Transition Mistake Number One

Race morning:  Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon

I’m not much of a morning person, but love the vibe before a race.  The energy is high, the music is loud, and everyone is ready to chase their dreams.

I’d hung my bike on the rack the day before, and strolled through downtown Chattanooga with a full backpack: water bottles, helmet, bike and run shoes, sunglasses, race belt, etc.  All I had to do was walk across the lawn and lay these race essentials on the ground next to my bike.  But there was a problem.

Transition was closed.

I thought it was a cruel hoax, but a stern race official assured me I couldn’t come in.

“Too late, sir.  Transition closed at 6:30!”

A quick peek at my watch told me it was 6:45 and even though my race didn’t start for nearly an hour, this guy wasn’t going to let me drop my gear next to my bike, or graciously offer to walk 50 feet and do it for me.

It was one of those moments when I felt like a stranger on my own planet.  I had been dropped by aliens to deal with the absurd ways of humans.

The only word I could summon to my lips was, “Seriously?”

He paced nervously as if expecting a child, then looked in my general direction to say, “We announced it, it’s all over the website and the literature . . . transition closes at 6:30.”

He was right.


I was actually in a good mood and curious about how this problem would be solved, so I nicely asked, “Okay, any suggestions for what I should do?”

He said, “Sorry, nope.  Not sure what to tell you.”

I kinda laughed at that one.  No contingency plan?  Do I swim with my backpack, or maybe I’ll just leave it somewhere on the ground to pick up when I get out of the water?

By now, my situation was a minor spectacle among the other humans, who seemed to be taking my side.  Some whispered under their breath, “This is bullshit.”  Others simply looked at me with a sappy look that seemed to say, “You poor little alien.”

Ten minutes earlier, my bones were relaxed, but now started to tense.  I stared over the fence at 1000 bikes, and 999 of them were cozied up to expensive shoes and helmets.

There was a lot of money inside that fence, but it wasn’t Fort Knox.  It wasn’t the CIA headquarters.  It wasn’t even the Smithsonian.  It was a transition area for a triathlon, which by most people’s interpretation signifies “hobby.”

This sport is a hobby.  Something people pay a lot of money for . . . to have fun.  It’s more of a carnival than rock and roll show, but either way, I’d paid admission for backstage access.

I stood quietly, looking at him, hoping eventually his compassion would cave and he’d say, “Okay, but this is the last time, you silly alien!!!”  Or something equally cliche’ said by stern people.

That’s when he stopped and looked at me with glassy eyes.

“Look, I’m sorry, but we closed at 6:30.  The timing mats are activated and you’re wearing your chip.  We can’t let you in.”

Umm….  “Okay, I’ll take my chip off.”

“Can’t do it, the Sprint Swimmers (who started earlier than the Olympic) will be coming into transition any minute.”

Hmm… Sprint Swimmers . . .

It triggered a memory from Music City Triathlon which I raced in Nashville the year before.  For some reason race organizers didn’t realize the river current was too strong for Sprint swimmers that day.  The first third of the field jumped in and were all promptly ripped off the course by an angry river.  Dozens of people had to be plucked from the water by kayakers and rescue boats. Before it turned to complete chaos, Team Magic canceled the Sprint swim for the rest of the field.

At the time I wondered how a company that puts on triathlons for a living couldn’t see this coming.

But on this morning in Chattanooga, I began to think the concept of logic had run its course.

“Please, Sir. I’ll run to my bike throw my backpack on the ground.  It’ll take me 3 minutes.”

“No!  Transition is closed!”

I’ve been in many transitions while other racers are coming out of the water.  No problem.  I didn’t trip anyone or get run over by someone pushing her bike.  It was easy, it was logical . . . you just watch where you’re going.

My shoulders slumped, and suddenly this sport that is supposed to be fun had once again put me on the fence of despair.  I lethargically sipped coconut water and wondered why people are so hard on each other.

That’s when a young volunteer restored my faith in humanity.

He discreetly waved me to the fence and said, “Hey, if you want, I can try and put your stuff by the bike.”

“Oh man.  That would be awesome!”

We leaned in close and whispered our plan.  He wasn’t a triathlete, but said he’d do the best he could with my cluttered backpack contents.

I climbed a shuttle bus to the swim and wondered what I’d find when I got back to transition.  In the end, he did a great job.  He loaded my water bottles, and sort of put a few things around.  It was a bit like potpourri, but it worked.image1

After a crappy race (which I do not blame on this transition mishap) I contemplated what happened that morning.  I guess it was technically my fault, but like to think this world has a place for more second chances.  We do stupid things like . . . lose our wallets, forget umbrellas, and not let people who pay $150 to do a race load their gear in transition.

But, rules are rules.


Father’s Day And An Ironman Son

Father’s Day And An Ironman Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a little disheartening.

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

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

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

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

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

It started sinking in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Father’s Day, buddy!

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Doubling Up The Bike Trainer

Doubling Up The Bike Trainer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My split-bike-workout yesterday looked like this:

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

2 Hours that night broken out like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Steps to Sleep Training

5 Steps to Sleep Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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