Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Triathlon

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


50 Women…Or, How about 10, or 11

Dear Diary,

As you know, I’ve been involved with the 50 Women to Kona campaign all year.  First as a social media participant, then behind the scenes plotting a bit with like-minded co-conspirators and then, a month or two after launch, as member of the board at Tri Equal.

Those Tri Equal folks are a good bunch.  Like any fledgling organization, we’ve had some hiccups but every hitch has been quickly addressed because of a surplus of energy and goodwill.  I’m lucky they will have me.

Today I saw this article about influential women in cycling because it posted to the Tri Equal Facebook page.  I know it is not dispositive and it is insiderish to the cycling industry, but it begs the question, who are the influential women in triathlon?

The following is off the top of my head.  It is not comprehensive nor is it done with any analytical rigor.  It is personal and subject to change.  What do you think of the list?  Who do you find influential?  In alphabetical order, I present a first look at the influential women in triathlon.

  • Mirinda Carfrae — Is record-setting champion from Australia.  With four Ironman world championship wins and six podiums out of seven attempts on Kona, she has one of the most recognized faces in the sport and a devastating run.  Carfrae is paving the way for cross-over athletes through her sponsorship deals with running shoe company New Balance and other roles as a sponsored athlete (Chocolate Milk anyone?).
  • Emily Cocks — Is a pro who many won’t recognize because she is not on the cover of magazines or the top step of the podium at international races.  However, she is the co-host of the hugely entertaining and informative race previews done on the Fantasy Triathlon podcasts hosted by the growing TRSTriathlon platform.  Cocks is making the sport more interesting for the casual observer by creating a market for in-depth analysis and prediction.
  • Sara Gross — Is co-founder at Tri Equal and perhaps the most vocal and visible agitator for reforms to improve the sport for women.  She frequently writes articles in-depth articles for Witsup.com where another leading woman in triathlon hangs her hat, Stef Hanson.  Gross’ fact-based investigations and advocacy are making an impact on bubble surrounding the sport making more and more participants ask, “Is this what I expect of the people organizing the events that soak up so much of my energy.”
  • Kate and Kyra — Represent all the women who are not famous but are out there making it happen.  Kate co-founded a tri-specific shop that then sponsored my first team.  Kyra just took her pro card and serves as president of my new team.  They race, encourage, volunteer, wrench bikes, cajole and generally do good things in the sport.  There are tens of thousands of women like them, but these are the two I know making my local triathlon community a little better.  In many ways, they also represent the most important woman to the industry — the next woman to enter the sport is likely to come in because she was welcomed and nurtured along by someone already in the sport.  Someone they know and trust.  These women are found everywhere — they improve and grow the sport in subtle but tangible ways.
  • Rachel Joyce — Is like so many other accomplished professionals in the sport.  She is available to age groupers at all her races, she is quiet about her many significant accomplishments in sport, she has experience in a high-pressure career outside of sport (in her case, law), and she races with ferocity giving no quarter to her competitors.  Like Sara, Rachel is putting her time and energy behind the movement to improve the sport as a leader at Tri Equal as well as a partner in activities with the kids in her adopted hometown of Boulder.  We may look back at 2015 to see that her work with Team Bravo and major non-endemic sponsors like Coca Cola change the informal structures of the sport as well — from developing professionals, to expanding the footprint in South America and bringing new money into the sport, there is a lot of good that happens around her.
  • Siri Lindley — Has unimpeachable racing chops.  She is also the most high profile female coach in the world and she personally coaches some of the winningest women in the sport.  Need to know more?  See Team Sirius.
  • Paula Newby-Fraser — Is a legend.  However, that would not make her influential today if not for her continued involvement in the sport.  Among other roles, she serves as the pro ambassador for Ironman which means the largest race company, with the biggest races, attracting the most people to the sport have her involved as a model for age groupers and a liaison for pros.  In a word, she has reach.
  • Julia Polloreno — Is the editor-in-chief of Triathlete and Triathlete.com.  Like Stef Hanson, she has her pulse on the people, trends, gear, races and other dynamics that make the sport so interesting.
  • Chrissie Wellington — There are women still entering the sport because of her example — as a athletic champion and as ambassador for causes globally, people know and love the woman known for her smile.
  • The women behind Smash and Coeur Sports — Hillary, Michele, Haley and Kebby are more than triathletes and small business owners.  Certainly their success in creating and marketing women-specific kits make it easier for other women in the sport to get or stay involved.  They are influential because both companies are building communities of interest that serve as anchors.  They are reinvesting in the sport and into their most passionate customers.


  • Dana Ann — because without my wife, her support and good attitude, and steadfast belief in dreaming big, I wouldn’t be involved at all.  Because she is what influences me.

There you have it.  Eleven bullets, sixteen individuals, two companies, some pros, some amateurs a few friends and very little editing — because otherwise it wouldn’t be off the top of my head.


UPDATE — You may ask, what about Daniela Ryf the former Swiss Olympian and reining Ironman champion at both 70.3 and in Kona?  I think she is one of the most interesting women in the sport.  Interest in, and awareness of, her will only grow.  But I don’t think she is currently influencing the sport as much as the women mentioned above.  Over the long term, she has tremendous “influence potential.”  Also, you may ask why Smash and Coeur but not Soas which is another company geared toward women.  I think what makes Smash and Coeur so interesting is not their target market, but the attraction each has with their customer base.  They are on the trajectory of Harley Davidson or Ironman — I could actually imagine someone getting a tattoo of their brand logo because it signals desirable attributes and inclusion into a “club.”

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 »

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.

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.”

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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…