2 and you get an idea of the “fun” had in that part of the swim course. This small timing section was made even more challenging by the fact that you switched from having the buoys on your left, to having them on your right, but only for this small section…and about a third of the swimmers didn’t remember that, which added even more chaos on the first loop. Finally, because we were only going in at 4 people a time and the course was a loop, you had the SUPER fast people who started first lapping you as you approached the beach for your exit and return to the water…which just sucks from a motivation standpoint. With all that said, I exited the first loop feeling pretty good…quickly walked over to the 2nd loop entry point (grabbing a cup of water to mostly wash the dirty lake water out of my mouth)…and headed through the muddy lake bottom and back in for loop 2.
The second loop went pretty good, though I did get hit across the goggles in the initial straight away, which meant I had to spend a couple minutes adjusting them while in the water so they wouldn’t leak as I swam….fun times. I feel like the second loop was smoother for two reasons:
- People knew the course and navigated the turns/buoys better
- Swimmers had spaced enough out in the swim…calming down after the adrenaline rush of the first half.
After passing the 12th and final turn, I actually picked up my swim pace. The blood flow into my upper body was strong now, supporting my muscle movement well, and I was able to pass a lot of folks as I headed to the exit. My swim time was 2 minutes slower than IronMan Maryland, but given all the turns and having to exit and re-enter the swim, I had ZERO complaints….and didn’t get eaten by alligators! One part down, two to go!
Before I go into the bike, I have to make a couple comments about the transition experience from swim to bike. This was probably my single, biggest issue with this race, which given the last minute relocation…it wasn’t THAT big of a deal, but definitely added time. First, the section where the wetsuit strippers were located was on the beach, almost immediately after you exited the water, which wouldn’t have been an issue….but there was nothing but sand to lay on (pink area marked). So once stripped of your wetsuit, your entire backside was covered in sand (you have to lay down for them to pull it off quickly from the ankles). Then they only had three showers setup to wash the sand off at (the light blue blob)…THREE…this race had close to 2000 participants. Finally, we had to run damn near a quarter of a mile between swim exit, gear bag pick up, change “tents” (it was a community center), and bike exit (in yellow). So for anyone thinking I was just “gathering myself” or taking it easy…I wasn’t…I was wiping off sand and hiking.
Next was the bike. Let me first start off by saying I had no flats or other mechanical issues for the entire portion of the race…THANK YOU JESUS!!! With that said, it ended up taking me close to an hour longer than I planned…20min longer than my time in IronMan Maryland, where I hit a strong headwind on my 2nd 56 mile loop. Looking back on it, this course wasn’t particularly hard or windy, and I started out the first loop feeling great and moving with speed…around 20mph…on target to average my planned 18mph. I knew from studying the course map (you can see it in the elevation map) that the back part of the loop had some elevation, but nothing I couldn’t handle. There
was traffic along the course, but adequate police and race support along it, so no delays from dumb or impatient drivers. There was a pretty serious accident that I happen to come up on probably about 20min after it occurred. A car pulled out in front of a racer going downhill….the athlete broke both hands, his sternum, injured his leg, and had stitches in his chin. Reports said he was stable and recovering in the hospital afterwards, but riding by that…seeing the mangled bike and emergency personnel definitely had an impact…especially when you’re doing the race by yourself, but I had to push that out of my mind and focus on the ride and staying safe. I guess between the hills and the roads in that back half of the course getting rougher (adds rolling resistance), it all added up to me taking longer than I should have the first loop…about 20min too slow. At this point, I knew I was looking at coming in at a similar or slower time compared to my IronMan Maryland race. There was no way I’d be able to ride the second loop faster, as I was beginning to tire a little heading into the second 56 mile loop. Mentally and emotionally, I had one of three low points of the race then. I was disappointed in my performance….starting to get a little tired…the sun was starting to peak out….and I was alone.
Adding to that, I got leg cramps in both inner thighs about 10min into loop 2, but as in prior races…I was able to push through the next 15min of them coming and going. I increased my fluid and salt pill intake, and adjusted my gears to to sacrifice speed over a high pedal cadence. Fortunately, the sun was never too intense and I seemed to have missed the little amount of rain that hit the back part of the course earlier in the day…which would have made that hard portion even worse! I got to the 100 mile marker…literally said “Hallelujah!”…and proceeded to will myself through the last long, hilly, wet, and humid 12 miles towards the bike finish. I completed the bike just barely under 7 hours. Two down…one to go! Plenty of time left for the marathon, but still a bit disappointed with my performance.
Heading into the run, I was able to leave my bike with a volunteer who would rack it for me. All the big IronMan races have this, but with IronMan Maryland only being 3 years old and relatively small (about half the number of athletes)…I didn’t have this service last year. Thank God we had this, because once again we had to run the Transition-a-thon back to the changing area, and while it was shorter than the first time…it was much more “fun” in bike shoes.
I went through this transition pretty quickly, as I kept the same race clothes on. I only needed to put on my socks and shoes, attach my racing belts and bib, and then head out with my running sunglasses and hat on….right into a damn uphill, lol. As per my usual race habit, I visited the port-a-potty to flush out all the race nutrition gels and electrolyte fluids taken during the bike…emerging feeling like Superman out from a phone booth…LOL! The run course started out with a short 3 mile section that then led into 3 loops of a little over 7.5 miles, and then ended with a half mile run back into an area close to the swim exit. After about the first mile to mile and a half, I knew I was DONE with taking racing gels for nutrition…and proceeded to throw that entire belt and gels in the trash can. This left me with my other belt with my race number, that had my electrolyte pills, asprin, ibuprofen, gas-x, and bronchaid in case my occasional mild asthma acted up. I would do the rest of the 26.2 mile run on bananas and oranges, while drinking water and gatorade…and the occasional coke for caffeine and sugar. During the first loop I felt pretty good. Had no cramping, joint pain, or physical discomfort beyond fatigue, and this would be the case for the entire run. My plan was to walk a tenth a the start of every mile and run the rest. That plan went well for about the first 5 to 7 miles, but then I realized the course was just too hilly for that approach. I then decided to switch to running the flats and down hills, and walking the uphills and aid stations. I was able to maintain this approach for most of the race. Upon completing the first loop, I had my second of two low points. I was about 10 miles in with 16 miles left, and I was running though the main cheering section. It was still light outside, you could hear the people becoming IronMen at the finish line near by…and I had two more loops to go…by myself. Now to be clear, I never had the thought of quitting…I made it to the run…I was finishing. But I did have some pretty negative thoughts about myself, and seeing people slow down to hug loved ones or just say hi, while I had no one hit hard. But then I heard someone say, “Looking good Robbie!”…and another stranger say “You got this Robbie, just keep going”…and just to hear someone say my name was an amazing emotional lift. I knew they were just reading my name from my bib, as others have done for me in past races and that I have done for strangers in races before. However, perhaps because I was alone and there without anyone who knew me, just hearing someone cheer for me by name huge. This was probably one of the larger positive takeaways for me in this race, in that you never know what situation a racer is in and how simply cheering them on by name can help. I also had some lady compliment me on my arms towards the end of that section, lol…and while I am single and it is flattering, I’m not really looking for the next love of my life in this race…I’m looking for the finish line!
About half way through the second loop, my Garmin Forerunner watch hit low battery…nooooooooo! The same thing happened in my last IronMan race, but I thought I had made the necessary adjustments so it would last. I was maybe 16 or so miles into the race, it had started to sprinkle, it was dark….and I could hear/see thunder and lightning off in the distance…coming our way. This was the third and final low point. I would yet
again fail to get a full IronMan race for my personal data records…fail to record a 26.2 mile run (this was only my 2nd marathon ever)….it was cooling down to the low 70s and about to rain like hell…and again, I was all alone…I mean COME ON!
The rain came…and came…and came down…hard. Fortunately, I had my running hat to shield my eyes, and with 11 miles left to go, I knew I could finish. Hell, I had done a whole 13.1 mile training run in the dark, in my neighborhood last year when the left-over storm of Hurricane Harvey came through Austin. What then happened was amazing….the very thing that brought me to my lowest point in the race, also raised me to my highest. You see as I entered the third and final loop with about 8 miles left to run, the course was much less crowded…many friends and family had left for shelter…it was pretty bleak…except for the awesome course volunteers. They were still at the aid stations, handing out food and drink…in the rain…on a Sunday night…cheering us on. I ran by several volunteers who had no head cover, were standing alone at certain turn points on the course to ensure we went the right way, and still cheering…it’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I had for these people…it still gets to me when I write this…there was no way in hell I was gonna stop or let my solo race situation get to me after that point….I was going to finish and finish strong. So I did…and along the way, I made friends with a Hispanic man who I had passed by several times on the run course before…I’d pass him…later on he’d pass me…and so on and so forth…it happens a lot in these races. We were about 4 miles away from the end and happened to just start talking. Turned out he was from Plano, Texas and drove to the race with his wife. We talked about the race…the craziness of the last minute changes…how we both prepared for ocean swims and ended up swimming in a lake…and just enjoyed each other’s company as we ran the downhills and walked the uphills towards the end. As we approached the finisher shoot, he broke out his Mexican flag arm band, a tradition he had for finishing, we said our farewells, and then ran towards the finish strong. If you saw the video of my finish, he finished just before I did…I let him go first and I think I heard his wife call out to him as he crossed…it was nice to see.
So there ya have it. Thanks for staying with me through this novel of a post. I felt like I needed to cover it all, from the start of the season, so readers could really appreciate the end….and understand why despite finishing an hour slower…in the rain…by myself…I came away from this race feeling fantastic! I was honestly happier with my performance and more proud of myself after this IronMan, than I was for my first. I recovered really fast…was physically 100% by the end of Tuesday and about fully recovered, energy wise by Friday…even played basketball the following Saturday morning for a couple hours :-). I will take a short break from swim/bike/run training, but then start it back up slowly in December. I can’t get too comfortable…got IronMan Puerto Rico 70.3 in March and IronMan Santa Rosa in May! 😉
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NIV
So for those who haven’t noticed the LinkedIn profile update, I’m now fortunate enough to join the awesome folks at Vapor IO. I’m super excited to be part of this team as we push forward to deliver next generation hardware, software, and service technologies needed for the low latency demand of 5G communications, including IoT, virtual and augmented reality, smart cities, and connected cars. If you’re interested in the details of what we’re doing, check out the work we’re doing with Project Volutus….and if you wanna join me in this adventure, I AM HIRING!!! And if you don’t see a fit, shoot me an email (email@example.com), because I’m always open to hiring great engineering talent. when possible.
Ubuntu announced its new Foundations team manager over 9 years ago, on September 29, 2008 an internal email went out with the pre-announce:
Hi folks, I'm pleased to be able to let you know that we've signed a new manager for the Foundations team. His name is Robbie Williamson, currently at IBM, and he'll be joining us from the 20th of October. Please keep this quiet for now (i.e. it's not for dissemination on IRC channels or mailing lists yet; Matt will be preparing an announcement for distro-team@ in due course), as he has yet to inform the team he's currently managing! However, he said he was OK with me letting you guys know in advance now. I've talked with a couple of you about this already, but I believe that we're provisionally planning to put most of the previously-discussed reporting changes into effect at the same time. Thus: 20 October: Colin: Foundations manager -> Foundations tech lead Alexander, Arne, Bryce, Chris: Foundations -> Desktop Michael: Desktop -> Foundations When a new desktop manager is hired: Scott: Desktop manager -> Foundations Any objections, please let me know! Cheers, -- Colin Watson [firstname.lastname@example.org]
The support period for this “release” is now nearing its end and email@example.com will reach end of life on today, April 30th. At that time, Canonical will no longer include information or updated packages for Robbie Williamson.
The supported upgrade path from firstname.lastname@example.org is via email@example.com. The firstname.lastname@example.org email address will continue to be actively supported with reads and select high-impact responses. All announcements of official updates for Robbie Williamson are also sent to Twitter and LinkedIn, information about which may be found at:
Since its launch in October 2004 Ubuntu has become one of the most highly regarded Linux distributions with millions of users in homes, schools, businesses and governments around the world. Ubuntu is Open Source software, costs nothing to download, and users are free to customize or alter their software in order to meet their needs. I am honored to have played a role in helping to make Ubuntu what it is today, extremely grateful for the opportunity given to me to do so, and infinitely proud to have worked with so many amazingly bright and wonderful people inside Canonical and the Ubuntu community as a whole.
As for what’s next….stay tuned to this channel 😉
“Ubuhulk” signing off!
It’s been over 3 years since my last blog post. I haven’t been hiding or anything, it’s just that with updates across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat…I never felt the need to post beyond the friends and followers I have there. However, this past weekend changed that.
As you can tell by the title and the picture above, I completed my first full 140.6 mile IronMan race this past Saturday in Cambridge, Maryland. For those who don’t know me well, or just haven’t been keeping up on the various social media streams, I started doing triathlons about three years ago. I never had a life goal to do an IronMan…or a Half IronMan…or even a triathlon. I knew I could do a triathlon, but wasn’t sure if I’d like doing it…but I tried CrossFit…liked that…tried a half marathon…didn’t die…so f*ck it, I figured I’d keep going outside of my comfort zone.
My first triathlon was in May of 2015…the annual Rookie Tri in Austin, TX. It’s a perfect triathlon for newbies, as the distances are short: 300 meter swim, then an 11 mile bike, ending with a 2 mile run. I finished in at time of 1:13:05…looking good in all my Hulk splendor, lol.
Fast forward two years of more CrossFit…more triathlons…more training, and I did my first IronMan 70.3 mile distance race in Austin, Texas last October. I finished with a time of 6:12:48.
With the swim getting cancelled, a delayed bike start, and record high temperatures that day, the race didn’t go as well as I had hoped…but I did finish, which is all I really hoped to do. I didn’t have any significant injuries post race, but I was hurting at the end for sure. I didn’t feel recovered physically (i.e. able to workout) for probably 4 or 5 days afterwards.
Despite all of that, I had already pushed myself further…and signed up for the 2017 IronMan Maryland race about 3 weeks before. I decided to sign up before my IronMan 70.3 to avoid any fatigue/pain induced hesitation or second thoughts post race. To be honest, I may not have done it if I waited, so looking back now…glad I did. I chose Maryland because the bike and run course was flat, and the time of year would ensure a wetsuit swim (helps with buoyancy and improves my speed) and a relatively cool ride and run. It was the perfect race for me…at least from my initial research. Later on…after registering, waiving my partial refund option, and finishing my 70.3…I would learn that this would only be the 3rd year for the race. To make things worse, the previous two years had severe weather issues that caused rescheduling and shortening of the course. Given I had my swim cancelled in my 70.3 race (thus really being a 69.1), you can imagine how upsetting this was…but I was in it now, so all I could do is train and hope for the best.
Fast forward to April 2017.
For my IronMan 70.3, I used an online training application called Training Peaks. The IronMan organization has coaches that post 6 month training plans that you can pay for and plug right into the application. It will then populate a calendar with every run, bike, swim, and strength workout you need to do until race day. The plans are adjustable based on your progression and you can slide some workouts around to fit your schedule. Given it worked pretty well for my 70.3, I decided to use it again for my full 140.6 race training. I started 7 months out to allow slack for my annual vacation week with my sons, as well as those days when work travel or life commitments wouldn’t allow for training.
Now for those of you who have never done an IronMan, the race itself is the relatively easy part…training is the hard part. Most people think you’re just swimming, biking, and running all the time…and you are, but you’re also figuring out how many calories you need a day to keep that up, what nutrition works with your body for the long rides and runs, how you will maintain hydration and electrolyte levels without having to pee/puke/poop all the time, the right settings for your bike to avoid unnecessary pain, discomfort, and loss of pedal power, the right clothing to wear, breathing and stroke techniques for swim, and how to efficiently and effectively recover. Your life becomes programmed for 6-7 months..and this is on top of the day-to-day demands of your “normal” life. I was living the IronMan “dream”. Spending hours and hours training, trying to maintain some level of strength with scaled back CrossFit workouts when I could, working/traveling as a full-time executive, putting in full effort as a part-time single Dad of the best two boys in the world, and attempting to have a social life when I wasn’t exhausted and just wanted to sleep. Smartly, I only signed up for 3 triathlon races this year, each spaced appropriately apart with building distances because I knew that’s about all I could handle.
By the start of July…I was burning out. Everything mentioned before, on top of other stress in my personal life was becoming too much…I wasn’t enjoying myself much…but still trying to “fake it, until I made it”. My training was done mostly alone, because my work/parenting demands leave for little slack in my free time. Training groups are awesome and I highly recommend them, but if you are gonna train in a group or with friends, you need to be somewhat flexible to accommodate everyone’s schedule…and I just didn’t have that. So take that, add me having to give up weekend basketball to reduce the likelihood of injuries, miss a lot of CrossFit workouts with friends due to fatigue or lack of time, plus the fact that I’m a single Dad who works from home in an empty house a lot of the time….and you can see how the alone time can start to wear on you. While I knew the alone time training was good from a standpoint of race preparation mentally (it’s mostly just you out there until the run), I also knew I needed to free up more time or my training (and my life) would start to suffer from lack of motivation.
So, I started searching for IronMan training programs that included strength as a core part and would allow me to have more free time. I figured just like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) builds strength without hours in the gym, there had to be a better way to build endurance without so many high volume workouts. I recalled there being a CrossFit Endurance program a couple years ago, but it had gone away. I did some digging on the person who created it, Brian MacKenzie, and ended up coming across his new program called Power Speed Endurance (PSE). This was created exactly to meet my needs…it was literally an answer to my prayers. People can read about it on their own, but in short the focus is more on proper technique and intensity of the triathlon workout, versus the volume. It includes sport specific strength and HIIT cardio programming, along with a strong focus on the proper approach to mobility and breathing to aid in recovery. Needless to say that after reading through the theory, results, and sample programming, I immediately switched over. I also setup a 1-on-1 with the triathlon coach, Jeff Ford, who is THE BOMB! Now to be clear, having any coach, even remote, is a huge plus because they can adjust programming on the fly for your situation and are there to answer questions or concerns you may have. Jeff put together a 12 week plan for me based on my needs, ability, experience, and expectations….which I was lucky to have in place EXACTLY 12 weeks out from my race. It essentially augmented the normal PSE triathlete program to include customized workouts on the weekend, notes on nutrition, and and how much volume to add towards the race. However, all of this was accomplished without going into the extremely long, exhausting workouts of the traditional IronMan programming. For example, the longest I ever rode my bike in my 12 week lead up was 50miles, longest run was 13.1 miles, and longest swim 2000 meters. Traditional programming has you riding 100 miles 3 weeks out from the race…no thank you. I began seeing results after the first few weeks. My workouts were more interesting with the strength and HIIT conditioning, I was getting measurably stronger, and my performance in my swims, bikes, and runs were improving much better. The best part was that this was all occurring while leaving me more time and energy to live my life. I think if you wanted to compete at the pro level, then you’d need to do more of the traditional style…but if you’re just trying to be a good age-group triathlete, not lose a sh*t load of muscle, and feel somewhat “normal” after the race is done, I strongly suggest checking this approach out.
My final triathlon before my IronMan was the Onalaska 70.299 near in Onalaska, Texas near Lake Livingston on September 10, 2017…about 4 weeks out from the race. No idea why they say 70.299, but I suspect there is some trademark related issue with IronMan because the distances added up to 70.3 miles. Anyway, I was a bit apprehensive about doing it because I had to travel out there alone, didn’t know anyone in the race, didn’t know anyone who had done the race, and it would be the longest race I had ever done…assuming the swim wasn’t cancelled again. From the moment I got there, things started going a little “off plan”, but I ended up finishing with a time of 8:11:21…at 73.2 miles. I’ll spare you the details (most of my friends already know them), but every leg of the race had chaos, e.g. missing porta-potties, choppy waves, swim buoys moving, a lovebug infestation, wrong distances, and apparently alligators had been seen in the lake. Needless to say that I was not very happy after the race…at all. I had swam, biked, and ran slower than planned, had stomach issues during the run, and then had to load up all my stuff by myself, including my bike, and drive 3 hours back home right after. For the first hour of the drive back, I was honestly rattled…my performance was worse than from a year before, I was only 4 weeks out from doing a race twice as long, and if I didn’t improve I could hit the 17 hour time limit and not finish…not get a medal…not be an IronMan.
After an hour of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I needed to use this experience to get better…not bitter. I focused on what I could learn from the race and any positive takeaways…and there were some good ones. I knew I could handle a rough water swim now, I knew I could handle surprises on the course, I knew I could handle stomach issues, and I knew that I was strong-willed and focused enough to finish a race even when the race director officially ended it (too early) and I saw other people taking short-cuts on the run. The best part was that I knew I was in better shape because the next day I was able to walk into my CrossFit gym and hit a personal best on a 3 rep max back squat….I could barely walk the day after my IronMan 70.3 Austin a year before. So in the end, Onalaska was a blessing……buuuut I’ll never do it again. LOL
After Onalaska, I had four weeks left…that included three business trips (one international), a multitude of Dad commitments for school, sports, etc, a 13.1 mile during Hurricane Harvey (wasn’t that bad in Austin, just non-stop rain and wind gusts), and me missing my flight out of Austin Thursday morning because I forgot to update my calendar after United had moved the flight over a month before (ugh)….but I made it through all of that (and more) to arrive in Cambridge, Maryland on Thursday, October 5th. Then about 5min after I arrive, my good friend and fellow competitor in the race, Brent Baker, sends me these.
Yep…that’s right folks…jellyfish in the water. We had heard that there were jellyfish in this lake, but that they clear out by October…but apparently that’s late October. I have never been stung by a jellyfish, so I had no idea how bad it would feel…if I was allergic…if my throat would swell up during the swim and I’d drown! However, after Onalaska…after the 6 months of training…and all the money spent to get here, I decided to suck it up and swim. I figured that between having a full-body wetsuit and the over 1000 other swimmers in the water…I had a solid chance of getting through it pain free.
The next day was spent picking up registration and swag bag stuff, checking in gear bags and my bike, attending the athlete briefing, checking out the finisher medal and finish line near IronMan village….and trying to convince myself that I had nothing to worry about with those damn jellyfish.
That evening, I had a good dinner with my friends who were also competing, along with my Mom and their families. Later that night a couple more friends would arrive, one unexpectedly, to be ready to cheer me on the next day.
Race day arrived. I had gotten a decent amount of sleep the night before, which was nice, and had my usual pre-training day protein bar and amino drink in the morning. I was fresh and feeling great! We all headed out to the race…full of nervous energy and excitement. I think my family and friends were more nervous and excited for me than I was, but I’m also pretty good at staying calm before the storm, so to speak. Plus, that morning I had made the decision to enjoy the day. No more worrying about stupid jellyfish, or flats/wrecks/mechanical issues on the bike, or stomach issues and cramps on the run, or the weather, or whatever. I had put in a ton of work for this and to finally get here and obsessively worry would be a waste. So when that alarm went off, I sent a short message to the Man upstairs to keep me safe so I could return to my family and friends, had a chat with my Dad in heaven, and then put 100% of my energy into making the most of the day with the people I love.
The 2.4 mile swim went extremely well for me. I’m already a pretty strong/fast swimmer, and with the wetsuit, I knew that I’d be even better today……buuuut we did have jellyfish. Lucky for me, I had zero stings…can’t say the same for my friends, but no one was even remotely hurt during the swim. Perhaps it was the last minute jellyfish repellent cream a fellow athlete gave me, or that I pee’d in my wetsuit half way through the first of two loops (don’t judge me…everyone does it), but I came out unstung. There was a strong current, but it was mostly pushing us from behind, and I ended up coming out with the fastest long distance swim (i.e. 1 mile or more) I’ve ever had….good start to a good day.
After rinsing off the salt water (that’s why my face looks like that) and getting the wetsuit stripped off, I picked up my bike transition bag and headed for the men’s changing tent. IronMan is the only triathlon (that I know of) that provides tents for changing between transitions. Every other race (including the 70.3) requires you to transition right by your bike…so there’s only so much you can change. Inside the tent, there are naked men everywhere…putting on creams, tights, sunscreen, shoes, etc. There’s also some fluids and nutrition, along with people to help manage the chaos.
After changing, I headed out of the tent and towards my bike for the 112 mile ride. This would be the longest I had ever ridden before…previous distance being only 70 miles. I wasn’t worried…I trusted the training…but nevertheless, I knew I was going to set a personal best on the bike today! The bike course was a 6 mile ride out, to a 50 mile loop, that we did twice before riding back 6 more miles to transition. I had wanted to average around 17.5mph or more to finish in just over 6 hours. The course was very flat, so I was confident I could do that or even better. I figured I would be passed by one of my friends, Justin, but I expected that…he’s good on the bike. After the first loop, he had passed me, but I was feeling great…riding at over 18mph average, had no mechanical or intestinal issues…saw my other friends cheering me on…life was good. Then the wind picked up. The first half of the second loop was either a direct headwind or vicious crosswind, and at my size and with my aerowheels, it is no fun at all. You want to sit upright to have more power in the pedal, but doing so turns you into a human wind sail. At one point I was barely going 11mph…I would have traded all that wind for hills any day. Around mile 80, I caught my second wind though (no pun intended) and I was able to adjust my position on my bike to allow me to use more of my hamstrings and butt to pedal…much stronger there. I finished out the ride strong, but was passed by another friend, Brent, with 30 min left in the ride, and even though I was still committed to enjoying the day….I was definitely annoyed with that. I finished my bike in a time of 6:40:34…about 30 minutes slower than I thought I would coming out of the first loop, but ironically on the 17mph pace I originally wanted…so all in all, not a bad ride in the end.
Next up…a marathon. This would be another personal best, as the longest I had ever run before…in my life..was just over 13.5 miles. Again, I wasn’t worried…I trusted the training…and by then I knew I had enough time to walk the entire thing if I had to. I went into transition, thanking God I was off that bike and feeling amazingly well in my legs. My plan was simple, yet effective. Run a “comfortable” pace under 13min/mile (under 12min if I felt good), and walk for 1-2min through every aid station. The aid stations were set about a mile a part, so I was essentially running 26.2 x 1 mile repeats. Breaking it up this way, not only helped me physically, but also mentally. For every mile, except for probably the last three and two somewhere in the middle when I needed to use the porta-potty (best feeling EVER after those two stops), I was able to stay on plan and run the full distance between aid stations…no walking…with a comfortable, yet strong stride…1-2 min walk with a smile on my face at every aid station, thanking every volunteer….seeing my insanely awesome friends and Mom cheering me on…and genuinely enjoying the experience. I remember looking up at the moon towards the end and thinking how pretty it was on the horizon, and noticing that I wasn’t in any unanticipated discomfort or pain. I was tired for sure…legs a little heavy…but no blisters, chaffing, swelling, or joint pain throughout the entire run. I’ve never been a huge fan of running…often saying that if it were at the beginning or middle of a triathlon, I probably would have never done them…but I put a lot of work into learning how to run long distances properly and it had finally paid off. I planned on finishing my run in 6 hours…I finished in a time of 6:01:40.
I completed my first IronMan race in a time of 14:37:38. I wanted under 14 hours, and had I been a little faster in transition and better on the second bike loop, I would have made it….but I’m still pretty proud of myself.
In closing I’d like to thank all the friends, families, coaches, and institutions that helped me along the way. I cannot begin to name them all, but special shout outs go to Woodward CrossFit, AJ’s Cyclery, Northwest YMCA, Pure Austin Quarry Lake, and Barton Springs Pool…it wouldn’t have happened without having access to these places. As for people, I have to give thanks to my two sons, Kalen and Bryce, for behaving and patiently waiting at home while Daddy went for long rides, runs, and swims on weekends. I thank all my friends and family who tolerated my countless Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat postings of workouts. However, I have to call out the three other crazies I convinced to do this race with me: Brent Baker, Andrea Baker (another first timer!), and Justin Fosbury…you all made it a blast!
And last, but definitely not least, I have nothing but the deepest of love and greatest of gratitude to my Mom, Linda Williamson, along with my friends Pamela Gagot, Michael Strauss, and Lisel Kraus for coming all the way out to where “Boyz in da hood meets the South” and supporting me all day and night. I love you guys.
Looking back at the entire thing…from my decision to do it, to the start of training, to the finish line…it was truly a life changing event. The changes you go through physically, mentally, and spiritually throughout training cannot be put into words. You end up learning that most of the limits you have in life are self-imposed…that you can do a lot more than you’re capable of…handle a lot more than you ever thought you could. At times, the training was the only constant in my life…almost a mediation period, when I could focus on a single movement or workout to block out everything else. The past twelve months of my life have been intense…including the unexpected passing of my father, some radical changes in my job, and other unexpected and/or stressfull changes in my personal/family life. All in all…I have to say that this IronMan race may have been a blessing in disguise.
Now it’s time for another tattoo!!!!!
This is a not a stock ticker, rather a health ticker…and unlike with a stock price, a downward trend is good. Over the last 3 years or so, I’ve been on a personal mission of improving my health. As you can see it wasn’t perfect, but I managed to lose a good amount of weight.
So why did I do it…what was the motivation…it’s easy, I decided in 2011 that I needed to put me first. This was me from 2009
At my biggest, I was pushing 270lbs. I was so busy trying to do for others, be it work, family, or friends, I was constantly putting my needs last, i.e. exercise and healthy eating. You see, I actually like to exercise and healthy eating isn’t a hard thing for me, but when you start putting those things last on your priorities, it becomes easy to justify skipping the exercise or grabbing junk food because your short on time or exhausted from being the “hero”.
Now I have battled weight issues most of my life. Given how I looked as a baby, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. LOL
But I did thin out as a child.
To only get bigger again
And even bigger again
But then I got lucky. My metabolism kicked into high gear around 20, and I grew about 5 inches and since I was playing a ton of basketball daily, I ate anything I wanted and still stayed skinny
I remained so up until I had my first child, then the pounds began to come on. Many parents will tell you that the first time is always more than you expected, so it’s not surprising with sleep deprivation and stress, you gain weight. To make it even more fun, I had decide to start a new job and buy a new house a few years later, when my second child came…even more “fun”.
To be clear, I’m not blaming any of my weight gain on these events, however they became easy crutches to justify putting myself last. And here’s the crazy part, by doing all this, I actually ended up doing less for those I cared about in the long run, because I was physically exhausted, mentally fatigued, and emotionally spent a lot of the time.
So, around October of 2012 I made a decision. In order for me to be the man I wanted to be for my family, friends, and even colleagues, I had to put myself first. While it sounds selfish, it’s the complete opposite. In order to be the best I could be for others, I realized I had to get myself together first. For those of you who followed me on Facebook then, you already know what it took…a combination of MyFitnessPal calorie tracking and a little known workout program called Insanity:
Me and my boy, Shaun T, worked out religiously…everyday…sometimes mornings…sometimes afternoons…sometimes evenings. I carried him with me all for work travel on my laptop and phone…doing Insanity videos in hotels rooms around the world. I did the 60day program about 4 times through (with breaks in between cycles)…adding in some weight workouts towards the end. The results were great, as you can see in the first graphic starting around October 2012. By staying focused and consistent, I dropped from about 255lbs to 226lbs at my lowest in July 2013. I got rid of a lot of XXL shirts and 42in waist pants/shorts, and got to a point where I didn’t always feel the need to swim with a shirt on….if ya know what I mean ;-). So August rolled around, and while I was feeling good about myself…didn’t feel great, because I knew that while I was lighter, and healthier, I wasn’t necessarily that much stronger. I knew that if I wanted to really be healthy and keep this weight off, I’d need more muscle mass…plus I’d look better too :-P.
So the Crossfit journey began.
Now I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my first thought. I had read all the horror stories about injuries and seen some of the cult-like stuff about it. However, a good friend of mine from college was a coach, and pretty much called me out on it…she was right…I was judging something based on others opinions and not my own (which is WAY outta character for me). So…I went to my first Crossfit event…the Women’s Throwdown in Austin, TX (where I live) held by Woodward Crossfit in July of 2013. It was pretty awesome….it wasn’t full of muscle heads yelling at each other or insane paleo eating nut jobs trying to out shine another…it was just hardworking athletes pushing themselves as hard as they could…for a great cause (it’s a charity event)…and having a lot of fun. I planned to only stay for a little bit, but ended up staying the whole damn day! Long story, short…I joined Woodward Crossfit a few weeks after (the delay was because I was determined to complete my last Insanity round, plus I had to go on a business trip), which was around the week of my birthday (Aug 22).
Fast forward a little over a year, with a recently added 21-day Fitness Challenge by David King (who also goes to the same gym), and as of today I’m down about 43lbs (212), with a huge reduction in body fat percentage. I don’t have the starting or current percentage, but let’s just say all 43lbs lost was fat, and I’ve gained a good amount of muscle in the last year as well…which is why the line flattened a bit before I kicked it up another notch with the 21-Day last month.
Now I’m not posting any more pictures, because that’s not the point of this post (but trust me…I look goooood :P). My purpose is exactly what the subject says, priorities & perseverance. What are you prioritizing in your life? Are you putting too many people’s needs ahead of your own? Are you happy as a result? If you were like me, I already know the answer…but you don’t have to stay this way. You only get one chance at this life, so make the most out of it. Make the choice to put your happiness first, and I don’t mean selfishly…that’s called pleasure. You’re happier when your loved ones are doing well and happy…you’re happier when you have friends who like you and that you can depend on….you’re happier when you kick ass at work…you’re happier when you kill it on the basketball court (or whatever activity you like). Make the decision to be happy, set your goals, then perservere until you attain them…you will stumble along the way…and there will be those around you who either purposely or unknowingly discourage you, but stay focused…it’s not their life…it’s yours. And when it gets really hard…just remember the wise words of Stuart Smalley:
I’m often asked what being the Vice President of Cloud Development and Operations means, when introduced for a talk or meeting, or when someone happens to run by my LinkedIn profile or business card.
The office of the CDO has been around in Canonical for so long, I forget that the approach we’ve taken to IT and development is either foreign or relatively new to a lot of IT organizations, especially in the commonly thought of “enterprise” space. I was reminded of this when I gave a presentation at an OpenStack Developer Summit entitled “OpenStack in Production: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly” a year ago in Portland, Oregon. Many in the audience were surprised by the fact that Canonical not only uses OpenStack in production, but uses our own tools, Juju and MAAS, created to manage these cloud deployments. Furthermore, some attendees were floored by how our IT and engineering teams actually worked well together to leverage these deployments in our production deployment of globally accessible and extensively used services.
Before going into what the CDO is today, I want to briefly cover how it came to be. The story of the CDO goes back to 2009, when our CEO, Jane Silber, and Founder, Mark Shuttleworth, were trying to figure out how our IT operations team and web services teams could work better…smarter together. At the same time our engineering teams had been experimenting with cloud technologies for about a year, going so far as to provide the ability to deploy a private cloud in our 9.04 release of Ubuntu Server.
It was clear to us then, that cloud computing would revolutionize the way in which IT departments and developers interact and deploy solutions, and if we were going to be serious players in this new ecosystem, we’d need to understand it at the core. The first step to streamlining our development and operations activities was to merge our IT team, who provided all global IT services to both Canonical and the Ubuntu community, with our Launchpad team, who developed, maintained, and serviced Launchpad.net, the core infrastructure for hosting and building Ubuntu. We then added our Online Services team, who drove our Ubuntu One related services, and this new organization was called Core DevOps…thus the CDO was born.
Roughly soon after the formation of the CDO, I was transitioning between roles within Canonical, going from acting CTO to Release Manager (10.10 on 10.10.10..perfection! 🙂 ), then landing in as our new manager for the Ubuntu Server and Security teams. Our server engineering efforts continued to become more and more focused on cloud, and we had also began working on a small, yet potentially revolutionary, internal project called Ensemble, which was focused on solving the operational challenges system administrators, solution architects, and developers would face in the cloud, when one went from managing 100s of machines and associated services to 1000s.
All of this led to a pivotal engineering meeting in Cape Town, South Africa early 2011, where management and technical leaders representing all parts of the CDO and Ubuntu Server engineering met with Mark Shuttleworth, along with the small team working on Project Ensemble, to determine the direction Canonical would take with our server product.
Until this moment in time, while we had been dabbling in cloud computing technologies with projects like our own cloud-init and the Amazon EC2 AMI Locator, Ubuntu Server was still playing second stage to Ubuntu for the desktop. While being derived from Debian (the world’s most widely deployed and dependable Linux web hosting server OS), certainly gave us credibility as a server OS, the truth was that most people thought of desktops when you mentioned Ubuntu the OS. Canonical’s engineering investments were still primarily client focused, and Ubuntu Server was nothing much more than new Debian releases at a predictable cadence, with a bit of cloud technology thrown in to test the waters. But this weeklong engineering sprint was where it all changed. After hours and hours of technical debates, presentations, demonstrations, and meetings, there were two major decisions made that week that would catapult Canonical and Ubuntu Server to the forefront of cloud computing as an operating system.
The first decision made was OpenStack was the way forward. The project was still in its early days, but it had already peaked many of our engineers’ interest, not only because it was being led by friends of Ubuntu and former colleagues of Canonical, Rick Clark, Thierry Carrez, and Soren Hansen, but the development methods, project organization, and community were derived from Ubuntu, and thus it was something we knew had potential to grow and sustain itself as an opensource project. While we still had to do our due diligence on the code, and discuss the decision at UDS, it was clear to many then that we’d inevitably go that direction.
The second decision made was that Project Ensemble would be our main technical contribution to cloud computing, and more importantly, the key differentiator we needed to break through as the operating system for the cloud. While many in our industry were still focused on scale-up, legacy enterprise computing and the associated tools and technologies for things like configuration and virtual machine management, we knew orchestrating services and managing the cloud were the challenges cloud adopters would need help with going forward. Project Ensemble was going to be our answer.
Fast forward a year to early 2012. Project Ensemble had been publicly unveiled as, Juju, the Ubuntu Server team had fully adopted OpenStack and plans for the hugely popular Ubuntu Cloud Archive were in the works, and my role had expanded to Director of Ubuntu Server, covering the engineering activities of multiple teams working on Ubuntu Server, OpenStack, and Juju. The CDO was still covering IT operations, Launchpad, and Online Services, but now we had started discussing plans to transition our own internal IT infrastructure over to an internal cloud computing model, essentially using the very same technologies we expected our users, and Canonical customers, to depend on. As part of the conversation on deploying cloud internally, our Ubuntu Server engineering teams started looking at tools to adopt that would provide our internal IT teams and the wider Ubuntu community the ability to deploy and manage large numbers of machines installed with Ubuntu Server. Originally, we landed on creating a tool based on Fedora’s Cobbler project, combined with Puppet scripts, and called it Ubuntu Orchestra. It was perfect for doing large-scale, coordinated installations of the OS and software, such as OpenStack, however it quickly became clear that doing this install was just the beginning…and unfortunately, the easy part. Managing and scaling the deployment was the hard part. While we had called it Orchestra, it wasn’t able to orchestrate much beyond machine and application install. Intelligently and automatically controlling the interconnected services of OpenStack or Hadoop in a way that allowed for growth and adaptability was the challenge. Furthermore, the ways in which you had to describe the deployments were restricted to Puppet and it’s descriptive scripting language and approach to configuration management…what about users wanting Chef?…or CF Engine?…or the next foobar configuration management tool to come about? If we only had a tool for orchestrating services that ran on bare metal, we’d be golden….and thus Metal as a Service (MAAS) was born.
MAAS was created for the sole purpose of providing Juju a way to orchestrate physical machines the same way Juju managed instances in the cloud. The easiest way to do this, was to create something that gave cloud deployment architects the tools needed to manage pools of servers like the cloud. Once we began this project, we quickly realized that it was good enough to even stand on its own, i.e. as a management tool for hardware, and so we expanded it to a full fledged project. MAAS expanded to having a verbose API and user-tested GUI, thereby making Juju, Ubuntu Server deployment, and Canonical’s Landscape product leverage the same tool for managing hardware…allowing all three to benefit from the learnings and experiences of having a shared codebase.
The CDO Evolves
In the middle of 2012, the current VP of CDO decided to seek new opportunities elsewhere. Senior management took this opportunity to look at the current organizational structure of Core DevOps, and adjust/adapt according to both what we had learned over the past 3 1/2 years and where we saw the evolution of IT and the server/cloud development heading. The decision was made to focus the CDO more on cloud/scale-out server technologies and aspects, thus the Online Services team was moved over to a more client focused engineering unit. This left Launchpad and internal IT in the CDO, however the decision was also made to move all server and cloud related project engineering teams and activities into the organization. The reasoning was pretty straight-forward, put all of server dev and ops into the same team to eliminate “us vs them” siloed conversations…streamline the feedback loop between engineering and internal users to accelerate both code quality and internal adoption. I took a career growth decision to apply for the chance to lead the CDO, and was fortunate enough to get it, and thus became the new Vice President of Core DevOps.
My first decision as new lead of the CDO was to change the name. It might seem trivial, but while I felt it was key to keep to our roots in DevOps, the name Core DevOps no longer applied to our organization because of the addition of so much more server and cloud/scale-out computing focused engineering. We had also decided to scale back internal feature development on Launchpad, focusing more on maintenance and reviewing/accepting outside contributions. Out of a pure desire to reduce the overhead that department name changes usually cause in a company, I decided to keep the acronym and go with Cloud and DevOps at first. However, then the name (and quite honestly the job title itself) seemed a little too vague…I mean what does VP of Cloud or VP of DevOps really mean? I felt like it would have been analogous to being the VP of Internet and Agile Development…heavy on buzzword and light on actual meaning. So I made a minor tweak to “Cloud Development and Operations“, and while arguably still abstract, it at least covered everything we did within the organization at high level.
At the end of 2012, we internally gathered representation of every team in the “new and improved” CDO for a week long strategy session on how we’d take advantage of the reorganization. We reviewed team layouts, workflows, interactions, tooling, processes, development models, and even which teams individuals were on. Our goal was to ensure we didn’t duplicate effort unnecessarily, share best practices, eliminate unnecessary processes, break down communication silos, and generally come together as one true team. The outcome resulted in some teams broken apart, some others newly formed, processes adapted, missions changed, and some people lost because they didn’t feel like they fit anymore.
Entering into 2013, the goal was to simply get work done:
- Work to deploy, expand, and transition developers and production-level services to our internal OpenStack clouds: CanoniStack and ProdStack.
- Work to make MAAS and Juju more functional, reliable, and scalable.
- Work to make Ubuntu Server better suited for OpenStack, more easily consumable in the public cloud, and faster to bring up for use in all scale-out focused hardware deployments
- Work to make Canonical’s Landscape product more relevant in the cloud space, while continuing to be true to its roots of server management.
All this work was in preparation for the 14.04 LTS release, i.e. the Trusty Tahr. Our feeling was (and still is) that this had to be the release when it all came together into a single integrated solution for use in *any* scale-out computing scenario…cloud…hyperscale…big data…high performance computing…etc. If a computing solution involved large numbers of computational machines (physical or virtual) and massively scalable workloads, we wanted Ubuntu Server to be the defacto OS of choice. By the end of last year, we had achieved a lot of the IT and engineering goals we set, and felt pretty good about ourselves. However, as a company we quickly discovered there was one thing we left out in our grand plan to better align and streamline our efforts around scale-out technologies….professional delivery and support of these technologies.
To be clear, Canonical had not forgotten about growing or developing our teams of engineers and architects responsible for delivering solutions and support to customers. We had just left them out of our “how can we do this better” thinking when aligning the CDO. We were initially focused on improving how we developed and deployed, and we were benefiting from the changes made. However, now as we began growing our scale-out computing customer base in hyperscale and cloud (both below and above), we began to see that same optimizations made between Dev and Ops, needed to be done with delivery. So in December of last year, we moved all hardware enablement and certification efforts for servers, along with technical support and cloud consultancy teams into the CDO. The goal was to strengthen the product feedback loop, remove more “us vs them” silos, and improve the response times to customer issues found in the field. We were basically becoming a global team of scale-out technology superheroes.
It’s been only 3 months since our server and cloud enablement and delivery/support teams have joined the CDO, and there are already signs of improvement in responsiveness to support issues and collaboration on technical design. I won’t lie and say it’s all been butterflies and roses, nor will I say we’re done and running like a smooth, well-oiled machine because you simply can’t do that in 3 months, but I know we’ll get there with time and focus.
So there you have it.
The Cloud Development and Operations organization in Canonical is now 5 years strong. We deliver global, 24×7 IT services to Canonical, our customers and Ubuntu community. We have engineering teams creating server, cloud, hyperscale, and scale-out software technologies and solutions to problems some have still yet to even consider. We deliver these technologies and provide customer support for Canonical across a wide range of products including Ubuntu Server and Cloud. This end-to-end integration of development, operations, and delivery is why Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS, aka the Trusty Tahr, will be the most robust, technically innovative release of the Ubuntu for the server and cloud to date.