Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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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!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ironman Silverman 70.3 Race Report

"The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride."  - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Okay, I promise that will be the last direct reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas... but I can't promise that I won't break into fits of gonzo made famous by the good doctor. After all, Silverman is a race around the area of Las Vegas, deep in the heart of the American Dream. And "fear and loathing" were ever present during our weekend trip to the desert.

Of course, in order to participate in this race we never even had to set foot in the casino ridden lizard tank called "The Strip". Instead, we swam at beautiful and desolate Lake Mead, biked the hilly surrounding park, and ran around the suburbs of Henderson, Nevada.

The gods were adamant on me not participating in this race. Days before we were slated to make the drive through the desert, my skin began to feel like it was being eaten by a million tiny parasites. My entire body from my face to my legs was covered in welts which felt like a horrendous sunburn. The bearded doctor that I visited made the brilliant proclamation that I had an adverse reaction to something. Mind blown, I went home and tried desperately to figure out what was wrong.

I chose not to take the medications that the doc provided, knowing full well that the antibiotics and steroids prescribed to me were meant as a placebo only, but would not address the main cause, which is what caused the reaction. I was hoping that whatever it was would go away over night, as we were set to go early the next morning.

I felt much better that evening as I went to bed, but soon began to toss and turn, itch like crazy, and feel nauseous. Not a good start, since a bad night of sleep two days before the race would not reflect well on race day.

The 3 am alarm went off and I was feeling terrible. Every time I got up I got light headed and felt like I was going to puke. At that time I made the difficult decision to forego the race and end my season rolled up in the fetal position feeling sorry for myself. So back to bed I went with a combination of guilt and relief.

Around 9 am, true to form, I changed my mind again. While I still felt like an addict in the grips of withdrawl, I decided to get out to Vegas in a hurry and try to make it to the race. So before we knew it we were on the road driving through the old familiar desert.

It turns out that vinegar was the culprit for my skin rash. It's common that vinegar is used in cleaning and laundry products. It appears as though the use of one of these products in our laundry affected my skin and got worse as I tried to sleep in my bed. Needless to say, all of our laundry has been resoaked thoroughly.

We made it out to Henderson in the late afternoon just in time for check in. It is a surreal trip for an out of towner like myself, who used to frequent Las Vegas in the past for all its charm and revelry, to jump on the 215 and turn away from this despicable temptress, and land myself in a seemingly hospitable suburb. Something seemed not right about that, but that's my problem. I recognize full well that my presupposition is part of my own prejudice, brought about by years of experience visiting a small and unreal subsection of Las Vegas called "The Strip". In reality, the Strip is the exception, not the rule. There is lot's more to see and do in this area besides lock yourself to a blackjack table and drink yourself into oblivion.

Check in was a breeze, as I assume everyone had already done so. It was very nice to have the run gear drop off right next to check in, but we had to head out to Lake Mead to drop off my bike. That process too was very easy. Once we got to the lake it was not crowded at all, and racking the bike was a very easy process.

The sun was still out, and the water looked inviting, so I decided to take a practice swim. This was an important thing for me, since this was looking to be the first non-wetsuit swim for me. While I was on edge about this, it was important for me to get through it as I continue to obsess about it. I won't have a chance to do a non-wetsuit open water swim until Ironman Texas, which will likely not be wetsuit legal. I knew I needed to conquer that fear. So I had a nice little dip in the water, which was very nice and helpful to my confidence. But I was still frustrated with my swim time. Dang, I'm slow.

Sarah got to enjoy the water as well!
After enjoying our tradition of pre-race dinner sushi, we went to bed. I was still feeling the effects of the rash, and my heart was still racing trying to fight whatever it had to. I pretty much resigned myself that this race was not going to be my best. I decided that if worst came to worst, I would jog it in and focus on next year.

Race morning I was still pretty itchy, but feeling okay. Once we arrived to the swim start, we were shocked to learn that it was going to be wetsuit legal. We thought a glacier must have melted overnight nearby. It certainly didn't feel like it would be legal the day before, but something magical must have happened during the course of the night. So I donned my wetsuit and got in the start line. Official water temperature was stated at 75 F.

Swim: 39:50; 101st in 35-39, 704th Overall... Ugh

Rockin' my lucky Vegas horseshoe mustache. (Quickly shaved shortly after this race due to creepiness factor)

Fortunately, my age group was one of the first to begin the swim, after the pros, the AWA wave, and the 35-39 women, so I wouldn't have to make a ton of passes on the bike like I did in Boise. Once they let our group into the water, I noticed that the temperature still seemed pretty warm. But this was in the mucky shoreline area, surely it would cool down once we got out into the depths. After the gun went off and we began hacking away at the water, I realized within 100 yards that there is no way this race should be wetsuit legal. I was swimming in a hot tub with a quarter inch of neoprene to hold in even more heat. Immediately I regretted wearing the wetsuit and had to allow water into my collar every few hundred yards.

Otherwise, the swim was very comfortable. With the wave starts, it's easy to avoid being pummeled. Plus, when you're a weak swimmer like me you tend to avoid all of the aggression. Despite that, the only physical issues I was having was my burning rash under my wetsuit. I had fits of scratching at it, only to realize that I couldn't effectively provide any relief.

On the back half of the swim, it felt like we were facing a current going outward. It just felt like forever getting back to the beach, but finally I made it back in under 40 minutes.Not fast, but adequate to end this year. I allowed myself this last race to swim poorly. This off season is the time to really improve my swim.

But now out of the swim and into transition, this would be the time for me to shine if I could.

Transition 1: 2:54

Nothing exciting here, ran to the bike, got the helmet on, got on the bike, and went.

Bike: 2:52:27; 20th in 35-39, 145th Overall

This was where my race really started. Fortunately, my bike split was still within the top 10 or 11 in my age group despite not feeling my best. I took it very easy on the bike to start because I knew it would be hilly and hot. Not only would it be hilly throughout the national park, but then we would climb all the way out of Lake Mead and all the way to Henderson.

I didn't begin making passes on the bike until we were about 5-10 miles in. At that point I found a rhythm (albeit a conservative rhythm), and gained some ground. This was definitely a climbing cyclist's course, and it was filled with some aggressive riders. I chose not to push it as I didn't want to risk injury or burnout to move from 20th place to 15th. I have had a tough recovery since Boulder, and I'm ready for some off season rest.

Obligatory pirated race pic. Me riding the Vincent Black Shadow (so named for the sake of this report)

The bike around the national park was pretty amazing, but at times a little sketchy, since we were sharing the two lane road with trucks and trailers. At times, a car would pass me only to settle in behind a bike in front of me. I am glad that some of the cars were playing it safe in this way, but it made passing difficult. At one point I pulled up next to a car who was following a cyclist and told them that I was going to make a pass. Fortunately they were courteous enough to let me by. You couldn't ask for a better day though. Perfect weather and not much wind. The rolling hills were challenging, but fun.

After the turnaround, we did get our first dose of wind, and it would be in our faces all the way to the finish. Fortunately, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. This race could be made much harder with a stronger wind and hotter temps. All in all it was fairly mild.

Once we got out of the park and started toward Henderson, the climbing started to become annoying. With about 15 miles to go it started to "flatten" out. But these were false, steady climbs which burned down the legs even more.

Transition finally came, and I was grateful to be off the bike and done climbing. Total climbing was about 4,000 ft by my Garmin's estimates, which is about as much as the Boulder full. Here's the Garmin File.

Transition 2: 3:53

No big story to tell here either. Almost ran out with my helmet on, and then stopped at a porta potty. Ran out feeling pretty good.

Run: 1:50:22

Running out of transition I felt great, which was odd to me. My run had really been poor since Boulder, and I was having a tough time getting it back. But out of transition I began running in the high 6 minute miles to start. Granted, it was downhill for the first half mile or so, but it still felt good.

Essentially, the course is never flat. It resembled an old Nintendo cheat code. Down, up, up, down down, up, up, down, down, up, up, down. Then you get an extra life (or in reality, the exact opposite). As we made the turnaround to start heading uphill the first time, I still felt great, and was able to cruise the uphills at around 8:30 miles. Heading back downhill to complete the first lap and start the second, I could already feel myself slowing. I was able to run at sub 8, but fatigue was setting in.

By the halfway point of the run, my fatigue and sickness was starting to catch up with me. I was starting to struggle to keep pace, and the heat and hills were getting to me. I walked the last few aid stations and shuffled my way through the rest of the second lap and third. My goal became to get to the top of the hill at mile 12.5 and then coast downhill to the finish (without puking). Finally at the top of the hill, I was able to run downhill at a low 7 minute pace and finish "strong". While I didn't have a specific goal for this race because I didn't know what to expect, given the hills, heat, and my general fatigue, I wanted to beat 5:30. I ended up at 5:29. Mission complete.

I was so relieved at that point to be done with this absolutely great season. This training season was long, with two seasons tied together in one, and so it is absolutely necessary for me to take a break for a few weeks before getting back into training. This will be hard for me, as I'm conditioned to keep working, and I'll likely be climbing the walls until I can start training again.

Silverman, while still not the original race it once was, is not a race to be taken lightly. This is not just a end of season jog around the park. If this race is treated as anything other than an "A" race, you're setting yourself up for a lot of pain. I made that mistake this year, feeling a general amount of apathy prior to the race and not being fully prepared, but fortunately I was still able to finish strong-ish. If I do this race again (which, due to it's beauty and challenge is likely to be the case), I will certainly treat it with the respect it deserves. Every other time I have made the trip home from Vegas, I had left feeling exhausted and defeated. This was no exception. But unlike the other times, I was actually pleased with how I performed on the trip.

But now it's time to enjoy a few weeks off, and then begin a maintenance program prior to my build up to IM Texas 2015!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ironman Silverman 70.3 Pre Race

There's this incredible feeling you get when you approach the end of a fantastic season. It's a feeling that may be compared to the finishing of any major project in life and is almost unfitting for such a major event or achievement, I can describe it in one simple word.


It bothers me that I feel this way, but I can't escape it. I'm like a student at the end of a school year just phoning it in until the last bell rings. Don't get me wrong, I'm doing all the training, and I think I'm prepared, but I'm not giving Ironman Silverman 70.3 the consideration it so rightly deserves. Due to the scale of this event, I should not be so careless. However, I am so ready for an off season, and have had such a tough recovery since Ironman Boulder that I can't help but be a little apathetic toward this race.

That said, I know that as we drive out toward Vegas, my attitude will change. It better, or I will be in for a heavy dose of ass handing by this potentially brutal course. One thing is for certain. No matter how much apathy I show toward this race going in, I'm going to be absolutely humbled by the time I cross the finish. I will need to have a lot more respect for this course. Here are the reasons.

  1. This is a harsh landscape. Every time I have been to Vegas, when I would poke my head out of the comfort of whatever smoke filled casino I happened to be occupying, I would immediately be punched in the face with whatever weather extreme happened to be happening that day, whether it be extreme cold, extreme hot, etc. Get away from the strip, and I am guessing that those extremes are amplified. The temperature is for this weekend is supposed to peak at 95, feeling like 99. I haven't been mentally preparing myself enough for that.
  2. This will likely be my first non-wetsuit swim. I'm okay with that, but I've never done it before, so I should be a little more considerate of that. Additionally, I don't do well in the cold. While the weather is going to be hot later in the day, We're looking at low 60's as we begin the race. I'm a wuss, so 76 degrees in the water is still not super warm for me. I'll be freezing my but off around the turn buoy, and trying to stay relaxed.
  3. The bike course will be hilly. While not as hilly as the original Silverman, it's going to be at least as bad as Cabo, which was a constant up and down. I'll need to be solid on my bike in order to be fresh for the run, and there is a lot of potential to over-bike. Not to mention potential wind gusts in the desert along the course.
  4. Did I mention that it will be hot? Well, it's going to be hot. Super hot. Especially on the run. My run has been suffering a bit lately, and this won't help.
Ok, just writing that out started to build up my anticipation a bit. Now I'm starting to have the respect for this thing! But alas, while I love racing, I can't wait for this one to be over so that I can begin to enjoy the off season. I am in desperate need of rest and recovery!

I hesitate to set any expectations for my race because there will be so many variables, including my first non-wetsuit swim, a hilly bike course, and questionable weather and wind. I will say that I hope to finish strong, healthy and uninjured. Unlike Boise, I hope to get off the bike with zero stomach issues. My nutrition plan seemed to work in Boulder, so I'm going to use that to get me to a place where I can get off the bike and run strong. Ideally, I want to finish this race ready to focus on recovery and off season fitness maintenance. I won't win any prizes at this one, except to say that I will have faced another fear (non-wetsuit open water swimming), and finished yet another 70.3. I'll be happy looking back on this race season, and looking forward to the next!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I Learned About Myself Through Meditation

It's no secret that I've got serious anxiety issues. That's been established for a long time, which is why I've been a chronic self medicator up until very recently (and it can be argued that I still am, only my medication is hours of low effort exercise). I suppose everybody self medicates with something, but to what extent and whether or not it's healthy is debatable. There's no debate with my self medication. It was pure insanity.

But back to my anxiety. I tried every imaginable remedy to "cure" my ailment, and my anxiety was debilitating, paranoid, "can't get out of bed" type of anxiety. Nothing really worked until I worked to improve my mind and spirit. Part of this improvement included (among a lot of outside help) the incorporation of meditation into my daily life.

I had tried meditation in the past, and what I couldn't overcome was the fact that I couldn't fully rest my mind. I felt I was a failure at it, and so I quit, like many of us do. Here were some of the reasons I didn't "get" meditation.

  1. I couldn't find that true enlightenment that you think a Buddhist monk at the top of a mountain must have from years of practice. The inner peace that acts as a brick wall between you and your problems. 
  2. I couldn't get my mind to shut up! I felt that if I could accomplish this, I would be able to have control over my thoughts. 
  3. I thought I could have some out of body experience where I would be able to look at myself meditating from above myself. I don't know why I wanted this to happen, but I'd read it in a book once and I thought it would be pretty cool. Needless to say it never did.
  4. After a while of being frustrated with the actual practice of failing to shut down my mind, it became more of a burden to meditate.
  5. I wasn't comfortable sitting cross legged on the floor with my back straight.
  6. I wasn't a hippie
  7. I didn't have my own room specially designed for meditation, complete with a picture of Buddha, a bunch of candles, and some Enya music in the background.
  8. I got really bored.
  9. I didn't want to wake up early
  10. I felt like a failure because of all of the above.
Aside from most of this list being silly, it is clear that I didn't understand what I wanted out of meditation, or rather, I set my expectations to high for it to work. Thus I stopped doing it and said it didn't work for me. 

Within the last couple years I revisited meditation with the intent of being open minded to what I would get from it. First, I set it up as an exercise in failure and adaptation. Every day meditation would be different. Some days I would be fully energized, some days I would be antsy, others I would be calm, etc. I simply accepted this and moved on. The important thing was that I immediately intended to give up control of my thoughts. Let them flow, and let them be what they may. 

Second, I approached meditation with the new intent that I would listen rather than participate. My only job was to listen to my thoughts, not become a part of them. This is an important concept because I learned that you can't (nor should you want to) shut down your mind. That would essentially kill you. Shutting down your mind implies that you have some control over that action. Once you let go of that control you begin to accept things that are out of your control. At that point you can become a spectator as thoughts float through your mind. This acceptance begins to lead to a better understanding of how you think, and thus you learn to find peace with yourself (inner peace).

There is a guided meditation app called Headspace, which I learned about from the Tim Ferris Podcast (Author of  The 4 Hour Workweek, The 4 Hour Body), which actually describes part of this concept very well. It tells us that our mind acts like a highway, with cars (thoughts) constantly speeding by. We are simply on the side of the road watching the cars drive past. Our job in this exercise is to simply watch the cars drive past without jumping into a car and going for a ride (or trying to drive the car).

When I first heard this, I immediately related and knew that's how my brain worked. So I got to meditating and waited for the cars to pass by. I initially thought that my mind would be the equivalent of LA traffic during the apocalypse. What I realized instead was that the traffic in my head was actually very light, but the traffic that did come by were over sized tractor trailers hell bent on running me down. Thus for every thought that came my way it was hard for me not to jump on board. Some days the traffic of tractor trailers was light, and some days it was heavy, but the common theme was that I would have to work hard not to get run down by the semi. 

I tend to think that because I am prone to jump on every thought that comes through my head, even when the traffic is light, this translates into obsession in the real world. These thoughts become obsessions, and the heavier the traffic becomes in my head, the greater anxiety I have (mental overload).

Once I learned this about myself, meditation became much easier. Since I discovered the real way my brain worked (which was different from what I originally thought), I could accept that and sit on the sidelines more easily. I could learn to gradually allow the tractor trailers to drive by without me jumping on. This was a great revelation to me, and really helped me enjoy meditation and get the most out of it.

I put aside all of my preconceptions about meditation as laid out in the above list, and focused on what worked for me, since everyone is different.

In the greatest sense, what I learned from meditation was a lot about how my mind worked. And once I knew how my mind worked, it became easier to let go and allow the mind to quiet itself as I sat on the sidelines. That mediation is not a perfect exercise, it is a practice in failure, something, I am proud to say, I am pretty good at.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflection and Downtime

As this season draws to a close, I look forward to a few weeks of recovery and a few months of base-level maintenance training as I gear up for 2015. It's also a time to reflect on this last year of racing, which has really been two seasons rolled into one. When I first began training, I was overly optimistic about my season. I began training in February, 2013 on the heels of a major shoulder surgery, started racing my first triathlons in July, did my first 70.3 in December, and then immediately started my build to my first Ironman in Cabo in March, 2014. The fun didn't stop there, as I quickly began setting my sights on Ironman Boulder in August, with a handful of races in between.

I proceeded to race an Olympic triathlon in San Diego a month later, and definitely felt the effects of my recovery from Boulder. My final race of the season(s) is Ironman Silverman 70.3, which takes place on October 5, and should not be taken lightly. Unpredictable weather (likely heat), no wetsuits, and endless climbing await me there. But after that? Recovery.

That's a year and a half of constant high volume training, which isn't necessarily the smartest thing for an elite athlete, let alone an amateur starting from zero. But I wouldn't have done it any other way. I set out to accomplish something I had no business participating in while in my particular state of physical health and injury. But huge transformations can happen quickly with the right motivation, willingness, and care.

Right: After my surgery, right before my decision to race in an Ironman
Left: During my second Ironman in Boulder a year and a half later

From there I became an Ironman finisher 2 times over, both in under 11 hours. The ridiculous "dream" of becoming a qualifier for the Ironman World Championship suddenly became a realistic "goal". With the guidance of top coaches at MarkAllenOnline (now doing business as Smart Triathlon Training), I was able to exceed my expectations and turn distant dreams into realistic goals. Below I am posting a picture of a trendline from 2013 when I first started this training. I was so happy that my paces were improving, but they were still slow at my aerobic heart rate. With patience, I was able to bring my paces down even more, and hold those paces for over 20 miles of running (all at a relatively easy pace). On a good day, my long runs can be between 7:45 and 8:00 miles.

So now the question becomes "why stop now? You have the momentum to continue pushing to even greater results?" First of all, I'm not stopping after Silverman. I have goals to exceed for 2015. But before 2014 is out, I am going to spend the bulk of my training time maintaining my fitness, recovering from a year and a half of racing, and focusing on techniques I'd previously rushed through so that when I reach the time that I have to build for my next event, I am prepared to crush it.

All of this is to avoid burnout. It is possible to overtrain to the point that you are doing more harm than good, and then you are under prepared for a race. The results start to suffer, the frustration sets in, and the motivation wanes. Mark Allen drives the point home, "Over prepare, under train".

As I sit here writing this post about my own need to step back my training, I am feeling less and less anxious about other decisions my family has made recently. For example, our daughter has become burned out on piano, and we have really struggled with trying to rekindle her passion. Finally, we decided that maybe it is best for her to take a break, a very difficult decision for us. Our daughter's teacher was not happy with this at all, and pleaded with us to reconsider, making us feel tremendously more guilty for our decision. But as I think about my own training, I remember that, like my training, we are not quitting, we are simply maintaining a "base" level of fitness for when the time comes to rebuild. Then the passion will be rekindled. Secondly, it is literally a marathon, not a sprint. Healthy habits are sparked by a healthy body, mind, and soul. If you push one too hard, the others will suffer. But all three in balance will produce tremendous results.

This season is nearly done, and I am looking forward to the break, to recover my body, mind, and soul. These last couple years have been about becoming healthier, finding passion in life, and inspiring others to do the same, while writing about my experience as it happens. I am tremendously joyful for what I have accomplished during this time, and my life is much better for it. Furthermore, I look forward to the coming year, where I take these steps to the next level, to achieve goals that were once dreams, and to dream bigger for the future!

To see my race schedule for next year, please visit my new website at www.adamhilltri.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your Brain is a Limiter

A friend of mine introduced me to this TED Talk a couple weeks ago, and it really hit home for me. Not just in the sense of how it applies to my athletic life, but also my personal and professional life. It helps demonstrate that our brains are amazing, confusing, and deceiving pieces of machinery.

Yes, our brains can trick us into (and talk us out of) anything. It is the source of our dreams, our fears, our joys, our anger, our happiness, our thoughts, and our aspirations. It helps us understand what is right in front of us, and sometimes shows us things we can't possibly understand. It communicates with every fiber of our being and relays instruction and feedback to every part of our body. You would think that it is always operating at maximum capacity, and that it is always out for our best interest. But one thing we don't always consider is that the brain often blocks us from our true potential.

The TED Talk I'm referring to is David Epstein's "Are Athletes Really Getting Better, Faster, Stronger?" While the bulk of this talk is referring to what is actually making athlete's appear faster, better, and stronger within recent history (and is definitely worth fully watching because it is mighty fascinating), the part that caught my ear began around minute 11:55. This is where the discussion of a brain as a limiter began, as a discussion of why professional athletes can compete on an entirely different level. Have a watch...

Now, before you start running up the Matterhorn, let's put this into perspective. Our brain acts as a limiter for a reason. Within our physical bodies, it acts as a limiter so we don't injure ourselves. Think about the example provided in the video of the person receiving an electric shock. Sure, they were able to jump across the room using all of their muscle fibers, but imagine how sore that person would be the next day (assuming they survived)!

I know I've brought up this example before in an earlier post, but it's relevant here as it is a great example of how limitations can be overcome. Back in 1989, two professionals, Dave Scott and Mark Allen were competing for the Ironman World Championship. Neither wanted to give up their position as both wanted desperately to win. They were neck and neck for the entire race until a few miles from the finish when Mark Allen broke away. Both racers finished within minutes of each other, and both smashed the previous record, Allen by 20 minutes. While you enjoy a good laugh from the ridiculous outfits of 1980's triathletes, get some perspective from the video below. Enjoy the mulletude!

Did these athletes do anything different than previous years? Were they riding different equipment? Was there some magic potion that made them 20 minutes faster that year? No. This particular year they were able to overcome the limiter because they were challenging each other to do so. The only thing that changed was their mental state. They were breaking barriers set by themselves, and were able to push through. Mark Allen set a time which smashed the previous record, and was only broken by himself in subsequent years. Not until new technology and nutrition was introduced did times like those get posted again, and then only rarely.

While it's not mentioned in Epstein's video, the brain also acts as a limiter in non-physical circumstances. Feelings of stress are often supplemented with feelings of exhaustion or anxiety. This is feedback that we may need to rest our minds lest we descend into madness, strap a pair of underwear to our foreheads, and start yelling profanities at strangers (is that a little too specific of an example?).

The key, therefore is finding the balance of how to control the limiter, to set the governor up or down based on the required output. As with an endurance athlete, this takes training. While the endurance athlete will build their endurance and push through their mental limitations to achieve their goals, so too can anybody push through their own mental limitations. Here are a few steps on how to raise the bar on our own mental stamina.
  1. Take breaks as you need them, and actually use them as breaks. Don't use these breaks as an opportunity focus on other things that are stressful. Remove yourself from a stressful environment and regroup.
  2. Meditate. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to get in your pajamas, light a bunch of candles, and turn on some Enya (but more power to you if you do!). It simply means finding a quiet place and quieting your mind. It's like hitting the mental reset button. Remember: meditation is a practice, it's counter productive to get frustrated because you can't quiet your mind. Do the best you can, but just keep at it.
  3. Ignore the voices in your head telling you that you can't. These voices exist in everyone at varying levels and it is a prime example of how our brains act as a limiter. When we are conditioned to think this way, we will also perceive the actions and words of others to be aligned with what our brain is telling us. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. You have to take contrary action to overcome these negative thoughts.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Sleep is important to everyone. Make sure to get a good night sleep every night.
  5. Keep your brain interested. As long as your commitment to your goals is greater than the limitations you put on yourself, you will keep striving to achieve your goals. It is a battle, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of the purpose of your pursuit. Every. Single. Day. 
All human beings are therefore capable of much more than they "think" they are. It's not just optimistic mumbo jumbo to think that anything you put your mind to you can achieve, it's actually true. You have the power within you to overcome your own limitations. So keep setting high goals and continue to strive to achieve them. Your only obstacle is yourself!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ironman Boulder 2014 Race Report

For those of you who don't want to read the full report, this says it all
Finishing Time: 10:37:01, 89th/2,343 Overall, 22nd/300 35-39 AG

Boulder, Colorado is such an entertaining town. It reminds me a lot of Santa Barbara - both are meccas for fit people who seemingly don't work, yet have access to a hidden tree with unlimited leaves of money. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find the tree, but I did find a lot of things to like about Boulder. Most significantly, there is a strong sense of community in this little town. So many friendly people and great support from the locals. Additionally, there is really something for everyone. It is a little bit of urban nestled in rural surroundings. It's flat plains among the Rocky Mountains. It's a place to race, as 2400 of us did this weekend, and become Ironmen.

We opted to stay in the more rural part, East of Boulder, since the hotels in town were pretty expensive. To give you a sense of what it was like, here was our home for the week. It was incredible with some lovely views, lots of chickens, and a turtle. It was also right on the bike course, so I could hop out and train on the roads.

This was the property we stayed at. The little place on center right is the house

Pre Race:

The week of rain and cold and rainy weather had passed and left us with mild temperatures and a cooled reservoir - perfect for a wetsuit swim. Saturday was an absolutely perfect day, with no wind and cool weather. Too good to be true, and I was already anticipating this to be the calm before the storm. Despite the perfect conditions on Saturday, I was certain that the wind would kick in on Sunday, blowing us around on the swim as it did in St. George 2012, and that lightning bolts would take out half the swim field. Those of us who would make it to the bike would be greeted with tornadoes at the far eastern portion of the course. If we didn't get lifted into a twister, we most certainly would have been taken out by a projectile in the form of a triathlon bike. Those things are aero, and they'll take off body parts. I didn't even concern myself with worrying about the run, but the very few that made it there would be pelted with golf ball sized hail stones, or fry in 100 degree heat, but nothing in between. As you can see, I'm always thinking about the worst case scenario. The common theme? All of this was out of my control. I had done everything that was within my control. I was well trained, it was just time to execute.

Pre race ritual of sushi dinner. Hasn't failed me yet!

After a dinner tradition of eating sushi, and a surprisingly good night sleep (4-5 hours), I was up at 2 am on Sunday morning to get some yoga and meditation in. This always serves to give me a little morning flexibility and calm before a swim. Breakfast was a blueberry/banana/quinoa/oatmeal smoothie to be followed by a banana/oatmeal/almond butter smoothie two hours before race time. The whole day would consist of a liquid diet. This keeps it very simple for me, and has given me great success in the past.

We were out the door by 3 am to get down to the high school to catch the shuttle. Well, I was going to catch the shuttle, my wife and kids were going to get more sleep in the car. Just a quick word about that. As Ironman athletes, we have to hand it to our families. My wife, kids, and parents woke up hours before the sun would rise to simply spectate at a triathlon. The times they would see me over the next 10+ hours could probably be counted on one hand, and would be brief. Yet they had smiles on their faces all day and enjoyed the hell out of it. It meant a great deal to me that they enjoyed the race, and that they chose to be there to support me.

At the high school, I noticed that the breeze was picking up. Not heavy, but still a bit breezy. "Oh great," I thought. "Here it comes. I'll be fighting white caps the size of houses out there." I told myself to shut up and focus on execution. This is called "Ironman", not "Porcelain Boy". It was time to grow a pair.

At the reservoir the weather was lovely. Light breeze, cool weather, water temperature of 74. Bike tires were inflated, nutrition was at the ready, toilet was used (about 4 times). All systems were go.

I headed over to the corral where I was sure I would be overwhelmed by claustrophobia among the 3,000 other athletes jockeying for position. That wasn't the case. It was more like walking into a cloud of nervous excitement. As it was in Cabo, it was much like an out of body experience, as if I was watching it from the sidelines thinking "these people are crazy."

And then the cannon fired.


The rolling start is like a pressure control valve, only allowing a limited number of athletes to enter the water at a time, as opposed to the mass start which is a free for all. The rolling start really helps to spread out the field. I very leisurely followed my group standing within the 1:00 to 1:15 seeding area into the water and my race had begun. Very quickly I moved wide right to stay away from others and get clear water. This was great in that I had virtually zero contact the entire swim. Unfortunately, it also meant that I had no feet on which to draft. However, I knew that at this point my swim was a lost cause. I will focus on improving my swim in the off season, but for now the goal was to survive and get in between 1:15 and 1:20.

The swim was relatively uneventful. It consisted of two turns, which made it very easy to navigate and break into parts. I would focus on getting to the first buoy, then the second, and then the finish. I counted my strokes and sighted every 20 - 40 strokes. This was effective and made for a pretty straight swim. Since I wasn't sighting very often, I accidentally jammed my finger tips into some poor woman's neck. She was resting in a vertical position, and my right hand came at full force like a Vulcan death grip into the back of her neck. She screamed in pain, and all I could do was apologize. I felt so terrible about that, but I really hope the rest of her race went well!

After the second buoy, we ran into a lot of weeds. My arms had to come way up to avoid getting them tangled, and most of the 1,000 athletes which had already passed through had ripped it all up so that it was getting onto my face. The issue was very brief, and I continued to swim toward the exit. Getting up from the swim I saw my time and was disappointed, but it was what I expected. On my feet I felt very fresh for the bike leg.

Swim Time: 1:20:53, 1,089th/2,343 Overall; 177th/300 35-39 AG
Garmin File

T1: 5:38

The first transition was a bit disorienting. Since I'm a slow swimmer, yet still want to go fast for the rest of the race, I am very out of place. Most of the people coming out of the water at this point are taking their time. I, on the other hand, want to get on my bike as quickly as possible where I can start to race strong. This is 100% my problem, so I have no right to be rude or pushy to those who are going slower. Once again, it just comes down to the fact that I have to improve my swim.

I ran to the transition bag area and couldn't immediately locate my bag, and the volunteers were busy with other racers, so I had to backtrack a bit to get it. Running toward the tent, I noticed a lot of people changing outside the tent. I decided to follow suit, on the assumption that the tent was full of people. I got my helmet on, and nearly forgot my glasses (had to backtrack for those too) and carried my shoes toward the tent. It was my intent to run through the tent and get to my bike, but someone in front of me had other ideas. Note that above I mention that I don't want to be pushy, but in the middle of a race, if you're going to stand and rest for a while, don't do so in an active runway. I said "coming through" no less than three times before finally nudging my way by him. He wasn't too happy about that, but hopefully he had a little more consideration on the bike course. Blocking is against the rules. No matter, I was off and on to the bike.


Over the past year, cycling has become my strong event. There are some difficulties associated with being a fast cyclist and a slow swimmer when there are over 2,000 people racing. I finished the swim behind nearly half the field of racers. I had a lot of passing to do. The rules state that once you enter a person's draft zone (within 4 bike lengths) you have 20 seconds to complete the pass. Additionally, once you enter the draft zone, you can't drop back again, you have to make the pass. This means that a lot of energy has to be exerted to make a pass on another racer, since you can't sit side by side with someone and take your time making a pass. I passed over 900 athletes on the bike leg, which came to a rate of one racer every 20 seconds or so. Essentially, over the first 60-70 miles, I was constantly in passing mode.

Perhaps I was biking too hard at the beginning but I was feeling good. Around mile 40, I ended up losing one of my aero bar pads. After going back to retrieve it (which cost me about 2 minutes), I realized that the Velcro was completely gone. I would have to ride the next 75 miles with no aero bar pad on my left side. Fortunately, it didn't bother me too much. If that was the only issue on the bike I was going to have, I would take it!

Since I was going pretty hard at the beginning of the bike, I noticed my stomach nausea starting to pop up around mile 50. Fortunately at this point I was beyond the big packs and could back it off a bit. I dropped my heart rate back to the high 130's to let my digestive system catch back up. After this I found a really good rhythm.

You couldn't have asked for better conditions on the bike course. It was sunny, but mild with not much wind. The wind we did have only gave a slight benefit as it was never really a head wind, and thus helped to propel me forward. The support out there was absolutely great. In the middle of nowhere we had people in lawn chairs cheering us on. This is what makes this sport fun.

In the later miles of the course I was beginning to be all alone, which is how I like it. It was actually really nice and peaceful out there. I made it up the last couple hills, descended into town, and headed toward T2.

Bike Time: 5:12:00, 21.5 MPH
Garmin File

T2: 4:55

After a flying dismount on the bike, I ran into T2, which was located in the Boulder High School stadium. After I handed off my bike to a lovely volunteer, I proceeded to run through the bag transition bag area. One of the things I don't think the race director's anticipated was the fact that the sharp, black running track would be hell on racers' bare feet. They were on mine. It felt hot and sharp, but I didn't really feel it until I got into the tent (with adrenaline and all). It was at that point that I noticed a couple blisters forming on each feet from the track. It was beginning to feel like walking on needles as I began to run out of transition. Uh oh...


After running out of transition, I decided that bloody feet were bloody feet and that I would push it as much as I could. Again, this was supposed to hurt!I felt great initially, and headed downhill along the creek path. The initial miles were good, and I was running low 8's while trying to keep my heart rate below 150. At this point on the run I was pretty much all alone. I became a little worried at one point and had to ask if I was going the right way. Thankfully I was, and I continued. I anticipated that the second time down this course it would become much more crowded.

I was able to see my family about 4 times on the course which was awesome. I was really stoked that they could be out there to watch me suffer. They seemed to be enjoying it too! :-)

High fiving my kids
At the bottom of every hill you have to run back up, and that's just what we had to do after the first 10K. I decided to pace myself on the way back up and make sure I stayed hydrated. It was about here that I started to walk the aid stations also. I was beginning to start hurting early. I was able to keep my heart rate down, but I was just having trouble firing my legs. But, I kept running, albeit at a slower pace. With the punchy hills and false flats, this was truly a tough run course.

Once at the top of the creek again, I was able to turn around and enjoy another downhill, but I was still hurting. Once at the bottom of the hill around mile 17 or so my legs were starting to shut down. I was having a lot of trouble getting my calories in simply because the honey stingers mixed with salt began to taste like bile. I did what I could, but at the remaining aid stations I began to take in coke.

I was looking forward to the aid station on Pearl and Foothill because a video was supposed to play of my wife and kids at the Newton Running Lab. Unfortunately, my video didn't get triggered so I never got to see it. But the good news was only a 10K to go. 10K left was a place I was fantasizing about getting to at the beginning of the marathon, but once I got there I was dreading it. The next 4.5 miles would be up a gradual hill which ate me up the last time I climbed it. This time it would destroy me for sure.

The marathon of an Ironman destroys your spirits. In each race, here and in Cabo, I got the feeling that I was blowing up and not feeling well at all. It was a demoralizing feeling that it would be impossible to finish with even only a small relative distance to go. But that's how this marathon is different and more significant than any other marathon. This marathon is all about a person's ability to suffer and persist. In this marathon you are going to have pain, you are going to feel like crap, you are going to want to quit. But you don't, and that's what makes you an Ironman. It was at the trough of this hill, looking at a 4.5 miles of uphill that I finally remembered this and continued to push through the pain. Even though there was 10K to go, I took it an aid station at a time, walking it and then running between them. People said I looked strong, and I wondered who they were looking at, because it certainly wasn't me.

The last little hill was the hardest. It was about mile 24 that brought us to the very crest of creek path. At the top of that hill was a golf cart which signified the last turnaround and the last couple miles to Mike Riley's silky smooth voice. At the top of the hill I broke into sprint as I went downhill. I began to feel reinvigorated and full of energy. The pain had left me and I kind of felt a bit cheated, like I wish I had felt like this for the rest of the run.

Once back at the high school, I hit the fork in the road with the two signs going to the left and right, "2nd Lap" and "To finish". As I turned to the right the people cheered me on as if I had won the race. Turning onto Arapahoe I saw the mass of spectators lining toward 13th and the finish line. I saw nobody ahead of me as I approached 13th. As I turned left toward the finish I looked behind me. Nobody. I was going to have this moment all to myself!

I began to tear up at that moment. Thinking about all that I've been through to get here. The poor decisions I've made in the past, as well as the decision to improve my life culminated in this moment. This finish line was not a finish line at all, but a celebration of all that was accomplished. The big "Ironman" arch that I began to approach didn't signify an end, but a continuation. A doorway to a greater chapter of life.

I heard the cheers and took it all in with a final spin at the finish line. I couldn't quite hear what Mike Riley had said, but it was along the lines of "a few years ago he was out of shape and abusing alcohol, but today he's an Ironman." It wasn't the trademark "You are an Ironman!", but it's a better message, and more personal. It reminded me of why I had done this, and hopefully inspires people that they can make a dramatic and positive change in their lives.

Run Time: 3:53:35, 8:54/mile

After the finish line I found my wife and hugged her and cried. It was a long and hard day, especially with the run, but I had done it. More than 2,000 others would do the same that day for their own reasons, big and small.

I had hoped that I could run a 3:30 marathon, but it wasn't my day for that. The run course was just too tough. I know that a lot of people had a hard time with the run course, and the times reflected it that day. I am very happy with my time, and only hope to continue to improve over the next year so that I can meet Mike at the finish line again in Kona. By my math, I was about 6-7% off of a Kona time at this race. Looks like 10% improvement is still in order!

A big thanks to everyone who supported my fundraising goal for charity:water. Also, to my wife, kids, and parents for coming out to support me. Boulder was a wonderful city to host this event, and I'm sure it will only improve next year. I am signed up and will see you then!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ironman Boulder 2014 Part 2: Settling In

We've been here in Boulder for a week now, and the locals have shown us tremendous hospitality. From the sharing of the roads, to the generosity shown by most of the people here. It takes a lot of patience to deal with 3,000 strangers who do not know the local customs, so I for one am grateful!

The last week has been a wonderful experience of riding and running beautiful roads, and swimming in reservoirs to get used to altitude. Fortunately, while my swim pace is down significantly from it's already dismal levels, I am not feeling the affects of the altitude at all anymore. Acclimation happened rather quickly, and I am more confident than ever going into this race.

So a few highlights from this week. Well, it rained... a lot. Unusual for Boulder this time of year, but it was actually very welcome. It cooled down the reservoir so that the swim will most likely now be wetsuit legal. Also, the enduring effect is that it is much cooler than expected (in the 80's instead of the 90's) which will roll into race day. I won't jinx it by being overly optimistic, but all indications say that it will be a pretty nice day. That said, I will welcome a little wind on the bike as I seem to do pretty well in those conditions.

Most of the festivities began yesterday, with athlete checkin and the expo opening at the Boulder High School grass field. Made for a nice "Woodstock" type of feeling with all of the mud in the expo area. But #257 is officially checked in (and, by the way, registered for next year's race).

I had heard through the internets that none other than Apolo Ohno would be making an appearance at the Newton Lab while the expo was going on. Since this was the third race in a row where he was in attendance, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to meet him. Of course he was very nice and looks like he's in good shape for Kona.

Following the expo, we decided to ditch our pants and join the first annual (I'm guessing this will be a yearly thing) Boulder Underpants Run. This is really meant as an opportunity for the athletes to ease the tension before a big race. They do it in Kona every year. Surprisingly, it got some pretty big publicity, even making the local Denver news. I'll admit that I was a little intimidated about running it at first, since my wife and kids opted out this year, but it ended up being a lot of fun.

My wife appearing overdressed for the occasion

Thank goodness we ended up where we started. It would have been an embarrassing walk back to the car. But I guess if I were to stay on Pearl St. we would have fit right in.

One of the reasons I am truly blessed to do this sport is the support I get from family and friends. My wife and kids have been putting up with my diva-esque mood swings and finicky behaviors, yet they still choose to be with me this week. Additionally, my parents decided to fly out to watch the race. The night they flew in, we attended a very well put together opening ceremony which really served to inspire and provide confidence to all of us. Emceed by none other than Mike Riley himself, they went through the history of Ironman, and had interviews with a number of athletes, including Dave Scott. It was a great way to motivate me for the coming race.

The next day would be a full one. Later in the day I would check my bike and gear in, but first things first. My kids were going to become Ironkids. At the Boulder High School, the kids were going to run the track (Sarah for a half mile and Zack for a quarter). Once again, Mike Riley announced the event. I am truly impressed with this guy. Virtually every weekend this guy goes to Ironman locations around the world and works his butt off all week long, culminating in 17 hours of keeping the energy high. If there is an Ironman, he is certainly it.

Back to the kids' race. Sarah's half mile run began after the milers finished up. She went out really fast and we were worried that she would lose steam during the run. However, she held on and finished as one of the top girls in the entire group. She was a very happy girl! Zack did great as well, and Mom was allowed to run with him. They both got medals and felt very proud of themselves. Best of all, it kept my mind of the race the following day and allowed me to settle my nerves a bit (but don't worry, they came back later!).

So now I'm all checked in. Bike is racked. T1/T2 bags are in place. Nutrition is set to go. Alarm is set for 2 am. Now all I have to do is wait patiently and rest. I've done all I can, the rest is out of my control. But it will be a blast.

I want to thank everyone who supported me throughout the past year and longer. It has been a great experience and I've really grown from it. Thank you to everyone who supported the fundraiser for charity:water. With your help, we were able to raise $1,500 for clean water projects all over the world. This is a cause I will continue to support for a long time to come.

To all who are racing tomorrow, best of luck! I will see you at the finish line!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ironman Boulder 2014 Part 1: It's Acclimation Baby!

Well, we made it. After a 11:pm wake up call and one final assurance that the car was packed and ready for a 1,000 mile trip we left our home in San Clemente at a God forsaken hour to head out to Boulder Colorado.

I tried to use my experience with Ironman to soften the blow of the impending 15 hour drive through relation. "It's like a long Ironman triathlon". And certainly a drive like this with two kids would be a test of endurance. But why leave so early? Well, as with any endurance competition, you want to try to control everything you can and brace for what you can't. In this case, leaving at midnight would give us a few hours of "peace" while the kids slept in the backseat.

Fortunately, we arrived without incident, and the kids behaved marvelously. We are renting a very nice little house on the outskirts of Boulder overlooking the town and the mountains. In fact, I can just jump on my bike and be on the bike course. It's absolutely amazing. Since we arrived 10 days prior to race day, I would have plenty of time to get to know the course.

What seems like an extended vacation is actually a purposeful attempt to acclimate as much as possible to the mile-high altitude of Boulder. A month ago, while attending a training camp here, I experienced the effects of altitude first hand and found that the bike and run were manageable, but the swim was very difficult. In fact, I was on the verge of panicking a number of times. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of experience in the open water before race day.

After getting settled in and having a very, very good night's sleep, I woke up the next morning to do a 3.5 hour bike ride. Having been on the course the month prior, I was very excited to get back out there, and it was absolutely a gorgeous day for a ride. In fact, I was surprised to find very few athletes on the course that day. I knew a week later that would be a different story.

Empty Roads most of the day. I'm so not missing Southern California!

The house we are renting is right off of 95th St., two blocks south of 52nd, which is between miles 80-90 of the course. I chose to just jump on there and immediately brave the most challenging climb of the course on 79th St. (affectionately referred to as "The Three Bitches"). It was here that I could tell that the altitude was affecting me. Or maybe it was the sleep deprivation and 15 hour drive the previous day. Probably both. Hard to tell. But after that climb it was all descent back into town toward the race start where I then rode up the foothills on the first part of the course. Ended up doing about 60+ miles. Pretty good for a long taper ride. Here's a link to the Garmin file.

The next day I attended the organized Boulder Masters swim at the Boulder Reservoir to conquer my reignited fears. Those fears were further compounded by the idea that the race may not be wetsuit legal due to rising temperatures. Now "not wetsuit legal" is a bit misleading, since at temperatures above 76.1 degrees one can still wear a wetsuit, but not be eligible for awards or Kona slots. While I am not so optimistic to think that I may be part of that elite fraternity of athletes, I am also not one to back down from a challenge. It is an Ironman after all. So big deal? What good will a wetsuit do anyway? The answer, for me, is that it will give me the security of knowing that I won't die come race day.

You see, I sink like a rock.

Correction: I sink like a rock tied to a pile of cinder blocks. Yet despite my handicap I have spent the last year and a half training to cover 2.4 miles without any added buoyancy. However, all that non-wetsuit work was done in a pool, not the open water. All of my open water swims have been wetsuit legal. Hence the fear being compounded.

On Saturday morning at the reservoir I decided for my own sanity not to elevate my fears beyond working to get over the altitude adjustment. I donned my wetsuit and set out to swim a couple miles. Success! I ended up completing the swim without having a diva-esque panic attack in the middle of the reservoir, and I was only about 10 minutes off my Ironman Cabo pace.

The rest of the weekend was a real confidence booster for me. I ended up doing another 50 mile ride (Garmin File) with a much higher power output at a lower heart rate. I also got in a couple runs and another open water swim. The swim felt much better, and I completed 2.5 miles in just under 1:20. Not great, but for a land lubber like me, I'll take it.

The weather for this week could really be anything. It's supposed to cool off and get really stormy out here. The cool weather will be a God send. However, with thunderstorms a real possibility, it will be interesting to see what will happen come race day. What to do? Well, as with the 15 hour drive from California. The best thing to do is control the things I can, and not worry about what we can't. Regardless, August 3rd is going to be epic!

Marie and I just crossing over the Vail Pass. Already huffing and puffing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Carlsbad Triathlon Race Report 2014

It's official. It's been one year since my first triathlon. How did I celebrate? By doing the same triathlon I did a year ago, of course! And what a great day it was.

Unlike last year, where I had signed up for this race to get my first experience in triathlon before I jumped deep into the world of iron distance racing, I signed up this year to give myself a good speed race/warm up leading up to Ironman Boulder. The main purpose? Don't screw up and hurt yourself 3 weeks out from race day. Primary mission accomplished.

Carlsbad is an interesting sprint triathlon because it is a bit longer than traditional sprints. It's a 1 km swim followed by a 25 km bike followed by a 5 km run. But the pace is still fast and furious.

Racked and Ready
In a nutshell, the race went great. I won't go into great detail, but over the course of the year I improved on my time by about 10 minutes, all of which was realized on the bike and the run. I finished in 6th place in my age group out of 68 overall, missing a podium by about 3 minutes.

In fact, I had the fastest bike split out of anyone in my age group. I was pretty proud of that! The run is also steadily improving with slower gains, but gains nonetheless. My swim has had zero improvement. It is becoming clear that this is my limiter. With a respectable swim I would have been on the podium. My swim was much slower than respectable. It is apparent that I will need to find additional help with my swim if I want to get to the next level in this sport.

I think what it is coming down to is that I still have an element of discomfort in the water. While I have been a water person all my life - surfing, swimming, etc., only recently have I ventured into actual "swimming". I'm learning that, much like golf, a lot of things have to line up in order to have good form. As an adult onset swimmer, I'm finding it very hard to improve.

So the next stop is Boulder, Colorado and over a weeks worth of training at altitude prior to taking on the Ironman for the second time this year. Should be a fantastic week filled with all sorts of fun, silliness, and inspiration. I'll keep my journal up as we get closer.

Swim - 18:14
Bike - 41:01
Run - 20:33
Overall - 1:19:50 - 6th/68 AG, 45th/743

By the way, this was the second race in a row where I was racing with Apolo Ohno. Turns out he was local training here for his big day in Kona. I am hopeful if these things happen in threes, then perhaps I will race with him there as well (very, very wishful thinking). In Boise I beat his time by about 2 minutes. In Carlsbad he smoked me, and actually won his age group. Clearly a world class athlete!