Thursday, December 27, 2012

Answer the "why"

This sounds like it might be a self-help post, and I wish it was. Actually some may find it as such but really because they looked inside themselves and helped (thus self...help...), not because I did anything...and that's as it should be. It's said that nothing worth having comes easy. Well yes and no. Depends on your definition of easy I guess. Consider this. If you could do an activity, something that you can do without any significant instruction or effort to learn, and then just do it over a long period of time, would that be hard or easy? Even better, just avoid doing one thing, especially in a world where there is sooo much, possibly too much choice for alternatives. Is that hard or easy?

My thought: the activities, or lack there of, are incredibly easy. And yet so many people have such a hard time doing precisely this. Cleaning up a diet or exercising are very easy, even instinctual. Persisting the behavior proves to be daunting. And for me this comes down to the why. Why do it? Why exercise? Why eat better? As long as we're going there, why be faithful to a spouse?

Because.

I wish to be happy and relaxed. Running regularly helps me feel relaxed which makes me happy. I wish to stay healthy so I can be the support for my wife and kids. It's my role in my life. My strongest supporting thought is to be able to be at my kids' weddings. It is a more powerful image than any other. As someone who annually deals with emotional balance, it is vital to have the one overriding thought. No matter what else happens we stay on track for that.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Five fingers, ten toes

In the latter half of my "run streak," I treated myself to a pair of Vibram Five Fingers Bikilas. I'm not some crazed, go minimal or go home, runner but I was intrigued by a few aspects of barefoot, or rather near barefoot, running. As excited as I was to give it a go, I was also nervous about what might happen. Why? Hell I don't know. It's just different...unknown. The anxiety actually started before I bought them. As I quickly learned, there's more than one model of Vibram Five Fingers. What? Yup. There's thems for walking, and thems for running. Thems with laces, kangaroo hide, for cold weather, for hot weather. And then there's the Bikila, the one for barefoot running. Huh? Thought by design they all were for "barefoot" running. Apparently not though, or not as much. Well I wanted the barefoot experience. Hell if I was going to look like a baby Sasquatch out there, I wanted the fully Monty.

Fit:
The first thing I noticed is that they're very difficult to get on. At least they were the first day. The sizing is based on the actual length of your foot and not your shoe size. For me this meant a size that's about two sizes smaller than my normal shoe in European sizing, ie a 41. And for me it was not that easy to get my toes in the little individual toes spaces. My toes don't like being separated and I struggled to get them on. It was a little frustrating at first. However once they were on they fit like socks. In fact at first I thought they were too small. However, after my first run I realized they needed to be that way.

The run:
The first run was at Prospect Park, aka the bunny park, with Laddie. The outer loop is about 1/2 a mile mixed grass and coarse blacktop, with some soft spots, railroad ties in the ground, and lots of branches as the park had not been fully cleaned up since Sandy. Here's the deal with these shoes, you instantly run on the balls of your feet. No gradual "promotes a forefoot strike". Let your heel hit, especially on the pavement, and there is a shock wave that races through your spine to your brain! However, this modified foot strike was easy to adapt, as if this was really how I was meant to run. It was cool. The first run was 1.5 miles and the thing I notice most at the end was increased fatigue in lower leg muscles. No pain, just fatigue. Over the next couple of weeks I stretched the length of the runs to about 3.5 miles, mostly on trails. I did run on the road a few times, but frankly I just don't enjoy the road and it has nothing to do with the shoes. After the "run streak" which was mostly trail, it's just not the same.
Then came the real test. I was not feeling the same degree of lower leg fatigue anymore, presumably because the muscles were adapting, so I went for a ~7 mile run, all trails, plenty of muck and standing water. The run was a loop and I contemplated having a change of shoes in the van if I felt I needed it, but then decided no. I was running the whole thing "barefoot" or I wasn't finishing the run. I was curious about two things: could I do it and would the pace be different than in shoes. Here's the run data (no heart rate, I need a new strap) ->   http://connect.garmin.com/activity/250205867 . Bottom line, I have never run that loop that well. Granted I may have run it that well on that day in shoes too, but I doubt it. There was quite a bit of mud and standing water, and unlike shoes w/socks the Bikilas have so little going on they did not gain any noticeable weight. They had excellent traction. And remember that snug fit? They did not move around at all. The best words to describe the feeling of the run are "swift", "nimble", "fleet". I still am who I am and I know that shoes will not change my top end speed, but in this instance they allowed me to flow through the obstacles with ease.

Protection:
A big concern for me was how painful would it be when I stepped on obstacles. I didn't want to spend entire runs on the lookout for debris. With two exceptions, they were fine. In fact they handled a packed gravel path, easily the most uncomfortable section of one of the trails, with ease. The path is sort of like running on a runaway truck ramp, but I cruised through it. I believe the reason for this, and for the improved traction overall, is that as your feet land your toes more or less wrap around whatever they hit. With shoes the angle of your foot is going to be whatever it is and so you may well hit in with a sub-optimal orientation. When your feet become and integral part of the stride, you are more "dynamic". As I mentioned there were two notable exceptions to the decent foot protection. The first was a branch that found its way between two toes. This is the most vulnerable spot of the Bikilas as there is only a thin piece of lycra between the toes. Yes that sucked. The second was a stray chunk of granite. I got me square in the arch. I believe I saw God for a moment there! :) However, had I hit that in my Sketchers Go Runs, I think it would have sucked almost as much. Anything short of trail shoes with a rock plate would have failed.

Overall:
A month later I really enjoy running in these. Running through forests or through fields feels so natural, primal. That said there are still spots in my running shoe line up for traditional shoes. They have there purposes as well. But like a cyclist with lots of bikes, there is always a favorite, and these are rapidly becoming my favorites. Oh yeah, and for the first time in years I can spread my toes!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Are you measuring the right stuff?

(heavy geek alert!)

We have a saying in analytics: "The easier it is to measure the less valuable it probably will be." This isn't always the case, but a large chunk of the time it will prove to be true. Counts especially are one of my least favorite measures (as any and all of my co-workers will attest!). Case in point: We were building a new datamart at the bank. We had a group reporting that they had successfully loaded data for all but 3 customers. In other words, out of maybe 80k - 100k, only 3 had issues. The ratio was so great, hell, probably not even worth tracking down the others, right? I mean it would take more time than it was worth. Our set was good enough for management reporting... or was it? As the duly appointed namer of elephants in the room, I asked which 3 had not loaded. Two were insignificant, but one was the bank's 4th largest customer and by law had to be reported to Federal agencies. Uh, hmm, maybe this issue is a show stopper.

The moral here is that the easy metrics, the count, the loaded ratio, are worthless. When matched with the actual requirement even missing 1, if it was the wrong one, was a fatal error. Conversely, you could probably drop 30k of the smallest and still be fine. The measure needed to be based on something else, in this case customer ranking in terms of the bank's total credit exposure.

So how does this carry over to you, the athlete? Pace, distance, number of workouts (a count), even HR, all taken in isolation tell you very little about what you really want to know: am I getting better? They need to be taken in combination, cleansed for outlying activity, etc... My Garmin 305 tells me the average pace for my run. Today it told me 7:30/mi. A week ago it told me 7:06/mi. So I'm getting worse? Obviously we need to know more. Last week that 7:06 was over 7 miles. This week the 7:30 was over 15 miles. So was it better or worse? Uh maybe, but if I'm honest I have no idea. Sort of apples and oranges. So we standardize on workouts of a similar duration and compare again. A month ago I went 7:57 for 1:25. Today 7:30 for 1:52. Okay looks like I'm doing better. But honestly when building a metric I still like more relevance. 

Personally I sometimes have a hard time getting going on Saturday morning (it's that pushing 47 years old thing!), so I'll take the first 30min of the run and just go easy, whatever easy is for that day. This creates an outlier in the paces. In other words that first 30min is not indicative of where I am overall, just how I'm feeling that day. So for longer runs I tend to focus on average effort (HR) and paces AFTER the first 30min (in one mile segments). My run score measure is based on the relationship of pace, HR and time. And rather than focusing on the actual score, again something heavily influenced by things like a rough week at work, I'll focus on the slope of the score for the miles after the first 30min (Garmin autolap at 1 mile). 

So put more simply, the measure for long/endurance runs is as follows:
The change in run score after the first 30 min. The training scorecard is the trending of the average change in the run score measure over time.

I get that this is not in everyone's wheel house, so to speak. Hopefully it is something your coach would understand. I know many who do. And if your's doesn't? Well hmm, do you know any good data analysts? :)

PS: I also love trending average score for the final 3 miles of a long run over time (weeks/months). Correlates to the ability to finish out a long event!


Sunday, December 09, 2012

I may be crazy, but I'm not nuts!

Are you ready for it? Here it is: I have a secret man-crush on Justin Timberlake. Actually had it for a while. He's just so damn talented. And here's something else, something amazing I discovered, or more accurately re-discovered, over the past 5 weeks or so: I love running.
I set off on this little mini challenge, this quest, with no real expectations. The goal was simple: run every day for 5 weeks...no excuses. The runs were not training runs. There were no "rules" for minimum distance, duration, etc... I just had to go out and run every day. Make time, even just 12min with the dog, every single day for 5 weeks. I had no idea what, if anything, I would discover. Frankly I figured there was a 50/50 chance I would get tired, and then get more tired, and it would feel like work and even if I made it that would be all she wrote. I did expect little nagging injuries to creep in. I expected soreness in my ankle and feet. Maybe numbness in my toe, the usual things I felt during my "training." To mitigate this I spent a large percentage of the time on trails, well for that reason and because I need to run more trails to get ready for the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY.
A typical week was a few runs in Fairhaven at lunchtime, a few runs with Laddie, one very long run on the Sakonnet Greenway, and a moderate run again in Middletown either road, trail, or mixed. Total mileage was roughly 25-30 miles per week, so nothing drastic. Mileage began to creep up towards the end of the 5 weeks as I started stretching the 2nd run of the weekend. Also towards the end of this time I decided to try full-on minimal running in Vibram 5 finger Bikilas. More on that in a future post.
So what did I discover? In short, Joy. Yes joy. It didn't happen all at once, in fact the first two weeks were the most difficult, especially Tuesday and Wednesday. I was getting more and more tired, though interestingly it was not the long Saturday trail run that left me the most tired. It was the faster runs in Fairhaven. It took me about a day longer to get 3.57 miles @ 6:16/mile out of my legs than it did 13 miles on the trail @7:55/mile. What the trail runs did tax far more than the road were my core and shoulders. By the end of the 5 weeks my legs more or less ran on autopilot, not even noticing the miles whereas I still feel fatigue in my core and shoulders because of the far greater stabilization requirements when running on the trails. That discomfort peaked in the third week. Other than that my body actually started functioning better, not worse as the miles accumulated.
The "Ah ha" moment occurred over Thanksgiving. I was out running on a wonderful trail in Shelton, CT. I was a bit fatigued and would have had no complaints if I had found a gel packet lying on the ground somewhere. Then I hit this section that passed through a large stand of pine trees. Maybe it was the lack of nutrition or maybe something else, but I suddenly flashed back to childhood. I mean not just a "I remember when I was a kid," but rather I was no longer a 46 year old running on a trail in Connecticut. I was backpacking with my Dad.
When my Dad and I went backpacking, or canoe camping, I would often run ahead down the trail to the next stopping point to see how far away it was, and then run back. There were no thoughts of conserving energy, avoiding bonk, etc... just the pure joy of being out in the wilderness. I liked getting to places where there were no more human noises and stopping and then trying to see how many distinct sounds I could hear and if I could locate the source of those sounds. I'd image all sorts of things. I loved those moments and I hadn't had one of those moments in literally decades...until that run in Connecticut.
It only lasted a brief time, only until the group of walkers with their dogs came around a bend, but for a moment all cares were gone. And the best part is "the hangover" from that run. I remember.
Equally significant was the run before that run. It was the first time in years that Leanna and I have run together, this time with Laddie. The last time was when we lived in Newport and we ran from our apartment to 1st beach. Didn't go so well. This one was different. It was very special.
The 35 days ended Wednesday. I took the next day off, but that was it. I've run the last 3 and will be going again today. I don't feel I "have to" go out. I want to. I'm not technically "training", though obviously this will transfer into preparation for Bear Mountain. My running stride is incredibly smooth right now and I'm very efficient as evidenced by the fact that despite all the miles I still gained a few pounds!
But I love going out on the trails, and am content. I'm actually passing on a running race today, to go run elsewhere. I'm not feeling the need to compete. Actually I'm not even feeling a "need" to run. I just want to...




Wednesday, November 07, 2012

7 days and counting...

The goal is 35 days. Very arbitrary. And there's no plan, no "optimal" training methodology in play. Just looking to see if I can do it. Oh wait, you don't know what "it" is?

I'm running for 35 days straight. Now before you start with all the "that's a good way to get hurt" and "it's been proven that doesn't make you faster", let me say:
1) some of these runs are simply about a mile and a half of jogging with Laddie. In fact if you looked at my total mileage for the first 7 days, I still come in at under 30 miles. Not high mileage.
2) I'm not trying to get faster. In fact in a way I need to get slower, though even that is not a goal for this effort. No, this effort is just because... I want to see if I can.

When's the last time you did something for no reward other than to prove to yourself that you can?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Visual Analytics and the Athlete: Part 3

"Sometimes you learn more from what you don't know than what you do." - Another anonymous comment.

So now you've got the data. You're doing all your weekly workouts. Weight is good. Eating is good. The "A" race comes up and boom...you come up short. What happened? Let's go back to the very first charts from the very first post.
What do we know? We know that in the past there were two defined peaks, both of which correlate to a race. We know that from the first to the second there is a rapid drop and climb, some somewhat jagged times, followed by a leveling and a climb to another peak. i.e. Following Lake Placid in 2009 I shut it all down for a time to give some attention to my life. 2010 was defined as a "bridge" year to get to 2011 without a significant degradation in ability. And 2011 was the build up to Coeur D'Alene. And if that's all you got, that is actually a pretty fair interpretation. But let's dive a little more into the weeds which means discussing the negative space, i.e. the stuff we don't see and how it influences the chart as much as the training which we've quantified and recorded.

See that climb and baby peak just before Lake Placid followed by the immediate retreat? That's Mooseman 2009, arguably one of my best races ever. The lead up to that race was very trying emotionally and again following it my family life came under such duress and the very thought of competing in Lake Placid seemed unrealistic. I won't rehash it here, but it is documented elsewhere in this blog. Anyway once it was determined LP was a go there's the final push to the race and race day itself. So the chart has the steep slope not because the process of peaking for the race brought about some great physiological improvement, but because the data leading up to the race was fairly inconsistent and spotty. Life didn't normalize much until the middle of 2010. With the exception of one dip which I believe was related to late summer, kids, family, time off, etc... The lines actually start to track on a fairly consistent pattern to Coeur D'Alene with a climb into race day which is supported more by peaking than anything else.

The point of all this is that forces outside of the data and outside of the graph are influencing what is in the graph in the first place. It's based on the premise that a type-A athlete, and if you're going through this stuff you're type-A, will perform precisely on plan if there are no other "interruptions" from life. So when we see that they are not tracking to plan, we can assume something is going on. The components of the negative space, the items that are not cast on paper or on a computer screen, actually contribute to the uniqueness of each athlete's graph as much as does their training plan. As a coach or someone evaluating the visual, the mere existence of randomness in the patterns is an indication that something might be going on with the athlete, so maybe it's worth a follow-up.

"But if this other data is so important, does that mean we should stop recording our current data?" No. But if feasible you should find a way to record these other events. This may come in the form of a training log, comments, a blog, etc... And yes to build a predictive model we will need to somehow quantify these outside influences, but that is a topic for the next post.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Visual Analytics and the Athlete: Part 2

Creating Measures with an Eye Towards the Future

Feedback from the person who read both parts 1a and 1b has been incredible! And he asked an important question.

"Is the Run Score a subjective measure?"

The answer is 'yes'...sort of. It is subjective in so much as it does not exist anywhere else. It was invented. It is not, however, arbitrary. There is a formula behind it, and the formula is an important piece in the evolution of any analytics model. Creating measures is a full time job for many people.  In banking we referred to the people who invented the measures and "quantitative modelers," or quants for short. In baseball you need go no further than sabermetrics and Bill James to see similar, though obviously more highly evolved measures in action. And measures aren't a "do it once, set it and forget it" artifact. You evolve them over time as more inputs which were previously unknown become known. So in the case of run score there is an equation which is based on the non-linear relationship of a person's heart rate to their ground speed. Furthermore it attempts to account for how that changes over the period of the run. The measure itself is in its infancy, but that does not mean it has no value. Because it is an objective calculation, the results are consistent based on the data set provided. As that first data set is actuals, meaning we known what actually happened, we can begin to tune the measure so it gains accuracy.

So the run score is an objective subjective measure. What's that you ask? Why not just plot speed, HR, period, etc...? Well we absolutely could do that, and they do exist in the model which produced the graphs you saw in the earlier posts. However more often than not looking at the individual pieces of data gathered clouds the issue. e.g. You just did a run and had an average pace of 7:30/mile. Is that good or bad? Answer: not enough information. So you see plotting all those individual points creates a lot of "not enough information" scenarios. "But they do have a relationship to each other." Yes, yes they do. And what exactly is the nature of those relationships? Perhaps HR (how hard you ran) is related to speed some how. And time is related. Maybe terrain. So if you look at all those points, all those numbers together maybe there is a pattern. And that pattern, if you could represent it in a number is ... wait for it ... Run Score! Much easier to look at a single visual that conveys the message of the whole data set, than to try and process the whole set at the same time, all the time.

Great so now what? Well I figure most non-geeks stopped reading after part 1b, so I'm going to explore a little more in depth here. The evolution of the measure is such that after you tune it for your actuals, you begin to project it into the future by applying a range of probabilities. This is your predictive model.

 "What? Okay you're losing me again."

Below is a visual for a well known predictive model.
In the graphic you see the line depicting the actual track at of Isaac at the time and then a range of possibilities as to where the storm could end up. If you saw this on a spreadsheet, and no doubt it exists on one somewhere, your eyes would glaze over as there'd be lots of numbers, percents, longitude and latitude, etc... The visual presents it in an easier to understand fashion. It communicates the clear message that you might need to load up the family truckster and get out!

I think I'll stop for now, because we've covered some important stuff. We now understand measures :) and have introduced another key element we don't have, probability. So how do we come up with the probability? There are many ways people do this. I have my own approach and in the case of training data we need to undertake another exercise which can be tedious, un-glamorous, and entirely insightful. We need to gather as much data as we can that you never tracked. In part 3 I'll take you through that exercise, which is very much related to the topic I teased in part 1, "Negative Space" analytics. And note, this part is more art than engineering, which thus makes it my favorite!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Visual Analytics and the Athlete: Part 1B

"What do the pictures mean?!"

Yes I understand I didn't do "the great reveal" in the last post. It was on purpose. My first step to analyzing visuals, as I mentioned previously, is to do so in a vacuum, try to do as much as you can to keep preconceived ideas from skewing the analysis. For the record I actually had Leanna look at the 2nd chart and tell me what she saw. She immediately noticed the two locations where the blue line crossed the tan line on an upswing. These two peaks are also visible in chart 3 which is the same data spread over months (the previous chart is a quarterly spread). So we have identified two points of interest, so what are they? Well I've already let you know that the category line, the 'X' axis, is time. Those two peaks are July 26, 2009 and June 26, 2011. The measures being illustrated are my run speed and a "run score", a calculated measure I produced to be able to "grade" very different types of runs. In both cases the score, which typically tracks just below the run speed, jumps distinctly above the speed line. The significance of those two dates is that they are both race dates, Ironman Lake Placid 2009, and Ironman Coeur D'Alene 2011. It's not entirely unexpected that this would happen as the run score is weighted towards longer runs (I am an endurance athlete after all!), but this also corresponds with how I felt about the runs. The races were not perfect, but I felt like I ran them really well.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Visual Analytics and the Athlete: Part 1


"There is no failure. Only feedback. "
~ Robert Allen

Athletes are human beings. Human beings are physiologically, mentally, and emotionally creatures of habit. We typically gravitate towards those things we do well, especially during times of stress or failure in other areas of our lives. So what if you could somehow capture these retreats to familiar ground over time in a picture? Maybe the picture would be an affirmation. Or maybe it would indicate a destructive tendency.

People think of analytics simply as a way of validating, or “scoring”, a current course of action, i.e. what went right or wrong and am I doing better or worse. And while they are very capable, you quickly discover the usefulness of this type of scoring is limited, because more often than not you create a picture that you already know, especially if it is simply a picture of what you are doing right now. Visualizations, especially those that span time, extend analytics allowing you to see your habits, both known and more importantly unknown. And these habits are frequently the things that prevent us from reaching a new level of performance. Let’s face it if what we did over and over and over were really working, we wouldn’t still be searching for ways to improve! “But these things worked for me before?” Yes, they did. And when they worked they were reasonably if not entirely new to you. At that point in time they were an unfamiliar stressor on your mind, body, or soul. And you adapted to handle them. And those adaptions led you to some success. And you did it again. And maybe had a bit more success, though not quite as striking a change as before. And again, and less striking success. You see as you adapt those stressors become the norm. They become “comfortable,” a refuge.

Visual Analytics Basics: I know how you THINK you did, but what do your EYES tell you?

So as an analyst what am I looking for? Well I’ll start by telling you what I’m not looking for…counts, absolute numbers of any kind (total miles, total hours, etc…). While they are usually the easiest measures to capture, they tell you so little really, especially if you are trying to normalize your findings across multiple datasets (e.g. compare two or more athletes). Sure they might relevant to each individual, but they don’t explain much. Changes, slopes, ratios, area under the curve or between two curves…those tell you more. Wow, this sounds a whole lot like geometry and calculus! Yes…yes it does. And that is why we use visuals, because many times our eyes can tell us the story without having to write the equation. And for the mathematically inclined, the visuals show you which equations to write!

Because we humans are creatures of habits, I look at these visuals for patterns, both repeating and original; consistency and breaks, expected and especially unexpected. At the bottom you’ll see 4 line charts. These basic graphs are all the same data set. I’m using a technique I’ve really come to appreciate, masking all series, labels, and legends. Sure I know which measures were put on the chart, but I don’t know which line is which. I also know the full date range used, but cannot see which day is which. Finally the charts follow a traverse down my time “dimension”, i.e. to finer and finer slices of time. The first is a yearly view (3 yrs). Next you see the quarterly view of the same data. We move then to monthly, and then finally daily (which is only a partial chart). Traversing the time state is useful in finding the right amount of detail to tell you the story but not confuse things with outliers.

Okay, anyone still awake? No? Well, if you care to learn more, stay tuned for Part 2 where I get crazy with more detail about creating relevant measures, and perhaps delve into “Negative Space” analytics (my term so don’t bother looking it up!).







Sunday, September 09, 2012

Road to recovery

I have begun to run again. After spending weeks swimming with my mermaids, it was time to hit the road and see where things stood. I haven't run a lot, but if you include time spent with Laddie, I've probably covered 30 miles in about 2 weeks. And things are getting better. After a first run which was real work, yesterday I covered 5.7 miles on a combined road and trail run, at a pace which is very much in line with how I normally. run. It made me happy. Sure there was tightness afterwards, but I have a new found diligence towards stretching and more accurately, general mobility. I have a little "yoga-like" (I'm not good enough to truly call it yoga!) I use before the run. I'll spend time manipulating my hips afterwards to loosen things up. "But wasn't it your calf?" Well, the calf was the victim. What is apparent is that the whole chain, from back to toes, needed attention. And as I give it attention the calf feels better and relaxes.

I am growing to love swimming. I love swimming with the mermaids. But when it comes to running, I love running alone. Once in a while a partner is nice, but in general this is my quiet time. Not running was really hard. Really, really hard. The sense of relief when I finally saw a mile split begin with a "6" was tangible. I could once again plan for a future with running included. Aquabike champion just didn't do it for me!

And what is this future? Well I need a break from Ironman. Probably needed it before this year. It doesn't mean I won't race the odd triathlon, but they will not be my "A" races. While I don't have the details yet, or a plan, or anything, I've known for a while what I want: I want to extend to ultra-running. I think I could be good, but who knows? But at least it's an unknown. It is something new. I have no history so I have no unfair comparisons to make with "my younger self." And of course at the end of it all there is another bucket list item, something up there with Kona, that possibly awaits! 

And what of Kona? Maybe someday.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Starting over

Funny how much you find you really miss something which you took for granted. I'd love to be running right now. I get discount coupons for running shoes and ... well I do nothing with them because I won't be running until probably September, and even then it will be a slow rebuild. So to compensate I'm channeling this pent up frustration in a constructive direction. Once and for all I'm going to make a concerted effort to be a good swimmer. And to define "good swimmer" I've decided to use as a comparison some of my running numbers! In truth it's totally arbitrary, but it gives me a good "reach goal," i.e. a goal that at present does not seem that attainable. So here's the deal: I want to be able to do repeats of 100yds in the pool in the same time as I do repeats of 400m on the track. That's 1:15. In fact as I project it out I like that 100yd pool to 400m track ratio. 1600M on the track is roughly 5:20. I'd take that for my 400yd swim. And if I never get there, well that's not the whole point. It is at least keeping my mind occupied.

So to accomplish this goal, I'm getting back to basics, and by basics I mean as if it were winter (and I couldn't bike or run). You see while some might think this injury only occurred at mile 12 of Lake Placid, or perhaps 2 weeks earlier on Paradise Avenue in Middletown, in my gut I think this happened this past winter. You see I missed all of winter base training this year.

Many people overlook the winter. Indeed you can fool yourself into thinking you're good to go just by starting when the weather gets nice. But I've always known races are won and lost in the winter. My crews always raced well if we put in the work when the weather was dark cold and sucky. When spring was so far off you didn't even allow yourself to think of it. In those long nasty sessions we built strength, durability, flexibility, and balls.

And I'm getting older which does mean little things creep up on you if you don't pay attention. You lose a little flexibility. Minor supporting muscles weaken. Things are masked by the continued strength of the major components, and ironically by the growth in knowledge. As I've gotten better at executing a race, I think I've gotten a little less thorough in preparing because I can make up for a whole lot of weakness by being smart.

So now I've got no choice but to rethink everything and start over. And truth be known, it's kind of an exciting concept, largely because there is a degree of uncertainty back in the equation.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lake Placid part 2: Breakdown

(The following is not a typical "race report." It's a trip inside my head and so might not be for everyone. You won't offend me if you skip it. Read more about my actual race here.)

4 days in Lake Placid. 4 days largely spent inside my own head. I knew this weekend was going to be a significant point for me. Over the coming months we'll see how much. Imagine the thing you were best at, the thing that really defined how you did something, well imagine if that were taken away from you. And no I'm not talking about my strength running, at least not directly. My life since I was 13yrs old has in great part been defined by what we'll call the creation of "the machine." No I'm not ready to share any more on that at this time. The machine is the embodiment of my more detached, analytical side. It's my physical and emotional protector. More and more over the years it has become the dominant force in defining who I am or rather who I appear to be. In fact if you didn't know me when I was a kid at St. Edmund's, you very likely might be surprised by who I was...or not. It's hard for me to know how much of my emotional side people actually see anymore. There was a time when it was dominant you know, but so long ago I scarcely remember myself. And in recent years the machine has reigned supreme, especially in defining how I race; methodical, disciplined, near flawless execution. Whatever I lack in prep I make up for by being the best race day tactician among my competitors.

And then the machine broke.

I clearly recall pulling off the course just past the half way point of the run. It was very strange to just walk off the road and sit down in the QT2 tent. Others were confused as well. The weekend had been this emotional balancing act between business as usual and life after failure. As I've begun to work through some of these long standing "issues" in my life, those things which brought about the necessity for the machine, I've been very unsure of myself. The emotional side sits very close to the surface these days and so I don't feel truly in control of things anymore. I knew before I even arrived in Lake Placid that the moment of breakage might well arrive. And now here it was. Now what. Adding to the difficulty was the large group of people wearing the same uniform as me, almost all of whom were seriously kicking butt. And here I was, the failure, not feeling worthy. A small consolation was that most of these people didn't even know who I was, so there was ample opportunity to just disappear. But a few know. 

After limping around somewhat aimlessly for a bit, I made my way back to my room and cleaned up. I determined to not just hide for the next 12hrs before I drove home. So I showered and limped back out onto the course...questioning my value and indeed part of my identity. I decided to face it head on and texted Tim:
Me - "So if you want some insight into my mental issues right now I'm dealing with the fact that I feel like I let you guys down."
Tim - "No no! You shouldn't have been out there for another loop. You would have let us down if you had ruptured something and had to sit a year out."

Being out next year being a loss? Do they think I have value? Or is he just being nice, saying what you're supposed to say. But the wise brain reminded me, no Tim's not that way. He means it. And feeling somewhat comforted I went back out to the race course.

And then something amazing happened. Right at the end of my motel driveway was a woman struggling. She had hamstring cramps and was just stuck in the road. She had that look of panic, pain, "can this really be it?", "how can I move on?"... I say amazing because that was me in 2003, my first Ironman. So I just walked over to her and said, "It's okay. Just try and stand up straight, and if you feel like you're going to fall hold onto me. You can recover from this. It does happen. It happened to me." So she stopped struggling and stood up. "Okay, just relax and try and take a small step. Don't worry about how small or how slow. Just get your legs to relax and the blood moving again." And so she did as I instructed and the muscles relaxed. She started to move a little faster. In what seemed like almost no time she was back moving faster than I could limp. And right around the corner were her family and husband or boyfriend. They were thrilled to see her. It was her birthday. And off she went. And there I stood feeling...really good about things. In fact as I passed the DJ by Lisa G's, I joined in jumping around to Cypress Hill (albeit on one leg)!

I felt somewhat liberated, at least for the day. I did things I've never done before. I drank beer on Main Street in Lake Placid (PBR tallboy...paper bag) with my boys from Coeur D'Alene, Sean and Doug. I stayed up past midnight (big deal for me, ask anyone!), which meant for the first time ever I saw the final finisher of an Ironman. A 67yr old guy named Bill staggering alongside the Men's champion, Andy Potts. And Monday it was back to my family, and it was so great to be back with them. They are my life.


I'd love to think the emotional progress will hang with me, the realization that I have value in the eyes of others beyond athletic accomplishment. My results aren't the only things that can inspire. But I'll tell you now it won't be easy. I'm fighting patterns that have protected me well for more than 30 years. It'll very much be an uphill battle...on one leg.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Have fun. Look cool.

Those were the goals for Ironman Lake Placid. I had to actually remind myself of that fact this week. You see for the first time in my Ironman racing career I did not finish the race. Long and short, I pulled out at 13.2 miles into the run with a calf injury, more on that later.

It was not easy to drop out. After stopping for a minute I contemplated hobbling the final 1/2. Tim Snow talked me off that ledge. My day was done. But here's the thing I didn't realize until yesterday really: I hit my targets. I met my goals. Swim aside, I was having a really good time. When planning a strategy I always do it days in advance and absolutely forbid myself to deviate from the plan on race day. The race day brain is a crazy, sometimes stupid, one. Never let it call the shots for your athletic performance or bad things will happen. As I had actually injured the calf 2 wks earlier and it was still a bit sore and tender, the plan was to make this an extended training day, and when I say training day I mean easy enough that I could continue training at a reasonable rate within a few days. I know what you're thinking, "If you were injured why did you race at all?" Well 1) it was paid for anyway, and 2) have you ever been up there? A beautiful place to train. And there is still a lot of value for someone like me who doesn't race much anymore to be in the middle of a field of athletes as opposed to alone on an island. Oh, and prior to the start the calf was feeling okay. A bit sore but no pain and loosened up when walking. But this post is not about the injury, so moving on...

So back to the race strategy planning process. Based on how I was executing workouts at home I figured absolute best case if I was going at racing intensity was 1:10 swim, 5:40 bike, 3:30 run. Add in transition times you're looking at 10:30. I had real doubts about my durability to maintain a true race intensity unless we got a nice overcast 60 degree day, with perhaps a light rain on the run (much like 2008). As I feel the run is not only my strength, but also the leg that sucks the most if you are toasted, I planned to back way off on the swim and bike and shoot for that goal time on the run. In other words, enter T2 with as full a tank as one could have. That meant no cramping at all on the bike, and that meant expending almost no energy swimming. And guess what, if you do back off intensity on a bright sunny day, you get to sight see and so realize just how beautiful some of these race courses really are. This one athlete said to me on lap 1 of the bike, "Yeah, enjoy it (Ausable River near Jay, NY) now because you won't think it's beautiful on lap 2." It was just as beautiful on lap 2. After a 1:15 swim and a 6:02 on the bike I entered T2 feeling more or less like I do entering the run of a 1/2 Ironman. Yes, the results page would never show it, but I just executed the crap out of a plan. As close to flawless (other than a slight case of the food dropsies) as I've done. (Side note: swimming easy at an Ironman is a catch 22. I got the crap knocked out of me during lap one because I wasn't going fast enough, so lap 2 was more like 2200m as I swung waaay out in order to not get abused by my fellow man!)

The run was, can I say easy? Energy levels were great. No cramping. Smooth gait. No over striding. Food sitting well. Just sit back and cruise a 3:30. And so it went, even going up the hill to Main Street, right up until the moment someone stabbed me in the back of my calf. Nothing gradual about it. I was going, and then not.

We get caught up in the results pages way too much. I'm no exception there. Finish rank and splits seem to be how we evaluate our own worth as athletes. Who did we beat. But there is soooo much more than that. There are friends. There is fun (tall boys in a paper bag anyone?). There is accomplishment, and sometimes that accomplishment is not "how fast" but rather "how well" you did something. Finishing what you start is important, but sometimes you really can't, at least not in any logical fashion. I could have finished. I risked a full rupture in doing so. I'm not just an athlete, I'm a Dad and husband and that sort of injury is not just happening to the athlete, it is happening to the Dad and husband. It would have been overly stupid and selfish to take that chance.

So my "wise brain", as it is called, has realized I had one hell of a day and one hell of a trip. Oh, and getting to spectate and watch my QT2 team just wipe the place out...awesome. A very special day indeed. And with all this there is more to this story, because there is more than just the "wise brain" at work here, but for that you'll need to wait for the next post...

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Rev3 Quassy, 2012

So the question to which you all MUST know the answer: "Did I have fun?" Yes. Yes, but. Yes but I could have had more fun. Yes but I could have had more fun had I been more fit (wouldn't have hurt so much/I would have gone faster) or if I truly knew how to not care about how I'm doing relative to others.

Here's the thing, I am very happy with the race. I know with 100% certainty that I had nothing more to give. The race was executed as tightly as any race I've done. Sure I could have swam faster, but something else may well have given. It was what I call a zero sum race: put any more into any discipline and the others suffer.

But...5hrs is my 2nd slowest 1/2 Ironman ever. My slowest was my first in 2001. But...this was a brutal course. But...I finished 3rd in my age group. But...I'm still a person who struggles to get out of his own head. Fortunately it turns out more things than just racing can help fulfill the goal of having fun!

Here's what I came to realize on Sunday. When goals are only performance/results based, all the pressure is put on the act of racing. When the goal is something else, like "Have fun", the race is just a component of it as there are other things that can contribute. Much more opportunity for success! Sunday at Quassy was one of the best days I've had in a long time. It started with the realization that one thing I truly LOVE about these events is seeing people I really like; people I haven't seen in almost a year. Every time I turned around there was Charlie Abrahams with a camera in my face or saying something encouraging, or even helping me put my Gene Simmons edition NormaTec recovery boots on! And there was Sean Walter. And there was Rick Brown. And there was Andrew Kallfelz. And Doug MacLean. And other QT2ers. And more than a couple former rowers in attendance (Charlie, Andrew, Doug, and another stud Chris Schulten)!

And then there was family time at the amusement park. Yes Quassy is a place pretty much designed for kids my age and their young'uns. We rode rides. Dylan lost a crock inside of the Free Fall ride (they had to shut it down to find it!). We got rained on. We had good family fun, and we did it all for almost nothing because the Rev3 provided athletes with free passes to the park!

It was a great day.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

And now for something completely different...

Yes, I've been quiet for a while. And while I am posting today, I can't swear that this is the beginning of a resurgence. Stuff going on, stuff that may or may not make a post. So why post at all? Because in this case I might have something to offer other athletes out there, especially other "driven" athletes. Maybe we can think of this as a sort of public service announcement!

Tomorrow I'm racing the 1/2 at the Rev3 Quassy triathlon. Yes I've been training, though not in a super intense manner. As is typically the case I set out 3 goals, something I do before every race. There's a reach goal, a medium goal which if achieved signifies a very good race, and there's a basic goal which if achieved says you should still feel good about your race. Last year for Ironman CDA those goals were 1) Break 10hrs, 2) PR the distance (10:14), 3) Finish.  I only hit goal 3. I had mixed feelings about the race. Problem is, looking at those goals there was something missing. In fact going over my goals from all my races for years there is always one thing missing: 1) Have fun!

So tomorrow's 3 goals are as follows: 1) Have fun. 2) Have fun. 3) Have fun.  In fact I'm not even going to bring a watch. I've spent too many years "missing" the event going on around me because I tend to obsess on the splits, the HR, the rankings, the results. Those things absolutely have their place for those races where the goal is to light it up; to be the best. But I can't do that every race, and emotionally it just isn't healthy to try. It's simply too taxing. So if being the best is not the goal, dammit better enjoy myself for a change!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's a dog's life.

It's been a full week of all Laddie, all the time. Alexandra loves him. Dylan loves him but is a wee bit jealous of the attention he gets (Laddie's inclusion now makes Dylan our middle child!). Mommy and Daddy love him. He's still warming up to us and his new surroundings, but is doing well...well except for that little bout of *ahem* the runs after visiting the groomer. "We just paid to get you smelling good!" Oh well. He's a funny, every present, sneaky, and lovable guy and he's totally dominated the scene in the house and at the bus stop since his arrival.

This dog, known as Daddy, has been working like one but has managed to begin getting training reps in in preparation for my return to multisport racing on April 15. No predictions as to what my form will be like for the key races in the June and July (Rev3 Quassy and Ironman Lake Placid), but for now at least I'm moving again. A lot of ground to cover on the bike, enough to make me contemplate a few bike races this spring. Need to jump start the form and a good off the back ass whoop'n always seems to accomplish that goal.

And as if I didn't have enough going on, I have begun to write about what I do professionally in another blog found here. It's actually a nice release. In the past I tried to avoid my professional life once outside of work. I'm now seeing that the real key is to embrace and acknowledge it as part of me...just like admitting I AM truly my father's son.

And a final note: a shout out to my friend and teammate Mary Eggers who somehow has coerced the one and only Lance Armstrong into a 50yd kick race at the University of Buffalo pool. The "race" is a fundraiser for Teens Living with Cancer and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (I'll have a link to the donation page on my Facebook wall and Twitter when it is available). Mary's a piece of work. She's always cheering, always smiling, and clearly does not let little things like anxiety or fear get in the way of a good idea! Way to go Mary. beyond proud of you.

Cheers for now. If you need to find me, I'll be the guy outside with that really cute black lab who wants to chase the coyotes at 2:00am!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Heeeeeere's Laddie!

Just a quick post.

After almost 5yrs our family had another Gotcha Day and a new member. While we're certainly no Angelina and Brad, it occurred to me yesterday that we have become quite experienced with the concept of adoption. And as much as everyone says "It's wonderful what you're doing for them," I'll be honest it's 100x more wonderful what they are doing for me. It's the basis on which our entire family is built and it's wonderful. And so, with no further ado:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One of those firsts

Last weekend the family took a trip to Wachusett Mountain for a little ski trip. Sure there's not a lot of snow, but that wasn't the main reason for the trip. We were meeting up with our friends Paul and Carol, with whom we shared our adventure in St. Petersburg, Russia .

We had not been skiing as a family since last year when Alexandra was 6 and Dylan 4. The highlight of that trip was Leanna and I skiing together for almost the first time since we became parents. We put the kids in ski lessons and got in a few runs of our own. In the interim the kids got their own skis and we put them in lessons after school at a local ski area (yes there is a ski are in Rhode Island!). So when we went to Wachusett there were no lessons.  I fully expected to be spending much of the day with Dylan because his lesson group had not yet ridden a chair lift or indeed gone down a full hill of any sort. Well no matter, it did feel good to be on the slopes.

When we got our gear on Dylan said he wanted to follow Mommy and Alexandra who had gone over to a chair lift. I said, "Why don't we warm-up a little on the magic carpet and then we can head over." Well if he had known how to drop f-bombs he would have said, "F--- that Dad. We're gett'n on the f---'n chair lift with f---'n Mommy and f---'n Alexandra!" I was in no mood to deal with a meltdown this early in the day so I said, "Fine. Listen to me and I'll help you get on the chair." In my head I'm thinking, "If he gives me a hard time well... chump don't want no help, chump don't get no help!"

The chair comes swinging around and low and behold my little buddy gets right on! I helped him shift back a little, lowered the bar, and we were off! Then when we get to the top, I'm giving him that over protective fatherly advice and ... he's off and going. "Wait up buddy!" And he didn't slow down the whole day. By the end he even attempted some intermediate slopes. He was that little kid we've all seen; the one in the helmet bombing down the slopes scarcely turning! And also by the end of the day when he fell, low and behold, as I side-stepped back up the hill to help him get his skis on, he clipped in on his own and just shot passed me!

And not to forget big sister Alexandra; she was the one all in pink flying around the slopes! Mommy was trying to keep up with her, not the other way around. She and I skied together as well.

So there it was, the first day we all skied together...grown up skiing!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moving forward

It's been a long time since my last post, and it's time to do something about that. In fact it's been so long the blogger interface has changed and I can't find all the controls! Seriously the last 6mos or so have been a struggle. It's time to find myself again and that means a return to focus on personal things.

Why does this blog exist?

This blog started in late 2004. There's a reason for that. That's when I became a dad. And while the content sort of goes all over the place, the real purpose of this body of work was to create a journal which painted a picture of who is was. I'd like Alexandra and Dylan to be able to hear, in my own words, what I did and thought when they were little, because somewhere down the road I will be old and much of this will be here say and distant memory. So kids, your take away here is that sometimes I lose focus on what is really important, like leaving these things for you. I promise to continue to try and keep this collection alive.

The last 6mos.

Following the Save the Bay swim, we remodeled the kitchen, two months of sheer torture which in retrospect were totally worth it, and I was "reorg'd" for the 3rd time in 18mos at work. Unlike the previous times, this one had a direct impact for me and my team and had me reporting to people with whom I had no previous work experience. In an understandable, though misguided effort to "make a good impression" I started focusing on work, to the exclusion. In many ways I'm still there though at this point it's become a bad habit that I want to break but am having trouble breaking. For years I've understood that we as people aren't defined by what we do at work, what our title is, what our pay is. I say I understand that, but let me tell you it's easy to forget. And as the demands grew higher and higher I started missing important things and important people, and generally made myself miserable and isolated.

Sometimes even smart people are stupid.

I spend a lot of time feeling isolated and generally sorry for myself. I've convinced myself that I had no friends anywhere nearby. Associates and acquaintances, sure, but not friends. I'm an idiot. As I slowly open my eyes, I'm seeing that some of the best people who I could hope to be friends with are literally right around the corner and one actually in the same house. People who have positive energy. People who don't care who you report to at work or what your rank is at your company. People who really just want to be friends...no expectations. Honestly, this realization is a little unsettling, largely because I feel I've done very little to deserve this friendship. But I guess that's one of life's funny things; it's not my choice.

Going forward I know I need to change. I'm pretty sure I need help doing so. (So Doug, while you've committed to less "brow beating" in 2012, feel free to do some. Some of us need a push to get moving again!) I strive to return focus to the true me: the lover of the ocean, the lover of the mountains, the geek, the coffee addict, the athlete, the dad and the husband...and the friend.