Bandit Ultra Trail Run 30k Race Report

My Fortius Racing coach, Gerardo Barrios, texted the above to me last week after asking if I had finished my Bandit 30k Ultra Trail Run race report. I hadn't started it yet. It's easy to go with the "I'm busy" excuse even if it's true.  But it's not like I didn't know what happened in my race. 

Read More

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.

Read More

What a Difference 6 Months Makes...

It's finally here. The final few weeks of demanding Ironman training.  The early mornings.  The late nights.  Cramming work, writing, wedding and family in between.  Twenty-one hours of training scheduled this week, and it's not even my biggest week yet.

Sorry, friends, see you at the end of June.

It sucks, but that's honestly what it takes at this point to finish the journey.  Focus.  Discipline.  Patience.  Resolve.  That applies to the workouts themselves.  No need to be a hero at this point in the training. If Coach Gerardo says to stay within zones 1-3 on a 2.5 hour run (like today), then that's exactly what I do. The result this morning meant a relatively pedestrian 2:13:04 half-marathon on the Griffith Park long course trails, with a couple golf course loops thrown in for good measure.  I know I can run faster, but not while keeping my heart rate down.

Welcome to my Ironman marathon pace.  Once again, physically I see I'm more than capable of a 4:15-4:20 marathon if I don't go crazy on the bike.  I ran 9:15 miles with 15 second walking rests at each mile marker.  Normally this would be a disappointment.  But since I know what to expect come race day, I would gladly GRATEFULLY take this pace.

All of this is besides the point though.  Race day is just outside of a month from now.  Last time at this point, I was practically panicked inside about possibly not finishing or disappointing myself, or even you Mr. and Ms. Blog Reader.  Not this time.  In fact, I'm honestly surprised how mellow I am about being in the final crunch right now.  It's seriously no big deal.  I remember, and I'm sure Coach G does too, that last year I was pretty much a whiny bitch about all the pain and suffering associated with the training. "Why are you trying to kill me???" was a common question I asked.

This year I'm not so cocky as to say "Bring it on!"; rather, my attitude is, "Oh, OK.  I've done this workout before.  Cool."

I truly didn't expect to be this relaxed.  Whatever I do in the coming weeks, the goal is to stay that way.

Chillin'. Sleepy.  Another brick workout at 7 a.m. tomorrow.  Bedtime.

33 days and counting.

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.

Blowin' Off Steam

My day started off super crappy.  But training saved it.  That's the benefit of all this crazy triathlon training we do -- the insanity of it all keeps us sane. Because a contractor tried to shirk responsibility for a poor installation of my washing machine (there's a longer story you can email me about if you want to hear what happened), I arrived to Griffith Park this morning late and pissy.  Further, my Garmin watch strap popped loose, so I couldn't wear my watch on my wrist.  After fiddling with it for five minutes unsuccessfully, I tucked it into my chest pocket on my fleece and took off.  My run called for an hour of "moderate" trail running between heart-rate zones 1-4, with some moments in zone 5 if called for on inclines.  I ran by feel instead, but I knew I was moving quicker than normal.  My teeth and jaw were a little clenched as I was thinking of all the things I would have liked to have said to the contractor if I was quicker on my feet in the heat of an argument and NOT trying to be as polite.  This guy really pissed me off because at the core, I think he thought he could push me around.

Anyway, I found that the longer I ran, the less frustrated I became.  Yet my pace remained the same.  And the same hills I had trouble running up just a couple weeks ago were a LOT easier today.  Again, I think my body is finally fully recovered from IMAZ and the gains of my consistent training since January are paying off.  As my dad put it tonight in conversation, perhaps I need a little less to get a lot farther.

This was no more evident than tonight's unexpected 1,000-yard time trial in the pool with my Fortius teammates.  Before the workout, I told Coach Gerardo that he should be on Bonk Watch for me, as once again this was my third workout for the second time this week.

Once again, at the brink of exhaustion, I swam faster for 1,000 yards than I ever have in the pool.  Thanks to healthy pacing from my teammate and friend Mike, I crushed my previous best time of 17:57 from about a month ago and sailed to a new best: 16:36!

Are you kidding me!!?!?!?

Honestly, I still can't believe it. I really owe that to Mike's strong pacing, which fueled my competitive instincts and forced me to swim a little more balls-out than I wanted to, but at the same time saving room for a surge in the final 200 yards.

Honestly, today was perhaps one of my all-time best days of training.

And I have a jerky contractor to thank for it.

Maybe I should ask more people to piss me off?

117 days and counting.

Weekend Wrap

Saturday, February 19: It never fails.  The less motivated I am to train but actually get out and do it, the more I surprise myself.  That happened not once but twice today, during a 1.5 hour trail run off the dirt Mulholland trail (where I was rewarded with this spectacular view of Santa Monica) and, more surprisingly, during my afternoon swim at rainy VNSO Park.

For the latter, I sat in my car while the sky poured down for 15 minutes.  I had no energy, no motivation, to leave that warm heated space.  I was still cold with dried sweat from my Under Armour compression pants.  Tired from eight straight days of training and business travel.  But, I had a contractor at my condo due to a leaky upstairs washer thanks to my lovely neighbor, Trudy.  So, I couldn't go home and enjoy a restful afternoon with all the clanging and banging.  What was left to do?

It took me about 20 minutes to find my happy place in the water. The rain had subsided.  The sky opened up with a few rays of sunshine.  My attitude changed.  I was going to make the best of this.

And ya know what?  In the last of my timed 15:00 time trials, I was on track to PR my 1,000 TT.  By 27 seconds!

I think this is the biggest mystery of training:  Why do I perform better when I least expect it?

I'm not even sure it's a mystery worth solving. The result is what matters.  And it all starts with the initial effort of getting out of the car and into the pool on a rainy Saturday.

Sunday, February 20: A day off.  A much needed day of rest and recovery.

At first, I really didn't like the idea of switching my off days to Sunday.  I felt like I was going to lose out on precious long training hours to help me bounce back into shape.  But I was losing much more -- a sense of closeness with Steph brought about by a lack of perspective on free time.

While I will resume Sunday training in my final three months of Ironman training, I am a new man when I hit the road now on Mondays.  It's a welcome change.  I feel like I have a weekend again, as odd as it may seem.  Training for an Ironman can often feel like a job even though it's what we do for fun on a weekend. Now, with some true Sunday fun day back in the mix, my perspective has been restored.

Today, my parents, Steph and I took a day trip up to Los Olivos to visit the key sites for our upcoming August wedding.  I don't want to spoil any surprises, but we are going to have a memorable weekend.  I can finally picture the flow of events and am officially excited for the big day.  Steph and my mom came up with some ideas that I think will cause our wedding to be truly unforgettable.

Fortunately, my parents loved the wedding venue, Firestone Vineyards.  We took a tour of the winery today, where we learned more about how wine is made, stored and aged.  I also learned that wine should be stored at 55 degrees Farenheiht in a fridge, and that 90% of all red wine should be drank sooner rather than later.  In other words, all that you hear about storing wine for long periods doesn't hold true for most of the wine on today's market.

I wouldn't have learned these things had I not gotten off my bike and stripped myself of my workout clothes on a Sunday.

As important as tri-training is, family time is even more important.  Today was fantastic.

And now I'm looking even more forward to my 4.5 hours on the bike tomorrow, a President's Day treat.

121 days and counting.

Progress Report

There are positives and negatives when running with a friend who's faster than you.  The conversation and camaraderie can't be beat.  However, it's very easy to beat yourself up -- physically and emotionally.

Both happened this morning when my buddy John and I ran a hilly trail course at Griffith Park.  I love having a friend run with me -- it's relaxing and borderline sacred in terms of being able to unwind without interruption.  And the views, as you can see in the image accompanying this post, are fantastic.  On the other hand, I totally ignored my scheduled workout (stay in heart rate zones 2-3) in the name of keeping up.

Here's the frustrating part though.  I used to be able to tear through this particular trail last year during the height of my speed and Ironman training, notching off 7:30-9:30 miles with ease. Today, no such luck.  John's watch data indicated we ran between 11:00-9:10 miles.  I was wheezing afterward.

What's happened?  I do know this: I'm nowhere near being in Ironman shape.  But I won't get down about it.  Rather, I'll use today's run as simply a benchmark in where I'm at from a fitness standpoint.  There's a lot of training left to go before Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  And I'm really glad I barely have any races this season between here and June 26.

Somewhere between now and then, I hope to pick up the pace while carrying the same level of conversation as today.  Even though my workout wasn't the best in terms of performance, I'll remember it more for the progress report of where I'm at in my training physically, along with the laugh-out-loud moments John and I enjoyed.

Gotta keep the training fun, right?

146 days and counting.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

So here's my first pass at a video blog.  Please excuse the loud gusts of wind, I'm not sure exactly what to do about that outside of telling The Man Upstairs to keep things quiet when I'm trying to record! I tried capture the emotion of the bike ride while it was happening, instead of writing about it after the fact.  I think I failed miserably but the bright side is I will get better.  Hope you enjoy it, if you can get through watching it!  The scenery is gorgeous, when I'm not screwing it up.

Today's training made me realize just how much more I bit off than I could chew this weekend.  I ran nearly eight miles and climbed about 900 feet in around 1:25:00 today in 75-degree weather.  The good news is that my knees felt fine the entire run, and I was able to remain (mostly) on my forefoot in my strides.  I think the key to forefoot striking that has really helped me is not the avoidance of heel striking, but rather placing more of an emphasis on the forefoot than usual.  This is allowing me to find an acceptable middle ground (no pun intended) while running instead of potentially shredding my knees and Achilles.

Yet, by the time the run was over, I was totally exhausted.  My run called for activity between zones 1-4 on the heart-rate monitor.  I took that to mean I could run for extended periods in zone 4 while climbing.  Having the UCLA men's and women's cross country team out on the course with me didn't help me keep my pace in check, nor did the Spanish female marathoner who ran a 2:09 at Big Sur.  Are you kidding me???  Well, I kept up with her on a few uphill climbs, but she revealed at the top that she had turned her ankle and was taking it easy.


Following the run, my day wasn't close to over.  I had promised Stephanie that we'd spend more time this year exercising together, which manifested itself in our first tennis outing in more than a year.  Surprisingly, it went well for both of us!  We had a few rallies, nobody pulled anything, and all tennis balls stayed on the court.  Win!

Then, following lunch together and a nap (in the middle of the Jets-Patriots game!) I tried to fit in yesterday's swim that I flaked on yesterday.

This time, instead of sitting in the parking lot I actually made it into the water.  What a mistake.  I was terrible! I felt like a boulder in the water, and couldn't even complete the full workout (10 minutes easy laps, 5x150 drills and 4x300 moderate pace).  After my second 300, I saw my scheduled workout time had come and gone and decided enough was enough.

So far, that's a big difference between this year and last year's training.  When I'm done, I'm done.  I'm not forcing things perhaps the way I did last year.

Except when I overdo it for hours on end beforehand.

Still, whether it's a video blog that didn't quite turn out as planned, a bike ride gone slightly awry, a run that got derailed by my own competitiveness, or a swim that didn't meet expectations due to exhaustion, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Isn't it great to overextend every once in a while?  To push beyond our comfort zones?  To try and fail?  It's weird, but I think there's pleasure in that. Stagnation is boring.  Following the plan all the time gets stale.

I hope you've been able to bite off more than you can chew a little bit too.

156 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.

Chicken Salad Out of Chicken Sh*t

My morning bike ride started off poorly.  First, my buddy Frank and I were confronted with a fog bank so thick in Agoura Hills that we had to drive back over the hill on the freeway to higher ground to have enough visibility to ride.  But it wouldn't matter, as Frank realized once we prepared to leave that he forgot his shoes at home.  His day was over before it started.  On the day before his birthday, no less. Then, if that wasn't enough, I got a flat tire on my back wheel -- in the first mile of my solo ride.  I knew my back tire had a slight gash in it following my rainy Santa Clarita outing a couple weeks ago.  Yes, Frank suggested I replace the back tire but I thought I could get lucky and make it last a while longer.

Turns out Frank knows what he's talking about.

Fortunately, I noticed my flat about a block away from a cycling group preparing for its own Saturday morning ride. I was even more fortunate that my Fortius teammate Jason decided to ride with this group instead of our team -- he pulled up in his 4Runner almost immediately when I pulled up with my lame bike in the cul-de-sac.  Jason helped me insert an empty Clif Bar wrapper between my new tube and the tire to keep debris out for my ride back to the car.

That wasn't even the highlight of the pit-stop though.  I met Julie, who recognized me from my Fortius race kit and told me she was the person cheering for me at the bike turnaround point at Ironman Arizona.  I had never met Julie in my life, but she was a friend of my buddy at Helen's Cycles, Pete.  Pete told Julie about me and asked her to cheer for me that day.  This unknown cheerleader had remained a mystery for me since then, so I was excited to tell my new friend that hearing her scream for me at those lonely checkpoints truly boosted my energy and resolve heading back into the headwind.  If nothing else, that helped make my brief ride today somewhat of a success.  Saying "thank you" to Julie felt great.

So now that my bike ride was over for the day, I had a choice.  I needed to be back home in 1.5 hours for a family obligation with Steph.  I could just skip working out for the day and lament my bad luck on the bike, or I could try to squeeze in a trail run.

Even though I was bummed about not cycling with Frank and embarrassed by my choke-job on fixing my own bike in front of others, I decided to at least try to fit in a hilly trail run.  I'd have to drive another 30 minutes to the Dirt Mulholland trail, but I couldn't let the whole day be a loss.

I'm so glad I did!  FINALLY, seven weeks after Ironman Arizona, I enjoyed a run where my knees didn't act up!  Yes, my right psoas still felt tight but that was it.  Better still, my calves weren't screaming in pain from my new running technique where I'm trying to run purely off the balls of my feet instead of my old heel-to-toe strike.  Better than all that was my lower, calmer heart-rate on hills.  I felt like I was running slower, but still I managed to bang out nearly six miles in an hour on a hilly trail where my heart-rate only briefly visited zone 4 a few times and I typically stayed in the low-mid 140s.

To think I would have missed that experience had I sulked about my bad luck on the bike.

We often hear about how if you fall off the proverbial bike, you should get right back on it again.

Sometimes, maybe it's best when you fall off the proverbial bike, to simply ditch it and just change into running shoes.  Take what the moment gives you.  Accept it for what it is.  And plan a different route to achieve a goal.

164 days and counting.