It is my belief that we can become better, happier, and more fulfilled human beings when we give the best of ourselves, and we give of ourselves joyfully. The more we honestly share our experiences of what we are doing to be in service to others, how we are improving our own lives, and how this experience can benefit others, the more we can inspire others to do the same. An upward spiral.

To that end, it is my intent to share my training and racing experience as it happens - from unhealthy, injured, and addicted, to competitive amateur athlete - so that others who can relate may become inspired. Additionally, I want to provide a positive and motivating place where others can share their inspiring personal journeys and promote their cause. If you would like to share your story, please email your story to team@trifundracing.com.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Obsessive Focus

When I was young, I never really wanted anything. I obsessed over everything. If something caught my fancy, I would not just think about how great it would be to have said "thing", but I would fantasize about it, plotting and obsessing over it until it became mine. When it did become mine, the euphoria was typically short lived, as a new "thing", which I didn't have, would catch my fancy.

The cycle always continues.

This didn't get much better when I got older, and the "things" which I had obsessed over became more and more difficult to acquire, which led to anger and frustration. Lack of control was beginning to become my problem, and when an obsessive realizes they have lost control, look out.

This is one of the many roots of my addiction. The obsession over alcohol as a means to solve my problems related to lack of control - that I wasn't where I wanted to be, I didn't have what I wanted, that I was a failure.

That's the way obsessiveness manifested itself in me. It can also manifest itself in other ways. For example, obsessing over finances can turn into a gambling addiction or risky investing behaviors. Sexual obsession can become sexual misconduct. We can become slaves to our obsessions.

My obsessive nature does not go away. Instead, I learned that it can be focused in positive ways.

I began to focus on what I can control. Specifically, breathing in and out, and putting one foot in front of the other. So I began to obsessively focus on that. Putting one foot in front of the other turned into training for long distance triathlons. That's the power of our obsessions channeled in a productive fashion.

In order to determine if the obsession is healthy, it is important to step back, reevaluate, and assess your psychological state, and first ask yourself "Am I doing harm? If the answer is yes, then it is clearly unhealthy. There are also some follow up questions to evaluate your own well being. Am I experiencing anxiety? Am I irritable? Am I no longer experiencing joy? Do I feel like I've lost control? I ask myself these questions almost monthly.

While sitting on this blog post for about a month, I came across a recent blog post by James Altucher. In it, he wrote that he's an addict, and he's proud of it. Keeping in mind that "addiction" and "obsession" can be interchangeable terms, I can say the same thing about myself. I've realized that while obsessions have the stigma of being "bad", if channeled correctly, they can be used for tremendous good, and get us through significant challenges to our goals that we otherwise may have given up on... as long as our obsessive focus is positive.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ironman 70.3 California 2015 Race Report -

One of the defining images of California iconography, aside from the beaches and surfers, is certainly the insane amounts of traffic flowing into and out of our overcrowded cities. It's an accurate portrayal of most of the populated areas of California, from San Diego through Los Angeles if you ask me, and if anyone wishes to experience a simulation of the overcrowded state of California in race form, then Ironman California 70.3 is your venue.

My hometown race was the most crowded race I have yet experienced. I mean scary crowded. From the start of the swim to the finish line, piles upon piles of racers. This had a lot to do with the fact that there were upwards of 3,000 registrants. It also had to do with where I started in the race. I was in the very last wave.

Fortunately, I have a Supersonic Speed Cycle.

My first race with the Dimond and it performed beautifully, navigating the technical course and dodging throngs of other racers. It was in it's element, and appeared willing and happy to find its path through the masses. But more on that later.

As much as I hate crowds, I have to say that I love this venue. I get to sleep in my own bed, it's only a 30 minute drive down the coast from my house, half of the course is along the bike route I typically ride for training rides, and we get to see a part of California that not a lot of civilians get to see - the backside of Camp Pendleton. Plus, you just can't beat the weather, which this year was absolutely perfect for racing.

This would be my first race of the season, which is loosely packed with two half Ironmans and two fulls. In the offseason, I worked on my swim... a lot. I also worked on my bike... a lot. I suppose I worked on everything a lot because in the weeks leading up to the race I was logging 50+ mile running weeks as well. In the pool I was doing a lot of short intervals with short rest to try to increase my speed. I had a lot of success in increasing my paces in the pool, but I wasn't sure how it would translate in open water.

My goals in this race were to a) swim close to a 1:30/100 yd pace for the 1.2 mile swim (about a 31-32 min swim), and b) hammer the hell out of the bike to see how fast I could go. In other words I wanted to try to blow myself up on the run to see what it would take. If I could blast out on the bike and still have a respectable run time, I would therefore increase my tolerance on the bike. I had hoped this would translate into about a 2:25 bike split. A large part of me just wanted to see what this bike could do though.
Dimond Racked and Race Ready
For the run I didn't have many expectations, except that I hoped to do a 1:35 or under. I have a lot of trouble running "fast" and was hoping for a bit of a breakthrough. In 2 of my previous 3 70.3's I had done a 1:40 half marathon. I had hoped to beat that to give me a bit more confidence that I could run a 3:30 or faster IM marathon come May.

From a nutrition standpoint I wanted to go a bit minimal. I packed a concentrated bottle of 700 calories of glucose formula with about 1400 mg sodium (planned for 2.5 hours) along with a 7 oz bottle of Red Bull for the bike. On the run I would live off the Gatorade and Red Bull on course. 

Swim: 34:01

The pre race routine was uneventful. A little fog, a little breeze, a lot crowded, but nothing special. As I mentioned, I was in the last wave, which started about an hour after the race start so I had a lot of time to just hang around and watch the pros start. Being last does have its perks, though. Porta potty lines were empty for the first time in my triathlon history (if not "slightly" used).

I had a lot of nerves about the swim, but not because I feared the swim necessarily, but more so because I really wanted my improvement to translate in the open water. Nothing would have disheartened me more than to look at the clock after the swim and see 38:XX again showing no improvement. 

The waves of racers slowly made their way onto the course, until the 35-39 year old male age group started to wade knee deep in the water at the swim start. As we got ready to start, the fog lifted, which was a nice sign of things to come.

Weather before our wave start...

Weather during our wave start!
I positioned myself at the front of the line on the far right side, wanting to avoid being caught behind people as much as possible and avoiding the notion that I was going to draft some people. I recognize now, after a number of races, that the draft effect in swimming is really only effective if you can go out hard and stay with the fast swimmers. I'm not a sprinter, so I couldn't possibly hang with the fast guys, even at the beginning. So the best thing that drafting would do for me is get me behind someone is is about as fast (slow) as me, but possibly keep me with a much slower pack. I decided to just do my own race.

When we went out I went out hard (for me) and still recognized that the lead pack of people was moving away quickly. But I wasn't getting passed, which led me to believe that I positioned myself well. I stayed on the right hand side of the group, following the hypotenuse to the first turn buoy. I had no contact all the way out to that first buoy and then made the turn toward the breakwater.

It was at this point that it started getting crowded. Unfortunately, I had just found my rhythm when I started running into a wall of people in the form of the previous waves mixed with faster people from our wave. I began to get kicked and punched a bit, and even had somebody grab my ankle (I STILL don't understand the reasoning behind people doing this. It is simply a jerk move shielded by the anonymity of the crowded swim). 

A few times at this point I had to stop and regroup to find an open space. I figured it would only waste more energy fighting under the water for position when I could more quickly find a better line. As we left the relative protection of the harbor and entered into the channel, it started to get a bit bumpier, which caused a number or people to get panicky. I ran into a few people stopped in the middle of the swim, floating on their backs, or swimming sideways to get to a paddle boarder. Once to the turnaround buoy's, I took the outermost line against the jetty to get some protection from the chop, get away from people, and find the shortest line. Fortunately at this point I was alone and it felt faster on the way back in. 

I focused on my turnover rate, making sure that I was between 60-70 strokes/min, vs. 40-50 in previous races. As I approached the swim exit, I saw a wall of racers just standing and blocking the exit. I believe they were waiting for the "unzippers" to unzip their wetsuits. As I maneuvered my way through the people, I felt my wetsuit get unzipped. Whoever did that had an amazing grab! As I looked at the clock I saw 37:xx and got a little discouraged. As I ran through the chute, I realized that the clock started 1 hour and 4 minutes before my wave start. So the real swim time was around 33:xx (officially 34:01). Considering the traffic on the swim, I'm happy with the progress. A 4 minute PR!

I ran hard into T1 and felt surprisingly fresh. Nothing significant here, just that it was a really long run. Then off on the bike.

Bike: 2:24 - 23.33 Mph

The plan was to bike hard and see what I could do, but I would have to wait before I could hammer down. It would be at least a few miles before I would have room enough to make any sort of move. Most of the beginning of the course is pretty technical, curving around greater than 90 degree turns to get onto Camp Pendleton. With the heavy traffic it would have made things extremely dangerous for everyone if I went into hero mode this early. Instead I sat back and let my legs get used to spinning.

Once onto the base I could finally start making passes, but the crowds didn't really ever let up on the bike. Fortunately, this was my home course, and I was riding a Dimond. This bike handles so amazingly well I can't even describe it. It just made putting a little extra power in that much easier. With control being much simpler, I could focus more on keeping the tempo high and maintaining a solid pace.

I didn't know what to expect on the second half of the course, since it went through a restricted area of the base, but I knew the first half very well, which was advantageous, since I could anticipate the false flats, the punchy climbs, the faster areas, and even the potholes. This led to a pretty fast bike split through this area. Going through San Onofre was a blast as it was fast and flat, with plenty of room to flex some bike muscles. I knew that I could put down some high power here because the return on the effort is huge on these flat sections. I made a lot of passes here.

One of the many no passing zones came at the end of the San Onofre section before we turned onto Christianitos. As I settled in behind a rider, who was going pretty slow, we were passed by two other racers. The first time I was passed in the race and it was illegally. Once past this short no passing zone I was able to open it back up get back into my pacing. God I love this bike. Did I mention I love this bike?

Above photos by David Petty Photography - www.davidpettyphotography.com
Here's where the course became unknown to me. I was racing literally in my backyard, but I could have been racing in Nashville. Everything from here on out would be new to me. It started out rolling as we went through Christianitos, and then made a sharp right to start climbing up Basilone. This was an amazing scenery, and for those moments on the course I wished I could be among the pros so that I could enjoy this course without the crowds. The untouched foothills of California are absolutely gorgeous, and it makes me sad to think of how much this has been destroyed over the rest of the state to add more condos, office buildings, outlet malls (I'm talking to you, San Clemente!), and freeways. Alright, off my soap box.

The hills were killer, and I wasn't prepared for the two massive climbs we would have to take on. Regardless, I mashed through them and made it to the downhill sections where I could make up some of that lost speed.

After the second big climb, there was a no passing zone where a 25 mph speed limit was enforced through radar and timing mats. Everyone was well aware of this zone, as someone was killed here in 2001. Despite this, I was passed yet again by two racers (only the second time I was passed, and again illegally and dangerously). Once through this zone, it was essentially downhill for the remainder of the race with a bit of a headwind. But I put my head down and hammered through to the end.

For the last few miles, we faced the same meandering course that we did at the beginning, so I settled my heart rate a bit and was able to recover for a little while before getting to T2. Since we entered transition in a no passing zone, it was a perfect opportunity to bring the heart rate down and get fresh for the run.

Transition 2 was uneventful as well, and I was able to quickly get onto the run course.

 Run: 1:40, 7:38 min/mile

I had left T1 in 53rd place in my age group and entered T2 in 8th. As I ran out of T2 I noticed how great I felt and looked at my pace. It showed about a 6:50 min/mile. I reassessed how I felt and realized that this pace felt really good, but decided to settle into a 7-7:15 pace instead so I didn't burn my matches too early. I had a really good shot at a top 10 performance in a really competitive race, and I didn't want to squander that by being too aggressive. In retrospect, I probably should have maintained the momentum and kept the pace strong. After all, the aggressive bike seemed to work this time, and I felt good on the run.

At mile 1 I grabbed some Gatorade and continued to dig, over and above the pier and on through miles 2 and 3. At mile 3 I decided to grab some Red Bull and immediately cramped up in my side. I tried to run through it, but it was one of those stabbing pains which I couldn't tolerate. I had to walk, which was demoralizing since I was only at mile 3. I thought of solutions as I was being passed by concerned athletes asking if I was ok. I decided to take a salt pill. Unfortunately, I wouldn't know if this was going to work for a while since it had to work its way through my system.

I'm still not sure what happened, but I have a feeling that I took in too much nutrition too early. I grabbed Gatorade at miles one and two, and I think I overdid it. Less is more, and I need to follow that mantra more often. Taking in too much in these races can often do more harm than good.

After about a half mile I was able to run again, but my pace never really recovered to my original awesome pace. I had to fight through the rest of the half marathon to maintain about a 7:30 pace. Doing the math, it wasn't likely that I was going to hit m goal for a 1:35. I was constantly self-assessing, making sure that I was not dehydrated, calorie deficient, or about to cramp. As I ran through the last two miles I was able to steadily increase my pace until the final few hundred yards, where I saw two other racers ahead of me. The first one I knew was in my age group. The other I wasn't so sure, but I decided that I wanted to make it a sprint finish and try to pass them both.

I succeeded in passing the guy who was in my age group and then increased my pace even more. I was able to pass the next guy just before the finish. Even though I didn't meet my time goal on the run, the fact that I was able to sprint out the finish and pass two other people was very redeeming.

I ended up running a 1:40 half marathon, which is the very same time that I ran on 2 of my previous 3 half Ironmans. While I didn't necessarily improve on my run, I was proud of this finish considering my strong bike leg.

More photos by David Petty Photography (www.davidpettyphotography.com)
My total race time was 4:44, good enough for 12th place out of 300+ athletes in my age group, and 107th overall out of about 3000 athletes overall. My best finish for a 70.3 to date, and a PR by 13 minutes. I really enjoy this distance, and want to commit myself to doing a lot more of these races next year while trying to get faster.

I have a lot of thanks to go out, especially to my wife and family for always supporting me. I want to thank Smart Triathlon Training for their guidance and effective training programs (my improvements would not be possible without them!). Thanks to Dimond Bikes for making the longest middle portion of this race so dang enjoyable. Their service and support is as amazing as their bike.

 And a big thanks to David Petty Photography for taking some awesome pictures along the course. He took some great shots of a lot of athletes, and if you're looking for shots of you, you may find them at his website. In my opinion, these are much better than the FinisherPix shots.

Next on the schedule will be Ironman Texas on May 16. I'm jumping right into my first full of the season, and it should be a hot and humid one. Hopefully by then I will have my nutrition dialed in! Until next time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dream Big, Plan Small

Let me start off with a simple equation:

  • Dream = Something desired, but seemingly unattainable
  • Goal = Something desired, and attainable with effort
  • If "Dream" = "Goal", then the "Dream" becomes attainable with effort

We all have dreams, but all too often fail to pursue them because we are stuck on the first part of the equation above. We fail to go through the practice of transforming our dreams into goals. To tie these equations together, it takes some planning and effort, but when that happens, our "dreams" begin to fall within our reach.

So how do we turn our dreams into goals? As with everything, we must plan.

The Destination

The first important step is to lay out the destination. This is the seemingly unattainable dream that you want to one day achieve. Right now, this looks impossible. But it's important to write down this dream. This is the fun part, because you can let your imagination run wild! Additionally, your brain will be firing on all cylinders telling you "No way!", or "That's impossible!", and the worst four letter word of them all "I CAN'T!". These are necessary birth pains for our goals, but it's important to get through this exercise.

The Starting Point

Next, it's time to be honest with ourselves about where we are now. Identifying our baseline is a key component of identifying a series of goals that will gradually lead us to the destination. Discipline, grit, and focus are what it will take to propel us through the process. But first things first. Take a mental inventory of our present state. Is the journey we are about to embark upon physical? Mental? Spiritual? A combination of all three? It's time to start listing out your present feelings, your present physical state, your motivation. For what purpose are you undertaking this challenge? It is vital in this process to be clear on what is driving you toward the dream. Maintaining focus on this motivation will be a critical element of staying on the path.

The Path

So now we have a starting point, and a destination, so our path looks essentially like this:

This simple diagram was stolen from another of my posts, "Change is Never Easy..."
Now it is time to define what we do in the "desert" section. I call this "the desert" because this is where the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering while waiting to enter the promised land. While we may not be on nearly that extraordinary of a journey, it still helps to demonstrate value of the exercise. The desert represents a barren wasteland, and nothing will get us through it unless we take action. If you would like to read more on this, go to my previous post, Change is Never Easy...

I mentioned in the previous section that the journey takes discipline, grit, and focus to propel us through. Without these elements, we simply remain isolated in limbo, left to ponder what could have been had we only...

The dream at this point still seems unattainable, but the creation of a path to that goal is simple through the process of assigning mini goals on the way to the dream. These mini goals in relation to the dream are easily achievable. And we achieve each mini goal, we get closer to the dream. The dream then begins to come into view as an achievable goal. Our view of that dream is no longer far fetched. Instead, it is a realistic goal which can be achieved through action. Action is the critical step which will leapfrog us from one miniature goal to another.

Dream Big, Plan Small

As an example, when I began thinking about doing an Ironman, I went through this process. As a reminder, at that time I was only one year sober, had just quit smoking a month earlier, and I was an avid "breaditarian" - meaning that most, if not all, of my food needed to be breaded and fried.

My dream became "To qualify for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship". This was an absolutely ridiculous idea because a) I had never done an Ironman, let alone one fast enough to qualify for Kona, b) I had never done a triathlon and did not know how to swim, and c) as mentioned above, was only one year into sobriety, one month free from smoking, and completely unhealthy. I had no business thinking I could qualify for the Ironman World Championships. I could barely watch them on TV without getting winded.

But, a plan came together, and even though my dream was big, I was planning small. I was setting goals which would progress me toward my dream. Here is an example of how my goal hierarchy looked:
  1. Get my butt off the couch
  2. Begin practicing healthy habits, including consuming a healthy diet. (Read more on that here)
  3. Research and learn about Ironman triathlon and how to train.
  4. Learn how to train (you can read my post on how I started training here)
    1. Bike 10 miles without stopping
    2. Swim 100 yards without stopping
  5. Run a 5k
  6. Run a 10k
  7. Run a half marathon (race report here)
  8. Swim 1k in the open water (open water fears reported here)
  9. Complete a sprint triathlon (race report here)
  10. Complete an Olympic distance triathlon (race report here)
  11. Swim 2.4 miles in the open water
  12. Complete a half Ironman (race report here)
  13. Complete a full Ironman (race report here and here)
  14. Complete an Ironman in under 12 hours
  15. Qualify for Ironman Hawaii World Championships
  16. Podium in an Ironman as an age grouper
  17. Win my age group in an Ironman
  18. Win an Ironman overall as an age grouper
  19. Win the Ironman World Championships as an age grouper
Thus far I have achieved the mini goals through #14, and will be seeking #'s 15 and 16 in 2015. Looking back at when I was at #1 (just getting my butt off the couch), #15 (qualifying for the Ironman World Championships) was a pipe dream. Now it is absolutely achievable, and I have the ability to do so. Now my dream has become to win an Ironman. A few more achieved goals, and that one will become realistic as well!

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the entire process is easy. In fact, it's just the opposite. Again, it takes discipline, grit, and focus. The goals get much harder and the returns are diminishing as we progress through them. However, the key is that we are better equipped to meet the increasing demand as we continue to achieve our goals. We get stronger with resistance.

Think about it like a role playing video game. Zelda is one of my favorites. Every time you beat a boss, the next level gets harder. But additionally you get stronger. It's harder to beat the bosses at the end of each level, but there is no doubt that we are capable of doing so. What once was an impossible task at the beginning of the game now becomes absolutely possible. 

What dreams are you putting on hold because you think they are too far out of reach? How many times have you told yourself that "it's too hard", or "I'll never be able to do that?" Perhaps it's time to create that path to your dreams, and start setting goals to get there. For me it started by just getting off the couch. What is your first step?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Das Computrainer (or How I Learned to Love Training Indoors)

Jackie Chan is one insane mofo.

This I learned recently from spending many hours watching his films while my backside was glued to the seat of a bicycle, which in turn was attached to a trainer. This has not been my first experience with Mr. Chan, as I spent many a drunken night with friends long ago laughing hysterically at his beautifully choreographed madness.

But now it's different. My face is transfixed inches away from my iPad as I become hypnotized by his masterful Kung Fu, where he is often milliseconds or inches from disaster or death. The only thing to distract me is the constant whirring of the trainer below me, and the endless seconds ticking down slowly to zero on my computer.

The acting is terrible. The plots are unbelievable, as if they were conceived by the laziest porn director. But oh, the action! Nothing can keep your mind occupied during the endless hours of riding a trainer like well-choreographed fight scenes, explosions, or using of props as weapons.

What on Earth did people do before Netflix? Am I to really believe that people would spend hours on the trainer with nothing to occupy their time except their own thoughts? Perhaps a walkman, or God forbid, network television? I can't even think about that. All I can say is thank the good Lord for the heroes that developed applications which can distract us from endless drudgery.

So why should I even train indoors when all I'm going to do is complain about how boring it is? Why not enjoy the majesty and wonder of Gods creation outdoors rather than confine myself in a human constructed pit of despair? A few reasons come to mind.

1. Jackie Chan. I can't stress this enough, the guy is insane. And there is something about him that draws out the primitive lust for action and violence in men, but acts as a repellent to women. Thus his movies don't make the cut during regular TV time with the wife. While I haven't seen any studies on the subject, I have concluded that riding a bike outdoors while watching Jackie Chan movies is probably not a good idea. So watching them while on the trainer is a safer alternative, and gives me a chance to enjoy them without the added guilt of knowing I hog the remote.

2. I like living. I think most of us do. The streets for a bicyclist can be a dangerous place, as you have to share the road with vehicles 10 times heavier than you driving at a higher rate of speed. Not to mention the potential for my own klutziness, which could result in my bicycle ending up magically above me while I sacrifice some of my skin to the gods of asphalt. Logic would tell me that the more often you ride outside, the more likely an accident is to happen.

3. It's less crowded. I'm not antisocial, but at a certain point, too many people does begin to to get annoying. Not just other cyclists, but with cars, pedestrians, stoplights and signs (which many cyclists tend to ignore, but I tend to practice the non-arrogant cyclist behavior), etc. It is a fact that while I'm on my trainer, I am less likely to get cut off. Except, of course, when my wife needs to sneak by and grab something out of the freezer. But even then, I don't have to slow down!

Sometimes the indoor rides can become crowded too.
4. More effective improvement. Without the opportunities to stop and take an impromptu break due to stoplights or downhills, one has to maintain a constant effort on the trainer. The result is a more efficient use of training time, and an opportunity for expedited improvement on the bike. Additionally, in what is called "ERG" mode, you can program in your effort so that you constantly have to maintain a power. You can't do this outdoors, and often may even subconsciously slow down when you start to get a little fatigued.

5. "It's too (insert worthless excuse here)". Let's face it. Sometimes you wake up and it's really freakin' cold and you feel like being a wuss for the day. Or maybe it's raining. Snow? Lightning? Escaped Chimpanzee? No problem! I have a 4 ft by 3 ft space in my garage where I can cycle as many miles as I want to,without the added hassle of getting a little wet or getting your face mauled off by a monkey (so some scenarios are more likely than others).

6. A more structured workout. I have been able to keep my mind occupied on the trainer without going insane not only by watching Netflix, but also by structuring a specific schedule on my training ride. For example, if I'm on the trainer for 4 hours (yeesh!), I will start with 10 minutes easy, 40 minutes at IM pace, and then 10 minutes at a tempo pace, after which time I'll get off the trainer to use the bathroom and fill my waters. Even if I don't have to, it's important that I get off the trainer so that I can stretch my legs out a bit and give my sit bones a rest.

7. It makes riding outside that much better. When I do venture out into the wild blue yonder, I have a new found appreciation for riding outdoors. It is liberating, to my spirit and my aching butt.

Monday, January 19, 2015

During the Offseason...

This post may be mistitled, since I am now back in the full swing of training for the 2015 season. However, I wanted to give an update on all that has happened in my first offseason. Even though I've technically raced two seasons, I didn't really have the luxury of an offseason last year. I went straight from racing all the way through December to racing in March and then beyond. This year, I was able to give myself a few good months off. And wouldn't you know it, they happened to fall right within the holiday season.

October, November, and December were great months because I didn't have to focus on serious volume training. I could relax and spend a lot more time with the family, sleep in, and generally enjoy the holidays. Not that training isn't enjoyable, in fact I began to miss it a lot, but I learned to appreciate the off time more without having to fit in 20 hour training weeks. Additionally, I was able to do more focused work on areas I needed to improve, and improve my arsenal for the coming year. So here's what happened during the offseason...

I Became a Part of the Smart Triathlon Training Elite Team - For the past couple years, since I began my triathlon training, Luis Vargas and Smart Triathlon Training have coached me through great improvements, and have made the process highly enjoyable. When Luis asked me to be a part of this great team, I was honored and jumped at the opportunity. The guidence and support provided at Smart Triathlon Training is amazing for beginner and veteran triathletes alike. I am privilaged to be joining some amazing athletes on this team, especially since I likely have the shortest resume out of the group. I am certain to learn a lot, and up my game for this year.

I Started Riding a Dimond
I have been so impressed by performance of the Dimond bike this past year, and its respective riders. With only about 100 bikes on the road (and surely growing), Dimond Bikes was represented by 21 athletes at Kona. That's one in five bikes, an impressive rate. That's not to say that the bike is wholly responsible for this result, but it does say something for the company and the class of athlete it attracts. The service and support provided by the guys at Dimond is absolutely terrific, and the community of athletes is awesome. The bike itself rides like a dream, and I will post a separate product feature at some point. I feel faster and fresher, which is an important psychological boost. Plus, it just looks incredible. My only dissatisfaction with the bike is that I can't look at it while I'm riding it. Plus, I do get distracted by the envious stares of other cyclists.

I am stoked about the color scheme I chose for this bike because it looks like a bike that Darth Vader would ride if he was a triathlete. Why is that a big deal? Well, when I thought about it, triathlon has been a conduit for positive life change for me, an overcoming of "the dark side". This bike reminds me of this, and only serves to increase my gratitude. I may even call this baby "The Dark Side." Okay, done nerding out... after one last picture...

I Became a Faster Swimmer
Any of you who have followed this blog have known that I am a terrible swimmer. Even in a sport where most of the athletes call their swim their worst event, I am horrendous. I know that if I can be competitive, I have to be closer to the front of the swim pack. A few small adjustments, thanks to the advice of my coaches and my wife, along with tons of yardage, and I am now about 20 seconds faster per hundred. I've also been working a lot on my turnover rate so that I am doing more strokes per minute. As I begin to increase my volume, I hope that I can maintain this pace and hopefully continue improving.

Bottom line is, I am prepared to race strong and it is my season to lose. Everything feels great. My run and bike are improving as well. And as I begin building my fitness for 2015, here is what I'm training for:

Ironman 70.3 Oceanside
Ironman Texas
Ironman 70.3 Boulder
Ironman Boulder
Ironman World Championship (pending qualification)

I will likely throw a few shorter races in there for fun in the summer, but really the two full distance Ironmans will be my A races.

Every day I stare at a post it note on my computer and my refrigerator that list three times: 1:00, 4:45, and 3:15. These are the times that I want to complete each portion - swim, bike, and run - of the Ironman. Including transitions, this would result in a little over 9 hour Ironman. With history as a guide, this is good enough for a top age group spot, and a Kona qualification. These are lofty goals, and I'm not there yet, but they are goals that I feel are achievable if everything goes well. I'll be the first to admit that reaching these goals may be unlikely, but as I've learned over the past couple years, if you reach high enough, you'd be surprised with what you can grab. And the fact is that I am getting closer to this every day. As long as I continue to put in the work and take the next necessary steps, I will make it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


'Tis the season

'Tis the season to be a little more liberal on my diet, to gain a little weight, to indulge, and to simply "think" about stuff.

Some of the stuff I've been thinking about lately as we head into the season of goodwill is how to be a good steward of the abundance we have been blessed with. So, we've learned to be grateful instead of "expecting", and to appreciate what we have instead of being envious and angry for what we don't. That's half the equation for joy, right?

What's the other half? I tend to think the other half comes from our willingness and practice of giving freely of ourselves. While this includes volunteering our time, energy and resources, for the purpose of this post, I'm talking about money.

It's not that I am proposing we part with money because it is the root of all evil. Money is not the root of all evil. As Paul said in his letter to Timothy, it's the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. For sure, the love of money can bring out the worst in people, from "Black Friday" to Bernie Madoff. But money, when deployed in a loving way, can be a catalyst for all kinds of good.

So how do we "give"? Surprisingly, this is not an easy question to answer. The first part of this question would be "how much?", and that's a very personal decision. The word "tithe" means "tenth", and is one such appropriate rate. I personally think this is a good number because it is enough that you "feel" it, but not so much that it becomes the main cause of financial hardship. As Dave Ramsey said, "If you can't live off of 90% of your income, then you can't live off of 100%.

The next question is "where?". As good stewards of our own finances, we would hope that to those we give would be good stewards as well. But that is not always the case. It is not easy to sort through all the charities to find the best cause. Some may appear to be very worthwhile, but operate at high inefficiencies so that the bulk of your donations go not to those who need it, but the continuing operation of the charity itself, or worse yet the pockets of those in the ivory tower. Here are a few suggestions to help you find the charity that's right for your well earned giving fund.

Fund Your Passion:

One of the greatest challenges is determining where to give your hard earned money. The beauty of giving in the internet age is that you have the ability to simply click through to a charity you are passionate about and give away. Whether you wish to help others out of poverty, are inspired by challenged athletes, or are a champion for animal rights, there is something out there for you. However, sifting through the enormous amounts of information can be overwhelming. Even once you do identify what you are passionate about, there are potentially dozens of charities that fit your giving profile. Which leads to the next tip.

Do Your Research

If only there was a free service which could sift through all of the many charities which fit a giving profile. Well, there is! Charity Navigator does just what its name implies. It helps you to navigate through the charities you may be considering, and even find one that may fit your profile. The site is very user friendly, helping you to filter through information by category, providing basic information about the mission and financial statements of the organization, and an overall score based on a series of metrics.

Treat Charities Like Your Investment Portfolio

If you were to invest in a company, one of the primary considerations for your decision would be the value you are receiving for the dollars you are putting in. You want the investment to provide a significant return on your investment that far outweighs the dollar you put in. You should think the same way about charitable giving. How far can your charitable giving go? If the answer is "not much farther than the front door", then perhaps you should move on. However, if a charity provides your dollar has the opportunity to "compound" the good it does in the world, it's worth a hard look.

For example, Charity:Water, a four star Charity Navigator charity, provides clean water solutions to communities all over the world. They are funded by people like you to build the clean water infrastructure in areas that do not have that luxury. On the surface it appears that that's how far your dollar goes. But that is not correct. The secondary benefits to that investment in infrastructure contribute to a vast number of other benefits to the community. The people no longer have to spend hours obtaining water from local ponds, lakes, or rivers (an often dangerous journey for many people), there is less sickness caused by contaminated water, and greater resources become available to the community. All of this leads to greater productivity, longevity, and opportunity. Perhaps even an escape from poverty. All from the simple act of providing clean water. Your dollar can have a deep impact in cases such as these. This is why I support Charity:Water, and other charities like it.

I won't lie, money is a very sensitive issue, and I am walking a fine line even making suggestions as to what people should do with their hard earned money. Money, or lack thereof, leads to very real issues, including family trouble, poverty, anger, obsession, addiction, the list goes on. I'll offer this disclaimer, just as financial advisers do, which is to say that these are only my opinions, which are worth the paper they're printed on. But the best advice I can offer on this subject is to follow your heart. Give joyfully, freely, and thoughtfully - the best way for money to buy happiness.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

That Thanksgiving Post

"Now, let's go around the table and tell everyone what we're thankful for," says the family patriarch as he begins carving the 18lb turkey. You can see in the faces of the entire family, including the one who asked the question, the look of dread and obligation as they desperately try to come up with something that doesn't stink of malarkey.

Is this the way to demonstrate thankfulness? As some obligatory affirmation before we get back to food and football? Maybe sorta. But the day of thanks should be more of an opportunity to really explore our perspective and our priorities, beyond just saying "I'm thankful for family, now let's eat".

I know what you're thinking. Why am I putting down a glorious family tradition? After all, it's all in good fun. I'm not putting it down, I'm just saying don't be surprised if you don't have a good answer when put on the spot. Instead (or in addition), try taking a personal inventory before hand to get a little perspective.

I know it sounds like a strange question to ask around Thanksgiving, but what have been your biggest complaints recently? What has really driven you crazy, created stress, wore you down? Now breaking it down further, for each of those problem areas, are there opportunities to be thankful? Perhaps on the first pass you're inclined to say "no", but think really hard about it. If you look hard enough you can find a bright spot. And the better you are able to find an opportunity, gratitude, or joy in the most challenging of situations, the more thankful you will be with life in general.

As an example, I'll provide a few of the "complaints" I've had in the past and my related gratitude.

  1. Complaint: I have no time. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I have a full life, and that people depend on me. It's a good idea to really look at how you're using your time. If it's just busywork or things that don't make you happy, then perhaps it's time to quit a few things and fill your time with things that do truly make you grateful. 
  2. Complaint: I'm spending too much money, and I'm worried about finances. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I am blessed with an abundance that can support my family, our basic needs, and some of our joys. Finances are always a point of stress for people, and we always tend to spend more than we make. It's important to remember to be grateful for what we have rather than to stress out about what we don't.
  3. Complaint: I hate waking up early every day. Gratitude: I'm thankful that I get to see a different sunrise everyday, that I get to start my day with meditation and exercise rather than stress, and that I get more hours in the day to appreciate life to the fullest. It's easy to get up in the morning and have your first thought be "man, I do not want to wake up right now." But that will set a negative attitude for the day. Instead, I give myself time to wake up by meditating and exercising. It gets my attitude straight to start the day.
There are of course more, but these are just a few examples. My list is lengthy and personal, and some are more difficult than others to find the gratitude. But there can be thankfulness in everything. Thankfulness for lessons, for joys, for mercies, for graces, for pains, and for sorrows. It's all about what we choose to take from it. 

Every few weeks or so, I get a letter from a child we sponsor through Compassion, and it helps me to put things into perspective. She is about 8 years old, and lives in a small village in Burkina Faso. In her life, she has not seen an iPhone, does not have working plumbing, and threats of violence are always a possibility in this unstable region. Yet her letters are never full of despair, fear, or heartache. But instead, I read about the joy she feels in learning new subjects in school. Or her optimism about one day wanting to become a nurse or teacher. Despite her present situation, her letters are filled with gratitude.

My complaints are puny in comparison to what many others in the world may experience. In that respect, it's easy to turn these into gratitude. For me it's a good exercise in humility and growth. If I can avoid pole vaulting over potholes and instead find gratitude in every situation, I can be a more joyous person. And in turn I can be a better person to others, and the world will be just a little bit better. That is the power of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, remember to be truly grateful, even when you're sitting in traffic, or your team doesn't win, or if the food is overcooked. This time of year is a good time to get your perspective in the right place in preparation for the season of giving. Have a happy Thanksgiving!