Confidence Boost

Tonight's Fortius swim was a good reminder that I'm a pretty competitive dude.  After placing me one lane over for warm-up and drills, Coach Gerardo moved me to the "fast" lane where there was a higher contingent of swift swimmers than usual. Then, we paired up into two's and raced 25 yards all-out with 20 seconds of rest between sets.  The winner of each set faced a faster swimmer until that person lost. Personally, I felt like I had no business beating anybody in that lane.  But I'm so paranoid about making a fool of myself or embarrassing myself that it propels me even faster.  I don't want anybody in the fast lane thinking I don't belong there, so I push harder to sort of justify my existence in that space.

I suppose it paid off tonight, as I beat two of the three people I faced in our sprint heats.  Now that's not saying much, as it's entirely possible they weren't pushing as hard, were recovering from weekend races or are better long-distance swimmers than sprinters.  But for me, it was still validation.

I belong in the fast lane.  I earned it.  And while I know that in the grand scheme of "fast" swimmers I'm really glacial, on our team filled with people who have become true friends, I know I can hang.  I remember when I first started training for my first triathlon with Fortius and was beyond intimidated by everyone's skills.

I feel like I've come a long way.   Through a lot of hard work, that is.  And a lot more hard work to go.

77 days and counting.

Inside the 84-Day Window

The critical stage of Ironman training has begun. According to author and Training Peaks co-founder Joe Friel, the final 84 days of Ironman training are the most important.  Workouts must be completed as prescribed as often as possible, with the goal being not to miss a single workout within this window. Last year, I completed 90% of my workouts en route to Ironman Arizona.  This year, it's more difficult. I'm going to have to be craftier and more flexible with my schedule to make Ironman training, work, and wedding planning equally important.  Some days, that's going to be easier than others.

Like today.  Following a successful Community Day event for our fans yesterday, there was going to be virtually no way I was going to awake myself earlier than 7 to do a two-hour brick.  So, instead I went into work a little earlier than normal, worked a full day, and left at 5 to complete my two-hour brick in the evening.  The bonus being that the Fortius/LA Tri Club Wednesday evening bricks have returned!  I haven't participated in one of these workouts since last September.  It felt like a reunion.  Except this reunion featured a lot more people than last year wearing Fortius kits.  I'm very happy for Coach Gerardo that his company is growing.  I'd say a full third of the athletes who showed up today were wearing Fortius gear.

I'm still feeling some of the effects of my Pacific Half Marathon on Saturday.  The legs are tight for sure, though my new-found running form carried me smoothly through a light three miles today after an hour bike ride.  Having conversation with actual people besides the voices in my head helped too.

Spring started more than a week ago officially, but for me, it began tonight.  With friends old and new, a little extra light at the end of the day, and the knowledge that where there's a will to find a way to complete Ironman training, I will be ready in 83 days to conquer another milestone.


83 days and counting.

Still Recovering

Yesterday's Pacific Half Marathon took a lot out of me.  While I'm not in as much discomfort physically as I was after Ironman Arizona, I haven't been this sore in a long time.  After IMAZ, I could barely sit on a toilet without pain, let alone a concerted effort to get that low.  Tonight, despite a recovery swim and spin, I'm close to the same territory.  Getting up and down out of a chair is tough at the moment. I think that's because I raced at a harder pace on a tougher course than what I had been training for.  This really breaks the rule of proper training when combining proper intensity and duration.  I've been training at a lower heart-rate and lower speed for much of the year so far, then went out and blew that pace and heart-rate out of the water.  My heart-rate averaged closer to the 160s for much of the race instead of the high 140s or low 150s.

I don't regret it though.

I do regret that my brick was scratched today due to weather. It was just too wet and nasty outside to go for a five-hour ride/run fest.  Instead, Coach Gerardo, Ray and I met to swim at VNSO Park.  Honestly, it was one of my all-time favorite swims.  Gerardo and I shared a lane, basically swam however we felt for most of our 45 minutes and then challenged each other to a game of swimming H-O-R-S-E that I highly recommend others try too.  We'd take turns coming up with challenges to see who could complete them first. For example, fastest 25, fastest 50 with a pull buoy and flip turn, and my personal favorite, fastest 25 while wearing a swim fin on one hand.

It's been so long since I've just had plain and simple fun while training.  Today was one of those days.  So while I regret not being able to get the intense training in, perhaps what I gained was even more important: Relaxation, rest, and some perspective.

86 days and counting.

Overbiting, Overachieving

A couple nights ago, I was watching my Arizona Wildcats pummel Duke at a local taco shop, exhausted after a tough swim workout.  My Fortius friends were there too and just as they arrived, I took a giant bite of my taco, only to realize that I hadn't chewed enough. It slithered painfully slow down my esophagus.  And stayed there for about an hour and a half while I dry heaved and paced painfully in the hallway at home.  That was after my teammates and friends, Mike and Karen drove me home because I became pale and light-headed. This isn't the first time that's happened to me.

I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew, literally and metaphorically.

But I wonder is that a bad thing? Which leads me to my race report today from what was supposed to be the Cheseboro Half Marathon, as part of the Great Race of Agoura.  Instead, the trail race was cancelled and funneled into the Pacific Half Marathon road race -- which I completed two years ago to the tune of 1:50:19.

Honestly, I didn't want to run the Pacific Half.  I had run four times this week already, was experiencing mild discomfort in my calves and Achilles area, and generally didn't feel fresh or loose. But, Coach Gerardo said I should do it, and I knew I was slightly behind on the running aspect of my training.

So I ran.  And what was supposed to be a "training run" turned into a personal vendetta to not only beat my 2009 Pacific Half time, but also to see if I could break my previous best finish at a half marathon, 1:45:59 at Surf City last year.

I did it, by more than a minute -- 1:44:52 by the official chip time. An 8:01/mile pace.

I didn't expect to PR. Not today.  Not with weather in the mid 30's at race start.  Not after eating a bacon cheeseburger for dinner last night, and an ice cream sandwich for dessert after lunch.  And most definitely not because at first, I simply didn't believe I could do it.

Then, the race started.  And I stopped worrying about it.  I remembered my interview for Lava Magazine I had recently with Tim Bomba, who runs the LA Tri Club's "Ocean 101" circuit.  He told me the best race he ever had was when he stopped caring about the results, essentially turned off the watch, and just had fun.

So that's what I tried to do today, within reason.  I never knew what my actual race pace was. Instead, I focused on heart rate but didn't let myself care too much if it exceeded my pre-game mental threshold of approximately 155 bpm.  If I felt like running hard, I did.  If I felt like slowing down, I did that too. But the one thing I WOULD NOT DO was stop.  That was the only promise I made to myself, and of course, it wasn't a difficult promise to keep.  As you can see with the elevation profile on the course, it's not the flattest course around. Especially with a nearly one-mile climb at the three-mile mark.  But I know that based on my training, I recover well.  My heart-rate can drop pretty quick, so why not let it ride a bit?

It worked.  And so did the lessons I learned from my buddy Greg Moe, who coached me through a run workout last week where we focused on cadence, downhill running and arm movement.  I practiced all three today, with downhill running primarily being responsible for me hitting my new PR.  I used to brake on downhills, afraid that I'd be hurting my quad muscles or IT bands.  Since I now am better at forefoot striking, it's less of an issue.  Once I got to the top of the peak climb during the race, I leaned forward and simply let the hill carry me down -- to the tune of a 6:42 mile.  I would not have even attempted to go that fast in the past for fear of blowing up later in the run. Not caring as much if I did, while trusting that I'd recover quickly enough not to, were both key in ensuring that my heart-rate remained consistent throughout the race.

Until the final mile.

Then, I let it out.  My heart felt like it was cramping but I pushed forward as best I could, catching up to people in front of me who dogged me through the entire race.  All I saw was their sweaty backs throughout the morning, until the very end.  I can honestly say I didn't leave a thing extra from within on that course.  It was my best effort, and it feels good.

So much for a training run though.  Once again, I over-bit.  Once again though, I think I over-achieved beyond my expectations.  Sometimes biting off more than one can chew hurts.  Sometimes you have to cough it back up.  And sometimes when that happens, you have to clean up the vomit, wipe off your mouth, and ask for seconds.  I literally ate the meal I couldn't get down Thursday night for breakfast on Friday morning.  I had to finish what I started, I suppose.

Now, the question will be how well I recover, as tomorrow I do it all over again -- this time on the bike for a five-hour climb-fest with my buddy Caleb.  Then, I'll be swimming if I have anything extra left in the tank.  I'm not counting on it, but I will try.

For now, I'm still wearing my finisher's medal.  I'm going to savor today just a bit longer.

87 days and counting.


You know you've been away too long -- from anyplace -- when several people ask where in the world you've been.

That's what happened to me this morning when the Fortius gang got together at a new local bike shop for a repair clinic before hitting the Malibu Canyon hills for some sweet cycling torture. I've been training on a different schedule lately, and with the holidays thrown in, teammate time took a back seat.

It was great to see everyone. Lots of laughter and learning, including how to measure chain wear (with a digital monitor, no less) and how to become more efficient at back tire removals (roll the wheel backwards to get more room and separation from the chain).

The ride itself was very productive: 4,100-plus feet of climbing and a new record at 7-Mile Hill (9:56). Last year my PR was 11:00, I think, so definite progress with climbing. We followed the bike with a short brick, which further made me realize that A) running with a new stride may be more taxing at first, and B) I'm still nowhere near my pre-Ironman conditioning level. I eked out 8:30-9:00 miles but my heart-rate was in zone 3 most of the time (150s bpms).

Though the ride and run were confidence boosters, I'll remember today more for spending time with teammates and friends. It makes a huge difference in training as the hours on the clock rapidly vanish. It's like getting a play date when we were kids.

And just like childhood, I'm off to take a nap. The one thing about getting older...naps become more and more cherished when one can find the time to squeeze one in.

150 days and counting.

Frustratingly Slow

By trying to run more efficiently lately, I've been putting my body at greater risk. I ran nearly six miles this morning at Griffith Park with my buddy John and Coach Gerardo.  I received some valuable instruction on my forefoot striking experiment, mainly that I've been trying too hard to avoid heel contact on the strike.  This can cause extra strain in the Achilles and knees, as well as the foot itself.  Good thing Gerardo joined me.

I also need to work on kicking my heels up higher, which will activate my hamstring muscles more.  Currently, I'm shuffling too much, which I had no idea I was doing.  Of course, it's hard to run behind yourself and see these things.  One more reason that having a coach makes a lot of sense.

This was John's first time running with Gerardo, and in his words, he had a mental record button just listening to the two of us talk about training, diet, and technique.  It felt good knowing that we were helping John improve even if it was coming at the expense of my trying to break bad habits.  Bad habits I hope John doesn't have to experience for himself.

One downside that I noticed to running with my friends today was that I ran a little harder than what my workout called for.  I was supposed to stay in zone 2 heart rate but was usually in the low zone 3 range.  What's worse though is that now my zone 3, with my new running style, means I'm running 9:30-minute miles.  That's terrible for me!  Last year I was running 8:00-8:15-minute miles regularly en route to my 1:45 Surf City Half Marathon.

I never expected proper form and technique would actually make me slower.  Part of me just wants to go back to running the way I used to.  But I know I need to be thinking of the long-term here, so I'll keep leaning forward at the ankles and pushing ahead. Slowly.

160 days and counting.

Breathing Lesson

There are training breakthroughs that come through repetition. And there are those that come unexpectedly, just by watching someone else. I experienced the latter tonight in the pool, and the "aha!" moment was truly profound.  During my Fortius-coached swim workout, Gerardo had us perform a drill where we could breathe three times per 25 yards, then five, then seven, then once and finally two 25s without a breath.  I thought the two 25s (not necessarily back-to-back) would be impossible.  I couldn't do something like that when I was in far better shape than how I've felt lately -- even though I felt particularly fresh tonight.

All that changed when I watched my teammate Mike glide across the pool almost effortlessly without taking a breath.  Honestly, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed in the water.  Mike looked like he was going SLOW as he skimmed the pool surface.  Arms looping upward the way a steamboat might cross a river.  When he rejoined my lane mates, I had to ask him how he did that -- the key was relaxation, he said.

It was my turn to try.  I decided to go slower than usual, which to me was seemingly paradoxical considering I wouldn't be able to take a breath for the entire pool length.  While I've completed the exercise in the past (tense, hurried and anxious underwater), I had never done it so easily as I did tonight. I actually felt like I was gliding too! Were it not for watching Mike first, I'm not sure I'd have believed in myself to even think I could do it.  Then, I was able to outperform my own expectations further by only taking one breath for an entire 50, something I've never even come close to doing.

By relaxing more in the water, I actually got faster in my time trials tonight.  In fact, I was on pace for a 1:14 100 with my :37 50 at the end of the workout in a relay race.  Obviously, I realize I may have slowed on my second 50, but tonight was not only a huge lesson learned, it also will help my swimming immensely moving forward.  Perhaps all other aspects of my training.

Relax!  Let the speed come to me.  Form.  Technique.  Breathing.

Well, maybe not the last one.

168 days and counting.

Back to Work

Today I hit the Refresh button, literally, on my Ironman training. After a brief moment of reflection, I reset my countdown clock on the blog to Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  It's time to look ahead and move forward.  I basked in the post-IMAZ glow for two weeks, and now it's time to get back to work. Of course, that's easier said than done -- especially after not exercising since the race.  So, I added a little motivation on my bathroom mirror.  Something I'll look at every morning when I get out of bed.  I still have "Remember THIS Day" and "It's the journey, not the destination" scrawled on notes stuck to my mirror as well.  But this note is smack-dab in the center.  Staring me in the face.

I know this Post-It might seem harsh.  But I need to kick-start myself emotionally as well as physically.

That's what I attempted to do this morning with my Fortius trail run in Agoura.  Several of the usual suspects (Richard, Ann, Mike, Karen, David) were running the CIM marathon in Sacramento. But we still had a solid turnout on this crisp, cloudy morning, including a new teammate, Chris.  He volunteered at IMAZ near the first aid station on the bike route.  I'll look forward to sharing what I know about the course with him as he begins his own journey towards Ironman Number One.

The plan was to run for two hours today, but my IT bands wouldn't cooperate.  As you can imagine, my legs started tightening up around the third or fourth mile.  We weren't even doing much elevation today (600 feet total).  My left leg really started acting up around the turnaround point for us (just shy of an hour), the same burning, tingling sensation around my lower kneecap I felt at IMAZ around the eighth mile of the run.

Something is definitely not right with my leg.  I mashed my way through the rest of the run, taking brief moments to stretch my left leg and then my right -- which started acting up around the seventh mile.  The only bit of good news I can take from this run is that I was never winded or overly tired.  Fitness-wise, I feel fine. Once again, like at IMAZ, my body betrayed me.  But I'm not sure I can really write that in good conscience since I didn't stretch in two weeks, gained five pounds and generally did nothing constructive for my training.

I'll be fixing that starting today.  I've applied ice bags, rubbed pain gel, stretched, and even howled in pain from being overly aggressive with the foam roller.

Yep, time to start training again.

I also ran with a new pair of shoes today, the Asics 2160 trail shoes.

I bought them last night from Road Runner in West Hills, in a half-size larger as often recommended for running shoes.  This is my third pair of Asics trail runners, the 2140 and 2150 being the previous versions of the 2160.  It's too early to offer a legitimate review, but I can say that my heels were a little sore after the run, which is unusual, and the shoe was tighter than I expected last night when I wore them to a dinner party to break them in.  I've had nothing but great luck with my Asics so I'm confident this pair will eventually work out well.  While the Asics 2150s were a little on the heavy side (around the 11.5+ oz mark), I rarely had fit-related issues and after IMAZ my feet weren't sore.

So, on two wobbly legs I managed to run just over 10 miles in just under 1:45:00.  Not my best run, but for my first run back, I'll take it.

And, as my Post-It note implies, I certainly won't basking in that "accomplishment" for very long.

After all, Ironman Coeur d'Alene is nearly seven months away.

198 days and counting.

PS: Here's my blog post from one year ago today.  It's interesting to me that one year ago today was apparently the first moment in my training where I realized I could truly become an Ironman.  I'm really glad I wrote this stuff down!

But Would I Do It Again?

People have been asking me a lot of questions lately about Ironman Arizona.  That's understandable. "How are you feeling?"

"Are you ready?"

"Are you nervous?"

I've had pat answers for all these: Fine, but getting more excited with each day.  Yes, I'm ready.  More than ready.  And yeah, I'm a little nervous too, though feeling much better now that I can change flat tires with relative confidence.

The one topic that has thrown me for a loop has come courtesy of separate conversations with two Fortius teammates: "Do you recommend training a full year for an Ironman?"

Honestly, that is such a tough question to answer right now.  As I mentioned to Joe tonight at one of my last Fortius-coached swims of the year, now is not the best time to ask me that.

I'll admit that I'm tired mentally after a long year of training.  I have to find new ways to motivate myself every day to train, even in these final stages.  Though tonight was a good night for confidence and morale building as I confirmed via a 2,000 yard time trial that I can indeed hit my desired swim goal in Arizona.  After watching the results from IM Florida and Silverman, knowing my Fortius teammates racing there are much faster than me, I wasn't so sure Coach Gerardo's goal time was reasonable.  I know it is now.  That's huge, just as my bike ride with Bob on Sunday restored my confidence on the bike.

But confidence-building like that doesn't come from just a few weeks or months cramming.  At least not in my case.  It's been a long, LONG road to get here, almost a never-ending road.  I've trained almost 600 hours since late last November.  I'm at the end of my line mentally and emotionally in terms of holding on to the passion for completing this massive challenge.  I need race day to come SOON.

Fortunately, it's rushing towards me like a 100-mph fastball.

That said, putting in all this time has allowed me to achieve milestones I never thought possible. I've made significant progress in each tri-discipline, progress I wouldn't have made had I not pushed myself as hard as I did.  Or taken a chance on Fortius.  From a purely physical standpoint, I don't regret the training regimen one bit.  I'm in the best shape of my life by leaps and bounds.  My 36-year-old self could kick my 16-year-old self's ass, and I was in solid shape as a kid!

As far as advice I'd give to anyone considering the same Ironman training schedule, I'd suggest asking and answering the following questions first:

-- What's your available free time?

-- Are you single?  What's your relationship like if you're in one?  How supportive is your partner?

-- What's your work situation like?  Hours?  Stress level?

-- What kind of prior training/athletic/triathlon background do you have?

-- Any significant milestones during the year besides your Ironman?  How will it affect your training?

How you answer these questions and others will determine how you can train for your Ironman.

So, would I do it all again?

Can I tell you in a couple months?

12 days and counting.

300 Posts

OK, this is my 301st blog post, for those of you keeping score. That's 300 times over the past year where I gathered my thoughts, positive or negative, and shared them in this space.  If roughly each post is around 250 words (probably more, but we'll play it conservative), that's around 75,000 words combined.

That's also a lot of time to spend dwelling on one goal.

So, what have I learned so far?

-- I've learned that Ironman is much more about mental toughness rather than physical toughness.

-- I've learned I really don't like getting meals from bars and gels.  But if ya gotta do it, Clif Bars and chocolate Hammer gel work just fine.

-- I've learned that the hardest workouts, not the best workouts, are the most gratifying.  Sometimes just getting by is all the accomplishment one needs.

-- I've learned that the body is a delicate machine that requires constant care and feeding (literally) to perform at optimum levels.

-- I've also learned that ice baths are worth the shocking pain a man can get in the worst of places while taking them.

-- I've learned that just when you think you've spent enough on all the triathlon gear you'll need, there's something new to buy.

-- I've learned that without a supportive partner, friends and family, triathlon is the loneliest of pursuits.  And without that same support on race day, completing a triathlon is among the emptiest of accomplishments.

-- I've learned that how far I can push myself is a moving target based on my conditioning and my mental state.  In other words, it is up to me.

-- I've learned that while you have to do the actual work, a coach will make that work count for more.  I can't say enough good things about Coach Gerardo.

-- I've also learned that having a group of training partners to help push you forward is unspeakably valuable.  I can't imagine having trained for nearly a year at this point without them.

-- I've learned that honesty and vulnerability regarding my feelings make me stronger, not weaker.

-- I've learned that blogging helps me gain perspective on my training that in turn combats burnout since I can learn to take a small nugget from practically every workout.

-- I've learned how to take care of myself for the rest of my life by leading a healthy lifestyle.

-- I've learned that consistent physical training can help me make better, more creative decisions in the workplace.

-- I've learned to appreciate my training off days.

-- I've learned to tolerate my upstairs neighbor.  That little bitch.

-- I've learned that chlorine is powerful stuff.  It corrodes swimsuits, hardens skin and lightens hair. Yikes!

-- I've learned I'm a much different person today than I was when I started Ironman training.  Perhaps I've seen more physical, spiritual and emotional growth over the past year than during any other point in my life.

-- I've learned that no matter what happens on November 21, I've done the work to be called an Ironman.

Thank you for sharing that journey with me.

20 days and counting.