Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Bruce Lee — Be Like Water

After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then – at that moment – a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might – yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.

Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached – not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.


Water is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded; sever it, yet it is not divided. It has no shape of its own but molds itself to the receptacle that contains it. When heated to the state of steam it is invisible but has enough power to split the earth itself. When frozen it crystallizes into a mighty rock. First it is turbulent like Niagara Falls, and then calm like a still pond, fearful like a torrent, and refreshing like a spring on a hot summer’s day.


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 »

Ocean Games — Part II

This is the post about what I learned in the whole adventure of doing a nine mile ocean swim.

To begin with the beginning, the start of the race is a pretty mild affair.  You might say calm, relaxed, laid back or even languid.  While an air horn did sound, the race began with a stroll into the water.  There was no manic thrashing, positioning was easy and competitors were still chatting with one another as they entered the surf.  It was a departure to what I’m used to but not uncomfortable in any way.  I dove through the first two waves and then was off headed to a turn marker with one guy on my left and two women back about five yards and to my right.

Watch the Start of 2015 Ocean Games 9 Mile Swim in a short video.

Let’s go back a bit.  I first heard of the race from Traci McNeil in March.  I registered the first week of May.  I began to “study up” last week.  Also, I didn’t change my training and counted on the general fitness developed in the lead up to Ironman Coeur d’Alene to carry me through.  I did complete the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in mid-June but I didn’t think any lessons would apply.  The GCBS is less than two hours and half the distance.  There is no need to take in nutrition and though the Bay can have a chop, this year it was as calm as you can reasonably expect for a body of water that large.  Nine miles in the ocean would be a whole new thing.

Fortunately in addition to periodic email encouragement from Traci, I found some great resources online. Check out this site of fanatics who have done nearly everything there is to do with marathon swimming, excepting those things that they continue to seek out as new challenges.  The forums are particularly full of good information and have a nice search function.

Open Water Swimming Is Not Equal To Marathon Swimming

This observation should be a surprise to no one.  It didn’t shock me so much as hit me in the forehead like a brick after the race.  I never equated the two before the race, but I also never really thought much about it.  For those of you more land-based, think of about running.  Trail running is the analog to open water swimming.  There are natural elements — whether they are roots and rocks or currents, animal and plant life, and varying light — that change the experience from the track or road for running and the pool for swimming.  But open water swimming isn’t marathon swimming.  Ultra running, races that cover 50 and 100 miles of trail, is like marathon swimming in that it has its own special niche among athletes, its own tricks of the trade and importantly, the body reacts in whole new ways after a few hours of continuous activity.

Goggles & Equipment

I wore the new X1 goggles by Roka.  (I’ve also recently acquired a pair of the F1 goggles in dark vermillion and they work fine, but I like the X1 better despite the ugly bug-eye effect.  I’ve never been one to worry too much about appearance.)  The X1 series has the largest field of vision and very crisp optics.  The pair I have are cobalt which is ideal for ocean swims.  They were new the day before Ironman Coeur d’Alene and have only been worn a handful of times.  They never fogged or leaked though once during a feed I readjusted the right gasket.  I also went out with plenty of spray TriSlide and Body Glide and a full slathering of sunscreen.  However, I left the sunscreen off my face because I didn’t want any leaking into my eyes.  I used standard bike bottles for my nutrition.


Where do I need to improve the most?  Right here — nutrition.  My plan was to take a feed every 30 minutes.  On the bottom of the hour it would be 10 ounces of liquid.  At the top of the hour a Roctane gel with 10 ounces of liquid.  Bottles 1, 3 and 5 — for the corresponding hours — were filled with Roctane Endurance drink which contains 59 carbohydrates.  Bottles for the second and fourth hour were filled with Gatorade Endurance which has fewer carbohydrates — about 42 per bottle.  Every two hours, just like on my bike, I would take a chewable GasX tablet to help with the byproduct of all the gels.  I took the feeds on schedule thanks to Paddy.  However, they were not quite dialed in properly.

I started the day with a normal breakfast albeit with less fruit than normal.  Too much fructose has, on rare occasion, led me to GI distress.  I made sure to finish eating about 3.5 hours before the race start to allow for plenty of time to get the protein into the system and my blood sugars stabilized after fasting since dinner.  I also ate a gel about 30 minutes before the race started, had tea with breakfast (regular black tea and a cup of ginger tea) and sipped on a bottle of water for the last hour before the start.

At the first feed, I more or less drank fluids but the hand offs were sloppy and clearly we were amateurs learning by doing.  At the second feed I did not eat the gel so much as aspirate the gel.  I may have eaten part of it, but the majority ended up coating my lungs.  In the very least, it felt that way.  I also drank a good deal of the Atlantic’s finest offering and some more of the Roctane Endurance.  Paddy worked out a system where he would come around to my left and let me swim right up to the kayak and that worked a little better but I still couldn’t find the right position for eating or drinking.  I tried floating on my back.  I tried floating on my back and kicking.  I tried sidestroke.  I tried treading water.  I tried modified breastroke.  Each time the waves were lapping over my face, my legs were sinking and I’m sure it was comical in the extreme.  Despite being offshore, I couldn’t even muster good swearing, like a sailor, because I was too busy drinking the ocean or choking on sticky gels.

My longest feed was at the two hour mark as we approached the six mile buoy.  I took the gel and more or less failed with it.  I took a GasX tablet and noshed it down with seawater.  I then drank as fast as I could and tossed the bottle back at Paddy.  Just as I was about to start swimming, I paused.  Something was off.  Then suddenly I projectile vomited.  More came out in a second blast a few seconds later.  I’m sure the fish were non-plussed with the eggs and dried fruit pieces that sprayed.  It felt like someone had put a hose at the base of my esophagus and sprayed out the stuff the dentist uses to clean teeth.  It made the back of my throat burn and my eyes tear but my stomach felt much better.  While I could see the bits of food, the sheer volume of spray suggests that I let go of about 31 gallons of sea water.  I took off slowly and within a minute or two was able to get back into a groove.

  • Lessons — Next time I’m going to develop a nutrition plan that is 100 percent liquid.  I’m not coordinated enough for the gels unless I can get them into a bottle.  Even then the combination of “chewing,” swallowing, breathing and avoiding waves may be too much for my skill set.
  • Next time we’ll use the rope-and-carabeener system that I set up but we didn’t use.  We didn’t use it because we tried to err on the side of simplicity.  Fewer moving pieces meant fewer chances to mess up.
  • Next time I will practice at least the motions of the feed process if not the actual nutrition plan.
  • After the race, I learned from the winner that he is able to take in 10 ounces in about 20-30 seconds.  He noticed, and diplomatically asked about, my circus-like performance on the first three to four feeds.  My feeds were measured in minutes, not seconds.

After Effects

I came out of the ocean and ran up the beach with no trouble.  As soon as I crossed the timing mat and tried to stop moving, the woozy took over.  Everything around me kept moving even though I was standing still.  A nice volunteer helped me over to a chair in the shade where I hung out for about 20 minutes until I was confident that my landlubber legs would not betray me.

I was tired after the race but not totally wrecked.  We had the good fortune of Cinema Del Ray scheduled for that evening so as soon as I got home and showered, I walked a couple blocks to meet Dana and the tribe for a community viewing of a Penguins movie.  Laying on the ground for two hours may sound like torture, but it was fine.  The movie was funny too.

My lower back was pretty stiff and my neck muscles were achy.  I knew they would be sore soon.  In addition to my lower back and neck, which I attribute to insufficient training, my shoulders developed soreness late on Sunday night.  It lasted about a day or two at the most.  I found two abrasions from friction.  They have both melted back into nothing already.

I’ve already found myself wondering what I should do next.  Should I try one more of these in 2015 — perhaps late in the year to close out the season.  Should I regroup and fold marathon swimming in to my plan for 2016?  A plan, by the way, which has not taken shape at all.  I don’t think this is a one and done type adventure.


How the Race Developed 

I made it to the turn first and was joined by one other guy.  He was slightly behind to my left and his kayaker was immediately to my right.  After a few hundred meters Paddy joined us and we basically proceeded this way until the 30 minute mark.

After a half an hour, the other swimmer took over the lead as I struggled through the feed.  He ended up about 30 meters in front of me and for the next 25 minutes I chased.  As we approached the one hour mark, we were side by side and I was passing him back.  I kept it going but didn’t really stretch the lead more than 10 or 15 meters before it was time for another feed.  At this point, he swam past me and put more than 30 meters into me.  While he went out of sight due to the waves, I could still see his kayaker and began chasing her for another half hour before she was gone too.

Stroke rate is a good proxy for how peppy I was feeling.  There are three clear sections of this chart.  The first hour I was above 35 spm, the second hour I dropped down a little each of the 30 minute segments.  And then after the two hour mark I got back to 35 spm and managed to pick it up for the last 50 minutes to get back over 35 but not quite to the same level as where I started.

Stroke rate is a good proxy for how peppy I was feeling. There are three clear sections of this chart. The first hour I was above 35 spm, the second hour I dropped down a little each of the 30 minute segments. And then after the two hour mark I got back to 35 spm and managed to pick it up for the last 50 minutes to get back over 35 but not quite to the same level as where I started.

A swam alone for the next half hour.  It was not lonely or isolating, but I was alone.  While the chart above is not speed or pace, it clearly demonstrates where key events happened in the race.  After the first downward spike is a half an hour where I chased but didn’t have the same turnover as the first hour when I swam equal to the eventual winner.  It is also where he pulled away.  After the next downward spike, the next feed, you can see the turnover drop down again below 35 averaging 33 spm.

At this point we came to the Great Displacement (of my stomach).  The chart shows a marginal improvement for the next half hour and then from approximately 2:30 onward, it appears that I finished well.  However, a race cannot be understood from the charts only.  What was happening?  At the 2:30 feed I was passed by two people.  I repassed and the work required to get back to the front of the group lifted my pace and stroke count and really gave me something concrete to focus on. As we approached the 3:00 mark I was still in the lead of the group who would finish second through fourth and took only a very short feed that was incomplete.

Moments later, the woman who went on to finish second caught me.  I put her kayak between us thinking that I could put in a good, strong five to ten minute dig and pull away without her seeing me go if I “hid” behind the kayak.  I put in the dig but all it did was keep me even with her and put me in a hole.  Initially slowly and then steadily, she pulled right away from me.  From the surface, it must have looked like I didn’t see it happening but really I was trying to respond thinking there was an outside chance that she’d cramp or break.  Meanwhile, we were passing pods of swimmers who were competing in the three mile race.  With that, the line up was established and we made our way through the last few hundred meters and up the beach to the finish.

Other Lessons

  1. I’m pretty sure I lost my stomach because of too much salt water, not because of what I ate or drank.
  2. I need to work on my mental game.  When I was in the same neighborhood as other swimmers, I swam better.  This is true for the first 90 minutes as well as the the last two miles of the race.  However, the middle third of the race was the weakest segment and where I spent the most time alone on the water.
  3. I won something!  I didn’t go to the race to win and didn’t think about it until I found myself swimming at the front of the race.  The Ocean Games folks gave me a cool water bottle and beach towel.  Winning something isn’t everything or even the primary reason to do these things, but it is fun.
  4. After the race, I overheard other swimmers going on and on about stroke rate. I’m totally unaware of how to use stroke rate to train or race.  I’m used to pace per 100 yards or heart rate.  This is something I’ll have to look into especially after looking at the chart above and how it matches so closely with the developments of the race.
  5. Swimming in the ocean is much more difficult than a lake or river.  The waves and the swell are irregular not conducive to staying in a rhythm.  Swimming this far is all about getting in a rhythm.


Ocean Games — Nine Miles is Not Playing Around

Yesterday was the third annual Ocean Games in Ocean City, Maryland.  I took part in the nine mile ocean swim.  It is a point-to-point swim starting at Caroline Street and ending at 145th Street.  There were some two dozen of us who took the plunge for the marathon swim — others did SUP races or a three-mile or one-mile swim.

This is the crew that swam the length of the barrier island (the Maryland segment) where Ocean City  is located.  A pretty happy bunch before the swim start.

This is the crew that swam the length of the barrier island (the Maryland segment) where Ocean City is located. A pretty happy bunch before the swim start.

Paddy was my kayak pilot.  Ironic considering he doesn’t like the water — but what good is staying friends with someone you met at age 18 if you cannot drag them along on adventures?  He was able to launch into the surf without dumping over, rode without incident for the whole race, and kept me fueled while I was out on the course.  Looking back, it could have been a real mess with the two of us.  He has been on kayaks, but isn’t an experienced ocean paddler.  I know how to swim, but I had zero experience with what we were getting into.  It all worked out however I’m pretty sure we had some of the slowest feeding sessions among all of the swimmers.

I finished third overall behind a 40 year old man and a 22 year old woman who pipped me in the last mile.  She had it when it mattered; I did not.  I finished in 3:22:04.4 which is about a 22:27 per mile pace.

Top three finishers were given a cool water bottle and a very nice beach towel featuring Ocean Games logos.  Here I am with the event's founder, Corey Davis, who organizes the whole thing to benefit the Johns Hopkins Brain and Stroke Rehabilitation Center.

Top three finishers were given a cool water bottle and a very nice beach towel featuring Ocean Games logos. Here I am with the event’s founder, Corey Davis, who organizes the whole thing to benefit the Johns Hopkins Brain and Stroke Rehabilitation Center.

The day was very pleasant.  We had a 10.00 a.m. start with light, steady breezes that grew into a steady 12 mph wind from the south.  As a result, we had a tailwind pushing us down the course and the water became increasingly choppy as we progressed.

We stayed at a Hampton Inn at 43rd Street which was a short walk to the Friday night check-in and safety briefing.  In the morning, for $3, I took a bus down the main road to where the numbered streets begin to walk about two or three blocks to the race start.

The pre-race preparations went smoothly probably due in part to the later start time.  I’m not sure if that was to accommodate the live guards and when they go on duty, if it is because of the tides or what, but 10 a.m. is luxurious compared most triathlons that go between 6.30 and 7.30 a.m.  I prepared nutrition as if I would be swimming for 5 and a half hours, then I included another hour of stuff in case things went way off my plan, and then I threw in a few things as back ups.  I had way more than necessary on board the kayak and possibly more than necessary in my gut.


I was aiming for 75 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  My objective was to come up with a plan that would be simple to execute.  Fewer choices, fewer variables, fewer chances to make a mistake or combine two things that don’t go together and if something was off, it should be easier to isolate the culprit for next time.  My plan was to drink half bottle on the 30 minute mark, drink half a bottle and eat a Gu Roctane gel on the 60 minute mark, and then repeat.  In addition, at 120 minutes I planned to chew up a GasX tablet to help with all the gels.  For the first, third and fifth bottle I had Gu Roctane Endurance drink powder in a Clean Bottle.  For the second and fourth hour I had Gu Bru drink powder (I could only find the low-calorie/carb version so I tripled the concentration) in a Tri360 bottle.  All the drinks are made primarily with maltodextrin as the base carbohydrate.  Items in the “extra” or just in case category included two regular Gu gels, a bonk breaker, a single serving bottle of Scope, Cliff Shots which are nutritionally like a gel but packaged as gummie chews, the bottle of ginger tea and a bottle of Gatorade Endurance.

Next Post

Next up I write about how the race developed — there was a lot more action and movement within the field than I expected — and what I learned.  I learned a lot.  Open water swimming is a prerequisite for marathon swimming, but the two are not at all the same thing.  I’ve done the former and enjoy it tremendously.  The latter is a whole new world and I’ve only just begun to earn some understanding of its mysteries — understanding that must come through experience.  From what I’m told, marathon swimming is a prerequisite for channel swimming which is on a whole other plane.

Teasers — I swam in the lead or with the leader for almost 90 minutes, donated some of my breakfast as fish food, was passed by two people simultaneously around the seven mile mark only to pass them both back — temporarily.  Also, everyone I met was very generous with their advice and in answering my very naive questions about everything from what type of bottle to use (I used standard bike bottles) to pacing and other race options.

Meltdown in the Mountains — 80 Minutes of Medical Attention

A list of the weird things my body did upon finishing Ironman Coeur d’Alene

  1. I became dizzy, disoriented and had narrow, tunnel vision.  I slurred my speech and repeated the same thing several times.
  2. I talked excessively to a guy I met at the finish line, Scott Rigsby, like I had known him for years.  It was very uncharacteristic behavior for me but he didn’t seem to mind and was the person who steered me into the medical tent to find someone to help my crazy-talking self.  I’ve known of him for years, but never met him.
  3. I did not recognize two friends who stood “bedside” shortly after I arrived.  According to their report hours later, at first I just stared blankly at them like we’d never met.  Sorry about that.
  4. There was a metallic taste in my mouth.
  5. My teeth and my feet became tingly and numb.
  6. My right calf seized up into a monstrous cramp the first time I shifted and tried to sit fully upright.
  7. Freezing cold towels were draped over my legs to help the cramp which made me start shivering and shaking so bad that I couldn’t talk and I crushed a paper cup full of soup because my hands clenched while they shook.  The cold towels were removed and I was given a space blanket.  We were in a massive tent, on asphalt, it was 105 degrees and I was happily bundled in a blanket.
  8. The vastus medialis muscle above my right knee went into a spasm that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
  9. I had a twitch in my left foot; for about five minutes it just kicked out an inch or two to the left every five seconds.
  10. I forgot Dana’s phone number.  Fortunately, the medical attendant who agreed to text her for me was able to look at my Road ID to get the number.  For some reason, during this conversation I developed a stutter.  It was amazingly frustrating because I felt like my brain was working at 80 percent normal speed but the messages — which I was thinking — were not coming out of my mouth.  She would say, “What would you like me to tell her?”  I could not get the words out to say something as simple as “I’m fine.  A little dizzy.”  This exchange with an extremely patient women trying to help me communicate made me cry.  She gave me a towel to wipe my face and it was still cold from the leg incident which caused an immediate headache.
  11. I became extremely emotional — nearly weepy several times like when they first took my vital signs, overjoyed at other points, and worried about details that were entirely insignificant like how tight the laces were on my shoes.  I apologized several times for taking up space when there were obviously people who needed help.  I was assured that I was in fact one of those people — only I couldn’t recognize it.
  12. Several times I called out to the guy in the chair opposite me.  I thought poor Kevin — only about eight feet away — was in terrible shape if he didn’t recognize his own name after the race.  Only about an hour later, when Kevin arrived in the medical tent and took the spot two chairs to my right did I realize the guy I’d been harassing was someone else, wearing entirely different colors in his kit, and with his name clearly visible on his bib — it wasn’t Kevin.  I was the mess, not the other guy.
  13. For the first half hour I was in the tent, my nose would not stop running.
  14. I became mildly paranoid about my heart rate and kept checking it even after they removed my watch to improve circulation to the extremities.  The watch had the heart rate on display so I had to count it out.  This would be no big deal but I was paranoid and doing it every few minutes.  Every time I checked it was within a few beats of when they came by and checked it which was in the low to mid 60s.  My blood pressure was also pretty stable around 110/70.
  15. I felt drunk.  We’re not talking buzzed or tipsy.  I was like that guy you’ve all seen who gets so loaded at the tailgate he never makes it into the stadium.  The only difference is he usually sleeps in the parking lot a mile from the game and I was awake, on a plastic lounge chair, totally falling apart in a parking lot only 10 yards from the finish line.

The medical personnel said that I had acute hyponatremia and not to worry but to drink my fluids — chicken broth and Gatorade.  I knew enough about hyponatremia to get a little freaked out.  I kept thinking about the irony that I was going to drown, on dry land, when the thing I did best at these races was swim.  Later, before I was released, it was explained that if I had more serious symptoms or if I had vomited even one more time, I would have had an IV immediately and probably been shipped straight to the hospital.  Their prescription was salty drinks and time.  It worked.

I didn’t have it from drinking too much fluid but rather from too low of sodium concentration because I had been sweating out electrolytes faster than I could keep them down and absorb them.

I was also told that it was both helpful and a good sign that I was able to recount for the medical team my “history” which is to say I was able to detail my nutrition over the previous six hours — how much I drank, how many salt tablets I took, how many gels I ate, how many times I vomited and my estimate of how many gels I kept down.  It was helpful because it gave them a picture of how long I had effectively been running on empty and they didn’t have to guess or assume the worst.

It was a good sign because even though my mind was playing all sorts of games and working slowly, the ability to count a variety of items/activities and recount them was a good sign.  I knew how many salts I had taken and the intervals at which I had taken them going back ten hours but could not recognize friends who stood next to me or sat across an aisle.  I gave a detailed account of my Gu consumption but was dizzy enough that three people had to lower me into the chair.

Most of these symptoms that emerged in the medical tent, I’m told, were brought on as my systems tried to “turn themselves back on” as more electrolytes entered my bloodstream and the balance of water, sugar, salts etc. regained a semblance of normal.  It took almost a week for my stomach to get back to normal.  I’m going to lose one toenail to the race.  I felt mentally sluggish for several days after the race and had term memory problems — like when I called someone and had trouble with the voicemail because I couldn’t remember my own phone number or difficulty with my computer passwords.  All in all, it probably took about a week to get back to normal.

Thank you to the people of Coeur d’Alene who lined the run course with ice, hoses, sprinklers and good cheer.  I’m sure you kept many people out of the hospital.  The volunteers kept us all out of the hospital.  The medical volunteers were smart, attentive, patient and genuinely humane.  Thank you all.

The Dramatic Arc — or Arch — of Ironman Coeur d’Alene

Powerful stories often follow a narrative of conflict.  There is man versus man, man versus God or Nature, and ultimately, the most challenging and compelling stories feature man versus himself.

The 2015 edition of Ironman Coeur d’Alene offered all three.

Ascribing myself the protagonist role, it is fair to say that I came out with the short end of the stick in the first two conflicts.  Others in the field handled the day much better than I did.  Many bested my results.  My efforts to anticipate, address and respond to the 105 degree heat were inadequate.  Enough so that after vomiting four times on the second half of the run I finally finished and promptly found myself in the medical tent for 80 minutes.  But when the demons came out, long after the body was weakened, I continued the mental fight.  I’m not sure if it was mind over matter but the mind certainly mattered.  After a certain point, the disappointment fades, the pain dulls, and the other competitors become scenery.  The only question becomes “How do I keep myself moving forward?”  Everything else is stripped away and the essence of a mental battle is laid bare in just a handful of words.

Despite an unexpectedly poor bike segment, all was not lost until the run.  I had hopes of running as fast as a 3:40 -- it actually took an additional 90 minutes.

Despite an unexpectedly poor bike segment, all was not lost until the run. I had hopes of running as fast as a 3:40 — it actually took an additional 90 minutes.

Man Versus Man

I began the day ready mentally, and I believe physically, to compete.  I arrived with a goal to continuously put myself into the top ten of my age-group until such time that I could no longer.  I wasn’t sure if the moment would come or if it would come early on the bike or midway through the run.  The stage was set for a battle of man versus man — I would take all comers, refusing any quarter and following my plan with discipline.  I had set a goal to swim with the lead pack but was prepared to let them go if I felt my heart rate climbing too high, too early.  I knew my nutrition plan — adjusted for the weather with fewer solids and more fluids and salts.  I knew my goal watts for the first half of the ride, for the second half of the ride and for any hill that looked as if it might take more than three minutes to climb.  I had practiced running in the heat by adjusting my speed and effort to keep my heart rate two beats per minute below where my body turns over into low anaerobic level.

The swim ended as comedy.  I started on the front row on the right corner of the rope line.  At the sound of the cannon, I ran into the water, took several strokes and found myself sharing the lead with two others.  We more or less occupied a space five meters across from the buoys to my position and stayed that way for approximately 600 meters.  As we approached the first turn, I felt them accelerate.  I could have gone.  I was tempted to shoot into the corner because I could have taken a better line.  But prudence ruled.  It was disappointing but I let them ease up ahead of me and I started following the disturbed water behind them instead of the stand up paddleboards that were gently gliding ahead of the field.  By the time we had turned and organized into a straight line again, I wasn’t swimming in third but was swimming in a field of about half a dozen people ally vying for position and following the leaders.  It remained that way throughout the rest of the first loop.  I came out of the water with a handful of men and two age-group women.  At least four of us finished the second loop together as well.

The comedy came at the conclusion of the swim.  When we were only about 50 meters from the finish, a guy who had been swimming for half an hour on my left suddenly veered over and dunked me.  It was not the sort of contact that one gets because everyone is jostling for position.  It was what must have been the culmination of his frustration.  Immediately prior to the episode I had been swimming straight toward the exit arch and he had slid over to the right three times and bumped me.  He was like a dolphin trying to inch me over to the side.  He thought the line to the beach was about 5-10 degrees further right than it actually was and each time our arms tangled.  Each time we kept swimming and he would surge just a bit to try to get far enough ahead to turn his line to the right.  Eventually he swam up and put his whole right arm over my head and forced it down.  I was so shocked I stopped swimming for a moment.  My first instinct was to give chase and retaliate with a yank on his feet but instead I got myself moving, got immediately behind him and laughed.  This guy was way too intense for his own good.  I vowed to take him on the bike.

Approximately two and a half hours into the day I started to notice things were off.  By the time I was halfway through the bike I knew I was no longer at the front of the field and was slipping backward within my age group.  In the conflict of man versus man, I was coming up short.

Man Versus Nature

I’m not sure that you ever “win” by challenging nature.  The best outcomes are found when you can adapt and find a balance that allows you to absorb what comes your way.  The day after the race, the heat index on Interstate 90 where most of the bike course snakes up and out of Coeur d’Alene to a turnaround point was reported at 140 degrees.  Water was important but no amount of water was going to cool a body off.  When I noticed the wind picking up late in the morning as I made my way back on the last 20 miles of the course, it was a hot wind and made me think of a pizza oven.  I could feel the heat radiating off of the road up through the face shield on my helmet.

Yet it was beautiful.  All along the course were ranches long rolling hills with mountains on the horizon.  Even as we made our way through a low pass — presumably putting a mountain behind us — mountains remained on the horizon all the time.

I took salt pills just like I had practiced.  I pedaled downhill.  I rode within myself and yet for more than 45 miles I saw my normalized power first slide down some 15 to 20 percent below my targets and then hover ominously before I started taking shortcuts like sitting up early on the climbs and coasting down parts of the descents.

Nature was beating me down and I knew it.  I had not thrown in the towel on the race but knew I was falling out of contention.  I redoubled my mental effort to make sure I would not miss any of my nutrition because I had stopped paying attention.  In hindsight, I think I came off the bike in fairly good shape.  Perhaps a little worse for wear but I had ridden at least two hours well below my training levels so even if it was hot, my legs were a bit “rested” compared to what I had prepared them to do.

Sitting in the changing tent as I slid on my shoes, first one and then the other hamstring cramped up.  I would have fallen out of the chair had it not been for a kindly volunteer who suggested that I “rub that charlyhorse real good” before standing.  In addition to advice, he supported my whole left side by putting his hand on my arm to balance me back onto the chair.  Someone handed me an ice-cold towel that I draped over my head and neck and held in place with my visor.  With that, I hobbled out of the transition convinced that within 15 minutes, a little running would work out the kinks.  I wasn’t leading, but I was still in the race and ready to go.  At this point, I was no longer in control of my destiny.  I was counting on at least some of the people who had passed me on the bike to blow up on the run.

In the conflict with the elements, it was a genuine drama.

I saw evidence everywhere, and ignored it, that the drama would likely turn tragic.  There were people sitting in the aid stations.  Ambulances and golf carts littered the course.  Before I turned the corner to come into the first aid station as I passed through mile 11 or 12, I watched a woman hold onto a mailbox and vomit Gatorade all over the road.  Several professionals were walking.  Almost immediately I found it difficult to talk in the aid stations.  I couldn’t ask for what I wanted and resorted to nodding and pointing.  After peeing on the bike course around the 75 mile mark, I didn’t have to go again until mile 17 of the run course.

Despite my slow pace, I continued optimistically and with an eye on my heart rate.  At mile 14, while still in the aid station, I vomited into a garbage can.  It was an old-fashioned power-puke the likes of which I have not performed since college.  At this point irony enters the story.  Everyone around me could see what was happening, but I was oblivious.  I’ll be fine, I thought.  Just need to get going and it will sort itself out by the next aid station, I told myself.  That was the bad stuff, that wasn’t absorbing now I’ll replace it with easier to digest fluids, I dissembled.

I was in a spiral and the only question was whether or not I would make it another dozen miles before I was totally wrecked.  At this point, the walking began in earnest.  I was repeatedly dizzy anytime my heart rate went over 120 or 125.  I vomited three more times before the finish including on mile 25 when I fell down and stood up facing the wrong direction.  Thankfully other competitors were walking by and oriented me toward the library parking lot that served as a gateway to the final chute down Sherman Street.  In the contest between man and nature, nature won handily.

Man Versus Himself

Before it was all over, my performance had sunk past comedy, rocketed through tragedy and settled on farce.  My body was not in revolt so much as shutdown.  The swim and the bike had brought my systems to a subsistence level of operation.  As long as I didn’t overdo things, I would be able to ingest and absorb just enough to keep going.  The double cramps in the changing tent were evidence of how thin the line was between performance and packing it in.  The vomiting depleted all reserves and from that point I couldn’t absorb electrolytes or sugars fast enough to compensate for my metabolism in the heat, let alone for any sort of running.

My mind would wander but it kept coming back to fundamental questions about the next mile, the next aid station, the next…

I played games to keep focus.  My watch kept a running tally of the pace of the current mile.  I would walk until it got up to 15 minute miles and then run the pace down as far as I could.  Several times I got it down to the 11 minute range before my vision narrowed or I had to puke again.  When I discovered that the “dizzy zone” was a heart rate in the 120s, I’d go as far as I could to see if I could hit 126 without a problem, then 127, then, suddenly, I couldn’t.

I held out affection for the mile markers like a starving man desperate for food.  I was actually running and in control of everything when I came upon the 20 mile marker.  I was so upset that I had somehow gone right past 19 without noticing it that I slowed to a walk, incredulous that I had missed 19 which I had so been looking forward to seeing.  My emotions were all over the map — literally I was veering toward a dark mood because I had been  looking forward to a sign and now wouldn’t see it.  I had invested in that sign.

I wanted to see the finish arch.  Fears surfaced that I haven’t really addressed, ever.  My mind was at once delicate — careening from this idea to that, losing focus and finding insight — and fearsomely devoted.  I felt compelled to finish.  No one I loved would care if I walked off the course.  But I cared.  It mattered to me.  I didn’t want to fail in what I had started.  I wanted to be an example of perseverance for my children.  I had trained for seven months to race, to compete, by God I was at least going to finish upright.

In the biggest battle of the day, I dueled with myself.  In that way, I was doomed to lose but through the effort and willingness to accept the darkest, most difficult elements eventually came out on top.

I found that finish arch.  In fact, I raced down the final eight blocks at a pace that I had not seen since the first mile of the marathon.  Upon reaching the goal, I indulged in a smile — not of relief, rather it was a base joy — and summersaulted across the line.

Whereupon I was soon escorted to the medical tent and monitored because as one friend later described it, I was “delirious” and totally “out of it.”

Next up — My body performed a virtual circus of weird behaviors.  Details to follow in a future post.  From tingling in my teeth and feet, to spasms and convulsions — I was a mess.


The Week Before

The week leading up to Ironman Coeur d’Alene was one damn thing after another.

At The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim my brand new wetsuit got a nick, and horror of horrors, a genuine rip across the knee.

After I bought the suit, I sent a note to the company thanking them for the quality and for their commitment to TriEqual.  The kind lady who responded, as well as forwarded the message to CEO Rob Canales, was soon on the receiving end of a frantic message about the rip in my suit.  She was empathetic.  She had ideas and bent over backward to find a solution in time for IMCDA.  After exploring several options, she sent me a tube of wetsuit cement with her own personal instructions on how to apply.  Four days out from travel, I patched the suit on the kitchen counter but not after the sticky black stuff splurted out all over my hands.  Crisis messily averted.  Onward!

A few days before I had been out on my last long ride.  A two hour saunter at Ironman pace and suddenly the disc cover on my back broke.  A few of the pins dislodged and a triangular shaped piece came flying off the cover near where the cutout is made for the stem.  I limped the bike home and after two days of assessing the situation bent to the obvious and removed the cover before packing my bike.  I had however called the Aerojacket people in California.  They cut and sent a new cover to my hotel in Idaho.  Onward (with hopes of it arriving in time for the race.)!

Then came the trip.  After a brief walk from one end of the Minneapolis airport to the other, Delta managed to fly me across the entire continent in the span of one morning.  Amazing.  Depart at 6.31 a.m. and arrive a little past 10.00 in Spokane.  Except I arrived without my bike.  The baggage claim guy — who looked like a teenager — was helpful, optimistic and just a tad overwhelmed.  I was the first of many in line looking for lost bags.  He promised to have my bike delivered to the hotel later in the afternoon.  I messaged home that I was safe, picked up the rental car and set a course east for the border.  About two miles before the border and within sight of the speed sign that announced an increase in the speed limit, I was pulled over and given a speeding ticket.

Thanks state trooper guy.  Not. At. All.  Onward again!

The rest of the evening was quite nice.  I got checked in without incident.  I took a lovely little 15 minute swim in the lake to shake out the effects of flight.  I met friends and fellow board members of TriEqual at an out of the way coffee shop.  I navigated approximately 40 minutes around the lake to find the Ignite Endurance crew having dinner at the home away from home of Nate and Leslie Miller.  Some two dozen people gathered for a potluck and to grill.  I saw a huge bald eagle soaring over the lake from the deck and met some very nice people all gearing up for the race on Sunday.

By the time I got back to the hotel my bike had arrived but I decided to wait until morning to put it together.  Saturday morning started with a calm 27 minute run along the Centennial Trail.  Breakfast and then bike maintenance.  Everything came together nicely but there was one brake I couldn’t quite adjust to satisfaction and the headset was a tad weak.  I packed everything up and headed to the race site.  A few minutes after the on-site mechanics opened up at 9.00 a.m., I was in line to have the bike checked.  I didn’t want to come down a mountainside with a wobbly headset.  I gave them my bike and learned they already had a three hour wait.  Onward!

I went to swim and listened to one of the several race briefings offered.  According to the race officials, the key piece of information was that they were planning for heat and we should too.  At more than 90 degrees at 11.00 a.m., this vital news was no surprise.  The bike mechanics finished early and I set off to test everything one more time — a 15 minute spin to set things right before turning it in for the night.  Within four blocks the screws holding the brand new disc cover in place started popping out.  I stopped abruptly and fixed it with spares.  I had traveled less than a block when two more popped.  I was stooped over the bike pressing them into place and wondering how I had defective hardware when even more popped out.  It was like fireworks without a fuse.

I ended up walking the bike back but the spinning of the wheel aggravated the fasteners.  After half a mile of walking while carrying my bike, I was back at the athlete village and the only explanation I could come up with was that the plastic fasteners were expanding in the heat and therefore not holding the threads of the screws.  Back to the mechanic.  I explained that my wrenches and chain whip with a couple miles away at the hotel.  He kindly took off the cassette, removed the covers and returned the bike to me without charge.

I turned the bike in at the transition.  I hurried back to the hotel to pick up my transition bags because that morning I had only planned to spend about two hours at the race site.  It was now more than four hours on.  Upon depositing the transition bags — including running shoes, glasses, bike helmet and shoes etc. I went to find Mike and Dawn Stevenson so that we could drive the bike course together.  I found them — and I found a parking ticket on the windshield.

At this point, I had done everything necessary to get to the start line.  I was healthy and fit.  In fact, I think I was more fit than I’ve ever been.  My equipment was turned in and accounted for at the race site.  I had a plan for the evening and the morning as far as transportation and meals.  I thought everything that was going to go wrong had gone wrong.

I was mistaken.

You Did Good, Papa. I Got a Chipper Sandwich, See?

I went to Idaho last weekend.  Like previous Ironman experiences, it was big and grand and memorable.  I was fit.  I was ready.  I was excited.  The race didn’t turn out how I wanted.  There were good aspects, but mostly, I bombed out.

After traveling all day and night Monday and then working on Tuesday, I rode straight to the tribe’s diving meet after work.  I was behind schedule and as it turned out, arrived too late.  It stung.  It was a totally avoidable mistake.

The pool sits atop a hill.  It is an eighth of a mile and about a seven percent grade to get up the hill.  I churned with all that I had to drag my aching body and my commuter bike up that hill.  At the top, I rode straight to the fence, peered through and saw that there were teenagers diving already.  I was too late.  And, I was dizzy so I layed down right there in the driveway.

I’m not sure how long I sprawled on the asphalt.  I was disappointed and sweaty and mad and, I was dizzy.  Tobias came out.  He played with my helmet and the blinky light.  Then he announced, “You did good, Papa.”

There was a pause.  I asked what he meant.  I had missed his dives.  I had barely gotten around the second loop of the run in Coeur d’Alene.  He held the pause.  Finally I opened my eyes and he held up his ice cream treat.  “I got a chipper sandwich, see?  And, you did good.  We saw you do a summersault at the end.  Mama laughed.  It was funny.”

It was worth it.  Every painful step.

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.

Profits, pressures and costs of globalizing triathlons

James Madison once famously observed that a man cannot be a judge in his own case. In this essay, the tensions between professionalizing triathlon, providing a high quality race experience and growing the market are highlighted.