Open Water Swim Sighting

Ironman New Orleans 70.3 has a “Z” pattern swim course and before we started a local coach gave me this advice:  Swim toward the levy, swim toward the boathouse, then swim back toward the levy.  It “sounded” good on the surface, but I kept asking “to which part of the levy?” and “to which part of the boathouse?”  To which he responded, “Just swim to the levy and the boathouse.”

This was ringing in my ears yesterday for our first Open Water Swim practice but obviously not loud enough.  Our lake-sky started with a dark tint before parting to a beautiful sunrise and it was symbolic of the lesson I needed to remember.

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We swam a bit to warm up in the cool water, which was nearly the orgasmic temperature for a wetsuit.  Then we lined up to analyzed each others strokes.  It was an enlightening process.

Coach imitated my form and my first thought was he looked tense, which I believe is the biggest reason people struggle with swimming.  My stroke was right-hand-dominant and I had a tendency to come too far out of the water when sighting (which I was also probably doing too often).  Having a “high head” isn’t necessarily bad, but mine was lifting to ridiculous levels and I quickly figured out why . . . obsession with sighting the buoy.

That’s when I remembered my swim in New Orleans (which was pretty good by my standards).  I DID just swim toward the levy and the boathouse.  It was a “general sighting” that “guided me” in the right direction.  I didn’t pick a certain place or a buoy at all.  I just went in the right direction and trusted the flow of the world around me.

I don’t wear contacts when I practice swim, so my vision is definitely hampered.  This makes sighting more stressful, and is a likely explanation for why I “spaz” and lift my head so far out of the water.  I always want to swim at ONE OBJECT when I should be swimming at a GROUP OF OBJECTS.

When you’re doing IRONMAN distance races, you are so damn far away from your target that you just need a general area to attack for the first part of your leg.  It’s better to swim straight than continually over-correct.  Then as you get closer, and can actually see that one object without effort, zone in more specifically.

It takes a lot of faith to swim toward a a group of trees, but it works.  The more I practiced the more I relaxed and kept my head down in the water.  I was sighting with alligator eyes, rather than a Tarzan torso.

You don’t need to SEE your target, you just need a glimpse.  A reminder.  A general guide.  And that’s sort of like doing little things in life that lead you in the right direction as opposed to “expecting” a specific outcome.  Trust the process.

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Post script:  This lesson also applies to my swim at Wisconsin.  I was largely disappointed in my sighting and it had a lot to do with my inability to get a grip on the buoys, of which there were many.

I found myself self-correcting every time I saw one which probably led to a bunch of zig-zagging rather than a general straight line.  This is bad for distance and energy.

I remember thinking I needed to aim at a bridge on the first leg, which would have set me right at the first turn buoy.  But I couldn’t always see that bridge and in retrospect think it would have been much more efficient to just go “toward” the bridge with an eye on the shoreline.

The second leg was short and really more about untangling the mass of humanity than sighting, but once I got to the third leg (around 1,700 yards) I should have just trusted the flow of the swimmers instead of trying to sight a specific smoke stack in the distance.  I was disorienting myself by trying to stay close to the buoy line and it caused a lot of confusion.  Honestly, sometimes I feel like I was taking a 45 degree angle toward the buoy just to stay on course.  But, I was ALREADY on course (even though I may have been 20 yards off course . . . if that makes any sense?

The short of it is, I think I thought about sighting way too much instead of just swimming.  That’s easy to say now because it was very choppy and I was afraid to end up in no-man’s land.  But the truth is, I should have relaxed and swam in the general direction of the that 3rd turn buoy and thought about it more when I was in range.

These are the little things that are so huge in triathlon and why I ultimately love the sport.  I wouldn’t say I had a “bad” swim at Wisconsin (1:20) but I could have saved some energy and a few minutes if I had just relaxed a little bit more and trusted the flow.

 

 

Enjoy the Lifestyle of Triathlon #IML

If you want to wear those sweet-ass high-riding orange shorts at Hooters, you’d better be prepared to serve your share of rowdy patrons.  

In the middle of our daily triathlon-group-text today, Wasky slid in a very simple, yet powerful zinger, “Just enjoy the lifestyle.”

That wisdom materialized as we were discussing which (if any) Ironman Jim and I will be doing this year.  Maryland and Louisville are both on the table, and Jim is leaning toward taking the plunge with an attitude of not chasing times and simply . . . enjoying the lifestyle.

So enjoy the lifestyle, huh?  Getting up at 5:30 to ride five hours on hilly terrain?  Hmm . . . that’s at tough one, but there is so much about triathlon that is awesome.

Like wearing race shirts and other cool gear, for example.  I was sporting my Ironman New Orleans 70.3 shirt while raking cups at a water stop on Saturday and received some genuine props from several runners.  “Ironman, so cool.  I ‘respect’ that, man.”  They respect that, and I feel the love, but on some level that makes me feel weird.

Speaking of respect, it sorta reminded me of an awkward incident as I was flying back into Nashville on 4th of July last year.  I was jostling in my seat as the flight attendant said something I couldn’t quite hear over the speaker.  As we made our descent, I reached up to turn on my overhead light and suddenly everyone around me was clamoring to shake my hand and saying “Thank you” with heart felt looks of respect.  I uncomfortably responded with “You’re welcomes,” but had no idea why.  Later I found out she said, “Will anyone who has served this great country please turn on your overhead light so we can thank you on this day of independence.”

Man, did I feel like a jack-ass.

Anyway, yeah, triathlon does bring joy to my life.  Cool people, with passion and drive. I’m a dreamer, so it’s nice to be around freaks who push the limits.

And there’s no denying that training forces you to be a better steward of your body.  You just can’t abuse yourself, or workouts and races become nightmares.

But, do I enjoy the lifestyle enough to suffer the pain of 140.6 miles under a hot Louisville sun?

That is the question . . . and the answer lies somewhere in my desire to train, and whether the lifestyle means wearing cool clothes or actually hitting the pavement.  Do I love it enough to reduce the pain of the race by training harder?

We’ll see.  Ironman New Orleans was not fun, but I wasn’t ready.  The next few weeks will go a long ways in determining my answer on Louisville.  My decision to enjoy the lifestyle is approaching a deadline.

 

 

 

Nashville’s Country Music Marathon

Today was the two year anniversary of my first half marathon and I celebrated by watching valiant efforts and fighting back tears.  Well, I actually stood behind the finish line and watched a slow herd of battered souls chomp on cookies and chips while rejoicing that I chose not to run, but still . . .

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Thousands limped by with huge smiles it took me back back to that painful day two years earlier when I embraced what may have been the proudest moment of my endurance life, including Ironman.  I’d only been running about 4 months when I took the half marathon challenge, and it sparked a fuse that burned out of control.

That race hurt so badly I started laughing at mile 10, and getting delirious at mile 12.  Somehow I crossed the finish line in 2:14 without walking.  It was a major victory and I proved it by wearing my medal all day . . . then deep into a major-league afternoon/night of celebratory drinking.  I could barley walk the next day, or week.  Battle scars reminding me where I’d been.

But, enough about me . . .

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Today’s weather was perfect and tons of East Nasties were on the course.   I saw most of them and graciously took this group photo with my personal flip phone.

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Admittedly I didn’t see much running until I left the finish line and walked along Woodland Street to witness the misery that is Mile 18 of a marathon.

My final destination was the Nashville Running Company water stop where I volunteered to rake paper cups out of the street for an hour.  Tons of runners thanked me for the hard work, and while that never gets old, they had no idea how much I love grounds keeping.

The encouragement flowed from my lips as well, but it’s hard to seem convincing when someone stumbles by in a stupor and you’re screaming, “You got this!”  For many, it was getting dicey, and considering mile 18 is often called the marathon wall, I’m sure the fact that it was all up hill didn’t help.

It was inspiring and I can’t say enough about how good it made me feel to see all of these runners pushing themselves to the limit.  Throwing it on the line to be better people and create an endless stream of positive energy in my city.

That said, I do have a small beef that I need to get off my chest.

I get that people like to run with music, but I feel like it steals from your experience.  Especially when the entire route is lined with live bands and tons of crowd support shouting inspirational bible verses or Michael Scott quotes.  I mean, I’m raking my ass off and spewing goodness to all these wonderful people but half of them can’t hear me because they’re listening to Eye of the Tiger on their iPod.  Talk about sucking the wind out of your cup raking.

Yet, here they were, 30,000 people, exhibiting countless hours of preparation and sacrifice. A truly moving scene, and I can honestly say I felt the same way long before I was a runner and was merely shooting emotional marathon videos that made people cry their eyes out.

There can never be enough inspiration in this world and few events showcase human spirit better than a major marathon.  Every year it reminds me that life is for living and there’s no better time to pursue that freedom than today.  I just wish the cranky drivers that complain about “their street” being closed for a few hours would figure that out.

I mean, look at these happy Nasties:

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Ironman and the Human Condition

This was written nearly a year before I did my Ironman, but I never posted.  I’m not sure why, but I thought I would put it out there for all of you training for Ironman.  It’s really interesting to reflect on how I was thinking with the race hanging over my head and I think I would have probably written it the same today. 

We all want attention.  We all want to be understood.  We all want to be loved.

When I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin, somewhere inside I was shouting those concepts to everyone in my life.  But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  There is nothing like preparing for an Ironman to both give you strength and make you feel extremely fragile.  And somewhere inside of all that is the meaning of spirituality.

For me, having an Ironman in the distance is omnipresent.  The process of attacking a clear, life-changing goal affects the way I think about everything I do, even though my target is thousands of miles away.  The way I react, eat and explore is enhanced.  Good and bad are more vibrant.  Decision making is more centered and concrete.  But, there is a lot of time between now and next September, and today’s finish line is just as important.

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like life is as simple as being around people that understand and compliment our thoughts?  Is this why millions of people dress up every Sunday morning and go to church?  So they are safely surrounded by others with the same beliefs?  Is this why some feel more comfortable with gangsters or republicans or yoga practitioners that flow naturally with who they are?  Or prospective Ironmen who have committed to chase the same goal?

There is genuine comfort in communion.  Last night three of the Fab Five gathered to watch Ironman Kona and it just felt right.  We were meant to be in the same room digging for inspiration to be our best, not only at Ironman Wisconsin, but in everything we do.  We will each take our own road, but the ultimate goal is the same.

Nothing will be perfect, but it still feels like perfection.

Why Are You Doing Ironman?

Why Are You Doing Ironman?

Last night I had a discussion with a friend who is training for Ironman and having a terrible time with running because of an injury.  It is one of those situations where she really believes a marathon could cause permanent damage.  Is it worth the risk?

It got me thinking about the reason I did Ironman in the first place.  Why did I REALLY do it?  I came up with three:

1.  Tackling a challenge beyond the scope of my belief.

2.  To prove to myself, my friends, and family, I could finish the unthinkable.

3.  To shock my system.

The latter may have been the biggest force.  I craved disruption of my life patterns, and Ironman rocked my world.  Slowly but surely I was waking up at 5 or 6 am, swimming in a lake, riding on Natchez Trace, or running through the park.  A major departure and the adrenaline of it all kept me on track.  Which leads me to a hidden reason . . . I was afraid to fail.

I couldn’t sleep half the nights because I was thinking about how it would feel in that water before the race.  Or I was wondering how on earth I would run a marathon I had never come close to attempting, and do it after a 112 mile bike ride?

As I hit certain milestones, my confidence grew, but fear drove me the entire way.  Every piddly injury messed with my head.  A hint of exhaustion freaked me out.  Skipping workouts poured on the guilt.  But in the end, I was so consumed with finishing Ironman, my subconscious willed me to the finish line.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been in more pain than I was for that run at Wisconsin.  For 26 miles I was in agony, but something kept me going.  The brain out-willed the body.

I faced a similar pain at New Orleans 70.3 two weeks ago and started walking.  A lot.  I couldn’t dig up a reason to push through the pain.

Last year, we trained outlandish amounts and never came close to doing 140.6 miles in one day.  I knew I’d better have my mind right when I got in the water or Ironman would eat me alive.  Thankfully I was ready.  I had my reasons.  Rising to the challenge, not wanting to let myself, friends or family down, and an overwhelming desire shake up my life.

Why are you racing Ironman?

The Hidden Beauty of Tempo Workouts

I’m pretty locked in on training for the Rev3 Olympic in Knoxville and that will consist of mainly speed work.  After a rough showing in New Orleans, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind.

I listened to a great Tim Ferris podcast while I was riding the trainer last night.  He interviewed child chess prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin, who wrote, The Art Learning Journey: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, which is widely praised and used by brilliant executives and schools around the world.  Not to mention, he studies martial arts with Marcelo Garcia, who is regarded as the best pound for pound submission grappler in the world.

At one point Waitzkin made an awesome point about tempo workouts.  He said they are the greatest thing you can do because they train your body to be calm, then be full of vitality on demand.  He used the analogy of a boxer being completely at ease before going into the ring before unleashing controlled fury. He also said it’s a great way to mold your mind and body to turn off before bed or crank it into gear when you wake up.

Burst, recover.

My kindred alliance with Joshua must be serendipity because earlier that morning I did a bunch of 25 meter sprints with cool downs in the pool, and at night, I did a never before attempted bike workout.  The Bike-o-ghetti.

Yes, folks, it’s a direct descendant of the infamous Monoghetti family run.  It goes like this:

10 minute warm up.
30 on, 30 off (repeat)
45 on, 45 off (repeat)
1:00 on, 1:00 off (repeat)
1:30 on, 1:30 off (repeat)

Then go back down to 30’s.

The technique is what is killer.  The “on” portions are as fast as you can go in aero and the “off” stuff is standing, under control, slowly pushing the hardest gear.

10-15 minute cool down.

45 minutes and you have just fried your legs.  It’s awesome.

Enjoy your new life in Heaven and Hell!

Are We Willing to Commit to Change?

Are We Willing to Commit to Change?

The last post pinpointed my problems with energy and vitality, and I have known these things forever, but for some reason I can’t implement them into my lifestyle.  I think the answer lies in consistent patterns, and having a CLEAR reason for following your passion.

I started all this endurance training because I saw myself on a video two years ago and didn’t like the the image.  I looked nothing like I “imagined” myself.  It was a bitter pill and within a couple weeks I was hell bent on running away the fat.

About 12 months, and 20 pounds later, my problem was “solved.”  The body was back and I was no longer ashamed of what I saw in the mirror.  But, of course, that wasn’t the real problem.

I had slimmed down and was routinely knocking out 1-2 hour workouts, but I knew there was still a void.  Good thing I had IRONMAN to distract me for a while.

I plowed further into the field hoping for the yield of a lifetime.  It never got easy, but I had endless fertile and seemingly endless land.  But, like a King with all the money in the world, something was still missing.

Then, I raced Ironman Wisconsin.

This was undoubtedly the best day of my life for the last 10 years or so.  I scaled a mountain and lived to tell the stories.  And there were many.

I floated on that high for days, weeks, and months before realizing my pantry was nearly empty.  It was time to go back into the field.  But I had a new problem.

I had been harvesting for Ironman, and she needed a lot of fuel.  Now it was just me, alone with my thoughts, and no plan for distribution.

While endless tilling was something to be proud of, I knew I wasn’t addressing the fundamentals of farming.  I was throwing shit everywhere and the land produced just enough to keep me going.  I neglected the soil and weeds were taking over.

Much of the world survives on food or drugs that get us by “today” but do little for the long haul.  And it’s easy to understand why we take this path.  It’s easy, and, for the most part, it works.  Hey, take it “one day at a time.”  But we all know that it’s on the surface, and not much is being done to build the foundation.

For me it comes down to habits.  Taking sleep (and its wind down) seriously.  Starting early by letting go of electronics, turning down lights, easing into the night and getting good, sound rest.  Waking fresh around the same time.

Then exercising/walking before a solid breakfast that gives me slow burning fuel.  Visualizing and writing out a productive day so I have a focus.  Then eating right and avoiding surface snacks.  At night, eating earlier, working out, then winding down again.

It sounds simple, but we get sucked in to things because somewhere we have doubts about our path.  Why?  Because establishing a good healthy pattern is painful and takes time.  A long time.  And frankly, it takes a lot of failures and lessons to figure it all out.  I think most of us have always known what it takes, we just need to define why we really want to get the answer.

 

 

 

How Do You Know When You’re Really Tired?

My coach pointed out that I’ve raced 3 Halfs and a Full Ironman in nine months.  Not bad for a guy who spent most of his nights drinking and eating Italians on a barstool until two years ago. But it comes with a few questions.

Sometimes I feel very fatigued.  It’s all I can do to put on my workout clothes, and often I blow it off.  But 9 times out of 10 I feel much better after a workout, even if I think I’m exhausted.

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So, here is the million dollar question:  What’s the difference between being tired and fatigued, and when is exercise better than rest?

When I was a lazy ass, I often had genuine intentions of training after work, only to lay on the couch or go to Happy Hour.  I just “didn’t have” energy to hit the gym.

When I reflect on these feelings they are very similar to the ones I still have (though not as much).  I’ll still occasionally lay down after work, but wake up recharged and hammer a workout.  This leads me to believe my brain is more exhausted than my body.

Life, like racing, is very mental and when you are not fueling well, both can overwhelm you.

I think a lot of this can be attributed to bad sleep and no breakfast.  I get up, have coffee, often times throw in a muffin, then head to work.  I’m usually strong through noon, then grab lunch, before slowly fading into afternoon-snack-land.  It’s not a good pattern.

It seems like an easy fix, but I’ve struggled with this pattern my whole life.  And while I’ve known it forever, it’s not getting much easier, which is why I’m reaching a breaking point.

Ironman had an amazing power to wiggle its way into my brain and motivate on a daily basis.  It was a purpose and a passion.  It was spring-out-of-bed-for-Christmas-present-energy.  But now that I’ve done it, it doesn’t have the same stranglehold on my psyche.

I have no choice but to find a bigger, more lasting inspiration.  Something more genuine and much bigger that gives me continual fuel to push for what is truly important.  That is where energy lies.  That is where vitality lives.

So, I sit here on a beautiful Saturday morning looking for something grander to lead me in life. The sun is shining, warm wind is blowing through the windows, and Mattie is chasing squirrels in the backyard.  My buddy Wasky ran a PR 1:27 half, Corey rode 60 miles on the Trace, and Jim is taking photos of nature.  Maybe all of that is my answer.

 

 

Ironman Pain and Recovery #IMNOLA

Ironman Pain and Recovery #IMNOLA

The morning after Ironman Wisconsin I laid in bed and took inventory.  I lifted my arms, circled my ankles, and stretched my legs.  I’d never done anything remotely close to 140.6 miles, and getting out of bed scared the shit out of me.

I sat on the edge looking down at the floor for about 5 minutes.  Should I try to walk, or just fall to my knees and crawl to the bathroom?  I decided to trust my legs, and what happened next was just short of remarkable.

Other than stabbing heel pain and a general tenderness, I felt fine.  Sure, I moved slowly, but that’s no different than most mornings.  I was physically drained, but the very next day I felt great swimming a 1,000 meters in Turtle Lake.  It’s just weird, and quite amazing, how much the body can handle.

This brings me back to Sunday in New Orleans.

From mile one of the run, I felt like my body was done, cooked, stewed in a Cajun goulash.  I just “couldn’t” run the entire 13.1 miles.  I was weak, battered, beaten.  But somehow, I completely ran the last 4 miles after intermittent walk/runs.  Then came the morning.

It felt exactly like Wisconsin.  I limped toward the bathroom, but after 10 minutes, I was fine.  I walked all over New Orleans that day and the only tough part was getting up after sitting a while.

On Tuesday I drove 8 hours back to Nashville and was full of energy that night.  I literally forgot I had just raced a Half Ironman.

All of this got me thinking.

Obviously my body was “ready” for 70.3 miles, but somewhere in there my mind convinced me it wasn’t.  I couldn’t find a “reason” to push through the pain.  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I hadn’t been writing about training much.  I hadn’t been thinking about how I would deal with the stress of the race, or why I wanted to do it in the first place.

I was also training alone.  I didn’t surround myself with like minded people to inspire and push me.  Group training is great for accountability, but I think its biggest advantage comes from keeping your head straight.  It creates mental momentum and helps you believe.  It’s very hard to live alone on an island.

Moving forward, I have two commitments to make.  One is writing more, the other is working out with friends and groups.  So much of this is mental and if you try tackling a full or half Ironman without being focused, you are sunk.

Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of variables regarding recovery that include nutrition, rest, training, etc, but I think most of us can get a huge advantage from simply being mentally prepared for what you’ll face before, during, and after the race.

The day after Ironman New Orleans, I joined my mom and her friends for a paddle boat ride.  I sat in peace, gazing at the swirling water, taking in the glory of the Mighty Mississippi.  But I kept having a strange thought, what would happen if the boat sank?

Hysteria.

Hundreds of people scrambling for their lives.  I calculated the distance to the shore, and plotted how I would save those around me.  Hauling one on each leg like a pull buoy, using the current to guide us to the nearest plot of land.  It gave me an eery confidence.  I had a plan and felt good about it.  I visualized what it would take, and I was ready.

We would not sink.

 

 

What’s Next After Ironman New Orleans 70.3?

What’s Next After Ironman New Orleans 70.3?

This is a tough question.  On one hand I was absolutely miserable on that New Orleans course, on the other, I feel like I need redemption.

I’ve taken a little grief for trashing my own performance and can definitely understand that perspective.  To complete a Half Ironman is a major accomplishment for most, but when you finish nearly an hour slower than you hoped, it can leave a slight scar.

I’m already signed up for Rev3 Knoxville and will compete in the Olympic.  The wounds from New Orleans have already healed and I’m looking forward to race with a few people I know.

Familiar faces cannot be underestimated.  I made a few new friends in New Orleans, but saying hi to alligators, wild stallions, and snakes for 70.3 miles can wear on you.

The elephant in the room continues to be Louisville.  I have gone around and around about that race, but still don’t know if I want to do it.  Frankly the last two half’s I’ve done were miserable.  From Goosepond to Crescent City, I feel like I got worse.  But, truthfully, I haven’t even been sore (aside from sunburn) since IMNOLA and that has me inching closer to so saying yes to Louisville.  I just have to figure out how to let go of my incredible disdain for riding a bike.

I will start training for Rev3 this weekend and focus specifically on the Olympic distance with shorter, high intensity workouts.  In fact, I’m leaning that way in general and still believe focusing on mileage in training is a mistake.

I really think New Orleans was a bit of an aberration.  I hadn’t ridden outside, and that day was windy, sunny, and hot.  Not to mention my brake was stuck.  That all took a huge toll on my overall vitality and shrunk my head for the run.  I’m going to leave that race behind and go back to Knoxville with focus.  I had a good race there last year, so it will be tough to beat my time, but that’s my intention.

Until then, I plan to lay on the couch, eat lots of good fat, and read books on psychology.  I know you’re jealous, Corey.