Monday, November 29, 2010


Another trip to Pittsburgh is in the books. I'd be happy to not drive the van for a while! It's about 9 1/2 hours each way. Oh, and the kids don't sleep while driving anymore. You never know how much you appreciated those 2 1/2 hr breaks until they're gone! We stayed with my brother's family and as usual the main focus was my kids interacting with their cousins Corey, Justin, and Michael. Well that and the driving. And a week w/o Scooby Doo (except on the DVD player in the van). The drive down was the worst. We weren't in "travel mode" yet, so the first 3 hours took forever.

Corey's a certified teenager now. He's on a swim team. He's got a girl friend. He texts a lot. Despite that he and Alexandra still have a special bond. For those who don't know, Corey was the young man who crossed the line with me at my first Ironman in 2003. That event in many ways was the catalyst for the adventure which would end with Alexandra. It is fitting that they would bond to one another. Additionally their birthdays are only 3 days apart.

The other boys are growing up as well. While they were always individuals, their differences in interests seemed more apparent than ever. They're establishing themselves as individuals and in doing so seemed to fight less about certain things because I guess they weren't trying to "occupy the same space." That's how it was for me with my brother. Once I went off in my own direction I felt much more comfortable with things. The discomfort, as Leanna can attest, comes storming back whenever there is overlap. We fall into old patterns of behavior so easily, even if we're not really those people anymore. Or maybe it's just me.

This trip was also marred marked with a unanimous "it's too bad we only see you once a year" from my family. While it's nice to be missed, there's not too much I can do about it. I live 500miles away and have two small children.

Despite the cost, and the time, and the hassle, the trip still serves as a great bonding experience for the family. It was the Thanksgiving drive in 2007 that began the bonding between Alexandra and Dylan. The time in the hotel, while containing more than I few "Daddy can I press the elevator button?" "No I want to!" "I want to use the room key!", also served to bring us closer. No distractions, just 100% focus on each other. The kids ALWAYS seem more grown up when we get back than they were when we left. Oh god yes I need a break from it now, but like training it will have longer term benefits. We made memories.

So another Thanksgiving trip is in the books. Like finishing Ironman we're in the throws of "I'm never doing that again!" We'll see about that in 11 months. Maybe next year will be the year we start spending holidays in our own house. However, no time to think about that now. We've got Christmas barreling down on us! Zoiks!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Training like a grown-up

I have a life...sort of...okay not so much. I do have a family and I support that family and they in turn support me. I am also training for Ironman Coeur D'Alene 2011. Type 'A' Ironman triathletes, which of course is redundant, have been known to abandon family and/or work in the pursuit of a qualifying slot for Kona or perhaps a PR. I include myself in that group. Now I'm not so naive as to say I'm not going to backburner more than a few things in the name of following my training plan, but I am determined to handle things in a more straight forward, and thus less stressful manner. And if there is less stress, long hours should suck less!

I'm not going to go back over my race goals. If you haven't read them 'click here.' Instead, here's a list of simple truths about how training will be conducted. Some of these statements might make Tim cringe, but oh well. That's what he gets for crap'n in front of me!

1) Rest is as or more important than exercise. Working out when overtired results in poor form. Poor form results in injury. Injury results in missed workouts. At almost 45 yrs of age, I can't afford setbacks.
2) If a workout is missed, it's gone. There are no makeups. *Note: this does not mean I can't rework the plan in advance to keep the progression/recovery intact.* I instituted this policy back in my rowing days, and while it seems extreme at times, in the end things have always worked out better. When you try to juggle things in an effort to make up for missed time, you invariably 'F' up the progression and cannibalize recovery time. (see point 1) Miss too many key workouts, and frankly someone is telling you there are bigger issues than missed workouts if you know what I mean.
3) The plan is important, but that doesn't mean I won't add some "creativity" in order to keep from going insane. This is my third trip through the protocol. I understand the progressions and what we're trying to accomplish during each phase. I also know myself and my needs. If the ankle aches, no questions asked the runs move to trails or water. I may split up long rides between the Kurt Kinetic, the rollers, and/or the road, or get creative with intervals. Here's one: try riding a section of your Z1 ride as a butt load (3 x 20 w/5min between @bottom Z1) of 45sec top of zone, 15sec ZR for an average of mid Z1. Time flies and you can use the 15sec to get the blood back in your junk!

Goals, even important meaningful goals, are frequently devices which we contrive to put pressure on ourselves, pressure intended to make us perform at a higher level. However, in setting goals we frequently don't list the opportunity cost of those goals, namely sacrificed friends, family, health, etc... It's easy to say, "yeah we have to make sacrifices," and we do. But how many people list the specifics of what they are willing to sacrifice? 6 hour continuous bike ride and not skating with the kids? Too costly for me. How about 4 on the bike, some skating maybe lunch, and then another 2 hrs later on when they are otherwise occupied? Maybe the T-run is in the pool at the athletic club so the kids can swim?

There's more than one route to any destination. There may be costs, but there might actually be gains as well. A mentally relaxed athlete is waaaaaay more powerful than a stressed athlete. Stress kills. How many people crush 'B' races and step on their cranks at 'A' races? Lots. Getting my body ready is important, but I've got to get my head there as well, and the best way for me to do that is to keep living the rest of my life while I train.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Long weekend

Stop laughing Leanna. It wasn't long because I had the kids...okay maybe a little! It's been a while since I had an extended break from work, if you think 4 days is extended! The Blackberry has remained sheathed and despite being on my laptop I have not checked work email. I know I have things due but not only will I be able to get them done Monday, worst case they will be a little late. It's real work to no obsess on ALWAYS having everything done at work and getting upset when it is not. The reality is that obsession often keeps me from getting things done at home, with the kids, etc... “Me first” is the new motto. Yes, yes I'm sure you think that was the old motto as well! Well triathletes, especially us long distance sorts, are known for being fairly self-absorbed. It's not because we're bad people. It's because there is so much to keep in order, so much to do to prepare, that frankly it can be very overwhelming. Ahh, overwhelming...I'm pretty sure I'm going to set a new record for "I can't do this I'm going to quit" during the Coeur D'Alene training. I had at least three or four of those moments before Lake Placid in 2009. Well here we haven't even started formal training (2 wks) and I've already had one. I think it really revolves around the fact that somehow I need to recreate space for training time. I've kept a decent routine going in terms of repetitions, but the durations have been much shorter. That does not mean, however, that I've just had all this free time sitting around. Rather other things have filled that time, notably work and sleep! Well I need to keep the sleep so guess what's getting "deprioritized!" I also get overwhelmed by the cost of this. I was listing out the expenditures for Coeur d’Alene and it's really pretty daunting. Yeah we can do it, I mean Dylan doesn't really need to go to school does he? **Note: If any of my teammates going to Coeur d’Alene need a roommate, drop me a line. The family's not making the trip.**

After 44 years, though, this creating stress and then forcing myself through it seems to be part of the process. Which each have our thing and I guess this one is mine. It's hard to imagine a build up with stress the level of 2009. That was real stress and anxiety. I have this saying, "if you can throw money at a problem and make it go away then it's not really much of a problem now is it." It's a statement about relative importance of things. When people are ill, money doesn't fix it, and that's a real problem. The fact that airlines now f--- you to fly a bike, well it's an annoying pain in the a--, but not really a problem on par with what we've been through in this house. (By the way, I'm planning on using Tribike Transport unless someone has a better thought.)

Here are my some starting numbers in the three disciplines along with the same numbers from the beginning of training in 2009. You'll see that across the board the numbers are better. I think this means the improvement curve will be flatter, but with the 30 weeks of training leading to Coeur D'Alene, I hope to end up at a level never before achieved, one which will bring me across the line in under 10hrs (fyi, it makes me anxious just typing that!).

Swim: 800yd (11:58), in 2009 13:10, Golf score 64, in 2009 69
Bike: 265watt 20min avg, 2009 250watt
Run: 7:18 mid Z1 pace, 2009 7:30 mid Z1

Other numbers:
Resting HR 46bpm. Functional (observed) Max 170bpm.
Weight 160lbs

By the way, my exciting weekend has included but is not limited to: A trip to the dentist, a 5 year old birthday party for Dylan's friend at an arcade, an anxious sister at the party, a son melting down because he wasn't allowed to throw the ski ball overhand, a full day of the worst (in terms of quality not taste) food I've had in my body in YEARS...still in sodium OD shock, benefit elections for 2011, garbage day, making the kids clean the toy room (it's a very "Egyptian Slave Driver build the damn pyramids" experience), one gymnastics class (with another meltdown, but apparently that's a very common experience there because all the little gymnasts are mini prima donnas), solo parent at a 4 kid play date (*Note, small animals make this a piece of cake, though I do think the kitten spent a few of those 9 lives already!), and 45minutes of running, 3200yds of swimming, and 45min on the trainer (so far). We crossed an important threshold, the kids behaving themselves and watching a show or playing while Dad rolled on the trainer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Work and play

I don't write about work much, if ever. I like the brainwork I do, but in general a job is a job. That whole career path thing is pretty much only relevant as it pertains to making sure I can provide for my family. Yes I've been asked why I don't change paths entirely and do something else. Well at this stage of the game it would be hard to start over and not take a big drop. However, one thing that I keep considering is combining the aspect of my work that I love with something that could benefit my fellow athletes and friends.

I work in business intelligence and specialize in developing different ways to present information in meaningful manners. One of my strengths is pattern recognition which is used in data mining. Data mining, simply put, is taking large sets of data and looking for patterns in things, possibly previously considered unrelated things, to find new meaningful measures. It's a technique used in a growing area of research termed theory-less research. It's meant to address the all to common practice of developing a theory and then making the data fit that theory rather than objectively determining whether or not your theory holds water. This approach, while a bit difficult at times (there are lots and lots of dead ends!), is intended to more accurately determine causal relationships by ignoring what we believe to be true, which can color the results, and working with only what is true about a given situation.

In the past it seemed that in order to tie work and my passion together meant having to do something coaching related. However after 7 years as a collegiate rowing coach I am pretty much done. That doesn't mean I don't want to help, I just don't really want to be the guy again, not until I "retire." At that point I'll take up my position as a Bill Bowerman-esque running coach, complete with fedora and stopwatch. (I also think coaches should start wearing suits at competitions again, but that's another story for another time!)

But I digress, again. The landscape of training and racing is far different today than in the past. There is sooo much data available. I've had on my personal drawing board a project to combine my data mining skills with this data availability and using some industry standard tools create something really cool in terms of training/racing analysis. I know there are lots of people doing things like this, training peaks comes to mind, but they are limited. They have their "measures" and then market these for everyone. In my world, many of the measures don't exist yet. Oh and there's this, I am really good at this. I trust we'd learn a lot. One area I'm interested in exploring further is the change over time as athletes move from their peaks to their "masters" years. Finding patterns which indicate likely modifications to training protocols would be intriguing. Why can I survive on lower volume than most? I don't subscribe to "genetics" being quite as important as people think. Yes there are differences but I think it's frequently used as an easy out, a cheat. The mapping of the human genome demonstrated one thing clearly, we're all really, really alike.

To date my biggest limiter has been time to do the project and a diverse set of data. Thanks to my Garmin I have lots of data about me. But to do this right I need more than me. Diversity is key. Maybe you're reading this and you have lots of data about you. Well, color me interested. If you'd share I promise to let you share in the the findings. Your name will also be detached from your data (though referenced in any credits), because frankly the interesting stuff is at a higher level than a single person anyway. The possibilities intrigue my brain and my inner athlete. Who knows maybe one day I'll even get something published about this work, something with my picture on long as I'm wearing a fedora.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Some lessons are subtle...

...and others not so much! So I was out running yesterday, on "my trail" again, and I was just losing myself. I wasn't really focused on anything and was marveling at how the trail looked so different than just 2 weeks earlier because the leaves had fa... WHAM!!! Down goes Joel. Down goes Joel. I tumbled "a-- over tea kettle" and lost my glasses. Knee scrapped and bruised, hand bleeding a little, toe sore, I crawled around on all fours like Thelma of Scooby-Doo fame, feeling the dirt for my glasses in the leaves. I know for a fact I let at least one MF'r drop. And then I started laughing. Hello there, that's just one of the many ways trail running is different; there are tree roots!

The incident was also a not so subtle reminder of one of life's lessons: you need to be able to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get yourself moving again because sometimes you truly are all alone. And if you are wondering, I kept going. Once I started again I began remembering the first time I took a similar digger in a cross-country race. I remember seeing the whole pack just cruise on by me. I was muddy, had my pride bruised, but was otherwise okay. However I spent the rest of the race running below my ability because I was feeling sorry for myself. I don't recall exactly, but that lack luster result may have ended in one of the two demotions from the varsity that I would endure during my career. No folks, I was not yet the athlete I am now.

I ended up running the whole route yesterday and actually crushed my times on the same route posted two weeks earlier, all because I decided to keep going even when there was nobody there to know if I quit or not. I knew, and that's all it took. This morning my knee aches a little, but no big thing. The scrape on my hand has scabbed over. My left big toe is a bit tender, but all in all I feel pretty darn good.

There you have it, another life lesson learned on the trails. Before I finish though I think I need to stress a corollary to this lesson. In truth I think quite a few people do understand that in life you need to be able to rely on yourself to make it through adversity because sometimes there is nobody there to help. But the corollary is that sometimes other people are there, and if they offer help freely you need to learn to accept it. It turns out this is harder for some people than you'd think. It was harder for me, that's for sure. However accepting the help makes experiences far more meaningful because now you've shared them with another person, a person you can forever call friend.

PS: Here are the numbers from the two runs
October 24
November 6

PPS: Notice the two breaks in pace on Nov. 6, at mile 2 and at mile 4.4. The first was the digger. The second as a close encounter with a cow that had escaped its pasture and the irate farmer who was "chasing" it. For the record he was swearing way more than I!