Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why it is Important to Bring Family and Friends Along for the Ride

*WARNING* This post is going to contain a lot of pictures.

I am not the first and definitely will not be the last person to talk about how important it is to have the support of family and friends through this triathlon journey.  Understanding this is important for many, many reasons.  Some things that you should make them aware of:

1.  During big training blocks, you will probably be grumpy at some point(you will definitely be grumpy at some point), and if they do not support you in this, they will not understand.  They will get mad.  And most likely there will be fights(there may be fights anyways, but at least you both will know they are coming).

2.  You will have odd and somewhat annoying eating habits.  AKA you will eat a lot and more often than not try to eat healthy.  They may not understand this, but again hopefully you can get them to support you and this habit.

3.  You will have a lot of smelly things around.  You will use a lot of laundry detergent.  And you will probably smell.

4.  You will have a lot of stuff that may take up a lot of space.  They will need to understand how this may affect their living quarters.  How I convinced my parents to allow me to put my Compu-trainer in their room during the 3 weeks I am home for break is beyond me. 

5.  You will have an odd schedule and will need to travel to many places.  Traveling with supportive family and friends is awesome, and makes the experience so much easier/better.

My mom and me with Leanda Cave
in PR before my first half ironman.
6.  The list goes on, but I will stop here.  The other reason that it is important to bring them along is that I feel that it is a fun and enjoyable means by to live your life.  It keeps you healthy and the enjoyment that you have sharing a moment after a race with a person from your family or friend is hard to compare.
My own endurance story started during the second part of my senior year in college.  I was done playing soccer and like most college students, I continued to exercise, stay in shape, and eat healthy(i.e. I didn't move from the couch, the only exercise I did was a 12 oz curl to my mouth or walk to the fridge to grab another beer, and I ate a lot of pizza.)

One of my roommates/best friends, Ryan(I do believe that you can have many best friends, and having only one would suck) decided one day start training for a half marathon.  I had absolutely no ambition to run a half marathon ever, and at the time 13.1 miles seemed like well.....too far to run.  However, I saw his plan, and decided that I could at least help him through the first few weeks and even run a few miles with him when he got to the longer weeks.  During these long Saturday morning runs, we would typically go out run 6-8 miles at a pace that is about a minute  to a minute and a half slower than my marathon pace right now, get really tired, decide that we earned a reward and go eat a giant burrito from Pancheros(it was delicious, and definitely did not ruin all the training we just did).

This got me started in my own races.  I started with 5K's.  And eventually built up to 10K's and half marathons.  I have never done one of these races where I was by myself at the end.  I have always had great support from my parents, other family, and friends.  Here are a few of many examples.   


Best Friends waiting at a finish of a race with free beer.....awesome
Sister ran a half marathon with me on my birthday as a
"Birthday Present"
Dad and me after Tough Mudder
There are so many more of these pictures, and I am so blessed to have all these people and their support in my life.  It is because of these people that I am able to do this and enjoy every moment of it.  Even if they do not like to run, ride, or swim, bring them along for the ride.  You only get to live once and why not share every moment of enjoyment that you accomplish in this sport with the people that you love.
"I have learned that it is not what I have in my life, but who I have in my life that counts." - What everyone should be saying.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Who is Nick(Statistically Speaking)?

I am totally stealing this idea for a post from my coach, but I don't have anything really fun or interesting to write about today. 

Here is Nick by the Numbers(I am Nick.....fyi).

9583: Days that I have been Alive

69: Height in inches
155: Pounds I weighed in high school
165: Pounds I weighed as a College soccer player
148: Pounds that I currently weigh
10+:  Amount of times on a daily basis where I am told to go eat a cheeseburger because I am too tiny

5:27: Hours it took me to finish my first Half Ironman
20: Ounces in the Giant Strawberry Daiquiri I had immediately after
5:12: Hours it took me to complete my second Half Ironman
4: Months that I have lived in Minnesota

296: Miles from my old home in Wheaton to my home in Minnesota

13: Months since my first triathlon
13: Months since I learned how to swim
1: Bike that I own
279: Miles that I have swam this year
4: Swim caps that I have broken during this period
1030: Miles that I have run this year
3780: Miles that I have biked this year
13: Months that I have owned a bike

28: Number of races that I have done since the start of 2012
12: Number of these races that I have done with my dad
16:35: Minutes it took me to run my fastest 5K
1:27:47: Number of minutes to run my first Half Marathon

1:18:16: Number of minutes it took me to run my most recent Half Marathon

2012: Year of my first triathlon

19: Years I played competitive soccer
7: sports played in grade school
3: sports played in high school
Numerous: Number of total teams played on
0:  Number of those teams where we had a losing record

6: Number of soccer coaching jobs that I have had
2: Number of Degrees that I have
0: Amount of time each day that I spend utilizing these degrees

2: Most pairs of running shoes that I have ever owned at one time
1: Sister, Allie
4: Number of Countries I have been to

-5:  Degrees of the coldest weather I have ever ran in
<5:  Degrees it has to be in order for me to have to run wearing more than shorts

365:  Amount of days each year I drink coffee
2:  Years since I had my first coffee
12: Most Quest Bars I have eaten in 24 hours
24:  Most ounces of mustard I have consumed in 24 hours
1: Drink that I have ever ordered at Jamba Juice
500+:  Amount of times I have ordered that 1 drink

52:  Minutes that I spent writing this post while doing other things

I am sure there are more and more important.  But that is what I have come up with thus far. 

The end.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

It only takes one good day

How I have felt during every workout this week.
We have all heard the phrase, "When it rains, it pours..."  This phrase can be applied to a variety of things, some good, some bad.  As many people have also experienced, whenever one thing in your life goes wrong, it seems that everything else piles on at the same time. 

Your boss is riding you at work, then you get sick, then your friend decides that he/she has a problem that they need you to deal with, then your dog takes a crap in the middle of the kitchen floor...

You begin to find yourself so overwhelmed with everything that you feel the need to crawl into a hole and hide. 

However, then one thing goes right, and then another and then another.  And now before you know it, you are happy and everything is back to normal. 

This may not always happen as quickly or in exactly the way that you want it to, but more often then not, it does ultimately happen.  I believe that it only takes one good thing to turn everything around.  To make a string of bad times, good times.  To turn a string of bad days into a string of great days.  One good thing can make you truly forget about the string of bad that got you to the dark place you were in the first place. 

I believe that this can happen in every situation, including multisport.

This week was one of those weeks for me.  I will not go into detail of the personal struggles that led to this downward spiral for me, but one part of my life that it was affecting was my ability to put together a good workout which is normally a good release for me and normally puts me in a good mood.  Something that was a major contributor to this was the fact that I caught a sickness mid-week.  My coach was smart enough to give me good rest after I told her and worked me back slowly.  However, I was still frustrated with the numbers that I was putting out.

On top of that, I had to drive 14 hours this weekend to go recruiting in Kansas City.  The combination of prior sickness, travel, and lack of sleep led to another string of poor workouts and performances.  However, I was doing them. I was getting them done and sometimes that is the most important thing.

On the days when I have bad workouts or performances, I still truly believe that I am improving in some way.  Even if physically, I am not getting stronger, maybe pushing through will make me mentally stronger.  Maybe, I will be able to look back during a race to this time and think that if I can get through that, why is running on this flat course when I have been well rested tough?

Well anyways, the purpose of this blog is not to talk about how crappy a week can be, but rather to talk about how one good thing or one good workout can make you forget about all the bad ones. 

I finally got home today and had a 2 hour CompuTrainer ride on the schedule with a lot of Threshold work.  More work than I had done up to this point, pretty much ever on a Trainer.  Whether it was me finally getting over the sickness and other things that had been building on me or I was properly fueled(No Coffee today) or something else entirely, I had one of the best bike workouts to date. 

What I probably looked like mid-bike
and How I felt after

The workout called for:

Warm Up:

30 minutes in zones 1 - 2
10 minutes build in zone 2
3 x 1 minute "up tempo", 1-2 minutes easy

Main Set:

6 x 4 minutes “on” (as below) followed by 2 minutes “off” (easy spinning):
1 minute @ 110% bike test watts
2 minutes @ 92-95% bike test watts
1 minute @ 110% bike test watts

Cool Down:

40 minutes in zones 1 - 2

The description that my coach gave, "This will be tough..."

However, I hit the number I wanted and felt better about my ability to do well in this sport and accomplish the ambitious goals I set forth.  I was able to forget about all the bad that happened this week and move on. 

I am excited to see what tomorrows workouts will bring and have a renewed vigor.

It truly only takes one good thing to make you forget all the bad.  Sometimes it comes right away, sometimes it takes a bit longer.  I need to learn to be patient and wait for it to come.

Time to let it pour in a positive direction. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


Now that we are in the off season for training, there are not as many fun posts about race reports, etc.  However, one thing that I have wanted to talk about recently is the concept of FOCUS.  This concept is useful in many different aspects of life.  In order to succeed at whatever you do you need to be able to focus on the task at hand in order to give it your best effort and its due diligence. 

I believe that one reason that people fail in many different tasks is not that they are unable to focus, but they tend to focus on the wrong things.  I have been a victim to this as well, not only in triathlon, but also throughout various parts of my life.  I think that the biggest mistake that people make when focusing is focusing on the OUTCOME or the RESULT instead of the PROCESS and the steps that is takes to get there.  This mistake can be made in many ways.

One way that I personally suffer from is thinking too far ahead and not Focusing on the current task or situation.  In triathlon, I do this by thinking about the run when I am 100 yards into the initial swim. 

How does worrying about having legs to run a half marathon help my swim stroke?  Will it make me go faster?  Will it make those 56 miles on the bike any easier?  Will I actually even run faster when it finally arrives?

The answer to all of these questions is an unquestionable "NO!"

In fact, all that worrying about the end result or the future does is make the current work that I am doing much worse.  What I have learned is that when I start to worry about the future parts of a race, I lose sight of the task at hand.  For me during the swimming portion of a race, which is already my worst discipline, it means forgetting to do simple things like breathing.  This has led me to panic and slow down in multiple races. 

So, did thinking ahead make me finish any faster?  Doing this only hindered me both mentally and physically by both wasted thoughts and energy that could have been put to better use.

In the picture to the right, Mark Allen, the eventual winner, had lost to Dave Scott multiple times in Hawaii.  However, in 1989, he came in with a new focus and plan.  This plan was to trail Dave Scott the entire day starting with the swim and ending on the run.  Mark had seen Dave win this race many times and figured that if he could stay with him then he would put himself in the best place to win this race.  He did not worry about the end result, he focused on the task of staying with Dave.  He won for the first time.  It works. 

This can be applied to running as well.  Will thinking about the 12 miles left to go in a half marathon or even the 25 left to go in a full marathon make them go by any faster?  Not even a little.  Trust me.  If anything, it will only make you feel more tired in the current moment.  Does that mean you ignore the fact that you have those miles to run?  Also, NO.  In order to have a successful race, you need to have a plan going in an simply check off that plan as the race goes on. 

For example, my race plan for the Hot Chocolate 15K was simple.  First 3 miles- Comfortable, Second 3 Miles- Find my planned pace, Final 3 miles- Give everything I have left in the tank.  If I was worried about holding back so that I could give more at the end, I do not believe I would have had the race that I did.  You can read that report to find more about what was going through my head during that race.

This can also be applied to many other situations in the real world as well regarding work and education, but I will let you decide how it can be applied to your own situations.  However, I would love to hear about it. 

The second way in which FOCUS can apply to both triathlon and everyday life is the concept that every workout/task should have a focus.  This is another area in which I have struggled in the past.  Before hiring a coach and talking with her about monthly, weekly, and daily focusses, I used to believe that in every workout that I should be pushing myself to the limit of my abilities, or I was not going to ever improve.  My FOCUS was to PR every workout and every race with no regard to what I was actually doing to both my mind and body.  I was physically exhausting myself and mentally pushing myself to a point of disappointment that was hard to get past.

What I have learned in this short duration with a coach is that sometimes the focus is to push the pace, threshold, etc., but sometimes, the focus is to keep a low heart-rate and simply enjoy running, biking, or swimming.  If you do not give yourself a chance to appreciate the everyday joys in the sport, then you will burn out faster than you can think. 

The summary of this for me is that learning to love what you do and staying focused on the NOW will ultimately lead to the most success in any situation.

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur.  - J. Wooden

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why do we do this?

As many of us are approaching the off-season for triathlon, it is time to evaluate how the season went, relax for a bit, and begin to set a schedule and goals for next season.  Also, many people during this time start to ask themselves, "Do I want to put myself through this again?"  All the hours of training, fatigue, lack of a social life, the list goes on that comes with this territory of being a triathlete can be both mentally and physically exhausting. 

Why did they crawl?
It is during these times of questioning that we should really look within ourselves and ask the question, "WHY AM I DOING THIS?"

Some people may know the answer.  Others may struggle a bit longer before finding it, but everyone has a reason for doing this, otherwise...

What would be the point? 

What would get you through the difficult days and workouts?

What would force you to not press snooze one more time and miss 5:30am Master's Swim?

What would make you put on your running shoes after a long/crappy day at work to go do that interval track workout that no one really likes doing anyways?

What keeps your legs turning on a trainer after two hours of staring at a TV or computer screen?

If your reason for doing this is better than your reason for not doing this, then the above answers will be easy to answer.  However, if it is not, then this journey and season will be difficult.

Recently, I had an old friend give me a call and ask me to help him start a basic fitness plan consisting of cardio and weight lifting.  I was very excited to help him get started, because it was not too long ago that I was just getting started with fitness.  However, after a week, he came back to me saying that he was only able to motivate himself to go to the gym twice in the last week and wasn't able to get through the whole workout. 

I replied that it was fine and completely understandable especially when starting a new program.  I told him to go again tomorrow and see how it goes.  Again, he came back and said that he was barely able to convince himself to go and wasn't able to convince himself to complete the entire workout.  I told him again to just keep at it and it would get easier once he got into a rhythm of going.

The next day, I get a message saying, "Went for 15 minutes today and came home very frustrated..."

It was at this point that I was beginning to get a bit frustrated as well.  I asked him, "Why are you doing this?"  He had a great answer to why.  I then asked, "Then why is it hard to go?"  This time he did not have a good answer. 

It was at this point that we started talking about how important the WHY is.  Again, if there is not a strong enough vision, goal, or reason, then you will not be able to push through those tough days.  He then asked me, "What gets you through those tough days?  Why do you do it?"

After thinking for a short few seconds, I replied, "I think I do this for two main reasons.  The first is very basic and on the surface.  The second goes a bit deeper."

1.  One reason that I love the sport of triathlon and endurance sports in general is that it gives me the means by which to continue competing at a high level against others who truly want to be better than me.  This stems from my life as a multiple sport athlete and college soccer player.  I really started getting into this after my college soccer career when there was a void left due to the lack of competitions.  The indoor rec leagues simply weren't satisfying this. 

It comes down to the fact that I simply love to push myself as hard as I can against the best that I can meet.  I simply missed competing, and this satisfied that need.

2.  The second reason that I do this is Simple but yet can go a bit deeper: it is because I can.  When I really think about it, I am so blessed to be able to go out every day and exercise.  To be able to physically swim, bike, run, and strength train, without any restrictions is truly a gift in itself.  There are so many people out there that do not have that ability.  When I am having a tough day or workout, I think of those people and how they would kill to be in my shoes.  If we are not using our bodies to the best of their abilities, then we are not only shaming those who cannot, but we are shaming ourselves as well.

I think of people like the Hoyt's and Jon Blais who are doing more than I can possibly comprehend.  If they can wake up to do this, why can't I?  If they are strong enough, I need to be.  If they can push themselves through the tough days, then I would be doing them and all others a disservice by not trying.

This is what I told my friend.  And I shared these videos with him.  Please watch them as well.  Isn't as hard to stay motivated after.  As I go through this winter season, I will be battling motivation everyday as will everyone.  I will need to continue to find the answer to the question, "Why should I keep doing this?" 
“The thing I’d most like, is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.” - Rick Hoyt.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

To Improve and By How Much?

My triathlon coach and I were talking the other day about improvement in the sport and how once you reach an elite level, how many hours and workouts are required to simply take off seconds from an hour long race.  The amount of work that you have to put in for 1 watt, 1 minute, 1 second is so significant that you may question if it is worth it. 

This is not a story about how I have had to do this.

The BEST part about triathlon is that when you are new to or simply bad at something, improvement comes much more quickly.  You still must put in a ton of work, but you get to see results on a much different level than athletes who are already very good at all three disciplines.

Prime examples for me: Learning how to use a Tri-Bike since last October and first ever attempting to swim a few lengths free-style last September.

As I have mentioned previously, the first time that I ever attempting to swim a few lengths in a pool, I swam about 50 yards, hugged the side of the pool for a few minutes, repeated, about 5 times, called that a pool workout and went home.  Then, I decided to sign up for a Half Ironman where I would have to repeat that sad excuse of a workout about 14 more times consecutively.  It was during this time that I decided to start "Swimming Scared" and get into the pool as much as possible. 

The goal was to survive the swim.  That was it.  I knew if I could get out of the water without drowning that I could keep spinning my legs for 56 miles and at least walk the remaining 13.1.  I just wanted to make it.  Thank God and everyone else who helped me to survive this first swim.  It wasn't pretty or fast, but I got er' done.

However, now that I am looking to be more successful in this sport, I realize how important it is for me to get better at this aspect.  I can run with some of the best in my age group and am getting reasonably close to being able to bike with the better ones as well, but when you get out of the water 10-15 minutes slower than the top guys, you will never succeed in this sport.  This is where master's classes, video analysis, and many, many hours in the pool have helped a ton.  I am still far from good and even further from great but this time last year I was swimming about 2:20/100 yards and now I have improved to a point where I no longer need to attend the beginner classes at master's!

The coach the other day even gave me a complement on my swimming which would have never happened even 3 months ago.  I was so ecstatic.  However, after showing her the film of my swim, she had plenty to say about how to improve, and when I showed my tri-coach later, she had much more to say about what I was doing incorrectly.

This is definitely not a bad thing.  I know I have worked hard, and I know that I have made a ton of improvement.  However, if there was nowhere left to go, then this sport would be really boring.  I am glad that I will always be able to get better, and hopefully, one day, I will get to be one of those athletes that has to spend hours upon hours to improve one more second in the pool.  But for right now, I will be content seeing more significant improvement as I begin my second year of swimming.

Here is a video that was taken 6 months ago.


Here is a video that was taken last week.


I have been able to make many improvements, but still have so far to go.  I am ready to improve and will look to get this much:


Monday, November 4, 2013

Hot Chocolate Race Report and Learning How to Race

This past weekend, I took part in the Hot Chocolate Chicago 15K.  I love this race for a few reasons:

1. I don't often get to do races with very large fields, so I think that it is fun to compete against 30000+ people in a race setting.

2. You get the most delicious hot chocolate and chocolate fondue after the event.
3.  For two years in a row, I have been able to be within 15 feet of Jim Cornelison while he sings tha National Anthem(why was I one of the only ones cheering the entire time?  Just because we are not at a Hawks game doesn't mean that we have to be quiet while he sings.  We are just minutes away from the Madhouse on Madison.  I digress.)

This dude is legit.

Anyways on to the race.  Going into this race, I had very little expectations or goals for time.  For one, after hiring a new coach, I had not run above Zone 2 for about a month which is about 6:20 per mile at the fastest for me.  Most days were actually much slower.  Also, I had biked 30 miles and ran about 6 on Saturday, so I did not know how my legs would respond.


I woke up at 5:00am(with an extra hour of sleep, Daylight Savings Rules!!!).  I ate a Snickers Marathon bar and a Quest Chocolate Brownie bar(if I ever decide to try to get sponsors, this will be the first company I reach out to.  If I bought stock in them, I think I would contribute to about 1/3 of their profits.)

I got to the race at 6:00am, met with my friend who had grabbed my packet for me, and dropped off my gear.  The only criticism about this race that I have is that warming up is all but pointless.  You have to stand still in a Corral for at least 15 minutes leading up to the start.  Still, I got a solid 15 minute warm up with some pickups before entering the Corral that I was in.  Was able to get as close as possible to Hear Jim sing and then saw him on TV later doing the same rendition during the Hawks game.

First 5K

The first mile of any race is always hectic.  I feel that I have always done a decent job of sticking to my own plan and letting the runners that are going to go out too hard do just that.  There are always people in races that just want to win the first mile.  I am not one of those.  I would rather be more comfortable the first few miles and gradually work myself into the pain that is ultimately going to come. 

The first mile was fast and I would love to tell you splits, but we ran under bridges which let my Garmin believe that I actually just disappeared for a half mile before magically reappearing down the road...

I quickly found a group of two other guys who seemed to be running around the same pace I wanted to go and actually heard one of them say his goal pace for the race to the other guy.  They were both built more like cross runners than me and the pace was a bit quicker than I thought my body was capable of after the workouts yesterday and my current perception of my fitness, but I also thought, "If I can keep with these guys, I will be really happy by the end of the race."  I ultimately decided to go with them which led to a 5K split of just over 18:00. 

Second 5K

The middle third of every race is always the worst for me.  This is the part of the race where all the inner demons and questions enter your mind.  My questions typically center around the topics of:

Why am I doing this?

Do I actually like running?

Am I capable of holding this pace?

Why are we still running against the wind?

Am I making up this wind?

Where is a flag or a tree so that I can answer that last question?

Are my legs tired because I am running as fast as I can or because I worked out too much yesterday?

Did we really only just hit mile 4?

Why does my breathing sound so much heavier than those other two guys?

Did either of those other guys have a few beers with their dad last night before getting to bed at a probably too late time?

Why am I still doing this?

Those are just some of the many thoughts that I experience during this part of the race.  However, I have been doing some good reading lately about how to get through these dark times in races.  One of these articles came from Chris McCormack, "Embrace the Suck."  He talks about when these dark times in the race occur for him, how he pushes through.  If it works for a 2 time Ironman World Champ, it may have some merit.  One of the things that he says that I like to do is run through a checklist.

He states that he knows that it is going to come at some point and is ready for it with his checklist, "Rhythm: I concentrate on my breathing. Is that under control? I find starting with breathing is soothing. Next, nutrition: “How do I feel? Is my blood sugar down? Let’s take a gel and boost those levels. Check!” If I am running I will focus then on my stride pattern and my stride frequency. I count my steps and find my run rhythm again. When I feel like I have it, I tell myself such. “That’s great, there it is. Check!” You run down the list, and by the time you get to the end of it, the finish line is a close, encouraging reality."

My checklist differs slightly, but all the same, I got through it and came through the second 5K at about 36:00.  Even splitting so far thanks to my two pacers who have clearly done this before. Nice!

Final 5K

The final third of every race is always gut-check time.  What did you leave in the tank?  Did you pace correctly?  Are you ready to give all you have left?  What does this place/time really mean to you, and what are you willing to put yourself through to get there?

At this point in the race, I was still running with and slightly behind the same two guys that I had started the race with.  Both were still looking fresh, but again looks can be deceiving.  After mile 7, the one guy took off at a pace that I could not keep.  The other racer and I simply let him go.  It was now a battle for 6th place between me and the other runner.  6th may seem insignificant to a lot of people, but for a person who is newer to endurance sports and in a race with 10000 people in it, 6th meant a lot to me.

This is the part of the run where I feel I started to learn to race.  I started to understand what people were talking about when they were able to look at their competitors see a weakness and expose it. 

Two great examples.

Mark Allen v. Dave Scott- Ironman 1989

Lance Armstrong(Yes, I know he doped) v. Jan Ullrich- Tour de France 2001

In both cases, Lance and Mark looked at their opponent saw an opportunity and took it.  When I was running the final miles yesterday, this is what was going through my head.  When can I try to surge, to lock up this spot.  With about a mile to go, I decided that I would try this strategy.  I saw that his breathing was getting deeper and he was starting to look more fatigued.  To gap myself a bit and see if he could stay with me.  I went and surged.  It was tough.  If he would have stay with me, I don't know what would have happened, but he dropped back a bit which gave me some confidence to keep the pace. 

The last mile was fast.  I think we both had to have come in right around 5:40, but I had been able to get the 6th spot and a new 15K PR.  We talked after the race, and he was such a nice guy and great competitor that I was glad to have gotten the chance to run with him.  This was a great day overall and I was able to enjoy my hot chocolate and treats at the post race party.


There were two lessons that I was able to learn from this race.

1.  Learning how to actually race someone and to push past an area in my comfort zone which I had never had to go to before, mainly because I had never been that close to the front of a race.

2.  Trusting the process and training that my new coach is putting me through.  In the past few weeks, I have not run at a hard pace at all.  Frankly, I was worried that I was beginning to lose my running fitness with this new swim and bike focus(which I desperately need BTW).  However, even with the lack of hard run training, I am still improving.  Whether this is due to less stress on the body or fitness gained from the other two disciplines, I do not know.  What I do know is that something is working and I am excited to see where this next season is going to take me!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Are you Training to Race or Racing to Train?

This is the argument that I think I have with myself on a daily basis.  I think that a lot of triathletes(myself included) almost enjoy the training more than the racing.  This seems odd.  Why is putting yourself through stress and fatigue on a daily basis more rewarding than the actual race in itself?  Beats me, but for some reason training is the part I enjoy.  Until very recently, most of my best times and paces were in training and not during actual races.

This may have been a combination of multiple things.  I have actually had this argument with one of my good friends who is also a triathlete.  When it comes down to training on a day to day basis, he cannot keep a pace to save his life no matter how hard he pushes himself; however, on race day when it matters, he throws out times that are significantly better than anything he had ever done before.  My situation is much different.  The times and paces that I throw out in training are very similar if not better than what I am able to reproduce on race day.

The questions that we argue is: Is he bad at practicing? Or is he just good at getting mentally ready for races?  Am I just good at getting myself up for day to day training or do I just struggle when there are others around to chase after?

When I actually figure this out, I will let you all know.

Another thing that I am starting to realize is that I, in the past, went into many of my races overtrained.  The percentages may vary, but many of you have probably heard the phrase "It’s better to be 50 percent undertrained than 15 percent overtrained." This was something that I struggled with.  I would push myself through workouts weeks and days leading up to races to either prove to myself that I was fit or to try to gain every ounce of fitness that I felt that I was missing leading up to a race.

Recently, I have begun to trust in my fitness and the plan laid out for me and have been able to finally break through some PR's in races that have eluded me in the past.  In fact, two weeks ago I was able to PR a half marathon and PR a sprint triathlon in back to back days.  I was even disappointed in the sprint triathlon result because I wanted to do better, even with the fatigue.

I think learning to love the RACE, as the end goal is something that I am learning to do.  As for next season, with the hiring of a new coach, I have set some lofty goals for myself both with placing and finish times. 

Trusting the process and deciding the end goal is something that I will continue to work on.  Learning to use training as a tool for the end goal.  I am hoping it will ultimately pay off. 

If nothing else, there are normally cool people to high five at the end of races.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself

Wow.  It has been a really, really long time since I have updated this blog.  Moving to Winona, starting a new job, coaching, training, and other life stuff has gotten in the way.  Such is life I guess.  I am not complaining because this new job has led me to meet plenty of new, awesome people, and these last few months have brought on changes that have helped me to grow in so many ways.

This is a lake I get to run around in
Some new things that have occurred in the past few months:

1. I took a new job a moved to Winona.
2. Started coaching both the men's and women's soccer teams at Saint Mary's University.
3. Raced a few times: Oak Brook Half Marathon, YMCA Lacrosse Half Marathon, UWW Sprint triathlon, Viterbo Days 5K, Fall Frolic 5K.

4. I hired a triathlon coach, Liz Waterstraat(she is awesome!)

That is pretty much the fun stuff anyways.

However, the purpose of this blog post is to talk about the transition that my life has made since I have moved.  In regards to triathlon training, I was in a complete "RUT" at the end of August/early September.  I was training harder than ever, logging more miles, than I ever had in every sport and was making absolutely no improvement.

I ran the first half marathon over Labor Day weekend, in Oakbrook, and although I had a PR, it was still not as fast as what I was hoping and I felt overly fatigued afterwards.  I got right back into heavy training, thinking that I still was not doing enough.  I was killing myself every workout and still seeing nothing.

It was at this point that I was beginning to lose motivation fearing that I would not live up to my best
every time out.  By sheer luck, I was reading through blogs on the internet and came across one on listoftriathlonblogs.com by Liz Waterstraat.  She spoke of this same fear.  Fear of not doing enough, fear of not being able to perform, Fears in general.  She spoke of how having these fears makes you stronger.  She spoke of how she overcame it and had one of the best seasons of her life as a triathlete. 

I decided to reach out to her.  I thanked her for the post because it helped me a lot to know other were going through the same fears.  I also found out that she was a coach through the process and decided to hire my first coach in the sport.  Let me tell you, it is not hard to pick a coach when the one you are looking at is one who is a mother of 3 I think, can still swim laps around you in a pool, out bike you, and still beat you in a sprint tri.

Since hiring a new coach, I have already set a new half marathon, sprint tri(day after the half marathon), 5K, and multiple swim PR's.  I have learned the process and importance of recovery.  I have also learned how to workout slow.  And that I do not need to set a PR every workout.

This is where the title of this blog comes into play.  I was lost, not improving, losing motivation, and not happy.  However, now I am found.  I have direction, desire, and renewed love for all three sports.

I was on a run the other day where I was told to go out and run for 70 minutes.  No GPS, just "enjoy running."  Believe me, it is possible to actually do this.  I was running and decided early in the run that it would go by faster if I went some areas that I had never been before, and get lost a little.  This is not something that I would recommend to people that live in or around bad areas, but I live in Winona.  It was great to just run.  I ran around a lake.  I ran through a golf course(Hole 7, I think).  I ran on a prairie path.  I ran on a desolate road.  I ran everywhere.  I got lost.  Twice.  However, eventually I started making my way back to the direction I knew I needed to go.  I found the road that led to my house and ran home.

I reached the front step and looked at my watch.  67 minutes.  Close enough for me.  I walked inside and sat down and reflected on how awesome that felt.

It has been a hard transition these last few months, moving to a new place, moving away from all the people I know and love.  I got lost, but with a little help and a lot of reflection, I was able to find myself again.

Life is good.   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Recent Training and Naperville Triathlon Race Report

The week after Ironman Racine 70.3 was a rough week for me.  Due to the crash the Wednesday before the race and the other crash that occurred during the bike portion of the race, my hip was so sore that I was nearly incapable of doing any exercise.

Felt like this guys playing soccer...
As everyone knows who also has this odd addiction to extreme exercise, not being able to workout sucks.  It did not help that I was on my feet all day chasing around 5-14 year old soccer players who never seem to run out of energy or insults at the hobbling guy chasing after them.

I was able to get a few solid bike rides and swims in.  However, the first time that I tried to run was on Friday morning.  My goal was to run 3 miles to the pool, swim 2000 yards, and run home.  Well I ran to the pool and my leg locked up after only holding about 6:30's for the run.  I struggled through 1500 yards and walked home in agony.  I realized then that I needed to recover a bit more and read a few articles about how long I should take before trying to run again.

Felt like this...
These artibles and advice from a variety of sources helped a ton, and I was finally able to run the following Wednesday and PRed my 10K time.  Love having PR's in training!!!  This helped me to gain some confidence going into the weekend for the Naperville Sprint Triathlon.

Total Training week of July 21-27:

Bike: 44 miles
Run: 3 miles
Swim: 4400 Yards

Naperville Triathlon Race Report

The Naperville Triathlon is a local race for me as I only live about 15 minutes from the race and actually sometimes swim at Centennial Beach where the swim takes place.

Pre Race

Woke up, got in the car, ate two Quest Bars on the way to Ryan's, and drove to the transition by 6:15.  We were able to set up transition pretty quickly and luckily didn't have to overthink this part of the race too much.  Having really only raced longer distance races, I really enjoyed not having to stress out about nutrition, water, etc.  I really don't concern myself with any nutrition in my shorter workouts, so I figured that a sprint race should work about the same.  I placed myself in position for the swim start which was self-seeded.

Swim: (9:05, 2:21 min/100m) 

The swim did not go the way I wanted.  Because the race was self seeded and incredibly narrow, I was stuck behind a guy performing breaststroke for nearly the first 150 meters.  This killed my time and ultimately probably put me out of the water a full minute slower than what I wanted.  However, this was the first swim that I felt comfortable from start to finish which made me feel better about future races.  

Bike: (31:27, 23.7 MPH) 

The bike went pretty well for the most part.  After looking back and reflecting, I could have maybe pushed it a bit more and probably saved too much for the run.  That being said, I was happy with the split, but I still need to improve my handling skills in order to become better at shorter distances that require more turning.  

Run: (17:47, 5:44 min/mile)-3rd fastest run split for the race!!!

Considering I have only been running once a week in order to try to improve my other disciplines, I was shocked how well it went.  I love that triathlons end with the run because it always make me feel better about the race.  The course was very flat and fast.  Got to see some of the people I train with cheering along the way as well which always helps, because you don't want to look tired when you are running past your friends!

Final:  35 / 1600ish Overall, 4 / 84 AG

In conclusion, this was a very fun race that I would definitely consider doing again.  Love the city of Naperville and Sprint races are nice because you can literally workout again a few hours later if you want to.  Hopefully, this next week of training goes well.  Here are last weeks totals.

Total Training week of July 28-August 3rd:

Bike: 96 miles
Run: 9 miles
Swim: 10225 Yards

Next week, I will try to pick up the training again in my new home in Winona, Minnesota.  Lots of HILLS!!!

Keep Training.  Nick out.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ironman Racine 70.3 Race Report

What an amazing weekend.  So much support out in Racine from both my family and friends as well as the family and friends of 2600 other people who participated in the race.  I could not have been more pleased with the volunteers and the rest of the people involved.

I arrived Saturday to check into the race and got there early enough to where the line was not too long.  Everyone was very friendly and made the process quick and easy.  Went through the expo and got suckered into buying a shirt which looked really cool and chilled out the rest of the day in preparation.  My goal for this race was to cut some good time off my first 70.3 in San Juan in March.  Here are the two races.

San Juan Results:

Swim: 46:52
T1: 4:49
Bike: 3:02:31
T2: 2:43
Run: 1:29:16
Overall: 5:27:17- 27th AG, 276th OA

Racine Results:

Swim: 56:36
T1: 4:49
Bike: 2:43:35
T2: 2:43
Run: 1:25:54
Overall: 5:13:17- 38th AG, 304th OA

Race Morning:

I really slept pretty well considering I was sleeping on a buddy's couch and was anxious for the race.  I woke up and had a typical pre-race breakfast for me which consists of Quest Bars and Yogurt.  My buddy Paul drove Ryan and I down to transition at 6:00ish because our wave didn't start until 8:20.  We went back to his house after setting up and relaxed for a bit longer, ate some more, and then headed down to the water to get a quick warm up in.


Well I still suck in the water. HA!  Going into the swim, I knew that I was going to struggle.  It was incredibly choppy and I had never trained in anything close to this before.  That being said, on paper, it looks like I have become a significantly worse swimmer over the past few months when in fact my swimming ability in a pool is significantly better.  I think it is a combination of my lack of swimming background as well as my ability to psyche myself out as soon as I get into the open water which ultimately kills me on the swim part of these races.  I need to start getting into the open water much more often in order for this to stop happening. I feel that if I can make swimming more comfortable for the upcoming races, I can start putting myself in a better position to compete overall.

I don't want to talk about the swim anymore than saying that I could not have been more happy to see the end.


After a slower transition than usual, due to my attempt to get the wet suit off(apparently the strippers were gone?) and my attempt to lower my heart rate, I climbed the first hill and began the bike portion of the race.  This was the part of the race that I was most interested to see where I was at fitness-wise.  I had put a lot of work in on the bike in the past months and was hoping to cut my time.  The whole bike ride was relatively flat minus the choppy roads.  Also, there was very little wind which made for a great day.  The only issue that I ran into was the fact that because I am a poor swimmer but had made good improvements on the bike, I spent a majority of the 56 miles weaving around people.  It was amusing/awesome because this part of the race in San Juan was the biggest struggle for me, and now I was loving every minute of the ride.  At about mile 20, I caught a group of 3 guys who were attempting to draft off one another(I wonder if they eventually got caught).

The only other issue on the bike that I had turned out to be a bigger one.  At the second aid station, I was able to quickly grab a Perform and get back into the middle of the lane and into the arrow position.  At the time I was averaging about 21.5 MPH and was very happy that I could hopefully do the entire ride at over 21.  However, some lady in front of me attempted to grab a water, fumble the water and swerve right in front of me causing me to crash off my bike and loose all my water bottles and nutrition.  After regaining what I had lost in the crash and yelling at the nice volunteers that despite all the blood, I was going to live, I was on my way again.

I lost about 2 minutes overall and probably a few more due to the pain in my hip, but I was happy to keep going again.  The rest of the bike was pretty uneventful despite the fact that I was riding somewhat angry over the previous incident and had to keep convincing myself that I needed legs for the run.  I rode into transition about 20 minutes faster than my split in San Juan!  Could not have been happier.  Did I save anything for the run?

How was I this happy at mile 9 of the run?

The run was pretty uneventful.  I took in salt tabs, cramped miles 1-4, felt good 5-10, and struggled with hip pain from 11-13.  I was happy to keep a comfortable pace throughout the run and ended up averaging a bit slower than I thought at 6:30s.  I was able to see my mom and dad a few times which definitely helped.  Overall a pretty solid run that I could be happy with.

Overall, this was a great day and I want to thank everyone who was there or who has supported me in one way or another.  You guys rock.  I love you all.

Until next time, Nick out.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pre-Race Jitters and Doubt

Before nearly every competition that I have had in my life, whether it be a soccer match, race, beer pong game, etc., I always seem to go through an internal battle of pre-game/race jitters.  I know that I am not the only person that experiences this period of self-reflection and even self-doubt at times.

Have I trained enough?
How happy I want to look Sunday!

Is this person/team simply better than me?

Am I ready for this?

As a coach, I always tell my players that they need to take time to meditate, pray, whatever before each match.  You need to focus on the things that you can control and not worry about the things that you cannot. However, often, this is much easier said then done.  It takes a very strong person to be able to do this

What can you control?

1. You can control your attitude about the event.  Focus on the things that you have done in training and believe that you are ready for this.

2. You can control your effort.  Only you know how far that you can push yourself in a given event, and only you can choose to stop.  I constantly remind myself in training when I start to get tired and want to stop short of a 60 mile bike or a 15 mile run that I GET TO DO THIS!!!  No one is there forcing me and no one will care/know if I stop.  That motivation is normally enough to push me through the tough days.

3. Everything leading up to the event.  Nutrition, tapering, etc.

Despite all of this, I always still seem to experience self-doubt.  This mostly happens with the swim for me.  I did an open water swim on Monday and found myself still someone panicking at times at the thought of swimming 1.2 straight.  I could not for the life of me figure out why.  In Master's, we have gotten up to 4400 yards on the endurance days, and yet the prospect of swimming half of that scares me and causes panic.

This causes me panic...
I think this is due to the fact that I want to do well in this race.  I have only been swimming for about 9 months, but I am impatient and expect things to come too quickly at times.  I want to beat my time from San Juan to prove to myself that this is something that I could be great at.  I need to follow my own advice and focus on the things that I can control and not worry about what others are doing in the race.  I need to swim, bike and run at the paces that I know I can do and the rest will come.

People always tend to ask the question: What is your goal time for this race?

Whether it is a 5K, Half-Marathon, Marathon, or Ironman, I always have 2 goal times in mind.  The first of these goal times is what I think I can do if everything during the race goes exactly to plan. The Ambitious Goal.

The second goal is what I like to refer to as the contingency plan.  What my time will be if things do not go to plan and something unexpected happens.  I love the way that Jesse Thomas(Pro Triathlete) references this: The "Get Screwed Fund" Goal.

There are things that are not always under your control in a race: flat tires, course mishaps, GI issues, etc. This is when you focus on what you can control and grow from the experience.

I read an article from Runner's World that I am going to try to utilize to calm myself this Sunday in Racine.

Three ways to Calm Race Day Nerves:

  • Have faith in your preparation. One major cause of race-day stress is the unknown. How fast will you run? Will you finish? Will you be the last person across the line? Will you qualify or break that personal record? What will your finish-line photo look like? The key to calmer waters is to race with what the day gives you and surrender to running your best on the day. 
  • Be prepared. Create a pre-race ritual—a go-to schedule of events you turn to before every race to provide structure, focus, and familiarity. 
  • Meditate. The more in tune you are with your body on race day, the better you can run from within and in the right zone based on the day's challenges.

I hope that this will be enough.  I am going to try and do another swim today and hope that it goes better.  

All the best to anyone who is in race prep this week!