Father’s Day And An Ironman Son

Without question, my dad is the biggest influence on my athletic life.  Somewhere, there is a picture of me in a football helmet with dad holding up a pillow as a blocking sled.  I think I was 5 years old, but remember his encouragement as if it were yesterday.

I also remember him at Little League games.  He’d lean over the fence by the dugout and all I wanted to do was make him proud.  I can still hear his voice ringing through the air as I rounded first base on my way to second for a double, “That a baby!!”

I’d slide into second, then look back at him with a big thumbs up. The smile on his face warmed my entire body.  Sports has always been our purest connection.

This continued through high school and college.  He came to most of my games and it’s amazing how something so innocent can fuel a kid. It didn’t matter if there were ten, or a thousand, fans at the park, if he was there, the stadium was full.

Eventually I got “too old” for competitive sports and our athletic-union was relegated to discussing the Brewers or Wisconsin Badgers basketball.  That was something, but the genuine father/son sporting connection took a little hit.

After many years of inactivity, I decided to change my lifestyle and landed in Ironman training.  I hadn’t felt that athletic rush in 20 years and was excited to share it with dad.

I called him with the news that I’d just signed up for Ironman, and the best part was, the race is just up the road in Madison!  I’ll never forget his response, “Oh yeah?”

It was a little disheartening.

I tried to explain it, but what I didn’t realize was . . . he understood baseball, football, and basketball, not triathlon. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered conversations we used to have about endurance sports.  We both thought marathons and the like were nuts. And not in a good way.

Running, by itself, was never really considered a sport in our home.  Sure, the 100 meter dash was a big deal, the 400, but these skinny guys in the marathons were a little weird.  It always seemed like the sport for people who couldn’t play sports.

So, I understood dad’s confusion, but was so pumped about my new endeavor, that I pressed on in hopes of rekindling the father/son athletic spark.  Eventually he promised to be there on race day, but it felt like more of an inconvenience than a desire.

He started reading Crushing Iron occasionally and I think it began to sink in (though he still thought I was crazy).  I not sure he really wanted to (or could) process the enormity of what I was doing.

I’m guessing he told a few people about his son’s latest quest and most thought it was idiotic. He was torn, but I think a few key people reacted positively and said Ironman was an amazing challenge.

It started sinking in.

A couple months before the race he started asking questions.  “How far are the runs again?” Well, there’s one run and it’s a marathon at the end.  “What?!?”

I also believe that he didn’t think I was serious for a while, but as September approached, he was cautiously intrigued.

My mom started in the same way, but she came on board much earlier.  She was absolutely miffed by how I could attempt such a thing, yet started planning the weekend in a big way. She even went to Madison and plotted viewing points, rest areas, and anything else she could pre-produce.

I think her Ironman Fever got inside dad a bit and when we arrived in my hometown 4 days prior to the race, Dad was engaged.  He asked a lot more questions and I detected a fatherly concern about the enormity of the undertaking, especially from a son that he knew as one that would sleep in and genuinely be lazy.

There are four things I remember most about Ironman weekend as they relate to my dad.

1.  The day before the race, it was 90 degrees and I walked him over to the shore of Lake Monona.  We stood there with my brother and I took the opportunity to have a little fun.

I said, “This is where we swim, dad.”
He said, “Oh yeah?”
Then, after a long pause he said, “How do you know where to go.”
We were standing about 1500 yards from the first turn buoy and I said, “You see that little bridge down there at the end of the lake?”
He said, “Not really.”
“Well, we start right over there, swim down to that bridge, turn left for a couple hundred yards, swim back down 17oo yards to that red buoy out in front of us, then curl back 500 yards back to where we started.”
Mind blown.
I’d been in his shoes before I started training for Ironman.  For a non-swimmer, physically looking at a 2.4 mile swim course is unthinkable.
I sensed the look of an uneasy father in his demeanor as he simply responded, “That’s a long ways, baby.”

2.  The morning of the race, I got my transition stuff ready and came down to meet everyone around 6:30.  The family was in place. Mom, dad, my brother, and sister (who’d flown in from Dallas) all stood on the rope as we waited to enter the water.  I kept an eye on dad who seemed to be more than a little nervous.  The energy is off the charts at 6:30 am with music pumping everyone up and 2,700 racers bouncing around in wetsuits.  Dad smoked non-stop and barely uttered a word.  He was more subdued than pumped, but I assured him it would be fine. He said, “Be careful, buddy,” and I gave him a hug before filing into the water.

I didn’t know it that day, but later when I was watching video my brother shot of me coming out of the water, I heard a new level of excitement/relief from behind the camera in my dad’s voice. As I ran by on video cowbells rang, music blared, and over the top of it all I heard my dad’s voice screaming, “There he is!!  There he is!! That a baby!”

3.  This is another thing I didn’t realize until later, but as we all know, Ironman spectating is a long, long day.  About the time of the run, my dad hit his wall and decided to park a lawn chair near the State Capitol building while others chased me on the course.  At the Wisconsin run, you come up State Street, run around the Capitol, down into the shoot, then back out around the same way for lap two.  Dad waited patiently in his lawn chair and later told me he was absolutely moved and enthralled by the day’s events.  He sat there patiently waiting for my turn-around-lap, but never saw me.  Two chances to connect and we missed.  We marveled at how it could have happened because he was sitting right there next to the course.  A few days later, he walked into the kitchen and said, “Damn it, I bet you ran by when I went to the bathroom.”

4.   Despite missing dad on the run course, he was right on time for my finish.  I came down the finisher’s chute and saw my family on the left, veering off to hug and high-five.  They were all pumped, including dad, and I’ll never forget the genuine pride and joy I felt hugging them all over the fence at the end.

Dad has always been a big golfer and for my race (despite triathlon etiquette) I wore a Titleist visor in his honor.  As coincidence would have it, he also wore a Titleist hat that day . . . and proudly sported a Crushing Iron shirt to boot.

It was a connection I hadn’t felt in years.  For that one day, all the distractions and missed opportunities of life didn’t matter, I was an athlete again, and dad was leaning over the fence just like he’d always done.

Happy Father’s Day, buddy!

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Doubling Up The Bike Trainer

Since I started Ironman training four years ago, I have “skipped” a lot of workouts–and felt guilty much of the time. But now I look at these rest choices as a calculated-energy savings. One “over-workout” can throw off an entire week and I’d rather cut one short than get sick or battle exhaustion.

Yesterday, my three hour trainer ride started with optimism and quickly turned into a shit show. I felt weak and had a hard time getting the blood going, so I settled for an easy-gear spin and worked on staying in aero.  I hoped to eventually loosen up and slowly wind into a tight coil that would explode on the bike trainer universe!  But 45 minutes in, I felt worse.  I decided to hang till the one-hour mark, then make a decision . . . which was to get off the bike.

So, my three hour trainer ride was a fail.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but the nagging gets louder when you’re less than 3 months from your race.

Luckily I remembered the whole two-a-day thing (how can I forget these things?) and how one of my favorite things to do is split up long runs with two shorter ones 6-8 hours apart.  Why not do it with the bike??

As hard as I try (I’m currently reading The Morning Miracle) I’m just not at my best in the mornings.  Even though that trainer ride started at 10 am, I just didn’t have it, but at 5 o’clock, I felt like a different person.  I filled my water bottles, re-greased my chamois, and climbed aboard to see what happened.

I didn’t really have a plan, but after a ten minute warm up, I slipped into a gear that would be about 80% effort (85 rpm or so) and laid in aero for 20 minutes.  This woke me up a bit and I thought I might have two hours in me.  I took a 5 minute easy spin, then went back to pushing in aero.

It should be noted, that I do nearly everything in my training by feel and try very hard to keep good form with swim, bike, and run.  If I’m starting to lose my way, I’ll back off and/or stop.

I have two main goals for the bike right now:  build power in aero, and push big gears for the hills at Wisconsin.

My split-bike-workout yesterday looked like this:

1 Hour easy (mostly in aero) with full intention on moving my legs in a smooth rotation.

2 Hours that night broken out like this:

10 min warm up easy
20 min in aero at just above perceived race pace on flats around 85 rpm
5 min EASY gear recovery
20 min in aero at just above perceived race pace on flats around 85 rpm
5 min EASY gear recovery
5 min hardest gear sitting down at 55rpm
5 min easy gear recovery at a good clip 95rpm
5 min hardest gear sitting down at 55rpm
5 min easy gear recovery at a good clip 95rpm
5 min hardest gear standing at 55rpm
5 min EASY gear recovery
20 min in aero at just above perceived race pace on flats around 85 rpm
10 min EASY gear cool down

I have no idea if this is an effective strategy, but it felt good to me.  I’m really concentrating on a smooth pedal stroke with everything I do. I also like to think of simulating the course on a trainer to create different challenges with a wide range of rpm, then finding a sweet spot where I’ll have the most efficient speed.  This was a pretty tough workout, but when I keep my mind focused on form vs. mashing the pedals, you find a better rhythm and cycling doesn’t seem quite as hard.

I suppose some of your are asking why I would ride the trainer for 3 hours on a beautiful Saturday morning, especially after hearing the best triathlon cyclist, Andrew Starykowicz say he rarely rides the trainer?  Well, two reasons, actually.

Last year, for the 6 weeks leading up to Ironman Chattanooga, I was working under the guidance of pro-triathlete, Jim Lubiniski.  I told him flat-out that I wasn’t in the mood for any 4-6 hour rides and asked if there was a work-around.  I’m not saying he endorsed my “no-long-ride” strategy, but he developed a killer (tough) trainer schedule that I hammered 3 days a week for 5 weeks.

Before Chattanooga, my longest ride was 68 miles but I still averaged my fastest IM time of 20 mph for the 116 miles.  There could be a number of reasons, but the one thing I remember about that ride is that I seemed to have another level of tenacity for getting back in aero and pushing through.  I attribute a lot of that to the consistent, non-stop-grind of the trainer.

Secondly, I’m not much for riding on roads or greenways.  Roads because people driving cars seem to get very angry at the simple thought of someone on a bicycle, and greenways because I can’t stand when I see cyclists cooking by me in aero with kids and dogs and groups of kids on skateboards.  Neither place lets me focus like a trainer.  Here in Nashville, Natchez Trace is the exception, but it’s 45 minutes from my house and with set up, etc, it’s a 2 hour round trip.

I guess thing I like about the trainer is the mental toughness.  It’s become almost a meditation for me.  Clear the brain and work on form. And last night I was blessed with a pouring rain while I rode in my garage.

Though I biked well at Chattanooga, I still feel like my run suffered from not being in better cycling shape.  I was in the best run shape of my life last year, but it didn’t matter because my legs were fried off the bike.  I still ran decently, but if my bike form would have been tighter and my legs a little stronger, that run could have gone much better.

Biking (along with swimming) have been my main focuses this year.  I’m backing off on the run to add time in the water and saddle.

I guess the whole point of this is . . . if we’re doing a lot of two-a-days training for Ironman, don’t underestimate the thought of splitting long swims, bikes, or runs into two.  There’s definitely something to be said for getting used to and plowing through a tough patch, but it’s a fine line. Sometimes we just don’t have it, and risking the loss of a few training days to exhaustion isn’t worth it to me.

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5 Steps to Sleep Training

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that sleep was the key to a healthy life (and weight).  Lately I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of stuff that seems to proving my instincts right.

The problem with my sleep worship was that it mostly revolved around sleeping in.  When I had my corporate job, I’d purposely go in late because I knew I didn’t get enough sleep.  I’d stroll in around 10 am without much guilt and openly decree I was late because I overslept. People would look at me in amazement and wonder how I could get away with being so “belligerent.”

It wasn’t about “giving it to the man,” (though that was my mindset at the time and now realize it was more about my ego than the man, but that’s a topic for another day), it wasn’t about late-night clubbing – it was about screwing around, usually in my bed with podcasts, web surfing or movies.

The first year of my Ironman training was laced with sleepless nights and 5 am wake up calls for swim or bike training.  Much of the time I was a zombie scrambling for the nearest cave. Hell, I only slept 3 sketchy hours before Ironman Wisconsin that year.  In the last couple weeks I’ve finally gotten serious about getting into my bed to sleep.

I knew what to do, but the turning point and motivation came from Daniel Vitalis on the James Swanwick podcast.  Daniel’s philosophy is based on pursuing the purest forms of the basic elements of life:  food, water, air, and light.

It was the “air and light” parts that changed the way I thought about sleep.  So, I decided to take these 5 steps to become a better sleeper.

Get Rid of Dust –  My dog is the sweetest person I know, but I was sort of oblivious to her shedding.  Step one of air cleaning was to get rid of the dust and dander that was recycling through my room and lungs.  I was astonished by the amount of pet hair under my bed.  I deep cleaned the floors, walls, and beat out the mattress.  I took out a skanky rug and for now have left just the hardwood floor.

Breathe Cleaner Air – I went to Home Depot and picked up a $65 air purifier.  Not only does it suck random particles from the air, it sounds a little like an old-school window air conditioner, which is nice.  I’ve been keeping the door shut during the day and it’s amazing how fresh and clean the room feels when I go in there at night to SLEEP.

De-Screen  –  Watching TV in bed is like an American right, but I needed drastic measures. Not only is TV a ridiculous temptation, it is a stimulant and there’s a lot of research about WiFi being bad news.  So, TV, Apple TV, and cable box, all gone.

I also got rid of my alarm clock (which might not be so easy for someone who has an actual job) with the goal of eventually going to sleep at an hour that allows me to wake up early enough for anything.

I’ve also made a new rule that goes something like this:  My cell phone is banned from my bedroom at all times.  Even during the day, when it would be easy to kick back on the bed with my phone, limp around Facebook and fall into a nap with WiFi polluting my brain.

This was the hard part, but there are literally two electronic devices left in my room:  a lamp and the air purifier.

Black Out –  It starts with dark curtains, but includes tiny “on buttons” of electronics, LED alarm clocks, cell phones, etc.  It’s amazing how much light those little devices put out when your room is truly dark, and they can definitely affect your sleep.  I haven’t gone to those sleeping masks yet, but I’m definitely considering.

Oxygenate – The last thing I did was add a big plant in the corner of the room.  I don’t know the science, but here’s a link to a NASA graph of the best air quality plants.  I’m not sure my plant is on but I’m learning and pretty sure my room will soon be a jungle.

Aside from those things, I’ve also de-cluttered entirely.  The only thing left on my floor (other than the plant and air purifier) is a yoga matt and meditation pillow.  It’s amazing how easy it is to drop into a pose and sit in meditation at night when there isn’t dirty laundry or gym bags or bike tires and TVs around.

Like Ironman training, this is a work in progress, but I can definitely say I’ve had some really nice uninterrupted sleeps in the last week or so.  I’ve been falling asleep around midnight and naturally waking up around 8-9 o’clock.  I honestly think my lifestyle has saddled me with a deep-seeded exhaustion of sorts and am excited about restoring my joints, muscles, and brain.

I’ve also been exploring general hydration and feel like I’m making some nice discoveries there as well.  I’ll get into that, along with an update on the book I’m writing about my journey from the couch to sub-12 Ironman, in my next post.

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Rev3 Knoxville 2016 – Race Recap

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It is really sweet staying downtown for this race.  Everything, including the finish and transition are within blocks.  I walked around a lot (maybe too much) and even explored the University of Tennessee campus, which is awesome.  I also took a lot of pictures of bars on the strip and sent them to friends who went to UT back in the dark ages.  Apparently all the good stuff is gone.

My swim wave had the glorious start time of 7:55, so I got up around 5:30 for some meditation and light warm up stuff.  I ate a crappy breakfast of donuts and a piece of fruit, and I’m really not sure why I do these things.  I think it’s because one of the best triathletes I know says he always eats 3 Pop Tarts for breakfast before an Ironman, and I’ve taken it to heart.

Speaking of Ironman, it was my goal not to say that word all weekend.  It was simply a personal challenge, but I took not-using-the-“I-word” seriously.  I think I said it 3 times.

SWIM – 1500 Meters

I was a little concerned about the water.  The day before at our practice swim, I went for about 400 yards and almost fell over from the dizziness.  This is not uncommon for me, but it is never enjoyable, so I’m always looking for remedies.

Some say it’s a sign of dehydration, so I did drink a lot after that, but I also have a caffeine theory because I had a couple coffees before that swim.  The other thought I had was that, despite the fact that putting on your wetsuit too early can overheat you, I wanted to get acclimated to the compression.  I pulled it up full a good 15 minutes before the start and tried to relax inside that rubber room.

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Walking the plank into the Tennessee River. Photo Rebekah Shulman.

We filed down the ramp for our wave start and I jumped in about 3 minutes before the horn.  I found an open pocket and promised myself I would keep it slow and steady.  The water was about 70 degrees and perfect thanks to my icy-above-ground-pool preparation.

Five strokes into my race my finger connected with someone’s watch and it felt like it sliced me wide open.  I didn’t stop, but I thought for sure I was bleeding.  It may have been a good thing because it took my mind off swimming for the first 400 yards upstream.

When I cornered the buoy to head downstream I felt good and just kept repeating my mantra to stay relaxed.  It all worked like a charm and I never stopped during the race, which was my main goal.  I thought it was a pretty good swim, but it was a very average 28 minutes.

The good news is, I got out of the water without a hint of dizzy and felt great running to my bike, ready to drop a blazing, top-9- percentile transition.

BIKE – 25 Miles 

I’ve done this race 4 times now and that morning I made up my mind that I was going to try and crush the bike course, then “hold on” for the run.  I felt great out of the water but was quickly brought back to earth in the first 3 miles.

There aren’t any major hills, but there are a couple “exit ramp” climbs up and around the interstates they block off at the start and end.  It was also really bumpy and I didn’t really find a groove before the first hill at mile 7.

In fact, I hit the first hill at mile 6.3 and thought to myself, hey, this must be the hill at mile 7, but it wasn’t.  It was the 6.3 hill before the big hill at mile 7.  It’s not a monster by any means, but it makes you focus.

For the next 8 miles it’s little ups and major downs.  The downhills, of which, are not for the meek.

The weather was perfect, other than the wind, which I suspected may be having more of an impact than I thought.  But I rode pretty well, pushed hard, and stayed in aero when I could.

There were at least 3 times when I thought I had a flat but didn’t.  It’s that weird feeling that has you looking down at your back tire, but then you realize it’s fine and it’s probably just weak legs. But it also dawned on me that this could also have been where the term “false flat” comes from. If it’s not, it should.

The second big hill depletes your spirit a little, but the subsequent downhill is a screamer that took me up to 40 m.p.h.  My memory told me it was all downhill after that, but there are at least 4 more little climbs that get inside your ass and squeeze it hard.  For all that effort, and all my designs on crushing the bike . . . it crushed me.

RUN – 10K

This run starts with a slight climb in front of Thompson Bowling Arena, former home of Bernie and Ernie (at least I think they played there, and if they didn’t, it’s the home THEY BUILT).

Really, this run is nothing to recap, other than it’s pretty flat, about 2/3’s Greenway and the aid stations are there when you need them.  The only complaint I have is there were a few times on the course when runners seemingly didn’t know what side they should be on, so I had about 3 head-on collisions.  Oh, I’m kidding.

I felt GREAT on mile 4.  I was relaxed and cruising to my fastest mile of the day, but mile 5 was a challenge and 6 about killed me, especially that last .2 up the hill to the finish line.  I look like a damn ghost in my photo, which I’d show you, but don’t feel like buying because I have plenty of time to be a ghost later.

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Soaking in the cold after a hot race. Photo Rebekah Shulman.

I finished 4th in my age group, three minutes behind 3rd, and felt like it was the best I had that day.  I took a cold towel and medal for my neck, then jumped in the Normatec Ice Tub.

More Pics From REV3 Knoxville 2016

All Photos – Rebekah Shulman
All Captions – Me

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A nice young lady running out of the UT Rowing House into T1.

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The volunteers at REV3 were excellent, and, I might add, stylish.

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A haunting view as their loved ones walk the plank.

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Wet towels and scowls for me.

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Much to their chagrin, we take the plunge into the river typically reserved for the Lady Vol Crew

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This would be the ghost of Mike about 200 yards from the finish.

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Seriously contemplating life.

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Raging to go get my ass kicked on the run.

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Reppin’ the locals at RED KITE.

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Nice stride out of the water!

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Everyone in this scrum is asking the other, “What the hell are we doing in here?”

 

 

Countdown to Rev3 Knoxville

It’s now official:  I’ll be racing my fourth straight Rev3 Knoxville next Sunday.  This race has a special place in my heart because the first time I toed the line, it was one of the most challenging mental feats I’ve ever experienced.

I’ll get into the weather in a moment, but there are a few reasons (besides the rumor that I may get my first ever priority racking this year) I love this race.

The Location

When I race I like to get a vibe of the city. For example, IM Muncie 70.3 is probably my least favorite because it is in the middle of nowhere.  Knoxville, however, starts and ends right downtown.  My hotel is less than two blocks from the finish line, there’s a farmer’s market, a bunch of cool little restaurants, and some very talented street hippies within walking distance.

The race itself winds in and out of the city and University of Tennessee campus.  And while the spectator scene is pretty weak, at least there is a semblance of an actual society.

The Course

The swim is in the Tennessee River and starts with a short upstream (about 1/3) of the distance before we turn around and head back to the UT Row House (where we used to change for the practice swim until the Lady Vols gave us too many grumpy faces). Then, you simply run across the street (this used to be a .7 mile run) to transition, then head into the hills.

The bike is challenging, but fair.  I always do the Olympic (because a Half this early seems to crush my spirits) and there are two pretty tough hills that give you a nice early season test. There are a also some very fast downhill sections where I’ve seen wicked crash aftermath, but the roads are good and the ride slithers between country terrain and downtown living.

The run is basically on a campus greenway and flat until you the last burst to the finish line, which is uphill, but nothing too tough. It ends in World’s Fair park on a sweet patch of grass surrounded by the expo.  It’s relatively quaint, but feels a little bit like you’ve entered the coliseum at the Olympics when you cross the line.  Well, not really, but it does feel bigger than the Huntsville marathon finish, though, I’m not taking anything away from Rocket City, because is a nice little race, and town, and Meg and her parents are awesome hosts, but I doubt I’ll actually run it it because I’m not really interested in a straight marathon and the finish line isn’t quite as fun as Rev3 Knoxville.

The Intangibles

Rev3 puts on a solid race.  Nice expo, good organization, volunteer hospitality, etc.  It has a bigger feel, but it’s more down home than an Ironman. Looks like there are about 5-600 people signed up for the Oly and Half this year.  And, it’s very kid-friendly, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ve also met some great people there.  Like Tim Wacker from Wisconsin who I ran into the first year at the hotel gift shop and then saw him cheering for me at the top of the biggest climb at Ironman Wisconsin later that year.  He also sent me a DVD of the IMWI bike course which I still need to give back to him.

I also encountered my favorite age group rival, David Quinn of Grim Reapers, in transition and we’ve crossed paths many times since at various races.  I even wrote about him in my 2014 race report before we became friends.  Here’s an excerpt:

You’re typically racked in the same place as your age group, so I watched carefully as what appeared to be a formidable challenger filled his tires.  David, who was racing for Grim Reaper (another reason I tread lightly) had an eery calm and a confident look in his eyes that more or less said, “This race is mine.” 

And Jason and Lisette, who travel around to races in a solar paneled van with their dogs.  They carve out a little landing spot and live the race life for 3 or 4 days.  We ran into each other at the restaurant, The Tomato Head, three times in the same day, I think. Jason made my 2015 Muncie video  (which I just noticed is muted because Radiohead’s label said I can’t use 15 Steps, even thought it’s credited and I don’t make a dime from this sight. I’ve written about that BS here and added a screen grab from the video of Jason below) as a volunteer and Lisette is seen in the swim entry and run portion of my 2015 IM Louisville video.

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Now, back to the weather.

The month of May can be dicey in Tennessee and Rev3 Knoxville has been a poster-child.  The first time I raced was an absolute mess.  Pouring rain the entire race and mid-50’s, including the water.  My feet were numb until mile 4 of the run that year. But they’ve moved the race a couple weeks and the temperature has been fine ever since, but I still feel like it’s rained every year.  And, frankly, I love that part.

I had about 10% confidence I could finish my first Ironman, but after racing in the brutal conditions at Rev3 in 2013, my confidence soared to at least 20%.  Training and racing in bad weather is a gift.  It’s the one variable we can’t control and I love being ready for anything on race day.

This picture is from the finish line in 2013.  Notice how the people in the background are dressed. It was a brutal, yet awesome test of will . . . that frankly made me contemplate monkdom.

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Rev3 Knoxville 2013 Race Report 
Rev3 Knoxville 2014 Race Report
Rev3/Challenge Knoxville 2015 Race Report 

There are tons of other stories on Rev3 Knoxville if you type it into the search box.

 

Iron Nugget Spring – Dickson Endurance

Saturday, in little known parts of the world, aka Burns, TN, I took my first triathlon beat down of the year at the Iron Nugget Sprint.  The pictures are all from the year before when I spectated because, as you will see, there was no time for fun and games.

This race is really pretty awesome.  It’s in Montgomery Bell State Park, well organized, beautiful, friendly, and loaded with hills.  I’m not sure it’s ideal for a first time triathlete, but it’s definitely fair.

On a whim, I signed up the night before then got to the site an hour before race the 8:00 race time and found myself in a long line for bib pick-up.  While this was a bit of a bummer, I was very excited to see so many racers because I’d love to see this series grow.

My late registration meant I had to go into a second line with about 8 other people and wait for the race director to assign us a bib number.  Somewhere around 8:10 I finally landed bib 350.  The following is a series of events that happened from that point until the start of the race at 8:30.  (I’d like to preface this by saying it’s all my fault for not signing up and arriving sooner).  Below is the huge hill out of the swim to T1, which I speak of often.

Look at this grade!

Look at this grade!

– I got body marked and climbed the huge hill from the check-in to transition for the second time (I forgot my ID the first time).

– I swiftly unloaded my bike, gear, and ran everything into transition where I scrambled to find an open slot to rack my bike.  After about 5 minutes of panic, I found what seemed to be the only open slot and hung my bike.

– Put in my contacts and the right one was backward.

– Slid into my tri-top, laid shoes on a colorful beach towel, grabbed swim cap, sprayed anti-fog on my goggles, then realized I forgot my bike and helmet stickers, along with my bib on the registration table while I got body marked.

– Ran down huge hill to retrieve bike stickers and bib.  Ran up huge hill to affix stickers bike and bib to belt.

– Ran down huge hill barefoot with wetsuit.  Stopped near bottom of hill to put on wetsuit and heard “2 minutes till start” of my age group.

– Hopped up and down trying to get into wetsuit on slight decline.  Realized I put my right leg into my right arm sleeve.  Struggled to get right leg out of wetsuit, turned everything back outside in and began again.

– Somehow managed to get into wetsuit legs and run to beach.  “30 seconds till start!”

– Pulled wetsuit over shoulders and nice young lady to retrieve my swim cap from the back pocket of my tri-suit.  Put on swim cap and goggles while nice young lady zipped my wetsuit.  Waded into water and under the rope where my age groupers waited.  Saw friend Eric and said hi as gun sounded.

Anyone who knows me knows this is the exact opposite of how I should start a swim.  I’m “panic central” in the water and need some serious wake up time.

The swim was 750 yards, one loop around a beautiful little lake course.  The water felt nice and I did everything in my power to start slow.  I haven’t been swimming much, so while the distance didn’t scare me, I knew it was long enough for problems.

My effort to start slow did not go well, and by the first buoy my heart was clamoring to get out of my chest, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to fall into breaststroke for a while.  Which I did until the next buoy, then picked it up again . . . slowly.  But clearly not slow enough.  By midway up the backside of the box I was cursing my lack of training and back in breast stroke.  It was about the halfway point and I even decided it might be a good time to peek at my watch, which said 7 minutes.

It’s funny how seven minutes can feel like a lifetime, and the next 9 minutes felt even longer.

Normally I’d swim until my hand hits the sand, but I stood up as soon as I could.  “Standing” is a relative term here because I was kind of dizzy and almost fell down.  The good news was, I had to run up that hill (the fourth time) again.  Needless to say I walked with my wetsuit hanging from my waist.  It was an awful transition, but I had no choice.

The first 5 miles of the bike were torture.  The swim bit me hard and I wasn’t ready for the hills.  It was a tough but fair bike course.  The fastest split average was 21.4 mph for the hilly 17 miles.  My average was 18, and considering the horrid start, I actually started waking up toward the end of the ride.

The run was tough, too but I felt pretty good by then and ran a 24:42 on a super hilly roll.  It was a steady, consistent pace that I felt I could keep for a long time, but any faster would have been too much.  The fastest split was about 19 minutes, so I felt good about my effort.

This race was a huge wake up call and I’m glad I got my ass out of bed for it.  Rev3 Knoxville is still on my radar, but I haven’t signed up.  Maybe I’ll do it the night before.

This is BS!

This is the spot I tried to put on my wetsuit.

 

 

 

Dog Days Of Spring

When you’re talking Spring in Nashville, you can’t leave out allergies.  And as a guy who has continually tried to figure out how to rid myself of the the symptoms, I’m continually perplexed by the complexity.  Along with itching nose, eyes, and throat, comes a pounding head, sore muscles and joints, etc.

Trust me when I say I understand that allergies are an over-reaction by your body which tends to mean you’re out of balance.  With me, that can be an understatement, and I know the source is likely related to manufactured stress and unreasonable concern about the future.

The good news is, we just finished our full-length documentary called “Saving Banksy.”  If you’re not familiar, Banksy is a street artist from England whose work is prized by collectors, who often cut it out of walls (brick, concrete, wood) to sell the paintings at high-end art auctions around the world.  Here’s the trailer:

This has been a labor of love on parallel with training for my first Ironman.  It has completely taken over my life and most everything else (including swim, bike, run) has been an afterthought.

So much of the burden revolved around the idea of “not knowing.”  It was my first feature length film, and you don’t just throw these things on the internet. There are hundreds of variables, including having professionals sound mix, color correct, make Blu-Rays, etc.  Much like training, you just keep plowing ahead until you figure it out, and hope nothing goes wrong.

So far, so good, but it takes a toll when you get out of the moment.

Sure, we’ve made a film, but how do we make it a success?!  What if no one shows up?  How will we market?  And those are the kinds of questions that will never end, which is why I’m literally trying to take it day by day.

The same goes for IRONMAN Wisconsin.  It’s out there lingering, but instead of falling into my old traps of using Tri-Calc every day to figure out my road to success, I’m focusing on the little wins.  Like my mountain bike ride yesterday, which looked nothing like a typical IRONMAN workout.  It was living in the moment, and felt good.

This has become increasingly important to me with the evolution of recent back pain.  Muscles spasms from the insane amount of allergy sneezing, and a nagging crick in my neck that refuses to go away.  I don’t feel like it’s anything too serious, but it’s a constant reminder that I AM LUCKY TO EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING AN IRONMAN.

I went to a premiere party the other night for a TV show and had a short talk with a very optimistic guy who was in a wheel chair.  He genuinely seemed happy to be alive and that’s the kind of shit that always makes me feel like an idiot for complaining about a crick in my neck or a sore IT band.  I mean, what the hell?  I’m on my way to covering 140.6 miles with my legs and this guy has to sit down the rest of his life.

For me, it always points back to the moment.  This moment.  I can’t focus on my IRONMAN time, future success of the movie, or even training I “promise” I’ll do in the future.  It’s about appreciating today, and taking small steps in the right direction, even if they’re interrupted by a few sneezes and a sore back.

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@miketarrolly for video, life, etc.
@crushingiron for triathlon

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What Ironman Has Given Me

Five years ago I couldn’t run a mile.  I could barely swim one lap in the pool.  And while I am a natural cyclist, I had no idea what real riding meant.

I was lost, sluggish, depressed.

I knew things were out of control, and it took a video of myself to realize it.

Something had give and it turned up in the form of a Couch to 5k Challenge.

I didn’t particularly like running, but somehow I stuck with it through all the pain.  There was a lot of pain that first year.

Soon, I began to understand that pain, even embrace it a little.  I’m not talking about broken bone pain, but broken spirit.  Four years later, I am amazed at the power of the body and mind to battle through pain.

This September, I will compete in my 4th Ironman.  I cannot begin to explain how impossible this sounded to me only four years ago.  Even with my cycling background, I had only ever ridden 50 miles and that took me most of the day.  Now I would add a two and a half mile swim and a full marathon around 112 miles on the bike?  Absolutely no fucking way could a guy like me do this . . . especially at 50 years old.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, because it was hard.  Really hard.  Four hour spin bike rides followed by 40 minute runs in February?  Who wants to do that shit?  100 mile rides through hilly terrain?  It can really suck.

But somehow it all came together on a beautiful Fall day in Wisconsin about a year and a half after I started running.  Only one and a half years after I started running I finished an Ironman.

I don’t say that to brag (although I’m proud of it) I say it because it amazes me.  It plants an incredible seed of potential in my mind (your mind) about what is possible in life.

These last few months have uncovered a different kind of funk.  I’m sure it’s a familiar feeling for a lot of multiple Ironmen.  The challenge is no longer “can I do it,” but “how fast?”  That can be disconcerting.

I honestly feel like it’s time to take the lessons I’ve learned in Ironman, patience, belief, etc. and put that energy into becoming a more balanced person.  Maybe cutting those 10 milers in half and using 5 miles of running energy to create films, books, friendships.  Life experiences.

A lot of us have the habit of changing paths and dumping everything before it.  I really think the key to growth is to “transcend and include,” so I’m living with a new direction, but I’m not kicking Ironman to the curb.  There are too many valuable lessons and people in that world to walk away.

The more we see people “just like us” doing amazing things, the more we believe in ourselves. That’s really the thing about Ironman . . . it exposes us to endless possibilities, both on and off the course.

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Building Confidence For Your Ironman

Whether your goal is to crush Ironman, or just finish, you have to believe it’s possible.  But there are always little voices of doubt running through our heads.  So, how do we keep getting better, believe, and stay on path?

After college I started playing softball in my hometown with a bunch of talented friends.  We had big designs on dominating the local scene and taking our show on the road.  We were good in the small tournaments, but whenever we left the city, we’d crumble under the pressure.

At the end of our season, a traveling team from a nearby town picked up me up for higher-level tournament in St. Louis.  As we walked into the park with our gear, I saw some guys from a team that always beat my local boys and told my new teammates how good they were.  I’ll never forget our new coach’s reaction.

“Oh, those wimps?”

I was stunned because “those wimps” always pummeled us. But my new team was at a different mental level.

In reality, my small-town-team may have had more raw ability.  We were younger, faster, and more athletic.  But the new team had one thing we were missing:  real confidence.

There were 90 teams in that St. Louis tournament (most better than any I’d ever played) and my new team got 5th place.  That was the weekend I learned how to win.

There were three things different about my new team:

1.  They left their comfort zone to get better.
They played a lot of tournaments out of town against better teams.  They put in the work and challenged themselves in situations that were intimidating.  They’d get to the park early and warm up, take batting practice, etc.  They knew the only way to get better was to work on weaknesses.

2.  They didn’t panic when things when wrong.
My old team always struggled to score runs in tournaments.  When the pressure was on, everyone pressed, and if lucky we’d score 2 or 3 runs.  In the first game with my new team, we were losing 8-0 after the first inning!  I was demoralized and mentally packed my bags for the long trip home. But when I looked around the bench, the guys were laughing, seemingly without a care.  We promptly put up 6 runs and eventually won 26-10.  It all seemed impossible until I saw it with my own eyes.

3.  They stayed with their plan.
The guys on my new team knew their roles and limits.  Some guys were to get on base anyway possible, others were just supposed to hit the ball as hard as they could and trust it would find a hole.  They knew the odds of putting relentless focus on detail.  It didn’t “always” work, but 90% of the time, the little things paid off over the long haul of a game.

These are the simple principles I apply to triathlon.

Be Uncomfortable.
Whenever I train, I always try to do something new.  Something that takes me out of my comfort zone.  It could be wearing bad socks, veering off to tackle a steep grass hill, or riding in a harder gear for a while just to feel it.  It could be sprinting for 10 seconds to force a recovery, holding my breath under water, or experimenting without nutrition.  Nothing prepares you for the unexpected like challenging your comfort zone and trying to find peace in a new place.

Relax.
There’s really no way you can be 100% prepared for an Ironman, and understanding that goes a long way toward remaining calm.  Whatever happens is just a temporary situation.  It’s like a friend told me once, “Never trust how you feel at anytime during an Ironman, because 20 minutes later it’s likely to change.”  Regardless of what’s going on, there’s usually a solution. Staying calm is the best plan.

Don’t Waiver.
I’d venture that 90% of triathletes screw up their race on the bike because they are nicely rested, amped up, and feel great that day. But, none of us ever cover the entire Ironman distance until the race.  Taking risks too early is why you see so many football or basketball teams kick the crap out of their opponent in the first quarter, only to watch their lead disappear over time while the other team sticks to their plan.  Keeping a “negative split” mentality* (though very hard to actually do) is probably the best approach to racing Ironman.

Winning is rarely about beating your opponent into submission.  The competition is always with ourselves.  It’s about preparing for the unexpected, remaining calm, and staying the course.  It’s a long race and understanding how to win it starts with removing voices of doubt.

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* Making your second half of each segment faster than the first.