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

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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.

Right?

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

Pause.

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?!? 

WILDFLOWER

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. 

IRONMAN SANTA ROSA

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.)

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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

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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.jpeg

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.

RACE COURSE

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.

BIKE COURSE

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.

RUN COURSE

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.

LOGISTICS

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!!!

CIM Race Report Part II: The Marathon of Recaps Continues

CIM_Finish_1

Training for an endurance race is kind of like parenting an infant. You show up, day in and day out. Workout after workout. Rain or sunshine. The reward?  Nothing discernible for weeks...or months. That smile you think you saw on your baby's face directed just for you? That was probably gas. You begin to wonder whether you're making a difference. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you notice a subtle change. You're seeing responses, adaptations. Growth. And then it's back to prolonged periods of what seems to be...nothing. Just the monotony of the day-to-day grind. "Will this child ever love me?!" I've definitely had those frustrating thoughts many times the last 18 months with Audra. Similarly, I wondered after months of slow, easy runs nowhere near a Boston Marathon-qualifying time, "How in the heck am I going to run 60-90 seconds faster for 26 freaking miles?!"

This past weekend at the California International Marathon, all the consistent, unglamorous training paid off. Not only did I hit my goal pace for 26.2 miles, I beat it. Of course, my marathon wound up being *26.3* miles, but that's the story you already know from yesterday's post.

This entry is for runners of all types trying to grow in their own way, whether you're running your first 5k, considering a Boston Marathon qualification attempt, or a seasoned elite runner already.

Here's a look at what I think worked and didn't work so well in my first BQ attempt.

WHAT WORKED

Training Regimen: After researching a few options, I purchased a personalized marathon plan from MacMillan Running. I had a few people I trust review the plan, and they agreed it was on point. The occasional email check-ins by assistant coach and Olympic athlete Andrew Lemoncello exceeded my expectations. This wasn't a cookie-cutter plan devoid of personal attention. Combined with the strategic approach, accessible workouts and positive reinforcement, I would recommend a MacMillan personalized plan for people not seeking hands-on daily coaching but rather a plan to guide their training.

I do prefer more frequent interaction though when I'm seriously training for a race. When I learned that longtime friend, Wattie Ink teammate and mentor-figure Dusty Nabor was entering the coaching ranks at Accelerate 3 with my 2015 Ironman Arizona coach Brian Stover, I eagerly signed aboard. Dusty and I both have been heavily influenced by Brian's training approach, so the coach-athlete fit is natural. Plus, Dusty knows my tendencies and is local...he'll help protect me from myself! Tying it all together, the MacMillan program reflected our general collective approach of high-volume, low-intensity training. This allows for more training, better recovery and a gradual increase in vascular-muscular-aerobic capacity. Optimal training.

But what exactly was in the plan? Most of it called for easy, aerobic-paced runs -- literally four out of every five sessions at least. These were the same kinds of runs I did ad nausea preparing for Ironman Arizona with Brian last year. Guess what though? They work. Sure, I did some speed work typically once a week and as the race drew closer there were at least four 18-20-plus mile runs that included some tempo pacing. But overall, steady volume at a conversational pace was the typical daily workout. My biggest issue was staying slow and easy, not going harder or faster.

So if you see workouts like 3x10-20-minutes at tempo or threshold pace routinely during your coached marathon training...well, good luck with that. I've been there before, and it's counter-productive.

Race Day Nutrition: Race week approached, and confidence in my training allowed me to free up mind space to think about other important race day issues like nutrition. I consulted Brian and Dusty for their thoughts and created my own plan based on their input about a basic caloric threshold I'd need to hit to maintain energy from start to finish.

I think we nailed it. We figured I'd burn at least 2,500-3,000 calories over the course of the marathon, and I did. To put back roughly half of those calories into my system, I ate a bowl of oatmeal with almonds and raisins, half a peanut butter sandwich on cinnamon-raisin bread, and a banana roughly two hours prior to the race. During the race, I consumed five Gu Roctane gels (5x100 cal.), a Honey Stinger packet of chews (160 cal.) and 18 ounces of Fluid Performance (~150 cal.). I lost one Gu gel packet early in the race and wished I hadn't, but still believe I ate and drank enough throughout the morning. My pacing was almost perfectly consistent and I never felt like I hit a mental wall -- especially in the spots I typically do during an Ironman marathon (miles 13-15 and miles 18-23). Nor did I have any issue with getting the food and drink to stay down. Better still, I hardly experienced any cramp-like moments, outside of a brief twinge in my right hamstring very late in the race and some abdominal tightness within the last two miles. I attribute that good fortune at least partially to the Sport Legs pills I take prior to races and long training runs. 

Pacing: This took a giant leap of faith. I really had no idea whether I could maintain a 7:19-7:21 overall marathon pace, though Dusty, Brian and my friends who have qualified for Boston assured me otherwise. I chose to listen to them and absorb their good vibes.

Prior to race day, I bought a pace sheet from MyMarathonPace.com for a nominal price (thanks to Jason Weilert for the tip). You pick the race, enter some predictions about goal pace, fast or slow start, how much you expect to fade towards the end, and negative or positive split. You then receive customized data for mile splits further influenced by the course elevation profile. Then you can print it to create a DYI wristband. I planed to use the wristband as a specific target as much as possible. I knew it would serve as a fun mental distraction and tap into my videogames sensibilities. I pictured racing games with time bonuses for each mile I completed, including 8-bit music sounds for perfect pacing. 

How'd I do? Here are the race-recorded milestone paces shown on the results page:

-- 10k: 7:21/mi

-- 13.1 miles: 7:21/mi

-- 20 miles: 7:21/mi

-- Finish: 7:23/mi

As each split came in, my friend Sebastian Kouladjian exclaimed to my family and friends following along digitally, "He's the Human Metronome!"

Yesterday, I noted my watch showed I was actually faster than these pace markers. And honestly, I wasn't trying to maintain 7:21 overall as much as I was trying to match and manage every single mile. To that end, I only hit the exact mile split once (7:20 at mile 19), but came within three seconds either way for 18 total miles, and was faster by more than three seconds for all but two of the other miles. Better still, I was faster than my pace predictor from miles 21 practically through the end of the race, except for being one second slower in mile 25. 

I attribute my successful pacing to proper nutrition keeping me mentally strong enough to remain focused throughout the race. It's easy to get distracted when you're surrounded by enthusiastic spectators, hordes of runners, and pace leaders yelling out every mile or so. Through that ruckus, I was able to remain calm and stay within myself, even letting the 3:13:00 pace group leaders go during various parts of the race when their pace didn't feel right to me.

 This is around mile 21-22, and I'm just ahead of the 3:13:00 pace group, a spot I had claimed for about half the race...until they slipped away at the end.

This is around mile 21-22, and I'm just ahead of the 3:13:00 pace group, a spot I had claimed for about half the race...until they slipped away at the end.

Course: The CIM course is billed as the fastest for BQs in the western United States, possibly in the entire country. Almost every mile is net-downhill. 

But that doesn't mean the race is flat! Far from it. My friend Jason warned me at dinner a few times prior to the race that the CIM course "undulates." He added that there really aren't many roads locally that truly emulate the course either. I would now agree. Every mile through 21-22 features at least one fairly significant rise in the terrain that felt like it lasted between five to 15 seconds. Taken individually, these tiny ankle-biters are inconsequential. But your body will beg to differ late in the race, especially near the bridge around mile 21-22. Pacing the race correctly becomes that much more important. It would be all too easy to go out and blast the first 10k to 13 miles but I think you'll regret it.

The best example I can come up with to help you visualize the undulations would be portions of Pearblossom Highway (California State Route 138), that lonely narrow road connecting Antelope Valley to Victorville on the way to Las Vegas. If you've driven it before, you know there are long, flat stretches punctuated by small but noticeable rollers. CIM's rollers are even less pronounced than Pearblossom though. Another example might be some of the smaller hills on Zoo Drive at Griffith Park near Travel Town (not Trash Truck Hill!), and the rolling hills on Griffith Park Road heading towards Los Feliz Boulevard. The rollers there are more exaggerated than at CIM though, and the distance between rollers is greater at CIM. You get the idea though, CIM isn't an all-out downhill sprint course. 

The weather was just about perfect. The race started in the low 40s and finished in the low-mid 50s, with perfect sunshine and no wind (I got a slight sunburn, in fact). You can see in the images I didn't have to bundle up, and I'm a notorious weather wuss. The other great thing about the course is how well spectated it is. I can't remember one section of the entire race that was completely devoid of residents cheering runners on. That became especially important later in the race.

Pre-Race Routine: I traveled to Sacramento alone the day before the race, and outside of my friends Kayla and Alison, I didn't know anyone racing. I kept to myself in my hotel, (Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel) situated literally across the street from the CIM expo and a bus departure for the race start in Folsom. Following packet pickup on Saturday and a quick visit with Kyla, I didn't leave my room from around noon Saturday until 5 a.m. on race day. Toes up! I controlled all my meals without worrying about pleasing other racers or family. Speaking of, Paesanos will fill amply fill your carb-loading Italian food needs.

There's so much to be said for not needing to drop off multiple Ironman pre-race bags, a bike and thinking about a pre-race wetsuit swim. Having so much free to myself felt truly luxurious, and I know that mental and physical opportunity to unwind contributed to my race performance. 

Following the race, I just had to walk about three blocks from the State Capitol back to the hotel. The walking actually felt good to stay moving, despite the soreness and my shivering. And if you want to fly back to Burbank same-day, the 2:55 p.m. flight on Southwest Airlines is ample if you're speedy. I took the 4:30 p.m. flight home and hung out in the airport for an hour.

 This is what happens when you travel alone to a race.

This is what happens when you travel alone to a race.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK

Poor Boston Prep: I'm likely going to miss the 2018 Boston Marathon cut-off time not necessarily because I wasn't fast enough -- though technically that is the case. I'm probably going to miss the 2018 Boston Marathon cut-off time because of ignorance. While I knew there was a difference between a qualifying time and the age-group cut-off time, I was under the impression that an approximate two-minute gap would guarantee first-week acceptance into the race. Heck, why would the CIM pace groups be "3:13:00" and not "3:15:00", or "3:37:00" and not "3:40:00"? So obviously that is not the case. In 2016, my age-group cut-off was 3:12:32. Had I simply researched this in advance, I would have entered "3:11:30" as my desired finish time in my marathon pace calculator spreadsheet. This is an inexcusable error on my part, and completely avoidable. 

If you are contemplating a Boston Marathon qualification attempt, do your homework! Leave extra room for unexpected added distance covered too.

Missed the Decisive Final Kick: There's a larger issue here first. And that is: If you're going to even partially rely on pace leaders at a marathon, try to speak with them in advance to understand how they're going to pace the group. Will they be consistent from start to finish? Start slow and build steam? Are they planning to kick hard at the end? When? I looked up the Strava performance for one of the 3:13:00 pace group leaders. While his overall pace was 7:21, this leader's last two miles were his fastest of the entire race. In fact, during miles 17-24, the pace leaders were running just at or slightly slower than BQ pace and then dropped to 7:15-7:16 the last two miles. I wasn't quite prepared for that, it was already hard enough just to stay close to BQ pace. 

As you can see in the image further above in the pacing section, I'm running ahead of the 3:13:00 pace group at around mile 21. I had been in this position mostly from mile 10 onward, until mile 24 when the leaders took off. Because I had been bouncing back and forth with the pace group for most of the race, I didn't think much when they surged forward. I only realized what was happening when they put a significant gap on me around the onset of mile 25. By then it was too late. I had slowed down to a 7:30 pace while they were speeding up. 

 Yep, that's caked on blood from my opposite ankle. you ain't got nothin' on me, schilling!

Yep, that's caked on blood from my opposite ankle. you ain't got nothin' on me, schilling!

Poor Body Mechanics: See that crimson smudge on the inside of my left shoe? That's blood. My blood...from my inside right ankle. My left leg is collapsing inward, swiping my ankle enough to rub it raw and cause it to bleed down into my sock, like Curt Schilling. It's likely a hip issue, complicated by an uneven pelvic girdle. My left hip dips slightly and my right hip is raised. Further, I had been facing some Achilles complications in my left heel the last few weeks. My heel and lower calf felt tight enough to where I eased back a critical training week with about three weeks left before the race. Fortunately, my longtime massage therapist Efren Jimenez helped me work through the Achilles issue with electronic stimulation work and some deep tissue massage. He also recommended kinesio tape for the race. I knew Dusty was dead set against this. After doing some research on my own, I concluded that the tape wouldn't likely help me. But it wouldn't hurt either, and it could possibly help promote blood flow or add the slightest amount of stability. I didn't feel any pain in my Achilles or calf, and haven't been sore in that area post-race. Did the KT tape help? Probably not. But it didn't hurt either.

Fitness Level: This is a minor point, and more of a pet theory of mine. I haven't ridden my bike much at all since Ironman Vineman in late July, and I have't swam once since that race. My fitness level is fine enough as a pure runner, but compared to my usual triathlon training it's very low. I think had I been consistently swimming and biking, albeit not at intensity, I would have run even faster at CIM without affecting my fatigue and recovery levels. I plan to test this theory at some point in the future.

***

Before ending this gargantuan post, I would like to thank my wife for always and enthusiastically supporting my goals. Stephanie makes all of this possible and best of all, ensures that the only guilt I feel about training comes from me and not anyone else.

I also would like to thank Dusty and Brian for their support and insight. I'm excited to return to Accelerate 3!  Efren, thank you for physically getting me through that race pain-free. And Andrew, thanks for checking in with me on the running plan. 

There are two special forces veterans I'd also like to thank too. Out of respect for each, I'll keep their names private. But their inspiration drove me throughout the race. One, a former Navy SEAL, gave me a challenge coin that I keep in my wallet. It's truly one of my most cherished possessions. He once told me that what kept him going in tough moments was something he internalized during his early SEAL training, "We don't do it because it's easy. We do this because it's hard." I thought of him a lot those last two miles.

Finally...Audra. I hope you read these posts one day. I hope they inspire you. Dream bigger than you thought possible. Push yourself farther than you thought possible to achieve your goals. You won't always succeed. But that journey will be more than worth it. I love you.
 

 

 

CIM Race Report Part I: Rang the Bell, Had My Bell Rung

CIM_RS

The second day after an intense endurance race is always the worst. Gone is the adrenaline high, while cortisol levels have come crashing back to earth. What lingers is the physical soreness that feels closer to the onset of rigor mortis… and looks like it too. You’re just plain tired, physically, mentally, emotionally. And that glorious moment when you truly believed you’re once again young and invincible has cruelly vanished without the decency of a Dear John note.

I like writing a race report during this window. The event is still fresh in my mind, but I’m not so over-stimulated as to miss key moments that led to the race result. The balance between pain, insight and pride is just about even. Plus, I can’t really move…so what else is there to do but write and eat junk food?

I chose to run the California International Marathon because I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s it. Success would be measured in “yes” or “no”, not personal bests or beating a rival. I wasn’t on some metaphorical journey to prove something to myself, or even to inspire others in the same way I tried to at Ironman Vineman this summer. This was about me, plain and simple. I accepted that earning a top-five age-group placement for an Ironman World Championship slot was likely not going to happen in this lifetime. So I moved to the next item on the Bucket List: From “KQ” to “BQ.”

Unfortunately, sometimes life doesn’t always allow for binary outcomes. If my Strava and Garmin race data were the sole determinant for entry into the 2018 Boston Marathon, I’d likely be guaranteed to go. My watch data says I ran 26.2 miles in 3:12:21. Last year, the Boston Athletic Association cutoff time for Boston Marathon qualifying times in my age group was 3:12:32. So, while any time faster than 3:15:00 in my age group qualifies a runner to be Boston-eligible, only runners with times faster than 3:12:32 actually earned a place on the starting line in April. Close to 4,500 age groupers earned BQ times but were not invited to participate in the actual event.

We goin’ to Boston! We goin’ to Boston! We goin’ to…wait…what? My chip time at CIM was… 3:13:07? Why the difference? When you’re running around and through people during the race to avoid traffic, or veer to the aid stations for a quick drink, you’re likely adding subtle amounts of distance to your race. So, in the end, I ran *26.3* miles. I should have noticed this during the race, as the distance grew between miles registered on my watch versus the actual mile markers on the course. In the heat of racing, I figured the course markers had been moved or were positioned slightly off – I never imagined I was dooming my own race.

How easy it is to think the world around us is flawed, without first looking within!  And haven’t we all at some point run unnecessarily farther to reach the same finish line? In this case, those extra 44 seconds will likely spell the difference between “yes” and “yes…but no.”

I guess my race performance was kind of like winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College. (Too soon?)

As I continue to reflect on the overall race experience, it would be easy to grow bitter. I’ve done that before. In college, I earned an internship to write for Sports Illustrated, directly through the magazine (how that happened is another story for another day). Except my university’s journalism department didn’t participate in the Time-Life internship program, so I wasn’t allowed to accept the opportunity. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s as close as I’ll ever get to my dream job. I guess it’s not meant to be.” I wrote for the college newspaper sports section for one more semester, and quit. My soul had been ripped out – I believed my own mopey narrative.

What a crock! I wish I could go back and talk to my younger self. How weak-minded and self-pitying. Failure is not what defines us. How we respond to failure does. I’ve since vowed never to make that mistake again. So, I already signed up for CIM 2017, and I’m not going to leave any room for doubt next time.

That’s the big-picture look at my race. And yes, there's a small chance that maybe the Boston Athletic Association gods will smile upon me and a 3:13:07 will be enough to squeak into the race in 2018.

For more in-depth “runner-focused” insight and analysis from CIM, I’ll post a separate entry tomorrow. I learned some valuable lessons the hard way for better and worse, hopefully so someone else won’t have to.

 

My BuzzFeed Race Report: 10 Things Learned From Completing an Ironman on 6 Weeks Training (#6 Will Shock you!)

My BuzzFeed Race Report: 10 Things Learned From Completing an Ironman on 6 Weeks Training  (#6 Will Shock you!)

This is my eighth Ironman race report. The past recaps all have a similar feel, something like:

“I trained really, really hard over many months for this one-day event. It took on significant meaning in my life, and there are now profound lessons learned through a long day of swimming, biking and running that I can apply to my career and interpersonal relationships. The weather challenged me, the competition was fierce, and I discovered something new about myself. I placed relatively well, but not good enough to quality for the World Championships in Kona. That’s OK, I’ll get there one day.”

What if none of that was true?

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