The Ironman Games: IM St. George Recap Part 2

Wind is nature's snake.  It's unpredictable, can lash out and strike at any moment, wreak incredible damage, poison body and mind, then meekly slither away like a faint breeze.

If that's the case, the wind on the first loop of the Ironman St. George bike course from Sandy Hollow Reservoir to and through Gunlock was a black mamba.  Merciless.  Sinister. 

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My 18 Hours in St. George

I participated in a different type of endurance event this weekend.  The first leg involved a 6.25 hour drive in traffic to St. George, Utah.  After a slow 8-hour sleep T1, I rode 94 miles of the St. George Ironman bike course Saturday morning.  I picked up the pace in T2 with a 45 minute lunch at the Pasta Factory in Ancestor Square and staggered into the third leg, the drive to Las Vegas and a bachelor party evening for my future brother-in-law, Craig.  Then I drove home yesterday through a rain storm and snow flurries. All told, I drove around 700 miles, biked nearly 100, spent nearly ... well, a lot ... and learned a number of invaluable lessons for Ironman St. George.  Below are my Top 5 Ironman St. George Bike Loop Lessons.

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What a Difference a Year Makes...

A year ago tonight, I was walking around the neighborhood with Stephanie checking out Trick-or-Treaters' costumes after my final Build phase workout leading to Ironman Arizona taper.

Tonight, it's an off-day of training and recovery from a hard 40-mile ride yesterday.

A year ago this past weekend, I completed nine hours of training in two days back-to-back.

This weekend, I completed less than half.  Though it's far more intense with back-to-back track workouts and a 4,500 foot climb at the Malibu Gran Fondo yesterday (benefiting the Livestrong Foundation).  A year ago, I learned the lessons of someone trying to figure out why I was so exhausted heading into the taper phase.  A year later, I'm missing the naivete that comes with the wonderment associated with "Can I do it?"  Yep, I miss the nerves from a year ago. The giddy sensation.  The fear of the unknown. But what I'm learning now is that my fitness level isn't really that far removed from my Ironman race shape.

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Computrainer Purchase

It's been a busy off-season already for me.  Though the phrase itself is a bit of an anomaly to me.  It seems like all my friends are training for some kind of event, and I hate feeling left out of the fun.  So back in the pool I go, back on the bike I ride.  I've even tentatively planned my 2012 training schedule. Part of that plan included buying a Computrainer. I can't wait to start using it!  My goal is to ride on it twice a week in the coming months, though I'll be reviewing a software upgrade package for Lava Magazine online in the coming weeks.  I bought the Computrainer -- along with the Ironman Canada video course -- to save time during my training and to increase my power on the bike.  My goal is to crush 12 hours at my next Ironman, which may be Ironman Canada next August.

I know I'm supposed to be taking time off but I'm excited to stay in shape and plan for the future.

I'm also excited to share that I applied for a trademark today on what appears to be a popular phrase from one of my recent blog posts: "I may not be a runner, but I'm a runner today."  The actually quote was "I may not be cut out to be a runner, but I'm a runner today."  But I think the former will fit better on a T-shirt.  I'm going to work with an artist to design something cool and then I'll share it here on the blog site.  I'll sell it for a small fee and will donate 50% of the proceeds to my friend Rusty's triathlon team dedicated to fighting cancer, Season 1 Racing. I'm very excited to help motivate like-minded people and support a truly worthy cause.  More to come soon!

Fall Down Go Boom

You ever hear of that adage about how most car accidents happen within a few blocks of your home? It applies to bikes too.

Yep, I went down this morning, on a slippery hill at Dixie Canyon Road.  Luckily, I was coasting just a few miles per hour when I hit a watery stream and my road bike came out from under me.  I had enough control of the bike to know I was going to fall but remembered being so surprised that I didn't have enough time to even tense up.

It's not serious though, outside of the two bloody fingers on my right hand that made me quite the vision as I put the chain back on.  Blood makes injuries look a lot worse than they really are!  But, my bike helmet is toast, a fine crack towards the left front side.  My Giro 2 has lasted me more than two years so I suppose it was time to replace her anyways.  The grips on the bike are shredded too, so that will need to be replaced sooner rather than later as well.

The irony, of course, is that on Mondays I usually ride on my trainer for recovery workouts.  I just didn't feel like it today.  I wanted to get outside and just ride for the pure enjoyment of it!  Which I did, until I found myself staring at sky unintentionally!

I suppose my harmless little spill taught me a few things.  First, I have so much more respect for the pro cyclists who do this all the time in races and get right back on the bike to pedal at 30-plus miles per hour.  I can't imagine that!  I just had to ride a few miles home, wash myself off, bandage myself up, and go to work for the day.  These guys have such a high threshold for pain.  Second, my heart goes out to the fallen cyclist today from Team Leopard Trek, who crashed at the Giro d'Italia and died.  Granted, he must have been riding at massive speed for his accident, but since my helmet cracked from a silly fall it's easy to see how quick something horrible can occur.  Finally, despite learning the lesson the hard way, I was proud of myself for how I handled it.  I laid on the ground for a minute, realized I was bleeding, but that I had to get home as I was riding alone.  I picked myself off, fixed the chain with shaking bloody fingers, and got myself calmly home.

Literally, I fell and got back up.  I managed the pain, and finished the ride.  There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Yeah, like keep recovery rides indoors!

48 days and counting.

A New Way to Race?

OK, it's starting to sink in: After one Ironman and two Half-Ironmans, I'm learning the hard way that the key to a successful race is pacing towards the run and not trying to set PR's on the swim and bike. At least I think so?

I put this theory to practice today in a pedestrian 3.5 hour ride with my buddy Frank.  We twice replicated the Amgen Stage 8 route from last year, Agoura Road to Cornell to Mulholland up Rock Store and down Decker.  Our pace was slow (trust me), but I kept my heart rate mostly in zone 2 (typically south of 141 bpm).  This also was because I chucked up a fair amount of mucus from chest and nose through the first half of the ride.  But, by the end I felt pretty decent -- though my body was telling me a third loop would be a mistake.

The highlight of the ride was spotting Team HTC/Highroad (Cavendish, Martin, Renshaw, etc.) at Westlake Boulevard on its way presumably to Hidden Valley or up Decker.  Granted, the "big three" aren't with this particular team as they're at the Giro d'Italia according to the curt German team mechanics I quizzed as I visited the team's truck.  They're training in Southern California instead of Northern because, as the jerky bike tech said, "you want them to train in the snow?"

Gee, thanks dude.

After the ride, I did something I rarely get to do following a workout -- sleep!  Steph is trying on her wedding dress down south today and that meant I could take a nap that I desperately needed.  It's quite clear my body is still fighting infection as an alarm had to wake me up nearly two hours later.  But I still rallied to jump in the pool for 40 minutes and I'm glad I did.  My performance was much better today than yesterday, which is encouraging.

Maybe I haven't lost as much fitness as I thought.

That said, I probably couldn't have gone much harder on the bike today even if I tried. Which brings me back to my main point.  I may have to accept the realization that if I want a faster Ironman time, I need to hold back a bit on the bike and swim.  I simply need more energy to expend later in the day and can't get caught up in trying to PR any one particular area of my race. I did have that kind of mindset at Wildflower, as I feel like what's the point of racing if you're not trying to outdo yourself in each of the three sports every time?  But, ultimately it's how you finish the race -- not how you start or complete a particular segment.  The fact is that it's probably a lot easier to make up time on the run than anywhere else.  On a swim we're talking a matter of minutes between a PR performance while still turning in a respectable time.  On the bike, what's 15 more minutes on the road if it ultimately means saving 20-30 minutes on the run?

I need to focus on the long-term goal. Finishing the race in my goal time.  Not what split I've achieved.

Easier said than done, but today was a good lesson in that area.

Let's see if it sticks.


50 days and counting.

What He Said

My schedule has been a little hectic lately.  Last night, I worked late at a press event for two games I'm working on (by now I think you know where I work, so I think I can say Resistance 3 and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One without much worry!).  And with training, column writing, wedding plans and upcoming game titles taking up much of my day and night, blogging has become more difficult. As a result, the videos from my Mulholland Challenge experience remain on my phone and not in my Macbook edit lab.

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The Gift of Inspiration

There's lots I could write about from this weekend, especially the most grueling single bike ride I've ever endured -- The Mulholland Challenge.  If there's a hill in the Santa Monica Mountains between Topanga Canyon and Yerba Buena Road in Malibu, chances are we climbed it on Saturday -- to the tune of 112 miles and 12,750 feet of combined elevation. I video blogged the journey and hope to have some time to edit it together tomorrow evening.  For now, below is the  map of my ride.  Don't mind the heart-rate, as my heart-rate monitor was all over the place.  Don't mind the pokey pace, my Fortius teammates and I stopped quite often to take in the view, joke around and generally goof off.

(Quick aside: I think one has to make a decision before a long ride about whether it's a ride for time or a social group ride.  It can't be both. )

I'd like to focus on something more important for this post, and it has to do with one of my loyal readers, Laura.  While I tend to write fairly introspectively about what I'm going through -- hoping that maybe someone else is going through it too -- Laura is investing her time doing something far more valuable (in my opinion).  She's started a triathlon blog site, "" dedicated to the memory of her Aunt Joann.  Here is an excerpt from the About page:

"Joann Cotton was a mother to Claire and Taylor. A damn good mother. She was a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. A twin. She was an Aunt.  She was my Aunt. She was an English teacher, and took such pride in educating students. She was selfless and cared about everyone else before herself.  She was competitive. She usually won. A true friend that was always there. She was funny and silly. She had cancer. And she kicked it’s ass daily. She never complained once, not once. She inspired me. And continues to inspire many, many others. She was as good as gold, yet nothing gold can stay.

Thank you for supporting Tri2FightLikeJoann. You are helping keep her memory alive, and celebrating the lives of all others with ovarian cancer.

And you are appreciated."

Laura, your blog site is beautiful.  And touching.  And humbling at the same time.  I am proud to know you, and plan to think often of Joann during the rest of my training.  In fact, if you have a sticker or something I can put on my helmet for Ironman Coeur d'Alene I'd like to wear it in Joann's honor.

In fact, I'd like to bring each and every one of you with me to Coeur d'Alene somehow.  If there's a cause or anything I can help shine a spotlight on, I'd like to do that.  When I first started this blog site it was meant for the kids I don't have.  To teach them about what accomplishing a large goal feels like.  How hard it is.  How wonderful it feels when the finish line is crossed, and yet how much it hurts to get there.

But, through the course of the last year and a half, I've learned this blog site is really about the relationships I've built with many of you.  An unexpected gift.  And that gift has worked both ways, in that Laura was kind enough to share with me that somehow my blog site inspired her to make something far more substantial, in my opinion.

Go Laura go!

So often the sport of triathlon can be a solitary pursuit.  But these are the stories, the inspirations, that really matter.

Thank you, Laura, for inspiring me, and hopefully many more people.

72 days and counting.

Decisions, Decisions

My stomach rumbles.  It's 6:30 p.m.  I'm supposed to be leaving for swim class shortly.  I'm doing the Planet Ultra Mulholland Challenge on Saturday. 112 miles, 12,750 feet of climbing. I won't lie, I'm nervous.  What is this going to do to my Wildflower legs? Is this challenge worth it?  Why am I going to do this to myself?

Well, there's only one answer.  Because it's there!  Because I can.  Because Wildflower isn't a guarantee.  Really, what is?  Life, death and taxes, Mark Twain would say.

Some might argue that I'm hastening one of the three of those inevitabilities by torturing myself for eight hours Saturday morning.  I look at it slightly different.  If I can get through that kind of agony, then the hills and ensuing run both at Wildflower and Ironman Coeur d'Alene should feel comparably reasonable.  Notice I didn't say "easy." I wouldn't do that.  An Ironman is NOT easy.  But, when the sun starts to go down in Coeur d'Alene on June 26, when I'm at mile 16 and realize I've got another two hours of running, I'll remember the Mulholland Challenge.

How I remember it remains to be seen.  But, I'll at least give it my best shot instead of wondering what if.

So, the question remains...pool swim tonight or take some extra time off for added rest?

I'm going to let my car decide.  Wherever I end up is what I'm going to do.  And you'll have the answer tomorrow.

75 days and counting.

Lesson Learned, and Some Homework

Once again, I'm in bed, blogging. Unlike last night though, the lights are on, and my laptop is recharged.  As am I.  This time though, it's from you, my readers.  I got a couple great comments from yesterday's blog and I really appreciated the perspective. I will take each workout one day at a time.  I needed that reminder.

Today's workouts were meant to be one long workout, a three-hour bike ride.  But I couldn't get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. after a hard evening swim last night.  So, I rode for about 1.3 hours this morning with Bob, the same Griffith Park route. Today was absolutely gorgeous out.  You could see the ocean clear to Long Beach from the Hollywood sign lookout point near Griffith Observatory.  One funny thing that happened on our initial climb was the howl of a coyote directly behind me not more than 20 feet away.  I wish we had it on film, but I sped up so quick, my legs must have looked like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo when they encounter a ghost or monster!  I hauled ass outta there!

For the first time in my training, I climbed the Hollywood sign route twice, back-to-back.  It's not that bad considering the longer climbs I've been doing recently.  It was nice to find some progress in my training, along with improved handling skills on descents.  That's something that really has taken a lot of time, getting used to the feel of a tri bike on cornering compared to a road bike.  It's literally something I work on specifically for every workout.

Another gem worth sharing from my ride was this tidbit: Give yourself a specific goal to shoot for and achieving that goal is much easier. I made the mistake of telling Bob how hast I had ridden up to the Hollywood gate last week, speculating that he could beat me by at least a full minute.  Well, Bob needed to see for himself, and beat me by nearly two minutes.  He explained, while panting between breaths, that a specific goal helps him motivate more than something vague.  I took this to heart and am going to figure out how I can apply it to my own training behind the 12-hour IM CDA milestone.  Maybe you can use this advice too.

So how 'bout some late night homework then?  I'll think of a specific goal in the short-term for my training, and you do the same.  Feel free to let me know what you come up with!

104 days and counting.