29 September 2015

Challenge Penticton RR

What up y’all!?  Last month I was able get away from the old 9-5 grind here in Portland for a quick race.  You working types know what I’m talking about…  Punching a time card for the man?  Doing my part to keep social security afloat?  The old ball and chain?  The twig and berries…?  And wow, racing in Penticton is such an unbelievable experience.  The town, the volunteers, the Challenge brand… it’s hard to say enough about how awesome it is to participate in that race.  I’ve had the great fortune of racing there twice now, the first time at the inaugural Challenge Pen race in 2013.  It was my first crack at a full distance event, and ever since then I’ve been trying to get back.  I finally had that chance this summer.

Stoked to be back.
Things have changed somewhat in the last two years.  Most significantly, this year they moved the pro race to the shorter half distance.  I was bummed when I first heard news of the switch, but in the end I think it worked out for the best.  With limited training time earlier this season, I probably would have been a bit underdone for a full.  Plus, the course was almost entirely new to me, which is always fun.  And true to Penticton’s heritage, it was a challenging and fair test.
Race day began with my customary jar of applesauce, sitting in the darkness of my homestay bedroom, listening to a pretty impressive rain falling outside.  It was actually quite welcome, as summer fires in northern Washington had made for a very smoky race-week atmosphere in interior B.C.  By the time wetsuits were on and I was putting my little pinky toes in Okanagan Lake, the rain had subsided and the smoke was gone.  Conditions were cool and damp for the rest of the day.  Perfect.

Race-day conditions.
Now that the stage is set, I’m gonna break from tradition here for the race report.  Hope y’all like the “highs and lows” format.  I’m putting things in order from best to worst.  That way if you get bored and stop reading halfway, you’ll be biased towards the good stuff.
1. High point of the race: crossing the finish line
Let’s be honest, the end is often the best part of these races.  And not because everything that came before it sucked (shame on you for thinking that).  But because it’s always immensely gratifying to cross that finish line, hear the crowds cheering, feel the relief as your legs finally spin to a stop, and reflect on the hard work that hopefully paid off.  The excitement never goes away; seems like the more of these I do the more fun they get.  But to make it even better, the race organizers at Challenge Pen created an awesome finishing area, complete with a sweeping 270-degree turn as you run down a chute lined by circus tents, an 80-piece band, lion tamers, even an entourage of hula-hoopers that were trying to obstruct the line.  Although I’ve never been, I’m told it was reminiscent of the extravaganza Challenge throws at Roth every year.  (Needless to say, that race is at the top of my bucket list.)  Adding to the joy for me: I was happy with how I raced, I felt like I got the most out of my body, and Elena was standing there looking like a millions bucks.  So it was a good scene.
2. Extreme Highs:
-Feeling stronger on the bike.  A theme that has become painfully obvious to me this summer is that I ride my bike like a softman (allow me to refer you to my outing down at Vineman).  But a few focused weeks of bike work since then, and all of a sudden I felt like I had new legs.  I knew something was different by about halfway through the bike.  There was a short out-and-back section at mile 30 or so, but it couldn’t have been longer than a mile and I figured there wouldn’t be much for me to see there.  When I made the sharp right-hand turn after about 80 minutes of hard riding, I was surprised to see a whole lot of guys strung out in front of me.  I looked at faces going by in the opposite direction as I approached the turn-around.  Dudes who usually out-ride me by 10 minutes or more were within reach!  I was thrilled!  In the end, eventual winner Brent McMahon (Canadian Olympian and basically the favorite at any race he enters) and Trevor Wurtele (routinely earns the fastest bike split) bested me by 10 minutes, which is 3-4 less than my usual deficit to the top bikers over 56 miles.  Chris Bagg, Alistair Eeckman, and Guy Crawford (who outrode me by several minutes at a local olympic-distance event five weeks earlier) all had me by less than two minutes.  Ok, Coach Chris may have flatted and lost some time there, but that’s beside the point.  There was definite improvement here, and that after a relatively short block of focused training.  Improvement is what I need to stay motivated in this game.  It’s like that golf shot that you finally caught pure: it might have only happened once in 18 holes, but it keeps you coming back.  Now I’m actually looking forward to riding my trainer this winter, because I have hope that it will continue to equate to better performances.

Good bike shots are so hard to get.

-Mile 3 of the run.  My usual strategy for the run is to stay comfortable for the first few miles and try to lift the effort as things progress.  But what usually ends up happening is that I fatigue simultaneously, which means I end up trying to run harder, feeling like I’m running harder, suffering like I’m running harder… but in actuality I’m holding the exact same pace.  So I decided to try something different for this race, for better or for worse.  My thought was that maybe it would be easier to start at goal pace and hold it, rather than trying to build up to it as my legs tired out.  Well… you’ll find out how that worked out for me if you keep reading.  But right around mile 3 I was crushing it and feeling awesome.  I had knocked out a few 5:45s and it felt totally sustainable, with my HR just below threshold.  I was going to close like a freight train and run in to the top-10.  Awesome.

Feeling good early in the run.
3. Highs:
-Coming out of the water.  After what felt like a pretty sloppy performance, I was happy to glance at my watch as I was running up the beach and see a low-26 minute swim.  Just like 2013, the men’s and women’s fields started at the same time, so there were more feet for me to find.  But on the flip side, there were also more people to run into, follow in the wrong direction, and get punched by.  No joke, after a solid 20 strokes of being squished between a gal on my left and some dude on my right, as I was breathing I noticed him actually try to bring his fist down on my head.  He missed.  He didn’t know that I have a pretty impressive background in evasive swimming (although most of my expertise is in hiding in hot tubs during high school swim practice).  In any case, most of the swim was pretty tumultuous and crowded.  I was never able to steer a straight course, and by about halfway through I was pretty tired from all the aggressive jostling.  So I was happy to see another improved swim time, only 1-2 minutes down on a bunch of guys who are consistent second pack swimmers or better.
-Seeing a certain someone get a penalty.  This may seem like poor form, but I just thought it was so ironic.  The person who had scowled angrily around the room at the pro meeting and openly proclaimed “We don’t need any cheating assholes!” was the one who got called for drafting.  Life is so sweet sometimes.  Yeah, she’s a world champion, but just because you’re a champion doesn’t mean you get to throw stones.
And now for the not so good…
4. Lows:
-The pro meeting in general.  Pardon my language, but it was ahhh, how do you say… display of poo?  Ah yes, it starts with “sh” and rhymes with “it-show.”  There were a few important things to address, sure.  But then it got painful, sitting there listening to the bickering with the head official.  I mean, presumably everyone in the room has raced more than a couple triathlons.  So go out and race fairly.  No one likes to lose (or win) on account of rule-breaking.
-Mile 7 on the run.  This is when I first started to question my new run plan.  The first 4 miles were awesome, 5 and 6 were pretty solid, but by mile 7 I could feel things slowing down.  Mentally I had divided the race into three 4-mile segments.  If I could hold goal pace, I was hoping to cover each of those 4-mile pieces in 23-flat, bringing me to the end of mile 12 – with only a mile to go to the finish – right around 1:09.  I figured if I put myself in that position, I could probably suffer through that 13th mile and run a final time somewhere in the 1:15-1:16 range.  Well… that would have been awesome, but it didn’t quite unfold how I had planned.  Mile 7 was a low point, because it’s when I first started to feel it.

Feeling less good around mile 6.
5. Extreme Lows:
-Mile 8 on the run.  By this point I knew I was in trouble.  After covering the first four miles right on schedule, I clicked through those next four in over 24 minutes, bummer.  My mental dialogue was going back and forth:
-“How could I be so foolish?  I’ve never run that fast before.”
-“But on the other hand, you run those times in training.  And this course is flat as a pancake.  Coach Bagg thinks you’ve got it in you.  Stay committed.”

And I did.  My head was very committed.  But my legs were not committed at all.  Like the girl you asked to prom, who said yes just to be nice, after some persuasion.  As soon as things got a little uncomfortable they started looking for the exit.
6. Low point of the race: miles 9-11 on the run
Ouch town.  Main Street in Penticton is pretty straight and disappointingly long.  Thank God all the Canadians are so nice, because I was on the struggle bus.  Those miles weren’t very fun, or fast, or nice for them to watch.  But the people kept cheering (because they’re sweet), telling me I was doing great (I wasn’t), and promising me that I was almost done (which I didn’t believe).  Finally I entered that last mile, and could see down the final stretch to the finish area with all the hula-hoopers.  I was able to quicken my stride for those final minutes, but that’s mostly because I really wanted to sit down.
When all was said and done, I ended up coming 12th, which I was satisfied with.  Not the break-through race I had dreamed about, but probably the result I deserved based on my training.  On second thought… maybe a bit better than I deserved, if I’m being honest.  Training has been sporadic at best for a long time (click here if you want to see why), and I just finally achieved some consistency over the second half of the summer.  And imagine that: this was a greatly improved race over the one I did back in early July.  So I’ve gotta be happy with that.
I think my main take-away here – and as Coach Bagg would later point out – this was probably the most complete race I’ve ever put together.  With an improved swim and bike, I was in contact with most of the action as the race unfolded.  And I can tell you it is a lot more fun to actually see your competitors than it is to be last out of the water, slow on the bike, and then run up through the field towards the end, which is my usual MO.  Also, as I look back at my last half-dozen major races, I think it’s fair to say that I have become a consistent 2nd quartile guy.  I’m happy to be taking that confidence into the fall and winter months.

The look says it pretty well.
What’s next?  A bunch of local events here in the Pacific NorthWET.  Got a few footraces on the calendar, and looking forward to trying my hand at cyclocross this fall.  Also planning to enter a swim meet in November, which will undoubtedly be terrible.  But you gotta do what you gotta do to stay motivated.  Enjoy autumn everyone, and thanks for reading!

05 August 2015

I Raced Again!

Race Report - 70.3 Vineman

Well, I did it.  I completed a triathlon (and yes, it was four weeks ago).  I know a lot of you guys were probably thinking I wouldn't be able to do it, but I did.  It was pretty difficult.  I cried a couple times.  And I'll be honest, the only thing that really kept me in it was the idea of writing a race report again.  That and the free snow cones I heard they were passing out at the finish line.  But turns out those were only for the top 12 finishers, so I missed out on that deal.  Nobody wants a snow cone at like 10:45 in the morning anyway.  Figured I might as well salvage the race report though.  So here goes!
But before jumping in, a quick backstory, in case you missed my post this spring (and you really don't know what you're missing).  I'll summarize briefly: med school has been ruining my triathlon life lately.  The "med" part of the tri-med equation has unleashed a real beat down on the "tri" part, for like... the past 18 months or so.  It's also been ruining my social life, my financial life, my artistic life, and my literary life too.  Kidding, read my last post.  Lots of good stuff in there.  Med school is awesome.  But it's true that it has been harder to find time to train as intensely as I'd like.  There was a brief glimmer of hope at Wildflower last year, but that was the last time I raced.  Until now...
So read on, but cut me some slack.  That's the point.

Good to be back.

-Swim- I Have to Admit it's Getting Better

Swimming is probably the only discipline I've been able to stick to with any consistency over the past year.  That and some recent changes in my technique have made me a little quicker in the pool lately, so I was anxious to see how'd I'd fare when I waded back into the big leagues.  The plan was to focus on my stroke and just swim my own little personal race in the Russian River, hopefully find some feet, but not get too worried about what the other guys were doing.  I showed up at transition on race day and quickly realized: holy $hi#, there are a lot of really fast swimmers here.  Whatever, it didn't phase me.  I sorted some things out in the port-a-potty.  I had someone remind me how to put my wetsuit on.  I got in the river, took some strokes.  We lined up, waited for the horn, and then we were off.

Wasn't thrilled to see these guys at the starting line, making a scene...
The night before I had this great dream that the pro men's swim start had changed in the period I'd been away from racing.  In my dream, the starting gun cracked, and then everyone started gracefully floating out of the way, insisting that others go ahead of them, taking care not to run into each other and giving everyone plenty of room.  And to my surprise, that's exactly what happened!
Kidding - I got thrashed.  Gobbled up, chewed for a short time, and spit out the back of the front pack before I had even started my watch.  Oh well.  But for being a bit rusty, I was pleased with how I came off the line.  About 200 meters in I Iooked around to see how things had shaken out.  It was all good.  There were a few guys near me, they seemed to be going my speed.  I settled in and soon found this really comfortable rhythm.  The river was the perfect temperature, I could see the brush on the banks slipping by, I felt long and smooth in the water, and I was cruising right along, on the hip of this guy who was steering a decent course.
The four of us hit the turn around, I did some dolphin diving to reconnoiter - and because it was so shallow (just like last time).  I didn't see anyone in the immediate vicinity in the river ahead of us.  So rather than attack by myself, I decided to settle back in and stay comfortable.  I kept riding the hip, and before I knew it the swim was over.
What I would discover when looking at the results later is that I swam decently well.  My little four-man pod came in just under 27 minutes, a full minute faster than my 2013 effort on this course.  But what was most encouraging was that is it felt suuuuuper comfy.  At no point did I really suffer, that much.  And usually I suffer in a major way during the swim.  Looking at the results, all the big names hung together in the lead group, which came out in 23'.  Then there were a handful of guys who swam by themselves sprinkled behind them, and four minutes later at 27' there was us.  I am pretty confident if I had found the right feet, I could have been down in the 25-26' range.  2-3' behind the lead group - with swimmers like Craig Alexander and Matt Reed  - that's not bad.  If there had been a second pack I think I might have made it.  Maybe that's overly optimistic, but it's clear that my swimming has improved significantly, so I'm pumped.
-Bike- A Hard Day's Night (in other words, I rode like a soft, softman)

While I was quite satisfied with my swimming, the opposite is true for my showing on the bike.  When I compare this year with 2013, I was a full two and a half minutes slower.  And that on a faster bike, with better wheels.  There is no mystery here: I need to ride my bike more.

You like that?

My heart rate and effort was dialed in, which is to say, I worked just as hard as I did two years ago.  I just went a lot slower.  If I had power data, I could actually quantify for you how much worse I did, and get all analytical with it.  But fortunately I don't have to do that now.  I'll focus on the positive: it was a beautiful course, with beautiful weather, and beautiful people everywhere.  Also, for the drive down from Portland - with the help of VH1 - I put together a playlist I named "Product of the 90s."  So during the race my mental soundtrack cycled through "Mo Money Mo Problems," "Building a Mystery," "Living La Vida Loca" and "Fly" before ultimately settling on an Abba song (not on my playlist).  But despite the music, my riding was uninspired.  There isn't a lot more to say about it.
Actually, there is one more thing to say.  I felt pretty weak on the bike, like there was just no power in these skinny little legs of mine.  For a few days after, I honestly wondered if I am just doomed to be a softman forever.  But then two days later I saw this clip of Chris Froome attacking Nairo Quintana on the 10th stage of the Tour.  His legs are arguably skinnier than mine, so I do have hope.  I just need to ride more.

 The guy is an animal.
-Run- The Long and Winding Road
(the run felt pretty good, in actuality, just needed to keep with the Beatles theme)
Fortunately, I have been doing a *slightly* better job of staying in touch with running the past year.  So when I finally hit the dismount line and got off my bike (and ran about a half mile to get to T2, ha, not a joke, it was soooo far away) I was looking forward to the run.  In 2013 I had sort of a breakthrough run here, where my nutrition, training, taper, and race plan all came together and I finally ran to my potential.  This year I was minute slower, but that's sort of what I expected.  It's just where my fitness is right now.
I passed four or five dudes on the run, which was fun.  Another highlight was seeing Craig Alexander charging hard in the opposite direction on the out-and-back section.  My first time seeing him in action, and he still looks every part the world champion at age 42.  In the end I hit the tape in 13th position, behind names like Craig, Tim O'Donnell, Kevin Collington, TJ Tollakson, Chris McDonald, and Matt Reed.  First race in over a year, I'll take it.

Between the bike and run I was a combined three and a half minutes off my 2013 performance.  Add to it some absurdly long transitions, subtract from it that minute I saved on the swim, and in total I was 4:45 slower.  Sounds about right.
-Thank You- With a Little Help from my Friends

Definitely need to thank Athlete's Lounge and Rolf Prima for the bike support.  Was my first race on the Cervelo P2, which is a quick bike.  I mean, if it's good enough for Chrissie Wellington to win Kona (twice) it's definitely good enough for me.  The problem isn't with the car; it's just that the engine is a little weak these days.  And those wheels are dope.  Couldn't be happier to be racing on Rolfs.
And of course, thank you to all you readers who continue to follow along.  There was a long hiatus there, but "Andrew Langfield Struggles" is officially in it's fourth season.  Next up is an awesome little local event called the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove (which has actually already happened at this point, it was a blast, I rocked a speedo and got my ass whooped by Guy Crawford) and then back to Penticton at the end of August.  Thanks for reading.

14 July 2015

The Trilogy

The Last 3 Years (abridged)

By now you guys probably think I don't really do triathlons anymore anyway.  The gig is up, it was fun while it lasted.  You're all just sitting there in your chairs, waiting for me to announce my retirement.  But in a preview of things to come, I'll start by announcing that I'm racing this weekend!  First time in over a year, holy cow.  As I finalize this post, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Windsor, CA.  This beautiful little town and neighboring Guerneville in the Russian River Valley play host to 70.3 Vineman, one of the most historic half-distance evens on the circuit.  It's a notoriously deep field every year, and is going to be a rude awakening fo sho.  Some guys named Craig Alexander, Matt Reed, and Tim O'Donnell are here, and I hear they're all pretty fast.  I couldn't be more excited about it, but more on that later.
As promised - and before my greatly-hyped return to racing sends the media into a frenzy - I wanted to write a bit about the "med" part of the tri-med lifestyle.  It is, after all, most of what I do these days.  You can't say you weren't warned about this.  And this seems like an appropriate time, as I just officially ended my third year of school, took the next step in the never-ending series of board exams, and have already started the next chapter.  So here it is, my first departure from the strictly enforced triathlon agenda.  I think I'm starting off with a bang... or at least a lot of words.  Boundaries will be crossed, social norms will be struck down, emotions will run heavy, and I'll warn you: things get a little philosophical.  You may wish you had never been born.  But I'll be able to sleep at night once more, knowing that I finally made good on all those blog ideas.  My intent is to shed some light on what's been going on in my life these past few years, between all the races and exotic trips and booze and women and trashed hotel rooms that you usually have to read about here.  Let's hop right into it.

I. Med School Year One (MS1)

Year one of med school was the best year of my life.  It was a revelation.  So much fascinating stuff to learn about and experience, from the late nights dissecting in anatomy lab, to the long hours staring through microscopes at glomeruli and cancer cells, to the exhilarating first steps in patient care.  All of my new classmates had such remarkable stories, I was humbled day by day as I learned more about them.  Great new friendships were born, fun adventures were had, and through it all I finally felt reassured that I had found my calling - that I was where I belonged.
As a quick outline, the classic med school curriculum is essentially divided in two halves.  You spend the first couple years focusing primarily on basic science and "book learning."  Years three and four are then partitioned into a series of clinical rotations called clerkships.  Speaking more to the early years of basic science now: I once heard it further explained that year one is all about building boxes. You learn about cell structure and function, organ systems, and how the body works when everything is running smoothly.  You then revisit those concepts in year two, but in the context of human disease, studying all the things that can go wrong; filing different disease entities away into those boxes, so to speak.  Maybe a file cabinet is a better metaphor.
The year was not all blissful learning, though, and there were definitely some unforeseen challenges.  I quickly discovered, for instance, that there isn't a lot of positive reinforcement in grad school.  At least there wasn't in my case, ha.  Gone were the days of extra credit and professors complimenting your thought process, even if it was nowhere near correct.  Gone were the good grades and glowing reviews.  And perhaps most disappointingly, gone were the exams you could just cram for and still pull off.  Plus, I was surrounded by so many smart people.  I mean, it seemed like everyone was having an easy time of it.  I was left to infer that all my peers were literally brilliant, and never forgot anything they read (sort like an elephant).  Consequently, I had to adjust to being very middle of the pack.  No one likes being in the middle of a pack of elephants.  And I'm not proud to admit this, but my confidence definitely took a hit.
Easy to get trampled in there.  Not unlike the beginning of a race, actually.
In hindsight, one of the ways I justified my "satisfactory" grades in the classroom was by pursuing triathlon with heightened intensity.  "You're a pro triathlete," I told myself.  "You would do better on exams if you didn't spend so much time running around in short shorts, or watching old Tour de France DVDs on your trainer."  I spent my lunch breaks in the pool and my weekends out on long rides.  I got a coach to help me make the most of limited training time (to this day one of the smartest things I've done since starting school).  Exercise has always been my escape: how I clear my head, stay grounded, and maintain some sanity.  And I really needed that during year one.  Coach Bagg has helped me continue to prioritize triathlon in my life, but in a way that accommodates my academic commitments and interests.
By the time summer rolled around, I was going a bit crazy.  We were given 8 weeks off, "our final summer" as we were constantly reminded.  Many of my classmates lined up really cool research experiences at the university, or went abroad to volunteer.  All I wanted to do was go race.  Those 8 weeks were a great ride, and are fairly well chronicled here on the blog.  I trained a lot, traveled to quite a few races, and ended the season with my first ever full-distance event.  Mid-August came around way too quickly, and before I knew it I was back in the lecture hall.
Year two of med school promptly replaced year one as the best year of my life.  We were still mostly in the lecture hall, but it was time to fill in those boxes we had constructed during year one.  The learning sky-rocketed as we immersed ourselves in a world of human pathology, studying fascinating disease processes and the body's miraculous ability to survive, evolve, and renew.  We also *finally* began to learn a thing or two about intervention: medical science's ability to modulate the body's physiologic response and help get things back on track, or in some cases to simply salvage what it can and move forward.  I quickly became overwhelmed by all the things that can go wrong, but even more impressed by the wondrous design and awesome resilience of the human body.
I soon realized (although maybe not as soon as I should have...) that there were a number of fairly critical differences between the MS1 and MS2 years.  For instance, the preceptors we worked with didn't grant as much leeway to simply respond "Umm.. I don't know."  To my great horror, they sometimes even wanted to know if we had a plan... "So what do YOU want to do?"  The best was when they asked you that in the exam room, right in front of the patient.  Of course it was a completely safe environment to branch out, ask questions and voice opinions (i.e. the doctors would always go with their own plans anyway, to the great relief of the patient I'm sure).  But it was a constant reminder of "Holy $H^T, some day I actually need to be the one with the plan."  In addition to rising expectations, our greater knowledge also carried with it increased autonomy, more opportunities, and a better understanding of what was actually going on, all of which was hugely exciting.
Two of the most saddening distinctions from MS1 year, however, were the loss of any kind of summer vacation, and the looming first step of the board exam.  To become a doctor in this country - all you readers will be relieved to learn - you have to pass an exhaustive litany of tests, all of which are no fun and exorbitantly expensive.  The first one, colloquially referred to as "Step 1" in the medical community, tests your understanding (or more accurately: your ability to recall meaningless details) of the scientific underpinnings of medicine and is usually taken at the end of the second year of school.  Our school gave us a few weeks to study for this hoss, after which most of my classmates enjoyed a one-week break before being thrown into year three.  I took the test three days earlier than most, so my summer was actually a full week and a half.  I know all of you with normal jobs are laughing right now, but it was hard for me.
I can whine if I want to.

With the help of my girlfriend (who is infinitely smarter and wiser than I), I had an epiphany early on in year two.  And since you're still reading, I'm assuming that means you won't mind hearing about it.  I remember exactly when and where it occurred: we were on the rough of her house on the east side, watching the sun set over the Portland skyline on a warm fall evening.  I had just raced my first full-distance event at Challenge Penticton a few weeks earlier, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, even as I faced a strenuous school year with a terrifying exam lying in wait at the end.  Worst of all, there was really no "triathlon season" in sight.  I knew I'd be lucky to race at all over the coming years, and was struggling to justify the constant energy and dedication required to continue to progress in this sport in the setting of increasing academic and professional commitments.  In the end I realized: medicine is my chosen career path, and I'm abundantly blessed to be able to pursue this passion.  Therefore, I don't owe it to myself, I owe it to my future patients to give med school everything I've got.
But I realized just as urgently that "giving med school everything you've got" doesn't mean you have to give up everything else in your life.  Far from it.  It means doing what you need to do to keep yourself happy, healthy, and mentally sharp, so that you can learn most effectively.  How people approach that balancing act is very individualized and personal.  Some of my classmates have taken up new hobbies.  Others travel every chance they get, and use exciting trips as little benchmarks to stay motivated.  For me, it means training as much as possible and racing whenever I can.  I mean, some of my classmates have fricking families.  They spend every spare moment they have with their spouse and kids.  I don't know how they keep up with school (I can hardly take care of my dog), but they are the ones I look to when I need inspiration.

All this might seem very simplistic, but it was the culmination of a long mental odyssey for me, with lots of conflicting thoughts and second-guessing along the way.  Finally I felt like I had come to terms with a fundamental fact of life: there is only so much time in the day.  And by extension, so much time in a year...  You only have one life to live, so do your best with it and be satisfied with the effort.  My priorities had crystalized in way that made sense, and I could continue to pursue both med school and triathlon appropriately.

So I worked my ass off that year.  I learned a ton, stayed fit, and have zero regrets.  I raced once in 2014: at Wildflower, where I had a surprisingly encouraging result, missing out on the top 10 by one spot.  I renewed my pro card and went back to school two days later.  I took the boards that June and peaced out of Portland for 10 days.  I went backpacking and made it home to Boise briefly.  Then it was time for the people of Portland, OR to prepare themselves: my classmates and I were ready to hit the wards.

From this...
...to this.

Year three of med school was hands down, indisputably, irrefutably, let there be no doubt, and with no reservations, the best year of my life.  It was also probably the hardest.  They finally let us out of the lecture hall and set us free on the hospital wards.  As a quick refresher, following the first two years of "book learning," years three and four of med school predominantly take place in the hospitals and clinics, seeing actual patients with actual problems and participating in actual care.  It's learning by seeing and doing, and no longer merely a theoretical enterprise.  And if I thought the pace was challenging before, things took on a whole new speed.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and numbing, hope-giving and depressing, every single day.  At the start of the year - and fresh off step 1 of the boards - I thought I new a thing or two.  What I quickly realized is that I didn't know a damn thing, as I ended each day with more questions than when I woke up.
All MS3s make there way through a series of required rotations that expose them to the diverse world of clinical medicine, each culminating with it's own nationally-administered test of proficiency called a shelf exam.  All med schools accomplish this in their own way, but it's more or less the same (e.g. some make you do 8 weeks of peds and only 4 weeks of family, whatever).  This is a good thing, because there are some things that every doctor needs to know.  For instance, even if a student has zero interest in being a surgeon, they need to know what a surgeon does.  So you are required to do a surgery rotation.  Future doctors also need to know about childbirth in case they're on a flight and a woman decides to go into labor.  So all third years do a rotation in OB/GYN as well.  I wouldn't say it was my favorite rotation... but it was my least favorite.  OHSU divides it's third year curriculum into eight five-week rotations, two of which are in internal medicine, which is sort of the unofficial cornerstone of the undergraduate medical education.  I made my way around the track in this order:

1. Internal Medicine at a community hospital in Portland
2. Internal Medicine at the Portland VA
3. Family Medicine at a clinic in east Portland
4. Pediatrics at the OHSU children's hospital
5. OB/GYN at a community hospital down in Eugene

 6. Surgery back at the Portland VA
7. Rural Medicine (family med in a small place) out in Sisters, OR
 8. Psychiatry on the inpatient unit at OHSU
(Photo credits: all the above images were taken from this awesome blog called "The 30 Types of Doctors You Went to High School With."  It's a bit of medical humor, but it's worth it.)

While I may not have thought it at the time, I can now safely say that each rotation was awesome in its own way.  Actually... with one possible exception, I pretty much thought they were all awesome at the time.  Which basically sums up the theme of the year for me: medicine is an enormously humbling and gratifying profession.  If I lived through 525,600 minutes last year, I enjoyed almost every single one of them.  I can think of 23 total minutes spread out over those 365 days that I didn't totally love - most of which involved handling bodily fluids - so that's not bad.  I'm not going to go into this year in much more detail right now, because there is a lot of good stuff in there that I think deserves its own entry.  Lots of great stories, lots of moving experiences, lots of humiliating failures.  So stay tuned for more med-school related updates in the months ahead, all of which will be totally HIPAA-compliant (so don't worry if you were one of my patients this last year).
IV. The next chapter?
Well you made it!  You deserve a finisher's medal for arriving at the end of my longest blog entry to date, hope you enjoyed it.  But seriously, shoot me a tweet if you want a medal.  Just kidding, but not really.
But what of this "next chapter" I alluded to way back at the beginning of this long saga?  I do actually have some big news: I decided to take a "year out" from med school for the next 12 months, to pursue a student pathology fellowship.  It's sort of like the first year of residency for pathologists.  Actually, it's exactly like that.  I am literally doing the exact same things as the first year path residents at OHSU (although only getting paid half as much, so it's sort of a win-win for both me and the university).  Why would I do this?  A number of reasons, and counter intuitively, none of which involve me wanting to be a pathologist.  Far from it, actually.  They recommend this program to students after their MS2 or MS3 years, as a way to broaden their understanding of the pathogenesis of disease on a cellular level.  It is particularly useful for those who are considering careers in internal medicine, family medicine, or general surgery, which incidentally are sort of my three front-runners at this point.  I have a few other reasons though, like wanting to stay on the same schedule as my girlfriend (who is taking a year to get her masters in public health), starting a project at a health clinic downtown, learning French, brewing more beer, and perhaps most importantly... training and racing more!
Good things are ahead, starting with 70.3 Vineman this weekend.  Really excited to be returning to racing after a long hiatus.  Stay tuned, next entry will be a race report!