1 Month to Go!

Of course, you wouldn't know it's one month until IM CDA as once again my math skills are subpar.  My internal counting clock is off by a day. Let's hope I show up on time in Coeur d'Alene!

Today, Coach Gerardo shared the rest of my schedule with me leading up to the race.  This week is about 21 hours, next week is around 18 and the remainder of my training will hover in the 12-13-hour range.  So, two more big weeks and then we'll ease off the gas.  Then again, I've never quite felt my foot on the physical accelerator that much this season.  That's not to say I haven't been training hard -- I've given this everything I've got in the tank just to survive it all.  But it just goes to show the difference experience can make.  The stillness, relaxation and sense of confident purpose is having a real effect on my body, allowing me to keep weight on more easily this time around while remaining "dialed in" for race day.

If race day were tomorrow I'd welcome it with open arms.  Unlike last season towards the end of Ironman training, I don't feel like I'm cramming for a final exam with the last big training sessions.  Look, I've been on a performance plateau for around six months now.  An extra big bike ride or long swim won't make or break my Ironman, so I might as well chill out about the whole thing.

One month to go. What will I be feeling and thinking at this time in June?  Will I be celebrating finishing the race the way I intended, or will I be glad just to get to the finish line?  During my training workouts, when I have more time to let my mind wander, I think I'm going to visualize going through the entire race.  I keep reading and hearing pro athletes and coaches talk about the importance of visualization.  This Saturday, when I'm participating in the Heartbreak 100 ride in Lebec, will be a good time to start.

One month to go.  I'm savoring every moment.  Every memory.  Absorbing every detail of every workout I can.  These are likely the last real days of having the freedom to train like this for many years to come.  Sure, I'll do Olympic triathlons and 70.3 races, but maybe not an Ironman.  I've said that before.  So even the hard workouts are becoming more enjoyable.  Just for the sheer joy of having the free time to do them.  For doing something for myself.

One month to go.

31 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.

300 Posts

OK, this is my 301st blog post, for those of you keeping score. That's 300 times over the past year where I gathered my thoughts, positive or negative, and shared them in this space.  If roughly each post is around 250 words (probably more, but we'll play it conservative), that's around 75,000 words combined.

That's also a lot of time to spend dwelling on one goal.

So, what have I learned so far?

-- I've learned that Ironman is much more about mental toughness rather than physical toughness.

-- I've learned I really don't like getting meals from bars and gels.  But if ya gotta do it, Clif Bars and chocolate Hammer gel work just fine.

-- I've learned that the hardest workouts, not the best workouts, are the most gratifying.  Sometimes just getting by is all the accomplishment one needs.

-- I've learned that the body is a delicate machine that requires constant care and feeding (literally) to perform at optimum levels.

-- I've also learned that ice baths are worth the shocking pain a man can get in the worst of places while taking them.

-- I've learned that just when you think you've spent enough on all the triathlon gear you'll need, there's something new to buy.

-- I've learned that without a supportive partner, friends and family, triathlon is the loneliest of pursuits.  And without that same support on race day, completing a triathlon is among the emptiest of accomplishments.

-- I've learned that how far I can push myself is a moving target based on my conditioning and my mental state.  In other words, it is up to me.

-- I've learned that while you have to do the actual work, a coach will make that work count for more.  I can't say enough good things about Coach Gerardo.

-- I've also learned that having a group of training partners to help push you forward is unspeakably valuable.  I can't imagine having trained for nearly a year at this point without them.

-- I've learned that honesty and vulnerability regarding my feelings make me stronger, not weaker.

-- I've learned that blogging helps me gain perspective on my training that in turn combats burnout since I can learn to take a small nugget from practically every workout.

-- I've learned how to take care of myself for the rest of my life by leading a healthy lifestyle.

-- I've learned that consistent physical training can help me make better, more creative decisions in the workplace.

-- I've learned to appreciate my training off days.

-- I've learned to tolerate my upstairs neighbor.  That little bitch.

-- I've learned that chlorine is powerful stuff.  It corrodes swimsuits, hardens skin and lightens hair. Yikes!

-- I've learned I'm a much different person today than I was when I started Ironman training.  Perhaps I've seen more physical, spiritual and emotional growth over the past year than during any other point in my life.

-- I've learned that no matter what happens on November 21, I've done the work to be called an Ironman.

Thank you for sharing that journey with me.

20 days and counting.

2011 Goals

Over fatty muffins and sugary hot chocolate at Starbucks, Coach Gerardo and I plotted my goals for the 2011 triathlon season. To say they're ambitious would be accurate, and probably an understatement.  Especially since I haven't even completed my first Ironman yet!

In fact, my 2011 goals are so ambitious that Coach Gerardo indicated I shouldn't share them publicly as it may create undo pressure for myself.  I know this could be true since I've recently spoken two sport psychologists about blogging affecting triathlon performance.  So, I didn't argue.  As much as I'd like to share my goals with you, I'm not.  I will say this: I'm going to be training hard -- very hard -- for strong performances at the Cheseboro Half Marathon, Wildflower Long Course and Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  Between those events, you'll find me back at the Surf City Half Marathon and Desert Triathlon in Palm Desert.  I'm more excited about competing in my first cycling road race next year.  Stephanie and I are going to choose that race together, which will be fun.

Despite the excitement about looking ahead to next year, I'm feeling apprehensive about doing so.  It's like the feeling baseball players must have when a teammate is pitching a no-hitter.  I just want to focus on the batter at the plate -- in this instance the next day of training tomorrow -- and not the possibility of something so large and ominous.  Not when I can't even call myself a true Ironman yet.

So, for now, I'll continue training.  And dreaming just a little about next year too.

81 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!

200 Days to Go: What I've Learned So Far

OK, it's 196 days and counting, but I've been thinking about this post for four days now.  That counts for something, right? I've written 159 blog posts, not including this one.  Which means I've trained for Ironman Arizona slightly longer than that.  I had some basic observations at the 50 post mark that are pretty quaint.

One-hundred posts later, what have I learned?

Here's my updated Top 10 Things I've Learned About Ironman Training.  For those of you reading, I'd sure love to see your top 10!

10) Better equipment can make a difference.  See yesterday's blog post.

9) Triathlon is an f-ing expensive sport!  See yesterday's blog post.

8 Compression apparel works.  My calves feel more refreshed when I wear them.

7) Writing a blog post every day is a lot like training for a triathlon.  You have to pace yourself, realize that some days are better than others, and that it's a largely solitary endeavor.

6) Triathlon is much more enjoyable when it's a team effort.  Not just a triathlon team or club, but when you have a partner actively supporting and encouraging you. Thanks, Steph.

5) You get much more out of triathlon than what you put in in terms of caring and sharing.  But the latter feels better.  Wildflower taught me that.

4) The mind is so much more powerful than any muscle in the body.  I've overcome hunger, pain, and illness to finish what I've started.  My willpower has grown during this journey as much as my stamina or strength.

3) Increased intake of fruits and vegetables can replace multivitamins -- thanks to stuff I didn't previously like that I now crave (oranges, avocado, tomatoes).  I stopped taking a daily multivitamin weeks ago after increasing my berries and orange intake.  I haven't felt an energy dip.

2) I am really damn competitive.  I kinda knew that already, but this sport has shown me that I'm almost obsessive about it.  Can't tell yet if it's a positive or negative.  I suppose it depends on what my willpower is telling me.

1) Triathlon training or races cannot be taken for granted.  Anything can happen.  Bad weather.  Unexpected equipment malfunctions (not of the Janet Jackson variety).  Illness.  Injury.  Every opportunity to train is a gift.  I now treat it accordingly.

196 days and counting.

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.

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.