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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Coming Soon...

My first video blog coming soon!  But my editing skills are meager so this may turn out to be a weekend project. My other weekend project is trying to embed Garmin workouts to my blog.  No luck so far.  It's not as simple as cut and paste the embed code into the copy, or if it is, I'm still doing something wrong.  Help?

Anyway, the vlog will be an as-I-go synopsis of the ride.  Should be fun.  All I can say about today's ride is that it was a fantastic place to start this vlogging thing.  I was so exhausted at the end of the trip that I tried to go swim and stayed in the pool parking lot for five minutes debating whether to go inside.  But the views were spectacular, the by-product of killer winds blasting through the canyons, tossing Frank and me around like empty bottles adrift at sea.

I went home and napped for an hour and a half instead.  That fulfilled a minor promise to myself this year, when my body says enough is enough, I'll listen.

Now I just need to do a better job following my prescribed workouts!

157 days and counting.

2 Weeks!

Two weeks from tonight, I'll be collapsed in my hotel room, hopefully elated with the performance I worked for and (I believe) earned. Yet it still doesn't feel totally real. For instance, despite a year of training, I felt a pang of anxiety when I realized tonight that the next Ironman on the official schedule is...mine.  There's nothing else to look forward to.  No other friends to cheer on.  No other teammates to send off.

It's just me and a date that approaches more quickly every day.

If today's workout is any indication, I'm definitely close to being ready.  Bob, my fellow Fortius and IMAZ teammate, joined me this morning for a full tri-workout.  We swam at Zuma in clear, crisp 62-degree water for 45 minutes.  I experimented with compression shorts in the water instead of a swimsuit, as well as compression calf sleeves. I liked it overall.  The calf sleeves rolled up on my leg a bit but I think that was after I took off the wetsuit, not while wearing it.  I think I'll go with that strategy at Ironman.  Any edge I think I can get.  Following a fairly leisurely transition (what a gorgeous day out!), I did my very best to hold onto Bob's wheel as we hammered out to Big Rock and back.  I succeeded for the first half of the ride as we belted out several 21-plus mph miles, but the second half of the ride, Bob stopped toying with me and simply took off.  He very well may break five hours for his bike split at IMAZ if he wanted to.  Finally, we embarked on a 90-minute run while trying to stay in heart-rate zones 2-3.  We were successful, completing just around 9.6 miles in that span on a flat course.  I needed that run following last Sunday's blow-up in Calabasas.  I know I can hold my heart-rate steady for several miles but I'll need the weather and wind to cooperate, as well as my own ability to stick to my race plan.  Today, the wind was moderate and the temperature was around 70 when Bob and I started running at noon.

Now, it's getting late (for an old guy like me).  I'm typing, reflecting about the past week.  With the exception of a couple monster swims, this past week truly felt like what I expected a taper should be.  Relaxed.  Moderate.  Fun.

With the occasional balls-out bike sprint thrown in for good measure.

14 days and counting.

"I Didn't Think He Had It In Him"

Chris made my night tonight after our Fortius-coached swim workout (2,300 yards) with one simple comment he relayed to me from a mutual friend. Both Chris and our buddy Murray raced at Malibu this past Saturday.  Chris braved a sprained ankle that still hadn't healed to complete the swim and bike portion, forgoing the run for obvious reasons.  I'm proud of Chris for sticking with the race as best he could.  It would have been rational and easy to not enter the race at all.

After they both finished, Chris and Murray checked my race times on site, which prompted Murray to say, "That little guy got fast!  I didn't think he had it in him!"

There aren't a lot of things one can say that instantly take me from zero to Mach 5 on the Feisty Meter.  Telling me what you don't think I have "it" in me is probably at the top of the list.

The "it" is what I'm made of.  I'll never be genetically blessed as an athlete.  I'm not big.  I'm not really that strong.  I have to work harder than the others to be relatively as fast.  But I am a fighter. And the entire reason I can finish within the top 10-15% of my age group is because I want it more than the next guy. No matter how big or bad he thinks he is.

Murray's comment is especially meaningful because he's been there with me in my triathlon training since the beginning.  He's seen my flailing, frustrating swims at Zuma every Sunday of the 2009 triathlon season.  He's dropped me on the bike in Malibu when I couldn't keep up with him and Chris.  Based on m prior performances early in my training, Murray had every reason to wonder if I had "it" in me.

But current performance isn't always indicative of inner hunger and drive.

I'm not sure how much faster I can get.  I'm feeling pretty good at the moment.

But I do know that I WANT to get faster and become better.

Oh yes.  I do have "it" in me. I always have.

Never, ever doubt that for a second about me.

66 days and counting.

Race Time Awaits

Bike is cleaned.  Bags are packed.  Race packet is picked.  Stickers and bibs affixed. Carbs eaten.

Race time awaits.

What else is there to say, really?

I am ready.  I want to crush the course tomorrow.  My parents are coming.  Steph will be there too.  I want to end the race portion of my long season with a real bang.  I want to hit 2:25 at the finish.

I am going to do everything I can to meet that goal.  (Without accruing penalties!)  I am going to race hard tomorrow.  Very hard.

I am going to look the way I did at the end of the Santa Barbara Triathlon, pictured below.

Spent. Exhausted. Relieved.

I am going to make my third Nautica Malibu Triathlon my best.

What else is there to say, really?

70 days and counting.

Random Ramblings

My body finally said, "Enough is enough!" during my morning Tour de Valley bike ride. Though the statistics from my ride indicate otherwise, it felt like I was cycling in tar.  I actually rode faster this Tuesday compared to last week's session by a *whopping* .1 mph (sarcasm intended!), traveled nearly 2.5 miles farther (though I rode seven minutes longer) and climbed an astounding 20 more feet.  Despite the slightly improved week-to-week performance, it felt like I was working much harder today even though my average heart-rate was actually several percentage points lower this week as well. Why is that?

For me, a surefire sign of fatigue occurs when no matter how hard I try to gain speed, my heart-rate remains at a lower rate, almost a full zone lower.  It doesn't add up though.  I slept well the night before and enjoyed a rare off-day from training on Monday.  My nutrition wasn't terrible either.  Here's what I ate:

-- Eggs, bacon and pumpkin pancakes for breakfast

-- Cinnamon-raisin toast with peanut butter, apple and cheese for lunch

-- Clif Bar for snack

-- "Healthy" Chinese food for dinner (OK, it was about as healthy as Chinese food can be!)

-- Protein shake with frozen organic berries and two tablespoons of ice cream

Granted, I could have eaten more greens.  No doubt there.  But I did have Omega-3 Oil-infused Carrot Juice from Trader Joe's, so leave me alone!

Despite not being able to figure out exactly what's going on, I decided to skip my evening swim in favor of a massage from LA Body Mechanics and Fortius teammate, David.  It will help me going into my Malibu Triathlon race this Saturday, and I can make up the swim tomorrow morning anyway.

Ah, the Malibu Triathlon.

This used to be my Rose Bowl of triathlons.  The Grand-Daddy of Them All.  The Nautica Malibu Triathlon is special to me because it marks my first triathlon.  We always remember our first, right?  I can still recall how nervous I was.  How I bought a hotel room 20 minutes away to make sure I would have enough sleep the night before the event.

(Pause...I'm re-reading this and I just realized how much of a double-entendre this entire section is!  Wow!  Mom, I'm talking about triathlon I swear!!!)

How I looked like Charlie Sheen's character in "Platoon" when he went on his first jungle patrol -- loaded up with junk I'd never actually need but other people told me I would. Practically fainting from all the unnecessary weight in my transition bag. Towel to dry off.  Gloves for a 18-mile bike ride.  Tupperware to dip my feet in after the swim to clean my feet.  And the extra food on my transition towel.  Oy.

I actually paused to eat an entire banana in T1 before venturing out on the course. That was after toweling off completely from the swim.

And I remember how proud of myself I was for finishing my first race.  Such elation!  Nevermind the time was 1:44 and change for a half-mile swim, 18-mile bike and a 4-mile run.  I was officially a "TRIATHLETE" and that's all that mattered.  Except that I vowed to complete the Olympic triathlon course the following year (2009).

"Aw, you completed your very first triathlon!  That's nice, Ryan.  Now get on to the next big goal."

Yep, that's sort of how I roll in general.

Last year, I trained practically all year for Malibu Olympic.  Or "all year" by my own definition at the time, which meant no more than five days a week, tops.  No double workouts.  Certainly no bricks.

I saw real progress in my training, finishing the Olympic course in 2:44.

But for both Malibu triathlon experiences, it was about something more.  The challenge loomed large. The Unknown was even larger. Could I finish?  What if I cramped up?  What if I got a flat?  What if I was the slowest in my age group?

Questions, questions, questions.  All questions that led to a heightened sense of exhiliration when I finished the events.  Relief!  Joy!  Pride.

Which brings me to this year's Malibu Triathlon event.  It's a blip on my training radar.  In contrast to last year, I haven't been on the bike course for several months, probably since the Amgen Tour rambled through Malibu and Agoura this past spring.  I have a goal time of 2:25 for this event, but even if I don't hit it, it's no big deal.  Ironman is the real prize this year. But honestly, I'm a little sad about that. I miss the excitement and anticipation of the Malibu Triathlon.  I miss the wonder and speculation.  The naivete, so to speak.

Now, all that is put on hold for November 21, 2010.

Though I hope to call upon a little bit of the magic of my first time to make this event just a little more special.

Geez, I've become a triathlon slut!

73 days and counting.

Weekend Wrap

Labor Day came and went without a single workout.

A true holiday weekend!  However, I more than made up for it yesterday.

Coach Gerardo, Ray, Richard, David,Christina and I awoke literally at dawn's first light to beat the heat for our scheduled 2:15 trail run.  But not just any trail run. Bulldog Trail, Malibu Creek State Park.  Gerardo, Richard and I "only" did the first 1.5 miles of the actual trail, but it was enough for nearly 1,000 feet of climbing, including a few grades as steep as 13%.  Ray, David and Christina chose a less steep path, perhaps slightly because of the late evening we enjoyed wishing Ray a temporary farewell as he moves to San Diego.

I saw some real progress on this trail run.  The last time I ran Malibu Creek State Park, it served as a rude awakening.  Though that was less than two months ago -- July 4 weekend in fact -- I vividly remember worrying about the heat and my ability to handle it heading into Vineman 70.3  Fast forward to the next holiday weekend and I completed nearly double the distance while stopping to walk about half as much.  Even better was my pace -- in two months I knocked off nearly a full minute off my mile pace on the final two miles of the run.  I think that's the result of the Fortius track workouts, which improved my ability sustain a faster pace for longer, and knowing my body better and how far I can push it without risk.  I used to train a little more cautiously in terms of letting my heart-rate determine my output.  On Sunday, Gerardo told us not to bring our watches and to just run.  It was more important to get through the run than to do it "right", apparently.

The trick worked. I ran harder as a result, and Richard out-paced me by a good few minutes -- giving me someone to chase.  That's the perfect combination for me.  Just turn me loose and let me go all out!

After the run, we all celebrated the long weekend as a team at Zuma Beach.  I felt like I was a teenager again. We immediately unpacked our gear and basically played sports non-stop for hours.  Beach soccer.  Beach volleyball. Swimming.

Except I'm no longer a teenager, as I learned today.  My body is trained for endurance, not necessarily fast-twitch sports right now.  My quads are like lead from all the jumping and squatting.  My Achilles tendons hurt from running in the sand.  My right foot throbs from all the soccer passes -- and Janna's shin!

Thank goodness I train as hard as I do, for I can't imagine what today would have felt like had I exerted the same youthful effort without the strength or stamina to back it up.

Thank goodness I had a day off to get back to normal.  The 10 hours of sleep and pancake breakfast at Jinky's definitely helped.

Tomorrow, "back to normal" means a 1:45 hour bike ride featuring 10 three-minute time trials along with an evening 2,800-yard swim.

Thank goodness, I'm ready and eager...and grateful that I'm healthy and have the time to keep pursuing this mega-goal.

74 days and counting.

Mulholland, Piuma & Rock Store OH MY!

The shininess of progress is sometimes obscured by what appears to be failure. But if you look a little deeper, the former often outweighs the latter.

Progress sure hurts sometimes too.  I ventured out to cycle with my Fortius teammate and friend Christina this morning.  It turned into the most challenging, most painful bike ride yet -- and hopefully with he biggest payoff down the line.

First let's rewind.

My schedule called for 2.5 hours at whatever pace "the group" chose -- hills or flats.  It was supposed to be a nice follow-up to yesterday's Santa Barbara Triathlon course preview ride and run.  That went out the window though once a LA Tri Club member whom I look up to showed up with his wife and served as the ride's pace leader.

I had to know if I could keep up.  I wanted to hold Jeff's wheel without wrecking myself.  I wanted to be with the "fast" group.  Maybe it's because I still remember all those rides where I'd get dropped with the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club.  Maybe my competitive nature got the better of me once again.

Probably a little of Column A and a little of Column B.

The short version of the story is that for 50 miles, I did keep up.  Outside of popping briefly on the El Toro grade off Highway 150 and losing the other three fastest riders, I stayed right up front.  And damn it felt good!  Even better, the five-mile run felt just as a good. I snapped off a few 8:30s and sub-8:15s while helping pace a new friend on the Tri Club.

As much fun as practicing can be, sometimes being thanked for a helping hand in training or a compliment on speed can really make all the difference between a good workout and a great one.

So with all those good vibes swirling around in my head, I didn't think twice when Christina invited me to join her for four hours of climbing in the Malibu hills.  After all, I needed to fit in the extra cycling hours I missed last week at the Vineman Full course, and we were supposed to hit 70 on the bike yesterday.

Clearly, I wasn't thinking straight.  I failed to take into account that Christina is the "Queen of the Mountains" after crushing her competition at the Amgen Breakaway Ride -- which features four climbs of the Rock Store grade.  Four!  Christina also scales these hills at least once or twice a week as part of her training for larger bike rides and at least an Ironman a year.

Christina is a badass.  And until this ride, I had no real conception of what that actually meant.

And I had no idea AT ALL what climbing Mulholland Drive, Piuma Road, Rock Store and several other hills over a 55-mile span would do to me.

On a road bike with a full carbon seat I haven't ridden in weeks.

Simply put, the ride almost broke me.  Physically, it actually did break me.  Mentally, it came as close as anything ever had in the past.  I'm talkin' LA Marathon kind of pain.

By mile 25, at the intersection of Cornell Road and Mulholland, I had enough.  I was spent.  My cadence went from a steady 80-100 on flats and 60-70 on hills to roughly 53 on hills (even down in the 40s!) and well in the 70s on the flats.  After the Mulholland Piuma climbs and on the way to Rock Store, Christina's bike became harder and harder to spot.  Like a speck amidst the waves of heat rising from the freshly paved asphalt.

Honestly, I felt pathetic.  Hot.  Dry.  Heavy.  Hurting.

I wanted to quit.  I was about to quit.  I told Christina I wanted to quit.  I was ready to go home. The ride had beaten me. Shocked me, like a surprise left hook.  Staggered me.  Showed me I still had a lot to learn as an endurance athlete.  Just because I brought the noise on a Saturday didn't mean squat.  Back-to-back was not meant to be.

Is this what being an Ironman is really like?  Had I missed the point the entire time?  It's not about one sprint race, or a good Olympic distance time or even one Half-Ironman result.  What can you bring back-to-back?  How fast can you recover?

If those are the yardsticks, I had failed.  I knew it.  And the worst part was not having the defiant energy to swing back at those self-doubts in the cloudless Sunday sun.

Christina gave me some tough love though, coated in understanding and softness.  She coaxed me to stay, saying Rock Store would "only be 25 minutes of pain" (normally it takes me around 17-18 minutes!) and I'd be home free after that, feeling great about my accomplishment.

I couldn't argue.  I didn't even have the energy to do that!  Moreover, I didn't want to derail Christina's ride.  Or let her down.  Or quit.  Again, if I could quit now, what would happen in November if I had two flat tires, a cramp in the swim and a knot in my stomach during the run?  Worse yet, what would happen if nobody was nearby to goad me into sticking it out!?

This blog was conceived with my thought of it serving as a "big goal guide" for the kids I don't have yet.  Kids who hopefully will read this one day and if nothing else, they'll know their old man was never a quitter.  I may not have been the fastest, or kept the wheel of the best guy in the club all the time. But I show up the next day.

And I don't fucking quit.

I ventured on, accepting the pain. Realizing that once again, all my platitudes about overcoming suffering really didn't mean anything until that point.  There's discomfort (my Half Ironman), and there's suffering ... today.  Suffering occurs when there seems to be no reason to continue.  The Half-Ironman at least had a finish line.  The comfort zone in your training passed by 15 miles ago and there's easily another 20 miles still to go before returning home.  With at least four hill climbs.  The water bottles are low.  The Clif bars taste the same -- they have since last November -- and gross you out.  The Hammer gels taste like cake frosting that makes you want to barf.  And the Gu Chomps...well, there's small writing on the back of the packaging indicating you shouldn't eat more than six in a two hour period for a reason.

The ride sucked.  The ride taught.

I cracked.  And repatched.

I wilted. And am regenerating.

While tomorrow now features a rest day where one didn't exist a few hours ago, I'm feeling better already.  I learned something about myself again today.  Discomfort is a speed bump.  Pain is a choice.  The brain can propel the body forward even when it really doesn't want to -- provided there's enough fuel in the system to do so.

And sometimes, your best friends, your best teammates, are the ones who push you past your perceived breaking point to show you what lies beyond.

Thanks, Christina.

I'll be back on that course.  And I'll do better next time.

104 days and counting.

Wake Up Call

Well, I won't make that mistake again. "That mistake" was misinterpreting Coach Gerardo's directions this morning during the bike portion of our Vineman simulation brick workout.  At the first climb in Hidden Valley on Portrero Road (just shy of Sly Stallone's place), Gerardo indicated that once I got to the crest, I should come immediately back.  I thought he meant the crest of the entire climb, which would have been the peak of Portrero Road before the steep and tricky descent into Camarillo.

In hindsight, I realize how silly this logic was.  But, I was in a cycling groove, hypnotized by a consistent pedal cadence and from riding largely by myself -- though my teammates were nearby.  It's at those moments when I'm truly in a cycling trance.  Not really thinking about anything important, but rather the ride itself.  How I'm feeling, how the ride is going, what's next whether climb, flat or descent.

I had only realized my mistake when I returned from the second Portrero peak and didn't see teammates Jason, Richard or Karen anywhere, let alone Mike's sag vehicle.  It then became a frenzied solo journey back to Las Virgenes Road and Mullholland Drive.  To make matters worse, my cell phone died.  I didn't place it in the usual Ziplock baggie, and I finally paid the ultimate price.  While the phone itself turns on, it resets itself the moment I try to dial a phone number or punch in any key, for that matter.

Finally, after an added nine miles and 20 minutes of pedaling, I rejoined Mike, quickly changed clothes and ran into Malibu Creek State Park for a 6.6 mile workout.  The time was after noon, and this was designed to simulate the expected hot and sunny conditions we'll face at Vineman 70.3 in a couple weeks.  To better combat the elements, I tried a pair of DeSoto arm coolers.  It's hard to say whether they had a physical effect, but my arms were certainly cooler and my heart-rate remained closer to 160 bpm (low zone 4) compared to the upper 160s it had been while training in 90-degree-plus weather in Arizona.  I completed the running loop, which took me through rocks, creeks, scrub, and dust to the base of the Bulldog Trail, in just about 1:05:00.  It wasn't the fastest pace, but it wasn't the easiest terrain.

Like it or not thoughm, I'm about as ready as I'm going to be for a Half-Ironman.  I remember thinking during the run that the discomfort I was feeling at the end of the run is only going to be compounded on race day. Especially since I'd need to bang out another 6.5 miles before finishing, not to mention adding a 1.2 mile swim and nine more miles to my bike ride.

So while the physical aspects of today's training session were valuable, the most valuable aspect by far was the metaphorical splash of cold water on my ego that just because I can fare well in an Olympic distance triathlon...we're about to enter completely new territory.  What I've done in the past does not matter one bit at a Half-Ironman.

Wake up call received.

Just not from my defunct cell phone.

137 days and counting.

A Special Birthday

It's 6 a.m. on your birthday.  Do you:

A) Smack the clock and go back to sleep

B) Jump in the pool with your training teammates

C) Lock the front door after getting in from a long night of drinking

I went with B) this morning.  And it set the tone for a fantastic birthday.  One of my all-time favorites, in fact.  Though that had little to do with training.  The past couple years, circumstances have prevented Stephanie and I from spending my birthday together.  Today that would change, as it will for hopefully every remaining birthday.  After a Black Dog yoga session that included some inverted wall poses, Steph and I spent the afternoon together, hanging out at Paradise Cove in Malibu and now she's cooking a gourmet feast -- boeuf bourguignon.  I'm a lucky guy!  Make that a VERY lucky guy.

Usually, this is about the time that I devote a few hours to reflect on the past year and think about what I hope to accomplish in the year ahead.  Honestly, I never could have predicted a year ago where my life would be today.  I was reeling from not being with Stephanie and still really just getting my proverbial feet wet in the sport of triathlon.  Now, I'm engaged to the woman I've always loved since before we were dating and I'm training like mad for my first Ironman.  I look and feel like a different person.

What will 36 bring?  Oh, you know, besides a wedding and an Ironman!  Well, in thinking about things, I've grown a lot over the past year.  I think I'm a little more relaxed, a little more confident, a little more competitive.  A lot more grateful.  Perhaps a little wiser.  Maybe even a bit softer around the edges (I hope).  I feel like my own man, though it may have taken a little longer than expected.

Thirty-five was a year of growth and maturation.  I hope 36 brings more of the same, with a killer Ironman Arizona (maybe one more too?) time and a warm, unforgettable wedding.

Is that so much to ask?

Actually, in my renewed state of being, I'll start with a fantastic tomorrow that's unforgettable and productive.  I'll start by encouraging others to be their best, while doing my best too.  One day at a time.  If anything, my Ironman training has taught me that.

162 days and counting.