Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Run

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


Going Long — In IV Parts

I. Last weekend I ran 27 miles and followed it with 12.5 on Sunday.  It was a mixed bag.  I ran a marathon personal record for on the first day despite coming in decidedly slower than I started.  It is always nice to drop 10 minutes off of a time.  The next morning I watched tribe members at their cross country meet and then ran home, the long way, along the river to get in another two hours at an easy pace.  It was pretty ugly after the first half.  Around six miles, I got hungry.  Around eight to nine miles, I started to bonk.  At 11 miles, I was walk-running and totally cooked.

II. Yesterday I tackled the 27 mile loop again.  The first eight miles were effortless and my splits were within seconds of each other.  Miles nine and 10 incorporate the first hills.  I finished 10 miles in 1:20+ before hitting an eight mile section of hills.  Around mile 16-17, my abdomen melted down.  I had cramps from my hip all the way up my side and under my ribs.  I was short of breath, pained and annoyed.  A really good run was going down the drain.  Then the worst, I was walking.  I walked along for at least five minutes until I came to a bench with a fountain where I stretched.  I couldn’t fix the problem.

After some time, Kirby came along.  She had only a few miles left.  I ran along — the company made a bad situation tolerable.  The discomfort didn’t really go away, but I stopped thinking about it.  So much so, that I decided to finish the run with the “extra” four mile loop instead of turning for home where the path passed closest to our house.  It was a long, unhappy four miles.  In all, yesterday’s 27.25 miles took 20 minutes longer than last week’s 27 miles.

III. Last month I ran about 207 miles.  I think I’m hitting the limit of how much my body can handle.  Hamstrings are getting tight, then better, then tight again.  My glutes hurt — like an ache.  My feet are sore.

IV. I emailed the race director for the race around Key West.  Nothing back yet.  It is a 12.5 mile ocean swim — it could be a grand adventure next June!

Ask Not…

I registered for the JFK 50.  It is way out of my comfort zone and only about ten weeks away.

Yesterday I finished my first back-to-back long runs over a single weekend.  For the week, I hit 62 miles with 2/3 of it over the weekend.

I’ve got a lot to learn but I actually came through the weekend in better shape than I expected.  There was no bonk, I have one blister and no toenail problems, and I barely walked.

Stay tuned, this adventure is just getting started.

I also joined Strava in the past ten days.  These are the maps produced by Strava for the November 21st race.  Looks like the first two hours are a bit gnarly.

I also joined Strava in the past ten days. These are the maps produced by Strava for the November 21st race. Looks like the first two hours are a bit gnarly.

Rah Rah Raleigh

Esme and I took a road trip to Raleigh this weekend.  She hung out with her lifelong pal Ava and I ran the half marathon.

Another post will have to do justice to the race details.  In sum, it was fantastic.

It is Wednesday and my post-race recovery is slow.  Last night I basically blew up 60 percent of the way through a track workout.  Legs felt like concrete.  Today my hamstrings and my ass feel like ground sausage.  These things are a small price to pay for having fun outdoors and running faster than I’ve ever run, but they are a price.

That is all.  My complaints about good things are finished for the day.

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.

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.

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.

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 Maryland: The Mistakes Were Made Edition

Humans have a powerful ability to rationalize behavior.  Some rationalizations create their own positive feedback loops.  In this case, positive does not necessarily mean good.  It refers to self-reinforcing situations — new data points are created from the initial mistake which reinforce the rationalization made for that mistaken behavior.

All of this is well and good and may even help you understand self-defeating behaviors or why it is hard for people to accept responsibility for bad decisions.  More important for our discussion here, rationalization of mistakes is doubly, triply, super-duper more powerful in the middle of an endurance race.

My run at Ironman was not horrible.  In fact, it was only 4 minutes and 12 seconds slower than my best.  I didn’t have a total break that caused me to lose scores of minutes walking.  Nor did I run myself into the arms of the medical personnel who hovered all afternoon like morbid angels of the dreaded DNF.

Mistakes were made.

I got off to a good start.  After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I got off to a good start. After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I ran well, relatively steady and in the basic zone of my race plan for five miles.  Then I stopped to pee.  The all-knowing Garmin doesn’t lie.  I was roadside for about 60-75 seconds at an aid station.  My heart rate dropped and something got in my head.  It was at this point that I thought I couldn’t run the plan, I thought it was too aggressive.  For whatever reason, I had the idea firmly locked in mind that my run targets for heart rate and pace were too much just like on the bike.  Suddenly, I was back running but my heart rate had dropped from a consistent 144-145 to 140-141.  Within two miles I was running 30 seconds slower per mile and my heart rate dropped to where it would stay for the rest of the race in the 136-139 range.

Unwittingly — that is without conscious effort — I was creating the data points to reinforce my decision to lay off on the run.  It is a hard lesson to learn — to know when to go for it, when to keep pressing and when to back off to avoid catastrophic results.

Going slower didn’t make it any easier.  It was hot, largely unshaded and I’d already been out for more than six hours.  I had twenty-odd miles to go.  Going slower just made it take longer.

Reflecting on the charts and data, I can see that I definitely had at least seven to eight miles on track with my original plan and probably more like 15 available.  The first mistake was thinking that a stop to pee would only cost 45 seconds.  It robbed me of momentum, consistency of mind and confidence that I was on track as long as I focused on the mile in front of me.  In that cramped, plastic, hothouse of human waste I had time to think of how much course I had left, of the hours in front of me.  When that happens, it becomes game-over because the rationalizations are just around the corner.

The second mistake was what proved fatal to my goal of running a best time and staying competitive in my age-group on the run.  I turned to my Plan B too early.  A few hundred meters down the road from the toilet I was recalculating the afternoon.  I was rationalizing that I would walk every aid station from this point forward.  I gave credence to a low heart rate as okay because it meant I wouldn’t blow up.  These valid but unhelpful mental gymnastics also meant that I would add 15-30 seconds to every mile and that while I wouldn’t blow up, I would fail to ever press the pace.

I didn’t run fearless.  I didn’t run worried about my calf.  I didn’t think about how I was heavier than last year.  (Kent’s Ironman race weight history: 2012 — 183, 2013 — 175, 2014 — 184.)  I wasn’t thinking about running in the red zone of mid to high 150s heart rate.  I wasn’t worrying — but all of that was somewhere in the stew of subconscious and provided the compost necessary to fertilize passing thoughts into full grown rationalizations.  To run an Ironman successfully, I imagine the mind must be sterilized of these shadowy reservations.  Clinical, like an operating room, an athlete must be ready to demand the absurd from himself and to do it unselfconsciously.  I must learn to run without fear.

A few words on the course itself.  It is flat.  It is more flat than anywhere I’ve run excepting a track.  It is however somewhat “technical” in that there are many 90 degree turns and two 180 turnaround which each must be navigated multiple times.  The organizers took the course up and down High Street in Cambridge which is brick instead of asphalt.  High Street provided the only “hill” worth mentioning and it wasn’t hard so much as it surprised my dulled senses each time I came to it.  The hill is probably 800-1200 meters long with an aid station about 85 percent of the way to the top.  Upon reaching the top of the hill, the course turns left down a street lined with shops and restaurants for a few hundred meters.  This was the loudest, most boisterous and lively section of the course.  There was room on the sidewalks for spectators to line up near the course fences.  There was at least one if not more restaurants open with patio seating and it was near where the shuttle buses were running and made access easy for the fan base.  On the third lap, at the very end of this street is where athletes turn left for the final mile to the finish line instead of turning right and heading down the length of the entire course again.

Somewhere around the 9:50 mark I figured out that I wouldn’t break 10 hours.  I had not been aiming for it, nor had I been thinking about it during the race.  But when the realization hit me, it was a bit of a letdown.  The minute it takes to go 9:59 versus 10:00:00 is no longer nor is it harder earned than the one that moves you from 10:04 to 10:03.  Still, there is a huge psychological effect and if this post is about anything, it is about the power of the mind to control the body.

I had a very good day.  I had a solid, respectable run.  If I were to rationalize today, I’d say that the run was strong considering the training leading up to it.  Enough with the rationalizations though, I know that I’ve run about a third less than last year and didn’t start running until Memorial Day.  I was physically strong enough to handle the distance and that is the only fact of import.  Arguably my legs didn’t have enough miles in them to show the resilience necessary to fight through the really hard miles of 15-20.   But we won’t know, because I didn’t go there.

Most importantly, my mind didn’t have the miles in it to be unbreakable, strong and focused in the face of distraction, discomfort and false signals telling it that I ought to slow down.  That is the mistake, the failing, of the day.

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Finish line photos often capture joy, triumph, elation.  On the spectrum of emotion, each has its counterpart in full measure.  There is disbelief that the whole escapade is ending.  Triumph in the heart is but a thin patina for the hurt way down deep in your bones, joints and muscles.  My experience, n=3, is of a profound exhaustion that nearly transforms elation into a jellylike collapse the moment I cross the line.  Yin and yang — paired, balanced and available only after having overcome the obstacles presented by the day.

This is my favorite photo of the day.  It includes subtle virtues — it is rare for anyone to get a shot of the finish arch with the time matching their actual time but I started within seconds of the gun and there was no pro field.  It has a solitary protagonist and as much as it is true — so very, very true — that no one does one of these races alone but always through the sacrifice of family, friends, co-workers, volunteers, organizers, first responders, law enforcement, deep down I think we all like to be a little bit of our own hero.  Ironman lets you play hero for the day.  It has interesting light, colors and shapes.

Most of all, after a day of keeping my head up when my swim split was far slower than I expected, when I could not reliably come close to my targets on the bike, when I had taken the easy path and rationalized my way through Plan B on the run, I still got through it.  I made it.  The race was not won, but it was done.  I finished and though weary, I was worthy.

As in life, we all finish alone.  If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.

As in life, we all finish alone. If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.  Also, there won’t be ponderous comparisons of a life well-lived to an athletic competition.