Thursday, August 30, 2007

My $.02: The Run, The Finish, The Aftermath

Wow, so you've made it out of T2. You've been doing this race for something close to 8 hours or more, and NOW you have 26.2 to go. That's awesome. And insane. I think Ironman doesn't make much sense, if you were to try and stop to think about it. It can get overwhelming if you try and think of all the distance you need to cover before you cover it. So I say: don't think about it. The race is daunting enough without any added pressure, so once you get out there on the run, be in the run. Try not to do the math to figure out how much time you have to do this, or what pace you need to do that. Just - run. Trust in your training, put one foot in front of the other, and go.

Unless you do this for a living or you have some serious Kona aspirations so that every millisecond counts, look for the first opportunity you have to stop for your team of supporters, be they one or 50, and give them some hugs and high fives. They've been out all day waiting for a glimpse of you - if you've ever gone and watched a marathon or triathlon, you know that the spectator's role is hurry hurry hurry wait wait wait there he is whahoo! okay now where should we go. Likely you'll have some friends and family there that have been part of the whole adventure with you, and have sacrificed a lot in their own ways for you to become Ironman. Now is one opportunity to show them some love. You won't regret it, and neither will they.

The thing about the run is, for everybody, your strategies and plans and objectives are totally unique. You might be cruising for a sub 4 hour marathon, or maybe you're a hack like me who's just hoping to get to the finish line. Whatever your ideas, keep in mind what Rich Strauss says and race with a principle, rather than a plan. At around mile 7 or so of the marathon, suddenly Gatorade was out of the mix for me. I took a sip, nearly puked, and that was it - after all the gallons of Gatorade I'd drank in the last year in preparation for Ironman, I was officially done with it with most of the marathon left. My body just wouldn't have any more. So? Improvise. I diluted it with water, to still get the sodium and calories where I could but avoid as much of the taste, which seemed to be the thing making me gag. I drank the chicken broth for sodium. Snacked on whatever I could. When crisis comes - and it will come, be it a GI issue or a cramp or just a bad stretch of mileage or the end of Gatorade as you know it - well...I think that's when the forging of Ironman comes to completion. That's when it's about you vs. you, to steal a line from our friend Erin. And when it gets lonely out there, and hard, and impossible - that's where you start withdrawing from your Ironman deposits, which you made during your early morning long runs, or when you were out in the thunderstorms, or when you chose to run in 15 degree weather instead of hit the treadmill. Sometime in there you'll have to dig deep. And that is what becoming Ironman is all about.

There are aid stations a-plenty, and port-a-potties too, so take full advantage. Thank the volunteers, who are just awesome. High five everybody. Keep your attitude positive, and positivity will reign on your race. I believe that's true.

At 13.1, you'll approach the finish line...only to be turned away to repeat the course. Your Special Needs bag will be right there, and as on the bike, you might fill it with some special treats, or fresh socks, or an inspirational token to get you down the home stretch.

It'll get dark, and the surreal thing is that you'll have raced from morning darkness to night darkness. That's awesome.

And then, somehow and finally some way, you will find yourself inching through miles with a "2" leading the other digit, and by God you're about to finish the Ironman. I'm not going to talk about the finish chute at all, except to say two things: First, try hard - try really, really hard - to memorize what you're seeing and feeling and experiencing. Take it all in, and burn it into your head as you fly towards the music and the madness and the cheering and the frenzy. It's a very special thing, and you can take it with you for the rest of your life - the way the air feels, the sounds, the crisp fall smells. Second - when you do finally cross the Finish Line, they'll take your picture. This is a big thing, this picture, and it's only an instant. I know you'll have a lot on your mind, but try and remember a few things about that picture. Don't crowd the guy in front of you - I was so stupid excited that I flew down the chute and totally caught up to the guy in front of me just as he was about to cross. I luckly stopped just in time, extended my hand to wish him well, and let him have that moment that he'd worked so hard for all by himself, (and, lest you find me the very standard of graciousness, I admit I also stopped so that I could have my finishing moment by myself, too. And, incidentally, in my race report I thought that guy was a woman, for the stupor I was in. It wasn't until I watched the video later that I realized he was a much taller he than me. Weird.) Remember that neon glowy thingies around your neck or your wrists or whatever, they'll show up super bright in photos, so that they might obscure your face. Remember that if you're wearing an improvised garbage bag as a rain coat, it might be great to strip that before you cross the line. Or hey, maybe the photo is the least interesting thing for you in the world and you won't care about some stupid photo - that's cool too. For me, I was happy to have it. I hang it on my wall, and it means a lot to me.

You'll be caught by volunteers after you've crossed the finish line, and they'll put a well earned hunk of hardware around your neck, as well as hand you your finisher's bag with a t-shirt and hat and some other cool stuff in it. They'll physically escort you entirely through the post-finish chute, in case you need help, or need to visit the med tent. You'll be in very good hands, and very well taken care of. Tri Teacher asked me the other day in what kind of ragged state my finisher's shirt was, hers being well worn with pride, and she rolled my eyes at my OCD when I told her that I packed mine safely away right after the race. I bought other shirts that say "finisher" on them, but my official shirt gets limited playing time. Same with my finisher's hat - I don't wear that one running. That's just me - I hope to pull those babies out and impress my daughter some day when I'm old and fat and feeble.

There's a family meet-up spot, and last year they had pizza in there, and I was all over that. My family, though, wasn't aware of the meet-up spot, and they were kind of wandering around the finish area looking for me while I wandered back to kind of look for them. If you feel like you want to have some kind of plan - let's meet by the big tree near the bench on the corner - then it's probably wise to do that well before the race and have it scoped out. Probably, though, you can just wing it. Seems that's what everybody else does.

You'll be pretty amped up, despite your exhaustion, but after your intial crazy great celebration with your friends & family, don't forget you'll need to go get your bike and transition bags. It's a really good idea to have somebody that will be celebrating with you at the finish line have some comfy shorts or sweats, or a sweatshirt, and flip-flops, so you can get out of your sweaty race clothes. The volunteers will walk you through the process of getting all your gear, but only those with wrist-bands will be allowed in the bike area.

The logistics finished, you now begin the rest of your an Ironman.

And hey, that's pretty alright.

Just a few last notes:

You'll hurt. A weird, new, how-come-I-didn't-expect-that kind of hurt. Strange things, maybe, that never showed up in training; for me both my ankles just killed. My body was so sore, in every possible way, that I woke myself up groaning the next night. For two days I could hardly walk. It was crazy. Expect that, and know that it's your body's way of insisting on some rest. You can lay off the triathlete OCD for a little while and forgo a "relaxed" 5k to "cool down" or whatever - just veg out a little, your body's earned it. When you do start coming back around to training, you'll know when it's the right time - and when it feels too soon. Don't be surprised if you find things are wonky for awhile - I think my legs were fatigued seriously until early November. I suppose, at least for first-timers, that's all part of it. One thing I do suggest is that you put something on your calendar - you may very well start to experience some serious withdrawal, and it's not all emotional - your body is used to some serious mileage, and to suddenly deprive it of the natural chemicals you've been producing and stewing in for most of a year can cause some weird responses, mentally and physically. You'll probably have, even if this is the one and only Ironman you ever want to do, some kind of "now what?" Even if you get a 5k or 10k on the calendar, it's something to look forward to, something to satisfy a little bit of that familiar wanting to look ahead.

Last thing: Be patient with yourself, and especially avoid any sweeping statements about your definitive future Ironman plans (Well, unless you're in line the very next day to enter the following year's race. Then you, my friend, should sweep away with continued conviction.) It's a weird thing. The week or month or months after the race, you might feel totally content, totally uninterested in even thinking Ironman. And as winter comes you'll enjoy your free time again as your own, and you'll do fun and new and interesting things. You'll realize with shock that weekends can be used for other things than being on a bike. Maybe the next season you'll fire up some new races, or whatever. But somewhere in there it seems almost everybody starts wondering - maybe next time I could improve my run this much. Maybe I would swim a little smarter and wouldn't it be cool if...and pretty soon you realize that you've been thinking in terms of "next time" when you hadn't even imagined "next time" yet. I guess there's a reason why you're always hearing of the age grouper who's doing her 2nd or 3rd or 5th Ironman. It gets into you somehow. On the other hand...maybe you will have no thoughts of "next time" at all. Maybe everybody around you will start whispering about Ironman again, but for you that once was enough. You have other things to do, other pursuits to follow. That's cool too - and is a reason to avoid thinking of yourself as a career Ironman athlete too soon. Just - go with the flow, I guess. That first year after Ironman, at least for me, it was weird. The lessons Ironman teaches you, they don't stop after your 140.6th mile. In a lot of ways (corny alert), they only begin.

Okay, well, I think that about covers it. Hopefully you've found something of value in this $.02 series - as always, if you have questions or want to know anything more, I'm so not an expert but I'm happy to share my experiences. If nothing else, maybe you know better how some of the IM logistics are handled in Wisconsin, and you can take one thing off of your mental list. I've enjoyed going back there a bit to bring it all top of mind. And I'll see you there again in '09.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I don't tell you everything. In fact, I keep things here mostly to triathlon and its immediate orbit. The occasional anecdote about world's wider adventures, but mostly the purpose of this thing isn't to be some kind of personal diary, but instead a place to share this slice of my life. So this is a thing we've been going through for many months, with increasing concern and attention and sadness. I wanted to tell you about it today.

We have a friend, Randy. He was a teacher with Amy at her previous school in Minneapolis, where they work with alternative (at-risk) students. "At-risk" generally means "nobody else wants them in the building", so to thrive in that kind of environment and be passionate about teaching those particular sorts of kids, it takes a special person. Randy had been there for many many years, and was the kind of science teacher who made lessons of the real world. I always thought of him as a sort of wizard. A kind of Gandalf who was this brilliant by-example mentor for younger teachers, like Amy, and also one of those teachers that impacts his students far after the bell has rung.

Randy has run 19 marathons. He kayaked most of North America in his younger days. He was an accomplished photographer, his eye drawn to the inspirations found in nature, a reflection of his broader philosophies (found probably in his classroom relationships as well) that the powerful is often found where others might overlook. I first met him, if you don't consider Amy's frequent stories of the really cool thing that happened at school today officially "meeting", when he came to support me in 2005 when I ran the Twin Cities marathon. He wasn't running it that day. He was just beginning to seriously fight cancer.

He'd run Grandma's Marathon in June of '05, and I think that was his last marathon. The year before, he'd been experiencing some pain in his leg. It was one of those things mentioned casually at the doctor, and they did a quick once-over, and they found a tumor. His has been, the last 4 years, the quintessential cancer fighter's story, inspiring and mesmorizing and tragic in every way. There'd be some drug that would be working for a few weeks or maybe even a few months. He'd have a setback. He'd take three steps forward. He'd take two steps back. Everytime he came back from a doctor's appointment hearing bad news, and to "expect the worst", he'd rally and for a month or 6 weeks he'd be feeling good and strong, before the inevitable downturn.

6 months ago or so, the obvious became clear - that this was a hill getting too steep to keep running up. Still, he was strong, because he was wired that way. He became very close friends with another of my close friends. Theirs was a surprising friendship that, even under the darkness of cancer, blossomed into something unexpected and lovely. She's been there by his side these several months, in joy and sadness. It's been surreal to experience something like twilight with people you care about.

He managed to make it through the school year without having to miss many classes at all, which is true to form - he's the kind of guy that "just wants to make it" to something on the horizon. He was able to come to some of our goodbye parties when we moved in June. Last month we were back in Minnepolis, and Amy got to go spend some time with him reading to him, or sitting quietly. He enjoyed placing his hand on Amy's belly, sharing however he could in the life of a child he won't know. By then he was in the serious throes. He'd lost a great deal of weight, and his hand felt papery when I shook it (mostly held it). He moved slowly and carefully. He was tired in ways that transcend fatigue. He was a very very sick man.

He passed away this morning. Crossing the finish line at last.

I'm sad for Amy - he was a good friend to her, an amazing person in her life. I'm sorry for my dear friend, who has experienced so much in such a short time with Randy. I'm sorry for his students, and the students he would have had, for the loss of a wise sage, and decent man, and brilliant teacher. Randy was just one of those guys where you feel with him gone, the ripple is wide on who it will touch.

Last October a bunch of us dressed up for a halloween fun run, and Randy was there, dressed like Fester from The Addams Family (or is it The Munsters? Randy would know), to slowly make his way down the 1 mile walk/run. His feet were really sensitive for some new pill he was taking against the cancer. After 19 marathons, that 1 miler was his last race. I'm glad I was a part of it.

Peace be with you Randy. Thanks for everything. Thanks for the critical eye you gave some of my photography, and the genuine praise when you found stuff you liked. Thanks for printing out the occassional blog entry and sharing it with your students - I never felt worthy of that at all. Thanks for thinking of me and passing along your running and cycling magazines; I hope you'll allow me the honor of feeling that a torch was passed, there. Thanks for being such a great part of Amy's life, such a great friend and mentor and teacher to her, and with her. Thanks for the love and peace and serenity and wisdom you shared so honestly and freely.

Today's run is for you, kind man, good soul. We'll miss you.

From the front left: Randy, Amy & Sara. From the back left: Susan, Mike, me, Patric, TZilla, Ben
Anoka Halloween Gray Ghost Run, 2006

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Decision, et. al.

Thanks for your advice and ideas everybody - I really appreciate your insights, and especially knowing "what you would do". As it is, I have been given clearance to race. Whahoo! Amy's two cents were similar to Bill's - the word dumbass may have even made another appearance. Ultimately, with advice in mind but through my own process, I've decided to go with the Sprint. Of course, big pieces of me wanted to do the Oly - hell, big pieces of me wanted to do the Half Iron, and I'm in no way ready for that - but I've been trying to assert some better training strategies lately that I'll take with me into Ironman training, and one of those is the mantra just because I can, doesn't mean I should. I was looking over my Garmin on Saturday after my workouts, and back to late April and May, when I had my last two runs before I got hurt. I ran 12 miles one Saturday, then 16 miles then next weekend, with nothing in between. And it ended in injury. Just because I could, doesn't mean I should have. And, I'm applying that philosophy to a lot of my base training that I've been doing the last few months - I'm doing a lot of speed and interval work, but I'm drawing a line, too. In the past I've had a tendency to race some of my training, instead of training to race. Pointless and fruitless. So anyway, with all that in mind, I think I would be physically and mentally prepared for the Olympic distance, and might even have done it well, but in the spirit of staying disciplined I decided to exercise some restraint and - dare I say - common sense, and do the mileage and intensity I've been training for. So - back to back Sprint weekends baby! Lake Geneva triathlon on the 8th, and then the Devil's Challenge on the 15th. The Lake Geneva has a shade longer bike - 17 miles compared to 15 - and I guess some kind of "famous killer hill" (so says the website for the race) on the run. I could not be looking forward to it more.

Some encouraging results this weekend - I have a secret dream (don't tell anybody about this), to crack a 7:00/mile average pace on the run in a Sprint triathlon, sometime, someday, some way. I seriously don't know if it's possible. I've been working the last few weeks on pacing myself through some shorter simulations - not the full 3 miles - to make it happen, but I've hit a wall each time. Saturday I had a 3x brick workout, where I was out 15 minutes as hard as possible on my bike, then a 1 mile run hard as I can. Rest 5 minutes, and repeat. The bike was so-so - I stayed right around 20mph for each interval, but it's hard to get into a serious rhythm in only 15 minutes, especially when you turn around at 7:30. But on the run, the first one I ran in 7:11 (and, thanks to the Mexican Fiesta the night before, felt friggin' horrible the whole time), the second one - now obviously getting more physically fatigued but feeling much better than the first go - I rocked a 6:59, and the 3rd run I was able to pull out 6:54. That's extremly fast for me. That puts my average of the three in the...what...7:05, 7:06 ballpark? Encouraging. This is my last week of hard training though before I mini-taper for the next 2 weeks' worth of races, so we'll see what happens.

Also this of note: My buddy Mike came to town this weekend, and we spent much of it putting together the baby's room and especially all the furniture. Good times, everything's really coming together. But, last night, I was putting together a bookshelf and had a piece lying on the ground, and there were - you know if you've ever put together furniture, there are those cam bolts, and then there are those screws that stick out that go into the cam bolts? No matter if you don't know what I mean, but there were these screws sticking out of a board that was lying on the ground - not the sharp ends sticking out (though these kinds of scews don't have sharp ends), but the drive ends sticking out - anyway, and I was (stupid alert) in bare feet and carefully stepped around stuff to retrieve a tool of some kind, and in my careful stepping I kind of slid my foot atop one of the screws and sliced my left foot, just underneath the big toe, on the ball of my foot. HURT. LIKE. HELL. So I have it dramatically bandaged up today, mostly for cushioning so that I can walk normally, as last night I was limping like a dandy and putting weight on the side of my foot and all things that if done with consistency would be begging for some kind of further stupid injury. The cut itself isn't terribly deep but it is painful, and probably it's good that I'm not running today. I think it'll be okay, I think (hope) it won't slow me down too much with the right protection on it. Though I can tell you that if I were doing Ironman in two weeks I'd be freaking out.

Okay, to work I get. My final $.02 chapter is coming up, as soon as I can manufacture the necessary time to get it done. Stay tuned, and thanks again everybody!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Your $.02

Wondering if you have some advice out there.

I have a friend. We'll call him...Tito. Let's say Tito lost his whole season to a...oh, I 'bout a knee injury. As good a reason as any. He DNC'd two races which broke his freaking heart. Fell into a deep and miserable depression and gained 40 pounds. Okay, he didn't fall into a depression and didn't gain 40 pounds, but he felt like it. Plus he was busy with extraordinary things because he's...let's say he's a zookeeper. And he had to move all the polar bears from one part of the zoo to another part of the zoo and it as a major project and took months and months. And Tito's wife is pregnant, so that created a whole new level of crazy. Let's just say that.

Okay, so Tito finally went to the doctor in July, and he was given a prescription for all the right things, and was told to keep his training to sprint distance triathlon and not to exceed that. And Tito has a sprint race coming up on September 15th that's been the sole objective for his training so far this shortened season. Let's say that.

Now - suppose Tito just became aware of ANOTHER race he could do the week before his otherwise scheduled race. And let's say he could, if he wanted to, sign up for an Olympic Distance. And even though his doctor told him in July to keep it to Sprint distance or shorter, he's already run 14 miles on a whim one Saturday, and his high mileage on the bike is around 30 miles. So it's not like he feels incapable of it or something. And, his knee has been 100% for several weeks. And let's say Tito's an Ironman so he irrationally thinks he's capable of damn near anything. Let's say.

Do you:

A: Hell yes sign up for the Oly, and do the Sprint the next week, even if performance at the Sprint suffers just a shade, because life is short dammit and the game is too good to be away from it all summer long.

B: Sign up for just the sprint distance of the one race, and follow it up the next week with the already scheduled Sprint, and treat the first one as a dress rehearsal and really take the second one as seriously as originally planned.

C: Don't be signing up for no damn races all the sudden like that, just stay the course and stick with the original plan, which was one race on the 15th. Yes, this is the nancy drew way to go, but no sense tempting the injury gods.

Oh, and Tito hasn't even asked his wife about the race yet, because she has ultimate veto power, seeing how she's great with child and all. So she could smite the whole budding plan right out of existence.

I gots to go swimming now, but Tito sure would appreciate knowing what the infinite triathlete brain trust had to say on this strictly hypothetical matter...

Thursday, August 23, 2007


It rained.

He ran.

It's all it had done lately: rain. The earth was drenched. The sidewalks were flooded. Rain spouts and gutters roared like faucets. The world, weary of it, sought refuge.

He ran.

At first, he sat on his front step and watched it. Not for any reason - not waiting for a break he knew wouldn't come, not reconsidering if there weren't other, dryer things he could be doing. And, not to size up an opponent. He just...watched.

He glanced down at his watch, saw his heart rate was in the low 50's. Some kind of zen, watching the rain.

Then, he stepped into it. Like stepping through the curtains and onto the stage.

It was pleasant enough at first, as he found a comfortable pace and turned the music up. In fact, out there now, the rain didn't seem to be falling as hard as it had seemed while watching. He felt good. Fast. Free.

He turned the corner after half a mile and the world erupted, thunder crowding out the music. It came down in sudden, angry lashes then, but he didn't care. His only betrayal that it was, in fact, raining, was to pull his cap down lower to keep his glasses dry a bit longer. Around him people fled. Cars swooshed by, spraying great waves of water in their wakes, their wipers at full strength.

He ran.

A mile in now, and he turned left into downtown. The sky glared at him, black as a nightmare. Great shards of lightning sliced the clouds, burning so bright he could see them still with his eyes closed. The storm growled, and he ran into it. He wasn't thinking of the storm. He was thinking of the running.

Downhill now, to the lowest spot in town, just near the railroad tracks. Water ankle deep, and cars cruising slowly through it, the kind of wet and wild that doesn't make any sense. He didn't break stride, took no fruitless efforts to avoid it. He ran.

Now uphill the other direction, his feet three times as heavy for the soaking. Still, he concentrated on form, on function, on heart rate, on pace. Another explosion as thunder shook so loud that things trembled. It just didn't matter.

He ran.

3 miles finally, the warm-up completed, and now the run home. Racing now. But racing only himself. Not the rain.

And suddenly it intensified, so that seeing the world was like looking through foggy windows. His glasses useless now, he placed them on his head. Cars in the streets pulled over to let the worst of it pass. He pulled weights on his feet, his entire person no dryer than if he'd just been swimming. He paid attention for really the first time - this was some kind of storm.

Still. He ran.

Trying to keep pace, not wanting to slow down these three more miles. Hauling his feet underneath him, quads screaming, lungs burning, water not dripping but streaming from the brim of his cap. Faster. Go faster. Don't...break. Not yet. Just a little further. Go. Go. Go. Go.

It rained.

He ran.

Then the first thing to break through to him, and it wasn't the rain. A song came in through his ears, sudden and surprising. The soundtrack to another, far more sinister, rainy day. The song came just at the end of the interval, while he was slowing. He allowed his mind into it.

Always the rain. Then, and now. At every race in between, few as they've been. The universe's karmic engine seems intent on washing him down. Why doesn't matter anymore - he's no longer obsessed with asking those kinds of questions. Iron doesn't rust, they'd said.

Still, a casual ponderance: why today? He had cause to ask it for the first time, it not even ocurring to him to ask it earlier. Why run in this rain? There was nothing to prove, no ethereal purpose to it. No ghosts chasing him now, no Great Race in constant preparation for. He was not engaged in wartime theatre with the Elements. None of the old reasons satisfied the question.

He turned the last corner, almost home. Because, he thought, he could. Because, he thought, he would. Because he'd felt like running. That's all. He'd just wanted to go running. And he didn't want to be the kind of person who was afraid of the rain.

So, he ran.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Quick Pics

Here are some photos of last Saturday's race. In case you are wondering, yes, I'm about as vain as they come. I can't get enough of myself. Which is weird cuz I'm not an attractive fellow, justified by my 3.71 out of 10 average on

My torture device currently known as Let Down Susie.

Detroit Lake post race...but still...icky.

Mmm, suck that air and pull. I'm the one towards the top directly
in the middle with the white bracelet on my right hand.

The incredible deflating buoy.

Crap, what time is it? I'm late.

My lovely lady humps.

I can't feel my legs.


Finally, let's party!

Heads up

Go read Steve's blog today -

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

So far

Well first off, welcome to taper, IMWI athletes, and hella job getting here and well done and good on ya. Especially those in the Madison or Minneapolis areas this last weekend - what a craptacular weather weekend for your last long ride or run. But, you never know what race day has in store, so more power to you.

Meanwhile, I'm just over 3 weeks away from my A, B, and C race of the year. Whahoo! Crazy to have your whole season wrapped up into a single race. No primer races, no warm ups. Just one shot yo get all wrapped up in a race day and enjoy the craziness. Anyway, I thought this would be a good opportunity to address where I am so far- what's working, and what still needs work.

What's working:

• My training has been worthwhile, useful, and consistent since mid July, when I was given the go-ahead with the whole knee thing. As I look back on it, I think I was (naturally) a shade burned out after Ironman, and besides physically not being ready, I don't think mentally I was in the place where training for a May marathon was a good idea. So - lesson learned. The perfect storm of interruptions this spring and early summer, then - getting the house ready to sell, selling, finding and buying, moving; the injury; the baby - all of it was probably the universe telling me to slow down, re-evaluate, have some perspective. I didn't listen, so the injury worsened to the point where I DNC'd two races this year. By the time I was physically ready to go in mid July, I think I was mentally restless too, and ready to fully engage back in the game.

• My knee: It's hard to believe that just some physical therapy did the trick, or maybe just having a doctor's prescription to back off the high mileage and intensity for several weeks put me in the right from of mind, but whatever - spending a lot of time in slow, base-like training while my knee healed up has allowed me to focus on speed and intensity the last several weeks with no ill effects at all for the knee. Last week I had my last PT and was given a clean bill, and I've put my legs through whatever I can find, now - hill workouts, speed workouts, whatever. The only time it bothers me is usually in the car, when it's bent for a long time. So happy to not be physically restrained anymore. Besides the obvious that injury prevents optimum activity, it messes with your head - I was always afraid of the next half mile. I'm so damn glad to have all of that behind me.

• Speed and power: I've never, not even my first season in 2004, trained for a Sprint triathlon before. It's always been a kind of stepping stone, a necessary preview, to get to that season's real deal - Olympic distance or better. So, I've never taken the Sprint distance seriously before. I've found this summer that it's really fun to be so focused on speed workouts - it's made my time in the pool, where I'm otherwise so often bored as hell - actually kind of fun. Last week I had speed intervals on the bike that almost made me puke. It's a whole different approach than Ironman training, where you just go slow and long for weeks on end to build up the right kind of endurance. It's kind of refreshing, and I hope it also leads to some improvements in general - my average mph has steadily climbed through my normal rides throughout the summer, and as you know my swim times have dramatically improved. I can't seem to get any faster on the run, though...I don't know what the deal is there. I don't think I'm much faster than I was 3 years ago. More efficient, yes, and probably a better distance runner - but for sheer speed, I'm still slow as hell. Alas. But - I've already been considering ways that I'll take what I'm doing now and interject versions of it into my 70.3 and Ironman training.

• Discipline: This has always been my biggest ace - whatever I lack naturally that won't ever see me on the podium, at least it can't be said about me that I lack discipline, initiative, and drive. I beat the rain last Saturday because I was on my bike by 6 am, and Sunday morning I was up at 7:00 and running 8 miles in the downpour. Necessary for Ironman training, yes...but for a Sprint? There's something to not hiding from the elements when they present themselves for battle, and I was ready to take them on, as I have before and I will again.

What needs improvement:

• Endurance: This might be part of my problem with not getting much faster on the run - my legs get tired out. Of course, I haven't been training for endurance this summer at all, but I can feel it in the water and the bike - I can go intense, but I burn a lot of matches in a hurry. The trick for me will, in the coming years, to continue to develop endurance but also continue to develop speed and power. I don't want to just survive out there.

• Flexibility: Used to be, I didn't train over my lunch hour much, and not after dinner much - I liked to get my workouts in anytime after 4:00 on weekdays, and early in the morning on weekends. This had the added benefit of being able to nutritionally plan just so. I've been forced into swimming over the lunch hour - which has been a solid adjustment, and my work schedule has been so nuts lately (and it's been so damn hot) that I've had lots of evening workouts. But where I'm going with this is: I'm about to have a kid that's going to hijack all my waking hours. Of course, I'm totally looking forward to it...but I'll have to get better at being that guy who guys running at 4:00 in the morning, or 10:00 at night, if that's the nature of the situation...even if I'm already tired.

• Mental toughness: Man, when I get to suffering on the run, it's like I undergo some kind of chemical reaction that just makes me a big fat nancy. I'm fired up to get out there, I'm fired up for that first mile or three or five or whatever, but when it starts to hurt, when my lungs start to burn, I start to really slow down. I don't want to - my mind is ready to push - but there's somewhere between my head and my legs where the tired legs are winning out. I have to learn to overcome that, so that I can push even when it gets really painful. I don't want to be able to just endure it - have a great first first 16 miles of a marathon only at the expense of total crap for the last 10. I have to learn to be strong all the time.

So that's me. This weekend I have an ugly 3x bike/run brick set, and later this week I have a pseudo race rehearsal in the water. Hell week it's not, but it is ramping up to the most intense workouts yet in preparation for my 9/15 race. Oh, and I got my confirmation thingy and meeting agendas for volunteering at Ironman, so I'll be fired up to see everybody out there, and if you're 14 hours + I'll even be in the finish chute for you! Whahoo!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hindsight Is Always 20/20 (Young Life Triathlon Race Report)

Saturday was my third weekend in a row of racing. I'd done an Oly and a Half Mary the previous two weeks so I wasn't sure how I'd respond in this one. I'd had a solid week of preparation and felt fresh going into the weekend. Personally speaking, I normally like to take the entire day off before a race. Instead, I decided to go to work for half the day Friday morning. This turned out to be a bit stressful, more than usual anyway for a Friday (WTF is PC Load Letter?). Add to that, my quasi-emergency with my bike earlier in the week and trying to get that fixed and back from the shop in time before I headed up north for the race. I wouldn't have been so anxious but I was racing this one with a good friend of mine and a second good friend also made the trip up so it wasn't just my itinerary I needed to keep track of. Needless to say I was a bit rattled by the time we were finally ready to head out of town. Completely my own doing of course.

The three hour trip up to Detroit Lakes was uneventful other than the normal obnoxious banter and more than usual flatulence (Note: I'd probably consumed about 2 boxes of assorted Kashi cereals in the past two days=too much fiber).

We checked in at the community center in DL which took all of 24 seconds. I found it kind of odd for some reason that the guy doing the checking in asked, "long or short course?"

To which I responded, "long."

He replied with, "long? Good for you."

What is that, sprint course people don't get the "good for you" bit? I dunno, that just struck me.

My friend Jesse and I were both slated to go first out of the gates in Heat #1. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I'd somehow signed up as an Elite.

We arrived at the homestead shortly there after to little fanfare from ma and pa. As always, great hosts they were. Made one last check of my transition bag and off to bed. I haven't had trouble falling asleep before races once this year which has been nice but kind of unnerving. How am I not nervous the night before a race? I don't think that's normal but a solid night of sleep before a race is always a good thing, I'll take it.

Up and at em promptly at 4:15 Saturday morning. Now the forecast before we left called for temps in the upper 40s/lower 50s with rain and 15 mph winds. I poured a cup of coffee and fired up the weather channel. Todd +1, here we go! The temp was already 60 and it wasn't raining yet, still dry out, woo hoo! I fueled, packed and got ready to roll. Not without stopping by the office quick. Jesse and I loaded up the car and off we went. I backed out of the driveway, threw it into drive and "glug glug glug"....STALL...are you SH&%$ING me! WTF just happened? My car just stalled. I nearly burst into tears. Jesse and I stared at each other. I proceeded to start it up and off we went without a glitch. We pretended it didn't even happen.

We arrived at the race site and found some parking on a street about 30 yards from transition. Found our spots near the bike out and started setting up camp. The rain was still holding out but man alive, it was chilly out and the wind was starting to pick up. This race is a pretty small venue with only 100 long course and 133 short course racers. My mom, dad and friend Mike all arrived to wish us well before the pre-race meeting and start.

The lake looked pretty nasty out there. White caps galore. I was freezing my butt off and couldn't stop shivering. The water temp I think was 70 so it was nice to get in and out of the cool breezy air. I did some short warming up and got out to listen to the pre-race meeting. The race director who was explaining things wasn't doing the best job. It seemed no one had a clue where to go for the swim course, myself included. Being I'm a middle of the packer on my best swim day, I wasn't too worried on not knowing where to go as I will NEVER be in the front of the swim so all I need to do here is follow the crowd. Anyway, the swim was pretty much a triangle. Start and swim straight out probably about 600 yards or so, past buoy #1, and then cut straight left about another 600 yards at buoy #2. Then cut it back to the start about another 500 yards or so at buoy #3. You get the gist anyway. If not, post a comment and I'll draw you a picture.

So yah, we are under way. One point of note here is that the lake was really shallow. The first 600 yards or so straight out, you could still stand and touch bottom if you wanted. I think I saw the bottom of the lake for about 85% of the swim. This turned out to be a good thing as it reminded me that I was actually moving. This was one nasty swim. It wasn't so much clustered with arms and legs everywhere but my god, I think I know what it's like to swim in the ocean now. Waves kept coming one right after the other and were fairly big. I was more than hydrated after swallowing half of Detroit Lake. Sighting proved to be difficult as every time I popped my head up to get my bearings, I'd be staring at a wall of water coming down at me. So the straight out to buoy #2 and then straight left to buoy #3, it seemed like I was swimming no where. Directly into waves of water. Flash back to the ability to see the bottom of the lake, which ever so slightly crept by, let me know I was in fact moving, phew. Surprising to me is how well I kept my cool in the water in these conditions. I'm not the strongest swimmer in the world but confident enough in my abilities I guess. Add to the fact of growing up with a cabin on a lake and I propose this would explain it. I tried my best to find a grove and time the waves, doing my best to power forward. My sighting again seemed to be dead on straight. I kept telling myself, "just make it to the far buoy and then I could turn around and ride the waves back into shore." Which is exactly what I did. Made it to the last buoy and in the words of Rocco De Luca, I "swam like I was on fire."
As I approached shore, for some reason in my head it felt like my time was going to be slow and that I was one of the last in my heat to exit. Well I looked down and saw 29 minutes something on my watch which was at this point, my second best swim time ever. My good friend Mike who was watching confirmed this shouting, "three minutes faster than Lifetime" as I ran by. So, I had a quick change of heart and fed off that positive energy into T1. Solid solid swim considering the conditions. Ran into T1 feeling great and ready to ride. Official swim time of 29:21, good for a 1:52/100 yd pace and 37th overall.

Stripped off my wetsuit no problem, threw on my helmet and sunglasses and off I went. This race I decided to leave my shoes clipped in and just hop on. This was working out very well. Until somehow I managed to knock my sunglasses off my face which proceeded to fly about 10 yards away. How that happened, I still don't know. So I had to stop to go get those damn things. Still a good mount on the bike sans the shoes. I'm just gonna chalk the dropped sunglasses up to bad luck. A quick official T1 time of 1:13.

Off we go. Feeling good and strong on the bike and I realized that the rain was still holding off even though it was cool, cloudy and breezy. I was in the small chain rung and hammering away, probably only about 4 miles in and decided to go up to the big chain and disaster strikes...I dropped the damn chain! Sons and daughters. So I stopped as fast as I could and put my chain back on while dropping a few F bombs. One dude even gave me an, "ah man, that sucks" as he flew by. Thank you Captain Obvious! Chain on, fingers black, let's roll. Put that behind me and got back in my grove. Yikes, this was a challenging day on the bike to say the least. The winds were relentless. It was one of those days in which every direction you went, there was the wind, right in your face. It started to sprinkle on and off and seemed like the heavens were going to open up but they never did thankfully. About 16 miles in I power up a hill, come to the peak and start my decent down, we're flying baby, 33+ mph! And disaster strikes again. My chain dropped for the second time. Are you kidding me! This time all I could do was laugh. My fingers already black from the first chain dropping incident, I preceded to stop and nearly topple over without unclipping being I was so frustrated. Close call there, that would have been the icing on the cake. Threw the chain back on and away I go. So now, I'm not really sure what I'm thinking or how to react other than to keep pressing. There were numerous rollers and some nice climbs. At one point there was a slight incline that seemed to go on forever. I looked down sheepishly and saw what I expected, a measly 14.3 mph. OUCH! So by now I'm completely crushed and in uber low spirits, just about praying for a car to nail me putting me out of my misery. Thankfully this never happened. As the bike continued, my ego then took a hit. I'm probably about 3 miles from T2 when I literally hear someone coming up from behind with what literally sounds like bells on=crappy bike clinking and clanging like mad. This guy zooms by me who had to be going about 23 mph on a 1987 road bike. Same guy who's knees flail out to the sides while pedaling and the same guy who is 47 years old (clearly visible on his calf)! He passes me like I'm standing still...Jesus, take me now, I quit. Unreal. Times like these I bury my head and focus 10-20 feet in front of my bike and that's it, try to zone everything out. This couldn't end soon enough. Shortly there after, my friend Jesse ran past me in the opposite direction, already 1 mile into the run and was looking strong as ever. I figured he might be in the top 10 as not many runners were out on course at that point, go Jesse! Transition finally came putting me out of my misery. The bike-in was not clearly marked and came up fast so I dang near missed it and had to lock up the brakes. That would have been a perfect ending to a craptacular bike ride, dumping in front of the crowd, parents and all. Thankfully that didn't happen either and I escaped further ego crushing. Official bike split of 1:17:48, good for 19.2 mph. Personally speaking, ouch. I was hoping for 22 mph or better. Tried to spin it as best I could, "at least I finished and can now just run."

I dumped my bike, threw on my shoes and off I went. T2 was nothing fancy, a quick and efficient 1:52. As I started the run, I was thinking to myself that maybe I should screw it and just run nice and easy, trying to enjoy the day and salvage what I could from here (Note: I passed my friend Mike on the bike as I came into T2, holding up my black fingers/hands yelling, "I dropped my damn chain twice."). So as I'm thinking of taking it easy on the run, I pass Mike on the run-out and he yells, "forget it, have a fast run, let's go." or something to that effect. I was like hell yah, that's what I'm gonna do! I locked it down and just ran. I had my Garmin and basically just kept an eye on my HR and speed. I didn't want to blow it early but still wanted to keep it moving fast, not letting it go below 8.5 mph nor higher than a 170 HR, at least for the first 5K. I walked through every water stop and slammed a glass of water. The run flew by in no time. It was a nice course, very flat and protected from the wind, +2 for me as those are my kryptonite. Any sort of wind and/or incline just kill me. I had some slight cramping in my quads but nothing I couldn't power through. I poured it on and finished strong. Official run split of 43:15, good for a 7:13/mile pace which is a 10K PR for me in a tri, woo hoo!

Overall time of 2:33:27, good for 30th out of 100 long course racers and 7th out of 20 in my age group. At first after the race and for most of day, I was quite bitter about the bike troubles I'd had and how that affected my times etc. As the day went on and I had time to reflect, the big picture appeared. The main things were that I kept things moving forward, didn't dwell on the past, didn't panic and only worried about things I could control. So, all in all with the weather conditions and bike mishaps, I will take it. Great race and great way to finish my 2007 tri season. Most importantly, I had fun and a huge smile on my face (well most of the time anyway).

Thanks to ma and pa for the accommodations and Mike and Jesse for making the pilgrimage home with me. Quick props to my friend Jesse who is a freak of nature. Technically speaking, his second season as well in triathlon, he placed 12th overall. Well done.

I'll hopefully post some pics later this week.

Next up is my first Duathlon in about a month.

PS, does anyone have any input on the chain droppings? I've never done that before in my life but am thinking it was most certainly operator error. New time for a chain perhaps? I just dunno.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Alien Invader

I've been abducted. Sometime in my sleep. Last night, I think, maybe the night before. There was bright light, probably, and then creepy crawly wrinkly ETs crept into my bedroom and scared the hell out of the cat, and then they paralyzed me with their crazy alien ninja voodoo and corralled me into their tie fighter and carried me away to Caprica. And then while I was there they probed me. Probably. Probably a great deal of probing, and hardly any of it fun.

And while laid out in their crazy alien lair they implanted me with some crazy alien ninja gadgetry from which they'll gather voodoo data about middle of the pack triathlete hacks. And then they quietly returned me to my comfy bed and snapped their fingers and I wasn't supposed to remember any of this.

It has to be thus, because it's the only way I can explain 1:16 in the friggin' pool today. One Sixteen. That's a hundred yard time trial. Thats 6 damn second faster than LAST week, which was already a PR. What?!? 6 seconds??? What it's been meaning in the real world is that I'm swimming consistently, while fatigued, with a pace of 1:30-1:40, instead of 1:40-1:50, where I've been living for about the past two years. How will any of that translate on race day? No idea. I suspect that might be up to me. But for whatever it's worth, there it is. I'm getting faster in the water.

It's possible this is due to the new unleashing of strength from a healthy left side. Though the changes seem too dramatic to attribute to just that. More likely, it has something to do with probing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Much Man Love

Well, what can I say other than, hello. How do you do? Nice to meet you. Bare (or is it bear - my reading/writing skills never progressed past a third grade level) with me as contributing to a blog is a completely new thing to me. This, posting, is all really akward for me too. I feel shy and uptight about the whole thing for some unknown reason. In due time, hopefully I can open up and with a little practice, get better at this.
Where to begin. My real name is Todd and I currently reside in Minneapolis, MN. I'm gainfully employed and usually put in about 1-2 good quality hours of work a week. A normal weekday involves me sitting in cubeland trying to make myself appear to be working, praying to win the lottery. Which, I do play now!
I live a simple life and am learning more and more how much it really is the small things in life. Or something like that. You'll find my posts to have no rhyme or reason and may make no sense at all. I'll try to be funny and sarcastic but probably come off as an idiot and offensive. But that's okay, I know my role (exhibit - A, I'm rambling).
This is my second year as a "triathlete" and have fully engrossed myself into it this year. It's been nothing but smiles and grand times. The Olympic distance has treated me well. Baby steps. Training and racing a half ironman with Chris next year is the plan. I'm the biggest age group (25-29) hack you will come across and enjoy playing the poser. At the very least, I can look the part of a triathlete in my spandex, shaved body and gawd awful doggie paddle.
Wow, it's been 10 years already that Chris and I have been friends as he said. The time sure flies. I'd like to thank him for A) opening his blog to me and letting me contribute....and B) for showing me the way. He's the reason I even came across triathlon let alone participated in one. All of the advice, suggestions, gear, plans, encouragement, coaching, well wishes, thoughts, prayers, hugs etc have been priceless to me not only in triathlon these two years but also life. Where would I be if we hadn't crossed paths brotha?
Anyway, on a different note I have my last triathlon of the season Saturday up in Detriot Lakes. Good thing the forecast is calling for temps between 48 and 55 degrees (that's Farenheight folks, cuz Celcius would be HOT), rain and 16 mph wind at the start of the race. You may think, "dang, that sucks." But no, I actually welcome the crappiest weather imaginable. That way, I always have a built in excuse other than my record low thresh hold for pain. Okay, that is a flat out lie. I hate being cold and I hate being wet, being cold and wet? Makes me want to cry. What can you do though. Not worrying about things I can't control such as the weather is a battle I think I will be facing my entire life.
Lastly, if anyone is taking notes out there for what not to do, jot this down. Go ahead and make any adjustments to your bike for race day before 1.5 days out. This of course is all just plain old common sense which for those of you who know me, I seem to lack more often than not. I procrastinated per my usual until tonight to even look at my bike. Took her for a spin around the block and it sounded like my frame had cracked. There was this annoying clunking sound every time I pedaled which I deduced was in the frame somewhere. Of course it was doing this on Sunday's ride but anyone with a brain like me would think, "it will go away in the next few days sitting in the garage by itself, I'm sure it will." Shockingly, taking no action didn't work. Well, I couldn't figure out what it was for the life of me tonight and neither could my landlord/bike mechanic. Short story shorter, it's now in the shop and I'm hoping to get it back in time tomorrow as I'm leaving in the early afternoon to head up north for the race. If not, I'll have to fire up the Schwinn Ranger which has to be close to a 40 pound moutnain bike, complete with 3 inch knobby tires. I'll have you know I rocked a 14.7 mph average on that bad boy in my very first race. Who's next?
To add to my nonsense of my very first post, none will ever bring you to tears or anything epic like that and I can almost gurantee I'll put on 20-30 pounds this winter as food is my drug. My role is to try to bring you some comic relief.
Good night.

The Power of Two

How do you follow up the most incredible experience of your life? How do you make sense of something so huge, so important to you, that for there to be another purpose, for another chance, the stakes need to be redefined? What do you do when you have Become Ironman?

You do it again.

You do it better. Harder. Faster. Stronger.

You do it for yourself, but for new reasons. For your family, to demonstrate just how far they bring you. For your daughter, new to earth, to see what her old man is made of. Iron, little one. Anything is possible.

And, you do it alongside an old friend.

Everybody, this is TZilla. You've known him around here frequently commenting or being mentioned as Todd. He was a loud part of my Ironman Team last year, making the trek out to Minneapolis to show me love. Only now he has a superhero name. Because now he's Becoming Ironman.

T & Me, we go back a long way - 10 years in January, matter of fact. We've seen each other through a lot of life. And now, we're seeing each other through this next great adventure. The pain and the pride, baby. T's in just his second season of triathlon, and already he has butterflies for '09. Thaswhudumtalkinabout. Put him on my team anyday.

How it works is this: Now we share this space, and he'll be contributing his $.02 whenever he feels like it, just like me. We'll be training together, albeit virtually, for the next 2 years - and this is the space where we'll share our thoughts on training, racing, triathlon & life, just as you've come to expect from me - only now there's also he.

First objective: Racine 70.3, next summer. As we wind down this season, Zilla will be building our weight training schedule for the offseason, and I'll be devising our 70.3 base training, starting in October, and our 70.3 training starting in February. It's going to be a blast. An absolute, stupid blast.

Welcome to the next level, everybody.




Closed circuit to Steve in a Speedo...

For your listening pleasure, because I know this song has a special place for you.

(Who knew this girl was so talented? Who knew this song could ever be, well, meaningful? Who knew Mandy Moore would ever make an appearance on this blog? What's next, Hannah Montana? Raven Simone? Becoming Ironman: Your Home For Wholesome Pop Princesses.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Justice League of Triathlon

So yesterday at the pool, I was checking in at the window to sign in, and overheard this guy talking to the window girl about how he was prepping for Ironman. At some point I'll need to get over how cool it is to hear people talk about Ironman so much in this town, but I smiled to myself and headed down to the locker room. A few moments later he came down, and I mentioned to him that I overheard him talking about Ironman, and was he doing it this year? And we had a really nice, brief conversation about how this was his first one, his first season of triathlon at all, actually, that he was inspired to do it the day after last year's epic, where he was a spectator. We talked about his plans and goals, and his excitement and dedication to the thing was just awesome. I shared what few anecdotes of encouragement I had, and wished him well. Never caught his name, but figured I'd see him around at the pool again from time to time.

Fast forward to last night, where we were having the inaugural meeting of the Justice Leage of Triathlon, which I only just titled as so, and only because I'm amused by the superhero blogger names we all use to mask our true identities. (Well, except for Erin, who's superhero name is "Erin", so you know. And, as I pointed out at dinner, I'm posting pictures of my kid in utero in this space, so if total anonymity were high on the list of requisites, I'd make a craptacular superhero. Counter to that argument, though, is that I do wear a lot of spandex, and that has to count for something in the realm of superheroes, no?)

But, I digress. I arrived at the Dane just before 6:30 and checked in at the table, requesting a table for 4 (not totally sure who'd be there), but - first, could you tell me did any of my friends check in first and have a table? I gave them their names, and the girl said, "Sure, what do they look like?"
"Um, I don't know."
She looked at me sideways. "You don't know?"
She looked me in the eye for a second to see if I was pulling her leg, then just went back to her little reservation desk, annoyed, and said, "We'll keep an eye out."
She'll keep an eye out. For my friends, I guess. Who neither of us know what they look like. Anyway.

Meanwhile, I went down and got a table, then came back up to wait for people to walk in who looked like they could possibly be somebody. I figured I've posted lots of pictures of myself here, so they'd maybe know what I looked like. I popped my head around a corner, and saw a guy sitting there who'd been there when I walked in. He was wearing a race t-shirt, and Erin was sharing our meeting with her friend Bob (who was at WIBA, I guess, and who, lacking a blog, goes without a superhero name, alas), and he also looked vaguely familiar. "Are you Bob?" I said, and he brightened up and said he was, and we shook hands, and chatted for a few moments. I kept wondering - where have I seen this guy? - and then he started telling me how this was his first year in triathlon, and he comes from a marathon background, and..."Did I meet you at the pool today?" I asked, and he said, "Yes! I wasn't sure if that was you or not!" and we both laughed at the total insanity of the world that of all the people in the universe Erin's friend Bob was who I met at the pool the very same day he was joining us for dinner. How surreal.

Almost immediately a bright, smiling woman, accompanied by a well-dressed man, approached and Bob greeted Erin, who I shook hands with and then she introduced us to Chief of Stuff, who, if you read her blog at all, makes regular appearances. Turns out he was just coming from the gym, and just before that work, I think. Within moments of meeting them a confident, cheerful woman approached us and said to me, "You must be x", and I said, "Teach!" and with Triteacher present, all were accounted for in this melding of the minds of the JLT.

Everyone was just as charming, friendly, interesting and lovely as you'd expect from their blogs, and it's always interesting to "meet" people who you feel you already know, and can ask them details about things like any old friend might. We chatted about all things triathlon, of course, which was a fantastic bit of geekery, but also about our jobs and just life in general, like friends do. This is Erin's first year of triathlon, too, and I was amazed at how she and Bob have both worked so hard for Ironman in their first year. CoS, who is a triathlete but hasn't admitted it to himself yet, was interested in the best strategies for captaining Erin's Ironman Team come race day. Teach and I laughed about how she just wings it from season to season, vs. how I need to have my race schedule articulated, like, two years in advance. We laughed a lot, learned a lot about each other, and after two hours I, at least, left really excited to have made their formal acquaintances. Really great people, all of them. We agreed to try and get together once a month or so, and I know I'll be looking forward to it.

She against She

The Justice League of Triathlon met up last night, and it kicked ass, and more on that in a bit. But meanwhile:

I've been telling you for awhile how much I enjoy Erin's blog. Last weekend she endured some, what I think, are probably life changing things. Her story is truly epic, and her post Me Against Me is one of the most interesting, enlightening, difficult and inspirational things I've come across in endurance sports. Do yourself a favor and run, don't walk, and read this thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My $.02: The Bike & T2

So you're cruising down the helix, in a total state of surreal enlightenment due to the roaring crowds around you and the fact that YOU ARE AT IRONMAN!, and now, really, is when the race begins. For the next 5 to 7 hours (more or less), it's just you and your machine.

If you're drinking what's on-course - water and Gatorade Endurance formula - then the night before the race you'll want to have brought with you a gas-station bottle of water and of Gatorade; the 24 ounce kinds that fit into your bottle cages on your bike. You'll toss these bottles onto your bike when you check in on it race-day morning. You'll be tossing these aside to replenish at the next aid station, so you don't want to fill your your cages with brand new $30 carbon fiber aero water bottles. I'm not going to spend any time on your nutrition strategies, except to say you should absolutely have one. If you have questions about that, I'll be happy to discuss it further, just let me know.

Aid stations are plentiful, so don't ever worry about it. This is one of the biggest conerns I had approaching IM - maybe I should put rear cages on just in case? Maybe I'll run out before the next aid station? Maybe maybe maybe - no, it's okay. They take really good care of you. Trust in the race organizers, they do a great job, and you can just focus on what you came to do - race. You'll encounter at least one aid station an hour, sometimes more. Refresh whenever you can - nothing beats nice, cold fluids. Remember that there's a big buffet of options, and to generally avoid too much of anything you haven't been training on throughout your IM preparations.

If you can train on the Ironman bike course at all, you'll be doing yourself a huge service - there are so many twists and turns, and so many hills, that it's really to your advantage to get familiar with how and when you want to shift, and where this turn is in relation to that turn, etc. If you can't train on the course, at least try and drive it in the day or two before Ironman. If you can do none of those things, s'okay. It's clearly marked, and you'll be fine - but maybe hit up Stu's blog, as he has AWESOME complete video previews of the swim, bike, and run. I'm not, in the course of this thing, going to go in depth on every nuance of the IM bike course, because we'd be here until Friday with the way I just don't shut up. I'll hit on generalities a lot, specifics sometimes. And like I said, if there's something you want to talk about more, just let me know.

Something you do want to drill into your head is the Ironman is not won over the railroad tracks. Almost right away, as you hop onto John Nolen Drive in all of your Ironman glory, you'll pass over a bumpy bridge section and later some railroad tracks - and you'll visit railroad tracks at least once again on each lap. You'll see these coming up for the bottle graveyard they signal - people go flying over them and their bottles get happily launched from their machines. Just slow down a bit. In fact, just after John Nolen Drive you jump onto a little park path thingy that's really designed for walking or slow biking, and there are some pretty sharp turns in there. My advice - until you're off of that little trail, just relax. Sit up in the saddle if you want to. Don't worry about your speed or power - it's all of a mile or two, and your heart rate will still be jacked and needing to come down from the swim/T1 anyway.

You'll head out of the bike path onto Olin, and then into the parking lot behind the Alliance Center. Now, you're racing. Get aero, settle in, and prepare for a long and lovely afternoon in rural Wisconsin.

I'm sure you've heard about how IMWI is "one of the hardest" Ironman bike courses. I don't know anything about that first hand, because it's the only one I've done. But where Ironman Florida, for instance, is flat, it allows you the opportunity to get and stay aero and just pedal away. IMWI isn't like that. You'll experience a unique kind of mental fatigue when you're on the bike. First, because all of that adrenaline will inevitably cause you to come down, and you'll need to prepare for that. But secondly, because you never really get to just go on cruise control at IMWI. You never get to blank out and let the miles tick by. You're always turning somewhere, or gearing through a climb, or focusing on a steep descent. For me, the fatigue checked in right around mile 70ish, and it manifested itself in a really down time. I started beating myself up about not being better prepared for the weather, started getting upset about how much slower I was having to go than what I'd planned to - all stuff that I cannot change. It thankfully only lasted about 5 miles, but they were tough miles. You're going to experience something like that. You'll get down, or upset, or sad. Maybe it'll be because of something painful nagging you, maybe your machine will be acting a little weird when you didn't expect it, maybe the weather will suck, maybe that last hill was more than you bargained for - see, your brain will be looking, at some point, for something to wrap itself around and get miserable. I think it might be inevitable - maybe it's a weird chemical reaction or something with all the natural dope stewing around for umpteen hours in the body.

My personal rules always are: 1., Don't worry about anything outside of my control, and on the bike that extends from my rear tire to whatever I can see in front of me that might affect how I manage the machine. It doesn't include the weather, or other racers, or the flat tire 5 miles ago, or the lost water bottle, or anything in the past whatsoever. If you start worrying about anything other than what you can influence, you'll never stop worry about anything at Ironman. 2., I pictured a dashboard on my bike with two gauges - one was head, and one was heart. Head was the most useful fuel, and the most efficient fuel, and so I used that at all possibile opportunities. But when you start getting miserable out there, and especially "like you can't go on", then that means your head fuel is vapor and is in need of a recharge. This is when you tap into your heart fuel. The thing about racing with your heart is that it expends more energy, so you want to only draw from it when you need to. But when you get low, when you get angry or upset or everything's going wrong, now you take out that picture of your kid you stashed in your jersey, or you think about your spouse or buddies 10 miles down the road waiting for a glimpse of you, or you think about all those countless winter hours away from the people you love, just for this one, single moment. You think about the fatso you used to be, or the boyfriend that said you were lazy, or the coach who cut you from the team, or whatever personal scenario you have that has driven your becoming Ironman all this time. Whatever that is. To make your wife proud, to make yourself proud, to prove whatever you're there to prove, whatever. When you get miserable, you grab that thing - and usually it's pretty personal, only you really know (and need to know) just what it is, and you focus on it like a laser beam. You stare at it there, 5 feet in front of you, and you just turn the pedals. When you're using the heart fuel, the head fuel quickly restores. You might also look for physical distractions - one of the easiest is to stash away a special food with you only to be used "in emergencies", or to grab something unexpected that you don't normally eat at the next aid station. Having a quick surprise banana can do wonders for your state of mind. Like I said in an earlier post, the simplest things become luxuries at Ironman.

Before you know it, you're feeling better and refreshed, and the trauma has passed. Great! Now get out of your heart fuel and back into your head. The thing about that heart fuel is that it's driven by emotion, and emotion is a great waster of energy. That's why it's not just pointless, but contrary to your purposes out there to get angry about anything, or not take anything in stride. So only use it as fuel when absolutely necessary, and then when it's no longer necessary, stash it away again. It's an expensive supply, and you'll need it again later in the day, for sure.

My other rule (I have lots of rules, actually. I'm sure, knowing how obsessive I am, that you can imagine) is that the only thing I could certainly provide for myself on the bike was comfort. I was determined to be as comfortable as possible. Riding with a sliding heel, or an uncomfortable saddle, you can manage that for an hour on the bike. But 5, 6, 7 hours? You'll find the slightest irritation will become major obstacles. Make sure you've trained with your race day attire, and that you've ridden a long run in it - all of it, the whole ensemble, down to the socks, gloves, everything. You want to know just where the back pockets are when you reach back to get a gel. You want to know just how the zipper handles so you can cool off and tighten up for descents if you want. Case in point: On one of my "rehearsal" 112 mile rides, I wore the comfiest pair of cycling shorts I had. These were great. Really cushy in all the right places, and I frequently wore them for my shorter rides, even 3 hours. But the strangest thing happened on the longer 112 mile ride - I couldn't pee. Or, I could, but it was really weak. Nothing hurt, it just took forever. At first I didn't know what to attribute it to, but by the end of the ride I'd deduced that something important was being squenched in the plumbing, and this was not good. So, for the next ride, I changed up into a pair of Assos cycling shorts, which have a really high tech channeled chamois in it. Comfortable, sure, but maybe not quite as cushy. But - problem averted. The waters ran freely from then on. If you need to spend a few more dollars on something to ride in comfort at Ironman, I think you'll find it's worth it.

Know how to change a tire, put your chain back on if it falls off, basic stuff like this. I kind of got an unhealthy obsession with the technical parts of my bike - I suddenly had these nightmares of a chain breaking or something I wasn't prepared for, so that I bought a tiny tool and learned how to replace links on my chain and carried that with me at Ironman. I went a little overboard. On the other hand, the peace of mind it created for me was the main thing. I tried to imagine what had ever happened to me on training rides, and to be prepared for it at the race. This meant that on my bike I had an extra tire and extra tubes and CO2, and I also had another extra tire and tubes and CO2 in my special needs bag. Should you think the same way? Ugh, I don't know. I think, prepare for whatever you need to feel prepared for. There is a SAG wagon that roams the course to help out, but it could be 30 miles the other direction and be hours before it gets to you. Be prepared, I guess, is the moral of the story.

I won't discuss race strategy at all, because I assume you have one already. Do just keep in mind that the "Verona loop" is something you'll ride twice - so don't blow up on the first time around. Pace yourself, especially in the climbs, so that you can do them at least as strong or hopefully stronger the second time around. Always, remember that the whole purpose of your day is to get to mile 18 of the marathon with something left in the tank. I passed a lot of guys walking on the marathon who were really proud of their 5 and a half hour bike legs, especially in this weather. Well...great. But now you're walking on the marathon and I was an hour and half behind you on the bike and now here we are. Have some perspective. Remember that it's a long, long day. If you blow a tire - relax. Take 10 minutes and fix it, and see it as an opportunity to rest. If you start to feel sick on the bike - pull over. 5 minutes of rest might save you 50 minutes down the road, or even a DNF.

Ride within yourself. I had practiced all of these 40mph desecents on the course - and come race day, the roads were wet and slick. So, I stood up and rode the brakes on every single descent. Meanwhile, other racers would sometimes go screaming by me, and I couldn't believe how many people finished with 20, 21, 22mph averages on the bike leg. Those guys were more capable than I, or more confident, and didn't let the rain slow them down. Awesome, good for them. But for every one of them, there was somebody else I'd pass on the bike who's skin was shredded from road rash, or who'd trashed their bike in a magnificent wreck because they slid through a wet turn. I knew my limits, and I didn't choose to push them on the most important race of my life in the midst of cold and wet. I finished slower than I might have, but I finished.

You have to find a balance, too, between actively pursuing the swim, bike, and run as one event, and not focusing too much on anything you're not presently doing. When I was on the bike, I focused on the bike. I didn't try to race to the marathon, I just rode my bike like I'd trained, strong and consistent, and had confidence that if I did that, I've get into T2 with comfortable time to work my marathon. I didn't worry about it, I just did it. If you start worrying about the marathon when you're on the bike, you'll sacrifice your best work on your bike, expend a lot of needless energy worrying, and probably work too hard so that you'll have shredded legs for the marathon. If you've trained for the distance, then go into the race with confidence in that training. Leave no room for second guessing and doubt - those things get left behind with the first swim buoy.

When you finally come back into Madison, it's a great feeling. For some those last 12 miles seem to drag on and on - for me, they flew by. You did it! You overcame whatever the course threw in your face. You didn't fall off your bike, you didn't break your rims or have your tires suddenly burst into flames. You didn't pass out, didn't vomit your guts out, didn't collapse in a heap from exhaustion. All of the myriad scenarios you've imagined all these months or years about the bike leg have taken care of themselves, and now you're back into Madison! If you like, back on John Nolen Drive, kick your feet out of your pedals and shake them around a little bit, or stand up and stretch a bit to get the blood back into your running legs. Start to envision your T2 going smoothly and quickly. As you approach the helix to go back up, you'll want to get back into an easy gear to climb. The crowds will have thinned, now, as lots of people are on the marathon course. This is still exciting, though - Ironman central is a hub of buzzing activity, and you're about to step into the next great phase, where they're all waiting for you.

At the top of the helix, volunteers will be waiting for your dismount, and they'll take your machine away from you and back into your transition rack - you won't see it again until you are Ironman. Give it a bit of thanks and love before they take it away. It's worked hard for you today. You'll go straight from the dismount back inside the Terrace.

As you step into transition, your legs will probably feel a little wobbly, but it shouldn't be anything you haven't experienced before after your long rides. You might see some carnage around you - volunteers hovering over people who can barely walk or stand, or people doubled over in pain or nausea. You might have seen some of this on the course, too. You have to mentally toughen up for this, because it can rattle your brains a little bit. For me, I came to this conclusion before the race: There are, of course, extraordinary circumstances that make a person physically incapable. An unexpected crash, or an appendecitis attack, or a kidney just up and falls out. Nothing I can do about that kind of stuff, so no sense worrying about it. But most, I bet 99% of debilitating events at Ironman, are preventable. They come from poor nutrition most of the time, or poor hydration, or poor attention to detail. Now last year was exceptional, because nearly all of us had varying degrees of hypothermia all day long (most of us low-grade), and that did throw a wrench into the system. And that cold was the one thing that was a little hard to have trained for - it hadn't been 50 degrees since April, and not many of us were riding 112 miles in April. But hey, that's life sometimes. The year before that, in 2005, was mad, insane heat. I didn't race it, I wasn't there, and I don't speak with any kind of assumed perspective on that particular race day (I did race a 70.3 in the same conditions, however), but in general: Heat, you should be prepared for. You should know hydration strategies and ways to cool your body off. You should understand and expect how your body will perform in heat. You've had all summer to prepare for riding Ironman in crazy heat. Rain, you should be prepared for. Win, you should be prepared for. You should train in every scenario you can think of, just so you have it in your banks for withdrawal in case it comes up at Ironman. You should have a nutrition strategy that is tested and proven for you, so that you don't bonk, or get sick, or find you're violently allergic to Gatorade. In short - come prepared, and stick to your plan. I believe that if you do this, you can avert most major crises. The small crises that happen along the way, then, you can manage. So when I'd see these sprawling bodies all around me, I could either be intimidated by them, or use them to my advantage. I chose the latter, and would think - that I'm on my feet is further comfirmation that I belong here. That I did the work. That I did it right.

Now - that's not to say those that have major problems somehow don't deserve to be there. I just mean to say that's the mental place I put it in from the perspective I had. What if you are that person? What if it all goes wrong? Well...then I guess you do what you have to do. Remember that you have 17 hours. I finished in 14:53 - I could have realistically taken a 2 hour nap and still finished. If you need to stop and puke your guts out, or work through a headache, or deal with a major medical issue, then do it and deal with it. The medical team out there, their first objective is your safety. After that, it's to get you back out there. They won't nancy you about. If they can tell you to rub dirt on it and get back in the game, they will. If you need to cool down, or hydrate, or warm up, or whatever, and it gets to the point where you can't safely continue without doing those things, then stop and do those things. Don't worry about what's left ahead of you - just get healthy first. After that, when you're back on your legs, then choose to assess the reality of what you need to do to cross the finish line. But you can't do anything unless you're capable of being out there.

But - you're healthy and feeling awesome, though maybe a little road weary, and you head into T2. One difference between Ironman and other races is that you might not want to take your feet out of your shoes, which remain attached to the bike, like you do at shorter races. The volunteers are dealing with thousands of bikes, and your shoes just might fall off your bike between now and its re-racking (by the way, remember to label both shoes with your name and race number). Also, you're not necessarily sprinting into transition, looking to shave 3 seconds here and there. It may be required, I'm not sure, but most cyclists remove their feet and shoes from the bike as they dismount. This means, then, that one of the first things you'll do off the bike is take off your shoes and carry them in so you can run to T2.

By now you're familiar with the routine - you run through and grab your bag and head into the changing room. For some reason, T2 took me 17 minutes. SEVENTEEN! That's crazy, and I have no idea what I was doing in there. I know dexterity was for shit because it was so cold, and I think that made everything take a bit longer, but I can't think of what was happening for 17 minutes - that's at least two miles or so on the marathon. But - I had no idea it was taking me that long. I had zero awareness of time in T2. So take heed - be relaxed but efficient, and don't be a lolligagger in there like I was. Get in, get changed, and get out. Besides, you don't want to spend any more time than necessary away from the show - the most amazing things await you on the other side of T2!

Next time: The Run, The Finish, and Post Race!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bits & Pieces...

• Don't forget, anybody in the Madison area, we're getting together tomorrow (Tuesday, the 14th) at the Great Dane at 6:30. Come and say hello!

• I've had some continued absurd swims in lately. Every once in awhile I toss in some 600 yard sprints, because this is the distance of a very early season race I often do, where the swim takes place in the pool. So, I have an idea of my "best" race-day time at that distance, and can compare training times. My best on race-day is 10:11, I think, and usually in training the best I can do is in the 11:00s, which is always curious to me, how much faster race-day is just because it's race-day. Aaaaanyway, last week I swam it on a whim, and at a pretty moderate pace - no real sprinting, and certainly not all out, and I came back in 10:22. Thinking I must have miscounted 50 somewhere or something, I rested 3 minutes then swam it again - this time fatigued from my first go-round, and working harder; but still not at race-day effort, and finished in 10:29. Thinking this still can't be right, I finished my workout for a 100 yard all-out sprint, this after 1200 yards of fatigue, and finished that in 1:29. Which is only 7 seconds off my best-ever-fresh-and-just-in-the-pool time. So. Huh. I have to attribute the stronger left side with the increases, especially since I'm not really trying for them. Interesting.

Endurance House cracks me up. First, it's a great store, I love that there's a tri-specific store in the world around here. But anyway, they all wear tri gear while they work. Like, tri-tops and running shorts, and running shoes, and hats, and they look like they could burst out the door and into a 10 mile run right now if they wanted to. That's amusing. Also, on the weekends when they have 3 employees working the store (which was really busy on Saturday, which is cool) they all shout welcomes and goodbyes to you. I feel like Norm on Cheers. Also, they always kind of slide up next to me in the middle of whatever I'm doing and randomly want to show me something. "Hey," dude almost whispers confidentially, "you wanna see the lightest running watch ever?" and shows me a gleaming Nike thing that's this twisted ergnomic shape and is pretty cool. Or "hey, have you seen the new Helium", showing me the new Fuel belt line. Anyway. Cool people.

• Also cool is to geek out in a triathlon store whilst in line for checking out. Some lady mentioned how many people she saw that morning on the Ironman bike course, and then we started talking about how for a lot of them this might be it before taper, and then we got to talking about tapering in general, and I was totally geeked out. Awesome.

• Some random blog notes: Erin's blog is one of my favorites. You should check it out. She's full on in Ironman craziness right now. Awesome. She also stated last week that it was so humid that Madison smelled like wet socks. I'm also enjoying Wil's blog, which has her on point and confident heading into Ironman. This is great, because she seemed to dwell in darkness for a lot of the year and it was hard for me to keep up sometimes. I'm glad to see her back in the game. Plus, she and TriSaraTops have been awesome resources for me lately in a series of emails about how to be a parent and triathlete.

Steve's hilarious. I know you know this and don't need me pointing it out. Sometimes, at his blog, I have to look away.

• Pretty dope, this whole blog community. You guys all kick ass.

• I'm almost a month out of my A (and B, and C, and G) race for the year. While many of you prepare to blow your minds with Ironman, I am keeping equal pace with trying to prepare for a lowly sprint. But I'm taking this one really seriously, and am fully on point with training. My hope is it is setting a great precedence for 70.3 base training, beginning in October.

• That said, I missed my long ride this weekend, because sometimes that's what happens when your wife is pregnanter by the minute. But: regrets = none.

• Apparently everybody got smacked with the crazy thunderstorms this weekend, eh? Geez, that was nuts. It woke me up at 1:00am and I couldn't sleep. So I watched Bret Michaels Rock of Love on VH1. Tell no one.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My $.02: Race Morning, The Swim, & T1

Race day morning, the whole world feels electric. You can't believe the air you're breathing. After all, after everything, it's finally arrived.

I think it's important to do everything - everything - race day morning with a sense of purposeful expedience. By that I mean, don't lolligag, and don't be in a hurry. This starts the minute you get out of bed, to the shower, to your breakfast. Do everything smoothly - set the tone for your heart, mind, and body right away.

There are lots of options for getting to Monona Terrace, where the swim begins and which is, as you know by now, the epicenter of all things Ironman. Depending on your situation, you maybe have family to drop you off, or a hotel room nearby. I drove in myself so that I was there when the Terrace opened - this, in keeping with my personal philosophy to not feel crunched with time, to relax and be proactive. I parked at the Alliance Energy Center and from there jumped on a waiting school bus, which shuttled me to the Terrace. To be honest, that part is all a blur for me. Remember, though, that besides whatever you'll be wearing to the race, you'll have your wetsuit, too. This stuff all needs to come home with you, so the value of that duffle bag I mentioned in the previous post will be pretty evident by the following midnight. You'll probably want to pass on the iPod unless you have family to hand your gear off to, just in case. Have a bottle of water or Gatorade to sip throughout the morning.

Just outside the Terrace there will be huge boxes organized by number for you to toss your special needs bags into. This is your first "no looking back" point - you won't see those things again until you're on-course. Since you were so thorough the night before, you'll have no problem tossing your bags in and not looking back - one more thing off your list, that you don't need to deal with anymore.

When you get to the Terrace, you can check in on your transition bags to make sure everything is as you expected it, and maybe retrieve anything you maybe packed and will want this morning, like Bodyglide. You'll also go out and check on your bike, and to make sure of your tires' air pressures. There will be techies in transition with pumps, so you can just hop in line and fill up your tires. The techies like to do it for you, but I asked that I do it myself - at this point in the game, nothing that critical will happen outside of my total control.

At any race, I like to be in transition early enough to walk the routes to and from the water, to and from the bike and run ins and outs. Do the same here - though you don't need to walk down the helix before it's time, at least get a general familiarity for where things are. Volunteers will be guiding you along all day, but the more you know, the better prepared you'll be.

You'll also get your body marking taken care of, and as the sky turns from black to gray to (hopefully) shades of blue, you'll hear the loud music pulsing and the bright jumbotrons flickering. This is it. This is race day.

Once your chores are done...nothing more to do but wait.

Inside the terrace, the hallways will soon line with athletes as they collect their thoughts, stretch, and put on wetsuits. This is your last opportunity for visualization, and I really encourage you to do it. Give yourself enough time to be still, close your eyes, and picture your race in its entirety. Don't ponder the unknowns during this time - picture yourself smoothly and easily starting the race. Picture your stroke, which you've done a million times before, as you propel through the water. Imagine getting out and coming up into T1, smoothly, calmly, just as you've imagined it might go. Then you're on your bike, and you're eating and drinking like clockwork, as you've rehearsed a thousand times. Then to the run, and finally imagine your thrilling finish. Work it all through in your mind, always with positivity, always with confidence. The things you don't know at this point, you can't do anything about - so don't dwell on them. The things you do know, those things that live in you that brought you here, to the starting line, that's the important stuff. That's the stuff to hitch your load onto and go.

Finally, there will be nothing more to do but to get on with the thing at last. You'll join the masses, all in your wetsuits, and start heading down to the water. Everything moves very quickly now.

As usual, I was one of the first people in the water. I didn't want to deal with the crowds of athletes on the beach, and I wanted to get really acclimated to the water, since it was such a cold day. It was no waste of energy - your wetsuit will hold you mostly afloat, and there are enough kayaks out there for you to hang onto before the gun that it was actually really nice. This also meant, being out there so early, that I could kind of discern the right position for me. You may choose to stay on shore until the water starts filling up - but then just know that you'll be amplifying the nervous energy a thousand fold. Whatever your plan, whatever works for you, try to stay inside your own head, and don't get caught up in the anxiety.

You'll hear lots of strategies about where and how to swim the Ironman, and where to position yourself. Some will say to get out on the ski ramp early so you can sit there and not waste energy, others will say stay close to shore, others will say go wide. You'll have to do what's right for you, and according to what kind of swimmer you are. Will you be leading the pack? Are you a draft Jedi? Are you just hoping to survive?. I'm a middle-of-the-packer, and I didn't want to deal with a bunch of people beating the hell out of me. I went as far out as I could get from shore, until I was literally on the edge of the course buoys. My biggest reason for this was to avoid the crowds - the major masses will all be in the middle of the course. On the one hand, this took me out of the major drafting lanes. On the other - have you seen the swim start? It's friggin' boiling water. The whole lake is a drafting lane. l wasn't going to worry about things like drafting - I had my plan, and I was sticking to it. You stick to your plan, whatever it is. As it was, my plan worked great - I didn't get punched in the face, I didn't take a knee to the gut. I was able to find my stroke, get into my rhythm, and stay consistent.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. As the cannon draws ever closer, the lake will fill up with athletes until it's just a sea of bobbing swimcaps. Mike Reilly will be shouting over the loudspeakers, and big booming anthem music will be playing all around you. And before you know it, the Terrace is FILLED with people. It is an amazing, amazing sight. A wall of humanity, and excitement is everywhere and here's the thing about it - IT'S ALL FOR YOU. They've come because you came. Keep your adrenaline in check, but now is the time to get excited. Get fired up. It's here. it's now. It's about to go...right...NOW!

And the cannon fires, and are you kidding me, you're in the Ironman. The first thing you do is laugh like a child, and then it's time to get to work. Remember in Hoosiers, when they get to the state tournament and he has the kids measure the floor to see that it's exactly what they've always played on? It's like that - you need to remember, in those first few moments, that take away all the people, the lights and sound and music, and this is just you, doing what you've done a thousand times in lonely swimming lanes. No different. Count your strokes, concentrate on form, pay attention to breathing. You'll feel a body brush by, or a foot hit your hand, or you'll kick something unknown behind you. No worries, just keep going. There's nothing to be anxious about, or upset by, or afraid of. It's just swimming. You've done it a million times. You have more than two hours to do it, and that's plenty of time. You've trained for this, you've prepared for this, you've visualized this. This is what you've been waiting for. Now, you start cashing in all those deposits you made in countless hours of training. If you start to freak out because there's too many people - no big deal, sit up and hang back a minute. Need to catch your breath on a kayak? Go right ahead, you're okay. It's YOUR race. You control what's happening from your toes to your fingertips, and nothing else. Do your best in that box. Easy breezy.

As you start to get situated, make a note of the Terrace on your right side when you breathe. The swim length is a bit longer than the Terrace is, so each time you breathe you can get a sense for how far along you are. Don't worry about how far you've gone - it's a long time to get there. Just swim. When you see the end of the Terrace start sighting, and give a thoughtful look to the upcoming turn buoy, and start to make plans.

There are three ways to approach the turn buoys. The first way is, people skip them altogether. People see everybody trying to get around them, so others think - bah, I'll just cut quickly inside. THIS ISN'T YOU. The rules are, turn outside the buoys. You didn't come all this way to skip the hard parts. You didn't come all this way to skip the rules that are inconvenient. To (literally) skip corners. So that way doesn't work for you. The second way is, get as close the buoy as possible, and cut it in as much of a right angle as you can, so that maybe you're even touching the buoy. This will probably mean slowing down and breast stroking your way around, as you'll find yourself in a major traffic jam. The third way is, swim a bit wide, keep the buoy in your vision on your left as you breathe, and try not to break momentum as you make the turn in strike. That's the way I took, and it worked for me. One way, you maybe get a breather to rest. The other, you keep your momentum. Whatever works for you.

The short straight away after the turn leads to another turn-buoy in no time, and pretty soon you're headed back the way you came.

On your way back, now, the Terrace is on your left and immediately after the turn you notice how much the crowd has thinned. Now you can seriously get into your flow - but now you also pay for the adrenaline you shot in the first 300 yards. That's okay. Regroup, get organized, and just swim. Let your mind wander if you want to. Toss your head up to sight as you've practiced. As you see the Terrace slide by on your left , you'll get closer and closer to the starting buoys, and you'll hear the music and the crowd getting louder and loader as you finally reach the turn buoys for your second lap. Now the crowd has really thinned, and you can swim how you want to. Maybe you're thinking about time - about how your best swim in the pool was this long, and how you'd planned to swim this leg in that long. My advice - don't. There are so many variables at Ironman that whatever time you trained for (again, I'm talking about us amateurs here, and most specifically the first timers) just doesn't have context. My pool and even open water training didn't prepare me for the cold and choppiness that morning. And unless you regularly swim with 2300 other people, you just don't know what adjustments you're making on the fly. You don't want to see that you're 5 minutes behind your pace and start tying to make it all up at once. Be serious about your effort, but don't lose perspective - absolutely nobody ever won Ironman with a good swim. You have many, many more hours and opportunities to make up any time, so just relax. So like everything else - let those times be guidelines for you, but prepare most to live in the moment. Your best barometer - are you doing your best? Really consider that as you start down for your second lap. Have you gotten sloppy with your form? Are your elbows nice and high, your body nice and lean? Are you lifting your head too much? Go back to your basics - how's your form? - and let that guide you. This will also ground you, and bring you back to familiar territory in your head, which will counter some of the natural craziness that is swimming the Ironman. Do your very best. This is the time to put it all into place, and whatever time you come out in, you want to feel like you put all that training to the very best use.

Before you know it you're out and on your way back again, and now, on your last straight away, start to think ahead to T1 and the bike. Give your legs a little extra kick to get the blood moving. Visualize getting out of the water, getting in and out of T1, getting on your bike and going. When will you drink? When will you eat? Start transitioning your head to the mental space required for the bike. When you finally reach the last turn buoy, you'll realize that this whole thing was over before you knew it. And you'll know you've done it. You've managed the Ironman swim. You're on your way. Take the confidence with you as you swim finally towards the shore, in a final stretch that somehow seems to take forever. One down, two to go.

Don't be in a hurry to get out of the water. The ramp is only so wide, and lots of athetes will be getting out at once. Get your body vertical slowly, so that you don't headrush yourself into a situation. They'll have covered the rocks around the ramp with rugs, so just take your time, moving fluidly and efficiently out of the water. On the ramp, strip your goggles, swimcap, and earplugs if you have them, and be blown away. When you went into the water the sun was just coming up. Now, it's daylight, and you can clearly see the massive crowds all around you. The music is insanely loud. Mike Reilly is shouting. THIS IS IRONMAN BABY! Trot out along the path they've laid for you until you reach the first strippers. No, not seductive women in skimpy attire, but wetsuit strippers - volunteers lining the road to the Terrace that will do the hard part for you. You want to, on your way to the strippers, get your upper body out of your wetsuit. Then, as you approach the volunteers you'll quickly lie on your back, they'll grab your suit at the waist and peel it off of you, and 3 seconds later you're back on your feet, wetsuit in hand, and running towards the terrace.

The terrace looks steep, but you won't feel a thing as you run up it from the water. You'll be so amped up that you'll fly right up. If possible, have some of your supporters on that terrace - my Team was unexpectadly there, and it was so very amazing to see them after the swim, to cheer with them as I rounded the helix. Really amazing. Volunteers will direct you and escort you, and pretty soon you'll be corralled into a room inside the Terrace where they'll shout your race number as you approach, then direct you towards your transition bag, then towards your changing room. The whole thing happens so efficiently, so quickly and smoothly, that before you know it you're sitting down for the first time in hours.

When you get to transition, dump your whole bag out on the ground - don't sit and pick through what you need, that'll take too long. Grab your gear and start getting dressed. Another tip - I went to Target and got 2 travel size squeeze bottles for ($1.00 each or something) and filled each with some chafing cream, then tossed them into my transition bags.

Time seems to pass strangely at Ironman transition. I don't know if it's being indoors, or on a comfy chair, or what, but bring back to mind that this is a race! Get in and out! Volunteers will be all around to assist you (and, God bless them, unafraid of all kind of nakedness), and they'll help pull your shirt over your head, get your other shoe that's over there, whatever. Whatever you have from the swim, pack quickly into the bag you just emptied (and a volunteer may help you do that), and you're on your way - your bag will be taken care of and waiting for you after the race in the same room and place where you left it the day before, and retrieved it on your way to the changing room. (Another note - make sure you put your name, race number, and if you can, phone number on everything you bring with you to race day).

And you're off to get your bike! The question now - to wear shoes out of transition, or not to wear shoes. You'll be running for quite a ways - from the Terrace building to wherever your bike is stationed. Last year it was raining, so I wore my shoes the whole way. But of course, running with cleats isn't terribly fast or safe, so if it's not raining, you might plan to carry them with you and just run in socks/barefeet until you get to your bike.

Volunteers will yell your number all the way down - "531! 531! 531!" - and by the time you reach the rack that your bike is on, a volunteer will have it ready for you at the end. You just grab it, run to the bike mount mat, and cruise down the helix in to 112 miles of fun. You'll be stunned that you're already here, already getting your bike, a leg of Ironman, after all that training and work and effort, already behind you. People will be screaming, athletes will be running everywhere, and somehow the chaos will make perfect sense.

Next time - the bike and T2!