Week 9 – Saddle sore


This picture is of me and a buddy of mine in 2000.

Biking and I have a long tortured history. In my pre-teen years I was all over biking. Living in Montreal, Quebec, I used to bike all over the place all of the time. The whole point of spring was to get on a bike and just go.

But it all came to an abrupt end.

Shortly before I move to Athens for good, at the age of 15, I face planted into cement. The face-plant rearranged my face, created a few permanent scars, displaced my front teeth and turned me off the sport for good.

It didn’t help that Athens between 1988 and 1992 wasn’t the best place to go biking. Finding a cyclist was like finding an incorruptible politician, very difficult to damn near impossible.

When I arrived in the US in 1992 to go to college (Brown University class of 96!), I blimped out – putting on 90 pounds over 1 year –  and by the time I was 24 I wasn’t physically capable of biking (okay walking 1 mile, but you get the point). I moved to California in 1996 and continued to live the life of the fat Greek geek. In 1998 thanks to the unbelievable support of my wife I managed to reassert control over my health and lose 60 pounds.

Part of reasserting control was getting into biking.

Now in the bay area  in the late 90’s, biking was the thing to do. And so my wife and I got into it, in a big way. Part of it was the amazing biking opportunities in the Santa Cruz Mountains, part of it was Lance Armstrong. I remember biking at least three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday I climbed up Page Mill, and on Saturday we did at least 80-90 mile bike rides to the coast. April 15th was the official start of the cycling season when we would go up Mount Hamilton.

By the time I turned 31 we had gone from being barely able to finish the Napa Valley metric century to finishing the Death Ride.


I had these super quads and the all important cyclist muscle bump over the knee.

And then we stopped biking. It was as if we had conquered Everest and had nothing left to see.

Between the age of 31 and now, biking became a once-in-a-while kind of activity. The intermittent sport of choice had become running.

So I turn 40, and I decide to do this Triathlon thingy and think – man this biking thing will be a breeze because I so did the Death Ride.


It turns out that if you haven’t biked in 9 years, your body might remember how the pedals go but every single bike muscle has gone.

And it’s not the obvious ones, it’s the non-obvious ones. The muscles on your hands and arms, and neck are the ones that hurt the most. And you sit there on this bike pedaling and suffering…  and you wonder maybe the bike doesn’t fit … and then you remember that you once spent 17 hours on this very same bike …

And that saddle sore you realize is just a painful reminder that you once were in much better biking shape…

The good news is that all of this biking is getting some of those non-obvious muscles in shape, the bad news is that I remember how much easier this was 13 years ago.


Week 8 – Elvis the Pelvis

In the 1950’s Elvis Presley disturbed America with his gyrating hips. Those moving hips were considered the tool of the devil, a form of legitimate porn. And while women of all ages screamed, Elvis gyrated… In the 1950’s this video was not safe for work, now it’s viewed as tame …o tempore o mores…

Which brings me to last week.

I was in Tahoe two weeks ago, cross country skiing at Royal Gorge. The night before I went cross-country skiing I decided to buy the book Total Immersion Swimming. Mostly because it was getting increasingly clear to me that something about my technique was just wrong. And I thought maybe a book for noobs would explain the missing link.

And it did.

The missing link was the relationship between the core muscles and the arms. According to the book if you use used your core muscles as a screw and your arms and legs as the fins, your body would go faster and longer. The theory was similar to a wind up train.

You wind it up, and the release of potential energy creates kinetic energy which causes the wheels to go around.

How absurd I thought. This Newtonian Physics is such nonsense. But… What the hell I thought. So I got up and started swinging my hands with my core and was stunned with the speed and ease of the motion.

So we went cross-country skiing, and I decided to try out this new fangled use your core to move your legs technique. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was in Heroes: Save the cheerleader, Save the world. But– omg – it worked.

I went faster with more ease than I ever had before, even though I was dragging my son in pulka.


In fact at some point my speed exceeded my technique… my poor son was the victim of that when he fell face first into the snow when the pulka tipped. You can see him here seconds before Father of the Year wakes him up with a face full of snow…

Coming back from Tahoe, with this piece of information about body mechanics I couldn’t wait to go swimming.

And the swim was awesome. After weeks of trying to understand how the various elements fit together, it clicked. You rotate your body to move your arms, you push on the buoy to reduce drag caused by the legs, you keep your arms in front to increase the body length to improve speed. It all just clicked. And whereas I used to struggle vainly to get under 10 strokes per length – only getting there through a supreme effort of power — all of a sudden it was easy.

It was awesome.

So here’s to Elvis, wherever he may be, keep on gyrating!

New Legs and a 180 degree turn

While skiing this past weekend, I discovered that I had this new body to try out.

So I weigh less, but not that much less. And I don’t weigh much more than I weighed in my mid-thirties.

No, what’s really cool is that I have a lot more core strength and a left leg.

Well I always had a left leg, but it was very weak. For example, I could not stand on my left leg for more than 10 seconds at a time. So downhill skiing was about making big turns on my right leg to slow down, and really short turns on my left leg, because it was too weak. As part of my training for my marathon, I had to improve my cadence, and that had the salutary effect of forcing me to run on both legs.

The new core strength, for it’s part, lets me move my hips and do a turn without throwing my body from one side to the other.

The net effect is I can make much faster, tighter turns than I could before.

But a new body is like any new piece of equipment, it takes some time to get adjusted to it.

My wife and I were skiing down The Face at Homewood, when in sheer panic I turned left hard.


On the left you see what I was expecting to do. See marginal left turn setting up a bigger right turn. On the right you see what did happen. I turned so hard that I ended up having my skiis point uphill, and then proceeded to ski backwards. Because my core was so strong, I was actually able to stay up for about 3-5 seconds, before I even figured out what the hell was going on. Finally, when I realized what I was doing I stopped.

Some Pictures From Napa

Finally got my hand on the official photos from Napa.

Here are my favorites…

Looking like a real runner:


Before things went bad:


Here’s where Jeremy Roenick and I were having a pep talk


Here’s me sprinting to the finishing line waving my hat!


Look at those muscles…Or that pain…


Crossing the finish line


And done


Gone Skiing


After finishing my second marathon, my wife and I decided to do our annual ski trip to Tahoe

The nice thing about skiing is that it’s a nice break from the endless swimming, running and cycling I seem to be doing these days.

Good mental break.

After I return from this trip, I will be getting ready for my first Olympic Triathlon in August.

And then there is a small matter of the Athens Marathon.

And before that is the even smaller matter of picking next year’s Iron Man.


How Jeremy Roenick saved my marathon


On Sunday, I finished my second marathon, the Napa Valley Marathon. On the one hand, finishing a marathon, any marathon is pretty frigging cool. Not many people finish them, and to finish two puts in you this rare group of lunatics… On the other hand…

In software, we have this concept: second system syndrome. The theory being that second systems fail because of over confidence created by the first system.

When I finished the Athens marathon, I was pissed off. Pissed because I had just finished it in 5h42 minutes and knew I could have gone faster. Knew I had completely botched the last 12 km. It was infuriating, exasperating and annoying.

So I had a better plan this time, one put together by my coach. The problem with the plan, is like every plan, the day of the run you forget your plan and just go….

Enough with prologue…

The Napa Valley Marathon is an amazingly beautiful race through some of the prettiest wine country in the world. You get to run down Silverado Creek Trail starting in Callistoga and ending in Napa.


This race is so pretty that I routinely saw people stopping to take pictures.

But I didn’t take any, because I didn’t bring my phone because, well, the USATF has this brilliant thought that headphones make athletes dangerous. The theory being that the brain addled athletes with headphones are unable to hear anything while they go through rest stations and are therefore dangerous.

Really. It’s not the massive calorie deprivation and exhaustion of the event, it’s the headphones.

The race start was kind of abrupt. The bus brings you to the starting line, you run to the toilets, then run back to the buses to give your sweat bag, and then run.

While waiting in line I overheard two folks discuss whether they wanted to pay double for an entry or try to break 3h. Everyone’s got a problem.

So the race begins. The first two miles were a mess. I didn’t get a chance to warm up effectively and my right leg was feeling wonky which was affecting my pace. My first two miles were 11:38 and 11:28… which in retrospect was exactly what I wanted them to be…

Minor aside.

Elevation profiles lie. You read the Napa Valley Marathon website materials and you look at the profile and you think: Sweet 42 km of downhill… And your untrained eyes gloss over all of those jagged edges because, honestly, what’s a few minor up hills compared to this glorious endless downhill.

Well it turns out that there is something worse than the Athens Marathon, it’s called rollers. The Napa Valley Marathon had a series of minor hills that were pace destroying and life shattering. The up hill sections were steep and the downhill sections steep and they were back to back to back.

You can’t get into a comfortable pace either up or down. You’re fighting your cadence, your heart rate and your brain every step of the way.

Back to my story.

After the legs warmed up the next 12 miles were sweet.


I did 12 miles in 2h18 minutes. Which was awesome. I was feeling so great. So great that I didn’t bother walking long enough through those rest stations. I mean I walked, but I didn’t take a breather. Instead of 1 minute, like the plan called for it was more like 30-40seconds…

And yeah that pace was a little bit fast… But I really thought I had a chance to get under 5 hours. And at the 1/2 way point I actually was just at the 5hour pace.

In fact, I was thinking, DAMN, I can so totally do this!

Characters along the way

One of the fun things about running a marathon is that you get to meet all sorts of people.

One person was this 70-year-old woman who smoked by me… She looked like a physical wreck running, but man could she go fast. I felt even slower when she blew past this other lady who discussed how last week’s marathon was nowhere near as nice as this weeks.

Another was this gentleman from Chicago who was doing a 50 states marathon. There is this club that’s been around for a while that is devoted to people who run a marathon in fifty states. Pretty cool! Except his buddy had injured his back and so could not finish the Napa Marathon! D’oh! Hopefully it wasn’t his tenth.

Then there was the dude who was whining about the Tequila Party from last night. As he ran past me. Okay, like I am cool with you being faster than me, but not after you drink Tequila shots, that’s just not fair. Really, c’mon. Honestly I think he was flirting with the young lady running next to him.

A word on the road

This race is very pretty. But dang, the roads suck. The problem is that the road has a lot of twists and turns and as a result the road has a lot of pitch in it. Part of the pain in this race is running from one side of the road to the other to deal with the difference in grade from one side of the road to the other.

And now ..


The second half of this marathon was my personal Waterloo. I was thinking damn, if I can keep this pace up, I am golden.

But I couldn’t. Part of it was the cumulative exhaustion, part of it was that I had just gone too fast in the first twelve.

My first fourteen miles was done at an 11:18 pace, the last twelve were done at a 11:59 pace.

As I look at the elevation profile, it’s pretty obvious what happened. After the 6th mile and up until the 14th mile there is this pretty even gentle descent. So for about 8 miles I was flying. Then you start hitting these rollers. And they are brutal.

It got so bad that at some point in time, I just gave up on the heart rate monitor’s whining about my heart rate and disabled the alerts. So pretty much after the 3h mark my heart rate was at about 150+.

I was so damn determined to keep the pace, that I stopped trying to keep a pace and started to push.

And then at the 18 mile mark, where I was still in the running for a 5 hour marathon, I tried to push even harder. And that was somewhat sustainable, except I had a nasty ass climb from the 16-18th mile. If only I had waited until the 20th mile…

And then it was 6 miles of flat terrain, but at that point in time I was done and baked. I finished the last 6 miles in 1h12 minutes (approximately 12 minute mile pace).

And as the body started to die, visions of Athens danced in my head. And I was determined to finish faster than I did in Athens. And while thoughts of choking danced in my head, I remembered Jeremy Roenick.


In 2009 the Sharks were the toast of the NHL. At one point in time they had gone undefeated at home. Then Jeremy got injured and the wheels started to fall off. And I remember him saying: The team needs to protect the 0 (0 losses), or even the 1. So while I felt like just dying, I kept having this image of Jeremy Roenick coming to my house and calling me a choker… Or worse bringing it up on national television… I just kept hearing his voice talking about how he thought Marleau was the biggest choker of all time but wanted to apologize because he had met me…

So I kept saying to myself: I need to protect the 0 (5:0X) and when that was no longer possible I kept saying I need to protect the 1 (5:1X)

Okay… When you’re down to your last calorie, your brain goes to many weird places…

And just when all was lost I remembered my coaches instructions.  I walked in every feed station for 1 minute. And after doing that my body felt better and I was able to run a little bit longer and a little bit faster. And then I walked for two minutes and it felt even better. And before you know it my cadence picked up and I was feeling a lot better.

In fact I was feeling so good that I actually sprinted the last 400 or so yards. The folks I sprinted by didn’t look very happy, but I was feeling great….

Which made me wonder, what if I had bothered to listen to him in the first fourteen miles….


In the end I finished in 5h 12min 29sec. Which is an amazing improvement over my Athens time. Yes Athens had that long up hill, but Athens did not have rollers. I would have killed for long gentle up hills instead of the sharp brutal up hills of Napa.

So close and yet so far…

My personal goal for this year is a sub 5 hour marathon. I am feeling good about reaching that objective. And maybe the next time, I’ll spend some time studying the elevation profile and using my brain…. And listening to the good advice of coaches…

Napa Valley Marathon

After finishing my first marathon, The Athens Classic Marathon, or as the cool Greek runners call it: To Klassiko (The Classic), I came home wondering if I would ever run again, period.

When I finished The Death Ride, it became obvious that there was nothing left to do.

A week later I started to run.

A month later, I realized I needed a goal to keep me running. My wife found this article in Forbes magazine enumerating the top 10 marathons to run. And there it was, the Napa Valley Marathon.

So I started training using the Hal Higdon training program. And the miles and hours started to add up.

So here we are, ready to run again…