IMAZ 2015 Race Report: All the Ways to Skin a Cat

IMAZ15_Finish

"There's a few ways we can skin that cat."

My coach, Brian Stover, said, texted or wrote this to me more often than he probably realized during the last five months. Usually because we needed to figure out how I was going to swim, bike and run at the appropriate volume while on a tight work and family schedule.

I'm not a fan of cats. They're too fussy and fickle. Plus, I'm highly allergic to them. But I became a fan of how Brian and I "skinned cats" to maintain the most delicate of balances between triathlon, career and home. All while being able to preserve enough energy to juggle everything without going crazy...mostly (right Seb?!).

In terms of training in 2015, there was B.A., Before Audra, and A.A., after. I made some pretty big changes to how I approached my training and racing once I became an IronDadMan, mostly out of necessity. Instead of a traditional race report from Ironman Arizona 2015, I think it may be more insightful for others if I share what I learned about those adjustments. 

Besides, my race report would sound like a lot of other people's I've read the last few days. Something like:

Swim: "The rolling swim start felt weird, the buoys moved farther right from past years, why do my calves keep cramping (???) and I came out of the water pretty much when I expected I would, within seconds of the long end of my predicted time."

Yes, 63-degrees warrants a neoprene cap for me to stay warm. I apologize for nothing.

Yes, 63-degrees warrants a neoprene cap for me to stay warm. I apologize for nothing.

 Bike: "'F-ing IMAZ.' That's what I kept saying to myself with a laugh while cycling. The weather reports predicted fine weather all day for weeks and it was too good to be true. I was cold and wet, but had no nutritional issues to report. I peed a ton and couldn't figure out why. Much to the chagrin of people behind me while peeing on the bike, the wind kept shifting throughout the course... Overall, I biked pretty much how I expected I would, within a minute of my predicted overall window. Took some risks in terms of increasing my watts over my target goal and it seemed to work fine at the time."

"It's raining. F*ck it!"

"It's raining. F*ck it!"

Run: "After an embarrassingly slow T2 due to being unable to feel my fingers, I started running and shocked myself with a much faster pace than expected. I decided to go with it because the pace seemed manageable and I was able to keep nutrition down. The rain didn't bother me...until it did (along with the mud) later in the race around mile 16. Managed a massive PR for an Ironman half marathon (1:39 by my watch) but couldn't hold the pace for the next 12 miles. Ran pretty much what I expected I would overall though, within a minute of my coach-predicted time. Glad I took the initial risk on the pacing instead of slowing down. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Anatomy of my marathon, part 1 (miles 1-9): "I feel AMAZING! Sub 7:30s?! Hell yes!"

Anatomy of my marathon, part 1 (miles 1-9): "I feel AMAZING! Sub 7:30s?! Hell yes!"

Anatomy of my marathon part 2 (miles 10-15): "I feel less amazing, but functional!"

Anatomy of my marathon part 2 (miles 10-15): "I feel less amazing, but functional!"

Anatomy of my marathon part 3 (miles 16-24): "I do not feel amazing.I would like to stop running now."

Anatomy of my marathon part 3 (miles 16-24): "I do not feel amazing.I would like to stop running now."

Anatomy of my marathon, part 4 (miles 24-26): "Dear Lord where is that finish line?!!?!"

Anatomy of my marathon, part 4 (miles 24-26): "Dear Lord where is that finish line?!!?!"

As for the race result itself, I have very mixed feelings, which I'll share at the end. 

So what worked and what didn't? First, here's what changed. After six years, I made a decision to switch coaches. I did so not because I was dissatisfied (I still heartily refer athletes to Fortius Coaching), but more because I felt like I needed a new voice and fresh perspective to shake up my training. That's exactly what I got. In short, my new coach (Stover) and I developed a plan that would involve more overall training volume, but spread more evenly throughout each week. That's triathlete-speak for essentially no rest days unless I was traveling on business or had a family obligation. Additionally, we dramatically increased my run frequency and volume to six or even seven days a week at 35-40-plus miles. I would estimate 95 percent of my workouts were entirely aerobic in intensity, meaning completed at a conversational pace and thus easier to recover from. This was a big change for me and took some time getting used to. We also went more than four months without a brick workout, and only scheduled two total. No track workouts either in the traditional oval sense.  Taper changed too for me, shrinking from weeks to days. Five, in this case. Finally, we opted out of strength training workouts due to lack of time, replacing them occasionally with jump rope work after runs.

Also as part of my new lifestyle change (A.A.), I stopped trying to complete both daily workouts prior to leaving for work in the morning. There was no way that could work again. Instead, my wife and I would talk every day and more in-depth once every two weeks (before Brian sent my schedule over) about when I could fit in each workout without infringing upon family time. Cat skinning would ensue. I also reluctantly chose to suspend my early morning swims with Tower 26, much as I enjoyed and relied on the group along with the superb Gerry Rodrigues to improve my stroke. The added sleep was going to be critical to balancing all the moving aspects of my life. Fortunately, I found a terrific master's group, Golden Road Aquatics, 10 minutes from my office. GRA offered energetic lunchtime swims and that became critical to maintaining a higher overall training volume.

What Worked

Everything Brian implemented seemed to pay off. The near daily running at an aerobic pace made me a much more efficient runner. In fact, almost my entire IMAZ 2015 marathon (99% literally) was done in HR Zone 2 (moderate) effort even with a record 13.1 mile split that was near my Ironman 70.3 pace. What?! Again, that was without really doing any brick workouts, which saved me a ton of time on the homefront. The aerobic work also translated to the bike, where the vast majority of my effort was in that moderate zone too. 

I also wised up as a triathlete, finally following every workout as it was prescribed. (This was largely my fault in the past as I often found myself caught up in other people's workouts instead of completing my own as written.) And since the vast majority of workouts were at a moderate level, it was much easier to complete them. I only missed two workouts in five months, and both came on the final day of my build prior to taper due to a horrendous night of sleep and an early morning doctor's appointment for Audra.

Spacing my daily workouts out by a few hours was also beneficial. Each workout became more of a quality session, though my swimming suffered since it almost always became the second workout of the day. It's much harder to swim on heavy legs following a run. Still, I think giving my body more time between workouts enabled me to complete more workouts at the specified level and duration.

Finally, printing my bi-weekly schedule and posting it on the kitchen wall was one thing that subtly helped me remain engaged in my training. Steph and I could see what was on the schedule and discuss any potential conflicts. Plus, I could cross off each completed workout, which served as positive reinforcement and motivation to keep my consecutive workouts finished streak intact.

Printing my training calendar helped my wife and I communicate daily on training regimen, along with how to manage family time and daddy duty.

Printing my training calendar helped my wife and I communicate daily on training regimen, along with how to manage family time and daddy duty.

What Didn't Work

My swimming took a big hit the last few months, and it's primarily because swim volume was cut by between a third and a half compared to last year. Swimming is by far my weakest discipline, and something I need to work extra hard on to improve. But Brian recommended we focus more on improving my run as being fitter across the board would help me overcome some of my swimming deficiencies. Brian already told me we'll be swimming a lot more this winter. Joy. I'd like to strangle that cat and then skin it with a dull blade.

Since I was running so much, I found it even harder to keep my weight up to what I'd consider a healthy level. It constantly felt like I was pushing a giant food rock up a hill each day only to watch it tumble back down. I'd lose up to four pounds and try to gain five, day in and day out. That lack of weight likely affected my bike power output, which is something I think needs more attention in the future. I think the chilly weather at IMAZ affected me a little more than other folks perhaps due to my inability to use stored fat to keep my core temperature warm.

Despite getting more sleep than people told me would be possible with a newborn, it still probably wasn't enough quality rest to help me fully recover each night. Waking up three to four times each night can't be considered a helpful workout recovery tool, but I don't think it affected me as much as I expected. I feel obligated to put "lack of sleep" in the "What Didn't Work" section but honestly...it could have been much worse (thanks to my awesome wife) and I don't think it affected me on race day when it mattered most.

10:25...Again!?

Three years, differing conditions, same result. Almost exactly. I trained more than I ever have before for an Ironman, improved my run, slightly improved my bike split and ultimately I came in at the same time I did when I was training with less volume but higher intensity. What does that mean? I made all these changes to take the next step in my evolution as an athlete. But did that happen? Percentage-wise, I fared better this year in my age group and overall than in 2013 (when conditions were more favorable). But I was worse compared to last year's results, when conditions were much windier on the bike and more favorable on the run.

Have I peaked as a triathlete? It's only going to get harder to find time to train now that Audra is growing rapidly, so finding more time to improve is probably out of the question. I honestly thought I could flirt with breaking 10 hours this year at IMAZ if the conditions were perfect and once again I was nowhere close. Is that goal a Quixotic dream? And Kona, which I thought could be a stretch goal I was closing in on, feels more distant than ever. A Legacy slot seems my best hope. Only five more years of Ironman races to go then! Hooray!

I'm not calling the Wahmbulance over this great injustice. I have no regrets about my training or the race itself. There were some big changes in my life that delivered a profound level of joy that is simply irreplaceable. That made those big training changes far easier to make. It's also important to note that April, May and June were largely a wash for me from a training standpoint due to illness, burnout, moving to a new home and of course, Audra's birth. So, Brian had to essentially build me up from scratch to where we wound up on race day. And to his credit, I arrived at Tempe Town Lake statistically in the best shape of my life. I'm reminding myself to stay positive and think what he and I can do together if we use this new fitness base to improve upon for Ironman Vineman next July.

During the race,  I took calculated chances, and grew as a person and triathlete in the process. I dictated my race for a change, instead of simply managing the day based on what the weather gave me. That took confidence.  I hope to take more chances in future races like Wildflower and Vineman, in fact. I liked the rush of not knowing whether they would pay off instead of simply going with the flow. 

I won't resume formal training for a few more weeks. Body, mind, and soul need a triathlon break, and I simply want to snuggle up with my wife and baby in bed every morning without rushing out the door to train.  My first race won't likely be until  next May. That will give me plenty of time to think about the athlete I am, the athlete I want to be, and what the best path is to arrive at my ultimate desired destination without sacrificing what matters most: family. 

I'm sure there will be several ways we can skin that cat.

"I am sooooooo happy that is over with. Let Week of Decadence begin!!!"

"I am sooooooo happy that is over with. Let Week of Decadence begin!!!"



The Pros and Cons of Race Management

The Ironman finisher's chute...one of the best places in sports.

The Ironman finisher's chute...one of the best places in sports.

Looking back on each Ironman I've completed, there's always one standout lesson to take with me for future races.

My best statistical Ironman race finish (26/502 AG, 151/3202 OA) yielded the most boring of lessons so far. Who wants to "manage" anything?  We save that for office paperwork, right? No, when we're racing, we want to "crush," "annihilate," and "punish." Racing is where we unleash our inner warrior spirit. On Sunday in Tempe, my warrior spirit manifested itself in the form of a clinician instead.  Once I checked the morning race weather report online and saw 16-22 mph winds, I switched off my inner Animal and transformed into Greg Maddux. Steady. Crafty. Calm. Unsexy.  Was that the right choice? Should I have infused a bit more "Anything is Possible" into my race-day planning? That is what this race report will explore.

Pre-Race

The days I spent in Tempe leading to the race were just about perfect. As always, I could've used more time to get settled and relax. A Wednesday arrival would be ideal instead of Thursday afternoon. I don't recommend arriving beyond 3 p.m. on Thursday as it becomes a sprint to packet pick up and if  you have to retrieve your bike from a transport service. In addition, I may rent a car next year. (Yes, if you're paying attention closely I just wrote "next year." I signed up.) Flying saves a lot of downtime, but I'm a bit of a control freak pre-race and not being able to just go to the grocery store whenever I wanted or be confined to restaurants within walking distance didn't sit well for me. Thank goodness my pal Christophe put up with me for an afternoon. He'll tell you how high maintenance I can be.

TJ Nuccio, my friend and Fortius Coaching teammate, sent me a care package of Runyon Canyon apparel to enjoy for the weekend. I was pleased to be able to wear a comfy tank top in the middle of November!

TJ Nuccio, my friend and Fortius Coaching teammate, sent me a care package of Runyon Canyon apparel to enjoy for the weekend. I was pleased to be able to wear a comfy tank top in the middle of November!

 

I woke up a little too late the morning of the race, after a surprisingly easy night of rest. By the time I reached T1, after listening to the Imperial March on repeat for my walk to the park (BECAUSE THAT IS HOW I FELT), it was close to 6 a.m. with bottles to drop, tires to pump, wetsuit to put on, bags to stow for the special needs crew, and give my morning clothes to my folks. This caused unnecessary stress as I was among the last to leave the transition area because I couldn't find my family. I even started to put on my wetsuit backwards from rushing too much and not thinking! That's not how you want to start your day.

Fortunately, I found fellow game devs Christophe, Ryan and Bryan in the swim entry line. That immediately relaxed me and it felt like a normal training day. Almost. We hugged and swam in the 68-degree water through the scrum to the start line, where we treaded, floated, clutched onto kayaks...and waited.

SWIM

Gear: BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit, BlueSeventy Neoprene cap, Aquasphere Kayenne smoke-tinted goggles

Absolutely love my custom BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit. It fits super snugly and doesn't restrain my shoulders.

Absolutely love my custom BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit. It fits super snugly and doesn't restrain my shoulders.

My plan was to start 10-15 yards to the right of the buoys, aiming for the fourth buoy almost 1,000 yards ahead.  The course curves slightly to the right, so I was trying to swim an efficient line. That became almost impossible with literally hundreds of bodies thrashing around me. It's survival of the fittest, almost literally, in those first 500 yards. You swim where there's a lane and where you get hit or kicked the least. I found myself drifting farther to the left and closer to the buoys than I would have preferred. Overall though, I couldn't complain. My Tower 26 swimming was paying off immediately as I pushed a strong pace without fatigue nor panic.

The return trip was notable for only two reasons. First, I've never peed so much during a swim portion of a race. I have no idea why except that I hydrated using at least three Herbalife 24' "Hydrate" packets the day prior. They're filled with electrolytes, along with the six Salt Stick tablets I popped the day before as well. Only in triathlon can one be so proud to pee while moving without losing speed. Second, I almost got a penalty for missing the "proper" way to swim around the final turn buoy back to shore. I was getting pushed left by a pack of swimmers and just went with the flow, so to speak. Until an official on a kayak started shouting at me to turn the proper way. I had a feeling he meant business so complied. That cost me around 20 seconds. More on that later.

I exited the water in 1:07:37, nearly a 1.5 minute personal best in all my Ironman races. I couldn't be happier, though I think with better sighting I should have been closer to 1:05:00. Tower 26 has been a huge help in improving my swimming, and I'll be back for more in the future. Also, for future IMAZ swims I'll look into polarized lenses as I'm sick of being blinded staring into the sun!

Rocketing out of T1, feeling great. Loving my new Wattie Ink camo kit. Zero chafing, perfect fit. Do recommend.

Rocketing out of T1, feeling great. Loving my new Wattie Ink camo kit. Zero chafing, perfect fit. Do recommend.

 

BIKE

Gear: Cervelo P5 Six Di2, 11/25 cassette, Reynolds 72 Aero front, Zipp Super 9 clincher rear, Speedfil rear and front hydration systems, SpeedPlay Zero pedals, Fizik shoes (Balaga wool socks), ISM Adamo Prologue seat, Kask Bambino helmet, orange-tint wind visor. Wattie Ink "Camp Contender" tri kit.

The wind looks so calm in a still photo...

The wind looks so calm in a still photo...

I felt phenomenal coming out of the water. My legs were springy and I bounded to T1. Last year, I took my time in T1. This year, I was very efficient and out in less than five minutes. If I wasn't fiddling with some food options it would have been closer to four. Nothing I'd really do different here though. I took my time while going fast, sitting down even at the changing tent to put on socks and shoes, taking a deep breath, and allowing the sunblock volunteers to slather me.

Once on the bike, I immediately knew it was going to be a challenging day. The winds picked up just leaving Rio Salado near SunDevil Stadium and didn't relent until the Beeline Highway turnaround 15-plus miles later. "Manage the race," I literally said out loud to myself multiple times. 

That morning, I predicted I'd hit around 1:50:00 per loop and when I came in at 1:46:00 with a pee break on the bike I was pleased. But things were not as they seemed. Like in 2010, I wasn't able to eat solid foods without feeling bloated. I tried a gel instead and actually had some light vomit issues while pedaling. That's never happened to me before. I powered right through, because, well, I had no choice.

Saying hi to the Fortius crew and heading back out into the wind. Hiding my GI discomfort.

Saying hi to the Fortius crew and heading back out into the wind. Hiding my GI discomfort.

I can't stress enough the power of positive self-talk. Instead of getting down about the winds, feeling my bike PR slip away or worry about my nutrition, I focused on the things that were going well. Even the smallest of things like grabbing a water bottle on the go at an aid station. I'd say something to myself aloud like, "That was really efficient. Nicely done!" I did this throughout the bike portion when I was losing focus or even if things were going well. It helped me remain present, and I stayed on track for most of the duration even as my watts dipped below my desired .70 intensity factor.

I even remember thinking to myself how much I enjoyed the challenges the race was presenting as it kept me thinking over and over, "Work the problem." It felt like solving a mystery instead of absently looking at a watch to maintain a constant wattage. Working the problem led me to ingest some Pepto Bismal pills to calm my stomach, and that helped almost immediately. While my overall mental strategy was effective, maybe I needed to snap out of my happy place more often and return to my normal racing Beast Mode?

Looking back, I'm torn about my IMAZ bike riding. My second and third bike loop splits were unimpressive and don't reflect my true cycling capabilities. I turned in a smooth, controlled effort (1.03 VI) but I could and should have pushed harder up the highway in the wind knowing I'd be able to rest and recharge with the free speed back into town. But.. I managed the race well considering all I could eat for 5.5 hours was 1.5 Bonk Breakers, banana, gel, a quarter of a bagel with almond butter, and one packet of Gu Chomps along with drinking six bottles of Fluid Performance with honey. In other words, I made strategic decisions based on the signals my body was sending back to me. Not sexy, but effective.

RUN

Gear: Newton BoCo AT shoes w/ Yankz lacing system, Fortius Racing hat, Oakley Jackets, Balaga wool socks

Like most people finishing a 112-mile bike ride, I was relieved to rid myself of my bike, especially flat-tire free. There were many scattered along the side of the road changing tires, and I truly felt bad for them.

My T2 was under two minutes, and that was with sitting down to put on shoes, calmly reach for some gels and have sunscreen applied. Slow can be fast when it comes to transitions. Once on my feet, the first two miles of any triathlon run, to me, are the most stressful. You have no idea how your legs are going to respond and can only hope for the best. I was especially nervous after Ironman Silverman 70.3, where I experienced leg cramps even while putting on shoes in T2. Mentally, that's like running on egg shells. All I can do is focus on breathing, posture, cadence, and feel what's happening to me physically. Control the controllables, as they say. Fortunately, my pace quickened easily as did my heart rate. I was easily able to drift into the desired sub-8 minute miles while keeping my heart rate in a low aerobic state, and remained there for almost the first half-marathon. I couldn't believe how smooth everything felt. I was truly having fun in an Ironman, especially when Wattie Ink's own fabled Eurostar smacked me HARD on the ass along the riverfront. The concept of not having fun sounds foolish as this whole thing is supposed to be a hobby. But when your gut is bothering you, your feet hurt, you're suffering from a mild, dull headache and think that you won't be done for another 24 miles...fun is hard to come by.

Coming out of T2, hoping for the best. Only 26 miles to go!

Coming out of T2, hoping for the best. Only 26 miles to go!

However, while my run was just starting to unfold nicely, I had already made the second-biggest mental mistake of the day. Coming out of T2, I looked at my watch and noticed, for the first time all day, that my overall time was 6:47:10. Doing the math quickly in my head, I knew I couldn't break 10 hours as hoped. Even if I had put it out of my head before the sun rose (mistake Number One), the spark of my dream was still lit. Until that moment, of course. Not once did I think, "Well, if I run a 3:30:00 marathon I can still come in eight minutes ahead of my PR from 2013. I didn't set an aggressive goal for myself, instead I just resigned to missing my top mark and hoped I had good run legs underneath me. By making that choice, or lack thereof, I failed to challenge myself to greatness. I "settled" and merely hoped for a solid marathon, and to pass as many people along the way as I could. The reason I did this was simple: I didn't want to fail. I knew I needed to cross the finish line to validate my ongoing quest for a future Legacy slot if I can't qualify for Kona on my own. It is no longer acceptable to think that way. Period. 

The worry over being "safe" limited my vision to be great. I took no chances throughout the entire day. I managed my race and finished with my best Ironman placement ever. But for what? Why? Is finishing an Ironman the mark of greatness, or is the mark of greatness picking a seemingly impossible goal and pushing to the limits of our physical and mental abilities to achieve it? Even if you fail, you've tried for something gallant, something bold and daring. The reward is worth the risk. Ask Mirinda Carfrae.

Back to the race. From the first mile, I was bloated from the bike ride. No food sounded good, so I focused entirely on water and Coke at each aid station. Within four miles, my stomach tightness was gone, but my appetite hadn't arrived. Around mile 12, I began to fade. Aid station pauses turned to full-on walking. My pace slowed by almost a minute per hour. Still, I honestly never panicked. "Work the problem. Work the problem," I thought. I was running with gels in each hand, along with electrolyte tablets just in case. I popped some pills, tried a gel, slammed a banana and a quarter of an orange. It took five miles to pick my pace back up, and that was mostly thanks to seeing Christophe trot by looking strong and fresh. I knew he was coming for me and I needed to pick up the speed. This actually led to my favorite part of the marathon, miles 20-26. Honestly, who thinks the last six miles are the best?! Certainly it was my first time thinking that. Yet, I had the energy to run through aid stations entirely, and without cramps. I was 100% focused on passing as many people as possible, as was my strategy throughout the day. Since I knew my PR wasn't going to be hit (so I thought), all I cared about was eating people up on the course. And I did, to the tune of 18 age-group competitors in the marathon alone.

Is finishing an Ironman the mark of greatness, or is the mark of greatness picking a seemingly impossible goal and pushing to the limits of our physical and mental abilities to achieve it?

I rounded the right turn on Ash Avenue prior to making the left onto Rio Salado. It felt so much easier than last year, when all I kept humming to myself was "Carry me home tonight" from that F.U.N. song.  An uncontrollable grin began to emerge. Still, I had no idea what my overall time was for the day. I hadn't looked once since switching my Garmin watch mode to pace, lap time and heart rate. While I began my fist-pumping elation, letting loose all the pent-up emotion from the day and last several months of training, I saw the clock: 10:25:40. My PR was 10:25:36. My marathon PR had been 3:53 the year prior. On this day it was 3:39:46. 

I didn't even care. To hit nearly the same time as last year under markedly different conditions was enough in that moment. Final time: 10:26:01. Except this year, I finished nine places higher in my age group than last year, and nearly 100 places higher overall.

A salty, exhausted, happy mess.

A salty, exhausted, happy mess.

Post-Race Thoughts

It may seem like I'm disappointed in my performance. I am not. I'm grateful to participate in a sport where I can learn such insightful lessons by testing myself physically and mentally. This race was necessary to experience before I could possibly challenge myself to push beyond conventional wisdom for a transcendent result. The kind of result that exceeds my own expectations because I dared myself to dig deeper and go faster when I think there's no capability to do so. If I want to qualify for Kona, I can't look at a weather report on race day morning and decide a top 10 or better placement is not possible. Managing the race is a nice thing to do when you're simply trying to have a good race, a nice race. But GREAT races require greater commitment, no matter the conditions or circumstances. I am now prepared, more than any other point in my training, to become great, and prepared for the sacrifices that greatness will require.

I will learn. I will evolve. And I will improve.

My Fortius teammate Ryan has a megawatt smile that just makes you want to smile too. Ryan was one of the folks who planned to race Ironman Lake Tahoe and moved to IMAZ after that race got cancelled. Glad I got to be there at the finish with him after I bundled up due to some shivering post-race.

My Fortius teammate Ryan has a megawatt smile that just makes you want to smile too. Ryan was one of the folks who planned to race Ironman Lake Tahoe and moved to IMAZ after that race got cancelled. Glad I got to be there at the finish with him after I bundled up due to some shivering post-race.

Special Thanks

My parents and father in law attended IMAZ this year, along with my biggest cheerleader and best friend, Stephanie. She happens to be my wife too, which is rad. To have that kind of support crew on hand, as well as a very special friend in Russ...that was awesome. Thank you for helping me create an unforgettable memory.

My Fortius Coaching family was outstanding in their support too. Coach Gerardo helped deliver me to the finish line healthy and ready to race well despite a very busy summer filled with travel and illness. This has been my most successful race season, results-wise. Thank you, G.

Fortius annual pre-race dinner at Oregano's in Tempe.

Fortius annual pre-race dinner at Oregano's in Tempe.

Representing Wattie Ink on the course was a special honor. The team had recently trimmed its roster by 1/3 and more than 500 applicants applied to the 2015 squad. To be selected for a second year meant so much to me. Almost to the point of a separate blog post on its own. Wattie Ink sponsors Herbalife, ISM saddles, Speedfil, Reynolds wheels, PowerBar, TriBike Transport, and BlueSeventy all played major roles in my race.

Gerry Rodrigues and the school of amazing fish at Tower 26 kindled a passion for swimming I never knew existed. I truly look forward to 5 a.m. wakeups now to swim with some of the most dedicated athletes in SoCal. I can't wait to see what kind of progress I make in the water next season.

Corey Enman at Fitamorphosis Fit Body Boot Camp whipped my body and mind into shape the last several weeks with some terrific tri-specific strength training sessions. I valued our laughing together as much as the workouts themselves. Ben Kleinbrodt, my longtime chiropractor, helped manage some misalignment issues in my back the last few weeks and I was pain-free on race day. Efren Jimenez kept my my muscles feeling smooth and that's why he's the top-rated massage therapist in Burbank.

There are three additional people I'd like to thank behind the scenes. Jason McFaul (who qualified for Kona in my age group at IMAZ '14), Caleb Sponholtz, and Gary Michelson have become good friends and mentors, but more importantly, people I just generally look up to. They send me motivational text messages, challenge me to think differently about my training and racing, and inspire me with their performances. Each helped me break through some big barriers this season. I'll be training more with Jason and Caleb this winter and can't wait. Gary, I'm ready to run with you too!

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge someone who won't be reading this post, but who lives on with me in spirit. Ethan Weiss passed away about a week before IMAZ. I wanted to honor him with a strong race and I kept him in mind all week, almost losing my composure on the walk to the race that morning. I think the wind had something to do with him messing with me, which is something Ethan would have done. Then, he would have shaken my hand at the finish line and said, "Way to go, Kid." I'll greatly miss him.

Honored virtual big brother Ethan on my race shoes. 

Honored virtual big brother Ethan on my race shoes. 

The offseason is here...for a week. Then, we begin training for 2015. The hunt for Kona continues.


The Perfect Race

Until this past weekend at Ironman Arizona, I thought the concept of “the perfect race” was a fallacy. There is no such thing. Especially with my bad luck finding good weather, not to mention past nutrition foibles, pacing problems, occasionally gloomy mental outlook and all the other “little” things that can add up to a major malfunction on race day if not addressed properly.

Read More

By the Time I Get to Arizona...Again

This past weekend, I volunteered at Ironman Arizona again.  And somehow I signed up to try my luck there again. Two months after competing at Ironman Lake Tahoe in all its 6,200-foot glory, I'll be toeing the line in Tempe as my friends Kevin and Melissa experience the joy of their own first-time Ironman journey.  I couldn't let them do it without me.

My favorite part of the weekend was watching them take in the swim start, atop the 12th floor of the Microsoft building overlooking Tempe Town Lake. You can get a glimpse of it here, though warnings that some of the language is NFSW :)

Read More

Reflections of IMAZ 2010

One year ago today, I arrived in Tempe, Arizona, scared and excited to reach a yearlong quest to become an Ironman. My feelings then are still so vivid now.  The unabashed pride entering the Athlete Registration tent and Body Marking tent.  I never wanted that paint to wear off my arms and legs.  I remember how I knew I belonged in that tent and there was no place else on the planet I'd rather be in that moment.

Read More

Ironman Arizona Race Report: Part II

BIKE: AKA The Windy Ride From Hell photo.php.jpg

All that time I gained towards my best-case scenario goal of 11:30:00 quickly evaporated during a 10:22 T1.  For context, I was hoping for between a 5:00-7:30 T1 total, and that's slow.  Practically everything that could go wrong in a transition did.  I never should have zipped up my cycling jersey the night prior with all my gear in it, as that left little room to unzip the shirt and drape it around me in the rush of the moment.  Instead, I accidentally dumped all the contents out.  Whoops!

However, I did make one very wise choice: wearing my Fortius racing windbreaker.  Despite the gusty, rainy conditions the entire day, I was never truly cold or uncomfortable.  What I may have lost in drag, I more than made up for in relaxed comfort, right until I crossed the finisher's line several hours later.  That said, I'd like to find a windbreaker with cycling gear pockets.  I struggled throughout the bike ride to access some extra gels because they were tucked inside my jersey pocket.

Onto the ride itself. No sooner had I finished basking in the glow of my swim than I realized I had a problem on my hands.  I had to pee still. Badly.  I waited until around mile 13 of the bike, which happened to be the second aid station.  Here, I lost around two or three minutes, which I knew I could make up. But what I didn't anticipate was that I'd start having an upset stomach.  On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being excruciating, unbearable pain, my stomach issues were around a 3.  Something I noticed, in other words.  To this day, I'm not sure what caused the issue. My coach thinks it may have had something to do with taking Emergen-C packets daily going into the final week to avoid illness.  He's had other teammates complain of reflux-related issues at past races when taking Emergen-C.  I hadn't had stomach problems on a bike ride the entire year.  The result was a peculiar one though.  After eating a Clif Bar almost immediately into the first two miles of the bike, I couldn't fathom eating another one.  I love Clif Bars!  What was going on???

I put the discomfort out of my head the best I could.  Due to a decent tail crosswind I was making what I'd call "acceptable" time, clocking in 19-22 mph miles according to my Garmin watch.

Then, the half-way point turnaround on the first loop.

I will NEVER forget being smacked in the face with the headwind that followed.  It was the boxing equivalent of getting my bell rung.  Right then and there, I knew it was going to be a long day on the bike, and I could probably kiss 11:30 goodbye.  Maybe I could still break 12 though.

My Garmin watch data for the next 7 miles of the bike ride indicated I never could cross 19.6 mph.  And then my stomach issues kicked in again.  This time though, my race bib started to flap wildly at my back, causing several competitors to pause to tell me I should fix it before it blows away and I incur a potential penalty.  So there I was, around mile 31 -- stomach aching, minor equipment issue, and yet again I have to get off the bike to use the restroom.

My dream day was quickly vanishing before me.

After a roughly five-minute pee, bib-adjustment break, I was back on the road.  And for a while, my results picked up.  I crossed the 56 mile mark (half way) a few minutes shy of three hours, meaning if I could hold that pace I would still be in position to break 12 hours with some room to spare.  I was very pleased at this point despite the mounting winds, for I knew that if I could just stay on the bike, stay focused and pound when the wind was at my back I could make some time back off the clock.

photo.php.jpg

That emotion was marked by how I greeted my Fortius teammates heading into the third loop of the bike, exuberantly shouting, "One more lap!" while pointing my finger to the sky.  I was fired up and back to my old self.

Ultimately, it just wasn't meant to be though.

Though I came close to finishing the rest of the ride without breaks, I would need to briefly get off the bike at the 100th mile, where I accessed my special needs bag in what became the biggest calculated risk of the day.  The day before the race, I convinced myself that I would ingest a 5 Hour Energy drink in an emergency situation.  I had never taken such a thing before in my entire life.  I've maybe had 1-2 Red Bull drinks without alcohol either.  So, what kind of emergency would require  me breaking the cardinal sin of triathlon (though shalt NOT try new things on race day!) would be open to interpretation.  At mile 100, it meant I still had a delusional sense I could break 12 hours if I ran a solid marathon and could beat back the incessant howling winds on that final loop back to Tempe. (At this point though I was also riding anywhere from 13-17 mph miles due to what seemed to be the peak of the wind/rain/hail gusts.)  But the real emergency was that I was starting to bonk physically and mentally. I remember around mile 94 being pounded into submission by the weather.  The headwinds just became too much.  I was being passed all over the place.  The ride stopped being fun.  My watch data was indicating three, four and even five-minute miles in the face of the headwinds.  Wind has always been my weak point and it was being exposed in the biggest racing day of my life.  That, combined with a continued inability to eat anything other than bananas, deflated my psyche.  What was wrong with me?  Why today?  How could I possibly run a marathon next after the beating I was taking on the bike?

Enter 5 Hour Energy!

Yes, the berry flavor tasted foul, like acidic Robitussin.  But within 20 minutes, my pace picked up by more than a full mile-per-hour, and even crept up close to a 2 mph bump.  At one point I blasted through a group of bigger, stronger riders that included Bob amidst a massive 35-mph wind gust.  This stuff really works, I thought!  I was practically reborn, and though I took it easy on the final mile back to the bike transition, I was ready to attack the run.

When I finally entered the chute to T2, I have rarely been more relieved to get off a bike.  Without question, that 112 mile Ironman bike was the toughest ride I've ever encountered.  I'm comforted to know that several others, including pros, have commented about how tough the course was on Sunday.  I wasn't the only one who had a rough day out there.

photo.php.jpg

But, I got through it, crossing the finish marker in 6:16:11.  Despite three stops, I still was only 16 minutes off my training goal and well within my third-place goal of breaking 6:20:00.  Moreover, I could still break 12 hours if I hustled.

However, there was another factor at play.  One that I thought I could ignore on the bike but was proven wrong.  More on that next.

Ironman Arizona Race Report Part I

"So, how was your Ironman?"

That was the question I was greeted with from our well-intentioned office administrator as I opened the door to the lobby this past Tuesday on my first day back from completing Ironman Arizona.

You'd think that 12.5 hours plus the ride home would have given me more than enough time to practice and rehearse my canned response to such a simple question.  Yet, upon being presented it, I could only muster an amused stare as my jaw dropped.

How could I possibly sum up an Ironman in quaint morning conversation?

Almost a week later, I'm still struggling to find the words, but I will try below.  From the comfort of my office den at home. In sweats.  Workout clothes and race kits neatly folded for the time being.  Wetsuit flopped over my rocking chair, apparently done for the winter.  Browned, dirt-stained running shoes placed in the closet. Tri bike still at Coach Gerardo's house, waiting patiently for me to retrieve it (this weekend I swear!).

So far, the quiet is the strangest part.  No workouts to log.  No bottles to rinse or prepare.  No early morning or late evening workouts to schedule around. Nothing.  Swim, bike, run has been replaced -- somewhat reluctantly -- with eat, sleep, rest.

And plenty of time to reflect on a yearlong journey that ultimately was blessed with good luck, good health and plenty of good results. Culminating in my first Ironman, but certainly not my last.  Despite the commitment, the pain and the sacrifices, I can't wait for my next M-dot race, Coeur d'Alene. The countdown is about to begin anew but before it does, here are my thoughts on Ironman #1.

I hope this helps a first-time Ironman competitor somewhere out there.  Also see this post for more basic tips and lessons learned

SWIM

As I wrote in the days preceding the race, I was surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt. The best way to describe my emotional state is that I simply felt like I belonged at Ironman Arizona.  All the hours spent alone training, and with my AMAZING Fortius Racing team, had melded and forged my mind and body into something hard.  Not one part of me felt ill-prepared for the day and as a result, I could enjoy every moment going into race morning.

Around 6:40 a.m., after some photos with fellow IMAZ competitors, LA Tri Clubbers and teammates, I plopped into the chilly, murky lake water. The temperature was never a factor, as several ocean swims in Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and Malibu were actually colder than the announced 64 degrees.  Bob and I found a spot together towards the middle-left of the pack.  Upon seeing the massive volume of people in the water, we both realized the likelihood of swimming together was slim. We wished each other a great race, hugged, and treaded water silently for a few minutes absorbing the moment.

Then, Black Sabbath's "Ironman" started blaring through the loudspeakers.

SHOWTIME!

I whooped and hollered, dropping my rock horns in beat with the music.  This was it!  The moment was here, and it was perfect.  The bridge lights above us twinkled overhead, the moon was still out.  And then, the cannon blast signaling the race start.

All hell broke loose.

The lake simply erupted into mass chaos.  Arms churned and legs kicked.  Elbows struck, hands grabbed.  Those first 500-1,000 yards are a total blur.  I just kept my focus and surged forward as best I could without panicking.  Which is hard to do as competitors claw at you to find better position in the water.  I zig-zagged all over the place to find any opening I could for a few strokes without drinking water or being pelted by body parts.  Others weren't so fortunate.  I remember seeing out the side of my right goggle lens a man floating on his back, appearing to hyperventilate.  I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I kept swimming forward.

It took around 30 minutes, by my estimation, before I found enough room in the water to swim at what felt like my race pace.  That would have been roughly 10 minutes before the 1.2 mile turnaround buoy.  I remember feeling incredibly relaxed at this point and somewhat surprised at how fast the morning was going.  After all the waiting, I was in the middle of an Ironman!

The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful.  I did veer off course, straying inward to where an official in a kayak had to gently corral a few of us stragglers back to the main route.  I probably lost 45 seconds correcting myself but wasn't too rattled.  I'd prefer to veer inward anyway as I can track an inside line towards the final turn to the finish.  The only real dilemma at this point was whether I could coax my body to pee while I was swimming. I had to go for a second time even though I pee'ed prior to the race.  I was in such a swimming zone that I didn't want to disrupt my cadence to stop.  This would turn out to be a mistake.

After essentially sprinting the final 500 yards of the swim to reach the stairs exit, I'll never forget looking at the event timing clock while running to T1: 1:12:53. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!???" That's all I could think to myself, I had shattered my best-case scenario swim goal by two full minutes.  I had swam at a 1:43 pace, a full :04-:08 faster than usual.

This was going to be a great day, I thought.

Part 2 tomorrow: The Windy Bike Ride From Hell

OHMYGODI'MANIRONMAN!!!

I'm also ridiculously caffeinated. I don't and haven't drank cola or much caffeine for at least three years.  I had a 5 Hour Energy for the first time (yes, that's generally a no-no) and had several colas throughout the run.  You'll see why below.

Anyways, my caffeine rush prompted three pages of notes so I'm sharing them verbatim.  I will write a race report incorporating these lessons into something a bit more prosaic, but figured this is a good start.  I don't want to forget any of this stuff.

Thank you all for your support the past year.  I feel like this blog has somehow made a difference for a few folks and that means so much.  And I made a new friend tonight with a fellow competitor and FINISHER, Robyn.  She ROCKS. 

So, I need to eat dinner and then TRY to go to bed.  I'm exhuasted but WIRED.  Let's see how this goes haha.

More to come in the next couple days, but I hope this captures the spirit of the lessons learned while it doesn't come close to describing the emotions of the day.  That's next.

12:39!

I AM AN IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pre-race day:

Remember all your bags.  Pack with gear/special needs in mind so  all you have to do is transfer bags. Literally put stuff in separate bags beforehand. Will save tons of time.  Wish I had done that.

Get to event early.  You’ll be surprised how hard it is to relax.

I found staying off-site better.  The energy near the race site is too hectic and could be a distraction or could psyche you out.

Swim:

Scrum!

Don’t panic

Find a lane during the event, and keep switching if need-be.  Be flexible.  Keep sighting!  Practice sighting in open water drills.

Practice exiting the water.  It’s giant stairs.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. Stay compact, use your knees and elbows to crawl up the steps, don’t swing your leg to the side as someone could bump you or you could get a cramp.  This did not happen to me, thanks to listening to Bob’s advice.

Bike

Don’t panic if the weather doesn’t go your way.  Adjust accordingly.  I tried to keep my goal time intact instead of going with the flow a little more – though I don ‘t believe I overexerted too much.  My coach might disagree, and I wouldn’t argue too strongly about that.

If you have a Speedfill, do NOT do what I did.  Don’t put powder in and then mix with water. It will clog your filter.  Bad idea.  Use water bottles the way you normally would and then squirt the mixture in the speedfill.

If you have to leave your bike out overnight, which you probably do, leave a little pressure out of the tires until the next morning.  This will help you avoid a temperature pressure-driven flat.

If you can, I highly recommend practicing in inclement weather.  The worse the weather, the better the idea to practice.  Fillmore saved my ass in training due to the winds but it still didn’t prepare me totally adequately for today.  And rain is a whole different story.  Gotta just get through it, though I recommend lighter-tinted glasses since if you  have water on the lens it’s harder to see.  This didn’t bother me too much but I noticed it enough to mention.

Pace yourself.  I knew I would feed off the crowd at the end of each loop so I pushed it a bit to “put on a show” and feed off the crowd.  I think that’s fine, but chill out for a bit after you’re away from the main crowd so you can regain your energy and focus.

If you need to pee, pee.  I pee’ed twice on the first loop.  So glad I did.  I was bummed to lose time, but I was a lot more comfortable.

Experiment with compression shorts a lot before wearing them in an IM.  It helped me for sure, but I wonder if the pressure on my gut caused some of my GI issues today.  Nutrition was a big problem for  me on the bike.  I couldn’t stand ingesting my normal foods (Clif Bars and gels) for some reason.  This was highly unexpected but again DON’T PANIC.  Listen to your body.  I ate a lot of bananas today and it was a good substitute.

5 Hour Energy.  Holy Shit. Blew my mind.  Never used it before, which is a bad idea in general for any race as a rule of thumb.  However, it saved my ass on the brutal bike ride.  And I powered through some 35 mph gusts (by Bob’s estimation) while others struggled b/c  the B12 kicked in at the right moment.  This stuff rocked, but it may also have contributed to a nasty sidestitch on the first mile of the run.  Yikes.

Speaking of run….

Run:

Don’t panic.  I got a cramp the first mile.  Thank goodness I found out there was a cramp/massage station in the first check point.  I used it and it helped immensely.  My cramp went away.  And then, at mile 8, my IT bands locked up big time.  Again, don’t panic.  I used the med tent to get THE MOST PAINFUL MASSAGE in my life but it was worth it.  Don’t worry about losing time in the short term.  I could not have completed the marathon in the time I did without these necessary breaks in the race.  Which leads me to:

Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast.  I needed those breaks to continue the race.  And while I lost 15 minutes at least on those massages, I think I raced faster throughout the day as a result.  This is a hard concept to accept, I think, because you have to sacrifice your goal time potentially to get what your body needs.   But your body will pay you back big-time.  Which leads me to:

Don’t panic!  Stuff WILL go wrong throughout the day.  My nutrition, my Speedfill needed ER attention at the last second.  I couldn’t eat the stuff I trained all year to eat.  My body locked up.  The weather turned into a storm.  Keep your head down and FOCUS.  Focus one mile at a time.  That is all you can do.  Don’t worry about your best-laid plans.  They very well may fall through. What is your back-up?  And what’s the back-up to that if the shit really hits the fan?  You need to know, and accept these conditions BEFORE the race.

Carry Endurolytes.  It saved me from really cramping.  Keep spare pills in your special needs bag.  I lost all my pills from the first container b/c I accidentally tipped them over while while drinking water.

On the run, eat what you want to eat.  Don’t worry about it.  Follow your body.  Do what it tells you.  Walk when you really need to walk.  Try to run as much as you can.  Shuffling is OK AND EFFECTIVE.  Accept that you can move pretty fast with an alternate gait if you must.  I did, and I’m happy with my time.

Enjoy that chute finish!  You deserve it!  Celebrate!  Let loose!  Shout, or do whatever comes naturally.  You can plan all you want for how you think you’ll react, but you  have no idea until you’re there.  But don’t rush it.  Embrace the moment.  It only happens once.

Highlights:

n  Swim!  PR

n  Bike: Seeing the pros whiz by and being on the same course as them at the same time even for a few seconds, right next to them.  Wow!

n  Bike:  5 Hour Energy!  Holy shit!

n  Run: Not panicking.  Being smart in how I raced.  Hugging Steph for a boost at mile 17.  Running the last big hill without stopping.  The finish!!!!

n  Being recognized for my blog from a wonderful human being and now friend, Robyn.  Such a touching moment at the finish where we hugged.

Lowlights:

n  Nutrition going haywire

n  Swim like a water polo match meets rugby match.  Brutal out there!

n  Weather absolutely destroying my body on the bike and wind challenging me several times on the run, along with brief drizzles too.

n  Cramps and lockup on the run.  Most painful massage in my life.

n  Lodging an Endurolyte in my throat at mile 22.  Dry heaves ensue.

Final lessons learned:

n  The race hurts real bad. That pain is temporary and harsh.  But the life lessons last forever.  Among those, sometimes you need to put yourself through extreme pain to get the most benefit from what you need -- even if it's not what you want.   For me that’s don’t panic, dealing with real physical pain, dealing with disappointment and rallying, understanding slower can be faster, and having three plans for truly important goals.  So valuable (thanks Gerardo!)

Info Overload

Last night, Bob (@rcmcoach on Twitter), Leon and I met with Coach Gerardo to discuss our Ironman Arizona and Silverman race strategy plans.  Gerardo's kitchen served as our war room. We met for nearly two full hours discussing pre-race, race and post-race tips, tricks and lessons learned.  We got so detailed that we discussed counting calories, salt intake, what time to wake up on race day, what time to eat, even exactly what to pack in our special needs bags on the bike and run courses. That's just a fraction of the information we ingested.  I almost have information digestion issues!

It was exactly the kind of experience where I realized how valuable having a triathlon coach can be.  I can't imagine going into this race not being armed with the four pages of notes now stored in my computer.

The biggest thing I learned during those two hours is how regimented the days and hours leading to the race may be regimented.  It's almost like the science of the sport suddenly takes over.  And considering I'm a "feel" guy more than a numbers cruncher, it will be an interesting experience for me.

Right after posting this, I'm going back over my notes.  I need to reorganize them.  Prioritize them again.  And perhaps most important, I need to share them with those family and friends coming to cheer me on.  There will be a lot they need to know.

I will also share some of those tips here, though I need to keep them appropriately vague. Not because I don't want to share them with the competition.  No, it's not that at all. I'm not trying to qualify for Kona.  It's out of respect for Coach Gerardo, who has amassed his knowledge and experience from more than 70 triathlons and his share of Ironman-distance races. My fellow Fortius Coaching teammates pay for that access, and it would be unfair to him if I just openly blabbed that data to the world.  I think I did that for Vineman 70.3 without really thinking it through, and I need to find a better balance between being a paying client and a blogger who shares anything and everything.

So, you'll just have to trust me when I say I'm feeling very well prepared for Ironman Arizona. Physically, mentally, and hopefully emotionally.  I'll share what I can hopefully tomorrow, though I'm going to show Gerardo first to make sure it's not too proprietary.

For now though, it's back to the gym.  Back to the roads.  Back to the pool.  There's still one more week where I can make gains for IMAZ.  Then, the real taper starts.  Mentally, it started for me this week as I "only" have 18 hours of training compared to the 19-plus and nearly 21 hours I did this past week.  So, 18 is a cakewalk by comparison.

Even after this past weekend's training, I feel great.  Sure, I'm sore and tight.  But, I know I have more left in the tank for one more push to improve over the next several days.  I'm going to take that seriously.  I know there's something left to eke out of my performance. I'm not sure where.  Maybe it's a smoother feeling on the run in the latter miles.  Maybe it's a loosening of my quads and thighs on the bike, or being able to swim more smoothly for longer.  Whatever it is, I'll find it this week.

That, I can share with you.

24 days and counting.