Wednesday, June 28, 2006


'Blue. You there?


What do you think?

About what?

About everything. How we're doing. Where we are. Where we're going.

Solid. You see all the ghosts we left behind out there?

Yeah. But not all of them.

No, and a few new ones. But it's a long road, man. Best taken mile by mile, you know?


It's not rocket science, kid.

Yeah, in some ways it is.

It is what you make it. Give me your earliest memory of swimming.


Your earliest memory. What is it, swimming?

Standing at the edge of the diving board with my teacher down at the bottom, splashing so I could see where the water was. Scary as hell.

Did you jump?


Do you remember it? How it felt?

Like a carnival ride. A mad rush, terrifying, exhilarating, over before you know it.

Huh. Sounds like racing.

Yes it does.

You remember when you used to teach swimming lessons to little kids, and you were the teacher splashing at the bottom?


What was the first thing those kids did when they came up and realized they were alive?

They smiled. Great big holy-shit smiles. And looked over to their moms and Dads who were cheering for them.

Right. Your first memory of a bicycle, what's that?

My parents had these bright orange road bikes. They had child-carriers on the back of each, and they'd strap me and my brother on to each bike and we'd go cruise around the neighborhood. I was seriously 3 or 4 years old, but I still have the vaguest memory of it. It was awesome. My first bike was a purple thing, with a banana seat. And then when I was ten years old I won a bike. Red and White. Killer.

Ironman colors.

Huh, yeah. It was named Chaser.

Appropriate. And running?

We had "Olympics" every spring in school, where our elementary school would have basically a big track meet with all the other schools in town. I ran the 100 yard dash in 2nd grade. Took 2nd place, too. Got a red ribbon. And I wore a dope blue velour track suit. Looked like a little mafioso.

Well there you go, then.


That's all you need to know about Ironman. You've been doing it all your life. Just hang in and have fun man. The rest figures itself out.

No ghosts chasing me back then, though.

That's why you've got me. We've still got more than 8 weeks man. Just ramping up into the serious stuff now. You will do this. Ghosts be damned.

Yeah. Yeah, okay.

One question.


Can you rock the blue velour on the next long ride?

Shut it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Following Foxes: Race Report, High Cliff Triathlon

I headed up to High Cliff State Park on Saturday afternoon, and arrived to pick up my packet among really threatening skies and a million percent humidity. I grabbed my stuff and checked out the small expo a bit when a torrential downpour struck - the kind that comes suddenly, and catches people strolling around off guard and sprinting for cover. Happily the packet pickup was under a tent, so I stood and watched it rain for a few minutes before it finally let up enough for me to sprint back to my car and head 20 miles the other way, to the tiny village of New Holstein, where my accommodations for the night waited.

The skies followed me and became more dramatic, even as I eventually outdrove the rain. As I drove through tiny towns, its residents were all standing outside houses and business, looking and pointing into the skies, typical midwesterner meteorologists. As I drove through one, a woman's voice came over a loudspeaker somewhere and informed us all that we were in a tornado warning - apparently they lack sirens there. That was a little weird, and I quickly looked all around to see if there was something I should be doing, but in my expert assessment of the skies decided I was in no imminent danger, so I continued on to New Holstein.

Upon arriving to the Starlite Motel, the operator was standing outside doing his best to assess the current position of things. He greeted me by name, took me inside, and we settled up. The Starlite is a very small, 16 unit Mom & Pop motel, clean and tidy and quant. The towels were some kind of JC Penney brand, and unmatching to boot. The tv was fuzzy and the shower was small. But it was comfortable, and so was I, so I settled in with my normal routine and go ready for bed under raindrops on the roof.

As I reviewed my race-day stuff, I took a look at the t-shirt. There's a little icon on the shirt swimming, then biking, then running. What is that? Is that a - wait, what? Is that a fox? Apparently I was in a place known generally as Fox Valley. I was, at this point in the continued fox haunting, literally astounded. It's just too weird that this totally random race that I picked only as a matter of necessity but geographical convenience is somehow also among foxes. I was totally surprised by it. A little creeped out. It's the least subtle thing ever, this fox experience. Weird.

The next morning I woke up to more rain, and hoped it would let up by racetime, if only because setting up transition in the rain sucks, and all your stuff inevitably gets wet as your day goes on. I stopped by a gas station and grabbed some trash bags and a poncho just in case, and 25 minutes later was back at the race site. When I arrive the rain was just stopping, thankfully, and the place was buzzing with pre-race energy under low clouds. I was surprised how huge transition was - there was a sprint triathlon happening at the same time as the Half Iron, so there were a lot of people. Transition spots were pre-arranged according to number, so me and Ol' Blue found our spot and got organized. A quick hour and a half later, it was time to head into the water.

The swim was in Lake Winnebago, which is a huge lake in northern Wisconsin. Like, can't see the other side huge. Sometimes that means cold water, but the lake is apparently pretty shallow so the water was warm under the cool but humid morning air. I was in Wave 7, in a group with 50 other people, and waves took off 2 minutes apart from one another. The swim actually began in the water, swimming parallel to the shore, so I joined the mass of people as we headed waist deep in to wait. I found an out-of-the-way spot and submerged to acclimate to the water while I waited. Soon enough, it was my time. I felt very relaxed. Not bored or unfocused, but comfortable. I thought about my family, my friends and the Team, and how it's a little lonely not to have anybody to wave to. I thought about not having any "goals" for today except to stay on point. To let the race come to me and manage it moment by moment.

Ready...Set...Go! And finally we were off. The water was so shallow that I actually ran/walk a lot further than I would've preferred, but such was the course. FInally we were swimming, and I was in the washing machine. This one was much better than the last - well, by better I mean more severe - tossing elbows, kicks to the face, swimming over legs, everything. Twice my goggles were nearly knocked off, and once - I'm not sure what happened, exactly - I somehow sucked in so much water that I had to stop and cough for half a minute, totally unable to breathe. But it's all part of it, so I just kept moving forward, finding my rhythm and natural place in the race and swimming on. I felt good. I focused on a longer reach in my stroke and a lean body. I sighted more frequently than usual, too, to keep me front zig-zagging around. It's always over so much more quickly than it seems it should be, and it always takes so much less time to write about it than it was, but soon enough I was touching shallow ground again and making the long, slow walk through the waist-deep water back to the water's edge.

After leaving the water we climbed a long grassy incline up to transition. My official time was 38:48 - that's a good 3-4 minutes slower than usual, and I'm not sure why. Like I said, I felt pretty good the whole time, and never felt slow. I suppose some of it can be attributed to the weird shallow start and finish, but no matter. I'll be willing to give up more time in the water at Ironman, as you'll read.

Into T1, wetsuit off, cycling jersey on, socks and shoes and helmet and glasses and go! In and out in 2:33.

Here, then, is why it's called High Cliff State Park, and the High Cliff Triathlon. Because the first damn thing you do on the bike (and the run) is climb the high cliff. It's a steep mile-long climb. Not friendly. And difficult, too, because my heart rate is already high from the swim and transition. I was a really difficult way to start the bike, that's for sure. I passed a lot of the sprinters on mountain bikes and felt pretty badly for them.

Eventually the hill is behind me, then, and I settle in to a course that's mostly a big square with a few little jogs here and there, about a 12mph wind coming from the East/NE, and a mostly flat, sometimes rolling terrain. The objective, of course, was nutrition. I decided to forgo any solid foods and see how that went - sticking only to Gels and Gatorade. At this point it's useful to recap how my experience last time affected my strategies this time. Last time it was an elevated heart rate that caused for me to stop digestion, and created all kind of cramping and GI issues on the run. That elevated heart rate was exacerbated by my generally poor reaction to the circumstances and deciding to go all Lance Armstrong on the joint. What bothered me about that race wasn't the nutrition issues or the GI problems that I had - these races are all opportunities to explore and experiment a little with that stuff, so that by Ironman I have the kinks worked out. So I was intentional about continuing the experiment with today's race. Maybe mostly liquids will work better for me? It's all part of the process.

I spent the first half hour only drinking water before getting into Gatorade. I generally felt great on the bike. My legs felt strong and I felt fast. My attitude was great, and I experienced some really euphoric highs out there. I was passing a lot more people than were passing me, and was having a ton of fun. At the hour mark I downed a gel and chased it with water, then resumed Gatorade. But that's when things got weird again for me, nutritionally. After even a couple sips of Gatorade, I'd start to cramp up slightly and belch - indications again that my body wasn't interested in digestion. Why? The only cause can be a high heart rate, period. And in the midst of race day, your efforts are going to be harder than in training, even if you don't feel like it, and your heart rate will inevitably be higher as well. I'm learning that I have a real sensitivity to this. I think on the bike if my heart rate even a little bit too high, it really affects my abilities to digest. So, I backed off digestion. Rather than do what I did last time, which was continue to force myself to eat, I stuck to mostly water. When I could I have a single sip of Gatorade and more water. I forced down another gel at the two hour mark, but the last 2 hours of the bike I was probably taking in only 120 calories or so. That's less than half what I need.

Purposeful to somebody or something other than me, somebody had painted in small icons of a fox every few miles. It was surreal, and I found myself whispering "Fox" whenever I saw one - it became a useful mantra, I think one I'll take with me. Go ahead, say it now under your breath - "Fox". Pleasing, no? The ffffffffff working into the ecksssssssssssss...I like it. And at mile 43 - of course - a fox climbed out of the brush and ran along the ditch, escorting me a short while.

By the last 2 miles on the bike, fatigue was setting in and I knew I was in some kind of trouble. But I kept on and finished up what was, racing-wise - a pretty solid performance - under 3 hours, at 2:57:08, a 19mph pace. That's really fast for a race of this distance; perhaps too fast.

Back into T2 - shirt off, shoes off, shoes on, shirt on, fuel belt on, Go! 1:56 later and I was on the run. My transitions were, as usual, really great. So I have that going for me. The run started in miserable fashion, with that steep mile long climb - a hard thing to face with legs fresh off the bike, for sure. The heart rate again climbs, and it's hard to get your feet under you. But finally I crested, and took a right into the dirt trails of the surrounding forest.

Here's what I didn't know about this race, and which is a fact that has to color anything else about my run performance - it was 95% trail running. There were 2 very short sections, maybe totally a mile, that were paved - otherwise it was all dirt trails, wood chip trails, or rock. With the hysterical rain the night and morning before, there were huge sections of mud that required creative traversing, and some of the rock sections were so washed out that we had to actually trail blaze. And I suck at trail running. I don't practice it, I don't enjoy it as a racig medium. I know the soft ground is better for your legs, and as a training tool that would be great, but it also absorbs all your energy - particularly when it's this soft and mushy - so it's like running on sponges. All the switchbacks means no consistent pacing is possible. A lot of mental and physical energy is spent avoiding holes, adjusting for weird angles, hopping and leaping, changing your stride to accommodate the trail, etc. It's a whole different game than road running, and a total of some 11 or 12 miles of it is a lot for even an experienced trail runner. In context of an X-Terra triathlon, of course, that's part of the game, and so it's different. But as part of a Half Ironman, I wasn't the only person who was thrown off.

So, I adjust. Pacing is out the window - I don't even look at my watch. I just try to find something comfortable and sensible for me, but I know I'm calorie deficit going into the run, and that's concerning me. At about mile 4 or 5, I hit the wall. I have zero fuel in me. I down some Gatorade and a gel and walk through it, waiting for the food to enter my system. The aid stations unfortunately didn't have any gels or fruits as advertised, so I'm relegated only to their liquids and what's on my fuel belt, and the two gels I'd packed. At one station I grab a handful of chips from a volunteer's personal bag. I assess the situation, and I'm in rough shape. Without the fuel, I risk a serious situation. I have 8 miles to go. I'm completely lacking energy. Sigh.

Okay. So first, I didn't let any of this into my head, which was an important lesson from last time and in general. The situation was what it was. Now what. First, be patient. So I walked while I digested, while the stores replenished what they could. Runners passed by with encouraging words - one of which stayed with me - "stick it out, it'll come back." After awhile I coached myself into a strategy. First, power walk. So I'd assume a fast walk, with pumping arms, getting my heart rate up just a bit to see if I had it. Good. When that was happening, I'd start a shuffle - a run little more than a walk, but still a run. By mile 8 I was starting to find my groove again. A really slow ass groove, but still a groove. And anytime welcome pavement arrived, I'd resume my normal, comfortable running pace and pick up a bit of time. At aid stations - about every 2 miles - I'd walk again while I replenished, then slowly repeat the process - power walk, shuffle, run. Power walk, shuffle, run. Finally that last right turn revealed itself, and now I get to run down that damn hill for my last mile, into the finish line. I told the photographers to make it good, because I worked damn hard for it. I had, racing wise, just about the most horrible run possible. Laughably bad time. Grandmotherly slow. But you know - I felt pretty good about things overall. I didn't require, 75 days out of Ironman, a flawless race (of course that'd be nice!), but I needed to have a sound race. There were lessons to be learned, but they were valuable, and I didn't succumb to myself. I wasn't my own adversary, and that's important. It's a hard enough race. I finished the run in an amazing 2:50:48 - as bad as I could have possibly imagined. People run marathons faster! My finishing time was 6:31:15, which is ten minutes slower than my last race, but that's not the point; I write this one with a smile on my face, and strangely a confidence that I have this figured out.

From here: I never felt that I was over-exerting on the bike, but the science doesn't lie: I had an average heart rate of 143bpm. Compare that to the 85 miles I rode the IM course on several weeks ago - a solid training ride - and my heart rate was 130bpm. Consider those are averages - so I spent a fair amount of time far higher than 150bpm at the race. I need to back off the power, I know. I need to keep the game focused on my heart rate, and let the speed come after that. I actually ordered a Power Meter - which measures my actual watts of energy - back in damn March or something, but some kind of manufacturing have slowed its delivery far too long. Allegedly it's soon to be here now, so that'll at least be useful to see that on training rides I'm generating x watts at y heart rate, so that in racing, even if I "feel" good, if I'm generating far more watts due to adrenaline or excitement, and my heart rate is then naturally higher, I'm setting myself up for trouble. I know my nutrition is sound on my training rides, so it's not what I'm eating or when - it's all about my effort. So that's easy - back the hell off! From here on out I'm going to work on staying disciplined to going even slower in the water, so I'm out of there with a comfortable heart rate. On the bike, I'm going to find what's "easy" - and then back off a notch from here. Hopefully I'll have enough instruments in front of me to give me some accurate feedback on the science to help me out. And everything will be geared to getting me to those last 6 miles of the marathon comfortable and still racing. Unfortunatly I didn't race this run - I survived it. Ironman is all about surviving in its nature, but I'd like to take responsibilty for what I can to make it easier on myself.

So as tough of a day as it was, with some unexpected problems, I find myself feeling really good about it. I accomplished important recon, and stayed within myself. I figured out some things that I can only learn in a long distance race environment. And I feel like it makes sense. I'm really glad I did the race. And I felt properly deserving of the medal. And it's hard to describe, after what's on paper a pretty tough day, but a few days removed now, some things really clicked. I feel fired up for Ironman. The equation has, I think, revealed itself.

Of foxes: Wow, I just don't know. I feel like I'm in a movie or something. This is just too weird, and it's far past anything rational or coincidental to me. I was thinking on the bike - maybe the whole purpose of the foxes before this race were to me to this one? In "Fox Valley"? Or something? But I don't think that was it - I think these foxes are part of some greater thing. I have no idea what. I've never experienced anything like it. Amy, of course, is jumping up and down about spirt animals. I'm in quiet awe of it, but I'm listening. Maybe at Ironman the fox will show his purpose for me. Or maybe this goes beyond Ironman into something else. I'm interested in your opinions. But to the Fox Nation, I say - welcome. I'm listening. Help me understand.

So. Back to Madison this weekend for family time over the 4th of July, and back to some long rides on the IM course, which I'm really looking forward to. I may actually try and swim before hand on one ride to see if I can get my heart rate appropriately up, or maybe run a bit, something to physically emulate race day, which isn't really possible, but maybe worth the effort a bit. I'll keep my heart rate as low as I can on the bike, be strategic as usual about nutrition, and follow up with some longer 45min or hour long runs. An intense week of training, as they all will be from here on out. As it is, I have only one more race, the Lifetime Fitness, in 3 weeks. Olympic distance, so it's only of limited value to the Ironman experience. Not sure yet how I'll approach that race - either as a time trial, or into a slow groove to emulate Ironman.

Pictures to come - I just haven't updated Flickr yet, but I will. I also have photos coming from the last race. I'll keep you posted when they're up!

Stand by...

xt4 is back in tha buildin'...stand by for full race report forthcoming...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Windy City, Etceteras

Whew. Back from the whirlwind tour of Chicago and back. Lots of time in the car in a 36 hour period - does anybody spend much time in Chicago? What is the freaking story with the damn traffic? Cripes I thought Minneapolis was bad - Chicago makes it look like a Sunday drive. And the bloody toll road - honestly. Seriously. Honestly. Just when traffic finally gets going, you have to slow down and deal with the Complete Fiasco (that's code for another term that begins with of merging and moving and slowing and dealing with the tolls. Obnoxious. 4 or 5 stops on a single 120 mile stretch of interstate. How absurd. So anyway, back in Madison tonight before heading out tomorrow afternoon in the direction of race day. The weather looks eerily like my last Half IM - cool, with a high only around 70. Showers, too.

The conference was good, in case that matters to you. Like most conferences, some useful stuff and some snoozers. We spent some time talking about blogging. And Flickr. And YouTube. Apparently I'm all caught up there.

Speaking of Flickr, they're apparently doing some maintenance presently, as I get the message "Flickr is having a massage" when I try and access the site, so you'll have to enjoy these embedded images from my ride on-course Thursday - I wasn't able to blog before I left for Chicago.

I extended my ride to include the section I rode Tuesday and the next section, essentially covering 10 miles (20 miles round trip) that brings me from Mt. Horeb to Cross Plains. It's an interesting combination - the front half, as I described the other day, is pretty hilly. The second half is really technical - some long descents that wind around and require quite a bit of awareness for turning, and which comes to a pretty abrupt right turn at the base of the descent, requiring enough braking to be safe, but not so much that you lose momentum. So I practiced taking all my turns at speed and being comfortable on the descents. This is also a particularly beautiful section of the IM course - though there are many others elsewhere on the course - where the road narrows and the Flora surrounds and you feel protected and hidden and secret. It makes for some really, really fun riding. Farms and barns and silos edge the road, and if feels made up it's so cool.

It's been an atypical race week, and I'm okay with that right now. I've had so much else to do that I haven't been obsessing about it like I can tend to, but I've also not felt distracted from its presence. It's been of mind, but not always top of mind. Which is keeping me relaxed and maintaining perspective. I've eaten well all week, but haven't loaded up the last 2 days like I did last time - I think some of my GI issues in my last race were exacerbated by what might have been too dense a load of carbs and sodium in my system, so I've been doing water instead of Gatorade, and I haven't been increasing my caloric intake like I normally would, but I have been increasing my carbohydrates proportional to the whole. The idea is to start the race feeling well fed but not full - that way I can monitor better (I'm hoping) what and how much is going into my body throughout the race. I'll also be cutting down my caloric intake just a bit on the race - 280 calories an hour or so rather than 330-350 - as I think I was asking more of my body than was reasonable - and, I noticed this week, much of my nutritional formulas were concocted at the beginning of the season when I was 15-20 pounds heavier. A significant difference there. But all that said, I'm just feeling more relaxed going into this race. Not quite so much the scientist. Not quite so much the obsessive. I hope that's good.

One last thing before I go - this image was chalked onto the road when I was biking. Not sure who it's for - I imagine some training club or something - or when it was left there or what (I don't think it's "official"), but either way I was happy to see it and it spoke its instructions to me clearly. Ironman Ahead.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Keep Your Hands and Feet Inside The Ride At All Times...

Well, I attacked about a 4 mile stretch of the Ironman course today, starting with what I call the Roller Coaster, which is just outside of Mt. Horeb, maybe 25-30 miles into the bike, when the serious hills begin. To that point there are one or two serious climbs, but mostly it's just a gradual thing. Starting with the Roller Coaster, there's a significant chunk of fast descents followed by steep climbs, with increasing technical difficulty and degree of slope. This section is actually the easiest of all the "difficult" pieces. My hope and intention is, for the next several training rides I'm out here, to progressively attack each difficult chunk to get familiar and design some kind of strategy for how it'll go.

I attached my camera to my aero bars to see if I could give you some indication of what it's like to ride this beginning section; this is about 2.5 miles or so. The video doesn't do it justice (and YouTube's compression makes it pretty chunky, but whaddyagonnado); you just can't appreciate how fast the descents are or how steep the climbs are - you can hear me breathing, and that's how you know that I'm working pretty hard. But all in all the video turned out pretty well - when you see my fingers flashing in the frame and clicking, that's me shifting gears. And I'm not sure who I'm talking to the whole time, except when I say "you", I guess I mean "me".

I rode this section (plus an additional 1.5 miles of more of the same) twice, and the second time I really got it down. You'll hear me talk about going 30-some mph - that increased to 41mph later on. You'll also hear me say that the best thing is to stay in the small chain ring - I changed that up, so I stay in the small ring for much of the beginning of this, but then I go into the large chain ring until the very end. The end result was a savings the second time around of probably 2 minutes or so, just from having a smarter strategy in gearing. The whole day is a mental exercise, of course, but on the bike, in these hard climbs and descents, is when it really becomes important to know how to use the bike most effectively and how to save your legs most effectively. If I can practice these technical pieces until they're familiar and I have a strategy, I can save tens of seconds on each hill and make up several more on smart descents. If I can learn to take the many turns and curves at speed, that's even more seconds. Add that up over the course of 112 miles and there are several minutes - maybe as many as 15 or more - that are earned not as as a result of pedaling harder but of pedaling smarter. That's what I'm after. So hopefully the next few weeks - I'm back here the week of the 4th of July - will give me opportunities to really nail some of these pieces down. I'll be back to the next technical section of the course coming up here on Thursday. Maybe I'll be able to shoot some video then as well.

Other than that, went to the bike shop after my ride and bought a new bike computer/cadence monitor, since mine has been crapping out for the last few weeks and I was fist fighting with it all day today. So I should probably go get that on Ol' Blue before it gets too late.

Swimming and some more running tomorrow - I'll see if I can get some action shots of cows or - this was something new I saw today - llamas (!)

Of Wisconsin

Here's the thing about Wisconsin, or at least this little corner 15 miles out of Madison that I'm familiar with: it's so beautiful. Impossibly beautiful. Storybook beautiful. There are so many colors, everything is so lush. Farms are everwhere, growing corn or beans or tending cattle. Every road seems like a little country road, rarely traveled. Not a mile from the busy highway that blurs past my family's lakehouse where I'm staying and it feels like I'm in the middle of nowhere. It lends to a feeling of simplicity. It relaxes. It's good.

Running here is useful in almost everyway - this particular area is really hilly, which is great for strength. It's so freakshow pretty that miles tick by without my being aware. And there's so much to amuse me on the run - cows chilling out literally on the side of the road. A chicken coop with, like, 10 chickens or something just clucking away. Every hillcrest is a get-out-the-camera kind of event, because there's some new meadow or creek or field that, inevitably, cannot be captured in the stillness of a photographic instant. I get back from my workouts feeling energized, rather than tired. And the cool-downs on the dock with two good friends at my side can't be beat.

I know I've been intimating about this sort of thing for the past few weeks, and I'm aware I sound increasingly corny, but: last night after sleeping hard for four hours I suddenly bolted wide awake, for no reason. So I rolled around a bit trying to fall back asleep before finally getting up to get a drink. On the way I looked out the window, so I went out on the end of the dock and just sat there. The moon was a shard, hanging low and bright. It reflected amber of a perfectly still, oily canvas underneath it. The sky was littered with stars, like God had just thrown glitter into the air and froze it in time. The trees that surround the lake stood out only as starless blackness against the dotted frame. I sat there for a long time and just looked into the sky, and I wondered - when was the last time I did this? When was the last time I stared into a starswept sky and just let the curious night exist around me, for no reason at all? At least 10 years, I think. I used to do it a lot, back then. But you get older, and something seems to be more important, and you start taking it all for granted a little bit, I think. And it becomes not unimportant, but unappreciated. Remembered, instead of revelled. It felt good to lay there like that and just be. And I got to thinking how reacquainted I'm feeling with the world. With the natural world in particular. You can't spend 8 or 10 hours on a bike every week, or run these many hours outside without having more than a passing awareness of the country around you. And it's more than an appreciation for its obvious beauty - it's simple things like the sounds of a bog when you ride by, the smell of lawn clippings, the sounds of hawks and thunder. I don't mean to get all "one with nature", but seriously - people don't live there anymore. I didn't, anyway. And I think we're missing out. I think if you haven't been saturated with rain lately, you should try it. If you haven't felt like your breathing and footfalls were a bit intrusive to the otherwise pure symphony around you, you should go do that. I think there's a world around us that we don't live in anymore, and it's better than the one we've chosen.

End philosophical waxing.

A busy day of work today, then some open water swimming and an hour on the bike. Looking forward especially to the bike! Chance of thunderstorms rolling in later today, so we'll see what's in store.

Monday, June 19, 2006

On the Road...

Well, I left Minneapolis this morning, Jackson and JoJo in tow, with increasingly overcast skies and rain threatening. A mostly uneventful 300 miles later, Madison greeted us with mostly sunny skies. Listened to a lot of ESPN on the Sirius - during the Dan Patrick show, Keith Olberman was talking about Phil Mickelson's magnificent meltdown at the U.S. Open yesterday (google it if you're interested), and defined "choke" as failing only when the opponent is yourself. Amen, and be gone.

Settled in and set up the office to work for the week, much to Jack's chagrin. He interrupted me several times to say, "Dude. There's a lake out there. What the hell are we doing in here?!? Let's go swimming, man!" Alas, he'll have to wait. Heading out for a run now, after which I've promised Jack it's his time. JoJo's just happy to be along.

Here's the view from my "office" this week. It's good to be alive.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

BIG shout out!

A huge Happy Birthday to my favorite person of all my favorite people - Team Captain, best friend and most beautiful girl in the world - my wife Amy. 30 years old (that's a new age bracket in triathlon!) Whoohoo!

Race Week (Already?!?)

Well here we are, once again - seems like we just did this, eh? Racing another Half Iron distance one week from today, in High Cliff State Park in Wisconsin. Near Oshkosh. South of Green Bay. Never been there, not even close. Should be interesting.

I'm packing up tonight, heading to Wisconsin tomorrow to live with family and train on the Ironman course before a whirlwind weekend of business in Chicago and racing at High Cliff. It's weird and interesting to be packing up my whole life for a week - my computers so I can work, my training gear, my racing gear, special foods, the dogs...etceteras. It will either work entirely to my advantage this week that I have more than a race to think about - I'll go in relaxed and easy - or totally the opposite, where I'll feel frazzled and confused. Let's hope the former, eh?

Goals for raceday are pretty damn simple: redemption. That doesn't mean some new speed record or personal records or anything like that. It just means - run my race, my way. Execute, execute, execute. I also hope to take advantage of the unique atmosphere - I'll be totally solo out there, no support crew (physically - always the Team is present) and that should do well for mental toughness and maybe even some meditative racing. It's an unfamiliar course in unfamiliar country - all these things that could be obstacles, I'll try and work to my advantage and just have fun out there. The weather (a week out, what do they know) looks good so far - warmer than the last race, anyway. The countryside promises to be beautiful, so I'll hope to just really enjoy myself. Relax, have fun, and let the race come to me.

I got a new camera and I'll be taking it along - I'll try and kind of photo-capture my blog a bit this week, take you along for the road trip. And I'll try and blog everyday if possible, if for nothing else than to keep those on the homefront apprised of my positions. I'm really excited to be training on course at Ironman - I have shorter bike courses, so instead of the long loops like last time I'll try and really work a few particularly difficult parts of the course. And of course, looking forward to hanging out on the lakefront with my family. A blessing that in owning my own business I'm as portable as I am - life truly is good.

Stay tuned, much more to come.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Of Foxes

Right, so let me preface this as briefly as I can with just a bit of context: I don't believe in coincidence. I'm not sure what coincidence is, or quite how to explain the surreal weaving of seemingly random threads, but I don't think said threads just find their ways around one another as a matter of chaos. I also want to say that, as I've indicated, something is happening to me as a matter of course in Becoming Ironman. Something deeper and more complicated than the physical rigors and affects. The universe seems to be coordinating itself around me somehow. I'm seeing things differently, or for the first time, or as they have always meant to be seen. The world in general, I'm speaking - not limited to the confines of my vision on rides or runs or swims. I don't understand it, and don't need to, but there is something transcendental at work - I can feel that. Neo to The Matrix, that sort of thing.

So, of foxes. I'd never seen a fox before. Hard to believe, I know. I'd never seen a real fox. I've also never seen a badger, or a wolverine, or a bobcat, or any number of otherwise pretty common creatures. I also can't think of how or why I'd have wanted to see a fox, or would be discussing a fox, or even thinking of a fox. The fox and I had no relationship whatsoever, of any kind. Complete strangers, he and I.

So I'm in Boston weekend before last, buying an umbrella, and the woman behind me is talking to the check-out lady. And she's saying how it's probably for the best that her cat died, because she has fwahxes in her yahd. Can you believe theat? I am amused by the typical accent, make my purchase, and spend the rest of the weekend telling Amy that it's too bad we have fwahxes in our yahd.

About a week ago, before bed, I'm watching the local news. Interesting to note that I never watch the local news. Literally, never. Unless I want a Vikings update or am especially interested in the weather - which is why I was tuning in, for the weekend's weather report - the local news around here is stoooopid. They try and make a Minnesota connection to everything. "Up next, more bad news in Iraq. And we have an exclusive with a Minnesota man who's been to Iraq, and reaction from more Minnesotans who've read about it in books. Stay tuned." So I'm watching the news and they come to one of those silly human interest stories, and lo' and behold there's my tax accountant on television. Seems she's also a wildlife rehabilitation person, and this sick fox in her general rural neighborhood had the unlikely sense to pass out on the steps of the humane society. So they nursed the fox back to health, and it was my tax accountant's job to reintroduce the healed animal to the wild. Huh. Crazy, hey look - my tax accountant's on TV! The fox part of it went by me completely.

Then we have last weekend's race. And as I'm headed into T2, in the last of some 59 miles on my bike, dejected and ill and entirely all alone on the road, out races to the side of the road a fox. Right in front of me, like it'd been waiting for a parade in which I was the only attraction. He just flies out to the side of the road, slides to an abrupt halt, and watches me. Like I said, I'd never seen a fox before, and in the first nanoseconds thought it was an awkward cat. Then I realized it was a fox, and in shared milliseconds we stared into each other, it through blackish yellowish eyes, me through red tinted lenses. Then in an instant it turned tail and bolted back into the woods, sliding for a moment on the loose gravel at the side of the road. It was weird at the time - like the fox jumped out to share a secret with me, then jumped back into retreat before anyone else discovered him. But I had doom and gloom on the brain, so thought nothing more of it.

Until later, when I was telling Amy how a fox just jumped right out at me. And that meeting, it really stayed with me. I haven't been able to get that fox out of my head. It was such a weird thing to have happen. So unexpected and random. It was days later that I remembered seeing the fox on TV with my tax accountant. And only last night did I remember that, for the third time in a single week, foxes came up again while I was in Boston. I'm pretty sure I've gone my entire life without foxes having the limelight once, nevermind three times in a week, however brief and seemingly inconsequential.

Separate from one another the instances are mildly interesting, but unremarkable. Like any single thread. But seen in context, with these other threads, a more complete weaving is revealed, if only one steps away to see it a bit from a distance. I have no idea what it means. But I suspect it means something. I don't know if there's some lesson to learn from the fox, or some reason to share space with it, however brief or meandering, or if the Fox Nation wants something with me, or what. Amy, who is versed in all kinds of lore from different cultures, suggested that I research what the fox represents as a Spirit guide. I guess in some Native American cultures there is, in time of great meditation and coming of age, a union with some kind of animal, and that animal represents some kind of guide for your spirit. Or something, I don't know, I'm kind of arms-length with that kind of stuff. And I also think you could look up the traits for probably any animal and find all kinds of meaning in yourself, like those lame personality tests, where if you're INPJ or whatever the hell, it puts you in a convenient and quaint little box within which all of you can be defined and understood through 4 little letters representing 4 black and white traits, and they seem spot-on, but you might just as well shuffle the letters and see how they define you and you'd say "Ah, brilliant, that explains me perfectly." It's all hocus-pocus to me. Nontheless, here's what I discovered about the fox:

He's a solitary creature. He doesn't travel in a pack, and prefers to manage tasks on his own.
He's a sensible eater. He eats 5 or 6 small meals a day, instead of one or two big ones that last him several days.
He's clever, inventive, and intelligent.
And here's what I found particulary interesting, considering when he jumped out at me during last weekend's race: He's quick to solve problems, physically and mentally. The fox assesses a situation quickly and takes an action, never unsteady or unsure about its consequence, instead confident in his doing.


So. If anybody has any other thoughts on this, I'm all ears. And if you see any foxes, tell them I say 'ello.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

IMWI Swim and T1...

Found this very cool thing today from Triathlon podcaster Simply Stu...a great preview of the swim course and the unique transition area that takes place at the Monona Terrace (that big white building)..which involves running up a parking garage helix, running through the convention center, and biking down the helix all in Transition 1 for IMWI. Crazy. Very cool video - Nicole DeBoom's advice is awesome too - check it out - props to

Moving Forward

I was playing in the beginning...the mood all changed.

I'm back.

I woke up today with a fire. An excitement, and an element of productive anger. Not the kind that maladjusts, but the kind that clears and focuses. And now it's on.

What did I think was going to happen? That I'd head out for a cheery 17 hour stroll in September only to reach a pleasant but anticlimactic finish? No. I signed up because it's hard. Because men of Iron do not choose the path of least resistance. Because a previous me could not do this. I stood there in 2003, soft and overweight and among the wreckage of a life so far ruined and made a conscious decision to do the most difficult thing I could think of, partly in an effort to wake myself the hell up. To feel again the rapture of being alive. I've done that, and the finish line at Ironman absorbs so much more than 140.6 miles.

So let the sometimes anguish also extend beyond those 17 hours. Let it come. Let it be thrown at me so that once I absorb the blow; next time I deflect it or duck its approach. Let it be hard. Let me learn from my opponent - who is me - until his tendencies are boring they're so well known. So like so many cheesy movies I stand again at unlikely hour, face bloodied and body exhausted, and begin my pummel with unanticipated force. Let the price be high for Becoming. It's supposed to hurt. But hell. I've been through worse. Much, much worse.

You all speak wisdom, every one, in your comments and private emails. And I appreciate that nobody was simple minded in this - you seemed to understand how it was complicated for me. Thank you.

I choked. Jordan didn't make every buzzer shot either - but he always wanted the ball in his hands. I know now how it feels to go all Anakin Skywalker on the joint and just give in to anger and its influence. Good enough. Lesson learned. Understood. Certainly it won't ever happen again.

More important is another weapon in the arsenal. Another deposit into the account. I get it. I know how it feels. I know what not to do. Seemingly simple lessons, but like in life, sometimes they're expensive as hell.

So I race the Half Iron distance again next weekend. Consider it unfinished business. I'll be entirely solo - no support crew whatsoever. Which is as it should be this once.

Enough of this, then. Let's get on with playing this simple game. Let's get back to the business of Becoming Ironman.

So I'll take the first step of a million more
And I'll make mistakes I've never made before
But at least I'm moving forward
At least I'm moving forward
At least I'm moving forward.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


So I've had a few days after the race to try and quantify a few things. Here's where I am, in no particular order:

• It's not the misdirection that's really bothering me about this race. That sucks, but I'm over it. It's how I handled it. That I allowed something - anything - in the heat of a moment to influence my race strategy. That is SUCH a stupid, naive, silly, pointless thing to do, and I feel like I should've been beyond that. I told Amy this morning that I feel a little like I missed the winning free throws at the end of the game or something. That when it came time to put up or shut up, I choked. And I'm usually, in competition and in life, pretty good under pressure. I'm really frustrated with myself about that.

• It's not lost on me how I am perpetuating the thing with my struggle over this. That when it happened, I needed to just move on and forget about it. And here I am...needing to move on and forget about it. This taps into the OCD perfectionist in me, as well as the competitor. Listen, I don't have unreasonable expectations of myself. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, I know what I am and am not reasonably capable of. And I know when I could have done more, and when I could have done nothing more. I'm not beating myself up about this for some lack of perspective. I'm having a hard time loosening up about this, and I know I need to.

• It's hardly the end of the world. Don't get the impression that I've lost all perspective here. There are many things about the race that are encouraging in light of Ironman: My swim was pretty solid, my bike was - excluding the drama - really solid, and even with all the drama my run went better than it could have. And I still finished some 20 minutes ahead of last year's time...give me back my 10-12 minutes and that's even better. That's all good, and I do need to be more positive about those things, I know.

• There are legitimate concerns about the bigger picture from this race. My nutrition broke down. My mental toughness broke down, and ultimately A + B = my body broke down some, too. In as much, yes, that everything I do before Ironman is sort of meant for things like that to happen, so I can experience and learn and understand them, I have a limited number of rehearsals before the real deal, and they need to be as quality as they can be. They can't just be playgrounds for folly - I do need to be able to start putting things together a bit. At this point no race is unimportant.

• That said - it's still 3 months out from the race. This wasn't a dress rehearsal, as much as maybe I wish it could have seemed to be. There's plenty of time. I need to settle down a little bit.

• It certainly could've been worse. I read a race report from Escape from Alcatraz where this dude hit a pothole descending at 40mph and is lucky to be alive.

• Of course it's better this - and "this" is the mental and nutritional breakdown - happened now rather than in September. And I have much to learn from an experience like this, and can and should and will. All part of the process.

• Last thing, and an important one: When I was younger, there was a particular summer where I golfed a lot. And I was lucky enough to golf a lot with my Dad, who was a pretty decent golfer. And he could hit the ball a long damn way. Sometimes I outdrove him, sometimes I hit it about as far as he did, and usually he outdrove me, by a lot. He always chipped better, always putted better. He was a better, more experienced, and ulimately more gifted golfer than probably I could ever be. Anyway, by midsummer I started to kind of slump, and my game got worse and worse. And everytime I went out there I'd be nervous that it would go worse than the last time. And finally I was out there one evening and was just sucking it up, and was really frustrated. I was swearing and tossing my stuff around, getting really angry - which of course just perpetuated my crappy play. Finally my Dad just kind of said, on a lovely long-shadowed Tuesday evening at the 8th green, settle down. Look around. It's a beautiful night. You're out golfing. You're with your ol' Dad. What's to be so worked up about? He was right, and it was how he approached the game, too. For as solid as he was, he was never some freakshow competitor. Never cut throat. Always, always he was having fun. And I took that to heart, and never again treated golf like I did it for a living. I can't think of the last time I got truly upset on the golf course. Amy said to me yesterday that "this is supposed to be fun." I know it may sound otherwise, but that's not part of the equation. It is fun. It was fun. A lot of fun. Kids playing in puddles please don't call me in for dinner I don't want to miss any of this fun. And if you've ever been in a heated basketball game, or lost by one point in a game, or thought you'd win a tennis match only to get beat - you know that you still had fun. That the pain and heartache and frustration, they're part of the whole experience, and ultimately make the successess that much richer and more rewarding. The expecations I have on myself are fair, and it's up to me alone to live up to those expectations. When I don't, it gives me cause for pause and in this case frustration. And I have to problem solve it, and analyze it, and work my way around it until it makes some sense, I can develop a strategy, and either redefine my expectations or my efforts. And that's what I'm doing here. But yeah. It's fun.

So: Where to go from here? According to my race schedule I only have one more race - an Olympic distance - before Ironman. I think I need at least one, maybe two more scrimmages before gameday, so I'm looking at that. As it is, I'm going to be training all next week in Wisconsin, and then I have business in Chicago next Friday. There happens to be another Half Iron distance near Green Bay on Sunday the 25th, which is about 2 hours from Madison. I'm thinking while I'm out there I might take advantage...I haven't decided yet. July is the Lifetime Fitness Olympic distance, and then I may or may not look for a Sprint or Olympic in early August...we'll see. I might just as well spend those final 6 weeks in diligent training, but we'll see after Lifetime how sharp my race-day skills seem to be. Mentally, I need maybe a few more days with this last race to sort it out, and then I think I'll be done with it. So. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Race Report: Liberty Triathlon Half Ironman

The day was cool and breezy. The transition area buzzed with athletes in jackets and gloves, some with stocking hats on. It felt like an early October morning, or maybe late April. Where two days ago it was 90 melting degrees here. Weird. But as good a day as any to traverse 70.3 miles of Minnesota.

I'd arrived, as usual, promptly at 6:00am, when transition opened, and was able to situate my bike on the very end of the rack, precisely as I like it. The transition racks were organized by age group, which would at least give me an indication as I went in and out all day of where I was in relation to my peers. That wasn't a point of focus, however - competing against anybody - today was all about execution of a well laid plan. It was a critical race in Becoming Ironman.

I warmed up a bit in the water to get my heart rate up and my muscles prepared for exercise. I practiced some water entry dives, and then just hung around in the water, warm in the temperature and my wetsuit. I felt good. I didn't have a nervous stomach - I haven't had it all season, in fact. I had the right kind of butterflies. I had done the training, I knew. I figured, if all went well, I might be between 6:00 and 6:15 in this race; 6:10 or so felt most realistic. 6:30 was my doomsday time - I thought that was probably as slow as I'd go today. Mostly, I wanted flawless execution. Not speed, not pace, not placement. I wanted to finish this race feeling like an important step towards Ironman was taken.

With about a minute to go, I put in my earplugs and the world went away. My age group - all of us wearing blue swim caps - were the very first wave to get in the water. I intended to subject myself to the washing machine, so I positioned myself at the start smack in the middle of the pack. I heard a muffled voice say over the loudspeaker "15 Seconds" and prepared for my entry. Finally, we were off. (That's me in the middle with the red shoulders and sleeves...)

I ran in until the water was waist deep or so, then dolphin-dove in and began my stroke. I was immediately sandwiched between two other swimmers. Our arms tangled as they went by me, and I felt another swimmer's hands on my ankles. As one of the swimmers passed I tried to feel for his legs, so I wouldn't get caught by surprise with a heel to the nose. As I was passed, I'd try and swing in right behind and hang in the draft for as long as I could. The first 50 yards or so, this is how it was - flinging, jolting, bumping, shoving, moving. The madness was over pretty quickly, and it never got as bad as I'd hoped it would (which sounds weird to say...). I found, to my surprise and joy, a perfect device to keep calm and focused through the initial push, and used it the rest of the swim; I envisioned when I was 9 years old, and I won a free-throw competition in my town. Winning at the local level meant I went on to the state competition (where I did nothing remarkable, alas), and in preparing for that my Dad and I would go to the Old Armory (which has been now for many years a theatre, but when I was growing up it was the only place in town with basketball hoops) to practice shooting free-throws. Anyway, with that as the plotline, I envisioned every stroke as a preparation dribble on the free-throw line, just before the shot. In the same way a person takes those dribbles to focus, for relief from distractions, I'd translate that over to my swim stroke. I could hear the sound of the ball on the hardwood with each stroke I took. It worked great. I was happy to have it with me.

After the first 100 yards or so I began to settle in, and while really the first half mile was pretty congested with more than the occasional bump from other swimmers, I got into my rhythm and did my thing. Soon I turned on the last buoy and began to visualize a solid transition for the bike. Then, I was up and out of the water, stripping the top half of my wetsuit before my feet were fully out of the water. I exited in 35:44, giving me a 1:42/100yard pace. A Half Ironman P.R. (Personal Record) for me by about a minute and a half.

I climbed up the stairs, down the short trail and into transition. I stripped my wetsuit down, put on a long sleeved cycling jersey (no easy task to do while wet), and was out of transition in 2:14.

The wind was coming strong from the West at 13-14mph. The first part of the course is well protected and sends you through a series of big squares, so the wind wouldn't be a huge factor until the last half of the loop, which is a long out and back, West then East, on a county highway. Here the road was unprotected, which meant a strong tailwind on the way out and an ass-kicker in your face coming home.

I followed the volunteers' instructions around U-turns and bike paths to finally exit the Park Reserve that was homebase for the race. Finally I was out on the road, exactly like I was for my Century ride three weeks earlier. I assessed my situation: my heartrate was high - it always is coming out of the water and into transition, no matter how conservative I try to be. I'd work at getting comfortable on the bike and letting it come down; no hard work on the bike for the first 25 miles was in the plans, anyway. Nutritionally I felt great - I'd swig Gatorade every 10 minutes for the first half hour after the swim before introducing solid foods - cutup Clif bars and gels - at intervals after that. I'd been having some rear derailleur issues the week of the race, and was even making last minute adjustments the night before the race - I was really concerned that 'Blue might be hiccupping a bit for me today. But he was smooth as butta, and ready to race. All in all, I was feeling great.

At around mile 6 I encountered the first aid station, at one of three or four crossroads on the course where cyclist pass the same section going in different directions at different places, so there were racers coming out the turn that were behind me on the course while I was going into the same turn. All I saw were cyclists turning, so I turned too - the aid guys yelled at me "Go straight, go straight!" - I guess I wasn't supposed to turn. Huh. So I make a quick turnaround and got back on course. I swapped in my half-empty Gatorade bottle for a fresh bottle of energy drink, committed to staying as fully stocked as I could all day. With only that minor interruption, I was back on course.

Winding around mile 8 or so and it was time for some Clif bar...and I could not for the life of me open my damn ziplock bag. I had full-fingered gloves on, but seriously. They're not kidding around with this ziplock stuff. The damn thing was bullet proof. So I'm trying to negotiate steering my bike, not falling over, and somehow trying to open this bag with one hand. It became comical, how totally impossible it was. Just then I hear cheers of my name and look up to see Amy and Mike - with our dog JoJo along (!) - cheering by the side of the road (Alas, the Irondog in training Jackson was homebound, as it was decided he'd go too berzerk upon seeing me. JoJo, on the other hand, is mostly oblivious to everything). "I can't get my damn ziplock open!" is all I think to shout.

Finally I turned West onto the long 6 mile stretch, and despite my comedy of errors so far (I did finally get the damn ziplock open) was feeling great. I reached down for my first sip from the new energy drink.

What the hell is this?

Had you seen my face, it would have looked like I just tasted lemons or something. The on-course nutritional supplier was Hammer Nutrition, and this was their answer to Gatorade, called Heed energy drink. It had a really watery consistency, which wasn't bad, but tasted remarkably like ass. It had kind of a soy-milk tint to it. I'm sure if it's what you train with and are familiar with, it's an acquired taste. I know a lot of people don't care for Gatorade too. But at Ironman they'll have Gatorade Endurance Formula on course, so that's all I train with. This stuff was a nasty introduction into the system. And, knowing there were aid stations at regular intervals, I packed only two bottles on my bike, choosing to forgo the weight of packing my usual four bottles full of Gatorade. So this was my drink for the day, like it or not. I choose not.

I rode - rather flew - down the road. The tailwind was awesome, my legs felt great, my heart rate was solid, and I was having a great day so far. Amy and Mike had ridden ahead and positioned themselves on the side of the road, and as they cheered as I passed I yelled "Love me some tailwind!" and threw a little piece of Clif bar to JoJo, like a float at a parade. There were some rolling climbs on the course, but especially with that tailwind they were effortless. I reached the turnaround point and headed the opposite direction - now with the wind in my face. The headwind sucked. Or blew. Whatever. But I still felt good, careful to never let my legs feel like they were working too hard, and I was still cruising at 19 or 20mph into the wind. I passed my first hour average more than 20mph on the bike, and was on-pace for a sub 3 hour ride. I passed Amy and Mike again coming back the other way and this time said, less enthusiastically, "Love me some headwind", and kept on. I had about 7 miles of solid racing left before it all went to hell.

Facing those 6 miles of headwind were tough, but not damaging. I turned back into town (and thankfully out of the wind) still on pace, and still feeling great. I'd downed a gel, on schedule, been eating my Clif bars, on schedule, and been hydrating with Heed, on schedule. The Heed wasn't sitting well with me, though. I thoroughly did not enjoy the taste, for starters, and taste becomes an important element in long course endurance racing. Second, my stomach was starting to feel little...different. No alarms ringing, but this was an unfamiliar calorie and carbohydrate mixture for me. My body was conditioned for Gatorade, and any variance from that introduces the potential for havoc. I decided to keep an eye on it and temper it with water whenever I could, but wasn't too concerned. I approached another of those confounding cross roads, where the volunteers directed me and the racers around me to turn right. There were two races going on - an Olympic distance and the Half Ironman. The Olympic distance racers did one loop and some, the Half Iron distance racers did two loops. The traffic controllers sent me back in the direction of the park, and I continued on, figuring the turnaround was somewhere right ahead.

I arrived back at the park, and the helpful volunteers again helped me negotiate all the sharp turns and twists. Suddenly though, I pop out of the bike trail and I'm back at transition. This isn't right... Volunteers are telling me good job, good job, telling me to get ready to dismount, sending me back to the timing mats. What?!? Shit! They'd sent me along the Olympic course, and not to the correct turnaround, which by my watch said was about 1.5 miles ago somewhere. I started yelling "Long course! Long course!" Apparently then I grew another head and was speaking in tongues, because the volunteers looked at me like they'd never heard of such a thing. I wanted to get off my bike and shake every. single. one. of. them. I U-turned hard just before the timing mats, still yelling Long course! Long course!" Desperate for anybody to freaking help me. Finally one of the women, with an empathetic Minnesota Housewife sound of "ohhh, that's too bad" said "Back the trail?" Clearly this wasn't anywhere near where I should be (I can think clearly now where it happened, but was confounded like the rest of them yesterday), and so I headed right back out like I had at the very beginning of the race. Meanwhile there's a woman behind me shouting the same thing I was - "Long course! Long course! They sent us the wrong way! Where's the long course?!?!" And as I'm going back through the maze of trails to get back to the road, encountering volunteers, I continue yelling "Long course! Long course!" and they continue to be utterly confused at my existence. I finally negotiate my way back to the road, mostly without their help, and at that checkpoint they look at me like I'm an alien...why are people leaving the park now? I can hear them thinking. "Good job!" they shout. I want to throttle everybody.

You've heard me say a million times, and it's not just lipservice - in fact, it's pretty much how I live my life, even away from triathlon: You cannot control the things you cannot control. There is a finite amount of space around me that I'm in charge of, and the rest I just have to respond and react to. In long course triathlon this beam of truth becomes accute and hot, like sunlight in a magnifying lens. How one responds to the unexpected, to crisis, to the unforeseen, is often the fulcrum point in a race. it can literally make or break you. I know this. I've been prepared for the unforseen. A flat tire. A crash. Sickness. Equipment failure. Panic in the water. Blisters. Whatever - I have a strategy for it, the essentials of which are simply: Keep Moving Forward. Call me naive, call me stupid, call me unprepared, but I wasn't ready for this. Okay - I know what the paperwork says. I know I'm supposed to be familiar with the course on my own. And I was. I know these are hardworking volunteers who don't get paid, who are here on their own graciousness, and I sincerely appreciate that. Really. Always. And I know with hundreds of people whizzing by, especially on a course as complicated as this one, with two waves of distances going on, confusion will occur, mistakes will happen. I get that. I get it. But dammit, do not let them happen to me.

As I finally re-engaged with the long course athletes, I was furious. Utterly pissed off. I was about 3 miles off course, which translated to about 10 or 11 minutes. What's 10 or 11 minutes? It's an entire mile on the run or better. It's 3 miles on the bike. It's 600 yards in the water. It's a hydration interval and a feeding interval. It's the difference between 11:55pm and a finisher at Ironman and 12:06, try again next year at Ironman. I felt like they'd been stolen from me through somebody's incompetence. I don't know whose. Yes yes, I should have somehow memorized the entire course before the race. But when you're blowing by at 20mph and people in green shirts are shouting and pointing, you listen and you do and you trust. That trust is a little bit sacred. Kind of everything about the entire day hinges on that trust.

So here I was, totally disengaged from the middle of the pack, where I was 15 minutes ago, to being at the very rear of the pack, with the 60+ age groupers (who left on the swim some 15 minutes or more after me). I attacked the course. My intention had been to pick it up a bit the 2nd half of the course, but I didn't pick it up. I threw it over my head, spun it around and tossed it over the ropes. I was so. pissed. off. I was swearing and cursing and shouting at nobody and everybody. I threw down on my cranks, trying to make up 10 minutes on the course. It wasn't even all that intentional - I didn't really think I'd make up ten minutes on the course. I don't even know who I was chasing or why. And it's not like I said "to hell with the plan, I'll show them and ride like hell." I just went. I burned as hot as I could, seemingly out of control of myself. I lunged up hills. I pedaled hard on descents. I trashed the asphalt. My heart rate climbed. My adrenaline spiked. My sugar stores depleted. I was, in the throes of my tantrum, concocting a perfect storm of nutritional misery.

A woman passed me and said "Doesn't that just piss you off that they sent us the wrong way?" It was the woman I'd heard in transition, yelling for instructions like I was. "Extremely pissed off. "I said. "I am definitely riding angry." "I'm really angry too", she said, and I encouraged her to take it out on the course. She went ahead, and soon I passed Amy and Mike again, now on my second loop. "They sent me 4 miles in the wrong damn direction!" I called as I passed by. They looked shocked and upset for me. Meanwhile I'm drinking this stuff I can hardly tolerate, my heart rate is way high, and my sugar levels are plummeting. As I reached my mile 40 (course mile 37 or so), I finally came to my senses when I pretty abruptly felt awful.

Here's the basics of what biologically happened - Ironman Nutrition 101: As my heart rate climbed and my lactic acid increased from my increased burst of effort on the bike, my sugar stores replaced fat as my main source of energy. My heart began working hard enough where my systems diverted energies away from anything that didn't have to do with blood pumping - this included digestion. But meanwhile I'm trying to stay hydrated and eating, even while my appetite is, through an indication from my system, becoming completely lost. My body is telling me it doesn't want to eat because it's busy. But I have to eat because I need the energy. My body is telling me whatever dude, we're not digesting at the moment, come back later. So I'm filling up with carbohydrates that aren't being processed to replace the sugars I'm burning, calories that aren't being stored as anything, and an awful tasting nutritional drink that my body now wants to reject anyway. So on the bike, I start cramping up and suffer a sudden spike of energy loss - this is a combination of an adrenaline crash from my tantrum and the effects of my nutritional situation. So with some 15 miles left to go on the bike, I assessed my situation.

I had experienced an unintentional and unforeseen circumstance and failed the test in dazzling fashion. I tried to tell myself - 10 or 11's like a flat tire. Just think of it like you got a flat tire. You wouldn't be nearly so bent out of shape from a flat tire, so settle down. But as important as anything else is that my morale tanked after the direction screw-up. I'd felt so great before that, and was suddenly thrust into something that made me feel so pissed. And that was my first of several failures: I allowed emotion to affect decision making. And as Amy reminded me after the race (from my countless speeches on the subject): There is no room for emotion at Ironman. Instead of being the detached, clinical, decision-making machine I needed to be, try to be, want to be, practice to be, I became an angry, obsessed tyrant. I wasted stockpiles of energy swearing, being angry, fuming, mashing the pedals. I'd taken myself completely out of my game. When I look back on it, it even feel a little embarrassing. Maybe you're reading it thinking "what's the big deal man?" But unless you're there, unless you do this, put so much time into something, so much of yourself, I just don't know if I can help you understand how deflated I became. My reaction to the incident was now affecting everything. So I tried now to settle down. My whole goal, turning into the headwind to come home for the last time, was to get my heart rate down. Down down down. I had lost the privilege of being concerned about pace or time or splits. I had to hunker down now and go into survival mode. I knew nutrition was, for the time being, not an option. I had to get my heart rate to come down and maybe then digestion would come back to the party. As miserable as I was, at least I was coming back to myself. I was making decisions and being rational.

I rode out the rest of the bike course easy. Stupid easy. I had to - it's the situation I was in. If my heart rate climbed to over 130, I backed off. I climbed hills like I had nowhere to go. I was no longer surrounded by other riders. Once in awhile I'd pass or be passed by somebody with a 60 something or a 40 something or 50 something marked on their calves - each of us had our age tattooed to us for the day. I knew I was among the last in my age group out here. My carefully laid plans had not been executed, and in the final analysis that - like Ironman itself - came down to one thing: Me. I'd blown it. Now I needed to regroup and refocus. The clinician tried to return: I can't do anything about the last 3 hours. I have from right now, this second, until the end of the race. This is the situation. Doesn't matter how we got here, this is the situation and this is how we race. Figure it out.

I passed mile 56 at 3:03:44, which would have been another Half Ironman P.R., even with all the drama - an average pace of 18.1mph; still pretty good, thanks to my first half of the race. But none of that counts: Officially I entered Transition 2 in 3:17:23, some 59.25 miles later but calculated to 56, with an average speed of 17mph.

It's hard to describe how I felt in T2. Emotionally I was still down. Physically, I felt pretty miserable. I had averted a major nutritional crisis, but now I was calorie deficient and was dealing with low bloodsugar. I knew I could not stomach another ounce of this Heed sports drink. I changed my clothes, loaded up my fuel-belt with 4 Gatorades on them, and headed out of transition. I was hoping Mike and Amy weren't going to be right there, in the first few hundred yards, because I honestly think I would have broke down sobbing then and there. Not because I was having a difficult day and felt sorry for myself or something, but because my body was so out of wack that I just felt imbalanced and emotional from it. I had no idea how I was going to manage 13 miles.

Within the first half mile, though, things improved. It felt good to be off the bike. My pace was slow, but not as slow as I'd anticipated after everything. Being vertical again helped. I started to focus a bit more. To get a strategy for the run. I was supposed to drink every 10 minutes, as usual, just like I've trained. I didn't know, though, if my body was ready for it, or could take it. I'd have to just take it as it came. I was craving sugar, any kind of sugar, anything at all. I needed sodium. I approached the aid station and have never been so happy to see bananas and pretzels in my life. I grabbed a banana, loaded with potassium and sugar, and ate half of it. I grabbed a handful of pretzels and walked a bit, munching. It felt good to eat something real. I washed it down with a swig of Gatorade and got back to running.

The first 3 miles were done like this - run to the aid station, walk while eating. I needed to get some calories in, and try to level off my blood sugar. My legs felt pretty strong under me. Ideally, I anticipated I might do the run at a 10:00 pace, maybe better. I had no plans to walk at all. I knew going into the run that "ideal" was out the window, and I'd need to walk just to eat in the first few miles. I'd need to keep my heart rate lower than I would've. So I took the run as it came, whatever it was. Usually that was around 10:00, sometimes slowed to 11:00, sometimes under 9:00. I experienced cramping all day - I'd get a good rhythm going, then be forced to slow and walk, doubled over once or twice. My nutritional breakdown on the bike meant I'd be paying for it all day, with an odd scenario of unused nutrition in my body and the need for more nutrition.

I did the best I could with my Gatorade and bananas, but I had to be cautious with any eating at all and never could get my blood sugar to level off. I did much more running than walking, which I'm proud of, especially under the conditions, but I was still walking for more than a healthy version of me would. With about 3 miles to go I glanced at my watch and figured if I worked hard I could get in under 6:30. I tried to pick up my cadence and push a bit, but the cramping slowed me to a walk a few times. As I came in on my last mile I heard a woman behind me telling somebody how she was misdirected nearly 10 miles on the bike. Seems there were a few of us.

I approached the finish line to a small gaggle of bouncing children all wanting high-fives. I saw Mike and Amy, and that was about it - whatever crowd there was had thinned, as I figured probably I was at the rear of the pack for the entire race. I let out an exhale as I crossed in 6:29:09, with a run pace of 11:34. Another Half Ironman P.R. For whatever that's worth, which honestly isn't too much.

The transition area was mostly empty. Most of the hotdogs were gone from the post-race grill-out. There were only a few other finishers milling around. It was like arriving to a party that ended an hour ago. It was a little depressing. My blood sugar was still tanked, and I tried to reload with whatever was left as I gave the rundown to Mike and Amy on my day. Finally I put on my well-earned Finisher t-shirt, we packed up, and headed for home.

So: It wasn't a very good day out there. It wasn't supposed to be a day for learning lessons. And as up as I am for learning experiences, I'm a little past the point in Becoming Ironman where I feel I can afford to have too many. But maybe that's impractical. Maybe that's all there ever are - learning experiences. I wanted a race that could be a flawless execution of The Plan, and I didn't get it. Mostly because I authored my own demise out there. The lessons learned are inherent - I don't need to bullet list them for you. My wrong turns (literal and metaphoric) had major consequences. Traithlon's analogy for life rears its head again, I guess.

So I have to be honest at this point: As I've digested the race a bit (not literally - the cramping continued and I was sick and bolting to the bathroom all evening at home, thanks very much), I feel pretty low. And the Voldemort of this whole thing - He Who Must Not Be Named - which has been all but forgotten for months now, is suddenly rattling out my window: What if? What if this happens at Ironman? What if I can't finish? I don't live by What If, and I never have, so this is just a larger part of the same thing I dealt with yesterday - I have to find a way to take this situation and deal with it. Put it into the arsenal, learn from it, not allow it to affect my bigger picture, build a bridge and get the hell over myself. I expected more from myself and I didn't deliver. I wanted to take a few names while I was kicking ass. Instead it was my ass that got kicked. I guess I'll spend the next week trying to regroup a little, get my swagger back some. I'm going to look at my summer schedule and see if another Half Iron isn't possible somewhere to wash this taste out before Ironman - I may have some demons to exorcise, I don't know yet. There's suddenly a few things that I don't know yet.

Anyway, thanks as always to Mike for the photos and video (trying that on the blog for the first, eh?), and Amy took a few as well. And thanks to the two of them (and JoJo) to coming out seeing me faithfully through a pretty tough day. Look for the full race photos coming as usual soon - I apparently have to upgrade my Flickr account or something.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Weather or Not

So the weather for raceday tomorrow appears to be interesting: Much cooler than it's been, with a chance of rain all morning. I'll be getting in the water at 50 degree temps. It should stay cloudy pretty much all day - the sun might crack through after noon sometime. It probably won't hit 60 degrees the entire time I'm out there. The wind will be very similar to the last time I was out there, for my Century ride - topping out at 12-13 mph, from the East. The mixed bag with that is, the course is so multi-directional for much of the time that a direct headwind won't be an issue until the long out and back (this assumes what I rode 3 weeks ago is, in fact, the course...which is what I've been told, but who knows)...and then it's a direct tailwind all the way back. Nothing insurmountable. It means long sleeves and full fingered gloves are the required dress code.

I was thinking about what my initial gut reaction was to the weather. First thing I thought was - the damn water will be warmer than the air, and I Heart My Wetsuit. And then I was thinking how, last year, I seriously got intimidated with any weather report that didn't read overcast, high 60's, no wind. Of which there was one race, thanks very much. Any time the weather called for rain, or wind, or colder than normal or hotter than normal, I got nervous. Not even for any practical reason. Looking back, I think I just lacked confidence to do well in anything but ideal conditions. And show me a race with "ideal conditions" and I'll show you my Tour de France trophy: nonexistent. This year? Hell. Bring it on. Seriously. I'm not being cocky or falsely confident. Nor am I being unrealistic about the unique challenges and hardships cold (and anything under 60 degrees on the bike is cold - that windchill is a mutha) and rain (or wind, for that matter) might bring - they can totally, totally suck. And I'm not just talking smack to try and convince myself of something. Rather, this is an element of The Becoming. If we were to envision the Becoming of Ironman as, say, the in-progress building of a statue, or a monument, this part has shape and form in the midst of the continuing construction. What have I not faced in training this winter that I could possibly be afraid of this race season? Have I not come home shaking and feverish with a core temp so low my lips were blue? Have I not literally crawled up the stairs, shaking and simply unable to walk? Have I not ridden wild into the wind? Have I not been soaked to the bone? Have I not been chased by thunder? I'm not saying it'll be easy. I'm not saying I might not get my ass kicked. I'm not saying I may not again find myself in full fledged battle with the Elements, or that if I do, that I'll be victorious. But I am saying I go unafraid.

I am Becoming Ironman. Do your worst. I'll be ready.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Shout Out

BIG shout out today to our most consistently engaged blogger dude and my most incredible friend Mike - happy birthday Mike!!! Whoohooo!!!!!! May your metaphorical goggles never fog, may your metaphysical tires never flatten, and may your metatarsals never weaken. May your proverbial trisuit be never unflattering, may you never (ever, ever) chafe, and may the wind be always at your back!

Shout out too to Ali, who's presently honeymooning in Bora Bora or something (no, really), and who probably won't read this until August, but happy birthday to you, too!!!! Here's hoping your week of celebrations continues uninterrupted, and I hope you have an outstanding day in every way. Whoohooo!!!!!!

Ahh, cripes.

How do they expect me to get anything done at all with this in the world?

For the geek in you...

Yesterday I spent some time that I didn't have finally exploring some of the usefulness of this whiz-bang technology among me, particularly my GPS monitor and its software and web functions. Some interesting stuff that, if you tape the bridge of your glasses or wear a pocket-protector, you might find useful. I provide all of this knowing that hardly anybody will care. S'okay, I am still amused.

First off, I have this cool little feature that will give you a kind of real-time analysis of this weekend's bike course at the Liberty Triathlon Half Ironman. This data is captured from my Century ride on May 20th, when I rode the course...I'm not sure if or how much the course this weekend might be different than this, but I think this is pretty close. You'll see that I go around 4 times - the Half will only go around twice. Here's a small screenshot - if you go ahead and keep reading, what you'll see if you go through it yourself is a huge, full size thing in your web browser.

To see the cool stuff, you'll have to go here.. You'll see this little ball follow the path of the course, and most interesting is the synchronized elevation meter that follows the ball around. So you can see both the linear progress, and how much I'm climbing or descending at the same time. For you I suppose this will be interesting at best, but you can see it's practical applications for me, especially in consideration of Ironman.

A few hoops to jump through: You'll need to download Adobe's SVG Viewer. It's a free and fast download. You'll also have to be on a Windows machine (puke), and you have to use Internet Explorer 6.0 or later (really puke). You'll want to, when going to the link, click on the lower "Dashboard" button, and/or when inside any of the dashboards, click on the Map Player tab on the upper right of the viewing screen.

Somehow less useful but more visually interesting is checking out the course at Google Earth.

This lets you see the course or any pieces of it in absurd detail - here's a shot of the lake where the swim/bike/run all start from:

It also lets you play a cool kind of fly-by, where you're kind of hovering over the earth and following the path of my bike ride. It's really cool, but not entirely practical as a training tool. I suppose if there was a way for the 3D stuff to be actually topographical, that might change everything. Anyway, if you're still reading this and really, really have your geek on and feel like all you want to do today is jump through hoops, you should first download Google Earth - it's an application, not a website, so it'll install on your computer and it works on both Mac and Windows. It's free, too. And it's cool for other stuff, like directions and seeing where restaurants or gas stations are when travelling or zooming into your house. Once you have it installed, and you're itching for another hoop, you'll need to download my files for the Half Ironman and Ironman course, which you can do here. Save that to your computer and unzip it (Mac - doubleclick, Windows, right-click and choose "extract all"), then open it up in Google Earth and there you go.

More interesting, then, is the Ironman course, where you can really get a sense for how dramatic the elevation changes are on this course, and how frequent.

Here I'm actually linking you to somebody else's actual raceday data from last year, so you can see the entire course. Here's the map animation, and again, here's the Google Earth file. SLS or Wil or anybody doing IMWI, you might actually find it useful to take the time to jump through all these hoops, as it is pretty interesting information. The rest of you, it does as good a job as anything I can think of of bringing you along for the ride a bit. Pretty cool. Here's the view from Google Earth - something about satellites and resolution, but you can't zoom in with as much detail on the IM course, FYI.

So. If you have any problems with any of it, or something's not working right, or whatever, then sorry about that. Check the help files and stuff, cuz I probably won't be providing much technical assistance here at ye olde blog.

Pretty insane, what they can do with these whiz-bang computers these days. In my day we cut a hole in a box, put a chicken in it and made it dance. Now that was entertainment. Anyway, if anybody actually does all this (the good news is, all these installations and stuff only need to happen once, so from here on out you'd be golden) and finds it interesting, let me know and I can post some of this data for my more interesting races/training rides, etc.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Random Access Addendum: Having Nothing To Do With Becoming Ironman

Right, so, I go into my usual upscale Salon for a haircut this morning - Great Clips - and this 40ish wanting to be 20ish woman with leathery but medically modified skin, bleach blond big frizzy hair and grossly (meaning "icky" and "a large amount") artificial breasts greets me. She smells of Marlboros plastered over with grocery store perfume. I have, I'm pretty sure, mistaken Great Clips for a NASCAR themed brothel. (Pretty sure that's offensive to somebody...mea culpa...)

My haircut for summer triathlon season is pretty damn basic. Clippers with a Number 1 length on the low sides, fade to Number 2 clipper up the sides, then fade to Number 4 on top. Usually takes somebody there about 6 minutes to earn their $13 from me. So Sheila (I have no idea if that's her name, she just seemed like a Sheila to me) asks me in her gravelly voice to sit down, and then gives me a rundown of how a haircut works. She did this the whole time, and it seemed more for her benefit than mine. Like she was repeating what you learn at Great Clips school, lest she forget the Haircut Protocol. "Now I'm going to put this cape around you." Remember to ask if it's too tight around the neck. "Is this too tight?" Remember to explain what you'll be doing to make the client more comfortable. "Now this is the clippers, and what I'm going to do is start here..." Right. Go ahead girl, do your thing.

So she's cutting my hair, and I find myself disliking her very much. I'm not sure why, probably the combination of everything. I can smell her. Her voice makes me feel crunchy. I find myself irritated at her absurd breasts, and I quickly envision the conversation she had with her doctor in 1994, when absurdly fake breasts were the thing to have. "I want huge boobs, doc. Huge. I want them to point north all the time, and for people to have to give me space on the sidewalk. You hear me doc? Say it with me. Huge. Boobs." "Absolutely Sheila, huge boobs are my specialty. You'll be the Queen of Boobelot when I'm done here." In an effort to protest their existence, I make it a point not to look at them. Not out of politeness or cordiality, but out of spite. I wasn't going to have her huge boobs forced on me, no matter how much she spent on them.

As she's cutting, she's doing an increasingly poor job. The "fade" between Number 1 clipper and Number 2 is an obvious line. She's gone way too high up the side of my head with the Number 1, so I look like a Marine. She's making confused faces with her Botox ehanced smooth yet wrinkly face, and making perplexed sounds under her breath like "Hmm" and "that's not right". I am unconcerned with my hair - I don't really care what the outcome of it is, it'll grow back, so whatever - but I am amused with Sheila. It's like trying to watch an infant figure out those toys where you put the blocks into the same-shaped holes, and she's confused why the square won't go into the triangle. Since she can't get the fade right, her solution is to just keep cutting shorter and shorter, higher and higher, until I essentially have a Number 1 clippers around all but the top of my head. All this time she's continuing with her Great Clips Academy approach to client comfort. Encourage the client to close his eyes when blow drying, in case he's too stupid to figure out that staring into the hot wind isn't comfortable. "Now if you'll close your eyes..." (and just that far into the sentence I imagine all these scenarios for how she might finish it, "...I'm going to do something really special to your hair, but it's a surprise", or "I have to adjust my huge boobs and appreciate the privacy" or "my face feels melty, I need a minute...") "...I'm going to blow the hair from your face." And she's giving me advice on how, when I get home, I'll want to shave my sideburns down. Because this is my first foray into the wonders of getting my hair cut, and thank God Sheila is my spiritual guide.

So we wrap up, and it's officially the worst haircut ever - shorter than it should be, not particularly handsome from any angle, featuring some weird lumps here and there. But hey, it should be pretty damn comfortable under my bike helmet. And as I'm walking to the counter to actually pay her for this escapade she looks at my shoes, which have the Jordan logo emblazoned on them, and says "What do you got there...Tom Jordan flip flops?"


Who the hell is Tom Jordan? I don't think you have to have the tiniest inkling of sports to know who Michael Jordan is. And if you recognize the logo, then you know enough to know. I think you've been hiding under a particularly suffocating piece of silicone if you think maybe his name is Tom. Tom Jordan. Priceless.

"Yep," I said. "Tom Jordan."
"I thought I got it right!" Sheila squealed. Her voice sounded like bearings were loose.
"He was my favorite player on the Chicago Bluebirds," I said as I gave her a two dollar tip. This was the most fun I've had at the barbershop since ever.
"Mine too. You have a good day now."

And Sheila and I parted, hopefully forever, but her scent lingers in the back of my mind.