Why train? Why TnT? Why Triathlons?

Several people (mostly offline) have asked me why I'm training so hard for Pacific Grove. I think it's fair to answer in the blog so I can point people to it next time they ask me 🙂

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?" Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela


“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that's bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they're afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they're wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It's all in how you carry it. That's what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you're letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”

Jim Morrison

Those of you who've known me for a while know that I've never been the sporty, phisical type of person. Until recently I was the kind of person who'd much rather have a smoke, a beer and a bag of potato chips or a pizza delivered while watching TV.

In January a friend asked who else would want to do a Triathlon... I thought the challenge was an interesting one so I said I would... and thus began the biggest and most welcome change in my life to this point. I worked my ass off, training in the gym five days a week and started biking and working outdoors in March.

Early June I decided to join Team in Training, a project from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It provides a lot of the training and motivation I needed (and still need) in order to accomplish my goals; besides I still had a Tri to do.

June 20th, 2009 was my first event, the Silicon Valley Mountain Bike Sprint Triathlon. It was an awesome experience and I managed to hit my target time and develop a million new questions. I was more than ready to take an Olympic Triathlon as my next challenge.

I was also learning to enjoy myself and have learned a lot about where my limits are... and I don't think I'm quite there yet... I think I see an Iron Man in my future and a lot of other endurance adventures that I have yet to realize.

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived."

Henry David Thoreau (Dead Poet's Society)

Another reason why I'm doing Pacific Grove is because I love the physical activity in and of itself. While it's true that we train as a team when it comes down to it it's just you, your bike, your wetsuit and your feet against the course. You freeze your ass off for 1500 meters, drive your legs hard for 24.8 miles and push just a little bit harder for your last 6.2 miles and then the feeling of accomplishment is like nothing you can explain to someone who hasn't done it.

I've had the chance to meet some amazing people who have survived cancer. Two come to mind, Todd and Jim D. 

I met Jim on my first information meeting for TnT and ever since he has been encouraging and, whether he knows it or not, a model in terms of courage and persevearnce. He survived enough crap that would make me stay in a sedentary lifestyle for the rest of my life. yet he continues pushing hard and training with the team... all I have to say is damn!

Todd is just amazing. He also survived cancer and now is working both towards an Olympic Triathlon and a Marathon! His disposition and cheerful spirit and happy disposition are a model for me on how to live life and push when the going gets tough.

"Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indy 500 or catching a thief in a house. The real tests of courage are much quieter. They are the inner tests; like remaining faithful when nobody's looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you're misunderstood."

Chuck Swindoll

The most important reason for me to do this was something I hadn't known until recently. One of my dearest friends from high school has cancer; I don't know which kind or how widespread it is but it shook me to the core in a way that has happened only once before when my dad passed away.

Francisca Duarte, the person I’m running Pacific Grove for

Francisca, my friend, has been in my life since the sixth grade and has been a friend, a confident, and an amazingly wonderful person who has impacted all the lives she's touched... including mine. Even though I don't know what kind of cancer she has I hope that this little effort will lead to a better treatment for her and other people with cancer.

There is an essence of arrogance in my pursuing triathlons… I can’t really deny that. But there is also an element of supporting a cause like LLS that has made, is making and will continue to make a difference in the lives of the people it touches. 

Perhaps it’s a starting point.

Thoughts and Plans for Pac Grove

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts, the past, the education, the money, circumstances, failure, success or than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way, we can't change the inevitable.

C. Swindoll

Now that we’re reaching the stretch for PG I have to start planning the race. They say Triathlon is as much as mental sport as it is a physical one… and there is so much truth to that. Knowing when to push, when to hold back and how to run the three legs of the Triathlon as three distinct but complementary phases of the same event. What happens in the swim will affect the bike and how hard you push on the bike will most definitely affect your run.

Before you start and transition area

  • Lay down your transition area several times at home so you can get used to the layout and how till you distribute it while in the Race
  • Remember your eating routine
  • Pasta dinner the Thursday before
  • Light meals that are protein/carbohydrate rich on Friday till about 6 or 7
  • A bagel or 2 the morning of the race
  • Make sure you prepare your Bento box, water bottles, salt tablets and extra powder the night before
  • Swim

    • Swim as hard as you can while keeping good form. Poor form will really zap the energy out of you even more so than the cold water by itself will
    • Wear the strap of your swim goggles under your swim cap, that way if it gets knocked off you won’t loose the goggles


    • The bike ride is 24.8 miles… keep that in mind when deciding when to push and when not to.
    • The course is not hilly, keep that in mind… there are only a couple spots where the legs really need to work
    • The more consistent your ride is the better it’ll be for your run


    • Run in your own box, don’t let the box grow any bigger than it absolutely has to

    Post Script and the road to BK

    After talking to Drew I am starting to think Big K will be the real challenge this year. Some thoughts between PG and BK

    • After PG take an entire week off
    • After the week off, starting on the 17th or 18th start picking up distance in bike and run
    • Sign up for the San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as a training run… get used to the pain and the distance. It’s training not the actual race so it’s ok to work on technique and what the race feels like.
    • Tapper 2 weeks before

    Pacific Grove is almost here…

    Can’t believe it’s only 3 more weeks before PG. I also can’t believe that I’m 95% certain that I’ll do Big Kahuna 5 or 6 weeks later.

    20090825 Bike N Beer Replacement Ride

    Since classes got in the way of the Bike N Beer tradition I had to come up with my own replacement ride. Loved the ride to Woodside so I got on the bike and did a modified version of the ride we did on Saturday both to test the legs on the bike without swimming and because I enjoyed the ride.

    I biked to Menlo Park like I normally do except that I did take the bike path instead of riding on El Camino and got into the bike path at California rather than University, then got into Santa Cruz Av. until I hit Alameda turned right into Sandhill road but, instead of doing the Portola loop I turned right into Whisky Hill road  and headed to Woodside. After a short brake and refill of water and Gu outside the market I headed back pretty much the same way

    20090826 Swim Workout

    I keep cramping up really bad. Once you cramp in the water it’s time to come out. I did swim 2000 yards/meters which is the distance I need for Big Kahuna. I just need to fine tune the work on my nutrition and then keep the legs healthy and loose for the event… More on this on my planning post later on.

    20080827 Track Workout

    I learned first hand how bad it can get if you screw your nutrition. I ate too close to practice and I paid the consequences in a very uncomfortable and, almost, painful run…

    The workout was a pyramid… run 400, 800, 1200, 800 and 400 with 1 minute rest between stages. Do this twice and even in your good training days your legs are toast. Add to that poor nutrition choices I made and I was about ready to puke my dinner right onto the track.

    Fortunately I didn’t puke and managed to do the workout without major discomfort but it was a great lesson 🙂

    20080829 Ride N Tie

    Whoever designed Ride N Tide ought to be shot. It’s a fun event and a great way to simulate the pain you’ll be going through in a Triathlon but it was too hot and it was too demanding on the legs who are just now (about an hour or 2 later) recovering from Thursday’s track workout.

    It’s 3 laps of 2 miles each where teams of 2 alternate between running and biking and then a series of short precision exercises, like being blindfolded and having your team mate guide you to drop something held between your knees into a bucket, Frisbee targeting, or using your hips to move a potato in a panty towards it target.

    It was fun but with the heat it took a hell of a lot out of me

    4 weeks and counting

    Can’t frigging believe that it’s only 4 weeks before PG and 10 weeks before Big K. School and continuing job search will definitely make things interesting (in the Chinese proverb sense)…

    "I always loved running...it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."

    Jesse Owens

    "Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts."
    Dan Gable

    20090817 – Swim Workout

    Damn, 2000 yards really kicked my ass today. I thought I had hydrated enough and that I had loaded enough calories but about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the workout my legs felt heavy and I had to stop way longer than my schedule said to. I managed to finish and even to bike a little bit, long enough to take the bike to the shop to have it looked over.

    20090818 – Bike N Beer

    We did Eden again. For some reason the front shifter is not working quite as smoothly as the rear one and, as a result, I was stuck in my biggest gear for the whole ride… legs felt it big time but it is still something to be proud of as I managed to push through the pain and complete the workout as planned.

    One of the things I’ve learned is the delicate balance between pushing against pain and listening to your body… there are times when it’s wise to push on and times when holding back is the wiser course.

    20090819 – Swim Workout

    Legs were feeling crampy and achy so I decided to take the day off from workout.

    20090820 – Bike/Run Brick Workout @ Foothill

    The brick workout was fun, for the most part, and challenging as all hell. The bike loop was ok until the last part before the turn around… that hill looked so freaking tough. We did 4 laps… on the first one I unclipped and had to restart pedaling when already in the incline… let’s say it wasn’t fun.

    The next 3 laps were better. I figured out that up hill speed is nowhere near as important as consistency… you pedal slow but you don’t stop pedaling at all. It was worth the pain to get ready for the ride on Saturday.

    We started at the track in Foothill College; we did the loop around campus so we wouldn’t go against traffic and then headed out on El Monte towards Foothill Expressway, right on Foothill until we hit Magdalena, right on Magdalena until we hit Summerhill, right on Summerhill, where we hit a stop sign and the freaking hill (which we had to take pretty much from a dead stop.

    Repeat this 4 times and then run 2 miles.

    20090821 – Swim/Bike Brick Workout @ Burgess Pool

    I was scared. 30 miles is still a respectable distance to bike… even more so when you’re doing it after a 60-minute swim.  However, I have to get used to that distance if I’m ever going to progress to the 56 miles that I need to bike for Big Kahuna and I need to start the progression now.

    Coach Tom coached our swim workout. It was just like Rita at the UC Swim Club when I was in Jr. High. I see in Coach the same intensity that Rita I remember from the daily swim workouts at the Santa Rosa de Las Condes club.  Coach Tom and Drew have been the biggest motivators for me to push as hard as I’ve had in the last 3 months… I can’t tell you how grateful I am for their coaching and prodding… I’m arrogant enough to think it’s been worth the effort.

    We started at Burgess pool in Menlo Park and we headed towards El Camino Real on Valparaiso towards Alameda De Las Pulgas and Sandhill Road… the same ride we did the very first time I rode my road bike.

    We kept going up and down Sandhill until we hit Whisky Hill road… I have now fulfilled the promise I made to myself that I would bike all of Sandhill Road going uphill. We turned right on Whisky Hill and headed to Woodside… I’ve done that brick before either on my own or with the team but, other than the mistake I made when we did the Woodside brick, I had never strung together that many miles on 1 ride deliberately… 30 miles / 48 kilometers is no joke but I have to keep reminding myself that the goal is 56 miles / 89.6 kilometers in time for Big K.

    The new part for me was turning into Cañada Road and heading north. I knew were the road was; I had crossed it during prior rides but this time it was the first time that I would actually ride on it. It’s a nice road but, to me, it’s deceptively treacherous… just when you think you’re home free, you get one more hill to beat your legs down a little bit more.  It is tempting to just push as hard as  you can the whole way but you have to fight the temptation and stick to your nutrition plan and give your legs time to recover as much as possible because no matter how long the bike is there is still the run to contend with.

    I had a lake or reservoir at my side as I rode up and down Cañada. It was gorgeous.  It’s funny to me that the harder I push myself the more I realize all the blessings given to me and how much I take them for granted.

    We were warned to make sure we worked on nutrition for this ride. That the important part was to keep hydrated and keep your food intake up. I have to figure out if it’s better to keep bars in Ziploc bags already pre-opened and ready to eat or if I just want them pre-opened but kept on their wrappers.

    Contrary to what I thought I’d do, I did stop for water and Gu Brew replenishment, hence all the people who passed me and were waiting for me when I got back to the pool and had no idea how they had passed me… I have to admit that my legs were starting to give me grief and that, along with the need for more water, was the main reason why I stopped.  Besides, it’s always nice to chat with people, isn’t it?

    The ride back down Sandhill is always fun… just tuck in and fly.  I don’t know how fast I was going but the lyrics to Red Barcheta from Rush come to mind:

    Wind in my hair ---
    Shifting and drifting ---
    Mechanical music ---
    Adrenalin surge ---

    Well-weathered leather
    Hot metal and oil
    The scented country air
    Sunlight on chrome
    The blur of the landscape
    Every nerve aware

    It was a great ride… another one scheduled for Tuesday 🙂

    These are the good times

    It’s been fun to take a look at the pictures and try to remember where I was and what I was doing at the time… Here we go 🙂

    Debbie and Carlos after his first 5k run

    Debbie and Carlos after his first 5k run. March 2009 in San Francisco

    This is the Rainbow Falls 5k in Golden Gate Park in san Francisco. Xavier, my trainer, had been bugging me to start running outside and get used to running for the Triathlon (at the time it was the only one I was going to do). I convinced Debbie, a trainer at my 24 hour fitness, to run with me.
    Debbie and I agreed on a time  so she could pace me. We finished in a fairly decent time, for a newbie to the distance and to running in general. As the caption of the photo says, This is where it all started.


    M-A Bear Run

    M-A Bear Run. May 3rd, 2009

    I remember being scared shitless. This was a big fucking race, the biggest I’ve been to so far and, after the really intimate atmosphere of the DSE races, I wasn’t really ready for 600+ runners all sharing the course. This was also the first course where they had an aid station… I kept thinking that this was too complicated and that I didn’t want to do it anymore…. yet I keep doing it and have learned to enjoy it more and more


    SVMBT Run Start

    SVMBT Run Start

    SVMBT Run End

    SVMBT Run End

    This has been the highlight of my season so far. It was so very satisfying to cross that finish line that I can’t explain it unless you’ve done triathlons before. It was a mixed bag, there was exhilaration at finally being done with the race and an empty space where the training and the focus was… now what?
    I decided to continue training for Triathlons and make that my sport.


    Coyote Point Swim

    Coyote Point Run

    We had just done our first open water swim. There’s a ton of stuff that you need to get used to when using a wet suit… the first one is that it’s meant to be uncomfortable.
    The second thing I learned is how important it is to wear the right sox.  I had a hell of a time getting onto mine for the run


    Practice Tri Run

    Practice Tri Run. August 8, 2009

    Practice Tri Bike

    Practice Tri Bike. August 8, 2009

    Over the past two weeks I’m starting to feel like the whole Olympic Distance Triathlon is coming together as more than just hard exercise and occasional bricks.
    It’s a healthy lifestyle of discipline and commitment where you can see the result of the work and effort every race; plus I’ve had the chance to meet some awesome people and shinning role model examples (thanks for all your help and motivation Drew!)
    It has also forced me to re-evaluate my life in terms of goals, careers and objectives.  If I can get a full time job then I can split time between work, school and training… if I can’t get a full time job then it’s easier as I’ll have less things  to do 🙂
    After loosing 40 pounds and working my ass off this last year I think i’m finally starting to be comfortable in my own skin. It’s taken almost 20 years but I’m damn happy and proud it finally happened.

    More to come! 🙂

    Building Blocks, Transitions and Runs

    Saturday 20090801 – Brick Practice

    View Larger Map

    Saturday was an interesting. I did 4 mini bricks of 2 1.5-mile bike looks and 3 laps in the track; Yes, I know we were supposed to do 6 but I wanted to keep my legs healthy for Sunday.

    I was kinda glad we did active recovery workouts on Thursday. My legs were tired but not as bad as they were the week before. They were in pain, oh yes, but I felt pretty confident that it wouldn’t impact Sunday too much, besides the speed run down McClellan in Cupertino  was awesome 🙂

    Sunday 20090802 – Golden Gate Vista 10K

    DSE's Golden Gate Vista 10k race map

    The race I ran was the same course I ran in May before deciding if I was going to do Olympic or Sprint at Pacific Grove.

    My goal was to get as close to 1 hour as possible. My previous PR on this course was 1:22 so I figure that anything below 1:10 was good but wanted to challenge myself to get as close to an hour as possible. I did the 10k in 1:08:41... 13 and a half minutes better than my last race.

    Here's the break down:

    • Mile 1: 10:04
    • Mile 2: 11:48
    • Mile 3: 11:09
    • Mile 4: 10:14
    • Mile 5: 11:03
    • Mile 6: 12:34

    I had a really hard time trying to do negative splits. I don't know if what it was but my legs just refused to move fast for the last 2 miles.

    Did I do well: Yes. Could I do better: I want to think so. Did I have fun: I most definitely did, and that's what is important to me.

    Tuesday 20090805 – Bike N Beer

    I agonized whether to do Bike N Beer this week or not. I kept thinking that my legs were too tired and that I should take it easy and not push…  I should have learned by now to listen to my body and what it was telling me. I should have also learned not to push when fatigued or should I?

    Drew, one of our coaches, thought I should and kept pushing me until I had to choose if I wanted to continue… much to my surprise I did.

    It’s a requirement of the Triathlons to push when your body doesn’t think you can so I better get used to that now and learn that it’s as much a mental thing as it is a physical one.

    Saturday 20090808 – Practice Triathlon – Pillar Point Harbor

    We did a practice Triathlon today. About .75 miles in the water, 14 miles on the bike and then a 3.2 mile run.

    It was all the hell I expected it to and all the fun and enjoyable that I was hoping.  The swim continues to be the hardest part, not the distance but the water itself.  It was cold enough that my body went into shock, the swim was much slower and difficult than I remember. I also had a ‘close encounter of the bouy’ by hitting it with my wrist… didn’t realize it until I hit the transition area and I saw that my wrist was all bloody 🙂

    The bike was good, even if coach stopped me to check why my front gear wasn’t going to the highest one. It’ll be interesting to see how much it would have shaved if I hadn’t stopped.  But the course itself was really nice and if Pac Grove is like that then it’ll be a dream to bike there and I’ll be able to push hard to compensate for my sluggish swim and the weak run afterwards.

    The run was ok. Calves started cramping at the end of the bike but, surprisingly to me, I managed to walk them off and then had a fairly decent run/walk as I don’t think I can do run in a Triathlon as fast as I do when it’s just the run (but that’s another future goal… to do the run leg of an Olympic Triathlon in the same time I run 10k on the road in a run-only race)

    Tuesday 20090811 – Bike N Beer

    Carlos Araya got his butt kicked on the ride today. It was a challenge all 18 miles but it was also a great exercise and it keeps getting closer to the pace I want for Pac Grove

    It was a harsh workout today. Even though my legs were fully rested it was a harsh workout… not in terms of what the course itself was, but the pace that we kept throughout. I was particularly impressed with the way the girls in the group just smoked me most of the way back.

    It was also a really good workout; as coach Tom says, you’ll feel a little discomfort when you’re doing your workout right. People were more worried about me than I was… yet I recall feeling a little weak but as good as I’ve had in a while.

    I’m also getting closer to the pace I want to keep for the 25 miles at Pac Grove and move to the 56 miles that I need for Big Kahuna

    Thursday 20090813 – Brick workout

    The transitions today were ok. I wasn’t counting on the tire change exercise and it was both welcome and hated at the same time. Welcome because I hadn’t had to change tires on this bike (the one time I’ve had to change a tire I had a lot of help) and hated because I don’t particularly like changing tires; don’t get me wrong, it’s a good skill to have but not one that I expect to exercise very often, the least often the better 🙂

    Also think I nailed the last of my nutrition with salt tablets. Now all I have left is learn to open the ziplock bag, pull a pill, pop it into my mouth and drink a lot of fluids. Even though my calves were screaming at some points, I think that I nailed the nutrition part… now I have to start putting it all together.

    Why am I doing this and Who am I doing this for

    "You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement."
    - Steve Prefontaine

    Dan, a friend from Church, asked me why I was doing triathlons and why I was pushing myself so hard. I had my, somewhat knee-jerk, answer: because I can and because I haven’t found where my physical limits are. Now that I’ve had more time to reflect on it, I think I can give a better answer:

    I love the structure, the team and the passion that people in the Triathlon community give you and they get from you in return. There is a passion from everyone, the team managers, the coaches and the other participants… it’s contagious.

    Team in Training gives me a structure to work towards. I could probably train just as hard on my own but nowhere near as effectively.

    I’ve got to meet some of the honorees for the team this summer and it’s humbling to hear from people who’ve had to go through cancer treatment. Most of them agree that if it wasn’t for LLS they wou ldn’t be here today or that the lives would be far less happy or productive… hell they could be dead.

    In addition to all the Team in Training honorees that we’ve met during the training I am running Pac Grove for two people; one whose courage and determination just rock; the other one has been a very dear friend for over 20 years

    Eric had cancer when I first got to Chico. He recovered and has lived a very happy and productive life ever since. He’s the kind of guy that will say what needs to be said when and how it needs to be said. Jennifer and him are getting ready to move to DC where Eric works as an intern.

    Pancha has been so many things over the year: 6th grade crush, friend, confident, therapist, mother, daughter, sister. She’s the sister I always dreamed about having. We exchanged emails a few weeks ago and she very simply told me that she had cancer. Didn’t tell me which kind or what was the prognosis.  My thoughts and prayers continue to be with her.

    Next to the TnT honorees and my two friends’ strength and toughness, both physical to overcome the effects of chemo and mental to not let the disease depress you or your loved ones, what is a little physical discomfort?

    Cancer sucks and it’s up to those of us who cares to make sure no one has to go through this or, if we can’t avoid it, that future patients will have the proper tools, care and information that they need.

    Lessons and things to carry forward

    The best way to describe this past week is the posting I made on Facebook on Saturday afternoon:
    Carlos Araya had a very satisfying morning. He froze his but off, swam .75 miles in Half Moon Bay, biked 14 miles and ran 3.2 miles. He can see how much he has improved in all his Triathlon disciplines and can't really tell you how happy and exhausted he is right now.
    I have learned and I have improved my techniques (although it seems I’m still riding with my heels up according to Drew) but it’s so much better now than it’s ever been. I feel like I’m ready for Pac Grove and, hopefully, for Big K as well.

    I need to do a few things to get in tip top shape:

    • Better sunscreen use; reapply if necessary. I still burned the right side of my face and my neck above the wetsuit line; either put more sunscreen on when you come out of the shower in the morning or put more sunscreen after the wetsuit goes on before the swim and the bike… I think I’ll be ok when I start the run
    • Learn how to take salt pills and gels on the bike (with lots of water). I think I finally  nailed the last of my nutrition with salt tablets. Now all I have left is to put it all together while on the bike and the run.
    • Keep remembering to have fun. As much of a challenge as Pac Grove is going to be, remember to have fun and smile