Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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Thursday, October 31, 2013


Image by Larry Maurer
This is Chrissie Wellington. Yes, she's smiling. She hasn't won (yet). Heck, she hasn't even finished. She's still on the bike, which tells us she's somewhere between a 2.4 mile swim and a full marathon. Not a lot of people would be smiling at that point! It seems to me that she is aware of something very important that a lot of people ignore; it is just as important to enjoy the journey, not just the finish. This understanding is clearly reflected in her attitude, and she wears it proudly on her face in the form of a smile.

Wellington ended up winning the Ironman World Championships 4 times, and held world records for her finish times (and likely world records for smiling in some capacity).

At some point during the process of taking a dramatic leap into a personal challenge, the enthusiasm begins to wane just as our perception of the difficulty of the challenge becomes more apparent. The exercise of working toward a goal becomes mundane, and we struggle to find motivation, to wake up early, to put in the required work, or even remember why it is we are pursuing this goal in the first place. We forget to smile through the journey, and our results and motivation suffer.

I have found myself in this very spot recently. Training has become more difficult, as I begin to get into more speed work, longer swims, and earlier mornings. I found I was just going through the motions, but not becoming very motivated. I needed to step back and remember why I am working so hard. I want to set an example. To show that great joy can be found by honestly sharing your story and being in service to others. That joy can also be found in challenging yourself and following through. Yes, the training is hard work, but it is necessary work to experience the joy of the accomplishment. And joy is worth smiling about.

I decided to do just that this past weekend during my long run. I would try to maintain a smile for the entire 2 hour run, and see how I felt during and after. First thoughts? I felt absolutely ridiculous. I knew that everyone would be looking at me and wondering why this creepo had a wild ear to ear smile on his face. Further, it felt forced. It's not easy to smile while you're working out. That is serious business, of course!

However, as I drove on and kept forcing that smile, something magical began to happen. I began feeling a new level of joy with what I was doing. I naturally began thinking positive thoughts, rather than the typical thoughts I have, such as "I wish my pace were better," or "man, am I tired!". Gratitude began to naturally sink in, and I just felt thankful that I could be out on safe road on a sunny day with two working legs. The people I thought would be looking at me as creepy instead smiled back and often waved hello. The smile became part of my attitude, and was clearly affecting others as well. It was truly therapeutic. Ms. Wellington is definitely on to something!

That long run became my longest to date, at a little over 16 miles, and my pace was much better than expected. I ran this experiment on my next two runs as well, and one of them became my fastest hill workout. Likely this was a coincidence, as I don't think smiling actually made me faster, but I do think it affects performance to some extent, as well as ongoing attitude. Exercise could be a form of meditation, and if you are happy and at peace during meditation, that peace continues throughout the day. At the very least I find myself feeling more joyful and positive throughout the day. I am also confident that over time I will be able to perform better because the attitude is already shaped toward success.

I have talked about how listening to your body is important to physical and mental fitness. If you monitor your heart rate you can have more success at burning fat, becoming more fit, and becoming healthier. I now believe that a smile can be the return feedback you are giving your body. When you smile, you may just be telling your body "I am enjoying this activity and the results it offers. Let's keep it up!" You're body will abide.

Upon seeing Chrissie Wellington smiling during an Ironman race for the first time, I thought she must be crazy. Now I think I get it, and I'm buying what she's selling. I would highly recommend to anyone, in an effort to reinvigorate your activities and bring life back into your passion, to force a smile. I am confident that eventually it will become natural, when you once again begin to experience the joy of your accomplishments.

Until next time, have a nice day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Oceanside Triathlon Race Report

It's taken me a good part of this week to defrost my body and brain after the Oceanside Triathlon, so I haven't had a chance until now to actually write a race report. I do have to say though that the recovery period at the beginning of this week was very welcome, especially after a very competitive and frigid race. Yes, the extended warm summer ended just in time for this race, and the result was an eerie, cold, and somewhat sketchy (by no fault of the race directors, but I'll get into that).

There are some pros and cons to doing an inaugural race, the pros being that they may typically be less crowded. That was the case this day, as only about 250 age groupers were racing. This would give us a lot of room to run our own race. The cons include poor preparedness, lack of knowledge of the course, and general first year glitches. This was not the case with Lifetime Tri, as they put on a great show with great support, and it seemed like they had been running this race for years.

The one thing I noticed immediately while getting ready in transition was the incredible amount of fitness everyone had. There were some very serious athletes in this group of 250, and it was sure to be a very competitive race. I was becoming worried that I may finish last in this race, but then I reminded myself that it didn't really matter. I was here to race for myself and beat my own expectations, which at this point was break 2:30 and feel happy with the effort.

I was well aware that the morning would be cold, and it didn't disappoint. As we readied ourselves in T2, the temperature read 48 degrees. However, once the sun rises it is anyone's guess as to how the temperature will swing. It could heat up dramatically, it could stay cool, or we could be buried in a cold, soggy layer of fog. As the sun rose and the pros started their race, it appeared we were in the clear and we would have a sunny race.

Swim Start Oceanside Triathlon. Courtesy of Lifetime Tri


After the pros and the elites were on their way and racing for $50,000, it was our turn to get in the water. The swim followed the same route as the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside  Triathlon, which takes place in the Oceanside harbor, going down the channel and back toward the boat launch. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed a warm up in the water because of the general "corral" type of swim entrance, which was concerning to me. It always takes me a few minutes to get comfortable swimming in the open water, and a warm up would have helped me to start my race in a good place. Fortunately, the water was a comfortable 65 degrees and I decided to take it slow at the beginning and warm up that way. I figured everyone else was doing the same thing. 

No sooner than we got in the water did a blanket of thick fog begin to sit on us. We had no sights on the buoys, and thus no point of reference with which direction to swim. Once the horn went off, we all just started swimming in the general direction we thought we needed to go. The race got an eerie start, and I was going on faith that the swimmers in front of me were going in the right direction. Occasionally we would pass a lifeguard who was pointing in the direction we were going, but how could we be sure that they knew where they were directing us? Perhaps they were just pointing in that direction because we happened to be going that way. If this swim was in the open ocean I would be worried, but we were in a harbor, so we were bound to bounce off of something eventually if we got lost. 

I was able to draft off of the lead group for about 2/3 of the race, which served two purposes. First, it conserved my energy and helped me to go faster, and second, it helped me to use them as my eyes. Occasionally I would hear one of them say "which way are we going?", but I'd let them figure it out and continue drafting. The strange thing about swimming in heavy fog without any sighting is that you have no clue how far you have swam and how far you have yet to go. You just keep swimming until someone points you around a turn buoy. I had never known until this point how beneficial it is mentally to actually have points of reference, otherwise you feel like you're going nowhere!

During the final stretch I lost the feet of the group ahead of me and they pulled away rather quickly at that point. I then discovered that I was leading my own pack of swimmers who was drafting off of me. That was a first!

As I exited the water, I felt happy to be done with the swim, but still felt very disoriented, and thus forgot to take my wetsuit down to my waist (which lost me a lot of time in transition). At this point I had no idea where I stood in placement, so I was rushing quite a bit. I would learn later that I was 7th out of the water in my age group (out of 25).

Official Swim Time - 28:36 (1:45/100 yds)*
* My Garmin measured the distance at exactly one mile, which is longer than 1500 meters

Transition 1

Out of the water and up a boat launch ramp. I was able to take my goggles and cap off, but completely forgot to take down my wetsuit. As I reached my bike, I realized my error and started frantically peeling it away. It's always tough to get it over my wrist watch, which cost my precious extra seconds. By the time I got my wetsuit off I was disoriented and trying to remember what needed to be done next. I finally got my nutrition in my pockets, helmet on, and then I remembered to put everything in my wet bag (to be brought back to transition 2 after the race). I looked at my arm warmers and thought to myself that I better save the time and keep them off. Big mistake! I threw them into my wet bag and went on my way.

Time - 3:14... Ouch!


Photo courtesy of Lifetime Tri
This is about what it looked like exiting T1, into a thick layer of fog which became worse as we got onto the highway. We were warned that the beginning part of this race was bumpy with some precarious turns leading out to Highway 76, so we were advised not to start racing until we reached the highway. I followed that advice, and as a result was passed by a few people on the way out. But we had 25 miles to go, so I was fine with that. 

A few turns to get out of the harbor, and then onto PCH for about a quarter mile, then a left turn onto the highway were I would spend the next hour or so battling cold and fog. The initial part of the bike I was comfortable, and not terribly cold, but as I started to pick up speed it was clear the cold air was going to be painful. The air itself was not necessarily cold, but the condensation in the air would stick to my skin and form little droplets all over my exposed arms, legs, and face which, when hit by 20 mph steady winds, would freeze the skin. "Oh well," I thought. Everyone else was dressed the same way as me, but the faster we would go, the more we would be punished. Now it became a battle of who could withstand the most pain.

As far as my pace, it felt effortless, and I wasn't nearly exceeding my race heart rate. In fact, the strain I was feeling was directly related to the cold, and not my effort, which was a strange sensation - the feeling that I could easily go harder but my muscles weren't cooperating as well as they otherwise would have. Once on the highway I was averaging about 22-23 miles per hour, and I was passing a number of racers. Also, I was being passed by a number of pros going into their second lap. This was a clear demonstration of the fitness gap between pro and amateur in this sport.

The second lap became a lot more crowded, and I was a lot more cold, so I decided to settle in behind a group of racers that were going about my speed. Rather than pass them and use up excess energy, I decided to conserve it for the run and defrost a little. Besides, getting out in front in the fog is not a preferred position. If a rider went down ahead of us, we wouldn't be able to see it in time to stop. Back onto PCH and into the pier area, I was happy to be off the bike and ready for a run.

Time - 1:08:55, 4th place in age group
Avg Speed - 21.6 mph
Garmin profile - http://connect.garmin.com/activity/393348542
Nutrition - 250 calories of Carbo Pro plus 2 homemade oat/honey/almond butter clusters.

Transition 2

I had more trouble in T2 because my fingers were numb, and I couldn't easily grab things or put my shoes on. Finally did, and was out on the run course.

Time - 1:47


My goal on the run was to do my sprint pace at the Olympic distance. This would come out to about a 7 minute mile, a pace that has proven just out of reach in recent races. Unfortunately, nature called at the beginning of the run, and I had to hit the porta potty. I still haven't been able to bring myself to pee on the bike, which will become necessary as I get into the longer distances. This is more of a psychological issue than anything, as we spend our whole lives doing everything we can not to pee on ourselves. This is one of those rare exceptions which is made worse by the fact that you are working at an increased intensity.

Quick 20 seconds in the bathroom and I was off again. I was still having strange sensations while running, due to being numb all over, but not necessarily being tired. I kept trying to push through and warm myself up. Soon I was having a few GI issues. Again, I just powered through and kept going.

The course was mostly flat, but mixed in were a few short, killer hills. The strand connects to Pacific Avenue via a very steep climb, which was really challenging. Once I ran up the hill for the last time, I hit the gas and started running sub 7 miles. I felt great going into the finish and was able to finish in a full sprint. While my pace wasn't what I wanted it to be, I felt that I did my best given the conditions.

Time - 45:18
Pace - 7:18/mile


Total Time - 2:27:51
Place - 7th Age Group (30-34 out of 25), 58th overall (out of 232)

I am absolutely happy with my finish at this first Olympic distance effort. My goal was to finish in under 2.5 hours, and I did so in 2:27. After less than a year of putting in smart exercise and healthy diet, I have been able to maintain a front of pack performance on a 2.5 hour triathlon. When I think back to when I started training back in February, and how weak, slow, and unfit I was, I am amazed with the improvements I have made. My pace back then was just under 12 minute miles, yet I was patient and gradually it improved. I am now more motivated than ever to keep training for the longer distances.

Speaking of longer distances, I now head into the more "ultra" range of triathlon. My next race is a half Ironman distance in Palm Springs in December, the HITS Triathlon. After that race, I will be preparing for the full Ironman in March. Things are getting real now. We are only a few short months away, and we are getting into some long distance now. I am actually looking forward to that, as I want to be at the more steady paces, not the fast paces I have been at. I'm ready to show that I can pace myself and do the distance.

As I mentioned, Lifetime put on a great show, and I would love to do another one of their events in the future. Within a few minutes of the race finishing, the sun finally came out and it became a beautiful day.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oceanside Triathlon Pre-Race

Ah... the wonder of the pre-race taper. There is no greater joy than building up to high volume workouts of 20+ hour weeks only to taper off leading up to a race. To look at your workout schedule and see a single easy workout followed by a day of rest is a thing of beauty. Many people ignore the taper and go hard through to the day of the race. Others feel uncomfortable significantly backing off their workouts for fear that they won't be race ready.

Oh, but not I. I fully embrace the taper. It may be the subdued lazy ass in me, but after weeks of heavy volume, I am fully willing to take a few rest days. I am running on faith that allowing the body and mind to rest will give me fresher legs for the race. I firmly believe that rest is just as important as work when it comes to proper training. It is truly about finding that balance.

With the Oceanside Triathlon coming up this weekend, I am in the middle of my first taper since I began training. This one is somewhat of a "mini" taper, as it only lasts a week (I will do a full 3 week taper leading up to my half iron distance in December). Once again, I am keeping my expectations low for this race, as it is my first olympic distance triathlon (1500 meter swim, 25 mile bike, and 6.2 mile run). I have no doubt I can do the distance, but it's about how I pace it, and that's what I want to practice. For me this will be a trial run toward the longer distances in how I manage my pacing, my nutrition, and my patience. I plan to employ my plan from Long beach, which is to go out hard on the swim, conservative on the bike, and then as hard as I can on the run. If I can still be fresh after the swim and bike to run a good 10K I will know my fitness is good enough to handle a half Ironman.

This should be a fun race, and I'm glad I found out about it. Being that it is an inaugural event, there may be some organization issues, but it's being put on by Lifetime Sports, which is hosting this as the championship event for their triple crown. Since it's the first year they are hosting it, it's hard to know what to expect. Will it be challenging? How many competitors will there be? How is the support? I will have to be open minded about this one.

If you'd like to come down and check it out, we will be starting out at Oceanside Harbor at around 7 am, and we'll be finishing at the Oceanside Pier by around 9-10 am.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Big Show on the Big Island

All too often we use the "Superbowl" to describe an event  which marks the apex of that particular pursuit. A culmination of hard work paying off in the form of a championship event. "It was the Superbowl of Texas Hold 'em tournaments", or "this chili cookoff is like the Superbowl of all semi-outdoor culinary events". Some people describe the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in much the same way. However, I would argue that while it is a "championship" (and pros and top age-groupers treat it that way), for many I have read about it is a celebration of an achievement. The act of getting to Kona was the achievement in and of itself. For the vast majority of the people racing, they had to qualify at a previous Ironman event and place at the top of their age group. The championship race is the capstone to that achievement.

Courtesy of Ironman.com

The Ironman World Championships are taking place Saturday, October 12, and I would recommend tuning in. I have not had the privilege to have qualified or raced in this event, although I hope to one day, but it seems clear that "celebration" is what this week is all about. And rightfully so! The people that are there have accomplished an extraordinary feat. Not only did these athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon, they did so faster than the vast majority of the other people racing in that event. Their reward? To do it all over again on a more challenging course against some of the best athletes in the world. In addition, many have overcome significant obstacles to get there. I have yet to find as many inspiring stories in other sports as I do with this one.

When it comes to the pros, there's a couple examples which demonstrate this. First, was Julie Moss' crawl to the finish in 1982, when her body gave out. Despite having nothing left in the tank and losing her lead, she literally crawled to the finish to complete the race.

There was also the "Iron War" between Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Allen had been chasing Scott for many years, but had come up short. In this race their splits were nearly identical, but Allen was able to pull it off with only a few miles left in the race. He then went on to win 5 more World Championships. Allen had adjusted his training style due to his previous performances, and was focusing on developing a strong aerobic base (through heart rate work). This is what allowed his fitness to improve dramatically, and it is one of the main reasons I am using his coaching services through Mark Allen Online.

This is not to overshadow the countless stories of inspiration which come from the age group fields. The amount these individuals have to overcome in many cases is extreme - training while having full time jobs, physical challenges and disabilities, and even terminal disease. My descriptions can not do them justice, and there are too many to count, but below are a couple videos. This embodies the spirit of the celebration of the Ironman World Championship.

This championship offers amateurs the opportunity to race on the same field as pros. It allows those with the desire to achieve a challenging goal to celebrate their accomplishment with other like-minded people. While in its simplest form it is simply a long distance triathlon, on a grander scale it serves as a platform to inspire people, to challenge people to give the best of themselves and to achieve greatness. It is the fact that this race tends to leave the world a little better than it was before that makes it so great. It is my goal to one day qualify, celebrate, and be a part of the positive energy that exists in Kona at that time.

To conclude, I wanted to share a few race reports from age groupers that qualified for the World Championships. They may be a bit long, but they are well worth the read. These are, for all intents and purposes, "normal" people, with jobs, responsibilities, etc. They were able to work really hard and achieve this seemingly insurmountable goal. As a snapshot in time, these individuals are fit, fast, and worthy of the top spot, but leading up to this they had to conquer their own obstacles.

The first is Christopher Borden who qualified in Ironman Canada (I'll be racing there next year!) Here is the link to his race report

Next is David Rowe who has an entertaining race report about Ironman UK and his surprise Kona qualification (spoiler alert!). Here is the link to his race report

Finally, another race report from Ironman Canada by Elliot Kawaoka. Here is the link to his race report

If you would like to enjoy any of the coverage of this celebration, tune into www.ironman.com on Saturday, or wait a couple of weeks to see the coverage on NBC. You can also find previous years' coverage by searching Ironman Hawaii on youtube.

Monday, October 7, 2013


My training is starting to get longer, I'm in the middle of my first racing season which is going much better than expected, and I'm beginning to "feel" like I can actually compete in, not just finish, this Ironman event. However, despite the obvious upswing in the positives, it's far to easy to get caught up in all of it and let my ego and pride take hold. There is an event horizon at which point I cross my competitive spirit becomes greater than the purpose for which I am doing all of this.

My goal is to become healthy, fit, joyous, and free. To hopefully benefit others, and show that hope can overcome hopelessness through moving beyond fear and significant obstacles. I can not achieve this if my primary goal becomes to win simply for the sake of winning. "Winning" can be defined in many ways, and I want to continue to define it not by crossing the finish line first (although that is always a nice outcome), but by getting and giving the most out of the whole experience. Bragging rights are one thing, but inspiring others to give the best of themselves to experience true joy is another level of winning altogether.

Earlier this week I received an interesting email, which at first I believed to be a hoax. The email said "Congratulations Adam Hill. You have qualified for the Olympic-Distance race at the 2014 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship." Turns out it is not a hoax. Since the Long Beach Triathlon was a sanctioned USAT event, and I finished in the top 10% of my age group, I qualified for the Nationals, to be held in August 2014 in Milwaukee, WI. My immediate reaction was to think of how cool this was, and how far I had come in such a short time. Last February I was scarfing down donuts and playing Call of Duty, and less than a year later I have been invited to compete with Olympic-level triathletes. That's pretty cool!

My second thought began to focus on the "what ifs". This was a trajectory that was not even on my radar until I had opened the email. But now I was considering that I had a shot at making Team USA and competing in the world championships. Perhaps even becoming an Olympian myself! A goal far removed from Ironman training.

See how quickly my mind veers off course from where my heart and spirit are guiding me? My ego takes hold and I am already winning races I never even knew existed until moments earlier. I want to do well in these races, but I want it to be a reflection of my training as well as success in practicing humility, acceptance, and patience. A balance, but one which is becoming more and more apparent in many aspects of life. It is good practice within the arena of triathlon.

This race is still something I am deeply considering, but not because I desire to win (to be in contention for a team slot, I would not only have to swim like a dolphin, but bike consistently at a 25 mph pace and run at nearly 6 minutes per mile for the course of the race), but simply because I would love the experience. How often can one say they had the opportunity to race in such an event? I'll keep you posted, but if you want to weigh in on what you think I should do, I would much appreciate it (just bear in mind that I will be racing in an Ironman two weeks prior to this event).

Speaking of championship events, be sure to check out the Ironman website this week, as they are ramping up to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii this Saturday. If you have some time, check out the live coverage. Some of the most inspirational moments will be seen at the finish line. Ali'i Drive has been crossed by many people overcoming their own hardships, demons, or limitations. It is truly the greatest finish line in all of sports. If you miss it on Saturday, make sure to check it out when NBC airs their coverage. You can also see last year's powerful coverage here

As far as my training is concerned, I passed a couple other milestones recently. I actually biked to work, which was quite a jaunt of about 45 miles (San Clemente to Anaheim). This was my first ride through Santiago Canyon, and it's amazing what you miss despite living somewhere most of your life. I had never been back there, and it is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful in fact that I decided to ride through there again to get to visit my sister (San Clemente to Norco). This trip was tough. The Santa Ana winds were blowing, which were in my face the whole way, and there is a very steady uphill over the last half of the ride which I underestimated. Total climbing was over 4,000 ft, and it took me an hour longer than I expected. You can see my workout summary here with the elevation profile. I did snap some photos along the way, and once I arrived. I met my wife and kids there so we could ride some horses... Well, my wife and kids anyway. I had enough saddle time.

Capistrano Beach

Santa Ana River Trail - Acts as a wind tunnel during Santa Ana winds

Horses near Corona

Santiago Canyon

San Juan River trail with perfect view of Saddleback

Santiago Canyon reminds me of the central California coast
Horseback in Norco