2018 – The year that wasn’t

Funny how one year can contain some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of life. I know that’s cryptic, so let me explain.

Early in 2018, I lost my grandpa. In my final semester of law school, I had to lay to rest one of the greatest men I knew. My in-laws were in town for bourbon fest, and we were having a great time, when I got the call that his health had turned south. After a difficult week or so in the hospital, he passed on to be with grandma.

I’m glad I got to spend time with him while he was awake in his last days, I got to tell him how much I loved him, how much he meant to me, and that I would see him again.

Then, the Carmel Marathon, which I wrote about here. If you haven’t read that yet, check it out. It’s the only race recap you’ll read from me this year. My hope was that this would be a strong start to my best tri season yet, getting into marathon shape before the season really kicked off, I expected to carry that early season fitness into the 2018 season. I was really pleased with my result, despite missing my goal time by a few minutes.

In May, I graduated from law school. Not only did I graduate, I made the Dean’s List in my final semester. A journey I began more than 3 years ago, completed. We had a fantastic celebration with family, capped off with dinner at St. Elmo’s in downtown Indy.

Shortly after graduation, I accepted a job in Denver, and started preparing to take the bar exam. I was working at the time, taking bar prep classes after work, and packing boxes after that. It was stressful, but there was a lot of excitement around making the move to Denver.

In June, on the way to Denver, our truck caught fire, and all of our possessions were destroyed. Standing beside the sum whole of your possessions as they burn is not a feeling I would wish on even my worst enemies, and emotional scars still remain as we work through this devastating loss.

Included in the destruction, were all of my bar prep materials, including notes I had taken through the first 1/2-1/3 of the course. We had to delay internet installation by a week and a half, so I had no online access to review videos to help me stay sharp. On top of this, I found myself alone (Natalie had to go back to Indy to continue working and school) in an empty apartment, in a new city.

In July, I finally took the bar exam. Two of the most stressful days you can imagine (besides watching everything you own burn), and Natalie and I took some time off to go to Chicago with friends to blow off some steam. We had a great time, but I don’t think I ever got over the concern for my test scores.

In August, I flew back to Indiana again to watch Natalie graduate with her Master’s degree. It was great to see friends and family, and to celebrate Natalie’s achievement. At the end of that weekend, we packed up Natalie’s car with the remaining possessions we had in Indiana, and drove out to Colorado together. No more would I be alone!

I’m pleased to report that there was no fire this time around. A few weeks later, I got the stellar news that I had passed the bar. I came back to Indiana recently to be sworn in, and I am a full-fledged member of the Indiana bar. I’m a real lawyer!

Things started to progress back to normal. I had Ironman Florida on the calendar on November 3, and I was training in a way that I would be able to finish, just trying to be able to put a cap on the year, finish it out on a positive note.

Then came Hurricane Michael.

Michael devastated much of the Florida panhandle, right where IMFL was to take place. There was so much destruction and heartache in that area, and I understand the pain of those affected. Ironman changed plans, and is miraculously still able to put on a race. Just, it’s going to be held 400 miles away, and a day later.

Unfortunately, those changes mean that I’m unable to race. I really had hoped to use the race to prove to myself that I can overcome disastrous circumstances, I can mentally overcome and beat the worst year of my life into submission, and turn it into the best year of my life. I wanted to be able to stand tall at the end of that race, and proudly say that I had become those things I proclaim: Drive, Grit & Determination.

And so, 2018 is the first year since 2012 that I will not have raced a single triathlon. I’ll be back in 2019, specifically at Ironman Texas in April. There are a few other races in the works that we’re looking at, and I’ll write more about those later. For now, I’m taking some time to enjoy our new surroundings here in Colorado, and trying to find some local races to jump into next season.

You’ll still see me on my trainer in the garage, out for a run on some trails, and in the pool at our new gym. I’m not stopping, and next season is going to be strong. 2018 has been challenging in so many ways, and we haven’t given up. We had every excuse, but we keep moving, keep pushing. I’m considering a new mantra for next year, and when we get back from Florida (we’re still going, we did buy plane tickets after all), I’ll provide an update on that.

Later on.

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…


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.


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…