You Belong in a Tribe

Humans are pack animals. We have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to work together in tribes as a matter of survival. In the modern era, it’s common to live a mostly isolated life. We no longer rely on the people around us to help hunt and gather food, provide group safety, and enforce societal norms. But that doesn’t mean we never feel anxious or alone. If you’re missing a sense of community -- or you’re missing something that you can’t even identify -- consider joining a tribe.

If you’re an endurance athlete, you’re lucky. There are tribes everywhere. In our younger years, school sports teams and clubs form our first athletic tribes. Those groups take many shapes and sizes in life after college. A local Masters swim group or a weekly group ride are a type of tribe. Tribes can be informal, too -- the “crew” you meet up with for an early morning run on Tuesdays, or the group you can call when you’re hankering for an outdoor adventure. The point is, you need one. Considerations for why you belong in an athletic tribe:

  • Tribes provide a sense of belonging and purpose. They serve a common goal, foster accountability, and offer learning opportunities. Would you do those hill repeats in the cold rain if you hadn’t planned to meet your friends there? Probably not. Collective action gives us the courage to tackle and embrace hard physical activity.

  • Tribes help us connect to our primal roots. We need and thrive on physical proximity to others to escape our evolutionarily unnatural modern lifestyle. Exercising alongside our peers makes us dig deeper and work harder than we ever would alone. We need this communal activity to maximize our performance and optimize our health.

  • Tribes afford an environment that invites action. Ease of action facilitates habits that help us move forward toward our goals. The less we need to think about logistics and schedules, the less friction we will encounter on this road. If we know the tribe is training, all we need to do is show up.

  • Tribes are a top three performance enhancer (after sleep and nutrition). When endurance sports light up our brain, the tribe throws gasoline on that fire. There is nothing quite like a hard group run or ride to send our brains and bodies into a brilliant, fully alive state.

  • Tribes favor a close, communal connection where we are judged not by our externals such as the family we were born into, our education, or our societal status but rather the hard work and respect we bring to our sport and into the group. The best tribes are egalitarian in a modern, media-driven world of stratification and division. We are genetically encoded to protect and be fair within our tribe.

Be judicious about which tribe you join. Listen to their narratives and learn what type of tribe they are. Choose people who will positively challenge and elevate you. And if a tribe doesn’t exist in your community, build one. It takes time and effort, but the reward for uniting people with common goals outweighs all those emails, logistics, and meetings. Besides, a good leader always gives more than they take. Your leadership will be contagious and you will soon attract people who will happily help build the community.

You are needed. You are valued. You belong in a tribe.  -Jim

Endurance Drive Triathlon Tribe Run

Cold spring weather could be killing your summer “A” race

Cold spring weather got you down? Except for the skiers out there, most of us in New England and Canada have reached our cold limit. It’s not really “spring,” it’s “less winter.” And this awkward “less winter” season could be killing your summer “A” race. Despite the clickbait-like headline, cold spring weather is a legitimate concern.

From base to build

Most long distance triathletes (and ultrarunners) are now getting out for supporting rides during the week and long rides on the weekends. Big “A” races like IRONMAN Lake Placid are 10 weeks away, with IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant not that far behind. Athletes are now moving from their base period to their build period. A build period training strategy involves dialing in to what we call “race specificity.” In other words, you start to train as you will race.

The build period includes long training rides with race intervals where you work on race-specific intensities to train your aerobic and muscular endurance. But what you are also trying to train is your environmental durability. Environment durability can be thought of like this: go out on your lawn with a handful of Gatorade bottles and gels, hang out there for the day, and see how well you feel after 8+ hours in the sun. Then try to run your best marathon. If you work inside, especially in an air-conditioned office, your environmental durability most likely needs improvement. The most common comment after an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 is, “It was so hot out there!” Guess what? It’s hot out there nearly every day. You’re just not used to spending the entire day outside.

Humans are well-oiled machines. We adapt well and quickly to our environments. But when spring temperatures are cold, we lack that warm, challenging environment that we need to train our bodies to withstand the heat, stay properly hydrated, and manage thermoregulation (i.e., staying cool at race pace). Cold weather means less opportunities to gain the adaptations that are required for summer “A” races.

How do cold springs affect race day?

We had another cold spring a few years ago in New England. A few of The Endurance Drive crew were racing IRONMAN Syracuse 70.3 in mid-June. The weather stayed cool through the spring except for one very hot and humid day in May. I had 4 x 20’ race watt intervals scheduled. I did one interval and quit the workout. It was simply too hot and humid, and I had a total of zero days to acclimate to the conditions. The temperatures dropped again after that day and didn’t rise until the race.

As luck would have it, race day brought temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, and the humidity and pollen were through the roof. What happened? Most of us cratered on the run.  During the first mile, one of my friends quit the race. He was an overall win contender but the heat was just too much. I tried to run my goal 7:45 race pace but looked down at my watch after the first mile to see a 9:45 pace and a very high heart rate --  and I was going downhill! I only stayed in the race because I was fascinated with what type of carnage the extreme hot and humid environment would bring upon the racers. The entire run played out in slow motion.

Lessons learned

We were all in the same boat that day. Without an impromptu trip to Florida during race week, it would have been tough for athletes from the New England, New York, or Canada areas to prepare for that early summer heat and humidity. The point is, environmental durability matters a lot, and it can’t be properly trained on 40-50F temperature rides. No matter how fit you get (and big fitness is the best hedge against everything that can happen during a race), training for the heat is a major success factor in your “A” race.  

So what practical steps can you take to train for the heat when Mother Nature treats us to another mid-May snow storm?

  • You can head back to your pain cave, crank up the heat and enjoy more Zwift.

  • If you have an early southern “A” race and are coming from a cold environment, it’s ideal to have 2-3 race plans based on the environmental conditions (and other race day factors). Your Plan A could hinge on moderate weather. Having a Plan B and Plan C that are ready for less-than-ideal racing conditions can help you adjust your goals based on the environment.

  • Or you can wait it out; it will get hot and humid soon - I promise! (And then try to resist the urge of a true New Englander to complain about that, too!)  Don’t quit during those first few hot workouts, stay hydrated, and aim to get heat-adapted to do well at your summer “A” race. -Jim

Cool Spring riding claudia katie bruno blog pic

Injured. Now What?

We try to prevent injuries, but getting hurt is often an unavoidable part of the fitness game. If you’ve pulled, sprained, broken, or overused a body part, now what? How will you react?

Your initial reaction might be to experience some or all of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There will be plenty of denial and anger to kick start your time on the injured roster. You might bargain with yourself, thinking about what you could have done differently. Some degree of depression can follow, especially if you’ll be out for a long time. While injured it does feel like all your friends are out on a long ride, laughing it up and building a huge fitness gap between you and them. Watching your friends disappear for an adventure turns the stomach like a bad breakup. If you are like most Type A athletes, accepting that you are injured won’t be easy.

The important thing to remember is that most athletes will go through one (or several) major injuries throughout their athletic journey. I recently did too, and once I finally was able to accept being injured, I learned a lot of important lessons.

  1. Fitness does not define you as a person. It may seem that way as athletics and identity are often tightly wound. But no amount of mileage in TrainingPeaks determines who you are.

  2. Race results do not define your self worth. Sure, it’s super fun to do well at a race and gain recognition in front of your peer group. But that moment of glory passes quickly and then you are back to being you. Hopefully, that “you” has a purpose-filled personal and professional life. You’re better off, injured or not, when you remind your ego to stand down.

  3. An injury provides an opportunity to step back and evaluate your larger athletic and life goals. When athletes are deep in training, they rarely take the time, or have the head space, to zoom out and look at their sport and life arcs. When you’re injured, you do. Ask yourself: Are my race goals still in alignment with my life, or do I need to re-adjust my training when I’m healthy? Is the effort I’m putting into training commensurate with the enjoyment I’m getting out of the sport? Am I still keeping the “recreation” in “recreational athlete”? As Chris Hauth always says, we’ve all gone pro in something else besides athletics.

  4. Conversely, if you are not injured currently but have a training partner who is, regularly check in. Let them know they are, regardless of their athletic status, a valued member of your tribe. The bonds and love we build with our athletic tribe go well beyond the next training session or race.  

Here’s to an injury free season. If not, you’ll be OK. You might even come out the other side changed for the better.    -Jim

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.

Making the correct game day decisions

This weekend, three game day decisions were instructive. Each situation involved athletes going off the plan and adjusting to the moment, which resulted in greater positive outcomes.

1) At this weekend’s Season Opener, the race plan was to swim strong using the winter’s consistent pool work to set the race tone. Reality struck upon entering the frigid 59F water. Dizziness and erratic heart rate took over immediately. These athletes quickly adjusted their plan; they let their wave go and waited in the water, getting their orientation and heart rate under control before starting the swim. It wasn’t the plan but it was the right decision. Race results and smart decisions are sometimes at odds with each other. Quickly and intelligently changing the plan to meet the most apparent need resulted in the best outcomes: completing the swim, and biking and running strong.

2) A new triathlete had a bike workout in TrainingPeaks. She has a new bike and is a beginner cyclist. Instead of blindly doing the prescribed bike workout, she spent the trainer workout time  learning the gears, shifting, adjusting the seat and feeling out the experience. Smart move. You are better off learning Bike 101 before executing a workout. (And Coach learned a lesson in prescribing such skill-building workouts for future new triathletes.)

3) Another athlete had an important BRick workout on Saturday morning. Halfway through the bike, he realized his child was sick and his spouse needed help. He did the right thing: he stopped his workout and helped his family. No workout is worth jeopardizing your family health and support network.  Self-care is important, but defining when it is a net positive versus a negative consequence is a key life skill.

There’s the plan and then there’s life. Use your intelligence, training and discretion when the plan needs changing. Often it’s the right decision!  -Jim

Game Day Decision blog Turn Arrow

Race local (and often) to improve your race skills

Your first loaf of bread is never your best loaf of bread. As you try different combinations of ingredients, knead the dough in different ways, and perfect your baking technique, your loaves improve. Racing is the same; your first race is never your best race. You get better with every race until you are working on the smallest of improvements. You move from completing the race to tasting the most subtle flavors.

Most triathletes don’t race quite enough to improve their “race skill” level. They set a big goal, such as a half (70.3) or full distance IRONMAN, and then aim toward that goal for months or years with lots and lots of training but not much racing. They hit performance plateaus, and since they spend so much time swimming, biking, and running, they aren’t sure what’s missing. Sound like you? Then consider revising your long term “A” race plan to include a number of “C” local races along the way to perfect your racing skills.

A “C” race may be a local 5K, a weekly community trail running series, or even a very fast and challenging weekly group ride. Part of the goal is to automate your race day routines and stressors so when your big race day arrives, you can prepare and race with ease, knowledge, and practiced competence. Lining up at the start line for a local race and your out-of-town big “A” race should actually look pretty similar. They both require prepping the night before, managing race morning jitters, a pre-race breakfast, the nerves at race check in (and all the urgent trips to the port-a-potty). They demand a proper warm up, a race plan, and an execution of that plan along with head-to-head competition. Your local race provides a microcosm of your larger race.

The lessons you learn racing these events will build the foundation for your “A” race racing skills -- both consciously and unconsciously. For example, late in a local 10K run race, you might be tailing an equal or slightly faster runner and you see their shoulders drop just a bit. There’s your moment to make your move! Or you work on pacing and impulse control early in a group ride and finish strong instead of blowing up. Even if your race goes poorly, you will learn something that you can improve upon the next time you line up at the starting line. When you finally toe the line at your “A” race, you know what to do.

Should you race every weekend? No. But work in enough smaller, local races to build up your racing skills and resume. Plan out your local races to support your “A” race goals, to leave plenty of time to recover, and to not interrupt your main “A” race training. In the last 12 weeks before your “A” race, focus on training over racing, but there are still lots of weeks left over to race locally and build race skills -- especially during the off season (which is to say, run the Turkey Trot and the Jingle Bell Jog).

So get baking and racing! Those perfect loaves and races are developed on a deep foundation of practice, knowledge, and skill. -Jim

Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.

Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.

St. George 70.3 North American Championships 2019

With about 15 minutes until race start I made my way to the self-seeded swim start. I made a point to get in the first group of three athletes while I did my best to prepare for the swim without the benefit of being able to get in the water, an unusual twist. The swim at St. George is a simple three leg course around a small rock outcropping in the middle. By the time I had made it to the first buoy a group of three or four swimmers had developed, I decided to sit in, as I was feeling a bit rough and wanted to give my body more time to warm-up before pushing the pace. The group swam well together and I began to feel more at one with the water as we rounded the second turn to finish the last leg of the swim course. I finished the swim in a time of 25:39 which more or less reflected how it felt, slightly off but a solid way to start and still feeling fresh.


After another somewhat cold handed and therefore sloppy transition I was out on the bike and feeling strong about my position in the race. This bike split would prove to be one of constant improvisation and the hurdles started right away. Almost immediately and then intermittently throughout the race my right side pedal was dropping power and displaying 50% of what I might have expected to see. It was not hard to guess when I was seeing only one side versus a real number so that was not really an issue but it does make metrics like normalized power pretty irrelevant so I had to ignore the power goals I had set to achieve by certain parts of the course and just watch the actual numbers. Issue number two presented itself when my main source of nutrition decided it had had enough and after hearing a scratching sound I looked back to disappointingly see my 700 calorie bottle sliding down the road. Damn. I allowed myself about five seconds of disbelief before realizing that I had no choice but no modify plans and grab as many gels as possible from aid stations. Having accepted this new reality, I figured I should at least make sure I was hydrated and kept my salt intake on track. Unfortunately, I had also dropped my salt pills, now I was really starting to wonder what the heck was going on. On the bright side this was likely the lightest bike I have every used in a triathlon since I threw off all the important stuff early on. My new plan was to take my time through every aid station, make sure my front reservoir was completely filled at each stop, get a big gulp of Gatorade to fill in for the salt pills and grab as many gels as possible to replace as many of the 600 calories as possible. It took me two more aid stations to successfully locate and then finally actually grab gels but I managed to grab two gels up the final ascent through Snow Canyon which I promptly consumed. Sitting here writing this today I am proud of how I modified but in the moment it was a little crazy. Enough of that, power wise I was feeling strong and confident with the effort I was putting out. Early on in the bike I let the eventual third place finisher go and at one point was passed briefly by the second place finisher as well. I focused solely on my own effort and knew we had a tough run ahead and at best I would be slightly behind on my nutrition going in to the run. The last section of the St. George course features a solid climb up the moonscape of Snow Canyon and then a fast six mile blast back into town. Despite the problems with nutrition along the way, this was undoubtedly the strongest I have ever felt on a bike, it was amazing and I look forward to way more of it. I treated mile 50 as the end of the bike effort wise and used the long descent back into town to finished everything I had on my bike fluid wise and spend as little energy as possible. I finished the bike split in a time of 2:15:46 and in second place age-group, about one minute off of the lead.

triathlon bike training

The run course at St. George was never flat and rewarded strength on the uphills and leg speed on the downhills. I focused on tempo and controlling my heart rate on the three mile climb out of town. I knew immediately I felt strong, I was safe from immediate threat from behind, I had control of my breath and was within sight of the 1st place amateur. After the initial three mile climb, the course took us on two out and backs on top of one of the bluffs overlooking town. With the nutrition challenges on the bike in mind, I ate more than I otherwise would have wanted to during the beginning portion of the run, another reason I made sure to control and did not feel rushed to make the pass early or all at once. I alternated one salt pill and water or one gel and water for the first 5 aid stations after which I started either skipping or just taking a sip of water. I think I learned some important lessons about the rate I can absorb nutrition in New Zealand earlier this year and I felt like I managed that balance just right yesterday. As soon as I felt the sensation of being full I backed off the amount of water or skipped and aid station. With first place in sight my mind was full of mental math, attempting to make a decision about when to make my move. Much like the bike, the run finished with a long downhill so I decided to treat mile 10 as my finish line and just did deep and do everything I could to turn over the legs back into town. At mile 11 I started to catch 1st place quickly and made a quick decision that it was now or never, finally making the pass at 11.5 at which point I knew I had to bury myself and create a gap he did not want to bridge. In hindsight I am glad did not wait because he was eventually passed for second at the very end so it would have been unnecessarily close. Those last few miles hurt but honestly the whole experience was so much fun I barely felt it. I finished the run in a time of 1:23:22 and an overall time of 4:10:01 (so close), good for the best overall amateur and 20th overall including the pros. This results also qualifies me to race professionally which has been a goal of mine for quite some time. The plan is to race Eagleman 70.3, Lake Placid full and Olympic Nationals and then take my pro card and pick some 70.3’s to get started with in the fall. The St. George course was a true test and pretty close to my idea of a perfect triathlon, I will certainly be back.

Triathlon training 70.3

Power of 5x

Many of our triathletes practice the three individual sports three or four times per week. Given an athlete’s busy schedule, that can be a tall ask. 3x per week, practiced over weeks, months and years, will build a solid, successful Age Group triathlete. The triple frequency gives athletes confidence; it’s a nice balance between doing too little and excelling at the skill. It allows them to reach a certain level characterized as ‘good’. 3x per week athletes aren’t always winning races, but they are performing at a level that equals, and often exceeds, their peers around the water cooler.

4x per week might sound better, but it can be fool’s gold. It’s enough to be decent but not quite good enough to be great. Athletes who train 4x per week often feel like they are fully committed, but there’s always something missing. They might grow frustrated from tasting, but not quite reaching, their expected level of excellence.

When we want to reach the next level, address a sport weakness, or get a bump in fitness, we employ the 5x per week method. 5x per week sends athletes into territory that many people won’t travel to and therefore, will catapult them beyond their peers. When you do something 5x per week, you start to see and feel the nuances of your sport (or art). Your game elevates. You start to gain mastery, living inside your practice and executing to a high level. We recommend avoiding 4x per week and either staying at 3x competence or jumping to 5x excellence. 5x will start to feel like 3x squared.

How long will you need to 5x? That all depends. If you are looking for a small bump in fitness for a race this season, you can measure this in weeks. If you are looking to reach the top of your sport, you can measure this in months and years. (Triathletes - that’s 5x per sport!)

If you find yourself at a plateau, try 5x per week for chunk of time. You’ll be surprised what consistency and volume of practice can achieve.

- Jim


Cold weather riding gear & tips for triathletes & cyclists

You’ve been on your trainer all winter and you’re just dying to get out as the salt washes off the roads and the ice turns to mud.  There’s only so much Zwift an athlete can handle! Northern triathletes and cyclists ride four to eight weeks in the spring and fall in temps ranging from 30F (0C) to 50F (10C). And there’s often rain, sleet and snow thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. But fear not! There is no bad weather, just bad gear. Go prepared, and you’ll enjoy your ride! Go unprepared, and both you and your riding pals with suffer misery.

Here are some of our favorites for cold weather riding gear by body part and some general tips for staying warm:

Legs:  A key to riding in the cold is keeping your legs, and particularly your knees, warm. Pros won’t ride with their knees uncovered until temps are over 55F (12C). Follow their lead and cover up. Your knees have zero cold protection. As such, any combination of the following will do:

  • Tights or long bike bib tights. Your regular bike kit with run tights over or under them will work.  If your budget allows, purchase bib tights. You’ll use them 8-10 weeks of the year. Any brand will do. We love our Castelli and Assos bib tights.

  • Leg warmers, which are more versatile than tights but not as warm.

  • Knee warmers. When the temps are hovering in the 50s, these will be sufficient.  Start with them on a cool morning and shed them as the temps hit the upper 50s and above.

Upper body: Nearly all spring/fall conditions require a long-sleeved base layer and decent bike jacket. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but think wool or synthetic warm base layer and a breathable jacket on top. If the temps are really cool, a vest underneath the jacket is a warm addition and can be shed later (or lent to a friend who didn’t bring the proper layers). There’s no need to buy a specific bike base layer, because you probably have a running or hiking layer that will do. A breathable cycling jacket with back pockets will be useful for 8-10 weeks of the year.

Arms:  You can put on arm warmers, like leg warmers, at the start of a cool ride and shed them as the day warms. You will find them useful even in the summer for early morning starts or later afternoon finishes. This is a piece of gear you can use for 4-6 months of the year. Nearly any brand will do.

Feet: Here is where you go full pro. Protect your feet and your ride will be blissful even in the coldest temperatures! And conversely, there’s nothing like cold feet to ruin you ride. Don’t skimp on shoe covers; get the kind that fully cover your shoes and ankles. Toe covers are worthless. Castelli makes a bunch of warm shoe covers with neoprene. Neoprene will also keep your feet warm on rainy days.

Pro tip: Get ski shoe covers for riding on very cold days like these from Yoko. Yoko Boot Cover

Hands: Don’t skimp, get warm gloves. You’ll rarely regret warm gloves. Like cold toes, cold fingers can make a ride really unpleasant. When in doubt for buying gloves, buy the warmer pair.  

Pro tip: Get a pair of Kinco leather insulated gloves - warm and very economical.

Ears / Head: A hat and/or headband is crucial. Nearly anything will do, but make sure your helmet fits over the top of it. Again, look at what you already have for running and hiking and you will probably have something that works.  If you don’t have a hat that fits under your helmet, a headband will cover 99% of the requirement.

Pro tip: A neck gaiter will keep your neck and face warm. You can pull it over the top of your helmet for extra warmth or put around your ears if you forget your hat or headband. It’s worth always having one in your bike bag.

Bike bag:  Any big bag will do. Put all of the above in your bike bag. Staying organized is key. When you go for a ride, it will all be one place. A big bag provides no excuses and centralization.  And more than 50% of the time, you’ll hand out gear to your riding pals who weren’t as squared away as you. Be a cold weather riding hero!

Also… don’t forget to drink and eat regularly! Your sense of thirst isn’t as strong during cold rides, but you are still dehydrating as you go. Drink and eat like you would on hot rides. You won’t stay warm if you become dehydrated and hungry (and you’ll ride like junk).

Have questions about cold weather riding?  Contact Us!


HITS Napa Half Ironman - 2019

With about 15 minutes till start time I entered the very chilly water and started the process of getting some blood flowing and acclimating to the water. I was pleasantly surprised after about five minutes of mainly head up swimming and sculling, I started to feel some warmth and was able to take my first real strokes, after about 5 minutes of moderate swimming I was ready to go. I felt controlled right from the start, I no longer was aware of the cold and just focused on breathing and keeping my stroke rate high. One other athlete swam with me for the entire split, it was nice to have company and a little push through the middle portion of the swim. I knew numbness was going to be an issue so I made sure to kick much harder than usual heading into T1. I finished the 1.15 mile swim in 23:04 feeling in control but eager to get some warm blood flowing.


After a quick transition I hopped on the bike and immediately started to struggle to get my shoes on. The combination of less than ideal pavement and numb feet from a chilly swim, meant I fiddled with my shoes for far longer than I would have wanted, but eventually I was under way. For the first 30 minutes of the bike, being cold consumed most of my thought process. The rough roads and hilly terrain required my full attention during the first half of the bike split. My plan was to build the bike and prioritize a really strong last hour. I felt controlled and my heart rate was lower than expected through the first hour. Through 30 miles I had normalized 280 watts and was feeling strong so I made the decision to pick up the power over the last hour. Over the last 26 miles I raised that average to 292 and had built up an 11 minute lead in the process. Other than some rough pavement during the first half of the split I really enjoyed the 3300 feet of elevation gain on this course. I finished the 56 mile bike ride in 2:20:51, feeling strong and ready to run.

I will start by saying this was one of the most enjoyable runs I have had in a race to date. The course consisted of two loops and a little over 1300 feet of elevation gain. My plan was to build the first 25%, try and run strong in the middle and then give it everything I had on the way home. It took about two miles off of the bike for my body to adjust and I started to feel the effort coming to me. My stomach complained a little, my back complained for a moment or two and my right foot was still numb from the chilly water but everything passed quickly and I could feel things starting to come together. Having struggled through my fair share of runs over the years, it is still a slightly surprising but thoroughly enjoyable feeling when a run actually comes together. I used the undulating nature of the course to my advantage, I focused on leg speed up the hills and then keeping that same pressure and tempo up over the top and eventually down the back side of the hills. I kept a bit of control until about mile 10 and then started giving it everything I had. It is hard to express how good it feels to finish a run strong. I ran the 13.5 mile course in 1:25:10 and finished with an overall time of 4:10:56, good enough for 1st place and a course record by five minutes.

Half IRONMAN triathlon training program

Ironman New Zealand 2019

My preparation for the 2019 New Zealand Ironman was full of learning experiences, balancing acts and a few firsts. This Ironman marked the first time I had attempted to train for an Ironman  while coaching collegiate swimming.. At the end of the previous swim season, when I decided to leave my full-time job at Dartmouth College and pursue my dream of becoming a professional triathlete, I had it in my mind that I would take a full year off from coaching and solely focus on training/racing. As with many things in life, reality often slaps you in the face whenever you think you have a plan. The reality checks in my case were that it was going to take more than just a year to reach the professional level and money does not grow on trees (dammit). Not long after moving to Pomona, CA I met and became friendly with the Head Coach at CMS college, Charlie Griffiths. Initially, I had no intention of working there, I just thought he was a nice guy and I liked using the pool. Then all three of his assistants took other positions and long story short, he asked me if I wanted to be one of his assistant coaches in a part-time capacity. At first I was very torn about making this decision; I really needed a break from being a coach, but at the same time I knew I would really enjoy working for him and coaching the student-athletes at CMS.


Training was still my main priority so even with this part-time role, I knew there was no excuse not to have perfect sessions and take full advantage of this unique opportunity. One of the most beneficial time management techniques I settled on through the course of the winter was planning every hour of every day, not only so I could prove to myself it would all fit but also so that I was not wasting mental energy rehashing how each day was going to go. I made the plan, stuck to it and got the work done. Secretly, I also hate downtime so being busy from sun up till sun down and often hours on either side makes me happy and makes me feel like I am getting the most out of life. Obviously, in my perfect world that would entail only training but one step at a time.

I did a few things to make my life slightly more difficult than one might desire in the two weeks leading up to the race. I started my two weeks of taper by crashing my bike on my last long ride 13 days before the race. I made a silly mistake on a white line in the rain during an IM effort and went for a nice long slide that resulted in a decent bit of road rash on my left hip. I almost could not believe I had done it, the waves of emotion were overwhelming at times, I had worked so hard for this, did I really just crash my bike two weeks before this race? Thankfully road rash was the worst of it and it has certainly been an uncomfortable two weeks but I got away with nothing broken.  I did not hit my head and other than some general soreness I was mainly just cut up. Also, a bit of a blow to the ego when you crash completely on your own, good reminder to never lose focus, even for a moment. I managed to complete everything as planned despite the crash and although I raced with a bandage, I do not think it had any impact on my performance, but obviously I could have done without the lack of skin and added stress.


The second big hurdle was coaching the CMS season-ending conference meet. My commitment for most of the season was largely part time meaning I worked  between 3-5 hours most days. This schedule certainly led to long days when you add the training, but it was definitely doable; many others have achieved big results with more commitments than that. The conference meet schedule was far less forgiving and meant I was on my feet a lot and mentally engaged in coaching the week prior to IMNZ. To be honest, I did not handle this well. I knew those four conference meet days were going to interfere with my training but instead of mentally preparing myself for it  I was a bit all over the place and wasted mental energy wishing I was resting instead of coaching. The week before flying to New Zealand was certainly a learning experience; I could have been far more present and just accepted the reality of the situation when it came to both my crash and my work responsibilities. I finished the meet on Sunday feeling totally beat and rather defeated. Thinking back now this was irrational but it was hard, to get out of my own head in the moment. As soon as the meet was over, I drove straight to LAX and I can honestly say I have never been so happy to get on a plane! I proceeded to sleep for the entire 13 hour flight and landed in New Zealand feeling better than when I got on the plane. This race was also unique in that I had a new travel buddy, Cary Peele, my girlfriend Nyssa’s father and constant supporter of my Triathlon goals and efforts. I can safely say I do not know how I would have gotten through this race without his help. He not only calmed me down when I showed up to the airport in a distressed state, but he also helped me recharge my batteries the first few days in New Zealand and by Wednesday I felt like a completely different person. I cannot thank him enough. The last two days prior to race day were full of rest and positive vibes; I was confident in my preparation and ready to race hard.


Race morning was calm and everything went to plan. As with many race mornings, the day started at 4:00 am with a warm shower and continued race specific fueling. The weather in Taupo started at a cool 47 degrees which is about as ideal as it is going to get for me, especially having traveled from winter to the end of the New Zealand summer. Having found a sneaky parking spot, I headed to transition to dry the dew off my bike, check the tires, place my helmet, check the gears one last time (these things are never actually perfect), add my nutrition to my bike and in general just get myself ready for the effort. Having accomplished all my pre-race tasks with time to spare, I headed back to the car to warm up for a bit and relax with Cary. I can confidently say this is the calmest I have ever been before a race, I knew I had trained better than ever before, I was with great company, I was in a beautiful country and I was living my dream, what could be better. With less than an hour  before the start, the butterflies were certainly flying. I attempted to stay loose and focus on the process and disregard the rest. In this case that meant adding Vaseline, Trislide and sunscreen to all the important parts of my body and slipping into my wetsuit. For the last few races I have been wearing my wetsuit with my tri kit halfway rolled down; it has been a big improvement in comfort while swimming. I likely would not waste the time in transition to doing this on races shorter than a half but in terms of comfort and swimming with a more natural stroke, I think this will be my game plan for the longer course races. At this point, nothing left to do other than that whole Ironman thing; time to race.

Entering the water was a strangely calm experience, everyone just calmly filed into the water, people actually stayed behind the start buoys and I had enough space to get a few minutes of light swimming in pre-start; strange, but I will take this setup any day. The gun went off, I remembered to start my watch and I was off. I swam hard for about 30 seconds before settling into my desired effort and breathing pattern. Lake Taupo was about as ideal as swimming gets, clear water with a view of the bottom, a simple out and back course and some decent chop as the wind picked up to weed out the weaker swimmers. My goals for the swim were to stay relaxed, keep a high tempo, take nothing out of my legs and find a comfortable breathing rhythm. I can happily report that all these things happened. I quickly found clear water and swam by myself for more or less the entire effort. I got a solid spooking when we swam over one of the inlet pipes that takes drinking water from the lake, big time fear of mine, but I managed not to lose it and considered the situation rationally. My breathing has never felt as relaxed as it did in this Ironman swim, I really enjoyed myself out there. For the majority of the swim there were two other athletes swimming more or less my pace but for whatever reason they were swimming way off the buoys so I just let them do their own thing. The chop in the water made arm speed essential as some strokes felt great, other felt like I went nowhere but I did my best to stay calm and just keep constant pressure backwards. As we reached the end of the swim a group of about five of us converged and I was able to find some feet and cruise the last minute or so into transition. Swim split was a 51:18. I headed out of the water feeling like I got things off on the right foot.

Triathlon cycling training

The exit of the swim led directly into a long run across a parking lot, up a steep set of stairs and eventually into the changing tent. As always, the volunteers were amazing, helping me open my bag, get my sleeves on and keeping me on track and positive. I got to my bike, took it off the rack and immediately had two people yelling at me and running in my direction. I had touched my bike before putting my helmet on, noob mistake, so I got a minute penalty, they seemed quite satisfied to have caught someone; I stayed calm, took a few deep breaths, smiled at the two officials and before I knew it I was on my way.

My plan on the bike was to normalize 250 watts for the first lap and then try and add about 5 watts to the back half as others would hopefully be fading. The effort felt pedestrian for most of the first 30 minutes which is exactly what I wanted. I immediately started fueling and letting my body adjust to being on the bike. The cool temperatures on the first lap of the bike were ideal for keeping my core temp down but meant my heart rate monitor was reluctant to work and the biggest issue ended up being numb hands. I came oh so close to dropping my main bottle of nutrition which contained about 1000 calories of carbo pro and scratch which would have been difficult to replace on course. I fumbled big time getting it back into the cage and ended up pressing the bottle against the side of my downtube for what felt like for an eternity but in reality was probably only seconds; dodged a bullet there. Numb hands also made holding onto the bars over the chip seal even more difficult than on a warm day. I spent most of the first lap biking with one other athlete and we quickly distanced ourselves from the other few who had been with us on the swim. At each aid station I either took a bottle of water to replenish my reservoir up front or took a bottle of sport drink that  I kept in my open cage. I dropped one gel early so grabbed an on-course gel to supplement but other than that everything went exactly to plan from a nutritional point of view. As we headed back into town to complete the first lap, the wind really started to kick up. From what I could judge, it seemed to almost always be coming from about 45 degrees of yaw, nice tailwind on the way out and a brutal headwind on the way back to town, always leaning. I knew this would be the case and I constantly reminded myself to stick to the numbers, disregard the chip seal and the wind, just stick to the numbers. The second lap was certainly not as “perfect” as the first in terms of flat power output, but I was happy with how I managed everything that was thrown my way. The athlete I rode with for most of the first lap was no longer holding power as consistently and as opposed to taking long turns in front like we were for the majority of the first loop, now when I passed him, he annoyingly and consistently say within a couple bike lengths of by back wheel. I did my best to not let this derail my plan; but it really blows my mind the way people will cheat. I love Ironman racing because it is a solo effort; some people just do not get it. After attempting to pass him at least six times, seeing him on my wheel, sitting up allowing him to go by I eventually had enough of it and with about 30 miles left I put in a slight surge which he had no response for and rode the end of the race on my own. I was happy with the way I finished my race and the consistent effort felt miles better than surging and playing games with him from the beginning of the second lap. In the end I normalized 249 watts which led to a 4:53:17 bike split.


T2 was thankfully less eventful than my first transition, I swapped for a fresh pair of socks, added my favorite red hat (for the record this was my favorite hat for years prior to 2016…), a pair of shades, some running shoes, replenished my nutrition and I was off.

The marathon course was a three loop, constantly undulating route that followed the main drag along the shore of Lake Taupo and through some of the small neighborhoods on the shoe. My plan was to use the loops as a means of pacing, I stuck to a hard 150 heart rate cap for the first loop to allow my body to adjust, hopefully absorb more nutrition and prioritize being able to run hard towards the end of the marathon. Spoiler alert, it did not work, but I really thought I was right on plan though the whole first lap. I took nutrition at every other aid station in the form of a roctane gel or stinger chews as well as water at every aid station. Despite it not actually being that hot, it was still a change from winter to summer for me and I had a history of struggling in the heat so I knew keeping my core temp down would definitely be a good thing. With that in mind, when I didn’t take nutrition at an aid station, I made sure to grab ice and soak my hat whenever possible. The first lap went exactly how I imagined, I stuck to the 150 cap and that effort was yielding a mid-7:00 pace which would have easily been a personal best and had me on course to be right around 9:00 for the whole race. As I started the second loop, I allowed my heart rate to rise towards 155 and was happy to see that my pace responded in line with the added effort; I was feeling good about things. Then the wheels started to come off, I was passed for the lead in the age group at about mile 15 but I knew I had to stick to my plan as opposed to chasing, despite wanting nothing more than match his pace. My stomach started to be a real issue towards the upper teen miles, and I was no longer able to sustain my desired heart rate or pace. I felt full, I was clearly not processing food at a fast-enough rate and things were starting to build up in my stomach. Desperate to avoid the total shut down of the prior world championships in Hawaii, I knew I had to manage the situation. After all, I still had 90 minutes of running to complete. It was very difficult to not be negative at this point.  But, I knew, getting mad at myself or wishing I was having a better day was not going to help my situation. Little moments of encouragement from Cary on his bike made all the difference, he told me I could do it, I was tough and just keep forcing the cadence. It is amazing how much one little comment or mantra can get you through the darkest moments in a race. I made the decision to stop taking nutrition and allow my stomach to settle. This process took about three miles and by mile 20 things had started to come back around. I was able to resume a decent heart rate and although still not at a great pace, I was able to at least feel like I was running and holding my overall position. All things considered, miles 20 – 23 were much better; I was out of the dark place of the previous miles. I would love to tell you I enjoyed the last three miles, but I would be lying; they were purgatory. The upside of letting my stomach settle was starting to be overwhelmed by the downside of stopping nutrition intake. All systems were heading to shut down mode the last 20 minutes. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to stop, I tried every mental trick I had to keep myself moving. I thought about random things to distract myself, I focused on my form, I tried to make myself laugh at the funny signs, I thought about all those people watching back home probably yelling at their computers and I also knew that despite a very poor end to my effort I was still in line to go a personal best and I did not want to throw away what had otherwise been a strong effort. I did eventually make it over the line in 3:29 for an overall time of 9:21. While this was not the race I had imagined and finishing poorly leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth I am proud of how I fought the last 90 minutes. There were some dark moments and at times finishing that marathon did not seem possible. It is amazing that even in a time of total duress the body can still find little ways to recover and no matter what you think you always have more left.


This Ironman is the start of my season and easily the fittest I have ever been in March. I cannot wait to see what this sort of winter fitness leads to for the rest of the season. I am also aware that it is unrealistic to expect to get everything right all at once. When one day I do eventually have my best Ironman, nothing should be a surprise. I will need the toughness I showed while falling apart and running way off my desired pace when I am running a sub 3:00 marathon and holding off athletes for the lead of one of these Ironman. Every race is an opportunity to improve and if you stick with it, every step gets you closer to your ultimate goal. I leave New Zealand feeling fit, lucky to do what I do and above all more motivated than ever to become a professional Triathlete. Onwards.