Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Open Letter to My First-Time IM Friends

I did not write this.  It was sent to me, by a dear friend, before I did my first IM, and I've seen various versions circulating about the internet since that time. I’ve edited it for Ironman Texas and I wanted to share it with those of you who are about to do your first (or any number) as I prepare for my second.  It still gives me goosebumps when I read it. This event is not about some name brand.  It is about the training: the blood, sweat and tears and everything that goes into the process of preparing to be ready for starting and finishing 140.6 miles.

So without further adieu, to those of you heading to Ironman - to the IM-Virgins, the veterans, and everyone in-between...  Right now you've entered the taper. Perhaps you've been at this a few months, perhaps you've been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match.  You've been following your schedule to the letter. You've been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take months or more to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that may have been longer than you slept for any given night during college.  You swam in the cold. You rode in the rain. You ran in the heat. You went out when others stayed home. You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads.  You have survived the Darwinian progression that is Ironman training, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you've already covered so much ground...there's just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lays before you...and it will be a fast one.  Time that used to be filled with never-ending training will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind, cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you.  It won't be pretty.  It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren't ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn't know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth:  you are ready.  Your brain won't believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish - that there is too much that can go wrong.  You are ready.  Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every $#%& week will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer.  It is worth it. Now that you're at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. It is not easy, but you can do it.  You are ready.  You will walk into the water with 2000 other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You'll feel the chill of the water crawl against your skin, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day you have waited for, for so VERY long, is finally here.  You will tear up in your goggles. The helicopter will roar overhead. The splashing will surround you.  You'll stop thinking about Ironman, because you're now racing one.  The swim will be long - it's long for everyone, but you'll make it. You'll watch as the final shoreline grows and grows, and soon you'll hear the end. You'll come up to the edge and head for the ladder. You may have to wait for someone to get off that sucker before you, but you will get your turn. You’ll find your transition bag—don’t worry about the sea of bags the same color, someone is there to help you--and run off to prepare for the bike (don’t forget the sunscreen, pick a volunteer near the end!). You may not always realize just what is happening but you won't wipe the smile off your face for anything and you'll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You'll be on the bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman. The site of a seemingly unlimited line of bikes before you and behind you is a site to behold. You'll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It's warmer now. Maybe it's hot—there’s shade in the tree cover at times. Maybe you're not feeling so good now. You'll keep riding. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right? Your training got you this far—TRUST IT NOW! You'll put on your game face, fighting the urge to slow down as you ride for what seems like hours, well it is for hours but you’ve practiced this many times in training. You reach Special Needs, maybe you’ll stop a bit to fuel up, and head out again.   By now it'll be hot and you'll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You've been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won't - not here, not today. You'll grind the false flats to the climbs. You'll know you're almost there. You'll fight for every inch of road. The occasion cheer will come back to you help you here and there. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you - your body will get just that little bit lighter. Grind. Fight. Suffer. Persevere. You'll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come - soon! You'll roll back - you'll see people running. You'll think to yourself, "Wasn't I just here?" The noise will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air - you're almost back, with only the 26.2 mile run to go. You'll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2.  You'll roll into transition and volunteers will fight for your bike. You'll give it up and not look back. You'll have your transition bag handed to you, and into the tent you'll go. You'll change and load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman season – this is the one that counts.  You'll take that first step of a thousand...and you'll smile. You'll know that the bike won't let you down now - the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a hot Saturday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you've worked for all year long.  That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won't feel so good. That's okay. You knew it couldn't all be that easy. You'll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You may see leaders passing you on their own way through. Some will look great - some won't. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don't panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last. You'll keep moving. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep eating. Maybe you'll be right on plan - maybe you won't. If you're ahead of schedule, don't worry - believe. If you're behind, don't panic - roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon….by remote control….blindfolded. Expect things to go wrong and then just deal with it. How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't stop and don't EVER sit down. You'll make it through the first loop. You'll load up on special needs if you need. Some of what you packed will look good, some won't. Eat what looks good, toss the rest, you’ll be back here again anyway. Keep moving and start looking for people you know and cheer for people you don't. You're headed forward, some of them won’t be. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people heading out faster than you earlier. Share some energy - you'll get it right back.  Run if you can. Walk if you have to. Just keep moving.  The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You'll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. Keep moving. You'll soon only have a mere lap to go. You'll start to believe that you're going to make it. You'll start to imagine how good it's going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don't want to move anymore, think about what it's going to be like when someone catches you...puts a medal over your head......all you have to do is get there.  You'll start to hear the call of the Waterway. People you can't see in the twilight will cheer for you. They'll call out your name. Smile and thank them, or just wave a bit—they’ll understand what you mean. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, when you left on the run, and now when you've come back. You'll be running along the water for a while for the last time. You'll start to realize that the day is almost over. You'll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a “decent”pace (if you're lucky), but you'll ask yourself, "Where did the whole day go?" You'll be standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible. You'll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles - just 2KM left in it. You'll run. You'll find your legs. You won't know how, but you will run. You will feel like you’re flying at the end. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you'll be able to hear the music again. This time, it'll be for keeps. Soon they'll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You'll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you. Remember to take a moment to make this the finishing memory of a lifetime. They'll call your name. You'll keep running. You won’t feel the pain. The moment will be yours - for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you. You'll cross the mat. The flash will go off, well actually many flashes were already going off. You'll stop. You'll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and suddenly be capable of nothing more.  Someone will catch you. You'll lean into them. It will suddenly hit you…

You are an Ironman.

Have a great day out there my friends! 
If you know anyone who might gain value from this, please feel free to share it.

The Journey

It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Seventeen weeks ago I began training for Ironman Texas, which is now less than 20 days away. In that time  I've covered just over 1,600 miles and I still have more than a few miles left to cover as I begin the 3 week taper period. Since I started this, I've run a half marathon, 2 marathons and a 50 mile trail race as I prepared for the Ironman race and this weekend I finished the process of preparation with a 16 mile run and a 94 mile bike ride.

Now I have a few weeks to refine my preparations and recover from the weariness that the training has brought upon me.

Ironman Texas is just 19 days away.....and I am looking even more forward to it with every passing day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wrapping Up

As I write this, Ironman Texas is just a few minutes more than 24 days away.

There are only a few more days of training before I begin my 3 week taper that will bridge the gap between previous 17 weeks of training and the race on May 19th. Yesterday's workouts included an early morning swim of 5000 yards, which felt so much harder than just being 1000 yards more than 4000 yards, and it also included a 4 mile track workout. The contrast of these two workouts was huge. This was my longest swimming workout and one of my shortest running workouts of my Ironman training this year.

There is no doubt that the cumulative effect of these last almost 4 months of training has left me tired and worn down. However I also completed these workouts with the unmistakeable feeling that my training program has done its job and gotten me to where I wanted to be.

I. Am. Ready.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Starting Out with CLIF--Unboxing the First Shipment

As I posted previously, I was recently selected to be a CLIF Ambassador for 2012. I applied through the ambassador program run through just before the deadline in late March and found out shortly thereafter that I was selected.

This week I received my first shipment for the program and it included what I needed to get started, plus some unexpected goodies as well. I took to the spare bedroom to find the space I needed to unpack the two packages I received.

First off I received 2 boxes of 150 mini Peanut Butter Chocolate Builder Bars (my favorite flavor) and 4 boxes of 100 mini CLIF Bars. This is less than 1/3 of what I have to distribute throughout the program (which runs through November 2012)  but should last me a while.

Next I found the program manual which details my obligations under the program and provides some useful suggestions in fulfilling those obligations.

One of the most important things that I was looking forward to receiving was my CLIF Bar shirt for wearing while fulfilling my official required appearances for CLIF. I guess I was looking forward to receiving this as making my involvement feel "real".
For now, this was all I was expecting to get. However, it appeared a few "extras" were also sent along!

Like almost any triathlete, I have plenty of water bottles around but that does prevent me from being happy to add more to my collection--something where CLIF was happy to help me indulge my collecting habit!
  Next they included a five foot long banner for advertising their product line. I can see where I can make good use of this.

Finally, they also included 6 pairs of athletic socks, which are just the kind I have been wearing recently, except these bear the CLIF name. I will be wearing some of these to train with in the next month and try to wear a pair (or two) during Ironman Texas next month.

Now it is up to me to start to fulfill my end of the agreement, something I am looking forward to doing. I am both happy to be selected by and involved with a program of this type and proud that I was chosen to represent products that I personally enjoy and in which I believe. In fact, I suppose I am already starting by way of this blog post.

Meanwhile, Ironman Texas comes closer with each day and will be here in just 28 days.....

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Peaking Training

With a little less than 5 weeks remaining until Ironman Texas, I am in the midst of the peak training cycle of my training.

This past week included 9900 yards of swimming in 3:42:31, I spent 8:22:08 on cycling training (which included a group 112.3 mile ride, most of which was on the new Ironman Texas course, and I also spent 5:47:54 covering 33.28 miles of run training (including a 17.6 mile long run). Counting the additional time spent on some stretching workouts, I put in my biggest week of Ironman training with a total of 18:07:33.

The sum total of these workouts is beginning to wear me down mentally at times, but this is also part of the overall preparation for Ironman--to be mentally ready to endure the event. I know the end of this peak training cycle will end in a couple weeks and I will then be able to rest as I taper down my training as part of the final preparation for my race.

In addition to my workouts I also managed to attend an online seminar for my CLIF Bar Ambassador training and will now await my first shipment from them--it will be hard to wait patiently!

Next week is also shaping up to be a rather busy week for me on the workout schedule as well, but at least it should be a bit less than this past week.

34 days until Ironman Texas......

Monday, April 9, 2012

A New Challenge

I've been working for a while now on exploring boundaries and seeking new challenges......and now I have one more.

(I'm taking a deep breath before I post this one......)

Last month I applied for a program on a whim....well, more accurately I thought about applying and didn't until a friend nudged me a bit. After all (at least in my estimation) this was the sort of thing into which other people (i.e. better athletes) got accepted. However, this was different as last Monday I got an email saying that....well, saying this:

Congratulations!  We’re pleased to announce that you have been selected to become a CLIF Ambassador! Your individual athletic interests were a perfect match for the sponsors’ goal of building a dedicated team of trainers, instructors and coaches who are committed to training others and promoting a healthy lifestyle. 

I applied as a trainer/coach who soon begin working with an after school group (which I did list in my application), although since Clif's target is adults I may do more of my fulfillment of the terms of my program with athletes in training and racing environments as a fellow athlete. The products that I will be dealing with are Clif Bar and Builder Bar, which happen to be my favorite Clif products.

Tomorrow is my "webinar" where I will get additional information beyond what I have already gotten online and through email. I am both a bit excited and apprehensive about this--but where would I be if I never tried anything new? 

Actually, I think I know the answer to that, I would likely be a nice guy weighing over 300 lbs who was wondering what to do about his health rather than being someone who had gotten his act together and had a company ask him to promote their product. 

Wow! This is definitely new territory for me. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Photos of the IM Texas 70.3 in Galveston - 2012

A side benefit of a (more or less) local race is that some friends may be in attendance cheering for you, and in some cases friends with good cameras taking photos of you as well! This blog post is my chance to post some of those photos to which I did not have access when I wrote my initial race report.

This photo is prior to my setting up of my transition area. Can you tell that I had just taken off my bike helmet?  
This is very early in the bike portion of the event, probably about 2 miles into a 56 mile ride. I spent nearly the whole ride in the aero position and my friend Corey manages to catch me sitting up and out of that position!
This is in the middle of the first of three running loops. I must be flying as no feet are currently on the ground!
This is in the middle of loop 2 of the run. I'm not sure how I managed a smile here but it probably had something to do with my friend Tommy saying something about how fast I was going.
For some reason Tommy took this photo after I had passed by him but I thought I would still throw it up here for fun.
That's the last of the photos that I am posting from friends, and I don't plan to buy the professional photos. However, I do have one photo that I consider somewhat scary in retrospect. I've been told by several people that I should start setting more aggressive goals. So instead of just trying to get under 6 hours I decided several months ago when I first started planning to do this race to write out what I thought would be my most ambitious goal that still had a chance to be realistic at the same time and here is a photo of the note that I wrote out.
The reason I call this photo somewhat "scary" is that it was so close to my actual race. None of the individual events is off from my actual time by more than 36 seconds and the overall total was off by just 5 seconds. Seeing as how I didn't fully taper for this race and wasn't 100% prepared to give me best possible effort (I was probably more like 90% prepared.) I must admit that my coach and friends are right about my goal setting needing to be more aggressive, even though I am not sure how much more aggressive I can be and still feel I am being realistic.

Finally, I think I will have a special item to be able to announce in the next several days but I want to wait until Tuesday just to make sure everything will work out as it should.

Monday, April 2, 2012

IM 70.3 Texas - 2012 Race Report

I'm going to start this race report by pasting the following lines from my pre-race post:

"A lot has changed for me since I last did this race nearly two years ago. I've lost a good bit of weight. I've since lowered my 70.3 distance PR time from the 7:52:07 on that day to my current PR for the distance from last November of 6:21:22. I suppose the main thing that has changed in that time is that while I thought I knew what I was doing on that day, I now know that I still had so very much to learn to become a decent triathlete. However, without that day playing out as it did I likely would not have sought the aid of Coach Michelle, and who knows just how many of my OutRival Racing friends and teammates would be my friends today. Although I was unhappy with the way that day unfolded, I believe it became a positive pivotal event for my future."

I think it is important for me to remember some of the context of where I have come from, how I have improved and why I continue to do these events.I find that I do these things as much for the camaraderie of my friends and enjoyment of our shared experiences as much as I enjoy testing how far I can improve on my past. I hope I will always remember that doing my best and sharing these experiences with friends is more important than any number that designates a finishing time.

I went into this race on a mission to do my best. My goals were to PR, get under 6 hours and, if everything came together perfectly I really (really, really, really) wanted on a personal level to beat that previous time on the course from 2 years ago by 2 hours.

Pre-Race: I did not get a lot of sleep the night before the race, which is not unusual for me though I did get about 9 hours of sleep the night before which is well above my typical 6 - 6.5 hours, so I did feel fairly rested. I got into transition to set up fairly early and then made sure that I knew my way around. I was very far in the back and wanted to make sure that I did not get lost at any time. As luck would have it the four spots adjacent to me were no-shows so I had plenty of set up room. While I had time I also chatted with several friends. As transition closed I walked towards the swim start area and found a place to sit and rest as I was in the 16th of 20 waves to start, which meant that while the first athletes began at 7:00 am, I would not begin until 8:15 am. I rested, chatted and generally tried to pass the time without expending much energy.

Swim: We hopped off the pier into the water as the previous wave clear the start. I got off to a good start and felt like I had a strong but comfortable pace. As I rounded the first turn buoy I got tangled with another swimmer who was outside of me on the turn but cut the turn sharply. Somehow, after a minor tussle with this guy (not malicious or fighting, we just got tangled up real good) I got off line and began swimming away from the course and back toward shore on the inside of the buoys. Yes, I was THAT guy who went way off course. I estimate it took me about 100 yards to figure that out and cost myself 3-4 minutes in the process. After that I was more careful to swim a very good line on the marker buoys and had a solid swim from that point. I finished the swim in 39:49, which is only 29 seconds off my faster half iron swim. Although it was slower than I had hoped I know that was my own fault.

T1: 3:42 I tried to move quickly but also took the time to make sure I took care of what I needed.I figure comfort on the bike would benefit me more than cutting a few seconds in transition.

Bike: There was some wind out, mostly a headwind on the first half of the course and mostly a tailwind on the second half. At first my right hamstring felt tight and I was concerned and tried to stretch it a bit and rode a bit easier for a few minutes until I was more warmed up. After a little while it did not seem to concern me again. Starting out so far in the back of the field in this wave start meant that I was passing a lot of other cyclists along the way, which helped to keep me engaged as I had target after target to pick off as I moved up. I hit the turnaround in 1:30:31, an average speed of 18.56 mph. I was hoping to be under three hours on the bike and was slightly off that pace but I figured the wind would be more helpful on the return trip. I was also riding with regard to my heart rate zones to avoid going too fast this early in the race and ruining my run later. On the way back my pace did pick up and I continued to push my pace. I made the return trip in 1:20:44 (20.81 mph). Overall my bike ride was 2:51:15 (19.62 mph). This was definitely the type of time I hoped for--it was about 10 minutes ahead of my last half iron bike--and I knew I still felt strong coming back into the transition area.

T2: Just like with T1 I tried to be quick but also make sure I was going to be comfortable for the run. I was out of T2 in 2:55.

Run: I started off feeling strong but knew it was going to be a long run. I felt good in my last half iron race at this point and had issues on the run, too. However, today I felt stronger and better (or at least I thought I did). For April 1st it was quite warm, and felt hot as the day went on. I took in a lot of cold water and kept putting ice in my shirt (and even shorts) to help keep my body cooler. I averaged just under a 9 minute per mile pace on the first of the three run loops and I knew I felt better than most of the others out there on the course from the way they looked. It wasn't easy and my legs (mostly the quads) were sore but I kept going. My second loop was about a 10:20 pace, which is around what I originally expected to start at so I was happy with that. After the second loop I was pretty much shot and was running on a slightly upset stomach, but I knew that all I had to do was keep my legs moving. I was far enough ahead of a sub 6 hour pace that I knew I merely need to keep running to make that goal, even if beating the previous course time by 2 hours was now fading into being beyond my grasp. For the final loop I stayed off of nutrition and just took water and ice to ease my stomach. I had padded my nutrition plans a bit and being ahead of schedule may have put too much food in my stomach. Doing this seemed to help the upset stomach feeling although my legs were another issue. Where I only walked through the aid stations in the previous loops I was now walking a full minute at these stops. In last half of the loop I also mixed in a few 1 minute walks with 4/1 run/walk patterns as I pressed on. When I got to where the path was winding back near the finish I pushed on and my only walk after that was at the mile 12 aid station. The last mile had us on the loop around the airfield and that felt like a lonely place, especially that late in the race. Finally, I was heading back after reaching the end of the loop and I could feel my pace pick up with the adrenaline beginning to help lift me up to the finish. As I was coming up to the transition area before the final run down the finishing chute I was picking up the pace and passing people. In the blur of the finish I heard voices calling out my name and I move as fast as I can down to the finish. After crossing the line I knew I had given everything today in this effort and glancing down at my watch I see my finish time of 5:52:05. I made it under 6 hours! I beat that time from 2 years ago by over 2 hours (2 hours and 2 seconds)! I let out yell of pure joy in that moment before I stumbled away from the finish line and go looking for my friends. (Run time was 2:14:24, a half marathon PR for me)

As good a day as this was for me, I don't think that I should forget that without leaving this venue 2 years before feeling as if I had failed, at least partly, in tapping into my ability, then the success of this day may never have happened. I would have had know reason to make changes in my training and might still be on the same slow rate of continuous improvement that I was on before. I have no doubt that this was the strongest I have ever felt doing a triathlon......also, I am already plotting how to improve the next time I do this distance, but I will save those ideas for another day.

Start by doing what is necessary, then what's possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. ---St. Francis of Assisi