Archive for July, 2012

Happy Birthday to me.

Posted: July 31, 2012 in Motivation, Training

45 years. That’s a pretty damn long time. I think about Landry closing in on her 2nd birthday in 29 days and all of the things that have happened in her time on earth. All the fun, all the firsts, the bumps and bruises, the hugs and kisses and some breakthrough moments as she started to roll over, sit up, stand, walk, talk, swim and now – run.

As we get older the “breakthrough” moments are pretty few and far between. Especially for someone like me who has one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel as it were – but as I was on my run Monday morning, my last one as a 44-year old, I thought of something my Dad used to tell me when I was growing up playing baseball. “You are either getting better or you are getting worse – nobody ever stays the same.”

My Dad was not really big on handing out limitless advice when I was growing up. He was more of a “pick your spots” kind of motivator.  There was one particular nugget he shared with me that I will never forget.  It was just after a game where my team lost by more than 10 runs, but I had a tremendous night banging out 4 hits and making a few stellar plays at Shortstop.  He could tell that I was happy with my performance on the ride home and was not focusing enough of my attention on the fact that my team had just been 10-runned in a loss.

He looked over at me and said, “You know Son, you show me a good loser – and I’ll show you a loser.”

Maybe it was a little too direct for a 12-year old, but it was a defining moment for me as a youngster.

Was that the day that the seed of wanting to achieve for achievement’s sake came to pass?  I’m not sure.  But I do know that as long as someone is keeping score, I feel like you might as well give your best effort whether that is studying for an exam, preparing work product, training, racing or raising a 2-year old. A lot of people draw inspiration from the famous Steve Prefontaine quote – “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”.  They believe that maximum effort is all that we can really control.  You go out, give the best effort that you can and let the results speak for themselves.

I think that is what I hope for the most about what Landry may or may not get from watching Dad compete in running races and triathlons.  That at virtually ever single event we ever compete in, somebody is going to beat us.  That is just a certainty.  But the real “winning” is done by first showing up fully prepared and ready to lay it on the line.  Then in giving your best effort and leaving nothing out on the course.  Lastly, by being gracious in defeat and in the rare instances where an age-group win or a Masters title is earned – be even more gracious in celebrating that victory.

So as the calendar flips forward one more year – most of the lessons that I am ever going to learn in my life have been taught to me by now.

I’ve suffered some losses, professionally, personally and even more difficult – the loss of those who we love and care for.

I’ve had more than my fair share of “wins” as well, some of which I have been lucky enough to share with Dawn and now Landry right there front and center to celebrate with me.

How many more there will be is tough to say.  There are no guarantees in life, that much I learned just two years ago when my good friend Keith’s wife was taken from him in an accident, just a day off of my birthday.

But while I am here, fortunate enough and healthy enough to continue to train hard, improve and compete – we’re going to keep pushing it knowing full well that little Landry doesn’t miss a thing.  She is like a big sponge taking in all of the information and experiences we make available for her.  I may not have as many pearls of wisdom to share with her as my Dad did when I was growing up, but I’ll do what I can.

She’s a fighter our little Landry – and if her Dad has proven anything to her so far, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Maybe I do have a few pearls of wisdom for her in my back pocket.

Texas Half 2012

Goodbye to 40-44

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Pace and Racing

When I wake up on Tuesday morning it will officially be over.

I will be leaving the only “age group” I’ve ever really known. Sure I have “aged up” this spring in the Triathlon to the Male 45-49 age group as USA Triathlon counts your age as of December 31 of the year you are competing in for race purposes, but to me that was just a rule.

45-49 was not going to be real to me until July 31st and it is almost here.

Being a year older does not bother me. I might feel differently when my personal calendar flips to 50 in another 5 years, but for now, I’m simply the “new kid on the block” again in my age group. I thought that as I reached 43 or 44 years old it would get harder and harder for me to compete as an age grouper. That the newly arriving 40 year olds would start to beat me at local races.

The reality was that I continued to improve as a runner over the past five years and I have set every one of my PR’s with the exception of the 10-mile in the last 12-18 months. I have not reached a new 10-mile PR simply for the fact that I have not raced the distance since 2010. I have little doubt that I would crush my effort from the 2010 Run for the Water this year if I choose to race the event. It may not work from a training perspective with the Houston Marathon falling on January 13, but it is just a matter of time for that PR. It will fall, and fall hard.

I think the reason that I have mixed emotions about my birthday on Tuesday is that I am going to miss 40-44. I came into my own as a runner in that age group and had some amazing breakthrough moments.

The Pittsburgh Marathon in 2008.
Run for Dom in 2010.
The NOCC Balance 5K in 2010 the day before Landry was born.
The IBM Uptown Classic in 2011.
The New York City Marathoning November.
The Shamrock Half Marathon last spring.

I covered more than 11,000 miles and crossed 56 finish lines in the age group, including going out a winner in my final event as a 44-year old at this June’s Holland Cornfest 5k. My fourth year in a row winning my age group in the event.

I know that 45-49 will be filled with a lot of great memories as well. It will also have a few bumps in the road and disappointments in store for me. That is all just part of the journey.

I just wanted to take a moment to reflect back on the last 5 years of racing and remember just how rewarding it has been.

I’ve got one more run tomorrow morning before my race age calendar flips. Better make it a good one.

Adios 40-44. Thanks for the memories.

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Pre-Race Thoughts – Ragnar Del Sol

Landry Rocking Her Running Shoes Post Race

One Year Later ….

Posted: July 25, 2012 in Pace and Racing, Training

Last year at this time I was staring two things directly in the face in less than a week. My 44th birthday and my first triathlon.

I was excited about the one and extremely uncomfortable about the other. I’m not telling you which one was which.

The reality of the situation was that on July 31st they were both going to happen. One was going to happen to me, the other I would be an active participant – but nonetheless there was no going back when I woke up that morning.

Now, a year later I have the same feeling as I registered for my first half-ironman event 7 days before my 45th birthday.

I wasn’t too sure how things were going to go last July to be honest. Whether I was going to complete Jack’s Generic Triathlon and determine that the multi-sport event just wasn’t for me. That I was simply a runner trying to complete a triathlon and when it was over I would sneak back into my comfort zone and focus on traditional run only events.

There was a part of me however that thought that I might find out something about myself at Jack’s just as I did in the Philadelphia Marathon in 2006. That through the course of that race and making my way to the finish line I would uncover the athlete that was lurking beneath the surface. That I would start the day as one thing and go to bed that night something else entirely.

Back in November of 2006 I remember the crowd carrying me down the street towards City Hall over the opening mile of the marathon and not being able to feel my feet touch the ground. I was in for a long day as a first-time marathoner, but it was going to be an amazing day. One that changed me possibly forever. At the time I did not dream of becoming a Boston Qualifier or being an age group award winner at large competitive races like the Austin Livestrong Half Marathon. I just wanted to test myself and see how good I could be. Sorting out how that compared to other athletes would come much later. Qualifying for Boston and completing that race twice in the last three years has validated my pursuit of excellence in the marathon a bit. But the biggest goal for me is still out there, one that is completely my own and has no bearing on age group wins or qualifying for an elite event. I want to break 3 hours in Houston this January, and I want to do it for me. No other reason. Just me, a lofty goal, a tough training cycle and one morning of concentration and effort to make it all come together.

But the race staring me in the face before we turn the page and focus on Houston is the Kerrville Half Distance Triathlon. 1.2 Mile Swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1 mile run. 70.3 miles of racing.

Kerrville Swim

Right now my goals for that day are very similar to my first marathon in 2006. Race with honor. Respect the event and the athletes around you. Swim every stroke, cycle every mile, run every step. Do not give in. Do not quit no matter how tough things get. Cover the course as fast as you can down to the very last second. Hit the finish line with absolutely nothing left. Leave it all on the course.

I do not have a “goal time” in mind as I think any time that you set something like that for the first time at a race distance you create either an unrealistic expectation on yourself or you sell yourself short. Truthfully I know about how long it will take me to swim 1.2 miles, ride 56 and run 13.1 if those events all took place on individual days. But to do them one after the other, for the first time, there really is no way to know what I am capable of. Is the right number 5:30:00 to shoot for? 5:20:00? 5:15:00? Nobody knows. So I am not going to even try to handicap it. I will still race as hard as I can, measure my effort at the end of the day as “acceptable” or “unacceptable” – meaning I have to work harder and smarter next time … but I am not going to put myself in a situation where missing a goal time by 2 minutes makes me feel like my race was a failure.

Just as Philly was back in 2006, I know this race is just the start of the journey. I am going to learn more about the triathlon in 5 hours on the 30th of September than I have in the last year. Those 5 hours may very well shape our next 5 years – placing us at the starting line of an event one day where we ask ourselves the same question we did at Boston in 2010.

“How in the hell did I ever get here?”

Will that be at the starting line of the 70.3 National Championships? Kona? Who the hell knows. The only thing I know for certain is in less than a week we will be another year older and two months later we are going to stand at the edge of a lake with our goggles on and our cap pulled down tight thinking one thing and one thing only.

“How in the hell did I ever get here?”

When I mapped out my training cycle for Ironman 70.3 this summer this week was one that I knew was going to test me.  Not from a workout perspective, but from a life-balance perspective.  That is the reality for us “weekend warrior” endurance athletes.  We do not have the “luxury” of a schedule that revolves around our training, a nutritionist to plan and prepare our meals or a massage therapist on call to help us overcome sore muscles and fatigue to jump right back into our training.

The reality for most of us is that we have a full-time job to focus on, a family to spend quality time with, a yard to mow, a shopping list to fill, laundry that needs to get done, meals to prepare and of course for the lucky ones like me, a soon-to-be 2 year old to chase around the house and read bedtime stories to.

Sometimes the actual “training” for a marathon or triathlon is more challenging from a time perspective than from a physical one.

Last week we covered 114.90 miles swimming, cycling and running.  10 hours and 53 minutes of training.  I typically get 7 hours of sleep a night.  Sometimes a little less and every once in awhile a little more.  That leaves 119 hours in a week to “get things done”.  Last week’s training took roughly 10% of that time.

It was a tremendous week with lots of great endurance work in the books including a couple of 2,000 meter continuous swims and a pair of 20 mph 35 mile rides.  Yesterday we ran long and covered 15 steamy miles, building our base for the half-marathon off of the bike in Kerrville.

But this week things get a little more complicated as Landry and I are on our own until Momma Bear returns from a conference on Friday.  That means no early swims or runs while Landry is asleep.  We are going to have to strap on the baby monitor early in the morning while we pedal away on our TRI Bike up on the trainer in the garage, sneak in our swims at lunchtime and run with Landry in the jogging stroller in the evenings.

It is those weeks where you start to question your sanity a bit and wonder what this is all for.  It doesn’t happen to me more than once or twice a year – but for a fleeting instant you do think about how much “simpler” things would be if you  just took things down a notch

This morning I received a comment out of the blue on a post that I had written almost two years ago – 43 things about Joe – just prior to my 43rd birthday, just two weeks before Dom would lose the final round of his battle with cancer.  http://wp.me/pHGel-yO

The note was from a high school friend and football teammate of Dom’s back in Hopewell, PA. Corky had been away serving in the military, and had not been around for Dom’s struggle.  He shared some kind words and asked that I pass along his best wishes and condolences to Dom’s family – which I am going to take care of this evening when I get home.

It seems that on the rare times when my drive to keep pushing things as hard as I can is lacking Dom is there to send me a little nudge.  Just subtly to get my ass back in gear and take care of business.  It has happened during training runs, on mornings where the storms are loud and the rain is heavy as I push off from the corner of the garage after stretching my hamstrings and calf muscles with 20 soggy miles ahead.  It happens during races when I’m not sure I can run another mile at race pace as the fatigue and pain is starting to mount.  Then I run another.  And another.

I say quietly to myself that I’m not sure I can make it.

I make it every time.

Recently I put together a running resume recapping my experience running, training, racing and coaching.  It also reflected my race PR’s, Awards and wins.  More than 50 endurance events since 2009.  We have never started a race without reaching the finish line.

They haven’t all been pretty, but we’ve made it through to the line in each and every one of them.  Running is the ultimate metaphor for life.  There are no shortcuts, no “cheats” or way out.  The only way to the end is to keep fighting, keep pushing and putting one foot in front of the other.  At the end of the line you’ll have plenty of time to look back and see all of it.  The good, the bad, the wins and the losses.

Dom just reached his finish line a little faster than the rest of us..   I’m going to keep on chasing him as long as I can.

Thanks again for the push this week Dom.  Stay tuned on September 30th.  I’ll be registering for Ironman 70.3 today.  Once that is in the books we’re going to chase down that sub 3 hour marathon for you down in Houston.  I’ll stop by one early morning on a run when I’m back in Hopewell and tell you all about it.

72 days from now we will be staring our first Ironman 70.3 directly in the eye, preparing for what will be the longest race of our life by more than one hour.  To date the “longest day of my life” as an endurance athlete was our first marathon in November, 2006.

3:58:08 – Philadelphia.

A respectable maiden voyage for the marathon distance breaking through the 4 hour barrier which is a relatively “major” goal for first time marathoners.  Especially those who have been running for just one year at that point.

The reality I face at Kerrville however is that if everything goes exactly according to plan, we get good weather and I have a GREAT day, I am going to be out on the course a little more than one hour longer.

This introduces nutrition, caloric intake, hydration in an entirely new way to ensure we are able to run the event ending half marathon to the best of our abilities.  During a typical stand-alone half marathon on a cool day I take in no nutrition on the course, take a small sip of water every 3-4 miles with a gulp of electrolyte replacement twice during the race.

Less than 8 ounces of fluid consumed in a race that lasts somewhere between 1:23:00 and 1:26:00 depending on the course and my performance.  That strategy will not be possible after a 1.2 mile swim and 56-mile bike.  Practicing my nutrition on my longer rides and “Big Training Days” where I swim, bike and run all in the same day covering long distances — more or less race simulation with breaks in between disciplines to reduce recovery time after the workout — will be a big factor in my performance at Kerrville.  I need to get that as close to “right” as possible if I want to make a run at a time just over 5 hours.

The other major factor on race day is going to be the bike.  It represents 79.65% of the total race distance and given my paces and goals for the race, slightly over 50% of my total time.

“The Bike” is going to tell the story on race day.  That is why racing last Sunday’s Couples Triathlon was so important for me.  It gave me an opportunity to race over the identical bike course we completed two months prior at the Rookie Triathlon.

The only difference was that for Couples I had a pre-bike swim that was 500 Meters further, and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer.  Comparing my bike performance after more training time in the saddle was something I was looking forward to, hoping to see a stronger rider and better “racer”.

So how did we stack up?

Couples Triathlon 32:17 20.9 mph           Rookie Triathlon  33:21 20.1 mph

Mile 1:   2:34                                                     Mile 1:  2:44     (-:10)

Mile 2:   2:53                                                     Mile 2:  3:00     (-.07)

Mile 3:   2:38                                                     Mile 3:  2:37     (+:01)

Mile 4:   2:20                                                     Mile 4:  2:24     (-:04)

Mile 5:   2:44                                                     Mile 5:  2:51     (-:07)

Mile 6:   3:08                                                     Mile 6:  3:17     (-:09)

Mile 7:   3:04                                                     Mile 7:  3:07     (-:03)

Mile 8:   2:18                                                     Mile 8:  2:17     (+:01)

Mile 9:   3:22                                                     Mile 9:  3:24     (-:02)

Mile 10:  2:40                                                    Mile 10: 2:43     (-:03)

Mile 11:   3:34                                                   Mile 11:  3:28     (+:06)

Two things of note, on mile 6 of the rookie, I had to address my dropped chain, costing me valuable seconds.  On the final mile at Couples, I decided to shift to the small front ring over the final 1/4 mile and “spin fast” to get all the blood flowing back in my legs and get rid of some of that “jelly-leg” feeling before dismounting for the run.

Aside from those two variables, this is just about the most even comparison you could hope to find when benchmarking fitness and race ability.  Extrapolating this improvement out over a race 5X as long (56 mile Half IM ride) we are looking at an improvement in the neighborhood of 5 minutes.

That takes a big bite out of our swim deficit that will put us more than 10 minutes behind the competitors we will be chasing for that final podium spot (3rd place in Age Group).  If we hit the run course 7-8 minutes behind that spot, hold on to your hat.

For us, the race is going to be just getting started.  They had better break 8:00 min./mile over the run course if they hope to hang on as we’ll be trying to take :20-:30 minutes per mile off of their lead.

The bike is going to put us in position to strike.  Over the next 10 weeks we are going to continue to sharpen that sword and keep pushing in the saddle.

After all, the only way to sharpen steel is with steel.

On Tuesday I was asked a question that I am sure many marathoners, triathletes and endurance event competitors receive on a frequent basis, “Don’t you ever get tired of the same thing over and over again? Running day after day, it would just get too boring for me.”

It is an interesting viewpoint on this hobby of mine. From the outside, perhaps it does seem boring or repetittive. But I think that those who ask that question are looking at “training” as a one-way transaction.

You pay out, pay out and pay out in the form of lost sleep, sweat equity, free-time “lost”, but you never seem to make a withdrawl. Where is the payback for all that hard work one might wonder?

The answer to me is simple and can be summed up in just two words.

Race Day.

The rush from race day does not end for me after coming through the chute and hitting the finish line as you might imagine. There is a solid 3-4 days of residual “bounce” in my step coming off of a good performance. After the New York City Marathon last November, that bounce took me all the way to the Lights of Love race in December. Almost a full month after finishing perhaps the greatest marathon in the U.S.

Whether my performance is one that I am completely happy with, or an event where I fall short of my personal expectations I still get another “payoff” for all that hard work and racing. I get the chance to quantitatively evaluate my training and preparation. I am able to look back on the previous traning “period” or “cycle” and determine what worked, what didn’t work, where I made gains, where I fell short and most imporantly where I need to go from that point in order to improve.

Just 14 days away from my 45th birthday, after more than 6 years of training and racing I am still ascending. That is pretty remarkable if you think about it. Next month I will be faster than I am today. I will be able to swim further and faster, bike more powerfully and run as fast if not faster than I ever have before.

The magic formula for that improvement lay in an approach to training and preparation that many athletes and coaches embrace which is periodization. The ability to define a period of time to focus on maintaining your fitness level and abilities across the key areas that define you as an athlete, while focusing on one or two areas where you can improve to take your fitness level, mental toughness and race readiness to another level.

To continue to ascend.

So the answer to “doesn’t it get boring?” is a resounding no. It does not get boring as I feel like I am never training the same way twice. Never running the same race twice. Never preparing for anythinig more than once. I am always looking for an edge, an area where I can strenghten a weakness or make a strength even stronger

Today I am just over 70 days away from my first attempt at an Ironman 70.3 race. 1.2 Mile Swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run. It will be a day that will challenge me more from a physical standpoint than any other my life.

It will require me to swim steady and strong for 1.2 miles while managing my energy and especially my kick to make sure I have plenty left for the bike and run.

After a quick transition I will then power away on a 56 mile bike leg through the rolling terrain of the Texas Hill Country outside of Kerrville. Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes of cycling at race effort, making sure that I hydrate well, eat enough calories and am completely topped off from a fuel perspective as I hit the dismount line.

I will shake out my legs, change into my race flats and I will run a half-marathon.

It will be the 10th time I have raced a half-marathon, but in many ways it will be a race that I have never run before. My legs will fight me, my mind will wonder how much I have left and carefully meter out that effort each mile to make sure I finish exactly on empty.

We will not be “saving ourself” on the run – instead we will be pushing ourself to the absolute limit of our fitness, training and ability making that final 1/10 of a mile feel like the longest we will have ever raced.

That is what the next 10 weeks of preparation is about. 10 weeks in this “period” to lengthen our swim workout, focusing on continuous efforts of more than 2,000 meters at a time. Total distance in our swim workouts will be increased from 2,250 or 2,300 meters to more than 3,000 so when we get on the bike, it will feel as if the 1,931 meters covered during the swim never happened.

On the bike our long rides will top at 65-70 miles during this period to make sure we are ready to be in the saddle pushing hard for 56 miles of racing.

Our Sunday Long Runs will gradually build back to the 18 mile range before the event so that the 13.1 mile final leg of the race will feel like a comfortable distance to tick off, hopefully as close to 7:30 pace as possible. Over 1 minute per mile slower than a stand alone half-marathon.

We will continue to do our speed work on Tuesdays, our hill repeats on Thursdays and our mid-week long runs to keep our run “right where we want it”, not sacrificing that “strength” off ours to compensate for the swim and bike where we still have room to improve.

Keep your strength strong and work on your weakness. That is the mantra for this next period of training.

It promises to be anything but boring.

After we earn our medal we will have a great dinner with Dawn and Landry, a few post-race adult beverages and on the ride back to Austin on Monday morning I will start to replay the race in my head.

Where was I strongest? Where are we with respect to the run?

The next day we will start preparing for what will be the race of our life. The Chevron Houston Marathon on January 13, 2013. The day we will become a sub 3:00:00 hour marathoner.

Another “period”. Another opportunity to see if we have one more great effort in us. One more day when we can look at the reflection in the mirror knowing that at the age of 45, we are the best we have ever been.

There is certainly nothing boring about that.

Sunday morning’s alarm clock was set for 4:40 a.m. giving us  enough time to get up, grab a nice, long, hot shower to loosen up the muscles – apply our body glide and hop into our triathlon race gear.

I would have time to toast a bagel, load the bike, cooler and transition bag and make my way over to Walter E. Long park for the start of the Couples Triathlon shortly after the transition area opened.

As I drifted off to sleep I was relaxed, feeling confident that my bike and run were in great shape heading into the event, even my swim had been coming along recently.  No stress, no worries, just another race day ahead I told myself.  No different than any other.  So what if I was going to have to swim 60% further than I had at Jack’s or Lake Pflugerville.  What was an extra 300 Meters ….

At 12:40 I was awakened by the sound of thunder rolling overhead and rain pounding on the bedroom windows.

Really?  Another wet transition area to navigate and a sloppy run course like we had at the Rookie TRI at the same location earlier this spring.  My streak of lousy race day weather seemed to be holding true to form for 2012.

I rolled over, shrugged it off with a “whatever” and went back to bed.

At the sound of the alarm I hopped out of bed, checked the weather station in the bathroom and saw that the overnight temperature had dropped to just under 70 degrees – but the humidity was hanging at 98%.  Off to the shower.

After all the usual rituals of brushing, showering, dressing and packing the last few items into my cooler I loaded up the truck and backed out of the driveway at 5:20.  On time to the very minute.  It was going to be a good day I thought.

Pre-Race:  The rain had moved off to the East and left us with a downright pretty nice July morning for Central Texas.  There would be virtually no wind to deal with and no chance of rain showers until the late afternoon.  They would return with a vengeance later in the day with more than 3 inches falling in most areas around Austin, but they would not be a factor for the race at all.

I rolled into the parking lot, grabbed my transition bag and cooler, my TRI bike and headed over to get body marked and find a spot in transition.

I got my race number “91” down both arms, across the tops of my knees and a “45” on my right calf – a gentle reminder that I was racing as a 45 year old still 16 days away from that milestone birthday.

For the Couples Triathlon I was partnered up with my friend Ed Cortez.  We would be competing in the “Male Friends” category placing us with some of the more serious Austin Area Triathletes.  Our rack space was closest to the bike out, bike in area – which was perfect in my opinion.  Where you rack in a triathlon is basically all relative as you are either close to the swim entrance, the run exit or the bike exit.  Every athlete has to navigate the same distances at one time or another, but the shorter distance that I need to cover in my bike shoes the better.  I would much rather run in bare feet or my running flats than try to toe-run in my cycling shoes.

I found a spot on the end of the race, strapped on my headlamp and set-up my transition area in the dark about 20 minutes prior to sunrise.

Bike on the rack, helmet and cycling glasses on the bars, my bike shoes opened up fully with my socks rolled up and placed inside to be pulled on after coming in from the swim.

Just behind my cycling shoes I had my run flats, my running sunglasses and my race number belt on top.  I pulled my frozen water bottle out of the cooler, placed it on the bike and got it started on the way to thawing out before we hit the bike course.

I got my swim cap and goggles ready and we were ready to rock as Ed arrived. We got Ed set-up next to me and we had about an hour or so to kill before the safety meeting.  Everything was going very smoothly as I ran a rubber band through my left pedal to the front of my front tire to hold it in place for me to hop on at the mounting line and literally hit the ground “cycling” as quickly as possible.  After a trip to the porta-potty it was go time.

The Swim:  After the Star Spangled Banner I strapped on my goggles and decided to place my swim cap over them to hold them in place.  This was going to be the most “competitive” group of swimmers I had raced with in a wave start.  I was determined to not be too passive and swim out wide on Sunday.  I wanted to swim close to the buoys and tangent the course which was going to require me to swim “in a crowd”.  I wanted to guard against having my goggles knocked loose by an errant arm, leg or elbow.

As we entered the water I could feel the nerves building.  Much more for me than a run event as I feel strong and confident in my race flats.  But in the water I still feel like the rookie that I am.  Cautious and wary – feelings I am trying my hardest to lose and turn into competitive fuel.  It’s coming, but I am still a long way off.

Being the very first wave of the event was pretty cool as we looked out on the pristine, glassy water of the lake where our strokes would be the first of the morning.

At the horn I let a dozen or so swimmers take off, then hit the buoy and took my first strokes out onto the lake.  20 or so strokes for 25 Open Water Meters, 4 X 25 Meters per hundred, 800 Meters Total, we were looking at 640 strokes back to the shore.  Ad another 20 or so due to course adjustments and that should get us home.  I found my rhythm quickly, searched for some clear water to swim and settled in.

The first 200 meters always feels clunky to me, trying to get my breathing, stroke, catch and pull coordinated and working smoothly.  Sunday was no different as I did not find any type of groove until we were approaching the second buoy.  But as I settled in the longer swim seemed to calm me down.  Instead of searching for the turning point and thinking about heading back to shore – I just swam.  Calm, cool, collected.  I got shoved a few times, my right arm landed on the back of another swimmer a few times – but I just stayed the course.

At the first left turn which came about 275 meters into the swim I cut the buoy close, found my new bearing and swam on.  I bumped with a swimmer to my right again, but did not slow – just keep pulling I told myself.  The second straightaway had the sun behind and to the right of us.  I could feel it warming me on my rotation out of the water to breath.  I relaxed my face and stayed smooth.  We hit the second triangular buoy which marked the 550 meter mark, further than I had ever swam in competition and I still felt fresh and solid.  Because I am not yet at the point where I am pushing it in the water, for fear of blowing up out there, I was still very strong to this point and decided to pull harder a bit and try to make up some time on the swimmers ahead of us in the water.

The final leg of the course came quickly and as I pulled over the final 50 meters we were gaining a bit on the swimmers immediately ahead of us.  My hands hit gravel and I popped out and tore off my cap and goggles.

800 Meters in the books.  Time to move.

Transition 1:  The run from the lake to transition at Decker is far.  1/4 mile long and of course uphill from the lake.  Luckily we were the first group in the water, so the run out was not a muddy mess – yet – but finding your running legs after popping out of the water is a bit disorienting.  Going from horizontal to vertical can through you off a bit.  But by the time I reached the top of the hill I was running on my toes and picking off athletes.  I found our rack with no trouble and got to work.

Water bottle on the feet to clear off the grass and dirt.  One Sock, Two Socks, One Shoe, Two Shoes.  Bike glasses, Helmet and I threw my run watch on quickly so I would not have to deal with that coming off of the bike.

Transition time 2:43.  Solid given the run out distance.

The Bike:  I ran to the mount line, hopped up and coasted as I snapped my feet into the waiting pedals.  Having the rubber band holding them in place has proven to be a great help in getting underway quickly.  I banked hard into the first turn exiting transition and put the hammer down.  Woosh.

Having only our wave of athletes ahead of us and a couple of the top female competitors who had caught us on the swim after starting 4:00 minutes behind us (monster swimmers) – the bike course was much less crowded than I have been used to.  Traditionally I have been starting in the 6th or 7th wave in the Male 45-49 age group.  But on Sunday we had plenty of road to ride, but less competitors to chase ahead of us.  I wondered if that would help or hurt us as we tried to push hard on the bike.

We flew through the opening mile of the course in 2:34 and got ready for some climbing.  Only 11.2 miles the course sounds like a snap, but with more than 500 feet of climbing and sharp 90 degree turns leading into the larger climbs, the course is highly technical and difficult.

The next 4 miles came in 2:53, 2:38, 2:20 and 2:44.  I approached the first and most difficult short-burst hill on the course, switched to the small front ring and dropped into a high gear for spinning as I banked the more than 90 degree turn.  I stood on the pedals and started pushing.  As I got to the meat of the hill I saw my partner Ed up ahead of me having put down a swim more than 2 minutes faster than me.

I encouraged Ed as I slid past him and he told me to “Go Get It”.  Seeing him there could not have been more perfect entering into the tough middle of the course.  I continued to climb, reached the top and powered down hill loading up for the next hill, less steep – but much longer.  Navigating the next two miles of climbing we posted miles of 3:08 and 3:04, just a tick under 20 mph.

Mile 8 allows the cyclists to take a little bite back out of the course and we crushed it in 2:18.  Then the course takes a swing back at you along the TX 130 Frontage Road – a monster hill that the Decker Half-Marathon Course punishes runners on each winter.  We slowed to 3:22/mile here and then powered over the top and got our revenge over mile 10 in 2:40.

Just Quadzilla remained – as I settled into the first 200 meters of the hill I picked out a few competitors and only looked at the back of their shirts.  I never shifted my eyes from them, never looked at my bike computer, never looked at the hill itself.  Only their backs, reeling in one after the other.  The final climbing mile came in 3:34 as I stood on the pedals and made my way to the dismount.

Bike time 32:17 – 1 minute and 4 seconds faster than our effort on the same course at the Rookie Triathlon.  20.7 mph for the ride.

Transition 2:  I ran the bike in after the dismount line.  Slid the seat over the bar, took off my helmet and glasses and switched from my bike shoes to my race flats.  I decided to tear off my triathlon top and run in just my shorts as the sun was fully overhead now and heating things up.  I hit my water bottle for a final drink, grabbed my race number belt and started out to the run course.

The Run:  I hit start on my run watch and settled onto the course.  On my left the overall winner of the event Jamie Cleveland sped past me as he was racing with his wife (another professional triathlete) in the married division.  I had held Jamie off until the run course which was a pretty big win.  He was going to post a time under 1 hour in the event.  Truly amazing.

The run course is a trail course at Decker, which makes it very challenging to post a fast 5k time.  There are long high grass sections, rutted trails, loose large wood chips and a long hill to navigate.  I decided to just run my maximum, sustainable “uncomfortable” pace shooting for something just under 20 minutes for the run.

The course was heating up so I tried to run under the cover of the trees the best I could.  The first mile came in right at 6:20, which was where I was hoping to hold it for the duration of the run.  Mile 2 would be a quick one with a downhill section, but the final mile would prove punishing with a long, tough hill to close things out.

I decided to make hay while I could and dropped my pace down to 6:05 over the second mile in the areas where I could push, but the pace felt dangerous over the loose footing at times.  I tried to stay even, but needed to pack off slightly at times to make sure I didn’t wipe out.

At the beep mile 2 came in at 6:11.  Not bad, but the heat and the course were starting to fight back a bit.  The final mile started with a nice long downhill and sweeping turn – I backed off a bit to reload and try to run the final mile a bit more strategic than a usual 5K where you just fire away and hang on.

I saw “the hill” ahead with a few runners already walking.  I lengthened my stride a bit and dug in at the bottom of the incline.  Battle, battle, battle I thought as we picked our way to the top.  I glanced down at my watch quickly and saw my pace at 6:50.  I was surprised that it was still under 7:00 min./mile as it felt as if I was crawling, but finally we hit the top and started the final 1/4 mile to the finish.

I had passed the last of the competitors I was running near, so this would be a solo mission to the line to wrap things up.  As I approached the race announcer was calling out all of the competitor’s names, something I really love about the Triathlon.

“From Austin, TX, running on the iRuniTRI Guys team – Joe Marruchella”.

The run came in spot on at 6:20 pace – 19 minutes 37 seconds.
A sub 20 Minute trail 5K at the end of a tough day of swimming and biking … I’ll take it.
Results:  Team iRuniTri Guys finished with a time of 2:43:26 which was good enough for 12th place in the competitive Male Friends Division.

Joe Marruchella 1:16:35
Ed Cortez 1:26:51

Post Race:  Looking back on the event, the number one thing is that our mission of “having fun” out there as a team was absolutely met.  Ed and I had a blast on Sunday and have made plans to return next year again.

Individually I put together my best swim time per 100 Meters yet by a handful of seconds which bodes well for my half-ironman swim of 1.2 miles.  I may not have sprinters speed in the water, but I can sustain my swim over distance and that will hopefully help us in the longer event.  I know our bike and run will play a much bigger role when things stretch out to 56 miles on the bike and 13.1 on the run.

As it was we posted the 34th best swim time, 17th fastest bike and 3rd fastest run among the Male Friends Competitors.  Clearly once on land we have a thing or two to say about how the race will play out – time to swim more often, longer and faster than we ever have. 

The next finish line we cross we will be adding Ironman 70.3 finisher to our resume.

I slipped off of the edge of the pool this morning with the sun still below the horizon.

Nobody at the swim complex, just an athlete new to the sport of triathlons getting in a final swim before his next attempt at mastering the multisport discipline, laying down a fast swim, a faster bike and of course a crushing run to close out the race.

1,000 Meters Free

2 X 100 Meters (under 2:00)

2 X 50 Meters (under :56)

2 X 25 Meters (under :24)

A short workout, approximately 1,000 Meters or so shorter than I would typically swim, but this close to race day all I really wanted to do is maintain my feel for the water, continue to program my brain and body for a consistent swim effort and work some soreness out of my muscles.

Interestingly as I was swimming my 40 lengths of the pool to open with 1,000 meters free-style my mind was not on Sunday’s 800 Meter Swim but on October’s 1.2 mile swim at the Austin Ironman 70.3.

I try very hard not to look ahead when I am preparing for an event.  That is a lesson that Dom’s battle with cancer taught me in spades.  Stay in the moment, take nothing for granted, cross the obstacle immediately in front of you and no other.

There will be plenty of time to worry about that next challenge when it is front and center.  Getting too far in front of yourself is not good strategy, and as a competitor we are nothing if not strategic.

I decided during the interval portion of my workout to only swim that length of the pool and focus on my form and turnover.  I then swam the next one.  Then the next one.

By the time I finished my 100’s and started my two sets of 50’s I was back in the now.

It is amazing to me how quickly focus can be lost and how much concentration it takes to bring it back.  At the start of every race I have competed in since standing on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA on April 19, 2010 for the 114th running of the Boston Marathon I have taken a moment to think about Dom.

Whether he was home in Dormont, PA with Val, Sierra and Nico – on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, PA in May of that year waiting for me to run past in the Pittsburgh Marathon – in a hospital – or now tucked safely at the bottom of a rolling hill in the cemetery in Hopewell near his childhood home he has been my final thought before my first stride or stroke.

Sunday will be no different.  Some days I feel tears welling in my eyes, others I feel a strength and determination that that particular day is our day.  Our day to rise to the challenge and not cede a single second to the clock.

I have a feeling that on Sunday morning we will summon great strength from Dom and channnel it into a special performance – all the while remembering to stay in the moment, focus on the challenge immediately in our path – and crush it.

Thanks for the reminder Dom – if you have a chance on Sunday, I’d appreciate a little wind at my back on  that final climb on the bike course, you take care of that for me and I’ll take care of everything else.

I miss you friend.

Training is not easy.

That is a concept that is amazingly easy to forget sometimes. When the weather is cool and the athlete is fit and healthy, ticking off workout after workout hitting your target paces becomes commonplace.

If you are getting your rest, eating and recovering well and working through a well-balanced training plan several weeks can go by before you have a day where you are just “flat” for lack of a better word.

A “flat” workout is not the end of the world, in fact, it is usually your body’s way of letting you know that something is a bit off. Whether it is physical, mental or a combination of the two. It is your opportunity to take a step-back, evaluate your training schedule and maybe even mix in an extra rest day to recharge the batteries.

All very good things.

It is when a “flat” workout rears its head unexpectedly however that the athlete needs to remember that no individual workout – whether it is good or bad – means much of anything when it comes to endurance training.

It is actually the body of work to be considered, where gains and losses are to be measured over a period of time that measure progression and/or unfortunately sometimes a loss in your fitness level.

On Tuesday morning I had one of those unexpected “oops” workouts where my target paces for my “On” miles of my Off and On workout simply could not be maintained.

I was running the same workout as the previous four Tuesdays, over the identical course, running one “Off” or easy mile followed by one “On” or up-tempo mile alternating back and forth for 8 total miles. Then an easy 1/2 mile cooldown back home.

Each of my “On” miles tracked :04-:06 seconds slower than the week before.

The harder I worked, the more I seemed to struggle. There was the variable of heavy, heavy humid air (98%) to deal with after thunderstorms roared through Austin overnight, but the past several weeks have featured steamy morning temperatures.

It was simply a combination of a tough workout falling on a day where I was a little bit off. I had been not feeling 100% as Landry and I have been trading a little bug back and forth the last few days and I had my mind on my first day of work at a new job in a couple of hours. I was physically a bit run down and I was mentally distracted. The result? Not my best effort.

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that when this happens there is only one thing to do in order to get past it as quickly as possible. Flush it.

I try my best to have as short a memory as possible when it comes to a bad workout or an off race. Just flush it, move on to the next day, the next workout, the next run – get out there and do your best. Allowing a poor workout or race to creep into your psyche and derail your confidence is a waste of energy, but more importantly, can lead to more pressure for your next effort and another day where the mental struggle affects the physical.

No race is ever won on a single training run. Preparing for a marathon over 18 weeks will feature close to 100 individual runs for me. One bad workout represents 1% of that preparation.

1%.

So to focus on a particular humid Tuesday morning where my goal pace of 6:03 over mile 4 fell short at 6:07 or my mile 6 goal of 5:59 was missed even wider at 6:04 is not anything (more…)

It’s race week this week with the Couples Triathlon on tap for Sunday morning out at Decker Lake.  800 Meter Swim, 11-mile bike, 3-mile run and our last scheduled race before Ironman 70.3 in October will be in the books.  Usually I would have quite a few events lined up between a mid-July race and a late October event, but not this year.

After “Couples” we’ll be heading straight into a 100 day cycle for long-distance triathlon training with a lot of endurance workouts to conquer the 1,900+ meter (1.2 mile) swim, 56-mile bike and half-marathon event in our first attempt at the distance(s).  Or really, our first attempt at anything close.  The closest parallel I can draw is going from a 5K footrace to a marathon in one jump.

Ironically, that is exactly what we did in the Fall of 2006 going from a local 5K event straight into the teeth of the Philadelphia Marathon.

Of course this time I have a much longer racing history.  Numerous half-marathons and marathons under my belt and a far greater understanding of what my body is capable of, how to prepare for a tough long-distance race and how to take care of my body both before and during the event to maximize performance.

Swim Start

But Sunday is going to be a bit surreal as the location for the event at Decker Lake is going to be the same exact spot where we will stand nervously on the edge of the water three months from now staring the half-ironman in the face.  The temperature will be different, we’ll more than likely be in a wetsuit instead of our TRI shorts and tank, but there will be a lot of similarities between the two events.

Climb on Bike Course

In fact the first 10 miles or so of the half-ironman course will be identical to the first 10 miles on Sunday.  All of the steep climbs that we will experience during Longhorn 70.3 fall in those first 10 miles.  It is a hilly-monster of a course, one that I feel like we are well prepared for on Sunday if we get moderate winds and our legs bounce back this week from some high-mileage training over the past 30 days.

The nerves will start to build as race day draws closer this week – they always do.  But right now I’m excited to race one last time this summer before flipping the switch and starting our toughest training cycle in a long …. well actually …. ever.

On the heals of Longhorn 70.3 will be the Houston Marathon just 11 weeks later.  We will actually start our Houston preparations 6 weeks or so before Longhorn, where our long runs will start creeping into that 16,17,18 mile range.  Farther than one might normally “run long” preparing for a half-ironman, but mileage that will not only help at Longhorn in the closing miles of the 13.1 mile run, but will help us springboard into week 7 or 8 of marathon training after a recovery week.

It will be a different approach to training for a marathon for sure, but one that I think will prove to have us more than ready on January 13, 2013 in Houston, TX.  The thought of focusing only on one discipline (the run) for 11 weeks before the starters gun goes off has me excited for our next and possibly last attempt at breaking the 3 hour mark in the marathon.  It is the last “PR” that I want to set at a level that if I never approach it again I will be satisfied.

That is how I feel right now about every other distance from the 1 mile (5:07), 5K (18:12), 10K (37:30), 10-mile (1:02:37) and Half-Marathon (1:23:46).  Only my marathon PR set at New York of 3:08:09 has me looking at those numbers knowing that I can be better.

As for the others?  Perhaps on a glorious day sometime in the future one or more of them may fall if my fitness, weather and race-day mojo all happen to show up at the same time.  But if they do not, I’m satisfied.

Perhaps that is the nature of marathoning.  That satisfaction is much tougher to come by in that event than some others.  As much as the race breaks you, it seems to leave you with just enough life left to give it one more try.  Never completely annihilating you and leaving you for dead.  Although you feel awfully close over the final 10 kilometers.

I’ve heard that the half-ironman feels the same as the end of the marathon when you are covering the last few miles.  We’ll see about that.  I certainly can’t imagine it feeling any tougher.  Hopefully I’m right about that.

But for this weekend we will be laying it all out there in the sprint distance in an interesting format – where two athletes compete as a “couple”.  Each competitor completing the entire triathlon on their own, then the two times are added together and are ranked in the category that they are competing in.

There are categories for:

Friends – Male (Combined Age Groups: < 70 ; 70-94; 95+ )
Friends – Female (Combined Age Groups: < 70 ; 70-94; 95+ )
Friends – Mixed (Combined Age Groups: < 70 ; 70-94; 95+ )
More than Friends (Combined Age Groups: < 70 ; 70-94; 95+ )
Married (Combined Age Groups: < 70 ; 70-94; 95+ )
Parent & Child
Siblings
Relatives
Mostly Strangers

If you do not have anyone to race with, you can compete as an individual by gender:

Individual Male
Individual Female

My friend Ed and I will be competing in the Friends Male 70-94 combined age group as our cumulative age places us at 79 years old for this event.

We have essentially zero chance at a podium finish as we will be competing with the top male age groupers, Open Division competitors and even a handful of local professional traithletes who live here in Austin.

It will be more about having some fun racing with Ed, getting more experience as a triathlete working on my open water swimming, transitions and closing out the run as strong as I can.

1:18 – 1:20 feels about right to me for this event from a goal standpoint.  It will of course all be about the swim for me where every :10 I can shave off of my 100 meter splits over 800 meters will be a huge accomplishment on Sunday.

Last month at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon we were a bit too timid in the water, swam too wide to avoid conflict and it added 1-2 minutes to our swim time.  That much cost us a podium finish.

This time there will be no age group award to fight for, but I want to gain some valuable experience swimming “in a crowd” and battling to stay on course and working the tangents around the buoys.  The next time we swim at Longhorn the distance will be 1.2 miles.  I certainly don’t need to make it any longer than that. 

Sunday morning when that horn goes off we are going to swim the first 50 meters aggressively and find a spot on the heels of a swimmer just a bit faster than us.  We’ll try to draft the best that we can, and hopefully let that swimmer pull us along at a pace a bit faster than we are capable of swimming on our own.

Once we get out of the water, the race shifts in our favor.  Bike over the hills at 20+ miles per hour, then run the 3 mile off-road course (which is a bit slower than a typical road course) in about 19 minutes and 30 seconds.

If we put that type of race together with solid transitions we will be a happy triathlete on Sunday.  Exactly the way I want to feel heading into the most intense and honestly a bit scary training period since I trained for my first marathon.

In addition to all of that, tomorrow morning I start a new job for the first time since September 22, 1999.

I’ll be working with a local foundation here in Austin that does tremendous works for local musicians and their families.  Contributing to part of the music culture here in Austin that makes our city such a unique and wonderful place to live.

Pretty big week ahead.  Hope yours is a great one as well.