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

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!