La Haute Route of Arnaud

You know how these things go: another birthday and you run straight into mid-age crisis territory. Some guys get a sports car, but I was looking for something more, say, physical. Upgrading from Ironman is a bit of a challenge, but when my friend Eric talked to me about the Haute Route—a seven-day cycling race for 450 participants in the Alps covering 900km and climbing over 20,000m—I was immediately hooked.

So, here I was in a late August Saturday afternoon, stepping off the train in Geneva, on my way to register and get the 9km prologue on. I didn’t have much time to prepare for it—not quite three months elapsed since I signed up. Also, I live in Houston, which is pancake flat so I didn’t have ideal conditions. But my coach, François, knows what he’s talking about. That’s good as I had never done a single bike race, let alone a multi-stage one. I also hadn’t gone up or down a mountain in several years. So I had a few questions in my mind as I lined up for the start. Going through the starting gate and powering up and down the side of the lake Geneva brought me back to reality.
I’ll tell you, I came with a bit of a cocky attitude. I’m certainly not a great cyclist, but I think I do ok. Well, my performance in the prologue is nothing to remember (138th), and I got chicked twice. That Saturday, it downed on me pretty quickly: this is the most serious group of riders I’ve ever been, with and I’d better up my game (in my defense, the two ladies who went faster than me are Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington.)
Stage 1 started Sunday morning. 130km and over 3,100 meters of climbing through the Col de la Colombière, Col de la Croix Fry, and Col des Aravis to take us from Geneva to Mégève. That day was ripe in lessons too, thanks to my roommate Nicolas, a strong cyclist who knows a thing or two about climbing and descending. For one, don’t bring a knife to a gun fight: while my Cervélo S2 is great, its front rings (53/39) are for the flats; climbers go with something like (50/36). Oh really? I thought all I needed was a 11/28 cassette. Oops. As I quickly ran out of gears on the slopes of the Colombière, I began to wonder how I would fare on much steeper slopes later in the week. Another lesson was that it is always a good idea to bring your own nutrition to these events. I didn’t, thinking I would find some at the race village in the morning, and ended up climbing la Colombière on a half bottle of water. Second oops. I eventually picked up some nutrition at the points provided by the organization and made it to the finish in an uneventful way, in the 200th spot.
Then came the after-race ritual: get a slot for a massage, shower, eat, get the massage, go to the hotel, get our luggage, unpack, check the bike and ready it for the next day, return to the race village for the briefing, eat, go back to the hotel, and try to sleep. Wow, not much time to enjoy the Alpine sun! We also developed a nice routine with François: I’d send him the programmed stage in the evening and he would tell me how to approach it, where to pace and where to give it all. His guidance was instrumental in keeping me confident.
Stage 2 on Monday was to take us from Mégève to Courchevel. Another 130km with a bit more climbing: 3,900 meters, going through the Col des Saisies, Col du Cormet de Roselend, and the Ascension de Courchevel. On the first col, I hooked up with Ally, a Scottish fellow I had met the day before in the massage room. He introduced me to his team, Vélosophe: a Geneva-based team with folks from 7 countries or so that turned out to be the coolest team in the entire outfit. Just a bunch of great guys! We hit it off immediately and decided to ride together. The group eventually broke off a bit, with Daan riding faster, and me trying to stick to Gerry’s wheel. As it turns out, Gerry and I would have an agreement for most of the week where we would ride with each other most of the time. Yeah, 90% of the time he would be the one riding in the front, and I would be hanging on for dear life. And he was fine with that. I’m telling you, Vélosophe fellows are insanely cool. That second day, I felt I was getting a hang on the race: how to pace myself in cols, how to judiciously use and bypass nutrition points, how to dress, how to nurse my back, and how to work well within a group. Gerry and I made it to the line in 5h (6h counting the neutralized sections) in 130th place or thereabout.

Gorgeous day in the Alpes

Stage 3 was never going to be easy. Going from Courchevel to the iconic Alpe d’Huez it went on 137km with 4,100 meters of climbing through the Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon, and the last six turns of the Ascension de l’Alpe d’Huez. It didn’t help that when we left our hotel that morning it was already raining… and it didn’t stop until we hit the finishing line some 7 hours later. So we went to work. Daan and Gerry dragged me up Madeleine where the cold, rain, and wind where really hard. I lost contact going down as my camera flew off my bike, and I stopped to recover (most of) it. I re-made contact before climbing Glandon but the last three kms of that one at 10%, 11%, and 10% proved too much for me to keep up given my gears. I lost contact again in the last km. Luckily the descent was neutralized, and we were able to recharge before the last climb of the day. But to get there, we had to go down some more and my breaks were cooked: I had gone through more break pads in three days than in 4 years of riding in Houston. Yet another lesson: break pads do wear. Riding down to the bottom of the last climb of the day, Gerry and I caught up with Chrissie who was also struggling with her breaks. A few moments later, we hit the slopes of the Alpe and she powered away at an impressive speed. I swear she was smiling too. Meanwhile, Gerry was getting cooked and it was that time of the day for me to provide my 10% of leadership. It was a tough stage but a great moral booster. I started to trust in my legs: if they can take me over Glandon and this monster stage, I should be able to deal with everything coming my way. We placed in the 110th range, once again confirming our slow climb in the GC.
Stage 4 was a semi-rest day, with only 15km of riding. The catch is that those are the 15km going up Alpe d’Huez. In a time trial. After what must be the slowest descent off the Alpe in history to get to race start in Bourg d’Oisan, I changed my brake pads (what a difference!), downed a double espresso, and powered up the col. The plan was to work with Ally but we lost contact fairly early and ended going our own pace. My powermeter died off somewhere along the way, but I gave it what I had and finished in a gentlemanly 181th position. Note to self, stop skipping François’s workouts that call for FTP efforts.
The dreaded Ventoux

The dreaded Ventoux

Stage 5 was longer: 187km with “only” 2,900m of climbing. Fresh out of overcoming the Glandon and the Alpe, I started feeling more cocky. That was misplaced: the second col of the day Parquetout, while little known, was perhaps the most violent of the week, climbing an average of 10% over 6.5km. As I was climbing out of the saddle, I noticed that the gradient was spray-painted on the road every few hundred meters: 12.5%, 14%, 12%, etc. That became an indicator: you know you’re having a hard day when seeing a 12% feels like a breather! Anyway, I did what I could to stay in contact and, once we cleared the four cols, we faced a long flattish section. We found a good group, and started working with them. Our group of 15 riders or so was flying through the rolling hills, working efficiently, each of us taking pulls and averaging 40 to 45 km/h. That worked well until the two riders in front of me touched wheels. They instantaneously went to the floor, and I reached for my brakes. As the available road in front of me and to my right shrunk rapidly I could already see me joining them. As a last resort I banked left, not really hoping for much… and somehow I stayed upright. We immediately called the pompiers but after a few minutes it was clear that they were both fit to continue and we resumed our charge for the finish line. I hit it in 91st place.
Stage 6, the penultimate one looked good, in a masochistic way: 150km, 2,800m of climbing, including the Mont Ventoux in the last 21km. François had warned me to keep some in the bag for the Géant de Provence, and so I did. Approaching it perhaps too cautiously, I began gaining some positions (or at least gaining more than I lost) going up its hills. I’ve watched it many times in the Tour but experiencing it for myself was quite something: the trees stop, you hit the lunar surface, and all of the sudden you’re battling the wind. But what a view! I gave it all I had and made it home in 110th place.
Finally, stage 7 took us from Digne to Nice. With no riding the day after, this one was our last chance to gain places in the GC. With Gerry sitting close to the 100th position and needing only 6 minutes to break in the top 100, we decided to work for him, riding hard straight from the start. As it turned out, he didn’t need us. He did a great job placing himself in a fast group and finished an impressive 43rd on the stage, gaining the time he needed. The combination of steep hills, parasails flying close by, small villages, and the sea in the backdrop made it a very scenic stage indeed! It was also a good stage: I ended up in 78th position, getting 110th in the GC. The stage neutralized in Vence, and we rode as a convoy down to Nice.
Two days later, I’m reflecting on the week, and feel a big void. I’m spent, that’s for sure, but what an experience! The places, the people, the emotions, the pain. It all comes together to make an unforgettable week. I know the feeling from Ironman: during the race, it hurts so much that I want it to stop, but a week after I’m ready to sign up again. With Haute Route, I don’t need a week.

Trail running: take 2

Last year, Maya and I had decided to celebrate our anniversary in style (by our standards) with a 30km trail run, including over 6000ft of climbing, in the Bay area. And it didn’t disappoint. Stunning views, steep hills, shot legs and a few extra miles for Maya who decided to ‘explore’.

This year, as we were spending a few days in the Pacific Northwest, arguably the most beautiful region in the US, we were lucky to find another trail race, just a few days after our anniversary. Lord Hill Trail Run, here we come. A nice little half marathon with a little over 2000ft of climbing, just off Snohomish, WA.

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As usual, we arrived with about 14 seconds to warm up, and an additional 4 seconds to check the course. Plenty enough. The god of blue skies and warm temperatures was there, spending her usual 2 weeks in the Seattle area. We had planned to run together and I would pace Maya. However, after a little over 2.5km and 17min of racing (yes, it started with a nice steep hill immediately), Maya politely told me to bugger off and let her run the 10km on her own as her Achilles was bothering her. After 2 years, I know better than to argue, and decided to switch pace a tad. That was also the first occasion to test an injured ankle (injured since February) and run a bit faster than the last few months.

I was quite surprised actually and able to push the pace for a little over 1h20 with no pain and caught up everyone but 2 that were running well and clear off the front. I also got to see Maya twice in the out and back sections.

Trying to run downhill

Although 2nd place was within reach, I got lost a bit with 3mi to go and lost a couple of minutes wondering where to go, which were added to a few minutes lost trying to figure out how to run fast downhill with such short legs.

So, despite zero running faster than about 8min/mi in the past few months because of the injured ankle, it seemed that I could still move my legs a bit to pretend I can run. Not bad all in all. The best part was seeing Maya’s gorgeous smile at the finish. The second best part was that the race director (sorry, I forgot your name!) was awesome. The race was very well organized, well priced, with goodies to win, all done in an incredibly friendly atmosphere, and Maya didn’t get lost. RDs, learn from this guy! We will be back!

My diet is better than your diet!


When browsing through social media sites, I always get amused by the nearly religious discussions about which diet is the best diet. It’s not really surprising that this is a frequent discussion topic. In the United States, more than 2/3 of the population is overweight or obese; over 60% of Americans are trying to lose weight; and nearly 50% of us are currently following a weight loss plan. Despite all our efforts, the numbers keep getting worse. One consequence of not being able to curb obesity rates is that new diets pop out virtually monthly. The pineapple diet, the Hollywood diet, low fat diets, low carb diets, the paleo diet, the mediterranean diet, Atkins diet, and on and on. Of course, they all claim to work, and promise decreased weight and waist line, better health, blood pressure under control, and a long list of more or less serious claims. But how do we go through all this? How do we choose? The goal of this article is to make some sense of what the current literature shows. However, it’s not a research paper. I am not proposing a hypothesis that I am testing with a test group, a control group, etc. It’s not a literature review paper either, although it could become the basis for one in the near future, whenever I actually get the time to do this. What I really wanted to do was a somewhat informal analysis of the literature, and pointing out commonalities.

The low carb diets

The two most popular low carb diets are the Atkins diet, created by Dr. R. Atkins over 40 years ago now, and the more recent paleo diet, founded by Dr. L. Cordain. The Atkins diet general guidelines are: very limited carbohydrates mostly as a select few green vegetables, no alcohol, no coffee, no nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, bread, pasta or dairy (aside from butter, cream and cheese). Cheese and no bread?! OK, what about the paleo diet? If you’re reading this article, I am certain you’ve read a lot about the paleo diet. Its fundamental premise is that our GI tract has not had the time to adapt to agricultural developments, grains, etc. because 10,000 years aren’t enough. Let’s ignore the fact that Dr. Cordain must not have taken a course in evolutionary biology, and let’s focus on what is recommended: lean meats, fish, poultry, all of them wild (no farm fish, grass-fed cattle only, etc.), fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, berries (wild), and basically nothing processed. Definitely no dairy products, grains (or few), coffee, or alcohol. And it’s conveniently surfing on the gluten-free craze. So, forget this:



The plant-based diets

Depending on your tastes, you may find the plant-based diets more or less drastic. Vegan and vegetarian diets recommend no meats, eggs, dairy product etc. depending on whether you go vegetarian or vegan. It can be a bit tricky as animal products end up in unexpected places. And then we have the Mediterranean diet, based on the diets adopted by Southern Italy, Greece, the East coast of Spain, etc. focusing on olive oil, fresh fruits and veggies, non-processed cereals, legumes, fish (not farmed), dairy products, and a low amount of meat. OK, bread and cheese! I can breathe.


The current guidelines

But what are the current recommendations of the various medical and federal organizations that are trying to curb the obesity epidemic? According to the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, the recommendations for weight loss can be summarized as: balance energy input and ouput, favor fresh fruits and veggies, low fat diary products, whole grains, limit processed foods, in particular refined sugars, and move!


The really cool thing is that all these approaches have all been evaluated for several years (although some lack a long-term evaluation). And here is the funny thing: they all work, although there is still some discussion about the low-carb diets and the long term effects of ketones. Frassetto et al. show that even a short-term follow up of a paleo type diet improves several biological markers without necessarily seeing any weight loss. Jönsson et al. show that a paleo type diet reduces cardiovascular risk factors compared to more traditional DM diet in type-2 DM patients. There is also evidence of reduction of symptoms for a variety of autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, etc.) under a paleo type diet or under an Atkins type diet. And both diets are shown to be effective weight loss methods.

When it comes to the plant-based type diets, the results are very similar. Kahleova et al. show an improved insulin response, loss of visceral fat, and improved oxidative stress markers compared to the typical DM diet. Kjeldsen-Kragh and Hänninen et al. show that vegan diets improve the pain perception of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Esposito et al. have shown that ‘Mediterranean-style diet might be effective in reducing the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its associated cardiovascular risk.’

So, that’s really interesting. They all suggest vastly different foods, yet they all yield extremely similar results. Why is that? Here is a really interesting quote from Pagoto et al.

In the past year alone, 4 meta-analyses of diet comparison studies have been published, each summarizing 13 to 24 trials. The only consistent finding among the trials is that adherence—the degree to which participants continued in the program or met program goals for diet and physical activity—was most strongly associated with weight loss and improvement in disease-related outcomes. The long history of trials showing very modest differences suggests that additional trials comparing diets varying in macronutrient content most likely will not produce findings that would significantly advance the science of obesity. Progress in obesity management will require greater understanding of the biological, behavioral, and environmental factors associated with adherence to lifestyle changes including both diet and physical activity.

Aha! So what seems to work is essentially…sticking with the plan!

Additionally, all the diets mentioned above all recommend to stay clear of processed foods, refined sugars, refined grains, they all recommend quality foods: if you eat beef, make sure it’s fed what it’s supposed to eat; if you eat fish, make sure it has swum a bit farther than your local fish farm; if you eat tomatoes, make sure it’s round and in the veggie section of your grocery store, and not in a plastic bottle with ketchup written on it. The commonality of all these diets (besides the positive health outcomes) is: quality! Note however that this hasn’t been evaluated in a scientific manner, e.g. there hasn’t been a study looking at the quality of the food and the outcomes on health, at least not in a systematic and scientific manner.

All in all: eat quality food, avoid processed foods as much as possible, and the rest is really a matter of preference, but provided you stick to your plan, balance energy input/output, eat well, move well, you’ll be just fine regardless of which (sensible) diet you choose.


1. Frassetto et al., Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2009, v.63, pp947-955.

2. Jönsson et al., Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study, Cardiovascular Diabetology, July 2009, v.8(35).

3. Kahleova et al., Vegetarian diet improves insulin resistance and oxidative stress markers more than conventional diet in subjects with Type 2 diabetes, Diabetic Medicine, May 2011, v.28(5), pp549-559.

4. Hänninen et al. Antioxidants in vegan diet and rheumatic disorders, Toxicology, Nov. 2000, v.155(1-3), pp45-53.

5. Kjeldsen-Kragh, Rheumatoid arthritis treated with vegetarian diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 99, v.70(3), pp594-600.

6. Esposito et al., Effect of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Endothelial Dysfunction and Markers of Vascular Inflammation in the Metabolic Syndrome, Journal of the American Medical Association, Sept. 2004, v.292(12).

7. Pagoto et al., A Call for an End to the Diet Debates, Journal of the American Medicial Association, Aug. 2013, v.310(7).

“Because I can”

PAIN in the Alleganies ½ Ironman
June 21, 2014
My alarm rang at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 21st. It took me a second (ok, several) to realize that alarm was meant for my husband, Mike, and me to wake up because I was participating in a ½ Ironman event that morning. First test passed….we actually get out of bed…4:00 a.m. is the middle of the night to me. Was I excited or nervous? Probably a little bit of both as this was my first long endurance event in 7 years!
We are able to get in the car rather quickly as we had the car packed the night before. As we drove 80 miles, Mike helped me put things into perspective by saying I was more prepared than I ever had been due to the well thought out plans Francois had me follow so diligently. I don’t listen to many people but Francois is the exception to this rule. I always tried to come up with my own training plans and much to my dismay I would always end up injured! So I “listened” to Mike and told him I knew I did what I needed to do because of the plans Francois had me follow….huge thanks, Francois!

The smile before the storm

The smile before the storm

As we entered into the state park, at 5:30 a.m.. my stomach got a little queasy as we drove past the volunteers setting up the run course. My first thought was, “We have to run up THAT?” I did not have time to dwell on that negative thought as Mike parked the car and whisked me to the packet pick up. After getting body marked, I set my transition area up and proceeded back to the car to warm up as the air temperature was only 50 degrees. (Sorry Francois, I know that not what you meant when you told me to warm up!) I realized I still had the butterflies in my stomach as I tried to eat a bagel. Uh oh….I am nervous.
After the prerace meeting, I put my wetsuit on and headed to the lake to visualize the line I wanted to take. I took a few warm up strokes and got back out so I could be counted into the corral. The sprint race took off 10 minutes before us and it was exciting to see them start. A sense of calm came over me as we were asked to stand at the shore. 30 second count down, 15 second count down, backwards from 10 to 0 and we were off. I usually start toward the middle of the pack but decided to go up front and to my surprise, I was able to take the first 25 yards rather quick (for me) to break away from the mass start and was able to get into my rhythm rather quickly. We swam a two loop course and the most difficult part (beside not being able to see through the murky water) was having to exit the water after the first loop and running to enter back in for the second loop. As I was entering into the second loop I looked at the girl next to me and said, “Round 2”. The second loop felt just as good as the first loop. Finally seeing the land, I heard Francois in my head telling me to kick a little harder in order to get the blood going in my legs to make the run transition easier. As I exited the water, I heard Mike say my split of 29 something.” I kinda looked at him like he was crazy because my goal was 35 minutes. Off to a good start. First leg done☺

On the bike

On the bike

I was looking forward to the bike leg as this is my favorite part of the triathlon. I was rather disappointed that the course was shortened to 48 miles due to road conditions but appreciated the race director’s concern for safety. On my way out of transition Mike told me there were 2 girls ahead of me. Another sense of calm enveloped me as I thought to myself, “Not a problem.” This was a two loop bike course that is known for climbing.” My goal was to ride the pace I should. I also wanted to make sure I consumed enough liquid and calories before the run. (I knew swallowing the lake water several times didn’t account for hydration!) I found the proper gearing and off I went. I knew there was a 6 mile climb 2 miles into the bike leg so planned accordingly. Amazingly enough, my legs felt fresh and I had a blast spinning up the hill, past “2 girls” and also some guys. However, even though my legs were fresh, nutrition wasn’t as good as I still had a problem drinking let alone taking in a gel. No problem, I thought, I will do what I can do. After a bumpy 3 mile descent it was back to another 5 mile climb. Was able to drink some liquid but still knew it wasn’t enough. I rode through the transition area onto loop 2 and was excited to see Mike cheering me on. My goal was to ride the second loop the same time as the first loop and to my surprise, my splits were pretty dead on. Fortunately, the last 2 miles of the bike were downhill and flat as I was able to follow Francois’ instructions of getting my RPM to around 90 to match my run cadence. As I dismounted from the bike, I saw a total time of 2:32 and 3800 feet of climbing. 2nd leg done☺
Run leg….hmmmmm…..I was a little, ok, majorly, worried because of my lack of nutrition. As I exited the transition area I realized I forgot my Garmin watch but realized there was nothing I could do about it at that point. A cyclist named Greg who was in a bright green shirt rode up to me and said, “Looks like you need a hand.” At first I thought he knew I was worried about my nutrition then realized he was leading me out on the run course because I was the first overall female. I was grateful for Greg as he led me through a windy, hilly course that was much more difficult than the map on the website made it look. I took a defizzed Coke at mile one because I had heard of this helping. Well, I also heard you shouldn’t try something on race day that you didn’t practice in training. At that point, though, I needed a little jolt. I realized I wish I would have had my Garmin because I had no idea where the mile markers were nor did I have any idea what my pace was. At the halfway point, I saw Mike and when I looked at him I said, “This hurts.” The cheerleader that he is he said, “It’s supposed to!” Ok, second loop….off I went. I used every aid station to pour water over my head or drink Heed and swallow some enduralytes. It wasn’t a pretty run, but who said anything needs to be pretty? I was told by Greg that this course was created to help people train for the Lake Placid Ironman. Well that’s great, I thought, but I’m not the Lake Placid! I got a burst of energy on the last ½ mile because I knew the finish line was ahead. I rounded the corner and vaguely heard, “And here is the woman’s first female ½ Ironman finisher Megan Collins.” Third test passed….I finished. What stood out to me more than hearing that announcement, though, was seeing Mike at the finish line waiting for me with a big smile on his face. ☺ Being the first overall female finisher was not my goal. It really was icing on the cake.

1st woman!

1st woman!

Why was this my first endurance event in 7 years? As important as it is to physically take care of your body, it is also essential we are mentally able to handle that challenges that catch us by surprise. I say this because I am a 43 year old breast cancer survivor. I was thankful that I was so physically in tune with my body because I insisted to find answers to the lump I felt even though it did not show up on a mammogram and the doctors insisted it was nothing. The surgeries and treatments were physically demanding, so I put my triathlon experience to the test by breaking it into 3 legs: The swim (surgeries), the bike (chemotherapy) and the run (radiation). The finish line was when I was able to accompany Mike to his first ironman event in Louisville 1 month after my final radiation treatment.

The smile says it all!

The smile says it all!

I look at my diagnosis as a blessing in disguise because it stopped me in my tracks of life and I was able to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually reflect on what truly was important to me. I realized I took a lot for granted in all realms of my life. Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, people would ask me why I ‘do triathlons’ or competitions and I would come up with a million different reasons, which made me wonder if I even knew why I was “competing.” Now when anyone asks why I would put my body through something so physically demanding, I simply smile and say, “Because I can.”

Racing for a cause

In just a few weeks, the family and I will be moving to the Jackson, MS area, where I will start working at Jackson State University. As the typical triathlete, I had to check what races were within driving distance,
and since I was looking for an Ironman for the end of the season, Panama City Beach was just calling me. Of course, I never anticipated that the race would fill up in a heart beat. I never even got close to
being able to sign up. Within seconds, the site was on hold, and that was it. I thought ‘Ni modo’ (that’s when you’ve lived in El Paso for a while) I will race somewhere else. Beach to Battleship maybe.

Then a friend of mine suggested: how about racing for a cause? Actually, despite having been in the sport since 1993 (when you could sign up for an Ironman pretty much at anytime), I didn’t know this was possible.
It happens that Ironman Florida partners with The Children’s Tumor Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding effective treatments for neurofibromatosis, and helping children affected by the disease, along with their families. Racing for something more than just trying to see whether you can finish, how fast you can go, how many in your age group you can beat, or whether you can qualify for Kona. This
suddenly sounded far more exciting and worthy than doing an Ironman for selfish reasons. Not long ago, we lost a great guy to cancer. He was barely 32, and I used to be his babysitter. One year of battle against cancer.
One year of hope. One year of treatments, successes, and failures. I wasn’t there to see him, but talked with his mom on a regular basis. He was a very fine young man. And frankly, it’s way too young to go.

Therefore, I have decided to sign up for the race through its charity partner and raise $5,000 by September 1, 2014. Although some of my work is in cancer research, I have zero experience with fundraising. But then most patients
have zero experience dealing with cancer, and they have no choice. They have to do it. A concern I had initially was how much of the money raised actually goes towards helping the children and their families. A quick
Internet search showed that the Children’s Tumor Foundation is actually one of the best charities to give to. According to Charity Navigator, the Children’s Tumor Foundation scores a near 64 out of 70 overall rating (for FY 2012), and nearly 80% of its budget is spent on the programs and services it delivers, versus paying for administrative costs of all sorts.

Rating of the Children's Tumor Foundation

Rating of the Children’s Tumor Foundation

When training gets a bit hard, when racing gets a bit hard, I will surely have a different perspective on how hard it really is. After all, I am healthy and do this because I want to. When it hurts, it’s not real pain, more
like discomfort. Besides, the discomfort can be adjusted easily. Just slow down a bit. The mental gives up a tad? Get some sugar in, and it comes back. The children and their families don’t have these options. They have to deal with the
physical and mental pain. Research will alleviate physical pain. Support will alleviate mental pain. But unlike Ironman and its selfish quest, they’re in for a real fight. And we can help them.

If you decide that you would like to support (no amount is too small), please go to my CTF page: DONATIONS

Corey’s IMAZ Race Report

Pre-race: Got up at 4 AM after actually getting some decent sleep, rare for me when I have to get up really early. 1 cup of coffee along with an egg, slice of bacon, and a sprinkle of grated cheese all on an english muffin. 3 Ensure plus drinks as I got ready. About 150 calories of Infinit as I set bike up, used the last bit to wash down 2 gels about 20 mins before swim start. About 1,600 calories in total before the start.

Swim (1:16:13 – 847 OA/113 AG): After feeling a little panicky the day before at the swim practice, I was really worried about the mass start. Not sure what happened, but I was really calm race morning. Knew the water would be cold at first, but perfect for a full wetsuit swim. Unlike at the practice swim, I got my DeSoto wetsuit top on right so the front wasn’t pulled up and feeling like it was squeezing my airway. Hopped in the water and swam to the right side of the middle area, about 3 to 4 people back from the start line. I know I’m not fast and I didn’t want to deal with all the people jamming to the right since I’m not a fan of major contact in the water. It is hard enough for me to keep good form without contact, if people are swimming on my legs it is impossible.



BOOM…the canon sounded and the flurry of feet and arms and snorkels and freaking out people began. I just tried to get out somewhat quick and find a bit of room. After about 5 minutes it started to clear some and at that point I just tried to find the feet of someone moving faster than me. I went a good bit of time without much contact and just fell into a comfortable stroke. It got very congested at the first turn buoy and I was pretty much funneled right into the mess. I made sure to keep wide on the second, but it didn’t matter, there was much more congestion on the return leg. I just tried to not get too pissed about the people grabbing ankles or the sudden kick from the side from the guy who decided to bust out some breast stroke (breast stroke should be illegal in close quarter swims, I have been kicked way too many times by someone suddenly changing to it). Last turn and a quick shot to the finish, out of the water and I look at my watch…1:16 something. Was hoping to get under 1:15 but not too bad, especially for feeling completely fresh and ready to ride. Saw Nicole as I ran into transition and it made me feel good to have her there cheering me on.

Bike (5:11:47 – 264 OA/38 AG): Ran into a busy transition area, found my bag, and headed to the changing tent. Noticed a couple people changing outside of the tent and decided it was a good idea since things were so busy. I am much more used to changing while standing than sitting down in a tent anyway. Got my swim stuff into the bag, ran right through the hot and nasty tent, handed my bag to a volunteer, and my bike magically appeared in front of me. Off I went!

I had been having problems with my Garmin Edge 810 dropping the Ant+ signal since getting it (Edge 800 was much more reliable) and it didn’t let me down, I started to drop readings immediately. Regardless, while it was working I could see I was in the 200-210 watts range, it felt good, and I knew I just had to keep it there until 112 miles had passed. I had all my nutrition on the bike, 2 bottles of Infinit concentrated to 1,000 calories per bottle. I did have a X-Lab Torpedo mounted to the front, loaded about half with water just in case. I mainly just drank at aid stations though, and would sip the additional water sometimes after taking in some nutrition since it was concentrated and pretty sweet. I got a little ahead of myself and finished the first bottle with about 10 miles left to the turn around, on the second loop, which marked the half way point. So I grabbed a bottle of Perform there and downed it instead of water, so probably an additional 50-75 calories before chucking the bottle.

Another challenge faced once starting the second loop was the formation of draft packs. I had heard it would happen, but I was pretty shocked at the level of willing and blatant cheating. I would approach one of these pelotons and get stuck. It is hard to pass 10-20 people all in one shot without blowing up. I’d wait till things broke up a bit and then go for it, it would require a sustained surge in power which wasn’t really how I wanted to ride. In addition, once you made the pass you had to keep the power up or you’d just get passed right back because the cheaters were not interested in dropping back after a pass as required by the rules. On the out portion of the third loop, I got passed by an outright pace line of about 15. As I got passed I eased up to get legal, then another rider passed, then another, another, another…WTF!? I finally told one of them they were riding in a freaking pace line and he just grumbled something as he went by…sigh… Once the little climb to the end kicked up it broke up and I passed most of them back. I hope they started to draft off me at the turn around, because it was bathroom time…

I didn’t realize it at first but the wind had kicked up on the last loop. There was a tail wind going out on Beeline, I just assumed all my careful wattage monitoring and nutrition planning that had me feeling strong. Hit the turn around, time to get up to 30 mph and really cruise, nope…not on this loop. There was a nasty head wind on the portion back to town and you had to work to keep the speed up. The wind made it easy to want to get back into town and start the run. Consumed about 2050 calories on the bike, and averaged an estimated 206 watts AP/210 watts NP. (I average 90/91 rpm when I race, my computer had an average of 82, so I figured my ANT+ signal was dropped ~9% of the time. So I used 1.098 x 188/192 to get those estimates)

Bike note: It is REALLY hard to piss while riding a bike. It is really hard to piss while not pedaling and standing up. It is still hard to piss while surrounded by people, on a bike, with something kind of like clothes on…letting loose just doesn’t come natural. This is not something I had practiced and don’t intend to. It was something I had resigned myself to. It was so difficult that I failed on multiple occasions and had almost decided to stop on the second loop to hit a porta potty until I saw the line. Once things got bad enough it finally happened, oh sweet releif. Just remember to “flush” when you get water at the next aid station.

Run (3:17:22 – 49 OA/5 AG): Hit the dismount line, off the bike, hand it off to a volunteer and start to run into transition. Okay good…legs were still working properly. I had passed enough people on the bike that a volunteer was there to grab my run bag and follow me into transition. Bikes shoes off, shocks on, shoes on, new sunglasses, hat, 2 packages of Shot Blocks, and I was ready to go. About a quarter of a mile into the run I got to the first bank of porta potties, oh thank goodness! My head was screaming to hurry, HURRY…my body said no way. I only wanted to stop once and figured if my first mile was the slowest of the marathon, then I did something right.

I felt good, the first mile clicked off…8:18, not bad with the bathroom break. Then a low 7 mile, then another, and another, I got worried I was going to fast but it felt “easy” so I kept with it. Things slowed a bit after crossing over to the other side of Tempe Town Lake, more turns and rollers, but still in the 7:2x range. The hill on Curry Rd. knocked me into the 7:40s but it wasn’t bad and the downhill portion got me back into low 7s. Then the “rock” appeared in my shoe. I was very worried about a rock coming up through one of the drain holes in my Saucony A5s and it looks like it happened. I put an old pair in my special needs bag so I figured if I couldn’t knock it lose, I’d swap shoes. There’s Nicole! Was so happy to see her there cheering, it can’t be overemphasized how important it is to have someone special there waiting and cheering for you, a HUGE motivator. I asked for my special needs bag since the rock was still bothering me. As the volunteer got it, I sat down and looked…there was a little pebble stuck in one of the holes, so I took my sunglasses off and used the arm to pry it out. Got up, said I didn’t need my bag and took off. Ahhhhh, things are feeling better…oh wait…nope, they are not.

At this point I realized it wasn’t a rock, but a blister forming down there and it really hurt like a bitch. Whatever, my feet hurt in general, and in waves. I made it a couple more more miles trying to feel good about being on my second loop. At mile 15 I realized I wasn’t happy, at mile 16 I became more unhappy, at mile 17 I saw Nicole again and must have put on a good face since she said I looked good, better than at 13. Things got very hard, my pace slowed even though the effort was there. At mile 18 I told myself “8 more miles, you do that on your lunch break”, that helped. At mile 20 I told myself “only a 10K left, that’s easy”. As I was getting ready for the mile 23 sign to come (just 5K and some steps to go!!!), I hit the Curry Rd. hill again. It was the first time I considering walking a little…I mean just a little, what harm is there in that??? NO! I ran on and racked up my second slowest mile at 8:08 min/mi, still doing something right! Time to just cruise in…

…of course it is never just that easy. As the 26 mile sign is approaching I see I can catch someone, glance at the calf…ah crap, my AG. I have a technique for passing people in my AG, I do it with authority…more authority than I really possess, I just pretend for a bit so they don’t try to keep up. I didn’t have much in me, so I just passed…and listened…footsteps fading…whew! Okay, now I can really cruise in. Oh damn it, there is one more person I am catching. Oh double damn it, it is a woman. Oh triple pisser, spectators on the side of the road are now pointing out that it is woman and that they know I really want to catch her. I have been “chicked” before and it will happen again, there are just some extremely fast and impressive women out there. That being said, I was going to pass her and didn’t want a finisher picture with me legging it out at the end so I finally uncorked what I had left. Seconds after that, made a left and down the finish shoot. I heard my name and my town and then it was time to remove the chip. I usually take it off myself, I decided to let the volunteer do it this time, I didn’t know what was going to happen now that I stopped moving.

And this is how you do it

And this is how you do it

Post race: The “rock” on the bottom of my foot was a glorious blister. The good thing is that it hurt worse than anything else. The tortuous workouts that Francois had given me all year prepared my body to handle the race injury free…well minus a doozy of a blister. Visited World of Beer in downtown Tempe after dropping my bike off with TriBike Transport the next day…awesome! This was unexpected, but even had to check about Kona slots after finishing 10th in my AG. There were only 5 and no roll downs, so not even close, but still kind of fun to think that I had a chance. Then just spent some time with Nicole in Phoenix eating and drinking at better than expected restaurants. Off to Vegas for some “recovery” time with good friends. Now…well…I ran on the treadmill today. Maybe a turkey trot???

Overall (9:51:04 – 114 OA/10 AG): I signed up for Ironman Arizona only after meeting two criteria I set for myself: Finish a full marathon, which I did in the 2011 Tucson Marathon and finish a 70.3 distance race in under 5 hours, which I did at Timberman in 2012. I signed up thinking I would be able to go under 11 hours in a 140.6 race. I trained hard for the Boston Marathon in April of 2013 and was very happy with my results. Then started to train for Ironman Arizona, had some good results along the way and was able to finish the race in under 10 hours which far exceeded my goal.

I have to thank my wife for not only putting up with me being gone so much while training, but also dealing with my sometimes less than pleasant attitude during those really heavy training weeks. She is also the best cheerleader and race day helper that someone could ask for. My coach, Francois, also deserves a good deal of credit for torturing me in such a way that I got faster than I thought I could be. Lastly, thanks to my friends that offered advice, raced with me, and cheered me on along the way.

Casey’s Austin 70.3 Race Report

Since I’ve really been slacking with updates (mostly because there are way too many things going on at the moment), here is the easy way out: Casey kicks butts at Austin 70.3, and achieves his first next year’s goal already. Time to rethink the goals for 2014 mate!

Pre-Race: I was very nervous for the weeks prior to the race. I had been going for Sub-5 for years and had never been able to achieve it. I felt this was my best shot. I wasn’t able to eat much race morning, but did eat a few grapes and about 180 calories of Gu Chomps. My wave did not go off for over an after the race started, so I had a lot of waiting around to do. Parking was a nightmare. I made it to transition with 15 minutes to set up.

Swim: 35:00 minutes. I got out fast, but had issues staying on course. I felt like I could have swam straighter. I accidentally started then stopped my watch during the beginning of the swim so I have no swim data. I also had no overall swim time. Much of the back half of the swim was spent passing earlier waves of swimmers. I tried to stay calm and not burn all of my energy.

T1: When we came out of the water I asked a guy in my wave what our time was so I had an idea that I came out at 35:00. The run up to T1 was very long and transition was muddy. Everyone had to carry their bikes in T1 to avoid stickers.

Bike: 2:34:49. I couldn’t clip during the first ½ mile due to mud in my cleats. I stopped at that point and had a volunteer help me clean them out. I tried not to go too fast early, but averaged 220 watts (92% FTP) during the first 20 minutes, so I knew I had to back off. At that point, I settled in and tried to relax. The power meter helped tremendously. Much of the bike was spent passing earlier waves. At about the 2 hour point things cleared up and I was able to push by myself for 30 minutes. I averaged 214 watts (89% FTP) during that stretch. Biking outside is much different than on the trainer. The trainer is more a steady consistent effort. Outside comes with harder efforts with micro rests. Much more akin to interval sessions.

T2: I was happy with my time when I got to T2 and felt I had a chance at Sub 5. I still was not 100% sure of my overall time, but I knew I was close to 3:15.

Run: 1:41:00. It is a hilly run course and I took the first two miles far too fast. At that point, I tried to find my rhythm and settle in. I tried to keep a steady pace and rhythm the entire run and was able to do so. I felt comfortable at a 7:42 average. I kept watching my current pace and average pace. I tried not to deviate too far from the mean. I tried to keep my feet dry, which I was able to do. I am used to being passed on the run. Now I am the guy doing the passing. It was a nice feeling. I felt as if I had the energy for the entire run and only ran out of energy around mile 11. At that point, I ran on adrenaline which was enough to carry me to the finish line.

And that's the smile of a first sub-5h Half IM

And that’s the smile of a first sub-5h Half IM

Post Race: At this point, I am sore, but excited about getting faster. I am already looking forward to next season.

How precious is your time Mr. Driver?

I just spent 2 weeks in Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, and I must admit that despite the lack of shoulder in some areas around the lake, and a relatively heavy traffic, compared to say, Columbus Highway, NM, but still far better than San Francisco. I was very impressed by the courtesy of the drivers. They slowed down when passing. They gave at the very least the 3 feet they are legally required to give us. And, they waited when it was not safe to pass. What a treat.

Back in El Paso, Texas, and just a total of 5h on the bike this weekend. Yesterday was a nice little ride around Anthony Gap, up Transmountain Road East, and today an easy out and back on NM 28. These roads are far less traveled than around Lake Tahoe. They also see far less cyclists, even though our community is growing. However, they do see their fair share of pretty angry drivers who seem to believe that:
1. We do not belong on the road;
2. We should ride only on bike paths or on the sidewalk;
3. We should definitely get out of their way because they sure ain’t slowin’ down.
And probably another long list of beliefs related to wearing lycra, riding little bicycles, and pretending to be professional bike racers.
I’m not going to address this long list of beliefs: they’re entitled to them, regardless of how stupid they are. However, we have the right to be on the road (yes, we pay taxes, and yes, believe it or not Mr Big Truck, most of us actually own cars, some of us even have trucks! Crazy eh?) However, ‘nonuvya’ wheels belong in the bike lane when there is one.

But anyway, let’s go to the main point. Today, someone passed me very close after honking a couple of times. It was a really shiny red truck. I’m guessing its owner is someone extremely important because when he passed, he said ‘get off the road you [long list of expletives that lacked both wit and style] you’re slowing everyone down here!’

Yep, indeed! The road looks busy on this picture. I’m sorry I slowed you down for your very critical heart surgery you were about to perform to save someone’s life. But even if it were the case, let’s do some quick math here. And for the sake of the argument, I’ll look at the worst case scenario. Let’s assume that I wasn’t a 142lb rider, riding on his own, but in a group of 30 traveling at 20mph (typical on this road during the weekend). And let’s assume that you’re really important so you’re going 60mph, a full 10mph above the speed limit (you know your shiny red truck is allowed to do this because it’s red and shiny, and you’re a heart surgeon, duh!) And let’s assume it takes you a whole 1/2mi to pass the group. I’m really looking at the worst case scenario as you can see. The 20mph group will travel 1/2mi in 1min30. You would travel the 1/2mi in 30secs (at 10mph above the speed limit). So, you’ve actually lost: 60 seconds. Just one little minute. You didn’t lose 10min, or an hour. Just one minute. Today, you waited about 2secs to let that other car coming in the other direction go through. 2 seconds! So the question is this: was that very important heart surgery enough to justify potentially injuring (or killing) someone?

Is your time (the few seconds you need to pass a group of cyclist) really more precious than life? Food for thought Mr Shiny Red Truck…

Trail running and triathlon

A few months ago, Maya and I decided that it would be pretty cool to celebrate our anniversary running a 30km (18.6mi) trail race in the Bay area. It seemed like a great idea at the time, until we realized that there was close to 4,000ft of climbing announced in just 30km (my Garmin reported 4,700ft after correction). And for good measure, Lil’ G would run his first trail run also. A nice 5mi with 1,000ft of climbing, with absolutely zero training aside from hurdles in the spring. To make sure that none of this happens without a significant amount of pain, we added an easy 5mi run along the Bay followed with nearly 12mi of walking and strolling in San Francisco, the day before. Oops.

Course around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Course around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Some serious climbing

Some serious climbing

We showed up a bit late (as usual), no real time to warm up (as usual). Last recommendations for Lil’ G: pace yourself! A kiss to Maya, and boom, it was on. The first couple of miles were uphill, and fairly steep, with some sections with stairs, some rocky sections, and all this in pretty chilly and wet weather. That said, the scenery was absolutely amazing:



The first 4.1mi went rather smoothly, taking the lead despite barely hitting 9min/mi (racing trails forces you to rethink what decent pace means). As soon as the downhill started, 2 guys caught back to me. I expected that since I can’t run downhill to save my life. And this little going away on the climbs, getting caught on the downhills lasted until mile 14. At this stage, one dude passed me when we bumped into a large group of runners racing the half, and with the single track trail he was able to run away. That’s my excuse anyway, but my legs were dead anyway. I just settled down, enjoyed the scenery for the final 4.6mi with enough of a gap to hold my position for a 2.28.54, a minute behind the winner, and with 30secs or so ahead of 3rd.

300yds to go

300yds to go

Despite being really cold, and not really prepared or even in good shape for that matter, I really enjoyed the race. Friendly chats after the run, people congratulating each other regardless of time and placing, just for lining up, and doing it. People happy for others, rather than people comparing times. It made me think of triathlons a few years back, when the atmosphere was friendlier (in my opinion), there was less fluff and more oomph. When it was about doing it the best we could, given the conditions, with or without a wetsuit, and without riding in a group of 200. That definitely makes me think that a trip to Celtman or Norseman is needed soon!

Maya was a little bit less fortunate. She got lost in a tricky area, added some extra running, and after realizing this, decided to just cruise back over the course, and enjoy it as much as possible. And Lil’ G scored his first AG win (13-19) and 16th overall. Not bad for a hurdler!

First climb of the 5mi

First climb of the 5mi

This same weekend: Stefan improved his Half IM time by 12 minutes. Owen shaved another 5 minutes off his Half IM time. Both at Victoria Half. And Corey went 2.16 and change at NYC Tri, a solid 5min improvement. A very satisfactory weekend I must say!

Review: Zoot Ultra TT 6.0

Usually, I don’t write reviews first because I always find something to nitpick about, and second because that’s not my job (i.e. I’m not paid to do that). However, every so often, a company listens to customer feedback, and actually improves their product. A couple of years ago, I tried the first iteration of Zoot shoes (I forgot which model). Zoot clearly focuses on the triathlon market with its laceless shoes and their various versions. Their original shoes had an incredibly high back of the shoe, going way over the Achilles tendon. It included some cutout to quickly put the shoes in. However, it proved to be a not so great idea. There were numerous reports of people getting irritated Achilles, even in a non-injury prone crowd and in my case, one run was enough to convince me that my old injury would flare up in no time (and it did!)

Then came the 2012 season. The line up included only shoes with much lower back, but still that triathlon oriented design, no laces (Ultra Speed 3.0), or just an elastic (called QuickLace in the case of the Ultra TT 6.0):


Zoot actually listened to the feedback and modified the back part of the shoe. Doesn’t it feel nice when a company listens to the feedback its customers provide? Bottom line is: it’s a great running shoe for training, for tempo training, and for long course racing, although heavier athletes or athletes with heavier strides may also want to use this shoe for short course racing. The drop (11mm front – 21mm heel) is a bit more than I typical like, but still very acceptable. Plenty of room in the toebox even for those with wide feet, and a 9oz verified weight in size 9.5. The ride is comfy with a good compromise between cushioning and dynamics. Additionally, with these colors (and a bright pink/blue combo for the women’s model) you’re easy to pick out at a race. My only slight issue is that I like to run trails, and usually with the same shoes I use for the road, and the elastic lacing system is not well suited for that, as anything that gets stuck in the QuickLace system will make it go loose. And since I need to nitpick a bit more, the outer sole is a tad fragile and will not tolerate much trail running, if you leave in the Southwest, and have access to rocky trails only. But then I could just listen and run trails with…trail shoes.

Happy Running!