Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year

Be more ambitious completing your plan than building it

It seems as the New Year approaches, I see elaborate plans formulated that have the secret mix of intensity and volume that will make them or their athletes super fast in the upcoming year. Discussions abound regarding anecdotal experiences about personal successes or scientific literature supporting certain protocols. And each plan and the reasons that one does the plan all likely have merit. And I certainly don’t profess to know which plan or protocol is the right one.

But, from my experience, my greatest obstacle is hardly the plan. Instead, the one ingredient that seems most important for me to remain healthy and fit while getting faster is getting out the door on a daily basis. Am I on the right protocol? Am I doing the right volume? Am I going hard enough? Those questions leak into my thoughts like everyone else, but rarely do I find that the lack of a perfect protocol is what is holding me back.

Beginning with my first Ironman in 2003, my largest triathlon gain was the result of the consistent training I completed for the 2005 race year. I ended 2004 with a dismal 2nd Ironman performance in Wisconsin, so I was motivated to improve. After a nice recovery period, I began preparing for Epic Camp Australia in Jan 2005. The advice I received from Gordo and KP was simple and good-try to increase the frequency of my training sessions in order to ready my body for the upcoming challenge. And Epic Camp was a challenge, but I attained my goal of completing every swim/bike/run session scheduled for the camp. This was wonderful preparation for the remaining year. I was thoroughly tired from camp, and having no experience of super big volume training, took a good break off from any real training. This rest period allowed my return to consistent training by mid-February. I qualified for Kona the first time at IM Brazil in May. Again, I rewarded my body 4 weeks of rest before returning to consistent training in July, which carried me to a very satisfying finish in Kona.

As I reflect on that year, the simplicity of my training plan stands out the most. After my 2 biggest events and ample recovery time, I repeated my basic week over and over again. Nothing fancy. If I felt good, I would go faster some days. But mostly I just kept completing the plan week in and week out. The plan was one that Gordo and I drew up during our stay at Jindabyne near the end of camp. The first draft was one that I authored…the final was a “red-inked” version that Gordo suggested I could complete 95% of the time. The more reasonable goal allowed me the satisfaction of completing my plan nearly every week, and feeling even better when I could add on a few hours. I realized then that my greatest barrier had nothing to do with anaerobic efforts, the amount of time spent in particular zones, or the VO2 max sessions I completed.

Usually, my success correlates with the frequency in which I get out the door. So, as I’m experiencing a bit of those winter blues and despise everyone else who seem to have the perfect plan, I remind myself to remain true to what has worked in the past:

1. Be more ambitious about completing my plan than building it.

2. Experience success below my limits before trying to push beyond them.

Best of wishes to everyone for the upcoming year.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Training Partners

I wrote a good portion of this summer after completing our largest training block before IM Canada. I was thankful then and even more today of the people I got to train with this summer.
I was teaching at a spine conference four days last week in Niagara Falls, so I missed the training groups “Big Day” on Saturday. So, after the Sunday morning swim with the boys, I was solo for 5 hours in the saddle and a 1 hour run. Lot of thoughts traveling through my head over that time span, but one that I will share is my reflection on a couple of training partners I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent time.

Needless to say, much has been said about the current squad on the various blogs; I can only echo what has been said and how fortunate I’ve been to be included in this group. Gordo has a knack for surrounding himself with quality people and this group is no exception. The more I get to know them, the more impressed I am of them as individuals aside from their athletic achievements. Denny, Justin, BDC, Mat, Billy, and Gordo…thanks.

The original TriCows deserve equal mention. Without their guidance, I still wouldn’t haven’t started swimming or biking (some might argue that I still don’t do either)! Keith, Jeff, Tim, and JK exemplify most what I like about age group triathletes…incredibly successful people with a healthy outlet for exorcising their demons!!!

For those that currently know me, any reference to the “Shilt Bros” usually represents my youngest brother John and I.

But the original Shilt Duo was my brother, Jason and I. Jason was, and still is, the consummate athlete and sports fan. Despite our nearly 4 year age difference, his appetite to shoot hoops or play catch was unmatched during our childhood. He always kept me on my toes and honest in whatever sport we were attempting. Physical differences didn’t subdue his competitiveness-he would front up no matter what the odds.

After picking up golf from our father when I was 12 or 13, we spent nearly every day in the summer playing golf. I can remember trudging around the course from sun-up to sun down. My highlights from growing up….trudging around 36 holes/day at the cow pasture in Piedmont that was serving as a g.c., shagging balls at A.L. Gustin G.C., hitting countless range balls, spending hours on the putting green. I was amazed as I watched my “little brother” progress in the sport. It seemed like overnight that he went from a little duffer to a scratch golfer outclassing my golf game by miles. It was one of my absolute life highlights watching him win the state golf championship during his senior year in high school. I couldn’t have been happier watching my brother, my first real training partner, reap the rewards of years of work. I’m remember being amazed at how talented he is…not many people get the privilege of observing that sort of successful progression in its entirety close-up.

Which makes me lucky. Not only have I had the fortunate opportunity to see that sort of successful progression once, but now twice. My current training partner, my youngest brother John, has developed into one of the top triathletes in North Carolina. And though I enjoy watching him race, the greater experience is the training time we have spent together. He exceeds the expectations anyone could have of a training partner. He has swum more strokes, biked more miles, and ran more footsteps with me than everyone else combined. And along the way, provided inspiration, clear perspective, and support that is unparalleled.

We are at an interesting time in our lives as we each explore different professional opportunities that are available. Nearly every day I lament how much I will miss him if he chooses a path this is different geographically. Though I will always support any decision he makes and be grateful for the many training miles we’ve shared, I hope there are many more ahead.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving Weekend.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Setting Limits

"Aerodynamically the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it, so it goes on flying anyway." - Mary Kay Ash

This quote is a bit pollyanna and odd coming from me. Generally, I am a realist and most people would not consider me a “happy go lucky” kind of guy. That said, I’ve rarely allowed others’ views of my potential or talents influence my aspirations or goals.

I’ve had a lot of time this summer to explore my triathlon potential and expand my endurance training knowledge. Despite what others may percieve as a lack of measurable progression and documented physiologic limitations, ironically I continue to dream of better race days.

That’s not to say that I don’t have fluctuations in self-evaluation…some days I feel great about my singular accomplishments and other days I consider myself a failure. And often I find myself wondering whether is it possible for me to continue to improve in the sport or if there is any point in trying to become faster. But through it all there are three factors that motivate me:

  1. the overall sense of well being that I derive from being healthy and fit.
  2. the satisfaction I feel from self-discovery through the process of improvement.
  3. the infinite number of areas I can still improve.

After a yoga class I took with my tri club (TriCoWS –Tri Club of Winston-Salem) this past week, the instructor read us the following quote:

"You yourself are the being you are seeking" - Swami Veveknanka

The process of self discovery is really enjoyable. So much of sport and the pursuit of well-being have little to do about specific time goals or race finishes. Experiencing new levels of success as I define them continually motivate me. I enjoy the gratification I receive after each breakthrough and it motivates me to keep searching for new ways to improve and expand my horizons.

The number of pathways to improvement seem endless to me. So much so that I laugh inside when people tell me of personal limitations, whether they are mental, physiologic, or environmental. Everyone one of us has multiple areas to improve in every aspect of our lives.

It is refreshing to be reminded of this by guys that most of us would consider elite. When top athletes like Lucho talk about reaching the next level by mental preparation and toughness, it makes me wonder how much I have to gain in this arena as well. Many people may say that they are so physically talented, that this is an advantage they get to experience…super genetic physiologic gifts. I like to think that successful athletes are the ones that find ways to overcome the barriers they are given and exploit the talents they are fortunate to possess. In contrast, others may only complain of the gifts that don’t have.

Gordo’s speaks of this often as well. There are so many detractors who want to prove that he has some “secret” physiologic gift that many of us don’t have. And I’m certain he is more physiologically gifted than some, and less than others. But I think many people miss the big picture on his success. He does what it takes…whatever that is for him. That is one of the many things I’ve learned from him.

I will close with one final quote for the week.

"He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Best of luck to all those out there expanding their limits.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

30 Runs in 30 Days

The picture above is Erin and I enjoying a zip line trip. The longest one we did today was 800 feet more than 100 ft off the ground. Spectacular!!!_______________________________________________________

Following my requisite break from IMC, I posted a run challenge to my local triathlon club (TriCoWS) to help jumpstart the slow road back to fitness. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we decondition. Many people, my wife included, wonder why I’m starting back so quickly…here are my reasons.

1. The longer I take off, the harder it is to break the bad habits I build up.

2. The more deconditioned I get, the harder it is on my body to get fit again, injury free.

3. It allows a looooonnnnnggg ramp up to get into shape. By starting very slowly, there is no urgency to rush things.
4. Building a big, aerobic base by starting so slowly prevents injury and burnout.

I think the concept of the 30 runs in 30 days originated with Molina. I certainly heard it first from Gordo that Molina suggested it to him. The idea seems simple; in reality, few people can actually accomplish the goal. I think the way it was originally described is nothing less than 45 minutes constituted a run and it had to be a continuous effort…no running part of it in the morning and part of it later.

I’ve adapted the challenge a bit. You have to understand the basic premise in order to maximize the potential opportunity of the challenge. The goal is to safely increase your frequency in running and improve your aerobic base. Given that, the 45 minute minimum shouldn’t apply to everyone. To that point, everyone’s minimum is different based upon their running background.

The primary reason I believe people aren’t successful is from going too hard cardiovascularly. This has two results…one is mental/physiological burnout and the other is resultant musculoskeletal damage. We are wired to push ourselves…therefore, without wearing a hr monitor, people are repeatedly pushing above their aerobic ceiling and preventing adequate recovery.

I have more knowledge about the musculoskeletal limitations. The body responds to stress by “rebuilding itself” in a stronger fashion. To some, it would be intuitive then, to continue to go harder. However, the tissues are also constantly being resorbed during the remodeling process. This continual process of tissue breaking down and rebuilding is generally balanced. Problems arise when the balance is upset such that the breakdown is occurring at a rate more rapidly than the buildup. This results in stress fractures and overuse syndromes if the new stresses are applied too quickly. To avoid these complications it generally takes bones, tendons, and muscles approximately 6-8 weeks to rev up the building process. I believe those that aren’t patient enough to wait this period of time are usually those people who are plagued with recurrent injury and inconsistency.

Therefore, for people that aren’t accustomed to frequent running, their goal should be to build their musculoskeletal system (joints, tendons, muscles) up to the point of achieving a new remodeling homeostasis sufficient to withstand the new daily stress. This method hopefully can lessen the aches and pains that are the result from starting too rigorously that prevent continuation of running for most people. So those athletes who are patient can proceed with a gradual build-up (6-8 weeks) to provide sufficient time for the tissues to respond and strengthen to the initial stresses. I believe this increases the success of a those starting a new running program.

So on to the challenge. 30 runs in 30 days. Nothing fancy-no pace or distance requirements. Just get out and run 30 separate times in 30 days. What constitutes a run? For those people who have done sprint and oly races, 30 minutes. For those that have completed a half or full ironman, 45 minutes.

A couple of tips: need a day off? Run in the morning and once in the evening on a given day to “bank” a run for your day off. Ideally this shouldn’t be done more than 1/week. Tip #2 Use the run walk protocol on those days when you are feeling tired. Start off by walking 2-3 minutes, then begin running. After 10-15 minutes, give yourself a 30-60 sec walk break. I recommend posting your daily runs on your local tri forum…this can be motivating for yourself and others. Group peer pressure is always fun ;-)


I wanted to post one thought as we are 13 days into the run challenge. It is interesting to see people push themselves despite the warnings. Even those who begin with a bit of humility and self proclaimed lack of running experience are running harder and more often than planned. I was running with Erin today and we were cruising around at her typical steady pace/effort. Given the large variability in our run experience, my effort/hr was pretty low (115) during the majority of the run. However, during each ascent, I was keeping pace with her, only to see my hr sky rocket to 150. Despite the obvious effort, she would continue to push the pace and accelerate past me. This is a common event I experience with less seasoned runners and I asked her about it.

My perception was that she felt it necessary to hammer up the hills and was looking at me and questioning why I wasn’t going harder. Yet she said, she just assumed that was the effort required to go up the hill and her perception was that she wasn’t going that hard (She didn’t have a hr monitor on). I suspect this is the same reasoning I commonly see when running with a group.

My suspicion is that these efforts are the ones that make it difficult to recover and come back the next day. But to best build endurance, you need to be able to repeatedly back up your prior days training. The repeated many day efforts of continuous training are superior in my mind than intermittent bursts of high intensity training separated by required rest b/c you are too wrecked to train.

Hope everyone is enjoying the fall. Best of luck to the Kona Athletes.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Poker Pacing F/U, Economy & Efficiency

A couple of different thoughts I would share this week.

The first is a reflection on “poker pacing.” Although this was just a fun exercise I developed during training this past year, it is amazing to me how many times I’ve seen this same concept discussed in different contexts. Anecdotally, I knew I was getting faster as the year progressed practicing this technique. Nearly all my results demonstrated that negative splits WERE possible; especially when appropriate pacing and training were in line with my goal split at the end of the day.

It was a hoot to see the new marathon record go down this weekend. Interesting was to look at the pacing strategy. I would love to see his hr rate efforts. The effort required to run that much faster at the end of the marathon requires a much “easier” effort early in the day.

The course is described as reasonably uniform, so I think it unlikely that the course plays much role in the pacing effort. There is 5 ~ 80-100 ft elevations over the course and 2 of them are in the 1st 10K, with one each in the other 10Ks. Berlin Marathon Elevation Chart

Haile Gebrselassie at the Berlin Marathon
5 km: 00:14:44
10 km: 00:29:27 / 00:14:43
15 km: 00:44:16 / 00:14:50
20 km: 00:59:10 / 00:14:54
25 km: 01:14:05 / 00:14:55
30 km: 01:28:56 / 00:14:51
35 km: 01:43:38 / 00:14:43
40 km: 01:58:08 / 00:14:30

I find it humorous when people are offended when told that their pacing strategy isn’t realistic for their fitness if they positive split. For some reason, we have this funny programming that makes us think we can have some super heroic day b/c we go fast early in a race. Rarely, people learn from this mistake. It is really fun when you take the chance to run with appropriate pacing and can finish a race strong.

After spending the week working on the metabolic cart with Alan & Mat at the Endurance Corner Lab, I realized that I’ve chosen wisely when it comes to career choice. Though I certainly don’t consider myself an intellectual giant, my physiological limiters are far greater than my intellectual ones.

In any case, it was interesting to see that I’ve been able to achieve reasonable IM success despite a pitiful VO2 max. How, you might ask? Well, it’s pretty obvious on any of my group training sessions. Nearly anyone can bury me in a training session by revving up their engine a bit and putting in a burst of speed, as a result of their larger engine. But the longer or later we are in the session, the less chance this is likely to occur.

Why? Well my endurance is reasonable. Though I’ve not had a muscle biopsy to prove it, I suspect I’m nearly all slow twitch fibers and my training has created the peripheral adaptations necessary to be very economical. Based upon the numbers we generated, I’ve really maximized the economic side of things.

So that leaves efficiency. These two terms are often confused. Whereas economy is the final outcome (velocity) for a given energy, efficiency is bit more “upstream” and the power output for a given energy. The latter can be affected by anatomic structure and technique, therefore affecting the final outcome, economy. Fortunately, I know that I still have tremendous room to improve in technique in both swimming and running which will result in an improved efficiency, and henceforth, economy.

Of course, that leaves cycling. I don’t think I’ve achieved my economic ceiling here. Furthermore, I think I’m leaving quite a bit on the table in regards to positioning for maximum power output. Though this may be (and this is a BIG may be) a bit less aerodynamic, our early calculations suggest an overall improvement in speed. More on this a later post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The (Literal) Costs of Doping

Given the state of doping in cycling, I spent some time this summer researching what it would take to establish a drug testing regimen for our training group. Gordo posted the article here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My buddy Nich, me, Bob, Larry, and Charlie

The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.
American Heritage Dictionary

The last few weeks have been a combination of easing back into pediatric orthopaedics and writing/thinking about human performance. One of the topics that I’ve been writing about is bike fitting. You will see some upcoming blogs about the evolution of my bike position since my first Ironman and my experience with my bike fit with Dr. Andy Pruitt. I have to admit that this is particularly on my mind because my back has been a wreck over the past few weeks. After a summer free of any discomfort, my back has been killing me since the coast to coast drive from Penticton, BC to Winston-Salem NC. Unfortunately it hasn’t eased up. The mental yearning of wanting to head out for a spin on my bike is greatly outweighed by the literal pain in my back. Combine that discomfort with the more aggressive position on my P3 and you might conclude that I haven’t been out much since IMC.

But the legs and mind vetoed the backs misgivings this weekend and I went out for one of our staple IM triathlon rides on Saturday with my buddy Nick. I had intended to go out on my own for an easy couple of hours, but he convinced me to go with him as he was riding with a couple of older cyclists in town.

Fortunately I didn’t know either of these guys well beforehand or I would have likely bailed right from the start. Bob is a 65 y.o. multiple time age state cycling road and TT champion and Larry is a 67 y.o. equally accomplished cyclist (I didn’t get an opportunity to get your racing results—sorry Larry). Both have similar backgrounds in that they were competitive marathoners into their 40’s before taking up cycling and smashing the rest of the master’s cyclists. Bob is a retired DVM (veterinarian) and Larry retired from the construction business. Both are incredibly nice guys and really a joy to ride with. What was impressive to me was their ability to combine a comfortable, yet powerful bike position that allowed them to push up big inclines in their aerobars. I’ve only seen a couple of people who can ride hills comfortably in the aerobars as well as these guys (one who comes to mind is a guy who smashes IM bike courses with ease and hails from a Nordic country on the Scandinavian peninsula).

This experience substantiated my bike fit ideas that are the culmination of both experiences italicized above. That is, to continue riding healthy into the next few decades, I need to find a position that doesn’t place tremendous strain on my flexibility and structure. For some, this will also be aerodynamic. For those of us who are less flexible, we are likely better off in a position that is ergonomic. In an endurance event like Ironman, reducing the fatigue and strain on your body will pay dividends at the end of the day.

This is a tough realization for a guy that wants to ride faster and who reads slowtwitch. But, I also know that the countless hours spent in a position that results in increased strain on my system is unlikely to be one that allows me to remain healthy enough to continue to enjoy the sport. If, in the long run, the 5 minutes I lose in an IM bike split gains me a few decades on the bike like my cycling buddies, I will happily make that exchange.

Larry was kind enough to provide a link to our cycling route. We usually begin and end the ride from town, so it is about 20 more miles. But for those who want a link to our Bakery route with elevation, check out this link.

So here’s to Bob & Larry. Thanks for the great ride and confirmation that riding my bike will lend itself to balance in the coming years.


Monday, September 10, 2007

End of Summer Progress Report

There have been 2 events that have radically changed my triathlon experience. The above picture is John and I following completion of the first one, Epic Camp 2005. I have some very fond memories of that year...

Progress Report
I’ve had many people’s dream summer, spending nearly every day the past four months constantly learning about endurance training in a real life lab. I surrounded myself with folks who have real life knowledge about “what it takes” to succeed in Ironman racing. I spent time gathering their individual accounts of the training methods and the recovery techniques required to progress in the sport. I sincerely thank all the members of Team Good Guys for their patience and openness this summer.

Many of these experiences have been accounted on preceding and upcoming entries. The cliff notes for the summer don’t do justice to the personal experience. Some might be disappointed to find that I don’t have any new found wisdom to become more fit and race fast. Most of those who “are in the know” might not find this surprising. To quote a good friend of mine, “there is no easy way”. This applies to becoming fit, losing weight, or racing fast. Though there are quirks and nuances about every successful person’s path, but they are similar in that Ironman success demands years of persistence and consistent, progressive training.

Some might disagree…there are those out there who report fantastic success on little training and no significant triathlon background. And to be fair, none of our training group is considered a “superstar”…you know, the guy or girl who wins an Ironman on 1st or 2nd attempt. So perhaps my experience is skewed by my lack of association with this sort of individual. But I’m satisfied short of these few exceptions with my assessment.

Without exception, Team Good Guys had great results this year…, Gordo padded his racing palmare with another win at the Napa Half IM, Justin Daerr reach the 9:00 barrier at IMC, Brandon took 1st Elite at Racine and 2nd Elite at LifeTime Fitness, Dennis took at 11th age grouper at Buffalo Springs half, and Billy Edwards went top 10 at CdA and got a Kona pro spot. I believe these collective experiences are valuable because they represent the gains that are possible by those willing to work hard. I can substantiate that this type of success is possible for those who surround themselves with the proper support and have a desire to improve.

Though I can’t provide a new training plan or regimen that is going to revolutionize the sport, the experience has given me the opportunity to recognize the nuances that assist in continued improvement or lead to subsequent failure. I don’t anticipate the learning process will ever stop, but I feel this summer was replete with invaluable lessons.

I was also fortunate to gain additional perspectives from athletes who dropped into train intermittently. Tim Luchinske, Marilyn MacDonald, Chris McDonald (who won his first Ironman at Kentucky this past month), Brent Sheldrake, Mark van Aaken and many others shared some their experiences. The recurring theme repeated itself in that each of their successes were the result of remaining healthy over a long period of time in order to gain the aerobic endurance to continually improve.

I learned an invaluable lesson as well from Monica Byrn. She comes closer than any of the above of meeting the criteria of a superstar. After a stellar, record setting swim background in high school and college she had immediate success in short course triathlon. After an unfortunate bike wreck resulting in a shattered wrist, she switched to long course to avoid the bike hazards inherent to short course racing. Her impact in long course triathlon was equally impressive, leading IM Hawaii multiple times before ending up with a top finishes. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury has hampered her for the past couple of years and has been recalcitrant to every traditional treatment method. Observation of her continuing recovery has been educational: the elite athlete’s frustration of injury, the failure of the medical profession to facilitate her road to recovery, and the mental fortitude necessary to persist down that path.

Another good friend and mentor experienced a similar physical setback this year, Kevin Purcell. His recovery mirror’s Monica’s in the positive mental approach required to progress forward, over and around life’s obstacles.

My experience has been influenced beyond my immediate circle. I spent time with Mat Dixon at the Endurance Performance Training Center in San Francisco and he has been gracious in lending his expertise. They have an incredible team and a first rate operation. Anyone interested in improving their performance that lives on the West Coast should take the opportunity to spend some time there.

Locally, I got a 3-D bike fit with Dr. Andy Pruitt and Todd Carver at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. They have the highest level of technical gadgetry available to accurately assess and successfully incorporate medical expertise into your fitness program. This is an exciting area for me as it compliments my interest and background equally.

Amidst the current affairs in cycling, my interest in the illegal practices of doping was piqued. Dr. Steffen Presten (team physician for the top US cycling program, Slipstream) referred me to their experts on the matter. They educated me on the reality of PED testing. The complexity of maintaining a clean sport is overwhelming and a real challenge. My take on these last 2 experiences will be forthcoming in articles for the Alternative Perspectives column on Gordoworld.

The experience isn’t over and I look forward to trips planned to the USOC training center, additional bike fitting instruction from Dan Empfield, and more practical experience with testing protocols. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 31, 2007

IMC Race Report

No excuses

A few months ago I got an email from Scott Molina commenting on my sabbatical to help start up the Human Performance Institute at Wake Forest and my more “lenient” schedule. He closed by saying “You have no excuses, now” in reference to my ability to properly train the preceding 3 months before IMC without the constraints of my rigid schedule.

I knew he was right and that made the goal setting process for Ironman Canada all the more difficult. I typically create goals lofty enough to provide happiness if reached, yet attainable only through an effort that is exhaustive. The few times I’ve achieved those goals they have created a rare state of “calm” happiness. So, aided by Scott’s words, I was motivated to find a good goal.

After careful thought, I decided that running fast at IMC would give me the most satisfaction. Given my past personal run best of 3:31 at 2005 IM Brazil and perusal of prior IMC top age group run results, running 3:15 at Canada seemed to be a worthy goal.

My swim and bike plans were to conserve enough energy to reach my run goal. I planned to swim with my HR below 140, a HR avg on the bike of 137, and run with “poker pacing” strategy. The run pacing would be such that the first 3 miles were very easy (HR below 144), then HR of 145 through 32k, and elevate my HR the last 10k.

Through the summer, I used this strategy on all my runs. My early summer MAP tests on the track with a HR of 148 were 7:25/mile at sea level. As most people lose 20-30s/mile during an ironman marathon, I was concerned that my goal was overly ambitious, as the pacing strategy noted above would result in a 3:30 marathon. In many ways, the slim chance of reaching the goal substantiated it as being more worthy.

As the summer progressed, I gained confidence that my improving fitness would allow me to reach my goal. However, this fitness would need to be coupled with a very conservative swim and bike effort in order to access my run capability. At the end of July, I returned to sea level for a repeat MAP test and my pace had increased to 6:57/mile.

This gave me a boost of confidence during our last big training block. I was running smoothly and effortlessly. Perhaps I became a bit too confident; all my runs seemed fast and easy.

My race plan was pretty straightforward as I noted above. My pacing on the swim and bike at altitude during training gave me a rough idea of what sort of pace I would see on race day. I thought these efforts would result in approximate swim and bike times of 64 minutes and of 5:15.

I also knew that nutrition would be important. I planned on taking 2000 cal on the bike and 500 more during the 1st ½ of the run. Nutrition had been a significant issue for me in the past and I knew that this might prove difficult.

I started the swim with an easy, bilateral breathing pattern to avoid taking it out too hard and hope to continue that until I made the last turn buoy. However, my pace is a very common one and I went to my most comfortable single stroke pattern after only about 500 meters to remain relaxed among the congestion of swimmers. I resorted to intermittent BLB to assure myself that I wasn’t pushing too hard. But the swim remained relatively physical right up to the beach exit. Despite the constant struggle to find a clean swim path, I didn’t feel as if my effort had been excessive. The time was what I expected, I felt fresh, and assumed that I was successful in constraining my effort.

The positive feeling continued on the bike as I was able to take in nutrition within the first 15 minutes. This was a real success. That said, my heart rate was in the low 140’s and only occasionally drifting down to my goal rate. My power was ridiculously low…in the 150’s, so I decided to maintain that effort. People were blowing by me in groups of 3 and 4 all the way to Richter, but I kept to my modified plan. I had taken in 1000 cal at the beginning of the climb and felt great.

I’m a very steady, but conservative climber. I was continually shocked at how many people continued to pass me all the way through all three tiers of the climb. By the time I reached the bottom of the descent and realized how slow my pace was (19 mph), I made a conscious decision to depart from my pre-race plan. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan going into the ring until you take your first punch”. It was evident that I was headed for a bike split that the fastest run I was capable would not have justified the overall finish time…this was the “punch” that changed my race plan.

I elevated my effort for the next 50 k (avg HR 147) to the top of yellow lake, but pace for that section was only 18 mph. I was still consuming nutrition and had taken in the remaining 1000 cal by the top of Yellow Lake. The new plan was to finish the bike strong and try to do my best to salvage a run.

I arrived in T2 after a 5:25 bike split from 171 watts and HR avg of 145. I was disappointed in the effort required to get that split and only hoped that I could miraculously pull of my run goal.

I started the run slowly and my legs did come around. However, I lost focus and stopped recording splits every mile. It wasn’t until I downloaded the splits onto my computer and calculated the splits from the large conglomerate times that I realized how much I lost focus. From miles 8-15 my splits were all ~ 7:15, an increase in pace of 30-40s/mile from the first 7 miles. I didn’t know that at the time b/c I only took 2 splits over the 8 miles. I assumed that I was running around 7:30’s. As most of us know, our math skills aren’t the greatest when you are that deep into the race. I was doing a good job of maintaining a HR of 145, but in retrospect I could have used the split data to avoid that much of a pace increase with a half marathon to go. I also didn’t realize that my last 3 miles were 10 minute/miles. It’s really humorous in retrospect…everything was literally moving in slow motion. I remember casually observing in “3rd party fashion” that the group ahead was pulling away. I remember thinking how odd it was that I didn’t seem to be gaining ground anymore. At this juncture, I felt I had no chance of now reaching my run goal. In fact, had I run 7:30 the last 3 miles, I would have run 3:15. I had no idea…

Here are the run splits from my watch:
1. 7:48/145/142
2. 7:31/146/143
3. 7:57/145/143
4-6. 22:22(7:27)/148/144
7. 7:48/150/146
8-10. 21:56(7:18)/149/146
11. 8:06/150/146 (big climb before turn around)
12-15. 21:44(7:14)/151/145
16-21. 47:41(7:57)/148/142
22. 7:57/146/145
23. 7:38/148/143
24-26.2 31:20(10:00)/147

So, I’m disappointed I didn’t reach my goal. Though I didn’t set a time PR, 45th overall was my highest finish in an M-dot race. Here are a few observations from the day that will help me at my next race.

Though I didn’t reach my run goal, I don’t believe it was the result of poor run fitness. I’m running faster and more efficiently than ever. I feel great about that and I hope to build on this in the upcoming year.

The swim was interesting in that my result confirmed what the training group repetitively recognized throughout the summer. Though I was certain I was going easy and below an avg hr of 140, it was really 145. This is despite spending 2 times a week swimming at different efforts and documenting speed and hr. I now know what intended effort is required to expend the correct energy on the swim. I think that an avg hr of 145 is ok for me. I came out of the water fresh and was immediately able to take nutrition. This is in stark contrast to prior races.

I consumed 400 cal/hr on the bike in comparison to 200 cal/hr in the past. This really made a difference when I decided to go harder on the bike. I never had that feeling that I wanted to quit at 80-90 miles on the bike and 13 miles on the run, whereas that has been a consistent feeling in the past. I also was able to take 500 cal by the half way mark on the run. I certainly felt that this was a big nutritional breakthrough. Short of 450 cal of powergel on the bike, the remainder of the nutrition was Infinit with an osmolality of 280.

My bike is still weak. This needs work…I will have to sort that out over the next year.

So, no excuses, Scott. Fortunately I remain determined to reach my run goal. This was a great learning experience and I look forward to the remainder of my sabbatical to incorporate more knowledge about endurance training and human performance. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Post from Penticton

A little update and a bit of the atmosphere.

Penticton is really pumped for Ironman. This should be on all of those people's list who like to do destination races.

As soon as you enter British Columbia (we drove in from Colorado), there is a sign that says "Best Place in the World". I can't verify that statement based upon the short duration that I've been here, but it is spectacular. Your entire drive from the border into town is surrounded by apple and peach orchards, wineries, mountains and beautiful lakes.

Penticton is similarly beautiful. The town is nestled between 2 incredibly beautiful and very large lakes. This resort town is packed and would be a great place to visit without the Ironman, but as the locals say, Penticton is defined by IMC.

The entire region embraces the race and the participants. When swimming at the local pool on Monday, an elderly gentleman approached us and inquired about our upcoming race. He had never raced, but volunteered for 14 years before his hip arthritis prevented him from working any longer. He proceeded to give us tips on the course and then wished us good luck. This episode has been repeated a multitude of times throughout the week by various volunteers, neighbors, and store clerks. Amazing!

The course is tremendous. Short of Hawaii, the swim venue is the best I’ve seen. (In some respects, ie lack of jellyfish, sharks, earthquakes & waves, it is even better). The bike course rolls through countryside similar to our car ride in. Skaha Lake, McLeans Road, Richter, Pass, the out and back at Keremous, and Yellow Lake are the ride highlights. A lot of patience is going to be required through the first ~80-90 miles. The out and back run is pretty flat with a few short climbs.

Well, that is it for now. I’ve registered, the bike is getting its last tune-up and adjustments, and I’m hunkering down until race day. Erin and I went to Safeway yesterday and I prepared for my rest day by buying a handful of $6 movies...the poor girls will be subjected to Lonesome Dove, On Golden Pond, and a handful of others I can't recall the name.

Thanks for all the well wishes and thoughts…I will need them all on race day.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Putting It Back Together

Since my last post, I've completed my biggest training weeks of the summer and taught a spine course in Niagara Falls. Assuming I would bounce back after a few rest days, I was bit suprised last week when I felt increasingly drained after every training session. I was able to complete a solid 23+ hours; that said, I was a little apprehensive in answering the eternal "approaching your 'A' race question"...How do you feel"?

After a few days reflection (and the comfort of regaining some fitness composure and a solid lactate run test), I'm certain "the plan" is right on schedule. I feel normal now and I'm beginning to get that internal buzz in anticipation for the race. I have new found appreciation for the TDF cyclists who describe not feeling their best a few days before the race in anticipation of coming around during the crucial 3rd week of the tour. Though I know I still have plenty of freshening remaining, I can "see" it all falling into place.

Part of the confidence in the plan is knowing that I've put in the training and I'm now moving into the execution phase. On race day, I won't be anticipating any sudden appearance of new talents or hidden fitness. My job will be to proceed with the plan I've prepared on the fitness I've gathered the preceding months.

In one of my prior posts, I discussed the success of endeavors relying upon ability, desire and social support. Fortunately I've been significantly blessed in this last trait...there is NO better support than my family. Erin and the girls have sacrificed a great deal to be here with me this summer. John, the eternal training partner, has been there every step of the way. And my parents-I look forward to "sharing" a 5th IM together.

The picture at the top...that was in late April at the end of my base training period. That is when worrying makes it difference...fear of showing up on race day undertrained...the motivation to train harder and more consistently.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


This entry is on the eve of the final day of my toughest 2 week training block of the summer. Today we knocked off a 7 hour,160 mile ride to Wiggins, and I was happy to be just part of this group.

(see pic above, listed left to right: Marilyn Macdonald, Chris McDonald, my brother John, AJ Johnson, Gordo, Me, Dennis Meeker, Justin Daerr, Mat "the Intern" Steinmetz, Billy Edwards)

I'm drawn to people who are successful in reaching difficult goals, and Gordo certainly fulfills that criteria. I wouldn't bet against him in Canada; there might be those who have more "talent" (whatever that means), but there are few people I know who consistently live their commitment to goals in a logical, stepwise fashion.

Our group ride plan was to roll to Wiggins in a civil manner, take a short lunch break, digest for the next 25 miles or so, and then everyone was free to attack and ride as aggressively as they would like.

As Gordo rolled by after the attacks began, he said "18 months for these 50 miles..."

I would expect nothing less.

Following a protein shake, I went out for a 20 minute transition run. Needless to say, the boys reduced me to a run-walk session with our girls' dog, Luna. Ferocious little Shih Tzu!!!!

Transition Run

See post above for explanation.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gradual Enlightment

"It is through understanding (wisdom) that he fully understood others' suffering and through compassion that he undertook to counteract it. It was through understanding that he himself crossed over and through compassion that he brought others across"

Ócariya Dhammapåla's description of Buddha’s wisdom and compassion

My last blog mentioned the importance of social support in attaining goals. I am fortunate to have a tremendous resource in that department. Erin is phenomenal in helping me achieve my goals and is an essential in achieving the goals I’ve set for my life. She was wonderful enough to drive ahead during a solo 5 hour loop to Fort Collins a couple of weeks ago and give me the occasional company and “keep going, honey”. Above are a few pics of the countryside she took along the way.

After avoiding my boss’ attempt to send me to a Leadership Seminar for a couple of years, I relented. My reluctance was not one of indifference towards expanding my education, but one of my uncertainty towards my ambitions as a leader in academic medicine. Furthermore, the participants of the course were company executives, not academicians.

However, the successful completion of the course ( changed my life. The unanticipated improvement in my personal relationships was tremendous, certainly equal to the gains I made in the workplace. Retrospectively, this is not surprising, as most of the obstacles we face in leading others are directly related to understanding ourselves and how we interact with those around us. Following this week, I initiated the process of nurturing the traits that I have that inspire others and eliminating those that discourage the learning process. I certainly have a long way to go, but I acquired the necessary initiation to self awareness.

Personally, I learned that my inner feelings of insecurity were often masked in an outward display of arrogance and indignation. As obvious as it is to me today, I didn’t realize that everyone else couldn’t “see” what I felt inside. Instead, I assumed everyone realized my deficiencies and insecurity and that my arrogance was in defiance of my shortcomings. Of course few people know you at that level and the unintended projection often created a barrier in getting others to respect my vantage point or consider my opinions. This made life very difficult as my primary role is teaching patients, medical students, and residents!

Equally important was the discovery that I taught through negative re-enforcement and public humiliation cloaked in a Socratic approach. This teaching method was likely a culmination of modeling my own education and a personal motivation to avoid public exposure of my deficiencies and insecurities. Realization of the demoralizing effect of this approach really hit home when we were given the exercise of considering how we treat employees/students and then applying whether we would want this same approach used on our daughters/sons or other loved ones. Whoa…this struck a chord as I contemplated the anguish and embarrassment my youngest brother might feel to be taught and treated in this manner as he was struggling to learn new concepts and information. I finally realized the importance of compassionate teaching. I'm sure both of my brothers wish I would have picked up on this concept earlier in life.

This reality check was what I needed to change the way I teach and continues today as I scrutinize the method in which I pass on information. I think many of us in an advisory role forget that our primary mission is to help others develop an understanding of concepts or ideas that we have already mastered, in a fashion that inspires and motivates. I find I often fall back into a tendency to subject my own twisted path onto those to whom I’m trying to relay information. I aspire to continually develop my role as a servant leader to help my students through enlisting methods they require to understand and learn concepts.

So, how does this pertain to triathlon…? I believe increasing one’s level of self awareness translates to better performance in racing and training.

When I look at many of those I’ve had the privilege of training with the past few years, there are two distinct groups. There are those who seem to achieve a significant proportion of their race goals at every event. Others, it seems, always have some mysterious event that derails their attempt. . How many times do you hear “I don’t know what happen today during the _____ (insert race, training session, etc), all of sudden I was ______ (insert trashed, sick, completely boinked).”

It takes courage to practice the humility to address weaknesses and insecurities. The old adage “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” does in, in fact, hurt you. Ignorance and the inability to recognize our weaknesses prevent us from fixing what is broken.

When racing, many of us are uncomfortable with the level of commitment to fitness, the priority that it takes in our lives, or our physiologic make up. Therefore, on race day we try to outperform what is realistic based upon the decisions we’ve made. When our bodies try to tell us otherwise, we ignore these signals of eminent demise. We drive ourselves to failure and prevent our best race day outcomes. Of course, those around us see it clearly and so would we if we were observing someone else. Developing self awareness allows us to avoid self destruction. It isn’t easy…we have to be humble enough to accept the perceptions of those around us to visualize the truth. As I’ve been able to incorporate others visualizations of my performance into signals that that I recognize, my ability to perform has slowly improved.

Many of us lack self awareness in many aspects of our lives. I see this in myself more clearly with time. Hopefully, the road to enlightment will be gentle as I continue to proceed down its path. Resistance only makes the road more bumpy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

July 17-18 Training Data

No new exciting swim info, but corroborates G-mans data.

Lap// Avg hr ///Time
1//// 130////// 14:55
2//// 140////// 14:51
3//// 143////// 14:55
4 ////146////// 14:57

All bilateral breathing.

My limiter is top end strength/speed, but my endurance is reasonably solid. Not really flashy in group activity, but fortunately Ironman is an aerobic engine contest.

That said, I am working a bit on my top end this week. I find this challenging, both physically and mentally, as my self preservation instinct is constantly governing the high efforts.

3:19 ride yesterday with 2 x 20 min best avg output with 10 min rest.

Set// avg hr// power //maxhr
1 ///166////// 212 ////171
2/// 163////// 190//// 169
total 128////// 150

The run was 3 laps around the res
Lap 1 45 min
Lap 2 46 min
Lap 3 50 min

Switzerland Run
56:40 to peak, avg 143, max hr 157
final time~1:56

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Last week was an “easy” week of training and a busy week at work. I went back to my clinical practice in Winston-Salem and put in a solid week. Not much training occurred. After 3 days of call, 20 surgical cases, 2 days of clinic and the usual handful of meetings/dinners, I was a bit weary and wondering how I ever trained in the past while working full time.

I ended the week with MAP test on the track. This was a welcome indicator that my fitness is continuing to progress and the plan is working…thanks, G-man! Here are the results since starting the plan in November.

MAP Test
Date // Avg Mile // Splits
11/20/06 // 8:40 // 8:38/8:43/8:39
12/23/06 // 7:32 // 7:31/7:31/7:34
01/28/07 // 7:45 // 7:46/7:47/7:43
02/23/07 // 7:23 // 7:25/7:21/7:2
07/13/07 // 6:57 // 7:01/6:56/6:56

When talking about progress, I often think of that made by the residents in my program. This is a group of unbelievably intelligent and hardworking individuals. I’m commonly humbled by their natural ability and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to observe them progress through 5 years of residency. It’s funny that I’m the “teacher”…these people possess more talent than I ever dreamed of having.

I place a lot of responsibility on the residents at an early stage of their career as I think this engages them in the surgical cases. Otherwise, I often find they become “innocent bystanders” and their learning suffers.

One of my residents, Beck, and I were re-capping the prior days cases. He asked me for a critique of his performance the day after our cases. During the discussion, I brought up that we do pre-op conference in order for me to evaluate what he knew and how comfortable I was with him helping during the case. My philosophy is that when the residents are placed in a position to begin cases, it forces them to really think through the process of positioning, organizing the necessary equipment, and other necessary requirements to initiate the case. He commented how much preparation it took for him to get ready for a case and how much that differed from his father, a practicing neurosurgeon, who had told him that much of his decision making was done “during the moment”.

I couldn’t agree more. As I reflect on my progress as a surgeon, I recall the inordinate amount of preparation it took for me to feel that I was going to do an adequate job. As time passed, I found that intuition slowly took over and I was less reliant upon the roadmap provided by textbooks and what others had to say. In fact, I like his father, found that preparation and adherence to convention often restrained me. Today, I find that my best results occur when I allow myself the opportunity to improvise. This approach allows exceptional results which are not constrained by preconceived ideas.

I see triathlon in much the same way. I think we often feel the need to drill ourselves senseless to feel comfortable that we trained adequately. This is likely our inexperience driving us to over-compensate this feeling. I’ve now had the opportunity to now see the far end of the learning curve in triathlon where more intelligent training achieves even greater success in sport. I’m confident that our training group leader, the G-man, and many of us benefit from this experience.

Just a little note to the intern…much of what I’ve seen in my residents I’ve seen in you. Keep the faith; I’m learning as much from you as you are from us. You, too, will be a “Professor” some day.


Sunday, July 8, 2007


As many know, I have Ironman Canada as my “A” race for the year. Shortly after deciding to do this race, I set out to determine a worthy race goal. Since then, many people have inquired about that goal. My goals are usually lofty and take a fair time to accomplish, so this created a bit of a self-inflicted dilemma. This was complicated further by my expectation that my sabbatical opportunity removed many of my prior obstacles to train and raised the bar further.

Fortunately, Erin cares enough to take my incessant triathlon ranting seriously and has been patient enough to remind me of my long term goal of continual improvement while the sport remains challenging and fun.

So my goal…run faster than I have in the past. I feel that I likely can run 3:15 off the bike and so my plan is to do what it takes to get there. One may expect a faster swim or bike considering the training I’ve been able to do, but my goal is to do the swim and bike that allows me to run 3:15. It is possible that it may only be same or slower than swim/bikes that I’ve done in the past, but I’m confident that running faster is the next step for me to continue to improve.

So with that, I will leave you with some thoughts about achieving goals.

Over the past 8 years, a large portion of my practice has been caring for children with cerebral palsy. There is a large spectrum of intellectual and motor impairment in these children, ranging from children who are completely cognitively impaired to those who have normal intellectual capacity but an ability to walk limited by tightness in their legs.

Treatment of this latter group of children has perplexed me. Many of these children have seemingly similar potential based upon their intelligence and physical handicap, yet there is huge difference in their functional abilities. As a surgeon, it is frustrating that I can do the same operation in 2 different children who have a similar apparent handicap, yet end up with dramatically different results.

As I have scrutinized my surgical outcomes in these patients, I’ve realized that the perfect surgery isn’t all it takes to get these patients walking. Instead, I define three factors that determine their ability to gain ambulatory function. These are: ability, social support, desire. I can improve “ability” by surgically correcting biomechanical imperfections, but without adequate social support and an appropriate desire, the patients will not achieve the ability to walk.

Over time, I’ve realized these factors predict success in any endeavor. Each of them performs a different role and importance that is unique to each undertaking and person. The interplay of these factors is what makes undertaking challenges exciting.

If triathlon victories relied purely upon genetic ability, then the guy with the highest VO2 max would win. Although this may occur, it isn’t the only factor. That individual still must have adequate desire to train himself sufficiently to utilize his genetic gifts. That said, those with less ability can have tremendous desire to overcome their lack of ability. Although I don’t know Obree’s physiologic numbers, the tremendous desire to break the hour cycling world record allowed him the ability to train sufficiently to overcome any talent deficit he might have had.

As far as I was concerned, I had two arms and two legs, and that put me on a par with Moser, and any other shortfall would be made up by my ability to push myself harder than any other human being who had ever lived. Graeme Obree

In helping young children with a disability to learn to walk, social support is imperative to provide an environment that is conducive to this goal. This support can come in a variety of forms…encouragement, driving to the physical therapist, helping them stretch, and financial assistance are all different examples.

In sport, surrounding oneself with adequate support is critical as well. Creating the necessary infrastructure facilitates your goals significantly. That can come in many forms as well. It can be as simple as having a partner who encourages and believes in your goal. It can be someone who provides the financial support that allows you the opportunity to train without this added stress. It can be your training partner’s motivation, your coach’s inspiration, finding the job that is conducive to training.
I believe that one has the opportunity to improve each one of these factors…that is the beauty. My thoughts on that I will save for another day.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What Got Me Here

This is my introductory blog. I know it has been some time coming, but wrapping up some work obligations takes precedence. Also, I didn’t want to be a distraction to the Cour de Alene crew…I know how someone’s training log can derail your own, and you guys have been rolling well.

On that note, a big congratulations to all the finishers at Cour de Alene. The swim times reflected the rough water conditions. My knowledge of this years training has been peripheral, but I know you guys prepared well and it shows (including the beer tent boys…your continued enjoyment of the sport persuades me that the lifestyle I’ve chosen is a healthy one far beyond the competitive racing period-Thanks). I saw a slowtwitch post the other day relaying an 8 and 4 minute slower average swim and bike time in comparison to a very difficult last year, so you guys should be proud of those finishes.

A bit about what I’m doing in Boulder. As most of you know, I’ve become pretty passionate about endurance training. I’ve learned a lot in the 4 years since my first Ironman and this has allowed me to help others as well. Though I’ve made slow progress personally, I’ve felt deficient in helping those around me achieve their personal fitness and training goals. As the desire to improve my knowledge base occupied much of my thoughts, my chairman, Gary Poehling, had a vision to start a human performance institute at Wake Forest. Coincidentally, Gordo Byrn likewise was starting a similar program in Boulder. This proved mutually beneficial as Gordo was kind enough to share his knowledge of fitness/training and business savvy with me in return for any medical expertise I could provide him during the formation of his business. In the fall, the Orthopaedic Department at Wake Forest intends to start feasibility plans on a human performance institute in Winston-Salem. I have affectionately termed the project, WHIP. Wake forest Health sciences Institute for human Performance. Stay tuned as the year progresses.

So the title of my first blog may sound a bit like a title to a sad blues song, but it is intended to reference the one person who has given me the courage to pursue my dreams. My hope is that I’m able to make her personal sacrifices worthwhile.