Archive for August, 2013

So, it’s been about a week since I decided to go for Ironman.  I’ve gotten back on the bike, logged a couple of quality rides and even threw down a pretty speedy 51 miles on Sunday.  Took Monday off, then ran Tuesday, rode Wednesday and ran again this morning.

Foot is feeling fine and dandy.  So without any further complications and a little bit of good luck for a change, we should be looking pretty good by the end of September 32 weeks away from Race Day in the Woodlands.  Sounds like a ridiculously long time to prepare for something – and it truly is, but the first 6 weeks of that period will really be about catching my swim back up to my bike and run.  For half-ironman (1,931 Meters) or 1.2 miles, we were actually swimming closer to 3,000 on our long endurance swims.

I’m an over-distance guy when it comes to races that require you to “hammer” so to speak.

If I’m really racing a half-marathon, I want to be training up to 18 miles in my long runs so that the 13.1 on race day is a distance that had been covered multiple times.  Then it is just a matter of racing at the proper intensity level and adjusting down training pace of say 7:15 min./mile to 6:18 min./mile on race day.  The added endurance helps me hold pace late in the half-marathon when “one mile to go” doesn’t really feel like a big deal.

I did the same thing with Half-Ironman training, knowing I “only” had to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 and run 13.1 I was training at distances longer than I would have to cover on race day.

For Ironman however, much like marathon training – over-distance is not a luxury I will have.

There are a few reasons why Iron Man Triathletes only ride 100 milers and run 18-20 as their long run.

1.     Time.  There are only so many hours in the day/week to train.  Prioritization becomes the key.

2.     Injury.  It is one thing to be monitoring your run mileage during marathon training, but add in two more disciplines and you have to be very smart with your overall load.

3.     Necessity.  Just as it is not necessary to run 26.2 miles at a time when training for a marathon – it is not necessary for Ironman either.

We will be capping our swims in that 3,000 – 3,500 meter area.  Perhaps one or two open water 2.4 mile swims just to build the confidence as everyone knows this is the weakest arrow in my quiver.  Speed will not be important for my swim, but knowing that I have that 2.4 miles in me where when I get on the bike, it feels like the swim never happened – will be key to my race.  1:20-1:25 on race day and we’ll be over the moon happy.

1:30 or so and our race will still be right on target.  Nothing crazy – just get out of the water.  If over the winter my swim technique, body position and times improve to the point where we can push harder in the water – great.  But honestly, I’m investing where I can get the most bang for my buck.

The Bike.

When I am fit, healthy and trained properly – I can go out and throw down a 3:15 marathon without too much difficulty.  A 3:10 with a little bit of good luck and weather and even a 3:05 on a good day.  For Ironman, we are going to be looking to run off the bike somewhere around the 3:45 to 3:55 range.  Again, faster on race day if we get good weather – wonderful.  But sub 4 hours is going to be where we live and not too many 1st time amateur Iron Man hopefuls throw down that kind of run.  We’ll be just fine.

The Bike however is a different story.  It’s one thing to throw down that 2:38 bike in Kerrville last Fall, but Can I get off the Bike at Ironman TX in 5:30 to 5:40 and still have enough left in the tank for the run?  That is where our race is going to come together or not.

There is no such thing as a strong Ironman Bike if your run is wasted.

At some point, just like my first marathon during the event, I’m sure I’m not going to be too fixated on splits and time.  It even happened to me in Kerrville a bit, although I was having a great debut at the Half-Iron distance.  Your mindset just shifts to just finishing.  But the beginnings of our race plan is starting to take shape:

1:30 swim, 5:40 Bike, 3:50 Marathon + 10 Minutes in Transition 1& 2 = 11:10:00

Some oversimplified conversions out there say, Double your Half IM time and add :40 minutes which would give us a 10:52:00.  It is going to be quite a bit hotter more than likely down in Houston than it was in Kerrville and of course the weather and nutrition is going to play a major role on race day.

But something between 11:10 and 11:30 seems like it is reasonable.  Better to leave 15 minutes on the clock come race day and not end up walking the marathon at the end, than to push the envelope and try to lay down a near-perfect Ironman in our first (and last) attempt at the distance.

In the end – we actually are racing for a finisher’s medal for the first time since 2006.  It is a great feeling – in some ways I will have less pressure on me at Ironman than I have in New York, Boston X2 and quite a few other events.

Just have to get out of that water ….

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I have been kicking around an idea for about a month now.  It started out innocently enough.  In a “what if” kind of way.  But much like the idea of running my first marathon back in 2006, the more I thought about it, the less ridiculous it seemed.  The less ridiculous it seemed, the scarier it became.  Because once something doesn’t seem ridiculous, it starts becoming possible.  And once it becomes possible, there is not a long way to travel before it becomes likely.

Likely is the final stop before real.  And after thinking about it long and hard by myself, I set-up a lunch appointment to talk it through with my best friend who always knows what to say.  When to encourage me and when to tell me that perhaps I should reevaluate things.  Luckily for me, I was smart enough to marry her, which makes these conversations all the more important.

We laid out the pros and cons, the compromise solutions and decided that I should indeed give it a go.

Ironman.

A race that one does not enter into lightly.

2.4 mile swim.  112 mile bike.  Full Marathon (26.2 mi.)

I have told more than 100 people over the years that you should never train to run a marathon unless you feel like you NEED to.  It’s not enough to want to.  Wants are fleeting and over the course of 18-20 weeks of training for a marathon, you have to need it to keep you going.

I told myself a couple of years ago when I learned to swim and competed in my first Triathlon on my 44th birthday that I would never do an Ironman unless I felt like it was something that I NEEDED to do.

Well right now, for a variety of reasons – I need this.  And over the next 36 weeks I am going to prepare to execute a race plan that I will spend months preparing.  Training, Nutrition, weight training, swimming, cycling and of course running.  Endurance over speed.  Technique over strength.  Efficiency over all else.

When the cannon goes off on May 17th in the Woodlands outside of Houston TX, 2,700 athletes are going to start the swim all at once.  It will be a mass start like none other that I have ever experienced.Ironman Texas Swim Start

There will be 5,400 arms flailing and 5,400 legs kicking all at the same time looking for clean water.  My day will start at 7:00 a.m. and will not end for 11 1/2 hours +/- if everything goes right.

If things go wrong – there is no telling how long our day will be.  But I always remind myself how far we’ve come with our swim from that first day on April 11, 2011.  Below is the simply entry into my training log.

First Swim

Mon, Apr 11, 2011 12:31 PM Central Time (US & Canada) By marruchella
Activity Type: Lap Swimming | Event Type: Training | Course: —

I sucked at this.

That’s o.k., we all have to start somewhere.  But it is important to remember where you come from.  Who you are.  What you are about.

I’m a working class kid from a working class family.  I’m a Dad and a husband.  A son and a brother.  I’m a boss to a few, and a friend to many.  I was blessed with a little athletic ability, but nothing remarkable.  I have a tolerance for pain that is greater than some.  Perhaps many.  But it can be somewhat of a curse at times.  It can be to my own detriment on just about any day except race day.

On race day, that is when it becomes an advantage.  There has never been a race course that we have walked off of.  Not our first marathon with an IT Band injury, not the 2012 Boston Marathon in 88 degree heat or any race in between.  And come hell or high-water, it is not going to happen on May 17, 2014 either.

With Dom’s name on my shoes and Landry’s on my TRI Kit we’ll keep pushing until we have our moment.  When Mike Reilly pauses for a moment and says:

“Joe Marruchella …. YOU …. ARE …. AN …. IRONMAN.”

Damn skippy.

The best laid plans ….

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Motivation

According to the history books, Robert Burns while plowing a field in the winter of 1786 upturned a mouse’s nest. He wrote a long poem entitled – “To A Mouse”. The most famous stanza being:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
 Gang aft agley,
 An’ lea’e us nought bug grief an’ pain,
 For promis’d joy!

The common translation:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

So today I made the calls I was hoping against hope I would not have to make.

I e-mailed the race director in Utah to pull out of The Big Cottonwood Marathon.

I called and cancelled my hotel reservation in Salt Lake City.

I cancelled my rental car.

I cancelled my flight and re-deposited my miles.

I e-mailed the race director in Scranton, PA at the Steamtown Marathon and withdrew.

I cancelled my hotel reservation in Scranton.

Lastly, I cancelled my hotel reservation in Boston Massachusettes for the 120th running of the Boston Marathon.

In a little more than 10 minutes, I had erased all of the work that 66 1/2 workouts and 691 miles on the trails and the track had accomplished.  As we were once again within a handful of weeks to be ready to toe the line on Marathon Race Day.

There is another quote that I think of often which says, “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”

So I have poured back over my two training logs training for Houston last year and Cottonwood this year and all that I can come up with is that I might not be able to handle 70+ mile weeks.

The workouts, the long runs, the racing – all of that is the same from past cycles and a long stretch of healthy training, running and racing.

The only difference has been an increase in my top mileage from the mid 60’s to the mid 70’s.

Perhaps that has nothing to do with it.  Perhaps it has everything to do with it.  I’m really not sure.

But what I do know is that on 65 mpw we were able to toe the line healthy in NYC and run our PR on a difficult marathon course.  Perhaps that is all our body can stand.  Perhaps that is why we are a stronger middle-distance runner than true long-distance runner.  Our 10K, 10-Mile, 1/2 Marathon times all project much faster than our fastest marathon time.

So this month as we gradually start back on the Triathlon Bike and mixing in some short runs – I have to take a good hard look in the mirror and decide what we are going to do.  Are we going to go all in one more time and train as hard as we can for Houston in January.  Or do I take a more conservative approach – run for fun this fall and see where we are on November 1st.  Then if we are healthy and running well, do I run a few 20-milers in November and December and see where we are for Houston?

I’m not exactly the type of person who likes to have “fluid plans” or “wing it” when it comes to preparing for a marathon.  But perhaps I should give this change in approach a try.  Not put all of my eggs in one basket as I can do a couple of things in January and February this year.

If I’m ready – I can run the full in Houston and follow-up that race with the Austin half-marathon a month later.

If I am not quite where I need to be by December 15, I can run the Half-Marathon down in Houston in January as my tune-up for Austin, and run the full here on my home course.

The difference being of course that our Austin race course is 3-4 minutes slower than Houston – of that there is no question.  But at this point I just want to run a strong marathon – fixating on running that 2:59 has brought me nothing but heartache to this point.  If it happens, it happens.  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.  There are far greater tragedies in life than me not going sub 3.

I’ve never been all that impressed by folks who have never been knocked down before.  It was always the ones who never stayed down very long who gained my admiration.  The ones that kept getting back up no matter how many times they hit the ground.

Time for me to get back on the horse and start again.  No more feeling sorry for myself or wondering what if.  Boston is going to be run in April without me.  That will allow someone else to be there this year that otherwise wouldn’t be.  Good for them.  I went for it and got injured.  No regrets.

The reality is that even though from the outside it might have looked like it.  None of this has ever been easy.  In fact, it has been quite hard.  But it is the hard that makes it great.

Onward and upward.

 

It’s a funny thing as you grow older.  You live thousands and thousands of days, in my case 16,805 of them, and you are reduced to only a handful of days, moments really, that leave an indelible image on your life.

March 15 – the day I proposed to Dawn.

July 15 – our first date.

August 29 – the day I became a Dad.

September 11 – we all share this one.

November 6 – the day I became a marathoner.

But when August 15th comes around now and forever I will think about the day we lost Dom to Cancer.  It has been three years since that warm, summer day in Pittsburgh when I flew up to lay Dom to rest with family and friends, Dawn staying home in Austin as we were just two weeks away from welcoming Landry into the world and it was unsafe for her to fly.

I was only away for a little more than 24 hours, much of which I spent in an airport, on a plane keeping quietly to myself, not wanting anyone to ask me where I was going or where I was headed as I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the story just yet.  I remember seeing everyone at the funeral home the night before the service, just a short time after I arrived in Pittsburgh, talking with Dom’s family, visiting with everyone I had not seen since being there for the Pittsburgh Marathon just three months before.

August 15th was a rough, rough day.  Anytime you watch parents bury a child it is hard to make sense of things.  But knowing Dom the way I did and thinking about everyone and everything he was leaving behind was especially difficult.  I flew home in my suit, carnation still on my jacket and nobody dare ask me where I had been or where I was going.  I suppose they just knew to leave that fellow over there alone.  I was grateful for the quiet time to reflect and say goodbye to my friend.

Three years later and I still feel much the same way.  I vacillate between sadness and anger.  Still asking myself the same unanswerable question of why this had to happen to someone so young and wonderful with so much at stake.  So much to lose.

There are other days when I feel blessed and so very fortunate that I was able to be there for Dom and his family and I was along for his journey with eyes wide open.  Every day he was sick, we woke up with thoughts of helping his family in our heart.  We trained hard, ran a couple of marathons in 13 days and raised spirits, awareness and dollars for Dom’s family.

Three years later and I am still racing with his initials on my flats, trying to run the marathon that I know I have inside of me.

I am injured right now, pedaling away furiously on the tri-bike hoping to save whatever fitness I had build up training for Cottonwood so that I might somehow still be able to toe the line on Sept. 14th in Utah.  2:59 is now out of the question.  It would take nothing short of a miracle for that to happen, and as much as I love the marathon and how special an event it is.  Miracles don’t happen on race day at that distance.

If we do make it out there the only goal will be 3:19:59 which should be enough to get us into Boston this year with our qualifying time of 3:25:00.

The irony of the situation is the goal at the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 that I wanted so terribly to make it to Hopkinton for the first time – 3:19:59.

I haven’t thought of 3:20 being a huge accomplishment in almost 4 years.  But perhaps fittingly so – in honor of our hero Dom – just maybe – that is the perfect goal to chase.

Just because it won’t be our fastest marathon doesn’t mean that it is not a race worth running.  Just getting to the starting line would be a lesson in determination, perseverance and not to sound too corny, but bravery.  Anyone can start a marathon when their training cycle was perfect and they are 100% healthy.

It is a lot tougher to do so when you know that you are “not  right”.  The last time I did that I was in Pittsburgh, licking my wounds from the Boston Marathon 13 days earlier – hoping to somehow hold it together for another 26.2 miles.  It was one of my slowest marathons and probably my most painful.  But it was also one of the greatest races I have ever run.

So Dom, just get me to the starting line in Utah my brother.  I’ll take it from there.

Rest in peace Dom.  We all love and miss you terribly.

P.S. – I really could have done without the flat tire this morning.  Just sayin’.

Two Certainties in Life

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Motivation

For many of you out there who have chosen to follow this journey of mine from the earliest days when Run for Dom was an abstract notion of how I was going to do my part to try to raise awareness, funds and most importantly hope for a sick friend who was battling cancer to what is now going on three years since Dom’s death from that disease – I am sure some of you have wondered where I have been.

I had not ever gone more than 5 days between making a post at Run for Dom.

Today marks two weeks since my last entry.  I have had a lot to say during those 14 days, but most of those thoughts started like this:

#%&@#!#*!

Two Wednesday’s ago in the middle of my track workout – while I was ticking off my miles in 5:58, 5:55, 5:54 I felt a twinge in my left Achilles.

Without finishing that turn on the track, let alone the entire 400 meters I immediately shut it down and walked gingerly across the field to my water bottle.  I knelt down, loosened the laces on my flats and I paused for a moment and silently said a prayer.

It was short, but directly to the point.

“If this is what I think it is, please be merciful.  Please know just how hard I have worked to come back from this injury last December.  To rebuild my body, my mind and my spirit to pour everything into this training cycle.  Please give me the strength to recover from this set-back quickly and let me toe the line on Race Day in Utah as close to 100% as possible.  This race is bigger than just me.”

I started therapy immediately.  I have seen a specialist, had ART (Active Release Therapy) twice, visited a Chiropractor for two adjustments.  I’ve iced, taken anti-inflamatories.  I’ve rested.  Absolutely no running.  And today I am no closer to running than I was 14 days ago.  Only slight improvement has been made and for the second time in a row – my marathon is now lost.

I will not be racing in Utah on September 14th and frankly, I hope to just be running again by then.  That also means that Steamtown – my back-up plan – is also out in October.  I have been a bit depressed.  A bit irritable.  And in a moment of weakness even allowed negative thoughts enter into my head.

It is during those times that I realized that I was not going to say anything in this space until I could honor the memory of our good friend Dom by being positive.  By searching for the good in all of this and for remembering what true loss really is.  How it is final.  Unrecoverable.  Unchanging.  That is loss.

Missing a marathon or two is not loss.  Never being able to see your wife, daughter, son, father, brother, aunt, uncle again – is what “loss” truly is.

I believe that there are two certainties in life as I know them.

1.     There is a God.

2.     I am not Him.

I have no idea when I will be well again.  I only know that I will be.

I have no idea when I will run again.  I only know that I will.

I have no idea how long it is going to take me to get back to where I was not only 4 weeks before Houston last year when I was injured, nor how long it will take me to get even more fit, more prepared and more ready as I was 6 weeks from Big Cottonwood.

I only know that next time, for Houston in 2014, I will once again be even MORE prepared to break through and run the marathon I have hoped to since 2011.  2:59:XX.

Dom, I owe you an apology as you taught me the greatest lesson anyone ever has in my now 46 years on earth.

Take nothing for granted.  Cherish everything.  Never give up.

I’m sorry that it took me a couple of weeks to come back around.  Stop feeling sorry for myself and getting my sh#% together.

Trust that in 8 days on the anniversary of your passing I am going to give this foot a try.  If all I do is make it down the block before I have to stop, that is going to be fine.  It is in the trying where winners are revealed, not in the succeeding.

Thank you for reminding me of that lesson and perhaps this injury is the reminder I needed to not assign success or failure by a race clock suspended over a line on some street.  But in being willing to take a swing at that achievement with love in your heart and true fearlessness.

If things align for us down in Houston, TX this winter I am going to make sure that my wife and daughter are there to see the greatest 400 meters I will ever run in my life.  I am going to do it with great passion, great effort and ferocity.  And it is going to make all of these trying days just a side-note to this journey.

And God, if you are listening – I get it now.  You have a plan for me and I’m not privy to all the details at this point.  That is what faith is.

Thank you for keeping me honest and reminding me just how blessed I am and how wonderful a gift it is to be able to share watching my daughter grow up with her amazing Mother.  I have a front row seat for the greatest show on earth.  I may not be able to run right now – but I remain a runner.  It takes a heckuva lot more to keep us down than a little pain in one foot.

I’ll be back and back with a vengeance.