Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Aaron's First Tri: Seafair Sprint Triathlon

We were up at 4 a.m. on Sunday, July 24, to get ready for Aaron's first triathlon — the Seafair Sprint Triathlon at Seward Park.

Aaron signed up for it five days before race day and didn't train at all. Of course, he had the bike training under his belt (remember that 204-mile bike ride he did two weeks ago?), but he hadn't done any swimming since our trip to Hawaii in February, and he certainly didn't prepare for the transitions between each sport.

Oh, and don't forget he still has that broken hand!

I knew he could do the race, and probably do freakishly well with practically no training; it was just a matter of how much it would hurt to do it...

We got to Seward Park just after 5 a.m. It was going to be a gorgeous Seattle day!

Aaron racked his bike and set up all his gear for the two transitions — from swim to bike and from bike to run.

Then, all we could do was wait! There were both Olympic- and sprint-distance races, and all the Olympic participants started first around 6:30. Wave after wave of athletes began to attack the swim course while Aaron waited, cold and anxious.

He had a sweatshirt and sweatpants, but he insisted on getting acclimated to the cold since he didn't have a wetsuit to wear for the swim. I'd say 95% or more of the athletes wore a wetsuit, but Aaron rolled just a tri top and tri shorts for his first race!

He finally got in the water around 7:30, and he says it was the coldest he's ever been — even colder than the polar-bear dive we did in January!

Can you spot him?

At 7:45, his wave was off! I was dying of nervousness for him the whole time. The swim course was a half-mile, but it looked really, really far to me.

Aaron says the swim was really tough, and he thought he was going to drown. Seriously! He was exhausted and resorted to floating on his back, as well as trying every stroke imaginable to get through the water.

The first thing he said when he got out of the water was, "I guess I should have swam at least once before this!"

Swim time (0.5 mile): 20:40

(I think he finished way faster than I would if I attempted this right now! I'd still be in that water right now...)

He then ran over to the transition area to get ready for the bike ride.

Transition 1: 2:30

Swim cap and goggles off; socks, bike shoes, sunglasses and helmet on. Plus, he ate some Shot Bloks for fuel.

And then he was off for the 12-mile ride down Lake Washington Boulevard, across I-90 and back.

About halfway through the ride, Aaron realized his back brake was jammed on, making the ride more difficult than it should have been! He fixed it and was able to whiz through the second half of the ride much faster.

Bike (12 miles): 37:44

The bike-dismount area had a really sharp corner that caused many athletes to stumble and/or crash into one another as they scrambled to get into the transition area, but Aaron did just fine with it!

It was time to get ready for the last leg — the 5K run.

Transition 2: 2:09

Helmet and bike shoes off; running shoes, fuel belt and race number on. Plus, more Shot Bloks.

There's Aaron's stepdad, Mark, cheering him on!

The sun was fully out and it was starting to get warm at this point, so I worried that he'd get really hot on top of being exhausted from the swim and bike. But I also knew that he's strong with 5Ks, and I knew he'd do well!

I was so anxious waiting for him at the finish line. I had a great time clapping and cheering for all the other athletes as I waited. I'm so amazed at all the effort it takes to do a triathlon!!

Finally, there he was!

I went nuts as he ran strong across the finish line.

Run (3.1 miles): 24:33

Overall finish time: 1:27:38

What an accomplishment!!!

What does one do right after finishing his first triathlon? Go straight for the food, of course.

He looks like he's giving someone a suspicious side-eye, but he's really in the middle of chewing the whole bagel that he shoved into his mouth.

Greta and Mark are so proud of their triathlete!!

And this girl is, too.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aaron Crushes the 2011 Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic

On Saturday afternoon, I cheered like crazy as I watched Aaron ride through the finish chute of the 204-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride.

He arrived 12 hours after starting, averaging 19 miles per hour on the bike (with a few stops along the way).

Cyclists travel from all over the country to ride STP, and it can be done in one or two days. It's a tremendous achievement for anyone to complete it in one day, but especially so if you happened to look like this not too long ago:

You can read all about Aaron's motorcycle accident, injuries and recovery in this post.

In it, I wrote:
"I'll never know what it was like for you to wonder if you'd be able to walk, run or ride again. I only know that now, you're seizing every opportunity you have to push yourself, physical obstacles be damned, because you can."
And that has never more true than it was last Saturday.

STP sells out quickly, and registration closed months ago. But it opened again very briefly just a few weeks ago, as some riders dropped out and left open slots.

So just a few weeks ago, Aaron swooped in and signed up. He cycles often, but most people seriously train for this event all year long.

Aaron has never been most people.

"It would be so easy for you to sit at home, be inactive and blame it on that terrible accident, but you don't. You know that life is too short and too precious to give it anything less than your all."

I watched him ride away from Seattle at 4:45 a.m. His goal was — well, no goal, really. Just to finish it in one day. Just to finish it in one piece.

Did I mention that he broke his hand while playing softball last week?

OK, so maybe the goal was to finish in two pieces.

As I packed up and headed to the train station, my mind ran through all the worst-case scenarios. His bad knee could give out and he'd crash into a ditch somewhere. His bad hand could get worse and he'd crash into a ditch somewhere. Anything could happen and it would result in him lying in a ditch!

Then I got a text message at 10:20 a.m.: "Halfway!"


Aaron flew on that bike and exceeded all expectations, including his own. As I rode the train down to Portland, I continued receiving messages.

At 1:10 p.m.: "145 miles."

3:06 p.m.: "Last stop — 170 miles."

I was still on the train at this point — the train that was supposed to arrive in Portland at 2:30 — and Aaron stood a serious chance of beating me to the finish line!

I finally made it to the finish-line festival at Holladay Park around 4:30, and look who showed up at 4:45.

I cheered like crazy. Then I burst into tears.

I could not run fast enough to grab this sweaty, salt-stained and dirty-as-hell man into a big, tearful hug.

I really thought I couldn't be more proud of Aaron than I was when I wrote that post about everything he'd accomplished since his motorcycle accident.

But then there was a fleeting opportunity. A fearless leap of faith. A starting line cloaked in the morning darkness. A finish line hundreds of miles away.

And the ride of a lifetime in between.


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Friday, July 1, 2011

How I Found an Extra $8,400 in 20 Minutes — Seriously

On July 16, 2010, I paid off the very last of my debt. After six months of intense number-crunching, frugality and focus, I was rid of the $9,000 weight that had been on my shoulders for the past few years.

For the next six months, I focused that same intensity on saving. I paid myself first and spent only what I had to, also allotting a very small amount of money to spend fun stuff to keep me sane. I was able to move out of my mom's house the day after Christmas with more than $10,000 in the bank.

Since then, I've enjoyed living in my own place and not having to worry so much about money. I've put more money in the bank (nearly double) and also spent a fair amount, too. I vacationed in Hawaii, spent a weekend at a conference in Portland, went skydiving, paid several race entry fees and have already paid for a few more small trips, including a long weekend in New York City this fall and a few days in Las Vegas to run my first marathon in December.

What I haven't been doing is budgeting or consciously saving money from each paycheck.

I've decided to change that this month and go back to basics. I've had my fun; now it's time to get serious about the things I want in life and how I'm going to fund them.

I'd love to travel much more, dive further into photography and continue to do adventurous activities — and all that ain't coming for free.

For the first time in a long time, I wrote an old-school budget using a pen and paper. I figured out my all my monthly expenses, which I really hadn't done since I moved out of my mom's house:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Internet/cable
  • Car insurance
  • Cell phone
  • Prescription

I also decided what I'd like to realistically spend on things that don't have fixed monthly costs, but are instead determined by my choices:

  • Groceries/toiletries
  • Eating out/having fun

My health insurance, 401(k) contributions and bus pass payments come directly out of my paycheck, and I fill my gas tank maybe once every three months. I own my car outright. My gym membership is prepaid for a year. I don't really shop for clothes, and I rarely get my hair cut. Pretty much anything else I'd spend would be by choice.

I also hadn't really looked at my income in relation to my expenses. It recently changed (in a positive direction — woo-hoo!), but I wasn't sure how much more I was earning per month than I used to.

Once I figured everything out, here's what I discovered: I could be putting as much as $700 per month into savings.

Whoa. That's $8,400 a year!

Good thing I figured that out, huh?

The reason I have as much in savings as I do is because I earn substantial quarterly bonuses at my job. I put those bonuses directly into savings, and it all adds up quickly. But I've overlooked the additional money I could save from each paycheck, and that's going to end right now.

I set up my first ING Direct savings account tonight and deposited $300 into it. I also set it to auto-transfer $300 from my checking account on the 15th and last day of each month (my paydays).

Now I'll automatically be saving $600/month that I otherwise would have let sit in my checking account, only to be wasted on a bunch of little things simply because it was there.

I'll see how the $300-per-paycheck works out over the next few months as I actually live on this budget, then adjust the auto-transfer higher or lower accordingly. I'm hoping that I won't even notice the money when it magically leaves my checking account, and that I'll stockpile $3,600 or more in the ING account by the end of the year.

I've named that account my Freedom Fund.

As I look back on the last year and a half, I can identify three distinct periods of how I used money:

  • Six months of intense debt repayment
  • Six months of intense saving
  • Six months of enjoying and spending money while still saving some

Ever since I've become debt-free, my biggest mission has been to stay that way. That means I need to find a balance between enjoying money and continuing to save it.

I have no regrets about how much money I've spent in the past six months; everything I spent it on was completely worth it. But now I'd like to put more of a focus on saving again, and I feel good about the steps I've taken to do so.

Personal finance is about much more than getting out of debt. It's about deciding what's most important to you and directing your finances to support those things.

One of my favorite ideas from Dave Ramsey is that rich people tell their money where to go, and broke people wonder where it went.

I don't ever want to be left wondering.

Have you re-evaluated your finances lately? What kind of money could you be missing out on if you haven't?


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