And Now What?

Watching an Ironman in person felt almost as grueling as participating in one.  Or at least a Half-Ironman! You're outside, on your feet, in the sun, for upwards of 15 hours.  Scoping the perfect spot to cheer for your friend or loved one.  Hoping you'll be in the right place at the right moment.  Hoping he or she will acknowledge you.  Just for a few seconds as they run, bike, limp or jog past.  Those moments are the only thing you have to break up a whole lot of waiting.  Then, after hours upon hours, from dawn to dusk, you watch your buddy triumphantly run those last 100 yards to the finish.  Arms raised.  Broad smile.  Sweat pouring.

And then it's over.

I'm not sure who is more bummed that Vineman Full is finished; my friends who completed it, or me.  I was merely a spectator, but I felt -- I feel -- so invested in their success that for hours after my friend Rusty crossed the finish just shy of 13 hours, I found myself wondering one thing:

"And now what?"

"And now what?"

Seriously, after the race it could have been December 26, or January 2.  Massive buildup, a triumphant, sudden conclusion, and then wham!  The clock stops, your Ironman ends, you go to dinner to celebrate, and the day is over.  The next day comes, you celebrate some more, and then it's back to reality.

The rapid finality of my friends' Ironman experiences shocked me.  It drained me.  It taught me.  It's almost unfair because to those who don't know, it's "just" a mind-boggling athletic accomplishment.

There's so much more though!

Nobody can understand all the solitary hours of training unless they do it for themselves. The inconveniences.  The sacrifices.  The physical anguish and mental fatigue.  That's what makes an Ironman special.  That's why I got teary-eyed (again) watching men and women cross the finish line.  Total strangers. The race is the crowning achievement of a challenge few people choose to endure.  The race is the finale.  The culmination.  The validation.  I think it's that knowledge of their struggle that connected me to all the athletes on the course this weekend. I knew what each of them was thinking because I've been there myself. "Just a little bit more." "Damn it I hurt."  "I'm thirsty."  "I want to quit."

But they don't.  They won't.  They can't.  They shuffle forward.  Alone.  With runners and supporters all around them.  Each engulfed in their own narrative.

And all us fans see is that five-second glimpse of our loved ones.  We try to assess their performance in that moment.  How do they look?  What's the pace?  When will they finish?  Did they even see me?  Meanwhile, on the inside, the triathlete is enveloped in self-analysis.  One lap down.  Two laps down.  Need more fluids.  No cramps yet.  Will that blister pop already?

How strange it was this weekend to have lived in both worlds of the Ironman, spectator and participant.  Yet I didn't quite feel immersed in either.  I ran one lap of the marathon course as part of my weekend training and biked part of the course as well.  I avoided the competitors as much as possible to ensure the race officials didn't think I was pacing anyone.  I didn't accept anything from any aid station, despite several volunteers offering.  This wasn't my Ironman.  No thanks.  That's bad karma, as far as I'm concerned.  And, as a spectator, I was gone for hours at a time training on the bike or chatting with other friends.  I didn't sit or stand in one spot in the summer heat, like so many other dedicated fans.  I could take a break.

I was in triathlon purgatory.  I loved it.  I hated it.

At the same time, I learned so much.  First and foremost, I didn't realize how glib I was when I referred to my fiancee and me as Team Schneider because of how dedicated she has been in supporting my journey.  After experiencing what she goes through on race day, I haven't come close to describing how important it is to have that kind of partner.  And how hard it is to be a supporter in this sport.  I'm atoning for that here.  I've also realized that it's not the Ironman that makes Ironmen special.  It's the work that goes into becoming an Ironman.  The work nobody sees. If you don't savor those quiet, exhausting moments, if you don't appreciate the journey itself and every single lonely workout, then the day after an Ironman could become the hollowest of days.

Because "And now what?" is an unanswerable question.  Rather, it's an insatiable appetite.

Maybe that explains why I'm always so damned hungry.

110 days and counting.

IM Training Begins Today

I just received a Facebook note from Coach Gerardo.  He informed me that Ironman training officially begins today. Really?

Um, what have I been doing since last November???  Because that definitely felt like Ironman training!

Seriously though, I get it.  I realize that my Fortius training prepared me for a marathon and a Half-Ironman until this point.  I've built a base that really feels like a mountaintop, and now we're going to erect a new peak from which I'll stand this November.  I can't see that peak right now.  It's obscured by clouds (dreams) and fog (fears).  I'm not even sure I'll see that peak until I'm halfway through the Ironman marathon.  And I don't know if the peak will be scalable at that point in my journey.  My legs didn't have another 13 miles in them at Vineman.

I've been pleasantly surprised by my progress to this point though, so it's safe to say I'm cautiously optimistic.

If we continue with the mountain climbing metaphor, today I left base camp.  This was my first workout since the Vineman Half Ironman.  The hardest part wasn't even the training.  It was the thought of training!  I had quickly grown comfortable sleeping in (as much as that little monster Bam-Bam will allow!) or arising with enough time to catch the final 20km of each Tour de France stage.  And not packing a workout bag every day.  Or cramming my bike in the car.  It's amazing how easy and alluring it is to give up working out or eating right.  The temptation is right in my face.  Not to mention the satisfaction that comes with having completed a Half-Ironman.  I could stop now. Quit while I'm ahead.

If it wasn't for the sense of accountability this blog brings,"retiring" sounds pretty appealing.

But by now, you know me better than that.  I'm no quitter.  And we ain't done yet.  Considering I signed up for my second Ironman before completing my first, we're really just starting.

So, I ran hill sprints tonight in the studio parking lot.  Then I lifted in the gym after.  Dumbell lunges, leg extensions, dumbell squats, dumbell calf-raisers, step-ups and a lot of core work.  Since it was my first day back from a weeklong break, I only used light weights tonight.

I know the heaviest lifting is yet to come.

117 days and counting.

From Tin to Steel Man Part III: Post-Race Vacation

Every romantic holiday should start by shotgunning beers. At least mine did!  Stephanie and I celebrated our Half-Ironman achievements with my Fortius teammates at a friend's home in Santa Rosa.  I knew it would be a raucous time when Mike sent me a text message, "We gonna shotgun beers!"

Uh, OK.  Actually, I think I texted back, "Fuck."

I hadn't shotgunned a beer since college, back when I was known as "Twiggy" and "Two Beer."

After 70.3 total miles in nearly 90-degree heat, I knew I'd be "One Beer."

We all laughed, drank (fairly heavily), traded race-day stories and ate a ton of carbs -- all with the Tour de France playing in the background.  It was this triathlon dork's dream party.

So began what has turned out to be a decadent week off from training, which I've enjoyed as thoroughly as the race itself.  So far in this racing odyssey, I've really yet to take adequate time to savor a race experience to the fullest.  I'm usually analyzing (and re-analyzing) every detail, immediately writing the blog, planning the next race and comparing notes with my fellow competitors.

For once this season, I decided to fully unplug and do what's most important: celebrate with my fiancee.  No Facebook (well, a little).  No Twitter.  No blog.  Just Steph and me.  Roadtrip companions.  Riding down PCH, no hotel reservations, no destination in particular, no plans.

No problem!

I've probably written about this before, but triathlon is a selfish pursuit.  It requires a lot of dedication and discipline, often coming at the expense of friendly social outings with mates and family.  That can pose problems in a relationship, especially if the other person isn't a triathlete.  That's why I've tried to ensure that Steph knows  that even though I'm doing the actual racing, she's my real race companion.  The person who makes my motor run.  The inspiration that makes me go just a little faster.

When I compete, I refer to us as Team Schneider.  And I really mean it.  But if that's the case, then WE need to celebrate better.  And that's what we did Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, we drove the Vineman 70.3 bike course so I could show Steph the route's beauty. Of course, that meant showing her several charming wineries that nearly led to impromptu wedding venue visits.

Annnnnnd we're moving right along. ... I sped up a little more at those intersections!

We had a good time talking about the key moments in the bike race and where exactly they occurred. I think it helped Steph visualize more of the experience since she could only see me during brief transitory moments.  We then took River Road past Guerneville all the way to Bodega Bay, stopping whenever the thought struck us for photo opps, an oyster shucking lesson and eventually a gigantic burger in Point Reyes further down on PCH.  Did you know Sir Francis Drake visited North America in 1579?  Yeah, neither did I.  Apparently he stopped in the Point Reyes area, maybe because the burger was just that damn good.

We eventually snaked our way on Highway 1 past Mount Tamalpais, through Saulsalito, past the Golden Gate bridge (hiding behind the clouds) and through the western most part of San Francisco.  By then it was close to 7 p.m. and we realized our plan of reaching Big Sur by sunset was going to fail.  But this turned into a big win since we had been trying unsuccessfully to visit with Steph's best friend Annie the entire weekend.  We shifted course to Annie and David's apartment in Los Gatos and enjoyed a late-night feast.

Tuesday was largely uneventful as we leisurely drove home from Annie's.  The key words are leisurely and uneventful.  Both my life and Steph's are so heavily scheduled that the notion of "free" time for either of us is almost unheard of.  This vacation was special not because of what we did, but what we didn't do.  We didn't rush from activity to activity, or plan around my training.  Of course, we did touch down at home around 4 p.m. only to leave a few hours later to enjoy another feast -- this time in Santa Monica -- with our good friends Erika and Adam.  (If you haven't eaten at Rustic Canyon, I'd recommend it. Though I'd avoid the pork chop unless you like it on the drier side.  The corn soup, crispy polenta, lamb meatballs and assortment of desserts more than compensate.)

We got home around 10:30 p.m. Team Schneider's whirlwind five-day Half-Ironman had crossed the finish line.  Much like how I looked at the end of the race, that's how I felt by the time the long weekend was over.  Gloriously spent.  We left nothing in the proverbial fuel tank.

To all my friends racing Vineman Full: I hope you will celebrate as hard as you trained.  I hope you hug or kiss the people in your life whom also sacrificed to help you reach your goals.  I hope you let them know how much it means to them when you see them screaming for you at every transition -- knowing they're really waiting several hours at a time just to catch a glimpse of you.

We couldn't do any of this without our race partners.  I can't do it without mine.

And I'm happy -- almost happy beyond words -- that I don't have to.

I may be signing off for a couple days.  If something comes up worth writing about during my time off, I will blog. If not, I'd like to spend more time with my friends and family before I dive back into the deep end of Ironman training.  I know what's in store for the next four months.

121 days and counting.

From Tin to Steel Man: Part II

This is the second in my three-part series on Vineman 70.3.  Yesterday, I wrote about my pre-race experience.  Today's blog is all about the race itself, including tips for my friends competing at Vineman Full in 10 days.  I'll break it out between the Swim, Bike and Run for quicker reading. SWIM

Race day morning felt surreal.  All this training and preparing were leading to the penultimate moment.  It wasn't even a full Ironman but I was nervous as if it was.  I tried to stick to my normal pre-race routines to keep me calm.  That helped, but what helped more was having Rusty and Stephanie there to deflate the tension building inside.  It got so bad that I had to use the restroom three times, twice at the race site.

We arrived at Johnson's Beach at 5:30 a.m. just as the transition area opened, which I'd recommend for Vineman Full competitors.  There's only one road into Guerneville, and waves start promptly at 6:35 a.m.  If you're staying in Santa Rosa it will likely take you at least 20 minutes from the 101 Freeway.  You'll want to have enough time, as I did, to avoid the port-o-potty lines, claim a choice spot in the crowded transition area and organize.  If you're in one of the earlier waves like I was, you'll also appreciate having a less crowded area to allow you to concentrate for a few moments about the race ahead.

That's what I was doing when Stephanie snapped this image of me just minutes before I waded into the water for my wave start.

I think this image captures my emotion better than any words I could muster.

Vineman marked my first swim start where I didn't have to run into the ocean.  We floated in place for about five minutes before the gun sounded.  I actually liked this better because there was much more room for competitors to find open water.  There wasn't the usual free-for-all scrum, which enabled me to find my breathing pattern much quicker without expending too much energy fighting for position.

Swimming in the Russian River was my most enjoyable race day swim yet. The water temperature felt almost tepid.  My mouth and throat didn't sting from salt.  I didn't get kicked.  And the scenery was beautiful.  Besides, where else can you simply stand up and walk when you feel like taking a breather?

That said, I could feel the difference between a 1.2-mile swim and an Olympic-distance .93 miler.  I thought for 10 minutes I should be hitting the half-way point before I actually did.  And then I walked the 25 yards between buoys along with several others before resuming my underwater effort.  There were several points where I debated walking even more.  I'm glad I resisted.  As I swam I really focused on calm breathing and an even cadence.  I preserved my energy nicely, and exited the water with my Garmin watch showing 35:40, a full 1:20 faster than Coach Gerardo's estimated 37-minute pace.  However, with the mat time I literally hit 37:02, my coach called my time within two seconds.  That's impressive.


The transition from swim to bike was almost laughably slow.  I promised myself going into this race that I would savor the experience more than I had in the past.  To me, this meant soaking up the moment in the transition areas.  Pausing to relish in completing a 1.2 mile swim while psyching myself up for the 56 mile bike ride.  I certainly did that, as my five-minute T1 attests.  To be fair, I put on arm coolers, which I typically don't do, and wouldn't recommend in the future. Either wear them underneath your wetsuit or don't wear them at all.  It's not worth the wasted time.

The T1 area is a zoo.  You have people preparing for their wave while you're trying to get the hell out.  Just like freeway traffic, you have rubberneckers and jerks trying to weave through everyone.  I was trying to be courteous to the slow pokes in front of me since there's only one route out of the T1 on a thin slice of old carpet from the 1970s.  The cyclist in front of me was literally walking his bike though and I couldn't stand it anymore.  I grunted an obscenity to myself and ran through the dirt next to the carpet to exit the area quicker.  I recommend this approach for anyone trying to hit a specific time.

Another tip: Don't ride up the embankment leading out of T1.  It's quicker to run, and ultimately safer.  Several people tried to ride up the small but steep hill. It's a poor way to warm up your legs and people are wobbling all over the place trying to mount.  Better to be agile and avoid the chaos by scurrying out of the way when they're about to tip over.

To me the first five miles of the Vineman bike ride were extremely important. There were several slower riders in front of me from the previous wave who crowded the narrow road.  I knew there'd be little room to pass once we made the sharp right turn onto Sunset Road, so I decided to stay to the left and pass dozens of riders all at once.  It forced me to pedal harder than I expected initially, but it was the right call since it would have been even tougher to pass on the hilly climbs for the next few miles.  Besides, I get more anxious riding behind slower cyclists.  It makes me think I'm losing time.

Rather than analyze the entire route, I'll say this about the Vineman 70.3 bike course: I personally found it easier than I expected.  When you drive the course, the many rolling hills seem like they'll sap your energy over time.  The truth is, if cycling is your specialty, you'll be fine.  Don't be intimidated by the seemingly long climbs and false flats. If you ride the many hills throughout Malibu and Mulholland Drive, you'll be prepared.  The hardest hill on the 70.3 course, which occurs around mile 42 past the Chalk Hill sign, is no steeper nor more challenging than the hill leading up Portrero Road in Hidden Valley near Sly Stallone's home.  As the race course preview indicates, this hill will reveal if your bike training paid off.  Nothing more, nothing less.

At Vineman, I learned once and for all that cycling is my specialty.  I can pedal for hours at a fairly strong pace and not get winded.  I can make up my time from a mediocre swim and set myself up for a strong run finish. If it wasn't for losing four water bottles off my back cages, I would have rode even harder.  I past far more cyclists than those who past me.  I honestly think I can count on one hand the number who flew by me and kept going.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Back-tracking for a moment, I highly recommend using frame-mounted bike cages for Vineman.  If you only have one cage on your frame, like me, purchase another.  There are too many bumps in the road that can suddenly leave you without proper hydration.  I lost my regular water bottle over a bridge bump.  Then, I lost three volunteer-supplied plastic water bottles from various bumps and holes on the rest of the course.  I was forced to ration a quarter of my frame-mounted water bottle containing warm Perpetuem for the last 15 miles.  This would hurt me on the run, as I clearly hadn't drank enough.  This brings me to another tip, if you wear a race watch, set the alarm to remind you to drink on the bike every 10-15 minutes (or whatever pace you chose). Of course, be prepared to hold your bladder!  In the future, I'll lower my scheduled drinks from 15 to 10 minutes. I clearly need to hydrate more, having essentially only drank 1.5 water bottles' worth of fluid in nearly three hours on the bike.

The thing I'll remember most about the bike though was the final few miles.  It was there, just next to the Windsor cemetery, that I realized I wasn't merely going to finish in six hours like I had hoped, but that I had a real shot at eclipsing 5:30.  This was a powerful moment for me, for it was only then, going on 3.5 hours into the race, that I knew my Vineman 70.3 race was going well.  It's so hard to tell in the heat of the action.  You just swim, pedal or run your heart out, as the minutes whirl by at what feels like mach 3 speed.  So that moment where you know your bike isn't going to break down and that you've ridden yourself into a virtual guarantee of meeting your goal is unforgettable.  I wanted to raise both arms triumphantly when I rode into the T2 lot as if I had just won a Tour de France stage.

Just then, I saw Chris Lieto running into T2 after running a 1:16 half marathon.


I enjoyed another leisurely transition by sauntering to a port-o-potty before beginning my run.  Once again, I had decided to adhere to Gerardo's advice about pacing myself and enjoying the moment.  I thoroughly did with a four-minute T2.  I'm usually two minutes faster, but at this point I didn't really care since I knew I'd break six hours.

The run was by far the toughest part of my day.  I started just shy of 11 a.m. as the clouds were burning off and the temperature rose rapidly.  The first four miles of the run flew by.  My adrenaline was rolling, my body felt great and I my entire race experience just couldn't have been going better.  But around the fifth mile, that all-too-familiar tinge from my left IT band started to twitch.  The first signs of malnutrition and fatigued set in.  Thankfully, I was drinking plenty of fluids at each mile marker aid station, along with walking for 30 seconds as Gerardo advised.  This allowed me to calm my heart rate and allow my legs to relax just a bit.  I honestly think this saved me from bonking.  While it's hard to let others speed by you, using my head and not my heart in this situation made a huge difference in my overall race.

Speaking of nutrition and hydration, I'd recommend that if you're not drinking Gatorade now, you may want to consider it.  The course volunteers will hand it out liberally at the aid stations and it's hard to resist when you're feeling low.  Since you have to store your T2 running gear the night before, it's an easier call to avoid using a fuel belt filled with warm Heed or Perpetuem from the night before.  Might as well get fresher, colder liquids out on the course, and you can run with less weight.  I will embrace this approach at Vineman in the future.  I never filled my empty fuel belt bottles with Gatorade or water.

I wish I had around the eighth and ninth miles.  The sixth and seventh miles have no shade whatsoever, and as the sun blazed without obstruction overhead, I started to wilt.  My legs became heavier.  My stride shortened and tightened.  It was at this moment I knew it was my body against my brain for the next 45 minutes.  I'd have to resort to mental trickery and compromises to avoid cramping and bonking.  I'd play games like telling myself I could walk for 40 seconds if I could just make it to that second mailbox beyond that third hill up ahead.  And then once I got to that second mailbox, I'd will myself to get to that shady tree 200 yards up for that well-deserved break.

That approach worked fairly well until mile 10.  Then, I started to really lock up.  I began to worry that I might not be able to continue my 9-minute-mile pace.  I actually began to worry I might not finish the race.  My right quad was screaming, as was my right calf.  My left IT band was so tight I almost had to sweep my legs around in front to gain momentum.  I was in pain.

Then, around the 11th mile, I started to see my friends both in Fortius and the LA Tri Club.  This was an enormous pick-me-up.  Many shouted my name or encouraged me to keep going even if they didn't know me.  This gave me the strength to find new energy and do them proud.  I bargained my way through the 11th and 12th miles until I reached the final stretch.  I paused at the last aid station, dumped another cup of water on my head after drinking more Gatorade, and said out loud to nobody in particular: "Everything.  You.  Have. Right.  Now."

And I sprinted as pathetically fast as I could.  Every thought of pain was ignored.  I stopped looking at my watch, because I didn't want to even consider what my heart rate might be.  My legs buckled twice in the parking lot before entering the finishing chute.  I literally said out loud, "NO" as I continued to run with every bit of strength I could manage.  I grit my teeth and kept chugging.

I finally crossed from the pavement to the dirt to the grass that indicated the last 200 yards to the glorious Vineman 70.3 Finish time clock.  I was going to break six hours by nearly 30 minutes!  I was about to complete my first Half Ironman!  I heard my name announced once I crossed the timing mat, "Ryan Schneider from Sherman Oaks!"  I let out a primal scream from the depths of my guts at that point.  Arms outstretched, fingers tensed, mouth wide open, I strutted through the line.


I am a Half Ironman!

I am a Half Ironman!

And then my legs buckled completely.  My body practically gave out on the spot.  A nurse came over to see if I was OK.

I was better than OK.  I was a broken, hot, exhausted, pained mess.  I was dehydrated to the point that after two quarts of Gatorade following the race I still wouldn't pee for another hour, three hours total post-finish.  I needed two bags of ice on my legs so I could walk without locking up.  I barely made sense to Rusty and Stephanie when talking at first.

But it didn't matter one bit.  I reached my goal and exceeded it.  I experienced physical pain for an extended period and pushed past it.  I challenged myself and won.

I am a Half Ironman.

And yet it is not good enough. It is not the full journey.  It is not the final destination.

That comes in four months.

I am a Half Ironman...not a full one.


122 days and counting.

From Tin to Steel Man Part I: Pre-Race

Pain has never felt better. My quads are tight.  My IT bands are bolt rigid so when I walk it seems that I have no knees or am walking with stilts. It takes me longer than some geriatrics to get out of my car.  Their knees are probably better at the moment.

It's the best pain I've ever encountered.  The pain that comes with accomplishment.  With exceeding expectations.  With reaping the benefits of hard work.

That little M-dot symbol on my finisher's medal makes it all worthwhile.  I don't have to covet my friends and teammates' Ironman merchandise anymore.  I have my own to sport.  I earned it.

My Vineman 70.3 Half-Ironman weekend is now over. I've promoted myself from a Tin Man to Steel Man.  Iron is still a way's off in the distance. Four months away as of tomorrow.  And I have a LOT of training left to do -- I can't currently imagine doubling the Pain Meter.

But not just yet.  I've got a week off to savor and enjoy this achievement.  My blog the next few days will be all about my race experience from start to finish.  I'll add some tips for those those of my friends about to embark upon the Vineman 140.6 course in a couple weeks.  It's both a recap and a look ahead.  I'm dividing it up between Pre-Race, Race and Post-Race Vacation.

I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you raced with me this weekend, please feel free to share your own suggestions for the Vineman Full competitors.


Stephanie and I left Friday morning around 7:45 a.m.  If you are thinking of driving to Vineman on a Friday, I'd advise against it.  Consider Thursday, when weekend traffic to wine country should be a little less dense.  There's freeway construction on the 580-101 Freeway interchange just after crossing the bridge where you see San Quentin Prison on your left.  We went 20 miles in 1.5 hours.  Also, make sure you check the race schedule at Infeon Motor Speedway in Sonoma.  If there's a race, plan for traffic delays.  We hit both.

Earlier in the day, we stopped for lunch at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville, across the street from the Hallowed Ground of Pixar Studios.  I had to show Steph where the magic happened!  By the time we set foot on Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, it was 5 p.m.  I immediately donned my wetsuit while keeping my calf compression sleeves on and swam for around 30 minutes to get acclimated to the river.  I highly recommend a pre-race swim as the Russian River is probably unlike anything you've experienced in a triathlon. There are multiple points where it makes as much sense to walk as it does swim.  Being a shorter guy, I could get away with swimming longer than most, but as I past the first two concrete bridges overhead about a quarter mile in I started scratching the mucky bottom with my fingertips.  Knowing where the walking might begin helped me prepare for the actual race as I knew I could go a little harder off the start and use a 15-second walk break to catch my breath if needed and recalibrate.  I also decided to abandon calf compression socks on the swim as the water temperature was warm and they started to bunch up anyway.

If you do a practice swim in the late afternoon, make sure someone watches your stuff.  For the second time during my training, someone made off with something so benign it's almost comical.  First it was a water bottle months ago.  This time, my flip sandals were snatched by an overzealous beach cleaner, who likely threw them out.  Steph saw a child's set of flips get tossed in the can by a beach cleaner as well, but the parents realized what was happening and dug them out. (Gross!  Know when to buy a new pair of flips!)

Once I wrapped up my swim and we checked into our hotel it was close to 7 p.m.  We went to sleep around 10:30 after a really nice meal in Santa Rosa at Ca Bianca (highly recommend!).  I wondered silently in the dark if I had too busy of a day to save any energy.

Saturday was packet pickup at Windsor High School.  I won't go into all the details, but future competitors, arrive early.  Coach Gerardo warned me how busy the day would be, and he wasn't joking.  I met my longtime friend and fraternity brother Rusty Carter at 9:15 a.m. for a brief brick workout. (Rusty is doing Vineman Full.) At 5:30 p.m., I'd be leaving Rusty to change for our pre-race dinner.  All that happened in between was event registration, a course talk that scared the crap out of me because of a strictly enforced WTC yellow/red car penalty system, buying various M-dot merchandise, driving the bike course (MUST HAVE) and a team lunch with my Fortius buddies.  Saturday's pre-race activities vanished as quickly as the race itself, though it took three hours longer.

Later that evening (probably too late), Steph, Rusty and I enjoyed our pre-race dinner at Jackson's in downtown Santa Rosa.  The homemade wood-fired pizzas are outstanding.  Take a chance like Rusty did with the Chef's Recommendation pizza where each creation is made on a chef's individual whim.  No two pizzas that night are quite the same.  Rusty's trust was rewarded with a blue cheese pizza with prosciuto and arugula drizzled in a balsamic glaze.  I went with a homemade bowtie pasta with grilled chicken and summer vegetables seasoned with a light olive oil sauce accented with lemon.  Steph got a hearty sausage pizza, which I sampled as well!

By the time Steph and I got home and into bed, it was 9:30 p.m.  We had a 4 a.m. wake up call.  My mind went racing in the dark long before the starting gun.  All my pre-race insecurities poured out.  All the potential equipment malfunctions.  The potential penalties.  The heat.  The uncertainty of it all.  Am I ready for the pain?  I lay in the dark with my eyes wide open, fighting with myself for just a few hours of sleep.  I'd wrestle one thought away while a new fear crept in to take its place.  Finally, mercifully, I nodded off and managed 6.5 hours of fairly restful sleep.

* * *

If or when I do Vineman again, I'd arrive on a Thursday and ride part of the bike course while driving the rest as a refresher.  Then, on Friday I'd swim and relax at the hotel.  Saturday should be reserved for the earliest course talk and packet pickup...and that's it.  Lesson learned.  Hope it helps you out!

Next up: Vineman 70.3.  Race day.

123 days and counting.

Packed and Primed

There's a shopping cart from the underground parking garage occupying my condo's living room.  It's got one bag filled with oatmeal, powders (Perpetuem is my preferred race day fuel), bananas, anti-cramp pills (Sport Legs), gels, Gu chomps and water.  Another bag contains my running shoes, hat, anti-blister powder, sun block, extra socks, emergency gels, fuel belt and bottles.  That gets checked in at Windsor High School the day before the race and I won't see it until T2.  A third bag contains my wetsuit, and the fourth bag has my tri backpack with all the race day goodies. Yep, I think I'm good to go.

But that's not all!  We still have roller suitcases for both Stephanie and me.  I'm honestly not sure if everything will fit in the car.  We'll have to do some creative packing tomorrow when we head out at 7 a.m. (Cue 6:15 a.m. wakeup call!) Fortunately, Stephanie is very good at that.  The packing, not the wake-up call.  (What a trooper though for taking a day off from work to get up at 6!  Yes, I owe her one, if not many.)

My race countdown clock is officially on.  I can feel the excitement building, and the tapering seems to be doing its job.  I feel mentally like I'm building towards a huge crescendo.  My body is peaking.  My mind is peaking.  My energy is peaking. And I'm just along for the ride.

Speaking of along for the ride, one of my college fraternity buddies, Rusty, is joining me to cheer me on this weekend.  He's also checking out the Vineman course for his full Ironman coming up on July 31.  I haven't seen Rusty since Lord knows when, but his kindness in driving three hours to get a hotel room for the night and help me celebrate this milestone means a lot.  It's hard to remember the "sacred bonds" of fraternity life from 15 years ago.  What seemed so important and "epic" back then is more or less trivial now in the scheme of things.  Or so I had grown accustomed to feeling.  Rusty, without saying a word, has reminded me that brothers remain that way in heart and action throughout life.  I'm almost as excited to reunite with him as I am fired up to compete in this event.

It is now almost 11 p.m.  The clock is ticking.  I'm winding down for the night.  Some stretching, then sleep.  Then, the long drive to Napa Valley.  And a weekend of memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

There will be more Half Ironman events.  And hopefully more Ironman events.  But there will only be one FIRST Half-Ironman.  And I am ready for it.

128 days and counting.


The scented spruce needle oils are still entering my nostrils 15 minutes after my Thai massage session ended with Christine, and I'm eagerly awaiting my next appointment. Today marked my final official workout day prior to Vineman 70.3, and to cap it off, I was to enjoy a relaxation massage to free up my tight muscles.

My muscles are not tight anymore.  They were gently tugged, posed and manipulated back to their rightful positions over the course of two hours in ways I wasn't used to.  Before your minds go racing to places they shouldn't, I was actually wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Thai massage is unlike any massage I've experienced before. It almost feels more medicinal than therapeutic.  For example, Christine released a huge energy field in my spine after several minutes of work that literally reverberated throughout my body.  The energy flow felt like the way a piano string looks -- taut and rapid.  At one point, Christine lightly closed off the blood flow in each arm to flush out toxins, producing a tingling sensation that seemed to yield an immediate relaxation sensation.

Best of all, Thai massage is not an exercise in tolerating pain the way that sports or deep tissue massages can be. It's more about body leverage and posing using the weight and balance of the massage giver.

The experience was so outstanding that Stephanie is currently in the other room enjoying the same treatment.  And I am blogging while eating sushi that she brought home as a dinner treat.

Yup, tonight is pretty darned great.  And tomorrow my taper week of Awesome continues -- a second off-day since Sunday.  Then, on Friday we make the drive up to Northern California.

It's go-time.

129 days and counting.

Definitely Tapering

I cleaned out my sock drawer last night.  Then, I organized my cycling gear and clothing. Signs A and B that I'm in a race taper.

Even though it was hard to wake up this morning for the 6 a.m. swim, I was excited to get in the pool. I didn't perform that well once I got there, but that's besides the point.  Same with my early evening bike ride (45 minutes featuring four, 90-second race-pace intervals and an easy cool down).  Loved being there, out in the surprisingly hot sun for 7 p.m., but didn't break any land-speed records.

From what Coach Gerardo has described, this sounds like a typical taper to me.  Right down to what I'm perceiving to be a heightened sense of edginess.  I'm almost cagey.  Definitely feeling more aggressive.

Out of the few races I've actually tapered for while training with Fortius Coaching, I feel the closest to that magical place called "race ready."  This is new for me, and I think it may be because I'm actually mentally open to the experience.  Just because I'm not training much doesn't mean I'm losing my fitness right now.  Quite the opposite.  I have more energy than I know what to do with, and yet I'm doing everything I can to stay rested and refreshed. That's probably my biggest challenge.  It's almost like having an unexpected energy boost throughout the day. I'm used to having to dig into reserves, but given my light schedule -- only a 45 minute run tomorrow followed by a lengthy Thai massage until I travel to Vineman -- I'm ready to bounce out of my shoes!

And my goodness, am I eating!  Today was insane, and I just ate a slice of vegan apple pie to hold me over into the morning.  Let's see, today I ate:

-- banana (pre-swim)

-- eggs, toast, berries and orange for breakfast

-- another piece of toast (PB and raisins)

-- apple

-- chicken and steak tossed salad with baby greens for lunch

-- Balance bar

-- carton of rasberries and two tangelos

-- lamb gyro, chicken, rice, salad and pita for dinner

-- vegan apple pie


OK, it's 10 p.m. and I have too much energy.  Gonna go clean some more drawers, or do some laundry, or wash dishes, or torment the lady.

Maybe all of the above!

130 days and counting.

Resting And Loving It

No workout yesterday.  One hour of yoga today. This taper business is really starting to appeal to me!

I'm sleeping in -- well, as much as the little monster upstairs allows me to -- reading, watching sports live when they're actually happening...this is awesome!

One of the weekend's highlights included attending Fortius teammate Mike's Ironman Lake Placid send-off party.  As always, it's great to see everyone when we're not wearing spandex or swim goggles or fuel belts or smell like chlorine.  We shared training stories, watched the Ironman St. George DVD that featured a cameo from Fortius teammate Paul, and put Mike on the spot to talk about the sum of his training and thoughts going into his big race.

Amidst all the jokes I realized that my send-off isn't too far away.  Just over four months now.  Where did all the time go?  If it wasn't for this blog, the whole thing would be a blurry dream that almost doesn't seem real.  And yet I sit here, on my couch in the morning, exalting in my days off from training.  In a few years, I'll likely have kids and long for the moments when I can just train for 2.5 hours because I can.  I try to keep that in mind often, but at this very moment, taking a break just feels really good.  So I'm going with it.

Over the next few days, with a lighter training schedule, I may not have as much to write either.  Instead of forcing it, I may take a break from the blog too.  We'll see.

Besides work, the rest of the day consists of taking my bike in for a pre-race safety check and buying new gloves since I lost one on my brick on Saturday.  I'll squeeze in yoga either during a 5 p.m. session at our work gym or at 7 p.m. at Black Dog (more likely).

That's all I got for now.  Fairly uninspired stuff today, I know.  But, I'm just kind of mellow at the moment.  Resting.


132 and 131 days and counting.

Spinning Head

Usually, my body is sore and I'm physically spent after a Saturday brick workout. Despite the heat and a nearly three-hour time time trial, it's my brain that hurts the most right now.

Don't worry, mom, I didn't crash!

Following our weekly Fortius group training session, Coach Gerardo led a Vineman 70.3 pre-race preparation discussion with Richard, Ann, Mike, Karen and me.  He's a great resource considering he has completed the Vineman course four times, and Mike has done it before too.

I think my head is spinning even more than my legs did pedaling up Mulholland Drive this morning!

I came home and am blogging almost immediately to capture as much information as possible.  In fact, before the "pretty" form you see here and below, I literally brain-dumped out as much as I could remember.

I'm labeling it as Pre-Race, Transitions and Race for those of you also preparing for other Half-Ironman events -- at Vineman or elsewhere.


  • Bring a second pair of socks
  • On Friday, get to the beach by 4 p.m. before it closes.
  • Running bag needs to be delivered on Saturday and should contain salt tablets, fuel belt, extra gels and bars, hat, extra sunblock and extra pair of socks.
  • Bring bike to packet pick up to bike the run course.


  • Put baby powder in my shoes and on my feet, along with generous helpings of tri-glide to avoid blistering
  • There's apparently a 30% grade coming out of the T1 chute.  Gerardo is suggesting clipping the shoes on the bike to ensure a safer run up the hill and putting on the shoes either while moving on the bike or at the mount point. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this since I haven't practiced those kinds of transitions.  That's something I need to do in the future.
  • Don't fill water in my fuel belt water bottles until the first aid station, where the water will be cold and help me avoid cramping.


  • Knock off a little of the pace on the bike to preserve for the run
  • Avoid people hosing you down during the run as much as possible.  Keep feet dry.
  • If warm out, wear arm coolers under wetsuit during swim.  If not, save for T1.
  • Eat breakfast at least 2 hours before your wave time.  Make sure you consume at least 600 calories.  Considering I burned 1,500 calories in just shy of three hours today in 80-something degree heat, I'm surprised it's not even higher.  Then again, we should be eating and drinking throughout the bike ride.
  • Red-tinted or clear-tinted sunglasses will be most effective dealing with the sun reflections on the bike at the race.  I have neither. Hmm.  Dark glasses will be the worst.  Those, I have.
  • Pace your own race.  Don't get caught up in competing with others.  This is going to be the most difficult thing for me to avoid.  I need to find a way to control my competitive urges.  I'll have to focus on looking at my watch, not others.
  • Watch the hills on the bike and don't be over-aggressive on climbing them.  Save your energy for the run.

Overall, the three most important tips are:

  • Knock a little off the bike race pace to conserve energy on the run.  Same goes for the swim.  It's better to lose a few minutes in the water and on the bike rather than up to an hour on the run due to dehydration.
  • Race nutrition is everything.  I should basically be drinking a full water bottle per hour on the bike, and possibly an added bottle if it's hot.
  • Run your own race.  Stay within yourself.  Pacing!  This is not a sprint or Olympic triathlon.  According to Gerardo, a Half-Ironman is the most difficult race to get right when it comes to pacing and proper nutrition.  It's a very fine balance between pushing too much and too little, and the consequences are severe when doing the latter.  Since this is my first Half-Ironman, I'm especially nervous about learning about this point the hard way.

I'm sure I forgot more than I remembered.  But this should help keep me on track during the race.  Not mentioned today but rather during my swim this past Thursday is to focus on flow and not mechanics in the water.  If I can keep my breathing in check, that should help a lot.  I found a real good breathing cadence during my 1,000 yard time trial, which netted me a personal-best 18:27.  My pace per 100 yards is now 1:52, down from 2:05 in the pool when I first started.  This also came less from worrying about my stroke and concentrating more on my breath.  My new swim PR time led Gerardo to predict it should take me roughly 37 minutes to swim 1.2 miles at Vineman.  We'll see how close he is.  So far, every time he's predicted a pace result for me, he's been pretty much right on the nose.

I hope he predicts a 5:30 Half-Ironman!  Though I suspect I'll be in the 6:00-6:30 range depending on the heat.

OK, I'm heading into the final week of Half-Ironman training.  I'm physically ready.  I'm mentally prepared.  The waiting game officially begins tomorrow, during my first weekend non- pre race off-day I can recall since joining Fortius.  I'll spend it with family, watching Le Tour and Spain vs. Netherlands (Espana wins 2-1, btw).  Along with sending Mike off in style for his first Ironman, Lake Placid.

Now, it's time to enjoy the rest of my day and night, which consists of today's Tour stage, burgers and beer with my buddy TJ and Predators.  My kind of night.

And a welcome distraction to take my mind off all these mental checklist items for next week!

133 days and counting.