Archive for June, 2012

Whenever something comes into your life it seems that you are so excited about the “newness” of it all that you do not spend very much time at all thinking about how you will feel when it ends.  Perhaps it is human nature that we do not want to think about such things as it reminds us of our own mortality.  Or maybe it is just our way of putting off the inevitable.

But on Monday with the ring of the doorbell and a plop of a box on our front porch the time had come for me to retire my running watch and move on to a new one.  I had performed CPR on my old watch numerous times over the past few months.  Waking it up from the dead.  Upgrading the hardware and software, doing a hard-reset to the system.  But I was just in denial.  It was time.

Last Sunday when the watch would not wake up for the run portion of the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon I knew that we were at the end of the road.  So I went online, searched for the best deal and then …

I ordered the exact same model Garmin.

My watch had been good to me.  We had covered some serious mileage together.  Ran and raced better, faster and farther than I ever have before.

We ran in Mexico, Canada, Hawaii and 27 of our 48 contiguous states.

We ran 7 marathons together, 8 half-marathons, 2 ultra races and too many short distance events to count.

We ran across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, raced across the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, SC.  through a grove of Eucalyptus trees on Kauai and along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.  We ran in the snow, rain, wind and Texas heat.  We even ran silently alone together on Christmas Morning this year to visit Dom at the cemetery.

Together we went out the door for 887 runs that covered 7,082.75 miles.  Essentially across the United States from coast to coast.  Twice.

We climbed 438,669 feet of hills together.  That is 83 miles straight up.

My watch was good to me and in turn it was raised in triumph as we crossed the finish line this fall at the New York City Marathon with our personal best in that event with Dawn and Landry looking on.

New York City Marathon 2011

I’m going to miss my old watch.  But as they say, nothing lasts forever.  I only hope that my new one brings me half of the enjoyment and triumph that my old one did.

To the last 7,000+ miles … thank you my friend.  It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Over the last 12-18 months I have been playing an idea over and over in my head when it comes to racing.  I have been thinking about showing up to an “A” race, one where my performance is of utmost importance in my eyes, where I have trained diligently, watched my nutrition, tapered properly and find myself at the starting line 100% ready and 100% healthy.

I put on my race gear, affix my bib, double tie the laces in my race flats and race completely by feel.

No GPS watch.  No race splits.  No feedback.  Just me, the way my body is reacting to the load and my brain to interpret the fastest pace I can run over the remaining miles of the race to the very last stride.

Essentially, racing old school.

The way Bill Rogers and the rest of the American Road Racers did when we produced more sub 2:20 marathoners in the United States 40 years ago than we do today.  By a wide margin.

This notion has been building for some time as I have noticed that my ability to exceed expectations on training runs where I do not look at my GPS watch have become commonplace.

The last two weeks I have wrapped up my One Off, One On workouts with a closing mile in 5:57 and 5:59 respectively without sneaking a peak at watch or my pace.

At the New York City marathon, where I started on the lower deck of the Verrazano bridge – my GPS watch could not find signal and I had no reliable data for the first 6 miles of the course.  My pace through 6 miles – 6:47.  My goal pace for the race – 6:52.

Exactly where I needed to be.

At the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon last Sunday my GPS watch was “frozen” as I transitioned from the bike to the run.  I was unable to revive it and I ran the entire run leg by feel.

My pace after the swim, a 14 mile bike in 85 degree weather?  6:14 for 3 miles.

My pace the day before at the Holland Cornfest 5K?  6.02 for 3.1 miles.

Watch Dead, Legs Alive (6:14 pace)


My point is that I believe that with the proper emphasis on training by feel  and locking in our feelings of “exerted effort” and how it “feels” to run a 6 minute mile, a mile at half-marathon pace (6:22), marathon goal pace (6:52) or “easy” pace (7:45) – these feelings manifest themselves on race day and allow us to get out of our own way.

Instead of fixating on a mile split and thinking, “Man, I need to back off – I’m going too fast ….” running by feel allows the athlete to compute the distance remaining and determine just how much they can push it at that point to again, run the remainder of the race as fast as possible down to the last second.

Our reliance on our GPS devices has taken away the freedom of road racing and replaced it with a system of positive and negative reinforcement.  We are becoming like the chicken that pecks at the bulls eye to release food pellets.

I am seriously contemplating running the Houston Marathon, my next “A” race and leaving the watch at home.  I am going to make a concerted effort to run at least twice a week in the interim with my watch in the driveway – only recording my starting time and ending time and relying on my internal compass to take me through my workout.

By January I will know EXACTLY what 6:50 pace feels like and be able to repeat it at will.

If on January 13th my body feels that 6:42 pace or 6:40 pace is where we need to be, then that is where we will race.  We will never know the difference until we reach mile 20 and start to do the math and figure out just how much time we have left to cross that finish line in 2 hours, 59 minutes and as many seconds that I can shave off to break three hours.

In a sense I am going to just get out of my own way and let me be great.

That’s how winning is done after all.  It doesn’t have anything to do with a watch.

Last year when I started to entertain the thought of competing in the Longhorn Ironman 70.3 this October the thought of swimming 1.2 miles in Open Water didn’t really scare me.  I had covered that distance a few times without stopping in Quarry Lake here in Austin last summer.  It was more a matter of finding a rhythym and staying smooth and even.  I might not be a fast swimmer, but I can knock out 2,250 meters in the pool or lake pretty comfortably.  Swimming 1,931?  Doable.

Running 13.1 miles to wrap up the Ironman 70.3?  As I write this post my 7 half-marathon finisher’s medals hang on hooks less than two feet away.  Alongside them are my 8 marathon finishers medals and a couple of team ultra-marathon medals from the past two Ragnar Relay Races I’ve completed.  My training log is literally littered with hundreds of runs in excess of 13.1 miles.  The run?  Bring it on.

It was the 56-mile bike leg that had me nervous about Longhorn.  56 miles just “sounds” like it is a far way to go.  That’s a long ride on my Harley, and I don’t have to pedal one bit on the Deuce.  Could I really hang in the saddle for 56 miles?  Well after the Pflugerville triathlon on Sunday my friends Jay and Ed talked about riding “long” on Thursday.  Perhaps out to the general store in Andice, TX and back.

The first thing I though was – 56 miles.

The ride out to Andice is a pretty common route for the triathlete and road bike community in the North, Northwest part of Austin where I live.  It is done on a weekend morning usually, most of the time as a group where at the General Store in Andice you can stop and get yourself one of their famous “Turnaround Burgers”.

It was a ride I had always wanted to do, but was not comfortable heading out there on my own for the first time.  What if I got lost?  Flatted?  Had a mechanical issue with my bike?  It was a much safer proposition with a crowd.  So with Jay and Ed heading out on Thursday morning, I decided to mix up my training schedule for the week and making the plunge.  50+ miles in the saddle.

I rode the 4+ miles to Jay’s house to rendevous with Ed who lives just a few houses down and Jorge who was going to join us for the ride.  The solo 4 miles gave me a chance to warm-up a bit, get up over 20 mph to get the legs firing before we settled into a much slower, easy pace for the ride out.

The miles ticked by effortlessly, and before I knew it Ed was turning back to cap his ride at 20 miles.  He is racing at the Buffalo Springs Half-Ironman this weekend out in Lubbock, TX and was saving some energy for race weekend.  Jay, Jorge and I rode out Parmer Lane, heading up and down the rolling hills out to Andice.

As we rolled into the small town the General Store appeared at the end of the road.  We were halfway there.

We got off the bikes, walked into the old cedar plank floor general store for some drinks and saddled back up for the ride back home.

The General Store – Andice, TX

As the miles ticked from 30 to 35 to 40 I felt strong on the bike.  Just a couple of days post race, my fitness level really is in a great place right now.

As we hit the big climbs with 12 miles to go to my house we parted ways and I rode back solo at an up-tempo pace averaging over 20 mph for the last 1/5 of the ride.

I crossed that “mystical” 56 mile mark as I turned at the light at Avery Ranch Road and Parmer Lane, making the left turn to our house, the final 2 miles that wraps up each of my training rides.  I thundered uphill past our pool, back down the other side of the climb to the last group of rollers before banking hard and turning into our neighborhood.

I kept the cadence high, pounded on the pedals and rode to our home finishing up at 58 miles.

My final 12 miles were my fastest of the morning at 23.9, 18.7, 20.7, 21.2, 20.6, 21.8, 22.0, 16.3, 22.3, 18.1, 19.7, 23.1 mph.

It was a ride at 80% effort, so I am nowhere near where I will need to be to race hard over this distance come October.  But it was a solid first attempt at a “long-ride” and just logging the miles and banking that time in the saddle was a big victory.

Ride Elevation Chart – 58 Miler to Andice

All of a sudden 56 miles doesn’t seem like a big deal at all.  It feels just the same as the first time I ran a 20 mile training run before my first marathon.  Until you cross that line you have doubts about doing it.  But once you reach it, you realize there is another line just a little bit further out ahead of you that is firmly within your reach.

By October we will have ridden our first 100K Ride, our first 75 miler and eventually our first century ride of 100 miles.

I might need to stop inside the General Store in Andice and get a Turnaround Burger for that one.

You know those mornings where you roll over, look at the alarm clock and you can’t quite seem to remember what day it is and what you have to do next?  Well Sunday morning was that kind of morning for me.  I had gone into the bedroom to lie down early after a day of racing on Saturday not really intending on falling asleep, but just to get off my legs and rest a bit before bedtime.

The next thing I knew I woke up, rolled onto my side and saw the alarm clock – 3:58 a.m.

As I blinked away almost 7 hours of sleep I reached over to check my alarm which was set at 4:00 a.m.

Then it hit me – you’ve got another race today, better get moving.

I rolled out of bed, shut off the alarm before it sounded and gingerly walked to the bathroom.  I had the usual post-race tightness in the hamstrings and calves, but all things considered I felt pretty decent.  I brushed the teeth, started to wake up a bit and hopped into a hot shower to loosen up the muscles and started to think about what lay ahead.

500 Meter Swim, 14 Mile Bike, 3 Mile Run – Lake Pflugerville Triathlon.

This would be our first year racing “Lake P” as it is known around Austin in the Endurance Athlete Community.  A friendly, smallish Triathlon that caps registration – this year at 800 entrants.  The Transition Area is “Open”, meaning that you can rack your bike anywhere that you like, you do not have to rack within your age group – so I decided to head over a little earlier than I had originally planned to get a good spot.

I had packed everything the night before, the only things left to do were to retrieve my frozen water bottle for the bike out of the freezer, load up my cooler with a couple of Gatorades and waters, put my transition bag in the truck and load the bike in the back.  I grabbed my run watch out of the charger and I was out the door in less than 5 minutes.


I made the 25 minute drive over to Lake Pflugerville and entered the parking lot about 5:10 a.m.  I was one of the earlier athletes to arrive, so finding a good spot to rack and set up transition was not going to be a problem.

I made my way over with my bike and bag to Body Marking and ran into my friend Jay Tedder.  He was a couple of athletes ahead of me and we decided we would rack our bikes in the same space.  I got my race number 430 written down both arms, across both of my quads just above the knee and my age group written on my right calf “45”.

The Holland 5K on Saturday was my final race as a 44-year-old.  From here on out I would be competing with the 45-49 year olds for the next half-decade.  It was an odd thought to have so early in the morning, but I was a little sad about leaving my last age group.  It was definitely a tough, challenging group of competitors in Austin.  Now I was the “young guy” again, looking to establish myself in a new sport, with a new group of athletes.


I racked my bike next to Jay in a good spot, just 7 racks from the Swim Entrance, about half-way up on the left-hand side.  I would be able to grab my bike and head right out of transition to the mounting line very easily.  Then repeat the process coming in from the bike course, re-rack my bike and hit the Run Exit within 400 meters.  Perfect.

I laid out my transition mat, placed my run shoes down with my quick tie laces at the read, my run watch, wrist band and my race belt that held my number 430 bib in place.

Next it was my bike shoes opened up as far as they could go.  I rolled up my socks, ready to be put on wet feet on top of my bike shoes and placed a small towel and squeeze bottle of water next to them to clean my feet coming out of the swim area.

I placed my helmet on my aero bars, straps open and my riding glasses inside ready to be placed on when I approached the bike.  I clicked in my Garmin bike computer.  Put in my frozen water bottle filled with Gatorade in between my bars so it would thaw out and checked my tire pressure.

Ready to go.


I grabbed my goggles and silver swim cap, hit the porta-potty for the last time and got ready for the swim start.  I ran into my friends Erin and Dan who were at the Holland, TX 5K on Saturday – Erin was the 2nd place female overall, crazy fast runner – Ed and Jay who I was racked right in between.  At first we were all laughing and joking around, but as the first swim waves took off it started to get a little more serious.

I spoke with Jay a bit when Ed left to go off with the 30-34 age group.  In 6 minutes I would be wading out into the water.

The Swim:

As they called our wave I slid into the water, fixed my goggles and went under to get wet and acclimate to the water temperature.  The lake felt just a little bit chilly, which meant that after 50 meters, it would be perfect.  Wind was calm, the water was pretty smooth, but my wave had 50 athletes competing.  It was going to be crowded.

I decided to stick to the outside of the course so that I would have limited bumping and fighting going on as swimmers tried to cut close to the buoys.  This was going to make the distance that I needed to swim longer, but I was willing to trade that for cleaner water.  There was also some hydrilla and seaweed type greenery that we were going to have to battle through heading away from the shoreline and on the way back in.  Perfect I thought – just what I needed, a little more difficulty added to my weakest event.

At the horn we were off and I fell into a comfortable pace right away.  I did not feel like I was really “swimming fast” but I was relaxed and seemed to be holding my pace with the swimmers around me.  I was sighting ahead and staying to the right of the crowd, with just a couple of swimmers bumping into me over the first 100 meters.

We reached the second buoy and the course made a slight left to the midpoint as the course was set up like the roof of a house.  Straight up the side for 200 meters, 50 meters slightly left to the highpoint or “roof”, then a tight left turn to head back the other direction for 50 meters followed by another slight left turn and then 200 meters for home.

At the Red Buoy, or the high point of the course I got caught with two other swimmers, one on each side of me.  A couple of bumps on the arms and one shot to the leg by a kick.  I decided to swim around to the outside of the athlete on my right and I got out of the wash.  It cost me some time however.

I hit the last 100 meters and encountered the green stuff from the bottom of the lake.  It was catching in my fingers and hands as I entered the water, shortening my glide, catch and pull.  I tried to keep it out of my head, stay relaxed, keep breathing and swim to the finish.

I hit the flats, got vertical and pulled off my cap and goggles – I knew my swim as not “fast”, but I had made it – time to get moving.  We had some people to catch.

Swim Time:  12:42

Transition 1:

I ran up out of transition, grabbed a cup of water, and navigated the left turn to the stairs.  Ran down carefully to make sure I didn’t slip and fall and then ran into the bike area.

I wiped my feet, pulled on my socks and then both bike shoes.

Glasses on, Bike Helmet on, hit start on my bike computer and pulled down my bike.

I ran with my bike shoes up the hill out of the racks, made a right and reached the bike mounting line – I pushed off, threw my leg over the bike and clipped in.

Transition Time 1:51 – pretty solid.

The Bike:

Like the last two triathlons that I competed in, I hit the bike hard in an effort to make up for our slow swim.  I flew through the gears and was at top speed within 30 seconds.  The course was “flat”for Austin Standards, just 300 feet of climbing along the course over 14 miles – the hills that were there to tackle were mostly in the second half of the course.

Biking out of transition

I stayed on the front edge of my seat and hammered away.  I was hoping to average 21-21.5 mph on the bike which would put us in a pretty solid position heading into the run leg.  I was a bit surprised at how strong my legs felt firing away on the pedals after racing on Saturday.

Running and Cycling uses very similar muscle groups – but they are not identical exercises by any means.  I had a feeling that I was going to feel the effects of Saturday’s race when I started the run leg.  But for now, it was time to make our move.

I stayed on the large ring and hammered away at the course.  At each beep of my computer marking 1-mile I would glance down at my total time for that mile and take a drink out of my water bottle in front of me.  As long as I stayed below 3:00 min./mile I was averaging over 20 mph.

My first 7 miles on the bike clocked at:  2:17, 2:48, 2:30, 2:46, 2:57, 2:46, and 2:58.

We made it around a curve to the right and climbed up one of the longer hills to start the second half of the course:  2:48, 2:49, 2:34, 2:34, 2:49, 2:39 were the next 6 miles.

A sharp right off of the frontage road of the toll way and we climbed back into what little wind was on the course for the final mile.  Then back up into the transition area and the dismount line – final mile 2:58.

Bike Time:  38:19 – 21.9 mph.

Transition 2:

I ran the best I could in my bike shoes back into the transition area and found my spot to re-rack the bike.  I flipped the bike around, slid the seat over the bar, took off my glasses and helmet and laid them on top of my transition bag.  Took off my bike shoes, clipped my run belt on with my bib number and made sure the number was in the front, put on my wristband and run watch, then slid into my race shoes.

I hit the water bottle for one last sip of Gatorade and ran out of transition.

Transition time:  1:20.  :10 short of outstanding.

The Run:

I glanced down at my watch and the time was frozen on 4:54 a.m.  My Garmin has been on its last legs for a couple of months, but I had been able to do a hard-reset of it to bring it back to life on a few occasions.  As I ran out of transition I tried to revive it – but it simply had given up the ghost.

I was going to have to run by feel for the next 3 miles.  No idea if we were running fast or slow as it is very difficult to gauge speed accurately coming off of the bike.  No matter.  I decided to run even at the hardest pace I could hold for 3 miles.  Over the last 400 meters or so I would kick to the finish with whatever we had left.

I had remembered that the Triathlon packet said that there would be water stops at the 1 mile and 2 mile portions of the run.  That would help me break up the run leg and just focus on the mile I was running.

I hung to the left of the course and gobbled up the athletes in front of me.  I was seeking out members of my age group with a number between 45 and 49 on their right calf, but I was running into runners from the earlier waves, 35-39 and 40-44 more than anyone in my group.

That was not necessarily a bad thing as I was gaining ground on athletes who had started 3 and 6 minutes ahead of me, but I was not able to find anyone to lock on to and “race”.

I hit the first aid station, grabbed a cup of water and poured it over my head as I went by.  The cold water felt good going down the back of my neck as the temperature was in the mid 80’s and the sun had broken through the overcast clouds.

When I reached the second aid station I heard a “Go Joe!” from my friend Ed as I went by – but I couldn’t do much more than raise an arm in acknowledgement and keep on pushing.  My legs were now starting to fight back in a big way after Saturday’s race.  On a day where I would have typically ran 8 easy miles at a pace almost 2 full minutes slower after a 5K race – I was right back hammering away as hard as I could.

We reached what I estimated would be the final ½ mile and I started to lengthen my stride a bit more on every step.  Perhaps dropping pace another :10 a mile, I felt like I had a little bit left before the kick.

When we reached the final straightaway and I could see the finish line chute in the distance I went into my kick.  2/10 of a mile, perhaps a little bit more – I emptied the tanks.

Final Push

As I hit the line the announcer said, “And from Austin, TX – Joe Marruchella ….”

Run Time:  18:41 – 6:14 pace.


Total time of 1:12:42 – A new Sprint Distance PR in the Triathlon

We finished 51st overall, 49th among the men, 6th in our Age Group.

Our run time was fastest among the 45-49 year olds, 6th fastest overall in the triathlon.  Not too shabby after racing the day before.


We did not make it onto the podium on Sunday, finishing about 2 minutes out of the money, but that was o.k. as we know exactly where we need to improve.  We need to swim much more aggressively, practice harder and we are going to have to be willing to “mix it up” a bit in a crowd to shorten the course.

If I am going to compete in the triathlon the same way I do in running races, I am going to have to do so in the same fashion.  At a run only event I line up with the top area runners, I go toe to toe with them and trade licks.  I don’t back down, run for cover or hide out there on the race course.

I just thunder away and do the best that I can mile after mile.

I need to stop thinking about my triathlon “starting” with the bike leg.

I need to swim faster.

I will swim faster.

It was a great day of racing and a great event at Lake Pflugerville.  Post-race Pizza, Ice Cream, Popsicles for the kids (and adults), Shiner Beer, Cold Water, Frozen Towels – all great stuff.

But the best part of the day was when Dawn and Landry arrived to spend the rest of the morning with Dad.  After a little while Landry spied the lake where the swim had taken place and said, “Landry water …. Landry water ….”

Ironic that my 21 month old wanted to go hop in that lake where an hour and a half earlier her Father had gone so grudgingly.  Once again, lessons are everywhere if you just pay attention.

Landry & Daddy heading to the lake.

Thanks Landry for reminding me the value of being fearless and in the fact that 90% of success is simply in showing up.  Dad is going to remember that next month at the Couples Triathlon at Decker Lake – and he is going to bring it.

Any way you slice it – it was a pretty darn good weekend of racing.

The third Saturday in June arrived and for the fourth year in a row that meant that it was time for the 43 mile ride up to Holland, TX for the 38th running of the Holland Cornfest 5K.

It would be my final title defense in the Male 40-44 year old age group in Holland having won the event each of the last 3 years. Wins are nice, and the Cornfest Trophy is one of the coolest I’ve seen in my years of racing – but I go back each year because the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,121 puts on a great festival race.

In keeping with tradition, my friend Neil picked me up at 6:00 a.m. for the ride up to Holland so I could ride back home with Dawn and Landry after the parade. I woke up, got in the shower to warm up the muscles and had my bagel and a banana.

I drank a grape Gatorade, chased it with a bottle of water and it was time to go. Race temperature was going to be over 80 degrees at the 8:00 a.m. gun. A steamy start to our double-race weekend.

We arrived to packet pick-up, I grabbed my number 16 bib and ran a quick 2-mile warm-up after talking with my friends Erin and Dan who like me would be competing in the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon less than 24 hours later. It’s comforting to know that I was not the only lunatic doing both events this year, but we were basically the whole minority.

As I changed into my race shoes after wrapping up my easy 2-miler in 17:32, I started to lock in on my strategy. I wanted to run a race almost identical to the 2011 5k. Start out with an opening 1/2 mile in the 2:53-2:55 range, then lock in to 6:00 min./mile effort and hold the needle right there until the final 1/4 mile and try to push to the finish.

The Holland course features 225 feet of climbing over 3.1 miles as well as a cone turnaround at the half-way point that requires you to come virtually to a stop robbing you of your cadence and momentum. It is not a “fast” course, but it is one that if you run it with a sound plan, you can run a solid time.

Without having run a 5k race since the Lights of Love 5k last December, an incredibly long time between short races for me, I was a bit nervous about finding my pace. I ran a few strides after changing into my race flats and then ducked into the starting area.

One of the best parts of running a small local event is the quick start. The race director walked in front of the chute, told us we would go one the whistle and quickly counted it down. “Ready, Set, Go!” – and we were off.


We got out extremely clean and were leading the runners up the hill on Main Street. I throttled back a bit and a few High School and College age runners slid past on my left. I was running in 8th position and tucked in behind a crowd of four.

My legs felt strong and my cadence easy. I decided not to adjust over the first 1/2 mile and just run to the beep on my watch. I would see where we were at that point and adjust effort accordingly if we were either ahead or behind of the 2:53 mark.

At the beep I glanced down at my watch and saw the first split – 2:52. Perfect.

I stayed even knowing that the initial rush of adrenaline carried me to a sub 3:00 opening half mile. No reason to back off on the effort, my body was going to slow down as we approached the first long uphill climb on its own.

We reached the first mile marker with a second 1/2 mile in 2:59, an opening mile of 5:51.


The second mile begins on an upslope, rewards you with short recovery downhill for about 1/10 of a mile, then the arching left turn up to the top of the course just prior to cone turnaround. After making the cone turn, it is back uphill to the end of the mile.

It is the slowest part of the course, pushing it too aggressively here is not a smart move, it is just a matter of how much time you are going to give back to the clock. Not having raced at 5k pace recently hurt me here. I found myself let my mind wander for a moment and realized I needed to snap out of it. The race would be over before I knew it and I needed to keep my foot down on the accelerator.

My third half mile came in at 3:13 which was a bit slower than I hoped, followed by 3:00 flat closing mile 2. At the 1 mile to go sign I slid to the left of one runner and the fixed my eyes on the back of a runner in front of him. I would chip away at him and take him on the last uphill section.


Having a runner up ahead to chase helped me keep my cadence and I clocked a 5th half mile in 3:03. I made my way up to 6th place and was running :20 seconds or so out of 5th place. I was running out of real estate, but knew that if I focused on catching the runner in front of me, there was very little chance of anyone catching me from behind.

We crested the final hill at the High School, made the right turn onto the home stretch and turned in an identical 1/2 mile in 3:03. All that was left was a kick to the finish.

I closed hard to the line dropping down to 5:23 pace finishing just :03 seconds behind the 5th place high school runner.

18:56 – 1st Place Age Group, 6th overall. Just :05 seconds off of my time from one year ago on the same course, which was a great outcome as we have not raced a short distance event like this one in almost half a year.

In fact, the difference between our last two races in Holland really came down to our closing kick.

1/2 mile 1: 2011 2:53 2012 2:52

1/2 mile 2: 2011 3:01 2012 2:59

1/2 mile 3: 2011 3:13 2012 3:13

1/2 mile 4: 2011. 2:58 2012 3:00

1/2 mile 5: 2011 3:04 2012 3:03

1/2 mile 6: 2011 3:01 2012 3:03

Final Kick: 2011 :41 2012 :47

The course tracked slightly longer this year which added a bit to my final kick, but the splits were so close throughout the race, I am going to call this one basically a dead-heat with last year.

So now it is time to focus on rehydrating, refueling and trying to get that eye of the tiger back for tomorrow morning’s race. It is tough to peak on back to back days so if things do not go perfectly tomorrow I am going to try to cut myself a little slack.

It is Father’s Day after all.

Yesterday was our last day of training this week with back to back races looming now less than 24 hours away. After an up-tempo run on Monday, a swim and 35 mile ride on Tuesday, 10 mile run on Wednesday and finally a swim and 20-mile ride on Thursday the hay is in the barn.

Today will be a complete rest day, aside from a trip to the grocery store we will be laying low all day.  We will set-up the TRI bike with a good cleaning, adjust the brakes and pads, switch out to our race wheels and pack our transition bag for Sunday with everything except a few last minute items.

Then it will be time to focus on Saturday’s 5k up in Holland. I will look back over my last three races on the course, analyze my splits as they have changed over the years and come up with my gameplan for the first four half-mile splits of the race.

The final mile of a 5k is really about pain management if you have covered the opening two miles with a well executed plan.  At that point, fast or slow – it hurts just the same.  I just try to gradually empty what little reserves are remaining until the final 1/4 mile, run as hard as I can until the last 1/10 and then kick to the finish with whatever is left.

Heading into this weekend I thought about playing it safe and smart up in Holland to conserve some energy for the Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday – but if there is one thing I know about racing – especially when I look down at my flats on Saturday morning and see Dom’s initials on my left instep. Playing it safe just isn’t our style.

He deserves better. So on Saturday and Sunday we are going to let it all hang out. If we run out of gas at some point, we’ll simply look for a reason to keep pushing and do the best that we can. Sometimes trying your best means a whole lot more than a few digits on a race clock.

Tomorrow morning – Boom goes the dynamite.

It is not too often that I think about a single workout in such a way that it warrants its very own post here on the blog.  If that were the case, that is pretty much all we would ever be thinking about or talking about here at Run for Dom.  In the last 12 months we’ve had 332 workouts spread over those 365 days.  That is a lot of running, swimming and cycling.

But every once in awhile there is a workout that sticks with you.

The kind of effort that when I am slowing to a walk after my cool down and I lean against the lamp post a few houses down from ours to stretch my calves and hamstrings I think to myself, “you got faster today.”

Well Monday’s One Off – One On Workout was one of those days.

To narrow the focus even more it was not even the entire workout that was remarkable – but the final final “On” mile that made a great workout a special one.

It was 76 degrees on Monday morning with a stiff breeze blowing from the South, Southeast.  The way the route is laid out for this 8-mile run, I would be running the first two “On” miles with very little help.  The wind would be blowing into our face for the majority of miles two and four of the session.  Only helping ever so slightly over the final 400 meters of mile 4.

But on Mile 6 and Mile 8, my final two “On” miles, the wind would be neutral – blowing across the course as I ramped up my pace and dropped down approaching 5K Race pace.  It is tough to create the feeling of “race pace” when you are running alone in the early morning on a training run.  This is one of the drawbacks to training yourself and not part of a traditional workout group or running club.  You have to create your own intensity and push yourself to those limits without anyone alongside of you or running out in front to pull you along.

It makes for tough training, but in a way, I think it helps me late in smaller races when there is nobody to chase and nobody on my heels.  It is those moments where backing off just a hair starts to enter into your mind.  The difference between 6:05 pace and 6:15 pace can be measured in pain much easier than pace.  Those :10 can feel so much easier on the legs, lungs, heart and mind.  It is difficult to continue to summon maximum effort when you are your own pacer.

Running and training alone helps in those cases, but it does make workouts a challenge.

As I was running mile 5 or my third of four “Off” miles, I started to entertain the thought of a sub 6:00 minute final mile.  I knew that I was well ahead of the pace I set last Tuesday for this workout – where I ran my “On” miles in 6:52, 6:39, 6:30 amd 6:13.

I had opened things up on Monday morning with “On” miles of 6:28 and 6:14.  Pretty darn fast.  But would I have enough left on that final “On” mile to push to sub 6:00 min./mile pace?  I pressed the thought back down into the recesses of my mind and focused on the next “On” mile that was just about to start on the beep of my watch.

As I made the turn underneath the street lamp and glanced down at my watch, the mileage read 4.99.  I took four strides and at the sound of the beep marking the start of mile 6 I dropped back into my up-tempo pace.  My legs were firing and my breathing was back on rhythm.  A deep inhale followed by an exhale as my third stride landed on the ground.  5K cadence.

I navigated the two left turns that lead to a small incline before making the final right hand turn that puts me right back on our street.  Mile 6 finishes just a few houses before you reach our driveway.  I kept pushing through to the end of the neighbors yard and listened for the beep.  As it sounded I held my hand out under the street light and saw my split – 6:06.  I was really going to have to dig deep on the last one.

I slowed back to my recovery pace as I passed our house and picked my way to the end of the street and started the final “Off” mile that featured a slow climb out of our neighborhood.  I made the left on Avery Ranch Road and stayed on the sidewalk as the morning commuters were starting to fill the road.  My breathing had returned to normal and I braced for the final “On” mile.  Time to go to work.

At the beep I tucked my hips up underneath me and lengthened out my stride.  Landing my footstrike on the balls of my feet – you could barely hear my Adidas Aegis shoes hitting the road.  This was the first time I had worn the shoes since the Boston Marathon.

I powered through the first 1/4 mile and felt strong and solid.  The last 1/4 would run itself.  It was the middle half-mile where the battle to hold pace was going to take place on a lonely dark street at 6:00 a.m.

I climbed the last short hill, made the left hand turn past the barking dog that always greets me on my way to the jogging trail.  Just past his house I turned left for the final time and glanced down at my watch, 7.74 miles – I was ready to start the final quarter.

Breathing was starting to get ragged, but I kept the same rhythm, exhaling on every third footstrike.  I passed a woman walking her dog on the sidewalk and I could hear the sweat starting to squish in my running shoes with every footfall.

I jumped the curb to the entrance to the jogging trail, make a sharp right turn and after 7 or 8 strides I heard the final beep marking the end of mile 8.

I waited a few strides before I glanced down at my watch.  Hoping to see a sub 6:00 minute mile – but knowing it was going to be awfully close.


I slowly jogged the final .50 miles to the house along the trail enjoying every bit of the end of the workout.  An outlandish goal I had set after last week’s workout – I thought that if I stuck with this session I might have a shot to break through in 4 or 5 weeks.

Instead, I dropped a 5:57.4 mile at the end of a tough workout on my first “real” attempt.  Whether or not we are ready to run a course PR at Holland on Saturday or if we can muster a sub 19 minute 5K on that course we are going to find out.  Race day weather, health, nutrition and “having” or “not having” it on race day will of course all come into play as they always do.

But for this one morning in June.  We were faster than we’ve ever been, and that’s something.

As the calendar continues to roll forward into summer our race season is starting to heat up as well.  In the past I have participated in a weekly Wednesday night 5K series called the Sunstroke Summer Stampede.  The races served as our summer speed work, and has helped our 5K times improve considerably since we started racing somewhat seriously in 2009.

This year however, with our focus on a full triathlon season, I really cannot afford to make Wednesday a single workout day with only 5 miles in the middle of the week, (a two-mile warm-up and 5K race).  Instead we are increasing our swim and bike distances as well as continuing with our 5X per week run workouts.  To race on Wednesday nights would require that I lose my one complete rest day per week, which is not a sound strategy for a soon to be 45-year old endurance athlete. 

Those scheduled rest days are as important, if not more so than any workout that I have on my training calendar.  So instead I am sacrificing some speed work for more endurance sessions such as my 40-mile bike ride on Friday after a swim in the morning.  Normally, Friday would serve as a rest day for me.  So the volume this summer is much higher than the last two years, but the quick-twitch speed workouts will be less frequent.

The hope is that I am doing enough speed work to keep my short-distance run times right where they are while building more strength and endurance for Iron Man 70.3 in October followed by the Houston Marathon in January.  It is a tough balance to strike, but we should get our first look at where we are from a speed perspective on Saturday morning in Holland, TX.

The third Saturday in June means the Holland Cornfest and 5K, a race we have run every year since 2009.  We have been fortunate enough to win our Age Group each year that we have run the race – but more importantly, we have improved our race time each year.

19:50, 19:31, 18:53 are our race times at paces of 6:20, 6:13 and 6:02 min./mile.

Last 3 Holland Cornfest 5K Races

We will be going for our first ever four-pete in an event this Saturday, but more importantly, I would like to run the race in under 19:00 minutes for the second year in a row.  The Holland race is not a “PR” type of course.  It is a country road 5k that features a long gradual hill section over the middle section of the course as well as a cone turnaround at the half-way point that requires the runners to come to a virtual stop – losing valuable momentum – before turning back to finish the second half of the race.

The race will start at 8:00 a.m. sharp and should be run in temperatures between 80 and 84 degrees.  Depending on the sun and wind the course could be a bit slower than last year where we had a calm, overcast morning on race day.  But the hope is that our workouts this week will allow us to peak for the race on Saturday morning.  We will then have less than 24 hours to reload for the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.

A big weekend of racing is ahead of us – so we will be managing our workouts this week carefully, with very little “hard” efforts after Tuesday afternoon and a complete rest day on Friday to get a little spring back into our legs.

Monday:  8 mile One Off, One On Workout.

Tuesday:  2,250 Meter Swim, 30 Mile Bike

Wednesday:  10 Mile Run (Easy)

Thursday:  2,250 Meter Swim, 25 Mile Bike

Friday:  Rest Day

Saturday:  Holland, 5K (2-mile warm-up, 3.1 Mile Race)

Sunday:  Lake Pflugerville Tri (500 M Swim, 14 Mile Bike, 3.1 Mile Run)

An 83-mile week lies ahead before celebrating Father’s Day with Dawn and Landry after the TRI on Sunday.

Physically I am feeling very solid with some quality workouts last week.  Now it will be about getting ready mentally to lay it all on the line on back t0 back days.  Something we have never had to do before.  The approach I am going to take is to not think ahead.  Run both races, and all of the individual components of the Triathlon the same way I tackle a marathon.

Only run the mile you are on.  Do not think about the last one or the next one to come.  Stay in the moment and do the best you can on that particular mile.  At the end of the day, that’s all we can really do.  Just face the challenge that is at hand and do your best.  Let the rest take care of itself.


Next weekend we are going to be racing on back to back days, something that with all of the running and racing craziness that we have done over the last 5 years or so we have never attempted.

A lot of endurance athletes compete in more than one event a weekend at times. Doing so in and of itself is not necessarily a big deal. But for me it is a significant departure from my approach to racing which is to compete every single time I pin on a bib number and lay it all out there.

I don’t run races for T-shirts, finisher’s medals or just for the heck of it.

I “race” races to test myself. To see if I am able to lay down something special. Be the best that I have ever been at that distance or at that particular event. Doing so on back to back days does not lend itself to top performance. I am not going to be able to really “peak” for either of the two events next weekend as I know that I am going to have to save a little something at the Holland 5K on Saturday to be able to compete relatively well at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.

Despite my best attempt at managing my energies on Saturday, I know that once the gun fires and the race starts, my body is going to take over for my mind and we are going to drop that first 1/2 mile in 2:55. It is just about a certainty. How that manifests itself over the rest of the race, and particularly on the run portion of the triathlon on Sunday will remain to be seen – but as my friend Steve Spiers said to me down in Florida last January at the Ragnar Ultra Marathon. “We go as hard as we can as long as we can, that’s just what we do.”

As I was thinking about next weekend on my mid-week 10-miler on Wednesday morning my mind wandered back to my discussion about “Breakthrough Moments” for runners on my flight to Dallas a couple of weeks ago with my new friend and three time Olympic Qualifier in the Marathon.

We spoke about races where an athlete prepares diligently for an event and is in peak condition. The weather cooperates allowing for a fast time and the course sets up well for that runner’s particular strengths. The runner is healthy, focused, well rested and on that one magical day it all comes together for them. They run a race that not only meets their expectations, but truly surprises even them.

They breakthrough to another level.

After that day, that race, the athlete is never the same again. The confidence gained and the feeling of that race stays with them. It fuels them to continue to train hard, look for ways to improve and raise the bar even higher. That “breakthrough” performance creates a new level of expectations. A new “normal” if you will.

The athlete then tries their hardest to search for the next breakthrough performance. The next time they can capture that feeling once again and continue to move forward. For some, they never achieve it again. For others, it is a constant ladder that they climb to heights that at one time not only seemed scary, they felt absurd.

An 18:12 5K?

A 10K PR of 37:30?

A 1:23:46 half-marathon?

Those are times that if you wrote them on a napkin and slid them in front of me back in 2008 I would have thought you were talking about someone else. Another person altogether who is a far, far superior runner than I.

Today, those are my current PR’s. All set at the age of 44. None of which given the right set of circumstances are out of reach. In fact, they are my new “normal”.

So how does it happen exactly? What changes for the athlete? After I came through the chute at the IBM Uptown Classic in 37:30 this past October, was I more “fit” than I was standing at the starting line moments before? Certainly not.

What changes is confidence. The feeling that if a pace feels right during a race of any distance, on that day, for that moment IT IS RIGHT.

You have to realize that the numbers on your wrist are simply that. Just numbers. They measure the speed by which your body is covering that particular mile at that particular time.

The numbers themselves do not control you.

You control them.

Running 6.2 miles at 6:01 pace is a notion that standing at the starting line of the IBM Uptown I did not even entertain. It was not my “goal” or my “pace” that I was shooting for. What I wanted to do was to go out and run the first mile at a “comfortably hard pace” and from there I would lock in and stay right there as long as I could. When I reached the 5 mile mark, with 1.2 miles to go, I would continue to pour on the energy so that when I found myself 2/10 of a mile from the finish I was essentially out of gas. Nothing left.

At that moment I would dig down even deeper and find the reserves. The absolute limits of strength and power that was left in my legs and sprint to the finish. At the tape we were done.

It is the recipe for Personal Bests as I know it. I don’t know how to race any other way.

Those breakthrough moments and races are out there for everyone. You just have to let go of your preconceived notions of what your training level is or what your potential is and pour everything you have into that race on that day.

You show the clock just how good you are.

Don’t let it be the other way around.

Shamrock Half Marathon – New PR March 2012

Today was a great opportunity to run one of my favorite workouts to get some quality speed work in on a hot, humid Austin morning.  72 degrees at 5:00 a.m. with humidity at 86%. 

In just under two weeks we have back to back races on Saturday and Sunday – The Holland, TX Corn Festival 5K on Saturday – followed by the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon on Sunday.  Two events where speed will be at a premium over strength and endurance – although those two factors are also going to play a role on race day performance.  Especially late in the Triathlon racing on Sunday.

This week represents the last chance to really push it hard before we dial things back a bit and peak for next weekend.

One of the topics that was discussed on the flight to Dallas two weeks ago with my new runner friend was the notion of “favorite” workouts.  Not necessarily workouts that we know are good for us, or help us improve as runners and athletes, but the notion of a workout that while beneficial it also has an element of “fun” to it.  One that can push us to new levels, but also reward us mentally and remind us what it is we like about running.

A workout that I know is good for me and is perhaps the most responsible for my improvement in race day performance has been my Hill Repeat regimen.  It is a “hard day”, usually on Thursdays, as my third straight run day before my Friday rest day.

I leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up.  jog to the bottom of the 3/10 of a mile long hill in the adjacent neighborhood, turn at the bottom and sprint to the top of the hill at 5K effort.  I reach the top, recovery jog to the bottom and repeat.  10 times when I am at my peak for that workout.  I then recover quickly after the final repeat (2/10 of a mile) and then run at 6:50-7:00 min./mile pace back to the house for a final mile to wrap things up.

It is a great workout.  I also dread it.

There is very little to like about it truth be told.  During the easy warm-up, all that is on your mind is the many, many painful repeats that are waiting for you in a few miles.  Each repeat takes more and more out of you as you try to hang on.  Instead of counting them off in my head I simply run them in sets of three.  First, middle, last.  First, middle last.  First, middle last.  Last.

This mental game allows me to focus on one repeat at a time and not worry about the fact that after just 4 repeats my breathing is off the charts, my legs are burning and I am drenched in sweat.  6 repeats are left.  I am not even halfway done yet.  Why do I continue to do it?  Two reasons really:

1.  These hill repeats are like a multi-vitamin.  One workout, but it basically enhances every aspect of my running.  It helps build endurance, stamina and raw speed.  It improves my form, makes me stronger on hills and lengthens my stride.  It builds confidence when it comes to racing hills and breaks down my body allowing it to rebuild itself stronger with a rest day to follow on Friday.

2.  Very few of the competitors I will face during a local race do this workout.  One of my favorite sayings is that “somewhere out there a runner is training while you are not.  When you race him, he will beat you”.  I think of that passage during every hill repeat session and say to myself, today you are that runner.  You are going to be very tough to beat the next time you race.

That said, would I consider Hill Repeats a favorite workout of mine?  No.  Not a bit.

Today however, it was time for a favorite workout of mine, the One Off – One On Tempo Workout.

With temperatures in the mid 70’s – it is very difficult to go out this time of year and run a medium to long tempo run.  Which for my ability level means a 6-8 mile run with splits in the 6:30-6:35 range or even a bit faster on a cool day.

The workout can be run, but the recovery from it that is necessary to stay healthy and keep pushing other aspects of training is very long.  Perhaps as many as two easy days and an off day before it would be time to push hard again.  With bike rides, hill work and long runs needed to stay on course this summer, that is not very realistic.  If I try to cut corners and not recover properly, then injury is not an abstract entity to fear – it is a likelihood.

Instead, the One Off, One On workout is a great compromise – allowing you to push hard in a controlled workout, giving you one recovery mile for every “hard mile” you run.

The Workout:

1.  Off Mile 1:  Warm-up with a mile at recovery pace.  (For me 8:20-8:30)

2.  On Mile 1:  At the end of mile one (or the sound of your watch marking mile 1), increase pace gradually building to tempo pace (For me 6:30-6:35).  Because you are just getting the juices flowing, this should be your slowest “ON” Mile.  You are not “at pace” until the final 1/2 mile.

3.  Off Mile 2:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

4:  On Mile 2:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace quicker than your first “ON” mile, perhaps within 1/10 to 2/10 of a mile.  This should be your second slowest “ON” mile.

5.  Off Mile 3:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

6:  On Mile 3:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer again and fall back into tempo pace.  You should arrive at this pace even quicker than your first “ON” mile, within 1/10 of a mile.  This should be your third slowest “ON” mile.

7.  Off Mile 4:  Slow back to your recovery pace for one mile.

8:  On Mile 4:  At the end of the mile drop the hammer a final time and fall back into tempo pace.  You should hit this pace almost immediately, within just a handful of strides.  This should be your fastest “ON” mile.

9.  Slow back to your recovery pace and run your cooldown back home 1/2 mile is a good distance to recover.

Total workout 8.5 miles.  4.5 miles at an easy, recovery pace.  4 miles at or below tempo pace.

Tuesday’s Workout:

It had been awhile since I had run this workout back in April just prior to the Boston Marathon.  The conditions were perfect for it, so I decided to run over the hill route to keep things a bit interesting.  The workout can be done at a track – which many would refer to as mile repeats – but since I do not race on a track and need to condition my body to asphalt surfaces and undulating terrain, I prefer to run this workout on a rolling hill street course.

After an easy, uphill warm-up mile I heard the sound of the watch beep marking my first mile and increased my leg turnover to approach tempo pace.  The first 1/4 mile felt a bit clunky at 5:15 a.m. as I was searching for my rhythm, but as I reached the 1/2 mile point I was running smooth and tall.

I hit the second mile, dropped back into my recovery pace and was solidly in the workout.

Each “On” mile came and went as planned, gradually tightening my pace to tempo effort and as I reached the final “On” mile, I immediately stepped on the gas and pushed hard from start to finish.

My splits this morning:

Off Miles:  8:24, 8:15, 8:20, 8:20

On Miles:  6:52, 6:39, 6:30, 6:13

Cool down 1/2 mile – 7:54 pace.

The entire workout came in at 1:03:56 for 8.5 miles or 7:31 pace.

Pace for our “Off/On” Workout

Overall pace right at our “medium” effort – but the true story of the workout is that we were able to run a progressive 4-miler finishing at just over 10K race pace in 70+ degree temperatures and high humidity.  Quality workout all the way around – and truly a favorite of mine.

The workout goes much “faster” than a traditional 8.5 miler as you are able to “stay in the mile” for each segment.  You are able to concentrate during the “ON” miles without too much difficulty as you get a physical and mental “break” after every mile, lasting a solid 8-8 1/2 minutes.

Lastly, it is speed work – which is always “fun”.  It is just a matter of doing it in a controlled, smart environment so that you are able to minimize any injury risks and get back to training hard again after one easy or rest day.

After a relaxed 10 miler tomorrow we will find ourselves a the bottom of our hill again Thursday morning for another set of hill repeats.

I can’t say I’m necessarily looking forward to that workout – but I do know we’ll be ready for it.

Run on people.