Hello Dear Clubbers--and for those of you who enjoyed my last race report from Ironman Lanzarote thank you for reading and for your feedback. After a summer of cooling my jets and resting my legs, I headed off to another racing adventure in a quasi-exotic location: Monaco 70.3 series.

I tried my best not to freak out about the $300 bike box charge on Delta out of LAX telling myself, you want to play with the high rollers than you are going to get charged a lot so you better get used to it. I was told this is part of the airlines “restructuring” and that since my ticket was issued after July 31 that I was susceptible to this double charge. I remember a day when there was no charge for international travel with a bike. Anyway, as a simple massage therapist and triathlete, I was humbled by the experience. But I was also grateful to have a bike and a box in which to put it. My deep passion for racing and traveling would conquer any adversity met along the way. After all, this was all part of the experience. And I never met a finish line I didn’t like.

A feudal anomaly or “tax haven,” Monaco is situated between France and Italy and is the home to people like Princess Grace and the Grimaldi family who has controlled the state since 1297. For those of you who have raced Ironman France in Nice or who have traveled to the South of France, you will know that this race venue rivals our own Malibu triathlon in its glamor and beauty. I call it Malibu meets Vegas in Europe with Formula 1 and yachts mixed in. The most disturbing thing I saw the whole time I was there was a dirty Bentley, but there had been rain that morning. Monaco is perched on the side of a steep piece of land between France and Italy. Adjacent to Eze, the most romantic town that ever existed, they aren’t kidding when they say Cote d’Azur. While the Mediterranean’s water quality may be an issue (drink Evian or Perrier) the water color is the blue that comes from lots of sun and rocks: clear light blue with a swell that suits the yachts of the richer than rich and triathletes who are faster than fast like Chris McCormack (he got 6th place). There are tourists from cruise ships and casinos but no junky shops or riffraff as you have to be Von Clefe or Chopard (Prada didn’t make the cut) to afford the rent. So I was in good company.

I spent the first two days doing the normal things triathletes from California do when they travel to Europe for a race: try to go to the bathroom in the morning and try to sleep at night. All restaurants in Monaco open at 7:30 PM so of course, I was always starving at 5:00 PM. I learned first hand why Café de Paris, a 24-hour a day restaurant in Monte Carlo, is an institution. It is always good for a salad nicoise, a cappuccino, or pasta. If you are a foodie, there’s a lot on the scene including Louise XV and Metropole’s Robachon.

But back to the “Formula 1” of racing. This event is put on by the Triangle group and they are good. (Race directors from IM Malaysia could use an internship with them.) They own six races and in their own words only IM North America has more races. There were cones marking the course and barricades as well as signs and stickers on the ground. There were a lot of helpers on the course. The website is updated often,--they are so organized, have virtually eliminated the race meeting, but they still host pre-and post-race dinners providing convenient transportation to both. There was espresso but no mechanic.

The transition zone was the triathlon version of the Louvre with a single path leading through single rows of bikes. You needed your passport to get in and out of there since some bikes were ripped off in a past year. They took a picture of every racer with their bike and your bike got a wristband, too. It did not look like typical ”yardsale” because transition bags were provided and you dropped everything off the day before. The port-o-potties were in transition, were gender-specific, and there were no lines! The music was relaxing “euro-blend.”

At the expo, I picked up a fold-up map of the bike course. It looked like the kind of map you get at Jackson Hole when you go skiing. It detailed a route with pictures of snowcapped mountains signifying climbs of which there were three but then a grand finale of a half climb. The descents were a combination of zigzag skinny yellow and red lines with caution signs with exclamation signs around them. I did not want to drive so I paid a lot of money to take a cab. The driver was nice and he knew all the roads. Had the course not been so harrowing, I would have never been able to keep my eyes open not because it was scary, but because I think it was like 4:00 AM California time so I felt like I had been up all night. I counted twelve hairpins on the decent from Turbie and that was before the Col de Nice. (Note to self: tighten everything on your bike when you get back to the room.)

There was something about a bike cut off at 12:30 PM. I could see why. This gave you about 5 hours to do the bike. Sadly there were several first timers who I never saw on the run because they didn’t make it. They were many others who didn’t make it due to crashes and even though the “fast” people were gone by the time I hit the curves, there were a lot of crashes that day. It was an obstacle course. People don’t buy a fast bike and forget to learn how to ride it! Also, you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to know that roads are slippery when wet: it had rained that morning. I am convinced that you have to be born in Europe to ride the bike in 2:37 as the bike relay winner did. It also helped that he was a pilot--good at judging distances on the way down (sat with him at the awards dinner).

I rode a pace which I call moderate, conservative even, but competent and efficient. I experienced deep pleasure when I passed some guys who had cracked. I don’t think guys on P3s like being passed by a girl in any situation especially on a hill but that’s what a compact crank gets you. Thin and windy roads travel past country hideaways--stone buildings with blue shutters on the hillside with overgrown vines with bridges leading to their wooden doors. I rode past a church in a valley whose bells were ringing since the race was on Sunday morning--or was that my spoke? It was a harp sound and then a pitter patter like horses pulling a carriage. My wheels did seems a little “crushed” or at least stuck together when I removed them from the bike case. Despite mechanical anxiety, I was able to appreciate that course, the café with the handwritten menu board with lunch for 15 Euros, the cheapest lunch I’d seen, in a town that had a private feel. I felt privileged to ride through it. I know I say this in every race report, but if I ever fall in love, I would go here.

But enough about my personal life and the bike course, triathlon is swim, bike and run. So the swim was hilly and as I said it had rained that morning. The weather was better than beautiful the whole week so of course there has to be a downpour on race morning. The one person who covered his bike in transition must have felt brilliant. Anyway, it cleared and we left as a mass start at 7:00 AM swimming right into the sun. There was no glare just an orange sunrise which is how you always think triathlon is supposed to be. Yeah, I had seen two jellyfish on a practice swim, but this was not on my mind as I was surrounded by 1000 other predators of the first buoy. After this it spread out a bit and I stayed behind somebody who I ran into at least three times but I was afraid to pull a stunt and end up alone out there as now we were in the high seas swimming between two cruise ships. I looked at my watch 24:00. “Wow, this is going pretty slow, oh well.” Right about now I decided no more buoys just land mass sighting like Christopher Columbus must have done. There was a risk of getting sick I realized as I cruised a light blue hill on the way to that elusive second burrito-shaped Powerbar buoy trying to get my “sea legs” while swimming and focusing on the rock formations of upper Monaco and the Fairmont Hotel whenever I took a breath. So this was my worst half IM swim time ever, but what the hell, it was my best swim experience. When the idea of doing a triathlon was just a swim cap in my hand as I stared at a roped off section of sea in the Dominican Republic a few years ago on a vacation, this is what I thought it would be like. So thank you Mediterranean for keeping it real.

Since I have already described the bike course I will just add to points: the map was for once accurate and they served Infinit which I had already practiced on. Also, of course, they have Coke on the bike in Europe which I love. (Note: fast people probably running now.)

The famed run on Avenue Princess Grace (!!!) is a loop that alternates between a 4-star hotel and a 5-star hotel. It travels along the yacht harbor where all I can remember is a boat called “Amnesia,” from Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Obviously a commuter between tax havens. I thought the run was 4 loops but they used the word, “approximately” so I wondered if this meant you had to run up that hill one more time as my splits seemed way too fast. Good problem to have. Of course you had to do the hill 5 times not 4 so I ran it every time getting progressively slower which was sad but I still tried hard. (It wasn’t worse than the one that leads to Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica coming up from channel which thankfully I had practiced on.) If it was hot during the run, there was always an aid station ahead with mounds of shaved ice, or a breeze under some shady zone, or a wrist band to be gotten. So always something positive to focus on.

I never met a finish line I didn’t like and even though I came in an hour later than Cherie (my coach) and I had hoped for I finished strong. Best part was the Erlinger “Alkohol Frei” I had previously heard so much about from Markus, the young German pro I had hosted a few years back, a beer with B vitamins for recovery. They also had little “gummy” pellets and an electrolyte tab. I think the races in Europe are harder but all that much sweeter or maybe it was the Nutella.

Overall I enjoyed being an American getting away with speaking only English since everyone else speaks their language plus English. When I said I did Lanzarote earlier this year this got me some respect. I saw Guenther, the Austrian living in Germany, one of the boys who helped looked after me in South Africa in 2006. I never forgot the episode in the car when we were driving the bike course in Port Elizabeth when Markus and Guenther were speaking German and Guenther defended me by saying, “Speak English!” There’s an American in the car!” Girlfriend in tow this time, he still invited me to St. Tropez for a few days after the race…aaah the Europeans, they really know how to live! But this American, I think she did alright: there was no charge for the bike on the way home. I will go back to Nice for the Ironman in 2009.

I set out to do the IM Wisconsin bike course on a hybrid not because I’m crazy but because that was the only bike I could ride.

Background: After 8 years of Olympic Distance I thought I could possibly do an Ironman. The opportunity seemed ripe when my daughter enrolled at University of Wisconsin in Madison but my training was limited due to work and family: So I trained mainly by riding 6 miles to work and swimming ¼ of a mile in the AM and then riding back in the evening. I rode one day on the weekend and kept increasing the distance.

Average total training for the year after I signed up:

4:45 per week with no weeks over 9 hours. My weekly averages were 45 miles bike, 5 miles run and 1500 yards swimming. My longest ride was 92 miles and my longest swim was 2 miles once in the pool. In addition, plantar fasciitis limited my running to 40 miles total in the last 4 months. Four weeks before the race I developed a pinched nerve in my neck with pain and numbness such that I couldn’t’ ride a road or tri bike so a hybrid was my only choice for the race.

I decided that I was going to do whatever I could. I figured based on my training I could do a 1:15 swim and a 15 minute transition. That would put me on the bike course by 8:30. Figuring 9 hours before the bike cutoff I had to maintain a 12.8 mph average pace. I knew I could do one loop to 56 miles and then after that I would have to see. I rented a hybrid for $15 at a LBS and gave them my pedals; a seat and a cyclometer.

The day was perfect, slightly cloudy but clear blue skies in-between with a temp in the low 70;s. I had a great swim at 1:15 and was 11th out of 65 in the 55-59 age group. After the swim I left transition on my hybrid at 8:25, still on schedule. Wisconsin has a reputation for one roller after another but I was ready with the hybrid’s triple chain ring. My plan was to complete the first of two loops just so I would know the course. I would see how I was doing and decide whether to quit a the midpoint or go for a second loop.

I started out easy and didn’t let the steady stream of expensive triathlon bikes moving past me influence my comfortable pace. I watched my average speed and was amazed to see 14 mph through the first set of hills. While I glanced at the speed from time to time, I mainly concentrated on the beautiful scenes that unfolded as the route wound through rolling farmland. The sun was out intermittently from behind clouds and it was just a beautiful day.

The first loop ends in a small town called Verona and my wife and daughter were there waiting. I stopped and chatted and felt fine so I started on the second loop. As I came up to mile 90, I did a quick calculation and realized I was on pace to make the bike cutoff and maybe I could even finish the race. With that in mind I was feeling relaxed as I approached the last major straight downhill before heading back to Madison. I may have been a little too relaxed because as I moved back on the seat to get more aero, my cycling shorts caught on the nose. For some reason I thought I could free them and I reached down with my right hand to pull the cloth free. At over 30 mph, even the slight turn of the front wheel was enough to crash the bike and throw me to the pavement. “Are you all right?” a rider behind me yelled. I got up quickly and realized there was no major pain, only scrapes. “I’m fine I said, I’m just worried about the bike.”

I pushed the bike to the grass on the side and assessed the damage. The front wheel was misaligned so I put it between my knees to straighten the handlebars. I put the chain back on the chain rings and spun the pedals. Everything seemed OK so I went into the road to gather up my pump, my phone and my GU before pedaling off. I quickly realized I had bent the front wheel and the brake was rubbing so I had to reach down and release it to keep riding. Things were fine until I got to Verona and tried to upshift on the flat roads which immediately dropped the chain off the rear sprocket. I pulled over on the main street and positioned the chain back on the large chain ring before taking o ff again. But when I tried to change gears the rear derailleur did nothing so the chain stayed in the large chain ring. I could only manage 10 mph and I had 18 miles to go. I quickly calculated that I had two hours so that would still have me in Madison by 5:30 PM. I had two more dropped chains necessitating a stop before getting to the outskirts of Madison.

With four miles to go I became frustrated inching along. I found I could pedal like hell up to 13 mph and then coast. I did this a few times until I dropped the chain one last time between the chain ring and the wheel so the wheel seized and skidded to the left so the bike stopped suddenly. I could only clip out on the right so over I went again with my left foot clipped into the bike. I knew the chain was jammed in tight and would be tough to pull out so I was calculating whether I could make the last 4 miles on foot before the cut off. Suddenly two people were running over asking if I needed medical help. “No, I just need my bike fixed.”

“We’re tech support.’ I couldn’t believe my luck. A wonderful woman tech (my angel) came to the rescue. She quickly took the bike and pulled hard on the derailleur to fix it. I also broke two spokes, which she wrapped around their neighbor but the wheel still wobbled terribly. She released the back brake but then realized I needed something to stop. She quickly loosened the brake cable on the front calipers so they would be wide enough not to rub but would allow me to stop the bike. She reassured me that I would make it and she was right. I could now go 13 mph and I finished with 25 minutes to spare coming in second to last.

After a 19 minute transition getting the blood cleaned off my elbow and both knees, I started out on the walk. I timed my second mile at 13 minutes and I realized I could possibly finish. As I approached mile 12 I took stock. I would get to mile 13 by 8:30 (3 hours) and would have 3 ½ hours to do the second 13. I knew it was doable but would take a lot of effort. My plantar fasciitis was stable as was my Achilles tendonitis but I wondered what a second 13 would do. This might be my best chance to finish an Ironman; maybe I should keep going. Injury had marred this race, who knew what might happen next year. I reached a decision after reviewing my goals and race plan:

Goal 1 - Swim in 1:15 – done

Goal 2 - Finish one loop of the bike course – done

Goal 3 - Have fun – done

Goal 4 - Be minimally sore the next day– so far still possible.

Thinking about it - finishing was never in my race plans. Though at this point in the race it was definitely a possibility I thought about what would be involved. I realized that I might not accomplish #3 and #4 in my goals if I went for it. It wasn’t worth it.

The volunteer at the end directed me around the finish line through where the children were waiting for parents to cross the line and told me to return my chip. As I went in the exit to the finish line I had to wait as an athlete younger than me was literally dragged out by volunteers supporting him on both sides. His knees were bent and his legs were limp. He had a medal around his neck with a 13 hour finish but at what price? He felt terrible while I felt fine as I helped myself to bananas and Gatorade. I ate a good dinner that my wife had prepared as we drove back to the hotel and when we got there I was able to walk to the fourth floor carrying my bike. The next day I was able to easily walk down the stairs to breakfast where I saw other athletes limping.

The way I look at it, I don’t have a finishers medal for the 140.6 but I’m the winner of the hybrid bike division of Ironman Wisconsin 127.5. I couldn’t’ be happier and I’ll be back next year. I’m tempted to spring for the hybrid again but I’m already paid up for TriBike Tranport so I’ll see what I can do on my Quintana Roo.

Ironman Training without your spouse divorcing you – Full Vineman – Rhabdomyolysis.

I.- Training:

Conquering the 140.6 distance is challenging, but just as hard is putting in the 14 to 18 hours of weekly training for many weeks without creating spousal tensions. For many of us with a family, kids, and work it can seem impossible. Although I didn’t hire a coach for this race, I get a Triathletix ½ Iron distance coaching program two years ago, from which I learned some basic knowledge on periodization, recovery, race hydration, and tapering.

Thanks to an LA Tri Club Lecture event last year, I was able to meet Chris McCormick in person a few weeks before he won the World Championship in Kona. I asked him how things were different coming from being a single Triathlete to now being married with kids. ”. He smiled as he was signing my book and said “You come to realize the importance of Time Management, They (Family) do take a lot of your time, but at the end, it is all worth it.”

For me, any training from 9am to 7 pm would interfere with work. Training after 7pm would cut into family time, which could be a sure way to divorce or sleeping in the trailer. With my wife leaving to work by 7 am on most days, I found myself dealing with a toddler, a baby, the stinky diaper changes, making breakfast, dressing them up to take them to the sitter, and at times taking my mother-in-law to pre-op appointments.

So, time Management would be key. My plan was to train from 5:30 am to 8 am on weekdays and 5:30 am to 10 am on weekends. I know if you do the math it comes out to over 18 hrs a week even with a day off, but throw a baby and a toddler into the equation, and good luck getting uninterrupted sleep and workouts. Thank God for treadmills, bike trainers, Tivo, baby monitors, and DVD’s such as the Total Immersion DVD, and the DVD’s from Triathlontrainingseries.com. The Treadmill and bike trainer may not the best way to train and not as fun as the outdoor environment, but for me they were the only way to get any training most days.

Some advantages of running on a treadmill is not dealing with the pounding of the hard pavement and you can get some good Hill training by running on levels 4-5. However, since you don’t get to run on a treadmill on race day your legs are not getting used to the pounding on the pavement, and you get 0 down hills training on treadmills. I did managed to get some of my long runs on the pavement. I bet there are many out there still running on level 0 on a treadmill, just like I did for many years, but I found it better to train at the 2.5 level to make up for the help you are getting from the belt. With time so scarce, I had no choice but to learn to adapt, I even got to complete my required Real Estate Continuation course by reading the books while running on the treadmill and working out on my bike trainer. My group rides were watching Le Tour de France for 2-3 hrs on the bike trainer starting at 5:30 am. As silly as it may sound, I actually wore my helmet on some workouts on the bike trainer to get my neck muscles use to it

Although I did not fundraise on this race, I use the LA Marathon and the Malibu triathlon as fundraisers by seeking friends and relatives to sponsor me. When racing is to race for “a cause bigger than yourself”, not only would my wife seem to be more tolerant of the time I spent training, but she also got involved in the fundraising process. Racing for a good cause also keep me motivated to train during times when I just didn’t feel like it.

I only swam 7 times in the last three months, with 3 of those swims being a Playa del Run, one Speed ocean circuit, and the swim at the Strawberry fields Tri. A few days before the race, I went to the email library and typed “Maui” by Ian Murray. A great swim report on his experience in swimming across the Maui channel (Sep 06).

It was hard to keep some routines at home, such as reading stories at night to my kids, as well as helping out with house cleaning. However, on recovery weeks I tried to step it up or catch up on this areas; a Spouse will notice these activities just as the notice the time spent training.

The fact is that relationships have their own issues with or without a spouse engaging in triathlon training. This sport is too great to have the straw that broke the camels back having a label “Ironman Training”. If conquering the 140.6 is a dream, it can become a reality, even if you don’t seem to have the time to train.

II.- Race day experience: Full Vineman 08

I felt healthier and stronger than ever. I would contribute this to skipping most of my scheduled workouts to catch up on my sleep during the week prior to the race, as well as a great massage from La Sports Massage, and a visit to my chiropractor.

The swim: I Drafted as much I could and focused on form swimming at a pace that I felt I could do all day. With a quarter of the swim to go I picked up the pace and drafted from swimmers who started two waves after I did. I ended getting stomach cramps with about 100 meters to go. They felt like getting punch on the stomach with every swim stroke. I think under training and going too fast of a pace at towards the end had something to do with this. I still came out of the water at 1 hr and 21 min

The bike: “Nothing new on race day” also means not taking in 1200 calories in the last 3 hrs on the bike, when you are used to taking in 200 calories an hour in training. I should have drunk more water.

The Run: I thought I was taking in enough water on the run, but halfway thru the run I had the urge to pee, but couldn’t. I got concerned and thought of that marathoner who finished the Boston Marathon, even though he was in pain, then ended up at the emergency room with kidney failure. I also I thought of that pro triathlete who quit the Ironman race in Kona, because of internal pain due to kidney stones. Since I felt no internal pain I decided to continue. Right or wrong I decided to only drink water until this changed. I also slowed down and spent more time on the water stations to the point that I did my 2nd of 3 loops 30 minutes slower than the 1st loop.

Can you say Rhabdomyolysis? After the race, I felt OK, but I went to the event’s medical Station and the Doctor said I was experiencing Rhabdomyolysis. I am not sure I would have continued and finished the race had I seen myself pee a reddish color during the race. The Doc said to drink a lot of water over the next 3 days and see my Doctor if it lasted longer than that, but the symptoms disappeared within 24 hrs.

I was so tired I that I wanted to get to bed as soon as possible. I thought, finally I will probably get over 8 hrs of sleep, but only to be awaken by my wife’s cellular ringing at 3 am. I was hoping it was a misdialed call, but thought of my mother in Law who recently had major Surgery. She was OK, but our 16 year old nephew was not. He had been a victim of a senseless random act of violence by being shot as he walked a friend home. I remember my wife was concerned that I would die during an Ironman race, but I told her months ago that I was more likely to be struck by lighting or being robbed and shot in the streets.

III.- Rhabdomyolysis:

One common symptom that cyclist doing a double Century, the Ultra Marathoner doing during a 50- miler, and I experienced the urge to pee, but the inability to do so, even though we felt like we were drinking enough water. I also experience no internal pain.

Symptoms :” Urine of an abnormal color appears different from the usual straw-yellow color. Abnormally-colored urine may be cloudy, dark, or blood-tinged.”

Definition :”Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Some of these are harmful to the kidney and frequently result in kidney damage.”

Causes: “When muscle is damaged, a protein pigment called myoglobin is released into the bloodstream and filtered out of the body by the kidneys. Myoglobin breaks down into potentially harmful compounds. It may block the structures of the kidney, causing damage such as acute tubular necrosis or kidney failure. Dead muscle tissue may cause a large amount of fluid to move from the blood into the muscle, reducing the fluid volume of the body and leading to shock and reduced blood flow to the kidneys.”

(Source on quotes: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000473.htm)

Take care.
Richard Valdez


June 25, 2003 changed my life.

Not because the Federal Reserve's monetary policy committee met to discuss interest rates, (sound familiar?)
Or that The Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, Marshall Michigan met for …. some other reason,
Or that Leo Lindig retired from the Falcon Heights Fire Department, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, after thirty-eight years of service. Receiving a decorative pike pole for his many years of service.

Arguably life-changing events, yes?


June 25, 2003 changed my life, because on that date, for some reason which remains a mystery, at the age of 52, I joined the Los Angeles Triathlon Club.

Now, I didn't say 'saved my life'. Nothing that dramatic. But that date, 6-25-03, and oddly that month and day, June 25, 'changed' my life ……. twice.

June 25, the first time: A little history. On June 25, 2003, I could not swim 10 yards in a pool, freestyle, without fear of drowning. The ocean, at that time, was such a remote possibility, that it wasn't even in my thoughts.

I had not been on a bicycle in 40 years. Forty …. years. That's longer than some of you have been alive.

I ran a little, but that was it.

I had no idea what a triathlon was. Not a clue. I DID know, that it started in the water. Swimming. For this reason, I just KNEW that I could never do one. I KNEW this.

And I believed it.

Yet, something drew me to this sport. And to this club and it's amazing members. And allowed me a personal growth that I wish each of you reading this, will experience during your lifetime.

The Bike: I bought a bike. Knowing nothing about bikes, and still new to this club, I called a few members (over and over) with basic questions. And each of them (over and over) offered their advice. If any of these people tired of my calls, I never knew it.

Then I learned to ride. Not quite the same as when I was 12. Clipping in? Tipping over! (I first tipped over in front of an entire film crew in Griffith Park. They, of course, captured this moment … on film.)

Now, let's try riding: It took only one email to the club's (now 1500) members for me to find a riding group. Actually, many riding groups. And we were off. Riding the Pacific Coast Highway, with the Pacific Ocean in the next lane. Or taking to the hills, spending 4-5 hours in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Riding with Triathletes of all levels. Okay, maybe not the REALLY good ones. But, we were right behind those guys. Sometimes. For a short while. But, I swear, each member of this club that I met, seemed to want to help me become a better rider.

The Run: What I learned, very early on, was that running races, and running races after biking, are two completely different days.

I learned about hydration, the hard way. I learned about nutrition, the hard way. I learned that not being open to learning, is a hard way to learn. I learned more about running, through triathlon training, than I had learned while running.

The Swim: Next came the fabled first wetsuit. A gift. A perfectly timed gift. A film producer (and triathlete) with whom I had been working, gave me one as a bonus. "The zipper goes up the back", he explained. My history with, and fear of, water, now had to be addressed.

As with the bike, any of the LATC members I'd see at the pool, or the beach, would offer suggestions, encouragement, etc. That's what kept me coming back. The encouraging words to try again. And again.

And again.

Until, finally, I had some success in the water.

Which lead to one of life's greatest experiences. The feeling you get when you can 'give something back'. Like so many of this club's members, who organize workouts, clinics, rides, etc., I was allowed, along with LATC'er Steve Herbert, the opportunity to start a clinic. The Ocean 101. A clinic to help others better understand, and get comfortable in, the Pacific.

We got to see people achieve, to move past their fear, and to prove something to themselves.

I honestly believe that one of life's great purposes, is to help others succeed.

Part two: a small beach, at the Coeur D'Alene Resort, Idaho.

June 25, the second time: Oddly, coincidentally, or perhaps of no consequence, on June 25, 2007, fours years and one day after I joined the Los Angeles Triathlon Club, I completed my first Ironman Triathlon. Vertically.

Know that more people finished that day ahead of me, than did behind me. And my finishing photo wouldn't make the cover of GQ Magazine.

But I can promise you, that accomplishment would never have happened without the support of this club and it's members. Some pushing me harder on the bike or the run. Others offering me suggestions (and critique) on swimming techniques, or joining me for the longer ocean swims.

LATC member Oliver Martin's words continue to ring true. "No matter what, keep moving forward".

Either in the race, or in life, "Keep moving forward."

The Ironman was never even a possibility in my life. Not on any checklist I made. Me, a triathlete? Hell, me a swimmer? (okay, I still have some work there to get up to speed.)

It was through this club, which supports and builds it's members, as much as it's members support and build the club, that I grew in ways never imagined.

Here's wishing that each of you have many June 25th s throughout your lives. Those life changing moments, the importance of which is only realized months, and sometimes years, later. Those life changing moments which set the course for life's directions never imagined. Yes, I wish all of you many June 25th's.

Lastly, here's to my June 25th's yet to come. And to the people I want to share them with.

Welcome to the best sport on the planet. And the best club in the sport.

Picture: Tim Bomba in the back row/center with one of his Ocean 101 Groups, 2006.

It's an age old dilemma for everyone who's ever joined the LA Tri Club or updated their profile:

What is my "Training Level"? Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?

Pick one and let the tri world know where you stand and how you rate. It's a bit unfair, really, having just three buckets into which we group thousands of athletes whose ability and experience range from brand new to professional.

Sadly, we get reports of new members breaking out in hives trying to determine just what each level means. Woe be to the newbie who dares claim "intermediate" status or the expert guilty of horribly false modest in purporting be a "beginner" because they only joined the club a month ago.

In the interest of club-wide alignment and to save countless members the shame of an incorrect training level, we offer this first-time-ever attempt at defining just what it means to be a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced level LATC member.

Training Level
First, let's define "training level". This is widely understood to mean more than "training". It's about your ability and experience. If you were a former NCAA Division 1 runner but only train once a week and have only done one triathlon, your training level might be low but no one in their right mind thinks you are a beginner. Think of the three levels as encompassing a mixture of experience, knowledge, and ability in both training and racing triathlons.

Beginner can be defined by both your physical ability and your knowledge of the sport. To be a real Beginner, you need to be not only slow (an important pre-requisite of Beginner-hood) but you need to have very little experience and knowledge in triathlon training and racing. It isn't hard to be a beginner but it's hard to stay one. Let's face it, even if you stay slow it is hard to avoid getting more experience and knowledge even if simply by osmosis. So let's put it to the test.:

You are a beginner if…
+ If you think carbon fiber is something you add to your cereal to improve digestion
+ You think Body Glide is something best left for the bedroom.
+ A trip to the kitchen is considered a "long run".
+ You still aren't sure: Do we swim, bike and run ALL IN THE SAME DAY???
+ You time your races with a calendar or sun dial.

You are NOT a beginner if…
+ You haven't done a triathlon but you competed in swimming, biking, running, or any other sport in college.
+ You can complete the following sentence: "My half-ironman PR is…"
+ You have a strong opinion on bike brands, shoe brands or wetsuit brands.
+ You've traveled overnight for a race.
+ You have race results from two different years.

Here's where it gets tricky. You KNOW you aren't a newbie anymore but you aren't super fast. You are really knowledgeable but haven't cracked the Top-10 in your age-group in a race. You know all the routes through the Santa Monica mountains but get dropped going up Latigo. You know the difference between a Cervelo P3C and R3 but still haven't broken 12 hours at an Ironman. What's a Clubber to do? Help!

Never fear. Intermediate is a great place to be. This is the place where speed doesn't matter but experience makes the difference. Triathlon knowledge can help the Beginner be an Intermediate. But speed definitely is also part of the mix. Here's the rule of thumb:
" If you aren't experienced or knowledgeable but you are fast, you are an Intermediate.
" If you aren't fast, but you've been in the sport for a while and are knowledgeable about the sport, you are an Intermediate.

However, if you are both experienced AND fast, it's time to face facts: You are Advanced. Step up to the plate and be proud. Let's put it to the test:

You are an Intermediate if…
" You can complete the following sentence: "I thought Wildflower was faster this year than any years since…"
" You *know* what Body Glide is but still make jokes about its extracurricular uses.
" You've ever sent an email to the club to lead out a ride longer than 30 miles.
" You own a tri bike and a road bike and know what each one is for and why.
" You've done VO2 max testing or blood lactate testing …and enjoy talking about it with your teammates during long rides.

You are NOT an Intermediate if…
" Your Ironman PR starts with an "11" or less -or- your time got you in the Top-10 in your age group (Congratulations, you are now Advanced.)
" You're still trying to figure out the "Body Glide" jokes from above (sorry, you're a Beginner.)
" You are running out of room on your office wall for podium pictures (Congrats, you are now Advanced.)
" You get offended when someone uses the term "Newbie" to affectionately describe newbies. (Sorry, you are a Beginner. Plus, you need to lighten up.)
" You look around the transition area to see who is racked near you so you know who you need to keep track of in order to get a Top-10 (Congrats, you are Advanced.)
" You can't figure out why people spend so much time talking about bicycle gearing. And you find it amazing that we actually eat pills full of SALT! (Sorry, you're a Beginner.)
This one is actually pretty easy. It's the place where speed meets experience. Not absolute speed: If you are a 60 year-old who qualifies for Kona, you might not be faster than a 30 year-old who doesn't…but you are still Advanced! If you've been doing the sport for a few years, know quite a lot about bikes, can speak with authority on how to deal with an IT band injury and have gone through more than two wetsuits, and have a stack of old race numbers lying around in a drawer, you are probably advanced.

Let's put it to the test:

You are Advanced if…
" Your LA Tri Club membership number has one or two digits.
" The term "Tri Fed" means something to you.
" You actually *use* Body Glide in an extracurricular manner (bonus points for your Advanced status if you also use your Heart Rate Monitor for extracurricular activities.)
" You own a medal or plaque from a race in a year that starts with "19..."
" Two words: Kona qualifier
+ You get unsolicited emails from people asking your opinion on compact cranks for races like Wildflower.
+ You've never looked at someone's calf as they pass you on the run and seen the number of someone in your age-group.

You are NOT Advanced if…
+ You're in your first year of triathlon, didn't do collegiate or high level club athletics and aren't sure which of the three sports you do first.
+ You race road triathlons on a mountain bike
+ You still don't know where to get a wetsuit repaired or how to ride to Santa Barbara/San Diego (or at least where to find those things out on the LATC website)
+ You are doing an Ironman but still haven't done an Olympic.
+ You bought the 404's but still aren't sure why.
+ You need to ask if you're advanced.

Hopefully this helps you make this all-important decision with confidence. And never fear, even if you get it wrong, no one will hold it against you. Until you get dropped going up Latigo.

Good luck, train safe and race hard!

I remember racing my first 10k and not having any fathom of how I could run one step further. 6.3 miles was impossible.

I did my first Olympic distance triathlon and couldn’t imagine how people completed anything longer.

I did a ½ Ironman and knew without a doubt that there was no way in hell I could ever race twice that distance.

I did an Ironman.
And I felt wonderful at the end.

We are interesting animals, us humans. (Yes, I know we’re mammals, but let’s not split hairs on this one right now. You’ll make me lose my train of thought.) Most of us can only imagine what we already know. Sure we can pretend to muddle about other things, but true imagination is different. Imagination has one foot in reality. In the confines of our human brains, imagination has boundaries.

We live in a box that we call reality, trapped on all sides by boundaries and categories. And for most of us that box defines the limit of our imaginations.

We leverage our life experiences as a means to stretch our imagination. Like a theme from the Truman Show, day after day we travel down the same road, until one day we dare to imagine a different route to a different destination.

As athletes, we are given the opportunity to dream on a regular basis. We strive to go faster, harder, stronger, longer. We dream of beating this time or conquering that course. And when we focus on the dream, when we set out a plan, suddenly the dream is in the realm of reality. It is within our box.

Our bodies are controlled by our minds. Nobody ever won without first daring to dream that they could. So we push ourselves not as much to the limits of our body, but to the limits of our imagination. Assume you can never finish an Ironman, and you never will.

Let’s call it the Bannister Effect.

In a world that believed in the limitations of man, Roger Bannister dared to imagine. He imagined that he could run a sub-4 minute mile, a feat that was far beyond the collective imagination of the time. Yet once he stretched beyond these mindless limitations and broke the 4-minute barrier, the floodgates of imagination were let loose. Just as suddenly, many others dared to imagine within the expanded Bannister walls. And just as quickly, dozens of others ran faster than a 4 minute mile.

As triathletes, it is up to us to challenge ourselves and stretch the limits of our minds. As we do, so our bodies will follow.

In a funny way we are like goldfish – we will always expand to the size of our bowl. No matter how big the challenge set before us, we will find a way to succeed.

Think you can’t do an Ironman?
I think you are wrong.
Buy a bigger bowl.

Dare to dream. Dare to peek outside the confines of your imagination. Stretch out your arm and put your hand through the fire. Grab hold of the other side and pull yourself through.

I promise, you won’t get burned.

Portions of this article were printed in Triathlon Life Magazine, April 2008. Jeff Matlow, 2008.

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