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.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Early Morning Rides

I'm going to try something new on here. Instead of the long-ish posts I've been writing (or failing to write) in the past, I'm going to try writing really short posts, almost poem like posts. I'm sure they'll be miserable writing...oh well. They'll be about whatever's on my mind as I continue down my path to fitness.

For the first post, I'm writing about why go running or biking or swimming so early in the morning. Credit for many of the words below go to a fellow biker whom I was discussing this with yesterday.

Early morning rides.

The road to ourselves.

A lightning storm at sea.

While the sun prepares to rise behind.

Crackles of electricity smash into the ocean.

A flash of purple covers the sky.

Peaceful quietude.

We ride.

That's miserable. So be it. Predawn exercise allows us to experience moment so few get to see..

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Running In South Florida - It's Different

Over the past three years of exercising and running in South Florida, I've discovered that running in South Florida isn't like running in other places. The heat, sun and humidity suggest some pieces of equipment are more important than they would have been when I was living in Wisconsin. There are also some unique issue when running here. I thought it'd be fun to create a list of what I've learned to be particularly useful for running in Florida. Mostly this is just meant to be a silly list just for fun.

  1. You gotta have great running hat - at first I thought sunglasses were the all important item, but my thinking has evolved and now I believe a great hat is more important. Mine is silly looking and giant, and I absolutely love it. A huge brim keeps virtually all sun off my face. Well ventilated so my head doesn't get extra hot. And a neck drape for sun protection in the back. Plus, even when you're moving slow, when that drape is flapping in the wind, it makes it feel like you're moving fast! My beloved running hat: Sunday Afternoon Adventure Hat
  2. Serious sunscreen is mandatory - it's sunny here, a lot. Finding a sunscreen that could last for hours while sweating excessively in heat and sunlight took some time to find. I've settled on Target up & up Kids Lotion SPF50. One application has survived for hours without even the hint of a sunburn. It's titanium dioxide based, so does not rub in. Proper application will leave you looking a bit like a ghost with a weird white sheen. Yes, it does contain some of the chemical based sunblocks in addition to the physical titanium dioxide block. I choose to protect against the known risk of skin cancer and accept the unknown risk of exposure to these chemicals. And it doesn't feel great when a bit gets in the eyes. But this stuff has been great for me. And it's cheap, too!
  3. We do have hills! - Well, not really, but you can simulate hills with a little creativity. Given all the water, roads have tons of water crossings. Water crossings require bridges. A bridge hunting run is a great way to simulate at least some elevation gain. It's easy to create a route that has you crossing a bridge every 15 minutes. Or bridge intervals can be one for more regular climbing. Other options include incline on the treadmill or this:
  4. Leaving the road? You better be prepared for sand. - Sand, it's everywhere in South Florida. Anytime you leave the pavement, sand is a possibility. Even just that bit of grassy median between the sidewalk and road can be sandy. And head off to run some trails, you're almost certain to encounter sand...muddy sand, packed sand, loose sand, sinking sand, sugar sand. Lots and lots of sand. It's a whole different ball game than pavement or even dirt trails. I've made it a habit of practicing running on sand. Any run of reasonable distance, I try to spend at least a mile or so running in the sand along the beach.
  5. Finally, running in South Florida rocks! - There are so many great and diverse places to run.
    South Beach Park A1A Boca Raton
    For the asphalt junkie, running up and down the A1A with the beach and ocean always a glance away is a great place to hang out.
    Loxahatchee Levee Sea of Grass
    Then there's always the option to spend some time running along the dirt trails in the Sea of Grass in the Everglades where you're certain to encounter an alligator or two and a wide variety of snakes. And for the hardcore trail runners, there's the opportunity to head deep into jungle-like trails where you feel like you've stepped back to a time before Florida was settled.
    Caloosahatchee Park Trails
    I'd love to hear what you've experienced and discovered and found to be particularly useful during your adventures running and exercising in South Florida. What have you discovered that makes running here a bit unique?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Four Lessons From The DTR Endurance Challenge 50K

On April 18th, 2015, I ran the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K. My second ultramarathon, and a complete different experience than my race at the Skydive Ultra. However, instead of a conventional race report, I thought it would be more interesting to write about the four big lessons I took out of this race which will include race details along the way.

Lesson 1: I Need To Run More

Going into the race, I knew I was undertrained, at least from a pure running perspective. I hadn't been able to run at all for a three week period after an odd knee issue in February and March caused by an ill-executed switch to new shoes. I had kept up aerobic fitness with plenty of swimming and biking, but the running training was lacking. Since Skydive Ultra at the end of January, I only got three long runs in prior to this race: two 14 milers and one 18 miler. And I had only one 30 mile week of training over that period. I was undertrained.

It showed up on race day. The race felt great for about 14 miles, and ok for another 4 miles. Then the wheels felt like they fell off. Lots of walking. So much discomfort. Generally, a very poor run after mile 18.

The most glaring symptom of my lack of training was having to battle a calf cramp the final six miles of the race. At Skydive, a race nearly twice as long, I only had one short moment where even the idea of a cramp entered my mind. At DTR, it was a long fight to fend off the cramp. Eventually, I switched my running form to heel strike which took pressure off the calves and allowed me to run a bit better.

But the lesson was learned... I need to run more. Biking and swimming are great; aerobic fitness wasn't an issue. And I need to do those things as I prepare for the Great Floridian Triathlon. But running long requires running long...often.

Lesson 2: Distance Is Only One Factor In Race Difficulty

So I went into this race thinking it would be hard because I was undertrained, but also thinking that the experience would be roughly 60% as difficult as my 50 mile race. I could not have been more wrong.

This race was brutal. We were treated to a record high temperature of 93 degrees during the day. Fortunately, there was occasional light cloud cover to offer at least some reprieve from the sun, but then the Florida humidity simply took its toll. The race began at 6:45 am, which meant we got about 30 minutes of running before the sun got on us. After that, it was nothing but increasing heat and sun exposure throughout the day.

The course itself held so many surprises. I knew there was some sand on the course. I had spent time beach running to prepare. I was not ready for nearly 12 miles of sand, made worse by the heat which evaporated every bit of moisture out of it leaving nothing but loose sand. The course was an out and back, and the sand wasn't too bad on the way out. On the way back, once every participant had been over it at least once, the sand became a grip-less mess. It was exhausting.

I had heard legend of the "Dunes of Heaven", a one mile stretch of rolling sand dunes beginning around mile 9. None were more than 50 feet high according to my Garmin, but they were relentless. Get to the bottom of one, and right back up the next you went. But the real surprise was that after the Dunes of Heaven, the rolling hills continued for another 5 miles to the turn around point. These hills were milder than the dunes and the trail was slightly less sandy, but the constant elevation change took me completely by surprise. I hadn't prepared. (Hey, it's Florida. Everything is flat.)

This course on this day was tough, really tough. The top finishers were a half hour off the finishing times the previous year. Sure, distance is one piece of the equation, but so are many other factors.

Lesson 3: Shut Up, Mind

Despite all the above issues, I actually didn't do too poorly in the race. While I was a full hour off the first finisher, I was less than eleven minutes behind the first place runner in my age group. Without much more effort, I could have made up eleven minutes. But much of the day, I let my mind and negative self-talk slow me down.

It's too hot. I'm just not fit enough. My stomach/foot/shoulder hurts. It's just a training run. I don't want to be here. And on and on and on it went.

However, I only had two bona fide time losses during the race. First, my calf cramp was a real fitness issue. Had the cramp truly set in, my race would have been over. So I had to manage that. But had I thought to switch running form earlier, I would have saved tons of time.

Second, I lost several minutes on a few occasions dealing with a leak in my hydration pack. This was a safety issue. I was able to slow down the leak by playing with the valve on the pack, and did take the time to make sure to do that so I wouldn't run out of water between aid stations. This cost me maybe 5 minutes total.

But mostly, those lost eleven minutes were the result of my mind slowing down what my body was capable of.

Lesson 4: I Really Love Ultra Trail Running

I felt horrible for much of the 5 hours and 29 minutes I spent racing. I was not near top form, the course and weather were absolutely demoralizing, and the bladder in my hydration pack began leaking leaving my back, butt, legs and feet soaked for hours.

I tripped on roots on four separate occasions, feeling like I could have broken a toe each time. Twice I outright fell and once tweaked my right shoulder while catching myself. For the first time ever in racing or training, I had stomach issues. Nothing severe. I was still able to eat and drink as needed. But it was uncomfortable for miles and miles.

My feet hurt, especially my left foot. I think I bruised the sole of my foot early in the race. By the end, it was nearly unbearable. In the final mile of the race, I felt what could only be a terrible blister on my large left toe. I blame the hours of water leaking from my hydration pack for that.

I was a mess, and I absolutely loved it!

Being out in nature, seeing a lightening storm off over the ocean, watching the sunrise as we ran, discovering deer moss, overcoming all the above issues to finish the race, eating whatever looked good at aid stations, the volunteers being so kind and helpful along the way; it's all such a great experience.

Frankly, I think ultra running is where I'll end up long-term. I enjoy triathlons and look forward to my first iron distance race in October, and love many parts of CrossFit. But there's something so simple and pure ultra running. Ultimately, it's just you, a pair of good shoes and clothes and nature fighting to reach the destination. It's so simple.

And it's by far the least expensive sport of those that interest me. Can't wait to run another ultramarathon soon...maybe 100K next?

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.