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Wildflower Long Course Race Report

Ryan | May 12th, 2014 Leave a Comment

Beautiful day at Wildflower, thanks to my friend Caleb for the photos!

What better way to summarize Wildflower 2014 than with a haiku — especially this year.  Here’s mine:

Wild Race

The water was black

Sadly no naked people


I first thought about haikus in relation to Wildflower because as I ponder how I essentially executed the exact race plan I wanted, it comes down to one word: simplify.

Or, as I described my in-race state-of-mind to fellow Wattie Ink teammate and second-place 30-34 finisher Sarah, it’s the “Forrest Gump Plan.”  When it was time to swim, I swam. When it was time to bike, I rode.  When it was time to run, I ran.  I didn’t think ahead, nor behind. I stayed present.

Monkeying around before the race. And inviting myself for endless PhotoShop caption contest shenanigans.

Now I admit it wasn’t quite that simple. I did have a watch alarm setting to remind me to drink about every nine minutes, and I ate 100 calories roughly every 30 minutes on the bike.  Beyond that though, it’s so easy to get bogged down with data, or with the elements, or what’s happening around you. But it’s also easy to let go. To feel the race happening. To trust your training. Trust your plan.  That’s what I did at the Wildflower long course last week, and I came within three minutes of the exact time I expected. What I didn’t expect was a top 10 finish in my age group, by far the best placement I’ve earned at a major triathlon such as Wildflower. (Thanks to all the fast people who chose to race at Ironman 70.3 St. George instead!) Previously, my biggest accomplishment was an age group win and fourth overall at the June Lake Triathlon last summer at well above 7,000 feet elevation.

Here’s how my Wildflower race developed.


32:41, 1:40 pace

Water temp: 66 degrees

No current, slight chop

I have no business starting in the first two rows of swimmers in a triathlon. I get boat-raced every time. But for some reason, I like it. It calms me getting right into the fray. Except this swim was different.  We swam the first 200 yards in black, soot-stained water that could also have been squid ink.  Literally, the water was black and it was disconcerting.  Eventually the water cleared up and we had a new problem to deal with, direct sunlight straight in our faces.  I could barely see the first three buoys and had to trust swimmers around me to lead me to the right spot. That, of course, didn’t work. I swam right towards a stand-up paddle boarder instead and had to make a hard left to get back on track.

Once we made the right turn on the clockwise course to begin our return trip to shore, I began to settle into a nice rhythm.  But I’d screw it up thinking about mechanics, or breathing, or sighting, or placement. So finally I said “screw it!” to myself and just swam the damn course as fast as I could comfortably sustain.  That worked out well. I passed a ton of age-groupers from the previous waves and made up a lot of ground.  I could have made up more ground had I not sighted off the red arches welcoming swimmers back to the boat ramp instead of the actual swim exit 15 yards to the banner’s left.  I did make up some ground by swimming right until the last moment before my legs touched the ground, even though my fingertips were touching the ground for about 10 strokes prior.  I figured other people would be getting their bearings while I was moving through the water.

Overall, there’s nothing I’d change about this swim.  I had a hard time seeing, both from the water quality (or lack thereof) and the sun and just made the best of it.  What’s most important is that I came out of the water feeling great, excited for the rest of the day, and appreciative of how cool I was in that moment as the day was going to heat up real fast. And it did.

T1: Approximately 20 minutes (out of water to leaving T1B)

Before the race, my wife, Stephanie and I hung out at the bottom of the boat ramp and looked up at the monster grade leading out of the lake. It was ominous-looking! But coming out of the water, I was shocked at how easy it was to run up the ramp. I placed my first pair of running shoes – we were all encouraged to have our “real” running shoes at T1B 2.2 miles away – mid-way up the ramp in my assigned bib number area.  It took me longer to get out of my wetsuit once again, and I can’t wait for my BlueSeventy Helix to arrive any week now.

With soggy feet and renewed vigor, I conquered the rest of the boat ramp and motored on the rolling paved road back towards the Lynch boat ramp. That included a detour, running down into Lake San Antonio. Make that the DRY Lake San Antonio bed.  Who doesn’t want to run a mile in sand right after a swim, knowing you’re about to mount your bike to almost immediately ride up an average 9% grade with 20% pitches for three-quarters of a mile?!

I stayed in control on the longest transition run ever. I felt fast and fresh, eager to continue the day.  I’m learning it’s so much easier to race with a positive attitude, and that outlook builds off itself so that it’s harder to get down about silly things.  I ran-jogged out of the Lynch boat ramp, quickly found my bike and jogged with it all the way to the other side of the transition area to begin the ride.

I wouldn’t change anything about this run other than wondering if I could have run even harder.

Climbing Nasty Grade. Fun!

Bike: 2:54:06, 19.0 mph

Estimated wind: Mild to moderate, mostly crosswinds on Jolon Road

As good as I felt coming off the initial run, my legs lacked punch or energy the first few miles of the bike. I was riding at and above my FTP level going up Beach Drive on that long 9% average grade. During the slog, I saw my Wattie Ink teammate and fellow age-grouper Derek struggling with his rear wheel. I slowed and asked him the problem and was able to diagnose it so he could fix. It’s probably the only time in my life where I’ll be able to sound remotely mechanical!

Once out of the park, I focused heavily on lowering my power output and riding balanced for the next 35-plus miles. My goal was to keep my overall Intensity Factor closer to .85 and my Normalized Power in the 185 watts range. I was initially well over on both but knew I wasn’t over-exerted and just stayed calm.  Despite some head and crosswinds, I rode very consistently, ate roughly every 30 minutes, drank regularly and again, stayed calm. I passed a lot of age groupers from previous waves, but really didn’t see many 40-somethings. Derek zoomed past me after fixing his wheel and I tried to keep him in my sights while sticking to my own plan.

Finally, I hit Nasty Grade…and I felt great. My nutrition was spot-on. No cramps. No fatigue. Just ready for a long climb. I passed a ton of people and saw Derek’s orange jersey closer and closer on the horizon. Plus, my buddy Caleb was atop the pass with his camera and I knew he’d have some motivating words for me.

The second half of the ride – which for me is really Nasty Grade back to the finish – rocked. I felt terrific. I eventually caught up with Derek and we played cat-and-mouse, kidding around a bit as we passed each other. I wasn’t sure where I was in the pecking order but we both agreed there weren’t many 40-44 dudes to be found. Either we sucked or we were near the top.

As I zoomed towards the final downhill back to camp, I saw my wife’s best friend, Annie. Her shock of red hair was unmistakable and her screaming fueled me even  more to finish strong. It’s amazing how just seeing someone for a second can amp your ride!

There’s not much I’d change about the ride. Maybe I’d have ridden a bit more aggressively on Jolon Road, and maybe I would have switched out a nutrition bar bite at the end in favor of a caffeinated gel. Otherwise, I’m very pleased overall.

Feeling good coming out of T2.

Run: 10.7 miles, 1:28:37, 8:17/mi

My transition to the run was pretty quick, just around my goal time of two minutes. I had some trouble putting socks on, which wasted some seconds. But I felt good and cramp-free, even taking the staircase two at a tme onto the well-worn road back towards Harris Creek.

I train with data all the time and yet on race day with my run, for some reason I just don’t like to look at anything. I run by feel, which is both good and bad. On the upside, I don’t see if my heart rate spikes or dips and therefore I don’t panic. I just settle into a groove and go. However, there is a downside, as I think I learned at Wildflower. When you’re in a groove, you’re comfortable. When you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing as hard.

The first five miles of the run were tough but manageable. I was working hard for sure and I couldn’t have gone much harder – but maybe there was a tiny bit of room for another gear. Then again, I wasn’t seeing many 40-44 guys at all, in fact I think may have counted three or so during the entire run.  One thing that hurt me was forgetting there are two big climbs on the fire road before a short but steep descent that signals a smoothing out of the course for a few miles. I powered up the first climb and didn’t have much gas for the second, walking more than I wanted to.

Around mile 7 I felt a little sleepy, hot, dry and hungry. Thankfully, I was able to grab a PowerGel with 2x caffeine boost and that pepped me up.  So did the crowds at Redonda Vista campground. Once again though, I misjudged the course. The long run out of the Vista campground towards the pit took me by surprise. I remember it being shorter. Consequently, I paced conservatively thinking I’d hammer the last two miles to the finish. I was getting hotter and using more water to douse myself at every aid station. Back on the asphalt out of the dirt, I did have energy to increase my pace. I found two out of the three people in my age group here and passed them with ease.  The third I passed just before the finish, which ultimately became the difference between ninth place and 10th. The real race though was against the pending cramps in my calves and hamstrings. I could feel them twitching madly, and the only thing saving me was the brutal downhill plunge back towards Lake San Antonio. That meant I could focus on the pounding in my quads instead!

Regardless if I had more in the tank early in the race, I certainly had nothing left by the end. The final half-mile was a struggle to avoid seizing in the finish chute and keeping 10th place off my back. Ultimately, I beat him by 20 seconds by staying focused and only allowing the last 10 seconds of the chute to be for celebrating.

There are some things I’d change about the run if I return next year, which is likely. First, I’d make sure to down a caffeinated gel right before I start the run. Next, I’d bring a banana and Salt Stick tabs just in case. Most important, I’d study the run course even more than I did this time, obviously I wasn’t paying close enough attention.


Wifey at the finish line makes it all worthwhile.

I’m pleasantly surprised by my 9th place 40-44 age-group finish. It’s the highest finish I’ve had at any major triathlon.  I keep it in perspective though. First, if I hadn’t aged up this year I would have been 19th in 35-39.  Second, Ironman 70.3 St. George was held on the same day with a stacked field. Still, Wildflower will always go down as one of the toughest courses on the half-Ironman circuit, certainly every bit as tough as St. George.  I like where my progress is though. And I’m excited to improve upon these results as I look ahead to a bunch of local races in the coming months such as the OC Triathlon, Santa Barbara Triathlon, Malibu Triathlon and Los Angeles Triathlon.

I would love to thank my wife Stephanie for her constant support. She makes racing fun and keeps me focused in her own way. My aunt Diane got to experience her first half-Ironman and I think she deserved a finisher’s medal for all the walking she did to track me down at the race!  Annie, her boyfriend Jeff and of course Caleb and his wife Dessa all made the day special too. Caleb went out of his way to zoom through the course on his scooter and that meant so much. Finally, many thanks to Wattie Ink and all our great sponsors. I personally rocked Reynolds wheels, PowerBar nutrition, and an ISM saddle.  I’d also like to thank Fortius Coaching. It’s been a long road together, and we’ve enjoyed a heck of a run (literally and figuratively).

Up next: OC Tri, June 1. Already back at the training.

Ironman 70.3 Oceanside Race Report

Ryan | April 7th, 2014 5 Comments

Happy but focused...

Usually my race reports begin more as self-prescribed therapy diatribes about my mental state. But since I already got that out of my system with a forthcoming column on Lava Magazine’s website, I’ll cut straight to the race itself.

Race Morning

I woke up somewhat naturally at 4 a.m. after six hours of decent sleep.  I was alarmingly calm, if there is such a thing.  I couldn’t tell if I was super tired or had simply flushed my emotions out of my system.  I decided to remain positive and presume the latter.

Speaking of flushing, most people can guess if they’re going to have a good race by how they feel in the morning – whether it’s jitters or lack thereof in their stomach. Me, well, if I poop four or more times before the race…it’s going to be a great day. I went an insane six times before the starting gun so by the race start I was downright giddy!

Apologies for that last paragraph. Only in triathlon can people get excited about pooping before the sun comes up.

Steph and I arrived at the race course by 5:10 a.m. and got a great parking spot. For those of you doing IM 70.3 Oceanside in the future, I do suggest an early arrival even if your wave starts late. Parking is hard to find, and if you don’t have to worry about it post-race you’ll be glad. Just pack extra warm, bring an extra water bottle to stay hydrated, and maybe bring an extra snack. I ate oatmeal with almonds, honey, raisins and cinnamon in my hotel room at 4:30, had half a wheat bagel with almond butter right before 5 and ate a banana about one hour before my wave started at 6:58 a.m.  That turned out to be just the right amount of nutrition.

Time snuck up quick, and suddenly I was three waves away from starting.  My wife spotted me in the sea of orange swim caps and we said our temporary goodbyes. Of course, that diverted me from obsessing over how once again how I was among the shortest in my group.  The bigger they are….right?!

Swim: 1.3 miles, 33:55, 1:29/100-yard pace

Air Temp: Approximately high 50s

Water Temp: Approximately low 60s

Current/Chop: Low to moderate, glassy going out, slight chop coming back

When it was time to get in the water, I quickly dunked my goggles so they’d not fog up against my warmer body temperature, and of course I promptly peed in my wetsuit.  I dunked first, ha!

Limping out of the water...

No sooner had I swam towards the front of the starting “line” then I heard the countdown to begin the race. I couldn’t believe how calm I was still. No nerves, all emotional stillness. That was a victory in itself, let alone having the confidence to start my swim amongst the faster folks knowing I’d probably get swum over.

The horn blasted and off we all went. There was some light jostling but nothing brutal. I was able to get into a quick rhythm, sight easily and relax into my groove. I sighted every 10-12 strokes heading out towards the first turnaround because the buoys were so easy to spot. The sun was rising on our back-right side, so it illuminated the yellow buoys. I could tell I was really swimming well but knew that would change once we turned out of the harbor with more resistance and chop.  And it did. I had a harder time sighting off the red turn buoys, partially because I didn’t read the race guide and forgot I should be looking for red buoys to begin with. Rookie move.  On the return towards shore, I sighted a LOT more, as in about every 6-8 strokes. This slowed my pace but we were swimming into the sun a bit and I couldn’t quite see the buoys in front of me. Here’s another rookie mistake. You’re swimming parallel to the harbor seawall. Just freaking stay aligned with that! You really don’t even need to sight that much if you keep the seawall somewhat close to your right side.  So I wound up following people more than I prefer. In addition, the water was filled with green and blue swim caps from previous waves. On one hand I was excited to be passing these people as it demonstrated how far my swim has progressed. But some of them were borderline panicky and would grab and cling to my legs, arms or shoulders if we were too close. Not cool, guys.

About 500 yards to the finish, I could feel my right calf and left adductor start to twitch. I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold water or other swimmers grabbing my legs. It didn’t matter though as I started to worry I’d cramp and lose momentum. Sure enough, with about 20 yards to the boat dock, my right calf seized up on me. I had to one-leg kick to shore and grab a volunteer to help me stand. I knew I’d be fine once I put pressure on the ground, so I didn’t panic. I saw the race clock at 33:49 on my swim time, smack in the middle of my projected range of 32-36 minutes.

I’m very happy with my swim, even though I came out of the water in 80th in my age group (out of 400-plus). Then, I saw from multiple people’s data and my own the swim must’ve been around 1.3 miles instead of the normal 1.2. That was even more encouraging for me, actually. I’ve been working hard in the pool the last several weeks and my coach, Gerardo Barrios, helped me with a much more efficient kick that I think propelled me through the water better. There isn’t much I’d change about this swim except for reviewing the race guide more in depth. I’m excited to continue my swim work and improve more this season.

Bike: 2:46:31, 20.1 mph

Air temperature: Approximately 59 degrees

Wind: Variable around 5+ mph

Chilly but this ain't no Lake Tahoe...

In T1, it took me a while as usual to get out of my wetsuit and put on my shoes. One of these days I’ll start trying flying mounts. OK, maybe not. 3:52 later, I was on the bike, struggling to clip in to my pedals after recently receiving a warranty pair of Fizik F1 shoes.  I made a spontaneous decision to not put on arm warmers despite the morning chill, stuffing them inside my Wattie Ink jersey instead to keep my chest warm.

The ride was uneventful through the first 20 miles. I was very pleased with my pacing and right on track to finish in 2:40, my goal time. Then, the backside of Camp Pendleton happened.

I forgot how deceptively hilly this course is!

I took it very easy on most anything resembling a hill the first half of the course. I was concerned I’d blow up on the run, and that was my not-so-secret weapon this year. I wanted to see what I could do after riding nearly 60 miles and hoped for a sub-7 minute pace. As a result, I kept my watts and heart rate constantly in check until roughly mile 30. At this point, I knew I had room to play with my Normalized Power – the data that tells you overall how hard you’re riding.  Gerardo said I could ride with an NP up to 185 and I was still in the high 170s. So I started pushing to my FTP zone on bigger hill climbs and sustained that effort without overdoing it.  By that point though I had lost precious time…I was off my pace by about 10 minutes and threatening to have an overall slower ride than when I raced Oceanside two years ago.

That would not be acceptable. My watts rose steadily and as we left the base I turned up the effort even more the last six miles. I cruised back towards T2 almost seven minutes slower than I had hoped.  My legs were mostly fresh though, even though I experienced a few minor twitches in my adductors along the way. I had flashbacks from Ironman Boise 70.3 last year, where I rode so hard that I had to walk the half-marathon. I didn’t want that to happen again.

In the end, my Variable Index, which measures my power consistency, was dead on. The goal is to be between 1.0 (essentially perfect) and certainly less than 1.1. I was 1.05.  Looking back, I think I rode slower by choice more than anything, though perhaps my nutrition could have been better. I drank one 20oz bottle of sports drink, one bottle of water, two Honey Stinger waffles (160 calories each), half a banana and four salt tablets.  That’s roughly 500 calories consumed while I expended 1,900. I could have eaten another waffle and even a Bonk Breaker on top of that, or included honey in my drinks. However, I was not very hungry after my large pre-race breakfast so who knows.  That breakfast probably gave me 700-plus calories.  Nonetheless, I need to continue working on my race nutrition.

Finally, if I were to do Oceanside 70.3 next year, I’d train for it a little differently. I’d focus on attacking hillier climbs later in my ride, and possibly incorporating some harder bricks off greater bike efforts. I probably rode flat more than I should have in training.

Run: 1:33:55, 7:10 pace

Air temperature: 63 degrees, slight breeze

Shoes: Newton BoCo AT

At last, the run. I’ve spent the last four months heavily focused on improving my run technique and speed.  My perceived success or failure of the race would hinge on it. As I ran out of T2 in a sorta decent 1:52, I quickly calculated that I needed to run a 1:30 half marathon to break five hours. Or something along those lines. My strategy going in was to follow Gerardo’s plan: Run the first two miles at 7:15, and drop five seconds per mile off that pace every two miles so by the end of the race I’d be running sub-6:50 miles.

It didn’t quite work out that way, but I came close. I actually chose not to force the pace but rather accept what my body was willing to offer. Again, I was afraid of cramping and ruining my day.  Damn, there’s that “fear” word again!  Still I was happy with what was turning out to be a very, very consistent 7:08-7:10 pace. Mile after mile, small hill after hill, I kept cranking out a pace that felt strong but relaxed. Confident, but not agitated. More important, I could focus on having fun, encouraging others, and not suffering.  I was moving at a fast enough pace where I was mentally satisfied and still physically challenged to stay focused. I suppose that’s my sweetspot, and hence why most of my run was actually in my temp zone 3 heart rate.  Nutrition-wise, I felt fine throughout the run.  I stayed hydrated with water and cola at every aid station, and took two gels — one at mile 3 and the other around mile 10.

Originally, my intent was to wait until mile 10 and turn up the heat on my pace. However, there’s still some decent grades on the back part of the course and I lost a tiny bit of momentum there. But I found my friend Sebastian, whom I was trying to reach the entire race. When I finally caught up to him at mile 11, I sped up for a bit and thought I was home free to enjoy a relaxed sub-5 finish.

I had no idea how close I was to blowing the whole thing.

All smiles at the finish, oblivious I was 4 seconds from 5:00:00

I did run hard in mile 12 and into mile 13, but as I headed into the finisher’s chute I started to slow down and enjoy the moment. Big smiles, lots of high fives, maybe some arm swoops to rev up the crowd. Meanwhile, Seb was barreling down the chute behind me and almost caught me! Ryan, stop with the showboating!!!!

I finished the run with an 11-minute PR for my fastest-ever half marathon. But I only landed sub-5 by four seconds!

I’m stoked on my run performance, but a little disappointed in my effort. I didn’t quite push as hard as I could have. As you can see from my run data, this was mostly a tempo effort.  And I felt great at the end of the race. As in I could have run another five miles at least at that pace.  So, how do I push myself to work harder?  Now that I know I can run in the low 1:30s at a half Ironman event, I think it will be easier to push. Now the goal is high 1:20s!

Overall, I’m very happy with my Ironman 70.3 Oceanside performance.  I landed on the tail end of my expected time (4:47-5:00), felt relaxed and refreshed throughout the day and wasn’t really sore the day after the race. I’m eager to get back to training and have an extra spring in my step that normally doesn’t exist two days after a tough race. I certainly feel different than after Bandit!

Bandit Ultra Trail Run 30k Race Report

Ryan | March 1st, 2014 2 Comments

Post-race, post cramp meltdown, with fellow podium finisher, Fortius teammate and good friend, Jason Weilert.

“Racing needs to become methodical without becoming maniacal.” — Gerardo Barrios

My Fortius Racing coach, Gerardo Barrios, texted the above to me last week after asking if I had finished my Bandit 30k Ultra Trail Run race report. I hadn’t started it yet. It’s easy to go with the “I’m busy” excuse even if it’s true.  But it’s not like I didn’t know what happened in my race. As I posted on social media in the hours following my end-of-race implosion, I made a ton of stupid mistakes. Among them (in chronological order):

  • Skimped on breakfast the day before the race, knowing I’d be having brunch with my parents at noon that day.
  • Slept in late on race morning because I picked up my bib the day before.
  • Got out of the house late, didn’t eat enough breakfast because the race start was in an hour (race destination was 20 minutes away).
  • Waited in my car too long at the race course before using the restroom.
  • Cut my warm-up time to a quick three-minute jog. Five minutes before the race start.
  • Didn’t bring salt tablets even though race directors said it would be hot outside. I grew up in Simi Valley (race site) and had been training on the race course for weeks. It hadn’t been hot once. Why would it be hot today?!
  • Wore new trail shoes even though they were replicas of my current pair, the Newton BoCo AT. Even my wife told me this was a bad idea beforehand. I ignored her. I love these shoes, I thought.  I’ll be fine. Wrong.
  • I let my excitement about racing in my hometown, in front of my parents and wife, get the better of me. I was too jacked up.
  • As a result, the same sound planning that led to my best-race ever at Ironman Arizona gave in to emotion. Fear, specifically. Fear of a congested single-track climb or descent where I’d get stuck behind slow people and lose precious time. Fear of not performing up to my own expectations. Fear of missing a critical time checkpoint my coach provided. Fear of being judged as not “elite” nor “fast” now that I’m part of Wattie Ink’s Triathlon team in addition to Fortius. Fear of being embarrassed by my good friend, teammate and race-day competitor, Jason. (Incidentally, there’s no shame in that. He finished third overall and we shared the podium in our age group.)

The last bullet point hurt the most to write. The truth hurts. I ran scared. Even if I didn’t know it at the time.

However, fear is a powerful motivator. I punched it hard. Right from the starting gun.  In fact, I literally raced harder than I ever had before. I know this because my Strava Suffer Score –a heart-rate algorithmic calculation that tells you how hard you worked in a training session — was 200 points higher than my previous hardest effort. I also hit my goal of a podium finish in my age group and top 10 overall.  I was third in the 30-39 age group, and sixth overall. I ran parts of the Bandit 30k race course faster than I ever had, and I’ve been training in the hills above my childhood home for several weekends this winter.

After five years of competitive racing, four of them coached, I should have known better though.  It’s a small miracle I reached two of my three goals despite myself. My third goal was to finish the 20-mile course in three hours or less. I staggered across the line in 3:11:42, and was promptly dragged to the med tent by two very gracious teammates.

Was my approach the right one? I mean, I reached my goals. But at what price?

After almost two weeks, I still quite don’t know the right answer to that question. Even after my Wattie Ink Triathlon Team training camp where I learned all about staying within myself, I’m torn.  On one hand, we’re talking about racing, right?!  To me, that means go all out, and leave no ounce of unused energy on the course when you cross the finish line.  On the other hand, the “smart” way to race is to pace yourself so you can cross the finish line faster than if you had gone all-out, yet with more energy still left in the tank.

The gap between both methods is trust.  Trust within your own abilities. Trust in your coach.  Trust in your knowledge of the course. Trust in your plan.  Trust in your nutrition quality and intake.

The way to build trust is through experience. I have accumulated enough experience in all the areas above to know better than how I raced at Bandit.

So what will I do different in future races? What am I going to take away leading into Oceanside 70.3 and Wildflower Long Course this spring? I know both courses well enough.  I’m racing with and against many of my same friends at Bandit, along with new friends on the Wattie Ink squad.  I have to pretend they’re not there.  It’s just me, the course…and a plan.  The plan can involve time checkpoints as goals, but not demands.  The plan can involve family and friends attending the race to support me, but not a fear of letting them down.  Then plan can involve testing myself, and ONLY myself.

My focus for the next several weeks is to focus on formulating sound racing…make that PACING plans with Gerardo.  And to stop worrying so much about what others think or how they’re training.

The video above is a recap of the event from my friend and Fortius teammate Ariel at OneThirtyOne Productions.

The Perfect Race

Ryan | November 21st, 2013 5 Comments

There is no better cheerleader than this one right next to me.

Until this past weekend at Ironman Arizona, I thought the concept of “the perfect race” was a fallacy. There is no such thing. Especially with my bad luck finding good weather, not to mention past nutrition foibles, pacing problems, occasionally gloomy mental outlook and all the other “little” things that can add up to a major malfunction on race day if not addressed properly.

Now I know that experiencing the perfect race is improbable. But not impossible.  I can write that with certainty, days after the race of my life. It took almost five years and nearly 20 triathlons to find Tri-Nirvana, but I assure you the journey is well worth it. Even then, there are a few niggling things I still could have done better.

In Tempe, the weather FINALLY cooperated, my experience took over, my outlook remained positive while my focus remained steady. I experienced the proverbial, no-longer mythical “perfect race” not because I was physically in the best shape of my life, but rather because of my mentality.  In fact, my watts on the bike were at their lowest for the year, my leg power balance on the bike was off, and my swim performances were sagging compared to earlier in the summer. The only physical momentum I had going into Ironman Arizona was that after my accident last December, my running form was finally peaking 11 months later based on my Training Peaks data.

Oh, and there was that little thing called Ironman Lake Tahoe that I had tackled seven weeks prior.

My brain, not my body, propelled me. Here’s how, and perhaps why.


I did two key things different prior to ever leaving for Arizona. Maybe they made all the difference.  First, I wrote a detailed race plan that outlined everything from my race goals and strategy to a packing checklist and what I was going to do each day I was in Tempe. While I’ve gone through the exercise before, my coach, Gerardo Barrios, told me over breakfast to write it with a more positive and assertive tone.  See, my feelings of anxiety and intimidation from past Ironman performances were peeking through my pre-race report narrative. Instead of writing, “I will move fluidly and with purpose through T1, ready to ride in seven minutes or less,” I had written, “I CANNOT stress out in the T1 changing tent, I need to stay calm no matter what is happening around me amidst the chaos.”  As you can see, one position is far more confident in tone than the other. I re-wrote my pre-race plan and the mere exercise of doing so was calming and therapeutic.  It forced me to commit, at least enough to type words on a screen, to a different mindset. Then, I re-read the report every couple days going into the race. That reinforced the belief and what seemed awkward and inauthentic at first ultimately felt natural…and expected.

Second, and this REALLY saved valuable time in my hotel room leading up to the race, I packed all my gear and special needs bags before I left for Tempe.  Every Clif Shot Block, every Honey Stinger waffle, every long sleeve running shirt and even spare Pepto Bismal tablets were carefully laid out in labeled Glad trash bags. All I had to do was dump the contents of each bag into their proper “official” Ironman gear bag after packet pick up.  I didn’t have to spend two hours in my room the day before the race obsessing over every detail. That’s mentally draining. My pre-race plan covered everything in advance, and while I still double- (OK, triple) checked each bag, investing 30 minutes was far more relaxing than the alternative. I had extra time to watch the Ironman World Championships broadcast instead, worry-free.

In other words, I was mentally prepared to race well before the starting gun boomed.

A little Black Mamba inspiration for my run special needs bag.

One final note on this topic. I also committed to positive self-messaging pre-race in the form of a framed Kobe Bryant quote in my run special needs bag, as well as individual messages on each of the six water bottles for my bike ride.  I used to think that was too “new agey” for me and unnecessary – even if legends like Chrissie Wellington personally recommended it to me in the first place. I always felt like mental toughness was a strength of mine and I didn’t need those cues, but after Lake Tahoe I realized that any reminder to hang in there, no matter how small, can have a major impact.  Each message I wrote on my bottles honestly helped me stay in the moment. It was like a little gift to myself every hour when I changed water bottles on the aerobars cage mount. And it encouraged me to stay hydrated as an indirect result.  On one bottle, I wrote down the number of hours and miles I had trained for the entire year – a cue to reward myself for being present in the moment.  On another, I wrote a shortened version of the Kobe quote, “Rise above.”  On another, “Last one, best one,” referencing my likely last full Ironman-distance race for some time.

I will not race without going through each of these exercises. They are essential to success for me now.

Writing messages on my bike bottles kept me positively focused.


In the race itself, proper pacing, proper nutrition and proper attitude led to my personal-best performance.  Not once in the swim, bike or run did I try to push beyond my capabilities.  Gerardo and I scheduled a functional threshold power test for the bike a few weeks after my Ironman Lake Tahoe recovery so we could recalibrate my power zones. That confirmed my watts had decreased and enabled us to be more realistic about what I could do on the bike. There are few things more frustrating than pushing diminishing power over time and not knowing why.  By being realistic with my ability level, I was able to relax more.  When I looked at my power data post-race, my Variability Index (VI) – a measure of power consistency throughout a ride – was near perfect (1.03). During my recent run training, we set up a plan to run longer while maintaining my Ironman pace, even trying to amp up the intensity towards the end of each session.  My legs were trained for more pain, and I was able to dial in my nutritional needs for that kind of effort. Plus, strength training with Fitamorphosis really helped.  I doubled my strength training workouts in the weeks leading up to the race. Finally, I knew my swim pacing would be pretty similar to Ironman Lake Tahoe, give or take a few minutes. I didn’t worry about it as much, focusing on refining technique instead of power in the pool.

Nutritionally, I decided to…err…follow my gut instincts.  I heeded all the advice I learned from Sigma Human Performance sports nutritionists Ben Stone and Katie Rhodes, with my own spin.  I relied too heavily on honey water alone during Ironman Lake Tahoe and learned the hard way it wasn’t nearly enough to sustain me for 140.6 miles.  At Ironman Arizona, I ate a bigger breakfast than previous races (loaded-up oatmeal, banana and white bagel with peanut butter).  That helped a lot to sustain me through the first few hours of the race. I was never hungry on the bike, though I took in either full packets of Clif Shot Blocks or Honey Stinger waffles every hour along with a full bottle of Fluid Sports Performance mixed with a 10-second squirt of honey.  I probably came up a few hundred calories short of the sweet spot (replace half of what you burn) but I felt fine. On the run, I was able to maintain an 8:15/mi approximate pace for the first 13 miles but shortly thereafter started to fade.  This is the one spot I could have made wiser choices.  I was so pleased with my pace, heart rate and gut that I didn’t want to start taking cola too early. I relied on Ironman Perform (even though I don’t train with it), water, grapes and bananas for sustenance.  Just before the two-hour mark, my pace dropped dramatically. I thought there was something wrong with my watch at first, as in perhaps it was somehow registering me every several seconds instead of being a constant speedometer.  I still felt great, so I was confused.  No such luck.  My heart rate began to drop a bit, and I remembered my demise in Lake Tahoe. I would NOT let that happen again, so I began consuming soda earlier than planned and grabbed a coconut water from my special needs bag to immediately boost my electrolyte count.  That helped, and at least my pace steadied even though it wasn’t as fast as the first half marathon.  Overall, I never felt hungry, or thirsty, and it wasn’t until mile 23 on the run that my hamstrings started to cramp up.  My secret weapon for the latter was salt tablets that I consumed starting at the two-hour mark on the bike, one pill per hour for most of the remaining race.

Believe it or not, the other reason my hamstrings stopped cramping was because I simply told them to stop. I’m serious. I literally said out loud, “No! No! No!” when they began to lock up again at mile 24. I willed them to stop, I’m convinced. And that is a snapshot of my attitude for the entire day.  I went in knowing this was probably my last full-distance Ironman for a while, and it would be a tragedy not to enjoy this one as much as possible. I soaked EVERYTHING in, from the moment I arrived on Thursday even through yesterday when my Ironman finisher’s pictures arrived in my inbox.  If you appreciate everything that’s happening around you, it’s hard not to smile. When you’re smiling, you’re relaxing. When you’re relaxing, you’re having fun. When you’re having fun, you’re in the moment. When you’re in the moment, it’s much easier to perform your best.  During the race, I was often smiling, giggling at times even on the bike when the expected head-crosswinds on the Beeline Highway never materialized. I high-fived strangers, and said thank you to everyone who shouted my name for encouragement.  I looked like Gerardo on his marathon at Ironman Lake Tahoe, which is funny because that’s the lesson I learned from watching him that day.  The final piece to the attitude puzzle was remaining in control of my emotions. Even when I was smiling and laughing, I always knew I had a job to do.  My water bottles on the bike kept me focused, and on the run, instead of counting down from mile 26 to zero, I simply broke up the race into 10k segments, half-marathons, and finally, 5k left to finish.  I constantly told myself, “You haven’t done anything yet,” when I’d start to get giddy about my performance.

I didn’t emotionally relent even at mile 25, when I passed the Christmas-themed aid station and “We are Young” was playing by F.U.N.  I heard the chorus, “Carry me home tonight!” and started to repeat that mantra out loud a few times to keep the pace going. “Carry me home, carry me home, carry me home.”  A few speedsters passed me in the last half mile but that was OK. I only accelerated when I found a fellow age-grouper and wanted to beat him into the chute.  The finish seemed to take forever. I could see the US Airways building at Rio Salado Drive in the distance and it just never felt like it was approaching.

Finally, it came into view. I rounded the corner towards the finisher’s chute. For the first time all day, I finally let go and allowed myself to revel in the moment of celebrating what I had done. Now, I let the emotions take over. Fist pumps, smiles, and some high fives as the chute started. I hadn’t looked at my overall finish time watch setting for several miles and it was only then, just before seeing the Timex clock in the distance, that I realized what I was about to do – break 10:25!  A course PR by two hours and 15 minutes, and an overall Ironman PR by just more than two hours. AND, my first sub-four hour marathon, a personal goal of mine for some time.

I saw Steph at the very end of the chute and we both shrieked as I headed home. Gerardo looked at me right there too, with a, “I can’t believe what you just did!” look. Me neither, coach!

So that’s how my (near) perfect race unfolded.  There isn’t much I’d change at all.  I can rest easy now, finally. I know what I’m capable of on a perfect day. I don’t have to explain or defend my race times anymore when other triathletes ask me…I can now say, yeah, I broke 12 hours. Oh, and 11 too!  Oh, and I flirted with breaking 10 hours for a while!  Could I have gone harder? Yes.  Could I have finished faster? Maybe. Would I have risked a blow up and a harsh end to the day? Perhaps.  But I’m content.

My friends ask me about if Kona is possible now, the World Championships.  Honestly, I just don’t know.  It certainly is more possible than I thought last week!  However, even on my best day, I’m still more than an hour away from qualifying. But before that, I was three hours.  It’s within sight now…and I know what I need to do if I want to get there. The possibility doesn’t seem so remote now and it’s really a matter of… is it worth it? Is it worth the struggle to get there?  Right now, no.  It’s time to rest, revel and hang with my best cheerleader, friend, wife, my everything.

So long, 2013 race season. What a journey!  What an ending!

Dear Ryan

Ryan | October 2nd, 2013 Leave a Comment

I promised my friend Ryan (not me, I promise) I’d send him an email about how I might prepare for Ironman Lake Tahoe based on completing the event.  For Ryan and the rest of you considering IMLT ‘14, here’s my advice.

Yup, I even ran with the mylar blanket the last few miles.


I think physically I was well-prepared to handle the rigors of the course.  Fortius Coaching played a big role in that.  Considering I was a live hood ornament last December and couldn’t run until May, there’s only so much leg strength and run endurance I could re-acquire prior to the September race start.  On the bike, I would focus on riding a Santa Monica Mountains course loop that included lots of Fernwood, Stunt, Piuma, Decker and Latigo Canyon climbs in some combination. The best combination is going to need to give you roughly 10-15 miles of climbing with a technical descent or two in the middle. (I have a specific training route devised using Strava that I can share with people who are interested.) My best advice though is to visit Lake Tahoe and preview the course itself.  I’d do it as soon as possible to experience the seasonal temperatures, which I was able to do last year. Another option would be to race the June Lake Triathlon next summer and spend a few extra days in Lake Tahoe afterwards.  Good elevation training combined with seeing what it’s like to race at altitude.

Of all the three disciplines this season, I focused on swimming the most. It paid off with a three-minute PR at Lake Tahoe and that was despite a lack of open-water swimming workouts this season (outside of racing). Because of how calm and quiet the lake typically is, I’d spend a lot of time in the pool and practice proper drafting technique. It will pay off on race day.

If you’re not already, I’d also incorporate strength training and possibly yoga if you have time into your existing training schedule.  I watched in awe as my coach ran right by me during the IMLT marathon this year. He attributed his strong performance to strength training with Corey Enman at Fitamorphosis.  I’m currently amending my training schedule to increase strength training to twice a week for the remainder of my preparation for Ironman Arizona next month.  With all the climbing both on the bike and the run, not to mention the altitude, the stronger you are the better.

Finally, if you’re prone to getting cold like I am, you may want to race with a couple extra pounds on your frame. All the weight I lost for my 70.3 events this year didn’t help me in near-freezing temperatures.  In hindsight, I would have heeded my coach Gerardo’s advice and put on five pounds with about six weeks prior to IMLT.  But, in the moment I didn’t want to pack on the pounds as it would affect my performance at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

Plus, I like how I look in my tri kit now. What a vain bastard.

Race Day

Oh, where to begin.  How about starting the weekend before I left for Lake Tahoe?  I knew it was going to be cold, but didn’t fathom it would be so bad that I’d need cycling pants.  I certainly didn’t want to wear a bulky winter jacket that would flap in the wind. I was too obsessed with a quick T1.  Penny wise and pound foolish. I should have packed for the coldest conditions possible just in case.  I will do that for Ironman Arizona, especially since it rained and hailed the first time I raced that course.  Better to have it and not use it, right?

Next, race morning.  Bring shoes or slippers you don’t mind losing but can keep your feet warm prior to getting in the water.  Buy a cheap fleece blanket at a CVS too. I had two pair of socks on, a thermal top and a fleece blanket. But all are gone now since I had to ditch them.  I wore my neoprene swim cap not to keep me warm in the water, but to cover my ears in the chill.  Definitely worth purchasing.  Some people wore booties in the water but I’ve heard it can slow you down as water seeps in to them.  I didn’t need the booties while swimming, but it might have helped keep my feet warmer coming out of the water. Tough call there.

In T1, find a chair. That is, if the tent is packed.  Either way, I’d sit down even on the ground. As your muscles are cold, it might be wiser not to fight your body while holding an awkward standing pose as you layer up.  Further, you want to be near your gear bag in that frenzied chaos. There were so many people at my feet and around my shoulders that all the same black cycling apparel blended in into one giant clothes ball.  Consider being a fashion dork and using brighter cycling clothes in case your things get displaced. A friend of mine had a bright neon yellow cycling jacket…no way he was going to lose that in the scrum.

Back to the bike course.  Everyone is going to talk about Martis Camp and Brockway Summit. Both are tough and feature tricky descents, especially if it’s windy.  But you have to climb Dollar Hill three times if the course remains unchanged next year.  The climb is nearly a mile, I believe. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy either.  Don’t overlook it as if it were a dirty penny on the ground.  Leave some energy after descending Brockway the second time for one more big hill climb after that.

On to the run.  I’m convinced the course was changed after the initial map was sent out to everyone last year (even after the two-loop vs one-loop debate materialized).  There’s more climbing than advertised, especially a nasty twisty section behind a golf resort that parallels the bike path coming out of the Olympic Village.  When you do your brick workouts, I’d make sure you’re incorporating some tough hill climbs into them.  Griffith Park trail runs will help.  Bottom line: This isn’t the flat-ish course people anticipated.  One more thing, in T2, I’d strongly consider a full wardrobe change to remain dry and warm. My tri kit top and vest were slightly damp with sweat coming off the bike, so as the afternoon turned into dusk, I was back to shivering again. Thank goodness I packed a Nike Combat fleece top and running tights in my special needs bag.  Speaking of special needs, this year race officials wouldn’t return items left behind on the course. Fair enough.  But I’d still make sure that doesn’t totally affect what you decide to pack in each bag. Better to be warm on a cold day — it’s hard to be fast when you are shivering. Oh, and if you see a mylar blanket dangling from a volunteer’s hand near sunset, grab it. It gets cold fast and those blankets really do work to keep you insulated. Even if you look less sexy.

I swear I saw this guy at the top of Brockway Summit.

That’s the best advice I can think of sharing with someone considering Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2014.  I don’t think I’ll be back, mostly because I think I’m at an inherent disadvantage due to the altitude (drastically affects power to weight ratio on climbs) and because I’ve proven to myself I can handle that course in the roughest conditions.  I wish you well, and leave you with one more nugget.  Make sure you are 100% focused on completing this event NO MATTER WHAT.  If there’s a remote shred of doubt or apathy in your brain on race day, the course will grow tentacles and reach into your soul to expose them — ripping out your still-beating heart as if it were a bizarre sacrificial ritual from an Indiana Jones movie.  Ironman Lake Tahoe will require your full (training) attention and full (training) commitment for the next year.  If that sounds too daunting…don’t sign up.

Ironman Lake Tahoe Race Report: Eye of the Survivor

Ryan | September 25th, 2013 Leave a Comment

I. Cannot. Believe. I. Finished.


That is what I feel three days removed from the physically hardest and most mentally draining sporting event I’ve ever completed.  Of course, I’m talking about Ironman Lake Tahoe.  And yes, I finished Ironman St. George in 2012, when I felt like the Wilson volleyball from Castaway during the tempestuous swim and bike portions.  There is no debate for me — Tahoe was tougher.  I never wanted to quit in Utah.  I’d sign up for St. George in a heart beat if the World Triathlon Corporation re-instated the full-distance triathlon.

Maybe it’s too soon, but I cannot say the same for IMLT.  WTC, WTF.

This is my race-day story.  It is not as dramatic as other folks — I didn’t crash, I didn’t break any bones, I didn’t suffer from hypothermia (came close though), and I didn’t cry (I wanted to though). I simply came as close to mentally breaking down as I’d ever like to approach again, and I’m disappointed that the notion of quit exists in a dark room deep within my psyche.  Had it not been for two very supportive fellow triathletes, a frank answer from a run aid station volunteer, and a jog with my mom, I’d have been yet another DNF casualty.

I arrived in Squaw Village with my coach and teammates almost a week before the event, mostly confident in my fitness and form.  Fresh off a decent Ironman 70.3 World Championships performance, despite the toilet lake water, unexpected steady rain and rising humidity that came with it, I was (mostly) ready to race again. The “mostly” part, like Billy Crystal’s famous caveat in The Princess Bride, is a key qualifier. In hindsight, maybe I wasn’t “all the way” ready to race.   In the days that followed the World Championships, I experienced a profound sense of relief from checking that bucket-list item off my triathlon racing list.  As a result, I don’t think my usual chip-on-shoulder, underdog sense of fight was keenly sharpened. My workouts weren’t snappy, my bike power dwindled and my swim times stagnated.  Though I was frustrated, I was also satisfied, and that’s a dangerous word.  I was mildly excited about Ironman Lake Tahoe, much like how I felt about the new season of Boardwalk Empire.  You know, it’s cool and all, but they could have ended it in season two and I’d be fine.  In other words, even in the days leading up to IMLT, I never felt like “OMG!!!! Homeland season three is five days away!!!!  Clear my DVR NOW!” Considering where I had come from since last December, my year was already a wild success.

What a terrible mindset going into what would become the hardest Ironman on record.

To complete an Ironman of any kind, you need a never-say-die attitude above everything else.  Even above being in great shape or having a sound nutritional strategy.  That mindset saved me in my first Ironman when I faced searing IT band issues and dry-heaving.  It saved me in my second Ironman, when I lost my Garmin 310XT coming out of the water and finished the race on feel alone.  It saved me on my third Ironman, when I got tossed about St. George’s reservoir and almost thrown into the rock island there,  not to mention blown across the side of the road on my bike.  My fourth Ironman?  That never-say-die attitude apparently lingered on vacation in Sin City, staggered from a weekend bender.  Yet somehow, Mr. Attitude checked-back into the Olympic Village around 5:30 p.m. at mile 15 of my run. Better late than never.

I also let the uncertain nature of our race-day status get into my head. Due to Saturday’s snow flurries, wet roads and plunging temperatures, I honestly expected the WTC to shorten the course or even convert the race into a duathlon.  When I arrived to T1 around 5 a.m., I was actually shocked to learn we were going the full distance.  I wasn’t excited.  I was numb. Physically, and perhaps mentally.  I blankly scraped ice off my bike stem, pumped up my tires, and scurried into King’s Beach Events Center to warm up.  ”OK, I guess I’m doing an Ironman today,” I remember thinking. Wow. Had it come to that?

I pumped myself up walking towards the water by dancing in a circle near the swim start.  Then, I removed a thermal top, socks, foot warmers and my Chuck Taylor Cons and prepared to swim.  Thanks to a snappy self-seeding start, I was in the water within minutes.  Worth noting though is that for the first time, I couldn’t picture my grandparents smiling at me on the horizon during our national anthem. In fact, I didn’t even close my eyes.  That is not like me…it’s usually my moment to really lock in, embrace what I’m about to do, revel in my grandparents’ warmth and spirit.  No such luck.  The anthem ended, and less than five minutes later, I was off.

The sky was more ominous, but this pic my dad took is just too cool.

The swim was gorgeous — everything I expected and more.  As many have described, Hollywood couldn’t have even made for a more beautiful start.  Steam rising off the lake.  Steel gray skies with hints of peach peeking over the top.  Stand-up paddleboarders’ silhouettes in the distance — our only chance at spotting where the buoys might be.  I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I managed to hug the buoys spot-on for the first loop without barely being able to see them.  I was able to draft effectively without getting too beat up (minus a punch to the jaw and an inadvertent kick to the groin).  My 4,000-yard swim workouts — that’s 4,000 yards in a pool without stopping — made the 2.6 miles I actually swam in Lake Tahoe feel like a relative breeze. Not once did I have that sense of “When will this be OVER!?” that would haunt me on the bike and run. Maybe because I knew the low 60-degree water temperature would be the warmest part of the day.

I emerged from the water in 1:09, a three-minute Ironman PR.  Right on schedule.  The last time that phrase would be used for the day.

Ahhh, the changing room. Imagine a crowded YMCA locker room on the first day of summer swim camp. Now replace the kids with frigid, frantic, competitive adults, yet shrink the locker room in half. Absolute carnage.  Someone kicked over my gear bag, and suddenly I couldn’t find my leg warmers or gloves. There were literally people at my feet putting on their clothes and I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with several other half-naked wackos.  That was at least five minutes after I first opened my bag, which I couldn’t do immediately because I couldn’t feel my fingers.  Seventeen minutes later, I stumbled out of the transition tent, ripped my dad’s gloves off his hands when I saw him (sorry Dad!), and pushed onward.

Once on the bike, it took me about two hours before I felt my feet.  My teeth chattered uncontrollably.  The only thing I kept thinking was, “It’s got to get better. It’s going to get better. Hang in there.  Keep pedaling.”

Then came Martis Camp. Saturday’s snowfall prevented us from seeing the hardest parts of this private, posh hideaway. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing, because there were a few Alp d’Huez-like switchbacks that surely would have thrown me for a loop the night before the big race. Sometimes, the evil you don’t know is indeed better.  I managed to climb through Martis and Brockway, half encouraged by the Tour de France-like crowds and yet discouraged that my sub-11 hour finish dreams had evaporated like the wetness from the road. Still, what can you do but just keep pedaling — unless you have to swerve to avoid a rider sprawled on a descent who was being attended to.  That’s when you remind yourself it can always be worse.

My coach caught me on the second loop of the course, in Martis Camp.  My sense of fight and positive spirit had already vanished. I felt bad for being so negative around him, but that’s just how I felt at that point. I had beaten Gerardo at the past few races and knowing he was going to torch me in Lake Tahoe deflated my sense of fight even more.  I figured he’d pass me during the marathon, but on the bike?  (Coach, I’m truly happy for you! You deserved that great race!!!) I rode on, passing him by again. At this point, my nutrition strategy was in tatters. The honey-water approach was barely holding together.  I included bananas and Honey Waffle Stingers into my eating routine and did my best to hold my stomach together. A Pepto Bismal tablet helped too.  My friend Zach saw me around mile 100 and shouted encouragement my way. He later told me I made him laugh out loud when I shouted back, “This is fucking brutal! I’m over this shit!”

Mercifully, I gave my bike to a volunteer in just about six hours and 40 minutes.  By far the longest ride of the year for me.  Physically, I made it OK. No real cramps, though I had to dismount briefly around mile 105 to massage my left adductor muscle. Mentally, despite my struggles, I was ready to run.  Six minutes and one relieving pee later, I was trotting down Squaw Valley Road.

Taken about two miles before my epic mental meltdown.

Everything fell apart starting around mile 6.  Two miles prior, my coach passed me again — this time for good. He ran by me as if he was starting a morning jog on a fresh pair of legs. How did he do that? Why did it look so easy for him?  What’s wrong with me?  Why won’t my legs pick up more?  Fuck, it’s really cold.  I’m sweaty. I’m wet.  I’m tired.

I’m done.

This is not fun.

I don’t want to be here.

Hey, I just did Vegas. It’s OK if I want to stop. I have nothing left to prove.

That’s how quick it happens when your brain and willpower implodes.

Why not just DNF? Who cares? You’ve already done three Ironmans!  Hell, you conquered St. George! This isn’t what you signed up for. This isn’t the same course I previewed a year ago. It’s not the same course I wrote about for and Who would blame me? I can even say I’m saving myself for Ironman Arizona in November.

Whatever the brain does, the body will follow. Assuming there’s enough fuel in the tank to aid. That’s my mantra for when a race is going well. Funny how the same thing happens when the race isn’t going well.  My brain was tired, my body listened, I didn’t have enough fuel. I started walking more.  The shade got colder. My heart rate dropped into the 110s. Is this healthy?  Probably not.  Around mile 15, at the special needs station, I asked the volunteer captain what the DNF protocol is.  Could I get a shuttle back to the med tent? I don’t want to do this anymore.  That never-say-die attitude? It was dead.  The volunteer kindly said he’d check and came back to tell me the tent was overflowed with people.  If I wanted to DNF, it would be faster to walk back to Squaw Valley Resort.


Might as well keep going, right? I donned a pair of running tights and added a Nike Combat fleece under armor shirt over my tri kit top, arm warmers, and Assos cycling vest.  It was going to be a long night, I figured.

Then, I met Joe and James, and my race changed.  Both Joe and James were walking in front of me.  One of them had a 70.3 World Championships tri kit.  We got to chatting about that race and where he qualified (Boulder, like me) and I told them I was about to quit. “NOOO NOOO NOOO!” they shouted in unison. They said their day was hosed too, but were going to walk-jog together.  They literally made me join them.  I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t have finished the race in the time I did were it not for their encouragement and good cheer.  We shared some laughs, ran-walked for about four miles, and I graciously accepted their unused coconut water filled with yummy electrolytes.

My doldrums finally cleared at mile 18, when I saw my family as I started the second loop of the run.  The highlight of my race was my mother, all 65 years of her, running alongside me for about 150 yards. Beaming.  Shouting encouragement. All while clutching her purse with both arms.  I have many memories of my mother.  This one is now at the top of the list — and to think it wouldn’t have happened if I had quit three miles back.  NEVER. EVER. GIVE. UP.

Why, hello, Mr. Attitude!  Nice of you to meet up again!  How was Vegas?

Of course, seeing my wife a few times on the run always amps me up. Her hugs especially.  But my dad gave me the kick in the teeth I needed to push me over the top.  When I was a kid playing club soccer, He’d bend both his elbows chest-high, make fists in each hand, and give me the most Clint Eastwood of stares as he shook his arms. It was his “HTFU” face before I ever knew what that meant.  His message for me as I passed the finisher’s chute?  ”Dig Deep!”

Yes. Sir!

And now, it was on. I ticked off the miles, one at a time. I ran a full mile, I walked for three minutes.  I ran half a mile, I walked for 30 seconds. Whatever it took to get up those hills. But the shivering started to kick in right at sunset.  I grabbed a mylar blanket and draped it over my shoulders.  That calmed me back down. Mile 23, the long hike up the final big hill.  Mile 24, the long windy bike path jaunt in the dark. Head lamps dotting the landscape like a Pac-Man level.  Mile 25. Seriously, where the hell are you, Mile 25?! I know you’re here somewhere!!!! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU!!!!!

Oh, there you are, next to the luau-themed aid station!  The lights.  Mike Reilly’s voice in the distance.  The village.  The chair lifts.  The brick walkway into the village. The chute starts.  The near-tears…I DID it. I didn’t quit. How did I just do that? HOW?!

I rounded the corner. The lights!  So bright!  Blinding! Thumping music. What was playing? I have no idea! I didn’t care!  I found my family in the stands.  My wife is impossible to miss — the world’s best cheerleader.  All I could do was shake my head, put my hands in the air and gesture, “I have no idea how I just finished this.”

The high-fives with the crowd came next, the finish gate grew closer.  And for the first time all day, I allowed myself to look at the actual time. 13:04.  ”Wow,” I thought. “Only a few minutes slower than St. George.”  All that whining and bitching, and I did almost as well on a tougher course in frigid conditions.  I held four fingers triumphantly in the air to signify my four completed Ironmans, and crossed the finish line in a total time of 13:02.

I’m an Ironman. Again. And it almost didn’t happen.

What will I make of this Ironman experience years from now?  I was reminded that mindset is everything.  If you don’t want something bad enough, either someone will take it from you or you’ll squander it yourself.  I learned once again that just because a certain strategy works for a shorter distance doesn’t mean it will work for a longer distance.  I was also reminded that staying focused on yourself in a race  is critical.  The moment you get wrapped up in what other people are doing, you are losing sight of things you can control — mainly your attitude.  As Coach Jesse Kropelnicki likes to point out, racing is about setting goals, targets and outcomes, in order of what you can control the most.

People often ask me what I find appealing about Ironman.  It’s simple, really.  When you are taken to the dark places in your soul– where your body and mind want to break down and run away — that’s where you confront who you really are.  How will you respond?

Ironman Lake Tahoe reminded me that I’m above all else, a survivor. If not a lucky one.  And when things get really bad, maybe there are a few people up ahead who might be able to lend you a hand.  Even if you can’t see them yet, just keep going.  You never know what’s around the corner.

That’s a healthy nugget to tuck in your back pocket the rest of your life.

Proud to be included in this esteemed group of IMLT finishers, my teammates and coach.

I’ve Been Ready For This My Whole Life

Ryan | August 28th, 2013 Leave a Comment

I read an article yesterday from a pro triathlete whom I admire, Jesse Thomas. He’s super freaky fast (a former Stanford steeplechase racer) and he’s an entrepreneur. Not easy to juggle both, along with being a new father.  The gist of the story was about how he uses mantras to help him perform better.

I’m no stranger to mantras.  I used one to get through the marathon at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, in fact.  But what would my mantra be for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas next weekend?  I’ve been thinking about this while training the past few days, now that my attention is solely focused on this monumental triathlon.  The theme I can’t get out of my head is the usual one — overcoming the odds to hang alongside the elite.  And there’s no better movie for me to visually express my feelings than Rudy.  Specifically, this scene:

Man, I still get goosebumps every time I see that.  I know the look in Sean Aston’s eyes.  I know that emotion.  I know that hunger. I literally know what it feels like to be shorter than everyone else in a locker room.  That character is me, and that moment when I get ready to race next week, well that will be my moment to run out onto the Notre Dame field. There may only be hundreds on hand watching this contest, but in my mind I’ll see a stadium full of people who are just as surprised as I am that I’m marching out onto that proverbial 50-yard line.

So, my mantra is going to be simple. No matter how hot it gets.  No matter how much it hurts.  No matter what happens.

“I’ve been ready for this my whole life.”

True Brotherhood

Ryan | August 26th, 2013 Leave a Comment

When I was in a college fraternity, “brotherhood” largely meant drinking and doing stupid things together, and having your buddy’s back in a barfight.

Nearly 20 years later, on a picturesque Santa Barbara morning, “brotherood” took on new meaning. Certainly something more special, and far more real than the concept we thought we understood it to be during chapter meetings.

My friends and fraternity brothers Theoden and Doug joined me for the Santa Barbara long course triathlon, held this past weekend. I ran into Doug volunteering at Ironman Arizona last year, but I hadn’t seen Theoden and Doug together since Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Atlanta Olympics were popular topics.  Nothing had changed between us, while everything had changed around us.  We’re family guys, or at least married.  Beer drinking has largely been replaced with carb loading, and the near-40-year-old versions of ourselves could kick the crap out of our 20-something versions.  We had a good laugh about that over a couple beers the night before the race.

On to the race itself. For starters, I forgot how HARD the Santa Barbara Triathlon long course actually is.  Most of my focus is squarely on the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and I hadn’t paid much attention to Santa Barbara.  I’ve done the course many times, had a great race there last year, felt terrific going into the race despite a high fatigue level, and figured I’d just cruise through.  As I drove Doug and Theoden through the bike course amidst Friday afternoon traffic, I realized I had better slam back to reality fast.  This would be a precursor of things to come the next morning.

Instead of my normal long-winded race recap, I’ll cut to the reason I’m really writing.  After what I thought was a good swim and what turned out to be a sub-par bike performance, I knew I needed to really haul ass on the run to hit my 3:19:00 goal time.  As the clock ticked 2:17:05 on my watch, I knew that dream was impossible for a 10-mile run.  Worse yet, I was on pace to finish three minutes slower than I had in 2012.  What the heck happened?  I felt fine in the swim but my legs were rubbery on the bike…I just never felt like I got in a good rhythm.

I was so wrapped up in my own ball of worry that I barely noticed up ahead someone in a red tri kit that looked very similar to my friend Theoden.  I didn’t expect him to be waiting for me…I mean, I knew he was fast but why would he just be sitting around wasting time?

It turned out that the bike he borrowed (Theoden is from North Carolina) had mechanical problems and he abandoned the race about five miles into the ride.  I can’t imagine the frustration after waiting so much time to race with his buddies from across the country. But instead of mope about it, he showed what true brotherhood is about.

Theoden greeted me with a smile and started jogging alongside me, explaining what had happened.  Undaunted, he was going to run half the course with me, and half with Doug.  I wonder if I would have done the same thing.

We both fed off each other.  At first Theoden pushed me to go faster, even faster than I thought possible.  Then, I found the legs that had alluded me on the bike and picked up the pace.  Theoden stopped near the halfway point on the run to recharge his batteries knowing he’d be running with Doug on the way back. I was on my own, but confident.  The honey water solution I’ve been experimenting with kept me plenty nourished.  One year ago, I ran hard but labored to a 1:12 10-mile performance. On Saturday, I was three minutes faster and the truth is, I could have maintained that pace for a half-marathon.

I’m grateful to Theoden for his positive attitude and his selfless dedication to Doug’s and my race.  While I remember every detail of every race I run, I’ll remember the funny conversations and tri-talk with Doug and Theoden even more.

For me, the concept of brotherhood has come full circle. It took a triathlon 20 years after my initiation to remind me.

One Moment in Time

Ryan | August 7th, 2013 2 Comments

I have a Whitney Houston song stuck in my head.


When my sister celebrated her bat mitzvah, “One Moment in Time” was the song she chose as the theme music for her childhood photo montage during the reception.  I never told her, or anyone, but that song — that moment — struck a chord with me…no pun intended. Maybe it was the cute photos on the screen as the music played. Or the words themselves.  But I’ve never forgotten how I felt when I watched my sister’s video more than 20 years ago. It made Dana seem larger than life. And the power of the lyrics and Houston’s voice made me feel invincible even though it wasn’t even my special day.

I want one moment in time

When I’m more than I thought I could be…

Yeah, I can relate.  In fact, that thought has propelled my triathlon training for five seasons now.

This past Sunday, in Colorado at Ironman 70.3 Boulder, I finally had my moment.  At least from an athletics perspective.

This isn’t going to be my typical race report, as I’ll be incorporating the step-by-step details into my next nutrition column for Lava Magazine online.  Instead, I just wanted to express how reaching one of my two biggest goals in the sport — qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships — has immediately changed me as a triathlete.

Time to get real — maybe a little cheesy, so be forewarned.  At the heart of my obsession with triathlon is a not-so-subtle romance with fantasy fulfillment. Namely the fantasy of being an elite athlete.  Growing up a huge sports fanatic and sportswriter, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be on the other side of the pen or the TV.  What would it feel like to have a team of supporters ranging from massage therapists, nutritionists, strength coaches, training coaches, teammates, etc.  (I’ll pass on the groupies though.) At the top of the list, of course, is fantasizing about winning something epic. What does it feel like to hold a Super Bowl trophy? The Stanley Cup? The maillot jaune of the Tour de France.  I’ll never reach that level and most people on the planet won’t either.

But for one moment in time this past Sunday, I punched my ticket to the triathlon equivalent of the NCAA basketball tournament.  (Kona is the Super Bowl and the next goal on the list!) Even if I’m the equivalent of tiny Bucknell University and the beneficiary of an at-large tournament birth, I’m still going to the Big Show.  For once, it was me dancing at the proverbial center court, cutting down an invisible net.  I realize I grabbed a roll down slot that rolled down pretty darn far.  But there are no asterisks next to names at the starting line.  The Patriot League conference representative still gets to share the same court as Duke come March.  And ya know what?  I did PR by 25 minutes with a 4:50:55. I got a little game too.

The best part was that I didn’t expect to qualify in Boulder at all. Not on that course, with all those other fast triathletes.  I had already resigned myself to trying next season for my Vegas slot.  In fact, my 2014 race schedule was already set with courses that better suit my racing style (tough weather, lots of hills).  St. George.  Lake Stevens.

Days after my phone and Facebook have stopped blowing up with congratulatory messages, I’m still in shock.  And utter relief.  From a fantasy standpoint, I understand a bit more how guys with a lot more pressure on their shoulders feel — LeBron James comes to mind — after winning their first big title.  I’ve been chasing this big dream of mine and getting pretty worked up over it at times. Am I fast enough? Do I have the body for this sport? Am I just wasting my time — and money?  Will it EVER be my turn?

For one moment in time, the answers are yes, yes, hell no and hell yes!  I didn’t receive a lot of personal sports trophies growing up even though I played on some great teams.  And if I did earn an award, it was usually reserved for the non-athletic kids, stuff like “most improved,” or “most hustle.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with those!   In fact, those kinds of awards pretty much define me as a person. Scrappy.  But let’s face it, we all want to be the ace.  The fastest.  The best.  Or in this instance, the qualifier.

For one moment in time, the fantasy came true.  Now I’m left with the happy task of redefining my goals.  I’m doing so filled with a simple sense of joy for training and racing that I haven’t had in many months.  Perhaps I was competing against myself — doubting, snarling, fighting, cajoling my body to go farther and faster than what I thought possible.  Now I feel free to compete with myself as a true physical partner aligned with my psyche — encouraging, smiling, shouting and simply racing for the love of racing.  I can’t wait to see how that feels again.

And so the training resumes. Yet somehow everything has changed.  There are no more brooding questions. No more self-doubts. No more insecurity.  I feel validated as a triathlete. I belong here.  This is my sport.  This is my lifestyle. And who knows, maybe the best is still yet to come.

Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, my friend and teammate Ian caught me dancing in T1 while I prepped my bike. I was listening to Muse’s “Unsustainable.” From a musical perspective, there are other songs out there that get me more jacked up. But aside from the cinematic score throughout the piece, I  just love hearing that synthesized chime of unsustainable. I feel like that robot is talking to me. Goading me. Pushing me.  Shoving me. “YOU’RE UNSUSTAINABLE.”

Sunday, I shoved back.

HOPE is not unsustainable.

DESIRE is not unsustainable.

HARD WORK is not unsustainable.

Definitely need to thank my coach, Gerardo Barrios, for helping me reach this accomplishment

June Lake Triathlon Race Report

Ryan | July 17th, 2013 Leave a Comment

I had no idea what to expect driving to the Sierra Nevada range for the June Lake triathlon.  Expectations got me in trouble for Ironman 70.3 Boise.  I’ve since learned that when coming back from an injury of any type, expectations are fairly meaningless.  Data can tell you one thing — or maybe what you want it to tell you, but unless you’re racing exactly where you train in the same weather conditions, anything is possible.  Expectations just cloud the truth, which is this: Your body and mind are either ready to race…or they’re not.

I made a decision after Boise to stop worrying about how I’d race and just focus on the training.  Focus on one workout at a time, that is. The upside of that is that every day brings a new chance for growth and improvement.  The downside is that you can forget to see the metaphorical forest while you’re lost amidst the trees. In this case, the very large pine trees near the Nevada border up at 8,000 feet.

As was the case at Boise, expectations and reality didn’t line up. Only this time, the scales tipped in my favor. Here’s my race recap.

Swim, .93 miles

My teammates and I arrived to the transition area about an hour and a half before the event’s start.  For a race of this relatively small size, that is definitely overkill.  There was plenty of time to just sit and wait around before getting in the water with five minutes to spare.  The water temp was likely almost to the degree what we’ll experience at Ironman Lake Tahoe, low 60s.  Gorgeous, crystal clear water that made drafting incredibly easy.  Sighting was only slightly challenging with the sun peeking through our eyes as we head out on the first third of the triangular-shaped course.

For those folks racing at Ironman Lake Tahoe, be prepared to fight your breath for the first 300-500 yards of the swim. I deliberately started off slower than usual and yet it felt like I was pushing much harder.  I found that focusing on my breathing and sighting kept me calm, but I had to actively think about breath control and relaxation to avoid blowing up.  I remember seeing an initial pack of 7-10 green caps take off in front of me and thought, “Great, I’ve lost the race before it starts once again.”  It’s so hard to stay positive in those moments, but all you can do is stroke, breathe, sight and repeat.

That’s just what I did.  The water felt heavy even though there was very little current. Still, I pushed on, relaxed and drafting off someone’s feet.  I never worked too hard to stay in this guy’s jetstream, so if he sped up a bit I’d let him go. If my rhythm got me closer to his feet again, I’d enjoy the benefits.

I exited the water in around 25:30, which was a pleasant surprise. My swim felt much slower yet I was only 1:30 off my all-time PR.  The key lessons for me were not to panic or fret too much, sight repeatedly, and just focus on the work.

Bike, 25 miles

My T1 was just shy of two minutes. Considering I usually have problems getting out of my wetsuit I’ll take it.  That wasn’t a problem this time. My stupid but correctable mistake was going on one side of the rack to kick off my wetsuit and then having to run around to the front of the bike to grab my shoes and helmet. C’mon Schneider! Your’e better than that!

What surprised me the most though was when I came out into T1, all the bikes but one were still sitting on the racks.  Of course there were several racks, but I realized that maybe I didn’t have the crap swim I thought.  And now we were getting to my specialty.

I think the June Lake Triathlon course, which is really one giant loop around June Lake, was basically designed for me.  Fast in many parts with some nice climbs towards the end.  It ranks as one of my favorite rides, and the best part is that the roads are practically deserted so I was able to use the entire road on the curvy descents. I felt like I was a part of my very own Tour de France time trial in the Alps.

Surprisingly, the altitude didn’t affect me too much.  But my coach, Gerardo Barrios, predicted exactly what it would do to my power threshold and he was right.  I typically ride closer to 85-88% of my FTP capacity in races, yet at elevation I could only muster around 75%. That may be because of accumulated training fatigue but elevation definitely had something to do with it. Knowing this would likely happen going in helped me stay calm and focus more on breathing, cadence and staying in control. At Boise, I fought hard to maintain wattage, ignoring the elements and unfortunately, eating and drinking as much as I should have. Not at June Lake, I nailed my nutrition.  Even though the ride was just under an hour and 10 minutes, I took in a full bottle and quarter of Fluid Performance Sports Drink and a full Bonk Breaker, broken off into pieces. So that was roughly half the calories consumed as I exerted, which I believe is the magic ratio you want in a race.

The only frustrating part of my ride was that I didn’t really see any other age groupers in front of me — just slower half-Ironman competitors. Every time I found someone to pass and got close enough, they were wearing the wrong colored bib for it to make a difference. So, I was unsure if I was making any progress climbing up the ranks.

Then, I turned the corner onto the final climb before T2 and someone with a loudspeaker said, “7th Place.”

“Were they talking to me?” I thought.  ”Seventh place in what? Age group?  No wait…overall???”

For once, I put it out of my head. I just got back to riding. It didn’t matter. The toughest and most unpredictable part of my day was coming up…the run.

Run, 6.5 miles

The most stressful part of every triathlon for me comes in the first mile of every run.  What will my legs feel like?  Did I go too hard on the bike? Are my muscles tight?  From the get-go at June Lake, I felt nothing short of strong and fresh.  I waited for my breath to get out of control due to the altitude but even that didn’t happen too much.  True, my tempo pace was achieved using a Zone 4 heart-rate zone.  But I expected it and didn’t fret.  So therefore it felt like I was running at tempo mentally.  That seems to be the key at elevation — understanding that breathing will be a bit tougher and not trying to fight that reality but rather adapting to it.

The June Lake Triathlon course is very hilly — not quite Simi Valley Bandit hilly, but it’s on par with the tougher parts of the Griffith Park trails.  I had two rabbits to chase, my 6th and 5th place rivals, which took my mind off the difficulty of the terrain and re-focused it on simply catching what was in plain sight.  A Top 5 finish was possible — whether that was age group or overall remained to be seen.

I never thought I’d say this, but watching a lot of cycling on TV helped me pass both competitors. First, this race solidified in my mind which kinds of races I excel at — hard and hilly.  Flat and fast simply isn’t what I’m best at — I’ve finally come to terms with that.   So, with this insight in mind, I waited until the hills got steep, and like a polka-dot jersey contender at the Tour de France, I attacked. I snagged 6th place at the crest of the first major hill, roughly one mile in.  No problem there.  However, 5th place surged forward as we bombed down to the trail section of the race.  Instead of going on full chase, I let him go, realizing we were about to climb again.  I made steady progress in reeling 5th place in, but instead of going for the lead early, I decided to put my Tour de France watching to use.  In the bike races, there’s a benefit to letting the leaders dangle ahead even when the catch can be made sooner. It prolongs the inevitable, making them suffer just a bit more, wears out their legs from trying harder to stay ahead, and hopefully demoralizes them from trying such behavior in the future. That’s just what I did on the trail. I made sure 5th place knew I was always within earshot and that I could easily see him.  If he walked, I walked. If he surged, I surged.

As the climbing got more severe, I gradually closed in, until we were 10 yards apart  on a flat section of the course.  We’d continue the surge and slow dance until it seemed like he cracked. His pace slowed as we hit another gradual uphill and I decided that at mile 4 I could hold him off for another 2.5 miles. I felt great, I wasn’t working too hard, and unless 5th place was playing me, I was the stronger man.

This proved to be the case until a steep downhill section.  5th place scurried around me and after some very cordial chatting, continued on his way.  I knew there was a lot more racing to do and didn’t panic. This was key as normally I would have tried to go for the immediate catch. But it was simply too dangerous for me as I’m not a great technical descender, especially on gravel and sand.

The final 1.5 miles of the race were my favorite. I made the last pass of 5th place just as we finished the trail portion of the race and returned to the street. Up ahead were two decent-sized climbs.  I looked back to 5th place, who would now become forever known as 6th place, and took off. I wanted to be emphatic with my ultimate attack so there would be no thought on his part to try and chase. It was important for me to demonstrate that I could hammer this pace and not care enough to even look back. I broke that rule at the top of the second climb before the last descent to the finish.  He was easily a minute back.

I crossed the line in 2:38:30, good for 5th place…OVERALL.  First in my age-group!  Who was second…well, the man known as 6th place. Our battle wasn’t for third or fourth, it was for first and second.  I had FINALLY earned my first age-group win in California and my first overall podium placement.

That was completely unexpected!

Key Learnings

In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, the most important thing I learned was also unexpected: How to act after a win. It’s never really been an issue since it hasn’t really happened!  But I got a great lesson in watching the top two overall champs interact with the rest of us podium placers.  They made sure to shake all our hands in the presentation, and came by to chat more after the race. They were genuinely classy and interested in making new friends.  I’ve seen folks play the “woulda/shoulda/coulda” game despite a great performance and sulk off in the distance.  To see how it should be done was inspiring and something I paid very close attention to.

Because I don’t want this win to be my last.

That means I need to find hard courses. And I need to get back to hard training.