Saturday, May 31, 2008

People's Exhibit B

Like I said, it ain't rocket science.

The last two 56 mile rides have been pretty tough. If you remember, I had this great plan. I'd split the 56 miles into thirds, and ride the first easy at 90-95rpm cadence, then the second third I'd really hammer down at 80-85rpm, then the last third back at 90, but working. Sounds great in theory, even sort of easy. But I've been left shredded. Last week, in fact, I seriously barely got home I was so worn out. True that this was the day after the half marathon, but that was only a small part of it - I was just blowing up out there. In both cases, I was in zero condition to go running at all afterwards, much less the 13.1 required for the Racine Half Ironman in July.

So - I reconsidered my fantastic plan. All the encouraging run improvements have come by staying comfortable and letting the miles come to me. I'm not out for a joyride, but I keep my Rate of Perceived Effort low - if I'm working too hard, then back off. Why, then, would I go chasing miles on the bike? My big plans of hammering the middle third was leaving me with nothing left in the tank. Stupid.

So today I stripped myself of all the strategery and kept it simple, stupid. 90-95rpm, with a low RPE. All that hammering is great for training, but totally impractical if one plans to actually finish 70.3 miles strong. There was a delicate flower of a breeze when I started (at my back) that had turned into a raging bitch of a wind upon my return (in my face) of 15-20mph. For most of my ride is was a cross-wind, but as it was coming from the NNW, it provided something of a tailwind for half the ride - and then something of a head wind. So - work smart, not hard. When I had any kind of tail wind, I'd crank and take advantage of it, knowing I'd have to make payments on that loan soon enough. In the headwind, just stay with a low RPE and don't try and do anything heroic. Let the miles come.

I felt great all day. Mentally much sharper, and never hit the wall of fatigue around mile 40-45 that's plagued my last few long rides. My nutrition was spot on point. The numbers:

First 18.5 miles: 19.6mph average (direct tailwind, then cross/indirect tailwind)
Second 18.5: 18.8: (mostly headwind, bulk of climbing)
Final 19: 18.0 (mix of indirect tailwind/headwind, with final 6 miles being direct - and sinister - headwind)

Final score: 18.8mph average. 56 miles in 2:59:01

Sub 3-hour, baby.

Consider last week, when my big fat plan netted me a 17.6 mph/avg in 3:11:04, and the ride before that, where I went 18.5mph/avg in 3:01:15 - but totally wasted and unable to run afterwards. In both cases, my "hard work" netted me less than my "smart work". I came away today - in tougher conditions than both previous rides - with a better time and fresher legs.

Fresh enough, in fact, that I easily ran 6 miles afterwards at 8:28/mile pace - with no concern for pace except to glance and notice trends. Just staying comfortable. The objective in Racine is to do 13.1 with a 9:00/mile pace or better. Today was an encouraging indication of what's possible - if I can rock anywhere near a 3 hour bike and a 2 hour run, I'll be in great shape to turn out a significant day of racing.

Meanwhile I have an interesting phenomenon happening with my right foot. On Tuesday I did hill workouts, and noticed a bit of pain on the top of my foot - but nothing too dramatic. When I got home and took off my shoes, I could barely walk the pain was so intense. I had thought - because I was trying a new pair of shoes (the new Zoot's - more to come on those) which have elastic shoe laces, that I had overtightened them and just awkwardly bruised myself. 5 days later, though, and the swelling - which runs across the top of my foot and around my ankle - has not subsided, and nor has the pain in certain situations. Trying to flex or spread my toes apart, for instance, is excruciating. Also when I move my foot in a certain way, it'll send a stinger just up my leg that makes me lose my breath. Interestingly, though, when I wear shoes the pain is almost non-existent (unless I catch one of those awkward movements). I rode my bike today without a single inconvenience, and except for turning corners sharply, it's really not a problem on the run, either. How odd.

At the same time, I've experienced some significant tightness in my right calf since the half marathon - I've struggled with this really for the last 3 years or so.

I did some research online - because that's how I roll - after CznE mentioned a tendon that runs along the top of the foot. Sure enough, I think the culprit is Extensor Tendonitis (thank you!), which is pain along the top of the foot and toes, and is caused by excessive tightness of the calf muscle. A simple resistance test proved positive to my highly experienced medical mind. As falling of the arch is a common factor in ET (phone home), it makes sense that wearing shoes would alleviate the pain, where being barefoot would aggravate it. The tightness in my calf now makes sense in the big picture, too. Weird how everything's connected.

Anyway - the treatments are the usual RICE and stretching of the calf muscle, so I'll get on that. Or, I could wear a fancy boot around, which would no doubt slow me down in transition, alas. Guess I'll keep my eye on it, but weird to have such a painful injury that somehow has negligible affects on my actual physical activity. I'm been pretty injury free all year - not even much of a nuisance to report - so I suppose I was about due. Game's too easy otherwise, eh?

Hope everybody had a kickass weekend of training - race week next week, stay tuned!

Friday, May 30, 2008

What's mine is yours

A few weeks ago, marathon2tri asked me for an audio-only version of the Becoming Ironman Prologue video - complete with the NBC commentary I spliced in, etc. Here you go - all are welcome to it: just right-click your mouse on the link and "save as" to put it somewhere on your own computer. Proliferate freely. Put in on repeat on your iPod. Learn the lyrics and sing it in the shower. May it assist in freeing its listeners of spoons.

Crazy: Becoming Ironman Mix

Also, kind of a long while back, a surprising number of people expressed interest in the 3-face logo. This got me thinking in general about a few creative ideas I might kick around. Namely, designing some cool triathlete/athlete-minded designs for clothing that I would wear. Like, if I saw it in a store, I'd say "Dude, I'm buying that." So what I'm in the process of doing - it goes a little slow, as I'm able to really only dedicate my "free" time to it - is setting up an online store where these designs will be on t-shirts, track jackets, technical tees, etc. The "store", and the "statement" of the clothing, is called Forge Further, the purpose of which is not to make a million dollars, but just to have some sensible mechanism to distribute this stuff to anybody who might want it. So.

Anyway, here's a sneak-peek at a few of the designs I'm working on - click on them for bigger versions, where you can see a bit more detail. And expect changes before these actually go "live".

These first are the main logos. Some small changes to come on these.

This one is from a Turkish proverb, A lion sleeps in the heart of every brave man. I was thinking of this one in the offseason, when everybody's lathargic and hating on the trainer and couldn't run 3 miles without getting out of breath and limping home. Wait, that's not just me, is it? Anyway, good to be reminded of what's really in there:

And this one is from some visualization I do sometimes when I'm trying to run sub 7:00. This one has some work left on it, I think:

Anyway, that gives you an idea of what's to come. I would appreciate any feedback, so feel free (including negative - I'm not sensitive). I have other ideas in store (ha, no pun intended), and I'll plan to just share them here once I've made them tangible. What do you think?

Also, working on a Favorite Things about my Newtons. I figure I'll keep that Favorite thing going once a week or so, since I seem to have so many opinions on so many things...

Train hard everybody - race day is closer than you think!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

There Is No Spoon

I have always been, athletically, just "slightly above average." Nothing ever came easy to me - I remember working my ass off the summer before my junior year in high school in an effort to make the varsity football team - I ultimately did, and became a starter, but didn't set any school records or anything. I was never a consistent basketball player (though, interestingly, I'm much better now than I was in high school...sigh.) Track was really a joke - the highlight of my illustrious career coming in running the 400 hurdles at one track meet, to be locked in a dead tie for last place with another kid from my school (his name, incidentally, was Jeff). I was determined to beat at least him, so gave it everything I had - but leaping over hurdles is hard damn work. In you-can't-make-this-stuff-up fashion, he and I spent the last 200 yards literally tripping over every single hurdle, toppling in a heap onto the ground, scurrying to get up before the other one did so we could breathlessly stumble to the next hurdle, only to trip over it. I imagine we looked like two drunken idiots chasing chickens or something. He beat me, by the way.

So when I started triathlon - 5 years ago now (sheesh, how did that happen), it was with zero expectations of myself except to finish. Period. I embarked on training for that first Olympic triathlon in '04 with a simple goal to finish, and it was so sweet when I did. I did a Half Ironman in '06, and lay in a heap afterwards, 6 and a half hours since I'd started, unbelievably satisfied with just crossing the line. And of course, Ironman, where really, I don't care who you are, the order of the day is to cross the finish line.

In general in my life, I have high expectations of myself. I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, I'm optimistic, I believe in the power of thought and the mind, I sincerely think just getting to the starting line is a victory in itself. But somewhere in the vast history of me, I'd come to a conclusion - without any remarkable process or decision - that I was capable of just so much, and not more than that when it came to the resurgent athlete that was me, embarking on triathlon at 30 years old. It's interesting because all the knowledge I've developed over these years, all the science and discovery...I never applied any of it to getting"faster". Just...efficient, so I could reach the finish line.

This changed last season, after the injury, when I had only two races, both fall Sprint triathlons, to prepare for. Applying myself only to short, speedy workouts started to slowly reveal things I hadn't anticipated. I found satisfaction in the heavy breathing, the bursts of intensity - things not experienced when just training long distance with a goal "just to finish". So this winter, when I started training seriously for last weekend's 13.1 and the Half Ironman later this summer, I decided - for really the first time ever - to seriously apply myself to getting faster. To make my workouts hard work - not just long work. To focus on a speed and tempo and determine myself to stay there. And, as you know, that went increasingly well, and each week I was surprised that it got easier, and the results more dramatic, and I was consistently exceeding my goals and having to revise with more difficult goals.

Very recently, though, I feel like the last piece of the puzzle kind of clicked into place. The epiphany came unexpectedly and in tiny chunks rather than one big AHA! - it started with watching The Matrix, one of my favorite movies, and for whatever reason seeing it from a different perspective than I'd seen it before. I was finding meaning, instead of just being entertained. I started talking more on this blog about Rate of Perceived Effort. Some friends were writing that they were making strides in training that surprised them as well - that what they had thought possible was being exceeded. Other, smaller things here and there that by themselves would have gone unnoticed, but instead seemed revelatory when I gave them thought in a broader perspective.

So last week, when I time-trialed my 5k in training, wondering if I could possibly get under that elusive 7:00/mile mark I'd chased for so long, the familiar wall came, the dreaded slowing of the legs, the sensation that I was running through mud. And it came just when I knew it would - about 2 and a quarter miles into the run. And I responded just how I usually do - well, that was pretty good - 2.25 at under 7, keep that up and maybe next time it'll be 2.5 or even farther, one of these days you might get all 3.1 miles under 7:00... - and that's when, without a lot of forethought, I thought of the scene above. Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead, only try and realize the truth: There is no spoon. And there came with it a mental note about Rate of Perceived Effort - that my effort is only what I perceive it to be. Powerful words, those. If that's true, than I should be able to manipulate that in some way. I should be able to define it to my purpose in some way.

I was tired and worn out and ready to be satisfied with the effort, I think, because I had conditioned my brain, over these years, to expect and respond to to the level of fatigue I was experiencing. What if I'm not fatigued? What if I'm not tired? What if I have another gear, enough left in me to reach 3.1? So - and it sounds simple because maybe it is - that's what I did. I'm not saying it was easy, because it wasn't and I was tired. But I picked my head up, concentrated on turning my legs over, and most importantly cleared my head of what I was expecting, and just ran as fast as I could.

When the same situation presented itself in the last mile of the half marathon, it was predictable. I was ready for it. When I started to slow, I just took control of the situation instead of thoughtlessly letting it control me. I've done the same lately on the bike. And, as usual, triathlon imitates life imitates triathlon - I've found elsewhere in my life, away from the game, that it's useful to recalibrate just a bit on this or that thought or expectation. I imagine I seem a delusional idiot, mumbling under my breath half my day, there is no spoon there is no spoon there is no spoon...

You know when Neo finally "sees" The Matrix, and his place in it, and it all suddenly makes sense?

I feel like that lately. I mean, lacking the sense of heroism and bullets being shot at me and world-saving stakes and all. I think the convergence of time, maturity, and experience have created a new environment in which I'm playing the game this season. Everything has slowed down. I see it all for its immediate gain and its long-term purpose. Everything is clicking, and I'm finding myself unconcerned about things I used to obsess about. Things like... race day breakfast, or which days to do what for training, used to confound me, and I'd tweak and experiment, hoping to find the perfect solution - now I keep it simple, and it works. On the bike - I had a really tough ride on Sunday, and for the second time was left knowing I couldn't run 13.1 afterwards if my life depended on it. But I'm understanding why with each experience - constructing a mental checklist of what to adapt, change, attend to. And I'm not at all worried about finding my way with it. Even race day - CznE asked me after the 13.1 if I'd really be devastated if the day had gone south and I hadn't had the great race I knew I could have. And truly - no. Would I be disappointed? Sure, but I'm beyond a place where "how well I do" - whatever that means - is the sole basis for my satisfaction in this thing. That's the ultimate challenge, sure - executing what you know you're capable of - but it's not some final prize. Not yet, anyway.

And, I'm free of all the context that really defined Becoming Ironman One. I read back on some of those posts, and I was making sense of all kinds of things. Every ride, every run, every accomplishment or failure was some high drama metaphor as, through the course of it, I made some kind of sense of myself and the death of my Dad, of getting older, of moving on past those things that we all eventually move on from. Becoming Ironman One was a total catharsis for me. Everything had some parallel, incredible meaning. That was an incredible experience, and embodied One, and I don't regret any of it or would want for anything different form the experience. But - it made it doubly exhausting. I'm much, much, much more resolved with those things in my life now, and don't need catharsis - certainly not through triathlon. It's good for me - it allows me a clear head to just enjoy the game. Explore it. Learn from it.

Anyway. If you've found yourself confounded lately, hitting proverbial walls, unable to attain or achieve what you believe in your heart is possible within you - I say, check yourself. Could be you're more than you think you are. Could be you can bend spoons. That is, y'know. If there were any.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Becoming Ironman: Race Report: Madison Marathon 13.1

The short version: 1:45:30

The longer version:

The race ends at the Alliance Energy Center in Madison, and that's where athlete parking was - shuttle buses then took us a few miles away to the starting line near the Capital. First - it was a day of strange deja vu that started just with the morning transportation; I remembered parking at the Alliance Center, hitching a ride on a big yellow school bus, sitting in the big vinyl green seats, on my way to the Monona Terrace to Become Ironman.

As it is, though, it wasn't the most auspicious way to start the day - my shuttle was late leaving the Alliance Center, and hit every red light on the way there, and as we pulled up and the doors folded open, I watched as the entire field for the half marathon crawled away under the starting banner. And just like that, game was on - I started running immediately from the bus, caught the very back of the mass of 2800, and crossed the timing mats.

I knew my training had prepared me to run fast - faster than I've ever run this distance. I had a solid 2 week taper and a good last week of training going into this race, so I was confident going in. But this is precisely what I'd hoped to avoid at the start - being situated too far back in the field so as to have to run the gauntlet from the get-go, avoiding every moving obstacle as I tried to get past the slower runners. The inclination in that situation is to go out too fast, to sprint past groups and stragglers until I could find my space. A few years ago, I know I would've done just that (and have before...) - assume some sort of panic and disregard all common sense just to create some space, rattling off sub-7:00 miles in the process and burning all kinds of matches that I'd need later in the race. Today - no worries. I first dedicated myself to my strategy for the first 3 miles - comfortable. That's all, just comfortable. Not pushing. Having a spring in my step. Beyond that, just let the miles comes. So I wove around, hopping up onto the sidewalk here, side shuffling there, slowing down without concern when a wall of people just wouldn't let me move, waiting for a gap. I sang along with my iPod. Saw my crew in the first mile and shouted excitements with them. Just enjoyed myself. Let the miles come.

Soon enough the mass became more penetrable, and I was able to move more easily within my comfortable pace. I caught the 2:20 pace group around mile 2, and at mile 3 hit the lap button and had a look at my time - up to that point I'd only given it an occasional glance. I ticked past mile 3 in 23 minutes and change, my average pace so far 7:51/mile. That's about 40 seconds faster than my "comfortable pace" had been for those first 3 miles in training.

So, the first of several in-the-moment decisions was upon me. Am I too juiced up? Am I pushing? Is this sustainable? Will you pay for this your last 5k because you couldn't hold it together for the first 3 miles? But I felt good - my heart rate was only 154bpm. I was comfortable, having fun. I'd mentioned earlier this week that I'd intended to push for this entire race, so I decided it was time to walk the walk (er, run the run?). I committed to keeping my options open, but to ride at a pace no slower than 8:15/mile, but no worries if faster (so long as I was still comfortable) for the next 4 miles, getting me to mile 7.

The course took us around downtown Madison and the surrounding areas - lots of Ironman terrain was covered. It was dark and raining at Ironman, though, and I still don't know this town well enough to have a clue where I was. Still, once in awhile I'd notice something familiar, and a rush of memories - some of them I didn't even know I had - came rushing in. At around mile 4 I had a surprisingly emotional moment when the Team was on the corner cheering me on. Amy and Dakota are visiting family this weekend, so my cousin Erin (CznE) and my aunt and uncle were there in force today. At that moment "Momma I'm Coming Home" came up on the iPod, which intrepid readers will know is a big part of the soundtrack to this video of the Ironman bike course - my favorite part of which is CznE cheering and yelling when she sees me coming in Verona. Anyway, there they all were today, complete in their blue Team t-shirts, and it was a huge flashback. Made me realize - yet again - how blessed I am to have these friends and family supporting me like they do. I was happy to slide over the side of the road and share some high-fives. Such a huge part of the day, of Becoming Ironman, of this lifestyle, to share it with people you love.

I wasn't obsessive about my pace - I'd check my watch from time to time, make a note of if I was consistent or no, and otherwise just tried to stay comfortable. I checked in at mile 7, as planned - my pace for the last 4 miles (since mile 3) was 7:55/mile. Heart rate was at 160. I had caught up to and passed the 2:10 and 2:00 pace groups.

This is just where I wanted to be - comfortable with 10k left to go. I didn't expect to be under 8:00/miles on the day to that point - I had considered sub-8:15 or so would be fantastic. I couldn't have been having a better day.

I committed the next 3 miles to just stay sub 8:00/mile, but to spend as much time as I could around 7:45. I didn't do any math to consider any kind of ultimate finishing time or anything - just stick to the plan and let the miles come. The Team had a solid stretch where they'd just kind of advance a half mile ahead of me or so, and I saw them 3 or 4 times - it was awesome. Meanwhile, I was noting that my watch mileage was slightly behind the course mileage - .4 miles at first, but soon up to .11, .13, .17.

Somewhere around mile 8 or 9 we passed right next to the hospital where Dakota was born. In fact, we turned a corner that Amy and I walked back and forth from as she began labor, trying to get the launch sequence in motion. It was another emotional moment for me - not knowing this town yet, or what's around the next corner, keeps all kinds of surprises in store, I guess. I thumped my fist to my heart and held it up for my daughter. Strange, when raceday so often takes you down a tour of What's Really Important. It's no wonder I was flying all day, smile on my face.

Somewhere in there I ticked past the 1:50 pace group, and that was the first time it occurred to me that I might truly be in obliteration mode. In my secret heart, I had thought a 1:50 finish was probably most likely in the cards. I had told CznE in an email, when she wondered how she should pace me so she'd know what to expect at the race, that I might finish "between 1:45 (very unlikely) and 1:50". At mile 10 we climbed a small helix to go over a bridge over the highway below. Oh Madison and your funny helixes.

So at mile 10, I took complete stock. I'd run the last 3 miles at a pace of 7:53/mile. So, it was no I was running sub-8's in a half marathon. My legs were starting to show some fatigue - but with 5k left, I wasn't letting up. I planned to push the next 3 miles, mile by mile - to mile 11, I planned to stay right around 8:00/mile. I ran it in 7:54. Mile 12 now, and I wanted to push to 7:45/mile. I ran it in 7:46. The last mile, then, was just whatever I had left - and that's when the wall approached.

About .25 miles in, my legs started to churn molasses. My form, I noticed, was crap. I wasn't smiling anymore, didn't have that spring in my step like I had all day. I repeated the mantra I've been saying to myself for the last few weeks, to success - There is no spoon. (More on that later, an entire post devoted to it...) There is no spoon...there is no spoon...there is no spoon... I picked myself back up, concentrating on form and leg turnover. I pumped my arms. I didn't have any kind of final sprint in me, but I wanted to finish strong, and consistent with the day. Final mile: 7:59.

As usual, the Garmin says I went further than the race indicated - 13.38 miles in 1:45:30. (Hey, what's the deal with race-course measurements? Seriously, how hard can this be? We have GPS, after all. I propose you measure the course 3 times, using GPS, and take the average of the 3 and make that the official distance. Thanks.) At that mileage, my average on the day was a 7:53/mile pace. That's absurd. Totally ridiculous for somebody like me. I could not be more satisfied with the race, or with executing what I knew my training had prepared me for.

Officially, I went 13.1 miles in 1:45:30, for an overall pace of 8:03/mile. That's the one that counts, so there you go...though it's a curiosity how I don't go over 8:00/mile all day, but average above it. Oh well. 68/199 in my age group, 371/1238 of all males. 478 of all 2866 finishers. (Incidentally, there were 1238 male finishers of the 13.1...and 1625 female finishers! Wow!)

I caught up with The Team after a few minutes of cooling-down and getting changed. Here we are celebrating the strong day.

They have this crazy thing here called Brat Fest, which is what it sounds like, only with carnival rides. And dancing people on stages. And a huge semi, the trailer on which folds up to reveal, as claimed on the side of the truck, "The Biggest Grill Ever. Period." So. Anyway, me and CznE caught up with Chief of Stuff and Erin, who ran the 13.1 as well, and hit up some Brats (best recovery food ever. Period.) before heading back out onto the course to cheer on Krista, who rocked the full marathon. It was a great day of running and cheering on friends - with brats and beer on the side. Life is good.

So - mission accomplished, and I have more thoughts on that in general to share in the next few days. For now - this race, and the objective to Go Faster, and the very satisfactory performance on the day, does not live in a vacuum. The point of this race was to establish some kind of reasonable expectation of what's possible after 56 miles on the bike. Ideally, I could finish the half marathon in a 70.3 in 2 hours - a 9:00/mile pace. Training on that starts seriously right away, with all the adjustments to be discovered for nutrition, fatigue (mental and physical), and the other challenges inherent in a 70.3. I'm starting to develop an overall perspective for Racine, which I'm sure will be ongoing and you'll be privy to as my training gets dialed in for some kind of specific performance. Stay tuned.

This race was a significant development in Becoming Ironman again - the speed-specific training and the development of that increased speed...these are numbers that were truly alien to me during training for Ironman One. To execute it on race day - something I also struggled with the first time around - is something I'm pleased about. Even to take a bold and ambitious statement - to take my old PR at this distance of 1:58 and "obliterate" it, and then be able to go out there and do that by 13 minutes...there's just a lot here that I can deposit in the proverbial bank. It occurs to me that these statements might seem self congratulatory when I don't mean them to be - I only mean that from an objective perspective on fitness, goal-setting, and the pursuit of the bigger picture, I'm very encouraged and excited at what I'm uncovering about myself.

Thanks for all the love this week everybody - I (deeply) appreciate your notes of encouragement when I (finally!) went sub-7, as well as your wishes for best of luck at today's race. Means a lot.

More to come!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Just a quick heads up. If you haven't had purpose to try it yet, this:

tastes mostly like this:

which is to say:

and by that I mean ASS.

So. Avoid it if you can. Carry on.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This doesn't count...

...because it didn't happen in a race, but...

Chasing Sevens: The ongoing, seemingly impossible, 3-year-old challenge of xt4 running a distance of 5 kilometers with an average pace of 7:00/mile or faster.

Behold the numbers never before seen on the old Garmin this evening...noting the lower field of information, top right (total distance) and lower left (average pace)...

Picked up and set down. Bring on 13.1.

Sweaty Head

I have lots of favorite things. Some of them are essentials in my mind - the Garmin, for instance, or my FSA compact crankset on Vapor. Others please me, but I could probably live without them. I had thought until last week that my Headsweats bandana fell into the latter category, but I was wrong. Turns out I'm a dribbling mess without it.

If you don't know, Headsweats makes headwear with some crazy advanced sweat-wicking system. Sweat-wicking hats are a dime a dozen, and I have lots of 'em. My must-have item is called the Cool Max Classic, which is "multi-use headwrap" - think bandana.

Right, the little tail thingies, I guess those are just for looks or something, because you don't actually tie anything - it just quickly fits on your head, all stretchy and elastic like. And the bandana look invokes images of rogue motorcyclists in the's actually pretty subtle. Here I am at Ironman '06, and you can't really see it at all underneath my cap:

(Thanks for the photo, Steve!)

Here you can see it from the side, mostly just the little tail thingy sticking out:

Anyway, the thing is a friggin' sponge. I put it on in T1, and it stays on the rest of the day, underneath my bike helmet and then my running cap. Here it is under the bike hat - again, except for the tail thingy (which you can't see in this picture), pretty much unnoticeable:

So I've used it for years and years, and just kind of accepted it as part of my training/racing attire. The other day on my 26 mile ride, though, it was in the wash, so I just headed out sans anything underneath my helmet. It wasn't even that hot of a day, and seriously within 20 minutes I was dripping all over my Oakleys, having to rub my brow every other minute. Stuff like that adds to a hassle factor that I have little tolerance for - I figure the work is hard enough, small discomforts shouldn't add to the challenge. I realized how essential the Headsweats thing is, and how much I appreciate it.

I've been out in 100+ degree weather with this thing on my head, and it just sucks up sweat. I never have to think about it when I'm biking or running. It's pretty much an essential for summertime workouts. Added bonus - on really hot races, I soak it with ice water at an aid station, or even cram some ice cubes underneath it.

Extra points: They carry Ironman licensed gear, so if you're all about the M-Dot, there you go.

Anyway, I've purchased from them online, and I've seen them in a few stores here and there. No more expensive than another running hat, and you'll use it for years. Besides the bandana thingies they have lots and lots of hats - I've picked up a few visors for my peeps. Check 'em out - I bet you'll dig it like I do. Tell 'em x sent you!

(PS - a la Steve in a Speedo - dear Headsweats people, please send me free junk. Love, x).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Race Week: Madison Half Marathon

Well the first meaningful race of the season is upon is. And, the first of what will be 3 races in 4 weeks. Finally, game is on.

We've been over the plan for the race - obliterate the old PR of 1:58ish. What does obliterate mean? I'm not really sure, which feels like a cop-out. I'd like to say "1:45" or something, but I don't want to get hung up on specific numbers that might sabotage an otherwise well-planned day. The goals are: 3 miles easy. In training, that's generally meant around 8:30/mi. My primary objective will be to not go out too fast those first 3 miles and get caught up in race-day adrenaline. I think I'll probably situate myself, a la my girl TriSaraTops (speaking of PR obliteration...), with the 3:40 marathon pacers. If they're rolling too hard for me, or even too easy, then I'll go my own way - just keeping those first 3 miles easy and comfortable, no worry about pace. I'll plan to ratchet up the next 7 miles to under 8:30. Again, I'll see how I feel - if I can roll at 8:15, I will - but I want to avoid pushing too hard and blowing up. That'll actually be an important part of the ongoing strategery of the day - exceeding my training paces, but not getting too fired up and blowing it the last 3-5 miles. I hope to kind of ride the razor's edge a little bit there. The last 3 miles - we'll see. If I'm comfortable where I'm at, I'll stay. I hope to tighten the rope just a bit more, though, and finish strong.

A note about the PR thing - I'm not really a numbers guy (check that: I'm obsessive about numbers, but I'm not out there to achieve some magical number or place or time - I do that only when it's fun or adds to the competitive nature of me, but triathlon is not for me the means to that end), but this race, and hopefully the entire season (see my Chasing Sevens ongoing - and so far futile - saga of trying to finish a damn 5k with a 7:00/mile pace or faster...), I'm training in such a way so as to see how fast I can go in a race. That's the point of all this training, and I have specific races that will be the proving grounds for that training. So when I talk about obliterating my PR, I suppose I really mean, "execute as the training has prepared me for." That's all I want to do out there - just execute like I know I can. If I do that, the PR will come.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling all that skittishness that a taper of any sort influences in me - all fat and lazy and slow, just because my mileage is intentionally down a bit over the last 2 weeks. Not that my workouts haven't been good - they have been, including my 25 minute continuous swim (before they kicked me to the pool late - but at least I got to the pool! Huzzah!) and my 26 mile easy ride today. Just, when you back off high mileage like I'm used to - well, you know how it is. Just makes a guy a little crazy. Really, really looking forward to Sunday.

Couple of shout outs before I sign off - as I said TriSaraTops shredded the Half Mary at the Cleveland Marathon this weekend - seriously, if I can facsimile her day over here on Sunday, I'll be a happy dude. Erin and Krista cruised through the Half at the Green Bay Marathon this last weekend (and E is rolling Madison 13.1 this weekend, and K 26.2 - that's kickass), and my man Brazo rocked his first Xterra in Michigan last weekend. JLT Represent! Great great work everybody, seriously. I love that you cats are my friends.

Coming up later this week: A sneak-peek at something I've been working on (geez if a brotha could get some time), some music by request, and a Favorite Things post about Headsweats, which was not on my head today (as it usually is) for my ride and I hated life without it. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

People's Exhibit A

Like I said, it ain't rocket science:

On March 22nd I had my first 10-miler of the season. I was focused only on getting the miles in, strictly base training, no concern for pacing. I ran it in 1:41:48, with a pace of 10:11/mile. The useful statistic is an average heart rate of 146bpm.

I ran 11 miles, then 12 miles, on subsequent weekends, then ran 10 miles again on April 12th. This time I did focus on speed - first 3 miles, as per my racing strategy, easy breezy, then 7 miles at race pace, then 1 mile easy. The 7 miles - which thoroughly kicked my ass - I ran at 8:38, with an average heart rate of 159bpm. The total run was in 1:28:45, with an average bpm of 154.

(Right, like I said last time, I know these numbers posts interest only me. Carry on.)

Subsequent weeks have seen 3 13.1 mile long runs, all with increasing race pace mileage (and increasing race pace), and - interestingly, as I review the Garmin - usually only one other run during the week, a speed workout.

I'm in a sort-of-taper now for the Madison 13.1 coming up next weekend (already!?!?), so yesterday I returned to a 10 mile run (and not the usual 13.1). Again, 3 miles easy, then 7 miles at "race pace".

My approach to race pace has evolved a little bit - it used to be where 8:30 was the target pace, but now it's kind of "no slower than 8:30" - yesterday I just let my RPE (again, Rate of Perceived Effort - how hard I feel like I'm working) be my guide. As long as I felt good, I kept running, whatever that pace was. I never pushed it, never tried to achieve a certain pace or time - just stay comfortable, relaxed, and fast.

The results of, what, 6 -7 weeks intentional, disciplined work at longer distances: I ran the entire 10 miles in an 8:18 pace. My "fast" 7 miles were at a (blistering) 8:06/mile pace. I just don't run this fast. I long ago resigned myself to being that guy who didn't run that fast. My average heartrate was at a my-heart-beats-faster-eating-burritos rate of 150bpm. What? My RPE was never high. I was never pushing anything, never had to have a pep talk, was barely out of breath when I finally reached my 10 and slowed to walk. Are you kidding me? Who is this guy?

Incidentally, I ran the 10 in 1:22:57. My P.R. for this distance - at the 2004 Twin Cities 10-mile, 1:29:11 (8:55 pace). Granted that was 4 years ago and I had, like, zero clue, but there you go.

I'm calling it now - Fates be damned - May 25th will see the devastating obliteration of the old 13.1 P.R. (1:58:14) I'm not going sub 2-hour, I'm going waaaay sub 2-hour. Picking it up and setting it down.

Fired up over here. Bring it on!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Money, it's gotta be the bike.

56 miles today, on my longest ride yet of the year, and the mileage that I'll focus all of my long-ride energy on from now until Racine in July. I was rolling by 6am, and aside from it being pretty chilly, it was just about perfect conditions - some sun, some overcast, not a breath of wind.

Let's discuss my training plan for this year for a second: I don't have one. I know, you're all spraying have drunk beverages all over your computers right now, that Mr. Anal Retentive, Scientist of Triathlon is rolling without so much as a to-do list. But actually, it's working out really well. My training plan this year is really a combination of two philosophies: One, it ain't rocket science. Two, if you want to be faster, go faster.

So this season I'm putting the last 4 years of triathlon experience in the bank for my training regimen. I'm aiming for 3 runs a week, and 3 rides. Sometimes I only get 2. I hit the pool when I can, which can mean twice a week or not at all (and the water will be, as discussed, my weakness this season). My long run - consisting of 13.1 miles, no more, no less, are anywhere from Friday to Monday, and my long ride - not to exceed 56 miles - is somewhere in the weekend. Everything is negotiable except for the long workouts - those are absolutes. Otherwise, the Grand Experiment of being a triathlete and new Dad is working out pretty well - the lack of "you're supposed to do this today" is assisting me to maintain a healthy perspective, and I'm having a lot of fun.

My workouts are all quality - no junk. If I'm not doing intervals, or a tempo run, or hills, or a long run/ride, then I'm not spending the time. And I can tell you that here in mid-May, I'm in better fitness, lower weight, healthier, and have seen overall marked improvements across the board than I did this same time in '06, when I was training specifically for Ironman. And as I mentioned, I'm also having a lot of fun - which is the whole point.

I'm focusing on the strict Half Iron distances to condition my body for optimum performance at specific distances. So that when I kick into a gear at 8 miles, my body knows what that means in context of the 5.1 I have left. Same with the bike - my speed workouts are intentionally 18.5 miles long, hard and fast (more on that in a minute). After Racine, my goal will shift to the Twin Cities marathon in October. I'll apply the same principles, eventually getting my long run up to 26.2 miles. In years past, the mystics and statistics in all my coaching plans have avoided me actually going the full distance for any of my training. I'm sure there are lots of great reasons for that. But that's not how I'm rolling this year.

So the point this season is to go faster. Period. Fast at the half marathon distance, faster through 56 miles on the bike. The only way to get faster is to train faster. Period. The rest are just details - if I want to go sub 3 hours in 56 miles on the bike, then train like it. Like I said - it ain't rocket science. How will any of this apply next year to Ironman-specific training? I'm not sure. I'll let that reveal itself along the way.

Back to today's ride, then - I divide the 56 miles up into 18.5 mile chunks (roughly, the last 3rd is not precisely 18.5 miles). I had hoped to train with power, but my iBike is worth. less., so I'm going old school, with my RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort - which is what it sounds like - my internal guide for how hard I'm working) being the main guide. My long ride - and racing - philosophy will be simple: The first 18.5 miles are easy breezy. 89-94 rpm, no perceived effort on the legs (at all), and gearing stupid easy when climbing. The second 18.5 miles are fast - I drop down to 80-85 rpm (being careful here, though, that I'm not just pushing a harder gear with nothing to show for it - the point is to increase speed), work hard going uphill, and sensibly go faster; meaning, I'm not going to blow up in an effort to blaze that second 18.5 miles, but I'll show restrained effort at going faster. The last 19 miles go back to 90rpm, but with effort this time.

Today was the first ride at this strategy, and the results were very interesting. In '06, I rolled the distance a few times at sub-3 hours, but never comfortably and always working really hard. I had not time goals in mind today, just wanted to stick to my plan. Ideally in my head, the first chunk and the last chunk should be at a similar pace, and the middle chunk should be at least .5mph faster overall.

(I realize that my posts about numbers and stats can be totally boring as hell. Feel free to catch a nap if you'd like).

My first chunk, then, was at 18.4mph. This is really encouraging - for starters, there was no effort there. Just easy cruising. I want to say all my work is starting to pay off, but I seriously think the new machine is an important factor - with all kinds of training on Ol' Blue, my top "comfortable" average speed was usually no more than 17.5mph.

I worked harder on the second 18.5 miles - actually "racing" now - and this chunk is also where the most significant climbs (and descents) are. I finished it with a 19mph average. So far, precisely on target.

My last 19 miles, I wondered if I'd blow up - maybe my work on the previous sections wasn't as carefully executed as I'd thought or hoped. And I did work harder, and was feeling some mental fatigue by the last 5 miles, no question. By I finished those 19 miles with an 18.3mph average - very consistent with my first chunk of mileage. Friggin' fantastic.

Most interestingly, I came in at 3:01 for the ride. To make that kind of time on 'Blue, I would have been working really hard. But my legs felt fresh (still do) when I got off the bike for a 4 mile runoff (which I cut short because, though I executed a consistent nutrition plan on the bike, I apparently need to revisit it, as I was starving to death on the run and was this close to a magnificent bonk.)

So - very encouraging. It tells me that on a day with no heat and no wind I'm capable of a comfortable 3 hour ride. Ha! We'll see what the real world has in store this season, but I didn't expect these results, and was happy about them.

A few bits & pieces -

Vapor is fast so as to be a little bit scary for me. Like, I'm having to learn a little more courage on this machine. On 'Blue, with a great tailwind and perfect road conditions and all things beautiful, I'd reach top cruising speeds of maybe 26mph - and that was rare. On Vapor, I'll look down and I'm suddenly at 27, 28, even 29mph. I'm getting comfortable with that on flats, but descents on this bike are insane.

Speaking of which - I reached 40mph (actually 41.5) on this bike for the first time, and reached it for the first time this season (the only other time I've hit 40mph was during a training ride on the Ironman course, on the rollercoaster on Witte). Good to have that fear factor out of the way.

This just in: 56 miles is a long damn way to go on your bike, I don't care who you are. There's a reason this thing is called Ironman, and it's no accident that it requires Becoming. You don't just flip a switch and make it easy or something. I have a lot of mental toughness to develop again - just the last 5 miles today was a little bit of crazy time in my brains.

Saw this fantastic quote in an ad in my Runner's World, which applied it to marathons, but I think Ironman is far more appropriate, and it was rattling around my head today when I was starting to feel the fatigue: There will be days I don't know if I can do an Ironman. There will be a lifetime knowing that I have.

Happy Mother's Day everybody.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Race Report: Randy Bauer Memorial 5k (and some other stuff)

Well, back in Minneapolis this weekend to visit some friends and family, and specifically to run in this first memorial 5k race for Amy's friend Randy, who passed away from cancer last summer. He was also a very important person in my friend Susan's life, and she was a big part of the organization of this race to pay tribute, raise scholarship and cancer research funds, and generally celebrate his life. Pretty cool.

The night before, however, was not pretty cool. We got in about 10:30, and Dakota was totally off her schedule, up and playing and smiling at everybody and thinking this is good times. About 11:15 it all inevitably came to a crashing halt, with her overtired, overstimulated, confused about where she was sleeping, curious about why Mom & Dad were just right over there, etc. etc.etc, and wow - talk about a meltdown. She was like babies are in movies. Totally inconsolable, utterly miserable for two hours or so. Totally atypical - she's never so miserable, and only really gets crazy if she's overtired, which we really don't allow her to get. Anyway, the rest of the night was spent hardly daring to roll over, in case she heard a sound and woke up to start the whole thing again. So, about 3-4 hours of sleep was all we got. Crazy.

My goal was just to treat the race as my speed workout for the week. The turnout was awesome - lots of kids from the high school (Randy, like Amy, was a teacher, and the race started from their high school) participated, which was fantastic to experience. Amy saw lots of old friends and students from her time there, so that was great for her. Many people just walked the 5k, some just jogged. There were probably 20-30 or so (of 160 or something) that actually ran with intention.

I had hoped, as usual to pursue a 7:00/mile average for the race, which I've never done...and still haven't. According to the Garmin, I ran 3.24 miles in 23:03 for a 7:06/mile average. According to the official results, I ran 3.1 miles (so the course might have been a shade long) for a 7:27/mile average. I'll go with the 7:06 for the sake of the speed workout, since that's consistent with how I usually measure speed and distance, so I'm mostly satisfied with 7:06 - but damn if I could just reach that sub 7:00 once in my life, I'd be a happy dude. The 7:27 is, of course, the one that counts in the books, so - so be it.

Here's the crazy part, though - the part that will hurt your brain. Ready? I won my age group! What!?!? Crazy! I attribute this feat only to the fact that 80 - 85% of other 30-39 year olds (the age group for this race) were just there to enjoy the morning and walk the route. It certainly says more about the caliber of competition than my blazing speed. But hey - hardware is hardware! Woot! 6th place overall, 1st place AG. Here's me after I just received the medal (at a friend's house - we had to leave before the awards ceremony as D was, as discussed, in desperate need of a nap from the night before. Susan brought the medal over, even put it around my neck in ceremonial fashion. Ha!)

And here's D, after returning to her usual lovely self after a nap, testing the mettle of the medal. She found it to be tasty, and encourages me to win more of them.

Anyway, we all had a great time, and I was happy to have shared the day with so many great people.

The next day, then, I headed out for my long half-marathon of the week. I actually start a sort of mini-taper for the race on May 25, so this was my last training run at full distance. This time I went my usual 3 miles easy, then 10 miles at race pace. My legs were a little weary from the race the day before, but generally okay - oh, and I got to run around the lakes in downtown Minneapolis, which was awesome and I've never done before. Very Madisonion; people, dogs, kids, bikes, all kinds of goodness. The run went well - it got a little tough on my last mile, but I was generally able to stay consistent - finished with an 8:34 overall pace, an my 10 miles were at an 8:24 pace. Perfectly acceptable - I think I have some room for improvement even before the race on May 25th (which, as per the theme of this season, is all about the P.R. - Personal Record), but even if I can run consistent to my training lately I'll P.R., which is a fun place to be in. Good when you know the training is there, and it all just needs to come down to execution).

I also saw the movie Iron Man this weekend - very enjoyable and fun summer movie. I recommend it. Anybody else think it's so weird to hear the word "Ironman" bandied about like it is these days? Kind of surreal to have the word so top of pop culture right now. Kind of confuses my brain.

Lastly - big shout out and giant hello to YouTube Nation! I've had a few comments lately from people who found their way here from the Becoming Ironman video series. Nice to have you here, welcome! If you're in training for Ironman of any kind - particularly Wisconsin - you might find a few valuable resources here, including the "My $.02" series, over on the right side of the page (underneath the Videography section). Anyway, I'm happy you made it here, and hope you enjoy your stay.

Friday, May 02, 2008

So Far

Just a few bits & pieces before I sign off for a trip to Minneapolis and my 5k tomorrow -

38 miles on Vapor yesterday, riding Brazo's route. I only took one wrong turn, but realized it after about a half mile. Wicked windy, but it was mostly a cross-wind on the route. I averaged 17.5mph for the ride. Interestingly, my last several rides at 30 miles or more have been at 17.5mph (37.5 miles), 17.4mph (42.3 miles), and 17.7mph (35.5 miles). Apparently, I am nothing if not consistent.

Tuesday night I ran my weekly half marathon. The strategy hasn't been too difficult - the first 3 miles are just low heartrate, no concern for pace; this is just how I intend to approach the Madison half marathon later this month and the Racine Half Iron in July. After those 3 miles, every week I've been adding one more mile at race-pace intensity, then the remaining miles are easy. So a few weeks ago, for instance, I had 3 easy, then 6 at 8:30/mile pace (my intended race pace), then 4 easy. Tuesday night I ran 3 easy, then 8 miles hard - at 8:19/mile! That's fast, people. For me at least, 8 miles is a long way to go under 8:30. And I could've gone further at that pace, which is great. The goal, of course, is to go 3 easy, then 10 hard, to finish the 13.1 in under 2 hours. Hopefully well under. Then for the rest of the summer, I keep working on getting those 10 miles faster and faster, so that when the 70.3 comes around, a "slower pace" still gets me in under 2 hours. So far, so good.

Mostly unrelated conversation of the week - I went to the jewelry store to pick up a battery for my Nike + watch which controls my iPod.

Blond Buxum Lady At Counter, Mid 50's, Nobody I Know: "I like your glasses."
Me: "Thanks."
Buxom: "Did you pick those out all by yourself?"
Me: "Yep."
Buxom: "Didn't have your wife help you or anything?"
Me: "Uh, no.
Buxom: "Huh. Well look at you!"

er, thanks I guess?

Happy weekend everybody -I'll leave you with this, from Boston 2008, to get your ass in gear for training this weekend!