Richie Caiazza

Richie Caiazza

My journey into the unkown

Why triathlon anyway?

It's been  quite some time since my last post... So i thought i would write somethign that I had been thinking about for a while!

As a 30 someting year old guy, why do I do this.  I mean, It's incredibly time consuming, its challenging, INCREDIBLY expensive, you have to wake up crazy early to train and race... Why do THIS sport?  Why not golf, or beer league softball, or any number of things that someone of my age can do. 

I have done a lot of stuff in my life.  Lots of different things that range from sports, to other activities.  SO why this.  I think its a cumulative of all those reasons above (with the exception of the expensive part.... could do without that).  When I played golf, I would play twice a week.  One night during the week after work, and on Sunday mornings.  i would go to the driving range, I would buy all the latest and greatest gear and technology, and practice.  I saw marginal gains in performance.  But for what?  So i could drive the ball 300+ yards, and show off for my foursome?  There was no competition.  No fire.  Then  stumbled upon this sport.  This lifestyle.  I expend a tremendous amount of resources, wake up early to train, diet, deprive myself of other things that I used to enjoy so I can swim, bike or run every day of the week.   Its hard, its exhausting, and I love it.   I love the journey I have been on, the people i have met so far, and continue to meet.  The journeys that people go on, to find themselves, to lose weight, to accomplish a goal.  All of these things that we do.  It has given me peace.  I have grown more patient with things, and realize how foolish I have been in the past.  It has given me strength... Not just physical, although that is an amaizng thing to me in itself, but also mental strength.  The ability to push myself further than I have ever gone before.  The ability to test the very limits of my mental fortitude.  

So when people ask why this sport... I couldn't imagine my life without it.  It has become a part of me, who I am. 

Thanks for reading.. I just had to get that out there!

Ahhhh... 2012! A season of Highs and lows.

I've been putting this off for quite some time. So grab a cup of coffee, and strap yourself in. Its gonna be a bumpy read.

2012 started with a vision. I hadn't really planned it all out on paper. All I knew was I wanted to get faster. At everything. I was hiring a coach, going to Florida for a "Tri Camp", was thinking of doing my first full Ironman. Somewhere in the beginning of the season, I changed my goal, and wanted to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships. Mission accomplished. I had done it. Now I just had to race it. Learning about how my body reacted to extreme heat in Florida, I realized that I needed to do the majority of my training in the peak heat of the day. I saw opportunities to ride at noon, and seized them. I would get on the trainer and put the heat on instead of the A/C. I would practice my hydration methods, and requirements, like a scientist searching for the cure for cancer. I did my long runs and long rides. I prepared to the best of my ability given the fact that I have a family and a career to balance in the mean time. I did everything I could to mentally and physically prepare for the challenge that was before me. It wasn't enough.

I severely underestimated the elevation and heat. I hadn't taken into account the adrenaline. I missed the mark by so far, it was almost sad.

I went down to Vegas on the Thursday before the race. I spent one day seeing the sights, going to various casinos, and just taking in Vegas, in all its gluttonous glory. Las Vegas is ridiculous, and never having been, I was floored at the sheer level of indulgence that these massive casinos possess. From the marble and granite work of the lobby's, to the grandeur of the casinos. IT was incredible. I gambled a bit, but not too much, and took the, as I liked to call it, "Mediterranean tour" of the hotels. I ate a spectacular dinner, "table for one please!" and enjoyed a nice night out alone. On Friday, I picked my dad and my friend, a fellow athlete, and a chick that is WAY faster than me, up from the airport. My dad is amazing. He is by far the biggest supporter I have in racing. He keeps me motivated when I don't want to push any further. He has been at the finish line at every major race I have ever done. He navigates himself like Christopher Columbus through unknown seas of people and place to make sure he is at exactly the right place, at the time I need him most. This comes in to play because there were points on the run that day, that had he not been there, I simply would have walked off the course. But more on that later.

Fast forward to Saturday. The day before the race. My friend, Meaghen, and I were going to do a pre race workout. Do a pre-race lap on the swim course, a short jog, and then a short ride. Short ride, not really what happened. Course knowledge is so important. There is not much worse than getting lost on a bike course. You would think that with all the other people racing you wouldn't have that happen, but how do you know that everyone else knows where to go. We always just assume that we all know where we are going out there. Trust me, we don't She and I figured this out the hard way, by turning our short ride into a 2 hour long 30= mile confused romp through the Vegas desert. Not fun.

Sunday I felt good, I had a good night sleep after a great dinner with dad. We drove, at 4 am, to the venue, which was 25 miles away. I was prepared. After setting up my stuff in T1, I had a good hour to warm up, and get my shit together. Boom, we are the next age group in the water.

Here on Long Island, I am able to make up for inefficiencies in the water against my competition on the bike. This was not the case here. BOOM canon goes off, and here we go. I took three strokes, looked up, and never saw anyone in my age group again. I have never experienced being SO out classed in my life. I immediately got a little down, but buried my head, and kept swimming. Got out of the water with people from the age group behind me, and said, time to go. The song "Let's GO" by Calvin Harris is playing in my head now, and the bike is my thing. Surely I would catch some of these fools who OBVIOUSLEY went out to hard, right? WRONG! I got out on the bike, and was tired already. I had been the one that went to hard. Got a few miles in on the bike, and got to the beginning of the "climb". The hills in Lake Mead state park are like nothing I have ever seen on Long Island. Climbs would be measured in miles, not feet. And they didn’t stop. Now it’s close to 10 am and the temperature is rising. On the bike course the high for the day was 114 degrees. So said my Garmin. I was overheating. After the bike, I didn’t even want to run. I didn't want to take one step. I pulled into T2, and there was my dad. Decked out in his IM Providence Golf shirt, I was able to spot him from a mile away, or so it seemed to me. I got choked up as I was approaching him, clapping and smiling. He asked how I felt and I could barley answer. He knew I was in trouble, but he encouraged me, and so I pressed forward into the T2 tent. Pretty cool at the world championships, you have volunteers take your bike for you and give you your Run bag. I ran into the tent they had set up, and sat in a chair to collect myself. I am no longer concerned with time, or age group placement. My sole goal at this point is the same as it had been when I first started racing. "Finish and don't die”. That is my mantra at this point in the day. I started the first of 3 laps on this hilly run course which has you running down steps, and the flattest part of the course is at the finish line. Lap 1 was hard, I was FREEZING cold. I was trying to figure out why, considering it was well over 100 degrees out. I pressed on, and was able to see dad at every lap. I stopped and chatted with him for a minute or two. Told him that I was freezing, and he said, just keep going. I did. I wish I hadn't but I pressed on. At the end of the day, I finished, I didn't die... although I felt like I had. I got my finishers medal, I raced in the most competitive, deepest stacked, hottest climate, and hardest terrain of any race on the calendar. I am proud to have done it. 6:30:00 later. Almost an hour longer than my qualifying time, and half an hour longer than my worst previous race.

After Vegas' performance, I began to question my ability as an athlete. I started to say, I should just quit doing this. I signed up the following week for the Huntington Triathlon. It was a sprint distance race. The weather was TERRIBLE, and after a shortened swim, I hit the bike. I won my age group, and turned in a great run split. I then signed up for the Half Iron distance race in Montauk the following weekend. I went on to PR the swim, and ended up PR'ing the race. After a bad start to the run, and feeling like I was bonking a bit, I finished strong. And felt good about the race. I have done a couple more 5K races since, and again PR'd those as well, with breaking 20:00 for the first time with a time of 19:34. That was big.

Looking ahead at the 2013 season, Plans again had to change. I originally was going to do the IM Texas as my first full ironman. The date for the race was 5/27.... Well, I am happy to report that my wife and I are expecting our 3rd baby. Turns out I was feeling better than I thought when I got back from Vegas, and was happy to see her! The due date for "Binks", which is the name my year old son has come up with until we find out what the sex is, is on 6/6. I am most certainly not going to be 6 hours away, and in the middle of an IRONMAN 2 weeks before the due date!

Now I am signed up and scheduled in to do IM Cabo! The date of this event is 3/17/13. Most of my training will be in the dead of winter. But, gotta do it. It will be painful, it will be hard, and it will be amazing.

To wrap up, I want to thank a few people for 2012. First off, my wife. Colleen, you deserve as much credit at this year’s achievements as I do. It is not easy being the wife of a triathlete, and you do it, and rarely complain about the long training hours, and late nights at the pool. The way you and the kids support me throughout the year is what keeps me going, and that is just one of the reasons why I love you. Thank you for being you, and letting me chase this dream! Second, the rest of my family. Mom and Dad, you guys have put up with more BS from me, and more stories about racing, and training than I am sure you ever wanted to.
Dad, you have given me the opportunity to chase this dream. You set up the ground work in my head, and encourage me to no end. Your work ethic comes out in me, and your willingness to succeed is what keeps me going out there sometimes. Finish and don't die! That has been our motto since day 1!

To my coaches Bryan and Anthony. Bryan, Keep kicken my ass, I have taken 10 mins off my 1 mile swim time in a year, and I have all the confidence in the world that with your help that I will continue to make huge gains in speed and endurance in the water. You have become more than a coach in the last year, but a friend as well.
Anthony... What can I say? You are the most patient, and giving coach a guy could ever ask for. You push me beyond my limits, and continue to amaze me by your own athletic achievements. I look up to you as an athlete, and have learned to confide and trust you like a close friend. You have become almost a life coach as well. I wouldn't be where I am had it not been for you continuing set goals and shatter them!

Many people ask me "why". That answer has changed so many times. In the beginning, it was to say that I did. Now, it is to prove to myself that I can.

Here's to a safe and successful 2013. And thank you for taking the time to read these things. It means a lot to me that even one person takes an interest. Hopefully, my racing will encourage others to take healthy steps, and make healthy choices to start a journey of their own. Who knows, maybe next year, I will be reading your blog for motivation.

Cheers,

Richie

The Season That IS!

April 1, 2012 I made my first post.  This date is significant for a couple of reasons.  First off, my baby girl was born on this day in 2010.  It was also the day that I decided to make a permanent chagne in my life.  The choice to make a lifestyle change is never easy.  It is never a "hey i am going to lose weight" and then POOF!  There it goes.  It takes hardwork, dedication, determination, and the ability to endure pain.  That year, I learned a lot about myself.  I learned that when i put my mind to something, There is nothing I can't accomplish. 

When I wrote that first blog post, I made some pretty challenging goals.  They were written down, "set in stone"  so to speak.  I put forth my goals for individual races, and then the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 70.3 Ironman World Championships.  Not knowing what exactly would be entailed in making these choices, I started on my quest towards September. 

The challenges that I put forth on my mind, body, and family were great.  There were rainy days where i didn't to even get out of bed, yet had to ride 60 miles.  There were races that I had suffered from heat stroke, malnutrtion, and dehydration.  Had to battle elements that most others opted out from.  Now, 9 Triathlons, 2 half marathons, and god knows how many training days later.  Over 1500 miles on the bike and 500 miles running, countless laps in the pool, and hours in the open water, I look forward to the weekend that I set out to do in April.  On Sunday, September 9, 2012, I will toe the line against the best athletes in the world in my sport.  I will be racing this race that is among the most coveted in Triathlon against the Top 200 men in my age group, 30-34 on the planet. 

The feelings that I have going into this weekend in my head would normally be reserved for a psycho-therapy session.  I am anxious, nervous, excited, and also sad, and depressed.  I have worked all season, I have fought tooth and nail against many obstacles that have come up.  I have battled injury, fatigue both mental and physical.  I have missed dinners at home, and Sunday morning breakfasts with my family.  But it was worth it.

I don't want to sound like I didn't put this upon myself.  Or that it hasn't been fun.  It has!  I have enjoyed my journey from a novice to what I have become.  My fitness level is someplace I never knew was possible, and my mental strength has become even greater than that.  I love this sport.  I love the challenges it presents, and I love the feeling at the end.  I love the hurt, the sweat, the tears. 

At the end of the day Sunday, I will be a 70.3 Ironman World Champion.  There are a handful of people that can say this every year.  I have risen from crawling out of the water at my first sprint in August of 2010 feeling like I couldn't walk another foot.  To racing in one of the hardest, most competitive fields in a 5+ hour endurance event that will test my physical and mental strengnth like never before.  There will be moments in this race where I will laugh, sing, dance on the bike, talk to other competitors, be someone elses cheerleader, clap for someone struggling more than me.  There will times where i will be crying like a little girl that lost her puppy, when I am thinking about my family yelling "GO DADDY GO!"  There will be times where i will feel pain the likes I have never felt.  On the other side of the coin, There will be times that I feel joy unlike I have ever felt as well. 

Thank you for taking this journey with me.  Thanks to all that have had there hand in getting me here.  

My next post will be a race report, and a full year summary.  I look forward to your comments, or nothing at all....Either way, I will be at peace with my season, and look forward to what lies ahead!

 
 

A Season Of High's and Low's

At the end of the 2011 season, my first full year as a "triathlete", I had mixed emotions of what next season was going to be like. Originally, when I first entered this world at the end of the summer of 2010, my goal was to complete a Half Iron distance, 70.3, in 2011, and complete a full 140.6 in 2012. In October of 2011 I completed my half, as was the plan... The race was on my birthday in Myrtle Beach, and was an amazing experience. I beat my goal time, and had my family at the finish line to share in my personal victory. That is what this sport is supposed to be. Little victories along the way. Maintaining for progress, have fun, keep up my fitness, and just enjoy the multisport lifestyle. I knew I was getting a bit faster, but thought that was just an obvious byproduct of training. Then a funny thing happened. I placed at a race. I came in 2nd in my age group at the Carl Hart fall duathlon. It was an interesting moment for me. I never excelled at anything in my life. I was never the star athlete, or the best student. I was a decent singer in my high school... but take me out of Elwood with a graduating class of 160+, I was terrible. This was significant in my progression as an athlete, and in my journey to become better at something. My goals changed that day. They went from being merely good at something to wanting more. That is when I decided to start to make the multisport lifestyle part of my life. As with many of us, Triathlon became more than a hobby. It began to consume me. Soon, publications like "Triathlete", and "Lava", started to take the place of my staples of "Road & Track", and "Car & Driver" in my magazine rack. I started absorbing every bit of knowledge I could on the sports I would be working on for the next few months. Normal holiday dinners, turned into a challenge for me to eat healthy, and whatever winter I remember now turned into an off season that wasn't to be, having trained through the entire winter. Throw in "tri camp" in Florida, and I wanted more. I planned my schedule not just wanting to finish a 70.3 race, but to qualify for Vegas, The world championships for Ironman brand 70.3 races.

The race season started off well with a top 10 overall finish at the first 2 races I entered. Again, this kind of success at something was entirely new to me. I don’t place in the top 10. I am a middle of the pack guy... always have been. Then came Ironman Florida. My first 70.3 of the season, and first attempt at qualifying for Vegas. As I said in my previous post, it was a humbling experience, as the heat seriously destroyed all hopes of having a strong finish. It ruined my run, and all the work I had done to that point was for nothing I felt. All the hours spent away from my family, all the hard work, and sweat, and tears that go into training for such an event was done in vain. And I had nothing to show for it. The next race was an Olympic in at Rev3 Quassy. As instructed by my coach, I was not meant to "race" this event, merely train through it. He wanted me to work on nutrition for the event, and get used to running long off the bike. I did just that. Although to say the experience was not the most pleasant would be an understatement. Driving rain, cold temps, and wicked wind were the elements we had to battle that day. I wasn't happy, and my run split again suffered. Questions come out again. Am I cut out for this? Am I meant to be racing, should I just give it up? Then I raced this past weekend. Father’s Day, 2012. The day had a mellow undertone because as a family we were still mourning the loss of my father-in-law who lost his battle with heart disease on this past Christmas Eve. Losing a family member is difficult enough, but losing a father on Christmas is devastating, and I knew today was going to be difficult for my wife and her family. Knowing this, I gave her the option to spend the morning with her mom and the kids, so they could all be together. My wife did just that... At the race! Having them there meant more to me than they will ever know. Seeing my wife and kids at every stage in transition, along with hugs at the finish line, is what I believe kept me strong. Her strength helped me. Thank you for doing that baby!

After a very confusing and unorganized swim start, I was 3rd in my wave (wave 1) to exit the water. This has never happened before, as I am used to being a slower swimmer. This week at swim practice however, something just clicked, and I was moving fast. That being said, I got on the bike, and my wife, her mom and my kids were right there cheering me on. After getting a little choked up (not uncommon for me), I was off. Bike felt good, and before I knew it I was rolling into transition. When I asked my family how many in front of me, "2" was their answer... What? 2? I was running third heading into T2? This has never happened to me before. Time to turn it up for the run. 5K. 3 miles, that is all that stands between me and the finish line. 19:21 was my run split. A sub 20 min 5k is my PR, and I felt AMAZING! I was the third person to cross the finish line! That was the proudest I have ever been as a triathlete... and it felt surreal. It was only a local sprint, and there were only 737 people that entered. I ended up coming in 17 overall, due to the fact that in the waves that started after me, people were obviously faster. It was still good enough for 2nd in my age group, and that, for me was amazing.

I have Ironman 70.3 Providence RI in 4 weeks. I finally am starting to feel a little more confident. Am I going to qualify for the World Championships? I don't know. But I do know that I will be giving it hell to get there... and that even if I don't I gave it my all, and am finally succeeding at something in my life!

 

 

 

 

Humbling INDEED!

I go into most races with what I describe as cautious optimism.  I feel confident in my ability, and good about the performance I am capable of turning out.  You never know how you are going to feel come race morning, or who else is going to show up.  Yet I usually just hope to have3 a good, safe, and race to the best of my abilities.  Going into what was supposed to be my first "A" race of the season, Ironman 70.3 FL however, that was not the case. I felt I had done myself a disservice early in the season.  I raced the week before and it was one for the books.  I raced shoulder to shoulder with a good friend and fierce competitor.  The two of us, along with both of our coaches, and most of our friends knew we were pretty evenly matched.  We raced eachother earlier in the season and it was a 23 second victory by me.  I knew going into this duathlon that it was going to be a challenge, and that I would have a bulls eye on my back.  We started the first run basically shoulder to shoulder and ended the first run that way... posting identical run splits.  We left transition together, and he is much better at mounting his bike on the fly.  Seeing him ride away, I stumbled and stuggled to get my feet in my shoes.  He was gone! SHIT!  I just lost this race I thought.  He was so far ahead of me, I could see him rounding the first turn in the loop course that I couldn't be 100% sure that the helmet I was looking for was even his.  I put down a solid bike though and managed to pull past him and into transition with a 20 second lead.  THANK GOD I DID!  Once again... struggles in transition.  Apparently when I pulled my shoes off when I got into T1, i pulled the inner sole of my shoes out slightly with it.  Now in T2, I am trying to put the soles back in.  Knowing I had a slight edge off the bike, I figured they would go right in and I would have time.  I was wrong.  I struggled for over 15 seconds trying to get these damn soles back in.  (Side note, lesson learned.  Bring two pairs of shoes to a duathlon)  Next thign I know, he runs in right next to me, as we are literally racked right next to eachother, I just pulled out the inner soles and pulled ont he shoes.  Once again we were shoulder to shoulder the entire run.  We literally ran the entire run course next to one another.  His coach was at a strategic point.  He asked if we were holding eachothers hands!  Then he told him that this is the time to attack.  I usually have enough in the tank to explode for about 100 yards.  His coach knew this and he awas about 500-600 yards fromt he finish line.  I knew this was just a little to long for me, and coming around the final turn he had about a 6 foot lead.  I opened it up as much as i could, and just out of sheer luck I edged him out by the difference of my foot being on the timing mat, and his still being in the air!  It was literally a photo finish! 

     To say that my victory was bittersweet would be an understatement.  I have a half iron the following sunday and I just left everything I had on the duathlon course.  I had a million questions now.  Would I be recovered in time?  Would I be sore tomorrow?  How was I going to feel race morning?   All these things running through my head more nervous going to FL than i was before my first sprint.  the days prior i was freaking out, nervous, concerned.  Race morning came.  Lance Armstrong, Michael Poole, and David Kahn... Two of which I have met and trained with one... were all favorites to win.  This made the men's start even more exciting.  The media, the exicitement of having a world class athlete that transends the sport racing in the same race that you are is an incredible feeling. 

     Pro swim start was at 6:30.... I was in wave 17!  we started at 7:40.  Came out of the water which was a little longer than advertised at 1.38 miles in 41:24.  good, but not great.  Not where I wanted to be either.  Came out of the water 755 overall... I had some work to do, and it was getting hot.  Came out of T1 with no problems and immediately got to work.  The way that Ironman broke down the bike was interesting.  They did the first bike split at 38.5 miles, and the second at 17.5 miles.  I managed to put down a 1:45:41 first split.  THAT was what I was looking for... But it is geting hotter!  I look down at my Garmin, and it says 82 degrees... It's only 10 am.  By mile 50 things had started to get bad.  The sweat that was already pouring into my eyes was starting to crystalize.  I felt as though I had razor blades in my eyes.  My second half bike split was over an hour.  Total bike time... 2:46:49.

   Things were bad and they didnt look like they were getting any better.  I came into transition hurting but not done.  I poured what was left of the liter bottle of water I had from early in the morning over my head in T2 and headed out on to the run.  Legs felt strong, and I wasnt to thirsty as I drank 6 bottles on the ride... but something wasn't right.  I turned onto the first part out of the park on what was going to be a 3 lap run, and what layed before me was soul crushing.  1 mile @ 10% grade.  Whatever mental strength I had left in my body had just evaporated with the sweat on my brow.  It ruined me.  I stood in front of  what appeared  to me to be an angel with a hose ( I believe i told this poor woman that I loved her)... I stood there for over a minute letting the cool water run over my overheated body.  It cooled me off enough that I attempted to begin this run.  There was no point.  My body had begun to shut down, and I hunkered in for what was going to be the longest half marathon of my life!  2:33 half marathon. 

   In races like these... you have to learn something.  I learned that i MUST train in the heat if I am going to race in the heat.  According to the medical staff i suffered from heat stroke and probably should've taken myself out of the race much like over 25% of the field did.  I don't stop something I start!  But to say that I am more than disapointed is an understatement.

    That is why I am humbled.  As good of an athlete as I think I am, is as much work as I have ahead of me.  My dream of qualifying for vegas on hold for now... but I have another shot at it in 40 days in Providence RI!

Till we meet again! Ciao!

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