IMCDA Race Report Part II: Making Friends With Pain

As you'll recall from Thursday's blog, at the end of my Ironman Coeur d'Alene swim I looked down at my wrist to check my split.  No Garmin. NO GARMIN!!!!

Believe it or not, the race photographer shooting all the swimmers exiting the water caught my expression the moment I realized I was going to have to bike 112 miles and run a marathon by instinct alone.

This is what my first boss out of college affectionately labeled "The Very Concerned Face."

I remember two things about that moment: 1) "OMG! My day is over!" and 2) "Calm down!  Don't panic!  You're going to do this by feel.  Let's move on."

If IMCDA had been my first Ironman, I would have listened to my first thought and not my second.  Instead, I calmly gathered my transition bag and settled into the changing tent to put on dry clothes for the bike ride.  It took me a while to put on my tight sleeveless tri jersey and zip the cycling jersey I wore over it.  I just didn't have warm enough fingers to do it quickly and precisely, losing precious minutes in T1.  Then, as I was about to retrieve my bike, I had to pee again.  Remember how strategic I thought I was by peeing in the lake before exiting the water?  Well, that became more wasted time as I spent another two minutes waiting for the urinal trough inside the changing tent.

Finally, ELEVEN minutes later, I was on the bike course. I felt great physically except for a massive knot in my left calf from the previous swim cramps, but my mind was spiraling out of control.  "How will I know when to hydrate and eat?"  "When will I ingest my Endurolytes without knowing what time it is?"  "How will I keep my heart rate in check?"  "How will I make sure I don't ride too hard?"

It was at this point that I reminded myself of my recent conversation with Chris McCormack and trusting your instincts. We're not robots and we shouldn't race like them, focused purely on numbers and tracking data.  I calmed down and decided that I'd play it conservative from a nutrition standpoint.  I guessed that I'd average between 16-17 mph on the hilly course, so that meant counting every 16 miles and popping two or three Endurolytes at that point.  I'd drink at what felt like every three miles, and eat when I hungry, or approximately at every 10 miles.  This approach turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it kept my brain engaged in the moment and didn't allow me to wander mentally. I had to stay focused and totally in tune with how my body felt.

I also had to contend with wondering and reacting to how I did in the swim compared to my Fortius teammates.  I knew that David, Richard, Kelly and Eddie were all faster than me in the water. Where were they on the bike?  How much ground would I need to make up to catch them?  I got my answers within the first 10 miles of the bike.  I saw Eddie, David and Richard a few minutes behind me, which made me feel real good that I didn't have as poor a swim and T1 as I thought.  If they were near me, then it was a tough swim hands-down. Then, I went on the lookout for Kelly, whom I met up with around mile 12.  We were both climbing the first big hill, trading some stories for a few minutes and I continued on.

The first loop of the bike really breezed by.  I never climbed out of my saddle on the many hills, concentrated on my breathing and nutrition, and took in the amazing scenery around me.  I briefly pushed when I saw my buddy Chris approximately 10 minutes ahead at a turnaround point -- he must have had an amazing swim, I thought.  Then, I remembered that PATIENCE had to be my mantra. I'd have to find him on the run.

As I rolled back into town, I checked a couple of outdoor clocks blinking from banks or shopping centers.  To my surprise, I was right on schedule to reach the half-way point around six hours and eight minutes -- exactly where I would have wanted to be pacing based on watch data.  I couldn't believe it.  How did I time it just right?

I was invigorated.  The day was not only salvageable, but I was feeling great -- no sign of cramps, no nutritional issues and a wave of confidence.  I decided to play it conservative for the next 10 miles with a well-timed potty break (one rest stop before special needs pickup knowing traffic would jam there) and subsequent special needs bag pickup of my own for a sandwich and mini-can of Coke.  I ate half of my peanut-butter English Muffin on the bike, felt full and pounded away.  Here I also got lucky as I threw off my cycling jacket to the Fortius team at their hangout tent just before race officials rounded a corner, I later learned.  Had they seen me, I would have received a four-minute penalty for ditching equipment illegally -- but I honestly didn't know this would be a big deal which is why I was so brazen about doing it.  This small unintentional gamble saved me from overheating on the much warmer second loop of the bike.

Around mile 75, my ride started to go south.  I experienced my first bout with adductor cramps, my leg literally froze mid-pedal stroke on a hilly climb.  It was bent almost at a 90-degree angle and wouldn't budge.  There was no choice here of getting off my bike as I couldn't move my leg or unclip my foot from the pedal -- that's how badly I cramped.  I would have tumbled over and been in even more pain.  Normally, I would have panicked, but I just didn't have that option in the heat of the moment.  Instead, I told myself to JUST BREATHE THROUGH IT.  I tried a yoga trick that had never worked for me in my practice -- focusing all my energy on the pain point and breathing straight to it.

It worked!  My leg unlocked as I continued to pedal slowly up the hill.  I was ecstatic.  Never before in all my training or racing had I simply breathed through a cramp and kept going without losing time.  I couldn't believe it. It truly was going to be my day.

Then, my right leg locked up on the next hilly climb.  Clearly something was wrong -- I was bonking.  Even though I hadn't felt dehydrated, clearly I hadn't taken on enough liquids or electrolytes.  I went into full borne self-protection mode. At each mile that I counted off in my head for the next five, I popped three Endurolyte pills.  I even accepted aid from a man running alongside me in a helmet adorned with moose antlers!  He offered Ibuprofen pills and an ice slushy that looked like a Freeze Pop.  I hadn't had one of those since I was a kid!  Sure, why not, I needed the simple sugar rush.

BAM.  Over the next 10 miles or so, no cramps, an energy surge and I'm back on my game.  Now we're at mile 90.  I can do this, I thought, only 22 more miles to pedal.  I figured it would take me 1.5 hours based on my slower pace and more conservative approach.  I settled in and rode on.

At this point, my arm warmers are long gone and my cycling jersey unzipped, revealing my sleeveless tri jersey underneath.  It's a battle between me, the heat of the day (which wasn't that hot), nutrition, my cramps, my goals, and no real knowledge of how I'm tracking against them.  Each time my hamstrings or adductors would scream in the form of a cramp, I'd slow down just a bit, breathe through the pain, wait for the muscle to unseize itself, and continue on.  I knew I had broken through a new personal pain plateau and that was deeply satisfying.  Chris McCormack, in his "I'm Here to Win" book, wrote extensively about making friends with pain.  I did that on my Ironman Coeur d'Alene bike ride.

I saw my first clock heading back to Coeur d'Alene, right around the 100-mile mark.  It was 10 minutes to six hours on the bike.  OK, I can do this.  I can be back by around the 6:20 mark -- exactly as Gerardo had predicted all along.  The cheers from the throngs of townspeople lining the road brought me back to the race site.  I felt like a pro with all the cowbells clanging and everyone shouting at me to continue on -- total strangers!  It fueled me and I arrived back to the bike-to-run transition at the 6:24 mark -- a little slower than I would have liked but a conservative ride that left my legs mostly intact.  My butt hurt, my legs ached, my left calf was still tight from the morning swim cramp, and my adductors were clearly going to be a problem the rest of the day.

I still had to run 26.2 miles before calling myself a two-time Ironman.

I knew I had room in the tank to complete a marathon.  But I had no idea how much of it I'd run or walk.

More on that tomorrow.

Server Problem

I planned to write a hefty post tonight about pushing through injury and knowing when to hold back. Unfortunately, I kept getting a 404 error trying to access the site until just now. I'm on my iPhone, in bed, an ice bag affixed to my left hip. Despite the 61 miles and 5,700 feet of climbing and a short run after, I feel OK. Tight, but OK. I learned an important lesson today. Mainly, progress is sometimes uncomfortable. And can be scary. I almost sat out this entire weekend because of a muscle strain the likes of which I hadn't encountered before. But, with treatment, a little bit of rest and some faith, I got through 2/3 of my training weekend. I also knew when to stop, as I could have run the full hour of my scheduled brick today. But I didn't. Why? Because there's a fine line between pushing and listening. My legs were tight. Richard said I was limping or at least favoring one leg on my run. And I felt grateful enough for the gift of being able to hang tough through the weekend while playing it relatively cautiously.

It's almost like this little server issue. I could have not written anything tonight and given up. Instead, I tried something different and found a way to overcome the problem.

I think this will come in handy in five weeks. A blend of strength, resourcefulness and a dash of just plain stubbornness.

35 days and counting...from my iPhone.

Where the Heck I've Been...

Where have I been? Where haven't I been since the last time I wrote?

This video blog attempts to explain!

Also, here's my Garmin data from the Palos Verdes Half Marathon, in context now with how I chose to run the race.

It's good to be back!

37 days and counting!

A New Way to Race?

OK, it's starting to sink in: After one Ironman and two Half-Ironmans, I'm learning the hard way that the key to a successful race is pacing towards the run and not trying to set PR's on the swim and bike. At least I think so?

I put this theory to practice today in a pedestrian 3.5 hour ride with my buddy Frank.  We twice replicated the Amgen Stage 8 route from last year, Agoura Road to Cornell to Mulholland up Rock Store and down Decker.  Our pace was slow (trust me), but I kept my heart rate mostly in zone 2 (typically south of 141 bpm).  This also was because I chucked up a fair amount of mucus from chest and nose through the first half of the ride.  But, by the end I felt pretty decent -- though my body was telling me a third loop would be a mistake.

The highlight of the ride was spotting Team HTC/Highroad (Cavendish, Martin, Renshaw, etc.) at Westlake Boulevard on its way presumably to Hidden Valley or up Decker.  Granted, the "big three" aren't with this particular team as they're at the Giro d'Italia according to the curt German team mechanics I quizzed as I visited the team's truck.  They're training in Southern California instead of Northern because, as the jerky bike tech said, "you want them to train in the snow?"

Gee, thanks dude.

After the ride, I did something I rarely get to do following a workout -- sleep!  Steph is trying on her wedding dress down south today and that meant I could take a nap that I desperately needed.  It's quite clear my body is still fighting infection as an alarm had to wake me up nearly two hours later.  But I still rallied to jump in the pool for 40 minutes and I'm glad I did.  My performance was much better today than yesterday, which is encouraging.

Maybe I haven't lost as much fitness as I thought.

That said, I probably couldn't have gone much harder on the bike today even if I tried. Which brings me back to my main point.  I may have to accept the realization that if I want a faster Ironman time, I need to hold back a bit on the bike and swim.  I simply need more energy to expend later in the day and can't get caught up in trying to PR any one particular area of my race. I did have that kind of mindset at Wildflower, as I feel like what's the point of racing if you're not trying to outdo yourself in each of the three sports every time?  But, ultimately it's how you finish the race -- not how you start or complete a particular segment.  The fact is that it's probably a lot easier to make up time on the run than anywhere else.  On a swim we're talking a matter of minutes between a PR performance while still turning in a respectable time.  On the bike, what's 15 more minutes on the road if it ultimately means saving 20-30 minutes on the run?

I need to focus on the long-term goal. Finishing the race in my goal time.  Not what split I've achieved.

Easier said than done, but today was a good lesson in that area.

Let's see if it sticks.


50 days and counting.

Sick Day

My body finally said "Enough is enough." I stayed home from work today, falling victim officially to what could be either a cold or an upper respiratory infection. Usually, when I stay home from work I sleep for a few hours and then rally to work remotely throughout the day.  Not this time.  All I could manage was to drink soup and tea in between three rounds of two-hour naps.

Coach Gerardo told me to take a couple days off from training.  As much as I don't want to, I know I must.  I'm hopeful my conditioning will allow me to bounce back quickly, but whatever I have at the moment feels particularly nasty.  It caught me with my immune system compromised heading into a taper.  Based on what I've heard from my friends at work who may have had the same bug, I might anticipate up to a two-week recovery process.

All I can do is take it one day at a time now, and try to give my body what it needs. I suppose it's the least I can do given what I put it through on an almost daily basis.

54 days and counting.

Down But Not Out

The streak has officially ended. After more than a year, really since the LA Marathon in 2010, I've gotten sick again.  It may just be a cold, allergies, or as bad as an upper respiratory infection. I can't tell yet.  Eyes are heavy, body is hot then cold, throat is on fire and muscles and joints are still achey.

If it had to happen, I'd much rather it be now than immediately before Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

Nonetheless, I do NOT believe coming down with something just before race day affected my Wildflower performance.  Poor decisions were to blame far more than a scratchy throat.  The real question now is how do I recover?  Do I try to work in a few workouts lightly and keep some semblance of fitness?  I realize that any illness from the neck up is generally something you can train through.  But is that the case immediately after a half-Ironman event?  The toughest one in the country no less?  I honestly don't know.  I was supposed to do yoga or strength training today and I'm basically stretching for 30 minutes and calling it a night.  We'll see how tomorrow goes.

Really, that's all you can do in triathlon.  Today is over.  Yesterday never happened.  Tomorrow is all that matters.

Otherwise I think it's even harder to get out of bed to train, whether your body hurts or your psyche.

55 days and counting.

PS: THANK GOODNESS I DIDN'T SIGN UP FOR IRONMAN ST. GEORGE!!!! (Maybe that's the wisest decision I've made all year?  Stick to the plan.)

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.

Why I Almost Signed Up for IM St. George: Part 2

Upon entering VNSO pool yesterday morning for my 3,200 yard swim, I saw the following sign posted near the dressing room door: "Pool to be closed for maintenance for 3 WEEKS starting May 31."

I had to do a triple-take.  No, this can't be happening!  Seriously?  The final three weeks of IM Coeur d'Alene training?  When I'm in the pool for repeated 4,000-yard workouts and then running off to work, then more long-distance training after work?

Yes, there are other pools in the area.  But none are quite as convenient as VNSO, which is literally 5 minutes from my condo.  I can roll out of bed, put on my swimsuit, grab a banana to eat quickly, fill my water bottle and within 15 minutes I'm swimming laps.  It's fast, and most important, conveniently on my way to work.

Now, I'll need to head the opposite direction, to Calabasas, to fit in my morning swims.  Then, I'll need to fight traffic to get to work on time.  It's a hassle, and really the last thing I need or want at this point in my training.  Worse, I'm not sure what Coach Gerardo is going to do about coached swim workouts in the evening or mornings as those require permits.  Is it really worth the effort to secure those for three weeks?

This led me yesterday to make up my mind that I was going to go for Ironman St. George.  I'm sick of scheduling my life around training!  So the best way around that is to A) be done as quick as possible and take a longer break and B) IM St. G is on May 7, so the pool being closed May 31-June 24 won't really matter to me.

My mind was further made up after I spent time talking with Mark Allen, widely considered one of if not THE greatest triathlete of all time.  I'm interviewing Mark for my next "Mind Games" column with Lava Magazine Online.  I couldn't resist asking him about my "dilemma" at the end of our interview.  His advice? Why not do BOTH St. George and IM CDA?

My heart says YES!  My body says NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Marks' feeling was that you should race at the races you want to race at.  If St. George is calling to me, which it is and will continue to, then I should do it.

Then, after a second Passover seder last night, I talked with Stephanie about it.

She thinks I likely won't be physically able to complete IM CDA if I do St. George, and if I don't do CDA then I've wasted a huge amount of money.  This is true.  And the race is largely non-refundable ($150 return for $575 registration, no thanks!).  So, in pragmatic terms, I'd be spending close to an extra $1,000 just to satisfy a deep primal urge to be an Ultimate Badass(TM).  And, if I tried to do CDA, I'd still need to find a friggin' pool for those three weeks!!!

So, after having some real sense talked into me, I'm back to my original plan.  I'm going for IM CDA, with all my might.

I really want to try St. George.  If I was made of money right now, didn't have two games shipping this fall, wasn't planning for a wedding and honeymoon or writing for Lava, I just might do it.

Instead, I'll think about St. George for next year, depending on the state of my mind, body and spirit. I know I've said CDA will be my last full-distance Ironman, but St. George is only six hours away!  It's so close, whispering to me.

If only Coeur d'Alene was whispering to me as loudly.  I think I need to work on that.  The Wildflower long-course next Saturday will help.

62 days and counting.

10 Triathlete Plagues

In the spirit of Passover and my second Seder, here are what I consider to be the 10 Plagues of Triathlon. For those of you who don't know (which is totally OK), when Pharaoh in Egypt wouldn't let the Israelites go, G-d told Moses that 10 terrible plagues would haunt Egyptians until their leader decided to free the enslaved Jews.  They included gruesome stuff like blood, frogs, gnats, boils, locusts, darkness and the slaying of the first-born Egyptians.  Of course, this is where the term Passover comes from, since G-d also mentioned to the Israelites that they should sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood on their doorposts so G-d knew to "pass over" those homes when exacting the final plague.

Whether you believe this is up to you, obviously.  I'm merely relating the story as it's been relayed to me for the past 36 years!

Anyway, if G-d were to do that to triathletes, here's what would surely test our will:

-- Flat tires

-- Gale-force headwinds

-- Frigid cold

-- Oil slicks

-- Hurricanes

-- Sharks

-- Texting car drivers

-- Humidity

-- Bike thieves

And the 10th plague, the worst of all, would be...

Being unable to participate in this awesome sport.

What would your 10th plague be?

Happy Passover, or Easter!

64 days and counting.

Treading Water

I meant to take a half-day at work today.  Cool the jets a bit.  Take a load off.  Put my feet up at home.  Reeeelax.  Schedule some much-needed wedding planning (website and honeymoon!), fix our broken internet connection, and handle some washer-related issues. Well, it's 5 p.m., I've been here since 8:30 a.m. and I'm not leaving yet.  And those chores haven't finished themselves.


And of course, I put off my workouts this morning because I needed the sleep, which I didn't come close to getting anyway. And of course, I thought foolishly that I could leave work at a decent hour and fit everything in tonight.  No dice.

Oh yeah, and I've got a magazine column I need to start working on!

Right now, I feel like my life balance is tipping away from me for the first time in a long time.  I need to tip things back in my favor and I hope to do that by mid-week.

Breathe, Ryan.  Breathe.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.  Right now, it's all about catch up.  And treading water.  The worst part is I know a good workout would set me straight and wake me up.

I simply don't have the time.

99 days and counting.