Blast-Off 2019

Do you know what I had for dinner?

I had one pint of Handel’s Graham Central Station ice cream, three chocolate coookies, a large bottle of orange Powerade, a bite-size Snickers, and a green Jolly Rancher. Not exactly a healthy meal, but it’s what I could scrounge from Kent’s State’s massive student organization fair: Blast-Off.


We do a lot of different things for Welcome Week, but Blast-Off may be one of the most strategic. This is why I’m so reluctant to take the time for a proper meal during Blast-Off. It’s the space where we make connections with Kent State students and provide them with a means to indicate their level of interest in involvement, in order for us to follow up with them later.

Most of our Welcome Week events are oriented towards first-year students, since they are the most likely to try new things. And while there are still lots of freshmen at Blast-Off, all the other students from the University are there, too.

This year, we organized a game we called “H2GoFish.” It was in the style of a carnival midway, where players cast their “fishing pole” into the “water” to pull out a prize. And yeah, it was pretty kitschy and campy — but it was also fun, and it fit the environment.

During the course of the evening, students filled out 1,300 surveys. Of those, 675 (52 percent) indicated that they would appreciate some level of follow-up: either to join us for worship on Sundays, to participate in a small-group Bible study, or to meet with someone to ask questions about Christianity.

Even as the surveys were being completed, we had a team of people stationed nearby, on the second floor of the Student Center. This team used the survey cards to compile an electronic database to guide our follow-up process. And as they finished with the data entry, they prayed for the students by name.

It was a pretty encouraging team effort. Over thirty people from H2O volunteered to help run the game, staff our Info Table, collect surveys, and enter the data from those surveys. We’re praying that God sprouts many seeds from this year’s scattering throughout Welcome Week, and especially at Blast-Off.

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Don’t Overlook Ohio

Ohio is beautiful. Yet it’s somehow easily overlooked.

Ask a random sampling of people to rank the states of the United States of America, from “most beautiful” to “least beautiful,” and I’d guess public opinion would relegate Ohio to the bottom third. Maybe even the bottom ten percent. Ohio doesn’t get many international tourists coming through, unless they’re on their way from New York to Chicago.

That being said, I’ve traveled through nineteen different states in the last few months. Many of these states are likely to land in the top third (or top ten percent) of public opinion. Still, I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made for Ohio hanging right in there with the best of them.

I was awed by the grandeur of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. But the view from the top of Ohio’s Lake Erie Bluffs is also fantastic in its own way. The lush, green, forest pushes right up to the edge of the sandy beach. The water seems as stretch as far and wide as any sea or ocean, but the waters were remarkably calm when I visited earlier this week.

The mountains of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico were truly breathtaking. And it’s true that Ohio has nothing even remotely similar, in the way of snow-capped mountains, or elk, or marmots, or big horn sheep. But who’s to say that an apple orchard buzzing with honey bees is any less wondrous, when you really stop to admire it? Both the Rocky Mountains and the orchards of Ohio are beautiful, in their own ways.

I often gush about my love for the Great Plains of South Dakota because I love their vastness and their emptiness. But there are places along the Buckeye Trail, right here in Ohio, where I can also find deep, soul-filling solitude along crooked rivers and in quiet caves.

Ohio is so green and verdant and busy and wild that it sets itself apart in its own way. It’s a beautiful place, and I’m glad to live here.

I know that there won’t be many people who read this post — and even among those who do read it, I don’t expect many attitudes to shift. But that’s fine. Just gives me more space for my own wanderings…

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Staff “Retreat”


It’s not really a “Retreat” because we don’t really go anywhere. This year’s entire event took place within a 65-mile radius of Kent, Ohio. And it’s not really designed to disengage from our day-to-day work on campus (as the word “retreat” would seem to suggest), but to help us deeply engage with strategic school year ministry. In the same way, it’s not about taking a break from our busiest season of outreach; on the contrary, it helps us to jump-start all our beginning-of-the-year activities.

But it doesn’t sound as nice to call it “Three Days of Meeting Together.” Even if that’s really what it is. Also, we mix in enough emotional connection and spiritual connection — with a few changes in scenery — to make it feel a little more special than a super-extended Staff Meeting. Still, any time I really stop and think about the name “Staff Retreat” I think of the (fictional) advertising campaign for Ocean Breeze Soap: “It’s like going on an ocean cruise, except there’s no boat, and you don’t actually go anywhere.”

Staff Retreat: Day One

This year, we started by gathering together in a parking lot on the north side of Kent to carpool together to the Lake Erie Bluffs. We planned out some car conversation prompts that helped us to reconnect along the way. And when we got to the Lake, we started out by just being together.

It can be really tempting to jump right into business. Especially with the long list of items to be discussed before a new year of ministry gets started (this year’s list felt longer than ever!). On the principled level, though, we know that we need to ground ourselves in the fact that our work is people work… heart work… soul work. So we choose to start with reveling in our friendship and family dynamics, trusting that the task list will take care of itself more easily, when we’re clicking on the relational level.

At the Lake Erie Bluffs, we climbed an Observation Tower and spotted some eagles soaring in the distance. We walked down to the water’s edge and spent some time skipping stones. We strolled along the shoreline for about a mile and similarly let our conversation wander on the way. It was good to be reminded that we have a good team. A good team of good friends.

A couple of times along the way, we stopped for more structured conversation, all together. We asked each person to share a particular point of excitement for the upcoming school year. And in the process, we started to see some of the ways that God was stirring our hearts in preparation for the new year.

We had a long, lingering lunch at a barbecue place near the Bluffs. Then we slowly started to ease into business. We started with the big picture. Our leadership team shared some of the broad-strokes vision God seems to be stirring for our church this year. Then we had some interaction about the vision. We finished the day by queuing up the schedule for the rest of our retreat before breaking for the day. The first day was by far the most “Retreatish.”

Staff Retreat: Day Two

The second day of the Staff “Retreat” was not very “Retreatish” at all. We met at the H2O Office in downtown Kent. The first hour allowed some time for spiritual connection; otherwise, we just methodically worked our way through our task list. As a team, we covered everything from our Life Group Coaching Structure to our Annual Budget. We talked about Job Descriptions and our Sexual Harassment Policy. We planned out our Retreats throughout the school year and started floating ideas for Spring Break trips.

The day included a relaxed lunch hour together — but otherwise, Day Two was a bit of a grind. We got through a lot of business. We got to do it all as a team. But I think we all went home pretty tired. Funny how a day of sitting in a cushy office chair can do that to a person… but it does.

Staff Retreat: Day Three


The last day of our Staff Retreat was on the campus of Kent State University. We started with some professional group portraits, and then we spent the rest of the day working through details related to all our Welcome Week events. By the end of it all, we’d worked through every item on our team task list — but each of our individual task lists were full.


Our team is going to be plenty busy until Labor Day, but we’re excited to see what God will do in the coming weeks. Please pray with us!

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Preparing for the New School Year

I keep wanting to say “Happy New Year!” even though we’re more than seven months into 2019. The reason for this is because it’s time to prepare for a new school year… But seriously, in collegiate ministry, this time of the year feels like a bigger transition point than the end of the calendar year.

Accountants are busy in April… Retailers are busy in December… Campus missionaries are busy in August.

A group from H2O Kent traveled to Bowling Green this weekend for a conference with three other H2O churches — all geared towards emotional, spiritual, and logistical preparation for this strategic time of the year. H2O Bowling Green calls their event the Blitz Conference, whereas I still prefer the more neighborly terminology of “Welcome Week,” but our hearts are similarly motivated to make the most of the opportunities for ministry that will come up in the next couple of weeks.

It was fun to regroup with many of our core members who have been scattered for the summer. It was encouraging to share some of the ways that we feel God may be moving our church for the coming season of ministry — and to see our enthusiasm reflected in our student-leaders.

It seems like we have a lot of reason to be hopeful for the new year.

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Handel’s Peach Ice Cream

Our family’s favorite ice cream shop is currently featuring one of their signature seasonal flavors: Handel’s Peach Ice Cream. It’s only on their menu for a couple of weeks each year because they make it from fresh, fully-ripened peaches. So it’s kind of special, even though fruit-flavored ice creams usually aren’t at the top of my list.

It’s also kind of special because of a story we heard a few years ago about Handel’s efforts to fulfill the wishes of a dying man. The story hasn’t been officially fact-checked. But I can say that it came from what I would consider a reliable source with credible access to the information.

A Dying Man’s Request for Handel’s Peach Ice Cream

The story starts with a man who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I’d imagine this news this filled him with sadness and regret on many levels, but his one unique point of sadness and regret is that he would make it through another summer — to the time of the year when Handel’s would be serving his favorite flavor of ice cream: Peach.

So the man’s family and friends went to Handel’s and asked if there would be any way for them to get a pint of Handel’s Peach Ice Cream to serve to their dying friend. Perhaps one of the Handel’s locations had some from the previous summer in the back of a freezer somewhere… Perhaps Handel’s could allow the family to commission a special batch using frozen peaches or canned peaches…

Sadly, Handel’s said they would not be able to accommodate these requests because it simply wasn’t the right time of the year for ripe peaches from their preferred peach providers. And anything short of freshly-made ice cream crafted from freshly-plucked peaches just wouldn’t be up to their standards.

I was reminded about the credibility of this part of the story, about a certain ingredient being “not to [Handel’s] standards,” when I saw this sign taped to the window the other night.

In light of the dying man’s situation, however, Handel’s said: “Hold on. We’ll see what we can do.”

So they called around to whatever part of the world where fresh peaches might be available at that moment and ordered a half-bushel of peaches to be delivered to their store. They followed their recipe to mix up 20 gallons of Peach Ice Cream (the minimum quantity they’re equipped to produce). But when the process was finished and they tested the ice cream, the results were disappointing.

The told the dying man’s family: “We’re sorry. It’s just not up to our standards… But hold on. We’ll see what we can do.”

So they called around to an alternate supplier from whatever part of the world where fresh peaches might be available at that moment, and they ordered another half-bushel of peaches to be delivered to their store. They followed their recipe to mix up 20 gallons of Peach Ice Cream. And this time, they were satisfied with the results.

The family was delighted that they could accommodate the dying man’s request, and they asked: “How much do we owe you? It couldn’t have been cheap to arrange for all those special shipments and all those extra gallons of ice cream! But we’re glad to cover the costs. How much was it?”

“It’s our treat,” they said. Handel’s wouldn’t accept payment. And more than just giving the family the pint they’d originally requested, Handel’s gave them all 20 gallons of the freshly-produced Peach Ice Cream. Instead of selling the rest of this very popular flavor to recoup some of their costs, Handel’s provided for a Party of Peach Ice Cream with the dying man’s friends and family.

Handel's Ice Cream

The Moral of the Story

I think the main take-away from this story should be that Handel’s is great.

I heard the story from a friend who works in marketing and public relations in Northeast Ohio — and he thought this story represented a missed opportunity for Handel’s to promote its brand and develop public good-will, if not actual revenue, from a story like this. He said he’d heard of another national brand who received a similar request: a dying man who desperately wished for a bowl of his favorite soup before its usual season for distribution. This company didn’t have to go to nearly the same lengths to accommodate the request — basically just thawing out a batch of soup from the back of a freezer — but they were able to generate a lot of good-will through social media interaction with the story because of the way they publicized things. He said it was a shame that Handel’s didn’t do the same thing, to gain acknowledgement for a much more noble endeavor.

But I actually like it that Handel’s hasn’t tried to put this story out there. It makes me like them more. And it makes me order a cone of Peach Ice Cream every August, even though fruit-flavored ice creams aren’t usually my favorite. I order Handel’s Peach Ice Cream because it’s refreshing. On a lot of different levels.

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Six of Us

Our church has always maintained a high value on team leadership. This is a family value, inherited from our network of churches. We often talk about “plurality” and the need for many different perspectives to ensure wise leadership. We cite numerous examples of plurality throughout the Bible, and we also appreciate the practical outworking of plurality in contemporary church life. Thus, we’ve established a conviction that even if plurality is not always easy or efficient, it’s still good.

Over the summer, however, my co-pastor Matthew moved to a different city. We dropped from a plurality of three to a plurality of two: Jason and me. We were still plural (more than one). But we also recognized that our plurality was smaller, older, and more homogenous. Matthew was five years younger than Jason and me. His personality and leadership style were significantly different from mine, and Jason’s. And even though I’m sure we would have been able to muddle forward with the two of us — it didn’t feel as healthy for us, or for the church.

So we started praying and talking with God about how to move forward. And over time, it seemed like the Holy Spirit was directing us to invite not just one (or two, or three) new person (or persons) to join us at the Leadership Table for H2O Kent. It felt like God envisioned us to invite four others to join us: Mark, Daniel, AJ, and Lauren.

To be honest, it was quite daunting to consider the prospect of six of us trying to lead H2O Kent together. Jason, Matthew, and I experienced our fair share of decision-making log-jams when it was just three of us! So why on earth would we double our trouble, with another three leaders?!? Ultimately, it just became a question of faith. And since we believe that God is powerful, even (or especially) when we are weak, we decided to double-down on our faith to step into this new sort of plurality together.

The six of us started meeting together this week to plan and prepare for the new school year. We’re still dialing in the dynamics of our new decision-making processes. But as we go, we are choosing to “Embrace the Inefficiency” that comes with a larger team. We do this because we also believe that it amounts to an embrace of God’s grace and power. And we’re also discovering that there is genuine joy in our group dynamics. I consider it a privilege to do this job with these people. We’re praying for God to do big things through our big team this school year. And I think it’s already starting to happen.

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Psalm 20

How amazing is it that we have a God who listens when we speak?!?

And how amazing that we have a God who speaks when we listen?!?

We’ve had our H2O Kent Pastors Retreat this week. And during one of our times of prayer together, the wonder of our ability to communicate with God really struck me. More than just a conceptual appreciation, I actually felt His involvement in our conversation! I felt Him lift my emotional burdens and spiritual burdens as I spoke them out to Him. New ideas entered my mind, and new feelings entered my heart as I paused and listened in prayer. Isn’t that ridiculously amazing?!?

Psalm 20 delves into this same sense of wonder and worship. And then, towards the end of the psalm it says, “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” I boast in the name of the Lord our God! I’m glad to be a part of His family!

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Ironman 70.3 Ohio

I finished my first triathlon today: the Ironman 70.3 Ohio!

I figured that the Ironman experience would be pretty similar to the experience of large road races (i.e. marathons and half-marathons) that I’ve done before — albeit with some swimming and cycling thrown in along with the running. But it was different.

Way more intense.

The participants were more intense. The official race procedures were more intense. Race Day itself was more intense. And the effect on my body was more intense.

This event was also different because I was a part of the “John Drage Entourage” — racing alongside a friend who’s been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer for the last six months. His treatment has been going relatively well, and his doctors cleared him for participation, but it’s not clear how many more races he may be able to run. So his family and friends came alongside him, in case this might be his last one, with a crowd of maybe 30-50 of us joining in for various points of the festivities. It was an honor to be included in the group — but it also added another layer of intensity to things.

Athletes were required to check in on Saturday afternoon. There was a rigorous process of checking identification, picking up our race packets, our timing devices, and our race swag — then we were hustled to an official, military-style briefing where every detail was covered from course maps, to safety procedures, to rules for competition… It took about 45 minutes, even though it was highly-organized. After we finished with everything at the “Ironman Village” in downtown Delaware (Ohio), we had to hustle north to the state park where we checked in our bicycles at the place where we would be starting the swimming and cycling segments the following morning.

The Transition Zone where the bicycles were stored gave me another indication of how different and how intense the Ironman community is.

I felt insecure as wheeled in my regular city bicycle, which I use for everyday transportation in Kent. I’d taken off its luggage rack and saddle-bags to make it a little bit lighter, but it still had its fenders, simulated basket-weave handles, and bicycle bell on the handlebars. The other bicycles in the Transition Zone were ultra-light, aerodynamic marvels of engineering, and they probably cost three times as much as my bike (which wasn’t cheap, by any means!). John estimated that there was about $10 million dollars’ worth of cycling equipment in this corral!

From the bicycle check-in location, we also got our first look at the swimming course. It looked way longer than I thought it would look, all stretched out in one big triangle. All throughout the training process, the swimming segment was the most worrisome to me. But with some coaching from John, I felt ready to give it a try — but not until after an evening of rest, back at our friends’ house, and a night of sleep.

I didn’t sleep great overnight. My accommodations were more than adequate, but my mind was busy. My body was antsy. I always get a little bit anxious before a race — but the extra elements of unfamiliarity made me extra-anxious. I probably got three or four hours of real, deep sleep, plus an equal amount of shallow, fitful sleep.

The house started stirring again at 4:30 AM, and I ate a quick breakfast before making my final preparations. We decided to pack into three vehicles, to minimize the number of vehicles filling the route to Delaware State Park and the parking lots around the lake. Other athletes and spectators were probably trying to do the same thing. Even so, we got stock in about 25 minutes of traffic — pushing us uncomfortably close to the race’s start time. When we got about half-mile away from the starting line, we jumped out of the car and briskly walked the rest of the way.

The intensity picked up with each step of the way to the starting line.

We started by reporting to an area labeled with a large flag saying “Body Marking.” At this station, volunteers used permanent markers to write my race number — 1616 — on each arm and my age — 42 — on my right calf. After that I dashed briefly into the Transition Zone to leave the last of the equipment I’d want to use for the cycling segment. I dropped the rest of my personal items in a bag just outside the corral. And then it was time for the national anthem and the cannon blast to signify the official start of the race.

Somewhere in all this swarm of activity, John (and his son, Josh) found time to connect with a local news crew for a brief segment featuring his story.

As the race started, we all found our spots in the starting line, sorting ourselves by expected pace, from fastest to slowest. The race officials released four athletes, every five seconds — but even so, I was far enough back that it took about fifty minutes before I got to the starting line! It was a weird feeling to stand there in my swimming gear the whole time, looking at the masses of competitors in front of me.

On the one hand, the whole felt very serious. Very intense. Almost like soldiers going into battle. Up in the distance, I could see that the water was churning with arms and legs splashing through the water, with neon green and neon pink swim-caps bobbing to mark each participant.

On the other hand, they were blasting pop music and cracking jokes from the heavy-duty sound system set up near the starting line. I think I’ll forever associate the Miley Cyrus hit Party in the U.S.A. with the moment when I finally crossed the timing mat and splashed into the water to start the Ironman 70.3 Ohio.

The first third of the swimming segment was chaotic and terrifying. My senses of sight, sound, and touch were overwhelmed as other participants splashed through the water on every side of me. I had to continually adjust my line to accommodate for other swimmers. My lungs felt too full of air, so I kept rolling from breast-stroke to side-stroke to back-stroke to side-stroke, trying to find a rhythm. It was crazy. As we came upon the buoy marking the first turn — and the jockeying for inside position intensified — I genuinely thought about calling it quits.

But for whatever reason, sometime shortly after rounding the first bend, I found my rhythm. I settled into my breast-stroke, and I grew in confidence. Even when some dudes in wet-suits were being overly-assertive in the last third of the swim, I kept swimming my race. And when I got out of the water, I was delighted to see that I had finished in about 53 minutes.

Two minutes ahead of “schedule.”

It took me a few minutes to run from the water’s edge to the spot where my bicycle was parked. I had to put on my socks, shoes, helmet, sunglasses, and Camelbak backpack. I sprayed myself with a layer of sunscreen. And then I had to walk / jog my bicycle to the place where I could exit the Transition Zone. Just before the exit, some volunteers offered nutrition and water. And I took advantage of the opportunity to get even more sunscreen, when other volunteers held out hands covered in medical gloves, covered in sunscreen lotion. They just slathered on my arms, legs, and neck, letting the sunscreen lie in gloppy, white streaks — and then I was on my way.

Two miles into the bike ride, I came upon the scene of an accident. Cars were backed up for perhaps a quarter of a mile, in the left lane U.S. Route 23 North. Bicycle traffic, in the right lane, was slowed but still moving. When I got to the front of the line of cars, I saw a woman lying on her back on the far side of the left lane. She was unresponsive, and there was blood on her face and on the pavement all around her. A crowd of perhaps ten other athletes and motorists were clustered around her, one doing chest compressions and another checking for vital signs. But it didn’t seem like there was much to be gained from stopping to watch. So I kept riding north, praying for her and her family inside my head. I found out later that the woman died as a result of her injuries, which occurred when she left the cycling lane to pass other cyclists. In the moment, though, the accident was a sobering reminder to keep the intensity in check. We all pedaled on, ashen-faced and silent, until we put a few miles between us and the accident.

I had a tailwind for the first twenty miles, which pushed me faster than I expected. Even so, I was one of the slower cyclists. A few of the other cyclists made comments like, “Nice bike, man!” as they passed me — and while some of them were probably sincere, others were chuckling as they said it, and a few of them even carried a snide tone. This was an element of the “Ironman Intensity” that I did not appreciate. The whole Ironman brand seems to push the point that its athletes are the best and brightest in the world, trucking in a sort of elitism that is probably pretty lucrative for them and all of their partner companies. Partly through the nature of the disciplines involved, and partly through the culture that’s developed, Ironman is a rich man’s sport.

The average person who does these events regularly probably has a specialty one-piece triathlon suit ($50 minimum), a wetsuit for colder races ($150 minimum), a specialty triathlon bicycle ($2500 minimum), a specialty ultra-aerodynamic triathlon bicycle helmet ($50 minimum), a specialty triathlon GPS watch ($400 minimum) and/or a bicycle-mounted GPS computer ($250 minimum)… and the event registration itself is $315! This doesn’t even get into costs for footwear, travel, race weekend accommodations, specialty nutrition, and the fact that most triathletes are paying for some kind of gym membership where they can get in their swimming practice!

So yeah… I was invested at maybe a quarter or a third of the level of most people participating in the Ironman… And it seemed like there was something built into the culture of the event that made some people want to put me in my place as they passed me on their ultra-aerodynamic bicycles.

I’ll admit that the cycling segment was not super-comfortable for me. I had to work hard. I took advantage of every aid station (placed roughly 15 miles apart along the course), stopping to use the bathroom, top off my nutrition and hydration supplies, and restore circulation to my groin and seat area. But I did it! I biked all 56 miles in 3 hours and 43 minutes.

Another 17 minutes ahead of “schedule.”

By the time I started my run, I felt pretty confident that I was at least going to be able to finish the race. Since I made the cut-off for the swim and the cycling, even faster than I had been anticipating, I had almost four hours remaining to complete the run — and running is my most familiar discipline. Even my slowest half-marathons have been in the range of about two hours. So I was pleased with that…

But I’d never attempted to run a half-marathon after about five hours of intense physical activity. I’d never attempted to run a half-marathon starting around 12:30 in the afternoon on a late-summer day, where temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d never attempted anything quite like this.

So, the truth of the matter is that I struggled to finish.

I ran out of gas or got overheated (or both) during the running segment. I probably walked more than I ran. And I’m not proud of that from a runner’s perspective. But I am proud of the overall accomplish because I did finish the race. It was especially meaningful to do a few miles of the running (or, really, power-walking) segment together with John. We talked about each of our race day experiences. We talked about his joy for triathlons. We talked about his passionate desire “To joyfully finish for the honor of His name.”

And then, we finished the race.

Our miles together happened when John was on his second lap, but I was still on my first lap of the running course (I started my race much later than John did). So, I didn’t get to see John cross the finish line — though, most of his entourage did. John came down the final home stretch in Selby Stadium, arm in arm with his son Josh, and I’ve seen the photos and videos to know that it was a beautiful moment. I struggled for another hour until I managed to finish my own race. Even after crossing the finish line, I felt pretty awful for a good while after I finished.

But I finished.

My system is still rebounding.

I sat in the shade at the Ironman Village for twenty or thirty minutes, nibbling at a cheeseburger and sipping on a Sprite, until I felt well enough to retrieve my bicycle and gear bags. The air conditioning in the car and back at our friends’ house was helpful. But the thing that helped me to feel the most like myself again was thirty minutes of floating in the shady end of our friends’ pool, with a foam noodle under my armpits to prop me up.

I still didn’t have my appetite back when I left Delaware to start driving back to Kent. But I started to feel a little bit hungry on the drive and eventually decided to call ahead for a Donato’s pizza stop in Mansfield. I figured I would be able to easily smash a whole large pizza, with the number of calories that I burned over the course of the day. I was only able to eat about half of it, but that half tasted good and gave me hope that my appetite — along with the rest of me — would eventually return to full strength.

Posted in Bicycling, Culture, Culture Shock, Health, Recreation, Running, Sports | Leave a comment

Time to Try the Tri

Ohio Ironman Composite

I’ve thought about attempting a triathlon for awhile now. Mostly because of my friend John.

John has been doing triathlons for years. He’s so into it that he got an Ironman logo tatooed on his right calf a couple of years ago. He and I follow each other on Strava (a social media app for endurance sports), and I admit it’s kind of cool to see the variety of exercises he manages to pack into a typical week.

But even though John has invited me to join him for triathlons on several occasions, I’ve resisted primarily because of the swimming component. I’ve run regularly for about seven years now. I’ve used the bicycle as my primary mode of transportation for almost seventeen years now (I do realize that this is different from the sport of cycling, but still I’d like to think there are some connections there). I’ve never been a strong swimmer, though. Something’s off with my freestyle swimming stroke, and I always end up running out of breath when I try to swim that way. My sidestroke, breaststroke, and backstroke are workable; still, they’re not great.

But here’s the thing: In February, my friend John was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. The average life expectancy from the point of diagnosis is eighteen months.

I figured if I was ever going to attempt a triathlon, I wanted to do it with John. I wanted him to be with me as I undertake such a new endeavor. And I wanted to be with him as he faithfully endeavors to run the race marked out for him (both literally and figuratively). It turns out that several others have felt the same way, including John’s brother, John’s son, and John’s niece. The story has gotten even bigger over the last few months, with John chronicling his journey at and even a few news outlets picking up the story (see the video below). I feel like I’ve had a front-row seat to witness an incredible story of faith and perseverance.

So after much deliberation and physical preparation, I will be making my first attempt at a triathlon this weekend — the Ohio Ironman 70.3. Mostly because of my friend John.

That being said, I honestly do not know how this triathlon is going to turn out.

Ohio Ironman Swim

I think I should be able to complete the 1.2-mile swim in about 55 minutes. That would be within the 70 minute allowance. But I’ve never had a truly successful lake swim of that length (or any length). And I’ve certainly never done it with a crowd of other people in the water. It’s entirely possible that I’ll get disqualified before I even finish with the first leg of the race, but I’m prepared to give it my best shot.

Ohio Ironman Bike

I think I should be able to complete the 56-mile bike ride in about four hours. Which is within the 5.5-hour total allowance (for both the swim and the bike). Still, I’m not going to be riding on a specialty road racing bike like I expect most of the other triathletes will be using. I wonder if I might even get some smiles and stares as I ride my electric-blue Marin Nicasio RC (my city bike) to keep race costs down and stick to what’s familiar. I’ve also never actually done a bike race before. So there are enough unfamiliar elements to leave me unsettled. If I have any mechanical issues with my bicycle out on the road, I’m slow enough and clumsy enough that it’s entirely possible to get disqualified before I even finish with the second leg of the race. But I’m prepared to give it my best shot.

So even with some transition time and extra time built in for unexpected pit stops, I’d like to think that I should have 3-3.5 hours to complete the 13.1-mile run before I hit the end of my 8.5-hour total time allotment.

Ohio Ironman Run

Running is my most comfortable discipline, and I can usually run a half-marathon in half of the time that should be left to me after the swimming and biking. But I’ve never run that many miles after swimming and biking so many miles beforehand. There’s also likely to be a heat component which will be unusual for me, with temperatures likely around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle part of the day. I’ve been struggling with a bit of respiratory congestion this week, which adds a health component that I don’t usually have to deal with. And there will also be an emotional component, with the Drage family’s involvement…

There are just a lot of unknowns heading into this weekend!

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