South Park Blue Suit

A really long swim, a really long bike ride, then a really long run around Panama City in 10:21

For my first full Ironman race report (Ironman Florida 2016), I'll try interviewing myself in Q&A mode. Good to take additional questions at the end...

Q: How long...
A: (interrupting): 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

Q: Yes - an ironman is an impressive distance - but I'm into endurance sports (which is why I'm reading your race report) and already knew that. What I was going to ask you was: how long have you been training for this and what sort of training did you do?

A: Apologies for the quick answer - as that seems to be the first question I get from friends and family. About a year ago, after getting a bit more comfortable racing marathons, olympic distance triathlons, and noticing I was already logging about 400 miles/month on my bikes, I figured an ironman was inevitable. With my love of food, I suspected that training for one would be a good way to continue indulging while keeping off the 100lb I've slowly shed over the last 4 years of retirement.

For this race, I upped my monthly riding mileage to about 700 miles/month for the past 4 months and started doing longer 80-120 mile rides every week or two along with some longer distance bike touring. I also became a bit more disciplined about doing more intense training rides each week, including a crazy fast Friday AM group ride. For swimming, although I took some lessons a few years ago when getting into triathlons and swam once/week (or a bit more around races), I started a formal ironman training plan of 3-4 pool sessions/week about 20 weeks back (w. 5000-9000 yards/week). For running, and with 3 marathons earlier this year including the Chicago marathon 4 weeks ago, I just kept up my usual marathon training (of about 45 miles/week - mostly garmin plans) after recovering with a back-to-back marathon bridge plan. I also started running immediately after biking every few rides to get my legs used to it.

For all of you data/trainingpeaks junkies, I picked up a power meter, kept 85% of my training in zone 1/2 (except most swims were intense), and managed to slowly build over the past year to a peak CTL of 155/day (55 run, 75 bike, 25 swim) two weeks or so before the race.

Q: I've seen a bunch of pictures with you at races in gear that says "Kennedy Law Racing/KLR". When did you come out of retirement to become a lawyer, and do you really like your firm that much?

A: After registering last November for Ironman Florida (IMFL), Ironman Florida 70.3 (half-distance) as my first half-iron distance race, and Ironman Augusta 70.3 as a warm up to this race, I realized that I'd need to add a bit more structure to my training. Although the internet and all of the usual triathlon forums/tools (slowtwitch, training peaks, Joe Friel's Blog & Book), along with some sounding board Ironman former colleagues in other cities were valuable resources throughout the process, I knew that having local training partners would keep me motivated and could help me answer my dumb questions about the race & process.

Having seen the local triathlon team Kennedy Law Racing having fun at a bunch of Tampa area races, I chatted with a team member before an Olympic distance triathlon last November, debunked my assumption that they were all just athletically inclined lawyers at a large local firm, and attended a few swim, bike, and run team practices. At those practices, I met some awesome triathletes (of which only one was actually a lawyer at Kennedy Law - a committed triathlete who sponsors the team) then officially drank the kool-aid and joined the team.

Q: Out of all of the Ironman races held around the world, why did you pick Ironman Florida (IMFL) instead of a more exotic spot?

A: When it came to picking my first race, Ironman Florida in Panama City seemed like it would be a good place to get my feet (and other parts) wet. Although the swim (my weakest discipline) is known as one of the most challenging Ironman swims, with a flat bike and run, it is definitely a favorite of first timers. With my parents 2 hours away in Tallahassee, it also seemed like a good spot as well to get them to come out to watch me race. After arriving 2 days before the race for pre-race briefings, packet pickup, bike drop, swim practice, and some hanging out with great teammates, I got to meander a bit around the area and found some neat spots. I'd definitely recommend the race as a first Ironman for decent swimmers who need a good family-friendly vacation spot on the beach.

Q: Never having raced anything this long before, what was your plan for pacing the race to avoid crashing & burning at the end?

A: Going into the race, I had recently completed two half-iron distance races (Augusta 70.3 in 4:43 in September, Florida 70.3 in 5:09 in April) and the Chicago marathon in 3:04 a month ago. Still, although I had data on how they went, how hard they felt, and how hard I could push myself, I really didn't know how those efforts would translate to 10+ hours of racing. Unlike the Chicago marathon, this race was run in the middle of the afternoon in 79 degree heat vs. cool 55 degree weather. Unlike Augusta, instead of swimming down river, I was swimming in choppy ocean water. Also, unlike Augusta, this bike course was 1/4 as hilly but had a 10mph wind blowing from the east.

From having experienced long distance races where I went out too hard, and crashed/burned late, as this was my first full ironman, I decided to try to be conservative with my plan. Although as they say "pain is temporary, internet results are forever", willing myself through a miserable marathon at the end wasn't my idea of a good day of racing.

From what I could dig up online, it looked like for non-pros a good goal for a full ironman was 2x your best half-ironman plus about an hour (i.e. 10:27 if you start with my Augusta time), and for the marathon at the end, running it 30 minutes slower than your best marathon pace was a good goal (i.e. 3:35 run). There was also some good heart rate & bike power guidelines I used for the race based off my Augusta race data (swim at 140bpm vs. 145bpm, bike at 143bpm vs. 152bpm, run at 150bpm vs. 165bpm). Given my fitness, I thought this would translate into about a 1:20 non-wetsuit swim, a 5:15 bike, and a 3:35 run plus about 10 minutes of playing dress up as the area for transitioning between each activity at the Florida race was huge. That would bring me in around the 10:20 mark, which I shared on facebook before the race, publicly committing me into sticking with the plan.

Q: So how was the swim?

A: About 3 hours before the start, they told us that the water had cooled overnight to a temperature where they allowed us to use wetsuits (which improve buoyancy and speed). Although I was optimistic that I could shave a few minutes off my 1:20 goal, after lining up with folks in the 1:10-1:20 group, during my first 1.2 mile lap I was repeatedly kicked, elbowed in the head, and had folks laterally sandwich me. I stopped kicking every minute as I felt stuff at my feet, I drank too much salt water, and the 10mph winds produced nausea inducing 3-4' swells mid-way through the course. All of this was par for the course from my other open water triathlon experiences, although the density of swimmers was really high, increasing the degree of chaos in the water.

Unfortunately, in addition to the usual discomfort, by the end of the first lap, something at the top of my wetsuit (the velcro zipper strap end) chafed my neck so badly that it started to hurt to turn my head to the right side (as I alternate sides breathing every 3 strokes - likely a mistake for a 1:20 swim).

After calming down a bit as I waded through the end of the first lap around the 38 minute mark, I changed plans for my second lap and swapped over to alternating between left breathing or putting more rotation into my front crawl and breast-stroke to avoid chafing and minimize leaving too big of a trail of blood in the water to attract sharks. This slowed me down to a 42 minute second lap, but the breast stroke every so often kept me swimming a straighter line, I could time it with the swells (to pick up speed on the downhill portion), and it made the swim a bit more manageable.

I finished the swim in 1:20:41 (slightly slow, but much more calm & relaxed), peeled down the wetsuit, ran through the showers, entered the transition area, then played a few minutes of uncoordinated dress-up before starting the bike portion of the race.

Swim details:
Course Distance: 2.4 miles (two 1.2 mile boxes)
Garmin Distance (I used my running watch which messes things up but measures heart rate on the wrist): 3.2 miles
Lap 1 - 38 min, Heart Rate 139
Lap 2 - 43 min, Heart Rate 130
Swim time:1:20:40, rank 744/2239 overall, 118/252 for 35-39 year old males.

Q: So, with the winds blowing from 10-15mph on the bike, how did your flat 112 mile ride go?

A: In short, I was pretty happy with my ride. I stuck with my nutrition plan (3000 calories via 90oz of gatorade & 9 clif bars), comfortably stayed on my aero bars, peed twice - a sign you both drank enough and have fully committed to your sport, eased up a bit more than I could have for the last half as my legs were getting mildly sore and I wanted to keep them fresher for the run, saw my parents at mile 55, chatted with 4 teammates, avoided the drafting packs, and managed a good pace despite 10-15mph winds from the northeast. I started the bike in 744th place and finished it in 176th place passing 600 folks on the course (mostly in the first 30 miles).

For the gory details on averages by quarter (ignore speed as wind throws it off):

Speed Heart Rate Avg Power
Miles 1-28    21.6 142   236
Miles 29-56  20.6 141   239
Miles 57-84  23.1 139   208
Miles 85-112 22.3 136   182
Total              21.6 140   217

Bike time: 5:11:23, rank (at end of bike) 176/2239 overall, 50/252 age group

Q: So you wrapped up the bike ok, and started on the run, how did it go?

A: After a full change of clothes into my team tank top & shorts (due to some chafing in a really uncomfortable place in my tri suit - and yes, I peed twice on the bike), I had some mishaps at the start. As my bike time was ahead of the photo location schedule I gave my dad, I had to slow down for a picture as I caught my dad by surprise 5 minutes early. I also had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction with an overloaded fuel belt (similar to Disney). After an unsettling 8:45 first mile, I settled into my target 8:15 marathon pace, and kept my heart rate within 5BPM of 150 for all but the first/last mile.

Q: From your other race reports, it looks like you've been good at gutting it out late in marathons and speeding up in the second half despite the usual pain/effort/walls. Did you do that at the end of this race?

A: In short, no. As it was my first ironman, and I wanted to enjoy the finish line experience, I just stuck with my target effort level and it led to my pace slightly slowing from 8:14/mile for the first 13 miles to an 8:26/mile for the second half as I started walking through each aid station and took a quick bathroom break due to the red bull, gatorade, and coke mixture in my stomach - to quote Egon from Ghostbusters "don't cross the streams". Still, I picked things up to a 7:40 pace for my last mile and a half to finish strong (and far enough ahead of a British guy from Albuquerque I chatted with during the second half and was on pace to finish alongside). On the plus side, I managed to pass about half of the 180 competitors ahead of me by the end of the run (42 first half, 47 second half).

Run Time: 3:38:20, 1:48/1:50 first/second half splits, Avg HR 149 (148/149 splits)

Q: How was the finish chute? Did you get the full "You are an Ironman" experience?

A: The finish line was definitely a special experience. I didn't arrive totally spent, and I enjoyed running through it much more than any other race. You can see the video on my facebook feed/team feed/public profile page, and as I crossed the line solo as things weren't too crowded at that point, I got to hear my name and the traditional "you are an ironman" shout-out from their backup announcer as the race MC was on break. An awesome friend caught a great picture of me at the line and my dad got a good picture as well.

Finish time: 10:21:27, 87/2239 overall (top 4%), 29/252 Males 35-39 (top 12%)

Q: Now that you've done your first ironman, what's next on the horizon?

A: I'm going to take a week or so off before resuming my training and signing up for more races. I have a 10K lined up in Vegas next weekend that I won't full-out race (as it is just a social trip with some friends), but my racing calendar is totally empty otherwise. I plan to sign up for the 2018 Boston Marathon next September though as my 3:04:57 marathon last month in Chicago should be good enough to register (as a 40-44 year old).

With my strong Augusta 70.3 half-ironman distance 4:43 race in September, now that I'm moving up to the mid-life-crisis 40-44 year old age group in January, I'm toying with an early 2017 race to try to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 2017 World Championship in Chattanooga. I think with some good training and the right race, I might be able to snag a slot if I can improve my swim and finish around my Augusta time.

Beyond that, I'd like to do another Ironman so I can squeeze under the 10 hour mark, but I'll likely try a different course that suits my biking/running strengths, and try to shave some body weight (as most other bike courses have more than 1,100 feet of climbing). Although I finished in the top 4% overall and top 12% for my age group (vs. top 2%/4% in Augusta at the half distance), I feel like I left a bit too much time at various points of the course, and now that I have a feel for the distance, I think I can be a bit more aggressive. It'll take another few years of training and some eye-bleeding effort to squeeze out a top 1% finish to get to Kona, but I'll take it one step at a time.

Otherwise, with winter coming up, I'm just planning on hosting lots of winter guests down on the beach, so come on down to join me for a run, bike ride, or just some relaxing!

Q: Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer these questions. Any other thoughts or secret tips/tricks you care to share?

A: Tip #1: Join a triathlon team or community. In addition to awesome organized training opportunities, I was able to get some great insights from my KLR teammates into nutrition, what to wear/bring/put in bags, how to approach the race, and what equipment to use. After our Friday & Wednesday rides, teammates are always able to patiently answer almost any question (no matter how dumb), and being able to spend time in pacelines with 5 folks who've recently competed/are competing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona is always a huge confidence builder.

Moreso, being able to exchange high fives with 20 teammates on the run course, and even share a few words of encouragement with them on the bike was a massive boost in a 10 hour race. Hanging out with them at the race site (especially when you travel solo) is a big plus as well, and our team-affiliated shop (Clearwater Bicycle Company) and shop manager has been a great resource for wheels, equipment, service, and encouragement.

Tip #2: Training with power has been a nice boost to my biking. It gives me some objective feedback and a bit more structure for workouts. Although on flat courses like Florida, heart rate is a pretty good proxy for effort, training with it definitely kept me from working too hard into headwinds, or letting up on downhills/tailwinds, and you'd be surprised how seeing an objective (wind-adjusted) number to shoot for on your bike computer screen makes you work harder.

Tip #3: Plant a photographer! Luckily my dad and mom lived nearby to the course and both were able to see me race for the first time (I think it may have been the first sporting event they attended since my ill fated 2 year stint as a 7-8 year old in little league). As my dad enjoys his photography hobby, he brought along the camera and got some good shots on the run & bike course (along with a few other team photographers).

Tip #4: Make sure you have the time to train. Although one very fit and athletically inclined former colleague/ultramarathoner survived his first Ironman last year in 14.5 hours with about 2-3 hours/week of run/bike/swim training time, for non-athletically inclined folks like myself who were never fast enough to make their school's track/cross country/swim/hand-eye-coordination sportsball team, or even finish their 9th grade 100 yard dash in under 19 seconds (despite looking like an x-country runner), getting to this point took me an average of 18 hours/week of biking, swimming, and running. Definitely curious where I'll top out as I'm still pretty new to this and not athletically gifted or built, but I'm enjoying the journey.

Q: Anyhow, that's all for this race report Q&A session. Thanks for taking the time to both think of and answer these questions.

A: You're welcome! Big thanks to any readers who managed to make it to this point of my race report.




South Park Pirates

Race Report: The devil ran through Pittsburgh in 3:08:25

Ok, as expected at this point, see below for the full'ish race report (with way more background context and digressions than anyone should rightly be subjected to).
Pre-Race Training/Fitness

I think many of you know that I run quite a bit, roughly 40-50 miles/week. What you might not know is that outside of 1-2 sessions of fast running each week (usually going with the built in garmin marathon plans), I tend to run most of my mileage at a very slow pace, rarely faster than 9 minutes/mile, and often in the 11-12 minute/mile range. Running slow like that keeps me healthy, gets my heart rate up to a point where I can produce extra mitochondria to feed my muscles, and keeps me running with interesting folks who I can have great conversations with. What you might also not know is that I am training for an Ironman in November, and tend to bike about 400-500 miles/month and hit the pool 1-2x/week. Given the physical stress that sheer volume of training places on my body, only running 40-50 miles/week at mostly slow paces has kept me from having any exercise related injuries during the last few years.

Going into today's race, in addition to all of the mileage/biking/swimming, I took at least 1 rest day each week, did four of the traditional pre-marathon 20+ mile long runs (all well below marathon pace), completed a fast half ironman 3 weeks back which included a half marathon at the end, and was about 10lb lighter than my prior January marathon weight (bringing my total weight lost since 2012 to a nice round 100lb).

Running as #666 - El Diablo

When applying for the Pittsburgh marathon, there wasn't an option to request a specific bib number. From what I could surmise from looking at the numbers around mine (#665 was D. Charlton, #667 was S. Chiang), it looks like #666 was assigned to me by alphabetical order of last name. Still, having spent about 7 years as a volunteer heavy metal DJ on non-profit radio at WRCT Pittsburgh, there was (pardon the pun) no way in hell I'd pass up the chance to run in costume with it as the devil. When I found out about the assignment 2 weeks ago, I ordered red dri-fit shorts and my favorite racing flats in bright red from ebay, per some online advice bought some lighted horns and a tail that would hang from the back of my fuel belt from amazon, then started growing the goatee. All of the gear came in by Friday of last week, so I got to give it a test run over the weekend. After noticing that the tail was annoyingly bouncing off my legs, I decided to pass it through a fuel belt gel holder on the side which fixed the problem and made it show up better in pictures.

Pacing Strategy

Last May, I ran the Pittsburgh marathon in 3:43, with nearly even splits (1:51/1:52 halfs and most miles within 10-15 seconds of my pace). I started the race at a 160 Beats/Minute heart rate, ended up at 178 B/M as it got pretty hot and sunny, and barely hung on at the end. At Disney in January (time of 3:29), with some nasty humidity and heat (70 degrees w. 99% humidity at the start) I ignored my success, started at 168 B/M and died off at the end, losing about 8 minutes between my first half split and second half split (1:40.5/1:48.5). Vowing not to repeat the miserable Disney marathon experience, I wanted to figure out how fast a 160bpm heart rate run would take me, as I knew my fitness was improving and I might have a shot a qualifying for the legendary Boston Marathon.

As a result, after my 2 pre-race rest days, I did a short 3 mile test run yesterday in similar weather conditions to today's race, and noticed that I was at 164bpm at the Boston requisite 7:12/mile pace which led to some fear of repeating Disney. As a result I planned to just join a pacer team that was running at a 7:25/mile pace to finish in 3:15, but push it if things were going well.

Pre-Race Expo & Getting to the Race

After landing at the airport Friday, I wandered around the expo center that afternoon, picking up my race packet, on course nutrition (6 GU, 2 Gummies) talking with the pace teams, and salivating at a bunch of protein bar samples my diet was prohibiting me from eating. After attending the Pirate vs. Reds game that night, I got my 2-night-before-the-race required 10 hours of sleep, completed my final tuneup 3-mile run yesterday morning, had a bunch of rice for lunch (and dinner, and dinner the prior night, and the night before that), and headed back to the expo for more marathon fun. After hearing good things about superfeet inserts, I was fitted for a pair at the expo, walked in them for the rest of the evening, and decided to break the cardinal rule of never doing anything new on race day and put them in my racing flats as I knew I'd need extra support.

Skipping out on the Pirates game last night around 8:30PM, I returned back to my housing, got my 5 hours of sleep, woke up at 3AM for my ritual PB&J bagel, but ended up staying awake until my 5AM alarm. I put on the race costume, my awesome fellow marathoner Larry arrived at 5:30AM to pick me & another running buddy up, and we headed to the course arriving in my corral about an hour before the start. That early arrival was more than enough time to hit the porta-potty, mingle with some pacers - including a disappointed 3:10 pacer who heard about my devil-related antics at the expo and was prepared to accompany me, and chat with the serious faster runners who rarely wear costumes. Still, several of the runners were politically astute enough to ask me if I was dressing up as Ted Cruz given some recent quotes from John Boehner.

Starting Easy - First 5 Miles

Being in the first corral, I was able to cross the starting line about 30 seconds after the gun, which was a nice change from prior years. Despite a bit of the usual pace sorting & traffic winding, I mostly just stuck around my 3:15 pacer and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the crowd for my Satan costume, as spectators frequently noticed both the costume and corresponding bib number.

With the humidity uncomfortably high and the larger condensed crowds sharing too much body heat, I had some Disney marathon flashbacks, but by mile 4, with a bit of wind, the humidity subsided, my glasses stopped fogging up, and my heart rate leveled off around 163, which wasn't too ugly, but at least wasn't climbing.

1 - 7:30/mile, 160 Beats/Minute
2 - 7:21, 164
3 - 7:24, 163
4 - 7:29, 162
5 - 7:30, 166

Picking up the Pace - Miles 6-11

As my sunglasses stopped fogging up, the winds picked up, the west end band played hot hot hot, and I started feeling some adrenaline kicking in. I decided to test things out a bit and separate a bit from my pace group as I approached some nice prolonged gradual downhill segments heading towards the south side. Despite running a bit faster, my heart rate stayed pretty stable, and the encouragement from the crowds was great. I decided to pick things up a bit and found I was getting further and further away from the 3:15 pace group. I was also getting to the point in the race where I knew a 165 heart rate was sustainable (based on prior years), so I felt a bit more confident in the speed.

6 - 7:17, 166
7 - 7:15, 164
8 - 7:22, 165
9 - 7:16, 164
10 - 7:29, 163
11 - 7:09, 165

Closing the Gap in my old Stomping Grounds - Miles 12-17

With my strong hill training, I destroyed the 210 foot climb up to Pitt at mile 12, and my adrenaline started picking up. By the time I crossed the halfway mark of the race at mile 13 about 1:36 into the race and seeing the 3:10 group off in the distance of Fifth Avenue, I was feeling immensely better than I had ever felt at the midway point of any prior marathon, and started believing I had enough fuel in the tank to just crush the second half of the race. I then saw a bunch of friends along the course, knew I was feeling as good as I had felt at the beginning of my last (1:33) half marathon, and figured it was now time to make a move. I pushed my pace up to a 7/mile pace for a few miles, crushed a nice 50 foot downhill mile at a 6:30 pace, and finally caught up the welcoming 3:10 pacer at mile 18 who had even put "run like hell" on the back of his pacer bib.

12 - 7:25, 169 (w. 210 feet of climbing)
13 - 7:15, 168 (Half Marathon Split 1:36:01)
14 - 7:09, 170
15 - 7:07, 171
16 - 7:02, 170
17 - 6:31, 170 (w. 50 feet descent)
18 - 7:01, 171

Settling in for the endgame - Miles 19-21

Catching up with the 3:10 pacegroup was a huge confidence builder, and given the effort expended in getting there I decided to just hang with the group for a few miles before pushing for some extra Boston safety time (I'll explain later) at the end of the race. As I went through Highland Park, around mile 20 and 21 I spotted more friends, and was feeling pretty good despite hitting a wall at that point in my first Pittsburgh marathon. I opted to just stick with the group until I approached the Friendship neighborhood, then parted ways with the awesome 3:10 pacer knowing I'd want to pick up some time over the last few miles.

19 - 7:02, 170
20 - 7:17, 171
21 - 7:05, 170

Digression - Boston Qualifying Standards, Qualifying Times, and Speculation Thereon

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Boston marathon qualifying process, each year, the grand poobah's of Boston limit the capacity of the course due to narrow streets and massive demand. Unlike the New York and Chicago marathons which limit capacity via a lottery, given Boston's fame, they only accept about 24,000 runners in who can run fast (from all age groups to keep an even flow along the course), and another 6,000 runners or so who raise at least $5000 for a charity. To get racers evenly spaced out on the course (looking at Pittsburgh Marathon results) they only let in roughly the top 5% of marathon finisher times from my 35-39 age group, 10% from the middle age groups, and up to about 15% from older age groups across genders based on a set of magical qualifying standard times that get slower as runners get older.

For my age group (35-39) for the 2017 Boston Marathon, that magical stated "qualifying standard" is 3:10. Still, as the Boston marathon doesn't pick their times perfectly, they have recently had more applicants who qualified than available slots. To whittle down the number of applicants, they decide to torture them and only let in the folks who beat those magical "qualifying standards" by an additional undetermined margin (to be determined during the September application window) to give them the desired number of runners. Last year, at my age I would have had to have run a marathon in 3:07:32 or less (2:28 faster than the standard) to run in the 2016 race, the year before it was 3:08:52, the year before it was 3:08:22. Luckily, 2 weeks ago at Boston's 2016 marathon it was very hot. So hot, that roughly 4000 fewer runners were able to meet the qualifying standard than at the 2015 race. Expert prognosticators/bloggers seem to be speculating that for the 2017 race, because so many participants failed to requalify, there will be enough open slots to allow in anyone who just beats the qualifying standard by 30 seconds (or even less). That remains to be seen, but I seem to agree with their logic. On the plus side, for the 2018 marathon qualifying period starting in October, I'll be in the 40-44 age group and will (likely) pick up another 5 minutes of qualifying time.

Some Boston qualification speculation websites I've been eyeing (warning - reading this stuff can be a bit mind numbing):

Banking Time and Fighting the Good Fight - Miles 22-26.2

By the time I hit mile 22, I had about 20 of those 30 "expert opinion Boston qualifying" seconds saved if I could maintain my pace. Still, I was feeling pretty good, only had 4 miles to go, had been smartly refueling with gels, liquid, and managed to deposit another 15 seconds in the Bank of Boston along mile 22 with a strong push and some cheering help from a former colleague and former roommate.
It was around the middle of mile 23 that running harder became well, hard. Knowing I felt ok, and had some nice long descents coming up, I kept that mile at an even pace.

A solid effort down the big hill on Liberty (passing up the free beer from Church Brew Works) delivered me a 6:49 mile 24 banking me an extra 25 seconds (up to 65 total). Knowing I only had 2 miles left, I pushed hard again through the last 2 miles past another former classmate, pushing my body to its limit, and saving another 30 seconds over the final 2.2. I crossed the finish line at 3:08:25 with some nice costume kudos from the race announcer, a full 95 seconds under the Boston qualifying standard.

22 - 7:02, 171
23 - 7:12, 173
24 - 6:49, 170 (165 foot downhill)
25 - 7:06, 174
26 - 7:03, 177
26.2 - 1:17, 180

Finish: 3:08:25 (1:36:01 1st Half, 1:32:24 2nd Half/PR), 94th/3704, 16th/347 age group

After crossing the line, I probably felt the best I've felt after a marathon, and noticed that my time for the second half of the marathon was actually faster than my Half Marathon PR. After slowly walking through the finish area I returned to the beginning of mile 25 to cheer on subsequent finishers as I figured the costume would elicit a few smiles. I then headed to the Pirate game in full red devil costume (which might not have been the best color to wear to a game vs. the Reds), and got back home around 6PM welcomed by lots of nice messages from friends who were time-stalking me online.

Still, now that I've run a Boston Qualifying time, I'll submit my application in September, and hopefully will get the nod. Regardless, I'm very satisfied with my time, and look forward to further improving at my next marathon.

Next Races
Ironman 70.3 Augusta - September
Chicago Marathon - October
Ironman Florida - November

Pics (big thanks to awesome former college roommate Matt L. & Sharon Eberson's tweet)

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South Park Blue Suit

Sundance 2016 Reviews

Just wrapped up my 21st and final film at Sundance this year, and figure I'd pass along my quick & dirty recaps of each. I'll cover the shorts at the end, as I caught 3 shorts programs, in addition to 18 full length movies/documentaries.

Just to disclaim my reviews, all of these films were selected (out of thousands of possible submissions) by juries who have a much better eye for quality, and taste is a very subjective and personal matter. As I'm not much of a ratings guy, I figure I'll just rank in order based on which ones I'd recommend to a more time constrained version of my past self if I got into a time machine and traveled back to the beginning of the festival.

Also, for the sake of the filmmakers (who probably could care less about what a random moviegoer thinks), I figure I'd play armchair director, and share any changes I'd make if I remade the movie.

Awesome (top 5 / 18)

Birth of a Nation - I ended sundance on a high note catching this epic historical tale of the Nat Turner slave uprising from 1831. Everything in the film was compelling as it demonstrated gorgeous cinematography, a tremendous story arc, brilliant soundtrack, and a meaningful chapter of American History that is relevant in today's social and racial climate.

What I'd Change: The movie presented a powerful story that needs to be shared by a broad audience including today's youth. The brief nudity and violence in today's screening would probably result in an MPAA R-rating, but a few quick edits could get it down to a PG-13. I think sharing the message would be worth making the necessary cuts.

Author: The JT Leroy Story - This documentary did a good job of explaining why the fictitious author character was developed and gave us a window into Laura Albert's mental terpitude as she created, developed, and evolved JT. The available primary source material of the hundreds of phone conversations held between the character and others lent itself to a rich and deep story.

What I'd Change: Given the magnitude of the deception, I really wanted to know more about the post-revelation reaction to the deception from those who attempted to get close to the JT character. I'm not sure the budget would have allowed for interviews with Billy Corgan, Wynona Ryder, etc.., but they would have been interesting.

Weiner - This fascinating documentary intimately capturing the NYC mayoral campaign of Anthony Weiner included a goldmine of real-time reactions to the follow-on bombshells that dropped during his Mayoral campaign. Being able to look into nearly every critical conversation & phone call he and his campaign team made as he slid from being the polling leader (despite the known first twitter clothed dick-pic) to only earning 5% of the popular vote at the election following additional revelations was like watching a train wreck. I loved his candid final post-hoc interview with the director after some time helped him gain more perspective.

What I'd Change: The movie opened with some of his background in congress, etc.. still, I'd have liked to better understand the man and what drove his decisions with a touch more earlier history (family, childhood, etc..).

Suited - A stunning documentary covering a New York custom suit taylor company that specializes in suits for trans-gender customers. Each customers' story was compelling, seamlessly presented, humanized the person, and left me with a much better understanding of the world of gender identity.

What I'd Change: The movie left me hanging on what happened (for both the outfit and legal case outcome) for the older lawyer customer.

Trash Fire - Odd midnight series film that managed to grip your attention with its crazy characters, odd plot twists, and edgy style. Although you need to suspend some of your beliefs throughout the course of film, most of the story held together from start to finish, showing some strong character development. Despite the odd story, the acting from both Adrian Grenier and Fionnula Flanagan was exceptional.

What I'd Change: I kept on asking myself why the main characters stuck around as long as they did given the insanity of the grandma and experiences with the snake (i.e. geico commercial where the teenagers decided to go to hide in the abandoned shack instead of leaving in their car to escape the chainsaw clad murderer).

Pretty Good (6-12)

Belgica -
Filmmakers did a great job of catching the vibe and essence of the Belgian bar/club scene in this dramatic feature about two brothers who expand their bar into a full fledged nightclub. Definitely the best soundtrack by far at Sundance as it underscored the energy of the environment.

What I'd Change: I spent the movie waiting for the big catastrophic fail but instead just watched the protagonists slowly descend deeper into their ongoing woes as the plot advanced at a snails pace as they drank bottle after bottle of booze, and snorted coke nearly every 5 minutes. I think the movie might have done better at 90 minutes vs. the full 120, but that may have been due to me seeing it at midnight the same day I flew in from the east coast.

Equity - Fascinating fictional look at several overambitious wall street women's greed-driven spiraling descents into moral turpitude, and social manipulation in the name of getting ahead.

What I'd Change: The ending just didn't seem fair for all involved parties and left me with a bitter taste.

Linklater Dream is Destiny - Good comprehensive retrospective documentary on director Richard Linklater with some vanilla insights on his genius (spoiler: he worked hard, got in lots of practice with the basics, assembled a crew, let actors drive the script, let interpersonal interaction & time drive stories, didn't avoid Hollywood but didn't embrace it).

What I'd Change: Given the creative genius of his finished products, I wanted even more depth on what he was thinking when he took his biggest stylistic risks and deviations from the norm. Also, given he seems to live a pretty straightforward clean lifestyle, I'm wondering where the hell Waking Life's long meandering semi-incoherent ramblings came from.

Spa Night - This Korean-American coming of age film did a tremendous job of shedding light on the conflicts experienced by kids of first generation immigrants, including the difficulties they face when their vocational and biological orientations don't match their families' expectations.

What I'd Change: It didn't take long to figure out that the protagonist was interested in the inappropriate activities taking place in the spa, but the director gratuitously included about 15 scenes of his voyerism to get that point across.

Jacqueline (Argentina) - Lighthearted mockumentary of a deep international conspiracy and a quirky exiled participant who was set on exposing it.

What I'd Change: Midway through the film/story, it meanders off topic for a while without getting anywhere or really advancing the story, but at least it had some funny moments.

How to Tell You're a Douchebag - Creative singular story line, well developed nuanced characters, with a plot that resonated with millennials in the crowd.

What I'd Change: Dialogue seemed forced and unnatural from the female lead, and the secondary plot line (best friends' contrasting relationship) wasn't as well developed as I would have liked given how awesome of a character he was.

Trapped - Straightforward documentary covering how southern states are gradually pushing back on Roe vs. Wade via over 200 state red tape regulations, resulting in almost a quarter million backroom/at home abortions due to restricted access.

What I'd Change: The message would be even more effective if it covered more around the women's health risk implications of making abortion inaccessible.

OK (13-15)

Frank Zappa: In his own words - The director pieced together a good chronological narrative fully exploring Frank's biting cynicism and wit from just using interviews with the artist.

What I'd Change: I'd rather see this film made 15 years ago when they could probe more from others on their reaction to Frank. Making it this far after his death makes it harder to dig in and further understand the man.

Maya Angelou - Straightforward chronological documentary exploring an incredibly fascinating woman.

What I'd Change: Meander less towards the end as the content from the last 45 minutes doesn't fit as well into the timeline/narrative.

We are X - Fascinating look into the psychological dysfunction of a relatively unknown (to the USA) Japanese hair metal band. The dysfunction was an odd mix of standard US band artistic angst alongside traditional Japanese cultural strains (excessive work effort and suicide).

What I'd Change: Unlike most music documentaries, it really didn't explore where the music and style developed from (influences, musical collaboration process), and it left too many lo
ose ends on a handful of threads it kicked off (family, reasons for band member exclusions & replacements). It also felt a bit like a commercial for the band because it failed to expose these warts.

Bottom (16-18)

- This bachelor party/guys weekend flick took a slight twist on the usual themes of group debauchery, hookers, drugs, gambling, and hot tub mischief by holding it for a guy who is recovering from his fiancee's suicide, but the film otherwise followed a pretty traditional script.

What I'd Change: Brett Gelman tried too hard to be this movie's Zach Galifianakis. The title character was hardly featured, and little resolution appeared to emerge from the chaos of the adventure leaving the story without much of an arc.

Eddie the Eagle - I can't think of a single sports movie cliché that the director failed to include in this 1980s era pic - including the requisite mid-film training montage. Soundtrack was over the top, but in a really good way.

What I'd Change: Given the goal was to create a mass-consumed cheesey disney style feel good film with little artistic or dramatic value, it did it well. I'm just not into that sort of thing, so if I could change anything, I should have skipped the showing and attended a real festival film.

The Illinois Parables -
A superficial review of 11 historical tragedies in Illinois shown through slow crawling 1960s educational film style shots of corn fields and wetlands, layered with an equally drawn out post modern piano soundtrack. Without any narration, it attempted to cover historical events through flashing newspaper headlines, historical marker signs, and pictures while playing semi-related music in the background to explain some history.

What I'd Change: Everything. Personally, I'd rather gouge out my eyes than re watch this, but if you are into grainy stock film footage of agricultural landscapes, and historical documentaries lacking analysis, it might be your cup of tea.

Best Shorts You Should Dig Up and Watch (likely on youtube)

Bacon & God's Wrath - Recounting of a 94 year old kosher women's first experience with eating bacon

A Reasonable Request - This exploration of a hypothetical was unbelievably wrong, but had me rolling on the floor

Thunder Road - Incredibly funny-awkward take on a eulogy

Dogsitter - A simple, cute, and amusing story with an awesome actress, a very odd predicament, and an O'Henry twist

Too Legit - An absurd look at campus rape

Metube two - A entirely gratuitiously awesome take on Carmina Burana

I am Yu'Pik - Incredible documentary on basketball's role in uniting a disparate remote native alaskan community
South Park Blue Suit

Disney Marathon Race Report - Surviving the Humidity - 3:29:09

As I lay in bed still recovering from Sunday's Disney marathon, I figure I'd pen the requisite race report. Coming off of a 1:32 half marathon and 40 minute 10k in the past two months, I had been eyeing a performance that squeezed under the Boston qualifier mark (3:10), or at least the Chicago guaranteed entry mark (of 3:15), but things didn't go as planned and I'll have to wait until my next race to reach either.

I'm still not sure what to make of the race, as I didn't do a great job with some elements I could control (pacing, weight), nor did the weather cooperate much. Regardless, my finish time of 3:29:09 was a personal record, knocking about 15 minutes off my Pittsburgh marathon performance from last May, and I finished 221st out of a field of 20,000 finishers who had to deal with the same elements.


Going into the race, my training had peaked at about 60 miles/week, although I had only run two 20-mile training runs vs. my usual 4. Still, my plan involved 2 days/week of speedwork which helped me get faster. From my training, I had been running most runs about 1-1.5 minutes/mile faster at the same heart rate as last year, so I was pretty optimistic about my improving fitness. Unfortunately, despite wanting to get down to 155lb for the race, too many holiday meals with friends reeked havoc on that goal, and by the time I finished my pre-race carb & liquid plan, I was weighing in before the race at 165lb, almost 4lb above my last half marathon & 10K weights.


After finally getting up at 4AM in my hotel room in Orlando from an abbreviated prior night's sleep (due to some football playoff watching), I drove to the course, arriving in the Epcot lot at 4:45, and made it to corral B up front about 20 minutes before the anthem after a 30 minute slow saunter with fellow marathoners.

Having checked the forecast, I noticed that the race morning was supposed to be unseasonably warm (65-70 degrees vs. averages of 50), and pretty humid (95% for the first 2 hours of race), with a light wind. From this forecast and all of my Florida running, I knew I'd needed to adjust my pace, and pay more attention to how I was reacting. Still, I didn't quite know how much, but had mentally erased the possibility of qualifying for Boston, and built a heart rate plan for my garmin watch to help notify me if I was pushing too hard. According to weather data, at the actual start, it was 70 degrees with 99% humidity. Luckily, it didn't get warmer as the race progressed, and although it didn't rain, by the last hour, the humidity had dropped to 95%.

The start

When my corral (B) was released 2 minutes after the first around 5:30AM, I took off for my 26.5 mile trek through the happiest place on earth. Despite having cruised to a 7:00/mile pace at a 170 heart rate (90% of my max) at my half marathon in November, after a few minutes of slogging through the 99% humidity, I found that the same level of exertion was leaving me at a 7:40 pace by the end of my first mile. It was at that point I decided against my better judgement to just try to hold on and hope that I'd magically become more fit and would be able to sustain that pace for 26.2 miles. For reference, I ran the first half of my prior marathon (Pittsburgh from May 2015) at 160 BPM and completed it with even splits and a barely sustainable pace by the end.

Mile 1 - 7:38, avg HR 160 BPM (started at 60, crept up to 170)

Miles 2-6 - Road to the Magical Kingdom

Although the marathon wound its way through all 5 parks (Disney, Animal Kingdom, Wild World of Sports, Hollywood Studios, then Epcot), surprisingly about 2/3 of the mileage is just on roads between each park, as the parks themselves are relatively compact. As a result, it was roughly mile 5 by the time I entered the Magic Kingdom. I didn't do too much passing as Disney is pretty good with corral management, but I noticed that my shirt was drenched by the mile 3 marker from the humid air and my heart rate at my continued pace wasn't going down. Still, like the first 6 miles of any marathon, they felt pretty easy so I decided against pulling back on my 7:40/mile pace.

Once I reached the magic kingdom a bit after 6AM, my bib got me in the door without needing pay $120 for a 1 day pass, and I wove for about a mile through the illuminated park, including the middle of the well lit iconic Sleeping Beauty castle while resisting the opportunity to jump off course for pictures with all of the characters cheering us on.

2 - 7:34 169 HR
3 - 7:44 167 HR
4 - 7:44 169 HR
5 - 7:38 171 HR
6 - 7:33 172 HR

Miles 7-11 - Back on the road

By mile 7, we were back out of the park, heading down to the Animal Kingdom along the winding roads. Still, the organizers were nice enough to put in more character photo opportunities along the way and a quick chat with a fellow runner revealed a potential training buddy who lives about 2 miles from me. The pace still felt pretty easy at that point, but I noticed I was working a touch harder. The sun finally made its way up around mile 10, as we wound our way through a few steeply banked roads and highway exits towards Animal Kingdom.

7 - 7:40 170 HR
8 - 7:35 170 HR
9 - 7:49 168 HR
10 - 7:34 170 HR
11 - 7:27 172 HR

Miles 12-16 - Animal Kingdom and Beyond

Upon being greeted at the back entry to Animal Kingdom by a bunch of roadside sheep on leashes around mile 12, we entered the park, and did a very short tour up and down a few small artificial rolling grades. Unfortunately, as I was focused on running the tangents along the small rolling grades and narrow turns, I didn't observe a single animal despite the obvious odor.

It was probably around this point that I noticed I was straddling the level of effort where I get side stitch/stomach area cramps, compounded by my ingestion of gu gels every 3-4 miles.

As we exited the park after half a mile, I passed the half-marathon marker feeling ok, crossing it at a 1:40:25 split, but definitely wasn't as fresh as I had felt at my prior marathon's halfway mark in May.

As I continued down the inter-park highway towards the wide world of sports along miles 13-16 the dreaded mid/late marathon sensation kicked in as time passed much more slowly, and my legs started getting sore. Still, I pushed at the same pace knowing what was coming up even though I was reaching my lactic threshold heart rate.

12 - 7:29 173 HR
13 - 7:42 172 HR
14 - 7:32 173 HR
15 - 7:38 173 HR
16 - 7:45 174 HR

Miles 17-20 - Wide World of Sports

I'm not sure how to best describe the Wide World of Sports complex other than that it is filled with sports fields, tracks, lots of baseball training diamonds (Braves sprint training/minor leagues), and a great baseball stadium. The path wove us through all of it, as we finally got to do a reasonable chunk of non-road running both around a track, around the baseball stadium field (with a grandstand filled with bands & fans) and along the facility. Although the crowd support here was great, it was in this complex of athleticism that I started to get punished for my too-fast start.

I managed to hold my pace for mile 17, but it slowly crept up to an 8 minute/mile at mile 18, which I was able to hold on to for three miles. Still, at this point, although I didn't muscularly bonk, my energy output just wasn't getting me as far, and as I exited the park back onto the road at mile 20, I noticed I was running out of gas with 10K of racing to go. Also, at this point, I must have stopped running the tangents as well, as the mile markers seemed to instantly move further and further away from where my watch said they should be.

17 - 7:48 172 HR
18 - 8:00 172 HR
19 - 7:58 173 HR
20 - 8:07 172 HR

Final Fight - Hollywood Studios and Epcot - Miles 21-26

It was around mile 21, that back on the intra-park highways my body started revolting, as I was both running out of steam, my legs started tensing up, and the daylight started to take its toll on my body. As the pain settled in, my body just couldn't maintain its pace, and I had to fight like crazy to keep up an 8:30 pace as I wound through Hollywood Studios then the final mile through Epcot. Unlike my last marathon where I had enough in the tank to sustain my pace as my heart rate creeped up to 95% of its max over my last few miles, I just ran out of steam and started to crash here. Still, I was getting closer to the end, and survived these miles without totally blowing up as I passed a bunch of faster runners who were cramping up and walking their last few miles.

As the finish line snuck up on me as I wound through the end of epcot, I pushed my last 1/2 mile at an 8 pace, and paid the price as my legs totally gave out after crossing the finish. I managed to waive off 4 different medical personnel who came up to help at various points as I hobbled through the chute back to the meeting point, during which muscles in my legs cramped up that I didn't know existed. Luckily, I found a place to sit for a few minutes, then met up with a neighbor who drove me home in my car, and I've been spending the rest of the day in bed recovering.

21 - 8:30 170 HR
22 - 8:31 168 HR
23 - 8:31 168 HR
24 - 8:37 166 HR
25 - 8:46 167 HR
26 - 8:39 168 HR
26.48 - 7:51 172 HR

Total time: 3:29:09, 7:54/mile (watch), 7:59/mile (official - dividing by 26.2 miles)
Finish: 221/19,838 overall, 190/9,523 males, 36/1,637 in men 35-39

All in all, Disney wasn't a bad marathon as I didn't completely blow up in the end, I PRed by 15 minutes, but I definitely learned where not to over-push my pacing, and probably suffered much more than I needed to given the result. If I want to make it down to 3:13 to qualify for Boston after I move to the 40-44 age group in October, I think the 16 minutes can realistically be saved with a cooler race (as last year's 221st place finisher was 12 minutes faster), smarter pacing, a few more 20 mile training runs, and a few more pounds off my mid-section.

Overall, the crowd support was OK, and it was nice running in a full marathon with 20,000 participants, but the park rules & layout led to some pretty long stretches without support, and the course was more oriented towards runners who wanted to pose for pictures with their favorite Disney characters.

Next races:
Ironman 70.3 Florida - April
Pittsburgh Marathon - May
Ironman 70.3 Augusta - September
Ironman Florida - November
South Park Blue Suit

Sundance 2015 Reviews

Made it out ot 15 films during my trip to Sundance this year. See below for my thoughts (and ratings out of 4) by movie. Note that I'm not a film critic, nor do I play one on TV.

Dramatic films:

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl - 4 - Emotionally gripping film with a compelling story, witty dialogue, lots of film homages for movie buffs, and lots and lots of Pittsburgh eye candy showing off the tone of the city.

Partisan - 3.5 - Beautiful cinematography, slowly unraveling the twisted plot, distopian environment, and awesome use of karaoke. Still not sure where the title "Partisan" came from.

Experimenter - 3 - Great Stanley Milgram dramatic bio-pic highlighting his experiments, and filled with lots of star-power. Director effectively had Milgram break the 4th wall and address the audience to help tell the story and advance the plot.

Umrika - 3 - Thorough exploration of familial expectations and the lengths we go through to maintain them when they don't match reality.

The Stanford Prison Experiment - 3 - This film made me angrier at the experimenter than at the lost humanity of the participants. Still, it was stirring from start to finish and evoked a much stronger sense of rage.

Seoul Searching - 2.5 - Cute John Hughes style coming of age film featuring some very memorable characters and an awesome soundtrack. Still, the characters and sub-plots all resolved themselves too cleanly and conveniently by the end of the story for my taste (although clearly in line with a typical Hughes flick).

Pioneers Palace - 2 - This 7 day Romanian improvisational film school project succeeded in assembling an interesting and cinematographicaly clean slice of life period piece, but lacked both an engrossing story, and much depth to the characters.


Finders Keepers - 3.5 - Directors took a stranger than fiction story about posession of an amputated leg, and brought to life the colorful characters behind it, their shortcomings, and their personal resolutions.

Pervert Park - 2.5 - Humanized the story of the resident/parolees living in a post-sexual offender treatment program/community (in nearby St. Pete)

3.5 Minutes (documentary on Jacksonville Stand Your Ground shooting) - 2.5 - Very relevant subject, but it didn't create much discomfort as justice eventually prevailed. Still, maybe the key points were already digested by me when the trial first surfaced so I might not have been a great evaluator.

Larry Kramer in Love and Anger - 2 - The documentary clearly conveyed how Larry's abrasive style was effective at accelerating the development of a treatment for AIDS while alienating him from others working on the cause. Still, it was almost too straightforward of a story and didn't emotionally connect with the audience.

Being Evel (Knieval) - 1.5 - Chaotic retrospective on Evel's fascinating life felt like a mish-mash of 60 interviews, including too many quotes from unrelated (and uncredentialed on-screen) interviewees based on the issues being discussed.


Documentary Shorts Program 1 (of 2) - 3 - Lots of awesome documentary style shorts. For my diving friends, Object (from Poland, but silent) was a gripping short-documentary I'd highly recommend, Other memorable shorts from the program included the Route 22 Hotel/homeless shelter flick, and one year lease.

Shorts Award Winners (Kate, SMILF, Back Alley, Object, Oksana Baiul, World of Tomorrow) - 2.5 - The Jury at Sundance seems to be obsessed with pornographic/sex content in shorts (SMILF, Back-Alley). Kate was cute, and World of Tomorrow was outstanding. Storm hits jacket was interesting and absurd with a nice south-park green-eyed cow homage.

Shorts Program 2 (Dramatic) - 1.5 - Only one really outstanding short (Rabbit), one was cute (Little Deputy), while the others were too awkward/odd (Hugh the Hunter), were too slow (Spring/Back Alley), or did something wrong mid-stream that disengaged the audience/broke the emotional tone of the film (Followers).
South Park Blue Suit

Physical Challenges (Great Allegheny Passage / C&O Towpath Bike Trip Log)

With my recent 2 week trip up to Pittsburgh bookended and bisected by 3 Steeler games, I found myself in need of ways to fill my weekdays. The first week was filled with the usual culprets, including meeting with old friends for meals, sci-fi night, some biking around town, some former employer campus recruiting activities (as their token young retiree), and a trip to Ohio to see my cousin wrap up her senior volleyball season at a match vs. Oberlin.

Still, with my Monday-Saturday pretty open for week two between games against the Colts and Ravens, I decided to test my physical mettle with a long bike ride. Having riden around town and along the Great Allegheny Passage near town, and having seen the signs showing Washington DC being 330 miles away, I figured with my level of fitness, a trip to DC would be worth a shot.

After some quick research on lodging and return transportation, some consultation of the weather forecast (highs in the 70s most days - unusual for Halloween season), and a commitment from friends in DC to provide some housing after my arrival, I set out Monday morning at 11AM en route on the trail. With 7.5 hours of remaining daylight, a bed & breakfast lined up for the first night 100 miles away, I didn't need to average more than about 13.5mph for the first day to make it to my destination - well below the 16-17mph I was regularly doing on Florida roads during my 50 mile training rides. Still, the route was primarily over gravel (instead of the paved trail seen around the burgh), I was riding on a heavier/slower $180 wal-mart bike, the route was uphill, and required stops for lunch & water - ultimately leaving me about 5 miles short of my century mark by the time darkness overtook the wilderness. With some help from my headlight, I made it to my first stop - a quaint B&B in Rockwood PA ("Rockwood trail house") whose owners set up access for entry, not stopping by until the following morning to provide a hot cooked breakfast.

Although exhausted from a ride twice as long as my prior record for distance, I decided to call an audible on continuing the journey in the AM, grabbed a sandwich from a nearby gas station (as all dining options in Rockwood were closed), reseached lodging another 105 miles down the road (Hancock, MD), and decided a long nights sleep was in order to recharge. In the morning, feeling refreshed, I managed to line up a B&B room in Hancock and continued onward and upward (literally) towards DC. After a 20 mile climb up to the eastern continental divide at 2500 feet, and a rewarding 25 mile downhill to the end of the Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland MD through some of the most picturesque peak foliage hills in the country, I stopped for lunch. By the time I resumed my ride, I still had 6 hours of remaining daylight, and only 60 more miles to reach my day 2 destination - giving me a bit more time for a leasurely ride down the much bumpier C&O canal towpath to Hancock Maryland.

Although averaging 10MPH on the C&O path wasn't as physically exhausting as doing 14 on the GAP, it was a bumpy ride, leaving my shounders, arms, and derrier nice and sore by the time I arrived at my second night's destination. The second B&B in Hancock MD (River Run B&B) was very nicely appointed charming house, but again, I was solo as it was mid-week and late in the season. I found a great spot for dinner nearby (the newly opened Buddy Lou's) and enjoyed a nice painini, and apple crisp to wrap up my second day of riding.

Knowing I was 125 miles from DC, separated by a very bumpy C&O Canal towpath, only 10.5 hours of daylight, and consistent rain in the forecast, I decided I was going to give the longer ride a shot with a contingency plan to bail mid-way at the picturesque Harpers Ferry WV, 65 miles down the road, or only do 105 miles to the Reston Metro stop and rail it in from the suburbs saving about 15 miles.

Gutting it out throughout the morning, and skipping lunch, I decided to push on past Harpers Ferry and go for the gusto, crossing the beltway by the time I needed my headlight for guidance down the last 10 miles of the towpath. I successfully arrived at my destination near mile marker 0 around 7PM, dark, cold, wet, and covered in mud I kicked up on the trail. My hosts were gracefully ready to hose me down, and the warm shower following that day's 125 mile voyage along with some tasty peruvian chicken hit the spot late Wednesday evening.

After some searching Thursday, I lined up a bike box and return train ticket for Saturday, and made plans with friends and family in the DC metro to keep me busy until train ride home. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were well appreciated rest days, filled with museum visits (Air & Space, American History, and Archives), family visits (uncle's birthday breakfast, lunch w. a cousin recovering from election season), fancy dinners, halloween parties, and even a run through the woods with some crazy nearby hashers.

In retrospect, although I was happy to see that I was able to knock out 330 miles in 3 days as a relatively new cyclist, I definitely made a few mistakes with the trip, but also managed to do a few things right:

Thing that worked well:

  • The new kenda 700c x 32mm tires on my $180 walmart road bike (a 30 pound GMC Denali/Kent cyle model) were perfect for doing this type of trip

  • I packed super light, just taking a camelback mule backpack bag (their smallest model) with 2 days change of bike shorts, long shirts, underwear, socks, snacks (energy bars & granola bars) and 100oz of liquid capacity. I also had a medium saddle bag filled with two spares, and a wrench and screwdriver needed to disassemble the bike for the bike box/amtrak ride home. Had my trip run longer, my 2nd night B&B had laundry facilities which would have been much easier than dragging along 2x as many clothes.

  • Layering with a north face outer shell, long sleeve shirt, and short sleeve shirt underneath worked well for managing the 45-70 degree rainy weather

  • Accomodations I found (late in the season as most places were closed) were outstanding with welcoming innkeepers, clean rooms, and reasonable prices ($115/night for a double at rockwood trail house and $85/night for the single at river run in Hancock)

  • Instead of buying the amtrak bike box, I managed to get one free from a local bike shop in DC as they were happy to shoot the breeze about the trip. Still, I bought a few accessories to repay their generosity.

  • Riding from Pittsburgh to DC (vs. going backwards) was definitly optimal as I got a few more tailwinds, the uphill was very gradual over the first 125 miles, and the downhill into Cumberland was a blast. Doing those 20 miles uphill to the continental divide wouldn't have been terribly fun.

Things I'd change on a future trip:

  • Although an athletic friend managed to do it in 2 days, I estimated that 3 days would have been more feasible than it really was. Despite being a reasonably competant marathoner and mediocre short distance triathlete, averaging over 13mph on the GAP, and 11mph on the C&O canal towpath for a full day wasn't fun. Planning to do it over 4 days vs. 3 would have avoided some night-riding stress, and given me more time to stop, admire the picturesque leaf changing fall scenery, visit some historical markers en route, and take more breaks.

  • Given the short amounts of night-riding and dark-tunnel-riding (in particular, the pow-pow tunnel near hancock) my $3 china-direct 5-LED front headlight didn't do a great job of lighting up the trail and a larger investment in lighting would have been a good idea

  • With the super-bumpy C&O canal towpath, a better gel seat, padded grip tape, and gel gloves would have saved my hands, arms, and shoulders lots of discomfort from the ride

  • With short 11 hour days this time of year, trying to average over 110 miles/day given necessary time to stop, recharge, etc... made the trip a bit of a challenge - doing the trip closer to the summer solstice would have helped

  • Although I had cadence/distance sensors on my bike, I forgot to bring the computer that attaches to them on the trip from Florida. Tracking distance covered with a computer vs. doing math with my watch and mile marker signs would have been an easier exercise.

  • Around Hancock MD, there is a 25 mile railpath that parallels the towpath and would have helped me speed up the trip and avoid lots of bumps. There are also some roads that seem to parallel the towpath further down that could have likely been navigated with more planning.

  • The Amtrak DC-Pittsburgh train is a bit unreliable and gets in after midnight. Reassembling the bike at the train station, then riding back to my lodging wasn't the best way to end the trip.

  • Although my camelback bag held plenty of liquids, swapping out my incessantly rattling Kryptonite lock for something a bit more lightweight that would let me keep a water bottle on my bike frame would have been a better use of space and weight.

Sunset DC
South Park Blue Suit

Investment basics

Had a good discussion w. jcreed tonight in response to a post he made a few days ago about investing.

In short, it was about a 90 minute discussion attempting to cover the what/hows of investing and retirement planning from the bottom-up without getting too deep on any area, but without skipping over the important details. I figure given I've used this knowledge pretty extensively to get to early retirement, I'd at least try to codify it, as I think most folks have had rudimentary exposure to all of it at some point, but might be missing some pieces to be able to cognitively reason about key decisions.

The general outline of the conversation (with a few cleanups and topics I didn't get to but should have) is below. I'm sure some of you are pretty well versed in much of this, but figure I'd post here, so folks at least have a checklist of what they should learn about when venturing into the world of personal investment management.

Fundamentals - where stocks/bonds/investment vehicles come from:

  • Double entry accounting and corporate balance sheet structure (liabilities vs. OE)

  • What corporate bonds are

  • What corporate stocks are

  • Where other bonds/fixed income securities come from (treasuries, municipal bonds, mortgage-backed securities, credit card debt, REITs, other loans)

Investment Vehicles:

  • Bonds - types (corporate, public, securitized, seniority), how they pay you money (coupons, terminal payments)

  • Stocks - types, how they pay you money (dividends, buybacks, capital gains)

  • Volatility of payouts, and valuation

  • Leverage (why two companies that have the same net profit will have bonds & stocks that are differently valued)

  • Corporate information sharing (annual reports, quarterly reports, investor calls, insider information rules)

  • Efficient market hypothesis

  • Mutual funds, and the free company-specific risk diversification they provide

  • Volatility you can't avoid via diversification/mutual funds (macroeconomic)

  • Actively managed vs. passively managed funds, if the higher overhead fees are worth it (magellan/berkshire vs. vanguard S&P 500), and the implicit free rider problem if nobody does analysis on valuation

  • The fallacy of buying funds with the highest historical returns / 20 experiments -> p<0.05 / and the football tout service story

  • Traditional index funds vs. Exchange Traded Index Funds (mid day trading vs. lower fees)

Retirement/Financial planning - how much to invest & where:

  • Historical returns and volatility by investment type

  • Future performance / "out of model" risks

  • Your retirement horizon & acceptable volatility, age % rule (don't forget social security = bonds), and Year 20XX funds

  • My monte-carlo simulation tool

  • Capital gains taxes, short term vs. long term gains, and rules (FIFO, LIFO, 12 months, etc..)

  • Tax exempt/delayed retirement accounts(401k/403b, IRAs w. contribution limits, roth vs. standard)

  • Other tax exempt securities and double-taxed securities (municipal bonds, foreign stock dividend withholding taxes)

  • 4% "safe withdrawl" rule

  • Full service brokers vs. discount brokers (what you get/don't get for your money)

  • Physical mechanics of various online self-managed solutions

  • Dividend reinvestment plans ("DRIP"), and implications on short term/long term capital gains

  • Life insurance, disability insurance, and why do it or not

  • Tax implications of selling/buying stocks frequently or infrequently on non-retirement accounts

  • If you really like a company (or work for them), pros/cons of investing a larger % in a single firm

Advanced topics:

  • Hedge funds - what are they, what do they do vs. traditional actively managed funds

  • VC funds and angel investments - what are they, what do they do, qualified investors

  • Private equity firms - active company management & adjusting leverage

  • Options and futures, why they were first created, and how investors/businesses use them to increase/decrease volatility

South Park Blue Suit

So far so good - almost there

Been a few months since my last post so I figure I might as well pull back out the pen and start writing.

Arrived back up north for my 3rd and final full month of baseball in the 'burgh a week ago. Definitely good being up here, as I've continued meeting up with old friends, the weather has been absolutely awesome, and the hills have been good for my fitness. After this month, I won't be back until mid-October for a 2 week trip to catch 3 Steelers games.

The slow steady weight decline has continued (down 67lb so far, at a rate of 2/3 of a pound/week), as I've continued putting fitness events on the calendar including a half marathon 2 weeks back in Chicago, and a triathlon last weekend. With the weight decline persisting, I'm now about 17lb away from exiting the "overweight" BMI category, which would be pretty ideal, but as I've been doing lots of weight lifting, I'll keep my eye on body fat % as a better metric of health.

Given my surplus of time now that I'm up north (as a good day includes 11 hours of sleep, 3 hours of baseball, 1 hour of commuting to/from baseball, 2 hours of fitness, 1 hour of TV, and 6 hours of random web-surfing/meals with friends/music/reading/other), I decided to re-read my LJ from the start. As I started blogging with this tool in 2002, quite a bit of my life has changed in the ensuing 12 years and it has been fascinating seeing how things I alluded to earlier either worked out (retirement), or didn't (romantic relationships). Also, it was interesting seeing what the bold, less mature, and unfiltered me looked and sounded like, constantly spewing broad proclamations, sharing wild ambitions, boasting of my over-scheduled life, and supplying not-so-guarded reactions.

I'm not sure if consulting changed me, forcing me to dull my words, or if I've just lost the insecurities I felt and needed to indulge in my entries. I guess now that I've checked off some big accomplishments, I'm not looking for as much external validation. Also, with time comes realizations about what is really important in life, what isn't, and ultimately some degree of maturity.
South Park Blue Suit

26.2 lessons I learned from my first marathon

Finished my first marathon yesterday - the moderately challenging, and hilly Pittsburgh course with a time I didn't think I'd ever be able to achieve. Although I'm in no way a running guru/expert/elite coach/etc.. I figure I'd share some lessons I learned in the process of training for it and running it that made it an awesome experience. Many were gleaned from friends who had infinitely more experience than me, articles & talks from online gurus, and some were just self-discoveries that I'm sure won't be universally applicable. Regardless (in perceived order of importance)...

  1. Find a buddy you can connect (and talk) with throughout the race (and your training). The first 18 miles flew by when running and occasionally chatting with a friend. If you are super-lucky, you may have an experienced elite/fast marathoner friend who didn't feel like they trained enough, or needs a long run training run, and is willing to pace/coach-you during the race (huge thank-you to Charlie!).

  2. To run faster, (for the most part) don't run fast, run more

  3. Training plans seemed to work well when I stuck with them, but made an occasional change or two when my body & the weather didn't cooperate (in my case, I completed the Hal Higdon's Novice 2 half, then switched over to the Hal Higdon Novice 1 full plan - occasionally altering days of week, or skipping 1-2 runs overall)

  4. Run for a reason/as a fundraiser, it provides emotional support, helps you reconnect with friends, and provides in-race motivation. As an aside, a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to ALS for my race in honor of Loose Jim. Running through Jim's old neighborhood at mile 20, with a poker chip he gave me in my pocket definitely helped me power through the last 6 miles.

  5. Running is a great way to lose weight. For me, 1lb/week came off during my 25 weeks of half/full prep - getting my BMI under 30, and down to an OK (but still heavy) weight that didn't make my knees too sore.

  6. HR monitor/GPS combos are uber-awesome - not only will they keep you motivated in your run, but you'll get objective feedback that your training is letting you run faster with less effort. Social tools like garmin connect & map-my-run work really well when fed with GPS watches or at least smartphones (if you can find the right armband).

  7. HR pacing works - it'll let you stay on the brink of anaerobic mode for long periods and not over-exert due to adrenaline/runners' highs. With solid training, I ran the race at 87% of my HR max/81% of my HR range, starting about 5BPM below it, and finishing 5BPM above it, while maintaining a super-narrow pace through all 26.2 (only slowing by 2% for my last 10k).

  8. From your training, if you are monitoring your heart rates, paces, weight, weather, and anaerobic threshold, you can probably deduce what speed/pace your body will let you run the race at. (via a wide assortment of online calculators and tools). Picking a faster/challenge target that ignores all of your recent training run history is a sure recipe for starting fast, and fading at the end. One guru mentioned that every 10 seconds of over-pacing at the start translates to 30 seconds of slower running in the 2nd half.

  9. If you feed off crowd energy, pick a bigger race with lots of bands and crowd support (Pittsburgh was awesome with about 70 on the course).

  10. Too much gatorade makes you nauseous, using water + other carb/sodium sources is better. For my 26.2, 1200 calories of goo, gatorade gels, and caffeinated jelly belly beans were the right mix for me, as only 2 of my 13 water stops involved gatorade

  11. For fluids, don't consume much more than 2-4oz per mile and dunk yourself with extra water to cool yourself off

  12. When running, don't eat too fast, or think about talking while eating harder foods. My only related race injury was a badly bitten tongue due to a caffeinated jelly bean mishap at mile 19. I'll switch to 100% gels and gu next time.

  13. Pace groups are awesome, custom pace buddies can work even better - just do your homework on what you can realistically handle before picking one, and don't be afraid to drop back if you don't think you can keep up with your original target.

  14. As you are approaching the end of your marathon, pick a target person up ahead, and reel them in, then find another target. Just avoid run-walkers as they make bad targets.

  15. If you haven't done much road running (vs. sidewalks/trails), stick to the center of the road, as the slopes can do a number on your ankles (or at least alternate sides of the road if you feel one ankle is getting sore)

  16. Running is almost like a video game, where pacing mistakes kill your energy bar too fast, while high fives and awesome band songs are like power-ups

  17. Although hill training is not a typical novice activity, do some hill training if your course has big ones (as mine had a big drop at mile 20) - your legs will thank you during and after the race

  18. Be sure to test food & gear you plan on using well before the race, and on shorter runs if wearing/eating for the first time. In my case, my 20 mile run was not the best time to test out short-shorts (but on the plus side, the resulting research on chafing pointed me to the wonders of body-glide).

  19. If you are running in cooler weather, but the corrals are tightly packed, you may not need to bring extra clothes to discard at the start if you can get to the corrals quickly (as the body heat from fellow runners can be pretty substantial)

  20. If you are lucky enough to run at a speed that is at the slower end of your race corral group (and you are running in a bigger race), just hang out at the back and walk slowly to the start as most runners will start out too fast, and you won't be knocked around as they pass you. You'll have plenty of time between your corral's gun and the start of the next corral wave, giving you plenty of space early on.

  21. It took me about a year and a half of training & proper diet to adequately progress from a 5k to a marathon. My specific progression was couch-to-5k, 10 mile race training plan, half marathon training plan, then training for and racing the full. I think that was just about right, if not a bit short.

  22. Racers not only feed off of crowd energy, but they can feed off of energy from other racers... don't hesitate to share some of your extra energy (via high fives, air high-fives, words of encouragement, occasional whoops, etc..)

  23. The finish line is not the right place to ask fellow runners/friends to commit to run the same race again next year, wait at least a week or two before suggesting another marathon.

  24. If you decide to run/walk, do so along the side of the course, or make your way to the side before switching modes early in a race. There is nothing worse than having a run/walker decide to instantly switch into walk mode when they are 2 feet in front of you.

  25. Don't worry about passing in tight spaces. With 26 miles of course to separate runners, it is ok to conserve a touch of energy by waiting for the right opening, and using the energy later in the race vs. wasting it on big lateral moves or surges to get through openings.

  26. The last 6 miles will hurt like a mofo, but running those last 6 miles with a pace buddy/group (even friends you made during the race), and staying connected by saying a word or two of encouragement to each other during those brutal brutal miles helps time pass much faster. In fact, if you are looking to cheer a race, you will be most appreciated along miles 23-25 (as everyone likes to see the finish).

And for the last .2 - two very important words (requiring no explanation): Nip guards.

Some of the sources I can recall:
8/10/11/20/24 - J. Galloway's pre race talk at the expo (I don't run-walk, but figure I'd check it out)
2 - M. Crawford
10 - C. Garrod
17 - Gleaned from Hal Higdon's Boston plan, and a stern warning not to train in flat Florida for the Pittsburgh marathon by my Ex-Girlfriend