Friday, December 30, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year . . .

. . . is July. Although Andy Williams would disagree, Kacie and I believe that summer vacation, warm weather, and the Tour de France trump Christmastime. Nevertheless, the last month has been very nice. Since Cozumel, I've been doing all of the things that I did not do during my Ironman buildup. I've relaxed my eating standards, which coincides nicely with the holidays. I've read books like Hellhound on His Trail and The Fall of Giants, both of which I recommend. I've even gotten a cold after staying completely healthy for the entire first half of the school year. (I'm not sure that that last one fits with the overall festive mood.)

All of this means that I'll sneeze my way into the new year tomorrow night heavier, smarter, more relaxed, and ready to conquer the next set of goals. My coach and I worked out the following list for the first half of 2012:

1/16 ~ MLK 5K
1/21 ~ 200K Brevet
1/29 ~ Callaway Half-marathon (training tempo run)
2/11 ~ Chattahoochee Challenge 10K
2/18 ~ Tundra TT
3/3 ~ 200K Brevet
3/18 ~ Georgia Half-marathon
3/25 ~ Powerman Alabama
4/14 ~ Wheels ‘o Fire Century
4/22 ~ Cheaha Challenge
4/28 ~ Issaqueena’s Last Ride
5/6 ~ REV3 Knoxville 70.3
5/12 ~ Brasstown Bald Buster Century (this is a maybe)
6/2 ~ REV3 Quassy 70.3
6/24 ~ Ironman Coeur d’Alene

I'm looking forward to each of them, even though it's a little bit difficult to imagine running a 5K in two weeks given how terrible I feel right now. I'm sure that I'll bounce back soon.

The Georgia Half-Marathon and Powerman Alabama are going to be major focus events, as will be the two half-iron triathlons. Of course, they all lead to the grandaddy event of the summer, Ironman CdA. The Half-Marathon and Powerman are going to be important markers, too, because they will represent the moment in my training when I switch from shorter VO2 max stuff to longer LT stuff. As I've written before, starting with the shorter repeats and moving to the longer stuff is new for this training cycle, and I'm looking forward to it. Between now and mid-March, I'll do a lower number of hours but with higher intensity. This will include my Coach's "Ultimate Cycling Sessions" twice a week, some faster stuff in the pool, and plenty of shorter repeats on the gravel track across the street from our house. After the Georgia HM and Powerman (both of which should be faster as a result of the shorter, faster training), I'll build my hours and switch to longer, less intense training sessions. As a result, I hope to be better prepared to perform well at Ironman CdA.

With the start of the new year, I'll clean up my eating, I'll quit missing workouts, I'll start losing the weight I've gained, and hopefully, I'll kick this cold. After a month of rest, I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On to the Next One . . .

In the last two years, I have listened to Jay-Z's "On to the Next One" more than any other song on my iPod.

Parental advisory . . .

I like it because it makes the monotony of endurance training and racing seem dynamic and even edgy. Even though I am CERTAIN that Jay-Z didn't have this in mind, the song helps me to put one workout or race behind me and look ahead (with a bit of swagger) to the next one. Over the last several months, I often listened to this song immediately following hard workouts or good races, and it helped me focus on what was next. Post-Ironman, I wasn't ready to do that for a little while. I am ready now. Enough wallowing on Cozumel. It's on to the next one.

Of course, I won't be doing any eight-hour bricks just yet. Unlike Kacie, who has a double Ironman in February and is already back to doing two-a-day workouts, I I have a bit more time to chill. This will let me catch up on stuff that has fallen by the wayside in the past few months. Among other things, I will be sending out our Christmas cards that will feature pictures of us in Cozumel. Check them out!

I have started thinking a lot about how the race felt and what I did to prepare. In particular, I have considered the overall arc of my training and what I can change in the next six months ahead of Ironman Coeur d'Alene. In December, I hope to spend time recovering and gathering up my motivation. Come January, February, and March, I'd like to put in some miles, but also some short fast stuff to build my power and speed. Around mid-April, though, I want to switch to higher volume LT work on both the bike and the run. In other words, I want to switch the traditional means of race-preparation.

The standard means of going about training an endurance athlete is to have them do base training and then some tempo work when they are several months out from an event. As you approach your event, you shorten the workouts but increase their intensity. By the time that the target event arrives, athletes should be feeling rested, "sharp," and speedy. This is the overall plan that I follow with the high school cross-country runners I coach, and it's one that I've followed myself several times over several seasons.

Ironman, though, is a totally different type of race. The race, as I learned the hard way, is not about going hard from the gun, but rather moving through the day at a moderate intensity. Even in the last two hours when it gets hard, it's not hard because you're pushing to run fast. It's hard because you're pushing to run AT ALL. Given this, it seems to me that the trick is not to arrive at the start line feeling speedy, but to arrive at the start line feeling as if you could go all day at a moderate intensity--which, after all, is precisely what you have to do!

To this end, I've asked my coach to design a training plan for the next 24 weeks that will start with the hard, fast stuff and then add the moderate-intensity volume at the end. I'm excited to give this a shot. Anybody have any feedback on this idea?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ironman Cozumel Race Report; Part Three!

I've decided to split my Ironman Cozumel race report into three parts: the pre-race, the race itself, and the lessons I learned from the experience. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here.

On Tuesday, we traveled home via ferry, bus, plane, and car. It was a long but hassle-free trip back. On Wednesday, I went back to work, and one of my students had put this on my dry-erase board:


Team Darden had two major goals when we first signed up for Ironman Cozumel: to gain experience for George and to get a PR for Kacie. We accomplished both of those. My superstar wife shattered the twelve-hour barrier with a 34-minute PR of 11:35:55. And I certainly learned a great deal that I can apply both when I start training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene in January and when I race it on June 24, 2012.

Training Lessons!

Lesson #1: More time on the road bike and less time on the tri bike

In the run-up to Cozumel, my training on the bike wasn't what it could have been. Unfortunately, mental and physical breakdowns compromised my training a few times in the last few weeks, and it always seemed as if cycling was the discipline that was most heavily affected. I never missed a single run in the two months prior to Cozumel, and any swim that I missed was made up within a day or so. On two occasions in the last six weeks prior to the taper, though, I quit trainer workouts on the bike early because I didn't have the physical and/or mental strength to push. On at least two other occasions in the last six weeks, I shortened bike rides by an hour or two. I normally only had bike rides on my schedule twice a week, so missed and shortened workouts reduced my bike training by nearly 50% during that crucial final buildup.

The physical breakdowns were a result of not getting enough sleep. That happened because I was completing my dissertation. That won't be an issue in the spring, now that I'm Dr. George.

The mental breakdowns were a result of letting myself reach a burnout point with cycling that I didn't reach with the others. And the main reason that I hit the burnout point was that I rode my tri bike too much in the month of October. On the tri bike, there's no scenery. Even when I'm on the trainer, all I do on the tri bike is stare at the stem. Further, being in the aero position is automatically more intense for me. I appreciate this intensity during a race, but it makes sustaining weekly training much more difficult. Of course, specificity is important, but training a little less specifically (i.e. by riding my road bike rather than my tri bike) is significantly better than not training at all. I'm gong to be a bit more sparing with the time I spend on my tri bike in the spring so that I can make sure that I don't reach a point where I'm quitting workouts in the six weeks prior to IMCdA.

Lesson #2: More time on the bike in general

On a related note, I need to be on my bike more than twice a week. I'm going to lobby my coach to put a third ride on my schedule each week, even if it's a fairly short one or a mid-week brick. The timing should work better on this one given that the days will be getting longer in April and May when I'm reaching my peak training.

Lesson #3: Work on my power/HR decoupling point

My bike really went downhill after my power numbers and heart rate decoupled. Through training, it's possible to focus on pushing back the point where that happens. In addition to focusing on producing more power at a lower HR, I need to make sure that I do workouts that are particularly geared at keeping my HR and my power aligned. This means different types of rides than I've done: ones that are more appropriate for maintaining a moderate effort level rather than ones that help me recover quickly from hard surges (such as what is necessary in a bike race to stay in the peloton). Even though CdA is a hillier bike course that will require more surging and recovering, I think that I'll benefit as a triathlete in general by training more like a triathlete cyclist than a road racing cyclist.

Lesson #4: More running time at goal marathon pace, particularly when I'm tired

During the marathon, I found that when I had my brief "emergence" from the dark ugliness, my body sank into roughly 7:30 pace. Many of my long runs were at 7:30 pace. While many of my shorter runs were at 7:00 pace or better, and while I did plenty of running at faster paces, my "slog through it" pace was 7:30. I don't think that that was a coincidence that these two paces--the pace for my long runs and the pace for my Ironman marathon--were the same.

When I was solely a runner, I didn't pay much attention to my pace on my "easy" days. As long as they were easy, that was all that mattered. During that stage of my life, though, I was also doing a lot of very fast running (in the form of workouts). I also was never training for a race that I would be running while very tired (i.e. the Ironman marathon). In the spring, I need to make sure that my pace, even or perhaps particularly on days when I'm feeling tired, is close to what I want to run for the Ironman marathon--namely, about 7:00 pace. I need to get more locked into that pace. It needs to be the speed that my body knows to run when I'm tired and on auto-pilot.

Lesson #5: Keep swimming!

My swimming has continued to improve over the last several months. In June, I finished nearly last in the swim section of my first triathlon. A couple of months later, I finished a wetsuit-legal half-iron swim in 42:00. At Cozumel, I did a full-iron non-wetsuit swim in 1:20:00. Even though I don't feel like I'm improving, I clearly am. Further, my swim teacher told me when I saw her a couple of weeks before Cozumel that she saw "a lot of places where we can make you faster." I don't think that I will ever be the first out of the water, but there are several minutes I should be able to take off at CdA.

Racing Lessons!

Lesson #1: Control myself on the bike

This one is obvious. Our friend Sonja--who beat me, by the way--told me after the race that you have to race the cycling leg "with your brain." I didn't do that. Rather, I ignored what I knew was right in a vain attempt to exceed my physical limitations. This is precisely what you have to do in a bike race in order to achieve. To win a bike race, you have to turn your brain off and as Jens Voigt suggests, you have to say, "Shut up, legs!" If you fail, it's okay, because there's a good chance that you would have failed anyway (given the team tactics, the win-or-go-home nature of bike racing, and how hard it is to win), and you'll probably get another chance the next weekend to grab a win. I'm good at that type of headbanger racing. Long distance triathlon is not for those who want to kill themselves on the bike. I have to learn that.

This is a particularly important lesson to apply in CdA. According to the good folks at, a great deal of people at Coeur d'Alene in 2011 actually did precisely what I did at Cozumel: went too hard on the bike and didn't save enough for the run. Here's their scatter graph:

The x-axis is bike split. The y-axis is run split. All of the dots in the upper left quadrant and lower right quadrant are people who didn't have comparable bike and run splits. The folks in the upper left went fast on the bike but slow on the run. The folks on the lower right went slow on the bike but fast on the run. While most people had comparable splits, the people who made these graphs for each Ironman said that there was an overabundance of upper-lefters compared to other races. In other words, Coeur d'Alene seems to be a course that inspires going too fast on the bike and not having enough left for a good run. Given that I have done exactly that in 100% of my Ironmans so far, I need to make a special point to ride "with my brain."

Lesson #2: Bad patches do indeed fade

When I started hurting on the run, I was actually kinda scared. I was worried that I was going to spend the next several hours on the run course walking and barely jogging. But after a few miles, I felt better--good enough to pick up the pace significantly. I had always heard that it was possible to go through both good and bad "stages" in a long race, but I had never experienced it. The take-away is that if I start feeling bad, my race isn't necessarily over.

Lesson #3: A good Ironman isn't all that exciting until the last hour

On the ferry heading home, I talked to a doctor from Boston who qualified for Kona in the age group above me. He said that he almost blew it because he was passed by four guys in his age group in the last eight miles of the run. Some of them put ten minutes on him in that section.

Clearly, the way to be successful is to treat the race like a long warmup to the last hour, and that's precisely how I'm going to approach the next race. In and of themselves, the paces that I need to do on the swim, on the bike, and on the first fifteen miles of the run are not all that tough. It's the accumulation of fatigue and the onset of aerobic creep that makes the Ironman a race. I've never done a race like this before--where you basically jog and jog and jog until you're the last one jogging. Rather, every other race I've ever done--and there have been hundreds of them--have been races from the gun. Kacie told me before the race that my general race experience would probably serve me well when I did my first Ironman. I thought it would, too, but in reflection, I realize that the Ironman is a unique style of race. I'll be better prepared for what lay ahead of me at my next starting line.

After a few weeks of rest, I'm going to start training seriously again. I haven't had a solid break from training since last September, so I'm keen to rest. In January, my job will be to help Kacie prepare for the DOUBLE IRONMAN that she's doing in Florida in late February. And after that, it's all about Coeur d'Alene. When I crossed the finish line in Cozumel, I was not sure that I ever wanted to do another Ironman. That night, after Kacie finished, I still couldn't talk about it. By Monday, though, even as I hobbled around with my wrecked body, I began to get excited about what's to come. Now, after a week, I'm looking forward to the training. I'm not ready to start it just yet, but I'm eager to undertake the next challenge.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ironman Cozumel Race Report; Part Two!

I've decided to split my race report for Ironman Cozumel into three parts: the pre-race, the race itself, and the lessons I learned from the experience. Part One can be found here.

Even though we had three alarms set, I woke up on Sunday morning just a few minutes before the first one went off. We got dressed, ate a fairly leisurely breakfast, and made our way down to the front of the hotel. There were to be shuttles from our hotel to the race start, beginning at 5:00 a.m. When we arrived around 5:15, the first one was leaving, and the line for the second one was pretty long. We got in line behind some other folks from Atlanta, and we waited for the next bus. And waited. And waited.

Kacie and I were immensely careful throughout the week about what we ate. Not only did we feel it necessary to make sure we were taking in high-quality calories during the taper period, but we both wanted to make sure that we avoided any food-borne illnesses in Mexico. It did not appear as if everyone was as concerned as us. We saw several people who ate and drank indiscriminately throughout the week. I'm not sure how they fared on race day. Anyway, neither of us had any hints of illness . . . until Saturday night.

On Saturday, I had an unsettling feeling in my stomach, and indeed, my fears were confirmed while we waited in line for the bus on Sunday morning. This knocked me off my game a bit, but I took some Pepto and hoped for the best. Happily, I can report that this never surfaced again. Whew! That would have SUCKED!

Swim: 1:20:35

YES! My goal for the swim was 1:30:00, so to do ten minutes faster than that was monumental. Leading up to the race, I figured that at best, I could hope for a 1:25 or so. I chided myself for considering anything faster than that. Even so, I never thought that I might swim 1:20 given that I couldn't cross the pool in June. I got out of the water and did two double-takes--one at the clock and the other at my watch.

Kacie and I got in the water fairly late, only about three or four minutes before the start. We ran into our new friend Lesley amongst the 2300 people in the water, and that was reassuring. We parked ourselves near the middle of the pack and waited for the gun, which initially caught us a little bit off guard. The swim began with a very physical 500 meters to the first turn. Our friend Sonja wrote that she started in the front and was hardly touched the entire swim. NOT ME! In fact, I don't see how I even made any progress in the first 500 meters, since it seemed that nearly every stroke was compromised either by having someone right in front of me or by landing on the back, leg, hand, or head of another competitor. The turn itself was nuts, as one person's stopping seemed to cause a chain reaction and a giant bottleneck. Nonetheless, I felt that I drew energy from the masses, and I was charged up by the excitement of it all. Dare I say: I like the chaotic pack swimming?

About halfway through the swim, some guy caught with a Vanessa Gaynor-style punch to the ear* that rang my bell enough to make me stop for a second. He apologized, though, and I quickly went back about my business. Some well-placed clouds kept the sun out of my eyes, and the jellyfish stings--I got about a dozen on my arms, torso, and lip--were not bad. Besides having to stop to drain one goggle of water a few times, the swim could hardly have gone better.

[*Vanessa Gaynor was the girl who dropped me with one punch to the ear in fourth grade. We were fighting over a kickball game. That's all I have to say about that.]

At two points, I found myself drifting a bit away from the pack, swimming in clean water away from the buoys and away from my flailing fellow Iron-wannabes. At those moments, I did something that actually made me very proud of myself: I swam back into the scrum. I knew that getting the overall drafting effect of swimming in the pack was worth the pain and risk of taking a kick to the head or a stroke to the crotch. I believe that these moments are ultimately what got me my fast split.

I dashed out of the water, did my double take, and took off sprinting down the pier. I grabbed my bag, went into the jammed tent, got ready for the bike, and headed out. My bike was right next to the tent, which meant that I had to run through nearly the entire transition area with it. T1 time--6:04.

Bike: 5:12:51

Out of the water, I was in 1348th place in the race and 246th in my age group. Given that I swam faster than I thought I would, I was on a high. Thus, I blasted onto the bike course and immediately started mowing people down.

In retrospect, I started a bit too aggressively, and that set a bad tone for the entire ride. Even though my HR wasn't off the charts, it was higher than it needed to be less than two hours into an Ironman. And even though my power numbers were in the range that I figured they should be, I knew that my cycling training had been off in the past six weeks and I would be better off being conservative. After that swim, though, conservatism be damned. I figured that if I could go ten minutes faster than my swim goal, why not go that much faster than my bike goal, too? Bad, bad, bad thinking. I established a baseline heartrate roughly ten beats higher than it should have been, and I kept it there. It was not smart, but I wouldn't know how not smart it was until I started running.

The bike consisted of an abbreviated first loop of 33 miles, followed by two full loops of 39.5 miles. On the first loop, I averaged right at 22.4 mph, which felt quick but not suicidal. On the second lap, I dropped to 21.9 mph, but I felt like I was still cruising along well. On the third lap, the wind picked up sharply, and it shifted in such a way that a crosswind became a headwind and a straight tailwind became less of a tailwind. That sucked. In addition, I reached my decoupling point, and I had to significantly reduce my power output in order to keep my heartrate at the same level (which as I said before, was already about ten beats over what it should have been). As a consequence, my speed dropped all the way to 20.6 mph, and I started HURTING. When I stood up to stretch, I could feel my quads seizing. In the last ten miles, phrases like "Get me off this infernal machine" kept rolling through my head. Even my ears ached.

Out of all of my assorted discomforts on the bike, by far the worst were my feet. They were on fire. Several times after the halfway point, I had to unclip each foot and wiggle my toes just to get rid of the hot spots. At one point, it was so severe that my left plantar fascia actually began to cramp. I'm not sure if this is a bike fit issue or something else. Regardless, that is one of the first things I am going to try to fix before my next Ironman.

When I finally passed off my bike, I was excited to start running, but I felt very spent by what I had endured in the last ten miles. Further, when I lifted my leg in the transition tent to change my shoes, my leg muscles kept seizing. I didn't think that that was a good sign, but I tried to forget about it and go on with the business of running. T2 time--3:01.

Run: 3:33:25

This was painful.

It started well enough. I rolled out of transition having passed 1021 people on the bike, nearly all of whom were in the first half. I was now in 327th place and 68th place in my age group. I told myself to relax in the first mile and that it was bound to feel slow after getting off the bike. I hit the mile mark in 6:41, and I felt great. I was poised for a 3:00:00 marathon, which would bring me home around 9:40:00 for the entire Ironman. Then, the second mile, which felt about the same as the first, was 7:24. [Uh, oh.] Then the third was 7:37. [I might be in trouble.] Then the bottom fell out, my stomach started to cramp, and I hit the four-mile mark in 8:43. I haven't run a mile that slow since I went running with Bill Clinton in 1994. I quit looking at my splits, but my next two miles (5 and 6) were in 18:39. Around that time, I saw Kacie, and told her that I was spent. In addition to being disappointed that my visions of having a great run would not be realized, I was actually a bit nervous. I didn't want to spend the next several hours struggling to finish.

Soon after, though, it began to rain, and my spirits began to lift. I turned mile seven in 8:22, and I passed through the next two miles (8 and 9) in 15:00. I saw Kacie coming in the other direction and yelled out, "I've come out of it! I'm back!" Mile 10 was 7:30, mile 11 was 7:39, and mile twelve was 7:26. I was still walking the aid stations, but I was feeling much better, both physically and mentally. Mile 13 was 7:31, and I hit halfway right at 8:25:00 in the overall race time. I figured that if I kept running about the same, I could do the last half-marathon in about 1:35:00, and that would put me right at 10:00:00 for the Ironman. That didn't happen.

While miles 14 and 15 were 15:28, miles 16 and 17 were 16:09. Mile 18 was 7:54, mile 19 was 8:10, and then I once again fell apart completely. Mile 20 was 8:52. Mile 21 was 8:38. Mile 22 was 9:01. Mile 23 was 9:06. Mile 24 was 9:38. Mile 25 was 9:00. I rallied a bit to run 7:19 for the Mile 26, but it was too little, too late. I crossed the finish line in 10:15:56.

In the last several miles, the bottoms of my feet felt terrible. After enduring severe hot spots on the bike, having to run in wet shoes was almost too much. The course was so thoroughly flooded that we actually had to cross a shin-deep puddle at one point on the course. And given that the course was an out-and-back loop, that meant four puddle fordings for me. In my blue tri suit, I felt quite sunk.

Nonetheless, I managed to pass 184 people on the run, mostly by summoning the will not to walk anywhere besides the aid stations. I moved up to 143rd in the race and 30th in my age group. It was not what I originally had in mind, but I am happy with it given that it's my first Ironman.

If I sound disappointed, I have to admit that when I crossed the finish line, I was. Even though my first goal (once starting the race) was to finish, I did not envision such a significant collapse on the run. My training and racing suggested that I would run brilliantly. I blew that chance, though, by riding beyond my limits on the bike. In other words, my falling short of my 10:00:00 goal was a failure of execution--something under my control. That's frustrating. As a result, I didn't get the rush of jubilation I was hoping for when I crossed the finish line. Rather than feeling the most pleasant exhaustion, I simply felt exhaustion.

My overall goal when I first signed up for Cozumel was to gain experience at the Iron level, and I certainly did that. As such, I count the race as a success. And certainly, I can't sneeze at a 10:15:56! I'm looking forward to lowering that PR soon, though.

In the ensuing four days, I've had plenty of time to reflect on the race, and I've drawn a great deal of lessons from it that I think will help me both in my preparation for and my racing of my next Ironman: Coeur d'Alene in 2012. I'll explain those lessons in Part Three!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ironman Cozumel Race Report; Part One!

I've decided to split my race report for Ironman Cozumel into three sections: the pre-race, the race itself, and the lessons I learned from the experience. The entire experience was so huge that I couldn't really capture it all in a single blog post that wouldn't require Ironman-style endurance just to read.

During the taper period, I took the last step to becoming Dr. George: I defended my dissertation. It was a successful defense, and one of my advisors took a picture of me just as I was informed that I am now indeed Dr. George.

Big, authentic smiles cause my eyes to disappear. There are only a few photos of me like this, and nearly all of them are from our wedding. We'll see whether the ones of me at the IM Cozumel finish line look like this . . .

Anyway, I fixed the typos and formatting issues that my committee members found, and I submitted the final copy of my dissertation to the UGA graduate school on Monday, 11/21. We left for Cozumel on Tuesday, 11/22. That was a good start to one hell of a week!

The trip to Cozumel was long. We drove to the parking lot, took a bus to the check-in, took a train to the terminal, took a plane to Cancun (which was delayed by THREE HOURS!), took a bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, then took a ferry to Cozumel. We hoofed it the last half-mile to the hotel.

On the plane, the fella next to me noticed that I was reading Iron War--it was way good, by the way, even if Mark Allen and Dave Scott say that it's fiction--and we started talking. It turns out that he, Paul, and his family were from Chattanooga, and they were heading to Cozumel for the race, too. Paul and his wife, Theresa, had a friend, Brian, who would also be competing. As the trip went on, we found out that we were in the same hotel as Paul and Theresa, and when we checked in, we found that we were next door to each other. Fun!

On the ferry to the island, we met Lesley and Adrian from Los Angeles. They were a super-cool couple of newlyweds who took a NINE-WEEK trip through Asia last year. Lesley is part-way through her quest to run a marathon on every continent, and she's already done Antarctica. We would see them several more times during the week, including immediately prior to the start. I even saw Lesley during the swim, when all hell was breaking loose, but more about that in Part Two.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we spent a lot of time hanging out both on and off the beach. The water was stunningly clear. We also saw people using these ridiculous contraptions.

They were like underwater segways, in that they were self-propelled AND super-dorky. We took a few practice swims in the water, and we could see the folks trolling around the bottom looking at the fish and rays from their little perches about forty feet below.

When we weren't on the beach, we spent a lot of time reading and watching TV. Undoubtedly, the most popular show on Cozumeleno television was Two and a Half Men. I had never watched the show before this trip, but we watched so many episodes during the trip that I was actually worried that the theme song might get stuck in my head during the Ironman and ruin my race!

It did not, but again, more about the race in Part Two.

We picked up our bikes from Tri Bike Transport on Thursday--no problems there at all--and we attended an official practice swim on Friday morning. On the way there, we shared a cab with Jordan and Shannon from Denver. They were great, too! Jordan is a Cat 2 cyclist like me who is transitioning to Ironman. He has his first event at Lake Placid this summer, and he's not a great swimmer yet. Shannon, like Kacie, was competing in her fourth Ironman. Her last event was Kona, where she struggled in the marathon but finished. After the swim, we ended up meeting back up with them and sharing the cab back to the hotel, too.

After Cedar Point, I will never miss another practice swim. Likewise, this one was very useful. It gave me a good sense of the course and showed me a couple of things that I would have to be mindful of during the race. It was also my first real swim in salt water. I felt capable of a really good swim, but I didn't want to get carried away. I had to remember how new I was to swimming, how far I've come since learning to swim in June, and how my goal of 1:30:00 was sound based on my training and experience in races up to this point. Still, I was hopeful for a breakthrough.

On Friday afternoon, we wandered around downtown looking for the site of the mandatory athletes' meeting before we realized that it was in our own hotel. Nice work there, Dardens. While there, we got to talk to Sonja, who Kacie has "known" online for the past several months. She won her age group last year at Arizona, and was gunning for another age group win at Cozumel. She would be very helpful to me post-race. More on that in Part Three. (Don't you love all these teasers!!??!!??)

We went to the athlete's dinner on Friday night, where for the first time, I was able to commune with athletes as one who was also doing the race. I had always felt a little left out at those events in the past, but this time, I was right in the thick of things. We sat with Jordan and Shannon, Adrian and Lesley, and our new friend Tonya from Raleigh that we met on the way to the dinner. At the dinner, we got to know Mark from southwest Florida, who was looking to do well in the 60-65 age group. It was loads of fun. The AV demonstration at the dinner was a bust, so after eating plenty of spaghetti, we headed back to the hotel for some more Two and a Half Men.

I hadn't really considered that Kacie and I would be meeting so many people during the lead-up to the race, and as it turns out, that was one of the best parts of the entire experience for me. In addition to all of the folks I already mentioned, we also met Matt from Atlanta, Percy/Perry from Australia--who was doing his 64th Ironman and has done virtually all of them!--and Scott/Steve from DC--who was doing his first Ironman like me. Percy/Perry was called "Percy/Perry" because we kinda missed his name. Scott/Steve was called "Scott/Steve" because we called him Steve--and his name was Scott--for the first few days we were there. Yee haw! The bond between folks about to do an Ironman is unique. Everyone has put in so much work, and they've had to endure the abuse of people who don't understand why they would want to do 140.6 self-propelled miles. I'm sure that we'll see a lot of these folks again; I'm looking forward to it already. I wonder if it will be the same, though, when we're not all gearing up for the same race.

On Saturday, we packed our bags, and we rode our bikes to T1. We met Mark on the way there, a former pro with over 30 Ironmans on his legs. He and I discussed the power numbers I had in mind for the bike, and he asked me about decoupling. I told him that I didn't know much about decoupling. (That would prove horribly prescient.) We had lunch with Perry/Percy, and then we headed up to watch a few more episodes of Two and a Half Men. We set the alarms for 4:40 a.m. and went to bed early . . .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tracking for IM Cozumel!

Okay, everyone! After all of the work, it's time to race!

Ironman Cozumel is on Sunday, 11/27. The race starts at 7:00 a.m. local time, which is one hour behind Eastern time. Kacie's race number is 1759, and mine is 1760. You can track our progress at

It will show you our progress throughout the race, including our place in our age group. While Kacie will probably start near the front of her age group and stay there, you can expect me to start near the back of my age group but steadily move up. If Kacie finishes in the top five of her age group, she has a chance to qualify for the World Championships next October. If I finish in the top ten of my age group, I also have a chance. Keep that in mind as you send us good thoughts!

Thanks for your support!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Taper Time!

Give me a T! Give me an A! Give me a P! Give me an E! Give me an R!

What's that spell?? Taper! Taper!! Taper!!! Taaaaaaaaaaaaaappppeerrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!

Yes, this is a tapir, not a taper, but hey, it's the best I got. And, incidentally, I picked this particular tapir because my wife said he/she/it was "sexy." Nope, not joking. Not even a little bit. "Look at that posture!" she said. Right.

My blog will be filled for the next two weeks with all sorts of insecure whining about how I'm losing fitness and I just didn't do enough work. And I might also write an entry or two about how insane my wife becomes in the two weeks prior to an Ironman. Just now, she was making "bed angels"--you know, like snow angels, but on a bed, without the snow. Right.

A week until we leave and twelve days to the race!

Friday, November 11, 2011

George D vs. Heavy D

Only one week after a student told me I needed to do more push-ups, a student yesterday suggested that Heavy D, the late 80s early 90s rapper that died on Tuesday at the age of 44, is healthier than me.



Here's how it went:

Me: And in sad news, some of you may have seen that Heavy D died on Tuesday.
Student 1: How'd he die?
Me: It's not totally certain, but I can almost guarantee that it was related to the fact that he was "Heavy" D.

[I take whatever opportunity I can find to remind my students of the dangers of obesity given that such a significant portion of this generation is overweight. The crap they eat is mind-blowing. My classroom is on the third floor, and not a day goes by when multiple students don't collapse into their desks in my classroom complaining of having to walk up "all those stairs."]

Student 1: He wasn't that heavy anymore! He had lost weight!
Me: He had lost weight, but he was still pretty heavy.
Student 2: Yeah, he was still like 500 pounds.
Student 1: That don't matter!
Me: It does matter. I don't think that he was 500 pounds, but he was definitely still too heavy to be healthy.
Student: Nuh, uh! Somebody can be 500 pounds and be healthy!

[At this point, the class kinda erupted. I tried to pull it back together a bit.]

Me: No, not really. A person can't be 500 pounds and be healthy.
Student 3: You can be if you're really tall.
Me: You'd have to be REALLY tall--like nine feet--and even then, 500 pounds is a lot.
Student 1: No, it don't matter. Mr. Darden, how much you weigh?
Me: I weigh 152 pounds.
Student 1: See? You 152 pounds, and you ain't healthy!

It's possible that she was trying to make the point that there is not a direct correlation between weight and health. And I believe that that's true: a thin and light person can be much less healthy than a bigger person, if the skinny person doesn't practice healthy habits. I've found this to be particularly true in the triathlon community: triathletes come in all shapes and sizes, and many folks that might "look less fit" than me leave me behind in races. Ultimately, I'm not sure what point she was trying to make, but I am left wondering what her notion of health is if she thinks that I am unhealthy. By most measures, I believe that I would qualify as a pretty healthy person.

This is sticking with me more than it should, and I don't know why. I think that a couple of weeks out from an Ironman, I'm annoyed by the fact that the people in my life--specifically, my co-workers and students--don't really recognize the work that I'm doing. Even if they don't understand my speed or goals, even if they don't comprehend my specific workouts and challenges, I would like for people to at least recognize that in order to train for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon of running, I have to be pretty damn fit--fitter, in fact, than virtually everyone they know.

Sure, I'm being vain, but is it so wrong for me to desire just a little recognition after all this work?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm Tired. Perhaps I Need To Do Some Push-Ups.

Last week, I was teaching my class about Julius Caesar and the Ides of March. There are several things I do surrounding this particular event, but the most unforgettable--I think--is when I share the story of what happened to me on the Ides of March, 2009, in Rome. It was Rome, Georgia, but let's not get bogged down in details. :-)

On March 14, 2009--okay, so it's not quite the Ides of March, but again, details--I was in a bike race on wet roads. The person in front of me slipped, and in trying to avoid him, I crashed into a tree on the side of the road at about 23 mph. I broke my clavicle and shattered my scapula. I spent four days in the hospital, had surgery to implant three plates, and missed a month of work. When I tell this story to my class, I fill it with all sorts of drama, and of course, I share pictures of myself pre- and post-surgery. At the end of class, I offer to take off my shirt for any student who wants to see the scars and feel the plates. There is usually a handful of students who want to check it out. Last year, a student wrote on his evaluation, "You should take off your shirt again."

This year, when I taught it, one student who stuck around to see the scars said, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups." My response, predictably, was "Donny, I'm the fittest person you know." (I'm sure that that's probably true, too.) Now, Donny could have been saying, "Mr. Darden, you need to do some push-ups because they will definitely improve your swim only three weeks from your first Ironman." Obviously, that's not what he meant. Rather, he was suggesting that I am out of shape. I'm not.

This is one of those comments that I will probably remember forever, much like Shakena's "Why you ain't never absent?" of 2003, Lindsey's, "You don't really care" of 2000, or Jocelyn's "You want us to fail" of 2006. It falls into a different category, though, since it was about my fitness rather than my teaching. Nonetheless, I found it particularly insulting. Last week, I swam more than four miles, I ran forty, and I biked about 130. What did you do, Donny???

Am I being oversensitive? Yes. Of that, there is no doubt. Donny's actually not a bad kid; I am not holding any grudge against him. And was my negative reaction borne out of the extreme tiredness I'm feeling right now? Undoubtedly, yes. If someone were to ask me how I'm feeling right now, less than two weeks before we leave for Cozumel, my answer would be "tired," closely followed by "excited."

Last night, for the second time in this training cycle, I failed to complete a trainer workout. I like trainer workouts, and I think that they greatly benefit my cycling. But a long, hard trainer workout is just too intense and difficult for me given the mental and physical fatigue I'm carrying right now. I'm sure that I will be fine; I did nearly an hour of work, and I quit before my performance started to trail off. Plus, I have a swim/bike brick on Saturday that features five hours on the tri bike. My running workout today will undoubtedly be better for having not tried to gut out a crappy workout last night, and I think that my cycling is just fine. I need to stop writing about it before it starts to sound like I'm rationalizing.

The exhaustion that I'm feeling right now is not the sort of "most pleasant exhaustion" that inspired the title of this blog. Rather, it's a sort of deep fatigue that has built up over the course of several weeks. My coach and I have been cautious not to over-train me, and I don't think that I am over-trained. It's just that part of getting ready for 140.6 self-propelled miles is getting really, really tired. Right now, I'm expecting to carry this fatigue until race week, when I'll taper, get lots of rest, and hit the starting line ready to explode. Correct? I surely hope so.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'll See Your Brick, and Raise You a Brick!

Last week, I wrote about the long brick that my wife and I did. It was 80 miles on the bike and 16 on foot. That was small potatoes compared to yesterday's session: 2000y of swimming, 80 miles of cycling, and 20 miles of running. As if it wasn't hard enough, we decided to ride on a hilly course and to run on hilly trails. It was TOUGH.

It went really well, though! I managed to remain strong throughout the bike, and I even pushed it in the second half. I was about 25 watts higher on the return trip, and all of my bests from 2:00 up were in the second half of the ride. I also ran solidly--right around 7:00 pace, not including the pit stops. The only problem I had was not drinking enough on the bike. The store where I stopped around halfway was not very well-stocked. They said that they had gone deer hunting a couple of weeks ago and left someone else in charge, and that someone else had evidently not locked up or hosted a party or something. Their shelves were nearly empty.

What this meant was that I was a bit dehydrated on the run, which in turn meant that I drank a bit more than I should have at a couple of stops. Continuing on, that meant that I got some small cramps on the run. They weren't so bad that I had to slow down, but they were bad enough to keep me from pushing the pace (had I wanted to do that--I didn't, but I will want to in Cozumel, I'm sure). It's amazing how issues in long training days or ultra-distance races manifest themselves. The store where I stopped on my bike was empty, so I got cramps on the run about four hours later. Crazy.

Also, paradoxically, I had to use the bathroom more than I would have liked. Once the workout started, I stopped four times to go. All told, that's probably two to three minutes in stopped time. I'm hoping that since it will be a little warmer in Cozumel, that won't be an issue, but we'll see. I'd hate to see a KQ spot slip away because I had to wait in line at a port-a-potty.

Somewhere around 13 miles on the run, my body went into "auto-pilot mode." I didn't quite feel connected to it anymore. I wasn't pushing and I wasn't holding back; it was kinda doing it's own thing. I found myself imagining my brain as a captain on a ship: "All hands on deck! He's STILL running! Everyone focus on the run!" I felt as if all of my body's functions became dedicated to finishing this run. Anything else that might take energy--like thinking, for example--was put aside. Nonetheless, I didn't slow down. I took a split from 5-7 and from 15-17, and they were within ten seconds of each other, despite the fact that miles 7 and 17 were brutally uphill. I kept hearing the line from Rocky IV in my head where the trainer tells Rocky something like, "No stopping now! All your strength, all your love, all your power, everything you've got! No pain! No pain!" And then, of course, a battered Rocky goes out there and drops Ivan Drago. Here's the clip:

My wife and I will have to bring our Rocky movies with us to Cozumel.

Of course, this massive training day also helped me learn a few more good things ahead of Cozumel. There were small things--like to pack a paper towel in my T2 bag to clean my sunglasses--and big things--like my nutrition plan for the run. I feel like all of the details are falling into place.

We leave for Cozumel two weeks from tomorrow. That's hardly believable. Between now and then, I have a few more big workouts. I have four long swims of 4000-4500 yards this week and next. A run or ride of comparable distance would not bother me, but swimming takes a lot of physical and mental energy for me. And next weekend, I have a long swim/bike brick (that I asked for) on Saturday, and a twenty-two mile run on Sunday. One more swim lesson, two more massages, two more trips to the chiropractor, and that's it. The race is in sight.

Oh, yeah, and I have to defend my dissertation--the last step in an eight-year Ph.D. process. But let's not let that distract us from the important things.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I have an Ironman THIS MONTH!

Halloween marked the end of October and the beginning of November. November is the month of my Ironman. From now on, whenever I talk about it, I have to say that I have an Ironman "later this month." Yikes.

This set in for the first time last night. I have done some great training, and I have a really good background in endurance sports. If anyone was ever ready for an Ironman, it would be me. Well, then again, maybe that's not true. I only learned to swim four months ago. I guess that the most-ready-for-an-Ironman person ever was probably a better swimmer than I, but I digress. The point is that it's not like I'm going from couch to 140.6.

Last night, the enormity of the task itself hit me. Perhaps it's the incredible 2000 yard swim/80 mile bike/20 mile run workout that looms on my calendar this Sunday or the two 4500 yard swims I have for the week-after-next. Perhaps I have finally watched enough Ironman coverage on Universal Sports to realize that I'm undertaking something a little bit nuts. Perhaps it's thinking about the New York Marathon that's coming up, and considering that I'm going to be doing one of those . . . after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling. Perhaps I have an appreciation for it that can only be gained from up close; at a distance, almost any endurance event seems like a good idea.

But even though it's close, it seems really far away, given the amount of work I have to do between now and then. I think that that paradox is weighing on me a bit, too. I have only three weeks . . . but I have to keep up for three more weeks. I'm really tired already. How am I going to step it up? But I need to do this work in order to accomplish my goals. Can I do it? I'm far enough away that my workouts still count. They need to go well! And during a time when all my students are getting sick, can I stay healthy?

This whole adventure has been very interesting.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Yesterday, my wife and I did an 80/16 brick. That is, we rode 80 miles and ran 16. This monster workout has been on our schedule for about five weeks, so we've had plenty of time to focus on it. We decided to do it at the Silver Comet Trail here in metro Atlanta because it's long and flat. Ironman Cozumel is also flat, and we wanted to be as race-specific as we could be.

To be clear: I believe that one's running and cycling on flats can be greatly improved by training on hills. In fact, as a coach, I strongly advocate that athletes run and ride hilly courses even if they are training for the flatest races. However, riding our tri bikes on the flat Silver Comet Trail meant that we had to stay in our aerobars the entire time, just as we will in Cozumel. Not all of our long rides and bricks will be out there, but it was important for us to put in a long chunk of time in that position.

The cold weather arrived this week in Atlanta, so we intentionally got the day off to a slow start in hopes that it would warm up. We dropped off some nutrition at a couple of different spots, parked the car, and put on all the cold-weather gear that I haven't had to wear in months. (Sigh.) The plan was to ride twenty miles out, then come back to the car for refueling, then twenty miles out, then back to the car for refueling and changing, then run eight miles and back. In my head, I thought of it as three two-hour out-and-backs.

The cycling went well. I was comfortable in my aero postion, and I felt like I cruised along nicely. I pushed a bit to keep the intensity high, but I never went super hard. In fact, this is about what I figure the Ironman will feel like. My normalized power for the ride was 215w, which is a bit lower than I might have liked, but it was certainly in the acceptable range. My speed was just shy of 21 mph, but I was not wearing my aero helmet or tight tri clothes, and I was not using the aero front wheel. Those will give me several more minutes in Cozumel.

The bike made me feel like my bike goal in Cozumel--now less than four weeks away!--is within reach. I was looking forward to the run, though, because if I can't produce on the run, what's the point of the bike?

Just before starting the run, I made my only mistake of the day. When transitioning out of my bike clothes, I threw them onto the floor of the passenger seat. There were already some clothes piled there, so I figured it was a good place for them. I only found out later that those clothes were actually my wife's running clothes. By the time that she arrived back at the car to change into her running clothes, the sweat had completely seeped off of my cycling clothing and onto the shirt, shorts, and visor that she had to then put on. Fortunately, at that point, I was roughly eight miles away.

I started the run at around 7:00 pace. Along the way out, I clocked the odd mile here and there, and they were around 6:45-6:55. I stopped three times to eat and drink, but I did not stop my watch. Thus, I hit the eight-mile turnaround at 55:30. On the way back, I sped up to about 6:40 pace, then I sped up to about 6:20 pace, and then I sped up to about 6:10 pace. I stopped three times on the way back, too, but it took 51:30. My last four miles, including two stops, was 24:50. Whew! In total, the sixteen-mile run was 1:47:00, including about 2:00 to 3:00 of stopping, after riding eighty miles. My actual run speed was right around 6:30 pace, or about 2:51 marathon pace. NICE!

Most importantly, I feel like I had plenty left. I didn't have to speed up when I did; I could have kept running 6:45-6:55 (~2:59 marathon pace) very comfortably for a while. Also, even in the last mile when I started to dig a bit, I didn't dig from my deepest place. I still had more to give.

So, needless to say, this was a fantastic confidence booster. It boosted my coach's confidence so much that he decided to add another pretty monstrous brick to our schedule this weekend. (I'll write about the 2000/80/20 next Monday, I suppose.) The only downside to the workout was that my wife had a rough day. She strayed too far from her normal nutrition plan and paid for it in the last stages of the run. It sucked, but she won't do that on race day.

Now if I can just learn to swim . . .

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grocery Shopping

My wife and I don't eat out very often, and we watch what we eat pretty closely. We're also both training for Ironman Cozumel. As a result, our weekly trip to the grocery store is a BIG deal.

Actually, I should say, "tripS to the grocery store." We go to at least two every week. Today, we hit Publix in order to buy stuff like Coke and pretzels (which we'll use on our gigantic 80-mile-bike/16-mile-run tomorrow), and then we went to Trader Joe's to buy the "real food" like vegetables, meat, and raisins. Yes, raisins. I'm not sure why I chose that particular item to mention.

The folks at the Trader Joe's actually know us pretty well, despite the fact that it's a packed place on Saturdays and Sundays. The main reason is that we come in there and fill up a giant cart each week. Whenever we get someone new checking us out, they always look at us a little bit askance, as if to say, "Why are you buying fourteen bananas?" Doesn't everyone do that?

Going to the grocery store is actually a fun event for us. We like to do it together, and we have nearly every weekend since we got married four years ago. Last week, I had to miss the weekly grocery store rotation because I was busy writing the final draft of my dissertation. (Woot!) I realized how much I missed it when we were in the store together today.

We were joking today that we really "live it up" in a different way from other folks. A few weeks ago, when my wife went out of town, I mixed together two different types of Nuun. Yesterday, my wife strayed from our nutritionist's mandate of having only plain yogurt, and she had some CHERRY yogurt. (Devilish vixen.) I suppose that that is my point of this whole post: when you're in the midst of a major training block, you find different things fun. And for us, going to the grocery store is at the top of the list.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Catching up a bit

I haven't written since Cozumel was nearly ten weeks away. Now, it's a mere four weeks away. And I'm a bit tired.

It still seems very far off, primarily because I have several workouts between now and then. Specifically, I have a long brick this weekend, a 20-mile run next weekend, and a 22-mile run the weekend after that. In addition, the dissertation that I completed this semester and mailed out TODAY will be defended by then. By the time I race in Mexico, I may well be finished with the Ph.D. that I've been working to complete for the last EIGHT YEARS. So yeah, there are still several big things that need to happen between now and the whole "George Darden, you are an Ironman!" thing.

Nonetheless, I am starting to get excited. I've been thinking a lot about the race and my goals. Goal #1, of course, is the starting line. I've struggled with injury in the past, and while this has been a fairly injury-free training cycle--KNOCK ON WOOD!--there is still enough time for some little thing to turn into a big thing. Let's hope not. Goal #2, of course, is the finish line. I've never doubted that I would be able to finish an Ironman, and my training has bolstered my confidence. However, on race day, I feel like anything is possible. It's such a long day, and there are so many things that could go . . . not quite right. Particularly since this is my first Ironman, I think it would be unwise to have any other goals as my primary goals besides the two I have listed above. Goal #3, Goal #4, and Goal #5 are all family secrets.

I'm probably most confident about the run. My running has been going well, and I feel as if I will be able to cobble together a strong run. In addition, I feel like I'm pretty good at running off the bike. In fact, I kinda prefer it; I don't have to worry about warming up. :-)

The bike . . . maybe a little bit less so. I have no doubt that I can finish, but I do worry that I might ride too hard or too slow. Or both. I did a century a couple of weeks ago that was harder than it should have been. I also quit a workout in the middle of it last week, and I have only done that once or twice ever. I chalked it up to mental exhaustion, which I in turn chalked up to riding my tri bike too much. On my tri bike, whether I'm on the trainer or on the road, I'm pretty much staring at the stem. It's also more intense to ride the tri bike; I figure that it's tantamount to riding in the drops all the time. That wasn't fun. I like it when I'm racing; I enjoy the intensity then. For day-in and day-out training, though, it was overwhelming. I've gone back to my road bike a bit in the last couple of weeks, and that has been nice. I'm sure that I'll be fine.

The swim . . . well, I'm not confident about that at all. I'll feel better by the time it arrives, though, and I don't have to do anything beforehand. And, as a friend who is a good swimmer but a weaker cyclist and runner recently told me, it will help me to pass people all day. On the other hand, that friend gets passed from the moment the bike starts. That would indeed suck.

On a related note, in the four triathlons I've done so far, I haven't yet been passed from the time I exited the water. I've decided that I won't really consider myself a triathlete until the three sports are a little more balanced. And I probably won't consider them to be balanced until someone passes me on the bike or run.

The last push is coming. I hope to write a bit more since the dissertation is off my desk for a little while. Send me good, healthy thoughts!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I've had a week to reflect a bit more on my race at Cedar Point. It's funny, because I was thinking of it as a benchmark for Cozumel. As it turns out, a 70.3 race is a pretty big event in and of itself. Thus, it's not as if I can just continue training. Rather, I have to recover and then rebuild for the next big goal . . . which is only ten weeks away!

I took three days off this week--Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday--before I started training lightly again on Thursday. I ran that day, then swam on Friday, and then rode today. I'm riding again tomorrow since I have a hilly century--the Six Gap Century--next weekend. I'm looking forward to that.

Today was the first day that I felt a bit recovered. My ride felt about like it would have felt if I hadn't raced. That's good! Now, I can start looking ahead to what's next.

At our house, we cut off our race bracelets when we are done with one race and on to training for the next. I cut mine off on Thursday. I'm eager to move ahead, but I will probably continue to eat pizza, burritos, and candy for another couple of weeks before I commit totally (i.e. nutritionally) to Cozumel.

The fella who finished second in my age group posted his race report on Slowtwitch. I enjoyed the part where he called me a "freight train." :-)

I've also read other good race reports from some of my wife's teammates, like here and here, and best of all, my wife's race report here.

Not having spent a lot of time on the road or in the pool, I don't have anything deep to say. This week has been all about catching up on work and sleep. I'm excited to move on to the next block of training.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cedar Point Half Rev Race Report

First, a little background. Since I last wrote in this blog a few months ago, I have begun competing in triathlons. My first tri was in early June, less than a week after my swim tutor and I completed my swim stroke. Thus, understandably, of the 303 competitors in that first sprint, I was the 298th athlete to exit water that day. I had the fourth-fastest bike and the second-fastest run, and as a result, I finished second in the beginner division. I was satisfied with that. In fact, not being the last swimmer and being one of the fastest cyclists and runners was exactly my goal. Check.

I then competed in an Olympic tri a month later, but it did not go well. I had a mechanical issue with my bike which cost me several minutes and destroyed me mentally. My coach and I then decided to enter a second Olympic tri in August, and it went significantly better. This time, I finished around the middle of the pack in the swim, and again near the top of the bike and run. That was good enough for sixth in my age group--an improvement.

The goal is Ironman Cozumel on November 27th, and to that end, I competed in my first half-iron distance triathlon this past weekend. My wife, my coach, and I selected the Cedar Point Half Rev in Sandusky, OH, and my wife and I went up there on Friday morning. We prepared for the race on Saturday, and we competed on Sunday. My wife did the full 140.6 distance.

My first goal was to go roughly the same pace as I plan to go in my full-distance triathlon this fall. That would mean finishing around five hours. I figured that I could probably run a bit faster, though, so I was thinking that 4:50 was a worthwhile goal. I figured that would put me in the top five of my age group and top thirty of the race, but I wasn't too bogged down in placings. Most importantly, I wanted to experience the longer race as a means of determining my readiness for Cozumel.

My wife started about 90 minutes before me, so I wished her a happy start and headed back to our hotel room for a little while. During that time, I basically sat and dreaded the swim. Even though I have spent a lot of time in the pool lately and I was confident about the distance, Lake Erie made me nervous. I did the practice swim the day before, and the water was so murky that I couldn't even see my hands and arms in front of me. No exaggeration. I was also wearing a wetsuit for the first time, which on the one hand gave me more confidence, but on the other, felt like something uncertain that could possibly go wrong.

My race began at about 8:40. After trudging through some sludge and into the water, I began swimming. The water was just as murky as it had been the day before. Whenever I put my head down, I might as well have had my eyes closed. As a result, I was constantly running into people and people were constantly running into me. It was a battle the entire time. We were still running into each other as late as the last couple hundred meters. I ended up about three or four minutes faster than I thought, though, between the wet suit and the unintended drafting. My swim split was about 41:35. I was the 221st person out of the water, and around 40th in my age group. I was middle of the pack, basically, which is perfectly fine for someone who learned to swim three months ago.

I was excited to hop on the bike and make up some time. I transitioned quickly (about 2:30), and hopped on. Having finished the swim where I did meant that I had a lot of traffic to navigate in the first half of the bike. That has been the case in every triathlon I've done so far, so I didn't mind. In fact, it's kinda fun passing folks who are going about five to eight miles per hour slower than me. It's a bit dangerous, perhaps, but I'm confident in my bike handling given my history with bike racing.

During the bike, I moved up about 200 spots, but I was also passing people from previous waves and folks from the 140.6. It wasn't until the last 15 miles or so that I had open road. I started out a bit harder since I had to surge a lot and pass people and stuff, but it didn't affect me too much in the long run. The course was mostly flat, but there were a couple of rolling hills, a bit of stiff wind, some rough pavement, cars, and two or three steep kickers. I finished the bike in 2:22 (23.6 mph), which was the eighth fastest bike split of the day. I came into T2 in nineteenth place overall and third in my age group.

I knew that I had the ability to catch a lot of people on the run given my history as a runner. After transitioning in about 1:30, I was thinking that the first mile would be between 6:40 and 7:00. It was 6:10. I was feeling very relaxed and well within myself, though, so I didn't worry about it. I also have a lot of faith in my "running instincts"--that I am very good at perceiving how hard a particular effort should be, so I was confident that I was putting in the right effort. I actually thought that the mile marker might be off, because I just didn't think that a 6:10 off the bike should feel that easy. When I did the second mile in 6:14, I began to think that averaging around 6:20 was possible. That's what I kept in my mind the entire run. Even though I lost my running splits--my battery died in my watch about two hours after the run--most of the miles through the downtown Sandusky neighborhoods were between 6:05 and 6:20, depending on the aid stations. (I was speed-walking through them.) My fastest mile was mile eight or nine, a 5:54. That was around the time that I started to push, and I didn't have any aid stations in that mile. From that point on, I was under 6:10 for each mile, but I quit paying as much attention to each mile split.

As I had expected, I was chasing down a lot of people on the run. The fact that there were some out-and-backs on the run course helped me to pick out folks in front of me that I could run down.

Just past mile eleven, I felt a little twinge of a cramp in one of my calves, and I almost panicked. Fortunately, it held off, and I was able to catch a couple of other people, including the leader of my age group. I had no idea who he was at the time, and no idea where I stood in the race or in my age group, but that's just as well. I was just intent on catching people. The leader of the age group still had about 100 yards on me with a quarter-mile to go, and he didn't see me coming. I went past him with about 200 feet left in the race, just before entering the final chute. My run was 1:21:03, and was actually the fastest run of the day by about 3:00. I finished 5th overall.

Overall, the race was a good confidence builder. Even my transitions and nutrition were good. If I have a race in Cozumel like I did this past weekend, I feel like I'll be able to swim about 1:20, bike 5:00, and run close to 3:05. That would be sweet--around 9:30. That would put me in the running for a Kona spot. I'm not going to start planning for it yet, though. I'm going to keep my goal around 10:00 (1:30, 5:00, and 3:20), which would be like 30th in my age group in Cozumel. We'll see.

One last word about Rev 3, since I know that folks are really into the whole Rev 3 vs. WTC thing. Rev 3 did a great job of organizing and pulling off the race. Rev 3 is not the spectacle that Ironman is, but by the same token, it feels much less rigid. When my wife finished the full 140.6--in a thirty-minute PR and third in her age group!!--we were able to run across the line together. That was fun and very special. In addition, I sensed that they are more thoughtful. When there was a bunch of muck on the shore near the swim start on Saturday, they brought out bulldozers and cleared a lot of it. They provided ART therapists for the athletes before the race. At the post-race meal, they let families eat, too. At midnight, pros and amateurs together danced and waved glow sticks for the final finishers. In general, I felt less like a nameless amateur who was finishing a race and more like a respected athlete who was seeking a quality experience.

I also thought that Rev 3 handled the fact that the race fell on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 well. They mentioned it, had a moment of silence, and offered athletes the option of finishing with a flag (which, given how close my race was, I did not do). Given how politicized 9/11 remembrances have become over the past decade, I appreciated the fact that the importance of 9/11 was recognized, but I wasn't forced to take part in some nationalistic exercise.

I'm going to try to stay on top of my blog a bit more in the coming weeks as I begin the build toward Cozumel. I'm open to any advice as I continue to quickly step it up!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Motivation, Part II (aka Same Day, Second Verse)

After I got out the door today, I spent a lot of my ride thinking about motivation. I also spent a lot of time thinking about getting to watch Paris-Nice on TV. Cycling on television! Can I get a Hell Yeah?? (Paris-Nice did not disappoint. After I'm done writing, I'll probably spend half an hour reading articles about the race I watched, as if the outcome will somehow be different.)

Motivation was on my mind for two reasons. First, a friend recently asked my wife the Ironman about what motivates her, and we discussed the blog she wrote about it. Second, I have noticed my will to train has flagged a bit lately, and I have been concerned.

I've always had a fairly stoic approach to motivation. I don't always enthusiastically bound out the door for a training session. While training is at times fun, for me, it has always been a means to an end--to be a fitter and fiercer competitor. Many people who know that I spend a lot of my life pounding out miles are surprised to learn that I don't enjoy every minute of it. I don't. But I love racing, and that enlivens every training session I undertake.

Strangely, this makes me look forward to the workouts that most people dread. I enjoy grinding out hill repeats or interval sessions more than I enjoy leisurely training rides or runs. The workouts I enjoy most are the ones that I sense have a direct effect on my ability to stomp my competitors when we race. When I was in high school, I would read articles in Runner's World about folks who would relish the opportunity to commune with nature during their weekly long runs. I am not one of those people. I believe that this is one big reason why I have yet to make the step up to ultra-endurance events.

Today, as I thought about what motivates me, I kept coming back to a quotation from Emil Zatopek, the Czech runner who inspired the title of this blog:

If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then will power is no longer a problem. It's raining? That doesn't matter. I am tired? That's besides the point.
It's simply that I must.

I'm stuck on the word "must." This "must" is the core of his motivation. For Zatopek, there was no motivated or unmotivated; there was only "must." Of course, Zatopek was a professional. Indeed, for him, training even when he didn't feel like it was a must, just as I must go to work tomorrow morning even though I'd rather . . . do . . . almost anything else. (It's a tough time of year for teachers.) But I sense something deeper in his words, and it's at that level that I feel I can relate.

Do I have to train? Do I have to race? Must I be an endurance athlete? After spending thousands of hours covering tens of thousands of miles, after enduring injuries and surgeries and painful therapies, after devoting more time and money than I have to spend on bikes and books and clothes and entry fees, I have concluded: Yes, I must. At this point in my life, being an athlete is such a deeply ingrained part of my self-concept that I really have no other choice. I have experimented with being someone else--an intellect, for example, during the two times in my life when I was burying myself in pursuit of advanced degrees--but i have always felt that my life was out of balance. It was; endurance athletics are a pillar on which I am built. I've spent two-thirds of my life in search of fast times--in search of the most pleasant exhaustion. It's who I am.

So for me, it's never going to be a matter of being motivated to train. I will have as many days when I don't want to train as days when I do. Rather, it's a matter of conscience; if I am to be true to myself, I can do no other.

I resolved to put a picture in my blog every time I write, so here's one of Emil dropping the hammer in Helsinki.