Nov 26, 2008

Three Ironman Events in 2008

Well I finally accomplished my goal and completed the FULL Ironman Triathlon. Please see the Full Race Report entry below, but for a quick summary, my goal was to treat this event like a long workout, nothing more. I had way too much time and emotion invested in this endeavor to engage in a high-risk strategy of racing for the best possible time; essentially, the plan was to be disciplined and frankly, just "cruise" the 140.6 miles.

It's a very long day to cover 140.6 miles, and if one rejects their race plan, loses focus and discipline, it can spell disaster. I was now experienced enough from two prior Ironman events this year to know that I must stick to my race plan, and I am glad that I did, because disaster struck on the swim, the bike AND the run!

Despite the problems, I still had a terrific event (again, finishing was my goal, not racing!), and finished within 2 minutes of my projected time, breaking 14 hours with a total race time of 13 hours, 58 minutes.

It's just so interesting how this race works though. In the swim, I finished in the bottom 40% of my age group; in the bike I was WAY back, finishing in the bottom 10% of my age group, and in the run, I finished in the bottom 40%. Overall, I finished in the bottom 25%; essentially 75% of all participants finished in front of me. I crossed the line in front of 600 other entrants, but behind 1,585 Ironmen.

And for the entire year, I completed three Ironman events in 2008. Two of these events were the Half Ironman, which is known as the "Ironman 70.3"

While the 70.3 is exactly half the distance in each of the segments, it is still fully-sanctioned by the Ironman organization. However, there's lots of controversy as to whether or not one is a "REAL" Ironman if they complete an Ironman-sanctioned 70.3. Those of us who have finished the "half" would certainly like the Ironman distinction, but most athletes agree that you have to complete the real deal, the FULL Ironman, to earn that coveted distinction.

As I have written about in prior entries, I have always believed that one is really not worthy of the Ironman distinction until they have completed the full 140.6 mile event; I know that many people would disagree with me.

But my final word on all of this is that when you cross the finish line in the 70.3 event, they announce your name, but they do NOT say, "You are an Ironman." They only way you'll hear that is if you cross the finish line at the fully sanctioned 140.6 mile Ironman event.

So while my wife, my business partner Kevin, and many others have urged me to stop at the half Ironman, I would not have ever felt worthy of the title until I had completed the full event as it was originally run the very first time on the island of Oahu in 1978.

The FULL IRONMAN has always been a 2.4 mile swim (which is the exact length of the Honolulu rough water swim and how they arrived at that distance for the event), a 112 mile bike segment (which is the exact length of a full loop around the island of Oahu) and a full 26.2 mile marathon.

Anything less than that, and you are not an Ironman.

And no, if you complete a half-Ironman, I really don't think you qualify for half of an Ironman tattoo. Sound silly? Well this is a big issue with a lot of people who complete a 70.3!

Training for the full Ironman is exponentially more work than just training for the 70.3. It is 3 - 4 times more complicated and difficult and time consuming. Those who have trained for and completed the full Ironman know the difference. You cannot just read about it in a book to understand it; you really need to live it. You need to understand the discipline, the sacrifice, the struggle, the enormous number of training hours this endeavor takes.

Completing the 70.3 does not make one an Ironman. And as a finisher of two half-Ironman evetnt as well as a full Ironman, I now understand the difference.

I now understand why my completion of the Hono/Kona 70.3 in May and the Vineman/Sonoma 70.3 in July were great achievements, but certainly not Full Ironman efforts. To understand the difference, one needs to complete the full 140.6 event.

My Great Friend Kelvin Shields

About 5:05am race day morning, in the pitch dark of pre-dawn, Kelvin somehow found us.

Kelvin had driven all the way out to Tempe, about 6 - 7 hours, and was there to support me for the entire race day. He arrived at the venue around 4:50am and never left the area until after he had personally packed my gear into my car and saw that my family and I were settled and ready to go, somewhere around 10:00pm post-race.

He was there at every turn of the entire event, from getting me set-up race morning, to the moment I exited the swim to all the turns in the bike race and the run.

He was even there at the finish line and had arranged to have Connor run the last 200 yards with me. He also put some motivational messages for me up on the electronic board so that every time I ran by, it triggered a message to stay focused, keep at it, stay motivated. Those little electronic messages were important at miles 7, 16 and 23 of the marathon!

How do you thank a friend like that? Words cannot express the gratitude.

Kelvin and I go way back to the mid-90s, when as an executive of the Franklin Quest Organization, he helped me organize a very large organization, dozens of projects and lots of ideas that I didn't really know what to do with. He was so successful at getting me organized and dramatically more effective, that I did everything I could to lure him away from Franklin and come to work for me. He finally relented and those were some of the greatest and most productive years of my banking career.

Today, Kelvin is back at his former company, now called the Franklin-Covey Organization, and he is one of their most successful professionals, maintaining accounts, selling new ones and ensuring that executives have every possible tool and technique available to be their most effective while focusing on what matters most.

During our years together as Kelvin was pursuing an advanced degree at night, he served an internship with the Ironman organization; this was in the late 90s and at that time I didn't quite understand what he was doing with his weekends and at those crazy events. I thought those Ironmen were super-human and frankly, on the lunatic fringe. How anyone could ever do one of those events was beyond comprehension. Kelvin was the very first person to introduce me to Ironman, probably just over 10 years ago.

I have Kelvin to thank. Some would say, to blame. But not me! I loved the journey to this point.

I only wish that others could know the very deep sense of satisfaction and pride that comes when you have a true friend like Kelvin Shields.

Thank you Kelvin. 140.6 times. Thank you!

Race Morning Reality

These are a few of my favorite photos. They reflect absolute panic and raw fear. I see myself in these photos and I remember exactly how I felt...Scared out of my wits!!

I was scared and nervous and anxious all at once. Just like you might feel before you step onto a stage with 100s in the audience, or perhaps how one might feel if upon returning home from a great New Years Eve party, they see flashing red lights at a mandatory checkpoint! The fear, the adrenaline, the anxiety...that's what it felt like and that's what these photos reflect.

Sure I knew that I had done everything I could have done to prepare, but I really did not feel like jumping in that freezing water on that very cold morning.

These shots really capture the deep thought and concern that was racing through my head right before the race. These photos reflect more about what I was feeling, and fearing, more than anything I could ever write.

Pre - Race: Bike Barn & Transition Bags

Here are some photos to give you a sense of the enormous scale of this event.

The bikes stretch out for as far as one can see and the bags are lined up in huge rows according to one's race number.

World's Best French Fries

Shortly after the race, my family encouraged me to get something to eat. I wasn't really hungry and the last thing in the world I wanted was pizza, but I went into the finisher's food court to have a look.

To my bewilderment and pleasant surprise, they had the most wonderful looking french fries that I have ever seen!

The best part was that they had these marvelous chunks or flakes of sea salt all over them! I loaded up a giant platter of fries and was shocked that nobody tried to stop me for taking so many!

I offered this platter to everyone and while they had a sample, they thought that the fries were far too salty for their taste. This just goes to show that my nutrition strategy must have somehow been off, as my body was clearly screaming for additional electrolytes and salt.

And I was more than happy to oblige with what I believe were the world's best tasting french fries!


I slept pretty well the night before, despite getting up at 2:00 am for a meal (you need about 3 – 4 hours for the meal to digest pre-race) and then got up at 4:00 am to head over to Tempe Town Center.

It was totally dark, but out of nowhere, my great friend Kelvin Shields shows up to surprise us. Having Kelvin there was fantastic because he knows the ropes of Ironman.

Kelvin once served an internship with Ironman organization during the late – 90s and he knows how these things operate. Having him there was exactly like having a best man at a wedding. He took care of all the details so that I could focus on getting ready and getting focused. I cannot overstate how important it is to have someone like that to assist on race morning. I never would have understood the importance of this without Kelvin there, but let me assure you, if you ever want to attempt this endeavor, do yourself a huge favor and have someone assist you in these early morning hours.

Kelvin arrived at the venue even before I did. He used that time to scout-out the drop off points and more importantly, to learn the lay of the land for number markings and other early morning, pre-race essentials.

It was VERY cold in the morning and people were shivering. It was incomprehensible that in just about an hour or so, I would be in that freezing water fighting it out with over 2,000 other very nervous athletes for 2.4 miles.

Kelvin helped me with the wetsuit to make sure that we used a lot of Body Glide lubricant in the back of the neck where it can rub your skin raw due to turning your head to breathe on every other stroke.

My plan was to be the LAST person to jump into the water. The reason for this is that as 2,200 other athletes all jumped it, it would force us toward the middle of the lake, and my plan was to be on the far inside lane. In order to do that, I thought I should enter last. Then I would swim the 200 yards or so up to the starting line.

Despite my detailed plan, I did not count on the fact that so many people would actually force me to the very end of the pack. What that means is that once the cannon went off, I still had to swim nearly 200 yards just to get to the starting line! Whoops! That was not a good idea after all.

The swim was a mess. It was extremely hard to make any kind of forward progress with so many people clawing and scratching and bumping. For the first 5 – 12 minutes, many of us were barely just treading water waiting for the pack to open up and give us enough room to actually stretch our entire body out lengthwise so that we could actually swim.

I can keep a really good, straight line due to the fact that I have spent a year now in my Endless pool practicing swimming with my eyes closed to see if I can hold a line. Regrettably, most people cannot swim a line, so what happens is that I will be going straight, and then out of no where I would get T-Boned by someone swimming wildly off course. At one point, I got so tired of this that I started swimming with my head out of the water looking for open lanes to swim into.

That’s when disaster struck. At about the 1.75 mile point, I got T-boned, lifted my head to find an opening and immediately started a very quick and aggressive stroke at a very fast pace. That’s when my right leg cramped up severely from the combination of very cold water and the rapid acceleration.

The cramp was extremely painful and could not be controlled. I had no option but to stop and immediately grab that calf muscle. It was seizing up rapidly and then caused another cramp in my arch. I could not move; I was totally immobilized and people were swimming all over me. I tried to swim with the left leg only and then that leg cramped at the same time. I started to sink but the buoyancy of my full wetsuit prevented me from going completely under.

Here is the picture: I needed both hands to grab the cramping muscles that were seizing and causing unbearable pain, but as I grabbed the muscles, I would sink because I could not use my legs at all since they were all cramped-up. If I took my hands off the muscles to try and paddle and keep myself afloat, the muscles would immediately seize-up again!

Any movement of the legs would re-trigger the cramping.

I finally got to the point where I just sort of dragged my legs behind me, motionless. And finally in about 3 - 4 minutes, I was able to get the pain to subside. As a side note, the pain was so bad and the cramping so intense, that three days post race, I am still walking with a limp due 100% to a cramp in the left calf muscle. It is actually a pulled muscle that has microscopic rips and tears just from that aggressive and uncontrollable cramping!

The next problem with the swim was that the water was so incredibly cold that the two swim caps that I was wearing were not enough. I had “brain freeze” for about 20 minutes and the pain was like a migraine headache. I thought my race was over at this point. I literally thought I should just swim to the side and get out. I lifted my head to see how much further and was totally demoralized when I saw how far away that bridge was! But I just kept thinking about an emergency Imitrex pill I had stashed away in one of my special needs bags...or was it my bike jersey? If I could just make it to either one of those, I might be OK.

When I got to the end of the swim I had to climb up about 15 steps of a ladder/walkway out of the concrete channel. My legs immediately seized up from the cramping, but after about 20 seconds of light stretching, I was OK to walk.

The great news is that once I got into the changing tent, the heat from all those bodies actually made my headache go away literally within one minute. I was going to be OK!

My transition time in the changing tent was much longer than my worst case scenario, and at the time, I could not have cared less. I was just out of the water and I was thankful just to be alive. As a side note, the night after the race I slept very poorly with bad dreams that I was drowning in the swim. It was really that close with all that cramping.

So 15 minutes in Transition and I was out on the bike.

The bike was pretty easy for me because we had a plan to avoid anything that might trigger a hip reaction. The hip problem was something that had been a long-recurring issue for the past 15 months and our biggest concern in planning for the race. We did not want to do anything that might trigger a problem, so we dialed-back my average watts to be far lower than anything I had ever done in training. Basically, I could do that ride as an easy afternoon joy ride, and that is exactly how I treated it.

I didn't care if people passed me and I didn't ever try to catch anyone. I just stuck to my plan. I was a little off my wattage numbers and perhaps could have gone faster, but I just did not want to risk it. My average HR for the bike was only about 122, which is very low.

Then at about 70 miles into the bike, I had another tough issue happen. I started to feel some tension and some aching on the left knee at the Iliotibial Band (The IT Band). The IT band is a ribbon-like band that extends from the outside of the thigh over the hip and knee, and is connected again just below the knee. The band helps to stabilize the outside of the knee during exercise and it moves from behind the femur to the front as you bend your knee in walking, climbing stairs, cycling, etc. The continual rubbing of the band over the outside of the knee area can cause the area to become inflamed and causes shooting pain.

This is an injury of which I am quite familiar. At the first sign of this trouble, I literally said to myself, “John this is going to be really ugly.”

You see, the only way to relieve IT pain is to immediately stop what you are doing. There is no other way. And the more you do once the pain starts, the worse it gets because every cycle rotation of the pedals and every step or stride in running only makes it WORSE. At that point I knew for certain that the pain and inflammation would only get worse throughout the day.

If I had completed an Ironman prior to this event, then this would have been the signal to immediately stop and drop out of the race; most do when this happens. But I did not to consider that option today; I may not finish before the deadline, but I wasn't ever going to quit.

So I did the only thing I could do with a goal of finishing; I dialed-back my power/watts to the minimal level that would still help me maintain about a 15 mph average which would give me about a 7-hour bike split and still leave me with at least 8 hours to walk the marathon.

I struggled through the bike and finished in just over 7 hours. The run was next and is usually a strong event for me. I enjoy running. It’s simple, pure and often just relaxing.

But not today.

I changed into my running clothes, put on my Garmin 305 GPS watch and attached my Nathan hydration belt that was pre-loaded with 4 hours worth of CarboPro 1200. I was off.

The race plan was to do 9:30 miles for the first six miles and no faster, no matter what. Regrettably, I was having a really tough time just with the 9:30 miles. And with every single stride the IT band was rubbing, rubbing, rubbing. It was getting worse by the minute.

Finally the pain became unbearable and the band had swollen to the point where it was causing my knee to lock-up and click. The swollen band was interfering with the free movement of the knee joint. I had to improvise. I needed ice to try and reduce the swelling, but there was no way to hold it onto the knee!

Just the day before, I purchased some compression socks at the vendor expo. These go over the calf muscles and are very tight. The theory behind compression socks is that they cause constriction which forces blood into the area to provide more oxygen to aid the muscle and to carry away waste products such as lactic acid. But since I wanted to wear my own socks for the run, I purchased a modified compression garment that just covers from the ankle to the bottom of the knee. These compression garments have been proven for decades in hospitals for post-op recovery and now are leading edge technology for endurance sports. I purchased the garments from 2XU.

I suddenly got the idea to pull the compression garment up over my knee! That would give me some support of that area! Not the intended use for the product, but improvisation was what I needed at this point. And it did work a little, but I was getting the feeling that it was just pressing the IT band even harder onto the outside of the knee, perhaps even making the situation worse!

Then I decided to take off the other compression sock and put them both onto the same knee, one right on top of the other. Then when I arrived at the aid stations every mile or so, I had them load ice right in-between the two compression garments!! They were so tight that they easily held the ice in place, and since the ice was sandwiched in the garments, I could just leave it there without concern for frostbite or other damage from direct contact with the skin.

The ice inside of the compression garment worked incredibly well and saved my race!!

There was no possible way that I could continue with my strong run as we had so carefully planned, but at least I could significantly reduce the IT band pain and hopefully get close to finishing before the deadline.

Other than the IT band issue, I really had no other problems on the run. Certainly under other conditions I would have run significantly faster, but I was happy just to be moving.

It got dark quickly and soon it was pitch black. Even though I was shuffling along, I was still passing hundreds of people during the run portion of this event; most of them were walking at that point.

When I was passing the walkers I felt sorry for some who were really very ill and suffering from severe GI problems. Some of these people were world class athletes, and most were in way better physical condition than me, but they were just having a horrible day. One poor chap in particular was thin as a rail and an obvious champion. He’d speed by me, then pull over to the side and throw up, then speed by me again, only to pop out of a Porta Toilet and this went on for 15 miles! He was in such agony, but he finished, and I was proud that he finished in front of me because he earned every bit of that. He was a real champion, a winner, a hero.

But there were others who I passed that were just walking and enjoying themselves, just chatting away. They knew that they’d finish sometime that day if they just kept walking. I did not have as much respect for that group as the guys who were really suffering but somehow finding the drive, the pure grit, to continue.

I said to myself, “You will never learn what you are truly made of by walking.” And that’s true. I could have limped in by walking, but I would not have learned as much about my drive and my ability to endure pain and my resourcefulness to improvise.

The last 10 – 13 miles I had tears streaming down my face from the pain of the IT band, but I was not going to walk it in the whole way. I certainly did walk though. I walked through the aid stations for water, pretzels and ice. LOTS of ice for my knee. The ice was enough to get the swelling down so that the knee would not lock up and that’s what I needed to finish.

From about mile 10 – mile 22, things were really a blur. I cannot believe that I was out on the run course for a full 5 hours. I really cannot even begin to comprehend how I did that. There’s no ego here, no heroics. I really don’t know what happened or how I did it. I did not black out or anything like that. I do remember the aid stations and certain aspects of the course, but I have no idea how I was able to go the distance. I feel like someone picked my up at mile 10 and then just dropped me off at mile 22!

Once I saw the mile 22 marker, I knew I would finish. My home course is a five mile loop around Cal State Long Beach. I can do that loop in my sleep, after a large dinner, after a couple of beers, basically anything. So when I saw that I only had five miles to go, I was very happy and I think that raw emotion got me through the balance of that race.

Then when I came down the finish chute, my son Connor jumped out and ran beside me. I kept telling him, “Connor, you cannot run beside me and pace me, I will get DQ’d!!” I literally pushed him away and told him to get out of the chute, I will get into trouble and they won’t let me qualify! But then I remembered that an athlete can have one family member under the age of 18 run along side of them at the finish.

What I didn’t know was that my great friend, Kelvin Shields, had made arrangements for Connor to run alongside me and that Connor had the approval and the markings to allow him to do so.

But despite my urgings to get out of the chute, Connor stayed right there with me the entire 200 yards or so and I am SO HAPPY that he did! I would have ALWAYS regretted it, if he had pulled out!

I suppose that I did not have my full wits about me when I kept telling him not to pace me. With only 200 yards to go, I don’t think anyone would have said that this was an unfair advantage, but at that time, nearly 14 hours into my race, apparently my thinking may not have been crystal clear.

As I finished I heard the announcer say what I had been planning and silently saying to myself on the toughest workout days over the last 15 months, “John Callos....YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!”

WOW, that was fantastic!!

I collapsed into the arms of two volunteers who draped a Space Blanket over my shoulders, gave me a finisher’s medal and a T-shirt that I will proudly display at some point.

My wife, coach, son and Kelvin were quick to arrive. I was a bit light headed and sort of just collapsed to the ground with weakness. The weakness was the emotion leaving my body, not a musculature soreness or tiredness. It was the amazing release and realization that I had accomplished the toughest goal that I had ever set out to achieve. It was the realization that I had actually completed this race.

It is still hard to believe.

Several years ago I saw the Ironman in Kona and literally thought that those people were super-humans. That there was no possible way whatsoever that I could ever conceive of doing anything like that. Ever. No way.

But I was so inspired by the event that I entered a community triathlon that nearly killed me! I was literally the LAST person out of the water on the swim and I couldn’t walk for three days following the 3- mile run! I look back at that now and marvel at the transformation.

There was a heavy price to pay. A heavy toll. And while I have not yet been asked whether it was worth it or not, I think that it was.

Not for the actual bragging rights, which of course are substantial, but more so for what I have learned about myself and what I have become in this process.


It has been said that the fourth event of Ironman Triathlon is Nutrition and Hydration. If you don’t get those right, your first three events (Swim, run, bike) may not matter at all.

The Ironman triathlon for a mid-packer, is going to take anywhere from 12 - 17 hours. During that amount of time, one burns far more calories than they can replace with food or liquids. One also sweats and loses not only vital fluids, but also vital nutrients and electrolytes. Without a systematic way to replace fluids and calories, in the right quantities, the right timing, and the right types, one is setting themselves up for a potential disaster, including life-threatening reactions.

I have been practicing and honing my nutrition and hydration techniques for the good part of a year. While I moan and gripe about the amount of time it takes to prepare everything for my long rides and runs, it’s vital that I pay close attention to these matters.

I have been very fortunate and have generally avoided any kind of GI distress in workouts and races. This is due not to great genetics or a solid gut, but rather, to using precise measurements and quantities of the world’s best proven endurance-formula products.

My unabashed preference is the line of products from SportQuest in San Diego, Ca. You can find them at or

I’m not going to get into all the science, but please understand that you can’t just go out on the road for 12 – 17 hours and plan on drinking water and eating a few snacks; that is literally a recipe for disaster.

Working with a scientist at SportQuest, they developed a formal training and racing protocol for me that was based on my age, weight, rough BMI and other factors that influenced their recommendations for hourly calorie intake/absorption as well as electrolyte replacements. I followed their protocol to the tee, and had zero problems of any kind. It was absolutely perfect.

About 4 -5 days prior to the race, I began a carbo-loading protocol that included their Carbo Pro powder product. In the morning and evening I took 2 scoops of Carbo Pro in a glass of water. It is tasteless and not sweet at all; just perfect. This quantity is the theoretical carbohydrate equivalent of two pounds of potatoes, per day.

The morning of the race, I got up at 2:00am and had two PowerBars and washed them down with a Carbo Pro drink. Then I got up at 4:00am and had another 2 scoops of CarboPro along with the capsules I will detail below.

During every hour of the bike and the run, I took a product called CarboPro 1200 which contains 1,200 calories of carbohydrate in a 16-ounce bottle. I took 300 calories each hour by marking the correct amount of product on the outside of my bike water bottle for each hour. That way, I could just sip the product until I reached the hour-marker on the side of the bottle. Of course, I still drank LOTS of water, about 30 ounces per hour because we were racing in the desert heat. The water was supplied at aid stations about every 10 miles. So I started with one water bottle on my bike of 22 ounces and one water bottle filled with CarboPro 1200, which was enough for about 6 hours. I supplemented my nutritional needs with several bananas and a half a bag of salted nuts. That was it for the seven hour bike segment.

But for every hour on the bike, I also had a supplement strategy as follows:

I had prepared 3 small plastic bottles (from Fuel Belt) of nutritional supplements I would need. (By the way, I applied a small piece of medical tape along the inside edge of each bottle to ensure a much tighter fit than normal, otherwise the bottle caps would pop off and all the supplements would fall out. Since they all look the same, there would be no way to tell them apart, and that would have been a real problem!).

OK, so every hour, on the hour, I took the following:
- 2 Caps of V02 Max
- 3 Caps of Recover Amino Power (Glutamine, and Amino Acids)
- 3 Caps of Thermolyte (Essential salts and Electrolytes)
- Every third hour, or whenever I felt the need, I would also take 1 or 2 Motivator Caps which are similar to a caffeine tablet, but actually more like a couple of Red Bulls in caplet form.

That’s at least 8 caps every hour on a seven hour ride (Over 60 caps on the bike when you include the Motivator caps) and another 45 caps on the run. That’s over 100 Capsules for the day!

The CarboPro 1200 is a very unique product. It is very thick and syrup-like and basically a pure carbohydrate. But it is not too sweet. I would gulp about a mouthful every 15 minutes or so and quickly follow that with the water. When it came time to take the 8 – 10 capsules per hour, I would use the CarboPro to coat them in the syrup-like liquid to help get them down.

Now to take all those capsules and not get mixed up about what I did, or did not take, I developed a technique worth sharing. I had three separate bottles in my bike jersey. I labeled each bottle with the contents and how many caps I was to take each hour. I put all three bottles in the back of my jersey pocket, then would take out one bottle at a time, take the prescribed number of caps, then transfer that bottle to the opposite pocket (I have three pockets in the jersey). So one by one, I would transfer the bottles from the left to right, and vice versa.

This may sound a bit over done, or over thought-out, but trust me, when you are hot and tired, you may not be thinking as clearly and so to avoid any potential confusion, I followed this hour on the hour, and pocket transfer process and it worked perfectly.

I also took Pepcid AC and two Mucinex tablets during the race. The Mucinex are critical because they help me to avoid coughing and they keep the windpipe and throat clear of mucous, which can really be a big problem for me, especially with the thick syrupy products.

I avoided Gatorade completely because it makes me cough. It is just too sweet for me and whenever I get the urge to take a bit of Gatorade, I always regret it. The only liquids I accepted on the bike were pure, ice cold water and the CarboPro 1200. That’s it.

On the run, I kept the same strategy. While offered all kinds of things to eat and drink, I rejected them all, knowing that I had the right strategy. However, toward the end of the run and when it got colder and pitch dark at night, I did accept some warm chicken broth by the cupful. The only other thing that I added that was not part of the program, was that I did accept some stick pretzels by the Dixie cupful.

I rejected all fruits (oranges, grapes, etc.), all GUs, all PowerBars, all Cookies, literally everything. I stuck to my pre-race nutrition strategy (except for the sole diversion of chicken broth and some pretzels). In hindsight, this tells me that I needed to be taking even MORE of the Thermolyte capsules because I was not replacing the salt fast enough and that’s why my body was craving those salty items!

In the end, I am absolutely delighted with my nutrition and hydration results. I would give myself an A+ for this plan, although the real credit goes to the scientists at SportQuest / Carbo Pro. In my book, they are simply the world’s best at what they do. Period.


Participating just for completion, or racing for time?

Is one a loser for entering a race just to finish? Should one go full-tilt and “do their best” or should they play it safe “just to finish”?

This question plagues me constantly.

Those who are not intimately familiar with Ironman have no idea about what a “good time” would be, and frankly, don’t care about the final time. All they want to know is “Did you finish?”

I have rarely been asked about my finish time for any of my events.

My coach has great confidence in me. Based on all of his science, technology, spreadsheets and experience, he is very confident I can achieve a time that to me, seems wholly unobtainable. But as Napoleon Hill is credited with saying, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

I do believe that is true, but with this caveat to be added……with proper training, hydration, nutrition, rest, coaching, race discipline to stay within proper HR zones, and baring any unforeseen mechanical issues with the bike, heat-related health issues, hyponatremia issues, dehydration issues, repetitive-motion injuries, and frankly, just freak accidents that can happen at literally ANY point in the race.

Freak Accidents?

Yep. These accidents and unanticipated problems can hit you in literally every part of the race. In the swim, the water can be so cold that your muscles cramp up, in some cases causing extreme pain. One can also get kicked in the head, scratched in the opening turmoil, get their mask pulled off, step on coral or a sharp rock or glass and lacerate their foot before they take even a single stroke!

In the bike, mechanical issues can sideline you quite quickly. Flat tires are to be expected and planned for. But just this past year at the world championships in Kona, the reining champion Chris McCormack was sidelined for the entire race after he broke a shifting cable on his extremely aero triathlon bike. The cable was routed internally, that is, within the frame so as to minimize wind drag. When something like this breaks, one needs special tools, even under the best of conditions. Even the guys from the van with all the tools said that it would take them at least 20 – 30 minutes to fix. At that point, his race was over. But one can also break a chain or have any number of mechanical issues or crashes.

Finally, in the run, one can trip on an elevated gap in a sidewalk. Trust me, after a long day on the bike, one tends to lose a bit of concentration, and one small misjudgment, or turning a gaze to an excited spectator, and one could find themselves face-first in the concrete. Running also brings out all of the real GI problems from the day. These are the worst and you just feel so terrible for these people. At this point in the race, most of us mid-packers are not competing, we are just hanging on to finish. And you really feel terrible when you see someone just coming apart at the seams with vomiting, diarrhea and horrendous gas and stomach cramps. This is a horrible way to end your day, especially if it hits you early in the run and you still have 20+ miles to run/walk/crawl.

All these potential problems swirl through my mind in the week prior to the event.

As an Eagle Scout, I am always prepared…for anything. So my mind races with every conceivable potential problem I might experience and then with possible solutions. It’s tough to rest or sit still.

And all this planning (actually…worrying) has caused a horrible GI problem that has forced me to stick close to home. And this is a terrible cycle, because the more I am at home, the more time I have to sit and think and plan. This only creates more stress and worry, leading to more GI problems.

The worry and jitters are likely caused by an intense desire to finish. To have come this far, gone through so much, all the money, all the training, all the doctor’s visits, all the weekends away from family on 6 – 8 hour workouts, and then to come home with a DNF (Did not finish)? I could not bear that. To me, I would feel ashamed and very embarrassed.

I know logically, that a certain number of participants will always DNF and it will have absolutely nothing to do with their preparedness, fitness or planning. Their DNF will be due to situations totally beyond their control. So no matter how much I plan, there is a chance that I could be one of the DNFs.

My strategy is to finish at all costs. Under all circumstances and regardless of the pain or setbacks. There will be no turning back. There will be no sitting down to rest. I will continue under all hardships until I cross that line or am ejected from the race due to not meeting a time cutoff or due to medical problems.

What this strategy means is that I will be participating at the lowest possible risk. I will “under-perform” by design, keeping my watts, HR and pace below the levels that I normally achieve in training. Not because I am a quitter and don’t want to test myself, but because I will never quit under any circumstances. And by participating at a lever where we minimize the risk of a bonk, a blow-up or other stress related issue, I am substantially reducing the chances of a problem that could possible lead to a DNF.

So the plan is set and I must have the discipline to stick to it. That means, don’t worry when people pass me, and at all times, I must fight the normal temptation to speed up and catch that guy right in front of me.

But even with the plan firmly in place and my coach totally on board to support me and to yell out to me to “slow down and stick to our plan” if he finds that my splits are too fast, I am still nervous.

It’s not until I have created an extremely detailed packing list of everything I will need, and packed everything, checking it 3 – 4 times to double check everything, that I begin to relax.

Knowing that everything is packed, all the gear is labeled and put in separate pouches and categories based on each event, I am finally able to rest.

Nov 25, 2008


A great, candid shot of my world famous coach, David Warden and me only seconds after the finish. He got me through this and helped me accomplish one of the toughest goals I have ever attempted in my life.

Well I finally achieved my goal of completing a FULL IRONMAN!! I was joined at the finish line with my wife, my son, Connor, my great friend Kelvin Shields and of course, David Warden.

Throughout the day, I was supported at every turaround by my great friend Kelvin Shileds who surprised me by driving all the way out to Tempe to be there. I was also grateful to have my world famous coach, David Warden to keep me focused on our carefully structured plan designed to finish "standing up and with a smile on my face."

Soon, I will post a photo log and hopefully find a way to upload a video of the finish where Connor jumped through the line to run the last 200 yards or so with me.

I will detail the race and the week leading up to the race, along with a lot of photos, in just a few days.

The highlight of the day was hearing the announcer say,

"John Callos.......YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"

I really couldn't believe it.

All these months as documented on IronAmbition, and it all came to an end in just 13 hours and 58 minutes. Sounds like a long day, but it really only felt like a 3-hour workout.

One little tidbit though: At mile #2 of the run, I was thinking, "What? over 24 more miles to go? No way!" But before I really knew it, I had somehow progressed to mile 22 and only had less than 5 miles to go. At that point, I knew that I would be an Ironman that night.

Nov 20, 2008

Off to the Races!!

Well I am leaving for Tempe in about ten minutes, the culmination of about 15 months of training and focus.

There is too much to say right now. But in future posts I will go into great detail about:

Pre-Race Jitters and Anxiety
Packing and Contingency Planning
Race Strategy
Nutrition and Hydration Strategy
The Connundrum and risk-reward of "Racing vs. Finishing"

In summary, I am still extremely anxious and cannot explain exactly why.

I am however, confident and prepared, knowing full-well that I have put the time and miles in, and I know I will pass this test and complete the race.

A lot more to say about all of this, but that will have to wait for about a week.

Thanks for all of the support along the way.

The rest is up to me.

Weight Goal: ACHIEVED!

Well I'm off to the Ironman this morning, but first had to step on the scale to see how close I came to my weight loss goal.

Remarkably, exactly to the day, I have met my goal of dropping below 160. That's quite a difference from my high point of morbid obesity at 212 pounds (well, that's when I stopped weighing myself). So clearly, I have lost at least 50 pounds from my high point.

It's been quite a journey, but well worth it in the long run.