The Wood-Fired Blog

A Few Thoughts on an Ironman

It’s been two weeks since I completed my first Ironman, and I wanted to share the experience with you. As a quick catch-up, I started training for Vineman in CA wine country, my first triathlon, five months ago, coming off a typical marathon racing cycle in December 2012. My feet and ankles were feeling a little beat up (tendonosis), and I wanted to take a period of time to focus on endurance, health and strength, without the pressure of running a marathon PR. So my first thought is that I did a pretty good job of achieving that goal. The training was fun, the race was a blast and I feel healthier and stronger than when I started.

A typical training week was 70 miles running, 180 miles cycling (lots of it on a stationary bike in the garage using an iPad), a couple of days of swimming for about 40 minutes, and 20-30 minutes of core and strength every day; 3+ hours a day on average. I slowed down training for the Boston and Big Sur marathons, but did not run those full out, so I was able to get right back at it.

Triathlons are a very gear-intensive sport.

Tri gear

By the numbers, I ran (did?) 12:32:01. That’s right. Twelve + hours, made up of the following:

1:22 Swim
6:51 Bike
4:00 Run
:17 Transitions

15th in my age group. 42 swimming. 40 biking. 3 running (my fault, I really should have been first; more to come on that).

As is the case with most marathons and ultras, we drove to the parking lot in the dark, and slowly shuffled our way to the start — where you set up your bike and get ready for the start of the swim. 5:15AM arrival and 6:39AM start.

I knew the swim was going to be my weakest link, and I thought it was going to be a disaster. My training times in the pool were not good, and I kept getting passed in the pool by little old ladies with water wings. I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble doing the 2.4 mile swim, but I was going to be slow; perhaps 1:30-1:45. The problem was that while my swim training times were getting faster by the week, they weren’t getting faster, fast enough. To where I decided to put more time into biking and less into swimming.

But what I didn’t know what what a big advantage you get from a Tri wetsuit. I rented a Zoot sleeveless wetsuit the day before the race, and tried it on the night before the race. The nice lady renting it to me kept asking if I had done any distance swimming before, or if I had ever swum in a wetsuit, and I kept smiling and saying no. These suits are really tight, and I went to bed worrying that I wouldn’t be able to breath.

When we got in the water to queue up of the start, it all made sense. I walked into the water, pushed off, and immediately bobbed to the top. Like a fishing bobber. So, I had a good chuckle, and thought that maybe I could do this.

The swimming leg itself was wild, and fun. We were started in waves, by age-group (with colored swim caps, so that you could identify your group), every three minutes. Which meant that you were passing people and (for me) lots of people were passing you from behind. Kicking, jostling, and even some profanity being hurled around as we made turns around the buoys. Really exciting, and as a friend pointed out, lots of testosterone flowing.

I fell into an easy rhythm and just cruised along. I thought I was going to be very near the back of the pack for my age group, but when I looked back, I could see that I was actually beating some of the guys. That was good.

The first transition was the more complicated of the two. You had to take off the wetsuit, put on your Tri shirt, clean the sand off your feet, and put on your socks, shoes, helmet, and GPS watch. Then throw all the swimming gear (including the sweats and shoes you wore to get there)  into a numbered bag, so you could pick them up at the end of the race. I did OK. You get out of the water and there are volunteers (great people) there helping pull off your wetsuit as you run along to find your bike. I got from the water to sensor where the cycling leg starts in 8 minutes. Not awful.

Funny. I spent a lot of time leading up to the race worrying about the heat of the afternoon for the run. But it never occurred to me that it was going to be cold cycling soaking wet at 8AM. And it was really cold and my teeth were chattering for the first hour or so. Who would have thought?

I put a lot of time into training for the cycling leg. Basically I was starting from scratch, and like my swimming, I knew I was getting faster, but I kept wishing that I was getting faster, faster than I was. I did a couple of timed, one hour rides on my new race bike in the week leading up to the race, to try to gauge my speed and endurance. I was hoping for 6:30, and pacing to 6:45. Between 16 and 17mph.

I had one hiccup pretty early on, when I realized that my back tire was rubbing the bike frame. It has been jostled somewhere during transportation and set-up, and I had to stop a couple of times to get it sorted out; and I even stopped at the first bike first-aid station to have a pro confirm that it looked OK. Lesson learned for next time.

It became clear that I was not in 6:30 shape around mile 30, when it started getting a little harder maintaining 17mph, and the muscles in my neck and shoulders started getting tired. I hit the half at 3:20, and knew then that I wouldn’t be able to do another 3:20 without having to put too much effort into it. I kept repeating my mantra: Finish. Stay out of the Medical Tent. Finish. Stay of out the Medical Tent. So I scaled back a little and kept trying to enjoy the day.

You can eat and drink a lot of the bike, so I had fun collecting Gatorade bottles and Cliff Bars at the aid stations, without stopping or crashing.

One interesting part of the cycling route was that it looped by our old house on Chalk Hill road; twice no less. If you’ve been following Forno Bravo for a long time, you might remember that we started in Windsor, CA, while I was living in Healdsburg and Italy. The house and the vineyard looked really nice. I planted a row of 200 Arbequina olive trees along the front fence of the property a few years before we moved, and it has completely grown in, and it looked great. Here’s to long-term planning. :-) I told the cyclist that I had been chatting with for miles that we were about to pass the house I had built — hammered every nail. Well, a large majority of them. She was nice about it and gave me a wahoo.

I made a small tactical error toward the end of the cycling leg. I had started to roll back my effort as the miles added up, and with 4-5 miles to go, I could smell the finish line and felt pretty fresh, so I cycled the last miles closer to 20mph. I felt fine, and I passed quite a few people, but what I would learn later was that I went into the run with my heart rate up a little too high. Next time, I will do a speed check and make up time leading into mile 100, and then really relax for the last 12 in order to prepare for the run. Live and learn.

The second transition was not my finest moment. I couldn’t find my race bag and was off by two rows in a sea of bikes and sports bags. I was wandering around looking for the green bag with my stuff. Not smart. I also realized that I had not “staged” my gear. Setting shoes, gels, hat, etc. right where I needed them. I had to dump everything out, sort through it, and put it on. Finally, I had decided the night before that I would run in running gear (loose shorts and shirt) rather than sticking with the tight Tri stuff. I hadn’t really trained in Tri shorts, and I didn’t want any huge blisters or chaffing marks. In the end, my second transition took 9 minutes. Ouch. The fast guys/gals do it in about 2:30. Another lesson learned.

The funny thing is that I was the only person on the entire race course not wearing Tri gear. I looked like a marathon runner who had got lost and accidentally ended up in an Ironman.

The marathon course was an out-back loop that we ran three times. So, it was roughly 4.4 out to a turn around. The weather was nice; much hotter than I am accustomed to, but it never hit the 90s. Getting on my feet after 8:30 in the water and on a bike felt good. Too good actually — I ran my first mile at 7:45. Which was completely unsustainable.

So I settled in, and enjoyed the moment. The first thing I figured out was that many Triathletes are cycling specialists, so there was a lot of walking and jog-walking. I passed hundreds of runners over the course of the marathon, and was passing people until the finish. All those people who had smoked me on the swim and bike legs. haha.

The course was pretty tough, with one hill that I need to walk each lap and a second hill that I walked the second and third laps. I hit the half at 1:51 and felt OK. I was still OK finishing the second lap, which got me to about 18 miles.

But the last 10K was tough. My stomach headed south, and I had to stop a couple of times and eat pretzels and water to keep from throwing up. The course was pretty much carnage at that point with lots of racers walking and stopping at the aid stations. Your thinking gets a little fuzzy at this point, and my math skills were suffering, but with a couple of miles to go, it occurred to me that I had a shot at breaking 4:00 on the marathon, and I ran the last two at 8:xx. My stomach had settled down, and I finished running really well, with a smile on my face. I just missed breaking 4:00, but the finish felt great.

I lost 6-7 minutes in the last 10K, and ran a positive 18 minute split (1:51/2:09) — as a runner, I should have done better than that. Still, I think I am in solid sub3 shape now, given the course and the conditions and the general rule of thumb to add an hour to your marathon time to get your Ironman marathon time.

Between my bike tire, my slow T2 time and my stomach issues, there was at most 15 minutes of lost time in my overall race, which means that I’m not quite in sub12 shape at this point. But I am in potential striking distance to possibly qualify for Kona in the next 2-4 years. I think I will need to go somewhere sub11 in the 55-59 AG to get there. So we’ll see.

Kona is the Ironman World Championship, and you get in by qualifying at a certified event. Qualifying it tough. Check out the finish at Kona.


I think some people do the Ironman once, and say “never again”. And I know runners who will never do another marathon. But I really had a good time. I don’t think this is the end of the line for me.

Going forward, I am hopeful that my marathon and Tri training will be compatible. What’s good for one, will be good for the other. With that in mind, I am getting close to making the commitment to take a stab at a PR marathon in December. California International Marathon (CIM) is early December; 17 weeks from tomorrow — I’m already registered. I think it’s going to take a serious commitment to specific marathon training (more speed training than I have done for the past 18 months), but I am hopeful that my legs and feet are strong enough to hold up to the pounding of hardcore speed training. My plan would be to do a complete marathon-specific training plan, while still doing additional cycling and swimming. We’ll see. I’m on 2:55:04 for the marathon, and 2:49:59 has a really nice ring to it.

If you’ve made it this far — thanks for taking the time to ready this!





Daily Hills and an Impending Ironman


My first Ironman is now less than three weeks away, which means that starting tomorrow I am officially tapering for the race. Which is pretty scary. First off, I don’t really like tapering in general. Cutting back on training makes you feel lethargic and heavy, and lots of athletes, myself included, get a little crazy — taper madness. I’m also a little nervous because it is starting to sink in that I have never really done any of this stuff. I have never:

Run a triathlon of any distance.
Entered a cycling race of any distance.
Partaken in a swimming event since I was six.
Ridden a bike outdoors more than 30 miles.
Actually swam 2.4 miles. Ever.
Swam in open water.

I truly am a runner taking on my first triathlon. With this in mind, I am coming up with some realistic goals, including:

1. Do not end up in the medical tent.
2. Finish with a smile on my face.
3. Everything else is icing on the cake.

On the upside, I have had a good training cycle. I’ve been training for the event for about 20 weeks, with breaks for the Boston Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, flu and a long weekend at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. I’m averaging about 21 hours a week in training (plus core, strength and stretching), where I run roughly 70 miles and cycle 200 miles per week. I am in the best overall shape of my life (thought I have not trained for a marathon and could not go out a run a PR). I have run a lot of hills (see graph above), and my legs are feeling good about balancing running and cycling. That’s good for my old body.

Overall, I am really enjoying the experience (so far). So let’s bring on the main event. I think I’m ready.

And Now, Something Completely Different

I’ve been talking about doing a triathlon since last year, and the time has come. The tendonitis in my heels is getting better slowly, but I still cannot do the training load that I would like, so rather than cutting back, or continuing to push all of my athletic output through that weak link, it’s time to spread the load. I’ve signed up for the Vineman Ironman in Healdsburg, CA on July 27. Hopefully this will fill the slot last year where I ran the 50 mile ultra last summer, and I will come back stronger than ever for a fast winter marathon. Well, we can always hope.

If you have read our blog, you know I really like this stuff, and I am already enjoying the triathlon training. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 on the bike and then a 26.2 marathon. 140.6 in total. I’m a slow swimmer, so I’m not sure how competitive I’ll be. We’ll see. It’s different from pure running, but so far so good. I put a stationary bike (with an iPad strapped to the handle bars) in the garage, I still run out on 17 mile drive, and the local gym/pool is about a mile away. Last week I ran 45 miles, biked 125 and swam 4.4. It’s a different, whole body tired. And I’m always hungry.

Wish me luck.

I’m still running Boston (April 15) and Big Sur (April 28) this year, but they are basically training runs with friends. Which sounds like a lot of fun. Plus our older daughter is still in Boston, so I alway have that to look forward to.

Spring is almost upon us, and this is such an exciting time of the year. Forno Bravo is buzzing, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.


To Ironman, nor not to Ironman…

I learned a number of things from Boston 2012; some good, some not so good. But one thing was certain. Boston 2012 was hot. Or, as one running friend put it—the highway to hell.

First off, a couple of basic numbers.

89ºF. The high on the course as we were finishing the race, though some local thermometers saw pockets of 92ºF.

More than 2,000. The number of runners who were treated by medics or hospitals for de-hydration or heat exhaustion after the race.

Less than 500. The number of runners who accepted the BAA’s offer of deferring their entry and race next year (though they have to pay twice and attend registration this year to pick up their racing pack to qualify for the deferment).

22,000. Runners finished.

3:53. My race time.

2:55. My best race time.

2:58. My race time at Boston last year.

3:51. My previous personal worst (excluding the Las Vegas double) race time at Big Sur two years ago (6 days after running Boston).

3:42. My first marathon in 2008, which I ran with very little training.

2.00 The number of minutes per mile I ran slower than Boston last year.

OK, I was slow.

On the upside, I had a great experience in 2012. Dinner with running friends before the race, our running club hung out at the athlete’s village before the race, I ran the entire race with friends, and we all met up for dinner and beer afterwards. I also saw our daughter at college, had dinner and lunch with here, and I even got to watch one of her track works. So it was an all around good experience.

The actual race, on the other hand, had its ups and downs. The good news is that my knee held up well, and it didn’t give me any trouble. I’ve started running again post-race, and everything seems fine. That makes me very happy.

Plus, most of us were smart. Our group went out slow and held our pace pretty much the entire race, and we talked with the crowd and gave high fives to hundreds of kids along the course. All of which is good, as there are many (many) reports from runners who tried to run a fast pace and crashed—either walking, not finishing, or ending up in the hospital.

But the heat really got to me. I thought that by running at such a slow race that the race would be a walk in the park—but it wasn’t. I overheated in the last few miles and got a little dizzy after the race for the first time ever. I have always thought of myself a pretty bullet-proof when it comes to running, so seeing stars, and having to sit down and pack ice on my head was a real surprise. Looking back, I think I stopped dumping water on my head toward the end of the race and perhaps didn’t drink enough Gatorade (though I did drink at every aid station—roughly every two miles) toward the end of the race. So I was a little fried.

Which brings me to Vineman, the Ironman triathlon I am thinking of signing up for in late July. It’s in Healdsburg, CA, which means it’s going to be hot. So it isn’t the mileage, it’s the heat that has me concerned. And the time has come to decide. There are about 100 spots left before it sells out. Ironman. Or not.

Meanwhile, I still have the Big Sur marathon to look forward to—a week from Sunday. Which means that I still have another race where I can put together a pacing plan and enjoy the day. Running on the rugged edge of the western world. It’s a great race, and it has been selected as one of the world’s Top 3 marathons by numerous publications.

It might be windy; it might be cold; it might be raining. But we do know one thing. It won’t be as hot as Boston.

More to come soon on oven curing, the new, small (and not yet released) Presto oven and hearth bread. Lots to look forward to!