CIM Race Report Part II: The Marathon of Recaps Continues

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

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

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

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

WHAT WORKED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- 10k: 7:21/mi

-- 13.1 miles: 7:21/mi

-- 20 miles: 7:21/mi

-- Finish: 7:23/mi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DIDN'T WORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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"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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