Friday, September 21, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin: Race Report -- Ironman Wisconsin -- 9/9/12

"This is getting hard," I said to Carmel as I ran past her on State Street, the main drag connecting the Wisconsin state capital building to the University of Wisconsin. As I climbed up the hill leading around the building and to the turn-around point I knew that there was another 13.1 miles to go -- the last half of the Ironman marathon. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, and my quads and calves were starting to cramp. To top it off, I'd been fighting growing feelings of nausea for the last few miles. I told myself that this was where all the training and practice needed to pay off -- there wasn't any other option.

We'd arrived in Madison on Thursday, splitting the drive up into two days and getting into town in the early afternoon. We went straight to Monona Terrace, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed civic center on the shores of Lake Monona, site of the swim. The setting was beautiful and the IM scene was already in full swing, with an expo set up inside and on the closed street outside.

Check in was efficient and thorough and I emerged with a shiny blue wristband (look -- I'm official!) and a bag full of gear from the expo. We explored State Street and enjoyed watching the non-stop bike traffic up and down the street (everybody rides a bike in Madison) while we took in a nice pasta dinner. Next was check in at The Speckled Hen Inn -- a lovely little bed-and-breakfast northeast of town.

Friday and Saturday were occupied with meeting our other guests at the inn, including a 40-something husband and wife from North Carolina, both Kona vets. She was racing -- it was his turn to play sherpa. Nice people, and very humble about the fact that they totally kick ass and take names when they race. A drive of the bike course, a short bike and run, a swim in the lake, the Welcome Dinner, a Saturday morning excursion to the Madison Farmer's Market, and bike check-in and transition bag drop offs completed the run up.

And here it was finally, the big day. After breakfast at the inn (applesauce, protein powder, and a bottle of sports drink) we drove downtown and scored a parking spot about two blocks from the Terrace.  A quick last check of the bike, body marking, then Carmel and I found a quiet corner inside to sit for a few minutes. I tried to take the opportunity to clear my head from the hype and energy all around me -- I didn't want to get too caught up in the hoopla -- and finally it was time to pull on my wetsuit, say goodbye, and walk down the parking ramp to the swim start.As I walked through the crowds of athletes and supporters I started laughing out loud. Holy s***, here I am -- I better be good!

The sun was rising over Lake Manona as I got in the water. I'd decided to beat the crowd and get in the water early. The weather looked great -- clear skies and temps forecast for the 70s. The only issue was a moderate to stiff wind from the north. I finally felt relaxed as I floated in the water, a nice change from the tension I'd felt building up over the last few days. And I was glad I gotten in the water early -- the scene on shore was crazy crowded.

Finally the gun went off and the mass of wetsuit-clad Ironfish surged forward. The music, hoopla, and cheering from the shore was replaced with the silence of the water, punctuated by a splashing maelstrom when I lifted my head to sight. I'd lined up on the inside buoys of the long rectangular course and my fears about the mass start faded quickly. There was a little battleground of bodies at each buoy, as the mass of swimmers converged and then diverged from the landmark, but the pack soon started to stretch out. I fought around the first turns with no damage worse than a punched nose and headed back up the lake past the start.

The return leg seemed to go on forever, as we had to go past the start before we finally turned for home. But the water was clear enough to find some draft packs, and I felt relaxed on the swim. My arms were tiring a bit, but I felt like the pacing was good and I had plenty of energy. After the final turns my anticipation grew as the sounds from the shore swelled, with thumping music, faint sounds of the PA announcer and cheering crowds. Finally I popped out of the water and trotted up the boat ramp, checking my watch. 1:15 -- really? That was exactly what I'd predicted. So far so good.

The scene on shore was crazy, with crowds lining the way, cheering and ringing cowbells. I could barely hear the instructions from my wetsuit strippers as I lay down and pointed my toes. Pow -- off came the wetsuit and I started jogging up the parking ramp to T1. I heard Carmel on the left and gave her a wave as I went by, then entered the building, grabbed my bag and hit the changing room, a crowded mess of dripping wet men with volunteers scurrying around to help. I took the extra time to towel off and slide on bike shorts -- no point in suffering too much on the ride -- completed my kit and jogged outside to the parking deck where our bikes were. After liberal applications of sunscreen from the volunteers I grabbed my bike from the rack and trotted down to the mount line.

As we started rolling away from town it was time to take stock and relax a little. I started my watch timer for nutrition reminders and checked out my heart rate. Though I felt relaxed and easy, the rate was high. Soon I realized it wasn't going to go down unless I got off the bike and laid under a tree, so I paid careful attention to my power numbers. I knew from experience where I needed to keep those to stay in the right zone.

Traffic was heavy on the bike course at the start. Based on the number of fast guys passing me I'd had a good swim, but I stuck to plan and went easy on the bike. It was a little hard to check my ego as I slowly spun up the hills, but I knew it was what I had to do. 16 miles in we started the first of two 40 mile loops. My drive through on Friday was useful here. I knew I'd hit a series of false flats and choppy, steep rollers, plus headwinds on the first third, then there would be some good cruising terrain as the course turned west and south, followed by a series of hills on the final third of the loop.

Soon I was in a good rhythm on the bike, taking drinks and food on schedule, keeping an eye on the power meter, just cruising along. I didn't have the speedometer up on my computer, but when I did the math at the 10-mile markers I seemed to be right on target to hit my goal for the bike.

As we rolled through the countryside, the crowds along the course grew. Every small town had a cheering contingent, and it seemed like most of the farms along the way looked at this as a great excuse for a party. The climbs on the southern leg of the loop were insane, with a Tour de France-like vibe, including tents, signs, names spray-painted and chalked on the road, and crazy fans with even more cowbells. In Verona, right at the end of the loop, they have the street blocked off with barricades like the finish chute of bike race. I flashed past Carmel as we entered and gave her a quick wave, then turned to a rider next to me and said "this is a huge slice of awesome!"

As I started the second loop the wind had picked up considerably. Bikes started bunching up as we pushed through the headwinds and I got stuck in a few inadvertent peletons, though they started to break up as we hit some climbs. By the time we hit some of the exposed ridges on the northward leg I could feel my bike getting kicked around by the wind. It was hard not to try to up the effort and push through, but I kept it dialed down, stretching my legs out on the downhills to make up some time.

Finally we finished the second loop and turned for home. So far so good -- I felt pretty fresh, though a little saddle-weary and sticky from gels, sports drink, and Honey Stinger waffles. Finally we hit 100 miles, and the Capital building came in sight to the north. We rode up the circular ramp to the parking deck and I dismounted, passing my bike to a volunteer. The bike was done.

Once more into the controlled chaos of the changing room. I changed into trishorts for the run, then grabbed my hat and made for the door. Entering the streets of Madison I hit a wall of sound, as everyone lining the streets was whooping it up for the runners. I saw Carmel once again, along with a cheering section she'd enlisted to help out, then grabbed a couple of damp sponges at the first aid stop. I sponged away the accumulated gunk and grit from the ride as I jogged along and took stock. The swim had gone well, the bike had been solid, and my legs were moving well. I just needed to keep things under control and this was going to work out well.

The first mile was around 8:45 -- too fast, so I backed off and made sure I took a walk break through each aid station. Soon I had a good rhythm going, clipping off right around 9:15 for every mile. The course looped around the State Capital bulding, down State Street, then through a series of side streets to the UW campus. After running through the football stadium, we crossed campus and eventually ended up on State Street again, heading towards the capital, until we turned and retraced our steps. It was a two-loop course, so we'd do the entire routine twice.

I saw Carmel again on the UW side of State Street, stopped and gave her a kiss (to the delight of the crowd), and turned to head back. Then I started to feel the cramps coming on in my calves and quads. Not continuous, or enough to stop me, but worrying. I fired down more electrolytes and then realized I didn't have enough for the entire race -- and I hadn't packed extras in my special needs bag either.

To get more salt, I started taking in potato chips at each aid station, washed down with a little bit of Perform or flat Coke. Now the cramps were coming frequently enough that I had to throw in short walking breaks whenever they occurred. I saw Carmel near the turn around ("This is getting hard"), and gritted my teeth. These last 13.1 were not going to be easy.

If you've raced much, you know the feeling for when it starts to get tough. And while you can't control everything about what your body does, you can make it though some pretty tough patches if you don't give up on yourself. That's where I was now. I had to fight to keep myself going -- if I gave in and just tried to finish I'd lose the will to keep competing. So I played every mind game I could. Find another runner and stay with them, or better yet, pass them. Count 50 steps, and then another 50 -- keep moving and keep counting -- lose yourself in the moment.

When the cramps were too much I'd walk for 50 steps then start again. I sipped chicken broth and flat Coke at each stop. It was pretty much the only thing that didn't make me sick. Finally I was on the last return leg of the run. I'd made up a lot of spots on the run, but I could feel a few of those slipping away as stronger competitors started passing me. But I kept on, trying to limit the damage.

As the sun started slipping behind the rooftops I finally tuned back onto State Street. Less than a mile to go now, and adrenalin took over. The crowds were lining the street as I went around the capital for the last time, and I could hear Mike Reilly baptizing today's Ironmen as they crossed the line. Once again, I started laughing out loud. I made the final turn and gave it my best effort down the chute as I high-fived the hands sticking over the barriers. A clear finish line, a classic two fists in the air salute, and I was done.

12:30:38 -- "It's a Beautiful Day" was playing over the PA. I couldn't have agreed more.


I didn't feel bad when I was done. Sore and tired, but OK. The catchers kept an eye on me for a minute or two, then I grabbed some chocolate milk at the exit to the athlete's area and found Carmel at our rendezvous point. We grabbed my gear, tossed it in the car, and headed for the Great Dane Brew Pub for a rueben, fries and a couple of cold pints of beer. The first pint was on the house -- did I mention that Madison's a great town?

Swim -- 1:15:23 -- 53/191 AG; 894/2452 OA
T1 -- ----12:01        
Bike ---- 6:35:50  - 91/191 AG; 1233/2452 OA
T2 -------5:11
Run ------4:22:14 - 41/191 AG; 674/2452 OA


53/191 50-54 AG
857/2452 OA

Saturday, September 08, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Thoughts and Thanks

One day left before the big race.

It's been a long winter, spring, and summer of training, and the goal of getting here healthy and ready to roll has been a nearly all-consuming task at times. Now that race time is almost here, I find myself tussling with a mix of emotions: anticipation, apprehension, confidence, and uncertainty. But enough of being philosophical -- it's been fun getting here, and Carmel and I are having fun in Madsion. Here -- in no particular order -- are some thoughts and thanks.


Madison is an awesome town! It's beautifully situated between two lovely lakes, and dominated by an impressive state capital building. Beneath the dome, it's fun, friendly, and ridiculously eclectic. If there's a bohemian center to the Midwest, it must be in Madison.And did I mention brew pubs? Can't wait till the race is over!

I've never seen so many bikes in a city. Everybody in Madison rides a bike, it seems. There are city cruisers, mountain bikes, roadies, lots of triathletes (at least right now -- duh), and more guys doing track stands on fixies than you can shake a stick at.

If you come to Madison, stay at the Speckled Hen Inn, about 15 minutes northeast of the city. It's a lovely retreat, well-appointed, and with gracious hosts. You won't believe how tasty the breakfasts are, too! And don't forget to pet Happy, the goldendoodle.

The Ironman hype is easy to get caught up in. Madison embraces the race, and the compact downtown is swarming with M-Dot logo gear and tattoos. We went to the welcome dinner last night and even I was getting a little choked up about the whole thing. And don't ask me how much I spent on swag at the expo...

The venue is picture-perfect, and organization has been smooth as silk so far. Based on what I've seen, it's also got to be one of the most spectator-friendly races. Carmel should be able to see the swim start and swim exit, see me twice on the bike, and up to seven times on the run. They even run free shuttle buses out to the bike course.


First and foremost I need to thank Carmel for being supportive during this whole long build up. She's had to put up with losing her husband for almost entire days during the weekends, plus watching piles of sweaty gear grow by the washing machine almost every day. And when I was home she had to listen to me parse training data, race strategy, and workout plans on an endless loop. Yet she's been patient and supportive through the whole process. Love you, babe, and couldn't have done it without you! (And I promise I'm not doing one next year!)

Colin -- despite being occupied with his own big transition to UVA this summer, he's found the time to keep track of the old man's preoccupation. As a skilled soccer and basketball player, he doesn't quite understand what I see in going long distances in straight lines, but he's always been in the corner for me.

Debi Bernardes, or Coach Debi as I usually refer to her. This is my 8th season working with Debi. She took a middle of the pack runner and turned him into a guy who can step up onto the podium at triathlons (at least occasionally, on the local level, in my AG...). Truly I can say I've accomplished things I never thought I could do before. Cruella doesn't sugar-coat things, and I've been dressed down more than once over the years, but that makes a "good job" from her even more meaningful.

Val Oswald has been a great training partner this summer, especially in helping pass the time on long rides. And her swim coaching and long-course workout at Fry's Spring have helped sharpen up my swimming. Good luck at Lake Placid next year, Val!

Thanks to Brian Bartholomew for the HED3 front wheel I'll be riding tomorrow and for his advice  and company on long rides. And a shout out to Paul Hoover at Blue Ridge Cyclery for an awesome bike fit -- that's going to make those 6+ hours in the saddle a little easier.

And thanks to many others who've encouraged and supported me during this whole process, whether in person or in the virtual world. Keep those "likes" coming on Facebook! 


Monday, September 03, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Tale of the Tape

It's Labor Day, and six days out from IMWI, so it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the labor I've put in getting ready for this event.

I'm no newbie to triathlon -- this is my 8th season of competition, and I've completed 29 tris of varying distances in that time -- including five 1/2-IMs -- so training at a fairly serious level is nothing new to me. But the all-consuming nature of IM training has been something of an eye opener.

Thanks to online programs like Training Peaks, though, it's pretty easy to look back and see what I've done to get ready. So here are my training totals for the year so far:

Swim --  69 hours, 203,533 yards. That's about 115 miles. Not a lot to real swimmers, but a good total. That compares with 277,000 yards for all of last year, so there hasn't been a big change in the amount of swimming I've done. I just completed my last training swim before the race and did 3000 yards in 55 minutes, so I think I'm on course to get a swim time I'll be happy with.

Bike -- 200 hours, 3215 miles.No doubt that's been the biggest change -- I've put a lot more miles on the bike this year than in the past. In fact I've already surpassed last years total of 3058 miles. And I've had three 200+ mile weeks, with five single rides of 80 miles or more. Pretty good numbers for an age-grouper triathlete, I think.

Run -- 93 hours, 629 miles. Easily on course to beat last year's total of 726 miles. Interestingly enough, I haven't run further than 15 miles in a single run this year. That may seem odd, since the Ironman concludes with a 26.2 jaunt around Madison, but it really isn't. I've got plenty of marathoning experience, and I won't be attempting to do the IM marathon at nearly the pace I'd do a stand-alone race. Based on training and the runs I've done this year, I'm confident I'll be OK on the run (if I ride smart!)

So what other metrics stand out? Well, my weight is down to around 162 pounds, the least I've weighed since high school, and about 7-10 pounds less than the start of the year. If I didn't like food and beer so well, it might be even less. And my waist size has dropped from 35 inches to 32. I've thinned down enough that even Coach Debi says I don't need to lose any more weight.

Of course the big number that any competitive age-grouper will be looking at is their race time. I'm not going to make any predictions, except to say that if I stay focused on my goals during the race I'm sure I'll get a time I'll be happy with.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Race Report: Luray Sprint Tri -- 8/19/12

With three weeks left to go before Ironman Wisconsin, it's tempting to call this race a "tune-up." But it wasn't. Everything about a sprint race is different than an Ironman. My strategy for the IM is to carefully stay within myself throughout the vast majority of the race, avoiding a catastrophic breakdown on the run that'll leave me shuffling along through most of the marathon. In a sprint you just go hard and hang it out on the edge, trusting your training and pushing through the hard parts. All the careful pacing and attention to nutrition that are such a part of IM training sessions doesn't matter much when you're only going to be on the course for about 90 minutes.

I drove up the morning of the race and liked what I saw. I've heard many people recommend the Luray races and I understood why. The venue is scenic and spacious, with a neat little picture postcard of a lake nestled below the transition area on a bluff above. There were numerous club tents and food vendors, and campsites for racers who come the night before or had done the international-distance race the day before. The vibe was family friendly, and many triathletes, particularly novices, had big cheering sections with them to celebrate their accomplishment.

I set up my transition area quickly and headed back down to my car for my wetsuit -- surprisingly the lake had cooled enough to be wetsuit legal. I'll take the suit option any time it's available. Some argue that it's not worth it for a sprint, claiming the time advantage on the swim is offset by the time it takes to get the suit off. Just my two cents, but if they have trouble getting their wet suit off quickly they haven't practiced enough. After a quick warmup swim in the lake it was time to go.

My wave was second to go -- a nice change from next to last, where the 50+ crowd usually is in most of my races. I seeded myself well up in the front. I'd put in a lot of long-course swimming this summer and was feeling confident I could hang with the front edge of the wave. By the time we hit the first turn of the triangular course we already up on the back edge of the first wave. Full-contact swimming ensued as I rounded the buoy -- I was hit in the head so many times I probably would have been pulled from an NFL game.

I found a bit of room after the scrum and navigated the next two legs with no difficulty, pushing the pace and trying to key off the swim fundamentals I've worked on through the summer -- head down, rotate around my body's axis, engaging the big muscles in the back. The overcast conditions made sighting easy, and soon I was up on the beach, running towards the stairs leading to transition. I didn't see many white caps from my wave, but plenty of red waves from the wave before. So far so good!

Swim (750 meters) -- 14;12. 4/24 AG, 43/298 OA male -- Turned out I was only 30 seconds behind the fastest swim in my AG -- that's a very good result for me.

Despite the long run up the stairs to transition I was determined not to lose any time here. The wet suit came off quickly (thanks Body Glide!) and I grabbed the bike and took off.

T1 -- 1:44.  1/24 AG, 22/298 OA male. So much for wetsuits slowing you down in transition...

I hopped on the bike at the mount line and slipped my feet into my shoes as I pedaled out of the park. The elevation profile for the bike looked challenging, and the course lived up to the billing. Right out of the gate we hit a lengthy hill, then a succession of false flats followed. On another day I might have admired the scenic aspects of the course, but today it was mostly lost on me as I kept my head down and kept grinding. My bike's power meter served as an effective conscience, reminding me to go harder every time I was tempted to soft pedal a downhill or ease up on a climb.

I rode solo for quite awhile, but was caught by a pack around mile 10 and we constantly swapped positions as the road suited our strengths. While I kept going hard, I didn't try to match my fellow athletes at the base of the climbs. They inevitably got out of the saddle and pushed hard, while I downshifted and kept my RPMs high. In most cases the strategy paid off -- I'd catch them near the middle or top and have enough in the tank to upshift and crest the hill on an acceleration.

As the ride ended I slipped my feet out of my shoes, executed a nifty flying dismount and ran into transition ready to tackle the run.

Bike (17 miles) -- 54:00. 2/24 AG, 53/298 OA male. Pleased with the effort on the bike. A tough but fun course.

T2  -- :59. 3/24 AG, 44/298 OA male. Shoes on, no socks, grab hat and race belt and go.

I caught a couple of quicky calf cramps as I started the run, but wasn't too concerned -- just the natural result of a hard bike. The run started with a flat section, so I kept my stride short and turnover quick until my legs shook out. As I settled into the run I took stock. I hadn't seen anybody in my AG on the bike, only one 55-59 competitor I recognized as a top age-grouper at most races. If I could put in a good run I felt confident I might be able to snag a podium slot.

And the run went well. The course was a straight out and back, so I could see I was fairly close to the front edge of the race. I passed a dozen or so runners on the way out, and scanned the pack for threats on the return leg. With the exception of strong-looking woman from the FEXY team, I didn't see anybody who looked like they had the legs to catch me if I could keep going hard. Runners were sparse, so I picked a couple of runners 50-75 yards ahead and tried to close the gap.

I picked off one of them, a 31-year old guy, while cresting a hill, and put my efforts into staying ahead of him. Sure enough, the FEXY team woman caught me with a couple of hundred yards to go, but I was able to keep the gap close and finished strong (turns out she was third woman overall, so I don't feel too bad about that...)

Run (3.1 miles) -- 23:31. 3/24 AG, 61/298 OA male. I lost some steam at the end of the run after starting off with two crisp 7:15 miles, but very pleased with the overall effort.

Final result -- 1:34:25. 2/24 AG, 36/298 OA male. It pays to be consistent across all three disciplines. My overall placement was 7 places higher than my best result in the swim, bike, or run. A good day, and I qualified for USAT AG Nationals for 2013 -- the fourth year in a row I've qualified.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Stay Inside the Box

This isn't anything original from me, but a reprint of a post my coach emailed to her clients. Lots of what seems like very good advice.



Step 1: Forget Your Fitness

Understand that all you've done in training for 3, 6, 9 or more months is build a fitness vehicle. Race day is about how you drive that vehicle the race distance and across the finish line. All the fitness in the world can't help you if you don't know how to drive it properly!
This becomes more true as race distance increases. Simply put, you can't fake the funk in the long course game, as evidenced by the hundreds of very, very fit athletes under-performing because they don't know how to drive their fitness vehicle properly.

Step 2: Separate Yourself from the Outcome

Once the race starts...forget the outcome. Forget goal times, placings, everything. In our experience, chasing the outcome will often force you to make decisions in the short term that will eventually prove to be counter to your long term, outcome goals.

Step 3: Identify Critical Junctions of the Race

Where are opportunities on the course to gain time? To lose time? Where is my competition most likely to make mistakes that I will avoid and achieve a better outcome?
A few examples:
  • Long course racing: While the notes above apply to the long course swim, energy conservation becomes more important. On the bike, the longer the ride the more it becomes about not making mistakes -- too hard up hills and into headwinds, coasting too much, letting off the gas in tailwinds, etc -- rather than actively trying to make something happen, to gain time. This is true because, as race distance increases, the chance of failure on the run increases dramatically. You only need to stand at mile 20 of the Ironman run to see the consequences of short term, outcome focused thinking, as poorly executing athletes are forced to slow down dramatically, giving up any time, and much, much more, they may have gained earlier in the day. Therefore the critical junction of the long course run is the last quarter to third of the distance, as this is when early pacing and other mistakes will begin to express themselves.

Step 4: Focus on Executing the Processes That Sets Up Success at These Critical Junctions

Your job then is to manage the process, now, in real time,  that sets you up for success at these critical junctions above. We call this "Racing in the Box:" put your head in a Box and make the best decisions you can within that Box.
The Box:
  • Is only as big as what you can control, right now.
  • Forget goals, expectations, the Outcome. Put your head in the Box, execute as best you can in the Box, and let the Outcome come to you, as a result of excellent process management and good decisions.
  • Good decisions made within the Box are those that set you up for success at the critical junctions above. For example, ask yourself "Self, is this decision I'm about to make consistent with my critical goal to set up the last quarter to one third of the run, or am I chasing that non-existent KOM at the top of this hill?" If the answer is "inconsistent," make the right decision, sit down, shut up, execute and let the Outcome come to you. Don't chase it!

Step 5: Never Give Up!

So you're in your Box, have pushed the Outcome out of the Box, and are making the best decisions you can within the Box that set you up for success at the Critical Junctions of the race. But the numbers aren't what you expected -- splits, watts, pace, whatever.
You expected temperatures, winds, hills, conditions X but you're getting a very different set of Y's which, as you make decisions within your Box, begin to make it appear that your Outcome isn't going to happen. DO NOT GIVE UP! Why?
  • If conditions are hard for you, they are likely hard for everyone else. As a smart, well-disciplined, well-executing triathlete, you want winds, hills, heat, cold, rain and much more because they force you and your competition to make decisions. You make good ones, they make bad ones, they and your desired Outcome come back to you!
  • To do otherwise is to disrespect your training self. That is, Training Self put up hundreds of hours and swam, biked, and ran thousands of miles to put Racing Self on the starting line. Racing Self owes Training Self his/her best effort. Period, full stop.
  • Finally, you never know what is going on in the race up the road. Hard for you is hard for everyone else, don't give up! The guys that hammered by you on the bike course? They could still come back to you as those mistakes express themselves, don't give up!! The guy that passed you at mile 12 of the run? He could be in a portajohn, walking, or under a bush at mile 24...don't give up!!!

In Summary

Let the Outcomes come to you, as the natural result of good, consistent decision-making.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Mental Mix Tapes

I don't run with an iPod -- probably never will.. Earbuds are a hassle, and I don't like being cut off from the environment around me when I'm running. And while I know many people enjoy the distraction of music playing, I think it's just that -- a distraction. I run better when I'm concentrating on what I'm doing and getting in tune with my body's rhythms.

That doesn't mean music doesn't factor into my runs. Quite the opposite in fact. Almost every time I run some tune will creep into my consciousness. I don't know where they come from -- I don't consciously wish for them -- but once a tune gets started it usually carries through the entire run, playing on an endless loop in my head.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the songs that have been in my mental mix tape recently.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" -- The Band.

This one's been pretty common lately. I think it's the tempo, since it matches the cadence I'm trying to achieve with my feet. As a history major, certain lyrics bug me -- "Virgil, quick come see -- there goes Robert E. Lee." Was Robert  E. Lee ever in Tennessee after the Civil War? I'm not sure...

"Crown Imperial, A Coronation March" -- William Walton

British march? Check. Pipe organ? Check. This one tends to show up when I'm starting to tire and my mind needs a mental boost. Once it gets rolling I'm more than ready to keep running. I'm ready to conquer a small country.

"Wish You Were Here" -- Pink Floyd

This tends to show up when I running well, gliding along in a sort of runner's high. Kind of ironic, considering I was usually pretty high when I listened to this in college. "Can you tell a green field, from a cold steel rail?" -- always liked that lyric, even though I'm not sure what it means.

"Highway Star" -- Deep Purple

If I'm running tempo or doing speedwork, the driving beat of this rocker is almost certain to show up.

"Bell Boy" -- The Who

Love the driving beat of this Who classic from the Quadrophenia album. Seems to come up most often after a rough day at work. Give it a listen and you'll understand why.

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" -- John Phillip Sousa

I had the trio from this march on a continuous loop for almost the entire duration of a 90-minute run recently. If I'd seen a piccolo player during that time, I'm not sure what I might have done to them...


I've probably missed something, but that's the nature of the beast. The tunes are transitory, often fragmented, and the play list is constantly shifting from day to day and week to week. But it's never boring, and I don't have to worry about carrying something with me while I run. It's all in my head.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A week in review

As the summer has gone along, my training volume has been increasing, step by step. Long rides get longer; runs off of the bike increase in duration, and stand-alone runs are also extended. When I look at my upcoming training weeks, they seem pretty daunting. But like most things, if you break it down into its component parts and tackle it one thing at a time, you find you can handle it.

Here's what I had for the week that just finished. It was a lot for me -- though I'm sure there are some out there who see it as pretty routine. On the other hand, there are some who probably think it's clear evidence of some degree of insanity on my part.

Monday: "easy 90' ride - zr -z1"

I'd just come off a race on Sunday, so an easy ride sounded good to me! "zr" means "recovery zone" -- low heart rate, a chance for the muscles to heal while staying active. "z1" is a steady aerobic training zone. Since my tri-bike still had the disc cover on the back wheel, I jumped on my road bike and took off from home after work. Got a chance to ride a few roads I hadn't been on for a while. A pleasant 24-mile ride in the countryside.

Tuesday: "Masters swim," "75-minute bike with hard intervals"

Masters swim was an hour at the outdoor pool, with the main set consisting of descending intervals -- both in distance and speed. Felt good in the water, despite the 80+ degree water temperature, and had a good edge on my lane mates today. About 2800 yards of quality work.

Did the bike at lunch time. Hot, hot, hot -- probably up to over 100 degrees. The hard intervals were 8 minutes worth of 20 seconds all out and 10 seconds easy. I was definitely gasping by the time I was halfway through. A good 23 mile ride.

Wednesday: "90-minute ride with 2x20' intervals," "40 minute run off the bike"

Hot again --well over 100 degrees at noon! The ride had two 20-minute intervals at 'best sustainable pace." In other words, go hard -- this improves your efficiency and your body's tolerance to hard efforts. Yes, it was a hard effort. Finished the ride flushed and wringing wet.

The heat cooked me on the run. I took along water, but after 10 minutes I knew I'd had enough. After all, people have been known to die in heat like this... Cut the run back to 25 minutes and took it in easy.

Thursday: "75 minute ride with 2 x 15' at z2"

"z2" heart-rate zones improve your speed for sustained endurance efforts. Joined the Tri-Club Thursday night ride and got my intervals in on the Sugar Hollow Course. A good ride, and ended up doing about 90 minutes in all.

Friday: "60-minute swim" and "Tempo Run"

Feeling pretty low on this day. Tired, thirsty -- all the heat and work of the week so far was catching up to me. Made the decision to sleep in a bit in the morning, and do the workouts after work in the afternoon. 

Thunderstorms in my area cancelled the swim. The run was the running equivalent of the Thursday bike ride. Ran inside at my gym because of rain, nice to be out of the heat.Despite my fatigue in the morning, got through the run in pretty good shape. Off to bed early that night, because...

Saturday: "6-hour ride" with "45-minute run off the bike"

My longest bike so far in Iroman training. Went to Skyline Drive and rode an out-and-back course: north to Big Meadows and back; south to Loft Mountain and back; and north again to Big Meadows and back. This let me pick up additional bike bottles and food as I went along.

It was a drizzly, misty, rainy, foggy day, but the ride went great. Stayed in z1 though the first 4 hours, then gradually picked up the intensity over the last 2 hours. I practiced sticking to my drinking and eating schedule -- very important in endurance events -- and everything went great, including the run off the bike. A nice feeling of accomplishment to finish this!

Sunday: "2 hour run," "1 hour easy bike"

I've got a favorite 5.1 mile loop from my house, so I repeated that 3 times. For some reason I decided I wanted to beat my previous lap times on the third lap, so I picked up the pace third time around. Finished 15.3 in 2:11 -- a solid 8:33 pace on a muggy morning.

Finished off the afternoon with an easy ride at Sugar Hollow with Carmel. Nice to get out and ride with her!

Week's totals:

Bike -- 198 miles
Run -- 28 miles
Swim -- 2800 yards

Monday, July 16, 2012

Colonial Beach Triathlon race report -- 7/15/12


2:29:47. 2/13 AG (M50-54), 36/156 OA Male

Long Report:

I've always enjoyed the Colonial Beach tri. It's got a nice run and bike course, and I like the funky vibe of Colonial Beach, sort of a mini-beach town on the south bank of the Potomac. Debi, my coach, lives nearby in King George and is always a gracious host.  It's fun to hang out at her house with her and other triathletes the night before the race. I arrived late Saturday afternoon, had a delicious dinner (grilled chicken, asparagus, salad and pasta) with her family and friends before turning in around 930.

Up and at it early on Sunday, we drove down to the race site, where I scored a perfect parking spot abut 50 yards from transition (love these small-town races). Racked the bike, set up transition, and fired down a caffeinated gel about 20 minutes before the race, washed down with the remains of my morning bottle of Ironman Perform. It was going to be a hot one, so I'd been hydrating consistently all morning and the evening before. Then it was time to hit the beach for a quick warm up in the warm, 84-degree water.


My wave was third to go on the rectangular course. The course went straight out from shore for a couple of hundred yards, then turned right for a downstream leg. Another right, then a short leg towards the shore, where there was another right. Then back up against the current, and a left turn back to the shore to finish.

I could see from the first waves that the current was an issue, flowing steadily from left to right. I lined up on the left and hit the first buoy in pretty good shape, probably around the middle of the wave. After the turn the crowd thinned out and I had clear water downstream to the second turn. This longer leg flew by, so I knew it might take a while to take it back upstream. After rounding the next two buoys I started back up the course. This was the time to concentrate on the things I'd been working on with my stroke -- head down, core firm, rotate around the hips to engage the larger muscles. I was glad I'd been doing a fair amount of long-course swimming this summer to build my endurance.

My concentration on stying in control seemed to be working, as I caught a fair number of my wave who were fading. Finally it was time to turn for shore, and I swam it in until my hands hit bottom. Across the beach for a straight shot into transition.

Time: 35:45. 3/13 AG, 67/156 OA Male. Not good time-wise, but all the swim times were slowed by the current. I was satisfied overall. Sighting had been good and I felt strong and in control the whole time. Plenty of energy left as I came out of the water. My swim's improving, I think.


"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast." I put my cycling shoes because of a fairly long run up a gravel path to the mount line. Solid transition.

Time: 1:25. 1/13 AG, 19/156 OA.


I'd been looking forward to the bike. I've done so much Z1 riding this summer I was ready to let it rip. The course at Colonial Beach is a fun out-and-back, with smooth roads, a few rollers and a couple of hills. Nothing too extreme, but a little taxing at times.

I had smooth sailing for the most part, with a fair amount of room around me. The other cyclists were behaving themselves so I could concentrate on hunkering down and pushing the pedals. My powermeter was my friend -- I used it to encourage myself to push bigger gears and keep the watts up. It was a delight to power up the small hills of this course after numerous Saturdays grinding my way to the end of 4-5 mile climbs on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. This was fun, and I even caught myself letting out a couple of "whoops!" as I rounded some of the corners at speed.

I hit the turnaround at 33 minutes, and knew the return leg was a net downhill, so I cranked up the intensity a bit more. My recent bike fit seemed spot on -- I was comfortable in the cockpit the entire time. I kicked my feet out of the shoes and executed a smooth flying dismount at the line, running the bike up the grass margin on the side of the gravel. I felt great and was ready to rock the run.

Time: 1:05:01. 3/13 AG, 34/156 OA Male.


Took the time to slip on socks, since I hadn't run any significant amount without socks in these shoes. Not a big time killer, though.

Time: 1:05. 1/13 AG, 18/156 OA Male.


By now the sun was burning through the morning clouds and the temperatures were climbing fast. While the run course at Colonial Beach is almost pancake flat, the out-and-back is wide open for miles 1-2 and 5-6. I took out the first couple miles at a slightly restrained pace, concentrating on good form and quick turnover. I started picking off a fair share of younger runners from the previous waves, while taking fluid at every water stop. A few stops had ice, and I dumped a cup down the back of my tri-top at every opportunity. Believe me, a lump of ice at the base of your spine will do wonders to cool you off.

As I came to the turn around I was feeling good, holding 7:25-7:30 miles consistently. I took the opportunity to check out any competition and spied a 54-year old heading the other way. I figured I had to catch him to have any chance in my AG. As I turned I could see him at least 300 yards ahead. Based on how he was running, I thought I had a good chance if I didn't slow down.

The last 2-3 miles are where an international distance race gets tough. The legs are tired, and you're starting to run out of energy. I'd handled the energy end of things OK, I thought, with a full bottle of Ironman Perform and a gel on the bike, plus two endurolytes, a gel, and alternating water and Heed on the run course. I wasn't going to bonk, but I could feel the reserves starting to run down a bit.

At mile 4 I'd made up a lot of ground, but had slowed my pace slightly. Now it was time to dig in. I focused my eyes on the ground about 10 feet ahead and started counting left foot falls to 100. "Don't look up until you get to 100," I told myself. "Focus on your form. Smooth. Relaxed."

After several rounds of this I was close to my competition. Now was the time to make a move. As we passed through the water stop I plowed ahead and picked up the pace just a notch. "Do 100 steps at this pace, then another 100 a little faster. Don't look back -- he won't be able to hold on if I keep it up."

I could hear and feel my rival pick up his pace, but slowly the sound receded. I stuck to plan, and even put in a few little digs as I rounded some corners. This was hurting. I finally snuck a look back -- no one in sight. And here was the final turn to the finish. Across the line....whew.

I waited a few moments for my 54-year old competitor to cross  the line and shook his hand to congratulate him on a good race. Then I noticed his age marking said 57, not 54. Oh well -- even if it didn't change my AG finish I still owed a lot to him.

Time: 46:33. 4/13 AG, 41/156 OA Male.

Summary: One of my best races ever at this distance, and with a more normal swim time it would have been a big PR. Every part of the race clicked in nicely, and I could feel the benefit of all the long aerobic training I've been doing this summer. An important reminder that there's no substitute for putting in the miles. Build the base and the rest will follow.

2:29:47. 2/13 AG (M50-54), 36/156 OA Male


Monday, June 25, 2012

The 6 Ps

A friend of mine posted to the local tri club's forum today with a slew of motivational tips and sayings, stressing the importance of setting goals, and training the mind as well as the body for athletic events.

There was some good advice and a lot of truth in what he was saying. You DO need confidence that you can accomplish what you're setting out to do, and in the heat of battle a mantra can help you through the rough spots.

But it brought to mind one of the best sayings I've ever heard about triathlon training (or for just about any other sport, I'd say):

"Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance"

Otherwise known as the Six Ps.

I've had good races in my day, and some pretty bad ones, too. And as much as I'd like to blame the bad ones on factors beyond my control, in almost every case my success, or lack thereof, could be traced back to my preparation.

The important thing to remember is that "preparation" covers a lot of territory. It's not only the long-term buildup to the race, but also the details that need to be covered in the hours immediately before the race. So take a hard look at your performance after your next race. If it wasn't all it could be, it all goes back to your preparation.Work your weaknesses, develop a sound training plan, and make sure things like gear, nutrition and race-day strategy don't throw you off your game.

There's simply no substitute for doing the work that you need to do. Your proper preparation will give you the confidence you need to race to the best of your ability. So remember the 6 Ps next time you're having trouble getting out of bed for that early morning swim/bike/run. When it comes right down to it, the guy/gal who's going to beat you is the one who was better prepared.



Monday, June 18, 2012

Race Report -- Charlottesville Men's 4-Miler

The Charlottesville Men's 4-Miler is growing local tradition. This little brother of the Women's 4-Miler draws a very competitive local field and features a finish line on the 50-yard line of the University of Virginia football stadium. If you remember to look up, you can see yourself on the giant TV screen behind the end zone. It supports prostate cancer research at UVA -- a cause I can get behind, since my father died of prostate cancer at age 59.

I hadn't done a foot race for some time, since I'd missed a couple of my regular spring races because of illness. Combined with the near total lack of any training outside of z1 during the last few months, I was uncertain as to how the race would go. On the plus side, I felt healthy, was coming off an easy week, and had dropped about 5 pounds and one inch off my waist line during the last month -- a combination of better eating choices and lots of endurance work.

One thing for certain -- I knew this was going to hurt. Short races always do. And my strategy was simple -- hold back just a bit on the first mile then pick it up and go home hard.

As the gun went off I struggled to stay with my plan. I hit the first 1/2 mile at 3:10, but throttled down a little bit to hit mile 1 in 6:28. I was working hard, but at lest I wasn't in distress. By this time the field had shaken itself out into the usual arrangement of packs and we jostled around for position. My aerobic conditioning was in evidence -- I fell behind on each hill, as I shortened my stride and concentrated on quick turnover, but I crested stronger than my competitors and made up the gap on the subsequent flat or downhill.

Mile 2 came in at 6:30, as we finished the uphills of the first half of the race. That quick first mile was telling now, and I started trying to to concentrate on a few keys to keep my form together -- "stay smooth," "arms up," "breath into the belly." Fortunately I was keeping pace with my pack, who were starting to look a little ragged themselves.

The strain was telling as mile 3 passed in 6:46. I knew there were some serious downhills coming, so I just had to hang together for another 6 minutes and change. As we looped around the football stadium I took advantage of the downhills and started moving up past the pack. As we entered the depths of the stadium I gave it my final kick down the tunnel and onto the turf. I sneaked a glance  over my shoulder and saw nobody behind me for at least 20 yards. A quick glance up at the jumbotron and a two-arms-in-the-air salute to cap off the effort as I crossed the line.

I knocked the last mile out in 6:36, for a 26:20 -- a PR by nearly 20 seconds. Nice to see all that z1 IM prep paying off in a unexpected way. The only downer of the day was that I didn't place. I snagged 6 of 44 in my AG, beaten by four 50-year olds and a guy who was 51 -- all of whom came in under 26 minutes. Man, am I looking forward to 55-59...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Pool Time, Part 2

A few weeks back I talked about my frequent frustration with swimming.

Even significant increases in yardage didn't seem to be helping me improve my swimming performance, so I decided to schedule a swim session with Val Oswald, former Texas Longhorn swimmer and local coach, to take a look at the technique end of things.

Val's assessment was pretty blunt. "You're not using your core -- at all." In addition, I was raising my head to look down the pool, causing my butt to sink. And I was crossing over with my stroke arms. And I was over-rotating my head when I breathed.



One of the marks of good coaching and teaching is the ability to identify problems and come up with simple solutions. Val's approach was to teach me three relatively simple drills: rotation kick, side kick, and the Tarzan drill. You can check out two of the drills here:

You'll notice that a snorkel is used for the drills (more gear to buy...sigh...). After several near-death experiences in the gym's lap pool I managed to learn how to use the snorkel without inhaling a gallon of water during each breath and applied myself to doing at least 600 yards worth of drills at the beginning of each swim.

Secondly, I started swimming longer, slower intervals, concentrating on descending my times over the course of the workout.

Has it worked? I think I'm on the right track. With summer coming in I've moved to the outdoor 50-meter pool for my recent sessions, and in today's swim I was able to consistently go faster over repeated intervals, including ripping my last 100 meters off in 1:37 (roughly the same as 1:27 100-yard interval). That's faster than I used to go on my first, fastest intervals, so I think I'm on the right track.

The final good piece of news is that I think I'm starting to be able to self-correct and analyze what's going on with my stroke much more effectively than I was able to in the past. Hopefully that'll let me build the muscle memory that will keep my stroke efficient through an entire swim.

Moral of the story? It's still early, but I think I made a smart decision in stepping back to ensure the fundamentals were in order. I'll keep up with the drills and try to move on from here!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ironman-to-be meets Birdman

It was a beautiful day in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday morning as I finished my workout. Over 4 hours with my bike on Skyline Drive, followed by a 30-minute run on a short segment of the Appalachian Trail.

As I reached the trailhead where my car was parked I said hello to a grizzled looking backpacker sitting on the guard rail. An older guy, probably late 60s, with a long grey beard, a frayed and torn technical T-shirt, beat-up boots and a scuffed and worn backpack.

"How you doing? I said.

"Not too bad, not too bad," he answered with a distinctive southern drawl. "What's the best way to get down to Waynesboro from here? Do you follow that road?" he said, pointing up Skyline Drive.

"No, that goes into the National Park. You want to go down there and follow route 250 down the hill into town. Are you thru-hiking?"

I knew what the answer was. I see hikers coming through Virginia every year during these months, heading up the trail, following their quest to trod the trail from Georgia to Maine.

"Sure am. They call me Birdman. What's your name?"

"I'm Ken. Tell you what -- I'm parked over there, come on over and I'll give you a lift."

"You sure? That'd be awful nice of you."

"No problem."

We walked over to my truck, where he admired my bike, and we talked a little about his trip up the trail. He'd started in early March, so he'd been hiking over three months, averaging around 10 to 13 miles a day. He was from Tennessee, had retired a couple of years ago, and his wife had died five years before. He had all the time he needed for his adventure, and more to follow. He talked about wanting to ride a bike down the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe, when he got done with this trip.

He loved the trail, he told me. It was hard work every day, but he loved being out in the woods, just walking, moving north every day. "There's a lot of them out there that were faster than me, but they just didn't want to keep going when it got tough. It's hard when you get rained on and have bad weather, but you just got to keep on going. I hope to keep going the whole way."

I dropped my new friend off at the Waynesboro post office so he could pick up a mail drop and started my drive home. At his rate, he'd be nearing the end of his journey in September, about the same time that I finish my Ironman journey.

Without knowing it, he'd given me some good advice --  " just have to keep on going." I hope I remember that on those days when I don't want to get up early and get on the bike, go for a run, or head to the pool. Get up. Keep going. The end of the trail will arrive, and more adventures will follow.

Good luck, Birdman -- hope we both have a memorable September!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- No pain, no gain?

"No pain, no gain."

We all secretly dig the macho, hard-core approach to training. It seems so logical that you've got to push hard and suffer if you want to excel. Swimming/biking/running needs to improve? More intervals, more hill climbing, more "God I'm going to puke" efforts. Toughen up. Hang with the big dogs. Pain is only temporary, after all.

No doubt there's a time when that's necessary. But so far IM training is nothing like that.

First, some science. Ironman racing is an aerobic activity, and to successfully achieve a balanced, well-executed race, athletes must be able to sustain long, non-maximal efforts. We're talking efforts that are in the lower heart rate and power zones. In fact, respected authorities on IM racing suggest you never exceed Zone 2 (out of 5 heart rate zones), also known as the Extensive Endurance zone, during the race.

So what's that translate to in my training? At this point, lots of easy-paced distance work.

So the long bike ride where you want to throw in a set of hard intervals or tough hill climbs becomes an easy-paced long ride with one eye on your HR monitor and the other on your power output (with an occasional glance at the road ahead). Ride easy and make sure that your butt gives out before your legs do. It's the same in the other disciplines -- swims have longer intervals at steady paces, and runs are conversational-paced jogs.

It's a process of building the base -- training the body to operate efficiently and adapt to the stress of longer times and distances. It's necessary, but it's rarely exciting or fun. No more weeknight tempo rides with the boys or fast morning tempo runs -- you've got your marching orders -- steady as she goes!

Yet there's a certain satisfaction that comes with this, too. You start to take pride in your ability to smooth out your effort and tackle the obstacles along the way with a calm, steady approach. And it's pleasurable to get off the bike after riding 3+ hours feeling relaxed and strong, not tired and beat up. You realize that that's the way you're going to need to execute the race -- under control, with smooth relaxed execution throughout. In the macro sense, this is probably some of the most important training I'll do, both physically and mentally.

Increased intensity will come later, of course. Once the base is in place harder efforts will be added to the workouts to add strength and speed. But that's the icing on the cake. Right now I need to bake the cake.

15 weeks to go!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lost in Transition -- Kinetic 1/2-Ironman Race Report, 5/12/12

Can't say I was terribly impressed with my performance on Saturday.

Last year, under ideal weather conditions, I posted my 1/2-IM PR, a 5:09. I didn't expect to best that this year, for two main reasons.
  1. I hadn't really been training specifically for this race. Everything's pretty much been about IMWI this year, and with the "official" start of IM training a few weeks back, I'd been doing a lot of low HR zone training. As a result, this race was pretty much a "B" race, at best.
  2. Lost training time. The more I look back on my bout with pneumonia this spring, the more I'm realizing how much it set me back. Not only the two weeks of complete non-training, but also several weeks of slowly getting healthy again. Toss a school backpacking trip into the equation, and I probably missed about 5 weeks of solid training this spring. 
That's the down side. The plus side going in was that I felt great. I'd had a good run of training since the Rumpus in Bumpass International, and was running especially well coming off of the bike. And I'd begun the process of straightening out a few things with my swim, and was adding longer intervals into the mix. So my plan was simple -- try to knock out a good swim, stay controlled on the bike, and then nail the run. Didn't quite work out that way.


I don't think I've had a more pleasant competitive swim. The water was in the high 60s, pretty clear and flat, and the sun warm. Right from the beginning this swim felt great. Good body position, smooth sighting, very relaxed. Usually an international or 1/2 swim will have a couple of "when will this be over" moments. But not today. I hope I can build on that!   Swim: 35:24, 7/31 AG, 144/344 OA male.

T1 -- Here's the drama of the day.

Feeling good about the swim, I trotted up to transition and ran along the racks. I ducked in and ran to my spot, 357. Wait...where's my bike? There's no bike?! Somebody took my bike!! I did a passable impression of a headless chicken for what seemed like an eternity, running up and down the racks looking for my bike. Finally I looked down at my hand, where they'd marked our numbers. 457.

Oh s#@*. I sprinted over to the correct rack and found my bike -- right where I'd left it, of course. A couple of deep breaths, a quick laugh at my rookie mistake, and off I went.   T1: 3:46(!) 13/31 AG, 211/344 OA male.


No drama here. The plan was to keep the bike in a controlled zone and get off ready to run strong. A beautiful day for riding, and a fun course. Stayed right on schedule with my eating and drinking and felt plenty strong, though a little tight, towards the end. Picked up the pace a bit over the last few miles and felt good heading into T2. My time was slow, though, especially compared to last year, when I laid down a  2:40. But, like I said, I haven't been doing the riding that builds speed, at least in the short run. Bike:  2:51:25, 15/31 AG, 206/344 AG.


Made up for T1 on this one, or at least salvaged my pride. T2: 1:03, 1/31 AG, 29/344 OA male.


The three-lap course can demolish you if you're not careful, so I started carefully, keeping my pace and breathing under control, especially up the first long hill. I was rewarded with a good first 4 miles, with my pace slowly dropping into the mid to low 8's. With a little luck I had a good chance to go under 1:50 or even better.

But it wasn't to be. Around mile 4 my calves started cramping. Never bad enough to cause a complete train wreck, but plenty bad enough to drag my pace down. I walked the water stops and pushed fluids, but never could overcome them. By the third lap the sun and heat were a factor and I was cooked. I kept turning the legs over and dug in for pride's sake, but it wasn't going to be my day. Run: 1:56:09, 11/31 AG, 149/344 OA male.

Looking forward:

Just as well to chalk this one up to experience. And, for what it's worth, I could have given in and had a much worse run than I did, so I'll award myself a couple "mental toughness" points. But it's going to be a long summer of training, with plenty of opportunity to get myself into the kind of shape I want to be in.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Race Ready?

For the second year in a row I'm doing an early-season 1/2-Ironman race. Last year I decided to do two 1/2-IM races, one early in the season, and the other late. The plan started well, with a pretty solid 5:09 at the Kinetic 1/2 in May, but I crashed and burned (figuratively) at the Patriot's 1/2 in September -- though I can chalk that up to some external factors, like a very hot day and a summer of training interruptions and stress.

This year the plan is to do Kinetic 1/2 again this Saturday, and continue on into my IM training with a longer race in the bag. A fair amount's been going on since my last race at the Rumpus in Bumpass. Ironman training has "officially" started (it said so on my training plan!), I've gotten a wheel with a PowerTap, and I've become a slave to my heart rate monitor.

HR zone training has been the most significant of these. Everything on my training calendar for the last 3+ weeks has seemed to have been at Z1 or Z2 -- real extensive endurance stuff. It's not always easy to do, especially when you go to a group ride and watch everyone ride into the distance while you soft-pedal up the hills. But I can accept it as a totally necessary component of the training I have to do if I'm going to make the journey I've committed to for myself worthwhile. There just aren't any shortcuts to doing this right...

As for Saturday? I'm looking forward to the race. The weather looks excellent, and I've wrangled accommodations with a group of other triathletes about 10 minutes from the race site. No long drive in the morning for me! I feel like my fitness is improving, and I've gotten a few good long rides in the bag. And if this morning's run is any indication the HR training is starting to pay off -- I was running easy and at a nice pace with my HR comfortably in Z1.

We'll see what the weekend brings!


Thursday, May 03, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Pool Time

Swimming can be frustrating for me. In the big picture, I've got no problem with swimming. I don't suffer from the anxiety of open-water swimming that bothers many less experienced triathletes, and I can put in some pretty respectable yardage in my workouts (for an age-grouper triathlete that is. Real swimmers are a whole different breed...).

So what's the problem? Simple -- I can't seem to get any faster. Some years ago I made the leap from plodding along at 1:50 to 2:00 per 100 yards down to 1:30 to 1:40, depending on the distance. And there I've stayed. Occasionally I'll feel like I'm ready to make a leap forward, but I eventually settle back down into the same old rut.

Now for a little self-analysis. It has to be technique. I'm pretty strong in the water, but as Coach Don Easterling once told me, "If strength were everything, a bull could catch a butterfly." It's telling that my speed decreases the further I get into a workout.Fatigue can play a factor in that, but I can feel my stroke falling apart as I do sets of intervals or longer distance sets. What was pretty smooth and relaxed at the beginning devolves into a choppy mess at the end. I fight to stay smooth, but there's some missing key that I can't grasp hold of to get me on the right track.

But you might wonder why I'm worried about it. Generally my swim times in races are respectable -- top 1/3 or so in my age group, and I don't come out of the water excessively tired.

It's because I like to compete. Giving away 3-4 minutes in an Olympic-distance race to my competitors sticks in my craw. Sure, the fastest swimmer doesn't always win, but I'm tired of starting from behind the guys I want to compete with. And any efficiency I can pick up along the way is sure to pay dividends in Wisconsin. It'll be a long day, and energy saved in the water is energy I can use later on.

So, only one solution. Laps alone aren't going to get the job done. Time to get professional help. I'm meeting with Val Oswald, local swim coach and former University of Texas swimmer, on Friday to let her take a look at what I'm doing wrong (and right). I'll let you all know how it goes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rumpus in Bumpass Race Report -- 4/14/2012

Summary: 2:30:03. 10/39 AG.

Long report:

It's been a while since I've written, but I hope you'll excuse me. There's been a lot going on -- or rather, not going on -- with my training since early March. I caught a cold which devolved into a case of pneumonia and left me much sicker than I've been in a long while. Two weeks of training scratched. Once I recovered from that, I was off on a 5-day backpacking trip with my son's school. Not something I would have missed for the world, but not exactly tri-specific stuff.

Eventually my health came around, and I started to increase my training load, but I'd missed my usual spring road races and didn't quite know what to expect of myself. But the weather was good, and it looked like a great weekend for racing.

Rumpus has grown every year -- now it seems like a real early-season destination race for Mid-Atlantic triathletes. Lots of Maryland plates in the parking lot, and plenty of calm, competent, and fit-looking athletes in transition. I didn't have very high expectations of competing well in my AG, but I was looking forward to getting a race under my belt.


The swim was in a lovely protected cove of Lake Anna. While the water was a bit cool at 65, the sun was bright and the air warm -- nice conditions all in all. The course was a simple long rectangle, so sighting was easy. As usual, the old guys jumped in late -- Wave 7 -- after nearly everyone else had gone off. I got into a good rhythm and found a nice little pack to swim with, even managing to draft off some feet for a while. As we encountered traffic, the pack broke up as we maneuvered around slower swimmers. Soon enough the swim was over and I scrambled out of the water and ran up the long grassy slope to transition.

1500 meters: 29:40. 14/39 AG.

I've put in some good distance this winter, and been very consistent with my swimming. I feel much stronger over long distances, but it's not showing up in speed in the water. The top 3 in my AG averaged almost 4 minutes faster in the swim. That's about 15 seconds per 100, so I've got some serious time to make up if I want to stay in the hunt with the strong competitors. Time to get some individualized instruction and work more extensively on technique.


Transitions are usually a strong suit for me, and there weren't any problems here. I put on my cycling shoes in transition, since there was a stretch of gravel to run over, but still got out pretty quickly. 2:03. 5/39 AG.


This is a fun and fast bike course. I've had very little time on my tri bike so far this year, having spent most of the winter and spring on the road bike. But I got down comfortably on the bars and started right up. As usual, there was plenty of traffic ahead -- it's the bane of the last waves to have to pass lots of slower riders. I worked on keeping my RPMs up throughout, a point we've been emphasizing in training, and felt good about that. After one lap of the 2-lap course I was holding an average speed of a bit over 20 mph and felt great -- despite a stiff breeze, it was a fun day to ride a bike!

The second lap was pretty much more of the same, though the field started to sort itself out and I found myself leapfrogging around with some other riders in my AG. But as I rolled toward the dismount I started to get a nagging feeling that I'd left too much in the tank.

23 miles: 1:08:39. 14/39 AG.

Lack of training, lack of racing, and lack of time on the tri bike showed here. I was too comfortable, and needed to push the pace if I wanted to be a factor in the race. It was a strong field, but generally my bike times are much more competitive than that. More time on the bike and a more go-for-broke attitude at this distance will move me up in the pack.


Shoes off dismount, fast run into transition, smooth exit. :58. 4/39 AG.


This was a challenging run course. The race was moved at the last minute to a new venue, and a large majority of the run was on a very rough gravel road -- the kind of road where you can turn an ankle if you don't watch where you're stepping. By now the temperatures were rising, but there was plenty of water and ice at the aid stations. Take a drink, dump the ice down the back of my tri top -- worked like a charm!

I started off pretty well, running in the high 7:30s, but started to fade a bit through miles 4-5 of the 2-lap course. Over the last mile I pulled my form together and managed to put together a strong finish.

6.2 miles: 48:53.

Not too bad on the run, especially considering lack of any racing this spring.

Overall Impressions:

I'm disappointed with my bike performance -- I had better in me, I'm sure, but I was just being too conservative. But on the whole, I executed a pretty smart race, and it felt great to be out competing again. There's plenty of work and racing to come this season as I get ready for Wisconsin -- I'll chalk this one up as a pretty solid first step.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- 27 Weeks to Go Report Card

Didn't get anything posted last week, with nothing to blame for my omission than the usual "stuff to do." But as I look at the calendar today I see that I'm down to 27 weeks to go -- about half a year. Which got me thinking -- how's it going, anyway?

So I decided to rate myself on a few aspects of my preparation. Here we go, in no particular order or method...

Diet and nutrition -- B

Looking back, I've realized that I usually eat like c***. I'm very fond of fatty, salty foods with poor nutritional value -- in other words, I'm an average American ;-)  But without being too drastic in my diet, I think I've made some good improvements over the last few months. Fruit and vegetable consumption is up, fast food , meat, and cheese consumption is down. And I'm about two weeks into a 30-day break from beer and wine. I'm feeling slimmer, and have dropped 2-3 pounds since the start of the year. 

Strength, core, stretching -- C

A "C" isn't too bad, considering I probably used to earn a "D-" on this. I've established better routines for core, strength, and stretching, though I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be. As I get older, I'm realizing the importance of these. Need to work on this.

Faithfulness to training plan -- A 

This has been a strength for me so far this year. Having an IM coming up has really focused my mind on the task at hand, and I can count the number of missed workouts for this year on one hand, with several fingers held in reserve. With actual IM training still on the horizon, building a good base to work with is very important. It's not always easy, but I've been sticking to it. 

Swim, bike, and run -- A  

These flow primarily from the previous rating. Consistency has been paying off for me here. Swim endurance has gotten better, with a moderate increase in speed.  I'm not putting in big mileage numbers on the bike, but the work has paid off in better HR and watt numbers inside, and smoother, stronger riding outside. Running -- knock on wood -- has been injury free, and I've been able to shake it up with some good specific HR zone training and trail running. 

Mental attitude -- B

It's tough to be "up" every day, but I think my mental attitude towards training has been pretty solid. For the most part I'm enjoying what I do. Sure, there are mornings where it all seems like something of a chore, but I'm doing the little things to keep myself going. There's still a long road ahead, though, so this is something to work on and keep improving. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Extremely fit"

We've been fortunate to have made the decision to send our son Colin to a fine private school since the 6th grade. Tandem Friends School has rigorous academic standards, yet still makes time for interesting and enlightening non-academic pursuits. One of these is "Emphasis Week," a time when students will get together with teachers to pursue non-academic interests.

One of Colin's teachers, Steve, guides an Appalachian Trail hike each year. He'll take a group of about 15-20 Tandem students out for a 5-day, 4-night hike on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I'm an avid AT section hiker (500 miles down, 1500 to go!), so it's fun to talk to him about his plans every year. Colin has been on one of Steve's trips before, and has hiked with me on the AT too, covering the Maryland section of the trail in 2010.

Colin signed up to do this year's trip, and Steve needed another adult -- so it was on me to fill the spot. I was tickled pink when Steve sent out his pre-trip email to the group and it said:

Ken Nail will be accompanying the trip as well as a second adult chaperone. If you know Ken, you know he is an extremely fit, experienced hiker/backpacker. I am thrilled that he can take part in this adventure! 

I'm convinced that Steve doesn't know anything about my triathlon background, or even care. But I can't think of a nicer compliment! And I can't wait -- there's nothing like a backpacking trip to focus yourself on the essentials -- walk, eat, sleep, repeat!

Weeks totals:

Swim: 2:40, 7000 yards
Bike: 3:45. 64.25 miles
Run: 2:50, 21 miles
Strength/core: 1:20

Total:  10:35