Episode 48: The Jersey Show with Stephen Del Monte

Stephen Del MonteThe podcast is available HERE for streaming or can be heard on iTunes, Stitcher, OneCast, or your favorite podcast app.

Our guest tonight was race director Stephen Del Monte of Delmosports. Stephen is a very personable man and you can feel his love of racing and of triathlon when he speaks. The founder of Challenge Atlantic City, Escape the Cape, and Atlantic City International Stephen not only puts on races he walks the path, racing Escape from Alcatraz to make sure he knew how to race that type of event. A former social worker and middle school teacher, he was named race director of the month in September 2012 by Active.com after Atlantic City went from 400 racers to over 1200 in a year.

Stephen shares his love of racing, his love of creating, and his overall philosophy in life … a great interview.  We also talked about the physics of wood vs. concrete.

John saw the movie Fed Up last week and highly recommends it. It is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

A shout out to “St. Elmo’s Fire” … a classic of the 80’s!!

The Point of the Journey is Not to Arrive: Race Report by Jennifer Cultrera

20141012_093605_resizedJennifer was kind enough to write-up a race report for me for her International Distance race last weekend, Rocketman at Cape Canaveral. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Point of the Journey is Not to Arrive

I was listening to my favorite podcast, IM: Year One, and this quote hit very close to home. This blog is meant to be a race report and we will get to that in a bit.

I am always running from one place to the next. Tackling the next goal in my life. Make it through college, get through medical school, finish residency, excel in fellowship and finally go out and be a “real doctor”. It took me some time to figure it out, but I have finally found my niche. Even on my most harried of days, it is a wonderful blessing to be able to wake up in the morning and look forward to knowing that I will be able to help heal and comfort those who are in my care with the help of a skilled and dedicated team. To quote another great movie, “It’s awesome to be part of a team!”

Knowing this, I still look to the next level, the next goal in my life. In my career, build my practice to all it can be and give back to my patients, research, and our team. In my life, find my home and build a family. In my training, go to the next level of endurance training and finish a long course triathlon (140.6 miles of awesomeness).

Yet, although every moment of my day is filled to the brim, I find myself lost, lacking something so vital that my days run into one another.  In the past few months a big transition happened that allowed me to free up some mental space and allow me to look inside. I am still dissecting through what I am learning is to be better at just being. Not living moment to moment, but living for the moment, in the moment.

Taking those precious minutes out of every day to just be. To everyone the way we achieve that freedom is different. Some go tend their gardens, some spend time with their children, some take it a field to play sports, and then there are those of us who get our gear and go swim, bike or run…or if you’re crazy enough all three.

So as my life changes, schedules get busier, old friends get lost, new ones are found (along with some old ones along the way), I think I made a big step to realize that it’s not about getting to the next goal in life, the next level. It is about living in this life. Leaving it all out there in this moment and most of all acknowledging the present moment. I challenge you to find that “thing” that gives you that bliss, that peace, that Truth in finding yourself.

After searching through several paths, I thought I had found a way to that Truth. Sitting or standing in poses, listening to mantras, focusing inward in hours of meditation. It did help quiet my mind, but it did nothing to help me find that stillness. All that time, I had forgotten the one thing that brought my mind, body and spirit together… being outside, feeling the sun against my skin, feeling the wind around me and in me as I breathed, and feeling every fiber of my body responding my will to get it to move. Coming back to training and racing brought me home. I find Truth in who I am and what I do when I am moving, when my heart races to fuel that muscle, to take that extra stroke, extra pedal or step. I can turn inwards and focus on the moving parts of our amazing bodies.

And I found that bliss on a highway riding towards the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) in a bright sunny morning in Titusville Florida last weekend….

THE SWIM (or better, open water running)

The swim is held in the Indian River (otherwise known as the intercostal for any of us who have spent time in South Florida). It is salty but calm and watching the sunrise behind it as we prepared to enter the water through a few hastily put together steps was spectacular. I will not lie. I was nervous. The swim is my weakest sport. I am plagued by weak shoulders, little to no training, and asthma which will send me into bronchospasm depending on how cold the water is or how much I get jostled around. So the butterflies were very active when I thought about the 0.9 mile out and back swim ahead of me. Thankfully, Cindy, John and Jamie were all there to comfort me and show me I could do this.

It was an in water start. I don’t call it a swim start because the water was up to your waist all the wait out to the first buoy. You could walk the entire sprint distance and for the International distance it was still only 8 feet deep at its deepest point. At first I was happy about that, but I sometimes a crutch can be a detriment. The water was warm and smooth as glass. The sun against the water was blindingly beautiful (but did make it hard to see the cones).

And we were off…it was slow for me. My shoulder protested, but soon got into the groove. My breathing and heart rate settled in. When my shoulder hurt too bad, I put my feet down and walked giving it a rest. This turned out to be a good thing, but also a negative as nearing the end of the swim my right calf began to cramp. Turns out water walking is harder on the calves, who knew?! LOL

Getting to the exit, I was worried, there was 4 foot ledge you had to climb on from the water with no steps or ladder. The guys at the edge were busy, so I did my thing and beached myself like a whale…hey it wasn’t pretty, but I made it up without injuries and headed for transition.

T1 – Where is my brush and hair dryer?

As the title implies, I took way too long to get through this, but I know practice will help me do better in the future. It was well-marked and after getting myself settled and changed I was ready to roll. The only negative is the 20-30 feet of running with your bike, cleats on sugar sand and grass/mud before the bike mounting area. Cleats were full of gunk and I had a bit of a time getting clipped in.


As a child I wanted to be an astrophysicists, yes, a rocket scientist. My father is an electrical engineer and I grew up with circuit boards, math equations, dreams of going into space watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” on PBS. So heading out onto the main road and seeing the image of the shuttle (Inspiration) at the Astronaut Hall of Fame entrance, then to the Visitor’s Complex and seeing the solid rocket boosters made my day. The course is flat (just one small drawbridge … take care with the grates!) and fast. There are headwinds and cross winds but we were lucky and Nature kept it to a minimum. Turning into the restricted area of the complex, you get to see the beautiful VAB in the distance as your race towards it. On your left and right area various buildings with rockets behind and to the sides of them. The sheer immensity of some of these machines to help carry the equipment was amazing. At the turn-around you end up right in front of a launch pad. I couldn’t help myself and stopped to take pictures and take it all in.

T2 – Noodle legs

It was a bit longer bike than a traditional International distance, 30 miles out and back so after again little to no training my legs were protesting. I slid on the dismount but a volunteer grabbed my shoulder and helped prevent the fall. T2 went faster and I was off to the run.

THE RUN – All you have to do is follow the cones, or so I thought.

The run takes you through a different direction away from the launch area to the museums and space airport. It is flat and without much shade. The highlights are running through the War Bird museum and seeing the veterans with their plans of the Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm…what a feat of technology. I am honored to be able to have thanked and sweaty hugged these men and women who defended my life at the sake of their own. These are the true heroes of our country. The true celebrity and stars. Thank YOU to our armed forces.

By the time I got to the Space Airport I was hot. Not just hot, but damn hot, some would say, crotch pot cooking HOT! My knee was hurting. My shoulder was aching. My legs were so heavy I didn’t think I could lift them for the next step. So I concentrated on anything else. I felt the sun on every inch of my skin. Felt the occasional breeze around me. Saw nature for the colors that you can only see miles away from any skyscraper and major highway. The blue bliss of the sky the bright greens of the trees surrounding me.  I marveled at the feel of the breeze when it did pass and how wonderful the water felt in my throat…that’s when I realized this is what I had been looking for. Peace. Stillness. Just the feeling of me and world, out for a run. I didn’t care whether I finished first or last. Just to be.

Soon I came to the International distance turn-around point and had a bit of an argument with the volunteer. The cones continued past our turn around for the Half distance athletes. I was a little bit heat exhausted and a little bit in meditative state so I kept insisting I had to follow the cones. Thanks to a persistent volunteer who brought me some ice and water I realized he was right and headed back.

I was euphoric to have gotten to race this course and seeing the small-scale replica, Inspiration in the distance I picked up the pace. After four hours and 51 minutes I crossed the finish line and was awarded a finisher’s medal by a service woman. Tears came to my eyes after I thanked her for her service and she told me, “Thank YOU for being out here today, you are amazing.” We hugged and I wobbled my way to John to help me recover from the heat exhaustion which all hit at once.

It was an amazing race and amazing day. I realized then that although we are all plagued with work duties and duties that we have to find the time to do what brings us that joy. What makes us live in the moment. For me that is the training. At one point I saw that my training was getting to be a duty in order to make the next level, the next distance. It disheartened me. Yet now I see that even the small distances bring me joy. It is about getting out there and doing it because of the joy, not because of the distance.

So there will be changes in the near future….all to help me along my journey. I hope I never “arrive” because I am just starting to have fun getting there.

The Culture of Aggression

Culture ofI AM SOOOO ANGRY!!!

Not really, but I am going to write about it in this post and thought I’d get everyone in the correct mindset.

We have turned into an angry society. You see it everywhere. What was once an honest question meant to elicit answers and maybe fact sharing and interesting conversation turns quickly into name calling, passive aggressive behavior, hurt feelings when none was intended, and the world we live in has become a hostile one. Social media has turned everyone into health experts and political scientists … and has effectively removed honest and healthy discourse. If it’s not the vegans jumping on the paleo community because they are questioning the true amount of protein required in a normal human diet, it’s the paleo people jumping on the vegans for trying to suggest humans are meant to be vegetarian, and no matter what either says someone is going to blame Obama for it because, well, everything is his fault (and you BETTER not dare to question THAT good people or you will be in a flame war for DAYS).

It’s all exhausting, and if it wasn’t for a need to be involved in social media for the blog and the podcast it would be very tempting to take a hiatus from all the noise.

I truly don’t understand most of it. And I am not saying I am innocent of it either. I have been drawn into conversations and arguments when I know better. There is no winning in these discussions because there is no logic. Facts of science can be presented to people but if they do not believe it nothing you say is going to sway them. A republican is a republican. A democrat is a democrat. Obama could cure cancer and 50% of the country would still find fault with him. It’s just the nature of the beast.

I am discovering that when people really believe something to be true they expect you to believe it without question, and if you DO question something they say it is not usually met with helpful guidance and explanation, but rather with snarky remarks or outright hostility. This is especially true with nutrition, and more than especially true when dealing with the fringe believers; the vegans and the paleo practitioners. Neither like to answer questions, and they REALLY don’t like answering questions when there is no answer (kind of like asking a priest or nun the innocent child-like question of “if Adam and Eve were the first people and had two sons, where did their wives come from?” That question got my wrists swatted with a ruler on three occasions. And I still have no idea what the answer is.). Some of the beliefs don’t make sense to me, so I ask questions, and instead of getting mindful, thoughtful answers I am normally met with, well, almost outright hostility, like how dare I question them at all. Just BELIEVE brother and ye shall be delivered. Maybe so, but still doesn’t explain the protein question.

Like I said, I am not innocent in this. I am guilty of passive aggressive behavior on more than one occasion. Well, let me be more clear. I have been accused of passive aggressive behavior, because some assume that if I don’t use their name in an example I give that means I am attacking them covertly. That’s not the case. If I see something that brings a point to mind and I write about it, I don’t use a name directly because it is not about you directly. It’s about the action or issue itself. So, for example, if you post a picture of a Taco Bell breakfast item, and I comment in my blog about the Taco Bell breakfast item and how bad it is, I am not attacking you, and to be honest I am done apologizing for your feelings.

The internet has forgiven voice to people who normally would not say the things they do. It has turned high school dropouts into political scientists and average athletes into nutrition experts. The bottom line is this, ALWAYS question what you read. Do your research and find your own answers. We have to rescue civil discourse at some point. Hating people for what they eat, or their training routines, or what side of an aisle they sit on, or what they write about does no one any good.

Just … Stop

Episode 47: Free Therapy with Zach Ahlstedt

r-I-LOST-WEIGHT-large570The podcast is available HERE for streaming or can be heard on iTunes, Stitcher, OneCast, or your favorite podcast app.

Mr. Zachary Ahlstedt joins us to share his amazing weight loss story. Zach has progressed for “one of us” to an Ironman has been profiled in Runners World (October 2014) and in the Huffington Post (02/06/2013 HERE). He has an amazing story and some real insight about moving from being the “heavy guy” into being the athlete. He’s also been through many of the issues Andrew and I have with friends and family. A great listen, and loads of free therapy for all!! You can contact Zach through twitter using @ZachIsRunning.

Andy shares with us his Walking Dead and Breaking Bad theory in true Andy fashion ….

Spoiler Alerts for the first episode of Walking Dead by the way ….

Episode 46: Tales from the Director’s Side

r2r_logo_png_tagThe podcast is available HERE for streaming or can be heard on iTunes, Stitcher, OneCast, or your favorite podcast app.

Mr. Wayne Kursh, a race director in Delaware who has been doing this for over 35 years, joins us to discuss the issues revolving around putting on a race and technology involved. This then starts delving into the story of Kip Litton, a dentist from Flint, Michigan, and the story of him faking races and results. A great article on this guy can be seen HERE. There’s also an entire blog dedicated to looking at his story HERE.

Wayne also shares with us some stories from the road, so to speak. His years of experience provides untold number of stories.

The Ten Sister race can be seen here

The show is full of chatting about racing, especially in the mid-Atlantic region, the perceived fall off of triathlon participation, medal chasing, and racing year round in Florida. Hope you like the show, and if you do please take a moment and leave us a nice review on iTunes.


Nutritional Thoughts

S T A R TI haven’t written about nutrition in a while so I thought it was time to revisit this subject. Mostly because it garners so much conversation, but also because the amount of misinformation out there is so misleading it irritates me. I know in the past when I have written on this subject I have angered some, but once more let me explain that if I use something as an example that the reader happens to agree with, disagree with, or feels I am personalizing it, know that it is not meant that way. Something “you” have done personally, or I have seen a post or tweet about, may have brought a subject to my head but it does not mean I am personally attacking you or that I even care about what you eat. I don’t. It’s your life, so do whatever you want, but don’t expect me to turn a blind eye and never mention it. That isn’t going to happen.

It’s a lot like the Little Debbie sponsorship of Ironman Chattanooga. Most people had no issue with this, but I do. Does this mean there should be a boycott of Ironman? No. Not at all. I get that it’s a business and they have to make money, and I also get that not everyone has the ethics I have. I am not now, nor will I ever, endorse something on these pages that I don’t agree with in the interest of money. I like money. I’d like to have more of it, but I am not selling myself out for it. I know that some don’t believe that, but it is true. If Kellogg came to me today and offered $1 million to advertise on my site I would turn them down. I know that is hard to believe for some, but that is their own ethical dilemma, not mine. I am the same way with Chik-Fil-A. I will admit that I used to LOVE Chik-Fil-A, but I will not go to one any more. Not because the food is not good for me, but because of their support of hate groups and the fact that they fired a women manager so that she could be a Stay At Home mother.  So when I see a thread on a social media site asking for recommendations for a coach, and one coach says that they are good because they told their clients to partake of oatmeal creme pies during their taper, well, that is just wrong, and disingenuous. The funny thing about that string was of course I said something, which I am known to do, and I get numerous direct private messages from other coaches basically saying that “thanks for saying something because I don’t want to and appear I am bad mouthing another coach”. I disagree. If someone is giving out bad information, I feel it is your responsibility to call it out. Just me I guess.

This all tracks back to Ancel Keys, who managed to convince politicians that obesity and heart disease was caused by cholesterol. Never mind the fact that there is no evidence of this being true. The American Heart Association pounded on this, which in turn influenced the USDA, and lo and behold, the Standard American Diet is now low-fat and high carb. The USDA started recommending this diet in 1980, when the obesity rate in the US was 847 million. The current obesity rate in the US is now 2.1 billion (CDC website). Keys was also the person that convinced people who BMI was the measurement for obesity. It isn’t. The point is this, we, as humans, survived for millions of years eating high fat, low carb food, so how is it now bad for us?

The sad fact is also that most doctors don’t get it. Let’s leave coaches out for a second, because most of them just follow what has been fed to them in their online certification class. Hippocrates said to “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” yet the curriculum in most medical school is devoid of nutrition (or it is touched on barely). Doctors are spoon-fed these same USDA guidelines and are told to dispense this to their patients. When a physician is brave enough to venture away from this line of though, they are ridiculed, attacked in journals and professional circles, and discredited to the point of losing licenses to practice. The power of politics over science is very strong.

Maybe simplicity is the key here?

The body, if it came with an ingredient list, would be, in order; Water, Protein, Fat, Minerals, Carbs, Vitamins. We are told from a very early age that “we are what we eat” so it stands to reason the most simple answer here is to eat in the quantities with which we are made. High protein, high fat, low carb. but then the question of how much of each come up. The vegans will say (and have on social media) that you only need 8-10% protein in your diet. Where does this come from? Our old friend the USDA whose guidelines for adults are 10-35% protein, 30% carbs, and 20-35% fat. There are many different takes on this. Obviously the vegan, because they don’t eat meat, is going to side with the low-end of this scale because, well, because it fits what they believe. So let’s do the math. If you eat a 2000 calorie per day diet, that is 200 calories of protein to meet the 10%. 200 calories of protein is 50g (each gram of protein is 4 calories, so 200/4=50). How many beans do you need to eat to reach 50g?

So lets look at another method. The RDA standard for maintaining muscle mass is .7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, so for a 200 pound man this is 140-200 grams of protein each day. Quite a difference right? The same 200 pound man as a vegan would only eat 50g vs. 200g. If you believe the RDA, then only eating 50g would result in a loss of lean muscle mass, which would make sense when you see these thin, emaciated runners. Don’t believe me? Google pictures of Olympic long distance runner who mostly eat high carb diets and then look for pictures of printers and hurdlers who eat mostly high protein diets. Go ahead … I’ll wait.

See the difference?


I am not meaning to say one style of eating is superior. If you choose to be a vegan, hey, go forth and do good things. Most vegans I know do it for ethical reasons, and I totally get that (though one thing I’d like to ask, and I am not being a smart ass … I’d really like to know … is what the purpose of a cow or chicken is other than providing meat? I tried googling this and could find nothing.) so I would never say that what they are doing is wrong. And I also understand that everyone is different. Studies have shown that about 20-25% of people can process sugar, for example, with no issues. The problem arises when these 25% have a strong voice and can influence the other 75% that sugar is OK and if they can’t handle it something must be wrong the “them”. Another sticking point for me is when the vegan crowd states something along the lines of “humans are meant to be vegans”. No. We are not. There is no proof of that. In fact we do not share anything in common with the traits of vegetarians animals (eyes on the side of the head, one stomach, etc.). But the human body is a wondrous thing, and the fact that we can adapt, and excel given enough time, to any environment says something about us as a species.

I guess the bottom line is, as always, to find what works for you and do that, but try not to mask your personal beliefs in a cloak of pseudo-science. You can find studies that back anything you want to back. The old joke goes that a priest went to a researcher and asked for scientific research proving the existence of God. The research scientist stated that he had 200 papers showing the universe was created billions of years ago and that man has been on the earth for millions of years, and he had one that showed man had only been for 3500 years and that science had made up the rest to move the world from God.

“I’ll take that one”, the priest said.

Episode 45: Leave the Sand at the Beach – A Chat with Vinnie Tortorich

TortorichThe podcast is available HERE for streaming or can be heard on iTunes, Stitcher, OneCast, or your favorite podcast app.

The man, Vinnie Tortorich, joins us in our conversational method to discuss, as usual music music music, true geeks one and all.

Carol Alt has a TV Show and Mr. Tortorich will be on it … make sure to catch it if you can.

BREAKING NEWS (kinda): Sony Pictures has inquired about optioning Fitness Confidential for a TV Show. Yow!!

The big news is Vinnie’s new venture, the Vitamin Club. Vinnie has spent over 15 months working on a vitamin that is truly all natural with no fillers. I think he has succeeded, and the price of $10 per month truly cannot be beaten for the product you are getting. Take a moment and check it out.

Don’t miss Serena Scott-Thomas in the movie “Inherent Vice” … show your love!!

Our Happy Fun Ball moment


Missing Chattanooga

ironman-chattanooga-logoThis is the weekend … a whole year of training and suffering is down to one day. The weather is clear, the water beautiful, the wind is calm … and at the end of 17 hours I will hear those words … :John Harris – YOU are an IRONMAN.

Or so it was to be …

As you all know, the plans that began last October with such promise and excitement was reduced, by March, to injuries and a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. Plans gone. Even the second idea of changing to a 70.3 quickly went away due to .. well … life issues. All gone.

Am I upset?

To be honest I thought I would be more upset than I am. I know Sunday I will be tracking my local Tampa people with a combined sense of awe and jealousy, but I am not upset. I have come to grips with what happened, and I know there was really no way to have a successful experience in Tennessee, so I made the right decision. I know that.


I keep trying to convince myself …

As I sit here on Saturday, after enduring a very disappointing workout at Orange Theory which followed yet another weight gain day, I am fighting depression. I am seeing all of the pictures of the people from Tampa up at the race and I am envious, but at the same time very excited to see how they all do. The four that I mainly follow; KC, Mary, Beth, and Stacey will all, I have no doubt, do very, very well. I  would have liked to have provided them more support on the training side than I was able to do, but I am there in spirit, whether they need it or not, and I will race vicariously through them tomorrow morning.

The question keeps coming up in the podcast about next year, and Jennifer and I have discussed it, about the possibility of giving it another try in 2015. I am not sure, to be honest, whether I will be ready, or if I really even have the right motivation and mindset to give it a try. I can tell you honestly that right now the answer is no. I am not prepared physically or mentally for that challenge. My current plan is to race the Central Florida Triathlon Series (4 races) in Clermont and the Crystal River Series (3 races). I would also like to do HITS in March and St. Anthony’s in April. But that is all I am looking at currently.

Also, “Ironman” has lost a bit of its luster for me. Not the distance, but more the brand. I find myself being drawn more to the smaller race venues, like DRC Sports and Sommer Sports, and even REV3 (now owned by Challenge Family). There are just some business decisions Ironman has made recently that bother me, and I know some find that silly, but if I do a race I would like to believe in that race, so when a company takes on “Little Debbie”, or chocolate milk as a sponsor, I have a hard time supporting them. I know some are not bothered by such things, and I understand it’s a business and they need sponsorship’s in order to fund the races, but there should be a line in the sand. How can I write about the dangers and unhealthiness of sugar and then race at an event sponsored by the very thing I write against? It’s the same issue I have with Chik-Fil-A.  I support a businesses right to operate under their own guidelines, but if they are in direct opposition to what I believe in then I cannot, in good conscience, support them. I don’t begrudge anyone else wanting to buy into the corporate hype, but it’s just not who I am or what I want to represent.

So, I sit here on Sunday, preparing to watch my Dolphins lose again, and tracking the Ironman race on my computer and laptop. As I type this everyone has gotten through the swim and are doing very well at this point. I will join them one day, maybe not as an Ironman, but as a 140.6 mile finisher.

One day …

Swimming Tips from the FST

Fat Slow Triathlete - Swimming TipsI know what you’re thinking, especially if you have followed me over the past 4 triathlon seasons. I hear you out there.

“How can you, the master of the swim panic, offer advice on getting through a triathlon swim??”

It is precisely for that reason that I can offer advice. I panic in the water. Not so much any more, because I have learned over the past few years how to combat it, but I still have those moments when I feel like I can’t breathe. Case in point was my most recent race, the 4th Central Florida Triathlon Series in Clermont. I was clipping along about half way to the first turn buoy when a large (LARGE) man cut right in front of me (obviously he was off course and was trying to correct himself). As I came up to site he went directly over my arms and on his kick swiped my goggles from my face and caused me to take a nice big gulp of lake water. To clarify, and to remind those of you who follow me, I have throat and nerve damage from thyroid cancer, so any “tickle” in the back of my throat can cause my airway to seize up and I cannot breathe. This did not happen to the full extent that it has before, but it did cause me to panic a little while trying to cough and get cleared. A kayak was nearby so I made my way over and grabbed on, hacking up a lung, trying to get my goggles back on, and trying to convince the support person that I wasn’t dying. After about three minutes I pushed off and completed the swim (beating the guy who did this to me as well) in 12:40 (400m). Taking off the 3:00 lost I was right where I had been in years past, so it was a bit disappointing.

I recount all of that to say this: two years ago my race would have been over, but because I have mentally gotten through so many with this happening I have learned how to make it through despite these issues that arise. Beginner in triathlon often state that the swim is what gives them the most trouble. It causes the most anxiety and is the hardest for people to prepare for while training (either because they only have access to a pool or they have no access to water at all). People also make the mistake of looking at the swim as “just” a certain distance, and not worth training for as much as running or cycling because proportionately it is such a small part of the full race. This is a mistake. The swim may be just 2% of an Ironman, but a bad swim can mess you up mentally for a full race, and a good swim, coming out of the water feeling strong and in control, goes a long way during a long day.

So I am going to offer some hints and tips that I have learned in the 4 years I have been racing. Some are well-known, and some may not be, but all have become important in my views and experience. Take from it what you will, and feel free to add to the list in the comments.

Prepare for the Race Conditions

You should never start a race without ever training for the conditions expected. If it’s a lake swim, find a lake. If it’s an ocean swim, get in the ocean. A pool will NEVER prepare you mentally for the race. We see this all the time at St. Anthony’s. I usually race this event as part of Team in Training (TNT), and TNT sends groups from all over the country for this event. It is always amazing to us Floridians when we meet up the Saturday before the race and see the groups from Ohio, New York, etc. as they gaze at the course and see the waves, the chop, the current. PAnic is all over their face. Those of us that live here sometimes forget how lucky we are to have access to the ocean 12 months a year.

Race … A LOT

I would personally suggest racing as much as you can afford to race. You need to get comfortable with having people around you at the start and while making turns. Race shorter races, like sprints and olympics, leading up to your 70.3 or 140.6 events. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, you do in training can prepare you for a race environment. Get out there as much as you can.

Make Sure You Can Handle the Stress

Deaths happen in triathlon. We all read the papers. We all see the race reports. Recently in Australia we lost a racer that was otherwise healthy. It happens. KNOW YOUR BODY. All but a very few of the deaths in these races were during the swim, and not from drowning, but from heart issues. The swim is stressful, and if you are not ready for it physically or mentally you are asking for trouble. Get checked before training even starts. The American Heart Association has a 12 step assessment for athletes that you can follow. Use it. In addition, know the warning signs and HEED them. If you start feeling chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, etc. then get out of the water or raise your hand for assistance. Gutting out pain, or being an “Ironman” is not worth dying for. Be smart.

Never Use New Gear On Race Day

This should be a given, and not specific to the swim. It’s a triathlete’s mantra. But it is amazing how many people still do it. New goggles, new wetsuit that has never been worn (see my reference to the norther TNT teams above), a recently fitted bike that has never been ridden, shoes that have never been run in, nutrition strategy not tested in training. Don’t make this silly error. There will be times that it is required, say if your goggles break and you have to use a back-up pair (or none at all), but that is rare. Use everything during training.

Warm Up

This might be an issue in Ironman branded races, as there are some course that will not allow you in the water prior to the start. This has been addressed recently as part of the Swim Safe initiative but can still be a problem in river swims from a dock (Augusta for example). If they allow it, get in the water before you swim. It will do wonders for your mental state. Trust me on this. I have my routine now. I get to transition, get set up, then I head to the water … regardless of how I am feeling mentally. Sometimes just sitting in it helps me, and I have had much fewer panic instances since adopting this policy.

Swim Calm

The mantra of the Fat Slow Triathlete is “Swim Calm, Bike Strong, Run Steady”. You’ve heard me say this before I am sure. There was a reason for this collection of words. I panic in the swim, so I need to swim calm. My strength was the bike, so I bike as strong as I can. My weakness is the run, so I focus on a stead gait and pace. When you get in the water don’t try to race from the whistle. Find a spot of water that is “clean” and get into a rhythm. Focus on your breathing and your sighting. I have even used, at some races, a 15 second count off when the gun fires. I walk into the water, letting all the Type A’s run ahead, to the count of 15, then I start swimming. I usually stay with this until the first buoy, whatever that might be, and then start pushing a bit harder. I cannot tell you how many times I end up passing the Type A’s that ran into the water.

So there are my tips. Most are no brainers I am sure, but I hope it helps some of you. Just remember that, unlike the bike and the run, it is much harder to stop if you get tired in the swim, but you are allowed to do any stroke you want as long as you are unaided, and you can grab onto a kayak/paddle board/canoe and rest as much as you want, so if you feel the need, raise your hand and get help. Better to get through and race another day.