Sunday, December 03, 2006

You believe in miracles...Yes

The impossible can happen. The Washington Generals win. Charlie Brown kicks the ball. A Democratic Presidential candidates from Massachusetts runs an intelligent campaign. Beth acts magnanimous on Real World/Road Rules Challenge.

It happened today. 25 years after my first race in high school indoor track, I shocked myself by finally calling on mental strength that I had given up on ever tapping, and shattered the 3 hour 30 minute barrier at the California International Marathon by over two minutes.

While I felt more mentally prepared for this marathon than any other, it was a Mark Allen, the six-time Ironman winner and god, interview I listened to yesterday that added the icing on the cake. His two thoughts ; pain is only a momentary feeling and can pass, and endurance events are when you discover what kind of person you are.

When my calves started to get predictably tight and cramp at mile 12, Allen's words got me through the pain. When my right quad started to go at mile 22, I just focused on the moment, temporarily abandoned my numbers game (e.g., only 4 to go, that's a short run in Golden Gate Park) and concentrated on the moment. And with 2 miles to go, when I began to contemplate walking in some freakish 2nd grade deja vu (Laurel Pines Country Club, Maryland, summer of 1972 I quit the two-lap test to qualify to go off the diving board with 10 strokes to go), I shut off my mind and just ran.

I was extremely ready for this race physically. My training went well, I didn't get sick and I was rested. But I can say that about San Francisco Marathon 2001, Vineman Half Ironman 2004, Wildflower Half Ironman 2006 and Lake Placid Ironman 2006. I was ready for each of those. But when fatigue and/or cramps set in, I gave in. Maybe not completely like at Wildflower where I only walked from mile 11 to 12, but on some level. In short, I have never gone to sleep after a race over a half marathon thinking I pushed myself further than I thought I could. I have never tasted the satisfaction of real achievement.

Until today. Running strong the last ten miles (I basically ran even splits the entire race) went against everything I have ever done in a marathon. When I ran under the finish line clock at 3.28.05 (I'm guessing 30 seconds to start) I was seriously choked up, like the last scene of Field of Dreams. Or the latest sappy AT&T commercial.

I am not sure if today was an aberration. But in every race I ever do again I want to recapture the feeling of the California International Marathon, December 3, 2006.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

24 hours to go

24 hours to go until the California International Marathon and I am, without a doubt, the most prepared, physically, mentally and emotionally that I have been for a marathon. It is not a question of will I break 3 hours 30 minutes, but how good will I feel I doing it.

The rational for this confidence.

1) By the numbers. I am coming off three-to-four months of very consistent training, including:

  • averaging 38 miles a week running only four days a week (the big five being 46, 42, 42, 41, 41)
  • long runs of 11 miles a week (the big five being 19, 17, 16, 12 and 12)
  • running a 12k race two months ago at 7.01 pace (the day after a hard 10 mile run)
  • running my final long run, 19 miles, at 3.25 marathon pace despite purposefully trying to run slower than 3.30 pace the entire time
  • I have run every single step the last four months faster than eight minute/mile pace.

2) The focus. There is something to be said for running races for fun. However, there will be no distractions tomorrow. If I start to feel discomfort, I am not going to justify slowing down as a search for more pleasant feelings. It's all or nothing.

3) Camaraderie. Rather than seclude myself in my hotel room in Sacramento (as if the cultural wonder of the state capital isn't enough of a temptation), I am going to hang out with members of the SF Tri Club. I can now comfortably admit that I am one of them.

4) The course.

Nuff said.

5) Inspiration. A month ago, Lance and my dad put on performances for the ages at the NY Marathon. Lance broke three hours, my dad nailed four hours and thirty nine minutes in his first marathon after only two years of running. I am taking the baton and will bring it home in style.

6) For fallen comrades. OK, this is exaggeration. I signed up for the race with two co-workers. Ari succumbed to a bad ankle, and Gina. Well Gina ran a great half marathon, and then crumbled under the expectations of the marathon. God bless her.

7) Positive thoughts. I am not inherently a positive person. The glass is half full but I don't think I necessarily will do a great job of chugging it. No more. There is no chance I will fail to achieve my goal of sub 3 hours 30 minutes. Failure is not an option.

8) The clock. I will be an endurance athlete for the rest of my life but the window is slowly narrowing on achieving my time-related goals.

The big four are

Half Marathon: 1 hour 29 minutes (best is 1.32)
Marathon: Qualify for Boston/3 hours 20 minutes (best is 3.37)
Half Ironman: Five hours 29 minutes (best is 5.47)
Ironman: 11 hours 59 minutes best is 13.28)

No more time to screw around.

It's over. Eight ball corner pocket. The fat lady is singing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The New York Marathon

Yesterday was the first time I attended a major endurance event as a spectator and I came away from the day more inspired than if I had done it myself. For pure emotion, the New York City Marathon is the most incredible event in the world and I intend to run it every year that I get in until I can't run anymore

Reasons to be inspired, part three.

1) After only two years of running, my dad destroyed the course in 4 hours 39 minutes. This from someone who has seen me run countless races and always proclaimed that I was crazy. Who two years ago scoffed at the idea of running more than three miles. Who five months ago dreaded the idea after his first hot half marathon. Who cautiously was not ready to commit to actually doing it until two weeks before the race. Well he did it and I think he is incredible. He'll deny it but he will be on the starting line in 2007.

2) The average triathlete, particularly Ironman participant, is me. A 41-year old white male, white collar worker. There is nothing wrong with this but how inspirational is it to look next to you in a race and see you. Standing at the 24 mile mark of the New York Marathon was like watching a cheesy John Kerry '04 ad but it wasn't staged. Fat people, skinny people, old, young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, they were all there. Some of the fat people looked great, the skinny people dead on their feet. Running is the sport of the people.

3) Lance has moved beyond celebrity to a place where Tiger, Michael and Ali never crossed. He does things that amaze and inspire in part because they are so human. The celebrity as marathoner is nothing new. Diddy did it two years ago, Oprah before that. But they were a footnote to the race. Yes I am obsessed with Lance and hyperaware of any mention of him. However, he was THE story of the 2006 NY Marathon. There was the Lance cam, the headlines, the crowd attention. It was incredible.

4) Ironman races take over the communities in which they are held but this isn't shocking. Lake Placid, Kona, Panama City and Coeur D'Alene are blips on the map. The NY Marathon takes over a city of 10-20 million, for a weekend. Everyone is a fan of the marathon and the human spirit in NYC in late October/November.

Everyone should do the NY Marathon once in their life. It is a transcendent event; I am committed to crossing the finish line next November at 1:09 pm.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When it's no longer about having fun

On December 3 I am running the Sacramento International Marathon, my latest attempt to run a decent 26.2 miles. I'm back to try yet again.

In the last five years I have run four marathons, San Diego and San Francisco in 2001, New York in 2005, and Lake Placid as part of the Ironman, and crashed and burned training for the Rock and Roll Marathon in 2003. My problems basically boil down to two things; 1) I have not been strong enough to fight through the mental and physical pain that hits around the 19-20 mile mark, which is compounded by the fact that; 2) I end up hurting myself training for the race after I have done a few 16+ mile runs. This exacerbates problem 1.

It's five weeks to go before Sactown, and I have done a 15 and 17 mile run. So far, so good. If I can nail a 20 miler two weeks before the marathon, and overcome problem number two, I think I can tackle number 1.

Which raises the question of my goal for the race. I have waxed poetic about the need to have three goals in a race, each increasingly hard so, at the very least, you will have some level of satisfaction after the race. Plus there is always the philosophy repeated ad nauseam that "the journey is more important than the destination." All of this is true, but not for this race.

December 3 all boils down to one thing - breaking 3 hours, 30 minutes. Since 2001, this has been my marathon goal. I came closest at San Fran '01 when I was on 3.24 pace until I blew up mentally with 6 miles to go and crawled home seven minutes too late. All the formulas (e.g., double your half marathon, add 10 minutes, the Yasso workout) all indicate I should be able to it but I haven't. And I really really want to do it. I feel like this is the key to the rest of my endurance kingdom, the sub-12 hour Ironman, the sub 90 minute half marathon, the five minute wall squat, etc.

So I say shove it to the "fun experience", the "personal best", the "competitive positioning in my age group." None of it matters. On December 3 it all comes down to three digits. I will judge myself by the hours and the minutes.

All or nothing.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

San Francisco versus Woodstock


Hypothetically speaking, if you lived in Woodstock, NY, and were considering moving to San Francisco, what would be the pros and cons to the decision. To help provide some context and guidance to the list, you are an active woman (triathlete, skiier, hiker) with 12-year old and 10-year old boys. And their father lives in San Francisco. He's really cool.

1) Weather- San Francisco - 65 and partly sunny versus 20 degrees and sleet. And if you want summer live in Marin and you'll have summer, where you'll also have much better school districts.

2) Scenery - San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and Tahoe versus Catskills, NYC and the Adiriondacks.

3) State Schools - UCLA and Cal versus SUNY Albany and SUNY Binghamton.

4) Fast Food - In N Out, Baja Fresh and Buen Sabore versus McDonalds, Taco Bell and Taco Juan.

5) Skiing - Squaw versus Hunter.

6) Skateboarding and baseball - All year versus six months

7) 2,700 miles closer to dad

8) Positive energy of change versus inertia of the bubble

10) Big fish in the awesome Pacific versus big fish in a small pond

1) No immediate friends versus great friends

2) Hassle of moving

3) Three hour drive to Squaw versus 45 minute drive to Hunter

4) High cost of living

5) Yankees versus the A's

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Avoiding the Hype

Maybe I am overly sensitive to information on Ironman races, but it seems like their popularity and hype has gone off the charts. The World Triathlon Corporation just announced a new race in Louisville, Kentucky, 2007 races like Canada, Wisconsin and Coeur D'Alene sold out in minutes and Kyndra and Tyler are even thinking of doing one. (shameless Laguna Beach plug).

After I did Lake Placid I was super pumped to do another Ironman realsoon but now I don't know. I can't decide how I feel about Ironman-branded races.

The positives
1) Successfully swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and running (well, sort of) is incredibly rewarding, especially after you dedicate lots of time to training and abandon friends and fun.

2) Ironman Lake Placid was a great experience because I got to share it with my family. Physical challenges not only bring out strength and committment, they also bring out fear and uncertainty, which opens you up emotionally as a person.

3) Human beings grow only when they are chasing a goal. It can be knitting a sweater, meditating for an hour straight, discovering the background of your 18th century Bohemian relative or breaking 12 hours for an Ironman. Goals brings a purpose to relatively random daily acts.

The negatives
1) With the ridiculous popularity of Ironman races, the individuality of the challenge is disappearing. As a 41-year old white male working in the tech industry in the Bay area, it is almost required by law that I participate in endurance sports. We are all turning into sheep, spouting the same platitudes about discovering our inner chi through training, appreciating changes in seasons, blah, blah, blah. I mean how many Ironman bloggers do there need to be, either listings workouts down to the minute detail or railing against imaginary critics when they don't finish a race and feel their experience might be perceived as diminished. Obviously I am one of the guilty ones.

2) I feel like we are all trying to buy meaning in our lives. Pay $20,000 and hike in Nepal, pay $5,000 for entry fees, coaching, travel and equipment and do an Ironman. It's adventure in a can. Are we all becoming Sandy Hill Pittmans.

3) Spending 15 hours or more a week exercising is a great way to avoid facing bigger issues in your life. If my abs are rock hard or I successfully completed the hard workout this week, then I don't have to feel bad when I don't have control on the more important parts of my life. How is this different than drug addiction?

Strangely I don't feel at conflict when it comes to running. This is because so many people have done at least a half marathon that it is not viewed as a big deal anymore. Which is good. Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment for anyone, yet these people do not parade around with the same tude that Ironpeople do.

Running is more the sport of the people, Ironman of the elite. And I'd rather be a man of the people anyday. Albeit, one who has done Ironman.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Quiz time

Is this me or Lance?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Random topics

1. Debunking the 20 mile run. Right before going on a 10 mile run this morning, I read an article that questioned the value of the 20 mile run, a presumably critical workout to successfully complete a marathon. The article quite persuasively argues that it is not necessary, and that a 16 mile run is sufficient. Rather than resting before and after a long run of 20 miles, this training approach has you running hard before and after the shorter long run to simulate the stress and fatigue of the marathon. For example, before a 16 miler, run 10 miles the day before so your legs are already tired when you start the 16 miler. This is a huge revelation for me as I get ready for the Sacramento Marathon. I can tolerate a 16-18 mile run, but I detest the 20 miler, both for the mental boredom and because I always get injured doing them. No more!

2. City versus country run. I have lived in both cities (Chicago, San Francisco), small cities (Boulder) and the burbs (Sudbury, Mass., Millwood, NY) so I have experienced different running environments. I definitely prefer city running as there is more visual stimuli to occupy my mind and more fellow runners with whom I can measure myself. The catch is that I be able to run with no impact from traffic. For example, on Thursday I ran along the Seattle Harbor, and did not face any traffic lights or street corners. It was awesome, running by the Aquarium, Ferry Building and through a train yard.

3. Running alone. After running 10.5 miles with Gina yesterday, the verdict is in; I am a social runner. Even though our pace was pretty close to my normal runs, I felt much better and had much more fun. I could even deal with periods of silence (usually I freak out at lulls in conversation) because these were a result of a lack of oxygen rather than a lack of inventory of conversational bits. I might even go to a Nike weekend run and run with the hordes(unprecedented).

4. Busy. If or when I become president, I am going to have the word busy removed from the dictionary. It has no meaning but is the most overused word in the language. As in I am too busy to work out, read, go out for drinks, accept this work assignment, cook, etc. These are all PC ways of saying "It is not important or fun enough for me to do this. I'd rather be doing something else." Let's stop claiming we are superpeople with acked agendas and let everyone know where they stand in our list of priorities.

5. The 12 hour work day. I am often compelled to work more than eight hours a day to
make up for my lack of efficiency and the fact that I am easily distracted (i.e., welcome them). Therefore I feel I can state with great expertise that people who habitually work more than nine hours a day do it because they are either a) inefficient like me and doing eight hours of work in 12 hours; b) in love with their job so do it willingly; c) using work as an excuse to escape from or avoid their personal life or d) trying to get ahead by impressing people with their long hours. There are of course exceptions but 87% of the workforce fits within these four buckets.

6. Spectator versus competitor. A couple of days ago I was making conversation with a client, and asked them if they were a fan of their local baseball team. They said no, they'd rather participate in sports than watch them. Is it a choice? Can't they enjoy playing basketball and watching people who are much better than you play? Can't you watch Lance bike 120 miles up the Pyrenees and then go for a 50 mile ride yourself out of inspiration. Does it make people feel lazy to watch others exercise? Does this go against their type A personalities?

Strangely enough, I am probably the most obsessed sports fan who doesn't actually watch any events but not because I would rather be doing them. Either I am not emotionally invested in the teams so I get bored or I am too emotionally invested (e.g., Michael Jordan, Yankees, Steffi Graf, Lance Armstrong) and get sick to my stomach watching. For example, I could barely turn on the Yankee-Red Sox game yesterday in the 8th inning even though the Yankees were up 13-5. Color me the pessimistic sports fan.

7. Organized room, organized mind. At the end of the summer before 10th grade, I made the huge mistake of telling my mom that a clean room was indicative of my state of mind. Organized life, focused mind. Thereafter, dirty laundry on the floor became indicative to her that I was not studying.

25 years later and I am still having this debate with myself. Does complete and total organization provide an ideal mental platform to focus on your work, life, etc. or is spending time to attain ultraorganization waste time in which you actually could be moving forward, not laterally?

8. Exercise without goals. As I was nearing the end of training for the Ironman, I was looking forward to working out with no goals, no focus. Rather than running 10 miles in the morning and swimming 1.5 mile at night, I could go for a six mile run in the morning and be happy with it, and not lose much in fitness. So after the Ironman was over, I almost immediately signed up for a marathon in December, imposing the same pressures on my training that I was looking forward to avoiding.

While it is clear that I love training for races and striving for increasingly competitive goals, it is also clear that training for the sake of health and wellness are not compelling enough reasons to get me out of bed at 5:00 am. I need to create time-sensitive events that force me into a "do it or you are screwed" ultimatum.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Ben and Sam have labeled me an exercise bulimic; I exercise as a means to purge food out of my system in order to maintain some distorted view of my body. There is some degree of truth to this but my relationship with food cannot be reduced to one convenient psychological term. It goes way deeper than that.

In simple terms, I run to eat. There are many other reasons why I exercise but at the heart it is so I can eat with reduced concern or worry of becoming fat. I don't think this makes me an exercise bulimic. It is simply a way to take food guilt out of the equation, just as the perpetual jeans and gray t-shirt combo eliminates the need to genuflect over my wardrobe everyday.

If I was given truth serum and asked to name my number one passion in life, I would say food. Unlike things that are better when they are anticipated than when they are realized (e.g., birthday presents, baseball games, hot tubs) eating is always better than waiting to eat. I could never be clinically depressed for more than six hours, the amount of time I would have to wait before ordering a pizza which would make me instantly euphoric. I have never claimed to be a deep person.

I consider a big appetite to be the mark of a real man. A stud. Loved Brad Pitt's character in Ocean's 11. When my mom jokingly harasses me for doing the same annoying things now that I did when I was 14, it grates on me. Except when she is exasperated that she still can't cook enough for me. Then I beam. Eating 75 chicken wings to beat Bob Lukens in The Ground Round Challenge in college ranks up there with the Ironman among my proudest accomplishments.

Food allows me to pretend I am a renaissance man. I dabble in all of the classic civilizations (Greece, ancient Rome), maintain religious faith (the Deli), acknowledge the world's rising economies (India, Vietnam) and keep it real (fries, always the victory fries).

While I would not label my typical diet as unhealthy, it definitely lacks fruits and vegetables. Lots of burrittos, pizza, spaghetti, chicken and tuna and cereal. Despite constantly hearing that nutrition is the fourth leg of the Ironman, I can't get motivated to refocus it. My body never craves cauliflower but it does Corn Bran cereal (a hidden secret I can only find on And I don't think I feel better eating diet that is conventionally healthy. I feel flat, lethargic and constantly hungry.

Also I think improving my diet would have the reciprocal effect of reducing my motivation to work out. If I had a salad and salmon for dinner instead of a 1,200 calorie burrito, would I be as motivated to run 8 miles the next morning to burn it out of my body? Would the reward of a fruit salad at the end of a hard weight session be as pure as Escape from New York Pizza ? I don't think so.

So yes Ben and Sam, my relationship between exercise and food does suggest some minor strain of bulimia but it goes way beyond that. Now that we've got that straight I can now move on to explaining why skiing kicks snowboarding's ass.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Typical Monday

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I tend to train alone, whether it is lifting, running, biking or swimming. The rational is that: a) All of this exercise takes a lot of time and I want to minimize that time by eliminating minutes and hours spent waiting/meeting people before a workout; b) I know my pace and I don't want to push myself too hard by trying to keep up with a speedster or reduce the benefit of a workout performed below my ability by holding back; c) Training alone toughens me up mentally and if there is one place where I need the most help it's in my ability to endure and push through pain and boredom and d) Given that I travel every other week to be with Ben and Sam, I am a flaky training partner who is not reliable on a week-to-week basis.

I am now questioning this Greta Garbo philosophy based on recent events.

First, training and racing for Wildflower 2006 was a great experience, and not just because I nailed that son of a bitch, hard deck or no hard deck. Biweekly rides with Will made it a much more enjoyable experience and hanging out with the San Francisco Triathlon Club at the race made it a communal experience. I even ended up joining the Club, although I have yet to go to a workout. Baby steps, my man.

Second, committing to and training for a race with other people deepens your own personal motivation and commitment. For example, this morning the plan was to run 10 miles as my first long run in preparation for the California International Marathon. I felt tired the first three-to-four miles and contemplated just doing eight to save my legs. However, knowing that Gina, a friend who is also doing the marathon, had done 10 miles the day before, motivated me to do the entire 10.

Third, there is a community of strangers out there doing the same thing as me and there is a conversation waiting to happen on every run. On the aforementioned 10 mile run, I was passing a runner after 5 miles. Once I got abreast of him, he sped up slightly to keep up. Rather than ignore him, as I would usually do, I started up a conversation, and we ran the last 5 miles together. I didn't even mind that we went slightly faster than I normally would go, the perils of running with a 17-year high school runner with a 3 mile best of 16 minutes.

I'll still probably do the majority of my workouts alone, but more out of necessity and convenience, than desire.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Now what?

Ironman Lake Placid was 12 days ago and I am still buzzed by experience, still love talking/pontificating about the experience. It was definitely a classic experience in my life.

The stats

1 hour 25 minutes swim

9 minute transition

6 hour 47 minute bike

5 minute transition

5 hour 3 minute marathon

13 hours 28 minute total time

Highlights include:

1) Crossing the finish line holding hands with Ben and Sam, and my parents watching on the sideline. Not only were they not bored after 13 hours, they were excited for me. Goosebumps.

2) Being identified as a celebrity blogger during the bike by fellow Ironperson Catherine.

3) The unbelievable organization and enthusiasm of the volunteers who support the racers. It might be a cliche, but they are the heroes of the day, not the athletes.

4) Being surrounded by 2,200 nut jobs like myself. OK, it was cool, but I was thankful that I stayed 45 minutes away from Lake Placid the night before. At work and among my friends I am the weird but quasi admirable fitness freak. In Lake Placid, I was just another person. Zero identity.

5) Swimming 2.4 miles. The night before the race I started freaking out; my longest swim ever is 1.5 miles and I was wasted after that. Other than entering a trance the last 15 minutes from metronomic stroking, the swim was not so bad. I totally could do a Nyad and swim from Cuba to Florida. OK she failed but you get the point.

6) Love the mass start. In the traditional wave starts, I end up getting passed during the bike by lots of people who started after me. I am no sexist or agist, but having calves fly by me with F23 and M65 engravings gets tiring. In Lake Placid I might have started and finished the swim near the back of the pack but that means fewer people passed me on the bike.

7) The start of the marathon. Completing a 112 mile bike ride knowing you still have to "run, walk or crawl" (to quote the athlete's rule book on allowed methods of moving during the marathon) 26.2 miles is clarifying.

8) Transition from motivating to annoying. Love the spectators, love being cheered but there comes a point in the marathon when people calling out your name in encouragement starts to grate on the nerves. Irrational but true.

9) Recovery. Within two days of the race, I felt great. On the plus side that means I was prepared for the race, on the minus side I didn't push myself enough, which means

10) There is a lot of room for improvement. Sub 12 for sure.

Which brings me to the philosophical part of the show.

I feel like I am in the middle of a big corn field, about to get completely lost in a world of endurance races and challenges. The question is whether this is a Twilight Zone or Field of Dreams corn field.

There is no question that I am getting a lot of joy, satisfaction, confidence, etc. from successfully training for these races, attaining ultra high levels of fitness and meeting challenging objectives. As I have pondered before, is this my hobby and is that acceptable and worthy. What am I missing by focusing so much on a training lifestyle? What is surrendered from leaving parties two hours, four drinks and several levels of intoxication before my friends so I can on for the morning workout?

I am not ready to curtail the focus yet; I signed up for the Sacramento International Marathon on December 3, committed to finally breaking three hours, thirty minutes. But as I train, these issues will remain in my brain. Or at least until Laguna Beach starts up again and demands all my focus.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I am an Ironman!

It wasn't always pretty, it wasn't perfect but I finished in 13.28. I'll give all the beautiful details next week but a top three highlight was fellow competitor Catherine, also a first time Ironman, recognizing me during the bike as the author of The Merrill Life. I floated for the next 10 miles.

Swear to god, Mike Reilly said, as I crossed the finish line with Ben and Sam (dream come true), "Merrill you are an Ironman."

I am breaking 12.30 in 2008. Swear to god.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

7 days to go

One week to go until Lake Placid, and I am either ready or not. There is nothing I can do in the last seven days that will make much of a difference. I seriously am not sure if I trained enough to do well. And I am defining well based on my three goals for the race.

Goal 1 - Finish the race and have fun. Fun is obviously a relative term here. Exercising for 14 hours is not pure fun, but I want to make sure I enjoy the experience and don't get rapped up in my time. One day I can aspire for thesub 12 hour Ironman but this time it is just about finishing and being in the moment. And barring a serious injury, I will finish before the 17 hour cutoff.

Goal 2 - Break 14 hours. Thinking conservatively, if I can do the swim in 1.30 minutes, the bike in 7 hours and the run in a little over 5 hours I will break14 hours, taking into account transition times. This seems pretty realistic.

Goal 3 - Break 13 hours, 18 minutes and 11 seconds. Now we get a little competitive. This is the time Jessie, my ex-wife did for the 2004 Ironman Florida, which is unbelievably impressive to me. She is a better swimmer and biker than me, so the only way I'll beat this time is if I have a great run.

The question remains; have I trained enough for the race.

Yes I have biked more than I ever have in my life, with about five rides over 60 miles in the last three months. I have also hit the gym to power through at least one one hour workouts on the lifecycle each week. My legs have gotten really strong; I haven't cramped once on any ride, a problem I had in 2005 .

No My longest ride was only 90 miles, second longest 72. I also have not done any bricks.

Yes My running has remained consistent and is still a huge strength. I have averaged about 35 miles a week on 3-4 runs, and have had no injuries.

No My longest run has been a half marathon.

No I should have focused more on swimming but only managed 1-2 swims a week, with the longest being 1.25 miles.

YES This is the biggest strength I have going. I feel ready. I feel mentally committed to a good experience. My breakthrough at Wildfire was so big, so important. I am ready for cramps, for pain, for fatigue. I expect it and am looking forward to dealing with it the same way I did at Wildflower. For a final test, I did a 72 mile bike yesterday and a half marathon race this morning and I felt fantastic the last half of the race.

Could I have prepared better, absolutely. But I happy with what I have done and have no regrets.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Graduation and two weeks to go

Three weeks ago was Ben's 6th grade graduation from Woodstock Elementary School; I was so proud watching him doing to hipster walk across the stage to get his diploma. Now it's on to 7th grade where I will feel justified to start telling him that grades matter even if they don't appear on any transcript.

Ben and Sam have become really good skateboarders in the last three months. They have a half pipe at home and it is their new obsession.

They make it look so easy so I had to try it out recently. All I did was try and push off a couple of times and then glide on the board and I ended up wiping out on my hip, foot and wrist. I am OK but it could have resulted in a broken bone. Horror.

Two weeks to go until the Ironman and getting pretty pumped up for the race although I am ready for all of this training to be over. Today I am running 16 miles, and biking 60-80 tomorrow, with a lifting workout and swim thrown in there somewhere. While working out twice a day has completely eliminated most other activities from my life and I have definitely become the boring, singularly minded person that I always mocked, it is amazing the amount of energy I have at the end of the day, despite having exercised for 2 plus hours.

The biggest sign that I have crossed the line into complete obsession is my recent body shave. Anyone who tells you that they shave their legs and upper body to save time or improve their ability to recover from road rash is lying. At its most noble, body shaving gets you further into the Ironman state of mind; at its most plastic, it is a surrender to the god of vanity. I am clearly motivated more by the latter.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Final Push

Five weeks to go until the Lake Placid Ironman. It remains to be seen if I am ready for the race. My training has remained metronomically consistent but I haven't appreciably raised the distance of my swim, run or bike workouts above what I was doing for Wildfire.

My average week has essentially been:

1) 1-2 swims a week. I do all of my workouts at USF's Koret Center, which has an awesome pool. I typically swim a mile straight in the pool.

Critique: 1) Lack of variety in my training . Most people break up their workouts into intervals, alternating strokes and incorporating paddles and flippers to hone their technique. My preference is get the swim over with in the shortest amount of time, and to mimic race conditions of straight swimming with no breaks. I understand that this is an inefficient method but I am stubborn/stupid. If I am still hooked on triathlons after the Ironman I will probably join a Masters Swim Team to radically improve my form. 2) 1 mile is not enough since the Ironman swim is 2.4. I agree - my goal is to do 2 miles in the pool within the next 2-3 weeks to build up my confidence and endurance.

2) 1-2 bike workouts a week. I try and do one long bike ride on the weekend and 1-2 hard 60 minute lifecycle workouts during the week. Since I travel every other week to see the boys, I only get in the long ride every other weekend.

Obvious critique. 1) I don't have nearly enough road miles in me. Agreed - I am doing a 90 mile ride today so hopefully that will help.

3) 4-5 days a week of running, 7-10 miles per workout. Running is obviously my strength and my love so I have no real concerns in this area. My goal is to do a 16 and 18 mile run before the race.

Critique. 1) Zero bricks. I hate the brick, never do the brick. I know it is essential for mastering the transitions but I just don't like the idea of back to back workouts, on top of each other. Given that I ran so well at Wildflower, I am not too concerned with my anti-brick stance.

4) 3-4 weight workouts a week. Vanity is a big driving fact here. I don't want to be a 6' 150 pound runner (I am around 172).

Critique. These workouts are not tied to triathlon specific routines, and probably result in me carrying 10 pounds more of body weight than I ideally need. However, the fact that I lift is a big reason I believe for why I almost never get injured.

So, overall, I feel like I am in excellent shape; I will find out in the next three weeks if my base is sufficient to handle higher distance workouts.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Am I happy?

So here I am, a 41 year old man, basically approaching the dreaded point of middle age. Most people consider 50 to be middle age but I don't know that many 100 year old people. I would generally consider myself to be a happy person, and on paper I certainly seem to be successful in the way most people would define success. A great job, excellent health, no addictions, the two greatest sons in the world and awesome friends.

What do I lack?

I am currently single but this is not a big problem for me at the moment. I want to be in a long term relationship but either have not met the right person or have not been in the right place when I met them, and let it slip away. I am still open minded, but increasingly puzzled at the difficulty of the process.

I do not have clear long term goals. I tend to think specifically in short term, six-month time frames. Train for and finish the Ironman. Make XX more $$. Go on this trip. However, ask me where I will be or what I will be doing in five years and you will get a blank stare. I do not need to have the next 20 years mapped out but it would be nice to have an idea of where I am going, for what I am striving.

I am too far from my boys and don't spend enough time with them. Although I live 2,700 miles from Ben and Sam, I see them as much as I would if I lived in Boston or New York. Jessie, the ex-wife, has talked about moving West so they can be closer to me, but I understand her hesitancy to pack up and move away from her base, dig up her roots. Professionally, it makes sense for me to stay at my job for the next year.

If that is it, then it seems pretty clear what I need to do to be "happy." Sure, I could add other things to the list like a new backpack from LL Bean, but that is trivial. I do covet some Mountain Hardware but lets keep things in perspective. I need to focus on the core three areas.
First determine where I want to be with all three, and then determine the baby steps needed to get there.


FYI - about 50 days until Lake Placid Ironman. I ran 9 miles yesterday morning and swam 1.25 miles at night and felt great. I actually think I have a shot at finishing this puppy. I am slowly raising the distance of my workouts (e.g., 10.5 mile run and 1.5 mile swim tomorrow, 70 mile bike on Saturday) and my body is rapidly adapting. The excitement is building.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


So here I am, two weeks post Wildflower, two months until the Lake Placid Ironman. The euphoria of my performance at Wildflower has faded a bit, and the training is starting feel less heroic and more of a grind. Double workouts can be a smile, but they also become extremely repetitive and all consuming. So why do I do this? What is the reward because it surely is not to win or compete against other people.

1) Eat. I love food and can't stand thinking about controlling how much I eat. If I was a woman, there is no doubt that I would have an eating disorder. None. But I'd also be really hot.

2) Stuff. As I have mentioned before, I love the things associated with triathlons. The bike, running sox, goggles, wet suit, race numbers, etc. It's like collecting Civil War figurines, except much cooler.

3) A major. Everyone needs to major in something. For some its work, celebrity gossip (that is my life's minor), charity work. Working out and exercising is the bit with which I am identified and have 42 seconds to discuss each day before I am told to shut up.

4) The ultimate excuse. I love to hang out with friends and drink but I have limitations. I have never been a night person so even in my teen and 20's, I would start to fade at midnight when everyone else was starting to crank it up. That is now compounded by the fact that I am complete lightweight so on any given night that I go out, I have about 90 minutes before my engine shuts down. Training gives me an excuse for bailing early ("I have to get up early and run") even if I would have left anyway due to being bombed on three Bud Lights.

5) Stress management. My job in high tech PR is pretty stressful, and I tend to overanalyze everything in my personal life. Endurance sports reduce this stress in a physiological way and provides a mental break from obsessing over other aspects of your life. Rather than wondering whether she likes me, I can have a break from these thoughts by thinking about whether my calf will cramp before I am done with the swim.

6) Vanity. While everyone is vain, I am probably worse than the average. I tend to judge people too much on their appearance, including myself. Working out only feeds this disease. It does hinder my performance, as I lift more weight than I probably should for optimally performing in endurance sports. Of course, if I didn't lift I'd finish 47th, not 51st, so it's not like I am leaving money on the table by lifting.

7) The challenge. Nothing ground breaking here. Running the last three miles of a 10 mile run when you are exhausted, forcing yourself out of bed at 3:00 am to get the pre-flight workout in and biking 50 miles solo in the rain makes you a stronger person mentally, and gives you a lot of confidence that you can accomplish things that seem outside of your reach. Merrill in his natural state is a couch potato, but I have forced him to become an active person.

8) Being different. Not only does everyone need a major in their life, but people want to be different, to stand out as an individual. This is why in college I wore shorts in the dead of winter. To get attention. Not sure if it got me the right attention but infamy is better than irrelevancy. While tens of thousands of people do triathlons, and millions of people run, in any given closed environment, like work, family or friends, there are not that many people who do so you stand out in these groups. You have some unique to add to the mix.

9) Health. From an efficient respatory system to ideal weight to constant endorphin release, you just feel better when you exercise.

10) Return to the animal. This reason is copied. Humans basically spend most of their time focused on mental activities (communication, work, reading, watching TV) which is opposed to almost every other specie which exists in a physical realm (walking, hunting, etc). Exercise is an attempt to stay in tune with the animal side of your life, to remain in the state from which you evolved. To be the best rhino that you can be.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Vindication and exhiliration

It has been six days since the Wildflower Half Ironman and I am still on an incredible high. Without a doubt, it was the most satisfying race of my life. There are so many reasons for my euphoria.

The major ones:

1) Erase the memories. Last year I dropped out because I was a wimp and could not handle minor cramps, the 15 minute delay from changing a flat and general antipathy over doing another race. This year I wiped away all of those memories. As I rode by the location of my flat, and the point at which I stopped running, I seriously got choked up at the difference a year makes.

2) Tenacity. I broke through and shattered my mental barrier. For so long, particularly in marathons, I have not gutted it out when faced with crisises. At mile four of the half marathon leg of this year's Wildfire, I got major cramps in both of my quadzillas. Rather than pack it in, I walked them off and then kept running. Unprecedented.

3) Hit all three goals. 1) Finish. 2) Break 7 hours. 3) Break 6 hours, 30 minutes. My time of 6 hours 13 minutes was so unexpected, so exciting.

4) Bring on Lake Placid. I am so geared up for the Lake Placid Ironman on July 22. I know I have a lot of training left to do but I know I can finish it.

5) I am not alone. I did the race with Will and a bunch of people who are as if not more obsessed than me about triathlons. I am not a freak. I even joined a triathlon group, ignoring Woody Allen's mantra that he would never join a club that would have him as a member.

6) Peeing. Last year I had to pull over about 5 times to pee. Wasted time, ruined my momentum. So this year I let it fly while on the bike. Hygenic no, but very liberating. Like being two all over again.

7) Lance. I wore my Discovery shirt for the first time and someone yelled at me to say hi to Lance. Even if it was a joke, I can pretend that they think I know him.

8) Recovery. I am already fully recovered from the race, even though I was totally spent on Saturday. Took the red eye this morning, and ran 8 miles around Central Park and felt great.

9) Armagedon. The Wildflower course is considered to be one of the hardest courses, particularly the run. Major hills at mile 4 and 10 and I ran up both. And broke 2 hours for the half.

10) So much room for improvement. I am so happy with the time for the race but I can become such a better swimmer and biker. So much time, so much fun to be had.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My 15 minutes begins...

A proud moment…my first ever radio interview on!. It is not the most exciting but you can hear the potential. I clearly need to build a more interesting public person but if I can then other opportunities await such as…

The Wall Street Journal Face Sketch. Who hasn’t dreamt of having their head drawn by a Wall Street Journal cartoonist/etcher? Plus if it does happen, I must have done something involving lots of dough.

Tabloid Magazine. There are lots of options here, from being linked to Brittany, Mariah or Keanu, to scientists discovering a potato that looks like my head.

The Simpsons. Serena Williams, Simon Cowell, Daryl Strawberry (the best Simpson scene ever – Bart chanting "Daryl, Daryl" from the rightfield bleachers) and Troy Aikman have all done voice overs; why not moi.

Oprah and Dr. Phil. In a few months, the fame from this interview and others will go to my ahead. The late nights, the crack addiction, the decent into the abyss will follow after which I will need the love of Oprah and the healing powers of Philby.

Surreal World. After the rise and fall, I will need to mount a comeback and will not be too proud to walk in Trishelle, Vanilla Ice and Charo’s footsteps.

I am ready for the voyage.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The New Goal

Endurance Radio is a podcast that features 15-minute interviews with athletes ranging from world class ultramarathoners to weekend triathletes. After listening to the same type interview over and over again, in which the athletes, no matter what their skill level, described singularly focused, dull lives, I thought i should try and get on as a man of the people triathlete with an actual life outside of training.

Below is the email I just sent to the host of the show; much like James Frey of "A Million Little Pieces " fame, I am willing to eaggerate for affect and fame.


I think you have a great show and I would love to be a guest on it as "the average, aspiring Ironman."

I am training for Lake Placid 2006, with Wildflower as an early test. I think I could provide real insights into the challenges of training for triathlons while trying to maintain a relatively normal life. In addition to covering the regular topics such as my exercise history, training regimen and diet, interesting anecdotes I could provide include:

1. Being normal. How to maintain relationships with some of my friends who don't "get" the Ironman. WhileI love training, I do not like to spend hours discussing it, and like friends with different interests. Much as some of them would disagree, I also like to have some sort of night life, which makes the 5:00 am run sometimes challenging.

2. Training and traveling. I live in San Francisco, travel a lot for work, and my two sons, potential 2012 Olympians in snowboarding, live in New York. I see them every other weekend, so have frequently been forced to exercise in airports or very early in themorning/late at night, resulting in some interesting stories.

3 Vanity. Triathlon training sucks the weight off of me and I don't want to be the 98 pound weakling, who is threatened by women, let alone can't get a date with one them. How do I fit lifting into a week of run, bike, swim, and does it hurt or help my performance?

4. Creative sponsorships. I work in a high tech PR firm and have managed to get clients to semi-sponsor me, a difficult challenge when the relationship tends to be all about them.

I really appreciate your consideration.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Recent Observations

What happened to lunch?
An alarming pattern has emerged in which my clients are not providing lunch, even for meetings that occur between 11:30 and 2:00 pm. Do they think I don’t know what is going on? By any definition, it is lunch time. I need to eat. I don’t believe in the skipped meal. This is wrong. Four-hour old coffee and a bowl of suckers does not a meal make.

Why do they ask for my name at Jamba Juice?
Whenever Emily and I go to Jamba Juice to get the life-affirming shots of wheat grass, the cashier always asks our name and enters it in the computer. Supposedly this is to help them remember our names so they can be friendly. However, they never do remember our. This is CRM gone bad.

The paid watering service
At work we have a “plant watering service.” This consists of a woman coming around once a week to water the five plants in our office. Are we that lazy that we need to pay for the service? How hard is it to remember to pour water once a week? This reminds me of Ellen Degeneres’ comment on breath strips; have we lost our will to suck?

30 Minute limits on all machines
A lot of gyms have limits on how long you can use the treadmills, lifecycles and Stairmasters. I understand this restriction during peak hours but all the time? Don’t we have an obesity problem in this country? Do people really need another excuse not to work out? Are restrictions on raising your heart rates above a certain next? No benching more than 50 pounds?

Ross and Rachel are not compatible.
Every time I watch Friends, which is admittedly too much, I become more convinced that Ross and Rachel are incompatible. I rooted for them to be together but it just doesn’t work anymore.

No more SF weather talk.
There is less and less conversation about San Francisco weather. After 157 years think everyone gets the 60 and foggy every day concept. Unprecedented.

Three months, after reading Bode’s biography, I was a big-time fan. Bode was it, he was the man. Imagine a US skier attaining mainstream status. I was even basing some new parental techniques on his carefree upbringing. One 60 Minutes disaster, one attack on God (“Lance takes drugs”), and an embarrassing, wasted Olympic performance, and he is now a poster child for wasted opportunity. I am now researching military schools for Ben and Sam.

No more questions
When did people stop asking questions? I understand that I am an inquisitive person but I cannot remember the last game of question chicken I won. You know, see who can sit through the silence without asking the first question. The father of one of Ben and Sam’s friends is fearless at this game. I have met him three times; his sole question has been “how long did you live in Boulder?” And don't get me started on follow-up questions. That disappeared with the pick-and-roll.

I have a pretty healthy accumulation of quarters, nickels and dimes; I have publicly split with the penny. I use this change for my semi-regular Grande Starbucks Coffee, yet I feel a certain disdain from the cashiers when I pay. Are dollar bills next?

I defy you not to get chills
The story of the year is the autistic ball boy scoring 20 points in a high school basketball game. I defy anyone to watch the video and not be moved. Watch it and you will feel better about the world.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thoughts on the Bike

I am totally dialing in the training for the Wildflower, which is only 70 days away. My Achilles heel in each triathlons has been a definite lack of bike training. I like biking but the time commitment required, three to four times longer than a typical run, does not jell with my lack of focus.

It seems like things have changed. I have already done three rides this year of 40 miles or more, and yesterday Will and I nailed a 65 miler. The conditions were not particularly glowing; it was a little chilly, in the upper 50's, but I still felt great.

Top 10 reasons to enjoy biking

1) It's all about the gear. If you love buying and owning lots of things, biking is for you. The list is endless - bike shirt, bike, water bottle, helmet, pump, etc.)

2) It's all about the view. Unless you are Dean Karnazes (, it is hard to see much more than your neighborhood on a run. How many times can I run through the park and think, "Oh cool, look at the Buffalos). On a mid-to-long bike, you can explore areas you have never seen. Has anyone actually ever driven through San Anselmo?

3) It's all about the farmer's tan. Unless you live in Iowa, there is no better way to get a farmer's tan.

4) It's all about the cool words. While I love running, it produces decidedly boring conversations, laced with words like Nike, marathon and cramp. Biking is filled with foreign languages (Tour de France, Vuelta Espana), cool sounding brands (Bianchi, Cinzano, Shimano) and conversations that are not laced with running-like hyperventilations/

5) It's all about the food. Any sport in which you can eat while performing is money. Even if it is just cardboard-tasting power bars.

6) It's all about the community. Go for a ride on a nice day in Marin and you will see hundreds of packs of 5 or more bikers. If you see more than two people running together and they are not in team in training shirts, it is an anomaly.

7) It's about leveling the playing field. While I consider myself an OK biker, I usually get passed every ride by an overweight, middle aged woman. There is no profile of a good rider; they can look like Lance or be 70 pounds heavier. EVERY good runner looks exactly the same.

8) It's not about the bike. Despite the fact that some people pay $4,000 for a customized, fitted bike, you can ride almost as well with a bottom-of-the-line bike. I love my bike, the Bianchi Imola, and can see owning if for a long time even if I become more bike obsessed.

9) It's about looking professional. Go for a weekend ride and you would assume that the entire North Bay is receiving sponsorship. Everyone has on their bike shirt with the corporate logo. I myself wear an AMD shirt, a gift from a client at Rackable Systems ( No one wearing a Nike running top turns a head but each Subaru Montgomery or Discovery Team jersey makes me think "How did they get that shirt."

10). It's all about Lance. Steve Prefontaine died 33 years ago. Since then there has not been one remotely interesting runner.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My Blog Achieves a Purpose!

I believe that my blog has finally achieved a purpose, a reason for existence. Inspired by Will's recent fame and relative fortune from his blog (, the capitalist spirit has taken over me.

The mission of this blog is now to secure snowboard sponorship for Ben and Sam, the future Olympic champions in Boarder X and the Half Pipe. A secondary mission is to attain sponsorship for myself as an everyperson's triathlete.

Fear not. I am painfully aware that my previous posts will not get Smith ( or Burton's ( attention. My readership needs to grow way beyond Elena, Will and Emily.

However, the method to achieve the goal is the second step. Let me rejoice in achieving a purpose!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Future Olympians

Sam and Ben (left to right) are my two boys and the greatest people in the world. They are well on their way to the 2012 X Games in Snowboarding.

Going Visual

Clearly my blog is lacking in the visual experience. So here is some recent history. The story behind the photo the left. I was bombing down Hell Gate at Hunter Mountain ( in my usual all speed, no form style when I almost hit a tiny, nine-year old girl. Luckily I missed her by a wide margin but I lost my concentration, and ended up nailing myself in the head with my ski pole. My first really good black eye.

2006 Goals

So here we are, one month into the new year, presumably a good time to start assessing how I am meeting my New Year's goals . However, my issue is less with am I meeting them but rather do the goals have much meaning.

Without going into the specifics of the goals, let's just say that they are the typical achievement-based ones sprinkled in with a few touchy-feely relationship goals. The ones based on achievement are relatively easy to attain or measure. If it is to save money, finish a race or travel somewhere, it is basically a black or white, on or off result. You either save or don't save the money, train for and finish the Ironman or don't, and buy or don't buy the tickets to Vietnam. These can be good goals; challenging yourself, planning for the future or going to new and exciting places makes your life more interesting and fulfilling.

However, it is the relationship (I mean all, not just with a significant other) goals, that are the more important, and tougher resolutions. I have been typecast as somewhat (understandably a vague modifier) aloof and distant, which, admittedly is true. No need to digress into a lot of psychobabble but this is not a state in which I wish to continue, but the steps or goals to exit this territory are not as easy as running 5 miles a day, or eating out once a week. Changing emotional patterns is not that simple or straight forward and cannot be measured like body fat or savings plans.

No I am not stupid. I understand how you go about evolving or getting a better hand on your emotions. It is just that for someone who tends to measure things on spreadsheets, it will be an interesting process. Not a journey or chapter, because I cannot stand those cliches.