Idiots Guide to Triathlon #IMWI

One of the challenges of writing this blog is that it’s easy to sound like an idiot.  I’m blathering on about Ironman before I’ve ever done one.  But, before I know it, I’ll be floating in Lake Monona and all of these words, postulations, and unknowns will be mute.

The last nine months have taken my fitness to levels I never dreamed possible.  Four hour bike rides followed by hour long runs.  Four thousand meter swims in the morning and two hard hours on the trainer at night.  And through it all, one thing has remained the most important factor in my training:  I have trusted my gut and listened to my body.

I’ve never seen the point in chasing miles.  I take a lot of shit for this, but I do not like to go to extreme lengths, especially when I’m deprived of sleep.  I would rather skip or delay a workout than risk injury because my muscles haven’t recovered.  In many ways, I’m still building my base for years to come.

I’ve learned a lot since we started training in January, and one thing is undeniable . . . no plan is fool proof.  Everyone has their own methods but most of us struggle with the same questions.

Mileage . . . nutrition . . . burnout . . . wheels . . . strength training . . . race weight . . . recovery?

I’ve been fortunate to have a coach to bounce these (and hundreds more) questions off.  He has laid the groundwork, adjusted to my fitness level, and been there for motivation at the right times.  The rest has been up to me.

I’ve yet to bike more than 80 miles and my furthest run is 14.  A ton of people have told me about the dreaded biking and running walls, but I’m trying not to get caught up in that because triathlon is so mental it’s mind blowing.  I’m focused on remaining confident,  training hard, and trusting my strategy.  The struggle will be there, it’s just a matter of how I handle the pain.

On September 8th I will be chasing Ironman a mere 13 months after my first Sprint.  It has been a daunting journey which has transformed into a lifestyle.  I’ve become highly tuned into my body and it says some powerful things when I let it talk.  I just hope our conversations haven’t gotten lost in translation.

The Difference Between Good and Great

This morning was tough. 

I woke up “late” (at 5:15 am) and got to open water swim just as everyone completed their warm ups.  I knew it was a mistake, but instead of taking time to get loose, I jumped right into the drills and started the day ahead of myself with short breath and a tingling of swim anxiety.  After 3 drills, I felt tired, almost to the point of exhaustion, and decided to cut the morning swim short.  I drove home, sat on the on the porch in absolutely perfect weather, and got introspective.

The thought that kept crossing my mind was, why do I keep going back?

I’ve played sports my entire life, but baseball was my first love.  I was on a lot of good teams and that won a lot of games.  But none of them where what what I would call great.  I can hear the jokes already, but I didn’t truly learn what it takes to win until after college when I started playing softball.

I started in the beer league with the big fish/small pond attitude.  We gathered our baseball buddies and thought we were the best thing since sliced bread as we carved our way through other small town teams made up of guys that used to be in band or the chess club. 

This was all really good for our ego, but we didn’t always win.  Our shiny brand of cockiness was often exploited by older teams.  We had a ton of baseball talent, but didn’t know the first thing about winning. 

One day the coach from our local traveling team, a grizzly 50-year-old bar owner with a big gap in his teeth, asked me and my brother if we’d want to play with them in St. Louis the following weekend.  I didn’t know much about his team because they were always playing out of town and banned from our rinky dink league.  After a few beers I told him, “What the hell.” 

Next thing I know, I’m in a car headed to St. Louis with no idea what to expect.  There were nearly 80 teams in the tournament and each had to qualify by winning a previous tournament or accumulating enough points in others.  These guys we’re big, strong, and athletic . . .  and I was a little intimidated.  

I’d played against one of the teams in various tournaments with my bar league squad and they mopped our clocks.  I told my new coach I thought they were pretty good, and I’ll never forget his answer, “Who, those guys?  They’re a bunch of pussies.  You’d be the best player on that team . . . by far.”  

As it turned out we played that team in our second round and found ourselves down by SEVEN runs in coming up to bat in the bottom of the first inning.  They put on a hitting clinic and as I jogged back to the bench, I thought our tournament was over.  But coach had a different perspective. 

I was used to a bunch of guys bitching about screwed up plays and screaming at each other to “Go hit the f*cking ball!” 

The demeanor of my new team was 100% different. 

Coach started making jokes about the other team being a bunch of sissies and how they were about to see how a real team swings the bat.  My bar league team would have crumbled at that thought of coming back from seven runs down, but I sensed something very different about the culture that surrounded me. 

I sat quietly on the bench and wondered how everyone could be so calm. 

Our lead off hitter rolled a single up the middle.  The second hitter followed with a line drive to right field.  Our third hitter doubled and the clean up man hit a home run.  It was now 7-4.  The hit parade continued through the order until me and my brother stroked back to back singles in the last two places of the line up to knock in the 7th and 8th runs.  We still had no outs. 

The lead off man started it again with an infield single and by the time we went back to the field we’d put up 15 runs to lead 15-7.  I cannot express the impact this had on my mindset.

We went on to score something like 30 runs in that game and held the other team to their original 7.  I’d seen it in spurts, but my new team had something none of my previous teams really had.  An unwavering confidence that was contagious. 

We won the next four games before losing a close game, and were eventually eliminated, but took 5th place in the tournament out of 80 teams.  My confidence shot through the roof and literally changed me as an athlete. 

I played with that team for four more years and we won countless tournaments, including a clean sweep one year in the state of Indiana where we went 23-0.  Our grizzly coach eventually bought a tour bus and we played in Louisville, Detroit, Minneapolis, Ohio, even Florida.  More times than not we landed in the top 5.  The only time we struggled was when there was palpable burnout.   

So, as I sat there on my porch looking at the trees this morning I thought about my poor swim and what it really meant in the big scope of Ironman training.  I showed up, made the effort, but couldn’t finish and felt guilty about walking away. 

Aside from the softball story I just told, the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned from baseball is how to come back from failure.  The batter’s box can be a humbling place.  Even in my best seasons I made outs 60% of the time and that really teaches you how to look forward.  

Today’s swim was just a bad at bat in a long season.  Now it’s my job to stay focused and make sure I’m ready when I step in the batter’s box with bases loaded and two outs in the ninth on September 8th.   

 

 

 

Ironman Wisconsin Will Be My First Marathon #IMWI

As I inch closer to Ironman Wisconsin, I have one major question gnawing at my insides:

Will the fact that I probably won’t run more than 16 miles (ever) be a problem on the marathon?

I am trusting the hell out of this process and one reason is . . . I have no choice. 

From Day 1 of Ironman Training (sometime around January 3rd) I have had to reel in my training.  I simply wasn’t prepared for the intensity and made a few mistakes early on just to save face. 

For example, we had early training rides (indoors) of 3 and 4 hours scheduled in February and I reluctantly suffered through them, even though my longest ride in many many years was an Olympic race (or thereabouts) of one hour and twenty minutes. 

After several post-ride collapses that included long naps and limping around the house, I decided to implement a new strategy.  I said to myself, “Self, if there are times when you feel you ‘could’ finish a long workout, but know it will put you down for a couple days, walk away on top.” 

So, that’s what I started doing in the pool, on the bike, and on runs.  If my workout was starting to feel like a detriment to my body, I would save myself.  Four thousand meter swims became 2,500, four hour bikes turned into 2 1/2.  Two hour runs, 1.5.  But, the difference was, I always made the workouts count from an intensity perspective. 

I had to remember that I literally just started running last year and other than some light biking and swimming over the last decade, the thought of doing Ironman Distance was laughable. 

The other day I expressed concern to my coach about my running history, or more accurately lack of history.  He simply said, “Stay the course.”  And I trust that opinion.

Instead of panicking into long distances I have focused on a gradual, consistent build knowing that as I approach my first Ironman, I had to be at peace with patience.  Trust the process and shine for one day. 

Last night as I was running my planned 90 minutes (which turned out to be about 80), I added up the mileage.  Sunday was an hour Monogetti run (sprint workout) of about 8 miles, Monday was around an 8 mile hill explosion, and last night was about 9 miles with some nice hills in the middle.  Tomorrow I have another Monogetti waiting and Saturday is a 45 minute brick run after 4 hours on the bike.  That’s will equate to around 30 miles of pretty intense running in 7 days. 

I have already given in to the fact that (aside from passing a kidney stone) the marathon will likely be the biggest test of pain tolerance in my life.  26.2 miles of pounding after the swim and bike.  I guess asking why I’d want to do it is a fair question and I think the answer lies somewhere in a quote I saw posted by Payge McMahon today: 

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RX Endurance Athlete of the Week (My Training Partner)

RX Endurance Athlete of the Week (My Training Partner)

It’s not always easy to come up with a new blog, but some days they fall right in your lap.  I woke up to a text this morning about Racer K from our coach:

“For the sake of the Fab 5 +1, +2, I’m going to heavily edit Racer K’s Athlete of the Week write up because he talks ALOT of shit.” 

I was confused because I had already awarded Racer K Crushing Iron Athlete of the Week right around the time he was East Nasty of the Week.  So, he’s won yet another award??  Yes, he has.  The coveted RX Endurance (our training group) Athlete of the Week has now been added to Kevin’s growing list of accolades. 

Following is Kevin’s story and how his perspective on Ironman has shifted this year.  He talks about what he’s learned and how training with a group of people dedicated to giving their best effort has impacted his life.  I have witnessed Kevin ride a roller coaster of training emotions and can honestly say the most impressive and inspiring thing about Kevin is that, no matter what circumstances he faces, he is always ready to work, and in constant pursuit of improving, both in training and in life.

RxE Athlete of the Week- Kevin Gammon (Racer K)

This week’s athlete of the week is one of our more intriguing athletes, Kevin “Racer K” Gammon. In many areas Kevin has come as far as any of our athletes since the beginning of the year. His swim especially has transformed into a strength rather than a weakness due to his hard work and determination. We have shared a few CTJ rides together on the Trace where less than 10 words are spoken. He often keeps to himself but when he speaks you should listen. I asked Kevin to write about whatever he wanted and this is what he had to say…..

“It drives me crazy when people ask me to write about myself.  When coach “asked” me to write this up my mind went in a million different directions.   I didn’t want this to be your typical biography write-up because I already have a few of those out there.  Luckily, after a short run it became glaringly obvious what I actually needed to type about.  My journey with Robbie and the athletes of Rx Endurance has been centered on motivation.   The past 8 months have been more mental in nature than physical.   I believe that any progress I’ve made this year has been in my mind first and body second.  Motivation is a tricky thing.  Everyone’s motivation is different; there is not good measure of motivation.  Worse, it can be fleeting and hard to repair when damaged.   You can’t just “give” motivation; it has to be a spark from within.  And yet it is the most important thing an athlete can have.   Let me tell you where my motivation comes from and how RxE helped change it.

I started my trip seeking “things.”  There are a lot of athletes out there, and I was one of them, that race “for the medal.”  I have a wall full of them.   I also wanted the magnet on the car.   It is neat to be able to sit around and tell people you finished an Ironman.  That can get you more free beer than you would think.  A lot of people are like this and I’m not going to be the one to say anything is wrong with it.   At least not on Facebook.  Personally speaking I’ve found that if finishing was enough then I seldom improved.  I just… finished. When I started working with Robbie I was still in this phase.  That was, if I remember correctly, around last December.

Then you add in the people.  The people at Rx Endurance are amazing.  I can’t say enough about them and you will love hearing their stories. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than fighting with Mike at 6:00 a.m. trying to beat him to the buoy and back. My competitive history with Jim is well documented.  I know it all sounds cutthroat.  The reality is everyone in the group is very supportive of each other but we have a very healthy competitive attitude.  Bragging rights can be great motivation.  It’s no longer about the things, it’s about how you compare to others.  This works great for a while and you can make leaps and bounds this way with the right competition.  This is where my motivation came from and it was very limiting.  What if Mike has a bad day?  Do I still give 100% and pass him by or just enough where I can still give him a good elbow and take it easy?  I think if you judge yourself based on the abilities of others then you lose the ability to define yourself.  You’re really missing out.

The next thing in the mix comes from coaching.  It doesn’t come all at once.  It’s a more subtle influence and I think this has been the best benefit from my time under the RxE umbrella.  Over the long months my training has become less about the things outside and more about me.  What can I accomplish and what can I achieve?  What else can I learn about myself along the way?  My friends have become support and not competition.  I really don’t care about the medals.  I just love the sport.  The actually race day is just a date on the calendar, I have no intention of stopping when its through.  I want to be the best athlete that I can.  More importantly, I want to be the best person that I can and live true to myself.  I want to grow physically and mentally.  Training for this Ironman and with this group of people literally changed my outlook on life.  Motivation doesn’t increase in a linear fashion.  I’ve had several bumps in my road (where coach promptly jumps in, I swear he has a freaking radar) but in the end I have never been this motivated to succeed.

Forget the medals.  Forget the competition.  Look inside yourself and run your own race.  Always give 100% and don’t be afraid to fail to reach your goals. Everything else will work itself out.  Just have a little faith.  That’s where I’m at now.  A big change from December.  Totally worth it.

That’s my RxE story.  I look forward to showing my growth this September at Ironman Wisconsin.”

Addiction, Perserverance, and Ultra Fitness

This isn’t actually about me for once, but I wanted to share this interview.  It’s with Rich Roll and his story is both fairly common and amazing at once.  Common because his life was (is) an addict and his life was burning out of control.  Amazing because he has morphed into what many say is “the fittest man in the world.”

More from Johathan Fields, here.

Rich’s website

The Power of Running Hills

Like many people who change their minds, I used to hate running.  It is well documented in this blog, but in short, I tried dozens of times, but would typically get all fired up, go run a few blocks, then quit.  Last January that all changed, and along with it came a very lucky consequence.

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Jim Schwan is the reason I’m now a runner and triathlete.  He put in silly hours by my side with relentless encouragement and support.  He volunteered for the Nashville Running Company Couch to 5K program that started this mess and I have literally never looked back.  But along with the boost and support of friends came an added bonus — the streets of East Nashville are loaded with hills.

I have been running hills since day one.  I wouldn’t call them monsters, but it’s hard to run more than a few blocks in East Nashville without shortening your stride.

At first I dreaded the climbs (even the descents) but now . . . I am not kidding when I say I prefer to run hills.

It’s similar with the bike.  There is something about hills that engages the competitive spirit in me.  Running or biking a long flat drives me bat shit crazy.  You just cruise along at the same rate with the same stride, using the same muscles over and over and over, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if people who only run flats get more injuries.

The reason I love triathlon is that it works the whole body.  In the course of a race, every muscle is tested and running hills gives you a better overall leg workout.  Not to mention, you typically run with better form.

When you tackle a hill, your mind is focused.  You’re not talking about the Royal baby with someone cruising along next to you.  You are in a zone, focused on your stride and breathing.

I really think concentration is the most underrated part of good workouts.  You’re not drifting off to songs on your iPod, or reading a magazine on a Stairmaster, you’re meditating in motion.  And when you’re in the moment, results are always better.

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When I run hills I am in an intensely in the present.  I’m focused on the next step and the next breath.  Hills also create mini “ends” within the race because there is nothing as awesome as getting to the top.

Tonight, I had a hill repeat workout on the schedule.  20 minute warm up, followed by 6 x 3 minute climbs with 5 minute descent between.  Cool down to equal 60 minutes.  The worst part of that run, by far, was the flats leading up to and following the hill portions.

The run course at for my recent Half Ironman in Muncie was rolling, but the hills barely fazed me.  There were, however, tons of people who opted for walking.  These are the times when I feel lucky that I started my training in East Nashville.

I finished 17th overall in my age group at Muncie, but only 10 out of 88 ran a faster 1/2 marathon time.  I believe that is a direct reflection on not only running hills, but my growing desire to seek them out.

The Importance of Training as a Group

A beastly one and a half hill ride Friday night.  An always tough 3.5 hour ride on Natchez Trace less than 12 hours later.  An open water swim this morning followed by multiple naps on a rainy day.  The only problem was, somehow, someway, I had to summon the energy for the infamous Monogetti Run.  One hour of splendid torture.

It was 6 pm on Sunday night and the odds of a “Mono” run were closing in on zero percent.  I sat at my computer and (as I often do with this handy site) calculated how many days it is until Wisconsin and when the answer popped up, it had particular significance, it was my age . . . 49.

Forty nine days, one for each year of my life.  I wonder if the days will pass as quickly as the years have?  It’s really quite amazing and I literally feel like I was just in High School, but as a good friend often says to me, “There’s no such thing as time,” so I think I’m just gonna live in the moment.

Forty nine days to get ready for the biggest challenge of my life.  49 days to use wisely.  Every missed workout is a missed opportunity and on day 49 I was dangerously close to missing the first opportunity of the rest of my training.

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Jim had already knocked out his run.  Kevin posted his Monogetti run was in the books.  I didn’t hear from Mark, but with his dedication and intensity he likely climbed Mt. Everest or its equivalent.

So, yeah, it’s around 6 o’clock and I get a call from Daniel.  We talked about a million things as usual, and after about 20 minutes, I finally got around to the question we all want to ask each other, “What was your workout today?”  It took probing and prompting, but he casually said he swam in the afternoon after running 18 MILES this morning.  I’m like, fuck-shit, damn.  Talk about motivation.  I swear, the minute he said that, my legs felt better and my mind shifted to Monogetti mode.  It was closing in on 7 pm now and I’d basically slacked the whole day, but now, it was off to run in the dark.

I strapped on my new Mizuno running shoes (Pearl Izumi is close to losing their sponsorship opportunity with this aging rookie, but I have not closed the door completely) and hit the road.  One week after the Muncie Half and some grueling biking, my legs were DEAD as I shuffled down Valley Park Drive in beautiful Inglewood, Tennessee.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if I would even make one mile, but was making the effort.

That effort paid off, and an hour later I had officially knocked out my Monogetti and inked every scheduled workout for the week to the letter.  This is the time that counts and it’s far too close to let 7 solid months of workouts go to waste.

As I was finishing the run, I thought about how fortunate I am to be training with the Fab 5 +1, +2 and coach, not to mention dozens of inspirational people that flow into my life on a daily basis.  While we rarely train “together,” the sum of the parts is a powerful motivator that always seems to show up when you need it most.

There’s Something About Biking . . .

My last post was a glowing review of swimming, but this may not be so pleasant.  I’ve spoke of it before, but biking continues to be a thorn in my a**.

We hit the Trace again today for a four hour ride, and of course I was late, so I sent the other guys rocking on their own.  They have a tendency to get impatient, but starting at 5:40 sharp is a challenge for me, especially considering it takes 30 minutes to get there!

Riding alone isn’t the problem, in fact, I kind of enjoy it that way.  I had my GoPro camera set on my handle bars and was excited to get some great video of the gorgeous landscape.  I started rolling and about one mile in, the battery went dead.  I had a big giraffe looking set up, so I decided to put it back in the trunk.

So, I’m two miles in and haven’t gone anywhere.  But, I was out of bed, it was six am and very peaceful.  Maybe I would enjoy this after all?

I stopped at the 12 mile rest area and when I came out of the bathroom, Mark and Daniel just showed up to do their insane training.  Three separate bricks of 20 mile rides followed by 3 mile runs.  I hopped on with them for the first ten miles until they turned around and I kept going.

There’s something askew with my crank or bottom bracket, so every pedal was greeted with a little “clang.”  About 27 miles away from my car I decided enough was enough and turned around.  My legs were actually a little cashed at this point, likely because I did a hill workout less than 12 hours earlier, but that was honestly my favorite part.  I love to wrench my legs.  Break them down, build them back up.

It was supposed to be a “just ride,” but I have trouble with that because I typically just want the ride to be over quicker.  I’m hoping that pays off in races.

I think I may have figured out why I’m struggling with biking.  It’s basically a leg only operation.  Swimming is full body and running lets you move the arms, but cycling is legs, legs, legs.  Sore ass, ass, ass.  All of that is probably why I like Mountain Biking so much more than road work.  You’re in and out of the saddle more, you actually have to steer and use your arms, as well.

But it’s all good.  I’ve also decided I cannot stand flat tracks, so from here until Wisconsin it’s all about the hills.  Long, grinding climbs coupled with short explosive burst training on smaller, but steeper hills.  Engage me, bike.

On a separate note, here is a short video from Muncie where Jim and I are trying to decide if Wasky will beat Coach Robbie out of the water.  You also get a glimpse of the swim course and a special clip of my electrifying finish.

Plus, some photos from the day thanks to the talented Carolyn Wasky.  Enjoy my pink swim cap.

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