Monday, July 31, 2006

Becoming Ironman: Fields of Gold

I grew up in Western North Dakota. It is a planet whose revolutions depend on a sun that is the earth: agriculture, and oil. Its landscape is mostly unburdened with civilization; the towns are few and the cities are fewer, and they interrupt the rolling, endless wheat fields only briefly. The interstate cuts through the state farther south, but where I grew up, in a spot in a northwest corner situated as close to Montana as it is to Canada, the roads - more gravel than paved - follow the contours and terrain of the land as it crests and troughs like a great earthen ocean.

It is a place mostly ignored by the rest of the world. Its sparse population makes it unimportant to popular tourism, or economics, even as critical as the region's agriculture is. But farming is not on the agenda of the state's youth, and it does not glimmer and buzz. Slowly, the region is dying. This generation of farmers and oilmen will not, for the first time, pass on those farms to its children, for their children are moving away, and very few new people are moving in.

The people are not simple minded. They are not rednecks, they are not hicks. At least, no more than anywhere else in the world. Mostly, they're farmers, or people who make a livelihood directly or indirectly tied to farmers, or who make a livelihood supporting even those. And farmers have other things to do at five in the morning than to involve themselves in whatever topic-of-the-moment has captured the imagination of the rest of the world. The people approach one another with extended hand. They look one another in the eye. Many of them are in the same town or farm the same land as their parents, or their parents' parents. It is a smaller way of life. But not a lesser way of life.

As a restless teenager this wasn't my outlook. I was bored and craved something to interrupt the horizon, literal and metaphorical. I resented the formula of it; planting to tending to reaping to resting to planting. Because it is predictable there. It has to be. As an adult now I regret that teenager's obstinance. He was a fool to beauty, or substance.

The children of Dakota, most of us have roots there that go back four or five generations. Amy's Dad farms on land that her family originally homesteaded. She is one of these children; you can trace her family geography back four generations. She was raised in the area her father's mother's father first tended to when he arrived from Norway. Her hometown has about a hundred people living there. There will be less next year, and less the year after that. We were there to commemorate the closing of the town's school, a place that had stood since 1919. In the same building, she - like her father - went to gradeschool, then middle school, then high school. In its history, it graduated 909 people from its halls, less than some schools in the Cities graduate in a year. There aren't enough children anymore to justify its existence. And the world doesn't have room for places like that anymore.

I lived in one of the larger cities that support the smaller towns - about 11,000 people. I do not come from farmers, or oilmen. I know nothing about farming - I was part of the support system, but we're all influenced by the same things out there. My Dad appraised their land and real estate and mineral rights. My roots are comparatively young; my mother's parents came there from Eastern North Dakota, though in that farming is in my lineage as well.

I don't know how my story would have gone, but Dad died. My brother and sister and I, we were just leaving college, and so naturally in transit. Mother moved. She had to. It's too small a place to remain, and the void left was too great. Staying was tantamount to suffocation. Besides, I am one of those youth who had no future there, so I left. Lacking a family there, then, I lack that home, that place you always go back to. My roots were severed. My grandparents and Amy's family are my reason for return. They and a gravestone.

I haven't been there for two years, and not in the summertime for a very long time. Since before The Towers fell. Since before a lot of fallling. Long before becoming Ironman.


My hometown is abuzz. "The boom is back on, you know." Grandpa says. He means drilling for oil, which seems to appear each generation or so like an indecisive lover. The oil was rich in the 50's, then the late 70's and early 80's, and now again. When its flowing freely, people move there for high paying rigging jobs. The town supports new residents. New businesses come to town to support them. Everyone gets drunk on possibility. Inevitably, though, it busts. I grew up in a town surrounded by rusted hulks of useless drills and rigs. Whole sections ramshackle and in ruin, abandoned when, as quickly as it comes, the boom goes broke, the money stops, and the town goes back to waiting. Grandpa seems to think the frenzy this time around is foolish. That people should have learned by now. To approach things with some moderation.


I went to Dad's grave. This was a critical piece of becoming Ironman. When we buried him, nearly ten years ago, it was near a small pine tree, about waist high. The tree was young and hopeful, and it was like a sapling growing through barren devastation. He died suddenly. We were unprepared for things like choosing cemetery plots. It was at first nice, and then necessary, that the tree lived there. We hung our tokens on it, some kind of altar to express an utterly insatiable grief, love, loyalty. The tree is now huge. I couldn't believe it. Its bows hang over his headstone now, so his grave is literally in its shadow. Inside the tree, near the trunk, are some of our first mementos, the branches having grown around them, and I like that. I talked to him, as I usually do, graveside or no...but it feels different talking to him there. I asked him for help on the September roads of Ironman. I told him I missed him. I'll never in my life adjust to seeing his name carved in granite.


I rode through the roads I grew up on. From Wildrose to Powers Lake, then reversing course until south to Tioga, then west to Ray and finally north back to Wildrose. The route could not be ordinary, because the roads cannot be ordinary. In a place like that, you have limited outlets to the rest of the world. Highway 2 takes you east to Minot, and from there you can continue to Grand Forks, or head south to Bismarck and the interstate. The wind was hard from the east, 20mph or more. I flew east on Highway 2 at 26, 27, 30mph. Rider and Machine, we rode that road that took me back and forth for family vacations, home from college, to see Amy when we were still teenagers, to the sudden funeral of my life, to a new life at a place called Shores, home to get married, away to Minneapolis, to then, to now. I headed north off that road onto one of few paved roads heading north, taking me to Wildrose where Amy's life has always been, and which I now tie closely to my own, a surrogate "home". Surrounded by green and golden endless fields. Timeless farms. Tiny towns. It was important to becoming Ironman, riding those roads that first offered me any sense of direction in life. I take them with me now. My compass is more accurate. And some ghosts were abandoned in the 91 flawless miles.


I ran 10 miles down a gravel road heading west out of Wildrose to the mostly abandoned town of Hamlet; a house here or there, an abandoned schoolhouse. Alongside the ruins of the railroad that once served the town, before the town exhausted its usefulness to the railways, and larger towns became the hub for the shipping of its grain and beans and cattle. The train stopped coming twenty-some years ago, but they got around to finally deconstructing the tracks only three years ago or so. The path the tracks once covered is mostly overgrown now, but still clear enough for walking. The dogs and I walked it, past the piles of discarded railroad ties and chunks of rock. I found two of the huge iron bolts that once assisted the tracks to the ties, and thought - let me find one more as an omen for Ironman - and had no more thought it than it revealed itself to me, hidden in some stones, the least rusted of the three.


I drove down East 9th Street, where I used to live, where I learned to ride a bicycle. I drove by the pool where I learned to swim, and then spent my high school summers as a lifeguard and teacher for children who learned to swim and went on to spend their high school summers as lifeguards and teachers. I went to the new football field, which they built inside the old track - now repaved - where I ran my first races at 8 or 9 years old, through high school track. I was surprised to find that they just imported the old aluminum bleachers from the old football field, where I used to play, to this new place. I walked up the bleachers and heard the familiar ping! of my footfalls echo through the structure, a sound I hadn't heard in 15 years but that is forever embedded in my head. I looked up and found the exact spot mother and Dad sat game after game, where I would look up to when I needed to run just one more sprint on a hot fall pracitice and envision him there, my efforts to make him proud motivating me anew.


The Rider and the Machine crested a hill before finally looking down on great ruins. It was nearing dusk, and in the dim horizon ahead glowed the lights of September. They stopped, and the Rider dismounted.

"What is this place?" Asked the Machine.

"This is where I come from," Answered the Rider, "I didn't expect the road would take us through here."

He walked the Machine through the catastrophe. Around them were great statues, crumbling. The wall of a once mighty building hung, moss covered and tilted, before its ruins littered the road in front of them. Tattered charges blew in the evening breeze, their colors faded, their meanings lost, their embroidered foxes sullied and ripped. They picked their way through it carefully. The rusted ironworks of what was once a fountain in a great courtyard lay skeletal to their left.

"This place. This is huge." The Machine said. "This was yours?"

"Yes. Not just mine." Then, as if to remind himself, "I lived here."

The Machine paused. "Were you a King?"

The Rider thought. "No. But I come from Kings."

"A prince, then," The Machine replied.

The Rider contemplated this. "No. Not a prince. This was never my Kingdom, and I was never meant to be King. I just lived here once. And when I did, it was beautiful."

We have a winner!

By one vote!!!!!

...and so the Rider returned, and found the Machine in stillness, hidden in shadow. The moon lit the landscape in silver, and touched the revealed parts of the Machine in gleaming streams.

"Well then?" The Rider urged. "What have they said? What will it be?"

The Machine waited, then wheeled out into the moonlight. The Rider smiled. The Machine spun with crazed confidence.

Defiant, angry, serious. The Machine wore BLACK.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Hey! Haven't meant to be AWOL - crazy busy here in the Wild West of North Dakota, but I'm headed home tomorrow and will fill you in on my 91 mile ride through the Fields of Gold, the long-awaited Results Show for Ol' Blue's Ironman colors, the Ghosts of Dakota, and which is more lame: Racing lawnmowers, or watching people race lawnmowers...

Monday, July 24, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together...

So Saturday was a long ride - scheduled for 6 hours. As it turned out I could only do 5, and my OCD was certainly displeased with that, but I'm just trying to let it go. But I digress. Back to the workout.

I have a friend who's getting married in a few weeks, so the afternoon had golf and other activity in store as sort of not-too-crazy bachelor party day. Homebase for the day was my buddy's house which is well south of the Twin Cities, so I arranged, via Google Earth, for an 85 mile roundabout that took me around the cities from my northern-most suburb to his southern-most suburb house.

You know you're a lunatic triathlete when you ride your bike to a friggin' bachelor party.

This would be a good time for a status check. Things are getting very, very serious now my friends. This thing that has been a spectre for so long, that seemed so far away and intangible, is literally right there, around the corner. Not only can I not afford to miss a single key workout, but I can't afford to have those key workouts go badly. I have until August 19th to continue to develop fitness and strategy. That is, including Saturday's long ride, 5 long rides left. 5 long swims, 5 long runs. More to the point, and I don't know if I can describe this well, is how quickly the world seems to suddenly be spinning. Ironman is not approaching, it is screaming and hurtling towards me. And I check the blogosphere for my fellow Taconite, and the energy simmering beneath the posts is the same. If you could sum the feeling right now into a phrase that would capture the excitement, energy, fear, unknown, mysterious, hysteria, and general BEING of Becoming Ironman right now, I think it would have to be Holy Shit.

So Friday I had a 1.5 hour long swim. Thanks to the thunder and lightning, I was relegated to the hamster wheel for this, and so went back and forth and back and forth in the pool. Thank God for my Swimp3 player because I would've seriously gone mad. The swim went well enough - fatigued by the end, of course, but not seriously so, and it's so difficult to gauge anything in the pool for that long in training because raceday energy, in open water, is so totally its own thing. But as important as the swim itself was the fatigue it creates for me to get on the bike the next day.

So I head into Saturday morning's ride looking forward to a new route, to a hopefully strong 6 hours, and a 30 minute run immediately after the ride. I have no idea what the roads I'm about to be on are like or really what to expect at all. But it was raceday emulation, and with my new toys onboard I had a plan. The first 15 miles - which essentially took me to the little town of Hugo - were in the small chain ring. The game was to see how little I could work and how low I could keep my heart rate. For the day, I never wanted to exceed 128bpm for very long. The day was about perfect - low 70's in the morning (increasing to high 80's by the time I got off the bike...), and virtually no wind until my last 20 miles or so. It would be a good indicator of true performance, not influenced by headwind or tailwind. This was the first time I had such a pure strategy for the bike - I knew from my Power Meter that I wanted to keep my watts below 222 along with my low heart rate.

It's funny how hard I think I've been fighting my bike. Now that I had actual information in front of me, I could see how hard I tend to push. I'd get into some kind of zone, look down, and be pushing 280 watts. So I'd back off, and ultimately I found myself able to keep a consistent and comfortable pace without having to work so hard for it. It's easy to see, with that kind of information, why my last hour of a long ride will sometimes tend to be so hard, and why I'll have such a hard time transitioning to a run - I'd just be pushing too hard too early, and even if it didn't seem fast to me, it was at a pace unsustainable for 6 hours plus a marathon. So I happily finished my first 15 mile warm up with a 17mph pace - totally satisfactory - and a stupid low heart rate of 112bpm. That means zero nutritional issues. No extra work I'm asking my body to do as a result of high heart rate.

Now I ride easy, but in the big chain ring, for the next 25 miles - to mile 40 - before I make tactical effort to ride at a sustainable pace. This meant that I watched my heart rate, and tried to keep my watts somewhere in the 200 range or lower. I figure anything lower is gravy. I was keeping to my nutrition schedule perfectly, and was taking in an electrolyte tablet every 20 minutes - this was something new I was trying, and I think it did huge things for me. I think the sodium absorbed some of the water that might sometime give me GI issues, while also providing me with electrolytes to keep my legs cramp free. There were gas stations dotted every 15 miles at least, so I was able to keep fresh stores on board all day. The only unexpected glitch in the day was thanks to the crazy Google Earth directions - south and east of Hugo I was stopping at pretty much every single intersection because my directions and theirs were not reading the same. This caused for my delay, and in having to keep to a schedule for the day, is why I lost an hour. But no matter, I was able to figure it out my damn self anyway.

Note to the good people of Washington County: Fix your damn roads. Man, some of these roads were so torn up that my teeth were rattling. I thought for sure I'd blow a tire, and I did launch 2 bottles on the day, never to be seen again - good thing gas stations were as plentiful as they were. It also made for precarious descents - I was always having to ride the brakes, because an unexpected pothole at 30mph will change your life. But I headed down just west of Stillwater as I approached my 40th mile, and continued to wind my way a bit further southeat to the St. Croix river, which I'd follow south for some 16 miles around the eastern edge of the Twin Cities.

I stopped to refuel and grabbed and orange and assessed. Man, I was feeling great. I was well hydrated and my legs were fresh. The sun was out, but thanks to it NOT being 100 degrees I wasn't having to work doubletime keeping my core temp low. I got back on the bike and started down the river, and that's when the hills started.

Wow. For awhile I was mostly flat or downhill, and I was clipping along at a comfortable 24mph without having to push my power or heart rate. I had delusions of it being like this for the next 20 miles, but what goes down must apparently go up, and holy moly did they go up. I left one little town to find the road winding out of view to my right and up a hill. No worries - I downshifted as I went, found my easy gear, and climbed. I wound around...and thought "huh. no landing here." Now the road wound left out of view, and still I climbed. And I kept expecting it to level off at some sensible point, and it just never did. I checked my Power Meter, which has an inclimeter on it, and saw that I was at about a 4.5% incline. Low Ironman levels, but nothing at Ironman is this freaking long.. It would not stop, and I felt like I was on the Tour in the Alps. Finally, after 2 miles, it crested. It was a tough hill for its length, but all things considered I felt pretty good. I figured that was about it, now I'd be in for some downhill and we'd flatten out. I have no idea why I'd figure that, because in no time I was climbing again. And again. And again. And finally I was climbing a 10% grade hill. Are you kidding me? Now that surpasses even anything at Ironman. And that hill was the toughest by far - even in my easiest gear I was relegated to a low cadence and really low speed. But if I was going to cramp up, it would have been then. I approached mile 56 at the top of a hill, stopped to unstrap my PB&J (on toast!) for a halfway snack, and finished it on the bike. I would have expected at this point for my heart rate to be really high and my legs, after a series of hills like that, to be pretty seriously fatigued. But my plan was now starting to bear its fruit - I had fresh legs even now, and that's certainly one reason why I was able to climb without any drama - I'd taken it easy to that point. I was totally nutritionally sound - I'd been taking in 315 or more calories each hour like clockwork and was having no GI issues at all. I'd even stopped twice for bio breaks, so I was hydrating really well. I couldn't believe how well things were going.

The road leveled off, finally, and I was out of the crazy Alps. It was freakshow Minnesota beautiful, I was feeling great, and was in the middle of my best long ride ever.

I finally arrived in Hastings, just southeast of the Cities, after having to jump onto 2 seriously busy highways that were not good times. In Hastings I refreshed one last time for the home stretch of about 17 or 18 long hot miles. The road was flat but totally unshaded, the heat was up a bit, and there was a headwind right in my face. If there was to be a meltdown after the day's great going so far, it would be here.

But there was none. What can I say? I pedaled. I ate. I drank. I pedaled. I stayed aero and never hurt. I was never required to do any long stand-up-and-stretch sessions. I might've been on mile 20. I felt stupid good. I arrived at my buddy's house just shy of 5 hours and just shy of 85 miles. I rode at a 17.7mph and kept my heart rate at an absurd 121bpm. I felt so fresh when I got off my bike that one of the most ridiculous things ever crossed my mind as I was putting on my running shoes for a quick 3 miler - 85 miles isn't really that long anymore.

Anyway, the proof was in the run. I set out for an easy pace, no regard for my watch, just something comfortable and upright to emulate the transition, and where I could envision getting comfortable for a marathon. I looked down at my watch after 2 miles and was clock an 8:38 pace. What? No leg fatigue. No mental fatigue. No dehydration. I finished a 3.25 mile run with about a 9:00 pace, effortless and easily able to do more. When I finally weighed myself at the end of the workout I'd only lost 1.5 pounds of water weight - meaning I stayed well hydrated.

It was, at a key time in the training, a killer workout. It could not have gone better. If I can put anything remotely similar to that together at Ironman, I will be able to have the race I know I'm capable of. Exciting stuff.

So now I look ahead. I'll be remote again this week - heading back to the homeland of Western North Dakota for some family time with Amy's family. I'll have to cut back on the swimming a bit this week (not much water out there...), but it's a recovery week anyway, so I'll have a 1:45 run on Wednesday and a 5:30 ride that I'll actually try to bump to Friday morning. The forecast is stupid hot - 102 degrees or something by the weekend - so it'll be another crucial test in facing the heat. And out there, the wind can be nasty, the sun is hot, and the roads are rolling. We'll see what's in store, but I plan to keep perfecting what went so well on Saturday. I may try one more nutritional thing or two, though I think if I can keep my body organized I may be dialing in on that at last.

Shout out to Floyd Landis, winner of the Tour de France with his freakshow ride up the mountains last week. Allez!

Friday, July 21, 2006

We have a tie!!!

Oh the excitement. The anticipation. The frenzy. It feels just like American Idol.

Our lurking friend Tara Rae piped in with Metallic blue just in time for the deadline (she has a keen sense of drama), which means we have a tie between Black and Metallic Blue. The American Idol joke is hers, not mine. She said she couldn't wait for the results post. Heh heh.

So, game back on. Cast your vote for your favorite between black and Metallic blue. We'll extend the deadline to, say, Tuesday, because many people aren't checking the blog over the weekend. The slate is clean - everybody vote again for one of the two finalists, even if you voted once for one or the other. So exciting. I feel like William Hung.

Seacrest, out!

Behold, the Power

Okay, so it's been quite awhile since I've totally geeked out, so this will be interesting I imagine only to me. So.

I have this new fandagled piece of technology on my bike, called an iBike. It was actually supposed to be here in April or May, but they're a tiny company just starting out and had all kinds of production issues or something. So I finally got it a few weeks ago, and was able to actually do something useful with it yesterday in an hour long ride that culminated with a 20 minute time trial.

The iBike is a Power Meter, and it uses Newton's 3rd law to analyze the forces pushing against me to determine how much force I'm using to push the bike. (There are other, far far more expensive power meters out there that are devices actually in the cranks or the wheel to measure power in different ways.) Blah blah blah, but here's the gist of it (flashback to 8th grade Physics...who knew I'd one day give a damn...) - when you work, you can measure your efforts in watts. The higher the watts, the harder you're working. Right, there's a lot more details about that having to do with Joules, Kilojoules, Calories and calories (the small and capital "C" do represent different things...), but we're sticking to the basics here.

So in using watts to measure power, one can get an immediate and completely objective measure of his effort. Remember that I also use heart rate to measure effort, to some degree, as well as speed, to a lesser degree. But that's very variable - if it's a hot day, my heart rate will be higher. If I'm in a head wind I may be going slowly but pushing harder, with a higher heart rate. If a dog barks at me and scares the bejeezus out of me, it might spike. Heart rate is a metric, but is best used in combination with other things for a complete picture. Enter the Power Meter. How much power I'm using to push the bike - watts - is totally objective. Doesn't matter if it's a headwind or a tailwind or hot or cold, power is power. It has nothing to do with my environment, only how much force I'm using to push the bike, regardless of speed or heart rate or the time of day or the price of beer. That objectivity is useful in a lot of ways. For instance, if I'm only using speed and heart rate for metrics, what happens in a headwind? I push the pedals harder to try and sustain some speed, and my heart rate will probably climb. That's fine...but what happens 5 hours from now with all that effort I've been throwing behind the pedals in a headwind? Or if I'm climbing a hill (of which there are several major ones at IMWI), I'm pushing the bike with greater force than on a flat, or certainly descending, when gravity is at work and I'm not pushing the bike at all.

So the trick is to try and devise a sensible relationship between power, speed, heart rate, and cadence. If all 4 are in a happy place, then I'll be in a happy place 5 hours from now. But if I'm pushing the bike too hard early in the ride, when I'm fresh, then I'll run out of steam later in the ride...and so will have to push harder to sustain the same speeds I was...which will elevate my heart rate...which will affect digestion...see how complicated it all becomes? You really can't, in an Ironman, just get out there and ride. It's just too long of a race, and there is too much at stake having to prepare for a marathon run off the bike. You have to have something to give you feedback so you can plan ahead. So for me, the scientist I am, having all the data possible helps.

So you have this thing called Functional Threshold Power (FTP). That's the number of watts you can push over a sustained 60 minutes of effort. Kind of "as hard as you can go for 60 minutes". But to measure it, you only do a 20 minute time trial - after some warm up stuff to fatigue you a bit - and then do some calculations to calculate the 60 minutes. You also coordinate that effort with your heart rate - an average heart rate over those 20 minutes of hard effort gives you another baseline. So yesterday I tested these things and came up with an FTP of 285 - that means for one hour at hard, race-like effort, I could push 285 watts consistently. More than an hour, and that would start to fall off. Less than an hour, and I could push more watts. My anaerobic threshold - that point, measured in heart rate, when my muscles start to create lactic acid and I'm burning more sugar than fat - is about 151bpm.

So with that data in hand - FTP of 285 and LTHR (Lactate Threshold Heart Rate - hey, I told you this was geeky and interesting only to me) of 151, I can chart scenarios for a 112 mile Ironman ride that is designed to keep me eating and hydrating, avoid blowing my legs up, consistent in my effort, no crazy spikes of fatigue, and somewhat fresh for the marathon. Here's my plan, which I'll execute for the first time in whole on Sunday:

I generally want to keep my watts between 68 and 78% of my FTP for an Ironman distance ride. Lower than that is okay, too, for certain sections of the ride - like the first 15 miles. But for the bulk of my Ironman paced ride, I'll try and stay between 194-222 watts. So I'm pushing the pedals with power between those numbers. Higher than 222 and I'm working my legs to faster fatigue - 250 watts would be nothing in mile 5, but I'll pay for it in mile 95. Slower, and I'm sacrificing power where I don't want to be. This is a more critical number than speed or heart rate, because it directly ties to my leg fatigue. This means if I'm in a headwind, I can't speed up. I have to stay with the watts in this range. It also means early, when my legs are fresh, I need to back off so I don't blow everything in the first 2 hours of the ride.

My heart rate - and this is a surprise - should stay below 128. I do know that's optimal for me for digestion, but I'm usually close to 135 or even sometimes 140 on my rides. Heart rate is a bit variable, as I mentioned, but this is the general place I want to be. So I'm going to need to be disciplined to keep comfortable and my heart rate low.

So I have no idea how it'll translate, but it may mean an overall slower ride than I'm used to on Saturday, or a slower time than I've been anticipating for Ironman. If that's the case, then I'll need to just get over it and hope that it translates to fresh legs for the run (I have a 30 minute run following Sunday's ride). If I work myself into a frenzy on the bike and finish with a "good time" - whatever that is - only to blow up and lose 2 hours walking in the marathon...well that would be just stupid. Typical, but stupid.

So there you go! The Science of XT4. We'll have a pop quiz later today. And no chewing gum.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Another high volume week...

Well after taking Sunday and Monday off to make sure I had no lingering issues with my right calf after Saturday's race, it's been another insane week - pretty much par for the course or the next month. Yesterday was a very solid 12.3 mile run (2 hours) - I took the first 6 miles really easy at a 10:00ish pace, then approached the last 6 with 3 miles easy and the last 3 miles hard - actually finishing with a sub 8:00 pace, which is great considering the mileage I'd put on to that point. I felt good at the end, and like I could keep going. If I can emulate something like that at Ironman - the first 16 miles of the run way easy, then make a strategy for the last 10 miles, I'll be golden. I am not doing all this damn run training only to walk the marathon because of stupidity.

Today is a 1 hour time trial on the bike, from which I'll gather some important metrics to put into place for Saturday's "race emulation" ride - 6 hours; which, depending on all factors, should get me close to 110 miles - where I'll be wearing everything race-day, eating and hydrating like race day, keeping track of caloric intake for studying later, and pacing myself like I will at Ironman. That means the first 15 miles stupid easy in the small chain ring, the next 25 easy, and finally after 40 miles I'll get into some kind of race pace. The object, of course, is to be fresh for a 30 minute run-off after the ride. Add to that a "race emulation" 1.5 hour continuous swim tomorrow, and I should be sufficiently fatigued by Sunday. 1.5 hours swimming - by yourself, not in a race environment - is boring as hell, so I'll have to find something to do with my mind for that long to keep my entertained. Hopefully I can open water swim it - doing that much in a pool is like running in a hamster wheel.

Anyway, back to work. Oh - is anybody watching the Tour de France? Holy crap! Go Floyd! Vive le Tour!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

High Cliff photos are up...

Check out over on the right - images from the High Cliff Triathlon in June are up! Thanks Mike! And everybody remember to vote for 'Blue's race day attire (see the below post) - so far we have 1 Red, 1 Black, and 1 Silver!

Me and 'Blue need your help!

Okay, so it's getting into the final stretch now. I have one more long run, a handful of long cycling rides, but about a month from now the taper for Ironman will officially begin. I'm starting to coordinate now the things I need to do between now and then, including equipment. One thing I'll be doing before my last long ride is replacing the bar tape on Ol' Blue.

And I was thinking just how cool this whole blog thing has been - how there are so many of you I'd have no reason to even think of before this began, and so many of you that are friends but wouldn't have any kind of opportunity to really share in this day to day with me were it not for this thing. Pass the tissue, but you've become part of the team. I come here and share how it's going, and you respond. That I can have a conversation with somebody and have them up to speed on my process because they choose to read the blog each day - well that's pretty damn cool.

So: I was thinking that I want you out there with me. I'd like for you guys to choose what color bartape Ol' Blue should be wearing for Ironman. Here are the options:

Metallic blue (oooooh!)
Red (Ironman colors! Sweet!)
White (Another Ironman color! And so iPod!)
Silver (Shiny! Wheee! Also what 'Blue is presently wearing...)
Black (Another Ironman color! Dark and Mysterious! Darth Vader! Ooooh!)

Here's an image:

If you click on it you'll see a much larger version that's a little more helpful in seeing the colors. Right, and no, pink is not in the running. 'Blue has some dignity.

So help me out! Just comment on what you think 'Blue would look the most ass kicking, fast, get-me-through-6+ hours-feeling-good in, and whatever color gets the most comments wins. Remember we're going for attitude here people. If you're a lurker, email me your thoughts. Don't leave me hanging now, I want to feel like the Becoming Ironman Blog has dressed 'Blue for the big race!

Race Report: Lifetime Fitness Triathlon (Part 2)

Well the numbers are finally in, and they look like this:

The swim took me 31:10 - about a 2:20 improvement over last year's swim time, which is pretty cool - it's useful to compare those two because the conditions were almost identical. Still not a P.R. though - that's from a race last August where I swam it in 30:24. Anyway.

In and out of T1 in 2:06, 10 seconds better than last year and 13th fastest in my age group. The bike was 1:03:56, good for 20.9mph (can't compare to last year, for the shortened course), which is a fast pace considering that I rode at 100rpm all day and really took no efforts to ride fast as much as "comfortable" - the operative word for the day. T2 took me 1:22, 8 seconds slower than last year but 11th fastest in my age group (can they make a sport just out of transitioning? I might be really good that that...), and finally the 3 mile run took me 24:46, for an 8:15/mile pace. Which is a perfectly acceptable pace for the day's goal of racing comfortable.

All said, then, a finishing time of 2:03:20. Good for 27th out of 160 in my age group - what is that, top 15%? Not quite, about top 17% or something. I'll take it.

I've posted some pictures that I have of the race, though there are more coming in. As usual, they're over there on the right. So far these are just some photos from the swim, and I actually had no idea I was having my picture taken at all, so you'll have to forgive the contemplative senior photo scenes. I'm such a tool. Anyway, I'll let you know when more are up. I've also rearranged all the race report/photos so that the newest race is on the top, so they chronologically descend, rather and ascend. That way you don't have to scroll all the way down just to see the latest photos. I should also have the High Cliff Triathlon photos up sometime today - was solo at that one, so was at the mercy of the pro photographers that were there. Looking forward to seeing them - I'll post them up when I get them in hand!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Father and Son: Ironman. Hero.

Puts things right in perspective, no? Amazing.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Race Report (Part 1): Lifetime Fitness Triathlon

So first, this: About 20 minutes before the Pros started, they announced that due to concerns about the heat index and in consultation with their medical advisors blah blah blah, they were shortening the Olympic distance course (excluding the Pros). They'd shave about 3 miles from the bike (though it felt more like 5?), and the run would no longer be a 6 mile, but a 3 mile run.


I'm sorting out my thoughts on that decision and the principle of it in general, but I'll share that process with you at the end of the race report (this being Part 1 - Part 2 will come when the final times and splits are posted online by Lifetime).

So it was indeed a hot damn day. It felt hot, it looked hot, it was hot. I arrived to Transition a little later than I like - about 6:00am instead of 5:30, because I stupidly assumed that I would, as usual, wake up a bit earlier than my 4:30am wake up time. Instead, I slept really well and the alarm jolted me out of bed. But no worries - I still had plenty of time, arrived at my transition "corral" first - and so was able to pick my prime real estate on the end - and really enjoyed my morning. After setting up I went for a quick warm up swim - Lake Nokomis was an astonishing 81 degrees today. I honestly don't take showers that warm. So the wetsuit religious were out of luck (USA Triathlon only allows them under 78 degrees), and all of us had to deal with the odd phenomenon of risking overheating in water. Crazy. After my warmup I returned to transition for the next 45 minutes or so and had a great chat with the guy next to me, was able to find our friend Todd and shoot the breeze a bit with him, and was pleasantly surprised when our friend SLS's husband Steve stopped by and introduced himself. I thought that was so cool - he found me by knowing my number through the blog. So cool, this becoming Ironman. I also wished the woman who's 87 (88?), who raced again this year, good luck and much fun. Pretty cool, that.

When they closed transition I went and sat among many others in a spot in the shade before connecting with the Team. Pretty cool today - many friends, and my mother came, with her husband. My mom's never been to a race, so it was especially fun for me to have her there. Soon I went and arranged myself with the masses for the swim start, and sometime shy of 9:00am I was in the water and racing.

The swim went pretty well. Lifetime hasn't posted the results yet in any kind of readable way, so I'll have to give you splits another time, but I felt good, went easy, and passed far more than I was passed. The sun was low over the Lake, and so bright - I was glad to have my polarized, mirrored lenses. I came out of the water and glanced at my watch - 31:00something - and headed into Transition.

T1 was quick and slick. I headed out on the abbreviated bike with a very high heart rate from the water and T1 - 167 - and settled in to lower my heart rate and hopefully have a fast and fun ride.

About 5 miles into the ride, I approached a flock of volunteers all reinforcing what the bright signage around me said: SHARP LEFT TURN. As I was slowing down to approach the turn, this dude in a spaceship bike came flying by on my left, still tucked in the aero position. He had a super lightweight frame, disc wheels, even an aero helmet - all the go fast toys money can buy. I saw him downshift into an easier gear, and thought to myself "Wow, this guy is amazing that he's going to take this turn this fast." In fact, I watched him a bit to see if I could learn anything from him. Turns out, I did learn quite a bit.

So the above paragraph took 3 seconds in real time, and I was probably 3 bike lengths behind him as he went into the turn. Suddenly - all things happen suddenly, don't they? - his spaceship is out from under him, sliding across the road. He's off the bike, sliding after it. The bike smashes into the curb at ridiculous velocity, sending it sommersaulting into the air, a gleaming child's toy. Dude reaches the curb and is stopped immediately - to which his first response, oddly, is to suddenly sit up (which, if you've ever heard Dane Cook, reminded me of his act about the guy who gets hit by a car only to land on his feet and act like he didn't really just get hit by a car - which is not to say there was anything funny about this, because there wasn't. It's just what came to mind.) Meanwhile I'm slamming on my brakes so I don't become part of his carnage. Finally, I pedal around him while the volunteers try and digest what the hell they just saw. I didn't stop - which wasn't a moral decision, as he was in good hands, was alert and alive, and I wasn't going to do anything for him that others weren't more capable of doing - and as I rode by I experienced a sensation that I hope never to experience again. Something I've heard about watching the Tour de France. The smell of burning flesh. Dude left some of himself on the asphalt.

Anyway, as I continued on, I thought - what a dumb damn thing to do. Dude's not going to win any money here (he was an age group hack, just like me - not elite, not Pro). Even if he clears the turn that fast, he's going to save - what - 2 seconds? 5? Instead he was done for the race, maybe even for the season. Certainly his bike was. Stupid. The moral of the story - it's okay to slow the hell down.

The rest of the bike was uneventful (thankfully). I clipped along at a higher than normal cadence - about 100 rpm much of the time - and spent most of my time at a heart rate around 144 or so. I was never uncomfortable, and never felt like I was working, which is what I wanted to do. I had a lot of fun, and about and hour and 3 minutes later I was heading back into transition, having covered 20-something miles at a pace of about 20mph.

In and out of T2, then (again, I'll give you splits on everything whenever Lifetime posts something sensible on their website...), and out on the hot trail for a 3 mile sprint. No question, it was hot out there. And even in 3 miles, I could feel it affecting me. But the distance basically precluded any necessity for pacing, and even hydration and nutrition could be lax (though I stuck to my plan of Gatorade every 12 minutes, water whenever they had it, and lots of dousing over my head.) The Fire Department was out spraying their hoses here and there to create a mist to run through, and I stuck to a pretty consistent pace sub 8:30. Just about 25 minutes after starting, I sprinted through the finish shoot, high fiving the Team and shouting "This one's for you!" to mom, and crossing the finish line with a time of 2:03:20

It was a good day, all things considered, and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face - which, I'd be wise to remember should always be objective 1. With the distance changes it wasn't quite the workout I'd have wanted or hoped for, and in honesty I had a pretty easy day out there, the heat never really having time to do its worst. I certainly wouldn't have preferred the change, but there it is.

So, to the decision to shorten the distance. Laaaaame. Without wanting to bore you, this is an ongoing issue with USA Triathlon and race directors around the world in general. Last fall the USAT National Championships were cancelled - not postponed but cancelled because of storms, wind, and deluge rain. In January Ironman New Zealand (which is not goverened by USAT, but the World Triathlon Corporation) was actually turned into a Half Iron distance duathlon (bike-run) because storms delayed the event for hours, winds made the seas unsafe for swimming, and ultimately the delay meant they had to shorten the day (imagine that heartbreaking scenario, which many faced - working this hard, going through this much, for what is stolen away into a meaningless distance duathlon). In those cases, the weather created a need to delay the race starts. When you delay the race starts, you compromise the burden you're placing on the city and its resources to close streets, have police at intersections, medical units available, etc. I'll let others debate whether the danger presented by high seas (certainly lightning) or wind is reason to decide for racers (who paid to be there) what is and isn't safe racing conditions. But today's race wasn't about a delay, so that factor wasn't present. It was hot, no doubt. But I'd prefer not to have my ability to race it legislated for me. If I'm too hot, let me decide to quit. It it's too long, let me decide that. The conditions were actually very similar to last year, and they let us race that - though that may have contributed to today's decision, after facing the carnage of all the DNFs and medical emergencies last year. Anyway. I understand it's a sticky issue, a tough situation, and a decision I'm glad I'm not in charge of making. But I go on record saying it was a lame ass call to make today.

I was disappointed, but only a bit - this was a training race for me. It wasn't an A race, it wasn't a priority race. I did miss the opportunity to execute some important heat-related race day strategies. I felt badly, though, for those who had made this race at this distance their ultimate goal, like I had in 2004. I would've felt horrible about a decision like this, then. Anyway, it was what it was.

So, an abbreviated but fun race. I placed something like 26 or 27 (we'll have to wait for the real results to be posted...right now Lifetime only has some kind of "track your athlete" posting that has me listed 10 places after a guy who races in 2:05 something...) out of 160 some in my age group. A solid finishing place, but again - at this distance, it can't mean much. In all it was a short but solid training day, a fun race, and a good day.

Some shout outs: It doesn't look their final times have been posted (so we'll cheer their times and splits in another blog entry), but Todd finished his A race of the year in the Sprint division (whoohoo!) and Steve ("Mr. SLS") raced his first triathlon ever today in the long course! I hope you guys had great days, and check in to tell us how it went if you can!

Many pictures coming - many on the team were snapping away, and between the Team and the on-course photographers, we should have adequate coverage. I'll post them when I get them. And hey Mike! We missed you!

Friday, July 14, 2006

#546 is in the building...

Picked up my packet today for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon tomorrow - I'll be wearing #546 for those that are interested. I'll also be rocking a snazzy blue Orca trisuit with white and gold trim - very handsome, so everyone take pictures. Good times. Our good friend Todd is #3031.

I'm having some serious tightness in my right calf after Wednesday's long run, so I'm doing what I can to keep it elevated and iced, and wearing an Ace bandage (or "sympathy wrap", as my sister was wont to call it back in the day) for compression and lots of Icy Hot. Let's hope I can loosen it up a bit before tomorrow or I may be taking it easier on the run than I'd anticipated.

Okay! Time to go get Ol' Blue race ready, pack my stuff, eat some noodles and be chillin' like a villian. Look for a race report over the weekend!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fly-By IMWI...

Blogosphere Queen and sometimes visitor Iron Wil at throughth3wall organized a very cool recon last weekend, at which our good friend SLS was a part. Part of her adventure was a tour of the bike course in a plane - pretty cool. Check it out here.

Running Through Fire

A solid but tough 15 miles yesterday, and another deposit into the Ironman bank account. I ran at almost exactly a 10:00 pace - the objective for the run being easy, not fast - and that's probably :30 faster than I anticipate coming out into the run at IMWI. The important thing is the I managed the heat well, and have to feel encouraged about the strides I've made in that department in general. The digital thermometer at the school on my trail read 100 degrees (though it had cooled to a spring-like 91 by the end of my run...and it's funny how much more comfortable 91 feels than 100...), but I loaded up a cooler with ice, water, and Gatorade, and ran a 4.5 mile loop so that at least once an hour I was refreshing with cold liquid and soaking down with cold water. About 2 miles or so into the loop is a drinking fountain, which I'd also use for a quick drink and to cool off, and to replace any of my empty fuel bottles with water so I could douse myself as I ran. As long as I stayed pretty well soaked and drinking about every 12 minutes, I was pretty okay. The last 5k were rough, but as a matter of fatigue more than heat. All in all I felt great about the run.

I sat in an ice water bath again when I got home, shreiking like a banshee for the first 5 minutes, but it definitely helps with recovery. I don't really know what Saturday's race will be like - I'm coming off of my highest volume week all year, with a 102 mile bike, 5+miles in the water, and what will ultimately be over 25 miles running for the week. It won't surprise me to find my legs well shredded going into the run on Saturday, but so be it. These are the conditions, so I'll just have to do my best and MANAGE THE HEAT!!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

One Hundred

Was sitting and watching the news at the gym while I was waiting for Amy to come out of the locker room (after my swim...cripes, 4 miles already this week...alas, the days of "just enough" in the water are officially over...) and the happy weather dude informed me that we have 100 degrees - yes, 3 digits - to look forward to on Saturday. Yee Haw! On a related note, I have a 2:30 run tomorrow in 91 degrees. What is that, like, 15 miles or more? Sweeeeet.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Race Week!

The Lifetime Fitness Triathlon gets underway on Saturday! This is always a HUGE race with the best organization and atmosphere - because the huge purse attracts the top pros and sponsors, Lifetime goes out of its way to create a killer race. It's a lot of fun to be a part of, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I'll be racing the Olympic distance, which is a nice break from the 2 Half Ironman distances I've done lately. .9 miles swim, 25 mile bike and 6 mile run. That's the good news. The not-as-good news is forecasts are now predicting 99 degrees on Saturday with nothing but sun. That's stupid hot. As it is, this race has tried to kill me the last 2 years (the only 2 years) I've run it. 2004 it was my A race, my goal race of the whole season as a brand new triathlete. I had so little of a clue it's absurd, and finishing - regardless of time - was tops on the agenda. I did in something under 3:10. Last year it was an A race on the way towards a Half Ironman goal race for the season, and the heat was much like what's predicted. I had a great swim and a great bike and totally melted down on the run. Just fell apart. Finished sometime around 3 hours, I think. Let's hope this year goes a whole lot better.

Unlike past year's this one isn't an A race for me, so it is existing in the midst of my training. Essentially no tapering for this one at all. My goals include having a strong swim, then getting comfortable and lowering my heart rate early on the bike - this exercise I'll use for Ironman relevance. So even thought it's only a 25 mile bike, I won't sprint it - I'll try and take it easy, emulating as much as I can what I want to do for IMWI while still keeping top of mind that it is a race. So we'll see how that goes. The objective for the run is to just stay strong. Hydrate and keep my core temp low, which is what killed me last year. I'm not really thoughtful about a pace or time goal for the run (or any of the disciplines for that matter) or for the race itself - I just want to feel strong all day. No drama, no crises. It's a great opportunity to manage the heat in a raceday environment that might come in useful in September. I'm a much different triathlete now than I was a year ago, so hopefully stronger legs on the bike, being a better runner, and a more intelligent athlete will pay some dividends over the course of the race.

On the other hand, if I do melt down, it's an opportunity to problem solve that. I can experiment with standing down for 10 minutes, or slowing to a walk to hydrate for awhile, or whatever else I might need to do. All in all it should be a day for discovery, as every race seems to be. I'm really looking forward to it, hot or no.

It is the culmination of a serious training week - 2.5 hours running on Wednesay, and I'll head out Sunday (I think, we'll see how I feel and how recovery goes) for a 3-4 hour ride. I'll take Friday off, but that's it. So we'll see, too, how racing demands figure for my untapered self.

Shout out to my friend and blog regular Todd who's racing the Sprint distance on Saturday - his goal race of the season. It's been a blast having him in the mix, and I think he's done everything right to arrive at the starting gun healthy and ready for a great race. Good luck man!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Just a few things on a hot Sunday...

I've finally done what Flickr was asking me to do (by the way, sorry, it's come to my attention that not everybody gets what the hell I'm talking about when I say "Flickr" - they host all the photos I post on the blog), so I've updated the race reports photos - you'll find a new set for the Liberty Half Ironman over there on the right...lots of photos in that one, check it out. I've also added some on-course and in-Wisconsin training pics in the In-Training photo set, also to the right...check them out...

Speaking of heat, they're now forcasting 94 and sun for next Saturday...exactly the forecast for this race last year, in which I melted and finished only as a gooey puddle...

I got a new saddle for 'Blue last week that I tried out on my long ride yesterday - a bit thinner in terms of padding, actually, but with Titanium rails and a carbon fiber frame, so it's lighter...I didn't know what to expect over 100 miles with thinner padding, but I actually think I was more comfortable...

Is anybody watching the Tour? Yesterday was the Individual Time Trial, where they all ride triathlon bikes for 50 miles - serious rocketships...Bobby Julich from Team CSC had a serious wipeout at 30mph going around a corner, breaking his arm/wrist/something and knocking him out of the tour...crazy...Team Discovery is not faring well sans Lance...

My legs feel great today after my icy bath yesterday...looking forward, though to a day off. Might try someplace cool to swim on this hot day...

More tomorrow as we head into another Race Week!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

102.5, and a mile more...

Well, I rode 102.5 miles today, and followed it with a mile run. I wanted to do 3, but I had absolutely nothing left in the tank, and even the short run required my sitting in the air conditioned car for 10 minutes before I got out there.

A solid ride today, all things considered. I was scheduled for 5 and a half hours - I finished it in 5:45, thanks to the nasty headwind the final 20 miles back. And the heat. Holy moly. I've never spelled that combination of words before. Is that how you spell "moly"? Anyway, I didn't leave for my ride until about 8:30, wanting to emulate a bit the schedule for Ironman. It was in the warm-but-not-unpleasant 70's when I started, but my on-board thermometer was clocking 96 degrees in my last hour. Hot as hell. I'm happy to report that I actually rode pretty smart today. I watched my pace, cadence, and heart rate, and made it a priority to eat and drink a lot. I still lost 4 pounds of water weight - you've got to be kidding me - but on a day like today, I honestly don't know what more I could've done. I stopped at every little gas station I could find to refuel on water and Gatorade, and kept a pretty tight hydration schedule. I also worked hard to keep my core temperature low, dousing myself every 10 minutes or so inside my helmet, on my arms, and on my neck and back. Considering that I'm the king of melt-downs in heat, I mostly avoided any drama. The last 20 miles were tough though, no question. But 102.5 miles on a 96 degree day and I lived to talk about it? Success, baby.

When I got home I filled the bathtub with only ice cold water and sat in it a good half an hour (shout out to the perpetual lurker Tara Rae...) - it did wonders for my legs, they're feeling really great right now. But boooooy howdy. I mean to tell you that those first few seconds of iciness are insane. And yeah, fellas, that thing you're thinking right now about sitting in an ice cold bathtub? Right. Gooooood times. But all worth it if I can shake off some fatigue and lower my core temperature like that. After the initial 5 minute shock it felt pretty good, all things considered.

I also rode today in my Ironman cycling jersey - which I still haven't shown you, I know, but I will and just suffice to say it kicks ass, all armored up with Ironman Wisconsin logos and graphics. I typically avoid wearing any kind of M-Dot logo (thinking it's a think to be earned), but it's unwise not to train in race day clothing (it is, among other dope IMWI gear, part of my race-day uniform...I will post pics soon, really) so I put it on today for what I knew would be a long and hot ride. Happy to report all went well, but I have to say - and we all know by now that I am a sentimental (emphasis on mental?), emotionally driven dude - putting on that jersey for the first time, seeing the IM logo emblazoned across my chest like the damn Superman S...I don't mind telling you I got a little emotional. Like a walk-on putting on his gameday uniform for the first time, even just for team pictures or something. It felt real, and right. Exciting.

So capped a pretty solid week of training, with my long ride last weekend on-course (85 miles), my long brick (40 mile bike/10 mile run) on Monday, 2500 yards in the pool and 5 mile run on Friday, and today's long ride on those fatigued legs. Feeling good. Also feeling like I'm really figuring out some of the things that have been eluding me on the bike as far as pacing for fresh legs and especially nutrition. Always more work to do, of course, but here and now, right this minute, I'm encouraged.

A few shout outs - SLS, you were on-course at Ironman today, weren't you? I'll be really interested to read your blog about how it went and what you thought and what you learned (ps - your gruesome pics are awesome...). Also our lovely friend Sara posted a serious P.R. last weekend in a 5k road race, finishing in 27 something minutes and 3rd place in her age group. Kickass! Whoohoooo!!!!

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Rider and the Machine. The Last Outpost.

The Rider arrived atop the Machine and dismounted, stretching his legs and arching his back. He squinted through his polarized lenses at the landscape around him.

Behind him lay the miles covered. Canyon and mountain, prairie and windswept desert. Countless hours of snow turned rain turned blazing heat. Miles of waves and water. Trails and trials of rock and dirt. Around him now, at this Last Outpost, were nature's rewards for such travels. The breeze combed lush grasslands below the elevated road. Rising on the other side were forested mountains, snowcaps glistening. Before him, the road narrowed and wound into dark woods. And immediately beside him was a great monument, towering black and endless into the high clouds above him. A long staircase climbed to a set of wide double doors that gained entrance into it.

He leaned the Machine against a tree by the side of the road, removed his helmet, and faced the tower. As he started towards it, removing his lenses, the Machine said, "Be...careful." The Rider paused without looking back, then continued to the stairway. One thousand days into the journey, the Rider ascended.

The stairway echoed a thick, hollow thunder with each of his footfalls. Not stone, the Rider thought. Of course. Iron. The fatigue of a thousand and more miles did not affect this climb. He finally presented himself before the great doors, each emblazoned with the now familiar dotted capital M.

He stood unsure now what to do. Knock? Await invitation? Perhaps the doors are locked and are meant to remain so, the journey now over and all in vain. Just then, the huge doors awoke with a noisy creak, and a shred of bright light widened unto him as they parted.

The Rider walked into the Last Outpost.

He shielded his eyes from a brightness that seemed to come from everywhere, without source. The whiteness of this room, encased in such a dark exterior, was startling. His blinded eyes watered before finally a voice, soft but easily heard said, Your lenses. Only the prepared see here.

The Rider replaced his lenses over his eyes, and in an instant the room had definition. Immense columns lined a long hallway leading from the door to a kind of stage, elevated with more stairs and hidden in shadow. The room was ornately carved with curling characters and symbols. The Rider looked closer; the characters were letters, composing names. None he recognized, but he understood who they were. Finishers. Long, massive windows near the top of the chamber allowed beams of sunlight, casting curious shadows around the room.

Rider, the voice said from the stage, Approach.

He moved towards the voice, his heart pounding. The room boomed with each footfall, and he felt conscious of himself, of his own presence, of his interruption into this hallowed place. Wherever the voice came from, whatever it was that spoke it, remained hidden in shadow upon the stage, but details became clearer. Some kind of immense throne existed there in darkness, with The Voice sitting in it, mysterious and dangerous. The Rider was suddenly aware of shining dots moving in stealth around him, between columns, behind the throne, keeping in shadow. Foxes.

The Rider arrived, and stood before the stage. Intentionally tall, intentionally still.

Second Son of a Second Son. You have come far. The Voice said.

The Rider nodded.

Do you know who I am?

"I believe I do." The Rider responded.

You realize, then, that to have audience with me means you have demonstrated worthiness.

The Rider said nothing. The Voice continued with sigh, Ah. But like others who arrive here, you still find yourself unworthy. As I suppose it should be, and will ever be.

The Voice stood then, and with his head bowed slightly The Rider looked over the top of his lenses at the whiteness. It comes from him, then, he thought. He is the source of the light. Of course.

The Rider straightened his head to regain the clarity the lenses provided, and saw that The Voice had approached him, standing at the top of the set of stairs separating them, looking down at him. Tell me, what do you seek here?

It is a question that The Rider had asked himself as many times as miles covered. There were so many answers. None and all seemed the right one. "Redemption," he said.

The room was suddenly booming with the echoes of The Voice's laughter. It finally said, Then you will not find it. Redemption is a fool's journey, for it's not to be found, only created. This alone will not satisfy that. The Voice said again, What do you seek here?

The Rider thought, then responded "Peace".

Again the room came alive with senseless noise. You have learned nothing! The Voice said, amused. This is the least peaceful thing I can think of! You do not come here in armor to make peace. You do not wage war on your ghosts in a demonstration of peace. And peace is not to be found here. The shredding of souls is what happens here! The Voice became increasingly agitated. Now angry it demanded, WHAT DO YOU SEEK HERE?

The Rider trembled. Then he whispered at last, "Myself."

Expecting more cacophony, the Rider was startled at the silence that followed. He looked up at last, only to find the stage empty. He's left, the Rider thought. I've so disappointed him that he's actually left. When from just behind him came a voice, low and sounding like his own, Then Yourself you shall find.

The Rider whirled around at The Voice, only to find empty space. He spun around again, back to the stage, and found him again sitting on the throne. Look around you, The Voice implored. The Rider lifted his head at the etching of name after name after name. Each of these names belongs to one who came here, to the Last Outpost, in search. Some did seek redemption. Some did seek peace. Some revenge, some glory, some fame, some wonder, some hope. Every search is as different as each rider. You are one of many. But your search is yours alone.

Somehow, after all, only now did the gravity of this journey make sense to the Rider. You must understand what you search for, The Voice continued, Or you will not understand how to get there. You must also understand that these are not the names of Finishers, as you thought. Their names are revered elsewhere, but not at this Outpost. These are the names of the searchers. Finishing is paramount to the race, but irrelevant to the search. For you see, all searchers are in the race. But not all racers are searching.

"But then...what's the point?" The Rider asked. The journey is for nothing? Anecdotal happy thoughts? A childish sense of accomplishment? Some pointless self test of one's limits? It broke his heart to consider it.

Ah, said The Voice, But for you, the race IS the search. The race is your quest. As you have been on it now for more than three years. The finish is your sole destination.

The Rider exhaled. So much made sense to him suddenly.

To business, then. The Voice said, again standing and putting his hands together. This is the Last Outpost. You have sixty days journey from here. Everything you have done so far has been to get to this point and no further. You will, if you choose to continue, leave with me everything you've come with so far.

"My Machine?" The Rider asked, suddenly afraid.

The Voice shook his head. No no, you misunderstand. Of course The Machine goes with you. Your final refining begins here. Here you leave distractions. Here you leave excuses. Here you leave fear and doubt. Here you unburden yourself, and go forward only with discipline, strategy, and strength.

The Rider was relieved. "Of course..."

The Voice interrupted him. Do not be callous. Think clearly of what you agree to, for these burdens also bring you great comfort. Excuses and doubt create a buffer between you and the reality of the self that you seek. Distractions make it easy to Be without really Being. And fear is the greatest unmotivator of all. The world you live in thrives on these things. To give them up will mean even greater isolation for you. You will no longer be comfortable in your world. You will find what it truly means to become made of Iron. And, The Voice paused, I can promise you that it will hurt.

The Rider stood with a lump in his throat. He finally nodded. "I understand."

The Voice smiled wryly. I know you think you understand, and that is all I will ask for now. He stood once more and approached the Rider, descending step by step, his features somehow still hidden in shadow. He stood equal to the Rider at last, and turned towards one of the great columns next to them. Then, The Voice said, suddenly brandishing a small, brilliant blade and holding it out to the Rider, Wave Rider. Wind Rider. Road Rider. Sign among the others, that you may be infinite.

The Rider took the blade with trembling hand and pressed it against the black Iron column. He expected the metal's resistance, but the blade carved through with liquid ease. He signed his name. The Voice took the blade from him and added below the Rider's signature, in an identical hand, Esse Quam Videri.

"To Be, and Not to Appear To Be" The Rider interpreted. A promise you have made. The Voice replied, And the fulcrum between us.

The Voice escorted the Rider back to the great doorway. Now go. Sixty days. Finish your journey, and accomplish your quest.

"What lay on the road ahead?" The Rider asked, replacing his helmet on his head.

That is unknown even to me. The Voice answered. He cracked the mighty doors and they opened with a groan. The Rider returned to The Machine and clipped in to the cranks.

"Will I see you again?"

Only as a Finisher. With your quest resolved. The Voice turned then, but paused before leaving. Outrun your ghosts, Rider. Your father would not have you haunted. Nor would I. Then without another word or gesture, he disappeared between the doors as they thundered to a heavy close behind him.

Rider and Machine headed into the dark road among the woods, into the unknown. The Machine said, "What did he say in there?" To which the Rider responded only, "We Ride."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Return from Holiday

Well, I'm back from 4th of July festivities/IMWI Training, with a few interesting bits to report. Hard to believe, but I'm in the essential and final phase of training for Ironman - basically from here until mid-August is balls out nutzo. Mostly 2-a-days, lots of mileage. With that, I had a solid 85 mile (twice on the Verona loop)/sub 5 hour ride on Saturday morning on the Ironman course, and a 2.5 hour 40 mile ride (once on the loop) ride followed by a 10 mile run on Monday. Both days were revealing and useful.

In addressing my heart rate issues that keep coming up, I ran a mile sprint before my long ride last weekend, so that in getting on the bike I was heart rate high. I mostly settled in, but the hot sun setting in later in the morning made for some electrolyte imbalances that left me suffereing by ride's end. That's easily addressed. So on Monday, with a shorter ride, I worked on keeping my heart rate even lower, and found that in sacrificing about .5 (or a little less) mph, I can stay comfortably around and under 130 bpm at cruising speed, and this seems about ideal for me. I had a great ride, concentrating on heart rate and comfort before speed (16.3mph average or something like that) and then had the legs for a comfortable 10 mile run at 9:30 pace afterwards (why can't I put something like that together at a Half IM racee???). I was also able to address and memorize the rest of the Verona loop, and create strategies for it - particularly the 3 climbs that start about 30 miles into the loop. With that information in hand, my Monday ride was pretty solid. I felt really good.

I did, however, encounter something pretty horrific, which in my google-ing (googling?) since, has revealed this fun bit of terminology: death wobble. I've now done the course several times, and on the steep and serious descents I tuck back in my saddle (often actually off and behind it) and sit low to fly down. Out of the blue, totally randomly, on my 2nd loop on Monday I'm flying down the most serious descent of the day, and as I tick past about 35mph, my front wheel starts to wobble left and right. Think of how a wheel on a shopping cart wobbles - it was like that. The faster I got, the more serious it got, and I was actually passing another rider when this happened and he heard me say "Oh No." Have you ever "almost" been in a car accident? Like, so that your body braces for it? So you might shout or scream involuntarily? So that you're sure it's happening? So that the whole thing begins playing itself out before suddenly, somehow, it was avoided and you're okay? And when you tell somebody later, "I was almost in a car accident!" it's useless, because you either are, or you are not, and "almost" doesn't make the papers so who cares? And it's impossible to describe just how horrible and scary the thing felt? Right, so that's what this was like. I'm cruising at over 40mph and my wheel is all over the place, and I am losing control by the millisecond, and am trying to inch my way nearer the ditch so that when I bail I might not break everything on asphalt. And just as I'm about to catapult off my bike, I begin the opposite ascent and slow below 35mph and the wobble is suddenly gone, 'Blue is as usual, and all is uneventful. I got off my bike shaking. Scary as hell. Later in the ride, on a less serious but still significant descent, it started happening again. I knew the sensation this time, so slowed immediately.

So what was that all about? At home that night I check everything. Wheel looks possibly slightly out of true, but only a little? Headset looks okay. Tire looks okay. Well something had to have caused the wheel to suddenly start wobbling like that, no? I make a few tightenings, check my skewers, etc. etc.

So Monday I'm back out, and I approach the descent again, in the same place (it had, however, been raining earlier in my ride, so everything was slick and more precarious) and the same thing happens, with the same energy of terror, and again I barely survive this thing. I mean, honestly. Think of throwing yourself out of your car next time you're at 40 mph, and that's the scenario, here. So the rest of the ride, telling myself it was because it was wet and I should be diligent, I'm riding the brakes on every descent. In truth, my confidence is seriously shaken. I don't mind taking the descents more slowly, if that's how I am as a natural rider. But I'm not - I'm changing my behavior, motivated by fear, and that's not okay with me.

In researching this, here's the not-great news to follow: It's a "common" problem that's "rarely" faced (huh?), and its causes are mysterious. It can happen from any kind of slight imbalance with anything at high speed centrifugal force. The cause of the imbalance is so nebulus that it could be the actual composites of the wheel or rubber materials themselves. Or a mal-adjusted headset on the bike. But in general, my research indicates, you can review and tweak all of these things and still find it happening. Just out of the blue.


So. That it repeated itself says to me it's not isolated, and there's some kind of cause. I guess I'll go have my wheel trued and my headset inspected. I'll put new tires on. I'm not headed back until mid-August for a final furious training ride, but at that time I'll check it again. I'll check it on my training wheels (this happened on my racing wheels - all the worse, for me). If it turns out it's the wheel, and I can't address it...I guess new racing wheels before Ironman? If it happens on both sets of wheels...well then I guess I'll just have to ride the breaks like a dandy.

Sigh. Weird. Scary.

Technical difficulties notwithstanding, I felt great about the rides. I continue to learn how to address some of these latest issues, and am feeling good about where my education is leading me. I can feel myself dialing in here to ideal Ironman performance. I finally got a Power Meter today - been on order since March or something, so we'll hope it works as it should - and that can only help me address mathematically what my best performance ranges will be on the bike.

The intensity picks up, then, and I'll keep you posted on whatever I discover. Already racing again next weekend - an Olympic distance time trial. Looking forward to it.