Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Bike

2015: The Long & Short of It

There was no singular event, race or accomplishment to define the past year.  However, there were many firsts — new experiences, new friendships and new adventures.

  • For the first time, I raced outside the continental United States in March with a trip to Puerto Rico.
  • I ran a half marathon personal record by about eight minutes in April when Esme and I took a weekend trip to Raleigh.
  • Later in the year, I ran a marathon personal record during a training run and lopped about eight minutes off of that time too.
  • After more than a decade away from it, I swam the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim during a heat wave.  I crossed in about 1:46 or as fast as I ever have.
  • I had fun — and some success — with local Olympic distance races that I’d never been to in Charlottesville and Colonial Beach.
  • In late June I showed up for my fourth Ironman in four years.  By my own assessment, I was more fit and more prepared for Coeur d’Alene than the previous races.  It was far from my most successful race.  I barely dragged myself into the finish area.  Nonetheless, it was a great trip to a beautiful corner of the country.
  • I was able to see all four members of the tribe swim in the “A” meet for two consecutive weekends for their summer swim program.
  • During one four week period in the summer I raced three times, in three formats — Ironman, Olympic and open water marathon swim.
  • I volunteered at a race — a 5k — where Desmond won some hard earned recognition.
  • In July I did my first ever race in the ocean.  The nine mile course in Ocean City is worthy of the term “marathon swim.”
  • In September, my team of two years began the process of folding up.  Then in October I joined a new team — with a whole new set of people to learn.
  • During the summer, I spent the better part of an afternoon volunteering with kids in a program with the DC Parks and Recreation teaching and answering questions about swimming and triathlon.  Later in the year I guided a blind athlete during a half marathon.
  • When November rolled around, I found myself going long again for the JFK 50 — my first ultra-marathon.
  • I watched Desmond flourish in cross country and Josephine in the field events of their first year of track.
  • A couple weeks ago I ran with Esme for the third straight year at the Celtic Soltice — and she dropped nearly seven minutes from her 2014 time.

In all, I swam more than 233,800 yards which is just a bit shy of 133 miles.  Though I didn’t check, this may be the first time ever that I ran more than I rode my bike.  Cumulatively I was on the saddle nearly six days during the year covering 1,765 miles (not including commuting).  By contrast I ran the equivalent of 7.7 days for a total of 1,261 miles.

The blue dots on the chart below represent the intensity of a workout.  The closer to 1.0 the harder the session.  Each blue dot corresponds to a red dot.  The red dots along the X axis are days that I did not exercise.  Red dots above the axis show how much “work” I did that day.

There is a clear pattern with a minor peak in March for Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico and the Raleigh Half Marathon and a major peak at the end of June for Ironman Coeur d’Alene followed an Olympic race and the Ocean Games.  Then my fitness declined; I continued to work out but without a clear plan or schedule of races.  At the end of August I decided to do the JFK 50 and the workload and frequency of sessions picked up straight through Thanksgiving.  At that point, I started “offseason” until about a week or two ago when I started swimming again.

2015 TSS


And the FTP Remains the Same

In January I did an FTP test in the basement.  A strong playlist featuring the Violent Femmes, Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Dropkick Murphys and a heavy rotation of Social Distortion carried me through.  I had a new threshold by something like eight percent.  I also had trouble getting back up the stairs afterward.

Yesterday I rode an FTP test out at Hains Point.  It was windy but the cool temperatures kept a lot of the normal riff raff away and the road was nearly clear.

After 16 minutes I was on track for the elusive 300 watt normalized power reading.  Sadly, those four minutes were excruciatingly long and I didn't deliver.

After 16 minutes I was on track for the elusive 300 watt normalized power reading. Sadly, those four minutes were excruciatingly long and I didn’t deliver.

The results were virtually the same.  Normalized power was identical.  The variability of the ride, VI, was identical and very close to a perfectly even time trial at 1.01.  The cadence improved from an average of 87 to 93 and the average heartrate dropped by a single beat to 146.  Not because I’m any stronger but due to dropping a few winter pounds, the measure of watts per kilogram improved from 3.37 to 3.47.

Today I had trouble the first time I took the stairs.

Puerrrrto Rrrrico!

We’ve been married 15 years.

They have been hard, wonderful, enriching and life-filled years.  We’ve loved, lost, doubted, grieved, moved and grown.  We have made big life decisions and been wrong.  We have made life-altering changes that have been rewarding beyond expectation.

What a ride.  We rented an efficiency apartment and then a tiny one-bedroom house.  We’re now on to owning our third house — and at 8+ years have lived in it for longer than all the other places together.  We have four wonderful children who everyday remind me how crazy, exotic and surprising they can each be in their individualism, generosity and sheer wackiness.  We have jobs, hobbies and passions, enviable health and enough resources to keep paying the bills every month.

Monday morning in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan.

Monday morning in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan.

We have also been through a failed adoption, five miscarriages, sudden job loss, a catastrophic accident for a close family member, death of loved ones and the ongoing challenges of aging parents.

We’ve had a life, and we’re just getting started.

One day last weekend, there was a meltdown over the rules of a board game, a band competition, the first soccer game of the season, track practice, drop-off for a sleepover, going out to the local burger joint and frozen custard shop and more games and reading before bed.  That is just the kids.  In between, Dana did her thing and I mine — which consisted of 95 minutes on the trainer, a four mile run and some strength exercises.  I fell asleep on the couch with one of the Narnia books at my fingertips — reading time abbreviated by Papa’s inability to stay awake.

I wonder how we ever left for a weekend.  But we did.  Dana and I went to San Juan to celebrate our anniversary.  She was able to spend time — twice a day most days — with her favorite teachers taking part in a special workshop in an airy studio blocks from the beach.  I raced.  The Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 is on a fantastic course.  We swam in a protected lagoon (with manatees!) while the bike course quickly exits San Juan via closed highways and puts the Atlantic over your shoulder for a good portion of the ride before you turn south and find mountains on the horizon.   The run course is also spectacular.  It is hot, largely unshaded, full of hills and it takes you through Old San Juan and past two towering forts.

We stayed in a hotel with a balcony overlooking the lagoon where the swim took place.

I love her and cannot wait to see what comes next for us.

My favorite picture from the race.  A friend always says about challenges, "Make sure you are running to something and not just away from something.  I'm running headlong into the next 15, no 50, years together.

My favorite picture from the race. A friend always says about challenges, “Make sure you are running to something and not just away from something. I’m running headlong into the next 15, no 50, years together.

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.

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.

With a Dash of Crazy: 2015 Triathlon Goals

  1. Do at least two open water swims outside of a triathlon or vacation
  2. Consistently swim at least 7,000 yards a week December 2014 through July 2015
  3. Swim at least one 5,000 yard workout per three week cycle
  4. Swim within a stone’s throw of race leaders when there is a pro-field — e.g. giving up no more than five minutes over 2.4 miles
  5. Swim with the lead age-group pack at Ironman Coeur d’Alene
  6. Achieve a 300 watt average over a 20 minute time trial by March 31, 2015
  7. Ride Ironman Coeur d’Alene with a variability index of 1.03 or lower
  8. Keep variability index for all race efforts at 1.05 or lower
  9. Run a 5:30 mile
  10. Run an 18 minute 5k
  11. Run a 3:30 split at Ironman Coeur d’Alene (To do this, I’d have to run 8:00 minute mile pace and be able to run an open marathon at about 3:10 or approximately a 7:15 pace.)
  12. Run 1:32:30 at Raleigh Half Marathon (a 7:03 minute mile pace)
  13. Break 10 hours at Ironman Coeur d’Alene
  14. Finish in top-five for age group at Ironman Coeur d’Alene
  15. Do at least one Olympic distance race
  16. Volunteer at a race
  17. Never race above 179 pounds and race Ironman Coeur d’Alene below 175 pounds


Ironman Marshland — The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

The bike course is fairly straightforward.  After riding through Cambridge and the surrounding countryside we passed the local high school which began a 40-45 mile loop.  After completing the loop nearly twice, we turned off and finished the course with about ten miles of empty countryside and then a final mile through town.

The temperature rose steadily from 66 to 82 degrees.  After ten minutes of keeping my heart rate and watts down, I began to work.  My plan had been to ride the first half of the race between 200-205 watts and then to “negative split” by riding the second half at 205-210 watts.  The plan did not materialize.

For nearly 30 minutes I rode too hard.  My normalized power was around 210.  Then I balanced out and found myself having trouble holding 195.  After about an hour, I hit a bad patch.  From the look of the chart below, it lasted about 20 minutes before it finally passed.

You can see far too many lines dropping down to the X axis which means I wasn't pedaling.

You can see far too many lines dropping down to the X axis which means I wasn’t pedaling.

On the first lap my NP was 192 and the average speed of 22.4 mph.  The second lap NP was 191 and the average speed was 21.8 mph.  I got up to 27.2 mph for a maximum speed.  I’m not sure what was going on there unless I was trying to regain a group after slowing to pee.  The cadence dropped from the first half too, from 92 to 87 on the second half.

I saw a beautiful bald eagle.  It was soaring in a arcing pattern and was close enough that I could see between its feathers at the tips of its wings.  Shortly after the one time that I rode through water — less than an inch for no more than two seconds — I heard a squeaking.  I thought it ridiculous that my bike would develop something so annoying after such a short splash.  After looking all around I could not identify any rubbing or reason for the squeak.  It was getting more obnoxious  when I spied, off to my left, a small bird about two stories up in the air.  It looked like a small seagull and for about 30 seconds it flew with me and kept its head turned to look my direction while I watched it.

The effects of riding in the exact same position were radically underestimated.  It is damn hard to ride without many turns and with absolutely no change in elevation.  On the second loop I developed the tactic of coming up out of the saddle every time I changed from one road to the next.  By the second lap I was developing bad habits.  For example, every time I reached for a bottle to drink I stopped pedaling.  I also must have tried to pee at least five times on the second loop before succeeding around mile 95.

I was able to count the guys going past me in my age group but was unable to do anything about it.  For much of the ride, maintaining 190 watts was quite difficult and anything beyond would result in a real let down after about four or five minutes.  In all, it was a good solid ride but not a blockbuster.  I was very conscious as I started about not riding too hard because I didn’t want to ruin the potential for a really strong marathon.  As it turned out, I rode as hard as I could and just didn’t have more.

I didn’t have any trouble with food or drink.  My nutrition plan is pretty ironclad now.  During the first hour I drank a bottle than contained 20 ounces of Ensure.  Starting at the beginning of the ride, on the bottom of the hour I would eat a Bonk Breaker and at the top of the hour I would take a Gu gel — repeat four times.  During the fifth hour I did not have solid food but relied on the gels.  The first two bottle handoffs I messed up because I was going too fast.

Probably the best part of the ride for me was the last 30-40 minutes.  I was alone.  After being caught by a group of three guys during a pee break, I rode up to them and kept rolling straight on by.  At that point, I began to focus on the next person or group to catch until I turned off toward Cambridge.  The final miles are through the countryside and past farms.  I had the roads to myself and you can see below around mile 97 that my speed increased.

Not a lot of variability but you can pick out a general trend of high, decreasing speed in the middle, then a short uptick followed by a decrease before the final 10-15 mile push to the finish.

Not a lot of variability but you can pick out a general trend of high, decreasing speed in the middle, then a short uptick followed by a decrease before the final 10-15 mile push to the finish.

A lot can be said about the distance, or the accomplishment, the tactics or gear of triathlon.  The final word should be that it is fun.  It is plain old fun to ride fast.  At Ironman Maryland, I had fun on my bike.


Ironman Maryland — Roll On

This weekend I’ll try to get a short synopsis of the recent bike ride up here.  In the meantime, a short anecdote and a set of photos follow.

As I mentioned below in a previous post, during the last segment of the ride I passed a large number of people.  After a while, I decided to say something to each person.  Maybe I could lift their spirits or bring a smile.  The time between each pass became focused on what I would say to the next person.  After I told a guy in an Army kit to Beat Navy, I rolled passed a woman with a Naval Academy jersey and told her, “Go Navy, Beat Army.”  The most common phrase employed was some version of “keep rolling.”  I don’t know why, I don’t know where it came from.  A few times it stood on its own like an Ironman koan.  Usually it was combined with some reference to the person’s kit, a song lyric or a remark about the weather and scenery which were both fantastic for riding.  Roll on…

First Look — Ironman Maryland and The Drug of Choice

Yesterday there was a race.  I was a part of it — for a while.  And then I wasn’t; I became a participant because I was no longer vying for the front.  At that point, I was learning, struggling, pushing and focused on getting to the finish line without a failure.  All the while I was having a grand time. It was joyous even.  If I have a drug of choice, I’m quite sure it is some cocktail of endorphins.

The failures come in many forms.  It could be a weak stomach that drive participants to spend untold minutes in port a potties half full of solar baked excrement and vomit.  Blisters that bring excruciating pain with every step.  Cramps and dizziness brought on by dehydration or other nutrition imbalances.  Mechanical failures on the bike end the day for some unfortunate people.  Others find the prospect of an open water swim in murky, brackish water is much better than the actual experience.  It is so much better that they don’t finish the swim unprepared for the foreign environment and the unforgiving toll of swimming without a break for more than an hour, for more than two hours.  The list goes on and on.  Failure has many faces and all of us who tackle 140.6 miles at a time do what we can to avoid it.  But it always lingers.  Nonetheless, when you are avoiding failure there is plenty of time and space to find beauty and to be amazed.  At an Ironman, I imagine it is hard to look around and not be amazed.

Ironman bought the struggling Chesapeakeman property early this summer, rebranded it and in doing so expanded the registration list ten-fold.  They brought in the branding, scale and overall oomph and in doing so turned the whole town of Cambridge, Maryland into a race village.  People watched the race from Victorian homes, cheered from the cabs of their pickups and thanked us for coming to visit.  Generosity and hospitality can amaze and the day was full of both.

I raced through the swim and the first portion of the bike.  Then I hid a bad patch.  I’m not sure how bad — I’ll look at the numbers and data later.  I worked through it.  I know that in such a long day the bad patches are sure to come and it is best to keep at it and wait for the pendulum to swing back.  I was patient and then I raced again.  The last ten to 15 miles of the bike were really solid.  I caught people.  I rode two guys off my wheel and hammered down back country roads.  At which point, it became time to run, which I did, for about three or four miles.

This is where my story transforms from racing participating.  More on that in another post.

A first review of the day shows that I swam very well, but not as fast as I thought I would.  I caught a draft for nearly a 1,000 meters.  I came out with the sixth fastest time on the day (or fifth or seventh, the results site has had some variability) and the fastest in my age group with more than two minutes back to the second place male 40-44.   I rode hard; I was smart most of the time and on balance the errors were outweighed by the good decisions.  I ran with what I had.  It was neither pretty nor a disaster but it was all of what I had to give.

The day was hot.  I saw deer, an amazing bald eagle, other birds including a heron and some sort of seagull shaped small squeaky thing.  As I finished the last third of the second loop on the bike, I gave encouragement to 29 out of 30 consecutive people who I passed — 28 of whom were on their first loop and most of whom smiled in response.  One lady didn’t get anything from me because I was drinking at the time.  Thinking up a good thing to say as I locked in on my next “capture target” was helpful to keep my mind off my hips and legs.  Hopefully it helped them too.

I finished 15th in my group, 66th overall with splits of 58:12, 5:00:22 and 4:00:45.  The total time of 10:05:16 is a personal best time by about 28 minutes.  However, as is typical of these adventures, the numbers only begin to tell the story.  I’ll look at the splits, the power numbers, the heart rate and share as many of the little moments of the day as I can recall.  The best parts are always the little moments, never the numbers.

I’ll leave you with one of the little bits.  As I crossed the finish line, I was hoping that Dana and the tribe might see me from home on the computer.  I came right up to the line, squatted down and planted both hands and proceeded to do a forward roll.  It was a shock to the volunteer catchers who could only laugh at my awkward ass tumbling into the air.  It was a big hit at home with the fan base.

More than 24 hours after I finished, my head is still spinning, spinning full of endorphins.


South Africa’s Kyle Buckingham was the winner (along with Amber Ferreira from New Hampshire) at Ironman Lake Placid.  I saw a post on Twitter this morning that said his Normalized Power was 305.  That is a bit of perspective on my new FTP.  In other power related news, this blog post from Linsey Corbin gives insight into how many watts she recently pushed to win in Austria.