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Wednesday, July 18

An Iron Foundation (Part 1)

Have you ever gotten the urge to challenge yourself beyond your wildest imagination? Have you ever thought to yourself “I could never do that,” after hearing how a person defied their individual limitations and accomplished something so huge it seemed inconceivable?

Throughout my brief personal history I have truely been galvanized by people who dare to achieve fascinating levels of athletic ability in the hopes to put themselves to the test.  Or as I like to perceive it, an adventure of the mind, body, and spirit.

This is exactly what brought me to my computer 12 months ago as I sat there clicking the ‘refresh’ button on the Ironman Lake Placid website. Knowing that this particular IM event sells out sometimes within minutes of opening, I was feeling rather anxious. Twelve noon struck and once again I clicked the refresh icon. Suddenly my screen began loading what looked like an application form. How could this be!? I sat there staring and trembling slightly as I wasn’t expecting such a result. I, deep down, wanted it to be sold out as I knew IM required a commitment of time, energy, and money that I had never encountered in my previous athletic endeavors.

An IM distance triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run (aka a marathon).  These distances might seem arbitrary, however, they were selected out of a competitive dispute in 1979 between three men over which sporting event in Hawaii was the most grueling, the Waikiki 2.4 mile rough water swim, the Around-Oahu bike race or the Honolulu Marathon.

Borne from this competition Ironman took form and has increased in popularity among the endurance community ever since.  Ironman has become a worthy athletic goal by which to test one’s physical and mental abilities.

Mentally I have been building up for this very moment, the decision.  To digress, in 2009 the biggest block, in my mind, was the marathon as I had never ran more than 10 miles at that time.  How does one deal with such a block? 

My approach was to register for a Marathon and make it my focus for the next four months.  

Rochester Marathon
To further my mental preparation I decided in 2010 to compete in the Tupper Lake Tinman half distance triathlon (1.2 Swim, 56 Bike, 13.1 Run).  

My brother and I in Tupper Lake
Keeping pace with my goal, throughout 2011 I ran the Wakely Dam Ultra (a 32.5 mile unaided trail run) and Ironman Syracuse 70.3.  

Wakely Dam Ultra
Syracuse 70.3
Each event brought me closer, mentally, to not only breaking down these barriers but also refining my training and nutrition approach.

Ironman training has not only proved to be a test of my physical abilities but of both my mental strength to endure the long training events and a test of my time management skills.  Squeezing 15-20 hours a week into an already tight schedule can be a daunting task. 

In a long distance triathlon such as Ironman there are really four components of the race: the swim, the bike, the run, and nutrition throughout the race. I placed a large focus on the nutrition portion both during and between training events. My diet drew from the philosophies contained within a book I read last fall, “The China Study.” The short of it is I have completed the last 6 months of training by eating a 90-95% vegan diet (ie. no meat or animal products) which was about 35-40% raw . TCS defines a diet consisting entirely of whole plant based foods. A typical day of eating would look like this:

-Breakfast: Oatmeal & a slice of bread with Avacado

Rolled oats, cashews, filberts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, raspberries, and blueberries
-Lunch: Homemade granola with dried or fresh fruit
-Dinner: Salad with a grain (rice, spelt, barley, etc) and a bean (black, pinto, kidney, etc)

Spinach with onions, hummus, grapes, honeydew, freekah, and balsamic
-Snacks: dried fruit, fresh fruit, trail mix, oatmeal, nut butter and bread     
Toast with avacado tomato and salt

-Other aspects: Plenty of vitamin D in the form of sunshine, .75 to 1 gallon of water daily, a shot of wheatgrass juice 3-4 times per week
Along with tracking my performance, diet, and training I have also been tracking such details as my Cholesterol, resting heart rate, weight, and happiness. 

            -Cholesterol - These results were rather profound.  My family has a genetic tendency to have high cholesterol and a predisposition for heart disease.  It’s a focus of mine, nutritionally, to avoid this undesirable heirloom that has been passed to me.

                        -December 2011:
Total – 213
Triglyceride – 59
HDL (good) – 74
LDL (bad) – 127
Ratio (Total/HDL) – 2.88
                        -June 2012:
                                    Total – 146
                                    Triglyceride – 56
                                    HDL – 76
                                    LDL – 59
                                    Ratio – 1.92

            -Heart Rate - I have always been fascinated to hear how low the resting heart rates of top performing athletes are.  Training your cardiovascular system, through aerobic activity, to operate at a lower heart rate helps the body to be more efficient in transferring oxygen and nutrients while conserving the necessary energy needed to perform at high intensity or for long amounts of time.
                        -January 2012:             50 Beats/Minute
                        -June 2012:                  45 BPM

            -Weight – A fear of mine was that I would be burning a ton of calories and not be able to sustain myself given the foods that I would be eating.  It turns out that we can glean every vitamin, mineral, and macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) that we can from meat and dairy (with an exception of B12) from plant based sources all the while being more bio-available upon consumption.  I made an effort to incorporate foods that contained amounts of each macronutrient as to not be deficient (avacados – fats; nuts – fats and protein; potatoes & fruit – carbs; & lots of fiberous plants).
-January 2012:             133.5 lbs
                        -June 2012:                  132 lbs

            -Happiness – This one is somewhat controversial.  How might one accurately track their happiness?  I guess the best answer is that if happiness is something that you are dedicated to perusing in your life then you will likely find a way.  For me, I qualified each day at the end of the day by giving it a rating (borrowed from Sammi J) and assigning each symbol a percentage:
J’ is 100%
                        ‘+’ is 75%
                        ‘=’ is 50%
                        ‘-‘ is 25%
                        ‘x’ is 0%

            Then at the end of the month I would average these values out into one number.  This gave me the results below.  I began to notice that such things as not exercising enough, exercising too much (low energy and little time for other things), eating poorly, not getting enough social time, improper balance of work and personal time all played a roll in predicting this score.  I drew from the book ‘Thrive’ in determining just what aspects of life influenced my happiness.  

-Jan 2012:                    57%
                        -Feb:                            74%
                        -Mar:                           61%
                        -Apr:                            78%
                        -May:                           69%
                        -June:                           88%

Happiness was an important aspect of training for me mostly because if I wasn’t in a good mood I was less likely to train or eat according to my plan.  Focusing on this helped me to be consistent and predict feelings and emotions which correlated almost directly to my training schedule.

The dedication I have placed on Ironman nutrition and mental preparation laid the foundation on which I was able to build a house consisting of three rooms: swimming, biking, and running.  


  1. YOU ARE IRONMAN! If we all had your determination.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Nick, good luck with the Ironman! It is a fine house, ready to stand the test.


  3. Fascinating self study. The benefits to Cholesterol are rather stunning. I can wait to read the next posts...

    Doug T.

  4. Good luck Buddy. Mind over matter and great preparation, which you have definitely accomplished, will serve you well my young grasshopper : ) I know you'll rock the Ironman.

  5. Baby love! What a wonderfully written blog post! So much information and so easy to follow it all!! I love how you start with all of those questions! I remember when you called me right after you had registered for this monumental occasion! I'm so proud of you. Your food looks delicious and I just love all of the pictures of you! And your happiness levels are beyond inspiring. I love you.