Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Ironman Boulder Fundraising Campaign - Charity:Water

By trade I work for a company that, in part, supplies chemicals to water treatment plants so that the water that is supplied to our homes, businesses, and communities is safe and free of disease. I know from my experience within this company the type of infrastructure required to support our communities is vast. Needless to say we take safe drinking water for granted.

At no time during any of my races did I ever stop to think "man, am I lucky to have all of this water so readily available to me". In fact, during the recent Ironman in Los Cabos I expected that water would be literally handed to me for my consumption, or dare I say, to simply pour over my head for a quick cool down. And why not? There's plenty where that came from after all!

But in many places in the world, too many to count, people would cringe at the idea of pouring much needed water over their heads.. In fact, in some communities they don't even have safe or clean water at all. Some have to travel for hours just to find any water at all. And even then they're putting their lives at risk.

For Ironman Boulder, I choose to race for +charity: water because not only are they a stellar charity with high marks on Charity Navigator, but because this is a problem that is solvable. This is not a problem with supply (there is plenty of water on the planet so that nobody has to go thirsty), it is a problem with infrastructure. A problem that charity:water is working to solve one project at a time, one community at a time. Please watch the video below to view how they try to change lives through accessible water.

Charity:water projects are not just saving lives, and providing water to those that thirst, they are literally building opportunities within communities, creating resources, and promoting health. This is truly a worthy cause, and one I hope you'll contribute to.

You can reach my fundraising page here to donate. It is my goal to reach $1,500 by August 3. If we can do better then great! Thank you for your support!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ironman Los Cabos Epilogue: Lessons Learned

After having some time to really reflect on Ironman Los Cabos, and how the experience shaped out, I wanted to lay out some of the things I learned along the way which I found important, and can be applied to any passion project a person may seek to accomplish. In a nutshell, completing this race was absolutely glorious. The finish chute was a blur of afternoon sunlight and mental fog, but it was absolutely glorious. Will I do it again? Absolutely. What did I learn? Read below to find out.
  1. We human beings really are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for - Yes, I know it's cliche, and we can read this any number of times a day on inspirational Facebook posts, but it's also very true. We tend to give up too quickly or too easily. By our very nature, we are conditioned to conserve. Conserve our pride, conserve our welfare, conserve our energy. In other words we are conditioned to be "safe". After all, as we evolved we had to develop mechanisms to keep ourselves from harm - to run away from Sabertooth Tigers, or survive through cold winters or famine. I'm certainly not endorsing those, but there are ways that we can channel those additional stores of energy in non-stressful ways (I want to stress "non-stressful") to go the extra mile in any endeavor with which we are involved.
  2. Understanding and acknowledging our limitations is a beneficial exercise - Is number 2 contradicting number 1? Yes!... In a way. But you see how I mentioned channeling energy in non-stressful ways (I guess I want to re-stress my stressing of "non-stressful"). That is where understanding our limitations can benefit us. We all know how we feel when we hit a brick wall. Our energy immediately depletes, we lose sleep, we get sick, we get irritable, we crave sugar (ok, that one is tough to gauge). When I felt any of these symptoms during my Ironman training, I knew that it was my body telling me that I was pushing too hard. When that happened I had to take a step back and make rest my priority, refresh my mind and body, and recover the passion and energy I had for pursuing this goal. Often times the best offense is a good defense. Additionally, knowing our limitations gives us a good indication on where we can improve, and whether it makes sense to refocus our energy in more positive ways.
  3. "No pain, no gain" is some of the worst advice ever given - In fact, pain is most often an impediment to progress. Alternatively, some of the greatest gains happen with little or no physical pain, and very little discomfort at all! When I first began training using heart rate as a guide, I didn't even feel like I was working out at all. I barely broke a sweat, pulling 11-12 minute miles on runs. Gradually the pace improved and the effort felt much the same. It's only with the greater gains that more discomfort becomes required, the "last 10%" so to speak, and even that should be done sparingly. It all comes back to understanding limitations. Pain is different from discomfort. Our ability to suffer through discomfort is part of a growing experience. Pain, on the other hand, is biofeedback telling us that we are overdoing it and have to take a step back. This advice would be better read as "No pain, KNOW gain!"
  4. We can make the experience of achieving a goal much more fulfilling by finding a way to be in service to others - When I first considered training for an Ironman, I thought of all the hours I would have to put in, the money I would have to spend, and the emotional capital I would expend and it made it seem like a very selfish endeavor. To be fair, it was. I was looking to better myself. But how can we benefit others unless we focus first on improving ourselves (something about removing the plank from one's own eye comes to mind)? In my case, I chose to set an example for those that may have always thought of achieving a far reaching goal, but who may have talked themselves out of it numerous times (after all, I was like that). I wrote about it openly in the hopes of inspiring others through my experience. This requires conquering the fear of being vulnerable (spoiler alert: that's number 5 below). Additionally, I raised money for charity to hold myself accountable to the goal. After all, it is much more difficult to quit when times get tough if you have more eyes on your progress and a charity goal depending on your achieving the goal.
  5. The experience can become more meaningful if we can conquer the fear of being vulnerable - I used to be a bit of a cynic, often becoming critical and nay-saying in many situations. I now understand that that was a defense mechanism for me so that I would not be the subject of criticism. If I can be critical of other peoples' desires to fulfill a dream, I could justify my own lack of inspired confidence. Too often we put up this armor of cynicism, and neglect the great potential for self improvement that comes from being vulnerable. Brene Brown is an expert on vulnerability, and goes into great detail of it's importance in this TED talk and in her book, Daring Greatly. Making myself vulnerable by writing about my experience, especially at the beginning when I had no experience whatsoever, made me extremely uncomfortable. However, it made the experience of getting to my goal and achieving it that much more meaningful.
  6. You CAN find the time - Yes, you can. No seriously, you can. I know you have kids, I know you have a job, I know you have that thing on Thursday nights (I'm not stalking you, I swear). Regardless, the time is there. It's just about inventive time management. I know waking up earlier is hard, but that is a solution. You can also take your lunch breaks at work to focus on the goal. The point is that there is always a way to make the time. Within my training plan, I had to find 20+ hours a weak during the peak weeks to train. I would wake up earlier, use my lunch breaks, and use the actual commute to work to work in training hours. I still found time with the family and took care of all my obligations (in fact my family appreciated it more because I was setting a good example). 
  7. The right perspective changes everything - I know what it's like to fall into a downward spiral of despair and self loathing. The feeling that everyone is against you and the hard work is meaningless. These are the great demoralizers. The worst thing about these feelings is that they are overpowering, and they feel absolutely legitimate. However, I have found in my life that these are mostly problems with perspective. I've learned through this experience that, for me, one of the big differences between being happy and being miserable is my perspective. When I turned my negative attitude around and focused on the positive, things became much brighter. Ironman training was a great practice in perspective. Instead of saying things like "I have to run today", I would say "I get to run today". How lucky am I, that I am capable of getting myself up every day and working toward a dream? Truly we are fortunate if we allow ourselves to believe we are, and overcome the power of negative thinking.
  8. Humility is vital - There will be setbacks. There always are. Many times these setbacks may seem like a death nail into achievement of a goal. But when these setbacks occur, it is important to practice humility. Allowing our egos to get in the way of clear thinking will only make the situation worse. For example, as I was training during the summer months last year, I hit a plateau which wouldn't allow me to get any faster at my assigned aerobic heart rate range. This gave me two options. Run faster and train over my heart rate range (which would have potentially destroyed my training progress to that point), or humble myself and keep it slow. Sure, I wouldn't be able to run as fast as I wanted at that point, but checking my ego would allow me to be faster at that heart rate over the long term. A setback, yes. But the long term goal was still on track. Eventually I broke through the plateau and got faster. Humility ties a lot of these things I learned together in a nice little bow. Accepting limitations, practicing vulnerability, finding the right perspective, it's all about humility.
  9. It's worth it - Whatever "it" is, as long as the effect is positive, it's worth it. Because "it" is important to you, "it" will build your character, "it" will give you fulfillment beyond your expectations, and in turn the act of achieving "it" will inspire others. And when we inspire others, we can inspire ourselves, constantly improving, always reaching toward higher and more lofty goals. An upward spiral. Take it from me, you can.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Race Report: San Diego Spring Sprint 2014

This past weekend I had the rare privilege of not just racing in another sprint triathlon, but also getting to share the experience with my wife, who consequently was racing her first triathlon. This was super cool because I could really relate to those feelings of anticipation and anxiety as we led up to the race. I wasn't really nervous for me, but more so nervous for her. Would she like it? Is she going to be okay? Will she pass me on the bike? All of these things reminded me to let it go to God, and stop trying to control the world.

Swim start/finish area

Since this was my first sprint in a while, and I haven't really had a chance to test my speed in a long time, my goal was to swim as fast as I could, bike as fast as I could, and run as fast as I could while still maintaining good form. As far as time goals were concerned, it is usually a high benchmark to set to run a sprint in under an hour, so I assumed I would be somewhere just over an hour. I wasn't certain how fast I would bike, maybe 22-23 mph, and I wanted to try to hold a 6:45 pace (something I thought would be achievable with the right kind of mindset). In other words, run as fast as I can until I feel like puking. More on that later.


The swim took place in Mission Bay, which, if we can trust the film "Jaws 3", is prime feeding grounds for man-eating Great White Sharks. But that's ok, because with Sea World fully operational next door, we would have Shamu and Dennis Quaid to save us from these killers.

Unfortunately we didn't get much of a warm up, since the warm up swim area was full of sea grass and knee deep soft mud. We opted instead to do a quick jog to the start area, where I got in the water with a number of other green-capped 30-34 year olds. This would be the last race I would ever be in this category, since I will be turning 35 at the end of this month. It's kind of strange how I raced Cabo in the 35-39 age group, and was held back for this one.

My intention was to see what the race would be like from the very front of the swim pack. I wanted to see if I could actually hang with the "fish" in the group. This would be a good opportunity to try it out, since the swim was only a quarter mile, so if I was beat up it wouldn't be for very long. I was just hoping to hang in there as long as I could. At first it was all going to plan, I was able to line up appropriately. When the horn sounded I aggressively starting flailing to make room for myself (unsuccessfully). Really within the front group it wasn't "swimming" as much as it was finding whatever bit of leverage you could to push yourself forward. Unfortunately for me, I was most often the bit of leverage that people were using. I was quickly dropped by the fastest swimmers and left in a group of middle of packers.

Very quickly I found myself overexerted from pushing too hard at the start, so I slowed it down a bit to focus on form. But I wasn't able to find any lanes to really have any kind of good form. It was around the first buoy that I got kicked in the chin pretty hard by someone in front of me. I surrendered my position at that point, caught my breath, and then started back to swimming with good form. Finally I had some open space and felt like I was making forward progress. What I learned from this swim is that I definitely can't hang with the fast swimmers, and it only serves to wear me down significantly when I try. Best to stay in the middle of the pack on the swim, save my energy, and catch them on the bike and run.

Soon enough my fingers were dragging the serrated concrete floor of the boat launch area, which was today serving as a swim exit, which was my cue to stand up and start running. I felt very good at this point and even decided to sprint to see how fast I could make it into T1.

Swim time: 9:10, distance 0.31 miles (by Garmin)
Garmin File

Transition 1:

I would like to think I executed my transitions flawlessly for this race. I sprinted past a few people on my way to the bike while stripping my wetsuit. When I got to my bike, my helmet was easy to get on, and I was off.

T1 Time: 1:06


On the bike the plan was simple: bike fast and stay safe. In other words, obey the laws of physics. Take turns easy and then start charging. This plan was executed very well. The bike course left the parking lot and followed Sea World Drive down to Fiesta Island where we would circumnavigate the island twice before coming back to the transition area. Getting out to the island I was passing a number of people, but once I was on the island I could open it up. I felt really great and was constantly passing people. I would look down at my watch and see that I was averaging consistently about 25 mph, which was great. I was also very impressed to see how well people were obeying the rules of the road so to speak, staying right if they were slower than the rest of the traffic.

Two laps went by very quick and then we returned to T2. When I saw a sign saying "600 feet to T2" I underestimated how far 600 feet actually is, as I got out of my shoes and began to soft pedal the rest of the way. It was farther than I expected. But I did the flying dismount and charged it to transition.

Bike Time: 27:10, 11 miles, avg about 24 mph.
Garmin File

Transition 2:

Once again, I attempted to get through transition as quickly as possible and did so with great success.

T2 Time: 0:57


Oddly enough, I was most nervous about the run. As I mentioned above I hadn't tested my speed for a long time, and I was afraid I would be demoralized if I didn't go as fast as I wanted to. My goal was a 6:45 pace, and as I exited transition I looked at my watch and saw that I was in the high 5's. While I was feeling really good, I dropped it back a bit, since I saw my heart rate was into the high 160's. As I ran, I continued to pass a few people, but didn't see anyone in my age group. The only people I saw were people from the relay who started well before us. This started giving me a strange sensation I haven't had before in any other race. "Could I actually be winning?" The mind can play tricks on us when adrenaline is pumping, and when you're susceptible to fits of egocentrism, it can become amplified.

For the course of the run, I maintained this thinking, as I didn't see anyone in my age group, and I know I had a fast bike split. However, as I approached mile 3, and was still ticking off 6:30 miles, I did begin to see a couple people in my age group. I passed two of them around mile 3, at which point I picked up the pace and started running a mid 5 pace. Unfortunately it wasn't enough as I couldn't pass another in my age group, and one of the people I had passed had re-passed me.

As I crossed the finish line in full sprint, I felt the urge to puke coming up. In fact, at the finish line, in front of all the crowd of people, it took every fiber of my being to hold it in. Fortunately I did, and that was the indication that I had given it everything I had.

Run Time: 20:29, 3.2 miles, Avg. pace 6:28 per mile.
Garmin File

Crossing the finish line, I went from feeling like I was winning to being in at least 3rd place. But that bothered me very little since I set out to see what I could do and I achieved at least 2/3 of it. While my swim is still lacking, I think I really performed well on the bike, and exceeded my expectations on the run. Furthermore, I achieved something that many sprint triathletes set as a benchmark goal, which is to finish in under an hour. I finished in 58:53.

While recovering in the finish area I had the opportunity to do something I hardly ever get to do at these races. Be a supportive spectator. It was really inspiring watching all of the people cross the finish line, and actually see their faces as they did so. To witness that moment when all the training, and pain, and challenge culminates into one moment of accomplishment is an amazing experience. And then, to actually be there and see it when my wife crossed the finish line was heartwarming. How fortunate was I to be able to finish my race and then see my wife finish her first triathlon?

In looking at the results, I was surprised to see that I had finished in 7th place in my age group, 35th overall out of 730 competitors. The year before only two people in my age group had finished in under an hour, but this year the fast people came out to race. Looking more closely at the results, I could see that 3rd-7th place all finished within one minute of each other. I was within a minute of being on a podium!

While that statement can be interpreted in a couple of different ways, frustration or joy, I intend for it to be reflected as joy. While I was so close to getting there, I recognize that I've been steadily improving for the last year, and I was very close to achieving something I never thought possible. I've never been fast. In fact the only thing I've ever done fast is finish a beer and replace it with another full one. I would have never thought I could come that close. I was reminded today that I need to keep my ego in check. I almost forgot the purpose for why I'm doing this. It's not about how I do compared to other people, but how I go about doing it, and how I can improve myself. While I was very close to getting a podium, I was also very close to letting my ego take control. I'm glad that I was reminded through witnessing the experiences of others, including my wife, of what's more important.

Speaking of my wife, she ended up finishing in 1:19, good enough for 20th place in her age group. Fantastic for a first attempt! I am incredibly proud of her for achieving this with such success.

Friday, May 2, 2014

2014 Triathlon Season at a Glance

Having just done an Ironman triathlon a month ago, it's hard to look ahead and think that I have just begun my triathlon season. While it may seem anticlimactic, Ironman Los Cabos was a season opener, not an ender. And my triathlon season for 2014 has finally taken shape.

After a couple weeks of recovery in April to recuperate from Los Cabos, and reflect on everything that race was (I am working on a post detailing the lessons learned from training for and competing in an Ironman), I began training again, this time acutely aware that I would be slower to start with. But it was nice to actually get back to a lower level of volume before picking it back up to full strength. Now, as we enter May, I am back at full volume for the lead up to Ironman Boulder in August. So here's how the rest of the season looks for me. I hope that this year I see some improvements, maybe some top 10 finishes or even podiums. But most of all I hope to continue to experience the joy I have had over the past year doing this thing that I love to do. I have found that not only do I love triathlon, but my family loves experiencing it with me. And that means a lot more to me than a medal or top finish.

May 4th, 2014 - San Diego Spring Sprint Triathlon

This will be a really quick sprint race just to keep my body fresh for racing, and the goal will be to see how fast I can go. With all of this "slow" training, I don't know how fast I can actually run a 5K at this point. I plan to swim as fast as I can for the 1/4 mile swim, bike fast but conservatively (it is a flat and fast course, so no technical issues to contend with), and then run as hard as I can for 3 miles. I am hoping to run a 6:30-6:45 mile avg over the 5K. One thing that makes this race special is that my wife will be joining me for her first triathlon. It will be great to see her experience this for the first time and see if she catches the bug.

June 7th, 2014 - Ironman 70.3 Boise

Yes, Boise. The one in Idaho. And yes they do have water to swim in there. Very cold water. Like melted glacier cold. So why Boise? Good question. I didn't even really know why either until I decided to register for it. First off (and really least importantly, but while we're listing off the pros, what the heck?), it's a rare "sleep in" triathlon. It doesn't start until noon. So instead of waking up early and almost immediately immersing ourselves in ice cold water, we get to get up when we want, meander over the lake, and then begin suffering. Personally, I like to have some coffee and a little "me" time before I suffer, but I'm weird like that. More importantly, the race is a good prep for Ironman Boulder in a number of ways (about 3000 ft vs. 5000 ft. of altitude, and there are course similarities). It's also a good time to race a half before Boulder, about 2 months. This race wasn't even on my radar, as I was considering doing the Folsom Long Course triathlon in Sacramento, but I discovered that travel would be about the same in cost, and Boise would be a more spectator friendly venue. It's hard to know what to expect for this race, last year it was very hot, and the year before that it was extremely cold (some reports were that people were cycling in their wetsuits). There is one thing for certain though, the water will be cold (did I mention that already?).

June 27 - June 29, 2014 - Boulder Triathlon Training Camp with Luis Vargas

Every year, MarkAllenOnline coach Luis Vargas hosts a training camp for triathletes in Boulder to go over the fundamentals of training and racing. This coaching program has been so successful for me, and the coaches are so knowledgeable and helpful, that I know that I can benefit greatly from it. Further, this year was too hard to pass up, since the camp will be in Boulder, previewing much of the Ironman course. I will be able to get a feel for how the altitude affects me, and learn a lot from the expert locals. The fact that Luis has vast experience with Ironman and training in Boulder, it's going to be an exciting experience.

July 13th, 2014 - Carlsbad Triathlon

What better way to celebrate one year of triathlon racing than to race the event which I chose first? This will be the first time I will be repeating a race, and I am excited to see how I've improved. Through all of the races I've done, this has been one of the more fun ones because of the time of year, the size, and the nice roads. Again, just as sprint, which will keep my racing skills tuned right before I taper for Ironman Boulder.

August 3rd, 2014 - The Inaugural Ironman Boulder

Ironman number two will take place in one of the hub cities for triathlon training. I am going to be a bit out of my element, and immediately with a handicap to many of the racers who call Boulder home. Those "highlanders" have already acclimated to the altitude and have already trained on the roads. But I have a desire to finish, and face a new type of challenge, which includes the additional variables of altitude and heat. I am still working on determining what charity to race for, but I will be fundraising for this race. Details to come.

September 6th, 2014 - San Diego Triathlon Classic Olympic Distance Triathlon

But the season does not end there... Next up will be another San Diego race. "San Diego, again?", you say. To which I say "of course, I live there!" And this particular race has "Classic" in the name. See? It's right there in the name of the race! In truth, logistically it's easy to get to San Diego, there's lots of races to choose from. This one fit in the schedule quite nicely. The bike route takes us into Military grounds, much like it did in Camp Pendleton. I hope it doesn't end up like the last time I was racing in a military area. Somehow my bike slipped out from under me and I got some really fancy asphalt tattoos.

October 5th, 2014 - Ironman Silverman 70.3

Formerly one of the most challenging full distance triathlons anywhere, with climbing of over 12,000 ft., Ironman has taken over this race, made it a half, and tamed the beast pretty significantly. While not nearly the behemoth of a race it once was, there will still likely be winds and heat to deal with. I really wanted to finish the season off with another half distance race, and the choices were this one or Lifetime Soma in Tempe, Arizona. When I approached my family on their preference between Tempe and Vegas, the choice pretty much made itself.

This year will truly be a test for me from the perspective of racing. While last year was more of a buildup to Ironman Los Cabos, this year will be a consistent racing season of multiple types of distances, and I am really testing my abilities to perform to the best of my potential. Ideally I'll hold up and be able to do well in them all, but most importantly I'll enjoy the process, keeping my meditation and spirituality strong. The rest will take care of itself.