Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Course Pre-Ride

I just got back from my first ride on Australian roads - I set out for my first pre-ride of the Ironman bike course this morning. It's flat, as advertised. There are a lot of 180-degree turn-arounds (four per lap). The only irritating thing is the wind: apparently the heatwave is dying down, and that's being replaced by some very strong (30+ km/hr) winds - and because the course runs mostly parallel to the course, these tend to be crosswinds more often than not.

Now I've got a bit of a dilemma: do I remove the wheel cover and ride a regular wheel, or leave the cover on and ride the disc? There were some sketchy moments on today's ride where the disc definitely caught a gust or two and I wasn't totally comfortable in the aero position on the exposed, windy straightaways.

It wouldn't be terribly difficult to remove the disc and may be worth doing if the winds keep up like this. I'll keep a close eye on the weather and make the final decision on Saturday. What would you do?

PS - My bike is looking especially bad ass right now.



Monday, November 29, 2010

Greetings from Down Under!

Rocky coastline in Bunbury on the way to Busso
I am currently typing this from a classy internet cafe overlooking the water in sunny, quaint shire known as Busselton, Western Australia. If you could see the vast blue expanse of ocean in front of me, you'd be jealous.

My flights were largely uneventful - and that's a good thing. The fourteen-hour leg that took me from San Francisco to Sydney passed quickly even though I wasn't able to sleep much. In Sydney, I had to collect my luggage, pass through customs and then transfer to the domestic terminal for a connection to Perth. That flight felt like it dragged on forever. Fortunately, I arrived in one piece! Unfortunately, one piece of my luggage didn't arrive.

Per Hobe's advice, I had carried on just about everything I'd need for race-day, so it could've been worse. Anyway, I'll pass on describing the stress of having a missing bag and just spoil it for you: it arrived the following day. All is well.

James, Mark and Owen
Last night, I stayed with two super nice people, Mark and Sonia, and their two boys, Owen and James. Bret "One-T" Lobree put me in touch with Sonia after a chance conversation on a bus in Colorado this past summer. Mark filled me in on the latest news from the CFL. Sonia stuffed me with food (a true Italian!) and Owen showed me just about every toy he could find. They also put me up in a nice, air-conditioned room and gave me lifts to and from the airport. Kindness like that just doesn't come 'round every day!

This morning, I picked up a rental car and drove (on the wrong side of the road) down the coast to Busselton. The town is decked in Ironman-related paraphanalia - looks like everyone's pretty excited about the event! Speaking of which, I haven't done any physical activity in a few days and desperately need to take a plunge. The water's too pretty to sit here any longer.

Welcome to Busselton.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

One More Thing

One more thing before I shut this computer down and start getting my ass over to the airport, and it has absolutely nothing to do with triathlons or Australia trips.


If you don't have anything better to do tonight, or tomorrow night, or any night this week, go see Disney's latest animated feature, Tangled. Not only is it one of the best-looking animated films ever, it also marks a fun return-to-form for the studio. It seems like Disney has been out of the fairytale business for a while, but this one really seems to tap into that old, familiar magic.

So head out to the theater, enjoy some of the year's most gorgeous animation, support the hundreds of people who worked on the film, and indulge that little part of you that's still a kid.

The Heat Is On

I've packed and tied up nearly every loose end I can think of, which can mean only one thing: it's time to hit the road. The long haul to Busselton begins tonight - my plane leaves San Francisco at 11 PM and lands in Sydney a whole lot of hours later. From there, it's on to Perth for a night and then Busselton via rental car. Getting there's half the fun, right?

I'm going to hold off on race-time speculation until I get to Busso and familiarize myself with the course. I know it's flat and I've heard wind won't be an issue - two very encouraging things. I also know that it'll probably be hot.


The way things look right now, the sun'll be blazing high in the sky on race day and acclimating is going to be of utmost importance. San Francisco's a great place to train for an Ironman, but the climate doesn't provide many opportunities to experience warmth like what I'm going to have to deal with next Sunday. While the course terrain has me thinking about aggressive time split goals on the bike and run, I've got to temper my expectations on account of weather.

Seven days 'til the race... Holy crap, is this for real?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weak

I'm two and a half weeks into taper, which means it's been two and a half weeks since I've shaved. As you can (barely) see above, the result is pretty sad.

I'm pretty excited for a shave and a hair cut ("two bits," anyone?) next Saturday night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Good Thinking

Some people do their best thinking on the toilet. Others, in the car or on the train. I used to think I did my best thinking on my bike, but I realized this afternoon that when I just need to clear my head or puzzle through a work problem, an easy, 30-minute swim is just what the doctor ordered.

I've always felt very comfortable in the water. It's refreshing. It's certainly my element, and the pool will always be my quickest avenue to a zen-like state. I can't tell you how nice it is to have a clean, outdoor swimming pool just a few blocks away from my office. It's close enough that I can duck over there whenever I need a quick escape or reset.

Changing gears to some more specific news, I had a good, active-recovery swim yesterday and a decent, interval-based workout this morning. I've definitely backed off on the yardage (perhaps a little too quickly?) and feel solid in the water. I don't feel blazing fast, but I feel like I'm cruising -- and I'm definitely not as sore. Taper is an interesting science and it's not one I expect to get exactly right this go-round.

I'm starting to think more about specific targets and predicted finish times... more to come on that soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Packing

I started packing on Sunday. The thought of fitting everything I might need for almost a month of traveling into a bag or two seems quite daunting, especially when you factor in all of the race-specific gear I need to bring along.

Fortunately, I am an excellent packer. My ability to fill (or not-fill) a duffel or suitcase was honed to perfection by two years as a consultant. I packed more suitcases in twenty-four months than most people pack in their entire life.

So... a few pairs of shorts, more than a few t-shirts, a couple button-downs, a pair of khakis, sock, underwear, swim gear, run gear, bike gear, nutrition, and four pairs of shoes later and this is what I've got. Not so bad, eh?

I still have to pack my bike and a few other necessities, but I think this is a good first crack at the task at hand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quotable

As I was working up the motivation to hop into the pool at earlier than sunrise on Monday, Chris, the coach of the morning masters practice, paid me a compliment. "I like you, Andrew. You're always on time," he mused. "You show up and you swim hard, and you never complain."

A few days later, another of my coaches said something very similar. I've been spinning under the tutelage of Michael McCormack (also known as M2) for the past few months. After practice on Thursday, he pulled me aside to wish me well in Australia. "It's been a real pleasure working with you," he said to me, "You're dedication, your consistency - must be the swimmer in you. You get the set every day, and even though it's hard or it's boring, you just put your head down and bang it out."

Where have I heard that before?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Important Years

What would you say if I told you that the two most important years of my swimming career actually didn't involve any swimming?

By the end of my high school swimming career, I was burnt out. Two years of hard practice after hard practice with very little improvement left me completely discouraged. I went on to swim as a Freshman at Lehigh University, but my heart wasn't in it. I barely scraped through that first year... and at some point the following summer, I decided I was done.

Two great years went by. I suddenly found my schedule filled with free time that I would have otherwise spent swimming, preparing to swim or recovering from swimming. My grades improved. My social life improved. By all accounts, I was on the up-and-up. I even started cycling during this time. But every time I walked by the pool, the smell of chlorine triggered an intense, nostalgic reaction. As much as I didn't want to admit it to myself, I missed swimming. I missed it a lot.

Toward the end of my Junior year, I made a decision: I was going to join the team again. I had no idea what affect two years out of the water would have had. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to contribute to the team.  I didn't even know if I'd make the team. But I knew I'd never forgive myself if I didn't try.

On the first day of my senior year, I went to the gym and introduced myself to Rob Herb, the newly-christened head coach of the Lehigh swim team. He was a stocky guy - thickly built with glasses and a quick, clipped way of speaking. He was taking over a team of what I'm sure some of the big-wigs in the athletics department would have called "delinquents." Rob was coming on board not just to coach swimming, but to change the culture of the team. He was a man on a mission.

He also wasn't very impressed when I came into his office and told him I wanted to swim again. (Maybe it was the shoulder-length, curly mop of hair that I had grown over the past two summers. Maybe not.)

"I don't think you can really expect to come back and perform well after taking two years off," he said, skeptically, "I don't know. Captains practices start next week, if you want to try." It was a short conversation (as all conversations with Rob tended to be), but it was clear from the get go: he didn't like me, and he didn't think I could do it.

As an athlete who has typically been motivated by a positive relationship with his coach, this was something new for me. The way Rob spoke, it sounded like a challenge. Instead of I want to do well for you, it became I want to do well in spite of you. I wanted to prove him wrong - more for my sake than his.

So I came to the first team meeting and the first practices, and every practice there after. I was rusty, but I gritted my teeth and pushed through. My times weren't great, but there was no pressure for them to be - I had no expectations for myself. Just the simple act of swimming was a victory in and of itself. I made great friends, too. I don't know why I didn't see it the first time, but the swim team was teeming with awesome, awesome people.

Best of all, I was having fun: more fun, I think, than I'd ever had.

Relative to my "previous career" as a swimmer, my Senior year wasn't very impressive - but I made it. And I wasn't done. When I decided to stay at Lehigh for a fifth year (and graduate with a second degree), I also petitioned for a retroactive "red shirt". College athletes are typically allotted only fours years of NCAA eligibility - but they have five years to use them. Pending league approval, I was going to get to swim one more year.

When I told Coach Rob of this, he was just as skeptical then as he had been the first time. "I guess you made it through one year, so...." was the closest thing to a compliment I think he ever paid me.

That second season was awesome - my best by far. I posted lifetime best times in nearly every event, scored points for the team at championships and was even a mid-season member of the "A" medley relay squad. I did what they all said I shouldn't be able to do: I came back. The last meet of my career was the best meet of my career, and where most of my teammates graduated and vowed never to swim again, I still felt fresh.

That time off saved me. I quit, miserable and burnt out. I reset - both physically and mentally - over two years. I came back completely refreshed and finally hit the peak I'd been searching for since my Junior year of high school. And Rob's skepticism didn't hurt - in fact, it probably fueled part of the fire that drive me those final two seasons. As John Locke would say, "Don't tell me what I can't do!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Doubt

I capped off the fourth (yep, fourth) week of Build this weekend with a busy day that included a three-hour ride, a short run and a 2.5-mile swim in the bay. As a result, I could barely keep my eyes open past 9:00 PM for the second Saturday in a row. I'm tired.

Internally, I'm struggling with some of workout paranoia, like a student who isn't sure they've studied right for their final exam. Have I trained too much? Have I trained too little? Am I eating too much? Am I eating right? Should I be this tired? This sore? Am I sleeping enough? I feel like I'm precariously perched on the edge of being overtrained and I'm definitely looking forward to a few lighter weeks leading up to the race itself.

(Answers: Probably. Probably not, though I haven't run much. Probably. Probably. Probably not. Probably. Probably not.)

I feel like there's been a definite trade-off between endurance and power over the past eight weeks. In August and September, I was packing in tons of miles and my endurance felt seemingly limitless. Now, though, I've replaced a lot of that volume with shorter interval training and the energy supply doesn't feel nearly as... everlasting. Maybe it's just because I'm sore/tired and haven't been letting myself recover properly, but I have this sinking feeling that I should've kept up the long ride plan another four weeks or so.

This past week, I took Monday off and felt fantastic on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were okay: I went out for a long ride with Dan and Bret on Friday and would've liked to have felt stronger through the back half... I took today off, but I don't anticipate feeling fantastic tomorrow. Fortunately, these next two "Peak" weeks have an extra rest day each, so I'll be taking Wednesday off as well. C'mon body, get to recovering. You've just got to do a little bit more fine-tuning before the Big Day.

Hopefully I'm doing this right. Three weeks.





Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just Have Fun

All of this training has me thinking of how I got to this point. Athletically, I owe a lot to the various coaches I've had throughout the years. This post is the second in what will probably be a nostalgic, three-part miniseries of posts about the people who've had the most athletic impact on my seemingly life-long path to Ironman craziness.

----

When my family moved from Alaska to Delaware, I was heartbroken. I was leaving behind all of my friends, my swim coach and everything else familiar and I was not happy about it. When we arrived, I immediately joined the swim team deemed "the most serious" of the teams in our immediate area, because, well, I was "serious" about swimming.

I think I knew after the first practice that it wasn't a good fit. The coach, Dennis, was an ogre of a man, an ex-Navy S.E.A.L. with an anger management problem. He ran practice like a boot camp. The pool was small, dark, and over-chlorinated, and the swimmers... they were fine, by they weren't my friends from up north.

After a few months, the team was entered into a large swim meet in Newark - some kind of championship. I came down with a terrible flu just before the meet, but I went anyway. I think I swam one event, posted an absolutely miserable time, and then decided to bag the rest. I just didn't feel well, and I just wasn't motivated to perform. I wasn't having fun. My parents had me call the coach and tell him I was heading home early. He yelled at me. I never went back.

I went several months without dipping so much as a toe into the water. I'm not very good at meeting people, so making new friends was a slow process. By the end of the school year, my mom couldn't handle all of my moping. She looked into some summer swim teams. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to convince me to give one of them a shot.

Kent Swim Club was a sunny, outdoor pool about fifteen minutes from home. The coach, Benny Divita, was probably Dennis' polar opposite: young, relaxed, friendly, more than a little overweight and frequently hungover. His workouts were the same way (minus the alcohol) - he'd crack jokes, have conversations, give everyone funny nicknames... it was like being coached by the big brother I never had.

During that first tryout, I did a few laps of each stroke, and then Benny started talking to me about the team itself. I had questions about goals, weekly yardage, swim meets... He stopped me short. "Dude," he chuckled, "It's summer! Just have fun!"

As it turns out, Benny was a much better coach than he appeared to be on the outside. He was awesome: friend first, coach second. He revived swimming for me - I began to look forward to swim practice again! He and I went pretty far together, but the thing he tried his hardest to impart upon me wasn't stroke technique or work ethic - it was that very same thing he told me on that first day: "Just have fun."

Unfortunately, I struggled with this throughout high school and college. I qualified for Nationals during my Sophomore year in high school, but then hit a plateau. I found myself under a lot of pressure to perform - I felt like the expectations of my teammates (and of "lower Delaware") were too great. Looking for a quick fix, I decided to "upgrade" to a "more serious" swim team upstate with a "former Olympian" head coach. Benny was heartbroken. I still remember the hurt look on his face when I told him I wanted to be a part of a "stronger program."

The change eventually backfired - I forgot to have fun. By the end of my senior year (in high school), I was burnt out.

Benny passed away a few years ago - heart complications at 33. He went to the hospital complaining that he didn't feel well... and never left. I never had a chance to mend the fence with him. Looking back, leaving Benny for the upstate team is probably one of my biggest regrets.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let's Review!

It has recently come to my attention that there are still friends of mine out there who don't know that I'm traveling to Australia at the end of the month to compete in Ironman Western Australia. How is this possible*?! It's just about the only thing I've talked about for the past six months, if not longer!

Anyway, for those of you who are just finding out, or even for those of you who've organically stumbled upon my boring ol' blog, here's a quick recap to get you up to speed.

  • In February, I emailed Alex and we hatched this whole, crazy Ironman plan.
  • I spent March training. I did a pretty sweet swim one day, and an awesome mini-triathlon on another.
  • April was kind of dull. I pulled a few muscles. I got sick. I got rained on.
  • In May, I finished my first real Half Ironman event - the World's Toughest Half - in Auburn, California.
  • June was fun. I adopted a new diet and rode a 200K.
  • Volumes kept going up and up through July and August. The Livestrong Challenge was a definite highlight.
  • Oli, Kevin and I dominated an Ironman-distance relay, the Vineman. Seriously. We won.
  • At the end of July, Alex had to bail out on the trip. There was a 10-minute span where I wasn't sure the it would still happen, but after some soul-searching, I decided I had a lot of very good reasons to continue.
  • In September, I bought some sick wheels and broke the 5-hour mark in the Big Kahuna Half Ironman.
  • Then I hurt my foot. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as I thought.
  • Now I'm in the home stretch.

Seems crazy that nine months of blood, sweat and tears can be summarized so simply. I highly recommend you skim the archives of this blog - it's not all as boring as I may claim. Some of it might actually be pretty darn interesting. At the very least, please check out the eight or ten posts I highlight on the left-hand side of the page - the race reports and the recommended reading. At the ABSOLUTE minimum, read this one.

At this point, I'm four weeks away (less!) and ready to start tapering down. I've got most of my equipment sorted. I've got a lot of the preliminary kinks to work out, trip-wise. Buckle your seatbelts - it's full-speed ahead to race-day.

* - Side note: I blame Facebook for this. Everyone is so used to having their old friend's lives spoon-fed to them. Our society is getting lazy - keeping in touch has become passive, not active. Wake up, people! Your Facebook network is a subset of your social circle, not the other way around. End rant.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nicknames

Some of my favorite things about the sport of cycling - or any sport, really, but cycling especially - are the nicknames. The annals of cycling history are brimming with great nicknames that don't just sound cool, but also capture the essence of those they reference.

Merckx
Eddy Merckx's relentless attacking style earned him the nickname the Cannibal. Marco Pantani, with his gold earring and bandana was called the Pirate. Lance Armstrong has been known as the Boss, and Jan Ullrich der Kaiser.

One of the peloton's best descenders, Paolo Salvodelli, is called, the Falcon. Little Paolo Bettini, the diminutive Italian sprint ace, was called Cricket. Laurent Fignon was the Professor, Bernard Hinault, the Badger.

Tornado Tom Boonen
Mark Cavendish is the Manx Missile. Fabian Cancellara is Spartacus. Michael Rasmussen is the Chicken. And my personal favorite: Alexandr Kolobnev earned the nickname the Sniper for his habit of fiercely contesting a single, one-day race per season - and then spending a year reloading.

Kearse
Other sports have good nicknames, too. Before there was Tim Lincecum, former Philadelphia Eagle Javon Kearse's ridiculous wingspan had people around the league calling him the Freak. One of my favorite players of all time, Brian Dawkins, has always been known as Weapon X. Outside of sports, Neil Peart of the legendary prog-rock band Rush (and probably the best rock drummer in human history), is called the Doctor - because when he comes in to the studio to lay down a track, he "puts on a clinic."

I've had a few nicknames in my day. Unfortunately, none of them were as cool as the ones above ("Tornado Tom" excluded). Let's see.

Buddy (1983-1988) - This is what my dad used to call me (and still does, sometimes) when I was very little. When I was really young, he'd ask me, "You want a cookie, buddy?" For years, I thought "cookies" were actually called "buddies." Kind of a Pavlovian association?

Little Andrew (1985-2001) - I have an uncle (on my dad's side) named Andrew. When I came onto the scene, he became "Big Andrew" and I became "Little Andrew." This is still how I'm called by the Valko clan when I head home for the holidays.

Alaskan Boy (1997-1999) - When the family moved to Delaware from Alaska, I joined a local swim team in Dover. Having not really been exposed to the sun in years, I was white. WHITE. You should see the team photo - I can be pinpointed in two seconds. Mark Woodall started calling me Alaskan Boy and that stuck around until I established myself as the team's most dominant breaststroker.

Crash (2003-2005) - I spent two summers during college as an intern at Air Products and Chemicals, and this is just about the time I bought my first real road bike. There was a small crew of relatively serious cyclists that would ride during lunch - 17-22 miles, fast - and I'd go out with them several days a week. Once, early on, I didn't realize the group was coming to a stop at an intersection and had to scramble/unclip/intentionally swerve into a ditch to avoid rear-ending the other riders. From then on, they called me Crash. It's okay though, because before I moved away, Alex and I made a point to ride back out to APCI and totally own them on their lunch route.

Will (2006-2008) - This is not a sporting nickname at all. After college, I took a job with IBM. On the first day, Scott and I made a bet: who could introduce themselves by their middle name the longest? I won. For two years, everyone in the IBM world knew me as "Will." (This was also my own, personal way of stickin' it to the man. A corporation can't suck your soul away if they don't even know your real name, right?)

Rabbit (2006-2008) - After college and during my stint with IBM, I moved back in with my parents. I was on the road so much that it just didn't make sense to pay to rent an apartment on my own. On weekends, my dad, his friend Cabot and I would head out for flat rides on the Ohio rails-to-trails system. Cabot took to calling my dad the wolf, partly because of his salt-and-pepper hair and weekend scruff, and calling me the rabbit, because they always seemed to be chasing me. Good memories.

The Phanatic (2008-2010) - This nickname was more talked about than put to use, but when the Mission Cycling crew found out about my obsession with Philadelphia sports, they coined this one for me.

Pocket Rocket (2010) - The small group of folks who I swim with in the mornings has apparently been calling me this for some time now. I am probably the shortest guy at morning practice, but I also lead the fast lane. I am noticing a trend here - most of my nicknames seem to serve as a commentary on my height. Stupid height! I'd much rather be tall and fast than short and fast!

That's about all I can think of right now - I don't think I missed any. Despite this lengthy list, most of my teammates through the years have simply called me Valko. So unless you have a better nickname than the ones above, Valko'll do just fine. In the meantime, I'll see if I can't earn myself something slightly more bad ass in Busselton this coming December.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Long Ramble About Nutrition

One of my good cycling buddies, Alex, reads my blog fairly regularly. (I know, right? I think he's one of three people who actually read my blog regularly, parentals included.) The other day, he pointed out that I hadn't really written a post about the excruciatingly dull diet I've been struggling with for parts of the past six months. So... here goes! Prepare to be all like, "WTF?!"

I was a swimmer in college. Actually, if you read my recent post about my first swim coach, you'll remember that I've actually been swimmer for the almost two-thirds of my life. And for 53 54th's of my life, I haven't given a crap about the food I put into my body.

Scratch that: I've given a crap... that I refused to eat most green things. Actually, if it came from the ground and wasn't a potato, I probably wasn't a fan. And if that potato'd been chopped, sliced and fried, well, that's even better. I was the anti-vegan.

Back to being a swimmer in college. During those years, I was packing in roughly 50,000 yards per week. The team would bust out eight or ten grand in an afternoon and then we'd camp out in the corner of Rathbone, the closest dining hall. We'd stay there for hours. We'd go for seconds, thirds. Chicken-Finger-Wednesday was THE BEST. At that point especially, I just didn't care what I ate. I was burning it off. Whatever. It didn't matter.

More recently, I'd become a compulsive snacker with a serious sweet-tooth and easy access to peanut M&Ms. I'd noticed a dependency on sugar, junkfood, the works -- and I didn't like it.

Now that I'm out of college, I've come to realize something. Sure, you can work hard, bust your ass and burn off all of the calories you consume... but you can do so much better if those calories are good calories and not shitty ones. And the more I read about this, the more I regret not being conscious of it back in the Lehigh days. I wonder how much further I could have pushed myself had I put that last puzzle piece in place.

So anyway, when I set out to do this Ironman, I made a deal with myself that I would try to do just that. I bought a book co-written by training guru Joe Friel and read it once or twice. I probably don't follow it as strictly as I should, but hey, I'm doing my best.

The base diet I'm on is what's known as the Paleo diet, which may sound similar to the Atkins diet, but I assume there are differences. It's called Paleo because the foods prescribed are the same foods that the Paleolithic hunter/gatherers used to eat. It's what your body most easily processes. (Coincidentally, it's the diet that they recommend for most centenarians. The key to a long life?) The diet discourages the consumption of starches (pasta, rice, bread, etc.) and dairy (milk, cheese). Essentially, you're supposed to replace those lost calories with additional proteins (meat), fruits and vegetables. I think this is all based on the idea that the calories (and fiber, etc.) you get from a good, crunchy head of broccoli are actually way better for your body than the equivalent calories of spaghetti.

The book's primary focus is on what kinds of foods to eat when; how should your pre-workout meal be composed? What should I be eating during a short ride? How about a long one? What's the best thing to eat immediately after a workout? Two hours after? Six hours after? The book adapts that diet for athletes and prescribes carbohydrate and protein intake before, during and immediately after workouts - times when your body is most receptive to the simple energies that kind of food can provide.

Adapting the diet isn't easy. As I said before, I think my body became slightly dependent on periodic junkfood fixes and the first two or three weeks after quitting them was not fun. I was tired and irritable. I wasn't recovering well. It was definite withdrawal.

But after your body adapts, good things start to happen. You feel better. You sleep better. Do you recover better? I don't know, to be honest. Are you stronger? Faster? Don't know that, either. But I know I'm not worse. And I'm healthier. Just all-around healthier - and that's a good thing, Ironman or no. So maybe it's a wash, except now I've a little peace of mind - and that's not a wash at all.

At this point, I've replaced most of my snacking with snacking of a different sort. Peanut M&Ms have been replaced with cashews and pecans. Other sugary snacks have been replaced with raisins, craisins and other dried fruit. I seriously must consume more dried cranberries than any other person on this planet. (This is actually where one of my biggest cheats comes into play; you're really not supposed to eat dried fruits like that any time except after rides. The high glycemic load of raisins is great for recovery. Anyway, whatever, let me enjoy this ONE THING.) I eat two or three apples a day. Lunch now consists of a massive, protein-rich salad. It's pretty awesome.

And what's funny is, I really even miss the stuff I've cut out very much. Cheese? Yeah, cheese is pretty awesome, but I don't sit here wishing I could chomp on my own personal wheel. And I'm not starving, either. In fact, I might be doing the opposite: because I know what I'm eating is all good for me, I might actually be over eating. Too much of a good thing is the kind of problem you want to have, though.

I will say this, though: I am definitely looking forward to a bad-ass Chipotle burrito and a pint of hoppy beer after this Ironman's through. Mmm, beer.