Painting a Mental Picture During Workouts

It seems that almost every workout I do has what I call a low spot.  Or a hard spot.  A period of difficulty.

Basically, it’s that part of the workout when your legs are screaming, or your heart rate spikes and you feel like you’re going to die.  Sometimes you hit that wall where the constant headwind on a ride becomes so tough that you just want to stop.  It’s those times where you want to slow from a run to a walk.  And maybe even sit down.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like no matter what my level of fitness, I always have a low point somewhere in most of my workouts.

There are lots of tools in my virtual toolbox for overcoming these times.  Sometimes I will make an on-the-fly adjustment to my swim set.  Other times I’ll pick a landmark and focus on cycling cleanly to it – only to pick another once I get there.  I have counted my strides on runs more often that I’d like to think (one time I counted 2000 strides on a run).

I think we all have strategies for taking our mind off the hurt, the pain, or the effort.  Shifting our mind off that stuff tends to allow us to put the pain aside.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  We have the pains or excess effort.  Triathletes often tend to be fairly good about pushing them aside, however.

There is one strategy that I have been using recently – and it might be a little strange in this context – visualization.  Many of us have heard that visualizing a race or a task is often a key to success.  I’ve seen athletes clearly running through the paces of a race before the gun fires.  Recently, while watching the Olympics, I saw skier Bode Miller doing this very thing – imagining the gates he’d have to navigate as part of the downhill or giant slalom or whatever race he was about to attempt.

But that’s not the kind of visualization I’m talking about.

No…my visualization tends to be the mental picture that I create of me in the midst of a race.  Take for example, when I’m out on a run – I’ve been struggling recently getting back into running shape, and to be frank, it’s been a tough battle for me.  Literally, every time I run now, I come across a patch of the run where I want to quit.  I slow way down.  I may walk some.  One way I deal with this is visualize or imagine that I’m in the middle of a race.

Recently, I’ve been picturing myself on the run at Rev3 Florida.  The run course for this race alights the Gulf of Mexico for a while and then tracks alongside a canal.  I can see that course in my mind’s eye just as clearly today as when I actually raced there.  So while I’m running and dealing with the pain associated with the run, I have been picturing myself on particular parts of that course.  I can “see” the spectators.  I “feel” the ocean breeze.  I “smell” the smells of the salt water.

And perhaps it’s a little crazy, but typically my legs feel a little lighter.  My pace pics back up.  My respiration becomes easier.  I feel like I have energy again.  Weird, right?

What do you do to brush the pain aside?  What are your strategies for getting through those tough workouts?


Turning an Ironman into ULTRA Steel



In the world of triathlon, most people think that the pinnacle distance of the sport is the iron distance race:  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

There’s no denying that the iron distance can be a beast.  I know from personal experience.  Having finished an Ironman, though, gives me confidence that I could likely do another one day (and with this year being the fifth anniversary of me crossing that bucket list item off, I’d love to do an anniversary version again).  Frankly, however, for many athletes, the concept of doing an iron-distance race is daunting.  Heck, for some people, even toeing the line for any triathlon is daunting.

Ultraman races are the extreme distance for extreme triathletes.

Wrap your head around this:  6.2 mile (10 km) open water swim, followed by 261.4 miles (420.6 km) of cycling and then 52.4 miles (84.3 km) of running.

Yeah.  You read that right.  320 total miles (515 km) of multi-sport madness.  Ultraman Florida was held this past weekend; 34 athletes participated.

Frankly, it’s difficult for me to comprehend even one component of that event.  The first person out of the water this weekend took 2 hours 22 minutes.  The last competitor pulled himself out of the lake in 5 hours 9 minutes.  What the hell does one think about while they swim for 4 hours or more?  For comparison sake the guy who was first out of the water would have averaged about 1:15 per 100 in a SCY pool!  I can’t even do that at my peak conditioning for any length of time – even one 100!  Cycling 261 miles?  Seriously?  I have a hard enough time riding 261 miles IN A CAR – forget pedaling that far.  Then, after all that, go and run not one, but a DOUBLE marathon.  All in the same weekend.  Yeah.  Right.

It’s pretty much unequivocal that the nut-jobs who tackled this distance are freaks.  I mean, come-on.  How many people would voluntarily submit themselves to this soul-crushing, toe-blistering, delirium-inducing event?

The answer, in short, is a few hardy, superbly conditioned athletes.  Ultraman isn’t about a race, so much, but about the ultimate cathartic event.  The community that is built at these events is apparently second to none.  The guys and girls who even attempt this kind of race are pure rockstars.  The creme de la creme.  The epitome of uber-athletes.

Carbon turns iron into steel.  Pure grit and a love of endurance sports turns an Ironman into an Ultraman.

My sincere congratulations to all who participated in Ultraman Florida this past weekend.  A special shout-out goes to Susan Haag, my Team Rev3 Tri teammate.  She was one of just six women who raced.  She is pure bad-ass.  And hilarious.  She literally danced across the finish line!




I have been a triathlete for about seven years now.  I’ve completed just about every race distance that’s out there, from sprint to iron-distance.  I’ve run everything from 5k’s to marathons. 

And up until now, I’ve done 90% of my training in the afternoon or early evenings.

It is insanely difficult for me to drag my sorry butt out of the house for an early morning workout.  It’s dark.  It’s too cold.  Someone’s sprinkler system is on.  The coffee smells too good.  My pillow is still warm.  I have to make the kids’ lunches.  I’m not fast enough to swim at Master’s.  There are mosquitos out.  There’s bacon in the fridge.

Excuses.  I’m full of them.

But alas, life is crazy in the TriMadness house.  Our three kids are all involved in some sport or another.  Of course, those events happen in the evenings.  None of them is driving-age (yet.  t-minus 60 days until that happens).  So Mrs. TM and I do a lot of the ferrying around.  Correction.  She does most of it.  I do some.  Regardless, it’s becoming tougher and tougher to get workouts in at night.  Unless I want to start my workout at 9pm.

And so, I’m resigning.  More appropriately, I’m resigned.  I’m resigned to the fact that in order for me to have any semblance of training rigor, I need to get up in the morning and get going.  I need to hit the pool when it’s dark and cold.  I need to man up, put on my lights and get out running when it’s dark.  I figure I can multitask a little – for example, instead of reading the newspaper over coffee at the kitchen counter, I can read it on my tablet over a bottle of PowerBar Perform and some one-legged drills on my bike trainer.

There.  I’ve said it.  I resign.  I resign from late-night workouts.

Now I just need to hold myself accountable to that resignation and actually do it.

2nd Annual Tri Madness Christmas Eve Swim-Till-Your-Arms-Fall-Off Extravaganza

My family gets a little crazy when it comes to Christmas.  Especially Christmas morning.  See, my kids get a little excited about opening presents.  In fact, just three years ago, the entire family was up at 3:30am opening presents together.  My son could not sleep that year because he was so excited.  He kept calling us with his cell phone (we had threatened him not to come out of his room, and gave him a cell phone to call us so we could give him the all-clear….thinking that we wouldn’t get that call until at least 6am).  He literally called every 30 minutes, beginning at midnight.  Finally at 3:30, we caved and let everyone come down.  By 7, we were done opening presents, had played with everything (including being outside riding bikes or scooters) and were ready to take naps. 

Ever since that pre-dawn package opening session, my wife and I have been on the elusive hunt for something to keep our kids in bed on Christmas morning.

Last year, we found the PERFECT thing.  A super-long, swim until your arms fall off, session at the pool on Christmas eve.  You may recall that my son swims competitively year-round.

And so, Christmas Eve morning, my son, youngest daughter and I headed to the pool.  She swam about 2500 yards.  I did 5000.  My son swam 10,000 yards.  In fact, he was in the pool so long that I left, went home to shower and eat lunch and then came back to pick him up.  But the plan worked!  That night, he went to sleep without any argument.  We ended up having to wake him up on Christmas morning!  It was awesome!

Now, this is going to become a tradition for the Tri Madness family.  We’re doing it again this year.  And so can you!  You can join in and participate in the Tri Madness Swim-Till-Your-Arms-Fall-Off Extravaganza too!

Below, you’ll find my workout.  Roughly 5000 yards of sheer arm exhausting bliss.  Go find yourself a pool that’s open on Christmas Eve and give it a shot.  If you’re really adventuresome, double it.  Or, if your last name ends is Lochte, triple it.  Either way, I guarantee that you will sleep really well on Christmas Eve – and you won’t hear the reindeer trampling all over your roof.

Click to download a PDF version

Click to download a PDF version

Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

When the race gets tough, what do you do?  What keeps you moving? 

As my running and triathlon career have grown over the years, I’ve been faced too often with a hurdle during a race.  An injury.  Lack of training.  Poor nutrition.  Exhaustion.  No doubt you’ve faced similar obstacles as well.

Excellence in this sport is dependent upon our ability to overcome obstacles.  Well, that’s not 100% true – genetics and ability play roles as well.  That said, however, take two athletes with the same fitness levels and abilities, and often you’ll have two different results at a race.  The key differentiator?  How they each approach the race and the difficulties that always appear during an event.  It’s the “mental fitness” of the athlete that separates their performance.

Coincidentally, Lava Magazine has posted two parts of what appears to be a broader series on “mental fitness” here and here.  I won’t ruin the articles for you, but at this point I’m not sure I agree 100% with the thesis presented.  For starters, the articles propose that there are two main types of athletes when it comes to mental fitness.  I agree that there might be two types of athletes, but I disagree on the differentiator.

To me, and perhaps this is based just on my own experiences, it seems that the two types of athletes are those that are intrinsically motivated and those that are extrinsically motivated.

Intrinsically Motivated

By definition, intrinsically motivated folks are motivated by themselves, not external stimuli.  They are their own cheer leader, their own button-pusher, their own harshest critic.  They are motivated to perform better against themselves, against their prior performances.  In my mind, they exercise for the pure joy of exercising.  They tri because of tri.  Poor performances are decomposed, analyzed, and rationalized.  At the same time, intrinsically motivated folks may be apt to toss in the towel when they realize things aren’t going their way.

Extrinsically Motivated

Extrinsically motivated folks seem to be those über competitive folks in the crowd.  They are motivated by the thrill of victory or a podium, regardless of the quality of their performance.  Crowds, location, and other external stimuli are triggers.  A poor performance is viewed as a failure when compared to others.

Why would one’s motivational mindset be important when dealing with obstacles in a race?  While I’m not a psychologist, I suspect that motivational mindset plays a role in how adversity is dealt with.  For example, it seems logical that given a situation where a racer is at mile 18 of a marathon and is really suffering and tired, that an extrinsically motivated athlete might view walking as the ultimate failure, that others might view them as a sub-par athlete.  The intrinsically motivated athlete, on the other hand, might view a two-minute walk as inconsequential in the bigger scope of things.

Here’s why this fascinates me:  I think at times I personally would classify myself under both motivational categories, depending upon the day or event.  My issue is that there are times where I act under both mantras.  As a result of competing motivational factors, I often find that my physical results are mixed.

For example, two weeks ago I had as my long run of the week a 9-miler.  This past weekend, my long run was an 11-miler.  Physically, my fitness is at an acceptable place.  Neither of these runs should have presented a dramatically different experience.  I was recovered well from prior workouts, adequately fueled and hydrated, and had slept well the night before. Environmentally, conditions were fairly similar.  Air temperature was in the same ballpark, it was dry.  The only differences were time of day (the 11 miler was done in the afternoon; the 9 miler in the morning) and relative humidity.  So net/net…almost all aspects of the two runs were similar.

Mentally, the two runs were as different as black and white.

The entire time I was out on my 9-mile run, I felt strong.  I was confident.  I didn’t dwell on being tired.  The Garmin was not checked constantly and fretted over. I ended up having a very solid run that I was pleased with.  I felt good sharing my experience with my family and friends.

My 11-mile run was diametrically different.  From the outset the run was one of those runs.  I probably checked my Garmin 375 times in the first two miles alone.  I worried about my pace.  “Am I going too fast?” “Why is my cadence so slow?” “Why is my breathing out of whack?”  I found myself counting down the time until I was done.  I thought about walking frequently.  I found it hard to keep myself motivated to do the run.  I had to play games with myself to keep moving.

What was so different about the two workouts that caused me to perform so differently?  Of course, that’s the conundrum for not only me, but countless other athletes.  My challenge is how to combine my analytical, loner, intrinsically motivated self with my jovial, friendly, outwardly motivated self.