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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.

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.

Training

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.

Bewilderment.

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 Ironman.com and Lava.com. 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.

Fuck.

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.

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.

Ironman Boise Recap Part II: Reality Bites

Ryan | June 20th, 2013 3 Comments

Hanging out w/ my buddy Steve, filled with optimism pre-race.

T1: Upon exiting the water, I ran to the carpeted ramp towards the bikes to have my wetsuit stripped.  And was dragged along the carpet at least five feet by two teenagers who couldn’t get the suit off my feet! I don’t have particularly large feet either.  The spectators roared with laughter and I did too. Hilarity amid total intensity. Perhaps this is the final sign though that I need to trim my wetsuit at the calves to make it easier to remove.

T1 took longer than expected but as a hint of things to come in this post, I should have seen the warning signs.  First off, it’s a “clean” transition area, meaning nothing can be left on the ground as it’s a point-to-point bike course.  That in turn means you need extra time stuffing your wetsuit, goggles, and cap(s) in your emptied bike gear bag.  However, you can gain some time if you are comfortable mounting your bike with the shoes already clipped in. I’d like to learn how to do this more effectively. It’s more difficult now to clip in with my new Fizik cycling shoes as there are two straps instead of one. Total T1 time was 4:14.

Bike

I had some anxiety about my bike ride going into Boise. For starters, I had charged the Cervelo P5 Di2 battery weeks prior but remembered my friend and teammate Dave’s advice about always charging said battery before a race. However, I heard other advice and read online that the batteries are good for several months and not to mess with the back wheel alignment unnecessarily. I chose the latter option and hoped for the best.  Second, I recently bought a new pair of Speedplay X-2 Zero pedals because you can order custom spindle lengths –helpful for people with leg-length discrepancies like me.  The result though is a tighter fit with my new shoes, and it’s harder to clip and out. I literally practiced on my trainer at home for 30 minutes when I first bought them and it was as if I had never clipped into a bike before.  Therefore, I was worried I’d lose precious time trying to clip in while leaving the Lucky Peak Reservoir.

Fortunately, neither problem materialized. My ride turned out as my coach largely predicted — a fast PR (but not quite as fast we both wanted).  I rode 10 minutes faster than my previous fastest half-Ironman, which was at Oceanside last year.  Of course, the race in California had 1,000 less feet climbing and was much colder, not to mention I didn’t race with a power meter there.  So it’s very hard to compare the two.  What I can compare is heart rate.  And it’s clear I worked MUCH harder in Boise than I did in Oceanside. The majority of my ride in Boise was spent in HR zone 3, where as the vast majority of my time in Oceanside was in HR zone 2.  Further, my estimated power at Oceanside was dramatically higher than my actual power in Boise.  I’m not going to read too much into that but I found it interesting.

Overall, I felt good on the bike…until I didn’t at around mile 50.  Maybe it was the heat, or the wind, or my nutrition (I swallowed a bit too much water in the swim, forcing me to eat less on the bike), or the un-rhythmic nature of the course that started to catch up with me.  But it wasn’t until the last 10 miles or so that I started to get passed by the fastest 40-44 age-groupers.  I didn’t feel like I was going any harder than I should have, and my .72 Intensity Factor indicated as much, let alone my overall wattage output (172 watts, compared to a 254 FTP).

My coach and I are learning that perhaps my training data going into the race was a bit misleading. I didn’t use a power meter for many of my initial rides this winter and spring while I was waiting for a new tri bike after the accident. I used my road bike, and although it has a CycleOps PowerCal reader, it fluctuates too much to be very useful.  Without a full slate of data, my TSS chart may have been inflated, giving us a false impression of wishful fitness versus actual fitness.

I struggled a bit in the final couple miles to downtown Boise, mercifully entering T2 in around 2:39. A PR to be sure, and 15th off the bike in my age group after having passed eight people in my division.  I’m proud of that feat, but a triathlon is about three sports, not two. Which brings us to the run.

Run

T2 was a breeze. Rack the bike quick, slam on my running shoes, grab my visor, race bib and go.  In and out in 1:47.  Could have been even quicker had we not been required to keep our equipment inside the red run gear bag.

I started off running at a sub-8 minute pace and felt great. That was for the first 3/4 mile. Then, the twitching in my adductors began. “NO. This is NOT happening to me. Not today.”  More twitching, getting worse. “Breathe through it.”  Twitching becomes pulling.  ”It will loosen up once I cramp.” BOOM.  Both legs lock up simultaneously. I’m waddling like I have no kneecaps.

Any chance I thought I had to miraculously qualify for the 70.3 World Championships vanished at Mile 1.  I walked for a few minutes and tried running again.  BOOM. More cramping.  My body had shut down. My day was over.

Not since my first Ironman had I been confronted with the serious threat of quitting.  And without a doubt, this was the closest I had ever come to doing just that.  I had planned to take off my timing chip at the six-mile turnaround — I had walked three miles at that point and couldn’t fathom walking another 10 in the 85-degree heat.

Then, a fellow competitor from Seattle walked up next to me and asked,”Well, what do you want to do?”

I said I wanted to quit and I was planning to. He was too.

After a few moments of back-and-forth about our failed dreams of glory, Darren asked how I felt about running for four minutes and walking for one.  I figured, why the heck not.  And that’s just what we did through mile 7 — at which point Darren got his mojo back and I had to practically beg him to continue his race. This man was so unselfish about supporting me that he was willing to give up the rest of his race to walk alongside me. I’ll never forget that.

I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I walked the rest of the race, five painful, slow, hot miles punctuated only by the briefest moments of levity.  One came in the form of a beer offered to me at Mile 11 — it was my birthday, after all, how could I say no? I trudged into the finish shoot with the saddest of faces. I didn’t even look at the clock nor did I want to hear my name called as I crossed the finish line in a miserable 6:14 — with a 2:54 half-marathon.  It’s the world’s saddest finisher’s photo — so bad I didn’t even bother to buy it! Yet my wife embraced me as the conquering hero — reminding me that I was finishing a half-Ironman less than six months after getting knocked out of racing for half a season because I got hit by a freakin’ car!  This is what amazing wives do. And oh how I appreciated it.

Conclusions

What will I do different? How will this race affect me?  What did I learn?

  • Recovery from any kind of accident is a PROCESS.  It takes time. Lots of it. More than you expect. More than you like. Deal with it. Work harder.
  • With running, just because you have good training runs doesn’t mean you are ready to race a half-marathon — let alone after less than 10 outdoor running sessions total.
  • I need to more realistically manage my expectations!  It would have been more reasonable to target a swim and a bike PR based on all the work I’ve done in the pool and on the road — and simply been happy with that. Perhaps with the thought of not running at all and just enduring a DNF for long-term success and less mental anguish. Letting myself dream of a Vegas roll down added pressure to myself that probably sapped me mentally. It certainly drained me emotionally in the days following the race. Motivating to return to training wasn’t easy.
  • On the upside, I’ve managed to lose seven pounds of unnecessary weight the past few months from a more disciplined diet (fewer calories pre-workout) without losing watts on the bike. I feel leaner and lighter, which I can take with me into my summer training. Thanks to Corey Enman at Fitamorphosis for teaching me more about how to eat right.

Now 10 days later, I’m training back to my normal capacity. After my first “real” trail runs in six months I’m realizing how foolish I was in expecting big things from my run. My legs are heavy, sore and tight — despite what people say, fitness may transfer to running but you still need run legs to run.

In the end, I’m no longer disappointed in the performance itself. I’m disappointed that I let my fantasies get in the way of reason. My training and racing are right where they should be given the time off I had to overcome. Now comes the toughest part of all — re-calibrating expectations for the rest of the season.

Ironman 70.3 Boise Race Recap: Part I

Ryan | June 17th, 2013 Leave a Comment

My buddy Steve checking out the Boise bike course before the big day.

It’s one thing to write about the Ironman Blues for triathlon websites. It’s another to experience them in gruesome detail. Such were the past few days following what I had perhaps erroneously concluded was a disappointing Ironman 70.3 Boise.

When I define “disappointing,” I mean failing to realize either an objective, an understanding or an achievement where all signs pointed to being able to do so.  In the case of Ironman 70.3 Boise, the latter part of my definition is key, as you’ll see.  As a result of grasping that distinction, I’m no longer as bummed about Boise.

Let’s jump right in.  Part I I’ll focus on pre-race planning and my swim.

Pre-Race

I arrived into Boise after midnight Thursday morning, a full two days before the race.  I wanted to give myself plenty of time to relax, scout the course and just unwind a bit.  My teammate and friend Steve decided to race Boise just a couple weeks ago, so we hung out a lot.  It’s great finding a teammate whom you’re compatible with from a training standpoint, a racing standpoint and most important — someone you plain just admire and get along with.  The littlest things can throw off a racer’s mojo in the days before a race. Hanging out with a cool teammate makes it a lot easier.

We talked a lot about the course, triathlon, work and life.  I don’t recall being quite as relaxed for a race as this one. It was almost like I had forgotten what it was like to have pre-race jitters since the last race I had was in November 2012 (Bonelli Park).

Maybe I was too relaxed. I couldn’t wrap my head around the afternoon start time and the whole idea felt surreal.  Even the day of the race until about 20 minutes before the gun sounded for my age group…I was waaayyyy too calm for comfort.

Steph joined me on Friday afternoon after Steve and I previewed the bike course, acclimated to cold water swimming, and ran for a bit.  One quick pointer: When you’re swimming in a reservoir or dam and you’re not allowed to swim in the actual race site until the race day, find out from the park ranger where the closest simulation to actual water conditions would be.  Steve and I swam in a particularly cold part of the nearby river, and unnecessarily freaked ourselves out about the race-day water temperature.  The river was in the low 50s, while the temperature in the reservoir the next day was a soothing 10 degrees warmer.

For pre-race planning, there are a couple things I’d do different:

1) I’d bring my trusty foam roller. I just can’t use a running stick and get the same results. I didn’t stretch enough pre-race as a result.

2) I’d bring my own snacks in the room. I didn’t eat enough fruits and veggies in the days before the race. Not what I’m used to.

3) I’d bike the run course, no matter what.  The run course appeared flat, and it was.  But it’s better to know what lies ahead on any race course than just guess. It’s simply one less thing to think about in the heat of the race.  You never want to feel like, “Dude, where the hell is that mile 6 turnaround?!”

Swim

Not too much to report here, actually.  The water temperature was a very comfortable 60 degrees and the buoys were always to my right, which is where I breathe. This made sighting particularly easy on the course, though I did practice Coach Gerry Rodrigues’ rule about sighting at least every 10 strokes. The pattern helped me maintain rhythm and a sense of calmness despite the racing chaos.

Heading out to the first buoy felt lightning fast.  No chop, still water and a smooth start.  I started out fast but manageable and found plenty of folks to draft off. I did get popped in the chin a few times as I was hanging on other swimmers’ hips so the end of their stroke was just grazing my face.  At the first turnaround, we all experienced a fair amount of chop and some current.  It was coming from our right so I swallowed a fair amount of water. This would affect my performance later. I’ve since been practicing more left-side breathing so I can more comfortably transition to that approach mid-race.  Fortunately, I was able to stay (mostly) on course throughout the swim and made it back to shore in a water-only time of 34:29.  This was a big PR for me from my last half-Ironman, in Oceanside a year ago. That water was a bit choppier but the conditions felt similar.  So, improving almost two minutes in a year is something I’ll celebrate and try to build off in the future.

Coming Next: Part II w/ Bike and Run

Now That I Have Some Time…

Ryan | December 30th, 2012 Leave a Comment

Perhaps I’ll be writing a bit more.

Besides, you know the old saying, “Those who can’t do, blog.”

It’s Saturday night. Steph and I are home, blissfully crossing off longstanding to-do list items. Primarily the fun kind. Well, at least mine are.  Write more.  Read more — just finished Tyler Hamilton’s Secret War about the rampant corruption in cycling during the height of the Lance Armstrong Years.  Visit more — hung out with my buddy TJ and new neighbor Ruben at my favorite local bar.

I grudgingly admit it, but maybe this bike crash has jarred my priorities back into order. Make no mistake, I will tackle training with a new level of anger and vengeance once I’m cleared to do so. I hate that an opportunity to improve during a vacation period was taken from me.  But, this brief period “off” has made me realize some of the lazy fun I’ve been missing in pursuit of my more ambitious (and riskier) fun.  For example, I slept in until 11 a.m. this morning. 11 A.M. IN THE MORNING!!!  On a Saturday!!!  Usually I’m 2.5 hours deep into a ride by then.  Today, Steph and I lounged around, took in a movie (Life of Pi, excellent!!!), visited with friends for an early dinner, and I hung out afterwards grabbing a beer.  After that I finished the Hamilton book and here we are, nearing midnight, writing while the knee is propped up on the couch.  I have no concerns about getting to bed early because of a training session tomorrow.  I must admit, this feeling is nice. Very nice.

Still, I hunger for the competition.  I hunger to play with and yes, beat or be beaten by my teammates.  I miss trying to get just a bit better each day. Getting out of bed wondering if I can push a bit farther today than I did yesterday. But at least I’ve been reminded that training at all is a gift.  So is life, for that matter. Everyone who hears my story about what happened cannot believe that I essentially walked away from the crash without any broken bones.  I appreciate that more and more, especially now that I have more time to reflect on such things.

Slowing down, just like in training, can sometimes cause the greatest gains.  In this case that doesn’t mean wattage. It means some (probably needed) perspective.

There Are Two Kinds of Cyclists…

Ryan | December 30th, 2012 9 Comments

The center of the imploded windshield is where my helmet must have hit. It's cracked through the left temple.

If you’re an avid triathlete or cyclist, I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase at least once on a group ride: “There are two kinds of cyclists; those who have crashed…and those who haven’t crashed yet.”

I remember the first time I heard that phrase. It was a group ride with the San Fernando Valley Bike Club, a crusty group of veteran cyclists who didn’t have much interest in teaching a new kid like myself how to ride properly. I was mostly ignored…and dropped.

But, they were right about that phrase.  I’ve crashed twice now, the most recent being the result of a motorist either not paying attention to the road or on her cell phone.  We are still trying to sort out the details, but the short version is that my tri bike lost a fight with a Fiat, while I somehow managed to walk away — albeit with a bum knee and tight neck. (I won’t know the extent of damage done to my right knee until mid-next week, when the MRI results come in.)

I’m finding that the hardest part of a bike crash can often be the healing process. I should have known this considering my lengthy mental recovery from my tumble over Santa Susana Pass a couple years ago.  And it’s not even the physical part that sucks the most. It’s knowing that your fitness is leaking from your pores like a slow tire leak — only there’s nothing that can stop it except time itself.

What kind of sport is this where the majority of my cycling friends have been upended by vehicles, or stray pets?  Football players only have to deal with other people.  We have people, terrain, weather, vehicles and animals!!!  Oh my!!

It’s been just longer than a week since my accident.  I’m going stir crazy. I tried to hop back in the pool (moderate success) and on the bike trainer once (moderate failure).  I’m nowhere near ready to run yet — my body has flat-out said “NO!” to that in big capital letters after jogging a few steps.  I can now better imagine what my friend Caleb is going through after shattering a clavicle. He’s out for three months.  I expect I’ll be out six weeks with no activity based on the initial estimate given by the orthopedist at Southern California Orthopedic Institute this past Friday.

For now, I can only take the same advice I gave Caleb just a week ago. RELAX. It’s the off-season. There are no upcoming races. Enjoy sleeping in, staying up late, and drinking a bit more beer. Maybe I’ll go back to being “Two Beer” (my college nickname) instead of “One Beer” (my This is 40 nickname!).  This is the perfect time to get hit by a car, in other words — yep that’s gallows humor.  It’s probably good for me to have some time off to rest up in general. I’ve got 12 races next year and my triathlon season won’t start until May.  Though knowing me, I’ll probably wind up in LaQuinta for the Desert Triathlon in March.

For any of you out there enjoying a nice holiday break and thinking of a bike ride, please be careful.  Now is probably the worst time for motorists to spot us, as they’re minds are racing about New Year’s plans and getting to the mall before everyone else. And if you have any suggestions for how to cure the Winter Blues from sitting at home not being able to work out…I’m all ears.

The First Workout is the Hardest…

Ryan | October 2nd, 2012 3 Comments

A writer who’s afraid to write ain’t worth much.

I’ve written blog posts for three months, except the only problem was that I my brain doesn’t have a “tele-publish” button that sends my thoughts straight to this site.

In some ways, it’s like training.  You stop working out for a couple days, and next thing you know it’s been a weekend.  Then, it’s a week without packing a swim bag, and from there…who knows.  The hardest workout is the first one.

So here I am, back in front of the keyboard at home. Finally.  As I told a friend recently, just because we didn’t talk much doesn’t mean I didn’t have anything to say.

And let me tell you, I have a lot to say.  I just returned from a weekend scouting the Ironman Lake Tahoe course, since I signed up for Ironman No. 4 next September.  It also looks like Ironman No 5 lurks two months after that — a return visit to Tempe Town Lake and a bit of revenge on my mind.

It has been the most productive and successful triathlon season yet.  I’ve learned so much about myself as a racer and as a person.  Things that I hope to pour back into this blog, day by day, a little bit at a time once again. I’m going to try and blog as often as I can in anticipation of IM Lake Tahoe.  The countdown is back.  I figure that there are people whom I can help that are training for their first Ironman, and that gives me great joy.

Training to get faster is no longer enough.  I want more.

I have no right to ask anyone to follow me on Twitter or join me in another journey.  It’s hard to do that knowing I was such a flake this year with the blog.  But, maybe word will spread from the Lava Magazine writing and slowly but surely people will return.

I will do my best not to disappoint.

I don’t know why I stared blankly in the shower, afraid to write, riddled with guilt.

The first blog, or the first workout, is only the hardest because it holds our brains captive.

Typing on the keyboard here…it feels good.

Next up: A season recap and a sprucing up of the blog site. More to come.

Ironman Games: St. George Recap Part 3

Ryan | May 12th, 2012 6 Comments

I'm wearing a soaked rag on my head...and it felt great.

The good news with an Ironman marathon, when the race is going well, is knowing you can walk the damn thing and still finish before midnight.

That’s what I thought as I walked toward the T2 changing tent from the bike dismount after my 112-mile ride.  I couldn’t pick my legs up enough to run, still trying to process the day’s events to that point.  The idea of running 26.2 miles in that moment seemed not just ridiculous, but cruel. It was 82 degrees with no cloud cover, which meant with the asphalt heat rising it would feel closer to 87.

I entered the dark changing area with my running gear bag, which a helpful volunteer held out for me as I rummaged through it to put body glide on my feet to avoid blisters, then socks, then my shoes.  I took two Salt Stick canisters and a full packet of Pepto Bismal.  Just as I reached to put it in my back jersey pocket, I was greeted with a loud wretching noise nearby.  Another Ironman tribute was puking. “It’s been happening all day,” the volunteer said grimly.

I thanked the volunteer for his calm help and stepped outside the tent.  I didn’t realize how shady and cool the changing area was. An oasis. Then the best part of the oasis, a team of volunteers armed with nothing more than sunblock surrounded me, slathering me all at once.  I sighed with delight and relief, not knowing I was sporting a wicked sunburn on my shoulders and lat muscles where my tri suit didn’t cover.  Pouring bottles of water all over me on the bike to stay cool showered away any semblance of sun protection. But in that moment, the topical felt just as soothing as massage oil applied during a spa visit.

Time to test the legs out.  Would I be running or walking today?  Surprisingly, my legs responded well.  Not even a “This again?” squeal from my quads.  All systems go.  My body was getting used to this unique form of torture, even without solid food for nearly three hours.  I saw Steph as I begain the first loop of the three-loop course — the first of 10 times I’d have the privilege — gave her a kiss, and it was on.

I had to employ various tricks during the first 13 miles to keep my body moving at a consistent sub-10-minute mile pace.  The first trick is to break up the 13 miles into two 10k runs.  I run six miles all the time, this would be no different.  My brain knows it can handle this so my body follows.  Then, I reward my body at every aid station by throwing a cup of ice cold water into my face.  I’m getting very tired with each passing mile, so the water wakes me up and literally forces the breath out of me with the shocking chill.  I also stuff soaked sponges down my jersey, front and back. After that, my ritual includes pouring ice into the jersey opening down my chest.  My heart-rate strap acts as a sort of dam, so the ice centers and stops right over my heart and lungs.  As a result, my heart-rate hardly ever rises above zone 2 (roughly 146 beats per minute) through the entire run.

That keeps me cool, but what would keep me nourished?  Fool your mind, the body will follow.  But without fuel, both body and mind are toast.  Fortunately, I remembered the advice my Fortius teammate and friend Christina posted on my Facebook the night before the race. I’m convinced this single piece of advice saved my run, and enabled me to PR the marathon.

Christina told me that if I couldn’t eat anything during the marathon, try grapes.  ”Lifesavers,” she wrote.

They were. I ate at least five full bunches of grapes during my nearly 4.5 hour trek.  The grapes gave me enough sugar to persist, and I found entertainment rolling them around in my fingers, squishing them apart in my mouth.  Lifesavers they were.

There were other lifesavers on the course though.  First and foremost was my new friend Colleen, whom I shall refer to as the Mayor of St. George because of the constant cheering for her I heard on every street of the course.  Colleen lives in St. George, and was kind enough to reply to my St. George preview post from six weeks ago — warning me that the first 20 miles of the bike course were not to be taken for granted.

Oh, how right she turned out to be. If it wasn’t for her, I’m convinced I might not have been as mentally prepared.

Colleen and I seemed to be running the same marathon for the most part.  For most of the afternoon, we leap-frogged each other, always encouraging the other to keep running, keep pushing, keep pacing.  Unfortunately, Colleen was having some digestive issues that caused her to run at what probably was a slower pace for her — and I think it was hurting her outlook.  But since she is the Mayor of St. George, she had plenty of support to keep her on track.  One nice guy literally ran alongside the two of us for around a half-mile, giving her a pep talk during the second loop that probably helped me just as much.

When you’re sucking wind, you’ll take anybody’s encouraging words even if they’re not meant for you.

At the half-marathon point, I looked to the tall tower in the town square where the finisher’s chute was stationed.  If I could maintain my current pace, I’d definitely break 13 hours — which was my secondary personal goal.  My first goal was a 12:30:00 finish, weather permitting.  Well, the weather certainly did not permit.  The next-best thing was to break 13 hours.

It would be hard, but doable.

(The video below is the official Ironman St. George 2012 highlights video. It summarizes the entire day in case you’re sick of reading all this. Look for me at the 5:17 mark!)

My body wasn’t cooperating though.  The mile pace times started to creep into the 10:20 per mile range, then slower.  Soon, I was consistently running in the 10:10s and getting worried.  My heart rate was low, but so was my output.  I became scared that I was bonking with a whole lot more running to do.  Maybe I would have to walk?

The trick to finishing the second half of an Ironman marathon is to count backwards from 13 miles.  Twelve more miles to go.  Eleven.  Ten, and so on.  My goal is to get to that six-mile mark, knowing it’s “just” one last 10k.  Only by the time this 10k began, I was in danger of missing the 13-hour window.  I needed to pick up the pace.

Too bad though.  I had hit the wall. Miles 20 and 21 were almost at the 11-minute per mile pace.  Miles 23 and 24 were slower. My body was breaking down.  The lack of food was catching up to me.  Things got so bad that when spectators were high-fiving me, they were actually slowing down my pace.  Instead of giving me energy, fans were taking it with each slap of my hand.  But then I realized, this is it.  I was running the final two miles of my Ironman.  An Ironman that I originally worried would only have an asterisk next to it because it wasn’t on the same course as the first two brutally tough St. George events.  There would be no asterisk.  This course was giving me everything I could handle.  I had already made peace with my Tri-asshole nemesis from 2010.  Was he here racing?  Who knew?  Who cared?  I was.  Nobody could accuse me of taking the “easy” way out at an Ironman course.

All these thoughts invigorated me.  I wanted to give this remaining run everything I had left. To find strength I didn’t know existed.  So I made a promise to myself.  No. More. Stopping.  From mile 24 until the end of the race, I was going all-out.  Even through the toughest part of the course, a mile-long steady climb on Diagonal Street, I would not stop.  The faster I ran, the faster this torture would be over.  Plus, maybe I could salvage a sub-13-hour finish. It was possible, if I just kept on pushing.

My final two miles were 9:45 climbing and 8:40 descending.  Not record-breaking times but among my fastest miles of the day.  Heading down towards the final turnaround, I found Steph, told her to get ready, it was time for a victory celebration in the finisher’s chute.  Thinking of Chris McCormack and his awkward Ironman victory photos with sponges shoved in his chest, I got ready for my close up.  I flung out four sponges, and opened my jersey all the way to drain water and ice.

This was almost it.  Still, there was a quarter-mile to go.  The clock tower was out of sight and the last time I saw it, it read 7:55 p.m.  C’mon Ryan!  I implored…finish strong!  The turnaround came, the clock tower came back into view…12:56.  Four minutes to run make the right turn on Main Street and hear Mike Reilly call me an Ironman for the third time.

I liked my chances!

And so the celebration began.  My arms instinctively became airplane wings, and I flew from one side of the crowd to the other, accepting all the high-hives I could touch.  I never wanted this moment to end, and yet that’s all I wanted.

“Ryan Schneider, Sherman Oaks, California…You’re an Ironman!”

Number 3!!!

At the finish line, I looked at my watch: 4:26:11.  A marathon PR.  12:57:32.  Mission.  Accomplished.

I found Steph in the chute shortly thereafter.  She missed the finish because the course was blocked off and made it hard for her to cross the street from her personal cheering perch to get into the stands. Steph accepted a long embrace, and my apologies for telling her she’d be able to see me no problem at the finish.  We had a good laugh.

Once the euphoria of the race wore off, the chills set in.  I couldn’t stay warm.  My body was cold and required medical attention to warm up with several blankets, chicken broth and massage work.  After nearly an hour of recovery in the massage and medical area, it was time to go home.

The Ironman Games had concluded.  I survived.  I took everything the Gamesmakers threw at me and never panicked.  In some ways, I got to know myself better as a result.  And I appreciate myself a little more.  Tri-asshole is dead.  And the only asterisk next to this race is to signify that it was statistically the hardest Ironman in the history of the sport.

In Arizona, I left a piece of my heart and soul on that course.  Coeur d’Alene has my gratitude, but no scars to speak of.  St. George…that’s the place I’ll remember where I confirmed who I really am.  A fighter. And a finisher.

I finish what I start.  No matter what.  I finish.

I won my own version of the Ironman Games.