Tuesday, March 24, 2015

From Zero To 70.3

(Note: this is a race report I wrote in November, but had no place to publish. So, a bit out of order here and a slightly different style than other writing on Cheaply Seeking Fitness. I thought I'd share it anyway.)

70.3’s not a distance I enjoy driving, much less fully powered by my legs and arms. Yet, there I was on Sunday November 9th, standing on the beach, looking at the cold and murky water and getting ready to run into it for a 70.3 half iron distance triathlon at the Miami Man Half Iron Triathlon. I was hit by mountains of anxiety as I waited. I hadn't really trained for the distance and had only been training for triathlons at all since June of this year. Swimming...yeah, I had lessons as a child, but playing around in the water is a very different thing than swimming freestyle in cold water with 1000 other people for 1.2 miles.

Fortunately, I had been training hard for some time, just not triathlon training specifically. I dipped my toe into CrossFit in June of 2013, and had been going to WODs since then 4-6 times per week. I had trained for a back-to-back Tough Mudder/Spartan Race weekend earlier this year, completing both with relative ease. I had been an off-and-on runner for several years. But I still stood on that beach staring at the first buoy about 100 meters away certain I was about to drown.

And then the start gun went off and we were in the water...

The CrossFit Benefits

My year and a half of CrossFit training provided several benefits that were very apparent on race day. Three primary benefits stand out to me as a reflect on race day: strength and overall fitness, mental resilience, and a desire to do something bad-ass.

The strength and overall fitness benefit is pretty obvious. Prior to beginning CrossFit, I had really only done endurance exercise...running. Over the years, I had completed a couple half marathons, mud races, and trained for one marathon (which I ultimately didn't run.) But CrossFit offered me an introduction to something new, strength training. After a year and a half, I’m still a rail skinny endurance guy, but my strength is far higher than it used to be. That strength brings with it confidence, confidence which was extremely helpful as I approached the triathlon. And my overall fitness level was high enough to be able to jump into triathlon specific training with fairly high volume. CrossFit offered a great fitness base to jump off from.

CrossFit metcons are often about mental resilience. As the body red-lines, heart rate goes through the roof and getting oxygen in the body becomes difficult, finishing a metcon is predominantly an exercise in mental willingness to continue. No WOD better captures this need for mental resilience than Kalsu, which I nearly quit twice before completing. That mental resilience helped me push through the hours of training needed to complete 70.3 (my highest week included 14 hours of movement) and helped me push through the final three miles of the race at an ever increasing pace.

Third, if it wasn't for CrossFit, I never would have registered for a triathlon at all. When I began CrossFit, I just wanted something different and something fun. As I continued to do more and more CrossFit, I began to build a desire to take on athletic challenges that really felt bad-ass. That why I decided to run a Tough Mudder on a Saturday, and a Spartan race the next Sunday. That’s why I registered for my first sprint triathlon at the end of August. And it’s why I decided to upgrade my registration at Miami Man from the International distance (0.6 mile swim, 22 mile bike, 6.6 mile run) to the Half Iron distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) only a month before the starting gun. It’s why I've already registered for the Great Floridian 140.6 Full Iron triathlon in 2015, one of the most grueling triathlons in the country.

Specificity Arrives

During my first few months of training for triathlons (first the sprint distance, then the international), I continued with CrossFit WODs. In June, July and August, my triathlon specific training was still short enough that the CrossFit didn't interfere and, in fact, seemed to be beneficial. So I kept at it as long as I felt able to. Besides, I love CrossFit...the community and the workouts. I was going to be there as much as possible.

However, at some point in September, it became clear that I couldn't continue with the regular WODs. The swimming, biking and running were taking more and more time and I was feeling increasingly worn down during WODs. The energy just wasn't there. Finally, I had a day where my wrist was so sore I couldn't manage a light strict press, and I had to make a decision. I knew I couldn't keep up with WODs and continue to increase triathlon-specific training volume, so I had to give Edwin Morales the news that I’d have to drop out for a few months.

After speaking about how things were going and my goals, we agreed on a plan that seems to have worked out wonderfully. No more WODs, no more high-intensity work at CrossFit CVI, but continue with a simple twice-per-week 5/3/1 strength program on Monday’s and Friday’s to try to maintain strength. Monday’s I worked on strict press and deadlift. Friday’s were bench press and squats. Those two days also happened to be my rest days from triathlon work. I was able to maintain (and even somewhat increase) strength over the next two months despite higher and higher endurance volume.

But the bulk of my work was outside of the box. My training was becoming very specific: two pool swims and one ocean swim (waves permitting) per week, bike on Tuesday and Thursday, run Wednesday and Saturday, then a long run or long bike or brick workout on Sunday.

The endurance increased, the swimming improved, and strength didn't seem to be going away. Training was a win all-around. In particular, in early October I was able to complete a 1 mile ocean swim without rest. This was the moment I wondered if my training had gone so well that I could try for the half iron distance instead of the international distance I was training for. After a really long bike ride to test the distance, I decided to make the change. Half Iron it would be!

Back to the Beach and Race Day

Before the start gun went off, I had jumped in the water for a warm up swim. I couldn't breath...not even for one stroke. The race anxiety and the colder than expected water was overwhelming. I was in trouble. I couldn't swim ten meters much less 2000! I was in a near panic, certain that my race was ruined before it even began. Ah...but that CrossFit produced resilience! I returned to the beach, took a few deep breaths and gathered myself.  Then I headed out for another try at warming up in the water. This time, while labored, I was able to swim about 100 meters. It wasn’t great swimming, but at least I could move and breath.

And then the start gun went off and we were back in the water. The swim sucked. It took me 300 meters to get any rhythm and I was extremely slow all the way around. I couldn't sight buoys at all, and zig zagged across the course. This was always going to be the case, but it was still demoralizing to be passed by people who’s wave started 10-15 minutes after mine. But I eventually finished after 50:42, placing 46 of 53 in my age group...not last!
My Cannondale looks out of place in transition

Next we were on the bike. My poor old 1982 Cannondale road bike which I had bought from another member at the box for $100 looked really out of place next to the carbon triathlon bikes all costing several thousand dollars in transition. But it had done well in training, and did well on this day as well. The weather forecast had included rain showers for later in the day, but they hit during the bike ride. And these were no showers, but torrential tropical downpour. It was a bit scary, riding around slick corners and riding half blind at times as the rain came down so fast and heavy. However, the bike went well, faster than anticipated and on-bike nutrition was a success. Tailwind is a wonderful endurance energy drink that seems to cause no stomach issues for me. I finished in 2:52:57, placing 35/53.

Finally, I was on to the run, my strongest discipline. The Miami Man run is made up of two 6.55 mile loops through Zoo Miami. I was excited to see the zoo, having never visited, but the animals were almost all inside due to the weather. A disappointment, but one I could understand particularly after the thunder and lightning began during the second lap.

My goal for the race had been simple: just finish. Then, if finishing seemed likely, to finish in under seven hours. It’s a slow time, but felt realistic considering my training, or lack thereof. However, as I came around the finish line after the first run loop, I noticed the race clock read 5:01. I realized that I might be able to finish in under 6 hours if I pushed the second lap. The first lap had taken just over an hour. I decided to maintain my pace, around 10 minutes per mile, until the 10 mile marker and then would push if all felt good. I got to the 10 mile marker, and the CrossFit resilience kicked in again. I began to kick up the pace, and met with so much pain! But I continued pushing. Mile 11 - 8:50, mile 12 - 8:20, mile 13 - 7:50. I came around the final corner and saw the race clock...5:58 and I was only meters away.

A final kick and I finished at 5:59:09! My timing chip time was actually 5:54:09 my wave having started five minutes after the race clock. This placed me 29 out of 53 in my age group. (This isn't a particularly good time, middle of the pack, but is a great time for me as far as I’m concerned.)

Run time was 2:01:26, placing 13 out of 53 in my age group.

CrossFit as a Base
I don’t believe I could have finished the race without the training specificity I eventually introduced. However, I do strongly believe that the overall fitness CrossFit had built in me was a large part of my success. I completed the race on considerably less training than many others, having heard people talking about 8-12 months of training instead of my 4 months. And without the mental resilience built in CrossFit WODs, I might never have gotten back in the water after my warm up disaster. And I certainly would not have had the fire to push the final three miles at quicker and quicker pace. Plus, without CrossFit, I never would have signed up in the first place.

Now, it’s off to train for a 50 mile ultramarathon in January, then back to CrossFit WODs for several months before diving into specific triathlon training for the 140.6 next October.

Gear List
  • Shoes: Merrell Road Glove (on the bike), Merrell Bare Access Ultra (on the run)
  • Socks: Icebreaker Hike+ Lite mini
  • Shorts: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Shorts
  • Shirt: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Singlet
  • Bike: 1982ish Cannondalte SR300
  • Hydration: Tailwind & water on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Nutrition: a nut and chocolate trail mix in a baggie taped to my handlebars on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Headwear: Buff - UV
  • Eyewear: Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 swim goggles (the best!), Optimum Nerve Omnium PM Sunglasses
  • Technology:  Nexus 5 with Strava app
  • Miscellaneous: TriGlide

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Well, That Wasn't Body Glide!

Just a silly quick-hit post today, a bit of triathlete daylight savings morning humor.

Got home from a group bike ride with some fellow Boca Raton Triathletes this morning and discovered that, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I had slathered up with deodorant instead of Body Glide on the way out the door.

Gotta say, the deodorant performed admirably.


On a separate note, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Scott Johnson from the UltraFinishers podcast. Whether you listen to my interview or not, make sure to check his podcasts out. Really cool, inspirational stuff talking to ultramarathon finishers from the middle and back of the pack, instead of elites.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hoka One One Clifton First Impression

At the Skydive Ultra, my biggest difficulty was pain in the soles of me feet. I think this is to be expected to some degree, particularly for a larger and heavier runner. But running the first 29 miles in fairly minimalist Merrell Bare Access Ultra's certainly didn't help. And, while the Altra Olympus shoes I switched to were much better in terms of cushioning, I'm just not totally in love with them. They're a bit heavy at 11 ounces and don't quite feel right on my feet no matter how much I adjust them. That's led me to search for a new, highly cushioned shoe for long runs.

Hoka One One's have been getting tremendous press and I've read innumerable positive reviews about this brand from so many knowledgeable sources. Two models in particular seem to draw the most accolades, the Bondi (except for the Bondi 3) and the Clifton. In my reading, I felt the Clifton was the most likely to work well for me, although I was willing to accept recommendations from the local running store, Delray Beach Running Company. After lots of testing and trying, I did end up with the Clifton despite liking the Hoka One One Conquest quite a bit.

First Run Impressions

This morning I was able to get out for my first run in the Cliftons, a 14 miler on easy and non-technical trail along an Everglades levee. It's also only my second long run (and first comfortable long run) since the Skydive Ultra, so my impressions may be somewhat colored by lack of training.

Overall, this shoe feels wonderful to put on. It's exactly as soft and cushioned as described, and so wonderfully light. At 7.7 ounces per shoe, they feel almost weightless on foot. Odd that a difference of just over 3 ounces compared to my Altras can feel so different, but it does. The feel on foot is just great.

The cushioning while running is everything I expected and read about. Tons of cushioning, but it never felt like the thick sole would cause me to twist an ankle or tip over. I felt nicely connected to the ground and was able to move along easily despite them being an entirely new shoe for me.

I do have one gripe, and it's the same one you'll read in many reviews. The toe box is really cramped. I didn't notice it for several miles, but by mile 10 my small toes were definitely developing hot spots from being squeezed between neighboring toes and the edge of the shoe. No blisters developed over today's 14 miles. I'm not sure that would remain the case over 50 miles, however. I'm going to try running in the Clifton wearing Injinji socks to see if that relieves some of the rubbing. My Clifton's also come with a second insole which I understand is a bit thinner and softer. I'm going to try those in the shoes to see if they offer a touch more space in the toe box.

But I'm worried about the toe box issue. I want to wear these shoes for really long runs given how great they feel otherwise. That won't be possible if the small toe issue continues.

The Other Big Gripe

I have one other issue with the Hoka One One Clifton's. They're expensive. They retail for US$130 which was far more than I've ever paid for a pair of running shoes. That's not a price really out of line with other running shoes, but it's just more than I'm comfortable spending. I generally watch for previous year models of shoes to go on sale, then buy them on the cheap. That wasn't possible with the Cliftons. And I would not have bought them had I not gotten a little money for my birthday last week. But I am willing to spend a bit more now that my running distances are really increasing, if the shoes help with pain and injury prevention. I was also happy to discover my membership with the Boca Raton Triathletes got me a nice discount.

Given the cost, I'm concerned about durability. The shoes are super light, the soles made of fairly soft materials. I'm a heavier guy. I'm not sure I'll be able to run in a pair for 400 miles, or even if they'll make it to 300 miles. Combine that with their high cost, and they may simply not be a realistic shoe for me.

Would I Buy Them Again?

I think the big question on any piece of gear is, would I buy it again? Even if I love something, but cost would prevent me from buying it again, it doesn't feel like a good value. However, if I just like something, but cost allows me to buy it again, that's value. Or I might love something so much that cost becomes less relevant; then again, that's value.

It's too early for me to say that I'd buy the Clifton's again. I wish one run would have been enough to make that decision. I do really love the feel and ride of the shoes. But the toe box is concerning. The cost is tough for me to swallow, particularly if durability is below par. These shoes are so close to perfect, but just not there. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Am I Having a Mid-Life Fitness Crisis?

I'm 37 years old today. I don't generally make a big deal about my birthday. My father's funeral was held on my birthday many years ago, and it's just a bittersweet date ever since then. However, 37 feels old. In fact, I told my wife I'm officially middle age now. And along with that feeling comes what I suppose is a bit of a mid-life crisis.

That crisis has manifested itself in the form of a pretty crazy fitness goal I'm setting for myself. This weekend I learned about the Ultraman Florida race, a sort of crazy combination of ultramarathoning and triathloning. This is a three day stage race consisting of a total of 6.2 miles of swimming, 261.4 miles of biking and 52.4 miles of running. Crazy, totally crazy. And I desperately want to do it! Or at least try to do it.

I'm 37 years old today. The race is held in mid February, so just before my birthday. That gives me three opportunities to take a shot at the race before my 40th birthday. And that's the goal, to complete the Ultraman Florida before (or on, if the dates worked out that way) my 40th birthday.

Now this is no normal race. You don't simply pay an entry fee and show up. You have to put together a resume of significant endurance accomplishments and then apply for entry into one of only 40 spots. So this goal offers no guarantees. There's no sure-fire way to make sure I achieve it. Just doing the training may not be enough. I might not even get the opportunity to try. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of reason I may not complete this goal. Yet, I'm making it a serious goal anyway.

I'm working on that resume. I have a 50 mile ultramarathon under my belt. I'll add an iron distance triathlon in October this year at the Great Floridian Triathlon. I'm also planning to run a 50k ultramarathon in April this year. And I'm planning on taking a shot at the 100 mile ultramarathon distance next year. Should all this go according to plan, perhaps I'll be able to apply for the 2017 race. And that leaves 2018 as a back-up year in case things don't go according to plan or I simply don't get accepted.

I also have to admit, this goal doesn't really fit with the "Cheaply Seeking Fitness" theme. Simply put, it ain't cheap. The entry fee is steep, hotels are needed for myself and race crew for several nights, time off of work comes with costs, and on and on. And the cost may ultimately be the factor that prevents me from completing this goal. But I'll cross that bridge once I'm ready to apply.

In the mean time, it's time to start training. It's time to get serious about endurance work. It's time to bike more. And it's time to really learn how to swim.

I'm 37 years old today. I'm getting old. It's time to get busy.

This is crazy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stunning Strava Skydive

So, I got my wife (and her brother and father) out for a skydive this weekend. Following the Skydive Ultra, I knew I had to get her to jump out of a plane once. After that, I'd be happy to be done with skydiving, or happy to do more if she wanted to.

Anyway, we went jumping this past weekend and had a blast. My second jump was even better than the first. It was still a tandem jump, but I got to take control. I started the initial jump out of the plane. I controlled the free fall turns and dives. I pulled the cord to deploy the canopy. And I took control of the steering toggles until just before landing. So cool.

But I also discovered something else cool. A new use for my Garmin 910XT GPS watch with heart rate monitor! The graphs below pulled from Strava show the elevation data on top (a clear rise into the sky in the plane and then the sudden drop) and a speed and heart rate graph on the bottom. Look at the heart rate explosion as we step out of the airplane!

I don't think this offers any value whatsoever from a fitness perspective, but it is a tremendous visual to have from my skydive. And I'm always happy to have another fun use for the Garmin watch. Even though I bought it used at a very good price (shortly after the 920XT was released and eBay was flooded with the old model,) it was still a very expensive piece of gear and not entirely compulsory.

If I have one spending weakness, it's technology. Whether it's a new phone (Android, of course), an interesting tablet or something to improve exercise; I'm drawn to it. Staying up on technology makes me feel younger. It's a weakness in my pursuit of fitness on the cheap. I've been mostly winning this battle, but the 910XT was a definite luxury. However, I continue to find new and interesting uses for the watch; each which makes the purchase feel a little less guilt-laden. And it truly is a marvelous device for dissecting my workouts; whether in the pool or ocean, on the bike, on the run, or even doing CrossFit.

So, I wasn't cheap when I bought the watch. But at least it offered one really cool visual when I hopped out of a perfectly good airplane!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ouch! That run sucked.

15 days after the Skydive Ultra, and I finally decided to get out for a moderately long run again. 12 miles, not a big deal. I've run dozens of 12 mile or longer runs over the past several months.  At least that's what I thought. And, boy, was I wrong.

I thought I had recovered well. Week one after Skydive, I did very little exercise. Swam a few hundred yards, ran a mile very slowly with my kids, took a short bike ride. Nothing intense and nothing long and tried to stay away from impact on the legs as much as possible. Week two I did add more exercise by returning to my regular swimming plan - about 5000 yards during the week - plus a few CrossFit WODs at low weight and controlled intensity and one nice and easy five mile trail run.

Saturday, two weeks after Skydive, I added added a little more intensity. A spirited bike ride to the gym, a CrossFIT WOD, and then a gentle ride home from the gym. It was hard work, but everything felt good, nothing broken. I thought I was mostly recovered.

12 Miles, But Really Only 11

So I decided it was time to go test out the running legs on Sunday. I've been itching to get out for a good run, and had been excited about it all week. But even the night before the run, things weren't right. Generally, I prepare the night before a long run to get out the door early. Clothes laid out, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting in the fridge, running pack set up with water and any other needs I might have for the run. I prepared none of this, just didn't feel compelled to because, hey, it was just a 12 mile run. (Maybe completing my first ultra has left me a bit cocky about my running prowess?)

I wasn't inspired, but I got myself out the door in the morning. I expected some soreness still and was hoping that soreness would work itself loose over the miles. Well, the soreness was there, but it never let up. In fact, it only got worse throughout the run. The legs were dead - perhaps an effect of the bike-WOD-bike the day before - and the soreness was uncomfortable and then the pain began. Two spots, my left ankle and right knee. The ankle has been a recurring thing for a long time. Never really significant, but always present and uncomfortable after half a dozen miles or so. The knee discomfort had been coming off an on for some time, and wasn't a total surprise either. But both were intense on this day.

And then the glute pain kicked in...literally a pain in the butt. This pain had come on a few times in training for Skydive and about 30 miles into the race. It felt a lot like the soreness following a day of heavy squats. Pain from the outside of the hip joint along the outer buttock. Again, not horrible, but very uncomfortable.

And I struggled through the dead legs, the soreness and the pain until I got home 11 miles later having skipped out on a one mile extension for the run. I was much slower than expected and in far more pain, but it was done.

Not Recovered?

Now I sit here with a very sore bum and a knee that's unhappy when I walk. The run left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth. And I wonder if I came back too fast. Or perhaps the other exercises I've been doing, while low impact on the legs, were too intense too soon? Maybe I wasn't as recovered as I thought I was. Or possibly it was just a bad day and a bad run.

It could be any of those things, or some combination of them. And now I'm left wondering if I need to take more time off of running or do I push through and hope it was mostly just a bad day?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Impact of Weight

I've been pretty lucky so far. Over the past 12 months, while rapidly ramping up my triathlon and ultramarathon training, I've managed to stay injury free. This despite increasing my running volume from around 25 miles per week in late October to a high of nearly 70 miles per week in early January, far too fast by most conventional wisdom. But I've often wondered how close I've been to an injury, and how much my relatively high running weight increases the risk of injury.

When I started training for my first sprint triathlon last July, my weight was around 205 pounds at six feet tall, well above the ideal triathlete and runner weight. I figured I'd lose quite a bit of weight moving from exclusively CrossFit and strength training and eating lots of calories to much more endurance work. And I did lose weight...for a little while. I dropped to about 195 within a few weeks, but have since stuck there despite increasing endurance volume training for a half iron distance triathlon and then ultramarathon. It's been a bit perplexing that the weight loss didn't continue.

That being said, I don't have any strong desire to lose weight. I'm happy with my current body composition and am carrying more muscle than I ever have in my life, aesthetically a nice thing and helpful when I have to pick up a heavy box. Yet, I do wonder how much less stress I'd put on my body at a lower weight. And at the Skydive Ultra, my biggest limiter was incredibly sore feet. The soles of my feet were in agony by mile 28, when I switched from fairly minimalist shoes to high cushion Altra Olympus. That helped some, but I still dealt with tremendous discomfort the rest of the day. This seems like it's almost certainly a function of weight.

I Have A Problem

Umm...yeah. That's a nutella bacon sandwich.
The thing is, I love to eat and I love some decadent foods. Yes, food is fuel, but food is also a joy in life. I'll forgo some of that joy, but not all of it. In fact, much of the reason I exercise regularly is to be able to enjoy some of those decadent foods with less worry. Simply put, I'm not giving up some food luxuries just to get to an ideal running and triathlon weight.

But I am willing to improve my eating. I don't need to eat decadent foods with every meal. I can certainly eat less or eat better. I've already started this by moving my breakfast to a calorie-packed, but very nutritious, smoothly instead of any old junk I can find before heading out the door.

Will It Make Me Faster?

Another thought I have when I consider weight is would losing 10-15 pounds make me faster? I'm not delusional. I'm not a competitive triathlete and runner, and I never will be. I do these things for fun and to see how far I can push myself and as an example of healthy living for my children and always with the specter of my father's far too early death after living a life free of exercise. But being faster is fun and it is pushing myself a little farther. So I would like to be a bit faster. And I'm pretty sure some weight loss would definitely help my speed both in biking and running. It seems like a worthwhile goal, particularly if I am able to control the weight loss to be mostly fat loss and minimized muscle loss.

180 Pounds, Perhaps

So, I'm thinking the target is about 180 pounds. That's still well in excess of ideal racing weight, and I'm fine with that. Just those 10-15 pounds less being carried around for the thousands of miles I'll run and bike is almost certain to reduce my risk of injury, possibly significantly. Hopefully, that lower weight will allow my feet to be a little happier during ultra distance running. I will appreciate any small speed gains that weight loss brings. And I'll accept the bit of muscle and strength loss that comes with the reduced weight. Hopefully, those will be minimal if I keep up strength training and properly balance my nutrition.

Doing It On The Cheap

And this post really wouldn't be a Cheaply Seeking Fitness post if I didn't bring up the cost concern. Eating healthy can be expensive! For several months, my wife and I participated in a meal delivery service in order to try to eat healthier, but the cost was too much to swallow (and the food wasn't very good, either.) Since then, I do believe we've been eating relatively healthy, excluding a few indulgences such as Yasso Sea Salt Carmel bars and nutella bacon sandwiches and ordering sushi and thai food a bit too often. So, it seems just by cutting portion sizes slightly without any major changes to my diet otherwise will lead to both a bit of weight loss and saving a little money.

And it's time to get started. Nothing major, though. Just a little less on the plate at every meal. Perhaps drop a snack here or there. The tricky part is overcoming constant hunger. I'm always hungry when training. Even when I'm clearly eating at equilibrium, I feel hungry. I can only imagine how much hungrier I'll feel when at a small calorie deficit. It's time to find out.