Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Of Myth and Mystery, of Sublime and Surreal.

I'm going to try and describe today's events, but before I do just know that I'm going to fail to do it even an ounce of justice. There's no way I could succeed, however disciplined with the language I could be. So if we both understand that, then I'll not feel I need to convince you.

The plot: It's my last long workout before the June 10th Half Ironman. It's not all that long anyway - and hour on the bike followed by an hour run. My intention on the bike is to try and thrash my legs; sit in a low cadence, even when climbing, and really try and wear myself out for my run to follow. On the run, I just want to be comfortable - no speed or distance goals today, just one hour, comfortable.

So it's been blazing sunshine all day, and hot and humid. I sat out on my deck while I ate lunch and about melted. But I've lately been looking forward to workouts on miserably hot days, because it's a weakness I simply have to overcome. I got out the door for my workout around 5:00pm, and was on my bike and ready to go at 5:30.

While I was driving to my launch-spot for my bike workouts, it was like being between two worlds. To the east were the day's blue skies and heat, and to the west was a massive storm moving in. The sky was grey like ash, and deep and complicated. There were layers and tendrils of shades, clouds quickly moving all over one another. I figured for sure I'd be in for some serious rain on the bike. But it was warm and I felt good, so come whatever will. I didn't feel like fighting the Elements today, and didn't think probably they were picking fights anyway.

Just before I get on my bike I notice that the flags hanging on the buildings around me are at a stand-still. Dead calm. Creepy and never a good sign - I actually remembered what my Grandpa told me just this weekend about tornados (his father having told him)... "If you see them moving, you're okay. But if it looks like it's just standing there, it's coming right for you so get the hell out of the way." It didn't look or feel tornadoey to me, but what do I know? I snapped this picture of the polarized sky just before I left. It didn't feel so much like a storm was moving in as it did the blue skies were running away.

Maybe a mile into the bike and the storm surge starts. The wind is nuts. Swirling directionless all around. I'm leaning left, then right on my bike to not get knocked over. Suddenly it's a headwind. Suddenly it's behind me. I never felt threatened, and it was never joyless. To the contrary - I felt somehow invited into the middle of something grand. Something primitive and epic. Somehow, probably because I was grinding huge gears, I never slowed down. I clipped along through this Prologue to a Storm at some 20mph. When I turned east, I looked into bright blue skies while thunder urged me on behind. I felt surreal, and it was my first glimpse of the Sublime that the day had in store.

I turned north again, and the rain still didn't come. The wind shrieked through my helmet, the wind danced senselessly, but the promised storm never delivered. I'd feel a drop, and be sure that any second now it's be pouring. I felt thrilled and alive.

I turned around at 30 minutes and faced the storm that had been chasing me. It was awesome. To my left were the chased fragments of blue sky. Behind me and to my right were dark, but not sinister skies. But to my south - just to my south, probably exactly over where I'd left my car - was the kind of lightning that artists imitate. Creepy and jagged and sharp and everywhere. It was the weirdest thing - this single patch of purple hung under the other storm clouds, like some kind of mothership, and just spewed electricity. I pulled into the ditch, and me and 'Blue waited it out.

The mothership hovered only a few moments, then looked further east for something to do. I got back on and headed home, still ready for rain, still bracing for some kind of sensible wind, but it was just more of the same; swirling, dancing, dervish wind. And still, somehow, I wasn't slowed. My legs were working hard, my muscles feeling well ached, but my heart-rate stayed low. In the midst of all this, I was having a hell of a great workout.

I got back into the city, 20 miles in exactly an hour. The roads were wet, but not like I'd expected - the mothership hadn't landed here like I thought. To my surprise the softball fields were filled with the usual children (aren't there rules about lightning???), and more ingredients to the Sublime were mixed in with all the people biking, playing, running. Here we were, all of us surrounded by this weird storm that only wanted to peer through the window at us, never really wanting to come in and play. And now the skies were breaking; or rather, the weird storm was passing over. It had edges - you could see the blue now far in the east, then this long slick of grey, and now its tattered opposite edge, where through blue poked through again.

I started my run, and my legs were sufficiently shredded. My hamstrings felt thick, my calves felt worn. Yet, still, somehow, I easily found a 9:20 pace. Totally effortlessly; I'd thought I'd comfortably hover around 10:00. Surely it'll get harder. Surely in another 2 or 3 miles I'll have slowed. But I wasn't concerned with pace, so just kept running at whatever felt good. Now the first drops came - big, thick, huge. Ah. Now the skies will open. Now we'll all get what for, and kids and moms will scatter to minivans and dog-walkers will become runners and all the park picnic shelters will be full of people looking into the sky. But still, it never came. Just as quickly as they came, promising something profound, they dimmed to a gentle, pleasing shower.

Now it got interesting.

Around 3 miles in, as I've been heading south on my run, I turn west where I'm greeted with the blue skies now pushing the storm away eastward. Suddenly the sun, in some grand and dramatic epiphany, fires through like a spotlight. I mean, the world is bright, just like that. Yet, it's raining - this pleasing, gentle rain. You've seen this before. It's one of those perfect summer nights, where the storm is almost passed, and it's raining but only enough to have presence, not enough to draw children in from bicycles and tee-ball. And the sun is shining, and you have those lovely long summer shadows around you. This is what I turned into, as if on cue, heading east. And it felt so damn good, that I found myself grinning - stupid, silly grinning, thinking about what a surreal and sublime thing this was. It's like the atmosphere was following suit with the spring goslings that chase away as I approach, or like some colt wobbling next to its mother as I ride by; testing, trying, attempting. Experimenting with its world. And somehow I'm witness, and in this glorious instant there is no Ironman. There are no running shoes or high performance running shirt or sunglasses or GPS monitor on my arm. It's suddenly so basic, so easy, so damn simple; just a man running, like he's done for thousands and thousands of years, and a world breathing, as its done for thousands of years before that. I felt so small and so grand. I thought about how there is infinitely more to Becoming Ironman than 140.6 miles come September. What an adventure! Who gets to do this - run through the waking world like this? Becoming Ironman is a vessel for exploration on every level, through every complex facet of every piece of one's life, internal and external. It's like discovering a country, and each turn points to something completely new and strange and different and awesome. And I smiled and still, so easily, continued to have a brilliant run. All this around me, and I'm having an amazing workout besides.

I'm in this state of sort of focused delirium, running very happily along and in awe with all around me, when at 4 miles I turn around and head now directly west, opposite my present heading. And as I make the turnaround I very nearly literally lose my breath. I come to a place where I understand whatever truth exists behind that cliche. In my head I use the word thunderstruck for the first time in my life. There in the west, on the largest, deepest grey canvas is the most perfect rainbow I've ever seen. Like, fake perfect. Computer generated. It's a full, complete arc, end to end, 180 degrees of brilliance. The colors are alive they're so vivid - you can actually see the blue from the indigo from the violet. To this point there were, I think, two "natural" experiences that felt supernatural to me: Once 11 years ago when hiking with friends, on a particularly poignant lookout where we all stopped to look quietly, this huge eagle burst out from below the cliff and took wing. We stared gape jawed in surprise and wonder. And once, at the end of those days, when my friends were driving me home the day after my Dad died, countless, pointless mile after mile, and I in a hazy stupor of disbelief and bitter Dakota winter suffocating us, but suddenly a sun-dog hung over the sun and somehow, reflected off the icy atmosphere, formed this oddly perfect crucifix of light, its epicenter marked by the sun. And add now to that list this: On this increasingly perfect day, a union between humble man and great earth and holy sky, this blazing rainbow painted across the heavens. I ran effortless with the storm in front of me, the sun behind me, the raindrops glittery and twinkling all around me, and prayed thanks to my God.

So now I'm running, maybe 15 minutes to go, and I feel like I'm in some kind of postcard or movie. I'm a living Nike commercial. And then, with the evening sunshine hot behind me, the wet ground begins to evaporate and - as if it couldn't get any better - I'm suddenly running through mist. So if you can picture this - bright as can be yet raining, huge rainbow overlooking the world, gentle mist rising from the earth, and me. I felt small and huge. It was surreal and perfect and good.

The rainbow stayed with me the rest of the run, fading with each step until, as I took my last strides, it was just a small arc, something more typical. It's wonder was still there, as all rainbows possess, however small ("Look!" you say, pointing out the car window, "A rainbow!"), but its majesty was meant only for the duration of my miles, and its colors and presence were now more incidental. I wish I would've taken my camera with me on the run (not sure how I'd manage that), but here's what was left when I finished. You'll simply have to imagine its previous grandeur.

And so I finished my workout feeling so perfectly exercised - all mysteries aside, it was just a physically very sound workout. I felt really really great. I snapped one last picture of the skies as they were when I finished, the storm now spent, it having made its appearance in perfect unison with my hours out there. The sky looked impossible. The stuff of tiny church basement paintings.

I am not left unchanged by these days. I am Becoming, and Ironman is only part of it.

Of course I don't think it was all meant for me. But I do think that, today, I was meant for it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Weekend in Review: On-Course at Ironman

Triumphantly returned from an excellent all around weekend in Wisconsin, my first training on the Ironman bike course. The weather was spectacular, lots of sunshine and relaxation with family, but lots of solid work done too.

Let's not kid ourselves here. Let's be free of exaggeration and encouragement: this bike course is hard. Seriously difficult. It's extremely technical, with bends and turns all over the place and major elevation events throughout the Verona loop (the 40+ mile loop that makes up the bulk of the Ironman course). It pretty much begins right away when the loop starts, with a quick and significant ascent on Valley Road that just as quickly comes down before just as quickly flying up again, only this time through a right turn that continues to climb. But after that climb, you make up for it all with a long and fast descent. These descents, throughout the course, are no joke. You want to be afraid, and you start to watch your speedometer click past 40 and think...2 square inches of rubber separates me from catastrophe here. The instinct is to ride your brakes, but that's only the fear at work...and Men of Iron know no fear. Best to lean back in your saddle, tuck low with hands on the horns and a finger on the brakes and let fly. Madness.

But a number of these descents start bending and turning, and one comes to a hard right turn at the bottom; you have to always be thinking, always be ready for what's next. You don't live in the moment on this course; you can't afford to, and I'll be wise to spend as much time as I can on it. Just from the two loops I did, I learned so much and was so much better prepared the second time from the first. There's a section, once you turn on to Witte, that's essentially a roller coaster. Up and down and up and down. Quick quick quick. So while you're flying down you're facing the climb ahead, and you have to plan for it with your gearing in order or you'll hit that ascent and come to a standstill. You have to gear smart, because you're going so frequently from the big chain ring to the small, and all the gears in between, that it's extremely easy to lose your chain and have to stop on the middle of an ascent - forsaking your momentum - to get your chain back on (happened to me 3 times). There are no flat sections that come to mind - not a single one. You're either on a long, low grade ascent, a long, low grade descent, or you're on a roller coaster - with 3 notable exceptions:

About 10 miles into the loop, the roller coaster starts. It's crazy, but manageable, because you spend so much time going downhill that you have momentum to start to climb the next ascent and time to let your heart rate go down. At around mile 17 you have a long and serious descent - about a mile - fast as hell but bending, too. With a few short bumps you really continue to fall until about mile 23. This whole time you're thinking "whoohoo!" and imagining all the time you're making up flying downhill. For about the next 3-4 miles, then, you're lulled into a sort of routine - easy and short hills that don't require much effort. You roll through lush farmland and over bridges - it's insanely beautiful (hopefully more pictures next time...too busy for many this time). But then the road curves left, disappearing into trees, and when you get there, at about mile 27 or so, there's a climb. A serious climb. No short hill. A steep ascent that winds and bends as it climbs. You come into it with no downhill momentum, and your heartrate hikes right up. On my second loop - and I thought my legs were fresh - I was in my easiest gear and was still having trouble moving. I finally had to get up out of my saddle and stand up on the pedals to climb up. It's a wretched mutha. Once at the top, unlike so many of the other climbs on the course, there's no relief. It sends you into some light climbs and falls before asking you to climb another, shorter but still serious climb - and you're not well recovered from the first one. It's hard damn work. At about mile 32, at last, you get another long descent, this one following the IMWI Modus Operandi - a wall of climbing stares you down the whole time you're falling. So you get that bit of relief, but it's not enough to make up for the energy you've just spent on the other climbs. This section, from miles 27-32 of the loop, are - I think - the definitive miles. This is the make or break time. If you've been smart and kept your legs fresh through 5 hours or so to get to these on the 2nd loop with fresh legs, you'll likely pass a whole gaggle who decide to hell with this and are just walking their bikes up. I'll be spending some of my shorter workouts just on these sections, trying to develop strength and familiarity. This is also a critical piece where weight savings will be very important.

More generally - man it was a great day. I got up really early, and it was hot, hazy and muggy. Fog clung to the ground and my windows wouldn't clear. I parked at Fireman's Park in Verona, some 200 yards from the IM course, and got organized to ride. I was horrified to find that, somehow, my map wasn't in my jersey pocket, where I put it when I left (my wife would call me later to tell me they found it in the yard...brilliant...), so I was 20 miles from home and only had a single memory of driving the course with my grandpa this winter to rely on. I knew at least the first couple of miles, so I thought - hell, I'll see how it goes and hope something looks familiar. Luckily for me (there is no luck, I'm more and more certain) a group of 4 guys was passing by at exactly the same time I was in my saddle and getting going, and one of them had cycling shorts with the Ironman M-DOT on it, so I thought maybe, by chance, they were doing the Ironman loop? I kept them on my radar for the first couple of miles before a flat or something stopped them, and I went past. Then I reached an intersection where I had no idea what to do. I went one way for, that doesn't feel right. I went the, that's not right either. What the hell. I was having nightmares of aimlessly riding through rural Wisconsin, off-course, on the one damn day I came to recon. But then the group went by and I decided to tail them - 15 miles later when I spoke to them I learned they were, indeed, doing the course, and were happy to have my on their wheel. Perfect. I still took a wrong turn or seven when I got detached from them, but it all worked out in the end. They were going a bit slower than my normal pace, but that actually was perfect because it kept me honest the first lap, and I saved my energy - which I'd need for lap two.

My cohorts stopped at a convenience store when we got back into Verona and I continued back to the park where I refreshed my Gatorade - by now, about 9:00am. Just as I'm pulling in this monster peleton comes out, all on gleaming tri bikes. Turns out they were some triathlon club from Chicago, out to do recon on the course as well. Must have been at least 60 riders. So I refreshed and, confident I knew where the hell I was going this time, got back out on the course. It was pretty surreal - by now, the course was crawling with training Ironman (dubbed evermore: Taconiteman, lest we be too casual with the unearned word "Iron"). I mean, we were everywhere. It almost felt like a race - you were never out of sight of somebody training the course. I stopped to help some woman with her chain, and we all assisted one another with shouts of hello and encouragement. It was really pretty cool. I felt part of something bigger than myself, and among people who understood what I was doing. It brought the concept of what we, as individuals and somehow collectively, are trying to achieve in September.

The last third of the 2nd lap was, as I describe above, thoroughly kicking my ass, and I couldn't believe how difficult these climbs were - were they this hard the first time??? I worked hard to get my heart rate down as I came into Verona, as I had a 2 mile run that I wanted to go well. By then there was a solid 15mph headwind slowing me down besides, and I decided to sacrifice speed for heart rate and leg strength, concerned after the climbing that my legs would feel like jelly on the run. But, to my surprise, my legs felt really strong on the run, and I managed my two miles with an easy 9:16 pace and a nice and low 138bpm average heart rate. The bike times aren't all that important - I mostly was out there for recon, and wasn't concerned about overall speed and distance strategies. Still, in my 5 hours I went about 85 miles (officially...with all my wrong damn turns and corrections it was probably closer to 90), with a 16.3mph average and 131bpm heart rate.

For perspective - and quite limited at that - if I were to do the Ironman bike leg at that pace, it'd take me just under 7 hours on the bike. I'd love to be sub 6:30, so I'll be working to increase speed. But again - speed wasn't a focus on this workout, so let's not be married to 16mph as some kind of concrete value. And weather variables on race day, on a course this technical, can have a huge impact - wind and rain can change everything. Most important will be keeping strong legs for the marathon.

On Sunday I was able to do some open water swimming for the first time all year and break in my new Orca Apex wetsuit - which is a kickass piece of neoprene, I tell you. Like butta. It was a windy and choppy day on the lake, so swim conditions were tough and caused for slow time, going .75 miles in a dreary 2:17 pace - but that's okay, I was really just wanting to put in some time, break in the wetsuit, and get back into open water. It wasn't a training swim so much as a meander about and see what's what kind of swim.

So all in all, a great weekend of work and rest. This week is a recovery week in training, where all my mileages come down. Perfect timing, as it's sure to be a crap week of training with the work demands of a short week and my heading to Boston this weekend for a wedding, derailing my weekend training. But - it's already race week next week for my A race Half Ironman on June 10th, so I can look at this as a bit of mini-taper.

Check out the new photos on the Training photos to the right (of the homepage, as always) for shots from the weekend, and I'll leave you with this image of a sign that's on the Ironman course...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tough Run

It's been really really warm here this week - in the 80's almost every day, and yesterday north of 85 degrees. This is great for me and training, as probably my biggest limiter in the history of my big limiters is performing in the heat. So I was interested in how my long run of 2 hours would go yesterday. It was okay - just okay - and educational.

The humidity was at ten thousand percent, and a thunderstorm rolled through while I was on my drive out to run, leaving the air thick and damp. After the storm the wind died down to a light breeze, so my run was hot, overcast, and muggy. Perfect conditions for a nightmare for me, really.

I stashed Gatorade and Water at my halfway mark, and tried to be as disciplined as I could about drinking a lot from my Fuel Belt. And I actually thought I was doing okay - my first 30 minutes were at about an 8:34 pace, and my next 30 at about an 8:40 pace; I intentionally went out fast (probably for one of the last times in training on a long run) to try and push my heartrate and legs into some discomfort. I was wearing a Headsweat bandana thingy on my head that's apparently really, really, really effective, because usually I'm pouring sweat from my head, but yesterday I wasn't. So somehow that communicated to me that - huh, I'm not sweating too bad at all! But while putting one of my bottles back in my belt at around mile 5 or so, I brushed against my stomach and felt the Under Armour shirt I was wearing was soaked. I looked down and I was drenched - my shorts had even soaked almost entirely through, meaning I was sweating through my compression shorts and running shorts. A little stupid not to think that maybe the Headsweat was soaking up sweat, and that instead I was just not sweating much. Dumb dumb dumb.

So anyway, I went into the 2nd hour putting in more effort than it should've taken at that point, and seriously faded in my last 30 minutes. I didn't feel like I was melting down, but my legs were running out of juice and my heartrate was up dealing with all the perspiration and heat. I finished something like 13.4 miles with an 8:59 pace - essentially no better than my half marathon in April.

Most importantly, I weighed myself (actually brought my scale with me in the car to my run) before and after, and was really surprised that I lost 1.2 pounds of water in those 2 hours. That's pretty serious, and translate that to an Ironman and we're talking A LOT of hydration lost. So I need to make some modifications and find a way on my long runs to drink probably twice what I was drinking yesterday. Ideally, of course, I'd replace whatever I was losing in a 1:1 ratio.

So from here: First, my LSD (Long Slow Distance) runs will from now on be just that - slow, so I won't be pushing myself into that kind of effort for awhile. Second, I need to plant more fluids on my course, I guess. Third, I'll probably bring some sponges with me on days over 80 or 85 so I can keep my core temp down.

This weekend looks to be hot in Madison - 85 on Saturday, 89 on Sunday. It'll warm up as I'm on my bike through the morning Saturday, so it'll be another opportunity to acclimate. The Ironman course is sort of a lollipop - starting in Madison you bike about 14 miles out to Verona, and then do two 42ish mile loops before heading the 14 miles back to Verona. This weekend I'll be training on the loop, so I'm going to pack up a cooler so I can stop after each loop and stock up. Hopefully not having to ration for the entire ride will mean I can stay hydrated and cool. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lose Myself

I was thinking yesterday about this Ironman madness, which inevitably leads to waxing philosophical in general. I've indicated some of this before, but I make the following generalized observations about amateur (that is, our livelihood doesn't depend on our performance) Ironman triathletes:

1. We are an obsessive compulsive lot. My evidence for this is purely anecdotal, but if you just walk through a transition area sometime, you'll see what I mean. We tend to, in micro and macro ways, want things to be just so; and not just for arbitrary aesthetics, but because any aversions from our "norms" make us uncomfortable, and discomfort + triathlon is a hopeless equation. For me these OCD tendencies demonstrate themselves in weird ways. There are certain brands that I trust and wear, for training and racing. I'm reluctant - even unwilling - to try others, even though it might be in my best interests to. It's not a brand loyalty thing, and it's not just a this-is-what-I-like kind of thing. It's a - what? who took my stuff and how can I possibly be expected to carry on? kind of thing. Also: once in awhile when I go for a run, I forget to wear a hat. Totally throws off my mojo. Might as well be running backwards and barefoot. I have to wear my sunglasses when I run or ride my bike. This goes beyond the obvious safety advantages of wearing them. If I'm without the sensation of them on my face, the brim of my hat pulled low against them, I'm somehow incomplete. I can, in the course of the run, take the glasses off if I want to - but they need to be there. I spend for. ever. adjusting the tension of my bungee shoelaces until they're just right. And then they need to be cut to a length that's pleasing to me - too short and I feel suffocated, and too long and I feel all floppy. Even if it's millimeters in the difference. And don't even get me started on my transition area. It's surgical. Certainly because I have to get in and out quickly, so things need to be presented and prepared in a highly efficient way. But also because a transition area that isn't neat just screams at me. A freakshow, I know. But I'm guessing that the majority of triathletes out there are more like me than not. I'd certainly be interested in hearing.

2. We are haunted. There is something, or some combination of things, that underly our ambitions and spirit and motivations in this game. It's generally indescribable and sometimes transient, but there exists some kind of unrest within us. It needn't be tragic - though I actually suspect it often is - and it needn't be the calibre of the carnage I've crawled out of. But there is something that is the stuff of therapists' geeky dreams. Revenge, retribution, redemption. Something. Maybe you were made fun of as a fat kid, or maybe you didn't make the high school volleyball team or maybe you got beat up by a kid nicknamed Buttcheek. I think of how it never left Michael Jordan, even after all, that he didn't make his 10th grade basketball team. There's something beyond paychecks and accolades that drives an athlete like that to work as hard as he did, as meticulously, to play like he did. I don't claim to tap into that well at all, but I at least have a passing familiarity that it takes more than the scorecard to drive a person at day's end. I don't know, whatever, but there's something deep inside that keeps us pedaling past 4 hours. Because physical fitness is not enough. Nobody does this, puts themselves through this, just for the hell of it. You're trying to prove something. What and to whom is your business alone, but it is THAT thing that gets you through miles 20-26.2 of the marathon.

I didn't know any of this stuff when I signed up. I was thinking yesterday about how much my life has changed since 2004, either as a direct result of triathlon, or that triathlon has been the soundtrack to. Mostly great things. Some stumbles along the way. I don't know if the quality of my life in general has any relationship to triathlon, though I suspect it does. But I was thinking that in a lot of ways, I think triathlon kind of chose me. It began just as a way to encourage discipline in going to the gym to workout, to directly oppose the genetic bullet I stare down. None of this other stuff, this stuff of Iron, was part of the equation at all. And I looked for other avenues - competitive basketball, football, even considered roller-blading and cross-country skiing. It's when I saw a poster for the Lifetime Fitness triathlon that I thought - and why? - that looks hard as hell. I'll do that. I'd never enjoyed swimming in my life, and was sucking air so bad after my first 25 yards that any rational person would've leaped the hell out of the pool and went to Jazzercise or something. I had no idea about any of the "stuff" - I remember actually taking my flat tire to the bikeshop because I didn't know how to take the tire off, and once off, I didn't understand how this tube was supposed to fit in that tire. I mean, nobody's born knowing this stuff, but I was as clueless as they come.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but sometime in the course of a long cold winter run or a rainy spring ride or lap number 100 my life changed. People say, "what do you think about out there for 5 hours?", and the answer is - nothing. I obsess about pace and nutrition and gearing. On the run, it's about stamina and endurance and hydration and physical upkeep. In the water it's about form and breathing and catch and stroke. There's no point where I just kind of drift off into problem-solving land, or contemplate the great issues of my existence. But somehow those things get managed, and if I start a workout feeling stressed I inevitably feel much better afterwards. And I tell you, it's been a long time since I've gone to workout for my physical fitness. A long time since my motivation was primarily to "be in shape". They've flipped now, and being in shape is a secondary symptom of being a triathlete.

To the point, which you'll simply have to navigate the roundabout thought process yourself, as I presented it to you mostly in real time: I don't want to leave anything out there come September. When this started, my goal was just to finish. An assessment of my abilities at the time made that a significant goal to reach. The goal has changed. Of course it's always to finish, and within 17 hours. But the goal has become to leave nothing on the course. If I do everything right, I shouldn't be one of those people who literally crawls with his last ounce of energy across the finish line, and nor should I be one of those people that come in at 16:59. Not to say I won't be one of them, but I'll have done everything I can to NOT be. But there's something to be said for those that do have a race like that, because you know they left every ounce of themselves on the course. While I clearly have strategies for saving energy, calories, and hydration throughout the day so that at mile 20 of the marathon I can finish strong, I don't want to leave Ironman feeling like I could have given a single thing more. If I was one of those people who ran hard to the finish line only to collapse or puke his guts out, that'd be okay with me (not saying I aspire to that. You get my meaning). Because I'm not spending this time training to casually stroll across the finish line. And I'm not putting myself through this exercism and exorcism to not have outrun my ghosts.

Catch me if you can.

I'm walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the borderline of the edge
and where I walk alone

Read between the lines:
What's fucked up and everything's alright
Check my vital signs and know I'm still alive
and I walk alone

Sunday, May 21, 2006

One Hundred

I did my first Century ride on May 20, 2006.

I didn't mean to, specifically - I had another 5 hours charted for the day, and the day's agenda had nothing to do with mileage. I went to a race preview hosted by the Minnesota Triathlon Club (of which I am not a member and know nobody who is, in case that matters) of the Liberty Triathlon Half Ironman I'm racing in 3 weeks. That experience superceded anything else on the day - familiarizing myself on the course first, and putting in 5 quality hours second. We rode what turned out to be about a 29 mile loop - some people quit after one, most quit after 2, and I think some hung on for more, but after about 70 miles I was about through seeing anybody else on course.

The course is beautiful - Minnesota at its finest beautiful. It starts off in a park reserve, and winds through farmland, forest, lush prairie, the whole spectrum. It's a pretty technical course - lots of turns and windings, before finally settling into a long out and back stretch. It's also pretty hilly - which is just what I wanted. It's not quite the caliber of Ironman Wisconsin, but there are significant ascents and descents, and I really got a chance to practice both. The wind picked up throughout the morning, and the rain mostly held off - we started in sunshine and I ended in thunder clouds and overcast skies, but for a few sprinkles it was, for once a dry ride.

Lo' and behold, maybe all these hours on my bike with a 20 mph wind in my face through every kind of imaginable miserable weather have served a purpose - hardened up my legs and my mental strength; I really felt pretty great out there all day. I took the first 25 miles really easy, gearing down and using little energy to climb and coasting whenever I could going downhill. It was REALLY nice to have a day when one could honestly assess himself at long distances without either a huge headwind or tailwind manipulating his efforts and the Wrath of God in his face, and I was really pleased that my first 25 miles I was averaging 18.4mph. To hit 100 miles in 5 hours, it'd require me to ride 25 miles in 1:15 - a 20mph average, which I dont right now consider realistic for me over that length of time. I did my first 25 miles in 1:20, and then picked it up and tried to get into some kind of "race" mode.

The group I was with was really great. Everyone was very nice, not too chatty but up for an encouraging word. We never really rode peleton style - everybody kind of found their own space soon enough - but there were, especially the first 40 miles or so, times when you had to sit up in the handlebars for safety. My pace, for one reason or another, was generally affected by others in the first 40 miles - the last 15 because I was intentionally staying behind some dude because I hadn't memorized the loop yet. There was also an aid station, which I only used once but was great to have - it was nice to be able to step off the bike and reload with fresh Gatorade and all kind of food...though I had Ol' Blue loaded up as usual, so I was well fortified for my entire ride.

I rode my second lap in 1:17 - 19.4 mph. This was the first time it occurred to me that 100 miles might be within reach - if I maintained this pace, I'd ride 100 miles between 5:10 and 5:20. I decided to let it declare itself - if I was over 93 miles at the 5 hour mark, then I'd finish it up.

I felt good my third lap - through to the 75 mile mark - and was surprised when I was about 4 minutes off of my lap 2 pace - a full mph slower, at 18.4. Still, I was really consistent overall, staying within 1 mph for the ride to that point. Incidentally, I crossed the half Ironman mark of 56 miles at 2:56 - easily a P.R., if Personal Records could be counted in practice, which they aren't (or at least, mine aren't) - and who knows what variables might present themselves come race day on this course, but if I wrapped up the bike leg in sub 3 hours, I'd be one happy dude.

By the last 25 miles, the wind had picked up enough to be something of a factor, but moreso my legs just stopped going. It was like when you hit mile 20 of a marathon - they just don't want to go. They didn't feel too bad, and I didn't feel like my effort was significantly less than it had been all day, but my pace was noticeably slower. By this point I had mentally committed to 100 miles - or rather, I had mentally committed to having reached 93 miles in 5 hours to justify going 100. I crossed 93 in 4:58, and from there it was just 7 short miles to wrap up. Still, it took me over half and hour to finish those last 7 - my legs were wiped out. I finished the last 25 mile lap at a 16.4mph pace.

For the 100 miles, I averaged 18.3mph. A very satisfying speed, and I'd be overjoyed for something like that at Ironman.

When I returned to the parking lot, my car was the only one left - there were probably 15 cars and 30 of us riders when I started. I stopped for a minute to take a few pictures and enjoy the digits on my computer...and then got organized for a 2 mile run. My legs didn't feel as weak on the run as I'd expected, but they weren't particularly strong, either. When I went home, I laid in bed the rest of the day. My fatigue the last 2 weeks after these long rides has been remarkable.

What I learned: My strategy at Ironman will be to take the first 40 miles as easy as I took the first 25 yesterday. Doing that would hopefully help me to avoid the fatigue I experienced in my last 25 miles. But in training, I'll probably keep this kind of pace, trying to build and strengthen my legs to be fatigue-proof. I also need to make a training objective out of losing weight: to this point I've really just lost weight as a by-product of training, and not with strategic effort. I couldn't believe yesterday how quickly the women and smaller men were flying by me up the hills. It wasn't because they were particularly stronger rides - I inevitably caught them (without "catching them" being my motive) on the descents or level sections - but having less weight to haul up hills, they could do it more quickly, and with less effort - and so less leg strain. It's going to be really important for my marathon that I try and shed some more baggage on the bike, to keep my legs more fresh. I also need to do more brick workouts - a run immediately following the bike - probably every time I ride my bike now, even for an hour. It's well and good that my run times have improved as they have over the season, but that's in a vacuum. The true test exists in performance off the bike, and so that's how I'll need to start training seriously.

I won't ride a 5:30 ride again until late July...until then I stay pretty much at 5 hours, every workout. It's possible I'll tap into 100 miles again then, but otherwise, I won't push the distance again like I did yesterday. If I hit 90 miles in 5 hours, I'll stop. 93, I'll stop. 95...well, maybe we'll have to see then. But in general, my focus will be on strength and leg conditioning, and not particularly on how far I can go. This will mean riding in harder cadences and harder-efforts up hills - in fact, I'll try and fatigue my legs into my run right after. Ideally, then, I'll train a lot harder then I'll race, and in the course of doing that will really strengthen up, and prepare my legs for running after such a long time on the bike.

Memorial Day Weekend next weekend, and my first training ride on-course at Ironman Wisconsin. Can't wait.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friggin' Idiots

So yesterday I headed out for an hour long ride. Nothing remarkable, just easy for an hour. Remember, I picked my bike up on Wednesday after having it in for a drivetrain cleaning and some derailleur work - the derailleur is the mechanism on the bike that shifts gears, so you have a front derailleur to move through the crank gears, and a rear derailleur to move through the gears on the rear wheel.

First, just getting on the bike is never quick and easy. Between the water bottle(s), and the shoes, and the gloves, and helmet and glasses, and nevermind the cycling shorts and jersey, etc. - it's not like running out the door for a run. It takes a bit of thought and organization. Which just adds to the hassle factor if things don't go smoothly.

So anyway, I get out there, and my damn bike isn't working. When it's in the large chain ring, the chain is rubbing against the derailleur. And it won't shift at all into the small chain ring. So not 100 yards down the road I'm back to the car. I didn't have the tools with me to fix it, and there's a principle to the thing anyway that led me right back to the bike shop. I was really, really pissed.

The bike is like a car. You can't take it into the garage to get a simple oil change or a major engine overhaul and not leave there 1000% sure that it'll work perfectly underneath you, that it'll get you down the road flawlessly, and most importantly that it'll keep you safe. I have enough to worry about trying to become Ironman without wondering if my bike is going to work when it leaves the shop. Anyway. I tore into those guys and told them (among other things) - I don't know how else it goes around here, but when you see this blue bike come through those doors, I want it triple checked before it leaves.

Morons. Maybe I'll have to find a new bike shop. Because I have time for that. Sigh.

Anyway. Tomorrow the Minnesota Triathlon Club is apparently hosting a supported ride on the Half Ironman course I'm racing in a few weeks. It's a 27 mile loop that the race will ride twice, but tomorrow people can just ride it however long. So I have some things to organize, but it would certainly be a perfect way to spend my 5 hour ride tomorrow. And get this - tomorrow morning's forecast? Sunshine. No wait: Winds under 10mph. I'll believe it when I see it.

Meanwhile, the 16 week marker until race day has quietly passed. Consider that the last 3 weeks are spent tapering, and I'm essentially in my final 3 months of training. But those are also the most intense months - really until this point I've been "training to train". Now I start "training to race". There are beginning to be small indicators here and there - mostly intangibles - that suggest this is real; this is actually going to happen, it's not just a rumor I've been talking about for some 2 years. And you know what? I might just be getting in shape to do this thing right. I've mentally shifted, without intention, to goals that surpass just finishing within 17 hours (though of course that's always goal number 1, for any of us). I'm starting to believe that I might just be able to pull this thing off. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wet Redemption

Well, I've had a bit of foot pain since my short run on Monday - time for new shoes already, I think. So I'm not running the rest of the week, and since today is my long run, I substituted an hour long continuous swim; something I haven't done at all this season is continually swim. So really I wasn't even sure what I was capable of in terms of distance and endurance in the water. And I've had a few pretty crappy water workouts lately to boot.

Anyway, finally a good swim today. I plugged in my SWIMP3 player - a cool contraption that uses bone conduction to essentially become "headphones" in the water. I kept around a 2:00 average pace, and I figure I swam just south of 2 miles. No pressure, nothing fast - just continuous and comfortable. I was getting fatigued near the end, but that's to be expected a bit at this stage.

Good for the confidence, and good for momentum in feeling like my swimming is coming along. Another half mile - some 800 yards - and I'd have finished my IM distance. Good to finally get a significant workout in the pool going my way.

Picked up Ol' Blue - shiny and clean. Looking forward to what might just be a decent weekend on the bike for once!

Weird Week

It's been an odd week of training this week. Nothing's felt right. Everything's just Not necessarily bad or poor or anything, but just not..familiar. Not sure what to attribute this to. I'm getting plenty of nutrition hasn't been any different...I don't feel overtrained or in a rut or anything. And I can't really explain how I've been feeling. Just...unfamiliar or something. It's kind of irritating.

Some remarks:

Monday was a 35 minute threshold run: 10 minutes stupid easy, 20 minutes at 8:00/mile pace, then 5-10 minute cool down. My dog Jackson joined me, and dude is out. of. shape. The first 10 minutes he's all pulling and hopping around, happy to be there. Then we start the actual run - only 20 minutes long, and little by little he's slowing down until he's behind me. And finally I'm pulling his running harness actually over the top of his head because he's going so slow. Hilarious. So Jack's now going to run with me twice a week. I told him by Ironman I expect him to keep up.

Tuesday I took Ol' Blue into the shop for a tune-up - I had some shifting issues on my long ride on Saturday, and after all this friggin' rain and muck I told them to take the drive train apart and clean it up. So I'll pick the bike up today and be ready to ride tomorrow. Meanwhile I was at the pool yesterday for what was probably the crappiest swim workout of all time. I don't know if I was underfueled - I suspect that's part of it - or what, but I had zero energy, and my form turned to crap in no time. Then, to top everthing off, this:

Closed Circuit to this dude: I've seen you at the pool once or twice, and have been impressed by the perfect roundness of your gigantic midsection. How it doesn't hang so much as jut, and appears hard and pregnant. It's a physical phenomenon that I can't help but find fascinating. I also enjoy your Mario Bros. look; you've got that mustache going just right man. I'm usually busy, so only in passing have I noticed how you sort of lumber down the lane, pushing water out of your way as you go. Good for you; whatever you're doing in there, I hope it's working for you and you're having a good workout. But dude, today when you got out of the pool, you changed my life. Here me now: Your 1979 althetic shorts, the ones that are a little too short up the leg to be appropriate and with that handy back pocket, they rocked my world. But that they were white. And cotton. And you were wearing them in the pool. Sans undergarments. Well listen man. I can't get that image out of my head. You revealed quite a bit about yourself in that moment, and I don't know if I'll ever recover. So I hold you and your tighty white shorts responsible for my crappy swim workout. Don't know how I'd be expected to focus after that, anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Honestly now.

Another weekend. Another long ride. Another asstaculatar Minnesota Meteorological Moment. Rain again. Wind again. Cold again. Lacking all of the drama of my last long ride - none of it was anything nearly so bad as that day. But there it was, just like it's always been. I swear all it's done here for the last week is rain, and we have several days forecast for rain this week. We haven't hit 70 degrees since April something, and have maybe scratched 60's twice or something. This is kind of how springtime in Minnesota is - lots of wind, lots of rain, lots of volatililty. And it's not like I'm some dandy who can't stand to ride his bike in the rain. But boy howdy it's getting tiresome. It's a long time to sit in the wet and cold. It's really bad for my bike, which requires nearly a complete disassembly afterwards to get the road grime out. Just an all around pain in the ass, and I sure would love a long ride that didn't require my spending half and hour getting dressed in thermal protection before I head out the door.

It was an okay ride. I didn't feel particularly strong, and attribute that to a few things. First, in order to do lunch on time for Mother's Day with my mom, I was out the door at 5:45am, and I didn't get much sleep at all - even with just a training ride, I get kind of excited, I guess, and it impacts my rest. I was on my bike by 6:15, and the world was just turning blue. Our old friend the North wind was, as usual this time of year, just waking up as well - I think it was at 6 or 7mph when I left, but upon my return it was up to 15mph or so. So heading into it, I just felt slow. I had a hard run on Friday, which was not the wisest approach to the weekend, but work has been crazy and I was forced last week to move around some of my workouts. So my long run, normally Wednesdays, but pushed to Fridays, and I took Saturday (normally my long ride) off and bumped the ride to Sunday. Still not enough time to recover though, I don't think, and my legs didn't feel too strong under me. I felt mentally fatigued as well - just not sharp. It got better as the ride progressed, but it wasn't a great training ride out there.

I tried a new route to avoid heading into any larger cities, and that worked great. Usually I head north, then head west until I turnaround. This time I headed north, then west, but then north again for as long as I could. The road took me through some beautiful country and some lovely lakes - and lo and behold some hills! Some real live, bonafide, Ironman Wisconsin caliber hills. Not many, mind, but a few. Enough to work the legs a bit and require some strategic gear shifting...which I realized I'm pretty deficient at. I'll keep this following this road for the foreseeable future in my training rides.

The rain did break for most of my way home today, and coming home I had a kickass tail wind for much of the ride, which was a blast. Food strategies seemed to go great, and I think I've pretty well locked down my IM bike nutrition - 2-3 swallows of Gatorade every 10 minutes, an eighth of a Clif bar every 15 minutes, and GU Gel every hour. Gives me about 350 calories/hour. I'll supplement that at Ironman with whatever - a banana here or there or something - and try to sensibly have a caloric surplus going into the run.

The ride was not, of course, without drama; my on-board computer's speedometer stayed between 23 and 35mph even when I wasn't moving, just throwing out random numbers (my GPS watch kept accurage pace/distance however, so it worked out fine). My cadence monitor on the same computer crapped out at about 15 miles, so I was going by feel all day. Not without its usefulness, but still unexpected. I'm hoping that's just a battery or something. I got ANOTHER flat tire - my 3rd of the year already, and my 2nd shredded tire. What the hell? This one I think was user error - somehow when I put on new tubes and training tires on Saturday I think I mounted the tire wrong, so a part of the tire bead was kind of hanging outside the rim. Live and learn I guess.

5 hours and 85 miles. On a better day I may have tapped 90 miles...maybe next time. I've now reached the plateu of long ride time for my IM training - I'll stay at 5 hours or under until early July, when I bump up to 5:30. I'm hoping to make that my first Century ride of 100 miles...we'll see. Mid August will see my longest ride, an IM rehearsal ride, at 6:30. I'm not sure at this point what to expect of my IM bike time - of course there's a lot more training to do, and riding on the hills at IM is a whole other event than my training rides. But I am feeling a little concerned with my typical long distance times...I usually average right around 17mph. I don't know how accurate that is, as all I've done all spring is fight the wind, but there might be a pretty even trade-off between the wind and the hills when it comes to it. At that pace the bike leg would take me over 6:30, and I'd like to get out earlier than that if I can. So I'm trying to strengthen my legs up, riding in harder cadences in general and especially up hills. I want to be able to cruise a bit better on the bike, but keep my legs fresh for the run.

I've uploaded 3 pictures I took on yesterday's run in the Training pics thing, over on the right (on the homepage). I hope to be able to contribute to the blog a bit more regularly this week and from now on - we'll see how work allows it. But I have some killer new stuff to show you, like my new wetsuit that I got for my birthday, and my official Ironman Wisconsin uniform that just about blows me away. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Race Report: Chain of Lakes Triathlon (Sprint Distance)

Preface: My usual verbosity precedes the actual race footage, so if you want to skip all the fun story behind the story stuff, just click here and go right to the race report. And, as usual, check out the race photos over on the right side of the page!

The Friday before race day was a hectic one. I usually like to end my day-before-the-race a little early, get everything "on my list" done, and then put in my headphones with my iPod and pack my transition bag. Just relax - no real thinking or visualizing or anything, but time "in the zone". When I have that opportunity, my transition planning and race day packing is generally impeccable. But I'm launching an important project at work, and life in general kept me busy through every day last week, including Friday. Cap to that the hour I spent with ebay trying to work out how my account got hijacked (goooood times), and I was a little frazzled, rather than relaxed, when I finally wrapped up to go pack up.

The Chain of Lakes triathlon is in Alexandria, which is about 2 hours from where I live. Some friends came along (Amy had a work retreat, so she couldn't join us), and we stayed at my friend Mike's parents' beautiful home - which added about an hour to the travel time. I was chatting with Mike about 2 hours in when I realized I'd forgotten my number belt - the belt I attach my race number to, so that in transition I just clip the belt around my waist and go. The alternative to this is...I don't know. Wearing a t-shirt with the number clipped to it (and so taking the time to put on a t-shirt while in transition) or, even worse, stopping to pin my number to my tri suit in transition. Uh, no. So Mike and I got to brainstorming about what I could use for an impromptu belt. I was having visions involving bicycle tubes and velcro when Mike suggested we just stop and buy some shorts and cut off the shorts, leaving only the waist band. Brilliant! It would mean stepping into the belt in transition, rather than running while clipping it on, but it was a great solution. So, we stopped at Wal-Mart in Alexandria and, while looking, decided boxer shorts with a simple elastic band, rather than a big bunchy athletic shorts band, worked better. Hilarity ensued, then, when the most appropriate choice were some "Euro" boxer-briefs that advertised "with molded pouch", requiring me to traipse around Wal-Mart with goofy ass underwear in tow. Not easily embarrassed, I didn't care...but we all found it funny. Also funny when purchasing said item - "Is that all for you today?" "Yep, just the single pair of Euro man panties, thanks." Good times.

The weather for Saturday morning called for 60 some degrees, lots of sunshine, and a 10mph wind from the SSW. A beautiful day for racing.

I woke up at 5:35 and jumped in the shower before heading down to breakfast. The swim leg for this race is in a pool, with locker rooms nearby, and because of the limited number of lanes we go in waves. Knowing this, I knew it'd be at least an hour from the "start" of the race until I got in the water. In keeping with my season-long goal of working on my race-day nervous energy, I kept it relaxed while eating and getting organized. I'm happy to report no sick stomach as maybe I'm mentally toughening up a bit. It also meant I didn't put on my superhero outfit yet - I could do that when I got there. I threw on a hooded blue Jordan sweatshirt with "23" embroidered on the sleeve and headed out the door for the 45 minute drive to the race site.

About 30 minutes in, while chatting with Mike, I promptly remembered that I hadn't remembered my Boost - part of my breakfast. Dammit. Because I wouldn't be racing until somewhere around 10am, and transition opened at 7am, and so we left at 6am, I brought my Oatmeal and thermos of hot water with me to eat when we got there (wanting, as usual, to eat 3 hours before the race), which I usually follow with some Boost. Another symptom of a frazzled mind - not a great way to approach a race. There is no room for carelessness in triathlon. On the one hand, part of the point of first-race-of-the-season is to work out kinks like that. On the other hand, it's just unacceptable. I need to make a list and be diligent from now on, and remove myself from distractions that might be confusing my already hectic mind. Ultimately, I decided to forgo the Boost - it was at most going to be 90 minutes of racing, not requiring a large surge of carbs and calories. Besides, I stopped at Caribou for my Turtle Mocha caffeine hit, and that provided any additional calories I needed. So while it turned out unimportant, it's the act of forgetting it that is unacceptable. I need to clean it up.

We arrived at the race site just before 7am, and wondered what happened to our lovely weather report. It was dark and gloomy, and there was at least a 15-17mph wind, sometimes gusting and always freaking biting cold, hurling obscenities at us all. What the hell? With no sunshine to warm it up and the heavy wind, setting up in transition was more precarious than I'd anticipated the day before. I wore gloves, and had to set some items - like my goofy ass improvised Euro Manties Number Belt - under my shoes so it wouldn't blow away. This wind would SUCK on the bike, and this cold would definitely affect performance. Nothing to be done about it, but it was a little discouraging. For the 3rd year in a row the weather for this race sucked, and while we were setting up triathletes chatted about the weather, and made jokes with hidden truths to calm their own nerves.

I found a spot for my bike just near the end, where I liked to be - I prefer to arrive at races the minute transition opens so I can, if possible, choose my bike location, but mostly I just like the time to get acclimated to race day. I love race day. I set Ol' Blue up on the tarmac and dropped my bag to go get body marked - where they write your number in permanent marker on your arm/leg/hand - and pick up my race packet. I'd return to fully set up transition afterwards. Besides, at this point I needed to head indoors - it was cold as hell out here.

My first indication of the kind of day I'd have came in picking up my packet with my number in it. I looked at the outside of the envelope and saw I'd be in Wave 7 for the swim...and then checked for my race number inside the envelope. Remember the Jordan hoody I told you I wore with number 23 emblazoned on the sleeve? Right. My assigned number for the race was also 23. Beautiful. I told my buddy Mike they might as well scrawl JORDAN across my back because it's playoff time baby and I plan to deliver. Aaaah yeeeah. I don't believe in coincidences, though we laughed at it and took a picture of the 23 marked on my hand just below the 23 embroidered on my sleeve. Then I chose to let it give me just a bit of an edge - an expectation I'd place on myself to live up to it. I don't care if that sounds a little silly, on race day you find meaning where there can be, and you let it give you an edge if you can. I did.

I went outside - still blustery and cold as hell - to set up transition, throwing on my iPod (All-American Rejects, thanks very much.) I did as I usually do in transition - set up my stuff while reviewing the day's plan. I've never "raced" before. I was mentioning this to my friends, and indicated this last week on the blog, but every race I've ever done has had some ulterior intention. Usually this race is the "first-race-of-the-season". I come in with low expectations, just working out the kinks, finding my stride, kick starting whatever little bit of training I've been doing. Mid-season races have been explorations in strategies or tweaks for the end-of-season "A" race...but have never just been about the day itself, the race itself. Similar to how the Earth Day Half Marathon wasn't about running a Half Marathon - it was about assessing strategies and unearthing potential trouble spots to focus on in the weeks to come. My Half IM coming up in June is the same way - a "trial run" to see where I am, how I am, and where to go from there. But today, this day, I was actually going to race. That doesn't mean my objective on the day was defined by the performance of those around me and my performance in relationship to them, but it meant I was going to go all out. I was going to compete as hard as I could against myself, and part of what defined that competition was my place in the field. It was a short race, and it would require a huge expenditure of energy in a short burst. My heart rate would be high the whole day, and I wouldn't be holding anything back. No energy reserves "for later" - there was no later in this race. Here and now. Kicking ass every instant was the objective of the day. I knew my training had me up to it. Could I execute when it came time?

About 8:15, all set up, I went back into the pool to warm up a bit before taking a quick spin on my bike to make sure I was in the starting gear I wanted to be in. When I came back out, I assessed Ol' Blue. A Fighter Jet on the tarmac (FYI: Sometimes Ol' Blue is organic, much like a mighty steed. Sometimes Ol' Blue is a machine that talks to my mind. And sometimes, usually only at certain races, Ol' Blue is a Fighter Jet. You're just going to have to cope with the mixed metaphors the same way I do. Blame the ADD, that's what I do). Brand new blue Continental 4000 racing tires. My Rolf Vigor racing wheels, fast as hell and ready to fly. Even a carbon fiber bottle cage. That's right, a carbon fiber bottlecage. Because even your bottle cage can be a tad too heavy. Shed of the 4 bottles, air pump, 3 extra cages, extra tire, headlight and tail light that usually weigh it down in long training rides. Freshly cleaned from last weekend's battle with road grime. Shining and gleaming and ready to fly. I jumped on, clipped in, and headed down the road for a quick spin. I looked down at my speedometer, which told me I was clipping at 22mph with hardly any effort.

It was going to be a good day.

I repositioned Ol' Blue on the Flight Deck and headed back in, ready to change into my Orca Elite tri suit and have a quick warmup in the pool, encouraged by how great those 2 minutes on my bike felt. I entered the pool for warm up precisely 20 pounds lighter than when this blog was started, some 14 pounds lighter than this time last year, some 4 pounds lighter than last year's peak race weight, and about 9 pounds away from Ironman goal weight. I swam a few lengths and felt sleek in the water, fast. For once I was in shape to approach this race with diligence. I felt good.

It was going to be a good day.

With a few minutes to go before the start, I was relaxing in the bleachers with my friends when a woman walked by, clipping on her heart rate monitor. I didn't intend to wear mine for this race (its feedback information unimportant in today's race - I knew I'd be high all day), but it gave me the idea - I could use my HRM for a race belt! That way I could clip it onto my waist while running, instead of stepping into the elastic band in transition, saving me precious seconds. Brilliant! So I ran out to my transition area and made the swap. Still cold as hell and overcast and way more windy than we'd anticipated.

The race finally started at 9am, with me happily positioned in the bleachers, watching the swimmers in Wave 1 start. If you figure somewhere around 12 minutes per wave, and I was in Wave 7...well, I had some time. My friends and I examined swim strokes and looked for the best ones and assessed where the weak ones needed improving. It wasn't to be critical - as I said last week, this race is often the first race ever for many people, and sometimes that's reflected in their swim stroke. I have deep respect for everybody out there, regardless of technique or ability, because I know what it is inside them that gets them out there on a Saturday morning when so much of the rest of the world is sleeping or eating Krispy Kreme, and I applaud them each. Still, it was fun to watch the really great swimmers - so effortless and smooth. I pointed out all the things they were doing right, and asked my friends to keep an eye on me to tell me how I compared. I was relaxed and enjoying myself, and really had no nerves at all.

It finally came time for my Wave to go hang in the on-deck hold. We corralled ourselves onto the bleachers and waited while the race organizer told us what lane we'd be in. We'd be grouped in our lane according to other competitors who indicated a similar expected finishing time to ours. 3 or more to a lane, and circle swim - meaning you follow the guy in front of you down the right side of the lane, then when you touch the wall you move over to the opposite side of the lane.

The wave in front of us mostly cleared out, we approached our lanes. All of us trying to be cool and calm, but still I was reminded of children being lined up for swimming lessons. The director told us we had 3 minutes, and we all jumped in to warm up a bit.

I was in a lane with Lanky Kid and Serious Dude. Lanky Kid was probably early 20's, tall and learn - a great swimmer's physique. Serious Dude was dark with beady eyes, and was busy taking strokes off the wall. We conferred - how fast did we each think we'd go? Last year I swam this in 10:14...and I didn't expect to do any better this year with my swim training being as intentionally back-burner as it's been so far. They each indicated 10:30, so I threw out 10:15 - mostly because last year both guys in my lane grossly overestimated themselves and started in front of me, leaving me to hang on the wall while precious seconds dripped by while I waited for them to get in front of me and then deal with them tangling up the lane all morning. I figured - let them go around me this year. So I suggested that I start, and they agreed. Serious Dude asked Lanky Kid what he thought he's overall time might be today. Lanky Kid thought around 1:25? (and hour and 25 minutes). So I said the same, and Serious Dude agreed that might be his time too. Finally we were down to the last 50 seconds. I wished them both good luck, ducked low in the water, and got focused.

No bullshit. Race like hell.

3....2....GO! I burst off the front wall in a dead sprint to the other side. 24 lengths required distance for the swim leg, and I intended to go as fast as I could. In training sometimes a single length can be boring and seem to go on forever - not in a race. There is so much to think about and calibrate and respond to and adjust that you're never just idling, and time flies. I touched the wall, where my friend Chad was holding a counting board in the water for me to keep track of my progress through the swim. I catapulted to the other side, examining where my lane mates were - Lanky Kid, who took off just after me, was right on my tail, with Serious Dude right after him. 3 competent swimmers today - should make for a fast and drama free swim.

In the middle of the 3rd length I settled down from my initial burst and tried to find my rhythm. Feeling "relaxed" was not a top priority - this was a sprint - but my form needed to be sound and my rhythm solid. But the strategy was not about saving any energy; strange to be in an environment where I'm not even pacing myself, since so much of my training is so disciplined to that effect. Each time I touched the wall I could take a quick glance on my lane mates. Lanky Kid was literally right behind me, and keeping pace. We were making some time on Serious Dude - he was about half a length back.

Soon I could feel Lanky Kid touching my toes, swimming in my draft. I figured that was good for him - I was pulling him along and he was able to conserve a bit of energy that way. It was a motivator for me - if I started to feel him on my ankles or calves, I'd know he was gaining and we'd need to allow somehow for him to pass me. A few more lengths and, as soon as I'd pass Serious Dude coming the opposite direction, I'd cruise over to the opposite side of the lane so Lanky Kid could pass me if he wanted to. Somewhere around length 15 or so, he did, slingshotting right by.

Now it was my turn to draft off of him, and I was happy for the opportunity. I stayed on his toes for the rest of the race, feeling the turbulence from his kick with each of my strokes. I was able, when breathing on my right side, to have a quick glance at the race clock and assess my time. By 20 lengths in, I knew I was having a good swim; which by the day's definitions meant I wasn't giving up a lot of time, and was somewhere in the ballpark of last year's swim. I considered any gain on last year's time unexpected gravy, and anticipated 15 seconds or so possibly slower just due to my training regimen so for this season.

In seemingly no time I touched the wall for the last time and sprinted to the other side. I hoisted myself out of the water, the pool noises and cheers muted through my ear plugs. The first swim of the season was over, and I felt good. My heart rate was very high, but that was expected. I ran out the doors of the pool and across the timing mats, marking the official end of the swim leg, and glanced at my watch for my time:

2004: 11:19
2005: 10:14
2006: 10:11

Running out the doors of the pool I was greeted with the unexpected; Light! Sunshine! Warmth! Somewhere in the mix the Wind and the Rain and the Cold decided they had other things to do than torment me another day, and suddenly it was the beautiful morning we were promised. It was still breezy, with a steady SSW wind that was heavier than 10mph - but the gusts were gone and it was no longer biting.

I passed Lanky Kid heading into the transition area, and told him "Good race!" and he agreed with our head to head swim match. I approached where Ol' Blue was impatiently waiting for me and systematically prepared for the bike. Helmet on, glasses on, socks on, shoes on, unrack the bike and go. I crossed the timing mat and headed out on the bike course.

Transition 1 TIME
2004: Unrecorded (they weren't using timing chips then...)
2005: 1:29
2006: :55

The goal for the day on the bike: Stupid fast. I'd sprinted only twice in training, and thought I could manage between 21 and 22mph on the bike in an ideal situation. The strong SSW wind meant less than a mile of the course would have a tailwind - most of it would be head on or a strong crosswind. My heart was pounding and I was breathing hard, though not uncomfortably. Would I be able to push the bike as hard as I wanted to?

I knew in 2 minutes the answer was not just yes, but hell yes. I cruised to 25mph in moments. Slowed to make the first right turn onto a longer stretch, and got to pedaling. The wind was coming from my left now, and the course was mostly flat with some long ascents and not many descents. I found a rhythm at 90rpm - I wanted to go fast, but I was no longer the gear masher I'd been last year, my hundreds of miles on long rides already this year defining a new, far more efficient and powerful cadence. I blew by fellow bikers - some competitors with road bikes or tri bikes, and some just participants with mountain bikes. I tried to settle in and see if my heart rate couldn't come down a bit while I precariously put on my arm warmers that I'd thrown on the bike at the last minute before the race started. A glance at my speedometer told me I was in good shape - 23mph. Soon we turned right again, heading this time right into the wind.

A combination of my revised bike fitting, which allows for far more power and a more aerodynamic bike position, a better understanding of how to race a bike, a lighter engine (me!), stronger legs and better gear made Ol' Blue and me a wind cheating organism. We were heading into the wind, but slowed only to 18mph. I approached some of the long climbs (more like "inclines" - they were hardly climbs...) and passed rider upon rider upon rider who was slowed by the wind and road. My heart rate was still high, and I knew it would affect digestion - I took a swig of Gatorade, as planned, and just held on. A short while on this stretch and we pulled left onto a 3 or 4 mile paved trail.

The crosswind didn't touch us now, as the narrow trail was well sheltered. I could spend the next few miles uninfluenced by the elements, and knew that with the long stretch into the wind coming up - which was also the most technically difficult with several turns and climbs - that I should make up as much time as I could now. I got comfortable, gearing into an efficient but strong cadence. I glanced down and actually thought something might be wrong with my computers...was I really going 27mph? This stretch covered at least a quarter of the day's distance, so I wanted to make it good. In just a few minutes it was over, and I'd blown right through it. Everything was going precisely how I would have wanted it to.

We made a quick right, and then another and we were on the long 5 mile stretch with the wind right in our faces. It was on a wide open road with no shelter, so the wind could have its way with it. Between the wind, the traffic, and the winding, rolling road, it was a challenge. I was relegated to 18, 17, 16mph. I'd pedal back up to 18, 19, then fall back down on a climb to 16, 15, 14. I'd gear down to something easier so I could face the wind without blowing up my legs - I didn't want to sabotage the run pushing too hard against the wind. By now the field had spread out, and I could see riders far up in the distance and knew there were riders behind me, but I was mostly alone out there. Mile 10 came and I felt I was on pace for the strong performance I'd hoped for. I had planned to down a gel pack at this point, but knew I wouldn't keep it down - I was anaerobic, and digestion was not in the cards. I swigged Gatorade instead and hoped I had enough fuel for a 25 minute or faster run. Finally we approached the final turn at mile 12 - a mile (with a tailwind!) to go to the finish.

The last half mile is a complicated to-do list: Right foot out of shoe. Left foot out of shoe. Stop my watch, unclip it from my aerobars and grab it with my teeth so I can put it on for the run. All this while still maintaining pace and not falling over. Finally I tossed my right leg over the top tube and coasted into the timing mat, the bike leg finished.

2004: 46:06, 16mph
2005: 42:24, 18.4mph
2006: 36:08, 21.6mph

Stupid fast.

I headed into transition, re-racked Ol' Blue and shed my bike helmet. I threw on my running shoes and grabbed my hat and improvised number belt to attach while I was running. I was out of transition in no time.

2004: unrecorded
2005: :25
2006: :24

I still had my watch in my teeth while I started out the run, trying to multitask and get organized with all my gear while getting my legs out from under me. Would I have the juice to finish strong? I wasn't worried about fuel - a race this short doesn't require it. But I'm never this anaerobic for this long. Would I shut down a mile into the run? Could I maintain a fast pace? Under ideal conditions, I thought I could sustain somewhere around a 7:30 pace for 3 miles. The day so far had gone smashingly well - but it'd all be for nothing if I was relegated to walking half a mile and giving up 3 minutes that I'd fought so hard for on the bike.

Finally settled with all my gear on, I concentrated on good form with short strides and a quick cadence. As soon as I felt comfortable, I glanced at my watch - around an 8:10 pace. Okay...that's not great, but not bad, and I'll stay here a minute and settle in.

Out of nowhere Serious Dude passed me, clearly a very strong runner. "We're doing a lot better than 1:25!" he shouted, referring to our pre-race conversation about expected finishing times. "Looking good!" I shouted back to him, and wished him a good run. He shot away.

I took stock - my legs felt strong. My heart was pounding and I was developing a bit of a side ache. My lungs weren't burning or anything, but I was breathing hard. I figured I'd know in the next mile what was in store - if I could gain some time, I'd be good to go - if I started to dramatically slow down, I'd know I was screwed and that I was incapable of this level of sustained effort over an entire race. I wanted so badly to race how I thought I could race this. Could I?

The answer wasn't yes. It was hell yes.

By the first mile marker I was clocking in at a 7:50 pace. I knew I'd need to kickstart that if I was going to average 7:30ish for 3 miles. So I concentrated on my quick cadence - not pushing harder with my legs, but moving them faster. Soon I approached the halfway turnaround, with the aid station. Most runners were stopping to walk and drink for a bit, but I had no time for that today. No water, no walking. I turned around and checked my watch - clocking around 7:10. PERFECT. The wind was at my back now, and it was really just a sprint to the finish. Whatever I had left at this point, I threw in the burn pile.

I passed a few runners and was passed by a few others that were having really strong runs, and we cheered each other on, encouraging the walkers that they could do it and the fast ones to go on and finish strong. Finally I made my last turn, half a mile to the finish shoot. Now the trail is hard packed dirt until about the last 300 yards, which is on grass before finally winding up on a sidewalk to the finish line. I hit the grass wanting a solid stride - it slows you right down, and it feels like running on a giant sponge. I ran hard into the finish line, knowing I had run the race I came for.

2004: 25:37, 9:10/mi pace
2005: 24:55, 8:19/mi pace
2006: 22:45, 7:35/mi pace

Stupid fast.

2004: 1:23:02
2005: 1:19:27
2006: 1:10:22

It truly could not have gone better. I think I swam, biked, and ran just as fast as I'm capable of, and was able to put that together in a race environment. For the 2nd time this season, my planning and strategies worked, and I was able to execute the plan accordingly. This is great news heading into the triathlon season with my eye always on the Ironman prize. A sprint triathlon of this distance and this kind of effort has little real world application to an Ironman event, but it's a great indicator of my fitness level at this stage in the season, and I feel really good about where I am. Most importantly, it's good to envision a "best possible scenario" and then achieve that - how often in life does that happen??? And certainly in triathlon - this is one of 2 races that have ever gone that way for me. I've avoided drama in each race this season. I'm right where I need to be with a month to go for the first meaningful race of the season - the Half IM in June. My weight is coming down, my fitness is strong and improving, and I am on target. A good feeling.

I took 8th place in my age group out of 39 participants, and 28th out of 165 total participants - easily my best finish ever (in '04 I wasn't in the top half, and in '05 I was 57th out of 155 total...and I've never been in the top half of my age group). It's useful to keep perspective - this is not an elite field by any stretch, but I'm still very pleased with my position amidst the masses. A top 10 age group finish! Pretty cool!

From here, I go back to the long, disciplined training. I'll start to focus on long fitness swims now, and my weekly rides will top 5 hours and stay there and above for pretty much the rest of the season. I'll continue to work on my running, injecting some more speed workouts to try and increase my overall speed for longer runs. My first Century ride (100 miles on the bike) should be coming up in the next few weeks, and over Memorial Day I'm heading to Madison to train on-course for the first time. With race season underway and Ironman about 4 months out, it starts to get pretty serious - with never more than 4 weeks between races, time really flies and each week of training become critical that the time is put in and goals are met. It's so rare for me, and I don't really want to say it out loud, but my whole approach appears to be working - so far, so good. I'm meeting and exceeding expectations, and feel on pace for the big goals. As summer approaches now I'll look for more training and racing opportunities in oppressive heat and humidity - something I don't handle well at all. If I can figure out ways to manage the elements, I'll have that much more of an edge going into September.

So - a great race! Shout outs to my friend Mike for driving and putting us up in his parents' amazing place, as well as being official photographer dude and always-on-point cheering guy. Thanks Chad for counting laps like nobody's business, and Krista for cheering me on. Races are always a lot more fun and meaningful when your friends can be there with you!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"There are, really, just two types of people..."

There are in life so few things that are remarkable. For all its cliche, there are, in one's life, maybe only a handful of the truly transcendental. We are, otherwise, just ordinary creatures. We hardly ever reach our potential to be extraordinary. Because we hardly ever put ourselves in a position to be extraordinary.

I do this for me. This training, this thing, the purpose, this goal. It is mine, and my reasons are mine. I keep this blog because I hope to share the with you. Because I hope to help you understand. I don't know why it's important to me that you can understand, but it is.

I hope this might help you understand.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Let's hope Saturday's swim goes better than the sloshing about I did in the pool today. Sheesh.

Monday, May 01, 2006


If you don't earn your way to Kona, and aren't fortunate enough to win a slot in the lottery, you can buy your way in via a handful of very precious charity slots.

And this is what they're worth...

Race Week!

It's race week! Whooohoooooo! The first triathlon of the season this Saturday. It's a very small Sprint triathlon - somewhere over just a hundred or so athletes. The swim is 600 yards in an indoor pool, then a 13 mile bike and 3 mile run. I'm really excited just to be back in a triathlon race some 8 months after the last, and for all the things that come with racing and race day. Man I love this game.

This was my first ever triathlon 2 short years ago, in 2004. It's great for beginners and first timers, because there's no intimidating open-water swim, and being indoors in the organization and safety of a pool is interesting. It's fun to look back on my first race because I had clue zero - my swim stroke was some slow and appallingly inefficient thing that harkened back to Red Cross swimming lessons. I didn't understand that transitions were for racing, not for resting, and since it was seriously like 40 degrees that day, I lolligagged my way through transition 1, putting on my tights (Lycra is not easy to put when wet) and just sort of whiling the time away. I was riding my first bike, a road bike fitted with aero bars for triathlon, but I was poorly fit on it, had owned it less than 2 weeks, had no idea how to effectively move through gears and when, and no idea how to be efficient on the bike. It was all so brand new...the video of the race shows me jumping on my bike - which I had intentionally positioned in my biggest, fattest, hardest gear (I thought it was fastest!), and so I start the bike leg in this HUGE gear and I'm slowling mashing away trying to get some momentum. I had 4 water bottles on my bike (!) for a 13 mile ride. I'd never done a brick workout, so this was the first ever transition from bike to run, and my legs felt like jelly getting into transition - I was jumping up and down trying to get my legs under me, and then on the run I was just sort of hobbling along. My times were really unimpressive - 11:19 to get out of the water, 46 minutes on the bike (for a whopping 16mph) and 25:37 on the run for a crawling 9:10 pace. But it was so much fun to say afterwards "I'm a triathlete", that the numbers didn't matter, and I didn't have any relationship anyway to know what they meant. Interestingly, I've never really had a great race here. The weather last year was crappy too - cold and raining - and while my swim was a minute better at 10:14, my bike still seemed slow at 42:24 (18.4mph) and my run wasn't bad, but I had some GI problems from poorly eating before the race and finished in 24:55 at an 8:19 pace. Neither year was I in very good shape - I'd only been in training maybe 4-6 weeks before the race, and it was evident by my weight and lack of fitness, particularly on the run.

Whereas last year these races sort of kicked off my season in general - including training (coming never more than 6 weeks out of starting my training), this year the race comes in the middle of serious training, and unlike previous years, I'm in fantastic shape. So this race has strategic purpose as a sort of checkpoint, but mostly it's a time trial, which is a lot of fun. I haven't ridden my bike "as fast as I can" for a very long time, and not once in training this season. I've run "as fast I can" a few times for short mileages, but never off the bike. So it'll be fun to throw all my usually well thought out nutrition and pacing plans generally out the window and just freaking go, as hard and as fast as I can. Tonight I'll clean Ol' Blue up from the grime and mud of the weekend's ride, regrease the chain and get things reorganized for speed. I'll shed the many bottle cages I have on the bike, lighten the toolkit load, and put on my racing wheels for the rest of the week. I'm excited.

The swim is sort of the x-factor. First of all, as I said, the swim is indoors. I swim 24 lengths of the pool, and they have "official counters" who count laps for you - basically high school kids. The first year, they didn't alert me to my progress and I ended up swimming 25 lengths and getting out of the pool at the very opposite end of where I was supposed to. You're supposed to, when you register, provide some kind of indication for what time you expect - between 8-10 minutes for the 600 yards, or between 10-12. Then you share your lane with at least 2 other swimmers. Last year this dude in my lane was saying how he'll probably finish in 10 minutes or so, which is about where I thought I'd be, but I thought it made sense to let him, who I thought might be faster, go first. Literally seconds before the gun he realized that this whole time he'd been training 12 LENGTHS, not 12 LAPS in 10 minutes, which meant actually he was going to be slow as hell. So I spent the next 10 minutes trying to find ways to avoid him sloshing around in the pool. I enjoy the brand new triathletes, however they perform, but it was kind of a pain in the ass for me. So, anything can happen. More specific to my own appraisal, I've intentionally spent less time in the pool than on the bike or run so far this season, and I'm not anywhere near peak swim shape (and don't want to be), and so don't really have any expectations for my swim. I'll go as efficiently and smoothly as possible, and hope that translates to speed. If not, oh well, I'll see it as a benchmark from which to work. The bike, however, and the run, I have some expectations. I expect to go fast. Really fast. Not just faster than previous years. Crushingly fast. Stupid fast. I'm experienced enough, and have certainly put on the miles so far, where nutrition should be no issue - especially for such a short race - and leg strength and lung strength should be no issue with my present level of fitness. So I'll say it out loud right now - I expect Personal Records (P.R.) on the bike and on the run. I don't expect it in the water, but I will hope for something at least as fast as last year. I expect my overall time, then, to be a P.R. for this race, no question. Poor performance this weekend will only be a result of carelessness - which I have no tolerance for (like last year's stupid GI issues, brought on by my own stupid carelessness) - or things outside my control, in which case the scope of "poor" becomes relative to the situation, and I deal with it. But all that said, it's still a "C" race - an organized training event to benchmark speed progress, but with little to no bearing on Ironman performance. Freed from that, then, I see no reason not to just go out, have a blast, and run like hell!