True Brotherhood

When I was in a college fraternity, "brotherhood" largely meant drinking and doing stupid things together, and having your buddy's back in a barfight. Nearly 20 years later, on a picturesque Santa Barbara morning, "brotherood" took on new meaning. Certainly something more special, and far more real than the concept we thought we understood it to be during chapter meetings.

Read More

Santa Barbara Tri Photo Gallery

I wanted to upload some images from the Santa Barbara Triathlon this weekend.  Haven't posted many images lately so I'm trying to make up for it here! I took this first photo on Friday, the day before the long course event. Steph and I were re-visiting Firestone Vineyard in Los Olivos, about 40 minutes north of Santa Barbara.  We're probably going to get married there.  In this exact spot one year from now!  That's my beautiful bride-to-be. I'm a lucky dude.

It's always easier to shoot photos before the starting gun goes off at a triathlon.  Especially with a camera that doesn't do action sequences well.  In the second photo I'm with my buddy Kevin, a fellow Fortius team member who had a terrific race -- clocking in around 3:39.  By the way, the water temperature was a crisp 59, or possibly even colder. Hence me wearing a "squid lid" for the first time.  I actually found it to be very comfortable and effective.  I was noticeably warmer in the water and would use it again if necessary.

Image number three is a quick one of Steph and me minutes before the start of the race. You can really see my "race face" come out in the fourth image shortly taken after that in the next shot standing at the starting line.  Go time.

Image five...aaaaannnnd they're off!!!!

That's why I looked so intense a few seconds before. I've done enough of these tris to know I was about to be kicked, hit, grabbed and shoved underwater for the first 300 yards of the swim.  It's that moment right before the starting gun goes off where you wonder, "Why am I doing this to myself again?"

OK, not really.  I love this!  I thrive on the competitive chaos. Who am I kidding?!

Somewhere between the image above and the sixth image taken with my Fortius coach, Gerardo (right), and Fortius teammate, Bob (left), I swam a mile, biked 35 miles and ran 10 miles in 3:43:01.  I outlined what happened on the bike in Saturday's post, but I haven't really said much about the run.  It was my fastest "distance" run to-date, with an average pace of 7:46 for a total time of 1:17.  But that's not what jazzed me the most.  For the first time I can recall, I was told I paced someone else to their personal best run.  That's what I usually tell someone else at the end of every race!  A 25-year-old kid , Chris, was clocking 8:15 miles with me for the first few miles of the run.  Chris felt out of his league on the pacing but I gave him advice on how to stay in the right physical and mental zones for longer. I suggested that he walk through the water stops, walk up inclines if necessary and save himself for the final three miles of the run, where he could really pour it on.  I outpaced Chris on the final five miles, but he wasn't far behind at the finish.  We shook hands, and the gratitude he showed really made my day special -- especially after such a frustrating bike ride.

Once again, giving back to others or motivating them somehow feels so much better than just taking from this sport.

Finally, after the race and the Fortius team celebratory lunch that followed, I took Steph out for a special thank you and surprise. It's important that our significant others know that we couldn't compete to our fullest without their understanding and encouragement. I always try to keep that in mind, every day.  So, I took Steph to a flower stand so she could pick out her own special bouquet, and we enjoyed some fantastic gelato at Scoops in Montecito.

What a relaxing ending to a frantic day!

And for those playing along at home, today's workout: 28.68 miles on the bike before work, 2,200 yards in the pool after work.

Now I'm done.

80 days and counting.

The Only Choice

I grew up going to two schools, public and Torah. At the latter, we'd discuss Judaic teachings, of course, but we'd also cover more general moral lessons too.  One always stood out to me.  This is the scenario: You're at the beach. You spot a random stranger drowning in the surf.  Nearby, your favorite pet dog is swept up in the tide and current as well.  You can't save both.  Pick one.  There is a right answer.

As a child, this was a true dilemma.  Your pet is a family member, right?  But really, it's obvious now which one you should save, I hope.

Now what the hell does this have to do with triathlon?

I found out today during the bike portion of the Santa Barbara Triathlon long course, metaphorically speaking.  After an intense, choppy and frigid swim, I found myself struggling up the first several miles worth of climbing on the bike.  Until mercifully, I reached the top to begin a fairly steep, technical descent filled with switchback turns.  It's the kind of descent that sneaks up on you in a race because the first few miles on the bike are usually spent recovering from the swim, and then the focus turns to keeping the heart-rate in check on the climbing.  It's easy to fall into a hypnotic mental and physical rhythm because doing so dampens the pain in your quads, neck, shoulders and lower back.  The challenge becomes balancing relaxing on the downhills while remembering how dangerous they are.

Unfortunately, I saw just how dangerous they were firsthand.  As I began to rocket downward, I realized I was carrying too much speed around the right corner heading into El Toro Canyon.  I squeezed the brakes...hard.  Flashbacks of my Santa Susana Pass crash in 2009 raced through my head.  They helped me avoid panicking though as I looked through the turn, composed myself and corrected while staying on the right side of the road.  But someone was riding behind me closer than they should have as I crushed the brakes.  The cyclist consequently veered around my left-side, forcing him farther out beyond the double-yellow lines on the turn.

Things went real bad from there.  His back wheel wobbled and skidded on loose dirt and leaves. He tried to correct the skid, lost control, and slammed down on his left side, hurtling down the street on his shoulder, legs and back.

I keep playing in my mind the grimace on his face as he slid down the street.  I can see the whites of his teeth and wince in his closed eyes.

The sad part is I kept pedaling for a moment, choosing between competition and compassion.

It's not really a choice.  Compassion quickly won out -- but not without a brief internal struggle.  I work hard to arrive at race day ready to do my best, and once the starting gun goes off, that's my reward for all the hours spent training and preparing.  It's my time to shine and see how I stack up with the best!  Still, what kind of man would I be had I kept pedaling, even finishing with a personal best?  That's something I would have regretted quite possibly for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, I won't have to put myself through that kind of self-torture.  After the accident, I slowed, pulled over safely several feet downhill, turned around and rode back up the incline to check on the rider.  He was standing, hands clutched on knees, waving me off.  "I'm alright, get back to your race.  I'm OK," he said.

I shouldn't have listened.  The impact sounded horrendous and looked even worse.  But, the man told me he was fine.  I asked him if he was absolutely sure and if he was going to try and continue. He said yes to both.

I solemnly turned downhill and resumed my race.

I later found out the cyclist needed an ambulance and was placed on a flatboard.

On one hand, I know I did the right thing by stopping.  On the other hand, I didn't do enough by neglecting to stay with him until medical attention arrived.  I knew better.

However, I would have done exactly the same thing as the downed rider.  I wouldn't want someone else's race ruined because of my crash.

I keep telling myself that.

Maybe I need to go back to Torah school.

84 days and counting.

Santa Barbara Tri: A, B or C Race?

In Training Peaks, my triathlon workout schedule manager, race days are indicated by little trophies with an A, B, or C on them. The Santa Barbara Triathlon is listed as a priority C, meaning it's essentially another training day that happens to be timed.

I'd like to believe I'll be able to keep that in mind when the starting gun goes off at 7 a.m.  But I know myself all too well.  Maybe you're beginning to know me too.

That C level priority is what dragged me out of bed this morning for a 6 a.m. swim and what compelled me to attend tonight's final Fortius-coached track workout.  If Saturday's race is "just another training day" then there's no excuse for me to blow off these last workouts due to the fatigue I'm experiencing.  That was my thought process throughout the day.  I wanted nothing more than to go straight home when I left the office around 5:30 p.m.  In fact, I debated doing just that throughout the commute.  There's the triathlon magazine web story I could be writing.  Or the packing I could be doing for Santa Barbara.  Or simply relaxing at home for an extended period, which hardly ever seems to happen now.

But the honest motivator was this: I knew that somewhere out there, someone competing in my age group this Saturday was training.  He was overcoming the heat.  The fatigue.  The excuses.  And If I didn't haul ass on that track -- perhaps against my better judgement -- then he was going to beat me by a few seconds in the race.

C-level race or not, I can't let that happen.

So, I ticked off two 400s, two 800s and another two 400s at a 6:00-7:00 minute mile pace along with a handful of striders and light lap-running.  Perhaps against my better judgement.  Despite my concerns, my heart-rate dropped quickly between laps, I didn't overheat nor did I exhaust myself.  Much like this morning's swim, where I tied my 100 PR at 1:25, I pleasantly surprised myself in the run.

And that's the gift I received for putting in the time today.  I had enough energy to perform at a high level for myself despite the fatigue and self-doubts.  Moreover, A, B, or C, level race, I know that by pushing myself just a bit further than I wanted to this week, I inched forward towards my ultimate A-1 goal: Ironman.

Let's see how I feel tomorrow morning!

86 days and counting.

5 Day Energy Drink, Please

No blogging last night.  Got home at 1 a.m. after waiting 40 minutes to leave the bottom floor of the Hollywood & Highland parking garage following a stellar Dave Matthews Band concert.  I hadn't been much of a DMB fan since the late 90s, but that didn't matter last night.  My family convened to celebrate my dad's 64th birthday, though it was a surprise for him since he didn't know Steph, my sister Dana and her boyfriend Craig were also coming.  We bounced, clapped and swayed our way through the evening, laughing, singing and joking with one another.  Truly a memorable night -- except for the long wait to get home. Which leaves me scrambling for some energy tonight, despite still managing nearly eight hours of sleep by skipping my morning swim workout.  I'm heading to the pool in about 15 minutes, wondering where the energy to avoid sinking is going to come from.  The cumulative effects of a hard Saturday century ride followed by a long Sunday morning trail run, strength training, last night's concert, and today's 40-minute "slow" heart-rate zone 1 treadmill run have added up.  I really dislike admitting I'm tired, but I just am.  With a long-course triathlon race on Saturday (Santa Barbara Triathlon), I'm getting concerned that I won't have enough energy in the tank by week's end.  Coach Gerardo has assured me that tomorrow's tempo brick should further prepare me for Saturday, while if needed I can skip the Thursday evening track workout.

Honestly, that sounds quite appealing right about now.  I wish I had one of those 5 Hour Energy Drinks but instead could call it a 5 DAY Energy Drink to get me through the rest of the week!

It's only Tuesday?  Really???

88 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.


I woke up at 5 to drive to Santa Barbara and train for the morning.  Fortius and LA Tri Club members rode at least 50 miles in preparation for the Santa Barbara Triathlon in a couple weeks. Some of us, including myself, ran five miles immediately after.  Others ran 10. The day, as usual, has been non-stop since.  And now, at 11:15 p.m., it is finally ending after sobbing my way through Toy Story 3 with Stephanie.

Pixar, you did it to me again.

I'm toast now.  Crispy.  Deep fried.  DONE.

Tomorrow, I'll write much more in-depth about the Santa Barbara Triathlon course, as well as what will likely be a grueling but fun workout with my Fortius teammate and friend, Christina.  We're going to climb darned near every hill in Malibu over the course of four hours.  I hope to keep up with the Queen of the Mountains!

Now it's time to refuel on rest.  More later.

105 days and counting.

The Perils of Not Stretching

A negative side effect from my busy week has been my lack of stretching.  Really, the past two weeks have been like this. It's beginning to take its toll.

Today is my usual off-day from training.  But it feels like I worked out twice.  My right calf is tight and sore.  Probably from my swim yesterday morning when it cramped up in the middle of a relay race where I squared off against Coach Gerardo.  I couldn't fold in the middle of the 50 even though my calf was begging me to.  Now my leg is paying the price.  My left IT band and right shoulder are also achy.

I remember when my massage therapist and Fortius teammate David told me soreness tends to spiral in the body since the muscle groups spiral around bone.  I'm walking...err...shuffling proof of this right now.

Not stretching is one of those "proceed at your own risk" things.  It doesn't immediately show its effects, but collectively, a week without foam rolling produces moments like the one I'm considering now -- I don't want to get out of my chair because I'll hear all the cracks and creaks in my body.

Don't remind me, Father Time!

Yes, I'm "only" 36, but days like today make me feel a little older.  And not quite as spry.  I miss the days of rapid recovery.  Like when I was in eighth grade and would play sports all summer long, day after day after day.  I'd say rinse, wash, repeat, but back then it really was just repeat, repeat, repeat!

Still, not working out for the day has been a welcome relief.  Especially knowing that tomorrow I'm waking up at 5 a.m. to drive to Santa Barbara for a SB Triathlon course preview ride and run.  My buddy Frank is joining the Fortius crew and me.  I'm not looking forward to the wake-up call, but the cool, crisp air and beautiful seaside and mountain views should more than make up for it.

Now, it's off to a family barbecue.  The activity stream continues!

106 days and counting.