Drop Dead Legs

I'm in an absolute daze on my couch right now. These past five days of training have felt particularly challenging, capped off by tonight's two-hour run that featured nearly an hour at tempo pace.  My legs felt so heavy and tight that I almost quit the run altogether after the first 30 minutes.  My stomach acted up again too, which I'm thinking has more to do with running in the evening after eating all day rather than in the morning when my stomach is closer to empty.  But the session turned out to be much more of a positive experience than I could have anticipated.

I really do think the best workouts stem from the worst workouts.  It's that moment when you're about to give in to your body's whining and whimpering that something special starts to happen.  In this instance, I found a way to manage a 51-minute 10k and an 8:15 mile pace after running feebly for an hour while keeping my heart-rate largely in heart-rate zone 3.  That is encouraging because if I really push hard I should be able to break back into the high 40s for my upcoming Olympic-distance race.  I've never broken 50 minutes in an Olympic tri and I now think I'm capable.

And to think how close I was to quitting tonight and starting my rest day early.

Speaking of rest days, I can't wait to apply the ice packs, take a hot shower and slather myself with Dragon Ice recovery balm.  And then, after I slam this protein shake by my side, I'm going to pass out.

166 days and counting.

Equipment Malfunction

What are some of the most annoying things that can happen to you in the sport of triathlon? Hmm, let's see. Here's a quick list below.

-- Flat tire (check)

-- Flat tire on downhill at 30+mph on your first group ride with a new cycling club (check)

-- Flat tire on downhill on a hot day and getting stung by a yellow-jacket while changing it (check)

-- Elbow/foot to face during swim (check)

-- Getting sick before or during training or a race (check)

-- Forgetting necessary equipment for a bike, swim or run (check)

As of this morning, I can now add one more:

-- Completing a time trial and realizing only at the end that your brake pad on the front wheel was rubbing ever-so-slightly.

Unfortunately, check.

The whole time on the bike, I couldn't quite figure out why my speed seemed less than awesome considering how hard I was working.  It was too loud to hear the telltale "thhppt...thppt...thppt" of the brake scraping the rim earlier in my TT because of the freeway traffic along the I-5 bike path.

On the upside, my heart-rate didn't cross into zone 3 until the final 10 minutes of my 45-minute sprint.  Why?  I'm having a very hard time getting my heart rate up while pedaling flat in the aero tuck.  is this normal?  What am I doing wrong?  How can I push harder?  How can I go a little faster?  Besides make sure my brakes aren't holding me back?  Maybe it was fatigue too, which is entirely possible.  I do know this, given my anticipated swim and run stats, cycling between 20-23 mph probably isn't going to get me to the national championships in Alabama.

On another note, I'm having a hard time keeping my front wheel straight when I place it in the skewers before rides.  This undoubtedly is contributing to the brake pad problems. I've tried putting the wheel on from the front of the bike so the alignment is straight.  I've tried from the top down.  I'm always pushing the wheel either to the left or right of the brake pads.  How can I be better about this?  Any tips/tricks?

I won't be getting back on the bike until Sunday.  And thankfully I only had one workout today to complete since my Fortius swim was optional.  Still, that's 8.5 hours of training since Monday.  And tomorrow, I've got a two hour trail run before volunteering at Coach Gerardo's middle school for a career fair.  I hope my legs will propel me through what has been one of the more challenging weeks of training in a long while.

And slightly annoying, too.

167 days and counting.

From the Sea to the Mountains...

The late KABC-TV anchor, Jerry Dunphy, used to open his newscasts with a greeting along the lines of "From the desert to the sea, or wherever you may be, good evening."  (I know that's not exactly it.) That's what my day of training felt like today.  It started at 6:30 a.m. in Santa Monica for my first ocean speed circuit with the LA Tri Club.  We -- and by "we" I mean about 100 other folks -- met at Tower 26 off Ocean Park and Barnard Way, where we then swam out to a buoy about 250 yards offshore and triangulated back to the lifeguard tower.  We jogged the distance from the tower to the entry point, with the goal of completing at least three loops in the typical one hour allotment.

I was still feeling pretty crispy from the Fortius swim the evening prior, but had enough in the tank to complete three loops with fairly little effort.  The water was cold but manageable and especially salty.  I don't remember the water being as salty in Marina del Rey and Malibu. I'm not sure why that is.  I didn't really know too many people at the swim, but friendly faces Byron, Bob, Mo and Liana made my first experience pleasant.  Bob reminded me that some workouts just require you to show up and log the time.  This would be one of those days.

Of course, my training didn't stop there.  To conclude the day, I rejoined the LA Tri Clubbers at Griffith Park earlier this evening for our weekly brick.  We "only" had 1.75 hours instead of the usual 2.25, but it might as well have been that long based on how my legs felt and my heart-rate performed.  My bike ride was pretty pathetic, though I stayed mostly in heart-rate zone 2 on the climb up Mount Hollywood and managed to get out to the Griffith Observatory and back in just over an hour.  That's kind of encouraging since I didn't exert much effort but still got up the big hills without much trouble.  Still, I just didn't have much power in my legs and I have a 45-minute time trial tomorrow.  I need to find the extra power for that one.  Fortunately, my run was a pleasant surprise. Though I didn't feel great, I managed two sub-eight-minute miles at the end of he run, even getting down to around 7:30 without coming close to heart-rate zone 4.  I didn't expect to see that kind of progress after beating myself up the past few days.  I hope I can build on that moving forward.  We'll find out on Friday, when I have a tempo two-hour trail run with the last 5-8 miles in zone 3.  Wheee!

Perhaps the best part of the day came in the middle, when I visited the dermatologist.  A year ago at this time, I literally was receiving some very light radiation treatments on my face for some pre-cancerous growth on my nose.  Today, I received a 100% clean bill of health from the skin doctor, noting that I was progressing "perfectly."  Considering how often I'm outside, this was a huge relief.  I've been much better about using quality sunblock whenever I can, and it clearly has made a difference.  I can only urge my friends to please do the same, and PLEASE get checked out by a dermatologist.  Or at least have someone monitor your body for unusual moles and pigmentation.

We covered the sea.  We covered the Hollywood sign.  We covered Griffith Observatory.  We ran trails.  We ran on the road.

I think we did Jerry Dunphy justice today.

168 days and counting.

1,000 Yard Stare Saturday

I've got the 1,000-yard stare down cold today.  That unmistakable look worn by those who have pushed themselves either to their physical or mental limits, or both. Four hours on the bike with a monster climb followed by an hour run can do that.  (Thank goodness I opted to bring the road bike today and not the tri bike!)  I haven't uploaded the Garmin data yet, but I think I burned north of 2,000 calories today.  The amazing thing to me is that I didn't even come all that close to completing a 70.3-mile distance and I'm pretty spent.  Granted, I dipped into heart-rate zone 5 on the bike and zone 4 on the run a little too.  But still, I didn't swim, biked two miles longer than the standard Half-Ironman 56 miles, and essentially ran half of a half-marathon.  Total time: roughly 4:50.

I know I'll be fine in less than two months when the starting gun at Vineman goes off.  But getting to that point now is harder than I realized.  I'm climbing a new fitness peak after plateau-ing the past few weeks.

Speaking of climbing, my Fortius teammates and I slogged our way up the big peak on Portrero Road.  Most people carefully steer down that road at very cautious speeds.  The climb was most certainly the steepest I've ever encountered, and it didn't help that I was accidentally in my big ring -- which I didn't realize until the peak when I started my descent and tried to switch into that gearing.  Darn it, I was already there!  That would explain the 35-45 rpms up the hill and feeling like I was going to tip over at any moment. The upside, of course, was the next big climb of the day -- "baby" Portrero hill by Sly Stallone's house -- was much, much easier.

The "toughest luck of the day" award went to none other than Fortius teammate and friend Mike.  He got a flat as we started our big Portrero climb... and then a bee flew into his helmet on the way down the hill and he got stung on the head!  As weird as that sounds, almost exactly the same thing happened to me in 2008 when I was a rookie rider with the San Fernando Valley Bike Club.  The only difference was that I got stung by a yellow jacket, and I was all alone.

For me, the best part of today's bike ride was cycling on some of the roads on tomorrow's final stage of the Amgen Tour of California.  The same streets I ride on regularly will now be considered holy as the likes of Cavendish, Shleck, Zebriskie, Leipheimer and all the other amazing pros blast through them.  I can't wait for them to show me how it's really supposed to look.

That's all I got for today.  I'm going to watch the Amgen Tour of California time trials on Versus, go to Fortius Coach Ray's house to try on our new K-Swiss sample racing team kits (woohoo!) and get ready for Stephanie to head back into town after a night out in Palm Springs with her best friend.  Go go go!

One last note.  I'm inside of six months until Ironman Arizona on November 21.  Yet my blog countdown is WAY off.  I'm nine days off.  So, I'm resetting my countdown clock to 179 days and counting with this post.

Wait for it...

179 DAYS AND COUNTING!!! Less than six months to go!

Big Brick

I embedded the details of my Sunday brick in the post above.  I can't figure out how to embed in the post properly yet.  But I think the duration of the workout (hopefully) speaks for itself. Of course, it was yesterday's workout -- not today's.  I was so busy powering through a five-hour brick and rushing to a neighborhood potluck dinner and then rushing to my buddy TJ's house to catch the finale of The Pacific (best one of the series) that by the time I got home...I had zero energy to blog last night.

I apologize to both of you who read this blog daily.

I'm back now, with a vengeance.  Actually, it's just a quiet night at home and an off-day for training.  I didn't get one last week so today's is most welcome.  Though my legs feel like lead after climbing 5,663 feet on the bike in Malibu, swimming a mile in 57-degree ocean water and lightly jogging a couple miles after the bike. I hope I don't sink to the bottom of the pool tomorrow morning with our Fortius team swim!

I learned a few things during yesterday's epic day of climbing Encinal and Piuma canyon roads.  They were probably more powerful observations as they were occurring in the heat of the moment, but at least 24 hours of rumination  can distill things down to their core.  So here goes:

-- Hill climbs are getting easier.  As you can see by the speeds involved, Mike, Karen, Frank, Richard and I weren't going too fast up any of the hill climbs. But, outside of the latter part of Piuma, my heart rate remained low and steady.  I never felt winded, except at the top of Piuma as massive blankets of fog rolled over the mountain peaks directly overhead, sending headwind blasts directly in our path.  I think the best way to build stamina on the bike is long, slow, and steady hill climbing.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

-- Cycling is a dangerous sport.  Two friends of mine, one of them being Anat, went down in accidents this weekend.  Neither accident was their fault nor could have been prevented.  Anat crashed on Pacific Coast Highway, which further gives me the jitters because of the number of people who crashed their last year.  I used to think that road was among the safest and most scenic.  Now I realize it's probably safer up steep hillsides than down by the ocean. Please, ride with caution on PCH.  Don't follow too close.  Watch the car doors.

-- Ocean swimming gets more and more enjoyable with more and more practice.  Many of my friends don't understand how I can enjoy ocean swimming.  There are the creepy crawly critters, for instance.  The polluted water.  The tides.  The seaweed.  The sand.  You know what?  Once you get past the surf, it's calm.  Once you channel out the cold, it's comfortable.  Once you accept your peaceful insignificance in the giant ocean, swimming is a total joy.  It's rhythmic.  Hypnotic.  And something I never thought I'd say a couple years ago.  Further, if you're training for an Ironman with a large open-water swim, I suggest swimming in some really cold water at some point before your race just to be mentally prepared.

-- My friend Karen is really improving on the bike!  After Frank bowed out of the climb due to mechanical problems with his shifting cables and Richard went home due to a bum knee, Karen braved riding alone behind Mike and me.  And she not only did so admirably, but Karen outright powered up Piuma -- only .25 miles behind Mike and me at the summit.  On the steep descents, something she's admittedly uncomfortable with, Karen kept up.  I was super proud of her and impressed.  It's really nice to see improvement happening right before your eyes.  Karen's one of my favorite triathletes because she embodies the spirit of the sport.  She's tenacious and flat-out battles through anything.  I can relate to that mentality and have that much more respect for it as a result.

There's much more I could write but I'm shutting it down for the night.  I've got another busy week ahead and a 6 a.m. date at the pool.  Good night everyone!

192 days and counting.

My New Partner In Crime

Batman had Robin. Knight Rider had K.I.T.

Robert Redford had Wonderboy.

Speed Racer had...uh...Speed Racer?

I have Charlie, my new triathlon bike.

She's light (17.6 lbs without water bottles), pretty and packs a punch.  I took Charlie out for her maiden voyage earlier today at Griffith Park for a rare morning brick session.  While I covered roughly the same ground I usually do in an hour, I did so with far less effort.  I never felt taxed, my heart-rate rarely crossed into heart-rate zone 3 yet I routinely gained at least 2 mph from my normal average when I decided to step on the gas a bit.

More important, I felt really comfortable on the bike.  I can't emphasize how important a proper bike fitting is.  Though it took my fitter at Helen's Cycles, Paul, about a solid hour to get it right (my fault given my scoliosis, sloped shoulders, and unequal leg lengths) the investment was well worth it.  I could sense the additional power transfer from my legs to my feet to the pedals.  At the same time, I felt like I was resting comfortably on the aero bars.  Right now, my hamstrings are a bit tight from being in that new aero position, but otherwise I feel great -- especially considering I ran an hour afterwards and worked a full day in the office.  Usually by this time, I'm fairly tired and ready to go home for some rest.  I believe I have more energy now by being able to conserve more this morning.

Back to the run.  I ran faster than usual and covered more ground while keeping my heart-rate comfortably in heart-rate zones 2 and 3.  Even though I crept high into the latter, I never felt taxed or even at the start of heavy breathing.  Usually a brick of this nature would sap my strength and stamina.

But not with Charlie.

I feel like this new piece of equipment will make a noticeable difference in my overall performance come race time.

While I love Monica, my road bike, I think Charlie and I were meant to be.

Don't worry, Stephanie.  I know it's only a bike.

Just don't tell Charlie that.  And don't tell Monica either.

197 days and counting.

PS: I've been meaning to write about what I've learned over these past 100 days.  This is a self-reminder to hopefully do that tomorrow.

Hammerin' the Conejo

This morning, Team Fortius participated in the 26th annual Cruisin' the Conejo bike ride across the Conejo Valley.

My ride was closer to "Hammerin' the Conejo."  The whole cruising part just didn't work out so well today.  Not that you're really surprised.

The ride was a last-minute (but very welcome) addition to our training schedule.  And to get it out of the way up front, I recommend this ride for anyone looking to see the Conejo Valley at its finest.  The route is fairly easy for riders of all levels. We didn't do a ton of climbing, most of the ride was flat, the wind was moderate and the temperature never got hire than the upper 70s. The rest stops, course marking and organizers are first-rate.  And as far as organized group rides in Southern California, I'd definitely put it ahead of the Cool Breeze Century in Ventura.

David, my teammate and friend (and sports massage therapist) and I chose the 68-mile "moderate" metric century, which would take us from Newbury Park to Westlake, into Oxnard, Camarillo, through Moorpark and my hometown of Simi Valley and back to Thousand Oaks/Newbury Park.  The climbing was moderate, but the pace was not.

We started the ride at 8 knowing we needed to be back in Los Angeles by 2 p.m. since David had a massage client at 3:30.  We knew we'd make our deadline if we were efficient on the bike.  Had we not had places to be and things to do, I think today's ride would have been a lot more mellow.  That, and David had a friend, John, who joined us.  John was a big guy who, in David's words, "liked to go fast."  I didn't realize how fast until we quickly lost at least three packs of riders on the course with us.

In fact, literally not one person passed all three of us for an extended period.  And, of course, my competitive side coming out BIG-TIME, absolutely nobody passed me on the course during my ride.  Once we realized we were among the best cyclists on the course, David, John and I made a friendly gentlemen's pact that nobody would pass us.  All day.  My kind of challenge.  Our piss-and-vinegar approach manifested itself the most during a roughly 10-mile stretch on Las Posas Road coming from Camarillo into Moorpark.  We formed a pace line and seriously hammered.  Coach Gerardo will see this soon enough via my Garmin 310x data, but let me just note up front I spent way more time than I should have in zone 5 on the heart-rate monitor.  I was in a cycling trance today.  That's the only way to describe it.  When I expressed my concern to David that maybe we were pushing too hard, he calmly noted that "it's good to get in a little speed work every once in a while."

Noted.  And check.

We took the pedal off the metal in Moorpark and into Simi Valley, where I had a visitor pop by to say hello: My father. He met us on the same road I used to bike as a kid with a Haro mountain bike when I'd gather the nerve to venture from Simi into the next time.  I remember vividly those afternoons with Frank and Jeremy, when we'd think we were practically like Magellan wondering if the world was indeed flat.  What's beyond the next town? What if we don't make it back by dark?  What if we get a flat tire?  Oh, the excitement!  Oh, how it was only 13 miles yet felt like 68.

Oh, how nice it was to ride on that road again for the first time in 20 years and think about how far I've come, and how lucky I was to be able to enjoy such a moment with my dad.

After Dad left, we ambled up Olsen Road and battled a headwind before rallying for the last stretch down Thousand Oaks Boulevard and onto Hillcrest Drive.  One rider in an Amgen kit tried to stay with John and me.  I was having none of it.  Not that far into the ride without having anyone pass.  This guy tried to pass me twice and on both occasions I floored it, the second time looking directly at him, smiling and saying "nice push" before dusting him the final two miles into the parking lot.

We rode 68 miles in just about 3:46, or an 18 mph pace.  We were on our road bikes since it was a group ride, so I'm very eager to give my TT bike a go and see if I can improve upon that, minus the elevated heart-rate.

I know I need to curb this competitive fire right now.  I've got so many more months of training and it's all about pacing and patience.

But I just couldn't help myself today.  Fortunately, there were some great recovery tools available at the end of the race...err...tour.  I was stretched out by a chiropractor truck and then David, John and I were treated to electro-therapy for 15 minutes to restore blood flow to our aching leg muscles.  What a trip!  My legs looked like they had a mind of their own the way they were dancing from all the electricity pulsating through them.  But I can say it worked.  My legs feel fine, and I can also partially attribute that to the 2XU compression calf sleeves I wore on the ride.  I can definitely tell a difference now when I wear them in terms of recovery and stability in my legs.  It might be a little mental (hey, so am I!), but I swear the compression tech works.

It had better.  I've got a swim with the LA Tri Club tomorrow along with a 1.75 hour running session.  I will have to take it a little easy on the run, I'm sure.

Unless someone faster tries to pass me.

Just kidding, Gerardo.  Kind of.

201 days and counting.

All That Jazz

Uuh.Uuuuuuuhhhhh.

That's what I sounded like this morning when trying to wake up early after a late evening out.  Seven hours earlier, I had consumed a half-glass of wine, most of a Belgian beer and part of another, yet my hangover indicated I might as well have downed a bottle of Prohibition era hooch.  Or the Ropa Vieja from Cha Cha Chicken might have done me in. Far spicier than I was used to, especially for a late dinner.  It all added up to vaporize my ambitious plans for a 7:30 a.m. trail run followed by a 9 a.m. swim.

This put me in a foul state.

I nixed the swim and decided to move it until tomorrow since I "only" have a 45-minute core workout.  That still left a 1.5 hour trail run with a headache and a chip on my shoulder.

Fortunately, an unintentional music experiment saved the workout, and my entire day.

I put my iPod on Shuffle mode as I started up the Nike trail atop Hayvenhurst Street.  A Coltrane tune was among the first to pop up.  I was about to change it when the riff caught hold of me.  Or maybe it was the cadence matching my strides.  Slow.  Pained.  Purposeful.  Like my mood.  I was hooked.

I selected all my Coltrane songs and played the entire Ken Burns Jazz documentary album.  The music channeled my feelings into notes.  As if Coltrane himself was writing just for me in that moment, like some street-corner musician that read into my mood just by taking one look at my body language.  Some songs were leisurely and languid, like my zone 1 and 2 warm-up strides, or the rolling green hills leading towards the Pacific Ocean.  Other tunes were fast-paced, almost frantic, like my my hummingbird heart-rate climbing the hills back from Westridge at the mouth of Mandeville Canyon.  Some songs stretched on for what seemed like an eternity, just like those steep grades I was determined to scale.

Listening to jazz on a sunny Sunday morning also reminded me of sitting in the back of my grandfather's Cadlillac El Dorado enjoying the golden oldies tunes on Sunday drives with him as a child.  These images, and Coltrane's musical journey turned another otherwise drab solo run into something quite memorable.  It reminded me of the pure joy of exercise on a Sunday morning.  When I could be at home doing any number of things -- including sleeping -- but was making a choice to better myself.  To take care of myself.  To simply do something for myself.

Training doesn't always have to feel that way.  If you're lucky, it can become transcendent.

Today, I had just that sort of experience, when I was least expecting it, from the unlikeliest of sources.

220 days and counting.

Night Shift

I remember reading these LA Tri Club dispatch emails last year where people would discuss meeting up in the afternoon to do their brick workouts.  I'd think to myself, "Um, yeah.  Helllooo?!  Some of us work.  That's crazy to just leave work early just for training.  I'd never do that -- it's just excessive."

Today, for the second time in three weeks, I left work early to train in the middle of the afternoon.  Because my workout schedule said I needed to do a brick lasting 2.5 hours.

Never say never.

Of course, I'm arriving into work early to make up the hours, which is nice on a Wednesday following a Tuesday morning workout. It likely will suck tomorrow around 5:30 a.m., when I wake up to visit the pool with the rest of my Fortius teammates.  But at least tonight's workout was fun and rewarding.  I felt fresh on the bike, scampering up Mt. Hollywood at Griffith Park towards Griffith Observatory without my heart-rate taking much of a beating. I felt vastly improved from just a couple weeks ago when I did the same ride more slowly.  I was rewarded at the top with this magnificent view of the Los Angeles basin.

Following the hourlong bike journey, about 15 LA Tri Clubbers and Fortius teammates embarked on an hourlong sunset run through Griffith Park.  We did a lot of climbing, but I handled it well since I was allowed to cross into heart-rate zone 4.  This gave me plenty of room to explore my pacing and threshold.  While I couldn't quite keep up with speedsters Mike and Richard, I felt faster than just a few months ago when I needed to walk a lot more of the course than I did tonight.  Granted, I was limited to heart-rate zone 3 at that stage, but progress is progress.

I gotta be honest.  Throughout the run, it felt like I was playing hooky from school (not that I ever did that, mom).  I'm enjoying this beautiful LA weather with some good friends and pursuing my passion.  I put in a full workday, but what better way to cap it off than to train in the afternoon when it's still light out (for the most part) and the rest of the world slaves away at their desks?  A little guilty?  Yeah, maybe.  Do I care? Nah, not really!

Now, sometimes when I visit the kitchen in our Burbank offices, I gaze towards the Griffith Park hills off in the distance.  I wonder if anyone is running on the trails at that moment.  And instead of thinking they're crazy, I will smile.  I know what it feels like to have that freedom and flexibility.

One day, I'm sure I'll miss not having it.  For now, I'll soak in the moment and enjoy the opportunity.

224 days and counting.

Race Night

Short post tonight.  Gotta get up at 4:45 a.m., standard wake-up call time for triathletes everywhere.

As I've mentioned this week, tomorrow morning is the Newport Beach triathlon.  It's a sprint, which means today I rode 35 miles on the bike as if it's any other training day.  But the scenery changed (pictured), which was welcome.  I rode tomorrow's Back Bay race course, which is primarily flat and very pretty. Mostly marshland, and outside of the afternoon cross-wind, numbingly consistent.  There's one brief climb that takes me from heart-rate zone 2 to 4 quickly if I'm not careful.  It's roughly an 11% grade for about 50 yards, and then drops off to 7% for another few hundred yards after that.  I rode the course loop at least five times today, so I actually feel more prepared for this race than most.

Overall, I learned today that sprint triathlons are probably not valuable for my Ironman training considering I'm working towards endurance and not necessarily bursts of speed.  I chose to compete in this event since I did it last year, when I was less strategic with my race selection.

As I told Coach Gerardo tonight via text, I think this is my last sprint tri for quite a while.

He agreed.

As for goals, last year I completed the course in 1:32:54.  The swim was just over 17 minutes, the bike was slightly longer than 48 minutes and the run was around 22.  My T1 was nearly three minutes and T2 was just over two minutes.  I'm hoping to shave off around three to five minutes total.

Wish me luck.

228 days and counting.