Written by Christopher Kelly
Dec. 1, 2016
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and today I'm joined by Bob McRae. Hi, Bob.
Bob: Hello. How are you?
Christopher: Good, good. I'm very excited to have you on the podcast today to talk about some of your racing and training and some of the testing that you've been doing. For the people listening, Bob is ranked number one in his age group in the USAT rankings. You recently competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona and I think you've got a fantastic result. I want to start by asking you why Ironman? Why would anyone want to do this type of super intense, super long ultra endurance exercise?
Bob: Well, I mean, everybody is different. For me, I feel like what Ironman provides me is an ability to rejuvenate my life, gives me balance. It sounds oxymoronic, I'm sure. But I always feel like I need to have an extreme focus in my life and if I'm able to diversity in the things I work on then I'm not manic about one particular thing. So, Ironman helps me really focus on keeping myself healthy away from just spending all my time working or perhaps my family. It's a good way of giving myself some personal time.
Beyond that, I found, as I got started in triathlon, that as the durations got longer I became more competitive. Two years after starting, I went into half Ironman and I was doing better than the Olympic distance. Another year or two later I started, did my first Ironman and got pretty close to the coveted ten-hour mark on my first time. I realized that it was probably a sport that I could probably excel in. Several years later, here I am, not quite in my potential but pretty close.
Christopher: And tell me about the rest of your life? I always wonder about people like you. Are you just a retired entrepreneur that made a ton of money in your 30s and now you have all the time in the world to train?
Bob: I wish that were the case.
Christopher: I wish it was true for me too.
Bob: Maybe when I'm 60. Although I have a great deal of flexibility with my work. I actually work from home. I tell people my [0:02:16] [Indiscernible] is great. I'm getting in my jammies down the stairs and it's good and bad. I can work until 2:00 a.m. pretty easily but I can also get out in the middle of the day and go out for a run, or even a couple of times of day. But over the last 18 months, I actually work three days a week nominally, ended up being around 30 to 40 hours a week. And I was able to devote Thursdays and Fridays to do some longer sessions, which particularly helped leading up to Ironman.
It was a good deal of flexibility in my work that allowed that. So, I still spend a good amount of time at work. I'm now back at work full time. But I was able, over the last couple of years, a year and a half, to devote a fair amount, more time on training.
Christopher: And how many hours per week did you spend at the peak? In training, I should make clear, sorry.
Bob: I think it probably peaked out just maybe 20, 22 or so, which is not crazy compared to a lot of folks and even compared to my own history. I think what I found is a good solid base in the spring and early summer of a lot of high intensity, just even ten hours a week, keeps things pretty competitive. And then I don't need very much time to ramp up the volume to prepare for Ironman. Probably try to do the same thing next year with just like even four weeks of Ironman specific training. I'll spend most of the time next year at around that 10-hour, ten to 12-hours and the just a few weeks at around 15 to 20.
Christopher: Okay. That's not completely bonkers. I could do that. That's not too bad.
Bob: Yeah. It's reasonable.
Christopher: And what approach do you take to your training? Are you a kind of long slow distance guy or are you more like getting in the intensity with those hours that you're training? How does it work?
Bob: Well, it varies by sport and time of the year compared to when the race is. What I found what worked really well for me last year was in the early season I was really doing an experiment. A few people were telling me to slow down and train kind of that Maffetone level. And yet I felt like over the last few years that I got the biggest bang for the buck by operating at zone three, zone four for some relatively short training hour long sessions, for example. That will comprise majority of my training.
I got used to the zone two, zone three training for most of it, most everything, a little bit of zone four. But last year, what I worked on was -- I kept the bike duration very short up until even early June and my first Ironman was in August. And so my longest sessions on the bike, even going into the half Ironman, was an hour and 40 minutes. In fact, all the way up through my first age group win at half Ironman this year, my longest ride was an hour and 40 minutes on the trainer.
That's a hard hour and 40 but that's basically all I was doing up through this early summer. But the run was where I actually took the advice of the few folks who gave me some guidance to slow down and develop that aerobic system. And so I really did focus on just getting back to running at a very comfortable pace and up to the long runs, 20 miles. I think I got to that sometime in the May timeframe.
I vary. The bike and the run were a little bit different. And then as I got close to the Ironman then I went to the traditional -- I wouldn't call it long slow. Most of my training is done in prep for Ironman at race pace or even harder. In fact, one of the guys I trained with who's an extremely talented athlete always gives me a hard time about slowing down and he could kick my butt any day.
Christopher: Wow. So, how do you measure intensity? Do you use a heart rate monitor or power on the bike? How does it work?
Bob: On the bike, I use power just to check my fitness. I then correlate that to heart rate to get just a sense of that. And with the run, I use heart rate but I also use pace. For both, in both bike and run, I very frequently through the year, track my either pace or power at given heart rates. When it comes to racing, I know for the bike what I can hold for a given distance in terms of power. And for the run I use heart rate for racing.
Christopher: And can you tell me what's like an average sort of heart rate that you hold when you go out for a long run?
Bob: So, long run, 20 miles. Let's say I'll always, especially in trying to prep for Ironman, do negative split. I go out at a very comfortable kind of a -- I've never done a double marathon but what I would feel like I could run all day at, which is, for me, around 135 beats per minute, in my upper 40s now. I'm 48 this month. And then coming back, I'll push it into kind of the half Ironman level, zone two, zone three, which for me is around 155. If I'm healthy and rested, I can race a half Ironman at 155.
Christopher: And then what's your max?
Bob: It's been a long time since I've gone there but I believe it's probably around 175 running. Cycling, I don't know. It's probably somewhere between 170, 175.
Christopher: Okay. I really want to talk to you about some of the testing that we did.
Christopher: First thing I want to talk about is what was going through your mind? What was it that made you decide that you wanted to pull the trigger on spending a whole bunch of money on some fancy test to try and find out what's going on inside your body?
Bob: Well, as I mentioned just before we got started, one of the things I love about the sport is it provides a new challenge. It doesn't matter how good you are or how new you are or what your experience in your life is, there's always something to work on. And I knew that, I just feel that health was going to be my frontier this year and where I could probably get the biggest bang for my buck. Because I'm been doing pretty well in improving my performance over the last years and yet I still felt like my health wasn't quite where I wanted it to be.
And I knew that there are certain things that I should be doing. Improving my diet, for example, and sleep and managing stress and things like that. But most people, especially men, are not very compliant and I'm certainly one of those. While I knew theoretically that I should be doing it, I never really put it to practice, habits that were really earnest to satisfy that desire until this year. I felt like what I wanted to do was to be very, I guess, scientific about it, precise, and get a good base line.
I started searching out certain testing protocols. What drew my attention to it perhaps even last year was the, I guess, Quest Diagnostics Blueprint which they marketed for some time but didn't have available. And then I was listening to a podcast, the Fat Black Podcast, and, I think, I came across your company. The testing is so complex and the results are so complex that what people need is a road map to interpret those findings and do something with them.
And I felt like you could go after more of the generic approach which was costly but looking for a needle on a smaller hay stock but still quite a search to figure out what are the important findings and what to do about them. So, I really just felt like I wanted to spend more time to improve my health this year. I believe that that's what propelled me from just reaching the podium to the top really this year.
Christopher: And so you feel like you've achieved that goal then, improving your health?
Bob: Yes. Although it had definitely been proven to me and I prove to myself that it's not just one and done. You have to constantly work on it.
Christopher: Yeah. It's an ongoing project. I found that for myself personally as well. In the beginning, I thought, oh, I just need to do these things, find these problems, fix these problems and then I'll be done. I won't have to think about it for another 50 years. And that's not been the case. I think it might be because you're doing something crazy, right? You're the number one ranked triathlon in the US in your age group and that's kind of whacky. I'm not sure that humans were designed to do that much activity. So, it may be an ongoing project for you. But can you talk about -- did you have any specific complaints when you went into this?
Bob: Oh, yeah, for sure. And I don't know how long some of these issues are affecting me. But, for example, we found I had a parasite. One of my main complaints as we first started talking early in the year was I'm not recovering as fast as I feel like I should or have in the past from, say, half Ironman. I feel like in the past I could bounce back and, in fact, I could do half Ironman on either Saturday and Sunday and go do a good track session on Tuesday in my past.
This year, I felt like it took me a good week before I could get back into things, maybe ten days before really training was back to where I wanted to be. And I track all my training and so I could definitely see that. I had big goals for this year. I had set out, in the beginning part of this year, to win my age group at Ironman Boulder and break ten hours at Kona, among a few other things. I just was concerned that things are not heading in the right direction.
My fitness was very good. My power and pace for a given heart rate were showing extremely good signs. I couldn't elevate my heart rate and I couldn't recover. Elevation heart rate was the other thing that I was noticing. And just kind of a benchmark, I raced Ironman St. George, the half Ironman three years in a row. This year, I sustained a 150 heart rate during the run. Year prior, I was able to do 155 and the year prior was 162. And the paces were each very similar, within five seconds per mile. So, what I was seeing was this decline in heart rate and the ability to sustain a higher heart rate. I think that that was probably associated with a lack of health and the body just throttling down.
Christopher: Yes. Just limiting the sympathetic, you just can't get -- And I saw that as well when I was over trained and had a whole bunch of GI issues that I couldn't get my heart rate up. It's tempting to believe that you're just super duper fit. Oh, I can ride around for hours and hours and keep my high power and my heart rate is only 130 beats. But it doesn't, I mean, if you ever do intensity, you find that you just can't get your heart rate up at all. So, for cyclocross, it was a whole disaster for me because I was just completely missing that top end.
Bob: Yeah. Well, that's the other thing you mentioned was affecting you that's the same with me was GI issues. And I'm not sure how frequent it was but very frequent, too frequent where I'll go out and go for a run and I'd just be a mess. I'd have to even sometimes stop in the middle and find a bush. And, in fact, it would often affect me during my racing. That was one of the key things I was looking for in my racing was that my gut was feeling better. I can actually run or ride. Usually, it would show up during the run.
Christopher: Yeah, I know. It seems like a lot of things can really spoil an experience. If you're not feeling good then you're not going to enjoy something. It doesn't matter whether it's snowboarding or I've done wakeboarding and kite boarding, if you're feeling bloated, it's just going to ruin the experience. I think it's probably especially true for endurance exercise. If you've got a lot going on in your gut, you had a parasitic infection, blastocystis hominis, which is slightly controversial but a lot of people have it and some people don't have symptoms, but we could see that you also have overgrowth of klebsiella and yeast and then on the stool test there was an elevation of lysosome, which is something that's just created at the site of inflammation. And then also secretory IGA which is also something that goes up when there's inflammation in the gut.
There was, obviously, something going on in your gut that needed taken care of. Of course, your blood chemistry as well, I think, was a dead giveaway. When you look at the white blood cell count on your, just the basic blood chemistry, everything is elevated. The neutrophils were actually low and the lymphocytes were high and the monocytes were high. Your eosinophils were really high. And your eosinophils, I think, is one of the best markers for telling you that something is going on in your gut. Obviously, that's on everybody's complete blood cell count. Anyone can look at this data. But tell me about your diet. I'm really interested to know how your diet was before and how you changed it and what you noticed as a result?
Bob: I'll start with my wife because she's somewhat or mostly vegetarian. She'll eat fish. It's been affected or I should say influenced by that. Generally, pretty healthy, relatively normal diet, nothing crazy. Although I've experimented over the years just trying to improve the quality of the carbohydrates and then preparing for an Ironman I would actually do a restricted carbohydrate diet for the week leading into the race, high fat concentration.
And in general, tried to eat as much fat as I could. So, I'd say it's probably a pretty standard diet but higher on the fat end, relatively higher quality in carbohydrates. But when we started doing this testing and working the Nourish Balance Thrive team, one of the first interventions was -- Well, the first one was diet. It was, I felt, extreme, the Whole30.
Christopher: I'm sorry. I got to feel bad about like you got someone who's stressed out and then you [0:15:29] [Indiscernible] dietary restrictions and I feel terrible about that. But sometimes it would be so helpful.
Bob: I think it was necessary because it just demonstrates -- In hindsight, it's one of those things you do. It's kind of like the prisoner of war training I did in the Navy. You go through it and you're stronger afterwards. You can do anything after. But it's designed to be an intervention, Whole30, and then also I'm sure your approach of making dramatic changes so you can see improvements in your symptoms quickly.
And so it was hard but that was the first thing. I talked with Julie about a phased approach rather than just going straight into it from one day into the next, really phasing out the really key things that can cause inflammation like dairy. That was the first thing that I eliminated. I think, actually, it was probably the sugar was the first thing. And that wasn't too hard because I really don't use that many sugars. So, the sugar was the very first thing. Maybe a week later I got rid of the dairy. And then a few weeks later, I got rid of the little last bits of grain that I was consuming which was rice and oats.
Prior to that, I wasn't really consuming any grains much at all. But when you really just completely go off of them it makes a big difference, I think. I think it was right around the early May time frame that I did, the Whole30, sort of the month of May. And I was pretty compliant although I had to say that I had rice, I think, once a week when we went out. And then after that intervention I stayed pretty compliant with that, more toward a Paleo diet, and kept the grains at a very minimal level and legumes at a very minimal level.
In fact, since then, we've actually gone after the sprouted grains and legumes to address to phytic acid concerns. I feel like that's been probably a pretty positive change longer term. So, I've reintroduced those things. Since Kona though, a month ago, five weeks ago, I've let myself go completely, and as I mentioned to you, I'm kind of doing a crossover longitudinal study. I absolutely felt the difference in, I'm sure it's diet in that I don't feel nearly as good as I did when my diet was better. I know that was long winded answer.
Christopher: No, no. This is really good. I think the key thing here is the mindfulness. So, the mistake that I made for the first 35 years of my life was not paying attention to how I felt as the result of eating different foods and it was really Julie that introduced me to this concept. You just ate that and now you felt like shit. What are you going to do next time? I've not even considered that. It was brutal. But the cardiologist said that I should keep fat low and I'll be fine? I kind of understand what you're talking about.
But it's noticing the difference. I don't really care what anyone eats. I just want them to notice how it makes them feel. You may not notice that overnight. It's difficult. It could be a period of months or even years before you start seeing problems and that's where, I think, the testing can be really influential.
Bob: That's one of the benefits of the Whole30 is that it is extreme for most people. And it takes some time to recognize the benefits. I will say also that one of the motivations of doing this was that my daughter was having some GI issues and, in fact, skin issues. And so, just around the same time frame, she and I both went dairy and gluten free and I know, I mean, it's so clear, that she has responded extremely well to cutting out dairy and gluten. Her skin is so much clearer and her GI issues are completely gone.
She is six years old or five and a half. I mean, she was having accidents every day. Every day. I mean, it was so frustrating for, I'm sure, her and addition to us, of course. But that's all gone. I mean, entirely gone. And her skin is clear.
Christopher: That's amazing.
Bob: Yeah. I don't need to see it for myself. It's good to see it for myself. When I see it for a family member like my daughter, it makes the point. And the other thing that's been exciting about this is that you talked about the certain level of activity I have and perhaps how different my life is. I don't believe it is. I mean, I believe that humans were designed to be active and way more active than most of us are. And that also what's applicable to a lot of people is just that how much better you can feel just by making some very simple and small changes. Going dairy and gluten free, for example. It's incredible. I mean, it's not just optimizing the performance of an elite athlete. It's just waking up feeling better.
Christopher: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I have a feeling that dairy and gluten, those are the two main things that I see be a problem for the athletes that we work with by far. The finger of suspicion is not pointing to the white rice or legumes, for example. It's definitely dairy and gluten. I think those two things may end up being your kryptonite. When I look at your blood chemistry now, you have an elevation of thyroid peroxidase antibodies and a really elevated TSH, so there's something going on with your thyroid physiology there that could be related, I think, to either gluten and dairy. I don't know. I think you should track those and like maybe stay away from them. They're your kryptonite.
Bob: Yeah. Well, it's not hard. I mean, I found that easy with coconut milk. I just can't believe that I spend my whole life without really enjoying it and now, I mean, I eat it every single day, several times a day and it's great. It's a nice substitute. It's got lots of fat in it too.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. I can remember looking at coconut milk when I was in my 20s and thinking, well, this is delicious and then thinking, oh my god, how much saturated fat is in this? Yeah, now, I drink this stuff. It's awesome. I really wanted to talk to you about the race day. I just can't imagine -- So, for mountain biking, it's pretty straightforward. You rock up with your bike and you need air to your tires and the gun goes off and you just ride. Occasionally, you crash. Occasionally, you flat. But for the most part, there's not really much else to think about. Whereas with -- sorry?
Bob: We crash and flat too.
Christopher: I know, but with triathlon, I just think -- I just couldn't get my head around the idea of organizing all that stuff. Like you have transition zones and you have three different sports to think about. I feel like it just takes so much more organization than anything I've ever done. Walk me through the period leading up to -- I mean, you've got to travel with all this stuff. What's it even like getting to the island?
Bob: Well, yeah, especially with the four-year old and the six-year old. But this year was very different. I was going to the island to win my age group. I went differently than I've gone before. In fact, I went out ten days prior to the race and I went by myself. And just so that I could rid myself of all that travel stress and be able to just focus on what I needed to do for the first seven days. And then the family showed up.
In terms of like logistics leading up to it, it's a huge endeavor. I mean, you've got all the equipment that you take and just the amount of time that I spend -- I think it was three weeks on the island before we left. That's on the extreme end of things, I think, especially for an age group athlete. It's just a matter of over the years you just learn tricks on how to pack certain gear. For example, my bike is down into a very small case that I can travel with it. I could even probably take my six-year old with me at this point and carrying the bike.
I use the Hen House which is from Ruster Sports that makes the bike that I ride, the Dimond. It all packs up in a nice little thing that's just easy to just carry on, relatively easy. It's not like one of those big old bike cases that you--
Christopher: I've got one of those. It's a nightmare.
Bob: Yeah. And over the years I've just adopted a minimal gear strategy, just to try to -- The fewer things that you have to worry about from the technical standpoint, the fewer problems you have in general. And so I went out ten days prior. It was 28th of September. I was able to actually go and get a big Costco run for all the food I was going to eat over the next week, got myself checked in to the condo and actually picked up a buddy of mine who was staying in the condo with me for that first week.
That first wee there, I just spent a little bit of training, getting used to the heat, just keeping it very low key and very low stress. I checked into the race including doing the practice swim on the Saturday prior to the race, which was pretty cool. It's always nice to be able to get out there early and ride on the course, get much more familiar with it. And, of course, I mean, like I say, getting used to the environment there is just very, very different. As much as you're physically prepared for an Ironman there's something very different about Kona. It takes getting used to, the wind and the heat especially.
Christopher: I have been there but not to ride a bike or swim or run. I've been there to kite board because it's only good for those things, right? There's waves and there's wind. Yeah, those two things aren't really compatible with cycling or running or swimming.
Bob: Well, actually, I think they are depending on your outlook and your strength. I mean, for me, it's [0:24:41] [Indiscernible] cap that, for me, the wind was an advantage. I mean, it was a particularly strong wind day during the race and I noticed in prior years as well that that's where I started to make up ground against people that I'm typically riding with side by side for a good portion of the course.
The wind would pick up, I would move ahead. Prior to that is strength and focus and some of it is just the way you look at it. I have tried to train myself that the wind is my friend. I think it really worked out on race day and that worked on that respect.
Christopher: Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about especially on the road bike. Obviously, you come out the corner and there's a really bad head wind and it's really easy to go sort of give up, isn't it, and think, oh, this sucks and you're just not going to do anything at all. Of course, that's the opposite of what you should do. You can look at it in a positive light. Maybe it's not true on Kona but I've noticed that because of the additional cooling of the head wind, you tend to produce more power for the same heart rate because you've got an additional cooling wind. Maybe that's not true on Kona because the wind is not cool.
Bob: No. I had all kinds of technical problems on the bike that -- I don't know.
Christopher: Before we get into that, I really want to talk about the start of this race. So, how does it get down? Is it like you run into the water or you [0:26:02] [Indiscernible]?
Bob: Yeah. So, for Kona, it's got a very narrow entrance to the swim start. They do a mass start. It's one of the few Ironmans that's still mass starts. It's not actually entire mass start. It's a mass start of all the male age group first and the females version fifteen minutes later. Still, you wait out. You enter the swim area, you swim out probably 200 yards out to the start. And then you just wait out there until the gun goes off and then it's -- I think, most people have probably seen the mass start at Kona. It's kind of a wrestling match for about 20 minutes as the people find their place in the water.
Christopher: And so I just imagine this. You got people kicking you in the face and swimming over you. What happens?
Bob: Yeah, pretty much. Well, there's a really funny video. I think it's a clip/video or advertisement. It's a mock advertisement, I think, of this guy who's preparing for sort of triathlon. He's got like five or six guys on each side of him beating the crap out of him with paddles and pushing him under and all kinds of things. All these people are amped up and excited and trying to be competitive and panicking.
Christopher: Right, right. I've put so much effort into this. It represents possibly years of my life of training. I've a great financial investment to be here.
Bob: Most people know what they're doing and are being good sportsmen but some people are not. And some people are just -- They're crowded. Like I said, in some cases, it's a little bit of a panic situation where you can't breathe and you can't stop because there's somebody right behind you and there's somebody in your left and right and right front. It's hard but you just have to keep your head in the water and just focusing on exhaling while you're getting pummeled and knowing that it will come to an end at some point. But this year, actually, was really chaotic for like 30 minutes all the way to like turnaround. It was like a mile, 1.2 miles of chaos.
Christopher: And that's not normal. So, normally, in an event, like the mayhem would be over within a few minutes.
Bob: Yeah, usually ten minutes. And, in fact, what's interesting, a lot of people would say that Kona is particularly bad in that respect, the swim start. But my prior experience is, and this was my fourth, it's not been that bad. It's very clear water so you can see where you're going. Most of these people know what they're doing. They're typically pretty good swimmers. People can watch out for each other. I don't know what was different about this year. I think perhaps what was different was I was a better swimmer this year so I was up with the fray.
Christopher: Yeah, I noticed that as well with mountain biking. It's just bonkers. Like the cat 2 guys are just -- yeah, you got like tremendous variability in both skill levels and endurance capacity. And then as you move up, just everybody is pretty good. And then when you get to the fun of cat 1 it's really, really civilized. You got guys chatting with each other. On your left, on your right, it's really, really civilized. So, it typically gets better as you get faster. I don't know. Okay. So, you finished the swim. How did the swim go for you overall time wise? Were you pleased with the result?
Bob: I was over the moon. I had planned on an hour ten minutes before getting to the island. I think my race estimate was an hour and ten. Then I did the practice swim the week prior, which is on the same course, like 400 people, so it's a little bit smaller but it's still a mass start and not nearly as chaotic. I came out of the water that practice swim 1:05 and I was elated by that. I was thinking maybe 1:07, 1:08, 1:10.
And so I was thinking that going to the race, it's somewhere between perhaps 1:03 to 1:05, 1:06 but I came out 1:02. So, I think that there are a couple of things that contributed to that, which I can get into if you like but I'm incredibly pleased with the swim. I couldn't believe it. Still can't.
Christopher: Yeah, don't leave us hanging. Why do you think it went down like that?
Bob: Well, as my blog title implies, I can ramble on. I am a rambler.
There are, I think, two key things with the swim. Maybe three. Obviously, I spent a great deal of time with my swim coach working on technique and fitness. But, I think, the key two things that really helped in that particular race were, I figured out how to draft. I don't think I ever before have been able to draft very well. And so I think I had a good draft position three quarters in the race with the swim and it's legal in that part of the race.
And then the other thing which not only was beneficial in the swim but also through the entire race, through the running and bike, was, I think, the result of the meditation work I was doing leading up to the race. About a month prior, I bought one of those Muse meditation devices which gives you feedback, real time feedback as you're meditating. And it really is a training wheel for meditation and especially good for people who have a difficult time keeping their mind focused on one thing, type A folks.
I spent a month being very diligent about it. I think there were perhaps two days in that month I did not meditate but most days I was meditating once, twice leading up to the race. It was very good. I was lengthening the time and achieving new metrics of mindfulness or peaceful mind. I mentioned this in my blog that I was being very good about it and typically a lot of things that you do in one part of your life you can recognize benefits in others. I call it a crossover effect.
I was looking for that crossover, like when am I going to notice the benefits of this new training? I'm exercising my brain now. And how is it going to show up? Just kind of curious. And I just wasn't really seeing it other than the fact that I was able to fall asleep very, very easily afterwards. That in itself, I think, is worth the minimal investment in the device. If anybody has trouble going to sleep, do this for seven minutes and you can get rid of your sleep aids and your melatonin and all that.
But anyway, other than that, I really didn't notice anything until the chaos started in the swim. I have to attribute it to my calmness that came just naturally to the meditation. I can't think of anything else that could explain it. And it's not like I trained myself to deal with that chaos. I did some visualization after the meditations but they were always about running comfortably, passing people, biking smoothly. But it didn't have anything to do with like, how do I deal when someone -- like my face in the water and someone is pushing me down. But yet it just was amazing that I was able to keep my head in the water, focus on what I needed to keep my hands in front of me, keep my position and just breathing.
Christopher: And then what turned you on to the Muse device? I think I've had something similar in the past that I need to, maybe wondering whether I should take that out of my drawer now to get back into it, is the emWave device that I used to use. I think it's a similar principle. It's like it gives you some feedback on your current mental state and you get a green light when you're meditating so you know it's working. It's tremendously helpful. It definitely works. It's all grounded in science. What was it that turned you on to the Muse device?
Bob: Well, here again, another plug for the Fat Black Podcast.
Christopher: Oh, really? Was it them?
Bob: Yeah, I think it's 187. Because I've referred a few people to it. Yeah. And when I travel I listen to the podcast in particular,
Christopher: I will, of course, link to this for people listening. Go to the show notes and I'll link to everything that we talk about. So, did you try anything else before the Muse device?
Christopher: I really know Headspace but it's totally different. There's no feedback in the same way that you get with this Muse device?
Bob: No. I think the feedback, the real time feedback is critical because your mind can move so quickly and you have to move, remind yourself that, okay, I'm doing something and I need to be mindful about it. I need to be ahead of this practice. No, I didn't do anything prior to Muse.
Christopher: Interesting. Okay. So, you're out in the water, you're delighted with the swim. What happened next?
Bob: Yeah. So, I was really happy about the swim. Got through transition one pretty quickly. This time, I remembered to take off my skin suit. Last year I forgot it and end up losing it. So, I got out there quickly. I was excited to get on the bike and get out and get going. I was pushing my bike out to the mount line and somehow I looked down and noticed my front wheel looks a little flat or fat. I slowed down a little bit and not only is it fat but it's flat. I'm like, "Really?" The irony is that I helped the female winner out on the road, Daniela Ryf, with her flat a few days prior and yet somehow I got the flats. I didn't know how that kind of worked.
Christopher: Maybe it's longitudinal again. Like maybe you'll get that back in ten years time or something.
Bob: Yeah, maybe. Maybe when I win.
So, yeah, I'm rolling my bike out and I noticed I got a damn flat. I start yelling for some tech support see if perhaps I could just get some help really quickly because my biggest concern was I didn't want to start 112-mile bike ride without a spare. And so the guy, the volunteer guy at the mount line was telling me, "No, you got to do it yourself." All right, here we go.
So, I started changing my tire and my tube more and focused and fumbling and somebody grabs my wheel and says, "Follow me." So, of course, I did abide and following this guy. he brings the wheel over to a couple of tech support guys and they were working quickly. This guy is telling me, "Okay, don't kill yourself coming out here trying to make it up the time." I'm like, "Don't worry. I'm perfectly happy. I've got three minutes to spare. I've got a plan."
I got three minutes to spare because I did so well in the swim. I'm realizing that the guy who's telling me to not go crazy is the CEO of Ironman, Andrew Messick. He's pretty cool. He's a very active guy out there, and he was asking me to get some help from him. I think a lot of times a lot of people, myself included, would be kind of frantic at this point. I want to win my age group and I've got a flat tire. But yet I was still pretty calm. I mean, I really was calm and giddy still maybe from the swim.
So, I was telling Andrew that I had a plan. My plan consisted of getting on the bike and riding a specific power according to a certain speed. So, I've got this whole plan worked out, very, very simple. And so the tire, the tube gets changed quickly and I'm out maybe a minute or two later. I mount the bike and I realize my power meter is not working. The battery is dead. Unbelievable. I'd been on the bike a few times on the island. I just changed the battery before getting there. I don't know how the heck the battery is dead.
So when I realized I got to go to plan C at this point and I got to gage my effort on the bike just perceived effort. I know there are all kinds of ways you can do that but I felt like the more tangible way of doing that is just by breathing. I noticed that breathing is the best way for me to really gage my effort anyway. It's not very scientific or quantitative but it works. It was actually very, very fortunate because it had direct ties to the meditation practice of breathing. I mean, all that practice was on breathing, all that meditation work I was doing.
I didn't plan that. I didn't have a contingency plan of, well, if the battery dies on my power meter I'll go to breath base effort. But it just came, again, naturally. I think, again, there, that calmness and presence of mind and good decision making came from the meditation.
Christopher: How do you measure your perceived exertion through breathing?
Bob: I mean, it's a feeling and it's the breath rate and the depth of your breaths. It should be relatively relaxed and full and as the winds pick up where you're going up the hill it gets to be a little more frequent and deeper but it's never where you're like at the end of a 10k race or whatever. You're not killing yourself at any point. That's what I did.
Christopher: Okay. I thought you're going to tell me that you were nose breathing for the whole five hours.
Bob: No, no, no. Not that kind.
Christopher: And you didn't get another flat. I'd be terrified. If that had been me, I would be thinking, there's like a piece of metal or something inside the tire and it's not -- You went so quick we didn't bother to check for that and I'm just going to get another flat at some point.
Bob: No, no. Fortunately, because I got the help, I was able to keep my flat kit. I was in good shape.
Christopher: And how did it go over all the time? Were you happy with the time on the bike?
Bob: Well, generally, that's such a wildcard. I had predicted somewhere between 4:45 and 4:52 on the bike and that was based on prior years' conditions or prior year, last year, 2015. Now, it was a windier year. So, that considered, yeah, I'm pretty happy. I looked at some of the guys. They're uber cyclists and not too many minutes behind them. I think there were 290 guys my age group, somewhere in that order, and I had the eighth fastest time. So, pretty good considering those are some of the best cyclists in the world in their sport.
Christopher: And what were you eating this whole time? I always wondered about this. Like what the heck do you eat in an Ironman?
Bob: Well, on the bike, it's all -- During the time of the race for me, it's always liquid. The bike, I use the First Endurance EFS products. I basically put 800 calories of the liquid shot in for the first 60 miles and I dilute that with water so it's easy to drink. I just reach back and fill up my front hydration system with that. And then I top it off with water. So, I'm just constantly taking in this dilute EFS liquid shot. And then at 60-mile mark, at Kona, it's at 60, there's a special needs so you pick up another bottle. And there I get another 800 calories of, in this case, it was the EFS drink which has, I think, some more electrolytes and it's a little bit easier to drink.
That had also the PreRace in it, which gives you some caffeine that really helps focus on the last bit of distance at the end.
Christopher: So, just carbs? Is that all there is? There's not fat in there or anything?
Bob: It's carbs. No fat. It's got amino acids and a lot of electrolytes. I think the amino acids are extremely helpful.
Christopher: Interesting. And then do you use stuff like this in training as well as in racing?
Bob: Yeah, typically, although it depends on the duration. I experiment quite a bit in training just to see if new products work for me. In fact, I'll go out some rides even as long as 80 miles with almost no calories and prepping my body to use fat. It varies but typically I'll use just the carbohydrate solution.
Christopher: And you don't find yourself becoming -- So, when I got into these things I just became so dependent on them so quickly and, I guess, everyone's individual. You obviously have not that problem.
Bob: No. No, no. I know that for sure that some things don't work for me. It depends on the effort level. Especially in training. I can go from almost no calories to 300 and 400 calories an hour of almost anything. My stomach is pretty good except for on the run. I'm going to still figure out.
Christopher: Oh, really? So, what happened in the run?
Bob: Overall, I mean, I shouldn't complain. The run is where, I think, I was short of my goal in a sensitive way. My stomach just started giving me grief at mile seven or so. It started with like cramping and then it turned into bloating and then just kind of nausea. So, I was just nursing my stomach from mile seven through about 20. Half of that marathon I was just kind of on the edge with my stomach wouldn't let me run anymore. Otherwise, I've been puking. I think it's the combination of the Gatorade and heat there. It has to be. Because I did the same nutrition plan at Boulder and my stomach was great the whole time.
Christopher: What happens if you don't eat anything? So, that's the strategy that I've been using recently in stage race. I was racing four hours every day and I just didn't eat anything. And maybe that was sub optimal in terms of my performance but I'm willing to give up just a tiny bit of performance just to enjoy the day, if you know what I mean? When I think about that, when you have GI symptoms, that's just totally going to ruin it. And if you're not doing it for a living then why are you doing it? You're not having fun.
Bob: What I noticed at Boulder was I started feeling hungry at mile 40 on the bike. That feeling persisted through the end of the run and yet it was by far a huge PR for me. Not the swim necessarily but the bike and run by just huge margins. And it wasn't no calories but it was for a 10-hour, 9-hour day, I think I put in perhaps less than 2000 calories or something, so not very much. Four hours, no calories, yeah, I could do that. I'm not sure much beyond that.
I think on the bike, a good strategy is just to basically put in what you're consuming on the bike and perhaps the swim. And then if you hit the run with full glycogen stores and your body is fat-adapted you could probably get away with nothing. And, in fact, I was watching Jan Frodeno in 2015, the German coverage, it's just really -- You see almost every moment of the marathon and they're watching him. I don't think he took in any calories that I could see. I think he was only taking in water.
And if he took any calories, there were only maybe a few times he did. So, it's probably possible. It's scary to think about. It's going to take some experimentation. It's hard to experiment because, I mean, we never train for a full Ironman. I'm not quite sure how to do that other than perhaps just try it at a race and ended up to someone training. Now, I've done a lot of fasted long workouts including 20-mile runs. I know that I start to suffer about mile 18 if I'm fully fasted. I'm not sure you're suggesting a fully fasted--
Christopher: No. Actually, it's funny you should say it but I've interviewed Keith Runyon who was on the podcast this last week, actually, as I'm speaking now, which is going to confuse the hell out of everyone. I'll link to that in the show notes. Keith did the full Ironman without consuming anything but he's obviously not nearly as active as you. I know it can be done. But yeah, no, I wasn't suggesting doing the full thing fasted. I was just thinking by the time you're done with the bike like just forget about food.
Bob: Well, yeah, in hindsight, I wish I would have just gone to water. It's something that you can change. That would have been the better thing to do instead of trying to stick with the Gatorade. Actually, I switched to Coke pretty quickly. That didn't quite do. And then finally it was Red Bull that did it.
Christopher: Oh my god. I think I've got to this point with my racing where I'm very risk averse with anything. I'd rather just go a bit slower and not have anything.
Bob: Well, yeah.
Christopher: It's tough though, man. So, how did you end up overall? How was the result?
Bob: It was a huge PR for me. I knocked 25 minutes off my prior best time, actually 47 minutes. It was a 9:45. I finished 28th in my age group in the world, which is the top 15 percentile in the world championship. So, a lot of people say that's great. One of my goals, one of the goals start of the year was top ten in the age group. And as the year progressed and my health improved, as my fitness continued to improve, which we haven't talked about, maybe some other time, I felt like I could win.
I'm not sure in hindsight whether I really had the potential to win but I certainly had the potential to be on the podium, in the top five. So, I did well. I shouldn't complain. I'm still ranked number one USA team, my age group. I think that says a lot. This sport is mostly, for me, about improvement. So, I should be happy with that. But my ultimate goal is to race to my potential and it wasn't quite there.
Christopher: So, what are you going to do? I've been kind of pondering this myself recently. What am I going to do next year? Am I going to do it all again and we're going to start doing a base period and then do a bunch of races next year? I'm not sure that this is the best strategy for longevity. So, at some point, am I going to call it a day? I don't know. It requires some soul searching and how much do I get out of this versus how much do I put in? So, tell me what your plans. What are you going to do next year?
Bob: Well, I've already made decisions before this race that I'm going to stick to. I'm going to focus on halfs this year. I feel like I've got the bike down. It's turned out to be my strength. I used to be a pretty strong runner. I won't say really strong but -- So, I really want to focus on halfs and getting faster overall, particularly in the swim and the run. And then I'll go back to Ironman when I age up to 50-54 and the go back to Kona and then go back to that podium position.
Christopher: Awesome. And you think you can do that without getting divorced?
Bob: That's part of the plan. I'm taking next year off Ironman. Although I am looking at perhaps a late season Ironman to quality for 2018.
Christopher: Oh my goodness. It just doesn't stop. I've kind of pondering at racing but I know that once the race starts getting close I'll be wanting to do them for sure.
Bob: Yeah. It takes discipline and planning. If it's a late season Ironman and also especially the way I'm planning on doing it, which is I won't really even start prepping for Ironman until like September, that gives a lot of more, much more free time during the whole summer.
Christopher: And what about the testing? Are you going to continue testing and fine tuning and making sure that everything is in order?
Bob: Yeah. I think the testing is important certainly from a maintenance standpoint. I think the trick is just going to be trying to figure out which test and which markers to look at. But, yeah, I think it's going to be important to keep up.
Christopher: Yeah. I mean, I just like to keep redoing the test that find a problem until you've solved all the problems. So, you did a urinary organic acid and you found an elevation of methylmalonic, which indicates a B12 deficiency. That may be something that's lingering from your vegetarian tendencies in the past because there's no plant sources of B12. But the blood chemistry as well, right? When you found a bunch of problems there you want to redo that and make sure that those problems are fixed.
Bob: Yeah, yeah.
Christopher: And kind of your DUTCH. I'm just looking at your DUTCH again now and you've got that classic hypothyroid pattern where you're producing a normal amount of cortisol, cortisol being the most important of the stress hormones, but you're not clearing it properly. So, you see an elevation of free cortisol. We see that nearly in all endurance athletes. And then you look at the blood chemistry and you see the TSH is six or seven or something. So, it's like the cortisol is just the manifestation of a thyroid problem. I mean, I would want to keep doing those tests and just making sure that everything is in order there.
Bob: Yeah. I think it's probably a good idea.
Christopher: Yeah. Cool. Thank you so much for doing this with me. I really, really appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything else that -- Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you'd want to talk about? I will, of course, link to your blog in the show notes to this episode so people can follow your training.
Bob: I think that's a good recap. I'm honored to be able to spend the time talking to you and, hopefully, folks find this interesting.
Christopher: Yeah, no, absolutely. It's a pleasure. I always enjoy working with everyone because I always learn something from everyone. Everyone's got their own tips and tricks and hacks and, obviously, they're invested in their health else they wouldn't be talking to me and because of that they've already done their own research. So, I always learn something from people and I'm really grateful for that. Yeah, thank you so much for doing this with me.
Bob: Of course. All right, have a great day.
Christopher: Cheers, Bob.
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