Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ironman Chattanooga 2016 Race Report: Hot as ....

Many have said not to sign up for an Ironman if I’m signed up.  The inaugural IM St. George in 2010, water temperature was 52 degrees (http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2010/05/st-george-ironman-race-report.html).  IMStG in 2011, temperatures in the 90’s(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2011/05/ironman-st-george-race-report.html).  The IM with the highest DNF rate of all time, the 2012 IM St. George with 5 foot swells and 40-50 mph wind gusts(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2012/05/2012-ironman-st-george-race-report.html).  The inaugural IM Lake Tahoe, where I had to scrape ice off my bike in T1(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2013/09/to-achieve-good-time-or-to-have-good.html).  IMLT in 2014, which was cancelled by local fires.  I had to leave the country to find an ironman with no major issues, which was Ironman New Zealand in 2014(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/03/ironman-new-zealand-giving-it.html).  Ironman Boulder just has to stand on it’s own as a challenging course at altitude(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/08/ironman-boulder-race-report.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2015/08/ironman-boulder-perseverence.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2016/08/ironman-boulder-2016-race-report.html).  I was actually registered for IMCDA in 2015, but withdrew due to back issues, missing temperatures in the 100’s.  IM Maryland, 2015, was postponed by a hurricane.  With all of this in mind, Ironman Chattanooga in 2014 had near perfect weather conditions, so I figured it would be a good Ironman to do again(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/10/ironman-chattanooga-and-2014-ironman.html).  

A few weeks prior to the race, the forecast was in the mid to low 80’s, but the temperature kept rising with each subsequent forecast.  Who would know that Chattanooga would experience it’s hottest late September day in over eighty years?  Who could have predicted that IM Chattanooga would experience the second highest DNF rate in Ironman history, second only to IMSTG 2012?  Nevertheless, I did my best to prepare, keeping my hotel temperature at 78 degrees and making sure I was well hydrated going into the race.  I also had given a lot of thought to my hydration plan and realized that this race was going to be primarily mental.  I was right.

My mental preparation for the race began with making sure I was near the front of the line for the swim.  The main reason was not to be stuck with a lot of bike traffic on the roads, which turned out to be a good decision.  The current was not as fast as in 2014, but the river swim allowed me to find the feet of a faster swimmer and hold those feet for nearly the entire swim.  I also focused on keeping a solid effort, not hard, but solid.  While it’s hard to know exactly how my swim time compared to other races, my 1:00:37 swim time was 12th in my age group (out of 112 men) and 290th overall.  I’ve never had a swim placement that high.  I felt good coming out of the water and actually ran up the ramp to T1. For the first time ever in an ironman, I had my bike shoes on my bike in transition, so all I had to do was put on my sunglasses and helmet, grab my bike and get out of T1.  This led to my fastest bike transition time ever, 4:55.  

I was looking forward to the bike, as my 2014 IM Chattanooga bike split was my fastest bike split ever, despite a 116 mile course.  I was very patient, not pushing too hard, but keeping a consistent and solid effort.  I also took the opportunity to draft for twenty seconds most of the time that someone passed me, which is within the rules.  I also focused primarily on nutrition and hydration, taking in more calories in the first few hours (nearly 1500 cal) than I have ever taken in, and pushing fluids throughout the bike.  With that said, I actually pushed the fluids and nutrition to the point where my stomach couldn’t take in any more.  While it was hot out, I felt pretty comfortable during the first loop of the bike.  It was during the 2nd loop that I began noticing the heat.  There were a few times that it felt like we were riding in a furnace.  The heat of the ground was causing my feet to burn a little.  Also, at about mile 70, my chain dropped, though I was able to get it back on while pedaling.  The winds changed during the second loop and we had a headwind coming back.  I did begin feeling like my energy level was a little lower than I would have liked, and reduced my drafting efforts.  My chain also began making noise and I had to be careful with shifting.  Somewhere after Mile 80, I did begin looking forward to getting off the bike and running, although my bike pace really didn’t drop off much.  I also had some issues with my back during the bike, starting in the area of my right ribcage where I had popped a rib out of place a year and half earlier.  I needed to reach back and push on the rib to adjust it several times.  It was hot out there, with a high of 97 degrees and significant humidity.  My bike split was only 17 minutes slower, which considering that temperatures were over 20 degrees higher than in 2014, was probably not a significant difference.  I rode the first half of the course in 2:59 and the second half in 3:09, which included greater headwinds.  It turns out that my bike was the 10th fastest in my age group, and 357th overall, also relatively unheard of territory.  During the last 10 miles of the bike, my chain started making very loud, scary noises.  I tried not shifting much, and I’m sure my chain issues had to have some impact on my second loop pace.  I came into T2 and did a flying dismount for the first time ever in an ironman and jogged to get my transition bag.  I have to say, jogging didn’t feel good, my back was definitely affected by the bike ride and the heat, but I chose to ignore this and keep jogging to the tent, where I quickly put vaseline on my feet, put on my socks and shoes, hat and quickly got out of transition.  My T2 time was a quick 4:15, easily my fastest T2 ever.  However, that was a mistake.

In trying to get out and running as quickly as possible, I neglected to put water in my two flasks, and I didn’t wet down my arm coolers, which I subsequently realized was needed for them to work effectively.  I started out running, but when I hit the first hill, I realized that the hills were going to be tough.  By the time I reached the first water station my mouth was as dry as sand paper and my arms were hot.  I knew that I was on the dehydrated side, which was not a good way to start the marathon in 97 degree heat.  I made a decision.  I decided to focus for the next few miles on taking in electrolytes and fluid.  I also began to place ice in my tri-suit and ultimately in my arm coolers.  I began taking BASE salt as well.  I mostly walked and jogged a little.  My pace for the first 5 miles was around 13 minutes/mile.  At the Mile 5 water station, I stopped at a porta-potty.  The most important news was that I was able to pee.  Mission accomplished.  When I got to the Mile 6 marker, it hit me that I only had to do another 20 mile run, and so I began running, with the exception of hills, which I continued to walk up.  I ran through the hills on the other side of the river and my pace over the next seven miles was right about 12 minutes/mile.  My 1/2 marathon time was 2:44.  Starting the second loop, I just tried to keep moving forward and running as much as possible.  My pace dropped to 11 minutes/mile and when I hit the hills it did slow a bit.  When I finally got to the Mile 24 marker, I had decided to run the last two miles as hard as I could, which was most likely around 10 minutes/mile.  The second half marathon was done in 2:30.  For the last two miles I pushed myself harder than I ever have for the last 2 miles of an ironman.  I went into “grunting” mode, where I grunt with each breath.  It was real.  In many ways, my grunts were literally screams of pain, but I wasn’t going to give in on this day.  My run time was 5:14:17, not even close to my fastest, but it was the 10th fastest run in my age group and 319th overall.  This was a hard day.  Everyone who did this race should be proud, no matter how far they got or how fast they went!

Final Time: 12:32:59
I was 47 minutes from 2nd/Kona slot (as I always say, I’m good enough to smell a Kona slot, but not good enough to taste one)
I was 12:30 from 5th/podium
I was 8 minutes from 6th in my age group.
Ironically, these were all similar placement numbers compared to Chattanooga in 2014.  

Finally, I could have walked the run course, got another Ironman in the books on the way to 12 and the Legacy status that will get me to Kona.  In the end, however, I have to give each race everything I have.  Someone once asked me how I know if I had a good race.  My answer is always the same.  If I hit the finish line knowing I gave it everything I had.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ironman Boulder 2016 Race Report

I usually write out my race report prior to doing an Ironman, but this race was a little different.  My plan was simple:  swim easy, bike easy, run easy until it becomes hard.  That’s exactly what I did, so unless you like the full details of racing an ironman, there is no need to read any further.

I have competed in Ironman Boulder in both 2014 and 2015 and knew one thing already.  This is a deceptively difficult course.  On paper, it doesn’t look that hard.  The total elevation gain on the bike is only about 3500 feet, and the run appears pretty flat, although half of it is going down river and the other half is going up river.  I think that the altitude definitely raises the ante, and I really felt it last year when, after just 2 miles of the run, the wheels came completely off.  I realized that my newfound low carb, high fat, diet didn’t work well in an Ironman event at altitude.  In fact, when I met with my coach just four days before the race and told him that I got lightheaded after a six mile run, he asked me if I’d be taking in simple sugars.  From that day forward, I increased my carb intake and included simple sugars.  My body didn’t like it (I actually get a burning/tingling sensation throughout my body), but it was necessary.  I planned to take in as much carbs during the bike as possible.  I also planned to hydrate well (by the way, if you don’t like reading about peeing on the bike, forget the rest of this post).

Race day arrived before I knew it and this year the swim was wetsuit legal.  As I made my way down to the swim start (a rolling start), I walked by Mike Reilly, the “voice” of ironman, and made a quick decision to ask my friend Shelly, who was standing right there, to take a picture of us.  A good omen.  I entered the water and took a line right along the buoys on my left.  I thought that I might have a greater crowd by doing this, but perhaps others steered away from this line because it never was crowded.  Occasionally, someone would swim perpendicular to me (can’t figure that out), but in general it was pretty calm.  I never got hit in the head, never swallowed any water and just swam easily and comfortably.  I never pushed hard and just settled in to enjoy the swim.  I came out of the water in 1:18:22, just about six minutes slower than my usual swim time, but I felt great walking up the ramp.  I grabbed my bag and sat on the bench nearby (I hate the transition tents, especially the swim tent in the morning when my glassed tend to fog up).  I put on my glasses, my headband and my helmet, then put on my aero gloves and my cycling shoes and that was it.  I literally ran through the changing tent (where my glasses did fog up), got slathered with sunscreen, got my bike and walked/ran to the mounting area, which was up a short hill.  I got on my bike and took off.  T1 was 5:59, a very solid time, right in line with the top guys in my age group, and indicative of the fact that I wasted no time in transition.

From the get go, I planned to just ride comfortably and never push hard.  This years race had the eastern out and back 20 mile segment at the beginning, rather than the end, which was nice as it has some long climbs.  Lots of people passed me on the climbs, but I knew that I’d see them later, either on the bike or during the run.  I also paid close attention to any time I was into a headwind that I stay in my aero position, with the exception of when I was going slow up a climb, when it was a good opportunity to sit up and stretch my back out.  

The single most important part of my race plan was to take in carbs early on.  I had 600 calories of Tailwind Nutrition between my aerobars and a couple of almond coconut butter packets as well.  I finished all of that during the first two hours of the bike.  After that it was the on course fluids, Gatorade, which I filled up my aerobat bottle with at each aid station, which meant that I was at least getting a couple of hundred calories an hour the rest of the way.  I also took in a third almond coconut butter, some glucose tablets and several tablets of MAP (Master Amino Protein).  My bike has a “bladder” which was filled with water, and I kept replenishing it.  I started feeling like I needed to pee about 25 miles in, but couldn’t get relaxed enough for long enough, plus some of the downhills along I-36 were both fast and not that wide, requiring close attention to bike handling in case someone wanted to pass you.  The one sad note of the day was that an athlete was killed straying outside the cones on the early part of that descent.  

It probably wasn’t until mile 40 or so that I first was able to pee.  It wasn't as easy as it was in practice, and I had to keep working on it and trying to relax and find the right terrain where I could coast and not lose much speed.  I repeated the process a few more times and after washing myself off a couple of times at aid stations, decided that I’d hold my final time for the run transition port-a-potty.  Of note, I took a fair amount of time trying to pee during various downhill sections when I could have been pedaling and getting some “free” speed.  On the other hand, I never stopped for a “natural break.”  I did stop at the special needs bag station, took my coconut water and chugged it down, so, a very brief stop to continue my hydration and calorie intake.  Before I knew it I was onto the second loop of the bike and continuing to just pedal comfortably.  In fact, any time that I found myself starting to push, I dialed it back.  One thing of significant note was that my bike splits were almost completely the same throughout the race.  Thus, no drop off in power during the bike.  I also realized as I was coming into town at the end that I had never experience the bike “doldrums” that I have felt in every Ironman I’d previously done. However, as I dismounted my bike, I was glad, and finally felt a little tired from the 112 mile bike.  My bike time was 5:56:54, my second fastest bike split ever and my fastest time on this course.  

The one part about the Boulder Ironman course that I hate is walking from the bike dismount to the HS track to drop off my bike.  Walking in bike shoes is just no fun (and after 112 miles riding, it would not be smart to try to run in them).  I was thrilled to let go of my bike and quickly picked up my bag and made my way to the changing tent.  Another quick and methodical change.  Helmet off, headband off, cap on, gloves off, cycling shoes off, wiped off my feet with the gloves (note to self, remember to put a small towel in the T2 bag), vaseline (melted unfortunately, making it a little messy) on both feet, socks on, shoes on, hydration/race number belt on (got a new belt that allows me to have two flasks and my race number, and out of the tent.  First a not so quick stop at the port-a-potty which took at least 2 minutes (seriously!).  I had clearly hydrated well, or perhaps too well.  Filled one of my flasks with water, hugged Shelly, and started the run.  Time in transition 8:23, which was outstanding, considering the trek to the changing tent and my port-a-potty break.  

As soon as the run started, I kind of knew that I was feeling good, but not great.  Mentally, I put myself in a great mood, but also remembered (thanks to Shelly’s reminder) to keep it easy.  I just settled into breathing every 6th step and just get into a relaxed and comfortable running pace.  My friend Rudy found me at around Mile 1 and subsequently told me that I looked good.  For the first six miles I just kept plugging away with a comfortable effort, which turned out to be just under 10 minute/mile pace.  I walked briefly at each aid station, taking in primarily gatorade and water.  I originally had planned to increase my effort at mile 6, but realized that it was already happening on it’s own when I got there.  The next six miles were uphill and my pace was just over 10 minute/mile.  Heading up the canyon, I realized that this year I had only walked briefly at the aid stations.  As Rudy pointed out, I was running up any hills or inclines that I came to, a significant change from last year.  Heading to the top of the canyon, I did increase my effort and my breathing, so that on the way back down, I realized that my body was beginning to feel the effects of the race.  I continued to try to maintain my pace, but it probably dropped slightly at this point to just over 10 minute/mile pace.  I continued to take in gatorade as well, which in retrospect, might have ultimately been a mistake.  

Around Mile 17, my breathing changed noticeably.  To keep my present pace, I began breathing harder, and even resorted to my signature “grunting” breathing pattern, breathing every 3rd or 4th step with an audible grunt (often worrying those around me when they see this old guy with white hair grunting with each breath).  By the time I hit Mile 20, I knew that something wasn’t right.  As I tried to push just to keep my pace going, I felt nauseated and lightheaded, so I decided to walk for awhile, and started drinking coke.  My coach says that in retrospect, I probably could have switched to coke around Mile 15.

When I started the run I was in 17th place in my age group.  During the run, I had passed several people in my age group and a bunch of people in younger age groups.  When I started slowing at Mile 20, I realized that it was unlikely that any of those people, most of whom were walking, were going to pass me back.  Still, I was determined to run as much as I could.  I let my body dictate what I could do, but did walk all of the steeper inclines, and some of the others.  If it was flat, or downhill, however, I ran.  I can definitely say that easy had become hard, and hard had become very hard.  The crazy thing was that despite the difficulties, I never had a negative thought during the run.  In fact, I never had a negative thought during the entire race.  This was a first for me!  The final miles felt a little longer, but and my pace on the uphill sections were around 13 minutes/mile.  Fortunately, the last mile of the course is downhill, and I was able to get closer to my 10 minute/mile pace for this portion of the race.  As I neared the finish line and heard Mike Reilly saying, “Michael Wasserman, from Woodland Hills, California, You Are An Ironman,” I sped up briefly, didn’t have the wherewithal to make any gesture for the photo as I crossed the finish line, and was done.  Literally, and figuratively.  After getting my medal and having my timing chip taken from me, I bent over, with my hands on my knees.  I didn’t want to move.  Oh yes, my run time was 4:50:20, not as fast as I wanted to run, but my fasted time on this course in three tries.  

My friends Rudy and Shelly, and our cousin (on my wife’s side) Kara and her boyfriend Alex (who had been volunteering at the run special needs station), escorted me to the food area, where I laid on the ground for close to 45 minutes.  I didn’t feel like eating anything, though did manage a few potato chips and and orange slice, and took in some water and a little coke.  I have never felt this bad (except maybe at the 2012 St. George Ironman) after a race.  While I was laying there, Rudy looked at his phone for the results and told me that I’d gone from 17th in my age group coming off the bike to 6th in my division at the end!  I’ve never been in the top 10 in my age group in an ironman, so this definitely lifted my spirits!  It turns out that I also went from 520th overall to 352nd overall during the run as well.  There were 53 people in my age group and 1490 people doing the race.  I actually had the 4th fastest run time in my age group and only one of the six times under 5 hours in my age group for the run.  

One final note.  As I was finishing the run, my thoughts actually went to my next Ironman, which is Ironman Chattanooga in 7 weeks.  The reason, not the usual, “why do I do this?”, but instead, I was looking forward to racing at low altitude.  I realized that the altitude finally got to me around Mile 20 of the run.  That won’t happen at Chattanooga!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It's all Mental!

20 weeks ago I laced up my running shoes and walked out the door to complete the first of what would hopefully become 20 straight weeks of 20 mile runs, a goal that Coach Lucho had inspired. Today, I completed my 18th consecutive week and actually ran 21 miles and even managed to include a hard one mile uphill followed by a hard one mile downhill at Miles 18 and 19. Not to mention the temperatures touched into the 90s by the time my run was over and it was a bit humid out so despite five bottles of fluids during my run I still managed to lose 3 pounds. There are a lot of remarkable things I've learned during my journey the least of which is that I have not had any significant rest time although I have learned to improve my recovery both immediately after my runs and over the next day or two. I've also been paying more attention to my general recovery after and between workouts. I'm listening to my body, that's what matters!  The other remarkable thing is that my long run is really my main running volume each week, and some weeks I will run a couple of other days during the week but I've had some weeks where I didn't run at all. With that said I have certainly maintained my biking during the week which clearly has had a positive effect on both my run as well as my recovery. I am also quite certain that the running has helped my cycling which can be seen by the fact that my cycling fitness appears to have improved despite the fact that I have not been doing a lot of long bike rides. I have however, been making sure that I do get a reasonable amount of cycling volume over the course of each week. That brings me to today's run, which gets me through 18 of my 20 weeks. The previous four days leading up to today's run included two trips to Sacramento that were part of 15 hour workdays and one day sandwiched in between of an hour of solid cycling and an hour of solid running that added up to about 20 minutes of tempo effort for each and did put some muscle strain on my legs that I could feel on Friday. Yesterday, I put the cherry on top with a four and a half hour solid bike ride that included three 20 minute hard efforts. I topped that off with a 2 mile transition run in 90+ degree temperatures. When I got up this morning I wasn't sore but I clearly did feel a little fatigued and a little washed out. Doing my 20 mile run has become such a matter of course, that I don't really think twice about it. I get up, lace up my shoes, and head out the door. I usually decide what kind of run I'll do once I get going, and today I just thought I would go easy the whole run. What happened was that the easy effort was fine for the first 8 miles and my pace was a reasonable 9:10 per mile pace, but then the next couple of miles I  just slowed down, and I had a decision to make. I quickly made the decision to increase my effort, which turned out to be very interesting because what seemed to be me slowing down and being tired didn't really matter as I locked into a nine minute pace and just kept it for the remainder of my run. I even decided to run a little longer and to add a hard uphill climb near the end of my run. I have a 1 mile climb that is between 8 to 10% grade that normally takes me about 12 minutes to go up if I go pretty hard and it took me 13 minutes near the end of today's run. Immediately when I crest the top of the climb, I turned around and head down the 1 mile descent as hard as I can which normally is a little over six minute pace and today was closer to seven minute pace. That just goes to show that it's harder to smash tired legs but you can still put in a solid effort. The final 2 miles I maintained my nine minute pace and got home and then jumped on my bike for a half an hour which I regularly due to flush my legs and then jumped in the pool for 10 minutes which is always nice. My NormaTec compression pants still await me later today but I already feel pretty good, with the exception of a little bit of IT soreness which probably ultimately came from the downhill portion of my run near the end.  I have six weeks to go before Iron Man Boulder, and I have to admit I'm feeling ready for the race. I still have two more 20 mile runs to achieve my 20 mile runs for 20 consecutive weeks goal but as I said in a recent blog that really has been to supplanted by other goals and foci.  Today was a great example of that, as today's run became another experience in my journey and additional memories for my muscles and brain to get around when it comes to Iron Man training. Effective Iron Man training is about balance and I have to make sure that I don't stress myself too much at this stage of the game with just six weeks to go. Two weeks from now I will hopefully complete my last 20 mile run and begin my taper for Iron Man Boulder.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Perspiration, Inspiration, and Focus

While having my weekly call with Coach Lucho this week, I commented on looking forward to having something new to focus on.  Lucho saw what I didn't, that my 20 mile weekend runs had become routine and were no longer something I even concerned myself with!  With Ironman Boulder approaching in less than 7 weeks, I asked what I could focus on to improve my cycling in this period of time.  That's how I got my marching orders for the next 4 weeks.

Lucho shared a workout that he learned from Dave Scott, not bad company, which is to do 20 minute intervals broken up as 7 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 3 minutes in Zone 4, then repeat.  These are tough, as I've already discovered by doing one of them just two days after my last long run.  However, I'm already looking forward to doing a few of these during my long bike this Saturday. In fact, this is what I'm thinking about rather than my 20 mile run.

It's interesting how our goals can evolve and change, as just 17 weeks ago, the idea of running 20 miles every weekend for 20 weeks was somewhat daunting.  While I never doubted that I could do it, there were certainly many things that could go wrong and derail this goal.  Now, as I near the completion of this task, it has already been supplanted by another goal.  That is life, and that is certainly my life.  I always tell people that I always set a bar that I can't reach, because if I happen to reach the bar, I'll automatically set a higher one.  Once again, ironman training imitates life.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I’m now 16 weeks into my mission of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  Coach Lucho tells me that last weekend I had a “breakthrough.”  The crazy thing is that, in the week following a solid week of training that culminated in a very hard trail half marathon in the midst of my weekly 20 mile run, I “doubled down” with my biggest week of training in quite a while.  I ultimately put in 18 hours of training, all of it very specific, in fact, 17 hours of training were done in just 5 days.  In the four days preceding my long run, I did hard bike intervals, hard run hill intervals and two solid long bike days on my indoor trainer.  Not the run up that I would expect to what turned out to be my best 20 mile run since I began this journey.  And….I didn’t even run 20 miles!  But, I digress.  My run started innocently, my legs felt tired, but at least they only had minimal soreness from the preceding week.  My first mile did give me a positive indication of what was to come.  I ran the first mile in about 8:50, which was faster than most of my first miles, especially when I really try to keep it mellow and comfortable.  Around mile 4 my left quad was a little sore and I was wondering what the day would be like, but the soreness didn’t last more than a mile or so and I kept clicking off 8:40’ish miles.  Hmmmm, this was interesting.  I try to break my progression effort into thirds.  The first seven miles were done very comfortably, and the for the next seven I picked up the effort a notch to a moderately comfortable effort, all the while noticing that my paces were still solidly in the 8:35 range.  By the time I got to mile 14 and started picking up my effort another notch, I was starting to think about how far I’d run.  Coach Lucho had given me permission to run longer than 20 miles ‘if I felt like it.’  So, I began thinking, perhaps I’ll just run easy and comfortably and get an extra mile in….but I kept running hard, and my paces were now closer to 8:20….hmmmm, this is very interesting.  By the time I got to running Mile 20, I just went as hard as I could, with no ideas as to how fast I was going.  Mentally, I was prepared to slow down and even stop if I started to slow appreciably.  When I hit Mile 20 and saw my time of 8:07, the adrenaline certainly kicked in to not only encourage me to run another mile, but to give it everything I had.  The final mile, Mile 21, was also done in 8:07.  I probably had more miles in my legs, but I have no reason to be greedy, so I finished and began my recovery routine, which ultimately includes easy spinning on the bike, easy swimming and about an hour with my NormaTec machine.  Over the past 16 weeks, my best pace for 20 miles has been 8:42, and I tend to average right around 8:50 when there aren’t extenuating circumstances.  My pace on this day….8:31.  WTF!  And, it wasn’t even for 20 miles, it was for 21 miles.  And, I wasn’t sore that day, and really wasn’t sore (at least not to speak of) the next couple of days.  How and why did I have this breakthrough?  Coach Lucho says it's for a few reasons, the simplest of which may be that I have steadfastly learned to listen to my body and not do anything stupid.  I have built into this gradually, paid very close attention to my recovery, and known when to take it easy.  Most of my weeks during this journey have had me training between 10 and 14 hours a week, with a high degree of specificity.  I rarely run more than 3 total days out of the week, and many weeks have only run one other day than my long run.  Of course, when I’m not running I'm biking.  Of note, I only swim about an hour a week, although I'm ramping that up a bit as I close in on Ironman Boulder.  I have been trying to swim 10-15 minutes a day, in order to maintain the “feel" of the water.  So, back to my “breakthrough."  Mentally, 20 miles no longer feels long.  In fact, my “long runs” feel oddly short, as if I’ve traveled through some type of wormhole.  The proof, of course, will occur in eight weeks, when I step off my bike at Ironman Boulder and embark on another “routine” 20 plus mile run.  Over the last 16 weeks I’ve run on tired legs, sore legs, in oppressive heat and humidity, literally with just about every circumstance I might encounter on the day of an ironman.  A few years ago, I put the number “8:47” on my bathroom wall.  Until recently, it was a lofty (and unrealistic) goal for an ironman run pace.  This week, it suddenly became a real number, if not in Boulder (and it’s accompanying altitude), then in Chattanooga seven weeks later.  Either way, no matter what happens, the journey continues to inspire me and makes me rather bear these workouts than fly to those that I know not of (my apologies to William Shakespeare).

Thursday, June 9, 2016

It's the little things that matter

I just went out this past weekend to complete my 15th straight 20 mile weekend run.  Nothing more, nothing less.  In fact, on Thursday night I had run 12 miles, including a set of 7 hard quarter mile efforts that left my legs feeling sore the next day.  At least when I woke up my legs weren’t sore, although they were certainly carrying some fatigue.  That’s the idea, however, to find different ways to simulate how my legs and body will feel when I get off the bike at my next Ironman.  Over the past fifteen weeks, this has included a multitude of approaches, including doing a hard 100 mile bike the day before my run, or running in the oppressive heat and humidity of Florida after a few fifteen hour work days.  This run already had it’s stress component, but I had added another.  After warming up with a fairly typical 5 mile effort, I jumped into a half marathon.  I was just planning to use it for the water stops and just enjoy the day, but there’s always something about a race that gets into ones head.  I knew the course included some dirt trails, but what I didn’t know was that most of those trails were fairly technical single track that required both close attention and care in order to avoid falling (one of my favorite habits historically).  I also didn’t quite appreciate the fact that there would be over 1500 feet of climbing on the course, packed into the middle 7-8 trail miles.  Furthermore, the many of the technical downhill sections would not allow me to gain back time or speed, but would slow me down.  Not that knowing this would have mattered.  After 15 weeks of 20 mile runs every weekend, I don’t really think about obstacles any more, I just go out and run.  That was the point of this endeavor in the first place!  And, so, the “race” began.  I actually started a little faster than I should have, running into someone I knew from a previous race (or, rather, they knew me).  When I realized that I was running too fast, I let them go ahead (they would finish in 14th place, 20 minutes ahead of me), and got into my rhythm on the first four miles of roads.  A number of people passed me during these miles, and then we hit the trails and, immediately, the hills.  What I didn’t think about, but recognize now, was that I almost immediately started attacking the climbs.  Not too hard, but hard enough.  A few people still managed to pass me, but I stayed in a comfortable rhythm and effort.  I only tripped twice, both times catching myself from an injurious fall.  I concentrated intently on my footing.  It was on the way to the turnaround point of the course, mile 8 of the race, mile 13 of my day, that I saw some of the people who had passed me earlier, that I would ultimately catch on my way to the finish.  Fortunately, the technical trails were almost over by around mile 8-9 of the race.  I had been passed repeatedly by this one guy on every downhill, which he would just “bomb,” but I would pass him back on the uphill portions.  I put a lot of space between me and him on the last long uphill, and even warded him off on the fire road on the way back down, passing others while feeling very comfortable running downhill, again, at about 15 miles into my day, which was encouraging.  There was one last very technical downhill section where I had to slow down and the downhill guy caught me just before we hit the roads for the last 2 1/2 miles.  We decided to run together, but he couldn't hang with me as I think I laid down a 7:30 mile.  My brain was in race mode as I could see a couple of guys who had passed me much earlier in the race.  I kept gaining on them as we reached the last half mile.  With a little more than a quarter mile to go, I made the pass.  Male's being who we are, they picked it up and passed me back.  I knew that the finish included a sharp right turn and an a 150 yard ramp uphill.  The moment we made the turn, I hit the afterburners.  They both tried to stay with me, but it wasn’t even close.  By the time I hit the finish line, I was a good 10-20 yards ahead of them.  I finished strong 18 miles into my long run.  I ended the day jogging the 2 miles back to my car and getting an Aroha drink at my kid’s restaurant!  I had only subsisted on water for my entire 20 mile run, which is something else I've been working on.  It's hard to believe that I only have five more weeks of 20 mile runs to go to reach my 20 miles for 20 weeks goal.  What's remarkable to me is how my brain no longer even notices that I'm doing a 20 mile run.  I don't notice the hills, and I don't notice any obstacles.  I just go out and get it done.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Being Passionate and Humble

My good friend Rudy loves to tell the story of how we first met.  I was looking at the results of a sprint triathlon that we had just finished and I introduced myself as the guy who beat him!  This was vintage Mike Wasserman.  I was quite excited about my efforts that day and enthusiastically wanted to share my excitement.  The results were actually secondary.  A few years later, I was just as excited when Rudy passed me during the run of another sprint triathlon.  What has always mattered to me when I race triathlons is giving it my best effort.  Of this I am quite passionate.  

There are many people in the field of geriatrics who have known me for many years.  I have worn my passion on my sleeve in a similar fashion.  Having been blessed to have had success in a number of endeavors in my chosen profession, I am often excited to share my knowledge with others.  I recognize that at times this can turn people off as my passion can be overwhelming and come across as if I have too big of an ego.  This is actually something that I am working on.  It can be difficult, however, when my gut tells me that I have some answers as to the best way to care for frail older adults.  In both clinical situations and in business, I have always trusted my gut, and it has often served me well.  Figuring out how to effectively channel those instincts has become my holy grail.

Today was week 13 in my mission to complete a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks.  It was easily my most difficult run and it was truly humbling.  The fact that I essentially completed 85% of an ironman over a weekend just two weeks ago, and did a solid 20 mile run in Central Park last weekend, culminating with a 10K, put me in a position today where my legs were tired and were pretty sore just 10 miles into my run.  However, there was no way I wasn’t completing my run today.  In my usual enthusiastic and optimistic approach, I actually went out a little faster than usual today for the first eight miles, which in retrospect may have been a bit ambitious.  Again, that’s me, and as I started slowing down, I had to remodulate my plans and adjust my effort.  I made one last attempt to pick up my effort with four miles to go, but my right calf started to spasm, and I realized that today was just about completing the twenty miles.  Still, running 20 miles at nearly 57 years of age under such circumstances at about a 9 minute per mile pace is something I am quite proud of.

I always say that Ironman often imitates life and today was no exception.  There have been many times in my career that my enthusiasm to share my thoughts and ideas about the most effective way to deliver care to older adults is too strong.  In these circumstances, as of late, I have been learning to slow down, just as I did today when I got ahead of myself during my 20 mile run.  There is a definite balance between allowing ones passion to show through and maintaining a level of humbleness that assures that we can get to the finish line.  The challenge, on the other hand, if figuring out when it’s time to push forward and when it’s time to back off.  While I am proud of the fact that I am nearly 2/3 of the way to my goal, I was quite humbled by my experience today.  

This week was the Annual Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society.  As is my annual experience, each day lasted about 15 hours.  I saw many old friends, heard lots of great talks and learned a lot about the state of geriatrics in today’s world.  There was a lot of angst over the upcoming new government rules for physicians.  My experience from the business side of healthcare over the last three decades is setting off lots of bells and whistles in my head and heart.  I kept my thoughts and opinions mostly to myself this past week, a departure from my usual passionate desire to tell everyone what I think.  Over the coming weeks, I think that I’ll formulate my thoughts in a constructive fashion so that anyone who is interested might have the opportunity to consider my suggestions.   

Saturday, May 21, 2016


On my way to completing a weekly 20 mile run over 20 consecutive weeks, I keep gaining new experiences.  Each of these are filed away in my brain to be used when I need them the most, during an ironman.  My most recent occurred during my 20 mile run in Central Park, NYC.  I had timed this run to coincide with my 34th wedding anniversary trip to NYC with my wife.  It came just 6 days after my last twenty miler, which was run just a day after a very solid 100 mile bike ride.  When I headed out to Central Park, I thought I felt good.  However, by the time I was coming around to finish the first loop in the Park (about 6 miles), I noticed that my quads were feeling sore.  This is highly unusual, and may have been due to a couple of factors.  First, I had literally done nearly 85% of an Ironman the weekend before.  Second, I had walked a ton the day before, which was highly unusual for me and puts an unnatural strain on my leg muscles.  Nevertheless, this was what it was.  I put the pain out of my head and just kept running.  I followed my usual protocol of starting with an easy effort and letting the effort get gradually harder.  This meant that my pace at the beginning was around 9 minutes per mile, and this pace did slow a little during miles six through twelve, when my left knee started getting a little sore.  I’m not used to the unrelenting ups and downs that Central Park surprisingly has.  I did stop once to stretch, which actually helped my quads and my knee.  My last loop was timed to coincide with a 10K being run in Central Park that day.  There were a lot of people running and I was in a pack of people the entire time.  I did have about 5-10 minutes in between my 12th mile and the 10K so I stretched some more and hoped that I wouldn’t tighten up from stopping.  As soon as I got rolling (took about a quarter of a mile due to the number of people), I just ran hard, and actually managed to maintain an 8:30 pace most of the way.  As usual, I just let the difficulty come to me, which it did, as did the quad and knee soreness that returned to my legs a few miles into the final 10K.  But the thought of completing my 20 mile run never entered my mind.  It just so happened that today’s run would be associated with quad and knee pain.  This fact wouldn’t even have a huge impact on the pace I was running at.  This has been the most mind blowing part of my weekly 20 milers.  My commitment to doing this has trumped any self doubt or questions about my ability to not only run twenty miles, but to run it at somewhere in the vicinity of a 9 minute per mile pace, every time I go out!

Sunday, May 8, 2016


11 weeks ago I begin my journey to do a 20 mile run weekly for 20 weeks. Today I completed number 11. What made today's run remarkable was that yesterday I did a 100 mile bike ride with about 6000 feet of climbing and I did it with an effort that was arguably as hard as any Ironman bike ride I've ever done. That set me up today for a 20 mile run on tired legs. Moreover, my bike fit is probably slightly off and I have been having some trouble with left knee pain when doing long rides on my triathlon bike. Fortunately, the left knee pain is superficial and I doubt that there's any structural problems with my knee. That said, I started today's run definitely tired with minimal soreness except for my left knee as well as a tight left hamstring. I decided not to look at my pace the entire run and to just run based on feel. I ran the first 6 miles at a very easy effort in relationship to my breathing (breathing every sixth step). The next 6 miles was done breathing comfortably (every fifth step). The next six miles were done at my MAF breathing (every fourth step).  I saved the last two miles for going as hard as I could, breathing every 3rd step.  My legs held up fine, although there was some burning in them the last few miles ("shut up legs" was definitely in order during these last four miles).  My pace the first 12 miles was 9:36, and the last 8 miles was 9:12, for an overall average pace of 9:26.  My last mile was my fastest, 8:59!

The best part of todays run was my mental state and attitude.  Despite the circumstances going into the run today, I knew I would do well.  It almost never crossed my mind that I wouldn't complete this workout.  In fact, during the three hours and nine minutes of my run, negative thoughts entered my consciousness for less than a total of one minute!  I knew that I could do this run.  This is a great place to be with 13 weeks to go before Ironman.  It's also a place I've never been before.  The idea of doing the twenty 20 mile runs has always been about reaching this point.  I thank Coach Lucho for the concept and for supporting me as I've gotten here.  What is somewhat "surprising" to me is that I've reached this mental state with plenty of time to spare. Perseverance has definitely paid off!

Saturday, March 12, 2016


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.