Friday, March 30, 2007

While You Were Out

So, yeah. Every now and again, life interferes with blogging. Funny how that works. One second, you're a freewheeling blogger posting every day. You keep up with all the posts on every blog you follow. You even find time to wander around and seek out interesting new blogs.

Then, WHAM! You're knee deep in a mess and can't find time to read e-mail, let alone blogs. In my case, I haven't even made it into my office in a week. I'm working out of a training center, keeping two temps assigned to help clear a backlog of work. They've been super and all their work will make my boss look very good. The downside is that I've been working so much that any spare time has been dedicated to training and my kids.

And in the interim, time has somehow kept counting down the days, and I suddenly see myself looking at a 148 on the countdown timer. ZOOM! Right past 150. I planned on balloons and confetti when the timer hit 150. That's a major number in the countdown. But Noooooo! I missed 150 and went right to 148. Though important, 148 is nowhere near as cool as 150. So, I'll keep my eyes open for 99 days. That will be the next MAJOR milestone. Double digits. That will be big.

Training has been going well, though I took an extra rest day due to a cold and upper respiratory infection that opted to settle into my lungs. Anyone who has dealt with pneumonia, bronchitis, and/or sarcoidosis can relate. The extra day of rest will help me get more out of training, this weekend.


A sure sign of spring was visible at the Pol homestead, last night. Mrs. Pol wandered into the bathroom to investigate the odd noise she was hearing. She walked in on her beloved hubby being shorn of his locks. (For those who aren't aware, those would be the locks on my legs. I'm not sure I have enough hair left on my head to be "shorn.") She questioned the use of hair clippers for the task. I pointed out that using a razor to shave after six months of growth is a sure fire way to both clog the shower drain AND go through several razors for one shave.

So, the legs are shaved, and I'm ready to get The Pol-R Express back onto the road. The trainer has served its purpose, but the blacktop beckons. Spring is here, and none too early. With the timer under 150 days, it is time to start racking up the miles and getting ready for IM Louisville in earnest.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Feed Me, Seymour!

In the Broadway classic Little Shop of Horrors, the main character, nerdy florist assistant Seymour, finds and nurtures an odd plant named Audrey II. The plant is named after the object of Seymour's infatuation, another flower shop worker. After learning that blood makes the plant thrive, Seymour begins feeding it drops of his own blood.

Over time, the plant grows and its needs increase. Single drops of Seymour's blood no longer suffice. In fact, the plant requires entire people, leading Seymour to kill in order to feed the insatiable Audrey II. It also leads to what is certainly the most memorable line from the entire show.

"Feed me, Seymour!"

Right now, I feel much like Audrey II. While I don't have an insatiable appettite for human blood, I am beginning to hit the "always hungry" phase of the season, again. Last year, I ignored Iron Audrey and maintained a "normal" diet. This year, Audrey is demanding more. If the demand for food is ignored, I will suffer greatly.

I've hit the bottom of the weight range I want going into a summer of heavy triathlon training. So, the bottomless pit otherwise known as my stomach will have to be satiated.

Luckily, I have less discriminating tastes than Audrey II. Where she demanded one and only one source of nourishment, I'm fine with a broad range of food. Seymour won't have to go to the same extremes. But he's still going to hear the same cries from the master...

Feed me, Seymour!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Pain, No Gain

I played football for four years in high school. Wait, let me rephrase that for accuracy. I was ON the football team for four years in high school. I think my total playing time would easily have fit within a single quarter. At the time, I was quite jealous of the kids who were "naturals" at the game.

I was right there with them suffering through practice. I memorized plays like they did. I hit the weight room to work out. They just got better results. Or had better genes.

Through the prism of age and experience, I've learned better. Yes, the better players on my team certainly got more out of practice, workouts, and playbooks than me. It was really just a function of effort. Namely, they put it in, and I tried to fake it.

Over time, that has changed. I've learned that improvement isn't easy and often requires some amount of pain. Perhaps it's the pain of getting up much earlier than is desired. It might be the pain of working the body to the point of exhaustion. Or it might be the good pain of a threshold workout. No pain, no gain. I didn't understand that in high school.

Nothing has taught me this as much as the past year of triathlon training. Learning to swim was challenging enough. Learning to swim well and to swim faster has called for intense and sometimes painful workouts. Taking my mile pace from 11 minutes down to 8 minutes took a year of challenging base and speed workouts. And getting back on the bike demanded I put out of shape muscles back into action.

Now, I am working hard to get into the game. I take the training seriously. I listen to the coach. I accept that some training is going to demand that I push myself to the limit. And I do push those limits.

This time, I'm going to play the whole game. Whether it takes 45 minutes or 17 hours. 10K to Ironman, I'm going to be a starter.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Getting Serious

A co-worker and training partner is running his first marathon in May. With just under nine weeks to go, we were discussing his training and current condition. The fact that his first child was born just about two weeks ago has sort of wreaked havoc on his marathon training plan.

So, he wants to know what can be done to avoid having to scrap the race. I told him we'd run 12-14 miles, this weekend, and make a determination then. To date, the furthest he has ever run is a half-marathon. And that was last season. Going from 13 miles to 26.2 miles in less than eight weeks poses a real challenge.

Mostly, I told him he needs to get serious. That is an important factor in completing a marathon. I sincerely believe that a half-marathon can be completed without any real knowledge or serious training. Why do I believe that? Because that's how I ran my first half-marathon. And I've met lots of others who did the same thing.

There is a huge difference between 13.1 miles and 26.2 miles. And it takes a serious respect of the distance and dedication to completing the race to motivate proper training. Cutting corners and "faking it" doesn't work so well at the full marathon distance.

And that got me thinking about my own training for Louisville. I started looking at the training hours. I noticed that for nearly every week there was a noticeable difference between scheduled and actual hours. Granted, "scheduled" included optional swim and/or run sets each week, but still, falling short every week is hardly a sign of respect and dedication.

Just like the difference between a half and full marathon, it is highly unlikely that I will be able to "fake" the training the way I did for my sprint and Olympic distance races. Reaching the finish line in August will require that I get serious. Those training hours should be met closely every week. Perhaps a little short here, a little long there, equal on average.

I have trained far more, this year, than ever before. Even so, it is time to ratchet things up to the next level. I have an 8-week program until the 16-week Ironman program commences. My goal for this phase is to get back into full training mode and hit those goal times. Feel free to call me on it. Accountability is everything.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flubbing, Flubbing, Flubbing

On board Navy vessels, casualty situations are announced over a PA system. This isn't a Bose quality system, so sound quality sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. The people making the announcements are rarely professional voice artists, and they are often rushed and full of adrenaline.

That results in announcements sounding much different than the alarm you know is being sounded. My favorite was always flooding. This casualty is sounded when water is entering a space faster than available systems can evacuate that water. When called in, the announcement is always made by repeating it three times. Due to the quality of the overall system, "Flooding, flooding, flooding" often came across as "Flubbing, flubbing, flubbing."

That was the call I got from Mrs. Pol, yesterday. She had gone into the basement to get some things before leaving the house, only to find several areas with standing water. She called me, and we were able to isolate the cause of the problem. The dreaded sump pump failure. (For those unfamiliar with basements, a sump is an area designed to collect water that would otherwise leak into the basement. A sump pump clears water from the sump to somewhere outside the house.)

Sadly, this sump pump failure was more human in nature. Specifically, it was a human from the genus "Furnace Technicianis Forgetfullus." Simply put, a service rep unplugged our sump pump and forgot to plug it back in when he finished his work. Net result, lots of water in my basement.

We were actually lucky. First, Mrs. Pol found it early. The potential for serious damage was pretty high. Second, we don't have a lot of valuable items sitting directly on the floor. The worst damage was to some old magazines and some clothes that haven't seen the light of day in a decade.

Cleanup is another story. Training last night was wiped out by hours spent cleaning up water and damaged or wet items. Our server and computer had to be taken apart, dried, and reassembled. Items in wet boxes had to be transferred to new storage containers. And fans had to be set up to help everything dry out. We were up until well after midnight doing that.

And that pretty well wiped out training for this morning, as well. I threw my bag in the car and hope to get my swim in on the way home. We'll see how things go.

Spring is usually a boon for training. The snow is gone. Freezing temperatures give way to the cool days that are so perfect for training outside. Then again, all the water has to go somewhere. And sometimes, "somewhere" happens to be inconvenient.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

House Cleaning

Well, things have been hectic. No worries, though. Rumor has it that the lives of prospective Ironmen sometimes get that way. So, just to keep things up to date and let people know I'm alive, here are a few housecleaning items.

First, my 5000 yard swim went fairly well, this weekend. A bit short, but well. The gym where I was swimming had a pool open for laps at 5:45 a.m. Unfortunately, they didn't actually open their doors until just after that time. After rushing in the locker room, I was in the pool and swimming by about 5:55. That gave me roughly an hour and 50 minutes if I wanted to skip showering before my meeting at 8:00.

The first several thousand yards were great. I maintained my (New and Improved!) time trial pace and felt good. After 2500 yards, I hopped out to drink some Gatorade, and got back at it. Around 3500 yards, I experienced some foot cramping. That was an off and on thing for the next 1000 yards. My pace dropped quite a bit as I was winding down the day.

In the end, I completed 4600 yards. A bit short, but there were some definite silver linings. I hit the 2.5 mile point in 1:30, a great sign for IM Louisville. And I maintained a reasonable pace for about 3500 yards. If I can bring that pace back just a bit (stop going out so fast), I should be good for the whole IM swim.

In other news, we had eight young people at our first team meeting and they are excited about the opportunity to complete a triathlon. Since my original vision was to have perhaps 10 kids total, this is a great start. We may have others that didn't make the meeting, and some will sign up when we get more into it. Our first training day is March 31, and they are already bringing up additional events they think we should complete. It was awesome.

The Tri Blog Community IM Louisville team is growing. I just added Myles and his wife, who happens to run the ever popular Athena Diaries. That brings the TBC team to seven. IM The Ville participants in my links list are shown in red. Keep in mind that we want to know participants and supporters alike. If you will be in Louisville and want to be included in possible meet and greet opportunities, let me know.

Finally, work has kept me swamped, so don't fret if you see a few days go by without a post. I'm training hard, working hard, and taking care of the family. Occassionally, I'll let the blog slip a few days. No fears! I'll always be back in a day or two.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Tomorrow should prove interesting. Somebody (that would be me) had the brilliant idea of scheduling a meeting at 8 a.m. It is the first meeting with the kids who will participate in our fledgling youth triathlon team. The concept is that we will weed out the uncommitted with the Saturday morning meeting.

Of course, there's the slight challenge of fitting a 5000 yard swim into the mix. And, of course, my best chance for putting in that kind of time swimming laps is from 5:45-7:45 a.m. So, the kids will get a firsthand look at the effects of more than 2.5 miles of swimming. And I will get a quick lesson in planning a meeting. Like 8 a.m. is a bad time when you have a major swim to accomplish.

There is, however, a bright side to this. Having a tight schedule will give me something concrete to break down the swim. I have two hours max to swim the distance. So I must complete 2500 yards per hour. That gives me a target of around 2:15/100 yards. If I maintain that average, I'll be fine. Anything less and I'll be late for the meeting.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Sign

Here's my "Top 10" indications you are completing a Mike Ricci swim focus.

10. You look at a 2000 yard workout and wonder why an easy day was scheduled.
9. Your hair feels like dry grass no matter how much conditioner you use.
8. You look forward to strength training days. They mean shorter swim sets.
7. It isn't important that you forgot your glasses. You have swim goggles.
6. You see a 60 minute run scheduled, figure Mike must have made a mistake, and swim 3500 yards, anyway.
5. You begin scheduling half-days off in order to complete your mid-week long swims.
4. The gym staff automatically tell you the pool conditions when you walk in the building.
3. The water aerobics participants start asking about you if you don't swim during their class.
2. You have a 5000 yard swim scheduled and the only question you have is whether you should bike before or after the swim.
1. Your co-worker says, "Do you smell that bleach, what is that?" and your reaction is to hold up your arm and say, "You mean this?"

Not that any of those have happened to me.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


In the Navy, it was common to receive tests back with the cryptic scribbling "RTWQ!" scrawled across the answer to a question. It was also common to see a note indicating how many points were lost on that question.

RTWQ is shorthand for Read The Whole Question. The implication is that the answer provided by the student was good, and might have warranted full points if it had only answered the entire question. Generally, RTWQ was all the student needed to figure out why points were lost. They would reread the question, see the part they missed in the fog of testing, and slap their head on the table. Hard, if they happened to do exceptionally poorly on the test.

That is what was going through my head during my swim workout, this morning. If you can recall all the way back to yesterday, you'll recall I was giddy with excitement about the short swims of the week. Well, as long as we consider the "week" to end on Friday. Saturday, that's less exciting. Even so, the short swims of the week looked great.

So, this morning I'm headed to the pool thinking about my 1500 yard swim. That's barely a workout. I've done straight swims as part of longer workouts that exceeded 1500 yards. What a break. As I head to the pool deck, I'm start reading the set list. Warm up 300 yards by 25s, IM.

Okay, wait. Stop. IM? I don't suppose that stands for "Imagine what it will be like to be an IM finisher while you do this warmup." I've heard the term IM associated with swimming, before. That would be that butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke, freestyle thing. Well, that about flushes the "easy swim" thing down the drain.

Well, perhaps it can be modified just a bit. Butterfly isn't happening. How about just replacing it with a freestyle length. That should be doable. So, free, back, breast, free. Repeat three times. That will work for the warm up.

Main set. More of the same. Suddenly, 1500 yards looked a whole lot longer than it did on Sunday night. My "easy" swim got a whole lot more difficult.

Even so, I did complete the sets as modified. I even did an actual (using the term loosely) backstroke. Note to local YMCA. Now that I understand what those flags ABOVE the pool are for, I suggest we invest in a few.

I'm feeling it. And I know it will help. I understand better why others have said the backstroke helps you better understand rotation (because it's impossible to do the backstroke without good rotation). I feel different muscles being worked. And I know I can rely on alternative strokes in the event I need to in Louisville.

Now that I know to RTWQ, I might be more open to adding more IM sets in the future.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Well, yeah. There's That.

As a general rule, I print out all of my workouts for Monday through Thursday on Sunday night. It allows me to have them all sitting on the dining room table, ready for the duffle bag (swim or run) or to guide me to the basement for bike sessions. Last night, I was a bit excited as I printed them.

Monday, short swim (short, of course, being a relative term) with a short bike in the evening. Tuesday, frighteningly short swim. Wednesday, short run with strength training. Thursday, another short swim. I was giddy. This looked to be one big step back week.

So, imagine my surprise when I started pulling weekly totals from my training program for entry into my log. Total swim distance of 14,100 yards. "Wait a minute, if I'm barely hitting 2000 yards a day for a total of three days, how am I at 14,000 for the week?" I am, after all, an accountant by day.

That led me to Saturday. Warmup 1000 yards. Just so you know, that's an ominous clue in and of itself. While I am certainly getting better at swimming and bringing my pace down, I haven't yet moved to the "1000 yards is a warmup" category. Well, not YET, anyway. After my "warm up," I get to do eight 500-yard intervals at time trial pace. Lucky me, my cool down is 10 minutes in the hot tub. After that swim, my first attempt at 5000 yards, my cool down just might be 10 minutes at the bottom of the pool. Perhaps the lifeguard will pull my limp body out of the water before that.

Seeing that on the schedule, particularly the "at T-pace" part, reminds me of the ultimate cruelty of irony (or karma, or Coach Mike, or whatever it is). On Friday, that T-pace would have been 2:11 per 100 yards. Today, it's 2:01 per 100 yards. That will teach me to see how beneficial training has been BEFORE finding out what is coming up on the schedule.

Of course, on the brighter side, you will note that my endurance pace has dropped dramatically. I guess I'll take that into the water with me on Saturday. "Yes, it's a long way to swim. But just look how it's already paying off." I'll take it all the way to the bottom of the pool.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Plunge

So, I've been watching some videos of Ironman swim starts. I can already tell that's going to be a big gremlin. Probably the one that poses the biggest threat.

Gremlins aren't a huge concern on the bike. They just aren't all that fast. I've completed some pretty challenging rides in my life, and know I'll be able to train for anything IM The Ville has to throw at me. Well, if they ever actually figure out what the course might look like. The most recent response I got was, "Soon." Not bad considering the previous response was "just after the New Year."

Gremlins generally leave me alone when it comes to running. They know how little concern I have for setting any kind of records and understand that I've lived with them for a long time. Going into Ironman, I have fairly low expectations for my marathon time, and feel comfortable with my ability to run in even the worst of situations.

The swim is another story. The gremlins know this is my weak area. They know it is the area in which I have the least experience. And they know all the right buttons to push.

What they seem to forget is that training, racing, and (most importantly) planning are effective at smooshing gremlins. The challenge is finding 2500 people to go out swimming so I can practice an Ironman swim start. Hopefully some of the smaller races will enable me to get a feel for this. My current plan is to start all my races right in the middle of the pack. If anything can prepare me for the IM start, that would be it.

Gremlins can be nasty little buggers. Their entire existence is aimed at ruining our day. The entire time we are preparing for a race, they are preparing, as well. We train our bodies, and they make us question our health. We gain experience and they try to convince us we are too green to succeed. We increase our distances and times in training, and they remind us that we still have to put it all together on race day.

But gremlins are weak. They only have as much power as we give them. Most importantly, no gremlin will ever be an Ironman. They can't go the distance. So always remember, any gremlin that shows up is only there for the short term. Put on a burst of speed or focus on your motivational mantra (you have one of those, right?) and they'll give up.

You are stronger than any gremlin. Even if it's a gremlin with a fixation on the swim start. If he likes the water so much, ask him to join you on your swim. Then splash water in his face or dunk him underwater. He'll get the message.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Swimming Naked

Some days you just want to take it all off and swim naked. Sure, it might be somewhat taboo. Yes, others in the pool may look in shock when they realize what you're doing. And yes, you'll probably be a bit self-concious.

You head into the pool quickly, hoping nobody you know is there to see you. Jumping into the water, you start to swim quickly. You eye the lifeguard hoping he doesn't notice, or at least doesn't say anything. After all, you've seen others do it, before.

You count laps so you'll know how far you've gone before anyone says anything. You eye the clock so you'll know how long it takes for someone to notice. But the freedom is wonderful. Every lap is easier when you don't have to worry about the normal constraints society places upon you.

The pool empties quickly. Perhaps it's just because of the poor weather. But maybe it's because of YOU. Only one guy is still in the pool when you leave. You head back to the locker room quickly, glad that none of your normal swim partners saw you.

Yes, some days you just want to swim naked.

And other days, you forget your watch at home.