Ironman Santa Rosa Race Review

Ironman Santa Rosa

My phone alarm jolted me out of unconsciousness. It was race day. Strangely, I woke up feeling at peace. I had been training for almost a year for Ironman Santa Rosa. My first full Ironman. Still dark for a few hours, I turned on the lights and changed into my triathlon suit that had covered my frame through three Half Ironmans and a handful of shorter races. The race day checklist stared back at me from the breakfast table of my grandparents’ house. First on the list were affirmations. Stay grateful, let go of negativity, find steadiness in success and failures. Then I sipped my Greens and Beet shake, chocked full of vitamins and adaptogens.

I filled my water bottles and loaded the gear in my pack. My Iron-sherpa, Chris, started the truck. We were off. The drive to Lake Sonoma passed uneventfully as we talked over the steady pulse of my race day playlist.

Maybe I knew that today was more than just a race. Ironman Santa Rosa was a day to celebrate the journey of transformation that started five years ago when I started to face my PTSD head on in full sobriety; this race an opportunity for me to give thanks for my growth in Mind, Body, and Spirit. Or maybe my meditations and deep stretches had calmed me. Perhaps my body was also ready for the race, having gone through the race day morning rituals many times before. I reminded myself to let go of the outcome and simply be in the moment for each stroke, pedal, and stride. Like Mark Allen said, “transcend the numbers”.  After all, whatever my finishing time, it would be a personal best.

 

Final Prep

Chris and I walked to transition amidst the bustle of cars parking, headlamps on athletes winding their way down the hill from the bus drop-off and the warm breeze touching our faces. Generator-fueled light stands illuminated the parking lot and I merged into the foot traffic of athletes entering into transition. Among the racked bikes, everyone scurried about to inflate tires, fix last-minute disasters, and don their wetsuits. A few bikes down from me stood Eric McElvenny, Marine, and spokesman for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. We met last year for the Oceanside Half and he recognized me. Eric lost a leg in Afghanistan and has been competing in long-distance triathlon ever since. He embodies Ironman’s slogan of “Anything is Possible.”

After inflating my tires and putting my water bottles in their cages, I slipped into my wetsuit and barefooted it down the longest boat ramp in the world. The extended wait for the porta-potty (when is it not?) did not leave much time for my swim warm up.  The crowded boat ramp was not conducive to getting a few strokes in before the race. Oh well. I’d done many a race without a warm up and would ease into the 2.4-mile swim. In fact, I was more concerned about overheating with the lake temperature at 76.1. I planned to flush my 4mm suit often. Those one-armed isolation drills would come in handy.

 

The Swim

The cannon fired and we were off….to a slow penguin waddle as the rolling start bottlenecked the eager athletes and spread out the traffic in the lake. Jumping in, I instantly knew I had never used a wetsuit in this warm of water. I swam 4 miles in the Willamette River a few weeks back without a suit. The river’s 70º temp felt great on my skin. But the suit would save my legs for the bike and run. So it goes. The golden sunrise over lake silhouetted the safety kayakers and buoys as I began the 140.6-mile journey. The mist lifted over the water and I rounded the buoys, settling into a rhythm.

Ironman Santa Rosa Swim

Photo courtesy of Jeff Dyer

“Smooth”

My mantra for the swim steadied my energy and I focused my awareness on the body: high elbow recovery, good torso rotation, and keeping a long body. It’s fascinating what comes to mind when I allow space. My yoga instructor’s voice popped in like Obi-wan Kenobi guiding Luke’s Death Star run. “Let a steady breath be your guide.” Namaste, Perry. After the first lap, I exited the water to run across a timing mat, high-fiving volunteers and thanking them.

My mission to set a course record for most high fives was off to a great start.

Back in the water for round two. Feeling good and loose, I increased my pace a bit. No feet or elbows found my face. and I worked my way through the crowded spots. My only struggle was passing a swimmer who was slightly faster, but zig-zagging and unintentionally boxing me out. Before I knew it, the final meters of the swim lay in front of me. I increased my kick to get the blood flowing to my legs to offset the heart rate spike that accompanies the swim exit.

Swim time 1:13:40

 

T1

I gave out more high fives up the ramp as spectators cheered me and fellow athletes on. It took resolve to not run up the steep boat ramp, but I did not want to burn out later in the day. Steadiness. I came to the changing tent in transition and a volunteer handed me my bike gear bag. Immediately, I realized my rookie mistake and silently thanked whichever volunteer saved my ass.

Being my first full Ironman, I left my bike gear next to my racked bike. Bush league stuff, Mike. I learned that in full Ironmans you change in the changing tent and leave the bike racks clutter-free. During the swim, a volunteer had bagged my gear.

T1: 10:59

 

The Bike

The bike leg started with an immediate steep grade uphill from the transition to the main road. Crossing the bridge above Lake Sonoma, I felt fresh. The light breeze began to dry my body without any chill.  I let go of the thought that a warm morning might lead to a hot afternoon for the run. Heeding my coaches advice, I focused on gently lowering my heart rate by using a moderate cadence in a low gear. My aerobic threshold was 146bpm. I gradually eased my heart rate down as the long descent required minimal pedaling to move at a steady clip.

Ironman Santa Rosa bike 1

My other goals on the bike were to drink one water bottle per hour and sip my fuel (Hammer Nutrition Perpetuum) every 10 minutes for a steady supply of energy. Perpetuum had served me well in all previous Half Ironmans and I decided to stick with it. Two worried thoughts circled back to me every so often. The first was getting a flat tire. I had spare tubes and c02 inflators, but I was still concerned, having popped three tubes since getting new tires a few days before. Nothing new during race week!

The second source of worry was my left knee. I felt a sharp pain in the last few miles of my final long ride the week prior.  It didn’t come back in the days following, but my mind considered the possibility of it making a 4th quarter appearance sometime during the 112-mile ride. I smiled and bowed to that thought. Then I gently guided my mind back to my cadence and heart rate. Steadiness.

Ironman Santa Rosa bike 2

Through the rolling hills of wine country and under a canopy of oaks I brought to mind the 29 Marines whose names adorned my jersey. Nine days ago was the anniversary of Todd Godwin’s death. A tear-filled sprint session on the trail that afternoon helped me accept the lingering grief surrounding his death, thirteen years ago. Godspeed and Semper Fi, buddy.

I allowed my mind to find gratitude for having known the “T-0-Double,” as we called him. Todd’s orange hair and fair complexion led to a few situations where higher-ups got us confused. Todd got chewed out a few times for my rookie mistakes as a young lance corporal, newest to the unit. He took them in stride and surprisingly never paid the hate forward to me. The entire barracks echoed with his hearty guffaw of a laugh. Everyone knew about his late-night trips to the vending machines to buy honey buns. Amazingly, these nocturnal binges never seemed to alter his chiseled physique and ability to outlift, outrun, and outfight most men in Alpha Company. Todd is a Marine to the core.

Once a Marine, always a Marine.  Not even IED’s can change that.

 


Posing with Todd Godwin during first deployment to Iraq.

The bike ride is the loneliest leg of a triathlon. No one bumping into you, like during the swim. And unlike the run, aid stations and crowds are few and far between. Lots of time to think. Lots of time for the mind to toss some doubt and worry my way. I am an average swimmer, decent runner, and a below average cyclist. But despite that, my mental strength makes up for these deficits. From yoga and meditation, a greater body awareness helps me to allow negative thoughts to come and go like the clouds. No need to block out and no need to hold on.

Any combat veteran has an unfair advantage in endurance sports. Many of us find solace in thoughts such as “No one’s shooting at me, so it’s a pretty awesome day” and “I’m not gonna die here. What, am I really gonna be afraid of getting tired?” (Of course, one man who had a heart-attack, but luckily there was a doctor racing who stopped and saved his life!)

Some of the course was familiar. The Vineman Half bike course followed and sometimes went the reverse of this course. Mostly flat with some rolling hills and hardly any headwind or crosswinds to fight against. My hydration strategy worked a little too well. (*TRIGGER WARNING*) I had already pissed four times in the first hour and aid stations were mostly just a chance to rinse my legs off with clean water.

 

After the first sixty miles, the course took us downtown Santa Rosa and crowds cheered. It was a welcome boost to hear the thumping music and see familiar faces before slingshotting around the corner and back out to the country roads.

A couple sections of the road felt like they been transplanted from Iraq. Potholes and crumbling asphalt lay waste to a few tires of fellow triathletes, who resolved themselves to a time-draining tube change. Among the wreckage were dozens of water bottles, launched from their cages after encountering a fatal bump in the road. My only loss was some feeling in the nether-regions after one surprise bump and the rubber top to my bike’s internal bento box. Adapt and overcome.

While the second half of the bike course was less scenic, the motivation from the cheering crowd and sections of super-smooth roads made up for it. About 80 miles in, that familiar knee pain began to arrive. Allowing some space in my mind, a helpful phrase popped in. “Focus on what you can do and let go of the rest,”  I tell my clients  each day. Now I had the opportunity to practice what I preached. So I focused on the upstroke of my left, which eased the pain. Occasionally I massaged the tight spot and simply decided to keep going. I was confident this was a stiffness from overuse and not the pain of injury.

My growing saddle sores rejoiced when I cruised into transition and handed my bike off to a volunteer. Trotting into the changing tent, I felt like royalty not needing to rack it myself.

Bike time: 6:03:09

 

T2

In the tent, the menthol sting of an Icey-Hot or tiger balm products instantly assaulted my eyes and nose. I changed socks and removed my helmet while chatting with my fellow triathletes. Upon hearing this was my first Ironman, they all flashed huge grins and gave me some sage advice.

“Enjoy the run, don’t worry about your time. Ease into it”

“Take your time in the chute and soak it all up. And for God’s sake, don’t look at your watch at the finish line! I’ve ruined a finish photo doing that!”

T2: 09:05

 

The Run

I welcomed the offer of volunteers to apply a new coat to my #FreeRangeGinger body and rounded the corner into the run course. My heart surged when I saw my wife and daughter waving at me. The little one was ringing a cow bell as I gave her a kiss. My sister, grandparents, and friends also lined the sidewalk and sent me off with a fresh dose of motivation.

 

Ironman Santa Rosa run 1

“Wipe your mouth, dada.”

I felt good. Really good. My legs were fresh and spirits were high. The knee pain from the bike vanished. I subdued my desire to head out too fast and settled into an easy jog. Keeping my heart rate below 146 bpm, I heeded the advice of my coach (Nick Carling) and fellow athletes to ease into the run.

My coaches game-plan was for me to stay “MAF,” or under 146 bpm until I “knew I would finish.” The second part of that struck me as much more ambiguous today. I mean, I knew I was going to finish before I even started this run. But I stuck to the plan and decided I wouldn’t push above 146 bpm until after the first 13 miles. I’d heard plenty of stories about people hitting the wall around mile 18-20 and didn’t want to make that first-hand experience.

For nutrition, I decided to use a Clif shot every 30 minutes and supplement with Gatorade as needed. I just haven’t found another great option for the run in a triathlon and I wasn’t about to switch it up today.

Within a few miles I found a woman who matched my pace and as we ran she asked why I was running this race. I told her about Todd Godwin, Brad Faircloth, Dave Houck and the twenty-six other Marines on my jersey. This was what it was all about! People hearing about these guys. Celebrating their lives and honoring their sacrifices in the symbolic act of pushing past my own limits to become an Ironman. She told me about how she was running this race to deal with the pain of her husband leaving her. Definitely no shortage of inspiration at this race.

My run strategy worked well. The run course was divided into three loops of 8-point-something miles and swooped back into the downtown each time. By far the most spectator-friendly course I have run. The course was at least half on smooth dirt trails the width of a fire road and made it easier on the knees. I felt good during the first loop. Through the second loop my legs began to stiffen and fatigue a bit, but my stomach handled the Clif shots like a champ and my spirits were high.

I allowed myself to wonder how it was going to feel crossing that finish line and hearing Mike Reilly shout out his trademark phrase, “Michael Ergo, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I didn’t linger too long in the fantasy. There was still running to be done. My third loop started with tired legs. For the first time in my running career, it was a struggle to even get up to my aerobic threshold of 146 bpm. Usually, I have to slow myself down on a regular basis with my watch beeping to alert me of an overzealous pace.

Ironman Santa Rosa Sarah

My best friend and number one support.

Once again I harnessed gratitude. This time it was for my family. I am immensely grateful for my wife, Sarah, who lets me spend the long hours training while she herds two little kids around the house and attends to their constant needs. I strive to do most of my training in early hours of the morning, but there is not squeezing in a 5-hour bike ride before the kids get up. Compared to raising young children, running a marathon is easy. It was just over 5 years ago that she took a risk and demanded the “real me” and convinced me to step out of my self-made prison of alcoholism. She’s fiercely loyal and has stood up for me when others haven’t. She knows me better than anyone else. She’s put up with the different fad diets, Crossfit evangelism, biohacking, spear fishing adventures, and questionable fashion choices I’ve made over the years.

Compared to raising young children, running a marathon is easy. It was just over 5 years ago that she took a risk and demanded the “real me” and convinced me to step out of my self-made prison of alcoholism. She’s fiercely loyal and has stood up for me when others haven’t. She knows me better than anyone else. She’s put up with the different fad diets, Crossfit evangelism, biohacking, spear fishing adventures, and questionable fashion choices I’ve made over the years.

Ironman Santa Rosa run addie-mike

I thought about my daughter Adeline. She is my little shadow, constantly running with me on the trails. Addie tells  me someday she wants to do a “tuh-ra-thuh-lawn” with me when she’s bigger. She came into this world during November, a month previously overloaded with the memories of death and killing in the city of Fallujah. Fear, loss, chaos, and anger staked claim to November. But her birth changed doom and gloom to hope and life. The moment I saw her delivered from Sarah’s womb the universe collided with my past, pushing it behind me. In those intense moments of absolute presence, I shifted. I too was delivered and born again as she looked into my eyes and held my finger in those first minutes of her life.

Ironman Santa Rosa Liam

And of course my nine-month-old baby boy, Liam. He was born almost exactly three years after Adeline. His middle name, Todd, is of course after one of the greatest warriors I have known. He is a living reminder of how those we love are never truly gone because we carry them in our hearts forever.

I’m not into astrology or numerology, but I find symbolism and meaning in numbers. After all, what is special about the distance of 140.6 miles? It tells a story. The story of the first Ironman and the three races that preceded it on Oahu. My race bib was number 346 and it matched up with three birthdays of my wife and kids. Mine is on the 5th. Whatever the meaning behind it, number 346 gave me the presence of mind to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for the most important people in my life.

 

Ironman Santa Rosa family picture

My source of strength.

 

 

Home Stretch

Gratitude is my secret weapon. Much more than a positive thought, gratitude is a stirring feeling of thankfulness. Each heartbeat sent shockwaves of joy throughout my body. My legs came back to life and picked up the pace. I quickly did the math and knew that if I hustled I might, just might get close to a 12-hour finish. With my coaches calculations, I planned on a 13-hour finish.

I began to pick up the pace and going faster actually felt better. Maybe this was just delirium. I rounded the final turns of the course and entered the chute. Now I finally let myself believe it. A few more steps and I am an Ironman, I thought.Not by myself, but because of an all-star cast of a support crew. Sarah, Adeline, Liam, my extended family, swim team, coworkers, community, and of course the spirit of 29 Marines adorning the front and back of my jersey.

Whoever says triathlon is an individual sport misses the point. The individual may get the glory, but it’s the people behind the scenes that deserve the credit.

 

Ironman Santa Rosa chute

Feeling no pain in the Ironman chute

Thumping bass notes and distant cheering grew louder as I rounded the last turn in the chute. The home stretch! The fading, late afternoon sun gave way to shadows pierced by the finish line flashes from cameras and cell phones.

 

I slowed to a steady jog, soaking it all in. I’ll never have another first Ironman, I thought to myself. Let’s savor the moment.

 

The final 50 meters were so loud I couldn’t even hear my own voice. Spectators enthusiastically banged the side boards on the chute and cheered me in as my own support crew shouted my name excitedly. And just as I had imagined in my head for over a year, Mike Reilly finally proclaimed,

 

“MICHAEL ERGO, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

 

 

Run time: 04:19:08

Total Time 11:56:01

Ironman Santa Rosa Finish 1

Ironman Santa Rosa Finish 2

Ironman Santa Rosa Newspaper

Photo by Melissa Ergo

 

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As I train for Kona, I am fundraising for a charity that empowers severely wounded veterans.  Please take a look and consider donating today. I am less than 60 days away and need your support. Every little bit helps. 

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The Biggest Race of My Life

Until Chaps connected with the right hook, I thought I was well-prepared for the interview.

 

Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

zeroblogthirty logo

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.

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My new eBook: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Mind, Body, and Spirit


Mind, Body, and Spirit eBook

I am excited to annouce the release of my free eBook: Mind, Body, and Spirit.

 

While a majority of my writing talks about the physical nature of endurance sports, that is only one third of the “three-legged stool.” I believe that balance in life involves attention to the Mind, Body, and Spirit.

 

Why?

 

Coming home from combat, many veterans talk about how they “came home a different person.” What does this mean? We may look and sound the same, but oftentimes the baptism by fire of combat changes us. We may see things that shatter our belief in how the world works. We might question our morals, our beliefs on right and wrong. It took many years to find myself again, but through the guidance of counselors, physical fitness, and a few spiritual teachers I was able to reconnect to my Mind, Body, and Spirit.

This eBook is free. No gimmicks, no catches. No credit card information or any of that stuff. Just download it and see if it resonates with you. Maybe it applies to aspects of your life. Maybe a friend of family member would benefit from it.

 

So go ahead, download the eBook and reconnect to your Mind, Body, and Spirit.

 

TFW- Mind, Body, Spirit (ebook)

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The Patriot Racer Log #1

I caught up with Mike Mendoza, The Patriot Racer, last week as he recapped his performance at Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene.

The Patriot Racer Log #1

So first of all, how hot was it? I remember a couple years back the Coeur d’Alene full Ironman topping off at around 106º.

It was  92º, so a little on the hot side. But definitely not that bad, thank God.

How was it overall?

It was a good race overall.The bike was good, swim was good. I kept a 7:49 pace on the run, so not extremely fast. I’m still nursing my calf (from a strain a few weeks earlier).

What helps you when you have to run slower? How do you deal with it? Keeping that big picture in mind.

It’s tough, because running too slow you can injure yourself -but running too fast you can burn out. Im doing about 70%. The calf pain could come out of nowhere, like it did in Raleigh, so I know not to push it too hard even if I feel good in the moment. And I know that I’ve been able to keep pace with the other runners and catch them after a few miles when they’ve burned out. Continue reading

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The Patriot Racer

Wait a second, this isn’t sweat,” he thought. Mike Mendoza felt the hot blood running down his body and slowly began to realize he was wounded.

Mike had taken a grenade blast to the chest. Shrapnel had ripped through his body and punctured his intestines in multiple areas. With temperatures perpetually over 110º, he could be forgiven for mistaking a near-fatal wound for perspiration.

 

After what seemed like forever, the medevac extracted Mike and his sniper team to safety.

 

Mike was rushed to the Fallujah CAS then to Baghdad ER, where he underwent emergency surgery. During his surgeries and his movement from hospital to hospital, the Semper Fi Fund had quietly stepped in and helped his family. They paid expenses, including the costly phone bills incurred when Mendoza’s wife was constantly talking to doctors in Germany to check the prognosis and status of her wounded husband.

 

The Patriot Racer Mike Mendoza in Iraq

 

 

Earning his stripes

For his actions during a prior deployment to Iraq with  1st Recon Battalion, Mendoza was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:

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The June 2017 Playlist

The Soundtrack of Hardwork

 

Training is ratcheting up. I’m banging out a lot of long rides and runs this time of year training for Ironman Santa Rosa. Here are the top 10 songs I’m listening to:

  1. Star Spangled Banger – The Marine Rapper
  2. 10 Laws – East Forest
  3. Doin’ It Again – The Roots
  4. Farrah Fawcett Hair – Capital Cities
  5. Aloha – Møme
  6. Say it – Flume
  7. Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
  8. Come Home Now -Day Wave
  9. Litty – Meek Mill
  10. Don’t Let Me Down – The Chainsmokers

 

Be sure to take a look at The Marine Rapper aka TMR aka Raymond Lott. Spending 10 years active duty Marine Corps and deploying a handful of times, he’s stepped onto the music scene in a major way.

TMR on stage

Raymond grew up in Oceanside, son of a Marine Artilleryman, and enlisted as a combat correspondent. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan during his time on active duty.

TMR on deployment

 

 

Equally as cool – Raymond took Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor from Terminator) to the Marine Corps Ball.

TMR with Linda Hamilton at the Marine Corps Ball

She asked him. True Story.

 

#ballerstatus

 

Raymond is a perfect example of someone who has transitioned from war. Stay tuned for the full interview….

 

 

What’s on your playlist?

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Where is your tribe?

It didn’t take long to realize how much I missed the Marine Corps. I got out in 2005 and found myself lacking. But what did I really miss? It wasn’t field day or uniform inspections.  Barracks life had its drawbacks, but everything that was undesirable about it, there was always someone to hang out with and go do something with. A couple years after being discharged, I seriously considered going back in.  But talking it over with a friend, I realized my decision was more about missing the guys than wanting to go back and live the Marine Corps infantry life.

 

Sebastian Junger's Tribe

 

 

Sebastian Junger recently published the book “Tribe.”  He’s a war journalist and author of the documentaries Restrepo and Korengal. In the book, he talked about how many veterans come back from war and fail to adapt to civilian life, fail to thrive, fail to find meaningful connections. He argues that many times this is diagnosed as PTSD, but in actuality is a crippling disconnection from others in their “tribe,” the brothers and sisters they forged tight bonds with during military service and deployments overseas. He states that what is missing is the tight social structures that were woven into the military lifestyle. Even people I didn’t like were important parts of my daily interactions because I relied on them to make our squad/platoon/company work. After a 7 month deployment aboard ship, I knew most of my platoon better than people in my biological family back stateside.

Posing with Todd Godwin during first deployment to Iraq.

Getting out, I struggled to find my footing in the social scene. Sure, I had friends from high school, but through no fault of their own, it was different somehow. How was it different? With my Marine Corps friends, we had seen each other at our best and very worst. We had lived in quarters so close and conditions so uncomfortable that I could tell people apart by their body odor- even at night.

And trust.

I knew many of these guys during Operation Phantom Fury, aka the second battle of Fallujah. We had seen each other through more than a few near death experiences and had literally put our lives at risk for each other. This requires a trust that my writing cannot do justice by attempting to describe. It goes beyond what the average American experiences. Tight bonds are formed when members of a group have a shared experience, and especially through life-or-death situations.

Mike and Cruz at the Haditha Dam

Haditha, Iraq in 2004

Maybe what veterans really need is a place to connect. We often find these places in community college and university level Veteran Clubs, VFWs, and in the VA clinics.

But while these organizations have their place, can we really say that vets are readjusting to civilian life if they are lacking meaningful connections within their own communities?

Historically, Vietnam Vets found themselves blamed, shunned, and harassed by the American public when they came home from war. Understandably, they formed groups with the only people they could trust: themselves. Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans are welcoming vets home, even if they disagree with the war.

Today, the pendulum of support has swung back. I remember taking a Peace and Conflict Studies class at UC Berkeley. My professor asked me to present on my experiences in Iraq. Despite the apprehension, I stood up and told my story.  I received a standing ovation from a room of students who were mostly against my war.

 

The communities here back home want to take us in, but how?

 

One thing many veterans bring to the table is leadership and the ability to maintain focus in difficult circumstances. Isn’t that exactly what boot camp was about? The ability to accomplish a mission and put aside personal discomfort is the defining skill that each service member learns in order for the military to function. The natural civilian counterpart to this is team sports. The stakes are not life and death, but the structure is the same: a group working together to accomplish what no one can do on their own.

After leaving the military, many vets transition to a community college. The top complaints I hear from student veterans are “they [classmates] just don’t get it” or “everyone is on their own program.” The team element is missing. So where do veterans find their new team?

Team RWB

Team RWB at Armed Forces Half

 

Team Red, White, and Blue strives to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” By the number of chapters that spring up over the country each month, I’d say they have figured it out. But it’s not just for vets and active duty military. As I stated before, I believe true readjustment from military life means connecting with the community. That’s the beauty of Team RWB – they also include civilians who want to welcome their military brothers and sisters and throw down on a trail run, bike ride, triathlon, or yoga session. Many of the civilian members have military friends or family members. The majority just love to work out and join Team RWB “Eagles” carrying the flag on a Saturday run.

Membership is free. Eagles meet up through Facebook and email blasts, which often include discounts to local races. My previous experience of vets groups were usually barbecues and pub crawls. That was fun for a couple years, but it got old. I’ve been a part of the San Francisco and Solano chapters for a couple years now. I have joined my fellow Eagles for a handful of trails races, socials, and Crossfit sessions. There’s a highly contagious, positive vibe and plenty of encouragement  like- “you need to try this race” or “next weekend you’re coming with me on this awesome hike.”

After a couple of events, I knew I had found my tribe.

 

Athletes of Valor

Marines Jason Blydell and Alex Stone head up Athletes of Valor. Both of them recognize the importance of teamwork and structure for veterans. They also recognized that college athletes need effective leadership. Stone was an enlisted grunt. He left a lucrative career with Under Armor to launch Athletes of Valor because he saw the natural connection with vets and college sports. Blydell was an infantry officer and returned to the Boston area after his time on active duty. He saw Stone’s winning formula and joined him shortly thereafter.

Stone was an enlisted grunt. He left a lucrative career with Under Armor to launch Athletes of Valor because he saw the natural connection with vets and college sports. Blydell was an infantry officer and returned to the Boston area after his time on active duty. He saw Stone’s winning formula and joined him shortly thereafter.

As Blydell told me, Athletes of Valor’s mission is “to support transitioning servicemen and women from service to career by leveraging the power of collegiate sports.” It’s a win-win for college teams and veterans. For these vets, their tribe might not be an all-veteran community. It might be a college basketball team that hustling on the court together day in and day out.

Jason Blydell in Marines

Founder, Jason Blydell, during his active duty days.

Two of the things I like the most about Blydell and Stone’s approach with Athletes of Valor is that it brings value to both vets and the college teams. And doesn’t fall into the all-too-familiar trap of casting vets as a group of people needing pity. They recognized that by getting athletic veterans into college sports, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. This is the very definition of synergy.

Athletes of Valor is currently working with over 1,000 veteran and active duty athletes who plan to pursue collegiate sports after their time in service and hundreds of coaches who are seeking veteran-athletes for their teams. They are excited to have 15 veterans committed to play college football in the fall of 2017 and the list is still growing.

 

It’s in our DNA

We are hard-wired for complex social interaction in groups. It’s a big part of what makes us human. Junger talks about how for the majority our history, humans were part of tight-knit bands that hunted, gathered, made war, and cared for each other. Modern society has a lot to offer with the modern medicine and technology, but some of our progress has made us more isolated from each other despite the exponential increase in population. In essence, more online convenience with things like Amazon Prime and GrubHub means we don’t need to interact with other humans as much. (Ironically, I ordered his book on Amazon.)

 

We don’t need to spend the rest of our lives like Uncle Rico, talking about “the good old days” and snapping our minds shut to the possibility of finding those groups after our time in service.

Uncle Rico

“If coach had put me in we would have gone to state.”

Putting yourself out there and finding your tribe is worth it. No, that’s understatement. Finding your tribe is the difference between withering and flourishing in life. No exaggeration. Whether it’s swimming the frigid San Francisco Bay waters with the Nadadores Locos, throwing down on an epic knitting session with the yarn club, or playing a round of golf with friends, your tribe is out there. And if it’s not – start it! Others are waiting for you to step up and bring them together.

 

Who is in your tribe?

 

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Ironman Training – Month 6

This is the sixth installment of a yearlong training journey towards my first full Ironman triathlon. To start at the beginning, click here.

January 2017

New year, but the same training. I felt better this month. Some life stressors were situational and temporary: My licensure exam (I passed), Christmas, the flu, ….so I was not expecting to be more stressed out. I expected some negative side-effects from the medication, but none appeared. No increased heart-rate, no weight gain, no foggy head. I decided to stop worrying about what could possibly go wrong with taking medication. I was taking it. I felt better. How about I just enjoy that for now?

Training continued as usual as I continued to build my aerobic base. I knew that things would start to ramp up in the next months and I prepared myself mentally for that. As with all things, a routine can start to get boring after a while. As humans, we detect change more readily. I noticed that I was looking forward to my swims the most right now. Why? Probably because the runs and bike rides were on the same routes for the same amount of time. My swim workouts with the Masters team were different each day and forced me to be mentally engaged.

 

Florida Bound

Manatees

The real manatees….

Addie with Manatee

….and the stuffed manatee.

 

Our vacation to Florida to attend a friend’s wedding was a welcome change to the schedule.We made sure to check out the manatees, see Disney World, and feed the ducks whenever we could. Seeing my daughter, Addie, smile and giggle meeting her favorite princesses and enjoy the rides made my heart sing.

Riding the Teacups at Disney World

Riding the Teacups at Disney World

Feeding the ducks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not having access to a local pool or bikes meant I was mostly running and walking -alternating each day. Even running new routes felt like a whole new sport. I had underestimated how a change in scenery can better things. Training-wise, my favorite part of the trip was finding an open-water swim near Orlando. Lucky’s Lake Swim is world-famous and boasts a cult following of locals.

The day greeting Lucky’s Lake

Later in the week, we headed to the Cocoa Beach for the day. We saw a large shark circling the pier in search of some lunch in the clear water. Awhile later I decided to take a dip in the water.

 

My daughter reassured me, letting me know, “ the shark is probably gonna bite you, dad.”    Thanks.

 

Coco Beach 2

Coco Beach 4

 

 

 

Cocoa Beach 5

Just happy be to here!

Being a parent forces one to find creative solutions. Three-year-olds don’t always like cross country flights and let that be known in subtle to not-so-subtle ways. During our two hour layover in Austin, I changed into a galloping horse with Addie on my shoulders. Daily workout: check. Pacified kiddo: check.

 

The Balance

Family time has gotten much better. What do I mean by that? I was able to participate and enjoy being there. Sure there were always challenging parts of parenting like handling tantrums and trying to convince a three-year-old that they will feel better if they actually eat something. The balance of training and family life is more than just paying my dues to watch the kids. If things aren’t going right, the stress affects my training. It also makes me go back to why I am training so hard in the first place – to be a better version of myself. This means not being absent from the family all day every day just to get some more training in. If I’m not exercising or training, then my body isn’t moving like it should and I’m not as great at being a family man.

For the technical aspects of my training, my mile times hovered around 10:20. Not great, but I am trusting in the training and realizing that life stress is playing a part in this. Increasing sleep and fun time with family is helping. One more month down and halfway towards Ironman Santa Rosa.

 

<— Back to Month 5

Forward to Month 7 (coming soon) —>

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Delicious Cowboy Cricket Pancakes

Pancakes to Chirp About

Cricket Pancake-36

All photos courtesy of Melissa Ergo Photography

Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to incorporate a more sustainable source of protein in my life. Through a few podcasts, I heard about people eating insects – mainly crickets – because of the many benefits to our bodies and the environment. I started searching the internet for a company using insect protein in order to try it out. After all, if it was something that made me gag, that wouldn’t work. In a short time, I came across Cowboy Crickets, a company out of Montana. Cowboy Crickets Family PhotoThe site mentioned how they had just started and that owners Kathleen and James were both Coast Guard Vets      ( James is still serving as a medical in the Montana National Guard).  After some introductions and negotiating, Cowboy Crickets decided to sponsor me!

 

Why Pancakes?

I wanted to find creative ways and different options for using the cricket protein powder. But before we go any further, let’s clear this up:

It’s powder. No legs and heads sticking out. Just powder. We cool?

Cricket Pancakes-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, I could simply dump it into my Simple Green Smoothie or a bowl of yogurt, but I wanted more. Also, I was having pancake nostalgia. Yearning for a simpler time where I ate pancakes for breakfast as a chubby kid, long before my born-again conversion to a Paleo-ish diet. The following recipe took a few tries to come together and was adapted from the Almond Flour pancakes from Wellness Mama. But this one has ground cricket powder, so it’s a next-level way to #GetYourChirpOn.

 

Cricket Powder Pancake Recipe

Cricket Pancakes-9

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of almond flour
  • 1/4 cup of Cowboy Crickets Protein PowderCricket Pancakes-10
  • 1/4 cup of Flax Meal or flax seeds
  • 1-2 TBSP of Chia Seeds
  • 1/4 cup of Goji Berries
  • 2 eggs (bonus points for pasture-raised)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/4 TSP salt
  • 1 TBSP of stevia, Birch Xylitol, or honey
  • Coconut flakes
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Fistfuls of Berries

Best Music Pairings:

*Feel Me Flow – Naughty By Nature

*1,000 Miles – Vanessa Carlton (My daughter’s favorite)

*Flying Horses – Dispatch

 

Directions:

  1. Start the music
  2. Heat a pan to medium and add a bit of avocado oil, coconut oil, or ghee
  3. Mix the Almond Flour, Cricket Powder, Flax Meal, Chia Seeds, Goji Berries, Eggs, Salt, Water and sweetener into a bowl.Cricket Pancakes-17
  4. Whisk until it’s all blended (Let your Three-Year-Old whisk – she’ll do a better job).Cricket Pancakes-19
  5. Fill the 1/4 cup scoop and dump a few onto the pan (the 1/4 scoop seems like the ideal size)Cricket Pancakes-24
  6. Flip when the bottom feels solid enough -should be golden to medium brown.Cricket Pancakes-28
  7. Remove when the other side is doneCricket Pancakes-29
  8. Add a couple hunks of butter and a fistful of berriesCricket Pancakes-31
  9. Sprinkle some coconut flakesCricket Pancakes-33
  10. Enjoy!Cricket Pancakes-44

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To get your own Cowboy Cricket Protein Powder use promo code “MIKEWINS” to save 20%. Not only will you be supporting a great veteran-owned business, but your purchases help me to continue bringing you great posts.

All photos courtesy of Melissa Ergo Photography

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5 Bad Fitness Habits I Learned in the Marine Corps.

One needs an ample supply of mental toughness to hack it in the Marine Corps. From day one of boot camp, the emphasis on physical fitness and the tolerance of misery is made clear. There is no getting around it. Weak-bodied young men are turned into PT studs, or at the very least lose their baby fat.  They learn the beauty of the pull-up bar, crunches, and a three-mile run.

Or Copy Code:

Ahhh, the memories…

 

 

At the end of my all-inclusive stay at MCRD San Diego, I lost 30 pounds and could hoist my pale body above the pull-up bar for double-digit reps. Like everyone else, I learned to push past doubts and the mental limits my mind had created for what I could and could not do. Ironman’s phrase of “Anything is Possible” became a mantra even before I knew what a triathlon was.

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