Posts Tagged ‘Joe run for Dom’

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’.

You know those mornings where you roll over, look at the alarm clock and you can’t quite seem to remember what day it is and what you have to do next?  Well Sunday morning was that kind of morning for me.  I had gone into the bedroom to lie down early after a day of racing on Saturday not really intending on falling asleep, but just to get off my legs and rest a bit before bedtime.

The next thing I knew I woke up, rolled onto my side and saw the alarm clock – 3:58 a.m.

As I blinked away almost 7 hours of sleep I reached over to check my alarm which was set at 4:00 a.m.

Then it hit me – you’ve got another race today, better get moving.

I rolled out of bed, shut off the alarm before it sounded and gingerly walked to the bathroom.  I had the usual post-race tightness in the hamstrings and calves, but all things considered I felt pretty decent.  I brushed the teeth, started to wake up a bit and hopped into a hot shower to loosen up the muscles and started to think about what lay ahead.

500 Meter Swim, 14 Mile Bike, 3 Mile Run – Lake Pflugerville Triathlon.

This would be our first year racing “Lake P” as it is known around Austin in the Endurance Athlete Community.  A friendly, smallish Triathlon that caps registration – this year at 800 entrants.  The Transition Area is “Open”, meaning that you can rack your bike anywhere that you like, you do not have to rack within your age group – so I decided to head over a little earlier than I had originally planned to get a good spot.

I had packed everything the night before, the only things left to do were to retrieve my frozen water bottle for the bike out of the freezer, load up my cooler with a couple of Gatorades and waters, put my transition bag in the truck and load the bike in the back.  I grabbed my run watch out of the charger and I was out the door in less than 5 minutes.

Arrival:

I made the 25 minute drive over to Lake Pflugerville and entered the parking lot about 5:10 a.m.  I was one of the earlier athletes to arrive, so finding a good spot to rack and set up transition was not going to be a problem.

I made my way over with my bike and bag to Body Marking and ran into my friend Jay Tedder.  He was a couple of athletes ahead of me and we decided we would rack our bikes in the same space.  I got my race number 430 written down both arms, across both of my quads just above the knee and my age group written on my right calf “45”.

The Holland 5K on Saturday was my final race as a 44-year-old.  From here on out I would be competing with the 45-49 year olds for the next half-decade.  It was an odd thought to have so early in the morning, but I was a little sad about leaving my last age group.  It was definitely a tough, challenging group of competitors in Austin.  Now I was the “young guy” again, looking to establish myself in a new sport, with a new group of athletes.

Set-Up:

I racked my bike next to Jay in a good spot, just 7 racks from the Swim Entrance, about half-way up on the left-hand side.  I would be able to grab my bike and head right out of transition to the mounting line very easily.  Then repeat the process coming in from the bike course, re-rack my bike and hit the Run Exit within 400 meters.  Perfect.

I laid out my transition mat, placed my run shoes down with my quick tie laces at the read, my run watch, wrist band and my race belt that held my number 430 bib in place.

Next it was my bike shoes opened up as far as they could go.  I rolled up my socks, ready to be put on wet feet on top of my bike shoes and placed a small towel and squeeze bottle of water next to them to clean my feet coming out of the swim area.

I placed my helmet on my aero bars, straps open and my riding glasses inside ready to be placed on when I approached the bike.  I clicked in my Garmin bike computer.  Put in my frozen water bottle filled with Gatorade in between my bars so it would thaw out and checked my tire pressure.

Ready to go.

Pre-Race:

I grabbed my goggles and silver swim cap, hit the porta-potty for the last time and got ready for the swim start.  I ran into my friends Erin and Dan who were at the Holland, TX 5K on Saturday – Erin was the 2nd place female overall, crazy fast runner – Ed and Jay who I was racked right in between.  At first we were all laughing and joking around, but as the first swim waves took off it started to get a little more serious.

I spoke with Jay a bit when Ed left to go off with the 30-34 age group.  In 6 minutes I would be wading out into the water.

The Swim:

As they called our wave I slid into the water, fixed my goggles and went under to get wet and acclimate to the water temperature.  The lake felt just a little bit chilly, which meant that after 50 meters, it would be perfect.  Wind was calm, the water was pretty smooth, but my wave had 50 athletes competing.  It was going to be crowded.

I decided to stick to the outside of the course so that I would have limited bumping and fighting going on as swimmers tried to cut close to the buoys.  This was going to make the distance that I needed to swim longer, but I was willing to trade that for cleaner water.  There was also some hydrilla and seaweed type greenery that we were going to have to battle through heading away from the shoreline and on the way back in.  Perfect I thought – just what I needed, a little more difficulty added to my weakest event.

At the horn we were off and I fell into a comfortable pace right away.  I did not feel like I was really “swimming fast” but I was relaxed and seemed to be holding my pace with the swimmers around me.  I was sighting ahead and staying to the right of the crowd, with just a couple of swimmers bumping into me over the first 100 meters.

We reached the second buoy and the course made a slight left to the midpoint as the course was set up like the roof of a house.  Straight up the side for 200 meters, 50 meters slightly left to the highpoint or “roof”, then a tight left turn to head back the other direction for 50 meters followed by another slight left turn and then 200 meters for home.

At the Red Buoy, or the high point of the course I got caught with two other swimmers, one on each side of me.  A couple of bumps on the arms and one shot to the leg by a kick.  I decided to swim around to the outside of the athlete on my right and I got out of the wash.  It cost me some time however.

I hit the last 100 meters and encountered the green stuff from the bottom of the lake.  It was catching in my fingers and hands as I entered the water, shortening my glide, catch and pull.  I tried to keep it out of my head, stay relaxed, keep breathing and swim to the finish.

I hit the flats, got vertical and pulled off my cap and goggles – I knew my swim as not “fast”, but I had made it – time to get moving.  We had some people to catch.

Swim Time:  12:42

Transition 1:

I ran up out of transition, grabbed a cup of water, and navigated the left turn to the stairs.  Ran down carefully to make sure I didn’t slip and fall and then ran into the bike area.

I wiped my feet, pulled on my socks and then both bike shoes.

Glasses on, Bike Helmet on, hit start on my bike computer and pulled down my bike.

I ran with my bike shoes up the hill out of the racks, made a right and reached the bike mounting line – I pushed off, threw my leg over the bike and clipped in.

Transition Time 1:51 – pretty solid.

The Bike:

Like the last two triathlons that I competed in, I hit the bike hard in an effort to make up for our slow swim.  I flew through the gears and was at top speed within 30 seconds.  The course was “flat”for Austin Standards, just 300 feet of climbing along the course over 14 miles – the hills that were there to tackle were mostly in the second half of the course.

Biking out of transition

I stayed on the front edge of my seat and hammered away.  I was hoping to average 21-21.5 mph on the bike which would put us in a pretty solid position heading into the run leg.  I was a bit surprised at how strong my legs felt firing away on the pedals after racing on Saturday.

Running and Cycling uses very similar muscle groups – but they are not identical exercises by any means.  I had a feeling that I was going to feel the effects of Saturday’s race when I started the run leg.  But for now, it was time to make our move.

I stayed on the large ring and hammered away at the course.  At each beep of my computer marking 1-mile I would glance down at my total time for that mile and take a drink out of my water bottle in front of me.  As long as I stayed below 3:00 min./mile I was averaging over 20 mph.

My first 7 miles on the bike clocked at:  2:17, 2:48, 2:30, 2:46, 2:57, 2:46, and 2:58.

We made it around a curve to the right and climbed up one of the longer hills to start the second half of the course:  2:48, 2:49, 2:34, 2:34, 2:49, 2:39 were the next 6 miles.

A sharp right off of the frontage road of the toll way and we climbed back into what little wind was on the course for the final mile.  Then back up into the transition area and the dismount line – final mile 2:58.

Bike Time:  38:19 – 21.9 mph.

Transition 2:

I ran the best I could in my bike shoes back into the transition area and found my spot to re-rack the bike.  I flipped the bike around, slid the seat over the bar, took off my glasses and helmet and laid them on top of my transition bag.  Took off my bike shoes, clipped my run belt on with my bib number and made sure the number was in the front, put on my wristband and run watch, then slid into my race shoes.

I hit the water bottle for one last sip of Gatorade and ran out of transition.

Transition time:  1:20.  :10 short of outstanding.

The Run:

I glanced down at my watch and the time was frozen on 4:54 a.m.  My Garmin has been on its last legs for a couple of months, but I had been able to do a hard-reset of it to bring it back to life on a few occasions.  As I ran out of transition I tried to revive it – but it simply had given up the ghost.

I was going to have to run by feel for the next 3 miles.  No idea if we were running fast or slow as it is very difficult to gauge speed accurately coming off of the bike.  No matter.  I decided to run even at the hardest pace I could hold for 3 miles.  Over the last 400 meters or so I would kick to the finish with whatever we had left.

I had remembered that the Triathlon packet said that there would be water stops at the 1 mile and 2 mile portions of the run.  That would help me break up the run leg and just focus on the mile I was running.

I hung to the left of the course and gobbled up the athletes in front of me.  I was seeking out members of my age group with a number between 45 and 49 on their right calf, but I was running into runners from the earlier waves, 35-39 and 40-44 more than anyone in my group.

That was not necessarily a bad thing as I was gaining ground on athletes who had started 3 and 6 minutes ahead of me, but I was not able to find anyone to lock on to and “race”.

I hit the first aid station, grabbed a cup of water and poured it over my head as I went by.  The cold water felt good going down the back of my neck as the temperature was in the mid 80’s and the sun had broken through the overcast clouds.

When I reached the second aid station I heard a “Go Joe!” from my friend Ed as I went by – but I couldn’t do much more than raise an arm in acknowledgement and keep on pushing.  My legs were now starting to fight back in a big way after Saturday’s race.  On a day where I would have typically ran 8 easy miles at a pace almost 2 full minutes slower after a 5K race – I was right back hammering away as hard as I could.

We reached what I estimated would be the final ½ mile and I started to lengthen my stride a bit more on every step.  Perhaps dropping pace another :10 a mile, I felt like I had a little bit left before the kick.

When we reached the final straightaway and I could see the finish line chute in the distance I went into my kick.  2/10 of a mile, perhaps a little bit more – I emptied the tanks.

Final Push

As I hit the line the announcer said, “And from Austin, TX – Joe Marruchella ….”

Run Time:  18:41 – 6:14 pace.

Results:

Total time of 1:12:42 – A new Sprint Distance PR in the Triathlon

We finished 51st overall, 49th among the men, 6th in our Age Group.

Our run time was fastest among the 45-49 year olds, 6th fastest overall in the triathlon.  Not too shabby after racing the day before.

Post-Race:

We did not make it onto the podium on Sunday, finishing about 2 minutes out of the money, but that was o.k. as we know exactly where we need to improve.  We need to swim much more aggressively, practice harder and we are going to have to be willing to “mix it up” a bit in a crowd to shorten the course.

If I am going to compete in the triathlon the same way I do in running races, I am going to have to do so in the same fashion.  At a run only event I line up with the top area runners, I go toe to toe with them and trade licks.  I don’t back down, run for cover or hide out there on the race course.

I just thunder away and do the best that I can mile after mile.

I need to stop thinking about my triathlon “starting” with the bike leg.

I need to swim faster.

I will swim faster.

It was a great day of racing and a great event at Lake Pflugerville.  Post-race Pizza, Ice Cream, Popsicles for the kids (and adults), Shiner Beer, Cold Water, Frozen Towels – all great stuff.

But the best part of the day was when Dawn and Landry arrived to spend the rest of the morning with Dad.  After a little while Landry spied the lake where the swim had taken place and said, “Landry water …. Landry water ….”

Ironic that my 21 month old wanted to go hop in that lake where an hour and a half earlier her Father had gone so grudgingly.  Once again, lessons are everywhere if you just pay attention.

Landry & Daddy heading to the lake.

Thanks Landry for reminding me the value of being fearless and in the fact that 90% of success is simply in showing up.  Dad is going to remember that next month at the Couples Triathlon at Decker Lake – and he is going to bring it.

Any way you slice it – it was a pretty darn good weekend of racing.

Just this week our blog – Joe Still Runs for Dom turned two years old.  Longer than our daughter Landry has been alive.  Longer than Dom’s cancer battle, longer than a lot of things – much longer than Governor Rick Perry’s candidacy for President is sure to last.

Over the last two years we’ve run a lot of races, 37 actually, crossing finish lines from Austin to Boston, Tempe to Charleston, Denver to New York.  Pittsburgh to Wickenburg.  We’ve been fortunate to participate in some large events literally on the world stage and some smaller local events where we were running because it was the “right thing” to do.

To raise awareness and maybe even a little bit of money to help those less fortunate.  We tied our shoes just a little bit tighter in those events and thought about how lucky we were to be there just a little bit more than usual.  Like my good friend Ashley Kumlein told me the night before the Boston Marathon in 2010, I’ve tried to run those events, “Like I would never run again.”

Well our follow-up race to this year’s New York City Marathon will be the 2011 Lights of Love 5K here in Austin on December 2nd.

I will never have participated in a more important event.

Well over a year ago I received a friend request on Daily Mile (similar to a friend request you might receive on Facebook) from a local Austin runner Bea S.  We met each other through the athletes website and started to encourage each other on training runs and races.

Coincidentally my wife Dawn knew Bea through church and we were all very surprised when we connected all of the dots to realize just how small the world can be sometimes.  Bea and her family have been friends of ours ever since.

A few months ago Bea and her husband welcomed their son Caleb to Austin just a short time after we were blessed with our daughter Landry.  Already I was concerned about another man in Landry’s life, but Caleb is pretty darned cute and I figured it would only be a matter of time anyway before I was chasing boys off of our porch.

Caleb

Caleb however was born with some serious health issues.  He was born with a congenital condition – imperforate anus.  He also has kidney reflux and tethered cord.  Long-term serious issues that threaten Caleb’s life and development.

Most parents will tell you that all they hope for is a happy, healthy baby – that it is truly a blessing.  Seeing the things that Caleb and his family have had to go through so early in his life have illustrated to me just how lucky those of us with healthy children truly are.  It is a remarkable gift.

Caleb and his family have been working hard to find help for him and this search led them to Cincinnati where the top rated colorectal surgery team in the world resides.  The Smith family stayed in the Ronald McDonald House where the care and support the family needed took care of all of the daily worries for things such as food, shelter, laundry – all free of charge – which allowed the family to focus solely on Caleb and getting him better so they could return home to Texas.

The Ronald McDonald House has been doing this for years and years – providing countless families the support they need at the time when they need it most.

Caleb’s family wants to give that same experience back to other families with sick children.  As Bea put it:

“It was such a blessing, in your time of greatest need to have a home away from home where they cared for you like family- every family with a sick child should have that. They helped ease the burden, comforted us and encouraged us.”

I don’t ask for help very often on the blog.  I enjoy sharing my passion for running and for life with all of you and whenever someone reaches out to me for training advice, injury help, coaching or a sounding board I am more than willing to give my time, energy or effort freely and without pause.

Today, I’m asking for your help.

I am going to be running as part of “Caleb’s Army” on December 2nd – hoping to help the Smith Family raise money for the Ronald McDonald House – the recipient charity for the Lights of Love 5K.

If you can make it out to the event to race, please do so and help make a difference for families like Caleb’s.

If you can make a small gift and help me reach my fundraising goal of $250 for the charity – thank you and god bless you.  You can click HERE to help or visit:

http://rmhc-austin.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=491203&supId=345360730

Landry will also be racing for her (Boy)friend Caleb on the 2nd with a fundraising goal of her own of $100.  If you would like to visit Landry’s page you can click HERE or visit:

http://rmhc-austin.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=491203&lis=1&kntae491203=BF6F60F8DF3B4AC4A06DB72DD062934A&supId=345360915

If you can find it in your heart to help, I greatly appreciate your efforts.

On December 2nd we’ll be toeing that starting line as part of Caleb’s Army and I plan on leaving it all out there.  From Staten Island to Caleb’s race, I can’t think of a better event to return to racing.

Go Caleb!

Marathoning takes a lot of self-discipline, of that there is no question.

Whether it is making sure that you eat right and take care of your body’s increased and changing needs, making it out the door in otherwise horrible weather conditions or just simply sticking to that plan on your refrigerator door and knocking out workout after workout no matter how much you would like to stay in bed.

The marathon in a way is about stubbornness.  Our bodies are not meant to run 26.2 miles.  That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact – otherwise we would be configured in such a way that we could store enough fuel to cover that distance.

The act of training for the marathon is one of perseverance and coping skills.  You are teaching your body to function differently than intended as well as convincing your mind to carry on when the natural responses are telling it to slow down and conserve its energy sources.  Not giving in and continuing forward puts the “challenge” in the marathon.  It is one of the things I think of first when I meet a new runner and they tell me that they have completed a marathon.

Automatically I realize that we have a shared experience.  They have been to the same edge that I have been to and they didn’t let the race defeat them.  In a word, they are stubborn – just like I am.

What I have come to realize over the course of training for my last two marathons is that it is equally important, perhaps more important, to remain somewhat flexible in your approach to your training program as it is to blindly tick off workout after workout never asking yourself if this is the right thing to do “today”.

There are sure to be workouts that show up on your carefully crafted 18-week marathon training schedule that was put together 2-3 months earlier that simply do not fit the bill for that particular morning.  A tempo workout scheduled 10 weeks in advance may or may not be the best idea coming off of a particularly hard long run the previous Sunday or a day in which you feel a sore throat coming or have a lingering cough. 

Now I would not be completely honest if I said that there were never days when I simply “cowboy up” and run the scheduled workout as planned no matter how I am feeling.  Yes, there are times when I know that the hill repeat session I have on tap for that morning is going to be a tough workout, but I know I can get through it – and because it fell on a day when I was not feeling 100% – it may just do me even more good in my training than it otherwise would have.

That’s the part where stubbornness can be an asset.

But there are other times when you simply need to exercise some caution, move some things around and decide that moving that Tempo workout up in the schedule so you can run it on your home course before a work trip makes sense.  Or shifting hill repeats up two days so that you can recover in time for that 10K that you decided to race as a tune-up on Saturday.

These are the choices that help you get the most out of your training cycle – and just because Hal Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger or Jack Daniels says,“11 miles with 5 at goal pace on Wednesday morning”, that does not mean that you can’t take some creative license with your training plan and make some adjustments.  It is YOUR race afterall.  Take ownership in the preparation for that race so that when you toe the line at the start of that marathon, you know in your heart that you did all that you could to prepare the best that you could for that race on that day.

Today I begin my taper for New York and I thought it was a good opportunity to look back at my original training plan that I created back in June and compared it to the actual mileage, workouts and races I completed on my way to the starting line in New York.  For the most part I stuck to my schedule, hit my workouts when I had them outlined and stayed the course.  But there were a few changes that I made mid-stream so to speak that I think made a good training cycle a great one.

1.  I raced more.

I added an open water swim/run the week before my first triathlon to gain some open water, swim in a crowd experience.  It was invaluable even though it required me to reduce my morning run from 8.3 miles that day to 6.2 miles and race 1.9 miles that night.

The week of my triathlon I decided to skip my Thursday run and instead bike and swim.  It reduced my run mileage by 8 miles that week, but the 15 mile bike and 2,250 meter swim made me more confident for race day that weekend.

I added a Labor Day 10K running on a Triathlon Relay Team at this year’s Austin Triathlon.  It increased my run days that week from 5 to 6, so I decided to run long on Friday morning and shorter on Saturday so I could take Sunday off to get ready for the race.  My mileage stayed the same, but I changed the order of the two workouts to make sure I was ready to give a quality workout on a Monday – a typical rest day for me.

I decided to race the IBM Uptown Classic one week before the Denver Half-Marathon, meaning I would have three straight race weekends in the middle of marathon training instead of 2 in three weeks as I had originally planned.  It resulted in a new 10K PR at IBM and a great confidence boost leading up to New York.  It was in fact the best technical race I have ever run.

2.  I Added Mileage.

Because I was going to be racing three straight weekends in late September – early October, I decided to add 16 mile long runs on Tuesday morning after the SI Labs Marathon Relay and the IBM Uptown Classic.  Both races were 6.2 mile events held on a Sunday where I would have normally had 18 mile and 20 mile long runs scheduled.

By adding two 16 milers instead of a typical 8.3 mile Tuesday workout – I was able to keep my mileage up and not “peak” too early – protecting my actual taper period where a reduction in mileage will allow my legs to snap back and have a lot of bounce for race day in New York.

I also “tacked one on” here and there throughout the course of my marathon training cycle making a scheduled 16 miler in fact 17 miles or a mid-week medium long run 12 miles instead of 11.  I did this judiciously, making sure they were not after a particularly hard workout the previous day, but I did this fairly often, increasing my daily mileage totals.

3.  I skipped a workout when needed.

A lot of experts will tell you that if you are able to run 90% of your scheduled workouts you are going to be just fine for race day.  That a nagging injury, soreness or illness will invariably rear their head at some point during your training cycle and that you are better off just skipping that workout than trying to run through it.  Even worse is the idea that you “owe” that workout to the training cycle and you should go out and run it on an off-day or combining it with another “easy” workout.

Missed training days are simply missed days.  It is smarter and better for you to just take the extra rest day and move on with your schedule.

Through Sunday I had 89 runs or races scheduled and I was able to make 88 of them.

On Thursday, July 14th I had been fighting a cold and had a slight fever.  By missing my workout I would have back to back days off combining Thursday with my Friday rest day.  Skipping the workout and getting some extra sleep was the exact right call.  I rebounded quicker than I would have otherwise and ran my scheduled 8 miler on Saturday and my 17 miler on Sunday.

In the grand scheme of things those 8.3 miles I missed on the 14th of July amount to a single speck of sand on a beach.  I am no worse for wear and in fact I may have jeopardized even more workouts by trying to push through the onset of illness.

So when all is said and done we will have run 96 out of 97 workouts if things go according to plan over these last two weeks amounting to 948.35 miles.  Compared to our original training schedule – that is an increase of 8.11%.

Actual NYC Mileage compared to scheduled

But even now I am still listening to my body and making adjustments.  Normally on Tuesdays I would run an 8.3 mile recovery run after yesterday’s final 20 miler.  But given the fact I am only tapering for two weeks instead of a traditional 3, I am going to reduce each run this week by 2 full miles, making tomorrow morning’s 8.3 mile easy run an even easier 6.2 mile loop.

I am going to run by feel, leave my watch on the counter in the kitchen and in fact, I may not wear my GPS watch again until my Saturday shake-out run prior to the Marathon on Sunday.  All the work is done.  Now it’s time to get my body and mind right and prepare to be one stubborn son of a gun on November 6th.  I’m not going to cede a single inch on race day – just strap myself in and fight for every second.

I only have 10,800 of them after I cross the starting mat in New York City to make my goal time.  I’m going to need every one of them.

Saturday morning, the Team Jaylie.org 5K will mark our 13th and final race of summer.

Ten 5K’s, one 1-mile race, one 3K and our first sprint triathlon have all gone into the books since May 11th.  That’s a lot of racing in 94 days, essentially one every 7 or 8 days.  But that formula seems to be working for us as we spend our summers running shorter and faster events working to improve our top-end speed and then focusing on the longer endurance events like the half-marathon and marathon in the cooler Fall, Winter and Spring.

Closing 1/10 mile Sunstroke Summer Stampede Race 11

For the second year in a row we will be heading into September a faster runner than we were the previous year, something that as I enter the final year racing in the 40-44 year old age group, I was not so sure I would be able to pull off when we celebrated our 43rd birthday a little over one year ago.

I know that there is going to come a time, very soon actually, when I am no longer able to run as fast as I used to.  One benefit of taking up running later in life when I was already 38 years old is that I don’t have to compare myself to the days when I was an 18-year-old high school track athlete, or a 22 year-old college runner.

I don’t have memories of running a 4:30 mile or a sub 17:00 minute 5K.  My “glory days”as a runner are right now, pretty remarkable at 44.

5K Pace .... pain.

But I’m smart enough to know that the days of running fast are fleeting.  I am going to have to find other ways to stay motivated, to keep pushing, to enjoy myself and enjoy racing even when I know that “I used to be faster”.

Thursday morning I was out battling through my weekly hill repeat workout.  I was increasing the repetitions this week to 8X up to the top of the .35 mile long hill, climbing more than 60 feet at 5K race effort to the top, then jogging slowly back down to recover.  Repeat after repeat after repeat after repeat.

It was over 80 degrees and the humidity was 84%.  Soaked head to toe I could feel my feet squishing in my race flats as I powered up the hill for the sixth time.  On my way back down I saw a neighbor walking her dog.  I spend more than 45 minutes every Thursday running up and down the same hill which gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of neighbors and their dogs out for their morning walk.

This little guy was new to the routine however.  Just a puppy, not more than three months old he was tackling the same hill I was at 6:15 a.m. with a vengeance.  Tail wagging, tongue hanging out, straining at his leash – trying to make his way to the top of the long hill just as quickly as he could.

I smiled.

That is the way to attack a hill I thought.  I jogged to the bottom, turned to the right and came up on the manhole cover to mark the start of my climb and punched my watch.  Sweat flying, arms pumping, shorts sticking to my legs and feet squishing moisture out of my Brooks ST5’s with every stride.

I punched my watch, noted my split and turned back down the hill for a final repeat.  Number 8 on the morning.  One more than last week, one less than next week as we march toward 10 repeats and stay right there all the way to NYC.

I thought of Dom on the way up as the hill seemed to get steeper and steeper.  What was not necessarily “easy” just 30 minutes earlier had become much more difficult on the final repeat of the day.  I though about what things were like for Dom one year ago as he was now about to go into Hospice care.  His 15 month battle with cancer was just about to come to a close.  He would pass away on August 15th.

No need to feel sorry for myself or lament the fact that the wind was blowing straight downhill at me.  Nothing like adding a 12 mph headwind onto your 8th hill repeat of the morning.

I smiled for the second time when I reached the top and punched my watch.

They say it is the things that you do when nobody is watching you that reveal your character.

It is days like Thursday that remind me just how true that statement can be.

That last one was for you Dom.  I’ll be thinking about you on Saturday morning when we toe the line at our final race of the summer.  I’m a little beat up this week from three tough workouts, so I’m not exactly sure what the watch is going to say on Saturday.

Just know that whatever we have on Saturday is exactly how much we’re going to leave out there on the course.

Thanks for all the motivation and for the great examples to follow this past year.  We miss you more today than ever.

As I prepared for the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009, my second ever – it was the first time that I had really trained seriously to achieve a time goal.  I was looking to improve my first marathon time of 3:58:08 down to 3:19:59 and qualify for Boston.

Sometimes it is good to not know what you don’t know.

When I look at those two times right now after running and training somewhat seriously for the last 3 or 4 years I think to myself, “what in the world was I thinking?”.  Talk about a huge jump all at once.  I would need to drop my pace per mile from 9:05 down to 7:37 to qualify for Boston.

I put together a solid training plan, hit all of my workouts, ran mile after mile at marathon pace and on race day ran a 3:17:43 – 7:31 min./mile pace.

Pretty remarkable when I look back on it.

When I am out on a training run and the band Flock of Seagulls kicks off “I Ran” – I immediately think about training for Pittsburgh that year.  I was running to a lot of 80’s music during that training cycle, and that song from Flock became my running partner. 

Up and down hills, mile after mile, rainy runs, cold mornings, long-distance or shorter recovery days, it seems like “I Ran” was always playing through my iPod.

When I was training for the Boston Marathon I had started to run listening to a playlist that was more 90’s centric and got hooked on “Basket Case” from Green Day. 

Last year preparing for Austin it was Social Distortion’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” that became my anthem for that training cycle.  The song that would come on and I would automatically pick things up and start to push harder. 

I kept it in my playlist for every race in the Austin Distance Challenge.  The IBM Uptown Classic 10K, the Run for the Water 10-Miler, the Decker Challenge Half-Marathon, the 3M Half-Marathon and the Austin Marathon – all fueled by Social D.  Every race a PR.

I have never sought out a song to become “the song” for my training cycle, for whatever reason the songs that I have heard many times before just strike a certain chord for me and I want to listen to the more and more.  I can’t wait for them to come on during my training runs and I end up running my best miles as they play over and over.

This week as I move further and further from our first triathlon at Jack’s on July 31st and closer to the NYC Marathon in November it happened to me again. 

During yesterday’s tempo run, 8.3 miles at 6:54 pace, around mile 7 a song came on my iPod and immediately my legs began to increase their turnover and I was moving faster and faster.  My final mile 6:33 pace.

This morning I had a 10 mile Mid-Week Pace run on the schedule, a tough workout immediately following Tuesday’s tempo run.  I was hoping to lock in to 7:15 pace, which given the 82 degree temperature, equates to roughly a 7:00 min./mile flat marathon pace run.

The goal of this workout is to keep the pace as even as possible, averaging between 7:10 and 7:15 mile after mile, learning how to push ever so slightly harder as your legs grow tired.  It is like letting water out of a faucet as the pressure decreases.  You want to gradually turn that faucet to keep the water flow smooth and steady, even though you know you are using more and more force.

The first warm-up mile that travels up to the top of the neighborhood is always a bit slow as we get things started, then I try to lock in on pace and stay right there.  The route has some hills, 250 feet or so of climbing to navigate, so this is also great practice for race day as you may slow a bit on an uphill 1/2 mile, but then need to push a bit on the way back down to get back on pace.

Today’s splits were:

7:28, 7:11, 7:22, 7:09, 7:12, 7:07, 7:13, 7:08, 7:06, 7:06

Very, very solid.  But as I took the last sip of water out of my bottle at mile 8, miscalculating how much I should have brought with me on such a warm morning I knew the last two miles were going to be a test.  I started to think about running just 4 more 1/2 mile splits, each of them in 3:33.

That would give me a pair of closing 7:06’s – I wondered just how close I could get to holding that perfect pace.

As I hit the park along Brushy Creek Trail the song returned from yesterday’s tempo run, once again it had found me.

The guitar riff rang out along with the crash of the drummer’s splash cymbal.

The Old 97’s were back.

So were my legs.

As Timebomb rang out I was able to lock in and fight off the fatigue, the heat and thirst.

3:34, 3:32, 3:35, 3:31.

7:06, 7:06.

There will be a mile in NYC when the marathon course takes it’s first swipe at me.

It isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

The race doesn’t discriminate, it gets everyone at some point.  Mile 16?  Mile 18?  22?  24?  That is why the marathoner keeps returning to the same challenge time and time again.

What will it be like this time?  Will I be ready for it?  Will I be able to beat it back down and keep going or will it beat me?

When I am setting up my playlist for NYC the 42nd song in the deck will ring out somewhere around mile 21 with Central Park in site.  My tired legs will feel a jolt of electricity at the sound of the opening riff and we’ll be back, ready to fight it out for the final 5 miles.

Timebomb.  Pretty fitting come to think of it.

November 6.  Boom goes the dynamite.

Click below for the Old’ 97’s Timebomb.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAdbzNz6W4M

 

The marathon is a funny race.

Not ha-ha funny, because let’s face it, personally I don’t crack a whole lot of smiles while I am out there running 26 miles and 385 yards.  But it is a race that is in rare company when it comes to the types of challenges you face and how you need to prepare your body to cope with them.

In a 5K it is all about taking your body to that red-line level just below lactate threshold pace and holding it there for 3.1 miles.

In the 10K it is about locking into a pace that is comfortably uncomfortable that you can hold for in my case just under 40 minutes.  Never really red-lining it until the closing kick, but racing at only :10-:15 seconds per mile slower than that all-out 5K effort.  It takes a lot of discipline to lock in and stay right there mile after mile.

The half-marathon, another race where pacing is king.  Drop another :20-:25 seconds per mile from that 10K effort and you are locked in racing mile after mile for 13.1, hanging on over the last three miles as every part of your body is telling you to slow down except your brain and your heart.

But the marathon is a different animal all together.  The race is simply too long to fake it.  You can’t simply hang on and gut it out if you start to fast or if you have not put in the training time and preparation.  The race taxes you physically of course, but also mentally.  Three hours is a long time to stay 100% focused stride after stride, mile after mile.

It is the marathon training calendar that prepares you for race day.  Every bit of it.  Hard days, easy days, speed work, long runs and for me Hill Repeats.

The methodical nature of training for 18 weeks, peaking for one single morning and a run of 26.2 miles is the beauty of being a marathoner.  It’s not a race where you can just throw out your race shoes and perform.   You have to work hard at it.

You have to love it a lot, but you also have to hate it a little.

I know that for me, I think about the 2010 Boston Marathon at some point on every single training run.  It might be just a fleeting thought that washes over me while I crest a hill or it could last as long as a mile on my run as I replay a section of the course in my mind and how I need to run it differently next spring.

Running Boston was a tremendous accomplishment.

Racing Boston is what I am now interested in doing.

The race standing between me today and the starting line in Hopkinton, MA in April of next year is New York City.  I am looking to show up in New York as the most well-rounded and prepared marathoner I have ever been.  Even better than I was in February at the start of the Austin Marathon.

14 weeks remain until race day and with our first triathlon now in our rear view mirror it was back to the hill this morning, and time for our weekly hill repeat workout.

The hill is 3/10 of a mile from bottom to top, climbing 60 feet in elevation.

The workout starts with a 3-mile warm-up at a relaxed pace, just enough to get the muscles loose and the blood flowing properly.  I run the repeats on Thursdays after an up-tempo workout on Tuesday and a medium-long run on Wednesdays, yesterday’s run being 10 miles.

Running hill repeats on Tuesday would be easier after Monday’s day off, but that is not the point.  The point is to run this workout on somewhat tired legs and hold consistent pace repeat after repeat.  As the workout continues on, much like the marathon, your legs get heavier and heavier. 

Holding pace repeat after repeat is difficult, just as holding race pace over the final 10 kilometers of the marathon gets harder and harder.

And harder.

Today’s workout called for 7 trips up and down the hill.  A sprint to the top at 5K effort, followed by a recovery jog down to the bottom.  A quick turn and back to the top again at 5K effort without a break, repeated 7 times.

It had been awhile since I ran this workout, so I decided to start with 7 repetitions.  Next week will be 8, with 9 the following week and 10 the week after that.  We will then keep the repeats at 10 all the way through to the taper for NYC.  All in all the repeats will add close to 5,000 feet of climbing to our training – all at 5K effort.

The equivalent of racing at top speed to the top of a 500 story skyscraper.

It’s not a lot of fun, but there is nothing like it to build strength and speed.

I made my way through the warm-up with the temperature already at 80 degrees at 5:30 a.m.  In the winter preparing for Austin I would arrive at the bottom of the hill for my first repeat and not a drop of sweat would be on my brow.  Today I was soaked down to my socks in sweat, my shorts already sticking to my legs.

I made the turn and like old times fell right into the routine:

Repeat 1:  1:48

Repeat 2:  1:43

Repeat 3:  1:46

Repeat 4:  1:47

Repeat 5:  1:47

Repeat 6:  1:46

Repeat 7:  1:45

Average time 1:46 which equates to 6:13 min./mile pace.

With the exception of the second repeat which was my fastest of the morning, the consistency was very solid.  My average repeat time of 1:46 was just :03 seconds slower than our final session in the winter before the Austin Marathon.  All indicators this summer are showing that we are faster than we were at this point one year ago as a 43-year-old.

A good omen as we prepare to chase another Marathon PR in New York City on November 6th.

We’re healthy.  We’re happy.  We’re focused.

Now it’s just a matter of putting in the work and building from workout to workout getting ready to light that fuse in November.

Marathon training is filled with workouts.  Some will be great, some will be average and some will not go the way I want them to.  The important thing is to take them one at a time and do my very best each and every morning.  If I can do that and we catch a little bit of a break this time with the weather on race day, look out.

We are going to be one dangerous runner standing among 45,000 other marathoners on Staten Island.

Boom goes the dynamite Nov. 6th.

Sunday was a big day.

Not only was it my 44th birthday and first birthday as a Dad, but it was the day when this marathoner would become a triathlete.

Jack’s Generic Triathlon or JGT as the folks at Jack & Adams refer to it, was to kick off in New Braunfels, TX at 8:00 a.m. sharp.  At 8:18 I would wade into the water for the Men’s 40-44 year old age group wave along with 63 other athletes.  The event called for a 500 Meter Swim, 13.8 mile bike and 3.1 mile run.

All distances I have covered time and time again during training, but never back to back to back.  I was ready.  I was confident.

I was also scared sh#%less standing in that water before the horn sounded.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit.  Afterall, this is our first triathlon race report.  I’m better than that.  You deserve all the details.

Pre-Race:

I had an hour long drive more or less to the race site at the Texas Ski Ranch and I wanted to get there shortly after they opened the gates so I could get a good transition spot for my bike.  I was hoping to be near the bike out, bike in area so I would not have to run very far in my bike shoes.  This meant a 4:10 a.m. alarm clock to pack up my cooler and make my way down to New Braunfels arriving at 5:45 a.m. when the parking lot opened.

I had packed my gear the day before, everything was looking good, until I went to put my bike in the truck.

Flat back tire.

Really?  Really.  Not the omen I was looking for.

I quickly phoned my friend and cycling guru Ed and asked if I could swing by and try to get to the bottom of why the tire wouldn’t hold air when I pumped it.  I would be racing on Ed’s Zipp carbon fiber wheels on Sunday – I didn’t want anyone touching them but him.  We discovered that the stem on the back tire was bad and replaced the tube.  No muss, no fuss we were back in action.

Ed gave me a few last minute tips and I was ready for the big day.

After a pretty restless night of sleep I woke to the sound of my alarm, got into my TRI gear, grabbed my bagel, power bar, bike bottle that I had filled with Gatorade and frozen the previous night and a few last minute items.  I left the neighborhood and made my way down to the ski ranch.  Very little traffic, no issues, arrived on-site about 5 minutes early.  Perfect.

Setting Up:

I got body marked with my Race Number 89 on both arms and my age on my left calf “44”.  I had only been awake about 2 hours and already I was a year older.  I was able to score a great spot, right on the end of the row for my bike very close to the exit/entrance to the bike course.  I got my gear laid out according to plan and met some of the friendliest athletes I had ever met at an event before.

An entirely different vibe than a typical large running event, where there is a lot of tension and a lot of quiet runners.  This was much more festive.  Much more family-like if that makes sense.  Everyone was there to lend a hand, give some advice and even compliment me on my transition area for being a first-timer.

Transition Area - All Set

After an hour or so it was time to get in line for the final porta-poty break and make it down to the water for the national anthem.  After the announcements were made and the Star Spangled Banner was played live on Acoustic Guitar from the stage it was time for the Open Division to kick things off at 8:00 a.m. sharp.

18 minutes to go time.

The Swim:

O.K., here’s the part where I’m starting to feel scared to death.  I know you’ve been looking forward to this.

Starting line of the Boston Marathon?  Piece of cake.

First time chasing 2:59:59 at this February’s Austin Marathon?  Not a problem.

But staring out at the water for those 500 Meters around the island and back to shore on the small lake.  Pretty scary.

It was not the distance at all that I was worried about.  I had swam 2,250 meters continuously out on the Quarry Lake on several occasions without stopping.  It was the element of swimming in a crowd, throwing elbows and having other athletes literally swim over you on the way to the first buoy.  It is every man for himself out there and it really lends a lot of stress to the environment.

To top things off the TX Ski Ranch lake is very shallow.   Only 9-10 feet at its deepest.  This means that the swimming churns up the silt bottom of the lake.  The water is essentially black.  you cannot see a single foot in front of your eyes under water.  Every foot, arm or elbow that strikes you is a complete surprise.  It is impossible to see anything coming.  You are swimming entirely by feel.

Rookie in the water

I decided I would start in the middle of the pack and try to stay right there.  As the horn sounded we were on our way and the chaos of the open water swim began.  I fell into a pretty solid rhythm for about 30-40 meters when I could not reach out fully without hitting a swimmer in front of me.

I tried to swim slightly right or left, but there was traffic everywhere.  No clean water to be found.  I did the best I could to stay calm, let the swimmers go in front of me and tried again.  There was a swimmer on my right that kept swimming into me angling for the buoy.  We would hit arms and shoulders a half-dozen times before we reached the 200 meter mark.

I did a good job keeping my composure, never needed to break stroke and my sighting was solid, but I couldn’t really “swim” as hard as I was hoping to.  I knew I was going slower than I had hoped.

We made the turn around the island and things got a bit more open.  That signaled to me I had simply fallen back from the pack, but I stuck with it and kept on pulling.  With about 100 meters to go I had caught up to a group of swimmers and things got congested again.  I navigated to the buoys and finally saw the beach ahead of me with volunteers helping the athletes out of the water.  I got to my feet and started to pull off my goggles and swim cap.

Holy Moly

I had no idea what my time was, I only knew that it was time to get up to transition and get on that bike.  Ed was there at the water exit and told me to get it in gear.  It was just the jolt I needed to get moving and I started to run barefoot up into the bike area.  I saw Dawn and Landry on my left as I got underway and Dawn was able to snap a quick photo.

11:53 Swim Time. 374th out of 626 Athletes.
It is probably a good thing that I swam without my watch as I had no idea how fast my swim was.  Or how slow I guess I should say.  I was hoping to get out of the water in 11 minutes or less.  I was out in 11:53.  I was in 374th place out of the water.  Man did I have some work to do.
 
Tranistion 1:
 
I found my bike with no trouble at all.  I got on my socks and shoes.  Strapped my Garmin on my wrist.  Turned on my bike computer, put on my glasses and helmet and tucked my gels into my shorts. 
 
I pulled the bike down and ran out onto the bike course.  All in 1 minute and 52 seconds.  I was hoping to be out in 2 minutes or less.  Just about spot on perfect.
 
The Bike:
 
I made it to the mount line, threw my leg over the bike, clipped in and started hammering away.  The course was straight uphill out of the ski ranch and I could see a ton of cyclists up ahead of me.  It was time to make up some time on the swimmers.

Bike Mount

 
I flew through the gears and powered to the top, flying by numerous athletes on the way up.  I was looking at their calves as I passed them, searching for my competitors from the 40-44 age group.  The first three miles flew by on the bike as I was recovered now from the swim and starting to churn those leg muscles as hard as I could go.
 
It seemed like I was gobbling up the course in big chunks, riding in the passing lane mile after mile chipping away at the leaders. 
 
A 3:00 minute mile on the bike is equivilant to riding 20 miles per hour.  My opening 7 miles were at 2:49, 2:32, 2:34, 2:27, 2:49, 2:28, 2:23 before we hit the second major hill on the course.  It would be uphill for the next several miles and my splits were:  3:33, 3:22, 3:19, 3:35, 3:12 until we reached the final pinacle of the course for a hard right turn back downhill to the ski ranch.
 
I hammered away at the pedals and covered the final mile in 1:57, well over 30 miles per hour hitting a new top speed for me of 36.9 at one point.
I hit the dismount line and felt like I had put together a very solid bike.
 
My time was 39:17 – the 36th fastest time of all the competitors, averaging 21.1 mph.
 
Transition 2:
 
I ran back into the transition area, racked my bike and Ed told me that I was in about 12th place in my age group.  I had made up a lot of time from the swim, but the run course was not going to be long enough for me to catch the really top age-groupers.  I switched into my run shoes, got a quick sip of gatorade, snapped on my bib number belt and hit the course. 
 
Transition time of 1:08.  Very solid.
 
The Run:
 
Finally, the run.  I felt strong heading out, I just needed to get my legs back under me and lengthen out my stride.  After a short run through a field at the Ski Ranch, we made it onto the road of the run course.  An out and back with a turnaround at the top of a small hill.  Straight shot, only one turn and plenty runners up ahead to reel in.
 
I was hoping to run 3:15 half miles which would put me right at 6:30 pace.  Not my typical 5K pace, which is closer to 6:10, but I don’t usually warm up with a 500 Meter Swim and 13.8 mile bike ride before a 5K.  The sun was high in the sky as it was now close to 9:30 in the morning, the temperature was pushing 90 degrees and I was feeling it.  I just focused on the runners ahead of me and picked them off one by one.
 
My first four half-mile splits were:  3:02, 3:11, 3:13, 3:19.  I was just about where I wanted to be with one mile to go.
 
I hit the final water station and poured the cup over my head to cool me off.  There was one more small hill to get up and over and then the race was all but over.  Mile 2.5 came in at 3:16.  Time to go. 
 
I hit the last turn and sped around the lake.  I could feel a runner on my left shoulder, no clue at all what age group he was in, but it was time to go into my kick anyway.  Might as well do it now I thought.

Finally, something I know how to do

 
His footsteps fell away and I closed with a final 1/2 mile in 3:08.
 
My total run time was 19:11.  The fastest overall run time in the 40-44 age group and the 6th fastest time of any competitor. 
 
The Finish:
 
After making my way through the chute I found Ed, Tiffany, Dawn and Landry.  The post-race party of hamburgers, New Belgium beer and various other drinks and snacks was getting underway.  One of the most festive post-race events I have ever been a part of.
 
They posted results after a half-hour or so and  I learned my fate.
 
Total Time of:  1:13:23
8th place Men 40-44
38th place overall
 
I left the water in 374th place and caught all but 37 competitors.
 
I would like to say that I was disappointed in my swim time and that I should have done better, but honestly, the number I had in my mind before the race started was 1:15:00.
 
If I could finish my first TRI in 1:15 or better, I was going to call that a win.  A big win.
 
Having better more experienced triathletes beat me on Sunday was supposed to happen.  There would have been something seriously wrong if I found myself on the podium (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in my first event in my age group.
 
I learned quite a few lessons on Sunday.  Lessons that are going to pay huge dividends when I show up for my next event of this kind.  The first is that I simply need to keep swimming.  A lot.   I have a lot of room for improvement, and just like running, it is going to take hard work and dedication to get there.  There are no short cuts or magic beans from a bean stalk that are going to help me.
 
I have to do it.  Nobody else.
 
I also learned that we’re pretty dangerous when it comes down to the bike and the run.  If we continue to work on the bike and continue to focus on our speed work and hill training, the sky is the limit for us.
 
Lastly, I learned that being a 44 year-old new Dad is a pretty amazing gig.
 
I’ve got a beautiful, loving, understanding and amazing wife who follows me through all this craziness through thick and thin.  Never asking me why I choose to do these somewhat crazy things.  I think she knows why I do it better than I do. 
 
I’ve also got the absolute coolest 11 month old little girl who thinks I’m pretty amazing whether I am racing or I’m making funny faces at her at the dinner table.
 
No matter what, fast or slow, with those two ladies, it’s impossible for me to lose.
 
Oh yeah, and I learned that I’m a triathlete today.
 
Pretty darn good birthday if you ask me.

Thursday of race week is always one of my favorite training days.

The nerves aren’t too bad yet, and you can still get out there and get in a quality workout without worrying too much about leaving your “race legs” out on the training course.

For Sunday’s Triathlon, I will be resting entirely on Friday and just running a very short 2-mile shakeout run on Saturday morning.  Just enough to remind the leg muscles that we have some work to do this weekend, but not too long or too intense to rob us of any race-day mojo.

With the decreased activity on Friday and Saturday my mind will instead start going into overdrive.

Always a bad thing.

I will be pouring over the course maps for the swim, bike and run.  Planning my transition layout for my Towels, helmet, glasses, GPS watch, socks, bike shoes, race number belt, racing flats and making sure everything in our transition bag that we could possibly need has been packed.

I will be busy worrying about all kinds of things – most of which are outside of my control such as the weather, the chance of a flat tire, where my rack space will be in the transition area, how far I will have to run to get on and off of my bike, and of course, the swim.

Will I get clean water or will I have to fight my way through the crowd to the first buoy.  Will my sighting be sound or will I end up off course, swimming further than needed and losing precious time.

Even the 3.1 mile run portion of the event will provide me with some things to fixate on, namely what my pace strategy should be.  I have run 17 5K’s in the last 14 months.  I am more than familiar with that race and distance.

But I have never run one immediately coming off of the bike following a 500 Meter Swim.

My usual strategy of dropping an opening mile of 5:50-5:55, a middle mile between 6:10 and 6:20, with a 6:05-6:10 finish is not going to be possible on Sunday.

The smart move will be to lock in around 6:35-6:45 pace on the opening mile and then gradually ramp things up from there and close strong.  I may end up leaving some time on the course that way, but I would guard against a major meltdown over the final mile if I miscalculate and burn too much energy over the course of the first two events.

I have had a lot of success racing “smart” in the past, but have run my best times when I have thrown caution to the wind a bit and simply held on for dear life over the closing miles.  That seems to play to my strength as a runner – not falling off as much as some of my competitors when things get the toughest.

A hot day, sun beating down on the athletes after a 500 Meter Swim and 13.8 mile bike ride over the Texas rolling hillside.  Isn’t that exactly when I should put the hammer down and chase down my competitors?  Set a pace that they do not even think about trying to match?  Lay down sub 7:00 minute mile after mile and push hard through the finish?

Yep.  That’s the smart play after all.

I’m sure I will change my mind at least a dozen times between now and race morning – only truly knowing what I am going to do and what I am capable of when I get off of that bike and pull on my trusty Brooks ST4 race flats.

The same shoes that carried me to my half-marathon and marathon PR’s just a few months ago.

I hope there is at least one more great race left in those shoes.

But today I was able to head out onto the hills of Parmer Lane just as the sun was coming up for my final bike ride before race day.

Even after running back to back 8+ milers on Tuesday and Wednesday with a couple of swims thrown in as well I had a tremendous bike this morning.

15.02 miles in 40 minutes and 20 seconds.

I averaged over 22 mph for the ride while climbing more than 400 feet in elevation changes.

I have never, ever been faster on the bike.

With that training is complete for our first Triathlon.  Much like the marathoner who after their final training run before race day has to simply resign themselves to the fact that there is nothing left to do but race, that is where I am today.

I’ve done the work, prepared the best that I know how, hell – I even had to learn how to swim for this event.  I’m not sure too many of my competitors in the Male 40-44 year old age-group will be able to boast that claim on race morning.

Expectations?  I have a time goal that I am going to keep to myself as I’m not sure exactly how realistic it is given the litany of things that I do not know about this sport.  But I have a number that will make me smile, and another one that will make me frown just a bit – determined to work harder and get faster.

In the end I am going to be spending my 44th birthday with Dawn and Landry, compete with some great athletes and see where we stack up.  It’s going to be a big day on Sunday on a lot of different fronts.  Be sure to stop back after the weekend.  I have a feeling this next race report is one you won’t want to miss.

Happy trails!

Like most runners and endurance athletes I keep a training log.

It is a way for me to record my workouts, keep track of my mileage, my improvements and of course my races.

I record the temperature during my workout, what the humidity was like, what my pre-run or pre-race nutrition was like and record the mileage on the pair of shoes I was in – always making sure not to run more than 300 miles in any pair to help avoid injury.

I will revisit workouts several months later, especially when I am training for an “A” race or marathon to gauge where I am at that given moment to a similar time in the past when I was preparing for an event.

Sometimes there are several sentences or even paragraphs to read.  Other times only my mile splits are recorded and whether or not I felt as if my training was going well or if I was too heavy on mileage at that particular time or perhaps needed more hill or speed work.  I have found reading back through my log very enlightening and sometimes pretty humorous.

With our first Triathlon now less than a week away, I decided to look back to my entry from April 11, 2011.  The first time I attempted to swim.

The workout lasted just .12 miles.  My comments were direct and to the point:

“I sucked at this.”

There really was nothing else to add.  I could not swim a single length of the pool.  Had no idea how to breathe, what a catch and pull was, let alone how to do it properly and I seriously doubted I would ever be able to swim the 500 Meters that would be required of me to complete the swim portion of Jack’s Generic Triathlon.

Three Months and two weeks later and I have logged 40.74 miles over 53 swim workouts.

I have swam 37 hours, 14 minutes and 4 seconds – with my longest continuous swim without stopping being 1.4 miles out at Quarry Lake.

Over the same period of time I have ridden 276.87 miles on my Triathlon Bike climbing over 6,096 feet.

I completed 80 runs and races totaling 562.03 miles, climbing up and over 14,916 feet of hills, running for 70 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds.

We’re ready.

As ready as I can be at this point with just 6 more days before sliding into the water at the Texas Ski Ranch in New Braunfels, TX with the rest of the Male 40-44 year old competitors to take on the 500 Meter Swim, 13.8 Mile Bike, 3.1 mile run course.

On Saturday I completed my final Bike/Run Brick Workout where I would speed away from the house for a 15 mile ride, pull back into the garage, take off my helmet and glasses, switch into my running shoes and run out immediately for a 5-mile run.

15 Mile Ride:  42:20 at 21.3 MPH

5 mile Run:  32:59 at 6:35 min/mile pace

When I look back on my run at the Pure Austin Splash & Dash from Tuesday evening, I think the stomach bug that I was fighting through took more out of me than I had realized.  I was able to run 5 miles :20 seconds/mile faster on Saturday coming off a tough bike ride through the wind and up and over 496 feet of hills on Parmer Lane.

I feel like my bike and run are right where I want them to be for Jack’s on my birthday.  My first race as a 44-year-old.

The swim remains the great unknown at this point.  I will continue to work in the pool this week, swimming Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to further refine my form and especially completing my stroke a full 100% through the water.  This added power will help me glide a longer distance after every stroke, and hopefully push me toward a faster swim time to start the race.

A lot of things can go wrong at a triathlon.  A poor transition, a flat tire, a bump, a fall, equipment problems, nutrition issues – the list is truly too long to cite.  But the one thing that I will take a moment to remember before the horn is that this is supposed to be fun.

That is why I am doing this.  I’m not fighting it out for a spot on the podium in my first triathlon.   That type of expectation is not only ridiculous, it is pointless and harmful.

When I ran my first 5K back in 2006 in Malvern, PA I ran a time of 22:07.  Not a bad maiden voyage actually come to think of it.  The funny thing about that race is that I had no idea when I finished whether my time was good or bad.  I just wanted to experience a running race for the first time before I toed the line at the Philadelphia Marathon a few months later in November.

I wanted to know how it all worked, where to pin on my bib, how to put on a timing chip, what it felt like to race in a crowd.  What crossing a finish line would feel like.

I remember every part of that race six years later.  The young boy who I chatted with before the start.  Racing down the hill to start the race, the long climb up to the finish and having cold beers with Dawn, Ralph and Michele post-race.

That 22:07 in and of itself turned out to be pretty meaningless.  I doubt very few athletes looked at that race and saw the 39-year-old runner who posted that time standing in the starting Coral at the Boston Marathon less than 3 years later.  A runner who would turn into a six-time marathoner with a PR of 3:15:01 and owner of a 1:23:55 half-marathon.

That single 5K race took me across finish lines from Austin to Boston and will this November drop me at the starting line of the NYC Marathon.

Pretty incredible.

No matter what happens on Sunday it is just a step.  The first step.  There will be more.

Where will it end?  Impossible to know.  Will I get bitten by the bug and transition full-time to the triathlon after this spring’s Boston Marathon?

Possibly?

Will I continue to focus on short distance triathlons, or will I find myself at the start of a half-ironman (1.2 Mile Swim, 56 Mile Bike, 13.1 mile Run) or even an Ironman (2.4 Mile Swim, 112 Mile Bike, 26.2 Mile Run)?

Who knows really.

The only thing I do know is that come Sunday with Dawn and Landry looking on, they might just be there to see the start of something special.  It’s all about going out there and doing my very best.  When I have been able to do that in the past and block out everything else, I’ve been able to surprise myself time and time again.

So here’s to surprises on your birthday.  What could be better than that?