Ironman Couer d’Alene

My ironman story is more about the journey than the race itself, but I knew it was going to be that way when I started training seven months ago.  I just never could have imagined the incredible series of events that would transpire once I put my plan into motion.  It seems the longer and harder the race, the more amazing the serendipities that unfold along the way.

As soon as I paid $550 online to register for my first ironman, I took a new job at my company.  It would mean traveling 170,000 miles over the next six months to China, Brazil, Bahrain, and frequent trips to India.  First thing I did was re-build my road bike to the exact same specs as my tri bike and ship it to India with my trainer so I could spin in my hotel room on business trips–riding outdoors is a death wish in India.  I had not anticipated that FedEx would lead me astray by shipping my bike to a port of entry not approved for bikes.  And being new to India, I had not planned on paying a $1,200 bribe to get my bike out of customs.  In the U.S., we call that extortion.  In India, it’s business as usual.

Just a couple months into my training, my boss asked me to manage the company’s sponsorship of the first person from India to qualify and race in the Race Across America (RAAM).  I eagerly took up the challenge and was quickly introduced to Samim Rizvi, India’s #1 endurance athlete and professional cyclist.  We quickly became friends, and in short order I found myself on a training ride with Samim, riding 50 miles near the town of Mysore, India in the middle of the night, our crew van following closely behind us as we dodged motorcycles, cows and pedestrians while negotiating India’s giant speed bumps.

Sam Rizvi and me after a training ride before the RAAM start.

The next thing I knew I was asked to join the crew for RAAM and support Samim in his bid to be the first Indian to complete the famously difficult race.  I joined the rest of the rookie crew in Oceanside, CA just three weeks before my own ironman race and found myself driving 20 mph across the United States in a van, following a deeply committed athlete from India on his bike.  That sort of shot the end of my ironman training in the ass, but Samim would eventually contract pneumonia and pull out of RAAM in Durango, Colorado.  I flew home just three days before leaving for Couer d’Alene.

With my training partners on Sat. testing out the frigid water.

I had several friends doing CDA with me, but unlike ultramarathons, ironman is a very solitary endeavor.  You do most of the training alone and you’re pretty much alone the entire race.  So finding some familiar faces in Couer d’Alene made the pre-race jitters a little easier to deal with as we all did our best to figure out what to do with the five gear bags we were given, get mentally prepared for a very cold swim and a very hot run, and try to get some rest before the big day.  By this time I had convinced myself I was well-prepared, despite my erratic training schedule, traveling overseas 60% of my time, and crewing for RAAM when I should have been putting in my longest miles.

Swim
There is nothing in the pool that can prepare you for a mass swim start with 2,600 highly trained athletes.  It was my first mass start and I had toyed with numerous strategies.  Start a full 10 minutes after everyone—but I would probably get lapped on the second loop.  Beat anyone senseless who even touches me—but there are bigger guys than me out there.  I decided to start way to the right of the buoys at the far end of the beach.  Nice idea except that it seemed half the field had adopted the same strategy.  An ironman swim is not for the timid swimmer.  I had my goggles kicked off once, and as I tried to maneuver through a sea of wetsuits, I kept noticing someone’s arm was coming far too close to me.  Then I realized it was my own arm! If I were swimming alone, I think I may have managed 1:20 on the swim, but I emerged in 1:31 and told myself to just get on with it.  I had lost only 10 minutes.

T1
I made my way to T1 where a young boy quickly found bag #1648 and sent me to the changing tent.  Having taken the plunge a month earlier and shaved my legs as smooth as a baby’s bottom, I slipped out of my wetsuit with ease and fumbled through my transition bag as if I were inspecting the content for the first time.  By the time I had scampered out of the transition area with my bike, eight full minutes had gone by.  I had planned on five minutes.

Bike
I had planned to drive the bike course the day before with my friends but we all ran out of time so I wasn’t sure what to expect on the course.  The first 40 miles went quite well.  I was comfortable, riding with ease and well ahead of plan.  Then it started to warm up.  I knew the forecast called for 80 degree temps, but somehow I thought I could manage it on the bike.  By the time I started the second loop, I could feel all my energy being drained by the heat and there was nothing I could do about it.

Five hours into my race, I told myself I needed to abandon my 11:59 goal time and just try to finish.  It took me at least an hour more on the bike to process the fact that it was going to be a much longer day than I had planned.  I always knew I could finish, but after everything I had been through to get to this point, somehow just finishing didn’t seem good enough.  I’m glad sound judgment prevailed on this day.  I thought about my family who knew I had gone to the hospital before from a severe bonk.  I thought about my youngest sister Julie who suffers from MS.  I thought about the many people who were supporting me through my fund-raising drive for the National MS Society.  I had to finish.

T2
By the time I reached T2 I was a mess, completely wiped out from the heat and ready to be finished.  I wasn’t even sure how long the bike had taken me but it didn’t really matter anymore.  Someone grabbed my bike for me and I headed to the transition area to get my run bag, having no idea how I was ever going to run a marathon.  Eight minutes later, I stepped out of the changing tent and decided to just start walking.

Run
I walked the entire first mile past all the spectators and thought this just sucks.  I was actually calculating how long it would take me if I walked the entire marathon.  I had never even thought about that before and here I was trying to figure out what it would take just to make the cutoff.  Wow, what a humbling thought.  Before I reached the first turnaround, I decided to just take it easy and enjoy the rest of the day.  It’s a nice thought, except that by this time I had already been on the course for over 10 hours and now I was seriously tired.  I managed the first half of the run in exactly three hours and told myself if I could run a negative split, I would finish in under 15 hours.  Instantly, that was my new goal.  15:01 sounds about an hour longer than 14:59.

Heading out for the turnaround on the second loop, the sun was setting.  That meant it was finally beginning to cool down.  At the final turnaround, I finally felt like I could run again, and it felt great to have something left in the tank after nearly 14 hours.

There isn’t anything in racing quite like an Ironman finish.  Making the last turn, I could see the finish line for about a half mile.  The streets were lined with people screaming, “you are an Ironman!”  The last 200 yards through the grandstands and finish chute is something I’ll never forget.  The grandstands were packed with people screaming my name, waving, reaching out to give me a high five.   It’s pretty special.  I finished in 14:56 and felt great crossing the finish.  My time was nowhere near what I had hoped, but the time didn’t even matter anymore.

Final Thoughts
Completing an ironman was a lifetime goal for me, not like any other event I have ever done.  It was my Everest, and I had dreamed about doing one for at least 20 years.  Now that I’ve done it, I know I’m capable of performing much better next time, so I’m sure I’ll do another one.  I don’t think I’ll be signing up for my next one right away.  There are just so many other events I want to do and I’ll still be traveling a lot over the next year.  There’s also something in me that tells me I can go even farther than an ironman and I know I will probably push that boundary.  I think most people can go about twice as far as they think they can.

I’m very grateful for all the support I received from so many people who supported my fund-raising drive for the National MS Society.  I try to pick one race a year to support a good cause.  This year, I raised over $13,000 through my ironman race, bringing my total to over $22,000 since I started this drive a year ago.  I know it gives my sister some comfort to know I’m doing this in her honor, and I’ve been deeply touched by the many stories I hear from donors who have told me about their own battle with MS or about people in their lives affected by MS.   I feel blessed to have my health just to have the opportunity to take on the ironman challenge but at the end of the day, an ironman is just a race.  I hope I’m making a small difference through my effort for those who suffer the most.

Training for Ironman…in India

Today I watched the 2009 Kona Ironman World Championships on TV as I have so many times before and was inspired by the trials and tribulations, the many incredible stories of pros and age groupers alike who made it to Kona this year.  I also had a few friends who either qualified or won a lottery spot, but honestly, I couldn’t relate to their experiences and stories.  I also couldn’t relate to Chrissie Wellington’s unbelievable 3-peat performance or Craig Alexander’s win.  I’m sure the pros have their share of challenges and defeats, but I needed to see the struggle of the guy more like me, and watching the Kona event was exactly what I needed as I started my ironman training this month for IM Couer d’Alene next June.  I’m going to be doing most of my training while traveling extensively on business overseas, and much of that will be in Bangalore, India.  I’m determined not to let a globe-trotting schedule or the limitations of training in India stop me.
 
I’m having my Trek 5200 road bike re-built to the exact fit of my tri bike (as close as possible, anyway) and shipping it to Bangalore with my trainer at the beginning of January.  When I’m home in California I’ll ride outdoors on my tri bike, but I’ll be spinning in my hotel room at the Leela Palace.  They have an unheated 27-meter pool which stays at a comfortable temperature to train. 

Traffic in Bangalore...where am I supposed to run?

Running is impossible outdoors.  The streets of Bangalore are at 600% capacity so I’ll have to do what I can on a treadmill at the hotel gym.

 
I raced my local sprint triathlon in Morgan Hill this year with 2007 Kona champion Chris McCormack and Chris LietoI saw them racing to the finish as I started my bike that day.  I know it was only a sprint, but they were running at 5:39 pace having a conversation.  So it was sobering to watch both of them walking the marathon at Kona even as  Lieto finished in 2nd place, McCormack in 4th.
 
I was particularly interested in the story of 19 yr.-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double amputee.  Rudy was born with rare, multiple birth defects – a combination of crippling Pterygium Syndrome, a clubfoot, webbed fingers on both hands, and a cleft lip and palate. His legs would not straighten from the knee and he was forced to crawl or push himself in a wheelchair, so he chose to have them amputated when he was only five years old.  He missed the bike cutoff in Kona by just five minutes.  He was committed to finishing an ironman, so he called Muddy Waters, my coach, and came to my local bike two blocks from my home to train for IM Arizona.  They built a whole new bike for him and I watched Rudy spin on the CompuTrainer.  Last month he finished IM Arizona.
 
Navy Commander David Haas did his training for Kona on a Navy frigate with a CopmuTrainer, treadmill, rowing maching, and VersaClimber.  Haas would often ride his CompuTrainer on the bridge so that he was accessible in case anything came up.  Once every two weeks he’d jump off the side of the ship into the 105 degree water and swim around the ship with a couple of search and rescue members to keep him company.  Lieutenant Commander Don Cross trained in a submarine!  He had to do it while making no noise, and submarine life is organized around an 18-hour-day, so there’s even less time to train.  His daily routine was on watch for 6 hours, 6 hours of maintenance and training, then 6 hours of time to himself where he’d get a couple of hours of training and four hours of sleep.
 
57-yr. old Elizabeth Thompson suffered a stroke two years ago, leaving her unable to walk.  She finished at Kona.  Lots of great athletes did not finish.  I wonder if I’ll be one of them.  I’m still not entirely sure why I want the Ironman.  I don’t think I’ll ever climb Mt. Everest.  Ironman still seems to be the biggest challenge of all, and I just watch the images of people crossing the finish and see the euphoria painted across their faces.  I don’t care about the lifetime bragging rights people talk about. I want this one for myself.  And if some of these people can overcome the obstacles they had in front of them, I know I can do it.

2009 Year In Review

2009 was a nearly perfect year for me, and I am very grateful for it.  I had set some lofty goals:

1.  PR at all distances, all events (swim, bike, run, tri)
2.  Complete the Transrockies Run
3.  Qualify for the Boston Marathon
4.  Register for a 2010 ironman
5.  Become a RRCA certiifed running coach
 
Due to the poor economy, I had decided to enter fewer races than 2008, but then 24 events would be difficult to repeat anyway.  I replaced quantity (experience) for quality (performance), entering a more reasonable 15 races and setting 9 PRs in the process.  The thought of saving money this year was a nice idea but after spending more than $3000 for the Transrockies Run, I knew frugality was no more than a good intention, and my wife wasn’t buying it.  I took comfort in knowing I had PR’d at the 10-mile, half marathon, marathon, 5K, 50K, one-hour swim, half ironman, one mile swim, and my local sprint triathlon.  The only remaining distance I really would have liked to PR in is the 10K, but due to my race schedule, I never really trained for a 10K PR and never even raced it once all year.  The only goal I missed was my BQ and I didn’t take it very well.  I was so well trained for it and suffered from the effects of statin drugs I take to keep my cholesterol in check.
 
 The Transrockies Run was easily the biggest highlight.  I’m sure I’ll continue to look back at that experience over the years with fond memories.  I think it also changed my perspective on running and racing.  I know I’ll always be extremely competitive, but you can’t spend nine days in the Rocky Mountains for the sole purpose of running a foot race and not be shaped by the experience.  My world of training, running, and racing got bigger this year.  It only left me wanting more.  The Trans-Alpine Run is now firmly planted in my head and I’m not sure how I’ll ever pull it off.
 
I’m really glad I decided to use the Transrockies Run as a fund-raising event.  Just weeks before the event, I decided to see how much money I could raise for the National MS Society in honor of my youngest sister who suffers from the disease.  I was amazed to raise nearly $10,000.  I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little, but it gave my sister an incredible emotional lift, made my effort and the event so much more satisfying, and inspired me to do more.
 
Looking ahead, my world is about to change in a big way.  I’m taking a new job at my company that will result in tons of travel all over the world, especially Asia.  It will have a huge impact on my training schedule.  I’m prepared to employ some creative training methods, including leaving a tri bike and trainer in Bangalore, India so I can train when I am there.  But I’m worried all the extra work and intense travel schedule will keep me from performing at a high level.  I’m registered for Ironman Couer d’Alene in June and intend to do it.  I’m also concerned about the time away from my family, but we have decided to bite the bullet for a year or two.  There’s no way I’m going to travel like a madman once my daughter starts high school in 2011.
 
I capped off the year by completing my final goal, becoming a RRCA certified running coach.  I’m not sure where it will take me.  I have images of coaching legions of runners in India, but for now, I’m just happy to have the extra foundation of knowlegde.  I’m prepared to embrace whatever 2010 brings me.  Somehow, setting nine PRs again seems a bit unlikely, but it promises to be another exciting year.

Thoughts About Running Injuries

If you’re looking for a resouce on how to cure a nagging running injury, this is not it.  For a great resource on learning how run injury-free, pick up a copy of Running Strong & Injury-Free, by Janet Hamilton.  You’ll learn there are five main causes of running injuries–training errors, inappropriate footwear, inadequate flexibility, inadequate strength, and poor biomechanics.  The trick of course, is learning how to train while preventing injuries.  Triathlon is the best thing I’ve ever done to prevent running injuries.  The cross-training helps prevent overuse and repetitive use injuries.

Most Common
I’ve had plantar faciitis and it sucks.  It feels like the bottom of your foot is being ripped off.  It’s one of those injuries you can try to run through until it cripples you.  If you don’t recognize it, you’ll easily spend lots of time and money with a battery of doctors, podiatrists, accupuncturists, chiropractors, and other gurus.  My physical therapist used massage, ultrasound, stretching, heat/ice, and then taped my foot in a manner I would never be able to do myself.  Then after an extended break from running, I started with a 2-mile run and added a 1/4-mile each day until I was back to my normal training regimen.  I bought a calf stretching device which I should really use more often.

Runner’s Knee is very common.  I’ve had it on and off this year.  When my PT diagnosed it as patellar tendinitis–the technical term–I figured it was the result of running 60 – 100 miles a week on trails.  Knee injuries comprise about 55% of all sports injuries and approximately one-fourth of all problems treated by orthopedic surgeons.  A bad knee convinces lots of couch potatoes to stay on the couch.  Don’t do that.

I haven’t had shin splints since high school but it’s very common with new runners.  I sort of think of shin splints as a rite of passage.  Lots of rookies get it.  If you can get past this annoying injury, you can probably train for a lot of different things.

Everyone calls it ITB Syndrome.  That’s Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome.  Sounds like a world of hurt and I’ve never had it.  Now I’ll probably get it.  I’ve always dreaded this one, partly because it seems unavoidable.  The iliotibial band starts on the outer hip, runs down to the outer knee, then attaches to the lower leg bone.  It spans so much of the leg it’s a miracle I’ve avoided this one.  I even have an ITB strap for running but I’ve never used it.  I’ve also had the good fortune never to have had blisters.  I think it’s because I have a good foot strike and I take great care with shoe selection.  I’m not sure blisters are really injuries, although the ones you see at Badwater or other ultras look far worse than most injuries.

Most Painful
The worst injury of all may be a torn Achilles tendon.  The few people I’ve met with this injury have never quite returned to their former running condition.  This can be a career ending injury.  I watched Brad Pitt go down in the movie Troy when they shot him in his Achilles.  It looked like it really hurt.  Crashing my bike into a rock wall was more painful than any running injury, resulting in a deep gash in my right hand and plenty of road rash. I’ve also broken my back in seven places while tree skiing and separated my shoulder in a separate incident at Lake Tahoe, but that’s a story for another time.  Suffice it to say I understand pain.  What I have learned is that recovery and rehab from a serious injury requires more mental toughness than physical effort.

Hard To Diagnose
Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome
is not easily diagnosed.  Lots of runners have never heard of it.  It’s a lower leg injury that occurs when muscle groups outgrow their normal “compartment” size.  I’ve never had this one and hope I never get it.  Maybe I should train less to avoid it.

Plica Syndrome or Plicae Band, also known as synovitis, is an irritation of the synovial membrane in the knee.  It’s a thin, slippery material that lines all joints.  There are four plica folds in the knee, but only one of them seems to cause trouble.  It won’t show up in x-rays or an MRI so it’s hard to diagnose correctly.  My physical therapist thought I had a pinched miniscus.  I had to see sports medicine doc who specialized in running injuries to get this one treated.  I opted for an immediate shot of cortisone in my knee, which allowed me to run a marathon five days later.

The Shoe Conundrum
There’s been a lot of hysteria and hoopla this year about running barefoot or wearing the glove-like Vibram Five Fingers after the launch of the wildly popular book, Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I’m amused by Tweets from Barefoot Ted and Caballo Blanco, but I’m not at all interested in taking off my perfectly comfortable runnning shoes.  You can do what you want, but I’m pretty sure I was born to run with shoes.

I’ve been watching my left big toe change form and color since I nearly destroyed it in July doing the Tahoe Rim 50K.  I had inserted my road shoe orthotics into my trail shoes which are a half size bigger.  Tha’ts not a good thing when you’re tearing down a hill 25 miles into a 50K.  Haven’t we all calculated how long it would take for a toenail to grow back?  Will it grow back in time for this or that race?  What if it falls off in the middle of a long run or race?  Will it hurt?  A black toe generally doesn’t even hurt, but the sight of it makes it look like an injury and so we look at it every day as if we’re injured.

I’d like to think my experience has taught me to be a smarter runner and triathlete, but I think it’s more a case of trying to do fewer really stupid things.  If training, racing and working out is a lifestyle thing for you like it is for me, you’ll probably get injured.  Unless you are Dean Karnazes, who claims he has never had a running injury and credits his perfect biomechanics.  Dean is a baffling example of staying injury free, but that’s not to say he has never been injured. He fell and cracked three ribs at the Transrockies Run this year and could not finish the event.  It’s possible to have perfect biomechanics but it’s extremely rare.  It’s like saying you’ve never had the common cold.

Morgan Hill Triathlon at Uvas

The forecast called for an excrutiatingly hot 105° but I knew my chances were still good for a PR at this event.  Having just completed a half ironman two weeks ago, I was confident and prepared. 

Swim
Water temp was 65° and Uvas Reservoir was 80% full, quite a difference from two years ago when it was nearly empty due to lack of rain.  I was in wave 9 which forced me to wait 25 minutes after the pros started.  This year, there were more bouys on the course, making siting and navigation easier.  I managed to swim the entire course in a straight line and surprised myself when I stepped out of the water in 23:06,  a full six minutes faster than my split two years ago.  Nowhere near the 14-minute split for the pros, but I was really pleased with that result and made my way to T1 where I had found a good spot just a few paces from the bike exit.

T1
I’m not terribly fast but I don’t waste a lot of time in transition, either.  I’ve learned how to get out of my wetsuit, which generally causes the biggest delay.  I could probably cut 50% of my T1 time if I learned how to leave my bike shoes clipped in, but I have never taken the time to practice it, so T1 was just average. 

Bike
I still had the Reynolds racing wheels my local bike shop had loaned me a few weeks ago for the Napa Valley Vintage Half Ironman, so I knew I could easily beat my previous race pace of 18.5 mph on my Bontrager wheels.  I was also in decent bike shape this year.  The benefit of a morning ride is less wind, and it made a big difference.  I knew I would pass lots of people on the bike but that is no indication of success when there are eight waves of people in front of you.  My biggest advantage is that I know this course because I train here.  I knew exactly which gear I wanted to be in at every point on the course and knew where I could make up time where others didn’t know how to take advantage of the course.  I knew I had a good time going when I finished the bike averaging 20.2 mph, my fastest ever. 

T2
I got back to my bike rack to find the place littered with all kinds of gear and my stuff pushed around in all directions. That’s what happens with poor event planning and an over-crowded transition area.  T2 takes longer than it should for me because I choose to run with my orthotics which means I need to wear socks.  It was already 75° so I also took the time to gulp down a half a bottle of water and  decided to take a water bottle with me so I wouldn’t have to slow down at the aid stations.

Run
Upon exiting the transition area, I knew I had a PR going but I’m also not a heat runner.  Last year, I really suffered in the heat.  So I decided not to take it too hard.  Keep a pace I could sustain and then run a negative split. 

I was waiting to see how far behind I was from Kevin, my Transrockies Run partner.  It never occurred to me that I had actually beat him out of the water and also on the bike, so I didn’t see him until I made the turn on the run.  I have never even come close to beating Kevin in any kind of race over the years, so imagine my shock when I found myself ahead of him with two miles to go.  Of course I had the advantage of having just completed a half ironman and Kevin had almost no training on his bike, having just run the Boston Marathon in April (I have yet to qualify for Boston). 

But with less than 20 minutes to the finish, my entire focus suddenly changed to just beat Kevin.  I knew he would try to catch me and I wasn’t sure how much distance I had put on him.  I kept telling myself to not look back.  I knew if I saw him I would panic.  Somehow the inspiring pro race between Chris McCormack and Chris Lieto which had long since finished was not nearly as thrilling as the nailbiter I found myself engaged in with my own training partner.  I finished a couple minutes ahead of Kevin, but he had a very good race considering he had not trained.  I’m lucky to have him as my partner for Transrockies.

Summary
Finish :: 1:53:46
Swim :: 23:38
T1 :: 1:52
Bike :: 47:21
T2 :: 1:39
Run :: 39:14
Overall :: 190 / 782
Men :: 154 / 495
M45 – 49 :: 22 / 90

I love this event and it’s great to have a tri like this in my home town that now draws world champions.  In fact, my little town of Morgan Hill is now home to numerous past Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.  But there were a few things this year that caused me to wonder what’s going on at USA Productions. 

I chalked up the lousy cotton t-shirt, no medal and no post race BBQ to the crummy economy, even though the medal and BBQ used to be the two best features of this event.  The transition area was set up differently this year, and somehow they had not planned for all the bikes.  There were nowhere near enough bike racks.  I’m guessing it was because the event did not sell out and they allowed same day registration.  The result was over-loaded bike racks and bikes leaning all over the fences in the transition area, crowding the people who were close to the fence, like  me.  Everyone had to get in one line for body marking and the marking was done with such a fine tip pen that you couldn’t read most numbers after the swim.

It also seemed like everyone who chose to do packet pick-up on race morning didn’t get a number for their bike and helmet.  I’ve never seen that happen, especially when they require USAT membership or charge $10 for a one-day USAT pass.   But it also meant there was no way to cross-check bib numbers with bikes when leaving the event.  Someone could have easily walked away with my bike.  And it didn’t help that the race started 10 minutes late on a very hot day.

Having said that, I was supremely pleased with my 1:53 finish, a PR by a good margin for this event.  I thought 1:55 was a stretch, but with a surprisingly good swim and a better bike split than I expected, I’m eager to compete in more tris.  Coupled with my good result at the recent half ironman, I feel like I have confirmed to myself that I no longer race in the middle of the pack.  This event marked my transition to training for the Transrockies Run.  I’m hoping to do a few more tris in Sept. – Oct.  Until then, I have another adventure to conquer.

Napa Valley Vintage Half Ironman

I was really looking forward to this event.  My local bike shop had outfitted me with a zero setback carbon seatpost for a better position on my aero bars, a set of carbon Reynolds Assault performance wheels and Vittoria Diamante Pro Tech tires.  The result was a fast, smooth, aero ride and I was planning on taking 15 – 20 minutes off my bike time just with the upgrades to my bike.  But I had also spent the last ten days before the race seeing my physical therapist for patellar tendinitis and an inflamed medial meniscus in my right knee.  And we were expecting rain.

lake-berryessa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lake Berryessa on a nice day.

Most triathletes choose Wildflower over the Napa Vintage 70.3.  Both events are on the same day.  Wildflower is the Woodstock of triathlon and a very popular event.  I chose the Napa Vintage at Lake Berryessa because a buddy of mine was doing it and I didn’t want to deal with camping in a tent at Lake San Antonio the night before a big race.  On the other hand, I was nervous about the Napa Vintage because I had never heard anything positive about the organizers, Enviro-Sports.

Swim
Nobody at the start seemed to be able to identify the swim course.  The web site described a rectangular swim course but the map showed a triangular course.  We were just minutes from the start and boats were finally hauling the bouys out.  Huh?  The race starts in just a few minutes and they’re just now setting the bouys?  Do these people know what they’re doing?  It seemed almost arbitrary how quickly they dropped the bouys and started the race.  I knew the swim was self-seeded.  You pick the wave you want to be in although the first 100 people in the water are in the first wave, so I made sure I was in that group.  We finally figured out it was a triangular course going in the opposite direction marked on the map.

I got off to a good start but could not see the first bouy at all in front of the lead pack of swimmers so I had to follow the yellow swim caps for the first few minutes.  As we rounded the first turn, I realized the next bouy was hidden behind an island, so once again I followed the swimmers ahead of me and hoped they were swimming in a straight line.  Once around the last turn, I knew where to go and found a comfortable long stroke for the final stretch.  I stepped out of the water in 29 minutes and knew the course was short.  I had just swam an official 1-mile course the weekend before in 31 minutes.  There’s no way I could swim 1.2 miles in 29 minutes.  In fact, it had to be less than a mile.  I was happy to put the fast swim time in the bank but that’s some pretty sloppy course marking and I could only hope the rest of the course was not so poorly managed.

T1
It’s a 200-yard run up from the shore to T1.  I wasn’t in a great hurry because I often hyperventilate coming out of the swim into T1.  I wanted to be measured and controlled so I wouldn’t screw anything up.  My pre-race prep allowed me to manage a smooth transition and I was out of there.

Bike
Doug and I had planned to drive the bike course when we arrived on Fri. but I’m glad we didn’t because the map on the web site is so poorly marked there’s no way we could have followed the course.  The best indicator we had was the elevation map so at least we knew there would be some climbing.

I was a bit worried about riding in the rain.  I had never done a long ride in the rain and didn’t know how my new wheels would handle the wet pavement.  I knew the Diamante Pro Techs are especially well suited for the rain and I slightly under-inflated my tires for the wet conditions.  Naturally, it started raining as soon as I got on the bike.  I was prepared to stay off my aero bars for better control but was surprised how well the bike handled in the terrifically wet conditions.  I rode nearly half the course in the aero position.

Everything was going really well the first 20 miles.  I was happy to be averaging 17.5 mph even with a 600-ft. climb at mile 17.  Then, around mile 21, we hit a patch of really bad road surface for about a mile.  It was impossible to avoid all the bumps and potholes and my front tire took a compression flat from the bad road surface.  I couldn’t believe I was having another flat.  I never get flats on training rides but had two flats at Vineman 70.3 last August and here I was again with another flat.  My hands were numb from riding in 55° and rain and I just could not get the tire off the rim.  Such a bummer knowing you can’t register a good finishing time once you have a flat.  It took me 15 minutes to repair the flat but I was back on the road and determined to make the most of my race.

The next 34 miles I really put the hammer down.  I figured out I still had a chance of breaking six hours and I had found my riding legs so I just went for it. I finished the bike in 3:22, which was more like 3:07 without the flat, averaging 18.2 mph on a very hilly course.  I was really happy with that time, especially in treacherous conditions but wondered if I had blown out my legs for the run.

T2
Everyone was completely drenched by the time we returned to the transition area.  I had folded a big beach towel so it barely covered my shoes but it was completely soaked through by the time the run started.  Oh, well, I grabbed two GUs for the run and took off.  It was still raining.

Run
The run is a double out and back with aid stations every 1.5 miles.  I decided to walk through every aid station and take a cup of Gatorade and cup of water.  This run seemed to never end.  You see the same people several times looping back and forth, watching most people suffer.  Lots of courses can be described as having “rollers.”  These were not rollers; these were real hills with long ascents.  Halfway through the run my glutes and hamstrings were already destroyed but I was determined to finish sub-6 so I put my head in that place where you just embrace the pain.  I finished in 5:57 and felt really good about it.

Results
Overall — 113 / 293
Men — 98 / 185
M45 – 49 — 9 / 21
Swim — 29:11
T1 — 4:00
Bike — 3:22:29
T2 — 1:56
Run — 2:00

Post Mortem
At the end of the day, I think I prefer 55° and rain than wind or heat.  I know some people suffered from mild hypothermia but the temperature was absolutely perfect for me.  I can’t run in the heat and windy conditions would have made the bike portion awful. 

I was pleasantly surprised how nice the shirt turned out and didn’t even expect the medal from an Enviro-Sports event, even if it looks just like the cheap YMCA medal my kids get with no date on it.  The post race sandwich and pasta was awful but I gobbled it down anyway.  It will be a long time before I try another Enviro-Sports event–there are too many other really well organized events to pick from.  Not including the flat tires, my time was faster than Vineman and on a harder course, so I could not have been more pleased with my result.  Sort of wish I would have thought to enter the Clydesdale division where I would have taken 3rd place without the flat.

The Reality of Triathlon Training

So here I am with less than a month to go before the Napa Vintage 70.3.  I wish I could tell you about the century ride I did last weekend, the killer brick workout, the openwater swim that felt great, the speedwork where I’m pushing my lactate threshold to new limits.  I’m in my peak training phase when I should be stringing together some really outstanding workouts but feeling incredibly inadequate.  I wonder if anyone else is like me.

handymanThe reality of tri training is somewhat different.  I’m not getting enough time on the bike, so my long rides are very uncomfortable.  I try to do a brick once a week, but I run out of time and can’t do the run portion.  I drove an hour to meet a friend to do an openwater swim last week in San Francisco Bay, only to find wind gusts and whitecaps.  We ended up at the local indoor YMCA pool–over-heated, over-chlorinated, over-crowded. My planned workouts aren’t going as planned.  I am writing this blog entry with an ice pack wrapped around my sore right knee.  Where did that come from?  I can’t be warding off an injury this late in the game.

I work at a Fortune 100 company, putting in 75 – 80 hours a week. In the current economic crisis where every news report and company announcement starts with, “In the current economic crisis…” everyone seems willing to work harder just to hold on to their job.  I just want to get in a quality workout.  I am way over-worked but perform well under pressure.  Is that a good thing or does it just suck?  I am sleep deprived, often waking up at 2:30 am. thinking about work while the dog snores under the covers.  Why is the dog in my bed in the first place!?  Some nights I’ll lay there until around 4 am., then give up on the idea of getting any more sleep, go to my office, and start my work day.  Weekends are no different.

When I’m not working, my son wants to play sports–any sport.  He has already asked me, “Can you play now?” a million times.  If he wants to play, 9 out of 10 times I am forfeiting a workout to play with my son.  That’s an easy choice to make, but results in one less swim, run or bike that day.  My kids know daddy will fall asleep at the movies, but they want me to go anyway.  I swear I missed more than half of Monsters vs. Aliens last weekend.

My “honey-do” tasks will rival anyone’s list.  I haven’t been able to park my car in my 3-car garage in years with all the clutter and kid stuff that has been thrown to one side of the garage.  My father-in-law ordered new hinges for me for some of the kitchen cabinets but the cabinet doors hang crooked while I stare at the unopened hardware while filling my water bottles.  I finally had to scrub the entire inside of the BBQ recently when I tried to grill some steaks and nearly caught the whole house on fire.  I just took my father-in-law to the airport this morning and I have his pick-up truck for two weeks.  I should really take the dead oven (yes, an oven) in my garage to the dump.

Are these the trivial challenges that separate the pros and elites from the rest of us?  I’m sure the pros have their challenges too, but  I often imagine how much faster I would be if I didn’t have to work.  Then I remind myself I am not a gifted athlete in the first place, so who am I kidding?  At the end of the day, I have a healthy and happy family, a good job, a nice home.  I still get in 12 – 15 hours a week of training.  I am not complaining.

Incredible Feats of Endurance

Recently, there has been a series of unbelievable feats of endurance that caught my attention and captivated my imagination.  It’s probably been going on around me for many years, but it’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere on the road.  Ever since I signed up for the Transrockies Run this summer, I am taking notice of many incredible examples of human endurance.  Any one of them make the 125-mile Transrockies stage race look like a warm-up.

jennifer-figgeTake Jennifer Figge, who just became the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.  She completed this swim in 24 days, swimming 2,000 miles from the Cape Verde Islands to Trinidad in a makeshift shark cage.  Frenchman Benoit Lecomte is believed to have been the first to swim across the Atlantic when he swam 3,716 miles from Cape Cod, Mass., to the Brittany region of France in 1998. The journey took him 73 days.  In 1994, another Frenchman, Guy Delage, claims to have swum the same route that Figge swam, but with a kickboard.

15 athletes recently completed the 8th Decatriathlon World Challenge in Monterrey, Mexico.  That’s ten ironmans in a row, or an absurd 24-mile swim, 1,120-mile bike, and a 262-mile run (just move the decimal point over one place–seems easy, huh?).  The swim alone is 1,520 lengths of a 25-meter swimming pool, or the equivalent of swimming the English Channel.  For the leaders, this ultra endurance event takes over eight days of non-stop effort with occasional one-hour sleep breaks.  Six others (3 men, 3 women) also completed the Quintuple Ironman, a monumental distance that is somehow dwarfed by the Decatriathlon.

richard-donovan3Then there’s this fellow Richard Donovan who just last week became the first person to complete seven marathons on seven continents in less than seven days.  His globe-trotting string of marathons started in Antarctica, then went to Cape Town, Dubai, London, Toronto, Santiago and Sydney in five days, ten hours and eight minutes, logging 26,719 miles in the air in addition to his running.

What drives these people to attempt such mind-bending feats of human endurance?  How do you train for something like that?  And just how far can you push the human body, anyway?  Many of these extremes among extremes raise money and awareness for charitable causes along the way, but you know that’s not the only reason they do these things.  Is it inspiring or truly insane, or maybe both?

Any discussion on endurance giants is incomplete without mentioning Dean Karnazesdean-karnazes1, whose list of unimaginable running accomplishments continues to grow.  There is no organized race in the world that provides enough distance for Dean, and he makes Forrest Gump look like a rookie.  Last year, Dean became the first person to complete the desert “Grand Slam” in one year by running five of the world’s most inhospitable deserts.   He has also run 350 miles without stopping.  Yes, 350 MILES!  Took him over 80 hours.  That’s over three days and nights without sleep.  His perfect biomechanics and an ability to recover quickly has helped him to never sustain a running injury.  More on my recent run with Dean here and my review of his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

For cyclists, there is of course the Tour de France.  But that famous event is for professional riders and it’s a mere 3,500 kilometers long.  For the truly insane cyclist, there’s the Tour d’Afriquegeorge-hood (ironically pronounced “da freak”), an annual 12,000-kilometer bicycle race and expedition from Cairo to Cape Town, billed as the most grueling bike race on the planet.  The event takes about 120 days of which 96 are cycling days, averaging 125km a day.

Last May, George Hood set a cycling record without going anywhere.  He sat on a stationary bike for over 177 hours.  That’s nine days pedaling an estimated 2,600 miles, burning nearly 47,000 calories, and sleeping a combined 9 hours, 36 minutes in 10- and 12-minute cat naps.  Can’t imagine how he handles saddle sores.

The longest certified road race in the world is the 3,100 mile Self-Transcendence Race.  There is no photo that quite captures the madness of this event but the whole philosophy of self-transcendence is the idea that we are capable of more than we might believe.  Incredibly, competitors run 5,649 laps of a half-mile course in a span of 51 days.  The course record is 42 days.  That’s an average of 75 miles a day for six weeks!  suprabha_beckjordSuprabha Beckjord is the only 12-time finisher and still the only female competitor.  She has run 39,900 miles in this one race alone and holds national and world records for running 700, 1,000, 1,300, and 2,700 miles.  This and other famous feats of endurance are a part of the fascinating history around ultramarathons and its predecessor “pedestrianism,” chronicled on allaboutrunning.net

And just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s Mark Covert, who has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968.  That’s over 40 years without missing a day and averaging almost nine miles a day.  I remember reading about him in Runner’s World last year.  He has covered more than 136,000 miles.  mark-covert4He ran more than 150 miles a week in his peak years when he finished seventh in the 1972 Olympic marathon trials.  His is a different form of endurance, but no less impressive.

I note the age of just the athletes mentioned here as it makes me feel very young:
Jennifer Figge — 56
Richard Donovan — 42
Dean Karnazes — 46
George Hood — 50
Suprabha Beckjord — 52
Mark Covert — 57

Here’s how one athlete summed up his 4th place finish at the Decatriathlon.  “It took me 2 years to recover from the race in Mexico. My health suffered from the supreme effort I had given and from the amount of painkillers I consumed. But, despite this I learnt a great deal about myself. I learnt how to keep going though great pain barriers. Too often in life people are scared to push themselves. They put up a barrier. However, it is once you break through that barrier that you discover yourself. Don’t be scared of breaking through that barrier in life. You never know what you might achieve.”

I especially liked what Jennifer Figge said about the ultra endurance athlete.  “Those who don’t know the impossible are the ones who make things possible.”

Rest Days

restToday is a rest day, one of the hardest days of the week.  I have learned to take my rest days as seriously as the long run or the long intervals or the brick.  That means not heading to the pool for an easy swim or going to the gym to flex my muscles, or spinning in my office even for 30 minutes.  It means doing nothing (well, I worked a 13-hr. day, but no workouts).  I hate days like today.  I feel like a slug.  But I need the rest.  I’ll be glad I rested today when I’m doing a double tomorrow (swim/bike) and running a hard tempo the next day.

I ran 32 miles this past weekend.  Most of it was on trails and hills.  Most days I feel like I need three hours of workouts.  Anything less than 2.5 hours doesn’t feel like a workout.  Two days a week I’ll do a double workout (morning and afternoon).  So on rest days, I rest, eat well, sleep eight hours.  If I’m not going to work out, I had better really rest.  The rest of the week will be plenty hard.  Today, a good friend suggested I see a nutritionist due to my rigorous training regimen.  Good idea.

runner-resting(Thought this guy sort of looks like me…maybe not so much.)  I reflect on my home and family responsibilities.  I spend lots of time in training and racing just about every other weekend throughout the year.  The only reason I can train the way I do is because I work from home 70 – 80% of the time.  This week, it looks like I don’t need to go in to the office at all.  Lucky me!  So I can usually take the kids to school, these days play football or basketball with my son in the afternoon, and hang with them in the evenings.  The past 3 years I have coached my son’s basketball and flag football teams.  I’m trying not to get drafted this year but don’t think I’ll be so fortunate.  Winter football league starts this weekend.

I always think I’ll catch up on miscellaneous chores, phone calls, defrag the hard drive, house cleaning, on my rest days.  I could even power wash the roof and clean the gutters!  By the end of the day I have given up on such lofty ideas, and my IP phone the company gave me still sits in my office a year later because I can’t figure out how to set it up.  Somehow the stupid IP phone isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of things I need to get done.

old-shoes1I took my son to another bike shop today to find a new bike for his birthday.  He turns 8 tomorrow.  We’ve been to four shops in the last week looking for the right bike.  Wish I wasn’t so picky…wonder where I developed that penchant for good equipment.   I wonder if we’ll train and race together some day.  Better get some sleep.

Winter Workouts

OK, it’s time to come clean on my workouts.  My test this year is to see if I can train for ultras and triathlons (Olympic to 70.3) at the same time, and still do a stage race at the Transrockies Run in Aug.  If only I didn’t have to work for a living.

I’m currently training for the Napa Marathon where I think I can PR, but we’ll have to see how the next few weeks go on the long runs.  I’m not terribly concerned about my time at Napa.  I’m running Napa really as a training run for my first of several 50Ks this year in April, which in turn are all training runs for the Transrockies Run in Aug.  I also started triathlon training in December as I’m planning on doing the Napa Vintage half ironman in May.

Finally, I’m trying to start the year with three PRs.  Right now, I’m fairly confident I can PR at the Mission 10-ml., the National Postal One Hour Swim, and the San Francisco Half Marathon.  I’m doing these three events within an 8-day period, and it would be a fine start to my year.

Last year, I ran through the winter with a 40 – 45 mile base.  I decided to keep at least a 50-ml. base this winter for my running.  It takes me into tri season in great shape and I’m already finding it’s making a difference in my speed work.   My conditioning right now is the best it’s ever been so I can really focus on speed.  I try to do a progression of three weeks hard (50 – 58 mls.) and one week at 35 miles to help recover.

I’m doing back-to-back long runs every weekend, and both runs are hard.  Sunday runs are usually with lots of hills but not quite as long as the Saturday run.  I’m running 30+ miles on weekends, but that will go to 40+ after Napa in March. 

My speed work is Wednesday mornings.  I’m doing long intervals to prepare for the 10-miler and the half marathon.  One and two-mile intervals in a sequence of 1-2-1-1-2 with 75-sec. recoveries.  One-ml. segments are around 7-min. pace.  2-ml. segments are sub-7 pace.  This is the hardest workout I know, even harder than bricks.  Every other week I do a 6 – 7 ml. tempo instead of long intervals.

I’m swimming twice a week in the pool, almost always with my swim coach.  I like doing a 2100-meter progressive swim (50-100-150-200-250-300-300-250-200-150-100-50) with 15-sec. rest.  Total of 3000 meters right now.  I’ll bump it up to three days a week later this month and go 3500 – 4000 yards once a week.  I can tell I’m still improving in the pool as I’ve taken a couple strokes off the pool length in the last six weeks.

I’m also on the bike twice a week.  I started spinning at the local bike shop on Tue. evenings.  Seems like a decent workout although I can’t go full tilt since I run hard the next morning.  I’m doing a long ride once a week.  Right now it’s 35 miles (not very long) but that will ramp to 80 mls. over the next 3 months.  I need to get to three days a week on the bike.  By March, four days would be better.  And I’ll start doing bricks in Feb.

Just wish I had time to add yoga or other core training.

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