Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anatomy of a DNF

When you're out to push your limits, eventually those limits will smack you in the face.

This weekend I participated in the Skydive Ultra 100 mile ultramarathon. I didn't finish. I didn't even get close. It was pretty much a disaster. And I should have seen it coming.

Since I completed my first 100 mile ultramarathon at Ancient Oaks six weeks ago, I had done very little training. This was intentional. I had gotten pretty beat up at Ancient Oaks and tried to take lots of time to recover. Very little running. Not much intensity. But lots of time swimming and some biking to keep up fitness.

Race Preparation


I had been running some, however. My biggest difficulty at Ancient Oaks was blisters on the balls of my feet. As I prepared for Skydive Ultra, I focused on figuring out that blister issue. I read Fixing Your Feet and spoke with blister experts. On several of my training runs, I tested taping techniques, ENGO patches and different socks. I felt good about the blister situation. I felt like I had a handle on it.

I also put in just a couple hard runs to see how recovery was going, to see how my body was feeling. These runs included some intensity, but were kept short...under seven miles. I completed a couple long-ish runs, but without intensity. While I felt some creaking joints and discomfort on some of those runs, I always came away thinking I was recovering well and ready for Skydive Ultra.

The DNF


I always knew there was a chance things wouldn't go well at Skydive. Right after Ancient Oaks, I thought about dropping out of the race. I had gotten pretty beat up during that first hundred. During the first couple weeks of recovery, I thought about moving to the 50 mile race. But eventually, I felt like I was in a place to take a shot at 100 miles and didn't seriously consider that I'd DNF.

The race began great. Skydive Ultra had a new course this year, a 7.25 mile loop. I was committed to not making the mistake I made at Ancient Oaks, going out way too fast. The first loop felt great. My pace was perfect, I felt strong, I was running right at the pace I wanted and it felt absolutely effortless. My feet felt great and taping technique seemed like it would really do well. I had zero inclination of what was about to come.

Lap two started like the first, strong and feeling great. However, about 1 mile in, my left knee began to hurt...a lot! And the pain was increasing rapidly. Within another mile, the pain was so significant that I couldn't run any longer. But I could walk. And I could walk fast, 12 to 13 minute miles. Walking was completely pain-free and, in fact, the faster and harder I walked, the better my knee felt. I began considering my options: drop out of the race since I couldn't run or keep walking and see if I can finish the race that way. I kept walking. I finished my second lap, then my third, then my fourth and the pace kept up. The knee was getting sore even when walking, but I could keep moving well.

That all ended on the fifth lap. My pace slowed and the knee became very painful even when walking very casually. A 16 minute mile, then an 18 minute mile, then a 21 minute mile; all at intensity and pain levels similar to the 13 minute miles in the previous laps. The writing was on the wall. I could keep moving, and it was fast enough to finish under the race cut-off. But it was utter misery. I took a break at the mid-loop aid station and considered dropping out there, then decided that I'd at least finish my lap. I could barely move as I began walking again until my knee loosened up. Then more 18 to 20 minute miles. I eventually arrived at the end of the loop and decided to take 30 minutes before dropping out to really consider that decision.

30 minutes later and only 36 miles into my race and I dropped. My first DNF.

And I should have seen it coming.

"Sore Left Knee..."


In retrospect, it was so plainly obvious I wasn't ready for this race. I simply didn't listen to my body. This is exemplified by one training run and my Strava entry for that run. 16 days before the race, I went out for a higher intensity run to see how I was feeling.

The title for my run says it all:


















There it is, plain as day. My "are you broken test" reveals a sore left knee, yet I wrote it off as nothing. That sore knee should have been the big blinking red light telling me to reconsider racing. I missed it. I probably would have missed it had it hit me in the face.

The DNF was predictable if only I had been paying attention.


What's Next


So, I've been taught an important lesson (well, actually several, but I'll save those for another day.) That lesson, listen to my body! If I go for a test run and something doesn't feel right, listen to that signal. That's the first "next" for me. I'm going to become much better at paying attention.

But what else? This DNF is going to be fire. My next 100 mile race, I'm going to really prepare instead of winging it. I've got blisters figured out. I feel good about nutrition. Next I'm going to pick a race and follow a serious periodized training plan. And I'm going to nail the darn thing. I'm thinking Daytona 100 in December might be perfect.

But first, I plan to take a couple months off running to really allow my body to heal and to learn how to swim well, finishing with a 5K or 10K swim at Swim Miami. Then it will be time to focus on nailing a 100 miler.

Until then, you'll find this sticker on the back of my car. A little reminder to keep that fire lit.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Review and 2016 Preview

2015 was a huge year from a fitness perspective for me. Perhaps not "cheap", but my goal of seeking fitness was certainly met. I pretty much met all my goals in terms of fitness during the year, and I tacked on a monster bonus achievement at the end of the year.

The 2015 race list:


I don't race much, and prefer training to racing. But I had two major goals for 2015: 1) complete my first ultramarathon, and 2) complete the Great Floridian iron distance triathlon. The first goal was met in January at Skydive Ultra. The second goal was met in October. Those two pieces alone made for a successful year, especially once I discovered I had placed in my age group at the Great Floridian Triathlon. 

2015 was a success. Perhaps not as cheaply as I would have liked, but a success. I met my goals. I actually did well in my races. I didn't experience any major injuries. I began planning for 2016, and set one major goal...complete a 100 mile ultramarathon.

Then I got invited to Ancient Oaks 100 Mile ultramarathon...4 days before the race. I went for it because why the hell not. Then I finished (in large part to the help of others!) A monster bonus achievement! It wasn't pretty. It wasn't fast. Recovering from the race has been slow. But whoda thunk I'd sneak in a 100 miler into my first real year of endurance events? WOO!

What of 2016?


Then came the let-down. I had for a couple months been building up my big goal for 2016, to finish my first 100 mile ultramarathon. I had a plan in place. I'd take my first shot at 100 miles at Skydive Ultra in January. Knowing many fail at their first attempt at 100 miles, I had planned to take a second shot in December at Daytona Ultramarathon. But now that goal, that first 100 miler, had disappeared. 

Post-race blues were magnified. I couldn't run while I recovered from the 100 mile effort (I still can't run with any intensity or length.) I was done reaching a massive goal...a journey had ended. And I no longer knew what to make of 2016. I needed to figure out what to do for 2016 and get my mind focused on that...and quickly!

I haven't quite finished formulating my 2016 fitness plans, but have a basic outline. First, the big new goal for 2016 is to run my first multi-day race. A multi-day race is a whole different beast than single day races, and I love the idea of pursuing something new. I'm considering the Race Across Georgia, but haven't made a decision yet and am hoping something more local materializes. 

In 2016, I also continue to plan to build toward racing Ultraman Florida in 2018. Toward that goal, I plan to participate in a one or two half ironman triathlons and perhaps a seriously long open water swimming event. I'm also going to go to Skydive Ultra at the end of January and give 100 miles another shot. Assuming I'm well-recovered from Ancient Oak, I'm going to take many of the lessons and make a sub 24 hour finish a real goal. That will require figuring out problems with my feet and blisters and being much more cognizant of the amount of time spent in aid stations. I estimate I spent at least 3 hours at aid stations during Ancient Oaks. Finally, I'm still considering Daytona 100 at the end of the year. I'd like to give the 100 mile distance a shot with real preparation, planning, a good taper and see what happens. However, if things go well at Skydive, I may go the opposite direction for the remainder of the year and focus on shorter distances and speed...perhaps find out what I can do in an open marathon with solid training. (I've never run a marathon.)

2016 will also include spending more times with my kids on fitness. My son loves triathlon and wants to start a kids' triathlon club. I may look into this with him. He and I will definitely be running his and my first 5K together. My daughter is not a big fan of fitness, although she tolerates swimming reasonably well. I plan to explore different sports and fitness endeavors with her in 2016 to see if we can find something she enjoys more.

2016 For This Blog & Myself

In 2016, I'll continue using this blog as a space to write about my fitness endeavors. However, I'm also going to add posts here about whatever strikes me worth writing about. It could be fitness related, or completed unrelated to fitness. This space is just going to become a place for me to scratch out thoughts on whatever strikes my fancy. In fact, I've set out a few non-resolutions for 2016, more habits than resolutions, that I look to do more of in the new year. This blog will be a space to achieve some of those habits. So, I leave you and 2015 with my non-resolutions for 2016:
  1. Sleep more and eat better.
  2. Put down the phone & laptop more often, and enjoy people & nature more frequently and fully.
  3. Read books on paper (I love the convenience of ebooks, but have found I just read much less than I used to since I switched to ebooks.)
  4. Write...every day. Even if it's garbage. Just write.
  5. Reengage with my profession.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ancient Oaks 100 Ultramarathon - Lessons and Such

2015 ended with a bang for me on the fitness front. The Tuesday of race week, I received an invitation to Ancient Oaks 100 Mile Ultramarathon. Mental and physically unprepared, deep in training and untapered, no crew or pacers lined up and without equipment and nutrition nailed down, of course I accepted the invitation for my first attempt at the 100 mile distance. A completely irrational and possibly irresponsible decision.

I had heard so much about this race, about how special it was, I simply couldn't pass up the chance to run it. Plus, while I wasn't specifically trained to run 100 miles, I did still have ironman fitness and was four weeks into a 100 mile race training block. I wasn't completely unprepared.
That's a forced smile...I hurt

As I did early in the year with the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K, I'm going to write about the lessons from this race instead of a formal race report. But first, I have to send out a special thank you to a person who I credit almost 100% with my finishing. I arrived at the race with no crew and no pacer. Becky La Baron simply adopted me at around mile 48 and paced me nearly the entire way to the finish.

  1. 100 miles is serious business, fitness alone won't cut it. - I'm fit. Probably as fit as I've ever been in my life. I thought that would be enough to carry me through 100 miles. And the reality is, my fitness was strong enough for the distance. I ran well for the first 50 miles, and then fell apart due to a variety of other reasons not fitness related. Poor nutritional choices, blisters (my god, the blisters!), bad pacing and no game plan, mental unpreparedness all came back to haunt me in the race. My preparation was basically to throw everything I could think of in the back of my car, every pair of running shoes and socks and clothes and food, and just keep trying stuff throughout the race. Kinda the kitchen sink approach...not a great plan. If I ever decide to run 100 miles again, I'll focus at least as much on the non-fitness things as I will on the fitness. 100 miles is serious business. Lackadaisical attitude isn't going to cut it.
  2. Racing on a whim ain't the smartest idea - So, I said above I'm fit. Sure, it's true. But I wasn't 100 mile run fit. I had raced the Great Floridian Triathlon less then two months ago, and carried that fitness with me. I was just four weeks into building for my first 100 mile attempt at Skydive Ultra at the end of January. I didn't have ultramarathon-specific fitness despite being pretty fit. Second, since I only received my invitation four days in advance of the race, I hadn't tapered. In fact, the Friday/Saturday/Sunday before the race, I had put in serious run mileage as a part of my Skydive Ultra training. So, not only not tapered, but I was actually pretty heavily fatigued going into the race. At shorter distances, general fitness might be sufficient and not being tapered might be manageable. At 100 miles, those things just accumulated to conspire against me.
  3. Going out too fast really can destroy a race. - I went to Ancient Oaks with no expectations. I didn't expect to finish, but kinda hoped I could. I didn't have any expectations for pace or finishing time. I decided to go so late that I simply arrived free of expectations. And when I began running, I found the trail to be so much fun that I hammered the pace for about three laps (~10 miles.) It was just too beautiful and fun and without expectations I could do whatever I wanted. I knew it would come back to haunt me later in the race, but didn't really know if I'd ever make it to later in the race...no expectations. Well, that 10 mile block took me about 1 hour and 40 minutes to finish. I completed the first 33 miles of the race in 7 hours. And then proceeded to slow down dramatically, requiring another almost 23 hours to finish the next 67 miles. I went from running sub 9 minute miles to crawling along at 19 minute miles. So that whole "don't go out to fast" thing...yeah, that's really a thing. Lesson learned.
  4. Motivation to continue comes from weird places - I didn't arrive at Ancient Oaks with a steely-eyed resolve to finish. I was prepared to DNF and simply view the race as a training run for Skydive Ultra. But I finished. And motivation to continue despite a strong desire to quit came from some very unlikely places. One motivation was the continued nudges from Becky. She wasn't letting me quit. Plus, by mile 80 or so, after Becky had herself put in 30+ miles pacing me to a finish, I began to feel guilty even considering quitting. She had sacrificed tremendously to help get me that far. I owed it to her to finish. Another place I drew motivation from was the race itself. Ancient Oaks is a bit unusual. The race is held on an ancient nature sanctuary and the people who run the sanctuary are very protective of it. So, the race stays small and cannot be a commercial venture. The race has no entry fee and only about 60 people get to race each year. I felt that, having accepted my invitation, I owed it to race director Mike Melton and to anyone who didn't get to participate because I accepted the invitation to finish. There were lots of other little moments of motivation (e.g. I hated the idea of quitting, finishing 2015 with a hundo would be cool, etc...) along the way, but these were the two unexpected biggies. I never expected to feel like I owed others the finish, but that sense of owing became the ultimate motivator.
  5. Fixing my feet - I have a huge problem to figure out before I ever consider race a 100 miles again, my feet. I knew going in my feet would hurt tremendously. I knew my toes would eventually be miserable, they hurt even during longish training runs, and I'd likely lose several toe nails. I did not expect to have dramatic problems with blistering. Blisters are simply never an issue for me. The race was a completely different story. My feet hurt as expected, but I never had toe issues. I won't be losing toe nails and don't even have a black toe. But the blisters...oh the blisters. The sole of my right foot had a blister about the size of a tennis ball. My left foot had a matching, albeit slightly smaller, blister. And there were another dozen or so smaller blisters covering my feet. I'm frankly stunned that I was able to finish the race with these blisters. There were points late in the race I knew there was an issue, but I decided to simply continue and not remove my shoes for a look. Had I looked, that might have been the end of my race. If I ever hope to have a better 100 mile race, I need to figure this issue out. Was it a one-off due to lack of preparation? Perhaps. It's time to go to work on it.
There were tons of smaller lessons along the way, but these were the five biggies. #1 is perhaps the least and most surprising. I expected 100 miles to be difficult, but I really had no concept of what a different beast it is compared to any other race distance. There is simply no comparison.

A Few Word on The Enchanted Forest

Me, on a tree, feeling crappy
I can't end this sort of race report without a few words on the really spectacular setting for the race. The Ancient Oaks 100 is held in The Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Brevard County. The trail was a roughly 3.5 mile long mix of sand, single track trail and wooden path. And it was spectacular. The oak trees were stunningly large and old (likely the reason for the race name.) One section ran through a tunnel of 15 foot tall saw palmettos. At night, hogs could be heard rooting and snorting in the bush. It was like stepping back in time. It was truly magical at times. 

Despite what was a tremendously difficult race, I'm so glad to have gone. The race was spectacular, the people involved were incredible (thank goodness for the wonderful volunteers...heroes!), the huge contingent of spectators who came just to hang out with us were constantly motivating, and the sanctuary was stunning. Finishing the 100 miles may be the least exciting part of all the positive at this race.

I'll finish with one final lesson. It's a lesson learned at this race again, but really throughout 2015. Impossible is an excuse. 18 months ago, I would have told you with absolute certainty that it would be impossible for me to finish a 50 mile ultramarathon or an ironman-distance triathlon or a 100 mile ultramarathon. Within 11 months, I've completed all three. Yes, of course, there are genuinely impossible things. I can't turn into a shark or jump to the moon. But by and large, impossible is an excuse to not try the epic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Daytona 100 "Race" Report

Well, this is a report about a race. But I didn't race in it. Instead, I jumped to the other side of the aid station and volunteered at the inaugural Dayton 100 ultramarathon. And I learned so much. And I left so afraid. And I'm completely in awe of the spirit, resilience, strength and determination shown by so many of the people who raced. These are my thoughts about all those things, and about where I might go with this blog in the future.

Learning


43 Hours Later
I learned volunteering at an ultramarathon is really, REALLY hard. My role at the race was as on-course support rolling along with the middle of the pack on their 100 mile journey, offering assistance where need, making sure unmanned coolers had ice and water, providing assistance to aid stations that needed it, keeping an eye on runners. Doesn't sound too difficult until you realize these duties needed to be provided from 8AM Saturday until race close at noon on Sunday, at times covering 50 miles. It ain't no easy task

I had the good fortune of being involved in a very organized race. The race director, Dave Krupski, is a very experienced ultramarathoner and brought that experience to the race. Aid station extraordinaire, Susan Anger, organized all of us volunteers and kept the train rolling down the track from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach. I had the good fortune of having my brother-in-law, Kris Kramer, agree to join me and help. He was a godsend and I would have jumped ship had he not been along.

Sleep deprivation was a constant battle. I made the unwise decision to sleep in my car the night before the race (we arrived to Altantic Beach very late and a hotel room just didn't seem to make sense for three hours of sleep, at best) and there was very little sleep to an unseasonable hot night...a theme for later in the race. So, Friday night I slept perhaps an hour, my brother-in-law maybe an hour longer. Then the race began and there weren't many moments to rest. We got to hop in a bed in Dayton for two hours Sunday morning, and both of us grabbed some short naps along the way. But all in all, we slept perhaps five hours over a 48 hour period. Sleep deprivation is an interesting thing. Everything became hysterical from the mundane observation that a bathroom was clean to the absurd like the litany of drunks wandering around and fighting in Daytona at midnight.

And it wasn't just Kris and me who suffered and scarified. There were dozens of other volunteers who put in equal or more effort than we did to keep runners going, to keep people safe and to make the event great.

Suffice it to say that I learned how much effort sacrifice volunteers put in at races. I learned that I will more resolutely go out of my way to thank each volunteer, to shake their hands and to make sure they know they're appreciated and their sacrifice is recognized.

Afraid


I'm signed up for my first shot at a 100 mile ultramarathon at Skydive Ultra in January. Frankly, I'm pretty convinced I won't finish. I'm afraid of what it takes to finish having watched so many runners suffer and continue for hours and hours at Daytona.  I'm afraid of the pain. I'm a baby. I've never had to suffer severely during any previous race. Heck, I've barely dealt with pain in those races! I cannot imagine enduring hours upon hours of misery. I'm afraid. We'll see how it goes in January, but I'm afraid

Spirit, Resilience, Strength, Determination


This was the biggie. I was blown away by the spirit of the racers, the spirit of volunteers and the spirit of crews. This was simply humans being human without the bullshit; wanting to help one another to reach a silly and yet important goal. Whether it was a foot rub for a runner who was suffering from sore feet, or a bottle of water being shared from one runner's crew to another, or just a hug when a runner felt low; the humanity and connection among all of us was so clearly on display.  And, yes, there were moments when that spirit was broken when a runner couldn't continue and had to bow out. But in those moments, others came to pick them up and make sure they were ok and get them out of the sun to a safe place. It was so encouraging in a world where we're bombarded with all the terrible humans do.

The resilience and strength and determination of runners to continue in the face of dramatic pain, of harsh conditions (near record highs, no relief from the sun, horrible humidity), of blistered toes and upset stomachs, of hallucinations, of sheer exhaustion was absolutely incredible. As I said above, I don't have these things. I'm certain I'll fail at my 100 mile attempt. I've been able to rely on modest genetic gifts and not had to suffer in this way. And I am absolutely in awe of those who can suffer in so, and who choose that suffering in order to be reward with the gifts on the other side. I want to know what makes these people function, how they make the decision to continue when every instinct and every indicator says stop. How do they continue when the mere act of standing brings tears to their eyes...and there were many tears shed at Daytona 100. I don't understand it, and it's fascinating to me.

In fact, I'd love to speak with these people and write here about what drives them. I'm a supremely quiet person and not one to reach out to someone to speak, but I may just try doing so just to scratch this curiosity about these people. I'd love to learn about and share their motivation, share what they think about at that moment they want to quit, learn what drives them to give it a shot in the first place.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Charting a Path to Ultraman Florida 2018

A bit over nine months ago, I had a crazy thought. I wanted to participate in the Ultraman Florida race by the time I turn 40 years old. It was a pipe dream, a fantasy. I had just learned about Ultraman and it sounded like a bit of craziness that might be something to put out there as a totally unachievable stretch goal. Sure, I had completed a really easy half ironman race and had even completed a 50 mile ultra marathon, but those are child's play compared to Ultraman. It was a stretch to even consider.

Perhaps it's not such a stretch, after all. 

In the past nine month, the idea of participating in Ultraman has become much more realistic. In those nine months, 100 mile bike rides have become standard fare. I swam in a 5K ocean race. And, finally, I completed the Great Floridian 140.6 triathlon comfortably, if not quickly. Ultraman seems so much more achievable today than 9 months ago.

The training plan necessary to reach Ultraman by 2018 has also become very clear.

2016


Next year will be the year of the ultramarathon for me. First, I'm going back to Skydive in January and taking my first shot at a 100 mile ultramarathon. I'm trying to squeeze training in really tight between the Great Floridian and Skydive, and know I'm taking considerable risk that I don't make it to 100 miles.

I plan to take another shot (whether I make it or not at Skydive) at 100 miles at the Daytona 100. I'll be volunteering at the inaugural Daytona 100 this year, then hope to participate in it next year. I also have thoughts of participating in the Keys 100 race, but three 100 mile races in one year is perhaps a bit much.

I also don't want to fall completely off the swimming and biking training. I'll need both for Ultraman. My swim training has been going well, so I plan to continue with the Masters group I've been swimming with. We swim Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. However, I'll allow myself to miss a session here or there, something I very rarely did while training for the Great Floridian. And I think I'll participate in an open water race like Swim Miami or the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse in 2016

Finally, to make sure I keep on track in all three sports, I plan to participate in a spring and a fall half iron triathlon. Just small, local races; but something to keep me focused on triathlon despite a heavy run focus.

2017


A year later, I'll flip the script. The focus will be heavily on triathlon with two 140.6 mile races. Tentatively, I plan to participate in the HITS Naples Full triathlon in January 2017 and maybe Ironman Wisconsin in September 2017.

Frankly, (and as the name of this blog implies) I have a very hard time with the idea of paying for a branded Ironman race. $750 seems like an absolutely inordinate amount of money for a 13 hour activity of any type. Yes, I understand Ironman races have considerable hoopla and pomp and extremely high production value around them relative to other iron distances races. But $750!

However, if there's one Ironman race I do want to do, it's Wisconsin. As a UW-Madison alumni, completing an Ironman in Madison, finishing on Capital Square, running through campus...it sounds absolutely spectacular. This, above all other items, is a massive question mark. It's so expensive, and so expensive only a few months before the even more expensive Ultraman I would hope to participate in.

Toss one or two 50 mile ultramarathons and an open water swim into 2017, and the training plan is pretty well formed.

2018


2018 would be the big year, the year for Ultraman Florida. And, almost as if delivered by providence, assuming the Ultraman race organizer follows previous scheduling, the race would take place during my 40th birthday!

Having written it out, it all seems pretty damn daunting. There's not much rest and down time in there, and 2017 would be a massive year with two full ironman training builds. Very honestly, I don't think I've ever tried planning something over two years out. And this is something to almost certainly have bumps along the way in the form of injuries and fatigue and other life priorities, races getting cancelled or dates moved, the entire endeavor becoming too expensive and soon and so forth.

Yet, despite all that, it seems far more likely and reasonable than it did 9 months ago. It seems almost doable instead of pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Ultraman, plan for me to be there February 2018.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Great Floridian Triathlon 140.6 Weekend Surprise

I have not written for a while. I've been preoccupied. I knew training for an iron distance triathlon would be time consuming, I just didn't realize quite how significant that time consumption would be. Today I finally have a little time on my hands again, so I'm writing.

This Saturday, October 24th, I participated in the 25th running of the Great Floridian Triathlon, a 140.6 mile iron distance triathlon. No, it's not an Ironman. That's a trademarked brand. But it was the same length as an Ironman and evidently considered one of the more difficulty iron distance triathlons in the United States. Why? Because in ultra-flat Florida, where generally heat is the big determiner of difficulty, the Great Floridian bike course is covered in hills. Nothing very tall, of course. But relentless up and down with some quite steep climbs (Sugarloaf and Hospital Hill, in particular) and barely a flat section to be found. It's relentless, especially for us south Florida people who consider a bridge to be a climb.

I had signed up for the Great Floridian last November shortly after finishing the MiamiMan Half Iron Triathlon. The Great Floridian was offering a tremendous deal, $250 registration fee, and I figured I'd risk that amount of money for a shot at a full iron distance triathlon. Who doesn't want to finish an ironman (lowercase "l"), right? Once I finished Skydive Ultra in January, training has focused almost exclusively on the Great Floridian and race day arrived damn quickly. A week before the race, I pulled all my training numbers out of Strava to see what my preparation looked like:


  • Swimming 270,221 yards (~153 miles) - the work I'm most proud of as it moved me from a bona fide back of the pack non-swimmer last November at Miami Man Half Iron Triathlon to a solid middle of the pack sorta-swimmer this time
  • Biking 3,084 miles - probably not enough
  • Running 1,067 miles - a few more miles might have been good, but not too bad


I had no idea if these numbers were where they should be or not. I hadn't followed a specific training plan and sorta winged it by developing certain training habits. Monday, Wednesday, Friday was swimming with a Master's swim group. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday were running days. Tuesday and Sunday were biking days. And then I'd toss an extra bike or run where they felt convenient, and began swimming five days per week a couple months before race day. I simply followed the habits formed and added volume to my training. Would it be enough? Who knew?

Back to the Race


October 24th was race day. My kids and I headed to Clermont, FL the Thursday before the race and my wife followed Friday. Thursday we drove up, signed in and attended the athlete pasta dinner. Friday I spent about 20 minutes swimming at the practice open water swim session and checked my bike into transition. Then it was back to our hotel in Orlando to pack transition bags and special needs bags, and let the kids play at the hotel water park until my wife arrived. She arrived, we ate dinner, and we headed to bed. 

Incredibly, I slept. I slept from about 9:45PM to 4:59AM, one minute before my alarm was to go off. I popped out of bed quite surprised I had slept so well since I usually can't sleep at all before a race. I ate a quick breakfast of a honey and butter sandwich and my first cup of coffee in over a month (weening off of coffee then adding caffeine back in on race day seems to work for me) in my brand new awesome Great Floridian mug before I hopped in the car and headed to the race. I also managed two (no shame in triathlon, right?) bowel movements before leaving the hotel, a huge race day bonus!

I arrived at the race location with what felt like plenty of time. However, after what felt like a few minutes of checking over my bike, handing in my gear bags and another potty visit; it was announced the race was wetsuit legal and we should be heading to the beach for the swim start. Oddly, no nerves despite the frenetic pace and massive race I was about to begin.

Swim (1:15:35)


When I signed up for the race, the swim scared me the most. At MiamiMan, I was nearly the last person out of the water and really did not enjoy the swim at all. In fact, I hated it. However, I had put in quite a bit of yardage trying to become a better swimmer and had attended as many Boca Raton Triathletes open water swim sessions as possible. My swimming was much improved, but I really had no idea how that would play out on race day.

The race began with a mass swim start. I seeded myself approximately in the middle of the pack, and we were off! I LOVED THE MELEE OF THE MASS START! My fondest memory of the entire race other than finishing were the first 10 minutes of banging and shoving in the water. After that, it was a beautiful swim. Water temperature was just right for wetsuits. We got to watch the sunrise over the Clermont hills. I wished I had worn my dark goggles, but other than that and some issues swimming straight, it was a great swim. 

I came out 60th of 257 starters, a huge improvement from eleven months prior!

Transition 1 (8:46)


Nothing eventful here. The race was set up nicely with cots to lay back on for wetsuit strippers to pull the wetsuit off. I popped on a pair of DeSoto 400 Mile Shorts over my trisuit, grabbed my baggie full of nutritional items, a moment to toss on some sunscreen and socks and shoes and I was out of the changing tent to my bike and helmet.

Bike (6:53:16)


The Great Floridian is all about the bike course. It's brutal. It's relentless. I was completely humbled by the bike course, and it shows in my bike split. The course was three laps of the same route. This was the first year in which the race featured all big climbs on every loop: three times up Hospital Hill, The Wall, The Buckhill gauntlet and Sugarloaf Mountain, Florida's highest point. In years past, most of those climbs were only featured once.

I had intended to really take it easy on the first lap and settle in. Instead, I went out way too hard and I finished in roughly two hours and hammered the climbs. I kept reminding myself to take it easy and slow down, but continued to fail to do so throughout the lap. It was still morning and the air was cool and still, so it never felt too hard. But my heart rate was often far higher than I was planning for. At the end of the lap, I stopped briefly at Waterfront park to grab two new bottles of Tailwind from Special Needs, then headed back out. 

On the second lap I tried dialing the ride back, but things started to fall apart. First, I dropped my sunglasses on Hospital Hill and had to stop 2/3 of the way up. What a joy to get the bike moving mid climb! Then I was hit with the wind and heat as the day progressed. Heat was expected, wind not so much. While having a pity party with myself about the misery of this bike course, I passed another competitor who only had one leg. ONE FREAKING LEG! The negative talk stopped immediately and I was completely inspired by this other competitor. Then everything seemed to be on track until the fifth climb on Buckhill when I felt the twinge of a cramp in my quads. Nothing serious, but an odd sensations as I hadn't experienced cramping issues even once during training. From Buckhill it was a 3 mile relatively easy ride to Sugarloaf. About 3/4 of the way up Sugarloaf, the cramping fired up again and much more significantly this time. I pushed on for another 50 feet or so, but feared my muscles would cramp fully and destroy the rest of the day. I unclipped and pushed my bike up the final yards of the climb. Shameful, perhaps. But it felt like the right decision. After Sugarloaf, it was a ride back into Waterfront Park. I passed one unfortunate other biker with a split tire, and sent the support truck to him when I passed them a few miles later. 

Another bottle switch at Special Needs at Waterfront Park, a downed miniature can of Coca Cola, a quick stop at a portapotty, and I was out for my third lap. The third lap was similar to the second. Same cramping issues on the two same climbs, same heat and wind to contend with, but otherwise uneventful. The aid stations on the bike course were great. Volunteers were super helpful. The stations were well stocked with water, ice, bananas, gatorade, Coca Cola and other miscellaneous items. I had been concerned as some previous race participant reviews indicated low supplies. I didn't experience any shortages.

Laps two and three were slow, but I had finished the horrendous bike ride in 98th position. My nutrition plan had been well executed having finished six bottles of Tailwind and a Trader Joe's stroopwafel every half hour. An Endurolyte Extreme per hour seems to always work well for me and did on this day, as well.

I was right about my training. More biking volume would have been helpful.

Transition 2 (10:31)


I returned to Waterfront Park where the bike valets grabbed my bike and helmet, and I was on to get changed for the marathon. I had brought a DeSoto Skincooler shirt in the event of a hot, sunny day and decided to toss that on over my trisuit, a decision that would bite me later on. Again, an uneventful transition. I didn't rush, but also tried not to linger too long. I took my time to tie my shoes well.

Run (4:25:43)


The run went great. If anything, I took it too easy and was concerned with a blow up that never would never come. I simply didn't know how my body would react having never run a marathon and never completed an ironman. 

I came out of transition feeling very good. The heat was still pretty stiff with not much shade on the course. However, having spent the summer running in Florida, I was quite acclimated to the conditions. And the wind, so frustrating on the bike, offered cooling benefit on the run. 

The run course was set up to be very spectator friendly. It was a three lap course out of Waterfront Park, first 4+ miles to the east along the lake and then 4+ miles to the west along the lake making up a lap. The east section was about half covered in shade, the west almost entirely in the sun. The entire course was quite scenic and a great place to spend a few hours running.

Lap one went well. The heat was bothersome and I grew tired of Tailwind nutrition. I ran with a handheld bottle premixed, and was carrying extra Tailwind to mix up bottles along the way. However, after finishing my first bottle, I decided to switch to water in the bottle and then live off the course... Coca-Cola and Gatorade Endurance. Near the end of lap one, I stopped for my second potty break of the race and realized I had made one time-consuming error. In order to pee, I had to fully remove my sunshirt and then pull down my trisuit. Sounds easy, but removing a skin tight, sweat soaked sunshirt loaded with nutrition in the pockets is no easy task! The whole process took about 10 minutes. However, I realized I could simply run with the shirt on and the shoulder straps of the trisuit pulled off. Problem solved should I need to stop again.

Lap two went better. The sun started to set and the heat dropped immediately. My pace picked up a tick at a similar heart rate. I reach the half marathon mark and was feeling great! I was going to finish, and do so possibly without a death march! I alternated Coke and Gatorade at each aid station which seemed to keep my energy high.

As I came across the line to start lap three, I saw my wife for the first time. I told her I'd be wrapping up in about an hour and, if she brought the kids to the entrance to the finish chute, they could run with me. 15 minutes later, I realized my math skills were not functioning well and it would be closer to an hour and a half before I got back to the finish. Fortunately, on the way back to the west and final out and back, I saw my wife and kids and let her know. On the third lap, I also experienced my only difficulty during the run, just the idea of a cramp in my right groin. I was worried it would get worse, but it never did. 

The third lap went even better than the second. My pace picked up even more and I realized I had left time on the table. My original plan called for a run/walk schedule of 25 minutes running and 5 minutes walking. It's how I trained and always works well, allowing for me to take in nutrition and rest a bit. I modified this to a 27 run/3 walk schedule the day before the race. But on the final lap, I dropped the walk entirely and simply ran. I estimated I could have run a good 15 minutes or more quicker. 

There was now a short section on the east end of the course completely in the dark. The permanent path lights were not functioning and the lights put out by the race also seemed to have failed. I loved running in the dark with only the light of the near full moon to guide the way, but have a feeling many people were quite unhappy about it. This was perhaps a quarter mile section. The west path was lit up the entire way, and I was running at a good clip for this final 4+ mile section, roughly 8:30 minute miles. I didn't expect to be getting stronger as the marathon went on. But it was a wonderful feeling.

Finally, I came up to the finishing chute and my wife and kids were waiting. My daughter joined me to run down the chute. My son refused, sure that he would get into trouble. A minute or so later, my daughter and I crossed the finish line together and it was awesome! 

Finish time: 12:53:49

I had told my wife beforehand that I thought I'd be done in 12 hours if things went beyond perfect and 14 hours if things went to hell. Right down the middle feels like just the right finish! The bike was exceedingly slow, but the swim had gone much better than my 1:30 goal time and the run went great making up some of that time on the bike. My finishing time isn't fast, but it also isn't slow. And it means I met each of my goals: 1) don't drown, 2) finish, 3) in under 14 hours. Success!


The Weekend Surprise


But the weekend wasn't done at the finish line. There was a BBQ and award ceremony for The Great Floridian Triathlon Sunday morning, but it was finally time for me to focus on family again after months of neglect to train. Sunday morning (after no sleep whatsoever), my wife and I took our kids to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Seven hours of walking may have not been the best way to begin recovery post ironman, but such is life. However, as we were sitting down for lunch at Universal Studios, I received a message from another Boca Raton Triathlon member and competitor at The Great Floridian that perhaps I should have come to the award ceremony. She sent me a photo of a 1st Place Age Group plaque and explained that the award was mine. I had placed 1st in my age group!


It's a fluke. It's silliness. It's apropos of nothing. One year of training does not a triathlete make. I certainly am not a competitive iron distance triathlete and my finishing time would have not held up in any of the other large age groups. But on this day and under these conditions, I was first place in the 35 to 39 age male age group category! 


It's pretty freaking awesome!


I have to stop typing now. I want to write a section on "lessons from my first ironman", but I think that will be reserved for another post. This is long enough, a bit like my finishing time!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Keep Pushing?

Why run farther? Why enter an ultra marathon or Ironman or Ultraman or mountain trail race? Why take on challenges that seem absurd, stupid, unreasonable, nonsensical? Why keep pushing?

I've spent a lot of time asking myself these questions as I dive deeper and deeper into endurance events. I've struggled finding an answer, at least one that felt complete. But, while watching this video, the answer struck me. I do it to live, to really live. I do it to experience what's possible and to find the spot where impossible actually begins. And I do it so hopefully my kids will choose to do the same as they grow up, in whatever manner they want.

I do it because I want to 

Experience Life and Fucking Live!

Jump out of an airplane. Run 50 miles. Train for Ironman. Climb a mountain. Learn to surf. Get into photography. Paint a flower. Dance on a desk to silly European dance music. Experience this incredible planet we live on. Discover what the body is capable of and where the real limits are. Whatever. But do something and fucking live.

That's it. That's the reason. All other justifications be damned.

Oh, I have yet to find impossible.


Side Note: I use profanity rarely and very selectively. In this case, it's the phrase that keeps coming to me. Sometimes you just can't fight the words. Sometimes using a profane word is just right. I believe that to be the case here.