Monday, December 31, 2007

What a year, what a year!

Way back in 1994 right about this time of December, I was reflecting back on the year. The year was decent, yet seemed status quo with the previous 4 years. I made a decision then that I was going to make each new year stand apart. That at this time every December, I’d be able to look back and feel solid about the uniqueness of my experiences from that year. I’ve lived up to this thus far. This past year was certainly one that I won’t forget, and not just because I keep a journal of special events and also this blog.

2007 began as my last in my 30’s. I made a quick trip out to Cleveland for a few days in January to spend some time with Scott and Ange – this was Ange’s Christmas gift to Scott. Yes, I also can’t figure out why someone would actually want to spend time with me as a gift?!

Lisa and I took the kids to Disney in February where we had a blast, and I certainly am not a big fan of crowded amusement parks, especially when you can find more exhilarating adventures in nature. My kids were at the perfect age though and my daughter was in her prime princess stage, so it was priceless. I highly recommend the ride “Soarin’” in Epcot.

I held my first Tucson training camp in March and as I stated in my blog reports, I had found my winter training place. The riding there was incredible, and the Mexican food was better than actually being in Mexico. I’m stoked thinking that in two and a half months, I’ll be climbing Mt. Lemmon once again.

In April, Baker and I headed up to Northwest CT for a bit of reconnaissance training and course scouting. This is always a good time, even if Baker tells you different.

May hosted my seventh CT camp which is always just an incredible experience. The camps are a lot of work, yet I probably enjoy them as much as the campers. There is always something memorable from each one of the CT camps. One thing I certainly remember was the view from the Appalachian Trail on that soggy Friday morning, 45 minutes up and into a great run. Another is the dejected group early on during the Saturday long ride, and me lecturing them to shut off their emotions and just ride, and all of them following suit to not only ride well, but laugh about it at dinner.

June was my daughters 4th birthday and later in the month my first Lake Placid Camp. Some specific memories were taking everyone attending off the LP course for some great trail runs, the climb up Whiteface on a cold and rainy day, the crazy amount of athletes riding the course on that Saturday, and a couple of the campers riding 30 miles further in one session then they both ever had before. I also remember a solo Sean heading out in the afternoon to ride Whiteface because he missed it that morning due to technical issues with his bike, and returning back into LP at sundown with a huge grin on his face. I remember thinking “that is what these camps are all about!”

July – wow! It started with the eve of my birthday actually, June 30th, where Lisa through me a great surprise party up at The Bar in New Haven. The next morning, I awoke early and ran 40 miles commemorating my 40th birthday, having my family, my father, Baker, Gus and Brennan all join me for portions of it, followed by leftover pizza and beer at my house. It was an amazing day – sunny and in the 70’s. Later that month, Lisa took me to France for the Tour finale and to ride the most incredible rides I have ever experienced. I can still picture clear as day the climbs up the Port D’Bales, the Col De Peyressourde, the Col D’Aspin and the Tourmalet. I remember vividly leaving the town of Luchon by myself after almost oversleeping one morning to tackle three of the mentioned climbs. I remember sipping champagne on the final day from the balcony overlooking the Champs. I can still see Lisa’s hair whipping around atop the Eiffel Tower, or cool little lunch place where the two of us ate in St. Emillion, or the way my shoes squeaked loudly while walking through the Louvre.

August was a couple of fun trips with the kids – up to RI to play in the surf, then later to an indoor water park for a few days where no matter which way I got in the family raft ride, I always ended up going down backwards and getting the most wet. Then we went to New York City where they screwed up our room at our hotel and to make up for it gave us the nicest suite I’ll ever stay in. My kids had a blast and will hopefully forget soon how nice that suite was. I managed to sneak in a solid performance at the Timberman ½ IM and qualify for the 70.3 worlds in November.

September was my sons 7th birthday which again was a cool bike ride where he attacked my tired legs and sprinted for the park benches and signs on the trail to the park. The previous weekend, Baker, Kenny and I did a great Vermont ride, tagged with prototype My Athlete units. I remember the woman in Northampton talking to herself and Kenny thinking that she was on a Bluetooth headset. I also remember doing shots of patron later that night and laughing a lot.

October saw another opportunity for me to get to Kona, only this time not as a participant. I represented My Athlete and helped John out at the expo, rode the course tagged with a unit, swam again at Hapuna beach, ran down the mountain from the condo daily to swim at the pier and then back up it, and ate some great food.

November, Big Rock’s and I traveled down to Florida for the disappointing 70.3 World Championship race. Enough has been said about this race in my recent blogging.

Here we are in December! I'm really fortunate to have the opportunities to train in some amazing places. Reflecting back now, I did a massive amount of climbing on my road bike this year, starting with Kitts Peak and Mt lemon, then up and down the best climbs in the Berkshires including a few 18 to 20% grades, then to Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain, before heading on to The Pyrenees!

But the things I remember best from this past year are the cool experiences I got to share with others. Here are some of the more vivid memories: Seeing my daughters face light up when we first entered the Magic Kingdom and she saw the princesses performing. My son and I spewing with laughter after getting drenched on the river ride at the Animal Kingdom. Running with Scooter in the Cleveland winter and resolving all of life’s problems in that one hour. Driving around Tucson in Brian’s truck with Molson, Gus, and Bruce in the back seat, the five of us laughing non-stop. The exhilarating descent from Mt. Lemmon with Jim Spinner. When Gus, at the top of Kitts peak where it was about 40 degrees and I’m wearing shorts and short sleeves, removes two winter skull caps in a dumb and dumber moment. Baker and I, frozen to the bone on a cold and wet 5 hour ride, shivering in some small shack/convenient store in upstate NY, joking how we were stuck in some scene from Hostel, or sitting at dinner that night sucking down a few Guinness and retelling the days stories. Brennan, Molson, Kenny, Baker and I heading out to the Irish pub after all the tired campers headed in for the evening. Hanging out on top of Whiteface Mountain on that foggy, cold Friday morning, thinking that everyone else turned early and left me for dead up there. Running with Steve out to Alpine Lake on the last day of LP camp even though I told everyone to turn at the 1 hr mark so that we’d all be back in 2 hrs (it took us 1 hr 15 minutes to reach the lake and was so worth it!). Being surprised by Lisa and a bunch of great friends at the birthday party she threw for me. Running the 40 miler the next day and having a bunch of friends show up for the hell of it and sharing in my experience. Eating cheese, a baguette, and wine for dinner one evening in Mercues with Lisa, or seeing her face when we walked up the subway steps after taking the bullet train to Paris and seeing right in front of us The Arch D’Triumph, or later that evening, walking through the Paris streets with her at midnight to the Eiffel Tower because we could see it lit up from our restaurant we were at so it had to be close, right? Playing “what would you rather do?” with Lisa on the drive with the family from Lake George to NYC (the kids had their headphones on in the car). Spending the day in NYC and then getting back to our lucky upgraded suite to have Kate announce “Ahh, back home at the Tipton!” (parents that have kids in the Disney channel years will understand this). Crashing hard in Westfield, MA on the ride to Vermont and Baker getting me ice packs while Kenny fixed my bike. Having one to many beers and then some chilled Patron that night in VT with Baker and Kenny, laughing at some really funny stuff and thinking that we had to get up the next day early and ride back to CT. Eating at Huggo’s in Kailua with Brennan. Riding with Brennan up to Hapuna and then floating in the waves there. Hanging out with Big Rocks for the weekend in Florida and watching a lot of Seinfeld and drinking a lot of Jamba Juice (any adult that's given the opportunity to spend time with their father should jump at it.) … Lot’s of fun here. I can only hope that 2008 is near as fun. I’ll certainly be trying to one up this year!

Thanks a bunch everyone for participating in an amazing year. Baker, you poor bastard, we aren't done yet! Prepare for some more torturous adventures this year. I know you wouldn't have it any other way.



Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Off-season Blues

It seems that many people out there are stuck in a funk right now. I’ve witnessed this occurrence annually during December. Giving some thought to it, I’ve concluded that it’s about being stuck in limbo. There is a real end of the year/season depression that affects most of us – for sure it affects the driven, type A triathletes.

Think about it; you finished your last big race or goal of the year maybe a month or two ago. You rode the adrenalin from that experience for a week before entering the down phase – the post big goal mood where you miss the process and the fact of a major event looming in the near distant future. You are supposed to be in your off-season and enjoying the downtime, yet you feel lousy. Lousy about your lack of motivation, about your lack of focus and direction, about the extra empty calories you have been consuming which now have you wearing your belt one notch bigger. Welcome to the end of the season depression!

Most will counter this by singing up for a big race in the coming year. Chances are though that this big race is either in the summer or fall. Some set them for spring, but that even seems very far off. If you start focusing on a big summer or fall goal now, chances are that you will be burnt by late spring.

It’s ok to feel a little lost at this point. The key thing though is to not let too many bad habits creep into your daily routine. Gaining an extra 5 or even 10 lbs in the off-season is not that bad. Gaining more than 10 is. Taking some down time and resting up is a very good thing. Taking too much down time and doing no exercise for an extended period is not a good thing. Training now like you did six weeks out from your “A” race last year is a very bad thing. This is a time of year when most people fall mentally and physically out of balance.

Let’s take two scenarios: We’ll call example one Dick. Dick is the guy who is all or nothing – no grey. He trained like a nut for a Fall IM last year, got himself in fantastic shape and had a great race. Then, after the race, he took his recovery week off, and then took another week off, and then another. He still is justifying in his head that he just did an IM. In fact, that IM was some six weeks ago now. Dick feels lousy about the fact that he can’t get going right now. It’s cold out, and there isn’t much day light savings which adds to his arsenal of excuses on why he skipped his training day. Dick signed up for IM Galapagos, but that’s not until August, so he knows he shouldn’t panic about missing a day or ten of exercise right now. Problem is, he can’t stop thinking about the fact that he’s doing nothing every minute of the day. That plus he’s shopping for a new wardrobe to fit his new off-season shape.

Then there is Jane. Jane is the one who also did a late year big race and did ok. She wanted to do better but felt a little tired and drained going in and was dealing with some nagging little injuries. She vowed to do better at next year’s big race and jumped right back in. She took one day off to recover and then began doing daily double sessions, justifying that because they were at a low heart rate, they were fine and active recovery. Then, two weeks post her big race, she’s hammering away again. She’s not really terribly motivated, but the race 10 months away plus the fact that she’s paranoid about gaining 4 ounces which will surely happen in her mind if she misses even 10 minutes of a planned session are what drive her. The problem here is that her training sessions feel dull and off and she feels mentally at a low.

If any of you are reading this and thinking “the bastard is talking directly about me!” know that I’m not. These two scenarios are extremely common, and ones that I have witnessed in many, so don’t feel isolated.

So what do we do to get out of this funk? Here’s my solution;
First, be honest with yourself. Quit justifying things. We live in a justifiable society. It’s much easier to justify why we do something than admit that it may be wrong and that there is a better way.
Next, find your balance. If you normally train for 14 hours per week during the prime season, then cut this in half during this time of year. BUT, aim for 50% of what you normally do, not 20%. Effort wise, don’t go balls to the wall, but don’t just crawl along either. Balance.
Next, try something different. Run with some friends if you run all alone. Hit the trails. Try cross country skiing or snow shoeing. Play a weekly pick-up basketball game or indoor soccer game and count this as training. Take some classes at your gym. Get off the beaten path. Soon enough, you’ll only be swimming, biking and running, so switch it up right now.
Very important, set some short term goals. Select a few 5ks in January or February that you want to race and set a reach time for these. Set a goal of knocking 15 seconds off your best 500 pool time by mid winter. Plan a goal of doing 10 chin-ups, 50 push-ups and running a fast mile by March 1st.
Sign up for a winter training camp or warm weather excursion. Where you know you’ll need to be in somewhat decent condition to avoid feeling like crap there. That plus the motivation of getting a break from the winter cold if you happen to live in cold weather areas.

The way one thinks is a very original and strange thing. When negative thoughts are overpowering the positive, it’s up to us individually to do what we need to in order to flip this mindset. Stay positive this winter and you’ll enter the spring in better condition and in a better frame of mind.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Winter Riding

Yesterday was a great December day. It was overcast here in CT and in the 30's. I had a small window in the afternoon to sneak in a ride so I met Greg Pelican and a few others at his shop in Bethel. This was my first ride since the 1/2 IM worlds last month, besides a couple of 30 min easy sessions with my son Ryan on the trainer. I rode my systemsix (pictured) which is probably my most favorite bike that I've ever owned, and I have certainly owned plenty. I even like it better than the Supersix.
We rolled along easily, heading from Bethel into Ridgefield. Greg and I wanted to check out the area where they hold the Ridgefield Triathlon since we are planning on developing a racing/training series here in CT and want to tie it in with this race. The roads around this area are very scenic, rolling through countryside and past many small lakes and ponds. The pace was conversational - It's December and now is the time to just log some base miles. I left my power meter and heart rate monitor at home and just enjoyed being back on a bike. The air was chilly, yet felt good on my face. I left my booties at home, so I took two plastic bags and put them over my socks. Then I took some of those disposable hand warmers that you can pick up almost anywhere and lied them inside the plastic bags over my toes against my socks, and shoved my feet into my cycling shoes. This worked great and I had no issues with cold toes.
When November comes around, most give up on outdoor riding. As a coach, I often hear from people that they hate the cold and would rather ride indoors on the trainer. I feel that as long as there is no snow on the ground, you should get outside. Besides riding indoors being boring, you are missing out on the opportunity to experience roads in a totally different manner than you typically do while riding them in your more intense and focused spring/summer training. As long as you dress correctly, you can ride outdoors down to 20 degrees.
Soon enough, March will be here and I'll be riding in Tucson on some long, warm roads. Man, that is a great feeling coming from our winters here in the Northeast. I want to have some base going into this so that the riding is more enjoyable. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, the air, the company yesterday and I'll be making an effort to get outside and ride this winter whenever possible, even if it does take me 30 minutes to get dressed for it!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Last week, I met with a new coaching client who is training for an Ironman. He mentioned that he was excited to work with me, yet truthfully, a bit scared. The reason for the timidness was that he had heard that I put my athletes on a pretty aggressive schedule.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Ironman distance and the Ironman experience. I want all of my athletes to show up on race day knowing they are ready to tackle the distance. I want them confident that they are there to "race" and I'm also very proud of the ease in which my athletes recover from an Ironman. Of course, this is a relative thing, but most of my athletes feel pretty good in post race week.

This isn't about defending my coaching style but more so defending the respect of endurance events. Let's take marathons for example. Doesn't it seem that there are a lot of people showing up at marathons not really prepared to run a marathon? Look at the debacle at Chicago. Yes, most will say that was a result of the freakish hot weather on that day, but it was in the high 70's to low 80's! That's hot for a stand alone marathon, but for most IM competitors, that's the average IM marathon temperatures. Running out of water on race day in Chicago was a huge faux pas by the race director, but I think the bigger issue was that most weren't prepared properly. Look at the staggering amount of people participating in marathons each year. I think that most people would love to have "finished a marathon" on their life resumes and don't take into account the training and preparation involved to do one well. Well meaning "run" the marathon. Time is mostly irrelevant because there are all different abilities, but I think a marathon should be run. The news and tabloids were filled with pictures of Katie Holmes the day after she "fast walked" the NYC marathon! Tom was so proud. Give me a break! There are a lot of coaching programs now stating that "you to can complete a marathon in just 10 weeks of training". Not if you don't have a solid running base built before beginning those ten weeks. I don't feel there is a respect for the distance and if I get flamed for stating this, so be it.

Now, you are beginning to see this filter into Ironman races. I have been asked frequently if I'll be racing an IM again next season, to which I respond "I'm not sure yet". I have to much respect for the event to not show up at the starting line in my best condition ready to race. I no desire to do an IM just to do one. I could set a date to cover the distances from my house if I felt I needed to prove to myself that I could still cover the distances.

Endurance races are just that - "races". Anyone who has prepared well for one and raced one knows that the event deserves the respect of showing up at the starting line fully prepared. If you want the label but aren't really interested in doing the work, you need to question what your principals are to begin with.