Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race Report

Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race Report
AKA - Using my Fitness to do Cool Shit

The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a great event(s) with a long and rich history.  You can see the 70.5 mile website here (link to Laurel Ultra) and the 50K specific website here (link to 50K).

This event has a lot of history and personal meaning for me.  I grew up hiking on this trail with my family.  My dad, my brother and I backpacked and cross country skied and camped here.  The trail continues to be a special place for me and when I first learned of this event, many years (and many pounds) ago, I watched in awe and wondered what it would be like to actually try something so crazy as a 50K.

Flash forward to an ordinary trail run in June of 2013.  I had just finished my first ever Ironman and it dawned on me that I could run 50K for sure.  Unfortunately, this is a popular event and the 2013 running had been sold out for months.  Undaunted, I watched the website and signed up for 2014 as soon as it opened.  I was doing IMTX again in 2014 so I figured I would be fine from a fitness perspective.  Right?  One of my first interactions with Coach Rich was a season planning session where he asked me "Who the hell signs up for a 50K four weeks post Ironman?"

In 2014, I finished strong and had such a good time I knew I'd come back again at some point.
Link to 2014 Race Report
Link to 2014 Strava Activity

The lead up to 2016 was quite different.  Without an early season IM and with an early season run focus I've been logging lots of miles on both the road and the trail.  At this point in the season, I'm not as fit or as light as I was in 2014 but my running legs feel stronger and I'm better rested.  From a planning perspective, I reviewed the race and nutrition plans from 2014 and made some adjustments because it was going to be hot and humid!

Take it easy through mile 19, that was the plan, and then see what I can do on the back half of the course.  I didn't have a firm time goal but 7 hours seemed about right.  Here is the link to the Strava activity for 2016.  I guess they call this foreshadowing, but I seem to have had some trouble "taking it easy".  In the Strava link, please notice the PR on the "ohiopyle to maple summit" segment.  That segment is the first ~12 miles of the race and it's the worst 12 miles from every perspective.  It didn't feel like I was moving that quickly, honest. I'm not at all proud of this PR...

I hit the first aid station in need of a porta john, only to find out that there were none. Ugh.  I refilled my supplies and started off again, hoping I could make it to the shelter area near mile 19.  This would be a small detour off course into the camping area, but there are primitive bathrooms in the camping area and in my book the bathroom seemed worth the detour.

Continuing the theme of having trouble taking it easy, my split through aid station two (near mile 19) was about the same as 2014 but this one included the run to and from the bathroom, plus the bathroom time.  So minus the bathroom break, this was probably another unexpected and ill-advised PR.

And then it all caught up with me...  I started to run out of gas somewhere after mile 20 and after the uphill from mile 25 - 27, I was totally spent.  Getting down the hill between miles 27 and 28 was awful, I didn't trust my legs to hold me up after any meaningful impact. The hill at mile 29 was bad and somehow, compared to 2014, mile 30 was even worse!  Actually this maybe makes sense as I probably picked up my pace for mile 30 last time while I'm sure I slowed down for mile 30 this time. Regardless, if you look at the splits, I lost ~15 minutes over the last five miles...

2016 2014 Delta
27 17:00 14:48 +2:12
28 15:05 13:11 +1:54
29 18:52 14:57 +3:55
30 18:04 12:32 +5:32
31 14:51 13:21 +1:30

Final thoughts...  I followed my nutrition plan pretty well: drinking a fair bit more than I planned and eating a little less.  It was hot and humid and sunny - a far better day for the beach than a trail run, but you don't get to pick the weather.  I was curious going in how I would hold up over such a long day and if I was properly prepared.  It's not clear if I was under prepared or if my issues were more related to execution.  Most likely it was a little of both.  I've run many, many more miles this year versus 2014 but my longest two activities were the Pittsburgh Marathon (3.5 hours) and a 20 mile trail run (~4:00 hours).  Neither of which approached the 7:00 hours I expected to be on course on race day.  Lesson learned.

Most importantly, I had fun and I seem to have finished without injury or issue.

Now to recover for my next endeavor...

Pittsburgh Marathon 2016

Clark's Pittsburgh Marathon Race Report

The lead up to race day was pretty normal.  My long training runs all went well with no injuries or significant issues.  I was able to train on the actual course quite a bit so that was confidence inspiring.  The only real question mark coming out of training was some disconnect between RPE and heart rate on several of my long runs.  In spite of this, I felt prepared, healthy and ready to go.

Race day logistics were EASY.  The start was only a mile from my house and my route to the start was not impacted by any of the nearly one million road closures that come with a major city marathon.  I was time seeded into the A start corral, which closed at 6:45, so I left the house at 6:20.  My wife dropped me off, I did some warm up running and I slipped into the corral at ~6:40.  I found a spot in the very back and ran into a coworker, Tim, who was in the very front of the B corral.  He and I were both shooting for similar times, so we chatted for a bit until the time was right and then he slipped into A so that we could run together for the first few miles.

Tim ran the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, his first, and he had some early pacing problems, so I think he was happy with my plan to go out relatively slow.  We ran together for the first three, or so, miles (8:32, 8:10 and 8:23).  We talked some about RPE and the disconnect that I've seen between heart rate and RPE. I know my first three miles were all RPE 1 because we carried on a seamless conversation the entire time. This is not at all consistent with my measured heart rate for those miles and that is a theme that's going to keep coming up in this race report...

At around mile three Tim decided it was time to pick up the pace and we parted ways.  I wished him good speed and told him I hoped to see him at the finish.

The next several miles were pretty routine (8:06, 8:40 and 8:09).  The weather was generally cooperating, which was unexpected but nice.  The slow rain was helping to keep things cool without raising the humidity or really getting my feet wet.  Things seemed pretty good so I decided it was time to pick up the pace before I dug my time hole any deeper.

Miles 7, 8 and 9 (7:53, 7:53 and 7:46) all went by without incident.  However, the disconnect between RPE and heart rate persisted.  Those are typically high Z2 paces for me and are inline with my expected marathon pace.  However today they were at a solid Z3 heart rate.

In mile 10 I finally stopped to pee and discovered that "holding it" was not the best strategy because peeing took forever.....  I finally ran out of the port-a-john and my watch beeped an 8:45 split for mile 10. Ugh!

In the middle of mile 11 (7:58) I got to see my wife, which is always great!  Mile 12 is the one major up hill on the course (8:38).  At the end of mile 13 (7:44) the mental math started up and I knew I would need to keep up a strong pace if I was going to slide in under my 3:30 goal!

Miles 14 - 23 all went pretty much as planned (7:44, 7:55, 7:40, 7:34, 7:47, 8:00, 7:41, 7:44 and 8:01) with the slower splits coming from elevation change and not fatigue or loss of effort.

Right at the end of mile 23 I caught up with Tim.  He was moving along well but as I passed him, it was clear that he was not going to try and keep up.  I was still trying to make up time, so I wasn't slowing down!  Mile 24 is the only major downhill on the course (7:17) so my pre-race thought that miles 12 and 24 would cancel out turned out to be on the money.

Mile 25 was flat and slow (8:06).  I'm not exactly sure what happened here but I was certainly not expecting to be back above an eight minute pace.  I picked up the pace for miles 26 (6:57), but not to the extent that my split indicates.  The course runs back into down town here so perhaps the buildings messed with the GPS data.  

At this point you would expect that the finish would be in sight, but actually, it's not!  The half marathon has a nice straight path to the shared finish line, but the full marathon requires a 90 degree right turn before you can see the finish.  Working off of my 26 mile split time, I knew things were going to be close.  I was in a full sprint at this point and the only way I was going sub 3:30 was if the finish line was right around the corner.

It wasn't.

I kept up my sprint and crossed the line at 3:30:21, which is a fantastic time for me and is 26 minutes under my best Ironman marathon time.  Of course, it's also 21 seconds over my 3:30 Boston Marathon standard time.  I have no illusions that a 3:29:59 would actually get me into Boston, but I was really hoping to turn in a qualifying time.

Final details: 3:30:21, 14/202 in M45-49 and 317/3652 Overall

So what do I take away from this and where do I go from here?  Although I took this day very seriously, my real goals were more around Ironman and less around Boston or marathons in general.  I'm not planning another marathon this season and I'm totally comfortable with that decision.  Based on my Ironman training, I figured a 3:30 stand alone marathon was possible and clearly I've proven that.  Now that I've actually experienced the pace and the effort, I hope I'll be able to translate that experience into something meaningful for Ironman.  I'm not saying I'm going to go run a 3:30 Ironman marathon, cause that's not going to happen.  However, I do think I learned some things that will help me improve both training and running for IMAZ this fall, which is my A race this season.

Next up on my schedule is the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June.  This is a small, local, trail-race with two distances, 50K and 70.5 miles.  I'm doing the 50K again (previous race report) and I'm really looking forward to having FUN.  Although they make me wear a number, that day will be about having a good time and running on a trail that I first experienced as a Boy Scout back in the 1970's.  The last time I ran this race I was four weeks post IMTX and although it was a tough day, I had a blast!  I'm curious to see how my current fitness measures up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Recessed Z Wave Door Sensor Install

As you know I've been playing around with some home automation tools recently.  One thing that I've wanted to install is a contact sensor for my front door.  The issue has been that the trim on the door makes it very difficult to install a traditional, flush mount sensor like I used for my pantry door project.  While searching online the other day, I found this recessed sensor, which seemed perfect for my application, so I ordered one up.  It arrived on Wednesday, so over the weekend, I got around to the install.

Package contents: sensor, magnet, small screws and instructions.

The physical install seemed like it would be straight forward but before I started drilling holes in my door frame I needed to be sure the sensor would pair with my Almond+. 

Pairing the Sensor 
The first step here was to remove the cover so that I could pull the battery saver tape.  It would be nice if you could do that without removing the cover but no dice.  I set my Almond+ into pairing mode, pulled the strip, watched the LED light up and... no love.  Ok, time for the directions.  A quick scan of the directions indicated that the device does not start up in pairing mode, you need to push the little Z Wave button with a paperclip.  I put my Almond+ back into pairing mode and then I pushed the Z Wave button and bingo, done!

Screen shot of the configured sensor from the Almond app.

Physical Install
With the pairing finished, it was time to move on to the physical install.  First up I had to drill a 3/4 inch wide hole in my door trim.  I chose to do this along the top of the door because of the way my door fits into the trim.  The clearance on the long side of the door is pretty tight, while the clearance along the top is more loose.  I think it would have worked on either side, but since I had the clearance, I took advantage.

One hole drilled into the top trim of my door frame.

Next I dry fit the sensor into the hole to see if I had drilled the hole deep enough.  The sensor mostly fit, but it did not fit flush, so I drilled slightly deeper and tried again and that did the trick.  Notice that there are three holes in the cap of the sensor, two for screws and the center hole for pushing the Z Wave button with a paperclip.

The dry fit sensor before I added the screws to hold it in place.

The last step for the sensor install was to add the two small screws.  Again, notice the center hole to reach the Z Wave button.

One sensor, fully installed.

Next up, I needed a hole for the magnet.  This time I used the same bit to drill a shallow hole into the top of the door.  Again, I did a quick dry fit and found I needed to make the hole a little deeper before I got the fit I wanted.  Super simple.

There's a hole in my door...

Push the magnet into the hole. 

Now the hole has a nice magnetic cap...
And, just like that, I'm ready to create some automation rules.  The first rule I created really isn't a rule at all.  I setup the new sensor to trigger a notification anytime the sensor state changes, but only when the Almond+ is in "Away" mode.  Home and Away are some of the first things I created with my Almond+ but I don't think I've posted about that process.  I'll save the details for another post but in general if Cath's or my cell phones are connected to the wifi then the Almond+ sets itself to Home and if neither phone is connected, then it sets itself to Away.  This is great because it uses our phones as a presence sensor so no need to buy a Zigbee or Z Wave presence sensor.  Now if anyone opens the front door while neither Cath nor I are home, I'll get a notification via the Almond app.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about this sensor or the install process feel free to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Laurel Ultra 2016 Training Day

I'm running the 50K version of the Laurel Ultra again in June and this time it's my 50 for 50 birthday celebration.  I ran this awesome race back in 2014 (link here) and I run on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT) all the time, so I'm super happy that my schedule cleared out and I'm able to run the race again.

I was hoping to do a rim-to-rim-to-rim run, across the Grand Canyon and back, as my 50 (miles) for 50, but the logistics of that trip just did not work out, so the Laurel Ultra is a great substitution.  I'll get the R2R2R trip done some other time...

The last time I ran in the Laurel Ultra I was four weeks post Ironman, so I was in great physical condition but I was definitely still recovering.  My training had been spread across swim, bike and run, so I was probably under trained from a run perspective.  Also, I was way under trained from a trail run perspective.  I think I put in fewer than 30 total miles of trail running leading up to race day.

This year, training has been quite different.  I raced Ironman this past November and I'm not racing Ironman again until November of this year, so the early part of this season has been mostly run focused.  This ski season has been "challenging" (aka non-existent), so I've been able to get in some solid running miles on the trail.  Most of my trail miles have been from 7 Springs to RT 653 since I've been running back to the house after a morning of snowboarding.

This past Saturday was different: the weather had been so warm I had no interest in even trying to snowboard.  Instead, I had Cath drop me off in Ohiopyle with the plan to run from Ohiopyle back to the house (~20 miles).  This would be both my longest trail run of the season and also my longest run overall.  Add to that the elevation gain between Ohiopyle and RT 653 and the fact that I ran long on Thursday and I knew I had a big day ahead of me.

The weather was great and there were lots of people out on the trail.  Usually I'll pass one or two groups of people on the trail but on Saturday I think I passed by closer to 10.  There were some through hikers with fully loaded backpacks stopped at the first observation spot out of Ohiopyle. There were three or four couples with dogs and three or so more without dogs.  And there was one solo hiker who I passed as I was climbing the Conn Road hill.  One thing I didn't see was other runners. 

My pace was pretty reasonable, for me - not slow (but not fast) and steady.  I felt pretty good as I crossed the road at Maple Summit (my I can't go any further safety bail out point), so I called Cath and told her I intended to keep going.

Somewhere around mile five I started thinking about all of the bridges on the trail and I wondered how many bridges there are on the entire trail.  My initial guess was 140 - 150 (~2 bridges per mile which seemed reasonable if not low).  I started counting at some point and most miles had 2 or three. The most I counted in one mile was 6 and the least was 1, so I'm revising my guess up to 175, unless there's a penalty for going over :-).  Maybe one of these days I'll do a more formal count.  For the record, I'm calling it a bridge if I take two or more steps along the length of a split log or 6x6.  If I step off of wood, onto land and then back onto wood, that's two bridges, but if two sections of wood meet without a step onto land then that's one long bridge.

This mental exercise really helped to pass the miles between Maple Summit and RT 653.  I mostly jogged and counted bridges as I ran more and more out of gas...  I struggled up the steep hill past the camp site trail head and then ran along the flat to the road.

Ironically, the worst part of the whole trip was walking down the road to the house.  I was pretty spent and since I was walking I started to get cold.  Plus I was out of water and I was pretty thirsty. Cry me a river...

I took Sunday off as a recovery day.  It was Cath's birthday and we had plans to go to Nemacolin or 7 Springs but we ended up spending much of the day cooking and lounging on the couch.  It was a great way to end the weekend.

This run was a pretty good test and I'm happy with the way it turned out.  I was spent by the time I reached RT 653, but I could have kept going if I had to.  Factor in the fact that I was running on tired legs and I'm even happier.  Overall there's still lots of work to be done but I'm happy with my progress thus far.  I'll be on the trail again this weekend and hopefully I'll get in another Ohiopyle to 653 day in early April.

Hopefully you enjoyed your weekend training also!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Zigbee Automatic Pantry Light

Yes, I know that my blog is mostly sports related posts, but I'm into technology also and I'm trying to create some more interesting content, so this is my first home automation post.

I recently got an Almond+, which is a combination home router and Zigbee/Zwave controller. Using the Almond+ and connected devices like contact sensors and light bulbs I'm able to create automated actions.  In this case I've automated my pantry light so that the light comes on when you open the pantry door.

Here are all the things you need...

Any brand of door/window contact sensor that will work with your hub. 
GE Link connected LED bulb.
Almond+ router and home automation hub. 

Contact sensor

GE LED bulb


The steps required for the project:

  1. Pair the contact sensor to the Almond+. 
  2. Pair the light bulb to the Almond+. 
  3. Install the light bulb and turn on the switch. 
  4. Install the contact sensor. 
  5. Create the automation rules in the Almond+.

Here's a picture of the contact sensor installed on the door frame.

Install the magnet. In my case I installed it on the inside of the door where it would match up to the sensor.

Program the automation rules in the Almond+

First one to turn the light on when the sensor is open. 

Then one to turn the light off when the sensor is closed. 

Finally, here's a brief video of the light turning on and off as I simulate the door opening and closing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Syracuse 70.3 Race Report

Syracuse was an interesting race for me on many levels.  As is often the case, when I committed to this race I had a specific plan in mind but in the months leading up to the race, the way things played out was nothing like what I had planned.  Due to minor surgery and some unrelated health issues, I didn't start my out-season program in January, I started it in March.  The result was that my out-season ended with the Syracuse 70.3 on Sunday instead of a simple 10K or half marathon.

This change did not sneak up on me, I knew what was happening and I made some changes to my plan in preparation for the race.  I adding in longer weekend rides (about 4), some longer runs (about 2) and a race rehearsal brick (56 mile bike followed by a 10K run) as well.  My out-season training plan does not include any swimming, so I added in some swim sessions, just to make sure I wouldn't drown.

I arrived in Syracuse feeling ready but with some questions lingering about my endurance.  Syracuse was never intended to be an A race for me, so I was in the right place in my head and I was comfortable treating the day as more of a fitness test than a race.  My A race this season is IRONMAN Arizona in November, so regardless of what I learned on Sunday I have plenty of time to react and adjust.

Syracuse is only my third HIM and from a course layout perspective, it's probably the most challenging.  My most recent HIM was a very windy day on a very flat course at Cedar Point in 2013.

All tuned up and ready to race!
Part of the "deal" on entering Syracuse was that it coincided with a family reunion weekend for my wife's family in up-state NY.  As a result, we loaded up the car and hit the road for Lowville, NY immediately after work on Thursday.  That's about a 7 hour drive with the requisite stops for gas, food, bathroom, etc. so we pulled into the hotel parking lot at about 1:00 AM Friday morning.  Friday and Saturday morning were dedicated to NY family and friends, which was great fun.

Welcome to the village!
I left for Syracuse around noon on Saturday knowing that would give me plenty of time for race check-in, transition setup, dinner and a good night of sleep.

No line for all world athletes. Sweet

My corner of transition
Race morning was pretty uneventful.  My swim wave started at 7:36 but transition closed at 6:55 and I had heard horror stories about traffic, so I got up at 4:15, got breakfast and got on the road by about 4:30.  I didn't hit any traffic and I was parked by 5:00 or maybe 5:15, so I set the alarm on my phone and went back to sleep in the car until ~6:15.

I woke up in a driving rain, so I hung in the car for as long as I could before I headed out to pump tires, add bottles and arrange my transition space.  I think I went into transition at 6:45 and I was back out and in line for a porta john by 6:55.

At least the rain stopped for the race!
I warmed up a little and then got back out of the water to join my group in line for the start.  I'm not a big fan of the wave start, but I understand that the lake is really too small to support a mass start with that many people.  I had no trouble finding a clear lane but the smaller group makes it harder to find feet and also other people to sight off.  There was not too much contact during the swim, except that I did get kicked in the thumb.  This actually hurt for about a week, but it's better now.

Both of the turn buoys were clear and overall the swim was pretty uneventful.  I was least prepared for the swim, having only been in the pool 6 or 7 times prior to the race, so I was pretty happy to come away with a 41:56 which is a PR for me.  What can I say, I'm a slow swimmer.

Look at that focus
Transition was slow.  I had to stop for a wetsuit stripper, who had trouble getting the wetsuit off of my feet.  Then I had some trouble with my bike jersey and finally, there was quite a bit of distance to cover from the swim out to the bike mount.  My goal time was 4:00 and my actual time was 6:08.

I was really excited about the Syracuse bike.  I've been doing a lot of climbing as part of the out-season plan and the "rolling hills" that everyone talks about at Syracuse sound like home to me.

The Syracuse course starts with a mile or two of fast flat followed by ~10 miles of serious climbing.  My heart rate coming out of T1 was high - really high actually - so I soft pedaled those first few miles to try and bring it down.  Once the hills started, I tried to keep a lid on my power output, but that was hard given the steep and long hills.  By mile 15 the biggest hills were behind me and I was able to settle back to my planed power output.

Thanks to a friend's prerace ride and forum post, I took the time to drive the course on Saturday and that was a smart move.  I shifted early in several sections and skipped the whole "wrong gear" and "dropped chain" drama that many others endured.  I think I counted at least 5 or 6 people who started into steep climbs in the wrong gear and either dropped a chain or simply had to stop to recover.

Actually looking where I'm going - winning
Overall I worked a little harder than I wanted to but not so much so that I did any damage.  My goal time was anything under 3 hours and my actual time was 2:55:33. What's interesting about this time is that I was at 1:34 at the halfway mark of the ride, so my second half was something like 1:21, which is really fast for me.  The second half of the ride was net downhill and my times prove that.

The look of pain
As usual, your day always comes down to the run and even more so in my case as 1) I came in with questions about my endurance and 2) I rode harder than I planned.  Not to worry though, it all worked out in the end.

My heart rate did continue to settle over the duration of the bike, so I was curious to see what would happen as I started running. Coming out of T2 I set out at my planned pace, but I kept a close watch on my heart rate.

If you've not seen the Syracuse run course, it's really something.  As in, I'd like to meet (and punch in the face) the person who set it up.  It's filled with grass and mud and absurd hills, and then you get to do it all again!  I reminded me of a High School cross country course.

What this meant was that it was hard to pace and it was hard to judge my overall effort.  Some miles were fast and others slow so I just tried to stay cool and smart.  I held back a little on the first "out" leg, since the out is mostly up hill and then I bumped things up on the "back".  I notched up again on the second "out" and then I notched up much more aggressive on the second "back".  This plan worked for me as I managed to speed up quite a bit on that second "back" leg and I negative split both of the measured splits on the second lap.

It was pretty hot and humid out, so I used my transition ziploc bag for ice during the run.  This gave me access to cold water and ice between aid stations and that was really helpful.  

Looking strong!
My goal time was anything under 2 hours and I ran a 1:57:24

Overall my goal time was anything under 6:00 and I went 5:44:05.

My best ever HIM is 5:35:27 (Cedar Point) so no PR today but given where I am in my season and the challenges I've overcome from a training perspective, I'm really happy with this result.  I'm also especially happy with my run execution.  The hills were soul sucking, many people walked them, so the fact that I was able to power-shuffel through them withoug blowing up really made me happy.

Hopefully you had a great day for your last race!


Technical and nutrition details
I consumed 5 gels and ~8 scoops of Skratch Labs SDM (~128oz) for a total of 1140 calories and 3130 mg of sodium.

There are too few aid stations on the ride.  I anticipated this and adjusted accordingly.  If I would have raced only with on-course nutrition, I would have come up WAY short on hydration.

Bike Power:
Bike NP - 192
Bike IF - 0.87
Bike TSS - 220

Over the entire run I consumed 2 gels, 2 salt tabs, lots of gatorade and just a bit of coke.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2014 IRONMAN Arizona. Different. Good.

Forty-two miles into the IRONMAN Arizona bike, I was in a dark place. My back and neck were on fire and consistent head and cross winds were wreaking havoc with my well-formed race plan. My inner dialogue was sour and getting meaner by the mile. "Why are you here?" "What are you doing?" "You're letting yourself down!" "Racing-self honors training-self, it doesn't screw him over!" Long gone was the magic of an IRONMAN day and the elation of a near 15 minute swim PR. All I could see ahead of me was the meager power number on my Garmin and about 20 feet of windblown blacktop.  All I could think about was that at this pace, I was going to be on the bike all freaking day.

Sixteen months earlier, riding high after my first IRONMAN finish, I registered to be a volunteer for the 2013 version of IMAZ.  Four months after that, I flew to Phoenix and spent a gorgeous day in the Arizona sun, helping strangers on their IRONMAN journey.  Sixteen months is a really long time to think about and work towards something.  Hell, I got engaged and then married in less than six months!

So 16 months can add up to a lot of weight and expectation riding on your shoulders. A lot went down in that time - thousands of training miles, another IM finish and some major life events.  On top of all of that, this IRONMAN was supposed to be "different" than the previous two.

Different how, you ask? Well that's an interesting story. As I was preparing for my first attempt at IRONMAN I stuck to the vague, "I just want to finish" goal that, I expect, defines most everyone's first IM start.  Actually, it became something of internal joke.  When I thought about IM and race day, I would often ask myself, "I wonder how many times you have to line up before 'just finish' isn't the primary goal?"  Going into IM number two, "just finish" was still on my mind.  Sure, I had thoughts, hopes, dreams about what a great day might look like and I had specific execution plans, but "just finish" was there, in the front of my mind, as a primary goal.  And again, as I was typing up my race plan for IM number three I actually included my inner monologue as an open question to the group that I train with.  It read something like this:
IMAZ Goals and Goal Times
As always, my number one goal is to finish.  I’m curious, can anyone tell me when (if) this will stop being the number one goal?
I did follow that up with some execution based goals, but "just finish" was out there, in writing, just waiting to EXCUSE the pain and the suck that comes with IRONMAN.  Sure, my race plan read, I want to go faster than I went before, but my primary goal is to "just finish".

Fortunately, some very smart and perceptive people read that and immediately called bullshit!  They pointed out that I had worked too hard to be satisfied with finishing.  They pointed out that IRONMAN is hard and "if you're content with just finishing, then it's real easy to give in to the overwhelming urge to just trot along for the last two hours".  The key to racing IRONMAN, they said, is making every mile of the back half of the run feel like it's harder work than the previous mile.  This is the only way not to slow down and this is not consistent with a just finish mindset.

So I revised my goals and for the first time in my IRONMAN journey, just finish was nowhere to be found. 
IMAZ Goals and Goal Times
This is the race where I want to race to my proven capability and show why I've been doing all of this work.  To make that happen, I have specific goals around execution: I want to stay in my box, ride my numbers, remain patient and disciplined, push the suck out as far into the run as possible and when the suck does start I want to feed on it and turn it into a source of motivation and energy.
Different.  Scary.

And let's just say that plodding along at 10 MPH into a kickin' headwind, making meager watts was nowhere on my goal sheet. So yes, I was being hard on myself, looking for motivation, trying really hard not to spoil something that had been so long in the making, something that was going to be different.

For a day that was supposed to be different, it started just like any other.  I got through my morning routine, loaded up my bike nutrition, dropped my clothes with Cath and worked my way up the line towards the swim stairs. I was excited and the weight of the day was nowhere to be found. This would be my first wetsuit assisted IRONMAN swim and I was pumped about that. I'm not a good swimmer, this is no secret, so I was hopeful that the wetsuit would help me to overcome some of my swimming quirks.  The morning was beautiful and seeing the sunrise from the water was something new. I think there was some sort of traffic jam getting everyone into the water and it seemed like the cannon did not go off at 7:00.  Regardless, it did go off and the water went crazy - all thrashing arms and kicking legs - but eventually it settled out into a typical, crowded, IRONMAN swim.  I felt strong and fast all the way to the first turn, which appeared before I even had time to wish for it. I focused on form and rhythm and I noticed every time that my legs dropped deep into the water.  This was new for me and it reinforced my focus on form.

The first turn was a crazy mass of humanity and so was the second. I found some clear water on the way back but I also had some navigation issues and ended up swimming a zigzag pattern between the markers. My back started to get a little sore, but before I knew it, I was making the third turn and the stairs were in sight.  I was careful getting out of the water and nearly tripped climbing the stairs to shore, but that didn't keep me from smiling when I saw 1:18 on my watch.  My perfect-day swim goal was 1:25.  My previous best was a 1:33. Different. Good.

Transition went by in a blur and I pedaled out of the park and off towards the desert.

One of the final, critical, elements of the training program I follow is the idea of the "one-thing".  Somewhere in the IRONMAN run, the program says, your brain and your body are going to disconnect and start to argue. Body says to brain, "Hey brain, this sucks, why are we out here? Hey brain, you better have a damn good answer or I'm going to slow us the hell down." The one-thing is your rehearsed answer, the f-you body, I'm the brain and what I say goes. At that critical moment and for many moments after, your one-thing is all that stands between you and slowing down. So I've done my homework, I have my one-thing all prepared and rehearsed and ready to go.  Actually my one-thing has been with me all through my training and preparation, on my mind, every day.  The hitch is, I think to myself, your one-thing is for the run and you're not even halfway into the bike!

The bike breaks down into 9 mile increments:
Administrative bullshit out of town towards the beeline. Aimless. Shifting winds. Disappointing power numbers.

The beeline out. Head down and power up. More determined. Eat, drink, stretch and repeat. Yell at the asshole who spent 10 minutes on my wheel. Laugh as he passed me and immediately sucked up behind the next guy.

The beeline back. Pee. Maintain power. Eat and drink more. Laugh after hearing "1659 (not my number) four minutes for drafting" and seeing the official ride away on the back of the motorcycle.

More administrative bullshit back into town. Listless. Lose a water bottle. Worry about getting dehydrated. Wonder if there will be 500 flat tires today or maybe 1000.

Repeat... Three fucking times! (in my best Robin Williams, Scottish voice)

I've never been so happy to get off of the bike in my life.  But somehow, I've never felt as good coming off of the bike either. I don't know if the difference was the long downhill back into town or the fact that my overall effort was lower than expected or maybe it was the low humidity and the fact that I was dry. Of course it could be that I spent the last 70 miles thinking about my one thing.

My one thing is my dad.

Like many fathers, mine had a strong and positive influence on my life. He was always an athlete and an adrenaline junkie before that term was even coined. But more than anything, he was a runner and a cyclist. As a young teenager, I remember him qualifying for Boston, in his first and only marathon, by running a 2:53. As an adult, I remember him pulling me along, on his single speed, on my first group ride after getting back into cycling, post college and kids and adult life.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 55, I was 29. He lived with cancer for almost 20 years but he didn’t let cancer define him, instead he defined himself through the people he helped and the causes that he supported. He was actively involved with Habitat for Humanity, Animal Friends, Cyclists Combating Cancer and Spokes of Hope. At one point he was even a grant reviewer for the Livestrong Foundation.

He and I got to share the memory of my first IM finish, but he passed away last October, before I went to IMAZ as a volunteer and before my second round at IMTX. I thought about him a lot in Arizona last year, as I was helping others on their IRONMAN journey. He would have enjoyed that; spending the day outside helping other people achieve something special.

Training and racing IRONMAN keeps his memory strong for me. This is the sort of challenge that he respected and appreciated. When things get tough, his memory always gets me through. Honoring my father for all that he was and continues to be, that’s my one thing.

And that's where I went at mile 42, as the walls were collapsing in and the lights were going dim.

The bike was a challenge for many people that day and more than a few ended up overcooking themselves.  In my age group, two of the first five people off of the bike ended up DNF and seven of the first 25 off the bike ended up falling 25 places, or more, during the run!  But don't worry, my story has a happy ending.  All of my mental gymnastics aside, my dark place was rooted in the fact that I knew I could go harder, that I should have been doing more.  And the fact that I was doing less? Well, that set me up for some magic on the run.

For those few who care, I rode a 6:07:xx with an IF of 0.67, a VI of 1.03 and a TSS of 280, which looks like perfect execution, save the fact that I trained to hold an IF of 0.71. 

I ran through the grass in my socks and took my run bag from the volunteer - "Thank you!"  I dumped the bag, put on my shoes, picked up the ziploc bag full of all of my small crap and started running.

Cath, Elizabeth, Jenna, Gemma and Arty were all waiting just past special needs.  Seeing them was a real boost.  Lizzie ran with me all the way to the team tent and we talked about the bike and how beautiful the day was.  I waved at coach and everyone else in the tent and then I just ran.

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.”
-William James

I love to run. I get to retreat into the quiet place inside my head; to be alone with my thoughts and dreams. Running helps me to see past the distractions, past the energy and the pain, through to the passion that’s required to achieve my dreams.

Over the course of this season I’ve built a deep internal energy reserve by logging countless hours and miles in the heat, the cold, the rain, the “whatever came my way”.  That reserve and I have been dating for the last 12 weeks, getting to know each other, sharing secrets, pushing boundaries, messing up and then cleaning up after.  We know each other like family and my marathon plan was to use that knowledge to extract every ounce of energy I’d spent the previous year depositing.  The reality though, is that I knew it was going to take more than my own energy reserves to get me where I wanted to be.  It was going to take a second wind and maybe a third and so that’s what I planned to give.

There is nothing quite like an IRONMAN marathon.  You reach deep into that reserve and test yourself. You suck energy from the crowd and push yourself. You go back into your reserve, dig deeper, push yourself further and harder. And then it happens, you get to the place where you’re faced with the decision to keep going or to quit. Many people pass that point without knowledge or acknowledgement, they simply slow down. Some, myself included, realize that they’ve passed that point but are unable to do anything about it.  You just get slower. You know it, you think about it, own it, try to change it even, but the seconds tick by faster than the miles.

I’ve run all the way in my previous IRONMAN marathons but both times I’ve fallen victim to the slowdown. This time the goal was to be different. This time I planned to find something else, anything else that I could draw from to be able to maintain pace. Of course part of this comes from careful planning and dedicated execution. But the other part has to come from within. Don’t slow down. Different. Good.

My first six miles are at LRP plus 30 seconds. The idea is that those six miles and the extra three minutes give your body time to regroup. Time to get past the pure joy of NOT BEING ON THE BIKE! Time to settle out and find the right pace. Those first six miles felt like I was crawling. It took everything I had not to sprint off out of transition and bang-out a couple of 8 minute miles. Fortunately I forced myself to stick to the planning and execution goals that I spelled out leading up to the race.

After mile six, the 30 second cushion goes away and I have to push the pace to LRP. This actually felt pretty good and my splits dropped exactly like I wanted. Miles seven – thirteen passed without incident, at LRP, and the suck stayed at bay. Miles 14 – 18 got progressively harder as I finished off my first wind and started into the second, but I was holding pace. Miles 19 and 20 are on the far side of the lake and are slightly downhill. The downhill helped, but these miles were hard.

I held pace. Miles 21 and 22 are out and back, slightly up hill and then slightly downhill. Again, I held pace.

Mile 23 has the only significant uphill on the entire course. Holding pace here would be a major victory and just might provide the emotional lift, the third wind that I would need to finish like I wanted.  Dig deep, hold pace. Mile 24, downhill and then back up, fast and then slow, but faster than the mile before – holding pace. Mile 25, downhill across the bridge, towards the finish. The reality starting to settle in, as fast as the mile before, holding pace. Mile 26, around the corner towards the finish chute. Energy left. Faster than the mile before. The picture becoming more and more clear by the stride.  Finally, the finish line in sight, the emotion breaking through, the dream realized. I didn’t slow down. I DIDN’T SLOW DOWN!

From the course splits:

Lap1 Lap 2
0:17:55 0:17:41
0:17:57 0:17:12
0:13:44 0:13:24
0:24:25 0:24:13
0:19:21 0:19:31
0:11:05 0:10:53
0:16:26 0:15:17
2:00:53 1:58:11
Run: 3:59:04

I've never run a standalone marathon, so this is the first time that I've run a negative split and it's the first time I've ever run under four hours.

Overall - 11:32:xx, which is 29 minutes faster than my previous best.

So, I've been sitting on this race report for so long I've almost given up blogging all together. I'm not really sure what happened or why but it just never quite seemed finished.  Or maybe I just didn't know how to finish it.  This is supposed to be the part of the story where I talk about how this race changed me, about how everything will be "happily ever after" because I had a great day during IRONMAN.  Of course I don't believe that, but I'm happy that I got to spend the day with friends, family and the memory of my dad.

And I'm happy that I doubled down and decided to go again...