Friday, October 30, 2009

Running With Myself

Finish time: 6:04:09

This is where it started, you know. It started with running.

It started those years ago now, alone and early in the sweaty Houston mornings, when two sticky miles around the sleeping neighborhood at 11 minute pace was "cardio." That was when it was hard. Really slow, really alone, and really hard.

It started with the achy knees and the shin splints and the 800 calorie breakfast after the 400 calorie jog. Quitting running, starting again, getting injured, starting again, running well, running poorly, weighing 169 pounds.

Doesn't it always start that way? Faltering efforts on one's own, pain and foolishness. Pain and failure, glimpses of success, endorphins and thrill followed by the loneliness of the long distance runner when you wonder why you're the only one out in the cold rain on a Sunday morning. Even through the windshields, you see the looks of drivers on a morning like that. They think you're a fool.

Even as children, we scarcely learn to walk before we are walking fast and bobbling then running--usually away from the worried grownups who try and fail (as they must) to prevent us from running into things, falling and starting again.

I suppose it would seem like foolishness for a two-year-old to run from safety to skinned up knees. But, after all, that's how growth happens--for two-year-olds and for forty three-year-olds. Foolish and necessary all at the same time.

"I pray--for fashion's word is out
And prayer comes round again--
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man."*

Off the bike this fool jumped in T2, and despite some lollygagging and habitual complaining, it felt good to get out into the sun and onto the run. My legs were not overtired and I was not overworried about completing the day's training task. I was blissfully ignorant about the features of the three loop course save the downhill and up between the arena where T2 and the finish were located to the lake park where the turnaround was. So, I practiced Ironman pace and decided to run past the first aid stations until a mile or two was under my belt.

Whisk-whisk-whisk-whisk. Light and easy were the quick steps that began to chew up little bites of feet and yards and miles. 138 pounds now--31 pounds down from a younger and slower self. The hills just meant smaller steps and slower pace but also the fun of gliding down the other side. The sun came and went behind sticky, humid clouds, but the warmth did not drain my energy. Steady on, and on with ease, one small landmark at a time, breeze sometimes but not at others.

There were lots of people on the run course, and the out and back nature of the route meant you would see them over and over. And there were lots of bands and music and entertainment and hooplah. Honestly, though, I was quiet inside, almost like I was out for one of those runs in the dark. I was out for a run by myself. Whisk-whisk-whisk-whisk. Smooth and steady--an occasional walk through an aid station and once to handle a side stitch on a hill that will not exist in Cozumel.

And then it was three laps done. Whisk-whisk-whisk-whisk. Two hours and a fraction and the knowledge that I could have gone much further still without going to the well. Thirteen minutes faster than my previous best when I tried hard and worried. 13 minutes faster as a passionate, and relaxed, fool.

I don't guess it matters how many Iron Distance races one has done. I always wonder at points in the year, "Who was that guy? Because there is no way it could have been me. I'm never going to do this."

But then at different points I know--at that point I knew--anything is possible for "a foolish, passionate man."* Cozumel awaits.

*William Butler Yeats, A Full Moon In March (1935). A Prayer for Old Age, st. 3.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Biking With Yoda

That spectator did not just call me "Tiny."

Yep. He did.

He called me "Tiny."

Judge me by my size do you? Mmmmm?

And well you should not. In cycling size matters not. For my ally is The Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are, not this crude matter. You must feel The Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Even between the land and the bike.

Better to be small it is, but large in the ways of The Force.

Fifty Six miles to the transition it is. Plan we must! Mmmm? Yes!

Big cyclists you are, and hammering the hills out of T1. Great warrior, hmmmm? Wars not one great.

Grave danger you are in. Impatient you are. Impatient I am not. Strong in the ways of the force am I. If the heart rate low and steady you keep, then strong at the end will you be. But you? Grave danger you are in.

Spinning up the hills I was, and low within the wind my shape I made. Fewer than 135 heart beats to the minute did I make. The Force was with me. 1 hour did pass and more than a third of the course had I run. To the end in less than three will I make? Always in motion, the future is.

Ah, hour two. Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you. But fear you? I do not! Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

But my ally is The Force. Even smaller do I become and invisible to the wind am I. This is not the cyclist you are looking for. Move along. Slower I must go, but still there is no weakness. No impatience. Use the Force I must. Because . . .

Now the third hour is. A few minutes behind am I. And yet, no impatience. Three hours can I make? Do or do not. There is no try.

So through the wind I must ride until we turn for home and then flow with The Force at my back I will. 22, 24, 28 and 30 mph riding on the Force.

And three hours I did make, faster than my own efforts have yet permitted. Faster still could I have gone. And now run I will.

And when 43 years old you are, look as good, you will not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Swimming with Ernest

In the early fall of this year we traveled to a city in the hills next to a lake that looked across the farmland towards the plains. In the lake were water plants, long and soft, dark in the morning light, and the water was grey and dark, still in the October morning.

Crowds went by and down the road to the water. And the noise around them did not stir them, each man alone with each other together. And it was a fine thing looking out over the water by one's self in that crowd.

The day had been cool before the sun, and we gathered by groups. Men in groups. Women in groups. Groups by age, the largest by far being men between 35 and 45. All these men with half a life behind and maybe less than half before, and lots of money between them; yet, all preparing to plunge in the lake and swim away from shore.

Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. To all these men, it seemed a noble thing to swim that morning. We don't kill our food to survive any more. We don't run with the tribe until the antelope falls from exhaustion. We of the suburbs do not even hunt for fun. We don't shoot big game anymore. We don't battle game fish.

Even war is not the same. My enemy and I will never see each other's eyes. I from my country will try to kill him from afar on a screen. Only when pressed will we send our youth to be boots on the ground while leader and leading class dine in safety. He from his will prefer to kill everyone except my soldiers--relief workers, journalists, secretaries in office buildings. He will immolate himself (or persuade his weak contemporary to do so) because believes this will hurt me above all else. Acting as we do, are we, then, men at all? Where the "grace under pressure?" In modern war . . . you will die like a dog for no good reason.

But we are men. We were not made for lives of safety and comfort and electrons entertaining us with the struggle of others on a Sunday afternoon. We were not made to be fearful or still. Our excess makes us that way--excess money carried in our garages and homes, excess food carried around our bellies, excess status carried between our ears. Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth. We were made for struggle, and ambition, for striving, for the fight, for the arena. If life does not provide it, we will create it for ourselves.

Hesitation increases in relation to risk in equal proportion to age. Reaching the middle of our years, we start to fear the arena is past. Then we search for grace under pressure and we'll reach almost anywhere looking to see it in ourselves. We try to be the heroes in our own narrative, for as you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.

And it was so necessary that we stood with hundreds of our fellows, long before our sleeping, half-living friends stirred in bed. The dark was still upon us as we formed our ranks and our battalions. Commands rang out from the loudspeakers. The flag was saluted, the anthems sung. The dawn began and clouds took up the colors of from gray to pale purple to peach and then to gold. The hills looked out over the mirror lake and file upon file of hills beyond it. Group by group we took our place and came to the water, following the order to swim.

And once more we took to the struggle in the water, hundreds of men with perhaps less than half their lives before them.
I moved forward in the surge while the man on the speakers shouted at us. The water was dark, soft and warm to the touch, and the air around our heads fresh and cool. Plants in the water brushed and grabbed my legs and the mud sucked me ankle deep.

I swam out hard and strong, head up at first and then pushing my face into the lake. At first, the air and water were good, smooth, and full. I breathed and blew and all was well. I swam with the group of men until I ran into one, tried to swim around, clocked another, and drank the brown, silty water. About 200 meters in, my shoulder ached from the unaccustomed wetsuit and I was just sick of the whole thing.

I choked, looked up and tried to keep myself on course. The far corner of the course seemed no closer, and I took a couple of breast strokes, as if there was something to be done other than swimming on. I don't enjoy swimming, and I am always looking to abbreviate the experience. But stopping would feel good temporarily. It does not solve the problem. Cycling is only allowed if you complete the swim. The more you half-ass it an complain to yourself, the longer it will take.

So, I looked for some way to swim that would account for the stress on my shoulders. I kept my head down for longer in order to make progress, and swam some off course. Lifting my head more often, I stayed on course, but swam slower. There is nothing heroic about a man swimming, except the finishing of the thing itself. So, nothing to do but keep going. Hercules or not, the manure in the Aegean stables still needs shoveling.

And shovel I did. Made the first turn far too slowly but glided around and swam for turn two. By now, faster swimmers from the wave behind had caught us up and I gave up more time trying to move outside to let them through. Again, trying to make distance between citing and a gimp shoulder made me swim like a drunken sailor. Correcting course, I finally made turn three.

More shoveling.

The waves at this race had some "slower" waves ahead and some "faster" waves behind, with a good alternation between male and female waves. By some freak of physics or combination of bell curves, I swam into a gathering of faster and slower swimmers all arriving around turn two at the same time, like bigger and smaller pieces of flotsam caught in an eddy. Again, I felt in the way, but could see the final buoys and the swim exit some 500 meters off. I pushed my face again into the lake, pulled hard, glided when I could, cited often, and tried to make this last bit count.

As the end came closer, it also came faster. No watch was on my wrist nor was one seen by me. I am what I am in the water. And I am not what I cannot be. Though always tempted to quit, finisher I will ever be, and finisher I was. Because man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.

I don't know what kind of literary dweeb thinks of Hemingway while waiting for a swim to start, but I did. So, I tried to write it down.**

Monday, October 26, 2009

PR, Bitches!

Full race report to come, but I dropped 13 minutes from my half-iron PR.

And this course was WAY harder and hillier than my PR course or the flat, Ironman Cozumel course.

And my PR was set when I was 40. I am now 43.

And with the exception of about 8 miles at the end of the bike where I pushed a little harder, I was keeping Ironman heart rates all the way through.

Current Ironman pace at 43 years of age on a hard course = 13 minutes faster than old half-iron PR at 40 years of age.


Coach Kris is a freakin' genius, riding with Coach Liz will make you fast, and Phil Shama will pimp your ride like no other.

I think I am seeing the light of possible at the end of this training tunnel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ask Coach Kris: Conehead or Not?

Dear Coach Kris:

I noticed that at the Ironman World Championships this year, few if any of the top pros wore aero helmets. The speculation was that this was due to the heat at Kona and the better ventilation available by way of a normal cycling helmet.

Of course, it's hot at Cozumel where I'll be racing too, and aero helmets (like race wheels etc.) provide a bigger advantage to faster racers--i.e., not me. On the other hand, seaside wind could mean that I face a constant head wind at some point on which would make an aero helmet even more efficient.

So, the question: should an age grouper who will be racing Iron distance well under 20 mph in hot conditions wear an aero helmet or go for the increased cooling properties of the ordinary cycling helmet?


Re: Ask Coach KrisGood question. This is going to come down to personal preference. I can not speak for the pros in Kona, but would guess they had made their choices based on hard proven results from training. You may have noticed Chrissie wore a traditional helmet on the bike and no hat on the run. This would have me guess she has some heat issues she manages in her own way.

For you Greyhound, I would recommend choosing a newer aero helmet with plenty of ventilation. Some, like the Lazer, even have ports to dump water on your head. If you can tolerate these, you should wear one. The aerodynamic performance advantages of an aero helmet at an Ironman distance has been proven in wind tunnels across the world. I have personally been a part of wind tunnel experiments at the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel at MIT in Boston, MA and have seen just what they can do.

I hope this helps shed some light on your head wear choice delema. Keep trying things out and go with what works for YOU!


Kris Swarthout
USAT Level II Coach
USAT Midwest Regional Chair
USATF Level I Coach
Co-Owner SCS Multisport LLC

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Size Does Matter

I've often wondered: is bigger necessarily better?

If you were to believe half the things you see or hear in the media--legitimate media or the questionable forms that appear in 24 hour stores and Supreme Court cases--you'd think that size was the sine qua non of satisfaction. Indeed, the whole world economy has been in a downward spiral due to the bigger is better, people borrowing (and banks lending) money at too much risk in order to get that McMansion or house they can't afford.

And when was the last time a woman swooned over the little guy--and Tom Cruise doesn't count because he stands on a box. And I would further note for the record that there was only "Mr. Big" in the popular TV series. There was no "Mr. Really Knows His Business" or "Mr. Just Right" or "Mr. Rocked My World" even "Mr. Kind."

But again, how can bigger necessarily be better? I mean, how can something that doesn't fit feel good? What of size-induced discomfort? I mean who wants to climb on top of something huge that just doesn't fit and try to make it work? Is that really fun? Does that really feel pleasurable? You can see, I hope, how someone who is 5'4" (with all parts scaled to fit) might wonder about such things.

But finally, this weekend, I knew for sure my crank was just the right size for the job. A lot of guys resort to self-help when it comes to crank size. And sure, I like a "do it yourself" crank job just as much as the next guy. DIY can be lots of fun and should be a part of any healthy person's life. There's certainly no shame in it. But, this time I went to a "professional," if you get my meaning. And the professional attention made all the difference.

The feelings and sensations were mind blowing. I just kept going and going and going. Six hours I went. Seriously! Six hours! And a few minutes after finishing, I was ready to go again. It was so smooth and effortless, gliding like a well-lubed piston fitting and moving within the tight walls of its cylinder. Sometimes I pushed hard and slow. Sometimes fast and quick. Changing tempos and position and pace.

I think I felt the earth move.

So, big thanks to Phil Shama of Shama Cycles for persuading me to reduce the size of my cranks on Carmen Tequilo, the tri-specific bike in my garage-mahal. It totally changed my pedal stroke and positioning on the whole bike, enabled an efficient, circular pedal stroke and markedly reduced the fatigue of riding 100 miles. Seriously, every part of the bike fit better and every party of the bike worked better with my body just by putting on a shorter crank that fit my anatomy better. It was remarkable and I cannot overstate how much Phil's expertise helped me out. Phil is the Jedi master of all things crank and bike related.


Why are you snickering and looking at me that way?

Of course I was talking about a bike. What did you think I was talking about?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Light as Iron--Morning Run

Shade and breezes and bending light. Morning behind a cool front that has cleared it all away: the tension, the smothering heat, the crushing humidity, the doubt, the questions.

Today, all I feel is almost nothing at all. My feet turn the earth beneath me like it is on ball bearings. The ground whispers by. I am running but I might as well be riding a bicycle with no chain. It is effortless.

Time stops. Or maybe all of time is now. Mile 16 is just as easy as mile 8 and as easy as mile four and feels like it would go on no matter how far over the horizon I ran following the rising sun. And all the while, my feet whisper -- swish swish swish swish -- at 180 steps per minute.

Back straight, body light, held aloft by something that defies gravity. I don't need to push myself because I am being pulled along.

I have been wondering how one makes it 140.6 miles to an Ironman finish line. I always do. How am I going to drag myself all day long and into the night.

Perhaps I won't have to. Perhaps I'll be pulled along.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Iron Juggler

Timing is everything.

If you want a simple and convenient run up to the Ironman, sign up one year in advance for a race that occurs before the intense heat of summer. To avoid burnout, start your real preparation about 6 months out when large numbers of your triathlon club will be out in training groups. Oh, and make an effort to be independently wealthy so that work will not interfere with your almighty training calendar.

Or if you like a challenge, pick a late season Ironman

So you can start training 11 months in advance

And so you can train through the heat of summer when no one wants to ride with you

And so you can train through the fall after most of your friends have already shut it down for the year

And so you can peak at the same time that the autumnal acceleration of work duties and trials and receptions is at its most intense.

Oh, and be sure and do it the year that fall temperatures decide never to show up in Houston.

Then you can develop some side skills in addition to swim bike and run such as

1. Eating pre-prepared crap in your car or at your desk

2. Experimenting with sleep deprivation

3. Mental calendarical juggling so that you can keep all or most of your training sessions and still do your doctor's appointments and that lame reception which lasts until 9pm after which you drive home and arrive at 9:45 and turn in 90 minutes later such that you sleep so late you miss your morning swim session (but not so late that you can avoid getting up and going early to the office) which swim session you must now fit in some time later in the day after the bike fit perhaps but before picking up the kid from school for piano lessons because of the spouse is on the scrap book retreat or perhaps this evening or perhaps tomorrow morning before the long run that is moved from Sunday to Saturday in order to run while the kid is at band contest due to the scrap booking retreat and that little thing called parenting.


Given my somewhat timid and bookish nature, I have rarely been accused of having "balls." But right now, I'm pretty sure that whatever balls I have are in the air. I don't relish dropping them.

Ah, December. Glorious December. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Winning Mullet

The runaway winner in the mullet song lyric contest was Carrie from Tri to Be Funny. I had to include a picture of her hubster, Shawn, given that he probably gave her the answers to the guy songs. He's lucky I didn't put a mullet on him to.

As a result of winning the mullet song lyric contest, Carrie is entitled to choose amongst three fabulous prizes:

1. A gently used Body Glide stick;

2. Pink compression socks; or

3. An itunes gift certificate.

She can claim her prize and make her victory speech via iphone in the comment section.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just Another Day In Paradise

Maybe we've been here before.

You know, that period of time right before an Ironman race where it's no longer this thing way out there for which you are preparing, but an imminent challenge. It gets real. Really real.

It's sort of like looking under the bed for that monster you were always afraid was there as a child only to feel the hot breath and see the yellow eyes of an honest to goodness monster.

My monster is the swim, so much so that I've been lately going off the reservation and swimming sets that exceed the distance prescribed by My Personal Yoda, Coach Kris. Fear will do that to you.

So here's the question I have about my particular monster. I know I can swim 2.4 miles in the open water. Been there. Done that. I'm pretty sure I can swim 2.4 miles without the aid of a wetsuit. But when the water starts moving up and down or side to side, or when I have to swim into a current, my weak little canine brain starts to despair.

Cozumel is a one loop swim course, leaving more time for despair and less opportunity to break the swim into bit sized pieces. In addition, the first half of the swim is into the teeth of the prevailing current that flows from south to north and which is used by divers to "drift dive."

Has anyone actually been in this water to know how serious this current is? Are we talking "lazy river" current or are we talking "Deliverance" current. I don't want to drift. And I don't particularly want to swim for an hour on the redline into a current before turning for home. But I think I hear banjo music.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ask Coach Chris

And now we return to our regularly scheduled blog. Another in a series of tri-training Q&A called, "Ask Coach Kris" in which we get to propound our most bedeviling training questions to the big giant brain that is Kris Swarthout of SCS Multisport. This time we have two questions from blog readers.

First a question from Fe-Lady, an experienced, uber-fit, 57 year old Ironman finisher.

Dear Coach Kris:

I have missed a couple (just a couple!) of longer workouts (bike/run specifically) due to illness. Should I try to make that up during a rest week, or just continue with the program I have and call it a loss?

Thanks Coach!

Iron Lady,

I would ask what is the distance of your main goal race and how far are you out from that race? I will assume it is an Ironman (old detective skills still flow through my veins). As a rule I say missed workouts should never be made up. By trying to make up those missed workouts during a recovery week you can throw off the balance of your program. Since the key workouts are what you would have been recovering from, I would recommend repeating the workouts on your rest weekend at 70% of the volume and 100% of the original intensity prescribed. Be sure to recover well and think about getting a post workout massage to aid in recovery.

You were wise to skip the workouts due to illness. They would not have helped you and they could have drawn out your illness recovery time. Good luck!

Coach Kris

From Iron KT in the Woodlands, an experienced triathlete who came to triathlon through competitive swimming, and who finished her first Ironman (Wisconsin) last year:

Dear Coach Kris:

Why do you think my heart rate rises drastically when I run (average 178 bpm), when it stays reasonable (average 140 bpm) when I swim and bike (assume I am exerting the same output for all 3 sports)? Actually, I'm probably going [comparatively] slower when I run (9 - 10 min. miles) vs swimming and biking.

Thanks. I am so frustrated by this issue! I had to stop my run yesterday after 1 mile because I couldn't sustain my hr.

Thank you!


HR rates vary between sports , i.e. your zone 3 for running will not be the same as your biking zone 3. Normally the levels are 5-10 beats per minute different. I would recommend having your zones checked by a professional exercise physiologist.

They should run VO2 max test on you while you are running and biking. By doing this you will know for sure if your zones are correct. If you have done this with one of the two sports, then I would suggest returning to the person who tested you and doing the test on the other sport. If you compare the results and you still find a wide swing in your HR rates, I would seek the advice of your doctor to rule out any cardiovascular issues.

If you have acquired your HR zones by using the old 220 minus your age, you should know that scale has a rate of error of +/- of 20 beats per minute. The error balance should be enough of a reason to convince you to seek out professional testing.

If you wish to field test your threshold HR try this simple field test. Begin your workout at an easy pace, warming up for 10 minutes, then proceed to slowly increase your effort monitoring your HR and your breathing. Make a note when you begin to audibly breath (breathing loudly). Your threshold will be around 3-5 beats below that point. If you are doing this test on a bike trainer, increase the effort by increasing your gear ratio while holding a consistent cadence. For running, gradually increase speed and incline on a treadmill. Have someone with you who can listen with a non-partial ear. I hope this helps!

Coach Kris

If you have a question for the guru triathlete coach to the stars, feel free to e-mail me or leave it in the comments. Better yet, if you are thinking about where to get coaching next season for a big race or because you want to improve, hit the links for Coach Kris or SCS Multisport in the side bar.

Now, GET OUT THERE AND TRAIN!!!!. Make every day count.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Please Stand By

I wanted to post today, but I have a court appearance tomorrow and much work to be done. So please stand by, and when we return we will have (among other things) the winners of the mullet contest.

But for the record, Houston, October 6 is not supposed to be 80 degrees and 90 percent relative humidity at 0500 in the a.m. That was truly sub par and I expect better.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

And Sometimes It Rains

Well, it's been a quiet week in Spring, Texas, my home town, out on the edge of the Megalopolis.

Seven weeks from the moment I am writing this I hope to be about half way through the marathon at Ironman Cozumel.

While some might think that's pretty exciting to think about (and in a certain way it is), I can be a glass half-empty kind of guy sometimes--especially when there are 56 days to go in an Ironman buildup.

Something about 15 or so hours of training can do that to a fella that works 55 hours a week in an office. This week was 15 hours and 48 minutes of training including:
  • 108 miles on the bike in three sessions of which one was 90 minutes on the trainer
  • A bit over 25 miles of running
  • About 8000 meters of swimming
  • One strength session with Miki
It is at this point in a build up, especially if you've been going all year, that you start to think you might be over this whole Ironman thing. Everything hurts. Everything is hard.

It's hard to go to sleep when you want to sleep. It's hard to stay awake when you want to stay awake. It's hard to stay asleep when you want to stay asleep. It's hard to get up when you need to get up. It's hard to work. It's hard to train.

But then, sometimes, it rains--a drizzle that is just cool enough to break the back of summer and let you know of autumn's promise. And you get to run in the drizzle and spalsh in the puddle like you're three again. And you get to be three again with your tri club president. Only when she was three, she probably played with Barbie or Strawberry Shortcake instead of riding her pink Barbie bike like a pink predator.

And while Memorial Park is not full, there are others out on a Sunday morning enjoying this small miracle with you. In a city of four million people, there are a few good people enjoying good things.

And the miles tick by while the road goes ever on, bringing darkness into flat and pale grey light.

And then I remember why I would not trade it for anything.

And that's the news from Spring Texas, where all the schools are exemplary, all the food is fast, and all the commutes are above average.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Coach Kris tells me I need to train in the heat.

Which means that yesterday was a perfect day to train for Ironman Cozumel: hot, humid and windy as hell.


So, Coach Liz, my local IM COZ peep, and I went out for a two hour tempo ride in the middle of the day. I drank buckets. I sweated buckets. And it was the perfect conditions to simulate Cozumel.


Nearly 90% humidity. Upper 80s for the temps. And winds gusting above 20 mph.


I'm so lucky to live where I can get such wonderful training.


Love that.