Wednesday, November 09, 2016

4 C's Update: #StrongerTogether

You and this frame set. #StrongerTogether

I'm going to try not to delve into politicking here, but I feel compelled to do something following the Nov. 8, 2016 election. I am sure it will surprise no one that I voted for Hillary. I did so with some slight reservations about the obvious issues that dogged her throughout her campaign (and before it), but to me, it was not really a contest. But more than considering myself a progressive liberal and a bit of a socialist, I consider myself a pragmatist. That was what I had hoped would happen. But it did not. Donald Trump will be my president. While, unlike most people crashing the Canadian immigration website, I actually can move to Canada (my wife is a citizen), we aren't planning on it just yet. I don't view abandoning the USA because things didn't work out how I wanted as being particularly productive. If you are disappointed, as I am, I think that's all the more reason to stay and to try contribute during an uncertain time. I think it's clear that there is an opportunity for change. We owe it to each other to work to guide that change.

I've gone through many emotions - shock, sadness, dismay, anxiety, etc - in repeating waves, but I've ultimately tried to find a place of pragmatic optimism. I believe that, as Hillary said, we need to give Trump the chance to be a leader. 
We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don't just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them. - Hillary Clinton
We can assume the worst. Or we can hope for the best. I figure there are at least two obvious positives. Firstly, the mainstream media got pretty much everything wrong about this election, so I'm at least willing to consider the possibility that the countless articles written about what sort of president Trump will be are equally full of shit. The second is that, as President Obama said, this is the way that democracy is supposed to work. People are supposed to use their vote to effect change. And that is certainly what happened. It's messy. And it's crooked. And it involves stops and starts. Steps forward and back. But that's the process. At least, that's what I am telling myself. 

But I don't believe that hope is a strategy. It's passive. I believe that a huge part of giving Trump "the chance to be a leader" is demonstrating what that means to each of us. Van Jones spoke extremely eloquently about how this election, especially in the short term, is affecting the psyche of those people who have been remarkably disenfranchised during much of this country's history and, especially, during this campaign. What I know is that a white male with an Ivy league degree and an upper-class upbringing, I cannot comprehend the level of fear felt by blacks, by Latinos, by muslims, by LGBT people, and by many women. While I have daughters, and I have some concerns that we may have to fight hard just to guarantee them the same rights that their grandmother had, I realize that they nevertheless have started life with a huge leg up over a huge majority of America and even more the world as a whole. And I know that there are things I just will never understand about the struggles other families and individuals face.

I make a living and support a family traveling around the world and running around in my bathing suit. I recognize my privilege. And I feel compelled to do something with it. I have a small soap box. And I have no delusions about the scope of this impact. But I believe that in virtually all aspects of life, something is greater than nothing. This feeling is at the core of what drives the work I do with World Bicycle Relief. 

So far, I have given away three bikes. Two have gone to white men. One has gone to a white woman. Triathlon is a sport of white men. And while I realize there are still a huge number of obstacles beyond just having a bike, I hope and want to believe that by saying, "you are not just welcome, you are wanted here in our sport" is worth something. And that giving a bike to a person who has taken a huge step just by entering our sport at all sends that message.

So I'm asking for some additional information for anyone applying for the 4 C's giveaway. If you are a minority - especially if you are black, Latino, or Muslim, and you are comfortable sharing that information with me - I would like for you to include that in your essay for the Dimond. This will not count against the 250 words. All of the same considerations apply - I'd like you to be someone who is an active triathlete, who races, and who recognizes that there is a lot more you need than what I'm giving away here and that you can provide that. I realize that this is probably a pretty small group. But I'm not going to focus on all the ways that this falls short. I cannot stand doing much more thinking in that way.

If you have already applied and would like to add this information, please do. While I will still consider all applications based solely on their own merit, I'd very much like to make this giveaway a gesture of inclusivity. I'd like to show what I think leadership in this country should look like. If you're a black triathlete or a Latino triathlete or a muslim triathlete or a LGBT triathlete, I'd like to offer you what I can in terms of a welcome. You are wanted in our sport. 

I'm optimistic, because what use is there in being anything else. But I'm also a realist. And a pragmatist. Moving this country forward is going to take a lot of work. By a lot of people. Compromise has become a dirty word, and I lament that. I am not going to pretend that this is anything other than a very small gesture. But a small gesture is better than no gesture. 

I do believe we are #StrongerTogether. And I believe that will be even more true going forward. This is my attempt at not just saying that, but at showing that. Thank you.

Post Script: based on some very brief commentary in response to this, I thought it appropriate to make some brief clarifications. I do not agree with the blanket generalizations being made about Trump supporters. Many - most? all? - of the people who voted for him I think did so primarily over a feeling of disenfranchisement themselves. This is not meant as a statement (or indictment) of who Trump supporters are; it is meant to be a statement about who, in general, they are not. I am sure some people will nevertheless interpret this as a criticism or as a negative. That was/is perhaps inevitable. But I am taking Donald Trump at his word.
Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.
It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.
This is merely my own small attempt to help realize that message with the understanding that such unity will not happen passively and without concerted effort.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Coffee Talk

just like training, it's all about the process.

I think (hope) lots of folks know that I have developed a fondness (aka obsession) with making good espresso. As you might expect, it's the technical nature that really has driven me to become so passionate. I bought the domain, and while I am not yet ready to do something (anything) with it, I thought I might start posting more about the conversations that I have with good friends on this subject. Since I wrote something this morning that could serve double duty as a blog post, I decided to just go ahead and repurpose it. Trevor Wurtele and I were talking about tampers on twitter, which led to a more in depth discussion on email. Trevor asked some good questions. I gave what I hope were at least somewhat informed answers, though I will welcome any corrections, counters, addendums, etc. I'm by no means an expert; just someone who is working hard to become better.
Naked porta filter?  Why do you use that and will you stick with it?  I admit that it looks pretty cool when you pull a nice shot.  Is it more of a tool to use so you can see that you've made a good shot, or something else to it?
The advantage of the naked portafilter is that you can see the extraction as it happens. This allows you to make sure you are getting even extraction across the basket, to see how the flow changes over time, etc. Basically, you get to see everything as it happens. The other argument in favor of a naked portafilter is that it goes straight from the basket into the cup. This prevents you from getting any sort of residual flavor from a previous shot, from having the metal influence the taste/temperature of the shot, etc. So it's really two-fold. There's the visual aspect of seeing what's happening much more clearly and the taste aspect of going straight into the cup. I'll definitely stick with it. A standard portafilter is only better in that if you get shooters (typically the result of poorly distributed grinds or an excessively coarse grind such that the shot pulls too fast), you don't get a huge mess. But if you get those, you weren't really where you wanted to be anyway. But for a coffee shop, it's advantageous, because they aren't working with nearly the same level of commitment to quality (except at boutique cafes). Even very good shops are basically just shooting for "good enough."
I'm guessing using a scale pre, during, and post brew has been pretty important?  Is that something you do all the time, or was it just to get perfect dose/brew time dialed in? Does it change a lot from day to day or bean to bean?  What kind of gram measurement numbers are you looking at that give you your best shots? 
I use a scale every step of the way for every shot. In my opinion, coffee is overwhelmingly a mass-based equation (as opposed to time-based). If you're within a reasonable range on time, but a precise range on weight, you're going to have much more consistent results. So I weigh the beans and then also weigh the shot. The scale that I have also has a built in clock that you can trigger to start when it detects the shot hitting the cup. 

My basket is a 20g basket. I also have an 18g, but I rarely use it. This gets into flow rate vs extraction. And also "headspace," which is the gap between the top of the puck and the filter screen on the grouphead. You want to have enough space for the puck to expand a bit in there. So with the 20g basket, I will use between 20-23g (typically 20-21) of grind. So I weigh the beans first. Some folks with tell you, "ONLY change the grind to change the extraction time." But that misses the point about flow rate vs extraction. More quantity of a coarser grind (say 22-23g) vs less quantity of a finer grind (say 17-19g) can give you the same extraction time but a different flavor profile.

I like a more ristretto shot. So I typically shot for 30g of extraction from 20g of grind (ratio of 1.5). Jill likes it a bit more mild, so for her, I shoot for 40g from 20g. Both are very "normal." The range of "normal" is basically 1.25-2. And you want to get that in somewhere between 20-30s. La Marzocco did an interesting blog post where time, "color" (what a lot of baristas swear by), and mass ratios were all compared. Mass ratios won every time. As long as you are within a reasonable range on time, mass ratio overwhelmingly determines flavor profile. 

 Refractometers (you know what these are; when you do a drug test, it's what they use to check the concentration of your urine) are basically the new "most valuable tool" in the coffee world. But you can get most of what you need just by using a scale. you like the doser option?
I would not have chosen the doser. It's just a LOT cheaper. It has some advantages, but overall, I would have preferred a grinder without. Just not enough to pay the extra couple hundred dollars. But if you're asking if my "ideal" grinder has a doser, my answer is no.

For you guys, if I was to looking to recommend a grinder, I'd probably steer you towards a Pharos.  An automatic grinder is nice, but I also really enjoy the use of a hand grinder. As with getting a model with a doser, you just save a lot of money such that you can get a better grinder than you would if you tried to get something fancier. If you want an electric, the best buy for a doserless is probably the Compak K3 (you can usually find a 10% off coupon for a place that sells it).

But the Pharos is basically 1/2 the price for arguably a better grinder. Likewise, the Ceado that I got was 2/3 the price for a probably better grinder because it was used and had a doser.

The Acaia Lunar scale is also overwhelmingly worth it. 
Your tweet on flow rate and extraction.  Can you adjust the flow rate on your machine? Or are you doing that with dose and grind? 
I can't adjust pressure profile on my machine. The new Rocket V60 has that ability. And of course the pinnacle machine - the Slayer - has that option as well. But for me, I just do it with grind and dose. This seems to be the biggest difference with a good grinder. You can really make a lot more changes here than you can with a grinder that has small burrs and relatively limited adjustments.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Back Into The Dimond Mine: 2016 4 C's Bike Giveaway

Your new bike (without a rider on it...). © Lesley Loughlin 2015

4 C's of Dimond Giveaway: 
C-Charity, C-Commitment, C-Confidence, & C-Champions

Okay, so you may remember that for (roughly) the past three years, I've given away my race bike at the end of the season. For a lot of reasons (mostly that having three kids is really overwhelming), I didn't do that to start this year. Mostly just because I've been too busy. But it's the offseason, and I love doing this, so time to do it again.

This year, it will be MY bike yet again. So the size requirement is back in effect. This is a medium size frame (link to frame page):

This means you need to be between 5'9" - 6'3" (175-191cm). I also do not, at this time, have a spare set of wheels. Which is a bummer, because I liked giving away race wheels with the bike. But that's simply not an option for me this year. I will see if I can work with Zipp to get some wheels at a discount, but no promises here.

Also, the bike is coming with a 1X drivetrain, because that's what I race on. It will come with a 52T XSYNC front chain ring. And the Force1 rear derailleur. I'm a huge believer in the advantages of 1X. Depending on where you live, you'll need a to buy the appropriate cassette. For a lot of folks, that will be an 11-36 or 11-32, neither of which I have to give. So, again, the parts requirements this year are a bit higher than in the past. I will provide the part to convert the back back to use with a standard front and rear derailleur, but I only have 1X parts, not 2X.

So the bike will be:
  • Dimond X-Cut frameset in size medium
  • SRAM Force 1X grouppo: rear derailleur, 52T XSYNC chainring, shifters
  • Zipp Vuka Stealth (size small) with ski bend extensions and SRAM 990 brake levers
You will need to be able to provide:
  • Saddle
  • Crankset
  • Cassette
  • Front and rear brakes (a Tektro or TriRig Omega in the back is required; any brake will work on the fork)
  • Pedals
  • Tire, tubes, rear hydration system, etc, etc, etc.
As I've said in the past, my goal is to provide this bike to someone who will race on it. Racing is expensive. Parts are expensive. So while I'd love to say this is the sort of thing that's designed to take someone and fully equip them to do a season of racing, this is just a frame (and some parts). It's not a complete solution. So, for example, if you'd love to do triathlons but simply cannot afford a bike, this really is not the contest for you.

My ideal candidate is someone who is currently racing regularly, most likely on a road bike or mountain bike. You have a passion for the sport. You love to train. You love to race. And you have the time and energy and means to do it. This bike is an upgrade - a significant one - but it's not your pathway into the sport.

You get a bike, but the bike isn't entirely free, as you do have to buy a bike for someone else - by way of a $134 donation to World Bicycle Relief - AND make a $134 donation to a charity of your choice. To be clear, you do NOT have to do this in order to "apply." The person who receives the bike must make this gesture as a "pay-it-forward" of his/her own. In other words, IF you get this bike, THEN you must give a bike to someone via WBR and also support your own charity. That same rule applies here along with some others that I came up with as the other giveaway progressed:
You can't sell the bike for profit. This is about giving you a bike. If you want a new bike, great. You can get a new bike. But you can't SELL this bike. You must pay it forward.
Likewise the parts and the aerobars, which I am going to include this year.
The parts are things I wasn't able to include in the giveaway the first year that I'm excited to include this year. I think they are tools that someone who can't afford them as a luxury should be lucky enough to use, because they do make a difference. They aren't ways to make money for you.  
How will I know if you sell them? Let's just say that it's safe to say that I'll know, because there's a very, very, very good chance that I will. And you'll know, and I think that should matter more.
Same format as prior years - you can nominate someone or tell your own story. BUT, this year, because I do have three kids, and doing this is actually a lot of work, you ONLY get 250 words to tell your story. More than 250 words, I will just delete it. 250 words is a hard limit.

You need to tell me:
  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Your height
  • Your story. 
Only the "your story" part counts against 250 words. I will highlight the paragraph(s) you write, go to "Word Count," and that number better be 250 or less. Capiche? 

So, what is "your story"? The way this works is simple. You tell me: 
  • *WHY* (this is key) 
  • *YOU* (though you can write on behalf of someone else, as Drew Ziegler's wife did; Drew got the very first bike; Freddy Galbraith got the second, also via his wife writing about him. Wives are awesome... Duh.) 
  • *NEED* (and it must be a N-E-E-D) a bike. 
I have a trusty team of five or so people that helped me last time that I'll enlist again in the evaluation of the various entries. Plus the various fact checking and internet sleuthing that I specialize in. So no funny stuff...

Questions, however, may come via Slowtwitch, Twitter, Facebook, the contact form at the right, etc, etc. Just don't ask me on Instagram, because I pretty much only use that for outgoing, not inbound.

You have until November 30, 2016 to send these to me at:

Alright, I think that's it. Now let's get someone a bike...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Never Again Until Next Time

© Wagner Aurajo 2016

"A genius is the one most like himself.” - Thelonius Monk

Ironman World Championship
Kailua-Kona, HI ★ 2016.10.08

When I was in college, I wrote a book (using the term loosely) of short stories that I titled "Never Again Until Next Time." A quick google search reveals that this is not a unique idea, and indeed I think there is something in human nature that so often leads us to make the same mistakes over and over even as we fail to repeat our successes. At the time that I wrote this, it was intended as a collection of thoughts on my own repetitive lack of success in personal relationships, though it certainly fits the pattern of other trials and tribulations I had academically and athletically as well.

Following failed attempts in both 2014 and 2015 at Ironman Texas, I felt like I had finally learned my lesson after a string of successes that, without some bad luck, might have been as good a string of races as I've ever had:
  • IM Mont-Tremblant - Aug 16, 2015: 1st
  • IMWC Kona - Oct 10, 2015: 21st (broken saddle)
  • IM Arizona - Nov 15, 2015: 5th in 8:08
  • IM Texas - May 14, 2016: finished (food poisoning/stomach flu night before/morning of race)
  • IM Cairns - Jun 12, 2016: 7th with 2:50 marathon (flat tire)
  • IM Mont-Tremblant - Aug 21, 2016: 2nd
Initially after blowing up 10km into the run in Kona after a best ever swim and a calculated performance on the bike, I thought it was a simple case of the racing catching up with me. At the same time, I didn't think there were any signs that I should have expected to hit the wall that hard. I knew I was tired. I knew Kona is a different beast. And I moderated my effort accordingly on race day. I rode Kona at 10w (about 3%) less power than Mont-Tremblant, and I didn't do it in "fly and die" fashion (within the perspective of Ironman, where there is pretty much always some level of fade); I paced myself almost exactly as I had hoped, descending hard from Hawi. I had planned to run somewhere in the 2:56 range as opposed to 2:50 (like Cairns) or even 2:54 (like Tremblant). As I said, after Tremblant, I thought I was capable of going about 8:25-27 in Kona. Unfortunately, given that it was a "fast" year in Kona (Jan went about 10min faster than last year; Ryf smashed the course record), 8:25-27 would only have put me about 11th or 12th, but still, given all the racing I'd done, that would have been a fantastic result that would have set me up well for success (i.e., not needing to race a lot to qualify) in 2017.

While it wasn't my best ride, on a relative basis, I definitely saw the value in taking a balanced approach to the day. Thanks to Strava for the very cool comparison tool.

I said before the race to a couple close friends, "I think I can win this!" But that was more a reflection that I thought I was simply going to have a great day than actually thinking I was going to have this be a career defining victory. Basically, I expected to have a solid day. And, for most of the day, I seemed to be on track to realize that. I exited T2 at about 5:30 on the clock. So to hit my target finish of 8:25-27, I needed to run 2:55-57. I thought, "I can do that." And I set out to do that. I didn't think I was going to run 2:39. Or even 2:49. But what I really did not expect was to "run" a 3:36 and to finish in over 9hrs for the first time in my Ironman career. Yes, I had done a lot of racing. But there was nothing in the lead up that led me to believe that this was the race where I was going to hit the wall.

So I decided to look back at the training that I did between Tremblant and Kona to see if I could figure out where I went wrong. After spending some more time reflecting and some time looking at the data, I've come to believe that my poor race in Kona was as much the result the training I did in the lead up to Kona (most specifically in the period post-Tremblant, but also somewhat inclusive of the pre-Tremblant training I executed as well) as it was the result of an excess of long racing. Looking at some of the data, there is a trend that points to notable similarities between the build up to Texas in 2015 (DNF) and the build up to Tremblant/Kona 2016.

Talking about this with Joel after the race, his perspective was different. From his standpoint, it was clearly not ideal - not even close - to have chased points, especially by doing more Ironman races rather than more halves. He said, "we did the best we could given the circumstances, and it simply didn't work out. But that's not a huge surprise; you'd done a lot of long races." And it's hard to argue with that. At the same time, I thought I had reasonable expectations for the race, and I executed accordingly. And that's where the big disconnect between expectations and outcomes that led me to do some soul - or, rather, data - searching came from.

After taking a look at some (okay, a lot) of my training data, it's clear that there's a departure from what I did through IMTX (and, sort of, IM Cairns, though I didn't really train in the four weeks between; I just maintained) and what I did after. Obviously there was a lot of bad luck. And yet I don't think that bad luck needed to lead me away from the pattern that Joel and I had built early in the year. But it did. As evidenced graphically by the difference in power zones in the three months prior to Texas and prior to Kona. If you read my redux of "The Road To The Woodlands" that I posted in April, you'll see some similarities to the rather problematic training I did leading into IMTX 2015.

3 months leading into IMTX 2016 vs 3 months leading into Kona 2016

After writing that blog about training for IMTX this year, I came across this neat infographic. It's not perfect, but this visual representation of training load from Derek Hansen of does a nice job, in my opinion, of showing why Ironman-specific (Z2) intensity can be "toxic" in excessive macro-scale doses. In reality, the best long-term plans are a mix of all three types of work quality, with an overwhelming amount of low intensity and pockets of high intensity. So a more accurate picture would really be a few big circles and a lot of really small circles in between.

© Derek Hansen

After Mont-Tremblant, I felt like I had really good fitness, and I thought I should bring up the "top end" because of fact that you inevitably need to race parts of Kona, even if - as I did - you make the conscious decision to do your own thing and to let the group go when the pace gets crazy (as it did, and as I did). I actually felt really good post-Tremblant, which in hindsight was maybe - if not a red flag - then at least a yellow flag, because the idea that I should just bounce back from that race was probably unreasonable. I took a week totally off, and then a pretty light week, and then Joel and I talked a lot about what to do next. Ultimately, we decided to bring the volume back up, but to include a fair amount of discretion in terms of intensity.

3rd week (14-days-post to 21-days-post) after IMMT. Week 5 pre-Kona

If you look at the intensity descriptions, it's all subjective - "tempo" or "hard" - as opposed to specific power or pace. Ideally, this was supposed to give me the freedom to go easier. But I actually felt quite good and the pace/power numbers that I hit were really good. In hindsight, maybe I should have asked Joel to put a ceiling on the intensities, because while the workouts were all quite good, I did finish the week thinking, "oh wow, I'm not sure how much more I can do than that..." Again, some flashbacks to the "hang on" sense I had before IMTX 2015, though definitely without the sense of panic I had then. Joel and I talked it over, and we scaled back the plans for the next couple weeks to try to keep the load more steady rather than to try to build up any more.

This is a really tough balance to get right with such a short recovery window between MT and Kona. This is why you don't typically see folks who race late August Ironmans doing well in Kona. Peter Reid managed the IMC/Kona double. Thomas Hellriegel won IMC and then podiumed in Kona. But they are both remarkable athletes, and they were also trying to back up only one Ironman before Kona in the prior year - more like what I was trying to do last year - not four. So big difference. The time between races is not really enough to do a normal build, so - given that I seemed to be bouncing back from Tremblant better than last year - we made the decision to ramp the training up more quickly rather than less. In hindsight, that appears to have been a mistake. The subjective intensity descriptions gave me more latitude to go harder rather than easier. But it's not like I went crazy. I just think that having gone with a relatively higher volume - in an attempt to stabilize the loading a bit, I should have been more cautious on the pace and power numbers. I think capping the intensities at something more in the 70.3 range would have kept the ramp rate of loading more under control.

As I looked back over the best week I had leading into Ironman Texas, I see that we did exactly this. While at the time, this perhaps looks like more of a reach week because of the specific intensities, it ended up being an awesome week of training. It's impossible to know what would have happened if we'd just, for example, slotted a week like this in the place of what we did, but I think that's the direction I'd try go if - somehow - I end up in a similar situation of needing to back up long races close together.

Week 3 (Apr 18-24) pre-IMTX. At 1260 TSS, this week was the biggest week pre-Texas.

I finished that week before Texas with a 30min TT @ 377w (done near the end of a 5.5hr ride), my best time trial in eons. And 5x1mi all at sub-3:25/km (yes, I mix units...) pace during the long run the day before. Those were great - really great - workouts. However, if you look at both weeks, you'll see another potential problem (and solution) there. I said to Joel early in the year that I thought it was a bad sign to have too many green (TrainingPeaks color codes workouts based on time/distance planned-vs-completed) workouts. But the last workout I really missed? June 27th. You all know I have three kids, right? Joel tried to give me latitude in that second "transitional" week, but I didn't take it. If ever there was a week that begged for, "you know, I just don't think I had that in me today," that week of making the transition back into real training was it. The plan is not written in stone... except in my own head.

I had seven weeks between Kona and Tremblant. I think that was enough time to have the sort of race I had hoped to have. I said that immediately after Tremblant that I thought I was ready to go 8:25-8:30. And I still think I was. The problem was that when I most needed to be nimble in my execution of workouts, I wasn't.

I had better fitness than I had before Texas, but that doesn't mean I needed to use it. Taking a look at the TSS values for the training I did - which is at least a moderately effective post hoc tool for load analysis even if I don't like it as a predictive tool, it shows week 4 and week 3 (race week being week 0) prior to Kona at 1300+ TSS (composite) - versus notably lower load (more like 1100-1200 TSS most weeks) prior to Texas. That range of 1300-1500 TSS seems to be a bit of a "danger zone" for me. I seem to hit those sorts of values when I just end up doing a lot of that Z2 intensity. You need that before an Ironman, but you need to be careful how much of it you string together.

I would not say that an 1100 TSS week is "easier" than a 1300 TSS week. I think it's often just reflective of how you distribute your load. And the easiest way to get a high TSS value is to train in the sort of middle intensities that TSS "rewards." I've talked at length here and on Slotwitch about the problems I see with TSS, both functionally and in terms of how it is described, but as I've come to look back on my training more, I'm starting to see some more value in it. In particular, as I've gotten away from the "more TSS is better" attitude to thinking that there's an optimal range for me, and that range might be different than for others, and that you also need to look very closely at how that TSS value was generated, I've come to see some useful trends in how I've trained both when things are going well and when they are not.

Before Texas, I think I did a great job of really polarizing my execution of the training. I think, unfortunately, post-Tremblant, I used the fitness I had there to just make the training harder than it should (that's a loaded term...) have been. It's impossible to know if it was the hard stuff that was too hard, the easy stuff that was too hard, or both. But I think in hindsight, seeing a TSS score for that first transition week in the 1300-1400 range should have been a sign, "maybe you pushed the envelope a bit much there." Especially since I also felt like, "yeah, that was really good, but I'm not sure how much more I can do." I know from experience that I can't - with any sort of consistency - do very much more than about 1300-1400 TSS in a week. It's just too much of that Ironman-specific training. Certainly you need that before an Ironman, but you can't sustain it. This is (part of) why it's not advisable to do six Ironmans in a year. You can't prepare specifically for that many 140.6 races without burning yourself out.

Just as that week pre-Texas was harder - but also easier - than that transitional week, I also saw that I had another big week - pre-MT - that was likewise harder - but also easier - than my last build week before Kona. In each case, this is the week that finishes on the Sunday three weeks out from the race (aka week 3). Before Tremblant, I ended up doing a lot more of my intensity in the sort of half-Ironman zone. This worked out to another very good week of training that really set me up with confidence for Tremblant.

Week 3 (Jul 25-31) pre-IMMT. The "yellow" swim was the result of misreading the pool schedule; the "red" run on the same day is because I ran a bit extra as a result. TrainingPeaks uses percentages to calculate the color code, which is why the run shows up red.

This was my last build week, and I was really pleased to hit 1400 TSS for this week. Virtually every workout was good. I had some forced downtime due to a trip out to Indianapolis for Zipp to start the week, but I think that little bit of recovery allowed me to finish the week quite well. Before Kona, with a focus still on trying to incorporate some top end, I think we made a mistake in also trying to also keep up the specific fitness.

Week 3 (Sep 12-18) pre-Kona

I think this is most exemplified by a "4x45min @ IM pace with 15min easy" workout that I did prior to Kona at three weeks out. If there was one workout where I had to say, "I wish we'd done something differently on the planning side," I think this one would be it. We had a bit of a heatwave at the time, and I think I just pushed myself deeper into a hole than I realized. I think I was also a bit ambitious in terms of pacing here, shooting for more like the watts I had held at IMMT as opposed to the watts I planned to hold in Kona. But while it's easy to point at the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" without looking at the enormous saddlebags said camel was loaded down with. In my case, was that the training or the racing? Really, it was both. I think this week - and that workout - could have been fine if I'd maybe done less in that first transition week. Or that first transition week would have been fine if I'd done less here. And everything could have been fine if I wasn't do my millionth Ironman.

The real dilemma here is that the IMMT-Kona double just presents a real problem in terms of planning for Joel. When you look at how you recover from an Ironman, typically, you count about six weeks out and think, "Okay, I should be fully recovered by now." And when you look at how you want to prepare, you count about six to eight weeks back from race day and think, "here's where I need to start serious training." Obviously, with only seven weeks between races, those are impossible to reconcile. Interestingly, if you count 14 weeks (six plus eight) back from Oct. 8, you get Jul 2, 2016. The date of IM Frankurt? July 3rd. If you count 12 weeks (six plus six) back from Oct. 8, you get Jul 16. The date of Challenge Roth? July 17th. Funny that...

Anyway, this put Joel in a real bind. Which is more important, the training you need to do before a race or the recovery you need to do after? Well, if you have a bad race - like I did - it's easy to say, "well, whatever I didn't do is what I should have done." Everything is obvious in hindsight. But at the time, it wasn't so clear. I seemed to be bouncing back well. So we picked a strategy and went with it. Unfortunately, it seems not to have been correct. But it wasn't an arbitrary or unconsidered decision. Joel did his best to come up with an idea of what's optimal under decidedly non-optimal conditions. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. And while I don't plan to repeat these exact circumstances, I do think the lessons here are applicable in a larger way.

It was interesting to have my friend Andi Boecherer (5th in Kona) around before Kona, because what I found noteworthy was that he both did "more" and "less." His hardest workouts were quite impressive. And yet he also managed to take more time off or easy than I did. Looking at the two weeks he shared with me, they look a lot like the training I was doing before Texas.

I spoke with Andi after the race, and he gave me some thoughts which he clearly put some time and care into phrasing. His simplest thought said a lot, "I just saw you too tired too often." I don't know that I felt that - though it's certainly possible that, as someone who typically excels in hot weather, that it was probably a sign that I struggled as much as I did with those long, Ironman-specific workouts. I blamed it on the heat we had in Southern California during that time, and I am sure that was a factor. But I also just think it was too much overall. The pattern on race day in Kona backs that up. And Andi saw it. And Jill says she saw it too.

It is hard to think that I just make this same mistake again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Especially in light of a lot of the really positive conversations I had with Joel after last year and even during this year. It was certainly not ideal to race six Ironmans in 364 days or seven in 419 days... But I also feel like the primary lesson here is most definitely not one of "don't race so much."

I managed to carry great fitness from Texas to Cairns. And I simply managed to blow myself up between Mont-Tremblant and Kona. I showed great fitness in Tremblant, and I said that I just wanted to bring up the top end for Kona, because even as much as you want to do your own thing in an Ironman, Kona does require more racing than an Ironman without a hugely deep field. And yet - in swim, in bike, and in run - I just kept stacking that intermediate load on by how I went out and trained. The biggest specific workouts in all three sports - 40x100 and 10x400, both swim workouts that were totally shit // 5hr ride with 4x45min @ IM pace // 2hr run with 60min @ sub-IM pace - all came in the period before Kona. And only one of those workouts - the run - was really any good.

I wrote before the race about the idea of kaizen, of improvement. Looking back over the past few years, it's hard not to feel the opposite. That the one thing I have absolutely not done is improve. For a variety of reasons, I got stuck racing more - and racing more long races than i wanted - to get to Kona. Yes, Joel and I together took some gambles that didn't work out. We also made some decisions that I think are defensible but which - in hindsight - were not correct. And, more than anything, I think executed in training by pushing the envelope rather than being conservative. And yet, that's also my biggest strength. The very thing that undoes me is also the reason that I've been as successful as I have - that I very much like training and training hard. So as much as I feel like I haven't improved, I also feel like even as I was winning more races four years ago, I clearly lacked the understanding of how exactly I was managing to do that. Understanding that I have more of now. So what is improvement? As with training, it's more complicated than it seems.

Kona is Kona, and people always have "unpredictable" races here. A main reason is that they race stupidly. I know I did not do that. The second primary reason is that they left their race out on the road in training. Based on how I felt - and performed - in Tremblant, I can't help but feel like I did that. Yet again. And that is certainly frustrating. And yet I feel like I've learned a lot. I look at the way that I buried myself before Texas 2015, and while there are a lot of similarities, there are also a lot of differences. And while it's hard to really be positive about my race in Kona, I feel pretty positive about the insights and reflections I've been able to make.

When I raced in Oceanside, my assessment with Joel was that I had reasonable fitness, but not the sort of depth I needed for Ironman. When I raced in Tremblant, my assessment was that I simply needed to sharpen up the top end. Looking back at the year as a whole yet our preparation would seem to be inverted. I did more IM-specific training between MT and Kona than between Oceanside and Texas. And more top end sharpening between Oceanside and Texas than between Tremblant and Kona. But that's reflective of the push and pull between what it takes to do well in Kona - you need to be at your Ironman best, meaning Ironman-specific fitness - and how you plan a year - you do the more general stuff early in the year. Joel built a plan around getting to Kona early (Texas or, at least, Cairns), and we weren't able to do that. So how do we modify that? There's no easy answer. Especially not without the clarity of hindsight. And, of course, I'd never really been in this situation before. And I hope to never be in it again.

Looking back, the data shows some trends that I think are more generally applicable. At the same time, I've said repeatedly that the data is way more valuable for post hoc analysis than predictive analysis. The value of the data is giving objective and qualitative information that you help use to shape future subjective decisions. Joel and I made a plan for doing well in Kona. When things went sideways, we tried to adapt that plan. We got it wrong. This is not to say that you only learn something when things go wrong. Had things gone right, and had I pulled off that 8:25-ish race in Kona, that also would have taught us something. But, when it didn't go right, and the data reveals similarities between what went wrong here and what went wrong in prior instances, that's an especially good chance to learn.

If I am going to continue to race, and thinking through this is both motivating and incredibly de-motivating, I can't just keep making this mistake - doing too much, even if it manifests itself in slightly different ways each time, over and over and over. It really does need to be, "never again," rather than "never again... until next time." I feel like I've at least been able to give myself tools to do a better job of ensuring that happens.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 7. Race Week. Kaizen.

Is there something special about 51? I'll find out!

Part 7: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Race Week. Kaizen.

The Japanese concept of kaizen - "improvement" - is integral to endurance sport. Kaizen, for a variety of reasons, has come to be interpreted as a reference to continuous improvement, though this is not necessarily contained within the original Japanese. I was reminded again of this idea when I saw the announcement by Dimond of the new Marquise iteration of their frameset here in Kona. My use of the word "iteration" here is deliberate. When I think of kaizen, I think of an iterative process, though again, that is not necessarily contained within the Japanese. One of the things that, in late 2014, drew me to Dimond was also a sense that this was a company committed to kaizen. Every iteration of Dimond that I have owned - I will race on my third frame from them in Kona - has been better than the last. The improvements have not been dramatic. And that continues with the Marquise. They are not, as with certain recently announced bikes, a wholesale reimagining of the Dimond design from the ground up. But they are improvements. The frame is better than it was. Dimond is committed to kaizen. And, as I struggled to come up with something meaningful to say in this last diary before race day, I realized that - at least when I am at my best - I am also committed to kaizen. And when I have a clear vision for what I want to achieve on race day, it revolves around improvement. Improvement of placing, certainly, but especially of execution.

When I think about the companies I am proud to work with, this idea runs throughout. I've seen it with the evolution of products from Zipp - from my first 808s to my current 808 NSWs; SRAM - from the original RED to my current Force1; and Quarq - from the very early Cinqo to the latest DZero. From Kiwami and their original Amphibian that drew me to the brand in 2008 to the LD Spider Aero I will race in on Saturday. From Matchsports and the first ideas of the Matchrider and how it continues to evolve. From NormaTec and their original "orange lunchbox" in 2009 to the tiny and incredibly portable Pulse. From Rōka who may be the one company whose frenetic pace of innovation challenges the rate of consumer electronics; I don't know of any product they make that is unchanged from inception, and the company is only about four years old. From Oakley where the glasses keep getting lighter, clearer, and just better. From First Endurance, where I have been part of the constant improvements to products that don't come with a change to the name (the removal of artificial sweeteners in both Ultragen and EFS) and those that do birth a new product - EFS and MultiV PRO. From Josh, who brought the attitude that made me love working with him at Zipp to a reimagining of pumps and tools at Silca. Even from Chipotle - no GMOs - and the people I rely on at Raymond James. I did not intend to have the last entry in this diary be about the companies that I work with, but as I started writing this - inspired by what has been a great year of kaizen in the triathlon industry and - I believe - within my own career, I started to think about this as the defining factor of what I enjoy about pursuing this sport. Improvement. Change for the better.

Certainly I would not be here, about to start this race, without the support of these companies, so it seems appropriate to thank them all for allowing me to do this and for supporting me in my own pursuit of kaizen. I talked earlier about feeling especially optimistic about my fourth Kona because of the "cycle of four" that is my own manifestation of improvement-as-an-idea, even if - at times - it seems to involve taking steps back before I take steps forward. This was fundamental to the incredible four years I spent working with Joel and Simon Whitfield from 2005 to 2009, and which, after some miscalibrations in 2014, is how I think Joel and I have progressed over the past two years and - especially - over the past year since Kona 2015. It was what was best about how I worked with Michael Krueger during the incredible years from 2009 through 2012 and, ultimately, what I think we lost in 2013, when I (we) lost sight of the word I typically use to represent kaizen, which is Joel's word of choice - Process.

When I think of the goals that I've had over the past week plus that I've been in Kona, it's been simple. Adapt to the humidity (the heat I largely took care of at home). And approach with deliberateness the parts of the course that I felt were especially critical. On the bike, my goal is to ride the descent from Hawi effectively. I think that simple and singular goal reflects a larger strategy about the approach to the race that is larger than it might appear. On the run, I want to run well in the Energy Lab, and have done multiple sessions there with the intent of learning the flow of that stretch of road. I have come to Kona this year not just with a goal to do well, but to improve. There are specific things that I want to do better than I did last year, or 2013, or 2012.

Much of this starts with the swim, where I've worked to swim in Kailua Bay more often. To plan how and where I will start. On the swim, I want to execute well from 400m to 800m. Overall, the swim is always the part of the race where, because it is - relatively - so short and because interaction with other athletes in a beneficial way is allowed, I feel like I want to execute the entire thing well and to be fully focused for the entire swim, but even here, I feel like I have a specific intermediate goal that nevertheless colors my approach to this part of the race as a whole. In order to swim well from 400m to 800m, that requires that I do things in advance of that and, so I don't waste that effort, it requires focus afterwards as well. Likewise on the bike, descending powerfully from Hawi requires a metering of effort in advance, and then also a commitment afterwards so as to not have wasted that effort. Same thing with running strong in the Energy Lab. These incremental goals are my cues, but they are not the entirety of my focus. These are, however, areas where I know I can improve. If I can be better here, I know I can be better overall.

My friend Jon Schafer sent me a message this week with some positive thoughts for race day. He had been watching ESPN's 30 for 30 about the Orlando Magic. In 1995, the Magic and the Houston Rockets met in the NBA Finals. Anchored by a then very young Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Magic were the consensus "more talented" team. But the Rockets swept the Magic to win - and defend - the championship. It was a landmark victory in many ways. Wikipedia gives a nice summary (emphasis added by me to the key points):
The Rockets became the first team in NBA history to win the championship as a sixth seed. In addition, they became the first team in NBA history to beat four 50-win teams in a single postseason en route to the championship. The Rockets would win a playoff-record nine road games in the 1995 playoffs. In addition, the Rockets' sweep of the Magic was unique, in the fact that it was a "reverse sweep", where Houston won Games 1 and 2 on the road and 3 and 4 at home. It was also the second NBA Finals sweep in the 2-3-2 Finals format (after the Detroit Pistons did so against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989). The Rockets also became the first repeat NBA Champion in history to keep the title with a sweep. In addition, the Rockets became the first team in NBA history to win the title without having home-court advantage in any of the four playoff rounds since the playoffs was expanded to a 16 team format in 1984. Coincidentally, this feat would also be achieved by the New Jersey Devils that same year, when they won the Stanley Cup over the Detroit Red Wings.
Reading through the list of feats the Rockets pulled off, it's a remarkable testament to the character of that team. They had to overcome a lot of obstacles. One of the commentators on the ESPN broadcast had this to say in explanation of the Rockets success, and it was this that Jon sent to me in advance of Saturday's race.
When you’re young, it’s easy to think that you’ll be back to another Finals, but when you’re older, you understand that nothing in life is guaranteed and that this may be your best shot, so you had better take advantage of it. Houston won that series because they had experience, wisdom and focus. Orlando may have had more talent on paper, but ultimately Houston had what wins championships.
The real value of a championship - of Kona - is that this is what it reveals in you and about you. The depth of your experience, of your wisdom, and of your focus. And it's also what makes these attributes even better. Kona tests you, and it improves you. Mark Allen, who I believe unquestionably to be the greatest triathlete and one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time had this to say after he finally broke through to win in Kona.
In my failures, I saw the darkest part of myself, where I was weak, where expectations did not meet reality. Until you face your fears, you don't move to the other side, where you find the power.
In this idea, I find one of the truest expressions of kaizen; it's hard to imagine a greater improvement than a move to "the other side," away from fear. The best part - and the hardest part - of racing is that you are truly accountable. You are accountable to your process. To your decisions. And to your outcome. That's why it's so easy to be afraid. But real opportunity is a rare and special thing. It is scary. But I am not afraid. See you on the other side.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 6. Taper. The Fragility of Big Ideas.

Every other photo has been from a past race. Looking backwards. Now, I'm looking forward to this one. From an evening run in the Natural Energy Lab.

Part 6: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Taper. Week 2 Recap. Week 1 Preview. The Fragility of Big Ideas.

Well, I made it. It always feel like more of an accomplishment than perhaps it should, arriving at the start of taper in some form that still resembles what I think of as "myself." When things go well, there's no particular sense of crossing some momentous threshold; it's more seamless. When things are not going well, and I've certainly had my share of experience in this regard, taper arrives with an overwhelming sense of relief, as you feel the weight of no longer having to train more lifted from your shoulders. A good start to taper is a sense of mental readiness but physical fatigue. A bad taper starts with a tremendous sense of mental fatigue. As I write this on the flight from LAX to KOA, I would say, mostly, I am nervous. Nervousness requires mental acuity. A sense not only how I might fail, but also how I might succeed. Nervousness is not anxiety. Nervousness comes out of a sense of opportunity. Nervous is good. You are supposed to be nervous before racing in Kona.

For much of the last week, my mind has been increasingly captivated by something other than training and the prospect of racing. Like many folks - a record 80 million, I tuned into the US presidential debate on Monday night. I am sure that regular readers of what I write will not be the least bit surprised to learn that, as an avowed liberal with a somewhat socialist bent, I am going to vote Democratic. I do not do so eagerly, as I hold - like much of the country seems to based on polling - a relatively dim view of both candidates. As many folks of lamented, there are a lot of problems this election cycle, but perhaps the biggest one is that we have a choice between the two least popular candidates of all time. The point of this post is not to delve into politics, but rather to use it as entré to discuss the idea of fragility. Not physical fragility, but the fragility of ideas.

George Saunders wrote an excellent piece - at least if you happen to like George Saunders, which I do - for the New Yorker in July about "Who Are All These Trump Supporters." It's a fascinating snapshot of America at a massively important time in our history. Lots has been written about just how seminal this upcoming election is, but I do not have either the hindsight or the foresight to judge the relative truth of these statements. I think few people realized how important the Bush v. Gore election was in 2000, and yet it seems possible in many ways that the outcome of that election collided with history to produce a more landmark event - in hindsight - than I certainly realized at the time of the first election in which I took part. Only with hindsight did we realize the impact. But this time, the import is staring us in the face. To borrow Saunder's phrasing, Trump has made it clear that the idea of America - whatever that may mean to you, and it clearly means a lot of different things to a lot of different people - is something that may not survive my lifetime. I had never really considered that before. What's especially clear about this election is that lots of people share this exact same view, but for - in many cases - diametrically opposed reasons. 
Donald J Trump a Guardian Angel from Heaven,” reads a poster I retrieved from the floor of the Rothschild rally. “His Spirit and Hard Work as President Will Make the People and America Great Again!!!

Although, to me, Trump seems the very opposite of a guardian angel, I thank him for this: I’ve never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail.

But I imagine it that way now. 
This idea resonated especially powerfully with me during the final part of my training. I joked to my coach before IRONMAN Texas that I had reached the "existential crisis" phase of IRONMAN training, though at that time, I remember more feelings of "what does this - training and racing - really mean? Why do I do this?" This time around during the final push in training, I felt a deep connection with the idea of significance of opportunity and of momentous ideas. I was not just preparing for another race. There's a challenge here - balancing the importance of a race like Kona that is different but also not allowing that to overwhelm you such that you deviate from proper process. You are never guaranteed another shot at Kona. Each chance represents a singular opportunity. And needs to be treated as such. Kona is just another race, but it is also not. It is a special and rare and - ultimately - fragile opportunity.

And - I really promise this is not about politics - this idea continued to rattle around in my head during training because I see similar fragility of ideas that I once thought incredibly robust - in a disturbing number of other areas of my life that are important to me. I came close to losing my best friend over a disagreement regarding politics. What saved it? I am not sure. I suspect that we largely salvaged it by a realization that, on balance, we liked each other more than we did not. There's a big part of this that feels like a cop out to principle, but as Saunder's discusses, there's a big difference in what people believe in general and when it comes down to specific, individual, real people. It's easy to want to, "deport the illegals." It's quite different to ask someone, for example, "okay, so you want to remove this person here, who was brought here by her parents as a baby, from the only country she's ever known as a home?" That's the sort of discussion that, in most people, actually requires you to think really, really hard about what you actually believe.

For reasons that I won't get into only because I value my wife's privacy, this - the loss of my best friend - hit even harder because I had earlier this summer for the very first time seen the prospect of the dissolution of my marriage writ large and real before me in a way that I had never imagined. While 50% of marriages end in divorce, I never actually thought that would happen to me until I saw precisely how it could. Marriages and friendship - like national identities - are actually remarkably fragile, and require a vigilance and lots and lots of compromise to keep them in tact. But how much compromise is too much?

That question is being tested to a remarkable degree right now in the sporting world. The Russian doping scandal rocked the sports world before the Olympics, but it has been the subsequent chain of other events that enjoyed a place in the spotlight they might not have otherwise had without the Russian debacle that has really made me - and many others - wonder, "What is exactly is the value of 'sport'?" Sport - like America - is an idea that means something different to almost everyone and where, certainly, the reality is much uglier than the ideal. But nevertheless, until recently, I held firm to the idea that sport - as an idea - was not something that would expire as I know it in my lifetime. While the Olympics is not representative of all sport, it certainly is emblematic of it, and the overwhelming failures at virtually every level of bureaucratic infrastructure is staggering. The Fancy Bears leaks, in particular, have made me really wonder if sport is all just a farce.

How do I reconcile this as I head to a major championship sporting event? It's hard. A certain amount of fatalism makes things much easier, but it grates against the idea of principle. I remember when the Associated Press broke the story about the water quality - or lack thereof - in many of the Rio venues, including the triathlon. My coach, Joel Filliol, who had (I believe) nine athletes competing in Rio took the basic position of, "Well, it's out of [my and my athletes'] hands. We can't not race." Which, of course, was not really true. Of course you can not race. But, can you really? Where does that leave you after the 15min of adulation and support for being so brave fades away? What do you when the things that you believe in - such as your (or your athletes') health and the chance to test yourself on the biggest stage in sports - seem to stand in opposition to each other? Much was made of the golfers who chose to opt out of Rio because of Zika, and the most powerful criticisms were, "Of course. It's easy for them. They don't have to compete." The real difference, of course, wasn't the choice (or lack thereof). It was the cost of that choice.

For many years, I avoided the race in Kona largely out of a similar dynamic. The idea that you had to do Kona did not sit well with me. I was younger - and more contrarian, and I think I did not do Kona in large part because "everyone" told me I had to. Clearly you don't have to, and yet - to a certain extent - you do. Kona is the pinnacle for long distance triathlon. If you claim to you want to be the best in the world - which I did and do - you have to test yourself against the best in the world. But I didn't like that, somehow, IRONMAN was in control of me. I'm an independent thinker dammit!

I remember a piece that I wrote for Slowtwitch that Dan agreed to publish that, in retrospect, I'm surprised he didn't chide me for. It started as a response to a question posed in the forum after I won IRONMAN Canada in 2011. In it, I basically challenged the idea that "IRONMAN" (and it's corporate parent WTC) was a "steward" within our sport. I wrote it in much the same way that I see seemingly thoughtful people asking absurd questions like, "do you believe in the government controlling everything?" I felt very justified and very righteous. And yet I was incredibly stupid and naive.

The blowback from my article came in the form of my longtime friend and mentor at WTC, Paula Newby-Fraser. Paula taught me the lesson that I think - or hope - is an inherent part of growing up. And that is that organizations are made up of people. Who exactly did I think was not a "steward" of the sport? Was it the folks dropping cones on the highway at 4am? The folks zip tie-ing barricades around transition? Who was I indicting? Oh... I wasn't indicting anyone in particular. Except I was. I was indicting all of them. Specifically. And I was absolving myself of responsibility in the process. I talked in that article about how I wanted to leave the sport better than I found it. But by doing what? A year later, I was given a chance to do actually that. I started as an IRONMAN pro ambassador in 2013 - a role I've filled since then, and I'm proud of what I have been able to contribute. And especially for what I've learned.

Obama wrote in his memoir that, while campaigning and - necessarily - interacting with major political donors, his views came increasingly to resemble theirs. To many progressives, this seemed like the ultimate sin. He was selling out! And he was admitting to it! And yet I have seen this in myself. During my time working with/for Ironman, I've been incredibly lucky to have seen a lot of the fundamentals of how that organization which I roundly criticized actually works. To see, firsthand, a lot of the tough decisions that have to be made. And my big realization is that idealism is easy. It is, however, also very necessary. But you have to reconcile idealism with pragmatism. And that is hard. Just staking out the idealist stance is the cop out. That is selling out.

I like Andrew Messick a great deal. I also think he's doing a great job at the helm of IRONMAN. The more I come to know Andrew and the more I work with him, the better I like him. And the better job I think he is doing. Is there some bias in that? Of course. But I also think that I'm privileged to see the challenges he wrestles with. And I would say that this same sense applies to everyone that I see that works with Andrew. IRONMAN puts on great races. I know from Andrew that there is a checklist for every race that has roughly 1,800 items on it. If any one of those boxes is not checked, it will impact someone's perception of the race. And you will definitely hear about that one thing on social media. But what you won't hear about it the incredibly long list of things that had to be done correctly and which were done correctly. I used to focus on the boxes that didn't get checked. Now I try to focus on the ones that do.

As an idealist, I was greatly let down by Obama's time in office. But Dan Empfield takes a more circumspect view. He thinks Obama has done a great job. He's faced enormous obstacles in the form of an obstructionist Congress and has done the best job he could in spite of those obstacles. I tend to agree with this statement, though I've heard rational - though I believe incorrect - arguments to the contrary. The truth (or falsehood) of this statement is not particularly important for the purpose of this essay. The second part of Dan's more in-depth answer is that just because of he approves - as a whole - of the job Obama has done, that does not mean he approves of everything that Obama has done. One of his most eloquent articles expounding on this idea came on the topic of Lance Armstrong. It was entitled, "The Entire Lance Armstrong." And basically, it exhorted us to consider Lance as a complete human being, one with numerous and major flaws, but also one with a lot of virtues. The same is true of anything of value - friendship, marriage, sport, government. They have flaws. But they have a lot more virtues. And, most often, we pay attention to the flaws while simply taking the virtues for granted.

I see this as the remedy to fatalism. Fatalism absolves you of responsibility. I don't exactly know what to call this approach. Pragmatism? That seems rather crude. And also incomplete. Being an adult? I guess that works. I think it comes down to recognizing that many of the ideas we hold very dear are actually much more fragile than we'd like to admit. And that it's up to each of us to judge whether or not the flaws outweigh the virtues. That requires acknowledging those flaws, not denying them. This is especially hard now because much of how we process information has been increasingly shrunk down into soundbites, tweets, and wholly incomplete pictures of the way things are. People seize on the part that's relevant to them. Life has become an expanded version of the scene in "Meet the Parents" after Ben Stiller gets chucked off the airplane.

I will head to race in Kona recognizing that this race - and my participation in it - is not without its flaws. The hard part is how do you talk about those things in such a way so as to make the thing you love stronger rather than to break it? In my personal life, I've often defaulted to the stance of not talking about something. The idea that somehow putting something into words would make it real in a way that it was not before. And I find myself in the same position here. I had begun to list some of what I see as the flaws of the race in Kona, but I stopped. I deleted it. Why? Because I just didn't see that it would achieve anything. To a certain extent, that's because this is an essay, not a discussion. I don't have the chance in real time to clarify or to say, "Wait! that's not what I meant." It's easy to see cowardice - to see flaws - in the idea that, "Discretion is the better part of valor." But there's a lot of virtue in it as well. I cannot control what part of this essay is snapshotted and tweeted out, without the context I intended. Like the pre-race checklist, it's the one flaw, not the 1,799 virtues that will be keyed on.

As I said to my friend Brandon Marsh, with whom I have a refreshing number of candid discussions about these sorts of things, "As I get older, I find myself pushing DELETE rather than POST with increasing frequency." The best part of Saunder's essay covers this most eloquently. I hope you all read the whole thing, but I will quote Saunder's directly here. 

This, Mr. Trump, I thought, is why we practice civility. This why, before we say exactly what is on our mind, we run it past ourselves, to see if it makes sense, is true, is fair, has a flavor of kindness, and won't hurt someone or make someone's difficult life more difficult. Because there are, among us, in every political camp, limited, angry, violent, and/or damaged people waiting for any excuse to throw off the tethers of restraint and get after it. After which it falls to the rest of us, right and left, to clean up the mess.

IRONMAN started as a crazy dare in a bar on Oahu in 1978. I started my own journey as a professional triathlete based on the ridiculous conceit that, "I was pretty good; I should be a pro." I asked my wife on a date for the first time during the end of a swim set in Flagstaff, AZ. My best friend and I became friends because of a message on Facebook where he offered to help me become a less shitty swimmer; he never did manage to do that, but our friendship nevertheless survives. I won't attempt to summarize the founding of America in an equally quaint anecdote, but I'd like to believe - for all the inherent hypocrisy and irony that accompanies such a belief - that it has something to do with the fact that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

As concrete and permanent as these things may seem now, their beginnings all reveal their common fragility. These ideas require stewardship. These ideas require civility. These ideas require compromise. In the bombastic and scattered collection of disparate ideas that seems to encapsulate Trump's platform, there is something for almost everyone to dislike. There is also something for almost everyone to like. A great many of the conversations that Trump has forced into the spotlight are things that I feel we need to discuss. But what of the way in which we discuss them?

In a moment of remarkable (and I feel it's important to not become normalized to the insanity) irony, Trump condemened 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of kneeling during the national anthem:
“Well I have followed [the Kaepernick story], and I think it’s personally not a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. And you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it won’t happen.” via Deadspin
Wait, what? Is protest not at the heart of Trump's campaign? Is protest not the very foundation of it? A lot of very weak essays have been written that acknowledge the validity of Kaepernick's protest and his personal right to protest, but which object to the method by which he does it. One of the most roundly criticized was David Brooks' essay which argued, essentially, that Kaepernick's protest was bad for national unity. And in truth, it was hard to not initially read Brooks essay as incredibly condescending. 

But I also recall an essay that Brooks wrote about his role as a "pundit." It was his job to stake out a position that many people would disagree with but which was nevertheless thoughtful and measured. Because - though this is becoming increasingly rare - the way rational humans (does such a thing exist?) move forward is by finding common ground. By compromising. Or, in other cases, by not compromising. The common critical refrain about Brooks' essay was essentially, "Old white man talks down to young black man about race." Brooks wrote, essentially, that Kaepernick ought to stand in spite of what he believes:
Sitting out the anthem takes place in the context of looming post-nationalism. When we sing the national anthem, we’re not commenting on the state of America. We’re fortifying our foundational creed. We’re expressing gratitude for our ancestors and what they left us. We’re expressing commitment to the nation’s ideals, which we have not yet fulfilled.

If we don’t transmit that creed through shared displays of reverence we will have lost the idea system that has always motivated reform. We will lose the sense that we’re all in this together. We’ll lose the sense of shared loyalty to ideas bigger and more transcendent than our own short lives.
By repeatedly standing and pledging allegiance to something larger than ourselves, that act - in some small way - actually makes that thing become real. The counter to this came in the form of a very good article on that basically argues the opposite - that the very idea of America is rooted in protest. America itself was founded as a protest.
This is what a stand looks like. For better or worse, stands that demand people come together rarely have that effect. And contrary to popular belief, stands do not create divisions and fissures. They amplify them. The whole point of a stand is to put them on display, to ask the world to confront and examine their hypocrisies and ask why they’re on one side and not the other. Protests that don’t offend aren’t worth the effort. The ones that do are the ones that can change the world.
The idea that all men are created equal is incredibly unifying but it's also a massive protest against, well, pretty much everything in human society. Perhaps even in our DNA (the idea of an alpha male and/or alpha female in primates certainly does not support the idea that we are all created equal). Ultimately, I think the truth is that they are both right. And therein lies the fragility that seems so inherent in anything of value. The things that make something special are also, very often, the same things that would tear it apart.

IRONMAN is the ultimate solitary endeavor. And yet what makes it special is that it is a shared experience. Dan Empfield has written about triathlon that one of its somewhat uniquely defining characteristics is that it requires participation. Runners can - and do - self-identify as runners simply because they run. Cyclists because they bike. Swimmers because they swim. While lapses - sometimes very long lapses - occur, triathletes necessarily define themselves by competition. In order to be a triathlete, you must race. You must compete. This might be Kona, or it might be a local race, or even just a semi-organized outing with friends such as my best friend Mark's "Beerman" which takes place over an unmarked course and with unspecified and highly flexible "rules," but it requires more than just doing a bunch of swimming and also biking and also running in isolation, meaning both isolated from other people and isolated from the successive nature of events (not necessarily swim then bike then run, but that there is a sense that it is a single event rather than disparate ones; triathlon is one sport, not three). Just as you must balance pacing across three sports, the race as a whole must balance the needs and wants of many.

In my last post, I talked about the idea of anti-fragility. The idea of becoming stronger in the face of shocks and uncertainty. I think that's incredibly important because "systems" - profound ideas and relationships are both systems (def: "a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole") - are inherently fragile. The only way that they survive is because of antifragility on the parts of those who steward them. In the face of uncertainty, you commit to working harder, to finding solutions, to compromise, to not letting the perfect be an obstacle to the good, and to pushing back against those who would undermine those efforts.

IRONMAN motto is "Anything Is Possible." That is not just an opportunity. It is a responsibility. On all our parts.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kona Diary 2016 Part 5. Week 3 Update. The Anti-Fragile Athlete.

© Eric Wynn 2012

Part 5: Kona 2016 Diary presented by Matchsports
Week 3 Recap. Week 2 Preview. The Anti-Fragile Athlete.

Well, it finally happened. I reached whatever level of fatigue it takes to keep from wanting to write. I had intended to post an update last week, but that plan fell by the wayside in favor of... Well, I don't really remember. It's basically a blur. Week 3 went pretty well; I ran more and rode less than the prior week, but overall load seemed about the same. There were some key "specific" simulations - long swim, long bike, and long run (on separate days) - that were all quite good. These were not workouts where I could - or would even really want to - set a PR. They were much more like the race which they are designed to prepare me for - they reward steadiness and consistency and not blowing up. In fairness, I did blow up a little bit during both the bike and the run, but it was not catastrophic. More just a reminder that Ironman is really far and that a healthy respect for the distance is never a bad thing.

The weather either cooperated or didn't, depending on your perspective. It was hot and surprisingly humid, which makes training much harder, but which is also a better simulation for Kona than typical "Mediterranean" weather. As much as I might hate it, I do value the heat and the wind, because I think it makes you more prepared. The concept of antifragility was developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and is outlined in his book by the same name. The basic concept here is not just robustness - meaning an ability to withstand shocks - but rather a system which actually thrives on shocks and uncertainty. Taleb is a big fan of health/fitness/wellness in spite of (or because of) his background as a trader, and I am by no means the first to extrapolate the mathematical concept of antifragility into a physical concept that you can apply to the human body.

For a long time, I prided myself on being not just durable, but antifragile, though I did not know the term at the time. Some of my best races - like the inaugural Leadman Epic 250 in Las Vegas - have come when I think that massively difficult conditions have actually made me better than I might have been otherwise. I didn't have this file uploaded, but it was easy to find because I knew the race was in May of 2011, and I just needed to look for the largest Garmin file that was about 5x as big as anything else... I also look back at the ITU Long Distance World Champs in the same way. Yes, as a 2nd pack swimmer, the canceled swim due to the cold helped me. But I think the biggest thing that helped me was that we were all put in a situation that we weren't prepared for. Except I was. Because I had - and do - workouts where I basically do not warm-up on the bike, I just go. How often? I don't know. Fundamentally, I think the important answer is, simply, "more than never." 

This is why I train on the wheels that I race on. On tires that I race on. With tubes that I race on. With helmets that I'll wear. Some things - like wheels, which change a lot about how a bike handles - I try to do all the time. Other things, like helmets, where I value the safety of not having my ears covered a great deal, I do less often. I don't think there needs to be a hard and fast rule here. Just, basically, "if you can imagine it, make sure you practice it." 

I started thinking about this again after listening to a podcast that Joel did with JFT Squad physio (part time) Paul Westwood. They talk a lot about the role of physiotherapy and "interventions" and whether or not they have a place in elite sport. (The audio could be cleaned up a bit, but it's a good listen; just make sure you don't do it over earbuds, as the amplitude of the audio seems to jump a bit such that there are times when it's really loud.) I agree with most of what they talk about, especially their primary conclusion, which is that you need to focus on what athletes *CAN* do, not what they *CANNOT.* On area where I do disagree is on the topic of pneumatic compression boots. I have worked with NormaTec since 2009, and several of the things that Joel and Paul cite as weaknesses of the boots are actually things that I think are strengths. Especially as compared with massage, I much prefer the boots for a variety of reasons. 

Unlike a massage therapist, the boots are easy to travel with. They don't require their own plane ticket, or food, or a hotel room, or anything else. You just need to bring them and plug them in (or, in the case of the new Pulse, charge it). They are always the same. There's no wondering if this massage therapist will be good or bad or whatever. Now, certainly, they do not provide the human touch, and they can't hit every muscle, but they can work your legs, hips, and arms, which is most of you. As far as expense, for a device that is designed to last years, they are a lot cheaper than massage too on a per-use basis. And there is quite good evidence that they are effective (more than placebo), though that of course opens up the discussion of how best to use them, since we know now that you can indeed over-assist on the recovery side. This is a topic for a larger discussion, but, basically, my stance now is that I use the NormaTec system extensively during taper and after a race - when recovery is a priority - and try to be judicious about how/when I use it during normal training. Is this "right"? I don't know. But it seems to make sense to me. Regardless, I'm much happier sitting in the boots and reading - and the research shows there's a bigger benefit here than just sitting on the couch, and I don't have to go somewhere for massage, find a masseuse, etc. 

I do have a "physio" (though we don't really use that term in the US) that I work with - Blair Ferguson, an MAT practitioner who I have worked with since 2009, but the focus of our work together (again, a topic for a longer post) is how to do I get the most out of my swimming, biking, and running. The work I do with Blair is designed to allow me to do the training that actually matters. And along these lines, I'm totally aligned with Paul and with Joel - triathletes need to be swimming, biking, and running *as much as possible* (with a heavy emphasis on "possible," which means you don't injure yourself or otherwise chop your own head off). 

One thing that I do appreciate about working with Joel is that he has a core set of beliefs, but outside of those core beliefs, he's remarkably flexible. Steve Magness wrote about "The Plight of the Ego Coach," which focuses on the problems that arise from working with a coach who defines himself based on his resume and the successes of his athletes. This is basically the antithesis of Joel, and reading this dovetailed nicely with an article that Jill sent me about why 70% of kids in the USA quit sports by the time they are 13. The point of both articles is the same - the an excessive focus on outcome rather than process is disastrous. This is not a new topic for me to address, but it's also one that is especially relevant leading into the biggest race of the season.

The danger with any sort of discussion of "process" is that you can lose sight of the fact that outcomes are important. My goal is to have a good race in Kona, and a large part of that is certainly outcome driven. It's essential not to use the idea of "process" as a way to engage in post hoc justification of whatever happens. Failure is not just important as "learning experience" - something that I think we see far too much of in the mantra inspired by Silicon Valley to "fail fast." Failure is important because life is not fair. Sometimes you work really, really, really hard for something, and it doesn't happen in any way that even remotely resembles what you were hoping for. Sometimes you just fail. You don't have an excuse. You don't really learn anything other than a reminder that failure happens and that it feels awful. And that is it. 

But that's a hugely valuable life lesson.

Uncertainty is hard. But also important.

This is the part of sport that is far too often now taken away. The uncertainty. It's driven by a lot of different factors, and I think you can generally put them all under the heading, "Plight of the Ego." Whether it's the ego of the coach, the parents, the athletes, the federation, the country, or all/many/some of them, there's a huge sense that we have to turn failure into something positive. But failure is, in and of itself, neither inherently positive or negative. Sometimes you learn. Sometimes you don't suck but you still lose. And sometimes you really do just suck. All of these things are important on their own. 

Process is about integrating all of these things just as they are. A bad workout or a race can be just a bad workout. It can be a sign that things need to change. It can be a learning experience. It can be all of those things or none of them. Process is about giving a genuine and thoughtful effort to the task at hand and then accepting the outcome for what it actually is. Don't inject meaning that isn't there. And don't ignore meaning that is. 

So what do these things - antifragility and the plight of the ego - have to do with each other? I think everything. The surest way to be someone who thrives under certainty and in the face of shocks is to subjugate your ego. If ego is at least partly defined as, "a desire for things to be the way you think they ought to be," then maybe we can define antifragility as, "a desire for things to be the way they aren't supposed to be," or, at least, "a desire for uncertainty." To quote Tony Robbins, "Who here likes surprises? You? Bullshit. You like the surprises you want." Unwelcome surprises can be a good thing too. (I promise you that I have absolutely no particular sense of comfort with this concept, but I'm working on it...)

Now what do these things have to do with the particulars of Week 3? Nothing. Except that this is what I spent a lot of last week thinking about. And what does it have to do with Week 2? Nothing. Except that this is what I'm thinking about heading into this week.