Tuesday, September 06, 2011

On Ironman

I've charted a course to Ironman again for 2013. I had toyed, a year ago, with the idea of doing Ironman again in 2012, but it's been one thing after another this year, making those plans unfeasible. But much more than that, the switch wasn't on. I wanted to race Ironman again. But I wasn't invested yet in becoming Ironman again. I don't know how to explain it, really, other than to call it a switch. A thing that drives me. More than just an idea or purposeful thought. It can live in my head, but it wasn't yet living in my heart. It is again, now.

When this blog began way back in 2006, and when I first had the outlandish, ridiculous idea of training for an Ironman race in 2004, things were different. I was different. I was only just emerging into a time of enlightenment in my life, after spending many years in a sort of haze and darkness. That first Ironman for me - and go ahead, start at the beginning if you like - my mother called it my Vision Quest. It was a mechanism through which I came to understand myself, my world, my potential. It was exhausting. And I don't mean the cold, rainy race day. That was only the very fitting environment to serve as capstone. The saga was exhausting. It required every ounce of my mind and spirit to outrun ghosts, make discoveries, join the living, find the world. I did not embark on the chase for any of those reasons - I just thought it looked like hard thing to do, and I was in a place where doing hard things was time well spent. I had no idea it would change me.

Inevitably, after finishing a first Ironman and considering doing another (in 2009) - and particularly with as much personal intensity as I approached the experience the first time - the battle cry goes from YOU WILL DO THIS (which is really just a manly rephrasing of HOLY SHIT, HOW WILL I EVER DO THIS?) to the far less interesting HOW FAST WILL YOU DO THIS. That seems to be the logical progression of perspective, and isn't that sad. One is exhilarating, terrifying, glorious, awesome in true sense. The other is narcissistic, competitive, self-serving. And okay, yes, the argument is there that triathlon, and Ironman in particular, can be generally all those things (can 6 hours alone on a bike be anything but self-serving?), but there's a distinction, at least to me. One is an exploration of mystery. The other is just…trying to get to the finish line as fast as you can. I've never gotten truly sucked into that - I've always thought it was a rare privilege just to be on-course - but in 2009 my race goals revolved around hoping to achieve time-based goals. So inevitably, if one doesn't achieve those goals, he takes it in stride, but suffers some disappointment, however tempered.

I think that's stupid. I think that's the wrong way to play this game.

All any of us should want - in anything we're doing, whatever it is in life - is to become part of the mystery. "Give me success or its constant pursuit, and I'll choose the pursuit." I saw that in a store once, and I've tried to attribute it to somebody but I don't know who wrote it. I have it on a huge poster in my training room. It's in fact something I generally subscribe to, however imperfectly, in all part of my life.

On my bike this weekend, while contemplating these things about Ironman, a fox crossed the road right in front of me. Just ambling along. A fox. If you've been here awhile, you know the fox has a certain kind of mysterious purpose for me specifically in regards to Ironman. On the one hand, encountering the fox blew my mind. Almost fell off my bike. On the other, seeing it made me say, "Of course. And welcome back." I don't understand it at all, and have no need to. I just know I'm supposed to pay attention. Be in the mystery. Or if "mystery" is too vague, then rephrase. Just - show up. Get in the game. Whatever that is for you. Truly engage. Don't spectate, don't sit in the bleachers and shout about how it should be done, just get to doing it. Put up. Try not, do. Pick it up and set it down.

So when I say "I've charted a course for Ironman in 2013", what I mean is - what I hope, after all this time we've all learned is - you see, it's already begun. The having to carve an Ironman's muscle again out of this presently lax form. Preparing for a winter of base training to race smart next summer, learning lessons and sharpening knowledge again. Working for something two years away, knowing that hell, anything can happen in two years. Race day is the celebration of that stuff. What I really mean, though, is step back into the mystery. Refocus. Rediscover.

And Ironman may, I maintain, remain just the vessel. I wonder if I purposely (though subconsciously) sabotage my fitness in the years after Ironman races, just so I reach some point where it seems a shade insurmountable to have to achieve it again. Because I like the odds against me. Because I'm goal oriented, and I like big goals. I run marathons, and I enjoy them very much - but truth? I don't take them too seriously. They hold no fire, only a tiny spark. Ironman is where it's at for me. So I will daydream again about a day in September a couple years from now and the way the sun rises over Lake Monona, and flying down Witte and Garfoot, and the cheers for heroes up the Three Bitches. The lights on State Street. I'll hope my daughter will know and understand and cheer me on with her mom, and I'll swoop her up in my arms and ask her to be a fast cat with me, if she still plays her game fast cats (which is "run as fast as you can") - which is doubtful, but see, it's the stuff I need now to get me back to the starting gun. Man that stuff will be thick in my head. But you know what? After the race, the next winter or the next summer or two, what I'll think about when I look back on Ironman are the purposeful sounds of the machine underneath me at 5:30am in June, and an 8-miler in a thunderstorm, and my Grandpa on the dock as I come in from an open water swim and me and D for three miles in the running stroller or helping me "fix my bike" when I'm changing tires or degreasing the chain. That's the stuff, man. That's it right there. And doing that outside of Ironman is great, and it's fun, and it's meaningful. But it's not the same. So that's what I'm already engaging in. And yes, I'll always be working to get faster, be smarter. Chase speed to see what I can achieve. But really - how fast I go on race day? Man, seriously. Who cares.

I've changed, too. I'm not infatuated with the gear and trappings anymore - I think first the engine needs work before a person drops $200 to save 20 grams. I'll always enjoy the shiny things - that's who I am - but it seems like energy and resources spent elsewhere. I'm not interested in proving to myself how far or fast I can go in training - I'm interesting in fitting training around the rest of my life instead of the other way around. I'm not paranoid about missing a ride or a run, or needing to make it up tomorrow (that doesn't work, yo), or making sure I have 4 century rides underneath me by August, or whatever. I like structure, and I like a plan - but my plans now are - by necessity and design - a lot more flexible and fluid. This is the stuff of enjoying the experience, rather than becoming slave to it. And it's only stuff that, for me, required experience and maturity - in the game and in life - to embrace.

One other thing - this will be it for the blog. A few reasons - "social media" wasn't even a phrase in January 2006 when I started this thing, and now twitter (xt4) serves me a lot better for the occasional training update or thought, or many of you are friends at Facebook. I will be chronicling the journey back to Ironman - but only through pictures, using instagram (also xt4). Mostly - talking about this part of my life isn't interesting anymore (as indicated by the total lack of posts in almost a year). There was a time when talking about it was as essential for me as doing it - not because it validated it, but because the experience was only complete when I could rehash, analyze, understand, quantify and qualify, deconstruct and reconstruct. None of those things are true anymore for me in the game. I just want to play it now, that's all. Besides, there's now a whole subset of my social circle - an entire small but meaningful universe of friends - that at first existed only through this medium. We only used to know each other by our blog handles because we were all working through this crazy thing together. And now I know what your kids are up to, and we talk about our jobs, you've met my daughter, we've hung out, and we could go have a beer and talk about any number of things away from the game. That's way cooler, anyway.

So in completing this thought now, as I throw my leg around the top tube and get to pedaling off into the sunset, I'll sign off. If I had any advice - well hell, this whole thing is full of my often foolish, rarely solid, but quite alacritous advice. But if I had any other advice, it's - do it. Yes, do it. Whatever it is. Whatever your Ironman is. You'll be changed for it. In so many ways.

Thanks for coming along. Tailwinds, one and all -



September 6, 2011

"You want to say something important and significant. You want some phrase that simply captures something momentous...something like "In The Beginning", or maybe "And So Began", or "Once Upon A Time", or "All children, except one, grow up", or "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away", or at least, "Marley was dead, to begin with." But ultimately it's a day, just like most other days, and so in most ways unremarkable. Except that today, Ironman begins."

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.