Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon

Sometime right around the 10 mile marker, I passed the 3:45 pacing group and actually laughed out loud.

Everything was awesome. I felt strong and light, the day was truly flawless, and I was having a blast. I was high-fiving kids, bobbing my head to Billie Jean, pointing and laughing at signs that I liked. By far the most fun I'd had at a marathon.

I'd set out to maintain a minimum 8:45/mi pace - but I also set out to just go by feel and find a pace that worked. Often I'd find myself zipping along in the low 8's, or trotting happily at 8:20-something. When practical I'd slow back down, but if it felt good I'd just stay where I was. I was going to try and not overthink the day. I wasn't going to chase anything, but I wasn't going to just let it come to me, either. I guess I planned on trying to meet the race halfway.

I crossed the halfway mark at around 1:50 a full 5 minutes ahead of schedule, and on pace to finish 10 minutes ahead of my goal time of 3:50. I found the team shortly after that - my friends Susan, Mike, and Todd who have chased me around so many races, so many times, that they're experts at it. I shouted with a smile, "Can I hold it, or will I blow up?" and Todd yelled back "Pick it up and set it down!" I took in a gel - just as planned - and at the aid station walked while I drank some Powerade and water. So far everything was going precisely to plan. I was eating and drinking right on schedule, just as I had in training. I felt fast but not out of control. Most importantly I was really enjoying the day.

The morning was not just cool, but cold - low 40's to start the race. I kept my $5 Target sweats on until as close to the gun as I could, staying warm as long as possible. After I'd shed them, with just a few minutes to go, I heard my name shouted from the side of the starting corral. My friend Pete - who I haven't seen in years, since I moved to Madison and he moved to Denver - thought on a whim to find higher ground and see if he could find me (knowing from the blog what I'd be wearing and where I'd be lining up - awesome!). What a great way to start the day, with a quick chat with an old friend. I shook hands and a few minutes later, with cheers and applause, the game was on.

The first few miles of the Twin Cities marathon are, really, a total blur. You're downtown, the throng of people is so thick that when you look ahead you just see this moving, melding organism that covers the entire span of the street. It was easy to go fast in those first few miles - of course it was - so I was always mindful to back off, back off, back off. Friends are chatting, people are smiling, the streets are lined with spectators and families. It's noisy and busy and full and awesome. It wasn't until a few miles in, finally out of downtown and going around the chain of lakes, a few miles after I stopped to hug my mother standing on a corner cheering ("No hill for a climber!" - an old Dadism), where I took in the colors on the edges of a still lake, vapor slowly easing off the surface, the morning sunlight bright and blinding in the reflection, that I was able to pause internally for a second and observe - hey, you're back at it. Back in a big game. Having fun doing what you love. Fit enough for it. And so I gave thanks to whatever it is I feel compelled to articulate the words "thank you" to, for the opportunity to be running here with these thousands of other people and have a second like that all to myself, to see the sun low and rising like that, the color and spectacle and fanfare of it all. I think awesome is a word overused from its intended meaning (including most often by yours truly), but here it was just the right word.

Into mile 16 now, and I reviewed and adapted my original strategy. I'd wanted to treat miles 15-18 as kind of a final warm-up 5k, and then 18-21 as something more swift before a hillier climb to about mile 23.5. But I was still ticking comfortably along at around 8:20/mile or so, so I decided just to hold that pace to mile 18.

But by mile 17, I peeked into the hurt box.

And by mile 18 I'd thrown open the lid, jumped in, and slammed the door.

Two things kind of converged on me at the same time. The first is, I dramatically underestimated how hilly the course got at about mile 17-18. It starts what is really a slow, steady incline that, except when interrupted by an occasionally steeper section, doesn't really end until close to mile 24. My ability to deal with this incline was diminished by the second thing, which is that despite my planning and strategy and methodical efforts during the morning I was getting really dehydrated. So suddenly - and it was pretty sudden - my legs were just shredded. Of course I went out fast, and of course I was paying for some of that effort now, but that was to be expected. When you tank so quickly like that, though, it's a sure sign that either hydration or nutrition is off the mark.

This was the kind of dehydration that sneaks up on you though. It wasn't a hot day - the sun was bright and warm, but it was still just upper 40's, maybe a nice cool 50 degrees. My sweat rate wasn't high, and my heart rate was low. I was drinking about every 3 miles, consistent with my training. But it wasn't enough - and as I said to my friends after the race, it's like letting your car engine go without oil. Without water the muscles and tissue don't have enough of the right lubrication, and things start to freeze up. My legs started feeling in a constant state of just-about-to-cramp. By around mile 20/21, they felt totally alien - like I was having to forcefully use my hips in order to pull my legs along with me. I could actually feel my hamstring muscles jostle and bounce - at one time I reached back there to make sure something wasn't sticking to me, or that my race number wasn't somehow caught up in my shorts, or something to explain what a weird sensation I was having in my legs. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced before.

I didn't really know I was dehydrated, though - and that's usually how it is, isn't it. By the time you're thirsty, it's a little too late. Only after the race, sitting with my friends, was I shocked to see how white and chalky with salt my shirt was, to feel it on my face. Not enough water in my perspiration. I should've seen all the signs, of course, but it goes to show - I remain a lowly, consistently humbled student of this game. About the time you think you have some things figured out, some basic lessons come back to punch you in the face.

By mile 23 I was doing a combination death shuffle into power walk into light trot. With about 10k to go I'd done some math, and figured if I could just go with 9 minute miles I'd reach my goal of 3:50. With 5 miles to go the 3:45 pace group raced me by again. With 4 miles to go I was trying to work out how to break 4 hours. With 3 miles to go the math told me that goal was now also out of reach.

There's something in that moment that's pretty deeply disappointing, in the later miles of a race when you realize that what would be, on any normal day, a very pedestrian effort of, say, 10 minute miles is out of your grasp. When you know that what you have in front of you now isn't the specter of the extraordinary you'd hoped for, but now just a finish. And I don't mean to say that "just a finish" is any kind of meaningless goal - because it isn't, it isn't ever. But at this point I don't race "just to finish". I assume I'll finish, not because I'm over-confident, but because I'm a destination-driven person and part of that means setting goals ahead of just where the finish line lives. At this point I have other visions of grandeur in mind. And this one had slipped away.

The last half mile or so of the marathon is downhill, and awesome. My legs were screaming. I moved as fast as I was able. But I finished with a smile on my face - a real smile, a genuine smile, in 4:07:xx. It wasn't 3:50 - it wasn't even close. It wasn't under 4 hours - the benchmark that continues to elude me - and it wasn't even my fastest marathon ever of 4:02:xx. But I gave as good as I got this beautiful fall day, and that's the best I had in me. No regrets, and in teh grand scheme of life, nothing to be too disappointed in.

Bits & Pieces:
  • This just in: 26.2 miles is a long damn way.
  • If I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule halfway, and I finished almost 20 minutes behind schedule at the end, well then holy shit about the last half of that marathon, my friends. I hope the wheels didn't hit anybody when they came off!
  • Or in other words, sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear calls you a name, you incredulously ask, "what did you say?", and the bear says, "you heard me," before adding under its breath, "bitch", and then when you stand up to take it outside it swiftly ninja kicks you upside the head until you fall flat on your back, then kicks you in the nuts, spits on you when you're doubled over in agony, and kicks you once more in the ass just to embarrass you before it says, "what now, huh? what now?" and when all you can do is groan back a meaningless reply it says, "yeah, that's what I thought" before bending down to steal your wallet.
  • This is only my 3rd stand alone marathon, and only my 2nd one where I had any notions to do anything but finish (my first, in 2005, was well over 5 hours). If you count Ironman, it's my 5th marathon, but the standalone is such a different animal from an Ironman marathon that it doesn't even feel like the same race. In Ironman, you're really just trying to slow down least. The adrenaline factors have mostly worn off, and you're also in a much more solitary space - the thousands of other races have all long ago found their own space. In a stand alone, for the first 10 miles at least you're shoulder to shoulder. It's buzzing and bouncing and hectic. You're trying to go fast - so your expectations of yourself and your body are really completely different. But like Ironman, the opportunities to really get it right are kind of few and far between. You can't do a marathon every weekend (well, crazy people can, but I can't), so just as it took me a few years to really understand how I can race my best Olympic distance or Half Iron, for instance (not that I'm done learning, there, not by a long shot), it'll take me a few years for this distance too, I think. The difference is, I can do 5 or 6 Oly races in a summer if I want and really study the distance from every angle. With life and other race goals, and the physical tax the marathon takes, it's a long long time between opportunities with the marathon.
  • I am disappointed that I couldn't go faster, because I thought I would. I expected it. It was all but forgone in my mind that I'd at least break 4 hours. I felt ready for it, physically able. And, maybe I was. Or maybe I wasn't - I finished with slightly faster than a 9:30/mile pace, which is pretty consistent with what I was running my long runs in training. But I suspect had I managed my hydration better, it would have been a different day. I don't know if I could've held on for 3:50, but - well, who knows.
  • But when I say "disappointment", it requires some perspective. I'm long, long past having much of an ego in this game. I had one race, an Olympic distance race in 2005, I think, where I was bent out of shape about my performance after the race, and it was a particularly douchey way to behave. So it's not that I don't care - I do, I really really do (good Lord look how much I write about this stuff, isn't it obvious?), and I really want to achieve these goals that I believe are realistic, and that I work so hard towards, and I really do get disappointed when I can't or don't meet them, and that disappointment usually festers into something more productive over time - but, well, come on. Have you seen my wife? She's friggin' gorgeous. My daughter is - truly - the most amazing person I know, and at night time she wraps her hand around mine and we sing Sweet Baby James together. I have a very cool business. I have great friends who I laugh with and love. I have seen true despair before and friends, race results ain't it. I do this stuff because I love it. I love everything about it, including the notion of having to bust ass to attain these goals - and that sometimes, maybe just as often as not - I'll need a few shots at it. I love that it's me versus me everytime out, and everytime out I can learn something to apply to the next time. So "disappointed" is in perspective. Suffice to say I mean it when I say it was an amazing day and I had a great time and as much as my legs still feel like I got hit by a truck, I kind of wish I could go do it again this afternoon.
  • And suffice to say I will be back, chasing that elusive 4 hours, maybe 3:50.
  • Speaking of my legs, holy crap. I've never felt this awful after a race before, not ever, even Ironman. I could hardly move Sunday night. My hip flexors on both legs are just out of control. My quads and calves are killing me. Going up stairs hurts hard. I always know if it's been a nutrition or hydration thing, including workouts on my bike, if I'm just wiped out to uselessness after the race/workout. I was useless Sunday night, that's for sure.
  • I'm missing something, and I'm not sure what it is, and I hope to find some answers this offseason. My Ironman marathon got tough because I was having GI issues from hell, and I fell apart in this race because of dehydration. That's two races where I just couldn't hang in there when it got tough. It's pretty easy to run the first 16 miles of a marathon - the last 10 miles is your proof, and this race proved that I have more to prove. Whether it's better endurance, strength, more attention to basics like nutrition and hydration - I need to review everything. Pick it up, hold it in the light, see where it fits in with everything else. At this point I don't feel like it's physical weakness or inability that's holding me back.
  • I want to shout out to my friend Steve in a Speedo, who ran the 10 mile race in under 60 minutes - his holy grail this season. Also shouting out to my Pharmie, who raced the marathon, and Kritta, who raced in Milwaukee, and my friend Sara who did the 10 mile this weekend as well.
  • Seemed to be some tracking issues - a lot of people weren't receiving all or any of the text updates they should have been. The official results page also seems to be listing my chip time wrong, in the 4:11:xx area, when that's the gun time. So if you check official results, I promise I'm not manufacturing 4 extra minutes to make myself seem so much more awesome.
  • Special thanks to Mike and Susan and Todd for coming out and hauling me around for 26 miles, and to Pete for cheering me on as well. I love you guys. To everybody who was tracking me via text, or online, or who shouted out during the race (RVS - great to see you!), or offered support at twitter or facebook or email, thank you so much for your support. I can't even articulate how much it continues to mean to me.
  • I have a whole other post on spectating that I'm going to write.
  • So, what's next: Not totally sure. I'm going to rest up this week, and then just do cool stuff for the next few weeks. Ride my bike as long as the weather lets me, that kind of thing. Planning on a hard 5k on Thanksgiving morning, and spending my winter busting ass to get faster. By next spring I hope to have the fitness to make plans that include a spring half marathon, some Olympic distance triathlons next summer, and the big bright beacon on the horizon, a Half Iron in July - and you can bet I'll be ambitious with all of those. But for now, rest is the order of the day. Let my legs heal up so I can get back out there and start it all up again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tracking me on race day...

If you're interested in tracking me Sunday during the marathon, you can sign up here to get text messages on my progress:

Race Week: Twin Cities Marathon

Funny how rearranged my goals have become. For 95% of this training season the goal was to go under 4 hours - something I've never done (4:02:xx in 2008) but have felt capable of. In the last 2 weeks my goal has shifted to 3:50 - and my confidence is sky high, provided I can stay out of anything unexpected for the rest of this week. So, let's get to details, much of it mostly for my benefit (and with the warning that these are a lot of mundane details, but such is race day preparation...):

Starting today (Tuesday) I'll start to tilt my diet for the rest of the week towards slightly more carb intensive. Nothing crazy - not pasta every night, just a bit of an increase.

Friday night will be a large carbohydrate meal - planning pizza, which is a usual pre-race meal. Saturday night - the night before the race - I'll have a sensible pasta dinner at around 5:00pm. At around 7:00 or so I'll snack on a banana, maybe a PB&J. Hydrating well, as usual, throughout the week.

Race day nutrition - about 2 hours before the gun I'll my usual 2 packets of oat meal and a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter with some Gatorade. I'll sip Gatorade the rest of the morning.

Race nutrition - Nothing but water for the first 6 miles or so. At around mile 6 I'll have a gel and some Powerade (the on-course drink). From there out I'll have a Powerade about every 3 miles, and another gel at about every hour. I use the Powerbar gels - the first gel will have no caffeine, the second will be their "1x" amount of caffeine, and from there to the end I'll have "2x" caffeine gels. If all goes as planned, I'll likely take in my last gel at about the 3:20 mark of my race. Water as needed. Plan subject to change like everything else in the course of 26.2 miles.

I learned a long time ago to pretty much prepare for anything come race day, so (here's a helpful tip!) I've been packing my bag bit by bit since Sunday (a week before the race), so that if I think of something ("oh yeah, some thin gloves", for instance) I either go pack it right then when I think of it, or I add it to my to-do list so I make sure not to forget. So, I have contingencies in place for rain or cold, but as of right now the weather forecast looks just about perfect, with sunshine and a high of mid-upper 50's.

The essentials include:

Sugoi Fuel Tri Tank

This is the fancy Brand Champions exclusive kit, which as I really love Sugoi stuff and they happen to give me awesome discounts on stuff in calling me a "brand champion", I'm happy to share the love. This is a version of the same tank I've worn at Ironman Wisconsin 2006 and 2009, so it's tried and true. I like the fit, it's comfortable, provides some compression, and has some small but useful pockets (as opposed to too-big so stuff bounces around) for my gels. An all around awesome piece of kit.

Sugoi Piston 200 short

Two things I've learned about racing kit preferences through all my traithlon-specific gear: I love compression, and I don't care for floppy fabrics. The latter of which makes little sense because I train in the usual running shorts that we all do, but there you go. These shorts offer some compression through the quads and hamstrings, and I've found (mental or no) that for long distances the compression really helps with muscle fatigue. Plus, the more spandex the better, I always say. It's flattering, practical, and attractive on anyone, particularly me.

CEP Compression Calf Sleeves

See above about compression. And spandex.

Nike Elite Running Socks

"Really?" You say, "Are we really now covering which friggin' socks you're going to wear?" Aha, but these are no ordinary socks, for they are magic socks. Actually mine are slightly different than what's pictured, and they're black, but they're awesome. See all those colors and swoops and stuff - they're all different thicknesses of material, or different elasticities, or different sewing angles, or something - but they're thin enough where they don't add bulk under my shoes, and they offer some really nice arch support/compression and blister protection. Which isn't to say I might not get a blister, but I really came to love these socks in training. They're awesome.

Saucony Kinvara racing flats

After experiencing one too many foot issues with my otherwise beloved Newtons, I decided it was time for a new racing flat and spent some time earlier this summer on the hunt. I tried several - and these are my new favorite shoe ever. They're light and responsive, the soles are cushiony without feeling sloggy, and they provide a little bit of spring and feedback. Love 'em. The toebox is just a shade narrow, so I may deal with a pinky toe blister late in the game - hopefully the fancy socks do their part.

Halo Visor

For a long time I wore Headsweats visors, but I guess I sweat a lot when I run and I kept finding myself having to take off my hat to wipe down my forehead. These Halo visors are interesting - they have a groove of neoprene along the headband that channels sweat away from your forehead and off of your temples, which is kind of a weird sensation, but it's easier to wipe down your temples, I guess, than your forehead. It's also made kind of interestingly - the headband part of the hat is really entirely detached from the visor part (kind of hard to describe), so it kind of looks a little odd on the head. Anyway, it's good stuff if you've been finding yourself too sweaty when you run.

One other thing I'll add, because it looks likely:

Sugoi Piston 140 L/S Compression Top

If the temperature looks to be in the lower 50's or slightly cooler for the race, I'll likely wear this under my tri-top. It's another great piece of compression kit, but it's not insulated or anything (don't think Under Armour Cold Weather gear, for instance) - it's really just enough protection to stay comfortable, but not necessarily warm. I wore it for a 10k race last weekend in conditions that look to be almost identical to the race day forecast and it worked great.

So to recap: I'll be the guy in spandex.

Well that was fun, but here's the stuff that really matters.

The Twin Cities marathon route is largely flat, even slightly downhill, except for a couple of hilly bookends. There's a bit of a climb from about mile 2 to 2.5, and a steady, sometimes pain-in-the-ass climb from about mile 21.5 - 23.5. The early climb I'm not worried about and will take care of itself. The later climb will hopefully be something I can strategerize around.

I'm going to line up with the 3:50 pace group, and aim to hold an 8:45/mi average. I'm not going to shackle myself to that group, or even that pace - particularly on descents, while I'm not going to go balls to the walls sprinting down or anything, I do like to just let gravity do the work there. Likewise if I feel like it's most sensible to back off, I'll let that group go. But ideally, somewhere in the later half of the marathon the 3:50 group will be either right with me, or slightly behind me.

I'm breaking the race into sections with its own strategy. The first half I'm not worried about - stay comfortable and easy. In fact, up to mile 15 it's just about settling in and running my race. From miles 15-18 I think I'll have a bit of a headgame - I want to remember this is just an easy 5k. At mile 18, I want three things to happen. First, to have stayed positive and comfortable so that I can think - I have 8 miles to go, that's just an average weekend run, no big deal. Second, to think again that I have a 5k to mile 21, and that's no big deal, and third - to try and push the pace just a bit if I can for that 5k. I'd like to arrive at mile 21, in advance of the last hilly section, with just a bit of cushion, or at least momentum.

The hills through mile 23 will take care of themselves. I'll keep the "crest", at around mile 23.5, as my beacon. Once I reach that, it's all downhill to the finish. Once I reach that crest, it's pedal down to the finish line - whatever I have left. The goal is 3:50. The secondary goal is anything under 4 hours.

So really, the race is broken up into manageable, thoughtful sections - the first 15 are really just comfortable, even considered a warm up. 15-18 are strictly mental - "it's just a 5k". 18-21 is more intentional - pushing the pace a bit for 5k - there is no spoon. 21 - 23.5 are about getting up the hill comfortable and in charge of myself. 23.5 to the finish is whatever I have left.

I think the only way I'd be disappointed with myself or my effort is if I execute poorly. If I blow the things I'm in charge of. The unknowns about going 26.2 - well those will show up, that'll happen, and I'll deal with it. If it means a sacrifice or rearrangement of my goals and priorities while on the fly, that's fine. If everything goes according to plan and I just physically can't hang, or blow up at some point, well that's fine too as long as it's not because of something stupid like missed nutrition or something else in my control - if I go down in flames, it'll be only because I lit the fire. I'm setting an aggressive but realistic goal for myself. If the day proves me wrong - that's racing. But I feel strong. Excited. Ready to roll. Just looking forward to the energy of race day more than anything else, I think. Another opportunity to be out there, to appreciate the fitness just to do this sort of thing, to enjoy a fall day doing something I love. It's not rocket science after all, any of it.

So, that's it. To do my best and choose extraordinary. Updates to come as race day approaches. See you at the gun.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

There is (still) no spoon.

Start with this YouTube clip: There is no spoon. (Sadly, embedding isn't available on this clip, so you'll have to just go watch it.)

If you've been here for some time, you'll know that I've referenced this before. A lot. Do a search up there for "There is no spoon" on the blog and you'll get all the entries. It's not a useless exercise - go ahead if you feel like it, I'll wait.

In short the idea is that our notions of ourselves, of our abilities - and not perhaps our actual abilities - are what define what we're capable of. We are - however great or small - what we think we are. Or rather, we will be however great or small we think we'll be. True enough in life, no question, but tangible within the confines of the game, for sure.

Inside Triathlon magazine had a great article in its July/August issue by Matt Fitzgerald called You Are A Quitter that speaks to this. It discusses research and science that reinforces the idea that it's our brains that determine when we've had enough - not our bodies. That when you reach that point in a run or a race when you feel like you absolutely cannot go another step - and so that's when you choose to walk, or your pace falters, or whatever - that's simply our brains determining that the suffering has reached a limit, and so now to stop the suffering, it'll tell the body to stop the activity. But physically, we're just as capable to keep going. This means - no surprise - it's all up top. It's in your head. If we believe we've had enough - then we will fulfill that belief.

Interesting concepts for interesting discussion. My friend Steve discussed this very thing lately at his blog.

Those of you who've been here for awhile also might know of my elusive Chasing Sevens. That is a 5-year-old battle to race a 5k (3.1 miles) with a pace of 7:00/mi or faster. I've done it twice in training - the fastest was in 2008 - but I don't count Personal Records in training, so it's always eluded me in a race. In fact, at one point I had seemed to make it mentally impossible. I knew when I hit about 2.25 miles into it that I'd hit a wall, my effort would collapse, and that would be it. I also knew this was mental, that I was predisposing myself to a predictable outcome - but seemed somehow helpless to do anything about it.

Last weekend I raced a small local 5k race. The route was right in my neighborhood - in fact it literally went right in front of my driveway (which made for convenient spectating from Amy and Dakota!), and was pretty much on all my usual training grounds. Which - that's pretty cool. But the course is really hilly. A few hills that are slow inclines, but one that is just down the street that's where I do my hill work - a serious hill, 6% or 8% grade or something. I wanted to use the race as my last hard speedwork workout before next weekend's marathon, but I didn't assume a PR was in reach simply because of how difficult the course was.

I was wrong. For whatever reason - because I wasn't expecting it, because I wasn't purposely chasing the particular goal, because what comes up must go down and I'm pretty good at descending - I obliterated the elusive 7:00/mi barrier that had plagued me for so long. I finished with a 6:53/mi average, but with consistent, slightly negative splits. The only time I felt my head get into it was with about .25 miles to go, when I turned a corner expecting to see the finish line just ahead but instead it was up one last unwelcome hill. I audibly dropped the f-bomb, then put my head down and pumped my arms and got to the top. Otherwise, I felt great, ran fast, and set a new standard for myself.

That single turn of mental events on a micro scale has quickly influenced a more macro one. I had, to that point, developed a whole list of reasons why my performance at next weekend's marathon wouldn't be terribly remarkable. And some of the reasons seem valid - I only got into serious training at the end of July, giving me about 10 serious weeks of training. I'm about 5 pounds off from honest race weight - so I figured I'm a bit too heavy or my best effort. But there's a flip side to each of those points - having only 10 weeks, my workouts have all been intentional and purposeful. I've not had any junk miles or workouts - and so I've avoided putting on too many miles, which has (knock on wood) kept me healthier than I've been in a long time. I may be 5 pounds from ideal race weight - but I'm about 10 pounds lighter than I was midsummer. If these points are equalizers, then, the x-factor could be the notion with which I began the training with 10 weeks ago: that I would train only for the race to be fun. That I wouldn't expect very much beyond that. That I was seeking only basic fitness to enjoy the race. Nothing wrong with those goals, certainly - and the part about having fun and enjoying the race are absolutely true.

But the numbers - and I'm a numbers guy - say that, objectively, I should expect more of myself. Daniels Running formula and McMillan's Running Calculator both say, even if I'm being conservative, that a sub 4 hour marathon should be within my ability. I don't make race goals or predictions based on emotional wishes - my "goals" at a race are really just expectations based on what I think the training realistically indicates. And I think the training is there, too. I surprised myself at the 5k - but largely because my head wasn't part of my pre-game process. I just wanted to run fast, and in knowing I needed to account for the hilly course, I was sure to start at around a 7:00/mi pace, instead of going faster like I tend to do (and then inevitably fall off in later miles). At times in the 5k I was comfortable at 7:11 or 7:18/mi pace, and I'd give myself just a little push in those times into slight discomfort. But never was I clutching to the pace - it just came, because my training was prepared for it.

So, to the marathon. I've decided I'm lighting it up. And if I go down in flames for it, well that's okay - at least I'll have lit the fire. I'm lining up with the 3:50 pacers. No excuses, no bullshit, no sandbagging, no mindgames. I feel confident that I can do it, I really do - even with the unknowns. Because if it's all mental - well hell, I've certainly had worse haunting my head than putting one foot in front of the other, no? Game on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Training for a marathon is so dramatically different than training for anything Ironman. And I was thinking about this on my long run last week - about why that was; not just physically or physiologically, but strategically, personally, emotionally even. And I was struck by two ideas, both totally obvious but somehow surprising for me to find.

The first came as I considered yet again how and why the wheels fell off for me in the marathon at Ironman last year (2009). When I had, I thought, trained with realistic, predictable metrics for realistic, predictable results. I actually laughed out loud a little at my own thick headedness when I realized the fatal flow in my marathon training logic for Ironman. Of course a stand-alone marathon is a completely different animal than an Ironman marathon. The two have mileage in common, and that's it. What I somehow overlooked, though, was articulating that obvious definition.

In a stand-alone, you race 26.2. In Ironman, you endure it.

And that's the critical difference, which looks so easy to understand, but took me all this time to actually understand and integrate into a useful thought process. Right now, I'm training to race a marathon in less than a month. I don't think it'll be a PR performance out there this time around or anything, but I'm racing it nonetheless. I have a plan right now that involves starting out with a certain pace, and increasing that pace at 4 mile intervals. Last week my 18-mile long run averaged a pace that would see me finish the marathon in around 4:09 (my personal best stand-alone is 4:03:xx). Which is all well and good.

I approached my marathon training in similar fashion for Ironman last year - I started with a really conservative pace, thinking to account for the many hours and miles that had come before the marathon. I had devised nutrition strategies based on the influence of the swim and bike efforts and nutrition. But still, I trained like I was racing the Ironman marathon. That I'd move to a new pace after getting my legs under me.

But there's no way - none - to emulate an Ironman experience in training, so that was all just folly at best, a waste of time at worst. I was thinking last week that what I should've done is gone for a 10 mile run on 3 hours of sleep. Or tried to hit a fast 6 miler immediately after a huge dinner. Or gone for a run with a huge head cold. This is hyperbole, of course, to make the point: I should've trained my body better to perform under duress. To excel, or at least maintain, when uncomfortable. To turn off its usual logic and discover a new one. This is an approach I'll refine better when I do Ironman again - whenever that is, however many years down the road. Coach Rich Strauss of Endurance Nation says Ironman isn't about who goes the fastest, it's about who slows down the least. I'm some 7 years into this game now, a year into still trying to decipher my last Ironman race so I can learn from it, and I'm still trying to understand just what that means - to slow down least.

But, I digress - it's not an Ironman year, so let's get back to this marathon coming up.

I enjoy training to race a marathon. When it can just be about that singular experience, without all the attachments that come with the larger scope of Becoming Ironman. I've enjoyed it especially this year, as I get back into shape just as fall begins, which is totally backwards from my usual M.O. I've enjoyed seeing progress and accomplishment where I didn't expect to. It's too early yet to know what reasonable expectations I might have from this marathon - right now I think a 4:15-4:20 finishing time is realistic, but I'd love to push for a 4:10 if I can. If I can stay healthy and have a solid taper...well, like I said, still too early to say for sure.

I'm really looking forward to race weekend - the energy, the atmosphere. I'm looking forward to the race - the 3rd? 4th? time I've done the Twin Cities marathon, a beautiful course. I have some ideas for racing to take me through at least Thanksgiving, and hopefully this experience leaves me healthy and hungry for the "offseason" as I try and develop a new level of fitness for myself for next summer (at least a 70.3 in the works). All good things.

A few things to look forward to in the blog, I think - a more technical analysis after my next long run, and a few products I've been using that I think would be useful to pass along. Feel free to follow me at www.twitter.com/xt4 if you feel like knowing the daily training regiment and top-of-mind thoughts as they happen.

Finally, it's Ironman week this week here in Madison - which is a week pretty supercharged with excitement and emotion for me and any Ironman endurance athletes - particularly, of course, those racing this week. Sending my best to everybody who'll tread water with the rest of the heroes come Sunday. Get your heads and hearts right. I'll be cheering you on.

Friday, August 27, 2010

After Ironman

Going into Ironman last September, I had big plans for the rest of the fall. In October I'd registered for a North Face trail run (13.1), and in November I was going to be serious about trying to race a fast 5k. I'd wanted to just stay active and fit throughout the winter, but I wasn't making any real plans for 2010 yet - I didn't want to commit myself to anything like a Half Iron after having summer 2009 really revolve around triathlon. So the plan was to stay fit, and with that fitness, be able to decide whenever I wanted to if I wanted to ramp up for this or that race.

But a few things happened. I mentioned life a little bit in my earlier post - one thing is that work got really busy. And as a partner in my company, my work is more than just my job - it's a big part of my life, of my imagination. And things started to take off a little bit, and I was happy and willing to devote more of my energies to that, even at the expense of training. I also started working on a few other important projects that I'd kept dormant for too long (here's one). My wife is writing a book (it's an academic book about teaching - very cool, totally over my head, to be published sometime in 2011 I guess. There is nary a murderer, ghost, or vampire to be found within its pages...), and so her writing time were essentially her long rides- it was my turn to head to the library with D, or go upstairs and play, or head to the park. And especially after missing out on some of that throughout Ironman training, I was all too happy to spend my time that way.

I had - to be expected - some pretty serious burnout after Ironman. I expected that, and allowed it of myself. I'm still learning how to be more moderate with my big goals. I'm a goal-oriented person, so I love to have something on the horizon - Ironman or a Half Iron or whatever that's months or even years down the road - and make it my total focal point for training. Inevitably, then, when I've reached the goal and its behind me, I'll find myself both floundering a bit for purpose, and needing recovery not just from the obvious physical toll taken, but the sudden absence of this thing in my head around which I've spent so much time and energy.

But what I didn't expect - and what might have contributed more than anything to a necessary break from the game - was how deeply I felt disappointed with my Ironman marathon.

If you want the full story I'll let you go back and read the race report, but the very short version is that I had a great swim and bike - perfectly to plan - but I fell apart in the marathon not because of heat or spent effort too early or stupid mistakes but just because I couldn't keep anything down. I kind of puked and lurched and hurled my way through those 26.2. I think the reason was green algae in the lake during the swim, but I'm still not comfortable with that - I still want to be able to hold myself accountable.

But you know what - that's racing. Shit happens, you deal with it. I'm not the kind of triathlete who lacks perspective with these things. I'm way past an era of maturity with the game where a DNF seems like the end of the world - it doesn't to me. I don't think Ironman finishing times are terribly important except/unless if they're important to the individual racing. So my disappointment with the run isn't really tied to anything like that - it's not really about a performance thing.

It's that the the situation made me more emotional than I wanted to be, and I feel like that made things a little harder on my amazing friends and family who came from so far to cheer me on. It's that I have so much of my heart dedicated to the Ironman race, and get to do it so rarely, that it wasn't just frustrating, but was actually sad, to know that I left something out there on the course (I simply couldn't run as fast as I wanted to, and was capable of, because I was gagging my guts out). It's like the olympic athlete who gets off the plane after waiting and training for 4 years and then stubs their toe getting into the hotel room and so suddenly can't race. (I'm apparently the olympic athlete in this analogy - brilliant!) What do you do with all that energy? All that fitness? All the goals and ideas and strategies you spent so much time carefully devising, to the smallest detail? The opportunity was gone, and that was that.

I wasn't feeling sorry for myself or anything, I just found myself in kind of a funk. In the moment - at Ironman - I was very good at dealing with the situation as it was, as it presented itself. But once it was over, it took a long time for me to really understand how I felt about it, and how it made me feel. I wished - again - that I'd just drank too much Gatorade or eaten too much gel or something self inflicted. But I can't logically explain the situation and why it happened, and so it really took something out of me. Combine this with all of the rest of above, and my heart just wasn't in the game for a long time. And the fact that this situation was so unsettling to me showed me how much I still had to learn, how much I still needed to mature, in this part of the game, in this part of my life. My nature is to want to get out there and start doing something with those lessons - hit the road again and start turning them over and seeing them from every angle and devising a way to make them a strength.

I ended up skipping that October trail race - family time was more important. I skipped that November 5k. Winter came and I spent a weekend getting my bike all set up on the trainer - and then never touched it after that. All these thoughts - which I've so neatly laid out in the paragraphs above - still really had no form or value to them, they just kind of hung around and made me confused. March came around and it should have been time to start itching to get out there - but I wasn't, really. I tried the familiar persona on - I got out for some rides, I'd get a few miles running in here or there - but it wasn't for purpose like I enjoy it to be. Work got crazy in April - like, 18 hour days crazy, and it stayed that way into June. Sometime in April I registered for the Twin Cities marathon, and I had these awesome notions that if I did x, y, and z, I could try and race it fast. But devising notions was about as far as that got - I charted a 20 week plan, which suddenly was a 16 week plan, which suddenly was me counting backwards and reorganizing my goals for, "okay, if I start next week, that gives me 12 solid weeks..." but still my heart wasn't into it. I wasn't training with any consistency at all. I was lucky if I got out there to huff about for 3 miles once every couple of weeks.

Now in case all of this sound depressing - it wasn't. I've spent my summer doing almost entirely what I wanted to do with my summer. Lazy days at the lake with Amy and D and my family. Saturday morning dozing in bed. An occasional nap on Sunday afternoons. Eating for the enjoyment of food instead of its strict nutritional value. When we took a family road trip I didn't bring my bike, didn't obsess about my running gear - Jack and I took long walks on gravel roads. Amy's Dad and I took a casual jog for 4 miles. I've taken more walks - just turn on the iPod and go for a walk, not always with the dogs, and not monitor my vital signs and distance and pace - just look around and enjoy the summer shadows on the yards in my neighborhoods. Take work off early on a Friday not to get in 30 miles on the machine, but to head to the pool with Dakota (who, incidentally, is honest-to-god an emerging swimmer, and runner.) This is the other stuff life is made of, the real stuff, and I made the very most of it. I've loved every single second of it. The break from the game has done me good. Its been instrumental in teaching me more about how to temperate and moderate my natural obsessiveness with the game - which is something I enjoy about it - with other passions. I don't want to enjoy these things only in off years. I don't want the game to the mortar between the bricks in the rest of my life, and I don't want the rest of my life to be the mortar holding my passion for the game together. To this point they've kind of been two separate entities in my life. I want to learn to merge them.

Sometime in late July I'd pretty much given up on the idea of running the Twin Cities marathon. But I was out on a walk one lovely evening with the dogs, and for whatever reason - I can't think of what on earth it was - the switch flipped. I though - okay, I have about 10 weeks to the marathon. What can I do with that? I devised a rough workout plan. My goals were totally unambitious - if I could train so that an 18 miler was fun, then I could have fun in a marathon. I'm not interested in a sufferfest, and I don't care how fast I go in this marathon - I wasn't going to try and cram training in to the point of injury or anything dumb like that. I had a little bit of base fitness, but otherwise it was really starting at zero.

That weekend I headed out for my first long run, which would be the barometer for where I'd go next with this idea. I just wanted to run easy for as far as I could - until my legs couldn't take it, or it wasn't fun. I managed 7 miles, and it was slow, and I walked a bit, but it was mostly comfortable. From that I devised a plan to get me to 18 miles. It involved adding a mile/week for the long run, having another run of half the long run distance at "race pace" (which, really, I didn't know what that was, but :30 or 1:00 faster than my long run pace), and then a third run in the week, half the distance again of that second run, which would be speed or interval work. So with that 7 miler as my long run, I also ran 3.5 miles that week at race pace, and then 1.25 miles of speed work. Start small, and work up incrementally.

In the last week or 10 days I've started to see some return on the early work. Things are getting easier. I ran 3 miles at around 7:35/mile the other day, which was faster than I expected (though I faded in the last mile). My long run is up to 12 miles, and tomorrow I'll be running 14 miles as a bit of a "race rehearsal" to see what kind of pacing I can achieve and work from. I'm on my bike at least twice/week as well, and loving it. I'm back to reading slowtwitch with frequency, back to checking in on twitter. I even raced - on a total whim - an aquathon last week. It was the last aquathon of the year, and when I realized it that morning I thought - life is short, and this is what summertime is for. I had not swam since Ironman - not one stroke. Last year, in peak fitness, the aquathon was really just a strictly fun way to get in some unexpected speed and race work. It was never too hard. Showing up on a whim last week was definitely hard. Everything was a little excruciating, a lot slow. I told Amy when I got home that I'll never take for granted when I'm fit and these things are fast and easy. Because there was nothing fast, and nothing easy, about it. But, I had a blast.

I'm still hauling 10-15 extra offseason pounds around, which is making things a lot more difficult, and as I said, I'll not be turning in any kind of PR at this marathon, and that's not the point. I really, really miss race day - so I'm just excited for the atmosphere of being back in a big race like this marathon. But I'm also hoping that this is the fitness build I'm looking for to head into an active - and not my usual hibernating - winter. I'd like to tackle that 13.1 mile trail run this fall, and that fast 5k in November. I think I'm going to look at some running showshoes for this winter, and see if I can find ways to have fun and stay active when the snow falls. I'm making plans to do a computrainer group ride on Saturday mornings, and a fun basketball league on Thursday nights this winter. I'd like to arrive to next spring fit and healthy and ready to take the summer seriously - already planning on a hard and fast 70.3 next summer.

So - you're up to speed. I remain, as ever, a student of this game. For every lesson it teaches me, I learn as much or more about myself. At some point you'd think there'd be some diminishing returns on that - you reach a point in life where, hopefully, you kind of have your shit together. And mostly, I do. Everything in triathlon used to be like a shock of cold water, all this decompressing and catharsis and eye-opening, its lessons would be for me. I feel like a much more seasoned student now - not too surprised by much, not needing those lessons as much, as often, or in the same way as I did 5, 6, 7 yeas ago - but a student nonetheless. If ever I make goals to be faster, or stronger, or go farther for longer, or be better...those are always, I think, secondary to my real purpose in this game, which is - what can I learn from it today? And how can those lessons in turn make me a smarter, more peaceful, more open person, father, husband, friend, human being?

May it be always so.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Revolution #9

Hello there.

First off, let's talk about this blog.

When I started this blog in January of 2006, it was to chronicle what ultimately became nothing less than a personal Visionquest, through my experiences in training and racing for Ironman. If you go back to that time, you'll see a ton of minutiae in my just learning how the hell to be an endurance athlete (something I remain a bumbling student of). But then the perspective shifts a bit, and the blog gets into all this weird mumbo jumbo about learning to be a human being (ditto), through which - at that time - the lens of Ironman training was the filter.

Then began the chronicle for Ironman Again. But, naturally, there was less to say. Because as I figure out how to manage a 13 mile run or whatever, that process stops being so mysterious. And I've never been one to speak for the purpose of hearing myself. Then came the advent of twitter, or facebook, and so many of us who, nearly 5 years ago, commenced our relationships mostly in the blogosphere now had new, more efficient (and more personal?) ways to connect.

And I had a daughter. And my business is growing. In short my lifestyle changed, and doesn't allow the kind of mental energy (and capricious time!) to write to the blog like I once did. So - the purpose of this blog's function stopped being a high priority. And, my training shifted; I enjoy still, most of all, self-coaching. Figuring out how the hell to get this thing done. But articulating those many lessons became less interesting to me. 3 months ago I wrote a few quick blurbs about my experiment with a juice fast - but got so busy so quickly that even finishing the story (I cut the fast several days short, it kind of sucked, and I think "fasting" is for people who are not endurance athletes, don't already eat well, or are generally in need of whatever spiritual kickstart such things seem to culturally signify. I feel pretty good on all counts) proved too much. How lame is that?

I wish I could be like my man Steve in a Speedo, and be all prolific and interesting with these short bursts of hilarity or daily updates on training. But that's not my M.O. And so, inevitably, the blog just kind of flounders around for months at a time until and unless I have something of enough significance to share. Whatever "significance" might mean.

So I've thought about just posting - "Hey, this blog is retired, but feel free to look through it and find whatever's useful." But...I still want to reserve the right to reactivate it. To start talking again about something interesting or meaningful in training. So it's never going to retire, I think. But it'll go through periods of dormancy. Which is not in any way the ideal way for a blog to behave. But there you go.

And so with that - hello again, and I have something to talk about. I am (I think!) racing the Twin Cities marathon on October 3rd. But to tell you about my training, I need to tell you about my long hibernation after Ironman 2009. So, stay tuned. PS - Hi Alili.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Juice Fast: Day 1

So yesterday I started this 5 day juice fast (read the entry before this one if you need to catch up). I declared it a 5-day fast in the morning, when I was well nourished and clear headed. By the afternoon I wanted to punch somebody in the face and I thought I'd be lucky to make it 3 days. Then I thought I'd be lucky to make it just through the afternoon.

The juice itself is pretty good. I described it yesterday as "clean". I'll clarify that and call it "earthy". If you've ever stood in the middle of a vegetable garden, it tastes like that. Which, if that sounds gross, it's not - it's a good thing. But nothing is really sweet - even the fruit juices. There's just kind of...more earthy, and a little less earthy. I've been storing my produce at room temperature, too, and I think if they were colder it might make a difference.

Anyway, the juice. I've had all kinds of concoctions to this point: A tomato, some carrots, a potato and some broccoli was for lunch yesterday. An orange, some carrots, some spinach. This morning was all fruit. Last night I tossed in a rhubarb stalk - man, are they sour. In the morning and evening I made fruitier stuff, and in the afternoon-dinnertime I made more vegetable stuff.

Nothing tastes bad -which is a surprise. Like, juicing up a potato and some carrots and broccoli, I might expect that to not go down so well, but it's really just fine. Not, like, my beverage of choice or anything, but I expected much worse.

You can also really taste the lack of bullshit like sugars and sweeteners and preservatives sodium and whatever. Which is why maybe things taste good, when I expect them to taste bad. Because my expectations are based on experience, and that experience is limited to manufactured foods. That's kind of a crazy deep rabbit hole if you think about it.

I found myself consistently finishing my juice, and then looking around for a handful for crackers or gorp or something. It was an automatic response - I wasn't necessarily hungry. That was useful, and made me really aware of how conditioned I am to eat for reasons other than nutrition. Which - is okay. When not in the middle of a juice fast, I do well to eat mostly healthy, and mostly for the purpose of training, but I also think life is short, and sometimes a fat cheeseburger and fries are just the thing, and I have no self loathing about that. Still, it's good to mentally engage in that process - am I really hungry? Or just feel like eating? Or is my definition of "hunger" jacked up on an American diet of too much junk? Am I addicted to that junk? Etceteras. However I end up answering those questions, it's useful just to have stopped to ask them.

Anyway, I did break stride, on purpose, at dinnertime. I had planned my potato-juice concoction, but as I was preparing it my daughter said, "It's dinnertime Daddy, come eat with us." At which time my priorities of stringent rules about a juice fast seemed really silly, so I said, "You're right, and I will." Dinner consisted of two pancakes and a ton of fruit. So, still pretty raw, and in fact I think it works better for my lifestyle, and for my family, if I limit the fast to the daytime, when I'm alone, but then have a small, "raw" meal with the family at dinner. So be it.

Last night I felt pretty great, and this morning as well. Amy said I had an odor ("that was pretty bad") coming from me last night - which is a little weird - and in the book the author said you might expect that, as your pores clear out of "toxins". Could be, or maybe I'm just repulsive. If true, though, that's an interesting phenomenon.

I felt okay - just okay - on my 3 mile run yesterday, and this morning I rode 20 miles and felt right on the edge of bonking the last 10 miles. This isn't discouraging to me - I expect it, and consider it part of the fast. On my ride this morning, though, I was really aware of how necessary my big dinner the night before and 2 bowls of oatmeal for breakfast are before a morning ride.

So - that's the update from Day 1. In the middle of Day 2 now, and about to go make my mid-morning juice. I wonder if I can squeeze a cupcake in that thing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Juice! Fast!

I was intrigued by an article in last month's Triathlete magazine about the author going through a juice fast. (Not the swimsuit issue, the one before that. And sidenote, I thought the swimsuit issue was pretty good this year. Not the swimsuits part - I think that's stupid and I've written about it here before - search if you're super curious - but the rest of the mag was useful. The shoe review in particular.)

The idea of the juice fast was to sort of "detoxify" from whatever "toxins" are harboring ill will within one's body. I put everything in "quotes" because some of the popular "detoxify" stuff feels a little new-agey to me, and much as I consider myself a spiritual person, I can't help but open one eye and look around the room when I'm supposed to be meditating on my inner child or whatever. That said, I'm a firm believer that most of what's presented to us for purchase to eat is crap, with little nutritional value, and if you scan the ingredients it seems most food now isn't really food at all but some kind of engineered substitute. But I digress. So the idea of trying something interesting and dramatic, such as a juice fast, has some appeal to me. Particularly right now, when my season is in a place where I don't require carbohydrate stores yet to be on my bike for 3 hours, I think it's a good time to give it a shot.

In the Triathlete magazine, the author used the book Toxic Relief by Dr. Don Colbert. There are myriad resources, books, articles, etc. to try the juice fast, but as the author seemed to have a mostly positive experience, I purchased the same book. Let me talk about the book a little bit:

I bought the book on Kindle for my iPad for less than $5, and I'm glad I didn't shell out $15 or something at Borders. Like a lot of these kinds of books - the kind where the objective is to eat differently - it is mostly crap. The writing is mostly crap - with constant repetition of something dude said three pages ago. The organization of the book is mostly crap - with something in this chapter that really should go in that chapter. It also spends a great deal of time wanting to scare the bajezus out of you. It spends page after page after page talking about how modern pesticides are killing us, and modern agriculture is killing us, and restaurants are killing us, and if we don't all stop what we're doing and drink juice right now we'll likely implode within the hour. I skimmed through huge chunks of this thing before finally just going to the table of contents and trying to zero in on what I wanted - some facts, some advice, some recipes.

It's useful to note that the book is apparently written for people who are in really bad shape, who are drinking soda and smoking cigarettes and eating nachos as the appetizer for every meal, which will then consist of buffalo wings and fried cheese curds. So that's part of the scare tactics, and for that audience I imagine it has its place. The book suggests a 2-week "pre-fast" program that basically involves eating the kind of sensible stuff I eat all the time. So, the book isn't geared towards endurance athletes, or athletes at all. I had to filter through a lot of that common-denominator talk to get to the parts that were useful.

It also spends a lot of time with a very God-centered philosophy, which was unexpected. Fasting is of course an important tradition in a lot of religions, and Dr. Don Colbert is a Christian who applies a lot of the physical benefits of the juice fast to its spiritual benefits. I'm not applying those parts, but thought I'd mention it in case it bears relevance to anybody.

Okay, so with that long list of criticisms ended, here's the point of Colbert's writing, which if you sift through the fear-mongering I mostly agree with - the things we eat are over-processed, come from factories, are imported from a zillion miles away, and largely lack meaningful nutrition. This is true not just of junk food, but of a lot of breads, crackers, pastas, etc. I do what I can to make good decisions, particularly in context of training/recovery, etc., but coming out of my offseason, it seems like a sensible time for me to hit reset a little bit. I don't know what, if any, "detoxifying" will be going on in my juice fast, but I'm mostly interested in seeing what it's like to eat (well, drink) only raw, natural fruits and vegetables.

Today is a Tuesday, and I plan to continue my fast through the weekend - ending on Sunday night. I bought a juicer, and this morning I had my first beverage, which consisted of 4 carrots, some spinach, and an apple. The orange elixir pumped out of the juicer - I was surprised how much juice comes out of carrots, who knew? - and I held it to my mouth, ready for a kind of strong V8-ish taste - but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The first word that came to mind was clean. It was a new experience, so that's a good start.

I'll be drinking lots of water for the next 5 days, and otherwise having only juice. All fresh juice, and there's lots of stuff going in - apples, blueberries, grabs, raspberries, spinach, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsley, broccoli, tomatoes, oranges. I have no idea how things will taste. I have no idea, really, what to expect.

Dr. Conrad promises "increased energy!", but again - if his target market are fatso's who put down the Doritos only long enough to pick up a cigarette, then any change from that will likely create "increased energy!", so we'll see. I'm concerned about my workouts, but I'll allow myself these concessions if necessary: my usual chocolate milk as a recovery drink, my usual Infinit mix if I'm on the bike for more than an hour, and my Powerbar Gels as needed. Otherwise, I'm giving the juice fast my solid attention. I'll report here each day to let you know how it's going.

Can you juice burritos and cheeseburgers though? Hope so.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Triathlon: The Sprint Distance

So, we start this little series with Here's What I Know About Sprint Distance Triathlon. My thinking is this post will be mostly geared towards the newbie, considering or preparing for their first triathlon. So if you're a grizzled veteran, take note. A reminder again that this is just in my experience - peep the preface to this series by reading this post.

The Sprint distance is a great way to cut your teeth on triathlon in general and see if you dig it, or to do once or a few times in a season just to really go hard. If you want to really race the distance, you can just redline the whole thing with very little strategy - just go fast all the time. Or, if it's your first foray into the game, the distance gives you a great taste of what all those people in lycra are in love with. So here, in no significantly meaningful order, is what I know:

  • At this distance, less is more. At my first race ever, it was a chilly May morning. In Transition 1, I stopped to put on Under Armor tights over my tri-suit, and a tight long-sleeved compression top. Putting them all on while wet. Then I put on some cycling gloves. I could have ordered a pizza and watched an episode of Mad Men in the time it took me to get on the damn bike. Remember that transitions are part of the race - not a break between events. Get in, get out, get going. Of course dress comfortably and for the weather, but try and get by with the least amount of moving pieces - ideally you wear one thing (for me, usually a tri-suit at this distance, or a tri-top and tri-shorts) for the whole race, swim through bike through run. Cycling gloves are really designed to help with discomfort and fatigue that can come from having your hands absorb vibrations for a long time on the bike - I wear them only for Iron distance races. A typical Sprint race is 12-15 miles on the bike - taking the time (I timed myself on videotape once, after my second race ever, and I spent 2 minutes in T1 trying to get my gloves on. 2 minutes!) to negotiate gloves is probably time wasted.
  • This is true for nutrition and hydration as well. Even if your pace on the bike is a relaxed 12-13mph, and you walk the run at a 15:00min/mile pace, the race would still take you a little more than 2 hours. If you're going hard, you'll finish in a little over an hour, 1:15-ish. You don't require more than a few hundred replacement calories in the course of a race. Again on my first race - which was a 13 mile bike - I had 4 full bottles of Gatorade on my bike. What the hell am I doing to do with 4 bottles of Gatorade in an hour!?!? It was a lot of extra weight on my bike, not to mention the prep time and hassle factor to get them filled up, transported along, and ready to roll. At another early race I had one of those fancy aero-drink things on my bike, again fully-loaded. It started to leak from the bottom before the race, so I was getting sticky Gatorade on my front brakes, calipers, and tire. I sent Amy and my friend Mike on an emergency Duct Tape run so I could fix it. So when I should be relaxing, thinking about the race, instead I was worrying about my stupid beverage holder, and panicking that I wouldn't get it fixed before the Transition area closed. At this distance, at most you can manage with a single bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water. I prefer just the bottle of Gatorade. (Of course, if it's 92 degrees outside you'll want to be more attentive to hydration concerns.) In my experience the bike course in a Sprint race rarely have aid stations, but there's likely water somewhere on the run, which will suffice. Nutritionally, a single gel on the bike (for me, actually an hour into exercise, so whatever your swim time is accrues to the time you spend on the bike) is probably all you need. Every once in awhile you'll run across somebody's bike in transition that has 14 gels taped to the top tube. Oy. No.
  • The Sprint distance is a great race for any level or experience triathlete. If it's your first race ever, you might consider one where the swim is in a pool - you'll typically share a lane with one or two other swimmers, and swim 10 or 12 laps or so before getting out and running to your bike in T1. Having a comfortable, controlled environment for the swim can be a great way to get into the sport. If your first triathlon is in open water, make sure you've done some open water swimming first. A wetsuit isn't necessary for a sprint distance race (I'll let you be the judge of if water temperature is an issue or not, but I speak as a matter of speed or strategy), but you'll not want for your first ever open-water swim to be surrounded by 50 other people. There are lots of adjustments to make that your pool training simply can't emulate - water chop and temperature, sun glare, lack of visibility in the water, sighting (where you lift your head every few breaths to see where the hell you're going), and - oh yeah - all these limbs around you. The thing about swimming in a crowd is you can only get comfortable with that - and learn to use it to your advantage - with time and experience. You should do some training in open water to develop an understanding of all the other stuff I mentioned, but on race day, feel free to hang wide on the edges of the main group, or way in the back and wait until the large mass is underway. My first open water race ever I positioned myself right in the front - where I have no business being (the fast people start in the front!) and got totally mowed over as soon as the race started. I nearly suffered a panic attack and had my race end before it even got underway. Nobody wins the race in the water, so it's better that you take your time, and are safe and comfortable. On the other hand, if you're ready to rock with everybody in the water, staying in the mix will allow you to draft off of other swimmers, and allow you to save some energy. The big mass will disperse after a few hundred yards, and the swim distance in a Sprint race is short enough where the advantages of drafting aren't, in my experience, terribly significant - but if you have ideas for racing longer distances like 70.3 or Ironman, being in the mass of swimmers who are hell bent to go as fast as they can is great for developing experience that you'll use elsewhere in your triathlon career.
  • With those notes on effort in the water, I'll mention that I redline every Sprint race I'm in. I go as fast as I possibly can through all 3 disciplines. I treat the race as a very hard, brief brick session (a brick workout is combining two disciplines into one workout - swim/bike, or bike/run, for instance). It's a great speed workout, a great way to get the heart rate up, and a good assessment for strength and speed moving from one sport to the next. That effort doesn't have much real-world significance on my favorite distance races (70.3 and Iron), but it's great in context of a season-long build, or just to get out and have a fun day at the races.
There you have it - a few thoughts on the Sprint distance. Sometime in the near future I'll work up some thoughts on the Olympic distance. Questions or better advice? Leave 'em in the comments!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Advice of Fools

Well first off, if you're checking in at the blog (as opposed to an aggregator or reader), you'll see that it's finally undergone a much needed facelift. So that's something.

After a few false starts (what can I say, I loathe winter training. If it takes me longer to get dressed than to workout, I lose interest) the season, like springtime, is finally and officially underway. I wanted to share a few insights in the coming days/weeks about training and racing - a series of "Your First Triathlon" kind of things, something like that. I have several friends racing this summer in their first Sprint, Olympic, or Iron distance races, and thought it'd be useful to get these thoughts down where anybody can check them out. So, stay tuned for that - the first of which coming in a matter of days.

But a caveat emptor to the upcoming series; I'm no expert. This will be my 7th season in the game, and I still feel like I'm figuring it all out (and may I never feel otherwise...). My best race is still ahead of me. I can think, of all my races, of one - the Lifetime Triathlon in 2009 - where I truly put it all together. So as usual (and really, it should be the parenthetical title of this blog for as often as I want to say it) - what the hell do I know? You should, as always, take what works and throw out what doesn't. I seek only to share what I know, and even if I speak with some sense of authority on something, I trust you'll figure out your own path doesn't necessarily jive with mine.

So with that, I'll be writing about the Sprint distance, coming soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Uh...hello? *tap tap* is this thing on?

Hi everybody. Or one-body, or however many bodies are tuning in after a 4-month absence. 4 MONTHS! That's crazy, and longer than I intended. I like to take a break after the season, and usually it's about 2 months long, but this one was the extended version, I guess. Just pretty exhausted after last season - not burned out, but in need of recharge away from the game. As you know, I'm pretty utterly absorbed during the season. To a point that, I acknowledge, isn't constantly sustainable - especially as a parent, husband, business owner, blah blah blah. Ironman was such a full throttle experience last year that the break required more of me, I guess. I sacrificed and compromised some other things in my schedule, especially last summer as training really ramped up, so I was happy to just focus on some other things for awhile.

But anyway, I'm back, and here we are in 2010, which is crazy. By the way - happy 4th birthday to this blog, which is also crazy. I had, after Ironman, some big ideas for this blog in the offseason...which totally didn't happen. So I'll see about getting to those slowly over the next few weeks or months. I had also fully intended on closing the doors to this joint - as I am no longer Becoming Ironman - but even in my hibernation I had so many random, kind and meaningful comments from people finding the video, or getting ready for their first Ironman and stumbling on something I wrote 3 years ago, or whatever, that I'm convinced that changing venues with this thing doesn't really serve the greater community - which is kind of where my efforts with the blog will, hopefully, channel (for instance, one thing I want to get working on pronto is some kind of Everything I Know About Training/Racing Ironman post that kind of distills all my experiences from training/racing 2 of these into something sensible that people can refer to, or acknowledge, or ignore entirely, or whatever). I have several friends training for 2010, and I'm passionate about throwing in my two cents to whatever might contribute to their successes.

Meanwhile, I'm training for a more relaxed, fun season. I haven't managed the details yet, but I'm thinking Olympic or shorter this year, emphasizing on getting faster. Some trail races would be fun, maybe an XTERRA. Maybe finding some new races, too, that I haven't done before. I dunno, we'll see, I'm figuring all that out now. I do plan on either the Twin Cities marathon or Chicago, next October. Stay tuned.

In other news, I was named a Sugoi Brand Champion for 2010, which is very cool for me - if you know me, or have ever asked my advice on tri apparel (or been around when I submit my often unsolicited advice...), you'll know that I love their stuff. Being a Brand Champion means I get discounts on their stuff (which is friggin awesome), and I'll post thoughts and reviews in kind. Hopefully it's useful to people other than just me.

That's about it. Look for the tone of the blog to maybe change slightly - still focused on training and racing, but I want to really start to articulate my many lessons learned from and through Ironman as they occur to me - my hope is that people training will find this place and have useful things available to them. Not entirely sure yet how that will look, or even if there will be any significant changes to speak of, but that's what's rattling around in my head.

Looking forward to 2010 everybody. The blog is back open for business.