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.


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WTF Have I Done?!

I signed up for Ironman St. George this past week. The event is two months away.  Eight weeks. Five weeks of build and peak training left.

When I write these sentences and stare at the screen, I wonder what the heck I was thinking. And how it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

So, what the heck was I thinking?!

First and foremost, Ironman St. George has always called to me.  It's arguably the toughest Ironman in the continental US -- even with the more forgiving run course.  Ever since "tri-asshole" told me I could have picked a harder Ironman when I was getting ready for Ironman Arizona in 2010, I knew I had to prove something more to myself. I knew I couldn't quite feel satisfied with my Ironman accomplishments until I tackled IM St. George.

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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.

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Losing My Fitness

So this is what it's like to be a "retired" athlete. Now that the Official Wedding Countdown Clock is ticking loudly, I've noticed that my workouts are becoming fewer and farther between.  What used to be a 1.5 hour trail run has become a 30-minute jog around the block.  A 1.5 hour bike ride at Griffith Park has become a one hour (albeit quite intense) session on my new CompuTrainer.  About the only thing I've kept up with is my swimming, on strict orders from Coach Gerardo that I get in the pool four times a week to work on improving technique.  I've even failed at that, hitting three swim sessions a week appears to be my ceiling at the moment.

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You Have No Upcoming Workouts

Since November 2009, a big part of my life has been ruled by an email appearing in my Gmail inbox: My Training Peaks scheduled workout.  My coach, Gerardo Barrios, dutifully updated my schedule each week and sometimes two or three weeks in advance.  I planned my work day, outings with Stephanie and our friends and family, and my own "free" time around whatever my Training Peaks update left room for.

But since the conclusion of Ironman Coeur d'Alene, my update has read the same: "Ryan Schneider: You have no upcoming workouts."

It's taken all of one week since IMCDA to become sick of seeing that statement.  Sure, I've swam a bit and spun on my trainer.  But it's just not the same.  Strangely, now I feel guilty with all my free time -- though I'm savoring every minute.  I've gotten so much done around the house, spent a LOT of quality time with Steph the past few days, caught up with friends, finished my next Lava Magazine column and am finally present with all my outstanding work-related emails.

Ahhh, productivity!

Still, deep inside, I can feel my fitness slipping away.  All the work I did to become a bonafide Ironman triathlete is dissipating.  And that's frustrating.  I didn't work this hard to become a slouch.

What am I going to do about it?

This is my plan, for the moment. Plans can change, as I've learned all too well from this sport.

  • For the next two months I'm focusing heavily on all things wedding.  The Big Day is less than two months away and there's still much to do.  Steph has been phenomenal shouldering such a heavy load, and I'm going to ease that burden significantly.  The countdown for the wedding is becoming just as exciting as any athletic event, and I think it will surpass anything I've felt before come Wedding Day.
  • While Steph and I are focused on The Best Wedding Ever, I plan to swim a couple times a week, either with Fortius or on my own. I also plan to learn what I can to significantly improve my swim technique.  I don't know if that means Total Immersion swimming or improving upon my existing mechanics.  I'm undecided here, so any advice would be super appreciated!  I won't participate in a triathlon until at least October (though I did flirt with showing up last-minute to Strawberry Fields Triathlon in Oxnard on July 16), so I have plenty of time to see how I can break major new ground in the water.
  • Next, I'm planning to purchase either a Computrainer indoor computer trainer system OR a power meter to measure power output on the bike.  If I want to make big leaps on the bike without spending more time training then either one of these tools are going to become quite important.  I'm still trying to decide which tool represents the better investment.  Please let me know if you have an opinion.  In the meantime, I'm going to spin on my trainer a couple times a week while watching the Tour de France, possibly going on a few-hour ride one day during the weekend.  If anyone reading this wants to go riding for a few hours, let me know!  (Brennan, I'm looking at you!)
  • While I'm training simply to maintain a basic form of fitness, I'm planning to thoroughly read Joe Friel's "Your Best Triathlon" book.  I need to find a way to train within the 10-15 hours a week range, with few exceptions.  I figure more focused, more intense training spread out over more recovery might help.  That's why I'm leaning towards purchasing the Computrainer, as it immediately cuts down on commute time, gives me all sorts of data to analyze and lets me ride simulation courses from most Ironman or 70.3-distance events.  From what I'm reading, 70 miles on a trainer equals 100 miles on the road.  I like that, if I can grind it out mentally.
  • That's everything on the training front. I still need to find better balance with my writing.  I've got some plans to turn the Ironmadman blog into a book project and self-publish through Kindle. This is a long-term goal though I'm starting to work towards it now -- thinking of an outline is the first step and is officially under way as of today.  Next, I'm considering an offer from the LA Tri Club to be its official blogger.  I'd write one post per week on pretty much anything I want.  However, time is going to be slim for this so I may have to opt out.

Where does this leave my blogging?

I don't know, to be honest.

I don't know if I can continue to blog every day, especially without any races coming up.  There's simply not a lot of "interesting" triathlon related news that's going to come from me.  I do owe people more info from my Chris McCormack interview, and I haven't forgotten about that.  Otherwise, I think we're winding down on the Ironmadman daily blog for the time being.  I'll continue to post, just not nearly as often.

Of course, last time I wrote that I went back to heavy frequency.  Perhaps this whole writing thing is more a part of me than I realize!

I do plan to write a somewhat temporary/unofficial "farewell" post in the coming days.  Something to wrap up what I consider to be two huge chapters in my triathlon journey -- completing my first Ironman and taking the lessons learned to complete a second within seven months.  There are lots of people to thank and acknowledge, and I'd like to write a letter to my future children (NO, none are on the way any time soon mom!) so they can have some real context to what I hope this blog can teach them one day.

Just because I don't have any upcoming workouts on my schedule doesn't mean I'm going to stay idle.

I hope I'm just warmed up now.

IMCDA Race Report Part 3: A Runner Today

Once I got off the bike, I had an eerie sense of deja-vu.  I could feel the light heat of the afternoon, and I could feel my tight and slightly wobbly legs. Memories of Ironman Arizona crept into my head.  Stomach cramps during the first mile of the run. IT bands locking up almost immediately.  Med tent visits.  Running alone.  Darkness setting in.  Goals slipping away with the moonrise. I walked into T2 unsure what to expect of myself, taking my time in transition to make sure I had everything I would need for what might become a long, long walk.

After the kindest trio of volunteers slathered me with sunblock, I exited T2 and walked along the crowd-infested corridor out to Sherman Avenue.  The noise and energy was incredible. Everyone seemed to be imploring me to stop walking and to get a move-on.  I noticed that the Timex official event clock struck 8:00 almost on the dot as I passed under it.

Breaking 12 hours was not meant to be today.  But breaking 12:30:00 was a real possibility -- if I started running.  Still, that would be a 30-minute personal best time if I could pull it off.

Thirty freaking minutes.

Like a jockey kicking the sides of a horse, I slapped my right thigh to pick up the pace.  "Let's see how this goes," I thought, scared that my legs would lock up just like in Tempe.

Nothing.

Shock.

I felt good?!

I FELT GOOD!

I exploded out onto Sherman Avenue to thunderous cheers for all the athletes.  It didn't matter I was a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, the crowd didn't care.  They just wanted me to believe in myself and smile.  So I did, thanking people who called out my name because of my race bib and even high-fiving a few people along the way.  This was glorious, what every weekend warrior dreams of. That one moment in time where you're not watching the Tour de France, you're riding in it.  You're not watching the World Series, you're starting Game 1.

That is what Ironman is all about...one moment in time where it's your name on the back of the jersey, not MJ's, not LeBron's, not Jeter's, not Brady's.

I kept a strong pace through the first mile until I reached the Fortius team tent.  Steph, Coach Gerardo and my teammates were all there to encourage me.  I stopped to give Steph a brief kiss and told her I felt really good.

It was on.

Those first six miles, I assaulted the course.  I ran motivated, fearless, and angry.  See, my strength trainer told me weeks before the race that "my body simply isn't cut out for running" and that I should quit altogether after Ironman.  Thanks to Steph's guidance, we came up with a mantra that funneled my resentment and hurt: "I may not be cut out to be a runner.  But I'm a runner TODAY."  I repeated that phrase out loud the first six miles, along with another choice statement: "I am fucking invincible today."  I'm not sure where the latter one came from, but I know what sparked it.  I knew my Fortius teammates and LA Tri Club buddies were behind me.  I also knew they probably figured I'd do what I had done at Wildflower Long Course triathlon this past May -- bonk hard on the run after a hard bike.

Heck, I thought I was going to as well!

But I just couldn't let that happen. I couldn't stand the humiliation of proving once again that I'm all bike and no run.  I needed to be more than that.  I had set up my race all day for the run.  I had stayed within myself on the bike, calculating my nutrition by feel and pace by instinct just so I would be in this position.

I was NOT letting go of my lead.  Not today.  Because today, I'm a runner.  Plain and simple.  Runners don't lose their lead.

I had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew I was following my walk-the-aid-station plan and running faster than I had during my training sessions.  I felt amazing.  Around mile 12, I found my buddy Chris, who kicked my ass on the bike by about six minutes.  I gave up trying to catch him early in the bike race, hedging my bets for this moment.

When I ran alongside Chris, I told him to run-walk with me, that we could finish together if we did.  I really meant it.  Chris has been a good friend and training partner the past couple years.  I didn't want to see him suffer, and he was clearly bonking.  Chris gave it a valiant effort to keep the pace but fell back.  I saw him once more as I started my second loop of the marathon at mile 13.5 and he was just starting his second loop.  I didn't see him again.

This is where I got into trouble.  I lost my head when I saw Team Fortius around mile 14.  I was having the run of my life, or so it felt.  I demanded that my teammates not tell me my pace or what time of the day it was.  I didn't want to know!  I was so locked into my own mental space that it didn't matter.  I could feel my heart-rate rise though as I saw Steph, Gerardo and Christina.  I started screaming, "I MAY NOT BE A RUNNER, BUT I AM TODAY!!!" Later, Christina would say her hand still hurt from my high-five as I rushed past.

That heart-rate and adrenaline surge would cost me a few miles later.

I started to bonk around mile 17, two miles more than my longest run of the past six months.  There's a long half-mile uphill climb and it ate me alive.  I had stopped repeating my mantra and was simply focused on reaching each aid station in the best condition possible.  Stomach cramps started searing my midsection, though I had made a smart tactical gamble five miles prior when I picked up a Pepto Bismal tablet package that someone had dropped on the course. Just like at Ironman Arizona, I thought I might need it.  I surely did.

Mile 18 came, and this is where it gets a little gross.  I apologize in advance, but in the spirit of honesty and sharing what happens to the body during an Ironman, I pissed myself.  I had to use the restroom, my brain was tired, I didn't want to stop moving and I didn't have the willpower to wait any longer.  I walked through an aid station as urine poured down my leg. Nobody could tell as I took water sponges and drenched the back of my neck and head to make it look like water was soaking my whole body.

Sorry mom.

The next four miles were the hardest.  The hills continued to whittle my legs out from under me, and the hamstring cramps kicked in.  I remember running and looking at my shadow just as I pulled up lame with a shooting flame locking my right leg up.  I limped for about 10 steps and continued to run while breathing straight to the pain. Cramp gone.  This happened two or three times along the way.  My strong pace had crumbled completely, going from what I later learned was a 9:36 pace to a 11:53/mile pace for those four miles.  I had bonked HARD.

The drama and finality of finishing my second Ironman kicked in around the 24th mile.  The crowds of neighbors peeking out from their homes in the residential neighborhood could tell who was on their second loop and which runners were starting their first.  They seemed to pay special attention to those of us who looked the most wounded.  That would be me. "Come on Ryan!  Finish this!  Don't stop!"  One house had the Rocky Balboa theme song blasting from its driveway.

That's all I needed.  I had worked this entire year for this moment.  It was the 15th round.  I had punched hard, been punched hard, knocked this race down and been knocked down by it.  But now it was time to FINISH.  No excuses. No pain.

Mile 25. One final round of cramps just for good measure on the final hill before reaching Coeur d'Alene City Hall.  I ran through the parking lot, still oblivious to whatever my time and pace had been to this point.  Then, I saw the City Hall clock before making the final turn onto Sherman Avenue and seeing the absolutely endless finisher's chute -- fortunately all downhill from there.

7:25 p.m.

I was going to break 4:30.  I did it without a watch.  I did it without a clue on timing.

I did it all on heart.

The final quarter-mile felt quite different from Ironman Arizona.  I wasn't giddy this time.  I was exhausted.  I felt like the Memphis Belle from the 1980s movie with Matt Modine and Eric Stoltz.  Landing gear gone.  Wing shot up.  No fuel in the tank.  Gonna land on my belly, if I land at all.

Just. Get. Me. To. The. Finish.

Gerardo high-fived me.  "You PR'd!"  Too tired to acknowledge it.  Just keep running, I thought.

The final chute.  The cheering is actually a roar.  Somehow, I spot Stephanie to my left.  My arms raise, and I point to her emphatically.

This moment was for her as much as it was for me.  WE did this.  We did it!

I promised myself throughout my training that when I crossed the finish line of my second Ironman, I'd make the famous "V" sign with both hands to indicate two completed Ironmans.  Oh it felt good to raise those arms!

"Ryan Schneider, from Sherman Oaks, California!"

"You're an Ironman!"

12:27:26.

I predicted 12:26:00 or better in my pre-game mental strategy race document.

***

My race ended with me standing alone in the chilly lake waters, coaxing the lactic acid out of my legs.  The water was calm and lapped around me so gently.  The sun was nowhere near setting.  The temperature was perfect, and if someone told me that this is what heaven would be like, I'd be quite content.

I wasn't really thinking anything in that moment.  Just totally present.  Totally at peace. Once again, I was thrown some pretty major curveballs on one of the toughest physical days of my life.  I didn't panic.  Instead, my attitude reflected the calmness in that lake at that very moment.

I couldn't help but beam.

I may not be a runner.  But I was a runner that day.

And I was a two-time Ironman too.

IMCDA Race Report Part II: Making Friends With Pain

As you'll recall from Thursday's blog, at the end of my Ironman Coeur d'Alene swim I looked down at my wrist to check my split.  No Garmin. NO GARMIN!!!!

Believe it or not, the race photographer shooting all the swimmers exiting the water caught my expression the moment I realized I was going to have to bike 112 miles and run a marathon by instinct alone.

This is what my first boss out of college affectionately labeled "The Very Concerned Face."

I remember two things about that moment: 1) "OMG! My day is over!" and 2) "Calm down!  Don't panic!  You're going to do this by feel.  Let's move on."

If IMCDA had been my first Ironman, I would have listened to my first thought and not my second.  Instead, I calmly gathered my transition bag and settled into the changing tent to put on dry clothes for the bike ride.  It took me a while to put on my tight sleeveless tri jersey and zip the cycling jersey I wore over it.  I just didn't have warm enough fingers to do it quickly and precisely, losing precious minutes in T1.  Then, as I was about to retrieve my bike, I had to pee again.  Remember how strategic I thought I was by peeing in the lake before exiting the water?  Well, that became more wasted time as I spent another two minutes waiting for the urinal trough inside the changing tent.

Finally, ELEVEN minutes later, I was on the bike course. I felt great physically except for a massive knot in my left calf from the previous swim cramps, but my mind was spiraling out of control.  "How will I know when to hydrate and eat?"  "When will I ingest my Endurolytes without knowing what time it is?"  "How will I keep my heart rate in check?"  "How will I make sure I don't ride too hard?"

It was at this point that I reminded myself of my recent conversation with Chris McCormack and trusting your instincts. We're not robots and we shouldn't race like them, focused purely on numbers and tracking data.  I calmed down and decided that I'd play it conservative from a nutrition standpoint.  I guessed that I'd average between 16-17 mph on the hilly course, so that meant counting every 16 miles and popping two or three Endurolytes at that point.  I'd drink at what felt like every three miles, and eat when I hungry, or approximately at every 10 miles.  This approach turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it kept my brain engaged in the moment and didn't allow me to wander mentally. I had to stay focused and totally in tune with how my body felt.

I also had to contend with wondering and reacting to how I did in the swim compared to my Fortius teammates.  I knew that David, Richard, Kelly and Eddie were all faster than me in the water. Where were they on the bike?  How much ground would I need to make up to catch them?  I got my answers within the first 10 miles of the bike.  I saw Eddie, David and Richard a few minutes behind me, which made me feel real good that I didn't have as poor a swim and T1 as I thought.  If they were near me, then it was a tough swim hands-down. Then, I went on the lookout for Kelly, whom I met up with around mile 12.  We were both climbing the first big hill, trading some stories for a few minutes and I continued on.

The first loop of the bike really breezed by.  I never climbed out of my saddle on the many hills, concentrated on my breathing and nutrition, and took in the amazing scenery around me.  I briefly pushed when I saw my buddy Chris approximately 10 minutes ahead at a turnaround point -- he must have had an amazing swim, I thought.  Then, I remembered that PATIENCE had to be my mantra. I'd have to find him on the run.

As I rolled back into town, I checked a couple of outdoor clocks blinking from banks or shopping centers.  To my surprise, I was right on schedule to reach the half-way point around six hours and eight minutes -- exactly where I would have wanted to be pacing based on watch data.  I couldn't believe it.  How did I time it just right?

I was invigorated.  The day was not only salvageable, but I was feeling great -- no sign of cramps, no nutritional issues and a wave of confidence.  I decided to play it conservative for the next 10 miles with a well-timed potty break (one rest stop before special needs pickup knowing traffic would jam there) and subsequent special needs bag pickup of my own for a sandwich and mini-can of Coke.  I ate half of my peanut-butter English Muffin on the bike, felt full and pounded away.  Here I also got lucky as I threw off my cycling jacket to the Fortius team at their hangout tent just before race officials rounded a corner, I later learned.  Had they seen me, I would have received a four-minute penalty for ditching equipment illegally -- but I honestly didn't know this would be a big deal which is why I was so brazen about doing it.  This small unintentional gamble saved me from overheating on the much warmer second loop of the bike.

Around mile 75, my ride started to go south.  I experienced my first bout with adductor cramps, my leg literally froze mid-pedal stroke on a hilly climb.  It was bent almost at a 90-degree angle and wouldn't budge.  There was no choice here of getting off my bike as I couldn't move my leg or unclip my foot from the pedal -- that's how badly I cramped.  I would have tumbled over and been in even more pain.  Normally, I would have panicked, but I just didn't have that option in the heat of the moment.  Instead, I told myself to JUST BREATHE THROUGH IT.  I tried a yoga trick that had never worked for me in my practice -- focusing all my energy on the pain point and breathing straight to it.

It worked!  My leg unlocked as I continued to pedal slowly up the hill.  I was ecstatic.  Never before in all my training or racing had I simply breathed through a cramp and kept going without losing time.  I couldn't believe it. It truly was going to be my day.

Then, my right leg locked up on the next hilly climb.  Clearly something was wrong -- I was bonking.  Even though I hadn't felt dehydrated, clearly I hadn't taken on enough liquids or electrolytes.  I went into full borne self-protection mode. At each mile that I counted off in my head for the next five, I popped three Endurolyte pills.  I even accepted aid from a man running alongside me in a helmet adorned with moose antlers!  He offered Ibuprofen pills and an ice slushy that looked like a Freeze Pop.  I hadn't had one of those since I was a kid!  Sure, why not, I needed the simple sugar rush.

BAM.  Over the next 10 miles or so, no cramps, an energy surge and I'm back on my game.  Now we're at mile 90.  I can do this, I thought, only 22 more miles to pedal.  I figured it would take me 1.5 hours based on my slower pace and more conservative approach.  I settled in and rode on.

At this point, my arm warmers are long gone and my cycling jersey unzipped, revealing my sleeveless tri jersey underneath.  It's a battle between me, the heat of the day (which wasn't that hot), nutrition, my cramps, my goals, and no real knowledge of how I'm tracking against them.  Each time my hamstrings or adductors would scream in the form of a cramp, I'd slow down just a bit, breathe through the pain, wait for the muscle to unseize itself, and continue on.  I knew I had broken through a new personal pain plateau and that was deeply satisfying.  Chris McCormack, in his "I'm Here to Win" book, wrote extensively about making friends with pain.  I did that on my Ironman Coeur d'Alene bike ride.

I saw my first clock heading back to Coeur d'Alene, right around the 100-mile mark.  It was 10 minutes to six hours on the bike.  OK, I can do this.  I can be back by around the 6:20 mark -- exactly as Gerardo had predicted all along.  The cheers from the throngs of townspeople lining the road brought me back to the race site.  I felt like a pro with all the cowbells clanging and everyone shouting at me to continue on -- total strangers!  It fueled me and I arrived back to the bike-to-run transition at the 6:24 mark -- a little slower than I would have liked but a conservative ride that left my legs mostly intact.  My butt hurt, my legs ached, my left calf was still tight from the morning swim cramp, and my adductors were clearly going to be a problem the rest of the day.

I still had to run 26.2 miles before calling myself a two-time Ironman.

I knew I had room in the tank to complete a marathon.  But I had no idea how much of it I'd run or walk.

More on that tomorrow.