Happy New Year everyone!

Over the past several years I have posted on New Year’s morning or thereabouts, sharing my goals for the upcoming year.  They started out pretty vague back in 2009 and 2010, then became very specific in 2011 and 2012.  Entering 2013 I thought that I had a pretty firm grasp on what I wanted to accomplish.  Specific races, distances and my assault on PR’s.

Above all else, I wanted to finally take that 800 lb. monkey off of my back and run that 2:59:00 marathon.  But a funny thing happened to me along the way.  As I recovered from injury at the start of the year I climbed back on the horse and circled a Fall Marathon for my sub 3:00 hour effort only to re-aggravate those pesky strained ligaments in my left ankle and I was once again on the shelf, facing more than 6 weeks away from running and training.

I was able to piece together a solid two months of training and ran a strong 5-mile PR in Cedar Park at the start of November, salvaging what had been a very frustrating year.  I spent the last month of the year thinking long and hard about what I want to accomplish from here on out as a 46 year-old dad, husband and part-time endurance athlete.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is really only one more medal that I want to earn and that is at Ironman Texas.  At that point we will have run more than 10 marathons, competed in more than 100 run-only events, hung more than a dozen half-marathon medals on our rack and filled a couple of shelves with age group awards while compiling a pretty impressive running resume of Personal Records and best ever times.

Sub 3 hour marathon?  Who really gives a sh#%?  Not my wife, not my daughter, certainly Dom would care less about something like that as he certainly had a handle on what was truly important when he said goodbye to all of us.

So in 2014 I’m going to keep it really simple.

  1. Train smart, stay healthy.  It all starts here.
  2. Pace my friend Bob at the Austin Half-Marathon to a 1:28:59 and his guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon 2014.
  3. Ironman 70.3 New Orleans in April.  Dress Rehearsal for IM Texas.  Dial everything in.
  4. Ironman Texas.  Never give up.  Never quit.  Always try.  Get that finisher’s medal.
  5. Spend the rest of 2014 running when I want, swimming when I can, biking when it’s fun.
  6. Spend time with my family, raise my daughter and collect smiles.
  7. Hop in a race from time to time when it feels right and I miss it.
  8. Run in the rain because I want to, not because I have to.

I started the new year with an “easy 10” – wrapping things up in a little under 1 hr. 14 minutes (7:24 pace).  From here to Ironman there will be very few if any rest days or complete days off.  That’s fine, one more push and we’ll have crossed off one heck of a list since we started all this running for Dom back in 2009.

Make no mistake, don’t think I’m about to lay down out there.  If you are hoping to beat me on race day, you better bring it – because I’m certainly going to.  I just don’t know any other way to do it.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

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Friday night will be the last chance for us to lace up our flats and do a little racing in 2013.  In fact, it may be the last time we really try to “go fast” before Ironman Texas.  Immediately after Friday night’s event the focus will shift to volume, volume and more volume.

Long steady runs, long, cold, windy bike rides and early morning long swims in the pool.  80-120 laps long.

But one more time this year we’ll push the limits at the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K.  This is an annual event that the whole family has gotten involved with since our good friends the Smith’s here in Austin had their little boy Caleb a couple of years ago.  Little Caleb had a ton of challenges when he was born.  Most to do with his digestive system and ability to go potty.  He struggles getting nutrition, going to the bathroom still even after numerous procedures and surgeries.

He and his family traveled to Cincinnatti a little more than two years ago for the first time to consult with the best Doctors in the country for Caleb’s ailments and for his surgeries.  The cost of flights, meals, time away from work and finding a place to stay became a huge struggle for our friends and as the stress of the situation became harder and harder to deal with – Ronald McDonald House stepped up to do what they do best.

Provide a welcoming environment for the Family to stay together.  A safe place to stay, do laundry, cook meals, play together and be a family.  All for less than $20 a day.  Truly amazing.  Ronald McDonald House Charities has been doing this since it was founded in 1974. 

That year the first Ronald McDonald House opened its doors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  At the time Kim Hill, the daughter of Philadelphia Eagles football player Fred Hill, was undergoing treatment for leukemia.  Throughout Kim’s treatment, her father recognized the need for a supportive environment away from the hospital for families of seriously ill children.  He enlisted the aid of his teammates and local McDonald’s restaurant owners to raise funds that would help purchase and renovate the first Ronald McDonald House.

The first Ronald McDonald House was named, not only because of McDonald’s fund-raising support but also for the positive, hopeful, and fun-loving feeling Ronald McDonald was able to instill into the minds of so many children.

Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses located in 30 countries and regions world-wide. 

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia at the age of 7 in 1974 and having lost a sister to Leukemia the mission of the Ronald McDonald House has always had a special place for me and after seeing how much they helped our friends the Smith’s with their son Caleb’s needs we have tried to do all that we can to help.

This year Landry is again raising money for Ronald McDonald House as part of Caleb’s Army.  To help her out her Mother and Father have committed to match every donation that she secures dollar for dollar up to $1,000.  Come Friday night we hope to be donating at least $2,000 to Caleb’s Army and then Dad is going to go out there and see if he can’t chase down one more PR this year.

Fast or slow won’t really matter at the end of the day, this one is all about helping those less fortunate.

(I’m still going to try to run pretty fast though ….)

Today is Giving Tuesday – so please make the most of it and visit Landry’s fundraising page located HERE and make your gift today – any amount will help her reach her goal and it will be doubled by Dawn and I.

You can also visit:  https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1069880&supId=396480510

Landry & Ronald 2012Thanks everyone!  Hope to see you on Friday!

 

Plugging back in …

Posted: November 25, 2013 in Training
Tags: ,

Ever since we started training to “Run for Dom” in the winter of 2009 we have been training, posting and chronicling all of the highs, lows, struggles and victories along the way.

Back then I was concerned with how in the world I was going to be able to run two marathons just 13 days apart.  I trained hard, tried to take care of myself the best that I could and strapped myself in for at the time was the most difficult race of my life.  Pittsburgh in May 2010 was a long day at the office for sure, but in the end it was still over with in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes.

I wondered at the time what was going to be the next adventure, never really thinking we were going to top that effort.  One of the by products of training to run those races for Dom was cross training on the bike. I planned on some day trying a triathlon. Just for fun of course.  But never anything crazy.  Certainly not an Ironman.

Maybe I’m one of the few people who honestly believed that, but I honestly didn’t think we would ever “go there”.  I have told numerous runners that unless you feel like you “need” to run a marathon, you shouldn’t do it.

Wanting to just isn’t enough, to do it in a serious way, you have to need it. The requirements are just too stringent for us amateur athletes. The penalties too severe if you are undertrained or injured.

For Ironman, the same disclaimer applies.

2.4 mile swim.  112-mile bike.  Marathon.

Not something to enter into lightly.  That said, here we are as in just 23 weeks we will slide off the dock into the water with 2,700 other athletes for the most grueling, challenging endurance athletic event in the world.

Dom would have loved this.

So where have I been the last few weeks?

I took a break quite honestly.

I knew what these 6 months were going to be like.  Swims, rides, runs, weights, nutrition, posting workouts.  Many professional athletes do exactly what I did, which is take it easy, let all the bumps and bruises heal and then attack their training with renewed vigor.

Let me tell you something, it works.

I ran ran a bit, biked a bit, swam a bit.

I refined my swim form.  I dialed in my new bike set-up. I trained for and absolutely crushed the 5-mile in 30:25.

I also hit the reset button mentally and I am completely stoked for this training cycle.  Much like Run for Dom, I really don’t know how this is going to all work out.  So much can go wrong in an Ironman, there are too many variables to count.

But there is one variable that I have no concern over whatsoever and that is being prepared for race day. I am attacking this event emotionally detached and very businesslike. The emotions of it all are going to be suppressed until the cannon fires on May 18.  Then it will be time to let it all hang out.

140.6 miles in what I hope will be somewhere around 11 hours.

There is a little more than 7 billion people on the planet right now with approximately 500,000 ironman finishers walking among us. Pretty elite company.  I have no illusions of sneaking onto the podium at Ironman Texas or of securing a qualifying spot for Kona and the Ironman World Championship.

What I do plan on doing however is honoring a close friend who was taken from us far, far too early.   With his name on my flats and my daughter’s on my race kit I am going to race and finish every damn one of those 140.6 miles.

A long time ago I promised Dom that no matter how hairy things got out there I would always try.  Never quit, never give up no matter what.  Seemed like the least I could do.  So after taking a little mental health break here we are once again making the same promise.

Dom, this one is for both of us. As little guys who were told all our lives we were too small, not big enough, not strong enough … I say now to those people they underestimated one thing about us egregiously.

The size of our heart.

Two weeks ago after a solid effort at the IBM Uptown Classic 5K I started to feel like I was getting close.  I wasn’t all the way back to where I was before our bout with Achilles/ankle issues, but I was starting to resemble that runner.  I had lost that tentative feeling every time I dropped my hips a bit and tried to push pace down towards 6:00 flat.

My stride was feeling very even and when I tried to lengthen things out just a bit, the snap had returned to my turnover.  I still don’t have the volume that I typically do at this time of year, which is holding me back from jumping into the Run for the Water 10-miler next weekend, but I feel like with a few more weeks of quality workouts with the group I can build out my long runs back to 15-16 miles and be half-marathon ready by Christmas.

I had mentally circled the Thanksgiving Day Thundercloud Turkey Trot as my next “A” race – trying to go for my 5-mile PR of 30:50, but there was another 5-miler in October that seemed to line up really well for us.  The Cedar Park 5-miler which was celebrating the 18th running of the event.

When I was building speed back in 2010 and making the fastest and largest gains in my performance I was racing hard and racing frequently.  There is just no substitute for that kind of intensity and effort when you are trying to force adaptation.  As the weather forecast came out for Sunday’s race about 5 days in advance showing cool temperatures, I decided to jump in and see just how far away we were from our previous effort at the 5-mile.  A distance that is not very common here in Austin.  Only a handful of opportunities each year locally to tee it up.

I treated this past week as an “A” race week.  10 miles on Monday with an afternoon Swim, Tuesday – complete rest.  Wednesday a short but intense speed session of 300 meter repeats with 100 meter recoveries in the 5:40-5:45 range.  A Thursday 30 mile bike and swim followed by an off day on Friday and just a 2-mile shakeout on Saturday.

A lot of short, intense workouts, with plenty of rest and very little volume that would leave my legs feeling fatigued.  On Sunday morning for the first time since December of 2012.  I would show up on race morning looking to go low and with any luck, have a chance to take down an 11-month old PR in the 5-mile.  My first legitimate PR attempt in 2013.

On Saturday morning I drove the course to measure the inclines along the route which features gentle climbing up to the turnaround point, with that same gentle decline on the way back home.  A course that set-up for negative split miles, where going out under control would produce the fastest overall time, as opposed to running out fast to start and hanging on to the end.  I thought that I needed to be very disciplined early, so that when the course tilted in my favor late in the race, I could actually do something about it.

6:20, 6:15, 6:10, 6:05, 6:00 would produce a time equal to our 30:50 PR.

If I could hang tough through mile 4, perhaps I would have enough left to kick over the final 400 and eek out a new PR.  That was the plan as I played those splits over in my head as I dozed off to sleep on Saturday night.  It was the first race in a long time that I had planned out each mile along the course.  A formula that had served me very well in the past.  All I would have to do on the course is go out and execute.

Pre-Race:  We stuck to the program with a 6:00 a.m. alarm clock, shave and a shower to loosen up the muscles.  A bagel and Gatorade breakfast and after changing into our race gear I left the house at 7:15 a.m. to get to the race site.  I parked, retrieved my timing chip from the timing tent (ankle strap) and went back to the car to get ready.

I decided on a slow 2-mile warm-up to get the muscles ready to go on a very chilly, but beautiful 45 degree morning.  I ran the first mile of the course, measuring the incline of the opening mile, spun around and trotted back to the start.  2 miles, 14:50.  Everything to this point was perfect.  I changed into my New Balance Race flats, took off my sweats and headed over to the start area to run a few strides.  With approximately 375 runners in the event, I was able to get in my last few reps, and then duck into the start area about 10-12 runners from the front.  A lot of the usual suspects in attendance.  Looked like if I ran well, I would have a shot at a top-10 finish – but all I was really hunting was that 30:49.  Placement was irrelevant.

The announcer counted us down, “Runners to your Mark – Go!”

Mile 1:  We ran uphill leaving the shopping center and turned left onto Buttercup Creek Road.  We would run the first 1.25 miles on a gradual incline until we would make a right turn onto Nelson Ranch.  The race course was coned off into the bike-lane, which was enough room for 2-3 runners to run next to each other.  This would not be an issue later in the race, but for the first mile we were running 4-5 to a group and it was congested.  I glanced down at my watch repeatedly over this mile, making sure that I never dipped below 6:20.  The pace felt relaxed and at a few moments I felt myself wanting to increase my stride.

The first 1/2 mile was spot on in 3:10.  Finally I was locked in and ticking things off smoothly.  I was running somewhere around 10th or 11th place and had found a group to run with.  I tried to disassociate a bit and not focus on the incline, just stay smooth and tall – no faster, no slower.  At the mile 1 marker I glanced down at my watch.  The course measurement was exact.  Opening mile – 6:20.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  As mile 2 started the course again started to climb just a bit.  About 50 feet over this section of the course.  No big climbs, just a gentle slope that you can barely see.  A “False-Flat” as runners call it.  The kind of slope that tricks you into thinking you are running your goal pace effort, but you are actually working just a bit harder than usual to hit that mark.  At the end of the race, those :05-:07 seconds that you pushed for imperceptibly cost you twice as many when you go to your kick.

I was hoping to run this mile at 6:15, but at the halfway mark I was right around 6:18-6:19.  I felt myself get slightly discouraged.  I decided to stay even through the end of the mile and see if I could wake things up a bit over mile number 3.  At the mile 2 marker the watch beeped at me – 6:16.  I was :01 behind after 2 miles.

Mile 3:  I decided to stick to the plan and press just slightly to drop pace down to 6:10.  I had a good group to work with and we took turns leading the pack.  Nobody was going much faster than 6:10-6:11 at any point, but it was nice to share that responsibility.  I kept monitoring my watch every 400 meters or so, this would be the last mile that I would look at my watch as when we hit the 2-mile to go mark I would just run as hard as I could to close it out.

We hit the 180 degree turnaround that required us to come to a near-stop at 2.5 miles.  The slow-down cost us about :05 seconds.  I pressed just a bit to get back on pace and locked in the harder effort.  The course was finally tilting ever so slightly in our favor and I was able to make up those :05 seconds without expending too much precious energy.  We hit the mile 3 marker with a 3rd mile in 6:08.  We were :01 seconds ahead of goal after 18:45 of racing.

Mile 4:  At the start of mile 4 I moved to the front of our small pack.  I would use the footfalls behind me to keep me honest and from this point on I was going to run my race.  If somebody was able to drop me, good for them, but I felt like I had run a very smart opening 3 miles.  Now it was just a matter of seeing how much we had left.

I snuck a glance down at my watch at some point over the mile and saw my pace below 6:00 flat.  I thought about dialing things back ever so slightly to load up for the final mile, but it was time to run by feel at this point of the race.  If 6:00 effort was producing sub 6:00 results, I chalked it up to the slight decline and went with it.

At the beep I looked down and saw a 5:56 mile.  Time to go.

Mile 5:  The final mile would roll up and down ever so slightly for the first 7/10 of a mile before a nice 3/10 of a mile descent to the finish line.  I decided to press ever so slightly on the accelerator to keep the pace under 6:00 flat and then start to empty the tank at the start of the downhill.

We were comfortably locked in at 5:55 pace at the start of the descent, and I could see the right-hand turn ahead that would lead to the finishing chute.  The pace was starting to hurt quite a bit, but I could tell that I was holding strong, not losing any speed as I struggled to keep my form in place.

We made the final turn and kicked to the finish.

Final mile – 5:45.

30:25 official time, 1st place Age Group, 7th place overall.

Post-Race:  Dawn and Landry decided to skip the race on Sunday and grab some extra sleep (I don’t blame them) – so I had some time to myself waiting around for the awards ceremony to begin.  I replayed the race over in my mind a couple of times and tried to find a time where I executed my pre-race plan as well from start to finish.  IBM Uptown in 2011 perhaps?  Possibly the first 20 miles of the NYC Marathon.  But never had I closed a race so strong before.

It was the first time in 2013 that I exited an event completely satisfied in the result.  Not a single thing I would change about my race on Sunday and with a :25 second PR in our pocket, we finally are off the shneid in 2013.

Man, this sport never gets old.  Now it is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and see how strong we can close out the rest of the year.  We have 2 months and two events left to go.  Perhaps we may have a shot at our 5K PR at Lights of Love in December.  With 6 weeks to get ready – I’m starting to like our chances.race

Climbing the mountain

Posted: October 8, 2013 in Training

A thought occurred to me on Monday as I was ticking off 10 miles at 7:15 +/- pace a day after the IBM Uptown Classic.

Would I ever get all the way back to where I was last December.

Usually negative thoughts get quickly squashed when I am out running on the trail.  If I start to feel myself go down that path I quickly replace those thoughts with something positive from my past.  A time when I was coming back from an injury and instead of struggling to get back to where I was, I focus on the fact that I actually got faster.  Or a time when during a training cycle I expected a flat race performance, but actually surprised myself and ran a new PR.

But this time it was different, I was simply being analytical and realistic.  I am a year older now a 46-year-old athlete and this train is not going to keep going faster forever.  I have had a very inconsistent year in 2013, lots of fits and starts.  A few weeks or a month of great work then interrupted by an injury or forced time off.  I would then build back as I did over the summer, then have another forced break.  That is not the way to continue improvement.  Consistency rules the day.

So I have decided to shift expectations just a little bit and focus on 8 week periods.  No downtime, no skipped workouts unless I am ill.   Avoid injuries at all costs, just solid, consistent effort and mileage across the run, bike and swim.  If we can close out the rest of 2013 without missing any more time we can flip the calendar into 2014 with some strong momentum.

Ironman training is coming at perhaps the best time possible.  Lots of longer workouts, lots of endurance work, lots of volume.  Not a lot of short, burst, speedwork type workouts that can lead to overtraining and injury.  I’m going to stretch more, be sure to get my strength training in at the Y on my swim days and try to focus on small incremental steps forward.

I knew there was going to come a time when setting new PR’s became unrealistic and instead I needed to focus on competing in my age group or setting new 5-year interval PR’s.  Fastest time after 45 or 50 years old, that kind of thing.  It happens to all of us.

But if for one magic moment on a race day I happen to show up to the starting line 100% fit and 100% healthy – then perhaps we’ll go for it.  18:02, 30:50, 37:30, 1:03:55, 1:23:31, 3:08:09.

Those might be the 5K, 5-Mile, 10K, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon and Marathon times we have to live with forever.

I’m by no means giving up hope or throwing in the towel at this point.  But if that is indeed the case, I think I can live with those numbers.  Pretty respectable for a 40 lb. overweight 38 year old guy who decided to start jogging at lunch one day with no plans to even jump in a local 5K.  We’ve been to Boston a couple of times, New York City, raced in TX, NY, PA, VA, CO, SC and MA.

The fun part about this sport and triathlons is that there is always another challenge around the corner.  You just have to keep moving forward and not let any setbacks get you down or especially keep you down.  So here’s to wrapping up 2013 with a couple solid months of training and see if we can make a little noise down at Ironman TX.

It’s going to be fun trying to climb that mountain one more time.

 

2013 has been the strangest year of racing I have ever had since starting to train, run and race back in 2006. For the last few years, 2009-2012 I have been able to put together a race calendar, train hard, make it to the starting line of just about all of the races I had circled on the calendar and on the race days that mattered most, race relatively well.

But at a time when I was at my absolute best, December 2012 things started to unravel very quickly. After consecutive PR’s at the 5K and Half-Marathon distance I suffered an injury at the Shiner Half and ended up missing the Houston Marathon. After clawing my way back, regaining all of my fitness the same injury flared again and I missed Big Cottonwood this September. In between I had trained in fits and starts, hopped in a few races when I could, but never this year have I felt like I was really “ready” to do anything special.

Not even an outside chance at a PR, never did I even give myself a chance by running an opening mile at PR pace, full well knowing that I did not have the fitness or the volume to pull it off.

But there is still a huge benefit in racing, even when you are not at the top of your game. It is good to put yourself in the race environment to gather as much experience as possible. That way, the next time you are in a position to make something happen – you know that it is not your first rodeo. You can just lock into your routine, run your warm-up, stay relaxed and do your thing.

The other major benefit is the workout itself. Nothing can mimic race-pace better than racing. Even if it is a handful of seconds slower than your talent level when you are completely fit. There is something about pinning on that bib and running in a crowd.

Lastly, there is the process of putting together your pre-race plan and sticking to it …. or not. Straying from your plan and making a big mistake that you pay for is also valuable. It reinforces the need to plan the work and work the plan on race day. Going off half-cocked like a maniac over the opening mile is not sound strategy no matter what the situation. But executing mile after mile, especially when you are fatigued and struggling pays major benefits when you are chasing down that PR on another race day.

So Thursday morning this past week I decided to sign-up last minute for the IBM Uptown Classic 5K. I was not in shape to run the 10K race and come anywhere close to my PR of 37:30 from a couple of years ago. But I did feel like I was capable of running a reasonably strong 5K and I would gain even more confidence in my return from injury if I could come through unscathed. Win-Win.

While I was not going to set any records at IBM or come close to my 18:02 PR set last December, I did want to treat my race routine somewhat seriously. Take it easy on Saturday, eat right, get my rest and go through my morning rituals as per usual. I took a hard look in the mirror and estimated that if I ran the race I wanted to, I could possibly run 6:00 pace (18:40).

What I really wanted to test however was if I could run an even race. Stay as strong through the last 1/2 mile of the race as the opening 1/2 mile. Not fall off and struggle to the finish. So on race morning I set my GPS watch to record 1/2 mile splits and would hope to run as close to 2:58-3:00 per 1/2 mile as possible. Kick hard at the end with whatever we had left and see if we could maybe sneak in at 18:39.

Pre-Race: Sticking to our routine I woke up 1 hour before it was time to drive over to IBM, got in the shower to loosen things up and went with a Bagel and Gatorade for breakfast. I tipped the scale at 135.5 on race morning. 1 lb. heavier than my “A Race” 5K weight of 134.5. Since I didn’t run on Saturday and was very hydrated, we were just about perfect.

I could not go with my Brooks T7 Race Flats as I have a slight toe nail bruise on my right big toe. The toe nail is raised just a centimeter or two, but it is just enough to bang into the toe box on my flats. I would have to run in my Adidas Adios 1/2 marathon shoe. It would cost me about 1 second per mile in weight – but the last thing I needed was another nagging injury to deal with at this point. I would go with the heavier flats.

I drove over to the race site, got a spot in the lot and trotted over to the Rogue Running Tent to meet up with the training group. It had been awhile since I saw everyone including coach, so it was nice to see the gang.

I ran my warm-up alone, did a few strides and kept to myself. I ducked into the start area – said hello to Greg, David and some of the usual suspects. I thought one more time about running an opening 6 minute mile and nothing much faster.

National Anthem, Runners to your mark …. Horn!

Mile 1:  I started just a hair further back in the chute than I normally would, perhaps 20-25 runners in front of me and quickly found some open space on the right-center of the road leading up to the first right turn on the course.  I didn’t look at my watch, just spun out free and easy.  Cool weather had arrived in Austin with very little in the way of breeze.  My single was barely moving in the wind and I felt like I was right where I needed to be.  At the beep I glanced down at my watch at the first 1/2 mile – 2:58.

We were running a slight uphill stretch over the next 1.2 mile – 25 feet +/- of incline, so I dialed back ever so slightly on pace.  We made the turn across Burnet Road onto the Domain Property and hit the 1 mile mark.  My second 1/2 mile came in at 3:02.

I had run 6:00 flat for the first mile of the race.  spot on perfect.

Mile 2:  Mile 2 is almost completely flat on this course for the first 1/2 mile, then a nice long, very gradual descending second 1/2 mile.  I wanted to stay even, not drop off on the effort which is where most 5K races come off the rail.  The first mile is never an issue and the last one, even though it hurts quite a bit, does not allow you to give in as you are so close to the finish.  It is that middle mile where it is very easy to take the foot off the gas ever so slightly.  Imperceptively really, just enough to back off the pain that is starting – but on the watch it translates to :03-:05 seconds of slowing.  Time you never get back in a short race like the 5K.

Our 3rd 1/2 mile split came in at 2:59, followed by a slightly faster 1/2 mile heading down the gentle decline in 2:57.

The second mile was 5:56 on the fastest part of the course.  There was going to be some climbing at the end of the race, it was time to start fighting a little.

Mile 3:  I had been running to this point with the first overall female in the 5K race.  A young runner named Lauren who just moved to Austin from California and joined my running group.  She was running extremely even and she stayed right off of my right shoulder.  My mind started to wander a bit to who was in front of us and if there were any male runners up there who were running the 5K and not the 10K.  It was the first time I found myself getting distracted, thinking about where I was with respect to the field and not running a 3:00 min. flat 1/2 mile split.

I chastised myself for letting my mind wander and snapped back to it.  My watch beeped with the 5th 1/2 mile coming in at 2:53 with a 37 foot decrease in elevation.  We would have to make that back up over the next 1/2 mile – so I focused on even stride and effort to come as close to a final 3:00 flat as possible.

As we made the turn back into the shopping district and the road started to climb ahead I noticed the breeze that was blowing as a bit of a headwind as it was much louder going in this direction.  Not more than a 1-2 second shift, but with only 1/2 mile to go – any change like that feels pretty cruel.

I heard my watch beep a bit before the 3-mile sign, meaning that I did not run perfect tangents on the course with all the new turns this year or the course measured just a touch long.  I glanced down and saw the first split I was unhappy with:  3:04.

Put together however, I had run another solid mile – 5:57.  Nothing left to do but kick.

Finish:  I heard Greg behind me who was running the 10K yelling at me that I had run 6:00 flat – kick to the end!  As I approached the chute the female announcer said, “And we have our first 5K runner approaching the finish line!” – I slowed up ever so slightly as I crossed over the finish line – I’m really not sure why – and glanced at the clock ticking over 18:40.

6:00, 5:56, 5:57.

We were able to hold off Lauren by 5 seconds and win 1st overall at the IBM Uptown Classic on a picture perfect Fall day for racing in Austin.  It is always nice to walk away with an Age Group Win or a spot on the podium, but I was honestly more happy with my effort than how it compared to anyone else on Sunday.  That is usually the case, but it is especially true when you are able to execute a race plan so close to goal.

Yes, I’ve been faster.  A lot faster actually.

That’s o.k., 2012 was a year when all I did was set personal bests.  Running and racing was coming very easy to me.

2013 has been a much different story.  We have been tested quite a bit and have had to scratch and claw for everything that we have gotten this year.  2014 is not too far away.  Just another event or two on our calendar for this year.  Definitely not enough time to get back to full strength and challenge any of our best times.  But we can continue to improve.  Continue to run with great focus and gain valuable fitness and experience.

I placed the Overall Award up on the shelf on Sunday afternoon where all of our medals and awards from previous races reside.  It was one of the more unexpected additions to the collections for sure.  I’m not really sure how I feel about it yet as I know that there were a lot of runners out there today who if they chose to race the 5K instead of the 10K they would have handed me my keister.  But you can only run the race your a capable of running and you can only race those competitors who happen to be there that day.

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to cross the finish line first.  But really, I was lucky to be able to be out there at all.

I’ll take it.

1st Place Overall Male

1st Place Overall Male

Ironman Swim

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Training

With the exception of the professionals and some top age groupers, just about every triathlete has a discipline that scares them a little bit come race day.  It is the rare athlete who can swim, bike and run fearlessly.  Where in each of the three events that make up the triathlon, they feel like everything is a strength.  All they have to do is hammer away.

Some of us are lucky if we feel that way about 2 of the 3 disciplines.

Most have really one area where they “know” they are a top performer, or are just about bumping up against their potential.

I jokingly borrow a line from a friend when people ask me if I am a Triathlete – I usually respond, “No, I’m a runner who does triathlons”.  But after coming dangerously close to breaking 5 hours in the Half-Ironman down in Kerrville a year ago, I really need to redefine myself just a bit.

My bike has come a long way and right now it is honestly the case that I am a good to strong cyclist, a strong runner and as swimmer that needs a lot of work.  With a long stretch of training leading up to Ironman Texas the swim is the one area where I feel like I can make the most progress.  Part of that of course is I have a long way to travel from “lousy” to “average”.

On the bike it is a matter of simply refining my form, working hard to stay aero is much as possible for the 112 mile ride and dial in my nutrition.

For the run, it is as simple as getting ready to run another marathon.  Something we know quite a lot about.

But the swim is really a different animal.  It is much more technical than either the bike or run.  Yes there are mechanics to refine in the saddle or on the road – but in the water, it really is all about technique.

The other piece when it comes to the swim cannot be overstated.  I have to slay some inner demons.

When I get ready to get in the water for a triathlon open water swim – I’m afraid.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it and call it “anxiety” or “being uncomfortable”.  It’s fear.  Plain and simple.Ironman Texas Swim - Staging

In the back of my mind I can see the worst case scenario.  I get kicked in the head, elbowed in the face, swam on top of, pushed under – I start to panic and can’t get my breathing back under control.  I have to ask for help.  My race is over.

On the bike I worry about things like getting a flat tire.  Might cost me 5 minutes.

On the run I worry about blisters or overheating – but never do I think about not being able to finish the run.

But the swim carries with it some real worries and the only thing I can do is try to become as strong a swimmer as I can.  The best swimmer I can be and try to get to the point where I can swim quickly enough to stay on the feet and draft off of a slightly better swimmer to help pull me along on race day.

But after doing swim workouts over and over and not seeing any significant improvements, my confidence level in being able to get my 100 yard time at/under 2:00 min/100 for 2.4 miles or 4,200 yards, was really waning.

Then rather unexpectedly I received a gift from a friend of mine.  Two small tips or tweaks that may have unlocked something for me that 2 years of swimming had not been able to do.

I was walking across S. 1st Street on Sunday afternoon heading to my car after the race downtown and saw my friend and Ironman Triathlete Gary Metcalf who owns a local timing company talking to a couple of police officers who were handling course control.  We chatted for a few minutes and he asked what race I had circled on the calendar.  For the first time I said out loud – well, my “A” race for 2014 is Ironman Texas.

A smile crept across Gary’s face and he simply said.  “Awesome.”

The conversation quickly turned to training and I mentioned that if I could just get my swim in order before Race Day I’d be feeling pretty good about my chances at Ironman, but I had a long way to go.

Gary then shared two tips with me, he said, “You know Joe, most runners who struggle with their swim don’t kick correctly.  They don’t kick from their hip and engage their larger muscle groups.  They just kind of flip their feet with their calf muscles.”

That is exactly what I do.

He added, “The other mistake most new swimmers make is that they rush their turnover in the water.  They don’t pause between strokes as they are in their glide for just a brief moment to get full extension and rotation.  You should focus on making 13 or 14 strokes per length of the pool.”

That describes me again.

So I took those two tips to the pool on Tuesday and Wednesday and swam a workout that I have been doing for quite some time.

5 X 100

1000 Free

5 X 50

It is a 1,750 yard workout that doubles as my “easy” swim day.  Just enough time in the water to go hard a bit and work on form and fitness setting the stage for longer swim workouts later in the training cycle.

In this workout previously I would typically swim the 100’s between 1:55 and 2:02.  The 1,000 in 22:00 and my 50’s around :54.

On Tuesday my times were:

1:44-1:46 per 100

19:36 for the 1000

:44-:47 per 50

After two years of slugging it out in the water – making two small adjustments to my form I dropped 2 minutes and 24 seconds per 1000.  Which is an improvement of approximately 10 minutes over the course of the Ironman Swim.

The amazing thing is that I was working no harder than I was previously, and in fact to some degree I was working easier.  On a length where I really held form perfectly with no hiccups I was hitting 13 strokes, 13.5 strokes per length easily.  On my fast 50’s I was down in the 12.5 range.  Amazing.

When I was tiring at the end of the 1000 I was right at 14 to 14.5 strokes per length when I would perhaps cut something short or not pull perfectly.

For the first time, maybe ever, I’m excited about what the swim may hold for us on race day.  There is a very famous saying in triathlon that “You can’t win the race in the water, but you can lose it.”

We’re not going for the podium or a Kona slot down in the Woodlands in May – so winning and losing really isn’t an issue.  But if we are able to get out of the water in 80 minutes instead of the 90 that we were expecting – perhaps even faster if we can make some further improvements, we set ourselves up for a great day with a strong bike and solid ironman marathon.

Sometimes you have to think there are powerful forces out there giving us help and guidance when we need it the most.

Dom, thanks for putting Gary on that street corner for me on Sunday.  This is shaping up to be quite a journey.