An Outsider’s Perspective On Ironman Training

I haven’t had a guest blog in a while, so I thought I’d give my neighbor, James, a chance to weigh in on what it’s like living next to a young man who is training for the Ironman.  Sort of an “outside the lines perspective” of the craziness.  I think James is a Bounty Hunter or something, so he always has an interesting perspective. 

Guest Blog – by James (Mike’s Neighbor)

What up?  First things first.  Mike is one crazy son of a bitch.  I see that boy runnin all hours of the night!  For real.  I be layin on the couch watchin my show at 9 o’clock and lil Jimmy start screamin, “There go Mike!” and I look out the window and sure as hell Mike be runnin’ … in the dark!  I’m like what the hell wrong with this boy?

But for real tho, Mike is cool.  He come home and let out that dog, Mattie, and throw the frisbie and whatnot and that dog jump like 5 feet in the air.  I ain’t playin.  Then Mike will get out the weed eater or some shit and work on that backyard.  He love that damn grass.  Sometimes he mow it twice in a row.  Like right ova the top a what he just mowed.  Some crazy ass shit, but that grass look good.  Sometimes it make me wanna clean up my backyard but I got that damn pontoon boat sittin out there with weeds and shit all over it.  I knew I shouldn’t let Harry put that rusty ass boat in my yard.IMG_20130430_134516_773

And Mike be bikin’ all the damn time.  He put on them white shoes and that tight ass suit and cruise up and down the boulevard like it ain’t shit.  Sometimes I think he went inside or somethin’ then he come ridin up from the otha way 3 damn hours later.  I be like “Hey Mike,” and he give me that quick wave and start runnin.  Shit don’t make no sense to me.

Then this mornin, I’m draggin my trash can out to the curb and he come walkin out the door at 5:30 in the damn mornin wearin a wet suit like he a damn Navy Seal or somethin.  And I mean I know he aint a Seal cuz I was in the service and he just don’t seem like he that tough or whatever, but he still cool.  He’s all like, “Hey James, I’m goin swimmin,” and I’m like, you a crazy motha f*cka to be goin swimmin when it 50 degrees.

I really think he know he crazy to be honest.  He be grillin out at midnight and shit.  Bringin ova like 20 friends and playin whiffle golf.  I mean whiffle golf . . . aint that some shit?  Knockin them lil balls around and drinkin beer while they listen to that crazy ass Lightning 100.  And don’t even get me started on above ground pool he think some shit outta Caesar’s Palace.

But for real, Mike is cool.  I told him I was gonna run with him sometime and got this treadmill set up so shit gettin real!

Losing Weight By Listening to Your Body

A fellow blogger/triathlete just made an intriguing post about weight loss and it got me thinking.  One of his theories is that he may (at times) need to eat more calories to lose weight because of the amount of training he does.  I think he’s right on the money. 

There are so many weight loss theories out there, but like everything else, nothing good comes easily.  If you’re restricting your calories while doing heavy training, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  The body needs fuel, and if it’s not there, it will start chewing away at your soul.

I honestly think there are three keys to genuine and lasting weight loss:

1.  Exercise often
2.  Slowly change your diet
3.  Get enough sleep

If you think about it, exercise is an ongoing series of pushing your body harder than normal, followed by recovering.  The workout will burn calories, then you need to refuel by putting them back.  I am not a nutritionist by any stretch, but I feel like I am very in tune with my body, and when I listen, it tells me what I need.

Last January I weight about 200 pounds.  Today I’m at 175.  Rarely, if ever, did I “force” myself to change what I eat.  My body told me what it wanted and I ate it.  This wasn’t always good stuff, but I think drastic changes in nutrition are just as bad as dramatic changes in workouts.  They may seem like a good plan, but eventually your body gets confused and starts fighting back. 

Learning happens in small steps, but it’s really hard to be patient these days.  If you want to teach your body to be a good swimmer, cyclist, or runner, go slow when raising your levels of intensity.  The same goes with food. 

If you’re eating junk and fast food all the time, that’s what your body knows.  Pouring tons of broccoli and fruit into your system is like walking into a Mormon church and screaming “Islam is the only way!”  It won’t work. 

I work in a fast food neighborhood and used to inhale combos 4 or 5 times a week.  I still eat that crap, but only about once a week and I NEVER feel guilty.  It’s only been a year and my body still remembers the greasy days, so occasionally we reminisce.

The final key is sleep.  If you’re not getting good rest and restoring broken down muscles, your body starts storing fat as energy.  It’s really simple.  We need good rest.  I’ve even had a friend tell me he thinks consistent meditation helped him lose a ton of weight, and I have no reason to doubt that.  Meditation helps you slow down the body and mind, which is essentially letting it recover from what it perceives as more demands.  

Most of us who need to lose weight dug our own holes.  We can’t expect years of unhealthy “teaching” to go away in a few days.  It takes consistency and conditioning for your body to learn (or re-learn) healthy living. 

My feeling is, if you crave a greasy cheeseburger and fries, do it, but then listen to your body.  Pay attention and learn from how it feels.  Are you bloated?  Sluggish?  Consciously put that into your brain.  Over time, you’ll naturally start rejecting things that don’t work.  You’ll hit more and more tipping points only to find better fuel more enjoyable.  Like most things in life, it’s better to pace yourself. 

 

 

Country Music Marathon – Post Script (one day later)

As I looked around Corral #1 at my fellow racers, I kind of chuckled inside.  Three hundred and sixty five days ago I was swaying nervously in Corral #16, having only started running three months earlier.  But Saturday, on a cold rainy morning, amazingly, I felt like I belonged.

Courtesy of The Tennessean
Courtesy of The Tennessean

I exchanged chit chat with other runners, people just like me, who were cool and confident about the road ahead.  I looked down at my bib #1805 and knew that meant I had predicted a finish around 1:30 for the half marathon.  I’m not sure how many corrals there were, but the throng of people went backwards as far as I could see.  I was literally starting 5 rows behind the elite runners.

I had been sick all week and the only exercise I mustered was a 2 mile run on Wednesday night that left me weak.  Sometimes being a little under the weather can help calm the nerves and it definitely did as the horn sounded and my feet started paddling their way down a water logged West End Avenue.

Everyone I talked to before the race said, “Don’t start too fast,” and I clearly didn’t listen.  I was floating along at my 10K PR pace for the first mile and downtown Nashville lingered like a carrot at the end of my stick.  I promised myself to regroup and slow down, but the second mile was even faster!  I was raging out of control, and by the time I reached the top of the long hill and hit mile 3, I had basically set my new best for a 5K at 22:54.

The good news is, I used to live on the course and knew I had a nice long downhill before climbing to the top of Music Row.  Mile 4 was a little more under control, clocking in at 7:32.

The end of that hill nearly nailed me to the cross, but I forged into the Belmont campus where another long and steady decline awaited.  I was humming nicely when I felt my shoelace flopping, and my mother screaming, “Tie your shoe, Michael,” so I stopped to do just that.  My hands were cold and suddenly I forgot how to tie a double bow knot!  It was full in-race spaz mode and must have tied 5 knots into that lace which I’m guessing took about 20 seconds, accounting for my slowest mile (7:49) of the race.  The worst part the feeling you get standing out of a crouch, but I quickly found the groove and nearly ran over some animated kid raking water stop cups in the middle of the street.

We turned left at the bottom of Belmont and snaked through a nice little neighborhood that is normally packed with people, but this time I saw a lot of abandoned signs staked in the yard that said, “Good luck, Jim” or “This water is for Felix.”  Really, that was the most unfortunate part of the rain, it kept the fans inside or on their porches.  And even the ones who were out there were kinda cheering from inside their ponchos.  The band support was a little sketchy, too, but I totally get why musicians wouldn’t want to fish their gear through the middle of a monsoon.

Coming up 12 South was a bit of a bitch.  There are about 6 rolling hills and the last two tested my limits.  That’s about the time I started feeling my left IT Band get a little squirrely as well.  From experience I knew it was the downhills that made it flare, and sure enough I was headed toward the longest one of the course, 16th Street, Music Row East.  I did my best to hold back a little, but as I began my decent, the music and screaming fans jacked me through the roof.  That was the most energizing part of the course for me and sent me down the hill like a rocket.

Cruising into the Gulch at mile 10 was my nemesis last year.  I could hardly feel my legs, but Saturday I felt pretty strong as I passed on yet another water stop.  It was really hard to drink water in the freezing rain, but I probably forced down three or four gulps during this race.

We turned the corner and ran through a shin deep water puddle on our way to the Farmer’s Market at Mile 12 and I was more or less in a daze by this point.  I knew we had two annoying switch backs ahead and did my best to stay with the ever-increasing pace of the closing runners, but at mile 13 I hit a wall.

As we exited Farmer’s Market, we curled right then back left to climb the final hill.  My knee was on the edge and I took it easy.  I was running out of gas quickly and knew I had to focus.  We swung around the block, then pushed another small hill before hitting the bridge and I heard sort of an inspirational run on sentence from fellow East Nasty, Geeky Gunjan, that gave me the jolt I needed.  I was on the bridge, nearly at the “point one” finish and another East Nasty, who I didn’t recognize, gave me a verbal push as he blew by toward the finish.  I turned the corner and sprinted home.

It seemed like it was over in a flash.  I felt pretty good about the race, and happy with my effort, but know I still have room to grow.  Ironman Wisconsin training has been unbelievable in my progress.  Training with guys like Jim, Daniel, Mark, and Kevin has pushed my limits beyond anything I could have imagined.  And coach Robbie’s inspiration and wisdom has opened my eyes to endless possibilities.

So, that was the race.  I signed up on a whim 10 days before and crushed last year’s time by 32 minutes, while beating my February 1/2 PR from New Orleans by five minutes.  The coolest part of all of this is that I wasn’t really sore this morning and knocked out 20 minutes in the pool and a short bike ride to keep it loose.

Oh, and I started all this business at age 48, did this half at 49, and got 19th out of 677 in the 45-49 age group.  It’s not too late if you really want it.

Here are my watch splits from Saturday:

Mile 1 – 7:15, Mile 2 – 7:03, Mile 3 – 7:28, Mile 4 – 7:29, Mile 5 – 7:49, Mile 6 – 7:09, Mile 7 – 7:19, Mile 8 – 7:38, Mile 9 – 7:19, Mile 10 – 7:23, Mile 11 – 7:26, Mile 12 – 7:32, Mile 13 – 7:42, Finish 6:11

Last year’s pace: 10:16
This year: 7:27

Blame It On The Rain

It rained the whole race.  Then it rained four straight hours after the race.  Country Music Marathon was good running, but a bummer on all other levels. 

People did their best to brave the elements and cheer on runners, and in the end, there was great support by the fans.  For running, it was almost perfect, and thankfully I felt strong for most of the race, even though I came out way too fast (possibly because I started in corral one). I was shooting for something below 1:40 and built a nice cushion by doing the first two miles at an average pace around 7:08.  Even the third mile, which is almost all a hill, was around 7:20.  I was feeling it.  But that’s not all I felt.

Around mile 9 my IT band started acting up and I elected to back off a little.  My pace was pretty strong and sub 1:40 seemed like it was in the bag, but I couldn’t read my watch because of contacts and the rain, so I was just looking for a “7” on the pace count and hoped it would all work out. 

It did work out.  I finished in 1:37:28, which is about 35 minutes faster than I ran this course last year and 5 minutes faster than I ran the very flat New Orleans Half.  All in all a good day, but literally two minutes after I crossed the finish line I was freezing. 

Soaking wet and standing there in a tank top, I quickly grabbed a race blanket and pulled it tight around me while I waited for friends to finish.  I walked out of the chute, looked for somewhere warm to hang, but unfortunately there were no options.  I walked back and forth near LP Field and was perplexed at why they didn’t open the stadium for people to get out of the rain.  It was absolutely brutal. 

People were shivering and waiting for people they couldn’t find because everyone looked identical wearing their “Rock n Roll marathon” warmer blankets.  It was a steady rain in 50 degree weather and I’m staring up at this massive stadium that is basically locked.  I don’t care if marathon people asked or not, the people in charge of LP Field should have saw it coming and offered the facility.  It is an incredulous oversight and I don’t care about politics or safety or anything else.  It should have been done. 

So, instead, I wandered like a vagabond, teeth chattering, and legs shaking, trying to find people I knew.  I ran into exactly two people I recognized, but had no clue how to find Rebekah, whose warm clothes were waiting in my car. 

My knee ached and I contemplated walking 6 blocks to the car and back, but thought it would be best to just hang, then walk together, and leave.  After almost two hours, I decided to go to the car, change, and bring her bag of clothes back.  All told, I was standing or walking in the rain for over 3 hours.  It was miserable and I still can’t believe they didn’t at least put up some more tents or something.  Not like it’s their first marathon in the rain. 

Anyway, the actual race was great considering the circumstances.  The post-race, however, was a nightmare.  I know you can’t plan for everything, but the forecast was calling for this exact weather a week ago.  It would have been very easy to make this a better experience. 

My Always Inspiring Teammate

Daniel never ceases to amaze me.  He is pure, authentic, and full of genuine passion for friends, training, and life.  Someone posted this quote from him (that I assume ran in the Tennessean) about the upcoming marathon.  He has a way with words that always seems to lift and inspire you to run toward your next day, week, or race. I’m proud to know him and have him as part of the Crushing Iron team as we inch closer to Ironman Wisconsin

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Revisiting My First Country Music 1/2 Marathon

They told me I wouldn’t sleep much . . . and they were right.  The Saturday before I had run the furtherst distance of my life, eight miles.  It was a painful lumber in the rain with my fellow “Couch to 5K Graduate,” Grant, on the flattest of Greenways.  Now, I was standing with 30,000 other people convincing myself I could go 5.1 miles further on what many consider one of the tougher 1/2 marathon courses. 719713-1005-0010sReduced

I stood next to my buddy Roger (who was also running his first 1/2) contemplating whether or not I could make it through the bathroom line in time to get back for the start.  I passed and hoped the feeling would go away.  Roger and I had the same goal of around 2:10 and started this journey together after a late night photograph revealed we were both turning into whales.  We trained on our own, but this race was in our sights for months.  His strategy was to listen to three songs with the same cadence over and over on his iPod to keep pace.  Mine was to keep running.  marathonbroadway

The gun went off and our corral inched its way toward the starting mat.  I was cold, had to piss, and was suddenly feeling very intimidated by the idea of running so far.  I stayed with Roger for about three blocks and his methodical precision started pulling away.  My biggest fear was starting too fast, so I purposely went slow, and soon . . . Roger was gone.  mikemarathonlookdown

It didn’t take long before I started feeling the reality of a 1/2 marathon.  As I got to the top of the infamous Demonbreun Street hill, I was barely 3 miles in and apparently falling asleep.  This was a risk that seemed like it was sure to have a bad ending.  mikemarathongrimace

But, I was on a mission and started using hallucinations to my advantage.  For some reason, I thought I had really picked up the pace and started spotting Roger every couple blocks.  I’d see him just within striking range and pour on the muscle with plans of flying by with a big back slap on the way.  But every time I got close, I realized it wasn’t him.  My haphazard racing style was no match for his West Point style of discipline.mikemarathonpain

For the first 9 miles or so, I was in pain, but nothing like I was about to face at mile 10.  I rounded the corner in the Gulch and hit an absolute wall.  In all my years of athletics, I have never experienced such a physical meltdown.  My legs basically shut off.  Instead of running I began to shuffle, and as you can see from the above photo, I was one of the sexier specimens on the course at this time.  They wound us into Bicentennial Park and before cutting left toward the finish line, the organizers dropped in a couple of turnarounds that absolutely ground my soul into mush.  It took every fiber of my being not to walk.  mikemarathonfight

My shins felt like they may literally crumble at any moment and it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were razor blades in my shorts slicing into my thighs with every step.  With less than a mile to go and a downhill ahead to take me home, I still wasn’t sure I could make it without walking.  Each step felt like I was putting my foot into a cauldron of boiling acid and that downhill would prove to be one of the more excruciating jaunts of my life.  719720-1297-0020sReducedCCFrom watching several marathons in the past I remembered the finish line being on the other side of the stadium, but through the grace of God, I was nearly brought to tears when I my creaky ankles turned at the bottom of the hill and pointed at the finish line a mere 50 yards away.  I saw the photographers hovering above ready to capture my glorious moment and put every ounce of energy I had left into raising my arms for the photo op.  mikemarathongirls

I was on the verge of fainting and these two girls didn’t seem to give one shit about the fact that my eyes were rolling back into my head.  The good news was, that about 10 steps after the finish line, I found myself immersed in a claustrophobic sea of humanity, which may have been the biggest challenge of the race.  I was a lost boy without a home (or a medal) and instinctively started shouting “Yo Roger” in the voice of Stallone looking for Adrian.

719808-1004-0004sReducedCCEventually I got my medal and found Roger.  We were the proudest two guys on the block and immediately started asking people if they were using their extra beer tickets.  It was like 9:30 and we were putting them back like true Wisconsin born lumberjacks.  We were so impressed with our feats that we wore those medals all day and night.  He finished about 5 minutes in front of me and eventually went on to run a full later that year in Huntsville before moving to the Key’s to be a full-time musician.  It was quite the memory, and in 3 days, I will be on that same course.  No Roger, no fear, and hopefully no pain.

Country Music Marathon

The early forecast is 60% chance of thunderstorms, but I have faith Saturday will turn out in the runner’s favor.  I’ve worked in the news business long enough to know that extended predictions are iffy.  Much like my prediction for this race from two weeks ago. 

This will likely be my ultimate test of trusting my taper.  I was going strong until Saturday, but temporary illness squashed my training plans for Sunday and Monday.  Tonight, I’ll put in a little jog and maybe run again Thursday, but I haven’t had a run over 5 miles in almost three weeks.  The workouts have been loaded with swim and bike, though and I have to trust the cross train. 

Initially I thought I would go after a PR in this race, which would be something less than 1:42, but I think I will likely just use it as a training day and finish around 1:50 or something.  It’s a tough course and I have the Rev 3 Olympic the following Sunday.  (You can track me at Rev on Twitter @miketarrolly). 

Anyway, this would certainly be a lull on the training confidence meter, but I know the energy of the crowd and the rally for Boston will be a huge driver once I cross that timing mat.  It was my first half last year and even though I said what I just said, I really plan on getting a burst of adrenaline that helps me crush the streets of my own city. 

Ironman Training Snags

Nothing will make you feel like a “non-Ironman” more than being sick.  The last two days I’ve battled spring allergies, good old fashioned gunk, and some serious psychological doubts.  But, there really is opportunity in everything, and what I learned (or more importantly remembered) yesterday couldn’t have come at a better time. 

When I see that “4 Months” remaining on my countdown clock, I begin to realize this race will be here and gone before we know it.  The training has been steep and will only grow in intensity, but while time flies, it’s really important to take a step back and just look around.  That’s exactly what I did Sunday and Monday.  That’s when I realized I was dehydrated and depleted. 

I spent most of yesterday re-kindling my love of juicing fresh fruits and vegetables.  The transformation was no less than amazing.  I went from barely being able to talk, breathe, or walk, to feeling better than I have in weeks. 

When you train at this level, you rarely recover and a specific workout doesn’t really show up for a couple weeks.  They talk about nutrition being the fourth discipline of Ironman and on many levels, it could be the first.  Momentum, willpower, and pure desire can only carry you for so long.  At some point the body will shut down without the proper fuel. 

I still feel remnants of sickness, but there is no question I’m on the rebound, and fast.  I feel like pounding a workout right now, but will likely just take an easy jog after work.  And, let me tell you the key part of that last sentence is “I feel like pounding out a workout.”  For the last few weeks I have been “motivated” to pound a workout, but it’s pretty rare that I’ve actually wanted to hammer. 

I’ve been trying to listen to my body for the last 4 months, but a lot of times I block myself out and power through when I know I’m not ready.  This is a bad plan.  We learn and improve in small increments.  Humans have an amazing ability to go above and beyond, but I think that’s what coach means by saying we only have a couple matches to burn a year.  And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to burn them in training. 

So, the key comes back to this.  Proper nutrition, hydration, and performing a workout plan that will slowly elevate you to the level you need to reach.  If I stand on that start line in Wisconsin and “feel like” I can do it, I probably will.  If I stand there less than in my best mental and physical shape or worn down, I will have major doubts. 

From what I can tell, Ironman training is a slippery slope.  It’s not as simple as just logging miles.  It is a complex weave of balance and belief.  More than anything, I want to be in the best shape of my life that day, and more importantly, I want to feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. 

I’m Doing The Country Music Half

Just under a year ago I toed the line for my first 1/2 marathon a nervous child in a man’s body.  I had never run more than 8 miles and was attempting 13.1 on soon to be sweltering day in Nashville, TN.  Over 30,000 other runners stood in front of and behind me waiting for the magical moment.  And I really had to pee.

The pre-race lines were way too long and I stood in corral 16 squeezing my legs together and hoping that somehow my need for a bathroom would go away.  Then the people started moving and I followed.  It was too late now.

I crossed the start line and began to run.  The crowd and energy made me forget both why on earth I would try something like this and my urge to find a hidden tree.

The Nashville Skyline stood proud in the distance and I slogged my way toward the center of downtown.  Thousands of fans cheered and held signs above their heads and I was swept up in the emotion as I ran by my first Nashville apartment.  The Honky Tonks were rockin’ and I nearly floating as I made the turn towards the big long hill that everyone complains about.

The sun was rising and it was starting to get hot.  I ran for what seemed like forever and finally reached the “roundabout” at Music Row.  People were everywhere and the band at mile 3 was knee deep in a Stones’ classic.

This scene repeated itself for the next 8 miles and I was elated . . . until I suddenly realized my legs felt like bricks.  I could hardly move and my “swift” 10 minute pace fell like a rock to 11:30, but I kept churning.  I would not walk.

544976_3647370375478_1287674133_nIt was all I could do to stay on my feet running down the final hill and turning into the finish line chute.  Somehow, I made it, and it was the most amazing feeling.  I entered 2012 with no intention of running and less than four months later I ran a 1/2 marathon.  I felt invincible.

I have come a long way since then and have many bigger plans, but after the events in Boston and the show of community pride following the tragedy, I couldn’t stop thinking about that initial run down Broadway in my hometown.  Today at lunch, I happened to be on that very road, stuck in traffic, and wished I could just park the car and run.  Next Saturday, that is exactly what will happen.