Know the rules…

logo_USATsanctionedeventLesson learned.  Know the rules.  In my 7th season of triathlon, and 60+ races, I got my very first penalty at yesterday’s Rock n Rollman Half Iron in Macon, Georgia.  Was it for drafting? No.  Blocking? No.  It was a “Placement of Equipment” violation.  That’s right.  I actually received a penalty essentially before the race even started and I didn’t even know it.  For long course racing, that’s whopping 4 minute penalty!

After the race, when I realized I got the penalty, I went and discussed this with the head referee.  Not to dispute the penalty, but to figure out what I did wrong.  I assumed that my bike was racked incorrectly, but it was actually my transition bag.  I had an end spot on the rack, and I placed my transition bag underneath the “A” framed end poles like I have for 6 years.  Close to my bike, and out of the way (so I thought).  There was also a garbage can at the end of each rack.  The referee told me that because part of my bag was actually outside the perimeter of the racks, it was a violation.  It was still very close to my bike (probably several inches), but it was still considered to be too far out and could possibly interfere with athletes running through transition.  Essentially a safety issue. Next time I will just place my bag along the fence completely out of the way.USAT Ref

I am not at all mad about this, nor do I disagree that I should have received a penalty.  It is the rules after all, and though there is no mention of bags in transition, here’s the actual rule and the penalty I was cited:

“7.2 Placement of Equipment. All participants shall place equipment only in the properly designated and individually assigned bicycle corral and shall at all time keep their equipment confined to such properly designated areas. Any violation of this Section shall result in a variable time penalty.”

While we all worry the most about drafting and blocking penalties, there are much more to the rules than that.  Even little known rules like the one that impacted me.  And this penalty came very close to costing me the top podium spot.  The time for the person who came in 2nd in my age group was only 54 seconds behind my time including the penalty.

What was the lesson?  That USAT Rules are there to keep it fair and safe.  Do refs always get it right?  Just like in football, no.  Do they do their best under the circumstances of the sport?  Yes, I think they do.  And as an athlete who takes this sport seriously, I must also make it my responsibility to know the rules… all of the rules.

Happy Racing!


What’s the one thing?

IMG_1030I had this text message from one of my athletes this week…

“Do you think I could be ready for an Ironman by November 2nd?”.  My response: “Depends how bad you want it, but yes.  If you are willing to make the commitment towards this goal, I can get you there safely”.  

This athlete is currently training for an early and late season half iron.  But this reminded me of a question on the athlete questionnaire that I completed when I made a coaching change for the 2013 season.  It asked, What are you willing to do to accomplish your goals?  I remember struggling over this question a bit, and the accountability that might come with my answer. For me this year was about approaching things differently. Thinking differently. Acting differently. Racing long course differently.  To do that, I knew I had to sacrifice something.  And I don’t necessarily mean giving up my life, my time, or time with my family. It could be as simple as giving up the comfort I had with approaching things the same way as an athlete, and in my training.  To reach my goals, I knew I had to let go of some old thinking.  This change I was seeking began with me.

So when I get asked the question, should I do an Ironman?  Before I answer, I might ask these two questions. Why?” In other words what is motivating you?  And, the second question is what my own coach asked me.  What are you willing to do to accomplish this goal?

This applies to those of us who are already signed up for an Ironman or Half Ironman this year too, right?  For the 2013 season, I am training for Ironman Florida, and I am contemplating racing Louisville again too.  So what am I willing to do to accomplish my goals?  As an athlete, I am just as accountable to these goals as my coach, right? For me I have to remind myself of the commitment I made.  And I will ask myself at the beginning of every day, every week, every workout…  what’s the one thing I can do to help me reach my goal?  Could I change my attitude?  Could I work harder?  Am I willing to reach further? Or could it be I just need to be still and recover?

All I know is it begins today.

What will you do?

DM Multisport Logo

Our Drive to be different…

DM Multisport LogoA year ago this month, Drive Multisport was founded with the idea that coaching endurance athletes could be a different experience. The truth is that all athletes really want is to feel like they are the ONLY ONE on the roster. The mission was simple.  I wanted to create a coaching environment that encouraged thoughtful goal-setting, acting on available performance feedback, and shared accountability between the athlete and the coach.

My goal is for Drive Multisport to be the premier coaching choice for athletes serious about their performance goals.  As a coach, I strive to take a personal interest in the goals of my athletes, and believe they deserve my very best.  While I entertained several offers this year to partner with other coaches, I have declined thus far and have decided to coach alone.  Why? That’s simple.  This is the only way I can ensure my clients receive individualized coaching consistent with our mission.

It has been an incredible year watching our athletes grow, and seeing so many reach their performance goals! I ask my athletes to work hard, but they also see me working hard. IMG_1029You’ll never catch me at one of their important races sitting back in a lawn chair with a beer in my hand. I will either be there racing beside them, or breaking a sweat running around cheering them on! I have learned as much from the experience as they have learned from me as their coach. And I am grateful for the journey.

Thank you for your continued support, and all the best in 2013!

Too much junk?

It can’t be a coincidence that less than 24 hours after eating my weight in turkey and dressing, a conversation I had with my coach this week is still lingering in my head.  A conversation essentially about “junk miles”.  Boy, I could sure use some junk miles right about now….

On Wednesday, during a discussion with my new coach, the topic of junk miles came up.  He said that his only worry at this point is that I have a tendency to go too hard in my workouts- especially my run workouts.  Along those same lines when we were discussing my 2013 Annual Training Plan, the subject of long bike miles came up.  Weaved in between these conversations was this notion of “junk miles”.  His point? When I run too hard in my weekly run workouts, I really end up making those miles junk miles.  And if I can’t follow the plan, how can I expect my own athletes to?  Ouch! “Do as I say, and not as I do” obviously didn’t cut it here.  And I admit, I do like for my runs on the brisk side.  It just feels better to me.

The funny thing is that I ran across this article by Dan Empfield on Slowtwitch that very same morning, before I had my conversation with my coach that afternoon.  So what’s the learning here?  The only true “junk mile” for a triathlete or runner are those when you don’t follow the plan- the ones when you go zone 3-4 when the workout calls for zone 2, and those workouts when you go zone 1-2 where you really should be hitting zone 4 intervals.  We all know this as athletes, so why then is it so hard for us to do? 

And for long course athletes, “junk” is in- if you manage it right.  You have to actually understand what “junk” is. What we might have considered “junk” (long slow miles) is actually very beneficial, especially for long course athletes.  And I will add that these additional hours in the saddle, or on the run, shouldn’t cause additional stress on your muscles that would interfere with subsequent workouts, so I recommend building into this- especially for first and second year athletes, or if you are training for your first Half or Full Ironman.

Remember, the real “junk” is anything you do that sabotages future “quality”, so be smart!


No honorable way out…

In July 2007, the middle of my first season of triathlon, I finally placed in my age group.  But it wasn’t because I was a good triathlete, it was because of an Act of God.  You see, at the Tri the Parks Mistletoe Sprint in July 2007, the swim leg of race was cancelled due to thunderstorms, so they made it a duathlon.  Coming from a single sport running background I finally had a chance to get on the podium!  They replaced the 600 meter swim with a 5K run- so it was a 5K run, 12 mile bike, then another 5K.  Perfect!  My age group lined up at the bike mount/dismount line, we dropped our swim caps in a bucket, and we were off!   I clicked off the first 5K running one of the fastest times that day, pulled out a very mediocre bike split, then blew the doors off everyone on the final run.  In a competitive field, I placed 3rd in my age group, and got a bronze medal! I was so happy.

I raced 9 triathlons that first year, and only placed in one.  And it was a duathlon.  In nearly every other race that year, I placed in the 30-40th  percentile in my age group.  And I only did that well because I was a fast runner.  You see I was not a balanced triathlete at all.  I was a “one trick pony”, and I spent the next several years trying to find balance by working hard on the swim and bike.  (In fact, I’m still trying to find balance.)

What was the first thing I did? I hired a coach.

In October of that year, just one week after my last race, I got in touch with a coaching firm in Atlanta.  I needed help.  I needed the structure and guidance that only a professional coach could provide.  My coach and I went to work mid-October, and what a difference it made. I began to truly understand how to work on my limiters, while maximizing my strengths at the same time.  My coach helped me understand the sport, and saved me hours and hours of time that I would have otherwise spent floundering.  I understood the cost-savings that a coach could have on the triathlon learning curve.

Many people have asked me since I have become a USAT and USAC certified coach, “So why do you still have a coach?”  “Why not just self-coach?”  This is a very good question.  The reason is simple.  Accountability.  A good coach provides the structure, support, guidance, and objectivity that an athlete must have to reach peak performance.  But more than anything, for me, a good coach holds the athlete accountable, with no honorable way out.  You know what I mean.  Like when you cut a swim workout short, fail to push the power numbers you should, or crap out at the 4th interval on the trainer when you should have done 6. A good coach gives you no honorable way out. Not in a negative way, but through rich communication, positive reinforcement, and asking good questions. Just like having a good leader, when you have a good coach, you want to do your best and not let them down.  This is an important component for me in the coach-athlete relationship.

So as you assess your own needs at the end of your season, what will you do differently to set yourself up for the best 2013 possible?  Will you forget about structure, and just hope it all comes together in March or April?  Or will you set thoughtful goals, and work on the skills and the foundation needed to show up at your first race ready to rock it?

Remember, no honorable way out….

The other side…

I have been racing in endurance events for 11 years, and 2013 will be my 7th season in the sport of triathlon.  In all of those years, my wife and kids have gotten out of bed at insane hours to do what I thought was easy- spectating.  Seriously, how hard could it be to just stand around and watch the race, high five me at the end, and go have some pizza and beer?  Well, it turns out it’s really hard.

Last week I had the “opportunity” to be a spectator at the Ironman Augusta 70.3.  This is a race that I had competed in since it came to Augusta in 2009, but since I raced Ironman Louisville at the end of August, my coach and I decided that the Augusta race was just too soon for me to do my best.  So I took it off of my race schedule.  Besides, I had two of my own athletes who I coach racing Augusta, so I decided it would be best to just provide consultation and support on race day.  Up until then I had only been to one other small triathlon where I didn’t race, but Augusta 70.3 being a very large race with 2600+ participates, this was really my first time.  My wife, Mary Beth, who is a seasoned spectating expert, was with me, so she would be showing me the ropes.

On race morning, I was up just as early as I would be if I were racing, so no sleeping in at all.  And I still had to pack a backpack to carry my camera, water, extra shirt, snacks, etc., so the day didn’t start off feeling like it would be easy.  We got to the race and had the hassle of parking, and then walk to transition to try to find my athletes.  Turns out that wasn’t easy either.  In a sea of thousands of nervous athletes in the transition area, I had my first view of a race from “the other side”.   The other side of the transition barrier, the camera lens, and the other side of hope, excitement, and maybe a little fear….  It was a different experience for me.  Though there were thousands of athletes scurrying around in transition getting ready for their day, every single one of them felt like they were the most important person there.  And they were.  Everybody would be a rock star today!

I caught up with my younger brother and his family at transition, and we made the long walk down to the swim start.  I had my camera with me, so I tried to take a lot of photos.  I also wanted to take as many pictures as I could of the local Tri Augusta club athletes.  I met up with my other athlete who was racing that day, and we chatted for a few minutes.  Before I knew it, swim waves were in the water, and the race was quickly underway.  After spending some time taking more photos, I realized that my brother’s swim wave was already down the river pretty far.  So I had to sprint nearly a mile from the swim start to the swim exit to catch him come out of the water, and get onto the bike.  I got some great photos at the swim exit, and it was really cool seeing all of the athletes coming out of the water.  I tried hard to look at the expressions on their faces as they snatched their goggles and swim cap off.  Everyone looked so serious, but occasionally there would be those who just looked so happy to be on dry land again!  After seeing a few athletes I knew get off on the bike, I had a moment to breathe.  I was sweaty, tired, and hungry-, and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock.

After an early lunch in downtown Augusta, we were out on the run course seeing some of the pros nearly half way through their run already.  They were fast, and their pace seemed effortless.  After a while the run course downtown began to fill up with age group athletes- hundreds of them.  I was tracking about 10 athletes using an app on my iPhone, but it was slow to update.  So I really had no idea where any of my athletes or friends were on the course.  This made it very difficult, and now I know why my wife always insists that I give her best and worst case scenario splits at all of my races.  It helps to find the ones you are trying to follow.

I knew that I wanted to catch a few people at mile 1 of the run course to say a few encouraging words, but mostly to say “DON’T GO OUT TO FAST!”.  So by the time some of the bike splits hit my iPhone, I realized how delayed they might be.  So I again sprinted 4-5 city blocks to mile marker 1 where I missed one of my athletes who having a very good day and running well, but I did catch my brother who looked strong. He yelled at me that he had a flat on the bike, and I told him that he still had an awesome bike split, and reminded him to stay on top of his nutrition. 

The next hour or so was spent taking random photos and yelling “good job!”, or “good work!” at all of the athletes.  Again, I really looked at their faces as they ran by me.  I’m not sure why.  Some were smiling, and others looked more serious.  But some had a look of concern.  While I know that look, I had not been on the other side of it during a race.  Those were the athletes that would often make direct eye contact with me as they ran past.  Like they just wanted me to say something that would help them.  So I did.  To as may athletes that looked like the day was getting the better of them, I said two little words- “stay strong”.  Why these words?  Because at mile 12 of the marathon at Ironman Florida in 2010, a good friend of mine said these two words to me- and it helped me get through a tough period of the race.   I knew that just two little words had the power to put a positive thought in the head of a struggling athlete that just might make a difference.

After a rather long walk back towards the finish line, I was ready for the day to be over!  I caught up with my wife and told her how hard this spectating stuff was, and she said “well now maybe you will have some sympathy!” And I most definitely will.  I already learned that spectating wasn’t for sissies.

I stood at the finish line for the remainder of the race.  Again, watching everyone’s facial expressions as they ran through to the clock.  Some with their hands up and a smile, some with their heads down, and a few who were crying.  I knew what they all were feeling because I had finished many races with my hands up, head down, and I teared up at the end of each Ironman I raced.   As I have said before, the training leading up to an important race is where the suffering happens, but the race is the gift you get at the end of what can be a long training season.

So to all you athletes out there who have dragged your spouses and kids out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to see you maybe 3 or 4 times during a race- thank them. It’s hard work, and a long day for them too- no kidding.  And to all of the finishers of the 2012 Ironman Augusta 70.3, it was an honor to see you see you achieve your goals, and to enjoy the “gift” you earned.

Hope to see you again on the other side,

Be Fierce, but Race Happy

Well, a week out from Ironman Louisville, I have had some time to reflect on the day. First, I was so happy that my wife Mary Beth, and my daughter, Kristin, got to join me.    My son Boone got to travel with us to Ironman Florida in 2010, but this was Kristin’s first Ironman experience. I can say this was a very different race for me.   With Ironman Louisville being my second Ironman, I had different goals, and just had a healthier mindset about what I wanted to accomplish on the day.  There have been some races where I just wanted to hammer down, and go to war.  This was especially true back in my single-sport road racing days.  But in triathlon, it has largely been about the clock, the course, and me.  I like that about the sport of triathlon, especially long-course racing.

I noticed a difference in my attitude from the time I got to Louisville this year.  I felt much more calm than in other “A” races in previous seasons.  This course made me nervous for sure, though.  Being one of the only Ironman races where wetsuits would not be allowed, and the hilly bike course, I knew I was in for a very long day.  The weather forecast all week also indicated that it would be one of the hottest races ever.  But I found myself saying, “It is, what it is” a lot during race week.  After all, I had trained in Georgia during one of the hottest summers on record!

Race morning wasn’t the normal tense rush to get everything done.  I felt ready and relaxed.  Up early and down to transition at 4:45 a.m. was nothing new to me.  I am always among the first to show up at local races back in Georgia.  So just a quick visit to transition to drop off my bottles of nutrition, and to pump up my tires.  No delays except that I seemed to be the only guy who had a pump!  “Hey, can I borrow your pump?”  “Sure”, I said…. over and over finally making my way out so I could get rid of the pump by handing it off to Mary Beth.

As most know, Ironman Louisville is the only Ironman race with a time trial swim start.  The line was very, very long.  So this meant a lot of sitting around.  Luckily Mary Beth and Kristin were both there to keep me company.  I got in line early, but I still felt I was at the back of the line.  As we got closer to start time, I could hear that the pros were starting, and then the line began to move.  Still, I felt calm.  Just grateful to be there.  The line began to move quickly, and after only a few minutes I was jumping off of the dock starting my day- it was 7:13 a.m.

The 2.4-mile swim was smooth and uneventful.  The water was calm, but warm. I focused on long and even strokes making contact with only a few athletes along the way.  I had decided ahead of time not to swim hard… just keep it on the easy side due to the heat of the day. After the turn buoy, it was nearly a two-mile straight shot to the swim exit and transition.  My time was a few minutes off from my goal, but what’s 2 or 3 minutes in an Ironman? No big deal, that’s what.

I got out of the water quickly and headed towards transition.  I found my swim-to-bike bag quickly with the help of a volunteer, and straight into the changing tent.  I moved though the tent towards the exit and took a seat.  A volunteer was immediately there to help me.  Sunscreen was priority one, and the nice volunteer helped me get my bike gear on, and I was off on the bike.  Now we had driven the bike course two days prior, so I already knew it was hilly.  My plan was to carefully conserve my watts while trying to keep my speed up.  And that’s just what I did.  By mile 30 of the 112-mile course, I was exceeding my speed goal while maintaining super-low watts.  Yes!  I felt great on the bike, and around mile 30 was the first time I noticed- I was racing happy.  Seriously, and it made a difference.  I would not have wanted to be any other place on earth- great volunteers, great locals cheering us on, and some nice folks to race along side.  This was so different of an attitude for me during racing, and I loved it.  And then it happened – a flat.  Seriously?   I have trained thousands of miles this season, and not one flat.  And now, a flat in Oldham County, Kentucky?  On race day?  Really?  I stopped at the entrance of a horse farm where there were two guys sitting on the tailgate of their truck. Both said they worked at the farm, and they couldn’t have been nicer. I apologized for bothering them, and one said “no problem, that’s what we are here for”.  That made my day.  My front tire was flat with a tack.  A tack!  One of the guys said “well I hope no one did that intentionally”.  I said, “let’s assume not”. But I knew what happened.  Someone threw tacks on the bike course.  This had happened in 2009 too.  But still I felt calm- happy even.  I chatted with these two guys as I changed my front tube, then a lady appeared with several bottles of water.  “Do you want some water?”  “I’m good”, I said as I finished up with the tire.  I thanked my new friends as they handed my water bottles back to me, and then I was off again.

The flat already cost me 15 minutes or more on my bike split.  As I continued down highway 42, I saw 10-15 athletes on the side of the road changing flats.  As I passed one I asked, “Hey, what was in your tire?”  He yelled “a tack”.  So this pretty much confirmed that someone had sabotaged the bike course.  Still I felt lucky.  After all, my flat was to my front tire, which made it easier to change, and I only had one flat.  But the flat happened on the first loop of the bike, and that meant I had to stop and get my spare tube out of my special needs bag at mile 67.  Another 5 minutes lost!  Crap.  So I stopped to get my spare tube out of my special needs bag right before LaGrange, and chatted with the volunteer for a few minutes.  They had already heard about the tacks, and he said a lot of people had to deal with problems.  Then I was off again through the town of LaGrange where hundreds of people had turned out to cheer us on in the heat.  I thought that was nice, and I tried to wave at everyone as I went through town.

The remainder of the bike leg was uneventful, and I made it through the second loop of the course with no additional flats.  When I took a left again on highway 42 and saw the “Louisville 33 (miles)” sign, I went to work.  By this time we had a pretty bad head wind, but I knew I had some time to make up due to the flat.  Traffic was closed on 42 on the way back, so that was good.  When I got back into the city of Louisville the crowds began to build- it was good to see people again.  I felt great, and was really ready to start my run.  I saw Mary Beth just after I handed off my bike, so that was nice.

I felt really relaxed as I sat down in the changing tent.  Again, a volunteer was right there asking what he could do to help.  He dumped out my bike-to-run bag on the seat next to me as I took my bike gear off.  I chatted with the volunteer as I put on extra sunscreen, and got my run gear on.  I knew I had already taken a bit longer in T2, but I still had a marathon to run I thought.  And it was nearly 3:00 p.m. and 92 degrees!  I made my way out of transition, and started my run through the city of Louisville.  My plan for the marathon was to go easy for the first 6 miles.  As we ran across the 2nd Street Bridge, I couldn’t help but to look down the Ohio River where our day had started 8 hours earlier.  What a long day!  I began taking in my salt tabs and water right away.  At the first aide station I took in a gel, and got plenty of ice.  Ice was my friend today!  In my hands, down my shorts, whatever it took to keep my core temperature down.   We turned at the other end of the 2nd Street Bridge almost in Indiana, and made our way back to Louisville.  At mile 2, I saw Mary Beth and Kristin again, and then we left downtown Louisville.  Within 2-3 blocks, things got quiet.  The marathon took us through some older sections of Louisville where there weren’t that many spectators cheering, but plenty of locals just watching from their front porches.  Honestly, they were looking at us like we were all insane.  The heat was awful, but I ran along the curb where I would find a little bit of shade.  The turn around for the second loop was around the 8-mile mark, and I was heading back to town again.

Coming back into the city was great.  It was good to see the crowds again as we got back downtown around 14 miles.  I was still feeling solid, and I even tried to get the crowds going as I took a left on Muhammad Ali Boulevard.  People were screaming, and it was great.  But I knew the worst part of the run was about to happen.  That place between miles 17-21 of an Ironman marathon when you think you are going to die.  It happens to everyone, and how you get through the tough spot can make or break your day.  As I ran back out for my second loop on Oakdale and Southern Parkway, things got really quiet.  There were hundreds of athletes around me, but I remember thinking “damn, it’s so quiet”.  All I could hear was birds, and the footsteps of runners.  Weird.  It didn’t help that I could hear my own breathing because that was just a reminder of how much it hurt at this point.  My paced dropped as expected, but I was still running when most weren’t.  The heat had reduced many very fit triathletes to walking the marathon.  While my pace had dropped, I was still feeling good up until mile 19 just before the final turn back to town.  By then every footstep hurt.  My stomach began to bother me by this time, and I was only taking in Coke and water. I made the turn at mile 20 to head back to town, and my spirit came back.  That last 6 miles was the best.  Everything hurt, but I felt so good at the same time.  I thought about all of those long 7-8 hour days I had done all summer long, and how hard I had worked to get to Louisville.  It was almost over.  The last mile was the longest, but in a weird way I didn’t want it to end.  The finish line at an Ironman is something you want to make last forever.  With just a few blocks to go I could see 4th Street Live! and the crowds getting larger.  The Ironman Louisville finish line is the best, and I took my time running through it even high- fiving a couple of people before I made it to the finish.  Really, really cool!

I will leave out the details of the next 30 minutes as the body has some interesting reactions to racing for over 12 hours and then just stopping all of a sudden.  But once we got back to the hotel and I took a shower, I was ready to go back downtown to watch the final athletes come in all the way to midnight.  We met a few buddies of mine at the finish for a few beers and a well-deserved cheeseburger, and by 10 o’clock I was standing along the finish screaming at the final athletes.  It was amazing to watch these final athletes make their way to the finish all the way to midnight.  These people were out on the race-course for 16-17 hours, and had to run their entire marathon in the dark!  What an inspiration.

Looking back, I really loved Ironman Louisville.  The city was great, the volunteers were the best, and the course makes you honest.  In many ways it was even better than my first Ironman.  The course and heat were challenging enough, but having to overcome the flat during an important race made the day even more of a learning experience.  But the biggest lesson was what I learned about myself.  That my attitude while racing really had the biggest impact on the outcome.  By intentionally choosing to enjoy the day, no matter what, it changed how I felt about everything that happened along the way.  Unlike any other race, I just felt grateful to be there. That God has given me the resources and health to even be able to participate in this sport, when so many cannot, is a wonderful thing.

Be fierce, but race happy!