Simulated Coaching

Simulated Coaching

With Michigan Titanium behind me, I’ve starting going over how I trained (or didn’t train) for the race.

After having completed Ironman Wisconsin the year before, my thought was that some missed runs, rides or swims will not make or break my chances of crossing the finish line. That mentality is what led to my demise at MiTi, so I began thinking about what EXACTLY was different.

Last season I worked with Coach Jen Harrison, who is a rockstar. Jen is a super experienced triathlete and very knowledgable coach. She was great at not only designing my training to help me meet my racing goals, but also at explaining why certain workouts were important. Jen coached me to 5 PR’s including the Chicago Marathon and two IM 70.3’s before preparing me for Ironman Wisconsin.

This season I made a change to an online training company called Optimized Training Labs (OTL).

OTL is a newer program that uses mathematical algorithms to design and build your workouts based on your upcoming races and the data from each workout. Think of it like “Moneyball”, based on your data, these algorithms adjust upcoming workouts.logo

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Sounds kind of cool right?

There was no single reason that I made a coaching switch. A lot of it was cost based. One-on-One coaching grants you a ton of access to your coach, lets you ask an unlimited amount of stupid questions, get great guidance from someone with great experience, but there is a premium to pay for that.

As someone who went from employed to unemployed, that was a cost I decided to cut.

Another reason I made a switch was because I wasn’t sure what my racing plans were going to be. I didn’t want to get into a coaching program only to call my coach and say “Nah, I’m not going to do that race anymore.”

I searched for a while to find a program that would work for me. I looked at Dave Scott training plans, Training Peaks and a variety of other pre-set plans. But my issue is I didn’t want a plan that was set in stone. What happens if I get injured? or my Schedule changes? Then I’m stuck with a plan that doesn’t work for me.

That what I liked about OTL, adjustments could be made. If you’re injured, sick or traveling you can mark missed workouts, set restrictions add or delete races and the algorithm would change upcoming workouts to help prepare you for your ultimate goal.

And it’s only $20/month. Who can argue that?

I didn’t see any reason I couldn’t be successful using this program.

Last season when I was working with Jen, I would often email and say things like “Hey Jen can I do two 70.3’s on consecutive weekends?” or “Jen I want to do a half marathon and marathon back to back!”

Jen would reply, say no and give me the reasons why.

So when I was building my schedule for this season and had a ton of races I wanted to do, but I didn’t really know what would be a good idea and what wouldn’t. So I winged it and picked races I thought would be safe.

Once I had a schedule lined up I felt… OK.

I’m pretty good at following directions. So when my workouts show up in my calendar, I usually have no problem doing them. But I can remember on several occasions getting emails from Jen asking me for my data so she can build my next series of workouts. Or even worse, emails asking why I missed workouts!

When you purchase a training plan or program like OTL there isn’t anyone looking out for you. One of the cool things that Optimized Training Labs does is require you to update your schedule every few weeks and that includes an option to re-test in each discipline to get more accurate data to gauge your improvement.

But If you don’t upload workout data regularly OTL has no way to tune the program for you, which just the same as using a pre-set program.

There is a great amount of self discipline needed to train for endurance sports and having a REAL PERSON as a coach is a perfect safety net for people like me who will tend to slack off every now and then and need the whip cracked!

Now I’m not knocking Optimized Training Labs by any means. I have had emailed them to ask questions about changing schedules, what to do about off season training, ect. They’ve alway emailed me back, usually the same day. They’re constantly making updates and adjustments to their system and asking what athletes are looking for.

One thing I’d like to see OTL add is the ability to train for any race. Currently you select a Triathlete program or Runner program… But what if you’re doing both? For example I just finished MiTi, an Iron Distance Triathlon but the next event on my schedule is the Chicago Marathon. I am able to select “Other” as an upcoming race category, but to be honest “Other” doesn’t sound like it’ll be a finely tuned program.

The only other issue I’ve had with OTL is that uploading data doesn’t seem very user friendly. Most of the time I’d manually import my data (which is an option) but that takes longer, and we’ve already established that I’m a slacker in that department.

Everyone trains and races differently, so I don’t think there is a “right way” to train. I think everyone has to do what works best for them.

Personally, I think I need to get my ass more disciplined and focused on what needs to be done to get the results I want.

Michigan Titanium Race Report

Michigan Titanium Race Report

Grueling probably best describes my day racing MiTitanium Iron Distance race Sunday.

I’m going to talk about the heat. I’ll mention the wind, the darkness, hills and road construction. But the real reason I didn’t have a good outing was because I didn’t really train for this race like I should have.

I hardly swam all season, never road more than 50miles and didn’t run more than 10. So I wasn’t surprised when my day began to crumble… I knew going in to this race that it was going to be painful, so I decided to change my perspective and look at it as an eye opener and beginning of my 2014 season.

MiTi Swim Practice
MiTi Swim Practice

The Saturday before the race I did about a 1/2 mile swim in Lake Versluis. It was a beautiful lake, very clam and clean. The water temp was 74ish and wasn’t expected to rise. Some athletes were saying it was too warm for a wetsuit, but I didn’t feel overheated at all.

After the swim I took time to drive the bike course.

The beginning of the course was filled with rolling hills. The first climb I came across looked ugly. It was a pretty steep incline, though not really too long. But the condition of the road was poor. The climb was loaded with potholes and big cracks. I’m glad I was aware of it ahead of time.

The big issue on the bike course was some surprise construction. The Race Directors had already networked with the city well ahead of time to make sure there would be no issues on the course. They were assured that roads wouldn’t be torn up until Monday (after the race). But to everyones surprise crews ripped up about 600 feet of road mid-day Friday.

The MiTi team spent hours Friday night assessing the situation and made plans not to change the course. They swept off the loose gravel and laid down a thick mat to make the spot ride-able. The road was closed to traffic as I was driving through, but Dave from the Priority Health Cycling Team was out there. He was working with the MiTi crews to assess the issue.

Dave was awesome, he showed me the mat they were going to use and walked me through the whole process on how they planned on dealing with several hundred riders abusing on race day. He was out there with his bike riding and re-riding to make sure it would be safe and effective.

I even took my bike over it a couple times.

The biggest pitfall with the construction was going to be momentum. This section of road came after a nice long decent, but the torn up section was on a climb. Time would tell what kind of difference it would make.

After the course I hit up the expo, got my race packet, racked my bike and headed back to the hotel before dinner then an early bedtime… 4:15a was going to come early.

Transition Setup

Race morning I felt pretty calm. I checked my bike one last time and noticed it was shifting odd, I think it had been knocked over the day before. Thanks to the rockstars at West Michigan bike they adjusted the front derailleur and it was good to go.

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That’s the body of a man who hasn’t trained!

Before you know it, it was time to race!

All of the full distance athletes started in one wave. As we got in the water, I got a little nervous when I saw how FEW people seemed to be starting in this wave! I kept telling myself that I’m not really racing these people. I’m racing MY race.

Then the horn went off.

I started the swim real easy, the plan was to build into it. I felt good the whole swim, only had a couple run-in’s with other swimmers and when it was all over I was only 1:02 off my IMWI time…. I’ll take it!

Because of the swim success I felt great going into the bike, early on I was averaging over 17mph and I was really enjoying going up and down the rollers.

Though my pace was where I wanted it, other riders were passing me like I was walking! It took a while before I remembered that there was also an Iron distance relay and aquabike in addition to the 70.3 racers. So at least some of the people passing me had the luxury (if you want to call it that) of leaving everything out on the bike course… I still had a marathon to go, so I’ll keep my pace.

Soon I hit the first climb with the potholes and cracks, It felt brutal. I was riding with a good sized pack which made it harder to navigate that hill. My legs were screaming. Since the bike was 2 loops I had to do this twice. Each time I got up to the top I expected to see Mike O’Malley handing me my piece of the Aggro Crag (10 points if you got that reference).

A while later I came to the construction section, again I was in a pack, which slowed down the climb. The mat that was covering the missing road seemed to be holding up great. Crews were there sweeping and maintaining it all day. It started as a gradual climb until the very top then it got steep, I took a solid few minutes to coast and recover after that.

Heading back in to town to begin the second loop my legs began to cramp. It was very hot and I forgot salt, but I was using Clif ShotBloks that had extra sodium to compensate. After eating a whole sleeve the cramps started to go away but with 56 miles to go, I was going to have to keep on this. Eventually I stopped at an aid station and ate a bunch of pretzels before grinding away at rest of the course.

The final 30 miles of the bike I felt horrible. My feet hurt, I was having back spasms and the wind had picked up significantly. I’ve never wanted to get off my bike so badly. This was when I first started thinking about dropping out of the race. My pace had slowed to the low 15’s, but it felt slower. I fought hard to finish that ride, and when it was all over I pained me to know that it was only 26.5 minutes longer than my IMWI time. With as bad as I felt I would have assumed an hour or more.

I took my time in T2. No part of me wanted to run, but I figured if I just hit the course hard, I could get it over with. For some reason (and I really don’t know why) the time I had in my head was 5 hours. My fastest marathon ever was 5:24 and that was Chicago in 2011, so that wasn’t going to happen.

I got on the run course and started running about a 10:30/mile. I think it lasted 3 minutes, my legs were dead and my back was killing me. As my Advil started to kick in I started running 5 minutes and walking 2 minutes. I’m not sure how long I kept that up, but eventually I dropped down to 2 on/2 off and before you know it I was only walking.

I must have thought about dropping about at least a dozen times. After the turn around the course was getting dark. The run course was closed to through traffic, but it was all in a residential area and there were spectators who were driving to different spots to watch. So there was quite a lot of traffic, but no street lights or sidewalks. I felt very uneasy, worried about getting flattened by a car.

I was wearing a reflective sticker but there was no light to guide my way unless I was nearing an aid station. It was pretty scary.


My feet were blistered, Advil worn off and I had 10 more miles.

Again I thought about dropping out.

It would be easy, stop at an aid station and wait for someone to pick me up… But I had gotten so far, I couldn’t let 10 miles get away.

I kept walking, hurting, swearing until eventually I could hear the main road that led to the finish. I wasn’t even excited, I just wanted to be done. I couldn’t even run. I waited until the last minute to start shuffling through the finish line (so that should be a good picture).

MiTi Hardware
MiTi Hardware

Luckily I parked close. After packing my gear and texting my family to let them know I wasn’t dead, I got in the car in time to see the last official finisher come down the final stretch.

Despite how my race turned out, I thought Michigan Titanium was a great race. The swim was beautiful, the course was challenging and it was well organized and run. My only criticism was the light on the run course, I was hard to navigate after dark and the cars out there were driving real fast. So with no sidewalk there was little room for error on a runner or driver’s part.

Bu I’d definitely race there again… In fact I think I’ll have to just to redeem myself!

MiTi 2014 registration opened up on Monday, so as I’m building my schedule for 2014 it’s something to consider. Michigan Titanium has also banded together with five other independently operated Iron Distance races around the country to form the Full On Triathlon Series starting in 2014, which is awesome.

Thanks again to MiTi Race Directors Doug, Ann and Andy (though I never got to meet Andy) for having me up to race, you put on an excellent event!

Ironman Wisconsin Recap

Ironman Wisconsin Recap

One year ago today, my friend Adam and I registered for Ironman Wisconsin. It seemed so far in away and before I knew it, it was race day.

Adam and I got to the course right when transition opened at 5am. Ever since we almost missed the start at Mooseman last year, I make it a point to get to the course as early as I can.

I felt really calm all morning. We did a once over of the bikes then headed down the helix to the swim start. We weren’t planning on starting together, I was going to start towards the back of the pack and Adam was starting towards the front.

Just before entering the water I ran in to Coach Jen which was great because she gave me a few last minute tips on dealing with the wind on the bike course. Jen said not to fight the wind, to stay calm throughout the day and to have fun.

The canon went off at 7am and it was time to race! The goal of the day was to run MY race. All I needed to do was stick to my plan and everything would be fine.

Since it was going to be a long day, Jen said not to do a warmup and just to build into the swim. It was a one loop course on Lake Monona and I took it easy into the first turn. There was a lot of congestion betweens turn one and two which resulted in the expected elbows and kicks from my fellow swimmers.

The pack thinned out along the back half of the swim, so it wasn’t too rough. However the exhaust of the idling rescue boats started to make me a little nauseous but luckily there wasn’t much swim left by that point and I was out of the water and up the helix to transition.

I was pumped to get on the bike, I felt pretty confident since I had the chance to ride the bulk of the course. This ride was also a little bitter sweet since it was going to be the last chance I had to ride the Felt DA4 before I have to return my demo.

The ride out of town into the loop was great. The wind was at my back and I was holding a 17mph pace. Jen and I had discussed the bike plan earlier in the week, she said I should stay in zone 2 for most of the course and zone 3 on the climbs. For the most part I stuck to the plan, but some of the hills out me up in to zones 4 & 5. I felt great for the first 30 miles until my chain dropped going in to a climb around mile 34. I got it back and started back up the hill. After about 50 feet it dropped again. I was pissed. The wind was sucked out of my 17+mph average pace. I was able to hang on and continued through the course.

The final to climbs of the loop were brutal, they seemed to never end. The saving grace was seeing the crowds during the final ascent. My legs were cramping during that climb. I wasn’t managing my shifting well and made a mental note to do so for the 2nd lap.

In my special needs bag I grabbed some aspirin & gummy bears. I mean really, what else would I need? My pace slowed a little during the 2nd loop. It was bouncing around the 16mph range. I pushed hard through the hills and the spectators had moved on by that point. I kept reminding myself not to fight the wind. The final climbs were much more manageable when I focused on them. Before I knew it I was at mile 90. Just ahead of me I saw Adam. We chatted for a minute and I continued on my way.

The wind heading back to town was rough, but I was almost there. There was one last hill before we got to the path to transition… And climbing it my chain dropped two more times.

After climbing the helix again (this time by bike), it was back into transition to get ready for the run.

I had a pretty bad cramp in my toes as I headed out to the run course. There was a physical therapist at the exit of T2 who kind of guilted me in to letting him work the cramp out of my foot.

I was hesitant but, it turned out to be a great idea and the cramp was gone!

The run is what I was most nervous about, it always seems to be the part where my race crumbles. Jen and I had a plan for me to run 13 minute miles for the first 6 miles. I was having trouble running and regulating my pace so I walked for the first 6 miles in order to maintain 13 minute miles.

I trotted through miles 6-13 walking only to drink and the KILLER hill mountain on the UW campus. After the turn I grabbed my last aspirin from my special needs bag and continued on my final loop. The pain in my knee was getting worse, but an official finish was in the bag!

The aspirin numbed my knee enough to get me past the big hill on the run course, but after that it wore off pretty fast. I couldn’t do much but walk along the lake path and back towards the finish.

My pace slowed in to 14:30 miles and I could barely bend my right leg. I hobbled back past the football stadium, through town and up to State Street.

Mike Riley’s voice was off in the distance calling off finishers, the music was pumping and the crowd was cheering me along the last stretch.

I ran as best as I could around the Capital. Adam had finished and was standing at the last turn. I high fived him and a ton of other people on the run towards the finish line. Through the PA system I heard “PHIL CASTELLO YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

15 hours and 12 minutes after the canon went off I did it! The whole day was a blast! Thanks to Coach Jen for putting up with me for the year & getting me ready for this!

For the next week I’m going to take it easy. I’m doing a 5k in about a week just for fun and another one in October.

As for next year, I’m not sure what my plans are yet. This was a great year, I PR’d both my 70.3 races and met my ultimate goal of finishing the Ironman. But on the Flipside it’s very time consuming to train for.

I think I’m going to take some time off before deciding on a race schedule for 2013.


Ironman WI Expert Panel – Vision Quest Coaching

Ironman WI Expert Panel – Vision Quest Coaching

There are 32 days until me and I’m sure several other first timers line up to start Ironman Wisconsin. At this point we’ve riden the course and I’m sure I’ll see some of you swimming the course on the 18th. How do you feel with just over a month to go?

Personally, I’m….. comfortable. Or at least I’m not having an anxiety attack yet!

If you’re still looking for some reassurance (and a whole lot of insider tips), our friends at Vision Quest Coaching have you covered.

VQ is hosting the Ironman Wisconsin Expert Panel.

This night is designed to get you more comfortable for the race and also walk you through each leg of the triathlon from a bird’s eye view, then drilling down on specific areas of the race.

This panel experience is for you and, best of all, you can submit your questions beforehand during sign-up.

The panel includes Robbie Ventura
Coming off commentating at the Tour de France, Robbie will MC this great event.
Andrea Rudser-Rusin, with SportWise Nutrition, is a expert in her field and also lives and breathes triathlon. She has raced in numerous Ironman races including Ironman WI.

Marcia Cleveland, Open Water Swimming Expert. Marcia has written several books on open-water swimming to rave reviews. Not only has she coached athletes to swim the English Channel, but also done it herself.

Adam Zucco, Five-Time Hawaii Ironman Finisher and local triathlon coach.

Drs. Paul & Tim Marando of Physicians Plus and Sports Rehabilitation have been treating sports injuries from the professional athlete to the weekend warrior in the Chicagoland area for over 10 years.

April Oury from 360 Bike Gears and her colleague, Ray Degli, (who was trained by one of the world’s top Bike Fit Experts, Curtis Cramblett) have brought their experience and knowledge into our backyard at Vision Quest Coaching Chicago.

Jenn Robbins, The Running Guru
Her passion is running and she has performed countless numbers of gait analyses. She has focused her energy into runners and has helped many marathoners and Ironman triathletes. She has been with IBJI for the last six years.

Is that not enough to entice you to show up?

At the end of the night, VQ will be raffling off lots of great prizes and giving away cool gifts along the way.

So write down your questions and get answers from some of the most knowledgeable people around.

Here are the details:

Date: Thursday, August 9th
Time: 6:00pm
Location: VQ Chicago, 1880 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL

You can RSVP here.

Are you an Athlete or an Asshole?

Are you an Athlete or an Asshole?

That is the question I’ve been asking myself since my sprint race yesterday. The final results aren’t in yet, but just based on feel it didn’t go so great.

The difference between being an athlete or asshole is simple and it all relates to how determined you are in your training and how hard you push yourself on race day.

For example, any asshole can show up race morning and wheel their tricked out bike in to transition wearing a cool race kit and look like they’re ready to race. But only an athlete is REALLY ready to go all out and meet their potential while suffering on the course to finish completely exhausted.

Prior to yesterday’s start I kind of envisioned my race ending like this.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that dramatic and there is no one to blame but myself. Before I go on, I’m not writing a pitty-party blog, it’s more of a realization that I have a LOT of work to do before Ironman Wisconsin!!! A LOT!

The only “problem” I had in the race yesterday was that I lot my chain twice. Other than that there was nothing mechanically or physically wrong with me. The weather was great, the course was nice I just really think I didn’t try hard enough.

When my swim wave went off I felt like I was flailing in the water, splashing around as if I’d never done it before. It wasn’t until about 1/2 through the swim couse that I got my act together. According to my Garmin data I got out about 1:45 slower than planned.

The bike I had relatively no issues with the exception of the chain coming off twice. I kept the 19mph pace that I outlined to Jen in my race plan, but maybe I could have pushed harder to make up the time lost in bike repair.

The run is really what’s been bothering me. I told Jen I was going to go easy for the first half mile and then all out the rest of the run. I didn’t do that. According to my Garmin data my average pace was 10:00/mile.

That’s pretty poor for “all out”.

I talked to Jen this morning and we’ve come to the decision that I didn’t push hard enough at all. I didn’t cross the finish line completely exhausted, I wasn’t completely out of breath and by no means was I suffering… Yesterday, I was an asshole.

Upcoming races and where I’m at

Upcoming races and where I’m at

Florida 70.3 is in the books and my sights are still set on Ironman Wisconsin in September. But once again it’s race week. I’m doing a fun sprint in Lake in the Hills on Sunday. Coach Jen has set up some open water training swims each Wednesday, so I’ve gone to a couple of those which have felt really beneficial especially since I didn’t do ANY open water training last season!

Since LITH is a sprint distance I’m really hoping I can crush it. I told Jen in my race plan that since I’m only swimming 1/2 mile, riding 14 and running 4 I SHOULD be able to go all out the whole way through with out having to conserve too much for the next leg. I ran part of the course the last two Wednesdays and it’s kind of hilly, but that should be good prep for Ironman Wisconsin.

After Lake in the Hills, I’m heading to Lake Geneva Wisconsin for RAM Racing’s BigFoot Triathlon. This one is an olympic distance race, and I didn’t do so well at that distance last year. BigFoot is supposed to be one of the nicest courses in the area. The course is all single loop with the exception of the run which is 2 loops. The run course is supposed to be mostly off road to which should be nice.

Following those two races is about a month of training before I got at another Ironman 70.3, this time in Racine. The course looks to have some rolling hills, but nothing too big and the run course takes you on a “tour of the zoo”. The goal for Racine is to go sub-7. I have an idea of the time goal I’d like to hit, but I’ll wait until July and after i discuss it with Jen before I share it just to avoid any embarrassment! It would also help to NOT loose any nutrition or hydration on the bike course like I did in Florida. That way I don’t have to start the run dehydrated.

After Racine maybe I’ll do a portion of the Chicago Triathlon as part of a relay team, but other than that it’s training until Wisconsin. It’s hard to believe that the race is only 95 days away. There is a lot of work to do until then!

Where’s the Beef? – A Peer Pressure Blog

Where’s the Beef? – A Peer Pressure Blog

I’d like to introduce you to my buddy Beefy (on the left). Beef is the reason I started training for a marathon, I went on one of his training runs for the 2009 Chicago Marathon. I (barley) made it 6.5 miles that day, but it hooked me on running.

I went out to watch Beef run the Marathon that year and saw how excited all the finishers were, it was amazing.

A few weeks later Beef and I were sitting in my condo, watching the bear and drinking some Abita when he said “You should run the Marathon with me next year.”

I said “OK” and started training for the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

I was one of the most fun run’s I ever had, and it got me hooked on endurance sports. The next year I did an Ironman 70.3, then the 2o11 Chicago Marathon and for 2012 I’m doing TWO 70.3’s and I’m registered for Ironman Wisconsin. It’s my first attempt at the full Iron distance.

One of my prep races will be the Bigfoot Triathlon in Lake Geneva on June 24th. I sent Beef a Facebook message today saying he should do it with me.

Let’s just say he didn’t jump at the idea. But he didn’t say no.

I know that he IS interested in doing a Tri. He bought a bike last year, he already has running experience, and I know he can swim at least a little (we used to be Lifeguards together).

So I’m going for the peer pressure approach. I would probably never be doing this if I didn’t run with Beef. Help me get Beef to race the Bigfoot Triathlon this year!

Leave a comment below and let’s get this guy racing!