Monday, June 13, 2011

Ragnar, bitches.

I've wanted to do a long-distance running relay race for quite a while now - we actually submitted an application to the mother of all relays, Hood to Coast, two years ago, but didn't get selected - and this past weekend I finally got to experience one.

Our friend Ross gets all the credit for actually pulling the trigger, and setting up the team, so all kudos to him for getting the ball moving. For those who have never heard of Ragnar, it's a series of races nationwide, all about 200-miles in length, in which teams of 8-12 runners complete three (or more) legs each over the course of 36-odd hours. The race goes around the clock, so you're moving - either on foot or in one of two vans - pretty much non-stop until the whole thing ends. As you can imagine, the nature of the event - combining both mental and physical fatigue, and both in extremely close quarters - means that you had better be careful in selecting your teammates. Luckily, Ross did a great job, and apart from a few late-race snipes and a couple of tears, I think we're all still friends (but, I guess we'll see if Cath and I ever get another invite to be sure...). Cath and I were assigned to Van 2 along with Drew, Ross, his wife Diana, and our friends Danielle and John for Minneapolis. Because we ended up with an extra participant, Ross graciously volunteered to forgo his running spot and just come along for the ride.

The adventure began on Thursday, when the van picked us up at home for the trek to Madison. Traffic was pretty lousy, so we didn't end up getting into town until after dinner time. Burgers and beer hit the spot, and we then retreated to the hotel to soak up as much sleep as we'd get for the next 40-odd hours.

Because Van 1 started the race for us at 8:30 a.m., we had the morning to ourselves - the format of the race requires all 6 runners in Van 1 to complete their first legs before the runners in our van began their legs - and took advantage of the extra time to joke our way through breakfast and pick up some last minute supplies. The leisurely start was a welcome way to begin a race, but I was antsy to get going - Van 2's first runner didn't hit the road until lunch time, and I was the last runner (leg 12) to run their first leg. I think I actually took the "baton" from Cath for my first leg around 6:00 p.m. on Saturday evening.

But it didn't take long to get into the race - about 10 steps in, a kid passed me asking what kind of pace I planned to run. I said I didn't know, and was going to see how I felt. He said he wanted to run 7:00/miles and we should run together. Yeah, right. No, I said, that's too fast for my old bones, but good luck out there. He motored ahead, but never got too far away, and I started feeling better as the first mile passed by. This first leg was 6.9 miles long, and almost totally flat, and I quickly made my way back up to this kid's side. We chatted for a quite a while, which was a nice way to pass the time, and we were still going at pretty healthy clip - somewhere in the 7:00 to 7:30/mile range - until there was just a mile or two left. I then left him to try and pick a few more "kills" (the popular name for runners you pass during your leg), and ended up completing the leg in just a bit over 50 minutes. I think it worked out to about 7:15/mile average, which I was super happy with - didn't think I had that kind of speed left for that kind of distance.

We then got a quick bite to eat - the local Boy Scouts were selling burgers and such at the end of the leg - and headed to the next van exchange. With Van 1's runners now plowing ahead with their second legs, we were able to rest a bit at some high school that had volunteered to let hundreds of sweaty, hungry runners crash on the gym floor and take cold showers in the locker room. Believe me, high schools still look and smell as gross as they did when you were a student - the first shower I turned on spit out a sad little stream of brown water. But even a cold shower was better than nothing, and we rested on a dark basketball court for a couple hours until it was time to prepare for our second legs.

My own second leg started at around 1:00 a.m., and ended up being another 5.4 mile sprint through the suburban neighborhoods of Racine, Wisconsin. I really didn't intend to put so much effort into it, but, again, as soon as I started, there was a high school girl (Haley, as it turns out) on my shoulder. At first I thought she was going to leave me in the dust, but she stayed right there on my shoulder. Then that got annoying, so I tried to pull away, but her long legs were having none of that. So then it got weird. We were running much faster than was comfortable, but I felt like I couldn't slow down - ego, maybe - so I just kept going as fast as I could into the night. Her van would come by to cheer every few hundred yards, which I thought was really nice, and it made the dark miles fly by. And we stayed just like that - front to back - for almost the whole leg, never speaking a word to each other, until about 500 yards left, when she suddenly faded back. I congratulated her after we finished, and sure enough, she was probably 17 years old and about 5'11''. We had run straight 7:00/miles and I thought I was close to death. Crazy what pride will do to you. But, again, I'm proud of myself for the effort - it was Ironman-level intense, and I definitely wanted to slow down (or lay down) many times, but was able to keep up the pace. In the grand scheme of things it really didn't matter, but it made me feel a little bit badass. So, there's that.

And with that, we had another long-ish break - from roughly 2:00 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., where we tried to rest inside Lutheran church. But, again, I just couldn't sleep - there was just too much noise, and I was too jacked up from just having run, so I just laid there and tried to rest a bit.

We struck out again for our last legs at about 3:45 a.m., and that's when the long day/night started to really hit me. I just couldn't keep my eyes open in the van, and wondered how I was ever going to finish that last leg. Then my stomach started getting bloaty and sick feeling. Luckily, the sun came up and things started to fall back into place. We stopped for bagels and coffee, and I rallied in time for the home stretch. I was lucky enough to draw the last leg of the race, which would take our team over the finish line. By this time, a lot of the truly fast teams - and our team was no slouch, so these kids were really flying - had caught up to us and we (sadly) getting killed more often than we were picking up kills. It seemed like every around us was running well under 7:00/miles and were obviously on college or club teams.

I got the slap bracelet from Cath for the last time at around noon on Saturday, and made my way south from Northwestern University to the finish line, a distance of 6.8 miles. I started off strong, successfully repelling an attack from behind (winning!), but pretty much felt like ass after about 25 minutes. I tried to keep the pace high, but just because I wanted the running to be o-v-e-r. My quads were killing me. I was cold. I was hungry. And so tired. I just wanted to stop running.

Then, as I turned a corner along the lakefront, I saw Ragnar's orange tents and banners in the distance and about died - it all seemed so far away still. Pfft. Finally, I made my way to the beach, and stopped my watch at 56 minutes. So glad to be done. So. Glad. It was great to see everyone, and super nice to be the last one in, but I was so glad to be done.

All-in-all, it was a great event. Much more difficult than I imagined it would be, but probably because I ran it much harder than I expected to. But everyone on our team gave it 110 percent, and you just felt like you couldn't lounge it in. My teammates were awesome - so much laughing, and nobody went postal! Can't ask for much more than that. And can't wait to do it again.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Wrapping up week 7

Don't really have any hard and fast feelings as to how the training is going so far - it's going, I guess. I'm in it enough that the days are all starting to blend in to each other, so nothing really stands out. I'm hitting the workouts, with a few adjustments here and there, so I'm feeling good about that. I'm also feeling good physically - no aches or pains, knock on wood.

Hoping to get outside on the bike this weekend, which would be a first this year. Pretty pathetic that my bike hasn't seen the pavement since, oh, September maybe? August? I can't even remember. I have two and one-half hours on the plan, so I'm hoping the weather will cooperate. That kind of time on the trainer is pretty grating.

Other than that, nothing too exciting going on. Just knocking out the miles/laps. Ho-hum.
Hope yu'uns have a nice Memorial Day weekend.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 5

Dude, week 5 already? Wow. My head can't believe it, but my body does - despite a pretty consistent off-season, a real IM schedule has been a bit of an adjustment. The volume isn't all that heavy yet, but focusing more on swim-bike-run has been a bit of a challenge. My body just feels a bit run down most of the time. The Monday rest days don't do a lot to help. But the workouts, themselves, are good. No problem there. And my sleep (including weekend naps) has been awesome.

But I've always had a bit of a problem with recovery - I have never been good about post-exercise stretching and nutrition, and I think that's why I'm feeling a bit 'blah.' My muscles are tight, and I'm hungry at night, which tells me that I'm not cooling down well enough and not eating enough during the day. Both issues need to be fixed before the numbers start to pick up in the coming weeks.

In other news, Cath and I are going to spend a week in Boulder/Denver, CO in July to celebrate her birthday, and scope out the area as a potential target for re-location. As I've whined before, I can't wait to pull up stakes and leave Chicago behind, and we've (well, I've...) recently focused my attention on Colorado as the most viable candidate. We'll see. My mom still wants us in Bend, OR, seeing as she lives just a couple hours away, but I fear that the area is too small and won't provide ample employment opportunities for us (which is, of course, especially important in this deflated economy). At this point, I'm just excited to be hunting for new places to live. It should be fun.

Other than that, we did end up bailing on Galena this year - it just didn't make economic sense without Drew's involvement - so our next adventure is Ragnar the weekend of June 11th.

Hope all is well where you are.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In it

So, we're officially into week 3 and things are still pretty much on track, training-wise. I've continued to hit my goals for the week, and, physically speaking, everything feels good. The transition to more intense and extended cardio has taken a bit of getting used to - I'm now feeling the absence of running and biking from my life over the past few months - but I'm liking it. Having taken some time off, I feel pretty fresh and it seems almost new again.

The only workout I really don't look forward to is the long bike on Saturday - the weather is still crap here, so the trainer is getting a workout. And I forgot how horrible the trainer can be. Anything more than an hour is pretty miserable. I'm not sure how I made it though four and five hour rides preparing for IM Arizona - I can't imagine doing that again. I'm just hoping that the weather improves enough in May to actually get out on the roads. That's not asking too much, is it?

Otherwise, things are pretty low-key here. Unfortunately, our sprint tri in Galena may have to get scrubbed - Drew has had an unexpected family issue arise, and I'm not sure I want to expend the time/$$$ to go up there alone, but we'll see. But Ragnar is still on the agenda for June, and I'm looking forward to that as something new and exciting.

And speaking of new and exciting, I definitely want to do one of these next year:'


Monday, April 18, 2011

Things I like

Even though I'm very small potatoes in the blog world, and receive nothing in the form of endorsements or discounts from anyone for anything I write here, I still thought it might be helpful to occasionally post about things I like (usually related to training). I know when I started in triathlon, I had no idea what to eat, drink, wear, etc., and there were even fewer options then than there are now. I think I've ingested just about every type of bar, drink, and gel, and am now on my fifth type of bike helmet since 2004. Obviously, everyone is different, and what I think is great may not be so great for you, but I'd definitely recommend that you at least try some of the things that have worked for me - it might totally change your training and racing. Hopefully, for the better.

Today I'm plugging Gu energy gels. And I'm not talking Roctane, Gu's high end cousin, but rather the original Gu. Not the recovery tea, or the blocs, or whatever else they have out there, either. Just the plain ol' Gu energy gel that's been around since 1991 (look, I even did research for this post!). Not that the other stuff isn't good, but it's just not my focus today.

Gu, for me, is like the high school sweetheart you left behind when you went to college, and then later wish was still part of your life. I started with Gu when I started in triathlon, actually while I was still just doing running events, but I was tempted by all the new gel formulas that quickly entered the market, and left Gu behind. I dabbled with the Power Bar variety, the Cliff Shot, even the Accelerade, Carb Boom, and Hammer offerings. But I soon came back to Gu (unlike the high school sweetheart). They weren't the same.

I'm certainly not smart enough to know the science behind it, but Gu just seems to work for me. Much better than the other stuff on the market. I slug it down, and instantly feel energized. I actually look forward to the point during the run or ride when I can rip one open, because I know that it will make me feel better. And I like the little things - there's a million different flavors (or Plain, which is actually one of my favorites), and while it can be a little thick when it's cold out, warming it up makes it easy to take in on the bike or run. You can even mix it in a flask with water to make it extra-liquidy, which I did for IM Arizona a few years ago. In fact, that's about all I took in for that race, and felt fine the whole time. It's also easy on my stomach, which can be super sensitive on race days.

So, there you go. Like I said, the folks at Gu don't know me from Adam, and I'm not asking them for anything - this is just my little tip for you. Energy gels can be hugely effective for training and racing, so if you're not using them, you should give them a try. Sample a few different kinds, but make sure there a Gu Chocolate Outrage in the mix - it looks and tastes just like frosting, and what could be better than that?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekly schedule

One of the great things about training for an Ironman is that you never need to spend any time wondering what type of exercise you want to do on a given day. The plan tells you what you're doing. And for how long. And how hard.

This can, of course, also be a huge draw back, if you just don't feel like doing what's on the plan for that day. Or doing it as long as it wants you to do it. Or as hard as it says to do it.

The 30-week plan that I'm following, and followed for IMWI 2009, as well, is pretty straight forward. And, yes, I have the schedule printed out as a graph so it's easy to see what the week holds (I'm not naturally a graph person, unlike many/most IM participants, but the graph was given to me by a friend that followed the same plan, so I'm using it).

A typical week looks like this:

- Monday = rest day (love that the week starts with rest - how can you argue with that?!);
- Tuesday = swim/run (distances and times vary as the plan progresses);
- Wednesday = bike/run;
- Thursday = swim/bike;
-Friday = run;
- Saturday = bike;
- Sunday = run.

I've previously altered this schedule slightly to fit our life schedule, and will likely do the same this time. For example, this week I just biked on Thursday, and swam today instead of running. Because my run is probably my strong suit, and has the greatest chance for injury over the long-term, I will probably do fewer runs than the plan provides and instead put that time toward a strength session and more biking. Drew and I usually ride long on Sundays, and we can run with Cath's marathon training group on Saturdays, so those days usually get reversed. Don Fink, the guy who put this plan together, encourages people to do some measure of strength training each week - mostly core stuff, and nothing too exhausting - and I'm going to try to keep at least one session in each week, which I didn't bother to do the last time we IM trained. We'll see if bringing it back into the fold will make any difference.

Other than that, I plan on trying to keep to the plan pretty vigorously this year. I did well this week - which is probably a good thing, seeing as it was week 1 - and hit each of the workouts, except that run on Friday (which, as mentioned, will probably disappear from my schedule altogether). So far, so good, but it's early still - the hard work is still a ways down the road.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 1

Well, there are over 200 days until I - hopefully - get a glimpse of the finish line at IM Florida, but you gotta start somewhere.

And today was that somewhere. Day one.
IM training has officially begun, and I'm excited and grateful to be in a position - physically and otherwise - to begin this journey once again.

I remember attending a group pre-race dinner put on by a triathlon coach friend of ours several years ago for her athletes that were about to take on IM Wisconsin. The coach asked some of us who had already completed the race to give a few words of advice on race strategy and the like, and, when it was my turn, I got choked up just thinking and talking about the experience again. I think I actually had to stop and check myself before continuing. I'm not generally a mushy person, but the memories created by an IM race - and the effort that I made to get there - are so vivid and so deep, that the emotions were just right there. So much can go wrong - in the days and weeks leading up to the race, and on race day itself - you realize that the journey could have ended at any point along the route. But if it all comes together, those are memories you'll have for the rest of your life.

It meant a lot to complete that Ironman race, and the two I've done since then have been equally rewarding, so to be in a position to once again start that trip is reason in itself to give thanks. I'm lucky that I have a wife that supports this lifestyle, generally good health, and the disposable income to throw on race fees and travel. I'm lucky to have friends that enjoy spending their weekends on long runs and rides in the middle of nowhere, days which typically start way too early in the morning. And I'm lucky to have the genetics to be somewhat proficient at all three sports that make up this silly sport.

I hope I make it the start line in one piece this year, but I also recognize that the true value of finishing an Ironman race comes from the training you put in to get there. The race, itself, is just frosting on the cake. So I'm going to relish this feeling and the days that lie ahead because it's this effort that will make another IM finish so memorable.
Here we go.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The final countdown

So, as previously mentioned, I'll be following the Be Iron Fit training plan for this round of "Can John Make It Through Another Ironman Without Dying."

With the race falling on November 5 this year, that puts the first day of the 30-week training plan on April 11 (although, because the plan gives you Monday as a rest day every week, the training really starts on the 12th). That's fewer than 30 days from now, and feels like tomorrow. Gulp.

But what I like about Fink's plan is that it starts out rather tame, and the increases in training are moderate - the first week, for example, is only six hours of exercise, and only averages less than 10 hours per week for the first 11 weeks of the plan. Considering I'm already in the gym six days per week, this should be a pretty easy adjustment.

And I'm looking forward to following a plan again, while at the same time easing off on the high heart rate activity - sadly, Peak Performance (otherwise known as "60 minutes of pure, painful, agony not designed for a 42-year old man") will have to go on without me. Long and slow, here I come!

The only down side is having to pick up another day in the pool - I've been going once per week, just to remember how it's done, but will need to add another day in order to gain a bit more endurance. And I hate swimming. Especially with other people. A week or two ago, I was forced to share a lane with a guy much larger than myself, with the more bizarre stroke, and who was entirely unable to stay on his side of the lane. Totally threw off my swim, as I was terrified that a fist was going to come crashing down on my head every time we passed each other. But, I guess that's just comes with the territory. Hopefully, the warm weather will arrive as quickly as the cold did last year, and we'll be swimming in the lake before Memorial Day.

I also can't wait to get the bike outside again - it's been so long since we rode out in the suburbs that I'm afraid we'll get lost on our tried-and-true route. Did 90 minutes on the trainer on Saturday and it seemed like an eternity. I'd rather get buzzed by rednecks in pickup trucks than muscle through an indoor trainer session, so we may venture out a bit early this year. Again, praying Mother Nature turns on the warmth early this year.

Hope you're making through this winter in one piece!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The list

It's really no secret that I hate Chicago.

I've felt this way for about 10 years now. It's loud, the people are inconsiderate douchebags, the weather sucks, and anything resembling nature is at least a 45 minute drive away (and your definition of "nature" had better be pretty broad for this apply). Luckily, the wife shares my contempt for this place, and we have rather unscientifically come up with the following possible destinations for our ultimate escape from the frigid Midwest. When this escape will be pulled off is anyone's guess at this point - I had a dream the other night that our condo was appraised at $15,000, which may not be far from reality. But, it's still nice to dream of leaving this all behind, especially when you're walking to work in single-digit temps. So, here's the list of frontrunners so far, in no particular order:

1. Bend, Oregon - sits pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Oregon, not far from Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes. I love the fact that it sits in the high-desert, and has less than 60,000 full-time residents. It's also the home of the Dechutes Brewery, and closer - but not too close - to my folks. Perfect.

2. Boise, Idaho - is the state capital and the largest city in Idaho, which isn't saying much - the tallest building is only 20 stories, and there's around 200,000 residents. Outside magazine recently rated it the number one place to live in the western US. Sounds good to me.

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico - another capital city, Santa Fe sits at 7,000 feet above sea level and has just over 73,000 residents. I love desert climates because there's no humidity, and Santa Fe's temps are just my speed - not too hot, and not too cold. And 300+ days of sunshine each year. I could get used to that.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


So, Drew and I signed up for the Galena triathlon, set to take place on May 21, 2011, in scenic Galena, Illinois. I've actually signed up for this race three times, but have finished only once - my very first triathlon, back in 2003. Since then, the race was cancelled because of thunderstorms, and I DNF'ed in 2009 (Cath had a tire melt-down, and I stopped to try and help, but the damage was too severe and we bailed).

But, despite the fact that I've only crossed the finish line once, it's a beautiful race - the scenery in that part of the state is lovely, and the course is very challenging. Rolling hills everywhere, on both the bike and run. And Galena, itself, is a cute little town, very popular as an antique-lovers destination and summer B&B getaway. Drew and I also like it, because it presents a nice early-season training weekend - the race is on Saturday, so, if you choose to spend an added night, you have half the day on Sunday to ride and run some more. I'm very much looking forward to it, and strongly recommend the race as a great way to kick off the tri season.

Unfortunately, May still seems like a million miles away, especially as Chicago got hammered with an epic blizzard last night, and more snow is falling today. I think they're expecting two feet of snow on the ground by the time it's over, so I guess the bike can keep sleeping in the closet. It'll be awhile before those two tires will be hitting the road. But, snow or no snow, the IM training plan starts on April 11. Can't wait!

Friday, January 21, 2011


So, Cath and I were recently invited to participate in our friends Ross and Diana's Ragnar relay team. Apparently, they think that we will bring a bit of speed to the squad. Little do they know that we've been doing nothing but drink beer and watch football for the past four months. Oh, well, Ragnar is all about fun, right? No podiums, no medals, no Kona slots.

But we're actually very excited - I had my heart set on Hood to Coast a couple years ago, but we didn't survive the lottery, and I frankly forgot to get an application in for 2011. Huge registration fail. But leave it to Ross (// - who has recently taken the triathlon world by storm - to set up a team that will, no doubt, finish squarely in the top 90 percent of the field. It should be a hoot.

The relay "race" goes from Madison to Chicago, 193 miles, and is broken down into multiple legs. Each of the 12 participants runs three legs, varying in distance from three to eight miles per leg. The only kicker is that the race goes all night, so sleep will be in short supply, and the 11 non-running runners are stuffed into two econo-vans for 30+ hours. Like I said, should be a hoot.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Years Fail

Can we just all agree to push "re-start" on 2011?

I don't know about you, but this year has gotten off to a ridiculously poor start - the weather blows, work blows, and it seems that - overnight - the number of duchebags in Chicago has more than doubled (from what was already a huge number...).

Anyway, I had silently decided to blog more in 2011, but that hasn't really happened due to a number of pending issues, mostly related to work - personnel issues have dominated my days, leaving less time to ponder training plans, workouts, nutrition and other triathlon silliness. But I'm going to try to be better. You - my three or so loyal followers - deserve better.

Exercise-wise, I've been pretty good - swim, bike, run has taken a backseat to higher heart-rate training, and using a greater variety of gym toys has been a ton of fun. We're still hitting that Boot Camp class once a week, and have been doing a bit of TRX training, as well (that's some random guy using the TRX straps in the figure to the right). The TRX stuff is strength-based, using your body's own weight as resistance. It's great for the core, and gives you a nice cardio burn, to boot. Good stuff. If you have access to a TRX class, I'd definitely check it out - it's much harder than it looks, and the results are awesome.
Other than that, I've been swimming just once per week, and just over a mile at a time (which is about as much swimming as I ever consider "fun"). I run about once a week, as well, for about an hour. Biking is more-or-less my recovery activity, so I'm afraid my first time back on a real bike outside will be beyond painful. But it is what it is. I decided this year to really step away from tri stuff in the off season, and it's been great for me mentally. Physically, I'll probably pay a price, but I'll deal with that later.
Later, taters!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Vacation fail

Well, so much for a winter vacation.

Southwest decided - 11 hours before takeoff - that fog was on the horizon, and cancelled our flight out of Chicago. Which would have been fine - the flight was scheduled for 6:40 a.m., and I wouldn't have minded a later morning or even afternoon flight instead. But that's not what Southwest offered up as an alternative.

Instead, they insisted that they had no other flights out until January 3. Unfortunately, our family gathering was centered around New Year's weekend, and everyone was leaving on the 3rd. So, with no other option available, we bagged the trip. Pfft.

Thanks, Southwest. I hope your 2011 is filled with enormous financial loses and eventual bnakruptcy. You suck, just like the other "big" airlines that you think you're so much better than.

On the bright side, the wife and I were able to spend a relaxing weekend at home with the dogs, watching hour-upon-hour of bad television and rarely venturing out of doors. The weather has been colder than ususal for this early in the winter, but we went on a great group run with friends last Sunday and it felt great - beautiful, blue skies and very little wind. Lovely. I'm hoping that this becomes a weekly event.
Tonight we are taking a class at our gym called "Peak Performance," which should really be called "Death in 60 minutes." It's a bootcamp-style workout, with equal parts cardio and strength exercises designed to break both your mind and spirit. At least, that's what it feels like. As you can imagine, it's very popular - despite starting at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night - and as much as I dread it, the class is addictive like the ol' crack rock. Or so I've heard. I mean about the crack rock thing. But it's a good class.
Hope your 2011 is off to a crazy good start!