Sunday, August 30, 2009

You can change the world.

As I write this, we are less than $300 from raising $3000 for the American Heart Association as part of the Janus Charity Challenge. Less than $300! When we started this craziness, the original goal was to raise $1000. We've almost tripled it! It is so close. Let's do it! This is the Ironman! Anything is possible. Let's exceed the expectations.

Update! Holy crap we've passed $4000!!!! This is amazing! How high can we go!?!? Whoohooo!!!

If you've been following along, you've seen me mention this campaign - Team Lionhearted - in my original post about it, here. If you're a friend at facebook (and why wouldn't you be? Come find me. My real name is Chris Bintliff. But tell me you're coming from the blog or I might ignore you) you've heard me mention it a bazillion times. You may have even seen this cool article that my hometown newspaper ran about it, which raised awareness and led to several new donations! But - well, we started talking about this way back in April. You've maybe been thinking, "hey, cool, I think I'll donate to that, but I have plenty of time. His silly race isn't until, like, September or something." Well hey! September is, like, here! Pretty much! And - for me to have all my logistical ducks in a row, I'm asking that all donations please be in before race week starts - that's between now and next Monday, the 7th! So if you've been holding out, sending good energy our way and intending to donate, please consider doing so now.

And if you haven't considered it - why not? All the cool kids are doing it. We have 31 people who have made donations. Some people I don't even know. Some people I know but have never met. Some people I haven't seen in almost 20 years. And some that have lived through the nightmare that is heart disease and have chosen this small but important gesture to fight back. But whatever their reasons, all of them have been touched by heart disease. And I'm bringing all of them with me on September 13th. We are Team Lionhearted, and we've been waiting for you to join us. We need you to join us.

So please consider giving anything you can. Seriously, $5, $10. $2. Whatever you give helps. It's all meaningful. It's all important. It all makes a difference educating, or researching, or developing, or instituting, or creating the technology, resources, and information to save somebody's life. I hope you choose to be part of it with us.

Give easily and safely online:

Sincere thanks ~


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The End, and The Beginning

So...apparently how it works is, I have really limited time for blogging anymore. This means the updates are more scarce, and a bit more intentional - but apparently pretty damn long once I finally get an opportunity to post. So, sorry about the length, it is what it is. Oh, and apparently I also lack time for prudent grammar and speeling attention, which is a peeve of mine, so apologies for the reckless blathering as well.

Last weekend marked my ramp up of "Peak Weak", and will a few key workouts ended the build, fitness phase of training for Ironman, and began the taper. It was an interesting week and weekend, with some solid workouts and cool experiences.

Thursday Aquathon
The weekend of training "officially" started with a 1000 yard open water swim and 5k run in the last of the local aquathon summer series races here in Madison. I intended this swim to be an assessment of a few hard weeks of pool work, trying to improve my stroke. I had hoped to improve my times from the previous two races and 17:xx and 18:xx - but instead it became an exercise in mental toughness. The water conditions were insane. Here's a video of what faced us that evening:

Heading out to the first turn buoy was especially crazy. I have to acknowledge that, as I stood there on the beach waiting for the start, I had some trepidation - which is unlike me. Earlier that week a woman about my age died while training for Ironman in Lake Monona. She was wetsuited up, she was with a few other swimmers. I'm sure you've read as much as I have lately about triathletes dying in the water - I was at a race a few years ago where it happened. It's a statistical blip, really, for how many of us there are swimming each day and each weekend, but no less tragic. I can usually, with more information, attribute this tragedies to swimmer inexperience, or an existing condition of some kind, or some other extenuating circumstance beyond just "swimming". But not so with this woman (her name is Mary, and I did not know her). It's a sad, sad thing, and for whatever reason it really struck me and stayed with me. Not necessarily in an enlightening kind of way, were it causes me to reevaluate what I'm doing or its inherent risks or anything like that - just for its raw sadness, how unexpected it was. So in any water conditions, I think I would have found myself standing on the beach feeling a little thoughtful about this stuff. As it is, the water was crazy, so I suppose it makes one pause.

In any case, the swim was as nuts as I figured it would be, the waves compounding with the usual washing machine of bodies to make the first several hundred yards out to the turn buoy total chaos. But all in all, it was a lot of fun more than anything else. Like running in a crazy rainstorm or something, where how fast you're going becomes irrelevant because you're just at the whims of nature and you can either fight that or go with it. I tend to go with it, so I enjoyed myself. I finished in 20:xx, but it wasn't the kind of day to hold times up against other times, and that's okay. I ran the 5k easy, not racing, and just enjoyed the evening run.

Friday "Long" Ride
I was scheduled for my last 100 mile race rehearsal on Friday, so I headed out early, about 6am, to beat the "showers" that were due in the afternoon, and instead hope for the best with the "some showers" that were forecast with 30% likelihood that morning. I brought a rain jacket with me just in case and hit the road.

Not much to report. I rode the first 15 miles according to plan - stupid easy - but somewhere just after Mt. Horeb it started to rain. And rain. And rain. It was windy and rainy, and wow did it feel a lot like Ironman 2006. It wasn't as cold - which was a good thing - but seriously, the weird flashbacks of hearing wet tires slosh by on the road, the reflections of headlights on the road for the darkened day, the constant drizzle from the top of my helmet - kind of eerie. By the tail-end of the loop I had long since stopped riding according to "strategy" - it was too wet and slippery. Everything was just slow down and ride it out. I decided at the end of the loop (I had tacked 10 miles onto Whalen at the beginning of the loop, rather than the end) that I'd stop after 50 miles. Certainly I wanted to go those other 50 miles - but there was just nothing to be gained from it, and more risks than any limited rewards were worth; I had no fitness to develop, I couldn't execute my strategy, and believe me I don't require riding 100+ in the rain while training to know I can do it. So, I closed up shop for the day and headed home. I felt good about the decision - which was an indicator that I was training right, and prepared for taper; there was no panic that I left some miles out there, or my whole life would be screwed up now since I didn't get that race rehearsal in, or whatever. Part of the game is being flexible and improvising, and that's how it goes.

I will say, though, that it'll suck if it rains on race day. I'll do it, of course, and I'll do it willingly and cheerfully and with a positive attitude, and I'll feel bad for my Team (of impressive numbers, more on that another time) for having to slog through another day of rain, but mostly it'll suck because all this work, all this time and energy spent on the course devising a race-day strategy that allows me to excel, rather than just experience, will kind of be out the window. Certainly not to say it's all for nothing or anything like that, but I want to reach mile 50 ready to push play on my plan. If it's raining like that - there's no more plan, really. Just survival. Just hunker in, slow down, and be safe. I'm not afraid of it or obsessed with the weather or anything, but just saying...I'm hoping it doesn't rain all day. Like everybody else.

Saturday Swim Race, Bike, Run
Saturday morning broke bright and crisp, with temperatures in the low 50's. I headed to Monona Terrace for a 2.4 mile open water swim race put on by a local swim club. It was my longest swim workout before race day, and my best opportunity to practice, get in some good work, feel out some race-day positioning, and enjoy a good swim. The water was beautiful and still, and it was fun to be back at Monona Terrace for something akin to racing.

The course was designed to be very similar to the Ironman course - 2 loops of 1.2 miles. The entire course was a bit closer to shore than the true IM course (the ski ramp pretty much marked one turn buoy, for instance, whereas at Ironman it's kind of in the middle of the lane). It seemed most of the other 200 (?) or so swimmers there were also doing Ironman and using this as a training race, so it was fun and interesting to be among that crowd. I had some friends doing the race too, but didn't end up seeing any of them. I headed out to the turn buoy, about where I started at '06, tried to manage the usual nervous energy, and at the gun took off with the rest of 'em.

It was an okay swim. Much of it was experimental - it's not often you get an opportunity to swim 2.4 miles in a race environment that doesn't involve the full Iron distance - so I tried a few things. I practiced drafting when I could. I tried hard to be mindful of my technique, which I've been working on. At the end of the first loop I tried kicking into another gear, pushing my kick harder than usual. I kept that up for the next full length, until the turn buoy, and then went back to my normal pacing. I got clocked in the eye pretty good and thought for sure I'd end up with a black eye (I didn't), so had to stop and adjust my goggles at one point. All in all it went fine - but near the end I got to thinking about how damn far 2.4 miles is - a sign of some mental fatigue - and I was feeling a little wiped out. I hit the beach ready for a bagel and some Gatorade. I finished at 1:32:xx; I've mentally budgeted about 1:30 for Ironman, and I finished in 1:37:xx in '06 (in tough water conditions), so I suppose the 1:32 is an improvement, and about where I expected to be. I have some ideas to manage effort better, but I'll take it more easy than this on race day, which could slow down my time - I don't know. I'm certainly not going to push that kick for half a mile like I did, or do anything at all that might wear me out. The swim will take care of itself on race day, and my goal will be to take it easy and let it come. I wish I were faster, though. But, it's fair; I've spent the least time working on my swim (which, I know I know - it's a limiter, I should dedicate some serious off-season work to it sometime, but it's also my least favorite of the 3 disciplines and I don't do this for a living, thusly it should be fun, no?, and so you see the mental conundrum I suffer...) so I can expect my time there to be slow. I have, it appears, zero natural ability in the water, so I have to work hard to take what I can. In any case, I accomplished my goal for the race, which was really just to have a safe, productive swim, get the miles in, test the waters a bit (literally and metaphorically), and see what came of it.

After regrouping a bit on shore and downing a bagel and some Gatorade, I headed up to the Terrace parking garage to get my bike and ready for an easy ride. There were a lot of swimmers heading out for a long bike - many of them the full 100 or 112 miles. I was just heading out for 30, aiming to ride the stretch from Madison to Verona at "race effort", which meant "stupid easy". The wind was pretty wicked, most of it a headwind on Whalen, and I felt a little bad for all the riders heading out for a long day having to face that wind. But, it was sunny and cool, so all in all a pretty nice day for a ride. I took it easy going out to Verona for about the first 10 miles, then decided to increase effort a bit since I had legs from my abbreviated ride the day before, and only had 30 on the docket. It was useful to be on course with so many other riders - if only because it helped to mentally acclimate. I'm the kind of guy that can sort of unintentionally lay chase if I see a rider in front of me, or at least get into a mental game where I'm constantly considering my position relative to theirs (am I getting closer? Farther away?), and none of that is on my schedule for race day. So, it was good to just let everybody and their brother pass me by those first 10 miles, sit up in my saddle, out for a joy ride. On the way back I had a considerable tailwind, which was fun, and it was useful to refamiliarize myself with some of those roads coming in and out of Madison (by the way, city of Madison and state of Wisconsin: repave McCoy. Stop patching the damn thing up, repave it already. It's obnoxious. Chief of Stuff, make some calls.)

Back at the Terrace I got situated for a short 3 mile run, taking it easy as I had 15 miles scheduled for the next day. Nothing much to report. It was fun to run around Lake Monona. There were lots of people. I didn't know people fished so much off the Terrace. I wrapped it up with a pace of about 8:26/mi (this seems my "effortless" pace - I think I could run 3-5 miles in exactly 8:26 in my sleep), and called it a day. I'd had a great morning of workouts, enjoyed the day tremendously, and felt prepared to say goodbye to the Terrace for the next 3 weeks.

Sunday Long Run
Sunday morning was my last long run until Ironman - well, longer than 12 miles, anyway. 15 miles, and I headed out to dense fog and temps in the upper '50's - perfect running weather. I executed race effort and pacing, and again ran loops between my house and my Grandparents' house, where I had Gatorade, gel, and water at each station. It amounted to 3 loops of about 5 miles. I ran according to plan; the first 3 miles at around a 10:00/mi pace, the next 3 miles at around 9:30/mi, and the next 10 miles at 9:00/mi pace. The first 10k were pretty foggy, and made for a very cool atmosphere for my last long run.

After that the fog broke as the temperature increased to the low 70's, and the sun broke through for a bright, beautiful day. I had zero drama - it's actually a huge testament to how well the weekend went that I can say "not much to report". I ran in my Nike Lunar Trainers, and they gave me no troubles - I'm undecided on those or the Newtons for race day, so I'll let the weather and conditions dictate that decision (the Lunar Trainers are bad in wet, so any rain or heat where I'd be dumping water on myself puts them out of contention. They have a bit better support, though, so otherwise they might be just the thing.) I finished with a 9:23/mi average, and was right on schedule. If I can reach mile 16 of the marathon in about 2:30, I'll be ready to rock and roll, I think. I spent the last mile in an unexpected bit of nostalgia, which again I'll intend to hold back until later, after Ironman, but considered a bit the long road it has been, and its many bends and winding stretches, to reach this last long run in Becoming Ironman. Stuff like running around my hometown the day my Grandpa died. Seeing my mom, my only cheerleader that day, on the side of the rainy road last year at the Twin Cities marathon. Gravel roads in North Dakota with Jackson faithfully at my side. Each of those runs leading inevitably to this run, so that this run can lead me strongly to the one that matters on 9/13. The stuff of life that happens to me when putting one foot in front of the other.

My iPod was dead when I readied for my run that morning, so I ended up running with my (bulky, awkward) iPhone, so happened to have a camera with me. Snapped this shot just after stopping on the run.

Monday "Long Ride" Continued
For much of the season I was riding on a Koobi saddle, which was giving me all kinds of issues that aren't good times, like numbness and it-sucks-to-pee stuff. So I've been trying out an Adamo saddle, which is some kind of technological wizardry, and it's been awesome in relieving all of those issues - but by nature of intending to relieve those issues, the saddle is a bit wider in the nose. This, then, has caused a whole storm of chafing issues that has really, really sucked. Only for some reason it was only late last week that I put together that those issues started the same time as the new saddle; I'd been thinking it was my cycling shorts or something. So after doing some research, I realized I'd been sitting on the Adamo incorrectly, so I repositioned the saddle as it should be. Now my thighs weren't hitting the saddle, which was a good thing, but I was much less comfortable - I am just not the kind of rider who can live on the tip of the saddle nose. So I did some more research, and went and picked up a Specialized Toupe. This is all a winding way of saying that I had some new gear to check out only 3 weeks before race day, which is not at all ideal, and were I not so uncomfortable with the Adamo, with that discomfort having some clear ramifications on the run (funny story - after a ride a few weeks ago, I had a long run, and so I slathered up with some chamois cream. The run went well, but I had a foamy, gooey mess of chamois cream seeping out of the pores of my running shorts. It was as awesome as it sounds. And reminded me of that Friends episode where Ross has the leather pants), I certainly wouldn't be tinkering with something as critical as the saddle this late in the game. So, with that in mind and considering that I had left 50 miles on the course from Friday that, I felt, were to my discretion if I picked them up, I headed out for one last ride on the Ironman loop (no Whalen this time), to test out the new saddle and ride as "lap 2" effort, which is still easy, but a bit increased.

First off, the new saddle was blissful. I had to stop and adjust it a few times, but I'd honestly forgotten what it felt like to be comfortable on the bike. Huge difference. Life is good. I'll be especially attentive to its comfort in the next few rides as well, but it would appear, problem solved. Whew.

Otherwise, it was a great ride. A little bit breezy, but not bad. I ticked past 40mph twice (both on descents), which is fun. The roller coaster on Witte, which to this point has been wrought with loose gravel for the past several weeks, is mostly cleaned up and I was able to open it up without brakes and tucked in on that section. The only "event" of the day was that somewhere I lost my tool bag, which really does quite suck. Luckily I didn't need it, but it was a pretty nice little collection of tubes, CO2, tire levers, even a chain tool. Bummer. It popped off the back sometime, no doubt too loosely attached to the new saddle. So, something to remedy before race day. Oh, and during one of my saddle/saddle height adjustments I'd apparently not tighted the seat post up quite enough, so just before Timber Lane I noticed my knees were hitting my elbows, and I felt all wonky on the bike, and lo and behold my seat was all the way down. So that was weird. Anyway, all glitches that didn't much affect my day, and it was a good, strong last ride on course.

Taper officially begins.


• I am not only ready for Ironman, I am ready to have a ridiculous day. There are a lot of x-factors at Ironman, though, and I know that. And I'm not planning to any certain time, or chasing any crazy goals beyond just finishing with a smile. But I believe my training has me prepared for a great race. Can I execute? Isn't that always the question. I've worked hard, and to great success, learning to execute my races for the last few years, crushing a sub 2:00 goal at a half marathon last year (coming in 1:46:xx), crushing a sub 6-hour goal at half Iron (5:35:xx), crushing a sub 3:00 goal at the Olympic distance (2:37:xx). None of this is self-congratulatory, it's just facts - if I can trust in my training and stay out of my own way, race my race and not worry about speed or finishing times or any of that, and just concentrate on execution, I think I've put in the work to have a great Ironman. Will my finishing time reflect that? Who knows. I need a half-decent weather day. No tech drama on the bike. No unexpected injury or malfunction. But - I can't do anything about that stuff, so no sense thinking around it. What I can control has been my training, and I'm pleased with how it's gone and where it's brought me.

• That said, I'm taking nothing for granted. I'm not confident, per se, just ready. I'm going with whatever current the day of Ironman provides for me, that is all. Not fighting it, not going against it, and not for one second believing I'm in charge of it.

• I'm more excited for this Ironman than I was in '06. That's a surprise to me, because you'd think after your first, anything else would slightly pale. But at this point in '06, I was nervous more than excited. My excitement was a nervous excitement. I was sleeping horribly for all the unfinished business in my head. I was emotionally exhausted by it, I know now. I'd been through, and put myself through, a lot in preparation for '06, much of that having nothing to do with time in the water, or on the road. This time around, I'm much more clear-headed. I'm having a lot more fun - and I had a lot of fun last time. I'm excited and looking forward to it. I have good thoughts around it. Good energy.

• I have a plan. In '06, I had a plan just to finish. That was it. Everything was just about enduring the distance. I had no strategy in mind for approaching the bike, or approaching the run from the bike, beyond vague "save something in the legs so you can run". This revealed itself plainly in some of the tough times I had on the run - just mentally and physically wasted from the bike. Granted, it was an awful weather day, and maybe there was no helping this - but I had no real awareness of it in the first place, or proactive approach to it. This time I have a plan. I even have a plan for the plan. I know how I'm approaching the bike, and approaching one section of the bike compared to another. I know what to expect from the run, and what I hope to accomplish on this mile as well as that mile. That's exciting.

• From here - taper. Which doesn't mean all work has stopped, or get fat and lazy. I still have lots to do, and this week especially is still a bit considerable - lots of pool time, a 3 hour ride this weekend, a 12 mile run. But all easy-does-it. Just stay sharp and stay out of trouble. But mostly now, enjoy it. Enjoy this time, this build up. I fought it last time - letting the nervous energy get pervasive. This time, I want to celebrate it. Use some of the lesser volume to pay back some lost time, when I'd be on my bike for 7 hours earlier this summer, to family. See the forest for the trees a bit. Life is good. You're doing Ironman. Hell yes.

Bits & Pieces

• Team Lionhearted is growing, and we've almost TRIPLED the original goal!!!! There is much more to say about this, and I hope to dedicate some time to a post about this later this week, so stay tuned.

• I saw a lot of people pushing way too hard on the way out to Verona on my ride on Saturday. Now, as usual, what the hell do I know, and I'm not wanting to be critical of anybody's training, approach, strategy, whatever. But I think if you're pushing a big gear at 75-80rpm in the first 5 miles of the Ironman, you'll regret it later. Just saying.

Please take care of your machines. I also saw a lot of people with black, gunky chains and drivetrains that had never been cleaned. I saw (or rather, heard) machines - some $4000 rocket ships - come clattering by me with a noisy drivetrain from a front derailleur just crying for some adjustments. Or shifting that sounded like a dinosaur eating metal. Ugh. If I can hear you coming up behind me before I can see you, or can't hear you breathing for the rattle of your components, then a tune up is in order (though that said, if I can hear you before I can see you, it means you're about to pass me on your bucket of bolts, so again - clearly - what the hell do I know?). Not trying to be a bike snob or anything here, but some easy, basic maintenance - cleaning your chain, learning to tune your barrel adjusters on your derailleurs, a regular wipe-down of the bike - this stuff will put your bike in such better working order, but also give you an opportunity to get really familiar with your bike - so if something's going amiss, you'll be more likely to catch it before it leaves you stranded on the road. So please, for the sake of your very awesome raceday that you've worked so hard for, make sure you give your machine some love.

• While I'm dishing out unsolicited $.02, make sure you can change a tire! Practice! Practice with CO2 cartridges! Did you know they get super freaking cold when you inflate a tire with them - so you can't hold them with a bare hand? That you get one shot to fill up your tire with a cartridge, so if it's seated wrong somehow on the stem you could waste a precious cartridge? Work this stuff out now, during taper, so you can handle anything unexpected that might come your way race day. Here's a great video on some basics for how to change a flat:

Bike Barn Penticton - Flat Tire Change from cks on Vimeo.

Okay, all for now. More to come as race day approaches, so stay tuned. Getting closer everybody! Whahoo!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Peak Week

So, this is it. I'm trying to not yet get all reminiscent about this road to Ironman - that'll come later, after there is, in fact, this Ironman - but after everything, after all the cold December running and doing gross sweaty pushups in my basement in February and running yet another cold and rainy marathon last October and watching The Wire from iTunes in the dark of January while pedaling on my trainer and trying to train away the dead spots in my pedal stroke, this week is the last week of developing, pushing, firing, defining, finding my limits. After this week, I go into taper, where the objectives are to stay sharp, stay healthy, and start tuning in to race day. One week left to do good work and make some deposits, for withdrawal September 13th. It's a bit surreal, and not just a little bittersweet, to go into this last week of hard training for Ironman. It can be said, accurately, that at this point...there's very little - if any at all - fitness to be gained or developed. I think that's almost true right now - but I can squeeze a bit more out of this lemon, I think.

I'll have a 100 mile race rehearsal ride, a run of 10-15 miles (TBD), and an open water swim race of 2.4 miles this weekend. I'll have several run-offs and an occasional bike-off. I'll (hopefully) race an aquathon where I can see if some of my pool time lately working on my stroke is paying off or if I should just suck up how slow I am. I had a really good, tough ride today; that was my last interval workout. I won't be strength building this week; no speed work or intervals; but dialing in race efforts. By the end of the week I should feel, physically and mentally, like I've arrived. Like I have worked hard. Like I have something to taper from. No surprises, no drama, just good, solid, well-planned and well-executed hard work.

And...I intend to smile a lot this week, enjoy the game and the earned ability to even go out and crank out these kinds of miles, and just generally have a hell of a good time.

Have a great week everybody. Train smart.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Race Rehearsals (x3) Report

(Warning: Long. And high Geek quotient.)

The purpose of Race Rehearsals are, well, to rehearse races. Glad we could clear that up. I scheduled them to coincide with my longest run of 20 miles, about 6 weeks out from Ironman, with a second bike race rehearsal scheduled for the weekend of August 23rd, that being my last long ride before taper. Everything is, as close to possible, emulating race day. What I'm wearing, full aero rig (complete with space-hat on the bike - yeah, I'm that guy training in an aero helmet), what and when I'm eating/drinking, the works. It's a chance to rehearse logistics, but it's also the first true test of just what all the training this far can deliver - practicing race pace and execution means finding out what you've really got in there.

The weekend started with an uneventful 1 hour open water swim, about 1.5 miles or so, on Thursday. Not much to report. It was wet. It went fine.

Bike Rehearsal: Take One

Friday was the first true test - 100 miles on the bike, with a planned 6 miles runoff. Remember - because this will be important - that the purpose is race emulation. So with that in mind, I promptly went out on Thursday evening and went grocery shopping for my Special Needs bag. What might sound good at the halfway point of a 100 mile ride? Hmm. Salted Nut Roll might be nice. Ooh, one of those little 8oz Pepsi's would be perfect. Pizza flavored Combos? Don't mind if I do! Fig Newton's? Sure, why not. Hell, let's throw a Pop-Tart in there, you never know.

So Friday morning, my "Special Needs" bag hidden under the front wheel of my car (I really mean it when I say "race emulation", which includes the general temperature of the food/drink I toss into my Special Needs bag, thus the sitting outside for several hours while I'm riding), I was off.

Remember that little map of the course I provided when I did my "Keys of the Bike" post? It's useful to reference here, because it's how I break up the course when I ride. I ride each section with a slightly different strategy, and mentally break up the course in this way. So here it is again:

You can click on it to blow it up, but in general...
Section 1 is from Madison to Verona
Section 2 is from Verona to Mt. Horeb
Section 3 is from Mt. Horeb to the top of the last hill, turning onto Shady Oak
Section 4 is from Shady Oak back to the turn onto Whalen, in Verona
Section 5 is from Verona back to Madison

How I constructed my 100 mile ride was to start in Verona (so, starting with Section 2), and Section 5 is about a 4 mile out and back on Whalen (turning around at the stop sign just after Tina's Hill). I do that twice.

So, I begin my day, a 3 hour concentrated bottle of Infinit onboard as my only nutrition - a magical elixir that I've customized to ridiculously exact specifications for the amount of calories, carbs, and sodium I require each hour, and which has been a huge benefit to my season, ridding me of the need to carry an assortment of Gatorade, Clif bars, and gels - a 24 oz water bottle, and another 20 oz water bottle stashed in my jersey (on race day, I'll just retrieve water from the aid stations). I set off
from Verona to Mt. Horeb with my usual plan of pedaling stupid easy. I ask myself "Is there any way I can go easier right now?" instead of "is there any way I can go faster?" I coast on even the smallest descents. I sit up in the saddle whenever it's convenient. Total joyride. Zero pressure. I took 2 big gulps of Infinit every 20 minutes, chased with water. All was well.

13.85 miles in to Mt. Horeb, and I finished Section 2 with a 16.0mph avg speed, Heart Rate a nice and low 117bpm, and cadence a relaxed 92rpm. So far so good!

For me, that section is the toughest section of the whole course, and Section 3, despite it having the 3 Bitch Hills in it, is generally faster. Same plan as before, especially on the first loop - nice and easy. No pushing, comfortable 90rpm cadence, easy like Sunday morning. Especially when climbing hills, I'm careful to back off, let it go nice and slow so I'm not pushing huge watts under me. Just let the miles and speed, whatever it is, come. My whole goal is to save legs. Drinking my Infinit on schedule, chasing with water, life is good. Temps are in the low 70's, there's a slight breeze, and things are going great.

19.85 miles to Shady Oak, and I averaged 17.3mph, 112bpm heart rate, and 89rpm cadence. Everything is going exactly to plan!

Section 3, from Shady Oak to the turn-off at Whalen, is the shortest leg, just 6.75 miles. It's mostly downhill except for climbing easily while in Verona, and there are lots of fast stretches of road. 19.2mph, 110bpm, 87rpm.

Now turning onto Whalen for that 10 mile (5 out, 5 in...and it's actually about 10.15 miles) stretch. A bit hillier, and a touch of headwind, but no big deal. 17.1mph, 110bpm, 88rpm.

And we're back to Fireman's Park, halfway mark! Everything has so far gone amazingly well. I'm riding easy breezy, I'm comfortable, heart rate is low, and I'm averaging something around 17mph for the first loop. Time for Special Needs!

Wherein I completely screw everything up, derail the rest of my ride, and suck at everything.

I ate about half of a Salted Nut Roll bar and drank about 4-6 oz of Pepsi, and swigged some Gatorade. I tossed back a couple Vivarin (which I have never in my life taken...well, except that night before Winter Finals 1992, but that's a whole other story entirely, and was equally as successful an endeavor). Swapped out my now empty Infinit bottle with a fresh 3 hour bottle, and I'm ready to roll.

Here's what happened behind the scenes: First, I just ingested about 200 calories of stuff, mostly high-sugar, low nutritional value. Stuff I hardly ever eat, nevermind while training/racing. And stuff I've never ever tried in a training/racing environment. It's stunning, the stupidity, when I think of it after the fact. Totally defenseless decision. Also, I introduced solid foods for the first time all day into an otherwise liquid diet. I'm not sure what effect Vivarin had on anything, but I'm pretty sure it sucked too. I also drank Gatorade, which I'll spare you the science lesson but it's a fructose, and not a dextrose like Infinit, and so how it is absorbed and used by the body are totally different. Most critically - I did all of this in a "race emulation" environment. Now, I think it's good to experiment - in friggin' June. You don't toss in a mixed bag of new stuff when you're trying to nail down race-day execution. What the hell is wrong with me.

So the second loop is when I "ride", as opposed to "joy-ride". I'm still easy breezy, but I just pedal a bit more. On descents, on flats. I don't push, necessarily, but I'm more intentional about getting from here to there, instead of just letting there show up sometime along the way. Still saving my legs, still thinking of the marathon, but pedaling with some purpose. At least, that's how it's supposed to go.

From Verona to Mt. Horeb, where I averaged 16.0mph on my first loop, now averaged 15.4mph. My comfortable 92rpm's for the first loop turned into 88rpm. This might seem small, and it is subtle, but it's huge. It's not because I was pedaling slower, or a larger gear - the difference is accounted for in the times I stopped pedaling altogether. My stomach was at work trying to digest my banquet of craptastic food stuff. I started to feel crappy, and like not eating. So, I started forgoing my usual 20 minute intervals of Infinit.

From Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak - usually a bit faster, and with lots of opportunities to be intentional about building speed - and where I averaged 17.3mph the first time around, now averaged 16.4mph. Almost a full mph slower. And cadence fell to 86bpm - remember that I always try to hover around 90rpm. Watching the numbers like this, you can actually see me getting slower.

The short stretch from Shady Oak to the turn at Whalen - where I comfortably cruised at 19.2mph the first loop, was now 17.8mph...and a cadence of 83rpm. I'm stopping pedaling often, now - and not as a matter of strategy on flats or descents. Because I'm feeling shredded. Good Lord this is excruciating.

So now I'm back on Whalen for the 10 mile out and back, and I am utterly miserable. Instead of my Infinit bottle being almost empty - which at this point is should be - it's 3/4 full. I've had maybe 4 sips the entire second lap, and all of those forced. I'm deeply calorie deficient, dehydrated, and uninterested in eating anything. I have bonked in spectacular fashion, with all my might. My liver has no more sugar to give me. I'm a mess. My mind is blurry. I'm trying to sing song lyrics, to refocus, and I can't remember basics. I pull over under a shady tree and just stand there in a stupid daze. Cyclists pass by me and ask if I'm okay - I toss back a cheerful "doing good!", like I'm just stopped to enjoy the scenery or something. I say aloud, "You're wasted. You should turn back now." I answer myself. "You're right. I should." I do not. I push myself to the top of Tina's Hill before finally turning around. I'm pedaling as infrequently as I can. I limp back into Verona, that last stretch of 8 miles averaging 15.3mph. There's no way I can do my "easy run-off". If this were Ironman, I'd be screwed.

"Bonk" sounds kind of cute. Like, if you haven't experienced it, or maybe aren't an athlete, it sounds kind of silly. Like you did something whimsical and humorous in "bonking". It's not any of those things. It means you've deprived your body of fuel. You're toast. And it's almost out-of-body. Lacking such essential nutrients for basic fuel, you get weird. Hazy in the brain. Drunk feeling, almost. I can't remember every bonking this bad before.

I sit in my car and slowly try to choke down the first food I find - those damned Combos. I wince at Gatorade going down. My system's in revolt. I want to puke everything up. I sit there, with the air conditioning on, and try to come back to earth. I can't get my cycling shoes off. I consider, in my stupor, that maybe I should take from now until Ironman off. Certainly my 20 mile run scheduled for 2 days from now can go to hell. I managed to get my bike into the back of my car, and now I keep thinking I hear air hissing in escape from the front tire. I turn around to check it 3 times. This is crazy.

Much later, at home and after some calories and sustenance and settling down, I'm able to be clear headed about things - but a sure sign of a ride or run go awry for me, even a long one, is if still hours later I'm shot. I might feel some natural fatigue after a healthy ride, but not totally useless and lacking of any energy at all. It's obvious, of course, what went wrong - but I'm really, really disappointed with myself for it. I can't believe I sabotaged my ride like that. I can't believe I made such stupid, rookie mistakes. You'd think I'd never done Ironman before. I was frustrated that all this training, all this good work, all this time spent all winter and spring and summer, all these countless lonely hours to get better, faster, stronger, more efficient, were tossed away haphazardly because - what? - Salted Nut Rolls might taste good. I don't even know where I got the idea. More than anything else, I feel a sense of shame for having the audacity to take something - anything - for granted with Ironman. I must have thought, after these years in the game, the bazillion times I've ridden the course, all the study I've done of the course and how I want to manage it, that I was entitled to improvise a bit. See how things go with some new stuff. It was a hard lesson, a valuable one. Ironman will put you down. It's easy to say that, it's obvious to know that, but for all its challenges this was my first truly awful experience with it.

Once clear-headed, I decided, both for the sake of fitness but mostly confidence, I'd give it another go early the following week. I assessed my failure and how to remedy it, developed a plan, and got on with life. I decided it was a tough, but ultimately good experience to have, and that's why they call it training. 2 days later was a 20 mile run rehearsal to prepare for.

Run Rehearsal

After the complete debacle of a ride race rehearsal, I was committed to not shooting myself in the foot for my 20 mile run. I'd get started in the morning, but temps were forecast to climb to around 80 - and heat is just a killer for me. I had my run scheduled for Sunday morning, so Saturday night I brought a cooler full of water and Gatorade over to my Grandparents' house, about 2.5 miles away. I had some gels stashed there as well, and some Fig Newton's. Sunday morning before I went out, I put another cooler of the same, with sponges, in my front yard. The plan would be to just make 4 5-mile loops, running between my house and my Grandparents' and back. I'd have an aid station every 2.5-3 miles, with stuff similar to what'll be on-course at Ironman.

My race execution plan for the run is this:
Miles 1-3: 10 min/mile pace, with main objective a low heart rate and low perceived effort. Stupid easy. Get my legs under me from the bike and get comfortable with the run.

Miles 3-6: 9:30 min/mile. Increasing pace just a bit, but it should still feel easy. I should have to hold back for that 9:30 pace.

A main objective of miles 1-6 is to eat and drink, front load calories just a bit. This means about 4 Fig Newtons between the 6 miles, and about 6 swigs of Gatorade, and another 6 of water, at each aid station.

Miles 6-16 settle in to a 9:00/mile pace. Better to err on the side of caution, so I'd rather find myself around 9:15 than 8:45. Gel at the top of each hour, and Gatorade and water, about 12 ounces/hour. Walking through every other aid station or so. If it's hot, then sponges, and I bought these Arm Coolers, made from Craft, that look like thin white arm warmers, but they're supposed to, as the name suggests, keep you cooler - something about sweat or something. By appearances this smacks in the face of basic science - the body naturally cools via perspiration, and covering up part of the body would seem to hinder that - so it seems a big gimmicky, but, if you keep them wet, they're pretty awesome. Not heavy or water-logged, and they do emulate sweat when they're wet so that a nice breeze is chilling.

The whole goal is to reach mile 16 and feel good. Ideally, I'll have been holding back all day, and at 16 I hope to kick into an 8:30/mile pace. The plan now is just to sustain that pace to mile 20. I'll walk through aid stations only if it feels like I should.

At mile 20, it's improvisation for the last 10k. If I feel good, I'll maybe ratchet up a bit more, or stay where I am in hopes to kick down the last 5k. At that point in the Ironman, who knows what'll happen.

That was the plan anyway. Now it was time to see if it was a good plan, a realistic plan.

Miles 1-3: I averaged 9:48/mi, holding back the whole time. My Grandparents passed me on their way home from church and my Grandma hung her arms out the window and waved, which was awesome. I walked about 20-30 seconds into my Grandparent's driveway, to emulate walking through an aid station, before stopping my watch at my first "aid station" to eat 2 Fig Newtons and chase it with Gatorade and water. It wasn't too hot yet. So far so good. Heart rate was a silly low 119bpm.

Miles 3-6: Average 9:29/mi, still holding back and so far everything is perfectly according to plan. I stopped at my second aid station, back at my house, at around mile 5 and repeated the Fig Newtons, Gatorade, and water. Nothing extraordinary to report. Heart rate still crazy low, 117bpm.

Miles 6-16: Settled in, and averaged around I think a 9:10/mile or so. I say I think because I confused the Start and Stop on my watch at one aid station, so I while I was "paused" getting water/Gatorade, soaking sponges, etc., my clock was actually running. Then when I was finished I hit "Start", but really I was hitting Stop. So for 2 miles of running, I wasn't keeping time. Anyway, I had to figure out the math all in my head, and it came out to almost exactly 2 miles of unrecorded time, but my pace was still indicated on the watch and I know I wasn't doing anything too crazy away from 9:00-9:10/mile. Officially, including that "pause", my clock paced this stretch at 9:18/mi, which is fine, heart rate still just 117bpm. The bottom line is that it went easily and smoothly, I was comfortable, and was hydrating and soaking up Gatorade just how I should. No GI issues, nothing too interesting to report at all. By this point it was getting hot outside, but I was managing things great with wetting down the arm coolers, carrying soaked sponges, and - most importantly - knowing, mentally, that I only had 2.5-3 miles to go before I could do it all again. It made a huge difference knowing I had those two aid stations waiting for me. I was never stuck with counting miles - I just made a bunch of short trips between houses. I'll try and view race day this way - just short trips between aid stations. Unlike other long runs, where I'm budgeting my carry-along hydration or nutrition, or am increasingly baking in the heat with no real options, I set things up for this run so I had all the support I needed. It was awesome.

I hit mile 16 feeling unbelievable. My legs felt fresh, my mind was sharp, I wasn't tired or bored or hungry or looking for the end already or anything. Spirits were up, morale was high, and especially coming back from the terrible ride just 2 days previous, I was feeling confident. I'd done the math from my botched 2 miles lost in the space-time continuum, and figured that finishing my 3 miles as usual from my Grandparents' to my house would give me 21 miles on the day. I shifted easily into an 8:30/mile pace (avg pace for these 5 miles was actually 8:28/mi), and had no problems comfortably reaching the end of my long run. I could've gone another 10 miles. I had energy and legs to, I think, go sub 4:00 marathon with ease. It was crazy. I've never felt anything like it running.

Obviously, making a good plan and sticking to it, and creating a situation where I had the right hydration/nutrition available to me, made all the difference. It was a true race-day emulation, and I was really encouraged. The trick, obviously, is to get all of that done after being on the bike for 112 miles, but I'm encouraged by how easy it felt on my legs; making me feel like I have some margin for fatigue to still have a good run. Most importantly, I need to come off the bike with ready, strong legs, and having accomplished healthy nutrition/hydration for 112 miles so I'm ready for the run. Having finished my longest run before Ironman, and feeling like my race plan was a proven quantity now, I rested on Monday and set up a rematch for the 100 mile bike rehearsal on Tuesday.

Bike Rehearsal: Take Two

The weather forecast was almost identical to the Friday before, though perhaps a bit warmer. No fooling around this time - I came loaded up only with the right stuff; gels (1 at the top of each hour) and my extra bottle of Infinit at Special Needs. I had a water bottle on my bike, and another in my jersey. That was it, time to ride.

Verona to Mt. Horeb 1: This time I rode it a slow 15.4mph average. My cadence was 85 - indicating I was doing a good job of not pedaling whenever I could. Heart Rate was just 113bpm. One reason I had Vivarin with me on the last ride was because I'd been experiencing mental fatigue at around miles 50-60. After analyzing my bonk, I decided this mental fatigue wasn't because of mental weakness, requiring a stimulant to overcome, but just poor nutrition. So even things out a bit better I shifted to 1 big gulp of Infinit every 15 minutes, chased with 3 big gulps of water. Staying more regularly fed and hydrated (as opposed to 20 minutes as I'd been training) should be helpful.

Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak 1: My average speed came up to 16.8mph, cadence 87bpm, HR 114bpm. It's important to remember that my main objective for the bike is managing my effort. I'm not thinking about speed, or wondering about it, or worrying about. I've done a pretty good job this year of ridding myself of ego on the bike. I just don't care how long it will take me, or how many people go flying by - I want legs for those last 10 miles of marathon. That's the thing I continue looking out on whenever I'm on my bike. So if I feel any tension, andy pressure or exertion in my quads, calves, or hamstrings - and at this point I'm pretty well tuned in so I rarely, if ever, have those accidental bursts - I back off.

Shady Oak to Whalen turn 1
Whalen out-and-back to Verona 1: I forgot to hit my "lap" button on my watch when I hit the Whalen turn-off, as usually these are two different "sections" of about 6.85 mile and 10.15. In any case, I averaged 17.8mph for this section, 86rpm, just 111bpm.

I headed back into Verona, my first 50 mile loop done. I came in just under 3 hours, so my average speed would have been 16.7mph or so for the loop. I was feeling great - hydration was clockwork on point. Infinit was doing its job. 1 Gel every hour.

Taking stock, to this point I'd ridden just about flawlessly - much as I had the Friday before. Easy pedaling, lots of coasting, a real joy-ride perspective. That's my plan for race day as well - the first 50, and last 12, are super easy. It's the middle 50 - which I was about to begin - where I'm more diligent about pedaling.

I quickly got my replacement bottle, refilled my water bottles, and was back out on the road.

Verona to Mt. Horeb 2: 16.5mph, 89rpm cadence, and Heart Rate, a reflection now of some actual work going on, at 122bpm (though still quite low - awesome). About a 3.5 minute advantage over the same stretch ridden the first time.

Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak 2: 17.7mph, 87rpm, 119bpm. See how consistent everything is? Cadence is suddenly going south. Heart Rate isn't suddenly pushing 130 or some madness. I'm still taking it easy, but just taking advantage of opportunities when it's smart to pedal. Almost 6 minutes gained from the same section the first time around, and I'm feeling fantastic. It's in this section when, if I'm going to derail, it'll start to really show itself. Knowing I was feeling strong - consistent, in control - was huge at this point in the ride. I felt mentally sharp, in the moment. Best of all, I was having fun.

Shady Oak to Whalen
Whalen back to Verona 2: Combining these sections so my numbers can compare with the first time around, speed was 18.6mph, HR 122bpm, cadence 87rpm. This last section was getting warm, but I was doing fine. I eased back on the Infinit, and stuck more to water, for the last 10 miles - just like I plan at Ironman - to prepare for the run.

I came back into Verona after 101.5 miles, an average speed of 17.1mph, HR of just 116mph. I'd made up around 8-9 minutes on the second loop, an easy negative split. Best of all, I could have easily kept going and was feeling strong. I finished the rehearsal with a quick transition to a 2 mile run-off, complete with Fig Newtons and Gatorade like I'll have at the first aid station, and had to hold back a 10:00/mile pace, just like I'd practiced 2 days previously. It all came together - I know I have a nutrition/hydration strategy for the bike that will work. I know I have an effort strategy that leaves my heart rate low, my legs feeling fresh. Huge for this point in the game. I can, at this point, start to visualize Ironman. I can train these last few weeks to squeeze the lemon, trying to eek a bit more strength and stamina out of these legs, rather than worry about "if".

Of course, race day will present it's own reality. Maybe it'll be hot as hell, maybe it'll be crazy windy, maybe it'll be 52 degrees and raining. How long it takes me on the bike might change, but that's not the point. I feel like, finally, at last, I have a strategy dialed in on the bike that combines fitness, effort, and fuel. And that's pretty much what it's about. I'm very encouraged.

Next up: I won't hit 100 miles again until the 3rd week in August - my last long ride before taper, and another opportunity for a race rehearsal to work out any lingering kinks. My run has, unbelievably, already begun a slow taper. I have a long 2.4 mile swim planned for the week of August 23rd that will mark the end of all build training, and begin taper. Until then, more intervals everywhere, staying healthy, and not doing anything stupid is the order of the day.

Train smart everybody -