A Case for Strength Training

Okay, this isn’t formal case for weight training . . . like everything else in my repertoire, I’m going by gut feeling.

The last couple of weeks I have been following my coach’s leg training plan.  Lunges, squats, calf raises, hamstrings, quads, box steps, etc . . . and I can honestly say it feels like it’s making a major difference in, not only my strength, but my attitude.

I don’t understand physiology, but have read enough to know that it’s important to stimulate muscles on a deeper level.  I fear that simply swimming, biking, and running just sort of scratches the surface.  After three weeks, it is quite obvious to me that spending a bit of time pushing your muscles harder with weights is critical to building speed and endurance.


Before getting into Ironman I was always miffed by how people could go these distances.  Early in my training, I thought it was all about cardio, but now I know skeletal and muscle strength is a much bigger issue for most.

Don’t get me wrong, excellent cardio shape plays in a big way, but for most people running the end of an Ironman at 10-14 minute miles doesn’t seem to have much to do with cardio.  It was never my breathing and always my legs.  They hurt, a lot.

If I’m gonna push my muscles to go faster, doesn’t it make sense that they should be well-rounded and stronger?  I’m pretty sure that’s what got me in trouble last year.  Trying to train fast on “weak” legs created all kinds of nagging injuries that never recovered.

I plan to run often this winter, but mainly to keep my legs familiar with the motions.  Nothing too hard or fast.  And in the process I’ll lifting heavier and heavier weights.  Maybe even doing these Turkish Get Ups like I saw some guy at the gym doing last night.



How I’m Handling the Off Season

I’ve always felt that life is about balance and finding vitality, but it’s really hard to achieve and seems to be getting worse.  Social media is a continual stream of “look at me and all the awesome stuff I’m doing,” but someone’s public feed rarely tells the whole story.

So, I am trying to take it all with a grain of salt (I should probably not go on Facebook as much) and stay focused on the right plan for me.  And that right plan is to strengthen my frame, or as my coach says, “Rebuild the chassis.”

I’ve been walking a lot, doing yoga, weight training, a bit of swimming and a little running. The trouble with doing a “little” (especially when combined with the societal pressure) is that omnipresent fear that you’re not doing enough.

Yesterday, I just sort of had to get a grip on my current status.  So, after a four mile walk with my dog, I put on the watch and hit the trails for a run.

The goal wasn’t to go fast, I just wanted to see if I could do around 8 miles without struggling.  And, after walking Mattie through the scenery, it was hard to resist.

Shelby Bottoms Trails

I took off with my sights on 10-minute-miles and stayed pretty close to that as I blazed these gorgeous trails and mixed in a few short stretches on the connecting blacktop.  I decided that will actually be part of my new strategy.  I much prefer the cushion and serenity of dirt and grass, but it is a noticeable impact difference on pavement, so I don’t want to run away from it completely.

I don’t want to proclaim it was an easy run, but it kind of was.  My hips got a little tight by the end, but the real payoff was that I actually felt refreshed as I sat around watching my Badgers demoralize the state of Nebraska.

My tendency to push too hard beats me up, and this is the exact opposite of my plan.

In my case, “what I am training for” will be measured by my time at Ironman Chattanooga, and while it is still 10 months away, I don’t want to miss my opportunity to use this off season to my fullest.  That opportunity is building slowly so I am not battling injury next season.  Yesterday’s run was a great example of how I can go for a decent distance (1:15) and not strain my achilles, IT band, or ankles.

I don’t really even feel like I ran yesterday, and I kinda think that’s the point.  It reminds me of something a martial arts instructor told me once while I was complaining about being tired all the time.  He said, “Exercise is supposed to give you energy, not take it away.”  I try not to forget that, but often do.




New Pool Workout

My swimming improvements are sort of remarkable.  In my first Olympic I thought I was having a heart attack while I held onto the kayak after only 200 yards.  I was this close to quitting and giving up triathlon all together.  Now I’m not only comfortable in the water, it’s probably my favorite sport.

But it’s tough to keep in a swim groove, especially when it gets cold outside, so I’m trying to stay realistic with my expectations.  Just get to the pool once a week or so to keep it familiar.

Yesterday, I ran into my coach in the locker room and he suggested a new workout that isn’t about yards as much as building power.  I can’t imagine having a coach that is more passionate about swimming, so as usual, I listened carefully as he explained.

-  Start with a little warm up.
-  Next go to 5 x 100 with paddles, pull buoy, and your feet strapped together with a race belt.
-  Then take away the paddles for 5 x 50
-  Then take away the pull buoy for 5 x 25
-  Then swim without any of them for 200

It’s exactly the kind of low-distance workout that I love, but let me tell you, by the time I got to the last couple 25′s with just my feet tied, it was tough.

The whole point is to build power, turnover, and keep good body position.  I have always had a tendency to over-rotate and take my head too far out of the water, so he’s always working to keeping me streamlined.

I tried the band a few times last summer in open water and it’s not fun, but once you figure out how to swim without letting your body drop straight down, it is a major breakthrough.  I think it was ultimately the key to me cutting 15 minutes off my Ironman swim in Louisville.

A second part of that equation is to breathe with only one eye out of the water, and somehow they both work together.  Keep your head lower and your feet stay higher.



On another note, I really wonder about the effects of chlorine.  I made sure to take a long soapy shower after swimming, but later that night still smelled chlorine, and worse, had this depleted feeling or something.  Like it gets into your nerves and toys with you in a toxic manner.   It’s weird, though because last summer before my race I swam nearly two weeks straight without problems.  Is this something related to the cold weather?  Ie… dry skin and less sweating?  Please send me info.



Make The Best of What You Have

“Never judge a day by the weather.” – Zig Zigler  

A triathlete friend of mine was telling me about the woman who lets him store his snowmobile at her home in Northern Wisconsin.  She’s an elderly woman, lives alone, and has already reported 18 inches of snow.  She also plows her own driveway with a blade attached to her riding lawnmower.

I said, “Dude, that sounds like paradise, you should move there!”

He said, “Fuck that, it’s early November and it will be like that through the end of May.”

It’s really kind of remarkable that people even survive in those conditions.  No wonder Tomahawk, Wisconsin is known more for its drinkers than its triathletes.

I moved to Nashville from Wisconsin in March of 2003 and didn’t wear a jacket until December of that year.   I’m not sure if my blood has thinned or what, but now mornings like today give me pause, and it was probably in the low 40′s.

One thing growing up in the North taught me was that you have to make the best of what you have.  You have two choices, sit around and wait for things to change, or adjust to what you’ve been given.

I lived in Minneapolis for a year and till this day think it’s one of the most active places I’ve been.  There would literally be two feet of snow on the ground, cars plowed under, and a bitter wind ripping down Hennepin Avenue and people would put on their layers and go celebrate life’s options.

The gyms, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, and frozen lakes were always packed.  I can never remember anything being cancelled by the weather.

Living with bitter cold and snow makes you appreciate even the slightest reprieve.  Two feet of snow may stop you from running, but one foot might not.

If 50 percent of the battle is putting on workout clothes, the other half is taking the first step.  Don’t ever judge a day by the weather, just dress for it and get your ass out the door.

• Click this photo for snow running tips.

Two women run down Mountain Avenue in a snowstorm.


A Lot of Running Thoughts

I’ve been reading a lot of things about running lately.  Not running, but reading about it.

This morning I saw a surprising amount of people running on the Greenway at 6:30 am while I was walking my dog.  I guess people do run that early.

I thought about running a lot today and eventually ran one mile on the treadmill before doing a leg workout.  It felt fine, but I can’t stand treadmills.

Running is going to be the key for me this year.  I want to be the best runner I’ve ever been, so I’m preparing for that by reading, thinking, and observing.

I wonder if that will work.

Ironman Chattanooga Run

She’s a good runner.

Ironman St. Louis 70.3 Gets Real-er

If you had doubts about Crushing Iron’s investigative prowess, fear no more.  We recently uncovered this document from the City of Wildwood that leaves little doubt that Ironman 70.3 St. Louis is all but a lock for June 7th.  (excerpt from cited document below).



I’ve never been to Wildwood, but I have a ton of faith in their City’s Board of Public Safety, and anyone that has a Bicycle Advisory board is alright by me!

I know there’s been a lot of chatter about Chattanooga, but St. Louis is the home of the Cardinals, Jim.






What Art Teaches Me About Ironman

I have been watching a lot of films lately.  Partly because I’m editing one; but more importantly I’m trying to be more patient, disciplined, and mentally prepared in life — and training.  It’s not easy in the day of Social Media.

When I was preparing for my first Ironman I would eagerly log onto Facebook for the inspirational posts.  There was always a flood of workout recaps and this either made me feel guilty or gave me motivation.

But I have become increasingly frustrated with this strategy.  The real stuff is inside us, not cloaked in headline chatter of strangers.

Serendipity often presents itself if we’re listening and last night I was blown away by a documentary on performance artist, Marina Abramovic, who pulled off one of the more incredible feats of mental strength I have ever discovered.  For three months, she sat in silence for her exhibit “The Artist is Present,” at the Museum of Modern Art.

Talk about patience.

This is how her installation is described on the film’s website:


Marina Abramovic Artist is Present

Talk about discipline.

What captivated me most was how the people reacted to Marina’s energy.  By the end of her exhibit people were sleeping outside MoMA for a chance to sit in the chair across from her the next day.  She gave each person her full attention.  Her eyes pierced their souls and many described it as a healing experience.  The only place Marina could go, was deeper into the moment.

I mean, can any of us sit in silence for 10 minutes, let alone 9 hours a day for 3 straight months?

Talk about mental preparation.

How did she prepare for this?  The film didn’t focus much on methods, but there was an omnipresent stream of anxiety leading to her exhibit.  It reminded me of my preparation for Ironman, which more or less centered on the unknown.  Would it be the end of the world if she didn’t finish, no, but the potential was very real.

Somehow, Marina had to prepare for the unknown.  Sitting in silence for three months can only happen one moment at a time.  Focusing on the end by guiding the current breath in the right direction.

The Hardest Part

On the surface, her feat was exactly the opposite of an Ironman.  We travel 140.6 miles, she didn’t move an inch.

But those hours she spent sitting on a chair sound exponentially more difficult than racing a triathlon.

For me, moving is the easy part.  Patience, discipline, and mental preparation are the real challenges.




What My Dog Teaches Me About Racing . . . and Life

To be honest, I never really wanted a dog.  Somehow, Matisse, just sort of landed in my life.

As the story goes, she was abandoned on the side of the road and survived on her own for a few days.  I like to say she grew up in the streets.


She’s a good dog, but dogs are a lot of work.  At least for someone who isn’t used to having one.  It’s getting easier, though.

When I’m present, she teaches me a lot, especially how to be satisfied with the simple things in life.  Like stopping and smelling the roses, coffee, or in her case . . . anything!


Mattie’s lived with me most of her life, and I think she likes it, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.  It doesn’t seem like she’s truly happy unless she’s moving around.  I know the feeling.

Lately I’ve made a commitment to take her on longer walks and it seems like good karma.  We’ve ventured off the trails into the deep woods, even started hanging out along the hidden creeks.

It sounds cliche’ but she is truly in touch with nature.  Every scent, sound, or movement takes her breath away.mattieshelbypose2

She’s insanely curious and goes absolutely bat-shit whenever she meets . . . anyone!

Keith Urban might as well be Keith Fleck from down the block.  Jack Freedmore is just as big a deal as Jack White.  And Sparky might as well be Old Yeller.

It just doesn’t matter.  She loves everyone and gives them all a chance.

Every morning after a perfect downward-dog, she tears into the backyard to chase squirrels.  She’ll run up and down the fence for an hour, barking at the top of her lungs.  I keep expecting her to give up, but she never does.

If I decide to take her for a run, she’ll immediately forget the squirrels and move to the pavement.  If I jog, she models my speed.  If I go faster, she hits another gear.  Fast, slow, walk, run.  It doesn’t matter, she’s ready to go.  She loves to move and always with perfectly relaxed form.

I think running tense is the biggest mistake we can make.  The body should flow and we should allow it to so without resistance.


She goes balls-out when awake, but doesn’t hesitate to get her rest.  They say dogs take on characteristics of their owner, and I have no reason to doubt them.

Recovery is probably the last thing on the mind of endurance athletes, yet it is the most important to remember.  When we’re worn down, no amount of sprints or light jogging or hill repeats rebuild our body.

She eats, sleeps, greets, flows and lives with passion.  Oh, and, unlike me, never turns down an invitation to ride.



How I Will Dominate

The last few months have been weirder than normal.  I left my job of 15 years to pursue my passions, but I wasn’t clear on what these passions were.  I had a vague direction, but at the core, I simply wanted the freedom and space to discover what really made me happy.

This is a very important topic for me and I think it has a direct connection to IRONMAN. Ironman may be a goal, but now it means nothing if I don’t understand the other 364 days before and after each race.

It’s the proverbial, what do athletes do when the stadium lights are turned off?  It can’t be the “identity,” there has to be deeper meaning, or possibly no meaning, but either way, it’s important to know why we chase a goal.

It always comes back to living in the moment.

The other night I was waiting at a restaurant for a friend. I asked the server for a piece of scrap paper and went into a stream of conscious writing on a Guest Check.

How I Will Dominate

1.  Don’t try (to please everyone)
2.  Pay attention
3.  Be passion
4.  Own myself
5.  Captivate
6.  Be persistent
7.  Walk
8.  Run
9.  Persevere
10.  Roll with it
11.  Be an artist
12.  Be a musician
13.  Be invincible
14.  Be humble
15.  Love

When I wrote “dominate” it was more about Crushing Life than Iron, but it’s appropriate for both because in many ways a long and challenging race like Ironman is symbolic of what we face each day.  If we’re not enjoying the process, what’s the point?

I think it comes down to having faith and not being consumed with the end, and frankly I have been terrible about that most of my life.  Putting myself into uncomfortable situations just to prove to the world I can be amazing.  But none of that matters because history has proven that humans can do just about anything they put their minds to, except consistently be in the moment.

So, really, it has nothing to do with proving anything to anyone, except myself.  And the more I think about it, that burden lies in exhibiting a happy and consistent pursuit of a life I love.

Crushing Iron








Don’t Look Back

Sometimes while I’m running, even 3 or 4 miles, I try to re-create the pain of an Ironman Run in my mind.  It’s not easy, or likely possible, but I dig deep for that feeling.  It’s elusive, and more or less, unexplainable.

I’m reading “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” by Haruki Murakami, and I think he explained it pretty well when he described his feeling while running at 62 mile Ultramarathon:

“All I can see is the ground three yards ahead, nothing beyond.  My whole world consists of the ground three yards ahead.  No need to think beyond that.  The sky and wind, the grass, the cows munching the gras, the spectators, cheers, lake, novels, real it, the past, memory — these mean nothing to me.  Just getting me past the next three yards — this was my tiny reason for living as a human.  No, I’m sorry — as a machine.”

Why would I want that feeling in the first place?  I think it’s a pretty valid question and I’m not convinced there’s a logical explanation.  I suppose it has something to do with being prepared, but we can’t really control our future.

Two times I’ve climbed off a one-hundred-twelve mile bike ride with aspirations of running a marathon.  Both times the feeling was different.

At Wisconsin, I could barely walk and the thought of running 26 miles was laughable.  But somehow, I pulled it off and crossed the line in ecstacy.

At Louisville, I actually felt pretty good, and had my running legs very quick, but they fell apart just as fast.  I blew up in the heat and was overwhelmed with relief when I heard Mike Reilly shout my name.

But, both times, I remember feeling like I was in another world.  A very small world, three yards in front of me.  It was less like running than searching the deepest places of my being to manage the pain.

Wisconsin was like a Chinese water drip torture.  A consistent, nagging pain.  Step after step I hurt just a slight bit more and my mind somehow won.  I felt like a champion.

Louisville was more like a haunted house where I never knew what lurked around the next corner.  Sometimes it was a creepy old lady tantalizing my nerves in her rocking chair, others it was Jason in his hockey mask.  My heart and emotions were all over the board and by the time I ran down 4th Street and crossed the line, all of my fears had washed away.

For some reason, those emotions are fleeting.  In that moment I had no questions about who I was or why I would do such a thing.  But the lights fade and the medal tarnishes.  In the big picture that finish line is no different than those thousands of 3-yard-moments I experienced along the way.

And I guess that’s the point.  I will never be able to recreate those feelings and I’m probably best to leave them be while I embrace new ones.

Ironman Louisville Finish Line