I have been inactive on this blog and on social media the last few months due to the ramp up leading to my first triathlon. I wanted to eliminate all distractions and focus purely on training. Now, with the event five days past I am ready to turn back to whatever state of normalcy I had earlier in the year. This was my big physical goal for 2016 and I have been preparing for my triathlon since the beginning of the year. Here's a somewhat complete story of how I accomplished the tri.
On New Year's Day I began the Reddit bodyweight fitness recommended routine. The focus was building a foundation of strength and mobility as to not incur any injuries to my muscles and joints. Calisthenics started to really appeal to me last year after my accident and I decided to ramp up my training with a solid routine. I heard good things about this routine so I decided to give it a go.
The routine is thorough, simple and effective. I started doing it three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. The usual process was to warm-up and do the bodyline drills at home and then ride my bike to a local fitness park in the wee hours of the morning.
My endurance training at this point was limited to some basic running and cycling a few times a week. On the 17th I unwisely ran twelve miles with my buddy Stephen who was training for the LA marathon. I had no business running that far so soon. My legs were sore for a week and my feet hurt. I needed to get new shoes and go a little lighter on the mileage.
February and March 2016
My buddy Edmond is a great runner. Most people would be very satisfied with a five hour marathon but Edmond was not. After his run at the LA marathon I gave him a text to see how he was doing and he was really disappointed with himself. I told him that I would train with him and we started a ritual of running the Rose Bowl loop on Sunday mornings. I went out to Runners Circle in Los Feliz and got fitted with some boss running shoes.
It turns out that Ed had the exact same shoes! So, looking like a pair of matching goons we started base building. I started applying Dr. Phil Maffetone's MAF training. To summarize, you build a solid aerobic base by monitoring your heart rate and keeping it at 180-your age. For me, this works out to be a HR of 143. This limits the amount of anaerobic training you do and focuses on building your aerobic system. Training aerobically burns fat and uses oxygen while anaerobic training burns sugar and doesn't rely on oxygen. For many people, training at MAF (maximum aerobic function) is slow and disheartening. The benefits of course is that you are not going too hard and you avoid injuries and burnout. After a period of 8-12 weeks of base building you can start going hard and include sprints and interval work and start working the anaerobic system but not before building a strong base. I was already cycling pretty regularly so I wasn't too worried about maintaining a routine on the bike. I started formally base building the first week of March and continued for ten weeks, monitoring my heart rate and not letting it exceed 143.
The stock wheels on my 2014 CAAD 10 road bike were in desperate need of an upgrade. Now that I was running, cycling and doing bodyweight training my schedule looked like this:
MAF run w/Ed
This was my weekly routine. I would wake up at 6 AM and fit in my training and try to be back indoors by 7:15. This would give me a chance to be home by the time Monica left for work at 8 so I could take care of JP. No excuses, no compromises. I also committed to a low carb/high fat and moderate protein eating regimen with a little wiggle room for cheat days. My aerobic system steadily improved and the results were great. This is how the improvement looked on a local 5 mile hilly run that I did once a week.
Same route, same heart rate, same intensity. Lower and lower times and faster pace. It was like going from a 4 cylinder engine to a 6 cylinder. I started meeting Ed at the Rose Bowl on Sunday on the bike with a backpack on, loading my bike into his car and then running 5 or 10k, then riding home. Doing what's called "brick training."
I was fully committed to running and cycling. The looming menance on my mind was the element of swimming. I had no swimming experience and I needed to nip that in the bud well before the triathlon. I had the LARR ride coming up and I reasoned that I could start swimming after that was over. My friend Christine (a triathlon veteran) convinced me that I needed to start NOW.
On June 12 I completed the LA River Century ride which I blog about here. My cycling was pretty strong and my running was steadily improving. It was time to include swimming into my training. I got a monthly lap pass at the Rose Bowl and began flailing wildly in the water. I thought I was in shape. I thought I was tough. Swimming immediately kicked my ass and put me in my place. I had no skill and no idea what I was doing. I sucked hard and I knew it. I needed help. Fortunately, Ed was an experienced swimmer and Christine's main sport was swimming so I got a lot of help from these fellow endurance athletes. Prepared to be amazed by the clumsy mess below:
This is the first time that I was sucessfully able to bring my elbows out of the water. Graceful? No, but progress was being made. Now, on top of all my training I would go to the Rose Bowl Aquatic center 4-5 days a week for half an hour and work on kick drills and the pull and how not to get winded after 25 yards.
My bodyweight training had progressed to the point where I was interested in using Olympic Rings for training. It was a good purchase, I could feel myself getting stronger week by week.
I was also ramping up my mileage. My base training was complete and I started occasionally running up to ten plus miles a workout. Here's Ed and I running up from the LA Zoo up to the Griffith Park Observatory, a path that I usually ride my bike up.
The triathlon was getting closer and more and more real. My workouts were like punching the clock at a job. I liked working out, but my desire to train was irrelevant. This was real, this is happening. I have to perform on October 29th.
I was lean, strong. I still needed to improve the swimming. My swim technique was by no means perfect but had massively improved over a short period of time. I needed endurance because every 50 meters or so completely exhausted me. I found a program online called "swim a mile in six weeks". I had only a little more than that time before the event. I gave it a go and it really worked. The idea is that week by week you lower the amount of breaths you allow yourself to take between laps. For instance, 4x100m's then rest for 12 breaths, then 4x50m's with 8 breaths in between then 4x25m's with 4 breaths in between. I was able to do a mile straight non-stop in the lap pool. It was a big accomplishment.
Things were about as good as they were going to get. It was time to perform.
October 29th- The Tri
On the morning of October 29th I woke up at three AM. I made a huge pot of coffee with coconut oil and grass fed butter and then scarfed down a sweet potato with peanut butter. Delicious. I left about 4:15 and by the time I arrived at the Santa Fe Dam there was already a line leading out into the street. At 5 AM the gates opened and parked my truck and set up my transition area.
I was pumped. Everyone was really friendly and helpful to a tri noob like me. At 7:06 AM the race began.
An Olympic distance triathlon starts with a 1500 meter swim. This meant nothing to me when I signed up for it. It could have said "2 miles" or "300 feet" and I wouldn't have had the slightest clue. Open water swimming is a different animal from lap swimming. There's a skill called "sighting" where you lift your head to see where you're going. I didn't practice sighting in the lap pool because it's considered "bad technique" to lift your head. You just look at the black line at the bottom of the pool and turn your head to breathe. Now, since I only breathe out of my left side I tend to go left unless I can correct my course. I went open water swimming only once at Zuma beach the weekend before the event. It was there that I discovered that I had a big problem going straight.
You're supposed to lift your head to sight but because I was very limited in my ability to crane my neck up I stubbornly took too many strokes before I looked to see where I was going. My swim was more like a frustrating series of zig-zags strung together.
On the long straight away about halfway through I told myself, "This sucks. I don't like this." Wave after wave of swimmers passed me while I repeated the process of swimming ten strokes, going too far left, catching my breath, swimming ten strokes, going too far right, catching my breath, and repeating. I really felt like everyone was going to pass me and by the time I got to shore I was sure that I took an hour and a half to do the swim portion. I could see my vision of completing at three hour triathlon debut slipping through my cold fingers.
I was surprised to find that the time was 7:56 AM when I struggled up to shore. "50 minutes, okay, I got this!" I peeled of my wetsuit and ran to my transition area.
The bike portion was 40k or about 24 miles. No problem, I do that and call it a short ride. I was definitely winded from the swim but I gathered the nerves to start pedaling up to the bike course.
Three eight mile loops, the majority of which is a long, flat stretch. I had a plan. Average 20 mph and finish in 1 hour and fifteen minutes. I did the course a month before on a test run and figured that this was reasonable. With a little luck, I could make that work. Big gear in front, middle of the cassette in back and a 80 cadence. I put my head down, put my hands into the drops and let it rip.
There's something called "flowstate" where you achieve an almost out of body experience. You are not thinking of the past or the future, you are just present in the moment. By the second lap, I came the closest to achieving a flowstate that I ever have. My legs simply spun, my eyes simply gazed ahead, I was in a complete state of action with little to no regard of pain or panic. It was awesome. The white line on the pavement would blur and become fuzzy, but not in a "I'm about to pass out" fashion. More like in a playful buzzing like the molecules in the pavement were dancing for me. I was in a state of complete bliss now that I was here, present and fully a part of the loving energy of the universe.
My bike time was 1hr. 14 minutes. 19.5 mph. On point. Time to run.
I hit my transition area, got off my bike and pulled on my running shoes. I was feeling great. The run course was two loops around the reservoir, totaling 10k or 6.2 miles.
I was on fire. Several of my friends had unexpectedly shown up and it gave me a serious boost. I looked at the time, 2 hrs and 10 minutes. Alright, all I had to do was run a 50 minute 10k and I was golden. About a 8 minute/mile pace. I got this. I let open the throttle, pulled my shoulders blades down and opened up my stride. I checked my pace on my phone. 7:30, 7:45, 7:15... good.
On the northwest end of the loop the pavement ends and the path turns into a trail, that's when it hit me.
First in my right quad, then in my left. I made sure to drink loads of water the day before and during the race. Salt tabs? Damn, I forgot to take one on my second transition. On the bike I had one water bottle full of iced coffee and almond milk and another one full of water. I drank most of both bottles down and the liquid was swishing in my stomach. I told myself, "Relax, find your groove. Let the legs stretch out." Fortunately, they did. I got a sip of an electrolyte drink from a volunteer and downed it, slowly but surely, the liquid in my stomach got diverted to the rest of my body and the cramps began to ease. "Okay, just don't push too hard on the first lap."
I found my triplet rhythm. R L R L R L R L R L R L... Inhaling on the quarter note of my right foot strike and exhaling on my left. I tried my best to duplicate the flowstate I achieved on the bike.
First loop finished, 2 hrs and 35 minutes. All right, the next loop, we're going fishing...
I started increasing the pace and targeting runners that were ahead of me. Passing them, and then moving on to the next target. This twelve year old kid was doing great and he was a hard fish to catch. His form was all over the place but I took him down. The entire duration of the second lap I could hear him huffing and puffing to take back position over me. No dice, kid. You can't touch me.
Then I found the big fish, a triathlete who was running with a "Sharknado" top hat on and a shark fin on his back. Cool, I like this guy. I stayed on his ass for the remainder of the second loop. Once we hit the concrete after the trail ended, I went back to the well.
I once heard that when Muhammad Ali was getting winded and slowing down during his peak, his trainer would shout to him:
I dug into the well to see what was left. It was plenty. I made a mad dash to the finish but started fading 20 feet to the end.
That's when Sharknado came up behind me and said, "COME ON MAN! LET'S GO!"
I screamed "SHARKNADO!" and we both finished together, hand in hand. It was strange and wonderful.
Three minutes under my goal time. Dammit, I did it.
Strangely, later in the day after my mind had returned to homeostasis, I was completely restless. I called people, went out to eat, tried to watch Netflix, I was physically exhausted but my mind was on some divine buzz. Then I passed out in my own bed as soon as my eyes closed, like a dead stop.
No one prepares you for the day after you accomplish a big goal. I hustled my ass off all year to make this happen. My entire life centered around training and preparing for this event. Now? There are no scheduled workouts. No swim drills. No bike trainer sessions. I could sleep in if I want to. I don't need to do any physical activity unless I want to. It...sucks.
So the natural question that arises is...
The answer is, anything. I showed myself that I had the discipline to break all my previous expectations. I didn't rise to the level of my hopes, I fell to the level of my training. There's nothing that I cannot accomplish with proper training behind me. Life is full of endless opportunity and I have the potential to do it all.
At the end of it all, I am extremely grateful. Grateful to my family for the love, understanding and support and to my friends that selflessly shared their experience with me to help me get through it. I'm grateful to my training partners that gave me inspiration, encouragement and healthy competition. I hope that I gave them all something to be proud of.
In the goodie bag that they give out after the event there was a postcard size ad for another Triathlon event. JP found this and kept it on his activity table. On the ad, there's a picture of a guy in a wetsuit, goggles and a swim cap. The day after the triathlon JP pointed to that guy and said, "That's daddy."
That makes all the sacrifice worth it.