Ironman Games: St. George Recap Part 3

The good news with an Ironman marathon, when the race is going well, is knowing you can walk the damn thing and still finish before midnight.

That's what I thought as I walked toward the T2 changing tent from the bike dismount after my 112-mile ride.  I couldn't pick my legs up enough to run, still trying to process the day's events to that point.  The idea of running 26.2 miles in that moment seemed not just ridiculous, but cruel. It was 82 degrees with no cloud cover, which meant with the asphalt heat rising it would feel closer to 87.

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Bandit Trail Run Race Report

What does it mean to "get better" in triathlon?  Does it mean "go faster?"  I think that would be the obvious response. But there's something else, something deeper.

No, to me getting better in triathlon means being smarter.  By "smarter," I mean developing an innate sense of body awareness that transcends the data we gather on our sophisticated training devices.

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What Not To Say

Trainers are supposed to make you stronger.  Faster.  More powerful. They're not supposed to bring you down.  There's plenty of other ways and other people who can do that.  I'm not paying them though.  With that in mind, I'm annoyed with my own strength trainer today.  We've trained together for years now and I suppose we have that kind of relationship where perhaps she feels like she can say anything and it'll be OK.

Well, three weeks before an Ironman and it's NOT OK to tell me you don't think I'm cut out for running and that after the race I should stop for a few years.  I don't need to hear that right now!  Yes, I'm sure it's obvious to her that my skeletal structure is placing added stress on my hips.  Perhaps that is why I consistently have tightness in my hip flexors.  But so many other people do too.  That means nothing.  And the last time I checked, my trainer isn't a doctor so she can't say for sure.

Of course, my trainer isn't the first person to tell me it's somewhat of a miracle I can run at all.  My ART therapist told me the same thing earlier this year.  But my ART therapist nurtures me back to health, asks me questions about how I'm feeling, and leaves it at that.  He hasn't made any sweeping statements that would tug at my self-confidence in the dark hours of an Ironman.

Fortunately, I've learned a thing or two about mental training for an Ironman.  I feel very fortunate to have interviewed the top pros in the sport to learn how to prepare mentally for a race and deal with the pain and suffering that an Ironman brings.  Chrissie Wellington taught me how she creates a mental bubble for herself, only allowing in positive energy and comments while shutting out negativity. Today, after my strength workout, I created that bubble for myself.

I just thought I'd never need to use it because of what someone in my inner circle of supposed supporters said to me.

Being a good trainer has as much to do with how you communicate with your client as the kind of routine prescribed.  I've stuck with this person for years, through injuries likely caused from over-exertion, over-use of heavy weights, and over-use of a muscle group.  Still, I've been loyal.  But something as simple as a simple comment made me re-think the relationship today.  I have one more strength training session left at my work gym.

It may well be my last.

I know I have limitations.  I just don't need the people trying to build me up to inadvertently tear me down with a careless statement.

For now, I will do what I do best, use this as fuel.  You don't think I can run?  GOOD.  Then when I crack a 4:20:00 at IM CDA we'll talk some more. I know that's not a record-breaking time, but it would be a PR by a long shot for me and I think I'm just ready to do it.

Maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to me. Because now I'm mad.

And you wouldn't like me very much when I'm angry.

25 days and counting.

PS: Sorry for not writing last night.  I was wrapping up my column with Chris McCormack for Lava Magazine Online. It should be running tomorrow.  Stay tuned for it!


A lot happened this weekend, this epic weekend of Ironman Coeur d'Alene training. I was trying to make some sense of it Saturday afternoon, driving home from Frazier Park (an hour north of Los Angeles) after the Heartbreak 100 century ride.  See, I was feeling pretty damn good about my performance there.  Not because I was particularly fast on the bike, but because I had enough energy left AFTER the bike to run for 50 minutes at what would have been close to a 4:30 marathon time.  That doesn't seem like much, but A) it would be my marathon PR and B) that came after climbing nearly 10,000 feet on a chilly day.  Speaking of chilly, it was so freakin' cold that I bought an extra pair of arm warmers and used them as calf warmers! I rode the course with an undershirt, a jersey, a fleece jacket, a wind breaker, leg warmers, arm warmers and arm warmers on my legs.

Back to the ride itself. What changed for me? What worked? Why? The trick for me was actually listening to my coach and walking (GASP) for a full minute after every nine minutes of running.  Going slower to ultimately go faster. It never makes sense to me but yet it works. In fact it made a huge difference, especially on a run that featured nearly 500 feet of climbing in the first two miles.

I had broken with my tradition, finally, of hammering on a bike ride only to fade on the run.  Instead, I stayed within myself, tough as it was to be passed, and conserved energy.  Still, I managed just over seven hours on a tough course -- which really wouldn't have been too much slower than what I would have managed going a more aggressively.

Which brings me back to my car ride home.  I was flipping through radio stations, done reflecting on the day and needing a mental break.  Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" came on.  Huge smile. Radio dial cranked up.  I had my new mantra:

"I've kicked the habit Shed my skin This is the new stuff I go dancing in, we go dancing in Oh won't you show for me And I will show for you Show for me, I will show for you"

If you saw a dude screaming and dancing in his car on the 118 Freeway around 6 p.m., that was me. I know it's a little corny, and I know the reasons behind the actual lyrics (I think it's about drug addiction) are very serious.  But for me, on that drive home, I felt like I had finally kicked my own stupid racing habits and was ready to take the next step forward in my tri-career.  It felt really good.  Like if I take care of myself -- if I show for you -- then my body will show for me, and my results will be better come race day.

The rest of Saturday and into Sunday morning was spent recovering from the ride and run.  While Heartbreak 100 isn't nearly as difficult as the Mulholland Challenge, it still took its toll -- most notably on my outer right knee area.  I woke up stiff and sore, and definitely not feeling like running for 2.5 hours.  I texted Gerardo to ask if I could skip the run, as much because I liked the confident feeling I had from the day prior and didn't want to be dragged back to that dark place of self-doubt following another sloggy bonk-fest.

Coach wasn't having any of that.

"Push through" was essentially the only text I got back. A man of few words, Gerardo is. But he knows which are the most important words.

So push through is what I did.  For 2.5 hours exactly in the Calabasas area.  Granted, I only climbed roughly the same elevation as yesterday's 50-minute run.  But, once again the walk a minute every mile routine paid huge dividends. My heart-rate never felt out of hand and I'm confident that if I can stay within myself on the bike ride that I can enjoy a marathon PR by a long shot.

As we all know though, Ironman can throw anything at you on race day.  So, I'll be prepared for that.  But today, following the run AND a 3,000-yard swim immediately thereafter, I felt refreshed.  Not exhausted. But happy.  Almost joyous.  I got through the weekend.  I learned about myself.  I learned that if I hydrate constantly (five full bottles on the Saturday bike, two full bottles for today's run), stay cool (literally), pop lots of Endurolytes, and stay focused and measured on the bike, I can have a GREAT day at Coeur d'Alene.

I didn't feel this way at the peak of my training last year heading into IMAZ.  Granted, we still have one more giant training week left, but if I can maintain this outlook and simply smarter training then I'll be quite confident and prepared.

A wiser athlete.  More humble.  But I'm carrying a sledgehammer filled with confidence and experience.

29 days and counting.

Sure, Why Not?

Chalk one up to timing. Tomorrow, I've got a two-hour run scheduled on rolling hills.  I'm supposed to stay within heart-rate zones 1-3.

Guess what?  It just so happens the Palos Verdes Half Marathon is tomorrow! Rolling hills and all.  So, is this going to be a good idea,or a bad one?  I'll let you know tomorrow at around mile 10!

The timing seems to be working in my favor though.  I didn't train much yesterday since I didn't swim and I had run two days in a row prior.  Today was my off-day.  An unintentional taper, but a taper nonetheless.

On the other hand, am I weak from being sick and missing six hours of combined training last week?  I honestly don't know. I have trained seven hours this week so far, illness and largely fatigue free.  I feel fresh, strong and eager to run tomorrow, so I suppose that's a good sign.

The real challenge is going to be holding back at the event.  But I'm going to treat it as an Ironman training run, meaning that despite the adrenaline I need to figure out how to hold back and pace myself even when I feel particularly strong.  This is not a strength of mine.  But it needs to become one.  More important, I have a LONG training day on Sunday featuring a 6.5-hour brick AND an hour swim before that.

In other words, I'm doing a mini-Ironman on Sunday.

If that doesn't force me to pace myself tomorrow, I don't know what will.  But ya know what?  This is what it's all about -- challenging yourself constantly.  Surprising yourself, and your body.  For better or worse, I'm going to put myself out there tomorrow, on a tough course I haven't experienced before, and try to enjoy the journey.

Why not, right?

Race report tomorrow night.

44 days and counting.

Fuel Belt Review

The other day, I had to switch cars for a week with Stephanie as hers was in the repair shop (my father's repair shop, to be precise).  One disadvantage to switching cars is that when it comes to triathlon training, you're really switching locker rooms.  That means bike helmet, cleats, pump, swim fins, gloves and hand pump. It also meant taking my Nathan two-bottle running belt. Somewhere between the time I took that belt and the time I got my car back, Nathan decided to up and leave me.  I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my GYST transition backpack I've been toting around -- looking like a tiny second-grader in the process.  The Nathan belt has a generous amount of Velcro and likes to attach itself to clothing or anything else nearby.  I'm pretty sure Nathan hitched a ride on the GYST Express and got off somewhere in my work parking lot.

Which leads me to Wildflower long-course triathlon, a little less than a week away. It's going to be hot that day.  Real hot.  Wildflower is the kind of place where 80 degrees will feel like 90.  So I'll need a hydration system of some kind for the dusty, sweltering run.  My wave starts at 8:35 a.m, meaning I'll be on the trails starting around noon, the heat of the day.

I chose to experiment with the Fuel Belt R30 for two reasons. First, the store I went to (Runnergy in Sherman Oaks) didn't have a Nathan three or four-bottle belt in my size.  Second, I've found that for two-hour runs or longer, a two-bottle Nathan belt (approximately 10 ounces per bottle) doesn't contain enough fluid for me to stay fully hydrated.  I need at least three bottles.

The R30 Fuel Belt gives me an extra 4 ounces overall, with each bottle being slightly smaller (8 ounces) though.  The challenge with a three-bottle system, at least with this Fuel Belt, is that all three bottles are positioned on the back part of my hips or directly on my backside.  That's inefficient from a running perspective and threw off my gait when I first tried using the belt this past Friday during my Griffith Park long run.

Further, the Fuel Belt has only a small square pouch on the right side for keys and possibly one folded gel.  You can add additional storage on the belt, but of course you're gaining further weight.  That's a touchy trade off.

I'm not that impressed with the R30 Fuel Belt.  The bottles aren't removed easily from their plastic holders, unlike my old trusty Nathan belt.  The Fuel Belt plastic almost feels more rigid, so that if you don't place the bottle correctly in the holder it won't slide into place. This was especially frustrating for me as I found myself twisting my hips and back more mid-stride focusing on putting the bottle(s) back instead of where I was going.  That's not safe on trails!

In short, I miss my Nathan belt.  If I could place a "Missing" sign with a reward for it, I would. I'll likely use the Fuel Belt at Wildflower because it's better to have extra liquids there, but after that I plan to return the Fuel Belt and wait patiently for a properly sized Nathan three- or four-bottle system to arrive in the store.

63 days and counting (re-calibrated to sync with the actual race day!)

The Little Engine Who Couldn't and Then Did

You know the story, "The Little Engine that Could?"  I used to love hearing it as a kid.  Over and over again.  Maybe it rubbed off a bit on my personality. Today on my long two-hour run for the week, I was The Little Engine Who Couldn't.  I couldn't motivate because I was running alone early in the morning on my normal day off from training.  I couldn't elevate my heart-rate to the usual zones based on the usual activity level -- I was off by at least 10 bpm.  I couldn't travel much faster than the walking horses on the dirt path, and my run quality smelled like them too.

And then, I saw one of the strangest things in all my time training.  As I passed the Los Angeles Zoo parking lot in Griffith Park around 8 a.m. on my first of two loops, a man in corporate attire was playing the bagpipes next to his Porsche Cayenne.

I can't make this stuff up.  I'd say only in LA, but really, maybe it's only in Scotland?

The man belted out "Amazing Grace" as a horde of high school cross-country runners jetted past, waving, laughing and saluting.

Perhaps the man was paying tribute to a fallen comrade, or even rehearsing to do that at a funeral at the nearby Forest Lawn Cemetary.  Maybe he was just inspired.  Either way, I found my lost stride, my passion, and ultimately my speed.  I ran the second loop seven-minutes faster.

This further proved to me how the mind affects the body in training and racing.  I didn't want to be outside this morning.  I wanted to be in bed and it showed in my performance.  But once I committed to the run, truly and fully, my performance soared.  Well, it soared compared to where it was when I started.  Anyway, you get the idea.

The next time your engine is running a little slow, consider why and what you can do to change that in your own mind.  You might be surprised at what happens.

60 days and counting (btw, I know this isn't true and that once again my numbers are off!  I'll change this tomorrow!)

PPS: Tomorrow I hope to review the Fuel Belt R-30 (three-bottle holder). In short, OK but not great.  I'll tell you why.


Some people listen to music when they run.   But you can't really do it in races, so I generally avoid it. Some people listen to the music in their heads, which can be helpful come race day.  In training, that often devolves into endless repeats of the most annoying music on earth.  Most recently, that has meant Ke$ha and The Addams Family theme song (thank you David Wachtel.)


So what do I do instead?  Lately, I've been counting silently, as in 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2... for what seems like hours on end.  I'm sure you've done the same at some point, to keep that cadence high and your gait efficient.  Since my buddy Greg Moe taught me about the value of maintaining between 180-184 steps per minute when running, it's all I can think about on the course.  I've improved to where I can maintain a 90-92 left-foot steps per minute pace on a consistent basis, and now feel comfortable enough working with my buddy John to help him get there as well.

John and I met at Griffith Park this morning at 7 for a lightly-paced run focused on technical training and form.  When we started our first cadence drill, John was around 80 one-foot steps per minute.  However, I should first preface this by indicating that is working for John.  He placed second in his age group at a 10k in Encino last weekend, earning a handshake and a medal from none other than Rafer Johnson.  Yep, THAT Rafer Johnson (are there others though?).  So, John doesn't really need running tutelage per se.  We just wanted to experiment if we could make John run faster, with higher cadence, while keeping his heart-rate the same.

And we did.

By the end of our six-mile jog, John was running well ahead of me while maintaining a steady heart-rate...and his cadence jumped 10 steps per minute to a consistent 90.  Well done!

Though John went much faster than me, it was like I was running faster as well.  I'm not saying I've caught the coaching bug by any stretch.  But I admit to taking a certain amount of pride in watching John smile and enjoy his run just a bit more, and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe when all this training and racing subsides a bit, perhaps one day I will try to coach more.  If it's anything like what I felt today, then it just might be the best-kept secret of triathlon -- coaching is as good as racing.

69 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.

Deeper Calling

Tonight I progressed towards a promise I made at the beginning of the year that I would volunteer more often.  It took discipline to break away from the office around 5 to do it, but I'm really glad I did.  The shelter was busier than the last time Steph and I served meals, which was in December.  I must have personally served at least 500 meals in about two hours. Think about that for a second.

That's 500 people who were lucky enough to get a hot meal from the Union Rescue Mission (ham, corn, salad, potatoes, bread, pie) and presumably a cot to sleep in.  Men, women, children.  What about the rest of LA's homeless?  Where are they tonight?  While we're home, while I'm typing this very blog, where are they?  How are they keeping dry?  Warm?  Safe?

I wish there was a way I could make my training pay off for the homeless somehow.  I wish I could raise a couple bucks for every hour I put in the pool, on the bike or the trails.  Tie dollar amounts to what I'm doing for fun, and help put more food on people's plates, or more clothes on their back.

I'm going to think about this more in the coming days and see what I come up with for next year. My good buddy Rusty is doing some special work through Season 1 Racing now.  Maybe I'm next.  Perhaps a deeper calling to all this training is exactly what I need to stay motivated.


My new-and-improved running technique -- focusing on higher cadence and more elbow torque -- seems to be paying off.  I ran for 5.25 miles this morning (in my Newtons, no less!) as part of my brick workout in just over 40 minutes.  As you might recall, I was running 4.5 miles in 45 minutes not too long ago.  The best part of today's chilly jaunt: My heart-rate was consistently in the low 150s and my pace was a consistent 8:15-8:20. This is especially uplifting given the Cheseboro Half Marathon this Saturday.  A week ago I thought the sky was falling and I lacked motivation to train at all.  This caused Coach Gerardo to mention I was a little behind overall in my Wildflower Long Course training.  But now I feel re-energized.  And eager for competition.  My goal is to break two hours since I've never run a trail race before.  But the way I'm running since Sunday causes me to wonder if I can do even better.  Cheseboro is supposed to be a training run, but I know myself -- and you probably know me by now too.

1:50 or bust!

OK, that's all the energy I've got tonight.  Steph is watching Glee in the other room.  I can feel the gravitational pull through the wall.  Help me.  Please.

90 days and counting.