Friday, May 31, 2013

An Iron Ending

Two weeks ago I did, by far, the toughest thing I have ever done when I raced Ironman Texas in The Woodlands.  It's taken every bit of two weeks to recover from the race and to gain the proper perspective on what I went through that day, and what I went through in the preceding ten months to prepare for that day.  I'm sure I can't do the experience justice in words and photos, but I'll do my best.

I've often heard it said about Ironman that the man who finishes the race is not the same as the man who starts the race.  I couldn't agree more.  Looking back on my first blog in July 2012, I'm blown away at how far I've come since that day.  I remember signing up for Ironman and wondering how I would ever be able to swim 2.4 miles, or ride a bike for 100 miles.  As I passed those milestones in training again and again my perspective changed.  I stopped worrying about finishing and started considering how fast I might finish or how I might attack the bike to set myself up for a stronger run.  Tactics and preparation replaced fear.

I hit my training peak in early April about six weeks out from race day.  Along the way I ran four marathons in as many months, setting a 3:31 PR at the Houston Marathon in January.  My training became a routine.  My weekdays consisted of pre and post work strength, run and bike training and trips to Clark Pool in Brownsville dominated my lunch breaks.  My weekends were filled up with 80 + mile rides, long runs and bricks along the chip seal South Texas country roads from Harlingen to Port Mansfield, and on my stationary trainer for countless solitary hours in the pain cave.

In April I participated in a couple of warm up races to test my fitness level and practice my transitions.  In back to back weeks to start the month I finished first overall at the Brownsville ISD Anyone Can Tri Mini Triathlon and finished first in my age group at the Republic of Texas Triathlon Festival Half-Iron in Corpus Christi.  With the age group win in Corpus I qualified for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this August.  Not bad.

Who has two thumbs and a Half Iron age group win? This guy!

After my test race in Corpus, I felt a lot better about my fitness level and changed my focus to maintenance.  I finished April with over 30,000 yards in the pool, another 650 miles on the bike and more than a 100 miles on the pavement.  I maintained a similar pace through the first two weeks of May before finally starting my taper on the 11th.  I spent the last week before the race maintaining my fitness level without going overboard, studying the weather and race reports, packing and re-packing my gear and getting in plenty of sleep and healthy eating.  It was a weird feeling to dial back the intensity after ten months of heavy training.  I'd forgotten how much free time I used to have before I started the journey to IMTX.

Carb loading with Javier during taper week.

The days before the race were a bit of a blur.  Packet pickup.  Bike and gear check.  Athlete dinner and race briefing.  Practice swim.  Final preparation.  On and on.  Ironman is not just a race.  It is an event on a magnitude which I have never before been a part of.  As I shuffled from one pre-race event to another I must have looked like a lost child.  I was overwhelmed and my anxiousness was readily apparent to everyone around me.

Relax, dude.  It's packet pickup.

The practice swim on Friday morning added a degree of calm that I hadn't expected.  Though The Woodlands had emerged from it's relatively cool spring with a vengeance about a week before the race, Lake Woodlands was still hovering close to the 76 degree wetsuit cutoff on Friday morning.  Wading out into the lake and taking stock of the water temperature and quality on an 800 meter swim focussed my mind and gave me a better feeling about Saturday's swim.

Triathlete chorizo

After spending much of Friday lounging around the pool and the condo with Mark and Lacy and drinking approximately three gallons of water and Powerade, I slipped into bed at about 9:30 and managed to get a solid five or six hours of shut eye before the alarm went off at 4:00 am.

I was nervous leaving transition and walking to the swim start, but didn't really get a chance to full on panic because Mark, Lacy, Mike, Crystal, Sheralee and the Vasquez family were all walking to the start line with me.  I was able to politely chit chat and and pass the time without my mind getting in my way too much.  We huddled together, said hello to Mark Coppins and Rick Seija and their families and listened to the announcer giving instructions and race updates.  I learned that the water temp had climbed to 77, less than a degree warmer than the day before, but into the "wetsuit optional" category.  I had a choice at that point...swim without a wetsuit or swim with a wetsuit and be ineligible for possible age group awards or World Championship slots.  I decided to keep the suit on.  Javier did too.  We reasoned that the energy saved by pre-race buoyancy awaiting the cannon and extra buoyancy on the course would outweigh the possible discomfort of overheating during the swim.  And neither of us had any expectations of getting on the podium.  When the pros started at 6:50 I kissed Lacy goodbye and made my way to the start line.


It's hard to describe the emotion I felt as I walked under the swim start arch and found myself on the other side of the fence separating spectator from participant.  All of the training, all of the suffering, all of the hard work and dedication had climaxed in that moment.  It was emotional.  I saw a lot of people around me crying.  Not from fear, but from joy.  I was overcome with excitement in that moment.  I started jumping up and down and clapping my hands waiting for the crowd ahead of me to walk down the ramp and enter the water.  I found Javier, wished him luck and we swam out into the crowd.

Those next few minutes were the best of the day for me.  I looked back at the bridge over Lake Woodlands and waived to the spectators.  I made small talk with another athlete from Quebec and wished everyone around me good luck and good health.  Everyone was cheerful and engaging.

And then, in a moment, it began...

If you like the sensation of drowning, you'll love the Ironman swim start!

I'll try not to bore you with all of the details of a 140.6 mile/14+ hour race.  Here's the cliff's notes version:  My swim was great.  I strategically started near the back of the pack and weaved my way forward in the first 1900 meters to gain a solid position by the first turn buoy.  By playing catch up I was able to be aggressive and pick a line near to the center of the course and overtake the majority of the slow swimmers without becoming a speed bump for the faster swimmers.  I avoided the worst of the typical MMA style swim-fighting that occurs in the first few hundred meters of the race but did manage to find myself on the receiving end of an elbow to the right eye a few hundred meters before making the final turn into the canal.  That stunned me and put me off my pace for a few seconds, but ultimately didn't do any real damage.  I exited the water in 1:17 (better than I expected) and after pausing in transition long enough to get changed out and lathered up with sunscreen, I hit the bike.  Lacy and the rest of team RGV were right there to see me off and I felt great as I hit the road and started pedaling.

Team Never Quit/RGV Tri Club/Footworks

So aero. So very, very aero. 

The first 50 miles of the bike were beautiful as we climbed north out of The Woodlands into Conroe, Montgomery County and the Sam Houston National Forest.  A light tail wind, clean pavement and still rising sun let me keep at a pace above 20 mph without much effort.  By mile 60 I had become increasingly aware that the heat had gone up and the wind (now on the nose as we turned to the southeast) were going to make the rest of the ride a lot less enjoyable.  I ate according to my pre race plan and took in almost 200 combined ounces of water and sports drink along the course, but began to realize that I was going to have trouble staying hydrated for the run if I didn't slow down a little on the bike.  From mile 60-85 I backed off the pace, choosing only to push it on the down hill portions (which were few and far between).  By mile 90 I needed to pee (a great sign as far as I was concerned - it meant I was hydrated) so I stopped and took care of business and checked my time.  I was on pace for a bout a six hour bike finish.  By my calculation, I would be off the bike and on the run by about 2:30pm.  That meant that I would have covered two thirds of the race with 9.5 hours remaining on the clock.   I smiled.  I knew that I could walk a marathon in under seven hours if I had to.  I knew, in that moment, that if I could avoid a catastrophic accident in the next 22 miles, I would go to bed an Ironman.

I finished on pace and took my sweet time in transition.  As I mentioned earlier, The Woodlands chose to emerge from a cold spring with a vengeance the week before Ironman.  The temperature on race day was 91 degrees (a high for the year thus far) with a heat index over 100.  Pavement on the bike and run course were radiating at a temperature of 110-115.  It was, in a word, hot.

I've run hot races before.  I've run hot halfs in Brownsville, hot fulls in San Antonio and hot Olympic triathlons in Austin.  But running a marathon in the low 80's in the morning at Rock N' Roll San Antonio in November is a very different animal than running a marathon in the low 90's in the mid afternoon in East Texas humidity in May.  It was like running in a hot bowl of soup.  And it put a hurt on me almost immediately.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a very good runner.  I love to run.  I run in the heat of summer and cool of winter.  I run numerous sub-4:00 marathons a year.  I run on the road, on trails and on the treadmill.  I run on vacation.  I run with my dogs.  I run with my wife.  I can run a half in a little more than 1:30.  I run 30-40 miles a week year round.  I coach runners.  I once ran a 41 mile ultramarathon.  I run for speed and for distance.  Seriously...running is my thing.  But at Ironman...I could barely run at all.

My blistering IMTX marathon pace. Get it?

Within a 5K of the start line my calves began to violently cramp.  The hydration level I was so confident about at mile 90 of the bike had evaporated in a pool of salty sweat by mile 3 of the run.  With each leg cramp I had to slow my pace to a walk in order to let the cramp pass.  And each time I restarted my run the distance between starting to run and the next leg seizing cramp was a little less.  Complicating matters was the heat induced nausea that I was feeling which prevented me from taking in little more nutrition than ice water and the occasional handful of potato chips, and the hot spot on my left forefoot that was clearly developing into a blister with each subsequent step.

The race course had become an infirmary.  At the 5K point I look around and saw walking wounded everywhere.  I saw athletes double over vomiting and seated along the course grabbing their calves and crying from pain.  I realized in that moment that I had two paths to the end of the race: 1) walk/run/shuffle through the final 23 miles stopping to hydrate and eat what I could at every aid station or 2) push myself to hard and end the race in the back of an ambulance.  I chose option 1.

The next 15 or so miles were pure misery.  The cramps and nausea continued and the blister grew.  But my spirits were lifted when, near the start of the third lap of the run course, I saw Mark and Lacy and Jun!  Mark gave me the worst pep talk of all time, Lacy said something sweet and encouraging and Jun jumped up and down yelling "KRISSSS!  You're gonna be an Ironman! YOU CAN DO IT!!!"  Since the worst of the heat had passed by that time, I used their combined enthusiasm to force myself to run a little harder and push for the finish line.

I finished the last lap with a little less pain and a lot more purpose.  I had a mantra in my head: "Left, right, repeat.  Left, right, repeat."  I put my head down and plowed ahead.  As I neared the finish line I saw Mark Coppins who was about to head out on his third lap.  He smiled and said "Kris Healey, you are an Ironman!"  I smiled knowing that Mark was well under the cut off to start the third lap and finish under 17 hours.  I could hear the crowd at the finish line at that point and could hear Mike Reilly welcoming each finisher across the line.  I picked up the pace turning into the S shaped finisher chute and facing the packed bleachers adjacent to the finish line.  I saw my wife and friends in a field of neon yellow Footworks shirts.  Jun was on his feet leaping up and down.  Lacy, all 4'10" of her, was so elated that she looked to be about 7' tall.  As I ran past I blew Lacy a kiss and said "I love you," and then, just like that, the finish line, Mike Reilly, a nice man grabbing my elbow and escorting me to the side, a cold bottle of water, a towel across my shoulders, a photograph and a long, long sigh of relief. 14:16 and change.

Smooches, babe.

Rick, Me, Javier and Mark.  RGV Tri Club pretty much wrecked shop as the kids say.

Crossing that finish line was a the culmination of what had been a very long road.  Much, much longer than the 140.6 miles I raced on that Saturday in The Woodlands.  At the end of the journey I crossed the finish line alone...but along the way I was never, ever truly alone.  I was surrounded by friends, family and others who gave me inspiration, motivation and encouragement.  I was supported along the way by co-workers and teammates.  I leaned on others and relied on them to lift my head up when I was tired, help me hold on when I felt like letting go, and carry me through the rough patches.  I may have be alone when the cannon boomed and the race began, but without dozens of others, I never would have been there to begin with.  And it is for those others that supported me that I must say a heartfelt and deep thank you.

Lacy for standing by me, supporting me, worrying for me, cheering me on and joining me in my crazy athletic exploits.  Mark for flying across country to cheer me on, cook me dinner and give me an off-colored pep talk at mile 15 when I really needed it.  Sue, Deb and Jun for showing me what was possible.  Javier, Mark, Fabian, Sheralee, the Crazy Legs Running Crew, the Bod Squad Running Team, Footworks and the RGV Tri Club for sharing the miles.  Amy and Gina who inspire me everyday with the way they challenge themselves and inspire and encourage others.  Renea and George for giving us another family and making Lacy and I a part of their dream and passion. The Lone Survivor Foundation for all that they do for our veterans and Marcus for the inspiration and for his service.  Noah and Maya for reminding me that all of this stuff is supposed to be fun.  My Healey, Everly, Landry, Welch and Klostermann families for cheering me on from near and far.  My Mom and my Father-in-Law for reminding me that limits are meant to be pushed and broken and that you're never too old to try something new.  My Dad for teaching me about dedication and perseverance.  Courtney for giving me inspiration to fight.  Kate and Beth for encouraging me to start running.  Casey and Alli for always having the right words to make me smile.  Team Iron Raccoon for covering duty, swapping call weeks, encouragement and support.  Art and Alex for upping the PR and pushing me in every race from 5K to Marathon.  Dr. Joe for keeping me upright and healthy along the way.  Footworks for everything they do for Harlingen and the running community.  Bicycle World, Austin Tri Cyclist and Wally's for the education.  The awesome staff at Clark Pool and Josue at Valley Baptist for always asking me how my training was going and encouraging me to push harder.  And everyone who watched me on the course on Saturday from across the country.  I didn't cross that finish line alone.  You were all there with me.

With my support crew at the finish line.  Couldn't have done it without these two.

So, now what?  What is in store for the Ironman now that he's earned the title?  Well, for the last two weeks I've engaged in an aggressive, if frustrating (like going from 60-0), course of recovery focussing on a gym and swim routine to regain upper body muscle and rest the legs.  When I've sufficiently recovered I'll go on a two week vacation to Maine with Lacy and then tackle the fall race season with a, hopefully, renewed vigor.  I'm planning two more half irons and an Olympic before the end of the year.  And, I'll probably need to get myself an m-dot tattoo at some point...

But, for now, I'm mostly focussed on being the best Iron mate that I can be.  Lacy has a long list of honey do's that I've been putting off and I'm more than happy to oblige her.  And, in case you were curious, my wife has caught the Ironman the Monday after the race she had enrolled in Ironman Cozumel - December 1, 2013.  Her 31st birthday.  And if you though I was determined and dedicated on my iron journey, you haven't seen anything yet.

Thank you for following me along the way and cheering me on.  And thank you for your combined $1275 worth of donations to the Lone Survivor Foundation along the way.  I truly appreciate it.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

In like a lion, out like a lamb

It's been awhile since I touched base.  I suppose I'm due for an update.  Especially since I am 41 days 12 hours and some odd minutes away from the canon booming...

So what have I been up to lately?  Well, there is an old saying about March: "In like a lion, out like a lamb."  That pretty well sums up my month.

March definitely came in like a lion.  After a monster February, I took the first three weeks of March by storm but then, metaphorically speaking, the wheels came off.  I was racking up some heavy mileage in the pool and pain cave until the 20th when I started to taper my bike and run mileage in preparation for the Show The Trail Who's Boss Half Marathon in Brownsville.  That taper, which should've lasted a couple of days, turned into an eight day long slouch-fest that kept me out of the pool and, mostly, off the bike through the end of the month.  I didn't intend to back off of my training for a week but a perfect storm of post-race soreness, travel fatigue, unexpectedly long days at work and general training burnout overcame me.  And just like that...out like a lamb.

Running in "The Soup" at the Show The Trail Who's Boss Half Marathon

In spite of the unintended layoff, I still managed some big numbers in March (25,000 yards in the pool, 620 miles on the bike and 110 on the road).  The highlight of the month came on the weekend of the 23rd and 24th when I placed third in my age group (and third overall) at the Show The Trail Who's Boss Half Marathon in Brownsville and then we took off to Corpus Christi to watch my father-in-law and some friends run the inaugural Navy Freedom Marathon.  I ran my half in Brownsville in 1:41 flat in ugly conditions.  It was hot and humid and, probably, a good estimate of what I'll be facing in March in The Woodlands.  I'm usually a lousy runner in those conditions so it was heartening to run a strong race (and PR!) in the soup.  I felt like I had a lot left in the tank when I crossed the finish line too, so hopefully that means that all of this training has increased my fitness level considerably and will make IMTX a little bit less of a sufferfest.  It was also a fun race for me because I got to watch a group of runners I had coached finish their first half marathons.  Seeing them complete their goals provided me with some great inspiration.  Watching another group of friends and family fight the 50mph gusts and 30mph sustained winds for 26.2 miles the next day in Corpus was icing on the cake.

Tough age group: Top three overall were all 30-34

I've started April off with a strong week of training.  In spite of being on call at work I put in about 9,000 yards in the pool, 100 miles on the bike and another 30 miles on the road.  I ended the week with my first triathlon of the year (and my first competitive race in almost 10 months) at the Everyone Can Tri Mini/Micro Triathlon in Brownsville.  The race was a beginner friendly event that still brought in some strong athletes from around the Rio Grande Valley.  When I signed up a few weeks ago, I told Lacy I wanted to do the race (a sprint distance with a 400 meter swim, 13 mile bike and 3 mile run) to test my equipment, practice my transitions and build my confidence before my half iron in Corpus Christi next weekend and IMTX in May.  I also told her that I thought I could win this triathlon and that I was going to race it with that goal in mind.

After a strong swim (about 7 minutes), I flew through transition, mounted my bike and took off.  By about mile three of the bike I was ahead of most of the field and alone on the course.  I wasn't sure if there was a rider ahead of me so I pushed out an average pace of 23 mph hoping to catch anyone ahead  and outpace anyone chasing me.  I didn't see another rider after I turned off of Paredes Line and managed to finish the bike in about 34 minutes.  I pushed through transition and hit the run course at a faster than normal 5K pace, unsure if I needed to play catch-up on the run.  By the time I passed mile two I realized that I was leading the pack and that I could possibly win the race with a strong finish (the time trial start meant someone could finish later than me but still beat my time).  I finished my run in a little under 21 minutes with a total race time around 1:04 and the timekeeper confirmed that I had crossed the line first.

My first overall win in a triathlon.  Too bad the guy in second was still taller than me.

Fortunately for me, my time held up and I managed to take first place overall.  It was my first overall win in a triathlon and a great confidence builder heading into next week's half iron race at The Republic of Texas Triathlon Festival.

The week ahead will be busy...I'll be stacking my training early in the week to allow myself a break on Friday and Saturday before tackling the half iron on Sunday.  The race will be a 1.2 mile bay swim, a 56 mile bike along the seawall and a 13.1 mile run along Shoreline Drive, and if the conditions two weeks ago were any indication of what I'll be facing next week, it's likely to be brutal.

With Gina and Lacy.  It was Gina's first triathlon and Lacy's fourth. 

With triathlon season underway, I am officially in the homestretch.  The restless nights and sore muscles will continue for another month before I enter my final taper.  It's hard to believe, after nine months of training, that the big day is just around the corner.  Thanks for cheering me on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The only easy day was yesterday...

I'm not a veteran, but I have great admiration for all who have served in America's armed forces.  As a member of the law enforcement community I am honored to work alongside many veterans and reservists.  Many of my family members and closest friends have served in the various branches of the military.  Many have been deployed far from home.  Some have served multiple tours in combat theaters.  Some have come home wounded.  I am always aware that it is their service and sacrifice that have allowed me to live in peace and freedom, and I consider it my duty to honor that service by living my life with integrity and doing my best to serve and protect my family, country and community.

As an endurance athlete training for my first Ironman I have sought out inspiration in the stories of men who have endured great hardship.  It is not surprising then that many of the books I've read while training have been written by men like Chris Kyle, Rorke Denver, Mark Owen and Marcus Luttrell who served as Navy SEALs and spent much of the last decade fighting Al Qaeda.

The SEALs motto is "The only easy day was yesterday," and when you're training for an Ironman you'd be surprised at how close to home that axiom hits.  Reading about SEAL training makes you realize just how much the human mind and body can endure when you are determined to achieve your maximum potential.  It provides comfort during long swims, rides, runs and workouts and reminds you that you can always push harder and be better.  Most importantly, perhaps, it reminds you of the extremes that America's best warriors are willing to go to ensure our safety.

Marcus Luttrell wrote the book Lone Survivor about his life in the SEALs and the Operation Red Wings mission and accompanying ordeal that he survived in the summer of 2005.  Marcus is a veteran, a Native Texan and a relative of my good friends George and Renea Perez.  Since his retirement, Marcus and his family have been heavily involved in veterans charities and organizations such as the Boot Campaign.  In 2010 he founded the Lone Survivor Foundation with a goal to restore, empower, and renew hope for wounded warriors and their families through health, wellness, and therapeutic support services.  Through Lone Survivor, Marcus continues to give back to his country and serve those around him.  

Having been so inspired by Marcus' story, and others, throughout my training, I decided to ask if I could help raise awareness and funding for the Lone Survivor Foundation by racing Ironman on their behalf.  Renea graciously put me in touch with the the Foundation who have allowed me to fundraise, train and race while wearing their logo.

Between now and Ironman, it is my goal to raise awareness for the Lone Survivor Foundation and their mission and to encourage donations to the foundation through my charitable donation page and through the purchase of Lone Survivor Foundation Gear and clothing.  I will race Ironman wearing the Lone Survivor logo on my tri suit to raise awareness for the foundation and to remind those around me to never quit. 

Renea gave me a signed copy of Lone Survivor last year that is one of my prized possessions.  The signature is accompanied by the phrase "Never Quit" from the SEAL creed which reads in part:

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

Please join me in spreading the word about the Lone Survivor Foundation.  Please like the foundation on Facebook and share the link to my blog, donation page or the foundation's website.  Please encourage others to donate to the foundation or to get involved in their events.  And please consider a donation to, or purchase from, Lone Survivor Foundation so that they can continue to do the good work of helping America's wounded warriors heal.  

For all they have done for us, we must never forget their courage, service and sacrifice. 

Thank you. Never Quit!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle

There is a saying in my line of work: "The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle."  As I've hit the peak phase of Ironman training I've come to realize that the phrase is equally applicable to the hobby that has come to dominate most of my free time outside of the office.

I started my peak training at the beginning of February and have spent the last 28 days putting up some epic numbers (for an age grouper) in all three Ironman disciplines.  I swam 27,000 yards (more than 15 miles), biked about 450 miles and ran another 110 miles this month.  All told, I completed about 45 hours of cardio in February (about two hours a day) while covering about 20 human powered miles per session.  

Javier and I at the start of our journey.

Reading Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald (and watching old Ironman videos on YouTube) gave me extra motivation to turn my training up a notch this month.  Learning about Mark Allen and Dave Scott's typical training sessions and competitive drive gave me a clearer understanding of what it takes to truly be great in this sport, and what it might take to simply finish this race.  I'm not Allen or Scott, but I've come to realize that after months of training and a steadily increasing workload, I am gaining strength, speed and endurance and am doing things that I wouldn't have thought possible before I started this journey.  I don't expect myself to perform like Allen or Scott, but I am embracing the challenge and making every effort to be the best triathlete I am capable of being.  That has meant early mornings, late nights, lunch break sessions and a severely limited social life, but it has been amazing to see my progress week to week.  Far from thinking of my training sessions as a grind, I have been embracing them with renewed vigor this month.

Ironman training has, for all intents and purposes, become a part time job.  Last week I spent about 20 hours on the road or in the pool.  This week, in spite of the fact that I've been on call, I've still spent close to 15 hours training...and the heavy weeks are just beginning.  I'm a little more than 11 weeks from race day and I won't have much opportunity to take my foot off the gas until the first week of May.  It's become so intense, in fact, that I have paused several times in the last week or two to remember that all of this planning, all of this preparation, all of this training is about one single day, one single race.  Seven months of fatigue and blisters and sweat for one day. One.

Here's hoping that the on that day, all the sweat I've lost in training will mean less blood lost in battle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The wicked twisted road...

I have a Reckless Kelly song on my iPod playlist.  The song is titled "Wicked Twisted Road" and it's a slower paced, melancholy ballad that stands alone among the more upbeat rock and pop songs that I use to keep my pace going on my long runs.  Even though it seems out of place, I can't bring myself to remove it from my playlist because the opening lyrics strike me as the most poignant descriptor of the journey I'm on:

My first love was a wicked twisted road 
I hit the million mile mark at seventeen years old
I never saw the rainbow much less a pot of gold, 
yeah my first love was a wicked twisted road. 

Like I said...It's melancholy.  But what I love about the lyrics is that it reminds me of the fact that this whole, crazy experience started with a pair of running shoes, a desire to prove something and an open road with no end in sight.  

I doubt I've hit the million mile mark yet - and I'm 33 - but I can say that as I reflect back on the fitness journey that began for me four years ago that my first love truly was "the road," wicked and twisted as it may have occasionally been.  And for whatever reason, this song just puts it all in perspective.

This weekend I ran my seventh marathon (eighth if you count my 41 mile ultra-marathon, which I'm inclined to do), and my fourth in as many months.  The LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon was my final training marathon before Ironman (more on that below).  My focus from here on out will be on racing in several practice triathlons at the sprint and half distance to work on my transition skills and fueling plan and keeping my training on point.  I have 14 weeks to go - 98 days - and every single day I need to wake up and ask myself: "How much can I suffer today? How much can I endure today?" Because every time I wake up and answer that question with a strong day of training, I'll be one day closer to a strong race at IMTX.

As for the Austin Marathon...

Lacy and I did Austin last year and loved it.  We both PR'd and had a blast running through one of our favorite cities.  The race was like a 26.2 mile party.  The fans lined the course and crowded the streets in every neighborhood.  The course support was outstanding.  And the course itself was hilly and challenging, which made the mileage fly by.  The best part was the last quarter mile running east down 12th street before turning south onto Congress Street and crossing the finish line in front of the Capitol. It was an amazing race and we were excited to tackle it again.

Like last year, I ran Austin for the LIVESTRONG Foundation this year.  I was able to raise about $500 for cancer support services and ran in honor of some great people.  It has always been important to me to give back to the sport that has given so much to me, and raising money for cancer support services while drawing attention to a great organization was a great way for me to give back.

Unlike last year Lacy and I decided to run the course together this year.  I got my PR at Houston and wanted to take it easy at Austin.  And since I was ready to enjoy a marathon after going all out at Houston, I was happy to have Lacy's company.  Lacy was hoping to beat her PR, and asked me to pace her, so I agreed.  We started with the 3:45 group and hung tight for the first 20 miles (PRing Lacy's half time and 20 mile time along the way) but started to lose a little steam in the final 10K.  Everything was going according to plan until about two miles from the finish when a strong and cold northern wind and some poorly timed leg cramps forced Lacy to slow her pace a little.  We just missed her PR but still had a great run and got to celebrate as some of our Bod Squad and Crazy Legs friends finished their runs.  Our friends Art and Vanessa both PR'd (big time) after strong runs and our teammates Amy and Michelle both ran their first full marathons.  It was great seeing Amy tackle the last hill 800 meters from the finish line with total grit and determination.  Amy trained with me for her first 10K and seeing her finish her first full marathon was inspiring.

Running Austin capped off a marathon season that was, at times, frustrating, enlightening and triumphant.  From San Antonio to Las Vegas to Houston to Austin, I ran a wicked, twisted road that has lead me to the point where I am today: 14 weeks from my first Ironman, feeling strong, confident and ready.

Last week I logged 10,000 yards in the pool, ran about 40 miles (including the marathon), got in close to a hundred miles on the bike and managed to fit in three strength sessions.  This week will look pretty similar.  The volume of training is getting intense.  I'm tearing through my Netflix queue in the pain cave and might grow gills if I spend any more time at Clark Pool on my lunch breaks.  Training is becoming a second job of sorts and dominates my pre-work and post-work schedules (not to mention my lunch breaks).  But 14 weeks from now, when my wicked twisted road comes to an end in The Woodlands, it will all have been worth it ('ve got to read this if you want to know why I even do this).

Thanks again for cheering me on.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Making Some Adjustments

Last Thursday I was driving back to the office from lunch when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my lower back.  It felt similar to the muscle spasms I have occasionally experienced in my calves.  For the next couple of days a dull pain hung around in my lower back and between my shoulder blades.  I chalked it up to too much time in an aero position (160 miles last week) and a recent uptick in the amount of swimming I've been doing.  I figured it was muscle soreness and would pass... It didn't.

After watching me wince and stumble around for a couple of days, Lacy made an appointment for me with her chiropractor Dr. Joe Siragusa.

Lacy has been getting adjusted regularly with Dr. Joe for a year or so and has, on more than one occasion, tried to get me to pay him a visit.  I never saw the need.  Typical tough guy stuff..."You're a can deal with the pain.  Work through it."

After my first visit to the chiropractor I can say this: being a tough guy is pretty stupid.  Dr. Joe (who, incidentally, like me, is a Sig Ep) took care to discuss the chiropractic process to me and to lay the treatment out for me in layman's terms...and then he manhandled me and made it so my shoulders weren't uneven anymore.  It was pretty impressive stuff.

I've felt like a new man since Tuesday and I'll be adding regular adjustments to my training schedule between now and IMTX.

Speaking of adjustments...

I decided, after last week's 160 mile bike tally, and subsequent back pains, that I needed to take a break from the aero position.  So I'm dialing the bike time way back until Saturday and have been hitting the pool with renewed vigor all week.  Aside from being a lower impact/back friendly workout, keeping my head under water gives me some time alone to my thoughts...a precious commodity given the hectic nature of my job.  It's been a nice break from routine, and necessary practice after missing more than a few scheduled pool sessions in January.

In my limited free time, I've been looking for inspiration in the literary world.  I've recently found it in the book "Iron War" by Matt Fitzgerald which details the 1989 Ironman duel between Dave Scott and Mark Allen.  It's fascinating to read about the origins of the sport and to think about how much technology has evolved in the last 24 years.  When Scott and Allen had their famous duel they weren't exactly riding carbon frame, aero fit bikes and dri-fit tri suits while chomping on Gu and sport drinks.  They were gutting out their race in speedos, wool bike shorts and foam visors and sporting decidedly un-aerodynamic mustaches while sipping water and noshing on the occasional banana.  The best part...they were still kicking out times that stand up to today's pros.  I guess it goes to show that it's about the commitment, not the equipment.

Dave Scott's mustache is nearly as epic as his resume

On the tap this week and next?

February 4-10
S - 3000

R - 60 Minutes Z2 w/ 5 x 3 min Z4 w/ 1 min jog
S - 3000 M

B - 60 Minutes Z2 w/ 5 x 5 min Z4
B - 45 Minutes Z2

R - 30 Minutes Z2 *
S - 3000

R - 60 minutes Z2 w/ 10 min Z4
B - 180 Minutes Z2 w/ 5 min Z4

R - 30 Minutes Z2 *
B - 45 Minutes Z1

R - 90 Minutes Z1/Z2
February 11-17
S - 3000

R - 60 Minutes Z2 w/ 3 x 6 min Z4 w/ 2 min jog
S - 3000 M

B - 75 Minutes Z2 w/ 6 x 5 min Z4
B - 45 Minutes Z2

R - 30 Minutes Z2 *
S - 3000

R - 75 minutes Z2 w/ 10 min Z4
B - 210 Minutes Z2 w/ 5 min Z4

R - 30 Minutes Z2 *

Austin Marathon

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nilgai and bison and Lance Armstrong, oh my

I went for a little bike ride today with my RGV Tri Club buddies Javier and Jun.  And by little I mean 101 miles.

We didn't start out this morning with "century ride" on the schedule, but you just don't get days like today in South Texas too often so we decided to take advantage of it.  It was cool and clear and relatively calm out - mid 60s with light wind and puffy white clouds dotting a clear blue sky.

Willacy County wind farm

We started out riding north through the wind farm into Willacy County past windmills, levees, barren fields and the occasional pack of dogs who couldn't resist giving chase (forcing us to do the occasional unscripted sprint).  We had originally decided to ride 70-80 miles with a turn around at the intersection of 1420 and 186, but decided to push on to Port Mansfield on the fly.  It was a great decision.  The port was calmer than I have ever seen it and the wind was more or less non-existent while we headed east on 186.

We ran out of road on 186

After a short break in Mansfield we hit the 50 mile mark and decided to push on to an even hundred.  On the way back west on 186 we passed deer, nilgai, horses and bison.  We saw so much wildlife that it started to feel like a safari.

The goal of the day for Javier and I was to get some saddle time at an easy pace over a long distance.  Four months out from Ironman, we need to start increasing volume and working out fueling plans.  I started the ride with about 700 calories worth of nutrition in the form of Gu, chews, dried fruit and Gatorade.  I also brought two water bottles and a $20 bill for on the road additions.  Between oatmeal, a banana and a protein shake, I had about 550 calories for breakfast before the ride.  I figured I'd need about 100 calories an hour to keep my energy up along the way and thought I had more than enough in the fuel I had packed.  That didn't turn out to be the case.

On the way out of Mansfield we stopped to fill up our water bottles and I decided to wolf down a Snickers at the gas station.  That was good for another 250 calories.  Javier and Jun each grabbed a snack as well.  By mile 70 we were all hungry again and I was down to my final Gu and pack of dried apples.  Jun and I decided that we were both craving real food and settled on a detour to Rio Hondo to hit Ornela's Bakery.

I'm not an expert on Mexican pastries, so I don't know the history of the empanada, but I would be shocked - SHOCKED - if those things weren't invented by a triathlete.  400 calories of flaky pastry with warm pineapple filling was the perfect fuel for the last 25 miles of our ride.  I left Rio Hondo feeling like a new man (and seriously considering putting a couple of Ornela's empanadas in my special needs bag for the bike course at IMTX).

Javier and I chowing down on tasty baked goods.

We finished our century ride with a little bit of head wind and a tough three mile sprint on 508.  101 miles in six hours and twelve minutes.

We took it easy, so I'm not terribly sore, but the sheer volume of the miles we rode today got me thinking about Lance Armstrong.

Everyone who knows that I ride and run has been asking my opinion on Lance Armstrong this week.  Here's my take...

Today I rode 100 miles.  That's a short day on the Tour de France.  On the Tour they ride 20 stages in about 25 days with most stages being in excess of 120 miles (through the French Alps no less!).  Think about that for a minute.  That's like running a marathon a day for three weeks against the most elite marathon runners in the world (much of it uphill).  It's an absolutely insane undertaking.

Do you know what it takes to win one stage of the Tour? How about what it takes to endure the pain and suffering of all 20 stages of the Tour while dominating the best athletes in the sport for seven straight years?  It takes a hell of a lot more than EPO, or for that matter, empanadas.  It takes an incredible amount of will, determination, skill and mental toughness to win at that level consistently.  And in a sport as brutally cutthroat and competitive as professional cycling, it takes a killer instinct and single minded commitment to winning.

I don't condone doping to win.  I don't condone what Lance did, just like I don't condone what Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, A-Rod and Manny Ramirez did to excel in their sport.  But I can't act surprised or disgusted now that the truth is out.  In fact, I can't believe that anyone who cheered as Bonds, McGuire, Sosa, Armstrong and others did super-human things throughout the late 90's and 00's could act aggrieved when the facade came down.  Baseball and cycling were the most dirty sports in the world for more than a decade.  Almost every major star in both sports was doping throughout the steroid era.  Everyone gets holier-than-thou about these guys now, but everyone forgets perspective...Steroids, HGH, transfusions, EPO, greenies...none of it made great athletes.  It just made the great athletes greater.  It made balls fly farther and legs pump harder.  EPO didn't make Lance better than a bunch of average made him better than a bunch of other elite athletes doing the same thing.  Just like the MLB stars of the steroids era, Lance was the best doped up athlete among a field of doped up athletes.

Like everyone else, I wanted to believe that Armstrong was clean.  That he wasn't clean doesn't anger me so much as it saddens me.  He's just one more in a list of people I cheered for who turned out to be, at lease somewhat, artificial.  But unlike the doped up stars of the steroids era, Lance has at least one huge redeeming quality:  He founded one of the most well respected charitable foundations in America with a portion of his ill begotten loot.  Because of that, his legacy, tarnished as it may be, deserves to be elevated above his contemporaries.  And, I suspect, with time it will be.