DISTRACTION or a New Sport?
by Michael Orendorff
“#87, please go to your bike. You have a problem. #87, please report at your bike.” the race announcer called out.
Here is the tale of how Ron Vansyoc came to hear that call to his bike just minutes before the start of his first triathlon. (In all of this be sure to hear a very gentle, positive, fun voice of someone taking on a significant self-challenge very quietly, with no trumpets blaring. This is one of my greatest appreciations and source of inspiration as I listened to Ron.)
THE GENERAL SETTING
As of this writing, beginning Dec 2, 2012 Ron has done 9 half-marathons and 3 full marathons of the Rock ‘n’ Roll (RnR) North American Tour series to honor his deceased wife Robin and be a supportive member of Team Hope of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN). The latest event completed was the Rock’n’Roll Chicago half-marathon. Fund-raising has not been his goal but anyone who would like to support PANCAN’s mission to advance research, support patients, and create hope can do so by going HERE. Ten more RnR runs are slated, ending on November 17th in Las Vegas.
Robin had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2003 but by June 23, 2008 they, and their medical team, believed she was in complete remission. Then quickly their lives turned to another battle with a cancer which has an average survival rate from the time of diagnosis, per Ron, of only six to nine months. For Ron and Robin this entered their lives in July 2008, only one month after the breast cancer remission celebration. Robin felt badly in July and then got the pancreatic cancer diagnosis in August. Ron said that only two out of ten patients find chemo effective and then life is prolonged only about another three months which are received in trade for three months of hell from the chemo.
With this still large in his heart, he began preparing for the RnR tour by starting to run again in March 2012 when he was 20 pounds heavier than now. This was about 3 years after the death of his wife Robin, which had occurred on April 23, 2009.
The most challenging event to date was a full marathon completed on April 27th in Nashville, TN. One inch of rain fell during the marathon. Combined with an air temperature of 60F Ron was on the edge of becoming fully hypothermic by the 26th mile. It was no fun, he stated bluntly. There were 3-4” of water running through the streets. It was eventfully miserable and ugly. But he would have done this one whether on Team Hope or not.
ENTRY INTO THE TRIATHLON WORLD
Into this very demanding RnR tour one would not think that another demanding sport would be added so precipitately. This sudden entry of a new and simultaneous challenge is best felt by the simple chronology Ron handed me one day.
Ron was already doing a lot of cross-training as preparation for the Rock ‘n Roll series – swimming, elliptical, pool running, treadmill. He has an arthritic right knee which has to be managed with an exercise diet of not just running but also medical procedures such as the occasional draining of fluid buildup at his knee.
The therapeutic swimming though had only begun, as noted in the chronology, in December of 2012. At that time he could not swim the 15 meters across the Pueblo YMCA pool. When he did accomplish that it was an all-out effort leaving him gasping at the far side — just flat out laborious, taking everything he had. His first lessons with Kanda were truly first lessons – blowing bubbles, breathing rhythmically, not going backwards when he kicked with his runner’s ankles. After several lessons Kanda encouraged him to at least watch the Ordinary Mortals Triathlon. Knowing a few people doing the event, he decided to show up and just quietly observe. Like many others before him, he was surprised at all the body shapes in the OMT. Encouraged, he thought “I can do it.”
The RnR series left him little scheduling room for a triathlon. Fortunately, one that did fit into his running plans was also tied to the Rock ‘n Roll runs – that is, the TriRock in Aurora this past July 13th.
Though cycling is his least favorite discipline the swim was going to be his greatest challenge. Not only because of the skill factor but because he has regular, significant cramping of his left calf. (I sympathize greatly. I’ve had to stop in the middle of open water swims and massage my calves to release cramping muscles.)
The second greatest challenge he saw for his first tri was running after hopping off the bike. It’s a whole new sensation for him, the degree of which caught him by surprise. He’s learning that is a skill unto itself. So he set his first mile goal pace on the run to be fairly conservative and then hoped to pick up the pace and negatively split the 5K.
From the perspective of someone who has been doing triathlons for 30 years, Ron has put himself on an incredibly steep learning curve. Here’s just a few quick notes showing that: Just days before the race he was still tweaking his shoe cleats fore/aft position. Also, the day before the event he spent about 30 minutes at the REI bike support tent learning more about his bike, including such things as what combination of chainring and rear cog to not use. His longest ride before Aurora was 15 miles out and back on the test track. Clipping and un-clipping from his pedals continued to NOT be second nature right up to race day, resulting in a large thigh bruise on the day before the tri.
Ron was greatly helped by the triathlon club members in the run-up to the TriRock. The TZ Olympics were key to his final prep for Aurora and he is quite grateful for that class. For example, the head-on-the-baseball bat spin certainly created dizziness to mimic what some experience in going from swim horizontal to transition run vertical. But what Ron found most helpful was the focus on transition setup. Keep it organized and simple became the TZ mantra.
Interestingly, Ron found the challenge to one’s intellect a surprising aspect of triathlons. For example, working hard in the swim being focused on technique and direction and finishing and then having to collect one’s thoughts to take oneself quickly through all the transition steps one had practiced or imagined added an additional brain stimulation that Ron enjoyed.
Finally we are back to that announcement one does not want to hear at one’s first tri. Yep, Ron’s very first tri and the universe deemed him fit to toy with. His rear tire, which minutes ago had been at 100 psi, was now at zero psi. Fortunately, if there is any good fortune to a flat tire, the tube had not just fizzled it had blown. Turns out Ron’s cycling education was on fast forward as he learned about weak seams that blow so explosively the tire itself is blown off the rim. Everyone around his bike heard it so the damage was reported swiftly to the announcer who called out for #87. The REI bike support crew, one of whom who had spent a half hour with Ron the day before, swapped out the tube, pumped up the tire and (if memory serves me while Ron is in Chicago) asked for nary a dime.
At the water’s edge comes the next surprise challenge. For a non-swimmer the floating start area seemed far out into the water. Plus, he violated a basic rule he’d been taught: “Never try anything new on race day.” Aah, he’d tried a new anti-fog spray which someone had handy. The spray ruined his goggles. Unknown to Ron, some sprays can chemically react to the inner coating of swim goggles making them permanently blurry – not correctable by any amount of spit. So with an unnerving “long” swim just to begin the race, obscured goggles and standard race jitters the swim anxiety was never overcome. Ron began to do the backstroke to avoid any breathing or other issues and stayed with that stroke throughout the swim. Being in the second wave he was guided by other swimmers who passed in successive waves. The race organizers had also put a designated last swimmer in the water. This person checked on Ron a few times, which Ron said was helpful and encouraging, not annoying. In spite of the uneasiness throughout the swim he never did have any panic attacks that he had read hits some people. He wisely knew his limits, acted accordingly and kept his cool.
Bathed in relief after finishing the swim, Ron felt as if the tri challenge was almost already over. He took extra time to mount and dismount during the cycling portion but otherwise enjoyed passing cyclist after cyclist. Having been 202nd out of 226 for the swim, he was 61st on the bike. Oddly, to me, with his cycling still in very much the learning stages he had no problems with being in the aerobars through most all of the race. The only bike fears came from what makes us all nervous – spots of sand and/or gravel on the course. (btw, The cycling is improving his leg strength so Ron hopes that will help in his upcoming RnR events.)
Ron did not get any splits on the run to know if he met his goal of negative splitting the 5K. But even though he has been a runner for years, and done large races like the New York City marathon twice, he never quite felt comfortable on the run and it took till the second half of the run to feel loosened up a bit. This was his most disappointing split. His BRIC’s (bike/run workout repeats) had warned him but he’d still had greater hope. But he’s ready to take on this bike to run muscles transition challenge in his next event.
In the fourth discipline of triathlons, the transition, he felt good about the flow, liked his setup and now is ready to gain some “free” time in the TZ.
The tri is over and at the end of the day (his phrase) he was pleased to have finished. But so many things went wrong he can’t really say he had fun. He made the analogy that the day was like playing in a football game where your team makes three fumbles right at the start, the other team scores points off of each turnover, so you’re fighting uphill the rest of the game. But he’s already trying to see what triathlon to do next – which may not be till 2014 due to the RnR challenge he is in the midst of. But he WILL do one.
The top experience was the helpfulness of the people around him. He learned how key fellow competitor support is and how we do watch out for each other in the triathlon world. The communal support is actually broader than fellow competitors who, for example, got him called to his bike right away when the tire blew, but also folks like Ria at the REI bike support tent who spent 30 minutes with him, as noted previously, the day before the TriRock. And then there was the swimmer who checked on him as he wended his way backstroking around the course. This fit in with the general observation that triathlons are inclusive by doing such things as allowing teams to participate so that those not confident in one discipline can still enjoy the triathlon party. Also, as he saw at our local OMT, people come in all shapes and sizes and win awards with all those different shapes and sizes.
He swears he will hang with us for another triathlon, of which I am very glad. Maybe he’ll even do an indoor tri over the winter. He has seen what it takes to do well in this sport and has set his goals accordingly.
His year of memory and some fund-raising with Team Hope ends in November. Knee problems noted have meant he is now doing half-marathons but he is still holding out hope to be able to finish with a full marathon in Las Vegas on November 17th. Let’s wish him well and hope along with him that the marathon is doable to complete the RnR national tour.