You Need Discipline, Son

A few nights ago I was at a dinner party outside of the triathlon bubble and naturally the conversations trended towards… triathlon. This often tends to be the case when people ask what I do for a living; or at least how I tend to spend all my time. Quite often, as was the case the other night, people will look at what my peers and I do and suggest that we must have a lot of “discipline.”

This is an interesting statement that commonly comes about. In some ways the people that think I am disciplined are correct, but in other ways they are entirely wrong.

They are wrong because they assume it takes discipline to swim, bike and run. This, in and of itself, is incorrect. I suppose I cannot speak for everyone that gets a professional license in triathlon, but most of us find a real sense of joy moving in those mediums. I know I personally went from a 13-hour ironman guy to a professional because of how much I enjoy(ed) riding my bike. I wanted nothing more than to spend most of my day cruising around corn fields in Brazos County, Texas, when I was 21 years old. It did not take discipline.

What has taken discipline, and what continues to take discipline, is not doing what I want to do, for the sake of improvement and performance. When I started the sport, I could pretty much get out the door and expect to improve. After a while, the improvements were not as pronounced and the need to really look at myself and determine what my limiters were became paramount to improvement. That continues to ring true. What I came to find over time is that the workouts that often got pushed aside in the beginning had helped create my weaknesses.

Soon enough, the workouts that sounded like the worst idea were often designed for my best interests. It was easy to get out bed and do what I was good at; it was difficult to do the same when I knew my weaknesses would be exposed. By buddy Alan offered up a relevant quote from Jim Rohn: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” It takes “discipline” to do away with the excuses.

Additionally, not doing what I want is not only limited to workouts, but to lifestyle choices. It might be fun to stay up late, eat bad foods, avoid heart rate caps (okay that’s workout related), etc., but it might not be part of the whole package when it comes to becoming a faster athlete. Unfortunately (and fortunately) we cannot rely solely on the training we do to get faster.

In the end, I still don’t consider myself to be disciplined. Even when I’m doing workouts I don’t want to or going to bed early or eating more broccoli…. ultimately it is what I want to be doing. It has resulted in a fun and fulfilling life for the past decade. And it doesn’t take discipline to want that to continue.

Nutrition Choices for Consistent Performance

When I was about 12-13 years old, my father started reading “The Zone” books. He was at a point in his life where his health started to become a priority and numerous health books started to appear in our house. Out of curiosity, I started to read through some of these books and eventually I became more and more interested in improving my health. Considering the fact that I was entering adolescence, my motivation was probably not the same as my father’s, but my interest never really waned from then until now. My cynicism for the “next big thing” might be greater, but prioritizing my health continues to exist.

It can be difficult to remain healthy as triathletes in terms of optimizing our nutrition. We have a huge energy output from training so many hours and it becomes easy to start eating anything we see. After 2-3 years in the sport, I had gone from casually training to putting down serious swim, bike and run hours week in and week out. It was at this point that I came to realize that I couldn’t simply treat myself every time I trained big. A five-hour training day was no longer limited to one day on the week. Now it was occurring on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that meant I was eating poorly more days of the week than not.

It’s easy to treat yourself after you’ve worked hard. It’s the reason someone came up with the term “comfort food.” The problem is that this pattern can also be the reason that body composition remains a limiter for many athletes, myself include. Just think about what might be different if we had a normal dinner instead of Mexican food after every long ride we did (and this not a knock on Mexican food, I’m a big fan).

My buddy Gordo said a long time ago that “eating well is simple, but not easy.” This is such a great point because we almost always know what the superior decision is when it comes to nutrition, but something holds us back. I have a few suggestions to help reinforce this simple idea:

  1. Out of sight is out of mind. Don’t keep foods in your home that you only tend to eat “because its there.” If you really want it, you can leave the house to get it.
  2. Eat foods with the least degrees of separation from their natural state. Example: An apple came from the tree. “Easy Cheese” came from a lot places before it settled in that easy-to-use can in your hand.
  3. Avoid anything that is marketed as a “snack food.” Replace these with fruits and tree nuts.
  4. Eat more fat. Including more things like avocados, tree nuts, good oils, eggs, seeds, fatty fish like salmon, and butter will help you leave meals more satisfied. Trying to appease your hunger with sugar and starch will just have you eating more.
  5. Do not skip breakfast.
  6. Do not expect to be perfect. If the last meal was not-so-healthy, just make the next one healthy. Don’t think one, or even a series of, bad decisions means that you can’t get back on track.
  7. Plan ahead. My wife is hypoglycemic and has to travel with good foods everywhere she goes. If she can do it, so can we.

I’m going to single out my final suggestion so that if you forget everything else, at least you remember this:

If you are looking to improve your body composition: Eat better before you eat less.

The Final Push

Now that races are appearing all over the world, at all times of the year, it becomes more difficult to signify the “end” of the season. Having said that, many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are working towards our final season peak (between the months of September and November). This is a tricky time for many of us. On the one hand, we want to be our fastest of the year. On the flipside, we do not want our fastest day of the year to be on our local training roads.

Here are a few pointers to follow in your final build of the season:

  1. Mix up the routes. It can be really tempting to go out and set PRs on some of your favorite training routes as you begin to reach your season’s final peak. Give some of these routes a rest until the next base period and find some new and interesting routes to train on. This will help keep things fresh as well as helping you avoid the constant need to set weekly PRs on the same terrain you have been training on all season.
  2. Consciously hold back. When things are going well in your training, make a conscious note of how well you are feeling. Instead of picking the pace up or going even harder, just relax and know that when your race arrives, you will have that final gear. When this feeling becomes a constant in your training, you will know you are ready. Resist!
  3. Learn from the season’s mistakes. Every season provides us with numerous learning experiences; in training and in racing. Take some time to actually sit down and write down the lessons you learned and how you are going to apply them to your last race of the season. Without recognizing the mistakes we have made, we are likely to fall right back into the same patterns. Allow yourself to have a moment of self-realization to become a new (and smarter/better) athlete this fall.
  4. Do not forget to have fun. As the season comes to a close, it is common to feel as though certain sessions are a bit of grind. To help avoid this, remember what you truly enjoy. Allowing yourself to have a bit of fun in between the serious sessions will keep your more consistent in the long run. Nearly all of us got into this sport for this factor; don’t let anything take that away from you.

I hope you all have had a great season to date. Use the above tips to help you close out this season successfully.

Race fast.

Racing in the Heat

I started triathlon when I lived in south Texas in 2000 and I did not even know what it was like to race in cool temperate conditions until I did my first race outside the state a couple years down the road. I thought it was perfectly normal to expect bathtub water at the start and sauna-like conditions at the end.

Some key things to remember:

  • Don’t concern yourself with PRs, at least not for the distance itself. You might be attempting to set a PRfor a particular course that has similar conditions year in and year out, but the experienced athlete is not going see his or her fastest times (from sprint to ironman) when the temperatures are high. Racing in the heat is about executing your race better than your competitors. I realize many of you race relative to your own performances, but in the case of extreme conditions, you can have some of your highest finishing positions with superior execution.
  • Pacing is paramount. If the air temperature is really warm you will want to back off the bike from the start. If the water temperature is warm (I’ve raced in 90 degree water in Texas) then you will want to hold back in that discipline as well. I can almost guarantee that every athlete that rides too hard in hot conditions will end up in survival mode at some point on the run. Give up a couple minutes on the bike or give up many, many minutes on the run.
  • Logistics are a more crucial part of your race plan. Ironman athletes know the important of fueling in such a long day, but olympic-distance and half ironman athletes can often get away with overlooking their nutritional and hydration needs to some degree. This is not the case when the weather is warm, no matter the distance. You need to have a hydration plan in place in order to execute your race as best you can.
  • Know how much you sweat. Most people have no idea how much they actually sweat when they train in the heat. Try weighing yourself before and after some of your rides and runs. Take note of how much you drank while training and then you can determine how much you will need to avoid dehydration on race day. Some of you will be amazed with how under-hydrated you are when you train/race in warm conditions.
  • Embrace it! Its hot, its challenging, and everyone is in the same boat. Have fun with it.

Training in the Heat

It’s starting to get a little warm outside.

I left Boulder the last couple weekends and traveled to Memphis, Tennessee and Austin. In those particular locations, it’s starting to get hot and that is not going to change until Halloween candy starts making the rotation again (right alongside Christmas decorations). Almost all of us (minus my Norwegian triathlete buddies) are going to have to cope with some warm weather training and racing this summer. Below are some tips to help you maximize your training time as the temperature rises.

  1. Train early: I don’t particularly care for getting up early on a regular basis, but the quality of all my training is dramatically improved based on lower temperatures. Keep in mind that training when it is warm forces blood to the surface of your skin and away from the muscles. Less blood to the muscles equates to less training you successfully accomplish.
  2. Hydration: You cannot expect to train with the same amount of fluids that you consume in temperate climates. I start my long ride with three or four bottles on me (two in cages; one or two in jersey) and refill at 2 hours and 3.25 hours (during a 4.5 to 5 hour ride). There is nothing gained by riding “longer” segments if it means dehydration. If you fall behind with your fluids you will lose the session. You don’t have to hang out just because you stop. Just hop off, refill you bottles (or buy some sports drink), and take off. It can be done in less than five minutes both times.
  3. Lower your core temperature after training: After doing long, challenging sessions in the heat I often find myself kicking it on the couch feeling uncomfortably warm. This is because of the training heat from the day and my super-charged metabolism. What I personally do is place cooling/ice packs on my neck as well as holding them in my hands for five to 10 minutes at a time. After a few minutes I feel much better and I repeat the process every 45 minutes or so (as needed).
  4. Indoor training: “I thought indoor training was only for the winter?” Well, in some parts of the country/world that might be the case, but in warm climates it makes plenty of sense to crank along inside air conditioned workout studios. Most gyms keep their cardio areas around 68-70 degrees and this can make a world of difference for your key sessions. Treadmill running might not be the same as running outdoors, but slowing down for the sake of heat doesn’t do much good either.
  5. Plan your season accordingly: If you live in a place that has excessive heat at some point in the year then take that into consideration when planning for key races. Extreme heat will compromise some portion of your training (just as winters do). The more temperate the weather, the more quality training you can achieve. The better the training, the better the race.

Stay cool.

Return to Racing

Racing. It is starting again. You worked diligently over the winter (right?) and now the first races of the season are starting to pop up. Many of you will be kicking off your racing season in the next 4-12 weeks. This means that your training should step away from general conditioning and move towards meeting the specific demands of your race(s). What are the specific demands?

It really depends on the race length, your goals in said race, and your general experience with racing. If there is one thing I can definitely attest to after nine seasons of triathlons, it is this: Training is not racing. Racing might be training, but not vice versa.


My point is that we tend to do things in races that we never think about in training. Lower priority races can serve certain training needs, but the highest priority training sessions are never the same as a race itself. This is one of the reasons that I like to begin incorporating some sort of racing before I start racing. Specifically, I like to race something that is shorter than my first key triathlon. This can be a standalone event (a running race, bike TT, swim race, etc.) or it can be a short, quick sprint triathlon (if your first event is a sprint triathlon, then try a standalone run or bike event or shorter duration).

I would avoid the need to begin with something that lasts longer than 90 minutes (or 30-40 minutes if it is a run or bike race), even if your first key race of the season lasts longer than four hours. The shorter events will help you shift from a “training” mentality to a “racing” mentality without using up too much of your mojo. A short, fast hit-out will (hopefully) redirect you towards the goals you initially set for yourself before the season began. All of a sudden, your training performances will become secondary to your race performances (as they should).

Another good reason to have these short events is that you don’t have to live with your mistakes for too long. We all feel flustered, out of place, or even lousy during the first really fast effort of the season. If your event lasts roughly 30-90 minutes, then you don’t have to regret going out too hard, eating the wrong breakfast, wearing the wrong the shorts, etc., for all that long. These lower priority events are great for making mistakes, learning from them, and then avoiding them when it really counts.

Finally, going as fast as you can from time to time is good for the soul (at least I think so). It helps you temper your training and keep it as “training” while avoiding the need to constantly test yourself when nothing is on the line. Need a test? Find a race. Go on the record and see where you stand.

The Journey of JD: Part Two

In Part One I discussed my 30-month progression from a 12:55 Ironman finishing time to a 9:20 finishing time. In this edition I will cover the move from 9:20 to 8:40 which took four years to accomplish.

Moving from 9:20 to 8:40 was clearly marked by two things in my opinion. The first, and probably the most important, was making sure I backed up one solid race with another. Knowing that I could do something once meant little if I could not do it again. The second piece to the puzzle was overcoming a mental weakness. Halfway along this journey I found myself in a thinking pattern that was 180 degrees from where I began. In order to make a physical breakthrough I had to breakthrough mentally as well.

Eleven months after finishing Ironman Florida 2003 in 9:20, I was set to race Ironman Hawaii for the first time in 2004. Fifteen minutes before the Kona 2004 start I remember consciously thinking back on the good fortune I had for toeing the line that day. Seven weeks prior to the race I was nearly convinced that I had wrecked my season, but thankfully I had not.

Those that read Part One will recall that my primary protocol in the early years consisted of “training with a 140-160 heart rate until a 140-160 heart rate was not slow anymore.” That still rang true for the bulk of my training in 2004, but in the final 12 weeks before Kona I was set to make a “push.” I had lofty goals of trying to win my Age Group in Kona and I felt that running as “close to 3 hours as possible” was what it was going to take for me to do it.

In order to do so, I put together two very challenging run sessions per week. One involved running the rolling asphalt service roads near Melissa, Texas as: steady in the flats, hard on the uphills, and a fast turnover on the downhills. I usually did these runs around noon when it was well over 90 degrees (poor decision of an otherwise clever session). The second key run workout involved a long run broken down as: 2 mile jog warm up followed by 2 x 15K (two laps of Whiterock Lake in Dallas) descending the pace throughout the session. The last half of the second 15K was to be run as hard as I could go.

My cycling and swimming did not change much. The only major change I can remember (also occurring in the final 12 weeks) is that one day a week near the end of a 3 hour ride I would stop outside of Howe, Texas and buy a couple cokes from the general store. Once I got back on the road it was about 20K to the Melissa City Limit sign and I would ride as hard as I could to that point. I called it the “whatever you have left” session. Sometimes I managed a good effort; other times it was nothing more than a little tempo. At any rate, I felt that doing this when fatigued would keep me from frying myself. (I actually think the opposite way now).

Everything was going well until seven weeks out from the race when I could not run.

What happened?

To this day I am not sure what the actual injury was, but the best way I can describe it is as follows: sharp, acute pain below either side of my ankle and above the actual heel. It hurt so badly that I could not run whatsoever. I went to see a doctor at Baylor Sports Medicine in Houston and even he/they could not conclusively determine what was wrong with me unless I had an MRI. I might have gotten one, but the protocol for recovery would not have changed (according to the Doctor) whether it was a stress fracture or another overuse injury. Given that, I decided to wait it out and hope for the best.

Four weeks out from the race I was running again, but I was not pain free. My general rule of thumb was that I would allow myself to run so long as 1) I was not using any painkillers and 2) my technique was not altered by the pain. I kept the faith and three days out from the race I was pain free.

Seriously. Three days out. No pain.

I have never relied on luck, but I certainly don’t turn it down when it shows itself.

Back to 15 minutes before the race…

Ironman Hawaii 2004 went well for me. My swim was nothing to write home about (in fact it was poor), but I made good progress on the bike (on a very rough and windy day) and three miles into the run I was passed by Jose Jeuland: an 18-24 Age Grouper from France. As he slowly pulled ahead of me I had two thoughts run through my mind:

1) 99% of folks (Age Group) running that fast in the first 10K of the race will blow themselves up.
2) If he does not blow up he will beat me.

I came to Hawaii hoping to take a step forward in this sport and I felt that if I let him pull away I would fall short of that goal. I decided to hang in there so I settled in around 30 meters behind him and stayed there… …all the way through town, down the Queen K, in and out of the Energy Lab, and back onto the Queen K. Around mile 22 I pulled alongside him and we ran side by side only speaking when we called out desperately for Coke at each aid station. As we neared Palani hill he put on a monster (as I remember it) attack and I had no answer. From there he opened up a 5 second lead and I went bombing down Palani and Ali’i Drive in hopes of taking back those few seconds. The gap held all the way until the finish line and I lost by less than 20 meters.

While it hurt to “lose,” it felt great to fight. For nearly 23 miles I had raced someone head to head at the Ironman World Championship. Jose and I actually finished 2nd and 3rd in our Age Group, but we thought we were fighting for first (Michael Boehmer from Germany had already finished five minutes ahead of us which we didn’t know at the time; he is doing quite well for himself in the pro ranks these days). My race also earned me the honor of being the Top Overall American Age Grouper (by less than a minute, I believe). Additionally, I improved my marathon time to 3:07 (from 3:10) on a much more difficult course than Florida one year prior.

Hawaii was a big breakthrough for me in many ways. For one, it showed me that the race one year prior had not been a fluke. Secondly, it showed me that I could handle the mental challenges of racing someone directly over the distance (as opposed to just time trialing).

Following Hawaii, my friend, Tom Rodgers, put me in contact with triathlon coach, Joe Friel ( After some discussions, Joe and I decided to work together with the long term plan of racing successfully in Hawaii one day. One of my primary concerns that I voiced to him in the beginning was that I had zero inhibitions when it came to training volume, but intensity was something that I did not know how to balance (hence the running injury from the previous season).

Many people have read Joe’s books and many base their training around his philosophy and coaching style. While Joe’s philosophies are encompassing on a wide range, his application is very specific and unique to each athlete he deals with.

If I had to describe the major change in my training that continues to hold true today, it would be that my harder days (and weeks) became harder and my easier days became easier. After years of constant steady-state training I had to get accustomed to working harder (or easier) given the days’ demands. This was challenging at first, but understanding the challenges of one day made it more appealing to go easier on the preceding one. I no longer showed up on harder days with my ‘B’ game and my volume no longer compensated for any lack of quality in my training (in other words, it was not ok to go ‘longer’ in place of going ‘harder”).

One year after Kona I raced Ironman Florida 2005 and I broke nine hours for the first time finishing in 8:57; good enough for 8th Overall, and 1st Overall Amateur. Everything seemed to be happening as it should. If I continued to work hard, I would continue to improve. The two components seem to work in a linear fashion. After this race I made a decision to turn professional with my sights set on Ironman Florida 2006 where I hoped to qualify for Kona 2007.

My first year as a professional proved to be a difficult one. Apparently professional triathletes are quite fit and I got it handed to me all season long. As an age grouper, I rarely made mistakes when it came to race execution, but as a professional I continuously blew myself up and often came limping home in races. I often considered ‘my head’ to be ‘my strength,’ but all of a sudden it was becoming my weakness. I feared losing to my competitors. For years I had focused on my own progression, but suddenly all my success became centered on how I performed compared to others.

Therefore it was no surprise when I finished Ironman Florida 2006 in 9:05 (8 minutes slower than the previous year and 8 places lower as well). In 12 months time I had trained over 1100 hours and finished eight minutes slower than one year prior. After this race I sat around for several weeks with a blank stare on my face. Disappointment certainly filled my thoughts, but I was mostly focused on how to take it to the next level. Did I need harder rides? More running? More swimming? What should I do?

In my mind, it seemed like the appealing thing to do after a bad race was to get right back out there and race again, but I opted not to. Instead I decided to get a job in Houston, and for several months I rarely trained above 12 hours per week as I plugged away behind a computer.


I suppose it took me (at least) that long to shake the race emotions from my thinking. I saw countless athletes go on downward spirals because of ‘redemption racing’ and I wanted to avoid going down that path. My goals were/are long term so I was not overly concerned with cutting way back on my training for the short term. I was more concerned with breaking through a mental and physical plateau that appeared before me.

In 2007 I set my sights on Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June, but in May I had a family emergency that took me overseas for two weeks so I scratched the race. After returning I made the decision to race Ironman Canada in August instead. All was well until I found myself with a chronic stomach ailment. After being sick sporadically for two weeks I went into the Urgent Care Unit in Boulder and came to find out I had contracted Giardia (a parasite most likely from open water swimming).

It seemed as though 2007 might not really be a breakthrough year for me after all and I went into Canada with less than ideal preparations. My recovery from Giardia did not seem to affect my swimming or running too dramatically, but my power on the bike seemed so far behind. Nevertheless, I raced Canada to my best ability and finished in 9:00 flat with a 3:02 marathon (a two minute PR). I felt fairly indifferent about the race given everything that had happened over the year.

Even though the 2007 season was coming to a close, I felt I could pull it together for one last race. I had ten weeks until Ironman Florida and I felt that I could finally breakthrough by cranking up my bike fitness; while maintaining my swim and run fitness I had built for IMC. (I wrote an article on Xtri that goes into more detail about the specific bike sessions during this time period so please check that as I will not go into detail about it here.)

After ten hard weeks all that was left was the actual race.

Ironman Florida 2007 had a solid, deep pro field. For whatever reason, it seemed to fit the schedule of (too) many fast athletes.

And this is probably the reason that I finally broke through my racing plateau.

When I first considered myself a competitor in triathlon I always considered myself to be improving, but my mind drifted away from that thinking when I got my pro card. It is a long way from being a fast Age Grouper to being a fast Professional and it took some time to get used to that feeling. Success was not a season away. As I looked at the start list, I knew that the only way to get beyond the list was to take the next step of becoming a part of that list.

When I showed up in Florida I had a simple race plan: I was going to PR everything: my swim split, my bike split, my run split and therefore, my finishing time. I no longer hoped to finish before this person or that person; I simply wanted to be faster than I had ever been before.

Throughout the entire race I remember thinking “if you don’t want to be a nine hour guy any longer, then you better prove it.” For two years I had been relatively the same speed (when racing) and I knew that the only person that could change that was me.

The result?

I swam 55 minutes (PR), I biked 4:41 (PR) and I broke the barrier (the biggest one in my mind) of the three hour marathon, running 2:59:51 (PR). Two years prior I finished IMFL in 8:57 which resulted in 8th Overall. In 2007 I finished in 8:40 and it resulted in 10th overall.

That 10th place finish will far outweigh my 2005 result in the years to come. It marks the beginning of the third stage of racing in my mind.

The Journey of JD: Part One

In May of 2001 I finished my first Ironman (California) in 12:55:03. I swam 1:20:34, biked 6:25:24, and barely broke five hours on the marathon running 4:59:58. In November of 2007 I finished Ironman Florida in 8:40:25. I swam 55:27, biked 4:41:12, and broke three hours on the marathon running 2:59:51. As I look back on the past seven years, I essentially think of my progression occurring in two separate blocks: the jump from 12:55 to 9:20 and the jump from 9:20 to 8:40. Both were considerably challenging, but the approaches were different. In this first installment I will cover what it took for me to make the first move.

I signed up for my first Ironman assuming it would be nothing more than an adventure to check off the list; but I finished it with a different perspective. When I was a sophomore at Texas A&M University I signed up for Ironman California (probably because of boredom). In those days you did not have to sign up years in advance, but I believe I still had a good six months notice to prepare. I had little direction or structure to any training that I did to prepare for the event. I mostly ran or rode spin bikes in the gym, and I occasionally jumped in the pool. I recall logging a handful of long rides (on a real bike) over 4 hours (maybe 4-5 total), but I did not run more than 90 minutes from February to May (race was in May) and I did not swim more than once or twice in the final month leading into the race. It was hardly anything a competent athlete would want to emulate, but it is never fun to learn things the easy way.

It is interesting to look back on my lackadaisical approach because it would be the last time I ever did such a thing (in triathlon; I still kick it otherwise). I suppose my mentality in those days was to do just enough to be good (e.g. do enough work to make a 90 on a test, not a 100). Granted, 12:55 may or may not be good depending on your criteria, but for me, “good” was associated with covering the distance in one day. As a result I did the least amount of work I felt was necessary to do just that. It was not until the start of the Ironman marathon that everything changed for me.

After cruising along in the swim on my surfboard (aka wetsuit), I hopped out and enjoyed a leisurely, albeit long, ride around beautiful Camp Pendleton. The weather was exceptionally pleasant that day (mid 60s, sunny inland, cloudy at the coast, and no wind) and as I finished the bike I thought, “so far so good.” I hit the first loop of the run and it was around this time that I saw the Deboom brothers en route to running 2:44 (Tim) and 2:47 (Tony) and placing 1st and 2nd respectively. Shortly afterwards, I saw a procession of professional triathletes running along the boardwalk over the course of 10-20 minutes. All I can remember thinking was, “Man they are running fast.” (I specifically remember seeing Michael Lovato running who is world-class-fast today.)

For whatever reason, prior to IM California I really did not comprehend the racing component to the professionals/elites in long course triathlons. All of a sudden I felt differently. I no longer felt like a hotshot on an adventure. Instead I felt like a foolish 20 year-old (which often happened, but for other reasons) that was at the wrong party. I was not disappointed in myself because I was not running 2:44 off the bike. I was disappointed in myself because I did not prepare to the best of my ability. It seemed as though everyone, from professional athletes to time-constrained age groupers, had done whatever they could to be their best on race day. There were plenty of times in the past when I wished I had put forth a better effort when I fell short, but now it actually seemed as though I might do something about it.

The next 20+ miles of the race were fairly typical of an Ironman. I felt ok through the halfway point and then it turned into a bit of a slugfest as I plodded along with a fair amount of discomfort. I actually recall that I refused to “walk” at any point, but I surely would have moved along at least at the same pace if I changed my gait to walking. I crossed the finish line and greeted my family. Everyone was proud, but I had a different perspective after all that self talk on the second loop of the run. There was a lot of irony in the pride that my family felt considering the shame (whoa… …that is way too dramatic… …how about ‘disappointment’) that I felt. Essentially, I had images in my head of the professional athletes running by me earlier in the day and I thought to myself, “I want to be like those guys.”

It would be 30 months before I raced another Ironman. It was only supposed to be 12, but a freak storm shattered Ironman Utah in June of 2002, which I had planned to be my next Ironman. It might have been nice to see how I would have faired in 12 months time, but my gut tells me I likely would have ridden too hard, so it was probably for the best. My next opportunity came in November 2003 where I went on to finish Ironman Florida in 9:20:31. In two and one half years I had knocked off three and one half hours of my Ironman finishing time.

How did I do it?

Basically, I trained as consistently as possible for those 30 months. I was in college so I had very little money to do much racing, but I had plenty of time and flexibility to train. So I did. During the first year I built up to tolerating as much as 20 hours of training, then up to 25+ hours the following year. For the final six months I focused on how to pace an Ironman and continued to train in the 25 hour range (median range; some more, some less at times).

Ok, so that was easy enough, but what was the protocol?

I had some slight variations in my basic week because of school schedules, but the same standard workouts always presented themselves.

I had three key rides a week. This usually involved two rides lasting 3-3.5 hours and one ride of 4-7+ hours (typically 5-6). All of them basically had the same structure. I warmed up as needed, then when the heart rate hit 140 the “training” began. From there I would keep my heart rate in the 140-160 range in mostly flat terrain (some rolling) with few extended breaks and nearly every ride had me sitting on 160 for the last hour in the flats. (For reference, I can race an IM bike leg with a HR of 155-160). If you think that sounds boring then you would really think it was boring when you found out it involved about three routes. Three routes over and over and over again for nearly three years. The remainder of my riding was commuting to all my classes on a bike which likely amounted to 20-60 (mostly 20) minutes per day of very easy riding 3-5 days/week.

My swimming was a little more balanced in terms of intensity and it consisted of 3-4 sessions lasting 3-5000 yards. I never really gave a lot of thought to my swimming in this time period, but I was consistent if nothing else. In actuality it was not until I spent a summer internship in Boulder in 2002 (for Inside Triathlon) that I realized that I was going to have to swim more if I was ever going to make any real progression in the sport. It was simply not enough to ride well (I was not that great of a runner at the time either). Considering that, my swim had only received about 18 months of focus leading into IMFL 2003 as opposed to 30 months for cycling and running.

My running was also fairly simple. I had a long run once a week, I ran about 30 (sometimes up to 60) minutes after every bike ride, and I ran two additional runs per week which usually averaged out to one hour each. During these sessions, I would run with a heart rate of 140-160 and I often ran all the backside of the short rolling terrain in College Station, Texas as fast I could. In other words, I tried to keep my heart rate up any time I ran downhill. That was essentially what I considered to be my speed work.

Did I ever go hard?

Yes, but it was never a staple. My swims often had some faster 100s, my rides often had short rollers which clearly spiked my power, and I went to the track from time to time (mostly whenever I felt flat). Nevertheless I can honestly say that the training protocol as a whole was difficult enough simply because of how much zone 2-3 (steady to moderately hard) type of work I did. I really never went easy. I just set out to ride, run, and swim at the fastest pace that I could back up day after day after day.

Would I change anything during this time period?

I don’t know. I basically took a Maffetone/Allen protocol to the extreme. I trained with a 140-160 heart rate until a 140-160 heart rate was not ‘slow’ any more. And believe me, it was slow. My first 3 mile MAP run test using a heart rate zone of 160-163 yielded 11:30/mile and I couldn’t even ride without using the little ring in the flats (while keeping my HR under 160).

At any rate, it does not matter whether or not my approach was the best choice. All I can say is that it worked enough for what I needed at the time. Given what I now know about physiology I cannot say that it’s a logical approach, but if you have lots of time and you like to ride your bike then it is worth a shot at some point in your career.

Now it was time to put it all together.

The final component to my jump from 12:55 to 9:20 came through an understanding of race execution, particularly on the bike. In the final 10-12 weeks before Ironman Florida 2003 I tested a variety of ways to ride 112 miles. I did some rides where I rode easy for 60 miles, then picked it up; easy for 30 miles then picked it up; steady the entire way; early surging, then steady; drilling it, etc. What I found was that I could ride quite easily for 30-50 miles without sacrificing too much time and it would still result in a good (enough) bike split (while also allowing me to run well). I also realized (from enough ride data) that I would ride slightly below, or slightly above, five hours on a flat IM course depending on the conditions.

Toeing the line at IMFL 2003 I had a very straight forward race plan:

Swim easy; ride 30 miles easy; ride 82 miles steady; run steady. The following is what resulted:

I swam 61 minutes very comfortably. I rode the first 30 miles in 1:31 (less than 20 mph), but still rode 5:02 (22+ mph) with a flat tire at mile 90. I felt fantastic starting the run and went on to run a 3:10 marathon (I ran an open marathon in 3:38 in January 2002). I had focused on a 9:17 finishing time in my head over and over again and I nearly got it considering the flat on the bike. Given my lack of experience in Ironman racing at the time I seriously doubt anyone would have believed what I thought I was capable of achieving. I figured the only way to be right was to do it.

No speculations; only what is.

I still abide by that.

Two "Go-To" Swim Workouts

All athletes I know have a few “go to” workouts up their sleeves. These are the type of workouts that we tend to pull out when nothing is planned in stone, but something needs to get done.

Lately, the following two workouts have been a couple of my go-to swim sessions.

Session 1
An adaptation of a set I did with Magnolia Masters. The set below assumes the 50s on :35 will be very short rest (2-3 seconds).

300 easy
200 pull
100 kick
12 x 25 1-4 on :30

Main Set
3 x 150 on 2:00
4 x 100 pull on 1:20
1 x 50 on :45
1 x 50 on :40
1 x 50 on :35
rest until next top
2 x 150 on 2:00
4 x 100 pull on 1:20
2 x 50 on :45
2 x 50 on :40
2 x 50 on :35
rest until next top
1 x 150 on 2:00
4 x 100 pull on 1:20
3 x 50 on :45
3 x 50 on :40
3 x 50 on :35

100 cool down

Session 2
Within the main set, the final round of 100s (on 1:15) would be assuming 5-10 seconds rest depending on the type of session you want.

300 easy
200 pull
100 kick
12 x 25 1-4 3 x on :30

Main Set
Two rounds
3 x 100 on 1:25
2 x 100 on 1:20
1 x 100 on 1:15
after second round; rest until next top; then go into
Two rounds of
1 x 100 on 1:25
2 x 100 on 1:20
3 x 100 on 1:15

200 cool down

Deciding to DNS

On April 11, our editor sent me an email with the following:

“I had an article idea for you which has come up from me wanting to ask a question on the forum, but thought it could have broader reach as an article on the main site: Deciding to DNS.”

There was unintentional foresight with the that email, both from his asking and from my delay in writing about the topic. I suppose I could have put together some ideas of when I think it might be logical or safe to not start a race, but my rolodex of experiences was lacking one thing: making that decision when emotions are involved.

On May 15, I was faced with making such a decision one day before Ironman Texas:


Five days earlier a doctor told me I had developed pneumonia, which could likely be traced back to a virus I picked up in early April that, in hindsight, lingered much longer than it should have. Had I been racing any other event, I would have withdrawn as soon as I was given this diagnosis, but this was different. I had raced IMTX every year; I was born and raised in Houston and I had planned (and still plan) to race this event every year until I stop racing professionally. From the moment I finished in 2014, I began to think about what I could do to win 365 days later. Now, with five days to go, I was going to likely lose the opportunity to even start, let alone compete for the victory.

Regardless of the likely outcome, I made the trip to Texas. I held out hope that maybe going through the motions, thinking positively and keeping everything day-to-day, I might recover enough to start. I did make a lot of progress each day which ultimately only complicated making any decision; however, any time I tried a workout, I was reminded of how hard my body had been hit with this illness. And after a final visit with my doctor the afternoon before the race, I made the decision to not start.

I wouldn’t necessarily categorize the decision as hard to make; I would just consider it sad and disappointing to make. Ultimately, I felt that starting, and trying to race at my highest level, would only result in further health complications and likely compromise the remainder of the season, if not beyond.

Unfortunately, I do not think there are any hard, fast rules to determining when to not start a race. I wish there was, I could have used them. The only advice I can give is to make the decision with the big picture in mind; what that actually entails will vary from athlete to athlete and from race to race. Sometimes you have to live to fight another day.

Treadmill Hill Workouts

I always prefer to run outdoors, but sometimes the weather or other circumstances prevents a solid workout from happening. Over the years, I have come to embrace the treadmill and take advantage of what it has to offer. A lot of athletes like that a treadmill allows you to lock into a pace without having to think about it, but I actually prefer the treadmill for another reason: controlling the incline. With a treadmill, you can run yourself to the top of a hill and the magically be at the bottom again in a split second. Taking advantage of this feature is a great way to get in some hill work and to keep you more engaged in your training. Below are a couple of examples of workouts I will do when the snowbanks start rising.

Workout One: The Basic Build
I actually created this workout while staying in a hotel on the road and only having about 30 minutes to run.

Start at a gradual pace and set the incline to 1%.

Run 60 seconds at 1%, 30 seconds at increased grade (2% or more), then return to 1%, but when you return to 1% you bump up the speed .1-.3 mph or kph.

Additionally, the grade bump increases as you go along; I usually do something along the lines of:

2% for the first 5 minutes
2.5% for the next 5 minutes
…and then keeping adding incline until finished.

This session can be really challenging if you want or just a gradual build if you are looking for a more moderate session. Either way, you stay engaged throughout.

Workout Two: The 4,3,2,1
Warm up as needed, but preferably about 15 minutes as you want start the main set at a good steady effort.

Main Set:
After setting the pace to a steady effort, run:

4 minutes at 2%
1 minute at 0%
3 minutes at 3%
1 minute at 0%
2 minutes at 4%
1 minute at 0%
1 minutes at 5%
2 minutes at 0%

Then you have the option of repeating this one or two more times.

If you are not accustomed to running hills on the treadmill, I would suggest choosing a conservative pace or incline to begin with. Then over time you will be able to better gauge the intensity of a session based on the pace and incline combination you choose.

Happy (indoor) running!