Tag Archives: Ironman

I registered for a 100. Why? #gofarther

Alas, tis true… I’m registered for my first 100-mile ultra marathon – The Badger Mountain 100 in Richland, WA. No, I don’t know why. Well… not entirely….

It’s event that will take 24 hours or more (hopefully less…) to complete. Ironman races take half that time, and even with Uberman where I was out there for multiple days, I had the chance to rest overnight before starting the next leg of the journey. The 24 hours of persistent movement. It’s just something I want to experience.

During Uberman, I watched the sun rise and set in the same day twice in three days – first over the Pacific Ocean then in the Mojave Desert. The experience brought a calm about the endeavor – that I travelled not across a distance, but through the day.

The day of this 100-miler, the sun will rise at 6:52am on race day and set at 7:16pm that evening. I’ll watch the sun begin the day just before we toe the line, then I’ll run all day, and if I’m on pace, I’ll watch it set right around the midway point. Then I’ll go all night and cross the finish line at sunrise on Saturday.

There’s something wildly intriguing about this.

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But seriously… why do a 100?

Even before completing my a 50-mile ultra in December 2015, I’ve long had the thought that I wanted to give a 100-miler a shot, so I am.

Three Ironman finishes are pretty satisfying and I’m happily done with those. It’s overwhelming to look over the bike transition area in the early morning hours – 3000 sparkling bikes lit up at 5:00am by flood lights, racked and awaiting the return of their owners, one-by-one, to enter the hamster wheel bike and run courses. The crowds, the congestion, the constant stress about transitions, the 30 pieces of gear – wetsuits, Body Glide, bike pumps, helmets… The cowbells. The music. There was a time all of this was magical for me. And even more, the training is more than I’m willing to bear. That’s why my end to Uberman was so emotional for me. I knew that was it. I was done.

I knocked out three huge swims since 2015 – Alcatraz (2.5 miles), a Tahoe crossing (11 miles) and the Catalina Channel (23.74 miles). I feel pretty damn good about that part of my endurance event portfolio, and I’ve got absolutely no desire to get back in the water. I was at the gym last month to cancel my membership and figured I’d fit in a quick workout. As I walked past the pool to the locker room, I watched a lap swimmer hit the wall and flip back for the next 25 yard length. Then I smelled the chlorine. I thought I was going to vomit. Yep, I think I’m good with swimming for now. (Another good reason to skip Ironman races…)

Cycling has never been my favorite. I like going all out on a flat. I like ascending a big hill even if I climb like an anvil. I like the shorter rides where I’m pushing out intervals and sucking hard for air, but my back always aches by the third hour of a long ride. The best part of a 50, 70, or 90-mile ride is when I hop out of the saddle knowing that I’m done for the day.

I’ve done a few century rides. They’ve taken me to places like Palm Desert, Sonoma and along the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve biked the Sutter Buttes. While I see the camaraderie in big groups, I’m usually trying to separate from a pace group that seems to be bothering me. Doing the “Death Ride” isn’t on my bucket list. I’d rather Everest if I’m going to put myself through that.

So what’s left?

Running, with all it’s simplicity – lacing up my shoes and heading out for a run. It’s my default. Running is what I couldn’t do before or after knee surgery, and for a time, it’s what I thought would never return to me. It’s what I do when I need to de-stress – I can always run a lap or two around the neighborhood any time of day or night. I can walk out my front door at 5am, turn off my headlamp and run in total darkness along the olive grove with the stars. I can run down the middle of the road because it’s too early for cars. I can stop to watch the sky turn purple, then orange, then yellow with the sunrise over the Sierras.

On the trail, there’s total peace and quiet. No kicks to the face. No blinding white caps. No gear shifts clicking. No mid-pack Ironmanners passing me on mile 79 just because the want to reach the top of the roller first, only to pass them back on the downhill because I weigh more or have a better bike.*

Sure, there’s gear, electronics and nutrition. It’s just that running is the most basic of our human movements – using our legs to move from one place to the next.

During my Uberman training, I spoke with Max Wunderle. Max was the second-youngest person to ever swim around Manhattan Island (28.5 miles at the age of 17). In our conversation, Max asked me why I was doing Uberman, and I couldn’t answer the question. (Heck, I’m still not sure why and it’s been three months since I finished.)

Max told me this:

“You’re doing it because you don’t know if you can.”

Yep, that’s probably right. 100 miles is a long, long way. 24 hours is a long time to be be moving. I might get bored. might get injured. It’s hard damn work just getting to the starting line. It’s just something I need to do, to prove to myself that I’m willing to start… willing to try… willing to see if I can.

Go Farther.

* I’ve had phenomenal experiences at my Ironman races, and I wish EVERYONE well that makes an Ironman effort. I know exactly what it takes to get there –training, family, schedule. It’s just not my thing anymore…

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Mind Games & Project Management to Endurance Training

I wrote about working in sprints earlier this week. I think the same goes with workouts in whatever training you’re pursuing. Whether you’re training for a 10k, half-marathon or 100-mile ultra, it’s all the same:

  • The Race = The “Project”
  • Weekly workout plan = “Weekly Workout Sprints” comprised of daily workouts.
  • Daily workouts = “Daily Sprint Sessions” or “Tasks.”

Each week, or my “Weekly Workout Sprints,” is different – they take on a personality and theme of its own.

Last week’s theme was “Do Miles.” I didn’t do any lifting or Cross-Fit except on Sunday morning. The rest of the week was focused on running and returning to an evening mobility routine. I did four runs of 9, 6, 5 and 13 miles to get myself above 30 miles in a week. I hadn’t done that many miles in a week in a while and the miles were mostly longer, slower miles.

The 9-mile run on Tuesday was very slow – running 9:00 (or slower miles). My 13-miler was with GVH so I ran 8:00/miles the whole way without intervals or pickups.

Only my 5-mile run on Friday when I went to the track was “hard” running where I did a ladder workout, going hard over increasing distances – 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, 1 mile, then back down the ladder to 1/4 mile with easy 1/4 mile segments between each hard segment.

This week’s theme is “Strength & Conditioning + Harder Miles” – more difficult, faster running and more strength and conditioning (SC). I’ve got three (3) SC sessions with fewer, but harder, miles in the week.

Strength & Conditioning:

  • Sunday: Hanging shoulder presses, followed by a CF workout of 4 x (5 pull-ups, 25 kettle bell swings & 15 goblet squats), then 2 x (5 pull-ups, 50 sit-ups)
  • Tuesday: Deadlifts with 5 pull-ups between sets, followed by a CF workout: 4 sets of Russian twists and Burpee Boxjumps. (I was toasted after this one…)
  • Friday (planned): Hanging shoulder presses, then CF with kettle bell swings and a 10-minute hard run.

Running:

  • Monday & Tuesday: off-days to recover from Saturday’s long run and Sunday’s strength & conditioning work.
  • Wednesday: 7-mile run consisting of a 2-mile warm-up then 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) for the next four miles, then a 1-mile cool down.
  • Thursday: Track workout – 3 x 1-mile time trial (TT) runs with a 1/4 mile recovery in between, for a grand total of 4 miles. Eventually, I get that up to 5-7 mile TT runs, but for now, three miles was all I needed.
  • Friday (planned): Time permitting after the SC workout, I’ll add a few easy miles to experience running after a hard SC workout.
  • Saturday (planned): 13 miles with intervals scattered throughout. This is a group run with GVH so I’ll need to figure out who to do the intervals while sticking with the group.

Having a theme each week helps me justify whatever pain I might feel along the way with each workout. Each workout is just a “task” or “daily sprint session” in my “weekly project sprint,” and each workout, set or interval is just a “job” within the “task” or “daily sprint session.” When I’m doing 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery), it’s hard and it’s painful, especially the early intervals when I’m still getting my body revved up. Keeping a mindset that each interval gets me closer to finishing the day’s workout helps me bear the discomfort of that particular rep or interval. In other words, mind games…

Using the 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) workout as an example, I’ll think to myself:

  • Rep #1: Okay, let’s just do the first one to get started. Once I get started, then I’m on the way.
  • Reps #2-3: We’re on our way. Get to the midway point of the workout, then I’m on the downside.
  • Rep #4: Woohoo! Halfway done!
  • Rep #5-6: On the downside, just a couple more after these.
  • Rep #7: Only one more after this one
  • Rep #8: Last one, then we can jog it home.

Same goes with Cross-Fit workouts where I’m doing 4-10 sets in a workout. I break down the thinking into individual goals I’m hitting along the way. For me, reaching the midway point is the tipping point for most workouts – once I’m halfway, I know I’ve got whatever workout I’m doing licked.

Finally, I apply the same breakdown strategy within sets. If I’m doing sets of 25, I think:

  • Reps 1-5: Getting started
  • Reps 6-10: Now I’m in this
  • Reps 11-15: Get to 15 and then I have 10 left, and I can do 10 of anything
  • Reps 16-20: Only 5 more after these
  • Reps 21-25: Last five
  • …then I’ll add 1-2 more reps as buffer for any bad reps in the set: I can do a couple more. The 1% rule…

For me, this process generates confidence at the end of long training cycle leading up to a race when, despite following whatever training program, however rigorous, when I’m feeling like I could have done more. If I’ve put in the time along the way and completed my “daily workout tasks” and “weekly workout sprints” then the completion of those tasks should yield a successful “Project”for me – a solid race with the opportunity to hit whatever time or completion goals I’ve set.

Looking back, I’ve almost always hit my time and races goals. Using my Ironman races as examples:

  • Ironman #1 Goal (2010): sub-13:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #2 Goal (2011): sub-12:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #3 Goal (2013): sub-11:00 missed… came in at ~11:15 in gnarly windy conditions on the bike. [sadly, no race report yet…]
  • Completed my first ultra marathon (2015) [Race report here.]

(Wait a minute… Maybe I should set more difficult race goals…? Oh no! Confidence crisis!)

If you’re struggling to keep motivated in a given day or week, try the mindset that each week and each workout is just another task or sprint along the way to a winning project.

Man vs Nature: Swimming Across Catalina Channel #Uberman #Triathlon

This is one of a series of posts chronicling my attempt at Uberman – The World’s Toughest Triathlon. Check out all of the related posts on the Uberman 2016 page here.

Departing from the Mainland

We departed Marina del Rey late morning on Tuesday and arrived to Catalina in the early afternoon with the crew –  Mike (boat captain), Nicki (my kayaker), Dan (Uberman race director), Lena (my wife) and Samson (kayaker for a second swimmer slated to leave Catalina that night on at 6pm with a different boat.)

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The swim crew

Pulling into Two Harbors

Pulling into Two Harbors

The weather was GORGEOUS! We departed  around 11am for a 2.5 hour boat ride to Catalina Island under beautiful blue skies and nearly perfect conditions. Despite some queasiness on the ride over, I arrived to Catalina in good shape and excited for what was ahead.

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Quick tour of Two Harbors

Our plan was to hit the water at 4am on Wednesday, October 19th.

Sidenote… Most swimmers opt for either a night crossing, or to start at midnight to finish the swim by midday to avoid currents, wind and chop that arise each day. We instead opted for the 4am swim to avoid swimming across the shipping lanes at night.While the huge freighters are easy to spot, distance and speed can be difficult to tabulate at night. Additionally, while Mike was an experienced boat captain that guided paddle boarders across the Channel, he hadn’t guided a swimmer doing the crossing in a single effort. I had done a TON of research on this and discussed our start time in multiple conversations with Mike, Dan and Lena and all variables considered, we felt the 4am start time, despite setting ourselves up for a more difficult swim, was better for safety purposes.

Feeling Scared

We docked, then Lena and I enjoyed a hefty lunch of burgers and fries at an outdoor cafe at Two Harbors. After lunch, we walked to the other side of the island to check out the second harbor and on the way, I admitted to Lean that I was scared. Really scared. Before that, I had always hedged how I felt when asked about Uberman by saying – “I’m somewhere between excited and scared.” Now I was just plain scared.

Lena gave me some great advice – “Scared is just one emotion you’re feeling. You probably have others – excitement, anticipation.” Of course she was right, but scared was the 1000 lb gorilla in my mind right now.

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Captain Mike determining our course for the morning

Around 4:30pm, we made our way back to the boat to prep nutrition and food before nightfall a couple hours later. I spent an hour in the galley mixing my various food and nutrition concoctions – labelling bottles and talking with Mike, Lena, Nicki and Dan about tomorrow’s safety procedures.

After that, there wasn’t much to do except rest, so around 7:30pm I retired to the master stateroom graciously offered to me hoping to get a solid seven hours of sleep. I slept pretty well. The quietness of the night and the subtle rocking of the boat offered some comfort. It was all happening now. Nothing more to do, nothing more the plan, no more logistics. It was time to just do.

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Final preparations

Hitting the water

Alarms beeped at 3am across the boat. The morning air was cool and peaceful. Just past a full moon, stars dotted the early morning sky. Sam and I did our final preparations, reviewed plans with everyone and headed to the Catalina shore. We docked a few hundred feet from the beach, so I hitched a ride from Nicki from the boat docked a couple hundred yards from shore. Why do any more swimming than absolutely necessary, right? 🙂

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Hitching a ride on the kayak

Sam and I stood there on the beach, looked at each other, shook hands and wished each other luck. I yelled “Starting!” and off we went.

Sidenote… 

As I mentioned, Sam was supposed to leave at 6pm the night before with another guide boat and athlete. But….they left without him. On purpose – because the captain of that boat decided having two swimmers and one boat through the night would be too much to handle. Perhaps true. And perhaps would have been nice to inform Sam and Samson about that before departing for Catalina rather than by phone to Dan twenty minutes after they left.

Sam had flown from Scotland to Los Angeles that day to do the swim, filling in for another athlete part of a relay team that withdrew at the last minute. Even better, Sam had just successfully crossed the English Channel five days before – the same distance and swim but in colder water on Saturday. Now, here he was halfway across the world to tackle the Catalina Channel. Amazing that he would even agree to this. Astonishing that the boat crew knowingly left without him. 

In the Water: Hours 0-3

Much like my Tahoe swim earlier this summer, the first miles were flowing and smooth. (The Tahoe crossing was immensely valuable, and I don’t think I would have completed the swim without that open water experience.)

The water was calm and soft, and I focused on long, smooth, slow strokes. Every bit of energy and efficiency I could save would mean more in the tank later. We got out to Dinosaur Rock around the time for the first feed.

The “Feed Plan” was every 30 minutes. I alternated between real food – a watery mix of sour cream and avocado for fat and protein, and a nutrition drink mix called 3Fuel that dumps fat into my system to burn for energy instead of relying on short-term carbs. (More on this in my eventual nutrition post).

Nicki and I found a rhythm pretty quickly. She was great from the onset and very comforting throughout the day with her positive attitude and confidence. She maintained a steady pace between one-thirty and two o’clock on my right side so that I could sight on every right-side breath. (I breath bilaterally – right, left, right, breathe. Left, right, left, breathe.)

During these early miles, I felt tiny pin pricks across my face every 10-20 yards as I moved through water – either they were tiny jellyfish stinging my face or I was running into expunged stingers from larger jellyfish covering the water’s surface. Later in the morning as daylight broke, I could see larger jellyfish swimming around 10-20 feet below and around me.

Somewhere between the first and second hour, the boat pulled up and directed me to slow down. My stroke pace was 60-64/minute and I was pulling away from Sam. There too much distance between us this early in the swim. It was still dark and with only glow sticks and headlamps, and now three miles from shore, we needed to stay closer to each other. No worries. Firstly, even though I thought I was swimming at a slow pace, I was probably too amped up and couldn’t keep that stroke pace for the entire swim. Secondly, I knew that every ounce of energy I saved early would payoff later.

We slowed to about 52-56 strokes/minutes for the next hour, and we reached the end of our first three hour segment only to have the boat ask me to slow down again. Even Nicki voiced some frustration because she had my stroke count at 48. I kept the same attitude as before – slower is better. Less energy burned now means more later. This was surprising because he and I talked about our predicted swim times, and they were about the same – 13-14 hours for him and 14-15 hours for me. That said, the guy did just fly halfway across the world after swimming the English Channel a few days ago!

(About the only positive in my swim form is that I get a lot of each stroke. Random swimmers I’ve met at pools have told me how they admire my long strokes. That’s about the only compliment I ever get for my swim form.. :-).

Early morning after sunrise

Early morning after sunrise

Towards the end of the third hour, the sun rose over my right side. The course from Two Harbors to Rancho Palos Verdes runs south to north, so the sunrise in the east was exactly to my right side. The sky turned from black to blue to pale gray, and eventually yellow and gold. Only a few minutes after peeking the horizon, the sun came into full view. It then dawned on me (pun intended…) that I would be following the sun’s ascent on my right, then over my head, then down my left side to sunset throughout the day. With any luck, I’d finish right round sunset to avoid refitting the kayak and myself with another round of glow sticks. There was something peaceful about this. The sun was my timer and marked my progress. As it rose in the sky and eventually we hit midday, it was a a more amiable signal of my progress than any mileage count or time marker.

Hours 3-6: Past the Beginning & Just starting

This segment was just all about early progress. At the end of the third hour, we swapped nutrition bags. I had eight water bottles prepped at a time – two were freshwater and the remaining six were filled with nutrition mix and the sour cream/avocado mix. We also had cooked sweet potatoes and white rice in ziplock bags for me to eat throughout the day. With the 30-minute feed cycles, each batch lasted three hours.

Smooth as glass

Smooth as glass. Far from land.

The water remained incredibly blue and smooth – even softer and smoother than Lake Tahoe. I felt like I was gliding and after the six hour mark, we stopped for a feed and to swap out the nutrition bags again. Dan told me I was already six miles into the swim and making huge progress. “You’re a third of the way there!”

“Well, not quite,” I said in a way to reserve any excitement. I felt satisfied knowing that I “only” had 15 miles to go. This was my plan going into the swim – I didn’t want to know distance or mileage until I had 15-16 miles to go because from there, I could psychologically get myself to think that 15 miles wasn’t that far… But I knew I had 15 miles to go and while getting six miles from the start was a checkbox, the real swimming wouldn’t start for many miles ahead.

“Well, almost…” replied Dan.

I appreciated Dan’s demeanor even if I didn’t express it throughout the swim and the entire experience. He was positive and a constant cheerleader for me and everyone. I felt a little badly about dousing his enthusiasm. Sorry, Dan…

Seasickness hit Lean, and I needed Dan to fill in to complete the nutrition plan. While treading water six miles from shore, I was shouting directions to him on what to put in each of the eight water bottles then made him repeat it back to make sure he got it right. I’m a stickler for my plan on this and I didn’t want any surprises. The exchange was made and off Nicki and I went for the next three hours.

Now several hours into the swim and the day, while the sun rose into a perfectly clear and blue sky, the moon persisted above to my left. I could also still see the edge of Catalina Island to my left too. They were my last anchors to the swim start which I think helped me to avoid what otherwise could have been an overwhelming sense of “Oh shit, I’m in the middle of the fu*cking ocean.”

Hours 7-9: The Transition Zone

The anterior of my shoulders near my rotator cuff started to ache with every stroke.

The next distance update from the boated reported that we were nine miles into the swim. I rolled back my wetsuit sleeve to check my Garmin for the first time, and it corroborated that we were indeed nine miles into the swim, though for me, it didn’t matter that I swam one, ten or a hundred miles so far. All that mattered was how much I had left to get to shore. I was solely focused on how much I had left to finish, not how far I’d gone.

I call this “The Transition Zone” because I was moving from the first half to the second half of the swim. While the absolute miles from nice to ten, ten to eleven, eleven to twelve are the same as the first mile or from mile one to mile two, these middle miles felt longer because psychologically I wanted to get down to single digit miles to go so that I could take the swim one mile at a time to the finish.

Worse, the math of the course began to skew. While the swim course is 20.5 miles in a straight line, I knew that because of current, our actual course would be at least 1-2 miles more than the straight line despite our best efforts to course correct along the way. So even while nine miles was a big accomplishment, I also knew I had at least twelve to go, and probably more than that. This is a difficult hurdle to overcome mentally and why these are hard miles.

We went another couple of feeds when I learned that we had about 10.5 to go. I checked my Garmin and saw that I was at 10 ten miles swam so far. I didn’t have the display show decimals, so to see “9” at the last check then swim for an hour and a half and then see “10” the next time I checked was pretty tough. I knew I could have gone from 9.1 to 10.9 in that time, but it was hard to see the raw numbers. I decided that I wouldn’t check my Garmin again for a while. Even here behind me, I could still see the edges of Catalina behind me while starting to see land ahead of me where I would eventually land. When we got to 8 miles to go, I checked again and saw “14” on my Garmin – confirmation that we’d be swimming more than the 20.5 miles of a straight line course.

Somewhere out there, I heard squeaking noises when I dipped my head below the surface and thought they might be dolphins. During a feed, Lena called out from the boat – “There are dolphins EVERYWHERE are you swimming around! It’s so cool!” I only wished I could have seen them. Still a pretty cool experience that I’d read about in other swimmer posts.

A bit of traffic in the shipping lanes that day

“I’ve never seen this much traffic out here…” -Mike, Boat Captain

Now in the middle of the channel, we approached the shipping channels – large ships arriving from some or headed another to port on the other side of the world. These freighters were giants even from several miles away, and later I learned from Lena that Mike, the boat captain, commented – “I’ve never see this much freighter traffic out here…” A couple of months before the race, Lena asked me if they would shut down the shipping lanes for the race (no they can’t…) but right about now sure seemed like a good idea…

2016-10-19-12-47-35Fortunately the timing of the freighters crossing worked out and we pushed through the shippig lanes without incident, save for the 2-3 brown sludge pools left behind for me to swim through.

Somewhere around this point, I decided to drop from 30 minute to 20 minute feeds. The 30-minute intervals became too difficult to maintain, the time and distance was taking it’s toll on my psyche. In seeing land ahead of me, I was again glad for my Tahoe swim this summer – knowing that distances were deceiving in the water and to just focus on the next mile. Lena had recovered from her seasickness, and it was very, very motivating to see her standing on the boat watching me. She took video and asked me to say hello to Benjamin.

To pass the time, I tried counting strokes. Normally I just count – “One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe.” I read in Lynne Cox’s book “Swimming to Antartica” that she counted 1000 strokes at a time to pass the time and distance. I tried this approach for a couple of 20-minute segments, getting to 800-1000 in sets of 100 strokes. After 2-3 sets, I found it too difficult to think about so many strokes between feeds instead of focusing on each stoke presently. I dropped this approach and went back to “One, two, three, breathe.”

We worked through the next couple of miles and got down to six miles to go. During a break, Mike commented – “You’ve covered a long way so far – really takes a lot of stamina to get this far.”

I replied – “We haven’t gotten to the part where stamina kicks in.”

I know that my retorts to encouragement make me seem awfully surly. I had to do this for myself to retain focus and the feeling that while I had made a significant effort to get to any one part of the course, that within my mind, I still had plenty in reserve left for the work that lay before me.

With six miles to go, the current and wind picked up noticeably. I could see the swells rising and falling each time I turned to breathe. I’d breath and see the horizon, and the next time on that side I’d see only the peak of a swell a hundred yards off. Ripples formed on the top of the water. I could begin to make out the lighthouse we were aiming for and the beach where we’d land. I also knew we still had a long way to go. In the sky, the sun had migrated from my right side to my left side and I begin to wonder if we’d have to reequip the kayak with glow sticks for me to finish.

Hours 10-11: Just. Keep. Swimming

I stopped along the way a few times here for a round of breathing exercises thatI  picked up from Brian Mackenzie – three rounds of ten deep inhales and exhales, then a 20-second hold on inhale #10, then an exhale and a 20-second hold. Three rounds of this to oxygenate my body and reset my brain.  (Check out more here at XPTLife.com)

As I got more tired, I started to wonder if I would make it and shared this with Nicki. She said – “You’re doing great. Trust your motor.” Trust my motor. Solid gold advice. She was right. I did an inventory and aside from my rotator cuffs, the rest of my body was fine. My posterior shoulders were strong and I relied on them to lift my arms out of the water. My legs felt great. My body temperature was warm and mental faculties felt sharp. Trust my motor.

Eventually we worked down to 5.5 miles, then to 4.9 miles. At this rate, I was swimming about mile every 40 minutes, or 1/2 mile for each 20-minute feed segment. While slower than the start of the swim, I was comfortable with this pace and progress and I found it was motivating to knock out a half a mile between each feed.

From 4.9, we got to 4.5 in 20 minutes. From 4.5 to 4.1 over the next 20 minutes. My pace was slowing because of the wind and current. My stroke count was consistent – we were simply facing Mother Nature.

The boat left us again at 4.1 miles to go back to check on Sam, and after two feeds, they returned. I was now down to 3.3 miles – still going 0.4 miles every 20 minutes, or 1.33 mph. Not great, but still okay.

The sun was gaining on the horizon to my left. The whiteness of the daytime sun was fading into a shade of yellow as it crept towards horizon. The blue sky behind it became darker as the afternoon wore on. I considered it a race to reach shore before sunset.

It was also around here that I began thinking about tomorrow’s bike segment, and how I might need to skip it entirely. My shoulders were aching and throbbing. I kept focus on where I hurt and it always came back to my shoulders. My mind felt sharp. From the water, I was lucid and felt like I was still in control. I tried to make a quick joke or conversation with Nicki during feeds, or make a decision to tell the boat to do this or that.

Hours 12-14:25: One Last Push

“3 miles to go!” called Lena. Getting close!

I yelled back – “That’s just a 5000 yard workout. Five by 1000s. I can do that.” On the boat, I saw Sam wrapped in a towel – he had dropped almost two miles behind me and was getting caught in the same current. He went from 4.1 miles to go to 4.8 miles to go. From here, I knew the boat and the day would now 100% focused on me and getting me across.

I slogged my way down 1.8 miles to go, and somewhere in here we dropped to 15-minute feed segments. I didn’t need the feeds so much as I just needed a break to hang on the kayak for a moment or two and reset for the next block.

The water temperature dropped as expected and it felt refreshing on my face and neck. I could see how this temperature drop could be troublesome on a swimmer without a wetsuit. Our pace continued to slow.

At 1.8 miles to go, the boat did a check on us then sped off towards shore. That was disconcerting.

“Where the f*ck are they going!?” I yelled to Nicki. “This is the most important part of the swim when I need them the most and they’re f*cking taking off and leaving us here. We have no radio and no way to communicate and they’re fucking leaving us. What the f*ck?!” yeah, I was losing it a little… Not my best moment.

From 1.8 miles to go, we got to 1.6 miles to go in 15 minutes, then to 1.4 miles to go over the next 15 minutes after that. My speed had dropped to 0.8 mph. A friend of mine did the English Channel a few years ago, and when his speed dropped to below 1.0 mph because of current, they considered pulling him from the water. I didn’t think I was in jeopardy of getting pulled because the crew was new for this swim crossing, so as long as I said I could keep going and stay warm, I knew I’d be able to stay in the water. It was just tedious to know I was swimming less than 1 mph.

My bigger concern was that the current would continue to increase to the point where I wouldn’t be able to make any progress at all. Low tide that day was 7:09pm, so not only was I fighting the current, but also the tidal flow out  from the mainland.

screenshot-2016-11-03-06-47-46

Current direction in the Catalina Channel (October 19, 2016)

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Low tide was 7:09pm on October 19, 2016

I understood now how a swimmer could reach this point only to be forced to call it quits. Land was getting closer. It changed from a haze ahead to where I could begin to make out individual rocks and trees.

Looking back up onto the boat, I noticed everyone outside watching me. From Lena’s body language, she was watching closely and getting concerned. Aside from my shoulders and the fatigue, I felt fine.

We got down to 1.2 miles – just a half-Ironman swim – and I still considered that I might not make it – that I could go all this way only to call off the swim because of conditions. I told myself that as long as we could keep getting closer to shore and that my faculties were in check, I would keep going. There was no clock. Even if I have to breaststroke or crawl my way there little by little, I was determined to get to shore.

Lena asked – “How are you doing?”

“I’m tired but I’m okay. The water’s much colder, but I’m warm and I feel good.”

By now, I switched to two stroke breathing, breathing only on my right side and relying on my right arms to do most of the swimming. I significantly increased my stroke count:

Notice my stroke count increase over the last 90 minutes

Stroke count calculation from my Garmin

screenshot-2016-11-06-05-32-28

My stroke count increase over the last 90 minutes

From 1.2 to 1.0. Then from 1.0 to 0.8. Still swimming at 0.8 mph, I was making progress, and digging hard. The water turned brown and murky.

Once we hit 0.8 miles to go, I knew that I would finish no matter what, even if it took me until midnight, but I received some interesting news here…

Lena yelled out to me – “When you hit shore, you have to swim back to the boat!”

Huh? That’s not right. The plan was to meet Tbone on shore with The Beast parked nearby. She’d tend to me, get me fed and ready for the bike segment tomorrow. While I had resigned to the fact I’d need to skip tomorrow’s bike, I just wanted to get to a place where I could crash and rest. Tbone could drive us back to Marina del Rey while I slept and we could figure out tomorrow in the morning. The boat ride back to the marina could take up to two hours with current and waves, and after 14+ hours, the last thing I wanted was to spend any more time in or near water.

I yelled back – “No – Tbone’s meeting me on the shore!”

“Change of plans! We got pushed south by the current to another part of the beach. TBone can’t get to you so you have to come back to the boat. After you hit land, you have to swim back to the boat!”

screenshot-2016-11-06-05-50-44

Why I had to swim back to the boat

Aerial view

Aerial view

“Nicki – There’s no f*cking way I can swim back to the boat – you’re gonna have to give me a ride.”

We dug in for another 15 minute segment, then she told me – “You’re only 0.2 miles!”

“How is that possible?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“We went from 0.8 to 0.2 miles in 15 minutes?” I was baffled. I didn’t realize it at the time, but natural land extensions  just to the north blocked the current and made the last segment much easier. I didn’t think about it too long because ahead I could now make out individual rocks and plants on the shore. The finish was right there!

I dug in again – 100 strokes, then a crawled for 20-25. 100 more strokes, then crawled for 20-25.

“200 yards! You’re going to make it!”

Close to shore, I saw the Terranea rocks that many swimmers before me cursed. I climbed over and through a kelp bed closer to rocky shore, looking for a place to land. The waves pushed me into a wall of rocks where I tried to grab hold, then pulled me away again. The rocks were slippery and I couldn’t find a path to shore.

Up against the wall of rocks, I pulled myself over and dropped off into a small pool. I couldn’t touch anything below me – I was caught in a mixing bowl of seawater and foam.

The waves were hammering Nicki’s kayak against the rocks as she tried to stay close to me. The sun had set minutes again and it was dusk, almost dark. The air was brown and gray.

I finally found a pedestal of rocks to the left of me that would disappear and reappear with each wave. With the next wave set, I pulled myself up halfway to my waist, waited from the next wave set to cover and uncover them, then I hoisted my two feet atop the rock to clear the water, yelled “CLEAR!!” then jumped back into the mixing bowl. “Let’s get the f*ck out of here!”

The view from the boat the moment I cleared the water

The view from the boat the moment I cleared the water

“Absolutely!” yelled Nicki. I pulled myself out of the mixing bowl back into the water and told Nicki – “I can’t swim back to the boat – I’m done. You’re gonna have to pull me in.”

She maneuvered the kayak to head back out to sea and I grabbed onto the rear. “Let’s go!”

She paddled while I kicked. “You don’t need to kick.”

“The water temperature is cold and my body temperature is going to drop if I don’t keep moving.” I think this is the most I’ve ever kicked while swimming.

The boat was a good 1/4 mile or more from shore and to the east from our landing spot. “They’re gonna have to come over and meet us.” She pulled and pulled and then boat crawled slowly to meet us. Dan and Sam pulled me up by my arms and shoulders and got me aboard. Then Nicki.

We. Were. Done.

The Beast in waiting, which I never saw... Sorry Tbone!

The Beast in waiting, which I never saw… Sorry Tbone!

Now my options were to either swim back to shore once we got a bit farther West to meet Tbone, or to simply go back to the Marina on a two-hour boat ride. There was no way I’d be able to swim, and the two-person kayak was stowed and was taking on water earlier in the day anyway. It was nighttime now and I could just imagine myself getting lost at sea because of fatigue and darkness. We bagged the meet up option to home and headed back to the Marina.

As I undressed, I discovered two large gashes on the bottom of my left foot. We wrapped them with paper towels, and I didn’t think much of them at the time.I couldn’t lift my arms above sternum height. My neck and shoulders were covered with deep abrasions from my wetsuit. Despite trying to keep the skin lubricated beneath the wetsuit, there was no solution for 14+ hours of the constant rubbing of 20,000 strokes and 40,000 yards.

My Garmin recording of the swim

My Garmin recording of the swim

I had somehow remembered to stop by Garmin at the landing spot to record the time. 23.76 miles in 14:24 – more than 2.5 extra miles compared to the straight line route.

Back on the boat - safe, dry & happy

Back on the boat – safe, dry & happy

The ride home was peaceful and quiet. Almost eerie. As we pulled away from Rancho Palos Verdes, a long white wake formed behind the boat pointed back to our landing spot. Lena and I sat in the stern of the boat, looking back to RPV slowing moving farther and farther from view.

 

We watched the landing pattern of airplanes at LAX. We looked at stars. Aside from the boat engines, it was very, very quiet. I wanted to talk about the swim and take pictures, but I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I know Lena was tired and ready to go home, and ready to just enjoy being on the boat. The stars and moon were out again – the same sky that I saw 15 hours ago from Catalina Island.

Somewhere in this ride, I decided once and for all that I’d need to skip tomorrow’s bike segment. I needed to rest, and more so, I wanted to take the day to celebrate with everyone in Venice what we just accomplished. Right then, in that moment, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment – that even if my injuries would prevent me from going any farther on the race course, I was happy and content. If I could go farther, every mile from here would be gravy…

COMING SOON: See if I made it onto the bike after all…

[Spoiler alert… Yes, I did.]

 

[VIDEO] The Moment I Finished #Uberman & What I’m Most Proud of Accomplishing

This is the moment that I decided it was time to finish my Uberman experience and attempt to complete “The World’s Toughest Triathlon” – 84 hours from the time I slipped into the water at Catalina Island and swam nearly 24 miles to shore, after 140 miles of desert terrain on my bike, then persisting nearly 38 miles on foot from Badwater Basin along CA-160 towards Mt. Whitney – captured on video, and I’m delighted to share this moment with you:

I’ve chronicled each segment of my Uberman experience in detailed posts here:


I’ve thought about the experience many times since this moment captured above – from the decision on April 1 to start my training to this finish. Looking back, the seven months flew by, yet I know that each training day and week seemed endless at times. I wanted to see how far I could push myself and to know what enough felt like. And I found it, right there, in the middle of Death Valley with my closest friends and family at mile 37.72 of the run.

People have already asked me – “Will you do it again next year?” If I could hop into a time machine and be magically transported to the starting line, then yes. I love personal challenge. I just can’t do the training anymore – scheduling every moment of every day, negotiating time with myself and my family, finding good calories to consume six… seven… eight times a day, waking up at 5:00am to swim 5000 yards or do sets of deadlifts.

I’ll continue to do events – ultra-marathons seem most appealing because of the relatively low training burden and enjoyment of trail running.

Here’s what I’m most proud of accomplishing over these past seven months:

1 – Successful completing the Catalina Channel swim with the best time of any competitor.

This swim was beyond any single endurance event I’ve ever attempted, This include my three Ironman races. In those races, I knew that barring the catastrophe of a bike crash or some kind of freak injury, I would finish the event within the prescribed 17-hour time limit. The same with the 50-mile ultra-marathon I ran last year – I knew I’d finish, it was just a matter of what my finishing time would be.

For the Catalina Channel swim, my finishing time of 14 hours 25 minutes was exactly in the 14-15 hour range I predicted, and was the best of the competitors that attempted it. So technically, I was leading the race after the swim… 🙂

More so, that meant my training and personal expectations were exactly correct.

The Catalina Channel is one of the three marathon swims comprising the Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming. (The English Channel and circumnavigating Manhattan Island are the other two.)

For the Catalina Channel swim, I was very, very scared – scared of the distance, scared of the currents and tides, scared of getting lost at sea, scared of sharks and scared of being ill-prepared because of my training program choices. (More on this later.)

I was scared of not finishing – approaching shore only to get pulled because of body temperature or conditions. I’d read enough blog posts from experienced marathon swimmers who got as close as a mile did not complete the swim. These fears were very real and very true.

We could have packed up here and I would have been happy and excited with my accomplishment. Everything past the swim was just gravy for me.

A number of variables affected the probability of completing the swim:

  • The 4:00am start time. Most swimmers begin at midnight from Catalina to avoid typical late afternoon winds that create chop and a headwind. While I hit headwinds and current as expected, I was very lucky to have had an remarkably smooth first 15-16 miles for the swim. As I saw and felt conditions change with about six miles to go and the final 3-4 miles were extremely tough. [More details here in the Swim Segment chronicle.]
  • Currents. The swim route from Two Harbors to Rancho Palos Verdes is essentially south to north. The currents that day would be moving in a southeasterly direction, meaning that as the current and wind picked up later in the day, I would be swimming “uphill” into a current to reach our planned end point of Terranea Beach. Many swimmers report getting pushed south towards San Pedro because of these currents, forcing them to swim 3-4 miles longer than planned. We chose a straight line route with course corrections throughout the day to swim the shortest possible distance. Even taking this approach, the 21-mile course took me 23.76 miles to complete.
screenshot-2016-11-03-06-47-46

Current direction day of the swim. Source: http://www.sccoos.org/data/hfrnet/

  • Timing of low and high tides that day. On the day of the swim (October 19th), low tides were in the early morning as we started, high tides just past 12noon, and the next low tides again just past 7:00pm. This meant that I’d be reaching the midpoint at high tide and fighting the low tide waters getting shore at my expected finishing time.
  • Tidal flow relative to the moon phases, which affect the severity of the tide. Because we started just past a full moon phase, the tide heights relative to baseline range were high as two meters. Here’s a graph of the variance that day from NOAA:

2 – Being physically & mentally ready. Accomplishing any one of these endurance events on their own – the Catalina Channel swim, a 140+ mile bike ride or a 38-miles desert run – would be a huge personal accomplishment. I did each these in four days’ time and felt muscularly and mentally ready for each day. I owe that all to my programming, training and diet. The only adverse effect I experienced was the thrashing of my rotator cuffs, and I’m not sure any amount of training could have prevented this.

I not only trained very hard, I had the RIGHT training program. (Thanks to my awesome wife and Brian MacKenzie.)

ready-to-go-on-the-bike

I eschewed the typical long, slow distance (LSD) training (more on this in a later post…). Any one of these three segments – the swim, bike or run – would reasonably take six months of dedicated LSD training just to complete that one event. I was training to compete in all three in five days’ time, so LSD simply would not be feasible even if I training as a full-time athlete and had no job or family. More so, I believe that LSD without building muscle tissue strength and tolerance to the extreme physical tests would not have been enough.

After hitting a peak of LSD training in late July to build my endurance engine, I consciously switched to higher intensity, CrossFit-infused training for a month on my own, then followed a training program set up after spending a day training with Brian at my wife’s suggestion.

For context, just 15 months ago, I swam 2.5 miles roundtrip from Aquatic Park to Alcatraz and back. My Catalina swim was 23.76 miles – nearly ten times the distance, and across a challenging body of water and more than doubled my longest distance swim of 10.5 miles across Lake Tahoe.

Then completing the 144 mile bike ride, and then 13.5 hours later starting on the Badwater run mentally ready and excited to claim as much of the 135 miles course as possible. I sincerely felt that I was physically able to complete the entire run course, however long it might take me. To reach that mental and physical state is incredibly satisfying.

The 144 miles on the bike is 30 miles longer than any ride I’ve ever done. I hit the 37.72 mile mark on the run with PLENTY in the tank before stopping.

3 – Making good, rational decisions throughout Uberman to return home safely.

I need to give a huge amount of credit to my wife, Lena. Throughout the event, she allowed me to make decisions on my own even though after making these decisions, she was happy and relieved that I made them. A few examples:

  • Skipping Day 1 of the bike. Because of my physical condition coming out of the swim (shoulders and feet injuries), it would have been unsafe to spend 14-16 hours covering 200 miles on a bike. Not only that, it would not have been fun or joyful.
  • Ending the Day 2 bike segment at 144 miles instead of going the full 200 miles. We reached the peak at Town Pass well past sunset. Navigating the 10 mile descent would have been treacherous and irresponsible from a safety standpoint. While I felt strong and able to cover the last 56 miles, finishing when we did and giving myself an opportunity to start the run the next day relatively fresh was absolutely the right decision.
  • Riding on Pedro (my road bike) for a large chunk of the ride because of road conditions and descents, and because I felt far less strain and pain in my shoulders vs my TT bike (a.k.a. “George”).
  • Doing weigh-ins & doing urine checks during the run. While the heat wasn’t overbearing, I had a hard time forcing myself to eat and consume calories on the run. We did a couple of weigh-ins to make sure I was maintaining my weight. Tim to monitored my urine – color and frequency – to make sure that my mind’s desire to keep going was overriding my body’s operating system.
  • Finishing Uberman at mile 37.72 of the run. I felt completely satisfied and a sense of “enough” for perhaps the first time in my life.

There were a hundred ways to get hurt out there, or even encounter life-threatening situations. We minimized the risk at every turn with planning and discussion and decision-making.

4 – That my son stayed happy and safe. The kid is a trooper. Even his low points with patience and frustration barely scraped typical low points we might hit on any day of any given week. He found entertainment in counting cacti and determining which was the pointiest, throwing dirt on to the highway at rest stops, hiking and looking for rocks, sitting in The Beast and waving to me through the windows. Everyone stayed focused on him throughout the journey and his presence there gave me a sense of calm and perspective.

benajmin-happy

benjamin-desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the on the long drive home from Panamint Springs to Davos on Sunday, he chilled in The Beast with me for nine hours, never complaining or whining or going stir crazy.

I could have done this race alone with Lena and asked my family to stay back in Davis with Benjamin while I was out there. I wanted him there to see the desert and to make this a family adventure, not some crazy thing Scott does on the side.

5 – My team. (I’m saving the best for last here…)

From beginning to end, never did the team hit a point of outward frustration towards each other, the race, the demands of the expedition or me.

I give all of the credit to the team – Lena, Tbone, my in-laws (Nina & Paul), Tim and Benjamin for staying patient and accepting the challenge of supporting me not just on the course, but 24 x 7 throughout the entire event.

2016-10-22-17-37-56

The end of each day was always the most trying. Being out on the course is work, but you’re in the moment and thinking about what needs to happen next – when is the next feed, how many miles to go, where should we meet you next, what does Scott need at the next rest stop. These activities kept the crew focused on a task.

But… at the end of each day, there was a huge transaction cost going from the finishing point to the next morning:

  • Packing up The Beast and getting to the next hotel
  • Finding a place to park The Beast
  • Cleaning The Beast from the day and prepping for the next day
  • Checking into the hotel
  • Finding a place to eat
  • Tending for my injuries
  • Making sure our son is fed, bathed and comfortably to bed each night
  • Deciding who’s sleeping in the hotel and who’s sleeping in the camper
  • Building a plan the next day’s segment – who is getting up early with me to push me on to the course
  • … just to name a few…

I got a sense of what it might be like to be a professional athlete – a team of people that care for every aspect of your self and body. You saw me breakdown in the finishing video because at the end of the run, I felt the overwhelming love and support of everyone that helped me reach this point – from training to planning to executing Uberman. I felt, and always will feel, forever grateful for everyone that helped me along to way to take part in this endeavor.

__ __ __

If you want to read the details from each segment – the swim, bike, and run – I’ve chronicled each in detail here:

I hope you’ll read them, and understand if you don’t. Most of all, if you found this post or anyone of the posts I’ve done related to Uberman, please share them with a friend.

While I write these posts as much for myself to document and remember the adventure, I’m hopeful that somehow these posts will be useful to someone else considering the same type of adventure, or that they will motivate someone to take the next step towards their own adventure.

I’ll be posting over the coming weeks and months beyond these race reports – sharing a few ideas and experiences around:

  • Nutrition and diet plans during training and Uberman
  • Details about my training program
  • Planning & logistics (lists, checklists, mistakes made)
  • What I’d do differently: Uberman planning and execution
  • Stuff I’ll miss about Uberman
  • Stuff I won’t miss about Uberman
  • The Beast
  • Gratitude to everyone that cheered me on Facebook

Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate it. Please share this post if you found it valuable, or think it will be valuable to a friend.

I’ve also prepared a talk about my Uberman experience for companies, triathlon clubs and teams. Click here to learn more.

Race Report: Donner Lake Half-Ironman 70.3 distance event (July 25, 2015)

Overall Results: 32/122 Overall | Age Group (AG): 8/22

Swim: 18/127 Overall, 2/22 AG
Bike: 47/127 Overall, 13/22 AG
Run: 19/127 Overall, 4/22 AG

WHY THIS RACE?

It’s been nearly a year since my knee surgery in September. For a couple of months following surgery, I didn’t think I’d ever return to race form. When my friend Kim (more on her below) registered for the race as her first triathlon, I felt compelled to do the race with her. Of course I couldn’t just do the Olympic distance race. I had to push myself to the Half-Ironman distance because, well, why not? I knew the elevation changes and altitude would be a big challenge and my training would require some rigor and discipline. When I registered back in March, it had been nearly two years since my last triathlon (Ironman Asia Pacific) and it was time for me to get back to it.

THE VENUE & RACE COURSE

For all of the years I’ve been in Northern California and all of the times I’ve been to the Lake Tahoe area, I never spent a moment at Donner Lake. The race is long storied in the area as a wonderful race, well-organized, and a big challenge for any triathlete. Couple that with a reason to head to Tahoe for a weekend with the family, and it all came together as the decision to make.

RACE GOALS

This was undoubtedly by “A” race of the year. I’ve consistently finished under six hours for 1/2 Ironman distances, ranging from 5:20 on an easier course and 5:50 on more difficult courses. With this my first long distance triathlon in more than two years and considering the difficulty of the course, I had these time goals:

  • Sub-6:00 – Minimum goal. Anything over six hours would have felt slow regardless of the course.
  • Sub 5:45 – Push goal. I thought with three good segments I could get there.
  • Sub 5:30 – Stretch goal. This would be close a hitting my 5:20 PR which would be ridiculous considering the altitude, course, and training. But heh, why not?

* Note: The run course was posted as 13.63 miles, a 1/2 mile longer than the standard 13.1 mile course.

2015-07-24 18.12.22

Now on to the race report…

SWIM

Glorious. I took time on Saturday to swim a couple hundred yards to feel the water and temperature. The water was downright perfect – just a little chilly in the middle of the day on Saturday. On Sunday morning with the air temperature in the high 40s/low 50s, the 65 degree lake water felt like a warm bath.

There were several race start waves, and I was in the first group. The course was a simple triangle. Swim out to the right, make a left turn, swim to the next buoy across the lake, turn left again and then back to the beach. I picked a rock face way above the first buoy to use for sighting, the race started and I was off.

At the Tri for Real about two months ago, I started way to quickly and I had just introduced a new swimming stroke at the time which led to a frustrating swim time. Today, my big focus was to begin with long, slow, smooth strokes and I succeeded. There were about 50 competitors in my wave start so there was plenty of space to spread out, though somehow I found myself tucked between two other racers after a few minutes. This seemed a little ridiculous to me so I pulled up my stroke, let them move forward, then guided myself to the left and found open space.

After the first buoy, I pulled up again to sight for the next buoy and took a few  breast strokes. It was a good way to stretch out my chest, gain my breath and think about swimming strong the rest of the way.

I found a really nice rhythm between the first and second buoy, and focused on rotating my body and alternating my swim stroke pushes. I let my right arm lead for a while, then switched to my left. It felt like I had the entire lake to myself. I saw orange caps ahead and behind me and the ones behind me seem to be falling back further and further. I felt strong, hit the second buoy and headed for shore.

The finishing gate looked close, almost like I could touch it. I kept with my pace and continued stroking until my knuckles dragged on the bottom then headed to T1.

Swim time: 32:08

Swim-to-Bike Transition (T1):

It’s always a welcome site to see lots and lots of bikes in transition. A fellow that racked near me who was racing the Olympic Distance was still in transition. He even said – “Good job, mate. Solid swim.” Made me feel good.

Meh. Again I was a little slow, taking more than three minutes when I should have taken less than two. I dallied a little and also knew that I wanted to get everything right before heading out for a 3+ hour march on the bike through the hills. I loaded up and out I went.

T1 Time: 3:14

BIKE

I thought of the 56 mile bike course in six segments –

  1. The climb from Donner Lake to Donner Summit (3.8 miles)
  2. Donner Summit to the first turnaround at Cisco Grove (12 miles)
  3. Cisco Grove up to second turnaround at Sugar Bowl (12 miles)
  4. Back down to Cisco Grove (12 miles)
  5. Cisco Grove back up again to Sugar Bowl and Donner Summit (12 miles)
  6. Donner Summit back to the transition area (3.8 miles)

T1 to Donner Summit: I didn’t find this climb bad at all. It was long and persistent but I found it very consistent in terms of grade. I just kept spinning along and monitoring my heart rate. I knew exactly where I was on the climb because it was the first 3.8 miles of the course so I could knock off a mile here, reach a visual milestone there, and in about 25 minutes, I was at the top and ready for a long rapid descent down to the first turnaround near Cisco Grove.

Donner Summit to Cisco Grove turnaround #1: The grade was steeper than I expected and all was great when I looked down at one point and saw I was speeding at 43 mph and going faster. Even the level parts and small rises were nice to ride through to stretch out my legs.

Cisco Grove to Sugar Bowl (turnaround #2): The first 4-5 miles were a distinct incline, but I was still able to stay down in an aero position from time to time, and when I hit a steeper hill and I just locked in and spun.

That all changed on the climb out in the section from Kingvale exit to the turnaround point at Sugar Bowl. I felt like this is where the journey began for me.  I fond the this section to be somewhere between brutal and soul-crushing. After a long slow climb from Kingvale to the Soda Springs exit, I felt like I was nearly to the turnaround point, even though I knew I still had three miles to go. It didn’t seem that hilly on the way down or even on Saturday’s drive, yet every turn introduced another hill and another small climb ahead. Probably 5-6 in all. This was mentally rough. I hit the turnaround hoping for an aide station and there wasn’t one there. Bummer. Good news was that I only had 25 minutes back down to the next turnaround and access to an aide station 4 miles after that. Bad news was that was still 45 minutes from now. I had drink mix but no water.

At the turnaround, I pulled over to pee in the parking lot. That would have been a good spot for a port-a-john. I just didn’t feel like dealing with it while descending and also felt like I could use a little break. It cost me a minute or two, but I also think it saved me mentally a little bit.

Sugar Bowl to Cisco Grove (turnaround #3): I just focused on resting my legs and getting ready to head back up the climb in about 20-25 minutes.  One more climb and I was done. Knowing what was ahead of me for the final climb sucked most of the fun out of the descent, but not all, because hey, I hit 40-45 again and you have to try pretty hard to not have fun with that.

Cisco Grove (turnaround #4) to Donner Summit: Now that I knew what was ahead, I focused on milestones – getting from Cisco Grove back to the crossover under the freeway – from the freeway to the Kingvale exit – from Kingvale to Soda Springs exit – from the Soda Springs exit to Donner Summit.

I felt like the second time up the hill from Cisco Grove was easier mentally. Might be that I knew the course now or that I knew this was my last climb and it would all be over in under an hour. Hitting Kingvale and knowing the climb ahead to Soda Springs, I spotted a small landmark like a sign or a bend and then counted pedal strokes in groups of one hundred – “one, two, three…” When I reached “100,” I let myself look up and find the next marker. Sometimes I got to 60 or 80 and looked. This gave me sometime to focus on other than the hill and the climb.

Donner Summit to T2: A 1100’ descent in less than four miles. Mostly I covered my brakes on the hairpin turns and just relaxed. I didn’t want to think about making up time as much as resting my legs and getting to the bottom of the mountain without flying off the edge of the cliff. Definitely the most scenic descent I’ve ever done.

I did my full stop-foot down-tap the box and then headed over to transition. I heard Benjamin yell – “Daddy!” and saw Lena and Benjamin sitting on the ground waiting for me. That was very energizing to see them combined with knowing the bike course was behind me.

Bike Time: 3:25:08

Bike-to-Run Transition (T2):

This was a combination of elation and a quick reality check of how I felt physically. While my legs felt tired, I was excited to get to the run course, especially for the first three miles to set a solid pace that would dictate the rest of the race. I did a pit stop, made sure I had everything – race bib, nutrition, sun screen applied, take salt pills, adjust race bib with running belt, then I headed out. Again my transition time was slow and I wasted a minute or two more, but again I needed to make sure I was all there before heading out for the last segment.

T2 Time: 3:54

RUN

Coming out of transition, I saw Lena and Benjamin again, gave them both a kiss and off I went.

I wanted to start strong and set a good pace, knowing that the first mile was critical to how I would fare the rest of the run. I was expecting at least an 8:30 pace for the entirety of the run course, and with the first three miles being flat, I knew I needed to put some time in the bank. After I got a rhythm going, I looked down and saw I was at 0.40 miles and running a 7:52 pace. Perfect, if not even a little fast. This was my steady state, so I pulled back just a little but definitely kept at a 8:00 pace or just under.

I rode the run course on Friday afternoon, and after the first three miles, the course meandered through campgrounds, boat launch area, and then to the other side of Donner Lake. The first hill greeted me around mile 4. It was the biggest hill on the course and I’m glad that I took time to scope it out on Friday. I all but decided that I would walk the hill, and I stuck to that plan as soon as it started to incline – a fast walk with arms swinging, and again counting steps – “One, two, three…” I got to about 150 when I hit the first peak and then I jogged a few steps before the second rise to get up and over. I walked again, then found the aide station, caught my breathe and started chugging along again. I took a couple of salt pills and then definitely helped me with some lift.

The rest of the run course was a series of smaller hills and undulations. Up and down without any flat sections for the next 2-3 miles until reaching finishing area. I spotted the ropes that lead back through the transition area and right past the finishing gate to begin the second lap around the lake. Lena, Benjamin, Kim and Josh were all there waiting for me. I gave them all high-fives awhile keeping stride and glanced to my left to see the race clock. 4:59:20. I was at exactly five hours with about 6.5 miles to go on the run.

This was the first time I saw a race clock and I started doing the math, using 7 miles as my baseline. At a 9:00 mile, I’d be just over six hours, and an 8 minute mile, I’d be just under. At an 8:30 mile, I’d be right on six hours. While I knew I could push hard for the last 1-2 miles with a strong finish, I also knew that my legs were tired and my quads were burning. An 8:30 mile might be a lot to ask if I burned out, so I treated the second lap like the first – get in a good first three miles, bank some time for the back side of the course where I knew I’d need to walk a hill or two.

I hit my stride again and saw I was running roughly an 8:00 to 8:12 pace, so if I could hold this through the first three miles, that would afford me a 9:00 pace for the final 3-4 miles in the worst case.

I hit the three mile mark and headed through the trail, through the campgrounds and boat docks, up a small rise and to the big hill. I tried to eat a few bites of a Clif Bar and couldn’t get myself to swallow. I spit it out and just focused on my liquid nutrition.

That segment of the course felt like the transition from “the run” to “the final stretch.” Once over the big hill, I knew I was home free – just focus on a steady pace and then push hard for the last mile and I could finish under six hours. I made sure to run the tangents, and it always baffles me why more competitors fail to do this. In fact my final run distance displayed as 13.3 miles on my Garmin, instead of the 13.6 advertised.

I pushed within reason, rounded the final bend, saw the ropes, and crossed the finished line just after the clock flipped to 5:55:00. Done.

Final Time: 5:55:02

SUMMARY:

What I did well:

  • Swim – I relaxed and found a rhythm and my time showed it. I had the 4th-best swim time in my Age Group (AG).
  • Bike – I stayed patient and while I knew I was getting passed (again and again and again…). I stayed within myself instead of trying to “race” other competitors.
  • Run – This was rock solid. I had the 2nd-best run time in my age group (2/22), which is damn good.
  • Nutrition – I’m very happy with my nutrition plan and execution throughout the day. I was plenty fueled for the ride and used my salt pills consistently. I had my running belt for the run, which I was VERY happy to have for the calories vs what was available in the aide stations.
  • I hit my race time goal of sub-6:00.

What I’d do differently:

  • More hills in training. I focused on base miles and consistency in March, April, and May. It wasn’t until June that I started hitting any hills of significance for training, and even then they were modest as compared to the race course. More repeats on Cardiac and a few more sessions on Mix Canyon.
  • Road bike vs Tri Bike – I’m still undecided on this one. I chose to ride George (my Tri Bike) instead of Pedro (my road bike) because it handles better on turns and downhills, and achieves more speed on the flats and downhills. Though I do wonder the trade-off between having a road bike for the climbs, and if I could have shaved a few minutes off my bike time. I ultimately made the decision to ride George because I felt more confident ride George than Pedro, and that’s a big thing mentally in any race.
  • Practice my transition – My transitions just plain suck. I’m slow because I like to collect myself and make sure I have everything. The latter is the problem. I need to get to a point that I’m not thinking at all. The transition should be mechanical.

GRATITUDE

To Lena, my darling wife – That you for your support on my endurance endeavors. We decided on this race way back in March, knowing that the timing was just a month away from your deadlines at school. It wasn’t just the weekend away, it was all of your support on Saturday and Sunday mornings so I could work in my swims, rides, and runs to prepare for race day. A thousand thank yous to you my love.

To Benjamin – You are a champ. You were great all weekend and I was so happy to have time with you on Saturday as we drive the bike course together. Throwing rocks in the river and wading knee deep in the cold water is my favorite.

To Kim B. – Choosing Donner as your first triathlon is crazy and awesome. By registering, you got me motivated to take on this race challenge and I appreciate the kick in the tail.

To the race organizers – Solid job guys. From the registration process through to the finish, you had your stuff together. I’m sure no one appreciates the work and logistics that go into organizing these events, and I’m particularly grateful that you pushed the race distance to include a 70.3 distance this year. This was a true challenge and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to compete in such an event.

To the random people along the bike course. It was lonely out there on the bike course, and seeing the same people in the same places down and up and down and up the mountain was very calming. Thanks for spending your day watching everyone and cheering us on.

DEAR RACE ORGANIZERS

What was great:

  • Plenty of support pre-race from the check-in to transition set up on race day.
  • The swim course took you out to the right so that the sun was never in your face. Very smart.
  • The markings on the downhill portions of the bike course. I could see the orange paint well and it was appreciated to avoid a spill.
  • Run aide stations. They were numerous and always ready with water.

How to improve:

  • Port-a-john at the turnarounds, or at least at the Sugar Bowl turnaround for the half-iron competitors.
  • Place an aide station at the Sugar Bowl turnaround, even if it’s just water bottles. The most recent aide station towards the bottom of the hill was 45-60 minutes ago for most competitors, then there’s another 20-30 minutes of downhill and a turnaround and another 4 miles back up the hill before you hit the aide station again. That’s a long time to go without a chance to refill your water bottle.
  • Run aide stations: You promised cola at the run aide stations and there wasn’t any. I was depending on the cola pop for the second lap and you let me done. Ultimately, this was a good lesson in deepening on yourself and only yourself for nutrition.
  • A bag drop-off area would be nice.
  • Have a race clock visible coming out of the water and in the transition area. My first view of the race clock was after my first run lap. Just would be good to know where you are in parts of the race as you go in and out of transition.

Scott’s Personal Update: March 2015

In yesterday’s Morning Pages, I reflected back six months to see how my life has changed.

I’ve accepted that my personal happiness is my responsibility, and by recognizing this responsibility, I’m a much happier person. People around me have even told me I’m much happier. It’s very gratifying to live more presently in each moment every day. I still experience plenty of moments of anxiety, stress, fear, regret, and anger. It’s more about reducing the magnitude of these negative emotions and the time I spend in these emotions.

Six months ago:

  • I was barely walking normally after knee surgery in early September.
  • I was about to embark on a crazy work travel schedule that brought me to Dallas eight out of nine weeks leading up to Thanksgiving
  • The idea of doing workshops, coaching, or speaking gigs seemed in the very distant past and very distant future.
  • The only time I could spend with my family was on the weekends, and even then mostly with B so that Lena could spend the weekends working on her dissertation.
  • I was generally excited about my work at Blend, though that attitude preceded the massive travel schedule I didn’t know was coming. By November, I was feeling pretty burned out and frustrated.

Today:

We’ve hired a customer success team at Blend to take over the onsite implementations for our Dallas-based clients, including a project manager and three relationship managers. They are all kicking major butt in their own way at Blend and it’s enabled me to extract myself from the day-to-day project management and focus on pure outbound customer development and selling activities. It’s better for me because that’s the work I enjoy the most and it’s better for Blend because that’s my superpower. We’re seeing the fruits of this transition with two new customers on boarding through June, two new customers eminent, and numerous new customers in the pipeline including several significant lenders – some of the top lenders in the country. This gives me a renewed sense of excitement about Blend and my work after some tough times last Fall.

This is giving me a huge boost at home. I’m traveling far less now, and while I’m good with some travel and even enjoy it because of the solitude and the face-to-face time with customers and prospective customers, last Fall was a little ridiculous. I’ve been much more present at home, and Lena told me the other day that B in noticeably happier in the last couple of months.

I split my weeks – three days in San Francisco and two days working from Davis. On the work-from-home days, I get up with B, make breakfast together, take him to school, pick him up, make dinner, and play together in the evenings. It makes me so happy when I can be present and appreciate the happiness in the moments like stirring eggs, making coffee, reading a book, and playing “catch me” at the playground.

It’s also a huge boost for Lena because on the work-from-home days, she can stay on campus longer and get more done and now there’s some light at the end of the tunnel for her.

B caught a nasty cold in January, then again in February and I was the one that took him to the doctor’s office. I took a couple of days to work from home when he too sick to go to school so that Lena could concentrate on her research. This gives me a certain sense of pride that Lena and I are truly sharing the parenting responsibilities.

2015-02-22 11.20.33

We rented a cabin near Clear Lake in late February. Benjamin called it the “cabinet.”

I’m racing again. Registered for the Donner Lake 70.3 in July. I took the motivation offered by a friend. She’s gunning for an Ironman before she turns 40 and this race will be her first triathlon. I’m registered for 70.3, a distance generally referred to as a “half-Ironman,” which is a grand disservice because 70.3 miles and 5-6 hours swimming, biking, and running isn’t half of anything.

I got back in the saddle for a couple of short rides this weekend, and started swimming a couple weeks back for general fitness anyway, especially after my surgically-repaired knee felt a little balky. I was up to 18-20 mile running weeks and more recently, have felt some throbbing and discomfort so I’ve laid off the running for a couple of weeks, replacing it with swimming.

All in all, I think I’ll be plenty ready for the race at the end of July. I’ve got four months and the 70.3 distance offers some freedom in my training to skip a day or two per week without serious repercussions. I’m not going for a PR or anything, especially considering it’ll be my first race in more than two years, not to mention the altitude at Donner Lake (7500’). The goal is to have a healthy, solid race day and feel like I was ready for the challenge by race day.

I also registered for a swim to Alcatraz. It’s a 2.5 mile swim from Crissy Fields to “the Rock” and back. Will be serious fun to get out there and look back at San Francisco from the Bay. There are no sharks in the Bay… There are no sharks in the Bay… There are no sharks in the Bay…

This also means that Ill be packing all of my gear from travel that does arise – cycling shoes to take spin classes at local gyms, goggles for swims at area YMCAs, and running shoes and my Garmin for runs. This is fun for me. 🙂

I was invited to do a couple of small speaking and coaching gigs with startup organizations, including Startup Weekend Sacramento: Women’s Edition, the TINC/Nordic Innovation House, BelCham and Stanford University starting in Fall.

So far in 2015, I’ve now done startup selling workshops at Hult and SARTA, and am invited back by TINC in April for the same. In May & June, I’m teaching an extension campus class through UC-Berkeley at LinkedIn. Fun, fun, fun. I love how the workshops stretch my brain to develop new ideas to apply at Blend for our customer development and sales work there.

I’ve expanded my daily routine from six months ago*:

– I’m continuing my daily practice of Morning Pages + meditation. I’ve realized that there are three things each day, that even if I do only these three things and nothing else, I’ve had a successful day: 1) Morning Pages, 2) Meditation, 3) Workout. That’s it. On any single day, those three things alone make me happy. At a minimum, I almost always do at least two of the three.

With the neighborhood pool open now, I can find time for swim or at home I can drag myself to the back patio for a 15-minute Cross-fit workout of some kind.

 – On city days, a workout is tougher so I focus on morning pages and meditation as my two important things. On occasion, I stay overnight in San Francisco if I have back-to-back days. This offers one of my favorite runs – early morning through San Francisco and its hills – Telegraph Hill, Lombard Street, Gough, California, to name a few…

– On weekends, I don’t always get to my Morning Pages because I try to sleep a little later. I can usually do a meditation in the afternoon while B is napping. – On city days, I arise early so that I can do my Morning Pages and meditation on the train or sometimes at home first before hopping on the train. Once in the city, I either work from the Ferry Building or a coffee shop near to the office before diving into the office for very full days there.

– On the bus ride from the Amtrak to the city, I’m listening to podcastsTim Ferriss, James Altucher, and Tara Brach. Same on the BART ride from SF to Richmond before I catch the Amtrak home.

– On the Amtrak ride home, I generally work until I get to Fairfield, the last stop before Davis,  then I close my laptop and then do my Evening Journal entry to record all that I’ve accomplished that day and it’s always gratifying and a little surprising to see what I’ve done that day. Then I engage in some self talk to transition from “work” mode to “home” mode so that when I walk in the door at home, I’m 100% focused on Lena and B. I’ll even turn my phone to airplane mode sometimes when I walk in the door to resist checking email passively and relinquishing my focus on things at home.

So yes, my life is very different in a good way from six months ago – much more focused and absolute time at home, more positive mental stimulation, more diversity in my days and weeks, and continuing to build on my daily practice. Life is good.

Wondering how things will be by September… 🙂

* I know I’ve described much of my daily routine in previous posts – just sharing for those that might have found me for the first time…

What I’m up to lately…. February 2015

Read Time: 4-5 minutes What I’What

If we haven’t chatted in a while, feel free to pick-up the phone and call me. If there’s anything I can do to help you with anything, please please please let me know…

Work Stuff:

  • Blend is the focus of my work life. Lots of travel to and from Dallas, with occasional travel to NYC and Washington DC. It’s been more than a year since I joined the team full-time, and we’ve grown the team about 3x since last January – 30+ people now.
  • The work is challenging, mostly because of the complexity of the projects and our target clients. We sell software to banks and lenders in the residential mortgage market, which in today’s world of regulation and compliance, plus the path dependency of existing systems and models, makes the decision and implementation process highly complex. In one implementation, I’ve counted more than 75 people on the customer side that have been involved with the process. That’s just one project at one customer.
  • It’s not particularly difficult work, just challenging from the standpoint of balancing the self-interest of everyone involved with each specific sale, plus the extenuating affects on other systems and people not directly involved.

Daily Practice:

  • Morning Pages: I wake up every morning and journal three pages – a practice I learned from Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” I’ve been doing this for more than a year now. Very effective to figure out what’s going on in my head before the day gets going, and writing out three full pages is enough to talk myself through whatever is bugging me.
  • Meditation: This started with 15 minutes of simply sitting still and focusing on my breathing. After about a month, I’m now able to go 30 minutes and about 25% of days, I do a guided mediation. Tara Brach has been my go-to on this so far. I download the podcasts so I can have little session even on a train or plane.
  • Evening Journal: The evening journal is a quick sketch of the day – what I accomplished. This is a very short exercise – 5-10 minutes. It’s been super useful to bookend the day, and offers some closure so that I’m not waking up and writing my morning pages about stuff that happened yesterday. I learned this from a Tim Ferriss podcast with Josh Waitzkin.

Helping Others:

  • I’ve made it a sort of personal challenge to seek and find people to help in achieving their professional goals.
  • Just before Christmas, I downloaded my LinkedIn contacts and I’ve started pinging 2-3 people every couple of days that I haven’t spoken with in a while. I send them a personal message to the effect: “It’s a been a while. Looks like you’re doing great. Need help with anything?” Pretty interesting to see the types of responses. A few (just a few…) haven’t responded. A couple people respond back with – “Great to hear from you. Hope all is well.” And then a good chunk of people send back specific requests, most of which are things for which I can actually help – connecting them with people I know, sending them articles and ideas, etc. Check out this James Altucher blog post on how to be a “super connector.”
  • Coaching, Workshops, etc. – I’ve gotten involved with lots of different groups over the past six months, mostly around entrepreneurship and startups. Meeting really great people from all over the world, literally. A few groups with which I’ve worked recently – The Nordic Innovation Group, BelCham, Startup Weekend, Social Venture Partners, SAGEGlobal, Women’s Startup Lab, Hult International Business School, and UC-Berkeley Extension.

Life Tips:

  • Free days – I almost always take a “free day” on the weekends – one day when I don’t check email, or even think about work, an idea I learned from Strategic Coach, a coaching program I tried out about a year ago. It takes some real discipline to avoid checking my phone during idle moments – whether short moments in line at the store or longer stretches like my son’s nap time over the weekend.
  • Naps – Yes to these. I try to nap every Sat and Sun when my son goes down.
  • Decluttering – Been tackling areas of the house to get rid of stuff I don’t need or use. Worked through laundry room, living room, and kitchen so far. Started on my closet. Found receipts and documents going all the way back to the mid-1990s. WTF… Liberating to throw stuff away, and give away that which might be useful to others – clothes, office supplies, etc.

Training & Racing:

  • Coming off knee surgery back in September. Took me much longer to recover than I expected (which is why professional athletes retire at 40…) I’m finally back to 5-6 mile runs and nearly 20 miles a week.
  • Planning on a half-marathon this Spring, a short triathlon or two this summer, then a marathon and ultra-marathon in the Fall.
  • Ironman? I get asked if I’m doing another. I usually tell people that I have another 1-2 in me, just not this year. But soonish…
  • Learned lots of cross-fit exercises over the past year – has really helped me with balance and running with more of my body, not just legs. Here’s an example workout from New Year’s Day.

What I’m feeding my brain:

  • Podcasts: Tim Ferris, Tara Brach
  • Blogs: James Altucher, Jason Lemkin
  • Books (recent & current):
    • “The Art of Asking,” Amanda Palmer – Indie punk musician that figured out how to ask people for help. Great lessons in here that you don’t have to do everything on your own. Here TED talk is a good summary, and thought I do recommend the book for the full story and context.
    • “Annals of a Former World,” John McPhee – A book about the geologic history of the US. It’s a tome that I don’t plan to finish. It’s really five books consolidated into one, and the book that’s most interesting is “Book 4 – Assembling California.” Big focus on Northern California and researchers based at UC-Davis. It’s good bed-time reading. Three pages and I’m ready to snooze. I’m amazed at the amount of research and learning that went into this book.
    • “Influence,” Robert Cialdini – Re-reading. Good airplane/business read on exactly what you’d think from the title. Research based – not a “manipulate people” book.
    • “Principles,” Ray Dalio – Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, a huge hedge fund. Super interesting read on how he approaches learning and communication.

And a huge thank you to Matt Slater, a friend and former student for the inspiration for this post.