Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Training

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


Back to the pool last night.  I skipped track night and went straight indoors to buy a three month pass.  It has been months since I swam. I did six 500s on 7:30 alternating swim and pull.  Numbers one, three and five were 6:41, 6:37 and 6:34.  The pulls were 6:47, 6:40 and then I got […]

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.

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 »

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.