Carmel Marathon Recap

The Carmel Marathon was this last weekend, between early-spring snow storms here in Indiana. Despite the race being bookended by terrible weather, the race itself was blessed with overcast skies and moderate temperatures for the end of March.

This year the course had undergone some significant modifications, not the least of which was the design of an overall flatter course. I haven’t run the race in prior years, but my understanding is that this course was a marked improvement over the previous course.

I had a pretty short build-up for this race, only an 8-week timeframe. I already had some good base miles on my body, especially after completing the 4x4x48 challenge (which I suppose I ought to do a post on, I’ll get to that) in December. But, the build-up was still less than ideal for running a marathon PR. Ramping up into higher mileage weeks quickly while not making it to the kind of mileage you would typically see in a “serious” build-up meant that the runs I did had to be extremely high quality, every time.

As you may also be aware, I do CrossFit, and the later half of this training cycle coincided with The Open. I was a bit concerned that doing The Open and getting high quality training runs in would be in conflict, but that’s one of the lessons I learned in this cycle: Strength training and cross training in the midst of high quality endurance training seemed to improve the quality of the long runs and their effect. Even if I felt as though a run was of middling quality, the fact that it had been preceded by strength training meant that it was still of higher quality due to the existing fatigue in the muscles.

My early cycle runs also took place heavily on a treadmill. January and February in Indiana can be a strange time to run outdoors, and adding in a limiting schedule meant that it was too dark outside, or I was in a place where outdoor running was not an option. So, cue the dreadmills. As a rule, there are 3 things I do when treadmill running: 1. Stretch more than I would for outdoor running; 2. Air squats and deep squat stretching to properly activate the glutes; and 3. Set the treadmill at 1% incline as a minimum, typically earlier training would be 2%, backing off to 1.5% for runs over 10 miles, then 1% during taper.

Outdoor runs were primarily focused on 2 kinds of running: Slightly above race pace, and race pace. That is to say, I didn’t run any “junk miles” in this cycle. I did a bunch of runs at 8-15 seconds faster than race pace mixed with some about a minute slower than race pace in between interval sets. These days were almost always followed by a minimum of 5 miles at race pace.

All told, 8 weeks of high intensity running, mixed with strength training and winter weather was a lot, and at times I got run down physically. At one time I caught the flu, and was unable to leave the couch, let alone get out and run. School and work get crazy, and at times I simply didn’t have time to run.

Coming into taper, I was a bit concerned about the mileage. My longest runs had been 18 miles, a full 8 short of the marathon distance. My biggest weeks had gotten just over 40 miles, and my average felt low. Nonetheless, I trusted that my coach knew what he was doing, and I settled in to the taper crazies. Thanks to N for putting up with me during my incessant cleaning and obsessing!

I tend to forget how much easier it is to prep for a single-sport event. Then night before I did minimal prep, just making sure my watch was charged and the clothes I might want to wear were in fact clean. Got a great night’s sleep, and got everything around in the morning before leaving.

We parked at my office, about a 12-minute walk to the start/finish line. It was about 36 degrees when we arrived, and it felt every bit of it. I was cold, and grumpy because I didn’t have all the coffee I thought I needed. I was trying to stay calm and relaxed, and maybe got a little too relaxed. I went to use the port-a-johns for the last time before the race and dropped my bag at gear check about 20 minutes prior to the start.

While I was in the port-a-john, the race started. I was assigned to corral A, the first corral to leave, but by the time I was ready to go, I left with corral D, the final corral. As such, the first 10 or so miles were spent passing and dodging in and out of other runners. This was the first race I’ve ever seen other runners trip, and nearly take others out in the process. It was sketchy at times, but seemed like everyone was ok.

The plan was to negative split in halves, to run about 7:40 for the first half, and then run closer to 7:30 in the second half, feeling out the final 4-6 miles for speed. I had to work hard to keep myself near that 7:40 pace on the first half, because I felt good and wanted to go faster. But, I knew that to run a successful second half I needed to hold back in the first half.

My first half was around 1:40, Right where I wanted to be. Incidentally, this also matches my PR for a half marathon, in fact it set a new PR (1:39:50). I’m looking forward to running a half marathon sometime soon to see how fast I can go.

With the first half going exactly to plan, I got a little excited. I felt fresh, my heart rate was in check, my legs felt good, and I was on to the second half! But, I got a little too excited. The pace was supposed to be around 7:30 for 13-18, not going faster than 7:30.

This is where things went off the rails. Or more accurately, where I laid the ground work for things to go off the rails. I pushed the pace a bit too high, running about 7:20-7:30 for miles 13-20, including one at 7:19. I started struggling around mile 20, and realized the mistake I had made. I tried backing the pace off to more like 7:40, but the damage was done.

The pace slowed further and further from 20-24, and at 24 my legs decided they had had enough, and I started cramping up. A knot about the size of a half dollar formed in my right calf, and would not go away, moving up and down the calf with every step I took. When I stopped to try to massage it away, my quad would start to cramp up, so I needed to keep moving.

Eventually these cramps went away on their own, marking another new thing I learned: my cramps have changed. It used to be that my muscles would cramp and I was debilitated. I couldn’t go anywhere with any pace, and I was reduced to walking only. This race showed me that by keeping my body in motion, despite the pain, the body would recognize that I wasn’t stopping, and take care of the muscle cramps on its own. This is going to be really valuable in Florida in November.

The last miles of this race were tough, especially knowing that I wasn’t going to get my goal time of 3:15. But, I continued my walk-jog all the way to the line, which came after an up-hill climb for a mile into a gusting wind. I was happy to get across the line with most of my dignity intact, still with a PR.

My official time was 3:25:05, marking a nearly 25-minute PR for me. Average pace was 7:50, despite my average pace up to the 20-mile mark being 7:30. The final 10k pace was what killed me, but I know I did the damage in keeping that pace too high too early.

I learned an awful lot in this race, and in the build-up. I also learned a lot about post-race activity, and the importance of getting into dry clothes right after finishing. I spent some time in the massage tent trying to get my muscles massaged, but was unable to stop shivering long enough for the massage to do any good. After I changed out of my race gear, I was able to get warm much more quickly, and stop shivering.

A big PR, a lot of lessons learned, and a training cycle done. Cognitively it feels good to have gotten the marathon mileage in before November, to know it’s in my legs. That will help fuel my training later this summer/fall, and in the race it informs my abilities. I learned a ton, and I’m really looking forward to a little time off before we start a big build to Ironman Florida.

Later on…

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Frustration and 18.3

For those who don’t CrossFit, or for CrossFitters who have had their head in the ground, 18.3 (the 3rd workout of the 2018 CrossFit Open) looked like this:

100 Double Unders
20 Overhead squats @ 115lbs
100 Double Unders
12 Ring Muscleups
100 Double Unders
20 Dumbell snatches @ 50lbs
100 Double Unders
12 Bar Muscleups

2x – time cap 14 minutes

For most people, this workout represented an opportunity to get their first muscleup, or to string them together for the first time. When the workout was announced, I saw it as an opportunity to get my first bar muscleup. I’ve gotten ring muscleups, and was looking forward to a workout that included them.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of frustration I experienced, the exposure of a glaring weakness, and the inability to get through a workout no matter how much I willed myself through it.

The first time I did this workout, I struggled through the overhead squats. I struggled, but I worked my ass off, and I got through them and into the next 100 double unders before I hit the time cap. No muscleups. That was Friday, and scores aren’t due until Monday at 5pm PDT, which meant I had the weekend to do my run workouts, let my shoulders rest, and re-attempt on Monday to submit a new score. So, on Monday, I decided I would take another shot at 18.3 and work to get to those muscleups.

What I got instead on Monday was 90 seconds of double unders, and 12 and a half minutes of failed overhead squat after failed overhead squat.

I tried wraps, I tried racking the bar on my back to get a better set up, I tried taking deep breaths, nothing I did seemed to work. I could get the bar overhead for a few seconds, maybe enough to get a half-squat, and it would come crashing down on top of my noodle-arms. My arms and shoulders simply didn’t have the strength and coordination to keep the bar overhead long enough to squat.

If it had been back squats, no problem. If it had been front squats, no problem. Hell, just about any kind of squat other than overhead, I would have had zero problem getting through the first round. But it was overhead squats, and I can’t hold 115 lbs. over my head long enough to squat 20 times.

I dropped the bar countless times. I wanted to punch the floor, the wall, the rig. I wanted to scream, I wanted to yell. At times I even wanted to cry, to sit down defeated, and declare that I had had enough. That I was no match for the workout, and to save myself the energy of trying fruitlessly for another 5 minutes to get one more overhead squat that just wasn’t going to happen.

Here’s the thing: I knew, and everyone else in the box knew, that I wasn’t going to get through the overhead squats. Once we crossed a certain point, it was painfully evident that it just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t have the strength to complete them, plain and simple.

But, there are two victories to celebrate in this failure:

  1. I. Did. Not. Quit. Not until I was at risk of injuring myself did I drop the bar and decide not to pick it back up. I didn’t want to be trapped under the bar with a concussion because I didn’t have the good sense to stop. This happened with about 30 seconds to go, my arms wouldn’t lock out, were shaking, and could not stabilize, so I decided to live to get on to 18.4.
  2. 115 lbs. is a lot of weight (for me)! A year ago, I couldn’t get 95 lbs. over my head. I tried, and tried, and tried, but couldn’t get it overhead. Not only did I get 115 lbs. overhead, I did get through 20 squats once, and I got through about 14 the second time! I don’t know what my overhead squat one rep max is, but I know it’s at least 115 lbs., and that is a significant improvement.

These victories are a good part of what The Open is about, small victories, being better than last year, improving yourself. So in that way, I celebrate these victories. But to a certain extent, they ring hollow.

Am I happy? No. I’m pretty pissed off about this workout and my inability to complete it. That’s part of why I’m posting it here. I plan on redoing this workout in the future, and crushing the overhead squats. I have never been this frustrated or upset with a workout, and the way I deal with these feelings is by working to crush what initiated them. So whether it’s 6 months from now, 9 months from now, a year from now, I will crush this workout.

In the meantime, The Open continues, Castro continues to dole out punishment. I continue working toward the Carmel Marathon (March 31), and consider training goals for Ironman Florida in November. Crush your workouts, nail your goals, and have fun, but don’t forget the way it feels when you fail, and use it to fuel your forward motion.

Best of luck to others in The Open! Later on…

N=1

In the world of sport, we like to see absolutes. “Follow this plan to run faster! Eat this way to lose weight! Use this product to see x results in y time!” While sometimes these blanket statements can be mostly true, there’s always some element of individuality that plays a role in their effectiveness, or rather the degree of their effectiveness.

For that reason, coaching services are a popular offering in triathlon. There’s a degree of tailoring that you get which follows guidelines from the “one-size” programs while focusing on the particular needs of your body, schedule, etc. Also for that reason, forums on sites like Slowtwitch and BeginnerTriathlete contain a lot of posts saying things like “do this, don’t do that” from anonymous online persons with limited verifiable credentials (other than their own blogs… take that for what it’s worth).

Well, I’m not here to give you a “do this, don’t do that,” I’m not here to plug my coach, I’m not here to tell you not to listen to advice you get on forums (or to listen to it, either). What I’m here to tell you is to do what works for you.

Not everything works for everyone, every time. If you find something that works for you, it may not work for others. What works for others may not work for you, or may not work for you yet. Each person’s body is different, in sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways, and they change over time.

To that same point, routinization can be a pathway to complacency, and thereby backsliding. Every now and then it’s good to change things up. Whether that’s a different route, a different workout format, a different workout type altogether, or just working out at a different time, the shift in routine helps stimulate the brain.

So, just because the strength workouts you did two years ago didn’t improve your bike power, doesn’t mean you should throw strength training out as a viable or valuable training tool. The willingness of the endurance community to throw strength training out in particular, is baffling to me.

The title is how all (or at least, most) experiences shared online should be viewed, including mine. N=1 is the proposition that my experience is just that: MY experience. Your results may vary. Does that take away from the benefits I’ve experienced? Absolutely not. Does it add to benefits anyone else may experience? Maybe, but probably not.

My experience is that strength training holds a lot of value to triathletes. At least, it does to me. I’ve seen a precipitous drop in my running pace, an increase in my bike power, and a decrease in my swim time. Even more, this is all at the same body weight.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have intentions of shedding a few more pounds, but that goes hand in hand with other variables and metrics of my training. If losing another 5 lbs means that I’m slower, then I’m packing it back on. For now. I also still have intentions of increasing my strength training capacity. I have deadlift goals, I have clean and jerk goals, squat goals, etc. I have pull-up goals, plank goals, thruster goals, etc.

While there’s a lot to learn from online forums, it’s not gospel. Coincidentally, neither is my blog. I’m here reporting what I’m doing, and how it works for me. So go forth and try new things, lift heavy, run far, eat keto, only cut your hair under a full moon, whatever works for you. That’s my N=1.

2017 Roundup

It looks like all those promises to do better with writing more and blogging went nowhere. So, here I am to give you as good a recap as I can from 2017, now that my 2017 race season is in the books.

What happened before race season?

Good question, I’m glad you asked! It was a busy, busy time. Finishing up 2L year, taking summer classes, finding work (including a trip to Colorado for an interview), trying a new diet, training (duh), hiking, and CrossFit. Natalie was instrumental in making it a great build-up to a great season, as she was doing her own dieting, CrossFit, working, and a full time masters program. We’re a little busy.

I tried a Ketogenic diet building up to the season to reduce my weight, so that I could achieve a higher power-to-weight ratio. For the non-inducted, a Ketogenic (or keto) diet is really high in fat, very low in carbs, and allows a moderate amount of protein. It’s goal is to become “fat-adapted” so that your body burns fat (and thereby its fat stores) for fuel, rather than carbs.

For the super-neophyte, the power-to-weight ratio in triathlon is very nearly everything. The less you weigh, the farther and faster your power will take you. To lose weight and build power will make you faster, quickly.

I did end up losing the weight I wanted to, but my performance suffered for it past a certain point. Plus, I found that most of the foods on keto I was not a huge fan of. I don’t like coconut anything, and it seems that 90%+ of the available recipes online used coconut oil, flakes, or something else as a key ingredient. Blech. It worked for a bit, but long term, it’s not for me.

Oh yeah, at some point this spring/summer, as a strength workout, I ran a 17:16 5k, so I was pretty stoked about that. Not sure the distance was 100% accurate, but pretty darn close. I plan on testing this time in a race soon.

What races did you run this year?

My race season changed dramatically from what was planned, due to varying circumstances. Maintaining flexibility is what makes life fun, and the ability to roll with the punches is critical to being joyful in all circumstances. That said, here are the races I participated in:

Carmel Sprint Tri
Eagle Creek Sprint Tri
Rock the Quarry (Sprint)
Tri Lakes Triathlon (Olympic)

So not exactly a long or glamorous season, but I did end up with some pretty great results. I’ll give you a brief rundown of how these went, as best I can remember.

Carmel Sprint Tri

This one was a bit of a mixed bag. My time was just a touch faster this year, my placement was the same in my Age Group, but higher overall. I wasn’t super thrilled with my performance, my swim especially. I had been focusing heavily on the bike and the run, and neglected my swim workouts leading up to this race. Add that to the lack of a warmup swim, and I struggled mightily to swim a decent time. The bike was pretty good, but I suffered a mechanical failure that caused my rear brake to drag on my rear tire for the duration of the ride. The run was so-so, I struggled to find a pace and get my heart rate down. Despite all these challenges, I still wound up with a decent time and place.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.24.01 PMThe real joy with this race was in who was there. Some friends came up from Cincinnati, more friends came down from Kokomo, more friends were out on the bike course, and a teammate (and new friend!) came down from Chicago! With all of these awesome people hanging around, it was impossible to have a bad day. Plus, we got Giordano’s pizza after the race and hung out, and generally had a fantastic time.

Finished in the top 20 overall, and took 3rd in my age group.

Eagle Creek Sprint Tri

Learning the lessons from Carmel, I was more well-rounded in my approach to Eagle Creek. I knew it would be a different crowd than Carmel drew, and more competitive. This time I was able to get all my warmups in, even though I fell over on my bike while trying to warm up. I felt pretty dumb.

The swim was wetsuit legal, so I opted to swim with the wetsuit. Being only the second time I’ve used this particular wetsuit in a race, I was still getting a feel for the fit and placement. I did get a warmup swim in, and felt ready. The swim went pretty well, not my fastest, but a good day in the water. I maintained a good pace, decent form, and finished strong.Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.24.49 PM

The bike was a bit more of a struggle. I thought I had fixed my mechanical situation from Carmel, but discovered about 3 miles from the end of the bike that I hadn’t. I had done well to ride at the pointy end of the race pretty much the whole time, but at the turnaround I was feeling sluggish and defeated. Then finding my mechanical was still causing issues, I was on the brink of a bad mental race.

Fortunately, I knew I could have a really strong run. I had run the course before, and I knew I could have good legs if I rested for the final mile or so on the bike. I had a goal of running a single sub-6:00 mile in a race this season, and I planned to set myself up to make that my last mile. I was running a solid 6:30-6:40 pace for miles 1 & 2, and ramped it up for mile 3 to shoot for that sub-6. As I came down the hill to the finish chute, my watch beeped signaling that mile: 6:01. I was so close! Later, looking at Strava, my Grade Adjusted Pace gave me a 5:50 mile for that mile, so the terrain played a role in the time, but I’m carrying that goal into next season (probably – depends on my race schedule).

I finished in the top 20 overall, and won my age group! This one was a pretty good accomplishment, as this race is almost always very competitive, so to win my age group is a good sign of things to come.Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.25.04 PM

Rock the Quarry

I traveled up to Goshen, Indiana for this one, staying with Natalie’s parents the night before. This course was a little longer than a “traditional” sprint tri, but offered a unique opportunity on the swim: a quarry swim. I had done some course recon, so I knew generally what to expect on the bike and the run.

The swim went pretty well, except that I played cargo truck to the eventual winner of the race. He drafted off my feet for the first 3/4 of the swim, then kicked it up to overtake me coming into the shore. I was frustrated, but didn’t want to give my own kick so I could save some energy for the bike and run.

This was an extremely long run into transition, up a hill, across a gravel path, across a field, and then into the transition area. Nearly as long as the run at Muncie 70.3, so a pretty long run. I tried sitting down in transition for the first time, and going without socks on the bike for the first time in a race. I had been riding my training rides with no socks for over a month, and knew once I was on the bike it wouldn’t be a problem, but trying it in a race I was still a little nervous.

Well, the bike ended up being the best bike of my career so far. I averaged 24.5 mph for a 13-ish mile ride, mostly flat, with a few small hills sprinkled in there. I was in 2nd place overall coming out of transition, and knew a strong bike leg would be laid down by the leader, and to hold off 3rd I would have to ride strong. I pushed my legs to accept the pain, and knew that I had the strength and power to ride hard and still put down a good run. I managed to hold off 3rd, and came into transition still in 2nd overall.

T2 was pretty good, though now I had to put on socks. I was a little scattered, but managed a decent T2 time, though I would like to be faster here in the future.Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.25.57 PM

The run is where I lost it a bit. After a mile, I started having some cramping in my abdomen. I went from running a 6:40/mile pace down to running about a 9:00/mile pace, and even that was a struggle. I ended up having to walk a bit to get myself stretched out, my posture back in order, and the cramping stopped. After that, I was able to once again run about a 7:00/mile pace, but mentally I was out of the game. 3rd place caught me after this brief walking stint, and I found myself even further out mentally. I just needed to finish strong, and see what happened.

Since this was a wave start race, I knew later age groups would have an opportunity to overtake me without physically overtaking me, so there were a few minutes after I finished where I was awaiting the results of other finishers. In the end, I got bumped out of 3rd place overall by six seconds, but won my age group. Having gotten to see Natalie’s family and enjoy a race, this was a great weekend!

The race organizers could do a little to make the race better, but they acknowledged that this was a young race, some things had happened that left them without port-a-johns, but overall it was pretty well organized. Closer parking would be the only remaining request.

Tri Lakes Triathlon

This tri took place just outside of my hometown, in a really small community around a lake. This was the third year for the event, and knowing the area, and that it was a young event, I had some concerns about the organization going in. Unfortunately my fears were realized on the morning of the race, but I tried my best to plan around it and not let it affect my race.

I made the drive after class late on Friday night, and got in with enough time to shave and go to bed. Packet pick up was supposed to start at 7 am, so I made plans to be at the race site to survey everything around 6:45. I pulled in at 6:45, and another of my fears came to pass: no port-a-johns. The race was being held in conjunction with a tavern, and participants and spectators were expected to utilize the two restroom in the tavern. Not a great idea when you have 100 triathletes all trying to do one thing before the race starts.

21752833_1318633168266032_5626442420060002168_oNotice above that packet pick up was *supposed* to start at 7 am, but I know most competent race directors are ready to distribute at least the night before, and can start again as soon as they arrive in the morning. Not so here. Packet pick up didn’t start until 7:30, with the gun scheduled to go off at 8. I figured, “Ok, since packet pick up was delayed, surely they’ll delay the race, and my 20 minutes spent waiting in line to use the restroom will not be an issue.” Wrong. They plowed ahead, and the sprint tri participants started right at 8 am. I had just enough time to get a very brief warm up run in, scramble into my wetsuit, and get to the line.

The good news is, I had a great race. This was the first time I had raced an Olympic distance in 4 years, where I finished around 2:51:xx. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of pacing, fueling, or fatigue, so I made some educated guesses and winged it.

The swim was pleasant, and the water was clear. It was a 2-lap swim, which is always disarming, as you have to swim through a wake three times before you’re finished. I came out of the water somewhere around 6th place, and made my way to T1. I had a great T1, marking one of the fastest times of the day. I got minimal nutrition into my pockets, slipped on my shoes, helmet, and sunglasses, and off I went.

The bike course was a 4-lap, 10k loop, with constant hills. There were two stretches of about 1/8-1/4 of a mile each that were flat, but other than that the course was constantly rolling. This made it difficult to find a rhythm, but I set out a plan in my head on lap 1. 21640799_1318650628264286_3439430941111777514_oLap 1 would be a relatively gentle lap to get the legs warm and survey the course, Laps 2 & 3 would be hammered, then hammer the first half of Lap 4, cruise the second half into T2 to prep for the run. This plan worked out pretty well, but in the future I would hammer Lap 1 as well if I had the opportunity to preview the course before the race.

I was picking people off, and came into T2 in 4th place overall. The Olympic distance had about 35 ish competitors, and after looking at the times from the previous year I was pretty sure I had a good shot at an overall podium, unless an uber-biker or uber-runner showed up and could really put some time in. Coming into T2 I had no idea what position I was in, so I just made my transition as fast as possible (fastest on the day!) and got out of there. Socks and shoes on, grabbed my hat and number belt and took off.

The run was another 4-lap course, 2.5k per lap. I planned nearly the same for the run as the bike, except that instead of cruising the last half of lap 4 I would dig in and empty the tank. While that worked pretty well on the bike, it did not work out so well on the run. I ended up dropping my hat and having to go back for it, and later my earring fell out of my ear, and it took me a bit to find that as well. Not a stellar run, but not half bad either.

21616133_1319581378171211_5157722778962641209_n

I wanted to keep my pace close to 7:00/mile, and then see if I could hit that elusive sub-6 mile in the last mile. The first two miles were right on target, 6:55 and 6:58. I’ll chalk up mile 3’s time of 7:24 to having lost my earring and spending valua

ble time searching for it, which again took me out of the race mentally. I had picked off two guys in front of me fairly quickly, so I knew I was near the top, but with no motorcycle in front of me I also knew I was not the race leader. The guys I passed looked like they were suffering, so I knew they were dropped for good. I saw the leader, and he was looking strong, but at the turnarounds he was getting closer and closer.

By lap 3 I was hurting pretty good. I walked the turnaround, grabbed a drink, and off I went again. The hills were starting to take their toll, and I realized that I was not going to have enough gas in the tank to shoot for that sub-6 final mile. In fact, I would be lucky if that final mile was close to 7. I kept my pace as high as I could, and put my head down to keep plugging away. Being the last race of the season, I wanted to give my best effort, and go into the “off” season on a good note.

It’s a good thing I kept moving too, because the guy behind me was an uber-runner. He put down a 38:xx 10k, but I held him off to the finish. I wound up taking 2nd overall, and had in fact been gaining on the race leader. If I had been able to keep the pace I had started at, I would have caught him and won the race. Time was 2:23:xx, nearly a 30-minute PR at this distance! I was pretty happy with my performance, despite the rushed morning and challenges I created for myself along the way.

So that’s it! That’s my season! I didn’t hit the races I had planned, but I made the most of the races I did. I hit a podium in each race, and I’ll be looking for more podiums next year.

Next season I jump age groups, and move up to the 30-34 age group. I am at a significant disadvantage, because I race a year ahead of my actual age. I’m only 28 right now, but my “race age” is 29, because my birthday is in November. The 30-34 age group is significantly more competitive, though my results this year say that I will remain competitive even when I age up.

This winter I’ll be focusing on mental toughness, as it cost me in a few places this season. I’ll continue going to CrossFit and building strength, and focusing on my diet to maintain a lower weight and higher power. I’m hoping to get a few new toys this winter as well, and I’ll keep you updated if those come to fruition. I’m excited by my results this year, and I’m excited to see what next year brings!

Later on…

Spring Break and a Mantra

Made it! Spring Break is here!

So I know I’ve been absent for a while, save for a post about tattoos and my opinions surrounding them. But, there are some really good reasons for that:

  1. School has been eating me alive. I’m working hard, and the hard work is paying off, but it means I’m having to sacrifice some other facets of my life in order to do well. School is a short-term thing, and doing better there means more, and better opportunities after it’s done.
  2. I’ve been training! You know that whole post about how there is no off-season? Yeah, I take that seriously. This last week aside, I’ve been working harder than ever to get faster and stronger.
  3. I’ve been cross-training! It’s been really nice to get some new and different options into my workout plan, including CrossFit. I’ve really enjoyed challenging myself in a different way than I’m used to, and it’s paying dividends in other areas of my fitness.
  4. I’ve been trying to get my diet under control. I went Keto and did a sugar fast early in the year, and I lost about 20 lbs really fast. Too fast, in fact. The last couple of weeks have been bad in terms of maintaining any kind of diet, as I burned up a bunch of my willpower in the first couple of months of 2017.

Ok, now that you know why I’ve been gone, let me share a little bit of why I’m posting now, and what you can expect as we move forward!

First, I really, REALLY need to regain some motivation. I’ve found it more and more difficult to get on the bike, or to lace up the running shoes, or to go to the pool, or to stick with my diet. It’s not that I haven’t seen results, I’m just struggling with my motivation to do what I know I should be doing.

In furtherance of that, I’m declaring my intentions here: to refocus, to reenergize, and reaffirm my commitment to tri in 2017. I’ve got some big goals, and if I don’t put the work in now, I won’t get there later. One of my favorite quotes in the past has been “The course doesn’t give you what you haven’t earned.” Meaning, if you haven’t put the work in before the race, you can’t expect results to just appear on race day.

Second, I’m announcing a mantra. I find it to be incredibly helpful to have a mantra you can repeat to yourself when things get really hard. What I’ve chosen to do is pick three qualities that I either have but are in need of some work, or that I don’t have but want to have. For me, those are Drive, Grit, and Determination.

When I am in a particularly hard point of a workout, the last two fartleks, the last 30 seconds of a 125% FTP interval, the 600-800 yards of a 1000 yard TT swim, etc., I tell myself with conviction that I AM those things. In my head, whether I’m saying it out loud or not, I’m screaming at myself: “I am Drive, I am Grit, I am Determination!” I repeat it again and again, to get through to where things ease up for a minute.

I would encourage all of you to do the same! Find three things you want to embody or need to embody more of, and tell yourself with conviction that you ARE those things! Tell others that you ARE those things! The more you say it, the more you believe it, the more you become it. And the more you believe it, the more others will believe it too.

Something that’s key about a mantra is that it’s short. It’s definitely no more than one sentence, and it’s best to keep it to 3-6 words. I chose three concepts which can be summarized shortly, but it’s meant as a trigger for you to remember the things you want to be, and why you are doing what you’re doing.

Third, I plan on being more active in this sphere. I am hoping to get a few drafts in the bank this week, and would like to be posting here once per week for the foreseeable future. I’ll need you all to keep me honest, but I understand if you don’t. 🙂

I’m hoping in the next several weeks to be able to do some reviews of some new products that I’ve been using in training already, and a few that are in the works that I see as vital to this years success. Look out for those soon!

Later on…

Tattoos and Triathletes

This is a pretty contentious topic at times, but one that I happen to consider myself especially steeped in. There are a few general rules that ANYONE should follow when getting a tattoo, so let’s cover those first:

  1. Choose your artist wisely. We have more tools at our disposal now than ever before to check up on an artist and their work. Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, etc., are all fantastic tools to find an artist’s portfolio and reviews from others on how their experience went. This is NOT, however, a 100% replacement for going to talk to the artist in person and seeing their work in-shop that hasn’t yet made it to the internet.  You should pick an artist with whom you get along or can tolerate for the time it takes to complete your tattoo, and whose work you admire and recognize as great. Artists often tend to be better at one style than another, and you should keep this in mind when selecting an artist. Many artists can adequately tattoo in many styles, so don’t fret if your chosen artist isn’t highly specialized in the style you want.
  2. Have an idea of your design, but don’t be married to it. Tattoo artists are experts in their field, and the human body is f*cking weird. We have strange curves and angles, different skin textures in different locations, and differing amounts of “stretchiness” that depends on the body and body part. An artist has a special knowledge of what designs will fit or “flow” where on your body, and it’s in your best interest to defer to them. Some text or font may not read well as a tattoo, or may not flow well in a particular spot on your body. An artist should consider that and either confirm your idea, or suggest a modification that might work better. But, don’t get something you don’t want. While artists have this special knowledge, don’t feel obligated to get a tattoo you don’t want. It may be a result of an inexperienced artist, or it may be that the tattoo you want isn’t really all that feasible. Don’t feel like you have to get what the artist suggests; it’s ok to get nothing, too. Take your time and decide on something you definitely want, instead of settling for something that works.
  3. Be prepared to shell out some coin. Tattoos, and especially great tattoos from great artists, are not cheap. Don’t walk away from a respected artist who has a great reputation, fantastic work, and has put years of work into their business and craft because you can get it cheaper elsewhere. Especially don’t walk away from a tattoo artist to get your friend with a tattoo kit and a bottle of Jägermeister to do it in his garage on a Saturday night. This usually results in poor quality work, and could result in some serious infection. This includes leaving a tip! Just like going out to eat, using a concierge or bell boy at a hotel, tipping is part of getting a tattoo. Cash is always king, and it goes a long way in keeping your favorite artist in business.
  4. Don’t go on an empty stomach. I made this mistake once, and it’s a mistake you will only make once. Eat something before you go, otherwise you run the risk of passing out in the chair and not finishing the tattoo.
  5. Listen to and follow the aftercare instructions you are given. If your artist tells you not to swim for three weeks, then don’t! If you need to wash and lotion the tattoo twice a day, then do it! The point is this: the artist has worked with their particular machines, the particular ink, the particular needles, and their other supplies for a while, and they generally know how skin reacts to their chosen combination. If your artist doesn’t tell you what the aftercare instructions are, ask them. Don’t be afraid to ask your artist what you should or should not do with your new tattoo, they’ll be able to provide an answer.

Ok, so now that those generalities are out of the way, it’s time for a few opinions. Because this is my blog, I am entitled to my opinion. If you don’t agree, that’s cool, let me know in the comments or something. Remember, these are just opinions, not attacks. Please don’t be personally offended if I don’t really like your style of tattoo.

Tri-specific tattoos: Meh. I generally think of the image of a figure swimming, biking, and running. It seems like a cool thing at first thought, but then you tend to realize that just about every other triathlete has had this same thought, and many have followed through. I’ve seen a few that I thought were novel, but not many. It’s just not for me.

Water color: Again, meh. I find these to be a trend, one that will eventually pass, and we’ll end up with a bunch of folks who want their blurry, indistinguishable tattoos covered up with something that will look good for more than 2 years at a time. Again, I think these seem like a good idea, but generally an idea that should be avoided. Watercolors belong on paper, not skin.

70.3 tattoos: Don’t. Just don’t. This is a raging debate on Slowtwitch that surfaces every now and then. My stance is that these are dumb. If you’re planning one of these tattoos, just don’t do it, please. You could get a tattoo with the location or whatever, but don’t include the 70.3 distance, or the dreaded half-filled Ironman logo. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t feel like a 70.3 is worth a tattoo. That’s just me. Even after I had done my first 70.3, I didn’t think a tattoo was appropriate. It’s kind of a long way, but after a couple of them, it doesn’t really feel like it. Wait until you’ve got 140.6 under your belt, then let the ink flow.

Ironman tattoos: Truthfully, these can be hit or miss. I love the ones that incorporate locations or something more personal into the tattoo. I think this takes an otherwise standard logo and adds meaning to it. Not to say I don’t like the standard M-dot, but use a little creativity and make it personal!

Tattoo location: This is important! I’ve seen so many people with the M-dot on the back of the calf, I just expect that to be the location. Placement can take an otherwise boring tattoo and make it interesting.

Here’s the takeaway: It’s your tattoo, get what you want. I have opinions, but they’re just opinions. Don’t take mine (or anyone else’s) opinion as gospel. Do, however, listen to your artist. Have thoughts? Let me know!

Later on…

Off-Season?

Having an “off-season” is a misguided concept. It would be ill-advised to allow yourself an “off-season,” or to suggest that one even exists.

I know, you’re probably thinking, “But I’m tired! I deserve a break! I did xxxxxxxxx miles this last year, and my body needs some rest!” And you’re right, you do deserve a break, and your body does need some rest, but let’s face it: Overtraining is what got you here.

Pairing these two concepts seems like a silly thing to do, they’re diametrically opposed, right? For one you do way too much, and the other you do absolutely nothing. For one you feel accomplished, and the other you feel guilty. The trouble is, those feelings are assigned in reverse.

Before I dive in and make you upset, here’s my one sentence summary of this post and this time of year: This is the time of year that winners are made.

Assume for a moment that in a season of overtraining you might feel accomplished. You hit a ridiculous number of miles, did a workout or two (or more!) every day for some crazy period of time. This is generally accompanied by a feeling of accomplishment (and often exhaustion) after the overtraining has ceased. But let’s go back to the beginning and look at the driving force behind the overtraining: guilt.

“I didn’t do enough last year and missed my PR, I’m going to really nail it this year and suffer to the max to make myself better.” Or, “I haven’t done anything for a while, and I want to get back into shape. I’m going to go hit it super hard and get healthy and active again.”

Sound familiar? In just a few short years in triathlon, I have heard these things so often it’s nauseating. It’s ok to want to get back into shape, or to work harder to get to that elusive PR, but the answer is never, I repeat NEVER overtraining.

So now you want an “off-season” to relax, eat all the shitty food you’ve been avoiding, have a few (or more) beers and put on some winter weight. You feel a little guilty, but figure it’ll be ok once you start training again in February. Or March. Maybe April…

The fact is that this is driven by a feeling of accomplishment. “I carried my body so far last year and hit a huge PR! I deserve a break!” I listed this crap above, so if you need a refresher, scroll up. But, suffice it to say, your exhaustion is caused by overtraining.

The key is this: rest can be just as important as a workout. If you don’t have a rest day (maybe two, depending on your plan) in your weekly training plan, make one. My coach takes care of me, and understands this concept. Overtraining without rest causes your body to be broken down, and makes you susceptible to illness, injury, and mental burn-out. It can lead you to think, “I’ve really accomplished a lot, I deserve a break.” Then when you take that extended break, you’re left feeling guilty because you haven’t been training, and launch back into overtraining.

Break the vicious cycle!! Don’t let these waxing and waning feelings take over your training. Here are a few tips to know when you might be doing too much:

  1. Listen to your body. If you have a hacking cough, running nose, and are running a fever, maybe going for that 10-mile run outdoors in below-freezing temps and a snow storm isn’t the best idea. Your body needs recovery time to get over an illness, and depleting it of energy is not a good way to encourage recovery. (If you feel like you still need to do something, maybe take a walk on a treadmill, or a light spin on an exercise bike.) Conversely, sometimes what your body needs to kick the illness is the exercise! Learn the cues of your body and know when you need to sweat the sickness out, and when it might not be the best idea. Only you can answer this question.
  2. Listen to your brain. If you’ve been up since 4 am with a crying infant, worked all day on a stressful project, cooked dinner, cleaned the house, ran a meeting in your community, and get home at 9 pm to see you still have a 120-minute trainer session and start to cry, maybe don’t do the trainer session. If you’re mentally drained and the thought of moving one more inch is enough to produce tears, take a rest night. It won’t do much good to do the workout without focusing on it. Conversely, sometimes you need to break through that mental barrier and do the workout anyway. There can be a lot to gain by pushing through, being mentally tough, and doing the workout even when you don’t want to.
  3. Look at your training schedule/log. If you’re like me, you track a lot of data. A LOT of data. You know your macros, your caloric intake, how many calories you burned in your workout, the TSS of your workout, your average heart rate, your power output, blah, blah, blah… The point is, you can readily look at your history and see how many days in a row you’ve worked out over the last few weeks. If you’ve done an intense workout every day for the last 10 days, maybe take a day off. It will do your body and your mind some good to have a little space to breathe. Conversely, it’s important to note the difference in intensity between your workouts. If your last 7 days have been easy days, skipping another easy workout, or that one high intensity workout of the week, could work to your detriment.
  4. When in doubt, check with your coach. I know, this one has a prerequisite, and further qualifiers. I am fortunate enough to have text message privileges with my coach, and he often texts back in a very short amount of time. If I’m having a hard time telling whether I should push through and do the workout or ease up and take a day off, I know I can rely on my coach to help make the decision, even if it’s not what I want to hear. To the same point, don’t bug your coach all the time. If you find yourself trying to decide whether or not to do the workout every week, you probably need to reevaluate more than whether or not you should be doing the workout. This should be a fairly rare occurrence.

The fact is, what most people call the “off-season,” is a significant season of opportunity. It provides the margin that makes itself abundantly apparent on race day. This time frame separates winners from those who didn’t quite make the podium. Now is the time to lose the weight you think you ought to lose, now is the time to increase your FTP, now is the time to improve your swimming/running/cycling form, now is the time to lift more weights, get more flexible, become more mindful. This is prime base building season.

So, it’s all (as usual) up to you. You know you better than anyone else. Only you can check the boxes on whether or not you should work out, whether or not you want to work out, or whether or not you’re in it to win it.

For me, my goals require me to dig in during this time and make improvements. I will engage in suffering all winter and spring so that I am faster in the summer. What are you going to do?

Later on…

A Moment About Suffering

I had the opportunity to answer a question on NYE that I don’t get asked much, but that I contemplate when training: How do you put yourself through all of that pain?

The answer really boils down to two main components:

  1. The suffering lets me know I’m alive
  2. The suffering teaches me about myself and who I am

Suffering is such an odd concept to embrace, because humans are hard wired to avoid it at all costs. We learn at a young age that if it brings pain, we shouldn’t do it. We don’t go back to the stove to see if we can leave our hand on the burner a little longer this time; We don’t touch the stove again! We seek what is comfortable, and so far humans have done a pretty good job at that. We have huge cities, great technology, and we’re pushing that concept further and further every year (OrderUp, InstaCart, Uber anyone?).

So what is it that drives athletes to endure suffering, to abuse our bodies and push the limits of what we can take? The answer will not be the same for every athlete you ask, and I can only give you my answer.

My answer is that I find it cathartic. I find that it is in my best interest to cast myself into the fire to see how, what, and who I am on the other side. There is something about knowing and being known by suffering that allows a person such great freedom.

There comes a point in a race (if you’re running it right in my opinion) where you begin to hear a voice questioning you, why you are doing this and if it’s worth it. You must be prepared to either ignore that voice, tell it to STFU, or answer the questions. If you haven’t prepared, or you give the wrong answer, your day ends there. If you haven’t been there, and practiced your response, it’s extremely difficult to give the right response on race day.

And that’s the often-overlooked value of the training. Aside from just the obvious physical benefits, which are totally a necessary part of what I do, the mental toughness is something learned from pushing yourself to the limit week in and week out. Unless and until you get down and wallow around in the suffering, roll and revel in it, find out who you are in the midst of it and learn how you react to it, you will be unprepared for race day.

When I get into that suffering, when I’m down in the trench wondering if I should call it quits, if what I’m doing is worth it, I know that I have a choice. And making the choice to continue to suffer and to push my body, that’s when I know I’m truly alive. I’m feeling, but I still have a choice. It sucks, but it’s because I choose the suck. It’s hard, but it’s because that’s how I make it. I am directing this moment, and only I say when it’s enough, not the suffering.

I have learned that my body is capable of so, so much more than what I think it is. I have learned that I can endure more than I think I can; That when my body tells me it’s ready to stop, I know better. I have found a new strength, a second, third, sometimes fourth wind. I’ve found the strength to pick the pace up when I thought I could barely walk. I am so much more than the suffering, I just need it to get me to go there.

I wish my response on NYE were this eloquent, this well-thought out. I think I said something more like, “You learn to deal with it and love it.” I got some crazy looks for that one, but fortunately everyone moved on pretty quickly. But to those of you who are familiar with this game, you know what I’m talking about.

For those who are new to triathlon in particular, welcome! Don’t worry, I know everything I said above sounds terrible, but really, you do learn to love it, crave it even. You’ll get there. Start small. Search for it in your training, and know that when you feel it you’re making a break through. When you push through it, you’ve made an accomplishment. Eventually, you’ll know enough about your body to find it and love it, too.

FTP and Perspective

I did my first ever FTP test a couple of days ago now, and I was less than enthused by my results. Maybe it’s the complete lack of training over the last month or so (thanks a lot, finals), maybe I’m just way weaker than I though, but here it is in all it’s lackluster glory: 151 Watts.

Wah-freakin-wah. Not exactly what I was hoping for. That means that I’m generating about 2.1 watts per kg of bodyweight (155 lbs = 70 kg). Ideally, I would have been much closer to 3 w/kg, but that’s what the off season is for, right?

Well, I was wallowing in my sorrow, and headed out for a run to see how much of that had left me since I’ve been so inactive. Not as much as I thought, but still not great: 8:15/mi average. Now, it was a fartlek workout, and there were some pretty icy patches that slowed me down, but still. In the winter months I’m more used to seeing sub-8 average times. Something about that cold air…

BUT, as I passed another person who was walking, they smiled and waved, and I could see that they were breathing heavy, sweat was collecting on their eyebrow, and their cheeks were rosy. Instinctively I waved and smiled back, and I was suddenly smacked with the reality of pace.

First, a brief aside. If you don’t return a smile and wave from another runner, cyclist, or walker, shame on you. In my head, every time someone doesn’t even acknowledge my existence after I’ve waved, I’m thinking (and sometimes saying it under my breath), “Well f*ck you too!” There’s no need to be a dick out there, just freakin’ wave back! You may be the nicest person in the world, but when you don’t wave back, that’s what I think. /rant.

The truth is, “fast” is relative. To those who are huffing and puffing to walk a 20-minute mile, a 15-minute mile is fast! To those running a 15-minute mile, a 12-minute mile is fast! So for me to be bummed because I’m not rocking my usual 7:30-mile training run pace, wishing I was running “fast,” seemed a little petty to say the least.

That said, I want to be faster. I don’t want to settle for my current pace, because I think I can be faster. Is it going to mean a lot of work? Yes. Is it going to mean suffering? Yes. Is it going to hurt? Yes. Is it going to be worth it? Hell yes.

If you’re reading this and thinking about quitting because you’re not “fast,” please, PLEASE do NOT give up! It’s not about reaching someone else’s pace. It’s not about getting to someone else’s definition of “fast.” It’s all about the journey. Embracing that and enjoying seeing the change as it occurs will hold much more value than simply getting to a number.

Later on…

The 2017 Post

I’ve been promising this post, and here it is! Let’s get the big things out of the way first:

  1. I’m excited to be racing under Maverick Multisport this year on their Age Group team!
  2. My A races are Ironman Muncie 70.3, and USAT Nationals (dependent on qualifying)

There is a stretch race that I’ve got my sights set on, but there’s too much work to do to worry you all about that. I’ll address it if/when I get there.

I keep saying I’m excited to race under Maverick, but I really am PUMPED to be racing as a Maverick! I have known a few Mavericks over the years, and I have seen and heard nothing but great things! I’m really looking forward to the community the team has, and to supporting the accomplishments of even more people from all over the world!

I already race as a Renegade, and I won’t be leaving my Renegades behind, nor my OG PCS Multisport team! Just spreading the love between two world wide teams, and bringing it home to the locals.

I have a few things that I need to say about my goals this year. The A races are just the products of a few other goals that I want to see come to fruition, and where I get to go to show off my hard work.

In addition to the races, I have a subset of goals:

  1. Lose 20 lbs.
  2. Build power on the bike (through cross training and through specific bike work)
  3. Get and keep my diet in check – Going Keto!
  4. Do CrossFit to build power in my legs and mental toughness
  5. Run a sub-20 5k in a tri

The first four things are things that I think have been holding me back for the last couple of years. My diet has affected my weight, which in turn has affected my power to weight ratio, which in turn has affected my speed… So I’m going back to basics. Eat fat to burn fat, keep carbs low, plenty of protein for recovery. Operate at a caloric deficit, get lean to go fast. That’s my game this year: GO F’IN FAST.

CrossFit will be a new addition, and will likely not last beyond the spring, but it will depend on how it goes, how I progress, etc. I’ve got a connection to a great box through my wife, and I’m excited to get started with that in the new year.

In order to build more power, I’ll actually start training with power! Now, it’ll be simulated power at the beginning. I’ll be on Zwift training with simulated power, and hoping to make some equipment changes in the new year. We’ll see how that works out.

I’ve been chasing a sub-20 5k in a race for about a year and a half now, but this is the year. I have started to build some consistent speed in addition to adding endurance, and I have no doubt that that barrier will be broken this year. I will have to if I want to qualify for Nationals!

One more thing: This spring is going to be extremely busy. I’ve got a full class load, I’m participating on a national moot court team in Chicago in February, I’m hoping to be working a part time job, and managing a full training schedule. It’s going to be a busy time, but the rewards that potential payoff will be huge!

I’m continuing to search for an internship in the legal field. Colorado, Indiana, California… if you know of an internship that could use a driven, qualified candidate, please let me know!

Look out for more updates as training ramps up, I’ll be doing some baseline workouts in the near future and will post my numbers and thoughts!

Later on!