Thursday, January 29, 2009

Running from the law ... and the secret of ice water!

I’m going somewhere with this, so be patient. My job is normally pretty uneventful. As a part of the working end of the law, one would expect that I have some crazy stories of catching criminals. My recent situation was quite the opposite. A military installation doesn’t often encounter gang violence, drug houses, robbery, prostitution, etc. Not only is access to the base restricted, but gangs (for example) wouldn’t exactly be successful at battling the US Military (tanks, laser missiles, special forces, etc). So despite my attempts, finding crime leaves me coming up empty handed, which leads to more looking. I don’t get picky, but I do look.

Just one of a great many deterrents to crime on an Air Force base. I keep asking when I get to patrol the mean streets of Fairchild with an M1 Abrams. Still no answer. And yes, I know tanks aren't exactly an Air Force item.

As a triathlete that works a shift basically opposite the rest of the local world, I do things at a different time of day. It’s not uncommon for me to train in the middle of the night. My practical nature compels me to worry little about bright clothing, lights, etc. I’ll wear whatever I feel will keep me warm enough. My watch for safety is basically keeping my eyes and ears alert (no IPOD) to everything happening around me. Sure, a car may not see me, but I’m going to avoid running into the light until it’s my time to go to Heaven (I hope). Automobiles are pretty easy to avoid, especially at night. I also keep an eye on cars, bikes, muggers, etc., coming from behind, beside, etc. Long story short, I’ll run in the darkest of hours wearing all black if it's what I have on.
This is usually me, but not this time.

The other night, I had some black sweats, gloves and a black hooded sweat shirt on when I went for a tempo run at 2:03 AM. I often include the paces I train at. Some athletes are way faster and some are way slower, so it’s not a point of pride. It’s information to help paint your eyes when I tell the stories. On this particular run, I was shooting for 5:40 per mile. With the extra clothes and the cold, it’s probably too fast to get what I needed out of it, but I’m pretty sure my lack of precision training won’t cost me a spot at the 2012 Olympics. So here I am running through the night, watching for deer (which I often see and talk to), skunks (which I don’t talk to), porcupines (which I fear running into … literally), dogs, Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th), etc. Running through the silent night (not the Christmas song) at a little under 11 MPH is a cool experience for me. It turned out to be a new one. Jason could come out of nowhere, so I keep my eyes peeled. He lives at the lake too, but I'm betting I could outrun him ... or die trying (ha ha ha).

Apparently hooded guys dressed in all black running that fast with a mask covering his face in the middle of the night look suspicious to police. Medical Lake police are notorious for being overzealous, so when it looks like they’ve actually got something, they really get into it. At one moment I’m cruising down the road on the last stretch of my run, the next moment I see the familiar blue and red strobes lighting up the night. If I had a different job, I might have been pretty nervous. I might have made a break for it. Fast triathletes could easily escape a police cruiser limited to streets. Rather than trying to escape, I laughed at the thought that I’d be pulled over for speeding. Not breaking the speed limit, but running too fast for some guy who would “really” be out for a night run of 3.42 miles. My mask was a camoflage recon wrap, but I don't have any pics of criminals with a recon wrap. I'll do better next time.

A moment later, I find myself being challenged (face away, hands up, spread fingers, spread feet, lean forward, etc.). I’m pretty good at this since I train as both the good guy and bad guy at work. If it weren’t for the irony of it all, I’d be pretty annoyed that my GPS kept ticking and ruining my pace per mile. Of course, I wasn’t carrying any ID, but I didn’t have any weapons or lute either. It's a good thing I didn't stop for a random burglary on that run. I explained myself to an unbelieving individual. It was obvious that I was running far to quick for the distance I was claiming to run. I wish! I had to have been fleeing the scene of a crime at that speed. After some discussion, I was free to go. Of course, 5 to 10 degree weather, after I had been sweating from the effort, chilled me to the bone while just standing there. I didn’t feel like running hard anymore. I didn’t feel like running at all. Instead, I forced myself to jog home to loosen up and get out of the cold more quickly. Sometimes these things happen. I’m not sure if I blame them, but it sure was funny. The coolest watches ever made! They don't know it yet, but Garmin is going to sponsor me.

On a different note, I’ve been getting asked a lot about training. Out at Fairchild and here in the civilian world, people seem to be digging way too deep for what they really need. There are so many very complex aspects to training that volumes have been written. In terms of learning, I encourage people to dig in if they’re really interested. On the other hand, I find that far too much emphasis is placed on these great many details by people who would be better off without. If you’re a psycho athlete like me or a world class athlete who, unlike me, actually needs more than simple training, then be OCD. For the rest of the world, my advice is KEEP IT SIMPLE! Are you really to the point where you have to exhaust the resources to improve your training?

At a fitness training class at Fairchild, we were asked why cold water is better. Nobody answered, so they asked me. I got into fluid assimilation (not what they were looking for). Next I got into biochemistry/body temps/performance, which wasn’t right either. The answer: you’ll burn more calories. Really?! We’re talking about people who struggle to run 1.5 miles in a range of 12 to 20 minutes and they’re talking about burning more calories from cold water! How about skipping out on just one piece of junk food and come out way ahead of someone who drinks ice water. These extremes are about like spending thousands to shave three pounds from a bike. Over a flat 40K you’ll allegedly save 3 seconds. My bet is that rather than all those hours working to make that money to spend on shaving 3 pounds from a bike, training would be exponentially more effective. Oddly enough, aside from getting stronger and faster, you’d probably lose three pounds. Always consider the return on your investment, time or otherwise.
Yes, it really is that easy. Where's my "That was easy!" button.

If you don’t plan on being an Olympian, then keep the law of diminishing returns in mind. A regular and progressive training program is going to be far more effective than spending your time worrying about the intricate details. Swimming is, to some degree, an exception to that rule. Don’t sit around and talk about it, get out there and do it or go a little longer. Nutrition can be a lot more simple too. You could hire a dietician if you wanted, but most people really don’t need that. Cut out some junk and replace it with something better. People who learn how to eat like an Olympian don’t eat like an Olympian. It’s like fitness equipment or a gym membership that you don’t use. Simple changes are more permanent and therefore, more effective. People have asked to hire me for a coach, but I limit myself to one or two people. My help isn’t needed anyway. People need motivation, not a secret answer. Some need a person to tell them to get out there and what to do, but why pay for experts when your momma could do that? For most, a cookie-cutter routine would work just fine. We have so many strong athletes around here that any real training question could be easily answered with a phone call, face-to-face, an e-mail, etc. Some would argue, but the best thing for my training has been my running streak. I've run every day for 5 years and 29 days. Some days have been hell and others were actually detrimental. On the other hand, in the long run, for more than five years, I haven't excused myself one time. Far more good has come of it than harm. For most, this kind of consistency could take them much further than all the information in the world. Do you have a training program so complete that ice cold water is all that's left?

I won’t be the first to say it, but there aren’t any magic bullets out there. World class experts have varying opinions in making world class athletes, yet so often I hear age groupers debating about complex training methods. Ironically, you rarely see them anywhere near the front of a race, despite all their knowledge (not exactly proving that they’re the tip of the spear). It's amusing to hear these people lecturing much faster athletes about the error of their ways. Even poor training is better than talking about it. While thunder is busy talking, lightening does the work. If you asked me, and some of you have, you’d find my answers are almost always the same: train consistently(don’t excuse yourself from workouts), eat a little better, try to have fun, have someone to keep you accountable and ask for advice when you need it. If you do that, you’re going to be significantly more fit than the person who worries about calories from ice water (or whatever analogy you choose regarding people who fixate on details well beyond their practical need).

Saturday, January 17, 2009


That was the title of an e-mail on November 12th, 2008. If not for my friend Sonny, I might have thought the e-mail was inappropriate spam. I first heard the word when he was talking about the uber bikers from Germany: Thomas “Hell on Wheels” Hellriegel and Jurgen Zack. Hellriegel biked a 4:14:45 for 112. That’s miles, not kilometers! Zack broke the bike record two years later with a 4:14:16! We’re talking 26.429 MPH. That record still stands; moreover, I’d like to point out that it was done on a Softride. I can appreciate a good debate on the world’s fastest bike, but don’t ask me why I ride a slow bike or when I’m going to get a real bike. Anyway, I digress.
The fastest biker in Ironman history. Suspension, aerodynamics and comfort = speed!
I knew uber meant super and the e-mail was from CGI_racing, so I opened it and began to read. “The fastest triathlon tri in the world is coming…. Are you “Uber”?” I’m really into fast. The e-mail goes on “The word “Sprint Triathlon” has always been an oxymoron in the sport … until now. This triathlon will define what it means to “truly red line.” If the Kentucky Derby is the fastest two-minutes in sports … UBERMAN is certainly the fastest 15-minutes in triathlon.”
My Ubermanda and Uberbike after USAT Sprint Nationals. Second overall twice with a strong bike split.

Fifteen minutes! Hallelujah! Someone made a race for me! I’m trying to figure out how to sign up before I get to the end of the e-mail. I read on … “Witness 10 Elite Men and 10 Elite Women competing for the coveted UBER CUP, flying by you every two minutes at warp speed.” What? Just 10 elite men! My hopes of racing began to fade. At least they didn’t say pro.

Not quite sure what the 10 men part means, so I start reading as fast as I can, while getting my credit card ready, in case they take the first ten to enter. It goes on … “The 20 athletes will not only include a pro field but several of the top amateur Elite triathletes. Watch them compete against the pros, watch them battle each other for their chance to be the 2009 UBERMAN and UBERWOMAN!”
The race: a 200m swim, 4-mile bike and 1-mile run. They ask “Will we see swim splits of 1:00 per hundred? Bike splits over 30mph? 35mph? Even 40??? Can someone approach a 4-minute mile?” They say there will be generous cash prizes and that the race is free, but invitation only. Whenever there’s prize money, a virtual who’s who will show up. I didn’t care about the prize purse. I probably wouldn’t win that anyway. I just wanted to do this race. Some people are into the 70.3 and 140.6, but not me. I’m into 5.125. Several things make a race competitive: Prestige, titles, competition, field size, invitation only, venue, etc. However, nothing brings talent like money. Athletes would fly across the country to try to win enough money to break even. This race was offering a generous prize purse (not yet disclosed), is invitation only, has a very limited field size, will profile each athlete and the race in Triathlete magazine, and its held in conjunction with the most prestigious race in New Jersey, which attracts an international field.

I'll be doing my best to represent. Aim High, but fly low!

There are times in life where we throw caution to the wind and go after things way bigger than we are. I did that in applying for this race. An independent review board would evaluate the applications and select ten men and women. I knew they wouldn’t pick me, but I wasn’t going to make that decision for them. I can accept someone else telling me that better qualified athletes will fill the race. With nothing risked, nothing is gained, so I sent in my application because it’s something I really wanted to do. Knowing that was the last I’d hear about it, I was pleased that I gave myself the opportunity.
I continue training as the week-long freezing fog finally lifts from the west plains. Tree branches broke from the weight of the ice, taking out power lines. A couple nearly crushed me on a run through the woods! Wind sweeps over small branches, covering the other side with frost several times the width of the branch it covers!

On January 8th, I got another e-mail from CGI_Racing with the title “UBERMAN – You’re Invited!” My jaw dropped and I simply said “Wow.” There are moments in life when the last thing I expect happens, regardless of how much I hoped it would. This was one of those moments. My amazement was quickly replaced with ambivalence. I didn’t know whether I should be excited or afraid. I looked over all the information again and again. This was an awesome opportunity to be chosen out of hundreds of pre-qualified athletes, but I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I don’t know who I’ll race yet, but they’ll look over the entry list (when it comes out) and say “well, with this Bergquist guy racing, I don’t have to worry about being last.” I predict I’ll go top 10.

A closer look shows just how much ice nature can pile onto even the smallest twigs. I estimate the ice to be 6 times the width of the twig and an more than 6 times the weight.

With a TT format and 2:00 sendoffs, there won't be any drafting. There won’t be any battling for position in the swim. There won’t be a couple hundred meters to settle in and find my pace. The race is almost over just as soon as it starts. This is all out racing from the word go. Normally a little time is needed on the bike to adjust before I find the right effort, but not in this race. The effort is so hard that a dismount without collapsing will be a huge deal. There’s no easing up to get ready for the run either, despite needing it more than ever before. Training paces make the first mile respectable on cruise control, then I start racing. In this one, I’ll be hurting more than ever before. A hard mile would be easier, although ironic, after a longer swim and bike. There’s no such luxury in this one. It’s just one mile and it can’t just be fast. It has to be super fast. I’m talking uber here! Going sub five minutes probably won’t do much more than keeping me from getting embarrassed. Lucky for me, I do have an ace up my sleeve. I’m talking transitions. They’re the fourth leg of triathlon and more important in this race than any other. If I could be considered really good at anything, it would be transitions. In the races where it really matters, I’m definitely uber in transition. We’ll see if that’s the case when I’m pushing so hard that I might set a world record for hyperventilation.

Unleash the beast! My favorite super hero, immature or not. The Hulk towel is the official marker for my transition area. Are you incredible?

Although I know I’m not likely to be The Uberman, I am going to believe in myself enough to be at my best when I cross paths with the start line. That’s all I can ask of myself, so it has to be enough. I’m a sprint specialist and pain is my friend, but I’m expecting something far more awful than that. Perhaps I’ll bring it like the Incredible Hulk! On July 26, 2009 in New Jersey, it will take less than 20 minutes to answer the question asked in an e-mail on November 12th. ARE YOU UBER?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Moments ... Happy New Year 2009

Do you ever look back to see how far you’ve come? Do you keep that mental benchmark? You can do it as an athlete or any other thing. Looking back I have some crazy stories to tell. I’ve experienced pains only an athlete would know. My limits were tested. Sacrifices were made. There were moments of triumph. I’ve raced around the world. I’ve learned things I otherwise never would have. I bought a house and yard that were so awful that only an athlete could love it enough to make it a home. Being an athlete was my only path to Amanda too. This is who I am, not something I do. Looking back, I can see how far my work has taken me. The following includes some of my favorite moments.
Crater Lake 2000. I had one goal: finish the race without walking. Starts at 7100' and goes over 8000' and below 5700' elevation, so it's tough. In the lead at mile 24 near the top of a steep rocky trail, my big lead shrunk to 20 seconds. I gave it my all, but the hours of hiking the previous day took what I'd need to win the 25th anniversary run. I faded to finish 2nd by a couple minutes and just missing going under 3 hours with a 3:00:05. I didn't walk and don't regret enjoying such an amazing place. This is the clearest lake in the world and the 5th deepest.

When I was five, I ran my first race. It was just three kids, but I was hooked for life. Years later, I broke all six school physical fitness records. In fifth grade, despite being a sprinter, I raced the mile so I could leave a track meet early. My first mile was 5:50, but got to 5:09.45 by the year’s end. I also played soccer. I'm pretty sure I wasn't any good at it and don't know if my team ever won a game.
Remember Sesame Street? Which one doesn't belong? On the left is Darin Shearer, a two-time sub 4:00 miler, Olympic Trials steeple chase competitor, Harvard grad and pro triathlete who ran down Zymetsev for a win and outsplit Lessing. Next up is Tommy Brown, pro triathlete and Naval Academy grad with swim times most would dream of. In the middle is Tim O'Donnell, Pro Triathlete, Olympic Residence athlete, Olympic Trials triathlete just missing the alternate spot, Naval Academy grad, six-time Armed Forces Triathlon Championships winner and record holder. Next is Dr. James Bales. Despite working 120 hour weeks as an orthopedic surgeon for the Air Force, he still has time to eat on a treadmill, ride his bike to work and swim at his rare appearance at a race. His swimming background leading him to the Olympic Trials give his plenty of ability to draw from. Oh, and he was also a pro triathlete and trials competitor in 2004. Then there's me. I guess we ran out of talent. I've got zero times as a pro triathlete or trials competitor or legendary speed, but I look fit, so they let me in the pic. This is the Military World Games team (Military Olympics for 13 sports) for Mumbai, India in 2007. Darin was deployed to Iraq and couldn't make it. In what will probably be my biggest race ever, I flatted for the first time in a race and got an official DNF. I ran my bike in and did the run anyway. It was an honor to be there as one of five US athletes and I would be ashamed to give up.

In junior high, I wanted to play football. Standing 4’7” and tipping the scales at 75 lbs, the coach wouldn’t even let me practice. I learned that I didn’t like having others control my destiny. A knee injury made distance running too painful, so I tried basketball next. I couldn’t dribble or shoot, but I was awesome at stealing the ball and missing a fast break layup. It was always amusing to see video of some lightning fast kid with a 37 inch vertical shut down any player, but be a nightmare on offense. I eventually figured it out. I also got some well deserved revenge in football.
Sometimes work keeps me from training, races and travel. I really wanted to race the Coeur d'Alene Triathlon in 2008. All the talent was there and I was on a hot streak. Instead, I was standing guard around $1 billion in aircraft for the Air Show. Here I am guarding the $339 million raptor. That was pretty awesome, but on that morning I'd rather be standing on the beach in my wet suit preparing to do battle with Seeley, Darling, Thompson, Smith, Hadley, Jensen, Greenfield, Piccici, Byers and others. I made it in time to see the swim finish and the rest of the rain soaked race.

After a four year absence from track (7th through 10th grade), I started my comeback in 11th grade with a 59.1 for 400m. It dropped to 53.8 that year, 50.9 the next and 49.2 my first quarter at EWU. I learned the hard way that a person can push the body too hard. I don’t know what happened, but I came to five hours later face down in the infield. That fun time resulted in bronchitis, strep throat, the flu and an ear infection. Three weeks in bed, two weeks back, two weeks with the same symptoms again and I not only missed indoor season, but was unfit for outdoor season.
Sometimes I get out of the water after a really hard swim and struggle to slowly make my way to T1 without falling over. At Apple Capital, I came out of the water like an angry crocodile! I wasn't angry, but I felt that strong and fast. All the tough days make ones like this so much sweeter.

I found triathlon my freshman year at EWU since I was unfit for track. It was so great that I gave up on my goal of a 46 second 400m. I nearly drown in my first 500m TT swim. My first triathlon was at EWU in 1992. Still mixing track and sprint triathlon, I decided to try an ultra marathon in 1993. Not a smart move. I lead for three miles and thought I’d win. At thirteen, the parade started going by. I was in last by mile 28 and was last by over an hour at mile 38.3 in 9:04:14 (14:12.58 per mile!) My support crew didn’t show, I had a sun burn from hell (with blisters too), several places were rubbed raw and bled out, and it felt like every bone in my feet were shattered. Simply finishing is still is my all-time greatest athletic achievement.
Armed Forces Triathlon Championships is the only USAT sanctioned triathlon that's draft legal for pro and amateurs who compete head to head in one category: military. My participation on this team has made triathlon so much sweeter every year. In this pic, I'm dropping back after my pull and discuss a little strategy with Big Mike McCoy right as we're catching another Air Force athlete. Mike went on to win a gold medal in Estonia's Military World Championships while I managed to finish in the top three US (scoring) for the first time. In fact, it's the first time I wasn't the last American. Mike competed in the Master's division.

In 1997, I was told I’d never walk normally again. That was the end of my identity since I was no longer an athlete. I wasn’t 4’7” any more and certainly wasn’t going to let a doctor decide my future. It took a much greater commitment, but the doctors were wrong and ran my first marathon that year. I said I’d never run another one. EVER! Twenty-three marathons later, it’s clear I was a little bit wrong.
My fear of water and desire to help others crossed paths on June 3rd, 2006. Inbetween my legs at the Gap to Gap relay, I managed to jump into the freezing (low 50s actually) river and pull out a drowning kayaker. I got lucky and didn't drown, despite barely being able to get air as I was frequently pulled under. We both made it out and my team went on to win that day. I was selected as the military division winner of the Red Cross Hometown Hero. It was an honor, but I'd rather never have to do that again. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't pause for a moment if I were faced with that same situation. Life is too valuable to be affraid to help others.

In 1998 I won my first triathlon. In 1999 I survived Ironman with a nearly unbelievable tale of things gone wrong. In 2003, I discovered the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships (AFTC). I qualified for the Military World Championships (MCW) in Holland. It was so great that I tried to become a swimmer, which is how I met Amanda (lifeguard). Six AFTC races later and four MWCs has me feeling very lucky and blessed. In 2005, I found the National Guard Marathon Team to be a good fit for me, the guy who would never do another marathon. I finished second at USAT Sprint Nationals after losing the lead when sent off course. I came in second the following year too, but misfortune didn’t beat me this time. An athlete did.
Every year on my birthday, probably since I've known Amanda (I sure do miss her), I've tried to prove myself better than the year before. A new year's resolution, quite literally put to the test. This one was with four people, including Amanda. Evan won the run in 18:29.00 for 3.42M. David was second and I was last. On the other hand, I easily beat my PR and was thrilled to have accomplished my goal. So far I haven't failed. Wish me luck in 2009.

In 2006, I shattered my right collar bone and broke some ribs in a bloody solo crash. Months passed, the bone wasn’t healing, my arm wasn’t working and I thought it was over for me. The tune-up race for my final race as an amateur left me doubting myself. Five months later, I could lift five pounds above my head. It still hurts and goes numb from thoracic outlet syndrome, but I’m back to racing. 2008 was my best year ever.
Wonder's of Nature! We had a bit of a wind storm and Amanda told me to look at the lake. The wind was blowing snow, which balled up and rolled into big snow balls. It's one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Some snow balls got to be larger than basket balls, perhaps as big as the smaller beach ball, but the beach wasn't a hot destination today. This pic was taken just east of Medical Lake.

Over the years, some crazy things have happened. I’ve heard a cougar scream from just off the road on a midnight run miles from home and any help for that matter. I’ve been chased by dogs, a crazy psycho cat, an ostrich and a bull. I’ve nearly run into skunks and porcupines in the dark. I’ve gotten hopelessly lost running in the woods while camping (found a car on some back country road to take me the 15 miles back to camp). I’ve nearly frozen to death when a crazy winter storm struck in the fall (temps dropped from warm to freezing with snow and nearly tropical storm force winds) on a fall ride in fields west of Ritzville. Dozens of seagulls have swarmed me during a few swims. I’ve nearly overcome my terrible fear of water (sharks, currents, whales, giant jelly fish, etc.) after swimming a mile straight out into the ocean on a training swim with one other guy. I’ve been chased by people wanting to beat some random person. I’ve eluded a gang beating or possible murder with some luck and good foot speed. I’ve had runs where I felt unbreakable and some when I it hurt to be awake. I’ve run in temperatures from sub zero to 116 degrees. I swam in the clearest lake in the world. I’ve been to 43 states and eight countries. I’ve met some great people, won some awesome awards and learned a lot about myself from endurance sports. I’ve had monumental defeats, triumphs and battles (several by .3 seconds or less).
Ice cycles aren't good for much, but Amanda managed to use them for decorations. She broke them off and stuck them in the snow along our railing. It's the only time I ever recall wishing we had more or bigger ice hanging from the roof.

I treasure all the things I’ve experienced, good and bad. They’ve helped me realize not just who I am, but what I am too. 2009 will be one to remember too. I'm shooting for a sub 6:00 pace in the Lincoln Marathon, a top three finish at AFTC and what may turn out to be a stupid move in getting my pro card so I can be destroyed every time I race. Things may not go the way I plan them to, but there’s always something memorable to take with me from my experiences. This year, I’m off to an early start with training and motivation. Tons of snow has derailed my riding and especially my swimming. On the other hand, I discovered Yaktrax. They’re like four wheel drive with chains on. After my first experience in them at halftime during the Rose Bowl at my parent’s house, I ran inside to tell them how awesome they were (like an excited kid at Christmas). As I began my proclamation the moment I opened the back door, my first foot hit the linoleum floor and I came crashing to the ground and nearly broke my back hanging out the door. I guess they don’t work everywhere. I hope you have a Happy New Year that brings you some great new memories.

Before and After. Most of our yard work was complete by fall (more to be done in the spring). In the before pic we have Sub Alpine trees and a Japanese Maple lining our four tier water fall and stream to the pond at the bottom between the deck, dock and fire pit. Now we're burried under six feet of snow so far this year. It's warmed up to freezing a couple times and the snow has settled, but it's nearly burrying the maple and now has all the yard lights completely burried (in this pic the top of one is showing). The burried lights make the snow around it glow at night. It looks cool, but I'm looking forward to spring when I can swim with the fast lane and enjoy the view from the yard instead of the house. That's why we had it landscaped. With a little luck, the several inches of rain today won't force my roof to collapse. I'm allergic to that.