Some people listen to music when they run.   But you can't really do it in races, so I generally avoid it. Some people listen to the music in their heads, which can be helpful come race day.  In training, that often devolves into endless repeats of the most annoying music on earth.  Most recently, that has meant Ke$ha and The Addams Family theme song (thank you David Wachtel.)


So what do I do instead?  Lately, I've been counting silently, as in 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2... for what seems like hours on end.  I'm sure you've done the same at some point, to keep that cadence high and your gait efficient.  Since my buddy Greg Moe taught me about the value of maintaining between 180-184 steps per minute when running, it's all I can think about on the course.  I've improved to where I can maintain a 90-92 left-foot steps per minute pace on a consistent basis, and now feel comfortable enough working with my buddy John to help him get there as well.

John and I met at Griffith Park this morning at 7 for a lightly-paced run focused on technical training and form.  When we started our first cadence drill, John was around 80 one-foot steps per minute.  However, I should first preface this by indicating that is working for John.  He placed second in his age group at a 10k in Encino last weekend, earning a handshake and a medal from none other than Rafer Johnson.  Yep, THAT Rafer Johnson (are there others though?).  So, John doesn't really need running tutelage per se.  We just wanted to experiment if we could make John run faster, with higher cadence, while keeping his heart-rate the same.

And we did.

By the end of our six-mile jog, John was running well ahead of me while maintaining a steady heart-rate...and his cadence jumped 10 steps per minute to a consistent 90.  Well done!

Though John went much faster than me, it was like I was running faster as well.  I'm not saying I've caught the coaching bug by any stretch.  But I admit to taking a certain amount of pride in watching John smile and enjoy his run just a bit more, and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe when all this training and racing subsides a bit, perhaps one day I will try to coach more.  If it's anything like what I felt today, then it just might be the best-kept secret of triathlon -- coaching is as good as racing.

69 days and counting.

1 Step Backward, 1 Step Forward

I had to write my first "race exemption" email today, and I didn't like how it felt. The Los Angeles 13.1 Marathon is this Sunday.  I signed up shortly after completing Ironman Arizona, thinking that more running would equate to becoming a better runner.  I desperately wanted to improve my marathon time, and figured I'd be fine to resume training after about two weeks off. Unfortunately, while my heart has and continues to be willing, my body just hasn't quite cooperated.  That's not to say my recovery is going poorly.  Far from it, once I accepted and embraced that I needed a recovery period.  I'm feeling stronger every day now and my lingering leg pains are starting to subside.  But the point is that I don't really need this half-marathon, or my Surf City full marathon in a few weeks, to elevate my running.  I didn't know that at the time, though a few of you tried to warn me.  More running can equal more pain.

Still, the frustration at having to bow out of a race gnaws at me. On one hand, I know I'm doing the smart thing.  I keep telling myself, "follow the plan," repeating that mantra daily with each workout.  On the other hand, I feel like I've failed myself by not being able to perform.  It's like some joker pointing his finger at me and saying with a laugh, "You're getting older!"  What's more frustrating though is that I know I could have completed the half-marathon this Sunday.  I might have done it at my current Ironman pace, but I could have run it.  However, at what cost?  My psoas might have tightened up. Or my knee tightness may have increased.

Further, now I can continue to work on improving my new fore-foot strike running technique, which is much more valuable.  There's no pressure of an upcoming race to worry about to take me off my drill work, though I do plan to turn my Surf City marathon into a half-marathon run since I have so many friends doing it too.

So today is a bittersweet day for me as a triathlete.  By taking a step backward physically, I think I've taken a step forward mentally.  I'm practicing what I've been preaching lately.  I'm going to work on getting faster by forcing myself to go a little slower.

For us Type A personalities, that's about the hardest thing there is to do!  Outside of completing an Ironman.

162 days and counting.

2 Weeks!

Two weeks from tonight, I'll be collapsed in my hotel room, hopefully elated with the performance I worked for and (I believe) earned. Yet it still doesn't feel totally real. For instance, despite a year of training, I felt a pang of anxiety when I realized tonight that the next Ironman on the official schedule is...mine.  There's nothing else to look forward to.  No other friends to cheer on.  No other teammates to send off.

It's just me and a date that approaches more quickly every day.

If today's workout is any indication, I'm definitely close to being ready.  Bob, my fellow Fortius and IMAZ teammate, joined me this morning for a full tri-workout.  We swam at Zuma in clear, crisp 62-degree water for 45 minutes.  I experimented with compression shorts in the water instead of a swimsuit, as well as compression calf sleeves. I liked it overall.  The calf sleeves rolled up on my leg a bit but I think that was after I took off the wetsuit, not while wearing it.  I think I'll go with that strategy at Ironman.  Any edge I think I can get.  Following a fairly leisurely transition (what a gorgeous day out!), I did my very best to hold onto Bob's wheel as we hammered out to Big Rock and back.  I succeeded for the first half of the ride as we belted out several 21-plus mph miles, but the second half of the ride, Bob stopped toying with me and simply took off.  He very well may break five hours for his bike split at IMAZ if he wanted to.  Finally, we embarked on a 90-minute run while trying to stay in heart-rate zones 2-3.  We were successful, completing just around 9.6 miles in that span on a flat course.  I needed that run following last Sunday's blow-up in Calabasas.  I know I can hold my heart-rate steady for several miles but I'll need the weather and wind to cooperate, as well as my own ability to stick to my race plan.  Today, the wind was moderate and the temperature was around 70 when Bob and I started running at noon.

Now, it's getting late (for an old guy like me).  I'm typing, reflecting about the past week.  With the exception of a couple monster swims, this past week truly felt like what I expected a taper should be.  Relaxed.  Moderate.  Fun.

With the occasional balls-out bike sprint thrown in for good measure.

14 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!

2 For 1 Special

Technology was not my friend last night.  But of course, it was my own doing.  I left my laptop at work and my back-up wasn't able to log-in to my blog site for some reason. Lucky for you, today is a two-for-one special!

As I may have mentioned, I tweaked my right inside knee slightly climbing all those hills at the Wildflower training camp.  So yesterday, I took it pretty easy outside of the pool for my hour tempo intervals run.  Inside the pool, well, that was another story.  My friend and Fortius swim coach, Megan, pushed us hard during our 6 a.m. practice.  Among several drills, we did 10, 100-yard sprints at race pace with 10 seconds to rest between each 100.  My approximate pace was between 1:50-1:55, which if accurate, represents a 10-15-second improvement from my early 2:05 T-pace.  Still, my stroke is a mess.  When I'm not crossing my body on the follow-through, my arms are entering the water too early.  If I'm doing those things correctly, then I'm not rotating enough or kicking from my hips and not my lower legs.  Or keeping my head down.  Or gliding enough.

I have so many things to think about during each stroke, it's amazing I don't drown under the weight and pressure of it all.

Now I know what it must feel like being a professional baseball player at the plate batting against a four-pitch hurler.  Too many things to consider besides just swinging the bat.

Of course, like that baseball player who plays for the love of the game, I drag myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning because I've grown to love being in the water -- no matter how twisted my technique may be.

There would be no water for me today though.  Instead, I had a brick session.  This was made more complicated since my car is in my father's repair shop for normal maintenance, and my Colnago is in the shop for a tune-up.  The compromise was to ride on the trainer at varying degrees of difficulty for 90 minutes and then immediately running hills for the next 45 minutes.  All before 9 a.m., when I need to race the clock to make it in the office by 10.

The bike ride was largely uneventful, made more enjoyable by catching up on The Pacific on HBO.  (Side note: I feel silly complaining about swim technique after watching a mini-series about the inexplicable hardships the Marines endured during WWII in brutally inhospitable jungles throughout the South Pacific.)

My only real concern is the soreness in my right inside knee.  I've never had knee trouble in my life, but after all the climbing we did at Wildflower I think I strained a quad muscle or hamstring.  The tightness in either muscle is pinching the convergence point of three muscle groups on my knee, reducing my flexibility.  The more I pedaled, and climbed in a higher gear, the more my knee acted up.

What was strange though was that my knee didn't hurt as much when I ran perhaps my most challenging local hill not residing in Boney Mountain or Cheseboro Park.  From my condo on Dickens Street in Sherman Oaks, I climbed Woodcliff Road at Valley Vista all the way to Mulholland Drive.  This was literally 20 minutes straight of steep climbing, approximately 1,200 feet if Google Maps is correct. I don't even know why I chose that route this morning.  Especially with my knee feeling a little funky.  Guess I was bored of the usual 'round-the-block runs I've been doing for more than a year now.  It's great to know that I can make it to Mulholland and back home within 45 minutes at a fairly relaxed pace, especially with Wildflower looming.

The only downside of my training today came not frm the workouts but from the recovery.  I had Abby, our company massage therapist, work on my right leg for 30 minutes just after lunch.  Surprisingly, it felt worse after, tighter, than it did immediately after the run and throughout the morning.  Why is that?  Over the past several hours, my knee has remained tight though it's a little more relaxed now that I'm on the couch typing.

Tomorrow is my training off day instead of Friday. I have a business trip in Northern California. Perhaps the extra day's rest is coming at the perfect time?  I hope so.  I really want to avoid another LA Marathon scenario where I can't perform to my potential at races due to circumstances beyond my control.

I'll remain positive, for now.

232 and 231 days and counting.

4-Minute Blog Post

Instead of the Subway "$5 foot-long" jingle, I'm starting a new one: Four!  Four!  Four-Minute Blog Post!

Here we go!

6 a.m.:  swim with Fortius Coaching team.  Awesome. Fastest sustained 100 intervals yet.  1:52-1:55 pace, stroke cadence down to 20 per 25 yards. Thanks Gerardo and my lane partner, Dierdre!

Sadly, a high school swimmer from Van Nuys High seizured this morning.  Fortunately, he's OK.  His teammates were remarkably mature and supportive, for adults or kids.  I was humbled and happy for our future when I saw their display of sensitivity and compassion.

7:30 a.m.: I ran for an hour and 15 minutes doing six, three-minute intervals between heart-rate zones 4-5.  Using my new Garmin, I realized my mile time is decreasing. I'm on pace for 6:45-minute miles at this point.  Let's see how long I can sustain that though!

8:54 a.m.: On the move to the office to shower and change for work.

9:57 a.m.: At my desk, showered, breakfast in hand, with three minutes to spare.

1:26 p.m.: Returned from lunch after downing three tacos at Sharkey's and fueled up on GU and Hammer nutrition at Bicycle John's in Burbank.

6:18 p.m.: Left work to eat dinner and join the LA Tri Club at the Encino First Thursday social, sponsored by Fortius.  Nope, I didn't win anything in the raffle once again.  But, I loved seeing my fantastic teammates and friends looking their finest. They clean up nicely!

8:39 p.m.: Rushed home, dropped off my dirty gym bag, packed a new one, typed this blog, and am now back on the road for an evening out.  Gotta take advantage of my equivalent of Saturday night since there's no training planned tomorrow.

8:56 p.m.: Shutting down blog, changing clothes, rushing out the door!  Goodnight all!

PS: Thank goodness Ironman training gives you the ability to pack more into your day in a shorter amount of time...on less sleep. I'm living up to my company's studio name: I'm becoming an insomniac!

264 days and counting.

50 Posts...What I've Learned Since Day 1

Wow, I just noticed I've made 50 blog posts.

Thinking back, I've learned a lot in a pretty short amount of time. In fact, in the spirit of all the recent late night talk show drama, here's my Top 10 Things I've Learned About Ironman Training So Far:
10) Pack your car key securely in your runner's belt. Or, it may fall out. Like it did today.
9) Keep a spare car key in your glove compartment. Like I didn't today.
8) Slower eventually equals faster. I can especially see improvement on the bike hill climbs.
7) Kiss Saturdays goodbye. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. equals training.
6) A 9-hour training week (like what I have this week) is now considered easy!
5) Chlorine is not the latest Calvin Klein cologne. It just seems that way.
4) Swimming in the rain is delightful. Running, on the other hand, is not. Cycling is just plain crazy.
3) Triathlon training is expensive. Golf has nothing on this sport!
2) Training with a group like Fortius makes the hours pass quickly.
1) The long hours and sacrifice are totally worth it... I'm an Ironman addict!
Set a new personal best today with an approximate 14-mile run (no footpod to confirm though). The Fortius group ran all up and around Griffith Park just hours before the rain hit the Southland. Prior to meeting up with the group, I went on a 30-minute warmup jog and felt tight after yesterday's brick (go figure). Fortunately, teammate David is a sports massage therapist who runs his own practice. He offered to work on my IT bands for a few minutes and it made a huge difference for the remaining two hours, 15 minutes. If you're looking for a good sports massage, I suggest you give David a try. I will again soon.
The run ended uneventfully, until I realized that somewhere along the trail my car key popped out of my running belt holder. Total fail. Fortunately, Coach Gerardo dropped me off at home after breakfast and my buddy TJ brought me back to the car with my spare key. All's well that ends well.
I was then able to drop off some used shoes at Sports Chalet in support of its Soles 4 Souls effort for Haiti earthquake relief. Sports Chalet is accepting used shoe donations through tomorrow, so hurry over there if you have some extra footwear and want to make a difference.
That's it for now. Layin' low and stayin' dry for the rest of the night.
311 days and counting.