A couple of years after I told a friend that I’d never do the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile canoe race from San Marcos to Seadrift, I’m hereby declaring that I’m in for 2019.
Yesterday, the training began.
I’ll be competing as part of a three-person team, alongside veteran paddlers Sheila Reiter and Heather Harrison. They’ve both completed the race several times, but I’m a newbie. My paddling experience consists of recreational paddle camping trips down the Devils and Pecos rivers, plus a bunch of leisurely day trips on the Colorado, San Marcos, Guadalupe, Llano and Pedernales rivers. I did part of the Colorado River 100 last winter, but packed a lunch and picnicked on the side of the river.
But I’ve always believed that the only way to keep living is to keep trying new things. That’s why I learned to run a slalom water ski course at age 40, ran my first marathon at 44, hiked the John Muir trail at 52 and rappelled down a 38-story building at 53. It’s why I do all kinds of stuff that makes me a tad uncomfortable.
Besides, I love spending time on the water, and yesterday’s first run meant a couple of hours gliding down Lady Bird Lake, dinner at a lakeside restaurant and glimpses of turtles the size of beer trays, the emergence of the Mexican free-tail bats from beneath the Ann Richards-Congress Avenue Bridge, lots of smooth green water and some rare moments of quiet in the middle of the city.
I’ve got to work on my form. I know already my stroke is choppy and slanted. The paddle should enter the water almost vertically. The photo at the top, taken by Chris LeBlanc, shows me and Sheila heading home after our practice session. I can see my position needs work.
Goals. I’ve got nearly 11 months to get there. I can do it.
When a marathon falls short, and Austin’s heat feels downright balmy, some folks head to Death Valley to prove their athletic mettle by racing long distances through the desert.
Take Austin ultra runner Brenda Guajardo, 41, the top female finisher in last month’s Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon, an invitational race that starts in the Badwater Basin of California and winds its way up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Guajardo, an office administrator and event planner, ran through 108 degree temperatures and beneath scorching sun, and climbed a cumulative 14,600 feet of vertical ascent. She finished in 28 hours and 23 minutes, first among all women and fifth overall.
The former aerobics instructor, who took up running in her 20s when she decided aerobics wasn’t keeping her fit enough, has entered the race three other times. She finished eighth female in her first attempt in 2011 and second in 2016.
She was favored to win last year but broke her foot from overuse 2 miles in. That injury makes this year’s victory all the more remarkable.
“In the last year I’ve had to relearn how to walk,” she says. “I had a limp I couldn’t get rid of and I had to rebuild my mileage. I made serious adjustments in how I train. I couldn’t do speed work, because it was too much on my foot, so I just did long and high volume at a slow pace.”
The training worked.
At the first checkpoint, at Mile 17, she stood in fifth place. She took over the lead at the second checkpoint, at Mile 42, and held it all the way to the finish. Her pace ranged from speedy, 7-minute, 45-second miles on the downhills to between 14- and 16-minute miles on the final uphill slog to the finish. The second place woman finished 25 minutes behind her.
The temperatures took their toll. In the blazing sun, heat radiated from the pavement. “It’s strictly asphalt, all road,” she says. “It definitely cooks your skin.”
Guajardo said that temperatures at the race this year felt relatively comfortable, thanks to the hours she spent training in the Texas heat.
“The humidity in Austin is my Kryptonite. Racing in the desert feels like a vacation compared to the insanity of Austin’s high heat with high humidity,” she says.
Guajardo, who crossed the finish time of her first marathon in 1997 in a not-so-speedy 6 hours, prepared for Badwater by spending 90 minutes in a 140-degree dry sauna, then running outdoors in Austin. She also trained in the Big Bend area to simulate the conditions in Death Valley.
“You teach your stomach how to process fluid in high volume,” she says. “It teaches your body how to sweat very fast and push water out. On race day I put ice-filled bandanas around my neck and my crew sprayed me with water every so many miles.”
But why enter such a grueling event?
“Why not? I think I’m most intrigued by the mind and body connection of what happens when you’re out there. For me personally, I’m very introverted and my job requires me to be very extroverted. To spend an extraordinary number of hours by myself is replenishing. It’s how I gain my energy back.”
Guajardo holds the women’s course record for the Nove Colli 125-mile race in Italy. In 2016 she won Pheidippides Race — a 304-mile race in Greece, where she broke the men’s course record by more than four hours.
Guajardo says she’s not sure what comes next, other than taking some time off for a full recovery, which takes at least a month.
Or maybe enjoying some quality time with her much pet — a turtle named Charlie.
“I consider the turtle my racing animal because turtles represent longevity and patience. … A turtle reminds me to always have patience, never give up. Well, and the obvious — slow and steady wins the race.”
Lawson Craddock may have finished last in the Tour de France this year, but now he can drink free beer for the rest of his life.
The Austin-based cyclist broke his shoulder blade and cut his face during Stage 1 of this year’s Tour. Instead of packing up and heading back to Texas, Craddock kept cycling. For every stage of the race he completed, he vowed to donate $100 to Alkek Velodrome in Houston, the facility where he learned to race and which was damaged last fall during Hurricane Harvey. He invited fans to donate, too.
Craddock wound up finishing every stage of the three-week race, coming in last of the 145 finishers, a position known as “lanterne rouge.” As of today, the GoFundMe site has raised more than $252,000 for the velodrome.
To congratulate the 26-year-old cyclist, Karbach Brewing Co., the Houston-based company that makes the beer Craddock drank after he finally reached Paris, has promised to supply Craddock with Weekend Warrior Pale Ale for the rest of his life.
The brewery also pledged to donate $1 of every case of Weekend Warrior Pale Ale to Alkek Velodrome for the rest of the year.
As the cyclists spin their way up and down hills, through picturesque villages and over stretches of rough cobblestone in France, Armstrong waves his arms, yells at the monitor and lets fly with the occasional cuss word. It’s all recorded and livestreamed for fans around the world through Armstrong’s WeDū portal.
“I get pretty animated when I watch,” Armstrong said Sunday, while driving from his summer home in Aspen to catch a polo match down the canyon with his fiance, Anna Hansen, and two of their children. “And I do slip up and say bad words from time to time.”
“With broadcasting, a lot of times you have a boss and you have a certain decorum and you’re beholden to certain sponsors or a governing body,” says Hager, who for years co-hosted, along with Sandy McIlree, the morning show on Austin radio station Mix 94.7. “(Armstrong) gives such a raw honest look at it because he’s not beholden to anyone. He can say whatever he wants.”
These days, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, makes no apologies. He knows some people will tune in, and others, still angry over the cheating scandal, will never again listen to a word he says.
It’s all part of life post cycling for Armstrong, who launched “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” in June 2016. That program, available for free via YouTube, FaceBook and iTunes, features Armstrong interviewing an intriguing parade of celebrities, from musicians such as the Avett Brothers and Bob Schneider to retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., politician Wendy Davis, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo, billionaire businessman John Paul DeJoria, and free diver Tanya Streeter. Talk focuses on everything from current events to politics, family life and the arts, and it rarely touches on cycling.
But some fans still want Armstrong’s perspective on bike racing, so last year, he teamed with Hager to add a separate series of podcasts just during the Tour de France. The pair built on that idea this year, and have once again put “The Forward” podcast on hold while they spend a month producing “The Move,” which includes daily coverage of the 21-stage Tour de France, plus some other special features.
Hager, who’s done his own share of recreational bike racing, drove his trailer to Aspen, where Armstrong owns a home, parked it in the neighbor’s driveway, then plugged in a bristling array of audio visual equipment. He tees up questions for Armstrong as they watch, which helps listeners who may not understand the nuances of bike racing.
“He knows enough about cycling to be dangerous, but spent 20 plus years talking to people on the corner of Main Street and First, so if it starts to get technical or wonky he can bring it back to Every Man Jack speak,” Armstrong says.
“The Move” podcast lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, but real Armstrong fans can get more content. A $60 WeDū season pass allows members to observe Hager and Armstrong as they watch the last 20 kilometers of each stage of the Tour live, before they record their podcast.
“I always said last year I wished people could see him while he’s watching the Tour unfold. Whether it’s a climb or sprint, he jumps out of his skin, he’s losing his mind,” Hager says.
Members can also watch pre-production meetings and participate in special evening “happy hour” sessions, when they can email questions directly to Hager for discussion. They also get a WeDū Tshirt and discounts on merchandise.
“We’re legitimately having cocktails and fielding questions in real time,” Hager says. Former professional cyclist George Hincapie dropped by for a session last week; NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson is expected this week.
A season pass will include the behind-the-scenes coverage of other cycling races, too. So far, about 1,000 fans from around the world have signed up as members.
As for this year’s Tour, it’s particularly technical, according to Armstrong. Sunday’s stage included 15 sections of rough cobbled roads – the most ever in the Tour de France. Monday is a rest day, and coming days will include some short, explosive mountain stages.
“The first week was very hectic, with a bunch of nervous finishes. The guys are already tired,” says Armstrong, who picked a favorite – 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali from Italy – early on, but is backpedaling a tad on his choice. “I might regret picking him, but it’s too late.”
“There’s already been quite a shakeup, there’s been a team time trial, and some very technical stages in what almost looks like Austin that are real hilly but don’t have long climbs,” he says. “Now we have the rest day and three days in the Alps, culminating with Alpe d’Huez on Thurday, then some transition days where they basically have to ride across the country to the Pyrenees. It’s hard and hot. The Pyrenees are really the show this year, I think.”
After the tour ends July 29 in Paris, Armstrong and Hager will put together a “best of” podcast featuring edited versions of some of their favorite interviews from “The Forward.”
“We’ll edit it down, put those up, and then launch a new structure for ‘The Forward’ in the fall which will be more based around specific themes like fear or cancer,” Armstrong says.
Does all the Tour watching make him yearn for his racing days?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m happy to be in Aspen, Colorado.”
Which is where he plans to stay for the summer, before returning to Austin sometime in September.
He has another bit of business coming up, too: a wedding.
Armstrong got engaged to Hansen last May, but neither one is saying when a wedding will happen, or exactly where, but they are considering both Marfa and Napa Valley.
For more information about WeDū, or to sign up as a member, go to www.wedu.team.
Have you registered for this year’s Statesman Cap10K?
On April 8, the largest 10K in Texas will snake up Congress Avenue, head west toward the big hill on Enfield Road, swing south near MoPac, then fold back along East Cesar Chavez Street.
If you’ve done it before, you know it’s much more than a run – it’s a rolling party. Costumes are encouraged, fans cheer on family and friends, and somebody along the route always tries to tempt participants by shoving a tray of doughnuts or bacon under their noses as they stream past.
As of Monday, roughly 20,000 people had registered for this year’s run. That’s about 1,000 people ahead of registration at this time last year. Race organizers hope to top off at 22,000.
The finish line festival will feature the circus-themed party band Electric Circus, followed by The Matt Wilson Band, which plays soul, R&B, rock, blues, funk and gospel.
The first Cap10K took place on March 12, 1978. Eight hundred runners were expected; 3,400 registered.
The crowd grew steadily in subsequent years. At its largest, 28,341 people registered for the run on March 29, 1987. Anyone who ran that year certainly remembers it: Temperatures hovered around 33 degrees and sleet fell.
Today the race ranks as the seventh largest 10K in the country.
Thinking of joining the fun? Registration is $50 for adults or $35 for ages 10 and under. (Prices increase next Tuesday). To register, go here.
Add Kerri Walsh Jennings to the list of celebs who landed in Austin this week during South by Southwest.
The professional beach volleyball player, who has three gold and one bronze Olympic medal to her name, came to launch her new p1440 beach volleyball event series. The organization was a title sponsor of day parties at Waterloo Records.
We intended to catch up with her Thursday morning at Aussie’s Grill & Beach Bar, where she and her coach had planned a training session, but Jennings had to catch an early flight back to California to deal with a family matter. We talked by phone instead.
First things first. Yes, Jennings, a 6-foot 3-inch California native and Stanford graduate, is still competing. She hopes to add to her Olympic medal haul in the 2020 with teammate Nicole Branagh, but that will depend on how they play during the next two years. (Jennings won those three golds with Misty May-Treanor in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and the bronze with April Ross in 2016.)
In the meantime, Jennings, 39, and husband Casey Jennings want to expose more people to the growing sport of beach volleyball, which isn’t just played on the coast anymore. Here in Austin, you can knock volleyballs around a sand court at Aussie’s, 306 Barton Springs Road, and Wooly’s, 440 East St. Elmo Road at The Yard.
That’s where the new organization – p1440, named to inspire people “to live every minute of the day with purpose, all 1,440 of them” – comes in.
“My husband and I were talking to our sports psychologist about the importance of quality time,” Jennings said. “He said, ‘Did you know there are 1,440 minutes in a day? Be mindful of them.’ That’s a slap in the face, isn’t it? I thought, ‘That’s it? Just 1,440?’”
Now the Jennings are planning a series of volleyball-a-palooza-style festivals, complete with top-level competition, a health and wellness village, personal development experiences and a music festival. Eight events are planned for the 2018-19 season, starting with a festival in Chicago in September and followed by events in the San Jose Bay Area, San Diego and Huntington Beach. A Texas event may take place next spring, but probably not in Austin.
“Texas in general is a very big volleyball state, and it’s always been near and dear to my heart. I wanted to honor that community,” Jennings said. “Austin knows how to have fun, they’re a sports town. Beach volleyball suits the lifestyle there.”
A digital component of p1440, where users can get training tips, stream volleyball matches and workouts, get recipes from nutritionists, discover new meditation practices, find athlete’s curated music playlists and chat with others, will launch this summer, too.
Jennings says she wants p1440 to be bigger than just sports. “It’s community and character and so many beautiful things,” she said. “We really want to honor and cherish everyone’s time.”
“Everybody is super busy, overburdened, and ill-equipped to handle the load we’re carrying. We want to give people the resources to handle the load they carry, from physical training to personal development. We all want to feel good while we’re alive.”
It’s something she and her husband, who have three children, try to do every day.
“None of this works without my husband,” she said. “We both like to chase very big dreams and we like to kick butt. He has been amazing unconditional support system for me, not just in volleyball but in life. He’s also an athlete and he’s leading this charge.”
The goal is to attract between 20,000 and 30,000 people to each three-day event and 4 million to the online platform by 2021. Currently, at least 25 million Americans play volleyball, she said.
“Currently in beach volleyball, people show up, watch the games and leave,” Jennings said. “We want them to show up in the morning, stay engaged all day, listen to live music and come back the next day.
“We believe we will attract new eyeballs to sport. We’re not a small undertaking. We’re a big deal.”
As for that bikini she wears while competing? People ask about it all the time. It’s functional, she says.
“It’s my uniform. I take my uniform very seriously. It’s a very sports performance specific choice I made. I’m allowed to wear pants or tights, but when it’s 90 degrees I work really hard to get something I’m comfortable in,” she said.
She pays equal attention to sunglasses and a visor, which provide sun protection while she plays. She encourages youth picking up the sport to learn to play early on in shades and a hat, too.
“They’ll stay more youthful longer,” she said.
Other tips for staying healthy?
Stay mindful of what you fuel yourself with – from the food you eat and drink to the social media you ingest and the books you read.
“All of these things make an impact on my mental and physical state,” she said. “Staying mindful of what we’re putting into our systems is important.”