Ironman Santa Rosa Race Review

Ironman Santa Rosa

My phone alarm jolted me out of unconsciousness. It was race day. Strangely, I woke up feeling at peace. I had been training for almost a year for Ironman Santa Rosa. My first full Ironman. Still dark for a few hours, I turned on the lights and changed into my triathlon suit that had covered my frame through three Half Ironmans and a handful of shorter races. The race day checklist stared back at me from the breakfast table of my grandparents’ house. First on the list were affirmations. Stay grateful, let go of negativity, find steadiness in success and failures. Then I sipped my Green Shake, chocked full of vitamins.

I filled my water bottles and loaded the gear in my pack. My Iron-sherpa, Chris, started the truck. We were off. The drive to Lake Sonoma passed uneventfully as we talked over the steady pulse of my race day playlist.

Maybe I knew that today was more than just a race. Ironman Santa Rosa was a day to celebrate the journey of transformation that started five years ago when I started to face my PTSD head on in full sobriety; this triathlon was an opportunity for me to give thanks for my growth in Mind, Body, and Spirit. Or maybe my meditations and deep stretches had calmed me. Perhaps my body was also ready for the race, having gone through the race day morning rituals many times before. I reminded myself to let go of the outcome and simply be in the moment for each stroke, pedal, and stride. Like Mark Allen said, “transcend the numbers”.  After all, whatever my finishing time, it would be a personal best.

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The Biggest Race of My Life

Until Chaps connected with the right hook, I thought I was well-prepared for the interview.

 

Lindsey Schmidt from Ironman’s PR firm reached out a few months ago to say they heard my story. Ironman wanted to get me on a cool, new veteran podcast to talk about why I race. It would be a chance to talk about the Marines on my jersey that keep me moving towards the finish line. I agreed to do the interview.  I wrote an eBook  about the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Finally, a chance to talk to a larger audience about a great way to deal with PTSD!

zeroblogthirty logo

The interview started out great (listen to it here). We talked about how I went into the Marine Corps, ditched the band and joined the infantry, and shipped out to Iraq. He asked me what house-to-house fighting was like in Fallujah. Chaps was there in 2007 and has walked the streets of the former Baath Party hub. And of course, we chatted about how triathlon has helped me deal with the demons of PTSD and turn it into something positive. So Chaps throws the verbal jab and I take the bait.

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Ironman Training – Month 6

This is the sixth installment of a yearlong training journey towards my first full Ironman triathlon. To start at the beginning, click here.

January 2017

New year, but the same training. I felt better this month. Some life stressors were situational and temporary: My licensure exam (I passed), Christmas, the flu, ….so I was not expecting to be more stressed out. I expected some negative side-effects from the medication, but none appeared. No increased heart-rate, no weight gain, no foggy head. I decided to stop worrying about what could possibly go wrong with taking medication. I was taking it. I felt better. How about I just enjoy that for now?

Training continued as usual as I continued to build my aerobic base. I knew that things would start to ramp up in the next months and I prepared myself mentally for that. As with all things, a routine can start to get boring after a while. As humans, we detect change more readily. I noticed that I was looking forward to my swims the most right now. Why? Probably because the runs and bike rides were on the same routes for the same amount of time. My swim workouts with the Masters team were different each day and forced me to be mentally engaged.

 

Florida Bound

Manatees

The real manatees….

Addie with Manatee

….and the stuffed manatee.

 

Our vacation to Florida to attend a friend’s wedding was a welcome change to the schedule.We made sure to check out the manatees, see Disney World, and feed the ducks whenever we could. Seeing my daughter, Addie, smile and giggle meeting her favorite princesses and enjoy the rides made my heart sing.

Riding the Teacups at Disney World

Riding the Teacups at Disney World

Feeding the ducks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not having access to a local pool or bikes meant I was mostly running and walking -alternating each day. Even running new routes felt like a whole new sport. I had underestimated how a change in scenery can better things. Training-wise, my favorite part of the trip was finding an open-water swim near Orlando. Lucky’s Lake Swim is world-famous and boasts a cult following of locals.

The day greeting Lucky’s Lake

Later in the week, we headed to the Cocoa Beach for the day. We saw a large shark circling the pier in search of some lunch in the clear water. Awhile later I decided to take a dip in the water.

 

My daughter reassured me, letting me know, “ the shark is probably gonna bite you, dad.”    Thanks.

 

Coco Beach 2

Coco Beach 4

 

 

 

Cocoa Beach 5

Just happy be to here!

Being a parent forces one to find creative solutions. Three-year-olds don’t always like cross country flights and let that be known in subtle to not-so-subtle ways. During our two hour layover in Austin, I changed into a galloping horse with Addie on my shoulders. Daily workout: check. Pacified kiddo: check.

 

The Balance

Family time has gotten much better. What do I mean by that? I was able to participate and enjoy being there. Sure there were always challenging parts of parenting like handling tantrums and trying to convince a three-year-old that they will feel better if they actually eat something. The balance of training and family life is more than just paying my dues to watch the kids. If things aren’t going right, the stress affects my training. It also makes me go back to why I am training so hard in the first place – to be a better version of myself. This means not being absent from the family all day every day just to get some more training in. If I’m not exercising or training, then my body isn’t moving like it should and I’m not as great at being a family man.

For the technical aspects of my training, my mile times hovered around 10:20. Not great, but I am trusting in the training and realizing that life stress is playing a part in this. Increasing sleep and fun time with family is helping. One more month down and halfway towards Ironman Santa Rosa.

 

<— Back to Month 5

Forward to Month 7 (coming soon) —>

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Ironman Training- Month 5

This is the fifth installment of a yearlong training journey towards my first full Ironman triathlon. To start at the beginning, click here.

 

I knew it was bad when it got to me in the pool.

(If you were hoping for a simple training update with no real life stress, you should probably skip this post)

 

My bike and American Flag during Ironman Training- Month 5

 

Training and Real Life Collide

The stress of life and everything that wasn’t Ironman got to me. I mean, really got to me. December was packed with the usual obligations of Christmas shopping and holiday parties to plan or attend, but this year there was much more on my plate. Studying for my clinical licensure test filled my free time. Someone close to me had been the victim of a horrible crime I could do nothing to stop. My daughter, though really loving her new baby brother, was distraught that her mom could not pick her up or carry her because she was healing from her C-section still. Our family unit was trying to find homeostasis again. Continue reading

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Ironman Training- Month 4

This is the fourth installment of a yearlong training journey towards my first full Ironman triathlon. To start at the beginning, click here.

 

Ironman Training Month 4

November started off in a powerful way. My son was born on November 3rd, healthy and well. After the hospital stay, my wife and I brought him home and began the juggling act of raising two kids. Needless to say, there was not much training for the first week after his birth. I did my best to prepare food, run errands, and wrangle my three-year-old daughter. I spent lots of time at the park so my wife could rest and attend to the newborn. In the first two weeks I snuck in a couple bike rides and swim, but with minimal sleep, rest and recovery were priority number one. Some days, keeping my eyes open just to push my daughter on the swing was a major victory.

Seeing my newborn son for the first time in the hospital. He is grabbing my finger.

By Thanksgiving, I was back to swimming, biking, and running per the training plan laid out by Coach Nick Carling. I ran my MAF test in just over 30 minutes with 9:56, 9:58, and 10:18 splits. Relief set in that my fitness had not totally disappeared and I had even improved from last month’s MAF test.

 

Brace Yourselves, Winter is Coming

With winter approaching and Daylight savings time shortening the hours of sunlight, I sweated out most rides on the indoor trainer. One challenge I faced was being able to “let go” and accept that I would not complete all of my prescribed training sessions. At the same time, I made sure not to swing to the other end of the spectrum and justify sitting around when I had the time to train and ample sleep the night before. So goes the balancing act of parenthood and Ironman training. Since I work 10 hour days, I plan ahead to make sure my workouts fit into the day. To streamline my mornings I usually lay out workout clothes and gear the night before.

 

Even though I could not put in the training hours, my daughter was a big help with nutrition. She is at the age where she wants to help out, so I recruited her to help make my green smoothies.

 

Making a green smoothie with my daughter during Ironman Training- Month 4

My daughter loves to help make healthy smoothies.

 

My favorite swim was a Thanksgiving Day workout with the Walnut Creek Masters. We had the options of what we chose to “eat” on the menu, choosing different sets of freestyle and non-freestyle strokes. All said and done, it totaled about 4,200 meters.

My two kids in their Thanksgiving outfits.

 

The Big Picture

Whenever I felt frustrated by the setbacks or stalls in fitness and training, I reminded myself of the bigger picture: I train and race to improve myself as a person and triathlon is only part of that equation. It’s easy for me to get this confused and expect the rest of my life to conveniently fit around my training. Frustration and resentment build when people and events don’t align with my triathlon life, so the reality check and shift in perspective keeps me grounded. I think a lot of age-groupers feel this from time to time, expecting the results that the professionals get, forgetting the pros don’t have a full-time day job or other serious commitments outside of sport. And like all endurance races, it is a journey of consistent effort and not a sprint.

 

Upwards and onwards.

 

 

<— Back to Month 3

Forward to Month 5  —>

 

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Lucky’s Lake Swim

Lucky’s Lake Swim Review


“We provide all alligators for free. There is no extra or hidden charge” boasts the Lucky’s Lake Swim website.

 

After reading that I knew my casual google search for open water swimming in Orlando had struck gold. My family and I were on vacation and I hoped to get some training in during my time in Florida.

Glassy conditions for Lucky's Lake Swim

Not only are the alligators provided, but Lucky’s Lake Swim is a totally free event happening daily. In a world of $1000 entry fees for  Ironman triathlons, I figured there had to be a catch. Who would open up his own home and let strangers come each day for a 1k swim in the warm Florida lake waters? As it turns out, Dr. “Lucky” Meisenheimer would. Besides creating a swim with a cult following, Lucky has quite the resumé. One needs only to glance at Dr. Meisenheimer’s wiki page to discover the man who is the cross-section of medical doctor, author, former collegiate swimmer, actor, yo-yo enthusiast, family man, and foot-in-mouth-swim record holder. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

 

Am I in the right place?

I drove to Lake Cane, entering Lucky’s lakefront property around 6:00 am and parked beneath an outdoor basketball hoop. A regular to the pre-dawn ritual greeted me, “You swimming today?” Al Johnson,  a Vietnam Vet, took me down to the dock and got me the orange clip-on float buoy, required for all newbies, including “Michael freaking Phelps” as the website states. He traded my signed waiver for a green swim cap and we set our gear on the dock. Al noticed my outsized military tattoos and told me he had served with the 173rd in Vietnam. Apparently, I’m not the only veteran-turned-endurance-junkie out there. Al and a pair of former Air Force F-16 pilots were regulars.

Lucky's Lake Swim fake alligator

It’s a little more convicing in the dark

 

It was then that I noticed a hungry gator just a few inches deep staring up at me. “It’s not real!” Al chided me after glancing my open jaw. Good to know.

 

Floaties are provided for Lucky's Lake Swim

Floaties are provided for Lucky’s Lake Swim

 

Dark Waters

The swim starts at 6:30 on weekdays, so it would not be light until halfway through.  The other regulars showed up, some with wetsuits because it was likely the coldest swim of the year. In central Florida, this means 63º, which felt like a bath tub compared to the San Francisco Bay. And to boot, the water was a full 20º warmer than the air temperature that morning! A novel experience for a west-coaster like me.

When it finally reached half past six we all paddled out and began our lake crossing, keeping left of the buoys. Of course I wasn’t thinking about gators biting my legs, or arms, or neck. Nope. Quickly those thoughts disappeared as I settled into the familiar rythm of stroke and breath. The silence of early morning complimented the still, dark waters of Lake Cane. The only sounds were my breathing and the splash of my hands entering the water. Soon enough I touched my feet to the soft banks on the opposite side of the lake. Halfway there.

Lucky's Lake Swim sunrise

During the trip back a sunrise slowly peaked over mossy oak trees and simplified the sighting back to Lucky’s dock. A thick mist hung over the Lake Cane’s surface, catching the orange rays of the dawn.  Twenty-seven minutes after I had jumped in, my hands reached the dock and feet found purchase on the shore. My first crossing was complete!

Lucky's Lake Swim dock signs

 

Hanging Out

The air temp. was still in the 40’s. Warm up back in the truck with the heater on, I figured, until I heard someone call out to me “you gotta try the hot tub!”  A quick rinse and then into the tub. Heaven. I chatted with a few of the other regulars who were happy to hear about my swims in the Pacific. They were used to the out-of-towners and glad to hear about my first time here in Lake Cane. They told me about the duck who sometimes made the crossing with them and a Jack Rusell terrier who also completed multiple swims. Why not?

Lucky's Lake Swim hot tub

Fully reheated, I stepped out and was promptly handed the first-timer’s goodie bag. It included a bumper sticker, patch, and log sheet to track all my future crossings. Swimmers are given various caps and shirts after milestone crossings (25, 50, 100, etc.).

Lucky's Lake Swim swim cap, bumper sticker, and patch

 

Lucky himself took me to sign the wall and was nice enough to snap a picture with me, talking about how it all came together back in 1989 when he first organized the group swims. Eventually, it grew from him and a couple friends to dozens of people a day and sometimes 200 plus swimmers on summer weekends. Crowds like that sound like great training for an Ironman mass swim start, but I was grateful for the relative solitude my group of seven afforded me that morning.

Lucky's Lake Swim photo with Dr. Lucky Meisenheimer

The photo on the right is none other than Gwen Jorgenson, who swam here in September ’16.

Lucky's Lake Swim wall signing

…and it’s official!

I always enjoy the feeling of starting my day with a good swim, especially in open water. But more than the exercise, the feeling of community and shared experience made Lucky’s Lake Swim special. Not only was there a tight-knit group of regulars, but they extended that welcome to me, a tourist. When it comes down to it, the shared experience is what makes this special.

The walk to Lucky's Lake Swim

 

Driving back from Lake Cane, I smiled. Only 24 more crossings until I earned that white swim cap!

 

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Ironman Training- Month 3

Finding the Groove

Month 3 of training using the Maffetone Method is complete. I found my rhythm and it feels good. Waking up early enough for swims, hitting those lunchtime runs and getting on the bike are routine. I don’t have any more races for the season so no speed work, no intervals, just good old fashion aerobic training. Coach Nick Carling decided that the next few months should be dedicated to building my aerobic base.

 

Bike in front of garage

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Ironman Training- Month 2

My September training was a bit of an overlap with my last race of the season and the annual open-water swim I coordinate. Unlike Month 1, the second month was a little busier.

Overlap

Santa Cruz 70.3 was on the 11th of the month, so workouts were planned accordingly to give me a buildup, taper, and recovery from the race. I came down with a minor cold a week before the race and eased off training more than my taper called for.  Listening to my body paid off. The race went well and even more of a plus was that recovery did not take as long as in previous 70.3 races. I was satisfied to finish in under 6 hours and seeing the race as practice for a full Ironman in terms of pacing and strategy added a fun element to the day.

Running into the water for the swim start at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

 

Off the Couch

While I didn’t hit all my prescribed workouts, I stayed consistent with the three disciplines after the race. This alone was a major step for me. I tend to anchor myself on a couch for a month after a big race and binge on junk food. Breaking that pattern with some light workouts boosted my confidence considerably. I’ve noticed that many times there is a fine line between staying active and going completely dormant because “I earned it” after a big race.

 

Training schedule for Ironman Training- Month 2

More yellow and red than I would prefer, but I listened to my body and made the right choice.

 

Life Events

The two other major events in the month were the Alcatraz swim and a trip to Boston to see my good friend from the Marine Corps get married. Fitting my training into that trip back east took a little creativity, but was very doable. I had a 6-hour layover in Los Angeles, which I used to get my “run” in by walking the terminal and carry my luggage up and down stairs for an hour. Staying active in Boston was easy. The city offers plenty of things to see and I could walk to most of them. It also helped that the hotel had a pool and stationary bikes for some quality morning sessions.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to have a long run and see neighborhoods usually missed by tourists. The early fall weather of New England was optimal for running with the low temperatures helping to keep the heart rate down.

All in all, I made an effort to get my training in and didn’t get down on myself when the schedule didn’t fit into my life.  When I couldn’t fit in the exact workout, I just made sure to spend a lot of time on my feet walking.

 

So far, so good.

<—Back to Month 1

Forward to Month 3 —>

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Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz Review

Standing on the pier awaiting the swim start for Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

 

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz was my third middle-distance triathlon. In contrast to the first two, I did not feel an excessive amount of pre-race jitters. The lack of fear coming into the race was a welcome change. I felt confident I would finish and  had no attachment to any finish time. Okay, I wanted to finish in under 6 hours, but it wouldn’t be a heartbreaker if it took longer. After all, I race for fun. I race to celebrate being alive and honor other people I care about. It was also the first triathlon training strictly with the Maffetone Method.

Up until a week before the race, Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz was simply another triathlon. Sure, I cared about it, but I did not raise funds for any charities like my previous race in Oceanside. That all changed when my coworker, Dave, shared some heavy news with me. His wife, Sarah, just found out she had cancer. Both of them were understandably devastated by the news, but as a testament to their strength in the middle of uncertainty, they were not hiding from this. Dave and Sarah were sharing the news with others, partly as a way to have some choice in the matter. How do you react when someone shares this with you? I certainly didn’t know. Continue reading

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3 Steps To Your First Triathlon

Running to train for a triathlon.

 

When I was 11 years old I raced in my first triathlon with my dad. It was a “one and done” experience up until I watched the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii 20 years later. The energy among the athletes, volunteers, and spectators was exciting in a way I could not resist. Shortly after coming home I decided to give the sport another try. Continue reading

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