Ironmaz - Training Log

Saturday, October 10, 2009
Victory

Of all the triathlons I have done over the past several years, I did not advertise this latest one as much as the others. Few knew I was doing one and I certainly didn’t remind anyone that I was attempting a half-Ironman today. I wondered why I chose to keep this one quiet, but then it occurred to me around mile 38 of the bike course.

This was a personal race, this one was meant for me alone and for me to understand. And only a very select few really knew what was going into this race. This wasn’t about finishing or saying that I have returned to triathlon after nearly a year of hiatus. No, this was about proving something to myself. But I wasn’t proving that I was tough or strong. I was proving to myself that I am not a quitter. I don’t walk away from these challenges.

The failure at mile 75 of Ironman Arizona in 2008 haunted me deeper than I led on. I didn’t pull out because I wasn’t feeling well. I pulled out because I just gave up. My mind had given up on me completely and there was nothing I could do. In an earlier post I intimated the various reasons for my failure, but the bottom line was that I gave up.

Since then, every bike ride, every run, every swim has been a challenge. If I wasn’t riding with someone that I needed to keep up or finish with, I couldn’t be sure that I would complete my goal. It was very easy to give up. As the months passed leading to today’s event, I became stronger, more committed, and more determined. But there was no guarantee that I would really be able to pull it together when it mattered.

This morning was challenging. When I arrived at the race site, I contemplated not starting a dozen times. It was cold, I had no idea what the water would be like, and I knew that bike ride was the most challenging thing I had ever attempted. Lika and Sarah showed up and I felt obligated to at least start the race.

The swim surprised me. The water was comfortable, and even though I was one of the last participants in, I started pulling ahead of the others. I felt great. All the swim training I had done the past three months was paying off. My strokes were consistent and powerful. I was feeling. In fact, I was feeling great. I came out of the water with a huge grin. The feeling was back.

The bike ride was not a surprise to me. I rode the majority of the course 5 times so I knew every stretch and curve of the race. I was a bit shocked to learn that my bike was already in its lowest gear as I started the ride, but once I got on the main road, I found my groove. I was surprised that my heart rate was a low as it was. In fact, it was right on target and was consistent with the training rides. The initial 7-mile climb felt good, but it was the 3-mile and 4-mile climbs, each which I would have to climb twice, that concerned me.

My greatest concern was making the 1:15pm cutoff. At one point I told myself that if I made the cutoff, I would just call it a day. Another moment I told myself to call it a day after the first loop. The loop came and went. I started the second loop knowing that the chances of making the cutoff was diminishing.

I had just started the penultimate climb when clarity found me. I marveled at the past 10 months of my life. I reflected on my mental and emotional state at the beginning of the year. I thought about the challenges I faced. Somehow, I was here, I was participating, and most importantly, I was moving forward. Regardless of the circumstances that began 2009 for me, I found a way through. I had not given up. And this ride was a metaphor.

At mile 30 I concluded that I was going to keep moving forward and not stop until I made it to the end or I was told that I had to stop. Three times I was approached by the support crew and all three times they asked if I wanted to call it a day and ride in the van. I told them all the same thing: “I am not stopping until you tell me that I have to stop.” Each driver told me that they admired my determination.

I was 1 mile from the top of the climb when a truck pulled up next to me and told me that I had to stop. I was too far away to make the cutoff mark and they needed to start opening the road. I pulled over and handed over my bike and climbed into the truck. There were several other riders in the van, each of them with looks of disappointment on their faces. One of them asked how I was doing. I answered: “I didn’t quit. I kept moving until they told me I couldn’t go any further.”

Although I did not finish the race, I was not defeated. I had battled the demons within me once again. The voices that told me to stop and give up were just as strong as ever, but this time I was strong enough to not listen to them. This time I kept going. No matter how my feet were hurting from walking up portions of the hill, I kept moving. Just like the old days.

I arrived home, tired, worn out, and even a little sunburned. But I haven’t stopped smiling since I got out of the swim. I waged war on all the voices that told me that I was too old to do this, that I was wasting my money and my time, that I wasn’t really getting anything from doing this. I waged war and won.

I may not have finished the race, but I still won.

And that is what this is all about.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
The final 5
The last 5 weeks are the toughest. During the three-week you literally try to do yourself in with every workout. You find a way to push yourself past your limit every time. You start off each workout a little tired, a little sore, but you keep pushing. And it is almost a surprise to discover that somehow you keep going further. In spite of the pain and soreness, your body responds and keeps moving, as if it believes you when you tell it that everything is going to be all right.

It’s almost funny to me, this half-Ironman/Ironman thing. Two years ago I did three races: two off-road sprint races and one Olympic distance road race. My longest bike ride was 30 miles, my longest run 5 miles. And the Olympic course was even completely flat.

But this half-Ironman thing is almost untouchable. I say almost only because most of us can wrap our minds around 70.3 miles. We figure that it is the distance to the next major city from wherever we live. The 140.6 miles of the Ironman is another story. You really can’t wrap your head around that one. It’s just too far.

I’m in the middle of my 3-week build. Then I enter a two-week taper. I’ll finish the 3 weeks battered, beat up, worn out, and just plain sore. During the two-week taper, my body will heal and grow strong again. The energy will return and I will be ready for the event. It almost sounds too simple. Simple perhaps, but not easy.

I woke up this morning, sore from the waist down, stiff from the waist up. But I was in the water by 6:30am and knocked out 2200 yards in great time. As soon as I touched the water, I forgot about the pain and just swam. My 4-mile run this evening was the same. It’s as if as soon as I start moving, the pain goes away and the only thing that matters is moving forward.

Tonight I will crawl into bed and wonder how I’ll feel when I wake up tomorrow morning and ride to work. But it won’t matter; I’ll wake up, put on my gear and ride.

Come race day all this training will pay off. When I encounter a rough spot and feel like I can’t go any further, I’ll draw strength from weekends like this past one.

I can cover the distance.

We all can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Motivation
In the Ironman circles, you will often hear stories from many about the “journey” of Ironman. They will tell you stories about overcoming obstacles and the many life changes that took place as a result of their training. And in the end, the race and finishing it is not only a reward, but a reminder that you really can accomplish anything. In that journey, there are days that help define you, not just as a triathlete, but as a person.

This week seems to be that kind of week for me.

Saturday’s bike ride was great. I have ridden two-thirds of the hills of the course and plan to finish the rest in the coming weeks. Sunday’s run was only 5 miles, but it puts me much closer to my goal of 10 before the event. I finished the weekend feeling good and enjoyed some social activities Sunday night.

However, some bad timing and decisions and I found myself eating dinner at 9pm. Anyone who knows me is well aware that a 9pm dinner for me is just a recipe for disaster. I didn’t get into bed until after 11pm and that led to a groggy Monday morning. And Monday night was a teaching night for me as well.

I started Tuesday morning tired but still jumped into the pool and swam my 2200 yards. My time was better than last week, but I already felt worn. I subconsciously took my time getting home and didn’t start my evening run until after 6:30pm.

The run was difficult at first, but after the first mile, I found my stride. I did not want to run last night, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But there I was, running, and running well at that. I made good time on my 3-mile course. But once again, I had a late dinner. I slept well, knowing full well that today was a 12-mile ride to work in the morning, and a 12-mile ride home afterwards.

The ride this morning went well. I didn’t go as fast as I wanted to but I was trying to keep my heart rate low. The streets were empty and there were few cars. It was a peaceful ride. I wish I could say the same about the journey home.

Like Tuesday night, I really didn’t want to ride my bike home. But in this case, I really didn’t have a choice. I left at 4pm as I normally do, but there were so many more cars and buses than the past few weeks. And the wind appeared in every direction. I was having trouble shifting and keeping a straight line. It was extremely clear that my mind was not focused and was tired. Today’s work involved a lot of problem solving and I think that wore me out.

The entire ride home was a struggle. I dodged several cars and intersections that seemed to have never seen me. Buses passed me closer than I liked. Every stoplight was red and I really had to use the bathroom and there was none in sight.

But like yesterday, I made it home. I did the distance, I completed the workout. There was nothing pretty or spectacular about it. Like the run and the swim, I just pressed forward, knowing full well that I have done it before and can do it again.

And perhaps that is the lesson learned in all of this. There is a reason I keep wanting to go back to the bike course for October’s race and climb the steep hills. I want to know that I can do so that when race day comes, I can use the knowledge and experience as power. It is those memories that we draw on when things aren’t going the way we want them to.

Saturday, July 18, 2009
The big climb
The first time I scouted Kanan Dume was in the summer of 2003. I drove up and thought it was an incredible climb. It was long and looked hard, but it seemed feasible. Then I turned right on Mulholland and descended down some of the tightest and sharp turns I had ever driven. It was inspiring and frightening at the same time. I knew that one day I would climb Kanan Dume and take on those turns on Mulholland on my bike. It was only a matter of time.

Time passes, plans change, riding partners leave and Kanan Dume was still not conquered, until today. I met Beth a little while ago and she was an avid rider who couldn’t turn down a good climb any day. I told about the ride and she was in.

The proposed route was incredibly simple. We would park somewhere near Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes and Mulholland, ride down Las Virgenes to PCH, head west on PCH to Kanan Dume, climb to the top, turn right on Mulholland and head back to the car. It was a square course covering 27 miles and almost 5000 feet of climbing. A casual weekend ride for some.

We hit the road early and were parked at Malibu Creek State Park and on our bikes by 8:15am. The descent down Las Virgenes was disconcerting to me. I had driven it in both directions and knew that the road was narrow with barely a shoulder for bikes. I also knew that most cars drove it too fast and that there was a very narrow tunnel. So it was good that we were starting early. And to much my surprise, the first leg of the trip was fun and uneventful—the cars behaved themselves and the road was clean. It was a joyous descent overall.

PCH was as expected. There were crowds of bikes and cars but otherwise peaceful. I have always enjoyed PCH north of Pepperdine, the southern route back to Santa Monica has lost its appeal to me ever since Tara and Felix were hit by the rear view mirror of an RV. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it was a frightening experience nonetheless. That was nearly a year ago.

But once you get the Pepperdine, PCH is a joy. The shoulder is large and the views are spectacular. We were only on PCH for 5 miles, but it was wonderful.

Kanan Dume was much steeper than I expected. It was the distance, 8.5 miles to Mulholland, that bothered me, but rather the grade. Suddenly my wonderful compact gearing on my bike seemed insufficient. I hit the lowest gear within the first few hundred yards. By the end of the first mile, I knew it was going to be a long slow climb.

Beth, on the hand, had plenty of climbing miles under her legs and cruised up the hill in a graceful fashion. I was the slow but steady mule, she was steady as well, but hardly slow. Fortunately, she was patient enough to wait out my climb, which felt like forever at times. I knocked the climb out one mile at a time, taking a short rest to catch my breath. I knew that once I hit the tunnel, the worst of the ride would be over. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice was trying to tell me to give up, but I would not have it. I was reaching the top. I had waited too long for this ride and was not letting anything stop me.

After some time, I saw the tunnel and was filled with joy. The tunnel was cool, well lit, and surprisingly enough, had a bike lane. There were still a few climbs after the tunnel, but they were gradual and comfortable. Once I saw the turnoff for Latigo Canyon, I knew Mulholland was around the corner.

Mulholland was spectacular. I hit every turn as hard as I could and took up the entire lane. There were no cars behind me and just an empty road in front of me. Beth was far more cautious than I was and so I returned the favor and waited at certain intervals to make sure she came down ok. The initial descent of Mulholland was well worth the climb. But I have to admit that the remainder portion of Mulholland, while beautiful, somehow was not as fulfilling. There was something about struggling up Kanan Dume that gave the ride some deeper meaning. The descents were fun and challenging, but it was more a question of technique and willingness to push the edge of your bike.

The hills, on the other hand, where tests of strength, determination, and patience. They are the reason we ride.

There was one final push up Mulholland before reaching Las Virgenes. As soon as I crossed the intersection at Cornell, I knew I was done. My heart rate would not go down, my legs were burning, and the heat on this side of the canyon was relentless. It has been a long time since I have felt the furnace that California can create. I tapped into every last bit of strength and determination I had within to finish the final climb, and laughed all the way down the hill to the car.

The ride tried to break. It came very close. But like I said, this is why we ride; we want that experience. Every climb that tries to break us and fails is just one more experience we can tap into when life gets touch. Riding a bike and living through life have a lot in common.

How we face the challenges defines who we are.

I stopped 6 times on the way up Kanan Dume.

But I made it to the top.

I know next time I go up, I will only stop 3 times.

Or maybe I won’t stop.

Monday, July 06, 2009
Going Long
I’m not going to lie. By the end of 2008, I had given up. Not just on triathlon and Ironman, but on myself as well. It’s not something that is easy to admit, but it must be accepted. The months leading up to the race were difficult for me. There were too many conflicting interests, not enough time, and I felt my own willpower diminish every day. I did the miles, I made the time, and I completed the training program. But each workout was an effort. I wasn’t getting the right amount of sleep, I wasn’t resting, and I was emotionally drained.

I found it almost ironic that in spite of my best efforts, I entered each Ironman with a handicap. I started the 2005 and 2006 races one week after recovering from a cold. And while I was physically healthy for 2008, my mind and spirit were not. Without a strong mind and spirit, the body is just an empty shell, moving forward because that’s what it is being told to do. But without the fire from within, the body finds no reason to keep on moving once the pain begins.

The weeks after the race were difficult for me. I convinced myself that by completing the race, everything else in my life would fall into place again. Now I was faced with another DNF (did not finish) and my life was still out of alignment.

Those who were there understand and know what led to this collapse. For you others, let me just say to be careful with the energies you surround yourself with. Sometimes the ones that glow the brightest only do so because they are pulling energy from you. Lessons learned.

I began 2009 in a state of disarray; all that was familiar was suddenly gone. And while the prospect was frightening at first, I realized it was an opportunity to rebuild and grow once again. I got together with friends that first weekend of January and rode my bike. It wasn’t a training ride and there were no goals. I just rode my bike. And it was fun once again.

In April, I convinced two others to participate in a sprint Adventure Race to celebrate my birthday. It was intoxicating to be out on the course again. My brain was short, my body strong, and my spirit full of fire. Thoughts of triathlon returned, but was I ready. Was my mind ready to deal with what was up ahead?

I focused on building a base from March through May. I lifted weights, monitored my heart rate, changed my eating and sleeping habits, and trained. But even with a training plan, motivation is difficult when you have nothing to apply it to. At the adventure race, I took home a flyer announcing the Magic Man Triathlon in October. It was a half-Ironman, only 20 miles from home. But was I ready.

And then about a month ago I rode my bike to work. I rode fast, I rode hard. Every time I started feeling tired I told myself I would rest at the next stoplight. But I just kept pushing. I felt the fire within me burn brighter than I can ever remember. I set new records for myself in both directions. The endorphin rush was so strong that I couldn’t fall asleep that night. A few days later I went trail running and the same thing happened. Later that week I swam 1500 yards like it was a short swim.

Three weeks ago I rode 56 miles. I was tired. But I had fun. It was the same kind of joy I used to experience in high school when my friends and I would ride 40 miles with one water bottle in the middle of summer. We were explorers, adventures, pushing the limits of what others and we thought we were capable of.

And so after much reflection, I realized that I have grown since January. I have restored myself to the person I once knew. I was stronger inside and out. And I was no longer afraid. I mailed the check to Renegade Racing last week to secure a slot for the Magic Mountain Man triathlon on October 10th.

As for the Ironman, I have yet to decide. However, if October 10th goes extremely well, then maybe I’ll be driving out to Arizona in November to secure a slot for 2010.

Anyone care to join me on a road trip?

I know a place that has the best hot and sour soup this side of the Rockies.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Trek 520

Tonight I boxed up my Trek 520 and prepared it for its journey to Northern California. After much contemplation, I decided to sell the bike. There are a number of reasons for parting with it, but the prevailing one was that it is getting harder to distribute my time across 4 bikes. And the 520 sat somewhere between a mountain bike and a road bike. It is a touring bike, designed for carrying heavy loads and crossing continents. Something I thought I would do someday.

I remember the day I bought the 520. It was March 2003 and I was looking for something more street friendly than my mountain bike. The bike seemed like a good idea. It was road ready but tougher than a road bike. I started reading up on bike tours and planned on doing one at some point.

I remember the first time I rode 15 miles on it. Then 20. And finally 30. Each ride was a great accomplishment. After the 30-mile ride I set my sights on 50 or even 100 miles. But then I discovered triathlon, and with that, a triathlon bike. Suddenly, I was riding 50 and 60 mile rides on a lighter, faster, more aerodynamic bike. I even crossed the 100-mile mark on a triathlon bike.

I later picked up a road bike to do longer rides on. Even the mountain bike did a 45-mile off-road ride a few times.

The 520 became the commuter bike. It was a reliable, indestructible machine that covered the 25-mile round trip commute to work. Later, the bike would climb up Hoover and Rampart to Sunset Blvd to see Karen. It never needed a tune up or adjustment. It just kept going.

And so after 1000-plus miles, I bike a good friend farewell. On Friday, the 520 will make its way up to Northern California to its new owner, who has been looking for a 520 to call his own. It is the kind of bike that one has to be looking for because not everyone knows about it.

It is a great bike and has served me well. Now it is off to do the same for someone else.

Monday, January 05, 2009
The new year
Has it been a month already? November seems so far away, but it really only has been 40 days or so since the Ironman. I haven't done a real work out since then. Actually, I did a short 2-mile run and one mountain bike ride since then. But nothing in the past several weeks. I keep telling myself that I am getting out of shape. But just as I say that, I run up four flights of stairs and declare victory at the top.

The strength is gone, some of the endurance, but there is still enough to get up the stairs.

I have no races planned for this year, and it will probably remain so. I entertained thoughts of doing XTerra West in Temecula in May, but it seems that the folks at xterraplanet.com have decided not to do a Temecula race. At least it is not on the schedule yet. Barring that, there are a couple of local, homegrown tris near San Dimas. They are the kind of races you drive 30 minutes to, race for 2 hours, and get home before lunch time.

I'll be honest. I'm itching to do something. Not an Ironman. Not a half-Ironman. Maybe an Olympic. Definitely a Sprint. Just to go out there and finish something and finish it fast.

But for the moment, it is time to clean up, catch up, and rest up. I hope to get on the bike this weekend. Which one? Probably the mountain bike.

Here's hoping the weather starts to warm up.

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