Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

50 Shades of Suffering

In college I took an entire class on the intellectual problem of evil.  How is it that most monotheistic religions have an all-powerful God and yet there is evil.  We read scripture, The Book of Job, The Brothers Karamazov, descriptions of 20th century genocide — the world is not at a loss for examples of evil.

Among the books was one simply called Suffering and it gave some sort of meaning to suffering — it wasn’t simple a waste of energy or a punishment, it could be redeeming.

It has been decades since I read the book.  But riding a bike has a way to bring the mind around to the topic again.  And then I found these guys did a short video on how to get better at suffering.  Think on that for a moment.  You are going to go out and punish yourself and do things that are avoidable and extremely uncomfortable.  This is a how-to video.

WITSUP? Gender Equity, That’s What

When I can, moreso in the summer than the winter, I frequent a handful of triathlon focused sites.  I read Slowtwitch and Triathlete Magazine articles.  I really enjoy the Down Under perspective from First Off the Bike.  The business of triathlon is covered at the predictably named Triathlon Business.  I follow several professionals’ social media accounts.

It was through social media that last year I found WITSUP.  At first glance, you might think a site devoted to women in triathlon would not be so interesting to me.  But, you’d be wrong.  They do nice interviews, the content — nearly all as far as I can tell — written by women is not always just for women but for triathletes.

Recently, the WITSUP community (like FOTB, also based in Australia) has gone to the front of the parade for changes in how professional races are staged — especially the Ironman World Championships and the biggest of the Challenge races.

A four-part series on gender equity in triathlon is currently being published.  Sara Gross is thorough and even-handed.  Part two of the series is here.  As best I can tell they are also leading the effort to work constructively with the new Women In Tri panel established by WTC.  Go here to get a concise overview of the issues at stake and to lend your own support to the cause.

I signed the letter.  In the area where you leave a modifier next to your name, I wrote the following:

Husband, Father of Four, Supportive Dude, Fan, Finisher of Dozens of Triathons & Open Water Races, Race Volunteer, IM 70.3 World Championship Qualifier, Multiple Ironman Finisher

Being a fan — watching the development of races, seeing the human struggle and triumph, marveling at the execution of near super-human feats — brought the issue to my attention.  As I have developed as an athlete I’ve also gained a sliver of insight into how some of the structural problems affect the professional field — especially draft packs and the effect of strong swim-bikers and how they can affect the female professionals.  As a fan, I want to see deep and competitive fields and not tactics compromised by another simultaneous race happening on the same course.

Last night I took my 10 year old daughter to run with me at the track.  Afterward, we talked about what she saw.  It was an interval session with nearly 30 members of the club present.  I ran near the front of the second group and to her, I was going “super fast”.  She was polite enough not to point out how I struggled with the last 800.  I highlighted that the bulk of the leading group were women.  We talked about them by name and accomplishment: Mothers, 20-something professionals, a 50+ national caliber and record setting age-grouper, former NCAA Division I runners, a doctor, a writer.

Our family has resources.  My children have a strong and accomplished mother demonstrating how to live well. In the end, they will be okay.  But they and so many others will have their horizons broadened — in sport, in business, the arts, academia, the non-profit community — when they have heroes with whom they relate.

Lend your support today.  Make room for the next generation of heroes on the Kona pier.


“I’ve never raced as a 41 year old before,” he says.  He’s still learning — about the race, about the competition, about his own body and response to work.

He is a champion.

“There was no foxing in that run.  I was pushing hard the whole time.”

Shout Out to Training Partners

I’m just back from a run and due to make lunch for the tribe.

This morning it was 24 degrees and according to the experts at weather.com, it felt like 12.  Last night, I bagged out on the run.  I had put on tights, wool socks and the first layer for the torso but then found all manner of excuses not to go out and get started.  It was no warmer today, but the sunshine made all the difference in my motivation.

I guess I can run in the dark and I can run in the cold but the combination is too often overwhelming to my mojo.

There has been a lot of bagging out on runs lately.  In fact, before this morning it has been 11 days with no running.  If consistency is the key to endurance training, I’ve been consistently doing the wrong thing.  Weather, work, a trip out of town for a funeral, busy schedule at home, weather — the excuses are too familiar.

Today’s run was not special in the traditional sense.  Just a hair under seven miles at an average 8:19 per mile pace, it was unremarkable excepting the stroke of good fortune that came my way.  At the turnaround, I commented silently to myself that today is the kind of day that calls for a training partner.  I was finally overcoming the excuse machine of my own head and doing something, but the quality of the run itself was not that great.  In addition to the mediocre physical output, I had spent the first 25 minutes bitching in my own head about the wind, about the freezing sweat on the back of my neck, about the Dutch Oven effect created by my fleece facemask as I breathed out the fumes of a sausage and egg breakfast.  I think I’d rather have a bad session according to the physical numbers than a bad session where I reinforce all manner of negative thoughts and attitudes toward exercise.  Yet, here I was doing both.

Then part way home I passed a woman covered head to toe — just like me.  A fleece hat and face covering, large glasses, jacket, gloves, and tights obscured all identity.  Except, as we passed, she called out, “Is that Kent?”

It was my friend Kirby from the NOVA Running Club.  She turned around immediately and ran with me.  My spirits lifted.  She chatted.  I sped up just a bit to keep pace and soon enough we had covered about two miles before we parted and I was nearly home.

She invited me out with a couple of the other regulars from the track to run 15 miles tomorrow.  I declined but with a lifted heart and a smile.  Good fortune found me today and brought me that training partner right when I needed it.


I ran slow today.  E rode her bike and along the way I did my best to impart tips about the rules of the road such as how to anticipate what a car will do at an intersection, when to use the Idaho Stop, and how to safely cross railroad tracks.

My heartrate averaged 10-12 beats per minute below a tempo run.  I was able to talk whenever and for however long necessary.  It was nice, and hopefully, good for me too.  Over and over I read about how important it is to incorporate slow recovery runs — today was the day.

I was also a little tentative for the first 15 minutes because last night I injured the arch of my right foot.  Today there is a tiny scrape, a bruise, and a hard knot in the muscle of the arch  — about an inch in diameter — as a result of giving a wall a big kick.

How and why I found myself wedged against a wall, in six feet of water, with a boulder of a man doing all he could to get a ball away from me is not very interesting.  That I kicked with all my might and managed to both lose the ball and kick the wall would be comical if it didn’t hurt so much.  Suffice it to say that my water polo skills are worse than my running skills.

Water Polo

Last night, Friday night too, I joined a game of pick up water polo.

It was hard.  As hard as you would expect if you were doing one of the three following activities non-stop: sprinting, kicking as hard as you can vertically while lifting at least one arm out of the water, or more or less wresting some other guy for position.

The other players meet regularly for two hours on Friday and Saturday nights.  There was Boris and Zima — easily two of the best players, they had been boyhood friends in Serbia before reuniting in Northern Virginia as adults.  Boris played in the “hole” most all night and just when he looked like he was going under for the 10,000th time, someone would pass him the ball and he would score.  There was Brian the former Division I swimmer and water polo player who took it upon himself to demonstrate the finer arts of pushing off, holding, grabbing and general abuse by matching up against me, often.  There was a father-son combination and a whole cast of other characters.  Water polo guys are a motley bunch — aggressive and hard in the pool and friendly and quick with a smile out of the water.

It didn’t match any training.  In the cycle, I shouldn’t have done it this week — my recovery week.  However, it was great fun.  It was a tremendous workout.  My neck and shoulders are sore.  And there is no doubt that if I find myself in traffic during an open water swim, it is nothing compared to the feeling of being in the mix with a bunch of guys who know how to play polo.

Ticket to Ride the Bullet Train to Pain Central Station

Tonight I have several odds and ends to get down but really only one genuine insight.  Running a 5k is torturous.

A few weeks ago at the urging of the good people at NOVA Running Club I entered the Jingle All the Way 5k.  It is local, the race is short, and it has a cute name.  How bad could it really be?  It was my first ever 5k that wasn’t accompanied by a minor or a part of a sprint triathlon.  (Early this summer I ran a 22:28 at Montclair as the last leg of a 1:08:+.)

Answer: It can be really hard.  At least I got a nice long sleeve shirt for my effort of 20:53.  Pro Tip — If you go out too fast the last mile is tremendously uncomfortable.  Underscore tremendously and double underscore uncomfortable.  My splits were 6:10, 6:39 and 6:58 before finishing the last couple blocks at a 6:45 pace.  As context my best ever “mile” before this race was a 6:09 by running 1600 meters on a track.

Turning past the Capitol around the 2.5 mile mark it was like I had a ticket for a supersonic train that was taking me to an ugly, ugly place.

I punched my ticket to Pain Central Station and still had almost a mile to run into the freezing wind.

I punched my ticket to Pain Central Station and still had almost a mile to run into the freezing wind.

But I think I get it.  I understand the attraction to the 5k.  Certainly it is a “starter” race for many people.  They can imagine themselves going from the couch to a 5k.  It is a reasonable goal for someone who is inactive or coming off of an injury.  It can be walked in an hour by most everyone.  It is also a good distance for people that really don’t want to race but want to participate in an event.  Thus, it has joggers, strollers, dogs, costumes, dogs in costumes and is also the distance for a variety of color/mud/urban/whatever type races.

Yet, if you want to really put yourself in a hole the 5k is perfect.

In her book length love letter to all things aquatic, Swim, Lynn Sherr recounts a telling conversation with Olympic champion Cullen Jones.  Jones is a sprinter and specialized in the 50 and 100 meter freestyle.  At that level, the men swimming the 50 are like human rockets.  The whole race is over in about 21 seconds.  Jones described for Sherr what it feels like to go from perfect stillness on the blocks to the absolute maximum of performance in the span of a few strokes.  He doesn’t breath and after just four or five strokes his every muscle is at its limit — screaming out for mercy from his brain and begging for a respite.  He must overcome the natural signals to keep the pressure on in the face of maximum discomfort.  It is difficult to train for that feeling because rarely in training can you make it hurt — can you bring yourself to exert as much — the way you can in a race.

That is what the 5k does to your body.  It gives you a race situation where you will go to the pits of muscular and aerobic hell and then have to keep going, and going and going.

I’m sure that it is very hard and uncomfortable for the people who run even splits.  I messed up my tactics; my pacing was amateurish at best and as a consequence was passed left and right as we charged down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the finish.  Regardless of my mistakes, I don’t think other distances are quite as good for guaranteeing that you’ll put yourself in a bad, bad spot and then have to hang on, stay in that bad spot for some time before the finish line even comes into sight.  The 5k is the best thing going if you want to practice the mental strength it takes to try to lift the pace at mile 22 of a marathon.  Sure your marathon pace may be a minute or 90 seconds slower per mile than the 5k pace, but the anguish of trying to drop someone after 2 1/2 or 3 hours of running can be approximated in a 20 minute race.

Odds, Ends and Such

  • I swam 6×100 on 2:00 the other night.  I started at 1:02, did several 1:04-5 and finished with a 1:06.  It was hard and I really hauled the piano at the end.  But it is nice to swim fast instead of always dragging along at a hard aerobic pace.
  • I wore my new New Balance 890s tonight.  They were designed as a special edition for the 20th Rome Marathon.  When I enter them into Training Peaks, I think I’ll label them my Gladiator Shoes.
  • For tonight’s run I tried something new.  I decided that I’d attempt to descend every mile until failure then I’d start over.  I failed on number five after running 8:48, 8:47, 7:57, 7:23 and dropped back to 7:29.  I immediately walked for about 25 seconds and then finished the sixth mile in 9:04 before coming back down to 8:43.  It was a good set and I’ll try it again.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to run by feel and bring the pace down by 10-15 seconds per mile instead of having such large jumps.
  • I’m overweight.
  • Three times I’ve taken Esme out running — two of those times with some girls with whom she ran track/cross country in the fall.  She seems to enjoy the outings and we’ll try again this Friday.  We go between 2.5 and 4.5 miles.
  • I’ve finally figured out how to ride the trainer for more than an hour.  I need to use headphones for the computer.  Without them I cannot hear over the trainer and need subtitles but reading subtitles from the bike gets tedious after about 45 minutes.

Wiggo on Mental Toughness and Christmas

There is a great anecdote about Sir Bradley in this interview.  I remember Christmas Day swim sessions at the United Township High School pool.  On New Year’s Day we would do 100s, one for every year of the century.

Someone out there knows what I’m talking about — The Flow.

1:11s from turning it all the way to 11

Tonight I did a 500 freestyle all out.  There was no one next to me to pace off of or chase and I finished  in 5:56.  In another month or so I should check again to see what the cumulative stress of biking and running does to the time.  My bet, 6:15.


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