Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Year End Summary

I had a great 2011.  Most importantly, Marlene and I spent a ton of quality time with our daughters Mikayla (5) and Kaiya (3).  They are getting big!  Mikayla started kindergarten at PS 199 in August and is thriving.  Kaiya continues to attend the Tender Care program at the West Side YMCA and she loves it too!  They love their gymnastics classes at Chelsea Piers (Mikayla is in a hot shots program and Kaiya seems to be on the same path), love to dance (as much as they can, Mikayla is currently taking a hip hop dancing class), movie night (usually Fridays), enjoy playing catch, and enjoy playing games (currently Go Fish and War).  Mikayla loves the monkey bars (see the video below) and Kaiya loves to go swimming and looking at the "big" pool with her daddy everyday before and after school.

Mikayla on the monkey bars (November 2011)

Kaiya Dancing (aka "Club Kaiya")

My 2011 Health and Fitness accomplishments
  • Completed my first Ironman race on August 28, 2011 - Ironman Canada
  • Completed two half Ironman races (Rev 3 Quassy and Bassman)
  • Completed two marathons (New York on 11/6/11 and Las Vegas on 12/4/11)
  • Completed my 9+1 requirement for automatic entry into the 2012 New York City Marathon
  • Completed 14 other races (13 running, 1 swimming)
  • Began following a plant based (Vegan) diet on 9/5/11 - immediately felt better and lost 22 pounds in about 8 weeks.  Other benefits that I have experienced from changing my diet (including the complete elimination of high fructose corn syrup, all sodas, and all caffeine):
    • My recovery from hard/speed workouts is noticeably better.  I can run hard today and recover quickly so I can run hard (or even harder) the next day without getting injured
    • I'm more relaxed
    • I sleep better
    • I'm a much faster runner at the same effort level as before changing my diet
    • I feel lean
    • I really enjoy what I eat; the key is to find what you love to eat and do it!
    • My recent blood work results were fantastic - the best they have ever been
    • I eat a ton to maintain my weight, easioy
    • My belt size is currently a 32, which hasn't happened since high school
  • Year end weight - 177.  Started the year with my weight at 201 (a loss of 24 pounds)
    • When I left Goldman Sachs in November 2008 I weighed approximately 225 pounds, so I'm down about 48 pounds from then (21%)
  • For the first time in my life, I feel like I have the proper balance between diet and exercise
  • Set personal records (PRs) in the following distances in 2011:
    • 5-K (3.1 mile race) - 7:07 pace (after running a 9 mile warm up)
    • 3.5 mile race - 6:57 pace
    • Half Marathon - 1:40 (first half of the Las Vegas marathon on 12/4), a 7:38 per mile pace
    • Marathon  - 3:33 - Las Vegas 12/4/11, an 8:09 per mile pace (a 9 minute PR over the NYC marathon on 11/6/11 and a 23 minute PR over my 3:56 2010 Chicago Marathon time)
    • Half Ironman
    • Ironman - 13 hours 15 minutes
  • I'm in the best shape of my life and have never felt better.  Being lean rules!
  • Ended the year healthy after starting the year hurt (had to take 6-8 weeks off from running in early 2011)
  • I don't focus on how many miles I exercise anymore.  Rather, I'm much more focused on the time I exercise with a focus on quality over quantity. Having said this, I thought it would be interesting to look at my 2011 mileage totals:
    • Running
      • Total 2011 miles run - 1,460 miles (28 miles per week)
      • Peak day - 26.2 miles (3 times)
      • Peak week - 54 miles
    • Cycling
      • Total 2011 miles cycled - 2,665 miles (51 miles per week)
      • Peak day - 112 miles (Ironman Canada); 102 miles (17 loops of Central Park)
    • Swimming
      • Total 2011 miles swam - 88 miles (1.7 miles per week)
      • Peak day - 2.4 miles (Ironman Canada)
    • Total 2011 miles = 4,213 miles
  • Average number of workouts per week I did in 2011 was 7.67, by far the highest I have ever achieved (2010 was 4.89 workouts per week, my previous best). 
    • Frequently, during my Ironman training, I exercised twice a day. 
    • I've been tracking this stat since 2001.  Previous results:
      • 2011 - 7.67
      • 2010 - 4.89
      • 2009  - 4.38
      • 2008 - 3.69
      • 2007 - 4.29
      • 2006 - 3.0
      • 2005 - 3.21
      • 2004 - 3.23
      • 2003 - 3.13
      • 2002 - 4.44
      • 2001 - 3.11
2012 goals
  • Stay healthy
  • Enjoy exercising
  • Continue my plant based (vegan) diet with the goal of reversing my coronary artery disease.  Get calcium score test to check progress at the end of 2012 or sometime in 2013
  • Set a personal record (PR) in every distance I race in 2012
  • Do my 9+1 New York Road Runners races for automatic qualification for the 2013 New York City Marathon
  • Focus on quality over quantity for all workouts/training
  • Complete Ironman New York - August 2011
  • Complete the New York Marathon in November 2011
2011 Completed Races

16. December 4, 2011 - Las Vegas Marathon - 3:33 (8:09 per mile)
15. November 6, 2011 - New York City Marathon - 3:42 (8:30 per mile)
14. November 5, 2011 - Dash to the Finish Line 5-K (8:03 per mile)
13. September 17, 2011 - Run for Central Park - 4 miles (7:50 per mile)
12. August 28, 2011 - Ironman Canada - 2.4 mile swim (1:33), 112 mile bike (6:44), Marathon (26.2 mile) run - (4:32). Overall time 13 hours 15 minutes.
11. July 16, 2011 - Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park - 4 miles (8:16 per mile)
10. July 9, 2011 - Boomer's Run to Breath - 10-K - Central Park (8:23 per mile pace)
9. June 25, 2011 - Front Runners 2011 Gay Pride Race - Central Park - 5 mile run (7:38 per mile pace)
8. June 15, 2011 - JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge - 3.5 mile race (6:57 per mile, a PR)
7. June 5, 2011 - Rev 3 Quassy Half Ironman (Middlebury, CT) - 1.2 mile swim (55 minutes), 56 mile bike (3 hours 20 minutes, 16.8 mph), 13.1 mile run (1 hour 57 minutes, 8:59 per mile pace) - 6 hours, 21 minutes
6. May 21, 2011 - Magic Shoe 5-K race - Newport Beach, California. 22:08 (7:07 per mile).
5. May 7, 2011 - 2.4 mile open water "Ironswim" in Clinton, New Jersey - 1 hour 45 minutes.
4. May 1, 2011 - Bassman (New Jersey) Half Ironman - 5:54:23 - (1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) - 5 hours 54 minutes (50 minute swim, 3:03 bike (19.0 mph), 1:53 half marathon (8:41 pace)
3. April 17, 2011 - Run for the Parks 4 mile race - 7:16 per mile
2. April 10, 2011 - Nautica South Beach Triathlon - Miami Beach, Florida - Olympic Distance (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) - 3 hours, 13 minutes
1. January 8, 2011 - NYRR Fred Lebow Classic - 5 Miles - 7:43 pace

Friday, December 9, 2011

2011 Las Vegas Marathon - No bug juice! - Marathon #6

Date:  12/4/11
Race:  2011 Las Vegas Marathon
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time: 3 hours 33 minutes (a PR by 9 minutes) - 8:09 pace per the race; my Garmin Watch had me at 26.45 miles / 8:05 pace

Race start time:  Marathon  - 4 PM (run in the evening so that runners could run down the strip in the dark to see lights); half marathon 5:30 PM
Participants:  44,000 (6,000 marathoners, 38,000 half marathoners)
Weather:  low 50s at start of Marathon, low 40s at the end.  Perfect.
Course:  Marathoners - first 13 miles off the strip, last 13 miles on the strip, merging with the half marathoners during mile 14
  • Course was sold as flat and fast but the first 13 miles had some long, gradual hills as well as a few large hills (over the highways). My Garmin watch showed 442 feet of elevation gain.  Overall most of the race was flat, but certainly not all of it.
  • 2 powerbar gels prior to the race (45 and 15 minutes before the race), 5 gels during the race (3 in the first 10 miles, a 4th during mile 15, the 5th during mile 19.  All gels without caffeine.
  • 1 banana at mile 15
  • 1/3 of a bottle of Gatorade during miles 15 and 16
  • No other electrolytes ingested during the race.  Cytomax was the electrolyte beverage served on the course, which is not a Vegan beverage, so I didn't drink it on the course.  Feel like I would have done even better if I could have had more electrolyte drink.  At the expo, when I asked if Cytomax was vegan, a guy working the booth said "almost, but technically no, as there is a little juice from a bug in the drink".  No bug juice for me!!!
Race goal:  sub 3:40
  • Prior to the race, I felt like I was in shape to run in the low 3:30s if I had a great race, but also knew that the race would slow down after the first half marathon due to the large number of half marathon runners
  • I had a great first half marathon, running a 1:40 (7:38 per mile pace).  I felt great and felt like I could hold a sub 8 minute per mile pace for a while longer, but when we merged with the half marathon runners, it was complete mayhem!  They had cones up asking the marathon runners to stay to the left and the half marathoners to the right, but nobody was following the signs and many of the half marathoners I came up on were walking or running much slower.  I had to work hard to run 8:15-8:30 minute miles for miles 15  - the end of the race.  I was OK with it, although I know I could have been faster if not so crowded.  Many of the marathon runners were getting frustrated, even bumping into me/throwing elbows.  Not worth getting worked up, if you ask me.  I enjoyed the rest of the race, knowing that I was going to PR.  Maybe next time I can break 3:30.
  • The mayhem continued after the race, where 44,000 people merged together in the Mandalay Bay hotel to big up bags and get back to their hotels.  At the same time, a show let out at the hotel, so it was so packed that people were stuffed together like a Tokyo subway.  I got lucky to catch the tram to Excalibur, where I took a cab back to Vdara where we were staying.  The tram was so crowded that I felt like I was going to pass out.  Luckily I didn't, but many runners got sick at the hotel and the paramedics had to attend to a lot of people.  Also heard that a lot of runners got sick on the course from drinking the water on the course, which is rumored to have come from fire hydrants.
Mile 1 - 7:52
Mile 2 - 7:42 (uphill)
Mile 3- 7:34
Mile 4 - 7:18 (downhill)
Mile 5 - 7:38 (long, noticeable, gradual uphill)
Mile 6 - 7:35
Mile 7 - 7:25
Mile 8 - 7:37
Mile 9 - 7:53 (big uphill up a bridge over the highway)
Mile 10 - 7:42 (uphill)
Mile 11 - 7:47
Mile 12 - 7:47
Mile 13 - 7:38 (getting close to the strip)
Mile 14 - 7:46
Mile 15 - 8:23 (mayhem, couldn't run faster than 8:15 without having to work hard to pass people, not worth going to war.  Picked up Gatorade, banana, and 2 gels from Marlene)
Mile 16 - 8:20
Mile 17 - 8:14 (trying to tuck myself behind other faster runners)
Mile 18 - 8:18
Mile 19 - 8:30 (frequently ran on the sidewalks during miles 18-22 to avoid the crowds, but then the spectators wouldn't move!  Was also tough for me to go up and down curbs, as my ankle was still bothering me from spraining it during the NYC Marathon a month ago.  After the race, it was very swollen)
Mile 20 - 8:11
Mile 21 - 8:50
Mile 22 - 8:46
Mile 23 - 8:52 (feeling the gradual uphill during the last 3-4 miles, trying to stay under 9:00 per mile.  At the time, I couldn't figure out why it was harder for me to run a faster pace.  Now I understand why - my  Garmin file shows a long, gradual uphill from miles 20-26)
Mile 24 - 8:51
Mile 25 - 8:51
Mile 26 - 8:47
Last 0.45 - 8:03 (ran sub 7:00 for the last quarter mile and was passing everybody.  I saw the 3:33:02 clock in the distance and wanted to record a 3:33, so I pushed at the end)

Average heart rate 166

Click here for my Garmin File

Overall:  Very happy with my time given that it was my second marathon in less than a month and despite the crowded conditions.  I figured out that I enjoy running in the sun more than in the dark.
Here is a link to my brightroom finishing video and pictures.  Take a look at how crowded the finish was for the half marathoners (on the left).  I decided not to buy this video and the pictures in protest of them not having a camera set up for the marathoners as well as because they don't have a picture of me crossing the finish line (they had 16,000 lost and found pictures to look through - I looked through a bunch but found it too frustrating to look).  I finish at 3:33:49 on the video, in a black shirt with a white bib all the way on the right side of the screen (I run right through the finish line without raising my arms).

Brightroom Finishing Video and Pictures

Very cool medal!!!!!  I like that there were different medals for the marathoners vs the half marathoners (although I heard that they ran out of medals!!)

2011 Las Vegas Marathon Finisher Certificate

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 New York Marathon Race Report

Date:  November 6, 2011Weather:  45 degrees and sunny.  Perfect marathon weather
Time: 3 hours 42 minutes (a PR by 14 minutes), average pace 8:30 per mile

Video of me finishing the race (I finish in the middle near the end of the video clip):

A picture taken during the race (not sure where):

Splits per my Garmin Watch

Mile 1 – 8:40
Mile 2 – 7:37 (feeling awesome!!)
Mile 3 – 7:40
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:57 (still feeling awesome)
Mile 6 – 8:02
Mile 7 – 8:01
Mile 8 – 8:07
Mile 9 – 8:08
Mile 10 – 7:44 (still feeling very good)
Mile 11 – 8:07
Mile 12 – 8:04
Mile 13 – 8:02
Mile 14 – 8:09
Mile 15 – 9:01
Mile 16 – 9:28 (59th street bridge)
Mile 17 – 7:55 (starting to feel tired)
Mile 18 – 8:20 (sprained my ankle during this mile)
Mile 19 – 8:27
Mile 20 – 8:40
Mile 21 – 8:40
Mile 22 – 8:59  (man is the Bronx and upper Manhattan hilly!)
Mile 23 – 8:58
Mile 24 – 9:16 (long, gradual, painful uphill on 5th avenue)
Mile 25 – 8:57 (Central Park)
Mile 26 – 8:49
Last 0.57 (9:03 – stopped for 30 seconds to kiss my family)

Overall 26.57 miles, 3:42:34, 8:20 pace, average heart rate 168

My garmin file from the race - click here

Feeling awesome!!

A great day for running a marathon, as the weather was perfect.  My friend got me a ride to the race start in Staten Island on a Race Director bus, which was awesome.  Spacious.  When we arrived in Staten Island, we also got a heated tent and unlimited access to Porta-potties with no line!  That was the best.  Plus, we were able to start the race on the bridge at the front of the race (wave 1), as we had race director status.  Being close to the professional runners was super cool (I said "hi and good luck" to Meb).  My status allowed me to stay super relaxed before the race, as I was able to use the bathroom when I needed to without waiting (every marathon runner can appreciate this), wasn't cramped into a corral, and started fast.

I had an amazing race.  Since I ran a marathon as part of my Ironman in August, I had no time expectations, I just wanted to enjoy the experience (my second New York City Marathon and my 5th marathon overall).  So I ran 6-7 miles most days during the week and did a long run on the weekend (the most I did was one 18 mile training run, then the next longest was 15 miles).

Since I converted to a 100% plant based diet (vegan) on 9/5/11, my weight was down 22 pounds on race day (179 pounds).  My training runs were easily faster, so I knew that I would probably come in under 4 hours, fully expecting to run out of steam for the last 6-8 miles (as I usually do). 

The perfect weather and low dew point made it easy for me to feel good, and after a 8:30ish first mile, I found myself easily running in the 7:40s for miles 2-5.  I felt great and it didn't feel like I was running that fast, so I went with it. Around this point, I ran into my friend Rich Campbell, who has been like a mentor to me since I started running in 2009.  He was feeling great, running around 7:30 so I said "don't let me hold you back".  He took off and ended up running a 3:30, an awesome time.  I saw my friend Jeff A around mile 6-8 (not sure exactly where), which was super cool (here is the video he took).  I was running with my friend Rich when he took this video (he is wearing a lime shirt that says "Go" on it)

As I was running in Brooklyn, I felt amazing. Brooklyn was my favorite part of the race. You still feel amazing because you haven’t been running that long, plus the crowds are great. I ran next to the sidewalk and tried to high-five as many kids as I could, which kept me pumped up. As I got to around 10 miles, I started to feel the hills a little bit but was able to hold a pace of 8-8:10 pretty easily – my half marathon split was 1:45, an 8:05 pace at this point (a half marathon PR for me in any race, even a half marathon race). I was drinking Gatorade and water when needed, ate a banana, and had a couple of gels. One of them had caffeine, something I hadn’t had since I became a vegan and I immediately felt the caffeine jolt. For the first time in my life I didn’t enjoy it. Going forward, I’m off caffeine for races (already off it otherwise), I’ll stick to the caffeine-free gels. I think my pace was also fast for the first 13 miles because I hydrated and ate well (something I hadn’t done during any of my training runs).

Video of me at the 10-K point (near the end of the video in the middle putting my finger in the air)
Video of me at
The half marathon point (you can see me on the right side around the 16-23 second point of the clip):

I saw Manhattan in the distance, that pumped me up. Running over the 59th street bridge was quiet but also tough because of its steep incline. When I got into Manhattan (I think mile 17), I felt pretty good and ran a 7:55 mile. I saw my friends Jodi (marathon runner) and Heidi (Ironman) at the gel station around mile 18 and got some gels. Then I was running in the middle of first avenue and out of the clear blue, my ankle gave out. I saw stars it hurt so much. I thought I was done, I thought I broke it (I have a history ankle injuries playing basketball, never running). I knew that I had to keep running if I could, as it was instantly swollen. From history, I knew if I stopped the blood would flow to the injury and then I would have to walk. So, I kept running, but I had no power off my right leg. Still no idea how I rolled it.  I slowed down but was able to keep running for the next 8 miles. I took a picture as soon as I got home – here is what it looked like (look away if you are queasy):

Picture of my ankle sprain immediately after the race

Picture of my sprained right ankle as soon as I got home after the marathon
At this point, I was staring to feel "the wall".  A bum ankle plus the wall takes a little of the fun out of things, but I was generally able to hold 8:30-8:55 per mile (except for mile 24, which is uphill on 5th avenue, where I logged a 9:15, better than the 9:47 I logged on this mile in 2009.  When I entered Central Park shortly thereafter, I actually felt pretty good.  I knew I was almost done!   The park looked beautiful, particularly all of the different colored trees, and the spectator support was totally awesome.  Here's a video of me in the park with about 2 miles to go (40-K point):

My friend got my family grandstand VIP tickets, so I knew that they were near the finish line.  That gave me a lot of energy.  I stopped to give everybody a kiss and took a very happy, proud, leisurely run another 100 meters to the finish line.

As always, my Garmin watch had me running longer than the marathon. The marathon course is measured at 26.2 miles running the most efficient way as possible.  My watch had me at 26.57 miles at a pace of 8:19 per mile Versus my offical 8:30 pace).  My average heart rate was 1688

A video that my family took of me stopping plus some pictures:

After the race.  Great seats!!!!!

More pictures:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ironman Canada 2011 Race Report

On Sunday August 28, 2011, I completed my first Ironman race - Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.  My family was there to watch me race, along with our friends Michelle, Steve, and their 3 little girls.  Our friends Paul and Miranda also raced, which was awesome (as well as spending time with their families).  Overall, I had an amazing experience.   My goal was to complete an Ironman and have a fun time doing it.   I really enjoyed the entire day and felt great during almost the entire race.   My dad would have been proud!

Some stats:
Training:  I trained for 30 weeks, averaging between 13-17 hours per week of exercise.  On average, I would workout 6 days per week, with 2 workouts (usually one in the morning and one a night) 3 days per week.  I often worked out 7 days per week, adding in an extra swim (which is so easy on my body that I really don't consider it a tough workout).  I loosely followed the intermediate level training program in Don Fink's book "Be Iron Fit".  I did not hire a coach or join a training team.  Most of my training was done alone (I listened to a lot of audio books and music).  My friend Jarrod (also an Ironman) came with me on some of my long rides close to my race, which was very helpful. 

Race Weight: 201 (I started the season at 197 in February and peaked at 204 during the year).  I was easily eating 3,50-5,000 calories a day during the heaviest part of my training, when I was exercising 15-17 hours per week.

Longest workouts during training: 
  • Swim:  The longest swim I did was a 2.4 mile open water swim (race), which took me 1 hour and 45 minutes.  I swam 2 miles in a pool at least 10 different times during the last few months of training (this would take me anywhere from 70-80 minutes).
  • Bike:  102 miles, 5 hours and 57 minutes (17 loops of Central Park), followed by 4 other rides (all on 9W in New Jersey) of 86-95 miles, all taking 5-5.5 hours.  I only rode outside (my long ride) once a week during training.  The other 2 bike rides per week I did on my bike trainer in my apartment.
  • Run:  17.5 miles.  The New York summer was brutally hot and humid, so when my training schedule called for a 3 hour run, the most I could do was 17.5 miles, and that was tough.  I figured that since running is my best event, I could get by with less training.  I knew that I would be walking some of the marathon, so no need to run much more.  I ran 3 days a week during training.
  • Only 1 Brick:  I only did 1 brick (bike ride immediately followed by a run) during my training (the week before the race).  I usually feel good off the bike, so I didn't feel like I needed to do any bricks.  Frankly, I wanted to stay healthy and I figured that I could only hurt myself by running more than needed.
Weather on race day:  It was super hot (90-95 degrees all day, and closer to 95 degrees during the marathon) and windy!  When I signed up for this race, I assumed that since the race was in Canada that it would be cool.

Summary Race Comments:

I had a great swim, far exceeding my expectations, and I really enjoyed the bike and run.  My approach was to enjoy the day and have fun, which I did thoroughly.   As this was my first Ironman race, I wanted to make sure that I never got too tired or worn down (i.e., I didn’t want to bonk, as triathletes say).  Coming into the race, I really had no time expectations, but based on my training times, my 3 previous marathon times, the hot weather, and the difficulty of the course, I figured that I would come in around 14 hours.  In the end, my final time was 13 hours and 15 minutes, far exceeding my expectations.  I finished in 1,399th place, finishing slightly better than the middle of the pack, which is a huge accomplishment for me given that I just started doing triathlons last summer and couldn't even swim 8 lengths in the pool a year ago (despite being in marathon shape).  I crossed the finish line with a ton of energy left and had a huge smile on my face.  As I crossed the finish line, I let out a couple of huge “whooooooo” screams, pumped that I had accomplished my goal (and frankly, at that point, was more pumped that I was done running). See the videos below of me finishing the race and finishing the swim.  If you listen closely, you'll hear me in both videos let out some loud "whoooos", and, and if you listen very closely, 12 seconds into the video the announcer says "James Balcom from New York, a first time Ironman finisher".  That was pretty cool.

As soon as I finished, I got my Ironman Canada finishing medal (frankly, a very small medal -the race director actually sent out an email apologizing for the small medal, saying that it wasn't what they ordered.....I wish he would have said "we are going to make things right and send all finishers the medal that we intended to give you"). Also got a shirt and hat, took a few pictures (see below), and was greeted by my family and friends, who all enthusiastically congratulated me.   They asked me "how do you feel?".  My answer, without pause, was one word........ "PROUD!"  I had a slice of pizza and a Pepsi after the race, and a few hours later a Big Mac, fries and vanilla shake (my friend Paul wanted it and of course I was in!)
During the race, I saw my family at about the halfway point of the bike on the Richter Pass hill, at the beginning of the run, 1 mile from the finish line, and at the finish line (videos of each of these instances can be seen below).  Each time I saw my family, I stopped to give everybody a kiss, which was awesome.  My kids made me some signs (pictures below) that they showed me on Richter Pass.  They also shook their cowbells each time they saw me.  At the end of the night, at 11:45 P.M. (I finished at 8:15 P.M.) my friend Paul and I went to the finish line to cheer on the final finishers (the course closes at midnight, or 17 hours after the race starts).  The energy at midnight was unbelievable and it was really cool to cheer on the final finishers.
Swim (2.4 miles) – 1 hour 33 minutes (my goal was sub 2 hours and my stretch goal was sub 1:40, so by all accounts I had a great swim).  2,400th place out of 2,832 finishers.  384th out of 419 people in my age division (40-44).  I beat 432 people!!!  A huge accomplishment for me.  I enjoyed seeing a lot of unclaimed transition bags as I made my way toward my bike, something I'm not accustomed to seeing.  For my other triathlons (I only did 5 prior to this race), I was often nearly the last swimmer to finish (usually I would beat a few people and in the 2.4 mile open water swim race I did I came in dead last).  My pace per 100 meters was 2:28 (that's 2 minutes and 28 seconds).  During my training, the best I ever did for a 2 mile swim (in the pool without having to sight) was 2:11 per 100 meters, but most of my swims near the race were coming in at 2:18 per 100 meters.  Swimming a 2:28 per 100 was MUCH faster than I expected.  Before the race, Paul's coach told him to "think of the swim as active meditation".  When I heard this, I thought it was a brilliant statement.  During training, I noticed that my fastest swim times in the pool occurred when I slowed down my stroke (although I find it strange that I go faster by going easier....swimming is truly about technique!). So, during the swim, I thought about the comment Paul's coach made and I strongly believe that I had a great swim because I was very relaxed the entire time.  I enjoyed drafting off people and feel confident that I can get that swim time down even more in the future!

Coming out of the swim, pumped up about my swim time (much faster than I thought I would be) - there was a clock that showed 1:33 as I came out of the water.  That's 1 hour and 33 minutes of swimming!

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I'm definitely one of the people still walking out in the water.  I was taking it all in and was one of the last people to start swimming!  2.4 miles is a long way!

Coming out of the swim, that dude dusted me!!!

Here is a video of me coming out of the swim.  You'll hear me yelling
whoo!!!, excited about my swim split.

Here is a video that somebody shot of the swim. He took this video from far away. If you have time, it is well worth watching. It is amazing how nearly 3,000 athletes are all swimming together at the same time. This video also makes one appreciate how far a 2.4 mile swim really is.

Transition 1 (T1) – 12 minutes, 46 seconds – 2,755th place out of 2,832 finishers (i.e., I only was faster than 77 people in T1).  I took my time to change into my bike clothes, put sunscreen on, and used the bathroom before starting my bike ride (I asked a volunteer to hold my bike while I went, as I decided at the very last moment to go).  I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget anything, which I didn’t.  Of the 77 number of people that had slower transitions time than I did, only 11 people finished ahead of me in the overall race. 

Bike (112 miles) – 6 hours 44 minutes (my goal was sub 7 hours and my stretch goal was 6:40, which I missed by 4 minutes).  1,748th place out of 2,832 finishers, 328 out of 419 in my age group.  Average heart rate 139.  I was surprised that I finished below the middle here.  I definitely have work to do on the bike during the off season!  Average pace was 16.6 miles per hour and my average heart rate was 139.  I was ready for the hills, which are plentiful and tough, as well as the heat (in the 90s), but I wasn’t ready for the wind, which, at times, was so strong that I had to pedal hard going down huge hills, still not reaching even 15 miles per hour at times.  Jordan Rapp, the winner of the race, said in his speech at the finisher's dinner the night after the race, said something like "I have ridden the bike course more times than I can count and it was never tougher than today (due to the wind)". 

Click HERE for my Garmin bike file

Nutrition on the bike - I consumed approximately 2,500 calories on the bike (8 gels, 2 bottles containing EFS and Carbopro (each bottle approximately 460 calories, picked up the second bottle at special needs), and about 5 bottles of Powerbar Ironman Perform drink (like Gatorade). 
Overall, I thought the race was extremely well run (2,832 athletes (finishers) and over 4,000 volunteers), but 4 of the approximately 10-12 water stations did not have water when I arrived (even the first water station).  That made things a little more challenging for me on a very hot day.  Also, I didn’t get any flat tires, but a ton of people did.  At about the 10 mile point of the bike, some race officials were yelling to us “ride in the middle of the road, there are tacks on the right side”.  “Tacks??”, I said.  Huh?  There were a ton of flats at this point.  Apparently, somebody put tacks down on the road.  Not cool.  I rode an aluminum Cannonondale Caad 9 5 bike without aerobars, a $1,200 bike.  Most of the people doing the race had $5,000-$10,000 bikes.   The last 3 miles or so of the course were tough – flat and very windy in Penticton, I had a tough time getting over 15 miles an hour and my heart rate was in upper 140s (high for me).  The bike ride is extremely hilly and extremely scenic.  The views are amazing and the crowd support, particularly on the hills, was great (my favorite was at the top of the Richter pass hill, where there was a DJ, large speakers, and pumping music playing, with a bunch of people with signs saying "you've made it to the top of the hill").  Richter is about a 7 mile climb, so finishing that hill is a good feeling.  Overall, I felt great during the ride - my bottom (or "bum" as Canadians say") was fine, I was able to stand up to stretch and didn't feel numb there during or after the race.  I didn't stand up to climb at all during the bike ride, which explains why my heart rate never went above 164. 

My family met me on Richter pass, and here is a video of me stopping to greet my family and friends and to check out the signs that they made me:

The only problem I had during the ride was that my feet, for the last 10 miles or so, were extremely sore.  At some points during the last 10 miles, I wondered if I would be able to run at all after the bike.  But somehow, with a few miles to go, the pain in my feet went away and I didn't think about it the rest of the race.

Transition 2 (T2) – 11 minutes, 42 seconds, 2,487th place out of 2,832 (I was faster than 345 people).  Once again, I took my time to change into my running shorts, new socks, reapply suntan lotion, and I used the bathroom again (no line).  As I was leaving transition, I heard them announce my name “James Balcom from New York” and within seconds I spotted my wife and family.  I ran around a corner and greeted my family, which was awesome.  Here's a video of me coming out of transition to greet my family:

Run (26.2 miles, a marathon)4 hours, 32 minutes, 729th place out of 2,832 finishers (top 25%), 136 out of 419 in my age group (32%), (my goal was sub 5 hours and my stretch goal was 4:30).  Average heart rate 156.  My run started off by greeting my family, which was awesome.  I didn’t feel particularly tired at this point, but I also didn’t feel my typical “pep” that I usually feel when running.  A few days before, Paul and I rode the run course and to my surprise, it was very hilly, with some very big hills.  As I greeted my family, I said to my wife “I think the marathon will take me 4 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours 45 minutes.”  At that point, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run a 4 hour marathon with those hills and 90+ degree temperatures (I later heard that the temp on the run may have been as high as 96 degrees).  I wore a visor for my run, which I had never done before.  It helped keep the extremely hot (and dry) sun off my face.   After spending about 1 minute with my family, I was off on my run.  I felt pretty good during mile 1, clocking an 8:54 mile (meaning that I actually ran a 7:54 first mile).  However, during mile 2, I bonked.  The run course in the first miles is uphill, and that, coupled with the heat crushed me.  My goal coming into the race was to run as much of the first 13.1 miles as possible, so I just kept on pushing.  My splits were 9:10, 9:31, 9:38, 9:34 for miles 2-5.  This usually included slowing down to a near walk for 10-20 seconds at each aid station (every mile).  At mile 6, it started to get harder, and I was working to run a pace of 10:00 – 10:30 per mile.  There were a few big hills that I walked, but for the most part, I accomplished my goal of running to the half marathon point.  Each aid station had freezing cold sponges, so I took 3 of those at each station, soaking one over my head and putting the other 2 in my jersey, one on each shoulder blade.  Then, about halfway into each mile I would squeeze the sponges and get soaked.  I also ran through a bunch of sprinklers and hoses whenever I could, anything to keep cool.  The run course is scenic, as it runs along a lake with houses along it.  Nearly all the residents are out watching the race and many have their hoses ready to spray.  That was very helpful.   For miles 7-13, I kept saying to myself, “only x miles to go to the halfway point, then you can treat yourself to some walking”.  So, once I passed the half marathon point (2 hours 13 minutes), I walked a little bit, up a couple of big hills.  When I started walking, my heart rate dropped down into the 120s-low 130s, so I got energy back each time, so then I started to run.  A lot of the course was downhill at this point, so I ran all the downhills, walked a few uphills, but generally walked the water stations and then ran to the next water station.  I kept telling myself at this point “you can walk an entire mile NEXT mile”, but I never did.  My legs started getting sore (my quads and my left shin) around mile 17.  I never hit a wall because I walked a lot, so I just kept pushing.  Mile 21 or 22 back into Penticton is a long, gradual climb and I ran the whole thing.  That hurt a little.  Once in Penticton, I knew I was almost there and I kept pushing (my pace for the last 8 miles or so when I ran was in the 9:20s-9:30s).  I drank Pepsi at most of the aid stations throughout the race, sometimes Powerbar sport drink, and once in a while ice water.  Sometimes I took ice and I actually drank a little very hot chicken soup twice, which may have helped.  I only ate 3 gels on the course, I was sick of them after 8 gels on the bike.  When I got onto main street, it is downhill, which is awesome!  I kept pushing, ran into my family with 1 mile to go, which was awesome and gave me a boost.  My splits near the end were as follows:  mile 23 (9:56), mile 24 (10:34), mile 25 (9:29), mile 26 (9:24), last .2 (8:27).  At this point, it was still light out and most of the people around me were pushing to try and finish before nightfall (mainly to avoid having to put on the reflector gear).  I felt very strong and ran the last mile a little harder (around 8:00 pace).  In advance of the race, my friends told me to slow down and space myself for an individual picture, so I was trying to do that, but there were a lot of people around and I did the best I could to do so (although I felt pressure from the guy behind me, who crossed with his daughter, which isn’t allowed).  I let out a very loud “whooooo” scream as I crossed and it was over just like that.  I got my medal, finisher t shirt, and hat, had a few pictures taken, and went right to my family.

Click HERE for my Garmin Marathon file

Overall - 13 hours 15 minutes, 1399th place out of 2,832 finishers (slightly better than the middle), 268th out of 419 in my age group.   As soon as I finished, my family and friends asked "how do you feel?" and I had one word.  "PROUD!".  Here is a videos of me right after the race (meant to be a picture):
And here's a video taken of me right before I finish. You can see I look around for my family, but unfortunately I didn't spot them: And here's a video of me 1 mile from the finish (definitely one of my favorite videos!). Note how light it is here, versus when I finished....

Coming out of the swim, pumped up about my time (much faster than I thought I would be)

 If you look closely at this picture, my eyes are shut.  This picture was taken in mile 2 and I remember hitting the wall at this point thinking "how am I going to run 25 more miles?!"  At least I had some ice in my hand to help cool me off (although it felt like it weighed 100 pounds)!

What's next
It's taken me a few months to write this post. I've really enjoyed my post Ironman training. I've still been exercising a lot, but the "two a days" are few and far between. I've been running a lot (5-7 days per week), doing some swimming, and leg strength workouts 2-3 days a week. I've only ridden my bike once since IMC. Running is the easiest thing to do and I love it. No prepping my bike, no going to the pool - just laying my clothes out the night before! I guess I'm officially in the triathlon off season! When I finished IMC, I told myself that I would run the NYC Marathon this year if I was healthy and felt good. A few months later, I feel great, so I'll be running the NYC Marathon on Sunday 11/6 (my bib number is 10372, I'm in wave 1 (starts at 9:40am Eastern), and I'm in the Blue Wave (corrral #10). I don't have a time goal for the race, I'm in it to enjoy the experience. Since IMC, I've been on a 100% plant diet (vegan) and as of last week I'd lost 22 pounds (from 201 to 179) since IMC. I definitely feel leaner and notice that my "easy" runs have been much faster than earlier this year (my long runs have been in the 8:15-8:25 per mile zip code vs 8:45-9:00 and my shorter (6-7 mile) runs have been in the 7:46-8:15 zip code vs. 8:30-8:45). My heart rate for the paces I'm running today are at the same level as my heart rate was earlier this year (e.g., my average heart rate for a 6 mile loop at 7:46 pace will be in the 150s whereas my average heart rate earlier this year at 201 pounds was in the 150s for a pace around 8:15 per mile).  Later, in August 2012, I'll be competing in my second Ironman race, Ironman New York (the first Ironman race to be held in New York City).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How I (accidentally) (temporarily?) became a Vegan

I know I still need to write my 2011 Ironman Canada race report. It is in progress, but I thought I would write about my next (current) conquest. A 100% plant-based diet. No dairy, eggs, animal foods, meat, fish, caffeine, soda, pasta, bread, processed sugars, or candy.


When I was training for Ironman Canada, I was easily consuming 3,500-5,000 calories a day to compensate for 13-17 hours of training exercise per week. I was eating a ton, usually cheeses (cream cheese, cottage cheese, cheese sticks), meats (chicken, cheese burgers), peanut butter (PB&J sandwiches), soda (mountain dew and coke), candy (2-3 bars a day), bagels, and pasta (with tons of butter and salt). I needed to eat a lot to keep up with the calories I was burning, but frankly, I was getting sick of eating.

When I started my Ironman training (February 2011), I weighed 197 pounds (I'm 6'1"). After 30 weeks of training between 12-17 hours per week, I weighed 201 on race day (and my weight was as high as 204 while training). I gained some muscle (which weighs twice as much as fat) and my waist went from 36 to 34, but I still felt bloated from all the food I was eating. I thought about food most of the time and I knew that most of what I was eating was processed or unhealthy.

One day during a long training run, I heard an interview on Ben Greenfield's fitness podcast where Ben was interviewing Dr. Bill Misner, a 71 year old athlete who recently switched to a 100% plant based diet. He said that he became leaner, felt more energy, and his times were improving - all from going on a 100% plant based diet. He talked about a 43 year old male that had a heart attack - this person ate a pretty good western diet, was in shape, and had no family history. When this 43 year old doctor, who had a 90% blocked artery, asked his doctor "what do I do?", his doctor replied "go on a 100% plant based diet". So, the 43 year old male did so and 23 months later, his 90% blocked artery was 100% OPEN. When I heard this, I said to myself "hmmm, maybe I can reverse my coronary artery disease (diagnosed in 2010, huge family history of heart disease in my family)". Dr. Misner also talked about how people on a plant based diet have a much lower risk of heart disease and cancer. I was sold.

See below for the link to the podcast I mentioned. The interview starts around minute 33. This podcast turned me on to trying a whole food plant diet. It is well worth the time.

Ben Greenfield interview with Dr. Bill Misner (it is episode #154)

I got home from my run after listening to the podcast and told my wife "when I finish the Ironman I'm going to try a 100% plant based diet for a little while". Yeah right Jim (or something like that) was her response. 6 weeks later, I finished my Ironman, and on Friday September 2, 2011, 5 days after my Ironman race, I went cold turkey. 100% plant based diet - no dairy, animal foods, meat, fish, caffeine, soda, pasta, bread, or candy. Somebody said to me "you're a strict vegan!" I'd heard that term vegan before but didn't even know what that was when I started. I have crohn's and colitis and some food allergies (apple skins, cherries, most other fruit skins, and soy), so I wasn't even sure that I could handle eating vegetables without causing a flare-up of the crohn's.

I wanted to start strict so that it would be easy for me to add things back in to eat later. I figured that would be better than starting more liberally and then becoming strict. In my mind, it would be too easy to cheat if I were to start liberally. I began eating vegetables, fruits, oatmeal, and drinking a lot of water (nothing else except a little Gatorade). I measured all of my food and bought fresh vegetables and fruit (beans being the only exception out of the can). I started counting all my calories to see how much I was eating but also to make sure that I get the right amount of protein and other vitamins. I also take a one a day vitamin to supplement my diet (something I have been doing for 20 years).

As of yesterday (9/27/11), 26 days after going 100% plant based, I've lost 16 pounds (from 201 to 185). I lost 7 pounds in the first 7 days. I haven't weighed 185 in 15 years. I have more energy, feel more relaxed, feel leaner, sleep better, and notice my exercise recovery is better.

30 weeks of intense physical activity - gained 4 pounds.
28 days of a plant based diet with regular exercise - lost 16 pounds.

I'm 100% convinced that diet is 95% of the battle when talking about weight, and exercise is critical to keep the body fit and in shape. They both are critical to long term good health. I have been exercising everyday, either running, swimming, or strength workouts for my legs (I'm running the NYC Marathon in November and the Las Vegas marathon on 12/4, which is being run on the strip at night and is also a rock n roll marathon. Today I heard that they are expecting 35,000-40,000 people to run the race. I'm very surprised that there will be that many runners. It will be awesome to run on the strip at night!)

A vegan diet isn't easy, one has to be 100% dedicated to it. On average, I've been consuming 1,800 - 2,400 calories per day and have also exercised every day since starting (which is why I know I have energy). I'm getting enough protein and other vitamins. It was really hard the first 2 weeks, when I realized that I thought about food a ton, but after that my stomach shrank and I stopped thinking about food so much. It's almost like the food I was eating (candy, milk, cheese, burgers, fries, etc.) was my drug, and it took me a couple of weeks to wean myself off this drug (withdrawal symptoms included). However, after a month, surprisingly, it feels more natural to eat a plant based diet than the foods I was eating. I've had no cholesterol in 4 weeks either.

Some people think I am crazy. Since I've started my diet, people have called me "extreme" or "crazy" and most say "how do you get your protein?" or "you can't get enough protein eating that way". I have gone out to a few business lunches/dinners and it is definitely tough to find things to eat (along with the embarrassment of eating only plant based things", which my coworkers and friends tease me mercilessly about). I went through the same type of comments when I quit drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with Crohn's in 1994 (frequently, I would be out with my friends and people would say, almost with anger, "WHY AREN'T YOU DRINKING?") and also when I told people that I was going to do an Ironman. But at the end of the day, WHO CARES WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS? What matters is your health, and in 26 days I've proven to myself that what I have been eating is MUCH healthier. I can't tell you the number of people that have said "YOU LOOK GREAT!" over the last few weeks (thanks to those of you that have said that!)

I talked to my cardiologist yesterday and told her that I want to reverse my heart disease. She wasn't a believer and put my chances at less than 5%. She's never seen anybody do it, but said "Jim, if anybody can do it, you can". So, we agreed that I may get a test in 6 months to see if I have reversed it. Honestly, I'm not sure that I want to be a vegan for 6 more months, but I'm willing to try to see if I can reverse the disease. Either way, I know I'll be healthy for the next 6 months. I'm scheduled to get my blood work and cholesterol checked next month, will report on that.

Many of my friend have asked me "what do you eat", so here is what I have been eating:
For breakfast, I have 3/4 of a cup of Quaker Oats (in 3/4 cup of water, I don't get the quaker oats premade packages, I get the old fashioned quaker oats), which I make on the stove top (no microwave). I put in bananas, strawberries, and/or blueberries (I change it up everyday). I DO NOT put sugar in (I used to LOVE putting on a ton of brown sugar). I also put 2 large tablespoons of flax seed on top, which gives me great omega 3 and omega 6, which is important since vegans need the fat and protein. I love it and after a few weeks I don't even crave the sugar anymore.

Link to the flax seed I use (you can buy it at Vitamin shoppe too):

Swanson Flax Seed

For lunch, I have a salad with romaine lettuce or spinach, black beans, broccoli (all high in protein), tomatoes, green and red peppers and onions. I put lemon tahini dressing on it (make sure whatever dressing you use is vegan (no dairy)).

For dinner, I have black beans or red kidney beans (I like Goya, and I wash the beans before heating them on the stove top (I don't t boil, rather I just heat them up), peppers (last night I cut up red, orange, and yellow peppers), avocado (although I stopped avocado over the last week as my body hasn't craved the fat as much), onions, and potatoes (boiled). I put salt on of course! I eat until I am full. I also put on alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, corn, kale, cucumbers, or other vegetables. Sometimes I have broccoli and sweet potatoes/yams also.

As a snack, I've been having almonds (measuring them, usually 1/4 cup, to make sure I don't eat too much) or fruit.

I only drink water during the day, eat a lot of bananas as snacks, have pineapple (I buy the fruit and cut it up myself), or other fruits. I have a banana and a little Gatorade before I exercise and sometimes have a bottle of Gatorade as a treat. I've been exercising moderately everyday and I count my calories EVERY DAY. The first 2 weeks were hard (particularly the first week), but once my body got used to it my stomach shrank and I no longer think about food all the time.

If you try, go all in and I believe you will see results. No dairy or processed sugar! You will likely feel tired initially, but fight through it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Open Water Ocean Swim in Vancouver, Canada

Over the weekend, I went open water swimming in the ocean by Locarno beach in Vancouver with and Paul (Miranda's husband) and Paul (Paul's coach) Canada.  Water temperature was around 65 degrees and the water was choppy (at times, very choppy).   This was my first open water swim since early June.  I've been swimming a lot lately and have improved my swimming times, but I still find swimming in open water to be tough (sighting in the toughest).  Hopefully swimming in a lake for the race will be much easier than swimming in the choppy ocean.  Paul and Miranda (married) and I will all be competing in Ironman Canada in 6 days on 8/28/11.  Miranda also took my daughter Mikayla swimming and the two of them had a great time. 
Here are some pictures!

From left to right  - Paul (my friend Paul's coach), Paul (my friend), me, Mikayla, and Miranda

Paul and me (blue cap) after a tough swim workout

Mikayla pouring cold water over daddy's head after daddy's 2 hour and 40 minute brick workout - my last long workout before the race!

Miranda and Mikayla with the Vancouver skyline in the background

Kaiya, Miranda, and Mikayla with me getting a few swim tips from Coach Paul (despite the cool 65 degree water I was still very hot in my wetsuit, so I unzipped it while taking a break)

Miranda and Mikayla

Look at the great view of Vancouver in the background!