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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Humble Pie

Boy, was I cocky today. I had one of those "strength/yoga" one-hour sessions on the calendar so I figured I'd saunter into the gym at lunch and knock it out.  Then, I noticed there was a "body-sculpting" workout during the same time frame.  "Why not?" I thought.  I'll just go easy for 30 minutes and not work out too hard.

Plus, how hard could it be?  After all, a few co-workers of mine who are in decidedly less good shape participate in the class and seem to do just fine.

With that, I walked into of my biggest training traps yet.

Once I got the step-up board and two sets of two planks, followed by 15, 8 and 5-pound weights, class was ready to begin.  But not before my colleague, Johnny, wandered over in my direction to warn me that I should "get the light weights" because this class is tough and I should take it easy for my first time in here.

Seriously?  Did you just say that to me?  The guy looks and talks like the character Nigel from The Replacements -- that Keanu Reeves football flick featuring among other quirky characters that tall, lanky Welsh field goal kicker.  Seriously, you're telling me to take it easy?

Now it's on!

And then class started.

Kyla, a bouncy blond whom the term "California Girl" was invented for, kicked things off with a series of squats with weights and using the step-up board.  Three hard-sets with plyometric exercises and weights.  No problem, I though.  A strong opening salvo, but I've been through much worse.

Then, we got into a series of balancing poses with weights on the step-up board, followed by intervals with "burpies", mountain climbers, push-ups and back to the balance-board.  We were 10 minutes in and I was sweating.

By the 15-minute mark, I was gazing at the clock the way Butler looked tonight against UCONN in the second half.  "Is this over with yet?  I didn't sign up for this crap!"

The next 15 minutes whirled by so fast I can't even remember the exercises because they happened so fast. There was lots of bending, holding, pulsing, squatting, jumping, balancing, and more lifting.  I started with the 15-pound weights, dropped to the 8-pound weights, and ultimately finished with the 5's.

We took a water break at the 30-minute mark.  This class was just warming up, but it was time for me to go and change for a work meeting.  I was drenched in sweat, and in desperate need of a shower.  I tried to look nonchalant about cleaning up my gear, but I couldn't wait to get out of the class. Kyla cheerfully said goodbye and thanks for coming on my way out.  I wonder if she was thinking, "Chump!" as I left.

I sure felt like one.  I had underestimated the class and pretty much disrespected everybody in it when I got into the room, and felt exactly the opposite when I left.  One form of fitness doesn't necessarily translate to the other.  And I'm pretty sure I pulled something in my lower back trying to keep up and not look like a sissy.  Except at one point I was being out-lifted by the girl next to me, though she was ripped to be fair!

Lesson learned.  Humble pie eaten.

I can't wait to go back to that class though.  I love a good challenge!

78 days and counting.

Can Games Make You Fitter?

Today my normally scheduled blog post will be shown via my friend and fellow writing colleague Jim Gourley's site: Life Against the Clock.  Jim asked me for my thoughts about the fitness genre within the video games industry and whether such games might help America fight our collective obesity problem. In short, I think the games industry most definitely can and will help.  With the smashing success of Wii Fit, Dance Dance Revolution appearing  in schools as part of their phyisical eductation curricula, and the rise of Xbox Kinect or PlayStation Move, the games-as-fitness revolution is quickly gaining speed.

Click here to check out my blog post on Jim's site.  I put a lot of time into this one so I hope you find it provocative.  Let me know what you think!

Tomorrow, Jim appears as a guest blogger on my site, where he'll be writing about the "warrior" mentality of triathlon.  It's quite an insightful read, shared by an Iraq veteran and well-versed triathlete.  You are gonna love it.

I'll be back on Wednesday, and of course reading and responding to comments before then.

85 days and counting.

PS: Went to an ART appointment this morning to work out the creaky crinks in my calves, quads, adductors and IT bands.  I don't feel "great" today but I'm a LOT better than I was just a few hours ago.  Light recovery run and some yoga on the workout plate for whenever I can fit them in today.

The In-Between State

I can officially start planning for Ironman Coeur d'Alene now. Why?

Because now I can actually get there.

Last night I booked my (expensive) airfare into and out of Spokane, Washington.  I'm arriving mid-day Thursday, June 23 and leaving on Monday following the race.  A few weeks ago I booked my hotel, the Ameritell Inn,  after realizing that all the "good" locations were rapidly vanishing.  Same goes for the airfare.  If you're registered for or volunteering at IM CdA and haven't booked your travel, I strongly recommend making those arrangements now.  I was planning to confirm flight arrangements a week ago and since then, airfare has gone up around $80 for roundtrip between Los Angeles and Spokane.

Day 3 of IM CdA training featured my first swim in a few weeks.  And you could barely call it a swim since I was only in the water for around 30 minutes.  Though I enjoyed those 30 minutes even more than I expected.  It felt great to get back in the water, although I swam so slow that I'm sure the senior citizens in the lanes at the pool's far end could have throttled me in a race. But, my training instructions indicate to swim for as long as I want while staying within heart-rate zone 1.

Based on all the holiday junk food I'm eating, I should be training harder.  I'm not sure about you, but training during the holidays is almost a lose-lose situation.  No matter how much (or in this case how little) training I do, I'm going to be packing on the pounds from all the cookies, cakes and muffins floating around the office or at the various parties that come up throughout the next several days.  Then again, I could use the extra weight.  I'm beginning to feel "normal looking" after shedding what seemed like an unhealthy amount of weight over the last six months.  I haven't really liked how I've looked in photos, especially in my face where I truly seemed emaciated.  So if I indulge (err gorge) myself with a few extra cookies, now you know why.

I think I'll be taking training a lot more seriously starting next week, and hopefully I can control my appetite a little more then.

For now, I'm in that weird in-between state of enjoying the holidays and trying to live a healthy lifestyle.

The holidays are winning so far.

196 days and counting.

Wiped Out

Never take a workout for granted. I packed my bag last night for two workouts: The usual 6 a.m. swim coached by Megan, followed by my first track workout.

And why not?  I haven't missed a workout due to being physically unable to complete it (outside of illness) since I first started training with Fortius last year.

That streak is now over.  Either because of the swim workout's intensity or because this past weekend's training caught up with me. Maybe a little bit of both.  Either way, I struggled mightily all day to find the energy to complete the second workout.  It never showed up.  I came home from work, tried to take a nap knowing full well that Bam-Bam would do everything possible to prevent that (he did so admirably, the little shit), and have basically remained planted on the couch since 5:30 p.m.

Instead of forcing the issue, I texted Coach Gerardo to tell him I'm skipping the track session.  We're adjusting my workout schedule to squeeze it in this Friday, my usual day off.  That's now been moved to this coming Monday.

So what caused my exhaustion today?  I slept well enough (seven hours), wasn't stressed out and even got a little yoga and stretching in before bedtime last night.

Hmm...let's take a look at the swim (55 minutes):

-- 300 warmup (I think, maybe more)

-- 100 kick, 50 any stroke x 2

-- 250 x 2 fast (1:00)

-- 500 race pace

-- 100 sprint x 5 (1:00)

-- 200 any stroke cooldown

It's not a ton of yards, but the intensity definitely took its toll.  I was in a faster lane than usual with Bob and Lisa, two much faster swimmers.  I was also bothered by my goggles today, which kept leaking water into my eyes and caused me to lose focus from concentrating on my stroke.  In the end, I just never quite felt right in the water, not until the final two sprints of the morning.  By then, I was pretty gassed.  Yet it was my turn to lead one of the last sprint 100s since there were four of us in a lane.  I poured everything I had into making sure I didn't slow down the group.  The good news is that nobody passed me.  The better news is that according to Bob, each of our 100s was in the low 1:30s, meaning I can hold that threshold for 500 yards if need-be.

The bad news is that I'm exhausted on a couch instead of logging my second workout.

Tomorrow's a new day though.  And a very exciting one at that.  I'll be taking out Charlie, my TT bike, for her maiden voyage.  This will be part of a morning brick instead of the usual Griffith Park LA Tri Club afternoon workout.  Stephanie and I have plans to attend the Ben Folds concert tomorrow night.

Now it's off to take a recovery bath and get some much needed rest.

198 days and counting.

Newport Beach Tri Race Report

Last night, I wrote about no longer needing sprint triathlons as part of my Ironman training.

Tonight, I write about why this morning's Newport Beach Triathlon was among the most important races I've completed.

Like my 20-mile Firecracker run in February, I proved something to myself this morning.  Perhaps more appropriate, I earned the validation I was seeking that my Fortius Coaching training is paying dividends.  After my LA Marathon debacle, I needed a proof point.  Moreover, was my Garmin speaking the truth lately?  Was I indeed getting slower?  These questions needed answers in the worst possible way, so the timing couldn't have been better to experience something tangible to compare year-to-year.

Fortunately, I did just that today, shaving off more than eight minutes from las year's 1:32:54 performance.

Eight minutes! I was hoping for improvement in the three-to-five minute range.  This year, I finished in 1:24:05, good for 11th place in my age group (top 20%) and top 20% among all men.

I cut 2:30 off last year's swim, nearly three minutes off last year's bike time and nearly :30 off my run.  The transitions were much faster too.  Moreover, my swim pace per 100 yards was by far my personal best -- 1:40.  My T-pace when I started training with Coach Gerardo was around 2:05.  I cannot believe the progress I've made.  Perhaps that is what I'm most proud of, given all the troubles I've been writing about lately regarding my swim technique.  And my 14:45 swim included a more brutal than usual opening 200 yards, with several people grabbing at my ankles and shoulders.  Not to mention slightly swimming off course after the first buoy.  In other words, I could've swam faster.  That's a great feeling.

Cycling the bike course several times yesterday paid off today too, though it was more than likely the lack of a cross-wind that put me over the top.  Yesterday, my Garmin indicated I averaged around 16.4 mph on my ride.  Today, I was .01 under a 20 mph average.  Of course, I was taking care yesterday to largely remain in heart-rate zone 2.  Today, while I could've dug a little harder, I was definitely in zone 3 for most of the ride.  Once again the only bikes beating me were guys on TT bikes.

I will be fixing that issue shortly.  I've got my eyes and heart set on a Cervelo P2 with upgraded wheels.

The run was about what I expected.  Were it not for the 7-8% grade hill at the 1.5 mile mark, I likely would have broken 21 minutes.  Instead, I paced myself to have a strong finishing kick.  I'm sure I negative split the latter 1.5, with a sprint on the last 150 yards.

There was also an intangible factor that helped fuel me this morning.  Stephanie, despite being sick, along with her dad came to support me.  This was the first triathlon that Steph's dad had ever seen, and I wanted to put on a show.  I wanted to let "Mr. V" know -- loud and clear -- what I was made of, and that the same kind of resolve and grit I demonstrate during a race is the same kind of attitude I will bring in taking care of his daughter.  As a result though, I was more nervous than I should have been.  Case in point: I put on my wetsuit backwards!

Fortunately, I overcame my nerves, along with a brief panic attack when I couldn't get my normal pre-race breakfast of oatmeal and banana until 40 minutes before the race.  Unlike the LA Marathon, the race itself was the highlight, instead of the pre- and post-event activities.

As I reflect on today's triumph, I no longer need to benchmark my training last year.  Fortius Coaching works.  My training is paying off.  I'm a better triathlete.  A more knowledgeable triathlete.

And tonight, a happier triathlete.

Next up: Wildflower!  But for just a little bit longer, I'll relish today's milestone. What was supposed to be a small event was a rather large confidence boost.

227 days and counting.

Is it Worth it?

My day started just outside Oakland (running hill intervals on a treadmill), wound through Simi Valley for lunch with my parents along with an afternoon swim, swung briefly through Sherman Oaks and concluded in Palos Verdes, for a wedding.

Yeah, I'm a little tired.

Fitting in training on days like today is a real pain in the ass.  I enjoy the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with forcefully finding time to do something for myself.  However, it can come at a cost, mainly fatigue that reveals itself at inopportune moments at the end of the day. Such as at a wedding with all your friends.  While they're ramping up, I'm winding down -- like a toy solider running out of momentum.

It's moments like that where I admire professional athletes even more.  How do they find the balance to enjoy their lives while also putting in the necessary time and expending the energy EVERY DAY to be the very best at what they do? I "only" worked out 1.5 hours today, yet it was a significant feat to do so.  And it affected the flow of my entire day.

How do those of you who read this blog do it?  How do you feel when you do it?  After you do it?  Or if you aren't able to do it?

There are moments like right now, around 11 p.m. on a Friday night after an evening out with my lady, where I wonder if this whole Ironman journey is entirely healthy.  It forces me to compromise my social life, occasionally my work schedule and it can drastically affect my wallet.

What's the ROI here?

I know I'll be 100% fired up to train tomorrow.  But right now, at the end of a long day of planes, cabs, cars and toasts, I'm just a pile of exhaustion and confusion.

Why do I do this to myself?

229 days and counting.

Oh Garmin, My Garmin

I'm currently on the sneaky side of the double-mirrored glass at a focus group test in Northern California.  Ears glued to the discussion, eyes focused on uploading several days' worth of workouts on my Garmin 310x. Finally, I'm beginning to understand the wisdom contained in this supercomputer posing as a watch.

Sadly, I don't want to see some of the truths it contains.

My "controlled" tempo running pace is slower than I thought, to the tune of about 9:30.  I know I'm faster than that, but when instructed to keep my heart rate under control, more often than not 9:30 is where I live.  This would partially explain my demise at the LA Marathon to a degree.  I was pushing a faster controlled tempo pace than perhaps I should have while my immune system was having none of it.  That equals trouble, big-time.

I'm slower on the bike, too.  On road rides where I'm supposed to be cycling within the lower heart-rate zones, my pace is closer to 15.5 mph.  Yikes!  I can sustain 18-21 mph for sustained periods but on longer rides my pace drops.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  Am I a worse cyclist?  Smarter because I know how to pace myself?  Weaker because I need to?

One good bit of news is that my heart-rate rarely escalates above 90% of my max during any one workout.  So, I have plenty of fuel left in the tank during my training.  At least I know I'm capable of running faster and pedaling harder.  And, with two triathlon races coming up in the next three weeks, a mental confidence boost is just as valuable as a physical one.

Tomorrow I will approach my workouts not only a little more refreshed -- I had a training off-day due to my business trip -- but a little wiser about my capabilities.

Perception versus reality.  Friend or foe?

Both, I think.

230 days and counting.

An Exclusive Fraternity

I had an interesting conversation with my buddy John this morning. We were talking about industry-related happenings when he asked me how I was doing post-engagement.  I told him that I actually felt different. Like I actually had changed inside just a little.  I had always heard about this mental shift, that "something just clicks" in your brain when you enter into the world of engagement and marriage.

It's true!

No longer is it just about me. While that was really fun for 35 years, I know that I have a far greater responsibility now.  To be a true partner in all aspects of life, putting Stephanie  and her needs at the top of the list with my own.  It means when friends want to visit from out of town, discussing first with Steph before blindly saying "Sure!  Come on over and crash on the couch."  I never used to think in those terms -- didn't have to.  But now, it's instinctive.  We...not me.

John chuckled when I shared this revelation.  "Welcome to the fraternity," he said, adding that there's a tighter bond among married guys than single guys because of thoughts just like this.

Huh.  The strange part is that I thought I was done with fraternities in college.  But I can say I'm as excited to enter this exclusive club as I was my freshman year at the University of Arizona.  The same sense of wonder is there.  Maybe a little anxiety too, of the unknown.  The motivations are different, but just as powerful.

I suppose you could say I'm now a pledge in Mu Delta: Married Dudes.  I'll become an active sometime between next February and July.


On the Ironman training front, I had my first brick workout in weeks. Instead of training in the morning though, I waited until the late afternoon, when I joined LA Tri Club and Fortius Coaching members on a 90-minute bike ride up and around Griffith Park followed by a 30-minute trail run.  I held my own but think my heart-rate was a little higher than I'd like, mostly zone 4 for the long hill bike climb that takes you to the Griffith Park Observatory.

I've never ridden up the long hill that passes the Hollywood sign.  The road is in poor shape but the climb is a very good workout.  And the reward -- a postcard view of the Los Angeles basin -- makes it all worth it.

Clearly though, the best part of the workout was having training partners to enjoy it with.  I'm going to shuffle my schedule around in the future to do the Wednesday bricks -- working early in the morning and leaving earlier in the evening.  It makes such a difference not to have to wake yourself up at the crack of dawn to train alone.  Plus, it keeps Steph happy since she knows I'm likely to be safer in a group setting.

And these are the things I want to consider now -- especially since it's likely in the Mu Delta pledge manual.

237 days and counting.

T-Minus 4 Days and Nervous

My recovery from the GDC "nerd flu" is literally becoming a race against time. Coach Gerardo was hoping I'd be better by today.  He thought two days would be sufficient for a full recovery if I rested and hydrated enough.  We're headed into the fourth day and while my body is adjusting back to the beginnings of normalcy, I'm just not feeling great yet.  Despite my massage therapist Abby's best efforts, I'd put my condition as an 8 on a scale of 10.  My neck isn't as sore as last night and I've gained some mobility, but my throat is still scratchy and raw.  Worse yet, I've started coughing up phlegm.  Nasty stuff too, of the fluorescent and mocha-colored variety.

All of this is starting to get me worried.  I've got four more days to be 100% healthy and ready for my first marathon.  If what is now a head cold seeps into my chest, I'm all but finished for the marathon before it starts.

Not all of today's news was poor. In fact, I was being able to run without any side effects for 45 minutes.  My lone workout called for an hour staying within heart-rate zone 1, which was no problem -- even running up to 6 mph for five minutes without approaching 140 bpm.  (I had to cut short the workout due to a busy day at work.) That's definitely a good sign, so much so that by the end of the workout I didn't really need to shower before changing since I hadn't broken a major sweat.

Tomorrow, I'm spinning for an hour and 15 minutes and then doing an hour of yoga in the evening.  That's the plan. At this point though, I've learned that plans don't necessarily matter.  It's what you do and how you act when reality presents itself to you, ready or not.

251 days and counting.