Saturday, March 12, 2016

Commitment

About six weeks ago, my coach put an idea into my head.  One of my great challenges since I  began ironman racing has been my run.  Not that my ironman runs have not been adequate.  I’ve been pretty consistent in doing the marathons in under 5 hours, but the fastest I’ve been able to go is right around 4 1/2 hours.  I know that I’m still probably capable of running an open marathon in almost an hour faster than that, so I’ve had in my mind the idea that I would love to run an ironman marathon in under 4 hours.  Like anything in life, if you want something, you have to put in the necessary work to achieve your goal.  So, the idea that my coach put into my head was that of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  The moment he said it, I knew that was what I had to do.  It’s remarkable how sometimes you just know something to be true when you hear it, and this was one of those things.

For a little background, I had taken off September and October completely from all exercise in order to recover from some pretty ingrained adrenal fatigue.  By the end of December, I had increased my long run to about 11-12 miles, but somehow managed to “tweak” my ankle using an elliptical machine at a hotel fitness center, so I actually ran very little during January, but built up my bike riding pretty solidly.  With my coaches idea in my head, I went out five weeks ago and ran 16 miles comfortably, stopping immediately when I felt my IT bands tighten up.  The next weekend, I did 17 miles, again stopping when I felt good.  I also began to develop a recovery process, that I think has been very helpful.  As soon as I finish these runs, I get on the bike for 20-30 minutes, then soak my legs in a cold pool, then I compress my legs using my NormaTec machine for an hour and finally, if I’m able, I take a nap.  

What’s remarkable is the progression that I’ve made in the last three weeks, having now completed my first three twenty mile runs in three weeks.  I’ve only got 17 more to go!  What’s amazing is how my body and my mind have come together to make this happen.  Somehow, the fact that I’ve made the commitment to doing this is not only pushing me to do it, but to do it right.  I’ve made these first three 20 milers into progression runs, where the first 7 miles are done very comfortably, the next 7 miles are done with greater effort, but manageable, and then I go as hard as I can until I can’t, and back off as needed in order to get my 20 miles in.  The first two 20 milers had me backing off pretty quickly during the last phase, in order to complete my run.  Today, however, was another story.  

On thursday, I actually managed to ride my bike over 3 hours, with a solid last hour of intervals thrown in to work my legs.  I then did a short run afterwards, so I definitely built up some fatigue from the days work.  Yesterday, I just did an easy bike ride to keep the blood flowing.  When I woke up this morning, I was a little tired, but my mind was set.  I was going to run 20 miles!  The first 7 miles went by reasonably well, my mind wandering to a variety of thoughts, including calculating the fact that I may be able to just get my next 17 twenty milers in before my taper for Ironman Boulder.  With that said, my mind wasn’t focused.  My legs felt ok, although they were a little tired.  My breathing was easy, which corresponds to a breath every 5 steps, and my pace was just under 9 minute/mile pace.  The next seven miles was when the fun started.  I immediately upped my effort, breathing every fourth step, and my pace dropped to about 8:35/mile.  This effort corresponds to a high Zone 2 effort, and my legs were still fine, not surprisingly, my cadence increased from about 165 to 170 foot strikes/minute.

Something else happened during the second seven miles, my mind began to focus.  It became all about the run.  Nothing else could find itself into my brain, and time stopped in a way.  My legs were fine, they still felt a little tired, but they didn’t hurt.  As I neared the end of the 14th mile, I began planning for what was to happen next.  By this point in time, I already knew that I could easily relax and slow down a bit, take the pressure off, and get my 20 miles in without any concerns.  I also knew that I wanted to see what my body could do today.  Originally, I contemplated taking a mile easy in order to prepare for going harder, but I quickly overruled that thought and decided to “go for it!”  As soon as I finished the 14th mile, I picked up my effort yet again, increasing my breathing to every 3rd step.  This was my “tempo” effort.  It’s a hard effort, but not overly so, at least until it would just get harder.  My pace increased a little to about 8:33/mile, which showed that I had reached a point where in order to maintain my pace, my effort needed to increase.  My focus was like a laser, as the only thing that mattered was my form and my running.  As the completion of each mile approached, I would look at my watch, somewhat surprised to find my pace holding.  My breathing frequency was the same, but it was getting harder, and I even began to grunt, which has been my trademark approach to maintaining focus.  I kept contemplating the idea of slowing down and just getting the miles in, but as I neared the end of the 18th mile, I realized that I was just two miles from completing an almost perfect progression run.  That was enough incentive.

The last two miles were a bit of a daze, holding close to 8:30 pace, while my breathing alternated between every third step and every second step, which is closer to my 5K effort, but not quite there.  My legs still felt ok, and in fact, there was very little soreness.  There were times that I actually felt like my form was as solid as it has been in some time, and that was encouraging.  There were no intruding thoughts, no negativity.  I knew that I was going to complete one of my best runs ever today.  That thought certainly helped me through the last mile.  I got home with an average pace for the entire run of 8:42/mile.  I realized that the last six miles could easily be akin to the last six miles of a marathon, and was happy to know that I didn’t slow down and didn’t waver in my commitment.  

The idea behind the twenty miles for twenty weeks is that marathons are 26 miles long, regardless of time or place.  Getting my regular training runs to 20 miles with consistency brings me right up to the edge of where I need to be to feel both strong and confident for those last 6 miles.  The progression runs also create both a mindset and a legset, if you will, that prepares me for those last six miles, when I have invariably slowed down considerably.  

I will not be a slave to this concept, insofar as I will end one of these runs if I don’t feel well, or my legs rebel.  But, somehow I don’t think that will happen.  Part of the reason is that every week becomes a balance in my other training to enable me to effectively get in my twenty mile run.  It’s not like I’m taking it easy all week.  I’ve been getting in some speed work with my run, and some definite power intervals on the bike.  At some point, I’ll have to increase my bike volume, although a 3 hour bike ride on my trainer just two days before today’s run certainly isn’t too shabby.  I don’t have a set training program any more, as I just chat with my coach once a week to make sure that I’m on the right track.  My training is all about listening to my body, and not pushing too hard.  At the same time, it’s recognizing how hard I can push at times.  It’s been pretty cool, reaching this stage of training development.  

In the end, I really feel that the commitment is what is now driving me.  I think about this run during the week, and am preparing for it almost every day.  That means eating properly, getting enough sleep, and trying to manage my stress level.  All of those factors go into my ultimate ability to successfully achieve my twenty miles for twenty weeks goal.  It’s amazing what commitment will do!


Monday, February 15, 2016

Politics, Life and Priorities

I generally don't blog about politics anymore.  Everyone has their own views and sometimes those views can be pretty strongly held.  At the same time, I've always been somewhat of a political animal, and it's impossible not to be intrigued by the political machinations going on today.  I have long realized that the next presidential election isn't about Obamacare or gay marriage, it's about the Supreme Court.  This weekend, that became even more apparent.  It is no longer a theoretical possibility that there will be openings on the Supreme Court.  It is now a fact.  I've watched the unfolding of the political posturing with fascination.

I find it remarkable that "conservatives" who espouse the concept of following the constitution, so easily state that the President should not nominate anyone to the Supreme Court because there will be an election in 9 months.  Does that mean that once a President is within 12 months of the end of their term, they should stop being President?  What about 12 months a one day?  The constitution states that the President should nominate a candidate when there is an opening on the Supreme Court.  It doesn't say, "but not if the President only has 9 months left in office."

At the same time, I will readily admit that both Democrats and Republicans do the same thing.  I am not going to let the Democrats off the hook.  However, just because the Democrats have been partisan does it mean that the Republicans are allowed to be just as, or even more, partisan.  I read an interesting article today on the fact that our system of government is unique, and in some regards has not yet withstood the test of time.

Oh yes, I've discussed politics.  How does that have to do with life?  Well, I have been driven much of my life to want to make a difference.  I even thought of running for office at one point.  The degree to which I want to effect change has not always been a healthy motivator for me.  Whether it is in regards to traditional political change, or my favorite subject of healthcare, I have often felt obliged to do everything possible to influence policy.  When I take it too seriously, it is not healthy, so I have endeavored to take it less seriously.

Finding ways of sharing my viewpoints is great.  Whether anyone listens is actually not important, or at least not too important.  Whether change occurs is even less important.  Why?  Because ultimately we can not and should not be judged by outcomes.  We need to live with ourselves based on whether we speak out for what we believe in.  My priority in life is my family.  I have a great wife, kids, and now a grandson.  My other priority has, and, I have recently realized, will always be improving the lives of older adults in our society.  That is why I went back to work.  That is what I work towards every day.  My final priority, not surprisingly, is exercise.  Not because I love running 20 miles, but because I love being both healthy and healthful.  Also, because I need balance and exercise provides me with the ultimate balance.

Friday, February 12, 2016

My road back to mental and physical fitness

2014 was an incredible year for me from the perspective of triathlon.  I completed three ironman’s, the last one with a PR.  I was excited about 2015 and signed up for three more races.  In retrospect, I might not have taken off much time before jumping back into training, and was actually “punished” by my own body when I tripped and fell warming up for a half marathon in January of 2015 and popped a rib out of place.  Most painful experience ever, by the way!  I never fully got untracked, decided not to do the first IM I’d signed up for, did manage to race at Ironman Boulder, where I felt like the light switch was flickering on and off all day.  In fact, while I was proud of giving the run everything I had, I’m pretty sure that in doing so, I completely fried my adrenal glands.  As luck would have it, my third IM was cancelled due to weather, as I arrived at the airport in Baltimore!  The fact that I was relieved should have told me all that I needed to know.

Ultimately, I took September and October off almost completely.  A solid two months without any training whatsoever.  I wasn’t feeling well, mentally and physically, and since I’m a doctor, was convinced that I was developing some terminal disease.  My return to fitness began in November when I spoke to my coach, Tim Waggoner (aka Lucho), and decided to forgo any specific training plan.  I would come back totally based on feel.  He would not give me any workouts, but we would talk once a week.  I did what I felt like, when I felt like it.  At first it wasn’t a lot, and it wasn’t hard.  I used no electronics.  As the weeks passed, I started to get some of my motivation back.  

Just six weeks back into my training, I actually went out and did a 25K trail race, although I really focused on pacing myself.  One thing was clear, twenty years of regular exercise, including 8 Ironman’s over the past 6 six years, matters.  Also, my body tends to tell me what I need to do.  Over the next couple of months I intermittently struggled with hip, glute and low back issues, but they were ultimately fleeting.  I have kept doing what I feel like, when I feel like it.  

In the past month, I’ve started added intensity, and have actually been having a lot of fun.  Regular computrainer workouts with 10 x 1 minute at a solid wattage really gets the blood flowing.  I even got in a 4 hour ride on my computrainer, which is encouraging from the perspective that I know that when the time comes to increase my bike volume, I’ll have no issues.  

My weakness in ironman races has always been my run.  I’m relatively consistent, but have felt that I am capable of running faster.  After discussing this with my coach the other day, I have set a goal of doing as many 20 mile runs as possible over the next 5 months.  My next IM is in early August.  Today, I went out and ran 16 miles at a comfortable pace of 9 minutes/mile.  We’ll see how my legs feel tomorrow.  If they feel good, I’m on the right track.  

The mental side has also been coming back.  When you aren’t feeling good physically, your mental attitude suffers.  In December I went on a prolonged Facebook sabbatical.  I don’t miss it, although I may tiptoe back in gently to keep up with friends I have made over the last several years.  It just can’t be something that is a priority in my life. I have a new grandson who takes precedence over everything else.  I have a new job that I love, I still like training and I still like ironman training in particular.  I love to see what my body can accomplish through regularly increasing effort.  It’s remarkable to me that just a few months after a two month layoff that I can go out and run 16 miles comfortably.  Rest and recover do matter.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Facebook Sabbatical

I’ve been using Facebook for several years.  At first I thought it was a good way to keep in touch with friends and family.  I soon found it to be a way to meet other people with similar interests, triathlon in particular.  I also saw it as an opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with others.  Unfortunately, Facebook has its pitfalls for someone like myself who battles with being a workaholic.  I have obsessive compulsive tendencies that are hard to keep in check in a Facebook world.  I would find myself checking Facebook regularly throughout the day.  Since I was retired at the time, I didn’t really take note of the impact of doing this.  Since I have started working again, it has become very clear to me.  

In the last couple of months I have realized the value and importance of prioritization.  I have a new grandson.  There is a priority that is filled with wonderment for me.  Watching this little guy enter the world and seeing him grow on a daily basis is a reminder that I still have room to grow.  I also want him to know his grandpa.  My wife and best friend deserves my undivided attention.  It is too easy to take the person who means everything to you for granted.  Distractions and unnecessary habits detract from what’s really important in life.  I have two daughters and now two sons whom I would do anything for.  I also have a commitment to my health which I have focused on the sport of triathlon due to my need to be goal oriented.    And, I have a job.  Fortunately, I have found a job with no real pressure.  I can channel my passion for older adults in a meaningful way.  Since it is a job, however, I now have some control over the time I spend in the pursuit of my passion.  I really should strive to maintain my commitment to the vulnerable elderly to 40 hours a week.  In the past, I went way off balance in this regard.

Balance….being a grandpa is having a nice pull on my recognition of this need.  Priorities….In the past, everything was a priority.  In fact, I have rarely been able to truly prioritize.  This is no longer healthy for me, and I come back to the discussion of Facebook.  Is there really a need to communicate with people via this mechanism?  What happened to actually talking to people?  Do we need feedback on everything we do in life?  It seems nice when a bunch of people “like” something that we post, but is is necessary?  What matters is that I “like” what I am doing and talking about.  

One of the truly unhealthy aspects of Facebook has to do with the fact that we can easily be reminded of the priorities of others.  It is human nature to make comparisons.  We all want to be loved and cared about.  Facebook becomes an artificial way of receiving attention, but it can also be a reminder that we are not as important to others that we wish to receive attention from.  The psychological aspects of Facebook continue to intrigue me, but I think that I’d rather be intrigued as an outside observer, rather than as someone who occasionally sees the smiling faces of those who don’t care about me.

I do have a blog that I rarely use anymore.  It was meant to be a place where I could share my thoughts, ideas, feelings….a journal of sorts.  I think that it’s time for me to go back to that space to share things.  If people choose to read my blogs, that’s ok.  I’m inclined to disable comments, as that’s really not the purpose.  If someone knows me and wants to talk about what I’ve written, they can call me, or ask me to have a cup of coffee.  Whatever happened to getting together for a cup of coffee?  


So, I will be taking a sabbatical from Facebook.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back to it.  At the very least, I won’t even ask that question until the new year, which is 6 weeks away.  Maybe by then I won’t even remember what Facebook was?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reminiscing: Ironman St. George 2012

Driving into St. George, there is a sign noting that the county is named Hurricane.  My wife always liked to ask why that was the case.  This year, we saw the sign as we drove towards Sand Hollow Reservoir, the swim venue for Ironman St. George.  It had become an annual tradition to stop and check out the water before checking into our hotel. Ever since the swim at the inaugural Ironman St. George in 2010, one of my biggest concerns each year was the water temperature.  That year, temperatures as low as 52 degrees led to fifty people not making the swim cut off, and many more than that were ultimately affected by hypothermia.  This year the temperature was already 63 degrees.  The water felt nice when I tried out my new wetsuit, the Tyr Freak of Nature.  My wife had a memorable reaction when she saw the credit card bill and said, “that much for a wetsuit, what is it made out of, gold?”.  Four days later I would tell her that the wetsuit might have saved my life.

The days preceding the 2012 Ironman St. George were unusual insofar as I felt an unusual calm.  Usually, prior to my races, I feel nervous.  Not this time.  This carried through to the morning of the race, when I awoke before my alarm at 3:15am.  I took in almost 500 calories right away, which was also unusual for me.  Usually my stomach is nervous, but not today.  I gathered my special needs bags and my bicycle pump and made my way to the buses.  As I got on the bus, I remained relaxed, sipping on my pre-race vanilla soy latte.  Arriving at Sand Hollow Reservoir, it was 65 degrees an calm, just like the weather report had predicted.  I pumped up my tired, got body marked, put on my sunscreen, body glide and my wetsuit and handed over my bicycle pump to my friend Rudy.  Rudy and his wife Wendy had come to St. George to lend their support and friendship for my third consecutive Ironman St. George.  We had already been told that this would be the last full Ironman at St. George.  Something about people not wanting to sign up for so difficult a race.  There were 80 people starting the race who had finished the first two.  That felt pretty cool!

I made my way to the swim start and down to the waters edge.  The air was calm and the water was like glass.  Mike Riley, known for calling “You are an Ironman!” at the finishes of many Ironman events, told us to enter the water just before the pros were to start.  I got a little concerned that I was going to be in the water for a full fifteen minutes before the start, but the water temperature was now about 63 degrees and I figured it would be ok.  Besides, I was determined to start right at the front this year.  I got into the water to my knees and the gun went off for the pros.  I then slowly made my way into the cold water, dabbed water on my face and slowly swam towards the front of the line.  I did put myself about 20 yards from the farthest buoy, figuring that I could angle my way in.  The past two years, I had swum 1:11, but both years I had swum relatively easy.  My swim training had gone well this year, and I planned to go off as fast as I could, taking advantage of the potential ironman draft.  Last year, as the time to the start got closer, the front of the line moved forward, and I didn’t, ultimately impeding my attempt to start quickly at the front.  This year, as the front of the line move ahead little my little, so did I.  The waters were still calm when the gun went off.  I started as fast as I could, and was surprised to find no jostling, no one swimming over me and I actually had feet in front of me.  I was flying.  I got into a solid rhythm and I felt comfortable.  Occasionally, I would lose the feet of the person in front of me, but then there would be someone else replacing them.  As I swam fast towards the first turn buoy, I realized that the front of the pack wasn’t stringing out far ahead of me, which is what typically happens to me in the swim portion of a triathlon.  Later on, another athlete with a lot of open water swim experience would tell me that he realized from how fast we were swimming that there was a pretty strong current building behind us.  

As I turned left at the farthest buoy, staying about 10-15 feet wide in order to avoid the typically turn buoy jam, I turned into waves coming at my left side.  At this point in time, I really wasn’t thinking about the changing weather and the possibility that this could get worse.  I was just thinking about getting to the next turn buoy.  I realized that the people to my right were getting pushed further out and then I tried to make sure that I was moving in a direction that wouldn’t push me further away from the next turn buoy.  I was glad to be breathing to my right side, since that was away from the waves.  Finally, I saw the next red buoy and realized that I’d been pushed about 20 yards away from it, so I directed myself towards it and made my way around the buoy.  When I made the turn, I began to see and feel the full force of the oncoming waves.  I had recently read an article about open water swimming, so I shortened my stroke and started making my way forward.  Remarkably, the next two buoys came about quickly, which I didn’t realize was probably because the wind had pushed them together.  Around this time the waves began to come faster and with more fury, finally catching me unaware and causing me to swallow/breath in some water.  This is always disconcerting, but under these circumstances was a little bit frightening.  I gathered myself and continued forward.  The other athletes were scattered all over the place.  Drafting wasn’t something to be considered.  The waves seemed to only get bigger.  I wondered why I wasn’t seasick, but decided that I would just be thankful that I wasn’t.  I was moving forward.  I wondered momentarily if my all neoprene wetsuit was a help or a hindrance, as it kept me high in the water with the waves coming at me.  

Another wave hit me in the mouth, and again I swallowed/breathed in some more water.  This took my breath away and I stopped to tread water.  Unfortunately, this only exposed me to more waves crashing over my head as I struggled to maintain where I was, kicking my feet in more of a bicycle kick.  This only made me feel more short of breath.  I looked around and didn’t see any kayaks, or for that matter, any other athletes.  Then, my right calf suddenly cramped up.  For a brief moment, I got scared.  Several years ago I struggled with panic attacks in the open water and the feeling of panic began to invade my consciousness.  I thought, what if I can’t do this, how do I get help?  Raising my arm would only cause me to sink, besides, I couldn’t see anyone.  I might die, I thought.  And then, I remembered that my coach had told me that the most important thing during an ironman was to “stay in the moment”.  And so I did.  I decided to just start swimming forward and focus on each stroke, not to think about what had already happened, or worry about what might happen.  There was one thought that did stay in my consciousness for the rest of the swim, and that was my hope that no one was going to drown today.  I had stopped worrying about myself, but I knew that there were athletes that normally struggled to finish the swim.  What was happening to them?  Were they going to cancel the swim?  How would they do that?  Stay in the moment, I kept reminding myself.  I relaxed, tried to time the waves so that they wouldn’t push me back and began sighting the large rock that I knew I had to swim around.  I was moving once again and before I knew it, I was to the right of the rock.  Only then did I realize that there were a lot of smaller rocks sticking out of the water and the 5 foot swells might push me into them.  I aimed to my right, looking forward to getting around the rocks and turning left towards the swim finish.  I hoped that once I turned it would get easier.  That didn’t happen.  The waves kept coming, and now they were coming to my breathing side.  I occasionally breathed to my left, which I had practiced and was comfortable with, but that didn’t allow me to see the waves coming at me.  

I had made my way past the large rock.  I couldn’t see any other athletes and could see no more turn buoys.  Apparently, the final turn buoy had been blown off course.  One thing I did know, and that was the fact that the swim finish was on the other side of the large rock.  So, I turned towards the finish.  In retrospect, I may have turned a little before where the final turn buoy was supposed to have been.  However, it wasn’t there, and I didn’t know any better. As I made my way to the finish, the waves pushed me to the left of the swim exit and I realized that I had to negotiate getting around a large platform that was in front of me in the water.  I swam towards the exit, almost not giving myself enough room, as another wave almost pushed me into the platform.  Soon, I could see the bottom and I’ve never felt better about touching the ramp at the swim exit. 

As I came out of the water, I looked up, the time on the clock showed that I had completed the swim in 1 hour and 19 minutes.  I had originally hoped for a 1 hour and 5 minute swim, but I knew that my time was good under the impossible conditions.  I did not know at this point that close to 600 people wouldn’t make it past the swim.  Close to 1800 people had signed up for the 2012 Ironman St. George.  Close to 1200 would be contesting the rest of the race.  Sixty percent of the women who started did not  make the swim cut off!  Approximately 100 men in my age group started the swim, and only 59 made it onto the bike.  The older men fared much worse.  This was a swim course for younger and stronger men.  The hypothermic 2010 swim that led to an approximate 15% DNF (Did Not Finish) rate, was a distant memory.  We had just set a new standard for one the toughest ironman swims ever.  Later, I would hear some stories that would add exclamation marks to my frightened journey.  Two kayaks overturned.  In fact, one athlete found an empty kayak with a life jacket floating next to it.  Another athlete saved a person from drowning and got them on a boat.  One of the boats was completely filled with athletes and began taking on water.  The driver’s 9 year old daughter was screaming in fear.  Athletes in the water, unable to move forward, were calling for help and they were told they had to wait for the boat to come back for them.  Another athlete later shared with me that he resisted being pulled out of the water only to realize that he'd been going backwards!  

It was becoming ironic that “Titanic: The Musical” was playing at the Tuacahn Ampitheater.  The idea of Ironman “St. George:  The Musical” was beginning to form in my mind as I tried to make sense of this day.  I laid down for the wet suit strippers, grabbed my bag and made my way to the changing tent.  I sat down and the guy next to me told me that he had been pulled from the water and had already called it a day.  I didn’t get to full import of this until later.  I followed my well rehearsed transition, putting on my helmet and my shoes, putting on sun screen and quickly made my way out of the tent.  I stopped for more sunscreen and got my bike.  Transition time right around 5 minutes, almost the same as last year.  Pretty good under the circumstances.  After I passed the timing mats, I saw my friend Rudy.  I took the time to walk over and say “I hope that now one drowned today”.  I mounted my bike and began pedaling.  Later I would find that I had the 314th fastest swim time overall, and was actually 14th in my age group out of the water.  My first two years at St. George I was around 30th in my age group.  

In previous years, I remembered that the bike ride from Transition to the main road went by pretty quickly.  As I began my ride, I began wondering why it seemed to be taking so much longer.  It wasn’t like my legs were a problem, or that people were passing me.  I didn’t realize that I was already feeling the force of 20-30 mph headwinds.  One of the reasons I probably didn’t notice was that I was already having pretty severe stomach cramps.  The previous year, I had suffered with stomach cramps throughout the day.  This felt worse.  I cautiously took sips of water.  I made my way up the longest sustained climb on the course.  My legs felt fine, but I needed to get calories.  I tried to take some gel, but it was tough.  Every so often, I would belch and the contents in my stomach would come up.  That wasn’t good.  I tried my best to stay tucked in my aero position, but that was uncomfortable due to the cramping.  I had survived the swim, I had to survive the bike.  I made my decision to stop at the first water station and try to use a port-a-potty.  I did, and it didn’t help.  

Back on the bike, I continued to persevere.  Being a physician, I palpated my own abdomen, only to find it was quite tender.  I began to realize that I probably had an ileus.  That would mean that my intestines had shut down.  Swallowing too much of the Sand Hollow Reservoir could have set this off.  My GI tract was not working properly.  I continued to try to sip water and take in some gel, and the cramping got worse.  When I arrived at the next water station I tried the port-a-potty again and then went to the medical tent, where I sat in a chair and pondered my day.  Should I just give up?  Suffering with this level of cramps would make for a horrible day.  As I sat there, I felt a little better.  I also thought, hell, I just made it through the most difficult ironman swim ever, I was a three time registrant for Ironman St. George, and damn if I’m not going to be a three time finisher!  If I’m going to sit down, I might as well sit on the bike, I thought.  So, that’s what I did.  I got back on my bike and just began pedaling easily into the jaws of the 25 mile climb towards “The Wall”.  Ironman is about the ability to adjust your plans and compensate, to adapt to the conditions.  I decided to stop eating and drinking.  While I knew that I could not sustain no nutrition all day, I figured that I needed to give my GI tract a chance to rest.  For the next hour and a half I took in no fluid or nutrients and just worked on pedaling as comfortably as possible.  I stayed in the moment and tried to ignore the fact that the mile markers were coming along at an interminable pace.  When I reached the climb that came before “The Wall”, and saw people walking their bikes up it, I realized the full force of the winds.  I guessed that the average wind speed was 30 mph, with gusts to 40-50 mph.  Later, I read that Ben Hoffman, the eventual winner of the race, was almost knocked off his bike by a wind gust.  Another athlete later told me that he was producing 250 watts of power on a gradual downhill against the wind and was going all of 10 mph!  Two years previously, on the friday before the inaugural St. George Ironman, winds of 40-50 mph reared their ugly head.  I’ll never forget thinking, I don’t know how I could handle this course with winds like this?  I was now finding out the answer.  

Finally, I could see “The Wall”.  It’s a half mile section of the course that reaches gradients of 14%.  As I got closer to it, I suddenly realized that we would make a right turn, and maybe the wind would be different.  That turned out to be the case.  I won’t say that I flew up “The Wall”, but it was relatively easy compared to everything I had already done.  A 30 mph tailwind will really help a steep climb!  Unfortunately, the top of “The Wall” led to a left turn back into the brutal headwinds.  Fortunately, there was another water station ahead.  I stopped yet again for the port-a-potty’s.  Still, not much help, but I was doing somewhat better.  I got back on my bike and started to pedal and my chain stuck.  Shit!  I got off and called for help.  My chain was stuck between my small chain ring and the frame.  It wasn’t loosening up.  Three mechanics finally made their way over and started working on my bike.  This wasn’t looking good.  As I stood there, all I could think was, “I’ve made it this far, I can’t be stopped by a mechanical”.  I also thought about the Tour de France and how professional cyclist’s make use of the time when they have mechanical failures.  I asked for a banana and a bottle of Gatorade Perform and sat down and took in some nutrition.  It felt ok.  Finally, with the use of something akin to a small crowbar, they got my chain loosened.  It had probably taken 10-15 minutes, but I was feeling somewhat better.  I got back on my bike and tested the shifting.  Everything worked and I was on my way.

Soon, I made the right turn at Veyo.  Normally, you hit a headwind at this point, but not today.  Finally, after over 50 miles of cycling, I had a consistent tailwind.  I was flying.  I began passing people and the only cyclist that passed me was a pro triathlete on his second loop of the bike.  As I made my way down the highway, I realized that my speed was probably right around 50mph.  I kept reminding myself to stay relaxed, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.  I got to the end of the first loop and began my second loop.  Things were looking up.  I began passing the same people that I’d already passed twice before (remember, I had stopped three times).  I never wondered what my bike split would have been like without the stomach cramps and the stops.  It didn’t matter, I was “in the moment”.  I started taking in nutrition.  I had stopped for my special needs bag and picked up a cooked red potato with some olive oil and salt.  It was like manna from heaven, and actually helped to settle my stomach.  I would nurture that treat onto the run.  It may have saved my day.  The mile markers felt like they were coming faster this time around.  When I hit Mile 80, I recalled how two years earlier I had bonked.  I checked myself and realized that I was doing ok.  Mile 90 came, “The Wall” came again, albeit a little harder than the first time.  However, I realized that I didn’t even remember going up the horrific climb before “The Wall” the second time around.  I was going to make it through the bike.  I had spent somewhere between 30-40 minutes of my bike ride off of my bike.  I didn’t push for the last 12 miles, mostly downhill and flying.  I wanted my legs to be ready for the run.  I had no idea how my GI tract would react this year, but I wanted to give it my best shot.  Coming to the dismount line, I have to admit that I was relieved.  My bike split was 7:51, almost an hour longer than 2010 and almost an hour and a half longer than 2011.  My age group ranking ended up being 47th (out of 55 who finished) and I had dropped from being 14th after the swim to being 40th in my age group.  I was now 684th overall.  But I was on my feet!

I grabbed my bag and took the time to stop and pee (a good sign from a hydration perspective), then quickly put on my socks, my shoes, my fuel belt and my hat and made it out of the tent.  I stopped again to have sunscreen slathered everywhere on me and made my way out of transition.  Another solid 5 minute ironman transition.  Not too bad.  I had seen the clock and knew that I was already 9 hours and 23 minutes into my day.  I would not finish this race in under 13 hours, but I could make it in under 14.  But enough of that, stay in the moment!  I began running, and it felt good!  Shortly thereafter, I ran up to a guy named Toby, and found that he was on his second lap.  We began running together and it felt good.  We were going downhill and I asked him what our pace was.  He said about 8:20/mile.  Woah!  That’s a little to fast I said and he agreed, so we found a moderate pace that we both felt comfortable with.  In fact, he told me that I was helping to pace him.  I told him that he was helping to pace me.  We ran together for the entire loop, shared stories and just helped each other.  After we finished my first lap, he pushed ahead and I decided not to push too hard.  I was following my race plan.  It turned out that I maintained a very solid and steady 9:20 pace for the first 12 miles of the run.  I was still gentle with my nutrition, alternating Gatorade Perform with occasional sips of coke and water to keep the stomach contents form being too strong.  It seemed to be working.  As the miles went by, I had expected to see my friend Rudy.  I had no idea what was unfolding for my family.  The ironman.com tracking was not functional and they had no idea whether I had even completed the bike.  Rudy had based my expected time into transition on my very slow first loop, and I had made it onto the run course about 15 minutes sooner than he had expected.  My wife was freaking out, worried that something had happened to me.  What they didn’t know was that I was beginning to worry if something had happened to Rudy.  He was supposed to see me at Miles 2, 4, 6, 9, and 11.  Finally, Rudy found out that I had dropped my bike off and taken my run bag.  He did the math and found me at Mile 11.  He told me that my pace was solid.

I probably slowed just a little towards the end of my second lap, but was still in the nine minute/mile range (maybe now a little closer to the upper end).  As I started the third lap, I had hoped to start pushing, but when I hit Mile 19 and tried to increase my effort, my stomach began acting up and my legs also tightened a bit.  I decided to modulate.  Pushing too hard now could have a huge impact.  This is the point where trying to go 30 second per mile faster could ultimately add a half an hour to my run.  So, I ran the downhills and did a walk/run on the uphills.  Ultimately, my pace for the last 9 miles would slow to about 12:00 pace.  Still, not that many people were passing me.  As I ran up the last uphill section, hitting mile 24, I suddenly felt very nauseated and weak.  I slowed to a walk and collected myself.  I walked to the final turnaround and began to jog the last downhill section.  I wouldn’t fly down this hill, but I would run it.  I stopped a couple of times to walk for 20-30 feet, just to make sure that I would be ok.  I was going to finish in under 14 hours.  As I came down the finishing chute, I had my right hand up with three fingers showing, as Mike Riley said, “Michael Wasserman, a three-time St. George finisher, you are an ironman!”

My finishing time of 13:52:21, put me in 479th place overall (passing 205 people during the run).  My marathon time of 4:30:39 was the 18th fastest in my age group and moved me from 40th off the bike to 24th in my age group at the finish.  While this was my slowest St. George finish, it was my best placement.  Approximately 100 men in my age group started the race, and only 55 finished.  1800 people were signed up to race, we may never know exactly how many actually were at the swim start, but only 1024 finished.  This was arguably the highest DNF percentage of all time for an ironman. 

Because of Ironman St. George’s reputation as one of the toughest ironman courses in the world from it’s first two years of existence, it had already been decided that this would be it’s final year as an ironman course.  I started the day as only one of eighty people to have the opportunity to finish all three years.  Only 28 of them ultimately made it to the finish line in 2012.  I’m proud that I was one of them.  It is remarkable that 2012 made the first two years seem easy!  The toughness of the course, combined with the brutal weather conditions, made this a fitting end to what will go down in history as a the hardest ironman of all time.  

In the end, there was only one word for this day, and that is epic.




Monday, August 3, 2015

Ironman Boulder: Perseverence

So, I have a tradition of pre-writing my race report, which I did for Boulder.  Interestingly, the swim ended up being non-wetsuit and was slower, but my plan and description might have still be pretty close.  My bike was pretty close to were I expected it to be, although I struggled back and forth throughout the day with the feeling that my energy levels were off and my stomach wasn’t cooperating fully.  But my race really starts on the run, where I had predetermined that I was going to give it everything I had.  Unfortunately, my run became a survival challenge.  When I got off the bike, I realized that I just didn’t feel very good, but by the time I put on my run shoes and made my way out of transition, I didn’t fell that bad.  In fact, the first couple of miles on the run I kept a pretty decent pace, of under 10 minutes per mile.  Of course, this section is a little downhill.  The problem?  I stuck to breathing every 6th step as planned, but I was lying to myself.  When I let my breathing naturally find it’s natural cadence, it was closer to every 3rd step.  Plus, my stomach still didn’t feel right.  I have to admit, the negative thoughts had started at around 80 miles on the bike, but I successfully put them out of my head when I started my run.  However, after 2 miles of the run, I knew that this was going to be a long day.  I had a few choices.  The first was just to walk, as I had at Lake Tahoe.  That would leave me with a 6 and a half hour run.  Somehow, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that.  So, I adjusted.  After all, this is ironman and that’s what you do.  The first thing I did was stop at the aid station and start eating and drinking whatever I could stomach.  My GI tract’s reaction to this approach wasn’t the greatest, but it also wasn’t bad.  In fact, I literally walked a couple of miles, hoping to digest what I'd taken in and get some energy back.  I even sat on the grass at one of the aid stations and ate and rested for a few minutes.  The rest of the run became a study in attrition.  I tried to balance getting in nourishment and recovering with finding a run pace that didn’t just cause me to want to completely collapse.  Somehow, as the run went on, I found something.  There is never any doubt that I am capable of pushing through pain.  Hell, I’ve run with a broken hip socket!  (Well, biked and walked).  During the second loop of the run, I stopped at special needs and took one bite of my traditional red potatoes, and felt very sick.  I think that my GI tract stopped working completely by about Mile 18 of the run.  From then on, it was a matter of finishing.  While this is far from my fastest run, I managed to run the second loop faster than the first, which tells me that I managed my body as well as I could on this day.  I came out of the water 23rd in my age group, out of the bike 22nd, and finished in that very same spot.  Why do I do these races?  That’s a question for another blog, but again, I am proud of what I accomplished.  Here’s the rest of my race report, edited to include what really happened!

Am I a klutz or what?  A few days prior to Ironman Chattanooga, I tweaked my low back while putting on my bike shoes.  I have a long a storied history of strange injuries that occur prior to my big races.  I’ve been hit by shopping carts in the supermarket, I’ve strained muscles taking a misstep off a curb, you name it, I’ve done it.  I was heading along blissfully ok in Boulder, not thinking about this, when I got up on Friday morning and put on my tri shorts.  I was planning to go for a bike ride.  Just before leaving the hotel room, I realized that I’d put my tri shorts on backwards.  When I started to pull them down, wham!  A muscle in my right hip/low back went into spasm.  Unbelievable.  I massaged it and stretched a little and went ahead with my bike ride, which actually went well.  In fact, I rode most of the last loop of the course, a total of 24 miles.  It also allowed me to envision the “climbs” that everyone has been talking about.  This is Colorado.  These aren’t climbs.  To the strongest cyclists, they’ll be bumps.  Unfortunately, that’s not me.  To me, the relatively short elevation increases on the last part of the course will slow me down, but I’ll be able to stay in my aero position for most of them, except for an occasional steep pitch that will allow me to stand up briefly and stretch, which is a good thing towards the end of the race.  Back to my muscle spasm.  I spent the entire day working on it!  Aha!  My body must have been trying to take my mind off the race and the taper craziness!  I took a mineral bath, put on tiger balm, massaged, electrical stimulation, you name it, I did it.  By the time I went to bed, it was a dull ache that I noticed when getting up from a laying position.  Well, that’s the point, I can’t lie down during the ironman!  I’ve got to stay upright, on my feet, all day (after the swim, of course, and aside from my aero position on the bike).  

I’m a big believer that our bodies will tell us the answers.  Over many years, I have gotten to know mine well, and it never ceases to surprise me.  I’ve been preparing for this ironman with a totally new method of training.  I do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it!  Ironically, over the last 11 weeks, compared to my preparation for Boulder last year, I’ve still averaged over 9 hours a week of training (compared to 12 last year); but my run volume has been significantly greater (25 miles a week versus 15); my swim volume has been about the same; and my bike volume has been significantly less (50 miles a week versus 90).  Interestingly, I’m trying to run faster, so we’ll see if the run focus pays off. In fact, in the end, it may be how I managed to finish.

The week leading up to the race I arrived in Boulder on Tuesday, visited friends in Denver on Wednesday, swam a little almost every day, did a solid 6.55 mile run (1/4th the marathon distance) on wednesday at an easy breathing effort (which surprised the heck out of me!), and still ran 8:50 pace.  Got in almost an hour and a half of cycling on Friday, but it was all easy and comfortable, seeing how my strained muscle would react:). My diet has been pretty similar to what I’ve been doing.  Avocado with olive oil and salt for breakfast; tablespoon of coconut oil; sardines or Master Amino Protein.  I added some carbs this week for both the race and recognizing the increased carbohydrate needs at altitude, by having my favorite gluten free pancakes at Turley’s Kitchen.  Dinners were big salads from Whole Foods with salmon.  I’m a creature of habit.  I also took some supplements, CoQ10, glutamine, both have which have become pre-race staples for me based on Macca’s suggestions.  Also, the first few days of the week, I did some echinacea and eleuthrococcus (felt like I was fighting something).  I’ve been taking quercitin for my allergies as well.  Prior to saturday, I also used some cleansing capsules, and V-8 juice, doing my best to clean out my GI tract prior to reducing fiber and roughage.  The details that go into preparing for an ironman!  But, this being number 8, I’ve clearly developed a routine, which seems to include tweaking some muscle!

Saturday was about resting.  First, I did some foam rolling and then I started working on my race report (I pre-write most of this report!).  Was able to drop off my bike at the Rez early due to my All World status:). For one of the few times ever, I decided to deflate my tires, since it was hot today, and there is always time on race morning to put air in the tires.  Dropped off my run bag and met a friend and his son for lunch at Turley’s.  After that it was back to the hotel for another mineral bath and to stay on my back and rest.  By the late afternoon, my back was almost 90% better.  It’s amazing how little I was concerned, having been through this many times before.  

I always try to keep things simple during race week, but it’s remarkable how I can get caught up worrying about the slightest thing.  This worry of the week turned out to be deciding how I was getting to the race.  I didn’t have anyone to take me, so I would need to drive and park, which also meant figuring out what to do with my car keys.  Amazing how something as simple as this can become a focal point of worry.  Fortunately, I decided on Saturday afternoon to park to the east of the high school and put the car key in the pack on my bike.  That way, I wouldn’t worry about it getting lost.  I also put on my race number tattoos (a great investment).

I had pancakes for lunch and finished them around 4pm, and started winding down, with the plan of going to bed between 7 and 8 pm, which I did.  It’s amazing how well I manage to do this prior to ironman races.  As usual, slept pretty well, and woke up just before the alarm at 3:15 am.  I had my avocado with olive oil and salt, as well as a sweet potato.  Put on my sunscreen and my tri suit.  Got my race nutrition and my special needs bags and left around 4 a.m., was able to get a decent parking space, dropped off my bags and took the bus to the reservoir.  First thing was to put air in my tires and chill.  No wetsuit today!  The water temperature was 78 degrees.  That’s ok.

Just like last year, I went into the water with the second group and started off to the side.  My goal this year for the swim was to just swim comfortably fast.  My focus was on breathing easily, but also on keeping good form.  There was the usual bumping, but overall, I just stayed focused, really trying to make sure that I didn’t swallow any water, which I didn’t!  People kept trying to swim into me, no matter where I positioned myself in relation to the buoys.  I feel like I zig zagged, but I’m not so sure looking at the other swim times in my age group.  The only thing I know for sure was I swam quite wide after the first turn because I thought I was sighting on a yellow buoy, but was actually sighting on a paddle boarder wearing a yellow jacket!  The swim did feel like it went on forever, but  considering that I’d recently done two 90 minute pool swims without stopping, this was pretty easy.  I made my way out of the water and to the transition tent.  Unfortunately, the bench I used last year was now outside of the path, so I had to use the transition tent to put on my helmet and bike shoes.  Put on my headband and sunglasses and my Synthe aero road helmet and then put on my aero gloves and arm coolers before putting on my cycling shoes.  This was all done quickly and comfortably and I was off to get my bike and get out of transition.  Walked my bike up the hill to the mounting point and got on my bike.  Coming out of the Res was something I’d done many times before.  I know this course, although I actually hadn’t ridden the exact course before, but knew what to expect.  My goal today was getting to the run unscathed.  Keeping my wattage down was the key, staying nourished and hydrated on a hot day was my goal.  The first miles out of the Res are a false flat that can tempt one to push harder than they should.  I just rode easily and before I knew it I was coming back up Nelson on the longest sustained minor “climb” on the course.  I kept a good cadence and didn’t push my wattage, and managed to stay aero.  I took in some almond butter and started drinking from my mixture of UCAN and Tailwind.  I wasn’t sure how many calories I’d need, but just went by how I felt, trying to keep taking calories early on in the bike.  Hydration was key today, especially with the heat, and I even took extra water and poured in on my head and back when I had the opportunity.  Before I knew it, I was doing the second loop and once again, focused on keeping it easy.  I had decided not to push at all until the last 20 miles, which included some very short climbs.  “I was feeling good when I got to mile 80 and knew that I was on my way to a solid bike ride.”  That was the original plan.  Instead, at mile 80, all I wanted to do was get off the bike.  My butt hurt, I was starting to hate being on my bike, I couldn’t stay comfortable in my aero position.  I stood when possible to stretch out my back and legs.  The last 20 miles seemed to take forever and then, I was dismounting and running, in my cycling shoes, to T2, where I got my run bag and quickly put body glide on my feet, socks on, shoes on, hat on and race belt on.  Off to the run course, with a quick stop to have extra sunscreen put on me.  


One addition to my bike ride.  My power seemed to be about 10-20w under where I expected it to be.  I did try to load up on nutrition early, but my stomach did start rebelling and I had to modulate.  I did drink plenty of water during the bike, and wonder if I didn’t take in enough electrolytes.  I kept having the feeling like a switch was turning on and off.  Sometimes I felt great, other times I actually felt a little light headed.  I have been training to teach my body to burn fat, but the high altitude may have thrown the ultimate curve ball to my body.  I took in carbs, but my body had trouble processing them at the rate that I needed.  In fact, it felt a lot like my early ironman’s felt in that regard.  That feeling only got worse on the run.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

This was my first race of the year.  I'm coming off a torn posterior inferior serrates 2 months ago which caused a rib to pop out.  It still has been hurting a little, but doesn't affect my training at this point, and actually was not an issue today. It turned out to be a very interesting race today at the Oceanside 70.3. I Didn't hit my times, but had one of my best placings ever in a 70.3, so go figure.  Was 33rd in my AG out of the water (my worst swim here);  but was 20th in my AG off the bike (also my worst bike, from a time perspective);  was actually thinking of just going easy on the run, very briefly, and decided to go with my original run plan, which I did, and by the time I hit the finish line I was 13th in my AG...have never moved up like this before, maybe there's a lesson in this:).  And, I left it all out there today, I was close to passing out at the end:)  My swim was uneventful, solid effort the whole way, sighted pretty well, drafted occasionally, never got hit, but didn't feel fast today, maybe my form wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad, I just felt a little sluggish.  That said, all of the swim times were slower today, so I may not have been that far off my usual swim on this course.  Very solid T1, actually ran the whole way and was out quicker than I've ever been.  On the bike I never really felt good, but I just kept pushing.  Interestingly, my power splits were very consistent.  These are every 5 miles:  (NP/AveP) 192/169, 168/162, 171/163, 168/165, 179/169, 181/166, 181/174, 187/169, 179/167, 163/160, 148/138...the last 8 miles my left aerobar shifter came loose (just replaced aerobars due to Specialized recall)...I spent the last 8 miles forced into my aero position out of fear the shifter would pop out, definitely stopped focusing on effort... back tightened up being forced not to sit up intermittently, which I do like to do...was getting worried about run:)...Ave Power for ride was 163w, NP was 175w, actually not too bad...it was windy, felt like I had a headwind most of the way today...the fact that I moved up 13 places on the bike tells me I actually rode ok.  Also, drives me nuts how many people were drafting..ridiculous, and I was good!  4:00 T2, a little long as my gear was moved a little and it took me longer to put on my shoes...still, not bad.  As soon as I started the run I looked at my watch and it showed ~8:30 pace with breathing every 5th breath.  What the heck! Decided to go for it and carry out my original plan.  The first 7 miles were done breathing every 4th step and my pace was right around 8:40...At mile 8 I increased effort to breathing every 3rd and around mile 11 I felt like my legs weren't quite cooperating, but I still pushed, breathing probably got up to every 2nd step...I was punishing myself.  While miles 11 and 12 were ~9:10 pace, I managed to do the last 1.1 miles in ~8:50 pace and hit the finish line 13th in my AG...I've never moved up like this before.  All in all, I think I paced the bike reasonably well and definitely left it all out there on the run.  Nutrition was fair, took in ~700 cal on the bike (200 cal UCAN, 400 cal Tailwind, one gel), but miscalculated fluids and didn't drink the last 40 minutes...took in a bunch of fluids the first half of the run and then started to feel a little sloshy so backed off....not too bad, probably was a little dehyrdated at the end, but doubt it affected me much.  I have to be happy about this, especially, when my one constant goal was met, and that is that I left it all out there today.  I had nothing left in the tank at the end.