Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Optimist Prime

In a world of negativity, it's easy to be cynical.

It's really a "chicken or the egg" kind of debate as to whether there is so much negativity in the world because everyone is so cynical, or everyone is cynical because there is so much negativity in the world. But the fact remains.

Now, I have to catch myself here, because I too am being cynical by implying that "the world is a negative place", that I don't trust the world to be inherently "good". I'm doing so to demonstrate a point: It's easy to be cynical. I couldn't even get through one sentence of a post on optimism without being cynical.

Why is it easy to be cynical? There are many reasons and many misconceptions. Here are my thoughts.

  1. It's a defense mechanism. By assuming the worst, we think we can soften the blow of a more undesirable outcome. For example, by saying something like "So and so will just let me down", it is assumed that we won't be as negatively affected if we actually are let down. 
  2. It protects us from vulnerability. Perhaps this is just rewording number 1, but it's an important point. For many people, their natural instinct is put a guard up, and protect against vulnerability. But on the contrary, experts including Brene Brown demonstrate that vulnerability can lead us to deeper connections and a more empowered life.
  3. Our beliefs and actions are shaped by what we choose to see. When we see negativity on the news or in daily life, we begin to look for the worst in people, instead of looking for the best. 
  4. Strangely, cynicism is often associated with intelligence. If people want to seem intelligent, they should question people's motives. Again, I'm not convinced.
There's a dangerous and destructive result of cynicism. It shapes our perspective, and therefore our reality. We begin to live in a negative and cynical world. Worst of all, we begin to bring people down with us.

It may seem counter-intuitive based on the reasons listed above, but it has been my experience that taking the opposite action and focusing on optimism can dramatically change your life for the better. 

Being optimistic is not easy. It takes work, especially as we have to overcome a mountain of negativity. We have to absorb criticism from the cynics for our positive outlook. We have to become vulnerable. We have to overcome our own preconceptions. 

It's hard work being an optimist, but it's worth it. As optimists, we live in a world where we know anything is possible. We are more joyful and grateful for all of the beauty of the world that surrounds us. We grow in faith. Doors are opened to us because we believe we "can". Opportunities we never even considered are presented to us because we open our hearts to new ideas. Our new found perspective becomes our reality, and the world around us becomes more beautiful.

I used to be leery of Mr. Rogers (yes, the one on PBS). There had to be something wrong with a man who spent is adult life with other people's children and played with dolls all day. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood"? What are you hiding in that closet with your collection of red sweaters?

But Fred Rogers was an optimist. The kind who made an incredible contribution to the world because of his outlook. As a cynic, it was my wish to tear him down. I'm glad that I don't have to live like that anymore.

There is a Fred Rogers quote that floats around the internet from time to time which perfectly describes the necessary work to shape a positive outlook in the midst of cynicism and negativity. 

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” - Fred Rogers

When faced with negativity and cynicism we tend to join the mob. But instead I would challenge everyone to glorify the good. It is not just a mental exercise, but a way to change our lives. To turn us into optimists. To help us love our neighbors.

Here are a few ways to shape an optimistic attitude today. 
  1. Recognize and acknowledge where negativity and cynicism exists in your life.
  2. Write down 10 reasons why you are grateful today.
  3. Meditate for 10 to 20 minutes.
  4. Give at least 3 people a genuine compliment.
  5. Spend some time with a fellow optimist.
  6. Turn off the news. Seriously, turn it off right now. If something important happens, you'll hear about it. The rest is just gossip.
  7. Unfollow negative or gossip sites/friends. You don't need to unfriend them, but you don't need to read their negativity either.
  8. NEVER read the comments.
  9. Read one really dumb joke per day.
  10. In the words of Mrs. Rogers, "Look for the helpers."
Today it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I'm glad you're my neighbor.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Great Vegetable Experiment

I have a confession to make. I consume a plant based diet.

This is not to say that I am a vegan or a vegetarian. These folks seem to have adopted the phrase "plant based" to pertain solely to them, but I think the term more appropriately describes our relationships with fruits and vegetables. To that end, I extol the power of vegetables as a primary staple in the human diet.

Let's get one thing straight. I have always disliked eating vegetables. Most of them taste bland, and some are downright disgusting. The closest thing I got to a vegetable growing up was pizza sauce and ketchup. If I had my way, I would be eating cheeseburgers (minus the veggies), pizza (minus the veggies), and ice cream (probably shouldn't have veggies in the first place) on a daily basis.

Despite that, I now understand the power vegetables have when it comes to general health, athletic fitness, and overall happiness. They are a tremendous source of energy, which in turn gives us the capacity to perform better and feel better.

If you think about it, being "plant powered" is the closest that a person can come to consuming and harnessing the power and energy of the sun. Plants utilize the energy of the sun, through photosynthesis, to produce energy in the form of sugar. When we eat plants, we are consuming "sun sugar".

Wow, Carl Segan was right. We are all made of "star stuff".

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of cosmic gobbledygook, but you see my point. The vitamins, fiber, and energy from plants is the most natural form of energy. Homans are evolutionarily equipped to break down these foods and harness their nutrients and utilize them in an efficient manner.

Contrast that with the highly processed, nutrient void foods many people have in their diets. These foods do not break down easily. We absorb far more toxic ingredients through these processed foods than actual nutrients. In addition, they contain sugar on steroids, which contributes to heart problems, diabetes, and the buildup of fat we all love to complain about.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some Peanut M&Ms, and indulge from time to time. However, vegetables are now a primary staple in my diet. A food I primarily eat for function, yet has provided me such a great benefit - from being more fit, healthier, happier, and more energetic - that I actually miss my vegetables when I don't get to eat them. Even though I've always hated veggies, I love veggies.

Now the hard part. I believe that it is necessary to eat a whole lot of vegetables. Veggies should be (and are for me) the primary source of food for any person. For over a year, they were for me, but then it dropped off for a while. Until recently.

During the year when I first started getting very healthy, I was eating vegetables with every meal. My morning shake had spinach in it. For dinner I had Brussels sprouts and asparagus. On top of that, I had a large green shake for my afternoon snack.

I felt absolutely great during that year. I was performing at new levels. My blood pressure was perfect. My cholesterol was perfect. Zero anxiety or stress. Plenty of energy. Lots of joy. But I started thinking that maybe it was overkill. Perhaps I was taking in too many veggies, and I should cut it back.

So I went to having just my concentrated shake in the afternoon. As you now know, I hate veggies, so getting them in all at once was preferable to spreading them out over the course of the day. There was a noticeable change. While I still felt "okay", I didn't feel fantastic as I had. So again I made the choice to start eating more veggies more frequently throughout the day. Within a short time I was once again feeling like Superman.

And wouldn't you know it, I realized that I don't hate veggies after all!

Here are some tips on how to become plant-based, and add more fruits and veggies into your daily life.

  1. Eat some veggies at every meal and during snacks. This means every meal. For breakfast, make a smoothie with some spinach or kale in it. For lunch, throw some bell peppers and tomatoes in your omelette. For dinner, stir fry up some zucchini and squash. Eat a carrot "just 'cause". Whatever it is, a veggie has it's place on your plate. What this does is not only imprints healthy habits, but it also assures that you are having effective distribution of nutrient rich foods throughout the day, rather than "loading up" at just one meal. This keeps you energized and healthy at all times.
  2. Make shopping for veggies fun. Literally every shape and color of the rainbow is represented in the produce aisle of the supermarket. What an exciting opportunity to try something new! It's almost like going to an art store to pick up some supplies. What type of picture do you want to paint today? There are numerous combinations of meals you can make with each vegetable. Become inspired! Additionally, there are a number of produce co-ops which will deliver farm fresh fruits and vegetables to your home. Each week is like a new discovery of different types of foods.
  3. Start drinking a veggie smoothie every day. This one is great for those of you who, like me, don't like the taste of vegetables. It is easier and quicker to drink a salad than to eat it. "But Adam, that sounds disgusting!". Well, you may be right, if the smoothie is only veggies. But it's amazing what a banana or apple can do to improve the taste!
  4. Craving sugar? Eat an apple. Still craving sugar? Eat another apple. Don't just give into the temptation for ice cream (although, indulging every once in a while is not a crime!). Instead, when you're craving sugar, eat an apple. If it helps, tell yourself that you'll have the ice cream after you finish the apple. Then, if you're still craving the sugar, repeat the process. Your mind is trying to trick you into eating the sugar on steroids. It is important to beat your mind at its own game! Eat as many apples as it takes. No doctor has ever said "He died from eating too many apples."
I challenge you to experiment with eating more vegetables. More than you think is necessary. Just see how well you begin to feel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Pitfalls of Getting Better

I'm really slow, and it's really annoying. 

In 2014 I ran two sub 4 hour marathons in both of my Ironman races. Over the offseason I expected that I would improve for 2015. 

It didn't. In fact, I had poorer performances in my marathons at each of my two Ironmans this year. I knew I could get better, but instead I got worse. Not from lack of trying.

My training had me pacing at below 8 minute miles, which "should" have resulted in a sub 3:30 marathon. And now after both Ironmans, despite feeling fully recovered, I'm now pacing at over 10 minute miles. 

It is really annoying.

But that is my ego talking, which it's a pitfall of getting better.

When we're congratulated for a job well done, rewarded for a great performance, or reach a new milestone, it is easy for our egos to have us believe that we can no longer fall below that new benchmark, and when we do, it is catastrophic failure. 

Don't get me wrong, we should always celebrate achieving something great. Our accomplishments are worth celebrating. However, allowing our egos to get in the way will quickly move us from celebrating to thinking of what more we can accomplish. We become greedy.

It is ironic that we can gain a bit of humility, recognize ego as one of our shortcomings, and strive to better ourselves to remove that shortcoming, and as a result of getting better, reintroduce ego into our lives. 

This battle with ego is not a battle we can win, it is a continuous challenge. Despite our egotistical nature of wanting to "win" everything, we have to acknowledge this ot as a battle with ego, but instead an exercise in humility. It is a chance to continue getting better, even in failure. 

I'm not sure how or if my running will improve over this offseason, but I will control what I can, which is to put one foot in front of the other as fast as my body will allow. I will try my best to not allow myself to fall into the pit of ego, but try to practice humility through failure and success. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Most Valuable Currency in the Universe

The answer is time.

There it is. Time is the most valuable currency in the universe, and I don't want to waste any of yours by beating around the bush (thank you, by the way, for taking your most valuable currency and spending it reading this).

And now on to the details of why time is more valuable than money.

You can make more money, but you can't make more time.

I don't know who said that first, but I've read it a number of times. It is absolutely true, regardless of how hard we think it is to make money, it is impossible to make more time.

We all only have so many seconds on this earth. Our days are numbered. In fact, each one of us is on an even playing field when it comes to time. 24 hours in a day. If we spend all of that time trying to hoard as much money as we can, our money will outlive us. Time always wins.

Then how do we invest in time? How is it that some people are able to live more fully in the same 24 hours that we all have? Recognizing that every second on this earth is sacred and will not be returned to us but in memory, we should all strive to pack more life into those valuable seconds.

Look to those who set an example of filling their seconds with life. These are people that value experiences over possessions, are generally more joyous and have fewer regrets, and they freely give their time away to those in need.

Jimmy Carter recently announced that he has cancer which has spread to his brain. During his entire press conference on the subject, he was smiling as he thought about his wife, his family, his charity work, and his pursuit of peace in the world.


He didn't hold his head in his hands regretting what he should have done. This is not about his politics, or whether what he did while in office was right or wrong, but it is about the fact that he jumped into the arena that Theodore Roosevelt spoke of and fought passionately about what believed. He filled every second with life, not regretting what he "should" have done, nor regretting what may have failed.

Furthermore, personal success for many people such as this seems to be a natural byproduct of time value. We have the ability to define our own success. Thus, if you are passionate about how you spend your time, it is far more likely that you will become successful.

I fail at this every day. I often waste time, but it is a practice, one that I try to improve upon over (you guessed it) time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bark at the Moon

"Live more than your neighbors. Unleash yourself upon the world and go places, go now. Giggle, no, laugh and bark at the moon like the wild dog that you are. Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal, this is it, your life. Face your fears and live your dreams. Take it all in, yes, every chance you get, come close. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments of your life and still remember me, your friend, the BlazeMan, ALS Warrior Poet." - Jon Blais

These words are printed on a crumpled up piece of paper sitting inside my gym bag. From time to time, when I am feeling discouraged or unmotivated, I will pull it out, unfold it, and read it silently to myself.

This passage inspires me, not so much for the words that are printed on the page, but more so for the person who wrote them, Jon Blais. He wrote them as he was dying a slow death from ALS. Who better to know the importance of living life than someone who is about to lose it?

A year before he passed away, Blais "rolled" across the finish line of the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii.

It's easy to say "live each day like it is your last", but without the proper perspective to supplement those words, it's just an empty mantra.


It's easy to see the other side of it as well. For many of us, we haven't had any health scares, have not been at risk of starvation, have had the luxury of a roof over our head. Yet we can still identify the imperfections, where the universe has somehow wronged us. We neglect those things that are blessings to focus on the negative. In that instance, our perspective is broken.

What if we woke up tomorrow with only the things we thanked God for today?

I'm not sure who originally said that. I heard it from an acquaintance who used to hear it from his grandmother. It speaks volumes to how we should "tune" our perspective.

 I think of perspective the same way I think of an FM radio in a car. At times it's tuned to a station you don't like, and you hear nothing but songs that annoy you, and commercials for mattresses you never want to buy. Other times the dial is tuned in between stations, in which case all you get is white noise.

In either of these cases, your commute is filled with annoyance and frustration.

But sometimes the radio is tuned perfectly to a station playing your favorite songs. You listen to the music and it puts a spring in your step. The lyrics inspire you, and despite the fact that you still have to hear commercials from shady mattress salesmen, you still want to share this station with the rest of the world.

The drive is the same. The scenery is the same. The only difference is how your radio station is tuned.

Some of the most inspiring people have a finely tuned positive and optimistic perspective despite the tremendous challenges they face. Jon Blais taught us that each new day on this earth is an opportunity to live, and to live is to take positive action.

So for today, just do it. Go bark at the moon.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Iroonman Boulder 2015 Race Report

Often it is important to step back from something and evaluate why you got into it in the first place. At those times, sometimes the best practice in humility is to take a step back so that you can regain the passion that you risked losing. To take a break and shift focus to important things in life and regain perspective.

It's not quitting. It's realignment.

I didn't quit last weekend at Ironman Boulder, despite the fact that, leading up to the race, I was becoming burned out by training for an Ironman. I didn't hold back, I still gave it my all, and as I look back on this experience, I will once again look back on pride that I finished something difficult that I set out to achieve.

Each race offers a new experience that I would not expect. You would think that after four full Ironmans that I would have a good grasp on what to expect. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each experience is significantly different, and you do not know what to expect until you are right in the middle of it.

Another set of challenges, another goal achieved. My shortcomings in this race are put into perspective by the stories of others who crossed the finish line with more significant, inspiring, and more meaningful stories to tell. Too many to list here, but they are such that I am reminded that, while I didn't achieve all of my goals, I finished. And I finished with two arms, two legs, and a fully functional body. For that I am fortunate. Such is this sport that reminds us of what we're truly capable of, and to celebrate that. 

It was announced the morning of the race that the swim would be wetsuit optional. This meant that a person could choose to wear a wetsuit, but to wear one would mean forfeiting any opportunity at age group awards or Kona slots. I knew that this was a possibility, but I hadn't prepared for it. After struggling through the IM Texas non-wetsuit swim in May, I was looking forward to a comfortable wetsuit swim in Boulder. After all, every other race at the Boulder Reservoir in August in the past had been wetsuit legal. Why expect that this year would be an outlier? Lesson learned, plan for everything.

Being that I wasn't mentally prepared to swim without a wetsuit, I had a lot of soul searching to do. I had to take another look at what my goals were for this race and then make a decision. Qualifying for Kona has been a goal of mine, and I know I have what it takes to do so with a perfect day. But after my experience in Texas, I recognized that I would not have a "perfect day" if the swim was non-wetsuit. The fact that I had not trained for it, and the fact that we were at altitude would have a significant affect on my swim time and likely demoralize me for the rest of the race. So the goal really became to run the best race I possibly could. 

In retrospect, it's easy to say I should have taken the bold step to join the non-wetsuit swimmers, but in looking at what my motives should be in triathlon, the only person I am competing against is myself. With that perspective, I can never lose as long as I make forward progress. On the other hand, if I "shoot for Kona", I am setting myself up for anxiety, expectation, and disappointment. Kona would be a dream come true, but must remain a secondary benefit to performing at my personal best.

So I chose to wear the wetsuit, and I'm glad I did. The swim was chaos. Instead of a trickle of people at a time getting into the water during the rolling start, it turned into a flood of people. 3000 athletes started the race within 10 minutes, which equates to a "mass start" in my book. This lead to constant contact and combat for the first mile and a half. Unfortunately for the non-wetsuit wave, this meant that a sea of neoprene was consuming them within minutes. 

My swim lasted 1:12, a best for me, excluding Ironman Cabo which was current assisted. Aside from the pandemonium that existed with the other racers, the water was calm, and the conditions were perfect for a good swim.

Onto the bike and I didn't give myself any expectations. I had heard that the course was fast, but hillier than last year. I had ridden some of the course in the days before hand, and found that the hills were short but taxing, so I planned on taking it easy up them. The first 10-15 miles were all familiar, as they followed the course from the previous year. Around mile 20, I had already noticed that I was beginning to feel exhausted and a bit "off". I'm not sure what was wrong with me, but I just wasn't feeling right. So my plan became to make sure that I was getting my nutrition and hydration in at the appropriate times. I was successful at this, and nailed every part of my nutrition plan.

I was through the first 56 miles in about 2:24 so I was once again on track for a sub-5 hour IM ride. This time, though, I wasn't counting on it. I simply wanted to ride within myself so that I could run well and finish at my best. 

Unfortunately, as I went through about mile 70, my "off" feeling was elevating. I still wasn't sure how to describe it, but it just felt like I couldn't perform at my best, and riding at my normal effort resulted in extreme fatigue. So I pressed on at about 80% of normal, which felt about right.

I dismounted the bike at about 4:53, just shy of a bike PR, but I'm very happy with this, since it was much hillier than Texas. 

On to the run and I left T2 crying uncontrollably. I wasn't feeling overly emotional, no. But before I left T2, the sunscreen volunteer asked if I wanted sunscreen on my nose, to which I mistakenly answered "sure, why not". I spent the next 5 minutes struggling through trying to evacuate all of the burning sunscreen from my eyes, rather unsuccessfully I might add. 

After righting that, I fell into a good rhythm at around a half mile, and was quickly caught by a bike announcing the arrival of the 2nd place female, who happened to be one of my teammates. I paced her for a time, but recognized that she had a much faster pace than I had, so I fell back into my own pace. 

Through the first two miles, my "off"ness turned into straight up queasiness and dizziness. I usually hit my dark part of the marathon at around mile 18-19, but now it was coming at mile 3. Realizing that I had 23 miles to go, and not knowing if I faced dehydration or body shutdown, I for the first time, questioned my ability to continue.

I thought of dropping out. I thought of quitting. 

The early cheers of the crowd saying "you look strong!" turned into "are you okay?" In fact, Tim Don, world champion triathlete even asked if I was doing ok as I stumbled by him. 

I walked through the next few miles until I once again reached the support of the downtown crowd support. The support fueled me to a slow run, which I held through about mile 15 (walking the aid stations). I passed by my family a number of times, making sure to appear strong so that they wouldn't worry.

A note about having family or friends at a race. Without their support, I would have never been able to continue. Their support fueled me all the way through this.

Once again, I was at the bottom of the river trail, and faced with walking, but at this point I at least knew that I only had 10 miles remaining. One more trip up the hill, and a quick two miles and I would be finished with this thing. Fortunately, my stomach was feeling better, but my legs were just not cooperating today.

The combination of run/walking got me back up the hill. It was clear that the early onset fatigue I would feel on my long runs during me peak training was catching up with me. Despite training for over 20 hours per week, I didn't benefit from the run training. In fact, it became damaging to my running strength. That damage was showing its ugly head now.

Mile 24 is my favorite part of this race. The reason is that I reach the peak of the hill and begin to run downhill. The last 2-3 miles are downhill, through a sea of supporters and then through downtown to the finish. My 10 minute miles turned into 8 minute miles, and I felt effortless.

Such is the power of the mind to limit the body and spirit.

I finished in a time of 10:52, thus putting a cap on my fourth Ironman. I was grateful to be done for a number of reasons, but most importantly because it was not time to recharge. I need to spend some time away from 20+ hour training weeks, and more time rejuvenating my body and spirit. I need to start missing this sport so that I can return to it more energized and passionate about why I do this in the first place, lest I become more fully burned out by the sport.

There are a number of things that I took from this race experience.

1. The brain truly is a limiter. I wrote a blog post on this a number of months ago. This season I raced more with my brain and less with my spirit. I need to train and race more with my spirit.

2. I need to spend this offseason realigning myself with the spiritual nature of why I train and race triathlons.

3. Nothing can compare to the power of family and friends present to support me during a race. I was fortunate to have my wife, kids, and parents at this race and their energy pushed me through some really dark times. I don't think I could have finished without them there.

4. It's time to become a better runner. I accomplished a number of goals I set out to accomplish this past year. I wanted to become a better swimmer. I did that by knocking off 20 seconds off of my average pace per 100 yards in the pool, and conquering a fear of swimming without a wetsuit. I have also become a good cyclist. I have surpassed where I thought I would be by this time on the bike, clocking two sub-5 hour Ironman bike legs this year. This year my run has been my weak spot. While I would bike myself into age group award contention, I would fade significantly on the run. It's time to put away the bike for a while and focus on run volume training so that I will be more effective in the coming years.

5. I am going to focus on the 70.3 distance for a while. In an effort to get faster, I need to step away from the full distance for a while in order to become a better triathlete. Training for halves give me the capacity to be flexible with my training so that I'm not constantly overloaded. I still have a goal to qualify for Kona, and I think stepping back from the full distance for a while is the best way to achieve this in the long term. In the meantime, I'm going to have fun training for and racing the shorter distance.

I want to thank everyone who supported me through over the last couple years as I began training and racing. Without the support of those who believed in me, I couldn't have achieved half of what I have. To have gone from an unhealthy ball of negativity to the healthy and joyful person I am now is an absolute blessing, and it is only by grace that I have come this far.

Monday, July 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

Low Hanging Fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swim Time: 1:22, 165th in 35-39


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Race:

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

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

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

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

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