When Is it Time to Test?

A new Good Wolf athlete, John, didn’t yet have baseline data metrics for swim, bike and run training. So after a few weeks of initial training to assess basic performance trends, I prescribed a 30-minute run threshold workout as a starting point. It’s harder to prescribe an aerobic run, for example, if we don’t really know the athlete’s aerobic capacity. Swim and eventually bike tests are up next for John, as the latter requires a bit more recon for a safe place to ride an extended amount of time uninterrupted. He recently moved to a new town.

John did the run workout as planned and we discussed the results. Something he texted me stood out.

Athlete: “So with that set now what’s the goal I should be shooting for?”

Me: “Easy. Consistency.”

That got me thinking.

It would have been easy to simply reply, “Well, we’ll test again after an intense six-week run block where we target boosting your threshold pace by :05.” Why didn’t I do that? (Well, that’s another blog post!!)

Philosophically, I’m not rigid when it comes to testing FTP or thresholds. I don’t believe in testing for data at a specific time or even on any kind of regular basis. At Good Wolf, we test an athlete when it’s time to test, when it’s obvious a test is needed, or we do nothing and see those results naturally through race data (after diligent and consistent training takes effect) and adjust accordingly.

But how did I arrive to this approach? That thought is what occupied my mind during an easy run yesterday morning. It turns out it has nothing to do with triathlon.


In 1998, I started studying Bok Fu Do Chinese Kenpo, or “Way of the White Tiger.” My dad had been studying Bok Fu for years already, and for various reasons, I wanted to see for myself what he loved about it so much. I needed a new challenge, I had some things to prove to myself, and in my mind, to others too.

In fact, triathlon surfaced in my life years later because I finally rid myself of that deep need to prove my toughness to other people. That, and I really didn’t like getting punched or kicked in the face anymore. (Mr. York still haunts my dreams haha!)

Maybe that’s why I kinda miss the mass swim starts in an Ironman event…I liked the contact.

What is Bok Fu Do? For quick reference, I found this video online of Mr. Milan Shelden and some of my former East-West partners performing at an exhibition in 2006. The fluid movements remind me how much I loved it. If you watch from around 3:43 onwards, that’s closer to what I was studying at the time. Mr. Shelden is the final martial artist to perform.

Our Sifus, Richard Campbell and Mr. Shelden, were literally Hall of Fame instructors and had a direct line to Grandmaster Richard Lee, who founded the modern Bok Fu system in the late ‘60s. Tiger-style kung fu is a descendant of one of the original five forms of Chinese kung fu.

Like triathlon, I felt awkward and brutally self-aware at the beginning, but grew close with the community at the studio and martial arts quickly became a lifestyle. I trained at East-West in Simi Valley for 3-4 days a week for a few years and became better, faster and stronger. All of that gave me greater self confidence and self-assurance.

Looking back, among the things I remember most fondly was the elation (and fright) I’d feel when Mr. Campbell would decide it was time for me to test for a new belt. It wasn’t monthly, or even bi-monthly. It was, “when I know you are ready.”

How would he know? 

The answer was, to paraphrase, the combination of unconscious flow, an ability to perform the techniques under pressure, and with my own signature thumbprint of style and energy.

This played out in no greater way than when I earned my green sash after many months of study. At East-West, we combined every blue-belt technique into a right-side, left-side series of continuous advances up and down the studio mat. I would practice this extremely long-form set EVERYWHERE (parks, the beach, my apartment, a shallow pool), and yet it was not good enough to test with Mr. Campbell. I knew the material, but I hadn’t made it mine yet. I didn’t know it so well that I’d demand the test, and that was everything Mr. Campbell needed to know.

(For reference, I found videos online that approximate some of the movements in this set. Instead of a full-mat kata, the progression was linear, as if a room of enemies stood in a straight line and attacked one-by-one. To pass the test, the intensity and ferocity needed to match the student’s knowledge.

Mastery, or a readiness to test, had nothing to do with knowing the material. It definitely had nothing to do with a calendar.

These are many of my classmates whom I had the great pleasure to learn from and train with many years ago. Mr. Shelden and Mr. Campbell are bottom right, respectively. My dad is middle row far left. Mr. York, whom I mentioned above, is third from left in the top row. With nearly limitless hip flexibility and impeccable form, Mr. York was nearly impossible to defeat in 1:1 sparring. I miss these folks. But not the ringing in my ears!

These are many of my classmates whom I had the great pleasure to learn from and train with many years ago. Mr. Shelden and Mr. Campbell are bottom right, respectively. My dad is middle row far left. Mr. York, whom I mentioned above, is third from left in the top row. With nearly limitless hip flexibility and impeccable form, Mr. York was nearly impossible to defeat in 1:1 sparring. I miss these folks. But not the ringing in my ears!

I can still see and hear Mr. Campbell today clapping his hands, hunched over, peering through me with his giant bifocal glasses, “Fire it up!”

I vividly remember the ferocity of my actual test for that green sash, how exhausted I felt afterwards, as I put everything I had into it.. I remember the immense pride as I accepted that sash from Mr. Campbell and learned to tie it to my waist for the first time.

I hear Mr. Campbell’s voice on the starting line of every triathlon I enter. I hear that voice in every FTP test or time trial I participate in during training.

“Fire it up!” meant it was GO time on the mat. Either I knew the material cold and could apply it with great force, focus and fierceness. Or, I wasn’t ready.

I’ve never shared this with my Good Wolf athletes let alone anyone else.

Now, when an athlete asks me when it’s time to test for a new FTP or threshold pace, they will know why the answer is, “When it’s apparent it is time for you to test.”

And unless there’s no baseline data to assess basic performance as in John’s case, a Good Wolf athlete will know it’s time to test when they can demand one with great confidence. Or… I know it’s time for them to test.

A test is earned, not given. It comes through doing the consistent work, with discipline, focus, an openness to feedback, and passion.

Then, it’s time to fire it up!


Escape from Alcatraz 2019: More Rip, Less Grip

Elation, exhaustion, relief.

Elation, exhaustion, relief.

When it comes to triathlon racing, the less you grip, the more you can rip.

Work, coaching and family life has kept me very busy the last several months and weeks, a theme I covered in my Ironman Santa Rosa report last month. So properly preparing myself to race has taken a pronounced back seat. It's the one aspect of my life where I feel comfortable sacrificing, since it's "only" me who is affected. This translates to being OK with doing the best I can completing workouts, and not studying a race course as much as I normally might pre-event. That time is best invested instead helping my Good Wolf Coaching athletes.

In this case, personal race prep taking a back seat also translated to forgetting my wetsuit at home after helping pack and load the car for Steph and Audra. I realized it halfway up the 5 Freeway to Oakland and rented a last-minute wetsuit. (Thanks Sports Basement for the clutch BlueSeventy Fusion suit!, and for Good Wolf athlete Paul helping me try to find a quick replacement.)

So my approach to Alcatraz was necessarily simple:

  • Just be happy to race…it was iffy all week leading into E3, our Super Bowl in the videogames business. Went so far as to request late packet pick up on Saturday -- and didn’t confirm 100% that I could race until Thursday.

  • I haven't done a non-70.3 or full Ironman distance race in two years, so my "go hard or go home" fitness level isn't quite there. Which made my race strategy even simpler: Find the hardest sustainable edge of my current version of uncomfortable and stay there as long as I could. Then, keep nudging that limit north as the race progresses.  Jim Lubinski, my coach at Tower 26, agreed -- this would be the plan.

In sum: Race as hard as I can sustain, and have fun doing it. Let it RIP!

(H/t to Gerry Rodrigues, coaching guru at Tower 26, who often says “grip it and rip it” to describe the propulsive phase of a swim stroke…I’m riffin’ off that in a slightly different way.)

This is what “Let it RIP!” looks like for me by the end of a short-course race.

This is what “Let it RIP!” looks like for me by the end of a short-course race.

That's more important for what it didn't mean.  I DIDN'T over-analyze every hill pre-race. DIDN'T obsess about weather, currents and chop in the water. DIDN'T stress about gear (or beating myself up about not bringing it!). DIDN't stress about what I ate or drank -- heck, I downed a beer on my birthday the day before ha! And I DIDN’T monitor pace, heart rate or watts during the race. Don’t GRIP!

Then, I went out and executed a strong performance – 10/258 in my age group. I wasn't in the best shape, physically or mentally speaking. But I was able to think and feel my through a challenging course moment-by-moment, totally present -- and it paid off.  

Here's how.

Swim: We were blessed with one of the finest San Francisco days of the year. Calm waters, clear skies, low to non-existent wind, and some heat. Good Wolf athlete and race day volunteer, Diana, was gracious to drop me off at the race and kept commenting on the ferry ride how lucky we were with the weather. Knowing Twain's quote about the coldest winters being San Francisco summers, I could imagine!

The ferry ride was calm and peaceful amidst an on-board energy wave of nervous athletes stuffing themselves into wetsuits. I boarded the boat early, found a wall on the lower deck to rest my back, and stayed calm. I had planned to head to the upper deck, but there was so much chaos with athletes of all ages scurrying to find the best seating spot that I opted to do the same. 

When it was time to prepare to jump into the 56-degree water, I took some advice from an Andy Potts coaching video Diana showed me from the day before. I grabbed two cups of ice water and poured them down my wetsuit front, shocking my chest a bit and preparing for the massive temperature jolt about to come. That’ll wake you up!

It worked, along with copious amounts of Aquafor on my lips, around my nostrils and cheeks. The water was cold, but never unmanageable. I've honestly swam in colder temperatures over the years (IM Couer d'Alene 2011, IM Tahoe 2013). I felt comfortable in the water and could actually feel my feet (AND toes!)  when I exited onto the beach 34 minutes later. 

Cold, not frigid.

Cold, not frigid.

The biggest trick to the Alcatraz swim is sighting. Everyone talks about it beforehand. You're supposed to look to Marina Towers directly across the ferry. Then, aim for the tree groves in the Marina Green Park. Then, there's the dome you can point yourself towards near the Marina Yacht Club. The race director implores everyone to swim ACROSS the river, then angle towards shore.

I did this diligently...until I started reading what was happening around me, and I trusted my gut to shift position sooner. I could see out of my right corner eye (thank you Aquasphere Cayenne goggles for the great peripheral vision!) that kayakers were starting to angle farther to the Golden Gate Bridge rather than in a perpendicular-to-shore direction. I also noticed I could see fewer and fewer swimmers directly in front of me. 

I don't have the GPS data (damn watch couldn't catch a signal) to back up whether this was a good move. I may have made it too late, actually. Once I re-positioned towards the dome, I kept it directly in front of me and angled left towards shore only with about 500-700 yards to go. I had heard stories about how the current could sweep you too far to the right of the beach, forcing an against-the-current swim. Long story short: Sure, sight off the landmarks everyone tells you about. But make sure to be mindful of where the kayakers are positioned as well, watch them, and split the difference.

My swim was good for 46th out of 258 in my age group coming ashore. That’s better than normal for me, actually. Considering the lack of swim training lately (1-2x week), I’ll more than take it.


Once you get to shore, you’re greeted almost immediately by wetsuit strippers, ala an Ironman event. It’s a no-brainer to utilize these folks in my opinion. You’re cold coming out of the water and sudden jerky movements to remove your wetsuit might result in a cramp or even a muscle tear. I also recommend opting for a second pair of running shoes (the primary pair being at T2) to shove on your feet to run the roughly half-mile to your bike at Marina Green. You get a bag to place those shoes from the race organizers pre-event. I held onto my wetsuit like a football and ran as hard as I ever have in a transition back to my bike.

The big debate going into the bike portion of Escape from Alcatraz is whether to bring a road bike or tri bike. I opted to slightly modify my road bike setup with an 11/28 cassette and deeper dish Enve Smart 6.7 wheels. I’m personally glad I did. Road conditions at Golden Gate Park are not great, with many cracks and divots on the pavement, along with several speed humps. There are very few sections of the course where you can just drop into an aero position and stay there for an extended period of time. You can’t even avoid the speed bumps by riding the street gutters because there are too many people cluttering the entire roadway. Further, the course became congested quickly, and many people broke cardinal rules of bike handling, drafting or passing etiquette. I saw multiple people pass on someone’s right side, and even I had to a couple times as well since there were two or three people riding side-by-side up hills or on parts of the Golden Gate Park portion of the course. I would have felt on-edge and downright agitated on a tri bike.

If you’re going to ride a tri bike at Escape From Alcatraz, it should be for the following reasons:

  • You are totally confident you’re going to be in the hunt for a podium spot;

  • You’re an excellent swimmer and will therefore have more room to maneuver earlier on the bike course;

  • You have excellent bike handling skills – there are at least three sketchy corners where you are taking significant downhill speed into a sharp turn, in race traffic;

  • You’re a monster cyclist that can simply ride away from a pack to avoid traffic; and/or

  • You can climb and stay in an aero position while doing it.


With my road bike setup, I pedaled and descended hard, with aggression the entire way. I only glanced at my watts occasionally, usually on the tougher climbs. Which, by comparison, felt similar to approximations of Chalk Hill at Ironman Santa Rosa in terms of intensity and gradient. When I looked at my watts, I wished I hadn’t as I was way over budget (250-plus!). But since my goal was to redline and have fun doing it, I kept pushing. After 11 years of triathlon racing, I know what a sustainable redline feels like. I was definitely there, questioning my judgment, my discomfort tolerance, and fitness. That means you’re doing it right!

One trick that helps me get through the difficulty is to have an internal soundtrack playing in my head. It takes me away from the temporary misery while fueling my motivation depending on the song. Lately, my family has watched a lot of The Greatest Showman, basically on a loop. Audra loves it! (I secretly do to…) The beat and positivity in “Come Alive” propelled me through my bike ride and the intensity of Loren Allred’s vocal performance in “Never Enough” kept my fire lit on the run.

Side rant: Some coaches argue against training with music because you can’t use it on course. I think that’s ludicrous. The training we do is incredibly monotonous. Making it even worse by not bringing something to help you get through the dull daily moments can lead to burnout. If you use music or podcasts wisely, it’s nutrition for the brain. Why wouldn’t you bring good mental nutrition with you to a race?

Speaking of nutrition, I felt solid coming off the bike after eating a large breakfast early in the morning, a banana 30 minutes out and a gel about 15 minutes from the start. Essentially, I ate as if I was racing an Ironman. During the bike portion, I consumed most of one bottle of Base Performance “Rocket Fuel” (~200 calories) and it held me over just fine for the remainder of the race – along with half a small gel flask later on the run.

Riding into T2 just under an hour later, I was definitely feeling the stinging sensation in my legs, but knew I was ready to run. After the race, I learned I jumped more than 30 places on the bike in my age group, hitting 14th at this point. (Yes, I wonder what I could do if I swam more and better!)



Only the legendary Wildflower Triathlon can claim a more challenging California triathlon run, though the course for Escape From Alcatraz wins hands-down in scenery. Plus, you don’t have to worry about snakes!

Rather than get into paces and course details (sand ladder!), I’ll keep this pretty brief. I felt my run was successful for two reasons:

  • I pushed hard the whole way and had room to push even harder the last two miles;

  • I used basic racing tactics to help me beat more people down the stretch.

The first part is simple, I knew where my “comfortably uncomfortable” limit was on an eight-mile run route I didn’t know, and stayed in that place until the peak of the long hill after the dreaded sand ladder. The out-and-back route helped me game-plan in the moment. Then, barring some embarrassingly bad staircase descending, I pushed my pace until the very end.

Race tactics helped me keep at least five people off my back at various points in the race. My most common tactic was to “encourage” others to work with me going uphill to share a pace load. I could tell when I had people drafting off my pace ascending hills (it’s not hard…footsteps and the panting over my shoulder kinda give it away!) and would flick my elbow like a bike race. At one point, I remember telling people to do some of the damn work themselves and one kind soul took me up on it. Not pulling a bunch of people up the long climb following the sand ladder helped me conserve energy for the final descent and flat section of the course later, where I dropped the people following me up and over the sand ladder. This also involved a bit of playing possum in the home stretch – I asked two guys to take over the work with about a mile to go as I was “gassed.” I stayed with them just off their feet for about a minute and then dropped the pace again, passing for good. Hey, all is fair in racing (minus the drugs), right?

One quick note on the sand ladder: It’s basically a 2-4 minute leg and lung buster practically straight up a flight of wooden-plank stairs. If you’re in LA, the best way to train is to get to Santa Monica stairs and practice repeats there; knowing how to descend stairs nimbly later in the run is just as important. If you’re not in LA or can’t easily get to Santa Monica, just take the stairs at your workplace if you have them for a period of weeks and practice doing them quickly both ascending and descending. Also, be ready for a quarter-mile or so run in full sand before you turn onto the shoreline as you approach the sand ladder.

These two mid-stride run photos show the constant mental battle one faces in a race. Here, I seem focused and locked in.

These two mid-stride run photos show the constant mental battle one faces in a race. Here, I seem focused and locked in.

Here, within a second or two, it’s clear I’m just hanging on in the moment and trying to push away the discomfort.

Here, within a second or two, it’s clear I’m just hanging on in the moment and trying to push away the discomfort.

Wrapping Up:

Escape From Alcatraz was a confidence boost for me. I recovered well from Ironman Santa Rosa four weeks prior. I also had mentioned in a triathlete forum discussion weeks ago that I’d have been happy with top 15-20 age group placement. Jackpot! Of the nine people who beat me in my age group, two raced IMSR and clobbered me there by almost an hour each. But I was within 3-5 minutes of them both at Alcatraz. Most of the other guys in front of me either had raced at Kona, at least one earning an age group podium there, 70.3 World Championships, or even both. (Thanks to Christophe Balestra and his Obstri.com app!) It was a stacked field, and I was in good company -- on a busy husband/daddy/career/coach training budget.

It feels gratifying to know that the best of what I can give athletically to this sport is still good enough to be competitive on occasion. Even if I forget a wetsuit along the way.

So what does it take to rip it and not overly grip it? I think it’s a delicate balancing act filled with several considerations. Among them:

  • Balance race preparation while embracing your moment-to-moment instincts;

  • Balance mental presence (be in the moment) while thinking ahead;

  • Balance taking calculated risks while trusting your race plan;

  • Balance respecting your physical limits while nudging them north; and

  • Balance focusing on yourself while acknowledging the race around you.

Accomplishing this has taken me a long time to come close to getting right. And failure is part of the journey. In order to improve, you must take risks. I’ve failed many times, sometimes repeating mistakes. That makes recent personal successes like Ironman Santa Rosa and Escape from Alcatraz that much more special.

Because this course is gorgeous. One more Golden Gate pic.

Because this course is gorgeous. One more Golden Gate pic.


Break on Through to the Other Side...

Find. your. Why.

Find. your. Why.

It took 13 Ironman finishes, but I think I’m starting to figure out this whole 140.6-mile racing thing.

Physical fitness matters. Especially at the pointy end of the leaderboard.

But guts, guile and gameplan matter even more.

I’ve received several texts, phone calls and emails about what transpired towards the end of my Ironman Santa Rosa race this past weekend. Not because I was particularly fast overall — it was a middle-of-the-road performance for me. But rather because people asked me to explain how I was able to resurrect myself after a steady but steep demise from miles 9-18 during the marathon.

Here’s my best attempt at an answer.

For context, below is a visual layout of my mile splits during the marathon. I could have made four circles here, labeled based on the theme of my internal monologue at each point:

  • Miles 1-8: “Hey, this is smooth and steady; you’re killing this!”

  • Miles 9-14: “You are not killing this; work the problem!”

  • Miles 15-17: “Damn it! Bonked again! This sucks! C’mon! Don’t give up!”

  • Miles 18-26: “What do we tell the God of Death: NOT TODAY!!”


Miles 1-8 Mindset…

Miles 1-8 Mindset…

(Miles 15-17) my inner conversations with kaa manifesting themselves into physical form…

(Miles 15-17) my inner conversations with kaa manifesting themselves into physical form…

(Miles 18-Finish) Mamba-Faced zone trance

(Miles 18-Finish) Mamba-Faced zone trance

Before proceeding further, I should add another layer of context. Many of the people whom I suspect will read this recap know it’s been a challenging year so far. My dad, Mitch, has a rare form of bone marrow cancer (primary myelofibrosis) that accelerated and required a rushed stem cell transplant a few weeks ago. Prior to that in January, I suffered some complications recovering from sinus cavity surgery that wiped out roughly two months of training altogether through mid-March. Between my full-time career at Insomniac Games, growing my own Good Wolf Coaching practice, and remaining a dedicated husband and father, I would not be bringing much physical fitness to this race.

Six weeks ago, I actually discussed with my wife, Stephanie, ditching my Ironman World Championship Legacy quest. I didn’t think I’d be strong enough to even cross the finish line for my Kona slot validation race in Santa Rosa. Until the week of April 1, my longest week of training came 7 days after my January 22 surgery (8.5 hours) with most weeks hovering between nothing and up to five hours. Flu, bronchitis and pneumonia relentlessly took over through late March, though I managed three quality-driven, 10-hour training weeks from April 1st right up to race week.

So it would be easy to find excuses why it was OK to shut things down at any point in the race, in other words.

If I was going to earn my Kona validation, I’d have to race smart, and with heart. Steph urged me to go for it. I’m glad I did.

Besides, we both knew this race wasn’t just for me anymore. Not by a longshot.

See, whenever I visited my dad at the hospital, he’d mark his daily laps walking the transplant wing with his tethered IV stand by practically growling, “We’re going to Kona.” Followed promptly by a two-hour nap as he’d exhaust himself trying to impress me with his Festivus-like Feats (feet?) of Strength.

If my dad could endure that kind of pain and discomfort, and still put on a show for me, I had better be able to return the favor and honor his determination and focus.

You’re gonna quit on a guy who trains like this to beat cancer? I don’t think so!

You’re gonna quit on a guy who trains like this to beat cancer? I don’t think so!

I believe this was the answer I needed for the inevitable inner demon question we all face during a long race like Ironman. Anyone who has raced understands the dance between our inner good and bad wolves. That tempting voice that tells us it’s OK to shut things down, to conserve energy, to just jog to the finish…because who cares?

In my case, it sounded like this: “You know you’re not fit enough for this anyways. You’re only “racing” this on six weeks training. Why over-extend yourself? All you have to do is cross the damn finish line in 17 hours to earn your World Championships Legacy slot. Reeeelax.”

I had listened to that voice and fallen prey to its mesmerizing spell in more Ironman races than I care to admit. That voice is seductive, like the ssssssnake Kaa in Jungle Book. “Loooook into my eyessssssssss….”


I started bargaining with that sssssmooth voice around mile 8 of the marathon when it became apparent I was sssssslowing down and getting more tired. The voice ssssslithered around my throat for the next ssssseven miles, and sssstarted choking me out ever ssssso gently. Nuzzling me to ssssleep, gentle sssssweet sssssleep.

I remembered my dad. In the hospital wing. I thought of my buddies who told me (with love) they’d be heckling me via text message thread all race. It would have been perfectly fine to fold in that moment. This was, as Thanos said…inevitable.



No, it was not inevitable. Not by a longshot.

Try to run

Try to hide

Break on through to the other side

Break on through to the other side

This was the moment. Nowhere to hide from my own inevitable truth. Run, or hide.

I chose to honor my dad. I chose to will my friends to start texting each other something new, “Hey, Schneider’s flipping the script!” I chose to honor the prophecy of my own coach, Jim Lubinski at Tower 26, who implored me to find a breakthrough performance on the run in his pre-race plan.

Prior to that moment, I thought I understood what a breakthrough meant. In my head, it was simply hitting a “grind” switch. And hoping the body flickered to life.

Now, I think breakthrough performances are more than that. For me, four things happened, and they all have equal value. It’s not a moment. It’s a process.

  1. I never gave up mentally. Not once. I slowed down. But never quit.

  2. I assessed the problem, fatigue and stiffness in this case, and addressed both for several miles through more conscious eating and drinking, along with popping two Advil gel-caps from my run special needs bag.

  3. I committed to a singular focus of honoring my dad by pushing as hard and as fast as I could.

  4. My mind and body went blank for the next eight-plus miles. I truly felt absolutely zero pain, only the sensation of (relative) speed, clarity of purpose, and focus. Nothing else existed in my world. Well, maybe intense motivation masked as my Kobe-inspired, Black Mamba-faced anger. (No seriously, ask Gary Michelson…he saw it haha.)

I think I found the mythical Zone.

File (1).jpg

I closed faster in this Ironman marathon than in any other. I literally (and metaphorically?) jumped over a snake crossing the river run path around mile 20 (NOT kidding!). And I strongly believe I could have run another 5k past the finish chute and still gained speed. I’m pretty proud of that. Especially when literally nothing but pride was on the line.

And yet. Pride sometimes is everything.

So is dignity.

So is honor.

I didn’t want to slink to the finish. Nor for my dad. Not for my Good Wolf athletes. Not for my friends. Not for me. No more. Not today.

So I chose not to.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

the finish times don’t really matter when it comes to winning our own personal battles. this was an encapsulation of that moment for me. this was an inner soul growl i can still feel in my gut and will never forget.

the finish times don’t really matter when it comes to winning our own personal battles. this was an encapsulation of that moment for me. this was an inner soul growl i can still feel in my gut and will never forget.

Except when it’s not. Still with me?

There are two other physical activities in triathlon, and when those are executed well, you put yourself into a position to succeed on the run. I was able to do that on my swim and bike ride, despite not swimming or riding much at all going into the race.

The first is my swim. Not my fastest swim, not my slowest swim either. Faster than last year on the same course, too. And consistent — to the tune of swimming one yard more year-to-year. My sighting allowed me to swim efficiently, and as you can see, my heart rate is never really elevated. Calm and steady.

I did have to contend with what had to be the WORST kicking swimmer in the history of open-water swimming. This ANNOYING guy clung to me for at least 2/3 of the race. I’d try to draft off him but his vertical scissor-kicking was causing some big jetwash turbulence. I’d try to swim around him, and his rotating sideways scissor kicks hit me in the ribs several times. I’d try to pass, he’d catch up. It was a futile battle and one not worth fighting so early in the race. I swam wider than I like on the second loop, found open water, and cruised.

Image-1 (1).jpg
THis is my Baywatch Shot. There are many like it. But this one is mine. Ladies, Eat Your HEarts Out.

THis is my Baywatch Shot. There are many like it. But this one is mine. Ladies, Eat Your HEarts Out.

Now for the bike. My longest ride all year was 70 miles about two weeks before the race (a casual jaunt up Mt Baldy LOL). I kept my effort measured, evidenced by an identical 1.03 VI (a good marker for consistency) from last year’s IMSR race. The first two hours of the bike ride felt bleak though. I couldn’t find any power in my legs and was 10 watts below my intended average. My climbing legs were fine on some of the steeper pitches, but I couldn’t generate power on the flats and rollers. By remaining patient, nutrition-focused and positive, I eventually got into a solid groove and my watts improved throughout the day until around mile 100. Then, it was a bit of a mental struggle to fight some low-grade but steady headwinds back to downtown Santa Rosa. Had I over-committed to biking hard to make up watts and time, it would have been harder to rally on the run.

Patience pays off.

But you need the courage to reinvest it later.

Then, if you’re lucky, you might just break on through to the other side.



Before signing off, I’d like to thank my family for yet again supporting this crazy, occasionally stupid, highly intrinsically rewarding pursuit. I can never thank Stephanie enough. And I hope one day Audra (and possibly future lil Schneiders) will appreciate the values that are so viscerally demonstrated during an Ironman race.

My parents and sister know how I feel about them. But thank you for always encouraging me, no matter what. if you want a KICK ASS blog in your life, check out my dad’s daily YouTube musings about his battle with cancer.

Good Wolf athletes…I wanted to set an example you could be proud of and shoot to top for yourself. Can’t wait to go on that journey with each of you. Heartfelt congratulations to first-time Ironman finisher Diana Olveira, who overcame some nausea issues during the bike and still came within 10 minutes of her desired finish time. She also PR’d her overall marathon time. F*ck Cancer Triathlon Team leader Jayson Williams completed Ironman 10 with a near 40-minute Santa Rosa course PR and a marathon PR while overcoming nearly being pulled from the water due to an asthma attack. That’s some Good Wolf mind-over-matter stuff right there.

My friends and teammates…you motivate and inspire me. Christophe, Doc Jon and Weilert in particular…your good-natured ongoing text message banter was more important than you know. Russ, Gary, T26 lanemates…the list goes on and on. Thank you.

Coach Jim and Coach Gerry Rodrigues at Tower 26 triathlon and swim coaching, thank you for being so understanding this winter and spring. Thanks for the encouraging texts and emails and phone calls when I was feeling low. Thanks for pushing me in a balanced and thoughtful way. I gave you my best effort as re-payment. And Efren Jimenez got my body prepped as best he could with a couple amazing massages. Thank you, buddy. Hands of G-d.

To my friends who have been touched by cancer in any way. I feel you. I’m with you. I’m one of you. We’re in this together even if we’re not the patients ourselves. Fuck Cancer!

Next stop: Escape from Alcatraz in three weeks!!!

If It Doesn't Sound Like a Good Idea...


Usually when things don’t sound out loud like a good idea, they’re generally not a good idea.

In my youth, statements that met this criteria included, “Hey, let’s go see if we can find some snakes or lizards in this empty rock gully.”  (Careful what you wish for!) Or, “Let’s speed up as we hit this dip in the road and see how much air we can get!” 

Turns out that’s how you drop a muffler on a Ford Tempo at Cochran Street near Yosemite Avenue.

Now that I’m a responsible husband and parent, not to mention a budding endurance sports coach bent on setting a good example, such a statement means, “I wonder if after taking several months off from everyday training, I can race myself back into shape in back-to-back weeks at Wildflower long course and Ironman Santa Rosa?”

Not. A. Good. Idea.


Well, I was intrigued and deranged enough to find out. Hey, it’s all in the name of research on behalf of my athlete-clients. At least that’s what I told myself.

I also needed to go on a personal journey to rediscover the joy of triathlon racing. I LOVE coaching and sharing the knowledge I’ve accumulated from 10-plus years of endurance sports racing and continuous self-educating. And that’s what I’ve been focused on for the last year-plus with Good Wolf Coaching. As a coach-athlete, I became imbalanced though. I sought to write my own training schedule while creating more weekly plans for my growing roster, but inevitably each week I’d elect sleep instead of taking care of myself.

The truth is I think I was hiding. After disappointment at Ironman Wisconsin last year, I lost my athletic mojo. I poured so much of myself into that singular race last year – too much. When things didn’t go my way, including a late-breaking case of tendonitis in my knee that erupted early in the race, I crumbled. That’s 100% on me.

I was long overdue to snap out of my funk and rediscover joy for training and racing – without worrying about results. 

The ending of one of my all-time most impactful movies, Platoon, sums up my conflicted state of mind well for the last several months: "We did not fight the enemy. We fought ourselves." For the last couple years, I was locked in a personal war trying to still be the athlete I had worked hard to become pre-Audra, while also not giving an inch (rightfully so) to remain a high-quality husband and parent too. It left me constantly exhausted, and after Wisconsin, I simply over-indexed on letting go of my athletic goals in favor of greater overall balance. If I wasn't going to race at an All-America level or have any shot whatsoever to Kona qualify, what's the point, I thought. 

Saying that out loud, it's silly.

Endurance sports are an indelible part of me and make me a better, more well-rounded person not to mention leader in my career at Insomniac Games. Easing off the intensity gas is OK. Abandoning my passion to train and race is not.

So, my first step was committing to race even though I hadn’t swam pretty much since last September until the end of March, nor had I biked anything longer than 30 miles a handful of times, let alone run anything longer than seven miles.

My next step was deciding what I wanted to get out of this journey. What’s my why?  I picked the following:

  • Rediscover FUN
  • Can the concept of racing oneself into shape actually work?
  • What can I learn about racing and myself that can benefit my clients?
  • Manage the tendonitis issue


Nowhere in here is mention of improving a personal best performance, or obviously qualifying for Kona. My revised goals are intrinsic and not results-driven. I think this is critical when it comes to taking a long-term view for improvement in any kind of worthy pursuit. I’ve known this to be true, but haven’t always practiced it. Taking time away from every day training helped crystalize the importance of setting goals in a wiser fashion.

Next, I decided to double-down on my association with Tower 26, the venerable triathlon swim program. In addition to being a subscriber for Gerry Rodrigues’ remote swim plan, I signed on with Triathlon Coach Jim Lubinski. I knew that being a part of a larger community would simply be more FUN and help me get back to enjoying the sport more. Getting up at 4:45 a.m. to swim a few days a week sucks. BUT being in the water with a ton of like-minded people, many of whom I had known for years already, is more than worth it. Uniting the rest of my training in similar fashion just made sense. I was craving a sense of team again. And everything you hear about Jim is true: An experienced triathlon pro, but more important a fantastic, positive, high-energy human being. We simply click, and as a coach I know that's immeasurably important in a coach-athlete relationship.

SO? How did the races go?!? 


Looking back now almost three weeks, my favorite parts of the "Wildflower Experience" as it's now called (GREAT re-branding, so says the marketing guy), had little to do with actual racing. My buddies Spencer and Jon (also a Good Wolf athlete) rented an RV for the weekend at the Wildflower campsite. I will more fondly remember the commute to the race (and the fajitas at Los Agaves in Santa Barbara!), grabbing coffee with Jon at the Clif Bar Coffee Shop early Sunday morning, hitchhiking up the long hill back to the campsite post-race with a food truck driver, and grilling dinner at the RV barbecue post-race with beers.

And that's not because the race didn't go well.

Overall, my performance was about what I expected on a hot day with lots of hills and little training. Though I'm proud that I largely executed a smart approach. I swam smoothly with great sighting. My bike performance was much slower at Wildflower than when I'm in shape, but my pace and Variability Index (important indicator of consistent riding) was a steady 1.04 on a challenging course. And my run, well, I held it together. Lots more walking than my best performance at Wildflower a few years ago. But I walked with purpose -- meaning with an eye towards forcing myself to run again -- rather than just giving up and shutting things down in Wisconsin. Granted, what felt like an injury in Wisconsin made me skittish, but I could have mentally fought harder there.

Apologies for the lame camera pic instead of sharing the actual power file. it's late, i've been writing this for a week, and i'm tired :)

Apologies for the lame camera pic instead of sharing the actual power file. it's late, i've been writing this for a week, and i'm tired :)


This time, I was focused, PRESENT, positive from start to finish, and had fun all day. I grinded out cramps in my legs and gut for most of the run and never packed it in mentally. More important, my tendonitis never flared up. I approached the race with ZERO expectations, and wound up surprising myself a bit. Took 19th out of 91 in my age group with a controlled effort that netted a 6:02 time. 


Here's where things start to get more interesting. Following Wildflower, I was SORE and TIRED, as expected. Recovery took the standard 4-5 days, which put me two days out from an Ironman on tight legs and a race that I had purposefully given very little thought to until I started packing my bags Thursday morning for the drive north with my dad.

There were times when I started working out again mid-week that I felt like boxer whose arms were being lifted by a ref late in a match to see if he could still focus and fight. At our Wednesday morning Tower 26 swim, Jim literally tried to look into my eyes through my goggles on deck to see if I was fibbing when I said I could go hard for two more sets at the end. (I was TOTALLY fibbing, btw. Hung in for one and called it a day.)

I arrived to the Expo on Friday, the day before the race. In my pre-race plan, Jim had insisted I meet Matt Miller over at BASE Performance nutrition. Matt kindly loaded me up with his Amino, Salt and Hyrdo "Rocket Fuel" mix and told me to start hydrating with them immediately pre-race. I had no expectations this would work one way or the other, but in the spirit of trying something new for my athletes and because I thought it  made sense to experiment for this particular race, I tried the BASE out. What did I have to lose?!

Before getting into the race results, I must note that again, I'll definitely remember my non-racing experience more than the race itself. I road-tripped up with my dad, which was a real treat. We turned on music once when driving home -- for five minutes. The rest of the 12-hour round trip, we just talked. It was awesome. I also took him to see Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War pre-race. Dissecting the movie afterwards was priceless.

This guy here (NOT me lol) was the best part of ironman santa rosa. the wisest of wise sherpas. remind me to tell the story of the poor schmuck who told my dad to move his g-damned bag at the race site...

This guy here (NOT me lol) was the best part of ironman santa rosa. the wisest of wise sherpas. remind me to tell the story of the poor schmuck who told my dad to move his g-damned bag at the race site...

I started to mentally dial-in to the race Friday night after dinner (Tomatina in Santa Rosa...MUST-dine). My dad said he could instantly tell that I had "gone somewhere else" mentally. I got quiet, focused and packed up my special needs bags an hour before bedtime. In Wisconsin, when I was traveling alone, I stared at my bags on the floor for ours and re-arranged bars and thought through all the possible scenarios where I might need that extra cartridge/gel/pair of socks/Pepto Bismal tablet, etc. TOO MUCH TIME.

Race day was phenomenal.  I predicted my swim and bike times within seconds for my dad -- which were slow for me. I'm again particularly proud of how I paced the race, which was on the nose to Jim's plan for 160 normalized power watts. But my VI was 1.03 -- on a .80 Intensity Factor which is definitely an Ironman record for me in terms of effort expenditure! For a course with nearly 4,000 feet climbing and lots of wind on this particular day, that's rad. Perhaps I underestimated my functional threshold power. Either way, Jim said he's rarely seen a more consistent performance across all his coaching experience, which felt good to hear. It definitely took discipline to let so many people pass and not chase at times.

My FTP is probably higher than we estimated...this didn't feel like a 374 TSS ride at all. 

My FTP is probably higher than we estimated...this didn't feel like a 374 TSS ride at all. 

While I was admittedly suffering in stiff headwinds and crosswinds on the back half of the bike, I was noticing that my legs felt fresh and I didn't twitch with threatening cramps. That was unusual -- especially after the week I had. I put it largely out of my mind though, knowing that the run would be tough on my lack of training and recent race the week prior.

Gorgeous scenery.

Gorgeous scenery.

I had switched my nutrition almost exclusively to BASE for the day, and it seemed to be paying dividends. I consumed two bottles on the bike in the first 3.5 hours of my normal First Endurance Kona Mocha for liquid calories, but my body was undeniably telling me to keep the BASE coming instead. It became all about the BASE, ‘bout that BASE, ‘bout that BASE.

The transition run at IMSR is roughly .25 miles and it was a great instant litmus test for the marathon to come. Yet there I was, clicking down the street on my cleats with no pain and no discomfort let alone tightness. Hmmm.

Then the marathon. Mile 1...hmm...that felt fine. But let's not look at the watch for now. Just run. Mile 2...this feels...fine? It's gotta be around a 9-9:30 if I had to guess. Mile 3...OK, I'll take a look at the watch. Sub-8:30?! What? That can't be right. Nah. Ok, this is gonna crash soon, right? 

The miles kept ticking off, and they all were 8:30 plus or minus a few seconds through...mile 16. I saw my dad twice on the run course in this span and just shook my head at him in disbelief. I didn’t understand how I was running so smoothly.

I was on pace for an all-time Ironman marathon PR. Whaaaat? I saw Matt from BASE on the course and told him I was having an amazing run and felt like I could run all day. He instructed me to grab a bottle of BASE fluid at the sponsored tent on the course. Everything was just phenomenal on the run. I couldn't hold it all together ultimately starting around mile 17 but I never dropped below low 9:30s for the rest of the race. I never cramped, never came close even. My tendonitis never phased me once all day. I simply just started to tire out -- that will improve with better fitness.

Feeling smooth and easy. (Can't wait to be rockn' that new F-Cancer Wattie Kit coming soon!)

Feeling smooth and easy. (Can't wait to be rockn' that new F-Cancer Wattie Kit coming soon!)

Once again, I stayed mentally present, POSITIVE, and followed my plan. I felt my body, listened to it, and made smart decisions accordingly. The results followed. And even if they hadn't, it would have been fine. I knew I had positively affected at least two people's races on the course through either helping them get through a tough moment or giving them some of my own nutrition to help their performance.

This time, unlike in Wisconsin, I enjoyed the finisher's chute and wasn't embarrassed by my effort or my performance. I crossed in 11:11, 27th place out of 223 who started the race in my age group. Funnily enough, it's my best non-Ironman Arizona inish time yet.

Yes, I'll take that result. 

It felt sooooo good to have fun in the finisher's chute again.

It felt sooooo good to have fun in the finisher's chute again.

Lessons Learned

The most important thing I learned was something I actually needed to re-learn: If you execute a smart race plan and maintain a positive, present mental attitude, you may just surprise yourself.

Had I gone out and overcooked my bike effort on either race -- even though my Training Stress Score (measurement of how hard one actually worked overall) was well north of the typical 300 ceiling -- I think my days would have been much different.

But wait. "Ryan, you pretty much walked your half-marathon at Wildflower, and your data is indicating you DID overcook your bike effort at IMSR. Sooooo...???"

Yeah, I get it.  At the same time, I never burned too many matches in either race and I always settled immediately back to my watts targets if I needed to briefly surge. More important, everything I did was calculated, in the moment, and stayed on top of nutrition especially at IMSR. Above all, I stayed in tune with my body, my goals, my plan, and my attitude. Nothing got away from me.

I learned a few other things worth noting:

  • Pedal the downhillls!

If there is ONE THING I saw in both weekends of racing that mystified me, it’s the staggering number of athletes who coast down hills and aren’t pedaling. That is free speed right down the drain. It makes no sense  to me. One of the ways we can ride a more consistent race is to build speed as we crest a hill, power over it, and pedal through and down the hill. I’d say 85%-plus of the athletes I saw on the course did not do this. My low VIs in both races are the direct result of consistent pedaling, and I passed a ton of athletes who should have ridden me into the ground but gave away their free speed.

  • Comfort (really) matters

I typically pee while riding if it’s a race that matters to me form a PR or placement standpoint. Which means, I pee on the bike most of the time. Since I didn’t have any expectations for either race, I didn’t mind getting off the bike for a moment. What I noticed is that I felt a lot better after fully relieving myself rather than trying to get out as much as I can rocketing down hills (and not pedaling). My gut was much more relaxed and comfortable, even if I lost a few minutes in the process. Maybe that contributed to being more comfortable in general on the bike, who knows.

Comfort also meant switching to a road aero helmet for both races, since I knew the heat would climb well into the 80s for each. I'm glad I went this route as I never felt too hot on the bike.

  • Training changes helped

As I sought treatment for my bum knee post Wisconsin, I spoke with a physical therapist and a strength trainer about ways to avoid tendonitis flare-ups. Both concluded that treadmill running can be a culprit due to the constant jackhammer motion that’s more straight up and down versus a forward motion outdoors on the road. I heeded that advice and have severely limited treadmill runs since. I’ve also re-incorporated strength training sessions on a weekly basis. I’ve read a few studies that conclude athletes over 40 lose 1% of their muscle mass a year, and figured while it may not help me outright, strength training probably won’t hurt me either. I think it’s helped in terms of body stabilization and simply feeling a bit stronger.

 Ryan, This Write Up is Taking as Long as Your Ironman!

OK, so bottom line time. 

Was this a successful experiment?

This is a qualified YES. Because I was smart about it -- how I raced, how I recovered, and how I raced again. Because I was smart about it, I had fun.  That fun resulted from setting my primary intention to have fun. The priority wasn’t to PR or hunt for a Kona slot.

The caveat here is that from a pure numbers perspective, it's difficult to say whether I've raced myself into shape. When you factor in necessary recovery from a two-week spree such as the one I had, by the time I fully recovered from IMSR, my fitness level according to Training Peaks is marginally higher than it was just prior to Wildflower. I experienced a solid two weeks of fitness gains, but net-net the leap wasn't exponential.

The experience was priceless though. What I did gain, or re-gain, is my athletic self-confidence. Along with some perspective. On the drive home from Santa Rosa with my dad, I observed that my most surprisingly good Ironman performances came on days when I didn't expect anything other than staying within myself or making the best of a challenging situation -- weather, lack of training or fatigue coming off a recent Ironman such as Ironman Arizona in 2013 following a pretty rough Ironman Lake Tahoe experience. I'm still proudest of my Ironman Arizona 2015 performance on hardly any sleep with Audra being less than four months old. No idea how I pulled that off almost literally sleepwalking at times.

Conversely, my worst Ironman performances, Lake Tahoe and Wisconsin, came on days when I was too tightly wound around data, self-imposed pressure, and generally cluttering my own head space with useless mental noise.

When I say all that out loud, the choice is obvious -- find the fun and race smart.


Before signing off, I'd like to quickly thank my Good Wolf and F*ck Cancer Triathlon athletes for inspiring me to set a positive example at all times. You really helped me stay present and positive throughout my race experiences. I'd like to thank my family, especially my wife Stephanie, for being the BEST cheerleader and muse a guy could ask for. I'd like to thank all the Good Wolf team sponsors (you can find them on my website here). I'd like to thank Tower 26, Gerry and Jim and all my friends there. You've all been so encouraging and I appreciate it so much. I'd like to thank Nick, my strength coach at our work complex gym.  Efren, hands of G-d...best massage therapist around (and a Good Wolf team sponsor). I'd like to thank Matt Miller at BASE, again. GAME CHANGER, dude.

Thank you, Lenny. Thank you.

Thank you, Lenny. Thank you.

Finally, I'd like to thank Lenny Garza. Wherever he is today. Lenny was my grandparents' house cleaner for decades and the first "real" person (I had never met Mark Allen and Dave Scott) who inspired me to become a triathlete. I found out in my early 30s he had completed 10 Ironmans, including the Big One in Kona. I vowed one day I'd be like him and told him as much. After finishing Ironman #10, I'm dedicating this one to Lenny. Thanks Lenny. You changed my life.

I Hired a Coach, Now What?

"OK, 2018...THIS is the year. This is the year when I hit and exceed my goals. I hired a coach, I'm putting my faith in their hands, and it's gonna rock."

If this sounds like you, you've already made your first big mistake. And it's not the hiring the coach part, either.

There are lots of reasons to hire a coach. Sure, performance improvement should be towards the top of the list. Other reasons might include needing a greater sense of accountability, wanting to be part of a larger team dynamic, or simply learning *how* to train.

Whatever your reason, it's vital to realize that the success of your season is as much up to YOU as it is your coach. And in my initial example above, that's why it's a mistake to simply let your coach take the proverbial "steering wheel" and relieve yourself of any personal responsibility in your success, to paraphrase that popular religiously-intoned country music song.

I believe the most successful coached athletes exhibit the following behaviors and tendencies. If you believe you're capable of doing the same, you are in prime position to get the most out of having a triathlon coach.

Question, Question, Question: Do you understand the workouts prescribed for you? Do you know why you're doing certain drills, or what the nomenclature means? Do you understand the larger context of your workouts, your training block and how each workout relates to your big-picture goals? If not, you oughta ask! To me, what happens if you don't know answers to these questions is that you can lose interest in your goals because you don't really understand why you're doing what you're doing. OR, you're just wasting money long-term because you're mindlessly paying a coach for an unspecified amount of time -- when you could simply learn how to coach yourself over time by asking appropriate questions. (If you're interested in doing so.)


An essential part of being a well-coached athlete is having an inquisitive mindset while believing in the big-picture journey and realizing that results come from everyday consistency -- "trusting the process."

"Trust the Process:" I have several friends who are Philadelphia 76er fans and as a result, know this phrase all too well. But how can you question so much and then "trust the process?" It's weird, I know. But just because you're not sure about the destination of your journey doesn't mean your coach doesn't know. So there's a big difference between the two. That said, if you don't get a straight, thorough answer on where you're headed when you ask your coach about "the process," I think it's time to find a new coach.

Be Consistent: A coach's plan is only as good as the athlete who diligently follows it (assuming you're both aligned on "the process" and your goals.) For the athlete, that means working out day in, day out, usually twice a day. If you can't commit to consistency as an athlete, it probably doesn't pay to invest in a coach. You will see the biggest gains from a consistent training approach that deviates as little as possible from a coach's (well-constructed) plan.

Communicate!: If you are using Training Peaks to log your workouts, you will notice that you can write comments from each workout you complete. I highly encourage using this feature, as good coaches gobble up info about your progress. Not everything can be measured in numbers, so knowing the qualitative aspects of each training session help inform our thinking to refine our workouts for you week in and week out. If you're not posting notes, either via Training Peaks, via text or email, you're missing an opportunity to optimize your training program.

Do the "invisible" Work: As a coach, I can program your workout schedule based on our ongoing discussions (and workout data gathered) about goals, available time, additional commitments, illness, injury and myriad other factors. What's harder to do is program the athlete's meals, recovery, including sleep, and nutrition on a meal-to-meal basis. This is where an athlete has to assume responsibility to create an environment that allows for the actual workouts to absorb properly, and to actually accrue real fitness (while maintaining or reducing life stress). This is a very delicate balance, and I've seen committed athletes fail here because they just won't let go of bad habits that ultimately sabotage performance. If you can do the "invisible work" beyond your workouts, not only will you optimize your training, your entire life likely will improve through healthier eating choices, better quality rest and a more injury and illness-free existence.

So, before you hire a coach for 2018, ask yourself whether you can commit to being a partner with your coach, not just a client. Are you up for consistently nailing your workouts, scrutinizing the training sessions, asking questions, sharing information beyond your workout data, and making healthy lifestyle choices? 

If so, hire away. And look out...2018 might just be your best season yet.


5 Keys to a Successful Coach and Athlete Relationship


I've played sports in one form or another for most of my life. In those 40-plus years, I've been exposed to all kinds of coaching styles: 

  • The fiery, yelling "motivating" coach
  • The callous coach that cares only about winning
  • The well-intentioned coach whose toxic personality self-sabotages
  • The sage, no-nonsense coach whose demeanor commands respect
  • The beloved cheerleading, feel-good "player's coach"
  • The poker-faced coach who leaves you always wondering where you stand

Do any of these coaching styles sound familiar? (Funnily enough, replace "coach" with "boss" and see how these archetypes resonate.) Do you have a preference? It's likely we all respond to different styles, and that's OK.

Personally, I perform best when I have a coach who appreciates the effort and passion I put into each workout, and is as clearly invested in my improvement as I am. I haven't done very well with coaches who under-communicate, or who use negativity as a motivational "tool." Some people don't need feedback or positive affirmation. As an athlete in a coaching relationship, I tend to thrive on it. 

I share this as context for why I believe the five factors below are vital in a successful coach-athlete relationship. You could just as easily infer that these are MY keys, MY promise to Good Wolf athletes for how I operate as a coach. I'd like to think this approach extends into my workplace too.

Here are my five key factors that contribute to a successful coach-athlete relationship:

1) Being a good interpreter. What do I mean? A good coach needs to listen intently to the athlete and understand how they communicate. Both what they say, and what they don't want to say. Is the athlete exhausted but fighting through it? Is stress high at home based on a social media post or two you caught of theirs? Are they telling you things are fine nonetheless? A great coach needs to be able to compare what they're seeing with what they're hearing and know how and when to bridge that gap. Does the athlete have the ability to accurately describe when she's tired, or hurt, or sick, or performing at her best? A good coach should be able to either look in an athlete's eyes or see patterns in workouts to determine when changes needed to be made in a program, or specific feedback is warranted.  

All of this is based upon a critical principle, something my grandfather honed early in his days as an automotive repair shop owner. "Ya gotta wanna fix the car!" This was his over-riding philosophy about being a great mechanic. It works as a life statement too. A good coach or a good manager needs to be laser-focused on wanting to understand his athletes or employees as well as they think they understand themselves. Perhaps even better.

2) Being a good communicator. What good does it do if you can spot the problem, but you can't articulate it, or inspire someone to change their behavior? To be a good communicator, that sense of understanding mentioned above is vital. I try to focus on my athletes' "tells", if you will. Do they get sarcastic when feeling defensive? Will they crack jokes when they're unsure about what I'm saying? Do they nod enthusiastically when they're engaged? Does the pace of their text message responses speed up or slow down when they're stressed? Conversely, are you more or less likely to get a desired response if you reflect that behavior? Being able to tailor your communications requires that heavy lifting of getting to know your athletes very well to do so. This is why I prefer to have a relatively limited number of clients to work with -- individualized attention matters.

3) Giving honest feedback. This may be the hardest part of being a good coach. It is for me. Sometimes, a coach has to point out uncomfortable truths that are hindering performance -- whether it's a poorly performed test session, inconsistency, poor recovery and nutrition choices and more. Doing so may even extend to telling an athlete that their goals are just plain unrealistic based on the volume of "stuff" going on in their life! But this can be handled with grace, respect and love. In some instances, depending on the athlete, feedback can be delivered more bluntly. I worked with one athlete recently who told me in the beginning of our relationship that he detested bullshit and wanted feedback as directly as possible. That was hard for me at first, but I gradually learned. What helped me was knowing that this approach was best for that particular athlete. Without honest feedback, expectations between coach and athlete are not shared, and misalignment of those are the Kryptonite of a good relationship.

4) Maintaining Perspective. A sign of a good coach-athlete relationship is when both are aligned on the big picture week in and week out. There should never be undue pressure to complete a single workout, or even a small batch of workouts during a week. It's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of individual workouts, thinking that every single workout is a life-or-death training moment that will define your race. That is nowhere near the truth, just like one race doesn't define our ability as an athlete. Coaches are looking at trends and patterns. It's our job to remind the athlete that consistency is most important over the long haul, followed closely by making smart choices both in each workout and in how we recover from each workout. This mentality is at the heart of being a Good Wolf, for it also removes irrational emotion and therefore unnecessary stress from our lives.

5) Offering Support. Training for a triathlon, or long-distance events in general, can be lonely. As busy people, we're likely awake before the sun to squeeze in our workouts in the near-dark. Finding other people to train with at a consistent level is hard! It takes real commitment. It's nice when that commitment is recognized by your coach, and I believe that a little encouragement goes a long way -- especially during winter training. Here I think it's important for a coach to "walk the talk" with the athlete. Lately, I've been getting up at 5 a.m. a couple times each week to hop on my bike trainer with a client who needed a little extra encouragement to keep training after a nagging illness clipped his fitness. When you know you'll let someone else down if you don't show up, that extra incentive can be the difference between sleeping in and being proud after a well-deserved post-workout shower. This is also where being part of a team of like-minded athletes can help for mutual support.


Gerry Rodrigues at Tower 26 is an example of a great coach who connects with each of his athletes on an individual level while commanding group respect on the pool deck or at the beach.

I believe if these five factors are successfully executed, TRUST between coach and athlete is built. Why is trust not one of my five initial factors? Trust is earned, it is not given. However, if a foundation has been set of solid communication, mutual understanding, shared expectations, and positive reinforcement, it would be hard not to have a trust-based relationship.

You might be wondering, where does "writing and executing solid workouts" fit into all this? Isn't "the work" vital to a successful relationship? Of course! My personal belief is that writing workouts falls rather quickly into place once you know:

  • The athlete's goals and race schedule priorities
  • Their life schedule
  • The stressors surrounding the intersection of goals and life realities
  • Injuries and illness issues
  • The athlete's sport-specific limiters and strengths
  • The athlete's available time to train at an optimal level (aka, sacrificing minimal family and career time)

How do you come to know all that? 

Easy! See the five keys to a successful coach-athlete relationship.

Next Post: How can an athlete optimize their experience working with a coach?

Ironman Wisconson Logistics: Course Overview, Where to Stay, Eat

I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin this past January without knowing much about the race. Sure, its reputation is pretty legendary as a challenging but well-spectated event. Beyond that, I knew two people who had raced there and the feedback was simple: The bike course is hilly, the swim and the run aren’t too bad, and the weather is largely pretty good. That was enough for me.

The months ticked by, the training ramped up. I didn’t even seriously think about Madison or the race course itself until around July. At that point, I realized how very little I knew. So this post is written for people who may consider Ironman Wisconsin in the future, and would like a one-stop resource on where to stay, where to eat, how to train and even smaller logistics like whether to rent a car, where’s the nearest Whole Foods, etc.  All the stuff you don’t want to be thinking about in the last few weeks before your race. Or, all the things you may want to know before you click Register on the Ironman website.

Oh, and if you want to see how the race turned out for me, click here. (There's a kinda funny, kinda not funny video there of me driving on Barlow Road for the first time.)


Atop Lake Monona Terrace, enjoying a pretty view over the lakefront.

Atop Lake Monona Terrace, enjoying a pretty view over the lakefront.


Swim: Lake Monona is terrific. There’s some moss and ankle-high grass when you first enter the lake ramp, which makes your entry a bit slippery but nothing to concern yourself with. Beyond that, temperature is pleasant with a wetsuit – and for those of you who enjoy swimming with a sleeveless wetsuit, go for it. You’re probably looking at mid-high 60s temperature.

The swim is very straightforward. You’ve got about nine buoys on your left side before you make your first left turn – don’t forget to MOO as it’s a tradition apparently. The Lake Monona Terrace is on your right the entire time. You’re not facing the sun, and I’d venture to say that in my race, we were swimming with whatever current there may have been. You’ll swim past approximately 13 buoys after another left turn, back the way you first came I’d recommend polarized goggles as you are swimming into the sun. I used Aqua Sphere polarized Kayenne goggles, and had no issue with glare. You’ll eventually make another hard left turn, and then your final left turn can throw you if you’re not careful. It’s more of a diagonal line back to the swim ramp, and several folks swam a little farther than necessary because they were sighting to the beginning of the course rather than the shore. Try to follow the loudspeaker noise and angle yourself inland.

As you exit the water, the real fun begins. It’s time to run up a few story parking helix to T1. And it’s AWESOME. The helix is loaded with fans leaning out over the parking structure walls, encouraging you. I didn’t even feel the runand probably had a stupid grin the whole time. My point here is this though: If you’re not practicing deck-ups – where you propel yourself out of the water at your pool, jog in place or do a quick running lap if permitted before diving back in – you’re missing a chance to ensure an easier transition at IM Wisconsin. If you’re not careful, your heart rate can explode powering up that ramp, and at some point during the bike ride, it will come back to bite you.

One final note on the swim: Sometimes you hear people take outside lines slightly away from each buoy as a race strategy. Because there’s such little current and chop at Lake Monona (based on what I experienced), you will find the buoy line is littered with bodies – especially on the back-half of the swim. I found I was largely in the clear for the first three-quarters of my swim to the first turnaround and then I had to navigate a LOT of traffic the rest of the time.  If you’re a strong swimmer, I’d start your swim about 30 yards to the right of the buoys on your left and gradually angle yourself left to the first turnaround, and then come out wide on the return trip and do the same thing. You’ll probably have much cleaner swimming. If I race here again, I’ll likely employ that approach.


Oh, the bike course. If you fancy yourself a strong cyclist, Ironman Wisconsin could be a great race for you. But it depends on what kind of great cyclist you are. I do particularly well on long, sustained climbs that require a steady tempo effort. I’m weaker on shorter but punchier climbs – which is a lot of what you’ll see on the Ironman Wisconsin bike course.

The first 16-18 miles of the course are called “the stick” as it’s fairly straight heading out of town. Then, you get to “the lollipop,” two 40-mile loops featuring the bulk of climbing. For the lollipop portion, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, the best approximation I can think of is the portion of Mulholland Drive from Topanga Canyon through and past Las Virgenes Road until you reach Cornell and turn right through that patch of pesky rollers. If you add a slow but noticeable swirling wind, you’ll be able to picture the course that much better. I recently rode this loop and it was about 28 miles with nearly 3,000 feet of climbing. So, it’s a little more climbing than you’ll encounter on race day on a per-lap training loop basis, but the up-down-up-down-turn-turn-turn nature of the ride is a good primer for what to expect in Madison. Two additional courses that remind me of the 40-mile loops at Ironman Wisconsin are the first part of Wildflower with its ranging hills and somewhat tricky descents, and the Silverman course in Hendrson, Nev. The latter especially because at Silverman, you struggle to build and maintain momentum because the road pitch is always changing.

Road conditions are largely fine, though this is a source of debate based on the many articles I read and podcasts I listened to going into the event. I found that most potholes were properly marked or covered with road patch that had been recently poured. Further, if you decide to visit Madison to ride the course (which I heartily recommend), the course is well marked with lots of arrows spray-painted on the ground. You’ll need them, as it’s a very turn-rich course.

One final note. I rode my bike with tire pressure at 110psi, on latex tubes. It’s been three weeks since the race, and my upper shoulders and neck are still sore. That could be the byproduct of not getting a post-race massage, a bike fit that needs adjustment, a low but steady wind that kept me gripping the aerobars, or filling my tires 20psi too much. The bike techs on site were recommending approximately 90-100psi on the morning of the race – I chose 110 because that’s largely what I had trained with. I’d take the bike techs’ advice in the future.


I think the run course is awesome. The climbing sneaks up on you – I hit 627 feet over 16 miles before I turned off my watch out of frustration. That said, it didn’t feel like a run that would approach 1,000 feet of total climbing for all 26 miles. There’s plenty of downhill running, and a nice-size crowd will do its best to keep you energized. Plus, there are plenty of aid stations that are very well-stocked and staffed.  The only real “challenging” part of the course is a decent-sized hill you have to climb going into the end of the first loop of the marathon and the finisher’s chute once again. It’s “only” 1-3% for about .4 miles, but it feels a lot worse on tired legs. One caveat here is that a good portion of the run is on concrete, though you will have a nice trail break on the backside of the University of Wisconsin near the lakefront. Oh, and the football turf at Camp Randall Stadium.

From a training perspective, I would emphasize hill repeats for strength, and longer runs would ideally finish with some climbing too. My long runs were probably a little too flat, with most of my climbing coming from longer and more subtle gradients, punctuated by a couple sharp pitches.

All in all, this is a tough but fair run course. If you don’t overcook the bike, or are a strong runner, you can make up a lot of ground here if you’re patient.


Most of what I just wrote might be found in some form on other race reports or podcasts. I found it harder to figure out where to stay, eat, get a good cup of coffee, pick up groceries, etc. So here’s my recommendations for aspiring IM Wisconinites.

Hotel: With the exception of Ironman Arizona, where I stay three blocks from the finish line, I try to stay away from Ironman Village. The nervous energy is typically so palpable that it can drain you. Plus, the prices are much higher. It’s similarly true in Madison, especially on a weekend when the Badgers football team is at home.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Suites West, about eight miles from town, in Middleton. I did so because there was a free race-day bus shuttle service from the hotel to the event start at Lake Monona.  I also liked that each room had a microwave, and free breakfast each morning – though on race day it was too late to utilize.

I’d stay here again, though I think you could find a hotel closer in downtown Madison that may still be far enough away from the race. That said, you’re less likely to run into a party atmosphereon a football weekend. Our hotel was largely comprised of out-of-towner Badger fans who were in their 50s and 60s. The mood was mellow, which I appreciated. And the service across the board there was stellar. Really friendly staff.

This Hampton Inn was also a block away from a decent coffee/breakfast spot called Yola’s Café, and several other restaurants I didn’t venture to try but could have been fine. Better still, Trek Bicycles has a store about a half-mile away from the hotel – so if you were to have bike problems or needed some supplies, you could quickly address your need without wading into Ironman Village chaos.

Worth noting, there’s a Whole Foods for all your organic groceries just a few miles from the hotel, on the way to the University but not quite there. If you arrive on a Thursday night like I did (and rent a car), there's plenty of time to check into the hotel, eat dinner, and get your grocery shopping out of the way -- all within a two-hour window.

Finally, post race, depending on when you finish and how you feel, Uber/Lyft is probably your best bet for getting back to an off-course hotel quickly. The shuttles run every 30 minutes, and as the sun sets, wind is likely to increase and the temperature will drop. Not a good look if you’re draped in nothing much more than a Mylar blanket. I took the elevator back down to street level from the convention center and hailed an Uber. I was picked up within 10 minutes.

Restaurants: I spent a rather disproportionate amount of time on Yelp looking for restaurants. I found a couple I’d recommend to people staying out of the downtown Madison area, and one must-visit burger spot near the University.

Vin Santo: One of the upsides of this charming little restaurant is that it sits across the street from the Museum of Mustard. Yes. For reals. And there’s a 1950s-style diner across the street too if you’re hankering for a piece of classic apple pie. The food and service at Via Santo were solid, and I highly recommend the chicken marsala. The restaurant is less than 10 minutes from the Hampton Inn. And they deliver to the hotel too if you don’t want to move.

Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse: Don’t be sucked into Ruth’s Chris or any other steakhouse if you’re craving a good piece of red meat prior to your race. Johnny’s is where it’s at. Period. The steak was flavorful and cooked perfectly, while the sides were every bit as savory as the bigger-name steakhouses. The price is about what you’d expect for a premium cut of meat. This restaurant was truly a highlight of my trip.

Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry (downtown): I had been aware of Dotty’s since I visited Madison for the first time in the 1990s. Since then, I’ve been back twice more, and each time I try to find a way back. The burgers are solid, and the atmosphere is what you’d expect from a college burger joint. Think a Wisconsin Badgers-themed TGI Fridays in terms of décor. Ian’s Pizzeria is supposed to be amazing too, and it’s next door to Dotty’s. Both are just off the run course route, so your family can enjoy a good meal while you toil away.

Rent a Car vs. Uber/Lyft: I can only speak for my experience staying away from Ironman Village, but I particularly enjoyed the freedom of being able to drive wherever I wanted for nearly four days. That said, I had no friends or family in town whom I could snag a ride from, so I more or less needed it. I could drive the race course, go grocery shopping, or venture into downtown at will. And I had the peace of mind knowing that if I missed the bus into town for any reason at all come race day, I could speed there without issue.

Renting a car is a more expensive option though. For example, you’re not going to use your vehicle on race day. That’s more or less $50 out the window with taxes. But the costs are surprisingly similar over the long haul with a car service though. It’s roughly $30 from the airport to Madison via Uber, so roundtrip that’s at least one day’s rental fare. Each trip into town from Middleton to Madison is at least $10-$15 or more. And if you’re using a food delivery service instead of driving to a meal, you’re racking up fees there as well (though maybe gas cancels that out somewhat). Ultimately, you have to decide how much is peace of mind worth when you’re in unfamiliar territory for a race you don’t know much about.

If or when I return to Madison to exact revenge on this course, I’ll likely rent a car again.

Packet Pickup:  woke very early on Friday morning, probably due to some mild jetlag flying in from Los Angeles the night prior. I arrived at packet pickup around 8:15 a.m., 45 minutes before it opened at Lake Monona Terrace, fourth in line. By the time packet pickup opened, there was a long line -- but not longer than any other Ironman race on a Friday. Several podcasts I listened to cautioned strongly against the long lines for packet pick-up but I didn’t see that play out. Instead, this was probably the most organized and well-staffed process on the circuit that I’ve experienced.

A good order of progression when you pick up your packet would be:

  • Find parking across the street from Lake Monona Terrace, near the Hilton hotel there. (BTW, there’s a sky bridge to the convention center if you go through the hotel lobby…pro-tip!).
  • Pick up packet, return to car, grab workout gear.
  • The swim start is a quick elevator ride down from the convention center, and if you used TriBike Transport, you can dry yourself post-swim, claim your bike literally 20 yards from the swim entrance, and get a quick neighborhood spin in on the lakefront bikepath. You’re done with everything within the first 1.5-2 hours of your day. BOOM.
  • If you start your morning around 8:30-9 a.m., that leaves you ready to grab a nice brunch-lunch in downtown Madison – then, if you stay away from the course, you’re home in the early afternoon at latest to enjoy the rest of your day stress-free. Or, you can use that time to drive the bike course like I did.

I hope this was helpful for you! MOOOOOOOO!!!