Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Race Plan — Strategy

Schedule Note.

Through the first seven months of 2015, I’ve done the following races:

  • Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico
  • Raleigh Rock N Roll Half Marathon
  • Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon
  • Great Chesapeake Bay Swim — 4.4 Miles
  • Ironman Coeur d’Alene
  • Colonial Beach Olympic Triathlon
  • Ocean Games 9 Mile Swim

It has been a really good year.  I did my first “training camp” over Memorial Day weekend and finally was able, after years of intentions, to ride a big section of Skyline Drive.  Puerto Rico was big fun, Raleigh rewarded me with a best time and moreso with a father-daughter weekend trip, at Monticelloman and Colonial Beach I ran personal bests for the 10k, and I soaked in joy of the Chesapeake on a 90+ degree day for the GCBS.  IMCDA and the Ocean Games both extended my horizons by creating opportunities to keep looking for my limits.  At the former, I showed up more fit than I’ve ever been for a triathlon.  At the latter, I literally jumped in with both feet to try something new.

I won’t likely be racing in August.  However, if I can swing the logistics I’ll volunteer while the tribe races at the NOVA Running Club 5k on August 25.  The weekend of October 3 I will be volunteering at Ironman Maryland and the following weekend, October 10-11, I’ll be busy spectating at the tribe’s fall track meet. Read the rest of this entry »


The Single Best Thing I’ve Read on Open Water Swimming in Years

Jodie Swallow is now going to write for Witsup.  Her first article is on swimming well in the open water.

She starts out strong:

It isn’t an absolute correlation that speed in the pool equals speed in the sea. Open water (OW) is to pool swimming; what mountain biking is to road racing; what Xterra is to triathlon; what cross country is to athletics.

And it keeps getting better.  Well worth the effort to clip and save.

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.


“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.”

Championship Race — Old Man Pace

I went to Las Vegas, did not hit the numbers I wanted, and still came out ahead.

What Happened:

  1. I made friends.
  2. I saw some cool scenery — including within the Lake Meade Recreation Area.
  3. I went all out — I went for it — and came up snake eyes on the run.
  4. I caught some sort of bug or virus.  All summer long I thought, “What a treat!  I get to race at a World Championship.  This will be fun.”  Now I think, “That was better than a treat.  The World Championships are really fun.  I MUST QUALIFY again.”
  5.  I came home exhausted.

The Times:

I swam 1.2 miles in 28:33.  The course was rectangular-ish — 800 meters down, over a bit, 1200 meters back — and clockwise.  It was pouring rain during the swim so my mirror goggles were of no help.  The speed suit by Roka was a big help.  I love that suit.  I went off the line hard, swam to the front from the second row and drafted for at least 400 of the first 600 meters.  By my count at the time, I was in about third place for my group.  As it turns out, there were some guys so much faster I didn’t see them go.  I finished 7th in my age group, 115th overall and pretty pumped up for the long, sloshy run around the lake to the bikes.

I rode 56.6 miles — yep, the course architect made the route long this year, something about safety and a turn — in 2:42:48.  That is an average pace of 20.64 miles per hour which dropped me back to 90th in my age group and 433rd overall.  The course description of “rolling hills” reminds me of Bird Ridge that Dana and I hiked in Alaska.  It was labeled “moderate” by the locals and is way more difficult than anything we had ever seen in the East.  Leaving Lake Las Vegas, the hills began within the first half mile and did not stop until T2.  In fact, the last several miles were all uphill.  Going into the race I was aiming for a 2:30 split.  I had ridden 2:24 in Raleigh and thought the balance of a harder course, heat and improvement through training would mean that 2:30 would be a really good ride.  It was clear within the first hour that I wouldn’t be on the projected pace but I didn’t panic or compensate by going harder.  I couldn’t.  At every juncture when I would assess how I was doing on the bike, I’d ask myself about nutrition, posture and then whether or not I could go harder.  I turned myself inside out to ride hard and fast — low to the bike with a smooth cadence — and still was slow.

The rain stopped a few miles from T2.  The sun came out and everything steamed — roads, grass, cyclists, the carpet in transition.  Everything steamed except my run split.

The run proved to be my downfall.  I knew this outcome was very possible.  I worked hard on the bike and didn’t hold back.  The run would be hot — the temperature climbed up to 92 —  and the whole run course is a series of two mile uphill followed by two mile downhill repeats.  Cognizant that I might not ever race at this level again, I decided to open up the throttle and go for it all.  Probably not the move of a more experienced triathlete.  In fact, it probably is a bad strategy all around unless you have reason to be much more confident in your run than I do.

I went out for more than a mile downhill at a 7:12 pace.  Miles two through four and a half were slower than I’d like them to be, but they were in the right area because I held down 8:38 and 8:37 paces.  Then it all went BOOM and I blew up like a sparkly firecracker from the strip.  At this point, a bit more than a third of the way through the run and as the road pointed back uphill, my pace took on two defining attributes.  It because highly variable and it became much slower.  I turned in one and two mile splits with paces that went 9:24, 9:40, 9:28, 9:15, and 9:58.  Then with .9 miles remaining, I buckled down and set aside the atrocious signals my body was sending to my brain.  I finished — mostly downhill, by the way — with an all out sprint for the last 300-400 meters and an 8:08 pace.  That 8:08, by the way, is what I had planned or hoped to average for the whole run.  It didn’t happen even though I got back there in the end.

At the finish, I was able to outsprint two other competitors from my age group.  I’ve never done that before.  We were in an actual footrace for the line and I passed them both and got there first.  It was exciting even if it didn’t amount to a big change in the standings.  I finished 166th in my group — 35-39 year old men — and 888th overall.

A Coda or A Look Ahead?

All in all, I spent 5:17:09 getting around the course.  This is more than half an hour longer than I had anticipated.  No matter, I gave it all I had that day, raced against the best in the world, and came up with a big smile at the end.

Next time.  Next time, I’ll do better.

Mirror, Mirror…Who Loves You Most of All?

Esme wants to move to Lake Placid.

When Dana checked off a life list item by going down the Olympic bobsled run, Tobias pronounced her “Super Rocket Fast.”

Desmond and Josephine ran carefree and barefoot — perhaps the only ones who did — in the Ironkids Fun Run along Mirror Lake Drive.

We went to Lake Placid. We were in close quarters, we spent too much on food, the first night was chilly and we didn’t have the right clothes. The children were tough — tough to deal with and tough on each other. Then they toughed out a really long, rainy day while Papa rode his bike all around and ran out of town — twice. And, it was wonderful. It is my hope that it became part of the lore of our tribe. We embraced it all — from the top of the ski jumps to bottom of the holes dug on the sandy beach. We gave Lake Placid a big hug and it hugged right back.

How much do we love you?  This much!

How much do we love you? This much!

There is much to share about the Ironman experience. Obviously, the swim, bike and run must be recounted. The new speedsuit by Roka should be reviewed. Notes on nutrition, pacing and heart rate must be catalogued. Observations — like the cooler next to the side of the road around mile 35 with a hand printed sign that announced “FREE BEER” or the increase in the number of Jens Voigt inspired signs I saw along the route — can be shared. The mantra-like focus I relied upon for most of the race and my feeble efforts to explain it to the kids over Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream after the race. But all of that later. First, the down and dirty of how it all turned out according to the clock.

Tale of the tape:
Finished 140.6 miles in 10:32:51, 27th in my age group out of 294 finishers and 143rd overall out of 2,348 finishers. The improvement from 2012 was 1 hour, 12 minutes and 10 seconds from when I finished 73rd in my age group and 365th overall.

The 2013 swim was one second faster than 2012. The splits are nearly identical also. The two 1.2 mile swim splits were 25:50 and 27:18. The first loop was two seconds faster this year and the second loop was one second slower than the second loop last year. Although, more should be said, I think that I worked about 50 percent more than last year on the second loop. It was a madhouse.

The 2013 bike split was 27 minutes and 9 seconds faster than in 2012. I went around the course in 5:34:01 or an average pace of 20.12 miles per hour. I finished the bike in 17th place for my age group and had slid back to 85th overall. Last year I was in 49th and 212th position at this juncture of the race.

The marathon was 45 minutes and 59 seconds faster this year. I ran a 3:56:33 for an average pace of 9:01 minutes per mile and though I have not looked at all the data from my watch yet, I believe that only once did I split a mile over 10 minutes. In 2012 I ran a personal best at this distance and did the same course in 4:42:32.

This year both of my transitions — from swim to bike and from bike to run — were slower than last year. The first was :18 seconds in arrears and the second was :41 seconds slower.

The Start:

The Finish

I had just raised my arms to use sign language to say "I love you" but they were too heavy and drooped immediately back down.

I had just raised my arms to use sign language to say “I love you” but they were too heavy and drooped immediately back down.

Melanie McQuaid says…

Update: McQuaid’s original blog post is at her site here. Check it out. She has a great photo at the top of the post where she is riding hard with water splashing all over.

Dana found the following quotes from the third place pro woman at Ironman Raleigh 70.3. It made me chuckle. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow, new or experienced, the challenge of covering 70 miles under your own power is hard. Damn hard.

My race on Sunday was pretty darn good. First off, lets discuss how hard Ironman is for a second. It was horribly humid and you need to keep moving for hours and hours. I recognize it could have been hotter and the bike portion of the race was somewhat cool due to cloud cover but by the time we got to that bear of a run it was stinkin hot.

Out onto the run I was expecting something resembling the course profile. Notsomuch. Here are some of my thoughts: Where the heck did all these mountains over by the art gallery come from? Who turned up the heat? Why is the whole way on the way out totally uphill when the profile says it is flat? The run was really really hard. When most of the pro men are in the 1:20s range you know it is hard. I was spending the entire run trying not to do my classic southeastern chicken dance instead of finishing. I walked aid stations, took 4 cups of ice cubes and generally went into meltdown protection mode.

I saw none of the beauty on the run course since I was blind with suffering but the bike was incredibly awesome. So green, best roads in the world, most fans on the side of the road ever, best aid stations ever, most interesting point to point journey, you name it this race is awesome. I loved it. Want to come back.

Before I forget…

The weekend in Raleigh was big fun all around. We spent time with friends, saw familiar and welcome sights and were able to race at a well-organized venue. While I’ve written the race report up at BT, there is a lot more to unpack and explore. It may take a while. Therefore, I’ve made a handy list of things that I want to think a little more about.

1. Dana did the whole race, didn’t really have any trouble, finished with a smile and didn’t get sore this week. Wow, simply wow. My biggest regret is clearly that I missed her finish because I was trying to get the camera in order to capture it for posterity.

2. My swim was slow. Some of that may be attributed to the lack of a wetsuit. Others wrote in their race reports that it was choppy across the long side of the triangle. I didn’t notice this and find it dubious. There was more physical contact in this swim than any that I’ve ever done. Notwithstanding all of these circumstances, it was a slow swim. I felt fine — not low in the water, heavy, or tired — and accelerated where I wanted to do so. This is troubling. In advance of the race, I had a goal of improving by 10-12 minutes and a wildly ambitious goal of going 4:44:59. Had I swum well, or even just swum better, I would have made that wild number of 4:44.

3. My bike cadence was high. Much of the time I was in the high 90s or over 100 and not in the low 90s. I was able to go into the biggest gear — riding with a 25-11 — a couple of times and pedal right on through a gentle downslope. I don’t think I’ve developed a ton more power and the road tilted up as much as down so this is something to think about. In addition, for nearly the whole ride my heart rate was in the high 130s.

4. I was unable to piss the bike. On the upside, I think for the entirety of the bike course I was only passed by three people. On the downside, I pissed the run as I finished the second loop at the art museum. Like Lake Placid, I did it at the end of an aid station. Unlike at Lake Placid where I stopped moving and essentially bent over and just breathed, at Raleigh I started the piss while walking through and just kept moving. The effect was to fill my left shoe. In the hunched over position it is possible to get the piss to ramp off my knee and or ankle band and stay out of my sock and shoe. I’m not sure what would happen if I was actually running. It may shut off the spigot (like when swimming) or it may ramp off the knee and fly back like when cycling. Or, it may simply fill my shoe but I’d make faster progress then pissing while walking. These are empirical questions and should be tested — in trianing.

5. I started the race with a plan to run agressively and did so. While I didn’t negative split, I did bring my times back down for the last 3.5 miles and I’m immensely happy with that outcome. I’m not sure why, but I find the prospect of a negative split something of the holy grail in pacing.

6. On the run, I took most of a single Gu and either water or Perform or both at each aid station. At this distance, even on a hot day, I can do the run with nothing but fluids. This is good to know.

7. I was dropped in the last aid station by a guy who’d been running shoulder to shoulder with me since mile 9. I slowed for fluids and he didn’t. He put 20-30 yards on my that I could not bring back and then they eventually turned into 50-60 yards. It was a tactical mistake — he was in my age group. Live and learn.

8. My age group had five slots for the Ironamn 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. When roll-down started, two had been claimed. I got the last one in my age group. I really cannot believe it and find the whole prospect of going to the race a bit sureal.

I ride clean -- and consent to all manner of testing.

I ride clean — and consent to all manner of testing.

The race is September 8th so I guess my training plan will be to continue to train and taper for Ironman Lake Placid, rest for a week and then develop a plan to get me through August that includes a second taper and a trip to Family Camp.

9. I rode with Aaron’s helmet and with the aerojacket on my back wheel. Before the race I thought of each as a luxury. Now, they both seem like necessesities. Funny how quickly perspective can change.

10. I ran almost the whole race with a heartrate in the mid- to high-140s. This is great for Ironman because the top end of zone two for me is 148-149. However, I would have liked to push hard enough to have that average in the high 150s. I think I can sustain it for more than 90 minutes. This is something to figure out because I was pushing on the run. There wasn’t a lot of “saving for later” going on.

11. I was nervous about the pre-race breakfast plan but it worked well enough. I had five eggs between 4.00 and 4.20 a.m. along with two cups of tea. I had a liquid powerbar at about 4:45 a.m. as well as a banana and a Bonk Breaker between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. along with some water. Start time for my wave was at about 7:52.

Fine Tuning for the First Time

Four days from now will be the first triathlon of the season. It is the “tune up” for the big race of the season — coming eight weeks before Ironman Lake Placid.

I’m excited. After six years of triathlons, there are many firsts involved.

This is the first time the whole tribe will be there for a race.

This is the first triathlon that Dana has ever done — and the first time we’ve raced together.

This is the first time I’ll ride with a disc on the back — courtesy of the aerojacket from Wheelbuilder.com.

This is the first time I’ll race with an aero helmet — on loan from friend, colleague and 5X Ironman Aaron.

This is the first time Raleigh has hosted the race and the first time I’ve done a WTC branded Half Ironman.

First time that I’m going with Bonk Breaker and the first time that I’ll start the race with a plan to run agressively.

This will be the first time I race at a weight that is at the high end of what is reasonable for an amateur who wants to climb well. I’ll start Sunday morning between 180-185 which is twenty pounds more than a cyclist of my height and about 15-20 pounds less than the last time I did a HIM.

Nervous About Open Water?

Dr. John Post has a blog that I read when his Twitter posts catch my eye. Today’s essay has five really good tips for anyone — regardless of skill or experience — who is planning an open water swim.

Check it out.