Sunday, July 20, 2014

Temporarily Closed For Racing. Please Call Again Soon...

Looking forward, not back...

I should probably write something about all these races I'm doing. But instead, I just keep doing more races. See you after Calgary. Unless I race again...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Tank Is Empty. But I Have More In The Tank.

© 2014 Nils Nielsen

Ironman Texas
The Woodlands, TX ✮ 2014.05.17

I thought this was going to be the race where I finally got to write something other than some variant of, "Well, I thought I had a better race in me." In this case, the only real variant I can offer is that this time I know I had a better race in me. Over the past seven weeks, I've done some of the best training that I can remember. Certainly the best period of work in over a year. But I also had some upheaval. Part of the reason that I had such a good block of training was that I made a hard decision to make a pretty significant change and to decide to work with a new (old) coach. In many ways, that was a hugely liberating and positive experience. But it was not without challenges. But, in many ways, it seemed as if it was. Following the race in Oceanside, I knew I need a change, and after some very good conversations with Joel, we got up to speed very quickly. Training was going well. For the first time in a long time, I really felt great, both mentally and physically. Instead of feeling like I was behind the eight ball, I felt like I was out front again. 

But one of the hardest parts about making change is also knowing what not to change. I had a lot of success over the past five years, and even if some of it was by luck or by accident, I'm sure I did some things right on purpose. But it's unproductive to try and guess what particular things were the "keys" to success. Because it's very hard to spin things out of the whole program and even more so out of your life as a whole. Two years ago, I had one kid, I was coming off an incredibly successful year in 2011, and I felt like I was on a roll. To try to figure out what particular elements of training led to success in The Woodlands then - without considering the larger details of my life - would be folly. That would not be making a change. That would just be fence-sitting. I need to figure out anew with Joel what translates into success for me now. And, clearly, we haven't figured it out yet. It's been seven weeks and two races. So that's understandable. Still disappointing. But understandable.

Seven weeks after starting with a new coach - albeit one who I had a prior relationship with - is not a long time. There were bound to be both successes and failures. Ultimately, I think the final preparation after St. George and taper for this race was a failure. But I think that, in many ways, it was borne out of the much greater successes. For much of 2013, I was unhappy and unmotivated. I was also very tired. And the two became largely synonymous. When I finally took a big long break after Ironman Arizona - I went six weeks without running or biking - I finally felt rested. But I also felt out of shape, and my return to training was erratic, as evidenced by my lackluster performance in Oceanside. And so I made a change. And since then, I have been motivated, I have been happy, and I have had some of the best training that I've ever done. But the training did not become any less taxing. But I don't think - until I actually asked my body to perform in an Ironman - that I grasped the fatigue I was carrying. But I think I didn't grasp it because I wanted to be out there training. I felt good getting out there and working. I was happy. And healthy for the first time in a long time. I enjoyed what I was doing. And things were going very well.

Things were going well, at least, until I uncharacteristically faded during the last third of the swim in Texas, struggled to stay consistent through the middle of the bike (though I found a second wind for the last 25 miles or so), and really just hit the wall very early in the run. But I still feel motivated. I still feel good. And while I'm disappointed about the result itself and my performance, I still feel happy about where I'm at. And, if I had to make a tradeoff between knowing that things went right in training and wrong on race day, I'll take this over a race where things went pretty right on race day despite going wrong in training. In an ideal world, there's none of those tradeoffs. You have a good race and you feel like you have more to give. The training and the racing are both good. I know what it's like to feel that way, and I'm working towards getting back there. I'm definitely much closer than I was. But it's a process. And I feel - on balance - like this was a step in the right direction. 

It was not my best performance. But it was an honest performance. I left all that I had - and more - out there on the course. I just didn't set myself up for that effort to translate into something that was also a best performance. 

Now, before any of you folks jump on this as some sort of "less is more" or "rest is best" type of affirmation, it's not. Should I have done less during the week of the race? I think so. But I think the larger picture is that a big - huge - part of why I ended up in the scenario is that I had been very inconsistent and erratic in my training up until this point. So once I finally "found my rhythm," I was loathe - mostly unconsciously - to give it up. I didn't actively think, "I need to train more." I just enjoyed the process again. And so I did. But had I been more consistent since the start of the year, or, ideally, through last year (or years) - as I was from 2007-2008-2009 and then again in 2011-2012, I would have been better prepared to make the best decisions leading into the race. Six weeks of great training is wonderful. But it's nothing compared to six, twelve, 18, etc months of consistent training. With depth of fitness comes not only resilience - where doing a bit too much (or too little) is less impactful - but also a better sense of where your body is at. The more often you've been more consistent, the more predictable your body becomes. And Ironman - and endurance sport in general - is really about predictability. It's about expectations and reality coming together. Knowing what to expect of yourself and then executing that.

So did I need to less the week of the race? Yes. But not because "less is more" or any of that nonsense. But because in making changes and finally finding my stride again, I tired myself out more than I realized, both because I had found enjoyment in training again and because it had been quite a while since I'd had that sort of groove, and I didn't realize just how taxing it can be when things are going well. Ironically, in the flipside of that equation, I feel quite good today. Because I wasn't able to push my body as hard as I wanted to, I'm not as tired as I'd like to be. It was the opposite of St. George but with the same basic outcome. In St. George, I had better fitness than I showed because mentally I didn't dig deep enough. In Texas, I had better fitness than I showed because - thanks to a positive mental outlook - I dug too deep, but I did it before the race. But that's an easy fix. Much easier than "how do I get motivated?" The best sign that I'm on the right track as I sit here today, writing this, I'd rather be out there, getting ready to go win an Ironman.

Change is hard. But when you commit to the entire process, it works. I committed to the entire process, and it's resulted in both some success and some failure. I remain committed to the process and will hang on to the successes and try to learn from the failures. As I saw it put best on a brilliant sign out on the IMTX run course, "if it was easy, it'd be called your mom."

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Road Ahead

© 2014 Nils Nielsen

Following the recent race in Oceanside, though not primarily because of it, I decided to make a change that had been on my mind since going through what was my most disappointing year as a professional in 2013. In spite of two "acceptable" results - 4th at Ironman Melbourne and 2nd at Ironman Arizona, 2013 was a lost year. It was lost to overtraining, undertraining, injury, and just "general malaise," though not the sort that the genius possess and insane lament. Rather, it was a malaise of the kind of consistently subpar performances that drive you insane as an athlete. I was vaguely sick and/or injured for pretty much the whole year, which I mention not as an excuse for my subpar performances, but as a reckoning of just how poorly I managed myself. These things did not happen to me. I did these things to myself thanks to a variety of bad decisions and nondecisions that I made and didn't make.

Any discussion of a coaching change inevitably invites potential criticisms of the prior coach. Let me state explicitly that Michael Krueger is one of the very best coaches in the sport and that I have nothing but the utmost respect for him as both a coach and a person. He remains a friend, and I certainly intend that stays the case. In no way, shape, or form should the fact that I am changing coaches be interpreted as a reflection on Michael. We had enormous success together. As my life changed and career goals shifted, I was unable to make the sort of changes necessary in our relationship to enjoy continued success. It's on me. Really, all that needs to be said is that in five years together (our first race together as coach/athlete was Oceanside 2009, fittingly enough), I had five Ironman wins, an ITU Long Distance World Championship title, two Leadman Epic 250 wins, and - most amazingly - a comeback from a near fatal car-vs-bike accident. That last element is especially important, because I think it is part of why it was so hard to transform our relationship in 2013. 

In 2009, no one expected much of me, and I surprised a lot of folks, including myself, with  two Ironman wins, posting the 2nd fastest time in course history at Ironman Canada and a new course record at Ironman Arizona. But then that was all "reset" by my crash in 2010, and I was back to having no one - including me for a while - expect anything of me in 2011, which I think was a big part of why I was able to break through again, winning the Leadman Epic 250 in Vegas, Ironman Canada, and then the ITU Long Distance World Champs in Vegas. 2012 was a bit of a transitional year, where I was not originally going to go to Kona, but then thanks to some logistical breaks, I ended up racing Ironman Texas and the one-and-done Ironman US Championships in New York en route to a debut in Kona with a quick - and, in retrospect, somewhat foolish - stop at the Leadman 250 in Bend. And that's really when things started to come apart. I was tired in Kona. I had a terrible swim - not really surprising since my swimming after racing Leadman never was as good as it was before I tacked on all that fatigue. I faded on the bike. I faded on the run. Both totally atypical of the way I normally race. 13th was a disappointment. But I set myself up for it.

Racing Melbourne in 2013, where I was sick because I was an idiot in training was my fifth 8+ hour race in 10 months. I had expectations of myself - and I felt the weight, real or perceived, of others expectations on me - and lost the very things that had enabled me to be successful in the first place. I think, in general terms, I focused more on being a professional athlete than on a professional athlete. A good - but not great - performance in Arizona seemed like I had maybe grasped that and corrected it, but I think it was more an exception than the rule. A subpar performance in Oceanside to start 2014 basically confirmed (with some prodding from a wise friend) that something needed to change.

It was very hard to tell Michael that I felt that I needed to change coaches. But after almost five weeks of change since doing so, I know it was right. In closing out the retrospective part of this post, I'd like to tell a quick story that captures the essence of the successes I had with Michael and also the essence of what I need to get back to. Going into the last uphill section of the ITU Long Distance World Championships course, where - thanks to the TT style start, I needed to drop defending champion world champion Sylvain Sudrie of France, Michael said to me, simply, "you do it now for a world championship." And I did.

With Coach Michael after winning 2011 ITU Long Distance World Championships

In thinking about what I was missing and how to get it back, I immediately thought of the coach that really started me on this crazy journey, when really nobody expected absolutely anything at all of me - Joel Filliol. Joel and I stopped working together in early 2009 when he took what seemed like a dream job as head coach of the Great British federation, where a very formal business environment meant there would be none of the casual acceptance of a crazy American long distance triathlete that the more casual Canadian federation had tolerated (mostly thanks to Simon Whitfield). Joel left had since left that job and returned to a less formal business environment, once again run by a casual Canadian - Joel himself. Joel now coaches a globe-trotting squad of ITU and short course athletes (and now, once again, a long course athlete) that I plan to join at key points throughout the year. But mostly what I am aiming to recapture is the high performance attitude that I grew up (as a triathlete) in under Joel (and also Simon).

The last blog post I wrote, about the race in St. George, was really a self-deprecating take on the relative absence of this attitude in my own racing, especially in the swim, though really applicable to the larger race against a world class field. I said before the race that I felt like - and said before that race - I had half of a fast Ironman in me, and that is - not surprisingly - what I executed. To some extent, that was the reality of training and physiology. I was not in a great place five weeks ago, and I am clearly in a much better place now. But looking at the swim, in spite of a full year of hard work, I exited the water in essentially the exact same place - relatively - as I did last year. The irony, of course, is that I actually did "feel" much better. I was much more comfortable. I was, in fact, too comfortable. I had the race that I believed I could have, which wasn't that much worse than the race I think I could have had. But worse is worse. And better is better. Always.

Change takes time, but that's just as easily an excuse as it is a truth. I could have been better on the day in St. George. And therefore I should have been better. It's easy - and true - to say that, in practical terms, there's no real difference between 9th and 19th (or 17th) because the pay goes 8 deep. And, given the conditions and the depth of field, I just don't honestly believe I had prepared myself to perform that well. No amount of self belief was going to put me in the front of that race. But some self belief could have put me further up the results. I am better than 17th place. Except I wasn't.

And that's the ironic and self-mocking point I was making - mostly for myself - in that blog post. The great thing about sport - especially elite sport - is that it is incredibly objective. There is huge value in results and the very traditional meaning of space and time and things like, "how fast did you go?" and "where did you finish?" It really doesn't matter how you felt. I look at the photo of Tim Don, Brent McMahon, and Jan Frodeno doubled over at the finish line and think, "I did not feel like that." And, unsurprisingly, that was the podium, and I was 17th. I should have felt worse, because then I would have felt better.

It's very, very easy to just tweak the criteria you are using to evaluate your performance to turn it into something satisfactory. To take a me-centric approach to analysis. To let the earth move around you. But that's not real. Or, at least, it's not real if you are trying to be a world class athlete. The clock is real. Results are real. 

An attitude of self-awareness is only valuable if it also makes you self aware to your own BS. As the cliche goes, "whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." Can't do well on fast courses? Can't start fast in the swim? Can't do well except at Ironman? Then you can't. Now, as I said before, there's no switch here that just makes up for inappropriate preparation. You actually need to prepare to do well on fast courses, and at the swim start, and at races other than Ironman. But mentality informs racing which informs training which informs racing. If you believe you can do something, you will prepare more appropriately to do it. The fact that I was not prepared to win the race does not mean that I should have raced that way. There is a big difference between "can't" and "shouldn't." "Can't" is a mentality. "Shouldn't" is not. Shouldn't is the decision the mature athlete makes. Can't is the attitude of the fearful athlete. Though it's very easy to mix up the two. I know I have. Especially lately.

My friend and swim coach Lauren Hancock said to me before I left for St. George, "I had a breakthrough at the end of my career when I stopped racing to be disappointed." I thought I knew what she meant, where I thought she meant she stopped caring about how she did. But I think I understand it now in a different way. She didn't stop caring. She started caring more about the right things and about being honest about her expectations and her reality coming together in her performances. And I think that's truly what I've been missing.

I've been afraid, both of my own expectations and those of others. I let go of many of the right things - like a commitment to excellence - and held on to many of the wrong things, but wrong things that were easy to spin as something else. Spinning being afraid as being conservative. Racing scared as racing smart. Paula Newby-Fraser said to me before Kona last year, "what's - really - the worst that could happen?" And again, I thought I understood what that meant - the worst that could happen was to DNF, and that is what happened, and my world did not end. But really, to borrow the most elegant summary I know, the worst that could happen is, as Pre said, "to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." And I think I did that. Not so much in the race. That was just the inevitable conclusion of not giving my best in preparing. As I said, racing informs training which informs racing.

What I said to Joel when we first talked about working together again is that I did not want to be afraid. At the time, I didn't really know what I really meant by that, though I think it was the truest thing I could say. The Jean-Paul Sartre quote that I put at the end of the St. George blog probably seemed, like most of that post, like a comedic non sequitur, which it pretty much was in that context. But there's a reason I chose it. It's easy to mistake not caring for letting go. For being disenchanted - and being ironic - as truth. David Foster Wallace wrote about this in an heavy read on irony. But the truth is that not caring is easy. That's not at all letting go. Letting go really means caring a lot.

The quote on my top tube is a quote I attribute to Joel partly because he was the first to express the idea to all of us in the original BAMF crew, but mostly because he really instilled the idea in all of us. It reads, "Hope is not a strategy." You want a strategy? You better create one. I like how Drew Brees put it, "If you don't have a chip on your shoulder already, you better put one up there." And if you can't, make a change. Find a way to do it. Find someone who will challenge you to do it. I believe I've made that change now. And now the hard part really comes - putting it into practice.

With Coach Joel at a Flagstaff, AZ altitude camp 2007

I'm not the same person or athlete I was when this picture was taken. And my goal is not to recapture the past. That never works. My goal is to be great. To pursue excellence, even if it means riding up to 9,000ft in a blizzard. Again. To the extent that I can be better by learning from both my past successes and my past failures, I intend to do so. That is my strategy.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Observations on the True Self

not my actual self but merely a facsimile... © Larry Rosa

Ironman 70.3 St. George
St. George, UT ✮ 2014.05.03

In reviewing my recent race in St. George, I'd like to start out with two points that I think need to be factored into any discussion about the so-called "results." The first is that had I crossed the finish line ahead of all of the athletes who finished before me, I would have won the race. Likewise, had all of the athletes who finished ahead of me instead finished behind me, I also would have won the race. I think the importance of these two points cannot be overstated. Lest anyone out there come to the faulty conclusion that I am making so-called "excuses," let's be clear that these are relevant hypotheticals and/or counterfactuals. And I think that this sets up a useful paradigm for examining the various aspects of the race.

Before the race, I focused entirely on my own self. I mention this because in addition to consideration of relevant and appropriate counterfactuals, I think not enough time is spent focusing on our own perception of both ourselves and events during important periods in our lives. I felt a great sense of peace, which was enhanced by the convenient provision of dedicated "thinking chambers" within the transition corral. After spending time discovering inner peace, I decided to embrace a metaphor for my larger life, which was to use a mechanical device to control nature and to inject the very air we breathe into a confined man-made chamber for my own purposes. In doing so, I also felt a great sense of empowerment. With combined feelings of peace and power, I was certain that nothing could stop me, existentially speaking anyway. Having now established a proper framework for consideration of the day's happenings, let us now begin.

When thinking about my swim, I don't want to get bogged down with trivial items like, "how fast did I go?" or, "how much time did I lose to the lead group(s)?" This does not take into consideration important details like the fact that I did not grow up as a competitive swimmer. Had I done so, I clearly would have exited the water in the lead group, if not in the lead of the actual race overall. And the only reason that I did not grow up as a competitive swimmer is because my parents did not force me into it and also because I did not like the idea of swimming competitively very much. But can you imagine if this was not the case. Well, imagine it. And now that you have me coming out of the water first in your mind, we can move forward. And now I'd like to focus on the fact that I very much enjoyed myself during the swim. The water was an appropriate temperature for swimming in a wetsuit. There also was essentially no chop or wake, which was helpful because I also did not grow up swimming in rough water (though imagine if I had done that as well!). And the sun did not shine into my eyes in such a way as to prevent sighting. All of these things combined for a swim where my overall self-image during this portion of the so-called race made me see myself as if I was swimming with perfect form and at high speed. And as a result, I came out of the water exactly where I should have. The fact that some other people chose to come out of the water not where they should have (meaning ahead of me, at least within the narrow confines of traditional definitions of space-time) is not my problem. Next time, they should not do that.

Once onto the bike, I'd to like reframe this whole experience as the earth rotating under my wheels rather than me riding over the earth. I think it gives a truer understanding of events to think about things unfolding around me as I remained perfectly still (in the Zen sense of the word). In this me-centered version of events, there is no time as we know it, meaning that I could not actually have ridden any faster or slower. The earth simply could have moved faster or slower beneath me. Though of course the earth does not move faster or slower. So again, I was transported from the start of the bike to the finish exactly as fast as possible. The movements of other souls (I hate to call them "competitors" because of how limiting that is) is not of concern to me, since how could I know how they would interact with their own versions of the earth-self model. To those who attempted to be untrue to the genuine earth-self by redefining space-time for their own convenience, I have to ask, "how does that really make you feel about yourself inside?" There are numerous self-empowerment books that could be of great value in terms of answering these questions. I hope they read them before we next come together.

Beginning the run, I could not help but feel a sense of destiny, knowing that I would leave from where I started only to return back to almost exactly the same spot, but at a future time. In the common parlance of our times, this is referred to as an "out-and-back" course, though I think this is a foolish idea, since obviously you can never go back in time. Time moves inexorably forward. I felt a very strong sense of oneness on during the run, which was inconveniently interrupted by the presence of other people whose oneness inconvenienced my own. But can you imagine if I was the only person racing? Imagine it. If no one else had been there, then no one could have disturbed the version of events where I cross the so-called finish line having done what some people would describe as winning. And so, really, I think you truthfully can say that even if I did not win the so-called race, I did win the actual race, which was my own internal struggle with my self-image about my place in both space and time.

Before we conclude our analysis of this one particular version of events that occurred in this one particular version of reality, I'd like to discuss one last salient point. One dominating thought that I could not help but dwell on was the idea that I felt very ready to swim, bike, and run for exactly twice as far as I had on this particular day. I can conceive of a world in which we do not compete at a "70.3" race, but rather at a race that is twice as long. I will call this hypothetical race a "140.6" race. This thought was present in my mind at numerous times during the day, and I regularly felt that I would have been in a more favorable position had the previous portion been twice as long. I could not help but feel like had we chosen to swim, bike, and run two times - instead of one - over the same course that I would have fared much better. Perhaps someday soon such an event will come to pass. I dare to dream such a dream, because as Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth."


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Triathletes Need A Road Bike

(Reposted this after getting so many requests for it. Specialized moved to a new platform and it was lost.)

As much as you might read the title and expect that this is going to be a compelling (or fluff) piece on why you must buy a Specialized Tarmac SL3, that is not actually the case. Though, in the words of Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." No, this is simply about why you - the regular triathlete - needs *a* road bike. Before we get into why you need a road bike, there are some of you who do not need one. If you are this person, you can stop reading right now. If you never ride more than an hour and if you never ride less than 25mph (40kph for you sensible metric folks) and if you view your bike simply as a necessary evil to get from swim to run, then you are 1) very atypical in the triathlon world, 2) probably an ex-swimmer or ex-XC runner, and 3) not the kind of person that needs a road bike. There are a few of these folks in the world. They are not the norm.

Assuming you are still reading along, I will assume that you are not one of those types of people. There are two primary reasons to own a road bike. The first is simple - if you ride with other people, it is not optimal to have your brakes and your shifters in separate places. It's also very much not optimal, unless you are participating in a Team Time Trial, to ride in your aerobars in close proximity to other people. Now, you may have an easy answer (in your own mind) to this "problem." You will just ride in the "pursuit position," which means with your hands on the brake hoods. And this is what brings us to the really real reason that you need a road bike.

Whenever you are NOT in your aerobars, you would better off on a road bike.

The reason for this has to do entirely with biomechanics. People who primarily ride their tribikes use the following argument, "I race on my tribike, so I should train on my tribike." While this is true, most people do (or at least should, assuming they have been properly fitted to their bike and their saddle) race in their aerobars. If you do not race primarily - 90%+ of the bike portion of your race - in the aerobars, then you need a fitting on your tribike, in addition to needing a road bike. But let's assume that you do have a good position on your tri bike and you do race in your aerobars. That's a big assumption, but we will make it, especially since I spent the last two posts encouraging you to get the right saddle. The position that you are fitted to when you go in for a tribike fit is your aerobar fit. It doesn't matter, really, how comfortable your pursuit position is. It just has to be "good enough." There is only ONE position on a tribike, and that is the one in the aerobars. Everything is a compromise position. The reason is that the body angles (specifically the angle of your hips relative to your torso) change a LOT when you are not in the aerobars. 

The position of your hips - your hip angle - in this position:

Is very, very different than in this position:

And that is why you need a road bike. Because the latter position - the correct position -  is much more similar to this position:

It's quite easy to see when you look at the pictures. 

Road bikes have three positions. Hands on the hoods (Fabian in yellow), hands in the drops, and hands on the tops. In all cases, your hip angle remains largely constant, because you will slide back in the saddle when your hands are on the tops and forward when your hands are in the drops. Furthermore, you can also bend your elbows to create the appropriate hip angle. Technically, you can also bend your elbows on a tribike, but this puts a LOT of weight on your hands, which ends up being a very uncomfortable (untenably so) position, and you still aren't likely to get nearly as low as you would if you were on your aerobars. 

So what this means is that every time you come up out of your aerobars, you are training in a position that is VERY different from the one you want to race in. And, ironically, in these moments, were you riding a road bike, it would be your position on that bike that would be most similar to the position you aim to race your tribike in. This is the position that will allow you to generate the most power, recruit the most musculature, and be the most comfortable. But you need to train in this position. Especially on a steep seat angle position, riding a tribike in the pursuits/hoods is really much more like this:

than like this:

It's this versatility of positions - all of which allow you to preserve a common hip angle - whether you are climbing, descending, sprinting, pack riding, or just out training that make a road bike so useful. You can train in the same position you will race in, only without needing to put your weight up on the nose of the saddle, crane your neck to see the cars and traffic lights up the road, or do any of the other things that make a tribike less than ideal for doing anything other than riding hard against the clock. And any road bike will do this for you. You can spend less than 1000. You can get entry level parts. You can even have (gasp) a triple! It doesn't matter. The most budget, non-carbon, simple roadbike is going to be the best training tool that you can buy. And it'll make you feel that much faster (because you'll actually be faster) when you do take your tribike out for the kind of ride it was designed for - a hard and fast one. Of course, a really, really, really nice road bike also works well too! But it's the positions that it offers you which make it so useful. So if you want to end up like this, well then you need to train that way, which means you need a road bike...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Dominating some pretty rocks. © J. Prasuhn 2014

(Based on actual events. So names have been changed due to poor memory...)

Team Rappstar Elite Team Member Jordan "Rappstar" Rapp kicked off his 2014 season with a dominant 15th place finish that saw him besting the entire age group field and crossing the line a commanding *FOUR* minutes ahead of (women's) winner and (women's) course record holder Heather Wurtele. He finished a mere two minutes back of Matt Lieto who finished barely nine minutes back of Trevor Wurtele who finished only five minutes back of Sebastian Kienle who was a miniscule four minutes back of (men's) race winner and (men's) course record holder Jan Frodeno.

The day started off quite strong for Jordan, who saw it as a good omen when he noticed SuperCrapper-brand Port-A-Johns in transition. An ecstatic Rapp said after the race, "whenever I've done my pre-race business in a SuperCrapper, that always sets me up for a great day. There's nothing quite like using single-ply t.p. by the light of your headlamp to set a tone of excellence."

After entering Oceanside Harbor via a E-Z-Crete concrete boat ramp covered with the finest SuperStainFighter carpet, Rapp quickly established a position right in the heart of a group that was chasing a group that was chasing a group that was chasing the leaders.

Out onto the MegAsphalt roads around Camp Pendleton, though, things just didn't click as well as they could have. A confused Rapp said, "normally, on this particular mix of tar and gravel, I really just hum along. Especially when the lines are painted with SuperBrite paint, as these were, that's normally a recipe for course record bike splits. I'm really baffled. It was probably because I haven't adjusted the preload on my front hub bearings in a while. Not that I'm saying it's my fault. I'm just saying I could have broken the course record if I'd had the right size allen key with me."

Never one to say die, at least not without a lot of Twitter-posting preceding it, Rapp headed out with great vim and vigor onto some more E-Z-Crete on the Oceanside boardwalk. But when the race turned to MegAsphalt roads winding past the Stoner Brothers Oceanfront Homes, things started to come undone. After the race, Rapp told the gathered throngs of reporters, "I saw some more SuperCrappers out there on the run course and thought about stopping in one to try and regain my mojo, but I just didn't have to go. C'est la vie! (That's French for, "I didn't have to go #2.") The slow pavement seemed to continue to drain me and shunt my energy to the rest of the field. I've always felt like this is a somewhat lecherous form of asphalt, and today proved it. I don't like to make excuses or blame others, but I think it's pretty clear that I would have won this race if the pavement had been a different brand. Take note Oceanside Municipal Workers."

Up next for "The Rappstar" is a chance to avenge last year's loss to (women's) winner and (women's) course record holder Meredith Kessler in St. George! Looking ahead, the fearless father of three said, "Now is the time to move in a generally onwards and generally upwards direction!" If you don't think that is a powerful statement designed to intimidate the field in St. George, you probably aren't very much good at the English.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Color Commentary

“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” - Oscar Wilde

Dan Empfield penned a thoughtful piece on the stakeholders in the sport of triathlon recently. Reading that article helped crystallize my thoughts on a new partnership that I've entered into. It's not a relationship with an industry stakeholder; it's a relationship because I believe that I am an industry stakeholder. And it's for that reason that I'm proud to announce that I will be working with the Color Me Rad 5k run series. It's probably the most unique relationship I've had in my career as an athlete, and I think it will remain so.

The not-so-unique problem facing triathlon as a sport today is not that the sport is not growing. It's just not growing fast enough - in terms of participants - to keep up with the growing number of people who wish to make demands of those participants. Triathlon is a lifestyle sport. People don't just do triathlons. They become triathletes. And then they tell you all about it. (Thanks Michael!) But that's not always an easy process. Triathlon can be intimidating. Very intimidating. If someone says, "I don't think I can do that," the right answer is not always, "Yes, you can!" Sometimes, I think, it's something more like, "Yes, you can! Eventually." Or, even, "Maybe you can't, but if it inspires you do something more than you are doing right now, that's awesome!"

I did my first triathlon - a sprint - over 10 years ago because I just wanted something to do to stay active while I took a break, thanks to an injury, from rowing. Being active was  (is) just a way of life for me. But for a lot of people, it's not. I think it's telling when you look at the largest health problems in the US, most of them could be remedied simply by getting out and doing more. And I think Ironman does an amazing job of inspiring people to do just that. But for many folks, especially those for whom being active is a huge change in and of itself, it can be scary to make that sort of change.

Lao-Tzu, writing in the Tao Te Ching, tells us, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." No matter who you are, something has to be that first step. And for those of us who have already taken those first steps, something can also always be a waypoint on the journey. And it's okay to have a little fun along the way. That's why I'm excited about Color Me Rad.

Thanks to Color Me Rad, last year over one million people found themselves celebrating fun by running 3.1miles... and then throwing colored corn starch on one another. It's basically the antithesis of triathlon. There's a minimum of equipment required. And it definitely does not take itself too seriously. It's the sort of thing that we - as triathletes - could maybe use a little bit more of. And it's the sort of thing that an increasingly sedentary world could definitely use a lot more of. There are not too many GPS watches or heart rate monitors at a CMR 5k. But it's still a run. You're still covering that distance through your willpower and your own human-power. And that's really what I think makes it most special. While it's a great opportunity for people who are active to do something that's active while also being relaxed, I think the biggest opportunity is that it's a totally non-intimidating way to get out there and move. It's about getting out, getting active, and getting dirty.

My goal in working with Color Me Rad is to get people to choose to do something instead of doing nothing. If what I've been able to achieve in my own life inspires someone to do a Color Me Rad 5k or an Ironman or both, that's something I can be proud of. No matter what starting line you find yourself on, if you're out there, you are RAD!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

First Endurance. Fueling a Career.

In talking about the future of my relationship with First Endurance, I thought it appropriate to start with the past and how it all started. This is, at least in part, because I want to talk about things that have nothing to do with the products that First Endurance makes, and everything to do with something that rarely gets talked about – the business side of being a professional triathlete. First Endurance makes great products. But I am excited about another three years together because they are a great company.

For better and for worse, for many – likely the vast majority of – professional triathletes, triathlon is not their profession. Some would like it to be, but struggle for any number of reasons to realize those dreams. For others, triathlon was always going to be a side gig. Thankfully, due to a lot of luck, even more incredible support from too many people to mention, and (I hope) some hard work, I'm privileged enough to make a living and support a wife and (now) three(!) kids doing this. I mention this because it is, perhaps surprisingly and perhaps unsurprisingly, rare. And because it's not something I could do without the support of companies like First Endurance.

I first came to use First Endurance products – EFS, Ultragen, Multi-V, and Optygen was the bundle I started with – thanks to my good friend and advisor, Brian Shea of, who recommended I use them in the build up to my second go at Ironman Arizona in November of 2008. After very positive results during the training leading up to the race as well as during the race itself, I signed a contract in February of 2009, after six months of using the products full time. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brian Shea for making this recommendation. There's so much bad science out there regarding nutrition, I never would have thought to pick up the First Endurance products without Brian's recommendation. Now, I try to fill the same role of educating people about these products that, yes, actually have real science behind them.

For that first year together, the crew from First Endurance gave me as much product as I needed – which is a lot, as any Ironman athlete will tell you. But 2009 turned out to be a breakthrough year for me, with my first (and second) Ironman wins. Sometime in December, a check showed up in an envelope on First Endurance stationary with a note that said something like, "We know there wasn't anything formal in place, but we feel like you earned this with your performances." I wish I'd saved it, but I was living out of my car at that time, and all non-essential items were quickly discarded. I'm sure there are folks out there laughing that I didn't even think to negotiate some bonuses, but at that time, that sort of thing just wasn't on my radar. But that didn't keep Robert and Mike (the founders and owners) from giving me bonuses for Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona anyway. This same company then stuck by me during 2010, my "lost" season (that also almost was the year I lost my life) and signed me up for a three year deal after having raced only one time post-crash.

When it came time to talk about the future this latest time, my world had once again changed in a dramatic way. With the arrival of twins, my reality is now very different than it was before. I have three kids under three. I truly do not believe that will affect my ability to perform at the highest level of sport. But I do believe it will affect how often I can do it. Travel for races is now a much bigger ask of my wife, Jill. I have to be more judicious in planning out big blocks of training, when I'm inevitably less available than I am during the offseason or during times of recovery or "maintenance." It would be easy to pretend that's not the case, but that is not who I am. I don't want to promise something I cannot deliver. My goal is to be at my very best for two Ironman races in a calendar year and probably one (maybe two) 70.3 a year. I believe I can do that and still be a good parent and husband. But that means I also need to deliver value to my sponsors in other ways. And I need to find companies that perceive a value in things other than race performances to work with. I could not imagine a more supportive company in this regard than First Endurance. Robert said to me, "we're with you for the journey. We want to be a part of your trying to win Kona. We feel there is a value in that." And that was incredible.

I feel like I'm at the point in my career now where I've won the races I want to win besides Kona. Does it really matter if I am a five time Ironman winner or a six time Ironman winner (or seven or eight or…)? Not really. I mean, it certainly matters when I step on the start line of a race. But once you set a goal of achieving success at the pinnacle of your sport, no amount of success elsewhere can replace success at the highest level. Three Olympic bronzes do not equal a gold… But success at the highest level is never guaranteed. I sometimes think, when I talk with Chris McCormack or Simon Whitfield, that one of my biggest limiters is that I recognize the real potential for failure. But I don't know how to change that about myself. I know I might not win; I don't know that Chris, especially, ever really considers that. But knowing that and fearing that are two different things. I don't believe that I fear that (though I did). And so I've set out on this journey of working to win Kona. Of chasing that goal. Of pursuing that level of excellence. It's that pursuit that First Endurance has decided to support, both in spite of and because of all the very obvious obstacles that stand in the way of it. 

(As a brief aside, describing this sort of thing inevitably, and unfortunately, always seems to carry with it an implied criticism, especially when there are partnerships that didn't get renewed. It's hard to express that the opposite point of view is one of neutrality, not one of negativity. I love that this is what First Endurance believes in. But that doesn't mean that I dislike that it isn't how every company operates. As a related example, ZIPP makes all of their wheels in the USA. But their parent company, SRAM, makes basically all of their components in Asia because that's where most bikes are made, and if you want to be an OEM supplier, that's the way you need to do it. I love that ZIPP makes their wheels in the USA. But that doesn't mean that I dislike that SRAM does not make components here. I'm neutral on that. It's just something that "is.")

Now all of this is, perhaps, pretty tangential to what sort of nutrition products you choose to buy. I could – and sometimes do – argue that the sort of people that believe in both process and outcome are the sorts of folks that tend to be really good at making things, and also at making things better. That's actually been a hallmark of First Endurance. Not just how good their products are, but how their products have improved. And how willing they are to change. 

When I was first introduced to First Endurance products, two of their four versions of EFS were artificially sweetened with sucralose (Splenda), which was – and still is, for many other companies – the preferred artificial sweetener, because it doesn't actually affect the body's insulin response. That is no longer the case. Now, two flavors of four still have enhanced sweetness – fruit punch and lemon-lime, but both use the plant extract stevia (also shown to have no effect on insulin response) to boost sweetness beyond what comes from the sugars in the carbohydrate blend. What's most important, to me, was the decision to remove all artificial sweeteners across the board. No single product in the First Endurance line uses an artificial sweetener. None. Based on not only customer feedback but also some concern that, more generally, artificial sweeteners just don't seem to be that good for you (as another aside, this is obviously too long/complex a topic to get into in depth here, since stevia is technically an "artificial" sweetener in that it's not really a sugar; but it's not artificial in the sense that it's an unmodified extract of a plant, unlike sucralose, which is a modified sucrose molecule; I really don't intend this to be any sort of fear-mongering, especially since I am not a physician, so I really tried to phrase this as neutrally as possible, while also supporting a belief that I share.), this decision reflects First Endurance's belief in adapting as they learn. "This is the decision we made then because of what we knew then. This is the decision we are making now because of what we know now." That attitude is rare. And it is exceptional. And it comes, I believe, from a focus on improvement that meshes with a focus on a goal. You can't just focus on improving. Sometimes, you need to step up and deliver. Whether it's stepping up and onto the racecourse. Or whether it's bringing a product to market. You can always say, "just a little bit more time…"

And I could list all of the reasons that First Endurance products are great because of the foundations in research and science which are then supported by the legions of professional and age-group athletes that they rely on for testing. But those reasons might become outdated. They might become wrong. They are only based on what we know now. 

What makes me feel great about signing on for another three years with First Endurance is their process. Their journey. I'm thrilled they've let me join them on that road, and I'm thrilled they are joining me on mine. First Endurance doesn't just fuel my performances. They also help fuel my career.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Raising Arizona

© 2013

Ironman Arizona
Tempe, AZ  2013.11.17

Do you ever get the feeling that there's something... Powerful pressing down on you? - H.I.

If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump its ass a- hoppin'. - Nathan Arizona, Sr.

Besides borrowing a couple of apropos quotations from the movie and the reference to America's 48th state, there isn't really a whole lot of relevance from the classic Coen Brothers' movie to my race in Arizona. No madcap capers. And certainly no need to steal children. Not with a two year old at home and two more on the way imminently. Though I do suppose that the title is somewhat relevant in explaining why it has taken me so long to get around to writing a recap of a not particularly dramatic race.

The race itself doesn't really have much noteworthy. I felt very good on the swim and was solo most of the day since I stuck right on the buoy line, something I find very easy to do on counter-clockwise courses because I pull slightly to the left. It was nice to have the confidence that I was pacing well and fast without anyone else around thanks to all the time I've spent in the pool with the crew at Conejo Simi Swim Club. I came out right where I thought I should have, doing it all on my own. A nice swim to finish on. Giving up time still, so that's motivating both because it shows the value of the work that I've done and also, giving up four-ish minutes, the importance of the work still to do.

On the bike, I had good legs and fantastic conditions. That and my first time on the Arizona course with a 55T front ring added up to a 4:14 bike split. Everything went pretty much the way it was supposed to. A nice change from Kona.

On the run, the lack of proper volume due to deciding to do IMAZ last minute after Kona really showed up. When I run well in races, it's because I'm running - for me anyway - a fair bit in training. And I just wasn't before IMAZ. So I felt pretty much awful the whole run. The power on the bike was nothing I haven't done before (and run well off of), so I don't think I overcooked it too much on the bike. Maybe a bit given the overall lack of a "normal" build, but I really think it was nothing more than not running enough. That's the simplest explanation, which is what I prefer. Unless I have reason to think it's more complicated, I tend to think that I'd have run better if I'd just run more. Which is what I plan to do for most races that I plan to do.

On the day, I just wasn't fast enough. If you'd told me I'd come off the bike with the clock showing 5:10, I'd have almost guaranteed that I'd break 8 hours. But an 8:06 was as much as I had in me, and I'm honestly not even sure that a sub-8 performance would have gotten me the win on the day. Not when del Corral was really just in cruise control the last 14 miles. It was disappointing to have what I thought was a very good performance on a course I love and to not win, but it was also a very satisfactory way to end the season. Nothing can erase the missed opportunity in Kona, but Arizona was a good reminder that when I make good decisions, I am capable of racing well. Now I just need to not forget that and keep on doing the work necessary to turn those good decisions into good performances on race day.

So, that's the race in a nutshell...

Why did it take me so long to get that out? Well, for the past two and a half weeks, I've been helping my now extremely pregnant wife out by playing Mr. Mom. When she was just very pregnant post-Kona, she gave the okay for me to do another race, in spite of the fact that I was supposed to take over for her as soon as I got back from Hawaii. Over the past three weeks, I've been reminded just how intense a job parenting - and particularly, mothering - is. And it's not like I'm filling her shoes. I'm just shouldering some of what she was doing so she can rest more. But she's still doing a lot. It's remarkable. I've also learned that it's called, "Mommy & Me" for a reason. People are definitely taken aback when a dad shows up with the kid. "Is everything alright?" is the very first question you are asked. "Music Together" might as well be named, "Music With Moms." Dads show up there more often, apparently, though I was the only male over the age of three on any of our trips.

I don't really want to segue into a discussion of gender roles and all that. I'm sure there are plenty of single dads or dads who are the primary parents and all of that. But at least within our own little slice of suburbia, women are still the "moms," (though many of them also work). And it's always impressive to see just how much work they do outside of their "job" simply being a mom. Two and half weeks of it has pretty much kicked my butt. Without question, it puts an Ironman into perspective. "Eight hours? Please..." I just imagine some old wizened grandmother shaking her head at me... That's how I feel anyway. Hats off to all your moms out there. It should be Mother's Day way more than once a year.

And, of course, thanks to my lovely wife, Jill. And my own mom, Diane. You are the real Iron(wo)men.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Festina Lente

© Eric Wynn 2013

Ironman World Championships
Kona, HI  2013.10.12

Learn from the past. Prepare for the future. Perform in the present. - Gary Mack.

Confidence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. - Alan Brunacini

I struggled quite a bit trying to figure out what I, if anything, I wanted to write about my race in Kona. I'd already promised the crew at LAVA magazine to do a debrief going over the things - practical things - that I learned from the race; that article will be published in the Kona issue and probably also on And I spent a long time on the Slowtwitch forums right after the race talking in a mixture of catharsis and brainstorming. I think I've probably written more than I've written about any race on the topic of Kona 2013, which is actually a race I'd like to forget, not immortalize on the internet.

Ultimately, I failed to prepare appropriately for the environmental conditions of this race. I failed to prepare in advance, physiologically, and I failed to take steps on race day to mitigate the consequences. There are plenty of great quotes about learning more from failure than success, finding the silver lining, etc. I don't really want to go down that road. I suppose it might make me feel better, but really I think it's really just an exercise in self-deception. 

I learned a lot from the mistakes I made. I will be better prepared next year. But I also know well enough that there might not be a next year. Not to be fatalistic, but I think it's most important - as an athlete - to recognize that competition is a finite opportunity. And I squandered a very rare and special chance. I had an enormous amount of good luck in both the preparation and the race itself, and I wasted that. There are countless things that actually are out of your control that can go wrong and ruin a race. So it's disappointing to have not been able to realize the full extent of the opportunity before me because of a whole multitude of things that were in my control. 

In sport, you need to have a short memory when it comes to self-pity and depression. And you need a long memory when it comes to that sense of failure that accompanies underperformance. Forget about what happened, but also never forget how it felt. I believe I did a lot of things right before and during the race. And I did a few important things wrong - both by action and inaction - before and during the race. In particular, on race day, I rushed. Why? For a variety of reasons. I lacked the confidence to be patient. I got caught up in the race. Etc, etc. The typical stuff. I needed to "make haste slowly" (festina lente). And now I have to wait a year for another chance to do so. Until then, I think it's most appropriate to borrow the motto of my friend and mentor Simon Whitfield, who just announced his retirement after one of the most remarkable careers in the sport of triathlon. Simon was a master of performing on the biggest of big stages. The larger the opportunity, the more he rose to the occasion with his performance. It was about showing up on the day and performing in the present. And about preparing for the future. And about learning from the past. It was always about the relentless pursuit.

The clock is already ticking. Time to be relentless.