Archive for August, 2012

“Nothing new on race day.”

Maybe one of the easiest to understand rules about racing and one of the easiest to follow.  However at every single marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, triathlon, Ironman and any other endurance event this is perhaps the most common mistake made by athletes of all experience levels and capabilities.

New shoes, new socks, a different pair of shorts, underwear, triathlon race wear, a different breakfast, hydration plan, calories, compression gear, a new helmet, a different wheel set, the list goes on and on and on.

Chafing, blisters, gastrointestinal issues, running out of fuel – it all can happen – and when it does, that is when the race course rears its head and makes the athlete pay.

Heading into my first ever Half Ironman I am trying to be “one of the smart ones”.  One of the athletes who trains in their race gear, works on their nutrition plan making sure that what I ingest on the bike during my long rides will be identical to what I can get my hands on while I am racing 56 miles on the bike.  The same situation applies to my swim and run.

Nothing new on race day.

So this week I dropped an extra 1,998 yard swim into my training plan at Deep Eddy Pool giving us 4 swims this week.  The increased swim volume was an added bonus, but the reason I wanted to swim at Deep Eddy pool was so I could get some time in my wetsuit that I will be racing in at Kerrville.  The water temperature at Kerrville is predicted to be wetsuit legal, meaning that it will be somewhere below 78 degrees – last year the river water was 74 on race day.

The water will be warm enough of course to swim without a wetsuit – but the added buoyancy that a wetsuit provides and the ability to float better swimming in their suits vs. traditional swim wear makes the athletes much faster in the water.  Perhaps as much as :05 seconds per hundred meters.

In a triathlon where literally every second counts if you are hoping to compete in your age group, picking up time in the water, in transition, on your bike by wearing an aero helmet, having race wheels and of course hauling butt out there on the run course all adds up.  For me, with the swim being my weakest event, I cannot afford to forfeit another :05 seconds per 100 in a swim of 1.2 miles to my age group competitors.

The trick this time of year in Texas of course is trying to find a place where you can swim in your wetsuit to practice, but not overheat while doing so.

Deep Eddy Pool is the oldest swimming pool in the state of Texas.  Deep Eddy began simply as a swimming hole in the Colorado River that flows through Austin.  Cold springs rose from the river banks and people swam in the river where a large boulder formed an eddy.  (Photo Below)

The water temperature is 68 degrees year round.

In the years since, there have been many changes and iterations to Deep Eddy from it’s days as a bathing beach.

But you can’t help feeling like you are stepping back in time leaving the bath house and looking down to the pool below.

View from the top of the bath house on Wednesday

Swimming under the canopy of the oak trees in the natural spring waters is exhilarating.  I now know why so many people make their morning swims at Deep Eddy a ritual.

So on Landry’s birthday I was able to pack myself into my wetsuit for the first time and swim a comfortable 1,998 yards with cool water washing over my toes, hands and face, the rest of my body covered by my Xterra suit.

I didn’t push things too much out there, just trying to get comfortable.

I swam the 60 lengths of the 33.3 yard long pool (1,998 yards) in 35 minutes and 42 seconds.  About 2 minutes faster per 1,000 meters than I do normally without a wetsuit.  Nice.

At race intensity in our suit that bodes very well for us on race day.  If we can stay smooth, sight well and stay on course, we should be able to use that added buoyancy to our advantage – we may just be able to hang a little closer to the front of our age-group in the water.  Once on land, we know what we have to do.

Crush the bike.

Kill the run.

That will be our mantra for race day and hopefully, if we get everything right, we will put together a debut performance in the Half Ironman that we can be proud of.  But in the meantime we are going to enjoy every bit of this journey to the starting line of Kerrville 70.3.  I’m sure that race day is going to grant me a lot of great memories, but not too many of them are going to top our first wetsuit swim at Deep Eddy on Landry’s Birthday.

I think it is important to remember how much hard work you put in to prepare for an “A” race.  Those mornings by yourself running hill repeats, more miles on the bike pushing up long hills against the wind and every one of the thousands  of laps in the pool to prepare for a 1.2 mile open water swim.  They are as much a part of the journey than those final miles approaching the finish line on race day.  Afterall, without them, race day can never happen.

My lane just off of the railing

Happy Birthday Landry!

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Dear Landry,

I know you’re not quite yet a reader of Daddy’s blog – although you do check out the pictures every once in awhile on the iPad.

I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday today and let you know that your Mommy and I could not possibly love you any more.

Two years ago, you were born on a Sunday. I remember the day of the week because of course my little girl would be born on a “long run” day. Don’t let your Mommy fool you, I did cut my run short that morning from 14 to 8 miles to be on the safe side ….

The other thing that I will remember is that you were born faaaaast! Mommy and I walked in the front door of the hospital just a couple of minutes past 8:00 a.m., and I was holding you in my arms at 9:51. Less than two hours later, about the time it takes Daddy to run 17 or 18 miles on race day. Hopefully down in Houston in January it will be 18.

Both of those omens bode very well for you when you take up running like Daddy – you already have a thing for running shoes.

Landry testing Dad’s new running shoes

Watching you grow up every day has been one of the coolest experiences of my life. I remember when I could hold you on one forearm, and your head to your toes did not reach from my hand to my elbow. Now you are such a big girl I can hardly believe it. You walk, talk, run, spell, swim, recite the alphabet, walk the dog and even count to ten in two languages. I think it took me until I was 14 or 15 before I could do that.

In the last year you saw the finish of the New York City and Boston Marathons – not too many two-year-olds can say they have done that. Heck, not too many 45-year-olds like your Daddy can either.

Dawn and Landry in the Grandstand at NYCM

Landry and Dad – Post Race in Boston

Back in February you got to meet your buddies Elmo, Rosita and the rest of the Sesame Street gang – we’ll be catching up with them again this winter when they come back to Austin.

Landry, Elmo and Rosita

Overall, the last year has been a pretty good one for you – I promise to do my very best to make sure the next year is even better.

I love you Landry – thank you for being the greatest daughter that any Mommy and Daddy have ever had.


Hard to believe that summer is just about over, Landry is going to turn 2 years old on Wednesday and Dawn will have her own Birthday on Friday. If you ask Landry, Mom will be turning 29 – I wonder where she got that information …

And in just 5 more weeks we will have hopefully come through the chute a Half-Ironman finisher in Kerrville.

There is a part in every training cycle where I feel like I am more or less in race preparation purgatory. I’m sort of caught in between stages. I’m not quite to the finish line yet and ready to start the taper and my body is starting to show a few cracks here and there.  Even though I can’t quite make out the light at the end of the tunnel, my body can almost sense its approach.  I stay on course as I know that these are the workouts that make the athlete on race day. These are the days that while they are tough and you feel as if you are getting beaten down, what is actually happening is that you are growing stronger.  It’s just not revealed to you until the last few days before the race when the reduction in mileage and additional rest and sleep that you load up on during race week is like a magic potion.  You feel more fresh than you have in months.  Rested. Strong.  Determined.

Then it is just a matter of eating right, getting your sleep, finalizing your race plan and then …. Boom.

Over the last two weeks we have covered 329 miles. 200 on the bike, 119.5 on the run and another 9+ in the pool. That’s a lot of ju-ju.

Truth be told I’m feeling pretty strong right now – Last Tuesday I ran my fastest ever training mile (5:51), the only time I’ve ever run a faster mile has been in a race. I also broke through a barrier that while a huge accomplishment, would not register as such to anyone other than me really.

I have been doing Hill Repeats on Thursdays for close to two years now. Always it is the same drill. A slow jog to the bottom of the hill, I turn and then race up the 3/10 mile long hill that climbs 65 feet at 5K effort. To cover the distance it takes me somewhere between 1:43 and 1:47. If it is warmer I am a little slower. If it is cooler I am a little faster. Sometimes the wind is helping me up the hill, other times it is penalizing me in the form of a headwind.

But this past Thursday on a 71 degree morning with no noticeable wind – basically a neutral day – I kept replaying a quote about racing from Bill Rogers over and over in my mind. “If you want to win a race you have to go a little berserk out there.”

As I finished my first repeat in 1:45 I decided to try to get as close as I could to 1:40. A mark I had never reached in over two years.

Repeat 2: 1:42
Repeat 3: 1:41
Repeat 4: 1:40

As I saw the 1:40 on my watch under the street lamp as I made my turn back to the bottom of the hill I thought to myself, you are so close. You have to go for it.

I reloaded on the turn, kicked my legs up high and leaned into the start, hit my watch and shot up the hill like a rocket.
Repeat 5: 1:39

1:39 for that repeat is the equivalent of 6:00 min./mile flat pace over 3/10 of a mile up a 65 foot incline. Something I never have been able to do before. I settled back down into my workout and ticked off 4 more repeats.

Repeat 6: 1:42
Repeat 7: 1:40
Repeat 8: 1:41
Repeat 9: 1:41

1:41 became my “new normal”, which is how breakthrough moments come about. With only nine repeats on my training schedule for the week I thought about my marathon pace mile that was due to close out the workout, then almost automatically my body turned to the right and jogged back down to the bottom of the hill. Let’s add one more repeat this morning and go for it again.

Repeat 10: 1:39

I recovered for 2/10 of a mile to the mark on Avery Ranch Road that sits exactly one mile from our driveway and I fired up the legs for a 6:52 mile home.

I locked into our marathon goal pace effort and never glanced at my watch. One of the things I want to make sure of by the time we arrive at the Houston Marathon is that I can run 6:52 pace literally in my sleep. I don’t want it to be a pace that I am searching for. I want it to feel automatic, completely locked in. This way with race day adrenaline and focus, our 6:52’s become 6:45’s over the first half of the race. We create our wiggle room for our goal of breaking 3 hours and then lock into those 6:52’s and hold them as long as we can over the second half of the race.

As we hit the driveway and heard the beep of my watch I glanced down under the streetlight.


Our New Normal.

26.2 Thoughts on Racing

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Motivation

As of this morning I will have posted almost 500 entries on the blog.  Thousands and thousands of words about running, training and racing.  We also chronicled the last year in the life of a good friend as he battled cancer – providing us with the motivation to train hard and race even harder.  I thought a long time ago that after Dom passed away, there really wouldn’t be much of a reason to keep on writing.  What did I have to say that was so profound that anyone would want to read my ramblings?

But time and time again I have been reminded through comments, e-mails or even in person at a race that there is an audience out there who does like to drop by from time to time and read my thoughts on this crazy journey of ours.

I was asked this week who do I look to for inspiration?  What and who do I read frequently to keep me motivated, especially when training is beating you down and you begin to ask yourself why am I training to run another marathon?  What is there left to prove.

Well, below I have shared my favorite 26.2 quotes that still inspire me to keep logging those miles and chasing after the race when I finally come through the chute, see 2:59:XX on the clock and realize that yes, I have finally chased down that last dream of mine when it comes to the marathon.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do.

“It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.” — Ann Transon

“Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete.” — Willie Shoemaker

“You have to have confidence in your ability and then be tough enough to follow through” —  Rosalynn Carter

“Thus I urge you to go onto your greatness if you believe it is in you.  Think deeply and separate what you wish from what you are prepared to do.” — Percy Cerutty

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” — Bill Bowerman

“If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.” — John Parker (author of Once a Runner)

“If you want to win a race you have to go a little berserk.” — Bill Rogers

“I’ve always taken the philosophy that you have to dream a little in this sport.  If you stay in your comfort zone, you’re not going to do anything special.” — Deena Kastor

“Reality can destroy the dream; why shouldn’t the dream destroy reality?” — George Moore

“If you want to achieve a high goal, you’re going to have to take some chances.” — Alberto Salazar

“You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.” — Steve Prefontaine

“My whole feeling in terms of racing is that you have to be very bold.  You sometimes have to be aggressive and gamble.” — Bill Rogers

“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners.  Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants to quit.” — George Sheehan

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” — Steve Prefontaine

“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves.  It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go.  It helps us to find out what we are made of.  This is what we do.  This is what it’s all about.” — Patty Sue Plumer

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.” — Carl Lewis

“One thing about racing is that it hurts.  You better accept that from the beginning or you’re not going anywhere.” — Bob Kennedy

“The biggest mistake an athlete can make is to be afraid of making one.” — L. Ron Hubbard

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” — John Wooden

“A runner must run with dreams in his heart.” — Emil Zatopek

“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” — Sven Goran Eriksson

“If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” — Erica Jong

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” — T.S. Eliot

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” — Susan Jeffers

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine

“I know you couldn’t really race those two marathons the way you wanted to so close together.  Run the next race for you Joe, go out there and absolutely kill it.” — Dominic D’Eramo – February 11, 1971 – August 15, 2010 R.I.P.

Last week represented my highest volume training week across all three triathlon disciplines to date. 161.10 total miles which were broken down by 96.62 on the bike, 59.90 running and another 4.58 in the pool. We will have a few weeks where our volume is a bit higher before the Kerrville Half-Ironman, but most of those increases will be accounted for by stretching out our bike rides each week to 35 miles on our “short rides” and taking our long ride up to 56 miles.

The key number above to me is my run volume sitting at just a hair under 60 miles for the week. A level that I surpassed just once training for the 2010 Austin Marathon (62.45) and only three times preparing for the New York City marathon in 2011 (65.80, 62.50, 65.00). Both times I set PR’s in the marathon. Volume is important as an endurance athlete, but there are of course a lot of different ways to run 60 miles in a given week. Some are much more helpful to a marathoner than others, just as if I was prepping for a 10K “A” race, I would alter my approach focusing on more speed work and less long, grind-it-out type of runs.

Those of you who have been following along for a while probably realize that while I am very focused and training hard for our debut in the Half-Ironman, we are really just a Marathoner disguised as a Triathlete.

I’m not saying that I am a “fraud” or anything, but the fact remains that if you asked me which of my next two races are more “important” in my eyes, the Kerrville 70.3 or the Houston Marathon in January, I’m sure you all know that my sights are truly set on Houston. It is perhaps our last, best chance at breaking through the only self-imposed running goal we have never achieved – A sub 3 hour marathon.

As the calendar ticks ever-closer to Kerrville, now just 40 days away, I am also very cognizant of the fact that Houston is just around the corner as well – only 144 days off on the horizon. I am being very careful to include some “marathon training” workouts and philosophies to my preparation for Kerrville so that after our recovery week post-race we will be able to literally hit the ground running for Houston. We will be firmly where we would normally be 6-8 weeks or so prior to Marathon Sunday, with actually 13 weeks left of training.  An enviable position to be in for sure.  I want to leave nothing to chance when it comes to Houston.

I remember how it felt to come through the half-way point in New York City in 1:29:45 knowing that we held our marathon hopes right in the palm of our hand on one of the largest stages in the marathon world. The course was going to make running another sub 1:30 half-marathon more or less an impossibility for us, but we had put ourself in position for success. That is all one can ask for on race day and I hope that given the same set of circumstances in Houston this January, the flat course, a more fit and better trained athlete with more race experience is able to run that second sub 1:30 half and reach our pie in the sky goal of 2:59:XX.

To do so, it is not going to be enough to just go through the motions and log slow mile after slow mile and continue to work on our endurance for Kerrville. We need to be diligent in our training to include speed work and hill repeats to make sure our legs are still firing and handling the “speedy stuff” as my friend Steve likes to say despite all the high mileage we have been covering.

Which begs the fundamental question – why does a marathoner need to run speed work? A question that I get asked quite frequently here on the blog and on the Daily Mile site where I log my runs.

There are three reasons why a long-distance runner should incorporate speed work in their training:

1. Shorter, faster repeats improve your running form and economy. Over a long-distance event like the marathon or even a half-marathon, being “efficient” in your stride and form is a key, key weapon. Akin to a car who gets better gas mileage, you are simply able to run farther before you are out of fuel. Improvements in this area take place by running “faster” at a higher cadence and leg turnover.

2. Shorter, faster repeats give me confidence. They help me “remember” that I am able to run much faster than my marathon race goal pace. Running at :30 or :40 seconds faster than those 6:52’s I need to tick off down in Houston on my speed work days during training makes my marathon goal pace miles feel “easy”. If all I have done to that point is run a bunch of miles at 7:30 pace leading up to race day, my body is not going to be able to handle those 6:52’s after the initial endorphin rush wears off. During those long, lonely, late race miles, I want to be able to draw on the fact that I’ve run many, many miles sub 6:15. 6:52’s are well within my capabilities.

3. Break up the monotony of training. If I ran the same workout every single day for the last 6 years I would have given up marathoning a long time ago. Instead I am able to mix up my workouts from day-to-day and week to week which keeps me striving to improve, add new workouts to my training and allow me to continue to ascend as a runner even after my 45th birthday. Varying your pace and effort levels each week allow your body to be taxed, recover, adapt and grow stronger/faster. Speed work plays a key role in this training process.

Of course getting injured can put a damper on any runner’s marathon training. Just ask Desiree Davilla and Ryan Hall about that.

Speed work can be a bit “dangerous” in this regard as it is far more taxing on the systems than just “running easy”. For me I make sure that the day before and the day after my speed work or hill repeat sessions are very, very easy days or rest days. It allows me to push hard on my hard days, recover, reload and then get ready to push again. I frankly do not know any other way for me to avoid the injury bug.

One of my favorite speed workouts is the “One Off, One On Workout” – where you alternate an Off Mile or Recovery Mile with an On Mile or Speed Mile.

I started out with an 8-mile Off and On workout initially, 4 miles easy, 4 miles hard which I have now stretched out to 10.6 miles with 5 off miles, 5 on miles followed by a 6/10 of a mile cool down back to the house.

Your cool down can be any distance that you prefer, I have found that my route lends itself to a little over a half-mile to let my body recover fully from my final “On” mile before I wrap the workout up. I will be stretching this workout out to 12.6 miles total at the height of Houston training, going no farther than that as I want to be able to run that last “On” mile as hard and fast as the first.

For an example of how this workout would look my splits on Tuesday this week were:

Out the door at 4:45 a.m.

Mile 1: Off Mile – 9:14 (warm-up)

Mile 2: On Mile – 6:10

Mile 3: Off Mile – 8:37

Mile 4: On Mile – 5:51

Mile 5: Off Mile – 8:39

Mile 6: On Mile 5:54

Mile 7: Off Mile – 8:35

Mile 8: On Mile – 6:01

Mile 9: Off Mile – 8:46

Mile 10: On Mile – 6:07

Cool Down – 6/10 Mile 8:38 pace

When you are starting out these intervals could be 1/2 mile or even just 400 meters as mile repeats can be a bit long if you are not used to a long, sustained run at/near 5K pace.

Gradually building up the number of repeats is also great strategy, where starting out with just 2 “On” miles and 2 “Off” miles could make this a great 4.5-5 mile workout including your cool down. Much more beneficial than just going out and grinding out a steady paced 5 mile run.

In fact my overall “pace” for this 10.6 mile run was just 7:35 min./mile. If I had just ticked over 10 consecutive 7:30’s after a 6/10 of a mile warm up at 8:00 minute pace I would have essentially just logged an “easy” day of training. Instead I taxed my sytems, ran 5 miles at 6:10 pace or better and took a big step toward being able to feel comfortable racing at 6:52 pace in January.

Sometimes it is tough getting out of your comfort zone and trying something different, but if you want results and you want things to “change” with respect to the goals you are chasing, it is just part of the deal. There are no magic potions that I know of that will get you there. If I want to take 8 minutes off of my marathon time from New York City down in Houston, I am going to have to continue to run some uncomfortable miles each and every week.

One of my favorite quotes from Austin’s own Lance Armstrong is from his book – It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (2000) on page 113 he says:

“Anything is possible. You can be told you have a 90-percent chance or a 50-percent chance or a 1-percent chance, but you have to believe, and you have to fight.”

Damn skippy.


Running injuries suck.

There really is not any other way to put it.   They are also pretty much just part of the deal when it comes to the sport.  Whether you are a recreational runner, a 3 day a week, 3-mile a run type of runner, a marathoner or one of those crazy ultra-runners we all get hurt.  It is simply inevitable.  We are doing something that while very “natural” it does tax our bodies in ways that a sedentary lifestyle does not.  Our muscles grow stronger because we are forcing them to adapt to changes in their static state.  We run further, our muscles get broken down, adapt and grow larger.  We run faster, our muscles break down further, adapt and grow stronger.

Sometimes however they simply “break” and it requires time away from our sport to heal, rebound and return.

For a runner who uses the sport for all kinds of coping mechanisms, whether that is kick-starting your day with a rush of endorphins, enjoying the solitude away from distractions to sort out our thoughts, or simply conquering a daily goal such as “just getting out the door” which makes us feel good – having that taken away from us is very tough.  It is as if part of our own master plan for how the universe should operate is stolen away while we were asleep.  Our freedom has been stripped away from us and it just doesn’t seem fair.  In fact, it isn’t fair.

Injuries can strike even the most diligent runners who manage their shoes, their mileage, the terrain they run on and their pace carefully.

A turned ankle, a car that backs out of a driveway at the wrong time, a hill that grabs a hamstring or just a small pull in an even smaller muscle that through overuse and training just gives out with very little warning.  It happens to all of us.  There are runners who have been injured and runners who have not been injured yet.  Those are the only two kinds in the world.

So every time I suffer an injury I work as hard as I can to get back to the sport that has given me so many gifts over the last decade as safely and quickly as possible.  I go to see a Doctor immediately if I need to.  I listen to their recommendations.  I do physical therapy, I ice, I use compression, I rest, I cross-train.  But all I really want to do is run.

I want to run as far as I feel like.

I want to run as fast as my legs will carry me.

I want to run for the sake of it.

I want to run to get better.

I want to train to race.

And then run even faster.

There is one positive about being injured however.  It is of very little comfort while you are suffering from an injury, but it is there nonetheless.  It makes you appreciate just what you had when it has been taken away from you.  It makes you humble.  It makes you say things like, “If I can just get over this injury, I will never take running for granted again.” 

And then you do.

The last time I suffered an injury was in the early spring of 2011.  I had some left knee inflammation after rather foolishly running in a 12-person ultra marathon in Arizona just 6 days after what at my time was a personal best performance at the Austin Marathon.  My body needed rest and recovery not only from the marathon itself, but from my most aggressive training cycle leading up to race day.  I instead decided that I knew better and ran 3 times in less than 24 hours through the Arizona desert from Wickenburg to Tempe.  By Saturday morning I was injured.

On April 2, 2011 after taking more than 5-weeks away from running I put on my race flats and ran in the 2011 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K.  It was a race that I had worked hard to qualify for an elite-spot in the previous Fall and I wanted to make it to the starting line of the race.  Nervously I navigated the 10K course at 85% of my usual race intensity and I made it through in one piece, 41:19 was my time, which was a far cry from my 10K PR at the time of 38:06, but I enjoyed every step of the Cooper River Bridge Run as it was the first time I had run pain-free in well over a month.

I was back.

Texas Half Finish – 1st Place Age Group

As I came through the finishing chute I said to myself quietly, “Never forget how this feels.  Remember how much you love this.”

In the many months to follow I have not forgotten what a gift being healthy is.  I vowed to never take running injury free for granted again.  I have been smarter about the accumulated bumps and bruises that come from training and I have actually changed my training plans in mid-stream to add an extra rest day when I felt like I was pushing the envelope just a bit too far.  Treading too close to the edge.

I am now 505 days away from April 2, 2011.

I have trained and raced for 16 months straight crossing finish lines in 12 5K’s, 4 10K’s, 4 Half Marathons, 2 Marathons, 1 6-man ultramarathon relay, and 4 triathlons.  I have run 3,294 miles since coming through the finishing chute in downtown Charleston, SC that morning in April and have managed to stay fit and healthy.  I have managed somehow at this ever-increasing age of mine to set new PR’s in the 10K, 1/2 marathon and marathon.

Today I am grateful.

I have a good friend here in Austin, perhaps my best “runner-friend” who has been battling injury for close to 4 months now.  He has done all the right things, seen all the right doctors, tried the right treatments and he is still not able to get back to running pain-free.  This friend of mine races in my age-group.  I have never beaten him in a footrace at any distance.  You might think that having him on the shelf as it were would somehow benefit me as I chase after age-group awards here at local races.  The fact of the matter is, all that does is cheapen any victory should I be lucky enough to earn one.

We both have our eyes on a couple of races after I get on the other side of the Half Ironman next month.  The Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5-mile race and our next “A” race, the Houston Marathon.

I hope for two things these next few months:

1.  That I am fortunate to remain healthy and fit up to and including our full training cycle for the Houston Marathon.

2.  That my friend Brendon is able to return to full health in time for that race.

I suppose I have a third wish and that is that when Brendon does get his race legs back underneath him, that I for the first time let him know what it feels like to finish behind me in a race.  It won’t mean anything to me if he’s not back 100% and then some.

In the meantime I remain grateful that I am able to switch that alarm clock off at 4:30 a.m. every morning and drag my tired bones to the bathroom to get ready for another workout.  I am grateful for the high 70 degree temperatures and 80+% humidity that greets me at the door with a heat index above 85 before the sun has risen in the Texas sky.  I am grateful for the hills that rise in front of me to conquer.  I am grateful for the 12 mile per hour wind that blew downhill into my face Thursday morning for every one of my 9 hill repeats.

I am grateful for the sound of sweat squishing out of my flats on every stride as I run mile after mile in the heat of our Austin summer.

I am grateful for all of it, and I promise to remain humble as we prepare for our most challenging race yet in Kerrville next month.

But Dom, if you’re listening and it’s not too much trouble, could you maybe drop the temperature a few degrees on race day?  Boy has it been hot lately.

Dom, it’s been awhile since I’ve sat down and written you. The last time we really caught up was Christmas morning when I stopped by to visit with you at the cemetery long before anybody had gotten out of bed yet. I remember that run like it was yesterday as it was more than 700 feet of climbing from Dawn’s Parent’s house up the hills past your Mom and Dad’s, the High School and into the cemetery. I guess it wouldn’t have been too fitting if I had a nice downhill jaunt to visit with you. Instead you treated me to that downhill return trip after we caught up for a bit. Sorry I couldn’t stay longer but it was of course freezing cold in the ‘burgh for this Texan and my legs were tightening up on me. I also wanted to make sure I was back before Landry woke up looking for Santa Claus. I would give just about anything for a cold morning like that one to run in right now Dom, it’s been over a 100 degrees here in Austin for almost a solid month now and there really isn’t much relief in sight.

I’ve been swimming a lot and biking my rear end off getting ready for our first Half Ironman next month. Sometimes I don’t know whether I should thank you or curse you for all of the strength you have given me to keep chasing down these crazy dreams of mine. The fact of the matter is that among all of the gifts you gave me throughout your cancer battle the one that stuck with me the most is how to handle fear.

People can talk about not being afraid all they want, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they are full of crap.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. I know that you were quite afraid of leaving Val, Sierra and Nico two years ago as well as your Mom, Dad, Brothers, Cousins, Nieces, Nephews, Aunts and Uncles.

I also know that when I am standing on the shore of the Guadalupe River with my cap pulled down tight over my goggles with a 1.2 mile swim staring me in the face, I’m going to be afraid.

But you showed me that it was o.k. to be afraid. What it wasn’t o.k. to do was to let it control you. Let it own you. Everyone knew that you were one scrappy guy Dom long before you got sick. It was just the way you were. Willing to fight anyone and anything that got in your way or threatened those that you cared about. When you got sick you simply turned that attitude loose on your cancer. I have to tell you Dom it was pretty damn inspiring to witness.

You helped me in more ways than you ever knew Dom when I was pushing through training for those two marathons, and the races themselves. Quitting never was an option. In fact it was an absurd notion.

Since then we’ve run a lot of races and competed in quite a few triathlons. We haven’t won them all, hell, we’ve only won one of them outright – but we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. But the thing that I’m most proud of is that we finished every damn race we’ve ever started. Sometimes it is great to run well and set new PR’s, but the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve put your name and initials on pair after pair of race flats and we have never ever started a race we didn’t finish. They haven’t all been things of beauty, Boston this year Dom was one of the longest and toughest days of my life – but those days are all mine, all genuine, and I owe those gifts to you. So thank you.

Dawn’s 40th Birthday is in a couple of weeks Dom. I know she thinks about you a lot as she has mentioned to me on more than one occasion that this is a birthday you never quite reached. We kicked around the idea of a party, but with Landry’s 2nd birthday just two days earlier, I think we are going to try to put something special together for her 40 1/2 birthday. Maybe try to get Ritchie back down to TX and have a little fun. Of course it won’t be the same without you, none of those kind of events are and they never will be. You are very much missed Dom, but I know you already know that.

I’m not sure if you remember the conversation we had when we found out that Landry was going to be a little girl, but you said that, “there is nothing better than being a Dad, except being a little girl’s Dad ….”

I thought that I knew what you were talking about at the time, but man, was I ever wrong. Dom, she is absolutely the greatest. Just watching her learn new things, laugh at me with that big belly-laugh of hers, see her be kind to her friends at school, run to greet me at the door of daycare or just last night when she asked me for a kiss before bed – there is nothing like it in the world. You would have loved her Dom, she has such a great spirit and fearlessness. I could not be more proud of her. I feel privileged to have a front-row seat to seeing her grow up. In a word, it’s the best.

Landry testing Dad’s new running shoes

I’m not sure if we are going to be making it back to Pittsburgh this winter or not. Once we get some things settled down here in Austin after summer wraps up and we get through our race in Kerrville we’ll start thinking about that I’m sure. If we do make the trip back we’ll be sure to stop by and see your Mom and Dad and the rest of the D’Eramo clan. Your family is the way family is supposed to be Dom. I always feel so much better after having spent time with them.

And if one morning long before the sun is up to warm the ground that you are sleeping under you hear footsteps slow from a run to a walk, then kneel in the wet grass you’ll know who it is. But I suspect you’ll know that I’m coming to see you as soon as I lace up my shoes that morning. If you wouldn’t mind sending a little wind at my back on the way uphill to see you it would be greatly appreciated Dom.

I know you like to have a little fun with me some mornings when you think I’m getting a little too big for my britches. You drop the occasional thunderstorm on me for a 20-mile training run, or a 20 mph wind in my face on the bike as I’m climbing a tough set of hills.  I think of you every time that happens and can almost hear you laughing at me.  Almost.

I promise to stay humble this year going into Kerrville and the Houston Marathon. I also promise to try my best no matter what happens out there. I may not owe you as much as I feel like I do Dom, but I’m quite certain I owe you at least that much.

Godspeed my friend. I love and miss you.



Posted: August 15, 2012 in Motivation
Tags: , ,

August 15th is here once again, it’s been two years since we lost Dom to cancer.  It still hurts.  A lot.

I know that I am not the only one who has lost a friend or family member to disease, illness or accident.  Sadly, most everyone that I know can share a story or two about someone they cared deeply about who passed away before their time.  I’m long past feeling sorry for myself, wondering what the meaning to it all is, what I am supposed to learn from the journey, from the experience.  After two years of thinking about Dom and all of the twists and turns that his treatment, surgery and recovery took on the way to August 15, 2010 I’ve come to realize that there really aren’t any good answers.

Coughlin’s Law – “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” 

Bottom line is that there are two beautiful, funny, smart little children growing up in Dormont, PA without their father.  There is a wonderful young woman who misses her husband, and an amazing family in Hopewell, PA – a Mother, Father, Brother’s, Aunts, Uncles, Sister-In Laws, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews who miss Dom terribly.  He was everybody’s favorite.  No matter who you were, young or old, a relative, close friend or somebody who got introduced to Dom with a beer in one hand and a brat in the other at a Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game like I did … you automatically loved that guy.

Dom was simply, all-time.

I’m not ready to let go yet.  I still race with his initials on my shoes and his voice in my head when times get the toughest.  If you are really “racing” an event – and not just running in a race – there are large differences between the two, every athlete reaches a point where things seem like they are starting to fall apart.  In a short event like a 5K or 10K it becomes about pain management.  You physically can keep running at that pace.  It is physiologically possible – you just have to shut down your pain-sensors and keep pushing.  Don’t give in.  Hang on until you reach the final mile.  At that point I know that I’m going to make it.

I can do anything for one mile.

In the longer races like the marathon or next month’s Ironman 70.3 it is not the same feeling as a short distance event.  It’s not pain management as much as fighting the changes that your body is going through related to fuel and endurance.  It is what I refer to as “the dark place” where you have to be mentally strong – continue to fight – don’t give in to your body’s desire to slow down and conserve energy.  That is the battle at play.  Your fuel is running out and your body is automatically sending you signals as to how fast you can continue to go on your remaining glycogen stores and fat.  It wants you to slow down.  You want to stay the same.

The battle is internal and it is a dark, dark place.  Until that final mile.

I can do anything for one mile.

It is those moments when I turn to my source of strength.  I think about seeing Dawn and Landry at the finish line.  I imagine what having those little arms around my neck are going to feel like.  What hearing Dawn’s voice in my ear will sound like – and I think about Dom.

There are a lot of brave individuals who have battled cancer.  I meet them all the time.  My desk faces one of them at work every day.  My Mother is another one.  They are amazing to me.  Inspirational.

I don’t know of any who were braver than Dom.

Talking to him throughout his battle was something I will never forget.  I would be at home with ice on my right shin and a bag of frozen peas on my left instep nursing two nagging injuries that I was battling training to run two marathons in 13 days for Run for Dom – and Dawn would hand me the phone with Dom on the line.  We would talk about his treatments, his surgery, how he was feeling and he would ask how my training was going.

“Great” I would say.  “We are going to kill it in Boston Dom.” I would tell him.

All of a sudden my shin didn’t hurt so much and my left foot felt a whole lot better.

That was all Dom.

There were some pretty tough moments racing Boston and Pittsburgh back to back like that.  The thought of it today still makes me shake my head and wonder how in the hell I pulled that off – especially that second marathon less than two weeks after Boston.  But I would sign on and do it again in a second if it would make a difference.  That was what it was all about, helping provide support to Dom’s family and contribute to his children’s educations.  We crushed our goal of raising $26.2K and kept on going almost $10,000 past that mark.

Dom< Val and Renee at the DorStop in Dormont, PA after the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010.

In the races since I’ve been running for me as much as Dom’s memory and we’ve had some pretty amazing experiences – a lot of them were made possible by Dom as he taught me just how tough I really am.   How much I can endure and how much it takes to break me.  Most of us go through our lives never knowing what those limitations are because we are scared to find out.  Dom’s battle with cancer granted me the opportunity to put myself out on a limb and see just how close I could come to reaching those limits.

I haven’t stopped reaching since over these last two years.  I want to test myself.  It makes me feel alive.

So Dom, when we dip our toe in the water at next month’s Kerrville Half Ironman and I am staring a 1.2 mile open water swim in the face, a 56 mile hilly bike ride through the Texas Hill Country and a 13.1 mile run back through town to the finish line you are going to be there with me every stroke, pedal and step of the way.  Just as you have been for the last 24 months.

Today the training schedule called for a 10-mile training run.  I ran an extra 2 for you this morning, one for each year you’ve been gone.  They were the fastest miles of my workout.

I can do anything for 2 miles.

I miss you Dom.

The end of my run on Sunday marked 7 weeks until Kerrville 70.3.  We are now inside of two months to go until race day, and that means that with a 2-week taper period where I start to back off distance a bit to help my body recover from a tough training cycle and get ready to peak for race day – we have 5 final weeks of knock down, drag out training to get through.

I feel like my swim and my bike are really starting to come together.  Being the two events that I am far “newer” to than the run, that is to be expected.  More time in the pool, longer continuous swims, more saddle time, longer “long” rides are sure to make a difference as I am becoming more fit, more efficient and a lot more confident in the water and on the bike.

The run is the one area where I’m starting to focus more and more of my attention mentally and will continue to do so as race day draws near.

When it comes to the Triathlon here are the facts:

I am a below average swimmer.

I am an above average cyclist.

I am an exceptional runner.

Weakness, Strength, Big Strength.

When I first took up the sport of triathlon last year I thought that the training principles that I had learned over the years of road racing (running races) would not necessarily translate.  Even my swim coach told me when I first started lessons, “Joe, no matter how hard you try and no matter how much you want to, you can’t turn swimming into running.”  Her point was that trying to apply run workout principles to swim improvement was not going to get it done alone.  Yes I needed to improve fitness and endurance – but swimming fast is highly technical.  Form rules the day.  I needed to clean up my form if I wanted to move faster through the water.

Running form plays a role of course in how fast you are, but you can “out-muscle” and “out-hussle” poor form by working hard in road racing.  Not so in the water.

The bike also has some form issues that have to do with your pedal stroke and your ability to stay in the aero position for long periods of time.  Thankfully or luckily, I took to the bike very quickly.

The run will always be there for me I thought – just “maintain” your fitness and it will be there for you on race day.

During the shorter distance triathlons, my run was indeed there for me.  I just got off the bike, switched shoes and hammered away.

But for Ironman 70.3 the run is now 13.1 miles.  Not just a 5K or 10K, but a full half-marathon after a 56-mile bike.

I came to the realization a couple of weeks ago that if I focus all my energies on improving my swim and my bike and I do not pay careful attention to my run training, when I get off the bike, my biggest strength is going to be neutralized.

Instead of being the fire-breathing dragon who hits the run course looking to swallow up every Male 45-49 competitor in his path – I would be just another runner.  Just like everybody else.

So over the past few weeks I have gone back to the formula that has worked for me in preparing for run only events.  Essentially laying out my run training first, and then adding my swim and bike work over top of it.

Run #1 of the week – up-tempo. 

Run #2 of the week – Long and Easy. 

Run #3 of the week – Hill Repeats. 

Run #4 of the week – Recovery. 

Run #5 of the week – Long Run (16-18 miles).

When I look at training plans that the majority of Ironman 70.3 athletes use to peak for an A race, none of them feature the run as much as my workouts have.  I questioned my own training a bit at first, wondering if I was focusing too much of my time and energy on the run.  But the reality is that I have to.  I need to hit that run course with a ton of confidence, knowing that even though my body is fatigued and I am not starting out on the run course “fresh” and ready to fall into 6:20-6:23 pace for the half-marathon as I would in a run-only event.  I need to know that 7:30-7:40 pace is something that we are more than ready for.  That although it hurts more than usual, we are equipped.  We can and will hold pace late.  We will get stronger as others get weaker.  As they slow down, we will speed up.  When they feel like walking, we will not.  When they glance over their shoulder and wonder who in the hell this guy is closing on them like a banshi we will draw down even deeper into our reserves and find yet another gear.

Most triathletes tell you that “it all comes down to the bike.”  The bike represents the furthest distance, the largest amount of time and the highest percentage of activity among the three triathlon disciplines.  In some ways it is about the bike.

But in Kerrville on the last day of September that is not going to be the case.  For us, it is all going to come down to the run.

I plan on making sure that we have done all we could to strengthen our weaknesses before race day, but that we also strengthened our strength.

The half-marathon in Kerrville will certainly be the slowest half marathon we have ever raced.  But it can still be our greatest.

Right now we’re putting in the work to give us a chance.  I’ve said it before other big races and I’m sure to say it again.  That is all I ever ask for.  A chance.

On to Kerrville.

Wednesday morning, an easy 10-miler on the schedule.  Essentially the shortest run on my calendar.

Lay-up.  Piece of cake.

Except as I pushed off from the garage, hit start on my watch and took the first dozen strides down the street I knew that it was going to be a battle for every step of those 10 miles.

The cumulative effect of all of the running, cycling and swimming we have been doing finally had caught up with me.  I am not Superman.  I am not indestructible.  I am not a machine.  I am in fact human, destructible and fallible.

Instead of ticking off comfortable miles, one after the other,  my body was suffereing from  fatigue and was falling into a comfortable pace that it knew it could meter out over 10 miles on a 77 degree morning with 85% humidity.  The dog days of August.

When I started training for marathons a day like Wednesday would shake me.  It would erode my confidence and have me stressing out about my fitness level, my training plan, my endurance, my ability as a runner.  “How could I be getting slower after putting in all of this work?”  I would think.  “This can’t be happening now with only X weeks before my race.”

But like most things in life, experience in this area is extremely valuable.  You have to keep the big picture in perspective during your training cycle.  In preparing for Kerrville 70.3 with 9 weeks leading up to race day I had 99 workouts on the schedule.  11 per week spread between 3 swims, 3 bike rides and 5 runs every 7 days.

One individual workout represents just 1/99th of my preperation.  1.01%.

Right then and there you should realize that we are talking about a statistically insignificant percentage of our body of work prior to race day.  That is why a general rule of thumb at the start of a training plan is to hope to complete 90-95% of your scheduled workouts as intended.  Over a traditional 18 week training cycle aches and pains, bumps and bruises, slight injuries and illness are going to occur.  That is the nature of the beast when you are truly “training hard” and making improvements to your fitness level, mental strength and endurance that you hope will manifest themselves on race day.

If you are pushing hard enough to improve, your body is going to push back.

Which leads me to my point today.  It is o.k. that my legs felt like crap on Wednesday morning and in fact, it was a good thing.

To improve as an athlete you need to first break down your muscles, allow them to recover through rest and easy days, which will then enable them to adapt to the increased training and grow stronger.

Getting your sleep, knowing when to take a rest day or make sure to run your “easy” workouts in fact “easy” – even on the days when you feel great is all part of that process.

It is the difference between “racing” your training plan and training to race.

Wednesday morning was not a lot of fun, I’m not going to lie.

Working hard to hold a pace just over 8:00 minutes per mile over 10 miles can be a humbling experience for a marathoner with a PR of 3:08:09 (7:11 pace for 26.2 miles).  But as I hit mile 6 and my sleepy legs finally started to get with the program and tick off miles faster and faster I had a moment where I smiled to myself and realized that my training to this point has been doing exactly what it was designed to do.

It has started to break me down to the point where I am fatigued and struggling.  My body will now make the choice to either adapt to the increased workload and grow stronger or it will fold under the pressure and break-down.

Those are the only two possibilities.

My level of experience that I have acquired over the last half-decade of preparing for marathons and endurance events will help me monitor my aches and pains to make sure that I am not teetering on the edge of an injury.

I will continue to leverage the RESTWISE tool that gives me daily feedback on my recovery state and my ability to train.  I have learned to take my recovery score very seriously from RESTWISE – when it tells me that my indicators are showing an increased level of fatigue, I listen.  It has shown time and time again that after a stretch of tough workouts and/or races that my body is in need of a reduction in the volume and/or intensity of my training to adapt and continue to grow stronger.

(If you are curious about how the RESTWISE system works – click HERE)

Restwise Recovery Level Report – 8-8-12

If I need a rest day I will take one.  When I feel great on my “hard” days I will go out and crush those workouts.

And on days like Wednesday, I will suck it up and do the best that I can.  Sometimes the next leap forward is just right around the corner.  You just have to have the patience and confidence that your breakthrough moment is waiting for you right around the bend.

Hill repeats on Thursday morning.  Sounds pretty good to me.