Dr. Boyer’s Triathlon

Challenges of Triathlon Training

Mental Training
When I was just contemplating doing this triathlon, I knew what it was going to take in terms of time and effort. Although I was excited at the thought of completing the race, and I could even picture myself crossing the finish line, the hardest part was committing to the endless hours of training to get there. Once I was telling a guy I know how hard it was going to be to train with my work schedule and my family commitment and he, a former Navy Seal, replied “SO?”. That’s when I stopped making excuses and starting training for this event; come rain (snow, sleet, ice) or shine.

Being mentally prepared for a race like this is all about not making excuses to quit. When fatigue sets in, things are not going well or my body is screaming at me to stop, I have to push those thoughts out of my consciousness. It’s too easy to fall behind in the training. If I take a day off because I’m tired, it messes up training for the next day and it can become a compounding problem very quickly. Therefore, I try my best not to make excuses so I can complete all of my workouts for the week. It’s not easy, trying to train around my work and family commitments makes it an ever challenging juggling act.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the years to get mentally tough. I’m not sure if cancer has made me any tougher or not, but it certainly has taught me to live life to the fullest and not say to myself “oh, I’d like to do that someday”. The many years of medical training has certainly prepared me for this sort of mental toughness. To be mentally strong, like everything else, takes practice. I accomplish this by doing a lot of visualizations. For example, when I’m running, especially when I’m tired, I try to imagine that I’m running like a really pale Kenyan. I’m not kidding! They seem to float over the ground and run effortlessly. This is usually effective in getting my mind away from how tired I am.

Over the last few months I have been trying to keep any negative thoughts about the race or my conditioning at a minimum. I have had some setbacks due to sore/pulled muscles and tendonitis in my Achilles tendon, but if I have any doubts, I remind myself to believe in the training. The process works. I remind myself that I have prepared the best that I can and I’m gradually getting faster.

Race Day Excitement
I am grateful that my family is traveling to Galveston to support me. During the 13.1 mile run, the race takes me on a loop around the park consisting of four laps. On each lap I will get to see my girls’ signs and hear them cheering “Go Daddy Go” making it much easier to fuel the positive thoughts and push out any aching plea to stop. Not only will my family be there, but the entire TNT family will be there too. It is an amazing feeling to be cheered on by your teammates, coaches and complete strangers.

Keep On Keepin’ On
A ½ Ironman race is a long distance! It’s 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running! Fatigue and pain will take their toll and in order to finish, I have to keep the demons out of my mind. When I’m suffering during the race, I have to remind myself that everyone else is suffering too. I also have to remind myself that my family, my supporters and the cancer community are counting on me. I will absolutely leave everything on the racecourse, because I may never get this chance again and I never want to look back and think “I could have tried harder.”

Tales from the Trails

I thought I would share stories about things I’ve done and seen while out training. First let me just say that I’ve ridden my bike all over the country, and the area around Dallas is the most challenging I’ve experienced. I’m speaking in terms of bad roads and poor safety. Since moving to Dallas, I have been around White Rock Lake literally hundreds of times. From our house, it’s about five miles of city surface streets, then 10 miles of nice low traffic roads that finally lead to trails around the Lake.

One Saturday morning I was out for a ride when I came across a 60-year-old man lying in the grass. I have seen a lot of dying people over the years in my medical practice and this guy had that look: kind of dusky, clammy and not moving. As I approached him, his face wasn’t panicked but I could tell there was some fear in his eyes. I got off my bike and asked him if he was all right. I learned he was on his routine Saturday morning run. He said he suddenly felt really bad and his back and chest hurt. That’s when he decided to lay down. He wanted to get up and walk it off, but I advised him to lie still and tried to comfort him while I called 911. The ambulance soon arrived and whisked him off to the hospital. Turns out he had a thoracic aortic aneurism dissection and he had emergency surgery that night. Sadly, he didn’t survive. His wife somehow got my phone number and called me a month later. She wanted to know what we talked about and if he was suffering. It was a very touching conversation and I’m glad I was able to speak with her. She was happy that someone was with him to keep him company and comfort him while he was in the most need of both.

Another hot day late last summer, I was cruising around the lake on my bike, when I saw a woman frantically trying to knock on house doors looking for someone to help her. I looked over my other shoulder as I passed her and saw her husband with the shadow of the Grim Reaper all over him. They had been running and it was about 99 degrees outside. He felt bad and sat on a bench by the running trail right before I saw him. One glance at him had me doing an about face and riding over there to help. He was sitting with his head thrown unnaturally back and was that awful grey blue color people get when they stop breathing for a long time. I was going over my CPR checklist in my mind as I approached and trying to figure out how I was going to get him off the bench. The first thing you do in basic life support is try and arouse the patient. So, I hit him on the back pretty hard (I was a little excited) and was a little surprised when he aroused and started breathing again and regained consciousness. He was pretty dazed and confused, but breathing. Another 911 call and the ambulance came to help. I didn’t get a follow up with him, but he was young and I’m fairly certain he was dehydrated and suffering from heat stroke. I feel lucky I came along because his wife was in full panic mode and I don’t think she could have helped him. There is a really good chance he never would have taken another breath if someone didn’t come along and help.

On most of my rides I don’t have to call EMS, but they can have their own drama nonetheless. I have seen some interesting parts of our great country and two weeks ago was no different. I saw all North Texas has to offer on one ride. We were out at Cedar Creek Lake for spring break and I had to get in a long ride. So I got up early and headed out for a 3-1/2 hour ride through the countryside. Sounds easy enough, right?! I was picturing a peaceful ride on some less traveled country roads. Boy was I wrong! Let’s just say that I should have had a tour guide with me to keep me out of trouble.

Ever the intrepid explorer and armed with Google maps on my iPhone, I set out for some endurance training. After about one mile I was on a two-lane highway that had a “suggested” speed limit of 55 mph and no shoulder. Thank God I was the only one on that road for a couple of miles. It was heavily traveled by giant pickups going about 80 mph and screaming death semis from hell! Feeling lucky to be alive, I turned north onto a quiet farm road with beautiful farms, no traffic and gently rolling hills covered with wild mustard in full bloom.

Soon, however, this morphed into the worst chip seal roads I have ever encountered. In fact there really wasn’t any original tarmac left. There were so many patched potholes that it was just one continuous patch. I rode for mile after bone jarring mile in search of a road that had been paved sometime in the last thirty years. Eventually I would find one and it would dead end into another death highway, with giant steal vehicles hell bent on killing me. This cycle repeated itself the whole 240 minutes. There was plenty of interesting scenery though. I passed an eclectic mix of McMansions, ranches, and doublewides. There was also an interesting mix of fauna, plenty of cattle, horses and lots of birds singing. Of course you have figured out that for every pleasing part of this ride there was an unpleasant antithesis. It seems that most country mobile home trailers need guard dogs to keep the bike traffic to a minimum. One interesting creature looked a lot like a junkyard pit-bull with long snarling alien fangs and he ran like a cheetah. I was lucky to out run the mutant and made it home with all my limbs intact.

The next day, I did an open water swim in the lake. I haven’t done that since my first triathlon back in Seattle. The water was freezing, the wind was blowing and the sun hadn’t peeked out from the clouds yet. I did, however, have my wetsuit and neon swim cap with me. As the rest of my family sat eating a warm breakfast inside the house, I tiptoed out to the water’s edge and reluctantly lowered myself into the cold water. Wendy yelled out the door “pee in your wetsuit, it will warm you up!” The hardest part was getting started. Once I put my face in the water, I was thinking I had to get moving or I was going to freeze to death. My goal was to swim for an hour and practice my sighting, meaning you have to look at a something on land so you stay on track. Needless to say, I had a hard time going straight. The sky, water and shore were ALL the same color – GRAY. It was really hard to find something to sight. I had a little help on my way back because Wendy was standing on shore wearing a red shirt. I did better after that. I also had to change my course a bit because I was running into the fishermen’s line. I am sure he thought I was nuts!

Running is usually uneventful. I don’t usually meet interesting people, dogs or see anything worth noting. However, during this training endeavor, I have nearly impaled myself with a gate and done a pretty good stunt roll after tripping on the sidewalk or looking at my phone.

Not all my training experiences are dramatic. Some of the coolest times on my bike have been meeting people. I just ride up to some people that look interesting to talk to and strike up a conversation. I’ve met lawyers, bankers, young aspiring bike racers, artist, students and writers. I even met the CEO of Interstate Batteries and the head mechanic for the World Superbike Champion.

I have a training schedule I try to stick to, but apparently Mother Nature has her own agenda and tries to throw me off schedule on occasion. Like the freakish ice and snowstorm we had this winter. Not to be detoured, I dug my cross country skies out of the attic and was able to get a little cross training in. The snow was great and I cross county skied all over University Park. Kind of fun, but that’s not going to get anybody in good enough shape for a ½ Ironman.

Most of the time I just get to go out and get some good exercise and cleanse my mind. The training is usually a good stress reliever and I almost always feel better afterwards.

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Triathlon Training as seen by the women in my life

When I signed up to do this half iron man triathlon, I knew what I needed to do to reach my goal. I knew I would miss out on late nights with my wife and friends, miss out on that extra glass of wine or bottle of beer and miss out on sleeping late (7 am is sleeping in for me!). I also knew I would have to fit my workouts in at all hours of the day and around my work schedule. It’s one thing to ask yourself to make this commitment, but it’s another thing to ask your family to make it too.

My wife Wendy and my three girls, Maggie, Kate and Olivia have been very supportive of me. This is our 5th event with TNT, so everyone knew the drill and knew what to expect. Our family believes in the cause and wants to make a difference. They have sacrificed a lot of “family” time so that I can train. I have missed all weekend mornings with them (training with the team) and sometimes the whole day because I am too tired afterwards. I have missed many dinnertime meals, helping with homework and carpooling to after school activities. We even skipped our planned spring break vacation so I could stay home and train. Spring break was not a total loss however. Wendy and the girls went to a lake house for four days and I managed to make it out for the weekend even though I biked for nearly 4 hours on Saturday and swam in the lake for an hour on Sunday. It was still nice to get out of Dallas and it ended up being quality family fun!

Our youngest daughter, Olivia (5), thinks all this working out is normal daily living. When I am not home or someone asks about me, she always says “daddy’s on a bike ride.” Every day when I get home from work she wants to go for a bike ride or run with me. Of course when we go, she runs about three houses down the street and then is bored with it and wants to pick flowers. I have to give her credit for even wanting to go and getting into the spirit. She loves the chocolate milk recovery drink afterwards.

I think I should let the other three women in my life tell the story from their own point of view. So, I’ll turn the blog over to them.

Wendy
I was supportive of Craig doing this triathlon last year during my triathlon training. I could tell he enjoyed “coaching” me, especially when it involved the bike or running. I could see the fire in his eyes light up again. He said many times, “maybe I should do another triathlon.” When I talked to my coaches and mentors about Craig’s story and his ambitions, they told me about the half iron man triathlon. All he needed was a little encouragement and he was in! How could I not be supportive when he was supporting me during all my training, picking up the slack and making sacrifices? We make a great team! The girls just go with the flow and know that’s how it is. Exercise is nothing new in our house, so it’s very easy for the girls to understand. Maggie is old enough to watch her sisters now (for daytime events), so Craig and I enjoyed some training rides together. Something we haven’t done in 12 years!

It isn’t easy when your husband works a lot and then has to be working out twice a day. I am the CEO, CFO, personal shopper, chef and chauffer most of the time anyway, so it’s not that much harder for me. Sometimes I feel like a single mom. The hard part is just not having him around and he goes to bed so early!! When I do see him, I have so much to say, that I overwhelm him as I try to get it all out before I forget. The girls crave his attention too and climb all over him when he is home. They love to talk about the race and boost his ego with every cheer, kiss and hug. We all know that there is a finale to all this madness and we are all looking forward to cheering Craig on!

Maggie
My name is Maggie and I am 12 years old. I am the oldest of my three sisters. I am confident that my dad will do really well in this race. I am worried about his foot hurting and keeping him from running hard. I understand when he has to miss my open house at school because he has to go on a long run. He is gone more than usual but I use my time wisely with my dad. I try to make the best of it when he is home. It’s fun and boring to go to my parents’ races. It’s fun to see them compete but it’s boring in between the time we see them. I like taking pictures and video’s, that’s my specialty!

Kate
Hi, my name is Kate. I am 9 years old. I am sad and happy at the same time. I am sad when he is gone. It sort of feels normal, like when he is on call. I am happy that he is learning to get better so he can get to a higher level (in his age group). I want to make a huge sign and yell really loud as he goes by. I like to go to the races because there is fun stuff to do and samples at the booths. We are going down to Houston on Friday after school with my mom, staying with some friends and then going to Galveston on Saturday. My dad’s race is on Sunday, so we get to stay in a hotel and hopefully get to go swimming. I know my dad is going to finish 1st (in his age group), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th.

Dr. Boyer Trains for the Triathlon

Learning to balance training, work and family

To those of you who don’t know, I am a competitive person. When my wife and I talked about this triathlon, I told her I didn’t want to just “do it,” I wanted to win it. By looking at previous year’s winning times for my age group I determined I could finish in the top ten, maybe top five. My goal became finishing in less than five hours. With my Triathlon Training Bible under my arm, I set out to train six days a week.

Beginning in October I started training. I hadn’t run consistently in about seven years and when I started, I was so sore. I looked like Frankenstein stomping and stammering down the stairs. Even though I thought running would be a challenge, it hasn’t been my biggest hurdle. Ironically, I struggled to find speed on my bike; a surprise and somewhat disappointment since I considered myself a cyclist over a swimmer or runner. I felt like it was going to take more time than I had in order to become fast enough to achieve my sub-five hour goal.

I realized I needed to find my competitive advantage! After a little research, I found John Cobb, a renowned aerodynamics and bike fit guru, in Tyler, Texas. He has decades of experience and fitted Lance Armstrong on his time trial bike during his Tour de France days. After a few e-mails, I had an appointment to get my own winning bike fit.

Bike fitting is basically customizing and positioning the parts of your bike (seat, handle bars, pedals, etc.) to be perfectly aligned with your body so that you can be the most efficient and aerodynamic. Although the changes are subtle, it makes a huge difference. My bike fit was better than I hoped for and increased my speed by about 2 mph (that’s 10-15 min faster in a half iron man race). I went home feeling encouraged!

My training plan is broken down into three basic blocks, each about 6-8 weeks long. The first block is endurance training. This means lots of long, slow miles to build an endurance base. The weeks get progressively harder until you have a rest week. The second block is a strength building phase. Each of these weeks consists of doing a weight work out while running, swimming or biking (but not literally with weights). In other words, on the bike for example, I would go up a big hill. But since we live in Dallas, there are no hills! Instead, I put my bike in a really high gear and pedal hard but at a slow cadence. The third block is building speed. I accomplish this by doing many, many short and fast intervals.

In order to fit my training around my work and family schedules, I have to get creative. Sometimes, I have to wake up before dawn to get to the YMCA by 5:30 am to swim or run. There are also times, while I’m on call, when I have to ride my bike on my stationary trainer in the call room. And occasionally, if I get a break between cases, I squeeze in a run. I have also been known to help my girls with homework while riding my trainer at home. I’m still trying to figure out how to sleep or wash dishes while on the trainer! Since December, not only do I have to fit one workout in per day, I sometime have to do two workouts. This can be a real challenge.

At least two times a week, I meet with my TNT teammates to swim and bike. It’s a good time to talk to the coaches and see how everyone is progressing. This past weekend we met at Lake Grapevine to practice our transitions from biking to running. We were supposed to swim too, but the temperature was 38F and the wind was howling!

Although training involves hours and hours of working out, there’s more to it. It’s also about eating the right foods at the right time and getting the right amount of rest. This is a challenge with three kids and a crazy job that keeps me up all night about once a week.

It may sound like I am not enjoying all this “work,” but rest reassure, I do. It is a labor of love.

How Cancer Changed My Life

In my last installment I talked about discovering I had cancer. This installment is how cancer has changed my life.

There is a silver lining to being a cancer patient. It has given me new insight into who I want to be and it has helped me become a better physician. I have a better understanding of how to keep my life balanced. Having had what seems like hundreds of IVs and dozens of IV medicines, I can empathize with my patients. Occasionally, I’m able to speak with my patients that have cancer and let them know that cancer is not a death sentence; I’m living proof. Even if it eventually takes your body, you don’t have to let it take your spirit.

A cancer diagnosis is by definition a life changing event. Both physical and psychological changes have a lasting effect. After receiving chemo for five months, I was physically and emotionally drained. It showed on my physique, which was about 15 pounds lighter, I weighed less than when I graduated high school! Emotionally, I was both tired and excited to move forward.

As I mentioned last week, my doctor told me that the average time to death was 6 years, but there were many people living 15 years or more. We were (and still are) hoping that my cancer would be kept in check with periodic treatments. However, there is a constant risk that it could transform into something more aggressive and deadly at any time. I don’t dwell on it much, but that reality is always lurking in the shadows of my conscience.

As I was faced with the reality of not living a long life, I began to live differently. My wife and I stopped postponing things we wanted to do (with in reason, of course). Soon after my initial chemo was completed I wanted to regain my strength and check some things off my “bucket list.” One day, while at the corner coffee shop (we lived in Seattle at the time – they are everywhere!), I picked up a Team in Training brochure.

 

Team in Training (TNT) is the largest endurance training program in the world. They train people for marathons, half marathons, cycling events and triathlons. TNT provides the coaches, training schedule and support staff to help you reach your goal. They offer group and individual workouts allowing you to train at your own pace. In return, the participants pledge to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The money raised goes directly to research ($.75 for every $1). I decided at that moment that my course of action was a no brainer. I had always wanted to do a triathlon and this was a great way to get back in shape while giving back to the cancer community.

A couple of weeks later, my friend and fellow Anesthesiologist Sandeep and I went to an informational meeting about TNT. We left feeling inspired and excited to start training and raising money. During that summer, with the help of a great TNT coach, I gained 10 pounds of muscle, learned how to swim like a pro and made a lot of new friends. I felt like I was part of an amazing family. Everyone was very supportive of each other; it didn’t matter if you were fast or not. Together, we raised thousands of dollars for a great cause. The whole experience was a huge success.

My wife was so inspired by the TNT family and excitement that she decided join the TNT cause and run a marathon, something on her bucket list. At her first marathon, my daughters were featured on the front of a Portland running magazine holding up TNT signs that said “Go Mom”. Her experience was so wonderful that she did a second marathon as a mentor for new TNT participants. Her latest event was an Olympic distance triathlon last fall. I am very proud that she has done these events in my honor. Together, my wife and I have raised over $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (not including this race).

It has been a challenge to devote time to what I love, which is training to race, any race. I’ve been doing some sort of endurance racing most of my life. When we lived in Seattle, I was a certified bicycle racing addict. However, I have only entered one race during the last four years in Dallas because I have been working hard to help build our practice; a priority I take very seriously. As my wife trained for her triathlon last fall, I began to feel that tug to help TNT and race again. It occurred to me that I needed to get a little balance back in my life.

At that time, I was approached by TNT to be an “honored hero” for the next season. I don’t feel like I have done anything heroic, but sometimes just doing the best you can and not giving up can be an inspiration to others, so I chose to do a longer distance triathlon. With the support of my wife, I dusted off my gear, bought some new shoes and a bike and am now signed up to compete in the Memorial Hermann Half Ironman Triathlon in Galveston, Texas on April 10th. Training since October and feeling strong I committed to raising $2250, which I have already surpassed! I am thrilled to once again give back to the cancer community.

Just as a reminder, you can visit my fundraising page here to follow my progress.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Boyer: My battle with cancer

This blog is focused on my effort to help raise awareness and money for lymphoma research. DoctorByYourSide.org has generously sponsored my efforts and has given me this great opportunity to share my story.

My name is Craig. I am a husband, father, son, brother, Anesthesiologist, athlete and cancer patient. Eight years ago, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with follicular B-cell lymphoma; a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer usually affecting men in their 60’s.

After 8 years of medical training, I had been in private practice for one year when I found a golf ball sized lump under my right arm and knew exactly what it was. In that realization I saw my life flash before my eyes. I had a young family, my wife Wendy and two daughters, ages 3 and 10 months.

I was at home when the surgeon called to give me the pathology results. I felt like I was just starting my life when I received this horrific news. You are never prepared for such a moment. I spent the next five minutes cursing the world in disbelief and anger. I called my wife at work and while waiting for her to come home, I wondered what was going to happen to my family. Telling my wife and daughters was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

It was an emotional roller coaster, to say the least. I quickly realized that my course of action was going to be meeting this challenge head on. I know from my medical training that having a positive attitude was going to play a major role in my outcome.

The next week was a whirlwind. I needed to get a second pathology opinion, a CT scan and find a good oncologist. I felt lucky that I lived close to the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Together, they are the renowned Seattle Cancer Care Alliance specializing in blood cancer research and treatment.

During my first visit with my oncologist we talked about my prognosis and treatment options. I was told there was no cure and the average time to death, with or without treatment, was six years. This was not good news for a young father embarking on a medical career.

My oncologist thought a new drug, called Retuxan, could put me into long term remission. Retuxan is an antibody that is infused through an IV and then binds to the cancer cells. In doing this it stimulates the body’s immune system to kill the cancer cells. It was the newest drug approved for my cancer; however, they didn’t have enough research to know exactly how long the remission would be, if at all. Nevertheless, we were hopeful that this was enough of a miracle drug to bridge me until there was a cure.

I started my six rounds of chemo and Retuxan treatment in August 2002. I went in every 21 days to have my eight hours of treatment. I’ll never forget the first time the nurses came in my room with their “hazmat” suits on to give me one of the infusions they affectionately called the “red death” because of its color and how it made you feel! I lost all of my hair, my appetite and 15 pounds before it was all done. I pretty much felt like I had the flu for six months. Even the smells from my wife’s great cooking would send me fleeing for fresh air. It was also really hard on my daughters because they wanted to be with me and I just wanted to be left alone in peace and quiet.

One of the side effects of chemo is that it kills the “good” blood cells as well as the cancer cells. I was hospitalized twice during my treatments because my white blood cell count was zero! One of my lowest moments happened when I was in the hospital for the second time. I remember feeling so incredibly sick and fatigued that I thought about how easy and peaceful it would be to just die.

It was a really hard time for all of us, but I think it was harder on my wife than me. I felt like I had a job, which was focusing on my treatment. All Wendy could do was watch and worry. To make matters worse, both of our families lived thousands of miles away. Thankfully, we had a great support system of friends on hand to help us. Through it all Wendy did an amazing job of keeping our family going.

I have been battling lymphoma on and off since then. My first recurrence was just 18 months after my initial treatment. It felt even worse hearing the news for the second time around. I never really thought I could die from my cancer until I found out it came back. I went through another four rounds of the Retuxan treatment with no chemo. My oncologist was hopeful it would put me back into remission.

My oncologist was right and once I was in remission again, I had my stem cells harvested and frozen in case I needed them for a bone marrow transplant in the future. I was in remission for 5 years! During that time, we had another daughter and moved from Seattle to Texas.

My second recurrence happened just two years ago. Since Retuxan was successful the first two times, that’s what I got again. I finished therapy last November. I hope to be in remission for another 5 or 10 years. I hope to live to see a cure! I am so grateful for the medical advances made every day to find a cure. That’s why it is so important for me to give back by raising money for lymphoma research.

Check back next Friday for my next installment. Thanks for reading.

DoctorByYourSide.org supports one of our own, Dr. Craig Boyer

DoctorByYourSide.org is proud to introduce our guest blogger Dr. Craig Boyer. We have invited Dr. Boyer, an Anesthesiologist in Dallas, TX, to document his journey as he balances life as a husband, father, son, brother, Anesthesiologist, cancer patient and athlete training with Team in Training for a ½ Ironman Triathlon this April. Dr. Boyer has been battling follicular B-cell lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma since he was diagnosed at the age of 36, very young for this type of cancer. He is currently in remission.

Dr. Boyer is training with Team in Training for a ½ Ironman Triathlon in April as a means to raise money and awareness for Lymphoma research. DoctorByYourSide.org is following Dr. Boyer as he tells his story of battling cancer, trains for his triathlon and raises awareness for Lymphoma research. His guest blogs will appear on Fridays. To read more about Dr. Boyer and his courageous battle, check back Fridays!