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, July 13, 2015

The Longest “Short” Race Report in History: Carlsbad Triathlon 2015

“Short” because I DNF’d right as I took my first pedal stroke on the bike.

“Long” because, as with every race I have run, I have taken away a tremendous lesson which can be applied to life in general. So I provide some… ahem... detail.

One year ago, I posted a quick recap on Facebook summarizing my experience in the 2014 Carlsbad Triathlon:

Great race today in Carlsbad! Finished 6th in my age group, beating last year’s time by 10 minutes. Vast improvements on the bike and run. I had the fastest bike split in my age group! Zero improvement on the swim. I know what I’m working on this off-season.”

For those of you who know me and have read this blog, you know that in my short triathlon career, I have historically been a worse than average swimmer. As was implied in the bold section of the Facebook post above, I had trouble improving on it, and it was a point of frustration last season.

Last off season I did, in fact, work on my swim and made tremendous improvements in the pool. It was hard, it was boring, but I put in the work and I improved.

When I stood at the starting line yesterday, right behind the band of seasoned swimmers which would shortly be jockeying for position at the front of the swim pack, I had something with me that I didn’t last year. Confidence.

Well, technically, two things. Confidence and a Roka sleeveless wetsuit.

I hadn’t planned on trying to keep up with the lead pack on the swim. In fact, I had resigned myself to simply following safely behind and finding my own rhythm. But as I stood at the line 15 seconds before the horn sounded and saw the formations of a small set of waves coming in to greet us at the shoreline, my mind changed.

The swells were relatively large yesterday, basically a yellow flag kind of day which would imply possibly rip currents and larger, more powerful waves. Having grown up around the ocean, I am used to maneuvering through these waves - a situation you don’t often find in the calmer waters of the local YMCA pool or open water swim.

As the horn sounded, I kept my distance behind the “front line”, who charged the water as if a pinata had burst open over the ocean. As they hit the water, battled the incoming wave, I hesitated and dove as the water retreated. I was streamlined as everyone else was hacking the water.

Once clear, I began sprinting to stay with the lead swimmers and found a pair of feet aggressively kicking in front of me. This was a new experience for me, as the pace around me was fast, and I was caught up in it. I just wanted to make sure those feet didn't hit me!

I stayed with the bubbles of the frantic kicker until the first turn buoy, where he had taken a wider turn, and I was on the inside. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I was now leading a group of swimmers. I sighted forward and saw another group off ahead. This was to be expected, as there were certainly super-swimmers in the bunch.

Things were going well. I was swimming a straight line, I was in front of all the racers I could see, and I wasn't tired or fearful.

My relative position, and inspired confidence helped me to keep a very high tempo, and keep me moving forward at a good pace. At the final turn we headed toward shore, and I again worked on timing my surges. I would take some relaxed strokes while looking behind me for incoming waves, and then increase my rate of turnover as the wave caught me. This served to speed me up, and save my energy.

Running up to transition, I was still relatively alone, but not sure what place I was in. The bike racks give an indication, however. I found a lot of bikes were left in the racks, which meant that I was toward the front. Time to go to work on the bike!

... Or so I thought. The second I got to the top of the hill, I tried to shift into a higher gear and nothing happened. I got off my bike and tried to see what the issue was, but everything was connected properly.

Meanwhile, all of the racers I had led out of the water began to pass me one by one.

I couldn’t immediately identify the problem, and since I couldn’t spin my way in the lowest gear through the whole bike leg, I decided to do the walk of shame back into transition.

It turns out that a connection inside the frame had become unplugged at some point between when I had racked the bike in transition and when I had finished my swim. Since I had shifted through the gears to test everything prior to heading to the swim start, I knew it was working then. How it became disconnected will remain a mystery, but the fault is on me for not being more thorough in checking the connections before the race.

I hate to not finish a race, and would do everything I can to finish regardless of how I am doing, save for injury and mechanical failure. Unfortunately this issue was out of my control.

Where this race was a victory was in the management of things I could control. My confidence, my swim training, my sighting, playing to my strengths. While things outside of our control can ruin a race, it is useless to dwell on them because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it!

Such is life. We control what we can, and accept what we can't. Sounds simple, but for complex beings, we often need to create complex answers. Not always the right path.

I later learned that I was 6th out of the water in my age group out of 37 people. I also learned, after seeing the results, that if I had biked and run the same splits as I did last year (which was entirely likely) that I would have won my age group.

For all intents and purposes, I should be disappointed. But how can I be when I set out a year ago to make a specific improvement, and I achieved that goal? I am stoked to have swam so well one year after committing to work on improving in that area, an area which had caused me frustration in the past.

Once again this sport has, even in the smallest instances, taught me about perspective, persistence, and acceptance. I am exceptionally grateful for having the opportunity to swim the way I did, and to learn to accept the “uncontrollables” as well. There’s always next year, and new lessons to learn.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Low Hanging Fruit

Throughout my brief time as an athlete, I’ve heard the phrase “focus on the low hanging fruit.” This was advice intended to help athletes to get faster at a specific discipline by paying attention to an “easy” solution. For example, fixing your body position on the bike would be low hanging fruit because it hardly requires any effort, but makes a dramatic difference in speed.

I think many people are reluctant to look at the low hanging fruit in their own lives. They are so focused on looking at the entire tree as a complex organism that they fail to focus on the branches right in front of them.

Perhaps they think to themselves “wow, that fruit at the top of the tree looks really good! I think I’ll try to get that one!” Then they fail, and then they give up.

Or maybe they look at the whole tree and think to themselves “how do I get all of the fruit off that tree?” That’s too hard, so they give up.

When you approach a staircase, do you try to jump to the top in one fantastic leap? No, you take the lowest step first. Then the next lowest step… Then the next lowest… Until the top step is the next lowest step.

The same is true for the fruit on the tree. As you start picking off the low hanging fruit, the fruit on the higher branches seems to suddenly become reachable. All that low hanging fruit is out of the way.

There was a time when there was a lot I wanted to change about myself. I found all of my flaws and character defects overwhelming, and it led me to believe that I wasn’t really a good person. To fix everything would be too challenging, and the big things I wanted to change seemed too far out of reach.

But there was low hanging fruit. I started to change little things about myself, such as my perspective on life in the morning, the frequency at which I communicated with God, the type of food I ate, my appreciation for little joys, my attitude, my gratitude. 

One by one, as I picked off the low hanging fruit, it became clear that the fruit on the higher branches was not so far out of reach, and the entire tree began to come into focus. I wasn’t a bad person with a set of overwhelming character defects. I was a human being on the path, picking fruit.

In order for athletes to improve, they must pick off the low hanging fruit which takes the least amount of effort so that they can begin to more clearly identify and set a course for ways in which they can improve. The same is true for all of us humans walking on the path.

As you look at the tree, don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of fruit. Don’t be discouraged by fruit higher up on branches which are out of reach. First grab the fruit right in front of you. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ironman Texas Race Report - Making the Best out of a Very Tough Day

I didn't respect the race. That's the bottom line. The first two Ironmen I raced I stayed within myself and accepted the fitness I had. I therefore executed great races. For Texas I did a few things wrong which led to a very painful day.

This is the nature of the race. It's a long day, and if you don't have respect for it, if you try to outrace yourself, if you try to control what you can't, it will tear you down. I learned some valuable lessons this past weekend that I won't soon forget.

What's funny is that I thought I already knew these lessons. In my mind I would tell myself to "race my race", or "stay within myself", but deep down I had certain expectations that I wanted to achieve. It's dangerous to set expectations on a race like this, because so often uncontrollable variables dictate how we will perform. Thus it is better to go in with an open mind to the "uncontrollables", and to control what you can. I tried to control too much.

For one, I was fixated on trying to qualify for Kona. I had specific time expectations for each leg of the race that I felt I had to meet in order to be in contention. My hope was to do a sub-1:10 swim, a 4:50 bike, and a 3:30 run. I felt that this would get me close based on results from previous years. Again, this was a mistake to think this way because of the "uncontrollables". My attitude should have been, and should always be, to race the best race I can on any given day. To execute my best swim, my best bike, and my best run without setting expectations. And if my best happens to be good enough on any given race day, then I will be fortunate enough to join the best athletes in Kona.

In a race like Ironman, it's important to focus on the positive aspects of the race, and at this race there were many, despite my inappropriately high expectations. And now that the race is over, that's what I choose to focus on. If I get down about what could have been, or what I missed out on, then I am not honoring the nature of this sport - that we can transcend doubt in ourselves and overcome significant challenges. It is not about finishing in a certain time, or qualifying for Kona. It is about finding out what we are capable of, and being the best we can be.

I crossed the line on Saturday, so I too was victorious. I am fortunate to have coaches with Smart Triathlon Training that can help me to be my best, and to regain my perspective after a race. Thanks to Luis, Diana, and Kelly for getting me to the finish line!

Pre Race

I flew into Houston on Wednesday before the race and got my Dimond all unpacked and put together. Once again, the Hen House got my bike to the destination without bike fees. If I fly enough, not only will the bags be paid for in saved baggage fees, but so will my Dimond!

The weather in Texas was pretty wet leading up to the race. Very rainy in the afternoon, but overall the air felt comfortable. I knew that I was well prepared for the heat of Texas. 

At this race we would have the opportunity to do a practice swim on the Friday before the race. This was absolutely necessary for me, since it would be my first non-wetsuit race. I had convinced myself that I was confident in my swim, but in my heart I was still very anxious. It was still a big fear of mine to be out in the water swimming with hundreds of other people without the security of neoprene. 

The water was very murky to the point of not being able to see much beyond the goggles. This meant that being aware of other people around me would be difficult, so I would be getting to know strangers very personally. So personally, in fact that, without the relative anonymity of the swim, would have me arrested for indecent activity. My apologies to all the people I inadvertently violated. 

Within about 200 yards of the swim I had a minor panic attack that left my trying to float on my back and failing. I realized that with the chop, I wouldn't be able to go to my back and relax. I would have to keep swimming and relax that way. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards I felt relaxed and in control of my swim. After the swim, I checked my watch to see how I did and was very disappointed to see that I was swimming about 1:57/100. How was this possible? It really weighed heavily on me, and I wasn't sure how I could have possibly swam this slow. My average pace in the pool is about 25 seconds faster per hundred for a similar distance. I chalked it up to a glitch with the Garmin and moved on to check my bike and gear in.

Racked and ready. Always bring protection!
The night before the race I slept surprisingly well, and wasn't really too nervous when I got up. I had my typical breakfast of blended oatmeal with a banana, flaxseed, and a bit of almond butter (one at about 3:30, and another at 4:45), and headed out to the race site. 

Parking was easy, as I think I was one of the first ones there. I parked in a lot right next to the finish line, which was one of the smartest things I did all day. I hiked to the transition area, got my tires pumped up, made sure all systems were go on the bike, and trekked out to the swim start, about a mile away. 

Ironman Texas has the best toilet situation out of any race I've been to. There were plenty of porta potties, and very short lines. It was easy to flush out my nervous stomach. 

As I was getting body marked, the man marking me asked if I was going to wear a wetsuit, and I hesitated for a moment. If I were to wear a wetsuit, I would be forfeiting any chance at a Kona slot or awards. Also, if I did wear a wetsuit, what message would I be telling myself? That it was somehow okay to take the easy way out? That I was going to let fear win? That I didn't trust my training? "No wetsuit", I said to the guy.

I got into the corral, standing behind the 1:00 to 1:10 seed (as I was expecting - read "hoping" - to finish in under 1:10. Surprisingly, the corral was very empty in the minutes leading up to the race. I had thought we would be packed in like sardines, but that was not the case. The minor panic attack from the day before began to get to me again, but I suppressed those thoughts as I looked around at all the people racing today. Each of them had stories, fears, and anxieties. Certainly I could manage mine. When the cannon fired, the age groupers went off. It probably took about 5 minutes before I was in the water and starting to swim, sans wetsuit.


Immediately, the visions of the practice swim returned to me and I lost my confidence. At about the same point as in the practice swim, I had a panic attack and turned to my back. It probably lasted about 30 seconds, but it was an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. I had just struggled through 200 meters, and I was now very aware that I had 3600 to go, and it wouldn't get easier. After 15-20,000 yards per week of swimming, this should be second nature to me by now. Why couldn't I just put one arm in front of the other and crawl through this? I've done this plenty of times! It's pretty demoralizing that I have been doing this for a few years now and I still let this fear get the best of me.

And with that, I got angry at myself. I told myself to sack up and start swimming again. I would not let the fear take over. I would let go and release this fear to my higher power. And that I did, and I immediately began to feel comfortable again. Any time I began to feel anxious, I would say a quick prayer of gratitude and get back to swimming. 

My little diva moment probably cost me a couple minutes, but it wasn't much. After that, I was turning over well, and very focused on my form. I "thought" I was swimming nice and strong, if not a little off course a few times. For most of the swim, I hugged the shoreline quite a bit to stay out of the crowds. Since I breathe to my right (the direction of the shore) I tended to drift into the little inlets and had to correct pretty often. In retrospect, this probably cost me quite a bit of time.

As we entered the canal, I was amazed to see that I was alone in my own little pocket of solitude. I had expected that once the swim funneled into the 10 meter wide canal that it would naturally become more crowded. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Add to that that the flow of athletes swimming down the canal created somewhat of a "lazy river" feel, where we seemed to have been helped along by a current. 

As I got out of the water, I was resigned to the fact that I probably did not meet my goal because I had a little meltdown. I had probably swam a 1:15 or so. Looking at my watch, I was thoroughly demoralized to see 1:22. My worst Ironman swim to date. 

With all the progress I had made in the pool, that swim time was tough to swallow. My swim times were getting progressively worse at each race. At that moment, I pretty much knew my chances at a Kona slot were gone. My attitude should have been to say "it is what it is" and then move on with my race, but instead I resolved to make it up on the bike.

I will say before I go any further that while I was disappointed at the time, I have since corrected my perspective. I had conquered another big fear, and swam the iron distance without a wetsuit. A few short years ago I wouldn't have even dreamed I would be able to do that. My swim will come around, but for now I have to focus on the victories. I faced a fear, and I didn't give up. 

Swim Time: 1:22, 165th in 35-39


Into transition, and it was a muddy mess. Still frustrated over my swim, I arrived at my bike, which wasn't hard to find since it was the only one left on the rack. If there was any place I was going to make up time it would be on the bike. 

I left T2 in a very familiar position, trailing half the field of athletes and needing to put in some work to pass them all. I had deliberately started the swim in the earlier part of the corral so that I could get out of the water and not have to constantly pass people. Unfortunately it didn't quite go as planned. Fortunately, the course was wide enough that passing wasn't too much of a challenge.

Great action shot taken by the Dimond Bike guys. Such a fun bike!

Immediately on the bike I felt great. I checked my heart rate and it was in the high 130's, which was pleasantly surprising. Usually at this point in a race, it was spiking as I got my racing legs going. With a renewed focus, I drove on, committed to pushing the pace. I went through the first 25 miles in 1 hour. Then through mile 56 at 2:18. That was 6 minutes faster than my Oceanside bike split. The Dimond was performing brilliantly, and I was feeling very strong. 

It was this boost of confidence that led to my next mistake. I got cocky and let my pride get the best of me. Seeing my half split, I knew I was on track to a rocking bike split. With a little luck, I could save my race. At around mile 60, I was passed for the first time. What I should have done was settle in legally behind him for a while and save some energy. What I did instead, once it was legal, was to proceed to pass him and start "racing". Yes, I pulled away from him, but it would cost me later. I was now pushing my heart rate well above my aerobic threshold. It was way to early to do this. 

As I continued on the second half of the bike, I continued to burn a bunch of matches making passes as the riders became increasingly stronger cyclists. I was beginning to feel it as we headed into the headwind on the chip seal roads. For the next 30 miles or so, the road would be bumpy and windy. 

With about 10 miles left on the bike, I decided that it was best to back it off and get my heart rate back down into my aerobic zone. But by this time it was too late. My body was already firmly established in an anaerobic state, and there was no getting it back. 

Into T2, and my bike split was 4:51, pretty close to my 4:50 goal, but it cost me a lot of energy to get there. The Dimond had performed superbly, and had helped me to achieve a 21 minute PR for a Ironman bike. Now onto the run. 

Bike time: 4:51, 38th in 35-39, 12th best AG bike split


Once out of T2 and onto the run, I felt good and focused on my breathing, which had worked well for me in training. Looking at my heart rate, it was already going well into the 160s, which was too high to start a marathon. I tried to slow it down and keep it below 150, but it wasn't happening. I struggled with this for the first few miles, until I decided to walk a section to try to get it down. 

I took an inventory of my physical state to see where I was at. The only place that I was having trouble was that I couldn't summon the strength to run for any significant distance. My legs were fatigued. Additionally, my heart rate would spike when I started running, so I would tire fairly soon after running. The good news was that my nutrition was spot on. I consumed 300 calories per hour, and I experienced no GI issues. I was well hydrated, and my mental capacities were in good shape (in other words, I didn't seem to be at risk of heat stroke). So the game became run as far as I could before I had to walk. 

At this point in the race, this became an effective strategy for me. I would run between the aid stations, walk the aid station to get my heart rate down, and start running again. I would also have to occasionally walk at other times as well. It was hot and humid, but I didn't feel like that was affecting me too much. I had acclimated well, and didn't feel uncomfortable from a heat standpoint.

In my first lap, I had the fortune of being passed by the lead female, a world champion, and a world champion runner up. The first was Angela Naeth, who I paced for a few seconds. Second came a while later when Leanda Cave passed me. Then shortly after was Rachel Joyce. As these women passed, I recognized why these women were pros. They were so incredibly strong, and their form was amazing. It is why I love this sport, because a guy like me can run side by side with the pros (for at least a brief amount of time). Throughout the course of the run, I would be passed by many more of the pro women as they finished their final laps, including Kelly Williamson and Heather Wertle. 

Lap 2 was very similar to lap 1, and I think I even maintained a similar pace. If I was going slow, at least I was consistent. When I passed mile 13.1, I was still under 2 hours, so I had a faint glimmer of hope that I could complete the marathon in under 4:00. I quickly threw that thought out of my head as I remembered that that thinking on the bike had put me in the position I was in now. I then resolved to not look at my watch, and not follow my heart rate or pace, lest I get discouraged. I was going completely by feel.

I passed by a few of my Smart Triathlon Training teammates who looked very good. They all had a good day, with two top 5 finishes for Roger Wacker and Rusty Robertson. 

It's easy to recognize on this course how the crowd support can fuel you. I found myself running much faster and cleaner going through the massive crowds around the canal, but I suffered more on the outskirts where there wasn't much support. On lap 3, the run course was starting to get crowded, and I started to get a new source of inspiration, as I was running with people who had stories to tell. These were the people that were going to finish late into the night, and would have been on the course for 15+ hours. For me, it's hard to imagine being on the course for that long. These people truly have the "never quit" mentality. 

When I ran into the canal section and got back to the crowds, I had a renewed energy from the crowd support. I ran through miles 22-24 only to walk during 25 again in the last aid station. After I got out of the aid station, I started running again and didn't stop until I approached the fork in the road which led athletes onto the second and third lap. I pulled right into the finisher section and was greeted by tons of people lining the street to cheer on finishers. I looked back and saw that I was once again alone to enjoy  the finish line on my own. I've been lucky for the last three races to do so. 

As I ran through the finish chute, I was greeted by the catcher who brought me toward pizza and burritos. Surprisingly, both of those options sounded appetizing to me.

Run Time: 4:04, 31st in 35-39

Overall: 10:27:58, 31st in 35-39, 150/2587 overall

Post Race:

At the Kona rolldown, I knew that the slots would not go 31 deep in my age group, but I wanted to stick around to see how deep they did go. For my age group it rolled down as far as 11th place, with a time of 9:47. This was a far cry from the 9:30 I thought I needed. It goes to show that time goals are arbitrary, and anything is possible. I don't have any resentments about this, as I still came through on a personally challenging day. Furthermore, I found that Kona is still on my radar, when it so happens that I have the race that gets me there. This race wasn't my race to get there.

I learned a lot from this race, and I am taking away some valuable lessons. The first is to race within myself, and to accept the fitness I have. I could have had a better race if I had done this. The second is to do more open water swims. I really need to focus on how to translate my pool swim fitness to the open water.

Finally, I learned not to get discouraged, but to focus on the positive aspects of the race. A lot went well in this race, despite my best efforts to self sabotage. I swam a full Ironman swim without a wetsuit, a first for me and another fear conquered. I had a 21 minute PR on the bike, thanks to my new Dimond superbike. I had an Ironman PR despite a very tough day. And of course, I crossed the finish line, something everyone should be proud of. If I can continue to focus my attention on the positive, I can have much better races in the future.

A few days after the race, and I am already prepared to start training for Boulder, and to apply these principles to my race there. I am looking forward to staying within myself on the bike and actually running the marathon.

I am grateful for the lessons I learned in Texas. I'm grateful that I didn't quit. I'm grateful that I was there to see some inspiring people finish the race. I'm grateful that I can look back and focus on another successful race. Ironman Texas may not have been the race I wanted to have, but it was the race I needed to have.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Tales from Taperville - Ironman Texas: T-1 Week

Trying to live life normally while tapering is a very uneasy feeling. 

For the past 20 or so weeks, I have been cramming workouts into my otherwise busy schedule in order to make the most out of my training. My goal next week: To have the best race possible for me (and if that results in a Kona slot, then my dream has been realized). This resulted in multiple 25+ hour training weeks and pretty good fitness gains. 

But it is a strange sensation when you suddenly start reducing the volume. For one, my body started to realize that I was trying to rest. Thus I became naturally tired. Kind of counter intuitive when you think about it. Reduce massive amounts of training volume to a sustainable level and feel more tired? It may sound strange, but it is a natural process of the body going into recovery mode, and my coaches over at Smart Triathlon Training assure me that I am primed to have my best race. 

What do I do with all my new found free time? My coaches have told me that I should not engage in any projects around the home or busy housework. Challenge accepted. Instead, I've resorted to doing what most people do on their taper. Concerning themselves with the weather, the water temperature, winds, and other things which can't be changed.

When I find myself focused on these "uncontrollables", I turn my attention to what I can control. My rest, my diet, my training, my heat acclimation, my work, etc. Everyone will have to live with the weather. I alone can manage what I can control.

Speaking of heat acclimation, I have taken extreme measures to assure that I am prepared for the worst case scenario. If the temperatures begin to soar, I will be prepared, as I have been dressing like it's ski season for the last few weeks. Except for the last few days, the weather here in Southern California has been in the 70s and 80s, so I've been quite toasty. 

Granted, people are looking at me really weird, but I'm going to feel really good a week from now when I'm comfortable running in 90 degree heat.

All and all I think I had a very successful training season prior to this race. I was able to hit all of my key workouts, my bike fitness has improved tremendously, my swimming has improved, and I think I'll survive the run. The question is, will it be fast enough? I can't dwell on that. I've done the absolute best training possible, which is the following: To give it everything I can and nothing more. It's as perfect of a training philosophy as you can get. Here's what my final build weeks leading up to the race looked like:

For the remainder of next week I'm going to try to remain in the present, focusing on mediation, the workouts I do have, making sure my diet is healthy, and that I do not unnecessarily bite anyone's head off. Until next time.

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?