Archive for September, 2012

Here we are.

After more than 960 run miles, 1,672 miles on the bike and 78 miles in the water swimming we only have 70.3 miles to go.

When you put it that way, the half-ironman doesn’t sound so bad.  Of course racing 70.3 miles with only a short 3-4 minute break in transition getting out of our wetsuit, into our shoes and onto our bike and then another short 1 1/2 minutes transitioning from the bike to the run is a little different from just consistently logging training miles.

We have had a good mixture of volume and intensity during this training cycle, very rarely riding any mileage slower than 19-20 mph, and very rarely running any miles that were more than 30 seconds +/- slower than what we hope will be our run pace during the half marathon portion of things on Sunday.

The swim is going to be the big variable – as it is for a lot of triathletes who do not come to the sport with a strong swim background.  I would not be surprised if I am out of the water in just under 45 minutes.  That is what we are hoping for.  But it could be as long as 3-4 minutes more than that if we have some issues with sighting on the course, there could be a current in the river and of course, the entire “swimming in a  crowd” aspect of the open water swim in a triathlon.

I am going to try to stay calm early on the swim, settle into a rhythm and then gradually start to pull harder and quicker after the first 300-400 meters.  1,931 meters is a long way to swim, that is almost as far as Michael Phelps swam COMBINED in all of his olympic races.  The first 200 meters is not going to make or break my day at Kerrville.  In fact, the entire swim is going to make up only 15% or so of my total race time no matter how fast I swim.  It is all about staying calm, not panicking and not expending useless and very precious energy out there in the water thrashing around like a wild-man.

We’ll have plenty of time to go “beast-mode” during the bike and the run.

The swim just isn’t the place for that given our experience level and skill set.

This week has been a good one leading up to race day.  We are 100% over our viral infection.  The antibiotics did the trick and we only have one more “dose” of pills to take on Saturday morning before we are officially done with our treatment.

We had a very nice run on Tuesday, a solid swim Tuesday afternoon (1,000 meters in 20:58) and a quick ride on the TRI bike early Wednesday morning (12.6 miles in 38 minutes).  The bike is tuned up, cleaned and lubed and ready to roll after I had it in for some adjustments and a new rear brake cable at the Bicycle Sports Shop.  Short of a flat tire on race day knock on wood – the bike should function just as we hope it will on race day.

After an easy 10K run Thursday morning and a final 1000 meter swim Thursday afternoon, there are no workouts left on the calendar.  Just complete rest on Friday and Saturday and we’ll be headed off to Kerrville for the race.

This is a two-transition area race where T1 (swim to bike) is in a different location than T2 (bike to run).

That is going to require me to leave my bike overnight on Saturday in the transition area near the lake and our hotel – returning there on Sunday morning pre-race to lay out my transition area mat, my shoes, helmet, glasses, gloves, nutrition and all of the things I will need to flip the switch from swimmer to cyclist.  It also means that coming out of the water I need to “bag up” all of my swim stuff and transition area things (wetsuit, goggles, cap, towels etc.) before I depart on the bike.  The race officials will move my bag to the T2 area for me to retrieve it after the race.

T2 is a “clean transition” area, meaning that my run bag is going to be arranged there on the rack by my race number.  I will have to come in on the bike, find my bag, rack my bike, dump my contents out, (run shoes, visor, watch, race number belt, nutrition) – get changed, rebag my bike items and then head out to the run course.

This is going to make my transition times a bit longer than usual, but it is the same for all of the athletes.  I’m going to use the extra time to focus on the task at hand, catch a breath and get ready to do battle in the next phase of the race.

The bike course is a two-loop course for the Half-Ironman participants, so I will be able to get a good feel for the hills and wind on the first loop, then start to hammer away on the second loop.

The run course is actually a 4-loop course for the half-distance.  So I will run past the same areas many times giving me a great opportunity to see Dawn and Landry and get some much-needed encouragement and smiles during the last phase of the race.

I hate to put a time goal out there on a race like this with so many variables.  But we’re going to call the ball at 5:15 to 5:20 for Sunday.  Anything faster than that we will call a big win.  Anything slower, we will have to just keep fighting to the finish and determine where we need to work harder the next time.  This is the end of the road for the triathlon season for us.  After a recovery week we will fall right into Houston Marathon training for the race on 1-13-13.  Our “A” race for the year, and our assault on that sub 3-hour marathon.

Sunday is a celebration of a lot of hard work and a lot of tough training.  I’m going to remember to smile a lot and enjoy it while I am out there.

There are a lot of people who would love to be out there doing what I am going to be doing in Kerrville – Dom most certainly being one of them.

I’m going to cherish the experience, race hard and hopefully create another memory for little Landry to draw on as she gets older.

Sunday will be the day her Daddy became a half-ironman finisher.  Time to go get ours.

If you would like to track me during the race on Sunday please visit:

http://www.mychiptime.com/searchevent.php?id=6671

After you fill out a quick registration, enter my name:  Joe Marruchella and you can sign up for e-mail or text message alerts during the race.

Thanks for all the great support during this training cycle, especially my two girls at home who put up with early morning alarm clocks, long bike rides with Daddy being gone on Saturday mornings, and some slow shuffling sore muscles and much-needed naps on the weekends.  You guys are the greatest, I could not love you any more than I do.  Bring those hugs to the finish line on Sunday.  I’m going to need them 🙂

A runner friend of mine out in Colorado told me one time after I shared that I was a little bit “afraid” of an upcoming marathon that if you are a runner and are not at least a little bit afraid before a big race you are, “either incredibly arrogant or a fool.  You Joe are neither.”

The race was the 2011 Austin Marathon and it was the first time that I had the thought of running with the 3 hour pace group and making a run at a time of 2:59:59 in the marathon.  I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to the race, Dom had passed away on August 15th of the previous year, and “Austin” was my first marathon after Run for Dom.  It was the race that he told me to, “go out and run the next one for you and absolutely kill it.”

The weather forecast for race day kept getting worse and worse as Sunday drew near and we woke up to 68 degree temperatures, 86% humidity and 20 mph winds on race day.  The goal of a sub 3 hour marathon was quickly dismissed as I got out of the truck and walked to the starting area.  I knew that I needed perfect conditions to have even the slightest chance of my A+ goal for the race, and instead I got D- weather.  The butterflies were still there however when I ran my warm-up and as I tucked into the corral at the front I still had that feeling of uneasiness in my stomach.  I had trained hard, was well prepared, tapered properly and I was 100% healthy.  All of the things you need to have occur to give yourself a chance at running a personal best race.

I did exactly that taking 2 minutes and 42 seconds off of my Marathon PR at the time and earning our way back to Boston.

I realized after the race that morning that fear when it comes to racing is actually a good thing.  It keeps you humble.  Requires you to focus on the task and hand and take nothing for granted.  It is not a surprise to you when things get difficult during the race – you were expecting that all along.  It is at that point when you need to channel that fear into something positive and start to fight.  None of this is easy.  It’s in fact the “hard” that makes it great.

So with each alarm clock that sounds at 4:50 a.m. this week, we awaken one day closer to our first half-ironman.

Usually it is Thursday or Friday of race week before I start to get a nervous stomach and my anxiety level increases.

This week those feelings arrived on Tuesday morning shortly after my run wrapped up after 6 taper miles.  3 “Off” miles or recovery miles in the 8:00’s, and 3 “On” miles at 5K effort in 6:03, 5:54, 6:01.

I had hoped that a quick, confidence building run with a few miles at or under 6:00 min./mile pace would calm my nerves and let me know that I was right where I need to be from a fitness standpoint.  But alas, it didn’t work.  I feel very confident in my race preparation, my nutrition plan for Sunday and for my pace strategy.  But I can’t help feeling nervous about the opening 1.2 mile swim, the 56 mile bike and finally a half-marathon to finish off the triathlon.

All workouts that I have done dozens and dozens of times during training individually – but never back to back to back.

Perhaps this “fear” is a good thing as my friend Lara told me a couple of years ago, I’m neither arrogant nor a fool.  I know it is going to be a humbling day at times on Sunday.  We are going to take our share of body blows and maybe even be forced to a knee at some point.

But it is not in the getting knocked down that makes the athlete, it is all about the getting back up.  With Dawn and Landry looking on and with Dom dropping by to check in on me to keep me honest we are going to have all the motivation that we need to keep moving forward.  I’m not entirely sure how many times we are going to get knocked to the ground on Sunday, but I do know how many times we are going to keep getting back up.

As many as it takes.

With the pre-race nerves starting to arrive this week just in time for our debut in the half-ironman, I decided that I would stay cool, keep things light and try to use humor to keep me calm.

One of my stand-by all-time favorite things to distract me and make me laugh are “Chuck Norris Jokes”.  They never seem to get old such as:

Chuck Norris has already been to mars, that’s why there is no sign of life.

or

There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris but they had to change it as nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.

So, in the spirit of Triathlon – here are a few personal favorite Chuck Norris jokes, triathlon style:

Chuck Norris didn’t get an Ironman tattoo, Ironman got a tattoo of Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris does not use Body Glide; his nipples can cut steel.

Chuck Norris doesn’t need a wetsuite because water gets out of his way.

Chuck Norris eats actual hammers for nutrition.

Chuck Norris did Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman New Orleans. He never stopped swimming. The Mississippi River was created.

Chuck Norris has only wrecked once, in Ironman Arizona. The aftermath of his crash is commonly known as The Grand Canyon.

Chuck Norris has no need for aero bars, disc wheels, or a helmet. He simply stairs down the air and it moves out of his way.

Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a timing chip on his ankle. Once the race is over HE decides what his time should be.

Chuck Norris does not need a razor to shave his legs. He just has to flex.

Chuck Norris can volunteer at a triathlon and still win it.

You know what Chuck Norris puts in his fuel belt? Fuel.

Chuck Norris had to stop training for the bike. When he rode from east to west, the Earth’s rotation changed causing time to reverse. Later, the makers of Superman II stole his idea.

When Chuck Norris did Ironman, the lead motorcycle had to draft off him just to keep up.

Chuck Norris is allowed to buy “Finisher merchandise” before the race.

During the post-ironman interview, Chuck Norris responded with, “What race?”

If Chuck Norris got a flat on the bike, he would just take yours.

T-5 days and counting.  We’re ready.  I do wish I would be able to use Chuck’s leg-shaving strategy on Saturday night.  I still have yet to master that aspect of race preparation.  It will be a minor miracle if I can get the stems shaved clean without cutting myself at least 5 times ….

After picking ourselves up off of the canvas this weekend from a nasty viral infection, we are staring race week dead in the eye. All things considered, last week was not a total loss as we still were able to get in 30 miles on the bike late Friday, a 3,000 meter swim on Saturday morning before our 40-mile bike ride and a half-marathon on Sunday at just a tick over 7:30 pace.

For someone who had a hard time getting out of bed as late as Thursday morning, that really isn’t too bad a weekend. We missed about 70 miles of “work” during the week, but it really isn’t anything we are going to miss. We are going to stick to the plan this week, run easy, swim smooth and after we pick up our bike from the shop after a race-week tune-up on Wednesday, go for a short ride. Then it will be all about packing everything we need and getting mentally ready for the toughest race of our life.

If things go perfectly, we will race more than an hour and a half longer than we did at is past springs’ steamy Boston Marathon. Two hours longer than our epic battle at the New York City Marathon 11 months ago. We are in for a long day on Sunday – of that there is no question, but instead of stressing out or worrying about all the things that can go wrong on race day, instead I am focusing on the things I can control. Namely, my attitude.

We are fit, trained, healthy and confident.

That makes us one other thing when it comes to racing.

Dangerous.

We have the luxury of being a nobody in Kerrville. In only our 5th ever triathlon, only a handful of athletes know who we are. Very similar to the morning where we showed up in Pittsburgh in 2009 with a high bib number and nobody paying us any attention in the corral. It was our 2nd marathon, and out of nowhere we ran with great heart and determination, gobbled up the bridges and hills on our way to a Boston time by more than 2 minutes in our second attempt at the distance.

On Sunday we are looking for a similar performance.

A solid swim somewhere around 45 minutes for 1.2 miles.

A fierce bike leg where we average between 20 and 21 mph for 56 miles.

And when we hit transition 2, switch out of our bike shoes into our race flats, more than 3.5 hours after the starting horn, our race will begin.

The swimmers and cyclists who hold an edge on us to this point better be ready to hurt if they hope to hold us off.

We are going to settle in over the first loop of the run course and download every detail. Every flat section, every turn, the off-road area with the smoothest track and the portions where we can push things.

Then it will be time to go to work.

We are going to run the second loop faster than the first and the third loop faster than the second. Constantly pushing pace, lengthening our stride and gobbling up runners in front of us.

When we start the fourth and final loop of 3.28 miles we are going to run it in under 21 minutes. The final mile sub 6:30.

As Steve Prefontaine once said, “somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”

Exactly Pre. Bring it on I say.

We are now just 10 days away from the Kerrville Half-Ironman and we are sick.

Virginia Beach half-marathon in March? Sick up until race day. Result. 1:23:46 PR

New York City Marathon in November? Sick up until race day. Result. 3:08:09 PR

Getting sick during the taper is not necessarily “normal”, but it is unfortunately common.

After pushing the limits of your training, sacrificing sleep, (my morning alarm clock was set for 4:15 a.m. for 33 of the last 35 days before the taper), our body gets run down and you become susceptible to catching a bug.

After a solid weekend of training I had a rest day scheduled for Monday to kick off the taper for Kerrville. I slept in until 6:15 a.m., went to work and by Noon I was home achy with a fever. I did not shake it after two days and by Wednesday I was at the Doctor’s office getting a prescription for 10 days of antibiotics to clear my system.

We have had to skip all of our scheduled workouts this week with the exception of one 8.5 mile run, (which went great by the way) with luck we should be able to get in a bike, run and swim this weekend and our final 5 workouts next week.

Instead of stressing out about this I am instead staying very calm about it.

The two things I have going for me is that for one, I know this week’s workouts don’t mean a thing. There are basically zero fitness gains made in the final 13 days before a race. Less than 1% occurs. However, rest and rejuvenation can improve performance by as much as 10% with a proper taper period.

Secondly, history tells me that I am going to be just fine on race day. When that horn blasts and we take our first stroke in the water the switch inside of us will flip to “Go-Time” and without thinking about it, we will start racing.

When we exit the water and get on our bike we will flip the second switch and go into “battle-mode” and start ticking off mile after mile after mile up to 56.

Upon dismount, we will change out shoes, flip the switch one final time to “beast-mode” and run the toughest half-marathon of our life.

Over 5 hours of racing will provide us with plenty of things to think about next Sunday – but one thing we will not be concerned with will be a handful of workouts we missed during our taper.

Rest, hydrate and eat right. Good advice for overcoming a virus. It is also a good prescription for a tapering Triathlete.

I could just do without this scratchy throat and fever ….

10 days to Kerrville. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

Ever since I started running marathons in 2006 I have been a follower of and believer in the 18-week marathon training plan.

My first training plans were taken from Hal Higdon’s philosophies and outlines on how to prepare for a marathon. Then as I learned more about what worked for me as I gained more experience, became a more well-rounded runner and could handle much more intensity and volume, I developed my own training programs.

Each one seems to have evolved from lessons learned preparing for previous races. Now staring marathon number 9 in the face, I often wonder if I have it all figured out yet. The truth is that until I cross that finish line in Houston with the clock reading under 3 hours – I am going to have doubts.

But this much I do know, when I have shown up to a race 100% healthy and prepared and received good or neutral weather we have run a PR.

Every time.

When we have been nicked up like we were in 2010 running back to back marathons for Dom just 13 days apart coming off of an injury or when the weather turned against us like this year in Boston with an 87 degree day, we have not.

No disgrace in that. No regrets. No feelings of remorse or of missed opportunities. In fact it took me less than a week to “get over” Boston. That was the race that I realized that it didn’t matter that I had run 9 different long runs over 20 miles. Had run doubles on Tuesdays, hill repeats on Thursdays religiously, set consecutive PR’s in the Half-Marathon 3 weeks apart leading up to Boston. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

This week we are officially 17 weeks from the start of the Houston Marathon.

We are “in cycle” as I would typically say. Now there is the little matter of our half-ironman in just 11 days to complicate things, but from a fitness level standpoint we are at a place that we have never been before. We already have a 20-miler in the books, and a darn fine one at that 10 days ago, we have been averaging between 50 and 60 miles a week running, while cycling more than 100 and swimming more than 5 week in and week out for two solid months.

When we flip the switch from “Triathlon” to “Marathon”, we are going to be starting hopefully from a level that we had seldom reached before week 10 or 12 of marathon training. In my view, it is not that I have only 14 weeks to prepare for Houston after our recovery week from the half-ironman in Kerrville. But that we actually have 10 weeks +/- more than we usually do to sharpen the sword and get ready to run the race of our life in Houston.

We will get in 6 different runs between 20 and 23 miles on the way to Houston, a few more in the 18-19 mile range. We will get a chance to race a little bit on Thanksgiving at the annual 5-mile race and in December at the Lights of Love 5K benefiting the Austin Ronald McDonald House just to remind us what it feels like to run fast.

The only thing we will be missing during this cycle is our “tune-up” half-marathon that I have become a big fan of one month before Marathon Sunday. I just can’t make that work this year. But confidence from our 1:23:46 half in Virginia Beach last spring is still very much on my mind. I will know as I am hitting my splits on our tempo days if I still have the same raw speed that we did going into Virginia Beach.

My guess is that we will be as fast or possibly faster at that point, but have a much broader base of aerobic capacity and endurance coming off of our triathlon training. Perhaps this is the race where it all comes together for me. Where my aspirations are met by my preparations and I am able to accomplish the only running goal I have ever set that I have not been able to meet.

Or perhaps we will not be healthy. We will be ill. We won’t get that “good/neutral weather” that is just as big of a variable as anything I can do to prepare during training – if not more so.

Houston is a business trip. Dawn and Landry will not be making the drive down to the race. It will be me, my flats with Dom’s initials on them, a few close runner friends who are also going to be toeing the line with big dreams and aspirations for the day. Some of us will hit our goals, some of us sadly will most likely not.

But in 17 weeks we are going to find out one way or another. I’m not one to make bold predictions, but if we come through the chute healthy in Kerrville next weekend.

I wouldn’t bet against me.

I have a good friend in Va Beach who is a tremendous runner and athlete. When I say tremendous – I mean a runner who at every distance from the mile to a 12-hour ultra marathon could thump me without breaking a sweat. We are approximately the same age, yes, he has more experience as a runner than I do, we both work hard – but he simply is more talented than I am or will ever be. Among all of the runners I know, he is the one that I admire the most and try to emulate whenever possible.

Over the past 10-12 weeks as my mileage has been mounting preparing for our first half-ironman in two weeks, Steve has been absolutely crushing his training for a 12-hour race 5 days from today. He then has the Cayman Island Marathon on his schedule for the beginning of December, then the Houston Marathon on January 13th. The same race we have circled on our calendar to try for our first sub 3 hour marathon.

On Wednesday, without any warning signs or signals that he was pushing things too hard he pulled up injured on a run. A strained glute. He has not run since. He is in Va Beach as he put it “hoping for a miracle”, going to his chiropracter, sports massage therapist, using ice, rest, compression, hoping against hope that his condition will clear and allow him to compete this weekend to the best of his abilities.

This past Thursday, I woke up with soreness in my right calf. The first chink in the armor that we experienced throughout our training cycle. I made a decision to skip my hill repeat session that would tax my calf muscle that morning and instead ride the TRI bike that afternoon.

It was a minor blip as I was able to jump right back into my training with an 11-mile run on Friday morning, a 2-mile swim Saturday morning followed by a 56-mile bike ride. On Sunday I ran 16 miles at 7:24 pace with my closing two miles at 7:05 and 6:43.

We are right as rain two weeks from race day.

It affirmed for me that for a training cycle and race to come together for you it takes more than hard work. It takes a little bit of luck along the way as well. There are only two kinds of runners, those who have been injured and those who have not been injured yet. Knowing your body, its’ limits and the difference between pain and injury is all part of the deal when it comes to being able to push hard in training but stay consistent and injury free.

So this morning with 13 days to go until we slip into our wetsuit and wade into the Guadalupe River with hundreds of other swimmers for the biggest endurance test we have ever faced I know two things for certain.

1. We trained as hard as we possibly could have for this event.
2. We are very fortunate to be healthy entering our taper.

Race days are a gift. It should be a celebration of all of the hard work, the 4:15 a.m. alarm clocks, the 11-mile runs in the pouring rain, the 56-mile bike rides in 25 mph winds. The swims at lunchtime, on the way home from work and early on Saturday mornings.

On race day, there is no reason to feel any way except for incredibly fortunate and blessed to be able to go out there and do something that you love to do.

Steve, I hope things improve for you and you can go out there and compete this weekend. You are everything that is right and good about our sport. I know you will make a smart decision and if there is any way for you to be out there safely, you will do it.

If you have to pass on race day, I will make a little room for you on my race flats next to Dom’s name. When I get off that bike and see your initials on my shoes as we hit the run course, I promise we will leave everything out there.

It won’t be the fastest half-marathon we have ever run, in fact it may be our slowest. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be our greatest. I plan on making sure that at the end of 70.3 miles, everyone knows we were at Kerrville.

In the world of marathoning this week was a pretty big week.  Boston Marathon Registration began on Monday.

The increase in runners seeking one of the most competitive and dare I say, prestigious race bibs in road racing caused the Boston Athletic Association to make changes to not only the qualifying requirements to gain entry to the race – but also to the way that the registration process itself takes place.

Back in 2009 when I came through the chute of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd with a time of 3:17:43 – I KNEW – that I was on my way to the starting line of the 2010 Boston Marathon.  All I had to do was wait for registration to open, log on to the website, fill out my information, submit my qualifying time and boom.  I was in.  After a few weeks a confirmation message was sent to me from the B.A.A. that my time was verified and I was in.

When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened two years ago all hell broke loose.  People logged on at a furious rate when registration began, computers crashed, the site went down for a time, there were locusts, floods …. o.k., maybe not locusts and floods, but it was close.

Many runners who had worked so hard to run a “Boston Time” ended up being shut out during the registration process.  It had taken over a week to fill the 2010 field back in the fall of 2009.  The next year it took less than 1 day and all of the bibs were accounted for.  With the exception of the charity runners – which is an entirely different topic for an entirely different post.

The B.A.A. responded to the debacle by tightening up the qualifying standards by 5:00 minutes meaning a 40-44 year old Male Marathoner would now have to run a 3 hour and 15 minute marathon or better to qualify instead of the 3:20:00 that was required just one year before.

The other change was that the fastest runners would be allowed to log on first.  If you ran a time 15 minutes or faster than your qualifying standard you could register the first week, 10 minutes or better the second week, 5 minutes or better the next week, and then if there were still openings in the field, everyone else could register.

These changes made the process run much smoother and allowed the fastest qualifiers to make their way to Hopkinton, MA for the race last year, while those runners who ran a “BQ” or Boston Qualifying time – but only narrowly – were left on the outside looking in.  The cut off was approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds.  If you made your time by more than that amount you were good to go.  If you only beat your qualifying time by 90 seconds, you were shut out.  I expect it to be even more difficult this year with some of the runners who deferred to run last year due to the high temperatures being “grandfathered” into this year’s field, and the ever-increasing attempt by runners to improve and run faster qualifying times.

There was a time when Boston was one of the biggest goals out there for me.  I thought about it on my training runs, I trained harder for that race than any other and really wanted to turn Boston into my statement race as a marathoner.  Last year’s 87 degree race day removed a lot of the mystique about the race for me – proving that really, it is your performance and preparation that makes a race special …. not so much only the course on which it is run and the history of the event.

Having run Boston twice now, perhaps that is easier for me to say than someone who has never made their way to the starting line in Hopkinton or across the finish line on Boylston Street.  That’s fair I suppose.  But in truth, I’ve moved on past Boston and have other goals in sight.

Proof is in the pudding they say, and as registration opened on Monday for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon next April I was sitting on a qualifying time 17 minutes under my requirement.  I was golden.  A few clicks of the mouse, a credit card number and we were in.

Pass.

Boston is going to be great once again this spring.  It’s a tremendous event, a huge stage for the best marathoners in the world to compete on.  It is also an amazing event for the amateurs to literally run in their footsteps for 26.2 miles.  The same race won by legends like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rogers.  But that Monday I’ve decided I’m going to take the day off of work, let Landry play hooky from school and we’re going to go on a picnic to the park or the pool if it is warm enough here in Austin.

I’m going to think about running of course that morning.  Might even go out and post a few miles on a usual off-day for me, but we are not going to be part of the race this year in Boston, we’ll let somebody else toe the line in our place.  Hopefully a first-timer who worked as hard as we did to earn our spot.

Instead when I think of the word “Marathon” the first thing that comes to mind is Houston.

Houston this year on 1/13/13 IS my Boston Marathon.  It is my “A” race for the year that I am going to train for harder and smarter than any race that has come before it.

There most likely will  not be an Air Force flyover at the start, ESPN Cameras shooting me cross the starting line, screaming coeds lining the course at mile 16 and no famous turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston and perhaps the loudest, most intense 1/4 mile in road racing carrying me to the finish line.  Houston won’t have any of that.

But what it will have hopefully is the sight of a 45-year old amateur marathoner thundering down the course and into the final mile.

The clock will still be ticking under 2:52:00 at that point and hopefully with a glance to my wrist I will know exactly the amount of time I have remaining to cover the final 1 mile, 385 yards.

Legs pumping, soreness creeping in from all sorts of places, feet trying to defy gravity for just a few more minutes – hang on just a little bit longer to reach that finish line with a time of 2:59:XX.

At the end of the day if the race goes the way I am preparing for it to go, it won’t make a bit of difference if it happens in Houston, TX, Boston, MA or anywhere in between.

We will be a “Sub-3 hour guy” at that point, and nobody will ever be able to say anything different.

On Monday at lunchtime I wriggled into my wetsuit, slid into Deep Eddy Pool and swam 100 lengths of the 33.3 yard pool (3,045 meters) in one hour and 38 seconds.

It was our best swim to date, and if that pace were to hold to form over our 1,923 meter swim at Kerrville – we would be getting out of the water in under 40 minutes with good sighting.

It was a busy day at the pool where I had to share a lane with another swimmer. This required me to swim in just the “left-half” of the lane, be very conscious of my form and line and make sure that I didn’t drift either into the lane divider or the other swimmer. It gave me the opportunity to practice swimming alongside another athlete as I was a bit faster than my lane partner. That served as a great opportunity to deal with some turbulent water and splashing going on that would attempt to disrupt my breathing and rhythm. Very similar to points during an open water triathlon swim. I would have preferred to have the lane to myself of course, but all things considered – it was actually a much better workout for me as it was.

The swim was my only workout of the day – just an easy recovery day to help work out the kinks from our 20-mile long run on Sunday capping off a 180 mile training week. The rejuvenation was very welcomed and we hit the ground literally running on Tuesday with an 11-mile run, fitting on the 11th anniversary of 9-11, and a 35 mile bike ride in the afternoon. For the 6th consecutive week we will swim, bike and run further than we have the week before, further than we ever have in any seven day period and then on Sunday we will finally reach the end of the line. We will have made it through week 21 of our half-ironman training plan.

All that will remain will be our two-week taper period. A time to reduce mileage and intensity that will allow our body to manifest all of the gains made over the last 20+ weeks into a finely tuned, well-prepared athlete who is peaking at just the right time for race day. 191.53 miles on deck this week – 5.33 in the water, 126.00 in the saddle and 60.20 on the running trail. Big mileage, tough workouts, but I find myself attacking each one of them with a great deal of zest and determination.

A runner friend of mine paid me a great compliment on Monday, he said,

“Good progress on the swimming Joe, just as methodical and ruthless as you are about your running”.

Coming from one of the most dedicated, methodical, disciplined marathoners I know – the kind words really hit home. The one word that really struck a chord with me however was “ruthless”.

It brought me back to my ride on Saturday morning, where with a cold-front arriving to Austin in the morning I rode directly into a 20 mph headwind all the way from my front door to Andice, TX. Exactly 26.2 miles ironically.

To describe the ride is something that I don’t really think will do it justice. Instead I will share only my ride time:

1 hour 36 minutes and 23 seconds.

After reaching the General Store in Andice and eating one of my vanilla Stinger Waffles I pointed my Cervelo P1 back towards home and covered the identical stretch of road and hills. My return ride time:

1 hour 7 minutes and 11 seconds.

After being beaten up for more than an hour and a half on the bike, pedaling away furiously into the headwind, I then got to enjoy a strong tailwind pushing me back home. Instead of taking it easy however and just cruising on the return trip, I punished my worn legs and covered the miles at race intensity. Mile after mile, several of which I averaged more than 30 mph I made my way home as fast as my legs would carry me.

My 56-mile ride was actually :30 faster than the identical route one week earlier in ideal riding conditions.

“Ruthless.”

Perhaps that is the best way to describe the past 21 weeks training through another hot Texas summer. No injuries, no unplanned days off, just workout after workout – hoping that all of the hardwork is going to pay off on September 30th and we are going to get a chance to race to the best of our ability in Kerrville.

A half-ironman is definitely not an easy race. Aside from ultra-marathons and other 12-hour, 100-mile type run only events, the only bigger “mainstream” challenge out there would be a full Ironman Triathlon. Something that quite frankly is not interesting to us at this stage in our life as a husband/Dad/amateur endurance athlete. The 70.3 mile test in Kerrville however is one that we are more than ready to take head-on.

There are going to be some dark moments. There are going to be some low-points. There is going to be fatigue. There is going to be pain. All this I am quite certain of and I am actually quite comfortable with.

I also know that there is really only one way that I know to go about competing in a race like that.

Be Ruthless.

Hey Dom, make sure you are paying attention on September 30th. You aren’t going to want to miss this one.

As I was on the TRI bike on Saturday I had a song “on a loop” going through my head rolling up and down the long hills along Parmer lane here in Austin for a 56-mile bike ride.

The Monkees first released single back in 1966 – Last Train to Clarksville – with it’s Beatle-esque “jangly” guitar, chord structure and vocal harmonies powered me through seemingly endless miles of road stretching ahead of me.  Only instead of Last Train to Clarksville, in my mind the song kept saying Kerrville.  Only 3 weeks remain until Half-Ironman.  Race day is no longer some abstract “concept” for me right now, which is the way I prefer to keep “A” races as I am training as long as possible.

It is much easier for me to just focus on the workout that I have on the schedule that morning or that afternoon than to take a peak forward and see a spreadsheet with literally dozens of difficult training sessions ahead of me before we reach the end of the cycle and the reward of race day.  But once I get just a handful of weeks out, even I start to look ahead and think about how much further we have to travel to the starting line.  As of today we are down to:

8 Bike Rides totaling 251 miles.

12 Runs covering 122.5 miles.

8 more swims, 2 in our wetsuit totaling 10.4 miles.

That is all that remains.  Just 383.9 miles spread over 28 workouts until we climb into our race kit, wriggle into our wetsuit, pull our cap down tight over our goggles and take the first stroke towards becoming a half-ironman triathlete.

That may seem like a lot of heavy lifting, but the reality is that when this training cycle began two weeks after the Boston Marathon we had 102 runs, 67 rides and 57 swims ahead of us that would cover 80 miles of swimming, 1,755 miles of cycling and an even 1,000 miles running.  When you are staring 2,835 training miles between April 23rd and September 30th in the face, it is smart not to get too far ahead of yourself.

But with less than 400 miles to go, I like where we are.

This week is our final week of heavy lifting.  187.5 total miles on deck, our most ever in a single week.  But once we wrap up our Sunday long run and head off to breakfast with Dawn and Landry to celebrate, we will start our taper and begin to reduce total mileage and a bit of intensity – although that cut back, where we go “easy” on our workouts won’t really come until race week.

The formula for the taper that has worked best for me is a two-week period where at first I simply cut back mileage by 25-30%, but still go “hard” on my “hard” days.  Followed by a 50% reduction in mileage and I back off the intensity all but completely.  No up-tempo running, no hill repeats, no race pace cycling or swimming.  Just stay functional, focus on our form and let our body repair itself and get ready for one, huge, intense day.

So here we are, the last train to Kerrville.  Not a bad moniker for this stage of training.  It could have been far worse as on Thursday’s hill repeat session the song that I could not get out of my head was the classic from the Detroit Spinners – Rubberband Man.  Now that would have made for a long, long 56 miles on the bike ….